Georges did get the bar opened up before our little motorcade eased out of sleepy Ross Carbery, every man fixed up with antifreeze for the day ahead. Frost sparkled on the grass, and a skim of ice on the road added a sporting touch to the drive. We identified the creamery and pub, slalomed round a series of bends, slithered with an inch to spare past a station wagon being driven furiously by a nun, then fetched up at the Clounties crossroads where, incredibly for West Cork, Jack Minahane was waiting, dead on time, a big, red-faced man with a swagger stick, two dogs and a son, Sean, who was maybe 12 years old and clearly suffering from excruciating, paralyzing shyness. Andr� tripped him up, pulled his hair and presented him with a huge bar of chocolate. It worked. For the rest of the day Andr� had a slave.
Jack was not to be won over quite so easily. "Good morning," he said, then repeated, "Good morning," in the manner of an infantry sergeant temporarily and mysteriously transferred to language-teaching duties. "Good morning!" everyone chorused dutifully. It was clear that English was the language from now on. Since none of the Frenchmen knew more than a few words, this was to lead to certain difficulties, none of which Minahane considered his responsibility. Tribute in the form of the Paddy bottle was offered and accepted. At Minahane's command, I opened the trunk of my car and the dogs scrambled in readily. Minahane himself got in beside me with rather more difficulty, and a rich aroma of red setter, Paddy, very old tweed and Mick McQuade cut-plug tobacco drifted across. A long experience of sport in Ireland dictated my next move. I brought out a quarter bottle of Paddy, and asked if he had a pocket big enough to slip it in, my own being too small. With an Irish guide, always play it subtle. That way you will often get a sip of it yourself before the day is out. In response, he leaned over confidentially. "Now, I want to give you a bit of advice, me old stock. Thim Frinchies, they're not like you and me." At this flattering implication I nodded understandingly, hypocritically. "Stay close to me," he went on, "well in the rear. Mind you, I've nothing against them. But they're all bloody mad."
"What, all of them?" I said.
"All the ones I've met. And the women is the worst."
I dared not ask what dark trauma in the West Cork bogs had occasioned this evidently sincere belief.
"Pull up here now, on the left," he said, reverting to his military manner. I slipped into the gap and the other cars followed. I opened the trunk and the dogs leaped out. Steam rose from the rubber mat.
Andr�, Georges, Jean and Ren� lined up like recruits. Andr�'s tartan hat, so gay as we left O'Keeffe's, seemed to droop a little. "You two," roared Minahane, "get over there. Over there! You go with them, Scan. Take them up to the far end of the lake." Andr� and Georges detached themselves and made off. "You two, follow me!" This to Jean and Ren�, older, somewhat more staid men. Across a stone wall we went, the Frenchmen religiously breaking their guns before they crossed. Judy, the red setter, snuffed her way ahead toward the lakeshore. It was a small lake with reed beds and an island in the middle, and at one point it narrowed considerably.
"Down there, you! G'wan out of it, get down there, you bloody idiot!" Minahane whispered hoarsely. I swung round nervously, but he was addressing not me but Judy, the setter bitch. We pressed on to the boggy shore. Ren� was sent off to an alder clump at the near end of the lake. Jean, with Minahane and myself well behind, made for the neck. The mallard were swimming in a neat flotilla at the central point of the widest part of the lake, as well they might be at that time of day. But as we slogged forward through the high, wet tussocks a couple of teal rocketed out of the reeds. "Mark!" yelled Minahane, but there was no need. Jean dropped the pair of them with a left and right straight out of the book. You could almost see Minahane chopping off the stream of abuse ready on his tongue. Instead he yelled for Judy again, "Seek dead! Seek dead!" Gallant Judy plunged into the marshy shallows in a tumult of brown bog water and crackling ice where the birds had gone down. "Two hundred pounds I turned down for her," said Minahane proudly, and you could see why when she brought in the first, then the second bird. Jean, an appreciative spectator of this, warm in the afterglow of his success, complimented Minahane on his dog in courteous French. The Irishman was melting visibly. Something like a smile crossed his face. He permitted himself a short snort of Paddy, then accepted a chocolate bar. Things might have been different after that, except that this was the precise moment Andr� and Georges chose to initiate a heavy and prolonged bombardment of the mallard flotilla which was now riding at anchor at mid-water.
The ducks, offended, swam slowly and with dignity perhaps 50 yards up the lake, which occasioned an enthusiastic fusillade from Ren�, down in the reeds at our end.
Minahane's reaction was unforeseen. "That's the way, boys!" he roared. "Keep it up. Bang away!" He was happy because things were now developing as he had expected. "Mark! Mark!" he yelled gaily, as the ducks, now thoroughly outraged, took off and gained height instantly like jet fighters. I lost sight of them, then picked them up, black specks against the winter sun. "Mark!" came the cry again, and a reek of gunsmoke drifted across the water as shot after shot echoed in the stillness. Judy was making little excited hops as she waited to be told to seek. She couldn't know just how far out of range those ducks were. "That's the way they like it, old stock," said Minahane to me. "Plenty of action." The safest ducks in West Cork circled the lake again at great height, then came in as everyone was reloading, plopping down into the middle of the lake again and resuming flotilla positions.