Some Irish hotels—When comfort comes in at the door, humour flies out by the window—A culinary experience—Plenty of new sensations—A kitchen blizzard—How to cook corned beef—A théoriser—Hare soup—A word of encouragement—The result—An avenue forty-two miles long—Nuda veritas—An uncanny request—A diabolic lunch—A club dinner—The pièce de resistance—Not a going concern—A minor prophecy—An easy drainage system—Not to be worked by an amateur—Après moi, le deluge—Hot water and its accompaniments—The boots as Atropos—A story of Thackeray—A young shaver.

WHEN writing for an Irish newspaper, I took some pains to point out how easily the country might be made attractive to tourists if only the hotels were improved. I have had frequent “innings,” and my experiences of Irish hotels in various districts where I have shot, or fished, or yachted, or boated, would make a pretty thick volume, if recorded. But while most of these experiences have some grain of humour in them, that humour is of a type that looks best when viewed from a distance. When it is first sprung upon him, this Irish fun is not invariably relished by the traveller.

Mr. Max O’Rell told me that he liked the Irish hotels at which he had sojourned, because he was acknowledged by the maîtres to possess an identity that could not be adequately expressed by numerals. But on the whole it is my impression that the numerical system is quite tolerable if one gets good food and a clean sleeping-place. To be sure there is no humour in a comfortable dinner, or a bed that does not require a layer of Keating to be spread as a sedative to the army of occupation; still, though the story of tough chickens and midnight hunts can be made genuinely entertaining, I have never found that these actual incidents were in themselves very inspiriting.

A friend of mine who has a capital shooting in a picturesque district, was compelled to lodge, and to ask his guests to lodge, at the little inn during his first shooting season. Knowing that the appetite of men who have been walking over mountains of heather is not usually very fastidious, he fancied that the inn cook would be quite equal to the moderate demands made upon her skill. The experiment was a disastrous one. The more explicit the instructions the woman was given regarding the preparation of the game, the more mortifying to the flesh were her achievements. There was, it is true, a certain amount of interest aroused among us every day as to the form that the culinary whim of the cook would assume. The monarch that offered a reward for the discovery of a new sensation would have had a good time with us. We had new sensations at the dinner hour every day. “Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be,” was an apothegm that found constant illustration when applied to that woman’s methods: we knew that we gave her salmon, and grouse, and hare, and snipe; but what was served to us, Heaven and that cook only knew—on second thoughts I will leave Heaven out of the question altogether. The monstrous originalities, the appalling novelties, the confounding of substances, the unnatural daring manifested in every day’s dinner, filled us with amazement, but, alas! with nothing else. We were living in a sort of perpetual kitchen blizzard—in the centre of a culinary chaos. The whirl was too much for us.

Our host took upon him to allay the fiend. He sent to the nearest town for butcher’s supplies. The first joint that arrived was a fine piece of corned beef.

“There, my good woman,” cried our host, putting it into the cook’s hands, “I suppose you can cook that, if you can’t cook game.”

“Oh, yes, your honour, it’s misself that can cook it tubbe sure,” she cried in her lighthearted way.

She did cook it.

She roasted it for five hours on a spit in front of the kitchen fire.

As she laid it on the table, she apologised for the unavoidable absence of gravy.

It was the driest joint she had ever roasted, she said; and I do believe that it was.

One of the party, who had theories on the higher education of women, and other methods of increasing the percentage of unmarriageable females, said that the cook had never been properly approached. She could not be expected to know by intuition that the flavour of salmon trout was impaired by being stewed in a cauldron with a hare and many friends, or that the prejudices of an effete civilisation did not extend so far as to make the boiling of grouse in a pot with bacon a necessity of existence. The woman only needed a hint or two and she would be all right.

He said he would give her a hint or two. He made soup the basis of his first hints.

It was so simple, he said.

He picked up a couple of hares, an old cock grouse and a few snipe, and told the woman to put them in a pot, cover them with water, and leave them to simmer—“Not to boil, mind; you understand?”—“Oh, tubbe sure, sorr,”—for the six hours that we would be on the mountain. He showed her how to cut up onions, and they cut up some between them; he then taught her how to fry an onion in the most delicate of ribbon-like slices for “browning.” All were added to the pot, and our friend joined us with a very red face, and carrying about him a flavour of fried onions as well defined as a saint’s halo by Fra Angelico. The dogs sniffed at him for a while, and so did the keeper.

He declared that the woman was a most intelligent specimen, and quite ready to learn. We smiled grimly.

All that day our friend shot nothing. We could see that, like Eugene Aram, his thought was otherwhere. We knew that he was thinking over the coming soup.

On returning to the inn after a seven hours’ tramp, he hastened to the kitchen. A couple of us loitered outside the door, for we felt certain that a surprise was awaiting our friend—the pot would have leaked, perhaps; but the savoury smell that filled the kitchen and overflowed into the lobby and the room where we dined made us aware that everything was right.

Our friend turned a stork’s eye into the pot, and then, with a word of kind commendation to the cook—“A man’s word of encouragement is everything to a woman, my lad, with a wink to me—he called for a pint of port wine and placed it handy.

“Now,” said he to the woman, “strain off that soup in a quarter of an hour, add that wine, and we’ll show these gentlemen that between us we can cook.”

In a quarter of an hour we were sitting round the table. Our friend tried to look modest and devoid of all self-consciousness as the woman entered with a glow of crimson triumph on her face, and bearing in her hands an immense dish with the well-known battered zinc cover concealing the contents.

Down went the dish, and up went the cover, disclosing a rugged, mountainous heap of the bones of hare, with threads of flesh still adhering to them, and the skeletons of some birds.

“Good Lord!” cried our host. “What’s this anyway? The rags of what was stewed down for the soup?”

Our theorising friend leapt up.

“Woman,” he shouted, “where the devil is the soup?”

“Sure, didn’t ye bid me strain it off, sorr?” said the woman.

“And where the blazes did you strain it off?” he asked, in an awful whisper.

“Why, where should I be after straining it, sorr, but into the bog?” she replied.

The bog was an incident of the landscape at the back of the inn.

I recollect that upon the occasion of this shooting party, a new under-keeper arrived from Connaught, and I overheard him telling a colleague who came from the county Clare, that the avenue leading to his last employer’s residence was forty-two miles long.

“By me sowl,” said the Clare man, “it’s not me that would like to be set down at the lodge gates on an empty stomach within half-an-hour of dinner-time.”

After some further conversation, the Connaught man began to dilate upon the splendour of his late master’s family. He reached a truly dramatic climax by saying,—

“And every night of their lives at home the ladies strip for dinner.”

“Holy Moses!” was the comment.

“Do your master’s people at home strip for dinner?” enquired the Connaught man.

“No; but they link in,” was the thoughtful reply.

Sometimes, it must be acknowledged, an unreasonable strain is put upon the resources of an Irish inn by an inconsiderate tourist. Some years ago, my brother-in-law, Bram Stoker, was spending his holiday in a picturesque district of the south-west. He put up at the usual inn, and before leaving for a ramble, oh the morning of his arrival, the cook (and waitress) asked him what he would like for lunch. The day was a trifle chilly, and, forgetting for the moment that he was not within the precincts of the Green-room or the Garrick, he said, “Oh, I think that it’s just the day for a devil—yes, I’ll cat a devil at two.”

“Holy Saints!” cried the woman, as he walked off. “What sort of a man is that at all, at all? He wants to lunch off the Ould Gentleman.”

The landlord scratched his chin and said that this was the most unreasonable demand that had ever been made upon his house. He expressed the opinion that the gastronome whose palate was equal to this particular plat should seek it elsewhere—he even ventured to specify the locale at which the search might appropriately begin with the best chances of being realised. His wife, however, took a less despondent view of the situation, and suggested that as the powers of exorcising the Foul Fiend were delegated to the priest, it might be only reasonable to assume that the reverend gentleman would be equal to the much less difficult feat involved in the execution of the tourist’s order.

But before the priest had been sent for, the constabulary officer drove up, and was consulted on the question that was agitating the household. With a roar of laughter, the officer called for a couple of chops and the mustard and cayenne pots—he had been there before—and showed the cook the way out of her difficulty.

But up to the present hour I hear that that landlord says,—

“By the powers, it’s misself that never knew what a divil was till Mr. Stoker came to my house.”

However piquant a comestible the Foul Fiend might be, I believe that in point of toughness he would compare favourably with a fully-matured swan. Among the delicacies of the table I fear that the swan will not obtain great honour, if any dependence may be placed upon a story which was told to me at a fishing inn in Connemara, regarding an experiment accidentally tried upon such a bird. I repeat the story in this place, lest any literary man may be led to pamper a weak digestion by indulging in a swan supper. The specimen in question was sent by a gentleman, who lived in a stately home in Lincolnshire, as a gift to the Athenæum club, of which he was a member. The bird was addressed to the secretary, and that gentleman without delay handed it over to the cook to be prepared for the table. There was to be a special dinner at the end of the week, and the committee thought that a distinctive feature might be made of the swan. They were not mistaken. As a coup d’oil the swan, resting on a great silver dish, carried to the table by two servitors, could scarcely have been surpassed even by the classical peacock or the mediaeval boar’s head. The croupier plunged a fork with a steady hand into the right part—wherever that was situated—and then attacked the breast with his knife. Not the slightest impression could he make upon that portion of the mighty structure that faced him. The breast turned the edge of the knife; and when the breast did that the people at the table began to wonder what the drum-sticks would be like. A stronger blade was sent for, and an athlete—he was not a member of the Athenæum—essayed to penetrate the skin, and succeeded too, after a vigorous struggle. When he had wiped the drops from his brow he went at the flesh with confidence in his own powers. By some brilliant wrist-practice he contrived to chip a few flakes off, but it soon became plain that eating any one of them was out of the question. One might as well submit as a plat a drawer of a collector’s geological cabinet. The club cook was sent for, and he explained that he had had no previous experience of swans, but he considered that the thirteen hours’ boiling to which he had submitted the first specimen that had come under his notice, all that could reasonably be required by any bird, whether swan or cassowary. He thought that perhaps with a circular saw, after a steam roller had been passed a few times over the carcass, it might be possible....

“Well, I hope you got my swan all right,” said the donor a few days after, addressing the secretary.

“That was a nice joke you played on us,” said the secretary.

“Joke? What do you mean?”

“As if you didn’t know! We had the thing boiled for thirteen hours, and yet when it was brought to the table we might as well have tried to cut through the Rock of Gibraltar with a pocket-knife.”

“What do you mean? You don’t mean to say that you had it cooked?”

“Didn’t you send it to be cooked?”

“Cooked! cooked! Great heavens, man! I sent it to be stuffed and preserved as a curiosity in the club. That swan has been in my family for two hundred and eighty years. It was one of the identical birds fed by the children of Charles I.—you’ve seen the picture of it. My ancestor held the post of ‘master of the swans and keeper of the king’s cygnets sure.’ It is said that a swan will live for three hundred years or thereabouts. And you plucked it, and cooked it! Great heavens! It was a bit tough, I suppose?”


“Yes; I daresay you’d be tough, too, about a.d. 2200. And I thought it would look so well in the hall!”

At the same time that the tale just recorded was told to me, I heard another Lincolnshire story. I do not suppose that it is new. A certain church was situated at a place that was within the sphere of influence of some fens when in flood. The consequence was that during a severe winter, divine service was held only every second Sunday. Once, however, the weather was so bad that the parson did not think it worth his while going near the church for five Sundays. This fact came to the ears of the Bishop, and he wrote for an explanation. The clergyman replied as follows:—

“Your lordship has been quite correctly informed regarding the length of the interval that has elapsed since my church was open; but the fact is that the devil himself couldn’t get at my parishioners in the winter, and I promise your lordship to be before him in the spring.”

That parson took a humbler view of his position and privileges in the world than did a Presbyterian minister in Ulster whose pompous way of moving and of speaking drew toward him many admirers and imitators. He paid a visit to Palestine at one time of his life, and on his return, he preached a sermon introducing some of his experiences. Now, the only inhabitants of the Holy Land that the majority of travellers can talk about are the fleas; but this Presbyterian minister had much to tell about all that he had seen. It was, however, only when he began to show his flock how strictly the inspiriting prophecies of Jeremiah and Joel and the rest had been fulfilled that he proved that he had not visited the country in vain.

“My dear friends,” said he, “I read in the Sacred Book the prophecy that the land should be in heaps: I looked up from the page, and there, before my eyes, were the heaps. I read that the bittern should cry there: I looked up; lo! close at hand stood a bittern. I read that the Minister of the Lord should mourn there: I was that minister.

Upon one occasion, when sojourning at a picturesquely situated Connemara inn, hot water was left outside my bedroom door in a handy soup tureen, in which there was also a ladle reposing. One morning in the same “hotel” I called the attention of the official, who discharged (indifferently) the duties of boots and landlord, to the circumstance that my bath (recollecting the advertisement of the entertainment which it was possible to obtain under certain conditions at the Norwegian inn, I had brought the bath with me) had not been emptied since the previous day. The man said, “It’s right that you are, sorr,” and forthwith remedied the omission by throwing the contents of the bath out of the window.

I was so struck by the convenience of this system of main drainage, and it seemed so simple, that the next morning, finding that the bath was in the same condition as before, I thought to save trouble by performing the landlord’s operation for myself. I opened the window and tilted over the bath. In a moment there was a yell from below, and the air became sulphurous with Celtic maledictions. These were followed by roars of laughter in the vernacular, so that I thought it prudent to lower both the window and the blind without delay.

“Holy Biddy!” remarked the landlord when I had descended to breakfast—not failing to observe that a portly figure was standing in a semi-nude condition in front of the kitchen fire, while on the back of a chair beside him a black coat was spread-eagled, sending forth a cloud of steam—“Holy Biddy, sorr, what was that ye did this morning, anyway?”

“What do you mean, Dennis?” I asked innocently. “I shaved and dressed as usual.”

“Ye emptied the tin tub [i.e., my zinc bath] out of the windy over Father Conn,” replied the landlord. “It’s himself that’s being dried this minute before the kitchen fire.”

“I’m very sorry,” said I. “You see, I fancied from the way you emptied the bath yesterday that that was the usual way of doing the business.”

“So it is, sorr,” said he. “But you should always be after looking out first to see that all’s clear below.”

“Why don’t you have those directions printed and hung up in the bedroom?” said I, assuming—as I have always found it safe to do upon such occasions—the aggressive tone of the injured party.

“We don’t have so many gentlemen coming here that’s so dirty that they need to be washed down every blessed marnin’,” he replied; and I thought it better to draw upon my newspaper experience, and quote the three-starred admonition, “All communications on this subject must now cease.”

However, the trout which were laid on the table in front of me were so numerous, and looked so tempting, that I went into the kitchen, and after making an elaborate apology to Father Conn, the amiable parish priest, for the mishap he had sustained through my ignorance of the natural precautions necessary to be taken when preparing my bath, insisted on the reverend gentleman’s joining me at breakfast while his coat was being dried.

With only a superficial reluctance, he accepted my invitation, remarking,—

“I had my own breakfast a couple of hours ago, sir, but in troth I feel quite hungry again. Faith, it’s true enough that there’s nothing like a morning swim for giving a man an appetite.”

Two lady relatives of mine were on their way to a country house in the county Galway, and were compelled to stay for a night at the inn, which was a sort of half-way house between the railway station and their destination. On being shown to their bedroom while their dinner was being made ready, they naturally wished to remove from their faces the traces of their dusty drive of sixteen miles, so one of them bent over the banisters—there was no bell in the room, of course—and inquired if the servant would be good enough to carry upstairs some hot water.

“Surely, miss,” the servant responded from below.

In a few minutes, the door of the bedroom was knocked at, and the woman entered, bearing in her hand a tray with two glasses, a saucer of loaf sugar, a lemon, a ladle, and a small jug of hot water.

It appeared that in this district the use of hot water is unknown except as an accompaniment to whisky, a lemon, and a lump of sugar. The combination of the four is said to be both palatable and popular.

It was at a much larger and more pretentious establishment in the south-west that I was staying when a box of books arrived for me from the library of Messrs. Eason & Son. It was tied with stout, tough cord, about as thick as one’s little finger. I was in the act of dressing when the boots brought up the box, so I asked him to open it for me. The man fumbled for some time at the knot, and at last he said he would have to cut the cord.

When I had rubbed the soap out of my eyes,

I noticed him in the act of sawing through the tough cord with one of my razors which I had laid on the dressing-table after shaving.

“Stop, stop,” I shouted. “Man, do you know that that’s a razor?”

“Oh, it’ll do well enough for this, sir. I’ve forgot my knife downstairs,” said the man complacently.

If the razor did for the operation, the operation certainly did for the razor.

And here I am led to recall a story told to me by the late Dr. George Crowe, the husband of Miss Bateman, the distinguished actress, and brother to Mr. Eyre Crowe, A.R.A. It will be remembered by all who are familiar with the chief incidents in the life of Thackeray, that in 1853 he adopted Miss Amy Crowe (her father, an historian and journalist of eminence in his day, had been one of the novelist’s closest friends), and she became one of the Thackeray household. Her brother George was at school, but he had “the run of the house,” so to speak, in Onslow Square. Next to the desire to become an expert smoker, the desire to become an accomplished shaver is, I think, the legitimate aspiration of boyhood; and George Crowe had his longings in this direction, when examining Thackeray’s razors with the other contents of his dressing-room one day. The means of gratifying such an aspiration are (fortunately) not invariably within the reach of most boys, and young Crowe was not exceptionally situated in this matter. The same spirit of earnest investigation, however, which had led him to discover the razors, caused him to find in one of the garrets an old but well-preserved travelling trunk, bound with ox-hide, and studded with brass nails. To spread a copious lather over a considerable part of the lid, and to set about the removal, by the aid of a razor, of the hair of the ox-hide, occupied the boy the greater part of an afternoon. Though not exactly so good as the real operation, this shave was, he considered, a move in the right direction; and it was certainly better than nothing at all. By a singular coincidence, it was about this time that Thackeray began to complain of the difficulty of putting an edge upon his razors, and to inquire if any one had been at the case where they were kept. Of course, no one except the boy knew anything about the business, and he, for prudential reasons, preserved silence. The area of the ox-hide that still remained hirsute was pretty extensive, and he foresaw many an hour of fearful joy, such as he had already tasted in the garret. Twice again he lathered and shaved at the ox-hide; but the third attempt was not a success, owing to the sudden appearance of the housekeeper, who led the boy to the novelist’s study and gave evidence against him, submitting as proofs the razor, the shaving-brush, and a portion of George Crowe’s thumb which he had inadvertently sliced off. Thackeray rose from his desk and mounted the stairs to the garret; and when the housekeeper followed, insisting on the boy’s accompanying her—probably on the French principle of confronting a murderer with the body of his victim—Thackeray was found seated on an unshaved portion of the trunk, and roaring with laughter.

So soon as he had recovered, he shook his finger at the delinquent (who, twenty-five years afterwards, told me the story), and merely said:

“George, I see clearly that in future I’ll have to buy my trunks bald.”

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