Tom was home on leave, his number dry, a good-conduct badge on his sleeve; for he was no longer a rooky, but had passed through all drill with colours flying, and crossed gold guns shining a little way above a cuff told the tale that he was a first-class shot in his regiment. He and Archie and Johnny were on their way through the crisp air of an autumn day to the Cat ‘n’ Cage for a drink—beer for Tom and Archie, and ginger cordial or claret for the boul’ Johnny. Along Dorset Street the three of them went, Archie and Johnny chucking out their chests and keeping well in trim with the military step of Tom, looking brave and fine and proud in the get-up of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers: tunic as crimson as a new-blown poppy, long streaming black ribbons stretching down his back from the natty, square-pushing, silk-edged Scots cap set jauntily on the side of his head, white gloves stuck neatly into his pipeclayed belt, and a dear little cane, knobbed with the arms of his regiment, under his arm, a cane to be presented to Johnny as soon as Tom found it convenient to get another.
He had overstepped his leave by a day, and laughingly drew the picture of Captain Bacon’s moustache bristling when he’d be brought on the mat before his officer for absence without leave.
—You’ll lose your good-conduct badge, won’t you? asked Archie.
—Not unless I get a regimental enthry, and that isn’t likely, for I’ve got a clean sheet so far, and I’m in request for work in th’ ordherly room, and that counts a hell of a lot. But, if I do, what about it?
And he laughed defiantly, thinking it great fun, and Johnny thought so too, when he heard Tom humming:
Around th’ prison walls, There I’ve got a token;
All around Victoria’s walls, picking tarry oakum.
The shot dhrill an’ the shell—
Mind boys what I say—
It’s a military prison for a soldier 1
While he was humming the last line of the tune, Tom whipped off the golden head of a dandelion shooting out from a slit in the sidewalk opposite a bright red brick building with the words on a wall telling everyone that this was Father Gaffney’s Catholic School, built, his Ma said, to keep the Catholics as far away as possible from the Protestants, and leave them free to flourish in their errors, for as the Churches of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred not only in living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.
They stopped for a moment looking up the narrow street that ran like a narrow stream into the wide river of Dorset Street where they had lived for long, and where the two elder ones had left for their first job.
—There, said Tom, pointing at the street with his cane, is where we lived for a long time, where the old man died, and where you, Johnny, ran around in petticoat and pinafore. Remember?
Remember? Ay, did he. From nine Innisfallen Parade he had run for the ounce o’ cut Cavendish. He remembered, too, going out often with a white delft jamjar in his hand to get thruppence worth of threacle from Dunphy’s o’ Dorset Street, an’ watching a dark, little, yellow-faced man, for all the world like a Chinaman, holding the jamjar to a tap in a green tin barrel, watching the deft little yellow hand turning the tap to let the black sticky stuff flow down into the white jar, and then, like lightning, cutting off the dark sthream when enough had flowed for the money offered, and swiftly cutting with his thumb the threacle blossoming from the tap, and licking it off, before he handed the jamjar back to Johnny with one hand, while he swept the three pennies into the till with the other.
A big, black, tarry canalboat, filled with a cargo covered by a huge tarpaulin, was lying idly against the lock gates, waiting for the lock to fill so that it might glide in and sink to a lower level. The sluice gates were open, and the green water, laced with foam, tumbled through into the vast pit of the lock, adding its energy to the water that had poured in before, whirling madly about, and rising slowly to the level where the canalboat lay, waiting for the lock to fill. The old nag that had heavily pulled the boat to where it was cropped a few clumps of grass growing thickly near the railway wall, while the man who led him idly watched a loaded goods-train that went lumbering by far away below. A sturdy, brown-bearded, dirty-faced man stood on the poop of the boat, gazing at the waters tumbling through the sluices of the lock, occasionally taking a cutty clay pipe from his mouth and jetting a flying spit right into the heart of the green and white tumbling waters, seeming surprised and disappointed that the spit was so rapidly lost in the whirling cascade. A man on the boat, with a boathook in his hand, watched the spit disappear the moment it struck the water.
—We all go like that poor spit, he said to his comrade, a gathering together, a second or so in the mouth, a sudden jet of life, an’ we’re out of sight of all.
—Ay, indeed, said the brown-bearded man; casual spit or special spit—all gone together an’ lost in a whirlin’ medley.
—Oh, none of us is lost altogether, replied his comrade with the boathook; no, not altogether; no, not quite.
—No one’s no more nor a dhrownded dhrop in a mill-sthream, went on the one with the beard; a dhrop there in th’ dark, showin’ no sign at all, an’ a dhrop here with the sun on it shinin’ for a second, an’ then meetin’ th’ darkness of th’ other one. I know you’re here an’ you know I’m here, an’ that’s about as far as it goes. But what th’ hell are you to a Chinaman, or a Chinaman to me? He comes as I go, or I go as he comes, an’ him nor me is no wiser of one another. You don’t know even who may be havin’ a pint in Leech’s opposite while we’re talkin’ here.
—I don’t, agreed the man with the boathook, but I know who’s not havin’ one, and that’s more important to me.
The bearded man shoved the pipe into his pocket, hurried swiftly along the narrow gangway to the aft, where he grasped the tiller, ready to guide the barge, for the lock was full; Tom, Archie, and Johnny leaned against the great arm of the lock gates, and pushed the arm open through a gurgle of rippling water, men on the opposite bank doing the same with the other arm. The man with the boathook fixed it in a part of the gate, and began to pull and shove the barge forward past the open gates. When the boat had passed through, these gates were pushed shut again, and sluices further down were opened to empty the lock, and let the boat sink to a lower level. Down and down she went, slowly; the men’s legs disappearing first, then their waists, till only their heads could be seen peeping over the stone parapet of the lock, the bearded man jetting a last spit into a faraway clump of daisies before his head disappeared altogether.
—Eh, there, shouted Archie down to the bargemen when the boat was well down and safely caged between the dripping walls of the lock, where’s your barque bound for? Is it to Yokohama you’re settin’ your course, or dim an’ distant Valparaiso?
—Farther than ever you’ll wandher, you pinched an’ puckered worm, shouted the man with the boathook, while he shoved the barge along out of the lock into the further stretch of the canal ahead.
Archie whipped out a handkerchief and waved it to the departing boat, as he chanted:
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Away, you rolling river;
Oh, Shenandoah, I long to hear you,
Away I’ve got to go ‘cross the wide Missouri!
They turned away from the lock when the canal boat had drifted away down to where the ships go down to the sea, and pass out, over the bar, to the rolling billows beyond, and on to where there are cannibals, an’ spicy smells that make the sailors faint, an’ lilies on lakes big enough to hold a house up, an’ palms so high that the highest tufts scratch the lower clouds, and where there are wild beasts wandering through the streets of towns at night, touching their snouts to windows shut tight and doors barred soundly, an’ places, too, where men are as small as a three year old nipper, dangerous, for they can well hide in the long grasses, and send a tiny arrow, touched with poison, into the guts of a passer-by so that he drops dead just as he feels the first faint prick of the barbed arrow entherin’ his thin white skin, and is never found again and is lost forever, maybe the only son of a poor woman wait-in’ for him to come back, an’ puttin’ a light in the window so that he won’t miss his way,
A light in the window shines brightly for me, Her bold sailor lad who has gone far away; His absence an’ silence makes mother’s heart yearn, As brightly the light in the window doth burn,
so sure an’ senseless is she that the wanderer will come back again, an’ he, all the time, lying stiff, a flower forcin’ itself out of his mouth, maybe, the grasses climbin’ over him, the night dew fallin’ fast on him, gone home, gone forever, gone to earth, gone to rest, gone to glory, gone to be with Christ which is far betther.
Crossing over Tolka Bridge, they passed out of the town into a hedge-bordered road, the great northern road leading to Belfast and the Irish north where the loyal and trusty true blue followers of King Billy lived and defended the Protestant Faith and all ceevil and releegious liberty.
The hedges were beaming with the scarlet clusters of haw and hip shining forth from the midst of the gold and brown leaves of the declining may and dogrose. The hips were fat and luscious looking, their scarlet more riotous looking than the lesser and more modest red of the haws. Johnnie Magories, Johnny called the hips, and he pulled a rare big bunch of them, half of them a dazzling scarlet, and the rest, that hadn’t ripened yet, the colour of rich gold slashed with crimson, for his mother who liked to put them in a jug that had lost a handle, to brighten up the room a bit, she said, and make us feel a little less like what we are. The room was always a little different, she’d say, when it showed a sprig o’ green or a bunch of berries. They brightened up a dull room as the stars, on a dark night, brightened up the sky. They carried their colours so quietly, she said, that they coaxed you to feel a little quieter yourself. And, if you thought of them at all, you knew they were as lovely as the richest roses the rich could buy. You never knew how often a linnet’s wing had touched them, or how often they had held up a robin while he sang his share o’ song when the sun was low and the other birds were setting silent. In time, like the rest of us, she said, they’ll lose their gay colour, will shrivel, and get tired, but they will have had their day, will have shone for an hour, and that is something,
A brisk breeze, spiced with the pungent smell of weeds afire in the fields, blew about them, gave speed to a lot of clouds drifting in a silky blue sky, swung the bunches of berries in a gentle dance, rustled the brown and yellow leaves strewn under their feet, and sent many others whirling and falling to join the others that fell before them. Several jaunting-cars went trotting by them, packed with young men wearing white-cuffed green jerseys and carrying hurleys. Most of them were singing as recklessly as they could:
Oh, for a steed, a rushing steed, On the Curragh of Kildare,
And Irish squadrons thrained to do what they are willing to dare I
A hundred yards, an’ England’s guards Dhrawn up to engage me there, Dhrawn up to engage me there!
A policeman halted, stiffened himself, and gazed fixedly at the cars trotting by. The hurlers gave a jeering cheer and waved their hurleys on high. The policeman watched them away into the distance, with a foolish grin on his gob.
—As long as they rest content with shouting, he said to Tom, we don’t mind much.
But Tom, Archie, and Johnny, taking no notice, walked by, eyes front, for they didn’t want to be seen talking to a policeman.
—The horney wanted us to take notice of him, said Johnny,
With a clever swish of his cane, Tom whipped off a bramble twig that was sticking itself out over the sidewalk.
—The less anyone has to do with harvey duffs an’ horneys, the better, he said, ready to swear a hole through an iron pot.
—Ambush their own mother into the arms of the hangman, added Archie, if it meant a pat on the back from a head constable.
The blue of the sky had given way to the dimmy purple of the gathering twilight; the bright berries were hiding in the dusk. The trees were dark and drooping figures sleeping, yielding a densely drowsy welcome to the birds thrusting a way to a rest in the branches; the breeze still blew, but every thing and every stir in the dusk grew quieter, as the three of them went on their way to the Cat ‘n’ Cage.
—Here we are at our home ‘n’ destination, said Tom, whose mouth was watering for a drink.
They stopped before what was no more than a country cottage, with a small window at each side of a narrow door. A heavy weather-soaked thatch covered the low roof. A low hedge surrounded a grass plot, separated by a path leading from the gate straight into the doorway. Along the grass plot, nearest to the hedge, sprawling clumps of neglected dahlias, still trying to carry soiled crimson and yellow blossoms, looking as if they, too, had been into the pub, had lowered a lot of drinks, and were just able to crawl out and lie around the border, or lean tipsily against the hedges. From two squat chimneys, one at each end of the roof, thin streams of delicate blue smoke rose unsteadily, stood straight for a moment, then staggered away into the higher air, as if they, too, had had a merry time, and didn’t quite know which way to go. The door had once been a bright green, but was now well faded and smeared with many dirty patches made by the rain, snow, and sun of many seasons. Swinging over the door was the sign of the house: a large square board, with a picture on it of a huge wicker cage holding a blackbird stiffly standing on a perch, while outside, with her nose close to the bars, and a thoughtful look in her eyes, sat a big black cat.
As the three of them walked up to the door, they saw, shining through the dusty windows, the gleam of blazing fires, singing out that there was a welcome and a fair snugness and a fine warmth to be found inside for all who came. Tom pushed the door open, and in he and Archie and Johnny passed, into the warm beer ‘n’ whiskey cosiness of the Cat ‘n’ Cage.
The place was a bit dim from the smoke of several pipes and the smoke that was too tipsy to climb up the chimney, and, to Johnny, everything seemed to be floating about in a warm-smelling mist. Along the whole length of the room stretched the bar-counter of thick deal, once white, but now grimly stained with many porter stains and dirt carried in on the clothes of them who came in to take a rest and slake their thirst. At one end of the bar stood the three glorious beer-pulls, shaped like the spokes of a ship’s wheel, made of glowing crimson and polished brass, having on the thicker parts of them lovely oval panels of gaily coloured shepherds and shepherdesses surrounded by their baaing sheep.
Two of the hinders who had passed them on the cars were drinking by the counter near the beerpulls, and a carman sat in a corner with a pint before him. The barman, a thick-necked man, with bushy eyebrows and a partly bald head, his big eyes sleepy-looking, bent over the counter, listening to what the hurlers were saying. When he saw Tom and his companions, he pulled himself slowly apart from the talking group and came over to them, sending a questioning look towards Tom as he came near, while the brisk gab of the hurlers suddenly ceased.
—Pint, said Tom to the questioning glance, glass o’ plain, an’ a small claret, warm, for the boy, sweet.
The gay shepherds and shepherdesses tugged up the beer cheerfully, with a long, long pull, an’ a strong, strong pull, gaily, boys, make her go, and the pint and glass o’ plain were handed to Tom and Archie, while a dandy-glass, half full of ruby liquor, was put into Johnny’s eager hand.
Tom was a handsome fellow, and was swanking it a bit now before the hurlers. Five foot eleven in his socks, broad chested, lithe of limb, ruddy-haired, a handsome ginger moustache sweeping his upper lip, grey eyes that sparkled when he was excited, genial, especially when he was drinking his beloved porter, a hater of quarrels, but a lover of an argument.
—Bet Mick has a sackful in him be now from the Jesuit he was to meet in the Cross Guns, he murmured, balancing the pint in his steady hand.
The hurlers were sending over quick, cross-grained glances at the redcoat, poising themselves in a little silent bunch beside the beerpulls, while the barman, pretending to take no notice, wiped some dirty glasses, and hummed half-softly to himself:
The fountain mingles with the river, And the river with the ocean; The winds of heaven mix forever With a sweet emotion. Nothin’ in th’ worrld is single, All things, be a law divine, In one another’s being mingle— Why not I with thine?
Archie saw the black looks that the hurlers were bending on them, looks quickly given and quickly withdrawn, and he was nervous. Johnny, too, saw the looks, and saw that Archie was nervous, and that the hand holding the glass of plain trembled a little, saw him bending his head over towards Tom’s.
—They’re havin’ a good gawk at us, he whispered. —Eh? Who? asked Tom, for he was too full of himself to take notice of half-hidden scowls. —Boyos, with the hurleys.
—Oh, said Tom, sending a swift glance to where the hurlers were, them? Gawks. Bogtrotters. Never seen anything higher than a haystack. Hayfoot, strawfoot fusiliers. Let them look their fill at one o’ the old toughs. He lifted his glass level with his chin. There it goes, he said, and gurgled down more than the half of his pint, leaving his fine moustache gleaming with a frothy dew. He pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve, and as he was wiping the frothy dew from his moustache, the door of the pub opened, and in walked the boul’ Mick, his pill-box cap set rakishly on the side of his small, tight head, looking like one o’ God’s guards in his superb crimson tunic with its velvet blue-purple cuffs and collar, piped with yellow cord, skintight trousers, slashed with a wide scarlet stripe down each leg, and caught under his square-pushing boots with leathern straps to make them tighter still.
Tom looked at him as if he had seen an apparition.
—Jaysus, he ejaculated, I thought you were to meet a Jesuit in the Cross Guns!
The Cross Guns: Johnny knew it well, near to the bridge of the same name, called Westmoreland Bridge by the loyal Irish and the more respectable Protestants, one of his brothers’ favourite pubs. He knew them all well, outside and in: Cross Guns; the Bleeding Horse, up behind the northern quays; the Big Tree in Dorset Street; Royal Oak in Park-gate Street, where the Invincibles had a last drink before going on to do in Cavendish and Burke; the Jolly Topers in Finglas, a well known bona fide house; Leech’s beside Binn’s Bridge; Galvin’s in Capel Street; Bergin’s in Amiens Street; the Brian Boru nicely stuck in the way to or from a burial in Glasnevin; Meredith’s in Derrynane Parade could hardly be counted, for it was only a shebeen where drink had to be taken oif the premises, unless someone stood at the door to keep nix for fear a homey hove in sight round a corner, though here they could always be sure of a few because Cissy, daughter of Meredith, was sweet on Tom, in spite of the oul’ fella grumblin’ that there was more goin’ out than was comin’ in, an’ Cissy havin to help the family be workin’ from eight till six for half a dollar a week, in Williams & Woods cleanin’ the fruit that came to the place to make the jam; and last, but not least, Nagle’s in Earl Street, a rendezvous for all the post office boys who had worked with Tom and Mick before they joined the army. Johnny knew them all, had drunk ginger beer or claret in each of them; had listened to the rare manly talk beatin’ round the house like the stirring wind or a bustling sea. And now he was in the Cat ‘n’ Cage. He was getting on and filling out his young life with wondhers. Here he was in a pub miles from home, between two oul’ swaddies, havin’ his share o’ dhrink with the best of them. Few more years, an’ he’d be workin’, able to go his own way, swagger about the streets, an’ show Jennie Clitheroe the sort he was.
—Go on, boys, dhrink up, an’ have another, Mick was saying; and, turning to the barman, added, same again here, mate.
The room wasn’t large and the counter wasn’t long; there was little more than a hair’s breadth between the red-coated elbow of Tom and the green-covered elbow of a hurler.
Red an’ green, thought Johnny, red an’ green are the colours of oul’ Ireland, an’ an oul’ ballad, sung be a one-eyed man mouchin’ along Dorset Street, came into lps mind:
Green is the flag an’ green are the fields of our sireland, While the blood our sons have shed has tinged the green with red,
That’s why red an’ green are the colours of oul’ Ireland. Whenever a movement brought the red-coated elbow of the soldier into touch with the green-covered one of the hurler, the green-covered one would give the red-coated one a vicious shove away, but, beyond a wondering backward glance, Tom took no notice.
—Here’s to the time, said a hurler, suddenly, in a loud voice, raising his glass high above his head, when there won’t be an English soldier seen in our land from one end of it to the other!
The other hurlers clinked their glasses against his, and they all chanted:
Clink your glasses, clink, Here’s a toast for all to drink: Be every Irish chief beneath a cairn, Some day, without a doubt, we’ll dhrive th’ English soldier out
From every field an’ glen an’ town in Erin!
The door opened in the silence that followed the song, showing two tall Irish constabularymen standing on the threshold, with their martial coats around them, the dusky bronze harp, with the crown over it, sleepy looking on its oval bed of red cloth stuck in front of their round black caps set to the side of their heads, a chinstrap keeping the cap in its perky angle, and their glossy back belts, with batons hanging from them, fencing their heavy coats into two long neat folds down the backs.
After dawdling at the door for a few moments, the two of them sidled up to the counter, Tom and his party moving up to their end of the counter, the hurlers moving closer up to theirs, so that the policemen had a little space at the counter between the backs of the soldiers on the left hand and the backs of the hurlers on the right one.
—Two Guinnesses, said one of them, in an apologetic voice, for he knew that the barman and the hurlers knew they were supposed to be out patrolling the roads, and far away from the sight or even the thought of a drink.
The barman, all attention to these gods o’ the Irish countryside, hurried the bottles of stout to the policemen, who moved over nearer to Tom and his comrades, who moved farther away still when they felt the touch of the peelers.
Quarrelsome Mick couldn’t let well enough alone; couldn’t let the silence sing its song of peace.
—If y’ask Mick, he said, when the redcoats weren’t dhriven out o’ Ireland when Parnell was high an’ mighty, they’ll hardly do it now he’s down among the dead men.
Then Tom had to go one better—he was always weak enough to follow on where Mick led.
—Who was it threw Parnell to the English wolves? he asked in a voice meant for the hard of hearing, Was it the English redcoats done it?
—A sowl man, he was, chimed in Archie, lifting the people from their knees by the scruff of their necks. An’ what did he get for it?
—A home in a coffin, said Mick, and a roomy grave in the famine plot in Glasnevin.
—Ay, said Tom, taking great gulps out of the beer, an’ in their mangy hearts, the priests an’ people sang a Te Deum when they found he was dead.
—An’ I’ll go bail, said Mick, there were a few hurlers’ hands helpin’ to pack him into his coffin.
A hurler whirled round on his heel, his face tense, his eyes blazing.
—No hand here helped him into his coffin, he shouted, his face flaming in the black gap between the two constabulary-men.
—The whole jim bang lot o’ them, said Tom, taking no notice of the hurler, deserted their Leader in his time o’ need.
—Th’ Irish always down a great man, said Archie, while they cling to a clyureh as they did to Sheamus the s* * * at the battle o’ the Boyne.
—Here, here, now, said the barman, shoving his gob over the counter in Archie’s direction, there’s to be no bad language heard here, for this is a highly respectable house, fully approved of be the magisthrates an’ the parish priest.
—Now, boys, now, murmured one of the policemen, talk it over easy. This is a free counthry where everyone has a right to his own opinion.
—Looka Swift MacNeill, said Tom, now more excited than ever, but stiil keeping his back to the policemen and hurlers, an’ he shoutin’ at the Dublin meetin’ of the National League, ‘God forbid that the man who led us through darkness an’ difficulty should be deserted be us’ an’ he the first to vote for the betrayal of his Leader to the English.
—An’ he a Dublin man, too, said Mick; Dublin went a-whoring when she bred that bastard who betrayed Parnell!
—Easy, easy, murmured the other constable.
The barman again leaned his gob over the counter, gently shoving a constable a little aside with his head to get nearer to Mick.
—Isn’t it afther sayin’ I am, he said, that no other language, other than that in common uttherance, is to be used in this respectable house?
—No bad language, no bad language, murmured a constable.
All, except the police, were getting very excited. The police were uneasy, and couldn’t rightly, without loss of dignity, slink out of the discussion now. So there the two of them lounged over the counter, trying to look undisturbed, stuck in the middle of the hubbub, like a pair of crows among a group of coloured jays.
—An’ what about Healy, said Mick, bitther an’ brave with envy, swearin’ at the same meetin’ that he’d never, never desert the Chief who had led Ireland so far forward; an’, all the time, the Banthry bousey, itchin’ to make an end o’ Parnell, even if he had to make an end of Ireland at the same time! Tim Healy, the biggest snake Pathrick left behind him! Healy’s your hero now: muck that Parnell made into a man; the guck in the silken gown; England’s fosther brother! An’ where’s Ireland now? In Glasnevin. An’ what’s Ireland now? A mingy plot of grass in Glasnevin with th’ name o’ Parnell fadin’ away on it out undher the frost an’ the rain!
—Let the poor man rest, said a constable; he’s dead, isn’t he? So let the poor man rest.
—Who’s dead, who’s dead? asked a hurler, fiercely, turning to face the constable.
—Parnell, replied the constable, softly and slyly, so let the poor man rest in peace.
—You an’ your like ud like him to be dead, said the hurler, we all know that; but Parnell’s more alive than ever he was! Rest in peace I That’s what you and the political pathrols among the clergy’d like too. But Parnell’ll never rest till the swarm of thraitors that hounded him to his death and flung Ireland’s power into England’s lap are sthretched out cold, unremembered be a single soul that’s left to lift a hand for Ireland!
The carman, sitting in the corner, suddenly jumped up and slid over to where the talk was, wiping the drains of beer from his lips, his green-gone bowler hat balanced on the back of his head, a stained clay pipe waving in his left hand, like a conductor’s wand, his dull eyes trying to force a gleam into them, and the corners of his big mouth twitching.
—It’s sick I’m gettin’, he said, listenin’ to the whole of yous. If he’d ha’ loved his counthry, he’d ha’ known he wasn’t fit to lead us when he committed himself with Kitty O’Shea!
—Who wasn’t fit to lead us? cried a hurler, turning savagely on the cardriver. —He wasn’t. —Who wasn’t?
—Parnell, if you’d like to know.
—Is it Parnell who united the whole Nation together, who coaxed the Fenians to follow him, who forced the church to toe the line, is it him I hear you saying wasn’t the man who was fit to lead us?
—Amn’t I afther tellin’ you, persisted the cardriver, that all that happened before Parnell committed himself with Kitty O’Shea?
—Jaysus, said the hurler, with the sound of agony in his voice and the look of agony in his face, is it listenin’ to an Irishman I am when I hear a thing like that 1
—The holy clergy, said Tom, mockingly, didn’t open their mouths when O’Connell was goin’ round the counthry scat-therin’ bastards everywhere. Gettin’ them be steam, be God I
—I told yous twice before, an’ I’m tellin’ you for the third an’ last time, said the barman, furiously, that this double-meaning talk’ll have to be heard only outa hearin’ of the decent people who come into this decent house for enthertain-ment; and he again shoved his thick gob over the counter, thrusting it sideways and tilting it upwards at the angry hurler.—An’, furthermore, he went on, I’m not goin’ to have any confusion here over Parnell, either; for when all’s said an’ done, he’s gone, an’ a good riddance, bringin’ disgrace on Ireland’s fair name be committin’ an immortal sin I
In a mighty rage, the hurler let fly and gave him one in the snot while it was well poked out over the counter, forcing a steady stream of blood to flow down his chin and over the white front of his dickey, and causing him to knock down a serene-looking row of newly-cleansed tumblers with a wave of his arm as he staggered back. He sliddered down to the floor, and sat, glancing now at the crowd outside the counter and then at the broken tumblers lying round him.
—Me nose’s slit, he sighed, loudly, an’ me best glasses gone wallop, an’ me only afther cleanin’ them, too!
The two constables were afraid of the hurlers, for no one could say, especially a policeman, what a hurler would do when he had a hurley in his hand. So they turned on the other party, very officious, and full of the law.
—Now, said one of them to Tom and Mick, you two members of Her Majesty’s forces betther be gettin’ outa this, d’ye hear me? We can’t have quarrelsomeness comin’ into the quiet of the counthryside. So g’ on, now, the pair of yous, before I have to inthervene to prevent any further tendency towards a breach of the peace I
—We’ll finish the dhrinks we paid for, before we go, anyway, said Tom, surlily.
—The minute they landed in here, said the barman, thickly through a handkerchief held to his nose, they started to row with these decent men here, and he pointed to the hurlers.
—They started no row with us, said the hurlers. What we said an’ they said was said in quietness an’ calm.
—Here, now, said a constable, touching Mick on the arm, swally up the remainder of what yeh have there, an’ be off, like a good man.
—Oh, let the man finish his dhrink in a decent way, said one of the hurlers.
The policeman wheeled round to face the hurler.
—It’s a dangerous thing for anyone to thry to obstruct a constable in the discharge of his duty, he said warningly.
—Did ya ever hear the song that everyone’s singin’, now? asked Mick, with a wink at the hurlers.
—No, said Tom; what song is that, now?
—Goes like this, said Mick, and then he chanted, keeping his back turned to the policemen, knowing that this song was the song they hated and dreaded above all others:
A Bansha peeler wint wan night, On duty an’ pathrollin’ O, An’ met a goat upon the road, An’ took her to be a sthroller 0. Wid bay’net fixed, he sallied forth, An’ caught her by the wizen O, An’ then he swore a mighty oath, I’ll send yeh off to prison 01
The hurlers tittered, and the constables flushed. —An’ what did the oul’ goat say? asked Tom. —God, I’ve forgotten, said Mick. —I know, I know, said Johnny, eagerly, and he began to sing:
Oh, mercy, sir, the goat replied, Pray let me tell me story 0, I am no Rogue, no Ribbonman, No Croppy, Whig, or Tory 0, I’m guilty not of any crime, Of petty or high threason O, I’m badly wanted at this time, For this is the milkin’ season O!
One of the constables glared at Johnny and said, viciously, —What’r’ you doin’ here in a place like this, me oul’-fash-ioned, cocky little kidger, with your ears open to catch any language that’ll help to knock hell outa all decency in later life?
—I’m with me own two brothers, said Johnny, sturdily.
—With your own two brothers, are you, now? Well, it’s not in a place like this a lad o’ your years ought to be, catchin’ a glimpse of things not fit for you to see.
—I’m not goin’ to ask your permission to come here, anyway, muttered Johnny, defiantly.
—Oh, you’re not, aren’t you? Lappin’ up your lessons well, eh? Guh, yeh cheeky little cur, bulky with impudence I Swinging an arm, the constable, in a rage, brought his hand to Johnny’s ear with a box that sent him spinning towards the door, dazed and dumb and bothered.
Dazed with the blow as Johnny was, he saw the lovely sight of Mick sending a short jab to the constable’s jaw, tilting up his head with a jerk, and, when the poor man’s head was well up, a straight-left beauty to the poor man’s chin that sent him in a curled-up heap to the floor. He saw the second constable putting a hand on his baton; he saw Tom taking a hurley from a hurler who gave it up with a wink as good as a nod to a blind horse; and he saw the second constable hesitate when he saw the hurley in Tom’s hand and the look of battle in Mick’s eyes. So he turned and went to kneel down beside his fallen comrade to give him comfort and bring him peace and make us all be just to him; while the barman hurried and scurried and worried to fetch a glass of brandy for the fallen bowsey, a red dribble dodging down his own nose; and the cardriver hastened to help the barman to help the constable who was helping his comrade; while the hurlers pressed to the door, beckoning Tom and his party to follow them, all hurrying out into the garden, making spacious steps for the gateway, Johnny in the midst of them, with a red ear and it tingling, praying the hand that struck him might be paralysed, that the eyes would have the power to see nothing but the paralysed hand, the ears hear nothing but the people talking about the paralysed hand, and the tongue have but the power to point it out to others.
—Come on, boys, said a hurler, let’s scatther, an’ get away as far as we can from here.
They heard a long shrill blast from a whistle, and, turning, they saw the dark figure of a constable standing full-shaped in the light streaming from the open doorway.
—Jaysus, he’s bio win’ for the rest of them—we’ll have to run for it!
—The car, the car, said Tom; let’s take the car, an’ be off!
—We’re city men, said a hurler, an’ never held reins in our hands in our life.
—Nor have we either, said Mick.
—I can, I can, said Johnny, eagerly; I’ve often dhrove the milkman’s jennet, an’ he’s often a hard thing to handle.
They heard an answering whistle from some distance away.
—Up with yous, up with us, said the hurlers.
They sprang up on the car, Mick and two hurlers on one side, Tom and two hurlers on the other, Archie in the rear, with his legs dangling down the back of the car, and Johnny climbed into the dicky-seat, gathered the reins in his hand, gave a sharp gee up, gee up to the nag, and away they all went at a quiet trot down the road. Looking back, they saw a figure run out to the road to rush after the car—it was the cardriver coming after them for all he was worth.
—Eh, there, they heard him cry out, come back, yeh daylight robbers, halt there, with me mare an’ car; eh, there, you, come back outa that 1 Holy God, isn’t this a good one! Eh, there, come back!
—Gee up, lass, gee up, me girl, said Johnny, coaxingly, and the mare’s trot became quick and brisk.
—Touch her up with the whip, said Archie, anxiously.
—Y’ignoramus, replied Johnny, sharply, an’ you seein’ she’s cold from standin’ so long! Wait till she warms up a bit, an’ then we can make her go. Gee up, gee up, girl; yep, me lassie!
—Supposin’ they search the city for us? ventured Tom, anxiously.
—We’re safe when we get away, said one of the hurlers. When the constables cool down, they’ll find it hard to explain why they were dhrinkin’ when they were on duty; the barman’ll be anxious for the good name of his house; and, whatever the jarvey may be, you’ll find he’s no informer.
The hedges were now passing them by with speed; away in the far distance, they heard a few faint whistles. Johnny caught up the whip, and gave the mare a flick or two on the flanks. Away she tore now, the hedges flying by like mad things, for the mare was tearing along at a swift gallop. Holding her with a loose rein, but keeping her well in for fear of a sudden need in front of them, Johnny felt hilarious, saving them all from the homeys.
—That was a gorgeous clip you gave the bastard on the chin, said a hurler to Mick; it musta given him a new vision of hell open for sinners.
Along past numbers of little cottages, the little lights in their little windows flitting by them like falling golden stars; on over the bridge crossing the Tolka, giving a fleeting glimpse of the white-mantled Blessed Virgin standing alone among a clump of rain- and river-soaked cottages; then a swift, winding turn up into Botanic Avenue, catching sight sometimes of the Tolka waters, singing her gentle song as she went slowly by the elders and willows, away on her short and simple journey to the bay of Dublin O.
Along the avenue, at a quick lolloping gallop, the tidy-limbed little mare goes on, a pace a pace, a lady goes a pace a pace, a gentleman goes a trit trot trit trot, and a horseman goes a gallop a gallop a gallop, couples in each other’s arms, lying by the roadside or standing close against the walls, turning to look at the jaunting-car go racing by, with its redcoats and green jerseys arm in arm on the seats, glancing at the nipper driving, bent nicely over the mare, turning her round by the Botanic Gardens, the car swaying, the men holding on, stopping their chatter till the car levelled itself again to go swinging along the Glasnevin Road, several couples wandering slowly along, scurrying aside as close to the hedges as they could get, to let the car go fast past by them, along, along the road, Johnny flushed with pride, thinking he was the American Mail fleeing from the redskins, holding the reins as if he had never done anything but go at a gallop through all the days of his life, slowing down a little now going over Westmoreland Bridge, and pulling her gradually to a stop before the doorway of the Cross Guns.
—Where do we go, now? he asked.
They all leaped down from the car on to the sidewalk.
—Tie her here to the lamp-post, said Mick, an’ let us all scatther, before they thrace us here, an’ we end our ride with a night in chokey. The jarvey’ll find her, never fear, an’ not much harm done.
One of the hurlers patted Johnny on the back, saying— Well done, me young bucko; you’re the one well able to handle a horse!
—He dhrove like Jehu, said Archie.
The hurlers raised their hands high over their heads, and shook their hurleys.
—Parnell forever! they shouted.
—An’ Ireland, too! said Tom.
—An’ Ireland, too! shouted the hurlers.
Johnny felt in his heart that he had done a good day’s work for Ireland.