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General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 10774

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

It is very difficult to do anything of importance to the community without holding a public meeting about it. In Ireland people have got so accustomed to oratory and the resolutions which are the immediate excuse for oratory, that public meetings are absolutely necessary preliminaries to any enterprise. This is the case in all four provinces, which is one of the things which goes to show that the Irish are really a single people and not two or three different peoples, as some writers assert. The hard-headed, commercially-minded Ulsterman is just as fond of public meetings as the Connacht Celt. He would hold them, with drums and full dress speechifying, even if he were organising a secret society and arranging for a rebellion. He is perfectly right. Without a public meeting it would be impossible to enrol any large number of members for a society.

Dr. O'Grady, having lived all his life in Ireland, and being on most intimate terms with his neighbours, understood this law. He also understood that in order to make a success of a public meeting in Connacht and therefore to further the enterprise on hand, it is necessary that the parish priest should take the chair and advisable that a Member of Parliament should propose the first resolution.

He began by sending Doyle to Father McCormack. Doyle, foreseeing a possible profit for himself, did his best to persuade Father McCormack to take the chair. Father McCormack, who was a fat man and therefore good-natured, did not want to refuse Doyle. But Father McCormack was not a free agent. Behind him, somewhere, was a bishop, reputed to be austere, certainly domineering. Father McCormack was very much afraid of the bishop, therefore he hesitated. The most that Doyle could secure, after a long interview, was the promise of a definite answer the next day.

Father McCormack made use of the twenty-four hours' grace he had secured by calling on Major Kent. The Major was a Protestant, with strong anti-Papal convictions, and therefore was not, it might have been supposed, a good man to advise a priest on a delicate question of ecclesiastical etiquette. But the Major was eminently respectable, and his outlook upon life was staidly conservative. Father McCormack felt that if Major Kent thoroughly approved of the erection of a statue to General John Regan it was likely to be quite a proper thing to do.

"I'm not sure," said Father McCormack, "whether it will suit me to take the chair at this meeting the doctor's getting up or not. I'm not sure, I say. Can you tell me now, Major Kent, who's this American gentleman they're all talking about?"

"I don't know anything about him," said the Major, "but I'm bound to say he looks like a Protestant. I don't know whether that will make any difference to you or not."

"From the little I've seen of him-just across the street from the window of the Presbytery-I'd say you were right about his religion, but I needn't tell you, Major Kent, that I'm not a bigoted man. It wouldn't stop me taking the chair if he was a Protestant. It wouldn't stop me if he was a Presbyterian, and I can't say more than that. You know very well that I'd just as soon be sitting on a committee alongside of a Protestant as any ordinary kind of man. I'm not one that would let religion interfere too much."

"He seems quite respectable," said the Major. "He's been here three days now, and I never saw him drunk."

"It's not that either that's troubling me," said Father McCormack. "There's many a man gets drunk when he can, and I'd be the last to make too much out of that."

"I can't tell you any more about him," said the Major, "for that's all I know, except that he appears to be rich."

"The difficulty I'm in is on account of the bishop. He's getting to be mighty particular. I don't say he's wrong, mind you; only there it is. But sure, if no one in the place has anything to say against the American gentleman it's likely he'll turn out to be all right. But what about the fellow they want to put up the statue to?"

"General John Regan," said the Major.

"What about him? I never heard tell of him before."

"For the matter of that, nor did I."

"Who was he at all?"

"You'll have to ask Dr. O'Grady that. He's the only man who professes to know anything about him."

"As I was saying to you this minute," said Father McCormack, "I wouldn't mind if he was a Protestant."

"He hardly could be," said the Major, "with that name."

"There's many a Protestant that might be just as well deserving of a statue as maybe a bishop. But what I'm afraid of is that this fellow might be worse. For let me tell you, Major, there's worse things than Protestants, and I'm not saying that just because I'm talking to you. I'd say it to anyone."

This gratified Major Kent, but it did not enable him to give any information about General John Regan.

"There's no use asking me about him," he said wearily. "Ask Dr. O'Grady."

"If it was to turn out at the latter end," said Faflier McCormack, "that he was one of those French atheists, or if he had any hand in hunting the nuns out of Portugal, the bishop wouldn't be too well pleased when he heard that I'd been helping to put up a statue to him."

"You'll have to ask Dr. O'Grady. It's no good asking me."

"Will you tell me this, Major Kent, and I won't ask you another question. Are you going to th

e meeting yourself?"

"I am."

"Well now, you're a man with a position in the place and you wouldn't be going to a meeting of the sort unless it was all right. I'm inclined to think now that if you're going-I wouldn't give a thraneen for what Doyle might do. If that fellow saw half a chance of making sixpence by going to a meeting he'd go, if it was held for the purpose of breaking the windows of the Presbytery. That's the sort of man Doyle is. And I wouldn't mind Thady Gallagher. Thady is a kind-hearted poor fellow, though he's a bit foolish at times; but he's not the sort of man you could trust. He's too fond of politics, and that's a fact. Give Thady the opportunity of making a speech and you wouldn't be able to keep him at home from a meeting, whatever sort of a meeting it might be. But it's different with you, Major Kent."

The Major was deeply touched by this eulogy; so deeply touched that he felt it wrong to leave Father McCormack under the impression that he was going to the meeting out of any feeling of admiration for General John Regan.

"The fact is," he said, "that I wouldn't go near the meeting if I could help it."

"Is there anything against that General then?"

"It's not that. It's simply that I loathe and detest all public meetings, and I wouldn't go to this one or any other if I could get out of it."

"And why can't you get out of it? A man needn't go to a meeting unless he likes."

"He must," said the Major, "I must; any man must, if Dr. O'Grady gets at him."

"That's true, too," said Father McCormack, "and I don't mind telling you that I've been keeping out of the doctor's way ever since Doyle asked me. I'd rather not see him till I have my mind made up the one way or the other."

It was unfortunate for Father McCormack that Dr. O'Grady should at that moment have walked into the Major's study without even knocking at the door. He had just received answers to his letters from four of the most eminent Irish Members of Parliament He had asked them all to attend a meeting at Ballymoy and make speeches about General John Regan. They had all refused, offering the very flimsiest excuses. Dr. O'Grady was extremely indignant.

"I don't see what on earth use there is," he blurted out, "in our keeping Members of Parliament at all. Here we are paying these fellows £400 a year each, and when we ask for a perfectly simple speech-- Oh, I beg your pardon, Father McCormack, I didn't see you were here. But I daresay you quite agree with me. Every one must."

"Father McCormack came here," said the Major, "to ask about General John Regan."

"Who is he at all?" said the priest.

"A general," said Dr. O'Grady, "Irish extraction. Born in Ballymoy. Rose to great eminence in Bolivia. Finally secured the liberty of the Republic."

"Father McCormack seems to think," said the Major, "that he was some kind of anti-clerical socialist."

"I said he might be," said Father McCormack. "I didn't say he was, for I don't know a ha'porth about him. All I said was that if he turned out to be that kind of a man it wouldn't suit me to be putting up statues to him. The Bishop wouldn't like it."

"My impression is---" said Dr. O'Grady. "Mind, I don't say I'm perfectly certain of it, but my impression is that he built a cathedral before he died. Anyhow I never heard or read a single word against his character as a religious man. He may have been a little--" Dr. O'Grady winked slowly. "You know the kind of thing I mean, Father McCormack, when he was young. Most military men are, more or less. I expect now that the Major could tell us some queer stories about the sort of thing that goes on--"

"No, I couldn't," said the Major.

"In garrison towns," said Dr. O'Grady persuasively, "and of course it's worse on active service. Come now, Major, I'm not asking you to give yourself away, but you could--"

"No, I couldn't," said the Major firmly.

"What you mean is that you wouldn't," said Dr. O'Grady. "Not while Father McCormack is listening to you anyhow. And you may take my word for it that the old General was just the same. He may have been a bit of a lad in his early days--"

"I wouldn't mind that," said Father McCormack. "I wouldn't mind that if it was twice as much, so long--"

"But he'd never have said anything really disrespectful in the presence of a clergyman of any denomination. Whatever his faults were-and he had faults, of course-he wasn't that kind of man. So you needn't hesitate about taking the chair at the meeting, Father McCormack. I defy the most particular bishop that ever wore a purple stock to find out anything really bad about the General."

"If I have your word for that," said Father McCormack, "I'm satisfied."

"I'm not a rich man," said Dr. O'Grady. "I can't afford to lose money, but I'll pay down £50 to any man who proves anything bad about the General. And when I say bad I don't, mean things like--"

"I understand you," said Father McCormack.

"I mean," said Dr. O'Grady, "atheism of a blatant kind, or circulating immoral literature-Sunday papers, for instance-or wanting to turn the priests out of the schools, or not paying his dues--"

"I understand you," said Father McCormack.

"I know what I'm talking about," said Dr. O'Grady, "for I've had a man looking up all that's known about General John Regan in the National Library in Dublin."

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