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   Chapter 2 No.2

General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 19782

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Doyle came out of the hotel. He joined the sergeant and Moriarty at the motor-car.

"Good-morning, sergeant," he said. "It's a fine day, thanks be to God. The people will only have themselves to thank if they don't get their hay saved this weather."

"What I'm after saying to Constable Moriarty," said the sergeant, "is that that's a fine car."

"You may say that," said Doyle.

"It'll be some high up gentleman that owns it," said the sergeant.

He paused. It was plainly the duty of Doyle to give some information about his guest. But Doyle remained silent.

"He'll have a power of money, whoever he is," said Moriarty.

He and the sergeant looked at Doyle and waited. Doyle still remained silent. The door of the office of the Connacht Eagle opened and Thaddeus Gallagher shambled along the street. He was a tall, grizzled man, exceedingly lean and ill-shaven. His clothes, which were shabby, hung round him in desponding folds. His appearance would have led a stranger to suppose that the Connacht Eagle was not a paying property. He greeted Sergeant Colgan and Moriarty with friendly warmth. When he had nothing else to write leading articles about he usually denounced the police, accusing them of various crimes, from the simple swearing away of the liberties of innocent men to the debauching of the morals of the young women of Ballymoy. But this civic zeal did not prevent his being on perfectly friendly terms with the members of the force. Nor did his strong writing rouse any feeling of resentment in the mind of the sergeant. He and Moriarty welcomed the editor warmly and invited him to inspect the car.

Thaddeus Gallagher looked at the car critically. He rubbed his hand along the dusty mud guard, opened and shut one of the doors, stroked the bulb of the horn cautiously, and then turned to Doyle.

"Is it the Lord-Lieutenant you have within in the hotel?" he asked.

He spoke with a fine suggestion of scorn in his voice. As a prominent local politician Thaddeus Gallagher was obliged to be contemptuous of Lords-Lieutenant. Doyle looked offended and at first made no reply. Sergeant Colgan, acting as peacemaker, spoke in a noncommittal, but soothing tone.

"It might be," he said, "it very well might be."

"It is not then," said Doyle. "Nor it's not the Chief Secretary."

"If it's not," said Gallagher, "it's some other of them fellows out of Dublin Castle."

"It's a high up gentleman surely," said Sergeant Colgan.

"And one that has money to spare," added Constable Moriarty. "It could be that he's one of the bosses of the Congested Districts Board. Them ones is well paid and has motors kept for them along with their salaries, so they tell me anyway."

Then Mary Ellen came out of the hotel. She stood at a little distance and smiled pleasantly at Constable Moriarty. Doyle turned on her.

"What is it that you want now, Mary Ellen?" he said. "Why aren't you within attending on the gentleman?"

"Sure I am," said Mary Ellen.

"You are not," said Doyle. "Don't I see you standing there grinning at Constable Moriarty?"

"He's after asking for his dinner," said Mary Ellen.

She referred of course to Mr. Billing. The suggestion that she was grinning at Moriarty was unworthy of her notice.

"And if he is," said Doyle, "why don't you give it to him?"

"What'll I give him?"

"Give him chops," said Doyle. "And if there's no chops in the house-and there may not be-run across to Kerrigan the butcher and ask him for a couple. It'll be quicker than killing a chicken; but that's what you'll have to do in the latter end if Kerrigan has no chops."

"It was only this morning," said Sergeant Colgan hopefully, "that Kerrigan killed a sheep."

Mary Ellen crossed the street towards Kerrigan's shop. Constable Moriarty winked at her as she passed. Mary Ellen was a good girl. She took no notice of the wink. The sergeant, unfortunately, did.

"Come along out of this, Constable Moriarty," he said. "Have you no duties to perform that you can afford to be standing there all day making faces at Mary Ellen? Come along now if you don't want me to report you."

Sergeant Colgan, though Gallagher insinuated evil things about him, was a man with a strict sense of propriety. He must have wanted very much to hear something more about Doyle's guest, but he marched off up the street followed by Moriarty. Doyle and Gallagher watched them until they were out of sight. Then Gallagher spoke again.

"If he isn't the Lord-Lieutenant," he said, "and if he isn't the Chief Secretary, will you tell me who he is?"

"It's my opinion," said Doyle, "that he's a Yank."

"I don't know that I've much of an opinion of Yanks," said Gallagher. "It's in my mind that the country would be better if there was fewer of them came back to us. What I say is this: What good are they? What do they do, only upset the minds of the people, teaching them to be disrespectful to the clergy and to use language the like of which decent people ought not to use?"

"It's my opinion that he is a Yank anyway," said Doyle.

Mary Ellen returned from Kerrigan's shop. She carried a small parcel, wrapped in newspaper. It contained two chops for Mr. Billing's dinner.

"Mary Ellen," said Doyle, "is it your opinion that the gentleman within is a Yank?"

"He might be," said Mary Ellen.

"Go you on in then," said Doyle, "and be cooking them chops for him. Why would you keep him waiting for his dinner and him maybe faint with the hunger?"

"And why would you say he was a Yank?" said Gallagher.

"Why would I say it? You'd say it yourself, Thady Gallagher if so be you'd heard the way he was talking. 'Is there a live man in the place at all?' says he, meaning Ballymoy. 'It's waking up you want.' says he."

"Did he? The devil take him," said Gallagher.

"'And I've a good mind to try and wake you up myself,' said he. 'I'm reckoned middling good at waking people up where I come from,' says he."

"Let him try," said Gallagher. "Let him try if it pleases him. We'll teach him."

Gallagher spoke with an impressive display of truculent self-confidence. He had at the moment no doubt whatever that he could subdue Mr. Billing or any other insolent American. His opportunity came almost at once. Mr. Billing appeared at the door of the hotel. He looked extraordinarily cool and competent. He also looked rather severe. His forehead was puckered to a frown. It seemed that he was slightly annoyed about something. Gallagher feared that his last remark might have been overheard. He shrank back a little, putting Doyle between him and Mr. Billing.

"Say," said Mr. Billing, "is there any way of getting a move on that hired girl of yours? It'll be time for breakfast to-morrow morning before she brings my lunch if some one doesn't hustle her a bit."

"Mary Ellen," shouted Doyle. "Mary Ellen, will you hurry up now and cook the gentleman's dinner?" Then he sank his voice. "She's frying the chops this minute," he said. "If you was to stand at the kitchen door you'd hear them in the pan."

Thaddeus Gallagher, reassured and confident that Mr. Billing had not overheard his threat, stepped forward and stood bowing, his hat in his hands. Wealthy Americans may be objectionable, but they are rare in the west of Ireland. Gallagher felt that he would like to know Mr. Billing. Doyle introduced him.

"This is Mr. Gallagher," he said. "Mr. Thaddeus Gallagher, J. P."

Mr. Billing bowed courteously and shook hands with Mr. Gallagher.

"Proud to meet you, sir," he said. "Proud to meet any prominent citizen of this section."

"Mr. Thady Gallagher," said Doyle, "is the proprietor of the Connacht Eagle, our principal newspaper."

The Connacht Eagle was, in fact, the only newspaper in Ballymoy. It was the only newspaper published within a radius of forty miles from Ballymoy.

It could therefore be quite truthfully called the principal one. Mr. Billing shook Thady Gallagher's hand again.

"I'm a newspaper man myself," he said. "I control two-thirds of the press in the state where I belong."

Thady Gallagher seemed greatly impressed by this statement. Doyle felt more than ever that his new guest was a man who ought to be treated with all possible consideration.

"It could be," he said, "that them chops would be ready for you now, and if you'll tell the girl what it is you'd like to drink--"

"When I've finished my lunch," said Mr. Billing, "I'd like to take a stroll round this section. There are some things I want to see. Perhaps Mr. Gallagher will come with me, if he can spare the time."

"Thady Gallagher will be pleased," said Doyle. "And as for sparing the time, he has plenty of that. You'll go with the gentleman, won't you, Thady?"

"I will, of course," said Gallagher.

"And there's no man knows the neighbourhood better," said Doyle. "There isn't one in it, man, woman, or child, that he isn't acquainted with, and anything there might be to tell about their fathers or mothers before them, Thady Gallagher is well fit to tell it to you.".

"What I'd like to be shown first," said Mr. Billing, "is the statue to the memory of General John Regan."

Doyle looked at Gallagher doubtfully. Gallagher edged away a little. He seemed inclined to take shelter again behind Doyle.

"The statue?" said Doyle.

"Statue or other memorial," said Mr. Billing.

"With regard to the statue--" said Doyle slowly.

Then he turned round and caught Gallagher by the arm.

"Speak up, Thady Gallagher," he said, "and tell the gentleman about the statue."

"With reference to the statue--" said Gallagher.

"Yes," said Mr. Billing encouragingly, "the statue to General John Regan."

"With reference to the statue of the deceased general," said Gallagher.

"What he's wanting to say," said Doyle, "is that at the present time there's no statue to the General, not in Ball

ymoy, anyway."

"You surprise me some," said Mr. Billing.

"It's what there ought to be," said Doyle, "and that's a fact."

"Is Ballymoy such a nursery of heroes," said Mr. Billing, "that you can afford to neglect the memory of the great General, the patriot statesman, the deliverer of Bolivia?"

"Speak up, Thady," said Doyle, "and tell the gentleman why there's no statue to the General in Ballymoy."

Gallagher cleared his throat and began to speak. At first his words came to him slowly; but as he warmed to his subject he became fluent and even eloquent.

"It's on account of the way we find ourselves situated in this country at the present time," he said. "It's not the hearts of the people that's at fault. There isn't one, not the poorest man among us, that wouldn't be willing to do honour to the memory of the great men of the past that died on the scaffold in defence of the liberty of the people. It's the cursed system of Castle Government and the tyranny of the landlords, and the way the people is driven off their farms by the rack-renting flunkeys of the rent office. How is the country to prosper, and how is statues to be erected to them that deserve statues, so long as the people isn't able to call their souls their own? But, glory be to God, it won't be so for long! We have Home Rule as good as got, and when we have it--"

Gallagher might have gone on speaking for a long time. He was a man of tried and practised eloquence. He had arrived without much effort at his favourite subject. Fragments of old speeches, glowing periods, oft-repeated perorations thronged confusedly on his memory. Mr. Billing seemed to be listening with sympathy and admiration. It might be a long time before such a favourable opportunity for making a speech came to Gallagher again. Unfortunately he was interrupted. Mary Ellen had come, unperceived, out of the hotel. She was at Mr. Billing's elbow just when Gallagher reached his prophecy about Home Rule. She spoke without the slightest regard for the orator's feelings.

"The chops is fried," she said.

Doyle had often heard his friend make speeches before. He had no wish to be subjected to unnecessary oratory on a very hot day. He supported Mary Ellen's appeal.

"It would be as well for you," he said, "to go and eat them, the way they won't be getting cold on you."

Mr. Billing saw the wisdom of this advice at once. He turned to go into the hotel. But he evidently wanted to hear more of Thady Gallagher's speech.

"When I've finished my lunch," he said, "I shall look forward to a long talk with Mr. Gallagher. I want to gather together all the local traditions which survive about the boyhood of the great General. I'm writing his biography, gentlemen. I need say no more."

"Mary Ellen," said Doyle, "whatever the gentleman fancies in the way of a drink, will you see that he gets it?"

Mary Ellen, smiling pleasantly, walked in front of Mr. Billing and conducted him to the small ill-lighted room which Doyle called the Commercial Room of his hotel. There, on a very dirty table cloth, were a knife and fork, a plate which held two chops with a quantity of grease round them, and a dish with five pallid potatoes in it. The meal was not appetising. On a very hot day it was almost repulsive. But Mr. Billing was either really hungry or he was a man of unusual determination. He sat down to his chops with a smile.

"I guess," he said, "that whisky is the drink you're most likely to have in this hotel?"

"There's porter," said Mary Ellen, "and there's minerals, and there's ginger cordial."

"If I'm here for a week," said Mr. Billing, "I'll put you wise in the matter of making cocktails. A Saratoga cocktail is a drink--"

"Is it whisky I'll bring you now?" said Mary Ellen.

She was a girl of sense and wisdom. She was no more inclined to listen to Mr. Billing's panegyric of the Saratoga cocktail than to Thady Gallagher's patriotic denunciation of the flunkeys of the rent office. Without waiting for an answer she went away and brought Mr. Billing the usual quantity of Irish whisky in the bottom of a tumbler with a bottle of soda water.

Doyle and Thady Gallagher, left alone in the street, stared at each other in silence. It was Doyle who spoke first:

"What you want, Thady," he said, "is a drop of something to drink, to revive the courage in you."

"What sort of a fellow is that at all?" said Thady hoarsely.

"A pint of porter, now," said Doyle, "or a drop of spirits. You want it this minute, and you'll want it more before, you're through with the job that you have on hand."

He led the way into the bar and provided Thady with a satisfying draught. Thady emptied the tumbler without drawing breath. Then he took his pipe from his pocket and lit it.

"Mr. Doyle," he said, "you're a man I've a liking for and always had. What's more, you're a man I respect, and it isn't everyone that I would say that to."

"The same to you," said Doyle, "and may you live long to enjoy it. Will you have another drop?"

"I don't mind if I do," said Thady.

Doyle filled up the empty tumbler. As he did so Gallagher spoke with serious deliberation.

"Seeing that you're a man I've every confidence in, I'd be glad if you'd tell me this. Who was General John Regan? For I never heard tell of him."

"It'll be better for you, Thady, to know something about him be the same more or less, before the gentleman within has finished his dinner. He'll be asking questions of you the whole of the rest of the day."

"Let him ask."

"And you'll have to be answering him, for he'll not rest contented without you do."

"There's no Regans here," said Gallagher, "and what's more there never was."

"There's no statue anyway," said Doyle, "nor there won't be."

"I don't know that there'd be any harm in a statue," said Gallagher. "What has me bothered is who the General was."

"There'll be no statue," said Doyle. "It's all very well to be talking, but the rates is too high already without an extra penny in the pound for a statue that nobody wants."

"I wouldn't be in favour of a statue myself," said Gallagher, "unless, of course, the gentleman was to pay for it himself, and he might."

"Of course if he was to pay for it, it would be different. By the look of the motor-car he came in I'd say he'd plenty of money."

The idea that Mr. Billing could pay for a statue was a pleasant one, and it was always possible that he might do so. He appeared to be very anxious that there should be a statue.

"There's some men," said Doyle hopefully, "that has no sense in the way they spend what money they've got."

Mr. Gallagher admitted with a sigh that there are such men. He himself had no money, or very little. If, as he hoped, he succeeded in becoming a Member of Parliament, he would have money, large quantities of it, a full £400 a year. He would have more sense than to spend any of it in erecting statues. Doyle, on the other hand, had money. He lent it freely, at a high rate of interest, to the other inhabitants of Ballymoy. This was his idea of the proper use of money. To spend it on works of public utility or sentimental value, struck him as very foolish.

"I'd be glad, all the same," said Gallagher, "if I knew who the General was that he's talking about."

"It could be," said Doyle hopefully, "that he was one of them ones that fought against the Government at the time of Wolfe Tone."

"He might, of course. But the gentleman was saying something about Bolivia."

"Where's that at all?" said Doyle.

Thady Gallagher did not know. Editors of newspapers are supposed to know everything and have succeeded in impressing the public with the idea that they do, but there are probably a few things about which even the ablest editor has to refer to encyclopedias; and Gallagher was not by any means at the top of his profession. The Connacht Eagle was indeed a paper which exercised a very great influence on the minds of those who read it, more influence, perhaps, than even The Times has on its subscribers. For the readers of Gallagher's leading articles and columns of news were still in that primitive stage of culture in which every statement made in print is accepted as certainly true, whereas the subscribers to The Times have been educated into an unworthy kind of scepticism. Also the readers of the Connacht Eagle read little or nothing else, while those who read The Times usually glance at one or two other papers as well, and even waste their time and unsettle their minds by dipping into books. Thus, in spite of the fact that The Times appears every day, and the Connacht Eagle only once a week, it is likely that the Irish paper exercises more real influence than the English one-produces, that is to say, more definite effect upon the opinions of men who have votes. The editor of The Times would perhaps scarcely recognise Thady Gallagher as a fellow journalist. He may know-would probably in any case be ashamed to admit that he did not know-where Bolivia is. Thady Gallagher did not know, and was prepared to confess his ignorance in private to his friend. Yet Gallagher was in reality the more important man of the two.

"I know as much about Bolivia," he said, "as I do about the General, and that's nothing at all."

"I'm glad it's you and not me," said Doyle, "that he took the fancy to go out walking with."

"I suppose now," said Gallagher, "that you wouldn't come along with us."

"I will not," said Doyle, "so you may make your mind easy about that."

"I don't see what harm it would do you."

"I've things to look after," said Doyle, "and anyway I don't fancy spending my time talking about a dead General that nobody ever heard of."

"It's what I feel myself," said Gallagher.

"You may feel it," said Doyle, "but you'll have to go with him. It was you he asked and not me."

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