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Seumas MacManus

Manis the Besom Man

Once on a time when pigs was swine, long, long ago, there was a man named Manis who supported himself and his ould disabled mother by making besoms out of the long heather on the lonely moor where they lived. One day, when Manis was driving a very sorry old institution of a horse—that you could count every bone in his body through his skin—to the town, with a load of besoms for sale, he begun to ruminate to himself on the bad trade this same besom-making was becoming, entirely, that he could hardly keep body and sowl sticking together himself, let alone support his mother and an old horse, that would soon die on his hands anyway; and then he'd be in a fix, for he couldn't scrape as much money together as would buy a new straddle, let alone a new horse. And, as for selling this one, it's what he'd have to pay a man to take him off his hands, let alone get money for him. But it's a bad disaise that can't be cured somehow, Manis said to himself—so he began to consider how he could sell his rickle of a pony to advantage. Manis had about as clever a head as ever was set on ignorant shoulders—and right well he knew this—and he was not long finding a way out of the pickle. When he went to the town and disposed of his besoms, and got the money for them, he put the money into shilling pieces, half-crown pieces, and one half-sovereign, and inquiring for the grandest hotel, he put his horse into the stable, and stuck the gold half-sovereign and all the other pieces into the holes in its hide—for the poor baste's skin had holes enough to hide away a fortune in, goodness knows!—slipping them just what you'd know in under the skill, and then he went into the hotel, and ordered the best of everything, eating and drinking for himself, and as for the horse, he told them not to spare the corn and bran mashes on him, for he was going to put him into training for a great race. Manis got all he called for, and the horse, too, got everything of the best, and that all fared well till it came to the paying of the bill, which reached a big figure entirely. When the bill was put before him, Manis said he would call again and pay it; that he had no ready cash about him now, and all that; but the waiters raised the divil of a ruction, and sent for the owner of the hotel himself, who happened to be Mayor over the town; and they pointed out Manis to him, and told him the whole story, and the Mayor said that if Manis didn't take and pay the money on that instant moment, he would send for the soldiers and have him hung by coort-martial at once.

"Well, well," sez Manis, sez he, "but this is a nice how-do-ye-do, that a gintleman can't be trusted for a few shillings, only this way. Sweet good luck to you and your house," sez he to the Mayor. "I never yet in all my travels met with such ondaicent people. Though I have a shabby coat on me atself," sez Manis, "don't judge me by that, for that's my notion, and it's the way I choose to go. And look ye here now, Misther Mayor," sez he, "I could not only pay for my own dinner, but I could invite every mother's sowl in this town—good, bad, and ondifferent, big, wee, and middling—here, and give them their dinners and pay for them, and buy you out of house and home then, and make a present of the whole consarn to your waiter there the next minute, and live as ondependent as a prence still after," sez Manis. "But if you must be paid for your hungry bit of a dinner that wouldn't break a man's fast on a Good Friday, ye must. I left my purse behind me at home, and I didn't just want to abuse my poor baste now, seeing he's afther a long journey; but to stop your throat I'll do anything, so here goes." And with that Manis plants his hat on his head and away out to the stables, with the Mayor and all the waiters after him to see what he was up to at all, at all.

Manis led out the pony to the yard, and telling the crowd to stand off him, he got the pony by the head with one hand, and with a stick in the other he struck the horse's ribs just beside the place he hid the half-sovereign, and the horse flung up as well as he was able—bekase for six years afore he never had the spirit to fling till he got the feed of corn and bran—and out jumps the goold half-sovereign, and rolls just right to the Mayor's feet. The Mayor looked down at it bewildered.

"Will ye kindly," sez Manis, sez he, in an offhand sort of way to the Mayor, "will yer Mayorship kindly pick up that coin and tell me how much it is?"

The Mayor picked it up, and he looked at it, and he turned it over and looked at the other side, and then jingled it on the ground, and next bit it with his teeth.

"Well, by all that's infarnal," sez he, "but it's a good shining goold half-sovereign," sez he, "with the King's head on it."

"Humph!" sez Manis, sez he, "is that all? That's not enough then, we must try again."

So Manis whacked the horse again, and again, and again; and the horse flung up again, and again, and again; and the coins come jumping out, rolling among the waiters, and them picking them up and shouting out every time how much they were. When Manis got enough to pay the bill,—

"Now," sez he, "when I have my hand on him, I may as well take the price of a box of matches and a hit of tobacco out of him," and he flogged out another couple of half-crowns, the Mayor and the waiters looking on with their mouths open and rubbing their eyes every now and then to see whether it was asleep or awake they were. When Manis had finished, and had all the pieces flogged out of him except a couple, he yoked him into the cart as if he was going to start.

"I say, my good man," sez the Mayor, when he got his breath with him—"I say, my good man," sez he, "would you sell that horse?"

"Is it sell him?" sez Manis, sez he. "Not by no means."

"I would be content to give you a good penny for him," sez the Mayor; "just as a cur'osity to show my friends, you know."

"You'll have to get some other cur'osity for your friends this time, then," sez Manis. "This would be a rare cur'osity, entirely."

"I wouldn't refuse you fifty pounds down in cold cash for him," sez the Mayor.

"Faix, I suppose you would not," sez Manis, tartly.

"I wouldn't refuse you a hundred pounds down for him, now that I think of it," sez the Mayor.

"Think again," sez Manis.

"Oh, but I considher that a big penny," sez the Mayor.

"And wouldn't you considher five hundred, bigger?" sez Manis.

"Oh, I couldn't think of that, my good man," sez the Mayor.

"Very well and good, then," replied Manis. "When every one sticks to his own, no man's wronged. Good morning and good luck," sez he, pretending to go and to drive off.

"Hold on ye," sez the Mayor, running forward and catching the reins. Is it very expensive, his keep? Have you to feed him on anything special to get them coins out of him?"

"Yes, sartintly," sez Manis, "his keep is a very expensive item entirely, and if you're not purpared to give him his fill of good oat, corn, and bran, there's no use in you throwing away your hard-earned money purchasing him from me. I like to be honest with you, so good morning again."

"Hold on you! Hold on, you!" sez the Mayor, pulling the reins with all his might, for Manis was making wonderful big quivers with the reins and the whip as if he wanted to get away whither or no, and that he was no way consarned to make sale.

"Hold on, you!" sez the Mayor. "One of you run in there," sez he to the waiters, "and fetch me out five-hundred pounds you'll get rolled up in the foot of an old stocking in the bottom corner of my trunk, and the others of you take this horse out of the cart and put him into the stable," sez he.

So the waiter soon come running back with the foot of an old stocking, and the Lord Mayor counted five hundred goold sovereigns out of it down into Manis's hand, and Manis and him parted, Manis going whistling home with a light heart.

The Mayor had the pony locked up in a stable by itself, up to the eyes in corn and bran, and he double-locked it, putting the key into his own pocket, and then went round the town telling all his gentlemen friends of his good fortune, and inviting them all to come at twelve o'clock the next day till they would have the pleasure of seeing him flogging a hundhred pound or so out of the horse. Sure enough, at twelve o'clock the next day, all his gentlemen friends were gathered in the hotel yard, and the Lord Mayor come out and opened the stable door, and ordered one of his men in to lead out the horse. He was provided with a nice little tough cane himself, that he had bought at eighteenpence in a little shop next doore, specially for the occasion, and he ordered his man to lead the horse into the middle of the yard, and then he went round clearing a circle about the horse, putting his gentlemen friends back with the cane, as he said the little coins would likely be rolling among them, and would maybe get lost.

"Now, John," says he to the man who was holding the horse, "keep a good tight grip on the reins, and don't let him burst away. I'll not keep you long, for I'll only take a few hundhred pounds or so out of him the day, just to let these gentlemen friends of mine see the thing. Hold hard, now," sez he, and he drew the cane a sharp slap on the poor baste's ribs. Up flung the horse, and out jumped a coin, and rolled into the crowd.

The Lord Mayor crossed his arms, and axed some of the crowd to lift it and tell him what was it.

They lifted and examined it, as if it was one of the seven wonders of the world, and they bit it, and scratched it, and jingled it, an sez they,—

"It's a good, bright shilling, with the king's head on it."

"Humph!" sez the Lord Mayor, a wee bit taken back, "is that all? I expected a bit of goold, but the goold's to come yet. Hold hard again, John!" sez he, and he come down another sharp rap on the horse's ribs. Up flung the horse, and out jumps another coin. "Kindly tell me," sez he, crossing his arms, and looking on indifferently—"kindly tell me," sez he, "how much is that?"

The crowd took it up again, and scratched it, and rubbed it, and jingled it, an bit it, and sez they,—

"It's a half-crown, by the toss o' war!"

"Well, middling, middling," says he, "we're getting towards the goold now. Hold hard again, John! Look out, gentlemen, for I'm guessing this will be a half-sovereign, or a sovereign, and it might get lost." And with that he comes down another rap on the baste's ribs, but lo and behold you, though the horse flung ever so high, the sorra take the coin or coin come out.

The Lord Mayor looked round him, and then looked up in the air to see if the coin went up that way, and forgot to come down; but seeing no sign of it there, he turned to John, and sez he,—

"What way did that coin go, John?"

"Faith," sez John, sez he, "you put me a puzzle. Ax me another."

"There's some mistake," says the Lord Mayor, squaring himself out, and folding up his sleeves. "I'm afeard I didn't strike hard enough that time; but it will not be my fault this time or I will." So down he comes such a polthogue on the poor brute's bones as made its inside sound like a drum, and up higher than ever the baste flung its heels, and the Lord Mayor and John, and all the crowd stood back to watch for the coin, but good luck to their wit! if they were watching from that time till this the dickens receive the coin or coin would they see.

"Right enough," sez the Lord Mayor, sez he, "it's as plain as a pike staff that there must be some mistake here. Don't you think isn't there some mistake, John?"

"Faix," sez John, "I would be very strongly of the opinion that there is."

"John," sez the Lord Mayor, sez he, "I think we're not holding his head the right way. It strikes me that the owner of him held his head north when he was flogging the money out of him. What do you think if we hold his head north?"

"Anything at all you plaise," sez John, "I'm paid to obey orders."

"All right then, John, just move his head round that way a little. That's it. That will do," sez the Lord Mayor. "Now hold hard, John, and keep a sharp eye out for the coin," sez he, spitting on the stick and winding it round his head, and fetching it down, oh, melia murdher! that you'd think it wouldn't leave a bone in the poor baste's body it wouldn't knock into stirabout. And then up flung the horse, and the Mayor jumped back, and they all jumped back, and then the Mayor held out his hand and said, "Whisht! Whisht!" an set up his ears to hear where the coin would fall; but, movrone, ne'er a coin or coin was to be heard. The first thing the Mayor heard was a bit of a titter of a laugh, and then another and another, till the titter went round all his gintlemen friends. With that he got black in the face, to find he had made such a fool of himself, and to the flogging of the horse he falls again, detarmined to have it out of him if there was a coin at all in him. And he flogged him high up and low down, and all around, whacking and striking, and puffing, and cursing, and the baste flinging and leaping, and neighing, and whinnying, till at length ye a'most wouldn't see the poor animal for blood and foam. And his gintlemen friends round about had to interfare at last, and drag him away from the horse by brute force, and threaten to give him in charge to the soldiers if he didn't stop murdering the creature, and the horse was dragged off and the Lord Mayor was dragged in, and the whole town laughed for nine days after till they laughed the Lord Mayor clean out of his office. And as for Manis, the rascal, he give up the besom-making trade, as well he might, and he lived an ondependent private jintleman, himself and his mother, for the rest of their days, on the intherest of his money.