Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXIV

Louis Scatcherd

When Dr Thorne reached Boxall Hill he found Mr Rerechild from Barchester there before him. Poor Lady Scatcherd, when her husband was stricken by the fit, hardly knew in her dismay what adequate steps to take. She had, as a matter of course, sent for Dr Thorne; but she had thought it so grave a peril that the medical skill of no one man could suffice. It was, she knew, quite out of the question for her to invoke the aid of Dr Fillgrave, whom no earthly persuasion could have brought to Boxall Hill; and as Mr Rerechild was supposed in the Barchester world to be second — though at a long interval — to that great man, she had applied for his assistance.

Now Mr Rerechild was a follower and humble friend of Dr Fillgrave; and was wont to regard anything that came from the Barchester doctor as sure as light from the lamp of Aesculapius. He could not therefore be other than an enemy of Dr Thorne. But he was a prudent, discreet man, with a long family, averse to professional hostilities, as knowing that he could make more by medical friends than medical foes, and not at all inclined to take up any man’s cudgel to his own detriment. He had, of course, heard of that dreadful affront which had been put upon his friend, as had all the ‘medical world’— and all the medical world at least of Barsetshire; and he had often expressed sympathy with Dr Fillgrave and his abhorrence of Dr Thorne’s anti-professional practices. But now that he found himself about to be brought in contact with Dr Thorne, he reflected that the Galen of Greshamsbury was at any rate equal in reputation to him of Barchester; that the one was probably on the rise, whereas the other was already considered by some as rather antiquated; and he therefore wisely resolved that the present would be an excellent opportunity for him to make a friend of Dr Thorne.

Poor Lady Scatcherd had an inkling that Dr Fillgrave and Mr Rerechild were accustomed to row in the same boat, and she was not altogether free from fear that there might be an outbreak. She therefore took an opportunity before Dr Thorne’s arrival to deprecate any wrathful tendency.

‘Oh, Lady Scatcherd! I have the greatest respect for Dr Thorne,’ said he; ‘the greatest possible respect; a most skilful practitioner — something brusque, certainly, and perhaps a little obstinate. But what then? we have all our faults, Lady Scatcherd.’

‘Oh — yes; we all have, Mr Rerechild; that’s a certain.’

‘There’s my friend Fillgrave — Lady Scatcherd. He cannot bear anything of that sort. Now I think he’s wrong; and so I tell him.’ Mr Rerechild was in error here; for he had never yet ventured to tell Dr Fillgrave that he was wrong in anything. ‘We must bear and forbear, you know. Dr Thorne is an excellent man — in his way very excellent, Lady Scatcherd.’

This little conversation took place after Mr Rerechild’s first visit to his patient: what steps were immediately taken for the relief of the sufferer we need not describe. They were doubtless well intended, and were, perhaps, as well adapted to stave off the coming evil day as any that Dr Fillgrave, or even the great Sir Omicron Pie might have used.

And then Dr Thorne arrived.

‘Oh, doctor! doctor!’ exclaimed Lady Scatcherd, almost hanging round his neck in the hall. ‘What are we to do? What are we to do? He’s very bad.’

‘Has he spoken?’

‘No; nothing like a word: he has made one or two muttered sounds; but, poor soul, you could make nothing of it — oh, doctor! doctor! he has never been like this before.

It was easy to see where Lady Scatcherd placed any such faith as she might still have in the healing art. ‘Mr Rerechild is here and has seen him,’ she continued. ‘I thought it best to send for two, for fear of accidents. He has done something — I don’t know what. But, doctor, do tell the truth now; I look to you to tell me the truth.’

Dr Thorne went up and saw his patient; and had he literally complied with Lady Scatcherd’s request, he might have told her at once that there was no hope. As, however, he had not the heart to do this, he mystified the case as doctors so well know how to do, and told her that ‘there was cause to fear, great cause for fear; he was sorry to say, very great cause for much fear.’

Dr Thorne promised to stay the night there, and, if possible, the following night also; and then Lady Scatcherd became troubled in her mind as to what she should do with Mr Rerechild. He also declared, with much medical humanity, that, let the inconvenience be what it might, he too would stay the night. ‘The loss,’ he said, ‘of such a man as Sir Roger Scatcherd was of such paramount importance as to make other matters trivial. He would certainly not allow the whole weight to fall on the shoulders of his friend Dr Thorne: he also would stay at any rate that night by the sick man’s bedside. By the following morning some change might be excpected.’

‘I say, Dr Thorne,’ said her ladyship, calling the doctor into the housekeeping-room, in which she and Hannah spent any time that they were not required upstairs; ‘just come in, doctor: you wouldn’t tell him we don’t want him no more, could you?’

‘Tell whom?’ said the doctor.

‘Why — Mr Rerechild: mightn’t he go away, do you think?’

Dr Thorne explained that Mr Rerechild might go away if he pleased; but that it would by no means be proper for one doctor to tell another to leave the house. And so Mr Rerechild was allowed to share the glories of the night.

In the meantime the patient remained speechless; but it soon became evident that Nature was using all her efforts to make one final rally. From time to time he moaned and muttered as though he was conscious, and it seemed as though he strove to speak. He gradually became awake, at any rate to suffering, and Dr Thorne began to think that the last scene would be postponed for yet a while longer.

‘Wonderful constitution — eh, Dr Thorne? wonderful!’ said Mr Rerechild.

‘Yes; he has been a strong man.’

‘Strong as a horse, Dr Thorne. Lord, what that man would have been if he had given himself a chance! You know his constitution of course.’

‘Yes; pretty well. I’ve attended him for many years.’

‘Always drinking, I suppose; always at it — eh?’

‘He has not been a temperate man, certainly.’

‘The brain, you see, clean gone — and not a particle of coating left to the stomach; and yet what a struggle he makes — an interesting case, isn’t it?’

‘It’s very sad to see such an intellect so destroyed.’

‘Very sad, very sad indeed. How Fillgrave would have liked to have seen this case. He is a very clever man, is Fillgrave — in his way, you know.’

‘I’m sure he is,’ said Dr Thorne.

‘Not that he’d make anything of a case like this now — he’s not, you know, quite — quite — perhaps not quite up to the new time of day, one might say so.’

‘He has had a very extensive provincial practice,’ said Dr Thorne.

‘Oh, very — very; and made a tidy lot of money too, has Fillgrave. He’s worth six thousand pounds, I suppose; now that’s a good deal of money to put by in a little town like Barchester.’

‘Yes, indeed.’

‘What I say to Fillgrave is — keep your eyes open; one should never be too old to learn — there’s always something new worth picking up. But no — he won’t believe that. He can’t believe that any new ideas can be worth anything. You know a man must go to the wall in that way — eh, doctor?’

And then again they were called to their patient. ‘He’s doing finely, finely,’ said Mr Rerechild to Lady Scatcherd. ‘There’s fair ground to hope he’ll rally; fair ground, is there not, doctor?’

‘Yes; he’ll rally; but how long that may last, that we can hardly say.’

‘Oh, no, certainly not, certainly not — that is not with any certainty; but still he’s doing finely, Lady Scatcherd, considering everything.’

‘How long will you give him, doctor?’ said Mr Rerechild to his new friend, when they were again alone. ‘Ten days? I dare say ten days, or from that to a fortnight.’

‘Perhaps so,’ said the doctor. ‘I should not like to say exactly to a day.’

‘No, certainly not. We cannot say exactly to a day; but I say ten days; as for anything like a recovery, that you know —’

‘Is out of the question,’ said Dr Thorne, gravely.

‘Quite so; quite so; coating of the stomach clean gone, you know; brain destroyed: did you observe the periporollida? I never saw them so swelled before: now when the periporollida are swollen like that —’

‘Yes, very much; it’s always the case when paralysis has been brought about by intemperance.’

‘Always, always; I have remarked that always; the periporollida in such cases are always extended; most interesting case, isn’t it? I do wish Fillgrave could have seen it. But, I believe you and Dr Fillgrave don’t quite — eh?’

‘No, not quite,‘said Dr Thorne; who, as he thought of his last interview with Dr Fillgrave, and of that gentleman’s exceeding anger as he stood in the hall below, could not keep himself from smiling, sad as the occasion was.

Nothing would induce Lady Scatcherd to go to bed; but the two doctors agreed to lie down, each in a room on one side of the patient. How was it possible that anything but good should come to him, being so guarded? ‘He’s going on finely, Lady Scatcherd, quite finely,’ were the last words Mr Rerechild said as he left the room.

And then Dr Thorne, taking Lady Scatcherd’s hand and leading her out into another chamber, told her the truth.

‘Lady Scatcherd,’ said he, in his tenderest voice — and his voice could be very tender when occasion required it —‘Lady Scatcherd, do not hope; you must not hope; it would be cruel to bid you to do so.’

‘Oh, doctor! oh, doctor!’

‘My dear friend, there is no hope.’

‘Oh, Dr Thorne!’ said the wife, looking wildly up into her companion’s face, though she hardly yet realized the meaning of what he said, although her senses were half stunned by the blow.

‘Dear Lady Scatcherd, is it not better that I should tell you the truth?’

‘Oh, I suppose so; oh yes, oh yes; ah me! ah me! ah me!’ And then she began rocking herself backwards and forwards on her chair, with her apron up to her eyes.

‘Look to Him, Lady Scatcherd, who only can make such grief endurable.’

‘Yes, yes, yes; I suppose so. Ah me! ah me! But, Dr Thorne, there must be some chance — isn’t there any chance? That man says he’s going on so well.’

‘I fear there is no chance — as far as my knowledge goes there is no chance.’

‘Then why does that chattering magpie tell such lies to a woman? Ah me! ah me! oh, doctor! doctor! what shall I do? what shall I do?’ and poor Lady Scatcherd, fairly overcome by her sorrow, burst out crying like a great school-girl.

And yet what had her husband done for her that she should thus weep for him? Would not her life be much more blessed when this cause of all her troubles should be removed from her? Would she not then be a free woman instead of a slave? Might she not then expect to begin to taste the comforts of life? What had that harsh tyrant of hers done that was good or serviceable for her? Why should she thus weep for him in paroxysms of truest grief?

We hear a good deal of jolly widows; and the slanderous raillery of the world tell much of conjugal disturbances as a cure for which women will look forward to a state of widowhood with not unwilling eyes. The raillery of the world is very slanderous. In our daily jests we attribute to each other vices of which neither we, nor our neighbours, nor our friends, nor even our enemies are ever guilty. It is our favourite parlance to talk of the family troubles of Mrs Green on our right, and to tell now Mrs Young on our left is strongly suspected of having raised her hand to her lord and master. What right have we to make these charges? What have we seen in our own personal walks through life to make us believe that women are devils? There may possibly have been Xantippe here and there, but Imogenes are to be found in every bush. Lady Scatcherd, in spite of the life she had led, was one of them.

‘You should send a message up to London for Louis,’ said the doctor.

‘We did that, doctor; we did that today — we sent up a telegraph. Oh me! oh me! poor boy, what will he do? I shall never know what to do with him, never! never!’ And with such sorrowful wailings she sat rocking herself through the long night, every now and then comforting herself by the performance of some menial service in the sick man’s room.

Sir Roger passed the night much as he had passed the day, except that he appeared gradually to be growing nearer to a state of consciousness. On the following morning they succeeded at last in making Mr Rerechild understand that they were not desirous of keeping him longer from his Barchester practice; and at about twelve o’clock Dr Thorne also went, promising that he would return in the evening, and again pass the night at Boxall Hill.

In the course of the afternoon Sir Roger once more awoke to his senses, and when he did so his son was standing at his bedside. Louis Philippe Scatcherd — or as it may be more convenient to call him, Louis — was a young man just of the age of Frank Gresham. But there could hardly be two youths more different in their appearance. Louis, though his father and mother were both robust persons, was short and slight, and now of a sickly frame. Frank was a picture of health and strength; but, though manly in disposition, was by no means precocious either in appearance or manners. Louis Scatcherd looked as though he was four years the other’s senior. He had been sent to Eton when he was fifteen, his father being under the impression that this was the most ready and best-recognized method of making him a gentleman. Here he did not altogether fail as regarded the coveted object of his becoming the companion of gentlemen. He had more pocket-money than any other lad in the school, and was possessed of a certain effrontery which carried him ahead among boys of his own age. He gained, therefore, a degree of eclat, even among those who knew, and very frequently said to each other, that young Scatcherd was not fit to be their companion except on such open occasions as those of cricket-matches and boat-races. Boys, in this respect, are at least as exclusive as men, and understand as well the difference between an inner and outer circle. Scatcherd had many companions at school who were glad enough to go up to Maidenhead with him his boat; but there was not one among them who would have talked to him of his sister.

Sir Roger was vastly proud of his son’s success, and did his best to stimulate it by lavish expenditure at the Christopher, whenever he could manage to run down to Eton. But this practice, though sufficiently unexceptionable to the boys, was not held in equal delight by the masters. To tell the truth, neither Sir Roger nor his son were favourites with these stern custodians. At last it was felt necessary to get rid of them both; and Louis was not long in giving them an opportunity, by getting tipsy twice in one week. On the second occasion he was sent away, and he and Sir Roger, though long talked of, were seen no more at Eton.

But the universities were still open to Louis Philippe, and before he was eighteen he was entered as a gentleman-commoner at Trinity. As he was, moreover, the eldest son of a baronet, and had almost unlimited command of money, here also he was enabled for a while to shine.

To shine! but very fitfully; and one may say almost with a ghastly glare. The very lads who had eaten his father’s dinners at Eton, and shared his four-oar at Eton, knew much better than to associate with him at Cambridge now that they had put on the toga virilis. They were still as prone as ever to fun, frolic, and devilry — perhaps more so than ever, seeing that more was in their power; but they acquired an idea that it behoved them to be somewhat circumspect as to the men with whom their pranks were perpetrated. So, in those days, Louis Scatcherd was coldly looked on by his whilom Eton friends.

But young Scatcherd did not fail to find companions at Cambridge also. There are few places indeed in which a rich man cannot buy companionship. But the set with whom he lived, were the worst of the place. They were fast, slang men, who were fast and slang, and nothing else — men who imitated grooms in more than their dress, and who looked on the customary heroes of race-courses as the highest lords of the ascendant upon earth. Among those at college young Scatcherd did shine as long as such lustre was permitted him. Here, indeed, his father, who had striven only to encourage him at Eton, did strive somewhat to control him. But that was not now easy. If he limited his son’s allowance, he only drove him to do his debauchery on credit. There were plenty to lend money to the son of a great millionaire; and so, after eighteen months’ trial of a university education, Sir Roger had no alternative but to withdraw his son from his alma mater.

What was he to do with him? Unluckily it was considered quite unnecessary to take any steps towards enabling him to earn his bread. Now nothing on earth can be more difficult than bringing up well a young man who has not to earn his own bread, and who has no recognized station among other men similarly circumstanced. Juvenile dukes, and sprouting earls, find their duties and their places as easily as embryo clergymen and sucking barristers. Provision is made for their peculiar positions: and, though they may possibly go astray, they have a fair chance given to them of running within the posts. The same may be said of such youths as Frank Gresham. There are enough of them in the community to have made it necessary that their well-being should be a matter of care and forethought. But there are but few men turned out in the world in the position of Louis Scatcherd; and, of those few, but very few enter the real battle of life under good auspices.

Poor Sir Roger though he had hardly time with all his multitudinous railways to look into this thoroughly, had a glimmering of it. When he saw his son’s pale face, and paid his wine bills, and heard of his doings in horse-flesh, he did know that things were not going well; he did understand that the heir to a baronetcy and a fortune of some ten thousand a year might be doing better. But what was he to do? he could not watch over his boy himself; so he took a tutor for him and sent him abroad.

Louis and the tutor got as far as Berlin, with what mutual satisfaction to each other need not be specially described. But from Berlin Sir Roger received a letter in which the tutor declined to go any further in the task which he had undertaken. He found that he had no influence over his pupil, and he could not reconcile it to his conscience to be the spectator of such a life as that which Mr Scatcherd led. He had no power in inducing Mr Scatcherd to leave Berlin; but he would remain there himself till he should hear from Sir Roger. So Sir Roger had to leave the huge Government works which he was then erecting on the southern coast, and hurry off to Berlin to see what could be done with young Hopeful.

The young Hopeful was by no means a fool; and in some matters was more than a match for his father. Sir Roger, in his anger, threatened to cast him off without a shilling. Louis, with mixed penitence and effrontery, reminded him that he could not change the descent of the title; promised amendment; declared that he had done only as do other young men of fortune; and hinted that the tutor was a strait-laced ass. The father and the son returned together to Boxall Hill, and three months afterwards Mr Scatcherd set up for himself in London.

And now his life, if not more virtuous, was more crafty than it had been. He had no tutor to watch his doings and complain of them, and he had sufficient sense to keep himself from absolute pecuniary ruin. He lived, it is true, where sharpers and blacklegs had too often opportunities of plucking him; but, young as he was, he had been sufficiently long about the world to take care he was not openly robbed; and as he was not openly robbed, his father, in a certain sense, was proud of him.

Tidings, however, came — came at least in those last days — which cut Sir Roger to the quick; tidings of vice in the son which the father could not but attribute to his own example. Twice his mother was called up to the sick-bed of her only child, while he lay raving in that horrid madness by which the outraged mind avenges itself on the body! Twice he was found raging in delirium tremens, and twice the father was told that a continuance of such life must end in early death.

It may easily be conceived that Sir Roger was not a happy man. Lying there with that brandy bottle beneath his pillow, reflecting in his moments of rest that that son of his had his brandy bottle beneath his pillow, he could hardly have been happy. But he was not a man to say much about his misery. Though he could restrain neither himself nor his heir, he could endure in silence; and in silence he did endure, till, opening his eyes to the consciousness of death, he at last spoke a few words to the only friend he knew.

Louis Scatcherd was not a fool, nor was he naturally, perhaps, of a depraved disposition; but he had to reap the fruits of the worst education which England was able to give him. There were moments in his life when he felt that a better, a higher, nay, a much happier career was open to him than that which he had prepared himself to lead. Now and then, he would reflect what money and rank might have done for him; he would look with wishful eyes to the proud doings of others of his age; would dream of quiet joys, of a sweet wife, a house to which might be asked friends who were neither jockeys nor drunkards; he would dream of such things in his short intervals of constrained sobriety; but the dream would only serve to make him moody.

This was the best side of his character; the worst, probably, was that which was brought into play by the fact that he was not a fool. He would have a better chance of redemption in this world — perhaps also in another — had he been a fool. As it was, he was no fool: he was not to be done, not he; he knew, no one better, the value of a shilling; he knew, also, how to keep his shillings, and how to spend them. He consorted much with blacklegs and such-like because blacklegs were to his taste. But he boasted daily, nay, hourly to himself, and frequently to those around him, that the leeches who were stuck round him could draw but little blood from him. He could spend his money freely; but he would so spend it that he himself might reap the gratification of the expenditure. He was acute, crafty, knowing, and up to every damnable dodge practised by men of the class with whom he lived. At one-and-twenty he was that most odious of all odious characters-a close-fisted reprobate.

He was a small man, not ill-made by Nature, but reduced to unnatural tenuity by dissipation-a corporeal attribute of which he was apt to boast, as it enabled him, as he said, to put himself up at 7st 7lb without any ‘d —— nonsense of not eating and drinking’. The power, however, was one of which he did not often avail himself, as his nerves were seldom in a fit state for riding. His hair was dark red, and he wore red moustaches, and a great deal of red beard beneath his chin, cut in a manner to make him look like an American. His voice also had a Yankee twang, being a cross between that of an American trader and an English groom; and his eyes were keen and fixed, and cold and knowing.

Such was the son whom Sir Roger saw standing at his bedside when first he awoke to his consciousness. It must not be supposed that Sir Roger looked at him with our eyes. To him he was an only child, the heir of his wealth, the future bearer of his title; the most heart-stirring remembrancer of those days, when he had been so much a poorer, and so much a happier man. Let that boy be bad or good, he was all Sir Roger had; and the father was still able to hope, when others thought that all ground for hope was gone.

The mother also loved her son with a mother’s natural love; but Louis had ever been ashamed of his mother, and had, as far as possible, estranged himself from her. Her heart, perhaps, fixed itself almost with almost a warmer love on Frank Gresham, her foster-son. Frank she saw but seldom, but when she did see him he never refused her embrace. There was, too, a joyous, genial lustre about Frank’s face which always endeared him to women, and made his former nurse regard him as the pet creation of the age. Though she but seldom interfered with any monetary arrangement of her husband’s, yet once or twice she had ventured to hint that a legacy left to the young squire would make her a happy woman. Sir Roger, however, on these occasions had not appeared very desirous of making his wife happy.

‘Ah, Louis! is that you?’ ejaculated Sir Roger, in tones hardly more than half-formed: afterwards in a day or two that is, he fully recovered his voice; but just then he could hardly open his jaws, and spoke almost through his teeth. He managed, however, to put out his hand and lay it on the counterpane, so that his son could take it.

‘Why, that’s well, governor,’ said the son; ‘you’ll be as right as a trivet in a day or two — eh, governor?’

The ‘governor’ smiled with a ghastly smile. He already pretty well knew that he would never again be ‘right’ as his son called it, on that side of the grave. It did not, moreover, suit him to say much just at that moment, so he contented himself with holding his son’s hand. He lay still in this position for a moment, and then, turning round painfully on his side, endeavoured to put his hand to the place where his dire enemy usually was concealed. Sir Roger, however, was too weak now to be his own master; he was at length, though too late, a captive in the hands of nurses and doctors, and the bottle had now been removed.

Then Lady Scatcherd came in, and seeing that her husband was not longer unconscious, she could not but believe that Dr Thorne had been wrong; she could not but think that there must be some ground for hope. She threw herself on her knees at the bedside bursting into tears as she did so, and taking Sir Roger’s hand in hers and covered it with kisses.

‘Bother!’ said Sir Roger.

She did not, however, long occupy herself with the indulgence of her feelings; but going speedily to work, produced such sustenance as the doctors had ordered to be given when the patient might awake. A breakfast-cup was brought to him, and a few drops were put into his mouth; but he soon made it manifest that he would take nothing more of a description so perfectly innocent.

‘A drop of brandy — just a little drop,’ said he, half-ordering, half-entreating.

‘Ah, Roger,’ said Lady Scatcherd.

‘Just a little drop, Louis,’ said the sick man, appealing to his son.

‘A little will be good for him; bring the bottle, mother,’ said the son.

After some altercation the brandy bottle was brought, and Louis, with what he thought a very sparing hand, proceeded to pour about half a wine — glass into the cup. As he did so, Sir Roger, weak as he was, contrived to shake his son’s arm, so as greatly to increase the dose.

‘Ha! ha! ha!’ laughed the sick man, and then greedily swallowed the dose.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43