Dr. James Ripley was always looked upon as an
exceedingly lucky dog by all of the profession who
knew him. His father had preceded him in a practice
in the village of Hoyland, in the north of Hampshire,
and all was ready for him on the very first day that
the law allowed him to put his name at the foot of a
prescription. In a few years the old gentleman
retired, and settled on the South Coast, leaving his
son in undisputed possession of the whole country
side. Save for Dr. Horton, near Basingstoke, the
young surgeon had a clear run of six miles in every
direction, and took his fifteen hundred pounds a
year, though, as is usual in country practices, the
stable swallowed up most of what the consulting-room
Dr. James Ripley was two-and-thirty years of age,
reserved, learned, unmarried, with set, rather stern
features, and a thinning of the dark hair upon the
top of his head, which was worth quite a hundred a
year to him. He was particularly happy in
his management of ladies. He had caught the tone of
bland sternness and decisive suavity which dominates
without offending. Ladies, however, were not equally
happy in their management of him. Professionally, he
was always at their service. Socially, he was a drop
of quicksilver. In vain the country mammas spread
out their simple lures in front of him. Dances and
picnics were not to his taste, and he preferred
during his scanty leisure to shut himself up in his
study, and to bury himself in Virchow's Archives and
the professional journals.
Study was a passion with him, and he would have
none of the rust which often gathers round a country
practitioner. It was his ambition to keep his
knowledge as fresh and bright as at the moment when
he had stepped out of the examination hall. He
prided himself on being able at a moment's notice to
rattle off the seven ramifications of some obscure
artery, or to give the exact percentage of any
physiological compound. After a long day's work he
would sit up half the night performing iridectomies
and extractions upon the sheep's eyes sent in by the
village butcher, to the horror of his housekeeper,
who had to remove the debris next morning. His
love for his work was the one fanaticism which found
a place in his dry, precise nature.
It was the more to his credit that he should
keep up to date in his knowledge, since he had
no competition to force him to exertion. In the
seven years during which he had practised in Hoyland
three rivals had pitted themselves against him, two
in the village itself and one in the neighbouring
hamlet of Lower Hoyland. Of these one had sickened
and wasted, being, as it was said, himself the only
patient whom he had treated during his eighteen
months of ruralising. A second had bought a fourth
share of a Basingstoke practice, and had departed
honourably, while a third had vanished one September
night, leaving a gutted house and an unpaid drug bill
behind him. Since then the district had become a
monopoly, and no one had dared to measure himself
against the established fame of the Hoyland doctor.
It was, then, with a feeling of some surprise and
considerable curiosity that on driving through Lower
Hoyland one morning he perceived that the new house
at the end of the village was occupied, and that a
virgin brass plate glistened upon the swinging gate
which faced the high road. He pulled up his fifty
guinea chestnut mare and took a good look at it.
"Verrinder Smith, M. D.," was printed across it in
very neat, small lettering. The last man had had
letters half a foot long, with a lamp like a fire-
station. Dr. James Ripley noted the difference, and
deduced from it that the new-comer might
possibly prove a more formidable opponent. He was
convinced of it that evening when he came to consult
the current medical directory. By it he learned that
Dr. Verrinder Smith was the holder of superb degrees,
that he had studied with distinction at Edinburgh,
Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, and finally that he had
been awarded a gold medal and the Lee Hopkins
scholarship for original research, in recognition of
an exhaustive inquiry into the functions of the
anterior spinal nerve roots. Dr. Ripley passed his
fingers through his thin hair in bewilderment as he
read his rival's record. What on earth could so
brilliant a man mean by putting up his plate in a
little Hampshire hamlet.
But Dr. Ripley furnished himself with an
explanation to the riddle. No doubt Dr. Verrinder
Smith had simply come down there in order to pursue
some scientific research in peace and quiet. The
plate was up as an address rather than as an
invitation to patients. Of course, that must be the
true explanation. In that case the presence of this
brilliant neighbour would be a splendid thing for his
own studies. He had often longed for some kindred
mind, some steel on which he might strike his flint.
Chance had brought it to him, and he rejoiced
And this joy it was which led him to take a step
which was quite at variance with his usual
habits. It is the custom for a new-comer among
medical men to call first upon the older, and the
etiquette upon the subject is strict. Dr. Ripley was
pedantically exact on such points, and yet he
deliberately drove over next day and called upon Dr.
Verrinder Smith. Such a waiving of ceremony was, he
felt, a gracious act upon his part, and a fit prelude
to the intimate relations which he hoped to establish
with his neighbour.
The house was neat and well appointed, and Dr.
Ripley was shown by a smart maid into a dapper little
consulting room. As he passed in he noticed two or
three parasols and a lady's sun bonnet hanging in the
hall. It was a pity that his colleague should be a
married man. It would put them upon a different
footing, and interfere with those long evenings of
high scientific talk which he had pictured to
himself. On the other hand, there was much in the
consulting room to please him. Elaborate
instruments, seen more often in hospitals than in the
houses of private practitioners, were scattered
about. A sphygmograph stood upon the table and a
gasometer-like engine, which was new to Dr. Ripley,
in the corner. A book-case full of ponderous volumes
in French and German, paper-covered for the most
part, and varying in tint from the shell to the yoke
of a duck's egg, caught his wandering eyes, and he
was deeply absorbed in their titles when the
door opened suddenly behind him. Turning round, he
found himself facing a little woman, whose plain,
palish face was remarkable only for a pair of shrewd,
humorous eyes of a blue which had two shades too much
green in it. She held a pince-nez in her left
hand, and the doctor's card in her right.
"How do you do, Dr. Ripley? " said she.
"How do you do, madam?" returned the visitor.
"Your husband is perhaps out?"
"I am not married," said she simply.
"Oh, I beg your pardon! I meant the doctor--Dr.
"I am Dr. Verrinder Smith."
Dr. Ripley was so surprised that he dropped his
hat and forgot to pick it up again.
"What!" he grasped, "the Lee Hopkins prizeman!
He had never seen a woman doctor before, and his
whole conservative soul rose up in revolt at the
idea. He could not recall any Biblical injunction
that the man should remain ever the doctor and the
woman the nurse, and yet he felt as if a blasphemy
had been committed. His face betrayed his feelings
only too clearly.
"I am sorry to disappoint you," said the lady
"You certainly have surprised me," he answered,
picking up his hat.
"You are not among our champions, then?"
"I cannot say that the movement has my approval."
"I should much prefer not to discuss it."
"But I am sure you will answer a lady's
"Ladies are in danger of losing their privileges
when they usurp the place of the other sex. They
cannot claim both."
"Why should a woman not earn her bread by her
Dr. Ripley felt irritated by the quiet manner in
which the lady cross-questioned him.
"I should much prefer not to be led into a
discussion, Miss Smith."
"Dr. Smith," she interrupted.
"Well, Dr. Smith! But if you insist upon an
answer, I must say that I do not think medicine a
suitable profession for women and that I have a
personal objection to masculine ladies."
It was an exceedingly rude speech, and he was
ashamed of it the instant after he had made it. The
lady, however, simply raised her eyebrows and smiled.
"It seems to me that you are begging the
question," said she. "Of course, if it makes women
masculine that WOULD be a considerable
It was a neat little counter, and Dr. Ripley,
like a pinked fencer, bowed his acknowledgment.
"I must go," said he.
"I am sorry that we cannot come to some more
friendly conclusion since we are to be neighbours,"
He bowed again, and took a step towards the door.
"It was a singular coincidence," she continued,
"that at the instant that you called I was reading
your paper on `Locomotor Ataxia,' in the Lancet."
"Indeed," said he drily.
"I thought it was a very able monograph."
"You are very good."
"But the views which you attribute to Professor
Pitres, of Bordeaux, have been repudiated by him."
"I have his pamphlet of 1890," said Dr. Ripley
"Here is his pamphlet of 1891." She picked it
from among a litter of periodicals. "If you have
time to glance your eye down this passage----"
Dr. Ripley took it from her and shot rapidly
through the paragraph which she indicated. There was
no denying that it completely knocked the bottom out
of his own article. He threw it down, and with
another frigid bow he made for the door. As he took
the reins from the groom he glanced round and
saw that the lady was standing at her window, and it
seemed to him that she was laughing heartily.
All day the memory of this interview haunted him.
He felt that he had come very badly out of it. She
had showed herself to be his superior on his own pet
subject. She had been courteous while he had been
rude, self-possessed when he had been angry. And
then, above all, there was her presence, her
monstrous intrusion to rankle in his mind. A woman
doctor had been an abstract thing before, repugnant
but distant. Now she was there in actual practice,
with a brass plate up just like his own, competing
for the same patients. Not that he feared
competition, but he objected to this lowering of his
ideal of womanhood. She could not be more than
thirty, and had a bright, mobile face, too. He
thought of her humorous eyes, and of her strong,
well-turned chin. It revolted him the more to recall
the details of her education. A man, of course.
could come through such an ordeal with all his
purity, but it was nothing short of shameless in a
But it was not long before he learned that even
her competition was a thing to be feared. The
novelty of her presence had brought a few curious
invalids into her consulting rooms, and, once there,
they had been so impressed by the firmness of her
manner and by the singular, new-fashioned
instruments with which she tapped, and peered,
and sounded, that it formed the core of their
conversation for weeks afterwards. And soon there
were tangible proofs of her powers upon the country
side. Farmer Eyton, whose callous ulcer had been
quietly spreading over his shin for years back under
a gentle regime of zinc ointment, was painted
round with blistering fluid, and found, after three
blasphemous nights, that his sore was stimulated into
healing. Mrs. Crowder, who had always regarded the
birthmark upon her second daughter Eliza as a sign of
the indignation of the Creator at a third helping of
raspberry tart which she had partaken of during a
critical period, learned that, with the help of two
galvanic needles, the mischief was not irreparable.
In a month Dr. Verrinder Smith was known, and in two
she was famous.
Occasionally, Dr. Ripley met her as he drove upon
his rounds. She had started a high dogcart, taking
the reins herself, with a little tiger behind. When
they met he invariably raised his hat with
punctilious politeness, but the grim severity of his
face showed how formal was the courtesy. In fact,
his dislike was rapidly deepening into absolute
detestation. "The unsexed woman," was the
description of her which he permitted himself to give
to those of his patients who still remained staunch.
But, indeed, they were a rapidly-decreasing
body, and every day his pride was galled by the news
of some fresh defection. The lady had somehow
impressed the country folk with almost superstitious
belief in her power, and from far and near they
flocked to her consulting room.
But what galled him most of all was, when she did
something which he had pronounced to be
impracticable. For all his knowledge he lacked nerve
as an operator, and usually sent his worst cases up
to London. The lady, however, had no weakness of the
sort, and took everything that came in her way. It
was agony to him to hear that she was about to
straighten little Alec Turner's club foot, and right
at the fringe of the rumour came a note from his
mother, the rector's wife, asking him if he would be
so good as to act as chloroformist. It would be
inhumanity to refuse, as there was no other who could
take the place, but it was gall and wormwood to his
sensitive nature. Yet, in spite of his vexation, he
could not but admire the dexterity with which the
thing was done. She handled the little wax-like foot
so gently, and held the tiny tenotomy knife as an
artist holds his pencil. One straight insertion, one
snick of a tendon, and it was all over without a
stain upon the white towel which lay beneath. He had
never seen anything more masterly, and he had the
honesty to say so, though her skill increased his
dislike of her. The operation spread her fame
still further at his expense, and self-preservation
was added to his other grounds for detesting her.
And this very detestation it was which brought
matters to a curious climax.
One winter's night, just as he was rising from
his lonely dinner, a groom came riding down from
Squire Faircastle's, the richest man in the district,
to say that his daughter had scalded her hand, and
that medical help was needed on the instant. The
coachman had ridden for the lady doctor, for it
mattered nothing to the Squire who came as long as it
were speedily. Dr. Ripley rushed from his surgery
with the determination that she should not effect an
entrance into this stronghold of his if hard driving
on his part could prevent it. He did not even wait
to light his lamps, but sprang into his gig and flew
off as fast as hoof could rattle. He lived rather
nearer to the Squire's than she did, and was
convinced that he could get there well before her.
And so he would but for that whimsical element of
chance, which will for ever muddle up the affairs of
this world and dumbfound the prophets. Whether it
came from the want of his lights, or from his mind
being full of the thoughts of his rival, he allowed
too little by half a foot in taking the sharp turn
upon the Basingstoke road. The empty trap and the
frightened horse clattered away into the
darkness, while the Squire's groom crawled out of the
ditch into which he had been shot. He struck a
match, looked down at his groaning companion, and
then, after the fashion of rough, strong men when
they see what they have not seen before, he was very
The doctor raised himself a little on his elbow
in the glint of the match. He caught a glimpse of
something white and sharp bristling through his
trouser leg half way down the shin.
"Compound!" he groaned. "A three months' job,"
When he came to himself the groom was gone, for
he had scudded off to the Squire's house for help,
but a small page was holding a gig-lamp in front of
his injured leg, and a woman, with an open case of
polished instruments gleaming in the yellow light,
was deftly slitting up his trouser with a crooked
pair of scissors.
"It's all right, doctor," said she soothingly.
"I am so sorry about it. You can have Dr. Horton to-
morrow, but I am sure you will allow me to help you
to-night. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw
you by the roadside."
"The groom has gone for help," groaned the
"When it comes we can move you into the gig. A
little more light, John! So! Ah, dear, dear, we
shall have laceration unless we reduce this
before we move you. Allow me to give you a whiff of
chloroform, and I have no doubt that I can secure it
Dr. Ripley never heard the end of that sentence.
He tried to raise a hand and to murmur something in
protest, but a sweet smell was in his nostrils, and a
sense of rich peace and lethargy stole over his
jangled nerves. Down he sank, through clear, cool
water, ever down and down into the green shadows
beneath, gently, without effort, while the pleasant
chiming of a great belfry rose and fell in his ears.
Then he rose again, up and up, and ever up, with a
terrible tightness about his temples, until at last
he shot out of those green shadows and was in the
light once more. Two bright, shining, golden spots
gleamed before his dazed eyes. He blinked and
blinked before he could give a name to them. They
were only the two brass balls at the end posts of his
bed, and he was lying in his own little room, with a
head like a cannon ball, and a leg like an iron bar.
Turning his eyes, he saw the calm face of Dr.
Verrinder Smith looking down at him.
"Ah, at last!" said she. "I kept you under all
the way home, for I knew how painful the jolting
would be. It is in good position now with a strong
side splint. I have ordered a morphia draught for
you. Shall I tell your groom to ride for Dr. Horton
in the morning?"
"I should prefer that you should continue the
case," said Dr. Ripley feebly, and then, with a half
hysterical laugh,--"You have all the rest of the
parish as patients, you know, so you may as well make
the thing complete by having me also."
It was not a very gracious speech, but it was a
look of pity and not of anger which shone in her eyes
as she turned away from his bedside.
Dr. Ripley had a brother, William, who was
assistant surgeon at a London hospital, and who was
down in Hampshire within a few hours of his hearing
of the accident. He raised his brows when he heard
"What! You are pestered with one of those!" he
"I don't know what I should have done without
I've no doubt she's an excellent nurse."
"She knows her work as well as you or I."
"Speak for yourself, James," said the London man
with a sniff. "But apart from that, you know that
the principle of the thing is all wrong."
"You think there is nothing to be said on the
"Good heavens! do you?"
"Well, I don't know. It struck me during
the night that we may have been a little narrow
in our views."
"Nonsense, James. It's all very fine for women
to win prizes in the lecture room, but you know as
well as I do that they are no use in an emergency.
Now I warrant that this woman was all nerves when she
was setting your leg. That reminds me that I had
better just take a look at it and see that it is all
"I would rather that you did not undo it," said
the patient. "I have her assurance that it is all
Brother William was deeply shocked.
"Of course, if a woman's assurance is of more
value than the opinion of the assistant surgeon of a
London hospital, there is nothing more to be said," he remarked.
"I should prefer that you did not touch it," said
the patient firmly, and Dr. William went back to
London that evening in a huff.
The lady, who had heard of his coming, was much
surprised on learning his departure.
"We had a difference upon a point of professional
etiquette," said Dr. James, and it was all the
explanation he would vouchsafe.
For two long months Dr. Ripley was brought in
contact with his rival every day, and he learned many
things which he had not known before. She was a
charming companion, as well as a most assiduous
doctor. Her short presence during the long, weary
day was like a flower in a sand waste. What
interested him was precisely what interested her, and
she could meet him at every point upon equal terms.
And yet under all her learning and her firmness ran a
sweet, womanly nature, peeping out in her talk,
shining in her greenish eyes, showing itself in a
thousand subtle ways which the dullest of men could
read. And he, though a bit of a prig and a pedant,
was by no means dull, and had honesty enough to
confess when he was in the wrong.
"I don't know how to apologise to you," he said
in his shame-faced fashion one day, when he had
progressed so far as to be able to sit in an arm-
chair with his leg upon another one; "I feel that I
have been quite in the wrong."
"Over this woman question. I used to think that
a woman must inevitably lose something of her charm
if she took up such studies."
"Oh, you don't think they are necessarily
unsexed, then?" she cried, with a mischievous smile.
"Please don't recall my idiotic expression."
"I feel so pleased that I should have helped in
changing your views. I think that it is the most
sincere compliment that I have ever had paid me."
"At any rate, it is the truth," said he, and was
happy all night at the remembrance of the flush of
pleasure which made her pale face look quite comely
for the instant.
For, indeed, he was already far past the stage
when he would acknowledge her as the equal of any
other woman. Already he could not disguise from
himself that she had become the one woman. Her
dainty skill, her gentle touch, her sweet presence,
the community of their tastes, had all united to
hopelessly upset his previous opinions. It was a
dark day for him now when his convalescence allowed
her to miss a visit, and darker still that other one
which he saw approaching when all occasion for her
visits would be at an end. It came round at last,
however, and he felt that his whole life's fortune
would hang upon the issue of that final interview.
He was a direct man by nature, so he laid his hand
upon hers as it felt for his pulse, and he asked her
if she would be his wife.
"What, and unite the practices?" said she.
He started in pain and anger.
"Surely you do not attribute any such base motive
to me!" he cried. "I love you as unselfishly as ever
a woman was loved."
"No, I was wrong. It was a foolish speech," said
she, moving her chair a little back, and tapping her
stethoscope upon her knee. "Forget that I ever
said it. I am so sorry to cause you any
disappointment, and I appreciate most highly the
honour which you do me, but what you ask is quite
With another woman he might have urged the point,
but his instincts told him that it was quite useless
with this one. Her tone of voice was conclusive. He
said nothing, but leaned back in his chair a stricken
"I am so sorry," she said again. "If I had known
what was passing in your mind I should have told you
earlier that I intended to devote my life entirely to
science. There are many women with a capacity for
marriage, but few with a taste for biology. I will
remain true to my own line, then. I came down here
while waiting for an opening in the Paris
Physiological Laboratory. I have just heard that
there is a vacancy for me there, and so you will be
troubled no more by my intrusion upon your practice.
I have done you an injustice just as you did me one.
I thought you narrow and pedantic, with no good
quality. I have learned during your illness to
appreciate you better, and the recollection of our
friendship will always be a very pleasant one to me."
And so it came about that in a very few weeks
there was only one doctor in Hoyland. But folks
noticed that the one had aged many years in a few
months, that a weary sadness lurked always in
the depths of his blue eyes, and that he was less
concerned than ever with the eligible young ladies
whom chance, or their careful country mammas, placed
in his way.