"I thought you said your father was a loyal man."
"So he is. There isn't a loyaller man in Ireland. You'd know that if you'd ever seen him singing 'God Save the King.' He swells out an inch all over when he's doing it."
"If he's as loyal as all that," said Waterhouse, "he wouldn't consult with rebels."
"My dad, though loyal, has some sense, and so, as it happened, had O'Farrelly. Neither one nor the other of them wanted to see a battle fought in the streets of Ballymahon. You've seen battles, Waterhouse, and you know what they're like. Messy things. You can understand my father's feelings. O'Farrelly was awfully nice about it. He said that the people of Ballymahon, including my father and even the police, were a decent lot, and he'd hate to see licentious English soldiers rioting through the streets of the town. His idea was that my dad should use his influence with the C.O. of the troops and get him to march his men off somewhere else, so as to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. O'Farrelly promised he wouldn't go after them or molest them in any way if they left the neighbourhood My dad said he couldn't do that and even if he could, he wouldn't. He suggested that O'Farrelly should take his army away. O'Farrelly said he was out to fight and not to run away. I chipped in at that point and said he could fight just as well in a lonelier place, where there weren't any houses and no damage would be done. I said I felt pretty sure the soldiers would go after him to any bog he chose to select O'Farrelly seemed to think there was something in the suggestion and said he'd hold a council of war and consult his officers."
"What an amazing liar you are, Power," said Waterhouse.
Captain Power took no notice of the insult. He went on with his story.
"The Council of War assembled next morning," he said, "and sat for about four hours. It might have all day if an English officer hadn't ridden in on a motor-bike about noon. He was stopped by a sentry, of course, and said he wanted to see the C.O. of the rebel army. So the sentry blindfolded him——"
"What on earth for?"
"In civilized war," said Power severely, "envoys with flags of truce are invariably blindfolded. I told you at the start that our war was properly conducted; but you wouldn't believe me. Now you can see for yourself that it was. The sentry led that officer into the council, which was sitting in the court house. I told you, didn't I, that the court house was the rebel H.Q.?"
"You didn't mention it, but it doesn't matter."
"It does matter. And you'll see later on it's most important Well, O'Farrelly was frightfully polite to the officer, and asked him what he wanted. The officer said that he had come to demand the unconditional surrender of the whole of the rebel army. O'Farrelly, still quite politely, said he'd rather die than surrender, and everybody present cheered. The officer said that the town was entirely surrounded and that there was a gun on top of one of the hills which would shell the place into little bits in an hour if it started firing. O'Farrelly said he didn't believe all that and accused the officer of putting up a bluff. The officer stuck to it that what he said was true. That brought the negotiations to a dead-lock."
"Why the devil didn't they shell the place and have done with it, instead of talking?"
"That's what would happen out here," said Power. "But as I keep telling you our war was run on humane lines. After the officer and O'Farrelly had argued for half an hour my dad dropped in on them. He's a popular man in the place and I think everyone was glad to see him. He sized up the position at once and suggested the only possible way out O'Farrelly, with a proper safe conduct, of course, was to be allowed to go and see whether the town was really surrounded, and especially whether there was a gun on top of the hill, as the officer said. That, I think you'll agree with me, Waterhouse, was a sensible suggestion and fair to both sides. But they both boggled at it. The officer said he'd no power to enter into negotiation of any kind with rebels, and that all he could do was take yes or no to his proposal of unconditional surrender. O'Farrelly seemed to think that he'd be shot, no matter what safe conducts he had. It took the poor old dad nearly an hour to talk sense into the two of them; but in the end he managed it O'Farrelly agreed to go if the safe conduct was signed by my dad as well as the officer, and the officer agreed to take him on condition that my dad went too to explain the situation to his colonel. I went with them just to see what would happen."
"I suppose they made O'Farrelly prisoner?" said Waterhouse.
"You are judging everybody by the standards of this infernal war," said Power. "That English colonel was a soldier and a gentleman. He stood us drinks and let O'Farrelly look at the gun. It was there all right and Ballymahon was entirely surrounded. We got back about five o'clock, with an ultimatum written out on a sheet of paper. Unless O'Farrelly and his whole army had marched out and laid down their arms by 8 p.m. the town would be shelled without further warning. You'd have thought that would have knocked the heart out of O'Farrelly, considering that he hadn't a dog's chance of breaking through. But it didn't He became cheerfuller than I'd seen him before, and said that the opportunity he'd always longed for had come at last. His men, when he told them about the ultimatum, took the same view. They said they'd never surrender, not even if the town was shelled into dust and them buried in the ruins. That naturally didn't suit my dad—or for that matter, me. The soldiers were sure to begin by shelling the rebel H.Q. and that meant that they'd hit our house. I told you, didn't I, that it was next door to the court house? My poor dad did his best. He talked to O'Farrelly and the rest of them till the sweat ran off him. But it wasn't the least bit of good. They simply wouldn't listen to reason. It was seven o'clock before dad gave the job up and left the court house. He was going home to make his will, but on the way he met Father Conway, the priest He was a youngish man and a tremendous patriot, supposed to be hand-in-glove with the rebels. Dad explained to him that he had less than an hour to live and advised him to go home and bury any valuables he possessed before the shelling began. It took Father Conway about ten minutes to grasp the situation. I chipped in and explained the bracket system on which artillery works. I told him that they wouldn't begin by aiming at the court house, but would drop their first shell on his house and their next on ours, so as to get the range right. As soon as he believed that—and I had to swear it was true before he did—he took the matter up warmly and said he'd talk to O'Farrelly himself. I didn't think he'd do much good, but I went into the court house with him, just to see what he'd say. I must say for him he wasted no time. It was a quarter past seven when he began, so there wasn't much time to waste."
"'Boys,' he said, 'will you tell me straight and plain what is it you want?' O'Farrelly began a long speech about an Irish republic and things of that kind. I sat with my watch in my hand opposite Father Conway and every now and then I pointed to the hands, so as to remind him that time was going on. At twenty-five past seven he stopped O'Farrelly and said they couldn't have an Irish republic just then—though they might later—on account of that gun. Then he asked them again to say exactly what they wanted, republics being considered a wash-out You'd have been surprised if you heard the answer he got Every man in the place stood up and shouted that he asked nothing better than to die for Ireland. They meant it, too. I thought it was all up and Father Conway was done. But he wasn't."
"'Who's preventing you?' he said. 'Just form fours in the square outside and you'll all be dead in less than half an hour. But if you stay here a lot of other people who don't want to die for Ireland or anything else will be killed too; along with having their homes knocked down on them.'
"Well, they saw the sense of that. O'Farrelly formed his men up outside and made a speech to them. He said if any man funked it he could stay where he was and only those who really wanted to die need go on. It was a quarter to eight when he finished talking and I was in terror of my life that there'd be some delay getting rid of the men who fell out But there wasn't a single defaulter. Every blessed one of those men—and most of them were only boys—did a right turn and marched out of the town in column of fours. I can tell you, Waterhouse, I didn't like watching them go. Father Conway and my dad were standing on the steps of the court house, blubbering like children."
"I suppose they weren't all killed?" said Waterhouse.
"None of them were killed," said Power. "There wasn't a shot fired. You see, when the English officer saw them march out of the town he naturally thought they'd come to surrender, and didn't fire on them."
"He couldn't possibly have thought that," said Waterhouse, "unless they laid down their arms."
"As a matter of fact," said Power, "hardly any of them had any arms, except hockey sticks, and the Colonel thought they'd piled them up somewhere. He seems to have been a decent sort of fellow. He made O'Farrelly and a few more prisoners, and told the rest of them to be off home."
"Ireland," said Waterhouse, "must be a d_d queer country."
"It's the only country in Europe," said Power, "which knows how to conduct war in a civilized way. Now if a situation of that sort turned up out here there'd be bloodshed."
"I suppose O'Farrelly was hanged afterwards?" said Waterhouse.
"No, he wasn't."
"Shot, then? Though I should think hanging is the proper death for a rebel."
"Nor shot," said Power. "He is alive still and quite well. He's going about the country making speeches. He was down in Ballymahon about a fortnight ago and called on my dad to thank him for all he'd done during the last rebellion. He inquired after me in the kindest way. The old dad was greatly touched, especially when a crowd of about a thousand men, all O'Farrelly's original army with a few new recruits, gathered round the house and cheered, first for an Irish republic and then for dad. He made them a little speech and told them I'd got my company and was recommended for the M.C. When they heard that they cheered me like anything and then shouted 'Up the Rebels!' for about ten minutes."
"I needn't tell you," said Waterhouse, "that I don't believe a word of that story. If I did I'd say——"
He paused for a moment.
"I'd say that Ireland——"
"Yes," said Power, "that Ireland——"
"I'd say that Ireland is a country of lunatics," said Waterhouse, "and there ought to be an Irish Republic I can't think of anything to say worse than that."
XV ~~ THE MERMAID
We were on our way home from Inishmore, where we had spent two days; Peter O'Flaherty among his relatives—for everyone on the island was kin to him—I among friends who give me a warm welcome when I go to them. The island lies some seventeen miles from the coast We started on our homeward sail with a fresh westerly wind. Shortly after midday it backed round to the north and grew lighter. At five o'clock we were stealing along very gently through calm water with our mainsail boom out against the shroud. The jib and foresail were drooping in limp folds. An hour later the mainsheet was hanging in the water and the boat drifted with the tide. Peter, crouching in the fore part of the cockpit, hissed through his clenched teeth, which is the way in which he whistles for a wind. He glanced all round the horizon, searching for signs of a breeze. His eyes rested finally on the sun, which lay low among some light, fleecy clouds. He gave it as his opinion that when it reached the point of setting it "might draw a light air after it from the eastward." For that it appeared we were to wait I shrank from toil with the heavy sweeps. So, I am sure did Peter, who is a good man in a boat but averse from unnecessary labour. And there was really no need to row. The tide was carrying us homeward, and our position was pleasant enough. Save for the occasional drag of a block against the horse we had achieved unbroken silence and almost perfect peace.
We drifted slowly past Carrigeen Glos, a low, sullen line of rocks. A group of cormorants, either gorged with mackerel fry or hopeless of an evening meal, perched together at one end of the reef, and stared at the setting sun. A few terns swept round and round overhead, soaring or sliding downwards with easy motion. A large seal lay basking on a bare rock just above the water's edge. I pointed it out to Peter, and he said it was a pity I had not got my rifle with me. I did not agree with him. If I had brought the rifle Peter would have insisted on my shooting at the seal. I should certainly not have hit it on purpose, for I am averse from injuring gentle creatures; but I might perhaps have killed or wounded it by accident, for my shooting is very uncertain. In any case I should have broken nature's peace, and made a horrible commotion. Perhaps the seal heard Peter's remark or divined his feeling of hostility. It flopped across the rock and slid gracefully into the sea. We saw it afterwards swimming near the boat, looking at us with its curiously human, tender eyes.
"A man might mistake it for a mermaid," I said.
"He'd have to be a fool altogether that would do the like," said Peter.
He was scornful; but the seal's eyes were human. They made me think of mermaids.
"Them ones," said Peter, "is entirely different from seals. You might see a seal any day in fine weather. They're plenty. But the other ones—But sure you wouldn't care to be hearing about them."
"I've heard plenty about them," I said, "but it was all poetry and nonsense. You know well enough, Peter, that there's no such thing as a mermaid."
Peter filled his pipe slowly and lit it I could see by the way he puffed at it that he was full of pity and contempt for my scepticism.
"Come now," I said: "did you ever see a mermaid?"
"I did not," said Peter, "but my mother was acquainted with one. That was in Inishmore, where I was born and reared."
I waited. The chance of getting Peter to tell an interesting story is to wait patiently. Any attempt to goad him on by asking questions is like striking before a fish is hooked. The chance of getting either story or fish is spoiled.
"There was a young fellow in the island them times," said Peter, "called Anthony O'Flaherty. A kind of uncle of my father's he was, and a very fine man. There wasn't his equal at running or lepping, and they say he was terrible daring on the sea. That was before my mother was born, but she heard tell of what he did. When she knew him he was like an old man, and the heart was gone out of him."
At this point Peter stopped. His pipe had gone out. He relit it with immense deliberation. I made a mistake. By way of keeping the conversation going I asked a question.
"Did he see a mermaid?"
"He did," said Peter, "and what's more he married one."
There Peter stopped again abruptly, but with an air of finality. He had, so I gathered, told me all he was going to tell me about the mermaid. I had blundered badly in asking my question. I suppose that some note of unsympathetic scepticism in my tone suggested to Peter that I was inclined to laugh at him. I did my best to retrieve my position. I sat quite silent and stared at the peak of the mainsail. The block on the horse rattled occasionally. The sun's rim touched the horizon. At last Peter was reassured and began again.
"It was my mother told me about it, and she knew, for many's the time she did be playing with the young lads, her being no more than a little girleen at the time. Seven of them there was, and the second eldest was the one age with my mother. That was after herself left him."
"Herself" was vague enough; but I did not venture to ask another question. I took my eyes off the peak of the mainsail and fixed them inquiringly on Peter. It was as near as I dared go to asking a question.
"Herself," said Peter, "was one of them ones."
He nodded sideways over the gunwale of the boat. The sea, though still calm, was beginning to be moved by that queer restlessness which comes on it at sunset. The tide eddied in mysteriously oily swirls. The rocks to the eastward of us had grown dim. A gull flew by overhead uttering wailing cries. The graceful terns had disappeared. A cormorant, flying so low that its wing-tips broke the water, sped across our bows to some far resting-place. I fell into a mood of real sympathy with stories about mermaids. I think Peter felt the change which had come over me.
"Anthony O'Flaherty," said Peter, "was a young man when he saw them first. It was in the little bay back west of the island, and my mother never rightly knew what he was doing there in the middle of the night; but there he was. It was the bottom of a low spring tide, and there's rocks off the end of the bay that's uncovered at the ebb of the springs. You've maybe seen them."
I have seen them, and Peter knew it well I have seen more of them than I want to. There was an occasion when Peter and I lay at anchor in that bay, and a sudden shift of wind set us to beating out at three o'clock in the morning. The rocks were not uncovered then, but the waves were breaking fiercely over them. We had little room for tacking, and I am not likely to forget the time we went about a few yards to windward of them. The stretch of wild surf under our lee looked ghastly white in the dim twilight of the dawn. Peter knew what I was thinking.
"It was calm enough that night Anthony O'Flaherty was there," he said, "and there was a moon shining, pretty near a full moon, so Anthony could see plain. Well, there was three of them in it, and they playing themselves."
This time my voice expressed full sympathy. The sea all round us was rising in queer round little waves, though there was no wind. The boom snatched at the blocks as the boat rocked The sail was ghostly white. The vision of a mermaid would not have surprised me greatly.
"The beautifulest ever was seen," said Peter, "and neither shift nor shirt on them, only just themselves, and the long hair of them. Straight it was and black, only for a taste of green in it. You wouldn't be making a mistake between the like of them and seals, not if you'd seen them right the way Anthony O'Flaherty did."
Peter made this reflection a little bitterly. I was afraid the recollection of my unfortunate remark about seals might have stopped him telling the story, but it did not.
"Once Anthony had seen them," he said, "he couldn't rest content without he'd be going to see them again. Many a night he went and saw neither sight nor light of them, for it was only at spring tides that they'd be there, on account of the rocks not being uncovered any other time. But at the bottom of the low springs they were there right enough, and sometimes they'd be swimming in the sea and sometimes they'd be sitting on the rocks. It was wonderful the songs they'd sing—like the sound of the sea set to music was what my mother told me, and she was told by them that knew. The people did be wondering what had come over Anthony, for he was different like from what he had been, and nobody knew what took him out of his house in the middle of the night at the spring tides. There was a girl that they had laid down for him to marry, and Anthony had no objection to her before he seen them ones; but after he had seen them he wouldn't look at the girl. She had a middling good fortune too but sure he didn't care about that."
I could understand Anthony's feelings. The air of wind which Peter had promised, drawn from its cave by the lure of the departing sun, was filling our head-sails. I hauled in the main-sheet gently hand over hand and belayed it The boat slipped quietly along close-hauled. The long line of islands which guards the entrance of our bay lay dim before use. Over the shoulder of one of them I could see the lighthouse, still a distinguishable patch of white against the looming grey of the land. The water rippled mournfully under our bows and a long pale wake stretched astern from our counter. "Fortune," banked money, good heifers and even enduringly fruitful fields seemed very little matters to me then. They must have seemed still less, far less, to Anthony O'Flaherty after he had seen those white sea-maidens with their green-black hair.
"There was a woman on the island in those times," said Peter, "a very aged woman, and she had a kind of plaster which she made which cured the cancer, drawing it out by the roots, and she could tell what was good for the chin cough, and the women did like to have her with them when their children was born, she being knowledgable in them matters. I'm told the priests didn't like her, for there was things she knew which it mightn't be right that anyone would know, things that's better left to the clergy. Whether she guessed what was the matter with Anthony, or whether he up and told her straight my mother never heard. It could be that he told her, for many a one used to go to her for a charm when the butter wouldn't come, or a cow, maybe, was pining; so it wouldn't surprise me if Anthony went to her."
Peter crept aft He took a pull on the jib-sheet and belayed it again; but I do not believe that he really cared much about the set of the sail. That was his excuse. He wanted to be nearer to me. There is something in stories like this, told in dim twilight, with dark waters sighing near at hand, which makes men feel the need of close human companionship. Peter seated himself on the floorboards at my feet, and I felt a certain comfort in the touch of his arm on my leg.
"Well," he went on, "according to the old hag—and what she said was true enough, however she learnt it—them ones doesn't go naked all the time, but only when they're playing themselves on the rocks at low tide, the way Anthony seen them. Mostly they have a kind of cloak that they wear, and they take the same cloaks off of them when they're up above the water and they lay them down on the rocks. If so be that a man could pat his hand on e'er a cloak, the one that owned it would have to follow him whether she wanted to or not. If it was to the end of the world she'd have to follow him, or to Spain, or to America, or wherever he might go. And what's more, she'd have to do what he bid her, be the same good or bad, and be with him if he wanted her, so long as he kept the cloak from her. That's what the old woman told Anthony, and she was a skilful woman, well knowing the nature of beasts and men, and of them that's neither beasts nor men. You'll believe me now that Anthony wasn't altogether the same as other men when I tell you that he laid his mind down to get his hand down on one of the cloaks. He was a good swimmer, so he was, which is what few men on the island can do, and he knew that he'd be able to fetch out to the rock where them ones played themselves."
I was quite prepared to believe that Anthony was inspired by a passion far out of the common. I know nothing more terrifying than the chill embrace of the sea at night-time. To strike out through the slimy weeds which lie close along the surface at the ebb point of a spring tide, to clamber on low rocks, half awash for an hoar or two at midnight, these are things which I would not willingly do.
"The first time he went for to try it," said Peter, "he felt a bit queer in himself and he thought it would do him no harm if he was to bless himself. So he did, just as he was stepping off the shore into the water. Well, it might as well have been a shot he fired, for the minute he did it they were off and their cloaks along with them; and Anthony was left there. It was the sign of the cross had them frightened, for that same is what they can't stand, not having souls that religion would be any use to. It was the old woman told Anthony that after, and you'd think it would have been a warning to him not to make or meddle with the like of them any more. But it only made him the more determined. He went about without speaking to man or woman, and if anybody spoke to him he'd curse terrible, till the time of the next spring tide. Then he was off to the bay again, and sure enough them ones was there. The water was middling rough that night, but it didn't daunt Anthony. It pleased him, for he thought he'd have a better chance of getting to the rocks without them taking notice of him if there was some noise loud enough to drown the noise he'd be making himself. So he crept out to the point of the cliff on the south side of the bay, which is as near as he could get to the rocks. You remember that?"
I did. On the night when we beat out of the bay against a rising westerly wind we went about once under the shadow of the cliff, and, almost before we had full way on the boat, stayed her again beside the rocks. Anthony's swim, though terrifying, was short.
"That time he neither blessed himself nor said a prayer, but slipped into the water, and off with him, swimming with all his strength. They didn't see him, for they were too busy with their playing to take much notice, and of course they couldn't be expecting a man to be there. Without Anthony had shouted they wouldn't have heard him, for the sea was loud on the rocks and their own singing was louder. So Anthony got there and he crept up on the rock behind them, and the first thing his hand touched was one of the cloaks. He didn't know which of them it belonged to, and he didn't care. It wasn't any one of the three in particular he wanted, for they were all much about the same to look at, only finer than any woman ever was seen. So he rolled the cloak round his neck, the way he'd have his arms free for swimming, and back with him into the water, heading for shore as fast as he was able."
"And she followed him?" I asked.
"She did so. From that day till the day she left him she followed him, and she did what she was bid, only for one thing. She wouldn't go to mass, and when the chapel bell rang she'd hide herself. The sound of it was what she couldn't bear. The people thought that queer, and there was a deal of talk about it in the bland, some saying she must be a Protestant, and more thinking that she might be something worse. But nobody had a word to say against her any other way. She was a good enough housekeeper, washing and making and mending for Anthony, and minding the children. Seven of them there was, and all boys."
The easterly breeze freshened as the night fell I could see the great eye of the lighthouse blinking at me on the weather side of the boat. It became necessary to go about, but I gave the order to Peter very reluctantly. He handled the head-sheets, and then, instead of settling down in his old place, leaned his elbows on the coaming and stared into the sea. We were steadily approaching the lighthouse. I felt that I must run the risk of asking him a question.
"What happened in the end?" I asked.
"The end, is it? Well, in the latter end she left him. But there was things happened before that. Whether it was the way the priests talked to him about her—there was a priest in it them times that was too fond of interfering, and that's what some of them are—or whether there was goings-on within in the inside of the house that nobody knew anything about—and there might have been, for you couldn't tell what one of them ones might do or mightn't Whatever way it was, Anthony took to drinking more than he ought. There was poteen made on the island then, and whisky was easy come by if a man wanted it, and Anthony took too much of it."
Peter paused and then passed judgment, charitably, on Anthony's conduct "I wouldn't be too hard on a man for taking a drop an odd time."
I was glad to hear Peter say that I myself had found it necessary from time to time, for the sake of an old friendship, not to be too hard on Peter.
"Nobody would have blamed him," Peter went on, "if he had behaved himself when he had a drop taken; but that's what he didn't seem able to do. He bet her. Sore and heavy he bet her, and that's what no woman, whether she was a natural woman or one of the other kind, could be expected to put up with. Not that she said a word. She didn't. Nor nobody would have known that he bet her if he hadn't token to beating the young lads along with her. It was them told what was going on. But there wasn't one on the island would interfere. The people did be wondering that she didn't put the fear of God into Anthony; but of course that's what she couldn't do on account of his having the cloak hid away from her. So long as he had that she was bound to put up with whatever he did. But it wasn't for ever.
"The house was going to rack and ruin with the way Anthony wouldn't mind it on account of his being three-parts drunk most of the time. At last the rain was coming in through the roof. When Anthony saw that he came to himself a bit and sent for my grandfather and settled with him to put a few patches of new thatch on the worst places. My grandfather was the best man at thatching that there was in the island in them days, and he took the job though he misdoubted whether he'd ever be paid for it. Anthony never came next or nigh him when he was working, which shows that he hadn't got his senses rightly. If he had he'd have kept an eye on what my grandfather was doing, knowing what he knew, though of course my grandfather didn't know. Well, one day my grandfather was dragging off the old thatch near the chimney. It was middling late in the evening, as it might be six or seven o'clock, and he was thinking of stopping his work when all of a sudden he came on what he thought might be an old petticoat bundled away in the thatch. It was red, he said, but when he put his hand on it he knew it wasn't flannel, nor it wasn't cloth, nor it wasn't like anything he'd ever felt before in all his life. There was a hole in the roof where my grandfather had the thatch stripped, and he could see down into the kitchen. Anthony's wife was there with the youngest of the boys in her arms. My grandfather was as much in dread of her as every other one, but he thought it would be no more than civil to tell her what he'd found.
"'Begging your pardon, ma'am,' he said, 'but I'm after finding what maybe belongs to you hid away in the thatch.'
"With that he threw down the red cloak, for it was a red cloak he had in his hand. She didn't speak a word, but she laid down the baby out of her arms and she walked out of the house. That was the last my father seen of her. And that was the last anyone on the island seen of her, unless maybe Anthony. Nobody knows what he saw. He stopped off the drink from that day; but it wasn't much use his stopping it. He used to go round at spring tides to the bay where he had seen her first He did that five times, or maybe six. After that he took to his bed and died. It could be that his heart was broke."
We slipped past the point of the pier. Peter crept forward and crouched on the deck in front of the mast I peered into the gloom to catch sight of our mooring-buoy.
"Let her away a bit yet," said Peter. "Now luff her, luff her all you can."
The boat edged up into the wind. Peter, flat on his stomach, grasped the buoy and hauled it on board. The fore-sheets beat their tattoo on the deck. The boom swung sharply across the boat.
Ten minutes later we were leaning together across the boom gathering in the mainsail.
"What became of the boys?" I asked.
"Is it Anthony O'Flaherty's boys? The last of them went to America twenty years ago. But sure that was before you came to these parts."
XVI ~~ AN UPRIGHT JUDGE
No one knows how the quarrel between Peter Joyce and Patrick Joseph Flanagan began. It had been smouldering for years, a steady-going feud, before it reached its crisis last June.
The Joyces and Flanagans were neighbours, occupying farms of very poor land on the side of Letterbrack, a damp and lonely hill some miles from the nearest market town. This fact explains the persistence of the feud. It is not easy to keep up a quarrel with a man whom you only see once a month or so. Nor is it possible to concentrate the mind on one particular enemy if you live in a crowded place. Joyce and Flanagan saw each other every day. They could not help seeing each other, for their farms were small. They scarcely ever saw anyone else, because there were no other farms on the side of the hill. And the feud was a family affair. Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Flanagan disliked each other heartily and never met without using language calculated to embitter the feeling between them. The young Joyces and the young Flanagans fought fiercely on their way to and from school.
The war, which has turned Europe upside down and dragged most things from their familiar moorings, had its effect on the lives of the two farmers on the side of Letterbrack. They became better off than they had ever been before. It must not be supposed that they grew rich. According to the standard of English working men they had always been wretchedly poor. All that the war did for them was to put a little, a very little, more money into their pockets. They themselves did not connect their new prosperity with the war. They did not, indeed, think about the war at all, bring fully occupied with their work and their private quarrel. They noticed, without inquiring into causes, that the prices of the things they sold went up steadily. A lean bullock fetched an amazing sum at a fair. Young pigs proved unexpectedly profitable. The eggs which the women carried into town on market days could be exchanged for unusual quantities of tea. And the rise in prices was almost pure gain to these farmers. They lived for the most part on the produce of their own land and bought very little in shops. There came a time when Peter Joyce had a comfortable sum, about L20 in all, laid by after making provision for his rent and taxes. He felt entitled to some little indulgence.
An Englishman, when he finds himself in possession of spare cash spends it on material luxuries for himself and, if he is a good man, for his family. He buys better food, better clothes, and furniture of a kind not absolutely necessary, like pianos. An Irishman, in a similar agreeable position, prefers pleasures of a more spiritual kind. Peter Joyce was perfectly content to wear a "bawneen" of homemade flannel and a pair of ragged trousers. He did not want anything better for dinner than boiled potatoes and fried slices of bacon. He had not the smallest desire to possess a piano or even an armchair. But he intended, in his own way, to get solid enjoyment out of his L20.
It was after the children had gone to bed one evening that he discussed the matter with his wife.
"I'm not sure," he said, "but it might be as well to settle things up one way or another with that old reprobate Patrick Joseph Flanagan. It's what I'll have to do sooner or later."
"Them Flanagans," said Mrs. Joyce, "is the devil. There isn't a day passes but one or other of them has me tormented. If it isn't her it's one of the children, and if, by the grace of God, it isn't the children it's herself."
"What I'm thinking of," said Joyce, "is taking the law of him."
"It'll cost you something to do that," said Mrs. Joyce cautiously.
"And if it does, what matter? Haven't I the money to pay for it?"
"You have," said Mrs. Joyce. "You have surely. And Flanagan deserves it, so he does. It's not once nor twice, but it's every day I do be saying there's something should be done to them Flanagans."
"There's more will be done to him than he cares for," said Joyce grimly. "Wait till the County Court Judge gets at him. Believe me he'll be sorry for himself then."
Peter Joyce started early next morning. He had an eight-mile walk before him and he wished to reach the town in good time, being anxious to put his case into the hands of Mr. Madden, the solicitor, before Mr. Madden became absorbed in the business of the day. Mr. Madden had the reputation of being the smartest lawyer in Connaught, and his time was very fully occupied.
It took Joyce nearly three hours to reach the town and he had ample time to prepare his case against Flanagan as he went There was no lack of material for the lawsuit A feud of years' standing provides many grievances which can fairly be brought into court. Joyce's difficulty was to make a choice. He pondered deeply as he walked along the bare road across the bog. When he reached the door of Mr. Madden's office he had a tale of injuries suffered at the hands of the Flanagans which would, he felt sure, move the judge to vindictive fury.
Mr. Madden was already busy when Joyce was shown unto his room.
"Well," he said, "who are you and what do you want?"
"My name's Peter Joyce of Letterbrack, your honour," said Joyce. "A decent man with a long weak family, and my father was a decent man before me, and it's no fault of mine that I'm here to-day, and going into court, though there isn't another gentleman in all Ireland I'd sooner come to than yourself, Mr. Madden, if so be I had to come to anyone. And it's what I'm druv to, for if I wasn't——"
"What is it?" said Mr. Madden. "Police? Drunk and disorderly?"
"It is not," said Joyce. "Sure I never was took by the police only twice, and them times they wouldn't have meddled with me only for the spite the sergeant had against me. But he's gone from the place now, thanks be to God, and the one that came after him wouldn't touch me."
Peter Joyce sank his voice to a whisper.
"It's how I want to take the law of Patrick Joseph Flanagan," he said.
"Trespass or assault?" said Mr. Madden.
He was a man of immense experience. He succeeded in carrying on a large practice because he wasted no time in listening to preliminary explanations of his clients. Most legal actions in the West of Ireland are reducible to trespass or assault.
"It's both the two of them," said Joyce.
Mr. Madden made a note on a sheet of paper before him. Joyce waited until he had finished writing. Then he said slowly:
"Trespass and assault and more besides."
Mr. Madden asked no question. He added to the note he had written the words "And abusive language." Abusive language generally follows trespass and immediately precedes assault.
"Now," said Mr. Madden, "get on with your story and make it as short as you can."
Peter Joyce did his best to make the story short He succeeded in making it immensely complicated. There was a boundary wall in the story and it had been broken down. There was a heifer calf and a number of young pigs. There was a field of oats trampled and destroyed by the heifer, and a potato patch ruined beyond hope by the pigs. There was a sheep torn by a dog, stones thrown at Mrs. Joyce, language that had defiled the ears of Molly Joyce, an innocent child of twelve years old, and there was the shooting of a gun at Peter himself.
Joyce was prepared to swear to every item of the indictment. He did actually swear from time to time, laying his hand solemnly on a large ledger which stood on Mr. Madden's desk. Mr. Madden listened until he had heard enough.
"You haven't a ghost of a case against Flanagan," he said. "The judge won't listen to a story like that. If you take my advice you'll go straight home and make it up with Flanagan. You'll simply waste your money if you go into court."
Mr. Madden, it will be seen, was a man of principle. He made his living out of other people's quarrels, but he gave honest advice to his clients. He was also a man of wide knowledge of West of Ireland fanners. He knew perfectly well that his advice would not be taken.
"I've the money to pay for it," said Joyce, "and I'll have the law of Patrick Joseph Flanagan if it costs me the last penny I own. If your honour doesn't like the case sure I can go to someone else."
Mr. Madden, though a man of principle, was not quixotic.
"Very well," he said. "I'll manage your case for you; but I warn you fairly the judge will give it against you."
"He might not," said Joyce. "In the latter end he might not."
"He will," said Mr. Madden, "unless——"
He was watching Joyce carefully as he spoke. The man's face had an expression of cunning and self-satisfaction.
"Unless," Mr. Madden went on, "you've something up your sleeve that you haven't told me yet."
Joyce winked solemnly.
"It's what it would be hardly worth mentioning to your honour," he said.
"You'd better mention it all the same," said Mr. Madden.
"What I was thinking," said Joyce, "is that if I was to send a pair of ducks to the judge a couple of days before the case was to come on—fine ducks we have, as fine as ever was seen."
"Listen to me," said Mr. Madden. "You've got the very smallest possible chance of winning your case. But you have a chance. It's a hundred to one against you. Still, odd things do happen in courts. But let me tell you this. I know that judge. I've known him for years, and if you try to bribe him with a pair of ducks he'd give it against you even if you had the best case in the world instead of the worst. That's the kind of man he is."
Joyce sighed heavily. The ways of the law were proving unexpectedly difficult and expensive.
"Maybe," he said, "I could send him two pair of ducks, or two pair and a half, but that's the most I can do; and there won't be a young duck left about the place if I send him that many."
"Either you act by my advice," said Mr. Madden, "or I'll drop your case. This isn't a matter for the local bench of magistrates. If it was them you were dealing with, ducks might be some use to you. But a County Court Judge is a different kind of man altogether. He's a gentleman, and he's honest. If you attempt to get at him with ducks or any other kind of bribe you'll ruin any chance you have, which isn't much."
"That's a queer thing now, so it is," said Joyce.
"It's true all the same," said Mr. Madden.
"Do you mean to tell me," said Joyce, "that his honour, the judge, would go against a man that had done him a good turn in the way of a pair of ducks or the like?"
"That's exactly what I do mean," said Mr. Madden. "No judge would stand it And the one who presides over this court would be even angrier than most of them, so don't you do it."
Joyce left Mr. Madden's office a few minutes later, and tramped home. In spite of the lawyer's discouraging view of the case he seemed fairly well satisfied.
That evening he spoke to his wife.
"How many of them large white dukes have you?" he asked; "how many that's fit to eat?"
"There's no more than six left out of the first clutch," said Mrs. Joyce. "There was eleven hatched out, but sure the rats got the rest of them." "I'd be glad," said Joyce, "if you'd fatten them six, and you needn't spare the yellow meal. It'll be worth your while to have them as good as you can."
A month later the case of Joyce v. Flanagan came on in the County Court. Mr. Madden had hammered the original story of the wall, the heifer, the pigs and the potatoes, into shape. It sounded almost plausible as Mr. Madden told it in his opening remarks. But he had very little hopes that it would survive the handling of Mr. Ellis, a young and intelligent lawyer, who was acting for Flanagan. Joyce cheerfully confirmed every detail of the story on oath. He was unshaken by Mr. Ellis' cross-examination, chiefly because the judge constantly interfered with Mr. Ellis and would not allow him to ask the questions he wanted to ask. Flanagan and his witnesses did their best, but the judge continued to make things as difficult as he could for their lawyer. The matter, when all the evidence was heard, appeared tangled and confused, a result far beyond Mr. Madden's best expectations. He had feared that the truth might emerge with disconcerting plainness. Then an amazing thing happened The judge took Joyce's view of the circumstances and decided in his favour. Mr. Ellis gasped. Flanagan swore audibly and was silenced by a policeman. Joyce left the court with a satisfied smile.
"Well," said Mr. Madden, a little later, "you've won, but I'm damned if I know how it happened. I never went into court with a shakier case."
"I shouldn't wonder," said Joyce, "but it might have been the ducks that did it. I sent him six, your honour, six, and as fat as any duck ever you seen."
"Good Lord!" said Mr. Madden. "After all I said to you—and—but, good heavens, man! He can't have got them. If he had——"
"He got them right enough," said Joyce, "for I left them at the door of the hotel myself, with a bit of a note, saying as how I hoped he'd take a favourable view of the case that would be before him to-day, and I told him what the case was, so as there'd be no mistake—Joyce v. Flanagan was what I wrote, in a matter of trespass and assault, and abusive language."
"Well," said Mr. Madden, "all I can say is that if I hadn't seen with my own eyes what happened in that court to-day I wouldn't have believed it To think that the judge, of all men——"
"It was Flanagan's name and not my own," said Joyce, "that I signed at the bottom of the note. 'With the respectful compliments of Patrick Joseph Flanagan, the defendant,' was what I wrote, like as if it was from him that the ducks came."
"I'd never have thought of it," said Mr. Madden. "Joyce, it's you and not me that ought to be a lawyer. Lawyer! That's nothing. You ought to be a Member of Parliament. Your talents are wasted, Joyce. Go into Parliament You'll be a Cabinet Minister before you die."