On the 15th June 1903, in the early forenoon, a medical student, surname Redpenny, Christian name unknown and of no importance, sits at work in a doctor’s consulting-room. He devils for the doctor by answering his letters, acting as his domestic laboratory assistant, and making himself indispensable generally, in return for unspecified advantages involved by intimate intercourse with a leader of his profession, and amounting to an informal apprenticeship and a temporary affiliation. Redpenny is not proud, and will do anything he is asked without reservation of his personal dignity if he is asked in a fellow-creaturely way. He is a wide-open-eyed, ready, credulous, friendly, hasty youth, with his hair and clothes in reluctant transition from the untidy boy to the tidy doctor.
Redpenny is interrupted by the entrance of an old serving-woman who has never known the cares, the preoccupations, the responsibilities, jealousies, and anxieties of personal beauty. She has the complexion of a never-washed gypsy, incurable by any detergent; and she has, not a regular beard and moustaches, which could at least be trimmed and waxed into a masculine presentableness, but a whole crop of small beards and moustaches, mostly springing from moles all over her face. She carries a duster and toddles about meddlesomely, spying out dust so diligently that whilst she is flicking off one speck she is already looking elsewhere for another. In conversation she has the same trick, hardly ever looking at the person she is addressing except when she is excited. She has only one manner, and that is the manner of an old family nurse to a child just after it has learnt to walk. She has used her ugliness to secure indulgences unattainable by Cleopatra or Fair Rosamund, and has the further great advantage over them that age increases her qualification instead of impairing it. Being an industrious, agreeable, and popular old soul, she is a walking sermon on the vanity of feminine prettiness. Just as Redpenny has no discovered Christian name, she has no discovered surname, and is known throughout the doctors’ quarter between Cavendish Square and the Marylebone Road simply as Emmy.
The consulting-room has two windows looking on Queen Anne Street. Between the two is a marble-topped console, with haunched gilt legs ending in sphinx claws. The huge pier-glass which surmounts it is mostly disabled from reflection by elaborate painting on its surface of palms, ferns, lilies, tulips, and sunflowers. The adjoining wall contains the fireplace, with two arm-chairs before it. As we happen to face the corner we see nothing of the other two walls. On the right of the fireplace, or rather on the right of any person facing the fireplace, is the door. On its left is the writing-table at which Redpenny sits. It is an untidy table with a microscope, several test tubes, and a spirit lamp standing up through its litter of papers. There is a couch in the middle of the room, at right angles to the console, and parallel to the fireplace. A chair stands between the couch and the windowed wall. The windows have green Venetian blinds and rep curtains; and there is a gasalier; but it is a convert to electric lighting. The wall paper and carpets are mostly green, coeval with the gasalier and the Venetian blinds. The house, in fact, was so well furnished in the middle of the XIXth century that it stands unaltered to this day and is still quite presentable.
Emmy [entering and immediately beginning to dust the couch] Theres a lady bothering me to see the doctor.
Redpenny [distracted by the interruption] Well, she cant see the doctor. Look here: whats the use of telling you that the doctor cant take any new patients, when the moment a knock comes to the door, in you bounce to ask whether he can see somebody?
Emmy. Who asked you whether he could see somebody?
Redpenny. You did.
Emmy. I said theres a lady bothering me to see the doctor. That isnt asking. Its telling.
Redpenny. Well, is the lady bothering you any reason for you to come bothering me when I’m busy?
Emmy. Have you seen the papers?
Emmy. Not seen the birthday honors?
Redpenny [beginning to swear] What the —
Emmy. Now, now, ducky!
Redpenny. What do you suppose I care about the birthday honors? Get out of this with your chattering. Dr Ridgeon will be down before I have these letters ready. Get out.
Emmy. Dr Ridgeon wont never be down any more, young man.
She detects dust on the console and is down on it immediately.
Redpenny [jumping up and following her] What?
Emmy. He’s been made a knight. Mind you dont go Dr Ridgeoning him in them letters. Sir Colenso Ridgeon is to be his name now.
Redpenny. I’m jolly glad.
Emmy. I never was so taken aback. I always thought his great discoveries was fudge (let alone the mess of them) with his drops of blood and tubes full of Maltese fever and the like. Now he’ll have a rare laugh at me.
Redpenny. Serve you right! It was like your cheek to talk to him about science. [He returns to his table and resumes his writing].
Emmy. Oh, I dont think much of science; and neither will you when youve lived as long with it as I have. Whats on my mind is answering the door. Old Sir Patrick Cullen has been here already and left first congratulations — hadnt time to come up on his way to the hospital, but was determined to be first — coming back, he said. All the rest will be here too: the knocker will be going all day. What Im afraid of is that the doctor’ll want a footman like all the rest, now that he’s Sir Colenso. Mind: dont you go putting him up to it, ducky; for he’ll never have any comfort with anybody but me to answer the door. I know who to let in and who to keep out. And that reminds me of the poor lady. I think he ought to see her. Shes just the kind that puts him in a good temper. [She dusts Redpenny’s papers].
Redpenny. I tell you he cant see anybody. Do go away, Emmy. How can I work with you dusting all over me like this?
Emmy. I’m not hindering you working — if you call writing letters working. There goes the bell. [She looks out of the window]. A doctor’s carriage. Thats more congratulations. [She is going out when Sir Colenso Ridgeon enters]. Have you finished your two eggs, sonny?
Emmy. Have you put on your clean vest?
Emmy. Thats my ducky diamond! Now keep yourself tidy and dont go messing about and dirtying your hands: the people are coming to congratulate you. [She goes out].
Sir Colenso Ridgeon is a man of fifty who has never shaken off his youth. He has the off-handed manner and the little audacities of address which a shy and sensitive man acquires in breaking himself in to intercourse with all sorts and conditions of men. His face is a good deal lined; his movements are slower than, for instance, Redpenny’s; and his flaxen hair has lost its lustre; but in figure and manner he is more the young man than the titled physician. Even the lines in his face are those of overwork and restless scepticism, perhaps partly of curiosity and appetite, rather than of age. Just at present the announcement of his knighthood in the morning papers makes him specially self-conscious, and consequently specially off-hand with Redpenny.
Ridgeon. Have you seen the papers? Youll have to alter the name in the letters if you havnt.
Redpenny. Emmy has just told me. I’m awfully glad. I—
Ridgeon. Enough, young man, enough. You will soon get accustomed to it.
Redpenny. They ought to have done it years ago.
Ridgeon. They would have; only they couldnt stand Emmy opening the door, I daresay.
Emmy [at the door, announcing] Dr Shoemaker. [She withdraws].
A middle-aged gentleman, well dressed, comes in with a friendly but propitiatory air, not quite sure of his reception. His combination of soft manners and responsive kindliness, with a certain unseizable reserve and a familiar yet foreign chiselling of feature, reveal the Jew: in this instance the handsome gentlemanly Jew, gone a little pigeon-breasted and stale after thirty, as handsome young Jews often do, but still decidedly good-looking.
The Gentleman. Do you remember me? Schutzmacher. University College school and Belsize Avenue. Loony Schutzmacher, you know.
Ridgeon. What! Loony! [He shakes hands cordially]. Why, man, I thought you were dead long ago. Sit down. [Schutzmacher sits on the couch: Ridgeon on the chair between it and the window]. Where have you been these thirty years?
Schutzmacher. In general practice, until a few months ago. I’ve retired.
Ridgeon. Well done, Loony! I wish I could afford to retire. Was your practice in London?
Ridgeon. Fashionable coast practice, I suppose.
Schutzmacher. How could I afford to buy a fashionable practice? I hadnt a rap. I set up in a manufacturing town in the midlands in a little surgery at ten shillings a week.
Ridgeon. And made your fortune?
Schutzmacher. Well, I’m pretty comfortable. I have a place in Hertfordshire besides our flat in town. If you ever want a quiet Saturday to Monday, I’ll take you down in my motor at an hours notice.
Ridgeon. Just rolling in money! I wish you rich g.p.‘s would teach me how to make some. Whats the secret of it?
Schutzmacher. Oh, in my case the secret was simple enough, though I suppose I should have got into trouble if it had attracted any notice. And I’m afraid you’ll think it rather infra dig.
Ridgeon. Oh, I have an open mind. What was the secret?
Schutzmacher. Well, the secret was just two words.
Ridgeon. Not Consultation Free, was it?
Schutzmacher [shocked] No, no. Really!
Ridgeon [apologetic] Of course not. I was only joking.
Schutzmacher. My two words were simply Cure Guaranteed.
Ridgeon [admiring] Cure Guaranteed!
Schutzmacher. Guaranteed. After all, thats what everybody wants from a doctor, isnt it?
Ridgeon. My dear loony, it was an inspiration. Was it on the brass plate?
Schutzmacher. There was no brass plate. It was a shop window: red, you know, with black lettering. Doctor Leo Schutzmacher, L.R.C.P.M.R.C.S. Advice and medicine sixpence. Cure Guaranteed.
Ridgeon. And the guarantee proved sound nine times out of ten, eh?
Schutzmacher [rather hurt at so moderate an estimate] Oh, much oftener than that. You see, most people get well all right if they are careful and you give them a little sensible advice. And the medicine really did them good. Parrish’s Chemical Food: phosphates, you know. One tablespoonful to a twelve-ounce bottle of water: nothing better, no matter what the case is.
Ridgeon. Redpenny: make a note of Parrish’s Chemical Food.
Schutzmacher. I take it myself, you know, when I feel run down. Good-bye. You dont mind my calling, do you? Just to congratulate you.
Ridgeon. Delighted, my dear Loony. Come to lunch on Saturday next week. Bring your motor and take me down to Hertford.
Schutzmacher. I will. We shall be delighted. Thank you. Good-bye. [He goes out with Ridgeon, who returns immediately].
Redpenny. Old Paddy Cullen was here before you were up, to be the first to congratulate you.
Ridgeon. Indeed. Who taught you to speak of Sir Patrick Cullen as old Paddy Cullen, you young ruffian?
Redpenny. You never call him anything else.
Ridgeon. Not now that I am Sir Colenso. Next thing, you fellows will be calling me old Colly Ridgeon.
Redpenny. We do, at St. Anne’s.
Ridgeon. Yach! Thats what makes the medical student the most disgusting figure in modern civilization. No veneration, no manners — no —
Emmy [at the door, announcing]. Sir Patrick Cullen. [She retires].
Sir Patrick Cullen is more than twenty years older than Ridgeon, not yet quite at the end of his tether, but near it and resigned to it. His name, his plain, downright, sometimes rather arid common sense, his large build and stature, the absence of those odd moments of ceremonial servility by which an old English doctor sometimes shews you what the status of the profession was in England in his youth, and an occasional turn of speech, are Irish; but he has lived all his life in England and is thoroughly acclimatized. His manner to Ridgeon, whom he likes, is whimsical and fatherly: to others he is a little gruff and uninviting, apt to substitute more or less expressive grunts for articulate speech, and generally indisposed, at his age, to make much social effort. He shakes Ridgeon’s hand and beams at him cordially and jocularly.
Sir Patrick. Well, young chap. Is your hat too small for you, eh?
Ridgeon. Much too small. I owe it all to you.
Sir Patrick. Blarney, my boy. Thank you all the same. [He sits in one of the arm-chairs near the fireplace. Ridgeon sits on the couch]. Ive come to talk to you a bit. [To Redpenny] Young man: get out.
Redpenny. Certainly, Sir Patrick [He collects his papers and makes for the door].
Sir Patrick. Thank you. Thats a good lad. [Redpenny vanishes]. They all put up with me, these young chaps, because I’m an old man, a real old man, not like you. Youre only beginning to give yourself the airs of age. Did you ever see a boy cultivating a moustache? Well, a middle-aged doctor cultivating a grey head is much the same sort of spectacle.
Ridgeon. Good Lord! yes: I suppose so. And I thought that the days of my vanity were past. Tell me at what age does a man leave off being a fool?
Sir Patrick. Remember the Frenchman who asked his grandmother at what age we get free from the temptations of love. The old woman said she didn’t know. [Ridgeon laughs]. Well, I make you the same answer. But the world’s growing very interesting to me now, Colly.
Ridgeon. You keep up your interest in science, do you?
Sir Patrick. Lord! yes. Modern science is a wonderful thing. Look at your great discovery! Look at all the great discoveries! Where are they leading to? Why, right back to my poor dear old father’s ideas and discoveries. He’s been dead now over forty years. Oh, it’s very interesting.
Ridgeon. Well, theres nothing like progress, is there?
Sir Patrick. Dont misunderstand me, my boy. I’m not belittling your discovery. Most discoveries are made regularly every fifteen years; and it’s fully a hundred and fifty since yours was made last. Thats something to be proud of. But your discovery’s not new. It’s only inoculation. My father practised inoculation until it was made criminal in eighteen-forty. That broke the poor old man’s heart, Colly: he died of it. And now it turns out that my father was right after all. Youve brought us back to inoculation.
Ridgeon. I know nothing about smallpox. My line is tuberculosis and typhoid and plague. But of course the principle of all vaccines is the same.
Sir Patrick. Tuberculosis? M-m-m-m! Youve found out how to cure consumption, eh?
Ridgeon. I believe so.
Sir Patrick. Ah yes. It’s very interesting. What is it the old cardinal says in Browning’s play? “I have known four and twenty leaders of revolt.” Well, Ive known over thirty men that found out how to cure consumption. Why do people go on dying of it, Colly? Devilment, I suppose. There was my father’s old friend George Boddington of Sutton Coldfield. He discovered the open-air cure in eighteen-forty. He was ruined and driven out of his practice for only opening the windows; and now we wont let a consumptive patient have as much as a roof over his head. Oh, it’s very VERY interesting to an old man.
Ridgeon. You old cynic, you dont believe a bit in my discovery.
Sir Patrick. No, no: I dont go quite so far as that, Colly. But still, you remember Jane Marsh?
Ridgeon. Jane Marsh? No.
Sir Patrick. You dont!
Sir Patrick. You mean to tell me you dont remember the woman with the tuberculosis ulcer on her arm?
Ridgeon [enlightened] Oh, your washerwoman’s daughter. Was her name Jane Marsh? I forgot.
Sir Patrick. Perhaps youve forgotten also that you undertook to cure her with Koch’s tuberculin.
Ridgeon. And instead of curing her, it rotted her arm right off. Yes: I remember. Poor Jane! However, she makes a good living out of that arm now by shewing it at medical lectures.
Sir Patrick. Still, that wasnt quite what you intended, was it?
Ridgeon. I took my chance of it.
Sir Patrick. Jane did, you mean.
Ridgeon. Well, it’s always the patient who has to take the chance when an experiment is necessary. And we can find out nothing without experiment.
Sir Patrick. What did you find out from Jane’s case?
Ridgeon. I found out that the inoculation that ought to cure sometimes kills.
Sir Patrick. I could have told you that. Ive tried these modern inoculations a bit myself. Ive killed people with them; and Ive cured people with them; but I gave them up because I never could tell which I was going to do.
Ridgeon [taking a pamphlet from a drawer in the writing-table and handing it to him] Read that the next time you have an hour to spare; and youll find out why.
Sir Patrick [grumbling and fumbling for his spectacles] Oh, bother your pamphlets. Whats the practice of it? [Looking at the pamphlet] Opsonin? What the devil is opsonin?
Ridgeon. Opsonin is what you butter the disease germs with to make your white blood corpuscles eat them. [He sits down again on the couch].
Sir Patrick. Thats not new. Ive heard this notion that the white corpuscles — what is it that whats his name? — Metchnikoff — calls them?
Sir Patrick. Aye, phagocytes: yes, yes, yes. Well, I heard this theory that the phagocytes eat up the disease germs years ago: long before you came into fashion. Besides, they dont always eat them.
Ridgeon. They do when you butter them with opsonin.
Sir Patrick. Gammon.
Ridgeon. No: it’s not gammon. What it comes to in practice is this. The phagocytes wont eat the microbes unless the microbes are nicely buttered for them. Well, the patient manufactures the butter for himself all right; but my discovery is that the manufacture of that butter, which I call opsonin, goes on in the system by ups and downs — Nature being always rhythmical, you know — and that what the inoculation does is to stimulate the ups or downs, as the case may be. If we had inoculated Jane Marsh when her butter factory was on the up-grade, we should have cured her arm. But we got in on the downgrade and lost her arm for her. I call the up-grade the positive phase and the down-grade the negative phase. Everything depends on your inoculating at the right moment. Inoculate when the patient is in the negative phase and you kill: inoculate when the patient is in the positive phase and you cure.
Sir Patrick. And pray how are you to know whether the patient is in the positive or the negative phase?
Ridgeon. Send a drop of the patient’s blood to the laboratory at St. Anne’s; and in fifteen minutes I’ll give you his opsonin index in figures. If the figure is one, inoculate and cure: if it’s under point eight, inoculate and kill. Thats my discovery: the most important that has been made since Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood. My tuberculosis patients dont die now.
Sir Patrick. And mine do when my inoculation catches them in the negative phase, as you call it. Eh?
Ridgeon. Precisely. To inject a vaccine into a patient without first testing his opsonin is as near murder as a respectable practitioner can get. If I wanted to kill s man I should kill him that way.
Emmy [looking in] Will you see a lady that wants her husband’s lungs cured?
Ridgeon [impatiently] No. Havnt I told you I will see nobody?[To Sir Patrick] I live in a state of siege ever since it got about that I’m a magician who can cure consumption with a drop of serum. [To Emmy] Dont come to me again about people who have no appointments. I tell you I can see nobody.
Emmy. Well, I’ll tell her to wait a bit.
Ridgeon [furious] Youll tell her I cant see her, and send her away: do you hear?
Emmy [unmoved] Well, will you see Mr Cutler Walpole? He dont want a cure: he only wants to congratulate you.
Ridgeon. Of course. Shew him up. [She turns to go]. Stop. [To Sir Patrick] I want two minutes more with you between ourselves. [To Emmy] Emmy: ask Mr. Walpole to wait just two minutes, while I finish a consultation.
Emmy. Oh, he’ll wait all right. He’s talking to the poor lady. [She goes out].
Sir Patrick. Well? what is it?
Ridgeon. Dont laugh at me. I want your advice.
Sir Patrick. Professional advice?
Ridgeon. Yes. Theres something the matter with me. I dont know what it is.
Sir Patrick. Neither do I. I suppose youve been sounded.
Ridgeon. Yes, of course. Theres nothing wrong with any of the organs: nothing special, anyhow. But I have a curious aching: I dont know where: I cant localize it. Sometimes I think it’s my heart: sometimes I suspect my spine. It doesnt exactly hurt me; but it unsettles me completely. I feel that something is going to happen. And there are other symptoms. Scraps of tunes come into my head that seem to me very pretty, though theyre quite commonplace.
Sir Patrick. Do you hear voices?
Sir Patrick. I’m glad of that. When my patients tell me that theyve made a greater discovery than Harvey, and that they hear voices, I lock them up.
Ridgeon. You think I’m mad! Thats just the suspicion that has come across me once or twice. Tell me the truth: I can bear it.
Sir Patrick. Youre sure there are no voices?
Ridgeon. Quite sure.
Sir Patrick. Then it’s only foolishness.
Ridgeon. Have you ever met anything like it before in your practice?
Sir Patrick. Oh, yes: often. It’s very common between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two. It sometimes comes on again at forty or thereabouts. Youre a bachelor, you see. It’s not serious — if youre careful.
Ridgeon. About my food?
Sir Patrick. No: about your behavior. Theres nothing wrong with your spine; and theres nothing wrong with your heart; but theres something wrong with your common sense. Youre not going to die; but you may be going to make a fool of yourself. So be careful.
Ridgeon. I sec you dont believe in my discovery. Well, sometimes I dont believe in it myself. Thank you all the same. Shall we have Walpole up?
Sir Patrick. Oh, have him up. [Ridgeon rings]. He’s a clever operator, is Walpole, though he’s only one of your chloroform surgeons. In my early days, you made your man drunk; and the porters and students held him down; and you had to set your teeth and finish the job fast. Nowadays you work at your ease; and the pain doesn’t come until afterwards, when youve taken your cheque and rolled up your bag and left the house. I tell you, Colly, chloroform has done a lot of mischief. It’s enabled every fool to be a surgeon.
Ridgeon [to Emmy, who answers the bell] Shew Mr Walpole up.
Emmy. He’s talking to the lady.
Ridgeon [exasperated] Did I not tell you —
Emmy goes out without heeding him. He gives it up, with a shrug, and plants himself with his back to the console, leaning resignedly against it.
Sir Patrick. I know your Cutler Walpoles and their like. Theyve found out that a man’s body’s full of bits and scraps of old organs he has no mortal use for. Thanks to chloroform, you can cut half a dozen of them out without leaving him any the worse, except for the illness and the guineas it costs him. I knew the Walpoles well fifteen years ago. The father used to snip off the ends of people’s uvulas for fifty guineas, and paint throats with caustic every day for a year at two guineas a time. His brother-in-law extirpated tonsils for two hundred guineas until he took up women’s cases at double the fees. Cutler himself worked hard at anatomy to find something fresh to operate on; and at last he got hold of something he calls the nuciform sac, which he’s made quite the fashion. People pay him five hundred guineas to cut it out. They might as well get their hair cut for all the difference it makes; but I suppose they feel important after it. You cant go out to dinner now without your neighbor bragging to you of some useless operation or other.
Emmy [announcing] Mr Cutler Walpole. [She goes out].
Cutler Walpole is an energetic, unhesitating man of forty, with a cleanly modelled face, very decisive and symmetrical about the shortish, salient, rather pretty nose, and the three trimly turned corners made by his chin and jaws. In comparison with Ridgeon’s delicate broken lines, and Sir Patrick’s softly rugged aged ones, his face looks machine-made and beeswaxed; but his scrutinizing, daring eyes give it life and force. He seems never at a loss, never in doubt: one feels that if he made a mistake he would make it thoroughly and firmly. He has neat, well-nourished hands, short arms, and is built for strength and compactness rather than for height. He is smartly dressed with a fancy waistcoat, a richly colored scarf secured by a handsome ring, ornaments on his watch chain, spats on his shoes, and a general air of the well-to-do sportsman about him. He goes straight across to Ridgeon and shakes hands with him.
Walpole. My dear Ridgeon, best wishes! heartiest congratulations! You deserve it.
Ridgeon. Thank you.
Walpole. As a man, mind you. You deserve it as a man. The opsonin is simple rot, as any capable surgeon can tell you; but we’re all delighted to see your personal qualities officially recognized. Sir Patrick: how are you? I sent you a paper lately about a little thing I invented: a new saw. For shoulder blades.
Sir Patrick [meditatively] Yes: I got it. It’s a good saw: a useful, handy instrument.
Walpole [confidently] I knew youd see its points.
Sir Patrick. Yes: I remember that saw sixty-five years ago.
Sir Patrick. It was called a cabinetmaker’s jimmy then.
Walpole. Get out! Nonsense! Cabinetmaker be —
Ridgeon. Never mind him, Walpole. He’s jealous.
Walpole. By the way, I hope I’m not disturbing you two in anything private.
Ridgeon. No no. Sit down. I was only consulting him. I’m rather out of sorts. Overwork, I suppose.
Walpole [swiftly] I know whats the matter with you. I can see it in your complexion. I can feel it in the grip of your hand.
Ridgeon. What is it?
Ridgeon. Blood-poisoning! Impossible.
Walpole. I tell you, blood-poisoning. Ninety-five per cent of the human race suffer from chronic blood-poisoning, and die of it. It’s as simple as A.B.C. Your nuciform sac is full of decaying matter — undigested food and waste products — rank ptomaines. Now you take my advice, Ridgeon. Let me cut it out for you. You’ll be another man afterwards.
Sir Patrick. Dont you like him as he is?
Walpole. No I dont. I dont like any man who hasnt a healthy circulation. I tell you this: in an intelligently governed country people wouldnt be allowed to go about with nuciform sacs, making themselves centres of infection. The operation ought to be compulsory: it’s ten times more important than vaccination.
Sir Patrick. Have you had your own sac removed, may I ask?
Walpole [triumphantly] I havnt got one. Look at me! Ive no symptoms. I’m as sound as a bell. About five per cent of the population havnt got any; and I’m one of the five per cent. I’ll give you an instance. You know Mrs Jack Foljambe: the smart Mrs Foljambe? I operated at Easter on her sister-in-law, Lady Gorran, and found she had the biggest sac I ever saw: it held about two ounces. Well, Mrs. Foljambe had the right spirit — the genuine hygienic instinct. She couldnt stand her sister-in-law being a clean, sound woman, and she simply a whited sepulchre. So she insisted on my operating on her, too. And by George, sir, she hadnt any sac at all. Not a trace! Not a rudiment!! I was so taken aback — so interested, that I forgot to take the sponges out, and was stitching them up inside her when the nurse missed them. Somehow, I’d made sure she’d have an exceptionally large one. [He sits down on the couch, squaring his shoulders and shooting his hands out of his cuffs as he sets his knuckles akimbo].
Emmy [looking in] Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington.
A long and expectant pause follows this announcement. All look to the door; but there is no Sir Ralph.
Ridgeon [at last] Were is he?
Emmy [looking back] Drat him, I thought he was following me. He’s stayed down to talk to that lady.
Ridgeon [exploding] I told you to tell that lady —[Emmy vanishes].
Walpole [jumping up again] Oh, by the way, Ridgeon, that reminds me. Ive been talking to that poor girl. It’s her husband; and she thinks it’s a case of consumption: the usual wrong diagnosis: these damned general practitioners ought never to be allowed to touch a patient except under the orders of a consultant. She’s been describing his symptoms to me; and the case is as plain as a pikestaff: bad blood-poisoning. Now she’s poor. She cant afford to have him operated on. Well, you send him to me: I’ll do it for nothing. Theres room for him in my nursing home. I’ll put him straight, and feed him up and make him happy. I like making people happy. [He goes to the chair near the window].
Emmy [looking in] Here he is.
Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington wafts himself into the room. He is a tall man, with a head like a tall and slender egg. He has been in his time a slender man; but now, in his sixth decade, his waistcoat has filled out somewhat. His fair eyebrows arch good-naturedly and uncritically. He has a most musical voice; his speech is a perpetual anthem; and he never tires of the sound of it. He radiates an enormous self-satisfaction, cheering, reassuring, healing by the mere incompatibility of disease or anxiety with his welcome presence. Even broken bones, it is said, have been known to unite at the sound of his voice: he is a born healer, as independent of mere treatment and skill as any Christian scientist. When he expands into oratory or scientific exposition, he is as energetic as Walpole; but it is with a bland, voluminous, atmospheric energy, which envelops its subject and its audience, and makes interruption or inattention impossible, and imposes veneration and credulity on all but the strongest minds. He is known in the medical world as B. B.; and the envy roused by his success in practice is softened by the conviction that he is, scientifically considered, a colossal humbug: the fact being that, though he knows just as much (and just as little) as his contemporaries, the qualifications that pass muster in common men reveal their weakness when hung on his egregious personality.
B. B. Aha! Sir Colenso. Sir Colenso, eh? Welcome to the order of knighthood.
Ridgeon [shaking hands] Thank you, B. B.
B. B. What! Sir Patrick! And how are we to-day? a little chilly? a little stiff? but hale and still the cleverest of us all. [Sir Patrick grunts]. What! Walpole! the absent-minded beggar: eh?
Walpole. What does that mean?
B. B. Have you forgotten the lovely opera singer I sent you to have that growth taken off her vocal cords?
Walpole [springing to his feet] Great heavens, man, you dont mean to say you sent her for a throat operation!
B. B. [archly] Aha! Ha ha! Aha! [trilling like a lark as he shakes his finger at Walpole]. You removed her nuciform sac. Well, well! force of habit! force of habit! Never mind, ne-e-e-ver mind. She got back her voice after it, and thinks you the greatest surgeon alive; and so you are, so you are, so you are.
Walpole [in a tragic whisper, intensely serious] Blood-poisoning. I see. I see. [He sits down again].
Sir Patrick. And how is a certain distinguished family getting on under your care, Sir Ralph?
B. B. Our friend Ridgeon will be gratified to hear that I have tried his opsonin treatment on little Prince Henry with complete success.
Ridgeon [startled and anxious] But how —
B. B. [continuing] I suspected typhoid: the head gardener’s boy had it; so I just called at St Anne’s one day and got a tube of your very excellent serum. You were out, unfortunately.
Ridgeon. I hope they explained to you carefully —
B. B. [waving away the absurd suggestion] Lord bless you, my dear fellow, I didnt need any explanations. I’d left my wife in the carriage at the door; and I’d no time to be taught my business by your young chaps. I know all about it. Ive handled these anti-toxins ever since they first came out.
Ridgeon. But theyre not anti-toxins; and theyre dangerous unless you use them at the right time.
B. B. Of course they are. Everything is dangerous unless you take it at the right time. An apple at breakfast does you good: an apple at bedtime upsets you for a week. There are only two rules for anti-toxins. First, dont be afraid of them: second, inject them a quarter of an hour before meals, three times a day.
Ridgeon [appalled] Great heavens, B. B., no, no, no.
B. B. [sweeping on irresistibly] Yes, yes, yes, Colly. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, you know. It was an immense success. It acted like magic on the little prince. Up went his temperature; off to bed I packed him; and in a week he was all right again, and absolutely immune from typhoid for the rest of his life. The family were very nice about it: their gratitude was quite touching; but I said they owed it all to you, Ridgeon; and I am glad to think that your knighthood is the result.
Ridgeon. I am deeply obliged to you. [Overcome, he sits down on the chair near the couch].
B. B. Not at all, not at all. Your own merit. Come! come! come! dont give way.
Ridgeon. It’s nothing. I was a little giddy just now. Overwork, I suppose.
B. B. Overwork! Theres no such thing. I do the work of ten men. Am I giddy? No. NO. If youre not well, you have a disease. It may be a slight one; but it’s a disease. And what is a disease? The lodgment in the system of a pathogenic germ, and the multiplication of that germ. What is the remedy? A very simple one. Find the germ and kill it.
Sir Patrick. Suppose theres no germ?
B. B. Impossible, Sir Patrick: there must be a germ: else how could the patient be ill?
Sir Patrick. Can you shew me the germ of overwork?
B. B. No; but why? Why? Because, my dear Sir Patrick, though the germ is there, it’s invisible. Nature has given it no danger signal for us. These germs — these bacilli — are translucent bodies, like glass, like water. To make them visible you must stain them. Well, my dear Paddy, do what you will, some of them wont stain. They wont take cochineal: they wont take methylene blue; they wont take gentian violet: they wont take any coloring matter. Consequently, though we know, as scientific men, that they exist, we cannot see them. But can you disprove their existence? Can you conceive the disease existing without them? Can you, for instance, shew me a case of diphtheria without the bacillus?
Sir Patrick. No; but I’ll shew you the same bacillus, without the disease, in your own throat.
B. B. No, not the same, Sir Patrick. It is an entirely different bacillus; only the two are, unfortunately, so exactly alike that you cannot see the difference. You must understand, my dear Sir Patrick, that every one of these interesting little creatures has an imitator. Just as men imitate each other, germs imitate each other. There is the genuine diphtheria bacillus discovered by Loeffler; and there is the pseudo-bacillus, exactly like it, which you could find, as you say, in my own throat.
Sir Patrick. And how do you tell one from the other?
B. B. Well, obviously, if the bacillus is the genuine Loeffler, you have diphtheria; and if it’s the pseudobacillus, youre quite well. Nothing simpler. Science is always simple and always profound. It is only the half-truths that are dangerous. Ignorant faddists pick up some superficial information about germs; and they write to the papers and try to discredit science. They dupe and mislead many honest and worthy people. But science has a perfect answer to them on every point.
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep; or taste not the Pierian spring.
I mean no disrespect to your generation, Sir Patrick: some of you old stagers did marvels through sheer professional intuition and clinical experience; but when I think of the average men of your day, ignorantly bleeding and cupping and purging, and scattering germs over their patients from their clothes and instruments, and contrast all that with the scientific certainty and simplicity of my treatment of the little prince the other day, I cant help being proud of my own generation: the men who were trained on the germ theory, the veterans of the great struggle over Evolution in the seventies. We may have our faults; but at least we are men of science. That is why I am taking up your treatment, Ridgeon, and pushing it. It’s scientific. [He sits down on the chair near the couch].
Emmy [at the door, announcing] Dr Blenkinsop.
Dr Blenkinsop is a very different case from the others. He is clearly not a prosperous man. He is flabby and shabby, cheaply fed and cheaply clothed. He has the lines made by a conscience between his eyes, and the lines made by continual money worries all over his face, cut all the deeper as he has seen better days, and hails his well-to-do colleagues as their contemporary and old hospital friend, though even in this he has to struggle with the diffidence of poverty and relegation to the poorer middle class.
Ridgeon. How are you, Blenkinsop?
Blenkinsop. Ive come to offer my humble congratulations. Oh dear! all the great guns are before me.
B. B. [patronizing, but charming] How d’ye do Blenkinsop? How d’ye do?
Blenkinsop. And Sir Patrick, too [Sir Patrick grunts].
Ridgeon. Youve met Walpole, of course?
Walpole. How d’ye do?
Blenkinsop. It’s the first time Ive had that honor. In my poor little practice there are no chances of meeting you great men. I know nobody but the St Anne’s men of my own day. [To Ridgeon] And so youre Sir Colenso. How does it feel?
Ridgeon. Foolish at first. Dont take any notice of it.
Blenkinsop. I’m ashamed to say I havnt a notion what your great discovery is; but I congratulate you all the same for the sake of old times.
B. B. [shocked] But, my dear Blenkinsop, you used to be rather keen on science.
Blenkinsop. Ah, I used to be a lot of things. I used to have two or three decent suits of clothes, and flannels to go up the river on Sundays. Look at me now: this is my best; and it must last till Christmas. What can I do? Ive never opened a book since I was qualified thirty years ago. I used to read the medical papers at first; but you know how soon a man drops that; besides, I cant afford them; and what are they after all but trade papers, full of advertisements? Ive forgotten all my science: whats the use of my pretending I havnt? But I have great experience: clinical experience; and bedside experience is the main thing, isn’t it?
B. B. No doubt; always provided, mind you, that you have a sound scientific theory to correlate your observations at the bedside. Mere experience by itself is nothing. If I take my dog to the bedside with me, he sees what I see. But he learns nothing from it. Why? Because he’s not a scientific dog.
Walpole. It amuses me to hear you physicians and general practitioners talking about clinical experience. What do you see at the bedside but the outside of the patient? Well: it isnt his outside thats wrong, except perhaps in skin cases. What you want is a daily familiarity with people’s insides; and that you can only get at the operating table. I know what I’m talking about: Ive been a surgeon and a consultant for twenty years; and Ive never known a general practitioner right in his diagnosis yet. Bring them a perfectly simple case; and they diagnose cancer, and arthritis, and appendicitis, and every other itis, when any really experienced surgeon can see that it’s a plain case of blood-poisoning.
Blenkinsop. Ah, it’s easy for you gentlemen to talk; but what would you say if you had my practice? Except for the workmen’s clubs, my patients are all clerks and shopmen. They darent be ill: they cant afford it. And when they break down, what can I do for them? You can send your people to St Moritz or to Egypt, or recommend horse exercise or motoring or champagne jelly or complete change and rest for six months. I might as well order my people a slice of the moon. And the worst of it is, I’m too poor to keep well myself on the cooking I have to put up with. Ive such a wretched digestion; and I look it. How am I to inspire confidence? [He sits disconsolately on the couch].
Ridgeon [restlessly] Dont, Blenkinsop: its too painful. The most tragic thing in the world is a sick doctor.
Walpole. Yes, by George: its like a bald-headed man trying to sell a hair restorer. Thank God I’m a surgeon!
B. B. [sunnily] I am never sick. Never had a day’s illness in my life. Thats what enables me to sympathize with my patients.
Walpole [interested] What! youre never ill?
B. B. Never.
Walpole. Thats interesting. I believe you have no nuciform sac. If you ever do feel at all queer, I should very much like to have a look.
B. B. Thank you, my dear fellow; but I’m too busy just now.
Ridgeon. I was just telling them when you came in, Blenkinsop, that I have worked myself out of sorts.
Blenkinsop. Well, it seems presumptuous of me to offer a prescription to a great man like you; but still I have great experience; and if I might recommend a pound of ripe greengages every day half an hour before lunch, I’m sure youd find a benefit. Theyre very cheap.
Ridgeon. What do you say to that B. B.?
B. B. [encouragingly] Very sensible, Blenkinsop: very sensible indeed. I’m delighted to see that you disapprove of drugs.
Sir Patrick [grunts]!
B. B. [archly] Aha! Haha! Did I hear from the fireside armchair the bow-wow of the old school defending its drugs? Ah, believe me, Paddy, the world would be healthier if every chemist’s shop in England were demolished. Look at the papers! full of scandalous advertisements of patent medicines! a huge commercial system of quackery and poison. Well, whose fault is it? Ours. I say, ours. We set the example. We spread the superstition. We taught the people to believe in bottles of doctor’s stuff; and now they buy it at the stores instead of consulting a medical man.
Walpole. Quite true. Ive not prescribed a drug for the last fifteen years.
B. B. Drugs can only repress symptoms: they cannot eradicate disease. The true remedy for all diseases is Nature’s remedy. Nature and Science are at one, Sir Patrick, believe me; though you were taught differently. Nature has provided, in the white corpuscles as you call them — in the phagocytes as we call them — a natural means of devouring and destroying all disease germs. There is at bottom only one genuinely scientific treatment for all diseases, and that is to stimulate the phagocytes. Stimulate the phagocytes. Drugs are a delusion. Find the germ of the disease; prepare from it a suitable anti-toxin; inject it three times a day quarter of an hour before meals; and what is the result? The phagocytes are stimulated; they devour the disease; and the patient recovers — unless, of course, he’s too far gone. That, I take it, is the essence of Ridgeon’s discovery.
Sir Patrick [dreamily] As I sit here, I seem to hear my poor old father talking again.
B. B. [rising in incredulous amazement] Your father! But, Lord bless my soul, Paddy, your father must have been an older man than you.
Sir Patrick. Word for word almost, he said what you say. No more drugs. Nothing but inoculation.
B. B. [almost contemptuously] Inoculation! Do you mean smallpox inoculation?
Sir Patrick. Yes. In the privacy of our family circle, sir, my father used to declare his belief that smallpox inoculation was good, not only for smallpox, but for all fevers.
B. B. [suddenly rising to the new idea with immense interest and excitement] What! Ridgeon: did you hear that? Sir Patrick: I am more struck by what you have just told me than I can well express. Your father, sir, anticipated a discovery of my own. Listen, Walpole. Blenkinsop: attend one moment. You will all be intensely interested in this. I was put on the track by accident. I had a typhoid case and a tetanus case side by side in the hospital: a beadle and a city missionary. Think of what that meant for them, poor fellows! Can a beadle be dignified with typhoid? Can a missionary be eloquent with lockjaw? No. NO. Well, I got some typhoid anti-toxin from Ridgeon and a tube of Muldooley’s anti-tetanus serum. But the missionary jerked all my things off the table in one of his paroxysms; and in replacing them I put Ridgeon’s tube where Muldooley’s ought to have been. The consequence was that I inoculated the typhoid case for tetanus and the tetanus case for typhoid. [The doctors look greatly concerned. B. B., undamped, smiles triumphantly]. Well, they recovered. THEY RECOVERED. Except for a touch of St Vitus’s dance the missionary’s as well to-day as ever; and the beadle’s ten times the man he was.
Blenkinsop. Ive known things like that happen. They cant be explained.
B. B. [severely] Blenkinsop: there is nothing that cannot be explained by science. What did I do? Did I fold my hands helplessly and say that the case could not be explained? By no means. I sat down and used my brains. I thought the case out on scientific principles. I asked myself why didnt the missionary die of typhoid on top of tetanus, and the beadle of tetanus on top of typhoid? Theres a problem for you, Ridgeon. Think, Sir Patrick. Reflect, Blenkinsop. Look at it without prejudice, Walpole. What is the real work of the anti-toxin? Simply to stimulate the phagocytes. Very well. But so long as you stimulate the phagocytes, what does it matter which particular sort of serum you use for the purpose? Haha! Eh? Do you see? Do you grasp it? Ever since that Ive used all sorts of anti-toxins absolutely indiscriminately, with perfectly satisfactory results. I inoculated the little prince with your stuff, Ridgeon, because I wanted to give you a lift; but two years ago I tried the experiment of treating a scarlet fever case with a sample of hydrophobia serum from the Pasteur Institute, and it answered capitally. It stimulated the phagocytes; and the phagocytes did the rest. That is why Sir Patrick’s father found that inoculation cured all fevers. It stimulated the phagocytes. [He throws himself into his chair, exhausted with the triumph of his demonstration, and beams magnificently on them].
Emmy [looking in] Mr Walpole: your motor’s come for you; and it’s frightening Sir Patrick’s horses; so come along quick.
Walpole [rising] Good-bye, Ridgeon.
Ridgeon. Good-bye; and many thanks.
B. B. You see my point, Walpole?
Emmy. He cant wait, Sir Ralph. The carriage will be into the area if he dont come.
Walpole. I’m coming. [To B. B.] Theres nothing in your point: phagocytosis is pure rot: the cases are all blood-poisoning; and the knife is the real remedy. Bye-bye, Sir Paddy. Happy to have met you, Mr. Blenkinsop. Now, Emmy. [He goes out, followed by Emmy].
B. B. [sadly] Walpole has no intellect. A mere surgeon. Wonderful operator; but, after all, what is operating? Only manual labor. Brain — BRAIN remains master of the situation. The nuciform sac is utter nonsense: theres no such organ. It’s a mere accidental kink in the membrane, occurring in perhaps two-and-a-half per cent of the population. Of course I’m glad for Walpole’s sake that the operation is fashionable; for he’s a dear good fellow; and after all, as I always tell people, the operation will do them no harm: indeed, Ive known the nervous shake-up and the fortnight in bed do people a lot of good after a hard London season; but still it’s a shocking fraud. [Rising] Well, I must be toddling. Good-bye, Paddy [Sir Patrick grunts] good-bye, goodbye. Good-bye, my dear Blenkinsop, good-bye! Goodbye, Ridgeon. Dont fret about your health: you know what to do: if your liver is sluggish, a little mercury never does any harm. If you feel restless, try bromide, If that doesnt answer, a stimulant, you know: a little phosphorus and strychnine. If you cant sleep, trional, trional, trion —
Sir Patrick [drily] But no drugs, Colly, remember that.
B. B. [firmly] Certainly not. Quite right, Sir Patrick. As temporary expedients, of course; but as treatment, no, No. Keep away from the chemist’s shop, my dear Ridgeon, whatever you do.
Ridgeon [going to the door with him] I will. And thank you for the knighthood. Good-bye.
B. B. [stopping at the door, with the beam in his eye twinkling a little] By the way, who’s your patient?
B. B. Downstairs. Charming woman. Tuberculous husband.
Ridgeon. Is she there still?
Emmy [looking in] Come on, Sir Ralph: your wife’s waiting in the carriage.
B. B. [suddenly sobered] Oh! Good-bye. [He goes out almost precipitately].
Ridgeon. Emmy: is that woman there still? If so, tell her once for all that I cant and wont see her. Do you hear?
Emmy. Oh, she aint in a hurry: she doesnt mind how long she waits. [She goes out].
Blenkinsop. I must be off, too: every half-hour I spend away from my work costs me eighteenpence. Good-bye, Sir Patrick.
Sir Patrick. Good-bye. Good-bye.
Ridgeon. Come to lunch with me some day this week.
Blenkinsop. I cant afford it, dear boy; and it would put me off my own food for a week. Thank you all the same.
Ridgeon [uneasy at Blenkinsop’s poverty] Can I do nothing for you?
Blenkinsop. Well, if you have an old frock-coat to spare? you see what would be an old one for you would be a new one for me; so remember the next time you turn out your wardrobe. Good-bye. [He hurries out].
Ridgeon [looking after him] Poor chap! [Turning to Sir Patrick] So thats why they made me a knight! And thats the medical profession!
Sir Patrick. And a very good profession, too, my lad. When you know as much as I know of the ignorance and superstition of the patients, youll wonder that we’re half as good as we are.
Ridgeon. We’re not a profession: we’re a conspiracy.
Sir Patrick. All professions are conspiracies against the laity. And we cant all be geniuses like you. Every fool can get ill; but every fool cant be a good doctor: there are not enough good ones to go round. And for all you know, Bloomfield Bonington kills less people than you do.
Ridgeon. Oh, very likely. But he really ought to know the difference between a vaccine and an anti-toxin. Stimulate the phagocytes! The vaccine doesnt affect the phagocytes at all. He’s all wrong: hopelessly, dangerously wrong. To put a tube of serum into his hands is murder: simple murder.
Emmy [returning] Now, Sir Patrick. How long more are you going to keep them horses standing in the draught?
Sir Patrick. Whats that to you, you old catamaran?
Emmy. Come, come, now! none of your temper to me. And it’s time for Colly to get to his work.
Ridgeon. Behave yourself, Emmy. Get out.
Emmy. Oh, I learnt how to behave myself before I learnt you to do it. I know what doctors are: sitting talking together about themselves when they ought to be with their poor patients. And I know what horses are, Sir Patrick. I was brought up in the country. Now be good; and come along.
Sir Patrick [rising] Very well, very well, very well. Good-bye, Colly. [He pats Ridgeon on the shoulder and goes out, turning for a moment at the door to look meditatively at Emmy and say, with grave conviction] You are an ugly old devil, and no mistake.
Emmy [highly indignant, calling after him] Youre no beauty yourself. [To Ridgeon, much flustered] Theyve no manners: they think they can say what they like to me; and you set them on, you do. I’ll teach them their places. Here now: are you going to see that poor thing or are you not?
Ridgeon. I tell you for the fiftieth time I wont see anybody. Send her away.
Emmy. Oh, I’m tired of being told to send her away. What good will that do her?
Ridgeon. Must I get angry with you, Emmy?
Emmy [coaxing] Come now: just see her for a minute to please me: theres a good boy. She’s given me half-a-crown. She thinks it’s life and death to her husband for her to see you.
Ridgeon. Values her husband’s life at half-a-crown!
Emmy. Well, it’s all she can afford, poor lamb. Them others think nothing of half-a-sovereign just to talk about themselves to you, the sluts! Besides, she’ll put you in a good temper for the day, because it’s a good deed to see her; and she’s the sort that gets round you.
Ridgeon. Well, she hasnt done so badly. For half-a-crown she’s had a consultation with Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington and Cutler Walpole. Thats six guineas’ worth to start with. I dare say she’s consulted Blenkinsop too: thats another eighteenpence.
Emmy. Then youll see her for me, wont you?
Ridgeon. Oh, send her up and be hanged. [Emmy trots out, satisfied. Ridgeon calls] Redpenny!
Redpenny [appearing at the door] What is it?
Ridgeon. Theres a patient coming up. If she hasnt gone in five minutes, come in with an urgent call from the hospital for me. You understand: she’s to have a strong hint to go.
Redpenny. Right O! [He vanishes].
Ridgeon goes to the glass, and arranges his tie a little.
Emmy [announcing] Mrs Doobidad [Ridgeon leaves the glass and goes to the writing-table].
The lady comes in. Emmy goes out and shuts the door. Ridgeon, who has put on an impenetrable and rather distant professional manner, turns to the lady, and invites her, by a gesture, to sit down on the couch.
Mrs Dubedat is beyond all demur an arrestingly good-looking young woman. She has something of the grace and romance of a wild creature, with a good deal of the elegance and dignity of a fine lady. Ridgeon, who is extremely susceptible to the beauty of women, instinctively assumes the defensive at once, and hardens his manner still more. He has an impression that she is very well dressed, but she has a figure on which any dress would look well, and carries herself with the unaffected distinction of a woman who has never in her life suffered from those doubts and fears as to her social position which spoil the manners of most middling people. She is tall, slender, and strong; has dark hair, dressed so as to look like hair and not like a bird’s nest or a pantaloon’s wig (fashion wavering just then between these two models); has unexpectedly narrow, subtle, dark-fringed eyes that alter her expression disturbingly when she is excited and flashes them wide open; is softly impetuous in her speech and swift in her movements; and is just now in mortal anxiety. She carries a portfolio.
Mrs Dubedat [in low urgent tones] Doctor —
Ridgeon [curtly] Wait. Before you begin, let me tell you at once that I can do nothing for you. My hands are full. I sent you that message by my old servant. You would not take that answer.
Mrs Dubedat. How could I?
Ridgeon. You bribed her.
Mrs Dubedat. I—
Ridgeon. That doesnt matter. She coaxed me to see you. Well, you must take it from me now that with all the good will in the world, I cannot undertake another case.
Mrs Dubedat. Doctor: you must save my husband. You must. When I explain to you, you will see that you must. It is not an ordinary case, not like any other case. He is not like anybody else in the world: oh, believe me, he is not. I can prove it to you: [fingering her portfolio] I have brought some things to shew you. And you can save him: the papers say you can.
Ridgeon. Whats the matter? Tuberculosis?
Mrs Dubedat. Yes. His left lung —
Ridgeon Yes: you neednt tell me about that.
Mrs Dubedat. You can cure him, if only you will. It is true that you can, isnt it? [In great distress] Oh, tell me, please.
Ridgeon [warningly] You are going to be quiet and self-possessed, arnt you?
Mrs Dubedat. Yes. I beg your pardon. I know I shouldnt —[Giving way again] Oh, please, say that you can; and then I shall be all right.
Ridgeon [huffily] I am not a curemonger: if you want cures, you must go to the people who sell them. [Recovering himself, ashamed of the tone of his own voice] But I have at the hospital ten tuberculous patients whose lives I believe I can save.
Mrs Dubedat. Thank God!
Ridgeon. Wait a moment. Try to think of those ten patients as ten shipwrecked men on a raft — a raft that is barely large enough to save them — that will not support one more. Another head bobs up through the waves at the side. Another man begs to be taken aboard. He implores the captain of the raft to save him. But the captain can only do that by pushing one of his ten off the raft and drowning him to make room for the new comer. That is what you are asking me to do.
Mrs Dubedat. But how can that be? I dont understand. Surely —
Ridgeon. You must take my word for it that it is so. My laboratory, my staff, and myself are working at full pressure. We are doing our utmost. The treatment is a new one. It takes time, means, and skill; and there is not enough for another case. Our ten cases are already chosen cases. Do you understand what I mean by chosen?
Mrs Dubedat. Chosen. No: I cant understand.
Ridgeon [sternly] You must understand. Youve got to understand and to face it. In every single one of those ten cases I have had to consider, not only whether the man could be saved, but whether he was worth saving. There were fifty cases to choose from; and forty had to be condemned to death. Some of the forty had young wives and helpless children. If the hardness of their cases could have saved them they would have been saved ten times over. Ive no doubt your case is a hard one: I can see the tears in your eyes [she hastily wipes her eyes]: I know that you have a torrent of entreaties ready for me the moment I stop speaking; but it’s no use. You must go to another doctor.
Mrs Dubedat. But can you give me the name of another doctor who understands your secret?
Ridgeon. I have no secret: I am not a quack.
Mrs Dubedat. I beg your pardon: I didnt mean to say anything wrong. I dont understand how to speak to you. Oh, pray dont be offended.
Ridgeon [again a little ashamed] There! there! never mind. [He relaxes and sits down]. After all, I’m talking nonsense: I daresay I AM a quack, a quack with a qualification. But my discovery is not patented.
Mrs Dubedat. Then can any doctor cure my husband? Oh, why dont they do it? I have tried so many: I have spent so much. If only you would give me the name of another doctor.
Ridgeon. Every man in this street is a doctor. But outside myself and the handful of men I am training at St Anne’s, there is nobody as yet who has mastered the opsonin treatment. And we are full up? I’m sorry; but that is all I can say. [Rising] Good morning.
Mrs Dubedat [suddenly and desperately taking some drawings from her portfolio] Doctor: look at these. You understand drawings: you have good ones in your waiting-room. Look at them. They are his work.
Ridgeon. It’s no use my looking. [He looks, all the same] Hallo! [He takes one to the window and studies it]. Yes: this is the real thing. Yes, yes. [He looks at another and returns to her]. These are very clever. Theyre unfinished, arnt they?
Mrs Dubedat. He gets tired so soon. But you see, dont you, what a genius he is? You see that he is worth saving. Oh, doctor, I married him just to help him to begin: I had money enough to tide him over the hard years at the beginning — to enable him to follow his inspiration until his genius was recognized. And I was useful to him as a model: his drawings of me sold quite quickly.
Ridgeon. Have you got one?
Mrs Dubedat [producing another] Only this one. It was the first.
Ridgeon [devouring it with his eyes] Thats a wonderful drawing. Why is it called Jennifer?
Mrs Dubedat. My name is Jennifer.
Ridgeon. A strange name.
Mrs Dubedat. Not in Cornwall. I am Cornish. It’s only what you call Guinevere.
Ridgeon [repeating the names with a certain pleasure in them] Guinevere. Jennifer. [Looking again at the drawing] Yes: it’s really a wonderful drawing. Excuse me; but may I ask is it for sale? I’ll buy it.
Mrs Dubedat. Oh, take it. It’s my own: he gave it to me. Take it. Take them all. Take everything; ask anything; but save him. You can: you will: you must.
Redpenny [entering with every sign of alarm] Theyve just telephoned from the hospital that youre to come instantly — a patient on the point of death. The carriage is waiting.
Ridgeon [intolerantly] Oh, nonsense: get out. [Greatly annoyed] What do you mean by interrupting me like this?
Redpenny. But —
Ridgeon. Chut! cant you see I’m engaged? Be off.
Redpenny, bewildered, vanishes.
Mrs Dubedat [rising] Doctor: one instant only before you go —
Ridgeon. Sit down. It’s nothing.
Mrs Dubedat. But the patient. He said he was dying.
Ridgeon. Oh, he’s dead by this time. Never mind. Sit down.
Mrs Dubedat [sitting down and breaking down] Oh, you none of you care. You see people die every day.
Ridgeon [petting her] Nonsense! it’s nothing: I told him to come in and say that. I thought I should want to get rid of you.
Mrs Dubedat [shocked at the falsehood] Oh! Ridgeon [continuing] Dont look so bewildered: theres nobody dying.
Mrs Dubedat. My husband is.
Ridgeon [pulling himself together] Ah, yes: I had forgotten your husband. Mrs Dubedat: you are asking me to do a very serious thing?
Mrs Dubedat. I am asking you to save the life of a great man.
Ridgeon. You are asking me to kill another man for his sake; for as surely as I undertake another case, I shall have to hand back one of the old ones to the ordinary treatment. Well, I dont shrink from that. I have had to do it before; and I will do it again if you can convince me that his life is more important than the worst life I am now saving. But you must convince me first.
Mrs Dubedat. He made those drawings; and they are not the best — nothing like the best; only I did not bring the really best: so few people like them. He is twenty-three: his whole life is before him. Wont you let me bring him to you? wont you speak to him? wont you see for yourself?
Ridgeon. Is he well enough to come to a dinner at the Star and Garter at Richmond?
Mrs Dubedat. Oh yes. Why?
Ridgeon. I’ll tell you. I am inviting all my old friends to a dinner to celebrate my knighthood — youve seen about it in the papers, havnt you?
Mrs Dubedat. Yes, oh yes. That was how I found out about you.
Ridgeon. It will be a doctors’ dinner; and it was to have been a bachelors’ dinner. I’m a bachelor. Now if you will entertain for me, and bring your husband, he will meet me; and he will meet some of the most eminent men in my profession: Sir Patrick Cullen, Sir Ralph Bloomfield Bonington, Cutler Walpole, and others. I can put the case to them; and your husband will have to stand or fall by what we think of him. Will you come?
Mrs Dubedat. Yes, of course I will come. Oh, thank you, thank you. And may I bring some of his drawings — the really good ones?
Ridgeon. Yes. I will let you know the date in the course of to-morrow. Leave me your address.
Mrs Dubedat. Thank you again and again. You have made me so happy: I know you will admire him and like him. This is my address. [She gives him her card].
Ridgeon. Thank you. [He rings].
Mrs Dubedat [embarrassed] May I— is there — should I— I mean —[she blushes and stops in confusion].
Ridgeon. Whats the matter?
Mrs Dubedat. Your fee for this consultation?
Ridgeon. Oh, I forgot that. Shall we say a beautiful drawing of his favorite model for the whole treatment, including the cure?
Mrs Dubedat. You are very generous. Thank you. I know you will cure him. Good-bye.
Ridgeon. I will. Good-bye. [They shake hands]. By the way, you know, dont you, that tuberculosis is catching. You take every precaution, I hope.
Mrs Dubedat. I am not likely to forget it. They treat us like lepers at the hotels.
Emmy [at the door] Well, deary: have you got round him?
Ridgeon. Yes. Attend to the door and hold your tongue.
Emmy. Thats a good boy. [She goes out with Mrs Dubedat].
Ridgeon [alone] Consultation free. Cure guaranteed. [He heaves a great sigh].
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00