"One sunshine was their life: no cloud between:
Nor ever was a kinder couple seen."
Dryden's "Wife of Bath."
It is of no consequence to my story what chance made me, several years back, the guest of as good-hearted an eccentric as Connaught ever claimed for a son. There I was, the inmate of a lodge on the borders of the plains of Boyle; and, unless the reader help him, or herself, by conceiving Miss Edge worth's "Castle Rackrent" in delirium, I fear all conception of its economy must remain a mystery. Never shall I forget the day that first placed me at its portal. To a pair of sober English eyes, the scene was the ideal of a country gentleman and his establishment run simultaneously distracted. The host was yet greeting my arrival, as I emerged from the purgatory of a "nate po-chaise," when he shouted, in an ecstasy, "See that now! Tare and 'ounds! Look at Paudeen dioul running away with Lanty the Post, and Fin-ma-coul sticking to his hinder end--the unlucky baste!" At the word, there flew past as terrible a train of specters as ever haunted the midnight of the Hartz. "Lanty the Post," a carroty-polled clown, his face afire, and his eye-balls standing out from their sockets, shot by, clutching, like grim Death, the mane of Paudeen dioul, a gigantic, cursed-looking mule, whose neck and poll were encircled with wriggling snakes, while he dragged furiously over the stony road a monstrous mastiff, riveted to his tail as fast as one of its joints. The occasion of this singular apparition was soon told: "I sent that unruly rascal," said M---, "to Carrick for a few eels, an' nothing must serve his turn but hanging a creel-full about Paudeen's ears: some of these days that dog will ate the pair of them."
As Fin-ma-coul is the hero of my story, it is fitting that I introduce him, after the manner approved in such cases. His lineage was questionable, but his proportions were faultless, while a dauntless mien, and the fire of a large restless eye, bespoke daring, combined with no amiable propensities. The characters of the Newfoundland and mastiff breeds were those most distinctly developed in him, though the expression of the countenance had much of the bloodhound about it. He lay extended in front of the fire, when I entered the drawing-room previously to dinner; and my attempts to cultivate his acquaintance were received with a singularly bad grace. "Don't meddle with that dog," said M---, "he's as savage and treacherous as a tiger: neither man nor boy in the house dare lay a finger on him; it's as much as a leg's worth to let him lie there at all: get out of that, toy villain!" The scowl of a starving wolf scared from a carcass, were as the smile of a courtier of the vieille cour, to the look with which this notice to quit was obeyed. Out he went, but scarce had the door closed on his exit, when an outcry arose that would have astounded a menagerie. Fierce yells, mingled with shrieks of anguish, and over all a human treble, that went to the tympanum like a rifle bullet, formed an awful concert. M---sprang for the direction whence the din proceeded, and I was at his heels. As we burst into the kitchen, through a dense smoke, whose darkness was made visible by a sheet of fire occupying the place of a grate, a spectacle presented itself that a man don't see twice in his life. A huge pan lay in the vicinity of the fire-place, sprinkled with remains that appeared to have belonged to a turkey; while, in the midst of it, Fin-ma-coul was in the act of dispatching a cat of extraordinary dimensions. Above all, stood a bloated hag, whose face was a concentration of fear, hate, and rage, wielding a bar of iron, in shape of a poker, whose downfall was a death-warrant. "Is it going to bring the house about our ears, you are, Biddy?" shouted the master; "a nice notion ye have of making Fin quiet--going to baste him I suppose?" "Arrah! And why wouldn't I baste him?" responded the witch, with a spice of that humour as natural to the lower Irish as their brogue: "Arrah! Why wouldn't I baste him, an' he in the dhripping-pan?"
Some days subsequent, I left my Connaught friend, and his rugged but genuine hospitality; pondering upon the chance that converted an honest country gentleman into the Van Amburgh of private life.
An interval of three years once again saw me a guest of the wild lodge on the plains of Roscommon; but ere its hospitable shelter caught my eye, I was assured of a revolution in its economy. "Lanty the Post," transformed into a particularly quiet-looking, well-appointed groom, met me, where the coach changed horses, with a neat garden chaise, within whose shafts, the emblem of order and good-humour, stood the quondam "Paudeen dioul." Arrived at the lodge, among the first to greet my entrance into the drawing-room was "Fin-ma-coul," while the once dire grimalkin of the dripping-pan purred a gentle welcome, as she rubbed her silken sides against my legs. And now came the solution of the enigma, with the introduction to my host's young wife--to use a freedom of language which the locality may sanction--"the intellectual lord of all." M--- had married, soon after my first visit, the daughter of an English officer. To much personal attraction, his bride united the advantages of a sound education, and a well-regulated mind. Her presence had acted as a talisman on the savage spirits of his household. The rude social elements were purified in the alembic of gentle refinement: the boisterous "master" softened before his gentle helpmate; while the hereditary foes of the proverb--the very dog and cat--acknowledged the force of example; and, in the phrase so emphatically descriptive of their lord and lady,--
vieille cour - old course
alembic - something that refines or transmutes as if by distillation