The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 6

 

VI
"GOD SAVE THE KING"

"THE band will play all afternoon, of course," said Dr. Whitty.

He was speaking about the sports—the "Grand Athletic, Bicycle and Boat Racing Regatta," as the advertisement called the event—which were to be held in Ballintra on the first Saturday in August.

"I don't know will it be able," said Father Henaghan, "and if it is, it'll likely be the last time ever it does play,"

He was President—in Connacht every thing has a President—of the town band. He was also its Honorary Treasurer.

"And why do you say that?" said Dr. Whitty.

"You know well enough," said the priest, "that we had to give the bandmaster notice for want of funds to pay him."

"Surely to goodness," said the doctor, "they must have half a dozen tunes learned off by this time. Nobody'll know whether they play them right or wrong. Let them do the best they can, and make some sort of a noise anyway."

"I don't know," said the priest, "will they be fit to do that much itself. It was only last week they were telling me that the cornet's broke, and I'm thinking they'll do badly without it. What's more, I'm not sure but young Flaherty put the blade of his knife through the big drum."

"We'll have to get them some new instruments then," said the doctor. "The band we simply must have."

"You can't get new instruments, for there's no money, and I don't see where it's to be got after the way you've collected the whole district for the sports. There isn't one about the place has a shilling left in his pocket."

Dr. Whitty had, in fact, levied a sum of money very near the taxable capacity of the people. He recognised the impossibility of securing further contributions.

"I'll tell you what it is," he said. "We must get something out of Lord Allington. That man's as rich as a Jew."

"He never gives a penny," said the priest.

"He does. I happen to know that he gives twenty pounds a year to the Protestant Church on account of having property in the parish, though he doesn't live in it. I don't see why he shouldn't give the half of that amount to our band. You ought to try him anyway."

"I will not. I asked him for a subscription one time, and the way he refused me I swore I'd never ask him again. Do you go over to Allington Castle and ask him yourself."

"It wouldn't be a bit of good," said the doctor. "But I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll get the colonel to write. He'd give us something if the colonel asked him."

It took Dr. Whitty a long time to persuade Colonel Beresford to write the letter, but he succeeded in the end. By return of post a reply came from Lord Allington.


"Dear Colonel Beresford,—I am always ready to support anything which is for the benefit of the tenants on my estate, and I should be perfectly willing to give a subscription to a band managed on non-political lines. Unfortunately, my experience of these local bands leads me to believe that they are nothing more or less than part of the machinery used by seditious persons for the inculcation of rebellious principles. On the only occasion on which I ever heard the Ballintra band play, the tune chosen was 'God Save Ireland.' I am sure you will understand that, in these circumstances, and in the absence of any express guarantee from some reasonable person that no Party tunes will be played, I cannot conscientiously support the band.

"Thanks for your inquiry for Lady Allington. I am glad to say she is a great deal stronger than she was. The Irish air always sets her up.—I am, yours very sincerely,

Allington"


The colonel handed the letter to Dr. Whitty.

"Do you think now," said the doctor, "that if the band was to play 'God Save the King' he'd give us a subscription?"

"I expect he would," said the colonel, smiling; "but you know as well as I do the band will do no such thing, and there'd be a riot if it did."

"Colonel," said the doctor, "do you write to Lord Allington and tell him you will send him a written undertaking from the parish priest—you can put in that the dispensary doctor will sign it, too, if you like—to the effect that the band will play 'God Save the King' in the middle of the afternoon on the day of the sports, and that Lord Allington can come over and hear it for himself so as to make sure that it's actually done."

"I don't believe you'll work it, doctor. Thady Glynn and the League boys would smash up every trumpet the band possessed if you did."

"You write the letter," said the doctor, "and leave the rest to me."

"If you do what you say," said the colonel, "I should think Lord Allington would give you twenty pounds with pleasure; and, what's more, I'll add two pounds to my own subscription if it's only for the sake of seeing the rage Thady Glynn will be in."

Dr. Whitty called on Father Henaghan at once.

"I've ten pounds," he said, "ten pounds at least, and maybe twenty pounds, got out of Lord Allington for the town band—at least I have it as good as got."

"Have you, then? I wouldn't have believed it possible. You're a wonderful man, doctor."

"All he wants," said the doctor, "is a written guarantee from you and me that the band will perform 'God Save the King' on the day of the sports. He says he objects to Party tunes."

"And is that what you call having the money as good as got? You know as well as I do the thing can't be done."

"It can. I'll get the music, and I'll teach it to the band myself. I'm not what you'd call practised in conducting an orchestra, but I have a middling good ear, and I could manage that much. Any new instruments wanted you can get, and pay for when Lord Allington's cheque comes."

"It's not the want of instruments would stop me," said the priest. "But the people would never stand it. There'd be the devil and all."

"You needn't appear in the matter," said the doctor. "Beyond writing the letter to Lord Allington you've nothing to do. If there's a row, you can pretend to be as surprised as anyone else. But there won't be a row."

"There will. There couldn't but be a row."

"There will not. There aren't ten men in Ballintra, barring the colonel, Mr. Jackson, and the police, that would know that tune from any other if they heard it. Would you know it yourself now, Father Henaghan? Tell the truth."

"I'm not sure that I would."

"And, if you wouldn't recognise it, how do you suppose that Thady Glynn will?—Thady that has no more ear for music than your cow. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll drop into the hotel this evening, and I'll whistle it in the hearing of Thady. I'll call his attention to it, and I'll bet half a crown he hasn't the least notion what it is."

"Try it," said the priest. "But, mind you, I'll take no responsibility. If there's a row, I'll say you did the whole thing unknown to me."

Dr. Whitty strolled into the hotel at ten o'clock that night. There were five or six men drinking at the bar, all of them, he was pleased to see, prominent politicians and strong allies of Thady Glynn. He ordered a bottle of porter, and then, leaning against the bar, whistled "God Save the King" loudly and clearly. Then he drank half his porter and whistled the tune through again, throwing great spirit into the last few bars.

"That's a fine tune," he said when he had finished.

"It's good enough," said Thady.

"It's a tune I'm thinking of teaching the town band to play the day of the sports," said the doctor. "It's only the other day it was discovered, hid away in an old book that was buried in a bog in the neighbourhood of the hill of Tara. It turns out to be the ancient tune that was sung by Malachi, the High King of Ireland, at the time he was driving the English out of the country. There's great talk about it up in Dublin."

"It would be well," said Thady, "that the band would learn something new. We're tired of them old tunes they've been playing since the bandmaster was sent away."

Dr. Whitty, in order to make sure of getting the music in the most correct form possible, sent to Belfast for it. He had to copy it all out in manuscript when he got it, because the inconsiderate publisher had printed "God Save the King" at the top of every sheet of the score. Every sheet of Dr. Whitty's version had "The Song of King Malachi" written in large letters across the top. The members of the band made fair progress when the doctor took them in hand. He conducted on a system of his own: whistled shrilly, and flung himself into all sorts of grotesque attitudes, waving his arms, clenching his fists, and stamping violently with his feet. He succeeded in working up a most spirited performance of the tune.

The day of the sports was magnificently fine. The band was stationed in a prominent part of the grounds, and a space close beside it was reserved for Lord Allington's motor-car. Dr. Whitty asked Thady Glynn to act as judge and referee in all the races, an arrangement not altogether satisfactory to the competitors, but which he hoped would keep Thady from paying any attention to the band. With the same object he made the secretary and treasurer of the League starter and timekeeper, giving them a pistol, a supply of blank cartridges, and a stop-watch.

At four o'clock Colonel Beresford arrived in his dogcart. Lord Allington drove up in his motor-car at half-past four, and was shepherded by Dr. Whitty into the space reserved for him. He had Lady Allington with him and two strange gentlemen. The band, acting on instructions from Dr. Whitty, struck up "The Minstrel Boy." This is an Irish song, but quite unobjectionable because it is not stated in Moore's words what war the boy went to or on which side he fought.

After "The Minstrel Boy" had been played through four times Dr. Whitty spoke earnestly to Flaherty, the cornet player, and to the man who managed the big drum. Then he strolled away from the band and engaged in conversation with Thady Glynn. A few minutes later the band struck up "God Save the King." Dr. Whitty looked round nervously. Thady Glynn took no notice of the tune. Most of the people seemed pleased to hear it. The reputation of "The Song of King Malachi" had been spread beforehand by the members of the band, and there was a good deal of curiosity about the remarkable tune. The only thing which disquieted Dr. Whitty was the behaviour of Lord Allington and his friends. The whole party stood up in the motor-car, and the three gentlemen took off their hats. Colonel Beresford, who was standing beside the car, stopped talking to Lady Allington and stood bareheaded.

Thady Glynn, fully occupied elsewhere, did not so much as glance at Lord Allington. Father Henaghan had disappeared from the seat he had occupied all the afternoon. Dr. Whitty made his way rapidly through the crowd towards the refreshment tent, an establishment run in connection with Thady Glynn's hotel. The band was beginning "God Save the King" for the second time when he reached it. He noticed with pleasure that the starter and timekeeper of the races were drinking whisky and water inside the tent, apparently unconscious of the band's performance. He ran round to the back of the tent. There, he felt sure, he would find Father Henaghan. He found the priest engaged in conversation with Mrs. Michael Geraghty, who was feeding her seven youngest children with biscuits and partially ripe apples.

"Come now. Father Henaghan," he said, "it's time you were going up to speak to Lord Allington to get that cheque out of him."

"Will you whisht," said the priest, with a glance at Mrs. Michael Geraghty.

"It's all right," said the doctor. "Mrs. Geraghty has a respect for the clergy, and wouldn't repeat what I'm saying to you—not that it would matter if she did, for we're talking no secrets."

"I'll go when the band stops playing that tune," said the priest.

"If you wait till then you'll wait too long, for Lord Allington will be gone, and it's ten to one you'll never see that cheque. I know the ways of people of his sort. They set up to be fonder of that tune than of anything else in heaven or earth; but there's no surer way of getting them out of a place than to play it. The minute they hear the first four notes they're streaming off for the door or the gate, as the case may be. What I'm wondering is that they've stood it as long as they have. Come on, now."

He took the priest by the arm and led him round the tent into the open. The band, very pleased with its own performance, had just begun to play the tune for the sixth time. Lord Allington was still standing bareheaded, but he was looking puzzled and a little annoyed. "God Save the King" is an excellent tune, but it is possible, even for an Irish peer, to get too much of it. There was not, so far as he could see, any sign of exhaustion about the band. Lady Allington, excusing herself on the ground of delicate health, sat down at the end of the fourth repetition of the tune.

"Go on now, Father Henaghan," said Dr. Whitty, pushing the priest towards the motor-car.

Lord Allington turned round.

"Ah," he said, "Father Henaghan, isn't it? I'm delighted to see you. Would you mind telling the band to stop playing for a moment? I can hardly hear myself speak."

Father Henaghan tapped the cornet player on the shoulder and gave his order. The music stopped abruptly in the middle of a bar. Lord Allington, with a sigh of relief, sat down and put on his hat.

"That's a capital band of yours," he said. "I don't know when I heard a better. All native talent, eh? That's right. Keep the young men out of mischief By the way, I understand from my friend, Colonel Beresford, that it's dependent entirely on private contributions for its support. I shall have the greatest pleasure in sending you a cheque for fifteen guineas to-night when I go home. That will see you out of your difficulties, I hope. And you can count on me for the future for an annual five guineas. But no Party tunes now, remember that."

Father Henaghan bowed his thanks. Lord Allington, after a whisper from his wife, gave a signal to the chauffeur and drove off the ground.

Two days afterwards Dr. Whitty met Colonel Beresford in the street.

"Come into my house for two minutes, colonel," he said; "I've something to show you."

"Look here," he said, taking a letter from his desk, "read that":—


"The Committee of the League (Ballintra Branch) having had under consideration at a special meeting the conduct of Dr. Whitty, Medical Officer of the Union, with reference to the band on the occasion of the recent Regatta and Athletic Sports, hereby allow Dr. Whitty an opportunity of defending himself at 8.15 sharp in the League rooms to-morrow evening.—Signed, on behalf of the Committee,

"Thaddeus Glynn, President"


"What do you think of that now?" said the doctor.

"It's—it's—the only words that seem to fit it at all are blasted insolence; but, of course, you'll take no notice of it."

"Oh yes, I shall. I'll make that League sit up. I shall have a glorious time with them if only they're sober enough to take in what I say."

"You'd better get Father Henaghan to quiet them," said the colonel.

"Not at all. I'm not going to hide behind the priest. I mean to see the thing through myself."

At the hour fixed for the trial Dr. Whitty stepped jauntily into the League rooms. He was received in gloomy silence, broken only by an order from Thady Glynn to stand at the end of the table. The doctor took a vacant chair and sat down. Thady Glynn scowled at him. Dr. Whitty smiled pleasantly by way of reply.

"Dr. Whitty," said Thady solemnly, "it has been reported to us that on the occasion of the recent sports, held in this town, you instigated the band to play a tune that can only be regarded as a deliberate insult to the Irish people. What have you to say for yourself?"

"What tune?" asked the doctor.

"I won't lower myself by naming it," said Thady; "but it was a tune that's seldom heard in this country outside of a music hall."

"If you mean the ancient 'Song of King Malachi,'" said the doctor, "I quite admit it's not often heard, but the reason of that is that it has only recently been discovered, as I told you and the rest of these gentlemen the night I first whistled it to you. If you had any objection to it you should have said so then."

"King Malachi be damned," said Thady Glynn.

"If you're prepared to let your temper run away with you," said the doctor, "to the extent of cursing one of the greatest heroes of ancient Ireland, of course I can't stop you. All I can do is to tell you that, if I repeat that last remark of yours outside this room, you'll never be able to hold up your head as a Nationalist again."

"Damn you and King Malachi both," said Thady Glynn.

"Very well," said the doctor, "if you're so drunk as to say a thing like that twice, there's no use my talking to you. Good night."

"Wait a minute," said Thady, "you'll not get off so easy as all that. We know well enough what the tune was, and we know why you had it played. You thought you'd make up to the colonel and Lord Allington by heaping insults on the people of this country. That's what you thought. But I may tell you it won't do. It's us and not them that's paying you your salary. It's us and not them that's putting the bread and butter in your mouth, and I tell you it won't do. The tune you were the means of introducing into our midst is a tune that's well known. It's a Party tune, and we won't have it."

"What do you mean to do?" said the doctor.

"We've settled on a decision before you came in," said Thady, "and it's this: that if you don't offer an apology to the people of this neighbourhood, it'll be the worse for you."

"Listen to me now," said the doctor. "As a matter of fact, that tune was played over seven times and a half on the ground the other day, and not a single one of you cared a hang. The man that asked to have it stopped was Lord Allington. If it was the tune you think it was, would he have had it stopped? He would not. He'd have kept the band playing on at it the whole afternoon."

"It's a damned insult——" began Thady Glynn.

"Listen to me," said the doctor, "and don't interrupt. If you had as much real principle about you, Nationalist or any other kind, as would make a supper for a snipe, I'd have some pity for you. But you're the sort of man, Thady, that would sell his mother for the price of a pint of porter. I've let you down easy in the past, not telling the things I know about you; but if there's another word out of your head, I'll tell every man and woman in the place the dirty trick you tried to play on poor Michael Geraghty the time the inspector was down to give him the money for the pier; and, if that isn't enough, I'll buy a gramophone and set it playing the tune you don't like day and night outside the door of your beastly public-house, and, whenever it stops, I'll pay a boy to go and wind it up; and, what's more, the next time you're sick—and that won't be long if you go on drinking the way you do at present—I'll give you some medicine that'll twist you round and round the same way as your wife wrings out the clothes when she has them washed, and tie you up in knots, and, what's more, will turn you bright green from head to foot afterwards, so that your own children won't know you when they meet you in the street. After that, if there's any more fight left in you, I'll give word to the police about the Sunday drinking that goes on in your house, and I'll have your licence taken away from you. And if that's not enough——"

Apparently it was enough. Thady Glynn was cowed by the extraordinary versatility of the doctor's threats. He waved his hand feebly towards the door. Dr. Whitty, after a cheerful good night to the other members of the committee, went home.