Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1038
Three workmen are standing languidly in a large. gloomy room that once had been the living room of a ruined Elizabethan mansion. The three ponder the wisdom of two English gentlemen, Cyril Poges and Basil Stoke, in coming to live in such a decaying old house. Although the fresh paint had brightened things up a bit, it covers, for the most part, rotting wood. The sudden appearance of the sixty-five-year-old Poges and the serious Basil—who is in his thirties—followed by their mistresses, Souhaun and Avril, respectively, confirms the workmen’s suspicions that the owners are slightly awry in their thinking. The group dances in, boisterously singing of the joys of country living. The handsome foreman, Jack O’Killigain, explains to the workmen that these are people who see historical loveliness in decaying ruins, and who take foolish delight in any locale with a story behind it. With the reappearance of the pretty Avril, Stokes’s mistress, O’Killigain exerts his poetic Irish charm to entice her into a rendezvous later that night.
Poges, Basil, and Souhaun return from a walk in the fields. Poges and Basil talk excitedly about the glories of past history and its better times, much to the disgust of O’Killigain, who firmly believes that life in its present state is far more worth living. His philosophy is lost on the other two, who go about their comic business of hanging pictures and discovering aspects of country living—new business for them, but common enjoyment for the hardy Irish workmen.
Although Poges wants to forget the outside world and its ways, his reverie is constantly interrupted by prosaic occurrences: arguments with Basil and the women, altercations with his butler over men outside who wish to know if he desires roosters and hens, and interruptions by one of the workmen, who informs him of an excellent buy in a cow. Poges rages that he will get in touch with the department of agriculture. At Poges’s displeasure over the disconnected telephone, another workman loses his temper. Poges hears himself scorned as a man who thinks that the glory of the world could be stuffed into a purse, a man who is patronizing toward the Irish, a mighty race a thousand years older than his own.
Basil and Avril leave for a horseback ride, in spite of warnings that Irish horses are true horses, instead of English animals. The predictions are accurate; a battered Basil appears shortly afterward and announces that his horse indeed had become wild and ungovernable, and that, when last seen, Avril was riding away quite naked with O’Killigain.
The next day brings a cold dawn. Though Poges and Basil had spent the night fully clothed, they had almost frozen to death in the old house, along with the rest of the household. Poges still tries to rationalize; the cold air will revitalize them and exhilarate them. Barney, the butler, and Cloyne, the maid, are disgusted with the whole situation; they think the place an unlighted dungeon. As Barney struggles to light a damp fire, Cloyne rushes back into the room to scream that there is a wild bull in the entrance hall. This announcement causes a great panic among the transplanted city dwellers. Basil reenters with a gun, then runs for his life as Poges roars for help and Cloyne faints. A workman saves them all by shooing out a harmless cow that had innocently wandered into the hallway.
Later, Poges thinks he has found a friend in the workman, who reminisces with him over glorious days in the past. Once again, Poges expresses his philosophy that all the greats had gone with their glory, their finery turned to purple dust, and that today’s people are shallow by comparison. O’Killigain and another workman later transfix Poges, however, with their poetic stories of the glorious Irish past and the fight for independence (an event not blurred in the mists of distant time). Although Poges is momentarily surprised to find that these country workers have such depth, his spirit of English nationalism quickly asserts itself.
Poges’s calamities continue. His next misadventure is with an oversized, heavy garden roller. Though his friends warn him, Poges persists in his efforts to operate the machine. The result is a wrecked wall, as Poges lets the roller get away from him to roll into and through the side of the house. Following closely on this incident, a terrified Basil shoots and kills the indolent cow that had earlier invaded the hallway.
An interview with the local canon lifts Poges’s spirits when the churchman praises Poges for restoring a portion of the past to slow down the reckless speed of the present. As the workmen continue to bring in furniture, Souhaun almost succumbs to one of the workmen and his poetic charm. The moving into the room of a gilded desk-bureau proves to be another disaster. The top is first scarred by a workman’s boot; then the bureau and the entrance are both damaged as the piece of furniture is pushed and pried through the door.
The wind is rising and storm clouds are brewing ominously, so the workmen are sent away, but not before O’Killigain and the workman entreat Avril and Souhaun to accompany them. The beautiful picture of Irish life conjured quickly by the men leaves the women quite unsettled, but Poges and Basil make great fun of the workmen’s poetic proposals. As the day grows darker and the rain falls, Poges finds still other troubles; the postmaster arrives to complain about Poges’s midnight phone calls to him. Suddenly the sound of a galloping horse is heard over the howl of the wind.
Warned that the river is rising, the terrified group in the darkened room make plans to climb to the roof before the house is flooded. Souhaun is nowhere to be found; she is with the workman on the galloping horse. O’Killigain, who had said that he would come for Avril when the river rose, appears as he had promised. Avril leaves, renouncing Basil as a gilded monkey. Basil runs for the roof and a defeated Poges follows slowly, longing for dear England.
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