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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
THE CASE OF GEORGE DEDLOW
S. WEIR MITCHELL, M.D.,
LL.D. HARVARD AND EDINBURGH
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
THE CASE OF GEORGE DEDLOW
Both of the tales in this little volume
appeared originally in the ``Atlantic Monthly''
as anonymous contributions. I owe to the
present owners of that journal permission to
use them. ``The Autobiography of a Quack ''
has been recast with large additions.
``The Case of George Dedlow'' was not
written with any intention that it should
appear in print. I lent the manuscript to the
Rev. Dr. Furness and forgot it. This gentleman
sent it to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale.
He, presuming, I fancy, that every one
desired to appear in the ``Atlantic,'' offered it
to that journal. To my surprise, soon afterwards
I received a proof and a check. The
story was inserted as a leading article without
my name. It was at once accepted by many
as the description of a real case. Money was
collected in several places to assist the
unfortunate man, and benevolent persons went
to the ``Stump Hospital,'' in Philadelphia, to
see the sufferer and to offer him aid. The
spiritual incident at the end of the story was
received with joy by the spiritualists as a
valuable proof of the truth of their beliefs.
S. WEIR MITCHELL
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
At this present moment of time
I am what the doctors call an
interesting case, and am to be
found in bed No. 10, Ward
11, Massachusetts General
Hospital. I am told that I have what is called
Addison's disease, and that it is this pleasing
malady which causes me to be covered with
large blotches of a dark mulatto tint. However,
it is a rather grim subject to joke about,
because, if I believed the doctor who comes
around every day, and thumps me, and listens
to my chest with as much pleasure as if I
were music all through--I say, if I really
believed him, I should suppose I was going to
die. The fact is, I don't believe him at all.
Some of these days I shall take a turn and
get about again; but meanwhile it is rather
dull for a stirring, active person like me to
have to lie still and watch myself getting big
brown and yellow spots all over me, like a
map that has taken to growing.
The man on my right has consumption
--smells of cod-liver oil, and coughs all
night. The man on my left is a down-easter
with a liver which has struck work; looks
like a human pumpkin; and how he contrives
to whittle jackstraws all day, and eat as he
does, I can't understand. I have tried reading
and tried whittling, but they don't either of
them satisfy me, so that yesterday I concluded
to ask the doctor if he couldn't suggest some
I waited until he had gone through the
ward, and then seized my chance, and asked
him to stop a moment.
``Well, my man,'' said he, ``what do you
I thought him rather disrespectful, but I
replied, ``Something to do, doctor.''
He thought a little, and then said: ``I'll
tell you what to do. I think if you were to
write out a plain account of your life it
would be pretty well worth reading. If half
of what you told me last week be true, you
must be about as clever a scamp as there is
to be met with. I suppose you would just
as lief put it on paper as talk it.''
``Pretty nearly,'' said I. ``I think I will
try it, doctor.''
After he left I lay awhile thinking over
the matter. I knew well that I was what the
world calls a scamp, and I knew also that I
had got little good out of the fact. If a man
is what people call virtuous, and fails in life,
he gets credit at least for the virtue; but
when a man is a--is--well, one of liberal
views, and breaks down, somehow or other
people don't credit him with even the
intelligence he has put into the business. This
I call hard. If I did not recall with satisfaction
the energy and skill with which I did
my work, I should be nothing but disgusted
at the melancholy spectacle of my failure.
I suppose that I shall at least find occupation
in reviewing all this, and I think, therefore,
for my own satisfaction, I shall try to
amuse my convalescence by writing a plain,
straightforward account of the life I have
led, and the various devices by which I have
sought to get my share of the money of my
countrymen. It does appear to me that I
have had no end of bad luck.
As no one will ever see these pages, I find it
pleasant to recall for my own satisfaction the
fact that I am really a very remarkable man.
I am, or rather I was, very good-looking, five
feet eleven, with a lot of curly red hair, and
blue eyes. I am left-handed, which is another
unusual thing. My hands have often been
noticed. I get them from my mother, who was
a Fishbourne, and a lady. As for my father,
he was rather common. He was a little man,
red and round like an apple, but very strong,
for a reason I shall come to presently. The
family must have had a pious liking for Bible
names, because he was called Zebulon, my
sister Peninnah, and I Ezra, which is not
a name for a gentleman. At one time I
thought of changing it, but I got over it
by signing myself ``E. Sanderaft.''
Where my father was born I do not know,
except that it was somewhere in New Jersey,
for I remember that he was once angry
because a man called him a Jersey Spaniard.
I am not much concerned to write about my
people, because I soon got above their level;
and as to my mother, she died when I was
an infant. I get my manners, which are
rather remarkable, from her.
My aunt, Rachel Sanderaft, who kept
house for us, was a queer character. She
had a snug little property, about seven
thousand dollars. An old aunt left her the money
because she was stone-deaf. As this defect
came upon her after she grew up, she still
kept her voice. This woman was the cause
of some of my ill luck in life, and I hope she
is uncomfortable, wherever she is. I think
with satisfaction that I helped to make her
life uneasy when I was young, and worse
later on. She gave away to the idle poor
some of her small income, and hid the rest,
like a magpie, in her Bible or rolled in her
stockings, or in even queerer places. The
worst of her was that she could tell what
people said by looking at their lips; this I
hated. But as I grew and became intelligent,
her ways of hiding her money proved useful,
to me at least. As to Peninnah, she was
nothing special until she suddenly bloomed
out into a rather stout, pretty girl, took to
ribbons, and liked what she called ``keeping
company.'' She ran errands for every one,
waited on my aunt, and thought I was a
wonderful person--as indeed I was. I never
could understand her fondness for helping
everybody. A fellow has got himself to
think about, and that is quite enough. I
was told pretty often that I was the most
selfish boy alive. But, then, I am an
unusual person, and there are several names
My father kept a small shop for the sale
of legal stationery and the like, on Fifth
street north of Chestnut. But his chief
interest in life lay in the bell-ringing of
Christ Church. He was leader, or No. 1, and
the whole business was in the hands of a
kind of guild which is nearly as old as the
church. I used to hear more of it than I
liked, because my father talked of nothing
else. But I do not mean to bore myself
writing of bells. I heard too much about
``back shake,'' ``raising in peal,'' ``scales,''
and ``touches,'' and the Lord knows what.
My earliest remembrance is of sitting on
my father's shoulder when he led off the
ringers. He was very strong, as I said, by
reason of this exercise. With one foot
caught in a loop of leather nailed to the
floor, he would begin to pull No. 1, and by
and by the whole peal would be swinging,
and he going up and down, to my joy; I used
to feel as if it was I that was making the
great noise that rang out all over the town.
My familiar acquaintance with the old church
and its lumber-rooms, where were stored the
dusty arms of William and Mary and George
II., proved of use in my later days.
My father had a strong belief in my
talents, and I do not think he was mistaken.
As he was quite uneducated, he determined
that I should not be. He had saved enough
to send me to Princeton College, and when I
was about fifteen I was set free from the
public schools. I never liked them. The last
I was at was the high school. As I had to
come down-town to get home, we used to
meet on Arch street the boys from the
grammar-school of the university, and there
were fights every week. In winter these
were most frequent, because of the snow-
balling. A fellow had to take his share or be
marked as a deserter. I never saw any
personal good to be had out of a fight, but it
was better to fight than to be cobbed. That
means that two fellows hold you, and the
other fellows kick you with their bent knees.
I find just here that I am describing a
thing as if I were writing for some other
people to see. I may as well go on that way.
After all, a man never can quite stand off
and look at himself as if he was the only
person concerned. He must have an audience,
or make believe to have one, even if it
is only himself. Nor, on the whole, should I
be unwilling, if it were safe, to let people
see how great ability may be defeated by the
crankiness of fortune.
I may add here that a stone inside of a
snowball discourages the fellow it hits. But
neither our fellows nor the grammar-school
used stones in snowballs. I rather liked it.
If we had a row in the springtime we all
threw stones, and here was one of those bits
of stupid custom no man can understand;
because really a stone outside of a snowball
is much more serious than if it is mercifully
padded with snow. I felt it to be a
rise in life when I got out of the society of the
common boys who attended the high school.
When I was there a man by the name of
Dallas Bache was the head master. He had a
way of letting the boys attend to what he called
the character of the school. Once I had to
lie to him about taking another boy's ball.
He told my class that I had denied the charge,
and that he always took it for granted that a
boy spoke the truth. He knew well enough
what would happen. It did. After that I
Princeton was then a little college, not
expensive, which was very well, as my father
had some difficulty to provide even the
moderate amount needed.
I soon found that if I was to associate with
the upper set of young men I needed money.
For some time I waited in vain. But in my
second year I discovered a small gold-mine, on
which I drew with a moderation which shows
even thus early the strength of my character.
I used to go home once a month for a
Sunday visit, and on these occasions I was often
able to remove from my aunt's big Bible a
five- or ten-dollar note, which otherwise would
have been long useless.
Now and then I utilized my opportunities
at Princeton. I very much desired certain
things like well-made clothes, and for these
I had to run in debt to a tailor. When he
wanted pay, and threatened to send the bill
to my father, I borrowed from two or three
young Southerners; but at last, when they
became hard up, my aunt's uncounted hoard
proved a last resource, or some rare chance
in a neighboring room helped me out. I
never did look on this method as of permanent
usefulness, and it was only the temporary
folly of youth.
Whatever else the pirate necessity appropriated,
I took no large amount of education,
although I was fond of reading, and especially
of novels, which are, I think, very
instructive to the young, especially the novels
of Smollett and Fielding.
There is, however, little need to dwell on
this part of my life. College students in
those days were only boys, and boys are very
strange animals. They have instincts. They
somehow get to know if a fellow does not
relate facts as they took place. I like to put
it that way, because, after all, the mode of
putting things is only one of the forms of
self-defense, and is less silly than the
ordinary wriggling methods which boys employ,
and which are generally useless. I was rather
given to telling large stories just for the fun
of it and, I think, told them well. But somehow
I got the reputation of not being strictly
definite, and when it was meant to indicate
this belief they had an ill-mannered way of
informing you. This consisted in two or
three fellows standing up and shuffling noisily
with their feet on the floor. When first I
heard this I asked innocently what it meant,
and was told it was the noise of the bearers'
feet coming to take away Ananias. This was
considered a fine joke.
During my junior year I became unpopular,
and as I was very cautious, I cannot see
why. At last, being hard up, I got to be
foolishly reckless. But why dwell on the
failures of immaturity?
The causes which led to my leaving Nassau
Hall were not, after all, the mischievous
outbreaks in which college lads indulge.
Indeed, I have never been guilty of any of
those pieces of wanton wickedness which
injure the feelings of others while they lead
to no useful result. When I left to return
home, I set myself seriously to reflect upon
the necessity of greater care in following out
my inclinations, and from that time forward
I have steadily avoided, whenever it was
possible, the vulgar vice of directly possessing
myself of objects to which I could show no
legal title. My father was indignant at the
results of my college career; and, according
to my aunt, his shame and sorrow had some
effect in shortening his life. My sister
believed my account of the matter. It ended
in my being used for a year as an assistant
in the shop, and in being taught to ring bells
--a fine exercise, but not proper work for a
man of refinement. My father died while
training his bell-ringers in the Oxford triple
bob--broke a blood-vessel somewhere. How
I could have caused that I do not see.
I was now about nineteen years old, and,
as I remember, a middle-sized, well-built
young fellow, with large eyes, a slight
mustache, and, I have been told, with very good
manners and a somewhat humorous turn.
Besides these advantages, my guardian held
in trust for me about two thousand dollars.
After some consultation between us, it was
resolved that I should study medicine. This
conclusion was reached nine years before the
Rebellion broke out, and after we had settled,
for the sake of economy, in Woodbury,
New Jersey. From this time I saw very little
of my deaf aunt or of Peninnah. I was resolute
to rise in the world, and not to be weighted
by relatives who were without my tastes and
I set out for Philadelphia, with many good
counsels from my aunt and guardian. I look
back upon this period as a turning-point of
my life. I had seen enough of the world
already to know that if you can succeed
without exciting suspicion, it is by far the
pleasantest way; and I really believe that
if I had not been endowed with so fatal a
liking for all the good things of life I might
have lived along as reputably as most men.
This, however, is, and always has been, my
difficulty, and I suppose that I am not
responsible for the incidents to which it gave
rise. Most men have some ties in life, but I
have said I had none which held me. Peninnah
cried a good deal when we parted, and
this, I think, as I was still young, had a very
good effect in strengthening my resolution to
do nothing which could get me into trouble.
The janitor of the college to which I went
directed me to a boarding-house, where I
engaged a small third-story room, which I
afterwards shared with Mr. Chaucer of Georgia.
He pronounced it, as I remember, ``Jawjah.''
In this very remarkable abode I spent the
next two winters, and finally graduated,
along with two hundred more, at the close
of my two years of study. I should previously
have been one year in a physician's
office as a student, but this regulation was
very easily evaded. As to my studies, the
less said the better. I attended the quizzes,
as they call them, pretty closely, and, being
of a quick and retentive memory, was thus
enabled to dispense with some of the six or
seven lectures a day which duller men found
it necessary to follow.
Dissecting struck me as a rather nasty
business for a gentleman, and on this
account I did just as little as was absolutely
essential. In fact, if a man took his tickets
and paid the dissection fees, nobody troubled
himself as to whether or not he did any more
than this. A like evil existed at the
graduation: whether you squeezed through or
passed with credit was a thing which was
not made public, so that I had absolutely
nothing to stimulate my ambition. I am told
that it is all very different to-day.
The astonishment with which I learned of
my success was shared by the numerous
Southern gentlemen who darkened the floors
and perfumed with tobacco the rooms of our
boarding-house. In my companions, during
the time of my studies so called, as in other
matters of life, I was somewhat unfortunate.
All of them were Southern gentlemen, with
more money than I had. Many of them carried
great sticks, usually sword-canes, and
some bowie-knives or pistols; also, they
delighted in swallow-tailed coats, long hair,
broad-brimmed felt hats, and very tight
boots. I often think of these gentlemen
with affectionate interest, and wonder how
many are lying under the wheat-fields of
Virginia. One could see them any day
sauntering along with their arms over their
companions' shoulders, splendidly indifferent to
the ways of the people about them. They
hated the ``Nawth'' and cursed the Yankees,
and honestly believed that the leanest of
them was a match for any half a dozen of
the bulkiest of Northerners. I must also do
them the justice to say that they were quite
as ready to fight as to brag, which, by the
way, is no meager statement. With these
gentry--for whom I retain a respect which
filled me with regret at the recent course of
events--I spent a good deal of my large
leisure. The more studious of both sections
called us a hard crowd. What we did, or
how we did it, little concerns me here, except
that, owing to my esteem for chivalric blood
and breeding, I was led into many practices
and excesses which cost my guardian and
myself a good deal of money. At the close
of my career as a student I found myself aged
twenty-one years, and the owner of some
seven hundred dollars--the rest of my small
estate having disappeared variously within
the last two years. After my friends had
gone to their homes in the South I began to
look about me for an office, and finally settled
upon very good rooms in one of the down-
town localities of the Quaker City. I am not
specific as to the number and street, for
reasons which may hereafter appear. I liked
the situation on various accounts. It had
been occupied by a doctor; the terms were
reasonable; and it lay on the skirts of a
good neighborhood, while below it lived a
motley population, among which I expected
to get my first patients and such fees as were
to be had. Into this new home I moved my
medical text-books, a few bones, and myself.
Also, I displayed in the window a fresh sign,
upon which was distinctly to be read:
DR. E. SANDERAFT.
Office hours, 8 to 9 A.M., 7 to 9 P.M.
I felt now that I had done my fair share
toward attaining a virtuous subsistence, and
so I waited tranquilly, and without undue
enthusiasm, to see the rest of the world do
its part in the matter. Meanwhile I read up
on all sorts of imaginable cases, stayed at
home all through my office hours, and at
intervals explored the strange section of the
town which lay to the south of my office. I
do not suppose there is anything like it else
where. It was then filled with grog-shops,
brothels, slop-shops, and low lodging-houses.
You could dine for a penny on soup made
from the refuse meats of the rich, gathered
at back gates by a horde of half-naked children,
who all told varieties of one woeful
tale. Here, too, you could be drunk for five
cents, and be lodged for three, with men,
women, and children of all colors lying about
you. It was this hideous mixture of black
and white and yellow wretchedness which
made the place so peculiar. The blacks
predominated, and had mostly that swollen,
reddish, dark skin, the sign in this race of
habitual drunkenness. Of course only the
lowest whites were here--rag-pickers,
pawnbrokers, old-clothes men, thieves, and the
like. All of this, as it came before me, I
viewed with mingled disgust and philosophy.
I hated filth, but I understood that society
has to stand on somebody, and I was only
glad that I was not one of the undermost
and worst-squeezed bricks.
I can hardly believe that I waited a month
without having been called upon by a single
patient. At last a policeman on our beat
brought me a fancy man with a dog-bite.
This patient recommended me to his brother,
the keeper of a small pawnbroking-shop, and
by very slow degrees I began to get stray
patients who were too poor to indulge in up-
town doctors. I found the police very useful
acquaintances; and, by a drink or a cigar
now and then, I got most of the cases of cut
heads and the like at the next station-house.
These, however, were the aristocrats of my
practice; the bulk of my patients were soap-
fat men, rag-pickers, oystermen, hose-house
bummers, and worse, with other and nameless
trades, men and women, white, black,
or mulatto. How they got the levies, fips,
and quarters with which I was reluctantly
paid, I do not know; that, indeed, was none
of my business. They expected to pay,
and they came to me in preference to the
dispensary doctor, two or three squares away,
who seemed to me to spend most of his days
in the lanes and alleys about us. Of course
he received no pay except experience, since
the dispensaries in the Quaker City, as a
rule, do not give salaries to their doctors;
and the vilest of the poor prefer a ``pay
doctor'' to one of these disinterested gentlemen,
who cannot be expected to give their
best brains for nothing, when at everybody's
beck and call. I am told, indeed I know,
that most young doctors do a large amount
of poor practice, as it is called; but, for my
own part, I think it better for both parties
when the doctor insists upon some compensation
being made to him. This has been
usually my own custom, and I have not found
reason to regret it.
Notwithstanding my strict attention to my
own interests, I have been rather sorely dealt
with by fate upon several occasions, where,
so far as I could see, I was vigilantly doing
everything in my power to keep myself out
of trouble or danger. I may as well relate
one of them, merely to illustrate of how little
value a man's intellect may be when fate and
the prejudices of the mass of men are against
One evening, late, I myself answered a ring
at the bell, and found a small black boy on
the steps, a shoeless, hatless little wretch,
curled darkness for hair, and teeth like new
tombstones. It was pretty cold, and he was
relieving his feet by standing first on one
and then on the other. He did not wait for
me to speak.
``Hi, sah, Missey Barker she say to come
quick away, sah, to Numbah 709 Bedford
The locality did not look like pay, but
it is hard to say in this quarter, because
sometimes you found a well-to-do ``brandy-
snifter'' (local for gin-shop) or a hard-working
``leather-jeweler'' (ditto for shoemaker), with
next door, in a house better or worse, dozens
of human rats for whom every police trap in
the city was constantly set.
With a doubt in my mind as to whether I
should find a good patient or some dirty nigger,
I sought the place to which I had been
directed. I did not like its looks; but I
blundered up an alley and into a back room,
where I fell over somebody, and was cursed
and told to lie down and keep easy, or
somebody, meaning the man stumbled over, would
make me. At last I lit on a staircase which
led into the alley, and, after much useless
inquiry, got as high as the garret. People
hereabout did not know one another, or did not
want to know, so that it was of little avail
to ask questions. At length I saw a light
through the cracks in the attic door, and
walked in. To my amazement, the first person
I saw was a woman of about thirty-five,
in pearl-gray Quaker dress--one of your
quiet, good-looking people. She was seated
on a stool beside a straw mattress upon
which lay a black woman. There were three
others crowded close around a small stove,
which was red-hot--an unusual spectacle in
this street. Altogether a most nasty den.
As I came in, the little Quaker woman got
up and said: ``I took the liberty of sending
for thee to look at this poor woman. I am
afraid she has the smallpox. Will thee be so
kind as to look at her?'' And with this she
held down the candle toward the bed.
``Good gracious!'' I said hastily, seeing
how the creature was speckled ``I didn't
understand this, or I would not have come.
I have important cases which I cannot subject
to the risk of contagion. Best let her
alone, miss,'' I added, ``or send her to the
Upon my word, I was astonished at the
little woman's indignation. She said just
those things which make you feel as if somebody
had been calling you names or kicking
you--Was I really a doctor? and so on. It
did not gain by being put in the
ungrammatical tongue of Quakers. However, I
never did fancy smallpox, and what could a
fellow get by doctoring wretches like these?
So I held my tongue and went away. About
a week afterwards I met Evans, the dispensary
man, a very common fellow, who was
said to be frank.
``Helloa!'' says he. ``Doctor, you made a
nice mistake about that darky at No. 709
Bedford street the other night. She had
nothing but measles, after all.''
``Of course I knew,'' said I, laughing; ``but
you don't think I was going in for dispensary
trash, do you?''
``I should think not,'' said Evans.
I learned afterwards that this Miss Barker
had taken an absurd fancy to the man
because he had doctored the darky and would
not let the Quakeress pay him. The end
was, when I wanted to get a vacancy in the
Southwark Dispensary, where they do pay
the doctors, Miss Barker was malignant
enough to take advantage of my oversight
by telling the whole story to the board; so
that Evans got in, and I was beaten.
You may be pretty sure that I found rather
slow the kind of practice I have described,
and began to look about for chances of
bettering myself. In this sort of locality rather
risky cases turned up now and then; and as
soon as I got to be known as a reliable man,
I began to get the peculiar sort of practice I
wanted. Notwithstanding all my efforts, I
found myself, at the close of three years, with
all my means spent, and just able to live
meagerly from hand to mouth, which by no
means suited a man of my refined tastes.
Once or twice I paid a visit to my aunt,
and was able to secure moderate aid by
overhauling her concealed hoardings. But as to
these changes of property I was careful, and
did not venture to secure the large amount I
needed. As to the Bible, it was at this time
hidden, and I judged it, therefore, to be her
chief place of deposit. Banks she utterly
Six months went by, and I was worse off
than ever--two months in arrears of rent,
and numerous other debts to cigar-shops and
liquor-dealers. Now and then some good job,
such as a burglar with a cut head, helped me
for a while; but, on the whole, I was like
Slider Downeyhylle in Neal's ``Charcoal
Sketches,'' and kept going ``downer and
downer'' the more I tried not to. Something
had to be done.
It occurred to me, about this time, that if
I moved into a more genteel locality I might
get a better class of patients, and yet keep
the best of those I now had. To do this it
was necessary to pay my rent, and the more
so because I was in a fair way to have no
house at all over my head. But here fortune
interposed. I was caught in a heavy rainstorm
on Seventh Street, and ran to catch an
omnibus. As I pulled open the door I saw
behind me the Quaker woman, Miss Barker.
I laughed and jumped in. She had to run a
little before the 'bus again stopped. She got
pretty wet. An old man in the corner, who
seemed in the way of taking charge of other
people's manners, said to me: ``Young man,
you ought to be ashamed to get in before the
lady, and in this pour, too!''
I said calmly, ``But you got in before her.''
He made no reply to this obvious fact, as
he might have been in the bus a half-hour.
A large, well-dressed man near by said, with a
laugh, ``Rather neat, that,'' and, turning, tried
to pull up a window-sash. In the effort
something happened, and he broke the glass,
cutting his hand in half a dozen places.
While he was using several quite profane
phrases, I caught his hand and said, ``I am a
surgeon,'' and tied my handkerchief around
the bleeding palm.
The guardian of manners said, ``I hope you
are not much hurt, but there was no reason
why you should swear.''
On this my patient said, ``Go to ----,''
which silenced the monitor.
I explained to the wounded man that the
cuts should be looked after at once. The
matter was arranged by our leaving the 'bus,
and, as the rain had let up, walking to his
house. This was a large and quite luxurious
dwelling on Fourth street. There I cared for
his wounds, which, as I had informed him,
required immediate attention. It was at this
time summer, and his wife and niece, the
only other members of his family, were
absent. On my second visit I made believe
to remove some splinters of glass which I
brought with me. He said they showed how
shamefully thin was that omnibus window-
pane. To my surprise, my patient, at the
end of the month,--for one wound was long
in healing,--presented me with one hundred
dollars. This paid my small rental, and as
Mr. Poynter allowed me to refer to him, I
was able to get a better office and bedroom on
Spruce street. I saw no more of my patient
until winter, although I learned that he was
a stock-broker, not in the very best repute,
but of a well-known family.
Meanwhile my move had been of small use.
I was wise enough, however, to keep up my
connection with my former clients, and
contrived to live. It was no more than that.
One day in December I was overjoyed to see
Mr. Poynter enter. He was a fat man, very
pale, and never, to my remembrance, without a
permanent smile. He had very civil ways, and
now at once I saw that he wanted something.
I hated the way that man saw through me.
He went on without hesitation, taking me
for granted. He began by saying he had
confidence in my judgment, and when a man
says that you had better look out. He said
he had a niece who lived with him, a brother's
child; that she was out of health and ought
not to marry, which was what she meant to
do. She was scared about her health,
because she had a cough, and had lost a brother
of consumption. I soon came to understand
that, for reasons unknown to me, my friend
did not wish his niece to marry. His wife,
he also informed me, was troubled as to the
niece's health. Now, he said, he wished to
consult me as to what he should do. I
suspected at once that he had not told me all.
I have often wondered at the skill with
which I managed this rather delicate matter.
I knew I was not well enough known
to be of direct use, and was also too young
to have much weight. I advised him to get
Then my friend shook his head. He said
in reply, ``But suppose, doctor, he says there
is nothing wrong with the girl?''
Then I began to understand him.
``Oh,'' I said, ``you get a confidential
written opinion from him. You can make it what
you please when you tell her.''
He said no. It would be best for me to
ask the professor to see Miss Poynter; might
mention my youth, and so on, as a reason. I
was to get his opinion in writing.
``Well?'' said I.
``After that I want you to write me a joint
opinion to meet the case--all the needs of
the case, you see.''
I saw, but hesitated as to how much would
make it worth while to pull his hot chestnuts
out of the fire--one never knows how hot
the chestnuts are.
Then he said, ``Ever take a chance in
I said, ``No.''
He said that he would lend me a little
money and see what he could do with it. And
here was his receipt from me for one thousand
dollars, and here, too, was my order to
buy shares of P. T. Y. Would I please to
Sign it? I did.
I was to call in two days at his house, and
meantime I could think it over. It seemed
to me a pretty weak plan. Suppose the
young woman--well, supposing is awfully
destructive of enterprise; and as for me, I
had only to misunderstand the professor's
opinion. I went to the house, and talked to
Mr. Poynter about his gout. Then Mrs. Poynter
came in, and began to lament her niece's
declining health. After that I saw Miss
Poynter. There is a kind of innocent-looking
woman who knows no more of the world
than a young chicken, and is choke-full of
emotions. I saw it would be easy to frighten
her. There are some instruments anybody
can get any tune they like out of. I was
very grave, and advised her to see the
professor. And would I write to ask him, said
Mr. Poynter. I said I would.
As I went out Mr. Poynter remarked:
``You will clear some four hundred easy.
Write to the professor. Bring my receipt
to the office next week, and we will settle.''
We settled. I tore up his receipt and gave
him one for fifteen hundred dollars, and
received in notes five hundred dollars.
In a day or so I had a note from the
professor stating that Miss Poynter was in no
peril; that she was, as he thought, worried,
and had only a mild bronchial trouble. He
advised me to do so-and-so, and had ventured
to reassure my young patient. Now, this
was a little more than I wanted. However,
I wrote Mr. Poynter that the professor thought
she had bronchitis, that in her case tubercle
would be very apt to follow, and that at present,
and until she was safe, we considered
Mr. Poynter said it might have been put
stronger, but he would make it do. He made
it. The first effect was an attack of hysterics.
The final result was that she eloped with
her lover, because if she was to die, as she
wrote her aunt, she wished to die in her
husband's arms. Human nature plus hysteria
will defy all knowledge of character. This
was what our old professor of practice used
Mr. Poynter had now to account for a
large trust estate which had somehow dwindled.
Unhappily, princes are not the only
people in whom you must not put your trust.
As to myself, Professor L. somehow got to
know the facts, and cut me dead. It was
unpleasant, but I had my five hundred
dollars, and--I needed them. I do not see how
I could have been more careful.
After this things got worse. Mr. Poynter
broke, and did not even pay my last bill. I
had to accept several rather doubtful cases,
and once a policeman I knew advised me
that I had better be on my guard.
But, really, so long as I adhered to the
common code of my profession I was in danger
of going without my dinner.
Just as I was at my worst and in despair
something always turned up, but it was sure
to be risky; and now my aunt refused to see
me, and Peninnah wrote me goody-goody
letters, and said Aunt Rachel had been unable
to find certain bank-notes she had hidden,
and vowed I had taken them. This Peninnah
did not think possible. I agreed
with her. The notes were found somewhat
later by Peninnah in the toes of a pair of my
aunt's old slippers. Of course I wrote an
indignant letter. My aunt declared that
Peninnah had stolen the notes, and restored
them when they were missed. Poor Peninnah!
This did not seem to me very likely,
but Peninnah did love fine clothes.
One night, as I was debating with myself
as to how I was to improve my position, I
heard a knock on my shutter, and, going to
the door, let in a broad-shouldered man with
a whisky face and a great hooked nose. He
wore a heavy black beard and mustache, and
looked like the wolf in the pictures of Red
Riding-hood which I had seen as a child.
``Your name's Sanderaft?'' said the man.
``Yes; that's my name--Dr. Sanderaft.''
As he sat down he shook the snow over
everything, and said coolly: ``Set down, doc;
I want to talk with you.''
``What can I do for you?'' said I.
The man looked around the room rather
scornfully, at the same time throwing back
his coat and displaying a red neckerchief
and a huge garnet pin. ``Guess you're not
overly rich,'' he said.
``Not especially,'' said I. ``What's that
He did not answer, but merely said,
``Know Simon Stagers?''
``Can't say I do,'' said I, cautiously. Simon
was a burglar who had blown off two fingers
when mining a safe. I had attended him
while he was hiding.
``Can't say you do. Well, you can lie, and
no mistake. Come, now, doc. Simon says
you're safe, and I want to have a leetle
plain talk with you.''
With this he laid ten gold eagles on the
table. I put out my hand instinctively.
``Let 'em alone,'' cried the man, sharply.
``They're easy earned, and ten more like 'em.''
``For doing what?'' I said.
The man paused a moment, and looked
around him; next he stared at me, and loosened
his cravat with a hasty pull. ``You're
the coroner,'' said he.
``I! What do you mean?''
``Yes, you're the coroner; don't you
understand?'' and so saying, he shoved the gold
pieces toward me.
``Very good,'' said I; ``we will suppose I'm
the coroner. What next?''
``And being the coroner,'' said he, ``you get
this note, which requests you to call at No. 9
Blank street to examine the body of a young
man which is supposed--only supposed, you
see--to have--well, to have died under
``Go on,'' said I.
``No,'' he returned; ``not till I know how
you like it. Stagers and another knows it;
and it wouldn't be very safe for you to split,
besides not making nothing out of it. But
what I say is this, Do you like the business
I did not like it; but just then two
hundred in gold was life to me, so I said: ``Let
me hear the whole of it first. I am safe.''
``That's square enough,'' said the man.
``My wife's got''--correcting himself with
a shivery shrug--``my wife had a brother
that took to cutting up rough because when
I'd been up too late I handled her a leetle
hard now and again.
``Luckily he fell sick with typhoid just
then--you see, he lived with us. When he
got better I guessed he'd drop all that; but
somehow he was worse than ever--clean off
his head, and strong as an ox. My wife said
to put him away in an asylum. I didn't
think that would do. At last he tried to get
out. He was going to see the police about--
well--the thing was awful serious, and my
wife carrying on like mad, and wanting
doctors. I had no mind to run, and something
had got to be done. So Simon Stagers and
I talked it over. The end of it was, he took
worse of a sudden, and got so he didn't know
nothing. Then I rushed for a doctor. He
said it was a perforation, and there ought to
have been a doctor when he was first took sick.
``Well, the man died, and as I kept about
the house, my wife had no chance to talk.
The doctor fussed a bit, but at last he gave a
certificate. I thought we were done with it.
But my wife she writes a note and gives it to
a boy in the alley to put in the post. We
suspicioned her, and Stagers was on the
watch. After the boy got away a bit, Simon
bribed him with a quarter to give him the
note, which wasn't no less than a request to
the coroner to come to the house to-morrow
and make an examination, as foul play was
When the man quit talking he glared at
me. I sat still. I was cold all over. I was
afraid to go on, and afraid to go back, besides
which, I did not doubt that there was a good
deal of money in the case.
``Of course,'' said I, ``it's nonsense; only
I suppose you don't want the officers about,
and a fuss, and that sort of thing.''
``Exactly,'' said my friend. ``It's all bosh
about poison. You're the coroner. You
take this note and come to my house. Says
you: `Mrs. File, are you the woman that
wrote this note? Because in that case I must
examine the body.' ''
``I see,'' said I; ``she needn't know who I
am, or anything else; but if I tell her it's all
right, do you think she won't want to know
why there isn't a jury, and so on?''
``Bless you,'' said the man, ``the girl isn't
over seventeen, and doesn't know no more
than a baby. As we live up-town miles
away, she won't know anything about you.''
``I'll do it,'' said I, suddenly, for, as I saw,
it involved no sort of risk; ``but I must have
three hundred dollars.''
``And fifty,'' added the wolf, ``if you do it
Then I knew it was serious.
With this the man buttoned about him a
shaggy gray overcoat, and took his leave
without a single word in addition.
A minute later he came back and said:
``Stagers is in this business, and I was to
remind you of Lou Wilson,--I forgot that,--
the woman that died last year. That's all.''
Then he went away, leaving me in a cold
sweat. I knew now I had no choice. I
understood why I had been selected.
For the first time in my life, that night I
couldn't sleep. I thought to myself, at last,
that I would get up early, pack a few clothes,
and escape, leaving my books to pay as they
might my arrears of rent. Looking out of
the window, however, in the morning, I saw
Stagers prowling about the opposite pavement;
and as the only exit except the street
door was an alleyway which opened along-
side of the front of the house, I gave myself
up for lost. About ten o'clock I took my case
of instruments and started for File's house,
followed, as I too well understood, by Stagers.
I knew the house, which was in a small up-
town street, by its closed windows and the
craped bell, which I shuddered as I touched.
However, it was too late to draw back, and I
therefore inquired for Mrs. File. A haggard-
looking young woman came down, and led
me into a small parlor, for whose darkened
light I was thankful enough.
``Did you write this note?''
``I did,'' said the woman, ``if you're the
coroner. Joe File--he's my husband--he's
gone out to see about the funeral. I wish it
was his, I do.''
``What do you suspect?'' said I.
``I'll tell you,'' she returned in a whisper.
``I think he was made away with. I think
there was foul play. I think he was poisoned.
That's what I think.''
``I hope you may be mistaken,'' said I.
``Suppose you let me see the body.''
``You shall see it,'' she replied; and following
her, I went up-stairs to a front chamber,
where I found the corpse.
``Get it over soon,'' said the woman, with
strange firmness. ``If there ain't no murder
been done I shall have to run for it; if there
was''--and her face set hard--``I guess I'll
stay.'' With this she closed the door and
left me with the dead.
If I had known what was before me I
never could have gone into the thing at all.
It looked a little better when I had opened
a window and let in plenty of light; for
although I was, on the whole, far less afraid
of dead than living men, I had an absurd
feeling that I was doing this dead man a
distinct wrong--as if it mattered to the
dead, after all! When the affair was over,
I thought more of the possible consequences
than of its relation to the dead man himself;
but do as I would at the time, I was in a
ridiculous funk, and especially when going
through the forms of a post-mortem examination.
I am free to confess now that I was
careful not to uncover the man's face, and that
when it was over I backed to the door and
hastily escaped from the room. On the stairs
opposite to me Mrs. File was seated, with her
bonnet on and a bundle in her hand.
``Well,'' said she, rising as she spoke, and
with a certain eagerness in her tone, ``what
killed him? Was it poison?''
``Poison, my good woman!'' said I. ``When
a man has typhoid fever he don't need poison
to kill him. He had a relapse, that's all.''
``And do you mean to say he wasn't
poisoned,'' said she, with more than a trace of
disappointment in her voice--``not poisoned
``No more than you are,'' said I. ``If I had
found any signs of foul play I should have
had a regular inquest. As it is, the less said
about it the better. The fact is, it would
have been much wiser to have kept quiet at
the beginning. I can't understand why you
should have troubled me about it at all. The
man had a perforation. It is common enough
``That's what the doctor said--I didn't
believe him. I guess now the sooner I leave
the better for me.''
``As to that,'' I returned, ``it is none of my
business; but you may rest certain about the
cause of your brother's death.''
My fears were somewhat quieted that
evening when Stagers and the wolf appeared
with the remainder of the money, and I
learned that Mrs. File had fled from her
home and, as File thought likely, from the
city also. A few months later File himself
disappeared, and Stagers found his way for
the third time into the penitentiary. Then I
felt at ease. I now see, for my own part,
that I was guilty of more than one mistake,
and that I displayed throughout a want of
intelligence. I ought to have asked more,
and also might have got a good fee from
Mrs. File on account of my services as
coroner. It served me, however, as a good
lesson; but it was several months before I
felt quite comfortable.
Meanwhile money became scarce once more,
and I was driven to my wit's end to devise
how I should continue to live as I had done.
I tried, among other plans, that of keeping
certain pills and other medicines, which I
sold to my patients; but on the whole I found
it better to send all my prescriptions to one
druggist, who charged the patient ten or
twenty cents over the correct price, and
handed this amount to me.
In some cases I am told the percentage is
supposed to be a donation on the part of the
apothecary; but I rather fancy the patient
pays for it in the end. It is one of the absurd
vagaries of the profession to discountenance
the practice I have described, but I
wish, for my part, I had never done anything
more foolish or more dangerous. Of course
it inclines a doctor to change his medicines a
good deal, and to order them in large quantities,
which is occasionally annoying to the
poor; yet, as I have always observed, there is
no poverty as painful as your own, so that I
prefer to distribute pecuniary suffering among
many rather than to concentrate it on myself.
That's a rather neat phrase.
About six months after the date of this
annoying adventure, an incident occurred which
altered somewhat, and for a time improved,
my professional position. During my morning
office-hour an old woman came in, and
putting down a large basket, wiped her face
with a yellow-cotton handkerchief, and
afterwards with the corner of her apron. Then
she looked around uneasily, got up, settled
her basket on her arm with a jerk which may
have decided the future of an egg or two, and
remarked briskly: ``Don't see no little bottles
about; got the wrong stall, I guess. You
ain't no homeopath doctor, are you?''
With great presence of mind, I replied:
``Well, ma'am, that depends upon what you
want. Some of my patients like one, and
some like the other.'' I was about to add,
``You pay your money and you take your
choice,'' but thought better of it, and held my
peace, refraining from classical quotation.
``Being as that's the case,'' said the old lady,
``I'll just tell you my symptoms. You said
you give either kind of medicine, didn't you?''
``Just so,'' replied I.
``Clams or oysters, whichever opens most
lively, as my old Joe says--tends the oyster-
stand at stall No. 9. Happen to know Joe?''
No, I did not know Joe; but what were the
They proved to be numerous, and included
a stunning in the head and a misery in the
side, with bokin after victuals.
I proceeded, of course, to apply a stethoscope
over her ample bosom, though what I
heard on this and similar occasions I should
find it rather difficult to state. I remember
well my astonishment in one instance where,
having unconsciously applied my instrument
over a clamorous silver watch in the watch-
fob of a sea-captain, I concluded for a
moment that he was suffering from a rather
remarkable displacement of the heart. As to
my old lady, whose name was Checkers, and
who kept an apple-stand near by, I told her
that I was out of pills just then, but would
have plenty next day. Accordingly, I
proceeded to invest a small amount at a place
called a homeopathic pharmacy, which I
remember amused me immensely.
A stout little German, with great silver
spectacles, sat behind a counter containing
numerous jars of white powders labeled
concisely ``Lac.,'' ``Led.,'' ``Onis.,'' ``Op.,''
``Puls.,'' etc., while behind him were shelves
filled with bottles of what looked like minute
``I want some homeopathic medicine,''
``Vat kindt?'' said my friend. ``Vat you
vants to cure!''
I explained at random that I wished to
treat diseases in general.
``Vell, ve gifs you a case, mit a pook,'' and
thereon produced a large box containing bottles
of small pills and powders, labeled variously
with the names of the diseases, so that
all you required was to use the headache or
colic bottle in order to meet the needs of
those particular maladies.
I was struck at first with the exquisite
simplicity of this arrangement; but before
purchasing, I happened luckily to turn over the
leaves of a book, in two volumes, which lay
on the counter; it was called ``Jahr's Manual.''
Opening at page 310, vol. i, I lit upon
``Lachesis,'' which proved to my amazement
to be snake-venom. This Mr. Jahr stated to
be indicated for use in upward of a hundred
symptoms. At once it occurred to me that
``Lach.'' was the medicine for my money, and
that it was quite needless to waste cash on
the box. I therefore bought a small jar of
``Lach.'' and a lot of little pills, and started
My old woman proved a fast friend; and
as she sent me numerous patients, I by and
by altered my sign to ``Homeopathic Physician
and Surgeon,'' whatever that may mean,
and was regarded by my medical brothers as
a lost sheep, and by the little-pill doctors as
one who had seen the error of his ways.
In point of fact, my new practice had
decided advantages. All pills looked and tasted
alike, and the same might be said of the
powders, so that I was never troubled by those
absurd investigations into the nature of
remedies which some patients are prone to
make. Of course I desired to get business,
and it was therefore obviously unwise to give
little pills of ``Lac.,'' or ``Puls.,'' or ``Sep.,''
when a man needed a dose of oil, or a white-
faced girl iron, or the like. I soon made the
useful discovery that it was only necessary
to prescribe cod-liver oil, for instance, as a
diet, in order to make use of it where
required. When a man got impatient over an
ancient ague, I usually found, too, that I
could persuade him to let me try a good dose
of quinine; while, on the other hand, there
was a distinct pecuniary advantage in those
cases of the shakes which could be made to
believe that it ``was best not to interfere
with nature.'' I ought to add that this kind
of faith is uncommon among folks who carry
hods or build walls.
For women who are hysterical, and go
heart and soul into the business of being
sick, I have found the little pills a most
charming resort, because you cannot carry
the refinement of symptoms beyond what my
friend Jahr has done in the way of fitting
medicines to them, so that if I had taken
seriously to practising this double form of
therapeutics, it had, as I saw, certain
Another year went by, and I was beginning
to prosper in my new mode of life. My
medicines (being chiefly milk-sugar, with
variations as to the labels) cost next to nothing;
and as I charged pretty well for both these
and my advice, I was now able to start a gig.
I solemnly believe that I should have
continued to succeed in the practice of my
profession if it had not happened that fate was
once more unkind to me, by throwing in my
path one of my old acquaintances. I had a
consultation one day with the famous homeopath
Dr. Zwanzig. As we walked away we
were busily discussing the case of a poor
consumptive fellow who previously had lost
a leg. In consequence of this defect, Dr.
Zwanzig considered that the ten-thousandth
of a grain of aurum would be an overdose,
and that it must be fractioned so as to allow
for the departed leg, otherwise the rest of the
man would be getting a leg-dose too much.
I was particularly struck with this view of
the case, but I was still more, and less
pleasingly, impressed at the sight of my former
patient Stagers, who nodded to me familiarly
from the opposite pavement.
I was not at all surprised when, that
evening quite late, I found this worthy waiting in
my office. I looked around uneasily, which
was clearly understood by my friend, who
retorted: ``Ain't took nothin' of yours, doc.
You don't seem right awful glad to see me.
You needn't be afraid--I've only fetched
you a job, and a right good one, too.''
I replied that I had my regular business,
that I preferred he should get some one else,
and pretty generally made Mr. Stagers aware
that I had had enough of him. I did not ask
him to sit down, and, just as I supposed him
about to leave, he seated himself with a grin,
remarking, ``No use, doc; got to go into it
this one time.''
At this I, naturally enough, grew angry
and used several rather violent phrases.
``No use, doc,'' said Stagers.
Then I softened down, and laughed a little,
and treated the thing as a joke, whatever it
was, for I dreaded to hear.
But Stagers was fate. Stagers was
inevitable. ``Won't do, doc--not even money
wouldn't get you off.''
``No?'' said I, interrogatively, and as coolly
as I could, contriving at the same time to
move toward the window. It was summer,
the sashes were up, the shutters half drawn
in, and a policeman whom I knew was lounging
opposite, as I had noticed when I entered.
I would give Stagers a scare, charge him
with theft--anything but get mixed up with
his kind again. It was the folly of a moment
and I should have paid dear for it.
He must have understood me, the scoundrel,
for in an instant I felt a cold ring of
steel against my ear, and a tiger clutch on
my cravat. ``Sit down,'' he said. ``What a
fool you are! Guess you forgot that there
coroner's business and the rest.'' Needless to
say that I obeyed. ``Best not try that again,''
continued my guest. ``Wait a moment'';
and rising, he closed the window.
There was no resource left but to listen;
and what followed I shall condense rather
than relate it in the language employed by
It appeared that my other acquaintance
Mr. File had been guilty of a cold-blooded
and long-premeditated murder, for which he
had been tried and convicted. He now lay
in jail awaiting his execution, which was to
take place at Carsonville, Ohio. It seemed
that with Stagers and others he had formed
a band of expert counterfeiters in the West.
Their business lay in the manufacture of
South American currencies. File had thus
acquired a fortune so considerable that I was
amazed at his having allowed his passion to
seduce him into unprofitable crime. In his
agony he unfortunately thought of me, and
had bribed Stagers largely in order that he
might be induced to find me. When the
narration had reached this stage, and I had
been made fully to understand that I was now
and hereafter under the sharp eye of Stagers
and his friends, that, in a word, escape was
out of the question, I turned on my tormentor.
``What does all this mean?'' I said.
``What does File expect me to do?''
``Don't believe he exactly knows,'' said
Stagers. ``Something or other to get him
clear of hemp.''
``But what stuff!'' I replied. ``How can I
help him? What possible influence could
``Can't say,'' answered Stagers, imperturbably.
``File has a notion you're 'most cunning
enough for anything. Best try something, doc.''
``And what if I won't do it?'' said I.
``What does it matter to me if the rascal
swings or no?''
``Keep cool, doc,'' returned Stagers. ``I'm
only agent in this here business. My principal,
that's File, he says: `Tell Sanderaft
to find some way to get me clear. Once out,
I give him ten thousand dollars. If he don't
turn up something that will suit, I'll blow
about that coroner business and Lou Wilson,
and break him up generally.' ''
``You don't mean,'' said I, in a cold sweat
--``you don't mean that, if I can't do this
impossible thing, he will inform on me?''
``Just so,'' returned Stagers. ``Got a
I only half heard him. What a frightful
position! I had been leading a happy and an
increasingly profitable life--no scrapes and
no dangers; and here, on a sudden, I had
presented to me the alternative of saving a
wretch from the gallows or of spending
unlimited years in a State penitentiary. As
for the money, it became as dead leaves for
this once only in my life. My brain seemed
to be spinning round. I grew weak all over.
``Cheer up a little,'' said Stagers. ``Take
a nip of whisky. Things ain't at the worst,
by a good bit. You just get ready, and we'll
start by the morning train. Guess you'll try
out something smart enough as we travel
along. Ain't got a heap of time to lose.''
I was silent. A great anguish had me in
its grip. I might squirm as I would, it was
all in vain. Hideous plans rose to my mind,
born of this agony of terror. I might murder
Stagers, but what good would that do?
As to File, he was safe from my hand. At
last I became too confused to think any
longer. ``When do we leave?'' I said feebly.
``At six to-morrow,'' he returned.
How I was watched and guarded, and how
hurried over a thousand miles of rail to my
fate, little concerns us now. I find it dreadful
to recall it to memory. Above all, an aching
eagerness for revenge upon the man who had
caused me these sufferings was uppermost in
my mind. Could I not fool the wretch and
save myself? Of a sudden an idea came into
my consciousness. Then it grew and formed
itself, became possible, probable, seemed to
me sure. ``Ah,'' said I, ``Stagers, give me
something to eat and drink.'' I had not
tasted food for two days.
Within a day or two after my arrival, I
was enabled to see File in his cell, on the
plea of being a clergyman from his native
I found that I had not miscalculated my
danger. The man did not appear to have the
least idea as to how I was to help him. He
only knew that I was in his power, and he
used his control to insure that something
more potent than friendship should be
enlisted in his behalf. As the days went by,
his behavior grew to be a frightful thing to
witness. He threatened, flattered, implored,
offered to double the sum he had promised
if I would save him. My really reasonable
first thought was to see the governor of the
State, and, as Stagers's former physician,
make oath to his having had many attacks of
epilepsy followed by brief periods of homicidal
mania. He had, in fact, had fits of alcoholic
epilepsy. Unluckily, the governor was in a
distant city. The time was short, and the
case against my man too clear. Stagers said
it would not do. I was at my wit's end.
``Got to do something,'' said File, ``or I'll
attend to your case, doc.''
``But,'' said I, ``suppose there is really
``Well,'' said Stagers to me when we were
alone, ``you get him satisfied, anyhow. He'll
never let them hang him, and perhaps--well,
I'm going to give him these pills when I get
a chance. He asked to have them. But
what's your other plan?''
Stagers knew as much about medicine as
a pig knows about the opera. So I set to
work to delude him, first asking if he could
secure me, as a clergyman, an hour alone
with File just before the execution. He said
money would do it, and what was my plan?
``Well,'' said I, ``there was once a man
named Dr. Chovet. He lived in London. A
gentleman who turned highwayman was to
be hanged. You see,'' said I, ``this was about
1760. Well, his friends bribed the jailer and
the hangman. The doctor cut a hole in the
man's windpipe, very low down where it could
be partly hid by a loose cravat. So, as they
hanged him only a little while, and the breath
went in and out of the opening below the
noose, he was only just insensible when his
friends got him--''
``And he got well,'' cried Stagers, much
pleased with my rather melodramatic tale.
``Yes,'' I said, ``he got well, and lived to
take purses, all dressed in white. People had
known him well, and when he robbed his
great-aunt, who was not in the secret, she
swore she had seen his ghost.''
Stagers said that was a fine story; guessed
it would work; small town, new business, lots
of money to use. In fact, the attempt thus to
save a man is said to have been made, but, by
ill luck, the man did not recover. It answered
my purpose, but how any one, even such an
ass as this fellow, could believe it could
succeed puzzles me to this day.
File became enthusiastic over my scheme,
and I cordially assisted his credulity. The
thing was to keep the wretch quiet until the
business blew up or--and I shuddered--
until File, in despair, took his pill. I should
in any case find it wise to leave in haste.
My friend Stagers had some absurd
misgivings lest Mr. File's neck might be broken
by the fall; but as to this I was able to
reassure him upon the best scientific authority.
There were certain other and minor questions,
as to the effect of sudden, nearly complete
arrest of the supply of blood to the brain;
but with these physiological refinements I
thought it needlessly cruel to distract a man
in File's peculiar position. Perhaps I shall
be doing injustice to my own intellect if I do
not hasten to state again that I had not the
remotest belief in the efficacy of my plan for
any purpose except to get me out of a very
uncomfortable position and give me, with
time, a chance to escape.
Stagers and I were both disguised as clergy-
men, and were quite freely admitted to the
condemned man's cell. In fact, there was in
the little town a certain trustful simplicity
about all their arrangements. The day but
one before the execution Stagers informed
me that File had the pills, which he, Stagers,
had contrived to give him. Stagers seemed
pleased with our plan. I was not. He was
really getting uneasy and suspicious of me--
as I was soon to find out.
So far our plans, or rather mine, had
worked to a marvel. Certain of File's old
accomplices succeeded in bribing the hangman
to shorten the time of suspension.
Arrangements were made to secure me two
hours alone with the prisoner, so that
nothing seemed to be wanting to this tomfool
business. I had assured Stagers that I
would not need to see File again previous to
the operation; but in the forenoon of the day
before that set for the execution I was seized
with a feverish impatience, which luckily
prompted me to visit him once more. As
usual, I was admitted readily, and nearly
reached his cell when I became aware, from the
sound of voices heard through the grating in
the door, that there was a visitor in the cell.
``Who is with him?'' I inquired of the turnkey.
``The doctor,'' he replied.
``Doctor?'' I said, pausing. ``What doctor?''
``Oh, the jail doctor. I was to come back
in half an hour to let him out; but he's got
a quarter to stay. Shall I let you in, or will
``No,'' I replied; ``it is hardly right to
interrupt them. I will walk in the corridor for
ten minutes or so, and then you can come
back to let me into the cell.''
``Very good,'' he returned, and left me.
As soon as I was alone, I cautiously
advanced until I stood alongside of the door,
through the barred grating of which I was
able readily to hear what went on within.
The first words I caught were these:
``And you tell me, doctor, that, even if a
man's windpipe was open, the hanging would
kill him--are you sure?''
``Yes, I believe there would be no doubt
of it. I cannot see how escape would be
possible. But let me ask you why you have
sent for me to ask these singular questions.
You cannot have the faintest hope of escape,
and least of all in such a manner as this. I
advise you to think about the fate which is
inevitable. You must, I fear, have much to
``But,'' said File, ``if I wanted to try this
plan of mine, couldn't some one be found to
help me, say if he was to make twenty thousand
or so by it? I mean a really good doctor.''
Evidently File cruelly mistrusted my
skill, and meant to get some one to aid me.
``If you mean me,'' answered the doctor,
``some one cannot be found, neither for
twenty nor fifty thousand dollars. Besides,
if any one were wicked enough to venture on
such an attempt, he would only be deceiving
you with a hope which would be utterly vain.
You must be off your head.''
I understood all this with an increasing
fear in my mind. I had meant to get away
that night at all risks. I saw now that I must
go at once.
After a pause he said: ``Well, doctor, you
know a poor devil in my fix will clutch at
straws. Hope I have not offended you.''
``Not in the least,'' returned the doctor.
``Shall I send you Mr. Smith?'' This was
my present name; in fact, I was known as
the Rev. Eliphalet Smith.
``I would like it,'' answered File; ``but as
you go out, tell the warden I want to see
him immediately about a matter of great
At this stage I began to apprehend very
distinctly that the time had arrived when it
would be wiser for me to delay escape no
longer. Accordingly, I waited until I heard
the doctor rise, and at once stepped quietly
away to the far end of the corridor. I had
scarcely reached it when the door which
closed it was opened by a turnkey who had
come to relieve the doctor and let me into the
cell. Of course my peril was imminent. If
the turnkey mentioned my near presence to the
prisoner, immediate disclosure would follow.
If some lapse of time were secured before the
warden obeyed the request from File that he
should visit him, I might gain thus a much-
needed hour, but hardly more. I therefore
said to the officer: ``Tell the warden that the
doctor wishes to remain an hour longer with
the prisoner, and that I shall return myself
at the end of that time.''
``Very good, sir,'' said the turnkey, allowing
me to pass out, and, as he followed me,
relocking the door of the corridor. ``I'll tell
him,'' he said. It is needless to repeat that
I never had the least idea of carrying out the
ridiculous scheme with which I had deluded
File and Stagers, but so far Stagers's watchfulness
had given me no chance to escape.
In a few moments I was outside of the
jail gate, and saw my fellow-clergyman, Mr.
Stagers, in full broadcloth and white tie,
coming down the street toward me. As
usual, he was on his guard; but this time
he had to deal with a man grown perfectly
desperate, with everything to win and
nothing to lose. My plans were made, and,
wild as they were, I thought them worth the
trying. I must evade this man's terrible
watch. How keen it was, you cannot imagine;
but it was aided by three of the
infamous gang to which File had belonged,
for without these spies no one person could
possibly have sustained so perfect a system.
I took Stagers's arm. ``What time,'' said I,
``does the first train start for Dayton?''
``At twelve. What do you want?''
``How far is it?''
``About fifteen miles,'' he replied.
``Good. I can get back by eight o'clock
``Easily,'' said Stagers, ``if you go. What
do you want?''
``I want a smaller tube to put in the wind-
pipe--must have it, in fact.''
``Well, I don't like it,'' said he, ``but the
thing's got to go through somehow. If you
must go, I will go along myself. Can't lose
sight of you, doc, just at present. You're
monstrous precious. Did you tell File?''
``Yes,'' said I; ``he's all right. Come.
We've no time to lose.''
Nor had we. Within twenty minutes we
were seated in the last car of a long train,
and running at the rate of twenty miles an
hour toward Dayton. In about ten minutes
I asked Stagers for a cigar.
``Can't smoke here,'' said he.
``No,'' I answered; ``of course not. I'll go
forward into the smoking-car.''
``Come along,'' said he, and we went
through the train.
I was not sorry he had gone with me when
I found in the smoking-car one of the spies
who had been watching me so constantly.
Stagers nodded to him and grinned at me,
and we sat down together.
``Chut!'' said I, ``left my cigar on the
window-ledge in the hindmost car. Be back
in a moment.''
This time, for a wonder, Stagers allowed
me to leave unaccompanied. I hastened
through to the nearer end of the hindmost
car, and stood on the platform. I instantly
cut the signal-cord. Then I knelt down, and,
waiting until the two cars ran together, I
tugged at the connecting-pin. As the cars
came together, I could lift it a little, then as
the strain came on the coupling the pin held
fast. At last I made a great effort, and out
it came. The car I was on instantly lost
speed, and there on the other platform, a
hundred feet away, was Stagers shaking his
fist at me. He was beaten, and he knew it.
In the end few people have been able to get
ahead of me.
The retreating train was half a mile away
around the curve as I screwed up the brake
on my car hard enough to bring it nearly to
a stand. I did not wait for it to stop entirely
before I slipped off the steps, leaving the
other passengers to dispose of themselves as
they might until their absence should be
discovered and the rest of the train return.
As I wish rather to illustrate my very
remarkable professional career than to amuse
by describing its lesser incidents, I shall not
linger to tell how I succeeded, at last, in
reaching St. Louis. Fortunately, I had never
ceased to anticipate the moment when escape
from File and his friends would be possible,
so that I always carried about with me the
very small funds with which I had hastily
provided myself upon leaving. The whole
amount did not exceed sixty-five dollars, but
with this, and a gold watch worth twice as
much, I hoped to be able to subsist until my
own ingenuity enabled me to provide more
liberally for the future. Naturally enough,
I scanned the papers closely to discover some
account of File's death and of the disclosures
concerning myself which he was only
too likely to have made.
I came at last on an account of how he had
poisoned himself, and so escaped the hangman.
I never learned what he had said about me,
but I was quite sure he had not let me off easy.
I felt that this failure to announce his confessions
was probably due to a desire on the part
of the police to avoid alarming me. Be this
as it may, I remained long ignorant as to
whether or not the villain betrayed my part
in that unusual coroner's inquest.
Before many days I had resolved to make
another and a bold venture. Accordingly
appeared in the St. Louis papers an advertisement
to the effect that Dr. von Ingenhoff, the
well-known German physician, who had spent
two years on the Plains acquiring a knowledge
of Indian medicine, was prepared to
treat all diseases by vegetable remedies alone.
Dr. von Ingenhoff would remain in St. Louis
for two weeks, and was to be found at the
Grayson House every day from ten until two
To my delight, I got two patients the first
day. The next I had twice as many, when at
once I hired two connecting rooms, and made
a very useful arrangement, which I may
describe dramatically in the following way:
There being two or three patients waiting
while I finished my cigar and morning julep,
enters a respectable-looking old gentleman
who inquires briskly of the patients if this is
really Dr. von Ingenhoff's. He is told it is.
My friend was apt to overact his part. I