The Faculty of Medicine by George A. Birmingham
Dr. Farelly, Medical Officer of Dunailin, volunteered for service with the R.A.M.C. at the beginning of the war. He had made no particular boast of patriotism. He did not even profess to be keenly interested in his profession or anxious for wider experience. He said, telling the simple truth, that life at Dunailin was unutterably dull, and that he welcomed war--would have welcomed worse things--for the sake of escaping a monotony which was becoming intolerable.
The army authorities accepted Dr. Farelly. The local Board of Guardians, which paid him a salary of £200 a year, agreed to let him go on the condition that he provided a duly qualified substitute to do his work while he was away. There a difficulty faced Dr. Farelly. Duly qualified medical men, willing to take up temporary jobs, are not plentiful in war time. And the job he had to offer--Dr. Farelly was painfully conscious of the fact--was not a very attractive one.
Dunailin is a small town in Western Con-naught, seven miles from the nearest railway station. It possesses a single street, straggling and very dirty, a police barrack, a chapel, which seems disproportionately large, and seven shops. One of the shops is also the post office. Another belongs to John Conerney, the butcher. The remaining five are public houses, doing their chief business in whisky and porter, but selling, as side lines, farm seeds, spades, rakes, hoes, stockings, hats, blouses, ribbons, flannelette, men's suits, tobacco, sugar, tea, postcards, and sixpenny novels. The chief inhabitants of the town are the priest, a benevolent but elderly man, who lives in the presbytery next the large chapel; Sergeant Rahilly, who commands the six members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and lives in the barrack; and Mr. Timothy Flanagan, who keeps the largest shop in the town and does a bigger business than anyone else in porter and whisky.
Dr. Farelly, standing on his doorstep with his pipe in his mouth, looked up and down the street. He was more than ever convinced that it might be very difficult to get a doctor to go to Dunailin, and still harder to get one to stay. The town lay, to all appearance, asleep under the blaze of the noonday August sun. John Conerney's greyhounds, five of them, were stretched in the middle of the street, confident that they would be undisturbed. Sergeant Rahilly sunned himself on a bench outside the barrack door, and Mr. Flanagan sat in a room behind his shop nodding over the ledger in which his customers' debts were entered. Dr. Farelly sighed. He had advertised for a doctor to take his place in all the likeliest papers, and had not been rewarded by a single answer. He was beginning to think that he must either resign his position at Dunailin or give up the idea of war service.
At half-past twelve the town stirred in its sleep and partially awoke. Paddy Doolan, who drove the mail cart, arrived from Derrymore. Dr. Farelly strolled down to the post office, seeking, but scarcely hoping for, a letter in reply to his advertisements. He was surprised and very greatly pleased when the postmistress handed him a large envelope, fat and bulging, bearing a Manchester postmark. The moment he opened it Dr. Farelly knew that he had got what he wanted, an application for the post he had to offer. He took out, one after another, six sheets of nicely-printed matter. These were testimonials signed by professors, tutors, surgeons, and doctors, all eloquent about the knowledge, skill, and personal integrity of one Theophilus Lovaway. Dr. Farelly stuffed these into his pocket. He had often written testimonials himself--in Ireland everyone writes them in scores--and he knew precisely what they were worth. He came at last to a letter, very neatly typewritten. It began formally:
"Dear Sir--I beg to offer myself as a candidate for the post of medical officer, temporary, for the town and district of Dunailin, on the terms of your advertisement in The British Medical Journal."
Dr. Farelly, like the Etruscans in Macaulay's poem, "could scare forbear to cheer." He walked jauntily back to his house, relit his pipe and sat down to read the rest of the letter.
Theophilus Lovaway was apparently a garrulous person. He had covered four sheets with close typescript. He began by stating that he was only just qualified and had never practised anywhere. He hoped that Dr. Farelly would not consider his want of experience a disqualification. Dr. Farelly did not care in the least.
If Theophilus Lovaway was legally qualified to write prescriptions, nothing else mattered. The next three paragraphs of the letter--and they were all long--described, in detail, the condition of Lovaway's health. He suffered, it appeared, from a disordered heart, weak lungs, and dyspepsia. But for these misfortunes, the letter went on, Theophilus would have devoted himself to the services of his country in her great need. Dr. Farelly sniffed. He had a prejudice against people who wrote or talked in that way. He began to feel less cheerful. Theophilus might come to Dunailin. It was very doubtful whether he would stay there long, his lungs, heart, and stomach being what they were.
The last half of the letter was painfully disconcerting. Two whole pages were devoted to an explanation of the writer's wish to spend some time in the west of Ireland. Theophilus Lovaway had managed, in the middle of his professional reading, to study the literature of the Irish Renaissance. He had fallen deeply in love with the spirit of the Celtic peasantry. He described at some length what he thought that spirit was. "Tuned to the spiritual" was one of the phrases he used. "Desire-compelling, with the elusiveness of the rainbow's end," was another. Dr. Farelly grew despondent. If Theophilus expected life in Dunailin to be in the least like one of Mr. Yeats' plays, he was doomed to a bitter disappointment and would probably leave the place in three weeks.
But Dr. Farelly was not going to give up hope without a struggle. He put the letter in his pocket and walked across the road to Timothy Flanagan's shop.
"Flanagan," he said, "I've got a man to take on my job here."
"I'm glad to hear it, doctor," said Flanagan. "It would be a pity now if something was to interfere with you, and you wanting to be off massacring the Germans. If the half of what's in the papers is true, its massacring or worse them fellows want."
"The trouble is," said Dr. Farelly, "that the man I've got may not stay."
"Why wouldn't he stay? Isn't Dunailin as good a place to be in as any other? Any sensible man----"
"That's just it," said Dr. Farelly. "I'm not at all sure that this is a sensible man. Just listen to this."
He read aloud the greater part of the letter.
"Now what do you think of the man who wrote that?" he asked; "what kind of fellow would you say he was?"
"I'd say," said Flanagan, "that he's a simple, innocent kind of man; but I wouldn't say there was any great harm in him."
"I'm very much afraid," said Dr. Farelly, "that he's too simple and innocent. That's the first thing I have against him. Look here now, Flanagan, if you or anyone else starts filling this young fellow up with whisky--it will be an easy enough thing to do, and I don't deny that it'll be a temptation. But if you do it you'll have his mother or his aunt or someone over here to fetch him home again. That's evidently the kind of man he is. And if I lose him I'm done, for I'll never get anyone else."
"Make your mind easy about that, doctor. Devil the drop of whisky he'll get out of my shop while he's here, and I'll take care no other one will let him have a bottle. If he drinks at all it'll be the stuff he brings with him in his own portmanteau."
"Good," said Dr. Farelly, "I'll trust you about that. The next point is his health. You heard what he said about his heart and his lungs and his stomach."
"He might die on us," said Flanagan, "and that's a fact."
"Oh, he'll not die. That sort of man never does die, not till he's about ninety, anyhow. But it won't do to let him fancy this place doesn't agree with him. What you've got to do is to see that he gets a proper supply of good, wholesome food, eggs and milk, and all the rest of it."
"If there's an egg in the town he'll get it," said Flanagan, "and I'll speak to Johnny Conerney about the meat that's supplied to him. You may trust me, doctor, if that young fellow dies in Dunailin it'll not be for want of food."
"Thanks," said Dr. Farelly; "and keep him cheerful, Flanagan, don't let him mope. That brings me to the third point. You heard what he wrote about the Irish Renaissance and the Celtic spirit?"
"I heard it right enough," said Flanagan, "but I'm not sure do I know the meaning of it."
"The meaning of it," said Dr. Farelly, "is fairies, just plain, ordinary fairies. That's what he wants, and I don't expect he'll settle down contentedly unless he finds a few."
"Sure you know well enough, doctor, that there's no fairies in these parts. I don't say there mightn't have been some in times past, but any there was is now gone."
"I know that," said Dr. Farelly, "and I'm not asking you to go beating thorn bushes in the hopes of catching one. But if this fellow, Theophilus Lovaway--did ever you hear such a name?--if he wants fairies he must hear about them. You'll have to get hold of a few people who go in for that sort of thing. Now what about Patsy Doolan's mother? She's old enough, and she looks like a witch herself."
"If the like of the talk of Patsy Doolan's mother would be giving him is any use I'll see he's satisfied. That old woman would talk the hind leg off a donkey about fairies or anything else if you were to give her a pint of porter, and I'll do that. I'll give it to her regular, so I will. I'd do more than that for you, doctor, for you're a man I like, let alone that you're going out to foreign parts to put the fear of God into them Germans, which is no more than they deserve."
Dr. Farelly felt satisfied that Mr. Flanagan would do his best for Lovaway. And Mr. Flanagan was an important person. As the principal publican in the town, the chairman of all the councils, boards, and leagues there were, he had an enormous amount of influence. But Dr. Farelly was still a little uneasy. He went over to the police barrack and explained the situation to Sergeant Rahilly. The sergeant readily promised to do all he could to make Dunailin pleasant for the new doctor, and to keep him from getting into mischief or trouble. Only in the matter of Lovaway's taste for Irish folk-lore and poetry the sergeant refused to promise any help. He was quite firm about this.
"It wouldn't do for the police to be mixed up in that kind of work," he said. "Politics are what a sergeant of police is bound to keep out of."
"But hang it all," said Dr. Farelly, "fairies aren't politics."
"They may or they may not be," said the sergeant. "But believe me, doctor, the men that talks about them things, fairies and all that, is the same men that's at the bottom of all the leagues in the country, and it wouldn't do for me to be countenancing them. But I'll tell you what I'll do for you now, doctor. If I can't get fairies for him I'll see that anything that's to be had in the district in the way of a fee for a lunatic or the like goes to the young fellow you're bringing here. I'll do that, and if there's more I can do you can reckon on me--barring fairies and politics of all kinds."
Mr. Flanagan and Sergeant Rahilly were trustworthy men. In a good cause they were prompt and energetic. Flanagan warned the other publicans in the town that they must not supply the new doctor with any whisky. He spoke seriously to John Conerney the butcher.
"Good meat, now, Johnny. The best you have, next to what joints you might be supplying to the priest or myself. He has a delicate stomach, the man that's coming, and a bit of braxy mutton might be the death of him."
He spoke to Paddy Doolan and told him that his old mother would be wanted to attend on the new doctor and must be ready whenever she was called for.
"Any old ancient story she might know," he said, "about the rath beyond on the hill, or the way they shot the bailiff on the bog in the bad times, or about it's not being lucky to meet a red-haired woman in the morning, anything at all that would be suitable she'll be expected to tell. And if she does what she's bid there'll be a drop of porter for her in my house whenever she likes to call for it."
Sergeant Rahilly talked in a serious but vague way to everyone he met about the importance of treating Dr. Lovaway well, and the trouble which would follow any attempt to rob or ill-use him.
Before Dr. Lovaway arrived his reputation was established in Dunailin. It was generally believed that he was a dipsomaniac, sent to the west of Ireland to be cured. It was said that he was very rich and had already ordered huge quantities of meat from Johnny Conerney. He was certainly of unsound mind: Mr. Flanagan's hints about fairies settled that point. He was also a man of immense influence in Government circles, perhaps a near relation of the Lord-Lieutenant: Sergeant Rahilly's way of speaking convinced everyone of that. The people were, naturally, greatly interested in their new doctor, and were prepared to give him a hearty welcome.
His arrival was a little disappointing. He drove from the station at Derrymore on Paddy Doolan's car, and had only a small portmanteau with him. He was expected to come in a motor of his own with a vanload of furniture behind him. His appearance was also disappointing. He was a young man. He looked so very young that a stranger might have guessed his age at eighteen. He wore large, round spectacles, and had pink, chubby cheeks. In one respect only did he come up to popular expectation. He was plainly a young man of feeble intellect, for he allowed Paddy Doolan to overcharge him in the grossest way.
"Thanks be to God," said Sergeant Rahilly to Mr. Flanagan, "it's seldom anyone's sick in this place. I wouldn't like to be trusting the likes of that young fellow very far. But what odds? We've got to do the best we can for him, and my family's healthy, anyway."
Fate has a nasty trick of hitting us just where we feel most secure. The sergeant himself was a healthy man. His wife did not know what it was to be ill. Molly, his twelve-year old daughter, was as sturdy a child as any in the town. But Molly had an active mind and an enterprising character. On the afternoon of Doctor Lovaway's arrival, her mother, father, and most other people being fully occupied, she made her way round the back of the village, climbed the wall of the doctor's garden and established herself in an apple tree. She took six other children with her. There was an abundant crop of apples, but they were not nearly ripe. Molly ate until she could eat no more. The other children, all of them younger than Molly, stuffed themselves joyfully with the hard green fruit.
At eight o'clock that evening Molly complained of pains. Her mother put her to bed. At half-past eight Molly's pains were considerably worse and she began to shriek. Mrs. Ra-hilly, a good deal agitated by the violence of the child's yells, told the sergeant to go for the doctor. Sergeant Rahilly laid down his newspaper and his pipe. He went slowly down the street towards the doctor's house. He was surprised to hear shrieks, not unlike Molly's, in various houses as he passed. Mrs. Conerney, the butcher's wife, rushed out of her door and told the sergeant that her little boy, a child of nine, was dying in frightful agony.
Mr. Flanagan was standing at the door of his shop. He beckoned to the sergeant.
"It's lucky," he said, "things happening the way they have on the very first night of the new doctor being here."
"I don't know so much about luck," said Sergeant Rahilly. "What luck?"
"The half of the children in the town is took with it," said Flanagan.
"You may call that luck if it pleases you," said the sergeant. "But it's not my notion of luck. My own Molly's bellowing like a young heifer, and Mrs. Conerney's boy is dying, so she tells me. If that's luck I'd rather you had it than me."
"I'm sorry for the childer," said Flanagan; "but Mrs. Doolan, who's in the shop this minute drinking porter, says it'll do them no harm if they're given a sup of water to drink out of the Holy Well beyond Tubber Neeve, and a handful of rowan berries laid on the stomach or where-ever else the pain might be."
"Rowan berries be damned," said the sergeant. "I'm off for the doctor; not that I'm expecting much from him. A young fellow with a face like that! I wish to God Dr. Farelly was back with us."
"Doctors is no use," said Flanagan, "neither one nor another, if it's true what Mrs. Doolan says."
"And what does Mrs. Doolan say?" asked the sergeant.
"I'm not saying I believe her," said Flanagan, "and I'm not asking you to believe her, but what she says is----"
He whispered in the sergeant's ear. The sergeant looked at him bewildered.
"Them ones?" he said, "Them ones? Now what might you and Mrs. Doolan be meaning by that, Timothy Flanagan?"
"Just fairies," said Flanagan. "Mind you, I'm not saying I believe it."
"Fairies be damned," said the sergeant.
"They may be," said Flanagan. "I'm not much of a one for fairies myself; but you'll not deny, sergeant that it looks queer, all the children being took the same way at the same time. Anyhow, whether you believe what Mrs. Doolan says or not----"
"I do not believe it," said the sergeant. "Not a word of it."
"You needn't," said Flanagan, "I don't myself. All I say is that it's lucky a thing of the sort happening the very first evening the new doctor's in the place. It's fairies he's after, remember that. It's looking for fairies that brought him here. Didn't Dr. Farelly tell me so himself and tell you? Wasn't Dr. Farelly afraid he wouldn't stay on account of fairies being scarce about these parts this long time? And now the place is full of them--according to what Mrs. Doolan says."
Sergeant Rahilly heard, or fancied he heard, a particularly loud shriek from Molly. He certainly heard the wailing of Mrs. Conerney and the agitated cries of several other women. He turned from Flanagan without speaking another word and walked straight to the doctor's house.
Five minutes later Dr. Lovaway, hatless and wearing a pair of slippers on his feet, was running up the street towards the barrack. His first case, a serious one, calling for instant attention, had come to him unexpectedly. Opposite Flanagan's shop he was stopped by Mrs. Doolan. She laid a skinny, wrinkled, and very dirty hand on his arm. Her shawl fell back from her head, showing a few thin wisps of grey hair. Her eyes were bleary and red-rimmed, her breath reeked of porter.
"Arrah, doctor dear," she said, "I'm glad to see you, so I am. Isn't it a grand thing now that a fine young man like you would be wanting to sit down and be talking to an old woman like myself, that might be your mother--no, but your grandmother?"
Dr. Lovaway, desperately anxious to reach the sergeant's suffering child, tried to shake off the old woman. He suspected that she was drunk. He was certain that she was extremely unpleasant. The suggestion that she might be his mother filled him with loathing. It was not any pleasanter to think of her as a grandmother.
Mrs. Doolan clung tightly to his arm with both her skinny hands.
Mr. Flanagan approached them from behind; leaning across Lovaway's shoulders, he whispered in his ear:
"There's not about the place--there's not within the four seas of Ireland, one that has as much knowledge of fairies and all belonging to them as that old woman."
"Fairies!" said Lovaway. "Did you say---- Surely you didn't say fairies?"
"I just thought you'd be pleased," said Flanagan, "and it's lucky, so it is, that Mrs. Doolan should happen to be in the town to-night of all nights, just when them ones--the fairies, you know, doctor--has half the children in the town took with pains in their stomachs."
Dr. Lovaway looked round him wildly. He supposed that Flanagan must be mad. He had no doubt that the old woman was drunk.
"I've seen the like before," she said, leering up into Lovaway's face. "I've seen worse. I've seen a strong man tying himself into knots with the way they had him held, and there's no cure for it only----"
Lovaway caught sight of Sergeant Rahilly. In his first rush to reach the stricken child he had left the sergeant behind. The sergeant was a heavy man who moved with dignity.
"Take this woman away," said Lovaway. "Don't let her hold me."
"Doctor, darling," whined Mrs. Doolan, "don't be saying the like of that."
"Biddy Doolan," said the sergeant, sternly, "will you let go of the doctor? I'd be sorry to arrest you, so I would, but arrested you'll be if you don't get along home out of that and keep quiet."
Mrs. Doolan loosed her hold on the doctor's arm, but she did not go home. She followed Lovaway up the street, moving, for so old a woman, at a surprising pace.
"Doctor, dear," she said, "don't be giving medicine to them childer. Don't do it now. You'll only anger them that's done it, and it's a terrible thing when them ones is angry."
"Get away home out of that, Biddy Doolan," said the sergeant.
"Don't be hard on an old woman, now, sergeant," said Mrs. Doolan. "It's for your own good and the good of your child I'm speaking. Doctor, dear, there's no cure but the one. A cup of water from the well of Tubber Neeve, the same to be drawn up in a new tin can that never was used. Let the child or the man, or it might be the cow, or whatever it is, let it drink that, a cup at a time, and let you----"
Lovaway followed by the sergeant, entered the barrack. He needed no guiding to the room in which Molly lay. Her shrieks would have led a blind man to her bedside.
Mrs. Doolan was stopped at the door by a burly constable. She shouted her last advice to the doctor as he climbed the stairs.
"Let you take a handful of rowan berries and lay them on the stomach or wherever the pain might be, and if you wrap them in a yellow cloth it will be better; but they'll work well enough without that, only not so quick."
Driven off by the constable Mrs. Doolan went back to Flanagan's shop. She was quite calm and did not any longer appear to be the worse for the porter she had drunk.
"You'll give me another sup, now, Mr. Flanagan," she said. "It's well I deserve it. It's terrible dry work talking to a man like that one who won't listen to a word you're saying."
Flanagan filled a large tumbler with porter and handed it to her.
"Tell me this now, Mrs. Doolan," he said.
"What's the matter with Molly Rahilly and the rest of them?"
"It's green apples," said Mrs. Doolan, "green apples that they ate in the doctor's garden. Didn't I see the little lady sitting in the tree and the rest of the childer with her?"
Dr. Lovaway made a somewhat similar diagnosis. He spent several busy hours going in and out of the houses where the sufferers lay. It was not till a quarter past eleven that he returned to his home and the town settled down for the night. At half-past eleven--long after the legal closing hour--Sergeant Rahilly was sitting with Mr. Flanagan in the room behind the shop. A bottle of whisky and a jug of water were on the table in front of them.
"It's a queer thing now about that doctor," said Flanagan. "After what Dr. Farelly said to me I made dead sure he'd be pleased to find fairies about the place. But he was not. When I told him it was fairies he looked like a man that wanted to curse and didn't rightly know how. But sure the English is all queer, and the time you'd think you have them pleased is the very time they'd be most vexed with you."