The Meet of the Beagles by H. de Vere Stacpoole

From “Patsy.”

Directly Patsy had left the news that the “quality” were coming to the meet and returned to the house the crowd in front of the Castle Knock Inn thickened.

Word of the impending event went from cabin to cabin, and Mr. Mahony, the chimney sweep, put his head out of his door.

“What’s the news, Rafferty?” cried Mr. Mahony.

“Mimber of Parlymint and all the quality comin’ to the meet!” cried a ragged-looking ruffian who was running by.

“Sure, it’ll be a big day for Shan Finucane,” said Mrs. Mahony, who was standing behind her husband in the doorway with a baby in her arms.

Mr. Mahony said nothing for a while, but watched the crowd in front of the inn.

“Look at him,” said Mr. Mahony, breaking out at last—“look at him in his ould green coat! Look at him with the ould whip undher his arm, and the boots on his feet not paid for, and him struttin’ about as if he was the Marqus of Waterford! Holy Mary! did yiz ever see such an objick! Mr. Mullins!”

“Halloo!” replied Mr. Mullins, the cobbler across the way, who, with his window open owing to the mildness of the weather, was whaling away at a shoe-sole, the only busy man in the village.

“Did y’ hear the news?”

“What news?”

“Shan’s going to get a new coat.”

“Faith, thin, I hope he’ll pay first for his ould shoes.”

“How much does he owe you?”

“Siven and six—bad cess to him!”

“He’ll pay you to-night, if he doesn’t drink the money first, for there’s a Mimber of Parlymint goin’ to the meet, and he’ll most like put a suverin in the poor box.”

Mr. Mullins made no reply, but went on whaling away at his shoe, and Bob Mahony, having stepped into his cottage for a light for his pipe, came back and took up his post again at the door.

The crowd round the inn was growing bigger and bigger. Sneer as he might, Mr. Mahony could not but perceive that Shan was having the centre of the stage, a worshipping audience, and free drinks.

Suddenly he turned to his offspring, who were crowding behind him, and singling out Billy, the eldest:

“Put the dunkey to,” said Mr. Mahony.

“Sure, daddy,” cried the boy in astonishment, “it’s only the tarriers.”

“Put the dunkey to!” thundered his father, “or it’s the end of me belt I’ll be brightenin’ your intellects with.”

“There’s two big bags of sut in the cart and the brushes,” said Billy, as he made off to do as he was bidden.

“Lave them in,” said Mr. Mahony; “it’s only the tarriers.”

In a few minutes the donkey, whose harness was primitive and composed mainly of rope, was put to, and the vehicle was at the door.

“Bob!” cried his wife as he took his seat.

“What is it?” asked Mr Mahony, taking the reins.

“Won’t you be afther givin’ your face the lick of a tow’l?”

“It’s only the tarriers,” replied Mr. Mahony; “sure, I’m clane enough for them. Come up wid you, Norah.”

Norah, the small donkey, whose ears had been cocking this way and that, picked up her feet, and the vehicle, which was not much bigger than a costermonger’s barrow, started.

At this moment, also, Shan and the dogs and the crowd were getting into motion, making down the road for Glen Druid gates.

“Hulloo! hulloo! hulloo!” cried Mr. Mahony, as he rattled up behind in the cart, “where are yiz off to?”

“The meet of the baygles,” replied twenty voices; whilst Shan, who had heard his enemy’s voice, stalked on, surrounded by his dogs, his old, battered hunting horn in one hand, and his whip under his arm.

“And where are they going to meet?” asked Mr. Mahony.

“Glen Druid gate,” replied the camp followers. “There’s a Mimber of Parlymint comin’, and all the quality from the Big House.”

“Faith,” said Mr. Mahony, “I thought there was somethin’ up, for, by the look of Shan, as he passed me house this mornin’, I thought he’d swallowed the Lord Liftinant, Crown jew’ls and all. Hulloo! hulloo! hulloo! make way for me carridge! Who are you crowdin’? Don’t you know the Earl of Leinsther when y’ see him? Out of the way, or I’ll call me futman to disparse yiz.”

Shan heard it all, but marched on. He could have killed Bob Mahony, who was turning his triumph  into a farce, out he contented himself with letting fly with his whip amongst the dogs, and blowing a note on his horn.

“What’s that nize?” enquired Mr. Mahony, with a wink at the delighted crowd tramping beside the donkey cart.

“Shan’s blowin’ his harn,” yelled the rabble.

“Faith, I thought it was Widdy Finnegan’s rooster he was carryin in the tail pockit of his coat,” said the humourist.

The crowd roared at this conceit, which was much more pungent and pointed as delivered in words by Mr. Mahony; but Shan, to all appearances, was deaf.

The road opposite the park gates was broad and shadowed by huge elm trees, which gave the spot in summer the darkness and coolness of a cave. Here Shan halted, the crowd halted, and the donkey-cart drew up.

Mr. Mahony tapped the dottle out of his pipe carefully on the rail of his cart, filled the pipe, replaced the dottle on the top of the tobacco, and drew a whiff.

The clock of Glen Druid House struck ten, and the notes came floating over park and trees; not that anyone heard them, for the yelping of the dogs and the noise of the crowd filled the quiet country road with the hubbub of a fair.

“What’s that you were axing me?” cried Mr. Mahony to a supposed interrogator in the crowd. “Is the Prince o’ Wales comin’? No, he ain’t. I had a tellygrum from him this mornin’ sendin’ his excuzes. Will some gintleman poke that rat-terrier out that’s got under the wheels of me carridge—out, you baste!” He leaned over and hit a rabbit-beagle that had strayed  under the donkey-cart a tip with his stick. The dog, though not hurt, for Bob Mahony was much too good a sportsman to hurt an animal, gave a yelp.

Shan turned at the sound, and his rage exploded.

“Who are yiz hittin’? cried Shan.

“I’m larnin’ your dogs manners,” replied Bob.

The huntsman surveyed the sweep, the cart, the soot bags, and the donkey.

“I beg your pardin’,” said he, touchin his hat, “I didn’t see you at first for the sut.”

Mr. Mahony took his short pipe from his mouth, put it back upside down, shoved his old hat further back on his head, rested his elbows on his knees, and contemplated Shan.

“But it’s glad I am,” went on Shan, “you’ve come to the meet and brought a mimber of the family with you.”

Fate was against Bob Mahony, for at that moment Norah, scenting another of her species in a field near by, curled her lip, stiffened her legs, projected her head, rolled her eyes, and “let a bray out of her” that almost drowned the howls of laughter from the exulting mob.

But Shan Finucane did not stir a muscle of his face, and Bob Mahony’s fixed sneer did not flicker or waver.

“Don’t mention it, mum,” said Shan, taking off his old cap when the last awful, rasping, despairing note of the bray had died down into silence.

Another howl from the onlookers, which left Mr. Mahony unmoved.

“They get on well together,” said he, addressing an imaginary acquaintance in the crowd.

“Whist and hould your nize, and let’s hear what else they have to say to wan another.”

Suddenly, and before Shan Finucane could open his lips, a boy who had been looking over the rails into the park, yelled:

“Here’s the Mimber of Parlyment—here they come—Hurroo!”

“Now, then,” said the huntsman, dropping repartee and seizing the sweep’s donkey by the bridle, “sweep yourselves off, and don’t be disgracin’ the hunt wid your sut bags and your dirty faces—away wid yiz!”

“The hunt!” yelled Mahony, with a burst of terrible laughter. “Listen to him and his ould rat-tarriers callin’ thim a hunt! Lave go of the dunkey!”

“Away wid yiz!”

“Lave go of the dunkey, or I’ll batter the head of you in wid me stick! Lave go of the dunkey!”

Suddenly seizing the long flue brush beside him, and disengaging it from the bundle of sticks with which it was bound, he let fly with the bristle end of it at Shan, and Shan, catching his heel on a stone, went over flat on his back in the road.

In a second he was up, whip in hand; in a second Mr. Mahony was down, a bag half-filled with soot—a terrible weapon of assault—in his fist.

“Harns! harns!” yelled Mahony, mad with the spirit of battle, and unconsciously chanting the fighting cry of long-forgotten ancestors. “Who says cruckeder than a ram’s harn!”

“Go it, Shan!” yelled the onlookers. “Give it him, Bob—sut him in the face—Butt-end the whip, y’idgit—Hurroo! Hurroo! Holy Mary! he nearly landed him then—Mind the dogs—”

Armed with the soot-bag swung like a club, and the old hunting-whip butt-ended, the two combatants formed the centre of a circle of yelling admirers.

“Look!” said Miss Lestrange, as the party from the house came in view of the road. “Look at the crowd and the two men!”

“They’re fighting!” cried the general. “I believe the ruffians dared to have the impudence to start fighting!”

At this moment came the noise of wheels from behind, and the “tub,” which had obtained permission to go to the meet, drew up, with Patsy driving the children.

“Let the children remain here,” said the General. “You stay with them, Violet. Come along, Boxall, till we see what these ruffians mean.”

So filled was his mind with the objects in view that he quite forgot Dicky Fanshawe.

“You have put on the short skirt,” said Dicky, who at that moment would scarcely have turned his head twice or given a second thought had the battle of Austerlitz been in full blast beyond the park palings.

“And my thick boots,” said Violet, pushing forward a delightful little boot to speak for itself.

The children were so engaged watching the proceedings on the road that they had no eyes or ears for their elders.

“Have you ever been beagling before?” asked Dicky.

“Never; but I’ve been paper-chasing.”

“You can get through a hedge?”

“Rather!”

“That’ll do,” said Dicky.

“Mr. Fanshawe,” cried Lord Gawdor from the “tub,” “look at the chaps in the road—aren’t they going for each other!”

“I see,” said Mr. Fanshawe, whose back was to the road—“Violet—”

“Yes.”

“No one’s looking—”

“That doesn’t matter—No—not here—Dicky, if you don’t behave, I’ll get into the tub—Gracious! what’s that?”

“He’s down!” cried Patsy, who had been standing up to see better.

“Who?” asked Mr. Fanshawe.

“The Mimber of Parlyment—Misther Boxall—Bob Mahony’s grassed him—”

“They’re all fighting!” cried Violet. “Come, Mr. Fanshawe—Patsy—” She started for the gates at a run.

When the General had arrived on the scene, Shan had just got in and landed his antagonist a drum-sounding blow on the ribs with the butt of his whip.

“Seize the other chap, Boxall!” cried General Grampound, making for Mahony.

He was just half a second too late; the soot bag, swung like a club, missed Shan, and, catching Mr. Boxall fair and square on the side of the face, sent him spinning like a tee-totum across the road, and head over heels into the ditch.

That was all.

A dead silence took the yelling crowd.

“He’s kilt!” came a voice.

“He isn’t; sure, his legs is wavin’.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s the Mimber of Parlyment! Run for your life, and don’t lave off runnin’ till you’re out of the country.”

“Hold your tongue!” cried General Grampound. “Boxall—hullo! Boxall! are you hurt?”

“I’m all right,” replied Mr. Boxall, who, from being  legs upwards, was now on hands and knees in the ditch. “I’ve lost something—dash it!”

“What have you lost?”

“Watch.”

“Come out and I’ll get some of these chaps to look.”

Mr. Boxall came out of the ditch with his handkerchief held to the left side of his forehead.

“Why, your watch and chain are on you!” cried the General.

“So they are,” said Mr. Boxall, pulling the watch out with his left hand, and putting it back. “I’m off to the house—I want to wash.”

“Sure, you’re not hurt?”

“Not in the least, only my forehead scratched.”

“What’s up?” cried Dicky Fanshawe, who had just arrived.

“Nothing,” replied his uncle. “Fellow hit him by mistake—no bones broken. Will you take the governess cart back to the house, Boxall?”

“No, thanks—I’ll walk.”

“His legs is all right,” murmured the sympathetic crowd, as the injured one departed still with his handkerchief to his face, “and his arums. Sure, it’s the mercy and all his neck wasn’t bruck.”

“Did yiz see the skelp Bob landed him?”

“Musha! Sure, I thought it would have sent his head flying into Athy, like a gulf ball.”

Patsy, who had pulled the governess cart up, rose to his feet; his sharp eye had caught sight of something lying on the road.

“Hould the reins a moment, Mr. Robert,” said he, putting them into Lord Gawdor’s hands. He hopped out of the cart, picked up the object in the road, whatever  it was, put it in his trousers’ pocket, and then stood holding the pony’s head; whilst the Meet, from which Bob Mahony had departed as swiftly as his donkey could trot, turned its attention to the business of the day, and Shan, collecting his dogs, declared his intention of drawing the Furzes.

“Was that a marble you picked up, Patsy?” asked Lord Gawdor, as the red-headed one, hearing Shan’s declaration, climbed into the “tub” again and took the reins.

Patsy grinned.

*******

Meanwhile Mr. Fanshawe had been writing three important letters in the library. When he had finished and carefully sealed them, he placed them one on top of the other, and looked at his watch.

The three letters he had just written would make everything all right at the other end. This was the hot end of the poker, and it had to be grasped.

Patsy was the person who would help him to grasp it. Patsy he felt to be a tower of strength and ‘cuteness, if such a simile is permissible. And, rising from the writing-table and putting the letters in his pocket, he went to find Patsy. He had not far to go, for as he came into the big hall Patsy was crossing it with a tray in hand.

“Patsy,” said Mr. Fanshawe, “when does the post go out?”

“If you stick your letters in the letter box by the hall door, sir,” said Patsy, “it will be cleared in half-an-hour. Jim Murphy takes the letter-bag to Castle Knock.”

“Right!” said Mr. Fanshawe. “And, see here, Patsy!”

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m in a bit of a fix, Patsy, and you may be able to help.”

“And what’s the fix, sir?” asked Patsy.

“You know the young lady you gave the note to this morning—by the way, how did you give it?”

“I tried to shove it undher her door, sir.”

“Yes?”

“It wouldn’t go, so I give a knock. ‘Who’s there?’ says she. ‘No one,’ says I; ‘it’s only hot wather I’m bringin’ you,’ for, you see, sir, the ould missis, her ladyship, was in the next room, and she’s not as deaf as she looks, and it’s afraid I was, every minnit, her door’d open, and she and her ear-trumpet come out in the passidge. ‘I have hot wather,’ says she. ‘Niver mind,’ says I, ‘this is betther. Open the door, for the love of God, for I can’t get it under the door, unless I rowl it up and shove it through the keyhole.’ Wid that she opens the door a crack and shoves her head out. ‘Who’s it from?’ she says. ‘I don’t know,’ says I; ‘it’s just a letther I found on the stairs I thought might belong to you.’ ‘Thanks,’ says she, ‘it does,’ and wid that she shut the door, and I left her.”

“Well, see here, Patsy!”

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m going to marry Miss Lestrange.”

“Faith, and I guessed that,” said Patsy; “and it’s I that’d be joyful to dance at your weddin’, sir.”

“There won’t be any dancing in the business,” said Mr. Fanshawe, grimly. “You know Mr. Boxall, Patsy?”

“The Mimber of Parlymint?”

“Yes. Well, he wants to marry Miss Lestrange;  and the worst of it is, Patsy, that my uncle, General Grampound, wants him to marry her, too.”

“Yes, sir,” said Patsy. “And, Mr. Fanshawe?”

“Yes.”

“I forgot to tell you, sir, you needn’t be afear’d of Mr. Boxall for the next few days.”

“How’s that?”

“When Bob Mahony hit him the skelp on the head wid the sut bag, his eye popped out of his head on the road.”

“His what?—Oh, I remember—”

“Finders is keepers, sir,” said Patsy, with a grin.

“Why, good heavens—you don’t mean to say—”

“I’ve got his eye in my pocket, sir,” said Patsy, in a hoarse whisper. “He’s sint a telygram for another wan but till it comes he’s tethered to his bed like a horse to a—”

“That’s enough—that’s enough,” said Mr. Fanshawe. “Here’s half a crown for you, Patsy, for—carrying my cartridges.”