"But who fired them?" said Bland. "Who have you got who understands them? Those were big guns."
"Malcolmson," I said, "always said he understood guns."
"He does," said Bland. "If he'd shot just the least shade better he'd have sunk that ship."
On the bridge we met McConkey, sweating profusely, taking his favourite weapon along at a rapid trot. He stopped when he saw us and halted his breathless team.
"I have her working again," he said, "and she'll shoot the now."
"You're too late," said Bland.
"Is she sunken?" said McConkey. "Man o' man but I'm sorry for it. I wanted sore to have a shot at her."
"She's not sunk," said Bland, "but she's gone. Steamed clean out of range of your gun."
"I'd have liked well to have got to her before she quit," said McConkey. "Did you hear tell what she did with that shell she fired into the town?"
"No," I said. "Did it kill many people?"
"Sorra the one," said McConkey. "But I'll tell you what it did do." His voice sank to a hoarse but singularly impressive whisper. "It made flitters of the statue of the old Queen that was sitting fornint the City Hall. The like of thon is nice work for men that's wearing the King's uniform."
Bland burst into a sudden fit of boisterous laughter.
"You may laugh if it pleases you," said McConkey, "but I'm thinking it's time for loyal men to be getting guns of their own when the Government is that thick with rebels and Papishes that they'd go shooting at the ould Queen who was always a decent woman, so she was, and too good for the like of them."
McConkey's story was perfectly true. The solitary shell which was fired into Belfast fell just outside the City Hall. It injured that building a good deal; and it entirely destroyed the statue of Queen Victoria. It is a curious evidence of the amazing loyalty of the people of Belfast that many of them were more angry at this insult to Majesty than they would have been if the shell had killed half a dozen volunteers. McConkey was not by any means the only man who saw in the accident evidence of an unholy alliance between the Liberal Government and the men whom Babberly was accustomed to describe as "Steeped to the lips in treason."
Bland and I stood together outside the City Hall and surveyed the shattered fragments of the statue. The shell must have exploded quite close to it, and I was immensely impressed at first with the terrific power of modern artillery. Then I began to think about the moral effects of the bombardment, and I saw my way to helping Bland in his profession. He had been very kind to me and very helpful. I wanted to do him a good turn if I could.
"This," I said, "is a magnificent opportunity for you. You'll be able to send off a telegram to your newspaper which will make your fortune as a correspondent."
"I don't see that," said Bland. "If there'd been a little slaughter I might have made something out of it. But a statue! Hang it all! One statue is rather a poor bag for the British Fleet. The people are proud of their navy. They've spent a lot of money on it, and they won't like being told that it has hit nothing but a statue, after a long morning's shooting."
Bland had not grasped my idea. For a moment I was inclined to keep it for my own use and work it up into an article when I got time. But Bland deserved something from me. I resisted the temptation and gave him the idea.
"I wish," I said, "that I were a special correspondent. I'd—"
"Well," said Bland. "What would you say?"
"I should take that New Zealander who stood on the broken arch of Westminster Bridge and—"
"Macaulay's," said Bland. "I don't think that the public would stand him again. He's played out."
"Not in the way I mean to use him. I should, so to speak, spiritualize him, and—"
"Hold on a minute," said Bland.
He got out a note-book and a pencil and prepared to write.
"Now," he said, "go on."
Bland's expectant attitude, and the fact that he was evidently going to take down what I said in shorthand, embarrassed me. When I write essays I like to work deliberately and to correct carefully. I aim at a polished elegance of style. I do not care for the kind of offhand composition Bland asked for.
"'Interview with a Revolutionary Peer,'" said Bland, "'Lord Kilmore on the Ulster Situation.' You were just going to say—"
"Oh, nothing much. Only that the feelings of that New Zealander—"
"Meditating on the ruins of a shattered civilization," said Bland. "I can put in that part myself."
"—Are nothing to yours—" I said.
"Yours," said Bland.
"Well, mine, if this must be an interview; but I'd rather you had the whole credit.—Are nothing to mine when I survey the vacant pedestal of that statue. You catch the idea now?"
"No," said Bland. "I don't. Is there one?"
"Yes, there is. These unrecognizable fragments of stone, the once majestic statue, Ulster's loyalty."
"Good," said Bland. "I have it now." He began to write rapidly. "'To the thoughtful mind there was something infinitely tragic in the shattered statue of the great queen, symbol of the destruction of an ideal. England bought the friendship of Nationalist Ireland at a heavy price when the guns of her Fleet annihilated the loyalty of Ulster.' That's your idea."
"You've got it exactly," I said.
"I'll send it off at once."
"Yes. You'd better hurry. It's almost certain to occur to Babberly, and the moment it does he'll put it into a speech. If he does, the whole credit will go to him."
This impressed Bland. He hurried away towards the post-office. I felt that I was not likely to get anything more out of the statue. I put a small bit of it in my pocket to keep as a souvenir, and then strolled along Donegal Place.
I met Crossan, who saluted me gravely.
"The provisional Government," he said, "desires your lordship's presence in the City Hall."
"I'm glad there's a provisional Government," I said. "We want something of the sort. Do you happen to know if I'm a member of it?"
"I've been looking for you, my lord," said Crossan, severely, "for over an hour, and there's no time to waste."
I hurried off. The Government, after driving off the British Fleet, was likely to be in a good temper, but I did not wish to keep it waiting for me too long.
When I entered the room I found Conroy, McNeice, Malcolmson, Cahoon and the Dean seated at the table. Moyne was not there.
"I congratulate you, gentlemen," I said, "on the result of the naval engagement. Malcolmson was perfectly magnificent. It was you, wasn't it, who—?"
"I didn't see anything magnificent about it," said Malcolmson, sulkily.
"We're damned well sick of being played with," said McNeice.
"If the English Government means to fight us—" said the Dean, speaking explosively.
"Do you mean to say," I said, "that you think the Admiral was not in earnest in that bombardment?"
"No more than the soldiers were yesterday," said McNeice. "They fired over our heads."
"And we're not going to stand any more fooling," said Malcolmson.
"We're business men," said Cahoon, "and this sort of play-acting won't do for Belfast."
"Your boss politicians," said Conroy, "have been flooding us out with telegrams."
There was a large pile of telegrams in front of him and some forty or fifty loose sheets of flimsy yellow paper were scattered about the table.
"Their notion," said Conroy, "is that we should send a man over to negotiate."
"An ambassador," I said, "Plenipotentiary?"
"Lord Moyne won't go," said the Dean.
"He's the proper man," I said. "Let's try to persuade him."
"He's up at the barracks," said McNeice. "He's been there all morning trying to get the General to arrest him."
"It would be far better," I said, "if he went to London and handed himself over to the Prime Minister."
"European convention," said Conroy, "makes it necessary, so I am informed, that this particular kind of job should be done by a member of your aristocracy."
I was, I think, with the exception of Moyne, the only member of the House of Lords in Belfast at the moment. The committee had evidently fixed on me as an ambassador.
"There is," I said, "a tradition that the Diplomatic Service should be—but our circumstances are so very peculiar—I am not sure that we ought to feel bound—"
"Will you go?" said Conroy.
"Of course, I'll go," I said. "There's nothing I should like better."
"The Finola is lying off Bangor," said Conroy. "I'll run you and Power down there in my motor. He'll land you wherever you like."
"Good," I said. "I suppose I'll go in my shirt with a rope round my neck, like the burghers of Calais."
"If that's the regular costume," said Conroy.
He spoke so severely that I thought I had better drop the subject of clothes.
"Now, as to the terms which you are prepared to offer the Government," I said.
"We will not have Home Rule," said the Dean and Malcolmson together.
"Of course not," I said. "That will be understood at once. Shall I demand Mr. Redmond's head on a charger? I don't suppose you want it, but it's always well to ask for more than you mean to take. It gives the other side a chance of negotiating."
"All we ask," said McNeice, "is that the English clear out of this country, bag and baggage, soldiers, policemen, tax collectors, the whole infernal crew, and leave us free hand to clean up the mess they've been making for the last hundred years."
"Either that," said Malcolmson, "or fight us in earnest."
"They'll clear out, of course," I said. "If it's a choice between that and fighting. But what about governing the country afterwards?"
"We'll do that," said Conroy, "and if we can't do it better than they did—"
"Oh, you will," I said. "Anyhow, you can't do it worse. But—there's just one point more. What about the Lord Lieutenant?"
"I don't know that he matters any," said Conroy.
"He doesn't," I said, "not a bit. But he's there at present, and some arrangement will have to be made about him."
"If the Dublin people like airing their best clothes before an imitation king," said Cahoon, "let them. It won't matter to us."
This showed me that Cahoon, at least, has a statesman's mind. In unessential matters he is ready to yield to the sentiments of his inferiors.
"I understand then," I said, "that the Lord Lieutenant with the purely ornamental part of the Viceregal staff is to be allowed to remain on the condition that he gives—shall we say eight balls and eight dinner-parties every year?—and that every other Englishman leaves the country at once. Those are your terms."
"And no more talk about Home Rule," said the Dean firmly.
"Very well," I said, "I'll start at once."
Bob Power was waiting for me in Conroy's motor when I had packed my bag. The streets were very crowded as we drove through them, and the people cheered us tremendously. It was the first time I had ever been cheered, and I found the sensation agreeable. Besides cheering, the crowd sang a great deal. Some one had composed a song especially for the occasion, which had caught the fancy of the Belfast people, and spread among them with wonderful rapidity. The tune, I am told, dates from the days of the eighteenth-century volunteer movement.
"Do you think I'm a fool To put up with Home Rule? For I'm not, as you'll quickly discover, discover. For soldier and rebel I'm equally able; I'll neither have one nor the t'other, the t'other."
As poetry this is scarcely equal to Dr. Isaac Watts' version of the ninetieth of David's psalms. The rhyme of "rebel" with "able" is defective, and "discover" and "other" jar rather badly; but poets of high reputation have done worse in times of patriotic excitement, and the thing expressed the feelings of the Belfast people with perfect accuracy. A better poet might very well have failed to understand them.
Bob and I made the sea-passage as short as possible by steaming to Port Patrick. I spent an anxious half-hour while we passed through the squadron of warships. Bob assured me that they would not do anything to us. When I complained that they had a truculent and angry look about them he said that that was nothing out of the common. All warships look truculent. I dare say they do. Warfare has become much more civilized and scientific than it used to be; but we cannot any of us afford as yet to neglect the wisdom of the mediaeval Chinese. They wore masks in order to terrify their foes. Our battleships are evidently designed with the same object.
I reached London next morning, and at once sent word to the Prime Minister that I was ready to make a treaty with him. He sent Sir Samuel Clithering to act as an intermediary. We met in the library of Moyne House, which was neutral ground. Lady Moyne had been one of the original syndicate which, so to speak, placed our insurrection on the market. Her house was therefore friendly soil for me. She had afterwards disassociated herself, more or less, from Conroy and McNeice; while Moyne had been trying for two days to surrender himself. The Prime Minister's ambassador could therefore go to Moyne House without loss of dignity.
Clithering brought my nephew Godfrey with him.
"Mr. D'Aubigny," he said, "is acting for the present as one of my private secretaries."
Clithering is a man who accumulates private secretaries rapidly. It would not have surprised me to hear that he had a dozen.
"I brought him," Clithering went on, "to take notes of our conversation. I thought that you would prefer him to a stranger."
I should very much have preferred the young man from Toynbee Hall who escorted Marion to the cathedral. I should, in fact, have preferred any other private secretary. But I had not the heart to say so. The experience of the last few days had softened me, and Godfrey looked immensely pleased with himself. He had on a new frock coat, beautifully cut, and a pair of trousers of an exquisite shade of grey. He also had a pale mauve tie with a pearl pin in it.
Clithering began rather pompously. I dare say he really thought that he was in a position to dictate terms.
"I hope," he said, "I sincerely hope that you fully realize the extraordinary forbearance with which the Government has treated this—this—"
"Don't say rebellion," I said; "we're thoroughly loyal men and always have been."
Clithering hesitated. He wanted to say rebellion, but he remembered that he was engaged in a game of diplomacy.
"This emeute," he said at last.
French is, after all, a greater language than English. I could not object to emeute. I should have objected to any English description of our rising.
"We might," said Clithering, "have shot the people down. We might have bombarded the town. I am sure that you realize that."
"We realize it," I said, "but we don't altogether appreciate it. In fact, we feel that your way of conducting the war has been rather insulting to us."
"You don't mean to say," said Clithering, "that you really wanted us—to—to shoot in earnest?"
"We did. In fact one of the alternatives which I am empowered to offer you—"
"Offer us! But we—we are—I mean to say that the terms of settlement must, of course, be dictated by us."
"Not at all," I said. "Godfrey, you can't write shorthand, I know; but you must try and take down what I'm going to say now as accurately as possible. I'll speak quite slowly. The Government—I mean, of course, so far as Ulster is concerned, the late Government—your Government—must either conduct the war in a proper business-like way—have you got that down, Godfrey?"
"Do you mean," said Clithering, "that you want us—?"
"I mean," I said, "that we have put our money into it. Conroy, in particular, has spent huge sums on cannons. We are determined to have a show of some sort. Your Government must therefore either agree to fight properly and not keep running away every time we get a shot in, or—"
"Yes," said Clithering, "go on."
"I'm waiting," I said, "till Godfrey gets that written down. Have you finished, Godfrey? Very well. Or—now take this down carefully—you English clear out of Ireland altogether, every man of you, except—"
"But—but—but—" said Clithering.
"And leave us to manage Ireland ourselves. Got that, Godfrey?"
"But," said Clithering; "but—I thought you didn't want Home Rule."
"We don't. We won't have it at any price."
"But that is Home Rule of the most extreme kind."
"There's no use splitting hairs," I said, "or discussing finicking points of political nomenclature. The point for you to grasp is that those are our terms."
"Will you excuse me?" said Clithering. "This is all rather surprising. May I call up the Prime Minister on the telephone?"
"Certainly," I said. "I'm in no hurry. But be sure you put it to him distinctly. I don't want to have any misunderstanding."
There was no telephone in the library of Moyne House. Clithering had to ring for a servant who led him off to another room. Godfrey seized the opportunity of his absence to confide in me.
"Poor old Clithering is a bit of a bounder," he said. "Makes stockings, you know, Excellency. And Lady Clithering is a fat vulgarian. It's all she can do to pick up her aitches. I shouldn't think of stopping in their house if—"
"If any one else would give you food and pocket money."
"There's that, of course," said Godfrey. "But what I was thinking of is the daughter. There is a daughter and she ought to have a tidy little pile. Now do you think it would be worth my while to marry into a family like that for forty thou.? Clithering ought to run to forty thou., with the title in sight. I wonder if you would mind sounding him, Excellency?"
"At present," I said, "I'm arranging about the fate of Belfast, which is rather an important matter in some ways. But—"
Godfrey did not seem to care much about the fate of Belfast.
"I suppose," he said, "that it really is settled about Marion and that fellow Power."
"Quite," I said; "they're to be married at once."
"Then I think, Excellency, if you don't mind speaking to old Clithering—I wouldn't like to commit myself until I was pretty sure of the money. There's only one daughter, so he can hardly offer less than forty thou."
I fully intended to tell Godfrey what I thought of him; but words were not easy to find. I was still searching for a noun to go along with "damnable" when Clithering came back. He seemed greatly excited.
"The Prime Minister," he blurted out, "is quite ready—He says he has no objection—In fact it's what we've been trying to do all along. Our Home Rule Bill was simply an attempt—"
"Do try to be coherent," I said. "What did the Prime Minister say?"
"He said we'd leave Ireland with the greatest pleasure," said Clithering.
"Is that all?"
Something in the way Clithering spoke made me think the Prime Minister must have said more than that.
"He added," said Clithering, "that—"
Then he paused nervously.
"Out with it," I said. "It's far better to have no secrets. Godfrey, take down the Prime Minister's words."
"He added," said Clithering, "that there is only one thing which would please him better than to see the back of the last Irishman leaving Westminster, and that is—"
"Go on," I said.
"To hear that at the end of three weeks you'd all torn each other to pieces, and that there was nothing but a lot of trouser buttons left to show that Ireland had ever been an inhabited country. Of course he didn't mean it. If there was the least chance of any internecine strife our conscience would not allow us—after all we have a duty, as Englishmen—but there's no risk of bloodshed, is there, Lord Kilmore?"
"Not the slightest. I may take it then that your Government agrees to our terms. You cart away your army and all your officials, except the Lord Lieutenant. We want him. He's to give parties for the Dublin doctors and the smaller landed gentry."
"But about his salary," said Clithering. "Is that to be an Imperial charge, or are you—?"
"I forgot to ask about that," I said, "but if there's any difficulty I expect Conroy will agree to pay it. It's not much, is it?"
"I'm not sure of the exact figure; but I know it's never supposed to be enough."
"I've no actual authority for saying so," I said, "but I expect we'll want to do the thing decently if we do it at all. Cahoon has the mind of a statesman, and in his opinion something will have to be done to soothe the Dublin public. A first-rate Viceregal establishment was his idea. However, we needn't go into details. The main thing is that we want a Lord Lieutenant. If your Government undertakes to supply suitable men from time to time I think I may promise that we'll find the money. Write that down, Godfrey."
"When you speak of the English clearing out of Ireland," said Clithering, "and leaving you the country to yourselves, you don't of course mean absolute fiscal independence."
"We do," I said.
"You can't mean that," said Clithering. "It's costing us nearly two millions a year to run the country, and if that's withdrawn you will go bankrupt."
"What McNeice said," I replied, "was that you were to clear out, bag, baggage, soldiers, police, tax-collectors, and the whole—"
"Tax-collectors!" said Clithering. "I'm not sure—"
"Didn't your Prime Minister say he'd be glad to get rid of us? What's the use of your arguing on about every little point?"
"But," said Clithering, "the collection of the revenue! Between ourselves now, Lord Kilmore, do you think there would be any risk of your imposing a tariff on—"
"Certain to," I said. "It will be one of the first things we do."
"We can't agree to that," said Clithering. "Free Trade is a principle, a sacred principle with us. You can't expect—We are a Free Trade Government. Our consciences—"
"Very well," I said. "Go on with the war. Bombard Belfast. Kill another woman. Smash the Albert Memorial with a shell."
"Our consciences—" said Clithering.
"Your consciences," I said, "will have to let you do one thing or the other."
"Now take my own case," said Clithering. "I am interested, deeply interested, in hosiery. We do a big business in stockings."
Godfrey winced. I do not wonder. The future Lady Kilmore must, of course, wear stockings, but it is not pleasant for Godfrey to think of her supply coming straight from the paternal factory.
"The Irish trade," said Clithering, "is not among the most remunerative, but—"
"We can only afford to wear the cheaper sorts," I said; "and a great many of us can't buy any at all. I don't think you need bother about the Irish trade."
"Still, it is substantial. Now, a hostile tariff—or a bounty on Balbriggan—"
"You'll have to establish a factory in Ireland," I said, "and dodge the tariff. Tipperary now. Labour is comparatively cheap, and—After all, it's a choice between that and letting the Fleet loose at Belfast again."
Clithering thought this over. I think the idea of cheap labour in Tipperary cheered him up. When he next spoke it was in a most friendly tone.
"I hope," he said, "that the shells which were fired—"
"There was only one," I said.
"I heard that no lives were lost," said Clithering. "I hope that the damage done to property was not serious."
"One statue," I said, "was smashed to bits."
"I'm very sorry, very sorry indeed. Now I wonder if you would allow me—I mean if the people of Belfast would allow me—as a personal expression of the warm feeling of friendliness I've always felt for the Irish people, all the Irish people—I wonder if I might offer to replace the statue. I should esteem it an honour."
"It was a very large statue," I said, "and must have cost—"
"Oh, I should not allow considerations of money to stand in my way."
This was handsome. I looked at Godfrey to see how he liked to hear his future wife's dowry being frittered away on statues. I could see that he was anything but pleased.
"I shall convey your offer," I said, "to the people of Belfast. They may not want that exact statue again. We're not quite as keen on Kings and Queens as we were. But I feel quite sure something symbolic would appeal to us strongly. What would you think now of Ulster as an infant Hercules strangling a snake representing Home Rule? Any good sculptor would knock off something of that sort for you; about twelve feet by nine feet, not counting the pedestal. By the way, did we do much damage to your ship? The one Malcolmson hit with his cannon ball?"
"I don't know," said Clithering. "I did not hear any details."
"Because," I said, "if she is injured in any way—But perhaps she was insured?"
"I don't think men-of-war are insured."
"Well, they ought to be. But if that one wasn't I'm sure we'd like to make good any damage we did. Conroy has lots of money, and he'd be sorry if the English people were put to any expense in repairing a battleship we injured."
I am not a practised ambassador, but I have always understood that diplomacy is a trade in which politeness pays. I was not going to be outdone by Clithering. When he offered Belfast a new statue I could hardly do less than promise that Conroy would mend the ship. I was very glad afterwards that I thought of it. Clithering was tremendously pleased, and made me quite a long speech. He said that he looked upon my offer as a kind of first-fruit of the new spirit of amity which was coming into existence between England and Ireland.
This ended our negotiations to the satisfaction of every one concerned.
Lady Moyne returned at once to Castle Affey and spent the summer in planning new ways of keeping the insurgent industrial democracy from invading the rights and privileges of the propertied classes. Last time I dined there she explained to me a scheme for developing the Boy Scout movement, which would, she thought, distract the attention of the public and push social questions into the background. Babberly escaped having to address a labour meeting in Newcastle-on-Tyne. He had promised to do this, but there was no necessity for him to keep his promise once the troops were withdrawn from Belfast. He returned to his duties in Parliament, and, as I gathered from the papers, harassed the Government successfully all through the autumn session. The Dean and Crossan played their hymn tune on our church bells every day for a fortnight. They still—and I am writing several months after the new Irish Government has been firmly established—congratulate each other on the way in which the third Home Rule Bill was defeated by the unfaltering attitude of the Ulster Loyalists.
Godfrey, I regret to say, failed to marry Miss Clithering. She took a violent dislike to him after he had spent three weeks in her father's house. Not even the prospect of becoming Lady Kilmore would reconcile her to the marriage. I am therefore still responsible for his maintenance.
I have, unfortunately, been obliged to give up writing my "History of Irish Rebellions." I do not understand Marion's system of filing, and I cannot find any of the papers I want. I cannot get Marion to explain things to me, or to take any trouble to help me. Since she married Bob Power she has lost all interest in my literary work.
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.