Still Hunting

Disguise it as you will, but there is a natural love of elbow-room amongst mankind which drives them into waste paces,--to the moors and the mountains, to Ben Lomond or Barnes: and it is strongest in us of the Lackland family. We hate gates and hedges; they are counselors that "feelingly persuade" us what we are. We grasp at the ghost of a tenure, and on a wild heath seem to have and to hold by nature's own act and deed. We have no friendly feelings towards him who threatens man-traps and spring-guns, and detest those two magistrates who have stopped the footpath. How we feel the insulting curtness of "Beware," "No thoroughfare," and have our sympathies enlisted for the poor trespassers so cruelly menaced at the corners of plantations! But, above all, we loathe the arrogant benevolence of him who tells us to "Mind the dog." We see through this fellow. It is an attempt to throw upon a generous animal the odium of his selfish conservancy, and save his grass under the cloak of philanthropy. We are tempted to exclaim, "We don't mind him the least!" and have a rebellious excitement in the doubt of being gnawed and worried.

It was with such feelings strong upon him that our sportsman toiled, through an August day, over one of the wildest portions of the Bog of Allen. There is beauty and sublimity even in a bog: it is vast, silent, solitary. He had the dirty acres all to himself. Not a sound was heard, save, perhaps, the low twittering of some siskin or mountain-finch coming out to reconnoitre the intruder upon his solitary reign. Neither tree, hill, nor living creature broke the level uniformity of the horizon: "the wide o'erhanging firmament" rested upon an ocean of purple flowers.

Choosing a dry spot, carpeted with young heather, interspersed with huge bosses of fine grey moss, while the air was scented with the delicious odour of the bog myrtle, he threw his gun and game-bag on the ground, and stretched himself along to enjoy the tranquil beauty of the scene.

There are times when the spirits boil over, and our sense of happiness can only find relief in some overt act. We would give the world for a gallop, or a game at leap-frog, or the power to throw a summerset, or the license to shout aloud; and happy are they who can train the outbreak into the semblance of music. In his ecstacy the sportsman mangled several Italian melodies of the day, ruthlessly tortured a gay little chanson a boire, murdered "Alice Gray" outright, and still finding that safety-valve required easing, lent his head against a tussuck and gave with that hearty goodwill,--that unmistakable con amore, only seen in those who sing without an audience--the well-known morceau of Justice Woodcock:

"When I courted a lass that was frowned and shy,
I stuck to her stuff till I made her comply.
I took her so lovingly round the waist,
And I smack'd her lips and I held her fast.
Oh! These were the joys of our dancing days," &c.

"Bedad, ye may say that!" said a voice within ten yards of him; "that's the way I courted Kitty. If ye'd been consaled on the premises, ye couldn't have tould it better!"

If a thunderbolt, or a meteoric stone, or a man of the moon, had fallen into the bog beside the grouse-shooter, he could not have been more astonished than at this most unlooked-for greeting. And the object from whence the voice proceeded was not of a kind to diminish his feeling of wonder. Between two large bunches, or tussocks, of the grey moss with which the place abounded, there peered forth the good-humoured face of a man about thirty, lying flat upon the bog, while the moss nearly meeting above his head, and coming down in a flowing, pear-like shape on either side of his face, gave him much the appearance of wearing a judge's wig, though the countenance shewed nothing of the judge's gravity.

The first impulse of the shooter was to start up and seize his gun, the second to burst out into loud laughter.

"Faith, it's true for you!" said the man, getting up and taking a seat near him; "but how the divle ye came to know it, sorrow know I know. It's shy enough she was at first, but it's meself that stuck to her. I'll tell yer honour all about it while we sit aisy here. Divle a much I cared for Lanty (that's her father). 'Let her be,' says he; 'wait awhile, sure the heifer's young. Any how, ye'r rough in yer ways,' says he. 'Faith, Mr. Hickey,' says I, 'it's because I'm in airnest.' 'Divle a doubt of it,' says he; 'but that's no rason why ye'd be crushing my choild wid yer hugs. Any how,' says Lanty, 'I'll not consint to it yet; sure I can't spare her till we've got in the praties. What could I do wid all the crap on my hands? So hands aff's fair play,' says he. 'Besides,' says Lanty (sure he's a cute ould chap, that one), 'where would ye take her if ye were married itself? Ye'd bury her underground,' says he, 'in the quare place ye have down along the canal. Faith it's no place to take me daughter to, and she bred up in a slate house, and every convanience in Killbeggan. If she did consint, it's not for want of better offers at home, never fear. There's Burk of Athy, says he's proud to discoorse wid her when he comes this away; and it's not a week ago' says he, 'that Oolahan, the grocer, sent me the half-gallon of Parliament: it's long since ye did the like o' that, or even poteen itself. Faith,' says he, 'the laste ye could do would be to fill the keg in th' other room, and build me up a stack o' turf for the winter,' says he. 'Och, murther!' says I; 'Mr. Hickey, ye'r hard upon me,' says I, 'wid yer Burkes and yer Oolahans. Is it Oolahan? Sure ye would'nt marry yer daughter to an ould man like him? The divel a taste of a grandfather ever ye'd be, barrin what I'd be shamed to mention. Come,' says I, 'Mr. Hickey, ye'll give me yer daughter--she's fond o' me. Clap hands upon that,' says I, and 'I'll fill the keg with the first runnings--the raal stuff,' says I; 'oncet ye taste it ye'll put Oolahan's Parliament in a jar and throw stones at it. And I'll build ye the stack if ye'll wait till the turf's dhry; I've a rare lot o' the deep cutting,' says I, 'as hard as stones.'

"Well, faith. I tuck him the sperrits, and the turf, but the divle a Kitty I got; and I heard it's aften they went to tay wid ould Oolahan, and made game o' me sperrits and me. 'Faith,' thinks I, 'the next thing 'll be I'll have the gauger (sure he's Oolahan's brother-in-law) and th' army destroying me still, and meself in Phillipstown jail. But, any how,' says I, 'I'll be up to ould Lanty, as cute as ye are. So when the next dark night come, I tuck some of the boys wid me, and their harses, and went to Lanty's, and soon I brought the sweet crathur outside wid a small whistle I have. 'Now,' says I, 'Kitty, sure I want to talk to ye; maybe I won't discoorse so fine as Mr. Oolahan,' says I, 'but, anyhow, bring out the key o' the doore, and we'll turn it upon Mr. Hickey the whilst we're talking. Sure he might be angry if he found me wid ye unknownst, and I'd like to keep him safe,' says I.

" ' What's that?' says Kitty; 'sure I thought I heered voices beyant,' says she.

" 'Oh, nothing', me darling!' says I, 'but a couple o' boys goan home from the fair o' Mullingar, wid their harses, and they'll stop for me till I go 'long wid 'em.'

"Well, with that Kitty goes in and slips on her cloak, and, says she, 'I'll jist step across to Biddy Fay's for the haarbes.' 'Well,' says Lanty, 'do so; and while ye'r gone I'll just take a sup o' Oolahan's sperrits. Faith, it's great stuff,' says he, and sgrees wid me better that Mike Cronin's. It's raw stuff, his,' says Lanty. (Th'ould villian, and better never came out of a still!) 'Well,' says he, 'Kitty, I'm poorly to-night, and I'll take it warm; make me a tumbler o' punch,' says he, 'Kitty. Musha, bad luck to me,' says he, 'but I'rather see ye married to a steady man, that's got a license to sell good sperrits, like Oolahan, that nay one, barrin a distiller itself, and that would be looking rather high,' says he, 'for they're mostly of the quality, them sort. Anyhow,' says Lanty, 'stirring the punch, while Kitty was houlding the doore ready to come, while th' ould fellow kept talking,--'Anyhow, Kitty,' says he, 'ye must think no more o' Mike (that's me); what'll he do for ye,' says he, 'down in the bog? Sure his sperrits is but quare stuff, and what's the triffle o' turf he sent? It's 'most the top cutting, and mighty light.' (The lying ould rap!) 'Well, go 'long wid ye, Kitty,' says he, taking a dhrink; 'go 'long to Biddy Fay's, and mind yerself,' says he; 'sure th' officers do be smoking their cigars upon the bridge,' says he, 'and they're mighty blackguards afther dark. And make haste back, for it's toired I'm getting.'

"Well, faith, at last I heered her shut the doore; so I stepped up, and turned the key mighty quite, and put my arm round Kitty, and tuck her away towards the harses, and says she, 'where ye goan? Can't ye coort me here?' says she; 'sure the people do be passing in the lane.' Well, with that I catched her up, and away wid me, hot fut, and the crathur squealed, 'Ah, can't ye stop?' says she, 'I'd die before I'd go wid ye! Sure I thought ye an honest boy, Mike. Be aisy wid me, for th' honour o' God; sure I'm young as yit!' But, faith, we put her on the harse, and I held her on before me, and cut out o' that full tare; but divle such a pillalooing as Lanty made out o' the windy ye never heered! Sure we had him safe, for the windy was too small for him; but anyhow he tried it, and stuck fast, half in half out, and Pat Sheahy stopped wid him a minute to see if he'd aise himself out, but divle a taste. 'Let me out o'this!' says Lanty, most choked. 'Be quite, Mr. Hickey,' says Pat; 'don't alarm the town; what would folks say, ans see ye stuck in yer own windy? Faith, ye must be swelled with the bad sperrits ye tuck; sure Cronin's sperrits never did that for ye. Betther for ye,' says he, 'to marry your daughter to an honest boy that does ye no harm,' says he, 'than an ould spalpeen that blows ye out like a cow in clover. But it's getting late,' says Pat, 'and I've far to travel; so I wish ye good night, Mr. Hickey. Well, well,' says Pat, 'sure th' airly boat do be passing up soon after daylight, and they'll think it curous to see ye stuck that away in the wall!'

"Well, faith, he left him, half out and half in, and away wid us to the bog; and I married Kitty with the first convanience, and it's mighty happy we are, barrin the gauger (that's Oolahan's brother-in-law), that do be hunting me out for the still. Sure I expect him to-night, and th' army wid him; and faith I lay quite, watching yer honour, for I thought ye might spake to me unknownst about their coming, for ye talked a dale to yerself before ye began them outlandish songs. Faith, it wasn't much I larned outo' them wid yer banes and yer pase,* till ye tuck up the right joke about Kitty. But, any how, ye'll come inside and rest yourself, for ye've a dale to travel, and the boat's gone."

"Inside! Why there's no house here! And where's the canal?"

"Faith, they're both nigh hand ye,--nearer than ye think."

To the sportsman's astonishment, the canal was within a hundred yards, cut deep through the bog, some forty feet below the surface, and so completely out of sight that he had not the most distant notion of its proximity. But where the residence of his new friend was remained still a mystery.

The bog had been cut down in several levels, like steps, to the canal, but, looking up and down along its straight course, no house, or any signs of one could be discovered.

"Sure, it isn't every one I'd bring to me place," said my companion, "let alone th' army; for I know yer honour right well; and sure, if ye do come in, ye'll see nothing."

On the deep steps or levels of the cutting were a great many heaps of turf piled up, apparently with a view to their convenient shipment in the large turf-boats, which carry this admirable fuel even as far as Dublin. Mr. Cronin, after pausing a minute to enjoy the wondering looks his companion cast about in search of the "place,' commenced removing one of the heaps upon the level about midway between the surface of the bog and the canal. The stack was about five feet high, and as the upper portion was removed there appeared a hole, or doorway, in the perpendicular face of the cutting against which the heap was raised.

When the passage became practicable, the master beckoned to his guest to enter the house, and leading the way himself, ushered him into a room of fair dimensions, in the centre of which was left standing a column of turf to support the roof, on one side of which was a hole, or window, cut down from the level above, and slightly covered with dry bushes; and, as it afterwards appeared, was flanked by two large stacks of turf, which prevented any one from passing that way, and so running the risk of making an involuntary entrance into the premises.

But this room was merely the ante-chamber to the principle apartment, which lay deeper under the bog; but the guest had no wish, neither did the host pres him, to make any further researches.

The walls, floor, and roof of this peat-cavern were perfectly dry and comfortable. There were sundry articles of furniture about the place, several low stools, a small table, and a rude old chest, from which last the owner produced some excellent bread and butter, a bottle of poteen whisky, and two small glasses.

It required no great pressing on the part of the host to make his guest partake of those good things, though many apologies were made that no fire could be lighted to cook him a better dinner, as the gauger was out.

"This is one of me houses," said Mr. Cronin; "and, by the same token, Flannagan, the gauger, would give twenty pound to find it, and me in it. Sure it's sarching after this he do be coming this way, but sorrow much I care for him; it's long before he'll put his nose in the hole, barrin the smoke."

"But where's Kitty?" said the stranger, "you don't live here altogether?"

"Och, murther! Ye'r mighty cute wid yer Kitty, and yer songs. Well, how the divle ye hit it aff so well, it's hard to say! Faith, Kitty's on th' other house, but I brought ye here first for fear ye'd come some day with th' army, and search for it. Sure ye'r not obliged to hoont for it yerself,--that's Flannagan's place; ye'r only to seize the still--when ye find it."

Although it struck the Englishman as being rather a curious proceeding, though decidedly Irish, to shew a man a place with a view to his not finding it, yet he could not help admiring the acuteness with which his new friend had enlisted him on his side, and bought at least his neutrality, by making him eat of bread and salt, and drink of his illicit spirits, in the very stronghold and secret spot in which those spirits were made; while, with equal cunning, all traces of his contraband manufacture were carefully kept out of view. Not a pot or kettle, or vessel of any kind, save the bottle and glasses, were to be seen; neither was there any fire-place, nor signs of a fire though he must have been dull indeed not to have known full well that all these things were carefully stowed away in the inner room. But, being in for the thing, the hungry sportsman thought that no further harm could result from making a good meal, and the small new loaves, though tasting strongly of turf, and the fresh butter, were fast disappearing.

The whisky was first-rate--the real stuff--and the long, fagging day he had gone through above ground, rendered him peculiarly sensible of the cool comforts and enticing beverage below. True, there was some difficulty in mixing the grog, for the water was contained in a large earthen jar, almost too heavy to raise, and the glasses were less than an egg-cup; but he took Mr. Cronin's advice and "mixed it in th' inside of him," taking a sup of spirits and a drink of water alternately.

During the progress of the meal Mr. Cronin had carefully built up the turf-stack, to prevent any untoward intrusion, and having finished the bread and butter, and become tolerably perfect in "the meeting of the waters," having also made arrangements for the forwarding the game-bag the next morning early, the stranger prepared to bid adieu to his kind entertainer, and commence his weary walk homewards. Suddenly the host started, then listened attentively, and finally, applying his ear close to the turf-wall of the hut, commenced making gestures to remain still, as some one was approaching. After a time there could be distinctly felt a vibration of the springy ground, and it was evident, from its increase, that a party of many persons was approaching. Suddenly a word or two were spoken in a low voice, and immediately followed by the loud word of command, "Halt, front: order arms: stand at ease."

Ths sportsman knew the voice well: it was that of his brother-officer, and elderly man, and the party was the detachment to which he himself belonged. Here was a predicament! If he had not stopped to eat that last loaf, and take that last long drink, he had been safe on his way homewards. As it was, he felt puzzled what to do.

To issue forth would have been to betray his hospitable entertainer, confiscate his property, and consign him to a prison: to remain hidden in a poteen manufactory, hearing his own men outside, searching, with the revenue officer, for the very place of his concealment, and to be there discovered, would have had an awkward appearance, and, with a fidgety commanding officer, might have subjected him to a court martial. He knew not what to do; and, as is usual in such cases, did nothing.

But, in spite of the unpleasant position, it was impossible not to be amused at the searching process that was going on outside, freely commented upon, as it was, by Mr. Cronin, in a whisper, within. Sometimes the party was moved further on; then back again. Past the door; then they halted close in front: but the dry turf left no traces of footmarks, and all their attempts were baffled. Several of the large stacks of turf they removed, but our particular one escaped from its insignificance; and to have removed all would have been the work of a week.

The old officer, a dry, matter-of-fact Englishman, was becoming heartily sick of the adventure. He said something about being made a fool of, which Mr. Cronin doubted, muttering something to the effect, as I apprehended, that nature had been beforehand with the gauger.

"I shall not allow my men to slave here all night, pulling down and building up stacks of peat after a ten-mile march, and ten miles to return; so fall in, men, and unpile arms. Shew us the place, sir, and we'll make the seizure."

(Inside.)--"Well done, old boy, stick to that."

"I'll be upon my oath," said the gauger, "that I saw the smoke coming out of the bog hereaway, when I passed th'other day--here, in a line with the two stacks over there--it's right in this line." ("Thank ye, Mr. Flannagan, we'll move 'em to-morrow.") "I'd rather than ten pound I had that fellow by the scruff of the neck!" ("Thank ye kindly, Mr. Flannagan; the same to yerself.") "It's daring us he is." ("Likely enough.") "But I'll have him safe enough one of those days." ("Did ye bring any salt wid ye to put on his tail?") "And I'd be glad we'd find hin, sir, that ye'r men may have a sup of the stuff, poor fellows, after the march." ("How kind ye are! Ye'r mighty free wid another man's sperrits.")

As the night advanced, the difficulty of finding the still increased, and at last the gauger was fain to give up the pursuit in despair, and the party was moved off. The intruder lost no time in slipping out of his hiding-place, and reached home before the party.

Till a late hour that night he was edified with a full and particular account of the adventure; how they had been hoaxed, and dragged over twenty Irish miles to a place where there never was an illicit still; where there never could have been the smallest reason for suspecting the existence of one. "I looked pretty sharp," said the old officer, "and I can see as far into a mill-stone as most people."

But nothing could convince Flannagan, the gauger, that he was wrong--such is the obstinacy of some people. Nay, he dragged that detachment twice to the place afterwards, in spite of all angry remonstrances, and, it is needless to say, very much against the wish of all concerned.

Now this officer may have neglected his duty; he may have connived at a breach of the revenue laws, nor was it found in his time. On the occasion of the two official visits, Mr. Michael Cronin accompanied them, wearing an air of lamb-like innocence, and wondering what they sought.

There was one thing the officer had to complain of, which was, that on several market days, a jar of whisky was mysteriously left at his quarters: but he laid a trap for the bringer, and at last caught Mike Cronin in the fact, and the harmony of their acquaintance was a little disturbed by his being made to take it away, under a threat of certain pains and penalties.

Confound that fellow! He then sent his wife, even Kitty, so that the sportsman was obliged to compromise by accepting a bottle or two; or else shut the gates against all the grey cloaks on a market-day.

*Mr. Cronin's meaning is here obscure. "Banes" we may, perhaps, trace to "bene," but I am quite at a loss for "pase."