Scudamore Lane, sloping down riverwards from just
behind the Monument, lies at night in the shadow of
two black and monstrous walls which loom high above
the glimmer of the scattered gas lamps. The
footpaths are narrow, and the causeway is paved with
rounded cobblestones, so that the endless drays roar
along it like breaking waves. A few old-fashioned
houses lie scattered among the business premises, and
in one of these, half-way down on the left-hand side,
Dr. Horace Selby conducts his large practice. It is
a singular street for so big a man; but a specialist
who has an European reputation can afford to live
where he likes. In his particular branch, too,
patients do not always regard seclusion as a
It was only ten o'clock. The dull roar of the
traffic which converged all day upon London Bridge
had died away now to a mere confused murmur. It was
raining heavily, and the gas shone dimly through the
streaked and dripping glass, throwing little
circles upon the glistening cobblestones. The air
was full of the sounds of the rain, the thin swish of
its fall, the heavier drip from the eaves, and the
swirl and gurgle down the two steep gutters and
through the sewer grating. There was only one figure
in the whole length of Scudamore Lane. It was that
of a man, and it stood outside the door of Dr. Horace
He had just rung and was waiting for an answer.
The fanlight beat full upon the gleaming shoulders of
his waterproof and upon his upturned features. It
was a wan, sensitive, clear-cut face, with some
subtle, nameless peculiarity in its expression,
something of the startled horse in the white-rimmed
eye, something too of the helpless child in the drawn
cheek and the weakening of the lower lip. The man-
servant knew the stranger as a patient at a bare
glance at those frightened eyes. Such a look had
been seen at that door many times before.
"Is the doctor in?"
The man hesitated.
"He has had a few friends to dinner, sir. He
does not like to be disturbed outside his usual
"Tell him that I MUST see him. Tell him that
it is of the very first importance. Here is my
card." He fumbled with his trembling fingers in
trying to draw one from his case. "Sir Francis
Norton is the name. Tell him that Sir Francis
Norton, of Deane Park, must see him without delay."
"Yes, sir." The butler closed his fingers upon
the card and the half-sovereign which accompanied it.
"Better hang your coat up here in the hall. It is
very wet. Now if you will wait here in the
consulting-room, I have no doubt that I shall be able
to send the doctor in to you."
It was a large and lofty room in which the young
baronet found himself. The carpet was so soft and
thick that his feet made no sound as he walked across
it. The two gas jets were turned only half-way up,
and the dim light with the faint aromatic smell which
filled the air had a vaguely religious suggestion.
He sat down in a shining leather armchair by the
smouldering fire and looked gloomily about him. Two
sides of the room were taken up with books, fat and
sombre, with broad gold lettering upon their backs.
Beside him was the high, old-fashioned mantelpiece of
white marble--the top of it strewed with cotton
wadding and bandages, graduated measures, and little
bottles. There was one with a broad neck just above
him containing bluestone, and another narrower one
with what looked like the ruins of a broken pipestem
and "Caustic" outside upon a red label.
Thermometers, hypodermic syringes bistouries and
spatulas were scattered about both on the mantelpiece
and on the central table on either side of the
sloping desk. On the same table, to the right, stood
copies of the five books which Dr. Horace Selby had
written upon the subject with which his name is
peculiarly associated, while on the left, on the top
of a red medical directory, lay a huge glass model of
a human eye the size of a turnip, which opened down
the centre to expose the lens and double chamber
Sir Francis Norton had never been remarkable for
his powers of observation, and yet he found himself
watching these trifles with the keenest attention.
Even the corrosion of the cork of an acid bottle
caught his eye, and he wondered that the doctor did
not use glass stoppers. Tiny scratches where the
light glinted off from the table, little stains upon
the leather of the desk, chemical formulae scribbled
upon the labels of the phials--nothing was too slight
to arrest his attention. And his sense of hearing
was equally alert. The heavy ticking of the solemn
black clock above the mantelpiece struck quite
painfully upon his ears. Yet in spite of it, and in
spite also of the thick, old-fashioned wooden
partition, he could hear voices of men talking in the
next room, and could even catch scraps of their
conversation. "Second hand was bound to take it."
"Why, you drew the last of them yourself!"
"How could I play the queen when I knew that the
ace was against me?" The phrases came in little
spurts falling back into the dull murmur of
conversation. And then suddenly he heard the
creaking of a door and a step in the hall, and knew
with a tingling mixture of impatience and horror that
the crisis of his life was at hand.
Dr. Horace Selby was a large, portly man with an
imposing presence. His nose and chin were bold and
pronounced, yet his features were puffy, a
combination which would blend more freely with the
wig and cravat of the early Georges than with the
close-cropped hair and black frock-coat of the end of
the nineteenth century. He was clean shaven, for his
mouth was too good to cover--large, flexible, and
sensitive, with a kindly human softening at either
corner which with his brown sympathetic eyes had
drawn out many a shame-struck sinner's secret. Two
masterful little bushy side-whiskers bristled out
from under his ears spindling away upwards to merge
in the thick curves of his brindled hair. To his
patients there was something reassuring in the mere
bulk and dignity of the man. A high and easy bearing
in medicine as in war bears with it a hint of
victories in the past, and a promise of others to
come. Dr. Horace Selby's face was a consolation, and
so too were the large, white, soothing hands, one of
which he held out to his visitor.
"I am sorry to have kept you waiting. It is a
conflict of duties, you perceive--a host's to his
guests and an adviser's to his patient. But now I am
entirely at your disposal, Sir Francis. But dear me,
you are very cold."
"Yes, I am cold."
"And you are trembling all over. Tut, tut, this
will never do! This miserable night has chilled you.
Perhaps some little stimulant----"
"No, thank you. I would really rather not. And
it is not the night which has chilled me. I am
The doctor half-turned in his chair, and he
patted the arch of the young man's knee, as he might
the neck of a restless horse.
"What then?" he asked, looking over his shoulder
at the pale face with the startled eyes.
Twice the young man parted his lips. Then he
stooped with a sudden gesture, and turning up the
right leg of his trousers he pulled down his sock and
thrust forward his shin. The doctor made a clicking
noise with his tongue as he glanced at it.
"No, only one."
The doctor pouted his lips, and drew his finger
and thumb down the line of his chin. "Can you
account for it?" he asked briskly.
A trace of sternness came into the large brown
"I need not point out to you that unless the most
The patient sprang from his chair. "So help me
God!" he cried, "I have nothing in my life with which
to reproach myself. Do you think that I would be
such a fool as to come here and tell you lies. Once
for all, I have nothing to regret." He was a
pitiful, half-tragic and half-grotesque figure, as he
stood with one trouser leg rolled to the knee, and
that ever present horror still lurking in his eyes.
A burst of merriment came from the card-players in
the next room, and the two looked at each other in
"Sit down," said the doctor abruptly, "your
assurance is quite sufficient." He stooped and ran
his finger down the line of the young man's shin,
raising it at one point. "Hum, serpiginous," he
murmured, shaking his head. "Any other symptoms?"
"My eyes have been a little weak."
"Let me see your teeth." He glanced at them, and
again made the gentle, clicking sound of sympathy and
"Now your eye." He lit a lamp at the
patient's elbow, and holding a small crystal lens
to concentrate the light, he threw it obliquely upon
the patient's eye. As he did so a glow of pleasure
came over his large expressive face, a flush of such
enthusiasm as the botanist feels when he packs the
rare plant into his tin knapsack, or the astronomer
when the long-sought comet first swims into the field
of his telescope.
"This is very typical--very typical indeed," he
murmured, turning to his desk and jotting down a few
memoranda upon a sheet of paper. "Curiously enough,
I am writing a monograph upon the subject. It is
singular that you should have been able to furnish so
well-marked a case." He had so forgotten the patient
in his symptom, that he had assumed an almost
congratulatory air towards its possessor. He
reverted to human sympathy again, as his patient
asked for particulars.
"My dear sir, there is no occasion for us to go
into strictly professional details together," said he
soothingly. "If, for example, I were to say that you
have interstitial keratitis, how would you be the
wiser? There are indications of a strumous
diathesis. In broad terms, I may say that you have a
constitutional and hereditary taint."
The young baronet sank back in his chair, and his
chin fell forwards upon his chest. The doctor sprang
to a side-table and poured out half a glass of
liqueur brandy which he held to his patient's lips.
A little fleck of colour came into his cheeks as he
drank it down.
"Perhaps I spoke a little abruptly," said the
doctor, "but you must have known the nature of your
complaint. Why, otherwise, should you have come to
"God help me, I suspected it; but only today when
my leg grew bad. My father had a leg like this."
"It was from him, then----?"
"No, from my grandfather. You have heard of Sir
Rupert Norton, the great Corinthian?"
The doctor was a man of wide reading with a
retentive, memory. The name brought back instantly
to him the remembrance of the sinister reputation of
its owner--a notorious buck of the thirties--who had
gambled and duelled and steeped himself in drink and
debauchery, until even the vile set with whom he
consorted had shrunk away from him in horror, and
left him to a sinister old age with the barmaid wife
whom he had married in some drunken frolic. As he
looked at the young man still leaning back in the
leather chair, there seemed for the instant to
flicker up behind him some vague presentiment of that
foul old dandy with his dangling seals, many-wreathed
scarf, and dark satyric face. What was he now? An
armful of bones in a mouldy box. But his deeds--
they were living and rotting the blood in the veins
of an innocent man.
"I see that you have heard of him," said the
young baronet. "He died horribly, I have been told;
but not more horribly than he had lived. My father
was his only son. He was a studious man, fond of
books and canaries and the country; but his innocent
life did not save him."
"His symptoms were cutaneous, I understand."
"He wore gloves in the house. That was the first
thing I can remember. And then it was his throat.
And then his legs. He used to ask me so often about
my own health, and I thought him so fussy, for how
could I tell what the meaning of it was. He was
always watching me--always with a sidelong eye fixed
upon me. Now, at last, I know what he was watching
"Had you brothers or sisters?"
"None, thank God."
"Well, well, it is a sad case, and very typical
of many which come in my way. You are no lonely
sufferer, Sir Francis. There are many thousands who
bear the same cross as you do."
"But where is the justice of it, doctor?" cried
the young man, springing from his chair and pacing up
and down the consulting-room. "If I were heir to my
grandfather's sins as well as to their results, I
could understand it, but I am of my father's
type. I love all that is gentle and beautiful--music
and poetry and art. The coarse and animal is
abhorrent to me. Ask any of my friends and they
would tell you that. And now that this vile,
loathsome thing--ach, I am polluted to the marrow,
soaked in abomination! And why? Haven't I a right
to ask why? Did I do it? Was it my fault? Could I
help being born? And look at me now, blighted and
blasted, just as life was at its sweetest. Talk
about the sins of the father--how about the sins of
the Creator?" He shook his two clinched hands in the
air--the poor impotent atom with his pin-point of
brain caught in the whirl of the infinite.
The doctor rose and placing his hands upon his
shoulders he pressed him back into his chair once
more. "There, there, my dear lad," said he; "you
must not excite yourself. You are trembling all
over. Your nerves cannot stand it. We must take
these great questions upon trust. What are we, after
all? Half-evolved creatures in a transition stage,
nearer perhaps to the Medusa on the one side than to
perfected humanity on the other. With half a
complete brain we can't expect to understand the
whole of a complete fact, can we, now? It is all
very dim and dark, no doubt; but I think that Pope's
famous couplet sums up the whole matter, and from my
heart, after fifty years of varied experience, I can
But the young baronet gave a cry of impatience
and disgust. "Words, words, words! You can sit
comfortably there in your chair and say them--and
think them too, no doubt. You've had your life, but
I've never had mine. You've healthy blood in your
veins; mine is putrid. And yet I am as innocent as
you. What would words do for you if you were in this
chair and I in that? Ah, it's such a mockery and a
make-believe! Don't think me rude, though, doctor.
I don't mean to be that. I only say that it is
impossible for you or any other man to realise it.
But I've a question to ask you, doctor. It's one on
which my whole life must depend." He writhed his
fingers together in an agony of apprehension.
"Speak out, my dear sir. I have every sympathy
"Do you think--do you think the poison has spent
itself on me? Do you think that if I had children
they would suffer?"
"I can only give one answer to that. `The third
and fourth generation,' says the trite old text. You
may in time eliminate it from your system, but many
years must pass before you can think of marriage."
"I am to be married on Tuesday," whispered the
It was the doctor's turn to be thrilled with
horror. There were not many situations which
would yield such a sensation to his seasoned
nerves. He sat in silence while the babble of the
card-table broke in upon them again. "We had a
double ruff if you had returned a heart." "I was
bound to clear the trumps." They were hot and angry
"How could you?" cried the doctor severely. "It
"You forget that I have only learned how I stand
to-day." He put his two hands to his temples and
pressed them convulsively. "You are a man of the
world, Dr. Selby. You have seen or heard of such
things before. Give me some advice. I'm in your
hands. It is all very sudden and horrible, and I
don't think I am strong enough to bear it."
The doctor's heavy brows thickened into two
straight lines, and he bit his nails in perplexity.
"The marriage must not take place."
"Then what am I to do?"
"At all costs it must not take place."
"And I must give her up?"
"There can be no question about that."
The young man took out a pocketbook and drew from
it a small photograph, holding it out towards the
doctor. The firm face softened as he looked at it.
"It is very hard on you, no doubt. I can
appreciate it more now that I have seen that. But
there is no alternative at all. You must give up
all thought of it."
"But this is madness, doctor--madness, I tell
you. No, I won't raise my voice. I forgot myself.
But realise it, man. I am to be married on Tuesday.
This coming Tuesday, you understand. And all the
world knows it. How can I put such a public affront
upon her. It would be monstrous."
"None the less it must be done. My dear lad,
there is no way out of it."
"You would have me simply write brutally and
break the engagement at the last moment without a
reason. I tell you I couldn't do it."
"I had a patient once who found himself in a
somewhat similar situation some years ago," said the
doctor thoughtfully. "His device was a singular one.
He deliberately committed a penal offence, and so
compelled the young lady's people to withdraw their
consent to the marriage."
The young baronet shook his head. "My personal
honour is as yet unstained," said he. "I have little
else left, but that, at least, I will preserve."
"Well, well, it is a nice dilemma, and the choice
lies with you."
"Have you no other suggestion?"
"You don't happen to have property in Australia?"
"But you have capital?"
"Then you could buy some. To-morrow morning
would do. A thousand mining shares would be enough.
Then you might write to say that urgent business
affairs have compelled you to start at an hour's
notice to inspect your property. That would give you
six months, at any rate."
"Well, that would be possible. Yes, certainly,
it would be possible. But think of her position.
The house full of wedding presents--guests coming
from a distance. It is awful. And you say that
there is no alternative."
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, then, I might write it now, and start to-
morrow--eh? Perhaps you would let me use your desk.
Thank you. I am so sorry to keep you from your
guests so long. But I won't be a moment now."
He wrote an abrupt note of a few lines. Then
with a sudden impulse he tore it to shreds and flung
it into the fireplace.
"No, I can't sit down and tell her a lie,
doctor," he said rising. "We must find some other
way out of this. I will think it over and let you
know my decision. You must allow me to double your
fee as I have taken such an unconscionable time. Now
good-bye, and thank you a thousand times for your
sympathy and advice."
"Why, dear me, you haven't even got your
prescription yet. This is the mixture, and I should
recommend one of these powders every morning, and the
chemist will put all directions upon the ointment
box. You are placed in a cruel situation, but I
trust that these may be but passing clouds. When may
I hope to hear from you again?"
"Very good. How the rain is splashing in the
street! You have your waterproof there. You will
need it. Good-bye, then, until to-morrow."
He opened the door. A gust of cold, damp air
swept into the hall. And yet the doctor stood for a
minute or more watching the lonely figure which
passed slowly through the yellow splotches of the gas
lamps, and into the broad bars of darkness between.
It was but his own shadow which trailed up the wall
as he passed the lights, and yet it looked to the
doctor's eye as though some huge and sombre figure
walked by a manikin's side and led him silently up
the lonely street.
Dr. Horace Selby heard again of his patient next
morning, and rather earlier than he had expected. A
paragraph in the Daily News caused him to push away
his breakfast untasted, and turned him sick and faint
while he read it. "A Deplorable Accident," it
was headed, and it ran in this way:
"A fatal accident of a peculiarly painful
character is reported from King William Street.
About eleven o'clock last night a young man was
observed while endeavouring to get out of the way of
a hansom to slip and fall under the wheels of a
heavy, two-horse dray. On being picked up his
injuries were found to be of the most shocking
character, and he expired while being conveyed to the
hospital. An examination of his pocketbook and
cardcase shows beyond any question that the deceased
is none other than Sir Francis Norton, of Deane Park,
who has only within the last year come into the
baronetcy. The accident is made the more deplorable
as the deceased, who was only just of age, was on the
eve of being married to a young lady belonging to one
of the oldest families in the South. With his wealth
and his talents the ball of fortune was at his feet,
and his many friends will be deeply grieved to know
that his promising career has been cut short in so
sudden and tragic a fashion."