“You see,” Adam said once a little sadly, “without the brandy—”
Kenny nodded his approval.
When the clock struck nine he was in splendid fettle, brogue and all.
“For Ireland’s harpers,” he was boasting with a reckless air of pride, “were better than any harpers in the world.”
“Liars?” asked Adam blankly.
Kenny found his occasional pretense of deafness trying in the extreme.
“Harpers!” he repeated in a loud voice. “And you heard me before.”
“What do you mean,” demanded Kenny suspiciously, “that you did hear me or you didn’t?”
“I did,” said Adam suavely. “Both times. Go on with the story.”
Somewhat nettled, Kenny obeyed. Conscious, the minute he began, of a muffled whistle, he glanced sharply at his host and found his glance returned with a guileless air of inquiry.
“Adam,” he said, “are you whistling?”
“My dear Kenny!” protested Adam. “It’s the wind. I hear it myself.”
Somewhat suspicious, for he fancied now he read in the invalid’s alertness a feline readiness to pounce, Kenny returned to the tale of the harper who proved the right of Ireland to lead the world. This time the insolent whistle, louder and a shade defiant, convinced him that his listener’s mood had changed. Adam was resenting his guest’s insistence upon the merits of his race by whistling “Yankee Doodle.”
Kenny stopped and smiled, and the whistle rang out fiercely.
“A good old Irish tune, that, Adam,” he said languidly. “It’s ’All the way to Galway!’ Funny how it came to be known as Yankee Doodle.”
In a fury of exasperation Adam propelled himself in his wheel-chair the length of the room and back.
“You damned bragging Irishman!” he hissed. “I think you lie. You’re Irish and you hate to be outdone. But I’ll look it up.”
His spirit was unconquerable, his ingenuity persistent and amazing. Often when the clash of wit was sharp he cackled in perverse delight. But composure maddened him. Again and again, inwardly provoked to the point of murder, Kenny threatened to break away from the goad of his tongue. Always then Adam appealed to his habits of pity and treacherously on the strength of it wheedled him into other tales of folk lore merely to refute them. And always he blamed the brandy. Kenny knew now that he lied. Drunk, the old man was stupid; sober, he was satanic in his cunning.
There was one tale of a fairy mill that, in startling circumstances, Kenny told without interruption. Fairies, in Ireland, said Kenny, had ground the corn of mortals without pay until someone stole a bag of meal that belonged to a widow. Then the fairies, shocked at the ways of men, abandoned the fairy mill forever.
He braced himself for the usual shaft of insolence, in a mood for battle. It did not come. Adam had fallen forward in his chair unconscious. Kenny rang for Hughie and stared at the huddled figure in the wheel-chair with eyes of new suspicion. Adam Craig, he remembered, with a sharp unbridled instinct for adding two and two, was a miser and he hated the children of his widowed sister. There could be a sinister reason.