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Doctor Therne - Chapter VII - CROSSING THE RUBICON Post by :RJac2000 Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :June 2011 Read :1101

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Doctor Therne - Chapter VII - CROSSING THE RUBICON


My appearance as an expert before the Royal Commission gave me
considerable importance in the eyes of a large section of the
inhabitants of Dunchester. It was not the wealthiest or most
influential section indeed, although in it were numbered some rich and
powerful men. Once again I found myself with a wide and rapidly
increasing practice, and an income that was sufficient for my needs.
Mankind suffers from many ailments besides that of smallpox, indeed in
Dunchester this question of the value of vaccination was at that time
purely academical, as except for an occasional case there had been no
outbreak of smallpox for years. Now, as I have said, I was a master of
my trade, and soon proved myself competent to deal skilfully with such
illnesses, surgical or medical, as I was called upon to treat. Thus my
practice grew, especially among the small tradespeople and artisans,
who did not belong to clubs, but preferred to pay for a doctor in whom
they had confidence.

Three years and more had gone by since that night on which I sat
opposite to a wine-glass full of poison and was the prey of visions,
when once again I received a call from Stephen Strong. With this good-
hearted, though misguided man, and his amiable, but weak-minded wife,
I had kept up an intimacy that in time ripened into genuine
friendship. On every Sunday night, and sometimes oftener, I took
supper with them, and discussed with Mrs. Strong the important
questions of our descent from the lost Tribes and whether or no the
lupus from which she suffered was the result of vaccination in

Owing to a press of patients, to whom I was obliged to attend, I was
not able to receive Mr. Strong for nearly half an hour.

"Things are a bit different from what they used to be, doctor," he
said as he entered the room looking much the same as ever, with the
exception that now even his last hairs had gone, leaving him
completely bald, "there's six more of them waiting there, and all
except one can pay a fee. Yes, the luck has turned for you since you
were called in to attend cobbler Samuels' children, and you haven't
seen the top of it yet, I can tell you. Now, what do you think I have
come to see you about?"

"Can't say. I give it up."

"Then I will tell you. You saw in yesterday's paper that old brewer
Hicks, the member for Dunchester, has been raised to the peerage. I
understand he told the Government that if they kept him waiting any
longer he would stop his subscription to the party funds, and as
that's 5000 pounds a year, they gave in, believing the seat to be a
safe one. But that's just where they make their mistake, for if we get
the right man the Rads will win."

"And who is the right man?"

"James Therne, Esq., M.D.," he answered quietly.

"What on earth do you mean?" I asked. "How can I afford to spend from
1000 to 2000 pounds upon a contested election, and as much more a year
in subscriptions and keeping up the position if I should chance to be
returned? And how, in the name of fortune, can I be both a practising
physician and a member of Parliament?"

"I'll tell you, doctor, for, ever since your name was put forward by
the Liberal Council yesterday, I have seen these difficulties and been
thinking them out. Look here, you are still young, handsome, clever,
and a capital speaker with a popular audience. Also you are very hard-
working and would rise. But you've no money, and only what you earn at
your profession to live on, which, if you were a member of Parliament,
you couldn't continue to earn. Well, such a man as you are is wanted
and so he must be paid for."

"No, no," I said, "I am not going to be the slave of a Radical Five
Hundred, bound to do what they tell me and vote as they like; I'd
rather stick to my own trade, thank you."

"Don't you be in a hurry, young man; who asked you to be any one's
slave? Now, look here--if somebody guarantees every farthing of
expense to fight the seat, and 1200 pounds a year and outgoings if you
should be successful, and a bonus of 5000 pounds in the event of your
being subsequently defeated or electing to give up parliamentary life,
will you take on the job?"

"On those terms, yes, I think so, provided I was sure of the
guarantor, and that he was a man from whom I could take the money."

"Well, you can soon judge of that, doctor, for it is I, Samuel Strong,
and I'll deposit 10,000 pounds in the hands of a trustee before you
write your letter of acceptance. No, don't thank me. I do it for two
reasons--first, because, having no chick or kin of my own, I happen to
have taken a fancy to you and wish to push you on. The world has
treated you badly, and I want to see you one of its masters, with all
these smart people who look down on you licking your boots, as they
will sure enough if you grow rich and powerful. That's my private
reason. My public one is that you are the only man in Dunchester who
can win us the seat, and I'd think 10,000 pounds well spent if it put
those Tories at the bottom of the poll. I want to show them who is
"boss," and that we won't be lorded over by bankers and brewers just
because they are rich men who have bought themselves titles."

"But you are a rich man yourself," I interrupted.

"Yes, doctor, and I spend my money in helping those who will help the
people. Now, before you give me any answer, I've got to ask you a
thing or two," and he drew a paper from his pocket. "Are you prepared
to support the abolition of 'tied' houses?"

"Certainly. They are the worst monopoly in England."

"Graduated income-tax?"

"Yes; the individual should pay in proportion to the property

"An Old Age Pension scheme?"

"Yes, but only by means of compulsory insurance applicable to all
classes without exception."

"Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Church?"

"Yes, provided its funds are pooled and reapplied to Church purposes."

"Payment of members and placing the cost of elections on the rates?"

"Yes, the door of Parliament should not be shut in the face of all
except the very rich. Election expenditure is at present only a veiled
form of corruption. If it were put upon the rates it could be reduced
by at least a half, and elections would be fewer."

"Home Rule--no, I needn't ask you that, for it is a dead horse which
we don't want to flog, and now-a-days we are all in favour of a big
navy, so I think that is about everything--except, of course, anti-
vaccination, which you'll run for all it's worth."

"I never said that I would, Mr. Strong," I answered.

He looked at me curiously. "No, and you never said you wouldn't. Now,
doctor, let us come to an understanding about this, for here in
Dunchester it's worth more than all the other things put together. If
this seat is to be won, it will be won on anti-vaccination. That's our
burning question, and that's why you are being asked to stand, because
you've studied the thing and are believed to be one of the few doctors
who don't bow the knee to Baal. So look here, let's understand each
other. If you have any doubts about this matter, say so, and we will
have done with it, for, remember, once you are on the platform you've
got to go the whole hog; none of your scientific finicking, but
appeals to the people to rise up in their thousands and save their
innocent children from being offered to the Moloch of vaccination,
with enlarged photographs of nasty-looking cases, and the rest of it."

I listened and shivered. The inquiry into rare cases of disease after
vaccination had been interesting work, which, whatever deductions
people might choose to draw, in fact committed me to nothing. But to
become one of the ragged little regiment of medical dissenters, to
swallow all the unscientific follies of the anti-vaccination
agitators, to make myself responsible for and to promulgate their
distorted figures and wild statements--ah! that was another thing.
Must I appear upon platforms and denounce this wonderful discovery as
the "law of useless infanticide"? Must I tell people that "smallpox is
really a curative process and not the deadly scourge and pestilence
that doctors pretend it to be"? Must I maintain "that vaccination
never did, never does, and never can prevent even a single case of
smallpox"? Must I hold it up as a "law (!) of devil worship and human
sacrifice to idols"?

If I accepted Strong's offer it seemed that I must do all these
things: more, I must be false to my instincts, false to my training
and profession, false to my scientific knowledge. I could not do it.
And yet--when did a man in my position ever get such a chance as that
which was offered to me this day? I was ready with my tongue and fond
of public speaking; from boyhood it had been my desire to enter
Parliament, where I knew well that I should show to some advantage.
Now, without risk or expense to myself, an opportunity of gratifying
this ambition was given to me. Indeed, if I succeeded in winning this
city, which had always been a Tory stronghold, for the Radical party I
should be a marked man from the beginning, and if my career was not
one of assured prosperity the fault would be my own. Already in
imagination I saw myself rich (for in this way or in that the money
would come), a favourite of the people, a trusted minister of the
Crown and perhaps--who could tell?--ennobled, living a life of dignity
and repute, and at last leaving my honours and my fame to those who
came after me.

On the other hand, if I refused this offer the chance would pass away
from me, never to return again; it was probable even that I should
lose Stephen Strong's friendship and support, for he was not a man who
liked his generosity to be slighted, moreover he would believe me
unsound upon his favourite dogmas. In short, for ever abandoning my
brilliant hopes I condemned myself to an experience of struggle as a
doctor with a practice among second-class people.

After all, although the thought of it shocked me at first, the price I
was asked to pay was not so very heavy, merely one of the usual
election platform formulas, whereby the candidate binds himself to
support all sorts of things in which he has little or no beliefs.
Already I was half committed to this anti-vaccination crusade, and, if
I took a step or two farther in it, what did it matter? One crank more
added to the great army of British enthusiasts could make little
difference in the scheme of things.

If ever a man went through a "psychological moment" in this hour I was
that man. The struggle was short and sharp, but it ended as might be
expected in the case of one of my history and character. Could I have
foreseen the dreadful issues which hung upon my decision, I believe
that rather than speak it, for the second time in my life I would have
sought the solace to be found in the phials of my medicine chest. But
I did not foresee them, I thought only of myself, of my own hopes,
fears and ambitions, forgetting that no man can live to himself alone,
and that his every deed must act and re-act upon others until humanity
ceases to exist.

"Well," said Mr. Strong after a two or three minutes' pause, during
which these thoughts were wrestling in my mind.

"Well," I answered, "as you elegantly express it, I am prepared to go
the whole hog--it is a case of hog /versus/ calf, isn't it?--or, for
the matter of that, a whole styful of hogs."

I suppose that my doubts and irritation were apparent in the inelegant
jocosity of my manner. At any rate, Stephen Strong, who was a shrewd
observer, took alarm.

"Look here, doctor," he said, "I am honest, I am; right or wrong I
believe in this anti-vaccination business, and we are going to run the
election on it. If you don't believe in it--and you have no particular
call to, since every man can claim his own opinion--you'd better let
it alone, and look on all this talk as nothing. You are our first and
best man, but we have several upon the list; I'll go on to one of
them," and he took up his hat.

I let him take it; I even let him walk towards the door; but, as he
approached it, I reflected that with that dogged burly form went all
my ambitions and my last chance of advancement in life. When his hand
was already on the handle, not of premeditation, but by impulse, I

"I don't know why you should talk like that, as I think that I have
given good proof that I am no believer in vaccination."

"What's that, doctor?" he asked turning round.

"My little girl is nearly four years old and she has never been

"Is it so?" he asked doubtfully.

As he spoke I heard the nurse going down the passage and with her my
daughter, whom she was taking for her morning walk. I opened the door
and called Jane in, a beautiful little being with dark eyes and golden

"Look for yourself," I said, and, taking off the child's coat, I
showed him both her arms. Then I kissed her and sent her back to the

"That's good enough, doctor, but, mind you, /she mustn't be vaccinated

As he spoke the words my heart sank in me, for I understood what I had
done and the risk that I was taking. But the die was cast, or so I
thought, in my folly. It was too late to go back.

"Don't be afraid," I said, "no cow poison shall be mixed with her

"Now I believe you, doctor," he answered, "for a man won't play tricks
with his only child just to help himself. I'll take your answer to the
council, and they will send you the formal letter of invitation to
stand with the conditions attached. Before you answer it the money
will be lodged, and you shall have my bond for it. And now I must be
going, for I am wasting your time and those patients of yours will be
getting tired. If you will come to supper to-night I'll have some of
the leaders to meet you and we can talk things over. Good-bye, we
shall win the seat; so sure as my name is Stephen Strong we shall win
on the A.V. ticket."

He went, and I saw those of my patients who had sat out the wait. When
they had gone, I considered the position, summing it up in my own
mind. The prospect was exhilarating, and yet I was depressed, for I
had bound myself to the chariot wheels of a false doctrine. Also, by
implication, I had told Strong a lie. It was true that Jane had not
been vaccinated, but of this I had neglected to give him the reason.
It was that I had postponed vaccinating her for a while owing to a
certain infantile delicacy, being better acquainted than most men with
the risks consequent on that operation, slight though it is, in
certain conditions of a child's health, and knowing that there was no
danger of her taking smallpox in a town which was free from it. I
proposed, however, to perform the operation within the next few days;
indeed, for this very purpose I had already written to London to
secure some glycerinated calf lymph, which would now be wasted.

The local papers next morning appeared with an announcement that at
the forthcoming bye-election Dunchester would be contested in the
Radical interest by James Therne, Esq., M.D. They added that, in
addition to other articles of the Radical faith, Dr. Therne professed
the doctrine of anti-vaccination, of which he was so ardent an
upholder that, although on several occasions he had been threatened
with prosecution, he declined to allow his only child to be

In the same issues it was announced that the Conservative candidate
would be Sir Thomas Colford.

So the die was cast. I had crossed the Rubicon.

Content of CHAPTER VII - CROSSING THE RUBICON (H. Rider Haggard's novel: Doctor Therne)

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