The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 10
AN INTOLERABLE HONOUR
COLONEL BERESFORD came down to breakfast one morning in September and found a letter from Lord Allington beside his plate. He eyed it discontentedly while he poured out his coffee.
Lord Allington was a nobleman with a high sense of the duties a great magnate ought to perform. It was his custom to invite Colonel Beresford twice every summer to dine and sleep at Allington Castle. Colonel Beresford, too, had a high sense of duty. He always accepted one of the invitations; but—because the dinner parties bored him severely—he always declined the other, finding, year after year, greater difficulty in discovering any reasonable excuse. He suspected that the letter before him contained the second of his two invitations for the current year. His face wore a puzzled frown as he tore open the envelope.
"We are expecting a couple of young fellows," wrote Lord Allington, "friends of my son's, to spend next week with us for the shooting. Danton, who is old Riversdale's right-hand man in the Foreign Office, is also coming and bringing his wife. It will be a pleasure to us if you will drive over on Tuesday, dine, and spend the night. I bought a few dozen of hock at poor Fillingham's auction the other day—capital wine, I am told—and I should like to have your opinion on it. What a smash he came! Two hundred thousand, they say, and he got through it in five years. I expect that old grocer of an uncle of his is writhing in his grave. By the way, I am thinking of recommending the appointment of a new J. P. in Ballintra. It would be a convenience to you to have some one to stand between you and that blackguard, Glynn. I was thinking of your friend the doctor. Would he be a suitable man? In my opinion, he deserves a pat on the back for the admirable way he behaved at the Ballintra sports last summer. I understood at the time that it was he who persuaded the local band to play 'God Save the King.' If you think well of the idea, send me a note of his name. I have forgotten it, if I ever heard it. If Tuesday doesn't suit you, Wednesday will be equally convenient to us."
Colonel Beresford read the letter with great pleasure. He had a feeling of warm friendship for the doctor, and was so much gratified that he sat down immediately after breakfast and accepted Lord Allington's invitation. He expressed a pleasure he did not actually feel at the prospect of meeting Danton of the Foreign Office, and promised to give an unbiased opinion on the merits of the unfortunate Fillingham's hock. He closed his letter with a strong recommendation of Dr. Whitty, whom he held up as a bright example of all a doctor should be. Then, since there was no reason to doubt that the appointment would be made, he walked down to the town to offer his congratulations at once.
He was fortunate enough to meet the doctor in the street.
"I've got a little surprise for you," he said, "a pleasant surprise, and I want to tell you at once how pleased I am."
"Outbreak of typhoid among your servants?" said the doctor.
"No. That wouldn't be a pleasant surprise!"
"It would to me," said the doctor. "You've no idea how agreeable an epidemic is to a doctor when it occurs among people who have some one behind them to pay the bill. However, if it isn't that, it can't be helped. What is it?"
"I had a letter from Lord Allington this morning. He——"
"He doesn't want the town band to learn 'Rule Britannia,' does he? For if he does he'll have to come over and teach them himself. I am not going to take on a job of that kind again."
"It's nothing of the sort," said the colonel. "The fact is, Lord Allington was so pleased about the 'God Save the King' performance last year that he wants to see you a J. P."
"If that's the only form his gratitude takes," said the doctor, "it's not much use to me. I wouldn't be a J. P. for two hundred a year paid quarterly straight from the Bank of Ireland."
"It's a high honour," said the colonel, who had old-fashioned ideas.
"Come, now, colonel, you can't seriously mean that. I know you're one yourself, and I think it uncommonly self-sacrificing of you to keep it up, but—hang it all! look at Thady Glynn! You can't call it an honour to be mixed up with that fellow."
"Glynn's only a magistrate ex officio," said the colonel. "This is quite a different thing."
"Still," said the doctor, "I hardly fancy myself perched up in the Court House arguing with Thady as to whether it's the policemen or the riotous drunkard who ought to be fined. It's not good enough."
"I regard it as a public duty," said the colonel, "for every one of us——"
"I'm afraid I haven't got that sort of conscience," said the doctor. "I really couldn't be bothered. Why, think what it would mean. Every publican who wanted an occasional licence would be worrying the life out of me. Every fellow whose heifer had been caught trespassing would send his wife to try and bribe me with a present of some old goose or other. I'd make personal enemies of all the drunkards about the place, and lots of them are patients of mine. I can't do it. If Lord Allington is really as grateful as you say, let him break his leg and send for me to set it. I should like that, but this plan of setting me on to go J.P.-ing about the country doesn't suit me at all."
"I've just written to him," said the colonel, "strongly recommending you, and I make it a personal matter, Whitty, that you accept the position. I'm getting an old man, and I'm beginning to find a good many things tell on me in a way they didn't a few years ago. It would be a great relief to me to feel there was somebody I could rely on—a man like yourself——"
"Don't say another word, colonel. When you put it that way I have no choice. It's all rot, of course, about your getting old. You're good for years and years of scrapping with Thady Glynn yet. Still, since you make a point of it, I won't refuse, if Lord Allington really nominates me."
"Thanks," said the colonel. "And, really, you know, Whitty, it is an honour. I quite feel the force of all you say about Thady Glynn; still, it's something to know that you are entrusted by your sovereign with the administration of the law of the land."
"I'll try and look at it that way," said the doctor, "when I'm appointed. But I expect, myself, that Lord Allington will think better of it."
"Not at all. The thing's as good as settled already. After he gets the letter I wrote him, he won't hesitate for an hour."
The party at Castle Allington was quite as dull as Colonel Beresford expected. The hock, indeed, turned out excellent and reflected great credit on the palate of the bankrupt Fillingham. But Lady Allington, whom the colonel took in to dinner, growled intolerably about her health. Danton, undoubtedly a valuable man in the Foreign Office, prosed abominably, and failed to see the point of anybody's jokes except his own. It was with a sense of relief the colonel escaped to bed at eleven o'clock. Next morning, after breakfast, Lord Allington led him away to the library.
"I should like," he said, "to have a few words with you about that doctor. Whitty, isn't that his name?"
"You've sent his name up to the Lord Chancellor, I suppose?"
"No. The fact is—I don't, of course, attach any importance to communications of this sort." Lord Allington unlocked a drawer in his writing-table and drew out a letter which he handed to the colonel. "Still, I'm bound to take every possible precaution. You'll quite understand, Beresford, that it wouldn't do. With the way our actions are criticised nowadays, we can't be too careful. But read that letter."
The colonel looked the sheet of paper up and down, and then read:—
"Your Lordship,—Having heard that it is your intention to make a magistrate of Dr. Whitty, I beg to bring the following fact to your notice. Dr. Whitty is drunk in the evenings as often as he is sober, and, only last night, had to be helped home to his house by Michael Geraghty, the carpenter. If you have any doubt about the truth of this statement, ask Michael. He will bear out every word I say.—Your Lordship's humble servant,
'A Lover of Justice'"
"An anonymous letter!" said the colonel. "Quite so."
"And obviously written in a disguised hand."
"Plainly," said Lord Allington. "And, of course, I attach no weight to it."
"I should hope not. The whole thing is an abominable and malicious slander. I shouldn't wonder if Thady Glynn was at the bottom of it. He hates Whitty."
"Very likely. Still——"
"Whitty never was drunk in his life."
"Who's this man, Michael Geraghty? Is he a friend of Glynn's?"
"Not at all. On the contrary, he detests Glynn. Geraghty is a friend of the doctor's."
"A friend of the doctor's! Then why do you suppose the writer of this letter refers to him? If Geraghty had been an ally of the other man's, of Glynn's, I could understand it better."
"It is odd," said the colonel, "very odd, but I'm perfectly certain that Geraghty wouldn't stand in with anyone who was slandering the doctor."
"Suppose, then," said Lord Allington, "that you ask this fellow, Geraghty, whether there's any truth in the story. There can't be any harm in doing that. You could do it quietly, you know."
"I shall ask him if you like," said the colonel, "but I know very well what he'll say.
"I shall be delighted to have the story flatly denied," said Lord Allington, "and I'm sure it will be. In any ordinary matter, Beresford, I need scarcely say that your word would be enough for me, but, in a case like this, you will understand that I have to be extremely cautious."
Colonel Beresford went home perfectly satisfied that Lord Allington's anonymous letter was the work of Thady Glynn. He summoned Michael Geraghty to Ballintra House and demanded from him a flat contradiction of the story of the doctor's drunkenness. To his surprise, Michael Geraghty seemed uneasy and inclined to evade the questions which were put to him.
"I wouldn't," he said, "like to be the man who'd say a word against the doctor."
"Tell me straight out at once," said the colonel. "Was Dr. Whitty so drunk the night before last that you had to help him home?"
"If he was itself," said Michael, "he wouldn't be the first."
"Don't shuflle. Give me a plain 'yes' or 'no.'"
"There's many a man,"said Geraghty, "that might make a sup too much and nobody would ever think the worse of him after."
"Was Dr. Whitty drunk or was he not?" The colonel's temper was beginning to give way. "I may as well tell you that, if you say he was, I shan't believe you."
"He was." Michael Geraghty spoke without conviction.
"As drunk as anyone you ever seen. Drunk so that he couldn't walk, nor couldn't talk sense, nor didn't know what you were saying to him, no more than if he was one of them heifers beyond in the field and you reading to it out of a book."
The indictment was definite and complete enough, but it seemed quite plain to Colonel Beresford that Geraghty was lying, lying clumsily and without real pleasure.
"You're a liar, Geraghty," said the colonel, "and you ought to be ashamed of yourself taking money from a blackguard like Thady Glynn and then slandering an innocent man."
"I haven't spoken a word to Thady Glynn this six months," said Michael sulkily, "and I wouldn't touch his money if he offered me the full of my hat of sovereigns."
"I always thought before," said the colonel, "that you were, comparatively speaking, an honest man. I know now that you're a liar and a scoundrel."
"That's a hard word," said Michael, "and, may be, if you knew what you don't know, you wouldn't be so ready with it."
"You deserve it," said the colonel, "for slandering Dr. Whitty, who's always been a good friend to you."
"I would deserve it, if so be I'd done what you say. But it's what I wouldn't do, and nobody but yourself ever drew it down against me that I did."
"You have done it. Even supposing the doctor was drunk, which I don't for a moment believe, you're the last man that ought to publish it. You should have kept it to yourself."
"And so I would, if so be——"
"Don't talk that way to me. What's the good of saying you'd keep it a secret when you're joining in with Thady Glynn to publish it when it isn't a fact?"
"Colonel," said Michael Geraghty, "it's well known that you're a gentleman, and I'll trust to you that what I'm going to tell you will go no farther, for if ever it got out that I told you, there'd be trouble for me, and, what's more, you'd be sorry yourself, terrible sorry, so you would. The doctor was not drunk, no more than yourself this minute."
"I knew that," said the colonel. "Now tell me this. Wasn't it Thady Glynn that set you on to say he was?"
"I'll not say another word, good nor bad."
"You needn't. I know very well it couldn't be anyone else except Thady Glynn."
"I'll say no more. I'll neither say it is nor it isn't. Only, I'll tell you this, and it's my last word. If Thady Glynn was to be hanged to-morrow for putting them stories out against the doctor, he'd die an innocent man."
Colonel Beresford wrote at once to Lord Allington a brief but emphatic letter. Without attempting a detailed report of his conversation with Michael Geraghty, he made it plain that the charge against Dr. Whitty was entirely baseless.
A few days later he received a visit from Dr. Whitty.
"Colonel," said the doctor, "has anything more been done about making me a J.P.?"
"I expect," said the colonel, "to hear from Lord Allington to-day or to-morrow that he has forwarded your name to the Lord Chancellor."
"I'd be glad if you'd telegraph to him not to do it. I am perfectly ready to act if I am appointed, as I told you the other day, but—well, I don't want to say more than I need about a very unpleasant matter—but it will be better both for you and Lord Allington if my name is withdrawn."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean this. If I'm made a magistrate it'll be a public scandal, and will bring disgrace upon the Petty Sessions Court of this town."
"If you're thinking of that ridiculous story about your being drunk, I may tell you at once that I don't believe a word of it, and I am sure Lord Allington doesn't either. I never did believe it for an instant. The only thing that puzzles me about it is the queer way Michael Geraghty behaved."
"I'm not thinking of that story, but of something worse."
"Let's have it, whatever it is," said the colonel anxiously.
"I'd rather not speak about it, but the truth is that my tailor is taking proceedings against me in the County Court for a bill I owe him which I can't pay. It wouldn't look well, colonel—you must admit yourself it wouldn't look at all well for a newly appointed magistrate to be "
"My dear fellow," said the colonel heartily, "if that's all that's the matter it can easily be settled."
"No, it can't. The bill's close on twenty pounds, and I haven't as many pence."
Colonel Beresford crossed the room to his writing-table and took his cheque-book from a drawer.
"You must allow me, doctor, you really must. The sum is very trifling. We shall regard it as a loan, repayable at your convenience. I wish you'd told me sooner."
"I won't allow you, colonel," said the doctor. "I couldn't possibly. I may never be able to repay you. I—hang it all! I don't want the money."
Colonel Beresford blotted his cheque, folded it up, and pressed it into the doctor's hand.
"I'm glad to be able to do it," he said. "It's a pleasure to me. You're a man I've always liked. I've regarded you as a friend. I shall be seriously annoyed—I want no thanks. I won't hear another word from you. Go home at once and settle with that rascally tailor. And, let me tell you, I think all the better of you for coming here and telling me straightforwardly about the matter. It would have been awkward. I think Lord Allington might have felt himself in an unpleasant position if this unfortunate business had come on in the County Court immediately after—— But we'll not talk about that. Good- bye, doctor. And don't let the thought of that twenty pounds come between you and your sleep. I don't care if I never see it again."
Still shaking the doctor's hand, he pushed him from the room.
Three days later Colonel Beresford received from Lord Allington a bulky envelope. It contained a copy of the last issue of The Connacht Mercury and a short letter. The colonel read the letter first.
"My dear Beresford,—I send you herewith a copy of the local paper in which I have marked a paragraph in blue pencil. After reading it, you will, I feel sure, agree with me that it is quite impossible for us to place Dr. Whitty on the Commission of the Peace for this county. I cannot blame you for being mistaken about the man. I made the same mistake myself, allowing myself to be misled by his action in the matter of the performance of 'God Save the King' at the Ballintra sports last year. But we may be thankful that his real character has come to light in time to prevent our making a serious mistake.—I am, yours very sincerely,
Colonel Beresford took up the newspaper. There was no mistake about the passage which had roused Lord Allington's anger. It was completely framed in thick blue lines.
"George Whitty, Esq., M.D., Ballintra, £2, 2s."
A number of other names followed. A couple of priests were credited with ten shillings each. About a dozen other people appeared to have subscribed sums varying from two shillings to sixpence. Dr. Whitty 's name came first, and his subscription was much the largest. The Editor had appended a note to the list, in which he pointed out the advantage to the people's cause which would follow the enrolment of men like Dr. Whitty in the National Organisation. "As a professional man," he wrote, "Dr. Whitty's reputation stands deservedly high. Of his personal popularity there is no need to speak. It remains only to express the hope that he will, in the future, display the active interest in the affairs of the League which his generous subscription shows us he feels."
Colonel Beresford stared at the paper in amazement. He found it, even with the printed statement before him, impossible to believe that Dr. Whitty had handed over the sum of two guineas to Thady Glynn. There must, he felt convinced, be some mistake about the announcement. He put the paper in his pocket and walked down to the doctor's house. He found Whitty filling a medicine bottle with some black drug in a corner of his surgery. An old woman, grumbling in an undertone, sat in a chair near the door.
"Is that you, colonel?" said the doctor cheerfully. "I was expecting you yesterday. Have you only just seen The Connacht Mercury? I'll be with you in a minute. Here, Mary, take that bottle home with you and rub it into your legs. Don't go drinking it. It'll very likely kill you, if you do. If you simply rub it in night and morning, the way I tell you, it'll do you no particular harm, and the thought that you have it by you may be some comfort. Now, colonel."
"I suppose," said the colonel, "that this announcement is a mistake."
"Not at all. It's perfectly correct."
"Then it's some sort of joke, though I must confess I don't see the point."
"It's not a joke. It's serious earnest. I can tell you I didn't a bit like parting with that two guineas, and it went through me like a knife when I saw the grin on Thady's face as he pocketed the coins. I felt more like killing him then than I ever did before, and that's saying a good deal."
"Then you really gave it——"
"I did. You drove me to it."
"Yes—you and Lord Allington between you. First of all you refused to believe that I was an habitual drunkard, although you had the best possible evidence for it."
"Was it likely that we'd believe an anonymous letter written by Thady Glynn?"
"Thady didn't write that letter. I wrote it myself, and if that miserable ass, Michael Geraghty, hadn't lost his head and gone back on every word I told him to say you would have believed it, and then there'd have been an end of this wretched J. P. business."
"Do you mean to say——?"
"Next," said Dr. Whitty, "instead of accepting my statement that a fraudulent bankrupt is not a proper man to make a magistrate of, you insisted on forcing a cheque for twenty pounds on me. It would have served you jolly well right if I had handed the whole of it over to Thady Glynn as a subscription to the League from you. But I didn't. I'm a merciful man, and I spared you. Here's your cheque, by the way; and the next time you want to pay a man's debts for him, make sure he owes them before you write cheques."
"But why on earth?"
"After that," said Dr. Whitty, "there seemed to me only one possible thing to do. I knew that Lord Allington would never appoint a man a magistrate who was mixed up with Thady Glynn and his lot, so I went round to the hotel and handed two guineas to Thady in the presence of a lot of witnesses. Then I went home and wrote a note to The Connacht Mercury man, asking him to stick the subscription into a prominent place in his next issue, and, if possible, to write a special note about it. You read it, I suppose. He didn't do it at all badly."
"Why didn't you tell me you objected to being made a magistrate?"
"I did tell you, but you wouldn't listen to me. You went on arguing about duty and responsibility and things of that kind. You finally put it to me in a personal way that I couldn't refuse. Then, I promised I'd accept the honour—it was you called it an honour, I didn't—if Lord Allington nominated me."
"He never will now."
"I sincerely hope not."
"I can't," said the colonel, after a short pause, "tell him all this story."
"You can if you like," said the doctor. "I don't mind a bit if you do. But I should say myself that he wouldn't believe a word of it if you swore it on a Bible."
"No," said Colonel Beresford, "he wouldn't. Hardly anybody would."