GEO. A. BIRMINGHAM
The Story of a Search for Treasure on the Coast of Ireland and the Amusing Situations which Arose
SYNOPSIS OF PREVIOUS CHAPTERS
The Rev. J J. Meldon, curate o] Ballimou, a village on the west coast of Ireland, while visiting his friend, Major Kent, comes across an old pocket-book of the Major's grandfather, in which he finds an account of some treasure, supposed to have been hidden by the Spaniards of one of the vessels of the Spanish Armada, on the Island of Inishgowlan. The Major possesses an excellent yacht, The Spindrift, and they decide to take a trip to the island and search for the treasure, which Meldun is very confident of finding, but of the existence of which'the Major is very skeptical. Meldon also owns a yacht, The Aureole, a worthless tub, which he lets to a Mr. Langton, who, with a friend, wishes to take a trip round the coast. On arriving at the island Meldon and the Major find Higginbotham, an old college chum of Meldon’s, engaged in surveying the island for the Government, and dividing it up into allotments. He informs them he is prevented from completing his work by the obstinacy of' one old man, named Thomas O’Flaherty Pat, who owns a piece of land in the very centre of the island, entirely surrounded by other people's land, but with which he will not part at any price. Meldon, not wishing to divulgo the real reason of his visit tells Higginbotham the Major is a Government mincralogical expert who has been sent to examine and report on the island’s mineral resources Meldon and the Major start to explore the island and discover they are being followed everywhere by an old man, who turns out to be Thomas O’Flaherty Pat, and who declares he cannot understand a word of English. Meldon tells him they are naturalists looking for sea beetles, and manages to get rid of him; continuing their search, they find an inlet with a hole, which is only visible at low tide, and here Meldon decides the hidden treasures must lie. On returning to the yacht they notice the arrival in the harbor of the Aureole. The following day Meldon starts for the inlet and the cave, and on his arrival discovers a man, who is being lowered over the cliff to the entrance of the cave. This turns out to be a Sir Giles Buckley, the friend who is with Langton, on the Aureole, and a son of a neighbor of the Major’s, who had lately died. Sir Giles would also have heard of the treasure, as his grandfather was a friend of the Major's grandfather, and had visited the island with him. After some discussion, Sir Giles calls out to Langton to haul him up, and both he and Meldon depart, as the tide has nearly covered the hole in the rocks. The following day, Meldon having set adrift Sir Giles’ boat to prevent his leaving the yacht, again visits the cave with the Major They make their way through a long underground passage and eventually find two old iron boxes which, however, are empty. At this point Langton and Sir Giles appear on the scene through a hole in the top of the cavern which it seems is just under Thomas O'Flaherty Pat s plot of land. Disappointed they all return to the yachts, and find that the Government yacht has arrived in the harbor frith Mr. Willoughby, the Chief Secretary on board. Willoughby lands to visit Hiyinbotham and Meldon foliotes. Higginbotham, in rain tries to dissuade Meldon from seeing Willoughby, who is much incensed at Meldon’s tale of the geological survey, but Meldon insists, and we here find him in the midst of a conversation with Willoughby, who is beginning to be amused at his good-humored nonsense.
"VERY well. I won’t. I suppose we may consider the whole matter closed now and go on to talk of something else.”
“No. It’s not closed,” said Mr. Willoughby with a fine show of spirited indignation. “I still want to know why you told Mr. Higginbotham that I sent Major Kent to make a geological survey of this island. It’s all very well to talk as you’ve been doing, but a man is bound to tell the truth and not to deceive innocent people.”
“Look here, Mr. Willoughby,” said Meldon, “I’ve sat and listened to you calling me a liar half a dozen times, and I haven’t turned a hair. I’m a man of remarkable self-control and I appreciate your point of view. You are irritated because you think that you are not being treated with proper respect. You assert what you are pleased to call your dignity by trying to prove that I’m a liar. I’ve stood it from you so far, but I’m not bound to stand it any longer and I won’t. It doesn’t suit you one bit to take up that high and mighty moral tone, and I may tell you that it doesn’t impress me. I’m not the British public, and that bluff honesty pose isn’t one I admire. All those platitudes about lies being lies simply run off my skin. I know that your own game of politics couldn’t be played for a single hour without what you choose to describe as deceiving innocent people. Mind you, I’m not blaming you in the least. I quite
give in that you can’t always be blabbing out the exact literal truth about everything. Things couldn’t go on if you did. All I say is, that being in the line of life you are, you ought not to set yourself up as a model of every kind of integrity and come out here to an island which, so far as I know, nobody ever invited you to visit, and talk ideal morality to me in the way you’ve been doing. Hullo! Here’s Higginbotham back again. I wonder if he’s brought Thomas O’Flaherty Pat with him. You’ll be interested in seeing that old man, even if you can’t speak to him.”
Higginbotham started as he entered the hut. He did not expect to find Meldon there. He was surprised to see Mr. Willoughby crumpled up, crushed, and cowed in the depths of the hammockchair, while Meldon, cheerful and triumphant, sat on the edge of the table swinging his legs and smoking a cigar.
“You’d better get that oil stove of yours lit, Higginbotham,” said Meldon. “The Chief Secretary is dying for a cup of tea. You’d like some tea, wouldn’t you, Mr. Willoughby?”
“I would. I feel as if I wanted tea. You won’t say that I’m posing for the benefit of the British public if I drink tea, will you?”
It was Meldon who lit the stove and busied himself with the cups and saucers. Higginbotham was too much astonished to assist.
“There’s no water in your kettle,” said Meldon. “I’d better run across to
the well and get some. Or I’ll go to Michael Pat’s mother and get some hot. That will save time. When I’m there I’ll collar a loaf of soda-bread and some butter if I can. I happen to know that she has fresh butter because I helped to make it.”
Mr. Willoughbyrallied a little when the door closed behind Meldon.
“Your friend,” he said to Higginbotham, “seems to me to be a most remarkable man.”
“He is. In college we always believed that if only he’d given his mind to it and taken some interest in his work, he could have done anything.”
“I haven’t the slightest doubt of it. He has given me a talking to this afternoon such as I haven’t had since I left school—not since 1 left the nursery. Did you ever read a book on pragmatism?” “No.”
“You don’t happen to know the name of the best book on the subject?”
“No, but I’m sure that Meldon-”
“Don’t,” said Mr. Willoughby. “I’d rather not start him on the subject again. Have you any cigars? I want one badly. I got no good of the two I half-smoked while he was here.”
“I’m afraid not. But your own cigarcase has one in it. It’s on the table.”
“I can’t smoke that onq. To put it plainly, I daren’t. Your friend Meldon said he might want it. I’d be afraid to face him if it was gone."
“But it’s your own cigar! Why should Meldon-”
“It’s not my cigar. Nothing in the world is mine any more, not even my mind or my morality or my self-respect is my own. Mr. Meldon has taken them from me and torn them in pieces before my eyes. He has left me a nervous wreck of the man I once was. Did you say he was a parson?”
“Yes. He’s curate of Ballymoy.” “Thank God I don’t live in that parish ! I should be hypnotised into going to church every time he preached, and
thenHush ! Can he be coming
back already? I believe he is. No other man would whistle so loud as that. If he begins to ill-treat me again, Mr. Higginbotham, I hope you’ll try and drag him off. I can’t stand much more.”
TV/f ELDON flung open the door of the hut and entered. He at once took possession of the remaining cigar and lit it.
“I met Mary Kate,” he said, “ and I sent her on with the kettle. By the way, Mr. Willoughby, have you such a thing as half a crown about you?”
The Chief Secretary plunged his hand into his pocket and brought out a number of coins, gold and silver.
“Take it all,” he said; “I don’t feel as if I should ever want money any more.” “Thanks,” said' Meldon. “I’ll take half a crown. It’s for Mary Kate. As
a rule I only give her sixpence at a time, but she naturally expects more when she’s fetching water for a Chief Secretary’s tea. Higginbotham generally gives her sugar-candy.”
Meldon’s grin and the look of embarrassment on Higginbotham’s face hinted to Mr. Willoughby of a joke behind.
“I wish,” he said, “you’d tell me about Mary Kate and the sugar-candy.”
“Oh, that story’s hardly worth telling,” said Meldon. “It was only that she nearly had the face ate off Higginbotham one afternoon.”
“She ate his face! But surely-”
“He wasn’t trying to kiss her, if that’s what you’re thinking of. Higginbotham’s not that kind of man at all. Besides, she’s quite a little girl, though remarkably intelligent. No. There was some slight understanding about some sugarcandy between her and Higginbotham. Both of them came to me and complained. I did what I could to set the matter right. You’ve not been troubled about it lately, have you, Higginbotham?” “No; it’s all right now.”
“Is that all I’m to be told?” said Mr. Willoughby.
“There’s really nothing more to tell, and besides I want, while I think of it, to warn Higginbotham about the condition of his bed. I happened to spill some broken glass and a few oars on to your bed this morning, Higginbotham. It
doesn’t teally matter about the oars. You’d be sure to notice them as you got in, but you might not see the glass. What I advise you to do is to take the blankets and things outside the door and shake them well before you go to bed.” “I don’t suppose it would be any use of my asking,” said Mr. Willoughby; “but I should greatly like to know how you came to strew Mr. Higginbotham’s bed with oars and broken glass.”
“I don’t think it would interest you much,” said Meldon.
“I assure you it would. I can’t even imagine circumstances under which it would be any temptation to me to put oars—of all things in the world—and broken bottles into another man’s bed.” “It wasn’t broken bottles. It was a broken window-pane. The circumstances were these: This morning I wanted to
conceal some oars-”
“From their owners, and-”
“Oh, from their owners. I see. Stupid of me not to have guessed. Please go on.”
“From their owners, who would, or at all events might, have made a very bad use of the oars if they had been able to get at them. Very well. I naturally thought at once of Higginbotham’s bed.”
“I don’t see why you say ‘naturally.’ It doesn’t seem to me at all a natural place to think of. I’m sure I should never have thought of it.” “It doesn't much matter in this case what you would have thought. Higginbotham’s bed was the place I thought of at once; and I am still of opinion, in spite of anything you say, that it was a good place. I couldn’t open the window, so I smashed it. That’s the whole story. I don’t suppose it’s as good a one as you expected. But you would have it.”
“It’s better than I expected,” said Mr. Willoughby, “and I’m much obliged to you for telling me.”
There was a gentle tap at the door. Meldon jumped down from his seat on the table and took his cigar out of his mouth.
“That’s Mary Kate,
I expect, with the hot water.”
It was Mary Kate. She entered the room with a sheepish grin on her face. In one hand she carried a kettle of hot water, in the other hand a loaf soda bread. The kettle was a good deal
the heavier burden of the two, and she had evidently carried it first in one hand and then in the other. Its handle had some flour on it. The bread was mottled with black off the kettle.
“That’s a good girl,” said Meldon. “Here’s half a crown for you. How much money is that you have now altogether?” “It’s four shillings,” said Mary Kate. “There,” said Meldon, “I told you she was an intelligent child. Now listen to me, Mary Kate. The reason you’re getting half a crown this time is that the gentleman over there in the chair is the Chief Secretary. Do you know what a Chief Secretary is?”
“I do not.”
“Well, I haven’t time to explain it to you now; but if you come up here tomorrow to Mr. Higginbotham he’ll tell you all about the Chief Secretary. How’s Michael Pat?”
Mary Kate grinned.
“If you’re going to grin like that when I ask you questions,” said Meldon, “you’d better go home.”
He pushed her gently from the room and shut the door.
“Now, Higginbotham, put that kettle on your stove and bring it to the boil again. And you’d better take a note of your engagement with that child. It won’t do for you to be out when she comes. Now for tea.”
“Mr. Meldon,” said the Chief Secretary, “I’d take it as a personal favor if you’d stay here and see me through the interview between Father Mulcrone and the old man who won’t give up his land.” “Certainly. You’re not expecting any sort of a fight, are you? If you are, I’d better go and borrow a stick somewhere.” “Oh, no. Nothing of that sort. It’s only that the priest got rather the better of me yesterday. He made me promise what will cost the Government a thousand pounds and he’ll probably want to get as much more out of me this afternoon.”
“That’ll be all right,” said Meldon. “You leave it to me. Give me a free hand, that’s all I ask. I’ll manage him for you.”
“Thank you,” said the Chief Secretary; “he’s a persistent man, but if anybody can get the better of him I’m sure you can.”
“I suppose,” said Meldon, “it was ■either a pier or seed potatoes he wanted the money for. Probably seed potatoes. The place must be rotten with piers already.”
“He wanted both,” said Mr. Willoughby. “It was the potatoes I promised.” “Well, I'll get out of that if I can. But don't count on it. I may not be able to manage.”
Mr. Willoughby looked rather doubtfully at the loaf of bread with the smears ■of kettle-black which Mary Kate’s fingers left on it. He was not reassured by the way in which Meldon cut it up. The plan was simple. Grasping the loaf firmly, he sliced off long strips. These he laid one by one flat along the palm of his left hand and held them in position by pressing his thumb into the corners. Then he drew a buttery knife across them. Hig-
ginbotham laid out his two cups and his slop bowl. They were quite clean. Meldon’s hands were not. When tea was over Meldon suggested that they should smoke.
“I’m sorry,” said Mr. Willoughby, “that I’ve no more cigars with me. The rest of my supply is on board the Granuaile.”
“Higginbotham,” said Meldon, “stick your head outside the door and see if the steamer is coming into the bay yet. You must try a fill of my baccy, Mr. Willoughby. I’m sure Higginbotham will have a spare pipe.”
He pulled a lump of black twist tobacco out of his trousers pocket and handed it to the Chief Secretary. Then he rose and began to search for a pipe. Mr. Willoughby eyed the tobacco, turning it ovér and over in his hand. Higginbotham returned with the news that the Granuaile had just appeared round the south point of the bay.
“I fear,” said Mr. Willoughby, "that this tobacco is too strong for me. I think that as the Granuaile is so near I’ll wait
until I can get some more of my own cigars.”
“All right,” said Meldon. “I’ll have a pipe. I’ll step down to the pier as soon as I have it lighted and be ready to meet Father Mulcrone. I’ll send the boat back for the cigars. In the meanwhile, Higginbotham, you’d better go and collar Thomas O’Flaherty Pat.”
“He promised to come here,” said Higginbotham, “as soon as ever the Granuaile dropped anchor.”
“Don’t you rely too much on his promises,” said Meldon. “That old boy has taken you in once or twice already. You can’t believe a word these people say,” he explained to Mr. Willoughby. “Even Mary Kate would lie to you if she stood to gain anything by it. They simply don’t know what truth is.”
“Are they pragmatists?” asked Mr. Willoughby.
“No; they’re not,” said Meldon severely. “If you had listened to me when I was explaining to you what pragmatism is, you’d know that these people aren’t pragmatists. I can’t go into the whole
question again now, but I’ll just say this much: The pragmatists, according to their own idea, know what truth is. And what’s more, they’re the only people in the world who do. Now what I said about Thomas O’Flaherty Pat and Mary Kate is that they don’t know; therefore they can’t be pragmatists. That ought to be fairly obvious. I’m off now to meet Father Mulcrone. Goodbye.”
“Mr. Higginbotham,” said the Chief Secretary, “did you follow that reasoning about the pragmatists and Mary Kate?”
“Not—not quite. But I didn’t take up ethics in College. Meldon did.”
“Did you watch him cut the bread-andbutter for tea?”
“I did. I was sorry he insisted on cutting it. His hands wereBut he’s a
really good sort at bottom, though he has his peculiarities. I’ve known him for years.”
“It must have been a great privilege. Did you see the bit of tobacco he offered me?”
“No; was there anything wrong with it?”
“He took it out of his trousers pocket,” said Mr. Willoughby, “and it was quite warm. Mr. Meldon is certainly a very remarkable man. I wonder how he’ll get on with Father Mulcrone. I wonder will he succeed in capturing all my cigars.” The Granuaile’s boat, with Father Mulcrone seated in the stern, approached the pier. Meldon hailed her. The priest, a plump man, with a weather-beaten face and small, keen grey eyes, waved his hand in response.
“Delighted to see you,” said Meldon, as the boat touched the pier and the priest stepped ashore. “I have heard a good deal about you. My name is Meldon—J. J. Meldon. I’m acting with the Chief Secretary here and he asked me to meet you.”
“How do you do? How do you do?” said the priest.
“Quite well. I needn’t ask how you are. Flowers in May are nothing to you in the matter of bloom of appearance.” Father Mulcrone seemed a little surprised at this warm compliment.
“What does the Chief Secretary want with me now?”
“We’ll come to that in a minute. First of all I want to know is there nothing else that would do you except a pier?” “A pier!”
“Well, seed potatoes, then. I forgot for the moment which it was.”
“The season’s very backward, very backward indeed,” said the priest, “and the poor people will be badly off next spring. Unless we get some help from the Government there’ll be starvation in our midst.”
“Have you a Board of Guardians on the island?”
“We have not. And I wouldn’t say but we’re as well without one.”
“I dare say you’re right,” said Meldon. “But about those seed potatoes. The thing for you to do is to get the nearest Board of Guardians to pass a good strong resolution.”
“That might be done.”
“Tell them to put something in about the representatives of the people and the inalienable rights of the tillers of the soil.”
“They’ll do that whether I ask them or not.”
“Get that resolution forwarded to the Local Government Board in Dublin. Then wait three weeks.”
“Oh, it’s the usual thing. If these things aren’t done properly the Chief Secretary can’t act, simply can’t. Then send a deputation to wait on the President of the Board. You understand me?” “I do, of course.”
“It’ll be as well if you could spare the time to go up with the deputation yourself. Lay the matter before them in temperate language—strong but temperate. Then you’ll see what’ll happen about the seed potatoes.”
Father Mulcrone winked at Meldon. “Do you take me for a born fool,” he said, “that you’re talking that way to me?”
“As you’ve asked me the question straight, I may as well say that I don’t take you for anything of the sort. I knew the kind of man you were the minute I set eyes on you. But I promised the Chief Secretary that I’d try and do you out of those seed potatoes if I could.” “So you thought you’d get him off if you persuaded me to have a lot of resolutions passed and go on a deputation.” “I did think that, and what’s more I think it still. But you wouldn’t fall in with the plan.”
“I would not.”
“Very well, then. We’ll pass on, as they say, to the next business. There’s an old fellow on this island called Thomas O’Flaherty Pat.”
I know him well,” said the priest. “Well, you’ll hardly believe it, but that old fellow is holding out against the entire Congested Districts Board. He won’t give up his wretched little house and the bit of land round it, hardly big enough to sod a lark, and it with a hole in the middle that would swallow a heifer.”
“I’ll talk to him,” said the priest.
“I thought you would. That’s the reason I sent for you. Come along. We have him set out waiting for you. At least I told Higginbotham to go and get him.” Taking Father Mulcrone’s arm he walked up towards the hut.
“I almost forgot to tell you,” he said, “that the great difficulty about old O’Flaherty is that he can’t talk English.” “He’ll talk it quick enough when I get at him.”
“I just thought he would.”
“For the matter of that I’m not sure that I wouldn’t as soon sort him in Irish.”
“Just as you like, of course,” said Meldon. “It’s all the same to us, so long as you bring him to his senses.”
“What right has a man like him to be thwarting the excellent intentions of the Board?”
“None,” said Meldon; “and poor Higginbotham, who’s brimful of the most excellent intentions you can possibly imagine, is nearly heart-broken about it.
You’d be sorry for Higginbotham if you saw him; he’s growing thin.”
“I have seen him,” said the priest, “if he’s the inspector the Board sent out. He was over at Inishmore this morning, just after the yacht left, looking out to see which of the people had consumption.”
They reached the hut and found Mr. Willoughby seated in the hammock-chair. Higginbotham was absent in pursuit of the reluctant Thomas O’Flaherty Pat. Mr. Willoughby rose at once and offered the chair to the priest.
“No, thank you; no, thank you,” said Father Mulcrone. “If I sat down in the like of that chair I’d never get out. I’m a heavy man.”
“Father Mulcrone and I will sit on the bed,” said Meldon. “Oh, it’s all right, Mr.Willoughby. I’ll move the oars and give the quilt a shake. I don’t want to set Father Mulcrone down on a pile of broken glass. I’ve more respect for him than to do that.”
He took the quilt outside the hut and flapped it vigorously up and down.
“I see Higginbotham and the old man coming down the hill together,” he said. “There’s quite a little crowd after them, but we needn’t let anybody in unless we like. By the way, Mr. Willoughby, Father Mulcrone and I had a chat on the way up from the pier about those seed potatoes. He can’t do without them. It’s a case of potatoes or coffins for the people on those islands next spring.”
“I feared so,” said Mr. Willoughby with a sigh; “but I’m sure you did your best.”
Higginbotham with Thomas O'Flaherty Pat, a dignified captive, entered the hut. The old man took off his hat and bowed courteously to the men in front of him. He held himself erect. His fine eyes wandered gravely round the hut. His face expressed neither curiosity nor obsequiousness. Mr. Willoughby was a gentleman, accustomed to the society of titled hostesses and the manners of exclusive London clubs. Higginbotham could behave gracefully at suburban tennis parties. Meldon and Father Mulcrone were strong and self-assertive men. Thomas O’Flaherty Pat looked and behaved in this company like a genuine aristocrat. He waited for what was to be said to him with an air of courteous aloofness. He appeared fully conscious of a certain superiority in himself, a superiority so self-evident as to require neither assertion nor emphasis.
“You are Mr. Thomas O’Flaherty, I think?” said Mr. Willoughby.
“Ni beurla agam,” said the old man, bowing again.
Then Father Mulcrone began. He spoke in Irish, rapidly and at some length. Thomas O’Flaherty Pat replied in a few calm words. The priest spoke again, raising his voice indignantly. Again he received only the briefest of answers. A torrent of words followed from the priest. Father Mulcrone had made no idle boast when he said that he could deal with the old man in Irish. He never paused for an instant, never hesitated for a word. Thomas O’Flaherty
Continued on Page 100.
Continued from Page 28.
was moved to quite a long reply. The priest interrupted him frequently, but the old man showed no sign of excitement and spoke all the time with gentle courtesy. When he stopped Father Mulcrone rose from the bed and spoke with unabated volubility. He gesticulated violently, waving his arms and bringing the palms of his hands together with loud smacks. For half an hour the dispute continued, heated argument on the one side, dignified reply on the other. At last Thomas O’Flaherty Pat shrugged his shoulders with a gesture of despair.
“I have him persuaded at last,” said Father Mulcrone, wiping his brow with the back of his hand, “but I had a tough job of it. A more obstinate man I never met in all my born days.”
“I thought you’d get him in the end,” said Meldon. “I couldn’t understand a word you were saying, of course, but the way you said it made me feel that the poor old fellow hadn’t half a chance.”
“If you have the papers ready to-morrow morning,” said Father Mulcrone to Higginbotham, “I’ll see that he signs them.”
“We’re all greatly obliged to you,” said Meldon. “Without your help I really don’t know what we should have done.”
“As Mr. Meldon says,” added the Chief Secretary, “we’re greatly obliged to you. And now, gentlemen, I hope you’ll come and dine with me on the Granuaile. I can offer you a small cabin for the night, Father Mulcrone. It’s too late to go back to Inishmore.”
“Thanks,” said Meldon. “We’ll go, of course. What do you say, Father Mulcrone? I’m only sorry the Major won’t be with us.”
“The Major!” said Mr. Willoughby. “Oh, yes; Major Kent, of course, the geological expert. Go and fetch him, Mr. Meldon. I shall be delighted to see him.”
“He wouldn’t come if I did,” said Meldon. “Apart altogether from the survey business he wouldn’t come. Nothing would induce him to dine out without a dress-coat, and he hasn’t one on the yacht. That’s the kind of man he is. In any case I don’t want to go back to the yacht to ask him. There’s a breeze getting up now and if the Major got me on board he’d want to up anchor and run
Meldon took possession of the Chief Secretary and led the way to the pier. He looked up at the sky and sniffed the air suspiciously.
“There’s a change coming,” he said. “It will be blowing hard before morning.”
“Which of the two yachts is yours?” asked Mr. Willoughby.
“Do you mean which of the two actually belongs to me, or do you mean which do I happen to be cruising in at present?”
“That,” said Mr. Willoughby, “sounds like another riddle. Does it by any chance illustrate the pragmatist philosophy?”
“It might, if properly worked out. But I’m too hungry to attempt that now. About those yachts—the one to the south is Major Kent’s Spindrift. I’m with him for this cruise. The other is my Aureole. I’ve hired her to Sir Giles Buckley. I see him and his friend Euseby Langton coming ashore now in their punt. By i Jove! That reminds me. Higginbotham!”
He stood still suddenly. The Chief Secretary also halted. His face expressed ! patient expectation and a determination I not to be surprised. Higginbotham and I Father Mulcrone overtook them.
I “Higginbotham,” said Meldon, “did 1 you lock the door of your hut?” j “No, I didn’t. I locked it this morning I when I went-”
“And you found your bed full of oars and broken glas-,” said Mr. Willoughby. “I think you’re eight to leave the door open this time.”
“When I tell you,” said Meldon, “that Sir Giles is coming ashore in his punt and that he went down the hole in Thomas O’Flaherty’s field this morning, perhaps you will go back and lock your
“I will, if you like, but I don’t know what you mean.”
“If you don’t understand what I’m telling you,” said Meldon, “you needn’t bother about the door; but in that case Thomas O’Flaherty Pat ought certainly to be warned.”
“I thought when I first heard of you,” said Mr. Willoughby, “that you were an impudent liar. Next I decided that you were a lunatic. Then I made sure you were a man of unusual force of character and mental agility. Now I’m getting puzzled about you again.”
“Don’t bother about me,” said Meldon. “I’m sorry for Thomas O’Flaherty Pat, that’s all. It makes me a bit nervous to see Sir Giles coming ashore in the dusk of the evening.”
“Who is Sir Giles?” asked Mr. Willoughby.
“He’s rather a hot lot. In fact, he’s a bit of a lad. He’d—” Meldon paused and looked meaningly at the priest, then he whistled—“as soon as drink a pint of porter. You know what I mean, Father Mulcrone.”
“I do,” said the priest; “I do well.”
“I don’t,” said Mr. Willoughby. “I wish you’d explain. Do yon know, Mr. j Higginbotham?”
“I do a little,” said Higginbotham. “That’s to say, I more or less guess.”
“I suppose,” said Mr. Willoughby plaintively, “that it’s better for me not to know. I am a mere child compared to you two reverend gentlemen. I ought to be grateful to you for respecting my innocence and for not speaking more plainly than you do.”
A boat from the Granuaile lay alongj side the pier. The party embarked just ¡ as Sir Giles Buckley’s punt reached the
“Good-evening, Sir Giles,” said Meldon. “Surely you’re not going down that hole again to-night.”
Sir Giles scowled in reply.
“That gentleman doesn’t seem to be !
I on very good terms with you,” said Mr.
“He’s not just at present,” said Meldon. “I had a conversation with him this afternoon. He chose to assume that I wasn’t speaking the truth, and he hasn’t got over it since.”
i “I have a certain sympathy with him,” j said Mr. Willoughby. “I dare say he : knows little or nothing about prag! matism. I went very near getting angry myself when I thought—just for the moment—that you had been deceiving Mr. Higginbotham.”
“You got over it all right,” said Meldon. “Nobody minds a man flaring out now and then as you did. You don’t keep on sulking like that beast Sir Giles. You are a more or less reasonable man.”
ON board the Granuaile Mr. Willoughby showed himself a courteous host. He took Father Mulcrone to a cabin and offered to provide him with anything he wanted. But the priest, having foreseen that he would sleep elsewhere than in his own bed, had with him a small bag which contained all that he required. Higginbotham and Meldon were put into another cabin. The party assembled in the saloon and dinner was served.
“You do yourself pretty well on this boat,” said Meldon as he tasted the soup. “The Major and I have heen living principally on sardines and tinned brawn. Higginbotham gets a lobster now and then. I suppose you have more lobsters ■ than you care about in the course of the summer, Father Mulcrone?”
“I get plenty,” said the priest. “Lobsters, potatoes, and tea. They’re the easiest things to get on Inishmore.” After this the conversation languished. Mr. Willoughby was disappointed. He expected an amusing dinner. He found himself obliged to talk on dull subjects to Higginbotham, who was too much overawed by the company of a Chief Secretary to do more than make respectful replies. Meldon said a word in praise of each dish he tasted, and Father Mulcrone supplemented what he said in the manner of a man who seconds a vote of thanks. Otherwise, neither of the two clergymen talked. They were both hungry. They were both accustomed to take their meals alone. They both regarded the eating of a good dinner as a serious business, demanding undivided attention, j Mr. Willoughby, tired of Higginbotham, j undertook a monologue and kept it going ; quietly until dinner was over and cigars J were lit.
Then Father Mulcrone told a story. ¡ Meldon capped it with another. Father j Mulcrone replied with a better one. MelI don outwent it. The stories became more ' and more extravagant. Mr. Willoughby i looked from one clergyman to the other : and laughed heartily. Higginbotham giggled convulsively in a corner. Neither of the clergymen even smiled. With perfectly grave faces, in tones which would have suited a scientific lecture, they narrated absurdity after absurdity. It was I Meldon who reached the climax, who told
a story so monstrously improbable that Father Mulcrone gave up the attempt to better it.
“For a young man,” said the priest, “and I wouldn’t say you were more than
“I’ll be that in three weeks, if I live so long,” said Meldon.
“You’ve a deal of experience of this country and the ways of the people.” “For the matter of that you’ve seen a thing or two yourself.”
“I have; but when I was your age I didn’t know the half of what you do.”
It was a handsome tribute. Meldon appreciated it. He raised his glass of whisky and water, nodded to Father Mulcrone and said—
“May the devil fly away with the roof of the house where you and I aren’t wel-
“I consider myself fortunate,” said Mr. Willoughby, “in having as my guests tonight two men with the knowledge of Ireland which you possess. I’m learning more from your conversation than from all the Blue Books I ever read.”
“I think we may understand from that remark,” said Father Mulcrone, “that there’s no danger of the slates being taken off the Lodge in the Phoenix while you’re in it.”
“You’ll be welcome there, either of you,” said Mr. Willoughby, “while I hold office. You’ll be all the more welcome if you come together.”
“We’ll do it,” said Meldon.
“What are the authorities of your Churches thinking of,” said Mr. Willoughby, “when they leave you a curate, Mr. Meldon, and you no more than a parish priest, Father Mulcrone?”
“I’d be well off if I was that itself. It’s a C.C. I am, and so far as I know it’s a C.C. I’m likely to remain.”
“You ought,” said Mr. Willoughby, “to be bishops at least, both of you. If I had the arranging of these things you’d be archbishops. Why aren’t you?”
“I haven’t reached the canonical age,” said Meldon. “You can’t be a bishop till you’re thirty. I’ve three years more to wait.”
“I went very near being a bishop once,” said Father Mulcrone, “and it’s my sincere hope I’ll never be as near it again. It wasn’t in this diocese, but another, and I won’t tell you where for fear of an action for libel. The old man that was the bishop died. The night after they buried him I happened to be going along the road in the dark. It might have been ten o’clock or half-past. Who did I see coming along towards me but the dead man, dressed up in his robes, and his episcopal ring on his thumb. When he caught sight of me he took off the ring and held it out to me as much as to say, ‘It’s yourself, Father Mulcrone, that’s to succeed me.’ I was pleased, I can tell you. I stuck out my thumb for him to put the ring on, seeing that was what he seemed to be wanting to do. Would you believe it, gentlemen? The ring was red hot!”
“And is that,” said Meldon, “the place bishops go to when they're dead?”
“It’s the only place I ever heard of,” said Father Mulcrone, “where a ring could get into such a state as that.”
“On the whole, then, I think I’ll stick to my curacy. It’s safer.”
“You’re right. It’s what I’ve done myself.”
There was a silence for a minute or two, broken only by half-suppressed sniggers from Higginbotham. Then Meldon rose with a sigh.
“You have me beat, Father Mulcrone. I give in to you. The equal of the experience you’ve just narrated never came my way. I think I’ll be saying goodnight, Mr. Willoughby. If you’ll send a boat to the pier with me and Higginbotham, I’ll get my punt there and go off to the Spindrift.”
The Granuaile’s boat landed Meldon and Higginbotham at about eleven o’clock. A change in the weather was certainly coming. Great masses of clouds were piled up over the western half of the sky. Broken fragments, the advance guard of their army, rushed eastwards. The little wind there had been earlier in the afternoon was gone. The air was ominously still. From the far side of the island came the roar of waves. The sea was dashing sullenly against the rocks and dragging at the stones on the beaches. Not yet lashed by the storm, it already felt a premonition of the storm’s coming. Even the water in the sheltered bay was affected with a vague uneasiness. Dark lumps rose here and there on its surface and sank again. Silent surges crept unexpectedly up the smooth sides of the pier, mouthing at the stones, slipping down again unsatisfied, eddying in hungry circles.
Meldon looked round him uncomfortably.
“I’ll take the punt on board to-night,” he said, “and I’ll pay out a few extra fathom of anchor chain. There’ll be a blow before morning. If I were you, Higginbotham, I’d stuff an old towel or something into that broken window. It’s going to rain and rain heavy. Goodnight.”
“Good-night. What a pleasant man Mr. Willoughby is! I am so glad there was no trouble between you and him. Good-night.”
Meldon struck a match and lit his pipe. Then he stooped down to loose the painter of the punt. As he did so he heard footsteps on the granite surface of the pier, the footsteps of some one who approached him. He supposed that Higginbotham had returned again to say some forgotten word. With the rope he had cast loose in his hand he stood and waited. It was not Higginbotham who approached. Whoever it was stopped about ten yards away from him. Meldon could dimly discern the figure of a man much taller than Higginbotham. A voice, raised very little above a whisper, reached him—
Meldon stooped and refastened the painter. He heard the voice again but did not recognize it.
To be continued.