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A Gun Running Episode by James Owen Hannay

An Extract from - Our Casualty And Other Stories

Sam McAlister walked into my office yesterday and laid down a handful of silver on my desk.

“There you are,” he said, “and I am very much obliged to you for the loan.”

For the moment I could not recollect having lent Sam any money; though I should be glad to do so at any time if I thought he wanted it. Sam is a boy I like. He is an undergraduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and has the makings of a man in him, though he is not good at passing examinations and has never figured in an honours list. Some day, when he takes his degree, he is to come into my office and be made into a lawyer. His father, the Dean, is an old friend of mine.

I looked at the money lying before me, and then doubtfully at Sam.

“If you've forgotten all about it,” he said, “it's rather a pity I paid. But I always was honest. That's one of my misfortunes. If I wasn't—— That's the fine you paid for me.”

Then I remembered. Sam got into trouble with the police a few weeks ago. He and a dozen or so of his fellow-students broke loose and ran riot through the streets of Dublin. All high-spirited boys do this sort of thing occasionally, whether they are junior army officers, lawyers' clerks, or university undergraduates. Trinity College boys, being Irish and having a large city at their gates, riot more picturesquely than anyone else. Sam had captured the flag which the Lord Mayor flies outside his house, had pushed a horse upstairs into the office of a respectable stockbroker, and had driven a motor-car, borrowed from an unwilling owner, down a narrow and congested street at twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. He was captured in the end by eight policemen, and was very nearly sent to gaol with hard labour. I got him off by paying a fine of one pound, together with £2 4s. 6d. for the damage done by the horse to the stockbroker's staircase and office furniture. The motorcar, fortunately, had neither injured itself nor anyone else.

“I hope,” I said, pocketing the money, “that this will be a lesson to you, Sam.”

“It won't,” he said. “At least, not in the way you mean. It'll encourage me to go into another rag the very first time I get the chance. As a matter of fact, being arrested was the luckiest thing ever happened to me, though I didn't think so at the time.”

“Well,” I said, “if you like paying up these large sums it's your own affair. I should have thought you could have got better value for your money by spending it on something you wanted.”

“Money isn't everything in the world,” said Sam. “There is such a thing as having a good time, a rattling good time, even if you don't make money out of it and run a chance of being arrested. I daresay you'd like to hear what I've been at.”

“If you've committed any kind of crime,” I said, “I'd rather you didn't tell me. It might be awkward for me afterwards when you are tried.”

“I don't think it's exactly a crime,” said Sam, “anyhow, it isn't anything wrong, though, of course, it may be slightly illegal. I'd rather like to have your opinion about that.”

“Is it a long story? I'm rather busy to-day.”

“Not very long,” said Sam, “but I daresay it would sound better after dinner. What would you say now to asking me to dine to-night at your club? We could go up to that library place afterwards. There's never anybody there, and I could tell you the whole thing.”

Sam knows the ways of my club nearly as well as I do myself. There is never anyone in the library in the evening. I gave the required invitation.

We dined comfortably, and I got a good cigar for Sam afterwards. When the waiter had left the room he plunged into his story.

“You remember the day I was hauled up before that old ass of a magistrate. He jawed a lot and then fined me £3 4s. 6d., which you paid. Jolly decent of you. I hadn't a shilling in the world, being absolutely stony broke at the time; so if you hadn't paid—and lots of fellows wouldn't—I should have had to go to gaol.”

“Never mind about that,” I said. “You've paid me back.”

“Still, I'm grateful, especially as I should have missed the spree of my life if I'd been locked up. As it was, thanks to you, I walked out of the court without a stain on my character.”

“Well, hardly that. You were found guilty of riotous behaviour, you know.”

“Anyhow, I walked out,” said Sam, “and that's the main point.”

It was, of course, the point which mattered most; and, after all, the stain on Sam's character was not indelible. Lots of young fellows behave riotously and turn out excellent men afterwards. I was an undergraduate myself once, and there is a story about Sam's father, now a dean, which is still told occasionally. When he was an undergraduate a cow was found tied up in the big examination hall.

Sam's father, who was very far from being a dean then, had borrowed the cow from a milkman.

“There were a lot of men waiting outside,” said Sam. “They wanted to stand me a lunch in honour of my escape.”

“Your fellow-rioters, I suppose?”

“Well, most of them had been in the rag, and, of course, they were sorry for me, being the only one actually caught. However, the lunch never came off. There was a queer old fellow standing on the steps of the court who got me by the arm as I came out. Said he wanted to speak to me on important business, and would I lunch with him. I didn't know what he could possibly have to say to me, for I had never seen him before; but he looked—it's rather hard to describe how he looked. He wasn't exactly what you'd call a gentleman, in the way of clothes, I mean; but he struck me as being a sportsman.”

“Horsey?”

“Not the least. More like one's idea of some kind of modern pirate, though not exactly. He talked like an American. I went with him, of course.”

“Of course,” I said, “anyone with an adventurous spirit would prefer lunching with an unknown American buccaneer to sharing a commonplace feast with a mob of boys. Did you happen to hear his name?”

“He said it was Hazlewood, but——”

“But it may not have been?”

“One of the other fellows called him Cassidy later on.”

“Oh,” I said, “there were other fellows?”

“There were afterwards,” said Sam, “not at first. He and I lunched alone. He did me well. A bottle of champagne for the two of us and offered me a second bottle. I refused that.”

“He came to business after the champagne, I suppose?”

“He more or less talked business the whole time, though at first I didn't know quite what he was at. He gassed a lot about my having knocked down those two policemen. You remember that I knocked down two, don't you? I would have got a third only that they collared me from behind. Well, Hazlewood, or Cassidy, or whatever his name was, had seen the scrap, and seemed to think no end of a lot of me for the fight I put up.”

“The magistrate took a serious view of it, too,” I said.

“There wasn't much in it,” said Sam modestly. “As I told Hazlewood, any fool can knock down a policeman. They're so darned fat. He asked me if I liked fighting policemen. I said I did.”

“Of course.”

Sam caught some note of sarcasm in my voice. He felt it necessary to modify his statement.

“Well, not policemen in particular. I haven't a special down on policemen. I like a scrap with anyone. Then he said—Harlewood, that is—that he admired the way I drove that car down Grafton Street. He said he liked a man who wasn't afraid to take risks; which was rot. There wasn't any real risk.”

“The police swore that you went at thirty miles an hour,” I said. “And that street is simply crowded in the middle of the day.”

“I don't believe I was doing anything like thirty miles an hour,” said Sam. “I should say twenty-seven at the outside. And there was no risk because everybody cleared out of my way. I had the street practically to myself. It was rather fun seeing all the other cars and carts and things piled up upon the footpaths at either side and the people bolting into the shops like rabbits. But there wasn't any risk. However, old Hazlewood evidently thought there was, and seemed frightfully pleased about it He said he had a car of his own, a sixty h.p. Daimler, and that he'd like to see me drive it. I said I'd take him for a spin any time he liked. I gave him a hint that we might start immediately after lunch and run up to Belfast in time for dinner. With a car like that I could have done it easy. However, he wasn't on.”

“Do you think he really had the car?”

“Oh, he had her all right I drove her afterwards. Great Scott, such a drive! The next thing he said was that he believed I was a pretty good man in a boat. I said I knew something about boats, though not much.”

Modesty is one of Sam's virtues. He is, I believe, an excellent hand in a small yacht, and does a good deal of racing.

“I asked him what put it into his head that I could sail a boat, and he said O'Meara told him. O'Meara is a man I sail with occasionally, and I thought it nice of him to mention my name to this old boy. I can hoist a spinnaker all right and shift a jib, but I'm no good at navigation. Always did hate sums and always will. I told him that, and he said he could do the navigation himself. All he wanted was a good amateur crew for a thirty-ton yawl with a motor auxiliary. He had four men, and he asked me to make a fifth. I said I'd go like a shot. Strictly speaking, I ought to have been attending lectures; but what good are lectures?” “Very little,” I said. “In fact, hardly any.” “I wasn't going to lose a cruise for the sake of any amount of lectures,” said Sam, “particularly with the chance of a tour on that sixty h.p. car thrown in.”

Sam paused at this point. It seemed to me that he wanted encouragement.

“You'd have been a fool if you had,” I said.

“Up to that time,” said Sam thoughtfully, “I hadn't tumbled to what he was at. I give you my word of honour I hadn't the dimmest idea that he was after anything in particular. I thought he was simply a good old sport with lots of money, which he knew how to spend in sensible ways.”

“The criminal part of the business was mentioned later on, I suppose?”

“I don't know that there's anything criminal about it,” said Sam. “I'm jolly well sure it wasn't wrong, under the circumstances. But it may have been criminal. That's just what I want you to tell me.

“I'll give you my opinion,” I said, “when I hear what it was.”

“Gun-running,” said Sam.

Gun-running has for some time been a popular sport in Ireland, and I find it very difficult to say whether it is against the law or not. The Government goes in for trying to stop it, which looks as if a gun-runner might be prosecuted when caught. On the other hand, the Government never prosecutes gun-runners, even those who openly boast of their exploits, and that looks as if it were quite a legal amusement. I promised Sam that I would consider the point, and I asked him to tell me exactly what he did.

“Well,” he said, “when I heard it was gunrunning I simply jumped at the chance. Any fellow would. I said I'd start right away, if he liked As a matter of fact, we didn't start for nearly a fortnight The boat turned out to be the Pegeen. You know the Pegeen, don't you?”

I did not I am not a sailor, and except that I cannot help seeing paragraphs about Shamrock IV. in the daily papers I do not think I know the name of a single yacht.

“Well,” said Sam, “she's O'Meara's boat I've sailed in her sometimes in cruiser races. She's slow and never does any good, but she's a fine sea boat. My idea was that Hazlewood had hired her, and I didn't find out till after we had started that O'Meara was on board. That surprised me a bit, for O'Meara goes in for being rather an extreme kind of Nationalist—not the sort of fellow you'd expect to be running guns for Carson and the Ulster Volunteers. However, I was jolly glad to see him. He crawled out of the cabin when we were a couple of miles out of the harbour, and by that time I'd have been glad to see anyone who knew one end of the boat from the other. Old Hazlewood was all right; but the other three men were simply rotters, the sort of fellows who'd be just as likely as not to take a pull on a topsail halyard when told to slack away the lee runner. I was just making up my mind to work the boat single-handed when O'Meara turned up. There was a middling fresh breeze from the west, and we were going south on a reach. I didn't get much chance of a talk with O'Meara because he was in one watch and I in the other—had to be, of course, on account of being the only two who knew anything about working the boat. I did notice, though, that when he spoke to Hazlewood he called him Cassidy. However, that was no business of mine. We sailed pretty nearly due south that day and the next, and the next after that. Then we hove to.”

“Where?” I asked.

“Ask me another,” said Sam. “I told you I couldn't navigate. I hadn't an idea within a hundred miles where we were. What's more, I didn't care. I was having a splendid time, and had succeeded in knocking some sort of sense into the other fellow in my watch. Hazlewood steered, and barring that he was sea-sick for eight hours, my man turned out to be a decent sort, and fairly intelligent. He said his name was Temple, but Hazlewood called him O'Reilly as often as not.”

“You seem to have gone in for a nice variety of names,” I said. “What did you call yourself?”

“I stuck to my own name, of course. I wasn't doing anything to be ashamed of. If we'd been caught and the thing had turned out to be a crime—I don't know whether it was or not, but if it was, I suppose———”

“I suppose I should have paid your fine,” I said.

“Thanks,” said Sam. “Thanks, awfully. I rather expected you would whenever I thought about that part of it, but I very seldom did.”

“What happened when you lay to?”

“Nothing at first. We bumped about a bit for five or six hours, and Temple got frightfully sick again. I never saw a man sicker. Harlewood kept on muddling about with charts, and doing sums on sheets of paper, and consulting with O'Meara. I suppose they wanted to make sure that they'd got to the right place. At last, just about sunset, a small steamer turned up. She hung about all night, and next day we started early, about four o'clock, and got the guns out of her, or some of them. We couldn't take the whole cargo, of course, in a 30-ton yacht I don't know how many more guns she had. Perhaps she hadn't any more. Only our little lot Anyhow, I was jolly glad when the job was over. There was a bit of a roll—nothing much, you know, but quite enough to make it pretty awkward. Temple got over his sea-sickness, which was a comfort. I suppose the excitement cured him. The way we worked was this—but I daresay you wouldn't understand, even if I told you.”

“Is it very technical? I mean, must you use many sea words?”

“Must,” said Sam. “We were at sea, you know.”

“Well,” I said, “perhaps you'd better leave that part out. Tell me what you did with the guns when you'd got them.”

“Right It was there the fun really came in. Not that I'm complaining about the other part. It was sport all right, but the funny part, the part you'll like, came later. What about another cigar?”

I rang the bell, and got two more cigars for Sam.

“We had rather a tiresome passage home,” he said. “It kept on falling calm, and O'Meara's motor isn't very powerful. It took us a clear week to work our way up to the County Down coast It was there we landed, in a poky little harbour. We went in at night, and had to wait for a full tide to get in at all. We got the sails of the boat outside, and just strolled in, so to speak, with the wretched little engine doing about half it could. Hazlewood told me that he expected four motor-cars to meet us, and that I was to take one of them, and drive like hell into County Armagh. There I was to call at a house belonging to O'Meara, and hand over my share of the guns. He said he hoped I knew my way about those parts, because it would be awkward for me trying to work with road maps when I ought to drive fast. I said I knew that country like the palm of my hand. The governor's parish is up there, you know.”

Sam certainly ought to know County Down. He was brought up there, and must have walked, cycled, and driven over most of the roads.

“The only thing I didn't know,” said Sam, “was O'Meara's house. I'd never heard of his having a house in that part of the country. However, he said he'd only taken it lately, and that when I got over the border into Armagh there'd be a man waiting to show me where to go. He told me the road I was to take and I knew every turn of the way, so I felt pretty sure of getting there. It was about two in the morning when we got alongside the pier. The four motors were there all right, but there wasn't a soul about except the men in charge of them. We got out the guns. They were done up in small bundles and the cartridges in handy little cases; but it took us till half-past four o'clock to get them ashore. By that time there were a few people knocking about; but they didn't seem to want to interfere with us. In fact, some of them came and helped us to pack the stuff into the cars. They were perfectly friendly.”

“That doesn't surprise me in the least,” I said “The people up there are nearly all Protestants. Most of them were probably Volunteers themselves. I daresay it wasn't the first cargo they'd helped to land.”

“It was the first cargo they ever helped to land for the National Volunteers,” said Sam with a grin.

“The National Volunteers!”

I admit that Sam startled me. I do not suppose that he has any political convictions. At the age of twenty a man has a few prejudices but no convictions. If he is a young fellow who goes in for being intellectual they are prejudices against the party his father belonged to. If—and this is Sam's case—he is a healthy-minded young man, who enjoys sport, he takes over his father's opinions as they stand, and regards everybody who does not accept them as an irredeemable blackguard. The Dean is a very strong loyalist. He is the chaplain of an Orange Lodge, and has told me more than once that he hopes to march to battle at the head of his regiment of Volunteers.

“Smuggling arms for the Nationalists!” I said.

“That's what I did,” said Sam, grinning broadly. “But I thought all the time that I was working for the other side. I didn't know the Nationalists went in for guns; thought they only talked. In fact, to tell you the truth, I forgot all about them. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it At least I mightn't. But I had a great time.”

“Of course,” I said, “I don't mind. So far as I am concerned personally I'd rather neither side had any guns. But if your father finds out, Sam, there'll be a frightful row. He'll disown you.”

“The governor knows all about it,” said Sam, “and he doesn't mind one bit. Just wait till you hear the end of the story. You'll be as surprised as I was.”

“I certainly shall,” I said, “if the story ends in your father's approving of your smuggling guns for rebels. He'd call them rebels, you know.”

“Oh,” said Sam, “as far as rebellion goes I don't see that there's much to choose between them. However, that doesn't matter. What happened was this. I got off with my load about five o'clock, and I had a gorgeous spin. There wasn't a cart or a thing on the roads, and I just let the car rip. I touched sixty miles an hour, and hardly ever dropped below forty. Best run I ever had. Almost the only thing I passed was a motor lorry, going the same way I was. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but it turned out to be important afterwards. It was about seven o'clock when I got out of County Down into Armagh. I began looking out for the fellow who was to meet me. It wasn't long before I spotted him, standing at a corner, trying to look as if he were a military sentry. You know the sort of thing I mean. Bandolier, belt, and frightfully stiff about the back. He held up his hand and I stopped. 'A loyal man,' he said. Well, I was, so far as I knew at that time, so I said 'You bet.' 'That's not right,' said he. 'Give the countersign.' I hadn't heard anything about a countersign, so I told him not to be a damned fool, and that I'd break his head if he said I wasn't a loyal man. That seemed to puzzle him a bit He got out a notebook and read a page or two, looking at me and the car every now and then as if he wasn't quite satisfied. I felt pretty sure, of course, that he was the man I wanted. He couldn't very well be anyone else. So by way of cutting the business short I told him I was loaded up with guns and cartridges, and that I wished he'd hop in and show me where to go. 'That's all very fine,' he said, 'but you oughtn't to be in a car like that' I told him there was no use arguing about the car. I wasn't going back to change it to please him. He asked me who I was, and I told him, mentioning that I was the governor's son. I thought that might help him to make up his mind, and it did. The governor is middling well known up in those parts, and the mention of his name was enough. The fellow climbed in beside me. We hadn't very far to go, as it turned out, and in the inside of twenty minutes I was driving up the avenue of a big house. The size of it rather surprised me, for I didn't think O'Meara was well enough off to keep up a place of the kind. However, I was evidently expected, for I was shown into the dining-room by a footman. There were three men at breakfast, my old dad, Dopping—you know Dopping, don't you?”

Dopping is a retired cavalry colonel. I do business for him and know him pretty well He is just the sort of man who would be in the thick of any gun-running that was going on.

“There was another man,” said Sam, “whom I didn't know and wasn't introduced to. The fact is there wasn't much time for politeness. My dad looked as if he'd been shot when he saw me, and old Dopping bristled all over like an Irish terrier at the beginning of a fight, and asked me who the devil I was and what I was doing there. Of course, he jolly well knew who I was, and I thought he must know what brought me there, so I just winked by way of letting him understand that I was in the game. He got so red in the face that I thought he'd burst Then the other man chipped in and asked me what I'd got in the car. The three of them whispered together for a bit, and I suggested that if they didn't believe me they'd better go and see. The car was outside the door, and their own man was sitting on the guns. Dopping went, and I suppose he told the other two that the guns were there all right Dad asked me where I got them, and I told them, mentioning Hazlewood's name and the name of the yacht I was a bit puzzled, but I still thought everything was all right, and that there'd be no harm in mentioning names. I very soon saw that there was some sort of mistake somewhere. The governor and old Dopping and the other man, who seemed to be the coolest of the three, went over to the window and looked at the car. Then they started whispering again, and I couldn't hear a word they said. Didn't want to. I was as hungry as a wolf, and there was a jolly good breakfast on the table. I sat down and gorged. I had just started my third egg when the door opened, and a rather nice-looking young fellow walked in. The footman came behind him, looking as white as a sheet, and began some sort of apology for letting the stranger in. Old Dopping, who was still in a pretty bad temper, told the footman to go and be damned. Then the new man introduced himself. He said he was Colonel O'Connell, of the first Armagh Regiment of National Volunteers. I expected to see old Dopping kill him at sight Dopping is a tremendous loyalist, and the other fellow—well—phew!”

Sam whistled. Words failed him, I suppose, when it came to expressing the disloyalty of a colonel of National Volunteers.

“Instead of that,” said Sam, “Dopping stood up straight, and saluted O'Connell. O'Connell stiffened his back, and saluted Dopping. The third man, the one I didn't know, stood up, too, and saluted. O'Connell saluted him. Then the governor bowed quite civilly, and O'Connell saluted him. I can tell you it was a pretty scene. 'I beg to inform you, gentlemen,' said O'Connell, 'that a consignment of rifles and ammunition, apparently intended for your force, has arrived at our headquarters in a motor lorry.' Nothing could have been civiller than the way he spoke. But Dopping was not to be beat He's a bristly old bear at times, but he always was a gentleman. 'Owing to a mistake,' he said, 'some arms, evidently belonging to you, are now in a car at our door.' The governor and the other man sat down and laughed till they were purple, but neither O'Connell nor old Dopping so much as smiled. It was then—and I give you my word not till then—that I tumbled to the idea that I'd been running guns for the other side. I expected that there'd be a furious row the minute the governor stopped laughing. But there wasn't In fact, no one took any notice of me. There was a long consultation, and in the end they settled that it might be risky to start moving the guns about again, and that each party had better stick to what it had got. Our fellows—I call them our fellows, though, of course, I was really acting for the others—our fellows got rather the better of the exchange in the way of ammunition. But O'Connell scooped in a lot of extra rifles. When they had that settled they all saluted again, and the governor said something about hoping to meet O'Connell at Philippi. I don't know what he meant by that, but O'Connell seemed tremendously pleased. Where do you suppose Philippi is?”

“Philippi,” I said, “is where somebody—Julius Caesar, I think, but it doesn't matter——What your father meant was that he hoped to have a chance of fighting it out with O'Connell some day. Not a duel, you know, but a proper battle. The Ulster Volunteers against the other lot.”

“We shall have to wipe out the police first,” said Sam, “to prevent their interfering. I hope I shall be there then. I want to get my own back out of those fellows who collared me from behind the day of the last rag. But, I say, what about the soldiers—the regular soldiers, I mean? Which side will they be on?”

“That,” I said, “is the one uncertain factor in the problem. Nobody knows.”

“The best plan,” said Sam, “would be to take them away altogether, and leave us to settle the matter ourselves. We'd do it all right, judging by the way old Dopping and O'Connell behaved to each other.”

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings. I should never have suspected Sam of profound political wisdom. But it is quite possible that his suggestion would meet the case better than any other.