The House by the Church-Yard, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 95

In which Doctor Pell Declines a Fee, and Doctor Sturk a Prescription.

In entering the front parlour from whence, in no small excitement, there issued the notes of a course diapason, which he fancied was known to him, he found Mr. Justice Lowe in somewhat tempestuous conference with the visitor.

He was, in fact, no other than Black Dillon; black enough he looked just now. He had only a moment before returned from a barren visit to the Brass Castle, and was in no mood to be trifled with.

‘‘Twasn’t I, Sir, but Mr. Dangerfield, who promised you five hundred guineas,’ said Mr. Lowe, with a dry nonchalance.

‘Five hundred fiddles,’ retorted Doctor Dillon — his phrase was coarser, and Toole at that moment entering the door, and divining the situation from the doctor’s famished glare and wild gestures, exploded, I’m sorry to say in a momentary burst of laughter, into his cocked hat. ’Twas instantly stifled, however; and when Dillon turned his flaming eyes upon him, the little doctor made him a bow of superlative gravity, which the furious hero of the trepan was too full of his wrongs to notice in any way.

‘I was down at his house, bedad, the “Brass Castle,” if you plase, and not a brass farthin’ for my pains, nothing there but an ould woman, as ould and as ugly as himself, or the divil — be gannies! An’ he’s levanted, or else tuck for debt. Brass Castle! brass forehead, bedad. Brass, like Goliath, from head to heels; an’ by the heels he’s laid, I’ll take my davy, considherin’ at his laysure which is strongest — a brass castle or a stone jug. An’ where, Sir, am I to get my five hundred guineas — where, Sir?’ he thundered, staring first in Lowe’s face, then in Toole’s, and dealing the table a lusty blow at each interrogatory.

‘I think, Sir,’ said Lowe, anticipating Toole, ‘you’d do well to consider the sick man, Sir.’ The noise was certainly considerable.

‘I don’t know, Sir, that the sick man’s considherin’ me much,’ retorted Doctor Dillon. ‘Sick man — sick grandmother’s aunt! If you can’t speak like a man o’ sense, don’t spake, at any rate, like a justice o’ the pace. Sick man, indeed! why there’s not a crature livin’ barrin’ a natural eediot, or an apothecary, that doesn’t know the man’s dead; he’s dead, Sir; but ‘tisn’t so with me, an’ I can’t get on without vittles, and vittles isn’t to be had without money; that’s logic, Mr. Justice; that’s a medical fact Mr. Docthor. An’ how am I to get my five hundred guineas? I say, you and you — the both o’ ye — that prevented me of going last night to his brass castle — brass snuff-box — there isn’t room to stand in it, bedad — an’ gettin’ my money. I hold you both liable to me — one an’ t’other — the both o’ ye.’

‘Why, Sir,’ said Lowe, ‘’tis a honorarium.’

‘’Tis no such thing, Sir; ’tis a contract,’ thundered Dillon, pulling Dangerfield’s note of promise from his pocket, and dealing it a mighty slap with the back of his hand.

‘Contract or no, Sir, there’s nobody liable for it but himself.’

‘We’ll try that, Sir; and in the meantime, what the divil am I to do, I’d be glad to know; for strike me crooked if I have a crown piece to pay the coachman. Trepan, indeed; I’m nately trepanned myself.’

‘If you’ll only listen, Sir, I’ll show you your case is well enough. Mr. Dangerfield, as you call him, has not left the country; and though he’s arrested, ‘tisn’t for debt. If he owes you the money, ’tis your own fault if you don’t make him pay it, for I’m credibly informed he’s worth more than a hundred thousand pounds.’

‘And where is he, Sir?’ demanded Black Dillon, much more cheerfully and amicably. ‘I hope I see you well, Doctor Toole.’

That learned person acknowledged the somewhat tardy courtesy, and Lowe made answer:

‘He lies in the county gaol, Sir, on a serious criminal charge; but a line from me, Sir, will, I think, gain you admission to him forthwith.’

‘I’ll be much obliged for it, Sir,’ answered Dillon. ‘What o’clock is it?’ he asked of Toole; for though it is believed he owned a watch, it was sometimes not about him; and while Lowe scribbled a note, Toole asked in a dignified way —

‘Have you seen our patient, Sir?’

‘Not I. Didn’t I see him last night? The man’s dead. He’s in the last stage of exhaustion with an inflammatory pulse. If you feed him up he’ll die of inflammation; and if you don’t he’ll die of wakeness. So he lies on the fatal horns of a dilemma, you see; an’ not all the men in Derry’ll take him off them alive. He’s gone, Sir. Pell’s coming, I hear. I’d wait if I could; but I must look afther business; and there’s no good to be done here. I thank you, Mr. Lowe — Sir — your most obedient servant, Doctor Toole.’ And with Lowe’s note in his breeches’ pocket, he strode out to the steps, and whistled for his coachman, who drove his respectable employer tipsily to his destination.

I dare say the interview was characteristic; but I can find no account of it. I am pretty sure, however, that he did not get a shilling. So at least he stated in his declaration, in the action against Lowe, in which he, or rather his attorney, was nonsuited, with grievous loss of costs. And judging by the sort of esteem in which Mr. Dangerfield held Black Dillon, I fancy that few things would have pleased him better in his unfortunate situation than hitting that able practitioner as hard as might be.

Just as he drove away, poor little Mrs. Sturk looked in.

‘Is there anything, Ma’am?’ asked Toole, a little uneasily.

‘Only — only, I think he’s just a little frightened — he’s so nervous you know — by that Dublin doctor’s loud talking — and he’s got a kind of trembling — a shivering.’

‘Eh — a shivering, Ma’am?’ said Toole. ‘Like a man that’s taken a cold, eh?’

‘Oh, he hasn’t got cold — I’m sure — there’s no danger of that. It’s only nervous; so I covered him up with another pair of blankets, and gave him a hot drink.’

‘Very good, Ma’am; I’ll follow you up in a minute.’

‘And even if it was, you know he shakes off cold in no time, he has such a fine constitution.’

‘Yes, Ma’am — that’s true — very good, Ma’am. I’ll be after you.’

So up stairs went Mrs. Sturk in a fuss.

‘That’s it,’ said Toole so soon as they were alone, nodding two or three times dejectedly, and looking very glum. ‘It’s set in-the inflammation — it’s set in, Sir. He’s gone. That’s the rigor.’

‘Poor gentleman,’ said Lowe, after a short pause, ‘I’m much concerned for him, and for his family.’

‘’Tis a bad business,’ said Toole, gloomily, like a man that’s frightened. And he followed Mrs. Sturk, leaving Lowe adjusting his papers in the parlour.

Toole found his patient laden with blankets, and shivering like a man in an ague, with blue sunken face. And he slipped his hand under the clothes, and took his pulse, and said nothing but —‘Ay — ay — ay’— quietly to himself, from time to time, as he did so; and Sturk — signing, as well as he could, that he wanted a word in his ear — whispered, as well as his chattering teeth would let him,

‘You know what this is.’

‘Well — well — there now, there; drink some of this,’ said Toole, a little flurried, and trying to seem cool.

‘I think he’s a little bit better, doctor,’ whispered poor little Mrs. Sturk, in Toole’s ear.

’Twill pass away. Ma’am.’

Toole was standing by the bedside, looking rather woefully and frightened on Sturk’s face, and patting and smoothing the coverlet with the palm of his stumpy, red hand; and whispering to himself from time to time, ‘Yes, yes,’ although with rather a troubled and helpless air.

Just then came the roll of a coach to the door, and a long peal at the knocker; and little Toole ran down to meet the great Doctor Pell in the hall. He was in, in a moment, and turned aside with Toole into the drawing-room. And Toole’s voice was heard pretty volubly. It was only a conference of about two minutes. And Dr. Pell said in his usual tall way, as they came out —

‘How long ago, Sir?’

‘About ten — no, hardly so much — eight minutes ago,’ answered Toole, as he followed that swift phantom up the stairs.

‘Your most obedient, Ma’am,’ said the slim and lofty doctor, parenthetically saluting the good lady; and he stood by the bedside, having laid his muff on the chair.

‘Well, Sir, and how do you feel? There now, that will do, Sir; don’t mind speaking; I see. And he put his hand under the clothes, and laid it on Sturk’s arm, and slid it down to his hand, and felt his pulse.

‘And he’s been near ten minutes this way?’ said the doctor.

‘Oh, he was a great deal worse; ’tis a vast deal better now; isn’t it, Doctor Toole?’

‘The rigor is subsiding, then. Has he had a sweat, Ma’am?’ said Pell.

‘Oh, no — nothing like — quite nice and cool, doctor — and no fever; nice quiet sleep; and his appetite wonderful; tell him, Doctor Toole.’

‘Oh, yes, Ma’am — Doctor Pell knows; I told him all, Ma’am,’ said Toole, who was looking with a blank and dismal sort of contemplation upon Sturk’s fallen countenance.

‘Well, Ma’am,’ said Pell, as he looked on his watch, ‘this rigor, you see, will soon pass away, and you’re doing everything we could wish, and (for he found he had time to scribble a prescription), we’ll just order him a trifle. Good-day, Sir. Your most obedient, Ma’am.’

‘Pen and ink in the drawing-room, Doctor Pell,’ said Toole, reverentially.

‘Oh! no, no, Madam, excuse me,’ murmured Doctor Pell, gently pressing back Mrs. Sturk’s fee, the residuum of Dangerfield’s bounty, with his open palm.

‘Oh, but Doctor Pell,’ urged she, in a persuasive aside, half behind him, in the shadow of the doorway.

‘Pray, Madam, no more — pardon me,’ and Doctor Pell, with a peremptory bow, repelled his fee.

Why do physicians take their honest earnings in this clandestine way — transacted like favours, secret, sweet, and precious; and pocketed in dark corners, and whispers, like the wages of sin? Cold Doctor Pell here refused a very considerable fee. He could on occasion behave handsomely; but I can’t learn that blustering, hilarious Doctor Rogerson ever refused his.

And the doctor descended, not hastily, but very swiftly, and was in the drawing-room, and the door shut.

‘Gone, poor gentleman!’ said Toole, in an under tone — his phraseology became refined in Pell’s presence; he’d have said ‘poor devil,’ or ‘poor dog,’ if he had been with Doctor Rogerson.

Pell held the pen in his thin lips, while he tore off half-a-sheet of paper, and only shook his head funereally.

So, taking the pen in his fingers, he said, ‘We’ll give him so and so, if you approve.’

‘Very good, Sir,’ said Toole, deferentially; and Pell, not seeming to hear, dashed off a few spattered lines, with necromantic circles and zigzags at the end of each.

When Sturk afterwards saw that paper in the fingers of the maid, being very weak, he did not care to speak; but he signed with a little motion of his head, and she leaned down to listen.

‘Recipe?’ whispered the doctor; ‘put it — in-the fire;’ and he shut his eyes — tired.

Pell, looking again at his watch, was Doctor Toole’s very obedient servant, and was waylaid by poor little Mrs. Sturk on the lobby.

‘Well, Madam, we’ve put our heads together, and ordered a little matter, and that rigor — that shivering fit — will subside; and we trust he’ll be easier then; and you’ve a very competent adviser in Doctor a — a ——’

‘Toole,’ suggested the eager little woman.

‘Doctor Toole, Madam, and he’ll direct whatever may be necessary; and should he wish to consult again, you can send for me; but he’s quite competent, Madam, and he’ll tell you all we think.’

He had got to the end of the stairs while talking, and made his adieux, and glided down and out; and before poor little Mrs. Sturk bethought her how little she had got from him, she heard the roll of his coach wheels whirling him back again to Dublin. I believe few doctors grow so accustomed to the ghastly eclaircissement as not very willingly to shirk it when they may.

Toole shrank from it, too, and dodged, and equivocated, and evaded all he could; but he did admit there was an unfavourable change; and when he had gone — promising to be back at four o’clock — poor little Mrs. Sturk broke down — all alone in the drawing-room — and cried a passionate flood of tears; and thinking she was too long away, dried her eyes quickly, and ran up, and into Barney’s room with a smile on; and she battled with the evil fear; and hope, that faithful angel that clings to the last, hovered near her with blessed illusions, until an hour came, next day, in the evening, about four o’clock, when from Barney’s room there came a long, wild cry. It was ‘his poor foolish little Letty’— the long farewell — and the ‘noble Barney’ was gone. The courtship and the married days — all a faded old story now; and a few days later, reversed arms, and muffled drums, and three volleys in the church-yard, and a little file of wondering children, dressed in black, whom the old general afterwards took up in his arms, one by one, very kindly, and kissed, and told them they were to come and play in Belmont whenever they liked, and to eat fruit in the garden, and a great deal more; for all which a poor little lady, in a widow’s cap, and a lonely room, hard-by, was very grateful.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49