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   Chapter 3 No.3

General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 28597

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Dr. Lucius O'Grady is the only medical man in Ballymoy. Whatever money there is to be won by the practice of the art of healing in the neighbourhood, Dr. O'Grady wins and has all to himself. Unfortunately it is not nearly sufficient for his needs. He is not married and so cannot plead a wife and family as excuses for getting into debt. But he is a man of imaginative mind with an optimistic outlook upon life. Men of this kind hardly ever live within their incomes, however large their incomes are; and Dr. O'Grady's was really small. The dullard does not want things which the man of lively imagination feels that he must have. The sour man of gloomy disposition is forever haunted by the possibility of misfortune. He hoards whatever pittance he may earn. Dr. O'Grady had good spirits and a delightful confidence in life. He spent all, and more than all he had, feeling sure that the near future held some great good fortune for him-a deadly epidemic perhaps, which would send all the people of Ballymoy flocking to his surgery, or a post under the new Insurance Act The very qualities of mind which made him improvident made him also immensely popular. Everybody liked him. Even his creditors found it hard to speak harshly to him. He owed money to Doyle; but Doyle, though as keen as any man living on getting what was due to him, refrained from hurrying Dr. O'Grady over much. He grumbled a great deal, but he allowed the account in the shop attached to the hotel to run on. He even advanced sums of hard cash when some distant creditor, a Dublin tailor, for instance, who did not appreciate the doctor's personal charm, became importunate. Between what was due in the shop for tea, sugar, whisky, tobacco, and other necessaries, and the money actually lent, Dr. O'Grady owed Doyle rather more than £60. He owed Gallagher more than £1, being five years' subscription to the Connacht Eagle. He owed a substantial sum to Kerrigan, the butcher. He owed something to every other shopkeeper in Ballymoy. The only people to whom he did not owe money were Major Kent, Mr. Gregg, the District Inspector of Police, and Mr. Ford, the stipendiary magistrate. No one could have owed money to Mr. Ford because he was a hard and suspicious man who never lent anything. Nobody could have borrowed from Mr. Gregg, because Mr. Gregg, who had just got married, had no money to lend. Major Kent had a little money and would have lent it to Dr. O'Grady, would, in fact, have given it to him without any hope of ever getting it back again, but the doctor refused to borrow from him. He had a conscientious objection to victimising his personal friends. Doyle, so he explained, lived very largely by lending money, and therefore offered himself as fair game to the impecunious borrower. The shopkeepers throve on a system of credit. They were fair game too. Major Kent was in a different case. To borrow from him was to take a mean advantage of the good nature of a simple, unprofessional man.

Major Kent and Dr. O'Grady walked into Ballymoy together at about half past two on the day of Mr. Billing's arrival. They had lunched at Portsmouth Lodge, the Major's house. Dr. O'Grady had given his opinion of a new filly which the Major had bought a few days before. It was a very unfavourable opinion, and the Major, who had the greatest confidence in the doctor's judgment, was duly depressed.

"If I were you, Major," said the doctor, "I'd sell that one at once. She's no good."

"I'd sell her fast enough," said the Major gloomily, "if I could find a buyer."

"It was £30 you gave for her in the fair?" said the doctor.

"It was; and if you're right about her she's not worth the half of it. She's not worth £12."

"I happen to know that fellow Geraghty," said the doctor. "The man who stuck you with her. He's a patient of mine. I pulled him through his last attack of d. t.'s so I know all there is to know about him. He'd stick an archangel. If he happened to be selling him a pair of wings it would turn out afterwards that the feathers were dropping out."

"If you know him," said the Major, "you know a blackguard."

"After sticking you with the filly," said the doctor, "he spent the evening drinking in the hotel."

"He would."

"And the more he drank the bigger the price was that he said he got from you. When Doyle turned him out in the end he was saying that he had your cheque for £60 in his pocket. I don't suppose Doyle believed that. Nobody would. But he probably thinks you gave £40 or £45."

"All I gave was £30. But I don't see that it matters what Doyle believes."

"It does matter," said Dr. O'Grady. "If Doyle believes you gave £40 for the filly, and if you were to offer her to him for £35 he'd think he was getting a bargain and he'd jump at it. Doyle's just the kind of fool who thinks he knows all about horses and so he's quite an easy man to stick. Come on now, and we'll try."

Major Kent was in all ordinary affairs of life a strictly honourable man. But horses are not ordinary affairs. It is on record that a bishop, an Irishman and therefore intensely religious, once sold a thoroughly unsound horse to an archdeacon for a large price. The archdeacon had a high opinion of the bishop beforehand, regarding him as a saintly man of childlike simplicity. He had a much higher opinion of him after he understood the failings of the animal he had bought. He then respected the bishop for his shrewdness. Horse-dealing is a thing apart from all other buying and selling. Honesty, in the common sense of the word, does not enter into it. Therefore, Major Kent was quite ready to defraud Doyle if he could. He and Dr. O'Grady walked into Ballymoy together for the purpose.

They reached the corner of the market square and caught sight of Mr. Billing's large motor-car standing outside the hotel. Doyle and Gallagher, who had stopped drinking, were standing near it.

"If Doyle's bought that motor," said the Major, "he won't look at the filly."

"He hasn't," said the doctor. "What would he do with the motor if he had it? All the same it's queer. I don't know what it's doing there. Nobody with money enough to own a car like that could possibly be stopping at Doyle's Hotel. Come along and let's find out about it."

They hurried across the square and greeted Doyle and Gallagher.

"Whose is the big motor?" said Dr. O'Grady.

"It belongs to an American gentleman," said Doyle, "who's within in the hotel. We're waiting for him this minute. He's getting his camera, and when he has it got he's going round with Thady Gallagher to photograph the town."

Gallagher took Major Kent by the arm and drew him apart.

"Major," he said, "can you tell me who was General John Regan?"

"Never heard of him," said the Major, "but if he owns that car he must be a middling well-off man."

"Look here, Doyle," said Dr. O'Grady, "you know that filly the Major bought at the fair."

"I've heard of her," said Doyle.

"Well, as it happens," said Dr. O'Grady, "she turns out to be a bit too good for what he wants. His idea was to get something to do a bit of carting, and it turns out that this one is-well, she has breeding. Now, look here, Doyle---"

He led Doyle apart just out of earshot of the Major and Gallagher.

"I owe you a trifle, don't I, Doyle?"

"As near as I can go to it without looking at my books," said Doyle, "you owe me £60, and I'd be thankful if so be that it's quite convenient to you--"

"It isn't a bit convenient," said Dr. O'Grady, "but I quite admit that I owe the money. Now what I suggest is this. I've persuaded the Major to let you have that filly cheap, dirt cheap. It will be found money to you, Doyle, if you get her at the price the Major's going to name, and you may be able to knock a pound or two off that. Under these circumstances and seeing that I'm putting the chance in your way-it isn't everyone that could, but I'm a friend of the Major's and he trusts me-I think you ought to stop talking about the trifle I owe you. I'm sick of the subject."

"You're not near as sick of it as I am," said Doyle, "and I don't know that I want the filly."

"You do want her," said Dr. O'Grady. "You want anything that you can make money out of. Hullo! Who's that?"

Mr. Billing, carrying his camera, appeared at the door of the hotel.

"It's the American gentleman that owns the motorcar," said Doyle. "Tell me this now, doctor. Did ever you hear of General John Regan?"

"Of course I did," said Dr. O'Grady. "He's a well-known millionaire, just the sort of man to be touring the country in a big motor. Go you off now and settle with the Major about the filly. I'll entertain the General for you."

"For God's sake, doctor, be careful what you say," said Doyle in a whisper. "The General's dead this twenty years and it's a statue there ought to be to his memory. So that fellow's after saying, any way."

"Oh, all right," said Dr. O'Grady. "It's just the same thing. I'll manage. You go and settle with the Major."

He approached Mr. Billing jauntily.

"Delighted to meet you, sir," he said. "Delighted to welcome you to Ballymoy. You'll find it a most interesting locality. My name is O'Grady, Lucius O'Grady, M.D."

Mr. Billing took off his hat, laid down his camera, and shook hands with the doctor.

"Mine is Billing," he said. "Horace P. Billing. I come from America. My object in visiting Ballymoy--"

"The poor old General, of course," said Dr. O'Grady. "We thought you'd be sure to come sooner or later. Your uncle, wasn't he, or great uncle? I forget."

Mr. Billing seemed surprised, very much surprised. He dropped Dr. O'Grady's hand abruptly and stared at him. Then he recovered himself with an effort.

"I can't claim relationship with that great man," he said.

"That's a pity," said Dr. O'Grady.

"I'm his biographer," said Mr. Billing. "I'm engaged in writing the first complete life of the founder of the Bolivian Republic. I have come to Ballymoy--"

"You couldn't possibly have come to a better place."

Dr. O'Grady was not a literary man, but he had an idea that people who write books seek out quiet places in which they are not likely to be over excited while engaged in their trying work. Ballymoy seemed to him a suitable place for anyone engaged in writing a biography.

"It surprises me some," said Mr. Billing, "to find that you've no statue erected to the memory of the General. I'd have thought--"

"The matter is under discussion," said Dr. O'Grady. "Our Urban District Council is alive to its duty in the matter. At the last meeting-let me see now, was it the last meeting? Gallagher! Thady Gallagher! Come here for a minute."

Thady Gallagher, who had been acting as umpire in an animated wrangle between Doyle and Major Kent, shambled across to the door of the hotel where Dr. O'Grady and Mr. Billing were standing.

"Was it the last meeting of the Urban District Council," said Dr. O'Grady, "or was it the last but one, that you were discussing the erection of a statue to General John Regan?"

He did not venture to wink as he asked the question, but Gallagher was quite quick-witted enough to give the proper answer.

"It was the last meeting," he said.

"There was a slight difference of opinion among the members," said Dr. O'Grady, "as to the form which the memorial was to take. Some of them wanted a life-size statue in white marble. Mr. Gallagher here was more in favour of a drinking fountain. It was you who wanted the fountain wasn't it, Thady?"

"It was," said Gallagher.

"As a cheaper form of memorial," said Dr. O'Grady, "so as to spare the rates as far as possible."

"That's right," said Gallagher.

"If you will allow me to say so," said Mr. Billing, "the question of expense ought not to be allowed to stand in your way. I myself will gladly promise--"

Mr. Billing hesitated for a moment. It was not clear whether he meant to promise a handsome subscription or merely to say that he would help in collecting the necessary money. Dr. O'Grady thought it well to assume at once that a subscription had been promised.

"Good," he said, "take note of that, Thady, and announce it to the Urban District Council at the next meeting. Mr. Billing will hand over his subscription to the treasurer as soon as one is appointed. You can arrange about a proper vote of thanks being passed."

Mr. Billing seemed quite pleased at this interpretation of his unfinished sentence. He went on to make another promise.

"And I think I may safely guarantee," he said, "on behalf of the people of Bolivia--they can never forget--"

"They oughtn't to," said the doctor. "After all he did more for them than he ever did for us."

"He was born here," said Mr. Billing, "and that's something to be proud of."

"And we are proud of it. Thady Gallagher is having an article in his paper next week saying how much we appreciate the dear old General. Aren't you, Thady?"

"I am, of course," said Gallagher.

Then, lest he should be committed any further, Gallagher slipped away and joined Major Kent and Doyle. They were standing together near the motorcar in high debate as to whether the price of the filly was to be £30 or £34. The Major had abated one pound of the price he asked at first. Doyle had, so far, resisted every effort to induce him to make an advance upon his original offer. They were both enjoying themselves greatly. But Gallagher interrupted them.

"The doctor knows all about him," he said, "thanks be to God he's--"

"She's a filly," said Doyle, "and I know as much about her as the doctor does."

He had for the moment forgotten his American guest, and was thinking only of the animal which Major Kent was trying to sell him.

"It's the General I'm talking about," said Gallagher in an aggrieved tone, "and the doctor says there's to be an article on the paper about him next week. But if there is the doctor may write it himself. It'll be easy for him seeing he knows who the General was."

"He does not know any more than the rest of us," said Doyle. "Didn't he say a minute ago he was a well-known millionaire?"

"He knows now, anyway," said Gallagher, "and what's more he says that the Urban District Council has been talking about erecting a statue to him."

"Erecting

a statue to who?" said the Major.

"To General John Regan, of course," said Gallagher.

"But sure there was no such talk," said Doyle, "not that I heard of, anyway."

"There was not," said Gallagher, "but there will be now; and there might have been. There's no denying that there might have been."

"Doyle," said the Major anxiously. "We must finish settling the price of the filly later on. I'm nervous, I'm confoundedly nervous about what the doctor may be doing. You never know what wild idea he may take into his head, or what he may let us all in for."

"He's all right," said Gallagher. "Don't I tell you he's arranging with the American gentleman?"

"He may be getting us all into some mess or other. You never know what the doctor will be at. He's so infernally imaginative."

Mr. Billing and Dr. O'Grady had left the door of the hotel. They were standing together in the middle of the square almost opposite the police barrack. Major Kent hurried towards them. Doyle and Gallagher followed him slowly.

"What's this talk about a statue?" said Doyle. "Didn't I tell you before that I'd agree to no statue? Isn't the rates high enough already without that? And don't I have to pay more of them than any other man in the town?"

"There'll be no addition to the rates," said Gallagher. "The way the doctor was fixing it up it'll be the American gentleman that'll pay for the statue. He's just after saying he will, and the Urban District Council is to pass a vote of thanks to him, which is what they'll be glad to do, and I'll draw it up myself."

"Of course," said Doyle, slightly mollified, "if he pays the cost of it there'll be no objection to the statue. But are you sure now that he's fit? Statues cost a deal."

"Look at the motor-car he came in," said Gallagher.

The motor seemed conclusive evidence. It was a very splendid vehicle. Doyle hurried forward. A stranger who proposed to spend large sums of money in the town deserved to be treated with every kind of politeness and respect. A statue still struck Doyle as an exceedingly useless thing; but he was not without hope that Mr. Billing might be persuaded to give his money, if he really wanted to give money, to some more sensible object.

Dr. O'Grady introduced Major Kent to Mr. Billing.

"Our principal resident gentleman," he said, "a J. P. and a strong Unionist. Gallagher, of course, is a Home Ruler. But these little political differences of opinion don't really matter. They're both equally keen on doing their duty to the memory of the great General."

"What's that?" said the Major. "What General are you talking about?"

"General John Regan," said Dr. O'Grady.

"Who? What?" said the Major.

"Don't give yourself away now, Major," said Dr. O'Grady, in a whisper. "Don't let Mr. Billing find out that you've never heard of the General. You ought to have heard of him. The Major," he said aloud, "isn't as well up in the General's history as he might be. He hasn't studied the details of his campaigns; but he quite agrees with the rest of us that there ought to be a statue to his memory."

"Dr. O'Grady has just informed me," said Mr. Billing, "that the centre of this square is the site that has been selected by your Urban District Council."

"The very spot we're standing on at the present moment," said Dr. O'Grady. "The Major has promised £5, which shows how keen he is on the project. Don't say you haven't, Major. We all know that you're a modest man, doing good by stealth and blushing to find it known. But a public subscription can't be kept secret. Sooner or later the list of subscribers will have to be published. Doyle," he looked round as he spoke and saw Doyle and Gallagher standing near him. "Doyle has promised another £5. He ought to be giving more, and I daresay he will in the end. He's a much richer man than the Major, though he doesn't look it. Gallagher is good for another pound. It doesn't sound much from a newspaper editor, but it's as much as he can afford. Half the advertisements in his paper aren't paid for at all. Father McCormack-he's the parish priest, and we haven't asked him yet, but he'll put down his name for £10 at least. He always supports every kind of good work liberally."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Billing, "you may put me down for five hundred dollars."

Doyle and Gallagher drew pieces of paper and pencils from their pockets. They did sums rapidly, Doyle on the back of an old envelope, Gallagher on a sheet of paper already covered with shorthand notes. Dr. O'Grady worked his sum in his head. He arrived at his answer first.

"A hundred pounds!" he said. "A generous subscription!"

"It's more than a hundred," said Doyle. "What do you make it, Thady?"

"Counting 4s. 2d. to the dollar," said Gallagher, "it comes to---"

"There's a halfpenny along with that," said Doyle, "as often as not."

"Anyway," said Gallagher, "it won't be less than £104 3s. 4d."

"The Urban District Council," said Doyle, "will take a delight in passing that vote of thanks to Mr. Billing at its next meeting, and it'll be a good strong vote, won't it, Thady?"

"As strong as ever any one that was passed about the landlords," said Gallagher, "only different, of course, mighty different."

"Look here, O'Grady," said Major Kent. "What do you mean by saying that I'm going to subscribe £5? Who is this General you're all talking about?"

"Do shut up, Major," said Dr. O'Grady. "Everything's all right if you'll only keep quiet. As you've got a camera with you, Mr. Billing," he went on, "you might like to take a photograph of that house opposite you. It was there that the great General--"

"Glory be to God," said Gallagher, "it's the police barrack!"

"The birthplace of the great General?" said Mr. Billing, taking off his hat.

"Not exactly," said Dr. O'Grady. "Thady Gallagher will show you his birthplace this afternoon. This is the house in which he spent his early youth, up to the age of eleven years."

"Excuse me," said Mr. Billing. "I'll just get my camera. A view of that house will be most interesting. I certainly ought to have it for my biography."

He crossed the road to the hotel and picked up his camera. He carried it to the middle of the square and set up the tripod legs. Then he screwed the camera into its place.

"O'Grady," said Major Kent, angrily. "I don't want to make a public exposure of you before a total stranger, but if you don't stop trying to make fools of us all---"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Major," said the doctor. "I'm not making a fool of anyone. I'm helping to persuade Mr. Billing to erect a statue in this town. You can't deny that a statue would be an improvement to the place."

"A statue!" said the Major. "Who to?"

"Good Heavens!" said Dr. O'Grady, "haven't you grasped that yet? To General John Regan."

Mr. Billing had his head under a black cloth. He was screwing the lens of his camera backwards and forwards and appeared to be entirely absorbed in his photography.

"Tell me now, doctor," said Doyle, "before we go further into the matter-- Mind you, I'm not saying a word against what you're doing, but I'd be glad to know who was General John Regan."

"If I'm to show the American gentleman the birthplace of the General," said Gallagher, "I'll need to know where it is. Will you tell me this now, doctor, where was the General born?"

"I haven't time," said Dr. O'Grady, "to give you all elementary lectures on modern history; and I certainly haven't the temper to spend all day hammering into your heads simple facts which--"

"Facts!" said the Major.

"Go home, Major," said Dr. O'Grady. "You've no tact, and in an affair of this kind where the highest kind of diplomacy is necessary, you're not only useless, you're actually dangerous. Now, Doyle, do you or do you not want to have the handling of that American gentleman's £100? You do, of course. Very well then. Leave the matter in my hands and don't annoy me by asking frivolous questions. Thady, the birthplace of the General is one of those ruined cottages-it doesn't in the least matter which-on the grass farm where Doyle has his cattle ever since you and your League prevented anyone else taking the place. You ought to have known that without bothering me. Good Heavens! Here's the police sergeant coming to ask questions now."

Sergeant Colgan and Constable Moriarty were approaching at a rapid walk.

"Begging your pardon, doctor," said the sergeant, "but is that a camera that the gentleman has, and is he thinking of taking a picture of the barrack?"

"He is," said the doctor, "but he's not photographing it as a barrack at all. He's doing it in an entirely different spirit. So there's no necessity for you to start any theory about his being a German spy, or to raise stupid objections."

"I wasn't thinking of objecting," said the sergeant. "It makes no matter to me what notion he has in his head. But what Constable Moriarty was saying to me this minute--" he hesitated, and then added, "speak up now, Moriarty."

"What the sergeant said to me," said Moriarty, "as soon as ever he seen the gentleman with the camera--"

"It wasn't me passed the remark," said the sergeant, "but yourself. I'll not have it put out that I was the one--"

Mr. Billing, standing bare-headed beside his camera, squeezed a yellow bulb and clicked the shutter of his lens. He turned smiling.

"A successful photograph, I hope, gentlemen," he said. "The people of Bolivia will be interested to see it. It will adorn the first volume of the General's life."

"There!" said Dr. O'Grady to Sergeant Colgan. "That comes of not speaking out promptly. The photograph is taken now and whatever remark it was that you or Moriarty made will be entirely wasted."

"It's a pity, so it is," said the sergeant, "for what Constable Moriarty was after saying--"

"What the sergeant said," said Moriarty, "is that he'd be glad if the gentleman would take him along with the barrack."

"It's not often," said the sergeant, "that we have anyone taking photographs round in these parts, and Constable Moriarty would have been pleased to be took on account of being able to send the photo after to a young lady that he is acquainted with up in Dublin."

"There's no young lady up in Dublin," said Moriarty sulkily.

Dr. O'Grady was a man of quick sympathy and a kind heart. He realised at once that both Sergeant Colgan and Constable Moriarty wanted to have their photographs taken.

"Go over to the door of the barrack," he said, "and arrange yourselves in such a way as to look as ornamental as possible. I'll try to get the gentleman to take another photograph."

Mr. Billing had slipped his dark slide into his pocket, and was unscrewing his camera from its stand. Dr. O'Grady called to him.

"I'm afraid," he said, "that you got your photograph wrong."

"Mistake about the house," said Mr. Billing. "Well, it can't be helped. Which is the right one?"

"Not exactly that," said Dr. O'Grady. "You've got the proper house, but the Major has just reminded me--"

"I did not," said Major Kent.

"Well, if it wasn't you it was Thady. Thady Gallagher has just reminded me that the top storey wasn't built when the General lived there. The Government added it afterwards when the place was bought for a police barrack. What you ought to do if you want to get the thing absolutely right is to take another photograph and make sure that the top storey doesn't come into it."

"I'm greatly obliged to you," said Mr. Billing. "I'll expose a second plate."

He arranged his camera again. Sergeant Colgan and Moriarty settled themselves in stiff attitudes, one on each side of the barrack door.

"Am I to take the two policemen as well?" said Mr. Billing, looking out from beneath his black cloth.

"You may as well," said Dr. O'Grady. "It will interest the Bolivians to see how this country is overrun with what Thady Gallagher calls the armed forces of an alien power."

"What I say is this," said Thady Gallagher, grasping at his opportunity, "so long as the people of this country is kept in subjection and the cursed system of landlordism is supported--"

"Look here, O'Grady," said Major Kent, angrily, "I can't be expected to stand this."

"It's all right, Major," said Dr. O'Grady. "It's only poor old Thady. You know jolly well he doesn't mean a word of it."

"As long as the sacredness of our homes is invaded," said Gallagher, "and the virtues of our families corrupted by the overfed minions of the landlord class--"

"Oh, do shut up, Thady," said the doctor. "We all know that stuff off by heart, and you must try to recollect that the Major's a Unionist. He can't be expected to listen to you peaceably; and if we don't run this statue business on strictly non-political lines we'll never be able to carry it through."

"Whisht now, Thady, whisht," said Doyle soothingly; "sure the sergeant is doing you no harm."

Mr. Billing clicked his shutter again. Sergeant Colgan and Constable Moriarty relapsed from their strained attitudes and breathed freely.

"Got the lower storey all right?" said Dr. O'Grady. "Good. I daresay now you'd like to toddle around with Thady Gallagher and see the General's birthplace. I'm sorry I can't go with you myself, but I happen to be rather busy. There are two old women with rheumatism expecting bottles from me in the course of the afternoon."

"I'll fold up the camera," said Mr. Billing, "and start at once."

"Doctor," said Gallagher anxiously, "what'll I do when he starts asking me questions about the General?"

"Answer him, of course," said Dr. O'Grady.

"How can I, when I never heard tell of the General till to-day. For the love of God, doctor dear, will you tell me who he was?"

"Thady," said the doctor, "I'm ashamed of you. Aren't you a politician? You are, and well you know it. Aren't you a newspaper editor? You are, there's no use denying it. Don't you spend your whole life either talking or writing on subjects that you know nothing about? You do. And what on earth's the use of your pretending now that you can't answer a few simple questions about General John Regan? There now, he's got his camera folded up and he's waiting for you. Be off at once."

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