The First Lord Liftinant by William Percy French

(As related by Andrew Geraghty, Philomath.)

“Essex,” said Queen Elizabeth, as the two of them sat at breakwhist in the back parlour of Buckingham Palace, “Essex, me haro, I’ve got a job that I think would suit you. Do you know where Ireland is?”

“I’m no great fist at jografy,” says his lordship, “but I know the place you mane. Population, three millions; exports, emigrants.”

“Well,” says the Queen, “I’ve been reading the Dublin Evening Mail and the Telegraft for some time back, and sorra one o’ me can get at the trooth o’ how things is goin’, for the leadin’ articles is as conthradictory as if they wor husband and wife.”

“That’s the way wid papers all the world over,” says Essex; “Columbus told me it was the same in Amerikay, when he was there, abusin’ and conthradictin’ each other at every turn—it’s the way they make their livin’. Thrubble you for an egg-spoon.”

“It’s addled they have me betune them,” says the Queen. “Not a know I know what’s goin’ on. So now, what I want you to do is to run over to Ireland, like a good fella, and bring me word how matters stand.”

“Is it me?” says Essex, leppin’ up off his chair. “It’s not in airnest ye are, ould lady. Sure it’s the hoight of the London saison. Every one’s in town, and Shake’s new fairy piece, ‘The Midsummer’s Night Mare,’ billed for next week.”

“You’ll go when ye’re tould,” says the Queen, fixin’ him with her eye, “if you know which side yer bread’s buttered on. See here, now,” says she, seein’ him chokin’ wid vexation and a slice o’ corned beef, “you ought to be as pleased as Punch about it, for you’ll be at the top o’ the walk over there as vice-regent representin’ me.”

“I ought to have a title or two,” says Essex, pluckin’ up a bit. “His Gloriosity the Great Panjandhrum, or the like o’ that.”

“How would His Excellency the Lord Liftinant of Ireland sthrike you?” says Elizabeth.

“First class,” cries Essex. “Couldn’t be betther; it doesn’t mean much, but it’s allitherative, and will look well below the number on me hall door.”

Well, boys, it didn’t take him long to pack his clothes and start away for the Island o’ Saints. It took him a good while to get there, though, through not knowin’ the road; but by means of a pocket compass and a tip to the steward, he was landed at last contagious to Dalkey Island. Going up to an ould man who was sittin’ on a rock, he took off his hat, and, says he—

“That’s great weather we’re havin’?”

“Good enough for the times that’s in it,” says the ould man, cockin’ one eye at him.

“Any divarshun’ goin on?” says Essex.

“You’re a sthranger in these parts, I’m thinkin’,” says the ould man, “or you’d know this was a ‘band night’ in Dalkey.”

“I wasn’t aware of it,” says Essex; “the fact is,” says he, “I only landed from England just this minute.”

“Ay,” says the ould man, bitterly, “it’s little they know about us over there. I’ll hould you,” says he,  with a slight thrimble in his voice, “that the Queen herself doesn’t know there is to be fireworks in the Sorrento Gardens this night.” Well, when Essex heard that, he disrembered entirely he was sent over to Ireland to put down rows and ructions, and away wid him to see the fun and flirt wid all the pretty girls he could find. And he found plenty of them—thick as bees they wor, and each one as beautiful as the day and the morra. He wrote two letters home next day—one to Queen Elizabeth and the other to Lord Mountaigle, a playboy like himself. I’ll read you the one to the Queen first:—

“Dame Sthreet, April 16th, 1599.

“Fair Enchantress,—I wish I was back in London, baskin’ in your sweet smiles and listenin’ to your melodious voice once more. I got the consignment of men and the post-office order all right. I was out all the mornin’ lookin’ for the inimy, but sorra a taste of Hugh O’Neill or his men can I find. A policeman at the corner o’ Nassau Street told me they wor hidin’ in Wicklow. So I am makin’ up a party to explore the Dargle on Easter Monda’. The girls here are as ugly as sin, and every minute o’ the day I do be wishin’ it was your good-lookin’ self I was gazin’ at instead o’ these ignorant scarecrows.

“Hopin’ soon to be back in ould England, I remain, your lovin’ subject

Essex.”

“P.S.—I hear Hugh O’Neill was seen on the top o’ the Donnybrook tram yesterday mornin’. If I have any luck the head’ll be off him before you get this.

E.”

The other letter read this way:—

“Dear Monty—This is a great place, all out. Come over here if you want fun. Divil such play-boys ever I seen, and the girls—oh! don’t be talkin’—’pon me secret honour you’ll see more loveliness at a tay and a supper ball in Rathmines than there is in the whole of England. Tell Ned Spenser to send me a love-song to sing to a young girl who seems to be taken wid my appearance. Her name’s Mary, and she lives in Dunlary, so he oughtn’t to find it hard. I hear Hugh O’Neill’s a terror, and hits a powerful welt, especially when you’re not lookin’. If he tries any of his games on wid me, I’ll give him in charge. No brawlin’ for your’s truly

Essex.”

Well, me bould Essex stopped for odds of six months in Dublin, purtendin’ to be very busy subjugatin’ the country, but all the time only losin’ his time and money widout doin’ a hand’s turn, and doin’ his best to avoid a ruction with “Fighting Hugh.” If a messenger came to tell him that O’Neill was camping out on the North Bull, Essex would up stick and away for Sandycove, where, after draggin’ the forty-foot hole, he’d write off to Elizabeth, saying that, “owing to their suparior knowledge of the country the dastard foe had once more eluded him.”

The Queen got mighty tired of these letters, especially as they always ended with a request to send stamps by return, and told Essex to finish up his business and not be makin’ a fool of himself.

“Oh, that’s the talk, is it,” says Essex; “very well, me ould sauce-box” (that was the name he had for her ever since she gev him the clip on the ear for turnin’  his back on her), “very well me ould sauce-box,” says he, “I’ll write off to O’Neill this very minute, and tell him to send in his lowest terms for peace at ruling prices.”

Well, the threaty was a bit of a one-sided one—the terms being—

1. Hugh O’Neill to be King of Great Britain.

2. Lord Essex to return to London and remain there as Viceroy of England.

3. The O’Neill family to be supported by Government, with free passes to all theatres and places of entertainment.

4. The London Markets to buy only from Irish dealers.

5. All taxes to be sent in stamped envelopes, directed to H. O’Neill, and marked “private.” Cheques crossed and made payable to H. O’Neill. Terms cash.

Well, if Essex had had the sense to read through this treaty he’d have seen it was of too graspin’ a nature to pass with any sort of a respectable sovereign, but he was that mad he just stuck the document in the pocket of his pot-metal overcoat, and away wid him hot foot for England.

“Is the Queen widin?” says he to the butler, when he opened the door o’ the palace. His clothes were that dirty and disorthered wid travellin’ all night, and his boots that muddy, that the butler was not for littin’ him in at the first go off, so says he, very grand; “Her Majesty is above stairs and can’t be seen till she’s had her breakwhist.”

“Tell her the Lord Liftinant of Ireland desires an interview,” says Essex.

“Oh, beg pardon, me lord,” says the butler, steppin’  to one side, “I didn’t know ’twas yourself was in it; come inside, sir; the Queen’s in the dhrawin’-room.”

Well, Essex leps up the stairs and into the dhrawin’-room wid him, muddy boots and all; but not a sight of Elizabeth was to be seen.

“Where’s your misses?” says he to one of the maids-of-honour that was dustin’ the chimbley-piece.

“She’s not out of her bed yet,” said the maid, with a toss of her head; “but if you write your message on the slate beyant, I’ll see”—but before she had finished, Essex was up the second flight and knockin’ at the Queen’s bedroom door.

“Is that the hot wather?” says the Queen.

“No, it’s me,—Essex. Can you see me?”

“Faith, I can’t,” says the Queen. “Hould on till I draw the bed-curtains. Come in now,” says she, “and say your say, for I can’t have you stoppin’ long—you young Lutharian.”

“Bedad, yer Majesty,” says Essex, droppin’ on his knees before her (the delutherer he was), “small blame to me if I am a Lutharian, for you have a face on you that would charm a bird off a bush.”

“Hould your tongue, you young reprobate,” says the Queen, blushin’ up to her curl-papers wid delight, “and tell me what improvements you med in Ireland.”

“Faith, I taught manners to O’Neill,” cries Essex.

“He had a bad masther then,” says Elizabeth, lookin’ at his dirty boots; “couldn’t you wipe yer feet before ye desthroyed me carpets, young man?”

“Oh, now,” says Essex, “is it wastin’ me time shufflin’ about on a mat you’d have me, when I might be gazin’ on the loveliest faymale the world ever saw.”

“Well,” says the Queen, “I’ll forgive you this time,  as you’ve been so long away, but remimber in future that Kidderminster ain’t oilcloth. Tell me,” says she, “is Westland Row Station finished yet?”

“There’s a side wall or two wanted yet, I believe,” says Essex.

“What about the Loop Line?” says she.

“Oh, they’re gettin’ on with that,” says he, “only some people think the girders a disfigurement to the city.”

“Is there any talk about that esplanade from Sandycove to Dunlary?”

“There’s talk about it, but that’s all,” says Essex; “‘twould be an odious fine improvement to house property, and I hope they’ll see to it soon.”

“Sorra much you seem to have done, beyant spendin’ me men and me money. Let’s have a look at that treaty I see stickin’ out o’ your pocket.”

Well, when the Queen read the terms of Hugh O’Neill she just gev him one look, an’ jumpin’ from off the bed, she put her head out of the window, and called out to the policeman on duty—

“Is the Head below?”

“I’ll tell him you want him, ma’am,” says the policeman.

“Do,” says the Queen. “Hello,” says she, as a slip of paper dhropped out o’ the dispatches. “What’s this? ‘Lines to Mary.’ Ho! ho! me gay fella, that’s what you’ve been up to, is it?”

“Mrs. Brady

Is a widow lady,

And she has a charmin’ daughter I adore;

I went to court her

Across the water,

And her mother keeps a little candy-store.

She’s such a darlin’,

She’s like a starlin’,

And in love with her I’m gettin’ more and more,

Her name is Mary,

She’s from Dunlary;

And her mother keeps a little candy-store.”

“That settles it,” says the Queen. “It’s the gaoler you’ll serenade next.”

When Essex heard that, he thrimbled so much that the button of his cuirass shook off and rowled under the dhressin’-table.

“Arrest that man,” says the Queen, when the Head-Constable came to the door; “arrest that thrayter,” says she, “and never let me set eyes on him again.”

And, indeed, she never did, and soon after that he met with his death from the skelp of an axe he got when he was standin’ on Tower Hill.