William Carleton, “Condy Cullen and the Gauger”.

[ Source: Included in the selection of Carleton’s stories given in Irish Literature (1904). The story is included in neither Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (1830-32) or any subsequent edition, nor in the Works of William Carleton (NY 1881).]

Ed. note: Note that there is one botched line in this transcription at p.552 infra, and that the pagination needs to be rolled back one to mark the footer rather than the header.]

Young Condy Cullen was descended from a long line of private distillers, and, of course, exhibited in his own per- son all the practical wit, sagacity, cunning, and fertility of invention, which the natural genius of the family, sharpened by long experience, had created from generation to generation, as a standing capital to be handed down from father to son. There was scarcely a trick, evasion, plot, scheme, or maneuver that had ever been resorted to by his ancestors, that Condy had not at his finger ends; and though but a lad of sixteen at the time we present him to the reader, yet be it observed that he had his mind, even at that age, admirably trained, by four or five years of keen, vigorous practice, in all the resources necessary to meet the subtle vigilance and stealthy circum- vention of that prowling animal a gauger. In fact, Condy’s talents did not merely consist of an acquaintance with the hereditary tricks of his family. These, of themselves, would prove but a miserable defense against the ever-varying ingenuity with which the progressive skill of [542] the still-hunter masks his approaches and conducts his designs. On the contrary, every new plan of the gauger must be met and defeated by a counter-plan equally novel, but with this difference in the character of both, that whereas the exciseman’s devices are the result of mature deliberation, Paddy’s, from the very nature of the circumstances, must be necessarily extemporaneous and rapid. The hostility between the parties, being, as it is, carried on through such varied stratagem on both sides, and characterized by such adroit and able duplicity, by so many quick and unexpected turns of incident it would be utter fatuity in either to rely upon obsolete tricks and stale maneuvers. Their relative position and occupation do not, therefore, merely exhibit a contest between Law and that mountain nymph, Liberty, or between the Excise Board and the smuggler it presents a more interesting point for observation, namely, the struggle between mind and mind, between wit and wit, between roguery and knavery.
 It might be very amusing to detail, from time to time, a few of those keen encounters of practical cunning which take place between the poteen distiller and his lynx-eyed foe, the gauger. They are curious, as throwing light upon the national character of our people, and as evidence of the surprising readiness of wit, fertility of invention, and irresistible humor which they mix up with almost every actual concern of life, no matter how difficult or critical it may be. Nay, it mostly happens that the character of the peasant in all its fullness rises in proportion to what he is called upon to encounter, and that the laugh at, or the hoax upon, the gauger keeps pace with the difficulty that is overcome. But now to our short story.
 Two men, in the garb of gentlemen, were riding along a remote by-road, one morning in the month of October, about the year 1827 or ’28, I am not certain which. The air was remarkably clear, keen, and bracing; a hoar frost for the few preceding nights had set in, and then lay upen the fields about them, melting gradually, however, as the sun got strength, with the exception of the sides of such hills and valleys as his beams could not reach, until evening chilled their influence too much to absorb the feathery whiteness which covered them. Our equestrians had nearly reached a turn in the way, which, we should observe [543] in this place, skirted the brow of a small declivity that lay on the right. In point of fact, it was a moderately inclined plane or slope rather than a declivity; but be this as it may, the flat at its foot was studded over with furze bushes, which grew so close and level that a person might almost imagine it possible to walk upon their surface. On coming within about two hundred and fifty yards of this angle, the horsemen noticed a lad not more than sixteen jogging on towards them with a keg upon his back. The eye of one of them was immediately lit with that vivacious sparkling of habitual sagacity which marks the practiced gauger among ten thousand. For a single moment he drew up his horse an action which, however slight in itself, in- timated more plainly than he could have wished the ob- vious interest which had just been excited in him. Short as was the pause, it betrayed him, for no sooner had the lad noticed it than he crossed the ditch and disappeared round the angle we have mentioned, and upon the side of the declivity. To gallop to the spot, dismount, cross the ditch also, and pursue him, was only the work of a few minutes.
 “We have him,” said the gauger, “we have him one thing is clear, that he cannot escape us.”
 “Speak for yourself, Stinton,” replied his companion; “as for me, not being an officer of his majesty’s excise, I decline taking any part in the pursuit; it is a fair battle, so fight it out between you I am with you now only through curiosity.“He had scarcely concluded, when they heard a voice singing the following lines, in a spirit of that hearty hilarity which betokens a cheerful contempt of care, and an utter absence of all apprehension:
 “Oh! Jemmy, she sez, you are my true lover, You are all the riches that I do adore; I solemnly swear now, I’ll ne’er have anoder, My heart it is fixed to never love more.”
 The music then changed to a joyous whistle, and immediately they were confronted by a lad, dressed in an old red coat, patched with gray frieze, who, on seeing them, exhibited in his features a most ingenuous air of natural surprise. He immediately ceased to whistle, and with every mark of respect, putting his hand to his hat, said in a voice, the tones of which spoke of kindness and defer ence: [544]
 “God save ye, gintlemen.”
 “I say, my lad,” said the gauger, “where is that customer with the keg on his back? he crossed over there this moment.”
 “When? where, sir? “said the lad, with a stare of surprise.
 “Where? when? why, this minute, and in this place.”
 “And was it a whisky keg, sir?”
 “Sir, I am not here to be examined by you,” replied Stinton; “confound me, if the conniving young rascal is not sticking me into a cross-examination already. I say, redcoat, where is the boy with the keg?”
 “As for a boy, I did see a boy, sir; but the never a keg he had - hadn’t he a gray frieze coat, sir?”
 “He had.”
 “And wasn’t it a dauny bit short about the skirts, plase your honor?”
 “Again he’s at me. Sirrah, unless you tell me where he is in half a second, I shall lay my whip to your shoulders!”
 “The sorra keg I seen, then, sir; the last keg I seen was ... ”
 “Did you see a boy without a keg, answering to the description I gave you?”
 “You gave no description of it, sir; but even if you did, when I didn’t see it, how can I tell your honor anything about it?”
 “Where is the fellow, you villain,” exclaimed the gauger, in a fury “where is he gone to? You admit you saw him; as for the keg, it cannot be far from us; but where is he?”
 “’Dad, I saw a boy, with a short frieze coat upon him, crassing the road there below, and runnin’ down the other side of that ditch.”
 This was too palpable a lie to stand the test even of a glance at the ditch in question, which was nothing more than a slight mound that ran down along a lea field, on which there was not even the appearance of a shrub.
  The gauger looked at his companion, then turning to the boy “Come, come, my lad,” said he, “you know that lie is rather cool. Don’t you feel in your soul that a rat [545] could not have gone in that direction without our seeing it?”
 “Bedad, an’ I saw him,” returned the lad, “wid a gray coat upon him, that was a little too short in the tail; it’s better than half an hour agone.”
 “The boy I speak of you must have met,” said Stinton; “it’s not five minutes no, not more than three since he came inside the field.”
 “That my feet may grow to the ground, then, if I seen a boy, in or about this place, widin that time, barrin’ myself.”
 The gauger eyed him closely for a short space, and pulling out half-a-crown, said: “Harkee, my lad, a word with you in private.”
 The fact is, that during the latter part of this dialogue the worthy exciseman observed the cautious distance at which the boy kept himself from the grasp of him and his companion. A suspicion consequently began to dawn upon him that, in defiance of appearances, the lad himself might be the actual smuggler. On reconsidering the matter, this suspicion almost amounted to certainty; the time was too short to permit even the most ingenious cheat to render himself and his keg invisible in a manner so utterly unaccountable. On the other hand, when he reflected on the open, artless character of the boy’s song; the capricious change to a light-hearted whistle; the surprise so natur- ally, and the respect so deferentially expressed, joined to the dissimilarity of dress, he was confounded again, and scarcely knew on which side to determine. Even the lad’s reluctance to approach him might proceed from fear of the whip. He felt resolved, however, to ascertain this point, and, with the view of getting the lad into his hands, he showed him half-a-crown, and addressed him as already stated.
 The lad, on seeing the money, appeared to be instantly caught by it, and approached him, as if it had been a bait he could not resist a circumstance which again staggered the gauger. In a moment, however, he seized him.
 “Come, now,” said he, unbuttoning his coat, “you will oblige me by stripping.”
 “And why so?” said the lad, with a face which might have furnished a painter or sculptor with a perfect notion of curiosity, perplexity, and wonder. [546]
 “Why so?” replied Stinton; “we shall see we shall soon see.
 “Surely you don’t think I’ve hid the keg about me?” said the other, his features now relaxing into an appear ance of such utter simplicity as would have made any other man but a gauger give up the examination as hopeless, and exonerate the boy from any participation whatsoever in the transaction.
 “No, no,” replied the gauger; “by no means, you young rascal. See here, Cartwright,” he continued, addressing his companion “the keg, my precious,” again turning to the lad. “Oh ! no, no, it would be cruel to suspect you of anything but the purest simplicity.”
 “Look here, Cartwright,” having stripped the boy of his coat and turned it inside out, “there’s a coat, there’s thrift there’s economy for you. Come, sir, tuck on, tuck on instantly; here, I shall assist you up with your arms, straighten your neck; it will be both straightened and stretched yet, my cherub. What think you now, Cartwright? Did you ever see a metamorphosis in your life so quick, complete, and unexpected?”
 His companion was certainly astonished in no small de- gree, on seeing the red coat, when turned, become a com- fortable gray frieze; one precisely such as he who bore the keg had on. Nay, after surveying his person and dress a second time, he instantly recognized him as the same.] The only interest, we should observe, which this gentle- man had in the transaction, arose from the mere gratifica- tion which a keen observer of character, gifted with a strong relish for humor, might be supposed to feel. The gauger in sifting the matter, and scenting the trail of the keg, was now in his glory, and certainly when met by so able an opponent as our friend Condy (for it was, indeed, himself) furnished a very rich treat to his friend.
 “Now,” he continued, addressing the boy again, “lose not a moment in letting us know where you’ve hid the keg.”
 “The sorra bit of it I hid it fell aff o’ me, an’ I lost it; sure I’m lookin’ afther it myself, so I am”, and he moved over while speaking, as if pretending to search for it in a thin hedge, which could by no means conceal it.
 “Cartwright,” said the gauger, “did you ever see anything [547] thing so perfect as this, so ripe a rascal? you don’t under stand him now. Here, you simpleton: harkee, sirrah, there must be no playing the lapwing with me; back here to the same point. We may lay it down as a sure thing that whatever direction he takes from this spot is the wrong one; so back here, you, sir, till we survey the premises about us for your traces.”
 The boy walked sheepishly back, and appeared to look about him for the keg, with a kind of earnest stupidity which was altogether inimitable.
 “I say, my boy,” asked Stinton, ironically, “don’t you look rather foolish now? Can you tell your right hand from your left?”
 “I can,” replied Condy, holding up his left, “there’s my right hand.”
 “And what do you call the other? “said Cartwright.
 “My left, bedad, anyhow, an’ that’s true enough.”
 Both gentlemen laughed heartily.
 “But it’s carrying the thing a little too far,” said the gauger; “in the meantime Jet us hear how you prove it.”
 “Aisy enough, sir,” replied Condy, “bekase I am left-handed; this,” holding up the left, “is the right hand to me, whatever you may say to the conthrary.”
 Condy’s countenance expanded, after he had spoken, into a grin so broad and full of grotesque sarcasm, that Stinton and his companion both found their faces, in spite of them, get rather blank under its influences.
 “What the deuce!” exclaimed the gauger, “are we to be here all day? Come, sir, bring us at once to the keg.”
 He was here interrupted by a laugh from Cartwright, so vociferous, long, and hearty, that he looked at him with amazement. “Hey, dey,” he exclaimed, “what’s the matter, what’s the matter; what new joke is this?”
 For some minutes, however, he could not get a word from the other, whose laughter appeared as if never to end; he walked to and fro in absolute convulsions, bending his body and clapping his hands together with a vehemence quite unintelligible.
 “What is it, man?” said the other; “confound you, what is it?”
 “Oh!” replied Cartwright, “I am sick; perfectly feeble.” [548]
 “You have it to yourself, at all events,” observed Stinton.
 “And shall keep it to myself,” said Cartwright; “for, if your sagacity is overreached, you must be contented to sit down under defeat. I won’t interfere.”
 Now, in this contest between the gauger and Condy, even so slight a thing as one glance of an eye by the latter might have given a proper cue to an opponent so sharp as Stinton. Condy, during the whole dialogue, consequently preserved the most vague and undefinable visage imaginable, except in the matter of his distinction between right and left; and Stinton, who watched his eye with the shrewdest vigilance, could make nothing of it. Not so was it between him and Cartwright; for during the closing paroxysms of his mirth Stinton caught his eye fixed upon a certain mark, barely visible, upon the hoar-frost, which mark extended down to the furze bushes that grew at the foot of the slope where they then stood.
 As a stanch old hound lays his nose to the trail of a hare or fox, so did the gauger pursue the trace of the keg down the little hill; for the fact was, that Condy, having no other resource, trundled it off towards the furze, into which it settled perfectly to his satisfaction; and, with all the quickness of youth and practice, instantly turned his coat, which had been made purposely for such rencounters. This accomplished, he had barely time to advance a few yards round the angle of the hedge, and changing his whole manner, as well as his appearance, acquitted himself as the reader has already seen. That he could have carried the keg down to the cover, then conceal it, and return to the spot where they met him, was utterly beyond the reach of human exertion, so that in point of fact they never could have suspected that the whisky lay in such a place.
 The triumph of the gauger was now complete, and a com placent sense of his own sagacity sat visibly on his features. Condy’s face, on the other hand, became considerably lengthened, and appeared quite as rueful and mortified as the other’s was joyous and confident.
 “Who’s sharpest now, my knowing one? “said he. “Whom is the laugh against, as matters stand between us?”
 “The sorra give you good of it,” said Condy, sulkily. [549]
 “What is your name?” inquired Stinton.
 “Barney Keerigan’s my name,” replied the other, indignantly; “and I’m not ashamed of it, nor afeard to tell it to you or any man.”
 “What, of the Keerigans of Killoghan?”
 “Ay, jist, of the Keerigans of Killoghan.”
 “I know the family,” said Stinton; “they are decent in their way; but, come, my lad, don’t lose your temper, and answer me another question. Where were you bringing this whisky?”
 “To a betther man than ever stud in your shoes,” replied Condy, in a tone of absolute defiance “to a gintleman, anyway,” with a peculiar emphasis on the word gintleman.
 “But what’s his name?”
 “Mr. Stinton’s his name, Gauger Stinton.”
 The shrewd exciseman stood and fixed his keen eye on Condy for upwards of a minute, with a glance of such piercing scrutiny as scarcely any consciousness of imposture could withstand.
 Condy, on the other hand, stood and eyed him with an open, unshrinking, yet angry glance; never winced, but appeared, by the detection of his keg, to have altogether forgotten the line of cunning policy he had previously adopted, in a mortification which had predominated over duplicity and art.
 He is now speaking truth, thought the gauger; he has lost his temper, and is completely off his guard.
 “Well, my lad,” he continued, “that is very good so far; but who sent the keg to Stinton?”
 “Do you think,” said Condy, with a look of strong contempt at the gauger, for deeming him so utterly silly as to tell him, “do you think you can make me turn informer? There’s none of that blood in me, thank goodness.”
 “Do you know Stinton?”
 “How could I know the man I never seen? “replied Condy, still out of temper; “but one thing I don’t know, gintlemen, and that is, whether you have any right to take my whisky or not.”
 “As to that, my good lad, make your mind easy; I’m Stinton.”
 “You, sir!”said Condy, with well-feigned surprise. [550]
 “Yes,” replied the other, “I’m the very man you were bringing the keg to. And now I’ll tell you what you must do for me; proceed to my house with as little delay as possible; ask to see my daughter ask to see Miss Stinton; take this key and desire her to have the keg put into the cellar; she’ll know the key, and let it also be as a token that she is to give you your breakfast; say I desire that keg to be placed to the right of the five gallon one I seized on Thursday last, that stands on a little stillion under my blunderbuss.”
 “Of coorse,” said Condy, who appeared to have misgivings on the matter, “I suppose I must; but somehow”
 “Why, sirrah, what do you grumble now for?”
 Condy still eyed him with suspicion. “And, sir,” said he, after having once more mounted the keg, “am I to get nothing for such a weary trudge as I had wid it but my breakfast?”
 “Here,” said Stinton, throwing him half-a-crown, “take that along with it, and now be off or stop, Cartwright, will you dine with me to-day, and let us broach the keg? I’ll guarantee its excellence, for this is not the first I have got from the same quarter, that’s entre nous.”
 “With all my heart,” replied Cartwright, “upon the terms you say, that of the broach.”
 “Then, my lad,” said Stinton, “say to my daughter that a friend, perhaps a friend or two, will dine with me to-day that is enough.”
 They then mounted their horses, and were proceeding as before, when Cartwright addressed the gauger as follows:
 “Do you not put this lad, Stinton, in a capacity to overreach you yet?”
 “No,” replied the other; “the young rascal spoke the truth after the discovery of the keg; for he lost his temper, and was no longer cool.”
 “For my part, hang me if I’ll trust him.”
 “I should scruple to do so myself,” replied the gauger, “but, as I said, these Keerigans notorious illicit fellows, by the way send me a keg or two every year, and almost about this very time. Besides, I read him to the heart and [551] he never winced. Yes, decidedly, the whisky was for me; of that I have no doubt whatsoever.”
 “I most positively would not trust him.”
 “Not that perhaps I ought,” said Stinton, “on second thought, to place such confidence in a lad who acted so adroitly in the beginning. Let us call him back and re- examine him at all events.”
 Now Condy had, during this conversation, been discussing the very same point with himself.
 “Bad cess forever attend you, Stinton, agra,” he exclaimed, “for there’s surely something over you a lucky shot from behind a hedge, or a break-neck fall down a cliff, or something of that kind. If the ould boy hadn’t his crouds hard and fast in you, you wouldn’t let me walk away wid the whisky, anyhow. Bedad, it’s well I thought o’ the Keerigans; for sure enough I did hear Barney say that he was to send a keg in to him this week, some day, and he didn’t think I knew him aither. Faix it’s many a long day since I knew the sharp puss of him wid an eye like a hawk. But what if they folly me and do up all? And way, I’ll prevint them from having suspicion on me, before I go a toe farther, the ugly rips.”
 He instantly wheeled about a moment or two before Stinton and Cartwright had done the same, for the purpose of sifting him still more thoroughly so that they found him meeting them.
 “Gintlemen,” said he, “how do I know that aither of you is Mr. Stinton, or that the house you directed me to is his? I know that if the whisky doesn’t go to him I may lave the counthry.”
 “You are either a deeper rogue or a more stupid fool than I took you to be,” observed Stinton; “but what security can you give us that you will leave the keg safely at its destination?”
 “If I thought you were Mr. Stinton I’d be very glad to lave you the whisky where it is, and even do without my breakfast. Gintlemen, tell me the truth, bekase I’m only be murdhered out of the face.”
 “Why, you idiot,” said the gauger, losing his temper and suspicion both together, “can’t you go to the town and inquire where Mr. Stinton lives?”
 [I Croub9] clumsy fingers. [552]
 “Bedad, thin, thrue enough, I never thought of that at all at all; but I beg your pardon, gintlemen, an’ I hope you won’t be angry wid me, in regard that it’s kilt and quartered I’d be if I let myself be made a fool of by anybody.”
 “Do what I desire you,” said the exciseman; “inquire for Mr. Stinton’s house, and you may be sure the whisky will reach him.”
 “Thank you, sir. Bedad, I might have thought of that myself.”
 This last clause, which was spoken in a soliloquy, would have deceived a saint himself.
 “Now,” said Stinton, after they had recommenced their journey, “are you satisfied?”
 “I am at length,” said Cartwright; “if his intentions had been dishonest, instead of returning to make himself certain against being deceived, he would have made the best of his way from us a rogue never wantonly puts himself in the way of danger or detection.”
 That evening, about five o’clock, Stinton, Cartwright, and two others arrived at the house of the worthy gauger, to partake of his good cheer. A cold, frosty evening gave a peculiar zest to the comfort of a warm room, a blazing fire, and a good dinner. No sooner were the viands dis cussed, the cloth removed, and the glasses ready, than the generous host desired his daughter to assist the servant in broaching the redoubtable keg.
 “That keg, my dear,” he proceeded, “which the country lad, who brought the key of the cellar, left here to-day.”
 “A keg!” repeated the daughter, with surprise.
 “Yes, Maggy, my love, a keg; I said so, I think.”
 “But, papa, there came no keg here to-day!”
 The gauger and Cartwright both groaned in unison.
 “No keg!” said the gauger.
 “No keg!” echoed Cartwright.
 “No keg ! indeed,” re-echoed Miss Stinton; “but there came a country boy with the key of the cellar, as a token that he was to get the five-gallon ...”
 “Oh!” groaned the gauger, “I’m knocked up, outwitted, oh!”
 “Bought and sold,” added Cartwright.
 “Go on,” said the gauger, “I must hear it out.”
 “As a token,” proceeded Miss Stinton, “that he was to [553] get the five-gallon keg on the little stillion, under the blunderbuss, for Captain Dalton.”
 “And he got it?”
 “Yes, sir, he got it; for I took the key as a sufficient token.”
 “But, Maggy hell and fury, hear me, child, surely he brought a keg here and left it; and of course it’s in the cellar?”
 “No, indeed, papa, he brought no keg here; but he did bring the five-gallon one that was in the cellar away with him.”
 “Stinton,” said Cartwright, “send round the bottle.”
 “The rascal,” ejaculated the gauger, “we shall drink his health.”
 And on relating the circumstances, the company drank the sheepish lad’s health, that bought and sold the gauger.

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