The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 8



IT is popularly supposed that all Irishmen take a natural delight in politics and prefers public meetings to every other form of amusement. This is quite a mistake. It is like the corresponding theory, held generally in England, that the Irish prefer potatoes to any other food and take a pleasure in submitting to the guidance of priests. They used to live on potatoes; but it was only because they could get little else. They still, sometimes, respect priests because nobody else in Ireland asks for respect, and men must look up to somebody. They do not really care much for politics, but are driven to them as theatre-goers in provincial towns are at certain seasons of the year forced to go to pantomimes, because no other form of entertainment is offered to them.

Dr. Whitty, for instance, had not the smallest taste for politics. The speeches of Members of Parliament bored him, and he had a definite feeling of hostility towards the League, chiefly because the principal Leaguer in the neighbourhood was Thady Glynn. Yet Dr. Whitty once in his life took an active part in a political demonstration; and his action, though not gratifying to either of the contending parties, was on the whole beneficial. He himself claimed that he had, at a very critical moment, restored law and order when there was serious danger of a riot.

Shortly after the visit of Augustus Jetty to Ballintra, while the camera he had bought from that unfortunate young man was still a new toy to Dr. Whitty, politics became unusually interesting on Colonel Beresford's estate. A certain widow, Mrs. Canavan by name, was evicted from a farm for which she had paid no rent for seven years. By way of making things as pleasant as possible for Mrs. Canavan, her nephew, Peter Canavan, was given the farm on the understanding that he would allow his aunt to live with him. Peter agreed to this; but, as it appeared afterwards, Peter's wife did not. She was a young woman with seven babies and she thought there was not room in the house for Peter's aunt. Old Mrs. Canavan spoke her mind freely to Peter and there was a good deal of unpleasantness in the family circle. Peter, quite naturally, took to spending most of his time in town and found himself more comfortable in a public-house than at home. It was not Thady Glynn's public-house which he frequented, unfortunately for himself. The quarrel between the elder and the younger Mrs. Canavan grew acute, and Dr. Whitty was sent for to minister to a black eye inflicted on Peter's wife. Being at the time very much interested in his camera he photographed young Mrs. Canavan while her eye was at its worst. This was the beginning of the fine collection of political pictures which he made before the Canavan case was finally settled.

After being summoned for assaulting her niece, old Mrs. Canavan, the Widow Canavan as she was generally called, declined to return to her nephew's house. She took lodgings in town and denounced Peter as a "land-grabber" of the worst order. Thady Glynn took up her case warmly. Several strong resolutions were passed about Peter; and Dr. Whitty, recognising that he was becoming a public man, photographed him. He also secured a snapshot of the Widow Canavan. Peter did not seem to object to the resolutions in the least; so his aunt went out one night and broke down a wall on the farm, so that a calf was able to stray into a potato-field and do a great deal of damage. For this she was brought before the magistrates and sent to jail for a week. Dr. Whitty photographed her between two policemen, and afterwards photographed the wall. It had been built up again, but Peter obligingly made a fresh breach in it and posed the calf for Dr. Whitty. The picture was most realistic and very interesting. A Dublin paper paid half a crown for the use of the negative.

While the Widow Canavan was in prison some members of the League, incited, it was believed, by Thady Glynn, went out to the farm and dug a grave opposite the front door of Peter's house. Peter said that he did not object to the grave in the least; but he spent more of his time than ever in the town. If, even at this stage of the proceedings, he had had the sense to buy his whisky from Thady Glynn all might have gone well with him. Unfortunately he preferred another public-house whose landlord was not an influential man. Dr. Whitty photographed the grave, but the picture was not a success. The hole, hurriedly dug in the dead of night, did not look like a grave. When photographed it did not even appear to be a hole. Dr. Whitty called on Thady Glynn and proposed that the League should, in the interests of art, erect a tombstone beside the grave. Thady, who did not care about photography, said it would be time enough to do that when Peter was in the grave.

The Widow Canavan came out of prison in a very bad temper and full of a desire to take revenge on Peter. She lay in wait for the two eldest Canavan children and threw stones at them as they returned from school. She did not hit them, but Peter, who was getting irritated, took out a summons against her. She went to jail for another week. The constable who took charge of her, a young man fresh from the depot, said that her language made him break out into a cold sweat. Dr. Whitty photographed that constable and added the picture to his collection. It was Colonel Beresford who suggested this picture. He said that the man was a curiosity, and that his features ought to be preserved for posterity before his innocence faded away.

The case began to excite a good deal of interest in the locality, and a subscription was got up for the benefit of the Widow Canavan. Peter, very generously, offered to contribute a shilling; but the League refused to receive the money. Thady Glynn said that Peter's only proper course was to give up the farm, and that a shilling was worse than useless while he continued to hold the land. Dr. Whitty photographed the shilling, having obtained it from the till of the public-house which Peter frequented. The publican said he could take his oath to its being the right shilling, because he felt pretty certain at the time that Peter handed it to him that it was a bad one. He had not, he said, liked to refuse it, because Peter was a good customer, and in trouble at the time.

When the Widow Canavan got out of prison for the second time she was met by a deputation of the League. Thady Glynn handed her the sum which had been collected, 17s. 9d., and told her the story of Peter's shilling. Any feeling of affection which she may still have entertained for her nephew disappeared when she heard about the shilling. She said publicly that from that day forward she refused to recognise any relationship between herself and Peter. She also felt that she owed the League some return for the money which had been given her. She watched for her opportunity, and got it one evening when Peter lay inoffensively drunk and quite helpless on the side of the road, half-way between the town and his home. She stuck a two-pronged table fork into the calf of his leg. Peter's wife, when she discovered what had been done to her husband, sent for Dr. Whitty. The fork had been extracted before he reached the house, but he offered Peter half a crown to allow him to stick it in again so as to obtain a really interesting photograph. Peter stood out for 5s., and a bargain was struck in the end at 3s. 6d. Unfortunately Mrs. Canavan objected. Dr. Whitty reasoned with her, pointing out that he meant to stick the fork into precisely the same holes that it was in before, and that Peter's leg would not be any worse than it was. She still objected. When he offered, in addition to the 3s. 6d., to let her baby off being vaccinated, she hesitated for a minute. Dr. Whitty pointed out, speaking as persuasively as he could, that there were two holes in Peter's leg in any case; whereas, if he escaped vaccination, there was no reason why there should ever be a hole in her baby's arm. Mrs. Canavan listened to him, but in the end she sacrificed the baby. Dr. Whitty was obliged to be content with a photograph in which the fork appeared lying on a chair close to Peter's leg.

Events for the Widow Canavan seemed likely to take their usual course. She was commanded, under certain frightful penalties, to appear before the magistrates in the Petty Sessions Court. No doubt she would have been quietly and unobtrusively condemned to another period of imprisonment if circumstances had not combined to make her case notorious. The publication of Dr. Whitty's leg-and-fork photograph excited a good deal of public attention. The Government then in power, being anxious to do something unpopular with regard to China, found it necessary in the first instance to pacify certain powerful people by establishing a reign of Law and Order in Ireland. It was a thoroughly well-intentioned and benevolent Government, which did not wish to annoy anyone unnecessarily. The Widow Canavan, however, seemed to it to be just the sort of person who might be used for great ends without injustice of any sort. The fact that she would be vigorously dealt with was rather ostentatiously advertised, and two Resident Magistrates were told off to try her case. On the other hand, the League, goaded on by Thady Glynn, saw in the Widow Canavan the makings of a striking victim of landlord tyranny. A Dublin barrister of great eloquence was engaged, at a fee, it was understood, of forty pounds, his travelling expenses, and his luncheon in Thady Glynn's hotel, to prove that the sticking of the fork into Peter's leg was an act of patriotic virtue which deserved a reward, and not a punishment. A Member of Parliament noted for his skill in breezy invective promised to supplement the barrister's oration with a speech to the general public outside the Court House.

The widow's fate was, of course, decided beforehand. The Resident Magistrates were quite ready to listen to the barrister, and anticipated an agreeable entertainment; but they were not the men to be moved by anything which could possibly be said to them in Court. Nobody expected that their judgment would be altered by so much as a day's imprisonment as a result of the barrister's speech. Allowing him an hour in which to make his speech, they ordered a brake to be at the door of the Court House at one o'clock, to convey the Widow Canavan to the County Jail. The only item in the programme which gave rise to any speculation was the speech of the Member of Parliament. It was possible that he might so far work upon the feelings of the people who heard him that the police would feel obliged to attack them with batons.

Thady Glynn, hoping for the best, arranged that there should be a large number of people to listen to the Member of Parliament. The Government, also hoping for the best, arranged that there should be a considerable force of police outside the Court House ready to attack the people. Dr. Whitty, who, like Thady Glynn and the Government, had hopes, arranged to take a photograph of the baton charge if it came off. He obtained a supply of highly sensitive plates guaranteed to record satisfactory impressions with the shortest possible exposure. Fortune favoured him. The day was remarkably fine and the light was good. With the help of Michael Geraghty, who supplied some planks and low trestles, he arranged his camera on a sort of platform at the base of the statue recently erected to the memory of Wolfe Tone. The situation was an ideal one, for the statue stood in the middle of the street which led from the Court House to the Fair Green. If there was flight and pursuit it was almost certain that they must pass the statue. Dr. Whitty had everything in perfect readiness before twelve o'clock. Michael Geraghty, who was greatly interested in the camera, stood beside him on the improvised platform.

The two Resident Magistrates passed up the street to the Court House. They were strangers to Dr. Whitty, and they looked at him suspiciously. In Ireland the guardians of law and order have to be suspicious. Dr. Whitty seized the bulb by which the shutter of his camera was released, and photographed them. He hoped the focus would turn out to be right. The Resident Magistrates were pleased. The photograph was a tribute to their personal importance. They passed on without molesting Dr. Whitty. The barrister and the Member of Parliament, escorted by Thady Glynn, came next. Dr. Whitty hailed Thady, and while the party turned round to look at him secured another photograph. Michael Geraghty was delighted, and persuaded a body of police who marched up the street to halt in front of the camera The serjeant in command happened to be married to a niece of Michael's wife, so there was no difficulty about getting the men to stand still. Some leading members of the League, on their way to help in the administration of justice, were also photographed. Then ensued a long period of waiting.

"The brake," said Michael Geraghty, "isn't ordered till one o'clock. I was talking to the man who is to drive it, and he told me so himself. If there's anything that you'd like to be doing in the meanwhile, doctor, you have time enough."

"I wouldn't trust them," said Dr. Whitty. "If I went away it's as likely as not they'd hurry the whole thing up, and I'd miss the show afterwards."

"They couldn't. Isn't the man they have down from Dublin bound to be talking for the best part of an hour? Would they pay him forty pounds for less?"

"I have no doubt he will if he's let," said Dr. Whitty. "But there was a determined look in the eye of the nearest of the two magistrates. I wouldn't wonder if they cut him short."

"They might then, them two, if they was left to themselves. But the colonel will be on the bench along with them ones, and he'll see fair play all round. He doesn't care a great deal for Thady Glynn, but he isn't the man to see forty pounds spent and nothing done for the money."

"The colonel won't be on the bench. The very first thing that Dublin man will do will be to put the colonel off. He'll say the colonel's an interested party and ought not to sit on the case."

"I wouldn't wonder if he did say that; but the colonel mightn't go for him."

"He will," said Dr. Whitty. "I know him well. If they make out that he has any sort of connection with either Peter's leg or the fork he'll step down off the bench at once."

"As regards the Widow Canavan, it'll be the same thing whether he does or doesn't."

"It will, of course; but it'll be so much to the good for the Dublin lawyer if he succeeds in chasing the colonel."

Events justified the prophecies of both Dr. Whitty and Michael Geraghty. The colonel resigned his place on the bench, but the barrister made a full-length speech. At one o'clock the brake drove slowly up the street and was hooted vigorously by the crowd. It took its stand outside the Court House door, under the protection of a double line of police. At a quarter-past one the Widow Canavan, in the charge of four constables and uttering terrific language, was hustled into it. It drove through the crowd, and Dr. Whitty obtained a photograph of it as it passed him. Thady Glynn, the barrister, who looked hot, and the Member of Parliament appeared on the Court House steps. The crowd cheered vociferously. The Member of Parliament stepped to the front, took off his hat, and began to speak.

"I can't hear a single word he says," said Dr. Whitty. "Can you, Michael?"

"I cannot; but, sure, I've often heard the like before."

The two Resident Magistrates, followed by Colonel Beresford, slipped round the back of the Member of Parliament and took up a secure position among the police.

"I wouldn't wonder," said Michael Geraghty, "but he might be saying things against the colonel now. He has all the look of it."

The orator's arm was in fact stretched out and his finger pointed in the direction of the place where Colonel Beresford was standing.

"It's either him or the magistrates that's getting it, and getting it hot this minute," said Michael Geraghty. "Look at the way Thady Glynn has his hat took off of his head and it waving up and down in the air. The like of that I never seen yet."

The Member of Parliament was evidently doing his best. The cheers of the crowd testified to the fact that he was speaking acceptable, things. Urged on to fresh exertion by the popular approval of his efforts, his voice rose to a sort of shriek, and the word "Hell" came ringing down the street.

"Good," said Dr. Whitty, "if those magistrates are any use they'll put a stop to that."

But neither the magistrates nor the police showed any sign of unusual emotion. The Member of Parliament wiped his forehead and started again. He made a good beginning, and the words "Men of the West" were plainly audible to Dr. Whitty and Michael Geraghty. Then for a while his strength failed him, and it was not until he reached his second peroration that Dr. Whitty heard any more. Then the expression "dastardly land-grabber" sounded out clearly. The police did not seem to object to that in the least, but the Member of Parliament was a determined man. At the end of another quarter of an hour he succeeded in saying something which stirred up one of the magistrates. There were signs of activity among the police. The Member of Parliament worked himself up to a series of inarticulate shrieks. Batons were snatched out of their cases. Thady Glynn, the barrister, and the Member of Parliament, who was breathless and somewhat dishevelled, skipped back into the Court House. The crowd began to run down the street. The police came after them, were among them, struck right and left with their batons.

Dr. Whitty seized his opportunity. Just as the foremost members of the crowd reached the front of his platform he sprang forward.

"Stop!" he shouted. "Hold on! Stand just as you are for a single instant! All of you!

Everybody looked up, and everybody stopped in sheer amazement. There was something about Dr. Whitty's shout, a cheerful gaiety, a sort of suggestion that the whole thing was a game got up for his amusement, which took the heart out of police and people alike. Most of them knew the doctor well, and everybody liked him. He squeezed the bulb which he held in his hand. There was a sharp click, plainly audible in the silence which followed the pause.

"Thank you, gentlemen," said Dr. Whitty. "Now just stand as you are till I change the plate and take you again. The police will kindly look as ferocious as they can. Everybody else must wear an expression of terror. Nobody may grin. I notice several men grinning now. Please don't do it. This is a serious business. It is riot, and will be reported in all the papers."

The taller of the two magistrates, the man whom Dr. Whitty had noticed earlier in the day as looking determined, elbowed his way through the crowd.

"What's this?" he said;" what's all this? Why aren't the police doing their duty?"

"It's all right," said Dr. Whitty cheerfully. "They'll be doing it again in a minute. I'm taking a photograph. Just stand where you are, will you? You'll look uncommonly well there. Your expression of face is perfect. Michael Geraghty, give me that other slide, quick. Not that one. The plates in that are used. Oh, confound it! Here's that ass Thady Glynn."

Thady, the barrister, and the Member of Parliament, noticing from their post inside the Court House door that there was a hitch in the proceedings, came hurriedly down the street.

"We protest," said Thady, "against this outrageous attack which the police——"

"You shall hear more of this," said the Member of Parliament. "I shall denounce these proceedings from my seat in the House. I shall——"

Dr. Whitty's shutter clicked again.

"Thank you, gentlemen," he said. "I think I can promise two successful pictures. I've quite finished now, and any time you like to go on with your riot you can."

Everybody, except the magistrate, Thady Glynn, and the Member of Parliament, grinned broadly. No one showed any intention of either running away or pursuing. Some one on the outskirts of the crowd demanded a speech from the doctor.

"Gentlemen," said Dr. Whitty, "I think you will all agree with me that the proceedings have terminated in a manner most satisfactory to everybody concerned. My photographs will be published in a large number of newspapers. They will prove how enthusiastically the Royal Irish Constabulary respond to the call of duty. Nothing could be better calculated to establish the reputation of the force than a representation of it in the very act of attacking a crowd. On the other hand, the cause of the League will be greatly advanced in Great Britain, Ireland, and America, when it is shown by actual photographs how brutally the people of this country are coerced by the armed forces of British rule. Again, the police would certainly have got very hot and uncomfortable if they had gone on running down this street at the rate at which they started. Now, if they don't particularly want to run, they can go quietly back to their barrack. Also, if the riot had gone on, a number of people, probably quite innocent people, would have got hit about the head and body. They ought to be thankful to have escaped."

"Three cheers for the doctor," said Michael Geraghty.

Colonel Beresford made his way through a thoroughly good-humoured crowd to the Resident Magistrate.

"I really think," he said, "that we shall all look rather fools if we go on with the baton charge after this incident."