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 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. Several of the boys make an expedition to the island of Inishglasogue. Their boat founders. Young Clery disappears. The Little Captain comes on the scene and he and Dwyer (who tells the story) enter a water cave in search of him. The cave leads into the interior of Inishglasogue, where in a cleft, which they name the Eagle’s Nest, they find young Clery wounded after a victorious fight with a sea eagle. One day, as he sits in his class-room, a police force enters and arrests the Little Captain as a Fenian organiser. He effects a daring escape, and the County Inspector astonishes the President and students of St. Fintan’s by announcing that the Little Captain is the Wandering Hawk. A few nights later the Hawk comes secretly to the College and asks Clery and Dwyer to convey a message to the Tin Whistler. They duly convey the message, but the tin whistler is captured by a force of police as he leaves the College. Clery and Dwyer decide that they must now themselves carry the message to the Hawk’s friends who are to meet at night in the Priest’s Cave on Cruagh Mountain. With the co-operation of their friend Sweeney, they succeed in escaping through the dormitory window and bring the message to the Priest’s Cave, where they take the Fenian oath and are admitted to the deliberations of a Fenian circle. The Hawk’s message is to the effect that a boat with six men is to meet him off Inishglasogue at midnight. Clery and Dwyer undertake to steer the six Fenians to the appointed place, which is at the entrance to the Eagle’s Nest. They descend the mountain in the dark and put out for Inishglasogue in a fisherman’s boat. As they enter the cove leading to the secret entrance to the Eagle’s Nest a British naval boat gives chase. The Wandering Hawk’s boat appears in time to cover their escape. They arm themselves with rifles which the Hawk has brought to the cave, and they fight and drive off the men-o’-war’s men. As the two Fenian boats row back across the Bay a British gun-boat opens fire on them. The Wandering Hawk tempts the gunboat into the Death Sound, where she grounds, and the Fenians successfully land their guns. On their return to the College, Clery and Dwyer are caught by the Dean, and the next day they are flogged for their unauthorised absence.
IN WHICH A MISTAKE TAKES PLACE
One of the things that Sweeney had to tell us was that he had heard from McRory that the tin whistler would be brought before the magistrates in Desertconnla the next day. We had assumed that he had already been sent to Dublin, but Sweeney said that he must first appear before the magistrates in the place where he had been arrested, and that he would afterwards be tried either in Dublin or, more likely, in the county town, at the next Assizes.
We began to wonder whether we could not devise a scheme for being present at the examination of the tin whistler before the magistrates. We felt that we should like to catch one more glimpse of that gallant, disreputable figure, the man that the Wandering Hawk had said was the bravest man he ever knew; we felt that, if he saw us in court, he would understand that we were there with a secret message of admiration and comradeship, and that he would be cheered by the silent greeting we would send him across the ranks of his foes. We felt, too, preposterous though it was to feel such a thing, that the Wandering Hawk would be there, and that he might want our help. This feeling grew in us to such an extent that before the bell rang for class we had absolutely resolved to ask Old Snuffy’s permission to go to Desertconnla the next morning.
Humanly speaking, there was no possible chance of such a permission being granted. It would be a Saturday, and a half-holiday. Whatever chance there might be of getting off after one, on the plea of having to take a football case to be repaired by the shoemaker, there was no possible chance of getting off by ten o’clock, the hour at which the court was to sit. And for young Clery and me to approach Old Snuffy with any request at all, so soon after our public punishment for unexplained absence, seemed the height of presumption and folly. Yet we determined to do it. And, as usual, young Clery was to be our spokesman.
After supper, young Clery and Sweeney and I filed through the corridor and hall and knocked at Old Snuffy’s door.
‘Come in!’ said his voice.
He was sitting before a very comfortable fire, with his feet on the fender and a book in his hand. His rubicund face glowed benevolently in the firelight, and we felt that we might ask him for almost anything.
‘Well, boys?’ he said, encouragingly, as we stood timidly near the door.
Young Clery stepped forward and plunged in medias res with a directness for which I was not prepared. No more was Old Snuffy.
‘We want to go to the tin whistler’s trial before the magistrates to-morrow, Father,’ said young Clery.
‘Good gracious me, you want what?’ said Old Snuffy.
Clery repeated our want in his clear, precise way. It seemed so absurd to me that I almost laughed. Old Snuffy wheeled round in his chair, and looked at the three of us. His lips twitched slightly.
‘Won’t you sit down till we discuss the matter?’ he said.
We all sat down. It was very comfortable sitting at Old Snuffy’s fire. His room was much warmer than the Study Hall.
‘Why do you want to go to the tin whistler’s trial?’ asked Old Snuffy.
‘He’s a friend of ours, Father,’ said Clery.
Old Snuffy pondered this answer for a few minutes. It seemed to me that he was trying to think of a reason which would justify him in granting our request. He pursed up his lips, and thoughtfully regarded the toe of his carpet slipper. Then he had recourse for inspiration to his snuff-box, which he produced gingerly from a little inner pocket in his cassock and opened tenderly, as if it were a casket of precious essences. Slowly he took a pinch in his ceremonial and almost sacramental way. Then his face went through a series of contortions, which ended in the emission of an enormous sneeze.
‘God bless me!’ said Old Snuffy, looking round on us as though he expected us to congratulate him on having produced so considerable a volume of sound. Then he shut his snuff-box with a snap, and restored it to his pocket.
‘Well?’ he said, turning to young Clery.
‘May we go, Father?’ said young Clery, in that winning way of his which I have never known anyone to resist.
‘Mr. Dean will not like it, you know,’ remarked Old Snuffy reflectively.
We felt quite sure of that.
‘The Dean had his innings to-day,’ said Clery, with his angelic smile. ‘After all, it’s our turn to-morrow.’
‘That is a view that did not occur to me,’ said Old Snuffy, gravely. ‘I think you have made out an excellent case.’
None of us thought for a moment that we had, but we were very glad to hear Old Snuffy say so. He considered the toe of his slipper for a few minutes longer. Then he raised his head and looked full at us.
‘I have absolute confidence in the manliness and honour of you three boys,’ he said. ‘Anything that has happened notwithstanding, I trust you, Clery, and you, Dwyer. And I trust you, Sweeney, as I have always trusted you. You may have the day off to-morrow. You will be back for dinner.’
It will never be known why Old Snuffy granted us this unheard-of favour. I have thought, as I thought in the matter of the avoided expulsion, that he had some inkling of our relations with the Wandering Hawk and with the tin whistler, and that in his heart he was as much a Fenian as any of us. I have thought, too, that he had some little remorse for the severe flogging that young Clery and I had received, and that he was anxious to make up to us for it. And it is certain that he was very fond of young Clery, and that he would do things (as we sometimes said by way of chaffing) for the beaux yeux of young Clery that he would not do for other man or boy living.
‘Thanks very much, Father,’ we said as we rose.
‘Good night, boys,’ said Old Snuffy, and his hand rested for a moment on young Clery’s forehead.
‘Isn’t he a grand old skin?’ I said, as we went back through the hall.
‘He’s game ball,’ said Sweeney.
After breakfast the next morning we slipped away as unobtrusively as we could. Joyce met us in our topcoats and mufflers as he ran in from the playfield. The bell for school was ringing.
‘Where are you going to, chaps?’ he asked.
‘To the tin whistler’s trial,’ said Sweeney.
‘Pigs!’ said Joyce, who did not believe a word of it.
The tramp to Desertconnla was exhilarating, for there was a snap of frost in the morning. When we came to the village we were conscious of an unwonted tension in people’s faces as they glanced across the half-doors. The street was almost deserted, except for a party of four constabularymen, with carbines, who patrolled it from end to end and prevented any groups from gathering. Eight constabularymen were on duty round the courthouse. Neither the magistrates nor the prisoner had yet come.
We saw two or three people who tried to get into the courthouse being turned back by the police. The doctor came up and was allowed to pass in. We felt some little trepidation as we walked up to the door. To our surprise, the sergeant who was in charge of the men, recognising our St. Fintan’s caps, saluted and made way for us.
The court was moderately full when we entered. There were several people whom we knew by sight: a couple of solicitors from Keel; Moynagh, the hotel proprietor; Father Curran, the curate, who was shaking hands with Dr. Bell, and Mr. Millar, the Protestant rector. Also, Old Snuffy was there, much to our astonishment. He beckoned us over to him, and found seats for us near him. Shortly after the parish priest, Father Rowan, came in; and then one or two of the local shopkeepers, and some men in riding breeches, who looked like petty squires. One or two of these latter took their seats behind a table, and we understood that they were magistrates. Presently there was a little bustle near the door, and a clean-shaven man walked up the room and sat down in an armchair which stood empty in the centre of the table. We heard people whispering that he was the R.M. He talked a little to the other magistrates.
A car was heard driving up and stopping outside the door. In a few minutes the District Inspector entered the court.
‘Has the prisoner arrived, Mr. Morrow?’ asked the R.M.
‘Yes, your worship. We have him outside.’
‘You can bring him in.’
The District Inspector left the court, and almost immediately we heard the heavy tramp of feet. Six constabularymen came into the room, with the tin whistler in the middle of them. He still wore his red tangle of beard (which I had thought might be a false beard, but it apparently was not); his face was very pale, and his head was bandaged. He gave a quick look round the court, and his eye rested for a moment on young Clery and me. He knew us for friends; and we were glad to be there with our silent greeting.
The District Inspector and one of the solicitors leaned across to each other and went through some hugger-mugger. Then the solicitor stood up. Somebody behind whispered that he was Blake, the Crown Solicitor.
‘Our proceedings to-day will be merely formal, your worships,’ he said. ‘At the moment, I am not in a position to go on with the case, as I am awaiting the arrival of County Inspector Cathcart. The case had been in County Inspector Jaggard’s hands, but County Inspector Jaggard has just been succeeded by County Inspector Cathcart—’
The R.M. nodded his head sympathetically. The fact was that Jaggard had been superseded for allowing the Wandering Hawk to escape, and that an ex-army officer, an Englishman—‘a reg’lar divil,’ as McRory had told us—had been sent down in a hurry to take his place.
‘County Inspector Cathcart arrived in the county only yesterday. As I have not had an opportunity of talking the case over with him—indeed, I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting him—I have sent him the Crown case and evidence, including the documents on which it is necessary to move to-day. I expect his arrival momentarily, and meanwhile—’
He was interrupted by the noise of a car dashing up to the door. Again there was a slight bustle about the entrance, and immediately an erect, soldier-like man, with a slightly bronzed face and a grey moustache, came through the ranks of police, who stood to attention and saluted. He wore the uniform of a County Inspector, and his sword clanked as he walked briskly up the room. Four constables armed with carbines followed him into the court.
‘Mr. Cathcart?’ said the R.M.
‘Hah de do?’ said the County Inspector in an English accent, as he leaned forward and touched the tips of the R.M.’s fingers. He went through the same ceremony with the Crown Solicitor and the District Inspector, repeating ‘Hah de do?’ in exactly the same tone to each. Then, assuming at once control of the situation, he addressed the Bench in the manner of a superior officer issuing orders.
‘Sorry to have kept you waiting, gentlemen. The fact is, a serious situation has arisen. As my party drove here from the railway station this morning, we were attacked by an armed body. I learn from an incautious remark of one of our assailants that this was only part of a plan for the rescue of the prisoner now in court. We were to have been put out of action on our way here, and then a rescue was to be attempted either in court or as the prisoner was being removed. The fact that we have beaten off the party that attacked us only means that the plan will have to be altered in some of its details. We may, therefore, expect an attempted rescue at any moment. You will understand how serious the matter is when I say that the person in charge of the rescue party is the man they call the Wandering Hawk.’
A thrill ran through the court as that name was pronounced. The pale face of the prisoner flushed, and his eye lit up. We could hardly forbear a cheer. The magistrates and solicitors and police moved uneasily.
‘What do you propose to do?’ asked the R.M., with evident anxiety.
‘I do not intend to run any risks. The rescue party is approaching from the direction of Keel. I propose to remove the prisoner instantly to Ballywilliam, where an escort of cavalry will await him. I have wired and made the necessary arrangements. I, with the men I have brought with me, will accompany the prisoner. In the meantime, Mr. Morrow and his men will proceed along the Keel road and prepare to intercept the rescue party.’
Mr. Morrow looked anything but pleased.
‘Would it not be more usual’—began the Crown Solicitor—
‘Of course it would,’ said the County Inspector. ‘But we are dealing with an unusual situation. It is not usual for rescues of prisoners to be attempted in broad daylight. One prisoner has already escaped in this district. I am determined that there shall not be another. Mr. Morrow, you will at once carry out my instructions. Your worship will please make out the necessary order for the removal of the prisoner.’
The District Inspector began to gather his men together. The R.M., looking very perturbed, proceeded to write something, in consultation with the Crown Solicitor and the clerk of the court. The County Inspector, meanwhile, tore a slip of paper from a note-book and scribbled some words on it. He then handed it, with a whispered instruction, to one of the constables who accompanied him. The constable edged away a little, and then, to my stupefaction, passed the note surreptitiously to me. I opened it, and my face flushed up; then I felt the blood ebbing away again, and I knew that I was deathly pale. The note was in the handwriting of the Little Captain. And this was what it said:
‘Slip down to the Post Office and tell Bryan to cut the wires.
‘I feel a little faint, Father,’ I whispered to Old Snuffy. ‘I will go out for a few minutes.’
‘Do,’ said Old Snuffy; ‘it is very hot in here.’
I exchanged a look with Clery and Sweeney. Then I got up and made my way to the door. Once on the road, I ran as I had never run in my life. What was taking place had become clear to me in a flash. The thing was so splendid and big that I did not, and could not, put it into exact phrases, even in my mind. I knew only that my part in it was to get to the Post Office at the earliest possible instant and to tell Bryan Dillon, in the name of the Wandering Hawk, to cut the telegraph wires. For Bryan, the post-mistress’s son, was one of the lads we had seen in the Priest’s Cave.
‘Is Bryan in, Mrs. Dillon?’ I cried, as I dashed into the little shop.
‘Aye, he’s in the office, Master Dwyer.’
Into the office I went.
‘Bryan, the Wandering Hawk says you are to cut the wires at once.’
‘That’s easily done,’ said Bryan, as tranquilly as if I had asked him to give me a penny stamp. ‘What’s he up to?’
‘He’s rescuing the tin whistler.’
‘I wouldn’t doubt him.’ He rose briskly. ‘That’ll be all right,’ he said. ‘You may belt back now.’
So I belted back. The courthouse was already being emptied as I reached the end of the street. District Inspector Morrow was marching away with his men on the Keel road. The tin whistler was seated on the car on which the County Inspector’s party had come. Three of the County Inspector’s men were on the car with him; the fourth man was on the other car, which the County Inspector was preparing to mount.
‘Speed is the great point now,’ said the County Inspector to the R.M. ‘Good-day, gentlemen.’
And he sprang on to the car. At a signal from him the two cars started. The County Inspector waved his hand to the group on the road, and then he drew a revolver. The cars drove very fast, and soon disappeared.
I ran over to young Clery and Sweeney to tell them the tremendous secret with which I was bursting.
‘Do you know who the County Inspector is?’ I whispered.
Before either had time to answer, we heard an uproar on the Keel road. A car had driven up furiously, and District Inspector Morrow’s men had stopped it and grappled with its occupants. After a sharp fight, the latter appeared either to be overpowered or to have surrendered. A voluble parley seemed to be taking place in the middle of the road. We saw an angry man dressed like a scarecrow shaking his fist in the District Inspector’s face. Then the whole party moved towards the courthouse.
The angry man in the ridiculous costume strode up and shouted:
‘Where is the prisoner?’
‘Who are you?’ demanded the R.M., haughtily.
‘I am County Inspector Cathcart. My men and I have been waylaid on the road and stripped by a gang of Fenians, who took our clothes and our car. I ask you where the prisoner is?’
‘He’s gone off with—’
‘Do you mean to tell me he’s gone with the men who drove up here in policemen’s clothes?’
‘Why, they were Fenians dressed in my men’s uniforms!’
‘But the County Inspector—’
‘County Inspector be damned! The man that commanded them was the Wandering Hawk!’
There was a shout from the crowd that was half a cheer and half a roar of laughter. The R.M. and the magistrates and the Crown Solicitor looked like sheep.
‘Wire to Ballywilliam to have them stopped!’ yelled the County Inspector.
At that moment Bryan Dillon ran up.
‘Somebody cut the wires at the Post Office!’ he cried. ‘I wonder would it be them Fenians?’