The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 1

 

I
THE DEPUTATION

BALLINTRA is a small town on the coast of Connacht. It was a matter of surprise to every one who took an interest in such matters when Mr. Willoughby, shortly after his coming to Ireland as Chief Secretary, announced his intention of visiting Ballintra. No high Government official had been there within living memory, for these gentlemen are always so feverishly anxious to get on to somewhere else, that they cannot afford time to go to places which are not on the way to anywhere; and Ballintra, standing on the shore of a deep bay, is the end of a cul-de-sac. Its visitors, when they want to go away from it, must travel again the road by which they came.

"It's likely," said Michael Geraghty, discussing the advent of the Chief Secretary at the bar of the Imperial Hotel, "that he'll be taking his dinner up at the big house along with Colonel Beresford."

Thady Glynn, the proprietor of the hotel, sniffed. He did not like Colonel Beresford, who was the principal landlord of the neighbourhood.

"And I wouldn't wonder," said Michael Geraghty, "if he'd sleep the night there."

"He will not, then," said Thady. "He'll neither eat nor sleep in the town, but he'll be off out of it again as quick as he can."

Thady's opinion, given from behind his own bar, naturally carried great weight. He was an important man in Ballintra. His position as Chairman of the Urban Council and President of the local branch of the League placed him above the reach of contradiction.

"I was only making the suggestion," said Michael meekly. "It's yourself would know if anyone does."

"I do know," said Thady.

His information turned out to be perfectly accurate.

The Chief Secretary's motor-car was timed to arrive in Ballintra at twelve o'clock and to leave again as soon as possible afterwards. The Reverend Mother who presided over the convent and the industrial school was the first to make up her mind to receive the Chief Secretary. It was settled that he should stop at the convent, inspect the school, and make the acquaintance of Father Henaghan, the parish priest. The arrangement was quite satisfactory to the ecclesiastical authorities; but it did not appear how the rest of the people would benefit by the inspection. Men looked to Thady Glynn to suggest some way of getting tangible advantage from the visit of Mr. Willoughby. Thady hesitated. He did not see what the Chief Secretary could do for him. He was already a J. P., in virtue of his position as Chairman of the Urban District Council. He did not know of any other honour or any emolument which the Chief Secretary could bestow. While he hesitated Dr. Whitty came before the public with a plan. It was not very original, but it seemed practical. He suggested that Mr. Willoughby should be asked to build a pier for the benefit of the town.

Michael Geraghty warmly supported the doctor. He was by profession a builder and contractor, and was the only man in Ballintra to whom the contract for building a pier could possibly be given. He was of opinion that a handsome profit might be realised out of the work. He spent an evening working out sums on a sheet of paper, and came to the conclusion that he ought to clear £200 at least out of quite a small pier, and might make much more if the inspector who passed his work turned out to be a fool. He called on the doctor the next morning and expressed his intention of doing all in his power to secure the pier.

"It'll be a great benefit to the people of this district," he said, "if so be we get the pier. Many's the time there might be a fine catch of mackerel took, or herring or the like, if only there was some way of landing them. But what's the good of going out and taking the trouble to catch the fish when a man'd only be losing his life trying to land them at the slip there is in it, and him maybe with a wife and family depending on him.

"That's all right, Michael," said the doctor.

"It's the most thing that would be a real benefit to the people," went on Geraghty, "would be to have a good pier. There's more lives would be saved and more money brought into the place "

"That's all right. You keep that sort of talk for the Chief Secretary. Lay out the bodies of the drowned fishermen in the street if you like when he's coming into the town. Range out the widows and orphans in rows. Show him piles of empty packing cases that might be full of fish if only we had a pier. That sort of thing will impress him, I've no doubt. But you needn't shoot it off at me."

Michael Geraghty looked at the doctor dubiously. Then he smiled slowly.

"What you want, doctor," he said, "is to provide employment for the starving inhabitants of this town, the decent poor fellows that would be willing to work and earn what would keep themselves and their families in comfort if so be there was work in it to be got. And with the help of God there will be work when they've given us the money to build the pier. It's the poor you're thinking of, doctor; and I respect you for it."

"I am not thinking of the poor. Don't you be getting it into your head that I'm either a politician or a philanthropist. I'm going to run this pier scheme through because, when there's money going, we may as well get our whack of it here in Ballintra as let it be grabbed by some other place. That's what I'm thinking of. What's in your mind is the profit you'll make out of the job yourself. Devil the other idea there is in your head this minute."

Michael Geraghty smiled again. Then he winked slowly.

"You're a smart man, doctor," he said. "You're a mighty smart man. I've always said it of you, and I'll say it again."

"It's not just as easy as you might be inclined to think," said the doctor, "to get the promise of a pier. There was a time when any man that wanted a pier could get it for the asking, and have it stuck down on any spot on the whole coast of Connacht that he chose to mention. But those days are past. They're getting very particular now about piers. The last two Chief Secretaries have looked a long time at £1000 before they spent it on a pier."

"It's a damned shame then," said Geraghty. "What's the good of our keeping up a Chief secretary at all if he won't—— It's enough to set a man against the Government altogether, so it is."

"What we've got to do," said the doctor, "is to face this Chief Secretary with a deputation of the most respectable and influential possible kind, the sort of deputation that he can't possibly refuse to listen to."

"That'll be all right," said Geraghty. "There'll be yourself and me and Father Henaghan and——"

"Certainly not. Neither you nor I will be on the deputation at all. We're no use. No Chief Secretary in his senses would listen to what we had to say. Father Henaghan we'll have, of course. He'll introduce the deputation as soon as ever he's finished conducting the Chief Secretary round the industrial school at the convent."

"He'll do it," said Geraghty.

"Of course he will. He loves going on deputations. Then I'll go on to the Rev. Mr. Jackson and——"

"The Protestant minister!" said Geraghty. "What does he know about piers, or about Chief Secretaries for that matter?"

"Nothing," said the doctor. "But he'll be mighty useful to us. What impresses a Chief Secretary more than anything else is a union of all creeds for a common good object. When he sees Father Henaghan and Mr. Jackson standing hand in hand in front of his motor-car he'll be prepared to give us a lighthouse if we want it, let alone a paltry pier."

"Maybe the Rev. Jackson won't go with you. I'm told he's a queer sort of man."

"He's an excellent man. I was attending his children when they had the measles last month, and I happen to know that he's a most charitable man. When I tell him all you've been saying about the poor fellows that are out of work, and the benefit the building operations will be to them in the way of wages, he'll join the deputation at once. There's no difficulty whatever so far. The next two people we must secure are Colonel Beresford and Thady Glynn."

"Be damn," said Geraghty, "but you'll not be able to get them—not the both of them; though I don't say but you might get either the one or the other."

"We must have both, Michael, however we manage it. If we don't get the colonel, the Chief Secretary will be inclined to think that the whole thing is a got-up job, and that there's no real need of a pier."

"He might think that surely."

"He might and would. What's more, speaking between ourselves, he'd be perfectly right if he did. That's why we must have the colonel."

"He'll not join," said Geraghty, "not if he knows that Thady Glynn is to be one of the party. He hates Thady worse than the devil. And if Thady's left out——"

"We can't leave Thady out possibly. As Chairman of all the different Boards and Leagues about the place he's a most important man. He'll impress the Chief Secretary tremendously."

"If you left him out he'd go round and rise the minds of the people against the pier, so as they'd get up a petition to have it carted away, if so be that it was stuck down in the middle of the street."

"Exactly. That's another reason why we must have Thady. We won't get the pier without him."

"You'll not get both him and the colonel," said Geraghty despondingly. "The thing couldn't be done. No man living could do it. If the colonel goes, then Thady'll refuse, for he doesn't like the colonel any more than the colonel likes him; and if you have Thady engaged, the colonel will swear by this and by that that he'll not go near the Chief Secretary—not if he was never to see a Chief Secretary again as long as he lived."

"When I say I must have them both, I mean to get them both. Listen to me now, Michael. I'm going round now to Father Henaghan and the Rev. Mr. Jackson. They'll agree all right. Just you drop into the hotel and see Thady Glynn. Tell him I sent you to ask him to go on the deputation. Tell him that I'm asking Colonel Beresford, and that I'm pretty sure the colonel will agree. In fact, you might go as far as to say that the colonel has agreed. Then come back here and tell me what Thady says."

"I can tell you that this minute. He'll say that he'll see you and the colonel and the Chief Secretary and the pier and town of Ballintra a mighty long way off before he goes on any such expedition."

"Go you off and do as I bid you," said the doctor, "and let me run this show my own way."

Michael Geraghty was back in the doctor's house in less than an hour. He had drunk two bottles of porter and a glass of whisky, but he was not at all cheered. He feared that the doctor's plan was doomed to failure. Thady Glynn had violently refused to have anything to do with the deputation. He had cursed Dr. Whitty for a meddlesome young fool. He had expressed a passionate detestation of Colonel Beresford. He had threatened to have letters written to the paper exposing the whole pier scheme as a dodge—a dastardly and cowardly plot—to seduce the League from the true principles of democracy. It was, he declared, a scandal that a well-known enemy of the popular will, like Colonel Beresford, should be associated with a movement of the kind. Michael, who knew the power and influence of Thady Glynn, felt that there was no hope at all of getting anything out of the Chief Secretary. He made his report to the doctor.

"Didn't I tell you," he said at the end of it, "that it's the way things would be? Anybody might have known it."

Dr. Whitty received the news with the greatest cheerfulness.

"That's all right," he said. "That's exactly what I hoped he'd say."

"You're easy satisfied, then, if you're pleased with that."

"I'm going up to the colonel now," said the doctor. "Do you come in here to-morrow at two o'clock, when I'll be at home for my dinner, and I'll tell you what's the next thing you have to say to Thady Glynn."

Dr. Whitty mounted his bicycle and rode to the entrance of the demesne. He greeted the gate-keeper's child cheerfully, and then sped up the long, shady avenue. He found Colonel Beresford cutting exhausted blossoms off his rose trees in front of the house. He introduced his business without delay.

"You've heard, "he said, "that the new Chief Secretary, Mr. Willoughby, is to pass through the town the day after to-morrow. We were thinking of getting up a deputation to wait upon him in the hope that he might build us a pier in Ballintra."

"Why the devil should he build a pier in Ballintra?" asked the colonel.

"Oh, we're not particular as to its being a pier. A railway or anything else would do quite as well. We only suggest a pier because it's the usual thing."

"But why should he build anything?"

"I don't know why; but, as a matter of fact—you must have observed it yourself, colonel—all Chief Secretaries build a lot of things when they first come over. I suppose they think it'll make them popular with the people. It doesn't, of course, but they don't find that out for a long time. What we feel is that if there are piers and things going we may as well get our share as not."

"Very well. If a man's fool enough to build a pier in a place like this, get it if you can, by all means. I suppose you'll put it somewhere out of the way, so that it won't interfere with the fishing boats."

"Of course we will. I'm glad you take the view you do of it, colonel, because we want you to form one of the deputation."

"Who else is going on it? I'm not going to mix myself up with a pack of blackguards simply to swindle a Chief Secretary out of a pier."

"Mr. Jackson, the rector, has just promised to be one."

The colonel grunted. He had no very high opinion of Mr. Jackson's ability, but he was not prepared to describe him as a blackguard.

"And Father Henaghan."

"And who else?"

"You, colonel."

"Look here, doctor, there's no use dribbling out the names one by one in this way. Sooner or later you've got to own up to it that Thady Glynn is to be one of the party. I may as well tell you straight that I'm not going to mix myself up with that fellow. I wouldn't do it if it was to establish a naval dockyard in the bay. I wouldn't do it if you promised me £1000. That blackguard hasn't missed an opportunity of abusing me in the most scurrilous way for the last ten years. I'd do a good deal to oblige you, doctor, but I won't walk about with my arm round Glynn's neck to please any Chief Secretary in Christendom; so it's no use your asking me."

"Michael Geraghty——" said the doctor.

"I don't care a hang about Michael Geraghty. I suppose he thinks that if there's a pier he'll get the building of it."

"He does, of course. But what I wanted to tell you was that Michael Geraghty says Thady Glynn won't go on the deputation. It appears he cursed and swore like mad when he heard of it, and flatly refused to act."

"Did he? I'm surprised at that. I'd have thought he'd simply have loved it."

"It appears that he doesn't, though. Now, if I were you, colonel, I'd put a spoke in Thady Glynn's wheel. He thinks we can't get the pier without him. You come forward and get it for us, and Thady will be the sickest man in Ballintra for the next eighteen months."

The colonel chuckled. He was not at all averse to getting the better of Thady if he could. After a little more persuasion he agreed to form part of the deputation.

"Good," said the doctor. "We'll count on you. The day after to-morrow, at half-past twelve o'clock outside the convent. Don't forget."

The following evening Michael Geraghty, carefully instructed by Dr. Whitty, and fully alive to the delicate nature of the negotiation before him, strolled into the hotel and approached the bar. He ordered a bottle of porter from Thady Glynn, and then approached his business obliquely.

"It's wonderful," he said, "the spite that some men has—men that ought to know better—against the people of this country and all that might be for their good."

"That's true," said Thady Glynn.

"You'd hardly believe it now," said Geraghty, "but no sooner did the old colonel above, at the big house, hear your name mentioned in connection with the forthcoming deputation to the Chief Secretary——"

"I'm not going on it. I told you that before."

"—than he turned on the doctor, and damned scoundrel was the mildest words he used. I wouldn't care to be repeating to you the rest of what he said."

"Did he then?"

"He did, and more. He said there'd be no pier got without he went and asked for it."

"Did he say that?"

"He did. And of course it was the truth. Who'd give a pier to the likes of us when the gentry says a pier's not wanted in the locality?"

"Was it me he called a damned scoundrel?"

"It was. Maybe I oughtn't to have repeated the like; but it's out now, and if you hadn't heard it from me you would from another; so it's as well as it is."

"I'll teach him," said Thady. "I'll give him a lesson he'll remember."

"What's the use of talking? You couldn't. What does he care for the likes of you? There's only one thing that would vex him, and that's what you couldn't do."

"What's that?"

"Get the pier for us. He'd be mad if he heard that we'd got it in spite of him. But you couldn't do it, so where's the use?"

"I could do it if I laid myself down to the job."

"You could not. You're angry this minute, Mr. Glynn, if you'll excuse my saying so. You're angry, and small blame to you. You think you could do anything, the way he has you rose by the language he used; but you couldn't get the pier. The Chief Secretary wouldn't listen to what you'd say."

"He would listen, and it would be the worse for him if he did not. I'd have a question asked in Parliament if he didn't listen to me, and that's what he wouldn't like."

"Anyway, you won't do it," said Geraghty. Aren't you after saying this minute that nothing would make you go on the deputation?"

"I may have said that, but if I did it was because I thought it was a got-up job with them behind it that hasn't the good of the people in their hearts. But I see now I was wrong about that. You can tell the doctor I'll go, and, what's more, I'll do my best. What time is it to be?"

"It's twelve o'clock," said Geraghty. "That's the hour fixed for the visit to the industrial school above, at the convent, and the deputation is to meet him when he comes out."

"You may tell the doctor. I'll be there."

"I'll take another bottle of porter," said Geraghty, "the way I'll wish you luck."

The Chief Secretary and his wife, a charming lady in a mauve dress of Irish tweed, reached Ballintra in good time. Accompanied by Father Henaghan and conducted by the Reverend Mother, they entered past twelve Dr. Whitty arrived and was cheered by the crowd which had watched the arrival of the motor-car. Five minutes later the Rev. J. Jackson, rector of the parish, came up. He had put on a silk hat, of somewhat antiquated shape, for the occasion. He looked hot and nervous. The crowd, which was in an exceptionally good humour, cheered him too. At twenty minutes past twelve Thady Glynn and Michael Geraghty strolled up together from the hotel and took up a position just outside the convent gate. Some one in the crowd began to sing, "God save Ireland." The prayer, considering that Thady Glynn was a prominent leader of public opinion in the country, was appropriate, but it was sung without any malicious intent. There was no thought in anyone's mind that Mr. Glynn might be a difficulty in the way of the Almighty. Then Colonel Beresford drove up in a smart dogcart drawn by a well-groomed horse. The singing ceased at once. An Irish crowd is always courteous, and it was felt quite rightly that a prayer for the welfare of Ireland would be regarded as an insult to Colonel Beresford. Dr. Whitty watched the scene anxiously, casting hurried glances from the dogcart to the convent gate, and back from the convent gate to the dog-cart. He saw Mr. Thady Glynn start, saw him make a remark which he supposed, from the gesticulation which accompanied it, to be a violent oath. The colonel drove on. Dr. Whitty saw Michael Geraghty seize Thady by the arm and whisper eagerly to him. Then the colonel pulled up his horse with a jerk and sat glaring furiously in the direction of the convent gate. Dr. Whitty felt that there was not a moment to be lost. He darted forward and took his place beside the colonel's trap.

"Good morning, colonel. You're just in time. The Chief Secretary is in the convent. He'll be out in two minutes. Mr. Jackson is here, and Father Henaghan is inside. We're all ready. Jump down."

The colonel, by way of reply, jammed his whip into its socket, raised his arm, and pointed a finger at Thady Glynn. Dr. Whitty leaned towards him and spoke in a clear whisper.

"I know. It's that beast Thady Glynn. He's come here to make himself objectionable, with all the corner boys about the place after him. He'll start them hooting, or booing, or something directly the Chief Secretary comes out. I was afraid he'd do something of the sort. But never mind. Father Henaghan will introduce the deputation. It'll be all right."

The colonel squared himself, as military men do, and assumed an appearance of great determination. Dr. Whitty glanced over his shoulder and observed with pleasure that Thady Glynn was standing his ground. Michael Geraghty had acted on his instructions and told Thady that Colonel Beresford had come to persuade the Chief Secretary not to give the pier. The colonel got out of his trap and stalked majestically across the road. Mr. Jackson joined him. Dr. Whitty watched the convent door anxiously. The situation was critical. He sincerely hoped that the Chief Secretary would not be delayed by any unhallowed desire to see more than the Reverend Mother wanted to show him. He need not have been anxious. Mr. Willoughby was a man of tact. He asked only the proper questions and patted the heads of no girls except those brought immediately under his notice. At half-past twelve precisely he shook hands with the Reverend Mother and stepped out of the convent door. The colonel, Mr. Jackson, and Thady Glynn approached him. Father Henaghan left Mrs. Willoughby, to whom he had been chatting, hurried to the front, and took off his hat.

"It's my pleasing duty, sir," he said, "to introduce to you a deputation which, for its representative character, has never been equalled in this neighbourhood."

The crowd, led by Michael Geraghty, cheered loudly. Mr. Willoughby took off his hat. His wife bowed from the background.

"The Rev. Mr. Jackson," said Father Henaghan, "is the Protestant rector of the parish, a gentleman respected by all classes and creeds for his charity and Christian conduct. And I may say, sir, that in this parish all creeds live together in harmony and good-fellowship."

Mr. Jackson, hat in hand, took a step forward and bowed to Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Willoughby shook him warmly by the hand. The crowd cheered again.

"This," said Father Henaghan, "is Colonel Beresford. I make no doubt but you've heard of him before now, and I may say——"

Dr. Whitty watched Thady Glynn. Fortunately the crowd cheered again. Thady hesitated, scowling heavily.

"I may say," continued Father Henaghan, "that the fact of Colonel Beresford's presence with us to-day is a proof that the request we are about to make is reasonable and just."

The Chief Secretary shook Colonel Beresford's hand, and introduced him to Mrs. Willoughby, who smiled pleasantly. The crowd cheered vociferously.

"This," said Father Henaghan, taking the unwilling Thady Glynn by the arm and leading him forward, "is my particular friend, Mr. Glynn, of the Imperial Hotel. A leading man, sir, in this neighbourhood, a J. P., and the Chairman of the Board of Guardians."

Colonel Beresford grew extremely red in the face. Dr. Whitty suspected that he was only restrained from swearing by the presence of Mrs. Willoughby. The colonel was before all a gentleman, and respected the feelings of the lady beside him. Dr. Whitty edged a little away from him.

"What this deputation wishes to lay before you," said Father Henaghan, "is the drawback that this town suffers from the want of a pier. It's well known that the development of the fisheries of this coast is one of the greatest boons which a sympathetic Government could confer on our poor people."

He ambled on, encouraged by the cheers of the crowd, totally unconscious of the passions which his introductions had excited. Even Dr. Whitty, who had no reason to look forward with pleasure to the immediate future, began to wish that he would stop. In the end, of course, he did stop. All men must, even when they speak on a topic so entrancing as the development of Irish fisheries. The Chief Secretary's reply was brief but satisfactory. He said that nothing gratified him more than to observe the union of classes and creeds in Ireland. The country, he thought, had been too long divided into hostile factions. In the deputation which had met him that day he saw a plain proof that the days of division were past and a happier epoch at hand. He added that the inhabitants of Ballintra might count upon having the pier they wanted. He himself would see to it that the necessary money was forthcoming. Then he shook hands with each member of the deputation, placed his wife in the motor-car, gave an order to the driver, and departed.

"Dr. Whitty," said the colonel furiously, "you have grossly abused my confidence, sir. I trusted your word as I might have trusted the word of a gentleman. I find——"

"The man you have to blame, colonel," said the doctor, "is Michael Geraghty. Michael told me distinctly that Thady Glynn absolutely refused to go on the deputation. I had every reason to believe what he said. I did believe it. I believe still that it was true at the time he told it to me. Come now, colonel, be reasonable. You can't hold me responsible because Glynn changed his mind at the last moment."

"I do hold you responsible," said the colonel; "I——"

"If Geraghty wasn't fighting for his life this minute," said Dr. Whitty, "and getting the worst of it from Thady Glynn, I'd call him to corroborate what I say. Look at that."

He pointed to the spot where Michael Geraghty was trying to ward off the blows aimed at his head by Thady Glynn. Father Henaghan, with uplifted hands, was dancing about on the outskirts of the fray trying to restore peace.

"Look at that," said Dr. Whitty. "Thady's pretty near as angry as you are."

Colonel Beresford had a sense of humour. He glanced at Thady and his victim, glared at the doctor, glanced at Father Henaghan, smiled at the doctor, and finally got into his trap and drove off.

In the evening Michael Geraghty came round to the doctor's house and complained of the awkward position in which he had been placed.

"Thady Glynn," he said, "was terrible angry. Only for Father Henaghan he'd have had me killed."

"You're all right," said the doctor. "I can't see what you have to complain of. You've no bones broken and you've got the pier."

"Thady'll never speak to me again in this world."

"He will. So soon as ever he finds out that you're going to make £200 out of that pier he'll be as friendly as ever he was. Why, man, it would be a terrible thing for him if you spent all that money anywhere but in his shop."