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Round The Red Lamp - A False Start

1. Behind the Times

2. His First Operation

3. A Straggler of '15

4. The Third Generation

5. A False Start

6. The Curse of Eve

7. Sweethearts

8. A Physiologist's Wife

9. The Case of Lady Sannox

10. A Question of Diplomacy

11. A Medical Document

12. Lot No. 249

13. The Los Amigos Fiasco

14. The Doctors of Hoyland

15. The Surgeon Talks

"Is Dr. Horace Wilkinson at home?"

"I am he. Pray step in."

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

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-

"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?" he gasped.

"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 trouble----"

"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 waiting.

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

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.

"What the----?"

"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 more comfortable."

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 him.

"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

"I just wanted you to see her, sir, so that you
could signify."

"Could what?"

"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 a hurry."

"But don't you want any medicine?"

"Oh, now you've seen it, it's all right. I'll let
you know if anything happens."

"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 once."

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 fee?"

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 table.

"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

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 for?

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 other.

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 millions sterling.

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 further

"Hullo! hullo! hullo! What's this--heh?" cried
the irritable man. "Are you Dr. Wilkinson? Eh?"

"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 lungs? Heh?"

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

"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

"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

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

"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!" he cried.

"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

"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

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

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

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