(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a moonlit night on an Irish wharf, three Irish police officers in the service of the occupying English government paste up wanted posters for a clever escaped political criminal. Convinced that the escaped rebel might creep to the water’s edge to be rescued by sea, they all hope to capture him for the hundred-pound reward and perhaps even a promotion. The Sergeant sends his two younger assistants with their only lantern to post more flyers around town while, uneasily, he keeps watch at the water’s edge.

A man in rags tries to slip past the Sergeant, explaining that he merely wants to sell some songs to incoming sailors. The Ragged Man identifies himself as Jimmy Walsh, a ballad singer. When the man heads toward the steps to the water, the Sergeant stops him, insisting that Jimmy leave by way of town. Trying to interest the officer in his songs, the man sings a few ballads to the protesting Sergeant, who wants only to keep the area clear so he can catch the fleeing prisoner if he appears. The Sergeant orders the man to leave the area immediately.

The Ragged Man pretends to start toward town but stops to comment on the face on the poster, saying that he knows the man well. Interested, the Sergeant changes his mind about sending the Ragged Man away and insists that the stranger stay to furnish more information about the fugitive. The Ragged Man describes a dark, dangerous, muscular man who is an expert with many weapons, then he hints at previous murders of police officers on moonlit nights exactly like the present one.

Frightened, the Sergeant gladly accepts the Ragged Man’s offer to stay with him on the wharf to help look for the escaped murderer. Sitting back-to-back on a barrel in order to have full view of the dock area, the two men smoke pipes together to calm the Sergeant’s nerves. The Sergeant confesses that police work is difficult, especially for family men, because the officers spend long hours on dangerous missions. Accompanying the Sergeant’s lament, the Ragged Man starts to sing a traditional sentimental song about lovers and the beautiful Irish countryside. Then he begins a nationalistic ballad about a legendary oppressed old Irishwoman named Granuaile. The Sergeant stops him, protesting that it is inappropriate to sing about Irish oppression when political tempers are flaring between Ireland and England. His ragged companion replies that he is only singing the song to keep his...

(The entire section is 995 words.)