The Doctor's Dilemma, by George Bernard Shaw

Act iii

In Dubedat’s studio. Viewed from the large window the outer door is in the wall on the left at the near end. The door leading to the inner rooms is in the opposite wall, at the far end. The facing wall has neither window nor door. The plaster on all the walls is uncovered and undecorated, except by scrawlings of charcoal sketches and memoranda. There is a studio throne (a chair on a dais) a little to the left, opposite the inner door, and an easel to the right, opposite the outer door, with a dilapidated chair at it. Near the easel and against the wall is a bare wooden table with bottles and jars of oil and medium, paint-smudged rags, tubes of color, brushes, charcoal, a small last figure, a kettle and spirit-lamp, and other odds and ends. By the table is a sofa, littered with drawing blocks, sketch-books, loose sheets of paper, newspapers, books, and more smudged rags. Next the outer door is an umbrella and hat stand, occupied partly by Louis’ hats and cloak and muffler, and partly by odds and ends of costumes. There is an old piano stool on the near side of this door. In the corner near the inner door is a little tea-table. A lay figure, in a cardinal’s robe and hat, with an hour-glass in one hand and a scythe slung on its back, smiles with inane malice at Louis, who, in a milkman’s smock much smudged with colors, is painting a piece of brocade which he has draped about his wife.

She is sitting on the throne, not interested in the painting, and appealing to him very anxiously about another matter.

Mrs Dubedat. Promise.

Louis [putting on a touch of paint with notable skill and care and answering quite perfunctorily] I promise, my darling.

Mrs Dubedat. When you want money, you will always come to me.

Louis. But it’s so sordid, dearest. I hate money. I cant keep always bothering you for money, money, money. Thats what drives me sometimes to ask other people, though I hate doing it.

Mrs Dubedat. It is far better to ask me, dear. It gives people a wrong idea of you.

Louis. But I want to spare your little fortune, and raise money on my own work. Dont be unhappy, love: I can easily earn enough to pay it all back. I shall have a one-man-show next season; and then there will be no more money troubles. [Putting down his palette] There! I mustnt do any more on that until it’s bone-dry; so you may come down.

Mrs Dubedat [throwing off the drapery as she steps down, and revealing a plain frock of tussore silk] But you have promised, remember, seriously and faithfully, never to borrow again until you have first asked me.

Louis. Seriously and faithfully. [Embracing her] Ah, my love, how right you are! how much it means to me to have you by me to guard me against living too much in the skies. On my solemn oath, from this moment forth I will never borrow another penny.

Mrs Dubedat [delighted] Ah, thats right. Does his wicked worrying wife torment him and drag him down from the clouds. [She kisses him]. And now, dear, wont you finish those drawings for Maclean?

Louis. Oh, they dont matter. Ive got nearly all the money from him in advance.

Mrs Dubedat. But, dearest, that is just the reason why you should finish them. He asked me the other day whether you really intended to finish them.

Louis. Confound his impudence! What the devil does he take me for? Now that just destroys all my interest in the beastly job. Ive a good mind to throw up the commission, and pay him back his money.

Mrs Dubedat. We cant afford that, dear. You had better finish the drawings and have done with them. I think it is a mistake to accept money in advance.

Louis. But how are we to live?

Mrs Dubedat. Well, Louis, it is getting hard enough as it is, now that they are all refusing to pay except on delivery.

Louis. Damn those fellows! they think of nothing and care for nothing but their wretched money.

Mrs Dubedat. Still, if they pay us, they ought to have what they pay for.

Louis [coaxing;] There now: thats enough lecturing for to-day. Ive promised to be good, havnt I?

Mrs Dubedat. [putting her arms round his neck] You know that I hate lecturing, and that I dont for a moment misunderstand you, dear, dont you?

Louis [fondly] I know. I know. I’m a wretch; and youre an angel. Oh, if only I were strong enough to work steadily, I’d make my darling’s house a temple, and her shrine a chapel more beautiful than was ever imagined. I cant pass the shops without wrestling with the temptation to go in and order all the really good things they have for you.

Mrs Dubedat. I want nothing but you, dear. [She gives him a caress, to which he responds so passionately that she disengages herself]. There! be good now: remember that the doctors are coming this morning. Isnt it extraordinarily kind of them, Louis, to insist on coming? all of them, to consult about you?

Louis [coolly] Oh, I daresay they think it will be a feather in their cap to cure a rising artist. They wouldnt come if it didnt amuse them, anyhow. [Someone knocks at the door]. I say: its not time yet, is it?

Mrs Dubedat. No, not quite yet.

Louis [opening the door and finding Ridgeon there] Hello, Ridgeon. Delighted to see you. Come in.

Mrs Dubedat. [shaking hands] It’s so good of you to come, doctor.

Louis. Excuse this place, wont you? Its only a studio, you know: theres no real convenience for living here. But we pig along somehow, thanks to Jennifer.

Mrs Dubedat. Now I’ll run away. Perhaps later on, when youre finished with Louis, I may come in and hear the verdict. [Ridgeon bows rather constrainedly]. Would you rather I didnt?

Ridgeon. Not at all. Not at all.

Mrs Dubedat looks at him, a little puzzled by his formal manner; then goes into the inner room.

Louis [flippantly] I say: dont look so grave. Theres nothing awful going to happen, is there?

Ridgeon. No.

Louis. Thats all right. Poor Jennifer has been looking forward to your visit more than you can imagine. Shes taken quite a fancy to you, Ridgeon. The poor girl has nobody to talk to: I’m always painting. [Taking up a sketch] Theres a little sketch I made of her yesterday.

Ridgeon. She shewed it to me a fortnight ago when she first called on me.

Louis [quite unabashed] Oh! did she? Good Lord! how time does fly! I could have sworn I’d only just finished it. It’s hard for her here, seeing me piling up drawings and nothing coming in for them. Of course I shall sell them next year fast enough, after my one-man-show; but while the grass grows the steed starves. I hate to have her coming to me for money, and having none to give her. But what can I do?

Ridgeon. I understood that Mrs Dubedat had some property of her own.

Louis. Oh yes, a little; but how could a man with any decency of feeling touch that? Suppose I did, what would she have to live on if I died? I’m not insured: cant afford the premiums. [Picking out another drawing] How do you like that?

Ridgeon [putting it aside] I have not come here to-day to look at your drawings. I have more serious and pressing business with you.

Louis. You want to sound my wretched lung. [With impulsive candor] My dear Ridgeon: I’ll be frank with you. Whats the matter in this house isnt lungs but bills. It doesnt matter about me; but Jennifer has actually to economize in the matter of food. Youve made us feel that we can treat you as a friend. Will you lend us a hundred and fifty pounds?

Ridgeon. No.

Louis [surprised] Why not?

Ridgeon. I am not a rich man; and I want every penny I can spare and more for my researches.

Louis. You mean youd want the money back again.

Ridgeon. I presume people sometimes have that in view when they lend money.

Louis [after a moment’s reflection] Well, I can manage that for you. I’ll give you a cheque — or see here: theres no reason why you shouldnt have your bit too: I’ll give you a cheque for two hundred.

Ridgeon. Why not cash the cheque at once without troubling me?

Louis. Bless you! they wouldnt cash it: I’m overdrawn as it is. No: the way to work it is this. I’ll postdate the cheque next October. In October Jennifer’s dividends come in. Well, you present the cheque. It will be returned marked “refer to drawer” or some rubbish of that sort. Then you can take it to Jennifer, and hint that if the cheque isnt taken up at once I shall be put in prison. She’ll pay you like a shot. Youll clear 50 pounds; and youll do me a real service; for I do want the money very badly, old chap, I assure you.

Ridgeon [staring at him] You see no objection to the transaction; and you anticipate none from me!

Louis. Well, what objection can there be? It’s quite safe. I can convince you about the dividends.

Ridgeon. I mean on the score of its being — shall I say dishonorable?

Louis. Well, of course I shouldnt suggest it if I didnt want the money.

Ridgeon. Indeed! Well, you will have to find some other means of getting it.

Louis. Do you mean that you refuse?

Ridgeon. Do I mean —! [letting his indignation loose] Of course I refuse, man. What do you take me for? How dare you make such a proposal to me?

Louis. Why not?

Ridgeon. Faugh! You would not understand me if I tried to explain. Now, once for all, I will not lend you a farthing. I should be glad to help your wife; but lending you money is no service to her.

Louis. Oh well, if youre in earnest about helping her, I’ll tell you what you might do. You might get your patients to buy some of my things, or to give me a few portrait commissions.

Ridgeon. My patients call me in as a physician, not as a commercial traveller.

A knock at the door.

Louis goes unconcernedly to open it, pursuing the subject as he goes.

Louis. But you must have great influence with them. You must know such lots of things about them — private things that they wouldnt like to have known. They wouldnt dare to refuse you.

Ridgeon [exploding] Well, upon my —

Louis opens the door, and admits Sir Patrick, Sir Ralph, and Walpole.

Ridgeon [proceeding furiously] Walpole: Ive been here hardly ten minutes; and already he’s tried to borrow 150 pounds from me. Then he proposed that I should get the money for him by blackmailing his wife; and youve just interrupted him in the act of suggesting that I should blackmail my patients into sitting to him for their portraits.

Louis. Well, Ridgeon, if this is what you call being an honorable man! I spoke to you in confidence.

Sir Patrick. We’re all going to speak to you in confidence, young man.

Walpole [hanging his hat on the only peg left vacant on the hat-stand] We shall make ourselves at home for half an hour, Dubedat. Dont be alarmed: youre a most fascinating chap; and we love you.

Louis. Oh, all right, all right. Sit down — anywhere you can. Take this chair, Sir Patrick [indicating the one on the throne]. Up-z-z-z! [helping him up: Sir Patrick grunts and enthrones himself]. Here you are, B. B. [Sir Ralph glares at the familiarity; but Louis, quite undisturbed, puts a big book and a sofa cushion on the dais, on Sir Patrick’s right; and B. B. sits down, under protest]. Let me take your hat. [He takes B. B.‘s hat unceremoniously, and substitutes it for the cardinal’s hat on the head of the lay figure, thereby ingeniously destroying the dignity of the conclave. He then draws the piano stool from the wall and offers it to Walpole]. You dont mind this, Walpole, do you? [Walpole accepts the stool, and puts his hand into his pocket for his cigaret case. Missing it, he is reminded of his loss].

Walpole. By the way, I’ll trouble you for my cigaret case, if you dont mind?

Louis. What cigaret case?

Walpole. The gold one I lent you at the Star and Garter.

Louis [surprised] Was that yours?

Walpole. Yes.

Louis. I’m awfully sorry, old chap. I wondered whose it was. I’m sorry to say this is all thats left of it. [He hitches up his smock; produces a card from his waistcoat pocket; and hands it to Walpole].

Walpole. A pawn ticket!

Louis [reassuringly] It’s quite safe: he cant sell it for a year, you know. I say, my dear Walpole, I am sorry. [He places his hand ingenuously on Walpole’s shoulder and looks frankly at him].

Walpole [sinking on the stool with a gasp] Dont mention it. It adds to your fascination.

Ridgeon [who has been standing near the easel] Before we go any further, you have a debt to pay, Mr Dubedat.

Louis. I have a precious lot of debts to pay, Ridgeon. I’ll fetch you a chair. [He makes for the inner door].

Ridgeon [stopping him] You shall not leave the room until you pay it. It’s a small one; and pay it you must and shall. I dont so much mind your borrowing 10 pounds from one of my guests and 20 pounds from the other —

Walpole. I walked into it, you know. I offered it.

Ridgeon. — they could afford it. But to clean poor Blenkinsop out of his last half-crown was damnable. I intend to give him that half-crown and to be in a position to pledge him my word that you paid it. I’ll have that out of you, at all events.

B. B. Quite right, Ridgeon. Quite right. Come, young man! down with the dust. Pay up.

Louis. Oh, you neednt make such a fuss about it. Of course I’ll pay it. I had no idea the poor fellow was hard up. I’m as shocked as any of you about it. [Putting his hand into his pocket] Here you are. [Finding his pocket empty] Oh, I say, I havnt any money on me just at present. Walpole: would you mind lending me half-a-crown just to settle this.

Walpole. Lend you half —[his voice faints away].

Louis. Well, if you dont, Blenkinsop wont get it; for I havnt a rap: you may search my pockets if you like.

Walpole. Thats conclusive. [He produces half-a-crown].

Louis [passing it to Ridgeon] There! I’m really glad thats settled: it was the only thing that was on my conscience. Now I hope youre all satisfied.

Sir Patrick. Not quite, Mr Dubedat. Do you happen to know a young woman named Minnie Tinwell?

Louis. Minnie! I should think I do; and Minnie knows me too. She’s a really nice good girl, considering her station. Whats become of her?

Walpole. It’s no use bluffing, Dubedat. Weve seen Minnie’s marriage lines.

Louis [coolly] Indeed? Have you seen Jennifer’s?

Ridgeon [rising in irrepressible rage] Do you dare insinuate that Mrs Dubedat is living with you without being married to you?

Louis. Why not?

B. B. { [echoing him in various tones of scandalized amazement] } Why not!
Sir Patrick { } Why not!
Ridgeon { } Why not!
Walpole { } Why not!

Louis. Yes, why not? Lots of people do it: just as good people as you. Why dont you learn to think, instead of bleating and bashing like a lot of sheep when you come up against anything youre not accustomed to? [Contemplating their amazed faces with a chuckle] I say: I should like to draw the lot of you now: you do look jolly foolish. Especially you, Ridgeon. I had you that time, you know.

Ridgeon. How, pray?

Louis. Well, you set up to appreciate Jennifer, you know. And you despise me, dont you?

Ridgeon [curtly] I loathe you. [He sits down again on the sofa].

Louis. Just so. And yet you believe that Jennifer is a bad lot because you think I told you so.

Ridgeon. Were you lying?

Louis. No; but you were smelling out a scandal instead of keeping your mind clean and wholesome. I can just play with people like you. I only asked you had you seen Jennifer’s marriage lines; and you concluded straight away that she hadnt got any. You dont know a lady when you see one.

B. B. [majestically] What do you mean by that, may I ask?

Louis. Now, I’m only an immoral artist; but if YOUD told me that Jennifer wasnt married, I’d have had the gentlemanly feeling and artistic instinct to say that she carried her marriage certificate in her face and in her character. But you are all moral men; and Jennifer is only an artist’s wife — probably a model; and morality consists in suspecting other people of not being legally married. Arnt you ashamed of yourselves? Can one of you look me in the face after it?

Walpole. Its very hard to look you in the face, Dubedat; you have such a dazzling cheek. What about Minnie Tinwell, eh?

Louis. Minnie Tinwell is a young woman who has had three weeks of glorious happiness in her poor little life, which is more than most girls in her position get, I can tell you. Ask her whether she’d take it back if she could. She’s got her name into history, that girl. My little sketches of her will be bought by collectors at Christie’s. She’ll have a page in my biography. Pretty good, that, for a still-room maid at a seaside hotel, I think. What have you fellows done for her to compare with that?

Ridgeon. We havnt trapped her into a mock marriage and deserted her.

Louis. No: you wouldnt have the pluck. But dont fuss yourselves. I didnt desert little Minnie. We spent all our money —

Walpole. All HER money. Thirty pounds.

Louis. I said all our money: hers and mine too. Her thirty pounds didnt last three days. I had to borrow four times as much to spend on her. But I didnt grudge it; and she didnt grudge her few pounds either, the brave little lassie. When we were cleaned out, we’d had enough of it: you can hardly suppose that we were fit company for longer than that: I an artist, and she quite out of art and literature and refined living and everything else. There was no desertion, no misunderstanding, no police court or divorce court sensation for you moral chaps to lick your lips over at breakfast. We just said, Well, the money’s gone: weve had a good time that can never be taken from us; so kiss; part good friends; and she back to service, and I back to my studio and my Jennifer, both the better and happier for our holiday.

Walpole. Quite a little poem, by George!’

B. B. If you had been scientifically trained, Mr Dubedat, you would know how very seldom an actual case bears out a principle. In medical practice a man may die when, scientifically speaking, he ought to have lived. I have actually known a man die of a disease from which he was scientifically speaking, immune. But that does not affect the fundamental truth of science. In just the same way, in moral cases, a man’s behavior may be quite harmless and even beneficial, when he is morally behaving like a scoundrel. And he may do great harm when he is morally acting on the highest principles. But that does not affect the fundamental truth of morality.

Sir Patrick. And it doesnt affect the criminal law on the subject of bigamy.

Louis. Oh bigamy! bigamy! bigamy! What a fascination anything connected with the police has for you all, you moralists! Ive proved to you that you were utterly wrong on the moral point: now I’m going to shew you that youre utterly wrong on the legal point; and I hope it will be a lesson to you not to be so jolly cocksure next time.

Walpole. Rot! You were married already when you married her; and that settles it.

Louis. Does it! Why cant you think? How do you know she wasnt married already too?

B.B. { [all crying out together] } Walpole! Ridgeon!
Ridgeon { } This is beyond everything!
Walpole { } Well, damn me!
Sir Patrick { } You young rascal.

Louis [ignoring their outcry] She was married to the steward of a liner. He cleared out and left her; and she thought, poor girl, that it was the law that if you hadnt heard of your husband for three years you might marry again. So as she was a thoroughly respectable girl and refused to have anything to say to me unless we were married I went through the ceremony to please her and to preserve her self-respect.

Ridgeon. Did you tell her you were already married?

Louis. Of course not. Dont you see that if she had known, she wouldnt have considered herself my wife? You dont seem to understand, somehow.

Sir Patrick. You let her risk imprisonment in her ignorance of the law?

Louis. Well, I risked imprisonment for her sake. I could have been had up for it just as much as she. But when a man makes a sacrifice of that sort for a woman, he doesnt go and brag about it to her; at least, not if he’s a gentleman.

Walpole. What are we to do with this daisy?

Louis. [impatiently] Oh, go and do whatever the devil you please. Put Minnie in prison. Put me in prison. Kill Jennifer with the disgrace of it all. And then, when youve done all the mischief you can, go to church and feel good about it. [He sits down pettishly on the old chair at the easel, and takes up a sketching block, on which he begins to draw]

Walpole. He’s got us.

Sir Patrick [grimly] He has.

B. B. But is he to be allowed to defy the criminal law of the land?

Sir Patrick. The criminal law is no use to decent people. It only helps blackguards to blackmail their families. What are we family doctors doing half our time but conspiring with the family solicitor to keep some rascal out of jail and some family out of disgrace?

B. B. But at least it will punish him.

Sir Patrick. Oh, yes: Itll punish him. Itll punish not only him but everybody connected with him, innocent and guilty alike. Itll throw his board and lodging on our rates and taxes for a couple of years, and then turn him loose on us a more dangerous blackguard than ever. Itll put the girl in prison and ruin her: Itll lay his wife’s life waste. You may put the criminal law out of your head once for all: it’s only fit for fools and savages.

Louis. Would you mind turning your face a little more this way, Sir Patrick. [Sir Patrick turns indignantly and glares at him]. Oh, thats too much.

Sir Patrick. Put down your foolish pencil, man; and think of your position. You can defy the laws made by men; but there are other laws to reckon with. Do you know that youre going to die?

Louis. We’re all going to die, arnt we?

Walpole. We’re not all going to die in six months.

Louis. How do you know?

This for B. B. is the last straw. He completely loses his temper and begins to walk excitedly about.

B. B. Upon my soul, I will not stand this. It is in questionable taste under any circumstances or in any company to harp on the subject of death; but it is a dastardly advantage to take of a medical man. [Thundering at Dubedat] I will not allow it, do you hear?

Louis. Well, I didn’t begin it: you chaps did. It’s always the way with the inartistic professions: when theyre beaten in argument they fall back on intimidation. I never knew a lawyer who didnt threaten to put me in prison sooner or later. I never knew a parson who didnt threaten me with damnation. And now you threaten me with death. With all your talk youve only one real trump in your hand, and thats Intimidation. Well, I’m not a coward; so it’s no use with me.

B. B. [advancing upon him] I’ll tell you what you are, sir. Youre a scoundrel.

Louis. Oh, I don’t mind you calling me a scoundrel a bit. It’s only a word: a word that you dont know the meaning of. What is a scoundrel?

B. B. You are a scoundrel, sir.

Louis. Just so. What is a scoundrel? I am. What am I? A Scoundrel. It’s just arguing in a circle. And you imagine youre a man of science!

B. B. I— I— I— I have a good mind to take you by the scruff of your neck, you infamous rascal, and give you a sound thrashing.

Louis. I wish you would. Youd pay me something handsome to keep it out of court afterwards. [B. B., baffled, flings away from him with a snort]. Have you any more civilities to address to me in my own house? I should like to get them over before my wife comes back. [He resumes his sketching].

Ridgeon. My mind’s made up. When the law breaks down, honest men must find a remedy for themselves. I will not lift a finger to save this reptile.

B. B. That is the word I was trying to remember. Reptile.

Walpole. I cant help rather liking you, Dubedat. But you certainly are a thoroughgoing specimen.

Sir Patrick. You know our opinion of you now, at all events.

Louis [patiently putting down his pencil] Look here. All this is no good. You dont understand. You imagine that I’m simply an ordinary criminal.

Walpole. Not an ordinary one, Dubedat. Do yourself justice.

Louis. Well youre on the wrong tack altogether. I’m not a criminal. All your moralizings have no value for me. I don’t believe in morality. I’m a disciple of Bernard Shaw.

Sir Patrick [puzzled] Eh?

B. B. [waving his hand as if the subject was now disposed of] Thats enough, I wish to hear no more.

Louis. Of course I havnt the ridiculous vanity to set up to be exactly a Superman; but still, it’s an ideal that I strive towards just as any other man strives towards his ideal.

B. B. [intolerant] Dont trouble to explain. I now understand you perfectly. Say no more, please. When a man pretends to discuss science, morals, and religion, and then avows himself a follower of a notorious and avowed anti-vaccinationist, there is nothing more to be said. [Suddenly putting in an effusive saving clause in parenthesis to Ridgeon] Not, my dear Ridgeon, that I believe in vaccination in the popular sense any more than you do: I neednt tell you that. But there are things that place a man socially; and anti-vaccination is one of them. [He resumes his seat on the dais].

Sir Patrick. Bernard Shaw? I never heard of him. He’s a Methodist preacher, I suppose.

Louis [scandalized] No, no. He’s the most advanced man now living: he isn’t anything.

Sir Patrick. I assure you, young man, my father learnt the doctrine of deliverance from sin from John Wesley’s own lips before you or Mr. Shaw were born. It used to be very popular as an excuse for putting sand in sugar and water in milk. Youre a sound Methodist, my lad; only you don’t know it.

Louis [seriously annoyed for the first time] Its an intellectual insult. I don’t believe theres such a thing as sin.

Sir Patrick. Well, sir, there are people who dont believe theres such a thing as disease either. They call themselves Christian Scientists, I believe. Theyll just suit your complaint. We can do nothing for you. [He rises]. Good afternoon to you.

Louis [running to him piteously] Oh dont get up, Sir Patrick. Don’t go. Please dont. I didnt mean to shock you, on my word. Do sit down again. Give me another chance. Two minutes more: thats all I ask.

Sir Patrick [surprised by this sign of grace, and a little touched] Well —[He sits down]

Louis [gratefully] Thanks awfully.

Sir Patrick [continuing] I don’t mind giving you two minutes more. But dont address yourself to me; for Ive retired from practice; and I dont pretend to be able to cure your complaint. Your life is in the hands of these gentlemen.

Ridgeon. Not in mine. My hands are full. I have no time and no means available for this case.

Sir Patrick. What do you say, Mr. Walpole?

Walpole. Oh, I’ll take him in hand: I dont mind. I feel perfectly convinced that this is not a moral case at all: it’s a physical one. Theres something abnormal about his brain. That means, probably, some morbid condition affecting the spinal cord. And that means the circulation. In short, it’s clear to me that he’s suffering from an obscure form of blood-poisoning, which is almost certainly due to an accumulation of ptomaines in the nuciform sac. I’ll remove the sac —

Louis [changing color] Do you mean, operate on me? Ugh! No, thank you.

Walpole. Never fear: you wont feel anything. Youll be under an anaesthetic, of course. And it will be extraordinarily interesting.

Louis. Oh, well, if it would interest you, and if it wont hurt, thats another matter. How much will you give me to let you do it?

Walpole [rising indignantly] How much! What do you mean?

Louis. Well, you dont expect me to let you cut me up for nothing, do you?

Walpole. Will you paint my portrait for nothing?

Louis. No; but I’ll give you the portrait when its painted; and you can sell it afterwards for perhaps double the money. But I cant sell my nuciform sac when youve cut it out.

Walpole. Ridgeon: did you ever hear anything like this! [To Louis] Well, you can keep your nuciform sac, and your tubercular lung, and your diseased brain: Ive done with you. One would think I was not conferring a favor on the fellow! [He returns to his stool in high dudgeon].

Sir Patrick. That leaves only one medical man who has not withdrawn from your case, Mr. Dubedat. You have nobody left to appeal to now but Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington.

Walpole. If I were you, B. B., I shouldnt touch him with a pair of tongs. Let him take his lungs to the Brompton Hospital. They wont cure him; but theyll teach him manners.

B. B. My weakness is that I have never been able to say No, even to the most thoroughly undeserving people. Besides, I am bound to say that I dont think it is possible in medical practice to go into the question of the value of the lives we save. Just consider, Ridgeon. Let me put it to you, Paddy. Clear your mind of cant, Walpole.

Walpole [indignantly] My mind is clear of cant.

B. B. Quite so. Well now, look at my practice. It is what I suppose you would call a fashionable practice, a smart practice, a practice among the best people. You ask me to go into the question of whether my patients are of any use either to themselves or anyone else. Well, if you apply any scientific test known to me, you will achieve a reductio ad absurdum. You will be driven to the conclusion that the majority of them would be, as my friend Mr J. M. Barrie has tersely phrased it, better dead. Better dead. There are exceptions, no doubt. For instance, there is the court, an essentially social-democratic institution, supported out of public funds by the public because the public wants it and likes it. My court patients are hard-working people who give satisfaction, undoubtedly. Then I have a duke or two whose estates are probably better managed than they would be in public hands. But as to most of the rest, if I once began to argue about them, unquestionably the verdict would be, Better dead. When they actually do die, I sometimes have to offer that consolation, thinly disguised, to the family. [Lulled by the cadences of his own voice, he becomes drowsier and drowsier]. The fact that they spend money so extravagantly on medical attendance really would not justify me in wasting my talents — such as they are — in keeping them alive. After all, if my fees are high, I have to spend heavily. My own tastes are simple: a camp bed, a couple of rooms, a crust, a bottle of wine; and I am happy and contented. My wife’s tastes are perhaps more luxurious; but even she deplores an expenditure the sole object of which is to maintain the state my patients require from their medical attendant. The — er — er — er —[suddenly waking up] I have lost the thread of these remarks. What was I talking about, Ridgeon?

Ridgeon. About Dubedat.

B. B. Ah yes. Precisely. Thank you. Dubedat, of course. Well, what is our friend Dubedat? A vicious and ignorant young man with a talent for drawing.

Louis. Thank you. Dont mind me.

B. B. But then, what are many of my patients? Vicious and ignorant young men without a talent for anything. If I were to stop to argue about their merits I should have to give up three-quarters of my practice. Therefore I have made it a rule not so to argue. Now, as an honorable man, having made that rule as to paying patients, can I make an exception as to a patient who, far from being a paying patient, may more fitly be described as a borrowing patient? No. I say No. Mr Dubedat: your moral character is nothing to me. I look at you from a purely scientific point of view. To me you are simply a field of battle in which an invading army of tubercle bacilli struggles with a patriotic force of phagocytes. Having made a promise to your wife, which my principles will not allow me to break, to stimulate those phagocytes, I will stimulate them. And I take no further responsibility. [He digs himself back in his seat exhausted].

Sir Patrick. Well, Mr Dubedat, as Sir Ralph has very kindly offered to take charge of your case, and as the two minutes I promised you are up, I must ask you to excuse me. [He rises].

Louis. Oh, certainly. Ive quite done with you. [Rising and holding up the sketch block] There! While youve been talking, Ive been doing. What is there left of your moralizing? Only a little carbonic acid gas which makes the room unhealthy. What is there left of my work? That. Look at it [Ridgeon rises to look at it].

Sir Patrick [who has come down to him from the throne] You young rascal, was it drawing me you were?

Louis. Of course. What else?

Sir Patrick [takes the drawing from him and grunts approvingly] Thats rather good. Dont you think so, Lolly?

Ridgeon. Yes. So good that I should like to have it.

Sir Patrick. Thank you; but I should like to have it myself. What d’ye think, Walpole?

Walpole [rising and coming over to look] No, by Jove: I must have this.

Louis. I wish I could afford to give it to you, Sir Patrick. But I’d pay five guineas sooner than part with it.

Ridgeon. Oh, for that matter, I will give you six for it.

Walpole. Ten.

Louis. I think Sir Patrick is morally entitled to it, as he sat for it. May I send it to your house, Sir Patrick, for twelve guineas?

Sir Patrick. Twelve guineas! Not if you were President of the Royal Academy, young man. [He gives him back the drawing decisively and turns away, taking up his hat].

Louis [to B. B.] Would you like to take it at twelve, Sir Ralph?

B. B. [coming between Louis and Walpole] Twelve guineas? Thank you: I’ll take it at that. [He takes it and presents it to Sir Patrick]. Accept it from me, Paddy; and may you long be spared to contemplate it.

Sir Patrick. Thank you. [He puts the drawing into his hat].

B. B. I neednt settle with you now, Mr Dubedat: my fees will come to more than that. [He also retrieves his hat].

Louis [indignantly] Well, of all the mean —[words fail him]! I’d let myself be shot sooner than do a thing like that. I consider youve stolen that drawing.

Sir Patrick [drily] So weve converted you to a belief in morality after all, eh?

Louis. Yah! [To Walpole] I’ll do another one for you, Walpole, if youll let me have the ten you promised.

Walpole. Very good. I’ll pay on delivery.

Louis. Oh! What do you take me for? Have you no confidence in my honor?

Walpole. None whatever.

Louis. Oh well, of course if you feel that way, you cant help it. Before you go, Sir Patrick, let me fetch Jennifer. I know she’d like to see you, if you dont mind. [He goes to the inner door]. And now, before she comes in, one word. Youve all been talking here pretty freely about me — in my own house too. I dont mind that: I’m a man and can take care of myself. But when Jennifer comes in, please remember that she’s a lady, and that you are supposed to be gentlemen. [He goes out].

Walpole. Well!!! [He gives the situation up as indescribable, and goes for his hat].

Ridgeon. Damn his impudence!

B. B. I shouldnt be at all surprised to learn that he’s well connected. Whenever I meet dignity and self-possession without any discoverable basis, I diagnose good family.

Ridgeon. Diagnose artistic genius, B. B. Thats what saves his self-respect.

Sir Patrick. The world is made like that. The decent fellows are always being lectured and put out of countenance by the snobs.

B. B. [altogether refusing to accept this] I am not out of countenance. I should like, by Jupiter, to see the man who could put me out of countenance. [Jennifer comes in]. Ah, Mrs. Dubedat! And how are we to-day?

Mrs Dubedat [shaking hands with him] Thank you all so much for coming. [She shakes Walpole’s hand]. Thank you, Sir Patrick [she shakes Sir Patrick’s]. Oh, life has been worth living since I have known you. Since Richmond I have not known a moment’s fear. And it used to be nothing but fear. Wont you sit down and tell me the result of the consultation?

Walpole. I’ll go, if you dont mind, Mrs. Dubedat. I have an appointment. Before I go, let me say that I am quite agreed with my colleagues here as to the character of the case. As to the cause and the remedy, thats not my business: I’m only a surgeon; and these gentlemen are physicians and will advise you. I may have my own views: in fact I HAVE them; and they are perfectly well known to my colleagues. If I am needed — and needed I shall be finally — they know where to find me; and I am always at your service. So for to-day, good-bye. [He goes out, leaving Jennifer much puzzled by his unexpected withdrawal and formal manner].

Sir Patrick. I also will ask you to excuse me, Mrs Dubedat.

Ridgeon [anxiously] Are you going?

Sir Patrick. Yes: I can be of no use here; and I must be getting back. As you know, maam, I’m not in practice now; and I shall not be in charge of the case. It rests between Sir Colenso Ridgeon and Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington. They know my opinion. Good afternoon to you, maam. [He bows and makes for the door].

Mrs Dubedat [detaining him] Theres nothing wrong, is there? You dont think Louis is worse, do you?

Sir Patrick. No: he’s not worse. Just the same as at Richmond.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, thank you: you frightened me. Excuse me.

Sir Patrick. Dont mention it, maam. [He goes out].

B. B. Now, Mrs Dubedat, if I am to take the patient in hand —

Mrs Dubedat [apprehensively, with a glance at Ridgeon] You! But I thought that Sir Colenso —

B. B. [beaming with the conviction that he is giving her a most gratifying surprise] My dear lady, your husband shall have Me.

Mrs Dubedat. But —

B. B. Not a word: it is a pleasure to me, for your sake. Sir Colenso Ridgeon will be in his proper place, in the bacteriological laboratory. I shall be in my proper place, at the bedside. Your husband shall be treated exactly as if he were a member of the royal family. [Mrs Dubedat, uneasy, again is about to protest]. No gratitude: it would embarrass me, I assure you. Now, may I ask whether you are particularly tied to these apartments. Of course, the motor has annihilated distance; but I confess that if you were rather nearer to me, it would be a little more convenient.

Mrs Dubedat. You see, this studio and flat are self-contained. I have suffered so much in lodgings. The servants are so frightfully dishonest.

B. B. Ah! Are they? Are they? Dear me!

Mrs Dubedat. I was never accustomed to lock things up. And I missed so many small sums. At last a dreadful thing happened. I missed a five-pound note. It was traced to the housemaid; and she actually said Louis had given it to her. And he wouldnt let me do anything: he is so sensitive that these things drive him mad.

B. B. Ah — hm — ha — yes — say no more, Mrs. Dubedat: you shall not move. If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must come to the mountain. Now I must be off. I will write and make an appointment. We shall begin stimulating the phagocytes on — on — probably on Tuesday next; but I will let you know. Depend on me; dont fret; eat regularly; sleep well; keep your spirits up; keep the patient cheerful; hope for the best; no tonic like a charming woman; no medicine like cheerfulness; no resource like science; goodbye, good-bye, good-bye. [Having shaken hands — she being too overwhelmed to speak — he goes out, stopping to say to Ridgeon] On Tuesday morning send me down a tube of some really stiff anti-toxin. Any kind will do. Dont forget. Good-bye, Colly. [He goes out.]

Ridgeon. You look quite discouraged again. [She is almost in tears]. What’s the matter? Are you disappointed?

Mrs Dubedat. I know I ought to be very grateful. Believe me, I am very grateful. But — but —

Ridgeon. Well?

Mrs Dubedat. I had set my heart YOUR curing Louis.

Ridgeon. Well, Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington —

Mrs Dubedat. Yes, I know, I know. It is a great privilege to have him. But oh, I wish it had been you. I know it’s unreasonable; I cant explain; but I had such a strong instinct that you would cure him. I dont I cant feel the same about Sir Ralph. You promised me. Why did you give Louis up?

Ridgeon. I explained to you. I cannot take another case.

Mrs Dubedat. But at Richmond?

Ridgeon. At Richmond I thought I could make room for one more case. But my old friend Dr Blenkinsop claimed that place. His lung is attacked.

Mrs Dubedat [attaching no importance whatever to Blenkinsop] Do you mean that elderly man — that rather —

Ridgeon [sternly] I mean the gentleman that dined with us: an excellent and honest man, whose life is as valuable as anyone else’s. I have arranged that I shall take his case, and that Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington shall take Mr Dubedat’s.

Mrs Dubedat [turning indignantly on him] I see what it is. Oh! it is envious, mean, cruel. And I thought that you would be above such a thing.

Ridgeon. What do you mean?

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, do you think I dont know? do you think it has never happened before? Why does everybody turn against him? Can you not forgive him for being superior to you? for being cleverer? for being braver? for being a great artist?

Ridgeon. Yes: I can forgive him for all that.

Mrs Dubedat. Well, have you anything to say against him? I have challenged everyone who has turned against him — challenged them face to face to tell me any wrong thing he has done, any ignoble thought he has uttered. They have always confessed that they could not tell me one. I challenge you now. What do you accuse him of?

Ridgeon. I am like all the rest. Face to face, I cannot tell you one thing against him.

Mrs Dubedat [not satisfied] But your manner is changed. And you have broken your promise to me to make room for him as your patient.

Ridgeon. I think you are a little unreasonable. You have had the very best medical advice in London for him; and his case has been taken in hand by a leader of the profession. Surely —

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, it is so cruel to keep telling me that. It seems all right; and it puts me in the wrong. But I am not in the wrong. I have faith in you; and I have no faith in the others. We have seen so many doctors: I have come to know at last when they are only talking and can do nothing. It is different with you. I feel that you know. You must listen to me, doctor. [With sudden misgiving] Am I offending you by calling you doctor instead of remembering your title?

Ridgeon. Nonsense. I AM a doctor. But mind you, dont call Walpole one.

Mrs Dubedat. I dont care about Mr Walpole: it is you who must befriend me. Oh, will you please sit down and listen to me just for a few minutes. [He assents with a grave inclination, and sits on the sofa. She sits on the easel chair] Thank you. I wont keep you long; but I must tell you the whole truth. Listen. I know Louis as nobody else in the world knows him or ever can know him. I am his wife. I know he has little faults: impatiences, sensitivenesses, even little selfishnesses that are too trivial for him to notice. I know that he sometimes shocks people about money because he is so utterly above it, and cant understand the value ordinary people set on it. Tell me: did he — did he borrow any money from you?

Ridgeon. He asked me for some once.

Mrs Dubedat [tears again in her eyes] Oh, I am so sorry — so sorry. But he will never do it again: I pledge you my word for that. He has given me his promise: here in this room just before you came; and he is incapable of breaking his word. That was his only real weakness; and now it is conquered and done with for ever.

Ridgeon. Was that really his only weakness?

Mrs Dubedat. He is perhaps sometimes weak about women, because they adore him so, and are always laying traps for him. And of course when he says he doesnt believe in morality, ordinary pious people think he must be wicked. You can understand, cant you, how all this starts a great deal of gossip about him, and gets repeated until even good friends get set against him?

Ridgeon. Yes: I understand.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh, if you only knew the other side of him as I do! Do you know, doctor, that if Louis honored himself by a really bad action, I should kill myself.

Ridgeon. Come! dont exaggerate.

Mrs Dubedat. I should. You don’t understand that, you east country people.

Ridgeon. You did not see much of the world in Cornwall, did you?

Mrs Dubedat [naively] Oh yes. I saw a great deal every day of the beauty of the world — more than you ever see here in London. But I saw very few people, if that is what you mean. I was an only child.

Ridgeon. That explains a good deal.

Mrs Dubedat. I had a great many dreams; but at last they all came to one dream.

Ridgeon [with half a sigh] Yes, the usual dream.

Mrs Dubedat [surprised] Is it usual?

Ridgeon. As I guess. You havnt yet told me what it was.

Mrs Dubedat. I didn’t want to waste myself. I could do nothing myself; but I had a little property and I could help with it. I had even a little beauty: dont think me vain for knowing it. I always had a terrible struggle with poverty and neglect at first. My dream was to save one of them from that, and bring some charm and happiness into his life. I prayed Heaven to send me one. I firmly believe that Louis was guided to me in answer to my prayer. He was no more like the other men I had met than the Thames Embankment is like our Cornish coasts. He saw everything that I saw, and drew it for me. He understood everything. He came to me like a child. Only fancy, doctor: he never even wanted to marry me: he never thought of the things other men think of! I had to propose it myself. Then he said he had no money. When I told him I had some, he said “Oh, all right,” just like a boy. He is still like that, quite unspoiled, a man in his thoughts, a great poet and artist in his dreams, and a child in his ways. I gave him myself and all I had that he might grow to his full height with plenty of sunshine. If I lost faith in him, it would mean the wreck and failure of my life. I should go back to Cornwall and die. I could show you the very cliff I should jump off. You must cure him: you must make him quite well again for me. I know that you can do it and that nobody else can. I implore you not to refuse what I am going to ask you to do. Take Louis yourself; and let Sir Ralph cure Dr Blenkinsop.

Ridgeon [slowly] Mrs Dubedat: do you really believe in my knowledge and skill as you say you do?

Mrs Dubedat. Absolutely. I do not give my trust by halves.

Ridgeon. I know that. Well, I am going to test you — hard. Will you believe me when I tell you that I understand what you have just told me; that I have no desire but to serve you in the most faithful friendship; and that your hero must be preserved to you.

Mrs Dubedat. Oh forgive me. Forgive what I said. You will preserve him to me.

Ridgeon. At all hazards. [She kisses his hand. He rises hastily]. No: you have not heard the rest. [She rises too]. You must believe me when I tell you that the one chance of preserving the hero lies in Louis being in the care of Sir Ralph.

Mrs Dubedat [firmly] You say so: I have no more doubt: I believe you. Thank you.

Ridgeon. Good-bye. [She takes his hand]. I hope this will be a lasting friendship.

Mrs Dubedat. It will. My friendships end only with death.

Ridgeon. Death ends everything, doesnt it? Goodbye.

With a sigh and a look of pity at her which she does not understand, he goes.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30