The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 5

 

V
THE ETYMOLOGISTS

"I DON'T know what right he thinks he has to do it," said Colonel Beresford, "but every time Hosty meets me he asks some favour or other of me."

He had returned from a short visit to Dublin and stood outside the Court House after the Petty Sessions were over. He was talking to Dr. Whitty.

"Last time I met him was the day I was going over to London to see my daughter in April. He palmed off a niece of his on me then, a creature that was going back to school, who sat on top of me the whole way from Holyhead to Euston."

"You speak figuratively, of course," said the doctor. "No respectable niece——"

"The time before that he had an army pensioner whom he wanted me to take on as gatekeeper. I told him I had more gate-keepers already than I had gates; but he bothered on at me for nearly an hour. Once before he dragged me to a concert to hear a musical protégé of his. That cost me ten and sixpence, and I was frightfully bored."

"Sir Clement Hosty, " said the doctor, "appears to be a man of varied interests in life. "

"You'll say that more emphatically when you hear the last thing he did. I was lunching in the club the day before yesterday, and as soon as I entered the room I caught sight of Hosty. I sat down as far away from him as I could, of course, and I thought he wouldn't see me. Unfortunately, he did. I had no sooner lit my cigarette in the hall afterwards than he came bounding up to me. You know the way he walks."

"No, I don't. I've never seen him."

"Well, he's a stoutish man and short. He's also surprisingly energetic, and he gets over the ground like a tennis ball on a dry day. He grabbed me at once and said he wanted me to do the civil thing to a Professor Bernstein who was coming down to this neighbourhood with two assistant etymologists. They're sent out by the Royal Society to make a scientific survey of this county."

"You're sure he said etymologists?"

"Quite." said the colonel. "Hosty always shouts so that you can't pretend not to hear what he's saying, even if you're quite a long way off. Now, what sort of civility would an etymologist expect, do you think?"

"Lunch, for one thing," said the doctor. "All scientific men eat largely, you know. And whatever help you can give him in his pursuit."

"I don't know anything about etymology," said the colonel. "It's words, isn't it? not insects."

"Yes; the science of the origin of human speech, and the relationship of the words that are in one language to other words that are in other languages which don't sound a bit like them. There's a thing called Grimm's Law which lies at the base of the whole concern. It shows that whenever a German is inclined to say 'k' an Englishman naturally wants to say 'd,' or something else of the same sort."

"I sympathise a good deal with the Englishman. But what's the good of coming down here to study that sort of thing? There are no Germans here, and I don't believe there are two dozen Englishmen within a radius of ten miles of us."

"I expect," said the doctor, "that they're after Irish. It's perfectly amazing the interest German professors take—you said he was a German, didn't you?"

"No, I didn't. I don't know what he is. All I said was that his name is Bernstein."

"Then he must be a German, and, if so, he's almost certain to be studying Irish. In that case he hasn't come to an absolutely first-rate place, but still we can manage to collect a few people for him who speak the language pretty fluently. When does he arrive?"

"Next Tuesday," said the colonel. "He leaves the same day, I'm thankful to say."

"Very well," said Dr. Whitty. "You order sauer kraut and lager beer for luncheon. I'll arrange the rest, and you may rely on me to see that they get enough Irish to last them for the afternoon, anyhow."

"What do you mean to do?"

"I shall collect half a dozen old people who speak nothing else," said Dr. Whitty, "and I'll set them out in a row in your hall. I'll get Father Henaghan up to interpret. You'll have to ask him to lunch, of course; and then, after they've done eating, the scientists can have a regular linguistic debauch. I dare say you'd better have Mr. Jackson too, as you're having the priest. It's always well to avoid exciting ill-feeling, and the clergy are frightfully jealous of each other."

"You'll have to come yourself too," said the colonel. "I couldn't face a party of that sort without help."

"Right," said Dr. Whitty. "And now, as we've only got three days before us, I'd better be off."

He went straight to the Presbytery and called on Father Henaghan.

"The colonel," he said, "wants you to lunch with him next Tuesday."

"What for?"

"Well, the pleasure of your company for one thing."

"If the other thing has anything to do with Woman's Suffrage," said the priest, "I'm not going. I had enough of that the last time Mrs. Challoner was over."

"She's not here now," said the doctor, "and the subject for discussion on Tuesday is the Irish language. You're interested in that, I know."

"There's a mighty deal of nonsense talked about that same language. It would make you sick to hear the way some of them go on, and them the ones that know least about it."

"That may be," said the doctor. "But the colonel has a German professor and two assistants coming to him on Tuesday, men that have devoted their lives to the Irish language, and are more deeply interested in it than in anything else in the world. They study it, of course, mainly from an etymological point of view."

"I don't know," said the priest, "would I be much use at the ancient Irish. They tell me it's not the same as what we talk now."

"That'll be all right," said Dr. Whitty. "You'll only be wanted to act as interpreter. I'm getting up half a dozen or so old people, and I was thinking of Æneas Finnegan for one. He's upwards of ninety years of age, so I should think his Irish would be ancient enough for anybody. What's more, he's stone deaf and hasn't been able to hear a word that's been said to him for the last twenty years, so his way of talking can't have got corrupted by any modern innovations."

"How do you mean to get him to talk if he's so deaf that he can't hear what you tell him?"

"That's a difficulty," said the doctor, "that can be got over by a glass of whisky. If one doesn't do I'll give him another. The colonel won't grudge it when it's for the sake of his guests? Is there anyone else now that you'd suggest. The Widow Rafiferty I'm sure will come if I offer her a bottle of embrocation for her rheumatism by way of a bribe. Then Patsy Flynn's grandfather——"

"You'll not get him," said the priest.

"And why not?"

"Because he hasn't been out of his bed this two years."

"That's no reason why he shouldn't get out of it now. When once he understands that it's a German professor of etymology that wants to see him he'll be leaping like a two-year-old, and Patsy can bring him in the ass-cart."

"Is it nothing but Irish-speaking you want?"

"Pure Irish," said the doctor. "If possible I don't want anyone there who has a word of English."

"If a good jig would be any use to you," said the priest, "there's Molly Geraghty that was taught by the old fellow that was round giving lessons two years ago, and won a prize for her dancing up in Dublin."

"I don't know," said the doctor, "whether jig-dancing would come in under the heading of etymology or not. But it would be a break in the monotony of the proceedings, and I don't suppose that even a German professor can want to talk Irish the whole afternoon. Who else would you suggest?"

"I think you have your 'nough, as it is," said the priest. "By the time you have old Finnegan half drunk, and Biddy Rafferty telling us all about the pains in her legs till we're tired listening to her, and Patsy Flynn's grandfather getting his death of cold in the ass-cart, him not having been out of his bed for so long, you'll have mischief enough done for one afternoon. You can let the rest of the poor people stay quiet in their homes till they're wanted for something that'll be some good for them."

"I shouldn't wonder," said the doctor, "but the colonel would give them two and sixpence apiece after it's over."

"If that's the way of it, and if you let it be known," said the priest, "you'll get plenty to go—more maybe than the colonel will care to have wiping their boots on the floor of his house."

Colonel Beresford walked up and down the gravel sweep in front of Ballintra House and waited for his guests. He was in an uncomfortable humour, and the excellent cigar which he smoked failed to soothe his nerves. He did not look forward to entertaining a German savant who might or might not be able to speak English fluently. He pictured to himself a grizzled man with a shaggy beard, uncouthly dressed, deficient in manners, and probably dirty. He would be accompanied by two assistants, gauche youths, no doubt, either painfully shy or else bumptious. The prospect was dismal enough. And things were not, in the colonel's opinion, likely to be improved by the additions which Dr. Whitty was making to the party. The three old people who were to speak Irish were sure to cause trouble of some sort, especially if given liberal supplies of whisky. He had not the least wish to see Molly Geraghty dancing jigs in his hall. He threw away the end of his cigar and cursed Sir Clement Hosty heartily. Then he heard the sound of wheels, and turned to see Patsy Flynn driving his donkey-cart up to the house. In the back of the cart, on a bundle of straw, well wrapped up in old sacks, sat Patsy's grandfather.

"Who the devil are you," said the colonel, "and what do you want?"

"It's my grandfather," said Patsy, "that's come according to what the doctor was saying."

"Oh, is it? Can he talk Irish? He doesn't look as if he'd talk anything much."

"Irish, is it? There isn't one in the county talks it better. If so be you get him started, he'll go on till you'd think the jaws of him would crack. There's no stopping him."

"Take him round to the backdoor then," said the colonel, "and the cook will give him his dinner. I'll send for him when I want him."

Patsy sidled up to the colonel and stood in a deprecating attitude with his hat in his hand.

"Why don't you go?" said the colonel.

"As regards the half-crown," said Patsy, "the old man hasn't as much sense as he might, and I was thinking, if it was pleasing to your honour, that it might be as well to give the half-crown to me."

"What half-crown?"

"The half-crown the doctor's after promising him for talking the Irish to the foreign gentleman."

"Oh, the doctor promised that, did he? If so, I suppose I'll have to pay up. But I won't give you a penny till I've actually heard the Irish."

Dr. Whitty was the next arrival. He greeted the colonel with an inquiry.

"You're perfectly certain," he said, "that Sir Clement Hosty said etymologists that day in the club?"

"I am," said the colonel, "perfectly. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. Only I happened to hear this morning that there was a man chasing butterflies in the neighbourhood of Dunbeg the last two days, and it occurred to me—but of course you're quite sure about this professor being an etymologist?"

"I am."

"That's all right then. I passed old Finnegan on the way up the avenue, and Father Henaghan is bringing Molly Geraghty on his car."

"One cripple has already arrived in a donkey-cart," said the colonel. "He appears to expect to be paid half a crown."

"I forgot to mention," said the doctor, "that I had to promise them half a crown each to get them to come. It'll only be seven and sixpence. Molly Geraghty will dance for the pleasure of it. By the way, I hope you don't mind, I arranged for your gardener to play for her. He has a melodeon."

"Not in the least. If you think it would be any comfort to her I'll get the stable boy in to whistle, and we'll have a band. I know he whistles, for I hear him every time I go into the yard."

"Ah," said Dr. Whitty. "Here's Mr. Jackson. He has old Finnegan by the arm. That's nice of him, isn't it? I always said Mr. Jackson had a kind heart. I suppose it comes from having a large family."

Father Henaghan and Molly Geraghty arrived immediately after the rector. Molly, in honour of the occasion, wore a white frock and a bright green sash, which crossed her left shoulder and was tied in a neat bow at her waist. Along it in large silver letters ran the inscription—"Ár Dteanga Féin." Dr. Whitty nudged the colonel delightedly.

"Irish," he said, "the written language. That'll please the professor."

"I hope to goodness," said the colonel, "that it's not any kind of seditious inscription. I don't mind myself; but if Allington was to hear——"

"Lord Allington can't object to that," said the doctor. "It simply means 'our own language.' It might apply to English or French or Chinese or anything."

"It'll be awkward enough as it is," said the colonel. "Allington is frightfully down on this language revival business. Bless my soul, who's this?"

A car drove rapidly up the avenue. On one side of it sat a fresh-complexioned, white-haired gentleman dressed in a smart grey suit of clothes and wearing a light grey felt hat of very stylish appearance. On the other side were two girls in pink cotton frocks, looking very bright and pretty.

"It must be the professor and his assistants," said Dr. Whitty; "but they don't look like etymologists."

Professor Bernstein leaped from the car and introduced himself to Colonel Beresford. Then he presented the two girls, who were, it appeared, his two daughters. There were further introductions, much hand-shaking and smiling. Professor Bernstein made a series of light jokes in rapid succession. His remote ancestors might possibly have come from Germany, but it was quite obvious that he spoke English as his mother tongue. The elder of the two girls took hold of Molly Geraghty and drew her from the priest's side.

"What a sweetly pretty sash," she said. "Is this your daughter. Colonel Beresford?"

"No," said the colonel, "she's not. She's——"

"But what's the inscription?" said Miss Bernstein, still intent on the sash. "I can't even read the letters."

"Ár Dteanga Féin," said Dr. Whitty. "You recognise it at once, of course, professor. 'Teanga' is no doubt connected etymologically with the English 'tongue,' the old German for which I have at this moment forgotten, but you'll know. Mr. Jackson will tell us the Greek. What is the Greek for a tongue, Mr. Jackson?"

"Glossa," said Mr. Jackson.

Professor Bernstein stared.

"Glossa," said the doctor. "Glossa, teanga, tongue. I don't quite see the phonetic connection, but I've no doubt it's there. The fact is, I'm not as familiar with Grimm's Law as I ought to be. But this is all ABC to you, professor."

"Shall we wait luncheon for your assistants?" said the colonel.

Professor Bernstein smiled.

"These are my assistants," he said, pointing to his two daughters. "I often say that they're just like butterflies themselves. Some day they'll be caught, I suppose, and then what shall I do?"

Both Miss Bernsteins blushed. The colonel did not catch the point of the joke, and suggested that the car should go round to the stable. Dr. Whitty walked a few yards with the driver to show him the way. On his return he caught the colonel by the arm and whispered to him—

"You're still absolutely certain that Sir Clement Hosty said etymologists?"

"Yes, I am. Don't ask me that again."

"All right," said the doctor, "only I'd have taken my oath that there was a green butterfly net on the back of that car."

At luncheon Professor Bernstein took the lead in the conversation. He was, it appeared, greatly interested in rotifers. No one else, except perhaps his two daughters, knew what rotifers were; so the professor had the subject entirely to himself, until, at the end of ten minutes. Dr. Whitty interrupted him.

"Rotifer," he said, "is a remarkably interesting word. It is derived—you will correct me, professor, if I go wrong—from the Latin root 'fer,' which implies the idea of carrying, and 'rota,' which means a wheel. That reminds me that the Irish word for a bicycle is 'ratha'—the aspirated t, you know, professor—obviously the Latin 'rota' again. Curious that the Irish people, in giving a name to an entirely new object, should have hit on the same way of doing it as the Americans. They always speak of bicycles as wheels, you know. The fact suggests some interesting thoughts about the effect of the Irish mind upon the American language. But perhaps that's a matter rather for the ethnologist than the etymologist."

He looked round for admiration when he had finished this speech. He received it from Colonel Beresford, Mr. Jackson, and Father Henaghan. The professor appeared to be puzzled, and relapsed into silence. His two daughters giggled slightly. They evidently regarded Dr. Whitty's etymology as a joke.

"We have a little surprise for you after lunch," said Dr. Whitty, noticing that the professor did not take up the subject of wheels with any interest. "We have succeeded in collecting together—by the way, Father Henaghan, did the Widow Rafferty arrive? I saw Finnegan, and the colonel tells me that Patsy Flynn's grandfather turned up all right. I hope Biddy hasn't failed us."

"I didn't see sight nor light of her," said the priest.

"If she doesn't turn up," said Dr. Whitty, "she may twist herself into knots with rheumatism before I give her another bottle. You'd have been particularly interested in Biddy Rafferty, professor. I shall be sorry if she's not here."

"Is she very amusing?" asked the eldest Miss Bernstein.

"Not very," said the doctor; "but her Irish is remarkably idiomatic. Every one agrees about that. You think it first-rate, don't you, Father Henaghan?"

"I do," said the priest; "barring that she seldom says a word about anything but the way the rheumatism has her tormented, her Irish is as good as you'd hear."

"But not as ancient as Finnegan's," said the doctor. "The professor, I know, will take a particular delight in Finnegan, and fortunately he's here."

"I—I regret to say," said the professor, "that I've never found time to study the Irish language."

Colonel Beresford became aware that his party was turning out even worse than he expected. There was evidently some misunderstanding about the Bernsteins and the Irish language. He changed the subject of conversation effectively by asking the professor if he had recently seen Sir Clement Hosty. Mr. Jackson, who had known Lady Hosty before she was married, asked several questions about her. Colonel Beresford, after scowling at Dr. Whitty, found an opportunity of telling the butler to give the two Irish speakers five shillings each and send them off the premises.

Greatly to the relief of the rest of the party the Bernsteins declared that they must go away immediately after luncheon.

"I don't like to miss this fine afternoon," said the professor. "There is an interesting series of small lakes in this neighbourhood, in which I may quite possibly come across some unique specimens."

Colonel Beresford turned angrily on Dr. Whitty as soon as the car was out of sight.

"What do you mean," he said, "by letting me in for this tomfoolery?"

"That," said the doctor, "is a question which, properly speaking, ought to be put to Sir Clement Hosty."

"I shall put it to Hosty," said the colonel, "as soon as ever I see him. But it wasn't Hosty who made an ass of me before this professor by filling up my house with cripples and dancing girls."

"As far as the dancing girl is concerned," said Dr. Whitty, "she was Father Henaghan's suggestion entirely. I didn't want her. But neither he nor I are to blame in the slightest. You and Sir Clement Hosty have bungled it between you. Ever since I heard there was a man catching butterflies in Dunbeg I suspected that the professor would turn out to be an entomologist. I felt pretty sure of it when I saw the butterfly net on the car. But you stuck to your theory in spite of all I could say to you; and I still maintain that the entertainment we provided was quite the best possible if the man had been what you told me he was."

"It was etymologist that Hosty said," said the colonel. "I'll stick to that till the day of my death. I couldn't have been mistaken, because Hosty has a habit of shouting every remark he makes as if the whole world was deaf."

"If I'd been told he was an entomologist," said the doctor, "I'd have talked to him about rotifers. I don't know anything about them, but I could have made them up out of a book before I came. It would have been a great deal easier for me to talk intelligently about rotifers than about Grimm's Law. What's more, I'd have had specimens of every insect in this part of the country ready for him when he came, from the common pediculus capitis——"

"Don't be disgusting if you can help it," said the colonel. "Things are bad enough without that."

"There's nothing disgusting about the pediculus," said the doctor. "To the truly scientific mind, like the professor's, he's as interesting as any other bug."

"Perhaps on the whole, then," said the colonel, "it's just as well Hosty made that mistake. Your mendicant cripples and Molly Geraghty are bad enough, but they're better than having my house filled up with live fleas."