Round The Red Lamp
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 1 out of 5
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ROUND THE RED LAMP
BEING FACTS AND FANCIES OF MEDICAL LIFE
By SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
[Being an extract from a long and animated
correspondence with a friend in America.]
I quite recognise the force of your objection
that an invalid or a woman in weak health would get
no good from stories which attempt to treat some
features of medical life with a certain amount of
realism. If you deal with this life at all, however,
and if you are anxious to make your doctors something
more than marionettes, it is quite essential that you
should paint the darker side, since it is that which
is principally presented to the surgeon or physician.
He sees many beautiful things, it is true, fortitude
and heroism, love and self-sacrifice; but they are
all called forth (as our nobler qualities are always
called forth) by bitter sorrow and trial. One cannot
write of medical life and be merry over it.
Then why write of it, you may ask? If a subject
is painful why treat it at all? I answer that it is
the province of fiction to treat painful things
as well as cheerful ones. The story which wiles
away a weary hour fulfils an obviously good
purpose, but not more so, I hold, than that which
helps to emphasise the graver side of life. A
tale which may startle the reader out of his usual
grooves of thought, and shocks him into seriousness,
plays the part of the alterative and tonic in
medicine, bitter to the taste but bracing in the
result. There are a few stories in this little
collection which might have such an effect, and I
have so far shared in your feeling that I have
reserved them from serial publication. In book-form
the reader can see that they are medical stories, and
can, if he or she be so minded, avoid them.
Yours very truly,
A. CONAN DOYLE.
P. S.--You ask about the Red Lamp. It is the
usual sign of the general practitioner in England.
BEHIND THE TIMES
HIS FIRST OPERATION
A STRAGGLER OF '15
THE THIRD GENERATION
A FALSE START
THE CURSE OF EVE
A PHYSIOLOGIST'S WIFE
THE CASE OF LADY SANNOX
A QUESTION OF DIPLOMACY
A MEDICAL DOCUMENT
LOT NO. 249
THE Los AMIGOS FIASCO
THE DOCTORS OF HOYLAND
THE SURGEON TALKS
ROUND THE RED LAMP.
BEHIND THE TIMES.
My first interview with Dr. James Winter was
under dramatic circumstances. It occurred at two in
the morning in the bedroom of an old country house.
I kicked him twice on the white waistcoat and knocked
off his gold spectacles, while he with the aid of a
female accomplice stifled my angry cries in a flannel
petticoat and thrust me into a warm bath. I am told
that one of my parents, who happened to be present,
remarked in a whisper that there was nothing the
matter with my lungs. I cannot recall how Dr. Winter
looked at the time, for I had other things to think
of, but his description of my own appearance is far
from flattering. A fluffy head, a body like a
trussed goose, very bandy legs, and feet with the
soles turned inwards--those are the main items which
he can remember.
From this time onwards the epochs of my life were
the periodical assaults which Dr. Winter made upon
me. He vaccinated me; he cut me for an abscess; he
blistered me for mumps. It was a world of peace and
he the one dark cloud that threatened. But at last
there came a time of real illness--a time when I lay
for months together inside my wickerwork-basket bed,
and then it was that I learned that that hard face
could relax, that those country-made creaking boots
could steal very gently to a bedside, and that that
rough voice could thin into a whisper when it spoke
to a sick child.
And now the child is himself a medical man, and
yet Dr. Winter is the same as ever. I can see no
change since first I can remember him, save that
perhaps the brindled hair is a trifle whiter, and the
huge shoulders a little more bowed. He is a very
tall man, though he loses a couple of inches from his
stoop. That big back of his has curved itself over
sick beds until it has set in that shape. His face
is of a walnut brown, and tells of long winter drives
over bleak country roads, with the wind and the rain
in his teeth. It looks smooth at a little distance,
but as you approach him you see that it is shot with
innumerable fine wrinkles like a last year's apple.
They are hardly to be seen when he is in repose; but
when he laughs his face breaks like a starred glass,
and you realise then that though he looks old, he
must be older than he looks.
How old that is I could never discover. I have
often tried to find out, and have struck his stream
as high up as George IV and even the Regency, but
without ever getting quite to the source. His mind
must have been open to impressions very early, but it
must also have closed early, for the politics of the
day have little interest for him, while he is
fiercely excited about questions which are entirely
prehistoric. He shakes his head when he speaks of
the first Reform Bill and expresses grave doubts as
to its wisdom, and I have heard him, when he was
warmed by a glass of wine, say bitter things about
Robert Peel and his abandoning of the Corn Laws. The
death of that statesman brought the history of
England to a definite close, and Dr. Winter refers to
everything which had happened since then as to an
But it was only when I had myself become a
medical man that I was able to appreciate how
entirely he is a survival of a past generation. He
had learned his medicine under that obsolete and
forgotten system by which a youth was apprenticed to
a surgeon, in the days when the study of anatomy was
often approached through a violated grave. His views
upon his own profession are even more reactionary
than in politics. Fifty years have brought him
little and deprived him of less. Vaccination was
well within the teaching of his youth, though I
think he has a secret preference for inoculation.
Bleeding he would practise freely but for public
opinion. Chloroform he regards as a dangerous
innovation, and he always clicks with his tongue when
it is mentioned. He has even been known to say vain
things about Laennec, and to refer to the stethoscope
as "a new-fangled French toy." He carries one in his
hat out of deference to the expectations of his
patients, but he is very hard of hearing, so that it
makes little difference whether he uses it or not.
He reads, as a duty, his weekly medical paper, so
that he has a general idea as to the advance of
modern science. He always persists in looking upon
it as a huge and rather ludicrous experiment. The
germ theory of disease set him chuckling for a long
time, and his favourite joke in the sick room was to
say, "Shut the door or the germs will be getting in."
As to the Darwinian theory, it struck him as being
the crowning joke of the century. "The children in
the nursery and the ancestors in the stable," he
would cry, and laugh the tears out of his eyes.
He is so very much behind the day that
occasionally, as things move round in their usual
circle, he finds himself, to his bewilderment, in the
front of the fashion. Dietetic treatment, for
example, had been much in vogue in his youth, and
he has more practical knowledge of it than any one
whom I have met. Massage, too, was familiar to him
when it was new to our generation. He had been
trained also at a time when instruments were in a
rudimentary state, and when men learned to trust more
to their own fingers. He has a model surgical hand,
muscular in the palm, tapering in the fingers, "with
an eye at the end of each." I shall not easily
forget how Dr. Patterson and I cut Sir John Sirwell,
the County Member, and were unable to find the stone.
It was a horrible moment. Both our careers were at
stake. And then it was that Dr. Winter, whom we had
asked out of courtesy to be present, introduced into
the wound a finger which seemed to our excited senses
to be about nine inches long, and hooked out the
stone at the end of it. "It's always well to bring
one in your waistcoat-pocket," said he with a
chuckle, "but I suppose you youngsters are above all
We made him president of our branch of the
British Medical Association, but he resigned after
the first meeting. "The young men are too much for
me," he said. "I don't understand what they are
talking about." Yet his patients do very well. He
has the healing touch--that magnetic thing which
defies explanation or analysis, but which is a very
evident fact none the less. His mere presence
leaves the patient with more hopefulness and
vitality. The sight of disease affects him as dust
does a careful housewife. It makes him angry and
impatient. "Tut, tut, this will never do!" he cries,
as he takes over a new case. He would shoo Death out
of the room as though he were an intrusive hen. But
when the intruder refuses to be dislodged, when the
blood moves more slowly and the eyes grow dimmer,
then it is that Dr. Winter is of more avail than all
the drugs in his surgery. Dying folk cling to his
hand as if the presence of his bulk and vigour gives
them more courage to face the change; and that
kindly, windbeaten face has been the last earthly
impression which many a sufferer has carried into the
When Dr. Patterson and I--both of us young,
energetic, and up-to-date--settled in the district,
we were most cordially received by the old doctor,
who would have been only too happy to be relieved of
some of his patients. The patients themselves,
however, followed their own inclinations--which is a
reprehensible way that patients have--so that we
remained neglected, with our modern instruments and
our latest alkaloids, while he was serving out senna
and calomel to all the countryside. We both of us
loved the old fellow, but at the same time, in the
privacy of our own intimate conversations, we could
not help commenting upon this deplorable lack of
judgment. "It's all very well for the poorer
people," said Patterson. "But after all the educated
classes have a right to expect that their medical man
will know the difference between a mitral murmur and
a bronchitic rale. It's the judicial frame of mind,
not the sympathetic, which is the essential one."
I thoroughly agreed with Patterson in what he
said. It happened, however, that very shortly
afterwards the epidemic of influenza broke out, and
we were all worked to death. One morning I met
Patterson on my round, and found him looking rather
pale and fagged out. He made the same remark about
me. I was, in fact, feeling far from well, and I lay
upon the sofa all the afternoon with a splitting
headache and pains in every joint. As evening closed
in, I could no longer disguise the fact that the
scourge was upon me, and I felt that I should have
medical advice without delay. It was of Patterson,
naturally, that I thought, but somehow the idea of
him had suddenly become repugnant to me. I thought
of his cold, critical attitude, of his endless
questions, of his tests and his tappings. I wanted
something more soothing--something more genial.
"Mrs. Hudson," said I to my housekeeper, would
you kindly run along to old Dr. Winter and tell
him that I should be obliged to him if he would step
She was back with an answer presently. "Dr.
Winter will come round in an hour or so, sir; but he
has just been called in to attend Dr. Patterson."
HIS FIRST OPERATION.
It was the first day of the winter session, and
the third year's man was walking with the first
year's man. Twelve o'clock was just booming out from
the Tron Church.
"Let me see," said the third year's man. "You
have never seen an operation?"
"Then this way, please. This is Rutherford's
historic bar. A glass of sherry, please, for this
gentleman. You are rather sensitive, are you not?"
"My nerves are not very strong, I am afraid."
"Hum! Another glass of sherry for this gentleman.
We are going to an operation now, you know."
The novice squared his shoulders and made a
gallant attempt to look unconcerned.
"Nothing very bad--eh?"
"Well, yes--pretty bad."
"No; it's a bigger affair than that."
"I think--I think they must be expecting me at home."
"There's no sense in funking. If you don't go
to-day, you must to-morrow. Better get it over at
once. Feel pretty fit?"
"Oh, yes; all right!" The smile was not a success.
"One more glass of sherry, then. Now come on or
we shall be late. I want you to be well in front."
"Surely that is not necessary."
"Oh, it is far better! What a drove of students!
There are plenty of new men among them. You can tell
them easily enough, can't you? If they were going
down to be operated upon themselves, they could not
"I don't think I should look as white."
"Well, I was just the same myself. But the
feeling soon wears off. You see a fellow with a face
like plaster, and before the week is out he is eating
his lunch in the dissecting rooms. I'll tell you all
about the case when we get to the theatre."
The students were pouring down the sloping street
which led to the infirmary--each with his little
sheaf of note-books in his hand. There were pale,
frightened lads, fresh from the high schools, and
callous old chronics, whose generation had passed on
and left them. They swept in an unbroken,
tumultuous stream from the university gate to the
hospital. The figures and gait of the men were
young, but there was little youth in most of their
faces. Some looked as if they ate too little--a few
as if they drank too much. Tall and short, tweed-
coated and black, round-shouldered, bespectacled, and
slim, they crowded with clatter of feet and rattle of
sticks through the hospital gate. Now and again they
thickened into two lines, as the carriage of a
surgeon of the staff rolled over the cobblestones
"There's going to be a crowd at Archer's,"
whispered the senior man with suppressed excitement.
"It is grand to see him at work. I've seen him jab
all round the aorta until it made me jumpy to watch
him. This way, and mind the whitewash."
They passed under an archway and down a long,
stone-flagged corridor, with drab-coloured doors on
either side, each marked with a number. Some of them
were ajar, and the novice glanced into them with
tingling nerves. He was reassured to catch a glimpse
of cheery fires, lines of white-counterpaned beds,
and a profusion of coloured texts upon the wall. The
corridor opened upon a small hall, with a fringe of
poorly clad people seated all round upon benches. A
young man, with a pair of scissors stuck like a
flower in his buttonhole and a note-book in his hand,
was passing from one to the other, whispering and
"Anything good?" asked the third year's man.
"You should have been here yesterday," said the
out-patient clerk, glancing up. "We had a regular
field day. A popliteal aneurism, a Colles' fracture,
a spina bifida, a tropical abscess, and an
elephantiasis. How's that for a single haul?"
"I'm sorry I missed it. But they'll come again,
I suppose. What's up with the old gentleman?"
A broken workman was sitting in the shadow,
rocking himself slowly to and fro, and groaning. A
woman beside him was trying to console him, patting
his shoulder with a hand which was spotted over with
curious little white blisters.
"It's a fine carbuncle," said the clerk, with the
air of a connoisseur who describes his orchids to one
who can appreciate them. "It's on his back and the
passage is draughty, so we must not look at it, must
we, daddy? Pemphigus," he added carelessly, pointing
to the woman's disfigured hands. "Would you care to
stop and take out a metacarpal?"
"No, thank you. We are due at Archer's. Come
on!" and they rejoined the throng which was hurrying
to the theatre of the famous surgeon.
The tiers of horseshoe benches rising from the
floor to the ceiling were already packed, and the
novice as he entered saw vague curving lines of
faces in front of him, and heard the deep buzz of a
hundred voices, and sounds of laughter from somewhere
up above him. His companion spied an opening on the
second bench, and they both squeezed into it.
"This is grand!" the senior man whispered.
"You'll have a rare view of it all."
Only a single row of heads intervened between
them and the operating table. It was of unpainted
deal, plain, strong, and scrupulously clean. A sheet
of brown water-proofing covered half of it, and
beneath stood a large tin tray full of sawdust. On
the further side, in front of the window, there was a
board which was strewed with glittering instruments--
forceps, tenacula, saws, canulas, and trocars. A
line of knives, with long, thin, delicate blades, lay
at one side. Two young men lounged in front of this,
one threading needles, the other doing something to a
brass coffee-pot-like thing which hissed out puffs of
"That's Peterson," whispered the senior, "the
big, bald man in the front row. He's the skin-
grafting man, you know. And that's Anthony Browne,
who took a larynx out successfully last winter. And
there's Murphy, the pathologist, and Stoddart, the
eye-man. You'll come to know them all soon."
"Who are the two men at the table?"
"Nobody--dressers. One has charge of the
instruments and the other of the puffing Billy. It's
Lister's antiseptic spray, you know, and Archer's one
of the carbolic-acid men. Hayes is the leader of the
cleanliness-and-cold-water school, and they all hate
each other like poison."
A flutter of interest passed through the closely
packed benches as a woman in petticoat and bodice was
led in by two nurses. A red woolen shawl was draped
over her head and round her neck. The face which
looked out from it was that of a woman in the prime
of her years, but drawn with suffering, and of a
peculiar beeswax tint. Her head drooped as she
walked, and one of the nurses, with her arm round her
waist, was whispering consolation in her ear. She
gave a quick side-glance at the instrument table as
she passed, but the nurses turned her away from it.
"What ails her?" asked the novice.
"Cancer of the parotid. It's the devil of a
case; extends right away back behind the carotids.
There's hardly a man but Archer would dare to follow
it. Ah, here he is himself!"
As he spoke, a small, brisk, iron-grey man came
striding into the room, rubbing his hands together as
he walked. He had a clean-shaven face, of the naval
officer type, with large, bright eyes, and a firm,
straight mouth. Behind him came his big house-
surgeon, with his gleaming pince-nez, and a
trail of dressers, who grouped themselves into
the corners of the room.
"Gentlemen," cried the surgeon in a voice as hard
and brisk as his manner, "we have here an interesting
case of tumour of the parotid, originally
cartilaginous but now assuming malignant
characteristics, and therefore requiring excision.
On to the table, nurse! Thank you! Chloroform,
clerk! Thank you! You can take the shawl off,
The woman lay back upon the water-proofed pillow,
and her murderous tumour lay revealed. In itself it
was a pretty thing--ivory white, with a mesh of blue
veins, and curving gently from jaw to chest. But the
lean, yellow face and the stringy throat were in
horrible contrast with the plumpness and sleekness of
this monstrous growth. The surgeon placed a hand on
each side of it and pressed it slowly backwards and
"Adherent at one place, gentlemen," he cried.
"The growth involves the carotids and jugulars, and
passes behind the ramus of the jaw, whither we must
be prepared to follow it. It is impossible to say
how deep our dissection may carry us. Carbolic tray.
Thank you! Dressings of carbolic gauze, if you
please! Push the chloroform, Mr. Johnson. Have the
small saw ready in case it is necessary to remove the
The patient was moaning gently under the towel
which had been placed over her face. She tried
to raise her arms and to draw up her knees, but two
dressers restrained her. The heavy air was full of
the penetrating smells of carbolic acid and of
chloroform. A muffled cry came from under the towel,
and then a snatch of a song, sung in a high,
quavering, monotonous voice:
"He says, says he,
If you fly with me
You'll be mistress of the ice-cream van.
You'll be mistress of the----"
It mumbled off into a drone and stopped. The surgeon
came across, still rubbing his hands, and spoke to an
elderly man in front of the novice.
"Narrow squeak for the Government," he said.
"Oh, ten is enough."
"They won't have ten long. They'd do better to
resign before they are driven to it."
"Oh, I should fight it out."
"What's the use. They can't get past the
committee even if they got a vote in the House. I
was talking to----"
"Patient's ready, sir," said the dresser.
"Talking to McDonald--but I'll tell you about it
presently." He walked back to the patient, who was
breathing in long, heavy gasps. "I propose," said
he, passing his hand over the tumour in an almost
caressing fashion, "to make a free incision over the
posterior border, and to take another forward at
right angles to the lower end of it. Might I
trouble you for a medium knife, Mr. Johnson?"
The novice, with eyes which were dilating with
horror, saw the surgeon pick up the long, gleaming
knife, dip it into a tin basin, and balance it in his
fingers as an artist might his brush. Then he saw
him pinch up the skin above the tumour with his left
hand. At the sight his nerves, which had already
been tried once or twice that day, gave way utterly.
His head swain round, and he felt that in another
instant he might faint. He dared not look at the
patient. He dug his thumbs into his ears lest some
scream should come to haunt him, and he fixed his
eyes rigidly upon the wooden ledge in front of him.
One glance, one cry, would, he knew, break down the
shred of self-possession which he still retained. He
tried to think of cricket, of green fields and
rippling water, of his sisters at home--of anything
rather than of what was going on so near him.
And yet somehow, even with his ears stopped up,
sounds seemed to penetrate to him and to carry their
own tale. He heard, or thought that he heard, the
long hissing of the carbolic engine. Then he was
conscious of some movement among the dressers. Were
there groans, too, breaking in upon him, and some
other sound, some fluid sound, which was more
dreadfully suggestive still? His mind would keep
building up every step of the operation, and
fancy made it more ghastly than fact could have been.
His nerves tingled and quivered. Minute by minute
the giddiness grew more marked, the numb, sickly
feeling at his heart more distressing. And then
suddenly, with a groan, his head pitching forward,
and his brow cracking sharply upon the narrow wooden
shelf in front of him, he lay in a dead faint.
When he came to himself, he was lying in the
empty theatre, with his collar and shirt undone. The
third year's man was dabbing a wet sponge over his
face, and a couple of grinning dressers were looking
"All right," cried the novice, sitting up and
rubbing his eyes. "I'm sorry to have made an ass of
"Well, so I should think," said his companion.
"What on earth did you faint about?"
"I couldn't help it. It was that operation."
"Why, that cancer."
There was a pause, and then the three students
burst out laughing. "Why, you juggins!" cried the
senior man, "there never was an operation at all!
They found the patient didn't stand the chloroform
well, and so the whole thing was off. Archer has
been giving us one of his racy lectures, and you
fainted just in the middle of his favourite story."
A STRAGGLER OF '15.
It was a dull October morning, and heavy, rolling
fog-wreaths lay low over the wet grey roofs of the
Woolwich houses. Down in the long, brick-lined
streets all was sodden and greasy and cheerless.
From the high dark buildings of the arsenal came the
whirr of many wheels, the thudding of weights, and
the buzz and babel of human toil. Beyond, the
dwellings of the workingmen, smoke-stained and
unlovely, radiated away in a lessening perspective of
narrowing road and dwindling wall.
There were few folk in the streets, for the
toilers had all been absorbed since break of day by
the huge smoke-spouting monster, which sucked in the
manhood of the town, to belch it forth weary and
work-stained every night. Little groups of children
straggled to school, or loitered to peep through the
single, front windows at the big, gilt-edged Bibles,
balanced upon small, three-legged tables, which were
their usual adornment. Stout women, with thick, red
arms and dirty aprons, stood upon the whitened
doorsteps, leaning upon their brooms, and shrieking
their morning greetings across the road. One
stouter, redder, and dirtier than the rest, had
gathered a small knot of cronies around her and was
talking energetically, with little shrill titters
from her audience to punctuate her remarks.
"Old enough to know better!" she cried, in answer
to an exclamation from one of the listeners. "If he
hain't no sense now, I 'specs he won't learn much on
this side o'Jordan. Why, 'ow old is he at all?
Blessed if I could ever make out."
"Well, it ain't so hard to reckon," said a sharp-
featured pale-faced woman with watery blue eyes.
"He's been at the battle o' Waterloo, and has the
pension and medal to prove it."
"That were a ter'ble long time agone," remarked a
third. "It were afore I were born."
"It were fifteen year after the beginnin' of the
century," cried a younger woman, who had stood
leaning against the wall, with a smile of superior
knowledge upon her face. "My Bill was a-saying so
last Sabbath, when I spoke to him o' old Daddy
"And suppose he spoke truth, Missus Simpson, 'ow
long agone do that make it?"
"It's eighty-one now," said the original speaker,
checking off the years upon her coarse red
fingers, "and that were fifteen. Ten and ten, and
ten, and ten, and ten--why, it's only sixty-and-six
year, so he ain't so old after all."
"But he weren't a newborn babe at the battle,
silly!" cried the young woman with a chuckle.
"S'pose he were only twenty, then he couldn't be less
than six-and-eighty now, at the lowest."
"Aye, he's that--every day of it," cried several.
"I've had 'bout enough of it," remarked the large
woman gloomily. "Unless his young niece, or
grandniece, or whatever she is, come to-day, I'm off,
and he can find some one else to do his work. Your
own 'ome first, says I."
"Ain't he quiet, then, Missus Simpson?" asked the
youngest of the group.
"Listen to him now," she answered, with her hand
half raised and her head turned slantwise towards the
open door. From the upper floor there came a
shuffling, sliding sound with a sharp tapping of a
stick. "There he go back and forrards, doing what he
call his sentry go. 'Arf the night through he's at
that game, the silly old juggins. At six o'clock
this very mornin there he was beatin' with a stick at
my door. `Turn out, guard!' he cried, and a lot more
jargon that I could make nothing of. Then what with
his coughin' and 'awkin' and spittin', there ain't no
gettin' a wink o' sleep. Hark to him now!"
"Missus Simpson, Missus Simpson!" cried a cracked
and querulous voice from above.
"That's him!" she cried, nodding her head with an
air of triumph. "He do go on somethin' scandalous.
Yes, Mr. Brewster, sir."
"I want my morning ration, Missus Simpson."
"It's just ready, Mr. Brewster, sir."
"Blessed if he ain't like a baby cryin' for its
pap," said the young woman.
"I feel as if I could shake his old bones up
sometimes!" cried Mrs. Simpson viciously. "But who's
for a 'arf of fourpenny?"
The whole company were about to shuffle off to
the public house, when a young girl stepped across
the road and touched the housekeeper timidly upon the
arm. "I think that is No. 56 Arsenal View," she
said. "Can you tell me if Mr. Brewster lives here?"
The housekeeper looked critically at the
newcomer. She was a girl of about twenty, broad-
faced and comely, with a turned-up nose and large,
honest grey eyes. Her print dress, her straw hat,
with its bunch of glaring poppies, and the bundle she
carried, had all a smack of the country.
"You're Norah Brewster, I s'pose," said Mrs.
Simpson, eyeing her up and down with no friendly
"Yes, I've come to look after my Granduncle
"And a good job too," cried the housekeeper, with
a toss of her head. "It's about time that some of
his own folk took a turn at it, for I've had enough
of it. There you are, young woman! In you go and
make yourself at home. There's tea in the caddy and
bacon on the dresser, and the old man will be about
you if you don't fetch him his breakfast. I'll send
for my things in the evenin'." With a nod she
strolled off with her attendant gossips in the
direction of the public house.
Thus left to her own devices, the country girl
walked into the front room and took off her hat and
jacket. It was a low-roofed apartment with a
sputtering fire upon which a small brass kettle was
singing cheerily. A stained cloth lay over half the
table, with an empty brown teapot, a loaf of bread,
and some coarse crockery. Norah Brewster looked
rapidly about her, and in an instant took over her
new duties. Ere five minutes had passed the tea was
made, two slices of bacon were frizzling on the pan,
the table was rearranged, the antimacassars
straightened over the sombre brown furniture, and the
whole room had taken a new air of comfort and
neatness. This done she looked round curiously at
the prints upon the walls. Over the fireplace, in a
small, square case, a brown medal caught her eye,
hanging from a strip of purple ribbon. Beneath was a
slip of newspaper cutting. She stood on her
tiptoes, with her fingers on the edge of the
mantelpiece, and craned her neck up to see it,
glancing down from time to time at the bacon which
simmered and hissed beneath her. The cutting was
yellow with age, and ran in this way:
"On Tuesday an interesting ceremony was performed
at the barracks of the Third Regiment of Guards,
when, in the presence of the Prince Regent, Lord
Hill, Lord Saltoun, and an assemblage which comprised
beauty as well as valour, a special medal was
presented to Corporal Gregory Brewster, of Captain
Haldane's flank company, in recognition of his
gallantry in the recent great battle in the Lowlands.
It appears that on the ever-memorable 18th of June
four companies of the Third Guards and of the
Coldstreams, under the command of Colonels Maitland
and Byng, held the important farmhouse of Hougoumont
at the right of the British position. At a critical
point of the action these troops found themselves
short of powder. Seeing that Generals Foy and Jerome
Buonaparte were again massing their infantry for an
attack on the position, Colonel Byng dispatched
Corporal Brewster to the rear to hasten up the
reserve ammunition. Brewster came upon two powder
tumbrils of the Nassau division, and succeeded, after
menacing the drivers with his musket, in inducing
them to convey their powder to Hougoumont. In
his absence, however, the hedges surrounding the
position had been set on fire by a howitzer battery
of the French, and the passage of the carts full of
powder became a most hazardous matter. The first
tumbril exploded, blowing the driver to fragments.
Daunted by the fate of his comrade, the second driver
turned his horses, but Corporal Brewster, springing
upon his seat, hurled the man down, and urging the
powder cart through the flames, succeeded in forcing
his way to his companions. To this gallant deed may
be directly attributed the success of the British
arms, for without powder it would have been
impossible to have held Hougoumont, and the Duke of
Wellington had repeatedly declared that had
Hougoumont fallen, as well as La Haye Sainte, he
would have found it impossible to have held his
ground. Long may the heroic Brewster live to
treasure the medal which he has so bravely won, and
to look back with pride to the day when, in the
presence of his comrades, he received this tribute to
his valour from the august hands of the first
gentleman of the realm."
The reading of this old cutting increased in the
girl's mind the veneration which she had always had
for her warrior kinsman. From her infancy he had
been her hero, and she remembered how her father used
to speak of his courage and his strength, how he
could strike down a bullock with a blow of his fist
and carry a fat sheep under either arm. True, she
had never seen him, but a rude painting at home which
depicted a square-faced, clean shaven, stalwart man
with a great bearskin cap, rose ever before her
memory when she thought of him.
She was still gazing at the brown medal and
wondering what the "Dulce et decorum est" might
mean, which was inscribed upon the edge, when there
came a sudden tapping and shuffling upon the stair,
and there at the door was standing the very man who
had been so often in her thoughts.
But could this indeed be he? Where was the
martial air, the flashing eye, the warrior face which
she had pictured? There, framed in the doorway, was
a huge twisted old man, gaunt and puckered, with
twitching hands and shuffling, purposeless feet. A
cloud of fluffy white hair, a red-veined nose, two
thick tufts of eyebrow and a pair of dimly
questioning, watery blue eyes--these were what met
her gaze. He leaned forward upon a stick, while his
shoulders rose and fell with his crackling, rasping
"I want my morning rations," he crooned, as he
stumped forward to his chair. "The cold nips me
without 'em. See to my fingers!" He held out his
distorted hands, all blue at the tips, wrinkled
and gnarled, with huge, projecting knuckles.
"It's nigh ready," answered the girl, gazing at
him with wonder in her eyes. "Don't you know who I
am, granduncle? I am Norah Brewster from Witham."
"Rum is warm," mumbled the old man, rocking to
and fro in his chair, "and schnapps is warm, and
there's 'eat in soup, but it's a dish o' tea for me.
What did you say your name was?"
"You can speak out, lass. Seems to me folk's
voices isn't as loud as they used."
"I'm Norah Brewster, uncle. I'm your grandniece
come down from Essex way to live with you."
"You'll be brother Jarge's girl! Lor, to think
o' little Jarge having a girl!" He chuckled hoarsely
to himself, and the long, stringy sinews of his
throat jerked and quivered.
"I am the daughter of your brother George's son,"
said she, as she turned the bacon.
"Lor, but little Jarge was a rare un!" he
continued. "Eh, by Jimini, there was no chousing
Jarge. He's got a bull pup o' mine that I gave him
when I took the bounty. You've heard him speak of
"Why, grandpa George has been dead this twenty
year," said she, pouring out the tea.
"Well, it was a bootiful pup--aye, a well-bred
un, by Jimini! I'm cold for lack o' my rations. Rum
is good, and so is schnapps, but I'd as lief have tea
He breathed heavily while he devoured his food.
"It's a middlin' goodish way you've come," said he at
last. "Likely the stage left yesternight."
"The what, uncle?"
"The coach that brought you."
"Nay, I came by the mornin' train."
"Lor, now, think o' that! You ain't afeard o'
those newfangled things! By Jimini, to think of you
comin' by railroad like that! What's the world a-
There was silence for some minutes while Norah
sat stirring her tea and glancing sideways at the
bluish lips and champing jaws of her companion.
"You must have seen a deal o' life, uncle," said
she. "It must seem a long, long time to you!"
"Not so very long neither. I'm ninety, come
Candlemas; but it don't seem long since I took the
bounty. And that battle, it might have been
yesterday. Eh, but I get a power o' good from my
rations!" He did indeed look less worn and
colourless than when she first saw him. His face was
flushed and his back more erect.
"Have you read that?" he asked, jerking his head
towards the cutting.
"Yes, uncle, and I'm sure you must be proud of
"Ah, it was a great day for me! A great day!
The Regent was there, and a fine body of a man too!
`The ridgment is proud of you,' says he. `And I'm
proud of the ridgment,' say I. `A damned good answer
too!' says he to Lord Hill, and they both bu'st out
a-laughin'. But what be you a-peepin' out o' the
"Oh, uncle, here's a regiment of soldiers coming
down the street with the band playing in front of
"A ridgment, eh? Where be my glasses? Lor, but
I can hear the band, as plain as plain! Here's the
pioneers an' the drum-major! What be their number,
lass?" His eyes were shining and his bony yellow
fingers, like the claws of some fierce old bird, dug
into her shoulder.
"They don't seem to have no number, uncle.
They've something wrote on their shoulders.
Oxfordshire, I think it be."
"Ah, yes!" he growled. "I heard as they'd
dropped the numbers and given them newfangled names.
There they go, by Jimini! They're young mostly, but
they hain't forgot how to march. They have the
swing-aye, I'll say that for them. They've got the
swing." He gazed after them until the last files
had turned the corner and the measured tramp of their
marching had died away in the distance.
He had just regained his chair when the door
opened and a gentleman stepped in.
"Ah, Mr. Brewster! Better to-day?" he asked.
"Come in, doctor! Yes, I'm better. But there's
a deal o' bubbling in my chest. It's all them
toobes. If I could but cut the phlegm, I'd be right.
Can't you give me something to cut the phlegm?"
The doctor, a grave-faced young man, put his
fingers to the furrowed, blue-corded wrist.
"You must be careful," he said. "You must take
no liberties." The thin tide of life seemed to
thrill rather than to throb under his finger.
The old man chuckled.
"I've got brother Jarge's girl to look after me
now. She'll see I don't break barracks or do what I
hadn't ought to. Why, darn my skin, I knew something
"Why, with them soldiers. You saw them pass,
doctor--eh? They'd forgot their stocks. Not one on
'em had his stock on." He croaked and chuckled for a
long time over his discovery. "It wouldn't ha' done
for the Dook!" he muttered. "No, by Jimini! the Dook
would ha' had a word there."
The doctor smiled. "Well, you are doing very
well," said he. "I'll look in once a week or so, and
see how you are." As Norah followed him to the door,
he beckoned her outside.
"He is very weak," he whispered. "If you find
him failing you must send for me."
"What ails him, doctor?"
"Ninety years ails him. His arteries are pipes
of lime. His heart is shrunken and flabby. The man
is worn out."
Norah stood watching the brisk figure of the
young doctor, and pondering over these new
responsibilities which had come upon her. When she
turned a tall, brown-faced artilleryman, with the
three gold chevrons of sergeant upon his arm, was
standing, carbine in hand, at her elbow.
"Good-morning, miss," said he, raising one thick
finger to his jaunty, yellow-banded cap. "I b'lieve
there's an old gentleman lives here of the name of
Brewster, who was engaged in the battle o' Waterloo?"
"It's my granduncle, sir," said Norah, casting
down her eyes before the keen, critical gaze of the
young soldier. "He is in the front parlour."
"Could I have a word with him, miss? I'll call
again if it don't chance to be convenient."
"I am sure that he would be very glad to see you,
sir. He's in here, if you'll step in. Uncle, here's
a gentleman who wants to speak with you."
"Proud to see you, sir--proud and glad, sir," cried
the sergeant, taking three steps forward into the
room, and grounding his carbine while he raised his
hand, palm forwards, in a salute. Norah stood by the
door, with her mouth and eyes open, wondering if her
granduncle had ever, in his prime, looked like this
magnificent creature, and whether he, in his turn,
would ever come to resemble her granduncle.
The old man blinked up at his visitor, and shook
his head slowly. "Sit ye down, sergeant," said he,
pointing with his stick to a chair. "You're full
young for the stripes. Lordy, it's easier to get
three now than one in my day. Gunners were old
soldiers then and the grey hairs came quicker than
the three stripes."
"I am eight years' service, sir," cried the
sergeant. "Macdonald is my name--Sergeant Macdonald,
of H Battery, Southern Artillery Division. I have
called as the spokesman of my mates at the gunner's
barracks to say that we are proud to have you in the
Old Brewster chuckled and rubbed his bony hands.
"That were what the Regent said," he cried. "`The
ridgment is proud of ye,' says he. `And I am proud
of the ridgment,' says I. `And a damned good answer
too,' says he, and he and Lord Hill bu'st out a-
"The non-commissioned mess would be proud and
honoured to see you, sir," said Sergeant Macdonald;
"and if you could step as far you'll always find a
pipe o' baccy and a glass o' grog a-waitin' you."
The old man laughed until he coughed. "Like to
see me, would they? The dogs!" said he. "Well,
well, when the warm weather comes again I'll maybe
drop in. Too grand for a canteen, eh? Got your mess
just the same as the orficers. What's the world a-
comin' to at all!"
"You was in the line, sir, was you not?" asked
the sergeant respectfully.
"The line?" cried the old man, with shrill scorn.
"Never wore a shako in my life. I am a guardsman, I
am. Served in the Third Guards--the same they call
now the Scots Guards. Lordy, but they have all
marched away--every man of them--from old Colonel
Byng down to the drummer boys, and here am I a
straggler--that's what I am, sergeant, a straggler!
I'm here when I ought to be there. But it ain't my
fault neither, for I'm ready to fall in when the word
"We've all got to muster there," answered the
sergeant. "Won't you try my baccy, sir?" handing
over a sealskin pouch.
Old Brewster drew a blackened clay pipe from his
pocket, and began to stuff the tobacco into the bowl.
In an instant it slipped through his fingers, and was
broken to pieces on the floor. His lip quivered,
his nose puckered up, and he began crying with the
long, helpless sobs of a child. "I've broke my
pipe," he cried.
"Don't, uncle; oh, don't!" cried Norah, bending
over him, and patting his white head as one soothes a
baby. "It don't matter. We can easy get another."
"Don't you fret yourself, sir," said the
sergeant. "'Ere's a wooden pipe with an amber mouth,
if you'll do me the honour to accept it from me. I'd
be real glad if you will take it."
"Jimini!" cried he, his smiles breaking in an
instant through his tears. "It's a fine pipe. See
to my new pipe, Norah. I lay that Jarge never had a
pipe like that. You've got your firelock there,
"Yes, sir. I was on my way back from the butts
when I looked in."
"Let me have the feel of it. Lordy, but it seems
like old times to have one's hand on a musket.
What's the manual, sergeant, eh? Cock your
firelock--look to your priming--present your
firelock--eh, sergeant? Oh, Jimini, I've broke your
musket in halves!"
"That's all right, sir," cried the gunner
laughing. "You pressed on the lever and opened the
breech-piece. That's where we load 'em, you know."
"Load 'em at the wrong end! Well, well, to
think o' that! And no ramrod neither! I've
heard tell of it, but I never believed it afore. Ah!
it won't come up to brown Bess. When there's work to
be done, you mark my word and see if they don't come
back to brown Bess."
"By the Lord, sir!" cried the sergeant hotly,
"they need some change out in South Africa now. I see
by this mornin's paper that the Government has
knuckled under to these Boers. They're hot about it
at the non-com. mess, I can tell you, sir."
"Eh--eh," croaked old Brewster. "By Jimini! it
wouldn't ha' done for the Dook; the Dook would ha'
had a word to say over that."
"Ah, that he would, sir!" cried the sergeant; and
God send us another like him. But I've wearied you
enough for one sitting. I'll look in again, and I'll
bring a comrade or two with me, if I may, for there
isn't one but would be proud to have speech with
So, with another salute to the veteran and a
gleam of white teeth at Norah, the big gunner
withdrew, leaving a memory of blue cloth and of gold
braid behind him. Many days had not passed, however,
before he was back again, and during all the long
winter he was a frequent visitor at Arsenal View.
There came a time, at last, when it might be doubted
to which of the two occupants his visits were
directed, nor was it hard to say by which he was most
anxiously awaited. He brought others with him;
and soon, through all the lines, a pilgrimage to
Daddy Brewster's came to be looked upon as the proper
thing to do. Gunners and sappers, linesmen and
dragoons, came bowing and bobbing into the little
parlour, with clatter of side arms and clink of
spurs, stretching their long legs across the
patchwork rug, and hunting in the front of their
tunics for the screw of tobacco or paper of snuff
which they had brought as a sign of their esteem.
It was a deadly cold winter, with six weeks on
end of snow on the ground, and Norah had a hard task
to keep the life in that time-worn body. There were
times when his mind would leave him, and when, save
an animal outcry when the hour of his meals came
round, no word would fall from him. He was a white-
haired child, with all a child's troubles and
emotions. As the warm weather came once more,
however, and the green buds peeped forth again upon
the trees, the blood thawed in his veins, and he
would even drag himself as far as the door to bask in
the life-giving sunshine.
"It do hearten me up so," he said one morning, as
he glowed in the hot May sun. "It's a job to keep
back the flies, though. They get owdacious in this
weather, and they do plague me cruel."
"I'll keep them off you, uncle," said Norah.
"Eh, but it's fine! This sunshine makes me think
o' the glory to come. You might read me a bit o' the
Bible, lass. I find it wonderful soothing."
"What part would you like, uncle?"
"Oh, them wars."
"Aye, keep to the wars! Give me the Old
Testament for choice. There's more taste to it, to
my mind. When parson comes he wants to get off to
something else; but it's Joshua or nothing with me.
Them Israelites was good soldiers--good growed
soldiers, all of 'em."
"But, uncle," pleaded Norah, "it's all peace in
the next world."
"No, it ain't, gal."
"Oh, yes, uncle, surely!"
The old corporal knocked his stick irritably upon
the ground. "I tell ye it ain't, gal. I asked
"Well, what did he say?"
"He said there was to be a last fight. He even
gave it a name, he did. The battle of Arm--Arm----"
"Aye, that's the name parson said. I 'specs the
Third Guards'll be there. And the Dook--the Dook'll
have a word to say."
An elderly, grey-whiskered gentleman had been
walking down the street, glancing up at the
numbers of the houses. Now as his eyes fell upon the
old man, he came straight for him.
"Hullo!" said he; "perhaps you are Gregory
"My name, sir," answered the veteran.
"You are the same Brewster, as I understand, who
is on the roll of the Scots Guards as having been
present at the battle of Waterloo?"
"I am that man, sir, though we called it the
Third Guards in those days. It was a fine ridgment,
and they only need me to make up a full muster."
"Tut, tut! they'll have to wait years for that,"
said the gentleman heartily. "But I am the colonel
of the Scots Guards, and I thought I would like to
have a word with you."
Old Gregory Brewster was up in an instant, with
his hand to his rabbit-skin cap. "God bless me!" he
cried, "to think of it! to think of it!"
"Hadn't the gentleman better come in?" suggested
the practical Norah from behind the door.
"Surely, sir, surely; walk in, sir, if I may be
so bold." In his excitement he had forgotten his
stick, and as he led the way into the parlour his
knees tottered, and he threw out his hands. In an
instant the colonel had caught him on one side and
Norah on the other.
"Easy and steady," said the colonel, as he led
him to his armchair.
"Thank ye, sir; I was near gone that time. But,
Lordy I why, I can scarce believe it. To think of me
the corporal of the flank company and you the colonel
of the battalion! How things come round, to be
"Why, we are very proud of you in London," said
the colonel. "And so you are actually one of the men
who held Hougoumont." He looked at the bony,
trembling hands, with their huge, knotted knuckles,
the stringy throat, and the heaving, rounded
shoulders. Could this, indeed, be the last of that
band of heroes? Then he glanced at the half-filled
phials, the blue liniment bottles, the long-spouted
kettle, and the sordid details of the sick room.
"Better, surely, had he died under the blazing
rafters of the Belgian farmhouse," thought the
"I hope that you are pretty comfortable and
happy," he remarked after a pause.
"Thank ye, sir. I have a good deal o' trouble
with my toobes--a deal o' trouble. You wouldn't
think the job it is to cut the phlegm. And I need my
rations. I gets cold without 'em. And the flies! I
ain't strong enough to fight against them."
"How's the memory?" asked the colonel.
"Oh, there ain't nothing amiss there. Why,
sir, I could give you the name of every man in
Captain Haldane's flank company."
"And the battle--you remember it?"
"Why, I sees it all afore me every time I shuts
my eyes. Lordy, sir, you wouldn't hardly believe how
clear it is to me. There's our line from the
paregoric bottle right along to the snuff box. D'ye
see? Well, then, the pill box is for Hougoumont on
the right--where we was--and Norah's thimble for La
Haye Sainte. There it is, all right, sir; and here
were our guns, and here behind the reserves and the
Belgians. Ach, them Belgians!" He spat furiously
into the fire. "Then here's the French, where my
pipe lies; and over here, where I put my baccy pouch,
was the Proosians a-comin' up on our left flank.
Jimini, but it was a glad sight to see the smoke of
"And what was it that struck you most now in
connection with the whole affair?" asked the colonel.
"I lost three half-crowns over it, I did,"
crooned old Brewster. "I shouldn't wonder if I was
never to get that money now. I lent 'em to Jabez
Smith, my rear rank man, in Brussels. `Only till
pay-day, Grig,' says he. By Gosh! he was stuck by a
lancer at Quatre Bras, and me with not so much as a
slip o' paper to prove the debt! Them three half-
crowns is as good as lost to me."
The colonel rose from his chair laughing. "The
officers of the Guards want you to buy yourself some
little trifle which may add to your comfort," he
said. "It is not from me, so you need not thank me."
He took up the old man's tobacco pouch and slipped a
crisp banknote inside it.
"Thank ye kindly, sir. But there's one favour
that I would like to ask you, colonel."
"Yes, my man."
"If I'm called, colonel, you won't grudge me a
flag and a firing party? I'm not a civilian; I'm a
guardsman--I'm the last of the old Third Guards."
"All right, my man, I'll see to it," said the
colonel. "Good-bye; I hope to have nothing but good
news from you."
"A kind gentleman, Norah," croaked old Brewster,
as they saw him walk past the window; "but, Lordy, he
ain't fit to hold the stirrup o' my Colonel Byng!"
It was on the very next day that the old corporal
took a sudden change for the worse. Even the golden
sunlight streaming through the window seemed unable
to warm that withered frame. The doctor came and
shook his head in silence. All day the man lay with
only his puffing blue lips and the twitching of his
scraggy neck to show that he still held the breath of
life. Norah and Sergeant Macdonald had sat by
him in the afternoon, but he had shown no
consciousness of their presence. He lay peacefully,
his eyes half closed, his hands under his cheek, as
one who is very weary.
They had left him for an instant and were sitting
in the front room, where Norah was preparing tea,
when of a sudden they heard a shout that rang through
the house. Loud and clear and swelling, it pealed in
their ears--a voice full of strength and energy and
fiery passion. "The Guards need powder!" it cried;
and yet again, "The Guards need powder!"
The sergeant sprang from his chair and rushed in,
followed by the trembling Norah. There was the old
man standing up, his blue eyes sparkling, his white
hair bristling, his whole figure towering and
expanding, with eagle head and glance of fire. "The
Guards need powder!" he thundered once again, "and,
by God, they shall have it!" He threw up his long
arms, and sank back with a groan into his chair. The
sergeant stooped over him, and his face darkened.
"Oh, Archie, Archie," sobbed the frightened girl,
"what do you think of him?"
The sergeant turned away. "I think," said he,
"that the Third Guards have a full muster now."
THE THIRD GENERATION.
Scudamore Lane, sloping down riverwards from just
behind the Monument, lies at night in the shadow of
two black and monstrous walls which loom high above
the glimmer of the scattered gas lamps. The
footpaths are narrow, and the causeway is paved with
rounded cobblestones, so that the endless drays roar
along it like breaking waves. A few old-fashioned
houses lie scattered among the business premises, and
in one of these, half-way down on the left-hand side,
Dr. Horace Selby conducts his large practice. It is
a singular street for so big a man; but a specialist
who has an European reputation can afford to live
where he likes. In his particular branch, too,
patients do not always regard seclusion as a
It was only ten o'clock. The dull roar of the
traffic which converged all day upon London Bridge
had died away now to a mere confused murmur. It was
raining heavily, and the gas shone dimly through the
streaked and dripping glass, throwing little
circles upon the glistening cobblestones. The air
was full of the sounds of the rain, the thin swish of
its fall, the heavier drip from the eaves, and the
swirl and gurgle down the two steep gutters and
through the sewer grating. There was only one figure
in the whole length of Scudamore Lane. It was that
of a man, and it stood outside the door of Dr. Horace
He had just rung and was waiting for an answer.
The fanlight beat full upon the gleaming shoulders of
his waterproof and upon his upturned features. It
was a wan, sensitive, clear-cut face, with some
subtle, nameless peculiarity in its expression,
something of the startled horse in the white-rimmed
eye, something too of the helpless child in the drawn
cheek and the weakening of the lower lip. The man-
servant knew the stranger as a patient at a bare
glance at those frightened eyes. Such a look had
been seen at that door many times before.
"Is the doctor in?"
The man hesitated.
"He has had a few friends to dinner, sir. He
does not like to be disturbed outside his usual
"Tell him that I MUST see him. Tell him that
it is of the very first importance. Here is my
card." He fumbled with his trembling fingers in
trying to draw one from his case. "Sir Francis
Norton is the name. Tell him that Sir Francis
Norton, of Deane Park, must see him without delay."
"Yes, sir." The butler closed his fingers upon
the card and the half-sovereign which accompanied it.
"Better hang your coat up here in the hall. It is
very wet. Now if you will wait here in the
consulting-room, I have no doubt that I shall be able
to send the doctor in to you."
It was a large and lofty room in which the young
baronet found himself. The carpet was so soft and
thick that his feet made no sound as he walked across
it. The two gas jets were turned only half-way up,
and the dim light with the faint aromatic smell which
filled the air had a vaguely religious suggestion.
He sat down in a shining leather armchair by the
smouldering fire and looked gloomily about him. Two
sides of the room were taken up with books, fat and
sombre, with broad gold lettering upon their backs.
Beside him was the high, old-fashioned mantelpiece of
white marble--the top of it strewed with cotton
wadding and bandages, graduated measures, and little
bottles. There was one with a broad neck just above
him containing bluestone, and another narrower one
with what looked like the ruins of a broken pipestem
and "Caustic" outside upon a red label.
Thermometers, hypodermic syringes bistouries and
spatulas were scattered about both on the mantelpiece
and on the central table on either side of the
sloping desk. On the same table, to the right, stood
copies of the five books which Dr. Horace Selby had
written upon the subject with which his name is
peculiarly associated, while on the left, on the top
of a red medical directory, lay a huge glass model of
a human eye the size of a turnip, which opened down
the centre to expose the lens and double chamber
Sir Francis Norton had never been remarkable for
his powers of observation, and yet he found himself
watching these trifles with the keenest attention.
Even the corrosion of the cork of an acid bottle
caught his eye, and he wondered that the doctor did
not use glass stoppers. Tiny scratches where the
light glinted off from the table, little stains upon
the leather of the desk, chemical formulae scribbled
upon the labels of the phials--nothing was too slight
to arrest his attention. And his sense of hearing
was equally alert. The heavy ticking of the solemn
black clock above the mantelpiece struck quite
painfully upon his ears. Yet in spite of it, and in
spite also of the thick, old-fashioned wooden
partition, he could hear voices of men talking in the
next room, and could even catch scraps of their
conversation. "Second hand was bound to take it."
"Why, you drew the last of them yourself!"
"How could I play the queen when I knew that the
ace was against me?" The phrases came in little
spurts falling back into the dull murmur of
conversation. And then suddenly he heard the
creaking of a door and a step in the hall, and knew
with a tingling mixture of impatience and horror that
the crisis of his life was at hand.
Dr. Horace Selby was a large, portly man with an
imposing presence. His nose and chin were bold and
pronounced, yet his features were puffy, a
combination which would blend more freely with the
wig and cravat of the early Georges than with the
close-cropped hair and black frock-coat of the end of
the nineteenth century. He was clean shaven, for his
mouth was too good to cover--large, flexible, and
sensitive, with a kindly human softening at either
corner which with his brown sympathetic eyes had
drawn out many a shame-struck sinner's secret. Two
masterful little bushy side-whiskers bristled out
from under his ears spindling away upwards to merge
in the thick curves of his brindled hair. To his
patients there was something reassuring in the mere
bulk and dignity of the man. A high and easy bearing
in medicine as in war bears with it a hint of
victories in the past, and a promise of others to
come. Dr. Horace Selby's face was a consolation, and
so too were the large, white, soothing hands, one of
which he held out to his visitor.
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting. It is a
conflict of duties, you perceive--a host's to his
guests and an adviser's to his patient. But now I am
entirely at your disposal, Sir Francis. But dear me,
you are very cold."
"Yes, I am cold."
"And you are trembling all over. Tut, tut, this
will never do! This miserable night has chilled you.
Perhaps some little stimulant----"
"No, thank you. I would really rather not. And
it is not the night which has chilled me. I am
The doctor half-turned in his chair, and he
patted the arch of the young man's knee, as he might
the neck of a restless horse.
"What then?" he asked, looking over his shoulder
at the pale face with the startled eyes.
Twice the young man parted his lips. Then he
stooped with a sudden gesture, and turning up the
right leg of his trousers he pulled down his sock and
thrust forward his shin. The doctor made a clicking
noise with his tongue as he glanced at it.
"No, only one."
The doctor pouted his lips, and drew his finger
and thumb down the line of his chin. "Can you
account for it?" he asked briskly.
A trace of sternness came into the large brown
"I need not point out to you that unless the most
The patient sprang from his chair. "So help me
God!" he cried, "I have nothing in my life with which
to reproach myself. Do you think that I would be
such a fool as to come here and tell you lies. Once
for all, I have nothing to regret." He was a
pitiful, half-tragic and half-grotesque figure, as he
stood with one trouser leg rolled to the knee, and
that ever present horror still lurking in his eyes.
A burst of merriment came from the card-players in
the next room, and the two looked at each other in
"Sit down," said the doctor abruptly, "your
assurance is quite sufficient." He stooped and ran
his finger down the line of the young man's shin,
raising it at one point. "Hum, serpiginous," he
murmured, shaking his head. "Any other symptoms?"
"My eyes have been a little weak."
"Let me see your teeth." He glanced at them, and
again made the gentle, clicking sound of sympathy and
"Now your eye." He lit a lamp at the
patient's elbow, and holding a small crystal lens
to concentrate the light, he threw it obliquely upon
the patient's eye. As he did so a glow of pleasure
came over his large expressive face, a flush of such
enthusiasm as the botanist feels when he packs the
rare plant into his tin knapsack, or the astronomer
when the long-sought comet first swims into the field
of his telescope.
"This is very typical--very typical indeed," he
murmured, turning to his desk and jotting down a few
memoranda upon a sheet of paper. "Curiously enough,
I am writing a monograph upon the subject. It is
singular that you should have been able to furnish so
well-marked a case." He had so forgotten the patient
in his symptom, that he had assumed an almost
congratulatory air towards its possessor. He
reverted to human sympathy again, as his patient
asked for particulars.
"My dear sir, there is no occasion for us to go
into strictly professional details together," said he
soothingly. "If, for example, I were to say that you
have interstitial keratitis, how would you be the
wiser? There are indications of a strumous
diathesis. In broad terms, I may say that you have a
constitutional and hereditary taint."
The young baronet sank back in his chair, and his
chin fell forwards upon his chest. The doctor sprang
to a side-table and poured out half a glass of
liqueur brandy which he held to his patient's lips.
A little fleck of colour came into his cheeks as he
drank it down.
"Perhaps I spoke a little abruptly," said the
doctor, "but you must have known the nature of your
complaint. Why, otherwise, should you have come to
"God help me, I suspected it; but only today when
my leg grew bad. My father had a leg like this."
"It was from him, then----?"
"No, from my grandfather. You have heard of Sir
Rupert Norton, the great Corinthian?"
The doctor was a man of wide reading with a
retentive, memory. The name brought back instantly
to him the remembrance of the sinister reputation of
its owner--a notorious buck of the thirties--who had
gambled and duelled and steeped himself in drink and
debauchery, until even the vile set with whom he
consorted had shrunk away from him in horror, and
left him to a sinister old age with the barmaid wife
whom he had married in some drunken frolic. As he
looked at the young man still leaning back in the
leather chair, there seemed for the instant to
flicker up behind him some vague presentiment of that
foul old dandy with his dangling seals, many-wreathed
scarf, and dark satyric face. What was he now? An
armful of bones in a mouldy box. But his deeds--
they were living and rotting the blood in the veins
of an innocent man.
"I see that you have heard of him," said the
young baronet. "He died horribly, I have been told;
but not more horribly than he had lived. My father
was his only son. He was a studious man, fond of
books and canaries and the country; but his innocent
life did not save him."
"His symptoms were cutaneous, I understand."
"He wore gloves in the house. That was the first
thing I can remember. And then it was his throat.
And then his legs. He used to ask me so often about
my own health, and I thought him so fussy, for how
could I tell what the meaning of it was. He was
always watching me--always with a sidelong eye fixed
upon me. Now, at last, I know what he was watching
"Had you brothers or sisters?"
"None, thank God."
"Well, well, it is a sad case, and very typical
of many which come in my way. You are no lonely
sufferer, Sir Francis. There are many thousands who
bear the same cross as you do."
"But where is the justice of it, doctor?" cried
the young man, springing from his chair and pacing up
and down the consulting-room. "If I were heir to my
grandfather's sins as well as to their results, I
could understand it, but I am of my father's
type. I love all that is gentle and beautiful--music
and poetry and art. The coarse and animal is
abhorrent to me. Ask any of my friends and they
would tell you that. And now that this vile,
loathsome thing--ach, I am polluted to the marrow,
soaked in abomination! And why? Haven't I a right
to ask why? Did I do it? Was it my fault? Could I
help being born? And look at me now, blighted and
blasted, just as life was at its sweetest. Talk
about the sins of the father--how about the sins of
the Creator?" He shook his two clinched hands in the
air--the poor impotent atom with his pin-point of
brain caught in the whirl of the infinite.
The doctor rose and placing his hands upon his
shoulders he pressed him back into his chair once
more. "There, there, my dear lad," said he; "you
must not excite yourself. You are trembling all
over. Your nerves cannot stand it. We must take
these great questions upon trust. What are we, after
all? Half-evolved creatures in a transition stage,
nearer perhaps to the Medusa on the one side than to
perfected humanity on the other. With half a
complete brain we can't expect to understand the
whole of a complete fact, can we, now? It is all
very dim and dark, no doubt; but I think that Pope's
famous couplet sums up the whole matter, and from my
heart, after fifty years of varied experience, I can
But the young baronet gave a cry of impatience
and disgust. "Words, words, words! You can sit
comfortably there in your chair and say them--and
think them too, no doubt. You've had your life, but
I've never had mine. You've healthy blood in your
veins; mine is putrid. And yet I am as innocent as
you. What would words do for you if you were in this
chair and I in that? Ah, it's such a mockery and a
make-believe! Don't think me rude, though, doctor.
I don't mean to be that. I only say that it is
impossible for you or any other man to realise it.
But I've a question to ask you, doctor. It's one on
which my whole life must depend." He writhed his
fingers together in an agony of apprehension.
"Speak out, my dear sir. I have every sympathy
"Do you think--do you think the poison has spent
itself on me? Do you think that if I had children
they would suffer?"
"I can only give one answer to that. `The third
and fourth generation,' says the trite old text. You
may in time eliminate it from your system, but many
years must pass before you can think of marriage."
"I am to be married on Tuesday," whispered the
It was the doctor's turn to be thrilled with
horror. There were not many situations which
would yield such a sensation to his seasoned
nerves. He sat in silence while the babble of the
card-table broke in upon them again. "We had a
double ruff if you had returned a heart." "I was
bound to clear the trumps." They were hot and angry
"How could you?" cried the doctor severely. "It
"You forget that I have only learned how I stand
to-day." He put his two hands to his temples and
pressed them convulsively. "You are a man of the
world, Dr. Selby. You have seen or heard of such
things before. Give me some advice. I'm in your
hands. It is all very sudden and horrible, and I
don't think I am strong enough to bear it."
The doctor's heavy brows thickened into two
straight lines, and he bit his nails in perplexity.
"The marriage must not take place."
"Then what am I to do?"
"At all costs it must not take place."
"And I must give her up?"
"There can be no question about that."
The young man took out a pocketbook and drew from
it a small photograph, holding it out towards the
doctor. The firm face softened as he looked at it.
"It is very hard on you, no doubt. I can
appreciate it more now that I have seen that. But
there is no alternative at all. You must give up
all thought of it."
"But this is madness, doctor--madness, I tell
you. No, I won't raise my voice. I forgot myself.
But realise it, man. I am to be married on Tuesday.
This coming Tuesday, you understand. And all the
world knows it. How can I put such a public affront
upon her. It would be monstrous."
"None the less it must be done. My dear lad,
there is no way out of it."
"You would have me simply write brutally and
break the engagement at the last moment without a
reason. I tell you I couldn't do it."
"I had a patient once who found himself in a
somewhat similar situation some years ago," said the
doctor thoughtfully. "His device was a singular one.
He deliberately committed a penal offence, and so
compelled the young lady's people to withdraw their
consent to the marriage."
The young baronet shook his head. "My personal
honour is as yet unstained," said he. "I have little
else left, but that, at least, I will preserve."
"Well, well, it is a nice dilemma, and the choice
lies with you."
"Have you no other suggestion?"
"You don't happen to have property in Australia?"
"But you have capital?"
"Then you could buy some. To-morrow morning
would do. A thousand mining shares would be enough.
Then you might write to say that urgent business
affairs have compelled you to start at an hour's
notice to inspect your property. That would give you
six months, at any rate."
"Well, that would be possible. Yes, certainly,
it would be possible. But think of her position.
The house full of wedding presents--guests coming
from a distance. It is awful. And you say that
there is no alternative."
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, then, I might write it now, and start to-
morrow--eh? Perhaps you would let me use your desk.
Thank you. I am so sorry to keep you from your
guests so long. But I won't be a moment now."
He wrote an abrupt note of a few lines. Then
with a sudden impulse he tore it to shreds and flung
it into the fireplace.
"No, I can't sit down and tell her a lie,
doctor," he said rising. "We must find some other
way out of this. I will think it over and let you
know my decision. You must allow me to double your
fee as I have taken such an unconscionable time. Now
good-bye, and thank you a thousand times for your
sympathy and advice."
"Why, dear me, you haven't even got your
prescription yet. This is the mixture, and I should
recommend one of these powders every morning, and the
chemist will put all directions upon the ointment
box. You are placed in a cruel situation, but I
trust that these may be but passing clouds. When may
I hope to hear from you again?"
"Very good. How the rain is splashing in the
street! You have your waterproof there. You will
need it. Good-bye, then, until to-morrow."
He opened the door. A gust of cold, damp air
swept into the hall. And yet the doctor stood for a
minute or more watching the lonely figure which
passed slowly through the yellow splotches of the gas
lamps, and into the broad bars of darkness between.
It was but his own shadow which trailed up the wall
as he passed the lights, and yet it looked to the
doctor's eye as though some huge and sombre figure
walked by a manikin's side and led him silently up
the lonely street.
Dr. Horace Selby heard again of his patient next
morning, and rather earlier than he had expected. A
paragraph in the Daily News caused him to push away
his breakfast untasted, and turned him sick and faint
while he read it. "A Deplorable Accident," it
was headed, and it ran in this way:
"A fatal accident of a peculiarly painful
character is reported from King William Street.
About eleven o'clock last night a young man was
observed while endeavouring to get out of the way of
a hansom to slip and fall under the wheels of a
heavy, two-horse dray. On being picked up his
injuries were found to be of the most shocking
character, and he expired while being conveyed to the
hospital. An examination of his pocketbook and
cardcase shows beyond any question that the deceased
is none other than Sir Francis Norton, of Deane Park,
who has only within the last year come into the
baronetcy. The accident is made the more deplorable
as the deceased, who was only just of age, was on the
eve of being married to a young lady belonging to one
of the oldest families in the South. With his wealth
and his talents the ball of fortune was at his feet,
and his many friends will be deeply grieved to know
that his promising career has been cut short in so
sudden and tragic a fashion."
A FALSE START.
"Is Dr. Horace Wilkinson at home?"
"I am he. Pray step in."
The visitor looked somewhat astonished at having
the door opened to him by the master of the house.
"I wanted to have a few words."
The doctor, a pale, nervous young man, dressed in
an ultra-professional, long black frock-coat, with a
high, white collar cutting off his dapper side-
whiskers in the centre, rubbed his hands together and
smiled. In the thick, burly man in front of him he
scented a patient, and it would be his first. His
scanty resources had begun to run somewhat low, and,
although he had his first quarter's rent safely
locked away in the right-hand drawer of his desk, it
was becoming a question with him how he should meet
the current expenses of his very simple housekeeping.
He bowed, therefore, waved his visitor in, closed the
hall door in a careless fashion, as though his own
presence thereat had been a purely accidental
circumstance, and finally led the burly stranger
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