Everyone laughed. Mr. M'Coy, who wanted to enter the conversation by any door, pretended that he had never heard the story. Mr. Cunningham said:
"It is supposed — they say, you know — to take place in the depot where they get these thundering big country fellows, omadhauns, you know, to drill. The sergeant makes them stand in a row against the wall and hold up their plates."
He illustrated the story by grotesque gestures.
"At dinner, you know. Then he has a bloody big bowl of cabbage before him on the table and a bloody big spoon like a shovel. He takes up a wad of cabbage on the spoon and pegs it across the room and the poor devils have to try and catch it on their plates: 65, catch your cabbage."
Everyone laughed again: but Mr. Kernan was somewhat indignant still. He talked of writing a letter to the papers.
"These yahoos coming up here," he said, "think they can boss the people. I needn't tell you, Martin, what kind of men they are."
Mr. Cunningham gave a qualified assent.
"It's like everything else in this world," he said. "You get some bad ones and you get some good ones."
"O yes, you get some good ones, I admit," said Mr. Kernan, satisfied.
"It's better to have nothing to say to them," said Mr. M'Coy. "That's my opinion!"
Mrs. Kernan entered the room and, placing a tray on the table, said:
"Help yourselves, gentlemen."
Mr. Power stood up to officiate, offering her his chair. She declined it, saying she was ironing downstairs, and, after having exchanged a nod with Mr. Cunningham behind Mr. Power's back, prepared to leave the room. Her husband called out to her:
"And have you nothing for me, duckie?"
"O, you! The back of my hand to you!" said Mrs. Kernan tartly.
Her husband called after her:
"Nothing for poor little hubby!"
He assumed such a comical face and voice that the distribution of the bottles of stout took place amid general merriment.
The gentlemen drank from their glasses, set the glasses again on the table and paused. Then Mr. Cunningham turned towards Mr. Power and said casually:
"On Thursday night, you said, Jack "
"Thursday, yes," said Mr. Power.
"Righto!" said Mr. Cunningham promptly.
"We can meet in M'Auley's," said Mr. M'Coy. "That'll be the most convenient place."
"But we mustn't be late," said Mr. Power earnestly, "because it is sure to be crammed to the doors."
"We can meet at half-seven," said Mr. M'Coy.
"Righto!" said Mr. Cunningham.
"Half-seven at M'Auley's be it!"
There was a short silence. Mr. Kernan waited to see whether he would be taken into his friends' confidence. Then he asked:
"What's in the wind?"
"O, it's nothing," said Mr. Cunningham. "It's only a little matter that we're arranging about for Thursday."
"The opera, is it?" said Mr. Kernan.
"No, no," said Mr. Cunningham in an evasive tone, "it's just a little . . . spiritual matter."
"0," said Mr. Kernan.
There was silence again. Then Mr. Power said, point blank:
"To tell you the truth, Tom, we're going to make a retreat."
"Yes, that's it," said Mr. Cunningham, "Jack and I and M'Coy here — we're all going to wash the pot."
He uttered the metaphor with a certain homely energy and, encouraged by his own voice, proceeded:
"You see, we may as well all admit we're a nice collection of scoundrels, one and all. I say, one and all," he added with gruff charity and turning to Mr. Power. "Own up now!"
"I own up," said Mr. Power.
"And I own up," said Mr. M'Coy.
"So we're going to wash the pot together," said Mr. Cunningham.
A thought seemed to strike him. He turned suddenly to the invalid and said:
"D'ye know what, Tom, has just occurred to me? You night join in and we'd have a four-handed reel."
"Good idea," said Mr. Power. "The four of us together."
Mr. Kernan was silent. The proposal conveyed very little meaning to his mind, but, understanding that some spiritual agencies were about to concern themselves on his behalf, he thought he owed it to his dignity to show a stiff neck. He took no part in the conversation for a long while, but listened, with an air of calm enmity, while his friends discussed the Jesuits.
"I haven't such a bad opinion of the Jesuits," he said, intervening at length. "They're an educated order. I believe they mean well, too."
"They're the grandest order in the Church, Tom," said Mr. Cunningham, with enthusiasm. "The General of the Jesuits stands next to the Pope."
"There's no mistake about it," said Mr. M'Coy, "if you want a thing well done and no flies about, you go to a Jesuit. They're the boyos have influence. I'll tell you a case in point . . . ."
"The Jesuits are a fine body of men," said Mr. Power.
"It's a curious thing," said Mr. Cunningham, "about the Jesuit Order. Every other order of the Church had to be reformed at some time or other but the Jesuit Order was never once reformed. It never fell away."
"Is that so?" asked Mr. M'Coy.
"That's a fact," said Mr. Cunningham. "That's history."
"Look at their church, too," said Mr. Power. "Look at the congregation they have."
"The Jesuits cater for the upper classes," said Mr. M'Coy.
"Of course," said Mr. Power.
"Yes," said Mr. Kernan. "That's why I have a feeling for them. It's some of those secular priests, ignorant, bumptious — — "