At this point there was a knock at the door, and a boy put in his head.
"What is it?" said the old man.
"From the Black Eagle," said the boy, walking in sideways and depositing a basket on the floor with a noise of shaken bottles.
The old man helped the boy to transfer the bottles from the basket to the table and counted the full tally. After the transfer the boy put his basket on his arm and asked:
"What bottles?" said the old man.
"Won't you let us drink them first?" said Mr. Henchy.
"I was told to ask for the bottles."
"Come back tomorrow," said the old man.
"Here, boy!" said Mr. Henchy, "will you run over to O'Farrell's and ask him to lend us a corkscrew — for Mr. Henchy, say. Tell him we won't keep it a minute. Leave the basket there."
The boy went out and Mr. Henchy began to rub his hands cheerfully, saying:
"Ah, well, he's not so bad after all. He's as good as his word, anyhow."
"There's no tumblers," said the old man.
"O, don't let that trouble you, Jack," said Mr. Henchy. "Many's the good man before now drank out of the bottle."
"Anyway, it's better than nothing," said Mr. O'Connor.
"He's not a bad sort," said Mr. Henchy, "only Fanning has such a loan of him. He means well, you know, in his own tinpot way."
The boy came back with the corkscrew. The old man opened three bottles and was handing back the corkscrew when Mr. Henchy said to the boy:
"Would you like a drink, boy?"
"If you please, sir," said the boy.
The old man opened another bottle grudgingly, and handed it to the boy.
"What age are you?" he asked.
"Seventeen," said the boy.
As the old man said nothing further, the boy took the bottle. said: "Here's my best respects, sir, to Mr. Henchy," drank the contents, put the bottle back on the table and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Then he took up the corkscrew and went out of the door sideways, muttering some form of salutation.
"That's the way it begins," said the old man.
"The thin edge of the wedge," said Mr. Henchy.
The old man distributed the three bottles which he had opened and the men drank from them simultaneously. After having drank each placed his bottle on the mantelpiece within hand's reach and drew in a long breath of satisfaction.
"Well, I did a good day's work today," said Mr. Henchy, after a pause.
"That so, John?"
"Yes. I got him one or two sure things in Dawson Street, Crofton and myself. Between ourselves, you know, Crofton (he's a decent chap, of course), but he's not worth a damn as a canvasser. He hasn't a word to throw to a dog. He stands and looks at the people while I do the talking."
Here two men entered the room. One of them was a very fat man whose blue serge clothes seemed to be in danger of falling from his sloping figure. He had a big face which resembled a young ox's face in expression, staring blue eyes and a grizzled moustache. The other man, who was much younger and frailer, had a thin, clean-shaven face. He wore a very high double collar and a wide-brimmed bowler hat.
"Hello, Crofton!" said Mr. Henchy to the fat man. "Talk of the devil . . . "
"Where did the boose come from?" asked the young man. "Did the cow calve?"
"O, of course, Lyons spots the drink first thing!" said Mr. O'Connor, laughing.
"Is that the way you chaps canvass," said Mr. Lyons, "and Crofton and I out in the cold and rain looking for votes?"
"Why, blast your soul," said Mr. Henchy, "I'd get more votes in five minutes than you two'd get in a week."
"Open two bottles of stout, Jack," said Mr. O'Connor.
"How can I?" said the old man, "when there's no corkscrew? "
"Wait now, wait now!" said Mr. Henchy, getting up quickly. "Did you ever see this little trick?"
He took two bottles from the table and, carrying them to the fire, put them on the hob. Then he sat dow-n again by the fire and took another drink from his bottle. Mr. Lyons sat on the edge of the table, pushed his hat towards the nape of his neck and began to swing his legs.
"Which is my bottle?" he asked.
"This, lad," said Mr. Henchy.
Mr. Crofton sat down on a box and looked fixedly at the other bottle on the hob. He was silent for two reasons. The first reason, sufficient in itself, was that he had nothing to say; the second reason was that he considered his companions beneath him. He had been a canvasser for Wilkins, the Conservative, but when the Conservatives had withdrawn their man and, choosing the lesser of two evils, given their support to the Nationalist candidate, he had been engaged to work for Mr. Tiemey.
In a few minutes an apologetic "Pok!" was heard as the cork flew out of Mr. Lyons' bottle. Mr. Lyons jumped off the table, went to the fire, took his bottle and carried it back to the table.
"I was just telling them, Crofton," said Mr. Henchy, that we got a good few votes today."
"Who did you get?" asked Mr. Lyons.
"Well, I got Parkes for one, and I got Atkinson for two, and got Ward of Dawson Street. Fine old chap he is, too — regular old toff, old Conservative! 'But isn't your candidate a Nationalist?' said he. 'He's a respectable man,' said I. 'He's in favour of whatever will benefit this country. He's a big ratepayer,' I said. 'He has extensive house property in the city and three places of business and isn't it to his own advantage to keep down the rates? He's a prominent and respected citizen,' said I, 'and a Poor Law Guardian, and he doesn't belong to any party, good, bad, or indifferent.' That's the way to talk to 'em."