The boys of St. Fintan’s College discuss the coming of a new master. They resolve to give him a lively time of it. When, however, ‘Old Snuffy,’ as the boys respectfully call the Rev. President, introduces Kilgallon, something in the new master’s personality interests and attracts them. They call him ‘The Little Captain’ and are soon listening to his stories of Wolfe Tone and Thomas Russell, and taking a breathless interest in ‘The Wandering Hawk,’―the name given to a noted Fenian organiser, one John Dunleavy, alias Warren, on whose head is the price of £500. A strolling tin whistler comes to the College and is seen in secret conference with the Little Captain.
IN WHICH PIRATES LAND IN INISHGLASOGUE
‘I was thinking of going into the piracy business,’ remarked young Clery thoughtfully, as three or four of us were sauntering round the football field about a week after the episode of the tin whistler.
‘It is an honourable and a lucrative profession,’ said Joyce as if he were reading from a book on ‘How to Choose a Career.’
‘You see next Thursday is a whole holiday,’ explained Clery. ‘It’s St. Thingumbob’s Day.’
St. Thingumbob was an obscure saint whom Old Snuffy had discovered, or at least written a book about. It seems that he had built an incredible number of churches in our diocese, none of which had survived, and Old Snuffy had said once that it would be a ‘gracious thing’ to honour his memory by a special whole holiday each year. We had all agreed that it would be very gracious. Naturally the saint was popular among us. St. Thingumbob was not his real name, but as his real name was difficult to pronounce he was known to several generations of schoolboys as St. Thingumbob, and is doubtless so known to the generation that now sits where we sat half-a-century ago.
Young Clery’s explanation did not seem sufficient. We waited for him to continue, but he was apparently under the impression that he had fully enlightened us.
‘What’s the idea?’ asked Sweeney at last.
‘The idea,’ said young Clery, ‘is of course to seize shipping in the bay and hoist the Jolly Roger.’
‘What shipping is there in Inverbeg Bay?’ asked Sweeney.
‘Well, … there’s Patsy O’Toole’s boat.’
‘She’s odious leaky,’ said Sweeney.
‘All the better,’ replied young Clery. ‘We can careen her on Inishglasogue. Pirates always do a lot of careening on islands. We can nail a few planks on her and daub her a little with tar.’
‘Who’ll we take?’ asked Joyce.
‘I’m Captain,’ said Clery. ‘You’re Cabin Boy, Dwyer,’ (this to me). ‘Sweeney is Able-Bodied Seaman.’
‘I’m Cook,’ stipulated Joyce.
‘Another Able-Bodied Seaman and we have our crew. Who’ll it be?’
‘O’Doherty?’ I suggested.
‘No, he’d try to boss everything,’ said Clery.
‘Aye; he should be a good sailor. O’Driscoll of the Ships, you know.’ Kilgallon had been teaching us something about the Irish clans.
‘What about Splothery?’
‘Aye, we’ll take him to keep us in good humour if we’re wrecked,’ said Joyce.
‘We can use him as a life-buoy,’ said Clery. ‘He’s sure to float.’
And so it was arranged. Young Clery had little difficulty in obtaining the President’s permission for the six of us to go on what he described simply as ‘an excursion’ on St. Thingumbob’s Day. He and I set about organising supplies (as Cabin Boy, he told me, I was the Captain’s right-hand man, which meant that I was to do all the work while he was to do all the thinking); and by Thursday morning we had accumulated a store of everything which pirates could possibly require, to wit: two pounds of arrow-root biscuits (ship’s biscuit being the staple article of nautical diet), some ham sandwiches (these being the nearest thing to salt pork that our resources commanded); half-a-dozen bottles of ginger-beer; a black flag with skull and cross-bones; some tar; and a considerable quantity of Peggy’s Leg, included at the special insistence of Splothery. Laden with these stores we set out for the shore immediately after breakfast on the morning of the whole holiday.
St. Fintan’s, as everyone knows, stands between the hills and the sea. Inverbeg Bay lies beneath it, a land-locked and island-studded haven. The shore at one point comes within half-a-mile of Feagh Wood. One had only to cross the playfields into Feagh, cut through an angle of the wood, and then come out on the heathery rocks and so scramble down to the beach. At a little landing-place called the Slip Patsy O’Toole’s boat was generally moored. We had occasionally chartered her from him and made voyages in the bay; on the present occasion we meant simply to borrow her without mentioning the matter to Patsy.
We found the boat in her accustomed place. Clery unmoored her, while Sweeney, O’Driscoll, and I baled out the water of which she contained an unnecessary supply. The stores were neatly packed on board, Sweeney and O’Driscoll took the oars, Clery the rudder, and Joyce ran up the Jolly Roger. Splothery and I guarded the stores.
It was one of those rare days which come towards the end of autumn when hills look very near, and woods are like a painted picture, and everything has the clearness and definiteness given by frost, but without the brightness or the cold. As we shot out across the bay we could see the very sheep on Clochaunrua,―one would have thought them white stones among the heather but that they were moving; the shapely cone of Cruach rose up behind Clochaunrua, glistening with quartz; in the bay the islands stood out very sharply, dark green with their holly,―we could even see the Glassing Rocks off Inishglasogue and the white wave that broke on them; on our own side of the bay, dotted at intervals in a long zig-zag circle, we counted eight whitewashed cottages each with its blue thread of smoke. Whiffs of turf-reek mingled pleasantly in the nostril with the brine of the sea.
Sweeney and O’Driscoll pulled steadily. I liked the rhythmical sound of the oars in the rowlocks, to which the lapping water made a faint accompaniment. The only other sound was the occasional scream of a tern or the occasional lowing of a cow or the bark of a dog on shore. I placed Sweeney’s overcoat under me to keep myself dry, and lay back luxuriously. We made Splothery bale.
‘Ship ahoy!’ sang out Joyce from the bow.
Sure enough, Murty Doyle’s hooker had rounded Ringnagurragh and was bearing down on us. Murty was distinguished even among fishermen by his enormous copper-coloured face and its fringe of blue-grey whiskers. He looked exactly like the big harvest moon would look if she wore blue-grey whiskers and took an occasional glass of grog. Murty let go the mainsheet of his lug when he saw us and stared open-mouthed at the sight of the Jolly Roger. He had probably never seen the Jolly Roger on Inverbeg Bay before. As for Murty’s one-legged crew, he laughed profanely.
‘Ship ahoy!’ sang out Joyce again peremptorily. He was nettled by the laughter of the crew.
‘Ahoy yerselves!’ said Murty.
‘Heave to and stand by!’ cried Joyce.
‘What would I do the like of that for?’
‘Do you see that flag?’ asked Joyce.
‘Aye; a purty flag.’
‘Do you tell me that? Me gallant fella’s!’ This was said in such evident admiration that we conceived a high opinion of Murty’s intelligence. It was apparent we could transact business with him in regular form.
‘What’s your name?’ asked Joyce.
‘The Nora Creina.’
‘Of what port?’
‘What flag do you fly?’
‘The green flag; what else?’
‘What’s your cargo?’
‘A haul o’ the grandest herrin’s in Inverbeg Bay.’
‘Hand us over half-a-dozen. We pay for what we take from ships that fly the Irish flag.’
‘Hould yer hoult, so.’
We had come alongside the Nora Creina and were gripping on to her gunwale. The crew picked out six noble-looking fish (‘Throjans’ he called them) from a shining heap that lay at the bottom of the boat and handed them to Joyce.
‘What’s the damage?’ asked Joyce.
‘Divil a pinny I’ll take from ye,’ said Murty.
‘You must,’ said Joyce. ‘A fair do. You’ll have to take something.’
‘I will not, thin. I’m wud ye for the word ye said for the green flag. Pull away, boys. Is it for Inishglasogue ye’re makin’?’
‘Ye have a boat I wouldn’t like to vinture in myself. Don’t stay out too long wud the like of her.’
And Murty, swinging his lug and catching the breeze, went on his leisurely way. We sent a lusty cheer after him and pulled for Inishglasogue.
Now we were threading the islands. We saw a cormorant on Corrigaunlee and a seal on Inishtrawar. The gulls and guillemots screamed at us as we passed the Glassing Rocks. There was a swish in the bottom of the boat we did not like.
‘We’ll just make it,’ said Clery, ‘before the old tub sinks.’
Splothery had been baling for all he was worth, but the water was steadily rising. Joyce and I had relieved Sweeney and O’Driscoll at the oars and they now started in to help Splothery with the baling. Young Clery still steered serenely.
‘We’re shipping two gallons for every gallon we bale out,’ said Sweeney after a little time.
‘I’ve been watching,’ said young Clery. ‘At the rate the water’s rising she’s due to sink in four minutes.’
‘How long’ll it take us to get in?’
‘Three minutes. We’ve a minute to the good.’
‘Pull, ye divils!’ said O’Driscoll.
‘We’re pulling like old boots,’ said Joyce. ‘I bet you my hat we’ll make it in time.’
Those three minutes seemed very long. The boat was so heavy with water now that she moved with great difficulty. Joyce and I bent to the oars till our arms and backs ached; each stroke seemed to purchase only an inch of progress. We sat nearly up to our knees in water. The three were baling frantically. Clery’s eye was steadily fixed on the point of the rock he meant to make. No one spoke. We could hear the panting of our breaths above the grinding of the rowlocks and the swish of the water.
‘The grub’ll be destroyed,’ grumbled Splothery, relieving the tension. ‘All the Peggy’th Leg ith in a meth.’
Young Clery laughed.
‘It’th no laughin’ matter,’ said Splothery. The boat was beginning to settle. It seemed useless to pull, but we pulled out of mere obstinacy.
‘Look out now!’ said Clery. He had thrown a rope and caught it on a pinnacle of rock.
‘Jump!’ he cried, as he hung on to the rope and drew the boat in.
We jumped one by one. Clery jumped last. As he left the boat she disappeared under the water.
‘There goes our lunch,’ said Clery, steadying himself against me.
‘Peggy’th Leg an’ all,’ complained Splothery.
And we all laughed till the Glassing Rocks sent back the echo.
‘That ginger-beer could be recovered if a fellow didn’t mind about getting wet,’ mused Joyce. ‘The sandwiches and the biscuits’ll be too damp.’
‘They could be dried at a fire,’ suggested Sweeney.
Clery was already stripping. In a few seconds he had thrown off his clothes and stood poised for a dive.
‘Mind you don’t bang your head against a rock,’ said Sweeney.
‘No fear,’ said Clery. ‘I had a dip here once. It’s clear of rocks.’
Like a flash he dived. In a few moments he reappeared.
‘I’ve located it,’ he said; and down he went again.
We had packed the viands in a soap-box, and it was like seeing the face of an old friend when the box appeared on the surface propelled by Clery. He pushed it towards us, and as we hauled it up the rocks he came ashore himself, dripping and shaking himself like a dog.
‘Go on and pitch the camp,’ he said, ‘while I’m dressing.’
We knew a little wooded hollow, all soft with moss, where we meant to camp. Shouldering the box of stores, Joyce led the way. The point on which we had landed was a little rocky promontory stretching out from the mainland towards the Glassing Rocks. We had first to pick our steps among stones slippery with seaweed, and then among heather-clad rocks. A soft springy turf succeeded, very pleasant under the foot. There was a wood of holly and quicken and birch on the island, and our dell was one of its advanced posts. Looking back as we crossed the stretch of turf I noticed that young Clery had not yet rejoined us.
‘Let’s wait for Clery, lads,’ I said.
‘Go back and tell him to hurry on,’ said Joyce. ‘We’ll be making the fire.’
I ran back across the turf and scrambled up the heathy rocks and out on to the little promontory. Young Clery’s clothes were still where he had thrown them down, but young Clery was not there. Had he gone into the water again? Had he dived to bring up the oars, or Sweeney’s coat, or to see if there was any chance of raising the boat? If so, why had he not come up again? Could anything have happened to him?
I looked round anxiously, and a little frightened. He was not anywhere. I shouted to attract the lads’ attention, but got no reply: they had perhaps gone on too far to hear me. I shouted again louder than before, and began mechanically to pull off my coat and vest. To my astonishment, I was replied to not by the lads from the shore, but by a man’s voice from the sea; from somewhere down under the point of the rock, on the far side from where I was standing, but out of sight. Who could be there? And where was young Clery?
Suddenly a boat came round the point rowed by a man. And the man was the Little Captain! He was rowing with a fine freedom, hatless, his hair stirred by the wind. My relief at seeing him who, I felt instinctively, was the staunchest and most resourceful friend I could have in such an emergency overcame my surprise that he should be there at all. It seemed fitting and natural that the Little Captain should be where he was wanted. He waved his hand to me and sang out:
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I … I don’t know where young Clery is.’
The clothes tossed on the rock together with my voice and manner would have been sufficient to reveal even to a man less swift in leaping at a situation than the Little Captain was the terrible thing that I feared.
‘Where did he go in?’ he asked, pausing in a stroke.
‘I don’t know. No one was here. I was away with the other fellows. We thought he was dressing.’
The Little Captain stood up straight in the boat and dived just as he was. Long minutes passed, or what seemed long minutes. The Little Captain came to the surface at last, much nearer to where I was standing than he had been when he had dived. He swam back to the boat with strong strokes. In a second he was on board, all dripping, and was pulling towards me.
‘Jump in,’ he said.
I sprang into the boat, content to obey him without understanding or even wondering. He backed water, turned the prow ever so little to starboard, and then pulled swiftly and strongly as if he meant to run the boat stem first against the shore.
‘Duck!’ he commanded. Mechanically I ducked my head, as did the Little Captain at the same instant. Instead of striking against shore the boat glided under the shore,―right under the point on which I had been standing.
‘It’s a cave,’ explained the Little Captain.
There was, in fact, a low arched opening in the rock, which had been concealed from our view while we had stood on shore, and we were gliding silently into what appeared to be an immense cave lit by a dim half-light. Peering ahead we saw the gleam of water as far as the eye could pierce.
The Little Captain called young Clery’s name, his voice ringing out strangely hollow in that vaulted place. But the answering shout I hoped for did not come.