"Those ducks, they were possibly too high to be hit?" asked Georges, mildly.
"High, is it?" Minahane was indignant. "Mr. O'Keeffe would have had six brace out of that lot. Or this gentleman here." Because of gun club regulations I would have to wait until the next day for my sport. Minahane had never seen me shoot. Yes, O'Keeffe or I would have had six brace—with guided missiles, maybe. We returned to the cars in a thoughtful silence.
As soon as we got there an ill-omened snipe decided to get up from behind the hedge. Possibly stung by his earlier failure, Andr� swung his barrel at it as it crossed the road. I am too young to have served in the last war, but I have watched a lot of movies on the subject, and I knew just what to do. I hit the concrete hard, and a heavy impact to my right as a shot roared out told me that Minahane had been to the movies as well. When it became clear that a second shot was not coming, I got up cautiously. Andr� was beaming. "I'ave 'it 'im," he said. Minahane was slowly rising to his feet, seemingly un-wounded. So it was the snipe Andr� meant. Judy was dispatched to seek dead. But the winged bird got up again as she approached. Seven shots and half a mi'e farther, the snipe rose no more but swung gaily at Andr�'s belt.
By that time also, Minahane had recovered his composure. He announced it was lunchtime and laid alternative plans before us. "We could," he said plaintively, "eat our bit of dinner out here on the road, for there's shelter in the lee of the cars, and we could be squatting down there. Or," his voice strengthened, "we could nip in below to Walshe's and take our ease by the fire. It's a matter of no concern to me."
"We're off to the pub," I translated for the benefit of the French.
Walshe's turned out to be a small whitewashed house on a bare crossroads with no other place in sight. Inside it was hardly swinging. Two postmen were having a crafty pint in a corner. A farmer in steel-rimmed glasses was reading the Cork Examiner. "Things is bloody terrible in China," he told us seriously as we entered. Andr� moved into the buying position. "Le whiskey irlandais," he ordered confidently. Automatically, everyone in the room, including the postmen, got a drink. The pale girl behind the bar selected two pound notes from Andr�'s wallet in helpful fashion. Minahane allowed himself to be pressured into an immediate second one to replace the first, which he had drunk in slightly less than two seconds.
"Come over here now till I tell you," he whispered to me confidentially. "We can keep this lot safe in here for the afternoon, so long as we get the singing going." I don't know what made him pick me for an ally, or whether it could be assumed, just by looking at me, that here was a man who would prefer to sit in the pub all the fine winter's afternoon than quarter a bog for snipe. But Minahane assumed precisely that. "When we've finished the sandwiches," he muttered, "just buy another round of drinks and call for a song. Leave the rest to me."
It didn't look as if it needed any kind of plot to detain Andr�, at least, for he, having munched his way steadily through an impressive portion of the gray mutton sandwiches put up at O'Keeffe's, was clearly in good form. The black Brazilian cigars had gone round again, and Andr� was using his in a graphic demonstration of how he had finally laid the snipe low. "La b�cassine. elle tombe!" he concluded triumphantly. Fresh drinks kept arriving as Georges, Ren� and Jean vied to pay. It didn't seem likely that there would be any afternoon postal delivery in the district, and the farmer had stopped worrying about China.
Nevertheless, Minahane nudged me. "Go ahead now," he said. It was time I bought a drink anyway. "What about a song?" I asked dutifully. There was no hesitation. As obedient as Judy, young Sean put aside his orange soda and, in a thin treble, got to work on a long ballad concerning the misdeeds half a century ago of the British army in the town of Bantry. The French were frankly puzzled at this dirge, which corresponded but little with their idea of le jig irlandais. They were polite, but restless. If Minahane wasn't careful their thoughts were going to wander off onto canard, sarcelle, b�cassine and that kind of thing.
The pale girl behind the bar saved the situation, having also a certain interest in keeping the guests happy and seated. She launched into Finnegan's Wake, not the celebrated novel of that name but a lively song about a Dublin bricklayer who attended his own funeral. The words came too fast for Andr� and his friends, but the tune had the shooting boots beating out jig time on the wooden floor of Walshe's.