Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IX

Sir Roger Scatcherd

Enough has been said in this narrative to explain to the reader that Roger Scatcherd, who was whilom a drunken stone-mason in Barchester, and who had been so prompt to avenge the injury done to his sister, had become a great man in the world. He had become a contractor, first for little things, such as half a mile or so of a railway embankment, or three or four canal bridges, and then a contractor for great things, such as Government hospitals, locks, docks, and quays, and had latterly had in his hands the making of whole lines of railway.

He had been occasionally in partnership with one man for one thing, and then with another for another; but had, on the whole, kept his interests to himself, and now at the time of our story, he was a very rich man.

And he had acquired more than wealth. There had been a time when the Government wanted the immediate performance of some extraordinary piece of work, and Roger Scatcherd had been the man to do it. There had been some extremely necessary bit of a railway to be made in half the time that such work would properly demand, some speculation to be incurred requiring great means and courage as well, and Roger Scatcherd had been found to be the man for the time. He was then elevated for the moment to the dizzy pinnacle of a newspaper hero, and became one of those ‘whom the king delighteth to honour’. He went up one day to kiss Her Majesty’s hand, and come down to his new grand house at Boxall Hill, Sir Roger Scatcherd, Bart.

‘And now, my lady,’ said he, when he explained to his wife the high state to which she had been called by his exertions and the Queen’s prerogative, ‘let’s have a bit of dinner, and a drop of som’at hot.’ Now the drop of som’at hot signified a dose of alcohol sufficient to send three ordinary men very drunk to bed.

While conquering the world Roger Scatcherd had not conquered his old bad habits. Indeed, he was the same man at all points that he had been when formerly seen about the streets of Barchester with his stone-mason’s apron tucked up round his waist. The apron he had abandoned, but not the heavy prominent thoughtful brow, with the wildly flashing eye beneath it. He was still the same good companion, and still also the same hard-working hero. In this only had he changed, that now he would work, and some said equally well, whether he were drunk or sober. Those who were mostly inclined to make a miracle of him — and there was a school of worshippers ready to adore him as their idea of a divine, superhuman, miracle-moving, inspired prophet — declared that his wondrous work was best done, his calculations most quickly and most truly made, that he saw with most accurate eye into the far-distant balance of profit and loss, when he was under the influence of the rosy god. To these worshippers his breakings-out, as his periods of intemperance were called in his own set, were his moments of peculiar inspiration — his divine frenzies, in which he communicated most closely with those deities who preside over trade transactions; his Eleusinian mysteries, to approach him in which was permitted only a few of the most favoured.

‘Scatcherd has been drunk this week past,’ they would say one to another, when the moment came at which it was to be decided whose offer should be accepted for constructing a harbour to hold all the commerce of Lancashire, or to make a railway from Bombay to Canton. ‘Scatcherd has been drunk this week past; I am told that he has taken over three gallons of brandy.’ And then they felt sure that none but Scatcherd would be called upon to construct the dock or make the railway.

But be this as it may, be it true or false that Sir Roger was most efficacious when in his cups, there can be no doubt that he could not wallow for a week in brandy, six or seven times every year, without in a great measure injuring, and permanently injuring, the outward man. Whatever immediate effect such symposiums might have on the inner mind-symposiums indeed they were not; posiums I will call them, if I may be allowed; for in latter life, when he drank heavily, he drank alone — however little for evil, or however much for good the working of his brain might be affected, his body suffered greatly. It was not that he became feeble or emaciated, old-looking or inactive, that his hand shook, or that his eye was watery; but that in the moments of his intemperance his life was often worth a day’s purchase. The frame which God had given to him was powerful beyond the power of ordinary men; powerful to act in spite of these violent perturbations; powerful to repress and conquer the qualms and headaches and inward sicknesses to which the votaries of Bacchus are ordinarily subject; but this power was not without its limit. If encroached on too far, it would break and fall and come asunder, and then the strong man would at once become a corpse.

Scatcherd had but one friend in the world. And, indeed, this friend was not friend in the ordinary acceptance of the word. He neither ate with him nor drank with him, nor even frequently talked with him. Their pursuits in life were wide asunder. Their tastes were all different. The society in which they moved very seldom came together. Scatcherd had nothing in unison with this solitary friend; but he trusted him, and he trusted no other living creature in God’s earth.

He trusted this man; but even him he did not trust thoroughly; not at least as one friend should trust another. He believed that this man would not rob him; would probably not lie to him; would not endeavour to make money of him; would not count him up or speculate on him, and make out a balance of profit and loss; and, therefore, he determined to use him. But he put no trust whatever in his friend’s counsel, in his modes of thought; none in his theory, and none in his practice. He disliked his friend’s counsel, and, in fact, disliked his society, for his friend was somewhat apt to speak to him in a manner approaching to severity. Now Roger Scatcherd had done many things in the world, and made much money; whereas his friend had done but few things, and made no money. It was not to be endured that the practical, efficient man should be taken to task by the man who proved himself to be neither practical nor efficient; not to be endured, certainly, by Roger Scatcherd, who looked on men of his own class as the men of the day, and on himself as by no means the least among them.

The friend was our friend Dr Thorne.

The doctor’s first acquaintance with Scatcherd has been already explained. He was necessarily thrown into communication with the man at the time of the trial, and Scatcherd then had not only sufficient sense, but sufficient feeling also to know that the doctor behaved very well. This communication had in different ways been kept up between them. Soon after the trial Scatcherd had begun to rise, and his first savings had been entrusted to the doctor’s care. This had been the beginning of a pecuniary connexion which had never wholly ceased, and which had led to the purchase of Boxall Hill, and to the loan of large sums of money to the squire.

In another way also there had been a close alliance between them, and one not always of a very pleasant description. The doctor was, and long had been, Sir Roger’s medical attendant, and, in his unceasing attempts to rescue the drunkard from the fate which was so much to be dreaded, he not unfrequently was driven to quarrel with his patient.

One thing further must be told of Sir Roger. In politics he was as violent a Radical as ever, and was very anxious to obtain a position in which he could bring his violence to bear. With this view he was about to contest his native borough of Barchester, in the hope of being returned in opposition to the De Courcy candidate; and with this object he had now come down to Boxall Hill.

Nor were his claims to sit for Barchester such as could be despised. If money were to be of no avail, he had plenty of it, and was prepared to spend it; whereas, rumour said that Mr Moffat was equally determined to do nothing so foolish. Then again, Sir Roger had a sort of rough eloquence, and was bold to address the men of Barchester in language that would come home to their hearts, in words that would endear him to one party while they made him offensively odious to the other; but Mr Moffat could make neither friends nor enemies by his eloquence. The Barchester roughs called him a dumb dog that could not bark, and sometimes sarcastically added that neither could he bite. The De Courcy interest, however, was at his back, and he had also the advantage of possession. Sir Roger, therefore, knew that the battle was not to be won without a struggle.

Dr Thorne got safely back from Silverbridge that evening, and found Mary waiting to give him his tea. He had been called there to a consultation with Dr Century, that amiable old gentleman having so far fallen away from the high Fillgrave tenets as to consent to the occasional endurance of such degradation.

The next morning he breakfasted early, and, having mounted his strong iron-grey cob, started for Boxall Hill. Not only had he there to negotiate the squire’s further loan, but also to exercise his medical skill. Sir Roger having been declared contractor for cutting a canal from sea to sea, through the isthmus of Panama, had been making a week of it; and the result was that Lady Scatcherd had written rather peremptorily to her husband’s medical friend.

The doctor consequently trotted off to Boxall Hill on his iron-grey cob. Among his other merits was that of being a good horseman, and he did much of his work on horseback. The fact that he occasionally took a day with the East Barsetshires, and that when he did so he thoroughly enjoyed it, had probably not failed to add something to the strength of the squire’s friendship.

‘Well, my lady, how is he? Not much the matter, I hope?’ said the doctor, as he shook hands with the titled mistress of Boxall Hill in a small breakfast-parlour in the rear of the house. The showrooms of Boxall Hill were furnished most magnificently, but they were set apart for company; and as the company never came — seeing that they were never invited — the grand rooms and the grand furniture were not of much material use to Lady Scatcherd.

‘Indeed then, doctor, he’s just bad enough,’ said her ladyship, not in a very happy tone of voice; ‘just bad enough. There’s been some’at the back of his head, rapping, and rapping, and rapping; and if you don’t do something, I’m thinking it will rap him too hard yet.’

‘Is he in bed?’

‘Why, yes, he is in bed; for when he was first took he couldn’t very well help hisself, so we put him to bed. And then, he don’t seem to be quite right yet about the legs, so he hasn’t got up; but he’s got that Winterbones with him to write for him, and when Winterbones is there, Scatcherd might as well be up for any good that bed’ll do him.’

Mr Winterbones was confidential clerk to Sir Roger. That is to say, he was a writing-machine of which Sir Roger made use to do certain work which could not well be adjusted without some contrivance. He was a little, withered, dissipated, broken-down man, whom gin and poverty had nearly burnt to a cinder, and dried to an ash. Mind he had none left, nor care for earthly things, except the smallest modicum of substantial food, and the largest allowance of liquid sustenance. All that he had ever known he had forgotten, except how to count up figures and to write: the results of his counting and his writing never stayed with him from one hour to another; nay, not from one folio to another. Let him, however, be adequately screwed up with gin, and adequately screwed down by the presence of his master, and then no amount of counting and writing would be too much for him. This was Mr Winterbones, confidential clerk to the great Sir Roger Scatcherd.

‘We must send Winterbones away, I take it,’ said the doctor.

‘Indeed, doctor, I wish you would. I wish you’d send him to Bath, or anywhere else out of the way. There is Scatcherd, he takes brandy; and there is Winterbones, he takes gin; and it’d puzzle a woman to say which is worst, master or man.’

It will seem from this, that Lady Scatcherd and the doctor were on very familiar terms as regarded her little domestic inconveniences.

‘Tell Sir Roger I am here, will you?’ said the doctor.

‘You’ll take a drop of sherry before you go up?’ said the lady.

‘Not a drop, thank you,’ said the doctor.

‘Or, perhaps a little cordial?’

‘Not of drop of anything, thank you; I never do, you know.’

‘Just a thimbleful of this?’ said the lady, producing from some recess under a sideboard a bottle of brandy; ‘just a thimbleful? It’s what he takes himself.’

When Lady Scatcherd found that even this argument failed, she led the way to the great man’s bedroom.

‘Well doctor! well doctor!, well, doctor!’ was the greeting with which our son of Galen was saluted some time before he entered the sick-room. His approaching step was heard, and thus the ci-devant Barchester stone-mason saluted his coming friend. The voice was loud and powerful, but not clear and sonorous. What voice that is nurtured on brandy can ever be clear? It had about it a peculiar huskiness, a dissipated guttural tone, which Thorne immediately recognized, and recognized as being more marked, more guttural, and more husky than heretofore.

‘So you’ve smelt me out, have you, and come for your fee? Ha! ha! ha! Well, I have had a sharpish bout of it, as her ladyship there no doubt has told you. Let her alone to make the worst of it. But, you see, you’re too late, man. I’ve bilked the old gentleman again without troubling you.’

‘Anyway, I’m glad you’re something better, Scatcherd.’

‘Something! I don’t know what you call something. I never was better in my life. Ask Winterbones here.’

‘Indeed, now, Scatcherd, you ain’t; you’re bad enough if you only knew it. And as for Winterbones, he has no business here up in your bedroom, which stinks of gin so, it does. Don’t you believe him, doctor; he ain’t well, nor yet nigh well.’

Winterbones, when the above ill-natured allusion was made to the aroma coming from his libations, might be seen to deposit surreptitiously beneath the little table at which he sat, the cup with which he had performed them.

The doctor, in the meantime, had taken Sir Roger’s hand on the pretext of feeling his pulse, but was drawing quite as much information from the touch of the sick man’s skin, and the look of the sick man’s eye.

‘I think Mr Winterbones had better go back to the London office,’ said he. ‘Lady Scatcherd will be your best clerk for some time, Sir Roger.’

‘Then I’ll be d —— if Mr Winterbones does anything of the kind,’ said he; ‘so there’s an end of that.’

‘Very well,’ said the doctor. ‘A man can die but once. It is my duty to suggest measures for putting off the ceremony as long as possible. Perhaps, however, you may wish to hasten it.’

‘Well, I am not anxious about it, one way or the other,’ said Scatcherd. And as he spoke there came a fierce gleam from his eye, which seemed to say —‘If that’s the bugbear with which you wish to frighten me, you will be mistaken.’

‘Now, doctor, don’t let him talk that way, don’t,’ said Lady Scatcherd, with her handkerchief to her eyes.

‘Now, my lady, do you cut it; cut at once,’ said Sir Roger, turning hastily round to his better-half; and his better-half, knowing that the province of a woman is to obey, did cut it. But as she went she gave the doctor a pull by the coat’s sleeve, so that thereby his healing faculties might be sharpened to the very utmost.

‘The best woman in the world, doctor; the very best,’ said he, as the door closed behind the wife of his bosom.

‘I’m sure of it,’ said the doctor.

‘Yes, till you find a better one,’ said Scatcherd. ‘Ha! ha! ha! but for good or bad, there are some things which a woman can’t understand, and some things which she ought not to be let to understand.’

‘It’s natural she should be anxious about your health, you know.’

‘I don’t know that,’ said the contractor. ‘She’ll be very well off. All that whining won’t keep a man alive, at any rate.’

There was a pause, during which the doctor continued his medical examination. To this the patient submitted with a bad grace; but still he did submit.

‘We must turn over a new leaf, Sir Roger; indeed we must.’

‘Bother,’ said Sir Roger.

‘Well, Scatcherd; I must do my duty to you, whether you like it or not.’

‘That is to say, I am to pay you for trying to frighten me.’

‘No human nature can stand such shocks as those much longer.’

‘Winterbones,’ said the contractor, turning to his clerk, ‘go down, go down, I say; but don’t be out of the way. If you go to the public-house, by G— you may stay there for me. When I take a drop — that is if I ever do, it does not stand in the way of work.’ So Mr Winterbones, picking up his cup again, and concealing it in some way beneath his coat flap, retreated out of the room, and the two friends were alone.

‘Scatcherd,’ said the doctor, ‘you have been as near your God, as any man ever was who afterwards ate and drank in this world.’

‘Have I, now?’ said the railway here, apparently somewhat startled.

‘Indeed you have; indeed you have.’

‘And now I’m all right again?’

‘All right! How can you be all right, when you know that your limbs refuse to carry you? All right! why the blood is still beating round you brain with a violence that would destroy any other brain but yours.’

‘Ha! ha! ha!,’ laughed Scatcherd. He was very proud of thinking himself to be differently organized from other men. ‘Ha! ha! ha! Well and what am I to do now?’

The whole of the doctor’s prescription we will not give at length. To some of his ordinances Sir Roger promised obedience; to others he objected violently, and to one or two he flatly refused to listen. The great stumbling-block was this, that total abstinence from business for two weeks was enjoined; and that it was impossible, so Sir Roger said, that he should abstain for two days.

‘If you work,’ said the doctor, ‘in your present state, you will certainly have recourse to the stimulus of drink; and if you drink, most assuredly will die.’

‘Stimulus! Why do you think I can’t work without Dutch courage?’

‘Scatcherd, I know that there is brandy in this room at the moment, and that you have been taking it within these two hours.’

‘You smell that fellow’s gin,’ said Scatcherd.

‘I feel the alcohol working within your veins,’ said the doctor, who still had his hand on his patient’s arm.

Sir Roger turned himself roughly in the bed so as to get away from his Mentor, and then he began to threaten in his turn.

‘I’ll tell you what it is, doctor; I’ve made up my mind, and I’ll do it. I’ll send for Fillgrave.’

‘Very well,’ said he of Greshamsbury, ‘send for Fillgrave. Your case is one in which even he can hardly go wrong.’

‘You think you can hector me, and do as you like because you had me under your thumb in other days. You’re a very good fellow, Thorne, but I ain’t sure that you are the best doctor in all England.’

‘You may be sure I am not; you may take me for the worst if you will. But while I am here as your medical adviser, I can only tell you the truth to the best of my thinking. Now the truth is, that another bout of drinking will in all probability kill you; and any recourse to stimulus in your present condition may do so.’

‘I’ll send for Fillgrave —’

‘Well, send for Fillgrave, only do it at once. Believe me at any rate in this, that whatever you do, you should do at once. Oblige me in this; let Lady Scatcherd take away that brandy bottle till Dr Fillgrave comes.’

‘I’m d —— if I do. Do you think I can’t have a bottle of brandy in my room without swigging?’

‘I think you’ll be less likely to swig if you can’t get at it.’

Sir Roger made another angry turn in his bed as well as his half-paralysed limbs would let him; and then, after a few moments’ peace, renewed his threats with increased violence.

‘Yes; I’ll have Fillgrave over here. If a man be ill, really ill, he should have the best advice he can get. I’ll have Fillgrave, and I’ll have that other fellow from Silverbridge to meet him. What’s his name? — Century.’

The doctor turned his head away; for though the occasion was serious, he could not help smiling at the malicious vengeance with which his friend proposed to gratify himself.

‘I will; and Rerechild too. What’s the expense? I suppose five or six pounds apiece will do it; eh, Thorne?’

‘Oh, yes; that will be liberal I should say. But, Sir Roger, will you allow me to suggest what you ought to do? I don’t know how far you may be joking —’

‘Joking!’ shouted the baronet; ‘you tell a man he’s dying and joking in the same breath. You’ll find I’m not joking.’

‘Well I dare say not. But if you have not full confidence in me —’

‘I have no confidence in you at all.’

‘Then why not send to London? Expense is no object to you.’

‘It is an object; a great object.’

‘Nonsense! Send to London for Sir Omicron Pie: send for some man whom you will really trust when you see him.

‘There’s not one of the lot I’d trust as soon as Fillgrave. I’ve known Fillgrave all my life and I trust him. I’ll send for Fillgrave and put my case in his hands. If any one can do anything for me, Fillgrave is the man.’

‘Then in God’s name send for Fillgrave,’ said the doctor. ‘And now, good-bye, Scatcherd; and as you do send for him, give him a fair chance. Do not destroy yourself by more brandy before he comes.’

‘That’s my affair, and his; not yours,’ said the patient.

‘So be it; give me your hand, at any rate, before I go. I wish you well through it, and when you are well, I’ll come and see you.’

‘Good-bye — good-bye; and look here, Thorne, you’ll be talking to Lady Scatcherd downstairs I know; now, no nonsense. You understand me, eh? no nonsense.’

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