Podgers' Pointer by Ben B. Brown

I am not a sporting man—I never possessed either a dog or a gun—I never fired a shot in my life, and the points of a canine quadruped are as unknown to me as those of the sea-serpent. The 12th of August is a mystery, and the 1st of September a sealed book. I have been regarded with well-merited contempt at the club by asking for grouse in the month of June, and for woodcock in September. I think it is just as well to mention these matters, lest it should be supposed that I desire to sail under false colours. I am acquainted with several men who shoot, and also with some who have shooting to give away. The former very frequently invite me to join their parties at the moors, turnip-fields, and woods; the latter press their shooting on me, especially when I decline on the grounds of disinclination and incapacity.

"I wish I had your chances, Brown," howls poor little Binks, who can bring down any known bird at any given distance. "You're always getting invitations because you can't shoot; and I cannot get one because I can. It's too bad, by George!—it's too bad!"

One lovely morning in the month of September I was sauntering along the shady side of Sackville Street, Dublin, when a gentleman, encased in a coat of a resounding pattern, all over pockets, and whose knickerbockers seemed especially constructed to meet the requirements of the coat, suddenly burst upon, and clutched me.

"The very man I wanted," he exclaimed. "I've been hunting you the way O'Mulligan's pup hunted the fourpenny bit through the bonfire."

"What can I do for you, Mr Podgers?" I asked.

"I want a day's shooting at O'Rooney's of Ballybawn," responded Podgers.

Now, I was not intimate with Mr O'Rooney. We had met at the club; but as he was a smoking man, and as I, after a prolonged and terrific combat with a very mild cigar (what must the strong ones be!), had bidden a long farewell to the Indian weed, it is scarcely necessary to mention that, although Mr O'Rooney and myself were very frequently beneath the same roof, we very seldom encountered one another, save in a casual sort of way.

"I assure you, Mr Podgers, that I——"

"Pshaw! that's all gammon," he burst in anticipatingly. "You can do it if you like. Sure we won't kill all the game. And I have the loveliest dog that ever stood in front of a bird. I want to get a chance of showing him off. He'll do you credit."

I was anxious to oblige Podgers. He had stood by me in a police-court case once upon a time, and proved an alibi such as must have met the approval even of the immortal Mr Weller himself; so I resolved upon soliciting the required permission, and informed Podgers that I would acquaint him with the result of my application.

"That's a decent fellow. Come back to my house with me now, and I'll give you a drop of John Jameson that will make your hair curl."

Declining to have my hair curled through the instrumentality of Mr Jameson's unrivalled whisky, I wended my way towards the club, and, as luck would have it, encountered O'Rooney lounging on the steps enjoying a cigar.

After the conventional greetings, I said, "By the way, you have some capital partridge shooting at Ballybawn."

"Oh, pretty good," was the reply, in that self-satisfied, complacent tone in which a crack billiard-player refers to the spot-stroke, or a rifleman to his score when competing for the Queen's Prize.

"I'm no shot myself—I never fired a gun in my life; but there's a particular friend of mine who is most anxious to have one day's shooting at Ballybawn. Do you think you could manage to let him have it?"

I emphasised the word "one" in the most impressive way.

"I would give one or two days, Mr Brown, with the greatest pleasure; but the fact is, I have lent my dogs to Sir Patrick O'Houlahan."

"Oh, as to that, my friend has a splendid dog—a most remarkable dog. I hear it's a treat to see him in front of a bird."

I stood manfully by Podgers' exact words, adding some slight embellishments, in order to increase O'Rooney's interest in the animal.

"In that case, there can be no difficulty, Mr Brown. I leave for Ballybawn on Saturday—will you kindly name Monday, as I would, in addition to the pleasure of receiving you and your friend, like to witness the performance of this remarkable dog; and I must be in Galway on Wednesday."

Having settled the preliminaries so satisfactorily, I wrote the following note to Podgers:—

"Dear Podgers,

"It's all right. Mr O'Rooney has named Monday. Be sure to bring the dog, as his dogs are away. Come and breakfast with me at eight o'clock, as the train starts from the King's Bridge Terminus at nine o'clock.—Yours,

"Benjamin B. Brown.

"P.S.—I praised the dog sky high. O'R. is most anxious to see him in front of the birds."

I received a gushing note in reply, stating that he would breakfast with me, and bring the dog, adding, "It's some time since he was shot over; but that makes no difference, as he is the finest dog in Leinster."

Knowing Podgers to be a very punctual sort of person, I had ordered breakfast for eight o'clock sharp, and consequently felt somewhat surprised when the timepiece chimed the quarter past.

I consulted his letter—day, date, and time were recapitulated in the most businesslike way. Some accident might have detained him. Perhaps he preferred meeting me at the station. I had arrived at this conclusion, and had just made the first incision into a round of buttered toast, when a very loud, jerky, uneven knocking thundered at the hall door, and the bell was tugged with a violence that threatened to drag the handle off.

I rushed to the window, and perceived Podgers clinging frantically to the area railings with one hand, whilst with the other he held a chain, attached to which, at the utmost attainable distance, stood, or stretched, in an attitude as if baying the moon, the fore legs planted out in front, the hind legs almost clutching the granite step, the eyes betraying an inflexible determination not to budge one inch from the spot—a bony animal, of a dingy white colour, with dark patches over the eyes, imparting a mournfully dissipated appearance—the redoubtable dog which was to afford us a treat "in front of the birds."

"Hollo, Podgers!" I cried, "you're late!"

"This cursed animal," gasped Podgers; "he got away from me in Merrion Square after a cat. The cat climbed up the Prince Consort statue. This brute, somehow or other got up after her. She was on the head, and he was too high for me to reach him, when I got the hook of this umbrella and——"

At this moment the hall-door opened, and the dog being animated with an energetic desire to explore the interior of the house, suddenly relaxed the pull upon the chain, which utterly unexpected movement sent Podgers flying into the hall as though he had been discharged from a catapult. My maid-of-all-work, an elderly lady with proclivities in the direction of "sperrits," happened to stand right in the centre of the doorway when Podgers commenced his unpremeditated bound. He cannoned against her, causing her to reel and stagger against the wall, and to clutch despairingly at the nearest available object to save herself from falling. That object happened to be the curly hair of my acrobatic friend, to which her five fingers clung as the suckers of the octopus cling to the crab. By the aid of this substantial support she had just righted herself, when the dog, finding himself comparatively free, made one desperate plunge into the hall, entwining his chain round the limbs of the lady in one dexterous whirl which levelled her, with a very heavy thud, on the body of the prostrate Podgers. Now, whether she was animated with the idea that she was in bodily danger from both master and dog, and that it behoved her to defend herself to the uttermost extent of her power, I cannot possibly determine; but she commenced a most vigorous onslaught upon both, bestowing a kick and a cuff alternately with an impartiality that spoke volumes in favour of her ideas upon the principles of even—and indeed I may add, heavy-handed justice.

I arrived upon the scene in time to raise the prostrate form of my friend, and to administer such words of consolation and sympathy as, under the circumstances, were his due. His left eye betrayed symptoms of incipient inflammation, and his mouth gave evidence of the violence with which Miss Bridget Byrne (the lady in the case) had brought her somewhat heavy knuckle-dusters into contact with it.

"Bringin' wild bastes into a gintleman's dacent house, as if it was a barn, that's manners!" she muttered. "Av I can get a clout at that dog, I'll lave him as bare as a plucked thrush!"

At this instant a violent crash of crockery-ware was heard in the regions of the kitchen.

"Holy Vargin! but the baste is on the dhresser! I'll dhress the villian!" and seizing upon a very stout ash stick which stood in the hall, she darted rapidly in the direction from whence the dire sounds were proceeding.

"Hold hard, woman!" cried Podgers. "He's a very valuable animal. I'll make good any damage. Use your authority, Brown," he added, appealing to me. "She's a terrible person this; she'd stop at nothing."

Ere I could interpose, a violent skirmishing took place, in which such exclamations as "Take that, ye divvle! Ye'll brake me chaney, will ye? There's chaney for ye!" followed by very audible whacks, which, if they had fulfilled their intended mission, would very speedily have sent the dog to the happy hunting-grounds of his race. One well-directed blow, however, made its mark, and was succeeded by a whoop of triumph from Miss Byrne and a yell of anguish from her vanquished foe.

"Gelang, ye fireside spaniel! Ye live on the neighbours. How dar' ye come in here? Ye'll sup sorrow. I'll give a couple more av I can get at ye."

Podgers rushed to the rescue, and, after a very protracted and exciting chase, during which a well-directed blow, intended by Bridget for the sole use and benefit of the dog, had alighted on the head of its master, succeeded in effecting a capture. This, too, was done under embarrassing circumstances; for the dog had sought sanctuary within the sacred precincts of Miss Byrne's sleeping apartment, beneath the very couch upon which it was the habit of that lady to repose her virgin form after the labours of the day; and her indignation knew no bounds when Podgers, utterly unmindful of the surroundings, hauled forth the dog.

"There's no dacency in man nor baste. They're all wan, sorra a lie in it!"

At this crisis Podgers must have developed his pecuniary resources, for her tone changed with marvellous rapidity, and her anger was melted into a well-feigned contrition for having used her fists so freely.

"Poor baste! shure it's frightened he is. I wudn't hurt a fly, let alone an illigant tarrier like that. Thry a bit o' beefsteak in regard o' yer eye, sir. Ye must have hot it agin somethin' hard; it will be as black as a beetle in tin minits."

Podgers uttered full-flavoured language. I looked at my watch and found that we could only "do" the train. Having hailed an outside car, the breakfastless Podgers seated himself upon one side, whilst I took the other, and after a very considerable expenditure of hard labour and skilful strategy, in which we were aided by the carman and Miss Byrne, we succeeded in forcing Albatross (the pointer) into the well in the middle. I am free to confess that I sat with my back to that animal with considerable misgivings. He looked hungry and vicious, and as though a piece of human flesh would prove as agreeable to his capacious maw as any other description of food. It was his habit, too, during our journey, to elevate his head in the air, and to give utterance to a series of the most unearthly howlings, which could only be partially interrupted, not by any means stopped, by Podgers' hat being pressed closely over the mouth, whilst Podgers punched him a tergo with no very light hand.

"That's the quarest dog I ever seen," observed the driver. "He ought to be shupayrior afther badgers. He has a dhrop in his eye like a widdy's pig, and it's as black as a Christian's afther a ruction."

"He's a very fine dog, sir," exclaimed Podgers, in a reproving tone.

"He looks as if he'd set a herrin'," said the cab-man jocosely.

"Mind your horse, sir!" said Podgers angrily.

The driver, who was a jovial-tempered fellow, finding that his advances towards "the other side" were rejected, turned towards mine.

"Are you goin' huntin' wid the dog, sir?" he asked.

"We're going to shoot," I replied, in a dignified way.

"To shoot! Thin, begorra, yez may as well get off the car an' fire away at wanst. There's an illigant haystack foreninst yez, and—but here we are"—and he jerked up at the entrance to the station.

The jerk sent Albatross flying off the car, and his chain being dexterously fastened to the back rail of the driver's seat, the luckless animal remained suspended whilst his collar was being unfastened, in order to prevent the not very remote contingency of strangulation. Finding himself at liberty, he bounded joyously away, and, resisting all wiles and blandishments on the part of his master, continued to bound, gambol, frisk, bark, and yowl in a most reckless and idiotic way. It would not be acting fairly towards Podgers were I to chronicle his language during this festive outbreak. If the dog was in a frolicsome mood, Podgers was not, and his feelings got considerably the better of him when the bell rang to announce the departure of the train within three minutes of that warning.

Finding that all hopes of securing the animal in the ordinary way were thin as air, Podgers offered a reward of half-a-crown to any of the grinning bystanders who would bring him the dog dead or alive. This stimulus to exertion sent twenty corduroyed porters and as many amateurs in full pursuit of Albatross, who ducked and dived, and twisted and twined, and eluded detention with the agility of a greased sow; and it was only when one very corpulent railway official fell upon him in a squashing way, and during a masterly struggle to emerge from beneath the overwhelming weight, that he was surrounded and led in triumph, by as many of his pursuers as could obtain a handful of his hair, up to his irate and wrathful master. Each of the captors who were in possession of Albatross claimed a half-crown, refusing to give up the animal unless it was duly ransomed; and it was during a fierce and angry discussion upon this very delicate question that the last bell rang. With one despairing tug, Podgers pulled the dog inside the door of the station, which was then promptly closed, and through the intervention of a friendly guard our bête noire was thrust into the carriage with us.

Having kicked the cause of our chagrin beneath one of the seats, I ventured to remark that in all probability the dog, instead of being a credit to us, was very likely to prove the reverse.

"It's only his liveliness, and be hanged to him," said Podgers. "He has been shut up for some time, and is as wild as a deer."

He would not admit a diminished faith in the dog; but his tone was irresolute, and he eyed the animal in a very doubting way.

"His liveliness ought to be considerably toned down after the rough handling he received from my servant, and——"

"By the way," Podgers went on, "that infernal woman isn't safe to have in the house; she'll be tried for murder some day, and the coroner will be sitting upon your body. Is my eye very black?"

"Not very," I replied. It had reached a disreputable greenish hue, tinged with a tawny red.

At Ballybricken Station we found a very smart trap awaiting us, with a servant in buckskin breeches, and in top-boots polished as brightly as the panels of the trap.

"You've a dog, sir?" said the servant.

"Yes, yes," replied Podgers, in a hurried and confused sort of way.

"In the van, sir?"

"No; he is here—under the seat. Come out, Albatross!—come out, good fellow!" And Podgers chirruped and whistled in what was meant to be a seductive and blandishing manner.

Albatross stirred not.

"Hi! hi! Here, good fellow!"

Albatross commenced to growl.

"Dear me, this is very awkward!" cried Podgers, poking at the animal in a vigorous and irritated way.

"Time's up, sir," shouted the guard, essaying to close the door.

"Hold hard, sir! I can't get my dog out!" cried Podgers.

"I'll get him out," volunteered the guard; and, seizing upon the whip which the smart driver of the smart trap held in inviting proximity, he proceeded to thrust and buffet beneath the seat where Albatross lay concealed. The dog uttered no sound, gave no sign.

"There ain't no dog there at all," panted the guard, whose exertions rendered him nearly apoplectic, proceeding to explore the recesses of the carriage—"there ain't no dog here."

A shout of terror, and the guard flung himself out of the carriage, the dog hanging on not only to his coat-tails, but to a portion of the garment which their drapery concealed. "Take off your dog—take off your dog. I'll be destroyed. Police! police! I'll have the law of you!" he yelled, in an extremity of the utmost terror.

Podgers, who was now nearly driven to his wits' end, caught Albatross by the neck, and, bestowing a series of well-directed kicks upon the devoted animal, sent him howling off the platform, but right under the train.

The cry of "The dog will be killed!" was raised by a chorus of voices both from the carriages and the platform. Happily, however, the now wary Albatross lay flat upon the ground, and the train went puffing on its way; not, however, until the guard had taken Podgers' name and address, with a view to future proceedings through the medium of the law.

"I had no idea that the O'Rooneys were such swells," observed my companion as we entered, through the massive and gilded gates, to the avenue which sweeps up to Ballybawn House. "Somehow or other, I wish I hadn't fetched Albatross, or that you hadn't spoken about him;" and Podgers threw a gloomy glance in the direction of the pointer, who lay at our feet in the bottom of the trap, looking as if he had been on the rampage for the previous month, or had just emerged from the asylum for the destitute of his species.

"He won't do us much credit as regards his appearance," I said; "but if he is all that you say as a sporting dog—of which I have my doubts—it will make amends for anything."

Podgers muttered something unintelligible, and I saw dismal forebodings written in every line of his countenance.

Mr O'Rooney received us at the hall-door. Beside him crouched two magnificent setters, with coats as glossy as mirrors, and a bearing as aristocratic as that of Bethgellart.

"Where's the dog?" asked our host, after a warm greeting. "I hope that you have brought him."

I must confess that I would have paid a considerable sum of money to have been enabled to reply in the negative. I muttered that we had indeed fetched him, but that owing to his having met with some accidents en voyage, his personal appearance was considerably diminished; but that we were not to judge books by their covers.

As if to worry, vex, and mortify us, Albatross declined to stir from the bottom of the trap, from whence he was subsequently rooted out in a most undignified and anti-sporting way.

The expression upon Mr O'Rooney's face, when at length the animal, badger-like, was drawn, was that of an intense astonishment, combined with a mirth convulsively compressed. The servants commenced to titter, and the smart little gentleman who tooled us over actually laughed outright.

Albatross was partly covered with mud and offal. His eyes were watery, and the lids were of a dull pink, imparting a sort of maudlin idiotcy to their expression. His right ear stood up defiantly, whilst his left lay flat upon his jowl, and his tail seemed to have disappeared altogether, so tightly had he, under the combined influence of fear and dejection, secured it between his legs.

"He's not very handsome," observed our host laughingly, "but I dare say he will take the shine out of York and Lancaster, by-and-by," pointing to the two setters as he spoke.

This hint was enough for Albatross, as no sooner had the words escaped the lips of O'Rooney than, with a yowl which sent the rooks whirling from their nests, he darted from the trap, and, making a charge at York, sent that aristocratic animal flying up the avenue in a paroxysm of terror and despair; whilst Lancaster, paralysed by the suddenness of the onslaught, allowed himself to be seized by the neck, and worried, as a cat worries a mouse, without as much as moving a muscle in self-defence.

This was too much. I had borne with this hideous animal too long. My patience was utterly exhausted, and all the bad temper in my composition began to boil up. I had placed myself under an obligation to a comparative stranger for the purpose of beholding his magnificent and valuable dogs scared and worried by a worthless cur. Seizing upon a garden-rake that lay against the wall, I dealt at Albatross what ought to have proved a crushing blow, which he artfully eluded. It only grazed him, and fell, with almost its full swing and strength, upon the passive setter, who set up a series of unearthly shrieks, almost human in their painful shrillness.

"Chain up that dog at once!" shouted O'Rooney in fierce and angry tones, "and look to Lancaster. I fear that his ribs are broken. This is very unfortunate," he added, addressing himself to me.

"I don't know what's come over the animal!" exclaimed Podgers. "I wish to heaven I had never seen him. I'll part with him to-morrow, if I have to give him to the Zoological Gardens for the bears."

Luckily, it turned out, upon examination, that Lancaster was not in any way seriously injured. This put us into somewhat better spirits, so that by the time breakfast was concluded we were on good terms with each other, and even with the wretched Albatross, in whom we still maintained a sort of sickly confidence. Later on we started for the turnips, Mr O'Rooney and Podgers in front—the latter hauling Albatross along as if he was a sack of wheat; whilst I brought up the rear with a gamekeeper and York.

"I don't think that animal is used to be out at all, at all," observed the keeper.

"I'm afraid you are quite right," I replied; "but I hear that he is a very good sporting dog."

"Sportin'! Begorra, he'll give yez sport enough before the day is half over," said the keeper, with a gloomy grin.

"There is always a covey to be found in this field," observed our host to Podgers, "so we'll give your dog the first chance."

"I—I—I'd rather you'd let him see what your dog will do," blurted Podgers.

"Oh, dear no!" returned Mr O'Rooney. "Let him go now. You'll take the first shot."

Very reluctantly indeed did Podgers unloose his pointer, uttering into the dog's ear in a low tone the most terrific and appalling threats should he fail to prove himself all that my fancy had painted him. With a loud bark of defiance Albatross darted away, scurrying through the turnips at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, utterly unmindful of whistle, call, blandishment, or threat, appearing now in one direction, now in another, and barking as though it had been part of its training.

"Stop that dog," cried our host, "he won't leave us a bird," as covey after covey of partridges rose beyond range and flew away, Albatross joyously barking after them.

"You said I was to have the first shot, Mr O'Rooney," said Podgers, in a tone full of solemnity.

"Certainly, if you can get it; which I doubt," was the curt reply.

Albatross had dashed within twenty yards of us, and was plunging off in another direction, when Podgers ran forward, raised his gun. Bang!

Albatross was sent to the happy hunting-grounds of his race.

"He frightened the partridge," observed Podgers, proceeding to reload; "let him frighten the crows now."