Round The Red Lamp
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 5
into his scantily furnished front room, where he
motioned him to a seat. Dr. Wilkinson planted
himself behind his desk, and, placing his finger-tips
together, he gazed with some apprehension at his
companion. What was the matter with the man? He
seemed very red in the face. Some of his old
professors would have diagnosed his case by now, and
would have electrified the patient by describing his
own symptoms before he had said a word about them.
Dr. Horace Wilkinson racked his brains for some clue,
but Nature had fashioned him as a plodder--a very
reliable plodder and nothing more. He could think of
nothing save that the visitor's watch-chain had a
very brassy appearance, with a corollary to the
effect that he would be lucky if he got half-a-crown
out of him. Still, even half-a-crown was something
in those early days of struggle.
Whilst the doctor had been running his eyes over
the stranger, the latter had been plunging his hands
into pocket after pocket of his heavy coat. The heat
of the weather, his dress, and this exercise of
pocket-rummaging had all combined to still further
redden his face, which had changed from brick to
beet, with a gloss of moisture on his brow. This
extreme ruddiness brought a clue at last to the
observant doctor. Surely it was not to be attained
without alcohol. In alcohol lay the secret of
this man's trouble. Some little delicacy was needed,
however, in showing him that he had read his case
aright--that at a glance he had penetrated to the
inmost sources of his ailments.
"It's very hot," observed the stranger, mopping
"Yes, it is weather which tempts one to drink
rather more beer than is good for one," answered Dr.
Horace Wilkinson, looking very knowingly at his
companion from over his finger-tips.
"Dear, dear, you shouldn't do that."
"I! I never touch beer."
"Neither do I. I've been an abstainer for twenty
This was depressing. Dr. Wilkinson blushed until
he was nearly as red as the other. "May I ask what
I can do for you?" he asked, picking up his
stethoscope and tapping it gently against his thumb-
"Yes, I was just going to tell you. I heard of
your coming, but I couldn't get round before----" He
broke into a nervous little cough.
"Yes?" said the doctor encouragingly.
"I should have been here three weeks ago, but you
know how these things get put off." He coughed again
behind his large red hand.
"I do not think that you need say anything more,"
said the doctor, taking over the case with an
easy air of command. "Your cough is quite
sufficient. It is entirely bronchial by the sound.
No doubt the mischief is circumscribed at present,
but there is always the danger that it may spread, so
you have done wisely to come to me. A little
judicious treatment will soon set you right. Your
waistcoat, please, but not your shirt. Puff out your
chest and say ninety-nine in a deep voice."
The red-faced man began to laugh. "It's all
right, doctor," said he. "That cough comes from
chewing tobacco, and I know it's a very bad habit.
Nine-and-ninepence is what I have to say to you, for
I'm the officer of the gas company, and they have a
claim against you for that on the metre."
Dr. Horace Wilkinson collapsed into his chair.
"Then you're not a patient?" he gasped.
"Never needed a doctor in my life, sir."
"Oh, that's all right." The doctor concealed his
disappointment under an affectation of facetiousness.
"You don't look as if you troubled them much. I
don't know what we should do if every one were as
robust. I shall call at the company's offices and
pay this small amount."
"If you could make it convenient, sir, now that I
am here, it would save trouble----"
"Oh, certainly!" These eternal little sordid
money troubles were more trying to the doctor than
plain living or scanty food. He took out his
purse and slid the contents on to the table.
There were two half-crowns and some pennies. In his
drawer he had ten golden sovereigns. But those were
his rent. If he once broke in upon them he was lost.
He would starve first.
"Dear me! " said he, with a smile, as at some
strange, unheard-of incident. "I have run short of
small change. I am afraid I shall have to call upon
the company, after all."
"Very well, sir." The inspector rose, and with a
practised glance around, which valued every article
in the room, from the two-guinea carpet to the eight-
shilling muslin curtains, he took his departure.
When he had gone Dr. Wilkinson rearranged his
room, as was his habit a dozen times in the day. He
laid out his large Quain's Dictionary of Medicine in
the forefront of the table so as to impress the
casual patient that he had ever the best authorities
at his elbow. Then he cleared all the little
instruments out of his pocket-case--the scissors, the
forceps, the bistouries, the lancets--and he laid
them all out beside the stethoscope, to make as good
a show as possible. His ledger, day-book, and
visiting-book were spread in front of him. There was
no entry in any of them yet, but it would not look
well to have the covers too glossy and new, so he
rubbed them together and daubed ink over them.
Neither would it be well that any patient should
observe that his name was the first in the book, so
he filled up the first page of each with notes of
imaginary visits paid to nameless patients during the
last three weeks. Having done all this, he rested
his head upon his hands and relapsed into the
terrible occupation of waiting.
Terrible enough at any time to the young
professional man, but most of all to one who knows
that the weeks, and even the days during which he can
hold out are numbered. Economise as he would, the
money would still slip away in the countless little
claims which a man never understands until he lives
under a rooftree of his own. Dr. Wilkinson could not
deny, as he sat at his desk and looked at the little
heap of silver and coppers, that his chances of being
a successful practitioner in Sutton were rapidly
And yet it was a bustling, prosperous town, with
so much money in it that it seemed strange that a man
with a trained brain and dexterous fingers should be
starved out of it for want of employment. At his
desk, Dr. Horace Wilkinson could see the never-ending
double current of people which ebbed and flowed in
front of his window. It was a busy street, and the
air was forever filled with the dull roar of life,
the grinding of the wheels, and the patter of
countless feet. Men, women, and children,
thousands and thousands of them passed in the day,
and yet each was hurrying on upon his own business,
scarce glancing at the small brass plate, or wasting
a thought upon the man who waited in the front room.
And yet how many of them would obviously, glaringly
have been the better for his professional assistance.
Dyspeptic men, anemic women, blotched faces, bilious
complexions--they flowed past him, they needing him,
he needing them, and yet the remorseless bar of
professional etiquette kept them forever apart. What
could he do? Could he stand at his own front door,
pluck the casual stranger by the sleeve, and whisper
in his ear, "Sir, you will forgive me for remarking
that you are suffering from a severe attack of acne
rosacea, which makes you a peculiarly unpleasant
object. Allow me to suggest that a small
prescription containing arsenic, which will not cost
you more than you often spend upon a single meal,
will be very much to your advantage." Such an
address would be a degradation to the high and lofty
profession of Medicine, and there are no such
sticklers for the ethics of that profession as some
to whom she has been but a bitter and a grudging
Dr. Horace Wilkinson was still looking moodily
out of the window, when there came a sharp clang at
the bell. Often it had rung, and with every ring
his hopes had sprung up, only to dwindle away again,
and change to leaden disappointment, as he faced some
beggar or touting tradesman. But the doctor's spirit
was young and elastic, and again, in spite of all
experience, it responded to that exhilarating
summons. He sprang to his feet, cast his eyes over
the table, thrust out his medical books a little more
prominently, and hurried to the door. A groan
escaped him as he entered the hall. He could see
through the half-glazed upper panels that a gypsy
van, hung round with wicker tables and chairs, had
halted before his door, and that a couple of the
vagrants, with a baby, were waiting outside. He had
learned by experience that it was better not even to
parley with such people.
"I have nothing for you," said he, loosing the
latch by an inch. "Go away!"
He closed the door, but the bell clanged once
more. "Get away! Get away!" he cried impatiently,
and walked back into his consulting-room. He had
hardly seated himself when the bell went for the
third time. In a towering passion he rushed back,
flung open the door.
"If you please, sir, we need a doctor."
In an instant he was rubbing his hands again with
his blandest professional smile. These were
patients, then, whom he had tried to hunt from
his doorstep--the very first patients, whom he
had waited for so impatiently. They did not look
very promising. The man, a tall, lank-haired gypsy,
had gone back to the horse's head. There remained a
small, hard-faced woman with a great bruise all round
her eye. She wore a yellow silk handkerchief round
her head, and a baby, tucked in a red shawl, was
pressed to her bosom.
"Pray step in, madam," said Dr. Horace Wilkinson,
with his very best sympathetic manner. In this case,
at least, there could be no mistake as to diagnosis.
"If you will sit on this sofa, I shall very soon make
you feel much more comfortable."
He poured a little water from his carafe into a
saucer, made a compress of lint, fastened it over the
injured eye, and secured the whole with a spica
bandage, secundum artem.
"Thank ye kindly, sir," said the woman, when his
work was finished; "that's nice and warm, and may God
bless your honour. But it wasn't about my eye at all
that I came to see a doctor."
"Not your eye?" Dr. Horace Wilkinson was
beginning to be a little doubtful as to the
advantages of quick diagnosis. It is an excellent
thing to be able to surprise a patient, but hitherto
it was always the patient who had surprised him.
"The baby's got the measles."
The mother parted the red shawl, and exhibited a
little dark, black-eyed gypsy baby, whose swarthy
face was all flushed and mottled with a dark-red
rash. The child breathed with a rattling sound, and
it looked up at the doctor with eyes which were heavy
with want of sleep and crusted together at the lids.
"Hum! Yes. Measles, sure enough--and a smart
"I just wanted you to see her, sir, so that you
"Signify, if anything happened."
"Oh, I see--certify."
"And now that you've seen it, sir, I'll go on,
for Reuben--that's my man--is in a hurry."
"But don't you want any medicine?"
"Oh, now you've seen it, it's all right. I'll let
you know if anything happens."
"But you must have some medicine. The child is
very ill." He descended into the little room which
he had fitted as a surgery, and he made up a two-
ounce bottle of cooling medicine. In such cities as
Sutton there are few patients who can afford to pay a
fee to both doctor and chemist, so that unless the
physician is prepared to play the part of both he
will have little chance of making a living at either.
"There is your medicine, madam. You will
find the directions upon the bottle. Keep the
child warm and give it a light diet."
"Thank you kindly, sir." She shouldered her baby
and marched for the door.
"Excuse me, madam," said the doctor nervously.
"Don't you think it too small a matter to make a bill
of? Perhaps it would be better if we had a
settlement at once."
The gypsy woman looked at him reproachfully out
of her one uncovered eye.
"Are you going to charge me for that?" she asked.
"How much, then?"
"Well, say half-a-crown." He mentioned the sum
in a half-jesting way, as though it were too small to
take serious notice of, but the gypsy woman raised
quite a scream at the mention of it.
"'Arf-a-crown! for that?"
"Well, my good woman, why not go to the poor
doctor if you cannot afford a fee?"
She fumbled in her pocket, craning awkwardly to
keep her grip upon the baby.
"Here's sevenpence," she said at last, holding
out a little pile of copper coins. "I'll give you
that and a wicker footstool."
"But my fee is half-a-crown." The doctor's views
of the glory of his profession cried out against this
wretched haggling, and yet what was he to do?
"Where am I to get 'arf-a-crown? It is well for
gentlefolk like you who sit in your grand houses, and
can eat and drink what you like, an' charge 'arf-a-
crown for just saying as much as, `'Ow d'ye do?' We
can't pick up' arf-crowns like that. What we gets we
earns 'ard. This sevenpence is just all I've got.
You told me to feed the child light. She must feed
light, for what she's to have is more than I know."
Whilst the woman had been speaking, Dr. Horace
Wilkinson's eyes had wandered to the tiny heap of
money upon the table, which represented all that
separated him from absolute starvation, and he
chuckled to himself at the grim joke that he should
appear to this poor woman to be a being living in the
lap of luxury. Then he picked up the odd coppers,
leaving only the two half-crowns upon the table.
"Here you are," he said brusquely. "Never mind
the fee, and take these coppers. They may be of some
use to you. Good-bye!" He bowed her out, and closed
the door behind her. After all she was the thin edge
of the wedge. These wandering people have great
powers of recommendation. All large practices have
been built up from such foundations. The hangers-on
to the kitchen recommend to the kitchen, they to the
drawing-room, and so it spreads. At least he could
say now that he had had a patient.
He went into the back room and lit the spirit-
kettle to boil the water for his tea, laughing
the while at the recollection of his recent
interview. If all patients were like this one it
could easily be reckoned how many it would take to
ruin him completely. Putting aside the dirt upon his
carpet and the loss of time, there were twopence gone
upon the bandage, fourpence or more upon the
medicine, to say nothing of phial, cork, label, and
paper. Then he had given her fivepence, so that his
first patient had absorbed altogether not less than
one sixth of his available capital. If five more
were to come he would be a broken man. He sat down
upon the portmanteau and shook with laughter at the
thought, while he measured out his one spoonful and a
half of tea at one shilling eightpence into the brown
earthenware teapot. Suddenly, however, the laugh
faded from his face, and he cocked his ear towards
the door, standing listening with a slanting head and
a sidelong eye. There had been a rasping of wheels
against the curb, the sound of steps outside, and
then a loud peal at the bell. With his teaspoon in
his hand he peeped round the corner and saw with
amazement that a carriage and pair were waiting
outside, and that a powdered footman was standing at
the door. The spoon tinkled down upon the floor, and
he stood gazing in bewilderment. Then, pulling
himself together, he threw open the door.
"Young man," said the flunky, "tell your master,
Dr. Wilkinson, that he is wanted just as quick as
ever he can come to Lady Millbank, at the Towers. He
is to come this very instant. We'd take him with us,
but we have to go back to see if Dr. Mason is home
yet. Just you stir your stumps and give him the
The footman nodded and was off in an instant,
while the coachman lashed his horses and the carriage
flew down the street.
Here was a new development. Dr. Horace Wilkinson
stood at his door and tried to think it all out.
Lady Millbank, of the Towers! People of wealth and
position, no doubt. And a serious case, or why this
haste and summoning of two doctors? But, then, why
in the name of all that is wonderful should he be
He was obscure, unknown, without influence.
There must be some mistake. Yes, that must be the
true explanation; or was it possible that some one
was attempting a cruel hoax upon him? At any rate,
it was too positive a message to be disregarded. He
must set off at once and settle the matter one way or
But he had one source of information. At the
corner of the street was a small shop where one of
the oldest inhabitants dispensed newspapers and
gossip. He could get information there if anywhere.
He put on his well-brushed top hat, secreted
instruments and bandages in all his pockets, and
without waiting for his tea closed up his
establishment and started off upon his adventure.
The stationer at the corner was a human directory
to every one and everything in Sutton, so that he
soon had all the information which he wanted. Sir
John Millbank was very well known in the town, it
seemed. He was a merchant prince, an exporter of
pens, three times mayor, and reported to be fully
worth two millions sterling.
The Towers was his palatial seat, just outside
the city. His wife had been an invalid for some
years, and was growing worse. So far the whole thing
seemed to be genuine enough. By some amazing chance
these people really had sent for him.
And then another doubt assailed him, and he
turned back into the shop.
"I am your neighbour, Dr. Horace Wilkinson," said
he. "Is there any other medical man of that name in
No, the stationer was quite positive that there
That was final, then. A great good fortune had
come in his way, and he must take prompt advantage of
it. He called a cab and drove furiously to the
Towers, with his brain in a whirl, giddy with hope
and delight at one moment, and sickened with fears
and doubts at the next lest the case should in
some way be beyond his powers, or lest he should find
at some critical moment that he was without the
instrument or appliance that was needed. Every
strange and outre case of which he had ever heard
or read came back into his mind, and long before he
reached the Towers he had worked himself into a
positive conviction that he would be instantly
required to do a trephining at the least.
The Towers was a very large house, standing back
amid trees, at the head of a winding drive. As he
drove up the doctor sprang out, paid away half his
worldly assets as a fare, and followed a stately
footman who, having taken his name, led him through
the oak-panelled, stained-glass hall, gorgeous with
deers' heads and ancient armour, and ushered him into
a large sitting-room beyond. A very irritable-
looking, acid-faced man was seated in an armchair by
the fireplace, while two young ladies in white were
standing together in the bow window at the further
"Hullo! hullo! hullo! What's this--heh?" cried
the irritable man. "Are you Dr. Wilkinson? Eh?"
"Yes, sir, I am Dr. Wilkinson."
"Really, now. You seem very young--much younger
than I expected. Well, well, well, Mason's old, and
yet he don't seem to know much about it. I suppose
we must try the other end now. You're the
Wilkinson who wrote something about the lungs? Heh?"
Here was a light! The only two letters which the
doctor had ever written to The Lancet--modest little
letters thrust away in a back column among the
wrangles about medical ethics and the inquiries as to
how much it took to keep a horse in the country--had
been upon pulmonary disease. They had not been
wasted, then. Some eye had picked them out and
marked the name of the writer. Who could say that
work was ever wasted, or that merit did not promptly
meet with its reward?
"Yes, I have written on the subject."
"Ha! Well, then, where's Mason?"
"I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance."
"No?--that's queer too. He knows you and thinks
a lot of your opinion. You're a stranger in the
town, are you not?"
"Yes, I have only been here a very short time."
"That was what Mason said. He didn't give me the
address. Said he would call on you and bring you,
but when the wife got worse of course I inquired for
you and sent for you direct. I sent for Mason, too,
but he was out. However, we can't wait for him, so
just run away upstairs and do what you can."
"Well, I am placed in a rather delicate
position," said Dr. Horace Wilkinson, with some
hesitation. "I am here, as I understand, to meet my
colleague, Dr. Mason, in consultation. It would,
perhaps, hardly be correct for me to see the patient
in his absence. I think that I would rather wait."
"Would you, by Jove! Do you think I'll let my
wife get worse while the doctor is coolly kicking his
heels in the room below? No, sir, I am a plain man,
and I tell you that you will either go up or go out."
The style of speech jarred upon the doctor's
sense of the fitness of things, but still when a
man's wife is ill much may be overlooked. He
contented himself by bowing somewhat stiffly. "I
shall go up, if you insist upon it," said he.
"I do insist upon it. And another thing, I won't
have her thumped about all over the chest, or any
hocus-pocus of the sort. She has bronchitis and
asthma, and that's all. If you can cure it well and
good. But it only weakens her to have you tapping
and listening, and it does no good either."
Personal disrespect was a thing that the doctor
could stand; but the profession was to him a holy
thing, and a flippant word about it cut him to the
"Thank you," said he, picking up his hat. "I
have the honour to wish you a very good day. I
do not care to undertake the responsibility of this
"Hullo! what's the matter now?"
"It is not my habit to give opinions without
examining my patient. I wonder that you should
suggest such a course to a medical man. I wish you
But Sir John Millbank was a commercial man, and
believed in the commercial principle that the more
difficult a thing is to attain the more valuable it
is. A doctor's opinion had been to him a mere matter
of guineas. But here was a young man who seemed to
care nothing either for his wealth or title. His
respect for his judgment increased amazingly.
"Tut! tut!" said he; "Mason is not so thin-
skinned. There! there! Have your way! Do what you
like and I won't say another word. I'll just run
upstairs and tell Lady Millbank that you are coming."
The door had hardly closed behind him when the
two demure young ladies darted out of their corner,
and fluttered with joy in front of the astonished
"Oh, well done! well done!" cried the taller,
clapping her hands.
"Don't let him bully you, doctor," said the
other. "Oh, it was so nice to hear you stand up
to him. That's the way he does with poor Dr.
Mason. Dr. Mason has never examined mamma yet. He
always takes papa's word for everything. Hush,
Maude; here he comes again." They subsided in an
instant into their corner as silent and demure as
Dr. Horace Wilkinson followed Sir John up the
broad, thick-carpeted staircase, and into the
darkened sick room. In a quarter of an hour he had
sounded and sifted the case to the uttermost, and
descended with the husband once more to the drawing-
room. In front of the fireplace were standing two
gentlemen, the one a very typical, clean-shaven,
general practitioner, the other a striking-looking
man of middle age, with pale blue eyes and a long red
"Hullo, Mason, you've come at last!"
"Yes, Sir John, and I have brought, as I
promised, Dr. Wilkinson with me."
"Dr. Wilkinson! Why, this is he."
Dr. Mason stared in astonishment. "I have never
seen the gentleman before!" he cried.
"Nevertheless I am Dr. Wilkinson--Dr. Horace
Wilkinson, of 114 Canal View."
"Good gracious, Sir John!" cried Dr. Mason.
"Did you think that in a case of such importance I
should call in a junior local practitioner! This is
Dr. Adam Wilkinson, lecturer on pulmonary diseases at
Regent's College, London, physician upon the
staff of the St. Swithin's Hospital, and author of a
dozen works upon the subject. He happened to be in
Sutton upon a visit, and I thought I would utilise
his presence to have a first-rate opinion upon Lady
"Thank you," said Sir John, dryly. "But I fear
my wife is rather tired now, for she has just been
very thoroughly examined by this young gentleman. I
think we will let it stop at that for the present;
though, of course, as you have had the trouble of
coming here, I should be glad to have a note of your
When Dr. Mason had departed, looking very
disgusted, and his friend, the specialist, very
amused, Sir John listened to all the young physician
had to say about the case.
"Now, I'll tell you what," said he, when he had
finished. "I'm a man of my word, d'ye see? When I
like a man I freeze to him. I'm a good friend and a
bad enemy. I believe in you, and I don't believe in
Mason. From now on you are my doctor, and that of my
family. Come and see my wife every day. How does
that suit your book?"
"I am extremely grateful to you for your kind
intentions toward me, but I am afraid there is no
possible way in which I can avail myself of them."
"Heh! what d'ye mean?"
"I could not possibly take Dr. Mason's place in
the middle of a case like this. It would be a most
"Oh, well, go your own way!" cried Sir John, in
despair. "Never was such a man for making
difficulties. You've had a fair offer and you've
refused it, and now you can just go your own way."
The millionaire stumped out of the room in a
huff, and Dr. Horace Wilkinson made his way homeward
to his spirit-lamp and his one-and-eightpenny tea,
with his first guinea in his pocket, and with a
feeling that he had upheld the best traditions of his
And yet this false start of his was a true start
also, for it soon came to Dr. Mason's ears that his
junior had had it in his power to carry off his best
patient and had forborne to do so. To the honour of
the profession be it said that such forbearance is
the rule rather than the exception, and yet in this
case, with so very junior a practitioner and so very
wealthy a patient, the temptation was greater than is
usual. There was a grateful note, a visit, a
friendship, and now the well-known firm of Mason and
Wilkinson is doing the largest family practice in
THE CURSE OF EVE.
Robert Johnson was an essentially commonplace
man, with no feature to distinguish him from a
million others. He was pale of face, ordinary in
looks, neutral in opinions, thirty years of age, and
a married man. By trade he was a gentleman's
outfitter in the New North Road, and the competition
of business squeezed out of him the little character
that was left. In his hope of conciliating customers
he had become cringing and pliable, until working
ever in the same routine from day to day he seemed to
have sunk into a soulless machine rather than a man.
No great question had ever stirred him. At the end
of this snug century, self-contained in his own
narrow circle, it seemed impossible that any of the
mighty, primitive passions of mankind could ever
reach him. Yet birth, and lust, and illness, and
death are changeless things, and when one of these
harsh facts springs out upon a man at some sudden
turn of the path of life, it dashes off for the
moment his mask of civilisation and gives a glimpse
of the stranger and stronger face below.
Johnson's wife was a quiet little woman, with
brown hair and gentle ways. His affection for her
was the one positive trait in his character.
Together they would lay out the shop window every
Monday morning, the spotless shirts in their green
cardboard boxes below, the neckties above hung in
rows over the brass rails, the cheap studs glistening
from the white cards at either side, while in the
background were the rows of cloth caps and the bank
of boxes in which the more valuable hats were
screened from the sunlight. She kept the books and
sent out the bills. No one but she knew the joys and
sorrows which crept into his small life. She had
shared his exultations when the gentleman who was
going to India had bought ten dozen shirts and an
incredible number of collars, and she had been as
stricken as he when, after the goods had gone, the
bill was returned from the hotel address with the
intimation that no such person had lodged there. For
five years they had worked, building up the business,
thrown together all the more closely because their
marriage had been a childless one. Now, however,
there were signs that a change was at hand, and that
speedily. She was unable to come downstairs, and her
mother, Mrs. Peyton, came over from Camberwell to
nurse her and to welcome her grandchild.
Little qualms of anxiety came over Johnson as
his wife's time approached. However, after all,
it was a natural process. Other men's wives went
through it unharmed, and why should not his? He was
himself one of a family of fourteen, and yet his
mother was alive and hearty. It was quite the
exception for anything to go wrong. And yet in spite
of his reasonings the remembrance of his wife's
condition was always like a sombre background to all
his other thoughts.
Dr. Miles of Bridport Place, the best man in the
neighbourhood, was retained five months in advance,
and, as time stole on, many little packets of
absurdly small white garments with frill work and
ribbons began to arrive among the big consignments of
male necessities. And then one evening, as Johnson
was ticketing the scarfs in the shop, he heard a
bustle upstairs, and Mrs. Peyton came running down to
say that Lucy was bad and that she thought the doctor
ought to be there without delay.
It was not Robert Johnson's nature to hurry. He
was prim and staid and liked to do things in an
orderly fashion. It was a quarter of a mile from the
corner of the New North Road where his shop stood to
the doctor's house in Bridport Place. There were no
cabs in sight so he set off upon foot, leaving the
lad to mind the shop. At Bridport Place he was told
that the doctor had just gone to Harman Street to
attend a man in a fit. Johnson started off for
Harman Street, losing a little of his primness as he
became more anxious. Two full cabs but no empty ones
passed him on the way. At Harman Street he learned
that the doctor had gone on to a case of measles,
fortunately he had left the address--69 Dunstan Road,
at the other side of the Regent's Canal. Robert's
primness had vanished now as he thought of the women
waiting at home, and he began to run as hard as he
could down the Kingsland Road. Some way along he
sprang into a cab which stood by the curb and drove
to Dunstan Road. The doctor had just left, and
Robert Johnson felt inclined to sit down upon the
steps in despair.
Fortunately he had not sent the cab away, and he
was soon back at Bridport Place. Dr. Miles had not
returned yet, but they were expecting him every
instant. Johnson waited, drumming his fingers on his
knees, in a high, dim lit room, the air of which was
charged with a faint, sickly smell of ether. The
furniture was massive, and the books in the shelves
were sombre, and a squat black clock ticked
mournfully on the mantelpiece. It told him that it
was half-past seven, and that he had been gone an
hour and a quarter. Whatever would the women think
of him! Every time that a distant door slammed he
sprang from his chair in a quiver of eagerness.
His ears strained to catch the deep notes of the
doctor's voice. And then, suddenly, with a gush of
joy he heard a quick step outside, and the sharp
click of the key in the lock. In an instant he was
out in the hall, before the doctor's foot was over
"If you please, doctor, I've come for you," he
cried; "the wife was taken bad at six o'clock."
He hardly knew what he expected the doctor to do.
Something very energetic, certainly--to seize some
drugs, perhaps, and rush excitedly with him through
the gaslit streets. Instead of that Dr. Miles threw
his umbrella into the rack, jerked off his hat with a
somewhat peevish gesture, and pushed Johnson back
into the room.
"Let's see! You DID engage me, didn't you?"
he asked in no very cordial voice.
"Oh, yes, doctor, last November. Johnson the
outfitter, you know, in the New North Road."
"Yes, yes. It's a bit overdue," said the doctor,
glancing at a list of names in a note-book with a
very shiny cover. "Well, how is she?"
"Ah, of course, it's your first. You'll know
more about it next time."
"Mrs. Peyton said it was time you were there,
"My dear sir, there can be no very pressing hurry
in a first case. We shall have an all-night
affair, I fancy. You can't get an engine to go
without coals, Mr. Johnson, and I have had nothing
but a light lunch."
"We could have something cooked for you--
something hot and a cup of tea."
"Thank you, but I fancy my dinner is actually on
the table. I can do no good in the earlier stages.
Go home and say that I am coming, and I will be round
A sort of horror filled Robert Johnson as he
gazed at this man who could think about his dinner at
such a moment. He had not imagination enough to
realise that the experience which seemed so
appallingly important to him, was the merest everyday
matter of business to the medical man who could not
have lived for a year had he not, amid the rush of
work, remembered what was due to his own health. To
Johnson he seemed little better than a monster. His
thoughts were bitter as he sped back to his shop.
"You've taken your time," said his mother-in-law
reproachfully, looking down the stairs as he entered.
"I couldn't help it!" he gasped. "Is it over?"
"Over! She's got to be worse, poor dear, before
she can be better. Where's Dr. Miles!"
"He's coming after he's had dinner." The old
woman was about to make some reply, when, from
the half-opened door behind a high whinnying voice
cried out for her. She ran back and closed the door,
while Johnson, sick at heart, turned into the shop.
There he sent the lad home and busied himself
frantically in putting up shutters and turning out
boxes. When all was closed and finished he seated
himself in the parlour behind the shop. But he could
not sit still. He rose incessantly to walk a few
paces and then fell back into a chair once more.
Suddenly the clatter of china fell upon his ear, and
he saw the maid pass the door with a cup on a tray
and a smoking teapot.
"Who is that for, Jane?" he asked.
"For the mistress, Mr. Johnson. She says she
would fancy it."
There was immeasurable consolation to him in that
homely cup of tea. It wasn't so very bad after all
if his wife could think of such things. So light-
hearted was he that he asked for a cup also. He had
just finished it when the doctor arrived, with a
small black leather bag in his hand.
"Well, how is she?" he asked genially.
"Oh, she's very much better," said Johnson, with
"Dear me, that's bad!" said the doctor. "Perhaps
it will do if I look in on my morning round?"
"No, no," cried Johnson, clutching at his thick
frieze overcoat. "We are so glad that you have come.
And, doctor, please come down soon and let me know
what you think about it."
The doctor passed upstairs, his firm, heavy steps
resounding through the house. Johnson could hear his
boots creaking as he walked about the floor above
him, and the sound was a consolation to him. It was
crisp and decided, the tread of a man who had plenty
of self-confidence. Presently, still straining his
ears to catch what was going on, he heard the
scraping of a chair as it was drawn along the floor,
and a moment later he heard the door fly open and
someone come rushing downstairs. Johnson sprang up
with his hair bristling, thinking that some dreadful
thing had occurred, but it was only his mother-in-
law, incoherent with excitement and searching for
scissors and some tape. She vanished again and Jane
passed up the stairs with a pile of newly aired
linen. Then, after an interval of silence, Johnson
heard the heavy, creaking tread and the doctor came
down into the parlour.
"That's better," said he, pausing with his hand
upon the door. "You look pale, Mr. Johnson."
"Oh no, sir, not at all," he answered
deprecatingly, mopping his brow with his
"There is no immediate cause for alarm," said
Dr. Miles. "The case is not all that we could
wish it. Still we will hope for the best."
"Is there danger, sir?" gasped Johnson.
"Well, there is always danger, of course. It is
not altogether a favourable case, but still it might
be much worse. I have given her a draught. I saw as
I passed that they have been doing a little building
opposite to you. It's an improving quarter. The
rents go higher and higher. You have a lease of your
own little place, eh?"
"Yes, sir, yes!" cried Johnson, whose ears were
straining for every sound from above, and who felt
none the less that it was very soothing that the
doctor should be able to chat so easily at such a
time. "That's to say no, sir, I am a yearly tenant."
"Ah, I should get a lease if I were you. There's
Marshall, the watchmaker, down the street. I
attended his wife twice and saw him through the
typhoid when they took up the drains in Prince
Street. I assure you his landlord sprung his rent
nearly forty a year and he had to pay or clear out."
"Did his wife get through it, doctor?"
"Oh yes, she did very well. Hullo! hullo!"
He slanted his ear to the ceiling with a
questioning face, and then darted swiftly from the
It was March and the evenings were chill, so
Jane had lit the fire, but the wind drove the smoke
downwards and the air was full of its acrid taint.
Johnson felt chilled to the bone, though rather by
his apprehensions than by the weather. He crouched
over the fire with his thin white hands held out to
the blaze. At ten o'clock Jane brought in the joint
of cold meat and laid his place for supper, but he
could not bring himself to touch it. He drank a
glass of the beer, however, and felt the better for
it. The tension of his nerves seemed to have reacted
upon his hearing, and he was able to follow the most
trivial things in the room above. Once, when the
beer was still heartening him, he nerved himself to
creep on tiptoe up the stair and to listen to what
was going on. The bedroom door was half an inch
open, and through the slit he could catch a glimpse
of the clean-shaven face of the doctor, looking
wearier and more anxious than before. Then he rushed
downstairs like a lunatic, and running to the door he
tried to distract his thoughts by watching what; was
going on in the street. The shops were all shut, and
some rollicking boon companions came shouting along
from the public-house. He stayed at the door until
the stragglers had thinned down, and then came back
to his seat by the fire. In his dim brain he was
asking himself questions which had never intruded
themselves before. Where was the justice of it?
What had his sweet, innocent little wife done that
she should be used so? Why was nature so cruel? He
was frightened at his own thoughts, and yet wondered
that they had never occurred to him before.
As the early morning drew in, Johnson, sick at
heart and shivering in every limb, sat with his great
coat huddled round him, staring at the grey ashes and
waiting hopelessly for some relief. His face was
white and clammy, and his nerves had been numbed into
a half conscious state by the long monotony of
misery. But suddenly all his feelings leapt into
keen life again as he heard the bedroom door open and
the doctor's steps upon the stair. Robert Johnson
was precise and unemotional in everyday life, but he
almost shrieked now as he rushed forward to know if
it were over.
One glance at the stern, drawn face which met him
showed that it was no pleasant news which had sent
the doctor downstairs. His appearance had altered as
much as Johnson's during the last few hours. His
hair was on end, his face flushed, his forehead
dotted with beads of perspiration. There was a
peculiar fierceness in his eye, and about the lines
of his mouth, a fighting look as befitted a man who
for hours on end had been striving with the hungriest
of foes for the most precious of prizes. But there
was a sadness too, as though his grim opponent
had been overmastering him. He sat down and leaned
his head upon his hand like a man who is fagged out.
"I thought it my duty to see you, Mr. Johnson,
and to tell you that it is a very nasty case. Your
wife's heart is not strong, and she has some symptoms
which I do not like. What I wanted to say is that if
you would like to have a second opinion I shall be
very glad to meet anyone whom you might suggest."
Johnson was so dazed by his want of sleep and the
evil news that he could hardly grasp the doctor's
meaning. The other, seeing him hesitate, thought
that he was considering the expense.
"Smith or Hawley would come for two guineas,"
said he. "But I think Pritchard of the City Road is
the best man."
"Oh, yes, bring the best man," cried Johnson.
"Pritchard would want three guineas. He is a
senior man, you see."
"I'd give him all I have if he would pull her
through. Shall I run for him?"
"Yes. Go to my house first and ask for the green
baize bag. The assistant will give it to you. Tell
him I want the A. C. E. mixture. Her heart is too
weak for chloroform. Then go for Pritchard and bring
him back with you."
It was heavenly for Johnson to have something
to do and to feel that he was of some use to his
wife. He ran swiftly to Bridport Place, his
footfalls clattering through the silent streets and
the big dark policemen turning their yellow funnels
of light on him as he passed. Two tugs at the night-
bell brought down a sleepy, half-clad assistant, who
handed him a stoppered glass bottle and a cloth bag
which contained something which clinked when you
moved it. Johnson thrust the bottle into his pocket,
seized the green bag, and pressing his hat firmly
down ran as hard as he could set foot to ground until
he was in the City Road and saw the name of Pritchard
engraved in white upon a red ground. He bounded in
triumph up the three steps which led to the door, and
as he did so there was a crash behind him. His
precious bottle was in fragments upon the pavement.
For a moment he felt as if it were his wife's
body that was lying there. But the run had freshened
his wits and he saw that the mischief might be
repaired. He pulled vigorously at the night-bell.
"Well, what's the matter?" asked a gruff voice at
his elbow. He started back and looked up at the
windows, but there was no sign of life. He was
approaching the bell again with the intention of
pulling it, when a perfect roar burst from the wall.
"I can't stand shivering here all night," cried
the voice. "Say who you are and what you want or I
shut the tube."
Then for the first time Johnson saw that the end
of a speaking-tube hung out of the wall just above
the bell. He shouted up it,--
"I want you to come with me to meet Dr. Miles at a
confinement at once."
"How far?" shrieked the irascible voice.
"The New North Road, Hoxton."
"My consultation fee is three guineas, payable at
"All right," shouted Johnson. "You are to bring
a bottle of A. C. E. mixture with you."
"All right! Wait a bit!"
Five minutes later an elderly, hard-faced man,
with grizzled hair, flung open the door. As he
emerged a voice from somewhere in the shadows
"Mind you take your cravat, John," and he
impatiently growled something over his shoulder in
The consultant was a man who had been hardened by
a life of ceaseless labour, and who had been driven,
as so many others have been, by the needs of his own
increasing family to set the commercial before the
philanthropic side of his profession. Yet beneath
his rough crust he was a man with a kindly heart.
"We don't want to break a record," said he,
pulling up and panting after attempting to keep up
with Johnson for five minutes. "I would go quicker
if I could, my dear sir, and I quite sympathise with
your anxiety, but really I can't manage it."
So Johnson, on fire with impatience, had to slow
down until they reached the New North Road, when he
ran ahead and had the door open for the doctor when
he came. He heard the two meet outside the bed-room,
and caught scraps of their conversation. "Sorry to
knock you up--nasty case--decent people." Then it
sank into a mumble and the door closed behind them.
Johnson sat up in his chair now, listening
keenly, for he knew that a crisis must be at hand.
He heard the two doctors moving about, and was able
to distinguish the step of Pritchard, which had a
drag in it, from the clean, crisp sound of the
other's footfall. There was silence for a few
minutes and then a curious drunken, mumbling sing-
song voice came quavering up, very unlike anything
which be had heard hitherto. At the same time a
sweetish, insidious scent, imperceptible perhaps to
any nerves less strained than his, crept down the
stairs and penetrated into the room. The voice
dwindled into a mere drone and finally sank away into
silence, and Johnson gave a long sigh of relief, for
he knew that the drug had done its work and that,
come what might, there should be no more pain for the
But soon the silence became even more trying to
him than the cries had been. He had no clue now as
to what was going on, and his mind swarmed with
horrible possibilities. He rose and went to the
bottom of the stairs again. He heard the clink of
metal against metal, and the subdued murmur of the
doctors' voices. Then he heard Mrs. Peyton say
something, in a tone as of fear or expostulation, and
again the doctors murmured together. For twenty
minutes he stood there leaning against the wall,
listening to the occasional rumbles of talk without
being able to catch a word of it. And then of a
sudden there rose out of the silence the strangest
little piping cry, and Mrs. Peyton screamed out in
her delight and the man ran into the parlour and
flung himself down upon the horse-hair sofa, drumming
his heels on it in his ecstasy.
But often the great cat Fate lets us go only to
clutch us again in a fiercer grip. As minute after
minute passed and still no sound came from above save
those thin, glutinous cries, Johnson cooled from his
frenzy of joy, and lay breathless with his ears
straining. They were moving slowly about. They were
talking in subdued tones. Still minute after minute
passing, and no word from the voice for which he
listened. His nerves were dulled by his night of
trouble, and he waited in limp wretchedness upon his
sofa. There he still sat when the doctors came down
to him--a bedraggled, miserable figure with his face
grimy and his hair unkempt from his long vigil. He
rose as they entered, bracing himself against the
"Is she dead?" he asked.
"Doing well," answered the doctor.
And at the words that little conventional spirit
which had never known until that night the capacity
for fierce agony which lay within it, learned for the
second time that there were springs of joy also which
it had never tapped before. His impulse was to fall
upon his knees, but he was shy before the doctors.
"Can I go up?"
"In a few minutes."
"I'm sure, doctor, I'm very--I'm very----" he
grew inarticulate. "Here are your three guineas, Dr.
Pritchard. I wish they were three hundred."
"So do I," said the senior man, and they laughed
as they shook hands.
Johnson opened the shop door for them and heard
their talk as they stood for an instant outside.
"Looked nasty at one time."
"Very glad to have your help."
"Delighted, I'm sure. Won't you step round and
have a cup of coffee?"
"No, thanks. I'm expecting another case."
The firm step and the dragging one passed away to
the right and the left. Johnson turned from the door
still with that turmoil of joy in his heart. He
seemed to be making a new start in life. He felt
that he was a stronger and a deeper man. Perhaps all
this suffering had an object then. It might prove to
be a blessing both to his wife and to him. The very
thought was one which he would have been incapable of
conceiving twelve hours before. He was full of new
emotions. If there had been a harrowing there had
been a planting too.
"Can I come up?" he cried, and then, without
waiting for an answer, he took the steps three at a
Mrs. Peyton was standing by a soapy bath with a
bundle in her hands. From under the curve of a brown
shawl there looked out at him the strangest little
red face with crumpled features, moist, loose lips,
and eyelids which quivered like a rabbit's nostrils.
The weak neck had let the head topple over, and it
rested upon the shoulder.
"Kiss it, Robert!" cried the grandmother. "Kiss
But he felt a resentment to the little, red,
blinking creature. He could not forgive it yet
for that long night of misery. He caught sight of a
white face in the bed and he ran towards it with such
love and pity as his speech could find no words for.
"Thank God it is over! Lucy, dear, it was
"But I'm so happy now. I never was so happy in
Her eyes were fixed upon the brown bundle.
"You mustn't talk," said Mrs. Peyton.
"But don't leave me," whispered his wife.
So he sat in silence with his hand in hers. The
lamp was burning dim and the first cold light of dawn
was breaking through the window. The night had been
long and dark but the day was the sweeter and the
purer in consequence. London was waking up. The
roar began to rise from the street. Lives had come
and lives had gone, but the great machine was still
working out its dim and tragic destiny.
It is hard for the general practitioner who sits
among his patients both morning and evening, and sees
them in their homes between, to steal time for one
little daily breath of cleanly air. To win it he
must slip early from his bed and walk out between
shuttered shops when it is chill but very clear, and
all things are sharply outlined, as in a frost. It
is an hour that has a charm of its own, when, but for
a postman or a milkman, one has the pavement to
oneself, and even the most common thing takes an
ever-recurring freshness, as though causeway, and
lamp, and signboard had all wakened to the new day.
Then even an inland city may seem beautiful, and bear
virtue in its smoke-tainted air.
But it was by the sea that I lived, in a town
that was unlovely enough were it not for its glorious
neighbour. And who cares for the town when one can
sit on the bench at the headland, and look out over
the huge, blue bay, and the yellow scimitar that
curves before it. I loved it when its
great face was freckled with the fishing boats, and I
loved it when the big ships went past, far out, a
little hillock of white and no hull, with topsails
curved like a bodice, so stately and demure. But
most of all I loved it when no trace of man marred
the majesty of Nature, and when the sun-bursts
slanted down on it from between the drifting
rainclouds. Then I have seen the further edge draped
in the gauze of the driving rain, with its thin grey
shading under the slow clouds, while my headland was
golden, and the sun gleamed upon the breakers and
struck deep through the green waves beyond, showing
up the purple patches where the beds of seaweed are
lying. Such a morning as that, with the wind in his
hair, and the spray on his lips, and the cry of the
eddying gulls in his ear, may send a man back braced
afresh to the reek of a sick-room, and the dead, drab
weariness of practice.
It was on such another day that I first saw my
old man. He came to my bench just as I was leaving
it. My eye must have picked him out even in a
crowded street, for he was a man of large frame and
fine presence, with something of distinction in the
set of his lip and the poise of his head. He limped
up the winding path leaning heavily upon his stick,
as though those great shoulders had become too much
at last for the failing limbs that bore them. As he
approached, my eyes caught Nature's danger
signal, that faint bluish tinge in nose and lip which
tells of a labouring heart.
"The brae is a little trying, sir," said I.
"Speaking as a physician, I should say that you
would do well to rest here before you go further."
He inclined his head in a stately, old-world
fashion, and seated himself upon the bench. Seeing
that he had no wish to speak I was silent also, but I
could not help watching him out of the corners of my
eyes, for he was such a wonderful survival of the
early half of the century, with his low-crowned,
curly-brimmed hat, his black satin tie which fastened
with a buckle at the back, and, above all, his large,
fleshy, clean-shaven face shot with its mesh of
wrinkles. Those eyes, ere they had grown dim, had
looked out from the box-seat of mail coaches, and had
seen the knots of navvies as they toiled on the
brown embankments. Those lips had smiled over the
first numbers of "Pickwick," and had gossiped of the
promising young man who wrote them. The face itself
was a seventy-year almanack, and every seam an entry
upon it where public as well as private sorrow left
its trace. That pucker on the forehead stood for the
Mutiny, perhaps; that line of care for the Crimean
winter, it may be; and that last little sheaf of
wrinkles, as my fancy hoped, for the death of
Gordon. And so, as I dreamed in my foolish way, the
old gentleman with the shining stock was gone, and it
was seventy years of a great nation's life that took
shape before me on the headland in the morning.
But he soon brought me back to earth again. As
he recovered his breath he took a letter out of his
pocket, and, putting on a pair of horn-rimmed eye-
glasses, he read it through very carefully. Without
any design of playing the spy I could not help
observing that it was in a woman's hand. When he had
finished it he read it again, and then sat with the
corners of his mouth drawn down and his eyes staring
vacantly out over the bay, the most forlorn-looking
old gentleman that ever I have seen. All that is
kindly within me was set stirring by that wistful
face, but I knew that he was in no humour for talk,
and so, at last, with my breakfast and my patients
calling me, I left him on the bench and started for
I never gave him another thought until the next
morning, when, at the same hour, he turned up upon
the headland, and shared the bench which I had been
accustomed to look upon as my own. He bowed again
before sitting down, but was no more inclined than
formerly to enter into conversation. There had been
a change in him during the last twenty-four hours,
and all for the worse. The face seemed more
heavy and more wrinkled, while that ominous venous
tinge was more pronounced as he panted up the hill.
The clean lines of his cheek and chin were marred by
a day's growth of grey stubble, and his large,
shapely head had lost something of the brave carriage
which had struck me when first I glanced at him. He
had a letter there, the same, or another, but still
in a woman's hand, and over this he was moping and
mumbling in his senile fashion, with his brow
puckered, and the corners of his mouth drawn down
like those of a fretting child. So I left him, with
a vague wonder as to who he might be, and why a
single spring day should have wrought such a change
So interested was I that next morning I was on
the look out for him. Sure enough, at the same hour,
I saw him coming up the hill; but very slowly, with a
bent back and a heavy head. It was shocking to me to
see the change in him as he approached.
"I am afraid that our air does not agree with
you, sir," I ventured to remark.
But it was as though he had no heart for talk.
He tried, as I thought, to make some fitting reply,
but it slurred off into a mumble and silence. How
bent and weak and old he seemed--ten years older at
the least than when first I had seen him! It went to
my heart to see this fine old fellow wasting
away before my eyes. There was the eternal letter
which he unfolded with his shaking fingers. Who was
this woman whose words moved him so? Some daughter,
perhaps, or granddaughter, who should have been the
light of his home instead of---- I smiled to find
how bitter I was growing, and how swiftly I was
weaving a romance round an unshaven old man and his
correspondence. Yet all day he lingered in my mind,
and I had fitful glimpses of those two trembling,
blue-veined, knuckly hands with the paper rustling
I had hardly hoped to see him again. Another
day's decline must, I thought, hold him to his room,
if not to his bed. Great, then, was my surprise
when, as I approached my bench, I saw that he was
already there. But as I came up to him I could
scarce be sure that it was indeed the same man.
There were the curly-brimmed hat, and the shining
stock, and the horn glasses, but where were the stoop
and the grey-stubbled, pitiable face? He was clean-
shaven and firm lipped, with a bright eye and a head
that poised itself upon his great shoulders like an
eagle on a rock. His back was as straight and square
as a grenadier's, and he switched at the pebbles with
his stick in his exuberant vitality. In the button-
hole of his well-brushed black coat there glinted a
golden blossom, and the corner of a dainty red
silk handkerchief lapped over from his breast pocket.
He might have been the eldest son of the weary
creature who had sat there the morning before.
"Good morning, Sir, good morning!" he cried with
a merry waggle of his cane.
"Good morning!" I answered how beautiful the bay
"Yes, Sir, but you should have seen it just
before the sun rose."
"What, have you been here since then?"
"I was here when there was scarce light to see
"You are a very early riser."
"On occasion, sir; on occasion!" He cocked his
eye at me as if to gauge whether I were worthy of his
confidence. "The fact is, sir, that my wife is
coming back to me to day."
I suppose that my face showed that I did not
quite see the force of the explanation. My eyes,
too, may have given him assurance of sympathy, for he
moved quite close to me and began speaking in a low,
confidential voice, as if the matter were of such
weight that even the sea-gulls must be kept out of
"Are you a married man, Sir?"
"No, I am not."
"Ah, then you cannot quite understand it. My
wife and I have been married for nearly fifty
years, and we have never been parted, never at
all, until now."
"Was it for long?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. This is the fourth day. She had to
go to Scotland. A matter of duty, you understand,
and the doctors would not let me go. Not that I
would have allowed them to stop me, but she was on
their side. Now, thank God! it is over, and she may
be here at any moment."
"Yes, here. This headland and bench were old
friends of ours thirty years ago. The people with
whom we stay are not, to tell the truth, very
congenial, and we have, little privacy among them.
That is why we prefer to meet here. I could not be
sure which train would bring her, but if she had come
by the very earliest she would have found me
"In that case----" said I, rising.
"No, sir, no," he entreated, "I beg that you will
stay. It does not weary you, this domestic talk of
"On the contrary."
"I have been so driven inwards during these few
last days! Ah, what a nightmare it has been! Perhaps
it may seem strange to you that an old fellow like me
should feel like this."
"It is charming."
"No credit to me, sir! There's not a man on
this planet but would feel the same if he had
the good fortune to be married to such a woman.
Perhaps, because you see me like this, and hear me
speak of our long life together, you conceive that
she is old, too."
He laughed heartily, and his eyes twinkled at the
humour of the idea.
"She's one of those women, you know, who have
youth in their hearts, and so it can never be very
far from their faces. To me she's just as she was
when she first took my hand in hers in '45. A wee
little bit stouter, perhaps, but then, if she had a
fault as a girl, it was that she was a shade too
slender. She was above me in station, you know--I a
clerk, and she the daughter of my employer. Oh! it
was quite a romance, I give you my word, and I won
her; and, somehow, I have never got over the
freshness and the wonder of it. To think that that
sweet, lovely girl has walked by my side all through
life, and that I have been able----"
He stopped suddenly, and I glanced round at him
in surprise. He was shaking all over, in every fibre
of his great body. His hands were clawing at the
woodwork, and his feet shuffling on the gravel. I
saw what it was. He was trying to rise, but was so
excited that he could not. I half extended my hand,
but a higher courtesy constrained me to draw it back
again and turn my face to the sea. An instant
afterwards he was up and hurrying down the path.
A woman was coming towards us. She was quite
close before he had seen her--thirty yards at the
utmost. I know not if she had ever been as he
described her, or whether it was but some ideal which
he carried in his brain. The person upon whom I
looked was tall, it is true, but she was thick and
shapeless, with a ruddy, full-blown face, and a
skirt grotesquely gathered up. There was a green
ribbon in her hat, which jarred upon my eyes, and her
blouse-like bodice was full and clumsy. And this was
the lovely girl, the ever youthful! My heart sank as
I thought how little such a woman might appreciate
him, how unworthy she might be of his love.
She came up the path in her solid way, while he
staggered along to meet her. Then, as they came
together, looking discreetly out of the furthest
corner of my eye, I saw that he put out both his
hands, while she, shrinking from a public caress,
took one of them in hers and shook it. As she did so
I saw her face, and I was easy in my mind for my old
man. God grant that when this hand is shaking, and
when this back is bowed, a woman's eyes may look so
A PHYSIOLOGIST'S WIFE.
Professor Ainslie Grey had not come down to
breakfast at the usual hour. The presentation
chiming-clock which stood between the terra-cotta
busts of Claude Bernard and of John Hunter upon the
dining-room mantelpiece had rung out the half-hour
and the three-quarters. Now its golden hand was
verging upon the nine, and yet there were no signs of
the master of the house.
It was an unprecedented occurrence. During the
twelve years that she had kept house for him, his
youngest sister had never known him a second behind
his time. She sat now in front of the high silver
coffee-pot, uncertain whether to order the gong to be
resounded or to wait on in silence. Either course
might be a mistake. Her brother was not a man who
Miss Ainslie Grey was rather above the middle
height, thin, with peering, puckered eyes, and the
rounded shoulders which mark the bookish woman. Her
face was long and spare, flecked with
colour above the cheek-bones, with a reasonable,
thoughtful forehead, and a dash of absolute obstinacy
in her thin lips and prominent chin. Snow white
cuffs and collar, with a plain dark dress, cut with
almost Quaker-like simplicity, bespoke the primness
of her taste. An ebony cross hung over her flattened
chest. She sat very upright in her chair, listening
with raised eyebrows, and swinging her eye-glasses
backwards and forwards with a nervous gesture which
was peculiar to her.
Suddenly she gave a sharp, satisfied jerk of the
head, and began to pour out the coffee. From outside
there came the dull thudding sound of heavy feet upon
thick carpet. The door swung open, and the Professor
entered with a quick, nervous step. He nodded to his
sister, and seating himself at the other side of the
table, began to open the small pile of letters which
lay beside his plate.
Professor Ainslie Grey was at that time forty-
three years of age--nearly twelve years older than
his sister. His career had been a brilliant one. At
Edinburgh, at Cambridge, and at Vienna he had laid
the foundations of his great reputation, both in
physiology and in zoology.
His pamphlet, On the Mesoblastic Origin of
Excitomotor Nerve Roots, had won him his fellowship
of the Royal Society; and his researches, Upon
the Nature of Bathybius, with some Remarks upon
Lithococci, had been translated into at least three
European languages. He had been referred to by one
of the greatest living authorities as being the very
type and embodiment of all that was best in modern
science. No wonder, then, that when the commercial
city of Birchespool decided to create a medical
school, they were only too glad to confer the chair
of physiology upon Mr. Ainslie Grey. They valued him
the more from the conviction that their class was
only one step in his upward journey, and that the
first vacancy would remove him to some more
illustrious seat of learning.
In person he was not unlike his sister. The same
eyes, the same contour, the same intellectual
forehead. His lips, however, were firmer, and his
long, thin, lower jaw was sharper and more decided.
He ran his finger and thumb down it from time to
time, as he glanced over his letters.
"Those maids are very noisy," he remarked, as a
clack of tongues sounded in the distance.
"It is Sarah," said his sister; "I shall speak
She had handed over his coffee-cup, and was
sipping at her own, glancing furtively through her
narrowed lids at the austere face of her brother.
"The first great advance of the human race,"
said the Professor, "was when, by the
development of their left frontal convolutions, they
attained the power of speech. Their second advance
was when they learned to control that power. Woman
has not yet attained the second stage."
He half closed his eyes as he spoke, and thrust
his chin forward, but as he ceased he had a trick of
suddenly opening both eyes very wide and staring
sternly at his interlocutor.
"I am not garrulous, John," said his sister.
"No, Ada; in many respects you approach the
superior or male type."
The Professor bowed over his egg with the manner
of one who utters a courtly compliment; but the lady
pouted, and gave an impatient little shrug of her
"You were late this morning, John," she remarked,
after a pause.
"Yes, Ada; I slept badly. Some little cerebral
congestion, no doubt due to over-stimulation of the
centers of thought. I have been a little disturbed
in my mind."
His sister stared across at him in astonishment.
The Professor's mental processes had hitherto been as
regular as his habits. Twelve years' continual
intercourse had taught her that he lived in a serene
and rarefied atmosphere of scientific calm, high
above the petty emotions which affect humbler minds.
"You are surprised, Ada," he remarked. "Well, I
cannot wonder at it. I should have been surprised
myself if I had been told that I was so sensitive to
vascular influences. For, after all, all
disturbances are vascular if you probe them deep
enough. I am thinking of getting married."
"Not Mrs. O'James" cried Ada Grey, laying down her
"My dear, you have the feminine quality of
receptivity very remarkably developed. Mrs. O'James
is the lady in question."
"But you know so little of her. The Esdailes
themselves know so little. She is really only an
acquaintance, although she is staying at The Lindens.
Would it not be wise to speak to Mrs. Esdaile first,
"I do not think, Ada, that Mrs. Esdaile is at all
likely to say anything which would materially affect
my course of action. I have given the matter due
consideration. The scientific mind is slow at
arriving at conclusions, but having once formed them,
it is not prone to change. Matrimony is the natural
condition of the human race. I have, as you know,
been so engaged in academical and other work, that I
have had no time to devote to merely personal
questions. It is different now, and I see no valid
reason why I should forego this opportunity of
seeking a suitable helpmate."
"And you are engaged?"
"Hardly that, Ada. I ventured yesterday to
indicate to the lady that I was prepared to submit to
the common lot of humanity. I shall wait upon her
after my morning lecture, and learn how far my
proposals meet with her acquiescence. But you frown,
His sister started, and made an effort to conceal
her expression of annoyance. She even stammered out
some few words of congratulation, but a vacant look
had come into her brother's eyes, and he was
evidently not listening to her.
"I am sure, John, that I wish you the happiness
which you deserve. If I hesitated at all, it is
because I know how much is at stake, and because the
thing is so sudden, so unexpected." Her thin white
hand stole up to the black cross upon her bosom.
"These are moments when we need guidance, John. If I
could persuade you to turn to spiritual----"
The Professor waved the suggestion away with a
"It is useless to reopen that question," he said.
"We cannot argue upon it. You assume more than I can
grant. I am forced to dispute your premises. We
have no common basis."
His sister sighed.
"You have no faith," she said.
"I have faith in those great evolutionary forces
which are leading the human race to some unknown but
"You believe in nothing."
"On the contrary, my dear Ada, I believe in the
differentiation of protoplasm."
She shook her head sadly. It was the one subject
upon which she ventured to dispute her brother's
"This is rather beside the question," remarked
the Professor, folding up his napkin. "If I am not
mistaken, there is some possibility of another
matrimonial event occurring in the family. Eh, Ada?
His small eyes glittered with sly facetiousness
as he shot a twinkle at his sister. She sat very
stiff, and traced patterns upon the cloth with the
"Dr. James M`Murdo O'Brien----" said the
"Don't, John, don't!" cried Miss Ainslie Grey.
"Dr. James M`Murdo O'Brien," continued her
brother inexorably, "is a man who has already made
his mark upon the science of the day. He is my first
and my most distinguished pupil. I assure you, Ada,
that his `Remarks upon the Bile-Pigments, with
special reference to Urobilin,' is likely to live as
a classic. It is not too much to say that he
has revolutionised our views about urobilin."
He paused, but his sister sat silent, with bent
head and flushed cheeks. The little ebony cross rose
and fell with her hurried breathings.
"Dr. James M`Murdo O'Brien has, as you know, the
offer of the physiological chair at Melbourne. He
has been in Australia five years, and has a brilliant
future before him. To-day he leaves us for
Edinburgh, and in two months' time, he goes out to
take over his new duties. You know his feeling
towards you. It, rests with you as to whether he
goes out alone. Speaking for myself, I cannot
imagine any higher mission for a woman of culture
than to go through life in the company of a man who
is capable of such a research as that which Dr. James
M`Murdo O'Brien has brought to a successful
"He has not spoken to me," murmured the lady.
"Ah, there are signs which are more subtle than
speech," said her brother, wagging his head. "But
you are pale. Your vasomotor system is excited.
Your arterioles have contracted. Let me entreat you
to compose yourself. I think I hear the carriage. I
fancy that you may have a visitor this morning, Ada.
You will excuse me now."
With a quick glance at the clock he strode off
into the hall, and within a few minutes he was
rattling in his quiet, well-appointed brougham
through the brick-lined streets of Birchespool.
His lecture over, Professor Ainslie Grey paid a
visit to his laboratory, where he adjusted several
scientific instruments, made a note as to the
progress of three separate infusions of bacteria, cut
half-a-dozen sections with a microtome, and finally
resolved the difficulties of seven different
gentlemen, who were pursuing researches in as many
separate lines of inquiry. Having thus
conscientiously and methodically completed the
routine of his duties, he returned to his carriage
and ordered the coachman to drive him to The Lindens.
His face as he drove was cold and impassive, but he
drew his fingers from time to time down his prominent
chin with a jerky, twitchy movement.
The Lindens was an old-fashioned, ivy-clad house
which had once been in the country, but was now
caught in the long, red-brick feelers of the growing
city. It still stood back from the road in the
privacy of its own grounds. A winding path, lined
with laurel bushes, led to the arched and porticoed
entrance. To the right was a lawn, and at the far
side, under the shadow of a hawthorn, a lady sat in a
garden-chair with a book in her hands. At the click
of the gate she started, and the Professor, catching
sight of her, turned away from the door, and
strode in her direction.
"What! won't you go in and see Mrs. Esdaile?" she
asked, sweeping out from under the shadow of the
She was a small woman, strongly feminine, from
the rich coils of her light-coloured hair to the
dainty garden slipper which peeped from under her
cream-tinted dress. One tiny well-gloved hand was
outstretched in greeting, while the other pressed a
thick, green-covered volume against her side. Her
decision and quick, tactful manner bespoke the mature
woman of the world; but her upraised face had
preserved a girlish and even infantile expression of
innocence in its large, fearless, grey eyes, and
sensitive, humorous mouth. Mrs. O'James was a widow,
and she was two-and-thirty years of age; but neither
fact could have been deduced from her appearance.
"You will surely go in and see Mrs. Esdaile," she
repeated, glancing up at him with eyes which had in
them something between a challenge and a caress.
"I did not come to see Mrs. Esdaile," he
answered, with no relaxation of his cold and grave
manner; "I came to see you."
"I am sure I should be highly honoured," she
said, with just the slightest little touch of brogue
in her accent. "What are the students to do
without their Professor?"
"I have already completed my academic duties.
Take my arm, and we shall walk in the sunshine.
Surely we cannot wonder that Eastern people should
have made a deity of the sun. It is the great
beneficent force of Nature--man's ally against cold,
sterility, and all that is abhorrent to him. What
were you reading?"
"Hale's Matter and Life."
The Professor raised his thick eyebrows.
"Hale!" he said, and then again in a kind of
"You differ from him?" she asked.
"It is not I who differ from him. I am only a
monad--a thing of no moment. The whole tendency of
the highest plane of modern thought differs from him.
He defends the indefensible. He is an excellent
observer, but a feeble reasoner. I should not
recommend you to found your conclusions upon Hale."
"I must read Nature's Chronicle to counteract his
pernicious influence," said Mrs. O'James, with a
soft, cooing laugh.
Nature's Chronicle was one of the many books in
which Professor Ainslie Grey had enforced the
negative doctrines of scientific agnosticism.
"It is a faulty work," said he; "I cannot
recommend it. I would rather refer you to the
standard writings of some of my older and more
There was a pause in their talk as they paced up
and down on the green, velvet-like lawn in the genial
"Have you thought at all," he asked at last, "of
the matter upon which I spoke to you last night?"
She said nothing, but walked by his side with her
eyes averted and her face aslant.
"I would not hurry you unduly," he continued. "I
know that it is a matter which can scarcely be
decided off-hand. In my own case, it cost me some
thought before I ventured to make the suggestion. I
am not an emotional man, but I am conscious in your
presence of the great evolutionary instinct which
makes either sex the complement of the other."
"You believe in love, then?" she asked, with a
twinkling, upward glance.
"I am forced to."
"And yet you can deny the soul?"
"How far these questions are psychic and how far
material is still sub judice," said the
Professor, with an air of toleration. "Protoplasm
may prove to be the physical basis of love as well as
"How inflexible you are!" she exclaimed; "you
would draw love down to the level of physics."
"Or draw physics up to the level of love."
"Come, that is much better," she cried, with her
sympathetic laugh. "That is really very pretty, and
puts science in quite a delightful light."
Her eyes sparkled, and she tossed her chin with
the pretty, wilful air of a woman who is mistress of
"I have reason to believe," said the Professor,
"that my position here will prove to be only a
stepping-stone to some wider scene of scientific
activity. Yet, even here, my chair brings me in some
fifteen hundred pounds a year, which is supplemented
by a few hundreds from my books. I should therefore
be in a position to provide you with those comforts
to which you are accustomed. So much for my
pecuniary position. As to my constitution, it has
always been sound. I have never suffered from any
illness in my life, save fleeting attacks of
cephalalgia, the result of too prolonged a
stimulation of the centres of cerebration. My father
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