The visitor looked somewhat astonished at having the door opened to him by
the master of the house.
"I wanted to have a few words."
The doctor, a pale, nervous young man, dressed in an ultra-professional, long
black frock-coat, with a high, white collar cutting off his dapper side-whiskers
in the centre, rubbed his hands together and smiled. In the thick, burly man in
front of him he scented a patient, and it would be his first. His scanty
resources had begun to run somewhat low, and, although he had his first
quarter's rent safely locked away in the right-hand drawer of his desk, it was
becoming a question with him how he should meet the current expenses of his very
simple housekeeping. He bowed, therefore, waved his visitor in, closed the hall
door in a careless fashion, as though his own presence thereat had been a purely
accidental circumstance, and finally led the burly stranger into his scantily
furnished front room, where he motioned him to a seat. Dr. Wilkinson planted
himself behind his desk, and, placing his finger-tips together, he gazed with
some apprehension at his companion. What was the matter with the man? He seemed
very red in the face. Some of his old professors would have diagnosed his case
by now, and would have electrified the patient by describing his own symptoms
before he had said a word about them. Dr. Horace Wilkinson racked his brains for
some clue, but Nature had fashioned him as a plodder—a very reliable plodder and
nothing more. He could think of nothing save that the visitor's watch-chain had
a very brassy appearance, with a corollary to the effect that he would be lucky
if he got half-a-crown out of him. Still, even half-a-crown was something in
those early days of struggle.
Whilst the doctor had been running his eyes over the stranger, the latter had
been plunging his hands into pocket after pocket of his heavy coat. The heat of
the weather, his dress, and this exercise of pocket-rummaging had all combined
to still further redden his face, which had changed from brick to beet, with a
gloss of moisture on his brow. This extreme ruddiness brought a clue at last to
the observant doctor. Surely it was not to be attained without alcohol. In
alcohol lay the secret of this man's trouble. Some little delicacy was needed,
however, in showing him that he had read his case aright—that at a glance he had
penetrated to the inmost sources of his ailments.
"It's very hot," observed the stranger, mopping his forehead.
"Yes, it is weather which tempts one to drink rather more beer than is good
for one," answered Dr. Horace Wilkinson, looking very knowingly at his companion
from over his finger-tips.
"Dear, dear, you shouldn't do that."
"I! I never touch beer."
"Neither do I. I've been an abstainer for twenty years."
This was depressing. Dr. Wilkinson blushed until he was nearly as red as the
other. "May I ask what I can do for you?" he asked, picking up his stethoscope
and tapping it gently against his thumb-nail.
"Yes, I was just going to tell you. I heard of your coming, but I couldn't
get round before——" He broke into a nervous little cough.
"Yes?" said the doctor encouragingly.
"I should have been here three weeks ago, but you know how these things get
put off." He coughed again behind his large red hand.
"I do not think that you need say anything more," said the doctor, taking
over the case with an easy air of command. "Your cough is quite sufficient. It
is entirely bronchial by the sound. No doubt the mischief is circumscribed at
present, but there is always the danger that it may spread, so you have done
wisely to come to me. A little judicious treatment will soon set you right. Your
waistcoat, please, but not your shirt. Puff out your chest and say ninety-nine
in a deep voice."
The red-faced man began to laugh. "It's all right, doctor," said he. "That
cough comes from chewing tobacco, and I know it's a very bad habit.
Nine-and-ninepence is what I have to say to you, for I'm the officer of the gas
company, and they have a claim against you for that on the metre."
Dr. Horace Wilkinson collapsed into his chair. "Then you're not a patient?"
"Never needed a doctor in my life, sir."
"Oh, that's all right." The doctor concealed his disappointment under an
affectation of facetiousness. "You don't look as if you troubled them much. I
don't know what we should do if every one were as robust. I shall call at the
company's offices and pay this small amount."
"If you could make it convenient, sir, now that I am here, it would save
"Oh, certainly!" These eternal little sordid money troubles were more trying
to the doctor than plain living or scanty food. He took out his purse and slid
the contents on to the table. There were two half-crowns and some pennies. In
his drawer he had ten golden sovereigns. But those were his rent. If he once
broke in upon them he was lost. He would starve first.
"Dear me!" said he, with a smile, as at some strange, unheard-of incident. "I
have run short of small change. I am afraid I shall have to call upon the
company, after all."
"Very well, sir." The inspector rose, and with a practised glance around,
which valued every article in the room, from the two-guinea carpet to the
eight-shilling muslin curtains, he took his departure.
When he had gone Dr. Wilkinson rearranged his room, as was his habit a dozen
times in the day. He laid out his large Quain's Dictionary of Medicine in the
forefront of the table so as to impress the casual patient that he had ever the
best authorities at his elbow. Then he cleared all the little instruments out of
his pocket-case—the scissors, the forceps, the bistouries, the lancets—and he
laid them all out beside the stethoscope, to make as good a show as possible.
His ledger, day-book, and visiting-book were spread in front of him. There was
no entry in any of them yet, but it would not look well to have the covers too
glossy and new, so he rubbed them together and daubed ink over them. Neither
would it be well that any patient should observe that his name was the first in
the book, so he filled up the first page of each with notes of imaginary visits
paid to nameless patients during the last three weeks. Having done all this, he
rested his head upon his hands and relapsed into the terrible occupation of
Terrible enough at any time to the young professional man, but most of all to
one who knows that the weeks, and even the days during which he can hold out are
numbered. Economise as he would, the money would still slip away in the
countless little claims which a man never understands until he lives under a
rooftree of his own. Dr. Wilkinson could not deny, as he sat at his desk and
looked at the little heap of silver and coppers, that his chances of being a
successful practitioner in Sutton were rapidly vanishing away.
And yet it was a bustling, prosperous town, with so much money in it that it
seemed strange that a man with a trained brain and dexterous fingers should be
starved out of it for want of employment. At his desk, Dr. Horace Wilkinson
could see the never-ending double current of people which ebbed and flowed in
front of his window. It was a busy street, and the air was forever filled with
the dull roar of life, the grinding of the wheels, and the patter of countless
feet. Men, women, and children, thousands and thousands of them passed in the
day, and yet each was hurrying on upon his own business, scarce glancing at the
small brass plate, or wasting a thought upon the man who waited in the front
room. And yet how many of them would obviously, glaringly have been the better
for his professional assistance. Dyspeptic men, anemic women, blotched faces,
bilious complexions—they flowed past him, they needing him, he needing them, and
yet the remorseless bar of professional etiquette kept them forever apart. What
could he do? Could he stand at his own front door, pluck the casual stranger by
the sleeve, and whisper in his ear, "Sir, you will forgive me for remarking that
you are suffering from a severe attack of acne rosacea, which makes you a
peculiarly unpleasant object. Allow me to suggest that a small prescription
containing arsenic, which will not cost you more than you often spend upon a
single meal, will be very much to your advantage." Such an address would be a
degradation to the high and lofty profession of Medicine, and there are no such
sticklers for the ethics of that profession as some to whom she has been but a
bitter and a grudging mother.
Dr. Horace Wilkinson was still looking moodily out of the window, when there
came a sharp clang at the bell. Often it had rung, and with every ring his hopes
had sprung up, only to dwindle away again, and change to leaden disappointment,
as he faced some beggar or touting tradesman. But the doctor's spirit was young
and elastic, and again, in spite of all experience, it responded to that
exhilarating summons. He sprang to his feet, cast his eyes over the table,
thrust out his medical books a little more prominently, and hurried to the door.
A groan escaped him as he entered the hall. He could see through the half-glazed
upper panels that a gypsy van, hung round with wicker tables and chairs, had
halted before his door, and that a couple of the vagrants, with a baby, were
waiting outside. He had learned by experience that it was better not even to
parley with such people.
"I have nothing for you," said he, loosing the latch by an inch. "Go away!"
He closed the door, but the bell clanged once more. "Get away! Get away!" he
cried impatiently, and walked back into his consulting-room. He had hardly
seated himself when the bell went for the third time. In a towering passion he
rushed back, flung open the door.
"If you please, sir, we need a doctor."
In an instant he was rubbing his hands again with his blandest professional
smile. These were patients, then, whom he had tried to hunt from his
doorstep—the very first patients, whom he had waited for so impatiently. They
did not look very promising. The man, a tall, lank-haired gypsy, had gone back
to the horse's head. There remained a small, hard-faced woman with a great
bruise all round her eye. She wore a yellow silk handkerchief round her head,
and a baby, tucked in a red shawl, was pressed to her bosom.
"Pray step in, madam," said Dr. Horace Wilkinson, with his very best
sympathetic manner. In this case, at least, there could be no mistake as to
diagnosis. "If you will sit on this sofa, I shall very soon make you feel much
He poured a little water from his carafe into a saucer, made a compress of
lint, fastened it over the injured eye, and secured the whole with a spica
bandage, secundum artem.
"Thank ye kindly, sir," said the woman, when his work was finished; "that's
nice and warm, and may God bless your honour. But it wasn't about my eye at all
that I came to see a doctor."
"Not your eye?" Dr. Horace Wilkinson was beginning to be a little doubtful as
to the advantages of quick diagnosis. It is an excellent thing to be able to
surprise a patient, but hitherto it was always the patient who had surprised
"The baby's got the measles."
The mother parted the red shawl, and exhibited a little dark, black-eyed
gypsy baby, whose swarthy face was all flushed and mottled with a dark-red rash.
The child breathed with a rattling sound, and it looked up at the doctor with
eyes which were heavy with want of sleep and crusted together at the lids.
"Hum! Yes. Measles, sure enough—and a smart attack."
"I just wanted you to see her, sir, so that you could signify."
"Signify, if anything happened."
"Oh, I see—certify."
"And now that you've seen it, sir, I'll go on, for Reuben—that's my man—is in
"But don't you want any medicine?"
"Oh, now you've seen it, it's all right. I'll let you know if anything
"But you must have some medicine. The child is very ill." He descended into
the little room which he had fitted as a surgery, and he made up a two-ounce
bottle of cooling medicine. In such cities as Sutton there are few patients who
can afford to pay a fee to both doctor and chemist, so that unless the physician
is prepared to play the part of both he will have little chance of making a
living at either.
"There is your medicine, madam. You will find the directions upon the bottle.
Keep the child warm and give it a light diet."
"Thank you kindly, sir." She shouldered her baby and marched for the door.
"Excuse me, madam," said the doctor nervously. "Don't you think it too small
a matter to make a bill of? Perhaps it would be better if we had a settlement at
The gypsy woman looked at him reproachfully out of her one uncovered eye.
"Are you going to charge me for that?" she asked. "How much, then?"
"Well, say half-a-crown." He mentioned the sum in a half-jesting way, as
though it were too small to take serious notice of, but the gypsy woman raised
quite a scream at the mention of it.
"'Arf-a-crown! for that?"
"Well, my good woman, why not go to the poor doctor if you cannot afford a
She fumbled in her pocket, craning awkwardly to keep her grip upon the baby.
"Here's sevenpence," she said at last, holding out a little pile of copper
coins. "I'll give you that and a wicker footstool."
"But my fee is half-a-crown." The doctor's views of the glory of his
profession cried out against this wretched haggling, and yet what was he to do?
"Where am I to get 'arf-a-crown? It is well for gentlefolk like you who sit in
your grand houses, and can eat and drink what you like, an' charge 'arf-a-crown
for just saying as much as, ''Ow d'ye do?' We can't pick up' arf-crowns like
that. What we gets we earns 'ard. This sevenpence is just all I've got. You told
me to feed the child light. She must feed light, for what she's to have is more
than I know."
Whilst the woman had been speaking, Dr. Horace Wilkinson's eyes had wandered
to the tiny heap of money upon the table, which represented all that separated
him from absolute starvation, and he chuckled to himself at the grim joke that
he should appear to this poor woman to be a being living in the lap of luxury.
Then he picked up the odd coppers, leaving only the two half-crowns upon the
"Here you are," he said brusquely. "Never mind the fee, and take these
coppers. They may be of some use to you. Good-bye!" He bowed her out, and closed
the door behind her. After all she was the thin edge of the wedge. These
wandering people have great powers of recommendation. All large practices have
been built up from such foundations. The hangers-on to the kitchen recommend to
the kitchen, they to the drawing-room, and so it spreads. At least he could say
now that he had had a patient.
He went into the back room and lit the spirit-kettle to boil the water for
his tea, laughing the while at the recollection of his recent interview. If all
patients were like this one it could easily be reckoned how many it would take
to ruin him completely. Putting aside the dirt upon his carpet and the loss of
time, there were twopence gone upon the bandage, fourpence or more upon the
medicine, to say nothing of phial, cork, label, and paper. Then he had given her
fivepence, so that his first patient had absorbed altogether not less than one
sixth of his available capital. If five more were to come he would be a broken
man. He sat down upon the portmanteau and shook with laughter at the thought,
while he measured out his one spoonful and a half of tea at one shilling
eightpence into the brown earthenware teapot. Suddenly, however, the laugh faded
from his face, and he cocked his ear towards the door, standing listening with a
slanting head and a sidelong eye. There had been a rasping of wheels against the
curb, the sound of steps outside, and then a loud peal at the bell. With his
teaspoon in his hand he peeped round the corner and saw with amazement that a
carriage and pair were waiting outside, and that a powdered footman was standing
at the door. The spoon tinkled down upon the floor, and he stood gazing in
bewilderment. Then, pulling himself together, he threw open the door.
"Young man," said the flunky, "tell your master, Dr. Wilkinson, that he is
wanted just as quick as ever he can come to Lady Millbank, at the Towers. He is
to come this very instant. We'd take him with us, but we have to go back to see
if Dr. Mason is home yet. Just you stir your stumps and give him the message."
The footman nodded and was off in an instant, while the coachman lashed his
horses and the carriage flew down the street.
Here was a new development. Dr. Horace Wilkinson stood at his door and tried
to think it all out. Lady Millbank, of the Towers! People of wealth and
position, no doubt. And a serious case, or why this haste and summoning of two
doctors? But, then, why in the name of all that is wonderful should he be sent
He was obscure, unknown, without influence. There must be some mistake. Yes,
that must be the true explanation; or was it possible that some one was
attempting a cruel hoax upon him? At any rate, it was too positive a message to
be disregarded. He must set off at once and settle the matter one way or the
But he had one source of information. At the corner of the street was a small
shop where one of the oldest inhabitants dispensed newspapers and gossip. He
could get information there if anywhere. He put on his well-brushed top hat,
secreted instruments and bandages in all his pockets, and without waiting for
his tea closed up his establishment and started off upon his adventure.
The stationer at the corner was a human directory to every one and everything
in Sutton, so that he soon had all the information which he wanted. Sir John
Millbank was very well known in the town, it seemed. He was a merchant prince,
an exporter of pens, three times mayor, and reported to be fully worth two
The Towers was his palatial seat, just outside the city. His wife had been an
invalid for some years, and was growing worse. So far the whole thing seemed to
be genuine enough. By some amazing chance these people really had sent for him.
And then another doubt assailed him, and he turned back into the shop.
"I am your neighbour, Dr. Horace Wilkinson," said he. "Is there any other
medical man of that name in the town?"
No, the stationer was quite positive that there was not.
That was final, then. A great good fortune had come in his way, and he must
take prompt advantage of it. He called a cab and drove furiously to the Towers,
with his brain in a whirl, giddy with hope and delight at one moment, and
sickened with fears and doubts at the next lest the case should in some way be
beyond his powers, or lest he should find at some critical moment that he was
without the instrument or appliance that was needed. Every strange and outre
case of which he had ever heard or read came back into his mind, and long before
he reached the Towers he had worked himself into a positive conviction that he
would be instantly required to do a trephining at the least.
The Towers was a very large house, standing back amid trees, at the head of a
winding drive. As he drove up the doctor sprang out, paid away half his worldly
assets as a fare, and followed a stately footman who, having taken his name, led
him through the oak-panelled, stained-glass hall, gorgeous with deers' heads and
ancient armour, and ushered him into a large sitting-room beyond. A very
irritable-looking, acid-faced man was seated in an armchair by the fireplace,
while two young ladies in white were standing together in the bow window at the
"Hullo! hullo! hullo! What's this—heh?" cried the irritable man. "Are you Dr.
"Yes, sir, I am Dr. Wilkinson."
"Really, now. You seem very young—much younger than I expected. Well, well,
well, Mason's old, and yet he don't seem to know much about it. I suppose we
must try the other end now. You're the Wilkinson who wrote something about the
Here was a light! The only two letters which the doctor had ever written to
The Lancet—modest little letters thrust away in a back column among the wrangles
about medical ethics and the inquiries as to how much it took to keep a horse in
the country—had been upon pulmonary disease. They had not been wasted, then.
Some eye had picked them out and marked the name of the writer. Who could say
that work was ever wasted, or that merit did not promptly meet with its reward?
"Yes, I have written on the subject."
"Ha! Well, then, where's Mason?"
"I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance."
"No?—that's queer too. He knows you and thinks a lot of your opinion. You're
a stranger in the town, are you not?"
"Yes, I have only been here a very short time."
"That was what Mason said. He didn't give me the address. Said he would call
on you and bring you, but when the wife got worse of course I inquired for you
and sent for you direct. I sent for Mason, too, but he was out. However, we
can't wait for him, so just run away upstairs and do what you can."
"Well, I am placed in a rather delicate position," said Dr. Horace Wilkinson,
with some hesitation. "I am here, as I understand, to meet my colleague, Dr.
Mason, in consultation. It would, perhaps, hardly be correct for me to see the
patient in his absence. I think that I would rather wait."
"Would you, by Jove! Do you think I'll let my wife get worse while the doctor
is coolly kicking his heels in the room below? No, sir, I am a plain man, and I
tell you that you will either go up or go out."
The style of speech jarred upon the doctor's sense of the fitness of things,
but still when a man's wife is ill much may be overlooked. He contented himself
by bowing somewhat stiffly. "I shall go up, if you insist upon it," said he.
"I do insist upon it. And another thing, I won't have her thumped about all
over the chest, or any hocus-pocus of the sort. She has bronchitis and asthma,
and that's all. If you can cure it well and good. But it only weakens her to
have you tapping and listening, and it does no good either."
Personal disrespect was a thing that the doctor could stand; but the
profession was to him a holy thing, and a flippant word about it cut him to the
"Thank you," said he, picking up his hat. "I have the honour to wish you a
very good day. I do not care to undertake the responsibility of this case."
"Hullo! what's the matter now?"
"It is not my habit to give opinions without examining my patient. I wonder
that you should suggest such a course to a medical man. I wish you good day."
But Sir John Millbank was a commercial man, and believed in the commercial
principle that the more difficult a thing is to attain the more valuable it is.
A doctor's opinion had been to him a mere matter of guineas. But here was a
young man who seemed to care nothing either for his wealth or title. His respect
for his judgment increased amazingly.
"Tut! tut!" said he; "Mason is not so thin-skinned. There! there! Have your
way! Do what you like and I won't say another word. I'll just run upstairs and
tell Lady Millbank that you are coming."
The door had hardly closed behind him when the two demure young ladies darted
out of their corner, and fluttered with joy in front of the astonished doctor.
"Oh, well done! well done!" cried the taller, clapping her hands.
"Don't let him bully you, doctor," said the other. "Oh, it was so nice to
hear you stand up to him. That's the way he does with poor Dr. Mason. Dr. Mason
has never examined mamma yet. He always takes papa's word for everything. Hush,
Maude; here he comes again." They subsided in an instant into their corner as
silent and demure as ever.
Dr. Horace Wilkinson followed Sir John up the broad, thick-carpeted
staircase, and into the darkened sick room. In a quarter of an hour he had
sounded and sifted the case to the uttermost, and descended with the husband
once more to the drawing-room. In front of the fireplace were standing two
gentlemen, the one a very typical, clean-shaven, general practitioner, the other
a striking-looking man of middle age, with pale blue eyes and a long red beard.
"Hullo, Mason, you've come at last!"
"Yes, Sir John, and I have brought, as I promised, Dr. Wilkinson with me."
"Dr. Wilkinson! Why, this is he."
Dr. Mason stared in astonishment. "I have never seen the gentleman before!"
"Nevertheless I am Dr. Wilkinson—Dr. Horace Wilkinson, of 114 Canal View."
"Good gracious, Sir John!" cried Dr. Mason.
"Did you think that in a case of such importance I should call in a junior
local practitioner! This is Dr. Adam Wilkinson, lecturer on pulmonary diseases
at Regent's College, London, physician upon the staff of the St. Swithin's
Hospital, and author of a dozen works upon the subject. He happened to be in
Sutton upon a visit, and I thought I would utilise his presence to have a
first-rate opinion upon Lady Millbank."
"Thank you," said Sir John, dryly. "But I fear my wife is rather tired now,
for she has just been very thoroughly examined by this young gentleman. I think
we will let it stop at that for the present; though, of course, as you have had
the trouble of coming here, I should be glad to have a note of your fees."
When Dr. Mason had departed, looking very disgusted, and his friend, the
specialist, very amused, Sir John listened to all the young physician had to say
about the case.
"Now, I'll tell you what," said he, when he had finished. "I'm a man of my
word, d'ye see? When I like a man I freeze to him. I'm a good friend and a bad
enemy. I believe in you, and I don't believe in Mason. From now on you are my
doctor, and that of my family. Come and see my wife every day. How does that
suit your book?"
"I am extremely grateful to you for your kind intentions toward me, but I am
afraid there is no possible way in which I can avail myself of them."
"Heh! what d'ye mean?"
"I could not possibly take Dr. Mason's place in the middle of a case like
this. It would be a most unprofessional act."
"Oh, well, go your own way!" cried Sir John, in despair. "Never was such a
man for making difficulties. You've had a fair offer and you've refused it, and
now you can just go your own way."
The millionaire stumped out of the room in a huff, and Dr. Horace Wilkinson
made his way homeward to his spirit-lamp and his one-and-eightpenny tea, with
his first guinea in his pocket, and with a feeling that he had upheld the best
traditions of his profession.
And yet this false start of his was a true start also, for it soon came to
Dr. Mason's ears that his junior had had it in his power to carry off his best
patient and had forborne to do so. To the honour of the profession be it said
that such forbearance is the rule rather than the exception, and yet in this
case, with so very junior a practitioner and so very wealthy a patient, the
temptation was greater than is usual. There was a grateful note, a visit, a
friendship, and now the well-known firm of Mason and Wilkinson is doing the
largest family practice in Sutton.