The moment he had most feared was coming, and he could do nothing to prevent it, though he raced across the lawn, his hand snatching at the sky. But the croquet hoop left standing from the previous day's play tripped him, and the tennis ball bounced beyond his stretched fingers, to roll into the rhododendron bush. "Go in and get it, silly!" the other children called, laughing at his fall and clapping impatiently. "Oh, hurry up and get the ball," Deirdre shouted.
For nights now, after Nanny had heard his prayers and retired next door with her quaint spectacles and knitting, he had lain watching the window darken and thinking of what the gardener had said. But no, Nanny said that it was silly. He was not to think about it. He was to sleep. But he could not sleep. Though he kept his eyes closed he could smell the rhododendron bush at the bottom of the lawn, beyond his open window. It was the same scent, almost sickening, that had lingered in the drawing room long after the white flowers for Grandmother's funeral had been removed. That was the only time he had seen his father cry. Grief. The word sounded like the noise the rowing-boat made when it touched the shore. He thrust his head under the bedclothes and put his fingers in his ears, but the rhododendron bush was in his mind, a hot dark sweet-smelling vault.
It all began when he and his sister had pulled off a pink bloom for their mother, since she was so fond of flowers. They were twisting the stubborn stem when they heard the gardener shouting. He came running over the lawn from the greenhouse, holding a pair of shears in his gauntleted fist. Panting, he stood over the boy, glaring down at the pink flower trailing in the small white hand.
"How many times have you been warned not to touch this bush?" he
asked wearily, pushing his cap back and wiping his brow with his ragged
"But the flower on Mummy's dressing table is withered," the boy said quietly, staring at the gardener's brown leggings lashed with twine.
"I supply the flowers for your mother, and I say which ones are to be picked," the gardener said sternly. "I'm in charge of these grounds."
"But it's only one flower," the little girl said meekly. "The bush won't miss it."
"Miss it, Miss Deirdre? Of course it will miss it. How would you like it if I was to cut off one of your curls with these shears?"
"Oh no!" she shrieked, hugging her head.
"That is exactly how the bush feels," the gardener said triumphantly.
"But it can't cry like her," the boy said.
"Don't you be so sure, Master Michael," the gardener said. "That's a very special bush."
"But it looks like all the others," Michael said scornfully. "I've crawled through them."
"Well, you won't crawl through this one," the gardener said.
"Why? What's inside it?" Michael asked, his voice faltering.
"Come closer and I'll tell you," the gardener said quietly, glancing towards the house.
They crowded round and he put his hands on their shoulders as he bent his
head forward. "That bush...." he whispered, glancing around
"Yes?" Deirdre said impatiently.
"There's a giant buried in that bush," the gardener said hoarsely, his eyes wide.
"A giant?" Michael said, swallowing as he looked sideways at the bush. "What giant?"
"I don't know his name but he's buried in there," the gardener said confidentially. "That's why I wouldn't touch that bush."
Deirdre's ringing voice broke the spell. "I don't believe you,"
she said, putting her hands on her hips. "You're only trying to frighten
us because we took a flower for Mummy. I'm going to tell Daddy and he'll put
you in chains like they did to bad people before."
"Don't be silly, Deirdre," Michael said, looking anxiously at the bush.
"Put you in chains! Put you in chains"" Deirdre chanted, dancing round the gardener.
"You'll waken the giant," he said.
She stopped in front of the gardener, and looked up. "Is he as big as the butler?" she asked.
"Far bigger," the gardener said. "He's so big he couldn't stand straight up in the drawing-room."
"Is he as tall as that tree?" she asked, pointing.
"Far taller," he answered.
"Then he can't be buried in that bush, otherwise his legs would stick out over the lawn," she said. Then she was dancing again, chanting, this time round the bush.
"Have you been in the bush?" Michael asked the gardener.
He shook his read rapidly. "I wouldn't go in there for anything."
"Why, what would happen?"
"Well, what do giants do to children?" the gardener asked.
"Eat them, I suppose," Michael said gloomily. "But if he's dead......."
"No more questions," the gardener said, picking up his shears. "I have to go and cut some flowers for your mother." He stared down at Michael, his face serious. "My advice is to keep away from this bush. That's an order, in fact, and since you're the oldest, I'm putting you in charge of the others. Will you keep them away from here?"
"I will," Michael said earnestly.
"Good. Then you'll get a peach when they're ready."
"Oh, hurry up and get the ball," Deirdre was shouting.
"There's nothing in there."
"There is," he said, staring at the rhododendron bush.
"No, there's not," the other children chanted behind his back.
"I'm not going in!" he called. "I'll go and get another ball."
"Well I'm going in," Deirdre said, running towards the bush.
That was too much. Dropping on his hands and knees, he closed
his eyes and pushed his way in, groping along the leafy soil, the branches
scraping his knees. It was hot and sweet-smelling inside. He crawled forward.
Then his hands were touching something cold. He opened his eyes. In the weak
light coming through the tight leaves overhead he saw a moss-covered slab
embedded in the soil. The ball was resting on top of it. He tried to crawl
back, but the branches seemed to have imprisoned him.
"Have you found it?" they were calling from outside.
But he did not answer. No longer frightened, he was scraping away the moss with a stone, uncovering the crude lettering. The light was so bad and the lettering so worn that it was difficult to read, but he ran his fingers over the letters, following their curves, repeating them aloud until they became words. "In loving memory of Fingal, our Irish hero. So sadly missed."
Then he was crawling backwards out of the bush, leaving the tennis ball on the stone as he ran to tell his father of his find.
Colonel Niall Macdonald, the nineteenth of his line, sat in his library, a good cigar going to ash in the crystal dish by his elbow as he studied the canine compendium with the glazed plates. Dinner was past and the mansion was peaceful in the summer night, except for an occasional clatter as a monogrammed plate slipped from a scullery maid's fingers to fracture far away on flagstone. The Colonel scowled and shifted in his chair. That was the third plate the new girl from the village had dropped that night. He would dismiss her. No, better still, he would dock her wages. But he knew that he would do neither of these things. He sipped a goblet of brandy and restored the cigar to his moustached mouth, inhaling the strong, sweet smoke. He stretched his legs, the book resting in his tartan lap, his brogues touching the fender. The twinge from the leg with the shrapnel made him wince.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, listening to the yapping of the dogs in the iron enclosures behind the house as a maid scraped the dinner left-overs into their dishes. How many dogs did he have now? At least a dozen and every one with a pedigree as illustrious as its master's. Moreover, they were all sporting dogs, bred from birth to be servile to the gun. He himself had taught them to retrieve but not to bruise game by using a teddy-bear looted from the nursery. Standing on the south lawn, and watched by his family from the drawing-room window, he had swung the teddy-bear round and round above his head, released it, pointed, and prised the soft toy from the gentle jaws of the returned dog while his children beat the glass in excitement and the dog squatted, waiting for a reward from the sporran.
Every evening after dinner he went round to the iron enclosures and tugged a steel comb through the tangled coats, having inspected their teeth and trimmed their claws with scissors taken from his Lady's dressing-table. From the kitchen window he could be seen on his bare knees on cold concrete among a dozen jubilant dogs, some with their front paws on his shoulders, others licking his face, the insolent one, only a puppy, tugging at his sporran and shaking it frantically, making money jingle. Cook tapped her head. Yes, it was true what they were saying in the village. The master was mad. The shrapnel was not in his leg.
But the retrievers were not earning their keep because the colonel, a fanatical hunter all his life, in all weathers and at all altitudes, had given up blood sports. The beauty of stag and grouse had suddenly drawn all strength from his trigger finger. His field sports survived only in clay pigeon contests. Crouching in a water-logged butt, and squinting along the sights with his better eye, he waited for the fragile birds to soar overhead and fall, not as feathers but as fragments of clay. The trophies were crowded on the shelf above his head in the library.
A scholar by inclination and intelligence, he read avidly, but always with reference to animals, and particularly dogs. Quite simply, his search was for the biggest and finest dog in the world, and it had led him through countless volumes. Translating from the Gaelic, he had learned to his delight that deerhounds had hunted in the company of kings. Ossian had made them the resident dogs of Selma, that fabulous palace set in an Argyllshire bog. They had lain at the master's deerskin slippers, watching the blind harper strum his latest ballad, listening to the jester's dangerous jokes before the annoyed master dirked him. They were strong, swift, and stood higher than the waistband of a kilt. They had been bred by an exclusive race from which the Colonel was proud to have descended, and they had been at their best in an age to which he would have been proud to have belonged. His Celtic romanticism, like his addiction to cigars, was incurable. He hated the modern world with its gramophones and lapdogs, its queer dances and effete young men in Oxford bags.
The biggest and finest dog in the world. That was what he had been dreaming about for years. Summer and winter it padded through his sleep, huge, indistinguishable, but nevertheless known to exist somewhere, to be waiting for his call. It was bigger than the St. Bernard, bigger than the Borzoi, the Czar's companion. It roamed somewhere, on mountains or steppes, waiting to come across continents to heel.
He drained the goblet of brandy. The book on his lap had come that morning from an antiquarian shop in Edinburgh, and was the last such book he could afford to buy, or so his Lady had said at dinner. Would it not be better, she had asked, to buy gallons and gallons of poison and somehow coax the death-beetle from the oak panelling of the drawing-room? The Lady complained that the mansion was literally collapsing around their ears. Why, only last week, a housemaid had found the ceiling on her bed. The oil lamps were ruining the Lady's eyes. Why not a telephone so that she could speak to her friends? Lastly, did the Colonel realise how much it was costing to feed the dogs, with no game coming in, now that he had stopped hunting?
He glanced down at the book. He stared. Then he was groping at his chest for the eyeglass on the long black cord. Sliding it against his eye, he stooped to the glazed plate, breathing heavily, his heart hammering. The stuff of dreams had become substance. He stared at the long legs. He read the caption. So the deerhound had a bigger brother in Ireland. Then he was at his desk, scratching out an advertisement to appear in The Times. He scored out many phrases until the wording was to his satisfaction and, taking two dogs with him for company, walked to the village to post the letter.
For a week he paced the library, chain-smoking cigars, the book open on his palm. When he failed to appear at dinner, the Lady came to enquire if he was ill. No, no, he was.........busy - estate accounts. It was Cook's speciality tonight, she informed him. No, he did not feel like eating. He might have a sandwich later.
When the letter postmarked Ireland arrived he carried it to the
library and locked the door. The lady wrote:
"My brothers and I have been in distressed circumstances since the Troubles, when our home was fired. We have found it necessary to breed dogs, the only movable assets the rebels would allow us. I have at present an animal which might answer your requirements. It is an Irish wolfhound, as you requested. This is truly a noble dog, and I can furnish you with a pedigree to show that its ancestors hunted with Queen Maeve. He answers to the name of Fingal, which I thought suited his noble bearing, but you can, of course, rechristen him, though, as you might know, the Irish hero visited Scotland. I am afraid that the price is twenty guineas, undelivered. Please advise."
The Colonel sent a telegram immediately. That evening, as he
was enjoying his cigar and studying the glazed plate, his Lady hurried in,
asking if he had seen the chauffeur.
"He's in Ireland, my dear," the Colonel said serenely, without looking up from his book. "He's gone to collect something for me."
"From Ireland? Well, what on earth is it?"
"An Irish wolfhound."
"A wolfhound?" She hovered over his chair, staring down at him as if questioning his sanity. "What do you want a wolfhound for?"
"As a pet," he answered placidly.
The Lady groaned. "But you've already got a dozen dogs, and every one that came was to be your special pet."
"But this one is different," the Colonel said, turning in his chair. "This is a very special dog. That's what it looks like." He held up the book.
She glanced over his shoulder and clapped her hands to her cheeks. "But it's as big as a pony. It'll terrify the children."
"Nonsense," the Colonel said. "It says in the book that it's one of the gentlest of dogs, and particularly good with children."
The Lady went towards the door, shaking her head. Years younger
than her husband, she had never really understood his ways, but she had learned
to let him be. This time, however, she was not to be silenced by a smile.
"I think you're mad, Niall," she said, as she closed the door.
An hour before the wolfhound was due to arrive, family and servants mustered on the gravel at the front of the mansion, out of curiosity as well as deference to the master, who had announced the coming that morning. Cook stood whispering to the butler and shaking her head as she stared at the Colonel's back. The children scuffled gravel with their sandals and watched the avenue, their hands clasped behind their backs. The Lady sat on a chair brought by the gardener, a straw hat saving her complexion from the sun, a parasol resting against her shoulder.
"Hope that fool hasn't had an accident," the Colonel
muttered, his watch in his hand.
"I feel faint," the Lady announced, fanning herself with a limp hand.
"Boy, go inside and get Mama some smelling salts," the Colonel commanded.
Then at last the Rolls-Royce came round the bend, the yellow
flags with the rampant lions fluttering on its wings. All heads turned
expectantly. The long blue limousine came slowly along the front of the
mansion, spraying gravel as it braked. The chauffeur climbed out, saluted the
Colonel, then opened the back door. But the great grey dog sat on the back
seat, staring straight ahead like a visiting dignitary.
"Right," the Colonel called towards the house.
The maid leaned over the wide horn of the gramophone and placed the needle on the record. An Irish jig blared through the open window and the dog slowly descended from the car, elegantly lowering its long paws on to the gravel. It stretched, yawned, then walked around, sniffing shoes.
"It's as big as a horse!" the Lady wailed, inhaling salts.
"Quiet!" the Colonel snapped.
Hands still clasped behind their backs, the children stared apprehensively at the dog almost level with their heads. The little girl found courage, touched it and jerked her hand away. Then the dog came back, to stand in front of the Colonel, its shoulders hunched, its muzzle resting against his brogues as if it had at last matched a scent that had long been in its memory. The Colonel stroked his tangible dream and looked round triumphantly, staring at his Lady. But she turned her face away.
|The Colonel stroked his tangible dream|
Snapping his fingers, he walked to the corner of the mansion, the dog following, but at its own leisurely pace, its muscled body swaying delicately on its long legs, its shadow on the lawn. The Colonel stopped beside the massive dish of shredded meat which he had cut with the skean-dhu in his stocking. Smoking a cigar as he leaned against the iron enclosure, he watched it eating. It was his alone. It had ambled out of his dream to take its place at his heels. He was equal with his ancestors now.
When it had been watered, he pointed to the large newly made kennel, knocked together with his own hands. "Now go and sleep, boy," he said. "You've had a long journey."
Several times that afternoon the Colonel left the library and went to the iron enclosure, but a snoring sound was coming from the new kennel, and only one massive paw was visible. The Colonel ate dinner in silence, his Lady being offended by the arrival of the huge new mouth to feed, and the telephone still not installed. Having smoked several cigars and studied a book on wolfhounds sent by express from Edinburgh, the Colonel went outside. But the dusk was thickening into darkness and the dog was still snoring.
After his nightcap the Colonel ascended to his bedroom, but he could not settle in the four-poster in which the Prince himself had passed a peaceful night before disastrous Culloden. Rising, he buckled on his kilt and went downstairs, his brogues in his hand. When he reached the door he shod himself and went behind the house.
The wolfhound was squatting on its haunches in the centre of the enclosure, its head raised to the full moon behind the pines, its ears attuned as if listening to a hunt in progress in an undiscovered galaxy. The Colonel watched it through the bars. It was squatting with its back to him, but when he coughed it did not turn. The other dogs, sprawled on the concrete outside their kennels because of the heat of the summer night, saw him in the moonlight and he had to hush them, all the time anxiously watching his Lady's window. They quietened and stretched out again, making sighing sounds as they slept. Opening the gate, he called softly to the wolfhound. It turned, rose slowly to its paws and crossed the concrete towards him, lifting its long legs like a racehorse. He ran his fingers through the thick grey coat, held his palm against its muzzle, the rough warm tongue thrilling his skin.
Then he was walking across the lawn, the dog following, its paws soundless. He moved slowly down the avenue, admiring the moon and hearing the hound roaming through the thick dry grass, sniffing trees, establishing its territory, startling sleeping rabbits but refusing to give chase up the steep slope to the honeycomb of burrows. A pheasant ploughed into flight, its wings whirring. The Colonel braced his shoulders and inhaled the warm night air. It moved like an elixir through his system, lengthening his stride, making him a boy again, a boy at ease on the eerie avenue. There he had shot his first pigeon with a pea rifle. There he had seen his first ghost, an ancient green lady bowing to a new moon.
He reached the gate, crossed the road and descended the grassy slope to the sea, stopping to make sure the dog was still following. His brogues crunched the pebbles as he strode towards the curving tide, dazzling under the moon. The dog's paws slapped the wet sand, leaving large impressions. When he reached the edge of the water he tugged off his brogues, rolled off his hose and, putting them beyond the tide-line, waded in. Freezing at first, his ankles soon acclimatised to the ocean which still retained some of the heat of the day. How satisfying it was for his swollen feet! Just what the Edinburgh doctors had ordered. He walked along, kicking water, hearing the dog splashing behind him as, a boy again, he began to run, forgetting his wounds, forgetting that he was close to sixty, twice the age of the Lady sleeping in the distant house. He raced the dog until he was gasping for breath and then he lost his footing. Animal and master collided, showering spray, rolling over and over, coat and kilt saturated. His legs weak from laughter, the Colonel stumbled ashore, leaving the dog to wallow, cooling its coat.
A car passing on the road above from a late party conveyed the
sad tidings that the Colonel really was mad. He was seen on other nights, too,
cavorting with a Shetland pony in the sea at midnight and, worse still, he
seemed to be enjoying himself, judging by his shouting. The Lady duly heard and
challenged her husband.
"I can't sleep, my dear," he explained. "It's so hot these nights."
"You know that's not the reason, Niall," she said, as if she were rebuking a wayward child. "It's that dog. You're obsessed by it, to the exclusion of everything else."
"Nonsense," the Colonel said. "You mustn't think of it in terms of a competition." The eye gleamed behind the eyeglass as he braced his shoulders. "I feel years younger. Haven't felt a twinge from these damned wounds for weeks."
"A dog couldn't do that," the Lady said scornfully.
"Yes, it can. It's something in here." The Colonel pounded his chest with a fist. "Every time I see that wolfhound moving......oh, I can't explain. It's something you're born with."
"Yes, madness," the Lady said.
"No! Love of nature and its inhabitants," the Colonel thundered, throwing his arms wide and upsetting his brandy. "Our trouble is that we're too damned civilised."
Despite the Lady's protests, the dog stayed. The bathing continued. On his excursions in the Rolls-Royce the Colonel was accompanied by the dog. Its head touching the roof, it squatted on the back seat beside him, surveying the countryside and its plentiful game. When it wanted to stretch its legs it licked the Colonel's face and he rapped on the glass panel separating them from the chauffeur. Grumbling to himself in Gaelic, the chauffeur climbed down and opened the door for the dog.
Slowly but surely, the wolfhound moved towards the house. On
the first night it found the gate of the railed enclosure open and it bedded
down on the lawn, under the stars. On the second night it found the front door
open and it stretched cool and content on the marble floor of the hall. By the
third night it was in the master's bedroom, licking its paws as it reclined on
a priceless Oriental rug, a bowl of water close by. But on the fourth night,
when the Colonel and the wolfhound appeared at the drawing-room door, the way
was barred by the Lady.
"You know my rules," she said. "No dogs in the house, except in the library, which is your own domain." And, pointing downwards without looking: "I believe that this brute has been in your bedroom. The maid couldn't get the grey hairs off the rug. It's ruined, so he goes back to the kennel where he belongs."
The Colonel obeyed. The chill of autumn had set in, making his wounds ache again. Confined to his library with swollen legs, he shut the sporting book and stared down at the dog stretched out on the hearth. "I'm sorry, Fingal, old chap, but I can't," he explained in Gaelic. "It's not good for my legs and it's not good for the deer." The dog lay with its muzzle on its paws, staring with sad eyes at the embers, as if recalling glorious chases over the Irish hills at dawn, with the exhausted stag at bay in water, its weakening antlers thrusting, its throat exposed. These chases without guns were vividly described in the Colonel's books, but he could not condone them. Yet that was what the wolfhound and its smaller Scottish brother, the deerhound, had been bred to do, not for the accumulation of venison in a larder, but for the amassing of antlers in a front hall. The great grey dog needed much exercise, yet the Colonel could neither walk it himself nor allow it to roam free in case it was shot. He consoled himself with the thought that by giving it shelter he was strengthening the ancient alliance between the Highlands and Ireland. Had his warmongering Macdonald ancestors, self-styled Lords of the Isles, not travelled by galley between Islay and Carrickfergus, composing an epic as they hauled on the long oars?
The Lady yielded to the childrens' request for a final picnic of the year. She chose a grassy site on the river bank, and the servants carried down hampers and white cloths. Nanny mustered the children and told them not to stray too close to the water. The Lady draped a net over her face to protect her complexion from the last troublesome insects of summer. The Colonel remained in the library, the dog at his feet, sap spurting from new-sawn logs. He heard the distant tinkle of china as the plates were set out, each with an immaculate napkin bound with a silver ring. The chauffeur carried down the gramophone, cranked the handle, and Alexander's Ragtime Band cheered the policies. The bottle of wine was hauled from the river and the Lady tasted it, pronouncing it "cool enough". Nanny spoonfed the youngest child, a gurgling girl with a passion for cucumber. The Lady sipped her wine from a long-stemmed glass, toyed with a silver fork at the plate on her lap and wished herself on Bond Street with a cheque-book.
The Colonel was examining a particularly fine plate of a champion wolfhound with an unpronounceable Erse name when a scream broke his concentration. He jerked upright in his chair, but the big dog was already turning out of the door. He hurried to the window, his leg hurting. The hysterical mother was standing clutching her straw hat and staring in horror at her son floating down-river. The big dog bounded across the lawn with strides so massive that it seemed to skim the grass. Without losing velocity it barged past the petrified chauffeur, a non-swimmer, found its balance, swam, following the floating child down-stream, fastened its teeth in the sailor collar and dragged the small body ashore. The chauffeur took the child and shook the water from his lungs. Down on her knees, the Lady hugged the great grey dripping dog, her dress sodden, her body shaking with sobs as the rag-time music blared.
That night, coming down for dinner, the Colonel found the
wolfhound reclining on the drawing-room hearth before a high-banked fire, a
sheepskin rug under its haunches. Down on her knees, the Lady was feeding it
lumps of sugar from a silver bowl, and the eternal gramophone played on.
"I thought he wasn't allowed in here," the Colonel said, lifting the needle from the record. He watched the dog lick his wife's fingers.
"It's different now, Niall," the Lady said, smiling and supplying more sugar to the gentle jaws. She wrapped her arms round the dog's neck and swayed in time to the music which the Colonel had restored before retreating grim-faced to the library.
The dog stayed, crunching sugar. It stayed to become part of the furnishings of the drawing-room, as indispensable to the Lady as the gramophone. The Colonel brooded over his books in the library. The child that had almost drowned recovered. Autumn went to winter, and the severe frost affected the war wounds. Sitting at the library fire, a tartan rug swaddled round his legs, the Colonel had to be fed from a tray and helped up to bed by the chauffeur. Worse still, the doctor had rationed him to one cigar a day, and no brandy. The dog commuted between library and drawing-room, for the Colonel had acquired a bowl of sugar which he kept hidden in his desk. He fed the dog and it returned to the drawing-room to sport with the Lady to music. A servant swore that she had seen the dog up on its hind legs, the Lady holding its paws as she danced with it.
Then the Colonel was confined to bed, unable to move his legs. It was an agony that only morphine could alleviate. The music stopped. The Lady sat at the drawing-room fire, an open Bible on her lap, the dog at her feet. She now understood her husband but it was too late.
On the Colonel's last night a blizzard was blowing in from the Irish Sea and the old house creaked and complained in the wind. Ceilings cracked and crashed in disused rooms. The Lady was crying now. If only he would regain consciousness for a little time, she would explain what she had learned. The dog seemed to be sleeping, but when the last tray came down untouched it rose slowly and left the room. The chauffeur was standing on the stairs, a lamp in his hand in case the Colonel ever found voice again and called. The great grey dog came padding over the marble floor and, lifting its paws high, ascended the wide dark staircase. When it reached the landing, the chauffeur followed it with the lamp. Swaying along the cold corridor, its paws falling soundlessly on the thick blue carpet, the dog reached the door. Taking the knob in its jaws, it turned it and shouldered inside. The chauffeur watched it go to the four-poster bed. Placing its front paws on the Colonel's chest, it licked his face. Though the Colonel was far gone and the storm was making the lamp flicker, the chauffeur could swear that the master had smiled. He whose ancestors had died in agony in seaboard brawls was dying peacefully between clean sheets.
The wolfhound sat beside the bed on the bare boards until the Colonel passed peacefully away at the height of the blizzard, his hands crossed on his chest, a locket containing his Lady's miniature fankled in his fingers. Then the dog rose and went downstairs and out into the night, one of the Colonel's brogues in its jaws.
The servants searched the policies, but the blizzard blinded them and blew the lanterns out. Only the chauffeur stayed searching, pulling his peaked cap down over his eyes and wearing his gauntlets as he cranked the cold engine of the Rolls-Royce and trained the massive headlamps on the blurred woods. The Lady stood at the front door, a shawl draped round her shoulders. Her cries were muffled by the storm. Retreating to the vacant hearth, she wept for the dead one upstairs and the dog outside. It was as if his soul had left his body and wandered.
At first light the search was resumed. The blizzard had slackened into a few spinning flakes as the chauffeur waded across the white lawn, slapping his gauntlets together. He had searched the woods and the avenue down to the sea. Tired and hungry, he was going inside for breakfast when he caught sight of something. Kneeling at the edge of the lawn, he scooped aside the snow and uncovered the corpse of the wolfhound with the brogue frozen in its jaws.
"It was your grandfather's dog, Michael," his father
"But why is it buried in that bush?" the boy asked.
"Because that's where it was found dead. It was bare lawn then, but your grandmother planted the rhododendron bush on the grave. To vault it, as she said."
"And who put the writing on the stone?"
"Your grandmother commissioned it, out of gratitude."
"Yes, you see I was the child the dog saved from drowning. That's why your grandmother thought the place sacred. So don't disturb it."
The Irish Hero was first printed in "Blackwood's Magazine", Vol. 314, No. 1795, September 1973.