“It’s out of the question,” I said, looking forbiddingly at Mrs. Moloney through the spokes of the bicycle that I was pumping up outside the grocer’s in Skebawn.
“Well, indeed, Major Yeates,” said Mrs. Moloney, advancing excitedly, and placing on the nickel plating a hand that I had good and recent cause to know was warm, “sure I know well that if th’ angel Gabriel came down from heaven looking for a license for the races, your honour wouldn’t give it to him without a charackther, but as for Michael! Sure, the world knows what Michael is!”
I had been waiting for Philippa for already nearly half-an-hour, and my temper was not at its best.
“Character or no character, Mrs. Moloney,” said I with asperity, “the magistrates have settled to give no occasional licenses, and if Michael were as sober as ——”
“Is it sober! God help us!” exclaimed Mrs. Moloney with an upward rolling of her eye to the Recording Angel; “I’ll tell your honour the truth. I’m his wife, now, fifteen years, and I never seen the sign of dhrink on Michael only once, and that was when he went out o’ good-nature helping Timsy Ryan to whitewash his house, and Timsy and himself had a couple o’ pots o’ porther, and look, he was as little used to it that his head got light, and he walked away out to dhrive in the cows and it no more than eleven o’clock in the day! And the cows, the craytures, as much surprised, goin’ hither and over the four corners of the road from him! Faith, ye’d have to laugh. ‘Michael,’ says I to him, ‘ye’re dhrunk!’ ‘I am,’ says he, and the tears rained from his eyes. I turned the cows from him. ‘Go home,’ I says, ‘and lie down on Willy Tom’s bed ——’”
At this affecting point my wife came out of the grocer’s with a large parcel to be strapped to my handlebar, and the history of Mr. Moloney’s solitary lapse from sobriety got no further than Willy Tom’s bed.
“You see,” I said to Philippa, as we bicycled quietly home through the hot June afternoon, “we’ve settled we’ll give no licenses for the sports. Why even young Sheehy, who owns three pubs in Skebawn, came to me and said he hoped the magistrates would be firm about it, as these one-day licenses were quite unnecessary, and only led to drunkenness and fighting, and every man on the Bench has joined in promising not to grant any.”
“How nice, dear!” said Philippa absently. “Do you know Mrs. McDonnell can only let me have three dozen cups and saucers; I wonder if that will be enough?”
“Do you mean to say you expect three dozen people?” said I.
“Oh, it’s always well to be prepared,” replied my wife evasively.
During the next few days I realised the true inwardness of what it was to be prepared for an entertainment of this kind. Games were not at a high level in my district. Football, of a wild, guerilla species, was waged intermittently, blended in some inextricable way with Home Rule and a brass band, and on Sundays gatherings of young men rolled a heavy round stone along the roads, a rudimentary form of sport, whose fascination lay primarily in the fact that it was illegal, and, in lesser degree, in betting on the length of each roll. I had had a period of enthusiasm, during which I thought I was going to be the apostle of cricket in the neighbourhood, but my mission dwindled to single wicket with Peter Cadogan, who was indulgent but bored, and I swiped the ball through the dining-room window, and some one took one of the stumps to poke the laundry fire. Once a year, however, on that festival of the Roman Catholic Church which is familiarly known as “Pether and Paul’s day,” the district was wont to make a spasmodic effort at athletic sports, which were duly patronised by the gentry and promoted by the publicans, and this year the honour of a steward’s green rosette was conferred upon me. Philippa’s genius for hospitality here saw its chance, and broke forth into unbridled tea-party in connection with the sports, even involving me in the hire of a tent, the conveyance of chairs and tables, and other large operations.
It chanced that Flurry Knox had on this occasion lent the fields for the sports, with the proviso that horse-races and a tug-of-war were to be added to the usual programme; Flurry’s participation in events of this kind seldom failed to be of an inflaming character. As he and I planted larch spars for the high jump, and stuck furze-bushes into hurdles (locally known as “hurrls”), and skirmished hourly with people who wanted to sell drink on the course, I thought that my next summer leave would singularly coincide with the festival consecrated to St. Peter and St. Paul. We made a grand stand of quite four feet high, out of old fish-boxes, which smelt worse and worse as the day wore on, but was, none the less, as sought after by those for whom it was not intended, as is the Royal enclosure at Ascot; we broke gaps in all the fences to allow carriages on to the ground, we armed a gang of the worst blackguards in Skebawn with cart-whips, to keep the course, and felt that organisation could go no further.
The momentous day of Pether and Paul opened badly, with heavy clouds and every indication of rain, but after a few thunder showers things brightened, and it seemed within the bounds of possibility that the weather might hold up. When I got down to the course on the day of the sports the first thing I saw was a tent of that peculiar filthy grey that usually enshrines the sale of porter, with an array of barrels in a crate beside it; I bore down upon it in all the indignant majesty of the law, and in so doing came upon Flurry Knox, who was engaged in flogging boys off the Grand Stand.
“Sheehy’s gone one better than you!” he said, without taking any trouble to conceal the fact that he was amused.
“Sheehy!” I said; “why, Sheehy was the man who went to every magistrate in the country to ask them to refuse a license for the sports.”
“Yes, he took some trouble to prevent any one else having a look in,” replied Flurry; “he asked every magistrate but one, and that was the one that gave him the license.”
“You don’t mean to say that it was you?” I demanded in high wrath and suspicion, remembering that Sheehy bred horses, and that my friend Mr. Knox was a person of infinite resource in the matter of a deal.
“Well, well,” said Flurry, rearranging a disordered fish-box, “and me that’s a church-warden, and sprained my ankle a month ago with running downstairs at my grandmother’s to be in time for prayers! Where’s the use of a good character in this country?”
“Not much when you keep it eating its head off for want of exercise,” I retorted; “but if it wasn’t you, who was it?”
“Do you remember old Moriarty out at Castle Ire?”
I remembered him extremely well as one of those representatives of the people with whom a paternal Government had leavened the effete ranks of the Irish magistracy.
“Well,” resumed Flurry, “that license was as good as a five-pound note in his pocket.”
I permitted myself a comment on Mr. Moriarty suitable to the occasion.
“Oh, that’s nothing,” said Flurry easily; “he told me one day when he was half screwed that his Commission of the Peace was worth a hundred and fifty a year to him in turkeys and whisky, and he was telling the truth for once.”
At this point Flurry’s eye wandered, and following its direction I saw Lady Knox’s smart ‘bus cleaving its way through the throng of country people, lurching over the ups and downs of the field like a ship in a sea. I was too blind to make out the component parts of the white froth that crowned it on top, and seethed forth from it when it had taken up a position near the tent in which Philippa was even now propping the legs of the tea-table, but from the fact that Flurry addressed himself to the door, I argued that Miss Sally had gone inside.
Lady Knox’s manner had something more than its usual bleakness. She had brought, as she promised, a large contingent, but from the way that the strangers within her gates melted impalpably and left me to deal with her single-handed, I drew the further deduction that all was not well.
“Did you ever in your life see such a gang of women as I have brought with me?” she began with her wonted directness, as I piloted her to the Grand Stand, and placed her on the stoutest looking of the fish-boxes. “I have no patience with men who yacht! Bernard Shute has gone off to the Clyde, and I had counted on his being a man at my dance next week. I suppose you’ll tell me you’re going away too.”
I assured Lady Knox that I would be a man to the best of my ability.
“This is the last dance I shall give,” went on her ladyship, unappeased; “the men in this country consist of children and cads.”
I admitted that we were but a poor lot, “but,” I said, “Miss Sally told me ——”
“Sally’s a fool!” said Lady Knox, with a falcon eye at her daughter, who happened to be talking to her distant kinsman, Mr. Flurry of that ilk.
The races had by this time begun with a competition known as the “Hop, Step, and Lep”; this, judging by the yells, was a highly interesting display, but as it was conducted between two impervious rows of onlookers, the aristocracy on the fish-boxes saw nothing save the occasional purple face of a competitor, starting into view above the wall of backs like a jack-in-the-box. For me, however, the odorous sanctuary of the fish-boxes was not to be. I left it guarded by Slipper with a cart-whip of flail-like dimensions, as disreputable an object as could be seen out of low comedy, with some one’s old white cords on his bandy legs, butcher-boots three sizes too big for him, and a black eye. The small boys fled before him; in the glory of his office he would have flailed his own mother off the fish-boxes had occasion served.
I had an afternoon of decidedly mixed enjoyment. My stewardship blossomed forth like Aaron’s rod, and added to itself the duties of starter, handicapper, general referee, and chucker-out, besides which I from time to time strove with emissaries who came from Philippa with messages about water and kettles. Flurry and I had to deal single-handed with the foot-races (our brothers in office being otherwise engaged at Mr. Sheehy’s ), a task of many difficulties, chiefest being that the spectators all swept forward at the word “Go!” and ran the race with the competitors, yelling curses, blessings, and advice upon them, taking short cuts over anything and everybody, and mingling inextricably with the finish. By fervent applications of the whips, the course was to some extent purged for the quarter-mile, and it would, I believe, have been a triumph of handicapping had not an unforeseen disaster overtaken the favourite — old Mrs. Knox’s bath-chair boy. Whether, as was alleged, his braces had or had not been tampered with by a rival was a matter that the referee had subsequently to deal with in the thick of a free fight; but the painful fact remained that in the course of the first lap what were described as “his galluses” abruptly severed their connection with the garments for whose safety they were responsible, and the favourite was obliged to seek seclusion in the crowd.
The tug-of-war followed close on this contre-temps, and had the excellent effect of drawing away, like a blister, the inflammation set up by the grievances of the bath-chair boy. I cannot at this moment remember of how many men each team consisted; my sole aim was to keep the numbers even, and to baffle the volunteers who, in an ecstasy of sympathy, attached themselves to the tail of the rope at moments when their champions weakened. The rival forces dug their heels in and tugged, in an uproar that drew forth the innermost line of customers from Mr. Sheehy’s porter tent, and even attracted “the quality” from the haven of the fish-boxes, Slipper, in the capacity of Squire of Dames, pioneering Lady Knox through the crowd with the cart-whip, and with language whose nature was providentially veiled, for the most part, by the din. The tug-of-war continued unabated. One team was getting the worst of it, but hung doggedly on, sinking lower and lower till they gradually sat down; nothing short of the trump of judgment could have conveyed to them that they were breaking rules, and both teams settled down by slow degrees on to their sides, with the rope under them, and their heels still planted in the ground, bringing about complete deadlock. I do not know the record duration for a tug-of-war, but I can certify that the Cullinagh and Knockranny teams lay on the ground at full tension for half-an-hour, like men in apoplectic fits, each man with his respective adherents howling over him, blessing him, and adjuring him to continue.
With my own nauseated eyes I saw a bearded countryman, obviously one of Mr. Sheehy’s best customers, fling himself on his knees beside one of the combatants, and kiss his crimson and streaming face in a rapture of encouragement. As he shoved unsteadily past me on his return journey to Mr. Sheehy’s, I heard him informing a friend that “he cried a handful over Danny Mulloy, when he seen the poor brave boy so shtubborn, and, indeed, he couldn’t say why he cried.”
“For good-nature ye’d cry,” suggested the friend.
“Well, just that, I suppose,” returned Danny Mulloy’s admirer resignedly; “indeed, if it was only two cocks ye seen fightin’ on the road, yer heart’d take part with one o’ them!”
I had begun to realise that I might as well abandon the tug-of-war and occupy myself elsewhere, when my wife’s much harassed messenger brought me the portentous tidings that Mrs. Yeates wanted me at the tent at once. When I arrived I found the tent literally bulging with Philippa’s guests; Lady Knox, seated on a hamper, was taking off her gloves, and loudly announcing her desire for tea, and Philippa, with a flushed face and a crooked hat, breathed into my ear the awful news that both the cream and the milk had been forgotten.
“But Flurry Knox says he can get me some,” she went on; “he’s gone to send people to milk a cow that lives near here. Go out and see if he’s coming.”
I went out and found, in the first instance, Mrs. Cadogan, who greeted me with the prayer that the divil might roast Julia McCarthy, that legged it away to the races like a wild goose, and left the cream afther her on the servants’ hall table. “Sure, Misther Flurry’s gone looking for a cow, and what cow would there be in a backwards place like this? And look at me shtriving to keep the kettle simpering on the fire, and not as much coals undher it as’d redden a pipe!”
“Where’s Mr. Knox?” I asked.
“Himself and Slipper’s galloping the counthry like the deer. I believe it’s to the house above they went, sir.”
I followed up a rocky hill to the house above, and there found Flurry and Slipper engaged in the patriarchal task of driving two brace of coupled and spancelled goats into a shed.
“It’s the best we can do,” said Flurry briefly; “there isn’t a cow to be found, and the people are all down at the sports. Be d —— d to you, Slipper, don’t let them go from you!” as the goats charged and doubled like football players.
“But goats’ milk!” I said, paralysed by horrible memories of what tea used to taste like at Gib.
“They’ll never know it!” said Flurry, cornering a venerable nanny; “here, hold this divil, and hold her tight!”
I have no time to dwell upon the pastoral scene that followed. Suffice it to say, that at the end of ten minutes of scorching profanity from Slipper, and incessant warfare with the goats, the latter had reluctantly yielded two small jugfuls, and the dairymaids had exhibited a nerve and skill in their trade that won my lasting respect.
“I knew I could trust you, Mr. Knox!” said Philippa, with shining eyes, as we presented her with the two foaming beakers. I suppose a man is never a hero to his wife, but if she could have realised the bruises on my legs, I think she would have reserved a blessing for me also.
What was thought of the goats’ milk I gathered symptomatically from a certain fixity of expression that accompanied the first sip of the tea, and from observing that comparatively few ventured on second cups. I also noted that after a brief conversation with Flurry, Miss Sally poured hers secretly on to the grass. Lady Knox had throughout the day preserved an aspect so threatening that no change was perceptible in her demeanour. In the throng of hungry guests I did not for some time notice that Mr. Knox had withdrawn until something in Miss Sally’s eye summoned me to her, and she told me she had a message from him for me.
“Couldn’t we come outside?” she said.
Outside the tent, within less than six yards of her mother, Miss Sally confided to me a scheme that made my hair stand on end. Summarised, it amounted to this: That, first, she was in the primary stage of a deal with Sheehy for a four-year-old chestnut colt, for which Sheehy was asking double its value on the assumption that it had no rival in the country; that, secondly, they had just heard it was going to run in the first race; and, thirdly and lastly, that as there was no other horse available, Flurry was going to take old Sultan out of the ‘bus and ride him in the race; and that Mrs. Yeates had promised to keep mamma safe in the tent, while the race was going on, and “you know, Major Yeates, it would be delightful to beat Sheehy after his getting the better of you all about the license!”
With this base appeal to my professional feelings, Miss Knox paused, and looked at me insinuatingly. Her eyes were greeny-grey, and very beguiling.
“Come on,” she said; “they want you to start them!”
Pursued by visions of the just wrath of Lady Knox, I weakly followed Miss Sally to the farther end of the second field, from which point the race was to start. The course was not a serious one: two or three natural banks, a stone wall, and a couple of “hurrls.” There were but four riders, including Flurry, who was seated composedly on Sultan, smoking a cigarette and talking confidentially to Slipper. Sultan, although something stricken in years and touched in the wind, was a brown horse who in his day had been a hunter of no mean repute; even now he occasionally carried Lady Knox in a sedate and gentlemanly manner, but it struck me that it was trying him rather high to take him from the pole of the ‘bus after twelve miles on a hilly road, and hustle him over a country against a four-year-old. My acutest anxiety, however, was to start the race as quickly as possible, and to get back to the tent in time to establish an alibi; therefore I repressed my private sentiments, and, tying my handkerchief to a stick, determined that no time should be fashionably frittered away in false starts.
They got away somehow; I believe Sheehy’s colt was facing the wrong way at the moment when I dropped the flag, but a friend turned him with a stick, and, with a cordial and timely whack, speeded him on his way on sufficiently level terms, and then somehow, instead of returning to the tent, I found myself with Miss Sally on the top of a tall narrow bank, in a precarious line of other spectators, with whom we toppled and swayed, and, in moments of acuter emotion, held on to each other in unaffected comradeship.
Flurry started well, and from our commanding position we could see him methodically riding at the first fence at a smart hunting canter, closely attended by James Canty’s brother on a young black mare, and by an unknown youth on a big white horse. The hope of Sheehy’s stable, a leggy chestnut, ridden by a cadet of the house of Sheehy, went away from the friend’s stick like a rocket, and had already refused the first bank twice before old Sultan decorously changed feet on it and dropped down into the next field with tranquil precision. The white horse scrambled over it on his stomach, but landed safely, despite the fact that his rider clasped him round the neck during the process; the black mare and the chestnut shouldered one another over at the hole the white horse had left, and the whole party went away in a bunch and jumped the ensuing hurdle without disaster. Flurry continued to ride at the same steady hunting pace, accompanied respectfully by the white horse and by Jerry Canty on the black mare. Sheehy’s colt had clearly the legs of the party, and did some showy galloping between the jumps, but as he refused to face the banks without a lead, the end of the first round found the field still a sociable party personally conducted by Mr. Knox.
“That’s a dam nice horse,” said one of my hangers-on, looking approvingly at Sultan as he passed us at the beginning of the second round, making a good deal of noise but apparently going at his ease; “you might depind your life on him, and he have the crabbedest jock in the globe of Ireland on him this minute.”
“Canty’s mare’s very sour,” said another; “look at her now, baulking the bank! she’s as cross as a bag of weasels.”
“Begob, I wouldn’t say but she’s a little sign lame,” resumed the first; “she was going light on one leg on the road a while ago.”
“I tell you what it is,” said Miss Sally, very seriously, in my ear, “that chestnut of Sheehy’s is settling down. I’m afraid he’ll gallop away from Sultan at the finish, and the wall won’t stop him. Flurry can’t get another inch out of Sultan. He’s riding him well,” she ended in a critical voice, which yet was not quite like her own. Perhaps I should not have noticed it but for the fact that the hand that held my arm was trembling. As for me, I thought of Lady Knox, and trembled too.
There now remained but one bank, the trampled remnant of the furze hurdle, and the stone wall. The pace was beginning to improve, and the other horses drew away from Sultan; they charged the bank at full gallop, the black mare and the chestnut flying it perilously, with a windmill flourish of legs and arms from their riders, the white horse racing up to it with a gallantry that deserted him at the critical moment, with the result that his rider turned a somersault over his head and landed, amidst the roars of the onlookers, sitting on the fence facing his horse’s nose. With creditable presence of mind he remained on the bank, towed the horse over, scrambled on to his back again and started afresh. Sultan, thirty yards to the bad, pounded doggedly on, and Flurry’s cane and heels remained idle; the old horse, obviously blown, slowed cautiously coming in at the jump. Sally’s grip tightened on my arm, and the crowd yelled as Sultan, answering to a hint from the spurs and a touch at his mouth, heaved himself on to the bank. Nothing but sheer riding on Flurry’s part got him safe off it, and saved him from the consequences of a bad peck on landing; none the less, he pulled himself together and went away down the hill for the stone wall as stoutly as ever. The high-road skirted the last two fields, and there was a gate in the roadside fence beside the place where the stone wall met it at right angles. I had noticed this gate, because during the first round Slipper had been sitting on it, demonstrating with his usual fervour. Sheeny’s colt was leading, with his nose in the air, his rider’s hands going like a circular saw, and his temper, as a bystander remarked, “up on end”; the black mare, half mad from spurring, was going hard at his heels, completely out of hand; the white horse was steering steadily for the wrong side of the flag, and Flurry, by dint of cutting corners and of saving every yard of ground, was close enough to keep his antagonists’ heads over their shoulders, while their right arms rose and fell in unceasing flagellation.
“There’ll be a smash when they come to the wall! If one falls they’ll all go!” panted Sally. “Oh! —— Now! Flurry! Flurry! ——”
What had happened was that the chestnut colt had suddenly perceived that the gate at right angles to the wall was standing wide open, and, swinging away from the jump, he had bolted headlong out on to the road, and along it at top speed for his home. After him fled Canty’s black mare, and with her, carried away by the spirit of stampede, went the white horse.
Flurry stood up in his stirrups and gave a view-halloa as he cantered down to the wall. Sultan came at it with the send of the hill behind him, and jumped it with a skill that intensified, if that were possible, the volume of laughter and yells around us. By the time the black mare and the white horse had returned and ignominiously bundled over the wall to finish as best they might, Flurry was leading Sultan towards us.
“That blackguard, Slipper!” he said, grinning; “every one’ll say I told him to open the gate! But look here, I’m afraid we’re in for trouble. Sultan’s given himself a bad over-reach; you could never drive him home to-night. And I’ve just seen Norris lying blind drunk under a wall!”
Now Norris was Lady Knox’s coachman. We stood aghast at this “horror on horror’s head,” the blood trickled down Sultan’s heel, and the lather lay in flecks on his dripping, heaving sides, in irrefutable witness to the iniquity of Lady Knox’s only daughter. Then Flurry said:
“Thank the Lord, here’s the rain!”
At the moment I admit that I failed to see any cause for gratitude in this occurrence, but later on I appreciated Flurry’s grasp of circumstances.
That appreciation was, I think, at its highest development about half-an-hour afterwards, when I, an unwilling conspirator (a part with which my acquaintance with Mr. Knox had rendered me but too familiar) unfurled Mrs. Cadogan’s umbrella over Lady Knox’s head, and hurried her through the rain from the tent to the ‘bus, keeping it and my own person well between her and the horses. I got her in, with the rest of her bedraggled and exhausted party, and slammed the door.
“Remember, Major Yeates,” she said through the window, “you are the only person here in whom I have any confidence. I don’t wish any one else to touch the reins!” this with a glance towards Flurry, who was standing near.
“I’m afraid I’m only a moderate whip,” I said.
“My dear man,” replied Lady Knox testily, “those horses could drive themselves!”
I slunk round to the front of the ‘bus. Two horses, carefully rugged, were in it, with the inevitable Slipper at their heads.
“Slipper’s going with you,” whispered Flurry, stepping up to me; “she won’t have me at any price. He’ll throw the rugs over them when you get to the house, and if you hold the umbrella well over her she’ll never see. I’ll manage to get Sultan over somehow, when Norris is sober. That will be all right.”
I climbed to the box without answering, my soul being bitter within me, as is the soul of a man who has been persuaded by womankind against his judgment.
“Never again!” I said to myself, picking up the reins; “let her marry him or Bernard Shute, or both of them if she likes, but I won’t be roped into this kind of business again!”
Slipper drew the rugs from the horses, revealing on the near side Lady Knox’s majestic carriage horse, and on the off, a thick-set brown mare of about fifteen hands.
“What brute is this?” said I to Slipper, as he swarmed up beside me.
“I don’t rightly know where Misther Flurry got her,” said Slipper, with one of his hiccoughing crows of laughter; “give her the whip, Major, and”— here he broke into song:
“Howld to the shteel,
Honamaundhiaoul; she’ll run off like an eel!”
“If you don’t shut your mouth,” said I, with pent-up ferocity, “I’ll chuck you off the ‘bus.”
Slipper was but slightly drunk, and, taking this delicate rebuke in good part, he relapsed into silence.
Wherever the brown mare came from, I can certify that it was not out of double harness. Though humble and anxious to oblige, she pulled away from the pole as if it were red hot, and at critical moments had a tendency to sit down. However, we squeezed without misadventure among the donkey carts and between the groups of people, and bumped at length in safety out on to the high-road.
Here I thought it no harm to take Slipper’s advice, and I applied the whip to the brown mare, who seemed inclined to turn round. She immediately fell into an uncertain canter that no effort of mine could frustrate; I could only hope that Miss Sally would foster conversation inside the ‘bus and create a distraction; but judging from my last view of the party, and of Lady Knox in particular, I thought she was not likely to be successful. Fortunately the rain was heavy and thick, and a rising west wind gave every promise of its continuance. I had little doubt but that I should catch cold, but I took it to my bosom with gratitude as I reflected how it was drumming on the roof of the ‘bus and blurring the windows.
We had reached the foot of a hill, about a quarter of a mile from the racecourse; the Castle Knox horse addressed himself to it with dignified determination, but the mare showed a sudden and alarming tendency to jib.
“Belt her, Major!” vociferated Slipper, as she hung back from the pole chain, with the collar half-way up her ewe neck, “and give it to the horse, too! He’ll dhrag her!”
I was in the act of “belting,” when a squealing whinny struck upon my ear, accompanied by a light pattering gallop on the road behind us; there was an answering roar from the brown mare, a roar, as I realised with a sudden drop of the heart, of outraged maternal feeling, and in another instant a pale, yellow foal sprinted up beside us, with shrill whickerings of joy. Had there at this moment been a boghole handy, I should have turned the ‘bus into it without hesitation; as there was no accommodation of the kind, I laid the whip severely into everything I could reach, including the foal. The result was that we topped the hill at a gallop, three abreast, like a Russian troitska; it was like my usual luck that at this identical moment we should meet the police patrol, who saluted respectfully.
“That the divil may blisther Michael Moloney!” ejaculated Slipper, holding on to the rail; “didn’t I give him the foaleen and a halther on him to keep him! I’ll howld you a pint ’twas the wife let him go, for she being vexed about the license! Sure that one’s a March foal, an’ he’d run from here to Cork!”
There was no sign from my inside passengers, and I held on at a round pace, the mother and child galloping absurdly, the carriage horse pulling hard, but behaving like a gentleman. I wildly revolved plans of how I would make Slipper turn the foal in at the first gate we came to, of what I should say to Lady Knox supposing the worst happened and the foal accompanied us to her hall door, and of how I would have Flurry’s blood at the earliest possible opportunity, and here the fateful sound of galloping behind us was again heard.
“It’s impossible!” I said to myself; “she can’t have twins!”
The galloping came nearer, and Slipper looked back.
“Murdher alive!” he said in a stage whisper; “Tom Sheehy’s afther us on the butcher’s pony!”
“What’s that to me?” I said, dragging my team aside to let him pass; “I suppose he’s drunk, like every one else!”
Then the voice of Tom Sheehy made itself heard.
“Shtop! Shtop thief!” he was bawling; “give up my mare! How will I get me porther home!”
That was the closest shave I have ever had, and nothing could have saved the position but the torrential nature of the rain and the fact that Lady Knox had on a new bonnet. I explained to her at the door of the ‘bus that Sheehy was drunk (which was the one unassailable feature of the case), and had come after his foal, which, with the fatuity of its kind, had escaped from a field and followed us. I did not mention to Lady Knox that when Mr. Sheehy retreated, apologetically, dragging the foal after him in a halter belonging to one of her own carriage horses, he had a sovereign of mine in his pocket, and during the narration I avoided Miss Sally’s eye as carefully as she avoided mine.
The only comments on the day’s events that are worthy of record were that Philippa said to me that she had not been able to understand what the curious taste in the tea had been till Sally told her it was turf-smoke, and that Mrs. Cadogan said to Philippa that night that “the Major was that dhrinched that if he had a shirt between his skin and himself he could have wrung it,” and that Lady Knox said to a mutual friend that though Major Yeates had been extremely kind and obliging, he was an uncommonly bad whip.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13