All on the Irish Shore
E.OE. Somerville and Martin Ross
"Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.," "The Real Charlotte" "The Silver Fox," "A Patrick's Day Hunt" etc., etc.
With Illustrations by E.OE. Somerville
Longmans, Green, and Co.
39 Paternoster Row, London
New York and Bombay
THE TINKER'S DOG
FANNY FITZ'S GAMBLE
THE CONNEMARA MARE
A GRAND FILLY
A NINETEENTH-CENTURY MIRACLE
HIGH TEA AT MCKEOWN'S
THE BAGMAN'S PONY
AN IRISH PROBLEM
THE DANE'S BREECHIN'
"AS I WAS GOING TO BANDON FAIR"
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"ROBERT TRINDER, ESQ., M.F.H."
"A SILENCE THAT WAS THE OUTCOME PARTLY OF STUPIDITY, PARTLY OF CAUTION, AND PARTLY OF LACK OF ENGLISH SPEECH"
"MR. GUNNING WAS LOOKIN' OUT FOR A COB"
"THE GREY-HAIRED KITCHEN-MAID"
A HIERARCH OF HORSE-DEALING
THE TINKER'S DOG
"Can't you head 'em off, Patsey? Run, you fool! run, can't you?"
Sounds followed that suggested the intemperate use of Mr. Freddy Alexander's pocket-handkerchief, but that were, in effect, produced by his struggle with a brand new hunting-horn. To this demonstration about as much attention was paid by the nine couple of buccaneers whom he was now exercising for the first time as might have been expected, and it was brought to abrupt conclusion by the sudden charge of two of them from the rear. Being coupled, they mowed his legs from under him as irresistibly as chain shot and being puppies, and of an imbecile friendliness they remained to lick his face and generally make merry over him as he struggled to his feet.
By this time the leaders of the pack were well away up a ploughed field, over a fence and into a furze brake, from which their rejoicing yelps streamed back on the damp breeze. The Master of the Craffroe Hounds picked himself up, and sprinted up the hill after the Whip and Kennel Huntsman—a composite official recently promoted from the stable yard—in a way that showed that his failure in horn-blowing was not the fault of his lungs. His feet were held by the heavy soil, he tripped in the muddy ridges; none the less he and Patsey plunged together over the stony rampart of the field in time to see Negress and Lily springing through the furze in kangaroo leaps, while they uttered long squeals of ecstasy. The rest of the pack, with a confidence gained in many a successful riot, got to them as promptly as if six Whips were behind them, and the whole faction plunged into a little wood on the top of what was evidently a burning scent.
"Was it a fox, Patsey?" said the Master excitedly.
"I dunno, Master Freddy: it might be 'twas a hare," returned Patsey, taking in a hurried reef in the strap that was responsible for the support of his trousers.
Freddy was small and light, and four short years before had been a renowned hare in his school paper-chases: he went through the wood at a pace that gave Patsey and the puppies all they could do to keep with him, and dropped into a road just in time to see the pack streaming up a narrow lane near the end of the wood. At this point they were reinforced by a yellow dachshund who, with wildly flapping ears, and at that caricature of a gallop peculiar to his kind, joined himself to the hunters.
"Glory be to Mercy!" exclaimed Patsey, "the misthress's dog!"
Almost simultaneously the pack precipitated themselves into a ruined cabin at the end of the lane; instantly from within arose an uproar of sounds—crashes of an ironmongery sort, yells of dogs, raucous human curses; then the ruin exuded hounds, hens and turkeys at every one of the gaps in its walls, and there issued from what had been the doorway a tall man with a red beard, armed with a large frying-pan, with which he rained blows on the fleeing Craffroe Pack. It must be admitted that the speed with which these abandoned their prey, whatever it was, suggested a very intimate acquaintance with the wrath of cooks and the perils of resistance.
Before their lawful custodians had recovered from this spectacle, a tall lady in black was suddenly merged in the melee, alternately calling loudly and incongruously for "Bismarck," and blowing shrill blasts on a whistle.
"If the tinker laves a sthroke of the pan on the misthress's dog, the Lord help him!" said Patsey, starting in pursuit of Lily, who, with tail tucked in and a wounded hind leg buckled up, was removing herself swiftly from the scene of action.
Mrs. Alexander shoved her way into the cabin, through a filthy group of gabbling male and female tinkers, and found herself involved in a wreck of branches and ragged tarpaulin that had once formed a kind of tent, but was now strewn on the floor by the incursion and excursion of the chase. Earthquake throes were convulsing the tarpaulin; a tinker woman, full of zeal, dashed at it and flung it back, revealing, amongst other debris, an old wooden bedstead heaped with rags. On either side of one of its legs protruded the passion-fraught faces of the coupled hound-puppies, who, still linked together, had passed through the period of unavailing struggle into a state of paralysed insanity of terror. Muffled squeals and tinny crashes told that conflict was still raging beneath the bed; the tinker women screamed abuse and complaint; and suddenly the dachshund's long yellow nose, streaming with blood, worked its way out of the folds. His mistress snatched at his collar and dragged him forth, and at his heels followed an infuriated tom cat, which, with its tail as thick as a muff, went like a streak through the confusion, and was lost in the dark ruin of the chimney.
Mrs. Alexander stayed for no explanations: she extricated herself from the tinker party, and, filled with a righteous wrath, went forth to look for her son. From a plantation three fields away came the asphyxiated bleats of the horn and the desolate bawls of Patsey Crimmeen. Mrs. Alexander decided that it was better for the present to leave the personnel of the Craffroe Hunt to their own devices.
It was but three days before these occurrences that Mr. Freddy Alexander had stood on the platform of the Craffroe Station, with a throbbing heart, and a very dirty paper in his hand containing a list of eighteen names, that ranged alphabetically from "Batchellor" to "Warior." At his elbow stood a small man with a large moustache, and the thinnest legs that were ever buttoned into gaiters, who was assuring him that to no other man in Ireland would he have sold those hounds at such a price; a statement that was probably unimpeachable.
"The only reason I'm parting them is I'm giving up me drag, and selling me stock, and going into partnership with a veterinary surgeon in Rugby. You've some of the best blood in Ireland in those hounds."
"Is it blood?" chimed in an old man who was standing, slightly drunk, at Mr. Alexander's other elbow. "The most of them hounds is by the Kerry Rapparee, and he was the last of the old Moynalty Baygles. Black dogs they were, with red eyes! Every one o' them as big as a yearling calf, and they'd hunt anything that'd roar before them!" He steadied himself on the new Master's arm. "I have them gethered in the ladies' waiting-room, sir, the way ye'll have no throuble. 'Twould be as good for ye to lave the muzzles on them till ye'll be through the town."
Freddy Alexander cannot to this hour decide what was the worst incident of that homeward journey; on the whole, perhaps, the most serious was the escape of Governess, who subsequently ravaged the country for two days, and was at length captured in the act of killing Mrs. Alexander's white Leghorn cock. For a young gentleman whose experience of hounds consisted in having learned at Cambridge to some slight and painful extent that if he rode too near them he got sworn at, the purchaser of the Kerry Rapparee's descendants had undertaken no mean task.
On the morning following on the first run of the Craffroe Hounds, Mrs. Alexander was sitting at her escritoire, making up her weekly accounts and entering in her poultry-book the untimely demise of the Leghorn cock. She was a lady of secret enthusiasms which sheltered themselves behind habits of the most business-like severity. Her books were models of order, and as she neatly inscribed the Leghorn cock's epitaph, "Killed by hounds," she could not repress the compensating thought that she had never seen Freddy's dark eyes and olive complexion look so well as when he had tried on his new pink coat.
At this point she heard a step on the gravel outside; Bismarck uttered a bloodhound bay and got under the sofa. It was a sunny morning in late October, and the French window was open; outside it, ragged as a Russian poodle and nearly as black, stood the tinker who had the day before wielded the frying-pan with such effect.
"Me lady," began the tinker, "I ax yer ladyship's pardon, but me little dog is dead."
"Well?" said Mrs. Alexander, fixing a gaze of clear grey rectitude upon him.
"Me lady," continued the tinker, reverentially but firmly, "'twas afther he was run by thim dogs yestherday, and 'twas your ladyship's dog that finished him. He tore the throat out of him under the bed!" He pointed an accusing forefinger at Bismarck, whose lambent eyes of terror glowed from beneath the valance of the sofa.
"Nonsense! I saw your dog; he was twice my dog's size," said Bismarck's mistress decidedly, not, however, without a remembrance of the blood on Bismarck's nose. She adored courage, and had always cherished a belief that Bismarck's sharklike jaws implied the possession of latent ferocity.
"Ah, but he was very wake, ma'am, afther he bein' hunted," urged the tinker. "I never slep' a wink the whole night, but keepin' sups o' milk to him and all sorts. Ah, ma'am, ye wouldn't like to be lookin' at him!"
The tinker was a very good-looking young man, almost apostolic in type, with a golden red aureole of hair and beard and candid blue eyes. These latter filled with tears as their owner continued:—
"He was like a brother for me; sure he follied me from home. 'Twas he was dam wise! Sure at home all me mother'd say to him was, "Where's the ducks, Captain?" an' he wouldn't lave wather nor bog-hole round the counthry but he'd have them walked and the ducks gethered. The pigs could be in their choice place, wherever they'd be he'd go around them. If ye'd tell him to put back the childhren from the fire, he'd ketch them by the sleeve and dhrag them."
The requiem ceased, and the tinker looked grievingly into his hat.
"What is your name?" asked Mrs. Alexander sternly. "How long is it since you left home?"
Had the tinker been as well acquainted with her as he was afterwards destined to become, he would have been aware that when she was most judicial she was frequently least certain of what her verdict was going to be.
"Me name's Willy Fennessy, me lady," replied the tinker, "an' I'm goin' the roads no more than three months. Indeed, me lady, I think the time too long that I'm with these blagyard thravellers. All the friends I have was poor Captain, and he's gone from me."
"Go round to the kitchen," said Mrs. Alexander.
The results of Willy Fennessy's going round to the kitchen were far-reaching. Its most immediate consequences were that (1) he mended the ventilator of the kitchen range; (2) he skinned a brace of rabbits for Miss Barnet, the cook; (3) he arranged to come next day and repair the clandestine devastations of the maids among the china.
He was pronounced to be a very agreeable young man.
Before luncheon (of which meal he partook in the kitchen) he had been consulted by Patsey Crimmeen about the chimney of the kennel boiler, had single-handed reduced it to submission, and had, in addition, boiled the meal for the hounds with a knowledge of proportion and an untiring devotion to the use of the potstick which produced "stirabout" of a smoothness and excellence that Miss Barnet herself might have been proud of.
"You know, mother," said Freddy that evening, "you do want another chap in the garden badly."
"Well it's not so much the garden," said Mrs. Alexander with alacrity, "but I think he might be very useful to you, dear, and it's such a great matter his being a teetotaler, and he seems so fond of animals. I really feel we ought to try and make up to him somehow for the loss of his dog; though, indeed, a more deplorable object than that poor mangy dog I never saw!"
"All right: we'll put him in the back lodge, and we'll give him Bizzy as a watch dog. Won't we, Bizzy?" replied Freddy, dragging the somnolent Bismarck from out of the heart of the hearthrug, and accepting without repugnance the comprehensive lick that enveloped his chin.
From which it may be gathered that Mrs. Alexander and her son had fallen, like their household, under the fatal spell of the fascinating tinker.
At about the time that this conversation was taking place, Mr. Fennessy, having spent an evening of valedictory carouse with his tribe in the ruined cottage, was walking, somewhat unsteadily, towards the wood, dragging after him by a rope a large dog. He did not notice that he was being followed by a barefooted woman, but the dog did, and, being an intelligent dog, was in some degree reassured. In the wood the tinker spent some time in selecting a tree with a projecting branch suitable to his purpose, and having found one he proceeded to hang the dog. Even in his cups Mr. Fennessy made sentiment subservient to common sense.
It is hardly too much to say that in a week the tinker had taken up a position in the Craffroe household only comparable to that of Ygdrasil, who in Norse mythology forms the ultimate support of all things. Save for the incessant demands upon his skill in the matter of solder and stitches, his recent tinkerhood was politely ignored, or treated as an escapade excusable in a youth of spirit. Had not his father owned a farm and seven cows in the county Limerick, and had not he himself three times returned the price of his ticket to America to a circle of adoring and wealthy relatives in Boston? His position in the kitchen and yard became speedily assured. Under his regime the hounds were valeted as they had never been before. Lily herself (newly washed, with "blue" in the water) was scarcely more white than the concrete floor of the kennel yard, and the puppies, Ruby and Remus, who had unaccountably developed a virulent form of mange, were immediately taken in hand by the all-accomplished tinker, and anointed with a mixture whose very noisomeness was to Patsey Crimmeen a sufficient guarantee of its efficacy, and was impressive even to the Master, fresh from much anxious study of veterinary lore.
"He's the best man we've got!" said Freddy proudly to a dubious uncle, "there isn't a mortal thing he can't put his hand to."
"Or lay his hands on," suggested the dubious uncle. "May I ask if his colleagues are still within a mile of the place?"
"Oh, he hates the very sight of 'em!" said Freddy hastily, "cuts 'em dead whenever he sees 'em."
"It's no use your crabbing him, George," broke in Mrs. Alexander, "we won't give him up to you! Wait till you see how he has mended the lock of the hall door!"
"I should recommend you to buy a new one at once," said Sir George Ker, in a way that was singularly exasperating to the paragon's proprietors.
Mrs. Alexander was, or so her friends said, somewhat given to vaunting herself of her paragons, under which heading, it may be admitted, practically all her household were included. She was, indeed, one of those persons who may or may not be heroes to their valets, but whose valets are almost invariably heroes to them. It was, therefore, excessively discomposing to her that, during the following week, in the very height of apparently cloudless domestic tranquillity, the housemaid and the parlour-maid should in one black hour successively demand an audience, and successively, in the floods of tears proper to such occasions, give warning. Inquiry as to their reasons was fruitless. They were unhappy: one said she wouldn't get her appetite, and that her mother was sick; the other said she wouldn't get her sleep in it, and there was things—sob—going on—sob.
Mrs. Alexander concluded the interview abruptly, and descended to the kitchen to interview her queen paragon, Barnet, on the crisis.
Miss Barnet was a stout and comely English lady, of that liberal forty that frankly admits itself in advertisements to be twenty-eight. It was understood that she had only accepted office in Ireland because, in the first place, the butler to whom she had long been affianced had married another, and because, in the second place, she had a brother buried in Belfast. She was, perhaps, the one person in the world whose opinion about poultry Mrs. Alexander ranked higher than her own. She now allowed a restrained acidity to mingle with her dignity of manner, scarcely more than the calculated lemon essence in her faultless castle puddings, but enough to indicate that she, too, had grievances. She didn't know why they were leaving. She had heard some talk about a fairy or something, but she didn't hold with such nonsense.
"Gerrls is very frightful!" broke in an unexpected voice; "owld standards like meself maybe wouldn't feel it!"
A large basket of linen had suddenly blocked the scullery door, and from beneath it a little woman, like an Australian aborigine, delivered herself of this dark saying.
"What are you talking about, Mrs. Griffen?" demanded Mrs. Alexander, turning in vexed bewilderment to her laundress, "what does all this mean?"
"The Lord save us, ma'am, there's some says it means a death in the house!" replied Mrs. Griffen with unabated cheerfulness, "an' indeed 'twas no blame for the little gerrls to be frightened an' they meetin' it in the passages—"
"Meeting what?" interrupted her mistress. Mrs. Griffen was an old and privileged retainer, but there were limits even for Mrs. Griffen.
"Sure, ma'am, there's no one knows what was in it," returned Mrs. Griffen, "but whatever it was they heard it goin' on before them always in the panthry passage, an' it walkin' as sthrong as a man. It whipped away up the stairs, and they seen the big snout snorting out at them through the banisters, and a bare back on it the same as a pig; and the two cheeks on it as white as yer own, and away with it! And with that Mary Anne got a wakeness, and only for Willy Fennessy bein' in the kitchen an' ketching a hold of her, she'd have cracked her head on the range, the crayture!"
Here Barnet smiled with ineffable contempt.
"What I'm tellin' them is," continued Mrs. Griffen, warming with her subject, "maybe that thing was a pairson that's dead, an' might be owin' a pound to another one, or has something that way on his soul, an' it's in the want o' some one that'll ax it what's throublin' it. The like o' thim couldn't spake till ye'll spake to thim first. But, sure, gerrls has no courage—"
Barnet's smile was again one of wintry superiority.
"Willy Fennessy and Patsey Crimmeen was afther seein' it too last night," went on Mrs. Griffen, "an' poor Willy was as much frightened! He said surely 'twas a ghost. On the back avenue it was, an' one minute 'twas as big as an ass, an' another minute it'd be no bigger than a bonnive—"
"Oh, the Lord save us!" wailed the kitchen-maid irrepressibly from the scullery.
"I shall speak to Fennessy myself about this," said Mrs. Alexander, making for the door with concentrated purpose, "and in the meantime I wish to hear no more of this rubbish."
"I'm sure Fennessy wishes to hear no more of it," said Barnet acridly to Mrs. Griffen, when Mrs. Alexander had passed swiftly out of hearing, "after the way those girls have been worryin' on at him about it all the morning. Such a set out!"
Mrs. Griffen groaned in a polite and general way, and behind Barnet's back put her tongue out of the corner of her mouth and winked at the kitchen-maid.
Mrs. Alexander found her conversation with Willy Fennessy less satisfactory than usual. He could not give any definite account of what he and Patsey had seen: maybe they'd seen nothing at all; maybe—as an obvious impromptu—it was the calf of the Kerry cow; whatever was in it, it was little he'd mind it, and, in easy dismissal of the subject, would the misthress be against his building a bit of a coal-shed at the back of the lodge while she was away?
That evening a new terror was added to the situation. Jimmy the boot-boy, on his return from taking the letters to the evening post, fled in panic into the kitchen, and having complied with the etiquette invariable in such cases by having "a wakeness," he described to a deeply sympathetic audience how he had seen something that was like a woman in the avenue, and he had called to it and it returned him no answer, and how he had then asked it three times in the name o' God what was it, and it soaked away into the trees from him, and then there came something rushing in on him and grunting at him to bite him, and he was full sure it was the Fairy Pig from Lough Clure.
Day by day the legend grew, thickened by tales of lights that had been seen moving mysteriously in the woods of Craffroe. Even the hounds were subpoenaed as witnesses; Patsey Crimmeen's mother stating that for three nights after Patsey had seen that Thing they were singing and screeching to each other all night.
Had Mrs. Crimmeen used the verb scratch instead of screech she would have been nearer the mark. The puppies, Ruby and Remus, had, after the manner of the young, human and canine, not failed to distribute their malady among their elders, and the pack, straitly coupled, went for dismal constitutionals, and the kennels reeked to heaven of remedies, and Freddy's new hunter, Mayboy, from shortness of work, smashed the partition of the loose box and kicked his neighbour, Mrs. Alexander's cob, in the knee.
"The worst of it is," said Freddy confidentially to his ally and adviser, the junior subaltern of the detachment at Enniscar, who had come over to see the hounds, "that I'm afraid Patsey Crimmeen—the boy whom I'm training to whip to me, you know"—(as a matter of fact, the Whip was a year older than the Master)—"is beginning to drink a bit. When I came down here before breakfast this mornin'"—when Freddy was feeling more acutely than usual his position as an M.F.H., he cut his g's and talked slightly through his nose, even, on occasion, going so far as to omit the aspirate in talking of his hounds—"there wasn't a sign of him—kennel door not open or anything. I let the poor brutes out into the run. I tell you, what with the paraffin and the carbolic and everything the kennel was pretty high—"
"It's pretty thick now," said his friend, lighting a cigarette.
"Well, I went into the boiler-house," continued Freddy impressively, "and there he was, asleep on the floor, with his beastly head on my kennel coat, and one leg in the feeding trough!"
Mr. Taylour made a suitable ejaculation.
"I jolly soon kicked him on to his legs," went on Freddy, "not that they were much use to him—he must have been on the booze all night. After that I went on to the stable yard, and if you'll believe me, the two chaps there had never turned up at all—at half-past eight, mind you!—and there was Fennessy doing up the horses. He said he believed that there'd been a wake down at Enniscar last night. I thought it was rather decent of him doing their work for them."
"You'll sack 'em, I suppose?" remarked Mr. Taylour, with martial severity.
"Oh well, I don't know," said Mr. Alexander evasively, "I'll see. Anyhow, don't say anything to my mother about it; a drunken man is like a red rag to a bull to her."
Taking this peculiarity of Mrs. Alexander into consideration, it was perhaps as well that she left Craffroe a few days afterwards to stay with her brother. The evening before she left both the Fairy Pig and the Ghost Woman were seen again on the avenue, this time by the coachman, who came into the kitchen considerably the worse for liquor and announced the fact, and that night the household duties were performed by the maids in pairs, and even, when possible, in trios.
As Mrs. Alexander said at dinner to Sir George, on the evening of her arrival, she was thankful to have abandoned the office of Ghostly Comforter to her domestics. Only for Barnet she couldn't have left poor Freddy to the mercy of that pack of fools; in fact, even with Barnet to look after them, it was impossible to tell what imbecility they were not capable of.
"Well, if you like," said Sir George, "I might run you over there on the motor car some day to see how they're all getting on. If Freddy is going to hunt on Friday, we might go on to Craffroe after seeing the fun."
The topic of Barnet was here shelved in favour of automobiles. Mrs. Alexander's brother was also a person of enthusiasms.
But what were these enthusiasms compared to the deep-seated ecstasy of Freddy Alexander as in his new pink coat he rode down the main street of Enniscar, Patsey in equal splendour bringing up the rear, unspeakably conscious of the jibes of his relatives and friends. There was a select field, consisting of Mr. Taylour, four farmers, some young ladies on bicycles, and about two dozen young men and boys on foot, who, in order to be prepared for all contingencies, had provided themselves with five dogs, two horns, and a ferret. It is, after all, impossible to please everybody, and from the cyclists' and foot people's point of view the weather left nothing to be desired. The sun shone like a glistering shield in the light blue November sky, the roads were like iron, the wind, what there was of it, like steel. There was a line of white on the northerly side of the fences, that yielded grudgingly and inch by inch before the march of the pale sunshine: the new pack could hardly have had a more unfavourable day for their debut.
The new Master was, however, wholly undaunted by such crumples in the rose-leaf. He was riding Mayboy, a big trustworthy horse, whose love of jumping had survived a month of incessant and arbitrary schooling, and he left the road as soon as was decently possible, and made a line across country for the covert that involved as much jumping as could reasonably be hoped for in half a mile. At the second fence Patsey Crimmeen's black mare put her nose in the air and swung round; Patsey's hands seemed to be at their worst this morning, and what their worst felt like the black mare alone knew. Mr. Taylour, as Deputy Whip, waltzed erratically round the nine couple on a very flippant polo pony; and the four farmers, who had wisely adhered to the road, reached the covert sufficiently in advance of the hunt to frustrate Lily's project of running sheep in a neighbouring field.
The covert was a large, circular enclosure, crammed to the very top of its girdling bank with furze-bushes, bracken, low hazel, and stunted Scotch firs. Its primary idea was woodcock, its second rabbits; beaters were in the habit of getting through it somehow, but a ride feasible for fox hunters had never so much as occurred to it. Into this, with practical assistance from the country boys, the deeply reluctant hounds were pitched and flogged; Freddy very nervously uplifted his voice in falsetto encouragement, feeling much as if he were starting the solo of an anthem; and Mr. Taylour and Patsey, the latter having made it up with the black mare, galloped away with professional ardour to watch different sides of the covert. This, during the next hour, they had ample opportunities for doing. After the first outburst of joy from the hounds on discovering that there were rabbits in the covert, and after the retirement of the rabbits to their burrows on the companion discovery that there were hounds in it, a silence, broken only by the far-away prattle of the lady bicyclists on the road, fell round Freddy Alexander. He bore it as long as he could, cheering with faltering whoops the invisible and unresponsive pack, and wondering what on earth huntsmen were expected to do on such occasions; then, filled with that horrid conviction which assails the lonely watcher, that the hounds have slipped away at the far side, he put spurs to Mayboy, and cantered down the long flank of the covert to find some one or something. Nothing had happened on the north side, at all events, for there was the faithful Taylour, pirouetting on his hill-top in the eye of the wind. Two fields more (in one of which he caught his first sight of any of the hounds, in the shape of Ruby, carefully rolling on a dead crow), and then, under the lee of a high bank, he came upon Patsey Crimmeen, the farmers, and the country boys, absorbed in the contemplation of a fight between Tiger, the butcher's brindled cur, and Watty, the kennel terrier.
The manner in which Mr. Alexander dispersed this entertainment showed that he was already equipped with one important qualification of a Master of Hounds—a temper laid on like gas, ready to blaze at a moment's notice. He pitched himself off his horse and scrambled over the bank into the covert in search of his hounds. He pushed his way through briars and furze-bushes, and suddenly, near the middle of the wood, he caught sight of them. They were in a small group, they were very quiet and very busy. As a matter of fact they were engaged in eating a dead sheep.
After this episode, there ensued a long and disconsolate period of wandering from one bleak hillside to another, at the bidding of various informants, in search of apocryphal foxes, slaughterers of flocks of equally apocryphal geese and turkeys—such a day as is discreetly ignored in all hunting annals, and, like the easterly wind that is its parent, is neither good for man nor beast.
By half-past three hope had died, even in the sanguine bosoms of the Master and Mr. Taylour. Two of the farmers had disappeared, and the lady bicyclists, with faces lavender blue from waiting at various windy cross roads, had long since fled away to lunch. Two of the hounds were limping; all, judging by their expressions, were on the verge of tears. Patsey's black mare had lost two shoes; Mr. Taylour's pony had ceased to pull, and was too dispirited even to try to kick the hounds, and the country boys had dwindled to four. There had come a time when Mr. Taylour had sunk so low as to suggest that a drag should be run with the assistance of the ferret's bag, a scheme only frustrated by the regrettable fact that the ferret and its owner had gone home.
"Well we had a nice bit of schooling, anyhow, and, it's been a real educational day for the hounds," said Freddy, turning in his saddle to look at the fires of the frosty sunset. "I'm glad they had it. I think we're in for a go of hard weather. I don't know what I should have done only for you, old chap. Patsey's gone all to pieces: it's my belief he's been on the drink this whole week, and where he gets it—"
"Hullo! Hold hard!" interrupted Mr. Taylour. "What's Governor after?"
They were riding along a grass-grown farm road outside the Craffroe demesne; the grey wall made a sharp bend to the right, and just at the corner Governor had begun to gallop, with his nose to the ground and his stern up. The rest of the pack joined him in an instant, and all swung round the corner and were lost to sight.
"It's a fox!" exclaimed Freddy, snatching up his reins; "they always cross into the demesne just here!"
By the time he and Mr. Taylour were round the corner the hounds had checked fifty yards ahead, and were eagerly hunting to and fro for the lost scent, and a little further down the old road they saw a woman running away from them.
"Hi, ma'am!" bellowed Freddy, "did you see the fox?"
The woman made no answer.
"Did you see the fox?" reiterated Freddy in still more stentorian tones. "Can't you answer me?"
The woman continued to run without even looking behind her.
The laughter of Mr. Taylour added fuel to the fire of Freddy's wrath: he put the spurs into Mayboy, dashed after the woman, pulled his horse across the road in front of her, and shouted his question point-blank at her, coupled with a warm inquiry as to whether she had a tongue in her head.
The woman jumped backwards as if she were shot, staring in horror at Freddy's furious little face, then touched her mouth and ears and began to jabber inarticulately and talk on her fingers.
The laughter of Mr. Taylour was again plainly audible.
"Sure that's a dummy woman, sir," explained the butcher's nephew, hurrying up. "I think she's one of them tinkers that's outside the town." Then with a long screech, "Look! Look over! Tiger, have it! Hulla, hulla, hulla!"
Tiger was already over the wall and into the demesne, neck and neck with Fly, the smith's half-bred greyhound; and in the wake of these champions clambered the Craffroe Pack, with strangled yelps of ardour, striving and squealing and fighting horribly in the endeavour to scramble up the tall smooth face of the wall.
"The gate! The gate further on!" yelled Freddy, thundering down the turfy road, with the earth flying up in lumps from his horse's hoofs.
Mr. Taylour's pony gave two most uncomfortable bucks and ran away; even Patsey Crimmeen and the black mare shared an unequal thrill of enthusiasm, as the latter, wholly out of hand, bucketed after the pony.
* * * * *
The afternoon was very cold, a fact thoroughly realised by Mrs. Alexander, on the front seat of Sir George's motor-car, in spite of enveloping furs, and of Bismarck, curled like a fried whiting, in her lap. The grey road rushed smoothly backwards under the broad tyres; golden and green plover whistled in the quiet fields, starlings and huge missel thrushes burst from the wayside trees as the "Bollee," uttering that hungry whine that indicates the desire of such creatures to devour space, tore past. Mrs. Alexander wondered if birds' beaks felt as cold as her nose after they had been cleaving the air for an afternoon; at all events, she reflected, they had not the consolation of tea to look forward to. Barnet was sure to have some of her best hot cakes ready for Freddy when he came home from hunting. Mrs. Alexander and Sir George had been scouring the roads since a very early lunch in search of the hounds, and her mind reposed on the thought of the hot cakes.
The front lodge gates stood wide open, the motor-car curved its flight and skimmed through. Half-way up the avenue they whizzed past three policemen, one of whom was carrying on his back a strange and wormlike thing.
"Janet," called out Sir George, "you've been caught making potheen! They've got the worm of a still there."
"They're only making a short cut through the place from the bog; I'm delighted they've found it!" screamed back Mrs. Alexander.
The "Bollee" was at the hall door in another minute, and the mistress of the house pulled the bell with numbed fingers. There was no response.
"Better go round to the kitchen," suggested her brother. "You'll find they're talking too hard to hear the bell."
His sister took the advice, and a few minutes afterwards she opened the hall door with an extremely perturbed countenance.
"I can't find a creature anywhere," she said, "either upstairs or down—I can't understand Barnet leaving the house empty—"
"Listen!" interrupted Sir George, "isn't that the hounds?"
"They're hunting down by the back avenue! come on, Janet!"
The motor-car took to flight again; it sped, soft-footed, through the twilight gloom of the back avenue, while a disjointed, travelling clamour of hounds came nearer and nearer through the woods. The motor-car was within a hundred yards of the back lodge, when out of the rhododendron-bush burst a spectral black-and-white dog, with floating fringes of ragged wool and hideous bald patches on its back.
"Fennessy's dog!" ejaculated Mrs. Alexander, falling back in her seat.
Probably Bismarck never enjoyed anything in his life as much as the all too brief moment in which, leaning from his mistress's lap in the prow of the flying "Bollee," he barked hysterically in the wake of the piebald dog, who, in all its dolorous career had never before had the awful experience of being chased by a motor-car. It darted in at the open door of the lodge; the pursuers pulled up outside. There were paraffin lamps in the windows, the open door was garlanded with evergreens; from it proceeded loud and hilarious voices and the jerky strains of a concertina. Mrs. Alexander, with all, her most cherished convictions toppling on their pedestals, stood in the open doorway and stared, unable to believe the testimony of her own eyes. Was that the immaculate Barnet seated at the head of a crowded table, in her—Mrs. Alexander's—very best bonnet and velvet cape, with a glass of steaming potheen punch in her hand, and Willy Fennessy's arm round her waist?
The glass sank from the paragon's lips, the arm of Mr. Fennessy fell from her waist; the circle of servants, tinkers, and country people vainly tried to efface themselves behind each other.
"Barnet!" said Mrs. Alexander in an awful voice, and even in that moment she appreciated with an added pang the feathery beauty of a slice of Barnet's sponge-cake in the grimy fist of a tinker.
"Mrs. Fennessy, m'm, if you please," replied Barnet, with a dignity that, considering the bonnet and cape, was highly creditable to her strength of character.
At this point a hand dragged Mrs. Alexander backwards from the doorway, a barefooted woman hustled past her into the house, slammed the door in her face, and Mrs. Alexander found herself in the middle of the hounds.
"We'd give you the brush, Mrs. Alexander," said Mr. Taylour, as he flogged solidly all round him in the dusk, "but as the other lady seems to have gone to ground with the fox I suppose she'll take it!"
* * * * *
Mrs. Fennessy paid out of her own ample savings the fines inflicted upon her husband for potheen-making and selling drink in the Craffroe gate lodge without a licence, and she shortly afterwards took him to America.
Mrs. Alexander's friends professed themselves as being not in the least surprised to hear that she had installed the afflicted Miss Fennessy (sister to the late occupant) and her scarcely less afflicted companion, the Fairy Pig, in her back lodge. Miss Fennessy, being deaf and dumb, is not perhaps a paragon lodge-keeper, but having, like her brother, been brought up in a work-house kitchen, she has taught Patsey Crimmeen how to boil stirabout a merveille.
FANNY FITZ'S GAMBLE
"Where's Fanny Fitz?" said Captain Spicer to his wife.
They were leaning over the sea-wall in front of a little fishing hotel in Connemara, idling away the interval usually vouchsafed by the Irish car-driver between the hour at which he is ordered to be ready and that at which he appears. It was a misty morning in early June, the time of all times for Connemara, did the tourist only know it. The mountains towered green and grey above the palely shining sea in which they stood; the air was full of the sound of streams and the scent of wild flowers; the thin mist had in it something of the dazzle of the sunlight that was close behind it. Little Mrs. Spicer pulled down her veil: even after a fortnight's fly-fishing she still retained some regard for her complexion.
"She says she can't come," she responded; "she has letters to write or something—and this is our last day!"
Mrs. Spicer evidently found the fact provoking.
"On this information the favourite receded 33 to 1," remarked Captain Spicer. "I think you may as well chuck it, my dear."
"I should like to beat them both!" said his wife, flinging a pebble into the rising tide that was very softly mouthing the seaweedy rocks below them.
"Well, here's Rupert; you can begin on him."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure!" said Rupert's sister vindictively. "A great teasing, squabbling baby! Oh, how I hate fools! and they are both fools!—Oh, there you are, Rupert," a well-simulated blandness invading her voice; "and what's Fanny Fitz doing?"
"She's trying to do a Mayo man over a horse-deal," replied Mr. Rupert Gunning.
"A horse-deal!" repeated Mrs. Spicer incredulously. "Fanny buying a horse! Oh, impossible!"
"Well, I don't know about that," said Mr. Gunning, "she's trying pretty hard. I gave her my opinion—"
"I'll take my oath you did," observed Captain Spicer.
"—And as she didn't seem to want it, I came away," continued Mr. Gunning imperturbably. "Be calm, Maudie; it takes two days and two nights to buy a horse in these parts; you'll be home in plenty of time to interfere, and here's the car. Don't waste the morning."
"I never know if you're speaking the truth or no," complained Mrs. Spicer; nevertheless, she scrambled on to the car without delay. She and her brother had at least one point in common—the fanatic enthusiasm of the angler.
In the meantime, Miss Fanny Fitzroy's negotiations were proceeding in the hotel yard. Fanny herself was standing in a stable doorway, with her hands in the pockets of her bicycle skirt. She had no hat on, and the mild breeze blew her hair about; it was light brown, with a brightness in it; her eyes also were light brown, with gleams in them like the shallow places in a Connemara trout stream. At this moment they were scanning with approval, tempered by anxiety, the muddy legs of a lean and lengthy grey filly, who was fearfully returning her gaze from between the strands of a touzled forelock. The owner of the filly, a small man, with a face like a serious elderly monkey, stood at her head in a silence that was the outcome partly of stupidity, partly of caution, and partly of lack of English speech. The conduct of the matter was in the hands of a friend, a tall young man with a black beard, nimble of tongue and gesture, profuse in courtesies.
"Well, indeed, yes, your ladyship," he was saying glibly, "the breed of horses is greatly improving in these parts, and them hackney horses—"
"Oh," interrupted Miss Fitzroy hastily, "I won't have her if she's a hackney."
The eyes of the owner sought those of the friend in a gaze that clearly indicated the question.
"What'll ye say to her now?"
The position of the vendors was becoming a little complicated. They had come over through the mountains, from the borders of Mayo, to sell the filly to the hotel-keeper for posting, and were primed to the lips with the tale of her hackney lineage. The hotel-keeper had unconditionally refused to trade, and here, when a heaven-sent alternative was delivered into their hands, they found themselves hampered by the coils of a cast-off lie. No shade, however, of hesitancy appeared on the open countenance of the friend. He approached Miss Fitzroy with a mincing step, a deprecating wave of the hand, and a deeply respectful ogle. He was going to adopt the desperate resource of telling the truth, but to tell the truth profitably was a part that required rather more playing than any other.
"Well, your honour's ladyship," he began, with a glance at the hotel ostler, who was standing near cleaning a bit in industrious and sarcastic silence, "it is a fact, no doubt, that I mentioned here this morning that this young mare was of the Government hackney stock. But, according as I understand from this poor man that owns her, he bought her in a small fair over the Tuam side, and the man that sold her could take his oath she was by the Grey Dawn—sure you'd know it out of her colour."
"Why didn't you say so before?" asked Miss Fitzroy, bending her straight brows in righteous severity.
"Well, that's true indeed, your ladyship; but, after all—I declare a man couldn't hardly live without he'd tell a lie sometimes!"
Fanny Fitz stooped, rather hurriedly, and entered upon a renewed examination of the filly's legs. Even Rupert Gunning, after his brief and unsympathetic survey, had said she had good legs; in fact, he had only been able to crab her for the length of her back, and he, as Fanny Fitz reflected with a heat that took no heed of metaphor, was the greatest crabber that ever croaked.
"What are you asking for her?" she demanded with a sudden access of decision.
There was a pause. The owner of the filly and his friend withdrew a step or two and conferred together in Irish at lightning speed. The filly held up her head and regarded her surroundings with guileless wonderment. Fanny Fitz made a mental dive into her bankbook, and arrived at the varied conclusions that she was L30 to the good, that on that sum she had to weather out the summer and autumn, besides pacifying various cormorants (thus she designated her long-suffering tradespeople), and that every one had told her that if she only kept her eyes open in Connemara she might be able to buy something cheap and make a pot of money on it.
"This poor honest man," said the friend, returning to the charge, "says he couldn't part her without he'd get twenty-eight pounds for her; and, thank God, it's little your ladyship would think of giving that!"
Fanny Fitz's face fell.
"Twenty-eight pounds!" she echoed. "Oh, that's ridiculous!"
The friend turned to the owner, and, with a majestic wave of the hand, signalled to him to retire. The owner, without a change of expression, coiled up the rope halter and started slowly and implacably for the gate; the friend took off his hat with wounded dignity. Every gesture implied that the whole transaction was buried in an irrevocable past.
Fanny Fitz's eyes followed the party as they silently left the yard, the filly stalking dutifully with a long and springy step beside her master. It was a moment full of bitterness, and of a quite irrational indignation against Rupert Gunning.
"I beg your pardon, miss," said the ostler, at her elbow, "would ye be willing to give twenty pounds for the mare, and he to give back a pound luck-penny?"
"I would!" said the impulsive Fanny Fitz, after the manner of her nation.
When the fishing party returned that afternoon Miss Fitzroy met them at the hall door.
"Well, my dear," she said airily to Mrs. Spicer, "what sort of sport have you had? I've enjoyed myself immensely. I've bought a horse!"
Mrs. Spicer sat, paralysed, on the seat of the outside car, disregarding her brother's outstretched hands.
"Fanny!" she exclaimed, in tones fraught with knowledge of her friend's resources and liabilities.
"Yes, I have!" went on Fanny Fitz, undaunted. "Mr. Gunning saw her. He said she was a long-backed brute. Didn't you, Mr. Gunning?"
Rupert Gunning lifted his small sister bodily off the car. He was a tall sallow man, with a big nose and a small, much-bitten, fair moustache.
"Yes, I believe I did," he said shortly.
Mrs. Spicer's blue eyes grew round with consternation.
"Then you really have bought the thing!" she cried. "Oh, Fanny, you idiot! And what on earth are you going to do with it?"
"It can sleep on the foot of my bed to-night," returned Fanny Fitz, "and I'll ride it into Galway to-morrow! Mr. Gunning, you can ride half-way if you like!"
But Mr. Gunning had already gone into the hotel with his rod and fishing basket. He had a gift, that he rarely lost a chance of exercising, of provoking Fanny Fitz to wrath, and the fact that he now declined her challenge may or may not be accounted for by the gloom consequent upon an empty fishing basket.
Next morning the various hangers-on in the hotel yard were provided with occupation and entertainment of the most satiating description. Fanny Fitz's new purchase was being despatched to the nearest railway station, some fourteen miles off. It had been arranged that the ostler was to drive her there in one of the hotel cars, which should then return with a horse that was coming from Galway for the hotel owner; nothing could have fitted in better. Unfortunately the only part of the arrangement that refused to fit in was the filly. Even while Fanny Fitz was finishing her toilet, high-pitched howls of objurgation were rising, alarmingly, from the stable-yard, and on reaching the scene of action she was confronted by the spectacle of the ostler being hurtled across the yard by the filly, to whose head he was clinging, while two helpers upheld the shafts of the outside car from which she had fled. All were shouting directions and warnings at the tops of their voices, the hotel dog was barking, the filly alone was silent, but her opinions were unmistakable.
A waiter in shirt-sleeves was leaning comfortably out of a window, watching the fray and offering airy suggestion and comment.
"It's what I'm telling them, miss," he said easily, including Fanny Fitz in the conversation; "if they get that one into Recess to-night it'll not be under a side-car."
"But the man I bought her from," said Fanny Fitz, lamentably addressing the company, "told me that he drove his mother to chapel with her last Sunday."
"Musha then, may the divil sweep hell with him and burn the broom afther!" panted the ostler in bitter wrath, as he slewed the filly to a standstill. "I wish himself and his mother was behind her when I went putting the crupper on her! B'leeve me, they'd drop their chat!"
"Sure I knew that young Geogheghan back in Westport," remarked the waiter, "and all the good there is about him was a little handy talk. Take the harness off her, Mick, and throw a saddle on her. It's little I'd think meself of canthering her into Recess!"
"How handy ye are yerself with your talk!" retorted the ostler; "it's canthering round the table ye'll be doing, and it's what'll suit ye betther!"
Fanny Fitz began to laugh. "He might ride the saddle of mutton!" she said, with a levity that, under the circumstances, did her credit. "You'd better take the harness off, and you'll have to get her to Recess for me somehow."
The ostler took no notice of this suggestion; he was repeating to himself: "Ride the saddle o' mutton! By dam, I never heard the like o' that! Ride the saddle o' mutton—!" He suddenly gave a yell of laughing, and in the next moment the startled filly dragged the reins from his hand with a tremendous plunge, and in half a dozen bounds was out of the yard gate and clattering down the road.
There was an instant of petrifaction. "Diddlety—iddlety—idlety!" chanted the waiter with far-away sweetness.
Fanny Fitz and the ostler were outside the gate simultaneously: the filly was already rounding the first turn of the road; two strides more, and she was gone as though she had never been, and "Oh, my nineteen pounds!" thought poor Fanny Fitz.
As the ostler was wont to say in subsequent repetitions of the story: "Thanks be to God, the reins was rotten!" But for this it is highly probable that Miss Fitzroy's speculation would have collapsed abruptly with broken knees, possibly with a broken neck. Having galloped into them in the course of the first hundred yards, they fell from her as the green withes fell from Samson, one long streamer alone remaining to lash her flanks as she fled. Some five miles from the hotel she met a wedding, and therewith leaped the bog-drain by the side of the road and "took to the mountains," as the bridegroom poetically described it to Fanny Fitz, who, with the ostler, was pursuing the fugitive on an outside car.
"If that's the way," said the ostler, "ye mightn't get her again before the winther."
Fanny Fitz left the matter, together with a further instalment of the thirty pounds, in the hands of the sergeant of police, and went home, and, improbable as it may appear, in the course of something less than ten days she received an invoice from the local railway station, Enniscar, briefly stating: "1 horse arrd. Please remove."
Many people, most of her friends indeed, were quite unaware that Fanny Fitz possessed a home. Beyond the fact that it supplied her with a permanent address, and a place at which she was able periodically to deposit consignments of half-worn-out clothes, Fanny herself was not prone to rate the privilege very highly. Possibly, two very elderly maiden step-aunts are discouraging to the homing instinct; the fact remained that as long as the youngest Miss Fitzroy possessed the where-withal to tip a housemaid she was but rarely seen within the decorous precincts of Craffroe Lodge.
Let it not for a moment be imagined that the Connemara filly was to become a member of this household. Even Fanny Fitz, with all her optimism, knew better than to expect that William O'Loughlin, who divided his attentions between the ancient cob and the garden, and ruled the elder Misses Fitzroy with a rod of iron, would undertake the education of anything more skittish than early potatoes. It was to the stable, or rather cow-house, of one Johnny Connolly, that the new purchase was ultimately conveyed, and it was thither that Fanny Fitz, with apples in one pocket and sugar in the other, conducted her ally, Mr. Freddy Alexander, the master of the Craffroe Hounds. Fanny Fitz's friendship with Freddy was one of long standing, and was soundly based on the fact that when she had been eighteen he had been fourteen; and though it may be admitted that this is a discrepancy that somewhat fades with time, even Freddy's mother acquitted Fanny Fitz of any ulterior motive; and Freddy was an only son.
"She was very rejected last night afther she coming in," said Johnny Connolly, manipulating as he spoke the length of rusty chain and bit of stick that fastened the door. "I think it was lonesome she was on the thrain."
Fanny Fitz and Mr. Alexander peered into the dark and vasty interior of the cow-house; from a remote corner they heard a heavy breath and the jingle of a training bit, but they saw nothing.
"I have the cavesson and all on her ready for ye, and I was thinking we'd take her south into Mr. Gunning's land. His finces is very good," continued Johnny, going cautiously in; "wait till I pull her out."
Johnny Connolly was a horse trainer who did a little farming, or a farmer who did a little horse training, and his management of young horses followed no known rules, and indeed knew none, but it was generally successful. He fed them by rule of thumb; he herded them in hustling, squabbling parties in pitch-dark sheds; he ploughed them at eighteen months; he beat them with a stick like dogs when they transgressed, and like dogs they loved him. He had what gardeners call "a lucky hand" with them, and they throve with him, and he had, moreover, that gift of winning their wayward hearts that comes neither by cultivation nor by knowledge, but is innate and unconscious. Already, after two days, he and the Connemara filly understood each other; she sniffed distantly and with profound suspicion at Fanny and her offerings, and entirely declined to permit Mr. Alexander to estimate her height on the questionable assumption that the point of his chin represented 15'2, but she allowed Johnny to tighten or slacken every buckle in her new and unfamiliar costume without protest.
"I think she'll make a ripping good mare," said the enthusiastic Freddy, as he and Fanny Fitz followed her out of the yard; "I don't care what Rupert Gunning says, she's any amount of quality, and I bet you'll do well over her."
"She'll make a real nice fashionable mare," remarked Johnny, opening the gate of a field and leading the filly in, "and she's a sweet galloper, but she's very frightful in herself. Faith, I thought she'd run up the wall from me the first time I went to feed her! Ah ha! none o' yer thricks!" as the filly, becoming enjoyably aware of the large space of grass round her, let fling a kick of malevolent exuberance at the two fox-terriers who were trotting decorously in her rear.
It was soon found that, in the matter of "stone gaps," the A B C of Irish jumping, Connemara had taught the grey filly all there was to learn.
"Begor, Miss Fanny, she's as crabbed as a mule!" said her teacher approvingly. "D'ye mind the way she soaks the hind legs up into her! We'll give her a bank now."
At the bank, however, the trouble began. Despite the ministrations of Mr. Alexander and a long whip, despite the precept and example of Mr. Connolly, who performed prodigies of activity in running his pupil in at the bank and leaping on to it himself the filly time after time either ran her chest against it or swerved from it at the last instant with a vigour that plucked her preceptor from off it and scattered Fanny Fitz and the fox-terriers like leaves before the wind. These latter were divided between sycophantic and shrieking indignation with the filly for declining to jump, and a most wary attention to the sphere of influence of the whip. They were a mother and daughter, as conceited, as craven, and as wholly attractive as only the judiciously spoiled ladies of their race can be. Their hearts were divided between Fanny Fitz and the cook, the rest of them appertained to the Misses Harriet and Rachael Fitzroy, whom they regarded with toleration tinged with boredom.
"I tell ye now, Masther Freddy, 'tis no good for us to be goin' on sourin' the mare this way. 'Tis what the fince is too steep for her. Maybe she never seen the like in that backwards counthry she came from. We'll give her the bank below with the ditch in front of it. 'Tisn't very big at all, and she'll be bound to lep with the sup of wather that's in it."
Thus Johnny Connolly, wiping a very heated brow.
The bank below was a broad and solid structure well padded with grass and bracken, and it had a sufficiently obvious ditch, of some three feet wide, on the nearer side. The grand effort was duly prepared for. The bank was solemnly exhibited to the filly; the dogs, who had with unerring instinct seated themselves on its most jumpable portion, were scattered with one threat of the whip to the horizon. Fanny tore away the last bit of bracken that might prove a discouragement, and Johnny issued his final order.
"Come inside me with the whip, sir, and give her one good belt at the last."
No one knows exactly how it happened. There was a rush, a scramble, a backward sliding, a great deal of shouting, and the Connemara filly was couched in the narrow ditch at right angles to the fence, with the water oozing up through the weeds round her, like a wild duck on its nest; and at this moment Mr. Rupert Gunning appeared suddenly on the top of the bank and inspected the scene with an amusement that he made little attempt to conceal.
It took half an hour, and ropes, and a number of Rupert Gunning's haymakers, to get Fanny Fitz's speculation on to its legs again, and Mr. Gunning's comments during the process successfully sapped Fanny Fitz's control of her usually equable temper, "He's a beast!" she said wrathfully to Freddy, as the party moved soberly homewards in the burning June afternoon, with the horseflies clustering round them, and the smell of new-mown grass wafting to them from where, a field or two away, came the rattle of Rupert Gunning's mowing-machine. "A crabbing beast! It was just like my luck that he should come up at that moment and have the supreme joy of seeing Gamble—" Gamble was the filly's rarely-used name—"wallowing in the ditch! That's the second time he's scored off me. I pity poor little Maudie Spicer for having such a brother!"
In spite of this discouraging debut, the filly's education went on and prospered. She marched discreetly along the roads in long reins; she champed detested mouthfuls of rusty mouthing bit in the process described by Johnny Connolly as "getting her neck broke"; she trotted for treadmill half-hours in the lunge; and during and in spite of all these penances, she fattened up and thickened out until that great authority, Mr. Alexander, pronounced it would be a sin not to send her up to the Dublin Horse Show, as she was just the mare to catch an English dealer's eye.
"But sure ye wouldn't sell her, miss?" said her faithful nurse, "and Masther Freddy afther starting the hounds and all!"
Fanny Fitz scratched the filly softly under the jawbone, and thought of the document in her pocket—long, and blue, and inscribed with the too familiar notice in red ink: "An early settlement will oblige".
"I must, Johnny," she said, "worse luck!"
"Well, indeed, that's too bad, miss," said Johnny comprehendingly. "There was a mare I had one time, and I sold her before I went to America. God knows, afther she went from me, whenever I'd look at her winkers hanging on the wall I'd have to cry. I never seen a sight of her till three years afther that, afther I coming home. I was coming out o' the fair at Enniscar, an' I was talking to a man an' we coming down Dangan Hill, and what was in it but herself coming up in a cart! "An' I didn't look at her, good nor bad, nor know her, but sorra bit but she knew me talking, an' she turned in to me with the cart! Ho, ho, ho!' says she, and she stuck her nose into me like she'd be kissing me. Be dam, but I had to cry. An' the world wouldn't stir her out o' that till I'd lead her on meself. As for cow nor dog nor any other thing, there's nothing would rise your heart like a horse!"
* * * * *
It was early in July, a hot and sunny morning, and Fanny Fitz, seated on the flawless grassplot in front of Craffroe Lodge hall-door, was engaged in washing the dogs. The mother, who had been the first victim, was morosely licking herself, shuddering effectively, and coldly ignoring her oppressor's apologies. The daughter, trembling in every limb, was standing knee-deep in the bath; one paw, placed on its rim, was ready for flight if flight became practicable; her tail, rigid with anguish would have hummed like a violin-string if it were touched. Fanny, with her shirt-sleeves rolled up to her elbows, scrubbed in the soap. A clipped fuchsia hedge, the pride of William O'Loughlin's heart, screened the little lawn and garden from the high road.
"Good morning, Miss Fanny," said a voice over the hedge.
Fanny Fitz raised a flushed face and wiped a fleck of Naldyre off her nose with her arm.
"I've just been looking at your mare," went on the voice.
"Well, I hope you liked her!" said Fanny Fitz defiantly, for the voice was the voice of Rupert Gunning, and there was that in it that in this connection acted on Miss Fitzroy as a slogan.
"Well, 'like' is a strong word, you know!" said Mr. Gunning, moving on and standing with his arms on the top of the white gate and meeting Fanny's glance with provoking eyes. Then, as an after-thought, "Do you think you give her enough to eat?"
"She gets a feed of oats every Sunday, and strong tea and thistles through the week," replied Fanny Fitz in furious sarcasm.
"Yes, that's what she looks like," said Rupert Gunning thoughtfully. "Connolly tells me you want to send her to the show—Barnum's, I suppose—as the skeleton dude?"
"I believe you want to buy her yourself," retorted Fanny, with a vicious dab of the soap in the daughter's eye.
"Yes, she's just about up to my weight, isn't she? By-the-bye, you haven't had her backed yet, I believe?"
"I'm going to try her to-day!" said Fanny with sudden resolve.
"Ride her yourself!" said Mr. Gunning, his eyebrows going up into the roots of his hair.
"Yes!" said Fanny, with calm as icy as a sudden burst of struggles on the part of the daughter would admit of.
Rupert Gunning hesitated; then he said, "Well, she ought to carry a side-saddle well. Decent shoulders, and a nice long—" Perhaps he caught Fanny Fitz's eye; at all events, he left the commendation unfinished, and went on, "I should like to look in and see the performance, if I may? I suppose you wouldn't let me try her first? No?"
He walked on.
"Puppy, will you stay quiet!" said Fanny Fitz very crossly. She even slapped the daughter's soap-sud muffled person, for no reason that the daughter could see.
"Begorra, miss, I dunno," said Johnny Connolly dubiously when the suggestion that the filly should be ridden there and then was made to him a few minutes later; "wouldn't ye wait till I put her a few turns under the cart, or maybe threw a sack o' oats on her back?"
But Fanny would brook no delay. Her saddle was in the harness-room: William O'Loughlin could help to put it on; she would try the filly at once.
Miss Fitzroy's riding was of the sort that makes up in pluck what it wants in knowledge. She stuck on by sheer force of character; that she sat fairly straight, and let a horse's head alone were gifts of Providence of which she was wholly unconscious. Riding, in her opinion, was just getting on to a saddle and staying there, and making the thing under it go as fast as possible. She had always ridden other people's horses, and had ridden them so straight, and looked so pretty, that—other people in this connection being usually men—such trifles as riding out a hard run minus both fore shoes, or watering her mount generously during a check, were endured with a forbearance not frequent in horse owners. Hunting people, however, do not generally mount their friends, no matter how attractive, on young and valuable horses. Fanny Fitz's riding had been matured on well-seasoned screws, and she sallied forth to the subjugation of the Connemara filly with a self-confidence formed on experience only of the old, and the kind, and the cunning.
The filly trembled and sidled away from the garden-seat up to which Johnny Connolly had manoeuvred her. Johnny's supreme familiarity with young horses had brought him to the same point of recklessness that Fanny had arrived at from the opposite extreme, but some lingering remnant of prudence had induced him to put on the cavesson headstall, with the long rope attached to it, over the filly's bridle. The latter bore with surprising nerve Fanny's depositing of herself in the saddle.
"I'll keep a holt o' the rope, Miss Fanny," said Johnny, assiduously fondling his pupil; "it might be she'd be strange in herself for the first offer. I'll lead her on a small piece. Come on, gerr'l! Come on now!"
The pupil, thus adjured, made a hesitating movement, and Fanny settled herself down into the saddle. It was the shifting of the weight that seemed to bring home to the grey filly the true facts of the case, and with the discovery she shot straight up into the air as if she had been fired from a mortar. The rope whistled through Johnny Connolly's fingers, and the point of the filly's shoulder laid him out on the ground with the precision of a prize-fighter.
"I felt, my dear," as Fanny Fitz remarked in a letter to a friend, "as if I were in something between an earthquake and a bad dream and a churn. I just clamped my legs round the crutches, and she whirled the rest of me round her like the lash of a whip. In one of her flights she nearly went in at the hall door, and I was aware of William O'Loughlin's snow-white face somewhere behind the geraniums in the porch. I think I was clean out of the saddle then. I remember looking up at my knees, and my left foot was nearly on the ground. Then she gave another flourish, and swung me up on top again. I was hanging on to the reins hard; in fact, I think they must have pulled me back on to the saddle, as I know at one time I was sitting in a bunch on the stirrup! Then I heard most heart-rending yells from the poor old Aunts: 'Oh, the begonias! O Fanny, get off the grass!' and then, suddenly, the filly and I were perfectly still, and the house and the trees were spinning round me, black, edged with green and yellow dazzles. Then I discovered that some one had got hold of the cavesson rope and had hauled us in, as if we were salmon; Johnny had grabbed me by the left leg, and was trying to drag me off the filly's back; William O'Loughlin had broken two pots of geraniums, and was praying loudly among the fragments; and Aunt Harriet and Aunt Rachel, who don't to this hour realise that anything unusual had happened, were reproachfully collecting the trampled remnants of the begonias."
It was, perhaps unworthy on Fanny Fitz's part to conceal the painful fact that it was that distinguished fisherman, Mr. Rupert Gunning, who had landed her and the Connemara filly. Freddy Alexander, however, heard the story in its integrity, and commented on it with his usual candour. "I don't know which was the bigger fool, you or Johnny," he said; "I think you ought to be jolly grateful to old Rupert!"
"Well, I'm not!" returned Fanny Fitz.
After this episode the training of the filly proceeded with more system and with entire success. Her nerves having been steadied by an hour in the lunge with a sack of oats strapped, Mazeppa-like, on to her back, she was mounted without difficulty, and was thereafter ridden daily. By the time Fanny's muscles and joints had recovered from their first attempt at rough-riding, the filly was taking her place as a reasonable member of society, and her nerves, which had been as much en evidence as her bones, were, like the latter, finding their proper level, and becoming clothed with tranquillity and fat. The Dublin Horse Show drew near, and, abetted by Mr. Alexander, Fanny Fitz filled the entry forms and drew the necessary cheque, and then fell back in her chair and gazed at the attentive dogs with fateful eyes.
"Dogs!" she said, "if I don't sell the filly I am done for!"
The mother scratched languidly behind her ear till she yawned musically, but said nothing. The daughter, who was an enthusiast, gave a sudden bound on to Miss Fitzroy's lap, and thus it was that the cheque was countersigned with two blots and a paw mark.
None the less, the bank honoured it, being a kind bank, and not desirous to emphasise too abruptly the fact that Fanny Fitz was overdrawn.
In spite of, or rather, perhaps, in consequence of this fact, it would have been hard to find a smarter and more prosperous-looking young woman than the owner of No. 548, as she signed her name at the season-ticket turnstile and entered the wide soft aisles of the cathedral of horses at Ballsbridge. It was the first day of the show, and in token of Fanny Fitz's enthusiasm be it recorded, it was little more than 9.30 A.M. Fanny knew the show well, but hitherto only in its more worldly and social aspects. Never before had she been of the elect who have a horse "up," and as she hurried along, attended by Captain Spicer, at whose house she was staying, and Mr. Alexander, she felt magnificently conscious of the importance of the position.
The filly had preceded her from Craffroe by a couple of days, under the charge of Patsey Crimmeen, lent by Freddy for the occasion.
"I don't expect a prize, you know," Fanny had said loftily to Mr. Gunning, "but she has improved so tremendously, every one says she ought to be an easy mare to sell."
The sun came filtering through the high roof down on to the long rows of stalls, striking electric sparks out of the stirrup-irons and bits, and adding a fresh gloss to the polish that the grooms were giving to their charges. The judging had begun in several of the rings, and every now and then a glittering exemplification of all that horse and groom could be would come with soft thunder up the tan behind Fanny and her squires.
"We've come up through the heavy weights," said Captain Spicer; "the twelve-stone horses will look like rats—" He stopped.
They had arrived at the section in which figured "No. 548. Miss F. Fitzroy's 'Gamble,' grey mare; 4 years, by Grey Dawn," and opposite them was stall No. 548. In it stood the Connemara filly, or rather something that might have been her astral body. A more spectral, deplorable object could hardly be imagined. Her hind quarters had fallen in, her hips were standing out; her ribs were like the bars of a grate; her head, hung low before her, was turned so that one frightened eye scanned the passers-by, and she propped her fragile form against the partition of her stall, as though she were too weak to stand up.
To say that Fanny Fitz's face fell is to put it mildly. As she described it to Mrs. Spicer, it fell till it was about an inch wide and five miles long. Captain Spicer was speechless. Freddy alone was equal to demanding of Patsey Crimmeen what had happened to the mare.
"Begor, Masther Freddy, it's a wonder she's alive at all!" replied Patsey, who was now perceived to be looking but little better than the filly. "She was middlin' quiet in the thrain, though she went to lep out o' the box with the first screech the engine give, but I quietened her some way, and it wasn't till we got into the sthreets here that she went mad altogether. Faith, I thought she was into the river with me three times! 'Twas hardly I got her down the quays; and the first o' thim alecthric thrams she seen! Look at me hands, sir! She had me swingin' on the rope the way ye'd swing a flail. I tell you, Masther Freddy, them was the ecstasies!"
Patsey paused and gazed with a gloomy pride into the stricken faces of his audience.
"An' as for her food," he resumed, "she didn't use a bit, hay, nor oats, nor bran, bad nor good, since she left Johnny Connolly's. No, nor drink. The divil dang the bit she put in her mouth for two days, first and last. Why wouldn't she eat is it, miss? From the fright sure! She'll do nothing, only standing that way, and bushtin' out sweatin', and watching out all the time the way I wouldn't lave her. I declare to God I'm heart-scalded with her!"
At this harrowing juncture came the order to No. 548 to go forth to Ring 3 to be judged, and further details were reserved. But Fanny Fitz had heard enough.
"Captain Spicer," she said, as the party paced in deepest depression towards Ring 3, "if I hadn't on a new veil I should cry!"
"Well, I haven't," replied Captain Spicer; "shall I do it for you? Upon my soul, I think the occasion demands it!"
"I just want to know one thing," continued Miss Fitzroy. "When does your brother-in-law arrive?"
"Not till to-night."
"That's the only nice thing I've heard to-day," sighed Fanny Fitz.
The judging went no better for the grey filly than might have been expected, even though she cheered up a little in the ring, and found herself equal to an invalidish but well-aimed kick at a fellow-competitor. She was ushered forth with the second batch of the rejected, her spirits sank to their former level, and Fanny's accompanied them.
Perhaps the most trying feature of the affair was the reproving sympathy of her friends, a sympathy that was apt to break down into almost irrepressible laughter at the sight of the broken-down skeleton of whose prowess poor Fanny Fitz had so incautiously boasted.
"Y' know, my dear child," said one elderly M.F.H., "you had no business to send up an animal without the condition of a wire fence to the Dublin Show. Look at my horses! Fat as butter, every one of 'em!"
"So was mine, but it all melted away in the train," protested Fanny Fitz in vain. Those of her friends who had only seen the mare in the catalogue sent dealers to buy her, and those who had seen her in the flesh—or what was left of it—sent amateurs; but all, dealers and the greenest of amateurs alike, entirely declined to think of buying her.
The weather was perfect; every one declared there never was a better show, and Fanny Fitz, in her newest and least-paid-for clothes, looked brilliantly successful, and declared to Mr. Rupert Gunning that nothing made a show so interesting as having something up for it. She even encouraged him to his accustomed jibes at her Connemara speculation, and personally conducted him to stall No. 548, and made merry over its melancholy occupant in a way that scandalised Patsey, and convinced Mrs. Spicer that Fanny's pocket was even harder hit than she had feared.
On the second day, however, things looked a little more hopeful.
"She ate her grub last night and this morning middlin' well, miss," said Patsey, "and"—here he looked round stealthily and began to whisper—"when I had her in the ring, exercisin', this morning, there was one that called me in to the rails; like a dealer he was. 'Hi! grey mare!' says he. I went in. 'What's your price?' says he. 'Sixty guineas, sir,' says I. 'Begin at the shillings and leave out the pounds!' says he. He went away then, but I think he's not done with me."
"I'm sure the ring is our best chance, Patsey," said Fanny, her voice thrilling with the ardour of conspiracy and of reawakened hope. "She doesn't look so thin when she's moving. I'll go and stand by the rails, and I'll call you in now and then just to make people look at her!"
"Sure I had Masther Freddy doing that to me yestherday," said Patsey; but hope dies hard in an Irishman, and he saddled up with all speed.
For two long burning hours did the Connemara filly circle in Ring 3, and during all that time not once did her owner's ears hear the longed-for summons, "Hi! grey mare!" It seemed to her that every other horse in the ring was called in to the rails, "and she doesn't look so very thin to-day!" said Fanny indignantly to Captain Spicer, who, with Mr. Gunning, had come to take her away for lunch.
"Oh, you'll see, you'll sell her on the last day; she's getting fitter every minute," responded Captain Spicer. "What would you take for her?"
"I'm asking sixty," said Fanny dubiously. "What would you take for her, Mr. Gunning—on the last day, you know?"
"I'd take a ticket for her," said Rupert Gunning, "back to Craffroe—if you haven't a return."
The second and third days crawled by unmarked by any incident of cheer, but on the morning of the fourth, when Fanny arrived at the stall, she found that Patsey had already gone out to exercise. She hurried to the ring and signalled to him to come to her.
"There's a fella' afther her, miss!" said Patsey, bending very low and whispering at close and tobacco-scented range. "He came last night to buy her; a jock he was, from the Curragh, and he said for me to be in the ring this morning. He's not come yet. He had a straw hat on him."
Fanny sat down under the trees and waited for the jockey in the straw hat. All around were preoccupied knots of bargainers, of owners making their final arrangements, of would-be-buyers hurrying from ring to ring in search of the paragon that they had now so little time to find. But the man from the Curragh came not. Fanny sent the mare in, and sat on under the trees, sunk in depression. It seemed to her she was the only person in the show who had nothing to do, who was not clinking handfuls of money, or smoothing out banknotes, or folding up cheques and interring them in fat and greasy pocket-books. She had never known this aspect of the Horse Show before, and—so much is in the point of view—it seemed to her sordid and detestable. Prize-winners with their coloured rosettes were swaggering about everywhere. Every horse in the show seemed to have got a prize except hers, thought Fanny. And not a man in a straw hat came near Ring 3.
She went home to lunch, dead tired. The others were going to see the polo in the park.
"I must go back and sell the mare," said Fanny valiantly, "or else take that ticket to Craffroe, Mr. Gunning!"
"Well, we'll come down and pick you up there after the first match, you poor, miserable thing," said Mrs. Spicer, "and I hope you'll find that beast of a horse dead when you get there! You look half dead yourself!"
How sick Fanny was of signing her name at that turnstile! The pen was more atrocious every time. How tired her feet were! How sick she was of the whole thing, and how incredibly big a fool she had been! She was almost too tired to know what she was doing, and she had actually walked past stall No. 548 without noticing it, when she heard Patsey's voice calling her.
"Miss Fanny! Miss Fanny! I have her sold! The mare's sold, miss! See here! I have the money in me pocket!"
The colour flooded Fanny Fitz's face. She stared at Patsey with eyes that more than ever suggested the Connemara trout-stream with the sun playing in it; so bright were they, so changing, and so wet. So at least thought a man, much addicted to fishing, who was regarding the scene from a little way off.
"He was a dealer, miss," went on Patsey; "a Dublin fella'. Sixty-three sovereigns I asked him, and he offered me fifty-five, and a man that was there said we should shplit the differ, and in the latther end he gave me the sixty pounds. He wasn't very stiff at all. I'm thinking he wasn't buying for himself."
The man who had noticed Fanny Fitz's eyes moved away unostentatiously. He had seen in them as much as he wanted; for that time at least.
THE CONNEMARA MARE
The grey mare who had been one of the last, if not the very last, of the sales at the Dublin Horse Show, was not at all happy in her mind.
Still less so was the dealer's under-strapper, to whom fell the task of escorting her through the streets of Dublin. Her late owner's groom had assured him that she would "folly him out of his hand, and that whatever she'd see she wouldn't care for it nor ask to look at it!"
It cannot be denied, however, that when an electric tram swept past her like a terrace under weigh, closely followed by a cart laden with a clanking and horrific reaping-machine, she showed that she possessed powers of observation. The incident passed off with credit to the under-strapper, but when an animal has to be played like a salmon down the length of Lower Mount Street, and when it barn-dances obliquely along the north side of Merrion Square, the worst may be looked for in Nassau Street.
And it was indeed in Nassau Street, and, moreover, in full view of the bow window of Kildare Street Club, that the cup of the under-strapper's misfortunes brimmed over. To be sure he could not know that the new owner of the grey mare was in that window; it was enough for him that a quiescent and unsuspected piano-organ broke with three majestic chords into Mascagni's "Intermezzo" at his very ear, and that, without any apparent interval of time, he was surmounting a heap composed of a newspaper boy, a sandwich man, and a hospital nurse, while his hands held nothing save a red-hot memory of where the rope had been. The smashing of glass and the clatter of hoofs on the pavement filled in what space was left in his mind for other impressions.
"She's into the hat shop!" said Mr. Rupert Gunning to himself in the window of the club, recognising his recent purchase and the full measure of the calamity in one and the same moment.
He also recognised in its perfection the fact, already suspected by him, that he had been a fool.
Upheld by this soothing reflection he went out into the street, where awaited him the privileges of proprietorship. These began with the despatching of the mare, badly cut, and apparently lame on every leg, in charge of the remains of the under-strapper, to her destination. They continued with the consolation of the hospital nurse, and embraced in varying pecuniary degrees the compensation of the sandwich man, the newspaper boy, and the proprietor of the hat shop. During all this time he enjoyed the unfaltering attention of a fair-sized crowd, liberal in comment, prolific of imbecile suggestion. And all these things were only the beginning of the trouble.
Mr. Gunning proceeded to his room and to the packing of his portmanteau for that evening's mail-boat to Holyhead in a mood of considerable sourness. It may be conceded to him that circumstances had been of a souring character. He had bought Miss Fanny Fitzroy's grey mare at the Horse Show for reasons of an undeniably sentimental sort. Therefore, having no good cause to show for the purchase, he had made it secretly, the sum of sixty pounds, for an animal that he had consistently crabbed, amounting in the eyes of the world in general to a rather advanced love-token, if not a formal declaration. He had planned no future for the grey mare, but he had cherished a trembling hope that some day he might be in a position to restore her to her late owner without considering the expression in any eyes save those which, a couple of hours ago, had recalled to him the play of lights in a Connemara trout stream.
Now, it appeared, this pleasing vision must go the way of many others.
The August sunlight illumined Mr. Gunning's folly, and his bulging portmanteau, packed as brutally as only a man in a passion can pack; when he reached the hall, it also with equal inappropriateness irradiated the short figure and seedy tidiness of the dealer who had been his confederate in the purchase of the mare.
"What did the vet say, Brennan?" said Mr. Gunning, with the brevity of ill humour.
Mr. Brennan paused before replying, a pause laden with the promise of evil tidings. His short silvery hair glistened respectably in the sunshine: he had preserved unblemished from some earlier phase of his career the air of a family coachman out of place. It veiled, though it could not conceal, the dissolute twinkle in his eye as he replied:—