The Adventures of Dr. Whitty/Chapter 7



IT was a hot day in June, and Dr. Whitty, not very busy at that season of the year, was sitting in his dining-room smoking. Michael Geraghty put his head in through the window.

"Are you there, doctor?"

"I am," said the doctor; "can't you see me?"

"It's what I have a letter for you. Jamesy Casey, the postboy, gave it to me, knowing I was coming up this way, seeing that it had 'immediate' written on the outside of it."

The doctor looked at the letter.

"It's from my Aunt Eliza," he said. "But what the dickens she can possibly have to say to me in a hurry is more than I can tell you, Michael. It's not once in six months she writes to me, and then it's only to get a prescription out of me that she might as well ask her own doctor for, only that she grudges the poor man what she'd have to pay him."

"Maybe it's took sick sudden she is this time," said Michael, "and wanting to get what would do her good in a hurry."

"She's never sick," said the doctor. "What medicine she uses is for her family. I never recollect her having anything the matter with her."

"If it isn't that," said Michael, "I don't know what it would be; but, sure, if you opened the letter you'd find out."

The suggestion was reasonable. Michael Geraghty, his curiosity aroused, remained with his head pushed through the window.

"'Dear Georgie' "—read the doctor—("she's the only person in the world that ever calls me that")—"'I write in great trouble to inform you that your Cousin Annie has contracted a matrimonial engagement.' Look here, Michael, this letter seems likely to be of a confidential kind. Perhaps you'd excuse my not reading the rest of it out loud."

Michael Geraghty, a man of tact and delicate feeling, retired at once. Dr. Whitty went on with the letter.

"'A matrimonial engagement of a most undesirable kind to a young man who has little or nothing to live on; and, so far as I can make out, never will. His name is against him, for one thing. How can you expect anybody called Augustus Jetty to make his way in the world? But, as your poor uncle said when he heard of it, we've got to make the best of it. Your cousin won't listen to advice either from her father or me. After a great deal of trouble, your poor uncle has got a situation of a sort for the young man, and we're relying on you to give him what help you can. He's employed on commission, they call it—I don't understand business very well—to travel for the Hygienic and Scientific Apparatus Company. As well as I can make out, he's got to try and sell some kind of surgical instruments, and it'll depend largely on the kind of support he gets from the doctors whether he makes anything or not. We are sending him down to Ballintra to make a start, and we're all relying on you to do the best you possibly can for him. Annie encloses a note from herself, but I dare say there's nothing in it except foolishness.—Your affectionate aunt, {{Eliza'"|2em}}

Annie's letter was much longer than her mother's. She wrote with considerable enthusiasm about the personal charm, moral superiority, intellectual force, and general desirableness of Augustus Jetty, and ended her letter with a formal threat—

"And now, George, if you don't do your best for Augustus and sell a lot of his things to all your patients, I'll never speak to you again as long as I live, and you wouldn't like that. Father and mother are perfectly horrid, so we've nobody to help us except you.

Hard upon the letter Augustus himself arrived. His appearance was not attractive. He was undersized, pallid, very thin, and seemed to be rapidly growing bald. His eyes were narrow, and of a watery green colour. Dr. Whitty, who had a liking for his Cousin Annie, received him hospitably, and offered him a cigar.

"No, thank you," said Augustus, "I never smoke. The fact is, my heart is a little weak, and I fear the effects of tobacco, which, as you know, is a stimulant."

"I suppose, then, you wouldn't care for some whisky."

"No," said Augustus. "That's a stimulant, too; moreover, I have the strongest possible conscientious objection to the use of alcohol."

Dr. Whitty swallowed a mild oath, but, still recollecting Annie's pretty face, spoke politely to Augustus.

"Is there anything you would care for?"

"Thank you," said Augustus; "if you have such a thing as a banana in the house, I will take it gladly."

"I have not a banana, and, what's more, I don't believe there's one in the town of Ballintra; so, if that's the only form of food you consume, I'm afraid you're likely to go hungry till you leave this."

Augustus sighed heavily.

"What about your surgical instruments?" said the doctor. " Have you brought any specimens with you? I could do very well with a new hypodermic syringe. I broke the needle of my old one last week, and the thing was pretty near worn out anyway."

Augustus smiled in a feeble, vacuous way. He produced from his pocket a list, which he handed to Dr. Whitty.

"These are the articles our firm manufactures."

Dr. Whitty read the list through aloud.

"Portable Turkish Baths, 30s. 6d.; superior Quality, Oak, 49s. 6d.
"Home Exercisers, 17s. 6d.; with Patent Springs and Pearl Grips, 25s.
"Electric Belts, 12s. 6d.; Full Strength of Current, 15s.
"Electric Indiarubber Flesh Massage Brushes, 7s. 6d. each.
""Photographic Cameras, Quarter-plate, Guaranteed, £2 10s. to £4."

"Now, how the devil," asked Dr. Whitty, "do you expect to sell any of those things in a place like this? There isn't a man, woman, or child in the district would take a present of the whole lot of them, or know what to do with them if you laid them out on the mat outside their bedroom doors."

"Annie told me," said Augustus feebly, "you'd be sure to be able to help me by recommending them to your patients."

"Well, I'll tell you what I'll do for you. I'll buy a camera myself at £3. I don't want it in the least, and am simply taking it out of affection for my Cousin Annie."

Augustus Jetty seemed disappointed.

"Annie told me," he said, "that you'd be sure to give me a letter of recommendation to all your principal patients."

Dr. Whitty thought the matter over, and remembered the threat at the end of Annie's letter before replying.

"As a rule, I don't do this kind of thing; but in this particular case I've no objection to your sticking Thady Glynn with a portable Turkish bath, if you can. He's away from home to-day at a fair; so I'll give you a letter to Mrs. Glynn, telling her that a portable Turkish bath is the exact thing her husband really wants. If you have the nerve to rush her into buying one before Thady gets back, I'll take all the blame afterwards. I've had it in for Thady Glynn ever since the time he went for me about the band at the Sports, and I don't in the least mind helping you to swindle him out of thirty bob."

"What about the other things?" persisted Augustus. "Isn't there anybody who would buy a home exerciser? I'm in a position to offer you a commission of 10 per cent, on anything I sell through your recommendation."

"If you like to try the colonel with a home exerciser you can. I'll give you his address. He's a well-off man who wouldn't feel the 17s. 6d. The 10 per cent, which would come to something with a halfpenny in it, as well as I can make out, you can keep to buy furniture when you set up house with Annie. While you're at it, you may as well call on Father Henaghan and see if he'd take an electric belt. He might fancy it, and I don't suppose it can do him any harm. In any case, I'll call round to-morrow and warn him not to use it. The only other people who could possibly buy anything are the Jacksons, and I wouldn't like to stick them for more than a massage brush. They have a large family."

Augustus made a careful list of the names and addresses and went out, promising to be back in time for dinner.

To the doctor's great surprise he returned absolutely jubilant; he had sold all four articles, delivered them to their purchasers, and received cash payment. He offered to make out the amount of Dr. Whitty's percentage, but seemed pleased when the whole sum was made over to him as a wedding present. He sat down and watched the doctor eat his dinner. As there were no bananas or nuts, he himself ate nothing but two slices of very hard toast, which the housekeeper cooked under protest. Next morning he left Ballintra.

Dr. Whitty wrote a letter to his aunt.

"My dear Aunt Eliza,—I have seen Augustus, and feel extremely sorry for Annie! I have sold a specimen of each kind of hygienic and scientific apparatus to the principal inhabitants of this town, and am looking forward with anxiety to the kind of row there'll be to-morrow. Whatever happens, don't send Augustus here again, unless you want to get rid of him permanently. The people here are peaceful, and have a great regard for me; but they will probably shoot him at sight if he appears among them again. Give my love to Annie and tell her to try her young man with a steak and a bottle of porter. He wants fattening up, otherwise he seems all right, and ought to succeed in life, if persistence will help him. Send me a bit of wedding-cake when the affair culminates, and believe me your affectionate nephew,

"George Whitty"

There was, as the doctor anticipated, a row, or rather four separate rows, next day. The trouble began quite early with a visit from Mrs. Thady Glynn.

"Doctor," she said, "himself is mighty queer this morning, and I'd be thankful to you if you'd give me some kind of a bottle that would do him good."

"I'll come down and have a look at him at once."

"It'd be better for you not. His temper is that riz, he might be for taking a knife to you. It's all along of that portable Turkish bath you sent down to him yesterday."

"If he's fit to take the knife to me," said the doctor, "there can't be much the matter with him except temper."

"There is, then. It would make you cry, if so be it didn't make you laugh, to see the state it has him in. Nothing would do him this morning but to have a try at it. He sat in it for the best part of half an hour, and the perspiration was running down off his face before he was out. When he did get out, you'll hardly believe me, but it had him turned black from his chin to his feet, every inch of him barring his head, which didn't be in the inside of the bath at all."

"Nonsense," said Dr. Whitty, "it can't possibly have turned him black. Why should it? I expect the black was in him before he got in, and the thing hadn't time to do more than bring it to the surface. If he'd stayed where he was for another half-hour it would have all peeled off."

"He does say," continued Mrs. Glynn, "that you've had it in for him this long time, and that you said you'd turn him blue the way he angered you over the tune the band played the day of the Sports."

"Look here, what did you fill the lamp with?"

"The lamp, is it?"

"Yes. The lamp you put in under him."

"It did say on the paper," said Mrs. Glynn, "that it was methylated spirits had a right to be put in, but we'd run out of them on account of the way Lizzie does be taking them out of the shop for curling her hair, and I thought a drop of paraffin oil would do as well."

"That's it," said the doctor. "It's lamp-black that's the matter with the man. Go home and tell him to take an ordinary bath with a jampot full of soft soap beside him. That'll make him all right at the end of ten minutes."

"It's what I told him myself. But where was the use of my talking? He said he'd be in dread of any kind of a bath after what that one did to him. He said with the way you were treating him it would be hard to say what colour he'd come out next time, and he'd rather be black itself than either red or blue."

"All right," said the doctor, "if he won't take a bath he'll have to go about the way he is for a day or two. It'll rub off on his clothes by degrees. But, if I were you, I wouldn't give him clean sheets to sleep in till he's got rid of the worst of it."

"He did say that——"

"Hurry up, Mrs. Glynn; I see Father Henaghan's housekeeper and another woman waiting in the hall to speak to me."

"He did say that if you'd take it off him——"

"Well, I won't. I've more to do than spend my time scrubbing your husband with a nail-brush."

"It was the curse he meant," said Mrs. Glynn.

"Curse? I'll put a curse on you that you won't forget as long as you live, unless you get out of this pretty quick. I can't spend the day listening to your foolishness. I'm afraid of my life this minute of what Father Henaghan's housekeeper may have come to tell me, and I'm nearly sure the other woman is the Jacksons' servant."

Father Henaghan, it appeared, was in serious difficulties, if not in actual pain. The whole surface of that part of his body covered by the electric belt had come out in small white blisters. He could neither lie down, nor stand up to put on his clothes, on account of the pain given by the blisters when anything touched them. He wanted the doctor to go down to him. Dr. Whitty started at once, only waiting long enough to hear that Mrs. Jackson's youngest boy had developed an extraordinary series of red blotches on his back, and that the rector's left leg had been afflicted in a similar way. They had both, he was told, used the electric indiarubber flesh massage brush he had recommended. It took him some time to soothe the physical sufferings and the mental irritation of the clergy.

When he got home he found another letter, marked this time in red ink: "Immediate. In Great Haste."

"It's Aunt Eliza again," he muttered. "I hope to goodness the second girl hasn't got engaged to be married to another commercial traveller. If she has, she may starve before I sell any of his infernal appliances for him."

The news Aunt Eliza's letter contained was of quite a different kind.

"Your Cousin Annie has changed her mind about Augustus Jetty, and I hope this will reach you in time to prevent your selling any of his appliances for him. She has found out he is a vegetarian, and has all sorts of queer notions about his own health. A girl he was engaged to before he met Annie has told her about him. Now, whether it's the thought of the things he eats or the feeling that he used to be after the other girl, I don't know; anyway, she says she'd be glad to get out of her engagement. The worst of it is that the other girl tells us he's a very hard young man to get rid of, and that, now he has Annie promised to him, it's likely he'll stick to her. Annie says that, if he does, she'll marry him if it breaks her heart, rather than go back on her word, for she thinks he's really fond of her, though that's nonsense, of course. You may be able to help us. If he can't sell any of the appliances he may be willing to give up Annie. That's the only hope I see of getting out of the engagement; so, whatever happens, don't let him sell anything in Ballintra."

Dr. Whitty was still considering what answer he ought to give to this letter when Colonel Beresford appeared.

"I'd be very much obliged to you, doctor, if you could find it convenient to come up to my house and take away that home exerciser I bought from your friend yesterday."

"Surely to goodness," said the doctor, "you weren't such a fool as to go using a thing of the sort?"

"Of course I didn't use it. Is it likely, at my time of life, I'd go tangling myself up with a lot of pulleys and cords? No! What I did was to have it fixed up in the servants' hall. Then I told Jacobs, my man, that he and the cook could take it in turns to work the thing when they'd nothing particular to do. Jacobs has been looking flabby for a long time, and the cook is getting unwieldy with fat. I thought the home exerciser would do them both good."

"So it ought," said the doctor. "I should say myself it'd be the very thing for Jacobs."

"Well, it didn't seem to suit him. I gave him the papers of 'Directions for Use,' and told him to try it very gently at the first go-off, until he felt he'd got the hang of it properly. I don't know what the fool did, but, anyhow, there's been an accident: Jacobs has a black eye and won't be fit to appear in the dining-room for the next week. The cook's given notice."

"I don't see what can possibly have gone wrong," said the doctor, "unless you bought the twenty-five shilling sort, with the patent springs. You can't trust a patent spring."

"It was that one I did buy," said the colonel. "I thought, from the way you wrote, the man was a friend of yours, and I'd do the best I could for him."

"I suppose," said the doctor, "the patent spring exploded in some way."

"What the cook says is that, all of a sudden, there was a kind of noise: 'the like of what one of them motor-cars would make when it was starting, and a clucking hen along with that,' and that then 'the two handles of the thing came woffling off' and struck poor Jacobs in the eye, I suppose."

"And what do you want me to do? If Jacobs puts a lump of raw meat to his eye it's the only thing that can be done for it."

"I want you to come up and unscrew the thing off the wall and take it away. I'll get no peace till it's out of the house."

"Can't Jacobs do that?"

"Jacobs won't. He says he wouldn't touch it again for fifty pounds. And the cook won't, and she won't let the groom into the kitchen for fear he'd lose his life over it. She seems to have a strong personal regard for the groom. I asked the under-housemaid, who is the only sensible person left about the place, if she'd have a go at it. I lent her a screw-driver, and I believe the poor girl tried, but——"

"The cook didn't mind about her losing her life, I suppose?"

"She didn't seem to. But, anyhow, the girl failed to get it unscrewed."

"I expect she tried to twist the screws the wrong way," said the doctor. "I never met a woman in my life that could remember which way a screw turns."

"I dare say. At all events, there's nothing for it now but for you to come."

"Couldn't you do it yourself?"

"No. I daren't venture downstairs on account of the temper the cook's in. In fact, my plan was to wait here until you came back and brought the exerciser with you."

"Well, I can't go yet," said the doctor. "I'm frightfully busy at present. Father Henaghan's stomach is covered all over with white blisters, and the rector's leg has a red blotch upon it the size of a porter bottle, and to-morrow's Sunday. If I don't get those two reverend gentlemen straightened out in the course of the afternoon there won't be a religious service of any sort in the town to-morrow; and, on top of that, Thady Glynn has come out black from head to foot, and can't be induced to take a bath.

"If you're going to wash Thady Glynn," said the colonel, "until he's clean, I'm hardly likely to see you up at Ballintra House before Monday, and the dear knows what state the servants will be in by that time."

"Well,"said the doctor, "rather than see you absolutely stuck I'll go with you. But you'll have to wait a minute till I write a telegram."

It was to his Aunt Eliza that Dr. Whitty sent his message:

"Strongly recommend Annie to insure the life of Augustus Jetty, marry him, and then insist on his using all his own hygienic and scientific appliances. She'll be a widow in a week."