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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Edith Anna Somerville (1858–1949) and Violet Florence Martin (Martin Ross) (1862–1915)

Pleasures of a Tenant

From “Some Experiences of an Irish R.M.”

A RESIDENT magistracy in Ireland is not an easy thing to come by nowadays; neither is it a very attractive job; yet on the evening when I first propounded the idea to the young lady who had recently consented to become Mrs. Sinclair Yeates, it seemed glittering with possibilities. There was, on that occasion, a sunset, and a string band playing “The Gondoliers,” and there was also an ingenuous belief in the omnipotence of a godfather of Philippa’s (Philippa was the young lady)—who had once been a member of the Government.

I was then climbing the steep ascent of the captains toward my majority. I have no fault to find with Philippa’s godfather; he did all and more than even Philippa had expected; nevertheless, I had attained to the dignity of mud-major, and had spent a good deal on postage-stamps, and on railway fares to interview people of influence, before I found myself in the hotel at Skebawn, opening long envelopes addressed to “Major Yeates, R.M.”

My most immediate concern, as any one who has spent nine weeks at Mrs. Raverty’s hotel will readily believe, was to leave it at the earliest opportunity; but in those nine weeks I had learned, amongst other painful things, a little, a very little, of the methods of the artisan in the west of Ireland. Finding a house had been easy enough. I had had my choice of several, each with some hundreds of acres of shooting, thoroughly poached, and a considerable portion of the roof intact. I had selected one; the one that had the largest extent of roof in proportion to the shooting, and had been assured by my landlord that in a fortnight or so it would be fit for occupation.

“There’s a few little odd things to be done,” he said easily; “a lick of paint here and there, and a slap of plaster——”

I am short-sighted; I am also of Irish extraction; both facts that make for toleration—but even I thought he was understating the case. So did the contractor.

At the end of three weeks the latter reported progress, which mainly consisted of the facts that the plumber had accused the carpenter of stealing sixteen feet of his inch-pipe to run a bell-wire through, and that the carpenter had replied that he wished the divil might run the plumber through a wran’s quill. The plumber having reflected upon the carpenter’s parentage, the work of renovation had merged in battle, and at the next petty sessions I was reluctantly compelled to allot to each combatant seven days, without the option of a fine.

These and kindred difficulties extended in an unbroken chain through the summer months, until a certain wet and windy day in October, when, with my baggage, I drove over to establish myself at Shreelane. It was a tall, ugly house of three stories high, its walls faced with weather-beaten slates, its windows staring, narrow, and vacant. Round the house ran an area, in which grew some laurustinus and holly bushes among ash-heaps, and nettles, and broken bottles. I stood on the steps, waiting for the door to be opened, while the rain sluiced upon me from a broken eaveshoot that had, amongst many other things, escaped the notice of my landlord. I thought of Philippa, and of her plan, broached in to-day’s letter, of having the hall done up as a sitting-room.

The door opened, and revealed the hall. It struck me that I had perhaps overestimated its possibilities. Among them I had certainly not included a flagged floor, sweating with damp, and a reek of cabbage from the adjacent kitchen-stairs. A large elderly woman, with a red face, and a cap worn helmet-wise on her forehead, swept me a magnificent curtsey as I crossed the threshold.

“Your honour’s welcome—” she began, and then every door in the house slammed in obedience to the gust that drove through it. With something that sounded like “Mend ye for a back door!” Mrs. Cadogan abandoned her opening speech and made for the kitchen-stairs. (Improbable as it may appear, my housekeeper was called Cadogan, a name made locally possible by being pronounced Caydogawn.)

Only those who have been through a similar experience can know what manner of afternoon I spent. I am a martyr to colds in the head, and I felt one coming on. I made a laager in front of the dining-room fire, with a tattered leather screen and the dinner-table, and gradually, with cigarettes and strong tea, baffled the smell of must and cats, and fervently trusted that the rain might avert a threatened visit from my landlord.

At about 4.30, when the room had warmed up, and my cold was yielding to treatment, Mrs. Cadogan entered and informed me that “Mr. Flurry” was in the yard, and would be thankful if I’d go out to him, for he couldn’t come in. Many are the privileges of the female sex; had I been a woman I should unhesitatingly have said that I had a cold in my head. Being a man, I huddled on a mackintosh, and went out into the yard.

My landlord was there on horseback, and with him there was a man standing at the head of a stout gray animal. I recognised with despair that I was about to be compelled to buy a horse.

“Good-afternoon, major,” said Mr. Knox in his slow, sing-song brogue; “it’s rather soon to be paying you a visit, but I thought you might be in a hurry to see the horse I was telling you of.”

I could have laughed. As if I were ever in a hurry to see a horse! I thanked him, and suggested that it was rather wet for horse-dealing.

“Oh, it’s nothing when you’re used to it,” replied Mr. Knox. His gloveless hands were red and wet, the rain ran down his nose, and his covert coat was soaked to a sodden brown. I thought that I did not want to become used to it. My relations with horses have been of a purely military character. I have endured the Sandhurst riding-school, I have galloped for an impetuous general, I have been steward at regimental races, but none of these feats have altered my opinion that the horse, as a means of locomotion, is obsolete. Nevertheless, the man who accepts a resident magistracy in the southwest of Ireland voluntarily retires into the prehistoric age; to institute a stable became inevitable.

“You ought to throw a leg over him,” said Mr. Knox, “and you’re welcome to take him over a fence or two if you like. He’s a nice flippant jumper.”

Even to my unexacting eye the gray horse did not seem to promise flippancy, nor did I at all desire to find that quality in him. I explained that I wanted something to drive, and not to ride.

“Well, that’s a fine raking horse in harness,” said Mr. Knox, looking at me with his serious gray eyes, “and you’d drive him with a sop of hay in his mouth. Bring him up here, Michael.”

Michael abandoned his efforts to kick the gray horse’s forelegs into a becoming position, and led him up to me.

I regarded him from under my umbrella with a quite unreasonable disfavour. He had the dreadful beauty of a horse in a toy-shop, as chubby, as wooden, and as conscientiously dappled, but it was unreasonable to urge this as an objection, and I was incapable of finding any more technical drawback. Yielding to circumstance, I “threw my leg” over the brute, and after pacing gravely round the quadrangle that formed the yard, and jolting to my entrance-gate and back, I decided that as he had neither fallen down nor kicked me off, it was worth paying twenty-five pounds for him, if only to get in out of the rain.

Mr. Knox accompanied me into the house and had a drink. He was a fair, spare young man, who looked like a stable-boy among gentlemen, and a gentleman among stable-boys. He belonged to a clan that cropped up in every grade of society in the county, from Sir Valentine Knox of Castle Knox down to the auctioneer Knox, who bore the attractive title of Larry the Liar. So far as I could judge, Florence McCarthy of that ilk occupied a shifting position about midway in the tribe. I had met him at dinner at Sir Valentine’s, I had heard of him at an illicit auction, held by Larry the Liar, of brandy stolen from a wreck. They were “Black Protestants,” all of them, in virtue of their descent from a godly soldier of Cromwell, and all were prepared at any moment of the day or night to sell a horse.

“You’ll be apt to find this place a bit lonesome after the hotel,” remarked Mr. Flurry sympathetically, as he placed his foot in its steaming boot on the hob, “but it’s a fine sound house anyway, and lots of rooms in it, though, indeed, to tell you the truth, I never was through the whole of them since the time my great-uncle, Denis McCarthy, died here. The dear knows I had enough of it that time.” He paused, and lit a cigarette—one of my best, and quite thrown away upon him. “Those top floors, now,” he resumed, “I wouldn’t make too free with them. There’s some of them would jump under you like a spring bed. Many’s the night I was in and out of those attics, following my poor uncle when he had a bad turn on him—the horrors, y’ know—there were nights he never stopped walking through the house. Good Lord! will I ever forget the morning he said he saw the devil coming up the avenue! ‘Look at the two horns on him,’ says he, and he out with his gun and shot him, and, begad, it was his own donkey!”

Mr. Knox gave a couple of short laughs. He seldom laughed, having in unusual perfection the gravity of manner that is bred by horse-dealing, probably from the habitual repression of all emotions save disparagement.

The autumn evening, gray with rain, was darkening in the tall windows, and the wind was beginning to make bullying rushes among the shrubs in the area; a shower of soot rattled down the chimney and fell on the hearth-rug.

“More rain coming,” said Mr. Knox, rising composedly; “you’ll have to put a goose down these chimneys some day soon, it’s the only way in the world to clean them. Well, I’m for the road. You’ll come out on the gray next week, I hope; the hounds’ll be meeting here. Give a roar at him coming in at his jumps.” He threw his cigarette into the fire and extended a hand to me. “Good-bye, major, you’ll see plenty of me and my hounds before you’re done. There’s a power of foxes in the plantations here.”

This was scarcely reassuring for a man who hoped to shoot woodcock, and I hinted as much.

“Oh, is it the cock?” said Mr. Flurry; “b’leeve me, there never was a woodcock yet that minded hounds, now, no more than they’d mind rabbits! The best shoots ever I had here, the hounds were in it the day before.”

When Mr. Knox had gone, I began to picture myself going across country roaring, like a man on a fire-engine, while Philippa put the goose down the chimney; but when I sat down to write to her I did not feel equal to being humourous about it. I dilated ponderously on my cold, my hard work, and my loneliness, and eventually went to bed at ten o’clock full of cold shivers and hot whisky-and-water.