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   Chapter 4 No.4

General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 20117

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Motor-cars are even yet far from common in the west of Ireland. They are not, for instance, used in elections as they are in England. There very seldom are elections in the west of Ireland; but even if these entertainments were, as frequent as elsewhere motor-cars would not be used in them. This is partly because the Irish voter is recognised as incorruptible, not the kind of man who would allow his vote to be influenced by a ride in an unaccustomed vehicle; partly because the west of Ireland candidate for Parliament is not rich enough to keep a motor-car himself, and has no friends or supporters who could lend him anything more expensive than a horse. Therefore motor drives are an unknown luxury to most Connacht men. Thady Gallagher, though he was a newspaper editor, had never travelled even in the side car of a motor-cycle. When Mr. Billing made it clear that he meant to go to the General's birth-place in his large car everybody felt slightly envious of Gallagher, and Doyle wished that he had not refused to join the expedition. Gallagher himself was not elated by his good fortune. He was embarrassed and depressed. He cast an appealing glance at Doyle.

"What am I to do, at all?" he said. "What am I to say to him when--?"

"If you've any sense," said Doyle, "you'll take a good long drive now you have the chance. He doesn't know the way. What's to hinder you from taking him round every road within ten miles of the town?"

But the prospect did not cheer Gallagher. He tried to grasp Dr. O'Grady's arm as he passed him. But the doctor shook him off impatiently. He even attempted an appeal to Major Kent, quite vainly. The Major was still smarting under the rhetorical denunciation of landlords. He would not at that moment have gone a step out of his way to rescue Gallagher from drowning.

The moment the motor-car was out of sight Major Kent and Doyle turned hotly on Dr. O'Grady.

"What the devil do you mean, O'Grady," said the Major, "by talking in this absurd way? You know perfectly well--"

Doyle spoke at the same time.

"It's a curious thing, so it is, doctor," he said. "It's a curious thing that you'd be letting me in for £5 when you know the loss I'm in on account of you already. I'd have thought--"

Dr. O'Grady interrupted them both.

"Suppose you agree to split the difference," he said, "and say £32 10s. for the filly. It's a pity to see two men like you losing your tempers over a bargain."

"It's not the bargain," said Doyle, "that has my temper riz. It's--"

"Doyle can have the filly if he likes," said the Major, "at £32 10s. I don't want to go on wrangling about that. What I want to know--"

"I'll take her," said Doyle.

Major Kent smiled faintly. He was getting out of what threatened to be a very bad bargain with an actual gain of £2 10s. He began to recover command of his temper. Doyle also smiled. He believed that he was buying for £32 10s. an animal for which Major Kent had paid £40 three days before. He felt kindly disposed towards Dr. O'Grady, who had put the chance of such a bargain in his way.

"Now, Major," said the doctor, "you trot along to my house while I speak a word or two to Doyle. I'll be round with you in about ten minutes, and give you some tea."

"But about that General?" said the Major, "I'd rather like to know--"

He still wanted to know about General John Regan. But the tone in which he asked for information had changed. He no longer seemed to threaten.

"I'll explain all that to you if you'll only do as I tell you," said Dr. O'Grady. "At present I can't because I'm going to explain it to Doyle."

"Why can't you explain it to both of us at once?" said the Major. "That is to say if there is any explanation of the way you've been going on."

"There are two explanations," said Dr. O'Grady, "one for you and one for Doyle. I can't give them both at once, because they're different. I should have thought you'd have seen that for yourself."

"I don't see how there can be two explanations," said the Major, "not two true ones. But of course they're neither of them that."

"They're both quite true," said Dr. O'Grady, "but they're different, of course, because you and Doyle look at everything from such different points of view. Now do trot along, Major, and don't interrupt me any more. That American may be back at any moment. I don't believe Gallagher will be able to keep him in play for very long."

He took Major Kent by the shoulders as he spoke and pushed him some little way along the street. Then he returned to Doyle.

"Now then, Doyle," he said, "you've done pretty well over that filly. Strictly speaking, you owe me £7 10s. But I'm not going to say a word about that."

"Seeing that you owe me £60," said Doyle, "it'll maybe be as well for you not."

"What I do want to talk about," said Dr. O'Grady, "is General John Regan."

"If you tell me who he was," said Doyle, "I'll be content."

"I don't see that it matters in the least to you who he was. Look here now, Doyle. You're a business man, and among other things you sell whisky. Now suppose someone was to walk into your hotel and tell you to forward ten dozen bottles of whisky-the best you had-to his aunt, and supposing that he told his aunt's name was Regan, would you go questioning and cross-questioning every man you met as to whether there really was an old lady called Miss Regan at the address he gave you?"

"I would not," said Doyle. "So long as I got my money I wouldn't care whether the fellow ever had an aunt, or what sort of a name there might be to her if he had."

"Well, this is exactly the same sort of case. Here's a man who wants a statue for a dead General, and is perfectly willing to pay for it. Why should you bother your head about who the statue is supposed to represent? £100 is £100, I suppose, even if there never was a Regan in the world; and there have been, plenty of them."

"I see that," said Doyle. "I see that, now you put it to me. And I don't deny but there's a lot in what you say. But what I don't see is this: I'd make something out of the whisky for the gentleman's aunt, but I don't understand how I'm to make a penny out of the statue."

"You'll be treasurer of the fund," said Dr. O'Grady, "and I needn't tell you that in all these cases the treasurer-well, there might be a little balance in hand at the end. There often is. Nobody ever inquires about those balances. If the treasurers are fools they lie in the banks and nobody ever gets any good of them. But you're not a fool, Doyle."

"I am not; and of course, there has been balances of the kind you speak of before now. I wouldn't say but-looking at the matter in that way-and besides there'd be a commission from the fellow that got the contract for the statue. And with regard to the £5 that my name's down for--"

"Come now, Doyle. Don't pretend to be stupider than you are. You know perfectly well that every public fund has to be started by somebody with a respectable looking subscription. I put it to you now as a business man, did you ever hear of a case in which a subscription of that kind was actually paid? It appears in the published list and it encourages other people, but--"

"Say no more, doctor," said Doyle. "Say no more."

"I shall count on you then, Doyle, to help me in every way you possibly can. It's all for your own good. And you won't be doing anybody any harm."

"There's just one thing more," said Doyle.

"Out with it. And be as quick as you can. I've still got to soothe the Major's scruples."

"If you don't mind my asking the question," said Doyle, "what are you going to make out of it yourself?"

"That's a delicate point. I might tell you I'm going into the business for the fun of the thing; but you wouldn't believe that."

"I would not," said Doyle, winking slowly.

"I was afraid you wouldn't. It's true, as it happens. That's just exactly why I am running this statue. It offers me a little excitement and variety. But as you won't believe it I'll have to make up some sort of a lie that you will believe. I owe you about £60, don't I?"

"You do, doctor, but I'd be the last man in Ireland to press you for the money if--"

"Very well. If I put £20 into your pocket over this statue, in addition to the £7 10s. you're making on the filly, I'll expect you to stop talking about what I owe you for the next six months. You see some sense in that, don't you?"

"I do."

"And it satisfies you as a reason for my taking all the trouble that I'm going to take."

"It does, of course. Why wouldn't it?"

"Very well. Believe it. But if the matter ever comes up again you'll remember, Doyle, that I offered you the truth and you wouldn't have it. I didn't attempt to impose on you with that lie until you insisted that I should."

Doyle grinned. He did not for a moment believe that Dr. O'Grady was going to give himself a great deal of trouble in the matter of General John Regan's statue without gaining something by it. But he admired the way in which the doctor, even when apparently cornered, succeeded in keeping up appearances.

"If Gallagher gets tangled up in any difficulty," said Dr. O'Grady, as he said good-bye to Doyle, "send him straight round to me. Don't you attempt to extricate him or you'll make matters worse. I shall be at home for the next two hours. It will take me that time at least to talk sense into the Major."

When he got back to his own house Dr. O'Grady found his friend in a state of badly repressed impatience.

"That seems to have been a pretty long explanation which you gave to Doyle," said the Major. "I hope mine will turn out to be a bit shorter."

"That," said Dr. O'Grady, "will entirely depend on yourself, Major. If you were a really intelligent man no explanation whatever would be necessary. You'd grasp the situation for yourself. If you were even fairly intelligent a short explanation would be quite sufficient. If, as I fear, you are downright stupid I may have to spend an hour or two talking to you."

"I don't see the slightest necessity for that," said the Major. "You've only got to give a simple answer to a perfectly plain question. Who was General John Regan? You answer that, and no further explanation will be necessary."

"I'm afraid it will," said Dr. O'Grady. "Even if I tell you all I know about the General you'll still want to heckle me and generally upset my plans."

"No, I won't, O'Grady. I promise you I won't. Just tell me all you know about this General and I won't say another word."

"Very well," said Dr. O'Grady. "I don't know anything at all about the General. I never heard of him in my life until to-day."

Major Kent gasped. Then he grew suddenly red in the face. Then he spluttered explosively. Then he burst into violent speech.

"And what the devil do you mean, O'Grady, by --? I'm hanged if I ever heard of such--"

"There you are," said Dr. O'Grady. "I knew you wouldn't be satisfied. I've told you all I know about the General, and so far from saying nothing more, you begin to curse in the most frightful way."

"That's all very well," said the Major, "but if there's no such person as that General--"

"I didn't say that. I said I knew nothing about him. I'm a well educated man, Major, far better educated than you are. But there are thousands and thousands of quite eminent people still alive whose names I've never heard, and when it comes to dead people there are probably millions, scattered up and down through history books, whom I know nothing about. They may all be quite famous in their own localities and may thoroughly deserve statues. It's not their fault that I know nothing about them."

"But we don't any of us know anything about this General. I don't. Doyle doesn't. You don't. Why on earth should we put up a statue to him?"

"Why shouldn't we allow that American-Billing or whatever his name is-to put up a statue if he likes? He wants to. Why shouldn't he?"

"Why should he put it up here?" said the Major. "What brings him to Ballymoy?"

"I expect," said Dr. O'Grady-"mind, I don't know for certain-but I expect that he's come to the wrong place, mixed up Ballymoy with some other town, with the town in which Regan was really born. This General of his was evidently a pretty big pot in his way, and if he had been born in Ballymoy some of us would have heard of him."

"In that case," said the Major, "we ought to tell Billing of his mistake."

"Certainly not. In the first place that would be a very unkind thing to do. Nobody likes being told of their mistakes, especially when they're as full of bounce and self-confidence as this fellow Billing. It's not right to be maliciously and wantonly unkind, Major, even to dumb animals; and I can't imagine anything more cruel than to tell Billing that he's made a mistake. In the next place, why on earth should we miss the chance of getting a statue in Ballymoy? We haven't got one at present, and a good statue-we'll get quite a respectable one for Billing's £100, even if we don't subscribe a penny ourselves-will be a great ornament to the town. You may not care for statues, Major, but all really cultivated people love them. Look at Dublin! It's a city with two universities in it, and the consequence is that it's simply spotted all over with statues. Look at ancient Athens, the most cultured city the world has ever seen. The number of statues the Athenians had would surprise you. Why shouldn't we have one? It'll do us all good."

"I call it a fraud," said the Major. "It's getting money out of this fool of an American under false pretences. If this General of his wasn't born here--"

"Now do you suppose, Major, that the General himself, the original John Regan, cares a pin where his statue is?"

"Of course he doesn't. The one thing we do know about him is that he's dead. Why should he care?"

"Quite so. Then there's no fraud so far as he's concerned."

"I wasn't talking about him. I was talking about the American."

"I'm just coming to him. Billing wants a statue to the General. He wants it so much that he's prepared to pay £100 for it. He also believes that the General was born here. I think myself that he's mistaken about that; but there's no doubt he believes it. He'll be quite satisfied if we have the statue here. If we don't he'll have to go to a lot of trouble and expense looking up another birthplace for the General. When he finds one the people there may not be as civil and obliging as we are. Or they may have as many statues as they want already. I cannot for the life of me see that we're committing any kind of fraud when we're saving Billing a lot of expense, possibly a great disappointment, and allowing him to do exactly what he wants."

Major Kent sighed hopelessly.

"It's no use arguing with you," he said, "but you'll get us all into trouble before you've done. You're absolutely certain to be found out."

"Now you're beginning to talk sense," said Dr. O'Grady. "There is a certain risk of being found out. I don't deny that. What we have to do is to minimise it as far as possible. We must take care not to commit ourselves to any statement about the General's public career until we've found out all we can about him. I intend to write to Dublin to-night for every book there is about Bolivia, which is the country he liberated. In the meanwhile we're fairly safe in working up any kind of local tradition we can think of. If that sort of thing is well done there's practically no risk of discovery. Even if the stories don't exactly fit in with what's known about the General's later life, it doesn't matter. The things that are told about the boyhood of great men are all invented afterwards. Nobody expects them to be true; but biographers have to put them in to satisfy the curiosity of the public. There must be a chapter headed 'Early Days,' or 'Home Life,' or something of that kind in every biography. That's the stuff Billing expects us to supply in exchange for the statue. At the same time men like Gallagher and Doyle are appallingly stupid, and I can't say you're exactly brilliant, Major. Any of you may, in an unguarded moment--"

"I shan't," said the Major, "because I'm going straight home and don't mean to leave the house again till this whole business is over."

"I wish that were possible," said Dr. O'Grady. "I should be much easier in my mind if you weren't here at all. But unfortunately we must have you. You give an air of solid respectability to the proceedings. You inspire confidence. We can't do without you. I'll get Gregg, the District Inspector, dragged into it too, and Ford, the Resident Magistrate, if I can."

"You won't get him. He has too much sense."

"I'll get his wife anyway. She loves a fuss of any kind."

"Some of them will give you away," said the Major. "You'll be found out."

"If Gallagher gets through this afternoon," said Dr. O'Grady, "I shall feel pretty safe. I wish I hadn't been obliged to send Gallagher off alone with Billing. Poor Thady is such an ass. But what could I do? I couldn't go myself because I had to explain the situation to you and Doyle. I shall feel deeply thankful when Thady is safely home again."

"By the way," said the Major, "what was the explanation that you gave to Doyle? It was different from my one I know. I'd rather like to hear it."

"Poor Doyle!" said Dr. O'Grady. "Do you know I felt quite sorry for him about that filly. He probably won't find out what's wrong with her for about a fortnight or three weeks. He'll be so busy over this General John Regan business that he won't have time to do anything with her. But when he does find out--"

"He'll not be the first man in Ireland," said the Major, "who's been let in over a horse, and I don't pity him."

"I do," said Dr. O'Grady, "I pitied you, Major, when you were stuck and I helped you to get out I don't see why I shouldn't pity Doyle too."

"How do you mean to get him out?" said the Major. "Perhaps you intend to palm off that filly on your American."

"Not at all," said Dr. O'Grady. "My idea is to get Doyle's money back for him out of the statue."

The Major thought this statement over and gradually came to suspect that O'Grady contemplated some dishonourable use of public money. He was just beginning to make a violent protest when the door of the room in which they were sitting opened, and Gallagher came in.

"Doctor," he said, "will you oblige me by coming over to the hotel at once and pacifying the American gentleman?"

"I thought as much," said Dr. O'Grady, jumping up. "You've muddled things somehow, Thady."

"I did the best I could," said Gallagher, "but he wouldn't rest content with young Kerrigan's wife."

"Good heavens!" said Dr. O'Grady, "what on earth have you said? Young Kerrigan hasn't got a wife."

"Sure I know that. But what was I to do? What I said was for the best. But anyway you'd better come round to the hotel, till you see for yourself the way we're in."

"Come along, Major," said Dr. O'Grady. "You'll enjoy watching us get out of this entanglement, whatever it is."

"I'm not going with you," said the Major. "I don't see any fun in standing still and listening to you telling lies to that American. It's not my idea of spending a pleasant afternoon."

"Come along," said Dr. O'Grady, taking him by the arm. "I may want you. I can't tell yet whether I shall or not, for I don't know yet what's happened. But I may."

The Major hung back.

"I'm not going," he said.

"If you don't," said Dr. O'Grady in a whisper, "I'll tell Doyle about the filly, all about her, and as you haven't got the money for her yet-well, you know what Doyle is. He's not the kind of man I'd care to trust very far when he finds out that-Oh, do come on."

It may have been this threat which overcame Major Kent's reluctance. It may have been a natural curiosity to find out what trouble Gallagher had got into with Mr. Billing: It may simply have been Dr. O'Grady's force of character which vanquished him. He allowed himself to be led away.

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