A Lunatic at Large by George A. Birmingham
It was Tuesday, a Tuesday early in October, Dr. Lovaway finished his breakfast quietly, conscious that he had a long morning before him and nothing particular to do. Tuesday is a quiet day in Dunailin; Wednesday is market day and people are busy, the doctor as well as everybody else. Young women who come into town with butter to sell take the opportunity of having their babies vaccinated on Wednesday. Old women, with baskets on their arms, find it convenient on that day to ask the doctor for something to rub into knee-joints where rheumatic pains are troublesome. Old men, who have ridden into town on their donkeys, consult the doctor about chronic coughs, and seek bottles likely to relieve "an impression on the chest."
Fridays, when the Petty Sessions' Court sits, are almost as busy. Mr. Timothy Flanagan, a magistrate in virtue of the fact that he is Chairman of the Urban District Council, administers justice of a rude and uncertain kind in the Court House. While angry litigants are settling their business there, and repentant drunkards are paying the moderate fines imposed on them, their wives ask the doctor for advice about the treatment of whooping cough or the best way of treating a child which has incautiously stepped into a fire. Fair days, which occur once a month, are the busiest days of all. Everyone is in town on fair days, and every kind of ailment is brought to the doctor. Towards evening he has to put stitches into one or two cut scalps and sometimes set a broken limb. On Mondays and Thursdays the doctor sits in his office for an hour or two to register births and deaths.
But Tuesdays, unless a fair happens to fall on Tuesday, are quiet days. On this particular Tuesday Dr. Lovaway was pleasantly aware that he had nothing whatever to do and might count on having the whole day to himself. It was raining very heavily, but the weather did not trouble him at all. He had a plan for the day which rain could not mar.
He sat down at his writing table, took from a drawer a bundle of foolscap paper, fitted a new nib to his pen and filled his ink bottle. He began to write.
"A Study of the Remarkable Increase of Lunacy in Rural Connaught."
The title looked well. It would, he felt, certainly attract the attention of the editor of The British Medical Journal.
But Dr. Lovaway did not like it. It was not for the editor of The British Medical Journal, or indeed, for a scientific public that he wanted to write. He started fresh on a new sheet of paper.
"Lunacy in the West of Ireland: Its Cause and Cure."
That struck him as the kind of title which would appeal to a philanthropist out to effect a social reform of some kind. But Dr. Lovaway was not satisfied with it. He respected reformers and was convinced of the value of their work, but his real wish was to write something of a literary kind. With prodigal extravagance he tore up another whole sheet of foolscap and began again.
"The Passing of the Gael Ireland's Crowded Madhouses."
He purred a little over that title and then began the article itself. What he wanted to say was clear in his mind. He had been three weeks in Dunailin and he had spent more time over lunatics than anything else. Almost every day he found himself called upon by Sergeant Ra-hilly to "certify" a lunatic, to commit some unfortunate person with diseased intellect to an asylum. Sometimes he signed the required document. Often he hesitated, although he was always supplied by the sergeant and his constables with a wealth of lurid detail about the dangerous and homicidal tendencies of the patient. Dr. Lovaway was profoundly impressed.
He gave his whole mind to the consideration of the problem which pressed on him. He balanced theories. He blamed tea, inter-marriage, potatoes, bad whisky, religious enthusiasm, and did not find any of them nor all of them together satisfactory as explanations of the awful facts. He fell back finally on a theory of race decadence. Already fine phrases were forming themselves in his mind: "The inexpressible beauty of autumnal decay." "The exquisiteness of the decadent efflorescence of a passing race."
He covered a sheet of foolscap with a bare--he called it a detached--statement of the facts about Irish lunacy. He had just begun to recount his own experience when there was a knock at the door. The housekeeper, a legacy from Dr. Farelly, came in to tell him that Constable Malone wished to speak to him. Dr. Lovaway left his MS. with a sigh. He found Constable Malone, a tall man of magnificent physique, standing in the hall, the raindrops dripping from the cape he wore.
"The sergeant is after sending me round to you, sir," said Constable Malone, "to know would it be convenient for you to attend at Ballygran any time this afternoon to certify a lunatic?"
"Surely not another!" said Dr. Lovaway.
"It was myself found him, sir," said the constable with an air of pride in his achievement. "The sergeant bid me say that he'd have Patsy Doolan's car engaged for you, and that him and me would go with you so that you wouldn't have any trouble more than the trouble of going to Ballygran, which is an out-of-the-way place sure enough, and it's a terrible day."
"Is the man violent?" asked Dr. Lovaway.
By way of reply Constable Malone gave a short account of the man's position in life.
"He's some kind of a nephew of Mrs. Finnegan," he said, "and they call him Jimmy Finnegan, though Finnegan might not be his proper name. He does be helping Finnegan himself about the farm, and they say he's middling useful. But, of course, now the harvest's gathered, Finnegan will be able to do well enough without him till the spring."
This did not seem to Dr. Lovaway a sufficient reason for incarcerating Jimmy in an asylum.
"But is he violent?" he repeated. "Is he dangerous to himself or others?"
"He never was the same as other boys," said the constable, "and the way of it with fellows like that is what you wouldn't know. He might be quiet enough to-day and be slaughtering all before him to-morrow. And what Mrs. Finnegan says is that she'd be glad if you'd see the poor boy to-day because she's in dread of what he might do to-morrow night?"
"To-morrow night! Why to-morrow night?"
"There's a change in the moon to-morrow," said the constable, "and they do say that the moon has terrible power over fellows that's took that way."
Dr. Lovaway, who was young and trained in scientific methods, was at first inclined to argue with Constable Malone about the effect of the moon on the human mind. He refrained, reflecting that it is an impious thing to destroy an innocent superstition. One of the great beauties of Celtic Ireland is that it still clings to faiths forsaken by the rest of the world.
At two o'clock that afternoon Dr. Lovaway took his seat on Patsy Doolan's car. It was still raining heavily. Dr. Lovaway wore an overcoat of his own, a garment which had offered excellent protection against rainy days in Manchester. In Dunailin, for a drive to Ballygran, the coat was plainly insufficient. Mr. Flanagan hurried from his shop with a large oilskin cape taken from a peg in his men's outfitting department. Constable Malone, under orders from the sergeant, went to the priest's house and borrowed a waterproof rug. Johnny Conerney, the butcher, appeared at the last moment with a sou'wester which he put on the doctor's head and tied under his chin. It would not be the fault of the people of Dunailin, if Lovaway, with his weak lungs, "died on them."
Patsy Doolan did not contribute anything to the doctor's outfit, but displayed a care for his safety.
"Take a good grip now, doctor," he said. "Take a hold of the little rail there beside you. The mare might be a bit wild on account of the rain, and her only clipped yesterday, and the road to Ballygran is jolty in parts."
Sergeant Rahilly and Constable Malone sat on one side of the car, Dr. Lovaway was on the other. Patsy Doolan sat on the driver's seat. Even with that weight behind her the mare proved herself to be "a bit wild." She went through the village in a series of bounds, shied at everything she saw in the road, and did not settle down until the car turned into a rough track which led up through the mountains to Ballygran. Dr. Lovaway held on tight with both hands. Patsy Doolan, looking back over his left shoulder, spoke words of encouragement.
"It'll be a bit strange to you at first, so it will," he said. "But by the time you're six months in Dunailin we'll have you taught to sit a car, the same as it might be an armchair you were on."
Dr. Lovaway, clinging on for his life while the car bumped over boulders, did not believe that a car would ever become to him as an armchair.
Ballygran is a remote place, very difficult of access. At the bottom of a steep hill, a stream, which seemed a raging torrent to Dr. Lovaway, flowed across the road. The mare objected very strongly to wading through it. Farther on the track along which they drove became precipitous and more stony than ever. Another stream, scorning its properly appointed course, flowed down the road, rolling large stones with it. Patsy Doolan was obliged to get down and lead the mare. After persuading her to advance twenty yards or so he called for the help of the police. Sergeant Rahilly took the other side of the mare's head. Constable Malone pushed at the back of the car. Dr. Lovaway, uncomfortable and rather nervous, wanted to get down and wade too. But the sergeant would not hear of this.
"Let you sit still," he said. "The water's over the tops of my boots, so it is, and where's the use of you getting a wetting that might be the death of you?"
"Is it much farther?" asked Lovaway.
The sergeant considered the matter.
"It might be a mile and a bit," he said, "from where we are this minute."
The mile was certainly an Irish mile, and Dr. Lovaway began to think that there were some things in England, miles for instance, which are better managed than they are in Ireland. "The bit" which followed the mile belonged to a system of measurement even more generous than Irish miles and acres.
"I suppose now," said the sergeant, "that the country you come from is a lot different from this."
He had taken his seat again on the car after leading the mare up the river. He spoke in a cheery, conversational tone. Dr. Lovaway thought of Manchester and the surrounding district, thought of trams, trains, and paved streets.
"It is different," he said, "very different indeed."
Ballygran appeared at last, dimly visible through the driving rain. It was a miserable-looking hovel, roofed with sodden thatch, surrounded by a sea of mud. A bare-footed woman stood in the doorway. She wore a tattered skirt and a bodice fastened across her breast with a brass safety-pin. Behind her stood a tall man in a soiled flannel jacket and a pair of trousers which hung in a ragged fringe round his ankles.
"Come in," said Mrs. Finnegan, "come in the whole of yez. It's a terrible day, sergeant, and I wonder at you bringing the doctor out in the weather that does be it in. Michael"--she turned to her husband who stood behind her--"let Patsy Doolan be putting the mare into the shed, and let you be helping him. Come in now, doctor, and take an air of the fire. I'll wet a cup of tea for you, so I will."
Dr. Lovaway passed through a low door into the cottage. His eyes gradually became accustomed to the gloom inside and to the turf smoke which filled the room. In a corner, seated on a low stool, he saw a young man crouching over the fire.
"That's him," said Mrs. Finnegan. "That's the poor boy, doctor. The sergeant will have been telling you about him."
The boy rose from his stool at the sound of her voice.
"Speak to the gentleman now," said Mrs. Finnegan. "Speak to the doctor, Jimmy alannah, and tell him the way you are."
"Your honour's welcome," said Jimmy, in a thin, cracked voice. "Your honour's welcome surely, though I don't mind that ever I set eyes on you before."
"Whisht now, Jimmy," said the sergeant. "It's the doctor that's come to see you, and it's for your own good he's come."
"I know that," said Jimmy, "and I know he'll be wanting to have me put away. Well, what must be, must be, if it's the will of God, and if it's before me it may as well be now as any other time."
"You see the way he is," said the sergeant.
"And I have the papers here already to be signed."
Dr. Lovaway saw, or believed he saw, exactly how things were. The boy was evidently of weak mind. There was little sign of actual lunacy, no sign at all of violence about him. Mrs. Finnegan added a voluble description of the case.
"It might be a whole day," she said, "and he wouldn't be speaking a word, nor he wouldn't seem to hear if you speak to him, and he'd just sit there by the fire the way you see him without he'd be doing little turns about the place, feeding the pig, or mending a gap in the wall or the like. I will say for Jimmy, the poor boy's always willing to do the best he can."
"Don't be troubling the doctor now, Mrs. Finnegan," said the sergeant. "He knows the way it is with the boy without your telling him. Just let the doctor sign what has to be signed and get done with it. Aren't we wet enough as it is without standing here talking half the day?"
The mention of the wet condition of the party roused Mrs. Finnegan to action. She hung a kettle from a blackened hook in the chimney and piled up turf on the fire. Jimmy was evidently quite intelligent enough to know how to boil water. He took the bellows, went down on his knees, and blew the fire diligently. Mrs. Finnegan spread a somewhat dirty tablecloth on a still dirtier table and laid out cups and saucers on it.
Dr. Lovaway was puzzled. The boy at the fire might be, probably was, mentally deficient. He was not a case for an asylum. He was certainly not likely to become violent or to do any harm either to himself or anyone else. It was not clear why Mrs. Finnegan, who seemed a kindly woman, should wish to have him shut up. It was very difficult to imagine any reason for the action of the police in the matter. Constable Malone had discovered the existence of the boy in this remote place. Sergeant Rahilly had taken a great deal of trouble in preparing papers for his committal to the asylum, and had driven out to Ballygran on a most inclement day. Dr. Lovaway wished he understood what was happening.
Finnegan, having left Patsy Doolan's mare, and apparently Patsy Doolan himself in the shed, came into the house.
Dr. Lovaway appealed to him.
"It doesn't seem to me," he said, "that this boy ought to be sent to an asylum. I shall be glad to hear anything you have to tell me about him."
"Well now," said Mr. Finnegan, "he's a good, quiet kind of a boy, and if he hasn't too much sense there's many another has less."
"That's what I think," said Dr. Lovaway.
Jimmy stopped blowing the fire and looked round suddenly.
"Sure, I know well you're wanting to put me away," he said.
"It's for your own good," said the sergeant.
"It'll do him no harm anyway," said Finnegan, "if so be he's not kept there."
"Kept!" said the sergeant. "Is it likely now that they'd keep a boy like Jimmy? He'll be out again as soon as ever he's in. I'd say now a fortnight is the longest he'll be there."
"I wouldn't like," said Finnegan, "that he'd be kept too long. I'll be wanting him for spring work, but I'm willing to spare him from this till Christmas if you like."
Dr. Lovaway, though a young man and constitutionally timid, was capable of occasional firmness.
"I'm certainly not going to certify that boy as a lunatic," he said.
"Come now, doctor," said the sergeant persuasively, "after coming so far and the wet day and all. What have you to do only to put your name at the bottom of a piece of paper? And Jimmy's willing to go. Aren't you, Jimmy?"
"I'll go if I'm wanted to go," said Jimmy.
The water boiled. Mrs. Finnegan was spreading butter on long slices cut from a home-baked loaf. It was Jimmy who took the kettle from the hook and filled the teapot.
"Mrs. Finnegan," said Dr. Lovaway, "why do you want the boy put into an asylum?"
"Is it me wanting him put away?" she said. "I want no such thing. The notion never entered my head, nor Michael's either, who's been like a father to the boy. Only when Constable Malone came to me, and when it was a matter of pleasing him and the sergeant, I didn't want to be disobliging, for the sergeant is always a good friend of mine, and Constable Malone is a young man I've a liking for. But as for wanting to get rid of Jimmy! Why would I? Nobody'd grudge the bit the creature would eat, and there's many a little turn he'd be doing for me about the house."
Mr. Finnegan was hovering in the background, half hidden in the smoke which filled the house. He felt that he ought to support his wife.
"What I said to the sergeant," he said, "no longer ago than last Friday when I happened to be in town about a case I had on in the Petty Sessions' Court--what I said to the sergeant was this: 'So long as the boy isn't kept there too long, and so long as he's willing to go----'"
Jimmy, seated again on his low stool before the fire, looked up.
"Amn't I ready to go wherever I'm wanted?" he said.
"There you are now, doctor," said the sergeant. "You'll not refuse the poor boy when he wants to go?"
"Sergeant," said Dr. Lovaway, "I can't, I really can't certify that boy is a lunatic. I don't understand why you ask me to. It seems to me----"
Poor Lovaway was much agitated. It seemed to him that he had been drawn into an infamous conspiracy against the liberty of a particularly helpless human being.
"I don't think you ought to have asked me to come here," he said. "I don't think you should have suggested---- It seems to me, sergeant, that your conduct has been most reprehensible. I'm inclined to think I ought to report the matter to--to----" Dr. Lovaway was not quite sure about the proper place to which to send a report about the conduct of a sergeant of the Irish Police. "To the proper authorities," he concluded feebly.
"There, there," said the sergeant, soothingly, "we'll say no more about the matter. I wouldn't like you to be vexed, doctor."
But Dr. Lovaway, having once begun to speak his mind, was not inclined to stop.
"This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened," he said. "You've asked me to certify lunacy in some very doubtful cases. I don't understand your motives, but----"
"Well, well," said the sergeant, "there's no harm done anyway."
Mrs. Finnegan, like all good women, was anxious to keep the peace among the men under her roof.
"Is the tea to your liking, doctor," she said, "or will I give you a taste more sugar in it? I'm a great one for sugar myself, but they tell me there's them that drinks tea with ne'er a grain of sugar in it at all. They must be queer people that do that."
She held a spoon, heaped up with sugar, over the doctor's cup as she spoke. He was obliged to stop lecturing the sergeant in order to convince her that his tea was already quite sweet enough. It was, indeed, far too sweet for his taste, for he was one of those queer people whose tastes Mrs. Finnegan could not understand.
The drive home ought to have been in every way pleasanter than the drive out to Ballygran. Patsy Doolan's mare was subdued in temper; so docile, indeed, that she allowed Jimmy to put her between the shafts. She made no attempt to stand on her hind legs, and did not shy even at a young pig which bolted across the road in front of her. Dr. Lovaway could sit on his side of the car without holding on. The rain had ceased and great wisps of mist were sweeping clear of the hilltops, leaving fine views of grey rock and heather-clad slopes. But Dr. Lovaway did not enjoy himself. Being an Englishman he had a strong sense of duty, and was afflicted as no Irishman ever is by a civic conscience. He felt that he ought to bring home somehow to Sergeant Rahilly a sense of the iniquity of trying to shut up sane, or almost sane, people in lunatic asylums. Being of a gentle and friendly nature he hated making himself unpleasant to anyone, especially to a man like Sergeant Rahilly, who had been very kind to him.
The path of duty was not made any easier to him by the behaviour of the sergeant. Instead of being overwhelmed by a sense of discovered guilt, the police, both Rahilly and Constable Ma-lone, were pleasantly chatty, and evidently bent on making the drive home as agreeable as possible for the doctor. They told him the names of the hills and the more distant mountains. They showed the exact bank at the side of the road from behind which certain murderous men had fired at a land agent in 1885. They explained the route of a light railway which a forgotten Chief Secretary had planned but had never built owing to change of Government and his loss of office. Not one word was said about Jimmy, or lunatics, or asylums. It was with great difficulty that Dr. Lovaway succeeded at last in breaking in on the smooth flow of chatty reminiscences. But when he did speak he spoke strongly. As with most gentle and timid men, his language was almost violent when he had screwed himself up to the point of speaking at all.
The two policemen listened to all he said with the utmost good humour. Indeed, the sergeant supported him.
"You hear what the doctor's saying to you, Constable Malone," he said.
"I do, surely," said the constable.
"Well, I hope you'll attend to it," said the sergeant, "and let there be no more of the sort of work that the doctor's complaining of."
"But I mean you too, sergeant," said Dr. Lovaway. "You're just as much to blame as the constable. Indeed more, for you're his superior officer."
"I know that," said the sergeant; "I know that well. And what's more, I'm thankful to you, doctor, for speaking out what's in your mind. Many a one wouldn't do it. And I know that every word you've been saying is for my good and for the good of Constable Malone, who's a young man yet and might improve if handled right. That's why I'm thanking you, doctor, for what you've said."
When Solomon said that a soft answer turneth away wrath he understated a great truth. A soft answer, if soft enough, will deflect the stroke of the sword of justice. Dr. Lovaway, though his conscience was still uneasy, could say no more. He felt that it was totally impossible to report Sergeant Rahilly's way of dealing with lunatics to the higher authorities.
That night Sergeant Rahilly called on Mr. Flanagan, going into the house by the back door, for the hour was late. He chose porter rather than whisky, feeling perhaps that his nerves needed soothing and that a stronger stimulant might be a little too much for him. After finishing a second bottle and opening a third, he spoke.
"I'm troubled in my mind," he said, "over this new doctor. Here I am doing the best I can for him ever since he came to the town, according to what I promised Dr. Farelly."
"No man," said Flanagan, "could do more than what you've done. Everyone knows that."
"I've set the police scouring the country," said the sergeant, "searching high and low and in and out for anyone, man or woman, that was the least bit queer in the head. They've worked hard, so they have, and I've worked hard myself."
"No man harder," said Flanagan.
"And everyone we found," said the Sergeant, "was a guinea into the doctor's pocket. A guinea, mind you, that's the fee for certifying a lunatic, and devil a penny either I or the constables get out of it."
"Nor you wouldn't be looking for it, sergeant. I know that."
"I would not. And I'm not complaining of getting nothing, But it's damned hard when the doctor won't take what's offered to him, when we've had to work early and late to get it for him. Would you believe it now, Mr. Flanagan, he's refused to certify half of the ones we've found for him?"
"Do you tell me that?" said Flanagan.
"Throwing good money away," said the sergeant; "and to-day, when I took him to see that boy that does be living in Finnegan's, which would have put two guineas into his pocket, on account of being outside his own district, instead of saying 'thank you' like any ordinary man would, nothing would do him only to be cursing and swearing. 'It's a crime,' says he, 'and a scandal,' says he, 'and it's swearing away the liberty of a poor man,' says he; and more to that. Now I ask you, Mr. Flanagan, where's the crime and where's the scandal?"
"There's none," said Flanagan. "What harm would it have done the lad to be put away for a bit?"
"That's what I said to the doctor. What's more, they'd have let the boy out in a fortnight, as soon as they knew what way it was with him. I told the doctor that, but 'crime,' says he, and 'scandal,' says he, and 'conspiracy,' says he. Be damn, but to hear him talk you'd think I was trying to take two guineas out of his pocket instead of trying to put it in, and there's the thanks I get for going out of my way to do the best I could for him so as he'd rest content in this place and let Dr. Farelly stay where he is to be cutting the legs off the Germans."
"It's hard, so it is," said Flanagan, "and I'm sorry for you, sergeant. But that's the way things is. As I was saying to you once before and maybe oftener, the English is queer people, and the more you'd be trying to please them the less they like it. It's not easy to deal with them, and that's a fact."