Everyone had respect for poor Martin Cunningham. He was a thoroughly sensible man, influential and intelligent. His blade of human knowledge, natural astuteness particularised by long association with cases in the police courts, had been tempered by brief immersions in the waters of general philosophy. He was well informed. His friends bowed to his opinions and considered that his face was like Shakespeare's.
When the plot had been disclosed to her, Mrs. Kernan had said:
"I leave it all in your hands, Mr. Cunningham."
After a quarter of a century of married life, she had very few illusions left. Religion for her was a habit, and she suspected that a man of her husband's age would not change greatly before death. She was tempted to see a curious appropriateness in his accident and, but that she did not wish to seem bloody-minded, would have told the gentlemen that Mr. Kernan's tongue would not suffer by being shortened. However, Mr. Cunningham was a capable man; and religion was religion. The scheme might do good and, at least, it could do no harm. Her beliefs were not extravagant. She believed steadily in the Sacred Heart as the most generally useful of all Catholic devotions and approved of the sacraments. Her faith was bounded by her kitchen, but, if she was put to it, she could believe also in the banshee and in the Holy Ghost.
The gentlemen began to talk of the accident. Mr. Cunningham said that he had once known a similar case. A man of seventy had bitten off a piece of his tongue during an epileptic fit and the tongue had filled in again, so that no one could see a trace of the bite.
"Well, I'm not seventy," said the invalid.
"God forbid," said Mr. Cunningham.
"It doesn't pain you now?" asked Mr. M'Coy.
Mr. M'Coy had been at one time a tenor of some reputation. His wife, who had been a soprano, still taught young children to play the piano at low terms. His line of life had not been the shortest distance between two points and for short periods he had been driven to live by his wits. He had been a clerk in the Midland Railway, a canvasser for advertisements for The Irish Times and for The Freeman's Journal, a town traveller for a coal firm on commission, a private inquiry agent, a clerk in the office of the Sub-Sheriff, and he had recently become secretary to the City Coroner. His new office made him professionally interested in Mr. Kernan's case.
"Pain? Not much," answered Mr. Kernan. "But it's so sickening. I feel as if I wanted to retch off."
"That's the boose," said Mr. Cunningham firmly.
"No," said Mr. Kernan. "I think I caught cold on the car. There's something keeps coming into my throat, phlegm or — — "
"Mucus." said Mr. M'Coy.
"It keeps coming like from down in my throat; sickening."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. M'Coy, "that's the thorax."
He looked at Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Power at the same time with an air of challenge. Mr. Cunningham nodded his head rapidly and Mr. Power said:
"Ah, well, all's well that ends well."
"I'm very much obliged to you, old man," said the invalid.
Mr. Power waved his hand.
"Those other two fellows I was with — — "
"Who were you with?" asked Mr. Cunningham.
"A chap. I don't know his name. Damn it now, what's his name? Little chap with sandy hair . . . ."
"And who else?"
"Hm," said Mr. Cunningham.
When Mr. Cunningham made that remark, people were silent. It was known that the speaker had secret sources of information. In this case the monosyllable had a moral intention. Mr. Harford sometimes formed one of a little detachment which left the city shortly after noon on Sunday with the purpose of arriving as soon as possible at some public-house on the outskirts of the city where its members duly qualified themselves as bona fide travellers. But his fellow-travellers had never consented to overlook his origin. He had begun life as an obscure financier by lending small sums of money to workmen at usurious interest. Later on he had become the partner of a very fat, short gentleman, Mr. Goldberg, in the Liffey Loan Bank. Though he had never embraced more than the Jewish ethical code, his fellow-Catholics, whenever they had smarted in person or by proxy under his exactions, spoke of him bitterly as an Irish Jew and an illiterate, and saw divine disapproval of usury made manifest through the person of his idiot son. At other times they remembered his good points.
"I wonder where did he go to," said Mr. Kernan.
He wished the details of the incident to remain vague. He wished his friends to think there had been some mistake, that Mr. Harford and he had missed each other. His friends, who knew quite well Mr. Harford's manners in drinking were silent. Mr. Power said again:
"All's well that ends well."
Mr. Kernan changed the subject at once.
"That was a decent young chap, that medical fellow," he said. "Only for him — — "
"O, only for him," said Mr. Power, "it might have been a case of seven days, without the option of a fine."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Kernan, trying to remember. "I remember now there was a policeman. Decent young fellow, he seemed. How did it happen at all?"
"It happened that you were peloothered, Tom," said Mr. Cunningham gravely.
"True bill," said Mr. Kernan, equally gravely.
"I suppose you squared the constable, Jack," said Mr. M'Coy.
Mr. Power did not relish the use of his Christian name. He was not straight-laced, but he could not forget that Mr. M'Coy had recently made a crusade in search of valises and portmanteaus to enable Mrs. M'Coy to fulfil imaginary engagements in the country. More than he resented the fact that he had been victimised he resented such low playing of the game. He answered the question, therefore, as if Mr. Kernan had asked it.
The narrative made Mr. Kernan indignant. He was keenly conscious of his citizenship, wished to live with his city on terms mutually honourable and resented any affront put upon him by those whom he called country bumpkins.
"Is this what we pay rates for?" he asked. "To feed and clothe these ignorant bostooms . . . and they're nothing else."
Mr. Cunningham laughed. He was a Castle official only during office hours.
"How could they be anything else, Tom?" he said.
He assumed a thick, provincial accent and said in a tone of command:
"65, catch your cabbage!"