The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 14



"THERE'S a man at the door who wants to see you, sir," said Jacobs.

His tone implied a certain scorn of the visitor. All good servants have a contempt for people of a lower class than that to which their masters belong.

"Who is he?" said Colonel Beresford.

He was sitting over the remains of his breakfast. Mrs. Challoner, his daughter, paying another of her rare visits to Ballintra, sat behind the teapot at the other end of the table.

"He says his name is Geraghty, sir."

Jacobs knew perfectly well that the man's name was Geraghty; for he had been acquainted with Michael for years. But he chose to pretend that he did not care to commit himself to any opinion on the subject; preferring to report, impartially, what he had heard.

"If it's Michael Geraghty, show him in here at once. Or—wait a minute, Jacobs,—perhaps you'd better put him into the library."

The colonel was feeling depressed. Life in Ballintra, since Dr. Whitty went on his honeymoon, had been dull. He welcomed the opportunity of a chat with Michael Geraghty. But he knew that Mrs. Challoner held strong views about the necessity for keeping the lower orders in their proper places. His eyes were on her face when he made the correction of his first order and said that Michael Geraghty should be shown into the library.

"Don't let my being here interfere with your seeing him in this room," said Mrs. Challoner. "I have almost finished my cup of tea."

She spoke resignedly, as one who was prepared to suffer considerable discomfort for the sake of humouring an unreasonable and fractious person. Michael Geraghty was shown in, and the colonel, glancing nervously at Mrs. Challoner, shook hands with him and offered him a cup of tea.

"It's what I was wanting to speak to you about," said Michael Geraghty, "is that they have it put out round the town that the doctor's to be home this day week."

"That's quite true."

"There was some of the boys saying," Michael went on, "that it would be well that a few of us would be out to meet him when he'd be bringing his young lady back. He was always well liked in the place."

"That would be a capital idea."

"It could be," said Michael, "that they'd be wanting to build a bonfire or the like, if so be you hadn't any objection."

"I haven't the slightest."

Michael Geraghty hesitated.

"It was Father Henaghan was saying," he went on, "that it would be an improvement to the demonstration if there was a good committee with yourself on it and the Rev. Mr. Jackson, so as the doctor would know that the people of every kind of religion in the place was glad to have him back amongst them."

"I suppose," said the colonel, "that you want a subscription."

"We was thinking of an illuminated address," said Michael.

"Very well, I'll give you a sovereign."

"What the boys was saying down in the town," said Michael, "was that it would be a grand thing if so be it was pleasing to you to present the address. There'll be a triumphal arch along the end of the street, and a tar barrel under that, with maybe a cart-load of turf or such round about it; and Father Henaghan is willing to lend the table out of the school, and maybe you'd stand on the table with the illuminated address in your hand and say a few words the like of what would be suitable to the occasion."

"I hope," said Mrs. Challoner sharply, "that you'll do no such thing."

The colonel hesitated. He suspected that he would look somewhat ridiculous if he stood on the table in the middle of the street, silhouetted against the blazing tar barrel, very likely dripped on by a damp triumphal arch, and waved an illuminated address in his hand. He was not at all sure, besides, that Dr. Whitty would be pleased at the demonstration.

"Do you think," he said, "that Dr. Whitty would like all that?"

Michael Geraghty had not seriously considered Dr. Whitty's feelings. Like other promoters of festivals of honour, he was willing to be content with the conviction that the hero of the occasion ought to be pleased, if he was not. He was quite frank with the colonel.

"I don't know," he said, "will Dr. Whitty be pleased; but Father Henaghan was after saying to me last night that Thady Glynn will be terrible vexed."

This was certainly true, and it weighed with the colonel. He was always pleased to get the better of the truculent publican, and it occurred to him that this aspect of the matter would appeal strongly to Dr. Whitty.

"I don't think," he said, "that I'll present the address. Let Father Henaghan do that. But if you're having a committee, you can put my name on it."

Michael Geraghty seemed to be well satisfied. He pocketed his sovereign and went away. Colonel Beresford retired to the library, lit a cigarette, and wrote a letter to Dr. Whitty.

"My dear Doctor,—I hope you are having a pleasant holiday and enjoying the scenery of the Channel Islands, which, I have always understood, is delightful. We shall all be glad to see you home again next week. In fact I understand that the popular feeling is to take the form of a mild demonstration. Michael Geraghty, who is organising it, was up with me just now, and speaks of a bonfire, an illuminated address, and a triumphal arch. I suppose the town band will play a tune or two, probably not 'The Battle Song of King Malachi.' I hope this kind of thing doesn't bore you. I suggested to Michael Geraghty that perhaps it might, but he seemed to think that you will be reconciled to the fuss and publicity by the knowledge that Thady Glynn will be greatly annoyed. I feel myself, and I dare say you do too, that it's worth going through something to make that blackguard feel throughly uncomfortable."

Two days later a telegram, which had been handed in at the Sark post office, arrived in Ballintra.

"Michael Geraghty, Chairman Reception Committee, Ballintra.—Do not waste money on illuminated address. Buy fireworks.—Whitty"

Michael took this round to the presbytery and handed it to Father Henaghan.

"The doctor's right," he said, "and it's all our luck that the schoolmaster hadn't finished drawing up the address. If we had it sent off to Dublin we couldn't have got out of it. But the way things is we're all right. It was three pounds we had laid out for the address, and we'll get a fine lot of fireworks for that money."

"You won't be wanting the table out of the school, then," said the priest. "I'm just as glad, for you'd have had it destroyed."

"We will want it," said Geraghty. "If so be there's no illuminated address, there'll be all the more need for yourself to be making some sort of a speech."

"Let the colonel do that."

"The colonel isn't willing," said Michael. "He said he'd be better pleased if you were to do it."

"I won't then. Do you think I'm going to stand on the table in the middle of the street making speeches to the doctor, with every corner-boy in the town laughing at me? You ought to have more respect for your clergy than to suggest such a thing. If you want a speech at all, the colonel is the proper man to make it."

Michael Geraghty went up to Ballintra House and did his best to persuade Colonel Beresford to make the speech. The colonel, the fear of Mrs. Challoner in his mind, refused decisively. Michael Geraghty went home and sat down to consider the advisability of asking Mr. Jackson to fill the gap. He spent a restless night and got up in the morning without arriving at any definite decision. At eleven o'clock another telegram arrived.

"Michael Geraghty, Chairman Reception Committee, Ballintra.—Understand that band is to play at demonstration. Mrs. Whitty strongly of opinion tunes of a personal character should be avoided. Objects particularly to 'Love's Young Dream.'—Whitty"

Michael hurriedly assembled the leading members of the band and laid the telegram before them.

"I know the tune well," said Flaherty, the cornet-player, "and a fine one it is. What's more, we have the music of it. Listen to me now, boys."

He whistled the air amid a murmur of applause, and then turned to Michael Geraghty.

"It wasn't that one we were thinking of playing," he said, "but 'Rich and Rare were the Gems she Wore,' on account of the words being suitable for the young lady that's coming all the way across Ireland to be living among us. But I'm not sure now that the other wouldn't be better, seeing as how she and the doctor is only just married. I'll take it on myself to say we'll be able to manage it."

"But," said Michael Geraghty, "the doctor says he particularly dislikes that tune."

"Begging your pardon, Mr. Geraghty," said Flaherty, "the doctor says no such thing. What he says is that Mrs. Whitty objects to it, which is as good as telling us that only for her it's the tune he'd be best pleased with himself of any you could give him. It's the doctor that we're striving to please and not the young lady. Believe you me, if the band gives out 'Love's Young Dream' in the way it ought—and it's what the band will do—the doctor will be well satisfied. If he didn't want that tune played why would he be going to the expense of sending a telegram which can't have cost him much under one-and-sixpence? Tell me that, now."

Michael Geraghty could offer no answer to this puzzle. An hour later the band was busy practising "Love's Young Dream." Michael himself, coming to a sudden decision about the address of welcome, went up to the Rectory and asked Mr. Jackson to deliver an oration on the occasion. But the rector was no more willing than the priest or the colonel to undertake the task. He explained that he had never done anything of the sort before, and that speaking from a table in front of a bonfire would make him nervous. Michael Geraghty went home and summoned his daughter Molly.

"Is there," he said, "such a thing as a writing-pen in the house?"

"There is," said Molly; "why wouldn't there? I have one in my school satchel."

"Bring it here, then, and do you sit down and be writing what I'll tell you."

Molly, who was a very good child, did exactly as her father bade her.

"Dr. Whitty, Honoured Sir,"—said Michael ("Have you that down? Mind your spelling now, Molly.")—"Your two telegrams to hand and contents noted. This is to let you know that there's trouble over the speech that should be made at the demonstration of welcome to yourself and lady, owing to neither the colonel, nor Father Henaghan, nor the Rev. Mr. Jackson being able, which is what they say, but my own belief is that they could well enough, only they're not willing. If it would be pleasing to yourself and lady to let the occasion pass without a speech, the same being what ought not to be, but we can't help it, it would be a great convenience to your obedient servant

Michael Geraghty

"P.S.—A line by return will oblige."

Then followed a passage not written from dictation:—

"My da bids me write this, hoping it finds you as well as it leaves me.—Your loving friend Molly Geraghty"

This was addressed, stamped, and dispatched at once. A telegram in reply arrived two days later.

"Speech of welcome absolutely essential. Try Thady Glynn.—Whitty"

Michael Geraghty showed this message to the colonel.

"You wouldn't," he said, "like Thady Glynn to be taking part in the proceedings."

"I would not," said the colonel, "but I'd rather he did than make the speech myself. Look here, I'll tell you what to do. Go to the schoolmaster and get him to write the thing out. Put it in an envelope and hand it to the doctor yourself."

"I might," said Michael Geraghty, "and it's what I'll have to do at the latter end, but the doctor won't be pleased. It would be better if we had a proper speech made; but what can't be can't."

Another telegram, this time from London, arrived on the morning of the day previous to that on which the doctor was to arrive.

"Michael Geraghty, Chairman Reception Committee, Ballintra.—Build bonfire opposite door of Imperial Hotel.—Whitty "

"It's wonderful," said Michael to a member of the town band to whom he showed the telegram; "it's wonderful the interest the doctor takes in the demonstration."

"Well he may then, seeing it's for him it is."

"I had it settled to have the tar barrel where Thady Glynn would see it," said Michael, "and I'm glad the doctor agrees. It's raging mad Thady is this minute, and he'll be worse before we've done."

The next day was a very busy one for Michael Geraghty. The triumphal arch, which consisted of a long strip of white calico bearing an inscription in green lettering, was stretched across the street, the ends being made fast to two opposite windows. The table was carried down from the school- room and placed under the arch, to the great inconvenience of carts which were trying to pass from one end of the town to the other. A space was railed in for the firing of the rockets, the idea being to minimise the risk involved in the handling of unfamiliar explosives. The crackers, about four dozen of them, were distributed to a number of small boys who could be relied on to set them off at irregular intervals during the proceedings. The town band, massed under the triumphal arch, just behind the school table, had a final rehearsal of "Love's Young Dream." Michael, assisted by about a hundred young men and boys, brought down a tar barrel from the store behind his house and set it up exactly opposite Thady Glynn's door. The work of piling turf round it and over it began. Then a car was seen driving along the road from Dunbeg.

"Tell that fellow he can't pass, whoever he is," said Michael; "there's no way for him to get by till we have the turf cleared off the street."

"The Lord save us!" said Flaherty the cornet-player, who was watching the building of the bonfire. "It's the doctor himself that's in it."

Michael Geraghty looked up from his work. Flaherty was perfectly right. Dr. Whitty and his wife sat together on one side of the car. Michael stood for a moment in silent amazement.

"By all that's holy!" he said slowly.

Dr. Whitty jumped from the car and shook Michael warmly by the hand.

"What brings you here at all at this time of the day?" said Michael. "We're not half ready for you."

"We came on by the early train," said the doctor. "The fact is, from the letter the colonel wrote me, and from the one I got from you—— By the way, how's Molly?"

"She's well," said Michael, "but she'll be sorry to see you here before your time. It wasn't till the evening that we expected you."

"I know that," said the doctor, "and it was in the evening I intended to arrive; but from the letters you and the colonel wrote I gathered that this demonstration was being badly mismanaged, and I thought I'd better come home in time to run it myself. I hate to see things bungled. Have you got anyone to make the speech?"

"I have not; but the schoolmaster has it written out, and the capital letters done in red ink, and it'll be given to you when the time comes."

"That won't do at all," said the doctor.

"I don't know how we'll manage then," said Michael, "for neither the colonel nor——"

"I'll see after it myself," said the doctor, "so you can make your mind quite easy. What time is fixed for the demonstration?"

"It was ten o'clock we thought you'd be here."

"That will suit admirably. Let us through now, and then you can go on building your bonfire. We've been travelling all night to get here, and I simply must have a wash and something to eat. I'll be round at ten sharp. What's that you have on the triumphal arch in the way of an inscription?"

"A hundred thousand welcomes," said Michael. "I was in favour of it's being in Irish myself, but there was some of the boys said it was better in English, out of respect for the lady."

"It's upside down anyway," said the doctor. "It's just as well I came back in time to see it set right."

The demonstration was a magnificent success. At a quarter to ten the bonfire was lighted, and blazed, to the great delight of the crowd and the discomfiture of Thady Glynn. A shower of rockets was set off at ten o'clock precisely, the signal being given by Michael Geraghty. Colonel Beresford, Mr. Jackson, and Father Henaghan stood in front of the table, facing the crowd. Mrs. Challoner and Mrs. Jackson, moved to curiosity by the unusual nature of the proceedings, secured seats at one of the windows from which the triumphal arch was suspended. The blinds of the upper rooms of Thady Glynn's hotel were drawn down, but Mrs. Glynn and Lizzie were peeping out from behind them. There was a short pause after the explosion of the rockets, and then a loud burst of cheering from the crowd. Dr. Whitty, with his wife leaning on his arm, was seen making his way along the street. Leaving Mrs. Whitty in charge of Colonel Beresford, he mounted the table.

"Ladies and gentlemen——" he began.

A roar of cheers and a dropping volley of exploding crackers interrupted him for some minutes.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he began again, "it has fallen to my lot to give verbal expression to the feelings of pleasure with which you welcome me home to your midst—feelings which are already evidenced in the magnificent bonfire which blazes behind me, in the triumphal arch under whose shadow I stand, and——"

"Three cheers for the doctor," said a voice in the crowd.

There was a warm response to the appeal, and a number of crackers were flung, hissing and banging, into the middle of the crowd.

"It is through no wish of my own," the doctor went on, "that I find myself in my present position. There are others"—he glanced at the colonel—"who would have filled more appropriately the place I now occupy."

"Sorra the man in the town we'd rather be listening to than yourself, doctor," said Flaherty, who had the members of the band round him.

"But," said the doctor, "since nobody else has come forward, I feel it my duty to say to you what anybody else would have said. Supposing now that the colonel was standing on this platform at the present minute, or either of the reverend gentlemen I see beside him, or Michael Geraghty, what would they be saying to you? They'd say that only for me there'd never have been the pier built that was built. Isn't that true?"

"It is. It is," shouted the crowd.

"And only for me Michael Geraghty wouldn't have got the money that was due to him for building it, and only for me there wouldn't have been the two fine buoys marking out the channel that's there this minute. Isn't that true?"

"It is. It is."

"Very well," said the doctor. "Those, along with other things, are the reasons for this splendid demonstration of welcome—a demonstration second to none ever seen in this county—as an expression of the cordial good feeling of all classes and creeds towards Mrs. Whitty and myself."

A loud burst of cheers greeted the conclusion of the speech. Dr. Whitty got down from the table, and was seen shaking hands warmly with Colonel Beresford, Mr. Jackson, and Father Henaghan. When the cheers had subsided and the last of the crackers had exploded, Dr. Whitty mounted the table again.

"It is now my pleasant duty," he said, "to thank you, on behalf of Mrs. Whitty and myself, for the enthusiastic welcome you have accorded to us. It is far beyond anything we deserve. The slight services, alluded to by the previous speaker, which I have rendered to the town in the matter of piers, athletic sports, and public meetings are far more than repaid by the splendid reception we have this evening enjoyed. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the proudest moment of our lives. Words fail me when I try to give adequate expression to our feelings. I shall merely add that Mrs. Whitty——"

At this further reference to Mrs. Whitty Flaherty felt that his opportunity had arrived. He put his cornet to his lips and blew the first few notes of "Love's Young Dream." The other members of the band, though taken unawares, rose to the occasion. They seized their instruments and one by one dropped into their places in the accompaniment with considerable skill. Dr. Whitty stood smiling on the platform until he suddenly recognised the tune. Then he leaped to the ground and seized Michael Geraghty by the arm.

"Didn't I wire to you," he said, "not to have that tune played?"

"It wasn't that way we understood the message," said Michael, "but quite the contrary."

"I distinctly said there were to be no personal tunes played, and this one is personal. Under the circumstances it's disgustingly personal."

"What we did was for the best," said Michael.

"Come now," said the colonel, laying his hand on the doctor's shoulder, "you can't deny that it's rather appropriate."

"That's exactly what I'm complaining of. It's sickeningly appropriate. At least you all think it is. That's what's so horribly vulgar about playing it. As a matter of fact, we're not that kind of people at all, either of us. We dislike that sort of thing intensely. Listen to them now."

The crowd, moved to enthusiasm by the strains of the band, had taken up the song.

"For there's nothing half so sweet in life as love's young dream."

"After all," said the colonel soothingly, "you married her, you know. You must allow us to give you credit for the usual feelings."

"Credit!" said the doctor. "Credit! Good heavens, colonel, even if we had what you call the usual feelings, do you suppose we want to bray them out on brass instruments in the middle of the night, beside a bonfire in front of Thady Glynn's hotel? It's the most revoltingly indecent exhibition of blatant vulgarity—— But there, I've nobody to blame but myself. I ought to have come home directly I heard about this demonstration. I might have known. If I'd had a glimmer of common sense, I would have known that there wasn't a man in Ballintra fit to organise a thing of the sort properly except myself."

"What we did," said Michael Geraghty feebly, "was for the best."

Dr. Whitty refused to be pacified. He took his wife by the arm and led her away. The song followed them down the street, beyond the light of the bonfire, to the door of their house.

"There's nothing half so sweet in life as love's young dream."

"After all," said Mrs. Whitty, "it was rather nice of them."

"They may have meant well," said the doctor, "but that kind of sentiment is absolutely nauseating. If I'm ever married again—I mean to say, when the time comes for our silver wedding—I shan't go on any honeymoon. I shall stay at home and organise whatever demonstration of welcome there is to be on proper lines. It's an extraordinary thing how stupid people can be over quite simple affairs when they are left without proper guidance."

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