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The Stark Munro Letters by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 5 out of 5

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her candle in one hand and another dog under her arm.
Jack was with us for three weeks; and as I made him
holystone the whole place down twice a week until the
boards were like a quarter deck, we got something out of
him in return for his lodging.

About this time, finding a few shillings over and no
expense imminent, I laid down a cellar, in the shape of
a four and a half gallon cask of beer, with a firm
resolution that it should never be touched save on high
days and holidays, or when guests had to be entertained.

Shortly afterwards Jack went away to sea again; and
after his departure there were several furious quarrels
between the women down below, which filled the whole
house with treble reproaches and repartees. At last one
evening Miss Williams--the quiet one--came to me and
announced with sobs that she must go. Mrs. Wotton made
her life unbearable, she said. She was determined to be
independent, and had fitted up a small shop in a poor
quarter of the town. She was going now, at once, to take
possession of it.

I was sorry, because I liked Miss Williams, and I
said a few words to that effect. She got as far as the
hall door, and then came rustling back again into the
consulting room. "Take a drink of your own beer!" she
cried, and vanished.

It sounded like some sort of slang imprecation. If
she had said "Oh, pull up your socks!" I should
have been less surprised. And then suddenly the words
took a dreadful meaning in my mind, and I rushed to the
cellar. The cask was tilted forward on the trestles. I
struck it and it boomed like a drum. I turned the tap,
and not one drop appeared. Let us draw a veil over the
painful scene. Suffice it that Mrs. Wotton got her
marching orders then and there--and that next day Paul
and I found ourselves alone in the empty house once more.

But we were demoralised by luxury. We could no
longer manage without a helper--especially now in the
winter time, when fires had to be lit--the most heart-
breaking task that a man can undertake. I bethought me
of the quiet Miss Williams, and hunted her up in her
shop. She was quite willing to come, and saw how she
could get out of the rent; but the difficulty lay with
her stock. This sounded formidable at first, but when I
came to learn that the whole thing had cost eleven
shillings, it did not appear insurmountable. In half an
hour my watch was pawned, and the affair concluded. I
returned with an excellent housekeeper, and with a larger
basketful of inferior Swedish matches, bootlaces,
cakes of black lead, and little figures made of sugar
than I should have thought it possible to get for the
money. So now we have settled down, and I hope that a
period of comparative peace lies before us.

Good-bye, old chap, and never think that I forget
you. Your letters are read and re-read with avidity. I
think I have every line you ever wrote me. You simply
knock Paley out every time. I am so glad that you got
out of that brewery business all right. For a time I was
really afraid that you must either lose your money or
else risk more upon the shares. I can only thank you for
your kind offer of blank cheques.

It is wonderful that you should have slipped back
into your American life so easily after your English
hiatus. As you say, however, it is not a change but only
a modification, since the root idea is the same in each.
Is it not strange how the two great brothers are led to
misunderstand each other? A man is punished for private
libel (over here at any rate), although the consequences
can only be slight. But a man may perpetrate
international libel, which is a very heinous and
far-reaching offence, and there is no law in the world
which can punish him. Think of the contemptible crew of
journalists and satirists who for ever picture the
Englishman as haughty and h-dropping, or the American as
vulgar and expectorating. If some millionaire would give
them all a trip round the world we should have some
rest--and if the plug came out of the boat midway it
would be more restful still. And your vote-hunting
politicians with their tail-twisting campaigns, and our
editors of the supercilious weeklies with their inane
tone of superiority, if they were all aboard how much
clearer we should be! Once more adieu, and good luck!



Do you think that such a thing as chance exists?
Rather an explosive sentence to start a letter with; but
pray cast your mind back over your own life, and tell me
if you think that we really are the sports of chance.
You know how often the turning down this street or that,
the accepting or rejecting of an invitation, may deflect
the whole current of our lives into some other channel.
Are we mere leaves, fluttered hither and thither by the
wind, or are we rather, with every conviction that we are
free agents, carried steadily along to a definite and
pre-determined end? I confess that as I advance through
life, I become more and more confirmed in that fatalism
to which I have always had an inclination.

Look at it in this way. We know that
many of the permanent facts of the universe are
NOT chance. It is not chance that the heavenly
bodies swing clear of each other, that the seed is
furnished with the apparatus which will drift it to a
congenial soil, that the creature is adapted to its
environment. Show me a whale with its great-coat of fat,
and I want no further proof of design. But logically, as
it seems to me, ALL must be design, or all must be
chance. I do not see how one can slash a line right
across the universe, and say that all to the right of
that is chance, and all to the left is pre-ordained. You
would then have to contend that things which on the face
of them are of the same class, are really divided by an
impassable gulf, and that the lower are regulated, while
the higher are not. You would, for example, be forced to
contend that the number of articulations in a flea's hind
leg has engaged the direct superintendence of the
Creator, while the mischance which killed a thousand
people in a theatre depended upon the dropping of a wax
vesta upon the floor, and was an unforeseen flaw in the
chain of life. This seems to me to be unthinkable.

It is a very superficial argument to say that if
a man holds the views of a fatalist he will therefore
cease to strive, and will wait resignedly for what fate
may send him. The objector forgets that among the other
things fated is that we of northern blood SHOULD
strive and should NOT sit down with folded hands.
But when a man has striven, when he has done all he
knows, and when, in spite of it, a thing comes to pass,
let him wait ten years before he says that it is a
misfortune. It is part of the main line of his destiny
then, and is working to an end. A man loses his fortune;
he gains earnestness. His eyesight goes; it leads him to
a spirituality. The girl loses her beauty; she becomes
more sympathetic. We think we are pushing our own way
bravely, but there is a great Hand in ours all the time.

You'll wonder what has taken me off on this line.
Only that I seem to see it all in action in my own life.
But, as usual, I have started merrily off with an
appendix, so I shall go back and begin my report as
nearly as possible where I ended the last. First of all,
I may say generally that the clouds were thinning then,
and that they broke shortly afterwards. During the
last few months we have never once quite lost sight
of the sun.

You remember that we (Paul and I) had just engaged a
certain Miss Williams to come and keep house for us. I
felt that on the basement-lodger principle I had not
control enough; so we now entered upon a more business-
like arrangement, by which a sum (though, alas! an
absurdly small one) was to be paid her for her services.
I would it had been ten times as much, for a better and
a more loyal servant man never had. Our fortunes seemed
to turn from the hour that she re-entered the house.

Slowly, week by week, and month by month, the
practice began to spread and to strengthen. There were
spells when never a ring came to the bell, and it seemed
as though all our labour had gone for nothing--but then
would come other days when eight and ten names would
appear in my ledger. Where did it come from you will
ask. Some from old Whitehall and his circle of
Bohemians. Some from accident cases. Some from new
comers to the town who drifted to me. Some from people
whom I met first in other capacities. An insurance
superintendent gave me a few cases to examine, and
that was a very great help. Above all, I learned a fact
which I would whisper in the ear of every other man who
starts, as I have done, a stranger among strangers. Do
not think that practice will come to you. You must go to
it. You may sit upon your consulting room chair until it
breaks under you, but without purchase or partnership you
will make little or no progress. The way to do it is to
go out, to mix everywhere with men, to let them know you.
You will come back many a time and be told by a
reproachful housekeeper that some one has been for you in
your absence. Never mind! Go out again. A noisy
smoking concert where you will meet eighty men is better
for you than the patient or two whom you might have seen
at home. It took me some time to realise, but I speak
now as one who knows.

But--there is a great big "but" in the case. You must
ride yourself on the curb the whole time. Unless you are
sure--absolutely sure--that you can do this, you are far
best at home. You must never for one instant forget
yourself. You must remember what your object is in
being there. You must inspire respect. Be
friendly, genial, convivial--what you will--but preserve
the tone and bearing of a gentleman. If you can make
yourself respected and liked you will find every club and
society that you join a fresh introduction to practice.
But beware of drink! Above everything, beware of drink!
The company that you are in may condone it in each other,
but never in the man who wishes them to commit their
lives to his safe keeping. A slip is fatal--a half slip
perilous. Make your rule of life and go by it, in spite
of challenge or coaxers. It will be remembered in your
favour next morning.

And of course I do not mean merely festive societies.
Literary, debating, political, social, athletic, every
one of them is a tool to your hands. But you must show
them what a good man you are. You must throw yourself
into each with energy and conviction. You will soon find
yourself on the committee--possibly the secretary, or
even in the presidential chair. Do not grudge labour
where the return may be remote and indirect. Those are
the rungs up which one climbs.

That was how, when I had gained some sort of opening,
I set to work to enlarge it. I joined this. I joined
that. I pushed in every direction. I took up athletics
again much to the advantage of my health, and found that
the practice benefited as well as I. My cricket form for
the season has been fair, with an average of about 20
with the bat and 9 with the ball.

It must be allowed, however, that this system of
sallying out for my patients and leaving my consulting
room empty might be less successful if it were not for my
treasure of a housekeeper. She is a marvel of
discretion, and the way in which she perjures her soul
for the sake of the practice is a constant weight upon my
conscience. She is a tall, thin woman, with a grave face
and an impressive manner. Her standard fiction, implied
rather than said (with an air as if it were so
universally known that it would be absurd to put it into
words) is, that I am so pressed by the needs of my
enormous practice, that any one wishing to consult me
must make their appointment very exactly and a long time
in advance.

"Dear me, now!" she says to some applicant.
He's been hurried off again. If you'd been here half-an-
hour ago he might have given you a minute. I never saw
such a thing" (confidentially). "Between you and me I
don't think he can last at it long. He's bound to break
down. But come in, and I'll do all I can for you."

Then, having carefully fastened the patient up in the
consulting room, she goes to little Paul.

"Run round to the bowling green, Master Paul," says
she. "You'll find the doctor there, I think. Just tell
him that a patient is waiting for him."

She seems in these interviews to inspire them with a
kind of hushed feeling of awe, as if they had found their
way into some holy of holies. My own actual appearance
is quite an anti-climax after the introduction by Miss

Another of her devices is to make appointments with
an extreme precision as to time, I being at the moment
worked to death (at a cricket match).

"Let us see!" says she, looking at the slate. "He
will be clear at seven minutes past eight this evening.
Yes, he could just manage it then. He has no one at all
from seven past to the quarter past"--and so at the
appointed hour I have my patient precipitating himself
into my room with the demeanour of the man who charges in
for his bowl of hot soup at a railway station. If he
knew that he is probably the only patient who has opened
my door that evening he would not be in such a hurry--or
think so much of my advice.

One curious patient has come my way who has been of
great service to me. She is a stately looking widow,
Turner by name, the most depressingly respectable figure,
as of Mrs. Grundy's older and less frivolous sister. She
lives in a tiny house, with one small servant to scale.
Well, every two months or so she quite suddenly goes on
a mad drink, which lasts for about a week. It ends as
abruptly as it begins, but while it is on the neighbours
know it. She shrieks, yells, sings, chivies the servant,
and skims plates out of the window at the passers-by. Of
course, it is really not funny, but pathetic and
deplorable--all the same, it is hard to keep from
laughing at the absurd contrast between her actions and
her appearance. I was called in by accident in the first
instance; but I speedily acquired some control over her,
so that now the neighbours send for me the moment the
crockery begins to come through the window. She has
a fair competence, so that her little vagaries are a help
to me with my rent. She has, too, a number of curious
jugs, statues, and pictures, a selection of which she
presents to me in the course of each of her attacks,
insisting upon my carrying them away then and there; so
that I stagger out of the house like one of Napoleon's
generals coming out of Italy. There is a good deal of
method in the old lady, however, and on her recovery she
invariably sends round a porter, with a polite note to
say that she would be very glad to have her pictures back

And now I have worked my way to the point where I can
show you what I mean when I talk about fate. The medical
practitioner who lives next me--Porter is his name--is a
kindly sort of man, and knowing that I have had a long
uphill fight, he has several times put things in my way.
One day about three weeks ago he came into my consulting
room after breakfast.

"Could you come with me. to a consultation?" he

"With pleasure."

"I have my carriage outside."

He told me something of the case as we went. It was
a young fellow, an only son, who had been suffering from
nervous symptoms for some time, and lately from
considerable pain in his head. "His people are living
with a patient of mine, General Wainwright," said Porter.
"He didn't like the symptoms, and thought he would have
a second opinion."

We came to the house, a great big one, in its own
grounds, and had a preliminary talk with the dark-faced,
white-haired Indian soldier who owns it. He was
explaining the responsibility that he felt, the patient
being his nephew, when a lady entered the room. "This is
my sister, Mrs. La Force," said he, "the mother of the
gentleman whom you are going to see."

I recognised her instantly. I had met her before and
under curious circumstances. (Dr. Stark Munro here
proceeds to narrate again how he had met the La Forces,
having evidently forgotten that he had already done so in
Letter VI.) When she was introduced I could see that she
had not associated me with the young doctor in the train.
I don't wonder, for I have started a beard, in the hope
of making myself look a little older. She was
naturally all anxiety about her son, and we went up with
her (Porter and I) to have a look at him. Poor fellow!
he seemed peakier and more sallow than when I had seen
him last. We held our consultation, came to an agreement
about the chronic nature of his complaint, and finally
departed without my reminding Mrs. La Force of our
previous meeting.

Well, there the matter might have ended; but about
three days afterwards who should be shown into my
consulting room but Mrs. La Force and her daughter. I
thought the latter looked twice at me, when her mother
introduced her, as if she had some recollection of my
face; but she evidently could not recall where she had
seen it, and I said nothing to help her. They both
seemed to be much distressed in mind--indeed, the tears
were brimming over from the girl's eyes, and her lip was

"We have come to you, Doctor Munro, in the greatest
distress," said Mrs. La Force; "we should be very glad of
your advice."

"You place me in rather a difficult position, Mrs.
La Force," said I. "The fact is, that I look upon you as
Dr. Porter's patients, and it is a breach of etiquette
upon my part to hold any communication with you except
through him."

"It was he who sent us here," said she.

"Oh, that alters the matter entirely."

"He said he could do nothing to help us, and that
perhaps you could."

"Pray let me know what you wish done."

She set out valorously to explain; but the effort of
putting her troubles into words seemed to bring them more
home to her, and she suddenly blurred over and became
inarticulate. Her daughter bent towards her, and kissed
her with the prettiest little spasm of love and pity.

"I will tell you about it, doctor," said she. "Poor
mother is almost worn out. Fred--my brother, that is to
say, is worse. He has become noisy, and will not be

"And my brother, the general," continued Mrs. La
Force, "naturally did not expect this when he kindly
offered us a home, and, being a nervous man, it is very
trying to him. In fact, it cannot go on. He says so

"But what is mother to do?" cried the girl, taking up
the tale again. "No hotel or lodging-house would take us
in while poor Fred is like that. And we have not
the heart to send him to an asylum. Uncle will not have
us any longer, and we have nowhere to go to." Her grey
eyes tried to look brave, but her mouth would go down at
the corners.

I rose and walked up and down the room, trying to
think it all out.

"What I wanted to ask you," said Mrs. La Force, "was
whether perhaps you knew some doctor or some private
establishment which took in such cases--so that we could
see Fred every day or so. The only thing is that he must
be taken at once, for really my brother has reached the
end of his patience."

I rang the bell for my housekeeper.

"Miss Williams," said I, "do you think we can furnish
a bedroom by to-night, so as to take in a gentleman who
is ill?"

Never have I so admired that wonderful woman's self-

"Why, easily, sir, if the patients will only let me
alone. But with that bell going thirty times an hour,
it's hard to say what you are going to do."

This with her funny manner set the ladies
laughing, and the whole business seemed lighter and
easier. I promised to have the room ready by eight
o'clock. Mrs. La Force arranged to bring her son round
at that hour, and both ladies thanked me a very great
deal more than I deserved; for after all it was a
business matter, and a resident patient was the very
thing that I needed. I was able to assure Mrs. La Force
that I had had a similar case under my charge before--
meaning, of course, poor "Jimmy," the son of Lord
Saltire. Miss Williams escorted them to the door, and
took occasion to whisper to them that it was wonderful
how I got through with it, and that I was within sight of
my carriage."

It was a short notice, but we got everything ready by
the hour. Carpet, bed, suite, curtains--all came
together, and were fixed in their places by the united
efforts of Miss Williams, Paul, and myself. Sharp at
eight a cab arrived, and Fred was conducted by me into
his bedroom. The moment I looked at him I could see that
he was much worse than when I saw him with Dr. Porter.
The chronic brain trouble had taken a sudden acute turn.

His eyes were wild, his cheeks flushed, his lips
drawn slightly away from his teeth. His temperature was
102@, and he muttered to himself continually, and paid no
attention to my questions. It was evident to me at a
glance that the responsibility which I had taken upon
myself was to be no light one.

However, we could but do our best. I undressed him
and got him safely to bed, while Miss Williams prepared
some arrowroot for his supper. He would eat nothing,
however, but seemed more disposed to dose, so having seen
him settle down we left him. His room was the one next
to mine, and as the wall was thin, I could hear the least
movement. Two or three times he muttered and groaned,
but finally he became quiet, and I was able to drop to

At three in the morning, I was awakened by a dreadful
crash. Bounding out of bed I rushed into the other room.
Poor Fred was standing in his long gown, a pathetic
little figure in the grey light of the dawning day. He
had pulled over his washing-stand (with what object only
his bemuddled mind could say), and the whole place was a
morass of water with islands of broken crockery. I
picked him up and put him back into his bed again--
his body glowing through his night-dress, and his eyes
staring wildly about him. It was evidently impossible to
leave him, and so I spent the rest of the night nodding
and shivering in the armchair. No, it was certainly not
a sinecure that I had undertaken.

In the morning I went round to Mrs. La Force and gave
her a bulletin. Her brother had recovered his serenity
now that the patient had left. He had the Victoria Cross
it seems, and was one of the desperate little garrison
who held Lucknow in that hell-whirl of a mutiny. And now
the sudden opening of a door sets him shaking, and a
dropped tongs gives him palpitations. Are we not the
strangest kind of beings?

Fred was a little better during the day, and even
seemed in a dull sort of way to recognise his sister, who
brought him flowers in the afternoon. Towards evening
his temperature sank to 101.5@, and he fell into a kind
of stupor. As it happened, Dr. Porter came in about
supper-time, and I asked him if he would step up and have
a look at my patient. He did so, and we found him dozing
peacefully. You would hardly think that that small
incident may have been one of the most momentous in my
life. It was the merest chance in the world that Porter
went up at all.

Fred was taking medicine with a little chloral in it
at this time. I gave him his usual dose last thing at
night; and then, as he seemed to be sleeping peacefully,
I went to my own room for the rest which I badly needed.
I did not wake until eight in the morning, when I was
roused by the jingling of a spoon in a saucer, and the
step of Miss Williams passing my door. She was taking
him the arrowroot which I had ordered over-night. I
heard her open the door, and the next moment my heart
sprang into my mouth as she gave a hoarse scream, and her
cup and saucer crashed upon the floor. An instant later
she had burst into my room, with her face convulsed with

"My God!" she cried, "he's gone!"

I caught up my dressing-gown and rushed into the next

Poor little Fred was stretched sideways across his
bed, quite dead. He looked as if he had been rising and
had fallen backwards. His face was so peaceful and
smiling that I could hardly have recognised the worried,
fever-worn features of yesterday. There is great
promise, I think, on the faces of the dead. They say it
is but the post-mortem relaxation of the muscles, but
it is one of the points on which I should like to see
science wrong.

Miss Williams and I stood for five minutes without a
word, hushed by the presence of that supreme fact. Then
we laid him straight, and drew the sheet over him. She
knelt down and prayed and sobbed, while I sat on the bed,
with the cold hand in mine. Then my heart turned to lead
as I remembered that it lay for me to break the news to
the mother.

However, she took it most admirably. They were all
three at breakfast when I came round, the general, Mrs.
La Force, and the daughter. Somehow they seemed to know
all that I had to say at the very sight of me; and in
their womanly unselfishness their sympathy was all for
me, for the shock I had suffered, and the disturbance of
my household. I found myself turned from the consoler
into the consoled. For an hour or more we talked it
over, I explaining what I hope needed no
explanation, that as the poor boy could not tell me his
symptoms it was hard for me to know how immediate was his
danger. There can be no doubt that the fall of
temperature and the quietness which both Porter and I had
looked upon as a hopeful sign, were really the beginning
to the end.

Mrs. La Force asked me to see to everything, the
formalities, register, and funeral. It was on a
Wednesday, and we thought it best that the burial should
be on the Friday. Back I hurried, therefore, not knowing
what to do first, and found old Whitehall waiting for me
in my consulting room, looking very jaunty with a camelia
in his button-hole. Not an organ in its right place, and
a camelia in his button-hole!

Between ourselves, I was sorry to see him, for I was
in no humour for his company; but he had heard all about
it from Miss Williams, and had come to stop. Only then
did I fully realise how much of the kindly, delicate-
minded gentleman remained behind that veil of profanity
and obscenity which he so often held before him.

"I'll trot along with you, Dr. Munro, sir. A
man's none the worse for a companion at such times. I'll
not open my mouth unless you wish it, sir; but I am an
idle man, and would take it as a kindness if you would
let me come round with you."

Round he came, and very helpful he was. He seemed to
know all about the procedure--"Buried two wives, Dr.
Munro, sir! "I signed the certificate myself, conveyed it
to the registrar, got the order for burial, took it round
to the parish clerk, arranged an hour, then off to the
undertaker's, and back to my practice. It was a kind of
nightmare morning to look back upon, relieved only by the
figure of my old Bohemian, with his pea jacket, his black
thorn, his puffy, crinkly face, and his camelia.

To make a long story short, then, the funeral came
off as arranged, General Wainwright, Whitehall, and I
being the sole mourners. The captain had never seen poor
Fred in the flesh, but he "liked to be in at the finish,
sir," and so he gave me his company. It was at eight in
the morning, and it was ten before we found ourselves at
Oakley Villa. A burly man with bushy whiskers was
waiting for us at the door.

"Are you Dr. Munro, sir?" he asked.

"I am."

"I am a detective from the local office. I was
ordered to inquire into the death of the young man in
your house lately."

Here was a thunderbolt! If looking upset is a sign
of guilt, I must have stood confessed as a villain. It
was so absolutely unexpected. I hope, however, that I
had command of myself instantly.

"Pray step in!" said I. Any information I can give
you is entirely at your service. Have you any objection
to my friend Captain Whitehall being present?

"Not in the least." So in we both went, taking this
bird of ill-omen.

He was, however, a man of tact and with a pleasant

"Of course, Dr. Munro," said he, "you are much too
well known in the town for any one to take this matter
seriously. But the fact is that we had an anonymous
letter this morning saying that the young man had died
yesterday and was to be buried at an unusual hour to-day,
and that the circumstances were suspicious."

He died the day before yesterday. He was buried at
eight to-day," I explained; and then I told him the whole
story from the beginning. He listened attentively and
took a note or two.

"Who signed the certificate?" he asked.

"I did," said I.

He raised his eyebrows slightly. "There is really no
one to check your statement then?" said he.

"Oh yes, Dr. Porter saw him the night before he died.
He knew all about the case."

The detective shut his note-book with a snap. "That
is final, Dr. Munro," said he. "Of course I must see Dr.
Porter as a matter of form, but if his opinion agrees
with yours I can only apologise to you for this

"And there is one more thing, Mr. Detective, sir,"
said Whitehall explosively. "I'm not a rich man, sir,
only the ---- half-pay skipper of an armed transport; but
by ----, sir, I'd give you this hat full of dollars to
know the name of the ---- rascal who wrote that anonymous
letter, sir. By ---- sir, you'd have a real case to look
after then." And he waved his black thorn ferociously.

So the wretched business ended, Bertie. But on what
trifling chances do our fortunes depend! If Porter had
not seen him that night, it is more than likely that
there would have been an exhumation. And then,--well,
there would be chloral in the body; some money interests
DID depend upon the death of the lad--a sharp lawyer
might have made much of the case. Anyway, the first
breath of suspicion would have blown my little rising
practice to wind. What awful things lurk at the corners
of Life's highway, ready to pounce upon us as we pass!

And so you really are going a-voyaging! Well, I
won't write again until I hear that you are back from the
Islands, and then I hope to have something a little more
cheery to talk about.


1 OAKLEY VILLAS, BIRCHESPOOL, 4th November, 1884.

I face my study window as I write, Bertie. Slate-
coloured clouds with ragged fringes are drifting slowly
overhead. Between them one has a glimpse of higher
clouds of a lighter gray. I can hear the gentle swish
of the rain striking a clearer note on the gravel path
and a duller among the leaves. Sometimes it falls
straight and heavy, till the air is full of the delicate
gray shading, and for half a foot above the ground there
is a haze from the rebound of a million tiny globules.
Then without any change in the clouds it cases off again.
Pools line my walk, and lie thick upon the roadway, their
surface pocked by the falling drops. As I sit I can
smell the heavy perfume of the wet earth, and the laurel
bushes gleam where the light strikes sideways upon them.
The gate outside shines above as though it were
new varnished, and along the lower edge of the
upper bar there hangs a fringe of great clear drops.

That is the best that November can do for us in our
dripping little island. You, I suppose, sitting among
the dying glories of an American fall, think that this
must needs be depressing. Don't make any mistake about
that, my dear boy. You may take the States, from Detroit
to the Gulf, and you won't find a happier man than this
one. What do you suppose I've got att his{sic-- at this}
moment in my consulting room? A bureau? A bookcase?
No, I know you've guessed my secret already. She is
sitting in my big armchair; and she is the best, the
kindest, the sweetest little woman in England.

Yes, I've been married six months now--the almanack
says months, though I should have thought weeks. I
should, of course, have sent cake and cards, but had an
idea that you were not home from the Islands yet. It is
a good year since I wrote to you; but when you give an
amorphous address of that sort, what can you expect?
I've thought of you, and talked of you often enough.

Well, I daresay, with the acumen of an old married
man, you have guessed who the lady is as well. We surely
know by some nameless instinct more about our futures
than we think we know. I can remember, for example, that
years ago the name of Bradfield used to strike with a
causeless familiarity upon my ear; and since then, as you
know, the course of my life has flowed through it. And
so when I first saw Winnie La Force in the railway
carriage, before I had spoken to her or knew her name, I
felt an inexplicable sympathy for and interest in her.
Have you had no experience of the sort in your life? Or
was it merely that she was obviously gentle and retiring,
and so made a silent claim upon all that was helpful and
manly in me? At any rate, I was conscious of it; and
again and again every time that I met her. How good is
that saying of some Russian writer that he who loves one
woman knows more of the whole sex than he who has had
passing relations with a thousand! I thought I knew
something of women. I suppose every medical student
does. But now I can see that I really knew nothing. My
knowledge was all external. I did not know the
woman soul, that crowning gift of Providence to man,
which, if we do not ourselves degrade it, will set an
edge to all that is good in us. I did not know how the
love of a woman will tinge a man's whole life and every
action with unselfishness. I did not know how easy it is
to be noble when some one else takes it for granted that
one will be so; or how wide and interesting life becomes
when viewed by four eyes instead of two. I had much to
learn, you see; but I think I have learned it.

It was natural that the death of poor Fred La Force
should make me intimate with the family. It was really
that cold hand which I grasped that morning as I sat by
his bed which drew me towards my happiness. I visited
them frequently, and we often went little excursions
together. Then my dear mother came down to stay with me
for a spell, and turned Miss Williams gray by looking for
dust in all sorts of improbable corners; or advancing
with a terrible silence, a broom in one hand and a shovel
in the other, to the attack of a spider's web which she
had marked down in the beer cellar. Her presence
enabled me to return some of the hospitality which I had
received from the La Forces, and brought us still nearer

I had never yet reminded them of our previous
meeting. One evening, however, the talk turned upon
clairvoyance, and Mrs. La Force was expressing the utmost
disbelief in it. I borrowed her ring, and holding it to
my forehead, I pretended to be peering into her past.

"I see you in a railway carriage," said I. "You are
wearing a red feather in your bonnet. Miss La Force is
dressed in something dark. There is a young man there.
He is rude enough to address your daughter as Winnie
before he has ever been----"

"Oh, mother," she cried, "of course it is he! The
face haunted me, and I could not think where we had met

Well, there are some things that we don't talk about
to another man, even when we know each other as well as
I know you. Why should we, when that which is most
engrossing to us consists in those gradual shades of
advance from friendship to intimacy, and from intimacy to
something more sacred still, which can scarcely be
written at all, far less made interesting to another?
The time came at last when they were to leave
Birchespool, and my mother and I went round the night
before to say goodbye. Winnie and I were thrown together
for an instant.

"When will you come back to Birchespool?" I asked.

"Mother does not know."

"Will you come soon, and be my wife?"

I had been turning over in my head all the evening
how prettily I could lead up to it, and how neatly I
could say it--and behold the melancholy result! Well,
perhaps the feeling of my heart managed to make itself
clear even through those bald words. There was but one
to judge, and she was of that opinion.

I was so lost in my own thoughts that I walked as far
as Oakley Villa with my mother before I opened my mouth.
"Mam," said I at last, "I have proposed to Winnie La
Force, and she has accepted me."

"My boy," said she, "you are a true Packenham." And
so I knew that my mother's approval had reached the point
of enthusiasm. It was not for days--not until I
expressed a preference for dust under the bookcase with
quiet, against purity and ructions--that the dear old
lady perceived traces of the Munros.

The time originally fixed for the wedding was six
months after this; but we gradually whittled it down to
five and to four. My income had risen to about two
hundred and seventy pounds at the time; and Winnie had
agreed, with a somewhat enigmatical smile, that we could
manage very well on that--the more so as marriage sends
a doctor's income up. The reason of her smile became
more apparent when a few weeks before that date I
received a most portentous blue document in which "We,
Brown & Woodhouse, the solicitors for the herein and
hereafter mentioned Winifred La Force, do hereby"--state
a surprising number of things, and use some remarkably
bad English. The meaning of it, when all the "whereas's
and aforesaids" were picked out, was, that Winnie had
about a hundred a year of her own. It could not make me
love her a shade better than I did; but at the same time
I won't be so absurd as to say that I was not glad,
or to deny that it made our marriage much easier than it
would otherwise have been.

Poor Whitehall came in on the morning of the
ceremony. He was staggering under the weight of a fine
Japanese cabinet which he had carried round from his
lodgings. I had asked him to come to the church, and the
old gentleman was resplendent in a white waistcoat and a
silk tie. Between ourselves, I had been just a little
uneasy lest his excitement should upset him, as in the
case of the dinner; but nothing could be more exemplary
than his conduct and appearance. I had introduced him to
Winnie some days before.

"You'll forgive me for saying, Dr. Munro, sir, that
you are a ---- lucky fellow," said he. "You've put your
hand in the bag, sir, and taken out the eel first time,
as any one with half an eye can see. Now, I've had three
dips, and landed a snake every dip. If I'd had a good
woman at my side, Dr. Munro, sir, I might not be the
broken half-pay skipper of an armed transport to-day."

"I thought you had been twice married, captain."

"Three times, sir. I buried two. The other lives at
Brussels. Well, I'll be at the church, Dr. Munro, sir;
and you may lay that there is no one there who wishes you
better than I do."

And yet there were many there who wished me well. My
patients had all got wind of it; and they assembled by
the pew-full, looking distressingly healthy. My
neighbour, Dr. Porter, was there also to lend me his
support, and old General Wainwright gave Winnie away. My
mother, Mrs. La Force, and Miss Williams were all in the
front pew; and away at the back of the church I caught a
glimpse of the forked beard and crinkly face of
Whitehall, and beside him the wounded lieutenant, the man
who ran away with the cook, and quite a line of the
strange Bohemians who followed his fortunes. Then when
the words were said, and man's form had tried to sanctify
that which was already divine, we walked amid the
pealings of the "Wedding March" into the vestry, where my
dear mother relieved the tension of the situation by
signing the register in the wrong place, so that to all
appearance it was she who had just married the clergyman.
And then amid congratulations and kindly faces, we
were together, her hand on my forearm, upon the steps of
the church, and saw the familiar road stretching before
us. But it was not that road which lay before my eyes,
but rather the path of our lives;--that broader path on
which our feet were now planted, so pleasant to tread,
and yet with its course so shrouded in the mist. Was it
long, or was it short? Was it uphill, or was it down?
For her, at least, it should be smooth, if a man's love
could make it so.

We were away for several weeks in the Isle of Man,
and then came back to Oakley Villa, where Miss Williams
was awaiting us in a house in which even my mother could
have found no dust, and with a series of cheering legends
as to the crowds of patients who had blocked the street
in my absence. There really was a marked increase in my
practice; and for the last six months or so, without
being actually busy, I have always had enough to occupy
me. My people are poor, and I have to work hard for a
small fee; but I still study and attend the local
hospital, and keep my knowledge up-to-date, so as to be
ready for my opening when it comes. There are times
when I chafe that I may not play a part upon some larger
stage than this; but my happiness is complete, and if
fate has no further use for me, I am content now from my
heart to live and to die where I am.

You will wonder, perhaps, how we get on--my wife and
I--in the matter of religion. Well, we both go our own
ways. Why should I proselytise? I would not for the
sake of abstract truth take away her child-like faith
which serves to make life easier and brighter to her. I
have made myself ill-understood by you in these
discursive letters if you have read in them any
bitterness against the orthodox creeds. Far from saying
that they are all false, it would express my position
better to say that they are all true. Providence would
not have used them were they not the best available
tools, and in that sense divine. That they are final I
deny. A simpler and more universal creed will take their
place, when the mind of man is ready for it; and I
believe it will be a creed founded upon those lines of
absolute and provable truth which I have indicated. But
the old creeds are still the best suited to certain
minds, and to certain ages. If they are good enough
for Providence to use, they are good enough for us to
endure. We have but to wait upon the survival of the
truest. If I have seemed to say anything aggressive
against them, it was directed at those who wish to limit
the Almighty's favour to their own little clique, or who
wish to build a Chinese wall round religion, with no
assimilation of fresh truths, and no hope of expansion in
the future. It is with these that the pioneers of
progress can hold no truce. As for my wife, I would as
soon think of breaking in upon her innocent prayers, as
she would of carrying off the works of philosophy from my
study table. She is not narrow in her views; but if one
could stand upon the very topmost pinnacle of broad-
mindedness, one would doubtless see from it that even the
narrow have their mission.

About a year ago I had news of Cullingworth from
Smeaton, who was in the same football team at college,
and who had called when he was passing through Bradfield.
His report was not a very favourable one. The practice
had declined considerably. People had no doubt
accustomed themselves to his eccentricities, and these
had ceased to impress them. Again, there had been
one or two coroner's inquests, which had spread the
impression that he had been rash in the use of powerful
drugs. If the coroner could have seen the hundreds of
cures which Cullingworth had effected by that same
rashness he would have been less confident with his
censures. But, as you can understand, C.'s rival medical
men were not disposed to cover him in any way. He had
never had much consideration for them.

Besides this decline in his practice, I was sorry to
hear that Cullingworth had shown renewed signs of that
curious vein of suspicion which had always seemed to me
to be the most insane of all his traits. His whole frame
of mind towards me had been an example of it, but as far
back as I can remember it had been a characteristic.
Even in those early days when they lived in four little
rooms above a grocer's shop, I recollect that he insisted
upon gumming up every chink of one bedroom for fear of
some imaginary infection. He was haunted, too, with a
perpetual dread of eavesdroppers, which used to make him
fly at the door and fling it open in the middle of his
conversation, pouncing out into the passage with the
idea of catching somebody in the act. Once it was
the maid with the tea tray that he caught, I remember;
and I can see her astonished face now, with an aureole of
flying cups and lumps of sugar.

Smeaton tells me that this has now taken the form of
imagining that some one is conspiring to poison him with
copper, against which he takes the most extravagant
precautions. It is the strangest sight, he says, to see
Cullingworth at his meals; for he sits with an elaborate
chemical apparatus and numerous retorts and bottles at
his elbow, with which he tests samples of every course.
I could not help laughing at Smeaton's description, and
yet it was a laugh with a groan underlying it. Of all
ruins, that of a fine man is the saddest.

I never thought I should have seen Cullingworth
again, but fate has brought us together. I have always
had a kindly feeling for him, though I feel that he used
me atrociously. Often I have wondered whether, if I were
placed before him, I should take him by the throat or by
the hand. You will be interested to hear what actually

One day, just a week or so back, I was starting
on my round, when a boy arrived with a note. It fairly
took my breath away when I saw the familiar writing, and
realised that Cullingworth was in Birchespool. I called
Winnie, and we read it together.

"Dear Munro," it said, "James is in lodgings here for
a few days. We are on the point of leaving England. He
would be glad, for the sake of old times, to have a chat
with you before he goes.

"Yours faithfully,


The writing was his and the style of address, so that
it was evidently one of those queer little bits of
transparent cunning which were characteristic of him, to
make it come from his wife, that he might not lay himself
open to a direct rebuff. The address, curiously enough,
was that very Cadogan Terrace at which I had lodged, but
two doors higher up.

Well, I was averse from going myself, but Winnie was
all for peace and forgiveness. Women who claim nothing
invariably get everything, and so my gentle little wife
always carries her point. Half an hour later I was in
Cadogan Terrace with very mixed feelings, but the
kindlier ones at the top. I tried to think that
Cullingworth's treatment of me had been pathological--the
result of a diseased brain. If a delirious man had
struck me, I should not have been angry with him. That
must be my way of looking at it.

If Cullingworth still bore any resentment, he
concealed it most admirably. But then I knew by
experience that that genial loud-voiced John-Bull manner
of his COULD conceal many things. His wife was more
open; and I could read in her tightened lips and cold
grey eyes, that she at least stood fast to the old
quarrel. Cullingworth was little changed, and seemed to
be as sanguine and as full of spirits as ever.

"Sound as a trout, my boy!" he cried, drumming on
his chest with his hands. "Played for the London
Scottish in their opening match last week, and was on the
ball from whistle to whistle. Not so quick on a sprint--
you find that yourself, Munro, eh what?--but a good hard-
working bullocky forward. Last match I shall have for
many a day, for I am off to South America next week."

"You have given up Bradfield altogether then?"

"Too provincial, my boy! What's the good of a
village practice with a miserable three thousand or so a
year for a man that wants room to spread? My head was
sticking out at one end of Bradfield and my feet at the
other. Why, there wasn't room for Hetty in the place,
let alone me! I've taken to the eye, my boy. There's a
fortune in the eye. A man grudges a half-crown to cure
his chest or his throat, but he'd spend his last dollar
over his eye. There's money in ears, but the eye is a
gold mine."

"What!" said I, "in South America?"

"Just exactly in South America," he cried, pacing
with his quick little steps up and down the dingy room.
"Look here, laddie! There's a great continent from the
equator to the icebergs, and not a man in it who could
correct an astigmatism. What do they know of modern eye-
surgery and refraction? Why, dammy, they don't know much
about it in the provinces of England yet, let alone
Brazil. Man, if you could only see it, there's a fringe
of squinting millionaires sitting ten deep round the
whole continent with their money in their hands
waiting for an oculist. Eh, Munro, what? By Crums, I'll
come back and I'll buy Bradfield, and I'll give it away
as a tip to a waiter."

"You propose to settle in some large city, then?"

"City! What use would a city be to me? I'm there to
squeeze the continent. I work a town at a time. I send
on an agent to the next to say that I am coming. I
`Here's the chance of a lifetime,' says he, `no need to
go back to Europe. Here's Europe come to you. Squints,
cataracts, iritis, refractions, what you like; here's the
great Signor Cullingworth, right up to date and ready for
anything!' In they come of course, droves of them, and
then I arrive and take the money. Here's my luggage!" he
pointed to two great hampers in the corner of the room.
"Those are glasses, my boy, concave and convex, hundreds
of them. I test an eye, fit him on the spot, and send
him away shouting. Then I load up a steamer and come
home, unless I elect to buy one of their little States
and run it."

Of course it sounded absurd as he put it; but I
could soon see that he had worked out his details, and
that there was a very practical side to his visions.

"I work Bahia," said he. "My agent prepares
Pernambuco. When Bahia is squeezed dry I move on to
Pernambuco, and the agent ships to Monte Video. So we
work our way round with a trail of spectacles behind us.
"It'll go like clock-work."

"You will need to speak Spanish," said I.

"Tut, it does not take any Spanish to stick a knife
into a man's eye. All I shall want to know is, `Money
down--no credit.' That's Spanish enough for me."

We had a long and interesting talk about all that had
happened to both of us, without, however, any allusion to
our past quarrel. He would not admit that he had left
Bradfield on account of a falling-off in his practice, or
for any reason except that he found the place too small.
His spring-screen invention had, he said, been favourably
reported upon by one of the first private shipbuilding
firms on the Clyde, and there was every probability of
their adopting it.

"As to the magnet," said he, " I'm very sorry
for my country, but there is no more command of the
seas for her. I'll have to let the thing go to the
Germans. It's not my fault. They must not blame me
when the smash comes. I put the thing before the
Admiralty, and I could have made a board school
understand it in half the time. Such letters, Munro!
Colney Hatch on blue paper. When the war comes, and I
show those letters, somebody will be hanged. Questions
about this--questions about that. At last they asked me
what I proposed to fasten my magnet to. I answered to
any solid impenetrable object, such as the head of an
Admiralty official. Well, that broke the whole thing up.
They wrote with their compliments, and they were
returning my apparatus. I wrote with my compliments, and
they might go to the devil. And so ends a great
historical incident, Munro--eh, what? "

We parted very good friends, but with reservations,
I fancy, on both sides. His last advice to me was to
clear out of Birchespool.

"You can do better--you can do better, laddie!" said
he. "Look round the whole world, and when you see a
little round hole, jump in feet foremost. There's
a lot of 'em about if a man keeps himself ready."

So those were the last words of Cullingworth, and the
last that I may ever see of him also, for he starts
almost immediately upon his strange venture. He must
succeed. He is a man whom nothing could hold down. I
wish him luck, and have a kindly feeling towards him, and
yet I distrust him from the bottom of my heart, and shall
be just as pleased to know that the Atlantic rolls
between us.

Well, my dear Bertie, a happy and tranquil, if not
very ambitious existence stretches before us. We are
both in our twenty-fifth year, and I suppose that
without presumption we can reckon that thirty-five more
years lie in front of us. I can foresee the gradually
increasing routine of work, the wider circle of friends,
the indentification with this or that local movement,
with perhaps a seat on the Bench, or at least in the
Municipal Council in my later years. It's not a very
startling programme, is it? But it lies to my hand, and
I see no other. I should dearly love that the world
should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on
this small stage we have our two sides, and
something might be done by throwing all one's weight on
the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance,
peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can't all
strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for

So good-bye, my dear boy, and remember that when you
come to England our home would be the brighter for your
presence. In any case, now that I have your address, I
shall write again in a very few weeks. My kindest
regards to Mrs. Swanborough.

Yours ever,


[This is the last letter which I was destined to
receive from my poor friend. He started to spend the
Christmas of that year (1884) with his people, and on the
journey was involved in the fatal railroad accident at
Sittingfleet, where the express ran into a freight train
which was standing in the depot. Dr. and Mrs. Munro were
the only occupants of the car next the locomotive, and
were killed instantly, as were the brakesman and one
other passenger. It was such an end as both he and
his wife would have chosen; and no one who knew them
would regret that neither was left to mourn the other.
His insurance policy of eleven hundred pounds was
sufficient to provide for the wants of his own family,
which, as his father was sick, was the one worldly matter
which could have caused him concern.--H. S.

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