THE COMING OF KILGALLON
There was something of religious unction in the way in which we prepared torments for the new master during the next week. We luxuriated in the prospect of his misery, and felt virtuous in the contemplation of the depravity which merited such chastisement as we meant to heap upon him. Burke, whose parents intended him for the Church, but whose chief interest at that period appeared to centre in football, developed an unexpected knowledge of theology. He explained to us the difference between the intellectual and the physical pains of hell, and suggested that by a due combination we should be able to give the new master a really hot time of it. On the intellectual side, we could run counter to all his likes, prejudices, fads, and idiosyncrasies. It would be proper for us to abhor his chosen subjects, to cultivate a desire for knowledge in the realms in which he had not studied. On the first day of his appearance our ignorance was to be crass. Our manners were to be gawky. Our faces were to be inane to the verge of idiocy. We were to smile vacantly at him when he asked us questions. We were to laugh boisterously if a fellow sneezed or coughed, as if such phenomena were immensely entertaining to our feeble intellects. All the time, under this mask of imbecility, we were to study his character and his habits. At the right moment we would reveal ourselves as his masters, omnipotent, omniscient, relentless. We would ask him impossible questions and insist upon answers. We would bring him problems in Euclid which no one could solve; we would discover unheard-of Greek verbs and defy him to translate them. By slow stages we would drive him mad. Day by day we would bait him in the classroom until at last he would be carried away, kicking and yelling, in a strait waistcoat.
Concurrently with this, a subtle form of physical punishment was to strike at him in secret places. He would find sand in his bed. He would find butter in his boots. His hair-oil would transform itself into cart-grease. Johnny Magories would work their way between his shirt and his spine. Fat worms would squirm at the bottom of his water-croft. O’Driscoll, who kept tame snails, placed the services of those intelligent molluscs at our disposal. Set free in the enemy’s chest of drawers, they would work geometrical patterns in slime on his under-clothing. Animate and inanimate nature, the botanical and the zoological kingdoms, would join in the war against Slattery’s successor.
Sweeney pointed out how necessary it was to know the character of one’s adversary in order to lay good strategic plans. ‘Always get inside your enemy’s mind,’ was, according to Sweeney, one of Napoleon’s maxims. How to get inside the mind of the unknown foe who was, so to speak, advancing against us out of the dark,—from what land or clime we knew not, yet drawing steadily nearer, unseen, unheard, slow, predestined, marching with the tread of fate? Joyce propounded a theory which, he said, offered a solution. If we knew the new master’s name we should have an index to his character,—not indeed, as Joyce admitted, an infallible index to every kink and fold of his personality, but a rough general guide which would enable us to draw up the main lines of our strategy. A man’s name, Joyce explained, had an important bearing on his temperament. Poets had poetical names: witness Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson. Men with such names were never found as hod-carriers or pig-jobbers. Generals had military names: names that rolled like a drum and trumpet, as Wallenstein, Marlborough, Wellington; or else names that were short and sharp as commands, like Saxe, Soult, Ney. Statesmen had urbane names: Burleigh, Colbert, Talleyrand,—the name Talleyrand (properly pronounced, of course, Joyce stipulated) was like the man himself, discreet, insinuating, oily. Tradesmen had such names as John Smith and William Robinson. Criminals always bore characteristic names: see Dickens, passim. Take the names of the French Revolutionists: Danton, Marat, Robespierre—how terrible they are, how bloodthirsty! Could men with such names have helped being what they were? Again, consider Shakespeare. Could he have written his immortal headlines for copybooks had his name been Bloggs? Could Wellington have been clever enough to appropriate the credit of Blücher’s victory at Waterloo had his name been Muggins? Would Benjamin Disraeli have become Leader of the House of Commons and prospective Prime Minister of England had he been called Ikey Moses?
Impressed by all this (though we suspected that Joyce had carefully prepared it long before in order to work it off on us at some favourable opportunity), we began to discuss possible names. Should the name chance to be Ledwich, we might expect to see a great hulking brute with sullen brows and a jaw like a prize-fighter: Joyce had known a master named Ledwich who was just like that,—‘an awful bruiser,’ he said. Should his name be Smullen, he would be stupid, boorish, heavy as lead, no fun even in making fun of him: Joyce had known such a Smullen. Should the name, on the other hand, be Cheevers, Creevy, or anything with a double e in it, the fellow would be a crawling, sneaking, slimy creature—‘the Uriah Heep type, you know,’ said Joyce. Joyce’s acquaintance had included such an individual, who had, it seems, commenced by surreptitiously scraping the butter off other fellows’ bread (laying the blame on the cat), and ended by stealing £2,000 belong to an orphanage.
We began to be appalled by the visions opened up by these speculations. We saw ourselves being knocked about by a brutal Ledwich or being plotted against by a furtive Creevy or Cheevers. ‘The funds of the Club won’t be safe if a fellow like that comes,’ said O’Sullivan. Like people who tell ghost stories round a fire, we were thoroughly frightening ourselves. The thing was getting on our nerves. Unseen dangers seemed to lurk around us; grisly forms loomed up in our path or cowered in the darkness of the corridors.
‘Why not find out what his name really is?’ asked young Clery one day.
No one had thought of that. Old Snuffy would of course know by now. Away went Clery to the President’s room. In due time he returned with news. The name was Kilgallon.
Kilgallon! What were we to make of it? Obviously, it was not the name of a hulking brute of the Ledwich type; nor yet of a crawling worm of the genus Creevy. Young Clery said it had a manly, straightforward ring, but to most of us the name had no message. It seemed an additional grievance against the new master that we could make nothing of his name. What did he mean by having a name like that? It was not playing the game.
Joyce, it is true, averred that the name Kilgallon was full of meaning. A person bearing that name would certainly be tall, with a prominent nose, and streaky brick-red hair; also, he would probably be a dipsomaniac. It annoyed us that Joyce should pretend to have known a man named Kilgallon. No one had ever heard of the name before. It was a name specially devised by the enemy to put our strategy at fault.
Joyce was always claiming to have known people with queer names. You could not imagine a name but Joyce had known someone who bore it, and in order to convince us he would relate some anecdote of the person which made the story still more improbable. Once young Clery invented the name Biffkins.
‘I knew a man of that name one time,’ said Joyce.
‘You did not,’ said young Clery.
‘I bet you my hat I did,’ said Joyce. ‘He committed suicide by wearing tight boots. He was disappointed in love and resolved to put himself to death by the slowest and most painful means. So he wore tight boots ever after. It took him fifty-one years.’
We often wondered at what remote period of his career Joyce had known all these eccentrics. He vaguely gave us to understand that they had been pupils or teachers in the ‘old school’—an unnamed educational institution in which Joyce had been a student before coming to St. Fintan’s. The ‘old school’ must have been a sort of Hydropathic Home, what with its great hulking Ledwiches, its slimy Creevys, its dipsomaniac Kilgallons, and its suicidal Biffkinses.
The days sped by in these profitable discussions, while the new master was drawing near to us out of the unknown: a fateful, portentous figure moving towards his destiny and laden also with strange destinies for us. In imagination we saw him treading lonely ways and plodding on with set teeth and with eyes fixed on his distant goal. At last, prosaically enough, he drove up the avenue of St. Fintan’s on an outside car.
It was about 10.30 at night, and we were all in bed.
‘Hist!’ said young Clery. ‘Wheels!’
There was a scramble from thirty beds. Very fortunately, our dormitory was in the front of the house exactly above the main door. Its four windows gave a wide view over the lawn and the avenue and the playing fields and the wood; out beyond flashed lights which we knew were beacons in the bay, It was a glorious view, day or night. But to-night we had eyes only for the car which was coming up the drive, which was rounding the curve of the lawn, which was stopping at the great door.
‘Here y’are, Sir,’ said the deep voice of the driver.
A figure sprang from the car and ran up the steps. It seemed a slight, light figure, the figure of a young man. It disappeared in the shadow of the door. There was a single peal of the bell. Then the new master stepped forward out of the shadow and seemed to be looking slowly round at the noble prospect of moonlight-bathed lawn and field and wood.
‘Suppose we drop one of the lockers on his head?’ suggested Nelson, as we crouched at the open windows, reconnoitring.
‘No,’ said young Clery, ‘that would put him out of action too soon.’
It would, in fact, have killed him.
We heard the door opening. Then the newcomer spoke to the driver, who had descended from the car and was commencing to shoulder a trunk.
‘Wait till I give you a hand,’ said the new master’s voice. It was a very clear voice, and even in that casual sentence it had, or seemed to have, a ring of a voice that could give a command on a battlefield. How familiar that ring was to be to us in the days that were to come!
The new master and the driver, carrying the trunk between them, disappeared into the door. The driver came out alone, mounted his seat, whipped up his horse with a ‘G’wan,’ and was gone. We crept back to bed. Somehow, the coming of Kilgallon had not been exactly like what we had expected. As I fell asleep, that voice, heard only once and in so casual a way, was still ringing in my ears.
‘It is the voice of a Captain,’ I kept saying to myself, as if I had heard the words in some story and they now came back to me.
There was a subdued excitement the next morning when we assembled in the Study Hall before separating to the classrooms. Our first class was Latin with O’Mara: a dull dog, duller than ever that day. The next was to be history with the new master. We sat expectant in the classroom. We were actually trembling with excitement.
‘It’s like waiting to have your tooth out,’ said Quominus.
I should explain that the real name of the youth whom we called Quominus was Quin; but young Clery had once found on page 131 of his Latin Grammar that in certain cases Quominus could be used instead of Quin, and had proposed that we should avail of the liberty; which we naturally did.
The door opened and Old Snuffy came in with the new master. We rose and stood at attention. All eyes were fastened on the man we were to pit our mettle against. As we had guessed on the previous night, when he stood on the steps in the moonlight, he was young, quite young. He was not very tall, but neither was he short. His figure was slight and almost fragile-looking. His face was pale; the eyes looked very dark,—I thought them black at first, but in reality they were grey; his mouth seemed very firm; his brow was high and white; dark brown hair fell across forehead. I was wondering whether the face was handsome or not when he smiled at something Old Snuffy said; and the smile was so merry and boyish that I decided that the face was handsome, or at least that I liked it.
‘Boys,’ said Old Snuffy, ‘this is Mr. Kilgallon. You may sit down. I will leave him to make your acquaintance himself.’
We sat down, Old Snuffy was gone, and we were face to face with the enemy.
We were reading Lockhart’s Life of Napoleon. It was in the days before the Intermediate, and schools were free to determine their own courses. Slattery had recommended Lockhart.
The new master sat down on Slattery’s stool.
‘You might read a little,’ he said to young Clery.
Clery, forgetting (as indeed we all did) that there was to have been an exhibition of crass ignorance and stupidity at the first class, commenced to read. He read well, and the new master seemed to listen to him with pleasure. We felt secretly glad that we had made a favourable impression on him. A few more boys read, Kilgallon interjecting a remark of explanation now and then. The things he said were new and interesting. He had a way of making a whole situation clear by a phrase. A sentence or a word interjected by him seemed to light up a page. After a little while he told us to lay aside the books, and, clasping his knee with his hands, he began to talk of Bonaparte’s Italian campaign. One would have thought Kilgallon had been there himself. He seemed to have the map of Italy in his mind as Bonaparte must have had it; he seemed to have all Bonaparte’s difficulties present to him and to see all the ways out as Bonaparte must have seen them. And he used very simple words, and we understood the whole thing better than we had ever understood it before. And, though so simply put, it seemed more wonderful than it had ever seemed before.
That was our first class with Kilgallon.
As we were commenting afterwards on his way of making difficult military movements seem easy, I told the lads of that strange impression his voice had made on me when I first heard it, and of my falling asleep saying ‘It is the voice of a Captain.’ Ever after that we called him ‘the Little Captain.’
Our next class with him was a French class. We were reading Racine’s ‘Esther,’ a play in which a very tiresome chorus of Hebrew maidens keeps preventing things from getting along by coming in and making tedious and uninteresting comments on matters in general. We wished they would have the tact to keep out and let the play get on.
‘Ith all French poetry as thoopid as thith?’ asked Splothery. Splothery was fat, foolish, and goodnatured. His name was MacManus, but we called him Splothery on account of his Splothery way of talking. He spoke in sudden little bursts, and could not always articulate his sibilants.
‘No,’ said the Little Captain with a smile. ‘Some of it is very lively.’
‘It’s odious stiff,’ said Sweeney.
‘Racine is artificial because his century was artificial. The old poets and the new poets are more natural and simple. Here is a little French song about Napoleon.’ And Kilgallon repeated to us Béranger’s ‘Parlez nous de lui, grand mère.’
‘That’th good thuff,’ said Splothery, who understood fully ten per cent of it.
We agreed that evening that we had acted only with becoming restraint in not commencing hostilities the first day.
‘You must give a fellow a chance,’ said Burke. ‘Let him get his feet under him. To-morrow we can have a slap at him.’
But ‘to-morrow’ the Little Captain disarmed us by a vivid description of the Bridge of Arcole, and by repeating another of Béranger’s songs, ‘Le Retour dans la Patrie.’ And again we agreed that it was only fair to give him a chance to settle down before commencing to make his life a hell.
On the third day, at history class, we saw a new side of him; or rather he revealed to us a new side of ourselves. It came about very casually. Sweeney had asked him whether he thought Napoleon could have been as great a mathematician as he was a general. Kilgallon nodded.
‘You know that’s what Tone thought of him,’ he said.
‘Who was Tone, Sir?’ asked young Clery, who always had the courage of his ignorance.
Kilgallon gave a quick glance at him. I daresay that in that glance he satisfied that the question was asked in good faith.
‘Tone,’ he said, ‘was our Ambassador in Paris.’
‘The British Ambassador, Sir?’ said that ass, Quominus.
‘No,’ said Kilgallon gravely. ‘The British were at war with France and had no Ambassador in Paris in ’97. He was our Ambassador, the Irish Ambassador; or rather our military envoy, as Lewines was the Ambassador.’
I suppose we all wore that infinitely wise yet vague look which people wear when they pretend to know all about something they really know nothing at all about. The Little Captain went on quickly:
‘The United Irishmen had asked Tone to go to Paris to get French aid to free Ireland.’
‘Tell us about him, Sir,’ said young Clery in that direct way of his.
The Little Captain clasped his knee and began what seemed to us the most heroic tale we had ever heard. He spoke of Tone as a man might speak of a lad whom he had known at school. He seemed to know all the little things that make up a man’s personality as known to his very intimate friends, and the personality that lived for us as he spoke seemed to us the most gallant personality and the most loveable that we had ever known or read of. We laughed at the little things that Kilgallon told us about Tone,—how he and Russell cooked marvellous suppers in the cottage at Irishtown and how he frightened the highwaymen by putting his head out of the coach window and ‘swearing horribly.’ The story was not finished that day, but Kilgallon continued it for several days; and when it was finished he went on to tell us of Thomas Russell and of that august death of his before the jail-gate of Downpatrick.
We drew a long breath when the tale of Russell was finished; and then young Clery spoke the question that was in everyone’s mind:
‘Are there any men now that are trying to do what Tone and Russell tried to do?’
‘There are,’ said Kilgallon.
‘I know who they are!’ cried O’Driscoll suddenly. ‘The Fenians!’
I was conscious of a certain thrill as I heard the name. It was a name never named in that place. It was a name seldom named in our presence without reprobation. We had a vague idea that the Fenians were lawless and reckless men bent on the overthrow of the Church and the destruction of property; that they lurked in corners and assassinated people; that they met in taverns and swore impious oaths; that to become a Fenian was to join the legion of the lost. It required a mental readjustment to think of them as the men who were carrying on the work of the gallant Tone, of the chivalrous Russell. We looked inquiringly at the Little Captain. He did not speak, but his grave eyes seemed to assent to what O’Driscoll had said.
‘I saw O’Donovan Rossa once,’ continued O’Driscoll. ‘He came from near my place.’
‘Isn’t Stephens the head of them all, Sir?’ asked Sweeney.
‘It was Stephens that escaped from prison in Dublin, wasn’t it, Sir?’ asked Burke.
‘Will he come back and fight?’ said Nelson.
‘Perhapth he’th here all the time,’ said Splothery.
‘No, there’s another man in his place,’ said Burke.
‘My father says there’s a man better than Stephens going round amongst the people now,’ said O’Driscoll. ‘They call him the Wandering Hawk the same as they did Stephens,’
‘That’s Warren!’ exclaimed Quominus.
‘No one knows what his name is. Some call him this and some call him that. My father says he’s the hardest of them all to catch,’ said O’Driscoll.
‘There’s five hundred pounds reward offered for him, dead or alive,’ interjected Sweeney. ‘I saw it on a placard at the railway station when I was coming up this term. It said: “£500 reward offered for information leading to the arrest of John Dunleavy, alias Warren, commonly known as the Wandering Hawk, formerly a National Teacher, age 26;” and a lot more like that. There was a crowd of people reading it.’
‘What will they do with the Wandering Hawk if they catch him, Sir?’ asked young Clery.
‘I’m afraid they’ll hang him,’ said the Little Captain.