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On A Case Of Conscience Post by :Stephen_E_Block Category :Essays Author :A. G. Gardiner Date :October 2011 Read :4623

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On A Case Of Conscience

It was raining when Victor Crummles stepped out into the street. But he did not notice the fact. True, he put his umbrella up, but that was mere force of habit. He was not aware that he had put it up. His mind was far too engaged with the ordeal before him to permit any consciousness of external things to creep into it. He was "up against it and no mistake," he observed to himself. There was the paper in his pocket telling him the time and place at which he was to present himself for medical examination. He put his hand in his pocket. It was there all right. Kilburn. Twelve o'clock.

Yes, he was fairly up against it. Not, as he hastened to assure himself, that he objected.... Not at all.... He had always been a patriot, and always would be. He'd love to have a smack at the Huns. He'd give them what for.... He wished he'd been a bit younger--that's what he wished. If he'd been a bit younger he'd have gone like a shot. That's what he'd have done--he'd have gone like a shot. No fetching him--if he'd been a bit younger. But a chap at thirty-eight ... well....

Here was the "Golden Crown." Yes, he thought he'd better have "just one." It would pull him together and give the doctors a chance. He ought to give them a chance whatever the consequence to himself. A whisky-and-soda would just put him "in the pink."

There, that was better. Now he could face anything. Now for Kilburn. How should he go? It was two miles at least ... a good two miles. There was No. 16--he could take that. And there was the Tube--he could take that.

Or he could walk. There was plenty of time.... Yes, on the whole he thought he ought to walk. There was that varicose vein. The doctors ought to know about that. It wouldn't be fair to them or to the country that they shouldn't know about it. Varicose veins were very serious affairs indeed. He knew because he'd looked the subject up in the dictionary. It had made such a deep impression on him-that he could repeat what it said:--

"The dilation and thickening of the veins with lengthening and tortuosity, and projection of certain points in the form of knots or knobs, in which the blood coagulates, fibrin is deposited, and in the centre sometimes even osseous matter; in addition the coats of the veins are diseased."

There was more about it than that. It looked a very black case indeed. Many a man had been turned down for varicose veins, and--and--well, the doctors ought to know about it. That was all.... They ought to know about it.... He oughtn't to go there and pass himself off under false pretences.... Mind you, he wanted to fight the Germans all right. He wanted to do his bit--nobody more so. But was it fair not to let the doctors see what was the matter with him? He certainly had those knots and knobs when he walked very hard. Who knew? Perhaps there was "fibrin" and "osseous matter" there. At any rate, the doctors ought to see his leg under fair conditions....

He didn't hold with allowing your patriotism to make you deceive your country. It wasn't fair to the country to let it spend a heap of money on a fellow who might "crock up" in the first week or two. It wasn't fair to the fellow either. Not that he was thinking about himself.... Not at all. It was the country he was thinking of. A fellow must think about the country sometimes. It was his duty to put his own feelings, as it were, under the tap. He wanted to go to the war as much as any man, but he didn't want the country to lose by him....

Yes, it was his duty to walk. It was his duty not to conceal those knots and knobs. He hoped they wouldn't be a fatal objection. But he was going to play a straight bat with the country whatever happened.... He was not the man to palm himself for what he wasn't. He would show the doctor quite plainly what his varicose vein was like.

When Victor Crummles entered the room he was feeling a bit tired, but courageous. He had taken another "stiffener" at the "Spread Eagle" and felt equal to any fate. There were two doctors in the room--one sitting at a table, the other standing by the window.

"Anything the matter with you?" said he at the table.

"Not that I know," said Victor with the air of a man who meant business. Then, as if unwillingly dragging the truth out of himself he added, "I have got a bit of a varicose vein, but it's hardly worth mentioning."

"Oh, don't worry about that," said the doctor. "We've got past that stage. Now strip."

Don't worry about that! Got past that stage! What did it mean?... Well, he had done his duty.... If there was fibrin and osseous matter in his veins he had given them fair warning. It was the country that would suffer. These doctors,... well, there....

"Stripped? Now, let's have a look at you."

The doctor examined him carefully. Perhaps that varicose vein would surprise him after all. He'd walked two miles and it ought to be ... not that he wanted it to be; but if it was--well, it was only fair they should know.

"What did you say your age was?"

"Thirty-eight, sir."

"Thirty-eight! Thirty-eight ... um ... Come here, Jeffkins."

Jeffkins came from the window and joined his colleague, and together the two doctors took stock of Victor. They were taking no notice of his leg. Well, it was their look out. He wouldn't be to blame if he broke down.

"You can dress." And the two doctors went to the window and consulted in low tones.

Then the first came back.

"Well, my man, it won't do," he said. "We like your spirit.... Very creditable, very creditable indeed. But (laughing) thirty-eight! Come, come."

Light was breaking in on Victor. Was he really being rejected?... And because he was too old?... Oh, the scandal, the shame.... And he dying to get at those Huns....

"But upon my oath...." He was really in earnest now.

"There, there, we understand," said the doctor. "You've done your best. And it's very creditable to you--very. But thirty-eight! Come, come.... Now, good morning."

Outside, Victor's anguish and indignation were too bitter to be borne unaided. He turned into the "Spread Eagle."

(The end)
A. G. Gardiner's essay: On A Case Of Conscience

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