The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 11

 

XI
MISS MULHALL'S LECTURE

SHE was a young woman of peculiar but prepossessing appearance, and Dr. Whitty's eyes rested on her with warm appreciation. Her hair, he noticed, was of a blue-black colour, very abundant, wavy, and lustrous. Her face was oval and plump, with a deep dimple in the middle of her chin. Her skin was a warm shade of brown; her eyes narrow, and the irises very dark. Her figure, plump like her face, was well formed and delightfully curved. The general effect was heightened by the fact that she was dressed with good taste in clothes which fitted her. She had a gold-rimmed pince-nez, attached by a thin gold chain to a round brooch fastened on the lapel of her coat. Concealed in the brooch was a spring which wound up the gold chain whenever her fingers loosed their hold of the pince-nez. She had a trick of pulling out the chain and then letting it fly back again, very interesting to watch.

"I see," she said, smiling pleasantly, "that I must introduce myself. I am Miss Mulhall."

"I am delighted to see you," said Dr. Whitty.

He spoke the truth; but he also wondered who she was and what she wanted. She was a stranger in Ballintra. He did not think she was a chance traveller driven by some sudden catastrophe to seek for medical advice. She did not look as if there were anything the matter with her, and her face had not that expression of vacuous superiority to her surroundings which marks the faces of all tourists. She had an air of brisk competence, not unlike that of a young woman who, three weeks before, had forced Dr. Whitty to buy a complete outfit of rubber stamps suitable for marking house linen. But Miss Mulhall, who was simply dressed, seemed inclined to get straight to business. The young lady of the rubber stamps was showily shabby and had wasted a lot of time talking about the weather and the scenery. It seemed unlikely Miss Mulhall had come to sell anything.

"You've heard from Lady Claneder, I think," she said.

"No," said Dr. Whitty, "I haven't. I should like to, of course. I'm sure she writes interesting letters; but I don't happen to know her, and I don't expect she would care about starting a correspondence with me."

Miss Mulhall had a small black bag hanging by a chain from her waist. She opened it, took out a notebook, and turned over the pages rapidly.

"There must have been some curious mistake," she said. "Your name is certainly here as one of those to whom literature has been sent in Ballintra."

"Literature," said Dr. Whitty, "is a thing I delight in. Have you read——?"

"The Rev. J. Jackson," said Miss Mulhall, "her eyes on the page before her, "Rev. Father Henaghan, Colonel Beresford, D.L., G. Whitty, M.D. Those are the names I was given. I make it a rule to try, in the first instance, to secure the interests of the medical men in the locality in the work of the Guild."

"Quite right," said Dr. Whitty. "But what is the Guild?"

"The Guild of Maternal Education," said Miss Mulhall. "Lady Claneder's Guild. Surely you must have heard of it."

Dr. Whitty's conscience smote him suddenly. He had—the recollection flashed on him—received by post a large bundle of pamphlets a week before. The envelope in which they came bore a monogram made up of the letters G.M.E., surmounted by a coronet, Lady Claneder's coronet, no doubt. Among the printed papers was a letter bearing an address embossed in gold, "Claneder Castle, near Devizes." The letter was lithographed and obviously represented the actual handwriting of somebody, Lady Claneder's, probably. Dr. Whitty, mistaking the whole for a cunningly devised advertisement of some new patent medicine, had thrown the printed matter into the waste-paper basket and thrust the coroneted envelope behind the clock. His eyes wandered to the chimney-piece, and he noticed that half the envelope was sticking out. Miss Mulhall glanced in the same direction.

"As you didn't get the literature," she said, "I had, perhaps, better explain that the Guild of Maternal Education is founded for the purpose of instructing the mothers of the Empire "

"I should almost have guessed that from its name," said Dr. Whitty.

He edged his way over to the chimney-piece and stood with his back against the clock. Miss Mulhall watched him, and it seemed to Dr. Whitty that her eyes twinkled slightly. She let her pince-nez go with a run. She looked peculiarly charming, and Dr. Whitty hastened to offer a propitiatory apology for his last remark.

"A most valuable work," he said. "There is an enormous amount of infant mortality due entirely to the ignorance of mothers. I understand that in the great English cities the percentage——"

"And in Irish rural districts," said Miss Mulhall.

"Of course. It is, I should say, if anything worse in the Irish rural districts."

The majority of the babies who came under Dr. Whitty's observation grew up to be healthy boys and girls, but he felt it desirable to placate Miss Mulhall. The more he looked at her, the more attractive she appeared.

"If a subscription of ten shillings——" he said.

"I'm not collecting subscriptions," said Miss Mulhall, "but, of course, if you like to make a contribution to the funds of the Guild, after you have listened to our lecturer——"

"I shall take the first opportunity I get of going to hear him," said the doctor. "Where does he lecture?"

"If you had read the letter Lady Claneder wrote you," said Miss Mulhall severely, "you'd know that our lecturer will be here on Monday."

Dr. Whitty felt it would be useless to deny any longer the receipt of the literature of the Guild of Maternal Education. There was only one course open to him which promised any chance of ingratiating himself with Miss Mulhall.

"I need scarcely say," he said, "that I'm delighted to hear it. As a medical man I am painfully aware of the absolute necessity for maternal education in this district. You'd be surprised to hear some of the things I could tell you. Most of the women regard vaccination as a kind of accompaniment of baptism. There was one the other day who was really distressed because her child died without it. She said——"

"The Guild," said Miss Mulhall, "tries to keep clear of religious controversy of every kind."

"It's perfectly right," said the doctor, "and I'm prepared to back it in every way I can. Just you let me know if I can be of the slightest assistance to your lecturer, and whatever I can do, I will."

This was apparently what Miss Mulhall wanted. She smiled in the most charming way and went so far as to balance her pince-nez for a moment on the bridge of her nose. Dr. Whitty recognised that this added a delightful piquancy to her appearance.

"The first thing to do," said Miss Mulhall, "is to obtain the use of the local hall for the accommodation of the lecturer."

"Father Henaghan is the man to get at for that," said the doctor. "There isn't exactly a hall here, but I haven't the least doubt that he'll lend us the schoolroom."

"I shall call on him at once."

"Perhaps," said Dr. Whitty, "you'd better let me approach him in the first instance. He's a delightful man, but he's a little touchy on the subject of Woman's Franchise."

"We've nothing whatever to do with the Franchise movement."

"Of course not; but he might think you have. You're educating women, you know, and nowadays it's impossible to know where that sort of thing will end. I don't mind a bit myself, but Father Henaghan is sure to be suspicious. You can't altogether blame him, can you?"

"If he's that kind of man——" said Miss Mulhall.

"He isn't in the least. Don't let anything I've said give you a wrong impression of Father Henaghan. He's always ready to take his part in any good work that's going. I merely wanted to suggest that it might be as well if I explained things to him a bit before you called."

"Very well," said Miss Mulhall. "I shall go first to the other two gentlemen." She referred to her notebook again. "The Rev. J. Jackson and Colonel Beresford. There's no objection to my calling on them, I suppose?"

"Not the slightest," said Dr. Whitty. "They'll both receive you most courteously. If I were you, in talking to Mr. Jackson I should emphasise the Temperance side of your work. It has a Temperance side, of course?"

"We're not directly interested in total abstinence," said Miss Mulhall.

"Still, you can't do much with a mother when she drinks, can you?"

"Of course not."

"Well, just rub that into Mr. Jackson. In approaching the colonel, you should make it clear that you are working on imperial lines. You said you were, didn't you?"

"We appeal to the mothers of the Empire."

"Quite so. Get the colonel to understand that. He's tremendously keen on empires of every kind. They're a sort of hobby of his. Then, when you come to deliver your lecture——"

"I don't lecture myself," said Miss Mulhall; "I merely make arrangements beforehand for the reception of the lecturer in each locality."

"I'm sorry to hear you say that," said the doctor. "I should have enjoyed listening to you lecturing immensely."

Miss Mulhall's eyes twinkled again, but she took no other notice of the compliment.

"When you are talking to Father Henaghan," she said, "you must get him to promise to give out the lecture in his church on Sunday."

"Certainly," said Dr. Whitty.

"I shall ask Mr. Jackson to do so, too. That is the only kind of advertisement we adopt. As a rule, we find it most effective."

Dr. Whitty went straight to the priest's house as soon as Miss Mulhall left him.

"Good morning. Father Henaghan," he said. "I came round to have a chat with you about Lady Claneder and her Guild. She's a very remarkable woman and engaged on a most important work."

"Is it her," said the priest, "that sent me a lot of books and papers about the proper way of feeding babies?"

"It was," said Dr. Whitty; "but, of course, she didn't expect you to put her advice into actual practice."

"As well as I can make out," said the priest, "she thought——"

"Excuse my interrupting you for one moment," said Dr. Whitty, "but did you read those papers?"

"I did, the most of them."

"Then perhaps you wouldn't mind telling me what was in them."

"A lot of talk, that's what was in them. I didn't read the whole of them, but there was one that was about what they call sterilising milk."

"Capital thing that," said the doctor.

"It may be, for them that has time to spend in amusing themselves. There was another about the amount that a child should be given to eat, and the way the most of the people feeds them too much, on account of not knowing the size of their stomachs. My own opinion is that a child will thrive best if you give it as much as you have for it, whenever it cries."

"But then you don't know the size of its stomach, Father Henaghan. After all——"

"I do not. And it's what neither I nor anyone else has any call to know. The only other one I read was about hygienic clothing, and that's foolishness too. The most of us in this country would be thankful enough to have what clothes would keep us warm without bothering our heads about what they were made of."

"Still," said the doctor, "whatever you may think of particular details, you can't deny that, on the whole, it's an excellent work, and I'm sure you'll have no objection to lending the schoolroom on Monday evening to one of Lady Claneder's lecturers."

"Is it to be telling them things to the women of this parish?"

"Exactly. It can't possibly do any harm."

"How do I know that? There's too much going on these times in the way of rising the people's minds about this and that, so that they won't settle down and keep quiet. Anyway, who'd go to the lecture?"

"If nobody goes," said the doctor, "you'll be none the worse off for having it, so I suppose you'll give us the schoolroom."

The discussion ended, as such discussions usually did end, in Dr. Whitty getting what he wanted. He walked down to Thady Glynn's hotel, where Miss Mulhall was staying, and announced the result of his mission with an air of triumph. Miss Mulhall did not seem so pleased and grateful as he expected. Her face wore a troubled expression.

"Nothing wrong, I hope?" said Dr. Whitty. "The colonel hasn't gone back on you in any way, has he? If he has, I'll go up at once and set the matter right."

"No," said Miss Mulhall. "Nothing could have been nicer than the colonel and Mr. Jackson were. The fact is, that I've just had a telegram from Dr. Quigley to say he's prostrated with influenza."

"Poor fellow," said Dr. Whitty; "but don't allow that to depress you too much. He'll get over it in time. Is he a near relation?"

"No," said Miss Mulhall; "he's our principal lecturer. It's extremely annoying, for now our meeting here will have to be dropped. The whole work will be at a standstill, and Lady Claneder will be greatly vexed."

"I shouldn't like that to happen," said Dr. Whitty. "She's such an admirable woman it would be the greatest pity to upset her in any way. But don't be despondent, Miss Mulhall. Give the lecture yourself. We'll all be just as pleased. In fact, a lecture of that sort—an intimate talk, so to speak, to women about what is, after all, principally women's business—is much better delivered by a woman. There are lots of little touches, the things which really go home to a mother's heart——"

It struck Dr. Whitty that Miss Mulhall was on the verge of smiling. He stopped abruptly. Miss Mulhall became quite grave again.

"I'm afraid I can't lecture," she said.

"Nonsense," said Dr. Whitty. "Anyone can lecture. All that is required is a little nerve, a touch of enthusiasm, and a thorough knowledge of the subject."

"I should fail in the matter of nerve. The sight of an audience before me——"

"You really must stay here and lecture," said the doctor. "We can't let you go yet. It would be a bitter disappointment to all of us if you were to run away at once. I can easily arrange that there won't be any audience if you'd rather have an empty room."

Miss Mulhall smiled unmistakably this time.

"Besides," she said, "I don't really know anything about the subject. It may seem odd to you that I don't, but the fact is that I simply make arrangements for Dr. Quigley, interview the local people, and impress on them the importance of the work. I'm quite ignorant about it myself."

"That doesn't matter," said Dr. Whitty. "To-morrow is only Sunday. You've got the whole of that day and most of Monday to prepare. Make up those pamphlets of Lady Claneder's. They'll give you the entire thing in a few words. Capital pamphlets they are, tersely put, striking, and brimful of sound teaching."

"I thought you told me you didn't get them."

"Father Henaghan showed me his copies," said Dr. Whitty. "I admired them immensely. I can't imagine anything more suitable for the women of this neighbourhood than a synopsis of those pamphlets with the little intimate touches thrown in which you——"

"Perhaps I'd better try," said Miss Mulhall. "But you needn't chase away the whole audience. I shouldn't like to deliver a lecture to you and Father Henaghan with nobody else there."

"Right. I'll see that the room's crammed."

Sunday was a very busy day with Dr. Whitty. He spent it beating up an audience for the lecture. He called personally on more than forty mothers, and urged them strongly not to miss the opportunity of acquiring really valuable information. He dropped in on Miss Mulhall at short intervals with offers of help in the preparation of her lecture. He brought her a large red book on the diseases of children which, he assured her, contained all that was known about measles and whooping-cough. Later on, he called again and told her that he had arranged a plan for demonstrating the proper way of sterilising milk by means of a spirit lamp and a soda-water bottle. At about six o'clock in the evening he walked into her room again.

"I don't know," he said, "whether you are thinking of saying anything about hygienic clothing. Lady Claneder is very keen about the subject, and quite rightly. I have just been round with Mrs. Geraghty—she has thirteen children of her own, and the youngest is an infant. She has promised to lend me any clothes you want—by way of illustration, I mean."

"Are they very hygienic?"

"Not at all. Quite the contrary, I fancy. I thought you might like to have them as examples of the way the thing ought not to be done."

On Monday morning he arrived at the hotel while Miss Mulhall was at breakfast.

"I'm sure," he said, "you mean to speak strongly about the popular habit of over-feeding infants."

"There's a pamphlet entirely devoted to that," said Miss Mulhall.

"There is. I read it through from end to end last night—borrowed it from the colonel, you know. I was greatly impressed by it."

"You must have known it all before," said Miss Mulhall.

"Of course; but I never came across it put in such a forcible way. Lady Claneder is a wonderful woman. You're going to say something on that subject, of course."

"I'm going to begin with that."

"I thought you probably would, so I sat up last night and made a baby's stomach—I mean, of course, a model of a baby's stomach—but of part of the inner tube of a bicycle tyre. It has exactly the cubic content of that of an infant three months old. I thought it would be valuable to you by way of an illustration. I left the valve on, so that you can pump milk or anything else you like into it, and show what happens if you overdo it."

"Don't you think that would be rather a disgusting experiment?"

"Not very," said Dr. Whitty, "and I'm sure everybody would like it."

He called twice more in the course of the day, each time with a suggestion for the improvement of Miss Mulhall's lecture. At seven o'clock he arrived to conduct her to the schoolroom. He found her sitting at a table with a large bundle of manuscript in front of her. His sterilising apparatus, a bundle of the cast-off clothes of Mrs. Geraghty's baby, and the section of the bicycle tyre stood together on the sideboard. Miss Mulhall was in a condition of extreme nervousness.

"I'm dreadfully afraid," she said, "I shall break down."

"Oh no, you won't," said Dr. Whitty. "I shall be close beside you. I'll take charge of all the apparatus, and the moment you want anything I'll hand it to you."

"That will make me worse."

"Don't think of your audience," said Dr. Whitty. "Think of nothing except your subject. Let it take a grip of you. Recollect that you have an absolutely priceless opportunity of doing a great work. Hundreds of lives may be spared—lives of children who might grow up to be—— Are you a Unionist or a Nationalist, Miss Mulhall?"

"I don't know, really. My father used to admire Parnell, I believe."

"Then you're a Nationalist. So we'll say that the children might grow up to be Wolfe Tones, every one of them, if their lives aren't sacrificed at the start by the ignorance of their mothers. Keep that sort of consideration before your mind, and your nervousness will vanish, simply vanish."

"But——" said Miss Mulhall. She paused and looked at Dr. Whitty with a curious deprecating kind of smile.

"Say to yourself," said the doctor, "'The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.' Think how you are engaged in directing the hand to rock right. It's the noblest and most inspiring work——"

Again Miss Mulhall smiled. Dr. Whitty stopped speaking. There was something about her smile which puzzled him, a suggestion which eluded him completely.

"There were fourteen of us at home," said Miss Mulhall, "and I was the eldest. My mother died when the youngest was born."

"And you brought them all up?" said Dr. Whitty.

"Yes."

"Then there isn't a woman in Ireland better qualified than you are——"

"That's just the difficulty," said Miss Mulhall.

"I beg your pardon. I don't quite catch——"

Miss Mulhall laid her hand on the pile of manuscript before her. The smile flickered on her lips again, broadened, glowed. Laughter danced in her eyes.

"I think all this is rather silly," she said "Don't you?"

Dr. Whitty stared at her. Then, suddenly, he burst into a joyous laugh. He crossed the room, seized Miss Mulhall's hand, and wrung it heartily.

The next day Colonel Beresford met Dr. Whitty outside Thady Glynn's hotel.

"Look here, Whitty," he said, "what did you mean by insisting on my attending that lecture last night? I never heard such a lot of rot talked in my life."

"It was a capital lecture," said the doctor. "You'd go a long way before you'd hear a better or see a nicer-looking lecturer than Miss Mulhall."

"Oh, the girl was all right; but—own up now, Whitty—there was no sense in what she said. How the deuce can you expect the women about here to spend their time boiling soda water?"

"They're not wanted to boil soda water. What you allude to was a demonstration of the art of sterilising milk."

"It looked to me a great deal more like boiling soda water. But take another point. You're a sensible man, and you must know quite well that what she said about washing children is perfectly ridiculous. I don't deny that a child ought to be washed occasionally, but she wants to overdo it. There's nothing more wholesome than a little dirt. Take Geraghty's children. I don't suppose they get a bath from one year's end to the other, and I defy you to find a healthier lot anywhere. Or look at my roses. If they weren't mulched with manure—manure, mind you, Whitty, the filthiest thing there is—they'd simply die. It's just the same with children."

"You may abuse the lecture as much as ever you like, colonel, but I won't have a word against Miss Mulhall in my presence. Not a word. It's better for you to understand that at once. She's a lady I have a very high regard for."

"Oh!" said the colonel, drawing the exclamation out slowly.

"Yes," said Dr. Whitty, "exactly so."

"I apologise," said the colonel. "If I'd known—— When did you settle it?"

"Last night, just before the lecture."

"I congratulate you," said the colonel. "I'll go into the hotel now and congratulate Miss Mulhall. If I'd had the slightest idea—— But I won't say another word against the lecture."

"You may if you like," said the doctor. "I know that lecture's all tommy-rot just as well as you do. So does Miss Mulhall. In fact, she knows it a great deal better than either of us; and you could hardly say a word she wouldn't endorse. But I must say I think that liquid manure theory of yours is rather an exaggeration. By the way, do you happen to know Lady Claneder?"

"I met her once," said the colonel, "at my daughter's house in London."

"The next time you meet her I wish you'd try and get her to wind up her Guild. It doesn't do any actual harm, I suppose, but it's a public nuisance. You can't imagine all I went through working up that lecture before I found out what Miss Mulhall's opinions really were."

"Nothing," said Colonel Beresford, "will stop Lady Claneder, unless she finds by experience that every one of her assistants gets married when she sends them out on tour. That might damp her ardour a little."