Part 3 out of 5
"On the contrary," I answered, "you never hit it at
"Never hit it! I must have hit it!"
"I am confident you didn't."
"Where's the dart, then?"
"Here," said I, holding up a bleeding forefinger,
from which the tail end of the fluff with which the dart
was winged was protruding.
I never saw a man so abjectly sorry for anything in
my life. He used language of self-reproach which would
have been extravagant if he had shot off one of my limbs.
Our positions were absurdly reversed; and it was he who
sat collapsed in a chair, while it was I, with the dart
still in my finger, who leaned over him and laughed the
matter off. Mrs. Cullingworth had run for hot water, and
presently with a tweezers we got the intruder out. There
was very little pain (more to-day than yesterday), but if
ever you are called upon to identify my body you may
look for a star at the end of my right forefinger.
When the surgery was completed (Cullingworth writhing
and groaning all the time) my eyes happened to catch the
medal which I had dropped, lying upon the carpet. I
lifted it up and looked at it, eager to find some topic
which would be more agreeable. Printed upon it was--
"Presented to James Cullingworth for gallantry in saving
life. Jan. 1879."
"Hullo, Cullingworth," said I. "You never told me
He was off in an instant in his most extravagant
"What! the medal? Haven't you got one? I thought
every one had. You prefer to be select, I suppose. It
was a little boy. You've no idea the trouble I had to
get him in."
"Get him out, you mean."
"My dear chap, you don't understand! Any one could
get a child out. It's getting one in that's the bother.
One deserves a medal for it. Then there are the
witnesses, four shillings a day I had to pay them, and a
quart of beer in the evenings. You see you can't pick up
a child and carry it to the edge of a pier and throw
it in. You'd have all sorts of complications with the
parents. You must be patient and wait until you get a
legitimate chance. I caught a quinsy walking up and down
Avonmouth pier before I saw my opportunity. He was
rather a stolid fat boy, and he was sitting on the very
edge, fishing. I got the sole of my foot on to the small
of his back, and shot him an incredible distance. I had
some little difficulty in getting him out, for his
fishing line got twice round my legs, but it all ended
well, and the witnesses were as staunch as possible. The
boy came up to thank me next day, and said that he was
quite uninjured save for a bruise on the back. His
parents always send me a brace of fowls every Christmas."
I was sitting with my finger in the hot water
listening to this rigmarole. When he had finished he ran
off to get his tobacco box, and we could hear the
bellowing of his laughter dwindling up the stair. I was
still looking at the medal, which, from the dents all
over it, had evidently been often used as a target, when
I felt a timid touch upon my sleeve; it was Mrs.
Cullingworth, who was looking earnestly at me with a very
distressed expression upon her face.
"You believe far too much what James says," said she.
"You don't know him in the least, Mr. Munro. You don't
look at a thing from his point of view, and you will
never understand him until you do. It is not, of course,
that he means to say anything that is untrue; but his
fancy is excited, and he is quite carried away by the
humour of any idea, whether it tells against himself or
not. It hurts me, Mr. Munro, to see the only man in the
world towards whom he has any feeling of friendship,
misunderstanding him so completely, for very often when
you say nothing your face shows very clearly what you
I could only answer lamely that I was very sorry if
I had misjudged her husband in any way, and that no one
had a keener appreciation of some of his qualities than
"I saw how gravely you looked when he told you that
absurd story about pushing a little boy into the water,"
she continued; and, as she spoke, she drew from somewhere
in the front of her dress a much creased slip of
paper. "Just glance at that, please, Dr. Munro."
It was a newspaper cutting, which gave the true
account of the incident. Suffice it that it was an ice
accident, and that Cullingworth had really behaved in a
heroic way and had been drawn out himself insensible,
with the child so clasped in his arms that it was not
until he had recovered his senses that they were able to
separate them. I had hardly finished reading it when we
heard his step on the stairs; and she, thrusting the
paper back into her bosom, became in an instant the same
silently watchful woman as ever.
Is he not a conundrum? If he interests you at a
distance (and I take for granted that what you say in
your letters is not merely conventional compliment) you
can think how piquant he is in actual life. I must
confess, however, that I can never shake off the feeling
that I am living with some capricious creature who
frequently growls and may possibly bite. Well, it won't
be very long before I write again, and by that time I
shall probably know whether I am likely to find any
permanent billet here or not. I am so sorry to hear
about Mrs. Swanborough's indisposition. You know that I
take the deepest interest in everything that affects you.
They tell me here that I am looking very fit, though I
think they ought to spell it with an "a."
1 THE PARADE, BRADFIELD, 6th April, 1882.
I am writing this, my dear Bertie, at a little table
which has been fitted up in the window of my bedroom.
Every one in the house is asleep except myself; and all
the noise of the city is hushed. Yet my own brain is
singularly active, and I feel that I am better employed
in sitting up and writing to you, than in tossing about
upon my bed. I am often accused of being sleepy in the
daytime, but every now and then Nature gets level by
making me abnormally wakeful at night.
Are you conscious of the restful influence which the
stars exert? To me they are the most soothing things in
Nature. I am proud to say that I don't know the name of
one of them. The glamour and romance would pass away
from them if they were all classified and ticketed in
one's brain. But when a man is hot and flurried, and
full of his own little ruffled dignities and
infinitesimal misfortunes, then a star bath is the finest
thing in the world. They are so big, and so serene and
so lovely. They tell me that the interplanetary spaces
are full of the debris of shattered asteroids; so,
perhaps, even among them there are such things as disease
and death. Yet just to look at them must remind a man of
what a bacillus of a thing he is--the whole human race
like some sprinkling of impalpable powder upon the
surface of one of the most insignificant fly-wheels of a
monstrous machine. But there's order in it, Bertie,
there's order! And where there is order there must be
mind, and where there is mind there must be sense of
Justice. I don't allow that there can be any doubt as to
the existence of that central Mind, or as to the
possession by it of certain attributes. The stars help
me to realise these. It is strange, when one looks upon
them, to think that the Churches are still squabbling
down here over such questions as whether the Almighty is
most gratified by our emptying a tea-spoonful of water
over our babies' heads, or by our waiting a few years and
then plunging them bodily into a tank. It would be comic
if it were not so tragic.
This train of thought is the after-swell from an
argument with Cullingworth this evening. He holds that
the human race is deteriorating mentally and morally. He
calls out at the grossness which confounds the Creator
with a young Jewish Philosopher. I tried to show him
that this is no proof of degeneration, since the Jewish
Philosopher at least represented a moral idea, and was
therefore on an infinitely higher plane than the sensual
divinities of the ancients. His own views of the Creator
seem to me to be a more evident degeneration. He
declares that looking round at Nature he can see nothing
but ruthlessness and brutality. "Either the Creator is
not all-powerful, or else He is not all-good," says he.
"Either He can stop these atrocities and won't, in which
case He is not all-good; or else He would stop them but
can't, in which case He is not all-powerful." It was a
difficult dilemma for a man who professes to stick to
reason to get out of. Of course, if you plead faith, you
can always slip out of anything. I was forced to get
behind a corner of that buckler with which you have so
often turned my own thrusts. I said that the dilemma
arose from our taking it for granted that that which
seemed evil really was EVIL. "It lies with you to
prove that it isn't," said he. "We may hope that it
isn't," said I. "Wait until some one tells you that you
have cancer of the pyloric end of the stomach," said he;
and he shouted it out again every time I tried to renew
But in all soberness, I really do think, Bertie, that
very much which seems to be saddest in life might be very
different if we could focus it properly. I tried to give
you my views about this in the case of drink and
immorality. But physically, I fancy that it applies more
obviously than it does morally. All the physical evils
of life seem to culminate in death; and yet death, as I
have seen it, has not been a painful or terrible process.
In many cases, a man dies without having incurred nearly
as much pain, during the whole of his fatal illness, as
would have arisen from a whitlow or an abscess of the
jaw. And it is often those deaths which seem most
terrible to the onlooker, which are least so to the
sufferer. When a man is overtaken by an express and
shivered into fragments, or when he drops from a fourth-
floor window and is smashed into a bag of splinters, the
unfortunate spectators are convulsed with horror, and
find a text for pessimistic views about the
Providence which allows such things to be. And yet, it
is very doubtful whether the deceased, could his tongue
be loosened, would remember anything at all about the
matter. We know, as students of medicine, that though
pain is usually associated with cancers and with
abdominal complaints; still, in the various fevers, in
apoplexy, in blood poisonings, in lung diseases, and, in
short, in the greater proportion of serious maladies,
there is little suffering.
I remember how struck I was when first I saw the
actual cautery applied in a case of spinal disease. The
white hot iron was pressed firmly into the patient's
back, without the use of any anaesthetic, and what with
the sight and the nauseating smell of burned flesh I felt
faint and ill. Yet, to my astonishment, the patient
never flinched nor moved a muscle of his face, and on my
inquiring afterwards, he assured me that the proceeding
was absolutely painless, a remark which was corroborated
by the surgeon. "The nerves are so completely and
instantaneously destroyed," he explained, "that they have
no time to convey a painful impression." But then if
this be so, what becomes of all the martyrs at the
stake, and the victims of Red Indians, and other poor
folk over whose sufferings and constancy we have
wondered? It may be that Providence is not only not
cruel itself, but will not allow man to be cruel either.
Do your worst, and it will step in with a "No, I won't
allow this poor child of mine to be hurt"; and then comes
the dulling of the nerve and the lethargy which takes the
victim out of the reach of the tormentor. David
Livingstone under the claws of the lion must have looked
like an object lesson of the evil side of things, and yet
he has left it upon record that his own sensations were
pleasurable rather than otherwise. I am well convinced
that if the newly-born infant and the man who had just
died could compare their experiences, the former would
have proved to be the sufferer. It is not for nothing
that the first thing the newcomer into this planet does
is to open its toothless mouth and protest energetically
Cullingworth has written a parable which makes a
paragraph for our wonderful new weekly paper.
"The little cheese mites held debate," he says,
"as to who made the cheese. Some thought that they
had no data to go upon, and some that it had come
together by a solidification of vapour, or by the
centrifugal attraction of atoms. A few surmised that the
platter might have something to do with it; but the
wisest of them could not deduce the existence of a cow."
We are at one, he and I, in thinking that the
infinite is beyond our perception. We differ only in
that he sees evil and I see good in the working of the
universe. Ah, what a mystery it all is! Let us be
honest and humble and think kindly of each other.
There's a line of stars all winking at me over the
opposite roof--winking slyly at the silly little person
with the pen and paper who is so earnest about what he
can never understand.
Well, now, I'll come back to something practical. It
is nearly a month since I wrote to you last. The date is
impressed upon my memory because it was the day after
Cullingworth shot the air-dart into my finger. The place
festered and prevented my writing to any one for a week
or two, but it is all right again now. I have ever so
much of different sorts to tell you, but really when I
come to think of it, it does not amount to very much
First of all, about the practice. I told you that I
was to have a room immediately opposite to
Cullingworth's, and that all the surgical cases were to
be turned over to me. For a few days I had nothing to
do, except to listen to him romping and scuffling with
his patients, or making speeches to them from the top of
the stairs. However, a great "Dr. Stark Munro, Surgeon,"
has been affixed to the side of the door downstairs,
opposite Cullingworth's plate; and a proud man was I when
first my eyes lit upon it. On the fourth day, however,
in came a case. He little knew that he was the first
that I had ever had all to myself in my life. Perhaps he
would not have looked quite so cheerful if he had
Poor chap, he had little enough to be cheery over
either. He was an old soldier who had lost a good many
teeth, but who had continued to find room between his
nose and chin for a short black clay pipe. Lately there
appeared a small sore on his nose which had spread, and
become crusted. On feeling it I found it as hard as a
streak of glue, with constant darting pains passing
through it. Of course, there could be no question
as to diagnosis. It was epitheliomatous cancer, caused
by the irritation of the hot tobacco smoke. I sent him
back to his village, and two days after I drove over in
Cullingworth's dog-cart, and removed the growth. I only
got a sovereign for it. But it may be a nucleus for
cases. The old fellow did most admirably, and he has
just been in (with a most aristocratic curl to his
nostrils) to tell me that he has bought a box full of
churchwardens. It was my first operation, and I daresay
I was more nervous about it than my patient, but the
result has given me confidence. I have fully made up my
mind to let nothing pass me. Come what may, I am
prepared to do it. Why should a man wait? Of course, I
know that many men do; but surely one's nerve is more
likely to be strong and one's knowledge fresh now than in
Cases came dribbling in from day to day--all very
poor people, and able to pay very poor fees--but still
most welcome to me. The first week I took (including
that operation fee) one pound seventeen and sixpence.
The second, I got two pounds exactly. The third, I had
two pounds five, and now I find that this last week
has brought in two pounds eighteen; so I am moving
in the right direction. Of course, it compares absurdly
enough with Cullingworth's twenty pound a day, and my
little quiet back-water seems a strange contrast to the
noisy stream which pours for ever through his room.
Still, I am quite satisfied, and I have no doubt at all
that his original estimate of three hundred pounds for
the first year will be amply justified. It would be a
pleasant thing to think that if anything were really to
happen at home, I should be able to be of some use to
them. If things go on as they have begun, I shall soon
have my feet firmly planted.
I was compelled, by the way, to forego an opening
which a few months ago would have been the very summit of
my ambition. You must know (possibly I told you), that
immediately after I passed, I put my name down as a
candidate for a surgeonship on the books of several of
the big steamship lines. It was done as a forlorn hope,
for a man has usually to wait several years before his
turn comes round. Well, just a week after I started
here, I got a telegram one night from Liverpool: "Join
the Decia to-morrow as surgeon, not later than eight
in the evening." It was from Staunton & Merivale,
the famous South American firm, and the Decia is a
fine 6000-ton passenger boat, doing the round journey by
Bahia and Buenos Ayres to Rio and Valparaiso. I had a
bad quarter of an hour, I can tell you. I don't think I
was ever so undecided about anything in my life.
Cullingworth was dead against my going, and his influence
carried the day.
"My dear chap," said he, "you'd knock down the chief
mate, and he'd spread you out with a handspike. You'd
get tied by your thumbs to the rigging. You'd be fed on
stinking water and putrid biscuits. I've been reading a
novel about the merchant service, and I know."
When I laughed at his ideas of modern sea-going he
tried another line.
"You're a bigger fool than I take you for if you go,"
said he. "Why, what can it lead to? All the money you
earn goes to buy a blue coat, and daub it with lace. You
think you're bound for Valparaiso, and you find yourself
at the poor-house. You've got a rare opening here, and
everything ready to your hand. You'll never get such
And so it ended by my letting them have a wire
to say that I could not come. It is strange when you
come to a point where the road of your life obviously
divides, and you take one turning or the other after
vainly trying to be sure about the finger-post. I think
after all I chose rightly. A ship's surgeon must remain
a ship's surgeon, while here there is no horizon to my
As to old Cullingworth, he is booming along as
merrily as ever. You say in your last, that what you
cannot understand is how he got his hold of the public in
so short a time. That is just the point which I have
found it hard to get light upon. He told me that after
his first coming he had not a patient for a month, and
that he was so disheartened that he very nearly made a
moonlight exodus. At last, however, a few cases came his
way--and he made such extraordinary cures of them, or
else impressed them so by his eccentricity, that they
would do nothing but talk of him. Some of his wonderful
results got into the local press, though, after my
Avonmouth experience, I should not like to guarantee that
he did not himself convey them there. He showed me an
almanac, which had a great circulation in the district.
It had an entry sandwiched in this way:
Aug. 15. Reform Bill passed 1867.
Aug. 16. Birth of Julius Caesar.
Aug. 17. Extraordinary cure by Dr. Cullingworth of a case of
dropsy in Bradfield, 1881.
Aug. 18. Battle of Gravelotte, 1870.
It reads as if it were one of the landmarks of the
latter half of the century. I asked him how on earth it
got there; but I could only learn that the woman was
fifty-six inches round the waist, and that he had treated
her with elaterium.
That leads me to another point. You ask me whether
his cures are really remarkable, and, if so, what his
system is. I answer unhesitatingly, that his cures are
very remarkable, indeed, and that I look upon him as a
sort of Napoleon of medicine. His view is that the
pharmacopaeal doses are in nearly every instance much too
low. Excessive timidity has cut down the dose until it
has ceased to produce a real effect upon the disease.
Medical men, according to his view, have been afraid
of producing a poisonous effect with their drugs. With
him, on the contrary, the whole art of medicine lies in
judicious poisoning, and when the case is serious,
his remedies are heroic. Where, in epilepsy, I should
have given thirty-grain doses of bromide or chloral every
four hours, he would give two drachms every three. No
doubt it will seem to you very kill-or-cure, and I am
myself afraid that a succession of coroners' inquests may
check Cullingworth's career; but hitherto he has had no
public scandal, while the cases which he has brought back
to life have been numerous. He is the most fearless
fellow. I have seen him pour opium into a dysenteric
patient until my hair bristled. But either his knowledge
or his luck always brings him out right.
Then there are other cures which depend, I think,
upon his own personal magnetism. He is so robust and
loud-voiced and hearty that a weak nervous patient goes
away from him recharged with vitality. He is so
perfectly confident that he can cure them, that he makes
them perfectly confident that they can be cured; and you
know how in nervous cases the mind reacts upon the body.
If he chose to preserve crutches and sticks, as they do
in the mediaeval churches, he might, I am sure, paper his
consulting room with them. A favourite device of
his with an impressionable patient is to name the exact
hour of their cure. "My dear," he will say, swaying some
girl about by the shoulders, with his nose about three
inches from hers, "you'll feel better to-morrow at a
quarter to ten, and at twenty past you'll be as well as
ever you were in your life. Now, keep your eye on the
clock, and see if I am not right." Next day, as likely
as not, her mother will be in, weeping tears of joy; and
another miracle has been added to Cullingworth's record.
It may smell of quackery, but it is exceedingly useful to
Still I must confess that there is nothing about
Cullingworth which jars me so much as the low view which
he takes of our profession. I can never reconcile myself
to his ideas, and yet I can never convert him to mine; so
there will be a chasm there which sooner or later may
open to divide us altogether. He will not acknowledge
any philanthropic side to the question. A profession, in
his view, is a means of earning a livelihood, and the
doing good to our fellow mortals, is quite a secondary
"Why the devil should we do all the good, Munro?" he
shouts. Eh, what? A butcher would do good to the race,
would he not, if he served his chops out gratis through
the window? He'd be a real benefactor; but he goes on
selling them at a shilling the pound for all that. Take
the case of a doctor who devotes himself to sanitary
science. He flushes out drains, and keeps down
infection. You call him a philanthropist! Well, I call
him a traitor. That's it, Munro, a traitor and a
renegade! Did you ever hear of a congress of lawyers for
simplifying the law and discouraging litigation? What
are the Medical Association and the General Council, and
all these bodies for? Eh, laddie? For encouraging the
best interests of the profession. Do you suppose they do
that by making the population healthy? It's about time
we had a mutiny among the general practitioners. If I
had the use of half the funds which the Association has,
I should spend part of them in drain-blocking, and the
rest in the cultivation of disease germs, and the
contamination of drinking water."
Of course, I told him that his views were
diabolical; but, especially since that warning which
I had from his wife, I discount everything that he says.
He begins in earnest; but as he goes on the humour of
exaggeration gets hold of him, and he winds up with
things which he would never uphold in cold blood.
However, the fact remains that we differ widely in our
views of professional life, and I fear that we may come
to grief over the question.
What do you think we have been doing lately?
Building a stable--no less. Cullingworth wanted to have
another one at the business place, as much, I think, for
his patients as his horses; and, in his audacious way, he
determined that he would build it himself. So at it we
went, he, I, the coachman, Mrs. Cullingworth, and the
coachman's wife. We dug foundations, got bricks in by
the cartload, made our own mortar, and I think that we
shall end by making a very fair job of it. It's not
quite as flat-chested as we could wish; and I think that
if I were a horse inside it, I should be careful about
brushing against the walls; but still it will keep the
wind and rain out when it is finished. Cullingworth
talks of our building a new house for ourselves; but
as we have three large ones already there does not seem
to be any pressing need.
Talking about horses, we had no end of a fuss here
the other day. Cullingworth got it into his head that he
wanted a first-class riding horse; and as neither of the
carriage ones would satisfy him, he commissioned a horse
dealer to get him one. The man told us of a charger
which one of the officers in the garrison was trying to
get rid of. He did not conceal the fact that the reason
why he wished to sell it was because he considered it to
be dangerous; but, he added, that Captain Lucas had given
L150 for it, and was prepared to sell it at seventy.
This excited Cullingworth, and he ordered the creature to
be saddled and brought round. It was a beautiful animal,
coal black, with a magnificent neck and shoulders, but
with a nasty backward tilt to its ears, and an unpleasant
way of looking at you. The horse dealer said that our
yard was too small to try the creature in; but
Cullingworth clambered up upon its back and formally took
possession of it by lamming it between the ears with the
bone handle of his whip. Then ensued one of the
most lively ten minutes that I can remember. The beast
justified his reputation; but Cullingworth, although he
was no horseman, stuck to him like a limpet. Backwards,
forwards, sideways, on his fore feet, on his hind feet,
with his back curved, with his back sunk, bucking and
kicking, there was nothing the creature did not try.
Cullingworth was sitting alternately on his mane and on
the root of his tail--never by any chance in the saddle--
he had lost both stirrups, and his knees were drawn up
and his heels dug into the creature's ribs, while his
hands clawed at mane, saddle, or ears, whichever he saw
in front of him. He kept his whip, however; and whenever
the brute eased down, Cullingworth lammed him once more
with the bone handle. His idea, I suppose, was to break
its spirit, but he had taken a larger contract than he
could carry through. The animal bunched his four feet
together, ducked down his head, arched his back like a
yawning cat, and gave three convulsive springs into the
air. At the first, Cullingworth's knees were above the
saddle flaps, at the second his ankles were retaining a
convulsive grip, at the third he flew forward like
a stone out of a sling, narrowly missed the coping of the
wall, broke with his head the iron bar which held some
wire netting, and toppled back with a thud into the yard.
Up he bounded with the blood streaming down his face, and
running into our half-finished stables he seized a
hatchet, and with a bellow of rage rushed at the horse.
I caught him by the coat and put on a fourteen-stone
drag, while the horse dealer (who was as white as a
cheese) ran off with his horse into the street.
Cullingworth broke away from my grip, and cursing
incoherently, his face slobbered with blood, and his
hatchet waving over his head, he rushed out of the yard--
the most diabolical looking ruffian you can imagine.
However, luckily for the dealer, he had got a good start,
and Cullingworth was persuaded to come back and wash his
face. We bound up his cut, and found him little the
worse, except in his temper. But for me he would most
certainly have paid seventy pounds for his insane
outburst of rage against the animal.
I daresay you think it strange that I should write so
much about this fellow and so little about anybody
else; but the fact is, that I know nobody else, and that
my whole circle is bounded by my patients, Cullingworth
and his wife. They visit nobody, and nobody visits them.
My living with them brings the same taboo from my brother
doctors upon my head, although I have never done anything
unprofessional myself. Who should I see in the street
the other day but the McFarlanes, whom you will remember
at Linlithgow? I was foolish enough to propose to Maimie
McFarlane once, and she was sensible enough to refuse me.
What I should have done had she accepted me, I can't
imagine; for that was three years ago, and I have more
ties and less prospect of marriage now than then. Well,
there's no use yearning for what you can't have, and
there's no other man living to whom I would speak about
the matter at all; but life is a deadly, lonely thing
when a man has no one on his side but himself. Why is
it that I am sitting here in the moonlight writing to
you, except that I am craving for sympathy and
fellowship? I get it from you, too--as much as one
friend ever got from another--and yet there are some
sides to my nature with which neither wife nor friend nor
any one else can share. If you cut your own path, you
must expect to find yourself alone upon it.
Heigh ho! it's nearly dawn, and I as wakeful as ever.
It is chilly, and I have draped a blanket round me. I've
heard that this is the favourite hour of the suicide, and
I see that I've been tailing off in the direction of
melancholy myself. Let me wind up on a lighter chord by
quoting Cullingworth's latest article. I must tell you
that he is still inflamed by the idea of his own paper,
and his brain is in full eruption, sending out a
perpetual stream of libellous paragraphs, doggerel poems,
social skits, parodies, and articles. He brings them all
to me, and my table is already piled with them. Here is
his latest, brought up to my room after he had undressed.
It was the outcome of some remarks I had made about the
difficulty which our far-off descendants may have in
determining what the meaning is of some of the commonest
objects of our civilisation, and as a corollary how
careful we should be before we become dogmatic about the
old Romans or Egyptians.
"At the third annual meeting of the New Guinea
Archaeological Society a paper was read upon recent
researches on the supposed site of London, together with
some observations upon hollow cylinders in use among the
ancient Londoners. Several examples of these metallic
cylinders or tubings were on exhibition in the hall, and
were passed round for inspection among the audience. The
learned lecturer prefaced his remarks by observing that
on account of the enormous interval of time which
separated them from the days when London was a
flourishing city, it behoved them to be very guarded in
any conclusions to which they might come as to the habits
of the inhabitants. Recent research appeared to have
satisfactorily established the fact that the date of the
final fall of London was somewhat later than that of the
erection of the Egyptian Pyramids. A large building had
recently been unearthed near the dried-up bed of the
river Thames; and there could be no question from
existing records that this was the seat of the law-making
council among the ancient Britons--or Anglicans, as they
were sometimes called. The lecturer proceeded to
point out that the bed of the Thames had been
tunnelled under by a monarch named Brunel, who is
supposed by some authorities to have succeeded Alfred the
Great. The open spaces of London, he went on to remark,
must have been far from safe, as the bones of lions,
tigers, and other extinct forms of carnivora had been
discovered in the Regent's Park. Having briefly referred
to the mysterious structures known as `pillar-boxes,'
which are scattered thickly over the city, and which are
either religious in their origin, or else may be taken as
marking the tombs of Anglican chiefs, the lecturer passed
on to the cylindrical piping. This had been explained by
the Patagonian school as being a universal system of
lightning-conductors. He (the lecturer) could not assent
to this theory. In a series of observations, extending
over several months, he had discovered the important fact
that these lines of tubing, if followed out, invariably
led to large hollow metallic reservoirs which were
connected with furnaces. No one who knew how addicted
the ancient Britons were to the use of tobacco could
doubt what this meant. Evidently large quantities of the
herb were burned in the central chamber, and the
aromatic and narcotic vapour was carried through the
tubes to the house of every citizen, so that he might
inhale it at will. Having illustrated his remarks by a
series of diagrams, the lecturer concluded by saying
that, although true science was invariably cautious and
undogmatic, it was none the less an incontestable fact
that so much light had been thrown upon old London, that
every action of the citizens' daily life was known, from
the taking of a tub in the morning, until after a draught
of porter he painted himself blue before retiring to
After all, I daresay this explanation of the London
gas pipes is not more absurd than some of our shots about
the Pyramids, or ideas of life among the Babylonians.
Well, good-bye, old chap; this is a stupid
inconsequential letter, but life has been more quiet and
less interesting just of late. I may have something a
little more moving for my next.
1 THE PARADE, BRADFIELD, 23rd April, 1882.
I have some recollection, my dear Bertie, that when
I wrote you a rambling disconnected sort of letter about
three weeks ago, I wound up by saying that I might have
something more interesting to tell you next time. Well,
so it has turned out! The whole game is up here, and I
am off upon a fresh line of rails altogether.
Cullingworth is to go one way and I another; and yet I am
glad to say that there has not been any quarrel between
us. As usual, I have begun my letter at the end, but
I'll work up to it more deliberately now, and let you
know exactly how it came about.
And first of all, a thousand thanks for your two long
letters, which lie before me as I write. There is little
enough personal news in them, but I can quite understand
that the quiet happy routine of your life reels off very
smoothly from week to week. On the other hand,
you give me plenty of proof of that inner life which is
to me so very much more interesting. After all, we may
very well agree to differ. You think some things are
proved which I don't believe in. You think some things
edifying which do not appear to me to be so. Well, I
know that you are perfectly honest in your belief. I am
sure you give me credit for being the same. The future
wilt decide which of us is right. The survival of the
truest is a constant law, I fancy, though it must be
acknowledged that it is very slow in action.
You make a mistake, however, in assuming that those
who think as I do are such a miserable minority. The
whole essence of our thought is independence and
individual judgment; so that we don't get welded into
single bodies as the churches do, and have no opportunity
of testing our own strength. There are, no doubt, all
shades of opinion among us; but if you merely include
those who in their private hearts disbelieve the
doctrines usually accepted, and think that sectarian
churches tend to evil rather than good, I fancy that the
figures would be rather surprising. When I read
your letter, I made a list of all those men with whom I
ever had intimate talk upon such matters. I got
seventeen names, with four orthodox. Cullingworth tried
and got twelve names, with one orthodox. From all sides,
one hears that every church complains of the absence of
men in the congregations. The women predominate three to
one. Is it that women are more earnest than men? I
think it is quite the other way. But the men are
following their reason, and the women their emotion. It
is the women only who keep orthodoxy alive.
No, you mustn't be too sure of that majority of
yours. Taking the scientific, the medical, the
professional classes, I question whether it exists at
all. The clergy, busy in their own limited circles, and
coming in contact only with those who agree with them,
have not realised how largely the rising generation has
outgrown them. And (with exceptions like yourself) it is
not the most lax, but the BEST of the younger men,
the larger-brained and the larger-hearted, who have
shaken themselves most clear of the old theology. They
cannot abide its want of charity, it's limitations
of God's favours, its claims for a special Providence,
its dogmatism about what seems to be false, its conflict
with what we know to be true. We KNOW that man has
ascended, not descended; so what is the value of a scheme
of thought which depends upon the supposition of his
fall? We KNOW that the world was not made in six
days, that the sun could never be stopped since it was
never moving, and that no man ever lived three days in a
fish; so what becomes of the inspiration of a book which
contains such statements? "Truth, though it crush me!"
There, now, you see what comes of waving the red rag!
Let me make a concession to appease you. I do believe
that Christianity in its different forms has been the
very best thing for the world during all this long
barbarous epoch. Of course, it has been the best thing,
else Providence would not have permitted it. The
engineer knows best what tools to use in strengthening
his own machine. But when you say that this is the best
and last tool which will be used, you are laying down the
law a little too much.
Now, first of all, I want to tell you about how
the practice has been going on. The week after I
wrote last showed a slight relapse. I only took two
pounds. But on the next I took a sudden jump up to three
pounds seven shillings, and this last week I took three
pounds ten. So it was steadily creeping up; and I really
thought that I saw my road clear in front of me, when the
bolt suddenly fell from the blue. There were reasons,
however, which prevented my being very disappointed when
it did come down; and these I must make clear to you.
I think that I mentioned, when I gave you a short
sketch of my dear old mother, that she has a very high
standard of family honour. She really tries to live up
to the Percy-Plantagenet blend which is said to flow in
our veins; and it is only our empty pockets which prevent
her from sailing through life, like the grande dame
that she is, throwing largesse to right and left,
with her head in the air and her soul in the clouds. I
have often heard her say (and I am quite convinced that
she meant it) that she would far rather see any one of us
in our graves than know that we had committed a
dishonourable action. Yes; for all her softness and
femininity, she could freeze iron-hard at the
suspicion of baseness; and I have seen the blood flush
from her white cap to her lace collar when she has heard
of an act of meanness.
Well, she had heard some details about the
Cullingworths which displeased her when I first knew
them. Then came the smash-up at Avonmouth, and my mother
liked them less and less. She was averse to my joining
them in Bradfield, and it was only by my sudden movement
at the end that I escaped a regular prohibition. When I
got there, the very first question she asked (when I told
her of their prosperity) was whether they had paid their
Avonmouth creditors. I was compelled to answer that they
had not. In reply she wrote imploring me to come away,
and saying that, poor as our family was, none of them had
ever fallen so low as to enter into a business
partnership with a man of unscrupulous character and
doubtful antecedents. I answered that Cullingworth spoke
sometimes of paying his creditors, that Mrs. Cullingworth
was in favour of it also, and that it seemed to me to be
unreasonable to expect that I should sacrifice a good
opening on account of things with which I had no
connection. I assured her that if Cullingworth did
anything from then onwards which seemed to me
dishonourable, I would disassociate myself from him, and
I mentioned that I had already refused to adopt some of
his professional methods. Well, in reply to this, my
mother wrote a pretty violent letter about what she
thought of Cullingworth, which led to another from me
defending him, and showing that there were some deep and
noble traits in his character. That produced another
still more outspoken letter from her; and so the
correspondence went on, she attacking and I defending,
until a serious breach seemed to be opening between us.
I refrained from writing at last, not out of ill temper,
but because I thought that if she were given time she
would cool down, and take, perhaps, a more reasonable
view of the situation. My father, from the short note
which he sent me, seemed to think the whole business
absolutely irregular, and to refuse to believe my
accounts of Cullingworth's practice and receipts. This
double opposition, from the very people whose interests
had really been nearest my heart in the whole affair,
caused me to be less disappointed than I should
otherwise have been when it all came to an end. In
fact, I was quite in the humour to finish it myself when
Fate did it for me.
Now about the Cullingworths. Madam is as amiable as
ever; and yet somehow, unless I am deceiving myself, she
has changed somewhat of late in her feelings towards me.
I have turned upon her suddenly more than once, and
caught the skirt of a glance which was little less than
malignant. In one or two small matters I have also
detected a hardness in her which I had never observed
before. Is it that I have intruded too much into their
family life? Have I come between the husband and the
wife? Goodness knows I have striven with all my little
stock of tact to avoid doing so. And yet I have often
felt that my position was a false one. Perhaps a young
man attaches too much importance to a woman's glances and
gestures. He wishes to assign a definite meaning to
each, when they may be only the passing caprice of the
moment. Ah, well, I have nothing to blame myself with;
and in any case it will soon be all over now.
And then I have seen something of the same sort in
Cullingworth; but he is so strange a being that I
never attach much importance to his variations. He
glares at me like an angry bull occasionally; and then
when I ask him what is the matter, he growls out, "Oh,
nothing!" and turns on his heel. Then at other times he
is so cordial and friendly that he almost overdoes it,
and I find myself wondering whether he is not acting. It
must seem ungracious to you that I should speak so of a
man who has been my benefactor; and it seems so to me
also, but still that IS the impression which he
leaves upon me sometimes. It's an absurd idea, too; for
what possible object could his wife and he have in
pretending to be amiable, if they did not really feel so?
And yet you know the feeling that you get when a man
smiles with his lips and not with his eyes.
One day we went to the Central Hotel billiard-room in
the evening to play a match. Our form is just about the
same, and we should have bad an enjoyable game if it had
not been for that queer temper of his. He had been in a
sullen humour the whole day, pretending not to hear what
I said to him, or else giving snappy answers, and looking
like a thunder-cloud. I was determined not to have a
row, so I took no notice at all of his continual
provocations, which, instead of pacifying him, seemed to
encourage him to become more offensive. At the end of
the match, wanting two to win, I put down the white which
was in the jaws of the pocket. He cried out that this
was bad form. I contended that it was folly to refrain
from doing it when one was only two off game, and, on his
continuing to make remarks, I appealed to the marker, who
took the same view as I did. This opposition only
increased his anger, and he suddenly broke out into most
violent language, abusing me in unmeasured terms. I said
to him, "If you have anything to say to me, Cullingworth,
come out into the street and say it there. It's a
caddish thing to speak like that before the marker." He
lifted his cue, and I thought he was going to strike me
with it; but he flung it clattering on the floor, and
chucked half a crown to the man. When we got out in the
street, he began at once in as offensive a tone as ever.
"That's enough, Cullingworth," I said. "I've stood
already rather more than I can carry."
We were in the bright light of a shop window at that
moment. He looked at me, and looked a second time,
uncertain what to do. At any moment I might have found
myself in a desperate street row with a man who was my
medical partner. I gave no provocation, but kept myself
keenly on the alert. Suddenly, to my relief, he burst
out laughing (such a roar as made the people stop on the
other side of the road), and passing his arm through
mine, he hurried me down the street.
"Devil of a temper you've got, Munro," said he. "By
Crums, it's hardly safe to go out with you. I never know
what you're going to do next. Eh, what? You mustn't be
peppery with me, though; for I mean well towards you, as
you'll see before you get finished with me."
I have told you this trivial little scene, Bertie, to
show the strange way in which Cullingworth springs
quarrels upon me; suddenly, without the slightest
possible provocation, taking a most offensive tone, and
then when he sees he has goaded me to the edge of my
endurance, turning the whole thing to chaff. This has
occurred again and again recently; and, when coupled with
the change in Mrs. Cullingworth's demeanour, makes one
feel that something has happened to change one's
relations. What that something may be, I give you my
word that I have no more idea than you have. Between
their coldness, however, and my unpleasant correspondence
with my mother, I was often very sorry that I had not
taken the South American liner.
Cullingworth is preparing for the issue of our new
paper. He has carried the matter through with his usual
energy, but he doesn't know enough about local affairs to
be able to write about them, and it is a question whether
he can interest the people here in anything else. At
present we are prepared to run the paper single-handed;
we are working seven hours a day at the practice; we are
building a stable; and in our odd hours we are practising
at our magnetic ship-protector, with which Cullingworth
is still well pleased, though he wants to get it more
perfect before submitting it to the Admiralty.
His mind runs rather on naval architecture at
present, and he has been devising an ingenious method of
preventing wooden-sided vessels from being crippled by
artillery fire. I did not think much of his
magnetic attractor, because it seemed to me that even if
it had all the success that he claimed for it, it would
merely have the effect of substituting some other metal
for steel in the manufacture of shells. This new project
has, however, more to recommend it. This is the idea, as
put in his own words; and, as he has been speaking of
little else for the last two days, I ought to remember
"If you've got your armour there, laddie, it will be
pierced," says he. "Put up forty feet thick of steel;
and I'll build a gun that will knock it into tooth-
powder. It would blow away, and set the folk coughing
after I had one shot at it. But you can't pierce armour
which only drops after the shot has passed through.
What's the good of it? Why it keeps out the water.
That's the main thing, after all. I call it the
Cullingworth spring-shutter screen. Eh, what, Munro? I
wouldn't take a quarter of a million for the idea. You
see how it would work. Spring shutters are furled all
along the top of the bulwarks where the hammocks used to
be. They are in sections, three feet broad, we will say,
and capable when let down of reaching the keel.
Very well! Enemy sends a shot through Section A of the
side. Section A shutter is lowered. Only a thin film,
you see, but enough to form a temporary plug. Enemy's
ram knocks in sections B, C, D of the side. What do you
do? Founder? Not a bit; you lower sections B, C, and D
of Cullingworth's spring-shutter screen. Or you knock a
hole on a rock. The same thing again. It's a ludicrous
sight to see a big ship founder when so simple a
precaution would absolutely save her. And it's equally
good for ironclads also. A shot often starts their
plates and admits water without breaking them. Down go
your shutters, and all is well."
That's his idea, and he is busy on a model made out
of the steels of his wife's stays. It sounds plausible,
but he has the knack of making anything plausible when he
is allowed to slap his hands and bellow.
We are both writing novels, but I fear that the
results don't bear out his theory that a man may do
anything which he sets his will to. I thought mine was
not so bad (I have done nine chapters), but Cullingworth
says he has read it all before, and that it is much
too conventional. We must rivet the attention of the
public from the start, he says. Certainly, his own is
calculated to do so, for it seems to me to be wild
rubbish. The end of his first chapter is the only
tolerable point that he has made. A fraudulent old
baronet is running race-horses on the cross. His son,
who is just coming of age, is an innocent youth. The
news of the great race of the year has just been
"Sir Robert tottered into the room with dry lips and
a ghastly face.
"`My poor boy!' he cried. `Prepare for the worst!'
"`Our horse has lost!' cried the young heir,
springing from his chair.
"The old man threw himself in agony upon the rug.
`No, no!' he screamed. `IT HAS WON!'"
Most of it, however, is poor stuff, and we are each
agreed that the other was never meant for a novelist.
So much for our domestic proceedings, and all these
little details which you say you like to hear of. Now I
must tell you of the great big change in my affairs,
and how it came about.
I have told you about the strange, sulky behaviour of
Cullingworth, which has been deepening from day to day.
Well, it seemed to reach a climax this morning, and on
our way to the rooms I could hardly get a word out of
him. The place was fairly crowded with patients, but my
own share was rather below the average. When I had
finished I added a chapter to my novel, and waited until
he and his wife were ready for the daily bag-carrying
It was half-past three before he had done. I heard
him stamp out into the passage, and a moment later he
came banging into my room. I saw in an instant that some
sort of a crisis had come.
"Munro," he cried, "this practice is going to the
"Ah!" said I. "How's that?
"It's going to little pieces, Munro. I've been
taking figures, and I know what I am talking about. A
month ago I was seeing six hundred a week. Then I
dropped to five hundred and eighty; then to five-
seventy-five; and now to five-sixty. What do you think
"To be honest, I don't think much of it," I answered.
"The summer is coming on. You are losing all your coughs
and colds and sore throats. Every practice must dwindle
at this time of year."
"That's all very well," said he, pacing up and down
the room, with his hands thrust into his pockets, and his
great shaggy eyebrows knotted together. "You may put it
down to that, but I think quite differently about it."
"What do you put it down to, then?"
"How's that?" I asked.
"Well," said he, "you must allow that it is a very
queer coincidence--if it is a coincidence--that from the
day when your plate was put up my practice has taken a
turn for the worse."
"I should be very sorry to think it was cause and
effect," I answered. "How do you think that my presence
could have hurt you?"
"I'll tell you frankly, old chap," said he, putting
on suddenly that sort of forced smile which always seems
to me to have a touch of a sneer in it. "You see,
many of my patients are simple country folk, half
imbecile for the most part, but then the half-crown of an
imbecile is as good as any other half-crown. They come
to my door, and they see two names, and their silly jaws
begin to drop, and they say to each other, `There's two
of 'em here. It's Dr. Cullingworth we want to see, but
if we go in we'll be shown as likely as not to Dr.
Munro.' So it ends in some cases in their not coming at
all. Then there are the women. Women don't care a toss
whether you are a Solomon, or whether you are hot from an
asylum. It's all personal with them. You fetch them, or
you don't fetch them. I know how to work them, but they
won't come if they think they are going to be turned over
to anybody else. That's what I put the falling away down
"Well," said I, "that's easily set right." I marched
out of the room and downstairs, with both Cullingworth
and his wife behind me. Into the yard I went, and,
picking up a big hammer, I started for the front door,
with the pair still at my heels. I got the forked end of
the hammer under my plate, and with a good wrench I
brought the whole thing clattering on to the
"That won't interfere with you any more," said I.
"What do you intend to do now?" he asked.
"Oh, I shall find plenty to do. Don't you worry
about that," I answered.
"Oh, but this is all rot," said he, picking up the
plate. "Come along upstairs and let us see where we
We filed off once more, he leading with the huge
brass "Dr. Munro" under his arm; then the little woman,
and then this rather perturbed and bemuddled young man.
He and his wife sat on the deal table in the consulting
room, like a hawk and a turtle-dove on the same perch,
while I leaned against the mantelpiece with my hands in
my pockets. Nothing could be more prosaic and informal;
but I knew very well that I was at a crisis of my life.
Before, it was only a choosing between two roads. Now my
main track had run suddenly to nothing, and I must go
back or find a bye-path.
"It's this way, Cullingworth," said I. "I am very
much obliged to you, and to you, Mrs. Cullingworth,
for all your kindness and good wishes, but I did not come
here to spoil your practice; and, after what you have
told me, it is quite impossible for me to work with you
"Well, my boy," said he, "I am inclined myself to
think that we should do better apart; and that's Hetty's
idea also, only she is too polite to say so."
"It is a time for plain speaking," I answered, it and
we may as well thoroughly understand each other. If I
have done your practice any harm, I assure you that I am
heartily sorry, and I shall do all I can to repair it.
I cannot say more."
"What are you going to do, then?" asked Cullingworth.
"I shall either go to sea or else start a practice on
my own account."
"But you have no money."
"Neither had you when you started."
"Ah, that was different. Still, it may be that you
are right. You'll find it a stiff pull at first."
"Oh, I am quite prepared for that."
"Well, you know, Munro, I feel that I am responsible
to you to some extent, since I persuaded you not to take
that ship the other day."
"It was a pity, but it can't be helped."
"We must do what we can to make up. Now, I tell you
what I am prepared to do. I was talking about it with
Hetty this morning, and she thought as I did. If we were
to allow you one pound a week until you got your legs
under you, it would encourage you to start for yourself,
and you could pay it back as soon as you were able."
"It is very kind of you," said I. "If you would let
the matter stand just now, I should like just to take a
short walk by myself, and to think it all over."
So the Cullingworths did their bag-procession through
the doctors' quarter alone to-day, and I walked to the
park, where I sat down on one of the seats, lit a cigar,
and thought the whole matter over. I was down on my luck
at first; but the balmy air and the smell of spring and
the budding flowers soon set me right again. I began my
last letter among the stars, and I am inclined to finish
this one among the flowers, for they are rare companions
when one's mind is troubled. Most things on this earth,
from a woman's beauty to the taste of a nectarine, seem
to be the various baits with which Nature lures her silly
gudgeons. They shall eat, they shall propagate, and for
the sake of pleasing themselves they shall hurry
down the road which has been laid out for them. But
there lurks no bribe in the smell and beauty of the
flower. It's charm has no ulterior motive.
Well, I sat down there and brooded. In my heart I
did not believe that Cullingworth had taken alarm at so
trifling a decrease. That could not have been his real
reason for driving me from the practice. He had found me
in the way in his domestic life, no doubt, and he had
devised this excuse for getting rid of me. Whatever the
reason was, it was sufficiently plain that all my hopes
of building up a surgical practice, which should keep
parallel with his medical one, were for ever at an end.
On the whole, bearing in mind my mother's opposition, and
the continual janglings which we had had during the last
few weeks, I was not very sorry. On the contrary, a
sudden curious little thrill of happiness took me
somewhere about the back of the midriff, and, as a drift
of rooks passed cawing over my head, I began cawing also
in the overflow of my spirits.
And then as I walked back I considered how far I
could avail myself of this money from Cullingworth. It
was not much, but it would be madness to start
without it, for I had sent home the little which I had
saved at Horton's. I had not more than six pounds in the
whole world. I reflected that the money could make no
difference to Cullingworth, with his large income, while
it made a vast one to me. I should repay him in a year
or two at the latest. Perhaps I might get on so well as
to be able to dispense with it almost at once. There
could be no doubt that it was the representations of
Cullingworth as to my future prospects in Bradfield which
had made me refuse the excellent appointment in the
Decia. I need not therefore have any scruples at
accepting some temporary assistance from his hands. On
my return, I told him that I had decided to do so, and
thanked him at the same time for his generosity.
"That's all right," said he. "Hetty, my dear, get a
bottle of fez in, and we shall drink success to Munro's
It seemed only the other day that he had been
drinking my entrance into partnership; and here we were,
the same three, sipping good luck to my exit from it!
I'm afraid our second ceremony was on both sides the
heartier of the two.
"I must decide now where I am to start," I remarked.
"What I want is some nice little town where all the
people are rich and ill."
"I suppose you wouldn't care to settle here in
Bradfield?" asked Cullingworth.
"Well, I cannot see much point in that. If I harmed
you as a partner, I might do so more as a rival. If I
succeeded it might be at your expense."
"Well," said he, "choose your town, and my offer
still holds good."
We hunted out an atlas, and laid the map of England
before us on the table. Cities and villages lay beneath
me as thick as freckles, and yet there was nothing to
lead me to choose one rather than another.
"I think it should be some place large enough to give
you plenty of room for expansion," said he.
"Not too near London," added Mrs. Cullingworth.
"And, above all, a place where I know nobody," said
I. "I can rough it by myself, but I can't keep up
appearances before visitors."
"What do you say to Stockwell?" said
Cullingworth, putting the amber of his pipe upon a
town within thirty miles of Bradfield.
I had hardly heard of the place, but I raised my
glass. "Well, here's to Stockwell!" I cried; "I shall go
there to-morrow morning and prospect." We all drank the
toast (as you will do at Lowell when you read this); and
so it is arranged, and you may rely upon it that I shall
give you a full and particular account of the result.
1 CADOGAN TERRACE, BIRCHESPOOL, i 21st May, 1882.
My dear old chap, things have been happening, and I
must tell you all about it. Sympathy is a strange thing;
for though I never see you, the mere fact that you over
there in New England are keenly interested in what I am
doing and thinking, makes my own life in old England very
much more interesting to me. The thought of you is like
a good staff in my right hand.
The unexpected has happened so continually in my life
that it has ceased to deserve the name. You remember
that in my last I had received my dismissal, and was on
the eve of starting for the little country town of
Stockwell to see if there were any sign of a possible
practice there. Well, in the morning, before I came down
to breakfast, I was putting one or two things into a bag,
when there came a timid knock at my door, and there
was Mrs. Cullingworth in her dressing-jacket, with her
hair down her back.
"Would you mind coming down and seeing James, Dr.
Munro?" said she. "He has been very strange all night,
and I am afraid that he is ill."
Down I went, and found Cullingworth looking rather
red in the face, and a trifle wild about the eyes. He
was sitting up in bed, with the neck of his nightgown
open, and an acute angle of hairy chest exposed. He had
a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a clinical thermometer
upon the coverlet in front of him.
"Deuced interesting thing, Munro," said he. "Come
and look at this temperature chart. I've been taking it
every quarter of an hour since I couldn't sleep, and it's
up and down till it looks like the mountains in the
geography books. We'll have some drugs in--eh, what,
Munro?--and by Crums, we'll revolutionise all their ideas
about fevers. I'll write a pamphlet from personal
experiment that will make all their books clean out of
date, and they'll have to tear them up and wrap
sandwiches in them."
He was talking in the rapid slurring way of a man who
has trouble coming. I looked at his chart, and saw that
he was over 102 degrees. His pulse rub-a-dubbed under my
fingers, and his skin sent a glow into my hand.
"Any symptoms?" I asked, sitting down on the side of
"Tongue like a nutmeg-grater," said he, thrusting it
out. "Frontal headache, renal pains, no appetite, and a
mouse nibbling inside my left elbow. That's as far as
we've got at present."
"I'll tell you what it is, Cullingworth," said I.
"You have a touch of rheumatic fever, and you will have
to lie by for a bit."
"Lie by be hanged!" he cried. "I've got a hundred
people to see to-day. My boy, I must be down there if I
have the rattle in my throat. I didn't build up a
practice to have it ruined by a few ounces of lactic
"James dear, you can easily build up another one,"
said his wife, in her cooing voice. "You must do what
Dr. Munro tells you."
"Well," said I, "you'll want looking after, and your
practice will want looking after, and I am quite ready to
do both. But I won't take the responsibility unless
you give me your word that you will do what you are
"If I'm to have any doctoring it must come from you,
laddie," he said; "for if I was to turn my toes up in the
public square, there's not a man here who would do more
than sign my certificate. By Crums, they might get the
salts and oxalic acid mixed up if they came to treat me,
for there's no love lost between us. But I want to go
down to the practice all the same."
"It's out of the question. You know the sequel of
this complaint. You'll have endocarditis, embolism,
thrombosis, metastatic abscesses--you know the danger as
well as I do."
He sank back into his bed laughing.
"I take my complaints one at a time, thank you," said
he. "I wouldn't be so greedy as to have all those--eh,
Munro, what?--when many another poor devil hasn't got an
ache to his back." The four posts of his bed quivered
with his laughter. "Do what you like, laddie--but I say,
mind, if anything should happen, no tomfoolery over my
grave. If you put so much as a stone there, by Crums,
Munro, I'll come back in the dead of the night and
plant it on the pit of your stomach."
Nearly three weeks passed before he could set his
foot to the ground again. He wasn't such a bad patient,
after all; but he rather complicated my treatment by
getting in all sorts of phials and powders, and trying
experiments upon his own symptoms. It was impossible to
keep him quiet, and our only means of retaining him in
bed was to allow him all the work that he could do there.
He wrote copiously, built up models of his patent
screen, and banged off pistols at his magnetic target,
which he had rigged tip on the mantelpiece. Nature has
given him a constitution of steel, however, and he shook
off his malady more quickly and more thoroughly than the
most docile of sufferers.
In the meantime, Mrs. Cullingworth and I ran the
practice together. As a substitute for him I was a
dreadful failure. They would not believe in me in the
least. I felt that I was as flat as water after
champagne. I could not address them from the stairs, nor
push them about, nor prophesy to the anaeemic women. I
was much too solemn and demure after what they had
been accustomed to. However, I held the thing together
as best I could, and I don't think that he found the
practice much the worse when he was able to take it over.
I could not descend to what I thought was unprofessional,
but I did my very best to keep the wheels turning.
Well, I know that I am a shocking bad story-teller,
but I just try to get things as near the truth as I can
manage it. If I only knew how to colour it up, I could
make some of this better reading. I can get along when
I am on one line, but it is when I have to bring in a
second line of events that I understand what C. means
when he says that I will never be able to keep myself in
nibs by what I earn in literature.
The second line is this, that I had written to my
mother on the same night that I wrote to you last,
telling her that there need no longer be a shadow of a
disagreement between us, because everything was arranged,
and I was going to leave Cullingworth at once. Then
within a couple of posts I had to write again and
announce that my departure was indefinitely postponed,
and that I was actually doing his whole practice.
Well, the dear old lady was very angry. I don't
suppose she quite understood how temporary the necessity
was, and how impossible it would have been to leave
Cullingworth in the lurch. She was silent for nearly
three weeks, and then she wrote a very stinging letter
(and she handles her adjectives most deftly when she
likes). She went so far as to say that Cullingworth was
a "bankrupt swindler," and that I had dragged the family
honour in the dirt by my prolonged association with him.
This letter came on the morning of the very last day that
my patient was confined to the house. When I returned
from work I found him sitting in his dressing-gown
downstairs. His wife, who had driven home, was beside
him. To my surprise, when I congratulated him on being
fit for work again, his manner (which had been most
genial during his illness) was as ungracious as before
our last explanation. His wife, too, seemed to avoid my
eye, and cocked her chin at me when she spoke.
"Yes, I'll take it over to-morrow," said he. "What
do I owe you for looking after it?"
"Oh, it was all in the day's work," said I.
"Thank you, I had rather have strict business,"
he answered. "You know where you are then, but a
favour is a thing with no end to it. What d'you put it
"I never thought about it in that light."
"Well, think about it now. A locum would have cost
me four guineas a week. Four fours sixteen. Make it
twenty. Well, I promised to allow you a pound a week,
and you were to pay it back. I'll put twenty pounds to
your credit account, and you'll have it every week as
sure as Saturday."
"Thank you," said I. "If you are so anxious to make
a business matter of it, you can arrange it so." I could
not make out, and cannot make out now, what had happened
to freeze them up so; but I supposed that they had been
talking it over, and came to the conclusion that I was
settling down too much upon the old lines, and that they
must remind me that I was under orders to quit. They
might have done it with more tact.
To cut a long story short, on the very day that
Cullingworth was able to resume his work I started off
for Stockwell, taking with me only a bag, for it was
merely a prospecting expedition, and I intended to return
for my luggage if I saw reason for hope. Alas!
there was not the faintest. The sight of the place would
have damped the most sanguine man that ever lived. It is
one of those picturesque little English towns with a
history and little else. A Roman trench and a Norman
keep are its principal products. But to me the most
amazing thing about it was the cloud of doctors which had
settled upon it. A double row of brass plates flanked
the principal street. Where their patients came from I
could not imagine, unless they practised upon each other.
The host of the "Bull" where I had my modest lunch
explained the mystery to some extent by saying that, as
there was pure country with hardly a hamlet for nearly
twelve miles in every direction, it was in these
scattered farm-houses that the Stockwell doctors found
their patients. As I chatted with him a middle-aged,
dusty-booted man trudged up the street. "There's Dr.
Adam," said he. "He's only a new-comer, but they say
that some o' these days he'll be starting his carriage."
"What do you mean by a new-comer?" I asked. "Oh, he's
scarcely been here ten years," said the landlord. "Thank
you," said I. "Can you tell me when the next train
leaves for Bradfield?" So back I came, rather heavy
at heart, and having spent ten or twelve shillings which
I could ill afford. My fruitless journey seemed a small
thing, however, when I thought of the rising Stockwellite
with his ten years and his dusty boots. I can trudge
along a path, however rough, if it will but lead to
something; but may kindly Fate keep me out of all cul-
The Cullingworths did not receive me cordially upon
my return. There was a singular look upon both their
faces which seemed to ME to mean that they were
disappointed at this hitch in getting rid of me. When I
think of their absolute geniality a few days ago, and
their markedly reserved manner now, I can make no sense
out of it. I asked Cullingworth point blank what it
meant, but he only turned it off with a forced laugh, and
some nonsense about my thin skin. I think that I am the
last man in the world to take offence where none is
meant; but at any rate I determined to end the matter by
leaving Bradfield at once. It had struck me, during my
journey back from Stockwell, that Birchespool would be a
good place; so on the very next day I started off, taking
my luggage with me, and bidding a final good-bye to
Cullingworth and his wife.
"You rely upon me, laddie," said C. with something of
his old geniality, as we shook hands on parting. "You
get a good house in a central position, put up your plate
and hold on by your toe-nails. Charge little or nothing
until you get a connection, and none of your professional
haw-dammy or you are a broken man. I'll see that you
don't stop steaming for want of coal."
So with that comforting assurance I left them on the
platform of the Bradfield station. The words seem kind,
do they not? and yet taking this money jars every nerve
in my body. When I find that I can live on bread and
water without it, I will have no more of it. But to do
without it now would be for the man who cannot swim to
throw off his life-belt.
I had plenty of time on my way to Birchespool to
reflect upon my prospects and present situation. My
baggage consisted of a large brassplate, a small leather
trunk, and a hat-box. The plate with my name engraved
upon it was balanced upon the rack above my head. In my
box were a stethoscope, several medical books, a
second pair of boots, two suits of clothes, my linen
and my toilet things. With this, and the five pounds
eighteen shillings which remain in my purse, I was
sallying out to clear standing-room, and win the right to
live from my fellow-men. But at least there was some
chance of permanency about this; and if there was the
promise of poverty and hardship, there was also that of
freedom. I should have no Lady Saltire to toss up her
chin because I had my own view of things, no Cullingworth
to fly out at me about nothing. I would be my own--my
very own. I capered up and down the carriage at the
thought. After all, I had everything to gain and nothing
in the whole wide world to lose. And I had youth and
strength and energy, and the whole science of medicine
packed in between my two ears. I felt as exultant as
though I were going to take over some practice which lay
ready for me.
It was about four in the afternoon when I reached
Birchespool, which is fifty-three miles by rail from
Bradfield. It may be merely a name to you, and, indeed,
until I set foot in it I knew nothing of it myself; but
I can tell you now that it has a population of a hundred
and thirty thousand souls (about the same as
Bradfield), that it is mildly manufacturing, that it is
within an hour's journey of the sea, that it has an
aristocratic western suburb with a mineral well, and that
the country round is exceedingly beautiful. It is small
enough to have a character of its own, and large enough
for solitude, which is always the great charm of a city,
after the offensive publicity of the country.
When I turned out with my brass plate, my trunk, and
my hat-box upon the Birchespool platform, I sat down and
wondered what my first move should be. Every penny was
going to be of the most vital importance to me, and I
must plan things within the compass of that tiny purse.
As I sat pondering, there came a sight of interest, for
I heard a burst of cheering with the blare of a band upon
the other side of the station, and then the pioneers and
leading files of a regiment came swinging on to the
platform. They wore white sun-hats, and were leaving for
Malta, in anticipation of war in Egypt. They were young
soldiers--English by the white facings--with a colonel
whose moustache reached his shoulders, and a number
of fresh-faced long-legged subalterns. I chiefly
remember one of the colour-sergeants, a man of immense
size and ferocious face, who leaned upon his Martini,
with two little white kittens peeping over either
shoulder from the flaps of his knapsack. I was so moved
at the sight of these youngsters going out to do their
best for the dear old country, that I sprang up on my
box, took off my hat, and gave them three cheers. At
first the folk on my side looked at me in their bovine
fashion--like a row of cows over a wall. At the second
a good many joined, and at the third my own voice was
entirely lost. So I turned to go my way, and the soldier
laddies to go theirs; and I wondered which of us had the
stiffest and longest fight before us.
I left my baggage at the office, and jumped into a
tramcar which was passing the station, with the intention
of looking for lodgings, as I judged that they would be
cheaper than an hotel. The conductor interested himself
in my wants in that personal way which makes me think
that the poorer classes in England are one of the
kindliest races on earth. Policemen, postmen, railway
guards, busmen, what good helpful fellows they all are!
This one reckoned the whole thing out, how this street
was central but dear, and the other was out-of-the-way
but cheap, and finally dropped me at a medium shabby-
genteel kind of thoroughfare called Cadogan Terrace, with
instructions that I was to go down there and see how I
I could not complain of a limited selection, for a
"to let " or "apartments" was peeping out of every second
window. I went into the first attractive house that I
saw, and interviewed the rather obtuse and grasping old
lady who owned it. A sitting-bed-room was to be had for
thirteen shillings a week. As I had never hired rooms
before, I had no idea whether this was cheap or dear; but
I conclude it was the latter, since on my raising my
eyebrows as an experiment she instantly came down to ten
shillings and sixpence. I tried another look and an
exclamation of astonishment; but as she stood firm, I
gathered that I had touched the bottom.
"Your rooms are quite clean?" I asked, for there
was a wooden panelling which suggested possibilities.
"Quite clean, Sir."
"The officers of the garrison come sometimes."
This took some thinking out. It had an ugly sound,
but I gathered that she meant that there could be no
question about the cleanliness since these gentlemen were
satisfied. So the bargain was struck, and I ordered tea
to be ready in an hour, while I went back to the station
to fetch up my luggage. A porter brought it up for
eightpence (saving fourpence on a cab, my boy!) and so I
found myself in the heart of Birchespool with a base of
operations secured. I looked out of the little window of
my lodgings at the reeking pots and grey sloping roofs,
with a spire or two spurting up among them, and I shook
my teaspoon defiantly at them. "You've got to conquer
me," said I, "or else I'm man enough to conquer you."
Now, you would hardly expect that a fellow would have
an adventure on his very first night in a strange
town; but I had--a trivial one, it is true, but fairly
exciting while it lasted. Certainly it reads more like
what might happen to a man in a book, but you may take it
from me that it worked out just as I set it down here.
When I had finished my tea, I wrote a few letters--
one to Cullingworth, and one to Horton. Then, as it was
a lovely evening, I determined to stroll out and see what
sort of a place it was upon which Fate had washed me up.
"Best begin as you mean to go on," thought I; so I donned
my frock-coat, put on my carefully-brushed top-hat, and
sallied forth with my very respectable metal-headed
walking stick in my hand.
I walked down to the Park, which is the chief centre
of the place, and I found that I liked everything I saw
of it. It was a lovely evening, and the air was fresh
and sweet. I sat down and listened to the band for an
hour, watching all the family parties, and feeling
particularly lonely. Music nearly always puts me into
the minor key; so there came a time when I could stand it
no longer, and I set off to find my way back to my
lodgings. On the whole, I felt that Birchespool was
a place in which a man might very well spend a happy
At one end of Cadogan Terrace (where I am lodging)
there is a wide open space where several streets meet.
In the centre of this stands a large lamp in the middle
of a broad stone pedestal, a foot or so high, and ten or
twelve across. Well, as I strolled along I saw there was
something going on round this lamppost. A crowd of
people had gathered, with a swirl in the centre. I was,
of course, absolutely determined not to get mixed up in
any row; but I could not help pushing my way through the
crowd to see what was the matter.
It wasn't a pretty sight. A woman, pinched and
bedraggled, with a baby on her arm, was being knocked
about by a burly brute of a fellow whom I judged to be
her husband from the way in which he cherished her. He
was one of those red-faced, dark-eyed men who can look
peculiarly malignant when they choose. It was clear that
he was half mad with drink, and that she had been trying
to lure him away from some den. I was just in time to
see him take a flying kick at her, amid cries of "Shame!
"from the crowd, and then lurch forward again, with
the evident intention of having another, the mob still
If, Bertie, it had been old student days, I should
have sailed straight in, as you or any other fellow would
have done. My flesh crept with my loathing for the
brute. But I had also to think of what I was and where
I was, and what I had come there to do. However, there
are some things which a man cannot stand, so I took a
couple of steps forward, put my hand on the fellow's
shoulder, and said in as conciliatory and genial a voice
as I could muster: "Come, come, my lad! Pull yourself
Instead of "pulling himself together," he very nearly
knocked me asunder. I was all abroad for an instant. He
had turned on me like a flash, and had struck me on the
throat just under the chin, my head being a little back
at the moment. It made me swallow once or twice, I can
tell you. Sudden as the blow was, I had countered, in
the automatic sort of way that a man who knows anything
of boxing does. It was only from the elbow, with no body
behind it, but it served to stave him off for the moment,
while I was making inquiries about my windpipe.
Then in he came with a rush; and the crowd swarming round
with shrieks of delight, we were pushed, almost locked in
each other's arms on to that big pedestal of which I have
spoken. "Go it, little 'un!" "Give him beans!" yelled
the mob, who had lost all sight of the origin of the
fray, and could only see that my opponent was two inches
the shorter man. So there, my dear Bertie, was I, within
a few hours of my entrance into this town, with my top-
hat down to my ears, my highly professional frock-coat,
and my kid gloves, fighting some low bruiser on a
pedestal in one of the most public places, in the heart
of a yelling and hostile mob! I ask you whether that was
cruel luck or not?
Cullingworth told me before I started that
Birchespool was a lively place. For the next few minutes
it struck me as the liveliest I had ever seen. The
fellow was a round hand hitter, but so strong that he
needed watching. A round blow is, as you know, more
dangerous than a straight one if it gets home; for the
angle of the jaw, the ear, and the temple, are the three
weakest points which you present. However, I took
particular care that my man did not get home; but, on the
other hand, I fear that I did not do him much harm
either. He bored in with his head down; and I, like a
fool, broke my knuckles over the top of his impenetrable
skull. Of course, theoretically I should either have
stepped back and tried an undercut, or else taken him
into chancery; but I must confess to feeling flurried and
rattled from the blow I had had, as well as from the
suddenness of the whole affair. However, I was cooling
down, and I daresay should in time have done something
rational, when the affray came to a sudden and unexpected
This was from the impatience and excitement of the
crowd. The folk behind, wishing to see all that was
going on, pushed against those in front, until half-a-
dozen of the foremost (with, I think, a woman among them)
were flung right up against us. One of these, a rough,
sailor-like fellow in a jersey, got wedged between us;
and my antagonist, in his blind rage, got one of his
swinging blows home upon this new-comer's ear. "What,
you----!" yelled the sailor; and in an instant he had
taken over the whole contract, and was at it hammer and
tongs with my beauty. I grabbed my stick, which had
fallen among the crowd, and backed my way out,
rather dishevelled, but very glad to get off so cheaply.
From the shouting which I could hear some time after I
reached the door of my lodgings, I gathered that a good
battle was still raging.
You see, it was the merest piece of luck in the world
that my first appearance in Birchespool was not in the
dock of the police-court. I should have had no one to
answer for me, if I had been arrested, and should have
been put quite on a level with my adversary. I daresay
you think I made a great fool of myself, but I should
like to know how I could have acted otherwise. The only
thing that I feel now is my loneliness. What a lucky
fellow you are with your wife and child!
After all, I see more and more clearly that both men
and women are incomplete, fragmentary, mutilated
creatures, as long as they are single. Do what they may
to persuade themselves that their state is the happiest,
they are still full of vague unrests, of dim, ill-defined
dissatisfactions, of a tendency to narrow ways and
selfish thoughts. Alone each is a half-made being, with
every instinct and feeling yearning for its missing
moiety. Together they form a complete and symmetrical
whole, the minds of each strongest where that of the
other needs reinforcing. I often think that if our souls
survive death (and I believe they do, though I base my
believe on very different grounds from yours), every male
soul will have a female one attached to or combined with
it, to round it off and give it symmetry. So thought the
old Mormon, you remember, who used it as an argument for
his creed. "You cannot take your railway stocks into the
next world with you," he said. "But with all our wives
and children we should make a good start in the world to
I daresay you are smiling at me, as you read this,
from the vantage ground of your two years of matrimony.
It will be long before I shall be able to put my views
Well, good-bye, my dear old chap! As I said at the
beginning of my letter, the very thought of you is good
for me, and never more so than at this moment, when I am
alone in a strange city, with very dubious prospects, and
an uncertain future. We differ as widely as the poles,
you and I, and have done ever since I have known you.
You are true to your faith, I to my reason--you to your
family belief, I to my own ideas; but our friendship
shows that the real essentials of a man, and his affinity
for others, depends upon quite other things than views on
abstract questions. Anyway, I can say with all my heart
that I wish I saw you with that old corncob of yours
between your teeth, sitting in that ricketty American-
leather armchair, with the villanous lodging-house
antimacassar over the back of it. It is good of you to
tell me how interested you are in my commonplace
adventures; though if I had not KNOWN that you were
so, you may be sure that I should never have ventured to
inflict any of them upon you. My future is now all
involved in obscurity, but it is obvious that the first
thing I must do is to find a fitting house, and my second
to cajole the landlord into letting me enter into
possession of it without any prepayment. To that I will
turn myself to-morrow morning, and you shall know the
result. Whom should I hear from the other day but Archie
McLagan? Of course it was a begging letter. You can
judge how far I am in a state to lose money; but in a hot
fit I sent him ten shillings, which now, in my cold, I
bitterly regret. With every good wish to you and yours,
including your town, your State, and your great country,
yours as ever.
1 OAKLEY VILLAS, BIRCHESPOOL, 29th May, 1882.
Birchespool is really a delightful place, dear
Bertie; and I ought to know something about it, seeing
that I have padded a good hundred miles through its
streets during the last seven days. Its mineral springs
used to be quite the mode a century or more ago; and it
retains many traces of its aristocratic past, carrying it
with a certain grace, too, as an emigre countess
might wear the faded dress which had once rustled in
Versailles. I forget the new roaring suburbs with their
out-going manufactures and their incoming wealth, and I
live in the queer health-giving old city of the past.
The wave of fashion has long passed over it, but a
deposit of dreary respectability has been left behind.
In the High Street you can see the long iron
extinguishers upon the railings where the link-boys used
to put out their torches, instead of stamping upon them
or slapping them on the pavement, as was the custom
in less high-toned quarters. There are the very high
curbstones too, so that Lady Teazle or Mrs. Sneerwell
could step out of coach or sedan chair without soiling
her dainty satin shoes. It brings home to me what an
unstable chemical compound man is. Here are the stage
accessories as good as ever, while the players have all
split up into hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and
carbon, with traces of iron and silica and phosphorus.
A tray full of chemicals and three buckets of water,--
there is the raw material of my lady in the sedan chair!
It's a curious double picture, if one could but conjure
it up. On the one side, the high-born bucks, the mincing
ladies, the scheming courtiers, pushing and planning, and
striving every one of them to attain his own petty
object. Then for a jump of a hundred years. What is
this in the corner of the old vault? Margarine and
chlesterine, carbonates, sulphates, and ptomaines! We
turn from it in loathing, and as we go we carry with us
that from which we fly.
But, mind you, Bertie, I have a very high respect for
the human body, and I hold that it has been unduly
snubbed and maligned by divines and theologians:
"our gross frames" and "our miserable mortal clay" are
phrases which to my mind partake more of blasphemy than
of piety. It is no compliment to the Creator to
depreciate His handiwork. Whatever theory or belief we
may hold about the soul, there can, I suppose, be no
doubt that the body is immortal. Matter may be
transformed (in which case it may be re-transformed), but
it can never be destroyed. If a comet were to strike
this globule of ours, and to knock it into a billion
fragments, which were splashed all over the solar
system--if its fiery breath were to lick up the earth's
surface until it was peeled like an orange, still at the
end of a hundred millions of years every tiniest particle
of our bodies would exist--in other forms and
combinations, it is true, but still those very atoms
which now form the forefinger which traces these words.
So the child with the same wooden bricks will build a
wall, then strew them on the table; then a tower, then
strew once more, and so ever with the same bricks.
But then our individuality? I often wonder whether
something of that wilt cling to our atoms--whether the
dust of Johnnie Munro will ever have something of
him about it, and be separable from that of Bertie
Swanborough. I think it is possible that we DO
impress ourselves upon the units of our own structure.
There are facts which tend to show that every tiny
organic cell of which a man is composed, contains in its
microcosm a complete miniature of the individual of which
it forms a part. The ovum itself from which we are all
produced is, as you know, too small to be transfixed upon
the point of a fine needle; and yet within that narrow
globe lies the potentiality, not only for reproducing the
features of two individuals, but even their smallest
tricks of habit and of thought. Well, if a single cell
contains so much, perhaps a single molecule and atom has
more than we think.
Have you ever had any personal experience of dermoid
cysts? We had one in Cullingworth's practice just before
his illness, and we were both much excited about it.
They seem to me to be one of those wee little chinks
through which one may see deep into Nature's workings.
In this case the fellow, who was a clerk in the post
office, came to us with a swelling over his eyebrow. We
opened it under the impression that it was an
abscess, and found inside some hair and a
rudimentary jaw with teeth in it. You know that such
cases are common enough in surgery, and that no
pathological museum is without an example.
But what are we to understand by it? So startling a
phenomenon must have a deep meaning. That can only be,
I think, that EVERY cell in the body has the power
latent in it by which it may reproduce the whole
individual--and that occasionally under some special
circumstances--some obscure nervous or vascular
excitement--one of these microscopic units of structure
actually does make a clumsy attempt in that direction.