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   Chapter 19 No.19

General John Regan By George A. Birmingham Characters: 17774

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Doyle came out of the hotel bringing the illuminated address. Dr. O'Grady took it from him and carried it over to Lord Alfred.

"Just take this," he said.

Lord Alfred looked at the address doubtfully. It was very large, and seemed an awkward thing to carry about.

"What is it?" he said.

"It's an illuminated address. We intended to present it to the Lord-Lieutenant, but of course we can't when he isn't here. You're to take it, and hand it over to him next time you see him."

He pushed the address into Lord Alfred's arms as he spoke.

Many men would have made some resistance, would have put their hands into their pockets, perhaps, and so forced Dr. O'Grady either to hold the frame himself or drop it on the ground. But Lord Alfred Blakeney had been aide-de-camp to the Lord-Lieutenant for several years. He knew something of the spirit which must animate all viceroys. It is their business to commend themselves, their office and the party which appoints them to the people over whom they reign. In private a Lord-Lieutenant with a sense of humour-no good Lord-Lieutenant ought to have a sense of humour-may mock at the things he has to do, but in public, however absurd the position in which he finds himself, he must remain gravely suave. His aides-de-camp must never under any circumstances do anything which could possibly cause offence to any part of the community. Dr. O'Grady was certainly a very important and influential part of the community of Ballymoy. Lord Alfred allowed the illuminated address to be pushed into his arms. He attempted no more than a mild protest.

"Can't I lay it down somewhere?" he said. "It's so huge."

"Better not. If you do it's sure to be forgotten, and then we'll have to forward it by post, which will involve us in a lot of extra expense."

"But it's so absurd to be lugging a great picture frame about in my arms all day, and I can't carry it any other way. It's too big."

Dr. O'Grady, having made over the address to Lord Alfred, was not inclined to listen to any complaints about its size. He took off his hat and stepped forward towards the statue.

"Ladies and gentlemen--" he said.

The few people who could see Dr. O'Grady stopped talking in order to hear what he was going to say.

"Ladies and gentlemen--" he said again.

This time, the nearer people having stopped talking, his voice carried further than it did at his first attempt. Very many more people turned round and began to listen.

"Ladies and gentlemen--" he said.

This third beginning secured him a large audience. Nearly half the people in the square were listening to him. He felt justified in going on with his speech.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "we are now going to proceed with the unveiling of the statue of General John Regan. Mary Ellen, whom most of you know--"

He paused and the crowd cheered. A crowd nearly always cheers anyone who is mentioned by name in a speech, unless it is quite plain that the speaker means to be abusive.

"Mary Ellen," said Dr. O'Grady, "who is the nearest living relative of the great General, will perform the ceremony. Now, Mary Ellen," he went on, in a lower tone, "pull the string. Father McCormack, give her the string. She doesn't seem able to find it."

Father McCormack handed the end of the string to Mary Ellen. She chucked at it in a timid, doubtful way. Nothing happened.

"Pull harder," said Dr. O'Grady.

Sergeant Colgan, who was a benevolent man, and therefore anxious that the ceremony should be a success, stepped to Mary Ellen's side and laid his hand on hers. He pulled hard. The sheet fluttered to the ground. The crowd cheered delightedly.

"There now," said Dr. O'Grady to Lord Alfred Blakeney, "I told you there really was a statue under that sheet. Next time I say something to you I hope you'll believe it."

He held up his hand, and young Kerrigan, who was watching for the signal, began to play at once. The tune he chose was an attractive one which had achieved some popularity in a Dublin pantomime the year before. Mrs. Gregg glanced dubiously at Dr. O'Grady, and then walked towards the statue with the bouquet in her hand. When she had gone five or six yards she stopped and looked round to see what had happened to Major Kent. He was hanging back, but the piteous appeal in her eyes moved him. He scowled ferociously at the doctor, and then with clenched teeth and closely pressed lips joined Mrs. Gregg. Everybody cheered. The Major, in spite of being a landlord, was very popular in the neighbourhood. The cheers made him still more uncomfortable. He frowned with embarrassment and anger. Mrs. Gregg laid her hand on his arm. Still frowning, he led her forward, very much as if he were taking her in to dinner. Mrs. Gregg was frightened and nervous. She had only the vaguest idea of what she was expected to do. When she reached the base of the statue she curtseyed deeply. The people cheered frantically. Major Kent dropped her arm and hurried away. He was a gentleman of an old-fashioned kind, and, partly perhaps because he had never married, was very chivalrous towards women. But Mrs. Gregg's curtsey and the cheers which followed it were too much for him. His position had become intolerable. Mrs. Gregg, suddenly deserted by her escort, dropped the bouquet and fled. Sergeant Colgan picked it up and laid it solemnly at the foot of the statue. Young Kerrigan, stimulated by the cheers, worked the band up to a fortissimo performance of his tune.

Dr. O'Grady held his hat in his hand. He signalled frantically to Father McCormack. He took off his hat, whispering to Major Kent as he did so. The Major, who was utterly bewildered, and not at all sure what was happening, took off his hat. Several other bystanders, supposing that it must be right to stand bare-headed before a newly unveiled statue, took off theirs: Lord Alfred Blakeney looked round him doubtfully. Most of the people near him had their hats in their hands. He took off his.

The unusually loud noise made by the band reached Thady Gallagher in the bar of the hotel. He stopped abruptly in the middle of a speech which he was making to Mr. Billing. After a moment's hesitation he rushed to the door of the hotel. The sight of the people, standing bare-headed and silent while the band played, convinced him that Dr. O'Grady was in the act of perpetrating a treacherous trick upon the sincerely patriotic but unsuspecting inhabitants of Ballymoy. Standing at the door of the hotel he shouted and waved his arms. Mr. Billing stood behind him looking on with an expression of serious interest. Nobody could hear what Gallagher said. But Father McCormack and Doyle, fearing that he would succeed in making himself audible, hurried towards him. Doyle seized him by the arm, Gallagher shook him off angrily.

"It shall never be said," he shouted, "that I stood silent while an insult was heaped upon Ballymoy and the cause of Nationalism in Ireland."

"Whisht, now whisht," said Father McCormack. "Sure there's nothing to be angry about."

"There is what would make any man angry, any man that has the welfare of Ireland at heart. That tune--"

"It isn't that tune at all," said Father McCormack. "It's another one altogether."

"It's not another," said Gallagher, "but it's the one I mean. Didn't Constable Moriarty say it was?"

"Oughtn't you to listen to his reverence," said Doyle, "more than to Moriarty? But if you won't do that, can't you hear the tune for yourself?"

"I can hear it; and what's more I can see the Major with his hat off and the young fellow that's down from Dublin Castle with his hat off, and the doctor--"

"It's my belief, Thady," said Doyle, "that you're three parts drunk. It would be better for you to go back into the hotel."

He caught Gallagher by the arm as he spoke and held him fast Young Kerrigan reached the end of his tune with a triumphant flourish. Dr. O'Grady put on his hat again. One by one the various bystanders followed his example. Lord Alfred Blakeney looked round him, puzzled.

"Surely that wasn't the National Anthem?" he said.

"I thought," said Dr. O'Grady, "that you didn't know one tune from another."

"I don't; but, hang it all, a man can't be aide-decamp to His Excellency without getting to know the sound of the National Anthem. What tune was it and why did we all take off our hats?"

"You tell the Lord-Lieutenant when you get back," said Dr. O'Grady, "that we all, including Major Kent, who's a strong Unionist, stood bare-headed while the band played. He'll be able to guess what tune it was, and he'll be pleased."

"But it wasn't the--"

"A speech will now be made," said Dr. O'Grady, addressing the crowd, "by Lord Alfred Blakeney as representative of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland."

"But I'm not," said Lord Alfred clutching at Dr. O'Grady. "His Excellency w

ill be furious if he hears--"

"Go on," said Dr. O'Grady pushing him towards the statue. "Stand on the pedestal."

"But I can't make a speech. I'm not prepared. I've nothing to say."

He was pushed forward remorselessly. At the very base of the statue he turned.

"I hope there are no reporters present," he said in a tone of despair.

"There probably are lots," said Dr. O'Grady. "Get up now and begin. The people won't stand here all day."

Lord Alfred Blakeney, still clasping the illuminated address in his arms, was hustled on to the lowest step of the pedestal. The people cheered encouragingly.

"Oh damn this great picture," said Lord Alfred. "Do hold it for me."

"Never mind it," said Dr. O'Grady. "It's all right as it is. Make your speech."

"Ladies and gentlemen," said Lord Alfred, "I find myself standing here to-day--"

"As representative of the Lord-Lieutenant," said Dr. O'Grady, prompting him.

"But I'm not. I tell you he'll be angry. I can't make this speech. I really can't."

"You can if you like," said Dr. O'Grady. "Go on."

"I stand here to-day," said Lord Alfred, "at the unveiling of this beautiful statue--"

"Hear, hear," said Doyle from the door of the hotel. "It's a grand statue surely."

"Go on," said Dr. O'Grady. "You're doing capitally. Say something about the grant from the Government for a new pier."

"About what?" said Lord Alfred.

"About a grant for a new pier," said Dr. O'Grady, speaking distinctly.

"But I've no authority. I can't."

"£500 will satisfy us," said Dr. O'Grady. "It's a mere trifle. After the shabby way the Lord-Lieutenant has behaved to us-but go on, anyway."

"I have much pleasure," said Lord Alfred Blakeney, "in declaring this statue-er-open-er-for public inspection."

The crowd cheered loudly. Dr. O'Grady whispered to Lord Alfred that he ought to say something about the value of the statue as a work of art. But this time Lord Alfred's will was stronger than the doctor's. He jumped off the pedestal and flatly declined to mount it again. He was crimson in the face with mortification and embarrassment. Then, when the cheering subsided a little, Mr. Billing's voice was heard, clear and incisive. He had pushed his way from the door of the hotel and was standing near the statue.

"That's a darned poor speech," he said.

It is extraordinary how close the primitive barbarian is to the most civilised man. No one could have been more carefully trained than Lord Alfred Blakeney. No one possessed more of that suave self-control which distinguishes a man of the governing classes from the members of the mob. Yet Lord Alfred collapsed suddenly under the strain to which he had been subjected. Mr. Billing's taunt threw him back to an earlier, a very early stage of development.

"Make a better one yourself, then," he said, "whoever you are."

"I'll make one that'll create a sensation, anyhow," said Mr. Billing.

He stepped jauntily up the two steps of the pedestal.

"Mr. Lord-Lieutenant, Right Reverend Sir, Ladies and Gentlemen," he said.

Lord Alfred Blakeney clutched Dr. O'Grady by the arm.

"I'm not the Lord-Lieutenant," he said desperately.

"I'm not even his representative. Do try to make him understand that."

"It doesn't in the least matter who you are," said Dr. O'Grady. "Listen to the speech."

"When I first set eyes on this town a month ago I thought I had bumped up against a most dead-alive, god-forsaken, one-horse settlement that Europe could boast."

The crowd, being as Gallagher always asserted intensely patriotic, was not at all pleased at this beginning. Several people groaned loudly. Mr. Billing listened to them with a bland smile. The people were still further irritated and began to boo. Thady Gallagher broke suddenly from Doyle's control, and rushed forward waving his arms.

"Pull the Yank down out of that," he shouted. "What right has he to be standing there maligning the people of Ireland?"

Father McCormack and Doyle were after him at once and closed on him, each of them grasping one of his swinging arms.

"Behave yourself, Thady," said Father McCormack, "behave yourself decent."

"Isn't it him that's paying for the statue," said Doyle, "and hasn't he a right to say what he likes?"

Mr. Billing seemed quite unimpressed by Gallagher's fiery interruption. He smiled benevolently again.

"I got bitten with the notion of speeding you up a bit," he said, "because I felt plumb sure that there wasn't a live man in the place, nothing but a crowd of doddering hop-toads."

The hop-toad is a reptile unknown in Ireland, but its name sounds disgusting. The crowd began to get very angry, and surged threateningly towards the platform. Sergeant Colgan felt that a great opportunity had arrived. He had all his life been looking for a chance of quelling a riot. He had it at last.

"Keep back, now," he said, "keep back out of that. Do you want me to draw my baton to you?"

"Well, gentlemen," said Mr. Billing, "I was mistaken and I own up. There is one live man in Ballymoy anyway. We haven't got a medical gentleman on our side of the Atlantic equal to Dr. Lucius O'Grady. He has run this show in a way that has surprised me considerable. He has erected a statue that will be an ornament to this town, and it's a pleasure to me to pay for it."

"Hear, hear," shouted Doyle.

The crowd, which had been booing a minute before, cheered heartily.

"He's fetched down the representative of the Lord-Lieutenant of this country to unveil the statue!"

"I'm not," said Lord Alfred feebly. "I wish I could get you to understand that I'm not his representative."

His protest was lost in a fresh burst of cheers.

"He has provided a charming grand-niece," said Mr. Billing, "a grand-niece that any man, living or dead, might be proud of--"

"Get out," said Mary Ellen softly.

"For General John Regan," said Mr. Billing amidst tumultuous cheers, "and when I tell you that no such General ever existed in Bolivia or anywhere else, you'll be in a position to appreciate your doctor."

Doyle dropped Gallagher's arm and rushed forward. The crowd, too, astonished by Mr. Billing's last words, even to cheer, stood silent. What Doyle said was plainly heard.

"Be damn, doctor, but you're great, and I'd say that if it was the last word ever I spoke. Ask him for the price of the new pier now and he'll give it to you."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Billing, "if 2,000 dollars will build the pier Mr. Doyle wants, I'll give it with pleasure, and I reckon that the show which Dr. O'Grady has run is cheap at the price."

Sergeant Colgan stepped forward with slow dignity. He beckoned to Constable Moriarty. His face wore an expression of steady determination.

"It would be better, doctor," he said, "if you and the other gentlemen present would move away. The demeanour of the crowd is threatening."

The demeanour of the crowd was, in fact, hilarious; but Dr. O'Grady understood that there are limits to the patience of the official guardians of law and order. The police-the fact is exemplified in their occasional dealings with the students of Trinity College-appreciate a joke as well as any men, and up to a certain point are tolerant of merriment. But it is possible to go too far, and there is a point at which fooling becomes objectionable. Dr. O'Grady took Mr. Billing by the arm.

"Come along," he said, "and let us have a drink of some sort, and something to eat. There's no reason why we shouldn't have something to eat. Doyle has a magnificent luncheon spread out in his hotel. Run in Doyle, and tell the cook to dish up the potatoes. Major, you bring Mrs. Gregg along with you. I'm sure Mrs. Gregg wants something to eat. Lord Alfred, I'm sorry we haven't a lady for you to take in, but Father McCormack will show you the way."

"If this business gets into the papers," said Lord Alfred, "the Freeman's Journal will make capital of it, and the Irish Times will say the Government must resign at once. Can't we square the reporters?"

"There aren't any," said Dr. O'Grady, "unless Gallagher's been taking notes. Come along."

The party, Doyle at the head of it, passed into the hotel. Sergeant Colgan turned and faced the crowd. His hand was on the baton at his side. His face and attitude were majestic.

"Get along home now, every one of yous," he said.

"Get along out of that!" said Constable Moriarty.

In twos and threes, in little groups of ten and twelve, silently obedient, the crowd slunk away. The statue of General John Regan was left looking down upon an empty market place. So the last word is spoken in the pleasant drama of Irish life. The policeman speaks it. "Get along home out of that, every one of you." So the curtain drops on our performances. In spite of our whirling words we bow to, in the end, the voice of authority.


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