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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDoctor Therne - Chapter III - SIR JOHN BELL
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Doctor Therne - Chapter III - SIR JOHN BELL Post by :Steve_Enlow Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :June 2011 Read :2782

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Doctor Therne - Chapter III - SIR JOHN BELL

CHAPTER III - SIR JOHN BELL

 

Now it is that I came to the great and terrible event of my life,
which in its result turned me into a false witness and a fraud, and
bound upon my spirit a weight of blood-guiltiness greater than a man
is often called upon to bear. As I have not scrupled to show I have
constitutional weaknesses--more, I am a sinner, I know it; I have
sinned against the code of my profession, and have preached a doctrine
I knew to be false, using all my skill and knowledge to confuse and
pervert the minds of the ignorant. And yet I am not altogether
responsible for these sins, which in truth in the first place were
forced upon me by shame and want and afterwards by the necessities of
my ambition. Indeed, in that dark and desperate road of deceit there
is no room to turn; the step once taken can never be retraced.

But if I have sinned, how much greater is the crime of the man who
swore away my honour and forced me through those gateways? Surely on
his head and not on mine should rest the burden of my deeds; yet he
prospered all his life, and I have been told that his death was happy
and painless. This man's career furnishes one of the few arguments
that to my sceptical mind suggest the existence of a place of future
reward and punishment, for how is it possible that so great a villain
should reap no fruit from his rich sowing of villainy? If it is
possible, then verily this world is the real hell wherein the wicked
are lords and the good their helpless and hopeless slaves.

 

Emma Becker when she became my wife brought with her a small dowry of
about five thousand dollars, or a thousand pounds, and this sum we
both agreed would be best spent in starting me in professional life.
It was scarcely sufficient to enable me to buy a practice of the class
which I desired, so I determined that I would set to work to build one
up, as with my ability and record I was certain that I could do. By
preference, I should have wished to begin in London, but there the
avenue to success is choked, and I had not the means to wait until by
skill and hard work I could force my way along it.

London being out of the question, I made up my mind to try my fortune
in the ancient city of Dunchester, where the name of Therne was still
remembered, as my grandfather and father had practised there before
me. I journeyed to the place and made inquiries, to find that,
although there were plenty of medical men of a sort, there was only
one whose competition I had cause to fear. Of the others, some had no
presence, some no skill, and some no character; indeed, one of them
was known to drink.

With Sir John Bell, whose good fortune it was to be knighted in
recognition of his attendance upon a royal duchess who chanced to
contract the measles while staying in the town, the case was
different. He began life as assistant to my father, and when his
health failed purchased the practice from him for a miserable sum,
which, as he was practically in possession, my father was obliged to
accept. From that time forward his success met with no check. By no
means a master of his art, Sir John supplied with assurance what he
lacked in knowledge, and atoned for his mistakes by the readiness of a
bluff and old-fashioned sympathy that was transparent to few.

In short, if ever a /faux bonhomme/ existed, Sir John Bell was the
man. Needless to say he was as popular as he was prosperous. Such of
the practice of Dunchester as was worth having soon fell into his
hands, and few indeed were the guineas that slipped out of his fingers
into the pocket of a poorer brother. Also, he had a large consulting
connection in the county. But if his earnings were great so were his
spendings, for it was part of his system to accept civic and
magisterial offices and to entertain largely in his official
capacities. This meant that the money went out as fast as it came in,
and that, however much was earned, more was always needed.

When I visited Dunchester to make inquiries I made a point of calling
on Sir John, who received me in his best "heavy-father" manner, taking
care to inform me that he was keeping Lord So-and-so waiting in his
consulting-room in order to give me audience. Going straight to the
point, I told him that I thought of starting to practise in
Dunchester, which information, I could see, pleased him little.

"Of course, my dear boy," he said, "you being your father's son I
should be delighted, and would do everything in my power to help you,
but at the same time I must point out that were Galen, or Jenner, or
Harvey to reappear on earth, I doubt if they could make a decent
living in Dunchester."

"All the same, I mean to have a try, Sir John," I answered cheerfully.
"I suppose you do not want an assistant, do you?"

"Let me see; I think you said you were married, did you not?"

"Yes," I answered, well knowing that Sir John, having disposed of his
elder daughter to an incompetent person of our profession, who had
become the plague of his life, was desirous of putting the second to
better use.

"No, my dear boy, no, I have an assistant already," and he sighed,
this time with genuine emotion. "If you come here you will have to
stand upon your own legs."

"Quite so, Sir John, but I shall still hope for a few crumbs from the
master's table."

"Yes, yes, Therne, in anything of that sort you may rely upon me," and
he bowed me out with an effusive smile.

"---- to poison the crumbs," I thought to myself, for I was never for
one moment deceived as to this man's character.

 

A fortnight later Emma and I came to Dunchester and took up our abode
in a quaint red-brick house of the Queen Anne period, which we hired
for a not extravagant rent of 80 pounds a year. Although the position
of this house was not fashionable, nothing could have been more
suitable from a doctor's point of view, as it stood in a little street
near the market-place and absolutely in the centre of the city.
Moreover, it had two beautiful reception chambers on the ground floor,
oak-panelled, and with carved Adam's mantelpieces, which made
excellent waiting-rooms for patients. Some time passed, however, and
our thousand pounds, in which the expense of furnishing had made a
considerable hole, was melting rapidly before those rooms were put to
a practical use. Both I and my wife did all that we could to get
practice. We called upon people who had been friends of my father and
grandfather; we attended missionary and other meetings of a non-
political character; regardless of expense we went so far as to ask
old ladies to tea.

They came, they drank the tea and inspected the new furniture; one of
them even desired to see my instruments and when, fearing to give
offence, I complied and produced them, she remarked that they were not
nearly so nice as dear Sir John's, which had ivory handles. Cheerfully
would I have shown her that if the handles were inferior the steel was
quite serviceable, but I swallowed my wrath and solemnly explained
that it was not medical etiquette for a young doctor to use ivory.

Beginning to despair, I applied for one or two minor appointments in
answer to advertisements inserted by the Board of Guardians and other
public bodies. In each case was I not only unsuccessful, but men
equally unknown, though with a greatly inferior college and hospital
record, were chosen over my head. At length, suspecting that I was not
being fairly dealt by, I made inquiries to discover that at the bottom
of all this ill success was none other than Sir John Bell. It appeared
that in several instances, by the shrugs of his thick shoulders and
shakes of his ponderous head, he had prevented my being employed.
Indeed, in the case of the public bodies, with all of which he had
authority either as an official or as an honorary adviser, he had
directly vetoed my appointment by the oracular announcement that,
after ample inquiry among medical friends in London, he had satisfied
himself that I was not a suitable person for the post.

When I had heard this and convinced myself that it was substantially
true--for I was always too cautious to accept the loose and unsifted
gossip of a provincial town--I think that for the first time in my
life I experienced the passion of hate towards a human being. Why
should this man who was so rich and powerful thus devote his energies
to the destruction of a brother practitioner who was struggling and
poor? At the time I set it down to pure malice, into which without
doubt it blossomed at last, not understanding that in the first place
on Sir John's part it was in truth terror born of his own conscious
mediocrity. Like most inferior men, he was quick to recognise his
master, and, either in the course of our conversations or through
inquiries that he made concerning me, he had come to the conclusion
that so far as professional ability was concerned I /was/ his master.
Therefore, being a creature of petty and dishonest mind, he determined
to crush me before I could assert myself.

Now, having ascertained all this beyond reasonable doubt, there were
three courses open to me: to make a public attack upon Sir John, to go
away and try my fortune elsewhere, or to sit still and await events. A
more impetuous man would have adopted the first of these alternatives,
but my experience of life, confirmed as it was by the advice of Emma,
who was a shrewd and far-seeing woman, soon convinced me that if I did
so I should have no more chance of success than would an egg which
undertook a crusade against a brick wall. Doubtless the egg might
stain the wall and gather the flies of gossip about its stain, but the
end of it must be that the wall would still stand, whereas the egg
would no longer be an egg. The second plan had more attractions, but
my resources were now too low to allow me to put it into practice.
Therefore, having no other choice, I was forced to adopt the third,
and, exercising that divine patience which characterises the Eastern
nations but is so lacking in our own, to attend humbly upon fate until
it should please it to deal to me a card that I could play.

In time fate dealt to me that card and my long suffering was rewarded,
for it proved a very ace of trumps. It happened thus.

About a year after I arrived in Dunchester I was elected a member of
the City Club. It is a pleasant place, where ladies are admitted to
lunch, and I used it a good deal in the hope of making acquaintances
who might be useful to me. Among the /habitues/ of this club was a
certain Major Selby, who, having retired from the army and being
without occupation, was generally to be found in the smoking or
billiard room with a large cigar between his teeth and a whisky and
soda at his side. In face, the Major was florid and what people call
healthy-looking, an appearance that to a doctor's eye very often
conveys no assurance of physical well-being. Being a genial-mannered
man, he would fall into conversation with whoever might be near to
him, and thus I came to be slightly acquainted with him. In the course
of our chats he frequently mentioned his ailments, which, as might be
expected in the case of such a luxurious liver, were gouty in their
origin.

One afternoon when I was sitting alone in the smoking-room, Major
Selby came in and limped to an armchair.

"Hullo, Major, have you got the gout again?" I asked jocosely.

"No, doctor; at least that pompous old beggar, Bell, says I haven't.
My leg has been so confoundedly painful and stiff for the last few
days that I went to see him this morning, but he told me that it was
only a touch of rheumatism, and gave me some stuff to rub it with."

"Oh, and did he look at your leg?"

"Not he. He says that he can tell what my ailments are with the width
of the street between us."

"Indeed," I said, and some other men coming in the matter dropped.

Four days later I was in the club at the same hour, and again Major
Selby entered. This time he walked with considerable difficulty, and I
noticed an expression of pain and /malaise/ upon his rubicund
countenance. He ordered a whisky and soda from the servant, and then
sat down near me.

"Rheumatism no better, Major?" I asked.

"No, I went to see old Bell about it again yesterday, but he pooh-
poohs it and tells me to go on rubbing in the liniment and get the
footman to help when I am tired. Well, I obeyed orders, but it hasn't
done me much good, and how the deuce rheumatism can give a fellow a
bruise on the leg, I don't know."

"A bruise on the leg?" I said astonished.

"Yes, a bruise on the leg, and, if you don't believe me, look here,"
and, dragging up his trouser, he showed me below the knee a large
inflamed patch of a dusky hue, in the centre of which one of the veins
could be felt to be hard and swollen.

"Has Sir John Bell seen that?" I asked.

"Not he. I wanted him to look at it, but he was in a hurry, and said I
was just like an old woman with a sore on show, so I gave it up."

"Well, if I were you, I'd go home and insist upon his coming to look
at it."

"What do you mean, doctor?" he asked growing alarmed at my manner.

"Oh, it is a nasty place, that is all; and I think that when Sir John
has seen it, he will tell you to keep quiet for a few days."

Major Selby muttered something uncomplimentary about Sir John, and
then asked me if I would come home with him.

"I can't do that as a matter of medical etiquette, but I'll see you
into a cab. No, I don't think I should drink that whisky if I were
you, you want to keep yourself cool and quiet."

So Major Selby departed in his cab and I went home, and, having
nothing better to do, turned up my notes on various cases of venous
thrombosis, or blood-clot in the veins, which I had treated at one
time or another.

While I was still reading them there came a violent ring at the bell,
followed by the appearance of a very agitated footman, who gasped
out:--

"Please, sir, come to my master, Major Selby, he has been taken ill."

"I can't, my good man," I answered, "Sir John Bell is his doctor."

"I have been to Sir John's, sir, but he has gone away for two days to
attend a patient in the country, and the Major told me to come for
you."

Then I hesitated no longer. As we hurried to the house, which was
close at hand, the footman told me that the Major on reaching home
took a cup of tea and sent for a cab to take him to Sir John Bell. As
he was in the act of getting into the cab, suddenly he fell backwards
and was picked up panting for breath, and carried into the dining-
room. By this time we had reached the house, of which the door was
opened as we approached it by Mrs. Selby herself, who seemed in great
distress.

"Don't talk now, but take me to your husband," I said, and was led
into the dining-room, where the unfortunate man lay groaning on the
sofa.

"Glad you've come," he gasped. "I believe that fool, Bell, has done
for me."

Asking those present in the room, a brother and a grown-up son of the
patient, to stand back, I made a rapid examination; then I wrote a
prescription and sent it round to the chemist--it contained ammonia, I
remember--and ordered hot fomentations to be placed upon the leg.
While these matters were being attended to I went with the relations
into another room.

"What is the matter with him, doctor?" asked Mrs. Selby.

"It is, I think, a case of what is called blood-clot, which has formed
in the veins of the leg," I answered. "Part of this clot has been
detached by exertion, or possibly by rubbing, and, travelling upwards,
has become impacted in one of the pulmonary arteries."

"Is it serious?" asked the poor wife.

"Of course we must hope for the best," I said; "but it is my duty to
tell you that I do not myself think Major Selby will recover; how long
he will last depends upon the size of the clot which has got into the
artery."

"Oh, this is ridiculous," broke in Mr. Selby. "My brother has been
under the care of Sir John Bell, the ablest doctor in Dunchester, who
told him several times that he was suffering from nothing but
rheumatism, and now this gentleman starts a totally different theory,
which, if it were true, would prove Sir John to be a most careless and
incompetent person."

"I am very sorry," I answered; "I can only hope that Sir John is right
and I am wrong. So that there may be no subsequent doubt as to what I
have said, with your leave I will write down my diagnosis and give it
to you."

When this was done I returned to the patient, and Mr. Selby, taking my
diagnosis, telegraphed the substance of it to Sir John Bell for his
opinion. In due course the answer arrived from Sir John, regretting
that there was no train by which he could reach Dunchester that night,
giving the name of another doctor who was to be called in, and adding,
incautiously enough, "Dr. Therne's diagnosis is purely theoretical and
such as might be expected from an inexperienced man."

Meanwhile the unfortunate Major was dying. He remained conscious to
the last, and, in spite of everything that I could do, suffered great
pain. Amongst other things he gave an order that a /post-mortem/
examination should be made to ascertain the cause of his death.

When Mr. Selby had read the telegram from Sir John he handed it to me,
saying, "It is only fair that you should see this."

I read it, and, having asked for and obtained a copy, awaited the
arrival of the other doctor before taking my departure. When at length
he came Major Selby was dead.

Two days later the /post-mortem/ was held. There were present at it
Sir John Bell, myself, and the third /medico/, Dr. Jeffries. It is
unnecessary to go into details, but in the issue I was proved to be
absolutely right. Had Sir John taken the most ordinary care and
precaution his patient need not have died--indeed, his death was
caused by the treatment. The rubbing of the leg detached a portion of
the clot, that might easily have been dissolved by rest and local
applications. As it was, it went to his lung, and he died.

When he saw how things were going, Sir John tried to minimise matters,
but, unfortunately for him, I had my written diagnosis and a copy of
his telegram, documents from which he could not escape. Nor could he
deny the results of the /post-mortem/, which took place in the
presence and with the assistance of the third practitioner, a sound
and independent, though not a very successful, man.

When everything was over there was something of a scene. Sir John
asserted that my conduct had been impertinent and unprofessional. I
replied that I had only done my duty and appealed to Dr. Jeffries, who
remarked drily that we had to deal not with opinions and theories but
with facts and that the facts seemed to bear me out. On learning the
truth, the relatives, who until now had been against me, turned upon
Sir John and reproached him in strong terms, after which they went
away leaving us face to face. There was an awkward silence, which I
broke by saying that I was sorry to have been the unwilling cause of
this unpleasantness.

"You may well be sorry, sir," Sir John answered in a cold voice that
was yet alive with anger, "seeing that by your action you have exposed
me to insult, I who have practised in this city for over thirty years,
and who was your father's partner before you were in your cradle.
Well, it is natural to youth to be impertinent. To-day the laugh is
yours, Dr. Therne, to-morrow it may be mine; so good-afternoon, and
let us say no more about it," and brushing by me rudely he passed from
the house.

I followed him into the street watching his thick square form, of
which even the back seemed to express sullen anger and determination.
At a distance of a few yards stood the brother of the dead man, Mr.
Selby, talking to Dr. Jeffries, one of whom made some remark that
caught Sir John's ear. He stopped as though to answer, then, changing
his mind, turned his head and looked back at me. My sight is good and
I could see his face clearly; on it was a look of malignity that was
not pleasant to behold.

"I have made a bad enemy," I thought to myself; "well, I am in the
right; one must take risks in life, and it is better to be hated than
despised."

Major Selby was a well-known and popular man, whose sudden death had
excited much sympathy and local interest, which were intensified when
the circumstances connected with it became public property.

On the following day the leading city paper published a report of the
results of the /post-mortem/, which doubtless had been furnished by
the relatives, and with it an editorial note.

In this paragraph I was spoken of in very complimentary terms; my
medical distinctions were alluded to, and the confident belief was
expressed that Dunchester would not be slow to avail itself of my
skill and talent. Sir John Bell was not so lightly handled. His gross
error of treatment in the case of the deceased was, it is true,
slurred over, but some sarcastic and disparaging remarks were aimed at
him under cover of comparison between the old and the new school of
medical practitioners.

Content of CHAPTER III - SIR JOHN BELL (H. Rider Haggard's novel: Doctor Therne)

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