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   Chapter 5 No.5

General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 21362

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


"Now Thady," said Dr. O'Grady, "tell me exactly what happened and what the trouble is."

"It was on account of my mentioning young Kerrigan's wife," said Gallagher.

"Young Kerrigan hasn't got a wife," said the Major.

"Better begin at the beginning," said Dr. O'Grady. "If we knew how you arrived at whatever statement you made about young Kerrigan's wife we'd be in a better position to judge what has to be done about it, Start off now at the moment when you went away in the motor-car. You went to Doyle's farm, I suppose, as I told you, so as to show Mr. Billing the General's birthplace."

"In the latter end we got there," said Gallagher, "but at the first go off I took him along the road past the workhouse."

"That wasn't quite the shortest route," said Dr. O'Grady. "In fact you began by going in exactly the opposite direction."

"After that we went round by Barney's Hill," said Gallagher, "and along the bohireen by the side of the bog, me telling him the turns he ought to take."

"What on earth did you go there for," said the Major, "if you wanted to get to Doyle's farm?"

"When we'd passed the bog," said Gallagher, "we took a twist round, like as we might be trying to cut across to the Dunbeg Road."

"You seem to have gone pretty well all around the town," said Dr. O'Grady. "I suppose you enjoyed driving about in a large motor. Was that it?"

"It was not," said Gallagher, "but I was in dread to take him to Doyle's farm not knowing what questions he might be asking about the General when we got there. I'd be glad now, doctor, if you'd tell me who the General was, for it's troublesome not knowing."

"There isn't time," said Dr. O'Grady, "to go into long explanations simply to satisfy your morbid curiosity. Go on with your story. What happened when you did get to the place? I suppose you got there in the end?"

"We did of course," said Gallagher, "and I showed him the ruin of the little houseen, the same as you told me to. 'And was it there,' says he, 'that the great General, the immortal founder of the liberties of Bolivia, first saw the light?' 'It was,' says I. So he took a leap out of the motor-car and stood in front of the old house with his hat in his hand. So I told him about the way the landlords had treated the people of this country in times past, and the way we are meaning to serve them out as soon as we have Home Rule, which is as good as got, only for the blackguards of Orangemen up in the North. I told him--"

"I'm sure you did," said Dr. O'Grady, "but you needn't go over all that to us, particularly as the Major hates that kind of talk."

"Nobody," said Gallagher, "would want to say a word that was displeasing to the Major, who is well liked in this locality and always was. If only the rest of the landlords was like him, instead of--"

"Go on about the American," said Dr. O'Grady, "did he throw stones at you while you were making that speech about Home Rule?"

"He did not," said Gallagher, "but he stood there looking at the houseen with the tears rolling down the cheeks of him--"

"What?" said Dr. O'Grady, "do you mean to tell me he cried?"

"It was like as if he was going to," said Gallagher, "and 'the patriot statesman,' says he, 'the mighty warrior,' says he, and more to that, the same as if he might be making a speech about the land and the league boys cheering him."

"I'm rather bothered about that American in some ways," said Dr. O'Grady. "Are you telling me the truth now, Thady, about what he said?"

"I am," said Gallagher. "I'd take my oath to every word of it."

"Either he's a much greater fool than he looks," said Dr. O'Grady, "or else-but I'll find that out afterwards. Go on with your story, Thady. What happened next?"

"Well, after he'd cried about a saucerful--"

"I thought you said he didn't actually cry?"

"It was like as if he was going to cry. I told you that before."

"Come on, O'Grady," said the Major. "What's the use of listening to this sort of stuff?"

"Be quiet, Major," said Dr. O'Grady. "We're just coming to the point. Go ahead, Thady. You'd just got to the saucerful of tears. When he'd emptied that out, what did he do?"

"He asked me," said Gallagher, "was there any relatives or friends of the General surviving in the locality? He had me beat there."

"I hope you told him there were several," said Dr. O'Grady.

"I did, of course. Is it likely I'd disappoint the gentleman, and him set on finding someone belonging to the General? 'Who are they?' said he. 'Tell me their names,' Well, it was there I made the mistake."

"It was a bit awkward," said Dr. O'Grady, "when you didn't know who the General was."

"What I thought to myself," said Gallagher, "was this. There might be many a one in the locality that would be glad enough to be a cousin of the General's, even if there was no money to be got out of it, and it could be that there would. But, not knowing much about the General, I wasn't easy in my mind for fear that anybody I named might be terrible angry with me after for giving them a cousin that might be some sort of a disgrace to the family--"

"I see now," said Dr. O'Grady. "You thought it safer to name somebody who didn't exist. But what made you think of a wife for young Kerrigan?"

"It was the first thing came into my head," said Gallagher, "and I was that flustered I said it without thinking."

"Well, how did he take it?"

"He was mighty pleased, so he was. 'Take me to her,' he said. 'Take me to see her this minute,' Well, to be sure I couldn't do that."

"You could not," said Dr. O'Grady. "Could he, Major?"

"I don't see why not. He might have hired some girl for half an hour."

"No decent girl would do it," said Gallagher, "and anyway I wouldn't have had the time, for he had me in the motor again before I knew where he was and 'Show me the way to the house,' says he. 'You can't see her at the present time,' says I, 'though you may later,' 'And why not?' says he. 'The reason why you can't,' says I, 'is a delicate matter,' 'Oh!' says he. 'That's the way of it, is it? I'm glad to hear of it. The more of the stock of the old General there are in the world the better.' Well, when I seen him so pleased as all that, I thought it would be no harm to please him more. 'It's twins,' I said, 'and what's more the both of them is boys,' 'Take me to see the father,' says he. 'I'll be able to see him anyway. I'd like to shake him by the hand.'"

"Has he seen young Kerrigan?" said Dr. O'Grady.

"He has not; but he won't rest easy till he does. I wanted to run round and tell young Kerrigan the way things are, so as he'd be ready when the gentleman came. But Doyle said it would be better for me to tell you what had happened before worse came of it."

"Doyle was perfectly right Kerrigan would stand over your story all right as long as he could, but in the end he'd have had to produce the twins. That's the awkward part. If you hadn't said twins we might have managed. But there isn't a pair in the town."

"Couldn't you telegraph to Dublin?" said the Major. "For a man of your resource, O'Grady, mere twins ought not to prove a hopeless obstacle. I should think that one of the hospitals where they go in for that kind of thing would be quite glad to let you have a brace of babies in or about the same age."

O'Grady knew that this suggestion was not meant to be helpful. The Major had an objectionable habit of indulging in heavy sarcasm. He turned on him sharply.

"You'd better go home, Major. When you try to be facetious you altogether cease to be useful. You know perfectly well that there's no use talking about importing babies. What would we do with them afterwards? You couldn't expect young Kerrigan to keep them."

"I offered to go home some time ago," said the Major, "and you wouldn't let me. Now that I've heard about young Kerrigan's twins I mean to stop where I am and see what happens."

"Very well, Major. Just as you like. As long as you don't upset Billing by rolling up any of those heavy jokes of yours against him I don't mind. Here we are. I expect Doyle has Billing in the bar trying to pacify him with whisky. You'd better stay outside, Thady."

"I'd be glad of a drop then," said Gallagher wistfully. "After all the talking I did this afternoon--"

"Oh, go in if you like," said Dr. O'Grady. "Probably the safest thing for you to do is to get drunk. Here's Billing crossing the street He's just come out of Kerrigan's shop. Why on earth Doyle couldn't have kept him in play till I came.... He's sure to have found out now that young Kerrigan isn't married. This will make my explanation far more difficult than it need have been."

"It will make it impossible, I should imagine," said the Major.

Mr. Billing, his hands in his coat pockets and a large cigar between his teeth, came jauntily across the street. Dr. O'Grady greeted him.

"Good-evening, Mr. Billing," he said. "I hope you've had a pleasant and satisfactory afternoon."

Sergeant Colgan and Constable Moriarty came out of the barrack together. They joined the group opposite the hotel. Constable Moriarty was grinning broadly. He had evidently heard some version of the story about young Kerrigan's twins.

"I am sorry to find," said the doctor, "that Thady Gallagher made a mistake, and a bad one, this afternoon."

"I reckon," said Mr. Billing, "that he kind of wandered from the path of truth."

"Young Kerrigan isn't married," said the doctor.

"The twins," said Mr. Billing, "were an effort of imagination. I am a man of imagination myself, so I'm not complaining any."

"Being a newspaper editor you have to be, of course," said Dr. O'Grady. "But Gallagher's story wasn't pure imagination. It was rather what I'd call prophetic. The fact is young Kerrigan is going to be married. Gallagher only anticipated things a bit. I daresay he thought the ceremony had really taken place. He didn't mean to deceive you in any way. Did you, Thady?"

He looked round as he spoke. He wanted Gallagher to confirm what he said.

"He's within," said Constable Moriarty, grinning, "and I wouldn't say but he's having a drink. Anyway, here's Mr. Doyle."

Doyle, having supplied Gallagher with a bottle of porter, came out of the hotel. He was naturally anxious to hear Dr. O'Grady's explanation.

"The twins," said Mr. Billing, "were considerable previous."

"Not so much as you might think," said Dr. O'Grady. "Once people get married, you know, Mr. Billing, it often happens-generally in fact-not necessarily twins, but more or less that kind of thing. I can quite understand Thady making the mistake. And the girl young

Kerrigan's going to marry really is a grandniece of the General's. Thady was quite right there."

"I'd like to see her," said Mr. Billing. "I'd like to take a photograph of her. The Bolivian public will be interested in a photograph of General John Regan's grandniece."

"Run and get your camera then," said Dr. O'Grady. "I'll have her ready for you by the time you're back."

Mr. Billing, looking very well satisfied and quite without suspicion, went into the hotel.

"Doyle," said Dr. O'Grady, "fetch Mary Ellen as quick as you can."

"Is it Mary Ellen?"

"It is. Get her at once, and don't argue."

"But sure Mary Ellen's not the grandniece of any General."

"She's the only grandniece we can possibly get on such short notice," said Dr. O'Grady.

"I don't know," said Sergeant Colgan, "will Mr. Gallagher be too well pleased. Mary Ellen's a cousin of his own."

"Thady will have to put up with a little inconvenience," said Dr. O'Grady. "He got us all into this mess, so he can't complain."

"I beg your pardon, doctor," said Constable Moriarty, who had stopped grinning and looked truculent, "but I'll not have it put out that Mary Ellen's going to marry young Kerrigan. He's a boy she never looked at, nor wouldn't."

"Shut up, Moriarty," said Dr. O'Grady. "If you won't call her, Doyle, I must do it myself. Mary Ellen, Mary Ellen, come here!"

"What's the use of calling Mary Ellen?" said Doyle. "The girl knows well enough she's not the niece nor the grandniece of any General. As soon as ever you face her with the American gentleman she'll be saying something, be the same more or less, that'll let him know the way things are with her."

"If I know anything of Mary Ellen," said Dr. O'Grady, "she'll not say a word more than she need on any subject. I never could drag anything beyond 'I did,' or 'I did not,' or 'I might,' out of her no matter how hard I tried, Mary Ellen! Mary Ellen! Ah! here she is."

Mary Ellen came slowly through the door of the hotel. She smiled when she saw Dr. O'Grady, smiled again and then blushed when her eyes lit on Constable Moriarty. Her face and hands were a little dirtier than they had been earlier in the day, but she had added a small, crumpled, white cap to the apron which she put on in honour of Mr. Billing. The sight of her roused all Constable Moriarty's spirit.

"I'll not have it done, doctor," he said, "so there it is for you plain and straight. I'll not stand by and see the character of a decent girl--"

"Whisht, can't you," said Mary Ellen.

"Sergeant," said Dr. O'Grady, "this isn't a matter in which the police have any business to interfere. No one is committing a crime of any sort. You'd far better send Moriarty back to the barrack before he makes a worse fool of himself than he has already."

"Get along home out of that, Moriarty," said the sergeant. "Do you want me to have to report you to the District Inspector for neglect of duty?"

The threat was a terrific one. Moriarty quailed before it. He did not actually go back to the barrack; but he retired to the background and did no more than look reproachfully at Mary Ellen whenever he thought she was looking his way.

"It's a great pity," said Dr. O'Grady, "that we haven't time to wash her face. I might do something, even without soap and water, if I had a pocket-handkerchief. Major, just lend me-- Oh hang it! I can't. Here comes Billing with his camera. Pull yourself together now, Mary Ellen, and try to look as if you were proud of your distinguished relative. It isn't every girl of your age who has a General for a great uncle."

Mr. Billing approached. The corners of his lips were twitching in a curious way. Dr. O'Grady looked at him suspiciously. A casual observer might have supposed that Mr. Billing was trying hard not to smile.

"This," said Dr. O'Grady, pointing to Mary Ellen, "is the grandniece, the only surviving relative, of General John Regan."

"You surprise me," said Mr. Billing. "When I recollect that she cooked chops for my luncheon to-day I'm amazed."

"The General wouldn't have thought a bit the worse of her for that," said Dr. O'Grady. "A true democrat, the General, if ever there was one. I daresay he often cooked chops himself, when campaigning I mean, and was jolly glad to get chops to cook."

"So you," said Mr. Billing, addressing Mary Ellen, "are the grandniece of the great General?"

"I might be," she said.

"And I am to have the privilege-gentlemen, please stand a little aside. I wish to--"

Mr. Billing set up his camera and put his head under the black cloth. Constable Moriarty sidled up to Major Kent. Nothing had been said about Mary Ellen's marriage with young Kerrigan. He felt that he had been unnecessarily alarmed.

"I beg your pardon, Major," he said, "but maybe if you asked the gentleman he'd give me a copy of the photo when it's took."

"Talk to the doctor about that," said the Major. "He's managing this show. I've nothing to do with it."

"I'd be backward about asking the doctor," said Moriarty, "on account of what passed between us a minute ago when I thought he was wanting to take away the girl's character."

Mr. Billing completed his arrangements and stood beside his camera ready to release the shutter.

"You're quite sure," said Dr. O'Grady, "that you wouldn't care to have her face washed?"

"Certain," said Mr. Billing. "The General was a genuine democrat if ever there was one. He wouldn't have thought a bit the worse of her for having a dirty face."

Dr. O'Grady started slightly and then looked questioningly at Mr. Billing. It struck him that there was something suspicious about this repetition of his words. He glanced at the Major, at Doyle, and then at the two policemen. They all seemed completely absorbed in the taking of the photograph. Mr. Billing's last remark had not struck them as in any way odd.

The shutter clicked. One of Mary Ellen's sweetest smiles was secured on the sensitive plate. Constable Moriarty, greatly daring, asked Mr. Billing for a print of the photograph. Mr. Billing promised him a copy of the life of General John Regan when it appeared. He said that there would be a full page reproduction of Mary Ellen's portrait in the second volume.

"The Major and I must be off," said Dr. O'Grady, "but if I may call on you to-morrow morning, Mr. Billing, I should like to make arrangements about the public meeting. We want to have you at it."

"The meeting?" said Doyle.

"The meeting about the statue," said Dr. O'Grady. "By the way, Doyle, you might call on Father McCormack this evening." He spoke with a glance at Mr. Billing which he hoped that Doyle would interpret correctly. "You'd better remind him that he's to take the chair. He promised a week ago, but he may have forgotten. That's the worst of these good-natured men," he added, speaking directly to Mr. Billing. "They promise anything, and then it's ten to one they forget all about it."

"I'm not quite sure," said Mr. Billing, "that my arrangements will allow me--"

"Oh, they will if you squeeze them a bit. Arrangements are extraordinary pliable things if you handle them firmly, and we'd like to have you. A speech from you about the General would be most interesting. It would stimulate the whole population. Wouldn't it, Major?"

"I'd like to hear it," said the Major.

"Good-bye then, for the present," said Dr. O'Grady. "Come along, Major. By the way, Doyle, if Thady takes a drop too much to drink, and he may, don't let him start boring Mr. Billing about Home Rule."

He took Major Kent by the arm and walked off. Until they passed the end of the street and were well out on the lonely road which led to the Major's house, neither of them spoke. Then the Major broke the silence.

"I hope, O'Grady, that you're satisfied with that performance."

"To tell you the truth, Major, I'm not."

"I'm surprised to hear that," said the Major. "You've told the most outrageous lies I ever heard. You've--"

"I gave the only possible explanation of a rather difficult situation."

"You've made a laughing stock of a respectable girl."

"I've given Mary Ellen a great uncle that she ought to be proud to own. That's not what's bothering me."

"What is, then?"

"That American," said the doctor. "I don't at all like the way he's going on. He's not by any means a fool--"

"He must be or he wouldn't have swallowed all those lies you told him in the way he did. How could Mary Ellen possibly be---?"

"That's just it," said Dr. O'Grady. "He swallowed what I said far too easily. The situation, owing to Thady Gallagher's want of presence of mind, was complex, desperately complex. I got out of it as well as any man could, but I don't deny that the explanation I gave-particularly that part about Mary Ellen being engaged to young Kerrigan, was a bit strained. I expected the American would have shied. But he didn't. He swallowed it whole without so much as a choke. Now I don't think that was quite natural. The fact is, Major, I'm uneasy about Billing. It struck me that there was something rather odd in the way he repeated my words about the General being a genuine democrat. He gave me the impression that he was-well, trying to make fools of us."

"You were certainly trying to make a fool of him."

"I don't quite understand his game," said Dr. O'Grady, "if he has a game. I may be wronging him. He may be simply an idiot, a well-meaning idiot with a craze for statues."

"He must be," said the Major. "Nothing else would account for--"

"I doubt it," said Dr. O'Grady. "He doesn't look that kind of man. However, there's no use talking any more about it to-night. I'll be in a better position to judge when I've found out all there is to know about this General of his. I'll write for the books I've mentioned, and I'll write to a man I know in the National Library. If there's anything known about the General on this side of the Atlantic he'll ferret it out for me."

Dr. O'Grady stopped speaking. The Major supposed that he had stopped thinking about Mr. Billing's curious conduct. The doctor did indeed intend to stop thinking about it. But it is difficult to bridle thought. After walking half a mile in silence Dr. O'Grady spoke again, and his words showed that his mind was still working on the same problem.

"Americans have far too good an opinion of themselves," he said. "Billing may possibly think he's playing some kind of trick on us. He may be laughing at us in some way we don't quite understand."

"I don't know whether he's laughing or not," said the Major, "but everybody else will be very soon if you go on as you're going."

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