Chapter 1 | Medical and Legal | Yussuf the Guide

Chapter One.

“But it seems so shocking, sir.”

“Yes, madam,” said the doctor, “very sad indeed. You had better get that prescription made up at once.”

“And him drenched with physic!” cried Mrs Dunn; “when it doesn’t do him a bit of good.”

“Not very complimentary to me, Mrs Dunn,” said the doctor smiling.

“Which I didn’t mean any harm, sir; but wouldn’t it be better to let the poor boy die in peace, instead of worrying him to keep on taking physic?”

“And what would you and his friends say if I did not prescribe for him?”

“I should say it was the best thing, sir; and as to his friends, why, he hasn’t got any.”

“Mr Burne?”

“What! the lawyer, sir? I don’t call him a friend. Looks after the money his poor pa left, and doles it out once a month, and comes and takes snuff and blows his nose all over the room, as if he was a human trombone, and then says, ‘hum!’ and ‘ha!’ and ‘send me word how he is now and then,’ and goes away.”

“But his father’s executor, Professor Preston?”

“Lor’ bless the man! don’t talk about him. I wrote to him last week about how bad the poor boy was; and he came up from Oxford to see him, and sat down and read something out of a roll of paper to him about his dog.”

“About his dog, Mrs Dunn?”

“Yes, sir, about his dog Pompey, and then about tombs—nice subject to bring up to a poor boy half-dead with consumption! And as soon as he had done reading he begins talking to him. You said Master Lawrence was to be kept quiet, sir?”

“Certainly, Mrs Dunn.”

“Well, if he didn’t stand there sawing one of his hands about and talking there, shouting at the poor lad as if he was in the next street, or he was a hout-door preacher, till I couldn’t bear it any longer, and I made him go.”

“Ah, I suppose the professor is accustomed to lecture.”

“Then he had better go and lecture, sir. He sha’n’t talk my poor boy to death.”

“Well, quiet is best for him, Mrs Dunn,” said the doctor smiling at the rosy-faced old lady, who had turned quite fierce; “but still, change and something to interest him will do good.”

“More good than physic, sir?”

“Well, yes, Mrs Dunn, I will be frank with you—more good than physic. What did Mr Burne say about the poor fellow going to Madeira or the south of France?”

“Said, sir, that he’d better take his Madeira out of a wine-glass and his south of France out of a book. I don’t know what he meant, and when I asked him he only blew his nose till I felt as if I could have boxed his ears. But now, doctor, what do you really think about the poor dear? You see he’s like my own boy. Didn’t I nurse him when he was a baby, and didn’t his poor mother beg of me to always look after him? And I have. Nobody can’t say he ever had a shirt with a button off, or a hole in his clean stockings, or put on anything before it was aired till it was dry as a bone. But now tell me what you really think of him.”

“That I can do nothing whatever, Mrs Dunn,” said the doctor kindly. “Our London winters are killing him, and I have no faith in the south of England doing any good. The only hope is a complete change to a warmer land.”

“But I couldn’t let him go to a horrible barbarous foreign country, sir.”

“Not to save his life, Mrs Dunn?”

“Oh, dear! oh, dear! oh, dear!” sighed the old lady. “It’s very hard when I’d lay down my life to save him, and me seeing him peek and pine away and growing so weak. I know it was that skating accident as did it. Him nearly a quarter of an hour under the ice, and the receiving-house doctor working for an hour before he could bring him to.”

“I’m afraid that was the start of his illness, Mrs Dunn.”

“I’m sure of it, doctor. Such a fine lad as he was, and he has never been the same since. What am I to do? Nobody takes any interest in the poor boy but me.”

“Well, I should write at once to the professor and tell him that Mr Lawrence is in a critical condition, and also to his father’s executor, Mr Burne, and insist upon my patient being taken for the winter to a milder clime.”

“And they won’t stir a peg. I believe they’ll both be glad to hear that he is dead, for neither of them cares a straw about him, poor boy.”

There had been a double knock while this conversation was going on in Guildford Street, Russell Square, and after the pattering of steps on the oil-cloth in the hall the door was opened, and the murmur of a gruff voice was followed by the closing of the front door, and then a series of three sounds, as if someone was beginning to learn a deep brass instrument, and Mrs Dunn started up.

“It’s Mr Burne. Now, doctor, you tell him yourself.”

Directly after, a keen-eyed grey little gentleman of about fifty was shown in, with a snuff-box in one hand, a yellow silk handkerchief in the other, and he looked sharply about as he shook hands in a hurried way, and then sat down.

“Hah! glad to see you, doctor. Now about this client of yours. Patient I mean. You’re not going to let him slip through your fingers?”

“I’m sorry to say, Mr Burne—”

“Bless me! I am surprised. Been so busy. Poor boy! Snuff snuff snuff. Take a pinch? No, you said you didn’t. Bad habit. Bless my soul, how sad!”

Mr Burne, the family solicitor, jumped up when he blew his nose. Sat down to take some more snuff, and got up again to offer a pinch to the doctor.

“Really, Mr Burne, there is only one thing that I can suggest—”

“And that’s what Mrs Dunn here told me.”

There was a most extraordinary performance upon the nose, which made Mrs Dunn raise her hands, and then bring them down heavily in her lap, and exclaim:

“Bless me, man, don’t do that!”

“Ah, Mrs Dunn,” cried the lawyer; “what have you been about? Nothing to do but attend upon your young master, and you’ve got him into a state like this.”

“Well of all—”

“Tut tut! hold your tongue, Mrs Dunn, what’s gone by can’t be recalled. I’ve been very busy lately fighting a cousin of the poor boy, who was trying to get his money.”

“And what’s the good of his money, sir, if he isn’t going to live?”

“Tut tut, Mrs Dunn,” said the lawyer, blowing his nose more softly, “but he is. I telegraphed to Oxford last night for Professor Preston to meet me here at eleven this morning. I have had no answer, but he may come. Eccentric man, Mrs Dunn.”

“Why you’re never going to have him here to talk the poor boy to death.”

“Indeed but I am, Mrs Dunn, for I do not believe what you say is possible, unless done by a woman—an old woman,” said the lawyer looking at the old lady fixedly.

“Well I’m sure!” exclaimed Mrs Dunn, and the doctor rose.

“You had better get that prescription made up, Mrs Dunn, and go on as before.”

“One moment, doctor,” said the lawyer, and he drew him aside for a brief conversation to ensue.

“Bless me! very sad,” said the lawyer; and then, as Mrs Dunn showed the doctor out, the old gentleman took some more snuff, and then performed upon his nose in one of the windows; opposite the fire; in one corner; then in another; and then he was finishing with a regular coach-horn blast when he stopped half-way, and stared, for Mrs Dunn was standing in the doorway with her large florid cap tilted forward in consequence of her having stuck her fingers in her ears.

“Could you hear me using my handkerchief, Mrs Dunn?” said the lawyer.

“Could I hear you? Man alive!” cried the old lady, in a tone full of withering contempt, “could I hear that!”