Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
ROUND THE RED LAMP
Being Facts andFancies of Medical Life
[Being anextract from a long and animatedcorrespondencewith a friend in America.]
I quiterecognise the force of your objectionthat aninvalid or a woman in weak health would getno goodfrom stories which attempt to treat somefeaturesof medical life with a certain amount ofrealism. If you deal with this life at allhoweverand if youare anxious to make your doctors somethingmore thanmarionettesit is quite essential that youshouldpaint the darker sidesince it is that whichisprincipally presented to the surgeon or physician.
He seesmany beautiful thingsit is truefortitudeandheroismlove and self-sacrifice; but they areall calledforth (as our nobler qualities are alwayscalledforth) by bitter sorrow and trial. One cannotwrite ofmedical life and be merry over it.
Then whywrite of ityou may ask? If a subjectis painfulwhy treat it at all? I answer that it istheprovince of fiction to treat painful thingsas well ascheerful ones. The story which wilesaway aweary hour fulfils an obviously goodpurposebut not more soI holdthan that whichhelps toemphasise the graver side of life. Atale whichmay startle the reader out of his usualgrooves ofthoughtand shocks him into seriousnessplays thepart of the alterative and tonic inmedicinebitter to the taste but bracing in theresult. There are a few stories in this littlecollectionwhich might have such an effectand Ihave sofar shared in your feeling that I havereservedthem from serial publication. In book-formthe readercan see that they are medical storiesandcanif heor she be so mindedavoid them.
P. S.--Youask about the Red Lamp. It is theusual signof the general practitioner in England.
My firstinterview with Dr. James Winter wasunderdramatic circumstances. It occurred at two inthemorning in the bedroom of an old country house.
I kickedhim twice on the white waistcoat and knockedoff hisgold spectacleswhile he with the aid of afemaleaccomplice stifled my angry cries in a flannelpetticoatand thrust me into a warm bath. I am toldthat oneof my parentswho happened to be presentremarkedin a whisper that there was nothing thematterwith my lungs. I cannot recall how Dr. Winterlooked atthe timefor I had other things to thinkofbuthis description of my own appearance is farfromflattering. A fluffy heada body like atrussedgoosevery bandy legsand feet with thesolesturned inwards--those are the main items whichhe canremember.
From thistime onwards the epochs of my life weretheperiodical assaults which Dr. Winter made uponme. He vaccinated me; he cut me for an abscess; heblisteredme for mumps. It was a world of peace andhe the onedark cloud that threatened. But at lastthere camea time of real illness--a time when I layfor monthstogether inside my wickerwork-basket bedand thenit was that I learned that that hard facecouldrelaxthat those country-made creaking bootscouldsteal very gently to a bedsideand that thatroughvoice could thin into a whisper when it spoketo a sickchild.
And nowthe child is himself a medical manandyet Dr.Winter is the same as ever. I can see nochangesince first I can remember himsave thatperhapsthe brindled hair is a trifle whiterand thehugeshoulders a little more bowed. He is a verytall manthough he loses a couple of inches from hisstoop. That big back of his has curved itself oversick bedsuntil it has set in that shape. His faceis of awalnut brownand tells of long winter drivesover bleakcountry roadswith the wind and the rainin histeeth. It looks smooth at a little distancebut as youapproach him you see that it is shot withinnumerablefine wrinkles like a last year's apple.
They arehardly to be seen when he is in repose; butwhen helaughs his face breaks like a starred glassand yourealise then that though he looks oldhemust beolder than he looks.
How oldthat is I could never discover. I haveoftentried to find outand have struck his streamas high upas George IV and even the Regencybutwithoutever getting quite to the source. His mindmust havebeen open to impressions very earlybut itmust alsohave closed earlyfor the politics of theday havelittle interest for himwhile he isfiercelyexcited about questions which are entirelyprehistoric. He shakes his head when he speaks ofthe firstReform Bill and expresses grave doubts asto itswisdomand I have heard himwhen he waswarmed bya glass of winesay bitter things aboutRobertPeel and his abandoning of the Corn Laws. Thedeath ofthat statesman brought the history ofEngland toa definite closeand Dr. Winter refers toeverythingwhich had happened since then as to aninsignificantanticlimax.
But it wasonly when I had myself become amedicalman that I was able to appreciate howentirelyhe is a survival of a past generation. Hehadlearned his medicine under that obsolete andforgottensystem by which a youth was apprenticed toa surgeonin the days when the study of anatomy wasoftenapproached through a violated grave. His viewsupon hisown profession are even more reactionarythan inpolitics. Fifty years have brought himlittle anddeprived him of less. Vaccination waswellwithin the teaching of his youththough Ithink hehas a secret preference for inoculation.
Bleedinghe would practise freely but for publicopinion. Chloroform he regards as a dangerousinnovationand he always clicks with his tongue whenit ismentioned. He has even been known to say vainthingsabout Laennecand to refer to the stethoscopeas "anew-fangled French toy." He carries one in hishat out ofdeference to the expectations of hispatientsbut he is very hard of hearingso that itmakeslittle difference whether he uses it or not.
He readsas a dutyhis weekly medical papersothat hehas a general idea as to the advance ofmodernscience. He always persists in looking uponit as ahuge and rather ludicrous experiment. Thegermtheory of disease set him chuckling for a longtimeandhis favourite joke in the sick room was tosay"Shutthe door or the germs will be getting in."
As to theDarwinian theoryit struck him as beingthecrowning joke of the century. "The children inthenursery and the ancestors in the stable" hewould cryand laugh the tears out of his eyes.
He is sovery much behind the day thatoccasionallyas things move round in their usualcirclehefinds himselfto his bewildermentin thefront ofthe fashion. Dietetic treatmentforexamplehad been much in vogue in his youthandhe hasmore practical knowledge of it than any onewhom Ihave met. Massagetoowas familiar to himwhen itwas new to our generation. He had beentrainedalso at a time when instruments were in arudimentarystateand when men learned to trust moreto theirown fingers. He has a model surgical handmuscularin the palmtapering in the fingers"withan eye atthe end of each." I shall not easilyforget howDr. Patterson and I cut Sir John Sirwellthe CountyMemberand were unable to find the stone.
It was ahorrible moment. Both our careers were atstake. And then it was that Dr. Winterwhom we hadasked outof courtesy to be presentintroduced intothe wounda finger which seemed to our excited sensesto beabout nine inches longand hooked out thestone atthe end of it. "It's always well to bringone inyour waistcoat-pocket" said he with achuckle"but I suppose you youngsters are above allthat."
We madehim president of our branch of theBritishMedical Associationbut he resigned afterthe firstmeeting. "The young men are too much forme"he said. "I don't understand what they aretalkingabout." Yet his patients do very well. Hehas thehealing touch--that magnetic thing whichdefiesexplanation or analysisbut which is a veryevidentfact none the less. His mere presenceleaves thepatient with more hopefulness andvitality. The sight of disease affects him as dustdoes acareful housewife. It makes him angry andimpatient. "Tuttutthis will never do!" he criesas hetakes over a new case. He would shoo Death outof theroom as though he were an intrusive hen. Butwhen theintruder refuses to be dislodgedwhen thebloodmoves more slowly and the eyes grow dimmerthen it isthat Dr. Winter is of more avail than allthe drugsin his surgery. Dying folk cling to hishand as ifthe presence of his bulk and vigour givesthem morecourage to face the change; and thatkindlywindbeaten face has been the last earthlyimpressionwhich many a sufferer has carried into theunknown.
When Dr.Patterson and I--both of us youngenergeticand up-to-date--settled in the districtwe weremost cordially received by the old doctorwho wouldhave been only too happy to be relieved ofsome ofhis patients. The patients themselveshoweverfollowed their own inclinations--which is areprehensibleway that patients have--so that weremainedneglectedwith our modern instruments andour latestalkaloidswhile he was serving out sennaandcalomel to all the countryside. We both of usloved theold fellowbut at the same timein theprivacy ofour own intimate conversationswe couldnot helpcommenting upon this deplorable lack ofjudgment. "It's all very well for the poorerpeople"said Patterson. "But after all the educatedclasseshave a right to expect that their medical manwill knowthe difference between a mitral murmur andabronchitic rale. It's the judicial frame of mindnot thesympatheticwhich is the essential one."
Ithoroughly agreed with Patterson in what hesaid. It happenedhoweverthat very shortlyafterwardsthe epidemic of influenza broke outandwe wereall worked to death. One morning I metPattersonon my roundand found him looking ratherpale andfagged out. He made the same remark aboutme. I wasin factfeeling far from welland I layupon thesofa all the afternoon with a splittingheadacheand pains in every joint. As evening closedinIcould no longer disguise the fact that thescourgewas upon meand I felt that I should havemedicaladvice without delay. It was of Pattersonnaturallythat I thoughtbut somehow the idea ofhim hadsuddenly become repugnant to me. I thoughtof hiscoldcritical attitudeof his endlessquestionsof his tests and his tappings. I wantedsomethingmore soothing--something more genial.
"Mrs.Hudson" said I to my housekeeperwouldyou kindlyrun along to old Dr. Winter and tellhim that Ishould be obliged to him if he would stepround?"
She wasback with an answer presently. "Dr.
Winterwill come round in an hour or sosir; but hehas justbeen called in to attend Dr. Patterson."
It was thefirst day of the winter sessionandthe thirdyear's man was walking with the firstyear'sman. Twelve o'clock was just booming out fromthe TronChurch.
"Letme see" said the third year's man. "Youhave neverseen an operation?"
"Thenthis wayplease. This is Rutherford'shistoricbar. A glass of sherrypleasefor thisgentleman. You are rather sensitiveare you not?"
"Mynerves are not very strongI am afraid."
"Hum! Another glass of sherry for this gentleman.We aregoing to an operation nowyou know."
The novicesquared his shoulders and made agallantattempt to look unconcerned.
"No;it's a bigger affair than that."
"Ithink--I think they must be expecting me at home."
"There'sno sense in funking. If you don't goto-dayyou must to-morrow. Better get it over atonce. Feel pretty fit?"
"Ohyes; all right!" The smile was not a success.
"Onemore glass of sherrythen. Now come on orwe shallbe late. I want you to be well in front."
"Surelythat is not necessary."
"Ohit is far better! What a drove of students!
There areplenty of new men among them. You can tellthemeasily enoughcan't you? If they were goingdown to beoperated upon themselvesthey could notlookwhiter."
"Idon't think I should look as white."
"WellI was just the same myself. But thefeelingsoon wears off. You see a fellow with a facelikeplasterand before the week is out he is eatinghis lunchin the dissecting rooms. I'll tell you allabout thecase when we get to the theatre."
Thestudents were pouring down the sloping streetwhich ledto the infirmary--each with his littlesheaf ofnote-books in his hand. There were palefrightenedladsfresh from the high schoolsandcallousold chronicswhose generation had passed onand leftthem. They swept in an unbrokentumultuousstream from the university gate to thehospital. The figures and gait of the men wereyoungbutthere was little youth in most of theirfaces. Some looked as if they ate too little--a fewas if theydrank too much. Tall and shorttweed-coated andblackround-shoulderedbespectacledandslimtheycrowded with clatter of feet and rattle ofsticksthrough the hospital gate. Now and again theythickenedinto two linesas the carriage of asurgeon ofthe staff rolled over the cobblestonesbetween.
"There'sgoing to be a crowd at Archer's"whisperedthe senior man with suppressed excitement.
"Itis grand to see him at work. I've seen him jaball roundthe aorta until it made me jumpy to watchhim. This wayand mind the whitewash."
Theypassed under an archway and down a longstone-flaggedcorridorwith drab-coloured doors oneithersideeach marked with a number. Some of themwere ajarand the novice glanced into them withtinglingnerves. He was reassured to catch a glimpseof cheeryfireslines of white-counterpaned bedsand aprofusion of coloured texts upon the wall. Thecorridoropened upon a small hallwith a fringe ofpoorlyclad people seated all round upon benches. Ayoung manwith a pair of scissors stuck like aflower inhis buttonhole and a note-book in his handwaspassing from one to the otherwhispering andwriting.
"Anythinggood?" asked the third year's man.
"Youshould have been here yesterday" said theout-patientclerkglancing up. "We had a regularfieldday. A popliteal aneurisma Colles' fracturea spinabifidaa tropical abscessand anelephantiasis. How's that for a single haul?"
"I'msorry I missed it. But they'll come againIsuppose. What's up with the old gentleman?"
A brokenworkman was sitting in the shadowrockinghimself slowly to and froand groaning. Awomanbeside him was trying to console himpattinghisshoulder with a hand which was spotted over withcuriouslittle white blisters.
"It'sa fine carbuncle" said the clerkwith theair of aconnoisseur who describes his orchids to onewho canappreciate them. "It's on his back and thepassage isdraughtyso we must not look at itmustwedaddy? Pemphigus" he added carelesslypointingto thewoman's disfigured hands. "Would you care tostop andtake out a metacarpal?"
"Nothank you. We are due at Archer's. Comeon!"and they rejoined the throng which was hurryingto thetheatre of the famous surgeon.
The tiersof horseshoe benches rising from thefloor tothe ceiling were already packedand thenovice ashe entered saw vague curving lines offaces infront of himand heard the deep buzz of ahundredvoicesand sounds of laughter from somewhereup abovehim. His companion spied an opening on thesecondbenchand they both squeezed into it.
"Thisis grand!" the senior man whispered.
"You'llhave a rare view of it all."
Only asingle row of heads intervened betweenthem andthe operating table. It was of unpainteddealplainstrongand scrupulously clean. A sheetof brownwater-proofing covered half of itandbeneathstood a large tin tray full of sawdust. Onthefurther sidein front of the windowthere was aboardwhich was strewed with glittering instruments--forcepstenaculasawscanulasand trocars. Aline ofkniveswith longthindelicate bladeslayat oneside. Two young men lounged in front of thisonethreading needlesthe other doing something to abrasscoffee-pot-like thing which hissed out puffs ofsteam.
"That'sPeterson" whispered the senior"thebigbaldman in the front row. He's the skin-graftingmanyou know. And that's Anthony Brownewho took alarynx out successfully last winter. Andthere'sMurphythe pathologistand Stoddarttheeye-man. You'll come to know them all soon."
"Whoare the two men at the table?"
"Nobody--dressers. One has charge of theinstrumentsand the other of the puffing Billy. It'sLister'santiseptic sprayyou knowand Archer's oneof thecarbolic-acid men. Hayes is the leader of thecleanliness-and-cold-waterschooland they all hateeach otherlike poison."
A flutterof interest passed through the closelypackedbenches as a woman in petticoat and bodice wasled in bytwo nurses. A red woolen shawl was drapedover herhead and round her neck. The face whichlooked outfrom it was that of a woman in the primeof heryearsbut drawn with sufferingand of apeculiarbeeswax tint. Her head drooped as shewalkedand one of the nurseswith her arm round herwaistwaswhispering consolation in her ear. Shegave aquick side-glance at the instrument table asshepassedbut the nurses turned her away from it.
"Whatails her?" asked the novice.
"Cancerof the parotid. It's the devil of acase;extends right away back behind the carotids.
There'shardly a man but Archer would dare to followit. Ahhere he is himself!"
As hespokea smallbriskiron-grey man camestridinginto the roomrubbing his hands together ashewalked. He had a clean-shaven faceof the navalofficertypewith largebright eyesand a firmstraightmouth. Behind him came his big house-surgeonwith his gleaming pince-nezand atrail ofdresserswho grouped themselves intothecorners of the room.
"Gentlemen"cried the surgeon in a voice as hardand briskas his manner"we have here an interestingcase oftumour of the parotidoriginallycartilaginousbut now assuming malignantcharacteristicsand therefore requiring excision.
On to thetablenurse! Thank you! Chloroformclerk! Thank you! You can take the shawl offnurse."
The womanlay back upon the water-proofed pillowand hermurderous tumour lay revealed. In itself itwas apretty thing--ivory whitewith a mesh of blueveinsandcurving gently from jaw to chest. But theleanyellow face and the stringy throat were inhorriblecontrast with the plumpness and sleekness ofthismonstrous growth. The surgeon placed a hand oneach sideof it and pressed it slowly backwards andforwards.
"Adherentat one placegentlemen" he cried.
"Thegrowth involves the carotids and jugularsandpassesbehind the ramus of the jawwhither we mustbeprepared to follow it. It is impossible to sayhow deepour dissection may carry us. Carbolic tray.
Thankyou! Dressings of carbolic gauzeif youplease! Push the chloroformMr. Johnson. Have thesmall sawready in case it is necessary to remove thejaw."
Thepatient was moaning gently under the towelwhich hadbeen placed over her face. She triedto raiseher arms and to draw up her kneesbut twodressersrestrained her. The heavy air was full ofthepenetrating smells of carbolic acid and ofchloroform. A muffled cry came from under the toweland then asnatch of a songsung in a highquaveringmonotonous voice:
If you flywith me
You'll bemistress of the ice-cream van.
You'll bemistress of the----"
It mumbledoff into a drone and stopped. The surgeoncameacrossstill rubbing his handsand spoke to anelderlyman in front of the novice.
"Narrowsqueak for the Government" he said.
"Ohten is enough."
"Theywon't have ten long. They'd do better toresignbefore they are driven to it."
"OhI should fight it out."
"What'sthe use. They can't get past thecommitteeeven if they got a vote in the House. Iwastalking to----"
"Patient'sreadysir" said the dresser.
"Talkingto McDonald--but I'll tell you about itpresently." He walked back to the patientwho wasbreathingin longheavy gasps. "I propose" saidhepassing his hand over the tumour in an almostcaressingfashion"to make a free incision over theposteriorborderand to take another forward atrightangles to the lower end of it. Might Itroubleyou for a medium knifeMr. Johnson?"
Thenovicewith eyes which were dilating withhorrorsaw the surgeon pick up the longgleamingknifedipit into a tin basinand balance it in hisfingers asan artist might his brush. Then he sawhim pinchup the skin above the tumour with his lefthand. At the sight his nerveswhich had alreadybeen triedonce or twice that daygave way utterly.
His headswain roundand he felt that in anotherinstant hemight faint. He dared not look at thepatient. He dug his thumbs into his ears lest somescreamshould come to haunt himand he fixed hiseyesrigidly upon the wooden ledge in front of him.
Oneglanceone crywouldhe knewbreak down theshred ofself-possession which he still retained. Hetried tothink of cricketof green fields andripplingwaterof his sisters at home--of anythingratherthan of what was going on so near him.
And yetsomehoweven with his ears stopped upsoundsseemed to penetrate to him and to carry theirown tale. He heardor thought that he heardthelonghissing of the carbolic engine. Then he wasconsciousof some movement among the dressers. Weretheregroanstoobreaking in upon himand someothersoundsome fluid soundwhich was moredreadfullysuggestive still? His mind would keepbuildingup every step of the operationandfancy madeit more ghastly than fact could have been.
His nervestingled and quivered. Minute by minutethegiddiness grew more markedthe numbsicklyfeeling athis heart more distressing. And thensuddenlywith a groanhis head pitching forwardand hisbrow cracking sharply upon the narrow woodenshelf infront of himhe lay in a dead faint.
When hecame to himselfhe was lying in theemptytheatrewith his collar and shirt undone. Thethirdyear's man was dabbing a wet sponge over hisfaceanda couple of grinning dressers were lookingon.
"Allright" cried the novicesitting up andrubbinghis eyes. "I'm sorry to have made an ass ofmyself."
"Wellso I should think" said his companion.
"Whaton earth did you faint about?"
"Icouldn't help it. It was that operation."
There wasa pauseand then the three studentsburst outlaughing. "Whyyou juggins!" cried theseniorman"there never was an operation at all!
They foundthe patient didn't stand the chloroformwellandso the whole thing was off. Archer hasbeengiving us one of his racy lecturesand youfaintedjust in the middle of his favourite story."
It was adull October morningand heavyrollingfog-wreathslay low over the wet grey roofs of theWoolwichhouses. Down in the longbrick-linedstreetsall was sodden and greasy and cheerless.
From thehigh dark buildings of the arsenal came thewhirr ofmany wheelsthe thudding of weightsandthe buzzand babel of human toil. Beyondthedwellingsof the workingmensmoke-stained andunlovelyradiated away in a lessening perspective ofnarrowingroad and dwindling wall.
There werefew folk in the streetsfor thetoilershad all been absorbed since break of day bythe hugesmoke-spouting monsterwhich sucked in themanhood ofthe townto belch it forth weary andwork-stainedevery night. Little groups of childrenstraggledto schoolor loitered to peep through thesinglefront windows at the biggilt-edged Biblesbalancedupon smallthree-legged tableswhich weretheirusual adornment. Stout womenwith thickredarms anddirty apronsstood upon the whiteneddoorstepsleaning upon their broomsand shriekingtheirmorning greetings across the road. Onestouterredderand dirtier than the resthadgathered asmall knot of cronies around her and wastalkingenergeticallywith little shrill tittersfrom heraudience to punctuate her remarks.
"Oldenough to know better!" she criedin answerto anexclamation from one of the listeners. "If hehain't nosense nowI 'specs he won't learn much onthis sideo'Jordan. Why'ow old is he at all?
Blessed ifI could ever make out."
"Wellit ain't so hard to reckon" said a sharp-featuredpale-faced woman with watery blue eyes.
"He'sbeen at the battle o' Waterlooand has thepensionand medal to prove it."
"Thatwere a ter'ble long time agone" remarked athird. "It were afore I were born."
"Itwere fifteen year after the beginnin' of thecentury"cried a younger womanwho had stoodleaningagainst the wallwith a smile of superiorknowledgeupon her face. "My Bill was a-saying solastSabbathwhen I spoke to him o' old DaddyBrewsterhere."
"Andsuppose he spoke truthMissus Simpson'owlong agonedo that make it?"
"It'seighty-one now" said the original speakercheckingoff the years upon her coarse redfingers"and that were fifteen. Ten and tenandtenandtenand ten--whyit's only sixty-and-sixyearsohe ain't so old after all."
"Buthe weren't a newborn babe at the battlesilly!"cried the young woman with a chuckle.
"S'posehe were only twentythen he couldn't be lessthansix-and-eighty nowat the lowest."
"Ayehe's that--every day of it" cried several.
"I'vehad 'bout enough of it" remarked the largewomangloomily. "Unless his young nieceorgrandnieceor whatever she iscome to-dayI'm offand he canfind some one else to do his work. Yourown 'omefirstsays I."
"Ain'the quietthenMissus Simpson?" asked theyoungestof the group.
"Listento him now" she answeredwith her handhalfraised and her head turned slantwise towards theopendoor. From the upper floor there came ashufflingsliding sound with a sharp tapping of astick. "There he go back and forrardsdoing what hecall hissentry go. 'Arf the night through he's atthat gamethe silly old juggins. At six o'clockthis verymornin there he was beatin' with a stick atmy door. `Turn outguard!' he criedand a lot morejargonthat I could make nothing of. Then what withhiscoughin' and 'awkin' and spittin'there ain't nogettin' awink o' sleep. Hark to him now!"
"MissusSimpsonMissus Simpson!" cried a crackedandquerulous voice from above.
"That'shim!" she criednodding her head with anair oftriumph. "He do go on somethin' scandalous.
"Iwant my morning rationMissus Simpson."
"It'sjust readyMr. Brewstersir."
"Blessedif he ain't like a baby cryin' for itspap"said the young woman.
"Ifeel as if I could shake his old bones upsometimes!"cried Mrs. Simpson viciously. "But who'sfor a 'arfof fourpenny?"
The wholecompany were about to shuffle off tothe publichousewhen a young girl stepped acrossthe roadand touched the housekeeper timidly upon thearm. "I think that is No. 56 Arsenal View" shesaid. "Can you tell me if Mr. Brewster lives here?"
Thehousekeeper looked critically at thenewcomer. She was a girl of about twentybroad-faced andcomelywith a turned-up nose and largehonestgrey eyes. Her print dressher straw hatwith itsbunch of glaring poppiesand the bundle shecarriedhad all a smack of the country.
"You'reNorah BrewsterI s'pose" said Mrs.Simpsoneyeing her up and down with no friendlygaze.
"YesI've come to look after my GranduncleGregory."
"Anda good job too" cried the housekeeperwitha toss ofher head. "It's about time that some ofhis ownfolk took a turn at itfor I've had enoughof it. There you areyoung woman! In you go andmakeyourself at home. There's tea in the caddy andbacon onthe dresserand the old man will be aboutyou if youdon't fetch him his breakfast. I'll sendfor mythings in the evenin'." With a nod shestrolledoff with her attendant gossips in thedirectionof the public house.
Thus leftto her own devicesthe country girlwalkedinto the front room and took off her hat andjacket. It was a low-roofed apartment with asputteringfire upon which a small brass kettle wassingingcheerily. A stained cloth lay over half thetablewith an empty brown teapota loaf of breadand somecoarse crockery. Norah Brewster lookedrapidlyabout herand in an instant took over hernewduties. Ere five minutes had passed the tea wasmadetwoslices of bacon were frizzling on the panthe tablewas rearrangedthe antimacassarsstraightenedover the sombre brown furnitureand thewhole roomhad taken a new air of comfort andneatness. This done she looked round curiously atthe printsupon the walls. Over the fireplacein asmallsquare casea brown medal caught her eyehangingfrom a strip of purple ribbon. Beneath was aslip ofnewspaper cutting. She stood on hertiptoeswith her fingers on the edge of themantelpieceand craned her neck up to see itglancingdown from time to time at the bacon whichsimmeredand hissed beneath her. The cutting wasyellowwith ageand ran in this way:
"OnTuesday an interesting ceremony was performedat thebarracks of the Third Regiment of Guardswheninthe presence of the Prince RegentLordHillLordSaltounand an assemblage which comprisedbeauty aswell as valoura special medal waspresentedto Corporal Gregory Brewsterof CaptainHaldane'sflank companyin recognition of hisgallantryin the recent great battle in the Lowlands.
It appearsthat on the ever-memorable 18th of Junefourcompanies of the Third Guards and of theColdstreamsunder the command of Colonels Maitlandand Byngheld the important farmhouse of Hougoumontat theright of the British position. At a criticalpoint ofthe action these troops found themselvesshort ofpowder. Seeing that Generals Foy and JeromeBuonapartewere again massing their infantry for anattack onthe positionColonel Byng dispatchedCorporalBrewster to the rear to hasten up thereserveammunition. Brewster came upon two powdertumbrilsof the Nassau divisionand succeededaftermenacingthe drivers with his musketin inducingthem toconvey their powder to Hougoumont. Inhisabsencehoweverthe hedges surrounding thepositionhad been set on fire by a howitzer batteryof theFrenchand the passage of the carts full ofpowderbecame a most hazardous matter. The firsttumbrilexplodedblowing the driver to fragments.
Daunted bythe fate of his comradethe second driverturned hishorsesbut Corporal Brewsterspringingupon hisseathurled the man downand urging thepowdercart through the flamessucceeded in forcinghis way tohis companions. To this gallant deed maybedirectly attributed the success of the Britisharmsforwithout powder it would have beenimpossibleto have held Hougoumontand the Duke ofWellingtonhad repeatedly declared that hadHougoumontfallenas well as La Haye Saintehewould havefound it impossible to have held hisground. Long may the heroic Brewster live totreasurethe medal which he has so bravely wonandto lookback with pride to the day whenin thepresenceof his comradeshe received this tribute tohis valourfrom the august hands of the firstgentlemanof the realm."
Thereading of this old cutting increased in thegirl'smind the veneration which she had always hadfor herwarrior kinsman. From her infancy he hadbeen herheroand she remembered how her father usedto speakof his courage and his strengthhow hecouldstrike down a bullock with a blow of his fistand carrya fat sheep under either arm. Trueshehad neverseen himbut a rude painting at home whichdepicted asquare-facedclean shavenstalwart manwith agreat bearskin caprose ever before hermemorywhen she thought of him.
She wasstill gazing at the brown medal andwonderingwhat the "Dulce et decorum est" mightmeanwhich was inscribed upon the edgewhen therecame asudden tapping and shuffling upon the stairand thereat the door was standing the very man whohad beenso often in her thoughts.
But couldthis indeed be he? Where was themartialairthe flashing eyethe warrior face whichshe hadpictured? Thereframed in the doorwaywasa hugetwisted old mangaunt and puckeredwithtwitchinghands and shufflingpurposeless feet. Acloud offluffy white haira red-veined nosetwothicktufts of eyebrow and a pair of dimlyquestioningwatery blue eyes--these were what mether gaze. He leaned forward upon a stickwhile hisshouldersrose and fell with his cracklingraspingbreathing.
"Iwant my morning rations" he croonedas hestumpedforward to his chair. "The cold nips mewithout'em. See to my fingers!" He held out hisdistortedhandsall blue at the tipswrinkledandgnarledwith hugeprojecting knuckles.
"It'snigh ready" answered the girlgazing athim withwonder in her eyes. "Don't you know who Iamgranduncle? I am Norah Brewster from Witham."
"Rumis warm" mumbled the old manrocking toand fro inhis chair"and schnapps is warmandthere's'eat in soupbut it's a dish o' tea for me.
What didyou say your name was?"
"Youcan speak outlass. Seems to me folk'svoicesisn't as loud as they used."
"I'mNorah Brewsteruncle. I'm your grandniececome downfrom Essex way to live with you."
"You'llbe brother Jarge's girl! Lorto thinko' littleJarge having a girl!" He chuckled hoarselytohimselfand the longstringy sinews of histhroatjerked and quivered.
"I amthe daughter of your brother George's son"said sheas she turned the bacon.
"Lorbut little Jarge was a rare un!" hecontinued. "Ehby Jiminithere was no chousingJarge. He's got a bull pup o' mine that I gave himwhen Itook the bounty. You've heard him speak ofitlikely?"
"Whygrandpa George has been dead this twentyyear"said shepouring out the tea.
"Wellit was a bootiful pup--ayea well-bredunbyJimini! I'm cold for lack o' my rations. Rumis goodand so is schnappsbut I'd as lief have teaaseither."
Hebreathed heavily while he devoured his food.
"It'sa middlin' goodish way you've come" said he atlast. "Likely the stage left yesternight."
"Thecoach that brought you."
"NayI came by the mornin' train."
"Lornowthink o' that! You ain't afeard o'thosenewfangled things! By Jiminito think of youcomin' byrailroad like that! What's the world a-comin'to!"
There wassilence for some minutes while Norahsatstirring her tea and glancing sideways at thebluishlips and champing jaws of her companion.
"Youmust have seen a deal o' lifeuncle" saidshe. "It must seem a longlong time to you!"
"Notso very long neither. I'm ninetycomeCandlemas;but it don't seem long since I took thebounty. And that battleit might have beenyesterday. Ehbut I get a power o' good from myrations!" He did indeed look less worn andcolourlessthan when she first saw him. His face wasflushedand his back more erect.
"Haveyou read that?" he askedjerking his headtowardsthe cutting.
"Yesuncleand I'm sure you must be proud ofit."
"Ahit was a great day for me! A great day!
The Regentwas thereand a fine body of a man too!
`Theridgment is proud of you' says he. `And I'mproud ofthe ridgment' say I. `A damned good answertoo!' sayshe to Lord Hilland they both bu'st outa-laughin'. But what be you a-peepin' out o' thewindowfor?"
"Ohunclehere's a regiment of soldiers comingdown thestreet with the band playing in front ofthem."
"Aridgmenteh? Where be my glasses? LorbutI can hearthe bandas plain as plain! Here's thepioneersan' the drum-major! What be their numberlass?" His eyes were shining and his bony yellowfingerslike the claws of some fierce old birdduginto hershoulder.
"Theydon't seem to have no numberuncle.
They'vesomething wrote on their shoulders.
OxfordshireI think it be."
"Ahyes!" he growled. "I heard as they'ddroppedthe numbers and given them newfangled names.
There theygoby Jimini! They're young mostlybuttheyhain't forgot how to march. They have theswing-ayeI'll say that for them. They've got theswing." He gazed after them until the last fileshad turnedthe corner and the measured tramp of theirmarchinghad died away in the distance.
He hadjust regained his chair when the dooropened anda gentleman stepped in.
"AhMr. Brewster! Better to-day?" he asked.
"Comeindoctor! YesI'm better. But there'sa deal o'bubbling in my chest. It's all themtoobes. If I could but cut the phlegmI'd be right.
Can't yougive me something to cut the phlegm?"
Thedoctora grave-faced young manput hisfingers tothe furrowedblue-corded wrist.
"Youmust be careful" he said. "You must takenoliberties." The thin tide of life seemed tothrillrather than to throb under his finger.
The oldman chuckled.
"I'vegot brother Jarge's girl to look after menow. She'll see I don't break barracks or do what Ihadn'tought to. Whydarn my skinI knew somethingwas amiss!
"Whywith them soldiers. You saw them passdoctor--eh? They'd forgot their stocks. Not one on'em hadhis stock on." He croaked and chuckled for along timeover his discovery. "It wouldn't ha' donefor theDook!" he muttered. "Noby Jimini! the Dookwould ha'had a word there."
The doctorsmiled. "Wellyou are doing verywell"said he. "I'll look in once a week or soandsee howyou are." As Norah followed him to the doorhebeckoned her outside.
"Heis very weak" he whispered. "If you findhimfailing you must send for me."
"Ninetyyears ails him. His arteries are pipesof lime. His heart is shrunken and flabby. The manis wornout."
Norahstood watching the brisk figure of theyoungdoctorand pondering over these newresponsibilitieswhich had come upon her. When sheturned atallbrown-faced artillerymanwith thethree goldchevrons of sergeant upon his armwasstandingcarbine in handat her elbow.
"Good-morningmiss" said heraising one thickfinger tohis jauntyyellow-banded cap. "I b'lievethere's anold gentleman lives here of the name ofBrewsterwho was engaged in the battle o' Waterloo?"
"It'smy grandunclesir" said Norahcastingdown hereyes before the keencritical gaze of theyoungsoldier. "He is in the front parlour."
"CouldI have a word with himmiss? I'll callagain ifit don't chance to be convenient."
"I amsure that he would be very glad to see yousir. He's in hereif you'll step in. Unclehere'sagentleman who wants to speak with you."
"Proudto see yousir--proud and gladsir" criedthesergeanttaking three steps forward into theroomandgrounding his carbine while he raised hishandpalmforwardsin a salute. Norah stood by thedoorwithher mouth and eyes openwondering if hergrandunclehad everin his primelooked like thismagnificentcreatureand whether hein his turnwould evercome to resemble her granduncle.
The oldman blinked up at his visitorand shookhis headslowly. "Sit ye downsergeant" said hepointingwith his stick to a chair. "You're fullyoung forthe stripes. Lordyit's easier to getthree nowthan one in my day. Gunners were oldsoldiersthen and the grey hairs came quicker thanthe threestripes."
"I ameight years' servicesir" cried thesergeant. "Macdonald is my name--Sergeant Macdonaldof HBatterySouthern Artillery Division. I havecalled asthe spokesman of my mates at the gunner'sbarracksto say that we are proud to have you in thetownsir."
OldBrewster chuckled and rubbed his bony hands.
"Thatwere what the Regent said" he cried. "`Theridgmentis proud of ye' says he. `And I am proudof theridgment' says I. `And a damned good answertoo' saysheand he and Lord Hill bu'st out a-laughin'."
"Thenon-commissioned mess would be proud andhonouredto see yousir" said Sergeant Macdonald;"andif you could step as far you'll always find apipe o'baccy and a glass o' grog a-waitin' you."
The oldman laughed until he coughed. "Like tosee mewould they? The dogs!" said he. "Wellwellwhenthe warm weather comes again I'll maybedrop in. Too grand for a canteeneh? Got your messjust thesame as the orficers. What's the world a-comin' toat all!"
"Youwas in the linesirwas you not?" askedthesergeant respectfully.
"Theline?" cried the old manwith shrill scorn.
"Neverwore a shako in my life. I am a guardsmanIam. Served in the Third Guards--the same they callnow theScots Guards. Lordybut they have allmarchedaway--every man of them--from old ColonelByng downto the drummer boysand here am I astraggler--that'swhat I amsergeanta straggler!
I'm herewhen I ought to be there. But it ain't myfaultneitherfor I'm ready to fall in when the wordcomes."
"We'veall got to muster there" answered thesergeant. "Won't you try my baccysir?" handingover asealskin pouch.
OldBrewster drew a blackened clay pipe from hispocketand began to stuff the tobacco into the bowl.
In aninstant it slipped through his fingersand wasbroken topieces on the floor. His lip quiveredhis nosepuckered upand he began crying with thelonghelpless sobs of a child. "I've broke mypipe"he cried.
"Don'tuncle; ohdon't!" cried Norahbendingover himand patting his white head as one soothes ababy. "It don't matter. We can easy get another."
"Don'tyou fret yourselfsir" said thesergeant. "'Ere's a wooden pipe with an amber mouthif you'lldo me the honour to accept it from me. I'dbe realglad if you will take it."
"Jimini!"cried hehis smiles breaking in aninstantthrough his tears. "It's a fine pipe. Seeto my newpipeNorah. I lay that Jarge never had apipe likethat. You've got your firelock theresergeant?"
"Yessir. I was on my way back from the buttswhen Ilooked in."
"Letme have the feel of it. Lordybut it seemslike oldtimes to have one's hand on a musket.
What's themanualsergeanteh? Cock yourfirelock--lookto your priming--present yourfirelock--ehsergeant? OhJiminiI've broke yourmusket inhalves!"
"That'sall rightsir" cried the gunnerlaughing. "You pressed on the lever and opened thebreech-piece. That's where we load 'emyou know."
"Load'em at the wrong end! Wellwelltothink o'that! And no ramrod neither! I'veheard tellof itbut I never believed it afore. Ah!it won'tcome up to brown Bess. When there's work tobe doneyou mark my word and see if they don't comeback tobrown Bess."
"Bythe Lordsir!" cried the sergeant hotly"theyneed some change out in South Africa now. I seeby thismornin's paper that the Government hasknuckledunder to these Boers. They're hot about itat thenon-com. messI can tell yousir."
"Eh--eh"croaked old Brewster. "By Jimini! itwouldn'tha' done for the Dook; the Dook would ha'had a wordto say over that."
"Ahthat he wouldsir!" cried the sergeant; andGod sendus another like him. But I've wearied youenough forone sitting. I'll look in againand I'llbring acomrade or two with meif I mayfor thereisn't onebut would be proud to have speech withyou."
Sowithanother salute to the veteran and agleam ofwhite teeth at Norahthe big gunnerwithdrewleaving a memory of blue cloth and of goldbraidbehind him. Many days had not passedhoweverbefore hewas back againand during all the longwinter hewas a frequent visitor at Arsenal View.
There camea timeat lastwhen it might be doubtedto whichof the two occupants his visits weredirectednor was it hard to say by which he was mostanxiouslyawaited. He brought others with him;and soonthrough all the linesa pilgrimage toDaddyBrewster's came to be looked upon as the properthing todo. Gunners and sapperslinesmen anddragoonscame bowing and bobbing into the littleparlourwith clatter of side arms and clink ofspursstretching their long legs across thepatchworkrugand hunting in the front of theirtunics forthe screw of tobacco or paper of snuffwhich theyhad brought as a sign of their esteem.
It was adeadly cold winterwith six weeks onend ofsnow on the groundand Norah had a hard taskto keepthe life in that time-worn body. There weretimes whenhis mind would leave himand whensavean animaloutcry when the hour of his meals cameroundnoword would fall from him. He was a white-hairedchildwith all a child's troubles andemotions. As the warm weather came once morehoweverand the green buds peeped forth again uponthe treesthe blood thawed in his veinsand hewould evendrag himself as far as the door to bask inthelife-giving sunshine.
"Itdo hearten me up so" he said one morningashe glowedin the hot May sun. "It's a job to keepback thefliesthough. They get owdacious in thisweatherand they do plague me cruel."
"I'llkeep them off youuncle" said Norah.
"Ehbut it's fine! This sunshine makes me thinko' theglory to come. You might read me a bit o' theBiblelass. I find it wonderful soothing."
"Whatpart would you likeuncle?"
"Ayekeep to the wars! Give me the OldTestamentfor choice. There's more taste to ittomy mind. When parson comes he wants to get off tosomethingelse; but it's Joshua or nothing with me.
ThemIsraelites was good soldiers--good growedsoldiersall of 'em."
"Butuncle" pleaded Norah"it's all peace inthe nextworld."
The oldcorporal knocked his stick irritably upontheground. "I tell ye it ain'tgal. I askedparson."
"Wellwhat did he say?"
"Hesaid there was to be a last fight. He evengave it anamehe did. The battle of Arm--Arm----"
"Ayethat's the name parson said. I 'specs theThirdGuards'll be there. And the Dook--the Dook'llhave aword to say."
Anelderlygrey-whiskered gentleman had beenwalkingdown the streetglancing up at thenumbers ofthe houses. Now as his eyes fell upon theold manhe came straight for him.
"Hullo!"said he; "perhaps you are GregoryBrewster?"
"Mynamesir" answered the veteran.
"Youare the same Brewsteras I understandwhois on theroll of the Scots Guards as having beenpresent atthe battle of Waterloo?"
"I amthat mansirthough we called it theThirdGuards in those days. It was a fine ridgmentand theyonly need me to make up a full muster."
"Tuttut! they'll have to wait years for that"said thegentleman heartily. "But I am the colonelof theScots Guardsand I thought I would like tohave aword with you."
OldGregory Brewster was up in an instantwithhis handto his rabbit-skin cap. "God bless me!" hecried"tothink of it! to think of it!"
"Hadn'tthe gentleman better come in?" suggestedthepractical Norah from behind the door.
"Surelysirsurely; walk insirif I may beso bold." In his excitement he had forgotten hisstickandas he led the way into the parlour hiskneestotteredand he threw out his hands. In aninstantthe colonel had caught him on one side andNorah onthe other.
"Easyand steady" said the colonelas he ledhim to hisarmchair.
"Thankyesir; I was near gone that time. ButLordy IwhyI can scarce believe it. To think of methecorporal of the flank company and you the colonelof thebattalion! How things come roundto besure!"
"Whywe are very proud of you in London" saidthecolonel. "And so you are actually one of the menwho heldHougoumont." He looked at the bonytremblinghandswith their hugeknotted knucklesthestringy throatand the heavingroundedshoulders. Could thisindeedbe the last of thatband ofheroes? Then he glanced at the half-filledphialsthe blue liniment bottlesthe long-spoutedkettleand the sordid details of the sick room.
"Bettersurelyhad he died under the blazingrafters ofthe Belgian farmhouse" thought thecolonel.
"Ihope that you are pretty comfortable andhappy"he remarked after a pause.
"Thankyesir. I have a good deal o' troublewith mytoobes--a deal o' trouble. You wouldn'tthink thejob it is to cut the phlegm. And I need myrations. I gets cold without 'em. And the flies! Iain'tstrong enough to fight against them."
"How'sthe memory?" asked the colonel.
"Ohthere ain't nothing amiss there. WhysirIcould give you the name of every man inCaptainHaldane's flank company."
"Andthe battle--you remember it?"
"WhyI sees it all afore me every time I shutsmy eyes. Lordysiryou wouldn't hardly believe howclear itis to me. There's our line from theparegoricbottle right along to the snuff box. D'yesee? Wellthenthe pill box is for Hougoumont ontheright--where we was--and Norah's thimble for LaHayeSainte. There it isall rightsir; and herewere ourgunsand here behind the reserves and theBelgians. Achthem Belgians!" He spat furiouslyinto thefire. "Then here's the Frenchwhere mypipe lies;and over herewhere I put my baccy pouchwas theProosians a-comin' up on our left flank.
Jiminibut it was a glad sight to see the smoke oftheirguns!"
"Andwhat was it that struck you most now inconnectionwith the whole affair?" asked the colonel.
"Ilost three half-crowns over itI did"croonedold Brewster. "I shouldn't wonder if I wasnever toget that money now. I lent 'em to JabezSmithmyrear rank manin Brussels. `Only tillpay-dayGrig' says he. By Gosh! he was stuck by alancer atQuatre Brasand me with not so much as aslip o'paper to prove the debt! Them three half-crowns isas good as lost to me."
Thecolonel rose from his chair laughing. "Theofficersof the Guards want you to buy yourself somelittletrifle which may add to your comfort" hesaid. "It is not from meso you need not thank me."
He took upthe old man's tobacco pouch and slipped acrispbanknote inside it.
"Thankye kindlysir. But there's one favourthat Iwould like to ask youcolonel."
"IfI'm calledcolonelyou won't grudge me aflag and afiring party? I'm not a civilian; I'm aguardsman--I'mthe last of the old Third Guards."
"Allrightmy manI'll see to it" said thecolonel. "Good-bye; I hope to have nothing but goodnews fromyou."
"Akind gentlemanNorah" croaked old Brewsteras theysaw him walk past the window; "butLordyheain't fitto hold the stirrup o' my Colonel Byng!"
It was onthe very next day that the old corporaltook asudden change for the worse. Even the goldensunlightstreaming through the window seemed unableto warmthat withered frame. The doctor came andshook hishead in silence. All day the man lay withonly hispuffing blue lips and the twitching of hisscraggyneck to show that he still held the breath oflife. Norah and Sergeant Macdonald had sat byhim in theafternoonbut he had shown noconsciousnessof their presence. He lay peacefullyhis eyeshalf closedhis hands under his cheekasone who isvery weary.
They hadleft him for an instant and were sittingin thefront roomwhere Norah was preparing teawhen of asudden they heard a shout that rang throughthehouse. Loud and clear and swellingit pealed intheirears--a voice full of strength and energy andfierypassion. "The Guards need powder!" it cried;and yetagain"The Guards need powder!"
Thesergeant sprang from his chair and rushed infollowedby the trembling Norah. There was the oldmanstanding uphis blue eyes sparklinghis whitehairbristlinghis whole figure towering andexpandingwith eagle head and glance of fire. "TheGuardsneed powder!" he thundered once again"andby Godthey shall have it!" He threw up his longarmsandsank back with a groan into his chair. Thesergeantstooped over him and his face darkened.
"OhArchieArchie" sobbed the frightened girl"whatdo you think of him?"
Thesergeant turned away. "I think" said he"thatthe Third Guards have a full muster now."
ScudamoreLanesloping down riverwards from justbehind theMonumentlies at night in the shadow oftwo blackand monstrous walls which loom high abovetheglimmer of the scattered gas lamps. Thefootpathsare narrowand the causeway is paved withroundedcobblestonesso that the endless drays roaralong itlike breaking waves. A few old-fashionedhouses liescattered among the business premisesandin one ofthesehalf-way down on the left-hand sideDr. HoraceSelby conducts his large practice. It isa singularstreet for so big a man; but a specialistwho has anEuropean reputation can afford to livewhere helikes. In his particular branchtoopatientsdo not always regard seclusion as adisadvantage.
It wasonly ten o'clock. The dull roar of thetrafficwhich converged all day upon London Bridgehad diedaway now to a mere confused murmur. It wasrainingheavilyand the gas shone dimly through thestreakedand dripping glassthrowing littlecirclesupon the glistening cobblestones. The airwas fullof the sounds of the rainthe thin swish ofits fallthe heavier drip from the eavesand theswirl andgurgle down the two steep gutters andthroughthe sewer grating. There was only one figurein thewhole length of Scudamore Lane. It was thatof a manand it stood outside the door of Dr. HoraceSelby.
He hadjust rung and was waiting for an answer.
Thefanlight beat full upon the gleaming shoulders ofhiswaterproof and upon his upturned features. Itwas a wansensitiveclear-cut facewith somesubtlenameless peculiarity in its expressionsomethingof the startled horse in the white-rimmedeyesomething too of the helpless child in the drawncheek andthe weakening of the lower lip. The man-servantknew the stranger as a patient at a bareglance atthose frightened eyes. Such a look hadbeen seenat that door many times before.
"Isthe doctor in?"
"Hehas had a few friends to dinnersir. Hedoes notlike to be disturbed outside his usualhourssir."
"Tellhim that I MUST see him. Tell him thatit is ofthe very first importance. Here is mycard." He fumbled with his trembling fingers intrying todraw one from his case. "Sir FrancisNorton isthe name. Tell him that Sir FrancisNortonofDeane Parkmust see him without delay."
"Yessir." The butler closed his fingers uponthe cardand the half-sovereign which accompanied it.
"Betterhang your coat up here in the hall. It isvery wet. Now if you will wait here in theconsulting-roomI have no doubt that I shall be ableto sendthe doctor in to you."
It was alarge and lofty room in which the youngbaronetfound himself. The carpet was so soft andthick thathis feet made no sound as he walked acrossit. The two gas jets were turned only half-way upand thedim light with the faint aromatic smell whichfilled theair had a vaguely religious suggestion.
He satdown in a shining leather armchair by thesmoulderingfire and looked gloomily about him. Twosides ofthe room were taken up with booksfat andsombrewith broad gold lettering upon their backs.
Beside himwas the highold-fashioned mantelpiece ofwhitemarble--the top of it strewed with cottonwaddingand bandagesgraduated measuresand littlebottles. There was one with a broad neck just abovehimcontaining bluestoneand another narrower onewith whatlooked like the ruins of a broken pipestemand"Caustic" outside upon a red label.
Thermometershypodermic syringes bistouries andspatulaswere scattered about both on the mantelpieceand on thecentral table on either side of theslopingdesk. On the same tableto the rightstoodcopies ofthe five books which Dr. Horace Selby hadwrittenupon the subject with which his name ispeculiarlyassociatedwhile on the lefton the topof a redmedical directorylay a huge glass model ofa humaneye the size of a turnipwhich opened downthe centreto expose the lens and double chamberwithin.
SirFrancis Norton had never been remarkable forhis powersof observationand yet he found himselfwatchingthese trifles with the keenest attention.
Even thecorrosion of the cork of an acid bottlecaught hiseyeand he wondered that the doctor didnot useglass stoppers. Tiny scratches where thelightglinted off from the tablelittle stains upontheleather of the deskchemical formulae scribbledupon thelabels of the phials--nothing was too slightto arresthis attention. And his sense of hearingwasequally alert. The heavy ticking of the solemnblackclock above the mantelpiece struck quitepainfullyupon his ears. Yet in spite of itand inspite alsoof the thickold-fashioned woodenpartitionhe could hear voices of men talking in thenext roomand could even catch scraps of theirconversation. "Second hand was bound to take it."
"Whyyou drew the last of them yourself!"
"Howcould I play the queen when I knew that theace wasagainst me?" The phrases came in littlespurtsfalling back into the dull murmur ofconversation. And then suddenly he heard thecreakingof a door and a step in the halland knewwith atingling mixture of impatience and horror thatthe crisisof his life was at hand.
Dr. HoraceSelby was a largeportly man with animposingpresence. His nose and chin were bold andpronouncedyet his features were puffyacombinationwhich would blend more freely with thewig andcravat of the early Georges than with theclose-croppedhair and black frock-coat of the end ofthenineteenth century. He was clean shavenfor hismouth wastoo good to cover--largeflexibleandsensitivewith a kindly human softening at eithercornerwhich with his brown sympathetic eyes haddrawn outmany a shame-struck sinner's secret. Twomasterfullittle bushy side-whiskers bristled outfrom underhis ears spindling away upwards to mergein thethick curves of his brindled hair. To hispatientsthere was something reassuring in the merebulk anddignity of the man. A high and easy bearinginmedicine as in war bears with it a hint ofvictoriesin the pastand a promise of others tocome. Dr. Horace Selby's face was a consolationandso toowere the largewhitesoothing handsone ofwhich heheld out to his visitor.
"I amsorry to have kept you waiting. It is aconflictof dutiesyou perceive--a host's to hisguests andan adviser's to his patient. But now I amentirelyat your disposalSir Francis. But dear meyou arevery cold."
"YesI am cold."
"Andyou are trembling all over. Tuttutthiswill neverdo! This miserable night has chilled you.
Perhapssome little stimulant----"
"Nothank you. I would really rather not. Andit is notthe night which has chilled me. I amfrighteneddoctor."
The doctorhalf-turned in his chairand hepatted thearch of the young man's kneeas he mightthe neckof a restless horse.
"Whatthen?" he askedlooking over his shoulderat thepale face with the startled eyes.
Twice theyoung man parted his lips. Then hestoopedwith a sudden gestureand turning up theright legof his trousers he pulled down his sock andthrustforward his shin. The doctor made a clickingnoise withhis tongue as he glanced at it.
The doctorpouted his lipsand drew his fingerand thumbdown the line of his chin. "Can youaccountfor it?" he asked briskly.
A trace ofsternness came into the large browneyes.
"Ineed not point out to you that unless the mostabsolutefrankness----"
Thepatient sprang from his chair. "So help meGod!"he cried"I have nothing in my life with whichtoreproach myself. Do you think that I would besuch afool as to come here and tell you lies. Oncefor allIhave nothing to regret." He was apitifulhalf-tragic and half-grotesque figureas hestood withone trouser leg rolled to the kneeandthat everpresent horror still lurking in his eyes.
A burst ofmerriment came from the card-players inthe nextroomand the two looked at each other insilence.
"Sitdown" said the doctor abruptly"yourassuranceis quite sufficient." He stooped and ranhis fingerdown the line of the young man's shinraising itat one point. "Humserpiginous" hemurmuredshaking his head. "Any other symptoms?"
"Myeyes have been a little weak."
"Letme see your teeth." He glanced at themandagain madethe gentleclicking sound of sympathy anddisapprobation.
"Nowyour eye." He lit a lamp at thepatient'selbowand holding a small crystal lenstoconcentrate the lighthe threw it obliquely uponthepatient's eye. As he did so a glow of pleasurecame overhis large expressive facea flush of suchenthusiasmas the botanist feels when he packs therare plantinto his tin knapsackor the astronomerwhen thelong-sought comet first swims into the fieldof histelescope.
"Thisis very typical--very typical indeed" hemurmuredturning to his desk and jotting down a fewmemorandaupon a sheet of paper. "Curiously enoughI amwriting a monograph upon the subject. It issingularthat you should have been able to furnish sowell-markeda case." He had so forgotten the patientin hissymptomthat he had assumed an almostcongratulatoryair towards its possessor. Herevertedto human sympathy againas his patientasked forparticulars.
"Mydear sirthere is no occasion for us to gointostrictly professional details together" said hesoothingly. "Iffor exampleI were to say that youhaveinterstitial keratitishow would you be thewiser? There are indications of a strumousdiathesis. In broad termsI may say that you have aconstitutionaland hereditary taint."
The youngbaronet sank back in his chairand hischin fellforwards upon his chest. The doctor sprangto aside-table and poured out half a glass ofliqueurbrandy which he held to his patient's lips.
A littlefleck of colour came into his cheeks as hedrank itdown.
"PerhapsI spoke a little abruptly" said thedoctor"but you must have known the nature of yourcomplaint. Whyotherwiseshould you have come tome?"
"Godhelp meI suspected it; but only today whenmy leggrew bad. My father had a leg like this."
"Itwas from himthen----?"
"Nofrom my grandfather. You have heard of SirRupertNortonthe great Corinthian?"
The doctorwas a man of wide reading with aretentivememory. The name brought back instantlyto him theremembrance of the sinister reputation ofitsowner--a notorious buck of the thirties--who hadgambledand duelled and steeped himself in drink anddebaucheryuntil even the vile set with whom heconsortedhad shrunk away from him in horrorandleft himto a sinister old age with the barmaid wifewhom hehad married in some drunken frolic. As helooked atthe young man still leaning back in theleatherchairthere seemed for the instant toflicker upbehind him some vague presentiment of thatfoul olddandy with his dangling sealsmany-wreathedscarfanddark satyric face. What was he now? Anarmful ofbones in a mouldy box. But his deeds--they wereliving and rotting the blood in the veinsof aninnocent man.
"Isee that you have heard of him" said theyoungbaronet. "He died horriblyI have been told;but notmore horribly than he had lived. My fatherwas hisonly son. He was a studious manfond ofbooks andcanaries and the country; but his innocentlife didnot save him."
"Hissymptoms were cutaneousI understand."
"Hewore gloves in the house. That was the firstthing Ican remember. And then it was his throat.
And thenhis legs. He used to ask me so often aboutmy ownhealthand I thought him so fussyfor howcould Itell what the meaning of it was. He wasalwayswatching me--always with a sidelong eye fixedupon me. Nowat lastI know what he was watchingfor."
"Hadyou brothers or sisters?"
"Wellwellit is a sad caseand very typicalof manywhich come in my way. You are no lonelysuffererSir Francis. There are many thousands whobear thesame cross as you do."
"Butwhere is the justice of itdoctor?" criedthe youngmanspringing from his chair and pacing upand downthe consulting-room. "If I were heir to mygrandfather'ssins as well as to their resultsIcouldunderstand itbut I am of my father'stype. I love all that is gentle and beautiful--musicand poetryand art. The coarse and animal isabhorrentto me. Ask any of my friends and theywould tellyou that. And now that this vileloathsomething--achI am polluted to the marrowsoaked inabomination! And why? Haven't I a rightto askwhy? Did I do it? Was it my fault? Could Ihelp beingborn? And look at me nowblighted andblastedjust as life was at its sweetest. Talkabout thesins of the father--how about the sins oftheCreator?" He shook his two clinched hands in theair--thepoor impotent atom with his pin-point ofbraincaught in the whirl of the infinite.
The doctorrose and placing his hands upon hisshouldershe pressed him back into his chair oncemore. "Theretheremy dear lad" said he; "youmust notexcite yourself. You are trembling allover. Your nerves cannot stand it. We must takethesegreat questions upon trust. What are weafterall? Half-evolved creatures in a transition stagenearerperhaps to the Medusa on the one side than toperfectedhumanity on the other. With half acompletebrain we can't expect to understand thewhole of acomplete factcan wenow? It is allvery dimand darkno doubt; but I think that Pope'sfamouscouplet sums up the whole matterand from myheartafter fifty years of varied experienceI cansay----"
But theyoung baronet gave a cry of impatienceanddisgust. "Wordswordswords! You can sitcomfortablythere in your chair and say them--andthink themtoono doubt. You've had your lifebutI've neverhad mine. You've healthy blood in yourveins;mine is putrid. And yet I am as innocent asyou. What would words do for you if you were in thischair andI in that? Ahit's such a mockery and amake-believe! Don't think me rudethoughdoctor.
I don'tmean to be that. I only say that it isimpossiblefor you or any other man to realise it.
But I've aquestion to ask youdoctor. It's one onwhich mywhole life must depend." He writhed hisfingerstogether in an agony of apprehension.
"Speakoutmy dear sir. I have every sympathywith you."
"Doyou think--do you think the poison has spentitself onme? Do you think that if I had childrenthey wouldsuffer?"
"Ican only give one answer to that. `The thirdand fourthgeneration' says the trite old text. Youmay intime eliminate it from your systembut manyyears mustpass before you can think of marriage."
"I amto be married on Tuesday" whispered thepatient.
It was thedoctor's turn to be thrilled withhorror. There were not many situations whichwouldyield such a sensation to his seasonednerves. He sat in silence while the babble of thecard-tablebroke in upon them again. "We had adoubleruff if you had returned a heart." "I wasbound toclear the trumps." They were hot and angryabout it.
"Howcould you?" cried the doctor severely. "Itwascriminal."
"Youforget that I have only learned how I standto-day." He put his two hands to his temples andpressedthem convulsively. "You are a man of theworldDr.Selby. You have seen or heard of suchthingsbefore. Give me some advice. I'm in yourhands. It is all very sudden and horribleand Idon'tthink I am strong enough to bear it."
Thedoctor's heavy brows thickened into twostraightlinesand he bit his nails in perplexity.
"Themarriage must not take place."
"Thenwhat am I to do?"
"Atall costs it must not take place."
"AndI must give her up?"
"Therecan be no question about that."
The youngman took out a pocketbook and drew fromit a smallphotographholding it out towards thedoctor. The firm face softened as he looked at it.
"Itis very hard on youno doubt. I canappreciateit more now that I have seen that. Butthere isno alternative at all. You must give upallthought of it."
"Butthis is madnessdoctor--madnessI tellyou. NoI won't raise my voice. I forgot myself.
Butrealise itman. I am to be married on Tuesday.
Thiscoming Tuesdayyou understand. And all theworldknows it. How can I put such a public affrontupon her. It would be monstrous."
"Nonethe less it must be done. My dear ladthere isno way out of it."
"Youwould have me simply write brutally andbreak theengagement at the last moment without areason. I tell you I couldn't do it."
"Ihad a patient once who found himself in asomewhatsimilar situation some years ago" said thedoctorthoughtfully. "His device was a singular one.
Hedeliberately committed a penal offenceand socompelledthe young lady's people to withdraw theirconsent tothe marriage."
The youngbaronet shook his head. "My personalhonour isas yet unstained" said he. "I have littleelse leftbut thatat leastI will preserve."
"Wellwellit is a nice dilemmaand the choicelies withyou."
"Haveyou no other suggestion?"
"Youdon't happen to have property in Australia?"
"Butyou have capital?"
"Thenyou could buy some. To-morrow morningwould do. A thousand mining shares would be enough.
Then youmight write to say that urgent businessaffairshave compelled you to start at an hour'snotice toinspect your property. That would give yousixmonthsat any rate."
"Wellthat would be possible. Yescertainlyit wouldbe possible. But think of her position.
The housefull of wedding presents--guests comingfrom adistance. It is awful. And you say thatthere isno alternative."
The doctorshrugged his shoulders.
"WellthenI might write it nowand start to-morrow--eh? Perhaps you would let me use your desk.
Thankyou. I am so sorry to keep you from yourguests solong. But I won't be a moment now."
He wrotean abrupt note of a few lines. Thenwith asudden impulse he tore it to shreds and flungit intothe fireplace.
"NoI can't sit down and tell her a liedoctor"he said rising. "We must find some otherway out ofthis. I will think it over and let youknow mydecision. You must allow me to double yourfee as Ihave taken such an unconscionable time. Nowgood-byeand thank you a thousand times for yoursympathyand advice."
"Whydear meyou haven't even got yourprescriptionyet. This is the mixtureand I shouldrecommendone of these powders every morningand thechemistwill put all directions upon the ointmentbox. You are placed in a cruel situationbut Itrust thatthese may be but passing clouds. When mayI hope tohear from you again?"
"Verygood. How the rain is splashing in thestreet! You have your waterproof there. You willneed it. Good-byethenuntil to-morrow."
He openedthe door. A gust of colddamp airswept intothe hall. And yet the doctor stood for aminute ormore watching the lonely figure whichpassedslowly through the yellow splotches of the gaslampsandinto the broad bars of darkness between.
It was buthis own shadow which trailed up the wallas hepassed the lightsand yet it looked to thedoctor'seye as though some huge and sombre figurewalked bya manikin's side and led him silently upthe lonelystreet.
Dr. HoraceSelby heard again of his patient nextmorningand rather earlier than he had expected. Aparagraphin the Daily News caused him to push awayhisbreakfast untastedand turned him sick and faintwhile heread it. "A Deplorable Accident" itwasheadedand it ran in this way:
"Afatal accident of a peculiarly painfulcharacteris reported from King William Street.
Abouteleven o'clock last night a young man wasobservedwhile endeavouring to get out of the way ofa hansomto slip and fall under the wheels of aheavytwo-horse dray. On being picked up hisinjurieswere found to be of the most shockingcharacterand he expired while being conveyed to thehospital. An examination of his pocketbook andcardcaseshows beyond any question that the deceasedis noneother than Sir Francis Nortonof Deane Parkwho hasonly within the last year come into thebaronetcy. The accident is made the more deplorableas thedeceasedwho was only just of agewas on theeve ofbeing married to a young lady belonging to oneof theoldest families in the South. With his wealthand histalents the ball of fortune was at his feetand hismany friends will be deeply grieved to knowthat hispromising career has been cut short in sosudden andtragic a fashion."
"IsDr. Horace Wilkinson at home?"
"I amhe. Pray step in."
Thevisitor looked somewhat astonished at havingthe dooropened to him by the master of the house.
"Iwanted to have a few words."
Thedoctora palenervous young mandressed inanultra-professionallong black frock-coatwith ahighwhite collar cutting off his dapper side-whiskersin the centrerubbed his hands together andsmiled. In the thickburly man in front of him hescented apatientand it would be his first. Hisscantyresources had begun to run somewhat lowandalthoughhe had his first quarter's rent safelylockedaway in the right-hand drawer of his deskitwasbecoming a question with him how he should meetthecurrent expenses of his very simple housekeeping.
He bowedthereforewaved his visitor inclosed thehall doorin a careless fashionas though his ownpresencethereat had been a purely accidentalcircumstanceand finally led the burly strangerinto hisscantily furnished front roomwhere hemotionedhim to a seat. Dr. Wilkinson plantedhimselfbehind his deskandplacing his finger-tipstogetherhe gazed with some apprehension at hiscompanion. What was the matter with the man? Heseemedvery red in the face. Some of his oldprofessorswould have diagnosed his case by nowandwould haveelectrified the patient by describing hisownsymptoms before he had said a word about them.
Dr. HoraceWilkinson racked his brains for some cluebut Naturehad fashioned him as a plodder--a veryreliableplodder and nothing more. He could think ofnothingsave that the visitor's watch-chain had averybrassy appearancewith a corollary to theeffectthat he would be lucky if he got half-a-crownout ofhim. Stilleven half-a-crown was somethingin thoseearly days of struggle.
Whilst thedoctor had been running his eyes overthestrangerthe latter had been plunging his handsintopocket after pocket of his heavy coat. The heatof theweatherhis dressand this exercise ofpocket-rummaginghad all combined to still furtherredden hisfacewhich had changed from brick tobeetwitha gloss of moisture on his brow. Thisextremeruddiness brought a clue at last to theobservantdoctor. Surely it was not to be attainedwithoutalcohol. In alcohol lay the secret ofthis man'strouble. Some little delicacy was neededhoweverin showing him that he had read his casearight--thatat a glance he had penetrated to theinmostsources of his ailments.
"It'svery hot" observed the strangermoppinghisforehead.
"Yesit is weather which tempts one to drinkrathermore beer than is good for one" answered Dr.HoraceWilkinsonlooking very knowingly at hiscompanionfrom over his finger-tips.
"Deardearyou shouldn't do that."
"I! I never touch beer."
"Neitherdo I. I've been an abstainer for twentyyears."
This wasdepressing. Dr. Wilkinson blushed untilhe wasnearly as red as the other. "May I ask whatI can dofor you?" he askedpicking up hisstethoscopeand tapping it gently against his thumb-nail.
"YesI was just going to tell you. I heard ofyourcomingbut I couldn't get round before----" Hebroke intoa nervous little cough.
"Yes?"said the doctor encouragingly.
"Ishould have been here three weeks agobut youknow howthese things get put off." He coughed againbehind hislarge red hand.
"I donot think that you need say anything more"
said thedoctortaking over the case with aneasy airof command. "Your cough is quitesufficient. It is entirely bronchial by the sound.
No doubtthe mischief is circumscribed at presentbut thereis always the danger that it may spreadsoyou havedone wisely to come to me. A littlejudicioustreatment will soon set you right. Yourwaistcoatpleasebut not your shirt. Puff out yourchest andsay ninety-nine in a deep voice."
Thered-faced man began to laugh. "It's allrightdoctor" said he. "That cough comes fromchewingtobaccoand I know it's a very bad habit.
Nine-and-ninepenceis what I have to say to youforI'm theofficer of the gas companyand they have aclaimagainst you for that on the metre."
Dr. HoraceWilkinson collapsed into his chair.
"Thenyou're not a patient?" he gasped.
"Neverneeded a doctor in my lifesir."
"Ohthat's all right." The doctor concealed hisdisappointmentunder an affectation of facetiousness.
"Youdon't look as if you troubled them much. Idon't knowwhat we should do if every one were asrobust. I shall call at the company's offices andpay thissmall amount."
"Ifyou could make it convenientsirnow that Iam hereit would save trouble----"
"Ohcertainly!" These eternal little sordidmoneytroubles were more trying to the doctor thanplainliving or scanty food. He took out hispurse andslid the contents on to the table.
There weretwo half-crowns and some pennies. In hisdrawer hehad ten golden sovereigns. But those werehis rent. If he once broke in upon them he was lost.
He wouldstarve first.
"Dearme! " said hewith a smileas at somestrangeunheard-of incident. "I have run short ofsmallchange. I am afraid I shall have to call uponthecompanyafter all."
"Verywellsir." The inspector roseand with apractisedglance aroundwhich valued every articlein theroomfrom the two-guinea carpet to the eight-shillingmuslin curtainshe took his departure.
When hehad gone Dr. Wilkinson rearranged hisroomaswas his habit a dozen times in the day. Helaid outhis large Quain's Dictionary of Medicine intheforefront of the table so as to impress thecasualpatient that he had ever the best authoritiesat hiselbow. Then he cleared all the littleinstrumentsout of his pocket-case--the scissorstheforcepsthe bistouriesthe lancets--and he laidthem allout beside the stethoscopeto make as gooda show aspossible. His ledgerday-bookandvisiting-bookwere spread in front of him. There wasno entryin any of them yetbut it would not lookwell tohave the covers too glossy and newso herubbedthem together and daubed ink over them.
Neitherwould it be well that any patient shouldobservethat his name was the first in the booksohe filledup the first page of each with notes ofimaginaryvisits paid to nameless patients during thelast threeweeks. Having done all thishe restedhis headupon his hands and relapsed into theterribleoccupation of waiting.
Terribleenough at any time to the youngprofessionalmanbut most of all to one who knowsthat theweeksand even the days during which he canhold outare numbered. Economise as he wouldthemoneywould still slip away in the countless littleclaimswhich a man never understands until he livesunder arooftree of his own. Dr. Wilkinson could notdenyashe sat at his desk and looked at the littleheap ofsilver and coppersthat his chances of beingasuccessful practitioner in Sutton were rapidlyvanishingaway.
And yet itwas a bustlingprosperous townwithso muchmoney in it that it seemed strange that a manwith atrained brain and dexterous fingers should bestarvedout of it for want of employment. At hisdeskDr.Horace Wilkinson could see the never-endingdoublecurrent of people which ebbed and flowed infront ofhis window. It was a busy streetand theair wasforever filled with the dull roar of lifethegrinding of the wheelsand the patter ofcountlessfeet. Menwomenand childrenthousandsand thousands of them passed in the dayand yeteach was hurrying on upon his own businessscarceglancing at the small brass plateor wastinga thoughtupon the man who waited in the front room.
And yethow many of them would obviouslyglaringlyhave beenthe better for his professional assistance.
Dyspepticmenanemic womenblotched facesbiliouscomplexions--theyflowed past himthey needing himhe needingthemand yet the remorseless bar ofprofessionaletiquette kept them forever apart. Whatcould hedo? Could he stand at his own front doorpluck thecasual stranger by the sleeveand whisperin hisear"Siryou will forgive me for remarkingthat youare suffering from a severe attack of acnerosaceawhich makes you a peculiarly unpleasantobject. Allow me to suggest that a smallprescriptioncontaining arsenicwhich will not costyou morethan you often spend upon a single mealwill bevery much to your advantage." Such anaddresswould be a degradation to the high and loftyprofessionof Medicineand there are no suchsticklersfor the ethics of that profession as someto whomshe has been but a bitter and a grudgingmother.
Dr. HoraceWilkinson was still looking moodilyout of thewindowwhen there came a sharp clang atthe bell. Often it had rungand with every ringhis hopeshad sprung uponly to dwindle away againand changeto leaden disappointmentas he faced somebeggar ortouting tradesman. But the doctor's spiritwas youngand elasticand againin spite of allexperienceit responded to that exhilaratingsummons. He sprang to his feetcast his eyes overthe tablethrust out his medical books a little moreprominentlyand hurried to the door. A groanescapedhim as he entered the hall. He could seethroughthe half-glazed upper panels that a gypsyvanhunground with wicker tables and chairshadhaltedbefore his doorand that a couple of thevagrantswith a babywere waiting outside. He hadlearned byexperience that it was better not even toparleywith such people.
"Ihave nothing for you" said heloosing thelatch byan inch. "Go away!"
He closedthe doorbut the bell clanged oncemore. "Get away! Get away!" he cried impatientlyand walkedback into his consulting-room. He hadhardlyseated himself when the bell went for thethirdtime. In a towering passion he rushed backflung openthe door.
"Ifyou pleasesirwe need a doctor."
In aninstant he was rubbing his hands again withhisblandest professional smile. These werepatientsthenwhom he had tried to hunt fromhisdoorstep--the very first patientswhom hehad waitedfor so impatiently. They did not lookverypromising. The mana talllank-haired gypsyhad goneback to the horse's head. There remained asmallhard-faced woman with a great bruise all roundher eye. She wore a yellow silk handkerchief roundher headand a babytucked in a red shawlwaspressed toher bosom.
"Praystep inmadam" said Dr. Horace Wilkinsonwith hisvery best sympathetic manner. In this caseat leastthere could be no mistake as to diagnosis.
"Ifyou will sit on this sofaI shall very soon makeyou feelmuch more comfortable."
He poureda little water from his carafe into asaucermade a compress of lintfastened it over theinjuredeyeand secured the whole with a spicabandagesecundum artem.
"Thankye kindlysir" said the womanwhen hiswork wasfinished; "that's nice and warmand may Godbless yourhonour. But it wasn't about my eye at allthat Icame to see a doctor."
"Notyour eye?" Dr. Horace Wilkinson wasbeginningto be a little doubtful as to theadvantagesof quick diagnosis. It is an excellentthing tobe able to surprise a patientbut hithertoit wasalways the patient who had surprised him.
"Thebaby's got the measles."
The motherparted the red shawland exhibited alittledarkblack-eyed gypsy babywhose swarthyface wasall flushed and mottled with a dark-redrash. The child breathed with a rattling soundandit lookedup at the doctor with eyes which were heavywith wantof sleep and crusted together at the lids.
"Hum! Yes. Measlessure enough--and a smartattack."
"Ijust wanted you to see hersirso that youcouldsignify."
"Signifyif anything happened."
"Andnow that you've seen itsirI'll go onforReuben--that's my man--is in a hurry."
"Butdon't you want any medicine?"
"Ohnow you've seen itit's all right. I'll letyou knowif anything happens."
"Butyou must have some medicine. The child isveryill." He descended into the little room whichhe hadfitted as a surgeryand he made up a two-ouncebottle of cooling medicine. In such cities asSuttonthere are few patients who can afford to pay afee toboth doctor and chemistso that unless thephysicianis prepared to play the part of both hewill havelittle chance of making a living at either.
"Thereis your medicinemadam. You willfind thedirections upon the bottle. Keep thechild warmand give it a light diet."
"Thankyou kindlysir." She shouldered her babyandmarched for the door.
"Excusememadam" said the doctor nervously.
"Don'tyou think it too small a matter to make a billof? Perhaps it would be better if we had asettlementat once."
The gypsywoman looked at him reproachfully outof her oneuncovered eye.
"Areyou going to charge me for that?" she asked.
"Wellsay half-a-crown." He mentioned the sumin ahalf-jesting wayas though it were too small totakeserious notice ofbut the gypsy woman raisedquite ascream at the mention of it.
"Wellmy good womanwhy not go to the poordoctor ifyou cannot afford a fee?"
Shefumbled in her pocketcraning awkwardly tokeep hergrip upon the baby.
"Here'ssevenpence" she said at lastholdingout alittle pile of copper coins. "I'll give youthat and awicker footstool."
"Butmy fee is half-a-crown." The doctor's viewsof theglory of his profession cried out against thiswretchedhagglingand yet what was he to do?
"Wheream I to get 'arf-a-crown? It is well forgentlefolklike you who sit in your grand housesandcan eatand drink what you likean' charge 'arf-a-crown forjust saying as much as`'Ow d'ye do?' Wecan't pickup' arf-crowns like that. What we gets weearns'ard. This sevenpence is just all I've got.
You toldme to feed the child light. She must feedlightforwhat she's to have is more than I know."
Whilst thewoman had been speakingDr. HoraceWilkinson'seyes had wandered to the tiny heap ofmoney uponthe tablewhich represented all thatseparatedhim from absolute starvationand hechuckledto himself at the grim joke that he shouldappear tothis poor woman to be a being living in thelap ofluxury. Then he picked up the odd coppersleavingonly the two half-crowns upon the table.
"Hereyou are" he said brusquely. "Never mindthe feeand take these coppers. They may be of someuse toyou. Good-bye!" He bowed her outand closedthe doorbehind her. After all she was the thin edgeof thewedge. These wandering people have greatpowers ofrecommendation. All large practices havebeen builtup from such foundations. The hangers-onto thekitchen recommend to the kitchenthey to thedrawing-roomand so it spreads. At least he couldsay nowthat he had had a patient.
He wentinto the back room and lit the spirit-kettle toboil the water for his tealaughingthe whileat the recollection of his recentinterview. If all patients were like this one itcouldeasily be reckoned how many it would take toruin himcompletely. Putting aside the dirt upon hiscarpet andthe loss of timethere were twopence goneupon thebandagefourpence or more upon themedicineto say nothing of phialcorklabelandpaper. Then he had given her fivepenceso that hisfirstpatient had absorbed altogether not less thanone sixthof his available capital. If five morewere tocome he would be a broken man. He sat downupon theportmanteau and shook with laughter at thethoughtwhile he measured out his one spoonful and ahalf oftea at one shilling eightpence into the brownearthenwareteapot. Suddenlyhoweverthe laughfaded fromhis faceand he cocked his ear towardsthe doorstanding listening with a slanting head anda sidelongeye. There had been a rasping of wheelsagainstthe curbthe sound of steps outsideandthen aloud peal at the bell. With his teaspoon inhis handhe peeped round the corner and saw withamazementthat a carriage and pair were waitingoutsideand that a powdered footman was standing atthe door. The spoon tinkled down upon the floorandhe stoodgazing in bewilderment. Thenpullinghimselftogetherhe threw open the door.
"Youngman" said the flunky"tell your masterDr.Wilkinsonthat he is wanted just as quick asever hecan come to Lady Millbankat the Towers. Heis to comethis very instant. We'd take him with usbut wehave to go back to see if Dr. Mason is homeyet. Just you stir your stumps and give him themessage."
Thefootman nodded and was off in an instantwhile thecoachman lashed his horses and the carriageflew downthe street.
Here was anew development. Dr. Horace Wilkinsonstood athis door and tried to think it all out.
LadyMillbankof the Towers! People of wealth andpositionno doubt. And a serious caseor why thishaste andsummoning of two doctors? Butthenwhyin thename of all that is wonderful should he besent for?
He wasobscureunknownwithout influence.
There mustbe some mistake. Yesthat must be thetrueexplanation; or was it possible that some onewasattempting a cruel hoax upon him? At any rateit was toopositive a message to be disregarded. Hemust setoff at once and settle the matter one way orthe other.
But he hadone source of information. At thecorner ofthe street was a small shop where one ofthe oldestinhabitants dispensed newspapers andgossip. He could get information there if anywhere.
He put onhis well-brushed top hatsecretedinstrumentsand bandages in all his pocketsandwithoutwaiting for his tea closed up hisestablishmentand started off upon his adventure.
Thestationer at the corner was a human directoryto everyone and everything in Suttonso that hesoon hadall the information which he wanted. SirJohnMillbank was very well known in the townitseemed. He was a merchant princean exporter ofpensthree times mayorand reported to be fullyworth twomillions sterling.
The Towerswas his palatial seatjust outsidethe city. His wife had been an invalid for someyearsandwas growing worse. So far the whole thingseemed tobe genuine enough. By some amazing chancethesepeople really had sent for him.
And thenanother doubt assailed himand heturnedback into the shop.
"I amyour neighbourDr. Horace Wilkinson" saidhe. "Is there any other medical man of that name inthe town?"
Nothestationer was quite positive that therewas not.
That wasfinalthen. A great good fortune hadcome inhis wayand he must take prompt advantage ofit. He called a cab and drove furiously to theTowerswith his brain in a whirlgiddy with hopeanddelight at one momentand sickened with fearsand doubtsat the next lest the case should insome waybe beyond his powersor lest he should findat somecritical moment that he was without theinstrumentor appliance that was needed. Everystrangeand outre case of which he had ever heardor readcame back into his mindand long before hereachedthe Towers he had worked himself into apositiveconviction that he would be instantlyrequiredto do a trephining at the least.
The Towerswas a very large housestanding backamidtreesat the head of a winding drive. As hedrove upthe doctor sprang outpaid away half hisworldlyassets as a fareand followed a statelyfootmanwhohaving taken his nameled him throughtheoak-panelledstained-glass hallgorgeous withdeers'heads and ancient armourand ushered him intoa largesitting-room beyond. A very irritable-lookingacid-faced man was seated in an armchair bythefireplacewhile two young ladies in white werestandingtogether in the bow window at the furtherend.
"Hullo!hullo! hullo! What's this--heh?" criedtheirritable man. "Are you Dr. Wilkinson? Eh?"
"YessirI am Dr. Wilkinson."
"Reallynow. You seem very young--much youngerthan Iexpected. WellwellwellMason's oldandyet hedon't seem to know much about it. I supposewe musttry the other end now. You're theWilkinsonwho wrote something about the lungs? Heh?"
Here was alight! The only two letters which thedoctor hadever written to The Lancet--modest littlelettersthrust away in a back column among thewranglesabout medical ethics and the inquiries as tohow muchit took to keep a horse in the country--hadbeen uponpulmonary disease. They had not beenwastedthen. Some eye had picked them out andmarked thename of the writer. Who could say thatwork wasever wastedor that merit did not promptlymeet withits reward?
"YesI have written on the subject."
"Ha! Wellthenwhere's Mason?"
"Ihave not the pleasure of his acquaintance."
"No?--that'squeer too. He knows you and thinksa lot ofyour opinion. You're a stranger in thetownareyou not?"
"YesI have only been here a very short time."
"Thatwas what Mason said. He didn't give me theaddress. Said he would call on you and bring youbut whenthe wife got worse of course I inquired foryou andsent for you direct. I sent for Masontoobut he wasout. Howeverwe can't wait for himsojust runaway upstairs and do what you can."
"WellI am placed in a rather delicateposition"said Dr. Horace Wilkinsonwith somehesitation. "I am hereas I understandto meet mycolleagueDr. Masonin consultation. It wouldperhapshardly be correct for me to see the patientin hisabsence. I think that I would rather wait."
"Wouldyouby Jove! Do you think I'll let mywife getworse while the doctor is coolly kicking hisheels inthe room below? NosirI am a plain manand I tellyou that you will either go up or go out."
The styleof speech jarred upon the doctor'ssense ofthe fitness of thingsbut still when aman's wifeis ill much may be overlooked. Hecontentedhimself by bowing somewhat stiffly. "Ishall goupif you insist upon it" said he.
"I doinsist upon it. And another thingI won'thave herthumped about all over the chestor anyhocus-pocusof the sort. She has bronchitis andasthmaand that's all. If you can cure it well andgood. But it only weakens her to have you tappingandlisteningand it does no good either."
Personaldisrespect was a thing that the doctorcouldstand; but the profession was to him a holythinganda flippant word about it cut him to thequick.
"Thankyou" said hepicking up his hat. "Ihave thehonour to wish you a very good day. Ido notcare to undertake the responsibility of thiscase."
"Hullo!what's the matter now?"
"Itis not my habit to give opinions withoutexaminingmy patient. I wonder that you shouldsuggestsuch a course to a medical man. I wish yougood day."
But SirJohn Millbank was a commercial manandbelievedin the commercial principle that the moredifficulta thing is to attain the more valuable itis. A doctor's opinion had been to him a mere matterofguineas. But here was a young man who seemed tocarenothing either for his wealth or title. Hisrespectfor his judgment increased amazingly.
"Tut!tut!" said he; "Mason is not so thin-skinned. There! there! Have your way! Do what youlike and Iwon't say another word. I'll just runupstairsand tell Lady Millbank that you are coming."
The doorhad hardly closed behind him when thetwo demureyoung ladies darted out of their cornerandfluttered with joy in front of the astonisheddoctor.
"Ohwell done! well done!" cried the tallerclappingher hands.
"Don'tlet him bully youdoctor" said theother. "Ohit was so nice to hear you stand upto him. That's the way he does with poor Dr.Mason. Dr. Mason has never examined mamma yet. Healwaystakes papa's word for everything. HushMaude;here he comes again." They subsided in aninstantinto their corner as silent and demure asever.
Dr. HoraceWilkinson followed Sir John up thebroadthick-carpeted staircaseand into thedarkenedsick room. In a quarter of an hour he hadsoundedand sifted the case to the uttermostanddescendedwith the husband once more to the drawing-room. In front of the fireplace were standing twogentlementhe one a very typicalclean-shavengeneralpractitionerthe other a striking-lookingman ofmiddle agewith pale blue eyes and a long redbeard.
"HulloMasonyou've come at last!"
"YesSir Johnand I have broughtas IpromisedDr. Wilkinson with me."
"Dr. Wilkinson! Whythis is he."
Dr. Masonstared in astonishment. "I have neverseen thegentleman before!" he cried.
"NeverthelessI am Dr. Wilkinson--Dr. HoraceWilkinsonof 114 Canal View."
"GoodgraciousSir John!" cried Dr. Mason.
"Didyou think that in a case of such importance Ishouldcall in a junior local practitioner! This isDr. AdamWilkinsonlecturer on pulmonary diseases atRegent'sCollegeLondonphysician upon thestaff ofthe St. Swithin's Hospitaland author of adozenworks upon the subject. He happened to be inSuttonupon a visitand I thought I would utilisehispresence to have a first-rate opinion upon LadyMillbank."
"Thankyou" said Sir Johndryly. "But I fearmy wife israther tired nowfor she has just beenverythoroughly examined by this young gentleman. Ithink wewill let it stop at that for the present;thoughofcourseas you have had the trouble ofcominghereI should be glad to have a note of yourfees."
When Dr.Mason had departedlooking verydisgustedand his friendthe specialistveryamusedSir John listened to all the young physicianhad to sayabout the case.
"NowI'll tell you what" said hewhen he hadfinished. "I'm a man of my wordd'ye see? When Ilike a manI freeze to him. I'm a good friend and abadenemy. I believe in youand I don't believe inMason. From now on you are my doctorand that of myfamily. Come and see my wife every day. How doesthat suityour book?"
"I amextremely grateful to you for your kindintentionstoward mebut I am afraid there is nopossibleway in which I can avail myself of them."
"Heh!what d'ye mean?"
"Icould not possibly take Dr. Mason's place inthe middleof a case like this. It would be a mostunprofessionalact."
"Ohwellgo your own way!" cried Sir Johnindespair. "Never was such a man for makingdifficulties. You've had a fair offer and you'verefuseditand now you can just go your own way."
Themillionaire stumped out of the room in ahuffandDr. Horace Wilkinson made his way homewardto hisspirit-lamp and his one-and-eightpenny teawith hisfirst guinea in his pocketand with afeelingthat he had upheld the best traditions of hisprofession.
And yetthis false start of his was a true startalsoforit soon came to Dr. Mason's ears that hisjunior hadhad it in his power to carry off his bestpatientand had forborne to do so. To the honour oftheprofession be it said that such forbearance isthe rulerather than the exceptionand yet in thiscasewithso very junior a practitioner and so verywealthy apatientthe temptation was greater than isusual. There was a grateful notea visitafriendshipand now the well-known firm of Mason andWilkinsonis doing the largest family practice inSutton.
RobertJohnson was an essentially commonplacemanwithno feature to distinguish him from amillionothers. He was pale of faceordinary inlooksneutral in opinionsthirty years of ageanda marriedman. By trade he was a gentleman'soutfitterin the New North Roadand the competitionofbusiness squeezed out of him the little characterthat wasleft. In his hope of conciliating customershe hadbecome cringing and pliableuntil workingever inthe same routine from day to day he seemed tohave sunkinto a soulless machine rather than a man.
No greatquestion had ever stirred him. At the endof thissnug centuryself-contained in his ownnarrowcircleit seemed impossible that any of themightyprimitive passions of mankind could everreachhim. Yet birthand lustand illnessanddeath arechangeless thingsand when one of theseharshfacts springs out upon a man at some suddenturn ofthe path of lifeit dashes off for themoment hismask of civilisation and gives a glimpseof thestranger and stronger face below.
Johnson'swife was a quiet little womanwithbrown hairand gentle ways. His affection for herwas theone positive trait in his character.
Togetherthey would lay out the shop window everyMondaymorningthe spotless shirts in their greencardboardboxes belowthe neckties above hung inrows overthe brass railsthe cheap studs glisteningfrom thewhite cards at either sidewhile in thebackgroundwere the rows of cloth caps and the bankof boxesin which the more valuable hats werescreenedfrom the sunlight. She kept the books andsent outthe bills. No one but she knew the joys andsorrowswhich crept into his small life. She hadshared hisexultations when the gentleman who wasgoing toIndia had bought ten dozen shirts and anincrediblenumber of collarsand she had been asstrickenas he whenafter the goods had gonethebill wasreturned from the hotel address with theintimationthat no such person had lodged there. Forfive yearsthey had workedbuilding up the businessthrowntogether all the more closely because theirmarriagehad been a childless one. Nowhoweverthere weresigns that a change was at handand thatspeedily. She was unable to come downstairsand hermotherMrs. Peytoncame over from Camberwell tonurse herand to welcome her grandchild.
Littlequalms of anxiety came over Johnson ashis wife'stime approached. Howeverafter allit was anatural process. Other men's wives wentthrough itunharmedand why should not his? He washimselfone of a family of fourteenand yet hismother wasalive and hearty. It was quite theexceptionfor anything to go wrong. And yet in spiteof hisreasonings the remembrance of his wife'sconditionwas always like a sombre background to allhis otherthoughts.
Dr. Milesof Bridport Placethe best man in theneighbourhoodwas retained five months in advanceandastime stole onmany little packets ofabsurdlysmall white garments with frill work andribbonsbegan to arrive among the big consignments ofmalenecessities. And then one eveningas Johnsonwasticketing the scarfs in the shophe heard abustleupstairsand Mrs. Peyton came running down tosay thatLucy was bad and that she thought the doctorought tobe there without delay.
It was notRobert Johnson's nature to hurry. Hewas primand staid and liked to do things in anorderlyfashion. It was a quarter of a mile from thecorner ofthe New North Road where his shop stood tothedoctor's house in Bridport Place. There were nocabs insight so he set off upon footleaving thelad tomind the shop. At Bridport Place he was toldthat thedoctor had just gone to Harman Street toattend aman in a fit. Johnson started off forHarmanStreetlosing a little of his primness as hebecamemore anxious. Two full cabs but no empty onespassed himon the way. At Harman Street he learnedthat thedoctor had gone on to a case of measlesfortunatelyhe had left the address--69 Dunstan Roadat theother side of the Regent's Canal. Robert'sprimnesshad vanished now as he thought of the womenwaiting athomeand he began to run as hard as hecould downthe Kingsland Road. Some way along hespranginto a cab which stood by the curb and droveto DunstanRoad. The doctor had just leftandRobertJohnson felt inclined to sit down upon thesteps indespair.
Fortunatelyhe had not sent the cab awayand hewas soonback at Bridport Place. Dr. Miles had notreturnedyetbut they were expecting him everyinstant. Johnson waiteddrumming his fingers on hiskneesina highdim lit roomthe air of which waschargedwith a faintsickly smell of ether. Thefurniturewas massiveand the books in the shelvesweresombreand a squat black clock tickedmournfullyon the mantelpiece. It told him that itwashalf-past sevenand that he had been gone anhour and aquarter. Whatever would the women thinkof him! Every time that a distant door slammed hesprangfrom his chair in a quiver of eagerness.
His earsstrained to catch the deep notes of thedoctor'svoice. And thensuddenlywith a gush ofjoy heheard a quick step outsideand the sharpclick ofthe key in the lock. In an instant he wasout in thehallbefore the doctor's foot was overthethreshold.
"Ifyou pleasedoctorI've come for you" hecried;"the wife was taken bad at six o'clock."
He hardlyknew what he expected the doctor to do.
Somethingvery energeticcertainly--to seize somedrugsperhapsand rush excitedly with him throughthe gaslitstreets. Instead of that Dr. Miles threwhisumbrella into the rackjerked off his hat with asomewhatpeevish gestureand pushed Johnson backinto theroom.
"Let'ssee! You DID engage medidn't you?"he askedin no very cordial voice.
"Ohyesdoctorlast November. Johnson theoutfitteryou knowin the New North Road."
"Yesyes. It's a bit overdue" said the doctorglancingat a list of names in a note-book with avery shinycover. "Wellhow is she?"
"Ahof courseit's your first. You'll knowmore aboutit next time."
"Mrs.Peyton said it was time you were theresir."
"Mydear sirthere can be no very pressing hurryin a firstcase. We shall have an all-nightaffairIfancy. You can't get an engine to gowithoutcoalsMr. Johnsonand I have had nothingbut alight lunch."
"Wecould have something cooked for you--somethinghot and a cup of tea."
"Thankyoubut I fancy my dinner is actually onthetable. I can do no good in the earlier stages.
Go homeand say that I am comingand I will be roundimmediatelyafterwards."
A sort ofhorror filled Robert Johnson as hegazed atthis man who could think about his dinner atsuch amoment. He had not imagination enough torealisethat the experience which seemed soappallinglyimportant to himwas the merest everydaymatter ofbusiness to the medical man who could nothave livedfor a year had he notamid the rush ofworkremembered what was due to his own health. ToJohnson heseemed little better than a monster. Histhoughtswere bitter as he sped back to his shop.
"You'vetaken your time" said his mother-in-lawreproachfullylooking down the stairs as he entered.
"Icouldn't help it!" he gasped. "Is it over?"
"Over! She's got to be worsepoor dearbeforeshe can bebetter. Where's Dr. Miles!"
"He'scoming after he's had dinner." The oldwoman wasabout to make some replywhenfromthehalf-opened door behind a high whinnying voicecried outfor her. She ran back and closed the doorwhileJohnsonsick at heartturned into the shop.
There hesent the lad home and busied himselffranticallyin putting up shutters and turning outboxes. When all was closed and finished he seatedhimself inthe parlour behind the shop. But he couldnot sitstill. He rose incessantly to walk a fewpaces andthen fell back into a chair once more.
Suddenlythe clatter of china fell upon his earandhe saw themaid pass the door with a cup on a trayand asmoking teapot.
"Whois that forJane?" he asked.
"Forthe mistressMr. Johnson. She says shewouldfancy it."
There wasimmeasurable consolation to him in thathomely cupof tea. It wasn't so very bad after allif hiswife could think of such things. So light-heartedwas he that he asked for a cup also. He hadjustfinished it when the doctor arrivedwith asmallblack leather bag in his hand.
"Wellhow is she?" he asked genially.
"Ohshe's very much better" said Johnsonwithenthusiasm.
"Dearmethat's bad!" said the doctor. "Perhapsit will doif I look in on my morning round?"
"Nono" cried Johnsonclutching at his thickfriezeovercoat. "We are so glad that you have come.
Anddoctorplease come down soon and let me knowwhat youthink about it."
The doctorpassed upstairshis firmheavy stepsresoundingthrough the house. Johnson could hear hisbootscreaking as he walked about the floor abovehimandthe sound was a consolation to him. It wascrisp anddecidedthe tread of a man who had plentyofself-confidence. Presentlystill straining hisears tocatch what was going onhe heard thescrapingof a chair as it was drawn along the floorand amoment later he heard the door fly open andsomeonecome rushing downstairs. Johnson sprang upwith hishair bristlingthinking that some dreadfulthing hadoccurredbut it was only his mother-in-lawincoherent with excitement and searching forscissorsand some tape. She vanished again and Janepassed upthe stairs with a pile of newly airedlinen. Thenafter an interval of silenceJohnsonheard theheavycreaking tread and the doctor camedown intothe parlour.
"That'sbetter" said hepausing with his handupon thedoor. "You look paleMr. Johnson."
"Ohnosirnot at all" he answereddeprecatinglymopping his brow with hishandkerchief.
"Thereis no immediate cause for alarm" saidDr.Miles. "The case is not all that we couldwish it. Still we will hope for the best."
"Isthere dangersir?" gasped Johnson.
"Wellthere is always dangerof course. It isnotaltogether a favourable casebut still it mightbe muchworse. I have given her a draught. I saw asI passedthat they have been doing a little buildingoppositeto you. It's an improving quarter. Therents gohigher and higher. You have a lease of yourown littleplaceeh?"
"Yessiryes!" cried Johnsonwhose ears werestrainingfor every sound from aboveand who feltnone theless that it was very soothing that thedoctorshould be able to chat so easily at such atime. "That's to say nosirI am a yearly tenant."
"AhI should get a lease if I were you. There'sMarshallthe watchmakerdown the street. Iattendedhis wife twice and saw him through thetyphoidwhen they took up the drains in PrinceStreet. I assure you his landlord sprung his rentnearlyforty a year and he had to pay or clear out."
"Didhis wife get through itdoctor?"
"Ohyesshe did very well. Hullo! hullo!"
He slantedhis ear to the ceiling with aquestioningfaceand then darted swiftly from theroom.
It wasMarch and the evenings were chillsoJane hadlit the firebut the wind drove the smokedownwardsand the air was full of its acrid taint.
Johnsonfelt chilled to the bonethough rather byhisapprehensions than by the weather. He crouchedover thefire with his thin white hands held out totheblaze. At ten o'clock Jane brought in the jointof coldmeat and laid his place for supperbut hecould notbring himself to touch it. He drank aglass ofthe beerhoweverand felt the better forit. The tension of his nerves seemed to have reactedupon hishearingand he was able to follow the mosttrivialthings in the room above. Oncewhen thebeer wasstill heartening himhe nerved himself tocreep ontiptoe up the stair and to listen to whatwas goingon. The bedroom door was half an inchopenandthrough the slit he could catch a glimpseof theclean-shaven face of the doctorlookingwearierand more anxious than before. Then he rusheddownstairslike a lunaticand running to the door hetried todistract his thoughts by watching what; wasgoing onin the street. The shops were all shutandsomerollicking boon companions came shouting alongfrom thepublic-house. He stayed at the door untilthestragglers had thinned downand then came backto hisseat by the fire. In his dim brain he wasaskinghimself questions which had never intrudedthemselvesbefore. Where was the justice of it?
What hadhis sweetinnocent little wife done thatshe shouldbe used so? Why was nature so cruel? Hewasfrightened at his own thoughtsand yet wonderedthat theyhad never occurred to him before.
As theearly morning drew inJohnsonsick atheart andshivering in every limbsat with his greatcoathuddled round himstaring at the grey ashes andwaitinghopelessly for some relief. His face waswhite andclammyand his nerves had been numbed intoa halfconscious state by the long monotony ofmisery. But suddenly all his feelings leapt intokeen lifeagain as he heard the bedroom door open andthedoctor's steps upon the stair. Robert Johnsonwasprecise and unemotional in everyday lifebut healmostshrieked now as he rushed forward to know ifit wereover.
One glanceat the sterndrawn face which met himshowedthat it was no pleasant news which had sentthe doctordownstairs. His appearance had altered asmuch asJohnson's during the last few hours. Hishair wason endhis face flushedhis foreheaddottedwith beads of perspiration. There was apeculiarfierceness in his eyeand about the linesof hismoutha fighting look as befitted a man whofor hourson end had been striving with the hungriestof foesfor the most precious of prizes. But therewas asadness tooas though his grim opponenthad beenovermastering him. He sat down and leanedhis headupon his hand like a man who is fagged out.
"Ithought it my duty to see youMr. Johnsonand totell you that it is a very nasty case. Yourwife'sheart is not strongand she has some symptomswhich I donot like. What I wanted to say is that ifyou wouldlike to have a second opinion I shall bevery gladto meet anyone whom you might suggest."
Johnsonwas so dazed by his want of sleep and theevil newsthat he could hardly grasp the doctor'smeaning. The otherseeing him hesitatethoughtthat hewas considering the expense.
"Smithor Hawley would come for two guineas"said he. "But I think Pritchard of the City Road isthe bestman."
"Ohyesbring the best man" cried Johnson.
"Pritchardwould want three guineas. He is aseniormanyou see."
"I'dgive him all I have if he would pull herthrough. Shall I run for him?"
"Yes. Go to my house first and ask for the greenbaizebag. The assistant will give it to you. Tellhim I wantthe A. C. E. mixture. Her heart is tooweak forchloroform. Then go for Pritchard and bringhim backwith you."
It washeavenly for Johnson to have somethingto do andto feel that he was of some use to hiswife. He ran swiftly to Bridport Placehisfootfallsclattering through the silent streets andthe bigdark policemen turning their yellow funnelsof lighton him as he passed. Two tugs at the night-bellbrought down a sleepyhalf-clad assistantwhohanded hima stoppered glass bottle and a cloth bagwhichcontained something which clinked when youmoved it. Johnson thrust the bottle into his pocketseized thegreen bagand pressing his hat firmlydown ranas hard as he could set foot to ground untilhe was inthe City Road and saw the name of Pritchardengravedin white upon a red ground. He bounded intriumph upthe three steps which led to the doorandas he didso there was a crash behind him. Hispreciousbottle was in fragments upon the pavement.
For amoment he felt as if it were his wife'sbody thatwas lying there. But the run had freshenedhis witsand he saw that the mischief might berepaired. He pulled vigorously at the night-bell.
"Wellwhat's the matter?" asked a gruff voice athiselbow. He started back and looked up at thewindowsbut there was no sign of life. He wasapproachingthe bell again with the intention ofpullingitwhen a perfect roar burst from the wall.
"Ican't stand shivering here all night" criedthevoice. "Say who you are and what you want or Ishut thetube."
Then forthe first time Johnson saw that the endof aspeaking-tube hung out of the wall just abovethe bell. He shouted up it--
"Iwant you to come with me to meet Dr. Miles at aconfinementat once."
"Howfar?" shrieked the irascible voice.
"TheNew North RoadHoxton."
"Myconsultation fee is three guineaspayable atthe time."
"Allright" shouted Johnson. "You are to bringa bottleof A. C. E. mixture with you."
"Allright! Wait a bit!"
Fiveminutes later an elderlyhard-faced manwithgrizzled hairflung open the door. As heemerged avoice from somewhere in the shadowscried--
"Mindyou take your cravatJohn" and heimpatientlygrowled something over his shoulder inreply.
Theconsultant was a man who had been hardened bya life ofceaseless labourand who had been drivenas so manyothers have beenby the needs of his ownincreasingfamily to set the commercial before thephilanthropicside of his profession. Yet beneathhis roughcrust he was a man with a kindly heart.
"Wedon't want to break a record" said hepulling upand panting after attempting to keep upwithJohnson for five minutes. "I would go quickerif Icouldmy dear sirand I quite sympathise withyouranxietybut really I can't manage it."
SoJohnsonon fire with impatiencehad to slowdown untilthey reached the New North Roadwhen heran aheadand had the door open for the doctor whenhe came. He heard the two meet outside the bed-roomand caughtscraps of their conversation. "Sorry toknock youup--nasty case--decent people." Then itsank intoa mumble and the door closed behind them.
Johnsonsat up in his chair nowlisteningkeenlyfor he knew that a crisis must be at hand.
He heardthe two doctors moving aboutand was abletodistinguish the step of Pritchardwhich had adrag initfrom the cleancrisp sound of theother'sfootfall. There was silence for a fewminutesand then a curious drunkenmumbling sing-song voicecame quavering upvery unlike anythingwhich behad heard hitherto. At the same time asweetishinsidious scentimperceptible perhaps toany nervesless strained than hiscrept down thestairs andpenetrated into the room. The voicedwindledinto a mere drone and finally sank away intosilenceand Johnson gave a long sigh of reliefforhe knewthat the drug had done its work and thatcome whatmightthere should be no more pain for thesufferer.
But soonthe silence became even more trying tohim thanthe cries had been. He had no clue now asto whatwas going onand his mind swarmed withhorriblepossibilities. He rose and went to thebottom ofthe stairs again. He heard the clink ofmetalagainst metaland the subdued murmur of thedoctors'voices. Then he heard Mrs. Peyton saysomethingin a tone as of fear or expostulationandagain thedoctors murmured together. For twentyminutes hestood there leaning against the walllisteningto the occasional rumbles of talk withoutbeing ableto catch a word of it. And then of asuddenthere rose out of the silence the strangestlittlepiping cryand Mrs. Peyton screamed out inherdelight and the man ran into the parlour andflunghimself down upon the horse-hair sofadrumminghis heelson it in his ecstasy.
But oftenthe great cat Fate lets us go only toclutch usagain in a fiercer grip. As minute afterminutepassed and still no sound came from above savethosethinglutinous criesJohnson cooled from hisfrenzy ofjoyand lay breathless with his earsstraining. They were moving slowly about. They weretalking insubdued tones. Still minute after minutepassingand no word from the voice for which helistened. His nerves were dulled by his night oftroubleand he waited in limp wretchedness upon hissofa. There he still sat when the doctors came downto him--abedraggledmiserable figure with his facegrimy andhis hair unkempt from his long vigil. Herose asthey enteredbracing himself against themantelpiece.
"Isshe dead?" he asked.
"Doingwell" answered the doctor.
And at thewords that little conventional spiritwhich hadnever known until that night the capacityfor fierceagony which lay within itlearned for thesecondtime that there were springs of joy also whichit hadnever tapped before. His impulse was to fallupon hiskneesbut he was shy before the doctors.
"CanI go up?"
"In afew minutes."
"I'msuredoctorI'm very--I'm very----" hegrewinarticulate. "Here are your three guineasDr.Pritchard. I wish they were three hundred."
"Sodo I" said the senior manand they laughedas theyshook hands.
Johnsonopened the shop door for them and heardtheir talkas they stood for an instant outside.
"Lookednasty at one time."
"Veryglad to have your help."
"DelightedI'm sure. Won't you step round andhave a cupof coffee?"
"Nothanks. I'm expecting another case."
The firmstep and the dragging one passed away tothe rightand the left. Johnson turned from the doorstill withthat turmoil of joy in his heart. Heseemed tobe making a new start in life. He feltthat hewas a stronger and a deeper man. Perhaps allthissuffering had an object then. It might prove tobe ablessing both to his wife and to him. The verythoughtwas one which he would have been incapable ofconceivingtwelve hours before. He was full of newemotions. If there had been a harrowing there hadbeen aplanting too.
"CanI come up?" he criedand thenwithoutwaitingfor an answerhe took the steps three at atime.
Mrs.Peyton was standing by a soapy bath with abundle inher hands. From under the curve of a brownshawlthere looked out at him the strangest littlered facewith crumpled featuresmoistloose lipsandeyelids which quivered like a rabbit's nostrils.
The weakneck had let the head topple overand itrestedupon the shoulder.
"KissitRobert!" cried the grandmother. "Kiss
But hefelt a resentment to the littleredblinkingcreature. He could not forgive it yetfor thatlong night of misery. He caught sight of awhite facein the bed and he ran towards it with suchlove andpity as his speech could find no words for.
"ThankGod it is over! Lucydearit wasdreadful!"
"ButI'm so happy now. I never was so happy inmy life."
Her eyeswere fixed upon the brown bundle.
"Youmustn't talk" said Mrs. Peyton.
"Butdon't leave me" whispered his wife.
So he satin silence with his hand in hers. Thelamp wasburning dim and the first cold light of dawnwasbreaking through the window. The night had beenlong anddark but the day was the sweeter and thepurer inconsequence. London was waking up. Theroar beganto rise from the street. Lives had comeand liveshad gonebut the great machine was stillworkingout its dim and tragic destiny.
It is hardfor the general practitioner who sitsamong hispatients both morning and eveningand seesthem intheir homes betweento steal time for onelittledaily breath of cleanly air. To win it hemust slipearly from his bed and walk out betweenshutteredshops when it is chill but very clearandall thingsare sharply outlinedas in a frost. Itis an hourthat has a charm of its ownwhenbut fora postmanor a milkmanone has the pavement tooneselfand even the most common thing takes anever-recurringfreshnessas though causewayandlampandsignboard had all wakened to the new day.
Then evenan inland city may seem beautifuland bearvirtue inits smoke-tainted air.
But it wasby the sea that I livedin a townthat wasunlovely enough were it not for its gloriousneighbour. And who cares for the town when one cansit on thebench at the headlandand look out overthe hugeblue bayand the yellow scimitar thatcurvesbefore it. I loved it when itsgreat facewas freckled with the fishing boatsand Iloved itwhen the big ships went pastfar outalittlehillock of white and no hullwith topsailscurvedlike a bodiceso stately and demure. Butmost ofall I loved it when no trace of man marredthemajesty of Natureand when the sun-burstsslanteddown on it from between the driftingrainclouds. Then I have seen the further edge drapedin thegauze of the driving rainwith its thin greyshadingunder the slow cloudswhile my headland wasgoldenand the sun gleamed upon the breakers andstruckdeep through the green waves beyondshowingup thepurple patches where the beds of seaweed arelying. Such a morning as thatwith the wind in hishairandthe spray on his lipsand the cry of theeddyinggulls in his earmay send a man back bracedafresh tothe reek of a sick-roomand the deaddrabwearinessof practice.
It was onsuch another day that I first saw myold man. He came to my bench just as I was leavingit. My eye must have picked him out even in acrowdedstreetfor he was a man of large frame andfinepresencewith something of distinction in theset of hislip and the poise of his head. He limpedup thewinding path leaning heavily upon his stickas thoughthose great shoulders had become too muchat lastfor the failing limbs that bore them. As heapproachedmy eyes caught Nature's dangersignalthat faint bluish tinge in nose and lip whichtells of alabouring heart.
"Thebrae is a little tryingsir" said I.
"Speaking as a physicianI should say that youwould dowell to rest here before you go further."
Heinclined his head in a statelyold-worldfashionand seated himself upon the bench. Seeingthat hehad no wish to speak I was silent alsobut Icould nothelp watching him out of the corners of myeyesforhe was such a wonderful survival of theearly halfof the centurywith his low-crownedcurly-brimmedhathis black satin tie which fastenedwith abuckle at the backandabove allhis largefleshyclean-shaven face shot with its mesh ofwrinkles. Those eyesere they had grown dimhadlooked outfrom the box-seat of mail coachesand hadseen theknots of navvies as they toiled on thebrownembankments. Those lips had smiled over thefirstnumbers of "Pickwick" and had gossiped of thepromisingyoung man who wrote them. The face itselfwas aseventy-year almanackand every seam an entryupon itwhere public as well as private sorrow leftitstrace. That pucker on the forehead stood for theMutinyperhaps; that line of care for the Crimeanwinteritmay be; and that last little sheaf ofwrinklesas my fancy hopedfor the death ofGordon. And soas I dreamed in my foolish waytheoldgentleman with the shining stock was goneand itwasseventy years of a great nation's life that tookshapebefore me on the headland in the morning.
But hesoon brought me back to earth again. Asherecovered his breath he took a letter out of hispocketandputting on a pair of horn-rimmed eye-glasseshe read it through very carefully. Withoutany designof playing the spy I could not helpobservingthat it was in a woman's hand. When he hadfinishedit he read it againand then sat with thecorners ofhis mouth drawn down and his eyes staringvacantlyout over the baythe most forlorn-lookingoldgentleman that ever I have seen. All that iskindlywithin me was set stirring by that wistfulfacebutI knew that he was in no humour for talkand soatlastwith my breakfast and my patientscallingmeI left him on the bench and started forhome.
I nevergave him another thought until the nextmorningwhenat the same hourhe turned up upontheheadlandand shared the bench which I had beenaccustomedto look upon as my own. He bowed againbeforesitting downbut was no more inclined thanformerlyto enter into conversation. There had beena changein him during the last twenty-four hoursand allfor the worse. The face seemed moreheavy andmore wrinkledwhile that ominous venoustinge wasmore pronounced as he panted up the hill.
The cleanlines of his cheek and chin were marred bya day'sgrowth of grey stubbleand his largeshapelyhead had lost something of the brave carriagewhich hadstruck me when first I glanced at him. Hehad aletter therethe sameor anotherbut stillin awoman's handand over this he was moping andmumblingin his senile fashionwith his browpuckeredand the corners of his mouth drawn downlike thoseof a fretting child. So I left himwitha vaguewonder as to who he might beand why asinglespring day should have wrought such a changeupon him.
Sointerested was I that next morning I was onthe lookout for him. Sure enoughat the same hourI saw himcoming up the hill; but very slowlywith abent backand a heavy head. It was shocking to me tosee thechange in him as he approached.
"I amafraid that our air does not agree withyousir"I ventured to remark.
But it wasas though he had no heart for talk.
He triedas I thoughtto make some fitting replybut itslurred off into a mumble and silence. Howbent andweak and old he seemed--ten years older atthe leastthan when first I had seen him! It went tomy heartto see this fine old fellow wastingawaybefore my eyes. There was the eternal letterwhich heunfolded with his shaking fingers. Who wasthis womanwhose words moved him so? Some daughterperhapsor granddaughterwho should have been thelight ofhis home instead of---- I smiled to findhow bitterI was growingand how swiftly I wasweaving aromance round an unshaven old man and hiscorrespondence. Yet all day he lingered in my mindand I hadfitful glimpses of those two tremblingblue-veinedknuckly hands with the paper rustlingbetweenthem.
I hadhardly hoped to see him again. Anotherday'sdecline mustI thoughthold him to his roomif not tohis bed. Greatthenwas my surprisewhenas Iapproached my benchI saw that he wasalreadythere. But as I came up to him I couldscarce besure that it was indeed the same man.
There werethe curly-brimmed hatand the shiningstockandthe horn glassesbut where were the stoopand thegrey-stubbledpitiable face? He was clean-shaven andfirm lippedwith a bright eye and a headthatpoised itself upon his great shoulders like aneagle on arock. His back was as straight and squareas agrenadier'sand he switched at the pebbles withhis stickin his exuberant vitality. In the button-hole ofhis well-brushed black coat there glinted agoldenblossomand the corner of a dainty redsilkhandkerchief lapped over from his breast pocket.
He mighthave been the eldest son of the wearycreaturewho had sat there the morning before.
"GoodmorningSirgood morning!" he cried witha merrywaggle of his cane.
"Goodmorning!" I answered how beautiful the bayislooking."
"YesSirbut you should have seen it justbefore thesun rose."
"Whathave you been here since then?"
"Iwas here when there was scarce light to seethe path."
"Youare a very early riser."
"Onoccasionsir; on occasion!" He cocked hiseye at meas if to gauge whether I were worthy of hisconfidence. "The fact issirthat my wife iscomingback to me to day."
I supposethat my face showed that I did notquite seethe force of the explanation. My eyestoomayhave given him assurance of sympathyfor hemovedquite close to me and began speaking in a lowconfidentialvoiceas if the matter were of suchweightthat even the sea-gulls must be kept out ofourcouncils.
"Areyou a married manSir?"
"NoI am not."
"Ahthen you cannot quite understand it. Mywife and Ihave been married for nearly fiftyyearsandwe have never been partednever atalluntilnow."
"Wasit for long?" I asked.
"Yessir. This is the fourth day. She had togo toScotland. A matter of dutyyou understandand thedoctors would not let me go. Not that Iwould haveallowed them to stop mebut she was ontheirside. Nowthank God! it is overand she maybe here atany moment."
"Yeshere. This headland and bench were oldfriends ofours thirty years ago. The people withwhom westay are notto tell the truthverycongenialand we havelittle privacy among them.
That iswhy we prefer to meet here. I could not besure whichtrain would bring herbut if she had comeby thevery earliest she would have found mewaiting."
"Inthat case----" said Irising.
"Nosirno" he entreated"I beg that you willstay. It does not weary youthis domestic talk ofmine?"
"Ihave been so driven inwards during these fewlast days!Ahwhat a nightmare it has been! Perhapsit mayseem strange to you that an old fellow like meshouldfeel like this."
"Nocredit to mesir! There's not a man onthisplanet but would feel the same if he hadthe goodfortune to be married to such a woman.
Perhapsbecause you see me like thisand hear mespeak ofour long life togetheryou conceive thatshe isoldtoo."
He laughedheartilyand his eyes twinkled at thehumour ofthe idea.
"She'sone of those womenyou knowwho haveyouth intheir heartsand so it can never be veryfar fromtheir faces. To me she's just as she waswhen shefirst took my hand in hers in '45. A weelittle bitstouterperhapsbut thenif she had afault as agirlit was that she was a shade tooslender. She was above me in stationyou know--I aclerkandshe the daughter of my employer. Oh! itwas quitea romanceI give you my wordand I wonher; andsomehowI have never got over thefreshnessand the wonder of it. To think that thatsweetlovely girl has walked by my side all throughlifeandthat I have been able----"
He stoppedsuddenlyand I glanced round at himinsurprise. He was shaking all overin every fibreof hisgreat body. His hands were clawing at thewoodworkand his feet shuffling on the gravel. Isaw whatit was. He was trying to risebut was soexcitedthat he could not. I half extended my handbut ahigher courtesy constrained me to draw it backagain andturn my face to the sea. An instantafterwardshe was up and hurrying down the path.
A womanwas coming towards us. She was quiteclosebefore he had seen her--thirty yards at theutmost. I know not if she had ever been as hedescribedheror whether it was but some ideal whichhe carriedin his brain. The person upon whom Ilooked wastallit is truebut she was thick andshapelesswith a ruddyfull-blown face and askirtgrotesquely gathered up. There was a greenribbon inher hatwhich jarred upon my eyesand herblouse-likebodice was full and clumsy. And this wasthe lovelygirlthe ever youthful! My heart sank asI thoughthow little such a woman might appreciatehimhowunworthy she might be of his love.
She cameup the path in her solid waywhile hestaggeredalong to meet her. Thenas they cametogetherlooking discreetly out of the furthestcorner ofmy eyeI saw that he put out both hishandswhile sheshrinking from a public caresstook oneof them in hers and shook it. As she did soI saw herfaceand I was easy in my mind for my oldman. God grant that when this hand is shakingandwhen thisback is boweda woman's eyes may look sointo mine.
ProfessorAinslie Grey had not come down tobreakfastat the usual hour. The presentationchiming-clockwhich stood between the terra-cottabusts ofClaude Bernard and of John Hunter upon thedining-roommantelpiece had rung out the half-hourand thethree-quarters. Now its golden hand wasvergingupon the nineand yet there were no signs ofthe masterof the house.
It was anunprecedented occurrence. During thetwelveyears that she had kept house for himhisyoungestsister had never known him a second behindhis time. She sat now in front of the high silvercoffee-potuncertain whether to order the gong to beresoundedor to wait on in silence. Either coursemight be amistake. Her brother was not a man whopermittedmistakes.
MissAinslie Grey was rather above the middleheightthinwith peeringpuckered eyesand theroundedshoulders which mark the bookish woman. Herface waslong and spareflecked withcolourabove the cheek-boneswith a reasonablethoughtfulforeheadand a dash of absolute obstinacyin herthin lips and prominent chin. Snow whitecuffs andcollarwith a plain dark dresscut withalmostQuaker-like simplicitybespoke the primnessof hertaste. An ebony cross hung over her flattenedchest. She sat very upright in her chairlisteningwithraised eyebrowsand swinging her eye-glassesbackwardsand forwards with a nervous gesture whichwaspeculiar to her.
Suddenlyshe gave a sharpsatisfied jerk of theheadandbegan to pour out the coffee. From outsidethere camethe dull thudding sound of heavy feet uponthickcarpet. The door swung openand the Professorenteredwith a quicknervous step. He nodded to hissisterand seating himself at the other side of thetablebegan to open the small pile of letters whichlay besidehis plate.
ProfessorAinslie Grey was at that time forty-threeyears of age--nearly twelve years older thanhissister. His career had been a brilliant one. AtEdinburghat Cambridgeand at Vienna he had laidthefoundations of his great reputationboth inphysiologyand in zoology.
HispamphletOn the Mesoblastic Origin ofExcitomotorNerve Rootshad won him his fellowshipof theRoyal Society; and his researchesUponthe Natureof Bathybiuswith some Remarks uponLithococcihad been translated into at least threeEuropeanlanguages. He had been referred to by oneof thegreatest living authorities as being the verytype andembodiment of all that was best in modernscience. No wonderthenthat when the commercialcity ofBirchespool decided to create a medicalschoolthey were only too glad to confer the chairofphysiology upon Mr. Ainslie Grey. They valued himthe morefrom the conviction that their class wasonly onestep in his upward journeyand that thefirstvacancy would remove him to some moreillustriousseat of learning.
In personhe was not unlike his sister. The sameeyesthesame contourthe same intellectualforehead. His lipshoweverwere firmerand hislongthinlower jaw was sharper and more decided.
He ran hisfinger and thumb down it from time totimeashe glanced over his letters.
"Thosemaids are very noisy" he remarkedas aclack oftongues sounded in the distance.
"Itis Sarah" said his sister; "I shall speakabout it."
She hadhanded over his coffee-cupand wassipping ather ownglancing furtively through hernarrowedlids at the austere face of her brother.
"Thefirst great advance of the human race"said theProfessor"was whenby thedevelopmentof their left frontal convolutionstheyattainedthe power of speech. Their second advancewas whenthey learned to control that power. Womanhas notyet attained the second stage."
He halfclosed his eyes as he spokeand thrusthis chinforwardbut as he ceased he had a trick ofsuddenlyopening both eyes very wide and staringsternly athis interlocutor.
"I amnot garrulousJohn" said his sister.
"NoAda; in many respects you approach thesuperioror male type."
TheProfessor bowed over his egg with the mannerof one whoutters a courtly compliment; but the ladypoutedand gave an impatient little shrug of hershoulders.
"Youwere late this morningJohn" she remarkedafter apause.
"YesAda; I slept badly. Some little cerebralcongestionno doubt due to over-stimulation of thecenters ofthought. I have been a little disturbedin mymind."
His sisterstared across at him in astonishment.
TheProfessor's mental processes had hitherto been asregular ashis habits. Twelve years' continualintercoursehad taught her that he lived in a sereneandrarefied atmosphere of scientific calmhighabove thepetty emotions which affect humbler minds.
"Youare surprisedAda" he remarked. "WellIcannotwonder at it. I should have been surprisedmyself ifI had been told that I was so sensitive tovascularinfluences. Forafter allalldisturbancesare vascular if you probe them deepenough. I am thinking of getting married."
"NotMrs. O'James" cried Ada Greylaying down heregg-spoon.
"Mydearyou have the feminine quality ofreceptivityvery remarkably developed. Mrs. O'Jamesis thelady in question."
"Butyou know so little of her. The Esdailesthemselvesknow so little. She is really only anacquaintancealthough she is staying at The Lindens.
Would itnot be wise to speak to Mrs. Esdaile firstJohn?"
"I donot thinkAdathat Mrs. Esdaile is at alllikely tosay anything which would materially affectmy courseof action. I have given the matter dueconsideration. The scientific mind is slow atarrivingat conclusionsbut having once formed themit is notprone to change. Matrimony is the naturalconditionof the human race. I haveas you knowbeen soengaged in academical and other workthat Ihave hadno time to devote to merely personalquestions. It is different nowand I see no validreason whyI should forego this opportunity ofseeking asuitable helpmate."
"Andyou are engaged?"
"HardlythatAda. I ventured yesterday toindicateto the lady that I was prepared to submit tothe commonlot of humanity. I shall wait upon herafter mymorning lectureand learn how far myproposalsmeet with her acquiescence. But you frownAda!"
His sisterstartedand made an effort to concealherexpression of annoyance. She even stammered outsome fewwords of congratulationbut a vacant lookhad comeinto her brother's eyesand he wasevidentlynot listening to her.
"I amsureJohnthat I wish you the happinesswhich youdeserve. If I hesitated at allit isbecause Iknow how much is at stakeand because thething isso suddenso unexpected." Her thin whitehand stoleup to the black cross upon her bosom.
"Theseare moments when we need guidanceJohn. If Icouldpersuade you to turn to spiritual----"
TheProfessor waved the suggestion away with adeprecatinghand.
"Itis useless to reopen that question" he said.
"Wecannot argue upon it. You assume more than I cangrant. I am forced to dispute your premises. Wehave nocommon basis."
"Youhave no faith" she said.
"Ihave faith in those great evolutionary forceswhich areleading the human race to some unknown butelevatedgoal."
"Youbelieve in nothing."
"Onthe contrarymy dear AdaI believe in thedifferentiationof protoplasm."
She shookher head sadly. It was the one subjectupon whichshe ventured to dispute her brother'sinfallibility.
"Thisis rather beside the question" remarkedtheProfessorfolding up his napkin. "If I am notmistakenthere is some possibility of anothermatrimonialevent occurring in the family. EhAda?
His smalleyes glittered with sly facetiousnessas he shota twinkle at his sister. She sat verystiffandtraced patterns upon the cloth with thesugar-tongs.
"Dr.James M`Murdo O'Brien----" said theProfessorsonorously.
"Don'tJohndon't!" cried Miss Ainslie Grey.
"Dr.James M`Murdo O'Brien" continued herbrotherinexorably"is a man who has already madehis markupon the science of the day. He is my firstand mymost distinguished pupil. I assure youAdathat his`Remarks upon the Bile-Pigmentswithspecialreference to Urobilin' is likely to live asaclassic. It is not too much to say that hehasrevolutionised our views about urobilin."
He pausedbut his sister sat silentwith benthead andflushed cheeks. The little ebony cross roseand fellwith her hurried breathings.
"Dr.James M`Murdo O'Brien hasas you knowtheoffer ofthe physiological chair at Melbourne. Hehas beenin Australia five yearsand has a brilliantfuturebefore him. To-day he leaves us forEdinburghand in two months' timehe goes out totake overhis new duties. You know his feelingtowardsyou. Itrests with you as to whether hegoes outalone. Speaking for myselfI cannotimagineany higher mission for a woman of culturethan to gothrough life in the company of a man whois capableof such a research as that which Dr. JamesM`MurdoO'Brien has brought to a successfulconclusion."
"Hehas not spoken to me" murmured the lady.
"Ahthere are signs which are more subtle thanspeech"said her brotherwagging his head. "Butyou arepale. Your vasomotor system is excited.
Yourarterioles have contracted. Let me entreat youto composeyourself. I think I hear the carriage. Ifancy thatyou may have a visitor this morningAda.
You willexcuse me now."
With aquick glance at the clock he strode offinto thehalland within a few minutes he wasrattlingin his quietwell-appointed broughamthroughthe brick-lined streets of Birchespool.
Hislecture overProfessor Ainslie Grey paid avisit tohis laboratorywhere he adjusted severalscientificinstrumentsmade a note as to theprogressof three separate infusions of bacteriacuthalf-a-dozensections with a microtomeand finallyresolvedthe difficulties of seven differentgentlemenwho were pursuing researches in as manyseparatelines of inquiry. Having thusconscientiouslyand methodically completed theroutine ofhis dutieshe returned to his carriageandordered the coachman to drive him to The Lindens.
His faceas he drove was cold and impassivebut hedrew hisfingers from time to time down his prominentchin witha jerkytwitchy movement.
TheLindens was an old-fashionedivy-clad housewhich hadonce been in the countrybut was nowcaught inthe longred-brick feelers of the growingcity. It still stood back from the road in theprivacy ofits own grounds. A winding pathlinedwithlaurel bushesled to the arched and porticoedentrance. To the right was a lawnand at the farsideunder the shadow of a hawthorna lady sat in agarden-chairwith a book in her hands. At the clickof thegate she startedand the Professorcatchingsight ofherturned away from the doorandstrode inher direction.
"What!won't you go in and see Mrs. Esdaile?" sheaskedsweeping out from under the shadow of thehawthorn.
She was asmall womanstrongly femininefromthe richcoils of her light-coloured hair to thedaintygarden slipper which peeped from under hercream-tinteddress. One tiny well-gloved hand wasoutstretchedin greetingwhile the other pressed athickgreen-covered volume against her side. Herdecisionand quicktactful manner bespoke the maturewoman ofthe world; but her upraised face hadpreserveda girlish and even infantile expression ofinnocencein its largefearlessgrey eyesandsensitivehumorous mouth. Mrs. O'James was a widowand shewas two-and-thirty years of age; but neitherfact couldhave been deduced from her appearance.
"Youwill surely go in and see Mrs. Esdaile" sherepeatedglancing up at him with eyes which had inthemsomething between a challenge and a caress.
"Idid not come to see Mrs. Esdaile" heansweredwith no relaxation of his cold and gravemanner; "Icame to see you."
"I amsure I should be highly honoured" shesaidwithjust the slightest little touch of broguein heraccent. "What are the students to dowithouttheir Professor?"
"Ihave already completed my academic duties.
Take myarmand we shall walk in the sunshine.
Surely wecannot wonder that Eastern people shouldhave madea deity of the sun. It is the greatbeneficentforce of Nature--man's ally against coldsterilityand all that is abhorrent to him. Whatwere youreading?"
"Hale'sMatter and Life."
TheProfessor raised his thick eyebrows.
"Hale!"he saidand then again in a kind ofwhisper"Hale!"
"Youdiffer from him?" she asked.
"Itis not I who differ from him. I am only amonad--athing of no moment. The whole tendency ofthehighest plane of modern thought differs from him.
He defendsthe indefensible. He is an excellentobserverbut a feeble reasoner. I should notrecommendyou to found your conclusions upon Hale."
"Imust read Nature's Chronicle to counteract hisperniciousinfluence" said Mrs. O'Jameswith asoftcooing laugh.
Nature'sChronicle was one of the many books inwhichProfessor Ainslie Grey had enforced thenegativedoctrines of scientific agnosticism.
"Itis a faulty work" said he; "I cannotrecommendit. I would rather refer you to thestandardwritings of some of my older and moreeloquentcolleagues."
There wasa pause in their talk as they paced upand downon the greenvelvet-like lawn in the genialsunshine.
"Haveyou thought at all" he asked at last"ofthe matterupon which I spoke to you last night?"
She saidnothingbut walked by his side with hereyesaverted and her face aslant.
"Iwould not hurry you unduly" he continued. "Iknow thatit is a matter which can scarcely bedecidedoff-hand. In my own caseit cost me somethoughtbefore I ventured to make the suggestion. Iam not anemotional manbut I am conscious in yourpresenceof the great evolutionary instinct whichmakeseither sex the complement of the other."
"Youbelieve in lovethen?" she askedwith atwinklingupward glance.
"I amforced to."
"Andyet you can deny the soul?"
"Howfar these questions are psychic and how farmaterialis still sub judice" said theProfessorwith an air of toleration. "Protoplasmmay proveto be the physical basis of love as well asof life."
"Howinflexible you are!" she exclaimed; "youwould drawlove down to the level of physics."
"Ordraw physics up to the level of love."
"Comethat is much better" she criedwith hersympatheticlaugh. "That is really very prettyandputsscience in quite a delightful light."
Her eyessparkledand she tossed her chin withtheprettywilful air of a woman who is mistress ofthesituation.
"Ihave reason to believe" said the Professor"thatmy position here will prove to be only astepping-stoneto some wider scene of scientificactivity. Yeteven heremy chair brings me in somefifteenhundred pounds a yearwhich is supplementedby a fewhundreds from my books. I should thereforebe in aposition to provide you with those comfortsto whichyou are accustomed. So much for mypecuniaryposition. As to my constitutionit hasalwaysbeen sound. I have never suffered from anyillness inmy lifesave fleeting attacks ofcephalalgiathe result of too prolonged astimulationof the centres of cerebration. My fatherand motherhad no sign of any morbid diathesisbut Iwill notconceal from you that my grandfather wasafflictedwith podagra."
Mrs.O'James looked startled.
"Isthat very serious?" she asked.
"Itis gout" said the Professor.
"Ohis that all? It sounded much worse thanthat."
"Itis a grave taintbut I trust that I shallnot be avictim to atavism. I have laid these factsbefore youbecause they are factors which cannot beoverlookedin forming your decision. May I ask nowwhetheryou see your way to accepting my proposal?"
He pausedin his walkand looked earnestly andexpectantlydown at her.
A strugglewas evidently going on in her mind.
Her eyeswere cast downher little slipper tappedthe lawnand her fingers played nervously with herchatelain. Suddenlywith a sharpquick gesturewhich hadin it something of ABANDON andrecklessnessshe held out her hand to her companion.
"Iaccept" she said.
They werestanding under the shadow of thehawthorn. He stooped gravely downand kissed herglove-coveredfingers.
"Itrust that you may never have cause to regretyourdecision" he said.
"Itrust that you never may" she criedwith aheavingbreast.
There weretears in her eyesand her lipstwitchedwith some strong emotion.
"Comeinto the sunshine again" said he. "It isthe greatrestorative. Your nerves are shaken. Somelittlecongestion of the medulla and pons. It isalwaysinstructive to reduce psychic oremotionalconditions to their physicalequivalents. You feel that your anchor is still firmin abottom of ascertained fact."
"Butit is so dreadfully unromantic" said Mrs.O'Jameswith her old twinkle.
"Romanceis the offspring of imagination and ofignorance. Where science throws her calmclearlightthere is happily no room for romance."
"Butis not love romance?" she asked.
"Notat all. Love has been taken away from thepoetsandhas been brought within the domain of truescience. It may prove to be one of the great cosmicelementaryforces. When the atom of hydrogen drawsthe atomof chlorine towards it to form the perfectedmoleculeof hydrochloric acidthe force which itexerts maybe intrinsically similar to that whichdraws meto you. Attraction and repulsion appear tobe theprimary forces. This is attraction."
"Andhere is repulsion" said Mrs. O'Jamesas astoutflorid lady came sweeping across the lawn intheirdirection. "So glad you have come outMrs.Esdaile! Here is Professor Grey."
"Howdo you doProfessor?" said the ladywithsomelittle pomposity of manner. "You were very wiseto stayout here on so lovely a day. Is it notheavenly?"
"Itis certainly very fine weather" theProfessoranswered.
"Listento the wind sighing in the trees!" criedMrs.Esdaileholding up one finger. "it is Nature'slullaby. Could you not imagine itProfessor Greyto be thewhisperings of angels?"
"Theidea had not occurred to memadam."
"AhProfessorI have always the same complaintagainstyou. A want of rapport with the deepermeaningsof nature. Shall I say a want ofimagination. You do not feel an emotional thrill atthesinging of that thrush?"
"Iconfess that I am not conscious of oneMrs.Esdaile."
"Orat the delicate tint of that background ofleaves? See the rich greens!"
"Chlorophyll"murmured the Professor.
"Scienceis so hopelessly prosaic. It dissectsandlabelsand loses sight of the great things initsattention to the little ones. You have a pooropinion ofwoman's intellectProfessor Grey. Ithink thatI have heard you say so."
"Itis a question of avoirdupois" said theProfessorclosing his eyes and shrugging hisshoulders. "The female cerebrum averages two ouncesless inweight than the male. No doubt there areexceptions. Nature is always elastic."
"Butthe heaviest thing is not always thestrongest"said Mrs. O'Jameslaughing. "Isn'tthere alaw of compensation in science? May wenot hopeto make up in quality for what we lackinquantity?"
"Ithink not" remarked the Professorgravely.
"Butthere is your luncheon-gong. Nothank youMrs.EsdaileIcannot stay. My carriage is waiting.
Good-bye. Good-byeMrs. O'James."
He raisedhis hat and stalked slowly away amongthe laurelbushes.
"Hehas no taste" said Mrs. Esdaile--" no eyeforbeauty."
"Onthe contrary" Mrs. O'James answeredwith asaucylittle jerk of the chin. "He has just asked meto be hiswife."
AsProfessor Ainslie Grey ascended the steps ofhis housethe hall-door opened and a dappergentlemanstepped briskly out. He was somewhatsallow inthe facewith darkbeady eyesand ashortblack beard with an aggressive bristle.
Thoughtand work had left their traces upon his facebut hemoved with the brisk activity of a man who hadnot yetbade good-bye to his youth.
"I'min luck's way" he cried. "I wanted to seeyou."
"Thencome back into the library" said theProfessor;"you must stay and have lunch with us."
The twomen entered the halland the Professorled theway into his private sanctum. He motionedhiscompanion into an arm-chair.
"Itrust that you have been successfulO'Brien"said he. "I should be loath to exercise any unduepressureupon my sister Ada; but I have given her tounderstandthat there is no one whom I should preferfor abrother-in-law to my most brilliant scholarthe authorof Some Remarks upon the Bile-Pigmentswithspecial reference to Urobilin."
"Youare very kindProfessor Grey--you havealwaysbeen very kind" said the other. "IapproachedMiss Grey upon the subject; she did notsay No."
"No;she proposed to leave the matter open untilmy returnfrom Edinburgh. I go to-dayas you knowand I hopeto commence my research to-morrow."
"Onthe comparative anatomy of the vermiformappendixby James M`Murdo O'Brien" said theProfessorsonorously. "It is a glorious subject--asubjectwhich lies at the very root of evolutionaryphilosophy."
"Ah!she is the dearest girl" cried O'Brienwith asudden little spurt of Celtic enthusiasm--"sheis thesoul of truth and of honour."
"Thevermiform appendix----" began the Professor.
"Sheis an angel from heaven" interrupted theother. "I fear that it is my advocacy of scientificfreedom inreligious thought which stands in my waywith her."
"Youmust not truckle upon that point. You mustbe true toyour convictions; let there be nocompromisethere."
"Myreason is true to agnosticismand yet I amconsciousof a void--a vacuum. I had feelings at theold churchat home between the scent of the incenseand theroll of the organsuch as I have neverexperiencedin the laboratory or the lecture-room."
"Sensuous-purelysensuous" said the Professorrubbinghis chin. "Vague hereditary tendenciesstirredinto life by the stimulation of the nasal andauditorynerves."
"Maybesomaybe so" the younger man answeredthoughtfully. "But this was not what I wished tospeak toyou about. Before I enter your familyyoursister andyou have a claim to know all that I cantell youabout my career. Of my worldly prospects Ihavealready spoken to you. There is only one pointwhich Ihave omitted to mention. I am a widower."
TheProfessor raised his eyebrows.
"Thisis news indeed" said he.
"Imarried shortly after my arrival in Australia.
MissThurston was her name. I met her in society.
It was amost unhappy match."
Somepainful emotion possessed him. His quickexpressivefeatures quiveredand his white handstightenedupon the arms of the chair. The Professorturnedaway towards the window.
"Youare the best judge" he remarked "but Ishould notthink that it was necessary to go intodetails."
"Youhave a right to know everything--you andMissGrey. It is not a matter on which I can wellspeak toher direct. Poor Jinny was the best ofwomenbutshe was open to flatteryand liable to bemisled bydesigning persons. She was untrue to meGrey. It is a hard thing to say of the deadbut shewas untrueto me. She fled to Auckland with a manwhom shehad known before her marriage. The brigwhichcarried them founderedand not a soul wassaved."
"Thisis very painfulO'Brien" said theProfessorwith a deprecatory motion of his hand. "Icannotseehoweverhow it affects your relation tomysister."
"Ihave eased my conscience" said O'Brienrisingfrom his chair; "I have told you all thatthere isto tell. I should not like the story toreach youthrough any lips but my own."
"Youare rightO'Brien. Your action hasbeen mosthonourable and considerate. But youare not toblame in the mattersave that perhaps youshowed alittle precipitancy in choosing a life-partnerwithout due care and inquiry."
O'Briendrew his hand across his eyes.
"Poorgirl!" he cried. "God help meI love herstill! But I must go."
"Youwill lunch with us?"
"NoProfessor; I have my packing still to do. Ihavealready bade Miss Grey adieu. In two months Ishall seeyou again."
"Youwill probably find me a married man."
"YesI have been thinking of it."
"Mydear Professorlet me congratulate you withall myheart. I had no idea. Who is the lady?"
"Mrs.O'James is her name--a widow of the samenationalityas yourself. But to return to matters ofimportanceI should be very happy to see the proofsof yourpaper upon the vermiform appendix. I may beable tofurnish you with material for a footnote ortwo."
"Yourassistance will be invaluable to me" saidO'Brienwith enthusiasmand the two men parted inthe hall. The Professor walked back into the dining-roomwhere his sister was already seated at theluncheon-table.
"Ishall be married at the registrar's" heremarked;"I should strongly recommend you to dothe same."
ProfessorAinslie Grey was as good as his word.
Afortnight's cessation of his classes gave him anopportunitywhich was too good to let pass. Mrs.O'Jameswas an orphanwithout relations and almostwithoutfriends in the country. There was noobstaclein the way of a speedy wedding. They weremarriedaccordinglyin the quietest mannerpossibleand went off to Cambridge togetherwheretheProfessor and his charming wife were present atseveralacademic observancesand varied the routineof theirhoneymoon by incursions into biologicallaboratoriesand medical libraries. Scientificfriendswere loud in their congratulationsnot onlyupon Mrs.Grey's beautybut upon the unusualquicknessand intelligence which she displayed indiscussingphysiological questions. The Professorwashimself astonished at the accuracy of herinformation. "You have a remarkable range ofknowledgefor a womanJeannette" he remarked uponmore thanone occasion. He was even prepared toadmit thather cerebrum might be of the normalweight.
One foggydrizzling morning they returned toBirchespoolfor the next day would re-open thesessionand Professor Ainslie Grey prided himselfuponhaving never once in his life failed toappear inhis lecture-room at the very stroke ofthe hour. Miss Ada Grey welcomed them with aconstrainedcordialityand handed over the keys ofoffice tothe new mistress. Mrs. Grey pressed herwarmly toremainbut she explained that she hadalreadyaccepted an invitation which would engage herfor somemonths. The same evening she departed forthe southof England.
A coupleof days later the maid carried a cardjust afterbreakfast into the library where theProfessorsat revising his morning lecture. Itannouncedthe re-arrival of Dr. James M`MurdoO'Brien. Their meeting was effusively genial on thepart ofthe younger manand coldly precise on thatof hisformer teacher.
"Yousee there have been changes" said theProfessor.
"So Iheard. Miss Grey told me in her lettersand I readthe notice in the British Medical Journal.
So it'sreally married you are. How quickly andquietlyyou have managed it all!"
"I amconstitutionally averse to anything in thenature ofshow or ceremony. My wife is a sensiblewoman--Imay even go the length of saying thatfor awomansheis abnormally sensible. She quite agreedwith me inthe course which I have adopted."
"Andyour research on Vallisneria?"
"Thismatrimonial incident has interrupted itbut I haveresumed my classesand we shall soonbe quitein harness again."
"Imust see Miss Grey before I leave England. Wehavecorrespondedand I think that all will be well.
She mustcome out with me. I don't think I could gowithouther."
TheProfessor shook his head.
"Yournature is not so weak as you pretend" hesaid. "Questions of this sort areafter allquitesubordinateto the great duties of life."
"Youwould have me take out my Celtic soul andput in aSaxon one" he said. "Either my brain istoo smallor my heart is too big. But when may Icall andpay my respects to Mrs. Grey? Will she beat homethis afternoon?"
"Sheis at home now. Come into the morning-room.
She willbe glad to make your acquaintance."
Theywalked across the linoleum-paved hall. TheProfessoropened the door of the roomand walked infollowedby his friend. Mrs. Grey was sitting in abasket-chairby the windowlight and fairy-like in aloose-flowingpink morning-gown. Seeing a visitorshe roseand swept towards them. The Professor hearda dullthud behind him. O'Brien had fallen back intoa chairwith his hand pressed tight to his side.
Mrs. Greystopped dead in her advanceand staredat himwith a face from which every expression hadbeenstruck outsave one of astonishment and horror.
Then witha sharp intaking of the breath she reeledand wouldhave fallen had the Professor not thrownhis longnervous arm round her.
"Trythis sofa" said he.
She sankback among the cushions with the samewhitecolddead look upon her face. The Professorstood withhis back to the empty fireplace andglancedfrom the one to the other.
"SoO'Brien" he said at last"you have alreadymade theacquaintance of my wife!"
"Yourwife" cried his friend hoarsely. "She isno wife ofyours. God help meshe is MY wife."
TheProfessor stood rigidly upon the hearthrug.
His longthin fingers were intertwinedand his headsunk alittle forward. His two companions had eyesonly foreach other.
"Howcould you leave me soJinny? How could youhave theheart to do it? I thought you were dead. Imournedfor your death--ayand you have made memourn foryou living. You have withered my life."
She madeno answerbut lay back among hercushionswith her eyes still fixed upon him.
"Whydo you not speak?"
"Becauseyou are rightJames. I HAVE treatedyoucruelly--shamefully. But it is not as bad as youthink."
"Youfled with De Horta."
"NoI did not. At the last moment my betternatureprevailed. He went alone. But I was ashamedto comeback after what I had written to you. Icould notface you. I took passage alone to Englandunder anew nameand here I have lived ever since.
It seemedto me that I was beginning life again. Iknew thatyou thought I was drowned. Who could havedreamedthat fate would throw us together again!
When theProfessor asked me----"
Shestopped and gave a gasp for breath.
"Youare faint" said the Professor--"keep thehead low;it aids the cerebral circulation." Heflatteneddown the cushion. "I am sorry to leaveyouO'Brien; but I have my class duties to look to.
Possibly Imay find you here when I return."
With agrim and rigid face he strode out of theroom. Not one of the three hundred students wholistenedto his lecture saw any change in his mannerandappearanceor could have guessed that theausteregentleman in front of them had found outat lasthow hard it is to rise above one's humanity.
Thelecture overhe performed his routine duties inthelaboratoryand then drove back to his own house.
He did notenter by the front doorbut passedthroughthe garden to the folding glass casementwhich ledout of the morning-room. As he approachedhe heardhis wife's voice and O'Brien's in loud andanimatedtalk. He paused among the rose-bushesuncertainwhether to interrupt them or no. Nothingwasfurther from his nature than play theeavesdropper;but as he stoodstill hesitatingwords fellupon his ear which struck him rigid andmotionless.
"Youare still my wifeJinny" said O'Brien; "Iforgiveyou from the bottom of my heart. I love youand I havenever ceased to love youthough you hadforgottenme."
"NoJamesmy heart was always in Melbourne. Ihavealways been yours. I thought that it was betterfor youthat I should seem to be dead."
"Youmust choose between us nowJinny. If youdetermineto remain hereI shall not open my lips.
Thereshall be no scandal. Ifon the other handyou comewith meit's little I care about theworld'sopinion. Perhaps I am as much to blame asyou. I thought too much of my work and too little ofmy wife."
TheProfessor heard the cooingcaressing laughwhich heknew so well.
"Ishall go with youJames" she said.
"Thepoor Professor! But he will not mind muchJames; hehas no heart."
"Wemust tell him our resolution."
"Thereis no need" said Professor Ainslie Greysteppingin through the open casement. "I haveoverheardthe latter part of your conversation. Ihesitatedto interrupt you before you came to aconclusion."
O'Brienstretched out his hand and took that ofthewoman. They stood together with the sunshine ontheirfaces. The Professor paused at the casementwith hishands behind his backand his long blackshadowfell between them.
"Youhave come to a wise decision" said he. "Goback toAustralia togetherand let what has passedbe blottedout of your lives."
"Butyou--you----" stammered O'Brien.
TheProfessor waved his hand.
"Nevertrouble about me" he said.
The womangave a gasping cry.
"Whatcan I do or say?" she wailed. "How could Ihaveforeseen this? I thought my old life was dead.
But it hascome back againwith all its hopes anditsdesires. What can I say to youAinslie? Ihavebrought shame and disgrace upon a worthy man. Ihaveblasted your life. How you must hate and loatheme! I wish to God that I had never been born!"
"Ineither hate nor loathe youJeannette" saidtheProfessorquietly. "You are wrong in regrettingyourbirthfor you have a worthy mission before youin aidingthe life-work of a man who has shownhimselfcapable of the highest order of scientificresearch. I cannot with justice blame you personallyfor whathas occurred. How far the individual monadis to beheld responsible for hereditary andengrainedtendenciesis a question upon whichsciencehas not yet said her last word."
He stoodwith his finger-tips touchingand hisbodyinclined as one who is gravely expounding adifficultand impersonal subject. O'Brien hadsteppedforward to say somethingbut the other'sattitudeand manner froze the words upon his lips.
Condolenceor sympathy would be an impertinence toone whocould so easily merge his private griefs inbroadquestions of abstract philosophy.
"Itis needless to prolong the situation" theProfessorcontinuedin the same measured tones. "Mybroughamstands at the door. I beg that you will useit as yourown. Perhaps it would be as well that youshouldleave the town without unnecessary delay.
YourthingsJeannetteshall be forwarded."
O'Brienhesitated with a hanging head.
"Ihardly dare offer you my hand" he said.
"Onthe contrary. I think that of the three ofus youcome best out of the affair. You have nothingto beashamed of."
"Ishall see that the matter is put to her in itstruelight. Good-bye! Let me have a copy of yourrecentresearch. Good-byeJeannette!"
Theirhands metand for one short moment theireyesalso. It was only a glancebut for the firstand lasttime the woman's intuition cast a light foritselfinto the dark places of a strong man's soul.
She gave alittle gaspand her other hand rested foraninstantas white and as light as thistle-downupon hisshoulder.
"JamesJames!" she cried. "Don't you see that heisstricken to the heart?"
He turnedher quietly away from him.
"I amnot an emotional man" he said. "I have myduties--myresearch on Vallisneria. The brougham isthere. Your cloak is in the hall. Tell John whereyou wishto be driven. He will bring you anythingyou need. Now go."
His lasttwo words were so suddenso volcanicin suchcontrast to his measured voice and mask-like facethat they swept the two away fromhim. He closed the door behind them and paced slowlyup anddown the room. Then he passed into thelibraryand looked out over the wire blind. Thecarriagewas rolling away. He caught a last glimpseof thewoman who had been his wife. He saw thefemininedroop of her headand the curve of herbeautifulthroat.
Under somefoolishaimless impulsehe took afew quicksteps towards the door. Then he turnedandthrowing himself into his study-chair he plungedback intohis work.
There waslittle scandal about this singulardomesticincident. The Professor had few personalfriendsand seldom went into society. His marriagehad beenso quiet that most of his colleagues hadneverceased to regard him as a bachelor. Mrs.Esdaileand a few others might talkbut their fieldfor gossipwas limitedfor they could only guessvaguely atthe cause of this sudden separation.
TheProfessor was as punctual as ever at hisclassesand as zealous in directing the laboratorywork ofthose who studied under him. His own privateresearcheswere pushed on with feverish energy. Itwas nouncommon thing for his servantswhen theycame downof a morningto hear the shrillscratchingsof his tireless penor to meet him onthestaircase as he ascendedgrey and silentto hisroom. In vain his friends assured him that such alife mustundermine his health. He lengthened hishoursuntil day and night were one longceaselesstask.
Graduallyunder this discipline a change cameover hisappearance. His featuresalways inclinedtogauntnessbecame even sharper and morepronounced. There were deep lines about his templesand acrosshis brow. His cheek was sunken and hiscomplexionbloodless. His knees gave under him whenhe walked;and once when passing out of his lecture-room hefell and had to be assisted to his carriage.
This wasjust before the end of the session andsoon afterthe holidays commenced the professors whostillremained in Birchespool were shocked to hearthat theirbrother of the chair of physiology hadsunk solow that no hopes could be entertained of hisrecovery. Two eminent physicians had consulted overhis casewithout being able to give a name to theaffectionfrom which he suffered. A steadilydecreasingvitality appeared to be the only symptom--a bodilyweakness which left the mind unclouded. Hewas muchinterested himself in his own caseand madenotes ofhis subjective sensations as an aid todiagnosis. Of his approaching end he spoke inhis usualunemotional and somewhat pedantic fashion.
"Itis the assertion" he said"of the liberty of theindividualcell as opposed to the cell-commune. Itis thedissolution of a co-operative society. Theprocess isone of great interest."
And so onegrey morning his co-operative societydissolved. Very quietly and softly he sank into hiseternalsleep. His two physicians felt some slightembarrassmentwhen called upon to fill in hiscertificate.
"Itis difficult to give it a name" said one.
"Very"said the other.
"Ifhe were not such an unemotional manI shouldhave saidthat he had died from some sudden nervousshock--fromin factwhat the vulgar would call abrokenheart."
"Idon't think poor Grey was that sort of a manat all."
"Letus call it cardiacanyhow" said the olderphysician.
So theydid so.
Therelations between Douglas Stone and thenotoriousLady Sannox were very well known both amongthefashionable circles of which she was a brilliantmemberand the scientific bodies which numbered himamongtheir most illustrious confreres. Therewasnaturallythereforea very widespread interestwhen itwas announced one morning that the lady hadabsolutelyand for ever taken the veiland that theworldwould see her no more. Whenat the very tailof thisrumourthere came the assurance that thecelebratedoperating surgeonthe man of steelnerveshad been found in the morning by his valetseated onone side of his bedsmiling pleasantlyupon theuniversewith both legs jammed into oneside ofhis breeches and his great brain about asvaluableas a cap full of porridgethe matter wasstrongenough to give quite a little thrill ofinterestto folk who had never hoped that their jadednerveswere capable of such a sensation.
DouglasStone in his prime was one of themostremarkable men in England. Indeedhecouldhardly be said to have ever reached his primefor he wasbut nine-and-thirty at the time of thislittleincident. Those who knew him best were awarethatfamous as he was as a surgeonhe might havesucceededwith even greater rapidity in any of adozenlines of life. He could have cut his way tofame as asoldierstruggled to it as an explorerbulliedfor it in the courtsor built it out ofstone andiron as an engineer. He was born to begreatforhe could plan what another man dare notdoand hecould do what another man dare not plan.
In surgerynone could follow him. His nervehisjudgmenthis intuitionwere things apart. Againand againhis knife cut away deathbut grazed theverysprings of life in doing ituntil hisassistantswere as white as the patient. His energyhisaudacityhis full-blooded self-confidence--doesnot thememory of them still linger to the south ofMaryleboneRoad and the north of Oxford Street?
His viceswere as magnificent as his virtuesandinfinitelymore picturesque. Large as was hisincomeand it was the third largest of allprofessionalmen in Londonit was far beneath theluxury ofhis living. Deep in his complex nature laya richvein of sensualismat the sport of which heplaced allthe prizes of his life. The eyetheearthetouchthe palate--all were his masters.
Thebouquet of old vintagesthe scent of rareexoticsthe curves and tints of the daintiestpotteriesof Europe--it was to these that the quick-runningstream of gold was transformed. And thenthere camehis sudden mad passion for Lady Sannoxwhen asingle interview with two challenging glancesand awhispered word set him ablaze. She was theloveliestwoman in Londonand the only one to him.
He was oneof the handsomest men in Londonbut notthe onlyone to her. She had a liking for newexperiencesand was gracious to most men who wooedher. It may have been cause or it may have beeneffectthat Lord Sannox looked fiftythough he wasbutsix-and-thirty.
He was aquietsilentneutral-tinted manthislordwiththin lips and heavy eyelidsmuch given togardeningand full of home-like habits. He had atone timebeen fond of actinghad even rented atheatre inLondonand on its boards had first seenMissMarion Dawsonto whom he had offered his handhis titleand the third of a county. Since hismarriagethis early hobby had become distasteful tohim. Even in private theatricals it was no longerpossibleto persuade him to exercise the talent whichhe hadoften shown that he possessed. He was happierwith aspud and a watering-can among his orchids andchrysanthemums.
It wasquite an interesting problem whether hewasabsolutely devoid of senseor miserably wantinginspirit. Did he know his lady's ways and condonethemorwas he a mere blinddoting fool? It was apoint tobe discussed over the teacups in snug littledrawing-roomsor with the aid of a cigar in the bowwindows ofclubs. Bitter and plain were the commentsamong menupon his conduct. There was but one whohad a goodword to say for himand he was the mostsilentmember in the smoking-room. He had seen himbreak in ahorse at the universityand it seemed tohave leftan impression upon his mind.
But whenDouglas Stone became the favouritealldoubts asto Lord Sannox's knowledge or ignorancewere setfor ever at rest. Therewas no subterfugeaboutStone. In his high-handedimpetuous fashionhe set allcaution and discretion at defiance. Thescandalbecame notorious. A learned body intimatedthat hisname had been struck from the list of itsvice-presidents. Two friends implored him toconsiderhis professional credit. He cursed them allthreeandspent forty guineas on a bangle to takewith himto the lady. He was at her house everyeveningand she drove in his carriage in theafternoons. There was not an attempt on either sideto concealtheir relations; but there came at last alittleincident to interrupt them.
It was adismal winter's nightvery cold andgustywith the wind whooping in the chimneys andblusteringagainst the window-panes. A thin spatterof raintinkled on the glass with each fresh sough ofthe galedrowning for the instant the dull gurgleand dripfrom the eves. Douglas Stone had finishedhisdinnerand sat by his fire in the studya glassof richport upon the malachite table at his elbow.
As heraised it to his lipshe held it up againstthelamplightand watched with the eye of aconnoisseurthe tiny scales of beeswing which floatedin itsrich ruby depths. The fireas it spurted upthrewfitful lights upon his boldclear-cut facewith itswidely-opened grey eyesits thick and yetfirm lipsand the deepsquare jawwhich hadsomethingRoman in its strength and its animalism.
He smiledfrom time to time as he nestled back in hisluxuriouschair. Indeedhe had a right to feel wellpleasedforagainst the advice of six colleagueshe hadperformed an operation that day of which onlytwo caseswere on recordand the result had beenbrilliantbeyond all expectation. No other man inLondonwould have had the daring to planor theskill toexecutesuch a heroic measure.
But he hadpromised Lady Sannox to see her thateveningand it was already half-past eight. His handwasoutstretched to the bell to order thecarriagewhen he heard the dull thud of the knocker.
An instantlater there was the shuffling of feet inthe halland the sharp closing of a door.
"Apatient to see yousirin the consulting-roomsaidthe butler.
"Nosir; I think he wants you to go out."
"Itis too latecried Douglas Stone peevishly.
"Thisis his cardsir."
The butlerpresented it upon the gold salverwhich hadbeen given to his master by the wife of aPrimeMinister.
"`HamilAliSmyrna.' Hum! The fellow is aTurkIsuppose."
"Yessir. He seems as if he came from abroadsir. And he's in a terrible way."
"Tuttut! I have an engagement. I must gosomewhereelse. But I'll see him. Show him in herePim."
A fewmoments later the butler swung open thedoor andushered in a small and decrepit manwhowalkedwith a bent back and with the forward push ofthe faceand blink of the eyes which goes withextremeshort sight. His face was swarthyand hishair andbeard of the deepest black. In one hand heheld aturban of white muslin striped with redinthe othera small chamois leather bag.
"Good-evening"said Douglas Stonewhen thebutler hadclosed the door. "You speak EnglishIpresume?"
"Yessir. I am from Asia Minorbut I speakEnglishwhen I speak slow."
"Youwanted me to go outI understand?"
"Yessir. I wanted very much that you shouldsee mywife."
"Icould come in the morningbut I have anengagementwhich prevents me from seeing your wifeto-night."
The Turk'sanswer was a singular one. He pulledthe stringwhich closed the mouth of the chamoisleatherbagand poured a flood of gold on to thetable.
"Thereare one hundred pounds there" said he"andI promise you that it will not take you an hour.
I have acab ready at the door."
DouglasStone glanced at his watch. An hourwould notmake it too late to visit Lady Sannox. Hehad beenthere later. And the fee was anextraordinarilyhigh one. He had been pressed by hiscreditorslatelyand he could not afford to let sucha chancepass. He would go.
"Whatis the case?" he asked.
"Ohit is so sad a one! So sad a one! You havenotperhapsheard of the daggers of the Almohades?"
"Ahthey are Eastern daggers of a great age andof asingular shapewith the hilt like what you callastirrup. I am a curiosity dealeryou understandand thatis why I have come to England from Smyrnabut nextweek I go back once more. Many things Ibroughtwith meand I have a few things leftbutamongthemto my sorrowis one of these daggers."
"Youwill remember that I have an appointmentsir"said the surgeonwith some irritation. "Prayconfineyourself to the necessary details."
"Youwill see that it is necessary. To-day mywife felldown in a faint in the room in which I keepmy waresand she cut her lower lip upon this curseddagger ofAlmohades."
"Isee" said Douglas Stonerising. "And youwish me todress the wound? "
"Nonoit is worse than that."
"Thesedaggers are poisoned."
"Yesand there is no manEast or Westwho cantell nowwhat is the poison or what the cure. Butall thatis known I knowfor my father was in thistradebefore meand we have had much to do withthesepoisoned weapons."
"Whatare the symptoms?"
"Deepsleepand death in thirty hours."
"Andyou say there is no cure. Why then shouldyou pay methis considerable fee?"
"Nodrug can curebut the knife may."
"Thepoison is slow of absorption. It remainsfor hoursin the wound."
"Washingthenmight cleanse it?"
"Nomore than in a snake-bite. It is too subtleand toodeadly."
"Excisionof the woundthen?"
"Thatis it. If it be on the fingertake thefingeroff. So said my father always. But think ofwhere thiswound isand that it is my wife. It isdreadful!"
Butfamiliarity with such grim matters may takethe fineredge from a man's sympathy. To DouglasStone thiswas already an interesting caseand hebrushedaside as irrelevant the feeble objections ofthehusband.
"Itappears to be that or nothing" said hebrusquely. It is better to lose a lip than a life."
"AhyesI know that you are right. Wellwellit iskismetand must be faced. I have the cabandyou willcome with me and do this thing."
DouglasStone took his case of bistouries from adrawerand placed it with a roll of bandage and acompressof lint in his pocket. He must wasteno moretime if he were to see Lady Sannox.
"I amready" said hepulling on his overcoat.
Will youtake a glass of wine before you go out intothis coldair?"
Hisvisitor shrank awaywith a protesting handupraised.
"Youforget that I am a Mussulmanand a truefollowerof the Prophet" said he. "But tell me whatis thebottle of green glass which you have placed inyourpocket?"
"Ahthat also is forbidden to us. It is aspiritand we make no use of such things."
"What! You would allow your wife to go throughanoperation without an anaesthetic?"
"Ah!she will feel nothingpoor soul. The deepsleep hasalready come onwhich is the first workingof thepoison. And then I have given her of ourSmyrnaopium. Comesirfor already an hour haspassed."
As theystepped out into the darknessa sheet ofrain wasdriven in upon their facesand the halllampwhich dangled from the arm of a marblecaryatidwent out with a fluff. Pimthe butlerpushed theheavy door tostraining hard with hisshoulderagainst the windwhile the two men gropedtheir waytowards the yellow glare which showed wherethe cabwas waiting. An instant later they wererattlingupon their journey.
"Isit far?" asked Douglas Stone.
"Ohno. We have a very little quiet place offthe EustonRoad."
Thesurgeon pressed the spring of his repeaterandlistened to the little tings which told him thehour. It was a quarter past nine. He calculated thedistancesand the short time which it would take himto performso trivial an operation. He ought toreach LadySannox by ten o'clock. Through the foggedwindows hesaw the blurred gas-lamps dancing pastwithoccasionally the broader glare of a shop front.
The rainwas pelting and rattling upon the leatherntop of thecarriage and the wheels swashed as theyrolledthrough puddle and mud. Opposite to him thewhiteheadgear of his companion gleamed faintlythroughthe obscurity. The surgeon felt in hispocketsand arranged his needleshis ligatures andhissafety-pinsthat no time might be wasted whentheyarrived. He chafed with impatience and drummedhis footupon the floor.
But thecab slowed down at last and pulled up.
In aninstant Douglas Stone was outand the Smyrnamerchant'stoe was at his very heel.
"Youcan wait" said he to the driver.
It was amean-looking house in a narrow andsordidstreet. The surgeonwho knew his Londonwellcasta swift glance into the shadowsbutthere wasnothing distinctive--no shopno movementnothingbut a double line of dullflat-faced housesa doublestretch of wet flagstones which gleamed inthelamplightand a double rush of water in thegutterswhich swirled and gurgled towards the sewergratings. The door which faced them was blotched anddiscolouredand a faint light in the fan pane aboveit servedto show the dust and the grime whichcoveredit. Abovein one of the bedroom windowsthere wasa dull yellow glimmer. The merchantknockedloudlyandas he turned his dark facetowardsthe lightDouglas Stone could see that itwascontracted with anxiety. A bolt was drawnandan elderlywoman with a taper stood in the doorwayshieldingthe thin flame with her gnarled hand.
"Isall well?" gasped the merchant.
"Sheis as you left hersir."
"Shehas not spoken?"
"No;she is in a deep sleep."
Themerchant closed the doorand Douglas Stonewalkeddown the narrow passageglancing about him insomesurprise as he did so. There was no oilclothno matnohat-rack. Deep grey dust and heavyfestoonsof cobwebs met his eyes everywhere.
Followingthe old woman up the winding stairhisfirmfootfall echoed harshly through the silenthouse. There was no carpet.
Thebedroom was on the second landing. DouglasStonefollowed the old nurse into itwith themerchantat his heels. Hereat leastthere wasfurnitureand to spare. The floor was littered andthecorners piled with Turkish cabinetsinlaidtablescoats of chain mailstrange pipesandgrotesqueweapons. A single small lamp stood upon abracket onthe wall. Douglas Stone took it downandpickinghis way among the lumberwalked over to acouch inthe corneron which lay a woman dressed intheTurkish fashionwith yashmak and veil. Thelower partof the face was exposedand the surgeonsaw ajagged cut which zigzagged along the border ofthe underlip.
"Youwill forgive the yashmak" said the Turk.
"Youknow our views about woman in the East."
But thesurgeon was not thinking about theyashmak. This was no longer a woman to him. It wasa case. He stooped and examined the wound carefully.
"Thereare no signs of irritation" said he. "Wemightdelay the operation until local symptomsdevelop."
Thehusband wrung his hands in incontrollableagitation.
"Oh!sirsir!" he cried. "Do not trifle. You donot know. It is deadly. I knowand I give youmyassurance that an operation is absolutelynecessary. Only the knife can save her."
"Andyet I am inclined to wait" said DouglasStone.
"Thatis enough!" the Turk criedangrily.
"Everyminute is of importanceand I cannot standhere andsee my wife allowed to sink. It onlyremainsfor me to give you my thanks for having comeand tocall in some other surgeon before it is toolate."
DouglasStone hesitated. To refund that hundredpounds wasno pleasant matter. But of course if heleft thecase he must return the money. And if theTurk wereright and the woman diedhis positionbefore acoroner might be an embarrassing one.
"Youhave had personal experience of thispoison?"he asked.
"Andyou assure me that an operation is needful."
"Iswear it by all that I hold sacred."
"Thedisfigurement will be frightful."
"Ican understand that the mouth will not be apretty oneto kiss."
DouglasStone turned fiercely upon the man. Thespeech wasa brutal one. But the Turk has his ownfashion oftalk and of thoughtand there was no timeforwrangling. Douglas Stone drew a bistouryfrom hiscaseopened it and felt the keen straightedge withhis forefinger. Then he held the lampcloser tothe bed. Two dark eyes were gazing up athimthrough the slit in the yashmak. They were allirisandthe pupil was hardly to be seen.
"Youhave given her a very heavy dose of opium."
"Yesshe has had a good dose."
He glancedagain at the dark eyes which lookedstraightat his own. They were dull and lustrelessbutevenas he gazeda little shifting sparkle cameinto themand the lips quivered.
"Sheis not absolutely unconscious" said he.
"Wouldit not be well to use the knife while itwould bepainless?"
The samethought had crossed the surgeon's mind.
He graspedthe wounded lip with his forcepsand withtwo swiftcuts he took out a broad V-shaped piece.
The womansprang up on the couch with a dreadfulgurglingscream. Her covering was torn from herface. It was a face that he knew. In spite of thatprotrudingupper lip and that slobber of blooditwas a facethat he knew. She kept on putting herhand up tothe gap and screaming. Douglas Stone satdown atthe foot of the couch with his knife and hisforceps. The room was whirling roundand he hadfeltsomething go like a ripping seam behind hisear. A bystander would have said that his facewas themore ghastly of the two. As in a dreamoras if hehad been looking at something at the playhe wasconscious that the Turk's hair and beard layupon thetableand that Lord Sannox was leaningagainstthe wall with his hand to his sidelaughingsilently. The screams had died away nowand thedreadfulhead had dropped back again upon the pillowbutDouglas Stone still sat motionlessand LordSannoxstill chuckled quietly to himself.
"Itwas really very necessary for Marionthisoperation"said he"not physicallybut morallyyou knowmorally."
DouglasStone stooped forwards and began to playwith thefringe of the coverlet. His knife tinkleddown uponthe groundbut he still held the forcepsandsomething more.
"Ihad long intended to make a little example"said LordSannoxsuavely. "Your note of Wednesdaymiscarriedand I have it here in my pocket-book. Itook somepains in carrying out my idea. The woundby thewaywas from nothing more dangerous than mysignetring."
He glancedkeenly at his silent companionandcocked thesmall revolver which he held in his coatpocket. But Douglas Stone was still picking at thecoverlet.
"Yousee you have kept your appointment afterall"said Lord Sannox.
And atthat Douglas Stone began to laugh. Helaughedlong and loudly. But Lord Sannox didnot laughnow. Something like fear sharpened andhardenedhis features. He walked from the roomandhe walkedon tiptoe. The old woman was waitingoutside.
"Attendto your mistress when she awakes" saidLordSannox.
Then hewent down to the street. The cab was atthe doorand the driver raised his hand to his hat.
"John"said Lord Sannox"you will take thedoctorhome first. He will want leading downstairsI think. Tell his butler that he has been taken illat acase."
"Thenyou can take Lady Sannox home."
"Andhow about yourselfsir?"
"Ohmy address for the next few months will beHotel diRomaVenice. Just see that the letters aresent on. And tell Stevens to exhibit all the purplechrysanthemumsnext Monday and to wire me theresult."
TheForeign Minister was down with the gout. Fora week hehad been confined to the houseand he hadmissed twoCabinet Councils at a time when thepressureupon his department was severe. It is truethat hehad an excellent undersecretary and anadmirablestaffbut the Minister was a man of suchripeexperience and of such proven sagacity thatthingshalted in his absence. When his firm hand wasat thewheel the great ship of State rode easily andsmoothlyupon her way; when it was removed she yawedandstaggered until twelve British editors rose up intheiromniscience and traced out twelve severalcourseseach of which was the sole and only path tosafety. Then it was that the Opposition said vainthingsand that the harassed Prime Minister prayedfor hisabsent colleague.
TheForeign Minister sat in his dressing-room inthe greathouse in Cavendish Square. It was Mayandthe squaregarden shot up like a veil of green infront ofhis windowbutin spite of thesunshinea fire crackled and sputtered in the grateof thesick-room. In a deep-red plush armchair satthe greatstatesmanhis head leaning back upon asilkenpillowone foot stretched forward andsupportedupon a padded rest. His deeply-linedfinely-chiselledface and slow-movingheavily-pouchedeyes were turned upwards towards the carvedandpainted ceilingwith that inscrutable expressionwhich hadbeen the despair and the admiration of hisContinentalcolleagues upon the occasion of thefamousCongress when he had made his first appearancein thearena of European diplomacy. Yet at thepresentmoment his capacity for hiding his emotionshad forthe instant failed himfor about the linesof hisstrongstraight mouth and the puckers of hisbroadoverhanging foreheadthere were sufficientindicationsof the restlessness and impatience whichconsumedhim.
And indeedthere was enough to make a man chafefor he hadmuch to think of and yet was bereft of thepower ofthought. There wasfor examplethatquestionof the Dobrutscha and the navigation of themouths ofthe Danube which was ripe for settlement.
TheRussian Chancellor had sent a masterly statementupon thesubjectand it was the pet ambition of ourMinisterto answer it in a worthy fashion. Thenthere wasthe blockade of Creteand the Britishfleetlying off Cape Matapanwaiting forinstructionswhich might change the course ofEuropeanhistory. And there were those threeunfortunateMacedonian touristswhose friends weremomentarilyexpecting to receive their ears or theirfingers indefault of the exorbitant ransom which hadbeendemanded. They must be plucked out of thosemountainsby force or by diplomacyor an outragedpublicwould vent its wrath upon Downing Street. Allthesequestions pressed for a solutionand yet herewas theForeign Minister of Englandplanted in anarm-chairwith his whole thoughts and attentionrivetedupon the ball of his right toe! It washumiliating--horriblyhumiliating! His reasonrevoltedat it. He had been a respecter of himselfarespecter of his own will; but what sort of amachinewas it which could be utterly thrown out ofgear by alittle piece of inflamed gristle? Hegroanedand writhed among his cushions.
Butafterallwas it quite impossible that heshould godown to the House? Perhaps the doctor wasexaggeratingthe situation. There was a CabinetCouncilthat day. He glanced at his watch. It mustbe nearlyover by now. But at least he might perhapsventure todrive down as far as Westminster. Hepushedback the little round table with its bristleofmedicine-bottlesand levering himself up with ahand uponeither arm of the chairhe clutched athick oakstick and hobbled slowly across the room.
For amoment as he movedhis energy of mind and bodyseemed toreturn to him. The British fleet shouldsail fromMatapan. Pressure should be brought tobear uponthe Turks. The Greeks should be shown--Ow!
In aninstant the Mediterranean was blotted outandnothingremained but that hugeundeniableintrusivered-hot toe. He staggered to the windowand restedhis left hand upon the ledgewhile heproppedhimself upon his stick with his right.
Outsidelay the brightcoolsquare gardena fewwell-dressedpassers-byand a singleneatly-appointedcarriagewhich was driving away from hisown door. His quick eye caught the coat-of-arms onthe paneland his lips set for a moment and hisbushyeyebrows gathered ominously with a deep furrowbetweenthem. He hobbled back to his seat and struckthe gongwhich stood upon the table.
"Yourmistress!" said he as the serving-manentered.
It wasclear that it was impossible to think ofgoing tothe House. The shooting up his leg warnedhim thathis doctor had not overestimated thesituation. But he had a little mental worry nowwhich hadfor the moment eclipsed his physicalailments. He tapped the ground impatiently with hisstickuntil the door of the dressing-room swungopenanda tallelegant lady of rather more thanmiddle ageswept into the chamber. Her hair wastouchedwith greybut her calmsweet face had allthefreshness of youthand her gown of green shotplushwith a sparkle of gold passementerie at herbosom andshouldersshowed off the lines of her finefigure totheir best advantage.
"Yousent for meCharles?"
"Whosecarriage was that which drove away justnow?"
"Ohyou've been up!" she criedshaking anadmonitoryforefinger. "What an old dear it is! Howcan you beso rash? What am I to say to Sir Williamwhen hecomes? You know that he gives up his caseswhen theyare insubordinate."
"Inthis instance the case may give him up" saidtheMinisterpeevishly; "but I must begClarathatyou willanswer my question."
"Oh!the carriage! It must have been Lord ArthurSibthorpe's."
"Isaw the three chevrons upon the panel"mutteredthe invalid.
His ladyhad pulled herself a little straighterand openedher large blue eyes.
"Thenwhy ask?" she said. "One might almostthinkCharlesthat you were laying a trap! Did youexpectthat I should deceive you? You have not hadyourlithia powder."
"ForHeaven's sakeleave it alone! I askedbecause Iwas surprised that Lord Arthur should callhere. I should have fanciedClarathat I had mademyselfsufficiently clear on that point. Whoreceivedhim?"
"Idid. That isI and Ida."
"Iwill not have him brought into contact withIda. I do not approve of it. The matter has gonetoo faralready."
Lady Claraseated herself on a velvet-toppedfootstooland bent her stately figure over theMinister'shandwhich she patted softly between herown.
"Nowyou have said itCharles" said she. "Ithas gonetoo far--I give you my worddearthat Ineversuspected it until it was past all mending. Imay be toblame--no doubt I am; but it was all sosudden. The tail end of the season and a week atLordDonnythorne's. That was all. But oh! Charlieshe loveshim soand she is our only one! How canwe makeher miserable?"
"Tuttut!" cried the Minister impatientlyslappingon the plush arm of his chair. "This is toomuch. I tell youClaraI give you my wordthatall myofficial dutiesall the affairs of this greatempiredonot give me the trouble that Ida does."
"Butshe is our only oneCharles."
"Themore reason that she should not make amesalliance."
"MesallianceCharles! Lord ArthurSibthorpeson of the Duke of Tavistockwith apedigreefrom the Heptarchy. Debrett takes themright backto MorcarEarl of Northumberland."
TheMinister shrugged his shoulders.
"LordArthur is the fourth son of the poorestduke inEngland" said he. "He has neither prospectsnorprofession."
"Butoh! Charlieyou could find him both."
"I donot like him. I do not care for theconnection."
"Butconsider Ida! You know how frail her healthis. Her whole soul is set upon him. You would nothave theheartCharlesto separate them?"
There wasa tap at the door. Lady Clara swepttowards itand threw it open.
"Ifyou pleasemy ladythe Prime Minister isbelow."
"NowCharlieyou must not excite yourself overpublicmatters. Be very good and cool andreasonablelike a darling. I am sure that I maytrustyou."
She threwher light shawl round the invalid'sshouldersand slipped away into the bed-room asthe greatman was ushered in at the door of thedressing-room.
"Mydear Charles" said he cordiallysteppinginto theroom with all the boyish briskness for whichhe wasfamous"I trust that you find yourself alittlebetter. Almost ready for harnesseh? Wemiss yousadlyboth in the House and in the Council.
Quite astorm brewing over this Grecian business.
The Timestook a nasty line this morning."
"So Isaw" said the invalidsmiling up at hischief. "Wellwellwe must let them see that thecountry isnot entirely ruled from Printing HouseSquareyet. We must keep our own course withoutfaltering."
"CertainlyCharlesmost undoubtedly" assentedthe PrimeMinisterwith his hands in his pockets.
"Itwas so kind of you to call. I am allimpatienceto know what was done in the Council."
"Pureformalitiesnothing more. By-the-waytheMacedonianprisoners are all right."
"ThankGoodness for that! "
"Weadjourned all other business until we shouldhave youwith us next week. The question of adissolutionbegins to press. The reports from theprovincesare excellent."
TheForeign Minister moved impatiently andgroaned.
"Wemust really straighten up our foreignbusiness alittle" said he. "I must get Novikoff'sNoteanswered. It is cleverbut the fallacies areobvious. I wishtoowe could clear up the Afghanfrontier. This illness is most exasperating. Thereis so muchto be donebut my brain is clouded.
SometimesI think it is the goutand sometimes I putit down tothe colchicum."
"Whatwill our medical autocrat say?" laughed thePrimeMinister. "You are so irreverentCharles.
With abishop one may feel at one's ease. They arenot beyondthe reach of argument. But a doctor withhisstethoscope and thermometer is a thing apart.
Yourreading does not impinge upon him. He isserenelyabove you. And thenof coursehe takesyou at adisadvantage. With health and strength onemight copewith him. Have you read Hahnemann? Whatare yourviews upon Hahnemann?"
Theinvalid knew his illustrious colleague toowell tofollow him down any of those by-paths ofknowledgein which he delighted to wander. To hisintenselyshrewd and practical mind there wassomethingrepellent in the waste of energy involvedin adiscussion upon the Early Church or the twenty-sevenprinciples of Mesmer. It was his custom toslip pastsuch conversational openings with a quickstep andan averted face.
"Ihave hardly glanced at his writings" said he."By-the-wayI suppose that there was no specialdepartmentalnews?"
"Ah! I had almost forgotten. Yesit was one ofthe thingswhich I had called to tell you. SirAlgernonJones has resigned at Tangier. There is avacancythere."
"Ithad better be filled at once. The longerdelay themore applicants."
"Ahpatronagepatronage!" sighed the PrimeMinister. "Every vacancy makes one doubtful friendand adozen very positive enemies. Who so bitter asthedisappointed place-seeker? But you are rightCharles. Better fill it at onceespecially as thereis somelittle trouble in Morocco. I understand thatthe Dukeof Tavistock would like the place for hisfourthsonLord Arthur Sibthorpe. We are under someobligationto the Duke."
TheForeign Minister sat up eagerly.
"Mydear friend" he said"it is the veryappointmentwhich I should have suggested. LordArthurwould be very much better in Tangier atpresentthan in--in----"
"CavendishSquare?" hazarded his chiefwith alittlearch query of his eyebrows.
"Welllet us say London. He has manner andtact. He was at Constantinople in Norton's time."
"Thenhe talks Arabic?"
"Asmattering. But his French is good."
"Speakingof ArabicCharleshave you dippedintoAverroes?"
"NoI have not. But the appointment would be anexcellentone in every way. Would you have the greatgoodnessto arrange the matter in my absence?"
"CertainlyCharlescertainly. Is thereanythingelse that I can do?"
"No. I hope to be in the House by Monday."
"Itrust so. We miss you at every turn. TheTimes willtry to make mischief over that Grecianbusiness. A leader-writer is a terriblyirresponsiblethingCharles. There is no method bywhich hemay be confutedhowever preposterous hisassertions. Good-bye! Read Porson! Goodbye!"
He shookthe invalid's handgave a jaunty waveof hisbroad-brimmed hatand darted out of the roomwith thesame elasticity and energy with which he hadenteredit.
Thefootman had already opened the great foldingdoor tousher the illustrious visitor to hiscarriagewhen a lady stepped from the drawing-roomandtouched him on the sleeve. From behind the half-closedportiere of stamped velvet a little pale facepeepedouthalf-curioushalf-frightened.
"MayI have one word?"
"Ihope it is not intrusive. I would not for theworldoverstep the limits----"
"Mydear Lady Clara!" interrupted the PrimeMinisterwith a youthful bow and wave.
"Praydo not answer me if I go too far. But Iknow thatLord Arthur Sibthorpe has applied forTangier. Would it be a liberty if I asked you whatchance hehas?"
"Thepost is filled up."
In theforeground and background there was adisappointedface.
"AndLord Arthur has it."
The PrimeMinister chuckled over his little pieceofroguery.
"Wehave just decided it" he continued.
"LordArthur must go in a week. I am delightedtoperceiveLady Clarathat the appointment hasyourapproval. Tangier is a place of extraordinaryinterest. Catherine of Braganza and Colonel Kirkewill occurto your memory. Burton has written welluponNorthern Africa. I dine at Windsorso I amsure thatyou will excuse my leaving you. I trustthat LordCharles will be better. He can hardly failto be sowith such a nurse."
He bowedwavedand was off down the stepsto hisbrougham. As he drove awayLady Claracould seethat he was already deeply absorbed in apaper-coverednovel.
She pushedback the velvet curtainsand returnedinto thedrawing-room. Her daughter stood in thesunlightby the windowtallfragileand exquisiteherfeatures and outline not unlike her mother'sbutfrailersoftermore delicate. The golden lightstruck onehalf of her high-bredsensitive faceandglimmeredupon her thickly-coiled flaxen hairstriking apinkish tint from her closely-cut costumeoffawn-coloured cloth with its dainty cinnamonruchings. One little soft frill of chiffon nestledround herthroatfrom which the whitegraceful neckandwell-poised head shot up like a lily amid moss.
Her thinwhite hands were pressed togetherand herblue eyesturned beseechingly upon her mother.
"Sillygirl! Silly girl!" said the matronansweringthat imploring look. She put her handsupon herdaughter's sloping shoulders and drew hertowardsher. "It is a very nice place for a shorttime. It will be a stepping stone."
"Butoh! mammain a week! Poor Arthur!"
"Hewill be happy."
"What!happy to part?"
"Heneed not part. You shall go with him."
"YesI say it."
"Oh!mammain a week?"
"Yesindeed. A great deal may be done in a week.
I shallorder your trousseau to-day."
"Oh!you dearsweet angel! But I am sofrightened! And papa? Oh! dearI am sofrightened!"
"Yourpapa is a diplomatistdear."
"Butbetween ourselveshe married a diplomatisttoo. If he can manage the British EmpireI thinkthat I canmanage himIda. How long have you beenengagedchild?"
"Thenit is quite time it came to a head. LordArthurcannot leave England without you. You must goto Tangieras the Minister's wife. Nowyou will sitthere onthe setteedearand let me manageentirely. There is Sir William's carriage! I dothink thatI know how to manage Sir William. Jamesjust askthe doctor to step in this way!"
A heavytwo-horsed carriage had drawn up at thedoorandthere came a single stately thud upon theknocker. An instant afterwards the drawing-room door
flew openand the footman ushered in the famousphysician. He was a small manclean-shavenwiththeold-fashioned black dress and white cravat withhigh-standingcollar. He swung his golden pince-nez in hisright hand as he walkedand bentforwardwith a peeringblinking expressionwhichwassomehow suggestive of the dark and complex casesthroughwhich he had seen.
"Ah"said heas he entered. "My young patient!
I am gladof the opportunity."
"YesI wish to speak to you about herSirWilliam. Pray take this arm-chair."
"ThankyouI will sit beside her" said hetaking hisplace upon the settee. "She is lookingbetterless anaemic unquestionablyand a fullerpulse. Quite a little tinge of colourand yet nothectic."
"Ifeel strongerSir William."
"Butshe still has the pain in the side."
"Ahthat pain!" He tapped lightly under thecollar-bonesand then bent forward with his biauralstethoscopein either ear. "Still a trace ofdulness--stilla slight crepitation" he murmured.
"Youspoke of a changedoctor."
"Yescertainly a judicious change might beadvisable."
"Yousaid a dry climate. I wish to do to theletterwhat you recommend."
"Youhave always been model patients."
"Wewish to be. You said a dry climate."
"DidI? I rather forget the particulars of ourconversation. But a dry climate is certainlyindicated."
"WellI think really that a patient should beallowedsome latitude. I must not exact too rigiddiscipline. There is room for individual choice--theEngadineCentral EuropeEgyptAlgierswhich youlike."
"Ihear that Tangier is also recommended."
"Ohyescertainly; it is very dry."
"YouhearIda? Sir William says that you are togo toTangier."
"NonoSir William! We feel safest when we aremostobedient. You have said Tangierand we shallcertainlytry Tangier."
"ReallyLady Clarayour implicit faith is mostflattering. It is not everyone who would sacrificetheir ownplans and inclinations so readily."
"Weknow your skill and your experienceSirWilliam. Ida shall try Tangier. I am convinced thatshe willbe benefited."
"Ihave no doubt of it."
"Butyou know Lord Charles. He is just a littleinclinedto decide medical matters as he would anaffair ofState. I hope that you will be firm withhim."
"Aslong as Lord Charles honours me so far as toask myadvice I am sure that he would not place me inthe falseposition of having that advicedisregarded."
Themedical baronet whirled round the cord of hispince-nezand pushed out a protesting hand.
"Nonobut you must be firm on the point ofTangier."
"Havingdeliberately formed the opinion thatTangier isthe best place for our young patientI donot thinkthat I shall readily change my conviction."
"Ishall speak to Lord Charles upon the subjectnow when Igo upstairs."
"Andmeanwhile she will continue her presentcourse oftreatment. I trust that the warm Africanair maysend her back in a few months with all herenergyrestored."
He bowedin the courteoussweepingold-worldfashionwhich had done so much to build up his tenthousand ayearandwith the stealthy gait of a manwhose lifeis spent in sick-roomshe followed thefootmanupstairs.
As the redvelvet curtains swept back intopositionthe Lady Ida threw her arms round hermother'sneck and sank her face on to her bosom.
"Oh!mammayou ARE a diplomatist!" shecried.
But hermother's expression was rather thatof thegeneral who looked upon the first smokeof theguns than of one who had won the victory.
"Allwill be rightdear" said sheglancingdown atthe fluffy yellow curls and tiny ear. "Thereis stillmuch to be donebut I think we may ventureto orderthe trousseau."
"Oh Ihow brave you are!"
"Ofcourseit will in any case be a very quietaffair. Arthur must get the license. I do notapprove ofhole-and-corner marriagesbut where thegentlemanhas to take up an official position someallowancemust be made. We can have Lady HildaEdgecombeand the Trevorsand the Grevillesand Iam surethat the Prime Minister would run down if hecould."
"Ohyes; he will come tooif he is well enough.
We mustwait until Sir William goesandmeanwhileI shallwrite to Lord Arthur."
Half anhour had passedand quite a number ofnotes hadbeen dashed off in the fineboldpark-palinghandwriting of the Lady Clarawhen the doorclashedand the wheels of the doctor's carriage wereheardgrating outside against the kerb. The LadyClara laiddown her penkissed her daughterandstartedoff for the sick-room. The Foreign Ministerwas lyingback in his chairwith a red silkhandkerchiefover his foreheadand his bulbouscotton-waddedfoot still protruding upon its rest.
"Ithink it is almost liniment time" said LadyClarashaking a blue crinkled bottle. "Shall I puton alittle?"
"Oh!this pestilent toe!" groaned the sufferer."SirWilliam won't hear of my moving yet. I dothink heis the most completely obstinate and pig-headed manthat I have ever met. I tell him that hehasmistaken his professionand that I could findhim a postat Constantinople. We need a mule outthere."
"PoorSir William!" laughed Lady Clara. But howhas heroused your wrath?"
"Heis so persistent-so dogmatic."
"Uponwhat point? "
"Wellhe has been laying down the law about Ida.
He hasdecreedit seemsthat she is to go toTangier."
"Hesaid something to that effect before he wentup toyou."
"Ohhe diddid he?"
Theslow-movinginscrutable eye came slidinground toher.
LadyClara's face had assumed an expression oftransparentobvious innocencean intrusive candourwhich isnever seen in nature save when a woman isbent upondeception.
"Heexamined her lungsCharles. He did notsay muchbut his expression was very grave."
"Notto say owlish" interrupted the Minister.
"NonoCharles; it is no laughing matter. Hesaid thatshe must have a change. I am sure that hethoughtmore than he said. He spoke of dulness andcrepitation.and the effects of the African air.
Then thetalk turned upon drybracing healthresortsand he agreed that Tangier was the place.
He saidthat even a few months there would work achange."
"Andthat was all?"
"Yesthat was all."
LordCharles shrugged his shoulders with the airof a manwho is but half convinced.
"Butof course" said Lady Claraserenelyifyou thinkit better that Ida should not go she shallnot. The only thing is that if she should get worsewe mightfeel a little uncomfortable afterwards. Ina weaknessof that sort a very short time may make adifference. Sir William evidently thought the mattercritical. Stillthere is no reason why he shouldinfluenceyou. It is a little responsibilityhowever. If you take it all upon yourself and freeme fromany of itso that afterwards----"
"Mydear Clarahow you do croak!"
"Oh!I don't wish to do thatCharles. Butyouremember what happened to Lord Bellamy'schild. She was just Ida's age. That was anothercase inwhich Sir William's advice was disregarded."
LordCharles groaned impatiently.
"Ihave not disregarded it" said he.
"Nonoof course not. I know your strongsenseandyour good heart too welldear. You wereverywisely looking at both sides of the question.
That iswhat we poor women cannot do. It is emotionagainstreasonas I have often heard you say. Weare swayedthis way and thatbut you men arepersistentand so you gain your way with us. But Iam sopleased that you have decided for Tangier."
"Welldearyou said that you would notdisregardSir William."
"WellClaraadmitting that Ida is to go toTangieryou will allow that it is impossible for meto escorther?
"Whileyou are ill my place is by your side."
"Thereis your sister?"
"Sheis going to Florida."
"Sheis nursing her father. It is out of thequestion."
"Wellthenwhom can we possibly ask?
Especiallyjust as the season is commencing. YouseeClarathe fates fight against Sir William."
His wiferested her elbows against the back ofthe greatred chairand passed her fingers throughthestatesman's grizzled curlsstooping down as shedid sountil her lips were close to his ear.
"Thereis Lord Arthur Sibthorpe" said shesoftly.
LordCharles bounded in his chairand muttered aword ortwo such as were more frequently heard fromCabinetMinisters in Lord Melbourne's time than now.
"Areyou madClara!" he cried. "What can haveput such athought into your head?"
"Who? The Prime Minister?"
"Yesdear. Now dodo be good! Or perhaps Ihad betternot speak to you about it any more."
"WellI really think that you have gone rathertoo far toretreat."
"Itwas the Prime Ministerthenwho told methat LordArthur was going to Tangier."
"Itis a factthough it had escaped my memoryfor theinstant."
"Andthen came Sir William with his adviceaboutIda. Oh! Charlieit is surely more thanacoincidence!"
"I amconvinced" said Lord Charleswith hisshrewdquestioning gaze"that it is very much morethan acoincidenceLady Clara. You are a verycleverwomanmy dear. A born manager andorganiser."
Lady Clarabrushed past the compliment.
"Thinkof our own young daysCharlie" shewhisperedwith her fingers still toying with hishair. "What were you then? A poor mannot evenAmbassadorat Tangier. But I loved youand believedin youand have I ever regretted it? Ida loves andbelievesin Lord Arthurand why should she everregret iteither?"
LordCharles was silent. His eyes were fixedupon thegreen branches which waved outside thewindow;but his mind had flashed back to a Devonshirecountry-houseof thirty years agoand to the onefatefulevening whenbetween old yew hedgeshepacedalong beside a slender girland poured out toher hishopeshis fearsand his ambitious. He tookthe whitethin hand and pressed it to his lips.
"Youhave been a good wife to meClara" saidhe.
She saidnothing. She did not attempt to improveupon heradvantage. A less consummate general mighthave triedto do soand ruined all. She stoodsilent andsubmissivenoting the quick play ofthoughtwhich peeped from his eyes and lip. Therewas asparkle in the one and a twitch of amusement inthe otheras he at last glanced up at her.
"Clara"said he"deny it if you can! You haveorderedthe trousseau."
She gavehis ear a little pinch.
"Subjectto your approval" said she.
"Youhave written to the Archbishop."
"Itis not posted yet."
"Youhave sent a note to Lord Arthur."
"Howcould you tell that?"
"Heis downstairs now."
"No;but I think that is his brougham."
LordCharles sank back with a look of half-comicaldespair.
"Whois to fight against such a woman?" he cried.
"Oh!if I could send you to Novikoff! He is too muchfor any ofmy men. ButClaraI cannot have them uphere."
"Notfor your blessing?"
"Itwould make them so happy."
"Icannot stand scenes."
"ThenI shall convey it to them."
"Andpray say no more about it--to-dayat anyrate. I have been weak over the matter."
"Oh!Charlieyou who are so strong!"
"Youhave outflanked meClara. It was very welldone. I must congratulate you."
"Well" she murmuredas she kissed him"youknow Ihave been studying a very clever diplomatistfor thirtyyears."
Medicalmen areas a classvery much too busyto takestock of singular situations or dramaticevents. Thus it happens that the ablest chroniclerof theirexperiences in our literature was a lawyer.
A lifespent in watching over death-beds--or overbirth-bedswhich are infinitely more trying--takessomethingfrom a man's sense of proportionasconstantstrong waters might corrupt his palate. Theoverstimulatednerve ceases to respond. Ask thesurgeonfor his best experiences and he may replythat hehas seen little that is remarkableor breakaway intothe technical. But catch him some nightwhen thefire has spurted up and his pipe is reekingwith a fewof his brother practitioners for companyand anartful question or allusion to set him going.
Then youwill get some rawgreen facts new pluckedfrom thetree of life.
It isafter one of the quarterly dinners of theMidlandBranch of the British Medical Association.
Twentycoffee cupsa dozer liqueurglassesand a solid bank of blue smoke whichswirlsslowly along the highgilded ceiling gives ahint of asuccessful gathering. But the members haveshreddedoff to their homes. The line of heavybulge-pocketedovercoats and of stethoscope-bearingtop hatsis gone from the hotel corridor. Round thefire inthe sitting-room three medicos are stilllingeringhoweverall smoking and arguingwhile afourthwho is a mere layman and young at thatsitsback atthe table. Under cover of an open journal heis writingfuriously with a stylographic penaskinga questionin an innocent voice from time to time andsoflickering up the conversation whenever it shows atendencyto wane.
The threemen are all of that staid middle agewhichbegins early and lasts late in the profession.
They arenone of them famousyet each is of goodreputeand a fair type of his particular branch.
The portlyman with the authoritative manner and thewhitevitriol splash upon his cheek is CharleyMansonchief of the Wormley Asylumand author ofthebrilliant monograph--Obscure Nervous Lesions intheUnmarried. He always wears his collar high likethatsince the half-successful attempt of a studentofRevelations to cut his throat with a splinter ofglass. The secondwith the ruddy face and the merrybrowneyesis a general practitionera man ofvastexperiencewhowith his three assistantsand hisfive horsestakes twenty-five hundred a yearinhalf-crown visits and shilling consultations outof thepoorest quarter of a great city. That cheeryface ofTheodore Foster is seen at the side of ahundredsick-beds a dayand if he has one-third morenames onhis visiting list than in his cash book healwayspromises himself that he will get level someday when amillionaire with a chronic complaint--theidealcombination--shall seek his services. Thethirdsitting on the right with his dress shoesshining onthe top of the fenderis Hargravetherisingsurgeon. His face has none of the broadhumanityof Theodore Foster'sthe eye is stern andcriticalthe mouth straight and severebut there isstrengthand decision in every line of itand it isnerverather than sympathy which the patient demandswhen he isbad enough to come to Hargrave's door. Hecallshimself a jawman "a mere jawman" as he modestlyputs itbut in point of fact he is too young and toopoor toconfine himself to a specialtyand there isnothingsurgical which Hargrave has not the skill andtheaudacity to do.
"Beforeafterand during" murmurs the generalpractitionerin answer to some interpolation of theoutsider's. "I assure youMansonone sees allsorts ofevanescent forms of madness."
"Ahpuerperal!" throws in the otherknockingthe curved grey ash from his cigar.
"Butyou had some case in your mindFoster."
"Wellthere was only one last week which was newto me. I had been engaged by some people of the nameofSilcoe. When the trouble came round I wentmyselffor they would not hear of an assistant. Thehusbandwho was a policemanwas sitting at the headof the bedon the further side. `This won't do'said I. `Oh yesdoctorit must do' said she.
`It'squite irregular and he must go' said I. `It'sthat ornothing' said she. `I won't open my mouthor stir afinger the whole night' said he. So itended bymy allowing him to remainand there he satfor eighthours on end. She was very good over thematterbut every now and again HE would fetch ahollowgroanand I noticed that he held his righthand justunder the sheet all the timewhere I hadno doubtthat it was clasped by her left. When itwas allhappily overI looked at him and his facewas thecolour of this cigar ashand his head haddropped onto the edge of the pillow. Of course Ithought hehad fainted with emotionand I was justtellingmyself what I thought of myself for havingbeen sucha fool as to let him stay therewhensuddenly Isaw that the sheet over his hand was allsoakedwith blood; I whisked it downand there wasthefellow's wrist half cut through. The womanhad onebracelet of a policeman's handcuff over herleft wristand the other round his right one. Whenshe hadbeen in pain she had twisted with all herstrengthand the iron had fairly eaten into the boneof theman's arm. `Ayedoctor' said shewhen shesaw I hadnoticed it. `He's got to take his share aswell asme. Turn and turn' said she."
"Don'tyou find it a very wearing branch of theprofession?"asks Foster after a pause.
"Mydear fellowit was the fear of it that droveme intolunacy work."
"Ayeand it has driven men into asylums whoneverfound their way on to the medical staff. I wasa very shyfellow myself as a studentand I knowwhat itmeans."
"Nojoke that in general practice" says thealienist.
"Wellyou hear men talk about it as though itwerebutI tell you it's much nearer tragedy. Takesome poorrawyoung fellow who has just put up hisplate in astrange town. He has found it a trial allhis lifeperhapsto talk to a woman about lawntennis andchurch services. When a young man ISshy he isshyer than any girl. Then down comes ananxiousmother and consults him upon the mostintimatefamily matters. `I shall never go to thatdoctoragain' says she afterwards. `His manner isso stiffand unsympathetic.' Unsympathetic!
Whythepoor lad was struck dumb and paralysed. Ihave knowngeneral practitioners who were so shy thatthey couldnot bring themselves to ask the way in thestreet. Fancy what sensitive men like that mustendurebefore they get broken in to medical practice.
And thenthey know that nothing is so catching asshynessand that if they do not keep a face ofstonetheir patient will be covered with confusion.
And sothey keep their face of stoneand earn thereputationperhaps of having a heart to correspond.
I supposenothing would shake YOUR nerveManson."
"Wellwhen a man lives year in year out among athousandlunaticswith a fair sprinkling ofhomicidalsamong themone's nerves either get set orshattered. Mine are all right so far."
"Iwas frightened once" says the surgeon. "Itwas when Iwas doing dispensary work. One night Ihad a callfrom some very poor peopleand gatheredfrom thefew words they said that their child wasill. When I entered the room I saw a small cradle inthecorner. Raising the lamp I walked over andputtingback the curtains I looked down at the baby.
I tell youit was sheer Providence that I didn't dropthat lampand set the whole place alight. The headon thepillow turned and I saw a face looking up atme whichseemed to me to have more malignancy andwickednessthan ever I had dreamed of in anightmare. It was the flush of red over thecheekbonesand the brooding eyes full of loathing ofmeand ofeverything elsethat impressed me. I'llneverforget my start asinstead of the chubby faceof aninfantmy eyes fell upon this creature. Itook themother into the next room. `What is it?' Iasked. `A girl of sixteen' said sheand thenthrowingup her arms`Ohpray God she may betaken!' The poor thingthough she spent her life inthislittle cradlehad greatlongthin limbs whichshe curledup under her. I lost sight of the caseand don'tknow what became of itbut I'll neverforget thelook in her eyes."
"That'screepy" says Dr. Foster. "But I thinkone of myexperiences would run it close. Shortlyafter Iput up my plate I had a visit from a littlehunch-backedwoman who wished me to come and attendto hersister in her trouble. When I reached thehousewhich was a very poor oneI found two otherlittlehunched-backed womenexactly like the firstwaitingfor me in the sitting-room. Not one of themsaid awordbut my companion took the lamp andwalkedupstairs with her two sisters behind herandmebringing up the rear. I can see those three queershadowscast by the lamp upon the wall as clearly asI can seethat tobacco pouch. In the room abovewas thefourth sistera remarkably beautiful girl inevidentneed of my assistance. There was no weddingring uponher finger. The three deformed sistersseatedthemselves round the roomlike so many gravenimagesand all night not one of them opened hermouth. I'm not romancingHargrave; this is absolutefact. In the early morning a fearful thunderstormbroke outone of the most violent I have ever known.
The littlegarret burned blue with the lightningandthunderroared and rattled as if it were on the veryroof ofthe house. It wasn't much of a lamp I hadand it wasa queer thing when a spurt of lightningcame tosee those three twisted figures sitting roundthe wallsor to have the voice of my patient drownedby thebooming of the thunder. By Jove! I don'tmindtelling you that there was a time when I nearlyboltedfrom the room. All came right in the endbutI neverheard the true story of the unfortunatebeauty andher three crippled sisters."
"That'sthe worst of these medical stories"sighs theoutsider. "They never seem to have anend."
"Whena man is up to his neck in practicemyboyhehas no time to gratify his private curiosity.
Thingsshoot across him and he gets a glimpse ofthemonlyto recall themperhapsat some quietmomentlike this. But I've always feltMansonthat yourline had as much of the terrible in it asanyother."
"More"groans the alienist. "A disease of thebody isbad enoughbut this seems to be a disease ofthe soul. Is it not a shocking thing--a thing todrive areasoning man into absolute Materialism--tothink thatyou may have a finenoble fellow witheverydivine instinct and that some little vascularchangethe droppingwe will sayof a minutespicule ofbone from the inner table of his skull onto thesurface of his brain may have the effect ofchanginghim to a filthy and pitiable creature withevery lowand debasing tendency? What a satire anasylum isupon the majesty of manand no less upontheethereal nature of the soul."
"Faithand hope" murmurs the generalpractitioner.
"Ihave no faithnot much hopeand all thecharity Ican afford" says the surgeon. "Whentheologysquares itself with the facts of life I'llread itup."
"Youwere talking about cases" says theoutsiderjerking the ink down into his stylographicpen.
"Welltake a common complaint which kills manythousandsevery yearlike G. P. for instance."
"Generalpractitioner" suggests the surgeon witha grin.
"TheBritish public will have to know what G. P.is"says the alienist gravely. "It's increasing byleaps andboundsand it has the distinction of beingabsolutelyincurable. General paralysis is its fulltitleandI tell you it promises to be a perfectscourge. Here's a fairly typical case now which Isaw lastMonday week. A young farmera splendidfellowsurprised his fellows by taking a very rosyview ofthings at a time when the whole country-sidewasgrumbling. He was going to give up wheatgiveup arablelandtooif it didn't payplant twothousandacres of rhododendrons and get a monopoly ofthe supplyfor Covent Garden--there was no end to hisschemesall sane enough but just a bit inflated. Icalled atthe farmnot to see himbut on analtogetherdifferent matter. Something about theman's wayof talking struck me and I watched himnarrowly. His lip had a trick of quiveringhiswordsslurred themselves togetherand so did hishandwritingwhen he had occasion to draw up a smallagreement. A closer inspection showed me that one ofhis pupilswas ever so little larger than the other.
As I leftthe house his wife came after me. `Isn't itsplendidto see Job looking so welldoctor' saidshe; `he'sthat full of energy he can hardly keephimselfquiet.' I did not say anythingfor Ihad notthe heartbut I knew that the fellow was asmuchcondemned to death as though he were lying inthe cellat Newgate. It was a characteristic case ofincipientG. P."
"Goodheavens!" cries the outsider. "My own lipstremble. I often slur my words. I believe I've gotitmyself."
Threelittle chuckles come from the front of thefire.
"There'sthe danger of a little medical knowledgeto thelayman."
"Agreat authority has said that every firstyear'sstudent is suffering in silent agony from fourdiseases"remarks the surgeon. " One is heartdiseaseof course; another is cancer of the parotid.
I forgetthe two other."
"Wheredoes the parotid come in?"
"Ohit's the last wisdom tooth coming through!"
"Andwhat would be the end of that young farmer?"asks theoutsider.
"Paresisof all the musclesending in fitscomaanddeath. It may be a few monthsit may be ayear ortwo. He was a very strong young man andwould takesome killing."
"By-the-way"says the alienist"did I ever tellyou aboutthe first certificate I signed? I came asnear ruinthen as a man could go."
"Iwas in practice at the time. One morning aMrs.Cooper called upon me and informed me that herhusbandhad shown signs of delusions lately. Theytook theform of imagining that he had been in thearmy andhad distinguished himself very much. As amatter offact he was a lawyer and had never been outofEngland. Mrs. Cooper was of opinion that if Iwere tocall it might alarm himso it was agreedbetween usthat she should send him up in the eveningon somepretext to my consulting-roomwhich wouldgive methe opportunity of having a chat with himandif Iwere convinced of his insanityof signinghiscertificate. Another doctor had already signedso that itonly needed my concurrence to have himplacedunder treatment. WellMr. Cooper arrived intheevening about half an hour before I had expectedhimandconsulted me as to some malarious symptomsfrom whichhe said that he suffered. According tohisaccount he had just returned from the AbyssinianCampaignand had been one of the first of theBritishforces to enter Magdala. No delusion couldpossiblybe more markedfor he would talk of littleelseso Ifilled in the papers without the slightesthesitation. When his wife arrivedafter he hadleftIput some questions to her to complete theform. `What is his age?' I asked. `Fifty' saidshe. `Fifty!' I cried. `Whythe man Iexaminedcould not have been more than thirty!
And so itcame out that the real Mr. Cooper had nevercalledupon me at allbut that by one of thosecoincidenceswhich take a man's breath away anotherCooperwho really was a very distinguished youngofficer ofartilleryhad come in to consult me. Mypen waswet to sign the paper when I discovered it"says Dr.Mansonmopping his forehead.
"Wewere talking about nerve just now" observesthesurgeon. "Just after my qualifying I served inthe Navyfor a timeas I think you know. I was ontheflag-ship on the West African Stationand Iremember asingular example of nerve which came to mynotice atthat time. One of our small gunboats hadgone upthe Calabar riverand while there thesurgeondied of coast fever. On the same day a man'sleg wasbroken by a spar falling upon itand itbecamequite obvious that it must be taken off abovethe kneeif his life was to be saved. The younglieutenantwho was in charge of the craft searchedamong thedead doctor's effects and laid his handsupon somechloroforma hip-joint knifeand a volumeof Grey'sAnatomy. He had the man laid by thestewardupon the cabin tableand with a picture of acrosssection of the thigh in front of him he beganto takeoff the limb. Every now and thenreferringto thediagramhe would say: `Stand by withthelashingssteward. There's blood on the chartabouthere.' Then he would jab with his knife untilhe cut thearteryand he and his assistant would tieit upbefore they went any further. In this way theygraduallywhittled the leg offand upon my word theymade avery excellent job of it. The man is hoppingabout thePortsmouth Hard at this day.
"It'sno joke when the doctor of one of theseisolatedgunboats himself falls ill" continues thesurgeonafter a pause. "You might think it easy forhim toprescribe for himselfbut this fever knocksyou downlike a cluband you haven't strength leftto brush amosquito off your face. I had a touch ofit atLagosand I know what I am telling you. Butthere wasa chum of mine who really had a curiousexperience. The whole crew gave him upandas theyhad neverhad a funeral aboard the shipthey beganrehearsingthe forms so as to be ready. They thoughtthat hewas unconsciousbut he swears he could hearevery wordthat passed. `Corpse comin' up thelatchway!'cried the Cockney sergeant of Marines.
`Presentharms!' He was so amusedand so indignanttoothathe just made up his mind that he wouldn'tbe carriedthrough that hatchwayand he wasn'teither."
"There'sno need for fiction in medicine"remarksFoster"for the facts will always beatanythingyou can fancy. But it has seemed to mesometimesthat a curious paper might be read at someof thesemeetings about the uses of medicine inpopularfiction."
"Wellof what the folk die ofand what diseasesare mademost use of in novels. Some are worn topiecesand otherswhich are equally common in reallifearenever mentioned. Typhoid is fairlyfrequentbut scarlet fever is unknown. Heartdisease iscommonbut then heart diseaseas we knowitisusually the sequel of some foregoing diseaseof whichwe never hear anything in the romance. Thenthere isthe mysterious malady called brain feverwhichalways attacks the heroine after a crisisbutwhich isunknown under that name to the text books.
Peoplewhen they are over-excited in novels fall downin a fit. In a fairly large experience I have neverknownanyone do so in real life. The smallcomplaintssimply don't exist. Nobody ever getsshinglesor quinsyor mumps in a novel. All thediseasestoobelong to the upper part of the body.
Thenovelist never strikes below the belt."
"I'lltell you whatFoster" says the alienistthere is aside of life which is too medical for thegeneralpublic and too romantic for the professionaljournalsbut which contains some of the richesthumanmaterials that a man could study. It'snot apleasant sideI am afraidbut if it is goodenough forProvidence to createit is good enoughfor us totry and understand. It would deal withstrangeoutbursts of savagery and vice in the livesof thebest mencurious momentary weaknesses in therecord ofthe sweetest womenknown but to one ortwoandinconceivable to the world around. It woulddealtoowith the singular phenomena of waxing andof waningmanhoodand would throw a light upon thoseactionswhich have cut short many an honoured careerand sent aman to a prison when he should have beenhurried toa consulting-room. Of all evils that maycome uponthe sons of menGod shield us principallyfrom thatone!"
"Ihad a case some little time ago which was outof theordinary" says the surgeon. "There's afamousbeauty in London society--I mention no names--who usedto be remarkable a few seasons ago for thevery lowdresses which she would wear. She had thewhitest ofskins and most beautiful of shoulderssoit was nowonder. Then gradually the frilling at hernecklapped upwards and upwardsuntil last year sheastonishedeveryone by wearing quite a high collar ata timewhen it was completely out of fashion. Wellone daythis very woman was shown into my consulting-room. When the footman was gone she suddenly toreoff theupper part of her dress. `For Gods sakedosomething for me!' she cried. Then I saw what thetroublewas. A rodent ulcer was eating its wayupwardscoiling on in its serpiginous fashion untilthe end ofit was flush with her collar. The redstreak ofits trail was lost below the line of herbust. Year by year it had ascended and she hadheightenedher dress to hide ituntil now it wasabout toinvade her face. She had been too proud toconfessher troubleeven to a medical man."
"Anddid you stop it?"
"Wellwith zinc chloride I did what I could.
But it maybreak out again. She was one of thosebeautifulwhite-and-pink creatures who are rottenwithstruma. You may patch but you can't mend."
"Dear!dear! dear!" cries the generalpractitionerwith that kindly softening of the eyeswhich hadendeared him to so many thousands. "Isuppose wemustn't think ourselves wiser thanProvidencebut there are times when one feels thatsomethingis wrong in the scheme of things. I'veseen somesad things in my life. Did I ever tell youthat casewhere Nature divorced a most loving couple?
He was afine young fellowan athlete and agentlemanbut he overdid athletics. You know howthe forcethat controls us gives us a little tweak toremind uswhen we get off the beaten track. It maybe a pinchon the great toe if we drink too muchand worktoo little. Or it may be a tug on ournerves ifwe dissipate energy too much. With theathleteof courseit's the heart or the lungs. Hehad badphthisis and was sent to Davos. Wellasluck wouldhave itshe developed rheumatic feverwhich lefther heart very much affected. Nowdo yousee thedreadful dilemma in which those poor peoplefoundthemselves? When he came below four thousandfeet orsohis symptoms became terrible. She couldcome upabout twenty-five hundred and then her heartreachedits limit. They had several interviews halfway downthe valleywhich left them nearly deadandat lastthe doctors had to absolutely forbid it.
And so forfour years they lived within three milesof eachother and never met. Every morning he wouldgo to aplace which overlooked the chalet in whichshe livedand would wave a great white cloth and sheanswerfrom below. They could see each other quiteplainlywith their field glassesand they might havebeen indifferent planets for all their chance ofmeeting."
"Andone at last died" says the outsider.
"Nosir. I'm sorry not to be able to clinch thestorybutthe man recovered and is now a successfulstockbrokerin Drapers Gardens. The womantooisthe motherof a considerable family. But what areyou doingthere?"
"Onlytaking a note or two of your talk."
The threemedical men laugh as they walk towardstheirovercoats.
"Whywe've done nothing but talk shop" says thegeneralpractitioner. "What possible interest canthe publictake in that?"
Of thedealings of Edward Bellingham with WilliamMonkhouseLeeand of the cause of the great terrorofAbercrombie Smithit may be that no absolute andfinaljudgment will ever be delivered. It is truethat wehave the full and clear narrative of Smithhimselfand such corroboration as he could look forfromThomas Styles the servantfrom the ReverendPlumptreePetersonFellow of Old'sand from suchotherpeople as chanced to gain some passing glanceat this orthat incident in a singular chain ofevents. Yetin the mainthe story must rest uponSmithaloneand the most will think that it is morelikelythat one brainhowever outwardly sanehassomesubtle warp in its texturesome strange flaw initsworkingsthan that the path of Nature has beenoversteppedin open day in so famed a centre oflearningand light as the University of Oxford. Yetwhen wethink how narrow and how devious this path ofNature ishow dimly we can trace itfor all ourlamps ofscienceand how from the darknesswhichgirds it round great and terrible possibilitiesloom evershadowly upwardsit is a bold andconfidentman who will put a limit to the strange by-paths intowhich the human spirit may wander.
In acertain wing of what we will call OldCollege inOxford there is a corner turret of anexceedinggreat age. The heavy arch which spans theopen doorhas bent downwards in the centre under theweight ofits yearsand the greylichen-blotchedblocks ofstone arebound and knitted together withwithes andstrands of ivyas though the old motherhad setherself to brace them up against wind andweather. From the door a stone stair curves upwardspirallypassing two landingsand terminating in athird oneits steps all shapeless and hollowed bythe treadof so many generations of the seekers afterknowledge. Life has flowed like water down thiswindingstairandwaterlikehas left these smooth-worngrooves behind it. From the long-gownedpedanticscholars of Plantagenet days down to theyoungbloods of a later agehow full and strong hadbeen thattide of young English life. And what wasleft nowof all those hopesthose strivingsthosefieryenergiessave here and there in some old-worldchurchyarda few scratches upon a stoneandperchancea handful of dust in a mouldering coffin?
Yet herewere the silent stair and the grey oldwallwithbend and saltire and many another heraldicdevicestill to be read upon its surfacelikegrotesqueshadows thrown back from the days that hadpassed.
In themonth of Mayin the year 1884threeyoung menoccupied the sets of rooms which opened onto theseparate landings of the old stair. Each setconsistedsimply of a sitting-room and of a bedroomwhile thetwo corresponding rooms upon the ground-floor wereusedthe one as a coal-cellarand theother asthe living-room of the servantor gypThomasStyleswhose duty it was to wait upon thethree menabove him. To right and to left was a lineoflecture-rooms and of officesso that the dwellersin the oldturret enjoyed a certain seclusionwhichmade thechambers popular among the more studiousundergraduates. Such were the three who occupiedthemnow--Abercrombie Smith aboveEdward Bellinghambeneathhimand William Monkhouse Lee upon theloweststorey.
It was teno'clock on a bright spring nightandAbercrombieSmith lay back in his arm-chairhis feetupon thefenderand his briar-root pipe between hislips. In a similar chairand equally at his easetherelounged on the other side of the fireplace hisold schoolfriend Jephro Hastie. Both men were inflannelsfor they had spent their evening upon theriverbutapart from their dress no one couldlook attheir hard-cutalert faces without seeingthat theywere open-air men--men whose minds andtastesturned naturally to all that was manly androbust. Hastieindeedwas stroke of his collegeboatandSmith was an even better oarbut a comingexaminationhad already cast its shadow over him andheld himto his worksave for the few hours a weekwhichhealth demanded. A litter of medical booksupon thetablewith scattered bonesmodels andanatomicalplatespointed to the extent as well asthe natureof his studieswhile a couple of single-sticks anda set of boxing-gloves above themantelpiecehinted at the means by whichwithHastie'shelphe might take his exercise in its mostcompressedand least distant form. They knew eachother verywell--so well that they could sit now inthatsoothing silence which is the very highestdevelopmentof companionship.
"Havesome whisky" said Abercrombie Smith atlastbetween two cloudbursts. "Scotch in the jug andIrish inthe bottle."
"Nothanks. I'm in for the sculls. I don'tliquorwhen I'm training. How about you?"
"I'mreading hard. I think it best to leave italone."
Hastienoddedand they relapsed into a contentedsilence.
"By-the-waySmith" asked Hastiepresentlyhave youmade the acquaintance of either of thefellows onyour stair yet?"
"Justa nod when we pass. Nothing more."
"Hum!I should be inclined to let it stand atthat. I know something of them both. Not muchbutas much asI want. I don't think I should take themto mybosom if I were you. Not that there's muchamiss withMonkhouse Lee."
"Meaningthe thin one?"
"Precisely. He is a gentlemanly little fellow.
I don'tthink there is any vice in him. But then youcan't knowhim without knowing Bellingham."
"Meaningthe fat one?"
"Yesthe fat one. And he's a man whom Iforonewouldrather not know."
AbercrombieSmith raised his eyebrows and glancedacross athis companion.
"What'supthen?" he asked. "Drink? Cards?
Cad? You used not to be censorious."
"Ah!you evidently don't know the manor youwouldn'task. There's something damnable about him--somethingreptilian. My gorge always rises at him.
I shouldput him down as a man with secret vices--anevilliver. He's no foolthough. They say that heis one of the best men in his line that they haveever hadin the college."
"Easternlanguages. He's a demon at them.
Chillingworthmet him somewhere above the secondcataractlast longand he told me that he justprattledto the Arabs as if he had been born andnursed andweaned among them. He talked Coptic tothe Coptsand Hebrew to the Jewsand Arabic to theBedouinsand they were all ready to kiss the hem ofhisfrock-coat. There are some old hermit Johnniesup inthose parts who sit on rocks and scowl and spitat thecasual stranger. Wellwhen they saw thischapBellinghambefore he had said five words theyjust laydown on their bellies and wriggled.
Chillingworthsaid that he never saw anything likeit. Bellingham seemed to take it as his righttooandstrutted about among them and talked down to themlike aDutch uncle. Pretty good for an undergrad. ofOld'swasn't it?"
"Whydo you say you can't know Lee withoutknowingBellingham? "
"BecauseBellingham is engaged to his sisterEveline. Such a bright little girlSmith! I knowthe wholefamily well. It's disgusting to see thatbrute withher. A toad and a dovethat's what theyalwaysremind me of."
AbercrombieSmith grinned and knocked his ashesoutagainst the side of the grate.
"Youshow every card in your handoldchap"said he. "What a prejudicedgreen-eyedevil-thinkingold man it is! You have really nothingagainstthe fellow except that."
"WellI've known her ever since she was as longas thatcherry-wood pipeand I don't like to see hertakingrisks. And it is a risk. He looks beastly.
And he hasa beastly tempera venomous temper. Yourememberhis row with Long Norton?"
"No;you always forget that I am a freshman."
"Ahit was last winter. Of course. Wellyouknow thetowpath along by the river. There wereseveralfellows going along itBellingham in frontwhen theycame on an old market-woman coming theotherway. It had been raining--you know what thosefields arelike when it has rained--and the path ranbetweenthe river and a great puddle that was nearlyas broad. Wellwhat does this swine do but keep thepathandpush the old girl into the mudwhere sheand hermarketings came to terrible grief. It was ablackguardthing to doand Long Nortonwho is asgentle afellow as ever steppedtold him what hethought ofit. One word led to anotherand it endedin Nortonlaying his stick across the fellow'sshoulders. There was the deuce of a fuss about itand it's atreat to see the way in which Bellinghamlooks atNorton when they meet now. By JoveSmithit's nearly eleven o'clock!"
"Nohurry. Light your pipe again."
"NotI. I'm supposed to be in training. HereI've beensitting gossiping when I ought to have beensafelytucked up. I'll borrow your skullif you canshare it. Williams has had mine for a month. I'lltake thelittle bones of your eartooif you aresure youwon't need them. Thanks very much. Nevermind abagI can carry them very well under my arm.
Good-nightmy sonand take my tip as to yourneighbour."
WhenHastiebearing his anatomical plunderhadclatteredoff down the winding stairAbercrombieSmithhurled his pipe into the wastepaper basketanddrawinghis chair nearer to the lampplunged into aformidablegreen-covered volumeadorned with greatcoloredmaps of that strange internal kingdom ofwhich weare the hapless and helpless monarchs.
Though afreshman at Oxfordthe student was not soinmedicinefor he had worked for four years atGlasgowand at Berlinand this coming examinationwouldplace him finally as a member of hisprofession. With his firm mouthbroad foreheadandclear-cutsomewhat hard-featured facehe was a manwhoif hehad no brilliant talentwas yet sodoggedsopatientand so strong that he might inthe endovertop a more showy genius. A man whocan holdhis own among Scotchmen and North Germans isnot a manto be easily set back. Smith had left aname atGlasgow and at Berlinand he was bent nowupon doingas much at Oxfordif hard work anddevotioncould accomplish it.
He had satreading for about an hourand thehands ofthe noisy carriage clock upon the side tablewererapidly closing together upon the twelvewhen asuddensound fell upon the student's ear--a sharprathershrill soundlike the hissing intake of aman'sbreath who gasps under some strong emotion.
Smith laiddown his book and slanted his ear tolisten. There was no one on either side or abovehimsothat the interruption came certainly from theneighbourbeneath--the same neighbour of whom Hastiehad givenso unsavoury an account. Smith knew himonly as aflabbypale-faced man of silent andstudioushabitsa manwhose lamp threw a golden barfrom theold turret even after he had extinguishedhis own. This community in lateness had formed acertainsilent bond between them. It was soothing toSmith whenthe hours stole on towards dawning to feelthat therewas another so close who set as small avalue uponhis sleep as he did. Even nowas histhoughtsturned towards himSmith's feelings werekindly. Hastie was a good fellowbut he wasroughstrong-fibredwith no imagination orsympathy. He could not tolerate departures from whathe lookedupon as the model type of manliness. If aman couldnot be measured by a public-schoolstandardthen he was beyond the pale with Hastie.
Like somany who are themselves robusthe was apt toconfusethe constitution with the charactertoascribe towant of principle what was really a wantofcirculation. Smithwith his stronger mindknewhisfriend's habitand made allowance for it now ashisthoughts turned towards the man beneath him.
There wasno return of the singular soundandSmith wasabout to turn to his work once morewhensuddenlythere broke out in the silence of the nighta hoarsecrya positive scream--the call of a manwho ismoved and shaken beyond all control. Smithsprang outof his chair and dropped his book. He wasa man offairly firm fibrebut there was somethingin thissuddenuncontrollable shriek of horror whichchilledhis blood and pringled in his skin. Comingin such aplace and at such an hourit brought athousandfantastic possibilities into his head.
Should herush downor was it better to wait? Hehad allthe national hatred of making a sceneand heknew solittle of his neighbour that he would notlightlyintrude upon his affairs. For a momenthe stoodin doubt and even as he balanced thematterthere was a quick rattle of footsteps upon thestairsand young Monkhouse Leehalf dressed and aswhite asashesburst into his room.
"Comedown!" he gasped. "Bellingham's ill."
AbercrombieSmith followed him closely downstairsinto the sitting-room which was beneath hisownandintent as he was upon the matter in handhecould notbut take an amazed glance around him as hecrossedthe threshold. It was such a chamber as hehad neverseen before--a museum rather than a study.
Walls andceiling were thickly covered with athousandstrange relics from Egypt and the East.
Tallangular figures bearing burdens or weaponsstalked inan uncouth frieze round the apartments.
Above werebull-headedstork-headedcat-headedowl-headedstatueswith viper-crownedalmond-eyedmonarchsand strangebeetle-like deities cut out ofthe blueEgyptian lapis lazuli. Horus and Isis andOsirispeeped down from every niche and shelfwhileacross theceiling a true son of Old Nilea greathanging-jawedcrocodilewas slung in a double noose.
In thecentre of this singular chamber was alargesquare tablelittered with papersbottlesand thedried leaves of some gracefulpalm-likeplant. These varied objects had all been heapedtogetherin order to make room for a mummy casewhich hadbeen conveyed from the wallas was evidentfrom thegap thereand laid across the front of thetable. The mummy itselfa horridblackwitheredthinglike a charred head on a gnarled bushwaslying halfout of the casewith its clawlike handand bonyforearm resting upon the table. Propped upagainstthe sarcophagus was an old yellow scroll ofpapyrusand in front of itin a wooden armchairsat theowner of the roomhis head thrown backhiswidely-openedeyes directed in a horrified stare tothecrocodile above himand his bluethick lipspuffingloudly with every expiration.
"MyGod! he's dying!" cried Monkhouse Leedistractedly.
He was aslimhandsome young fellowolive-skinnedand dark-eyedof a Spanish rather than of anEnglishtypewith a Celtic intensity of manner whichcontrastedwith the Saxon phlegm of Abercombie Smith.
"Onlya faintI think" said the medicalstudent. "Just give me a hand with him. You takehis feet. Now on to the sofa. Can you kick allthoselittle wooden devils off? What a litter it is!
Now hewill be all right if we undo his collar andgive himsome water. What has he been up to at all?"
"Idon't know. I heard him cry out. I ran up.
I know himpretty wellyou know. It is very good ofyou tocome down."
"Hisheart is going like a pair of castanets"saidSmithlaying his hand on the breast of theunconsciousman. "He seems to me to be frightenedall topieces. Chuck the water over him! What aface hehas got on him!"
It wasindeed a strange and most repellent facefor colourand outline were equally unnatural. Itwas whitenot with the ordinary pallor of fear butwith anabsolutely bloodless whitelike the underside of asole. He was very fatbut gave theimpressionof having at some time been considerablyfatterfor his skin hung loosely in creases andfoldsandwas shot with a meshwork of wrinkles.
Shortstubbly brown hair bristled up from his scalpwith apair of thickwrinkled ears protruding oneitherside. His light grey eyes were still openthe pupilsdilated and the balls projecting in afixed andhorrid stare. It seemed to Smith as helookeddown upon him that he had never seen nature'sdangersignals flying so plainly upon a man'scountenanceand his thoughts turned more seriouslyto thewarning which Hastie had given him an hourbefore.
"Whatthe deuce can have frightened him so?" heasked.
"Idon't know. It's beastly and morbid. I wishhe woulddrop it. It's the second fright he hasgiven me. It was the same last winter. I found himjust likethiswith that horrid thing in front ofhim."
"Whatdoes he want with the mummythen?"
"Ohhe's a crankyou know. It's his hobby. Heknows moreabout these things than any man inEngland. But I wish he wouldn't! Ahhe's beginningto cometo."
A fainttinge of colour had begun to steal backintoBellingham's ghastly cheeksand his eyelidsshiveredlike a sail after a calm. He clasped andunclaspedhis handsdrew a longthin breath betweenhis teethand suddenly jerking up his headthrew aglance ofrecognition around him. As his eyes fellupon themummyhe sprang off the sofaseized theroll ofpapyrusthrust it into a drawerturned thekeyandthen staggered back on to the sofa.
"What'sup?" he asked. "What do you chaps want?"
"You'vebeen shrieking out and making no end of afuss"said Monkhouse Lee. "If our neighbour herefrom abovehadn't come downI'm sure I don't knowwhat Ishould have done with you."
"Ahit's Abercrombie Smith" said Bellinghamglancingup at him. "How very good of you to comein! What a fool I am! Ohmy Godwhat a fool Iam!"
He sunkhis head on to his handsand burst intopeal afterpeal of hysterical laughter.
"Lookhere! Drop it!" cried Smithshaking himroughly bythe shoulder.
"Yournerves are all in a jangle. You must droptheselittle midnight games with mummiesor you'llbe goingoff your chump. You're all on wires now."
"Iwonder" said Bellingham"whether you wouldbe as coolas I am if you had seen----"
"Ohnothing. I meant that I wonder if you couldsit up atnight with a mummy without trying yournerves. I have no doubt that you are quite right. Idare saythat I have been taking it out of myself toomuchlately. But I am all right now. Please don'tgothough. Just wait for a few minutes until I amquitemyself."
"Theroom is very close" remarked Leethrowingopen thewindow and letting in the cool night air.
"It'sbalsamic resin" said Bellingham. Helifted upone of the dried palmate leaves from thetable andfrizzled it over the chimney of the lamp.
It brokeaway into heavy smoke wreathsand apungentbiting odour filled the chamber. "It'sthe sacredplant--the plant of the priests" heremarked. "Do you know anything of EasternlanguagesSmith?"
"Nothingat all. Not a word."
The answerseemed to lift a weight from theEgyptologist'smind.
"By-the-way"he continued"how long was it fromthe timethat you ran downuntil I came to mysenses?"
"Notlong. Some four or five minutes."
"Ithought it could not be very long" said hedrawing along breath. "But what a strange thingunconsciousnessis! There is no measurement to it.
I couldnot tell from my own sensations if it wereseconds orweeks. Now that gentleman on the tablewas packedup in the days of the eleventh dynastysome fortycenturies agoand yet if he could findhis tonguehe would tell us that this lapse of timehas beenbut a closing of the eyes and a reopening ofthem. He is a singularly fine mummySmith."
Smithstepped over to the table and looked downwith aprofessional eye at the black and twisted formin frontof him. The featuresthough horriblydiscolouredwere perfectand two little nut-likeeyes stilllurked in the depths of the blackhollowsockets. The blotched skin was drawn tightly frombone toboneand a tangled wrap of black coarsehair fellover the ears. Two thin teethlike thoseof a ratoverlay the shrivelled lower lip. In itscrouchingpositionwith bent joints and craned headthere wasa suggestion of energy about the horridthingwhich made Smith's gorge rise. The gaunt ribswith theirparchment-like coveringwere exposedandthesunkenleaden-hued abdomenwith the long slitwhere theembalmer had left his mark; but the lowerlimbs werewrapt round with coarse yellow bandages.
A numberof little clove-like pieces of myrrh and ofcassiawere sprinkled over the bodyand layscatteredon the inside of the case.
"Idon't know his name" said Bellinghampassinghis handover the shrivelled head. "You see theoutersarcophagus with the inscriptions is missing.
Lot 249 isall the title he has now. You see itprinted onhis case. That was his number in theauction atwhich I picked him up."
"Hehas been a very pretty sort of fellow in hisday"remarked Abercrombie Smith.
"Hehas been a giant. His mummy is six feetseven inlengthand that would be a giant overthereforthey were never a very robust race. Feelthesegreat knotted bonestoo. He would be a nastyfellow totackle."
"Perhapsthese very hands helped to build thestonesinto the pyramids" suggested MonkhouseLeelooking down with disgust in his eyes at thecrookedunclean talons.
"Nofear. This fellow has been pickled innatronand looked after in the most approved style.
They didnot serve hodsmen in that fashion. Salt orbitumenwas enough for them. It has been calculatedthat thissort of thing cost about seven hundred andthirtypounds in our money. Our friend was a nobleat theleast. What do you make of that smallinscriptionnear his feetSmith?"
"Itold you that I know no Eastern tongue."
"Ahso you did. It is the name of the embalmerI takeit. A very conscientious worker he must havebeen. I wonder how many modern works will survivefourthousand years?"
He kept onspeaking lightly and rapidlybut itwasevident to Abercrombie Smith that he was stillpalpitatingwith fear. His hands shookhis lowerliptrembledand look where he wouldhis eye alwayscamesliding round to his gruesome companion.
Throughall his fearhoweverthere was a suspicionof triumphin his tone and manner. His eye shoneand hisfootstepas he paced the roomwas brisk andjaunty. He gave the impression of a man who has gonethrough anordealthe marks of which he still bearsupon himbut which has helped him to his end.
"You'renot going yet?" he criedas Smith rosefrom thesofa.
At theprospect of solitudehis fears seemed tocrowd backupon himand he stretched out a hand todetainhim.
"YesI must go. I have my work to do. You areall rightnow. I think that with your nervous systemyou shouldtake up some less morbid study."
"OhI am not nervous as a rule; and I haveunwrappedmummies before."
"Youfainted last time" observed Monkhouse Lee.
"Ahyesso I did. WellI must have a nervetonic or acourse of electricity. You are not goingLee?"
"I'lldo whatever you wishNed."
"ThenI'll come down with you and have a shake-down onyour sofa. Good-nightSmith. I am so sorryto havedisturbed you with my foolishness."
They shookhandsand as the medical studentstumbledup the spiral and irregular stair he heard akey turnin a doorand the steps of his two newacquaintancesas they descended to the lower floor.
In thisstrange way began the acquaintancebetweenEdward Bellingham and Abercrombie Smithanacquaintance which the latterat leasthad nodesire topush further. Bellinghamhoweverappearedto have taken a fancy to his rough-spokenneighbourand made his advances in such a way thathe couldhardly be repulsed without absolutebrutality. Twice he called to thank Smith for hisassistanceand many times afterwards he looked inwithbookspapersand such other civilities as twobachelorneighbours can offer each other. He wasasSmith soonfounda man of wide readingwithcatholictastes and an extraordinary memory. Hismannertoowas so pleasing and suave that one cameafter atimeto overlook his repellent appearance.
For ajaded and wearied man he was no unpleasantcompanionand Smith found himselfafter a timelookingforward to his visitsand even returningthem.
Clever ashe undoubtedly washoweverthemedicalstudent seemed to detect a dash of insanityin theman. He broke out at times into a highinflatedstyle of talk which was in contrast with thesimplicityof his life.
"Itis a wonderful thing" he cried"to feelthat onecan command powers of good and of evil--aministeringangel or a demon of vengeance." AndagainofMonkhouse Leehe said--"Lee is a goodfellowanhonest fellowbut he is without strengthorambition. He would not make a fit partnerfor a manwith a great enterprise. He would not makea fitpartner for me."
At suchhints and innuendoes stolid Smithpuffingsolemnly at his pipewould simply raise hiseyebrowsand shake his headwith littleinterjectionsof medical wisdom as to earlier hoursandfresher air.
One habitBellingham had developed of late whichSmith knewto be a frequent herald of a weakeningmind. He appeared to be forever talking to himself.
At latehours of the nightwhen there could be novisitorwith himSmith could still hear his voicebeneathhim in a lowmuffled monologuesunk almostto awhisperand yet very audible in the silence.
Thissolitary babbling annoyed and distracted thestudentso that he spoke more than once to hisneighbourabout it. Bellinghamhoweverflushed upat thechargeand denied curtly that he had uttereda sound;indeedhe showed more annoyance over thematterthan the occasion seemed to demand.
HadAbercrombie Smith had any doubt as to his ownears hehad not to go far to find corroboration. TomStylesthe little wrinkled man-servant who hadattendedto the wants of the lodgers in the turretfor alonger time than any man's memory could carryhimwassorely put to it over the same matter.
"Ifyou pleasesir" said heas he tidied downthe topchamber one morning"do you think Mr.Bellinghamis all rightsir?"
"Yessir. Right in his headsir."
"Whyshould he not bethen?"
"WellI don't knowsir. His habits has changedof late. He's not the same man he used to bethoughI makefree to say that he was never quite one of mygentlemenlike Mr. Hastie or yourselfsir. He'stook totalkin' to himself something awful. I wonderit don'tdisturb you. I don't know what to make ofhimsir."
"Idon't know what business it is of yoursStyles."
"WellI takes an interestMr. Smith. It may beforward ofmebut I can't help it. I feel sometimesas if Iwas mother and father to my young gentlemen.
It allfalls on me when things go wrong and therelationscome. But Mr. Bellinghamsir. I want toknow whatit is that walks about his room sometimeswhen he'sout and when the door's locked on theoutside."
"Eh!you're talking nonsenseStyles."
"Maybesosir; but I heard it more'n once withmy ownears."
"Verygoodsir. You'll ring the bell if youwant me."
AbercrombieSmith gave little heed to the gossipof the oldman-servantbut a small incident occurreda few dayslater which left an unpleasant effect uponhis mindand brought the words of Styles forcibly tohismemory.
Bellinghamhad come up to see him late one nightand wasentertaining him with an interesting accountof therock tombs of Beni Hassan in Upper EgyptwhenSmithwhose hearing was remarkably acutedistinctlyheard thesound of a door opening on the landingbelow.
"There'ssome fellow gone in or out of yourroom"he remarked.
Bellinghamsprang up and stood helpless for amomentwith the expression of a man who is halfincredulousand half afraid.
"Isurely locked it. I am almost positive that Ilockedit" he stammered. "No one could have openedit."
"WhyI hear someone coming up the steps now"saidSmith.
Bellinghamrushed out through the doorslammedit loudlybehind himand hurried down the stairs.
Abouthalf-way down Smith heard him stopand thoughthe caughtthe sound of whispering. A moment laterthe doorbeneath him shuta key creaked in a lockandBellinghamwith beads of moisture upon his palefaceascended the stairs once moreand re-enteredthe room.
"It'sall right" he saidthrowing himself downin achair. "It was that fool of a dog. He hadpushed thedoor open. I don't know how I came toforget tolock it."
"Ididn't know you kept a dog" said Smithlookingvery thoughtfully at the disturbed face ofhiscompanion.
"YesI haven't had him long. I must get rid ofhim. He's a great nuisance."
"Hemust beif you find it so hard to shut himup. I should have thought that shutting the doorwould havebeen enoughwithout locking it."
"Iwant to prevent old Styles from letting himout. He's of some valueyou knowand it would beawkward tolose him."
"I ama bit of a dog-fancier myself" said Smithstillgazing hard at his companion from the corner ofhis eyes. "Perhaps you'll let me have a look at it."
"Certainly. But I am afraid it cannot be to-night; Ihave an appointment. Is that clock right?
Then I ama quarter of an hour late already. You'llexcuse meI am sure."
He pickedup his cap and hurried from the room.
In spiteof his appointmentSmith heard him re-enterhis ownchamber and lock his door upon the inside.
Thisinterview left a disagreeable impressionupon themedical student's mind. Bellingham hadlied tohimand lied so clumsily that it looked asif he haddesperate reasons for concealing the truth.
Smith knewthat his neighbour had no dog. He knewalsothatthe step which he had heard upon thestairs wasnot the step of an animal. But if it werenotthenwhat could it be? There was old Styles'sstatementabout the something which used to pace theroom attimes when the owner was absent. Could it bea woman? Smith rather inclined to the view. If soit wouldmean disgrace and expulsion to Bellingham ifit werediscovered by the authoritiesso that hisanxietyand falsehoods might be accounted for. Andyet it wasinconceivable that an undergraduate couldkeep awoman in his rooms without being instantlydetected. Be the explanation what it mighttherewassomething ugly about itand Smith determinedashe turnedto his booksto discourage all furtherattemptsat intimacy on the part of his soft-spokenandill-favoured neighbour.
But hiswork was destined to interruption thatnight. He had hardly caught tip the broken threadswhen afirmheavy footfall came three steps at atime frombelowand Hastiein blazer and flannelsburst intothe room.
"Stillat it!" said heplumping down into hiswontedarm-chair. "What a chap you are to stew!
I believean earthquake might come and knock Oxfordinto acocked hatand you would sit perfectly placidwith yourbooks among the rains. HoweverI won'tbore youlong. Three whiffs of baccyand I am off."
"What'sthe newsthen?" asked Smithcramming aplug ofbird's-eye into his briar with hisforefinger.
"Nothingvery much. Wilson made 70 for thefreshmenagainst the eleven. They say that they willplay himinstead of Buddicombfor Buddicomb is cleanoffcolour. He used to be able to bowl a littlebutit'snothing but half-vollies and long hops now."
"Mediumright" suggested Smithwith the intensegravitywhich comes upon a 'varsity man when hespeaks ofathletics.
"Incliningto fastwith a work from leg. Comeswith thearm about three inches or so. He used to benasty on awet wicket. Ohby-the-wayhave youheardabout Long Norton?"
"Yesjust as he was turning out of the HighStreetand within a hundred yards of the gate ofOld's."
"Ahthat's the rub! If you said `what'you wouldbe more grammatical. Norton swearsthat itwas not humanandindeedfrom thescratcheson his throatI should be inclined toagree withhim."
"Whatthen? Have we come down to spooks?"
AbercrombieSmith puffed his scientific contempt.
"Wellno; I don't think that is quite the ideaeither. I am inclined to think that if any showmanhas lost agreat ape latelyand the brute is inthesepartsa jury would find a true bill againstit. Norton passes that way every nightyou knowabout thesame hour. There's a tree that hangs lowover thepath--the big elm from Rainy's garden.
Nortonthinks the thing dropped on him out of thetree. Anyhowhe was nearly strangled by two armswhichhesayswere as strong and as thin as steelbands. He saw nothing; only those beastly arms thattightenedand tightened on him. He yelled his headnearlyoffand a couple of chaps came runningandthe thingwent over the wall like a cat. He nevergot a fairsight of it the whole time. It gaveNorton ashake upI can tell you. I tell him it hasbeen asgood as a change at the sea-side for him."
"Agarrottermost likely" said Smith.
"Verypossibly. Norton says not; but wedon't mindwhat he says. The garrotter had longnailsandwas pretty smart at swinging himself overwalls. By-the-wayyour beautiful neighbour would bepleased ifhe heard about it. He had a grudgeagainstNortonand he's not a manfrom what I knowof himtoforget his little debts. But hallooldchapwhathave you got in your noddle?"
"Nothing"Smith answered curtly.
He hadstarted in his chairand the look hadflashedover his face which comes upon a man who isstrucksuddenly by some unpleasant idea.
"Youlooked as if something I had said had takenyou on theraw. By-the-wayyou have made theacquaintanceof Master B. since I looked in lasthave younot? Young Monkhouse Lee told me somethingto thateffect."
"Yes;I know him slightly. He has been up hereonce ortwice."
"Wellyou're big enough and ugly enough to takecare ofyourself. He's not what I should callexactly ahealthy sort of Johnnythoughno doubthe's verycleverand all that. But you'll soon findout foryourself. Lee is all right; he's a verydecentlittle fellow. Wellso longold chap! IrowMullins for the Vice-Chancellor's pot onWednesdayweekso mind you come downin case Idon't seeyou before."
BovineSmith laid down his pipe and turnedstolidlyto his books once more. But with allthe willin the worldhe found it very hard to keephis mindupon his work. It would slip away to broodupon theman beneath himand upon the little mysterywhich hunground his chambers. Then his thoughtsturned tothis singular attack of which Hastie hadspokenand to the grudge which Bellingham was saidto owe theobject of it. The two ideas would persistin risingtogether in his mindas though there weresome closeand intimate connection between them. Andyet thesuspicion was so dim and vague that it couldnot be putdown in words.
"Confoundthe chap!" cried Smithas he shied hisbook onpathology across the room. "He has spoiledmy night'sreadingand that's reason enoughifthere wereno otherwhy I should steer clear of himin thefuture."
For tendays the medical student confined himselfso closelyto his studies that he neither saw norheardanything of either of the men beneath him. Atthe hourswhen Bellingham had been accustomed tovisit himhe took care to sport his oakand thoughhe morethan once heard a knocking at his outer doorheresolutely refused to answer it. One afternoonhoweverhe was descending the stairs whenjust ashe waspassing itBellingham's door flew openandyoungMonkhouse Lee came out with his eyes sparklingand a darkflush of anger upon his olive cheeks.
Close athis heels followed Bellinghamhis fatunhealthyface all quivering with malignant passion.
"Youfool!" he hissed. "You'll be sorry."
"Verylikely" cried the other. "Mind what Isay. It's off! I won't hear of it!"
"OhI'll keep that! I won't speak. But I'dratherlittle Eva was in her grave. Once for allit's off. She'll do what I say. We don't want tosee youagain."
So muchSmith could not avoid hearingbut hehurriedonfor he had no wish to be involved intheirdispute. There had been a serious breachbetweenthemthat was clear enoughand Lee wasgoing tocause the engagement with his sister to bebrokenoff. Smith thought of Hastie's comparison ofthe toadand the doveand was glad to think that thematter wasat an end. Bellingham's face when he wasin apassion was not pleasant to look upon. He wasnot a manto whom an innocent girl could be trustedfor life. As he walkedSmith wondered languidlywhat couldhave caused the quarreland what thepromisemight be which Bellingham had been so anxiousthatMonkhouse Lee should keep.
It was theday of the sculling match betweenHastie andMullinsand a stream of men weremakingtheir way down to the banks of the Isis.
A May sunwas shining brightlyand the yellow pathwas barredwith the black shadows of the tall elm-trees. On either side the grey colleges lay backfrom theroadthe hoary old mothers of minds lookingout fromtheir highmullioned windows at the tide ofyoung lifewhich swept so merrily past them. Black-cladtutorsprim officialspale reading menbrown-facedstraw-hatted young athletes in white sweatersormany-coloured blazersall were hurrying towardsthe bluewinding river which curves through theOxfordmeadows.
AbercrombieSmithwith the intuition of an oldoarsmanchose his position at the point where heknew thatthe struggleif there were a strugglewouldcome. Far off he heard the hum which announcedthe startthe gathering roar of the approachthethunder ofrunning feetand the shouts of the men inthe boatsbeneath him. A spray of half-claddeep-breathingrunners shot past himand craning overtheirshouldershe saw Hastie pulling a steadythirty-sixwhile his opponentwith a jerky fortywas a goodboat's length behind him. Smith gave acheer forhis friendand pulling out his watchwasstartingoff again for his chamberswhen he felt atouch uponhis shoulderand found that youngMonkhouseLee was beside him.
"Isaw you there" he saidin a timiddeprecatingway. "I wanted to speak to youif youcouldspare me a half-hour. This cottage is mine. Ishare itwith Harrington of King's. Come in and havea cup oftea."
"Imust be back presently" said Smith. "I amhard onthe grind at present. But I'll come in for afewminutes with pleasure. I wouldn't have come outonlyHastie is a friend of mine."
"Sohe is of mine. Hasn't he a beautiful style?
Mullinswasn't in it. But come into the cottage.
It's alittle den of a placebut it is pleasant towork induring the summer months."
It was asmallsquarewhite buildingwithgreendoors and shuttersand a rustic trellis-workporchstanding back some fifty yards from theriver'sbank. Insidethe main room was roughlyfitted upas a study--deal tableunpainted shelveswithbooksand a few cheap oleographs upon the wall.
A kettlesang upon a spirit-stoveand there were teathingsupon a tray on the table.
"Trythat chair and have a cigarette" said Lee.
"Letme pour you out a cup of tea. It's so good ofyou tocome infor I know that your time is a gooddeal takenup. I wanted to say to you thatif Iwere youI should change my rooms at once."
Smith satstaring with a lighted match in onehand andhis unlit cigarette in the other.
"Yes;it must seem very extraordinaryand theworst ofit is that I cannot give my reasonsfor Iam under asolemn promise--a very solemn promise.
But I maygo so far as to say that I don't thinkBellinghamis a very safe man to live near. I intendto campout here as much as I can for a time."
"Notsafe! What do you mean?"
"Ahthat's what I mustn't say. But do take myadviceand move your rooms. We had a grand row to-day. You must have heard usfor you came down thestairs."
"Isaw that you had fallen out."
"He'sa horrible chapSmith. That is the onlyword forhim. I have had doubts about him ever sincethat nightwhen he fainted--you rememberwhen youcamedown. I taxed him to-dayand he told me thingsthat mademy hair riseand wanted me to stand inwith him. I'm not strait-lacedbut I am aclergyman'ssonyou knowand I think there are somethingswhich are quite beyond the pale. I only thankGod that Ifound him out before it was too lateforhe was tohave married into my family."
"Thisis all very fineLee" said AbercrombieSmithcurtly. "But either you are saying a greatdeal toomuch or a great deal too little."
"Igive you a warning."
"Ifthere is real reason for warningno promisecan bindyou. If I see a rascal about to blow aplace upwith dynamite no pledge will stand in my wayofpreventing him."
"Ahbut I cannot prevent himand I can donothingbut warn you."
"Withoutsaying what you warn me against."
"Butthat is childish. Why should I fear himorany man?"
"Ican't tell you. I can only entreat you tochangeyour rooms. You are in danger where you are.
I don'teven say that Bellingham would wish to injureyou. But it might happenfor he is a dangerousneighbourjust now."
"PerhapsI know more than you think" said Smithlookingkeenly at the young man's boyishearnestface. "Suppose I tell you that some one else sharesBellingham'srooms."
MonkhouseLee sprang from his chair inuncontrollableexcitement.
"Youknowthen?" he gasped.
Leedropped back again with a groan.
"Mylips are sealed" he said. "I must notspeak."
"Wellanyhow" said Smithrising"it is notlikelythat I should allow myself to be frightenedout ofrooms which suit me very nicely. Itwould be alittle too feeble for me to move out allmy goodsand chattels because you say that Bellinghammight insome unexplained way do me an injury. Ithink thatI'll just take my chanceand stay where Iamand asI see that it's nearly five o'clockImust askyou to excuse me."
He badethe young student adieu in a few curtwordsandmade his way homeward through the sweetspringevening feeling half-ruffledhalf-amusedasany otherstrongunimaginative man might who hasbeenmenaced by a vague and shadowy danger.
There wasone little indulgence which AbercrombieSmithalways allowed himselfhowever closely hiswork mightpress upon him. Twice a weekon theTuesdayand the Fridayit was his invariable customto walkover to Farlingfordthe residence of Dr.PlumptreePetersonsituated about a mile and a halfout ofOxford. Peterson had been a close friend ofSmith'selder brother Francisand as he was abachelorfairly well-to-dowith a good cellar and abetterlibraryhis house was a pleasant goal for aman whowas in need of a brisk walk. Twice a weekthenthemedical student would swing out there alongthe darkcountry roadsand spend a pleasant hour inPeterson'scomfortable studydiscussingover aglass ofold portthe gossip of the 'varsity orthe latestdevelopments of medicine or of surgery.
On the daywhich followed his interview withMonkhouseLeeSmith shut up his books at a quarterpasteightthe hour when he usually started for hisfriend'shouse. As he was leaving his roomhoweverhis eyeschanced to fall upon one of the books whichBellinghamhad lent himand his conscience prickedhim fornot having returned it. However repellentthe manmight behe should not be treated withdiscourtesy. Taking the bookhe walked downstairsandknocked at his neighbour's door. There was noanswer;but on turning the handle he found that itwasunlocked. Pleased at the thought of avoiding aninterviewhe stepped insideand placed the bookwith hiscard upon the table.
The lampwas turned half downbut Smith couldsee thedetails of the room plainly enough. It wasall muchas he had seen it before--the friezetheanimal-headedgodsthe banging crocodileand thetablelittered over with papers and dried leaves.
The mummycase stood upright against the wallbutthe mummyitself was missing. There was no sign ofany secondoccupant of the roomand he felt as hewithdrewthat he had probably done Bellingham aninjustice. Had he a guilty secret to preservehewouldhardly leave his door open so that all theworldmight enter.
The spiralstair was as black as pitchand Smithwas slowlymaking his way down its irregular stepswhen hewas suddenly conscious that something hadpassed himin the darkness. There was a faint sounda whiff ofaira light brushing past his elbowbutso slightthat he could scarcely be certain of it.
He stoppedand listenedbut the wind was rustlingamong theivy outsideand he could hear nothingelse.
"Isthat youStyles?" he shouted.
There wasno answerand all was still behindhim. It must have been a sudden gust of airforthere werecrannies and cracks in the old turret.
And yet hecould almost have sworn that be heard afootfallby his very side. He had emerged into thequadranglestill turning the matter over in hisheadwhena man came running swiftly across thesmooth-croppedlawn.
"ForGod's sake come at once! Young Lee isdrowned! Here's Harrington of King's with the news.
The doctoris out. You'll dobut come along atonce. There may be life in him."
"I'llbring some. There's a flask on my table."
Smithbounded up the stairstaking three at atimeseized the flaskand was rushing down with itwhenashe passed Bellingham's roomhis eyes felluponsomething which left him gasping and staringupon thelanding.
The doorwhich he had closed behind himwas nowopenandright in front of himwith the lamp-lightshiningupon itwas the mummy case. Three minutesago it hadbeen empty. He could swear to that. Nowit framedthe lank body of its horrible occupantwhostoodgrim and starkwith his black shrivelled facetowardsthe door. The form was lifeless and inertbut itseemed to Smith as he gazed that there stilllingered alurid spark of vitalitysome faint signofconsciousness in the little eyes which lurked inthe depthsof the hollow sockets. So astounded andshaken washe that he had forgotten his errandandwas stillstaring at the leansunken figure when thevoice ofhis friend below recalled him to himself.
"ComeonSmith!" he shouted. "It's life anddeathyouknow. Hurry up! Nowthen" he addedasthemedical student reappeared"let us do a sprint.
It is wellunder a mileand we should do it in fiveminutes. A human life is better worth running forthan apot."
Neck andneck they dashed through the darknessand didnot pull up untilpanting and spentthey hadreached the little cottage by the river.
Young Leelimp and dripping like a broken water-plantwasstretched upon the sofathe green scum ofthe riverupon his black hairand a fringe of whitefoam uponhis leaden-hued lips. Beside him knelt hisfellow-studentHarringtonendeavouring to chafe somewarmthback into his rigid limbs.
"Ithink there's life in him" said Smithwithhis handto the lad's side. "Put your watch glass tohis lips. Yesthere's dimming on it. You take onearmHastie. Now work it as I doand we'll soonpull himround."
For tenminutes they worked in silenceinflatinganddepressing the chest of the unconscious man. Atthe end ofthat time a shiver ran through his bodyhis lipstrembledand he opened his eyes. The threestudentsburst out into an irrepressible cheer.
"Wakeupold chap. You've frightened us quiteenough."
"Havesome brandy. Take a sip from the flask."
"He'sall right now" said his companionHarrington. "Heavenswhat a fright I got! I wasreadinghereand he had gone for a stroll as far asthe riverwhen I heard a scream and a splash. Out Iranandby the time that I could find him and fishhim outall life seemed to have gone. ThenSimpsoncouldn't get a doctorfor he has a game-legand I hadto runand I don't know what I'd have donewithoutyou fellows. That's rightold chap. Situp."
MonkhouseLee had raised himself on his handsand lookedwildly about him.
"What'sup?" he asked. "I've been in the water.
A look offear came into his eyesand he sankhis faceinto his hands.
"Howdid you fall in?"
"Ididn't fall in."
"Iwas thrown in. I was standing by the bankandsomething from behind picked me up like a featherand hurledme in. I heard nothingand I sawnothing. But I know what it wasfor all that."
"Andso do I" whispered Smith.
Lee lookedup with a quick glance of surprise.
"You'velearnedthen!" he said. "You remember theadvice Igave you?"
"Yesand I begin to think that I shall take it."
"Idon't know what the deuce you fellows aretalkingabout" said Hastie"but I thinkif I wereyouHarringtonI should get Lee to bed at once. Itwill betime enough to discuss the why and thewhereforewhen he is a little stronger. IthinkSmithyou and I can leave him alone now.I amwalking back to college; if you are coming inthatdirectionwe can have a chat."
But it waslittle chat that they had upon theirhomewardpath. Smith's mind was too full of theincidentsof the eveningthe absence of the mummyfrom hisneighbour's roomsthe step that passed himon thestairthe reappearance--the extraordinaryinexplicablereappearance of the grisly thing--andthen thisattack upon Leecorresponding so closelyto theprevious outrage upon another man against whomBellinghambore a grudge. All this settled in histhoughtstogether with the many little incidentswhich hadpreviously turned him against hisneighbourand the singular circumstances under whichhe wasfirst called in to him. What had been a dimsuspiciona vaguefantastic conjecturehadsuddenlytaken formand stood out in his mind as agrim facta thing not to be denied. And yethowmonstrousit was! how unheard of! how entirely beyondall boundsof human experience. An impartial judgeor eventhe friend who walked by his sidewouldsimplytell him that his eyes had deceived himthatthe mummyhad been there all the timethat young Leehadtumbled into the river as any other man tumblesinto ariverand that a blue pill was the best thingfor adisordered liver. He felt that he would havesaid asmuch if the positions had been reversed.
And yet hecould swear that Bellingham was a murdererat heartand that he wielded a weapon such as no manhad everused in all the grim history of crime.
Hastie hadbranched off to his rooms with a fewcrisp andemphatic comments upon his friend'sunsociabilityand Abercrombie Smith crossed thequadrangleto his corner turret with a strong feelingofrepulsion for his chambers and their associations.
He wouldtake Lee's adviceand move his quarters assoon aspossiblefor how could a man study when hisear wasever straining for every murmur or footstepin theroom below? He observedas he crossed overthe lawnthat the light was still shining inBellingham'swindowand as he passed up thestaircasethe door openedand the man himself lookedout athim. With his fatevil face he was like somebloatedspider fresh from the weaving of hispoisonousweb.
"Good-evening"said he. "Won't you come in?"
"No? You are busy as ever? I wanted to ask youaboutLee. I was sorry to hear that there was arumourthat something was amiss with him."
Hisfeatures were gravebut there was the gleamof ahidden laugh in his eyes as he spoke.
Smith sawitand he could have knocked him downfor it.
"You'llbe sorrier still to hear that MonkhouseLee isdoing very welland is out of all danger" heanswered. "Your hellish tricks have not come offthistime. Ohyou needn't try to brazen it out. Iknow allabout it."
Bellinghamtook a step back from the angrystudentand half-closed the door as if to protecthimself.
"Youare mad" he said. "What do you mean? Doyou assertthat I had anything to do with Lee'saccident?"
"Yes"thundered Smith. "You and that bag ofbonesbehind you; you worked it between you. I tellyou whatit isMaster B.they have given up burningfolk likeyoubut we still keep a hangmanandbyGeorge! ifany man in this college meets his deathwhile youare hereI'll have you upand if youdon'tswing for itit won't be my fault. You'llfind thatyour filthy Egyptian tricks won't answer inEngland."
"You'rea raving lunatic" said Bellingham.
"Allright. You just remember what I sayforyou'llfind that I'll be better than my word."
The doorslammedand Smith went fuming up to hischamberwhere he locked the door upon the insideand spenthalf the night in smoking his oldbriar andbrooding over the strange events of theevening.
Nextmorning Abercrombie Smith heard nothing ofhisneighbourbut Harrington called upon him in theafternoonto say that Lee was almost himself again.
All daySmith stuck fast to his workbut in theevening hedetermined to pay the visit to his friendDr.Peterson upon which he had started upon the nightbefore. A good walk and a friendly chat would bewelcome tohis jangled nerves.
Bellingham'sdoor was shut as he passedbutglancingback when he was some distance from theturrethesaw his neighbour's head at the windowoutlinedagainst the lamp-lighthis face pressedapparentlyagainst the glass as he gazed out into thedarkness. It was a blessing to be away from allcontactwith himbut if for a few hoursand Smithsteppedout brisklyand breathed the soft spring airinto hislungs. The half-moon lay in the westbetweentwo Gothic pinnaclesand threw upon thesilveredstreet a dark tracery from the stone-workabove. There was a brisk breezeand lightfleecycloudsdrifted swiftly across the sky. Old's was onthe veryborder of the townand in five minutesSmithfound himself beyond the houses and between thehedges ofa May-scented Oxfordshire lane.
It was alonely and little frequented roadwhich ledto his friend's house. Early as itwasSmithdid not meet a single soul upon his way.
He walkedbriskly along until he came to the avenuegatewhich opened into the long gravel drive leadingup toFarlingford. In front of him he could see thecosy redlight of the windows glimmering through thefoliage. He stood with his hand upon the iron latchof theswinging gateand he glanced back at the roadalongwhich he had come. Something was comingswiftlydown it.
It movedin the shadow of the hedgesilently andfurtivelya darkcrouching figuredimly visibleagainstthe black background. Even as he gazed backat itithad lessened its distance by twenty pacesand wasfast closing upon him. Out of the darknesshe had aglimpse of a scraggy neckand of two eyesthat willever haunt him in his dreams. He turnedand with acry of terror he ran for his life up theavenue. There were the red lightsthe signals ofsafetyalmost within a stone's throw of him. He wasa famousrunnerbut never had he run as he ran thatnight.
The heavygate had swung into place behind himbut heheard it dash open again before his pursuer.
As herushed madly and wildly through the nighthecould heara swiftdry patter behind himand couldseeas hethrew back a glancethat this horror wasboundinglike a tiger at his heelswith blazing eyesand onestringy arm outthrown. Thank Godthedoor wasajar. He could see the thin bar of lightwhich shotfrom the lamp in the hall. Nearer yetsoundedthe clatter from behind. He heard a hoarsegurglingat his very shoulder. With a shriek heflunghimself against the doorslammed and bolted itbehindhimand sank half-fainting on to the hallchair.
"MygoodnessSmithwhat's the matter?" askedPetersonappearing at the door of his study.
"Giveme some brandy!"
Petersondisappearedand came rushing out againwith aglass and a decanter.
"Youneed it" he saidas his visitor drank offwhat hepoured out for him. "Whymanyou are aswhite as acheese."
Smith laiddown his glassrose upand took adeepbreath.
"I ammy own man again now" said he. "I wasnever sounmanned before. Butwith your leavePetersonI will sleep here to-nightfor I don'tthink Icould face that road again except bydaylight. It's weakI knowbut I can't help it."
Petersonlooked at his visitor with a veryquestioningeye.
"Ofcourse you shall sleep here if you wish.
I'll tellMrs. Burney to make up the spare bed.
Where areyou off to now?"
"Comeup with me to the window that overlooks thedoor. I want you to see what I have seen."
They wentup to the window of the upper hallwhencethey could look down upon the approach to thehouse. The drive and the fields on either side layquiet andstillbathed in the peaceful moonlight.
"WellreallySmith" remarked Peterson"it iswell thatI know you to be an abstemious man. Whatin theworld can have frightened you?"
"I'lltell you presently. But where can it havegone? Ahnow looklook! See the curve of the roadjustbeyond your gate."
"YesI see; you needn't pinch my arm off. I sawsomeonepass. I should say a manrather thinapparentlyand tallvery tall. But what of him?
And whatof yourself? You are still shaking like anaspenleaf."
"Ihave been within hand-grip of the devilthat'sall. But come down to your studyand I shalltell youthe whole story."
He didso. Under the cheery lamplightwith aglass ofwine on the table beside himand the portlyform andflorid face of his friend in fronthenarratedin their orderall the eventsgreat andsmallwhich had formed so singular a chainfrom thenight onwhich he had found Bellingham faintingin frontof the mummy case until his horridexperienceof an hour ago.
"Therenow" he said as he concluded"that's thewholeblack business. It is monstrous andincrediblebut it is true."
Dr.Plumptree Peterson sat for some time insilencewith a very puzzled expression upon his face.
"Inever heard of such a thing in my lifenever!"he said at last. "You have told me thefacts. Now tell me your inferences."
"Youcan draw your own."
"ButI should like to hear yours. You havethoughtover the matterand I have not."
"Wellit must be a little vague in detailbutthe mainpoints seem to me to be clear enough. ThisfellowBellinghamin his Eastern studieshas gothold ofsome infernal secret by which a mummy--orpossiblyonly this particular mummy--can betemporarilybrought to life. He was trying thisdisgustingbusiness on the night when he fainted. Nodoubt thesight of the creature moving had shaken hisnerveeven though he had expected it. You rememberthatalmost the first words he said were to call outuponhimself as a fool. Wellhe got more hardenedafterwardsand carried the matter through withoutfainting. The vitality which he could put into itwasevidently only a passing thingfor I haveseen itcontinually in its case as dead as thistable. He has some elaborate processI fancybywhich hebrings the thing to pass. Having done ithenaturally bethought him that he might use thecreatureas an agent. It has intelligence and it hasstrength. For some purpose he took Lee into hisconfidence;but Leelike a decent Christianwouldhavenothing to do with such a business. Then theyhad a rowand Lee vowed that he would tell hissister ofBellingham's true character. Bellingham'sgame wasto prevent himand he nearly managed itbysettingthis creature of his on his track. He hadalreadytried its powers upon another man--Norton--towardswhom he had a grudge. It is the merestchancethat he has not two murders upon his soul.
ThenwhenI taxed him with the matterhe had thestrongestreasons for wishing to get me out of theway beforeI could convey my knowledge to anyoneelse. He got his chance when I went outfor he knewmy habitsand where I was bound for. I have had anarrowshavePetersonand it is mere luck youdidn'tfind me on your doorstep in the morning. I'mnot anervous man as a ruleand I never thought tohave thefear of death put upon me as it was to-night."
"Mydear boyyou take the matter too seriously"said hiscompanion. "Your nerves are out of orderwith yourworkand you make too much of it.
How couldsuch a thing as this stride about thestreets ofOxfordeven at nightwithout beingseen?"
"Ithas been seen. There is quite a scare in thetown aboutan escaped apeas they imagine thecreatureto be. It is the talk of the place."
"Wellit's a striking chain of events. And yetmy dearfellowyou must allow that each incident initself iscapable of a more natural explanation."
"What!even my adventure of to-night?"
"Certainly. You come out with your nerves allunstrungand your head full of this theory of yours.
Somegaunthalf-famished tramp steals after youandseeing yourunis emboldened to pursue you. Yourfears andimagination do the rest."
"Itwon't doPeterson; it won't do."
"Andagainin the instance of your finding themummy caseemptyand then a few moments later withanoccupantyou know that it was lamplightthat thelamp washalf turned downand that you had nospecialreason to look hard at the case. It is quitepossiblethat you may have overlooked the creature inthe firstinstance."
"Nono; it is out of the question."
"Andthen Lee may have fallen into the riverandNortonbeen garrotted. It is certainly a formidableindictmentthat you have against Bellingham;but if youwere to place it before a policemagistratehe would simply laugh in your face."
"Iknow he would. That is why I mean to take thematterinto my own hands."
"Yes;I feel that a public duty rests upon meandbesidesI must do it for my own safetyunlessI chooseto allow myself to be hunted by this beastout of thecollegeand that would be a little toofeeble. I have quite made up my mind what I shalldo. And first of allmay I use your paper and pensfor anhour?"
"Mostcertainly. You will find all that you wantupon thatside table."
AbercrombieSmith sat down before a sheet offoolscapand for an hourand then for a second hourhis pentravelled swiftly over it. Page after pagewasfinished and tossed aside while his friend leanedback inhis arm-chairlooking across at him withpatientcuriosity. At lastwith an exclamation ofsatisfactionSmith sprang to his feetgathered hispapers upinto orderand laid the last one uponPeterson'sdesk.
"Kindlysign this as a witness" he said.
"Awitness? Of what?"
"Ofmy signatureand of the date. The date isthe mostimportant. WhyPetersonmy life mighthang uponit."
"Mydear Smithyou are talking wildly. Let mebeg you togo to bed."
"Onthe contraryI never spoke so deliberatelyin mylife. And I will promise to go to bed themoment youhave signed it."
"Butwhat is it?"
"Itis a statement of all that I have beentellingyou to-night. I wish you to witness it."
"Certainly"said Petersonsigning his nameunder thatof his companion. "There you are! Butwhat isthe idea?"
"Youwill kindly retain itand produce it incase I amarrested."
"Arrested? For what?"
"Formurder. It is quite on the cards. I wishto beready for every event. There is only onecourseopen to meand I am determined to take it."
"ForHeaven's sakedon't do anything rash!"
"Believemeit would be far more rash to adoptany othercourse. I hope that we won't need tobotheryoubut it will ease my mind to know that youhave thisstatement of my motives. And now I amready totake your advice and to go to roostfor Iwant to beat my best in the morning."
AbercrombieSmith was not an entirely pleasantman tohave as an enemy. Slow and easytemperedhe wasformidable when driven to action. He broughtto everypurpose in life the same deliberateresolutenesswhich had distinguished him as ascientificstudent. He had laid his studies asidefor a daybut he intended that the day should not bewasted. Not a word did he say to his host as to hisplansbutby nine o'clock he was well on his way toOxford.
In theHigh Street he stopped at Clifford'sthegun-maker'sand bought a heavy revolverwith a boxofcentral-fire cartridges. Six of them he slippedinto thechambersand half-cocking the weaponplaced itin the pocket of his coat. He then madehis way toHastie's roomswhere the big oarsman wasloungingover his breakfastwith the SportingTimespropped up against the coffeepot.
"Hullo! What's up?" he asked. "Have somecoffee?"
"Nothank you. I want you to come with meHastieand do what I ask you."
"Andbring a heavy stick with you."
"Hullo!"Hastie stared. "Here's a hunting-cropthat wouldfell an ox."
"Oneother thing. You have a box of amputatingknives. Give me the longest of them."
"Thereyou are. You seem to be fairly on the wartrail. Anything else?"
"No;that will do." Smith placed the knife insidehis coatand led the way to the quadrangle. "We areneither ofus chickensHastie" said he. "I think Ican dothis job alonebut I take you as aprecaution. I am going to have a little talk withBellingham. If I have only him to deal withIwon'tofcourseneed you. If I shouthoweverupyou comeand lam out with your whip as hard as youcan lick. Do you understand?"
"Allright. I'll come if I hear you bellow."
"Stayherethen. It may be a little timebutdon'tbudge until I come down."
Smithascended the stairsopened Bellingham'sdoor andstepped in. Bellingham was seated behindhis tablewriting. Beside himamong his litter ofstrangepossessionstowered the mummy casewith itssalenumber 249 still stuck upon its frontand itshideousoccupant stiff and stark within it. Smithlookedvery deliberately round himclosed the doorlocked ittook the key from the insideand thensteppingacross to the fireplacestruck a match andset thefire alight. Bellingham sat staringwithamazementand rage upon his bloated face.
"Wellreally nowyou make yourself at home" hegasped.
Smith sathimself deliberately downplacinghis watchupon the tabledrew out his pistolcocked itand laid it in his lap. Then he took thelongamputating knife from his bosomand threw itdown infront of Bellingham.
"Nowthen" said he"just get to work and cutup thatmummy."
"Ohis that it?" said Bellingham with a sneer.
"Yesthat is it. They tell me that the lawcan'ttouch you. But I have a law that will setmattersstraight. If in five minutes you have notset toworkI swear by the God who made me that Iwill put abullet through your brain!"
"Youwould murder me?"
Bellinghamhad half risenand his face was thecolour ofputty.
"Tostop your mischief. One minute has gone."
"Butwhat have I done?"
"Iknow and you know."
"Thisis mere bullying."
"Twominutes are gone."
"Butyou must give reasons. You are a madman--adangerousmadman. Why should I destroy my ownproperty? It is a valuable mummy."
"Youmust cut it upand you must burn it."
"Iwill do no such thing."
"Fourminutes are gone."
Smith tookup the pistol and he looked towardsBellinghamwith an inexorable face. As the second-hand stoleroundhe raised his handand the fingertwitchedupon the trigger.
"There!there! I'll do it!" screamed Bellingham.
In frantichaste he caught up the knife andhacked atthe figure of the mummyever glancinground tosee the eye and the weapon of his terriblevisitorbent upon him. The creature crackled andsnappedunder every stab of the keen blade. A thickyellowdust rose up from it. Spices and driedessencesrained down upon the floor. Suddenlywitha rendingcrackits backbone snapped asunderand itfellabrown heap of sprawling limbsupon thefloor.
"Nowinto the fire!" said Smith.
The flamesleaped and roared as the dried andtinderlikedebris was piled upon it. The little roomwas likethe stoke-hole of a steamer and the sweatran downthe faces of the two men; but still the onestoopedand workedwhile the other sat watching himwith a setface. A thickfat smoke oozed out fromthe fireand a heavy smell of burned rosin andsingedhair filled the air. In a quarter of an houra fewcharred and brittle sticks were all that wasleft ofLot No. 249.
"Perhapsthat will satisfy you" snarledBellinghamwith hate and fear in his little greyeyes as heglanced back at his tormenter.
"No;I must make a clean sweep of all yourmaterials. We must have no more devil's tricks. Inwith allthese leaves! They may have something to dowith it."
"Andwhat now?" asked Bellinghamwhen the leavesalso hadbeen added to the blaze.
"Nowthe roll of papyrus which you had on thetable thatnight. It is in that drawerI think."
"Nono" shouted Bellingham. "Don't burn that!
Whymanyou don't know what you do. It is unique;itcontains wisdom which is nowhere else to befound."
"Butlook hereSmithyou can't really mean it.
I'll sharethe knowledge with you. I'll teach youall thatis in it. Orstaylet me only copy itbefore youburn it!"
Smithstepped forward and turned the key in thedrawer. Taking out the yellowcurled roll of paperhe threwit into the fireand pressed it down withhis heel. Bellingham screamedand grabbed at it;but Smithpushed him backand stood over it until itwasreduced to a formless grey ash.
"NowMaster B." said he"I think I haveprettywell drawn your teeth. You'll hear fromme againif you return to your old tricks. And nowgood-morningfor I must go back to my studies."
And suchis the narrative of Abercrombie Smith asto thesingular events which occurred in Old CollegeOxfordinthe spring of '84. As Bellingham left theuniversityimmediately afterwardsand was last heardof in theSoudanthere is no one who can contradicthisstatement. But the wisdom of men is smallandthe waysof nature are strangeand who shall put abound tothe dark things which may be found by thosewho seekfor them?
I used tobe the leading practitioner of LosAmigos. Of courseeveryone has heard of the greatelectricalgenerating gear there. The town is widespreadand there are dozens of little townlets andvillagesall roundwhich receive their supply fromthe samecentreso that the works are on a verylargescale. The Los Amigos folk say that they arethelargest upon earthbut then we claim that foreverythingin Los Amigos except the gaol and thedeath-rate. Those are said to be the smallest.
Nowwithso fine an electrical supplyit seemedto be asinful waste of hemp that the Los Amigoscriminalsshould perish in the old-fashioned manner.
And thencame the news of the eleotrocutions in theEastandhow the results had not after all been soinstantaneousas had been hoped. The WesternEngineersraised their eyebrows when they read of thepunyshocks by which these men had perishedand theyvowed inLos Amigos that when an irreclaimable cametheir wayhe should be dealt handsomely byand havethe run of all the big dynamos. Thereshould beno reservesaid the engineersbut heshouldhave all that they had got. And what theresult ofthat would be none could predictsave thatit must beabsolutely blasting and deadly. Neverbefore hada man been so charged with electricity asthey wouldcharge him. He was to be smitten by theessence often thunderbolts. Some prophesiedcombustionand some disintegration anddisappearance. They were waiting eagerly to settlethequestion by actual demonstrationand it was justat thatmoment that Duncan Warner came that way.
Warner hadbeen wanted by the lawand by nobodyelseformany years. Desperadomurderertrainrobber androad agenthe was a man beyond the paleof humanpity. He had deserved a dozen deathsandthe LosAmigos folk grudged him so gaudy a one asthat. He seemed to feel himself to be unworthy ofitfor hemade two frenzied attempts at escape. Hewas apowerfulmuscular manwith a lion headtangledblack locksand a sweeping beard whichcoveredhis broad chest. When he was triedtherewas nofiner head in all the crowded court. It's nonew thingto find the best face looking from thedock. But his good looks could not balance his baddeeds. His advocate did all he knewbut thecards layagainst himand Duncan Warner washandedover to the mercy of the big Los Amigosdynamos.
I wasthere at the committee meeting when thematter wasdiscussed. The town council had chosenfourexperts to look after the arrangements. Threeof them were admirable. There was Joseph M`Connerthe veryman who had designed the dynamosand therewas JoshuaWestmacottthe chairman of the Los AmigosElectricalSupply CompanyLimited. Then there wasmyself asthe chief medical manand lastly an oldGerman ofthe name of Peter Stulpnagel. The Germanswere astrong body at Los Amigosand they all votedfor theirman. That was how he got on the committee.
It wassaid that he had been a wonderful electricianat homeand he was eternally working with wires andinsulatorsand Leyden jars; butas he never seemedto get anyfurtheror to have any results worthpublishinghe came at last to be regarded as aharmlesscrankwho had made science his hobby. Wethreepractical men smiled when we heard that he hadbeenelected as our colleagueand at the meeting wefixed itall up very nicely among ourselves withoutmuchthought of the old fellow who sat with his earsscoopedforward in his handsfor he was a triflehard ofhearingtaking no more part in theproceedingsthan the gentlemen of the press whoscribbledtheir notes on the back benches.
We did nottake long to settle it all. In NewYork astrength of some two thousand volts had beenusedanddeath had not been instantaneous.
Evidentlytheir shock had been too weak. Los Amigosshould notfall into that error. The charge shouldbe sixtimes greaterand thereforeof courseitwould besix times more effective. Nothing couldpossiblybe more logical. The whole concentratedforce ofthe great dynamos should be employed onDuncanWarner.
So wethree settled itand had already risen tobreak upthe meetingwhen our silent companionopened hismonth for the first time.
"Gentlemen"said he"you appear to me to showanextraordinary ignorance upon the subject ofelectricity. You have not mastered the firstprinciplesof its actions upon a human being."
Thecommittee was about to break into an angryreply tothis brusque commentbut the chairman oftheElectrical Company tapped his forehead to claimitsindulgence for the crankiness of the speaker.
"Praytell ussir" said hewith an ironicalsmile"what is there in our conclusions with whichyou findfault?"
"Withyour assumption that a large dose ofelectricitywill merely increase the effect of asmalldose. Do you not think it possible that itmight havean entirely different result? Do you knowanythingby actual experimentof the effect of suchpowerfulshocks?"
"Weknow it by analogy" said the chairmanpompously. "All drugs increase their effect whentheyincrease their dose; for example--forexample----"
"Whisky"said Joseph M`Connor.
"Quiteso. Whisky. You see it there."
PeterStulpnagel smiled and shook his head.
"Yourargument is not very good" said he. "WhenI used totake whiskyI used to find that one glasswouldexcite mebut that six would send me to sleepwhich isjust the opposite. Nowsuppose thatelectricitywere to act in just the opposite wayalsowhatthen?"
We threepractical men burst out laughing. Wehad knownthat our colleague was queerbut we neverhadthought that he would be as queer as this.
"Whatthen?" repeated Philip Stulpnagel.
"We'lltake our chances" said the chairman.
"Prayconsider" said Peter"that workmen whohavetouched the wiresand who have received shocksof only afew hundred voltshave died instantly.
The factis well known. And yet when a much greaterforce wasused upon a criminal at New Yorkthemanstruggled for some little time. Do you notclearlysee that the smaller dose is the moredeadly?"
"Ithinkgentlementhat this discussion hasbeencarried on quite long enough" said thechairmanrising again. "The pointI take ithasalreadybeen decided by the majority of thecommitteeand Duncan Warner shall be electrocuted onTuesday bythe full strength of the Los Amigosdynamos. Is it not so?"
"Iagree" said Joseph M`Connor.
"Iagree" said I.
"AndI protest" said Peter Stulpnagel.
"Thenthe motion is carriedand your protestwill beduly entered in the minutes" said thechairmanand so the sitting was dissolved.
Theattendance at the electrocution was a verysmallone. We four members of the committee wereofcoursepresent with the executionerwho was to actundertheir orders. The others were the UnitedStatesMarshalthe governor of the gaolthechaplainand three members of the press. The roomwas asmall brick chamberforming an outhouse to theCentralElectrical station. It had been used as alaundryand had an oven and copper at one sidebutno otherfurniture save a single chair for thecondemnedman. A metal plate for his feet was placedin frontof itto which ran a thickinsulated wire.
Aboveanother wire depended from the ceilingwhichcould be connected with a small metallic rodprojectingfrom a cap which was to be placed upon hishead. When this connection was established DuncanWarner'shour was come.
There wasa solemn hush as we waited for thecoming ofthe prisoner. The practical engineerslooked alittle paleand fidgeted nervously with thewires. Even the hardened Marshal was ill at easefor a merehanging was one thingand this blastingof fleshand blood a very different one. As to thepressmentheir faces were whiter than the sheetswhich laybefore them. The only man who appeared tofeel noneof the influence of these preparations wasthe littleGerman crankwho strolled from one to theother witha smile on his lips and mischief in hiseyes. More than once he even went so far as to burstinto ashout of laughteruntil the chaplain sternlyrebukedhim for his ill-timed levity.
"Howcan you so far forget yourselfMr.Stulpnagel"said he"as to jest in the presence ofdeath?"
But theGerman was quite unabashed.
"If Iwere in the presence of death I should notjest"said he"but since I am not I may do what Ichoose."
Thisflippant reply was about to draw another anda sternerreproof from the chaplainwhen thedoor wasswung open and two warders enteredleadingDuncan Warner between them. He glanced roundhim with aset facestepped resolutely forwardandseatedhimself upon the chair.
"Touchher off!" said he.
It wasbarbarous to keep him in suspense. Thechaplainmurmured a few words in his eartheattendantplaced the cap upon his headand thenwhile weall held our breaththe wire and the metalwerebrought in contact.
"GreatScott!" shouted Duncan Warner.
He hadbounded in his chair as the frightfulshockcrashed through his system. But he was notdead. On the contraryhis eyes gleamed far morebrightlythan they had done before. There was onlyonechangebut it was a singular one. The black hadpassedfrom his hair and beard as the shadow passesfrom alandscape. They were both as white as snow.
And yetthere was no other sign of decay. His skinwas smoothand plump and lustrous as a child's.
TheMarshal looked at the committee with areproachfuleye.
"Thereseems to be some hitch heregentle-men"said he.
We threepractical men looked at each other.
PeterStulpnagel smiled pensively.
"Ithink that another one should do it" said I.
Again theconnection was madeand again DuncanWarnersprang in his chair and shoutedbutindeedwere itnot that he still remained in the chair noneof uswould have recognised him. His hair and hisbeard hadshredded off in an instantand the roomlookedlike a barber's shop on a Saturday night.
There hesathis eyes still shininghis skinradiantwith the glow of perfect healthbut with ascalp asbald as a Dutch cheeseand a chin withoutso much asa trace of down. He began to revolve oneof hisarmsslowly and doubtfully at firstbut withmoreconfidence as he went on.
"Thatjint" said he"has puzzled half thedoctors onthe Pacific Slope. It's as good as newand aslimber as a hickory twig."
"Youare feeling pretty well?" asked the oldGerman.
"Neverbetter in my life" said Duncan Warnercheerily.
Thesituation was a painful one. The Marshalglared atthe committee. Peter Stulpnagel grinnedand rubbedhis hands. The engineers scratched theirheads. The bald-headed prisoner revolved his arm andlookedpleased.
"Ithink that one more shock----" began thechairman.
"Nosir" said the Marshal "we've had fooleryenough forone morning. We are here for anexecutionand a execution we'll have."
"Whatdo you propose?"
"There'sa hook handy upon the ceiling. Fetch ina ropeand we'll soon set this matter straight."
There wasanother awkward delay while the wardersdepartedfor the cord. Peter Stulpnagel bent overDuncanWarnerand whispered something in his ear.
Thedesperado started in surprise.
"Youdon't say?" he asked.
Petershook his headand the two began to laughas thoughthey shared some huge joke between them.
The ropewas broughtand the Marshal himselfslippedthe noose over the criminal's neck. Then thetwowardersthe assistant and he swung their victiminto theair. For half an hour he hung--a dreadfulsight--fromthe ceiling. Then in solemn silence theyloweredhim downand one of the warders went out toorder theshell to be brought round. But as hetouchedground again what was our amazement whenDuncanWarner put his hands up to his neckloosenedthe nooseand took a longdeep breath.
"PaulJefferson's sale is goin' well" heremarked"I could see the crowd from upyonder"and he nodded at the hook in the ceiling.
"Upwith him again!" shouted the Marshal"we'llget thelife out of him somehow."
In aninstant the victim was up at the hook oncemore.
They kepthim there for an hourbut when he camedown hewas perfectly garrulous.
"Oldman Plunket goes too much to the ArcadySaloon"said he. "Three times he's been there in anhour; andhim with a family. Old man Plunket woulddo well toswear off."
It wasmonstrous and incrediblebut there itwas. There was no getting round it. The man wastheretalking when he ought to have been dead. Weall satstaring in amazementbut United StatesMarshalCarpenter was not a man to be euchred soeasily. He motioned the others to one sideso thattheprisoner was left standing alone.
"DuncanWarner" said heslowly"you are hereto playyour partand I am here to play mine. Yourgame is tolive if you canand my game is to carryout thesentence of the law. You've beat us onelectricity. I'll give you one there. And you'vebeat us onhangingfor you seem to thrive on it.
But it'smy turn to beat you nowfor my duty has tobe done."
He pulleda six-shooter from his coat as hespokeandfired all the shots through the bodyof theprisoner. The room was so filled with smokethat wecould see nothingbut when it cleared theprisonerwas still standing therelooking down indisgust atthe front of his coat.
"Coatsmust be cheap where you come from" saidhe. "Thirty dollars it cost meand look at it now.
The sixholes in front are bad enoughbut four ofthe ballshave passed outand a pretty state theback mustbe in."
TheMarshal's revolver fell from his handand hedroppedhis arms to his sidesa beaten man.
"Maybesome of you gentlemen can tell me whatthismeans" said helooking helplessly at thecommittee.
PeterStulpnagel took a step forward.
"I'lltell you all about it" said he.
"Youseem to be the only person who knowsanything."
"I AMthe only person who knows anything. Ishouldhave warned these gentlemen; butas theywould notlisten to meI have allowed them to learnbyexperience. What you have done with yourelectricityis that you have increased this man'svitalityuntil he can defy death for centuries."
"Yesit will take the wear of hundreds of yearsto exhaustthe enormous nervous energy withwhich youhave drenched him. Electricity is lifeand youhave charged him with it to the utmost.
Perhaps infifty years you might execute himbut Iam notsanguine about it."
"GreatScott! What shall I do with him?" criedtheunhappy Marshal.
PeterStulpnagel shrugged his shoulders.
"Itseems to me that it does not much matter whatyou dowith him now" said he.
"Maybewe could drain the electricity out of himagain. Suppose we hang him up by the heels?"
"Nonoit's out of the question."
"Wellwellhe shall do no more mischief in LosAmigosanyhow" said the Marshalwith decision.
"Heshall go into the new gaol. The prison will wearhim out."
"Onthe contrary" said Peter Stulpnagel"Ithink thatit is much more probable that he will wearout theprison."
It wasrather a fiasco and for years we didn'ttalk moreabout it than we could helpbut it's nosecret nowand I thought you might like to jot downthe factsin your case-book.
Dr. JamesRipley was always looked upon as anexceedinglylucky dog by all of the profession whoknew him. His father had preceded him in a practicein thevillage of Hoylandin the north of Hampshireand allwas ready for him on the very first day thatthe lawallowed him to put his name at the foot of aprescription. In a few years the old gentlemanretiredand settled on the South Coastleaving hisson inundisputed possession of the whole countryside. Save for Dr. Hortonnear Basingstoketheyoungsurgeon had a clear run of six miles in everydirectionand took his fifteen hundred pounds ayearthoughas is usual in country practicesthestableswallowed up most of what the consulting-roomearned.
Dr. JamesRipley was two-and-thirty years of agereservedlearnedunmarriedwith setrather sternfeaturesand a thinning of the dark hair upon thetop of hisheadwhich was worth quite a hundred ayear tohim. He was particularly happy inhismanagement of ladies. He had caught the tone ofblandsternness and decisive suavity which dominateswithoutoffending. Ladieshoweverwere not equallyhappy intheir management of him. Professionallyhewas alwaysat their service. Sociallyhe was a dropofquicksilver. In vain the country mammas spreadout theirsimple lures in front of him. Dances andpicnicswere not to his tasteand he preferredduring hisscanty leisure to shut himself up in hisstudyandto bury himself in Virchow's Archives andtheprofessional journals.
Study wasa passion with himand he would havenone ofthe rust which often gathers round a countrypractitioner. It was his ambition to keep hisknowledgeas fresh and bright as at the moment whenhe hadstepped out of the examination hall. Hepridedhimself on being able at a moment's notice torattle offthe seven ramifications of some obscurearteryorto give the exact percentage of anyphysiologicalcompound. After a long day's work hewould situp half the night performing iridectomiesandextractions upon the sheep's eyes sent in by thevillagebutcherto the horror of his housekeeperwho had toremove the debris next morning. Hislove forhis work was the one fanaticism which founda place inhis dryprecise nature.
It was themore to his credit that he shouldkeep up todate in his knowledgesince he hadnocompetition to force him to exertion. In thesevenyears during which he had practised in Hoylandthreerivals had pitted themselves against himtwoin thevillage itself and one in the neighbouringhamlet ofLower Hoyland. Of these one had sickenedandwastedbeingas it was saidhimself the onlypatientwhom he had treated during his eighteenmonths ofruralising. A second had bought a fourthshare of aBasingstoke practiceand had departedhonourablywhile a third had vanished one Septembernightleaving a gutted house and an unpaid drug billbehindhim. Since then the district had become amonopolyand no one had dared to measure himselfagainstthe established fame of the Hoyland doctor.
It wasthenwith a feeling of some surprise andconsiderablecuriosity that on driving through LowerHoylandone morning he perceived that the new houseat the endof the village was occupiedand that avirginbrass plate glistened upon the swinging gatewhichfaced the high road. He pulled up his fiftyguineachestnut mare and took a good look at it.
"VerrinderSmithM. D." was printed across it invery neatsmall lettering. The last man had hadlettershalf a foot longwith a lamp like a fire-station. Dr. James Ripley noted the differenceanddeducedfrom it that the new-comer mightpossiblyprove a more formidable opponent. He wasconvincedof it that evening when he came to consultthecurrent medical directory. By it he learned thatDr.Verrinder Smith was the holder of superb degreesthat hehad studied with distinction at EdinburghParisBerlinand Viennaand finally that he hadbeenawarded a gold medal and the Lee Hopkinsscholarshipfor original researchin recognition ofanexhaustive inquiry into the functions of theanteriorspinal nerve roots. Dr. Ripley passed hisfingersthrough his thin hair in bewilderment as heread hisrival's record. What on earth could sobrillianta man mean by putting up his plate in alittleHampshire hamlet.
But Dr.Ripley furnished himself with anexplanationto the riddle. No doubt Dr. VerrinderSmith hadsimply come down there in order to pursuesomescientific research in peace and quiet. Theplate wasup as an address rather than as aninvitationto patients. Of coursethat must be thetrueexplanation. In that case the presence of thisbrilliantneighbour would be a splendid thing for hisownstudies. He had often longed for some kindredmindsomesteel on which he might strike his flint.
Chance hadbrought it to himand he rejoicedexceedingly.
And thisjoy it was which led him to take a stepwhich wasquite at variance with his usualhabits. It is the custom for a new-comer amongmedicalmen to call first upon the olderand theetiquetteupon the subject is strict. Dr. Ripley waspedanticallyexact on such pointsand yet hedeliberatelydrove over next day and called upon Dr.VerrinderSmith. Such a waiving of ceremony washefeltagracious act upon his partand a fit preludeto theintimate relations which he hoped to establishwith hisneighbour.
The housewas neat and well appointedand Dr.Ripley wasshown by a smart maid into a dapper littleconsultingroom. As he passed in he noticed two orthreeparasols and a lady's sun bonnet hanging in thehall. It was a pity that his colleague should be amarriedman. It would put them upon a differentfootingand interfere with those long evenings ofhighscientific talk which he had pictured tohimself. On the other handthere was much in theconsultingroom to please him. Elaborateinstrumentsseen more often in hospitals than in thehouses ofprivate practitionerswere scatteredabout. A sphygmograph stood upon the table and agasometer-likeenginewhich was new to Dr. Ripleyin thecorner. A book-case full of ponderous volumesin Frenchand Germanpaper-covered for the mostpartandvarying in tint from the shell to the yokeof aduck's eggcaught his wandering eyesand hewas deeplyabsorbed in their titles when thedooropened suddenly behind him. Turning roundhefoundhimself facing a little womanwhose plainpalishface was remarkable only for a pair of shrewdhumorouseyes of a blue which had two shades too muchgreen init. She held a pince-nez in her lefthandandthe doctor's card in her right.
"Howdo you doDr. Ripley? " said she.
"Howdo you domadam?" returned the visitor.
"Yourhusband is perhaps out?"
"I amnot married" said she simply.
"OhI beg your pardon! I meant the doctor--Dr.
"I amDr. Verrinder Smith."
Dr. Ripleywas so surprised that he dropped hishat andforgot to pick it up again.
"What!"he grasped"the Lee Hopkins prizeman!
He hadnever seen a woman doctor beforeand hiswholeconservative soul rose up in revolt at theidea. He could not recall any Biblical injunctionthat theman should remain ever the doctor and thewoman thenurseand yet he felt as if a blasphemyhad beencommitted. His face betrayed his feelingsonly tooclearly.
"I amsorry to disappoint you" said the ladydrily.
"Youcertainly have surprised me" he answeredpicking uphis hat.
"Youare not among our championsthen?"
"Icannot say that the movement has my approval."
"Ishould much prefer not to discuss it."
"ButI am sure you will answer a lady'squestion."
"Ladiesare in danger of losing their privilegeswhen theyusurp the place of the other sex. Theycannotclaim both."
"Whyshould a woman not earn her bread by herbrains?"
Dr. Ripleyfelt irritated by the quiet manner inwhich thelady cross-questioned him.
"Ishould much prefer not to be led into adiscussionMiss Smith."
"Dr.Smith" she interrupted.
"WellDr. Smith! But if you insist upon ananswerImust say that I do not think medicine asuitableprofession for women and that I have apersonalobjection to masculine ladies."
It was anexceedingly rude speechand he wasashamed ofit the instant after he had made it. Theladyhoweversimply raised her eyebrows and smiled.
"Itseems to me that you are begging thequestion"said she. "Of courseif it makes womenmasculinethat WOULD be a considerabledeterioration."
It was aneat little counterand Dr. Ripleylike apinked fencerbowed his acknowledgment.
"Imust go" said he.
"I amsorry that we cannot come to some morefriendlyconclusion since we are to be neighbours"sheremarked.
He bowedagainand took a step towards the door.
"Itwas a singular coincidence" she continued"thatat the instant that you called I was readingyour paperon `Locomotor Ataxia' in the Lancet."
"Indeed"said he drily.
"Ithought it was a very able monograph."
"Youare very good."
"Butthe views which you attribute to ProfessorPitresofBordeauxhave been repudiated by him."
"Ihave his pamphlet of 1890" said Dr. Ripleyangrily.
"Hereis his pamphlet of 1891." She picked itfrom amonga litter of periodicals. "If you havetime toglance your eye down this passage----"
Dr. Ripleytook it from her and shot rapidlythroughthe paragraph which she indicated. There wasno denyingthat it completely knocked the bottom outof his ownarticle. He threw it downand withanotherfrigid bow he made for the door. As he tookthe reinsfrom the groom he glanced round andsaw thatthe lady was standing at her windowand itseemed tohim that she was laughing heartily.
All daythe memory of this interview haunted him.
He feltthat he had come very badly out of it. Shehad showedherself to be his superior on his own petsubject. She had been courteous while he had beenrudeself-possessed when he had been angry. Andthenabove allthere was her presencehermonstrousintrusion to rankle in his mind. A womandoctor hadbeen an abstract thing beforerepugnantbutdistant. Now she was there in actual practicewith abrass plate up just like his owncompetingfor thesame patients. Not that he fearedcompetitionbut he objected to this lowering of hisideal ofwomanhood. She could not be more thanthirtyand had a brightmobile facetoo. Hethought ofher humorous eyesand of her strongwell-turnedchin. It revolted him the more to recallthedetails of her education. A manof course.could comethrough such an ordeal with all hispuritybut it was nothing short of shameless in awoman.
But it wasnot long before he learned that evenhercompetition was a thing to be feared. Thenovelty ofher presence had brought a few curiousinvalidsinto her consulting roomsandonce therethey hadbeen so impressed by the firmness of hermanner andby the singularnew-fashionedinstrumentswith which she tappedand peeredandsoundedthat it formed the core of theirconversationfor weeks afterwards. And soon thereweretangible proofs of her powers upon the countryside. Farmer Eytonwhose callous ulcer had beenquietlyspreading over his shin for years back undera gentleregime of zinc ointmentwas paintedround withblistering fluidand foundafter threeblasphemousnightsthat his sore was stimulated intohealing. Mrs. Crowderwho had always regarded thebirthmarkupon her second daughter Eliza as a sign oftheindignation of the Creator at a third helping ofraspberrytart which she had partaken of during acriticalperiodlearned thatwith the help of twogalvanicneedlesthe mischief was not irreparable.
In a monthDr. Verrinder Smith was knownand in twoshe wasfamous.
OccasionallyDr. Ripley met her as he drove uponhisrounds. She had started a high dogcarttakingthe reinsherselfwith a little tiger behind. Whenthey methe invariably raised his hat withpunctiliouspolitenessbut the grim severity of hisfaceshowed how formal was the courtesy. In facthisdislike was rapidly deepening into absolutedetestation. "The unsexed woman" was thedescriptionof her which he permitted himself to giveto thoseof his patients who still remained staunch.
Butindeedthey were a rapidly-decreasingbodyandevery day his pride was galled by the newsof somefresh defection. The lady had somehowimpressedthe country folk with almost superstitiousbelief inher powerand from far and near theyflocked toher consulting room.
But whatgalled him most of all waswhen she didsomethingwhich he had pronounced to beimpracticable. For all his knowledge he lacked nerveas anoperatorand usually sent his worst cases uptoLondon. The ladyhoweverhad no weakness of thesortandtook everything that came in her way. Itwas agonyto him to hear that she was about tostraightenlittle Alec Turner's club footand rightat thefringe of the rumour came a note from hismotherthe rector's wifeasking him if he would beso good asto act as chloroformist. It would beinhumanityto refuseas there was no other who couldtake theplacebut it was gall and wormwood to hissensitivenature. Yetin spite of his vexationhecould notbut admire the dexterity with which thething wasdone. She handled the little wax-like footso gentlyand held the tiny tenotomy knife as anartistholds his pencil. One straight insertiononesnick of atendonand it was all over without astain uponthe white towel which lay beneath. He hadnever seenanything more masterlyand he had thehonesty tosay sothough her skill increased hisdislike ofher. The operation spread her famestillfurther at his expenseand self-preservationwas addedto his other grounds for detesting her.
And thisvery detestation it was which broughtmatters toa curious climax.
Onewinter's nightjust as he was rising fromhis lonelydinnera groom came riding down fromSquireFaircastle'sthe richest man in the districtto saythat his daughter had scalded her handandthatmedical help was needed on the instant. Thecoachmanhad ridden for the lady doctorfor itmatterednothing to the Squire who came as long as itwerespeedily. Dr. Ripley rushed from his surgerywith thedetermination that she should not effect anentranceinto this stronghold of his if hard drivingon hispart could prevent it. He did not even waitto lighthis lampsbut sprang into his gig and flewoff asfast as hoof could rattle. He lived rathernearer tothe Squire's than she didand wasconvincedthat he could get there well before her.
And so hewould but for that whimsical element ofchancewhich will for ever muddle up the affairs ofthis worldand dumbfound the prophets. Whether itcame fromthe want of his lightsor from his mindbeing fullof the thoughts of his rivalhe allowedtoo littleby half a foot in taking the sharp turnupon theBasingstoke road. The empty trap and thefrightenedhorse clattered away into thedarknesswhile the Squire's groom crawled out of theditch intowhich he had been shot. He struck amatchlooked down at his groaning companionandthenafter the fashion of roughstrong men whenthey seewhat they have not seen beforehe was verysick.
The doctorraised himself a little on his elbowin theglint of the match. He caught a glimpse ofsomethingwhite and sharp bristling through histrouserleg half way down the shin.
"Compound!"he groaned. "A three months' job"andfainted.
When hecame to himself the groom was goneforhe hadscudded off to the Squire's house for helpbut asmall page was holding a gig-lamp in front ofhisinjured legand a womanwith an open case ofpolishedinstruments gleaming in the yellow lightwas deftlyslitting up his trouser with a crookedpair ofscissors.
"It'sall rightdoctor" said she soothingly.
"I amso sorry about it. You can have Dr. Horton to-morrowbut I am sure you will allow me to help youto-night. I could hardly believe my eyes when I sawyou by theroadside."
"Thegroom has gone for help" groaned thesufferer.
"Whenit comes we can move you into the gig. Alittlemore lightJohn! So! Ahdeardearweshall havelaceration unless we reduce thisbefore wemove you. Allow me to give you a whiff ofchloroformand I have no doubt that I can secure itsufficientlyto----"
Dr. Ripleynever heard the end of that sentence.
He triedto raise a hand and to murmur something inprotestbut a sweet smell was in his nostrilsand asense ofrich peace and lethargy stole over hisjanglednerves. Down he sankthrough clearcoolwaterever down and down into the green shadowsbeneathgentlywithout effortwhile the pleasantchiming ofa great belfry rose and fell in his ears.
Then herose againup and upand ever upwith aterribletightness about his templesuntil at lasthe shotout of those green shadows and was in thelight oncemore. Two brightshininggolden spotsgleamedbefore his dazed eyes. He blinked andblinkedbefore he could give a name to them. Theywere onlythe two brass balls at the end posts of hisbedandhe was lying in his own little roomwith ahead likea cannon balland a leg like an iron bar.
Turninghis eyeshe saw the calm face of Dr.VerrinderSmith looking down at him.
"Ahat last!" said she. "I kept you under allthe wayhomefor I knew how painful the joltingwould be. It is in good position now with a strongsidesplint. I have ordered a morphia draught foryou. Shall I tell your groom to ride for Dr. Hortonin themorning?"
"Ishould prefer that you should continue thecase"said Dr. Ripley feeblyand thenwith a halfhystericallaugh--"You have all the rest of theparish aspatientsyou knowso you may as well makethe thingcomplete by having me also."
It was nota very gracious speechbut it was alook ofpity and not of anger which shone in her eyesas sheturned away from his bedside.
Dr. Ripleyhad a brotherWilliamwho wasassistantsurgeon at a London hospitaland who wasdown inHampshire within a few hours of his hearingof theaccident. He raised his brows when he heardthedetails.
"What!You are pestered with one of those!" hecried.
"Idon't know what I should have done withouther."
I've nodoubt she's an excellent nurse."
"Sheknows her work as well as you or I."
"Speakfor yourselfJames" said the London manwith asniff. "But apart from thatyou know thattheprinciple of the thing is all wrong."
"Youthink there is nothing to be said on theotherside?"
"Goodheavens! do you?"
"WellI don't know. It struck me duringthe nightthat we may have been a little narrowin ourviews."
"NonsenseJames. It's all very fine for womento winprizes in the lecture roombut you know aswell as Ido that they are no use in an emergency.
Now Iwarrant that this woman was all nerves when shewassetting your leg. That reminds me that I hadbetterjust take a look at it and see that it is allright."
"Iwould rather that you did not undo it" saidthepatient. "I have her assurance that it is allright."
BrotherWilliam was deeply shocked.
"Ofcourseif a woman's assurance is of morevalue thanthe opinion of the assistant surgeon of aLondonhospitalthere is nothing more to be said" he remarked.
"Ishould prefer that you did not touch it" saidthepatient firmlyand Dr. William went back toLondonthat evening in a huff.
The ladywho had heard of his comingwas muchsurprisedon learning his departure.
"Wehad a difference upon a point of professionaletiquette"said Dr. Jamesand it was all theexplanationhe would vouchsafe.
For twolong months Dr. Ripley was brought incontactwith his rival every dayand he learned manythingswhich he had not known before. She was acharmingcompanionas well as a most assiduousdoctor. Her short presence during the longwearyday waslike a flower in a sand waste. Whatinterestedhim was precisely what interested herandshe couldmeet him at every point upon equal terms.
And yetunder all her learning and her firmness ran asweetwomanly naturepeeping out in her talkshining inher greenish eyesshowing itself in athousandsubtle ways which the dullest of men couldread. And hethough a bit of a prig and a pedantwas by nomeans dulland had honesty enough toconfesswhen he was in the wrong.
"Idon't know how to apologise to you" he saidin hisshame-faced fashion one daywhen he hadprogressedso far as to be able to sit in an arm-chair withhis leg upon another one; "I feel that Ihave beenquite in the wrong."
"Overthis woman question. I used to think thata womanmust inevitably lose something of her charmif shetook up such studies."
"Ohyou don't think they are necessarilyunsexedthen?" she criedwith a mischievous smile.
"Pleasedon't recall my idiotic expression."
"Ifeel so pleased that I should have helped inchangingyour views. I think that it is the mostsincerecompliment that I have ever had paid me."
"Atany rateit is the truth" said heand washappy allnight at the remembrance of the flush ofpleasurewhich made her pale face look quite comelyfor theinstant.
Forindeedhe was already far past the stagewhen hewould acknowledge her as the equal of anyotherwoman. Already he could not disguise fromhimselfthat she had become the one woman. Herdaintyskillher gentle touchher sweet presencethecommunity of their tasteshad all united tohopelesslyupset his previous opinions. It was adark dayfor him now when his convalescence allowedher tomiss a visitand darker still that other onewhich hesaw approaching when all occasion for hervisitswould be at an end. It came round at lasthoweverand he felt that his whole life's fortunewould hangupon the issue of that final interview.
He was adirect man by natureso he laid his handupon hersas it felt for his pulseand he asked herif shewould be his wife.
"Whatand unite the practices?" said she.
He startedin pain and anger.
"Surelyyou do not attribute any such base motiveto me!"he cried. "I love you as unselfishly as evera womanwas loved."
"NoI was wrong. It was a foolish speech" saidshemoving her chair a little backand tapping herstethoscopeupon her knee. "Forget that I eversaid it. I am so sorry to cause you anydisappointmentand I appreciate most highly thehonourwhich you do mebut what you ask is quiteimpossible."
Withanother woman he might have urged the pointbut hisinstincts told him that it was quite uselesswith thisone. Her tone of voice was conclusive. Hesaidnothingbut leaned back in his chair a strickenman.
"I amso sorry" she said again. "If I had knownwhat waspassing in your mind I should have told youearlierthat I intended to devote my life entirely toscience. There are many women with a capacity formarriagebut few with a taste for biology. I willremaintrue to my own linethen. I came down herewhilewaiting for an opening in the ParisPhysiologicalLaboratory. I have just heard thatthere is avacancy for me thereand so you will betroubledno more by my intrusion upon your practice.
I havedone you an injustice just as you did me one.
I thoughtyou narrow and pedanticwith no goodquality. I have learned during your illness toappreciateyou betterand the recollection of ourfriendshipwill always be a very pleasant one to me."
And so itcame about that in a very few weeksthere wasonly one doctor in Hoyland. But folksnoticedthat the one had aged many years in a fewmonthsthat a weary sadness lurked always inthe depthsof his blue eyesand that he was lessconcernedthan ever with the eligible young ladieswhomchanceor their careful country mammasplacedin hisway.
"Mendie of the diseases which they have studiedmost"remarked the surgeonsnipping off the end ofa cigarwith all his professional neatness andfinish. "It's as if the morbid condition was an evilcreaturewhichwhen it found itself closely huntedflew atthe throat of its pursuer. If you worry themicrobestoo much they may worry you. I've seencases ofitand not necessarily in microbic diseaseseither. There wasof coursethe well-knowninstanceof Liston and the aneurism; and a dozenothersthat I could mention. You couldn't have aclearercase than that of poor old Walker of St.Christopher's. Not heard of it? Wellof courseitwas alittle before your timebut I wonder that itshouldhave been forgotten. You youngsters are sobusy inkeeping up to the day that you lose a gooddeal thatis interesting of yesterday.
"Walkerwas one of the best men in Europe onnervousdisease. You must have read his little bookonsclerosis of the posterior columns.
It's asinteresting as a noveland epoch-makingin itsway. He worked like a horsedid Walker--hugeconsultingpractice--hours a day in the clinicalwards--constantoriginal investigations. And then heenjoyedhimself also. `De mortuis' of coursebut stillit's an open secret among all who knew him.
If he diedat forty-fivehe crammed eighty yearsinto it. The marvel was that he could have held onso long atthe pace at which he was going. But hetook itbeautifully when it came.
"Iwas his clinical assistant at the time.
Walker waslecturing on locomotor ataxia to a wardfulofyoungsters. He was explaining that one of theearlysigns of the complaint was that the patientcould notput his heels together with his eyes shutwithoutstaggering. As he spokehe suited theaction tothe word. I don't suppose the boys noticedanything. I didand so did hethough he finishedhislecture without a sign.
"Whenit was over he came into my room and lit acigarette.
"`Justrun over my reflexesSmith' said he.
"Therewas hardly a trace of them left. I tappedaway athis knee-tendon and might as well have triedto get ajerk out of that sofa-cushion. He stoodwith hiseyes shut againand he swayed like a bushin thewind.
"`So'said he`it was not intercostal neuralgiaafterall.'
"ThenI knew that he had had the lightning painsand thatthe case was complete. There was nothing tosayso Isat looking at him while he puffed andpuffed athis cigarette. Here he wasa man in theprime oflifeone of the handsomest men in Londonwithmoneyfamesocial successeverything at hisfeetandnowwithout a moment's warninghe wastold thatinevitable death lay before hima deathaccompaniedby more refined and lingering torturesthan if hewere bound upon a Red Indian stake. Hesat in themiddle of the blue cigarette cloud withhis eyescast downand the slightest littletighteningof his lips. Then he rose with a motionof hisarmsas one who throws off old thoughts andentersupon a new course.
"`Betterput this thing straight at once' saidhe. `I must make some fresh arrangements. May I useyour paperand envelopes?'
"Hesettled himself at my desk and he wrote halfa dozenletters. It is not a breach of confidence tosay thatthey were not addressed to his professionalbrothers. Walker was a single manwhich means thathe was notrestricted to a single woman. When he hadfinishedhe walked out of that little room of mineleavingevery hope and ambition of his life behindhim. And he might have had another year ofignoranceand peace if it had not been for the chanceillustrationin his lecture.
"Ittook five years to kill himand he stood itwell. If he had ever been a little irregular heatoned forit in that long martyrdom. He kept anadmirablerecord of his own symptomsand worked outthe eyechanges more fully than has ever been done.
When theptosis got very bad he would hold his eyelidup withone hand while he wrote. Thenwhen he couldnotco-ordinate his muscles to writehe dictated tohisnurse. So diedin the odour of scienceJamesWalkeraet. 45.
"Poorold Walker was very fond of experimentalsurgeryand he broke ground in several directions.
Betweenourselvesthere may have been some moreground-breakingafterwardsbut he did his best forhiscases. You know M`Namaradon't you? He alwayswears hishair long. He lets it be understood thatit comesfrom his artistic strainbut it is reallyto concealthe loss of one of his ears. Walker cutthe otherone offbut you must not tell Mac I saidso.
"Itwas like this. Walker had a fad about theportiodura--the motor to the faceyou know--and hethoughtparalysis of it came from a disturbance ofthe bloodsupply. Something else whichcounterbalancedthat disturbance mighthethoughtset it right again. We had a very obstinatecase ofBell's paralysis in the wardsand had triedit withevery conceivable thingblisteringtonicsnerve-stretchinggalvanismneedlesbut all withoutresult. Walker got it into his head that removal ofthe earwould increase the blood supply to the partand hevery soon gained the consent of the patient totheoperation.
"Wellwe did it at night. Walkerof coursefelt thatit was something of an experimentand didnot wishtoo much talk about it unless it provedsuccessful. There were half-a-dozen of us thereM`Namaraand I among the rest. The room was a smalloneandin the centre was in the narrow tablewithamacintosh over the pillowand a blanket whichextendedalmost to the floor on either side. Twocandleson a side-table near the pillowsuppliedall thelight. In came the patientwith one side ofhis faceas smooth as a baby'sand the other all ina quiverwith fright. He lay downand thechloroformtowel was placed over his facewhileWalkerthreaded his needles in the candle light. Thechloroformiststood at the head of the tableandM`Namarawas stationed at the side to control thepatient. The rest of us stood by to assist.
"Wellthe man was about half over when he fellinto oneof those convulsive flurries which comewith thesemi-unconscious stage. He kicked andplungedand struck out with both hands. Over with acrash wentthe little table which held the candlesand in aninstant we were left in total darkness.
You canthink what a rush and a scurry there wasoneto pick upthe tableone to find the matchesandsome torestrain the patient who was still dashinghimselfabout. He was held down by two dressersthechloroformwas pushedand by the time the candleswererelithis incoherenthalf-smothered shoutingshadchanged to a stertorous snore. His head wasturned onthe pillow and the towel was still keptover hisface while the operation was carriedthrough. Then the towel was withdrawnand you canconceiveour amazement when we looked upon the faceofM`Namara.
"Howdid it happen? Whysimply enough. As thecandleswent overthe chloroformist had stopped foran instantand had tried to catch them. The patientjust asthe light went outhad rolled off and underthetable. Poor M`Namaraclinging frantically tohimhadbeen dragged across itand thechloroformistfeeling him therehad naturallyclaped thetowel across his mouth and nose. Theothers hadsecured himand the more he roared andkicked themore they drenched him with chloroform.
Walker wasvery nice about itand made the mosthandsomeapologies. He offered to do a plasticon thespotand make as good an ear as he couldbutM`Namarahad had enough of it. As to the patientwefound himsleeping placidly under the tablewith theends ofthe blanket screening him on both sides.
Walkersent M`Namara round his ear next day in a jarofmethylated spiritbut Mac's wife was very angryabout itand it led to a good deal of ill-feeling.
"Somepeople say that the more one has to do withhumannatureand the closer one is brought incontactwith itthe less one thinks of it. I don'tbelievethat those who know most would uphold thatview. My own experience is dead against it. I wasbrought upin the miserable-mortal-clay school oftheologyand yet here I amafter thirty years ofintimateacquaintance with humanityfilled withrespectfor it. Theevil lies commonly upon thesurface. The deeper strata are good. A hundredtimes Ihave seen folk condemned to death as suddenlyas poorWalker was. Sometimes it was to blindness ortomutilations which are worse than death. Men andwomenthey almost all took it beautifullyand somewith suchlovely unselfishnessand with suchcompleteabsorption in the thought of how their fatewouldaffect othersthat the man about townor thefrivolously-dressedwoman has seemed to change intoan angelbefore my eyes. I have seen death-bedstooof all ages and of all creeds and want ofcreeds. I never saw any of them shrinksave onlyone poorimaginative young fellowwho had spent hisblamelesslife in the strictest of sects. Of courseanexhausted frame is incapable of fearas anyonecan vouchwho is toldin the midst of his sea-sicknessthat the ship is going to the bottom. Thatis why Irate courage in the face of mutilation to behigherthan courage when a wasting illness is finingaway intodeath.
"NowI'll take a case which I had in my ownpracticelast Wednesday. A lady came in to consultme--thewife of a well-known sporting baronet. Thehusbandhad come with herbut remainedat herrequestin the waiting-room. I need not go intodetailsbut it proved to be a peculiarly malignantcase ofcancer. `I knew it' said she. `How longhave I tolive?' `I fear that it may exhaust yourstrengthin a few months' I answered. `Poor oldJack!'said she. `I'll tell him that it is notdangerous.' `Why should you deceive him?' I asked.
`Wellhe's very uneasy about itand he is quakingnow in thewaiting-room. He has two old friends todinnerto-nightand I haven't the heart to spoil hisevening. To-morrow will be time enough for him tolearn thetruth.' Out she walkedthe brave littlewomananda moment later her husbandwith hisbigredface shining with joy came plunging into myroom toshake me by the hand. NoI respected herwish and Idid not undeceive him. I dare bet thateveningwas one of the brightestand the nextmorningthe darkestof his life.
"It'swonderful how bravely and cheerily a womancan face acrushing blow. It is different with men.
A man canstand it without complainingbut it knockshim dazedand silly all the same. But the woman doesnot loseher wits any more than she does her courage.
NowI hada case only a few weeks ago which wouldshow youwhat I mean. A gentleman consulted me abouthis wifea very beautiful woman. She had a smalltubercularnodule upon her upper armaccording tohim. He was sure that it was of no importancebuthe wantedto know whether Devonshire or the Rivierawould bethe better for her. I examined her and foundafrightful sarcoma of the bonehardly showing uponthesurfacebut involving the shoulder-blade andclavicleas well as the humerus. A more malignantcase Ihave never seen. I sent her out of the roomand I toldhim the truth. What did he do? Whyhewalkedslowly round that room with his hands behindhis backlooking with the greatest interest at thepictures. I can see him nowputting up his goldpince-nezand staring at them with perfectlyvacanteyeswhich told me that he saw neither themnor thewall behind them. `Amputation of the arm?'he askedat last. `And of the collar-bone andshoulder-blade'said I. `Quite so. The collar-boneandshoulder-blade' he repeatedstill staring abouthim withthose lifeless eyes. It settled him. Idon'tbelieve he'll ever be the same man again. Butthe womantook it as bravely and brightly as couldbeandshe has done very well since. The mischiefwas sogreat that the arm snapped as we drew it fromthenight-dress. NoI don't think that there willbe anyreturnand I have every hope of her recovery.
"Thefirst patient is a thing which one remembersall one'slife. Mine was commonplaceand thedetailsare of no interest. I had a curious visitorhoweverduring the first few months after my platewent up. It was an elderly womanrichly dressedwith awickerwork picnic basket in her hand. Thisshe openedwith the tears streaming down her faceand outthere waddled the fattestugliestandmangiestlittle pug dog that I have ever seen. `Iwish youto put him painlessly out of the worlddoctor'she cried. `Quickquickor my resolutionmay giveway.' She flung herself downwithhystericalsobsupon the sofa. The less experienceda doctoristhe higher are his notions ofprofessionaldignityas I need not remind youmyyoungfriendso I was about to refuse thecommissionwith indignationwhen I bethought methatquite apart from medicinewe were gentlemanand ladyand that she had asked me to do somethingfor herwhich was evidently of the greatest possibleimportancein her eyes. I led off the poor littledoggiethereforeand with the help of a saucerfulof milkand a few drops of prussic acid his exit wasas speedyand painless as could be desired. `Is itover?' shecried as I entered. It was really tragicto see howall the love which should have gone tohusbandand children hadin default of thembeencentredupon this uncouth little animal. She leftquitebroken downin her carriageand it was onlyafter herdeparture that I saw an envelope sealedwith alarge red sealand lying upon the blottingpad of mydesk. Outsidein pencilwas written: `Ihave nodoubt that you would willingly have done thiswithout afeebut I insist upon your acceptance oftheenclosed.' I opened it with some vague notionsof aneccentric millionaire and a fifty-pound notebut all Ifound was a postal order for four andsixpence. The whole incident struck me as sowhimsicalthat I laughed until I was tired. You'llfindthere's so much tragedy in a doctor's lifemyboythathe would not be able to stand it if it werenot forthe strain of comedy which comes every nowand thento leaven it.
"Anda doctor has very much to be thankful foralso. Don't you ever forget it. It is such apleasureto do a little good that a man should payfor theprivilege instead of being paid for it.
Stillofcoursehe has his home to keep up and hiswife andchildren to support. But his patients arehisfriends--or they should be so. He goes fromhouse tohouseand his step and his voice are lovedandwelcomed in each. What could a man ask for morethanthat? And besideshe is forced to be a goodman. It is impossible for him to be anything else.
How can aman spend his whole life in seeingsufferingbravely borne and yet remain a hard or aviciousman? It is a noblegenerouskindlyprofessionand you youngsters have got to see thatit remainsso."