Crabbe's Practice is a short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Christmas edition of The Boy's Own Paper in december 1884. Then the story was entirely rewritten by Conan Doyle, extended from 4000 to 4800 words and published by John Murray in the collected volume Tales of Adventure and Medical Life on 27 july 1922.
Remarks about the differences between the two versions of the text by our contributor Dr. Philip Hormbrey:
- The 1884 version has a distinct religious flavour. This was deliberate, aimed at the Christmas market (though as a resurrection story perhaps Easter would have been more appropriate) in a Christian journal. Examples in the text include "Apostles wharf", "a dozen prominent citizens of the town", "my sudden resurrection". This was dropped from the later version.
- The 1922 story whilst having the same basic sort of trying to recruit patients to a failing medical practice, has a totally different sub-story. Rather than religion, instead Arthur Conan Doyle makes fun of the bluff and bluster of the medical profession. Whilst there is some of this in the original tale it is emphasised in the 1922 version with repeated references in the text to the fallibility, gullibility and deceptions of medics. Examples include: "Sabin oil and Spanish fly", "Discopherous Bone", "Rokilansky", and the early description of which students go on to do well. The sub-text of the different versions of the story seems appropriate for the times when each was written.
- Most importantly but probably not noticeable to many is the change in content and order of "resuscitation". In the first story a last step of sticking a needle in the heart is proposed which is dropped later. Most of the resuscitation in the later story takes place in the hotel when before it was on the street. Arthur Conan Doyle made this sequence change for reasons of improving the story but oddly he ended up with a more medically explainable chain of events in light of todays knowledge.
- The later story is better constructed with a stronger opening paragraph noting Crabbe's genius and a better epistolatory ending. Humour is more evident throughout the tale which flows better and in which dull elements (e.g. description of Crabbe's house) are reduced.
- Names and places are changed between the two versions. "Bob Hudson" becomes "Jack Barton", "Maxwell" becomes "Markham", "McCluskey" becomes "McLagan" and "Bridport" becomes "Brisport". Presumably Arthur Conan Doyle made the changes because of conflicts with real names/people/places or to avoid confusion when he had used similar names elsewhere.
- in The Boy's Own Paper (Christmas 1884 [UK]) (1 decorative illustration)
- in Tales of Adventure and Medical Life (27 july 1922, John Murray's Fiction Library [UK])
- in The Man from Archangel and Other Tales of Adventure (autumn 1925, George H. Doran Co. [US])
- in The Crowborough Edition of the Works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle vol. 21 (1930, Doubleday, Doran & Co. [US])
- 1967 : Crabbe's Practice (BBC TV)
Plot summary (spoiler)
Young doctor Thomas Waterhouse Crabbe just settles his medical practice in the small town of Bridport (1922 Brisport), England. Unfortunately for him, there are already too many doctors in town, and no patient come to see him. He shares his confusion with his friend, Bob Hudson (1922 Jack Barton), who wants to help him find a solution. Hudson thinks he could organize a great event which could draw the attention on his medical skills. They both think about a story. Hudson would pretend to drown, and Crabbe would reanimate him in front of the crowd. The day after, their plan goes as expected. Hudson falls into the water and feigns to be in a coma. He is carried to a nearby hotel, and many people gather in front of the window to see what happens next. Crabbe decides to use a new method to increase the impact on his reputation. He asks for an electric battery to "reanimate" the victim... Hudson receives an electric shock and bolts up insulting his friend. Their plot worked well, though, Crabbe's practice was full of patients the next days.
Crabbe's Practice (version 1884)
John Waterhouse Crabbe was a man of ready resource and great originality of mind. When I first met him he was a medical student at Edinburgh University, and had distinguished himself in the classes. The circumstances of this first meeting were so characteristic that I shall preface my story by narrating them.
It occurred somewhere in the early part of the year 1877, when the Bulgarian atrocities were engaging the public attention, and indignation meetings were being held throughout the country. One of these was arranged to come off in the music-hall at Edinburgh, and as Scotch feeling ran very high upon the subject, the great building was densely crammed by an enormous crowd. Curiosity had led me to be present, but I had taken the precaution to come late so as to obtain a place in the doorway and be able to beat a retreat whenever I wished.
From this coign of vantage I could hear the speeches of the successive orators, and could look with pity upon the crowded thousands; densely packed in the main body of the building. The meeting had been an enthusiastic one. Every point which told against the Government of the day had been applauded to the echo, and not one dissentient murmur had been heard until the most important part of the proceedings had been reached, when the chairman had to submit the first resolution to his audience. Then in the midst of the hush with which every one listened to his words a stentorian voice in the centre of the hall suddenly roared out.
"What did Gladstone do in the year '66?"
From every part of the great meeting there came angry cries of "Silence! Order! Turn him out!" but in spite of these hostile demonstrations the inquisitive gentleman was still heard to be loudly demanding an answer to his question. At last matters reached a climax. There was an eddy in the great crowd, a confused struggle, and then a current which set in towards the door, on which the noisy politician was borne violently forward and ejected from the room, still bellowing his thirst for knowledge as to the movements of the great Liberal stateman in the year named.
Some little time afterwards, becoming tired of the proceedings, I left for home. When I descended into the street the very first thing I saw was the gentleman whom I had seen borne past me, standing with his back against a lamp post, puffing away very contentedly at a cigar.
"Excuse the liberty I take," I said, going up to him, "but would you mind telling me what it was that Gladstone did do in the year '66?"
He looked at me for a moment with a most comical expression on his face, and then putting his arm through mine turned down the street with me.
"You're a medical, like myself," he remarked; "I know you by sight. To tell you the truth I have not the least idea what Gladstone did, nor do I care. I wanted to get out into the fresh air, and as it seemed impossible to do it by fair means, I bad to get them to put me out which they very promptly did."
We walked home together and that evening began a friendship which lasted for several years. Crabbe, however, shortly afterwards took his degree, and having married a dear little wife started a practice in a large English watering-place, which we shall call Bridport. He sank out of my sight for some time, though I had every reason to believe that he was doing well.
One day, nearly two years after I had heard from him last, I received a telegram in which he begged me to run clown to Bridport, as he wished to consult me on a matter of importance. I was very busy myself at the time, but I determined to make an effort and get a couple of days clear. When I arrived there I was met at the station by Crabbe himself, his hat upon the back of his head, his frock coat flying in the wind, and in every way the same eccentric, careless fellow that he had been in his student days. He shook me heartily by the hand, and seemed as glad to see me as I was to see him.
"My wife will be delighted that you have come," he said — or rather roared, for his voice was a most powerful one. "We have a great deal to talk to you about. Come along up to my house."
The house in question proved to be a large substantial building in a fashionable neighbourhood. I was surprised at such magnificence, knowing as I did that Crabbe's means were limited, and still more astonished was I when I saw the sumptuous hall and splendid consulting-room which he had had fitted up for his patients.
"You have a delightful place," I remarked to his wife after supper.
"Yes," she replied, somewhat dubiously, as it seemed to me.
"There's only one thing we want," Crabbe said.
"What is that? I asked, imagining that he meant a conservatory or some other additional piece of luxury.
"A patient," he remarked, solemnly. "Oh, don't suppose I'm joking. I'm thoroughly in earnest, I assure you. Not a patient has crossed the threshold for more weeks than I can count."
"But the furniture — the consulting-room?" I stammered.
"Yes, there they are," Crabbe said, with a somewhat bitter laugh. "They look very nice, and we have spent our capital on them, but as a speculation they are a decided failure. My earnings in two years would not pay for the carpet in the front room, and now our money is coming to an end. That is what we want your advice about, for we both respect your opinion."
"A very pretty problem too," I thought to myself, disconsolately.
"You see, Hudson," Crabbe remarked, "the fact is that my father used eight or nine years ago to do a great practice in this town. It seemed to me that I had only to come down here and set up in the same style in which he used to live, and I should have all his old patients rallying round me. I accordingly came down and set up, but there has been no appreciable rally as yet. I can go out for a walk without any very great dread of missing anything important by my absence."
"Perhaps they may come yet," I hazarded.
"When they do they'll find me gone," Crabbe replied. "You can't go on living for ever on a small capital while nothing is coming in. It does rile me," he continued, giving the fire a lunge, "to see the people flocking into Maxwell's across the road there. He was ploughed twice for his final, to my certain knowledge, and was reckoned the stupidest man of his year, and yet he does all the practice about here. Why, only yesterday I saw my milkman strain his ankle when coming down my garden steps, and you'll hardly believe me when I tell you that he actually limped across the road in order to consult Maxwell as to his injuries."
"That was very hard," I said.
"Oh, we have got pretty well used to hard things," Crabbe remarked. "The only really good patient that I have had went away without paying his bill, and I have never heard of him since. However, the question is, Hudson, what should our next move be ? I want your unbiased opinion on the matter."
"Leave it open until to-morrow," I said, "so as to give me time. In the meanwhile, let us drop the subject altogether." So we began talking about old times and college reminiscences until the fire was low and the night far advanced.
On the next clay Crabbe and I sat in the bow-window of his drawing-room watching the people passing, and discussing the question which we had left the night before.
"Do you think?" I asked him, "that there is any chance of your succeeding here?"
"I am bound to succeed," he said, "if I could only hold on until people become aware of my existence, and realise that I am my father's son."
"But surely they can read your plate!" I said.
"Not they," he answered. "Look at all these people passing. How many of them glance at it; and of those that do, how many give the matter a second thought, or connect me with the Doctor Crabbe of ten years ago? If I had some means of letting them know how matters stand I would soon have a practice. Unfortunately we are not allowed to advertise, and I see no other way of letting them know."
"Why don't you have an accident in front of your door?" I said, laughingly, the joke provoked by Crabbe's preternaturally solemn face. "That would get into the papers, and draw attention to you."
"My dear fellow," Crabbe remonstrated, "do be practical. There are a good many philanthropists in the world, but no one quite so kind as to break his limbs to order in front of my house to get me a practice."
"Wait a bit," I said, warming up to the subject. " Supposing that the street was crowded, just in the busiest part of the day—"
"Quite so," said Crabbe, impatiently.
"And suppose just at that time a fashionably-dressed young man was to fall down before your gate. And suppose the said young man to be carried in here, and you to treat him with such skill that he walked out again as well as ever in a few minutes, and suppose all this to get into the papers, don't you think it would attract the attention of the citizens of Bridport to the fact of your existence?"
"It would be the making of me," Crabbe said emphatically.
"Then I'm the fashionably dressed young man!" I cried, entering into the spirit of the thing. "So mind that you are on the alert, and don't let them carry me over to Maxwell's."
"But, my dear fellow," said Crabbe, "I had no idea you were an epileptic."
"Neither I am," I answered; "but I intend to become one."
"It's awfully good of you!" Crabbe exclaimed, taking the matter gravely. "Do you mean to say that you will really have an attack?"
"Fifty if you like," I answered, cheerfully. "By the way, would you like an epileptic or an apoplectic one, or would you prefer something more ornate — a sudden attack of multiple sclerosis or locomotor ataxia? You may command me in anything."
"You've hit on an excellent idea," my friend said, thoughtfully; "but don't you think it might be improved upon We can only do it once, for it wouldn't do to have the same young man continually turning up and having fits in front of my gate. Don't you think an accident might be more effective?"
"Quite so," I answered. "But I draw the line at falling out of windows or being run over by waggons in your service."
"Have you seen those two letters lately in the medical papers," Crabbe asked, "in which a man claims to have caused the heart to beat after it had stopped by running a fine needle into it, and so stimulating it?"
"Well, there you are!" cried Crabbe, triumphantly." If I ran a needle into you, and so restored life, that would be something worth talking about."
"Something worth shouting about, from my point of view!" I remarked.
"Can you swim?"
"Like a duck!" I answered.
"Then we'll do it!" Crabbe said, resolutely. "Come along out for a walk, and I'll explain as we go;" and, taking our hats, we set off in the direction of the docks.
As we went Crabbe explained to me his idea. It was that I should take a wherry next morning, and while rowing in the harbour should manage to fall overboard. I was to remain under water as long as possible, and when I was eventually fished in by the boatman I was to give no sign. Crabbe was to be on the bank, as though by accident, and was immediately to apply every known restorative, but without avail. A survey of the spot showed that we could rely upon unlimited stimulants, and also that a convenient chemist in the vicinity kept a galvanic battery, with which Crabbe might endeavour to bring some spark of life into me. Eventually, when all other means had failed, he was to pretend to plunge a needle in between my ribs, on which I was at once to sit up and begin conversing as though quite recovered. This was the plan which Crabbe sketched out, and to which I, in the innate fun of a nature bubbling over with thoughtless mischief, though really meaning no wrong, immediately gave my cordial assent.
We went over the scene of operations together and arranged every preliminary of what I then thought a capital joke.
"Remember," said Crabbe," as I left him that night, "it is my last chance in Bridport. If we fail, there is nothing for it but bankruptcy."
"All right," I answered, cheerfully. "Be steady with that needle."
"No fear? Ten o'clock to-morrow."
"Ten o'clock," I repeated, and with a hearty shake of the hands I parted from him and sought a bed at the hotel.
We had agreed that this was the best course, in order that there might be no suspicion of collusion between us.
On the eventful morning I was up betimes, and, having taken a couple of strong cups of coffee to fortify me against the troubles in store, I set off for the docks. It was market day, and the town was particularly full of people, more especially near the scene of our operations. As I came along the Apostles' Wharf, and so to the lower dock, I saw a man attired in a dark coat and professional hat standing listlessly upon the swinging bridge and looking down upon the water beneath. It was Crabbe, but I gave him no sign of recognition. Close to the bridge were some steps, where the wherrymen plied their trade. There was a chorus of shouts of "A boat this morning, your honour ?" as I approached them.
"That seems a smart craft of yours," I remarked to one of them.
"She is that, sir. Won't your honour come out in her and have a row round the shipping ?"
"I don't mind if I do have a short spin," I said, and stepping into her we shot out into the harbour. The stagnant brown water looked particularly uninviting, but it was too late to retreat.
"Turn round," I said, "and row up under the bridge."
We were just under the spot where Crabbe was standing, and about fifty yards from the shore, when I rose in the boat and said,
"Here, change places with me and let me manage the sculls."
"All right, sir," said the boatman, and then "Hullo! Look out, sir, look out, you'll be over as sure as fate!"
His warning came too late, however, for in changing places I had tripped over a, thwart, given a stagger, and fallen headlong into the water.
I have seldom felt a more unpleasant sensation than when the thick turbid stream closed over my head. I was an excellent swimmer, however, and knew that even with my clothes on I was as safe in the water as upon dry land. I kept down accordingly as long as I could. When I rose to the surface I heard the boatman shouting frantically for assistance, and he made a plunge at me with his boathook, which I managed to avoid by sinking again.
Three times I rose and three times I went down, and when at last I suffered myself to be hauled aboard the boat and so conveyed to terra firma, I flatter myself that I looked blue enough and cold enough to make a most creditable "subject."
A sympathising crowd gathered round me in a moment as I was laid motionless and dripping upon the hard round stones of the quay.
"Run for a doctor," roared one.
"He's dead, poor fellow!" cried another.
"Run for Mr. McCluskey the chemist." "Get some brandy!" "Turn him upside down!" "Shake him!" "Roll him!" "Put him on a mustard plaster!"
These and a few other remedies were suggested, and no doubt would have been put into practice had it not been for the arrival of my accomplice.
"Excuse me, my good people," I heard him say, as he approached, "I am a medical man? Can my services be of any avail?"
"Clear the way for the doctor," shouted a chorus of gruff voices. "Dear me! Dear me!" ejaculated Crabbe. "This is very sad. Stand back, my friends, and give him air. All that medicine can do shall be done. Poor young man!"
"Please, doctor," remarked an inquisitive bystander, who had thrust his hand inside my shirt, "His heart is a-beating like anything."
"The last convulsive flutter, perhaps," Crabbe said, solemnly, pushing the man aside; "but we are bound not to throw away a chance. Get some brandy. Inspector," to a policeman who had appeared on the scene, "I am Dr. Crabbe, the son of Dr. Crabbe who used to practise in Melville Terrace."
"It's the son of old Dr. Crabbe," chorused the crowd. "Run for the brandy. He'll pull him through."
The brandy was duly brought and held to my lips, with the effect of a perceptible diminution in the contents of the glass, for I was beginning to feel cold, and to repent of our wild, thoughtless escapade.
"He's a-drinkin' it!" exclaimed the meddlesome individual who had previously spoken.
"That's no sign he's alive," Crabbe answered, with the greatest serenity. "It may be a post-mortem phenomenon, depending upon contraction of the oesophageal muscles."
I was so much amused by this bare-faced statement that I could not prevent an internal gurgle of merriment from escaping from me.
"There's the death rattle!" some one exclaimed, and then Crabbe, seizing me, began hauling my arms furiously about.
"Marshall Hall's method of artificial respiration," he panted for the benefit of the crowd. Then, as that had no effect, he proceeded to roll me backwards and forwards upon the stones, after the fashion recommended by Sylvestre. To this day I have an uneasy feeling about the spine when I think of it."
"It is all in vain!" Crabbe exclaimed after he had bumped and bruised me for ten minutes without eliciting the slightest sign of animation, "but the resources of science are not yet exhausted. Who has got a galvanic battery?"
"You'll get one up at Mr. McCluskey's the chemist," some one answered.
"Run for it, then. In the meantime, let us carry this unfortunate young man up to the inn, where we can lay him upon a bed."
I was hoisted upon a shutter, and carried up to the Mariner's Arms, escorted, as it seemed to me, by an appreciable percentage of the population of Bridport. As far as I could see. through my half-closed lids the great crowd extended, all craning their necks to get a glimpse at me. Crabbe followed the shutter with a most funereal expression upon his face, shaking his head dolorously. Behind him came about a dozen prominent citizens of the town, all deeply interested in the proceedings.
I was carried up the stairs of the Mariner's Arms and laid upon a bed, where I was muffled up in thick blankets. The twelve prominent citizens stationed themselves in the room and upon the stairs, while the general public filled the passage and extended right down to the water's edge.
"We have now tried the effect of artificial respiration," said my friend, as though he were lecturing to a class; "we have also used stimulants and friction. We shall next endeavour to stimulate the heart's action by the use of electricity. If that fails we have still one resource left which we can fall back upon."
There were murmurs of applause from the audience at this display of erudition upon the part of the doctor, and a hush of suspense ensued as a shining mahogany case was handed upstairs, which contained the galvanic battery.
"Oh, look!" said the landlady of the Mariner's Arms, who had been most assiduous in piling blankets upon me. "Hain't he got a colour ! Wouldn't you say there weren't nothing the matter with him!"
"Yes, such cases may be deceptive," Crabbe answered demurely. "Now, gentlemen," he continued, addressing the prominent citizens who blocked up the door of the room, "I am about to apply the negative pole of this battery over this young man's phrenhic nerve, while l place the other in the region of his heart. This treatment is sometimes attended with surprising results."
It certainly was upon that occasion. Whether Crabbe did it accidentally, or whether a mischievous impulse suddenly overcame him, I have never been able to determine, but certain it is that next moment he sent a tremendous electric shock crashing and jarring through my system. The effect upon me was extraordinary. I shot out of bed, my hair bristling with indignation and electricity.
"You stupid ass!" I roared, seizing Crabbe by the throat. "Isn't it enough to bang me and thump me on the stones, without turning me into a lightning-conductor! Take this thing away!" with which I kicked viciously at the I mahogany box.
It chanced, however, that some well-meaning individual had removed my boots while I lay upon the bed, so that my kick, though it had no perceptible effect upon the box, hat a very considerable one upon me. Consequently I danced furiously round the room, holding my injured toe in my hand, and roaring lustily, forgetful of all my former injuries. I was thus punished smartly after all for my share in the adventure.
My sudden resurrection had a wonderful effect upon the crowd. The landlady fainted, two of the prominent citizens lost their equilibrium, and, rolling clown upon the others, the whole twelve, like a pack of cards, went clattering down the stairs. The housemaid, who had been dandling the baby out of the window and conversing with a friend below, was so startled that she nearly dropped the infant upon the head of her acquaintance. In the meanwhile; the crowd outside, having a vague idea that something wonderful had happened, and that I was coming round, set up at enthusiastic whooping and cheering.
Crabbe was quite equal to the occasion. "Don't be a fool, Bob!" he whispered in my ear as he supported me back to the bed. "This is a most gratifying result," he continued, addressing his considerably diminished audience—" an extraordinary case! Our young friend will recover, but" — here he tapped his forehead ominously — "these wild words and actions of his show temporary mischief here. I shall accompany him to his hotel and see that he is cared for. Remember, gentlemen, in case there should be any inquiries about this matter, that my name is Crabbe, the son of the late Dr. Crabbe, of Melville Terrace."
A cab was quickly obtained, and Crabbe and I drove off together, amid tremendous cheering from the crowd.
I left early by the next morning's train, but received a letter in a few days from Crabbe, in which he save me the news. "You will be surprised to hear," he said, "that I have seen more patients during the last week than during the preceding two years! There is no chance of any one not knowing of my existence now. I enclose cuttings from the 'Bridport Gazette' and the 'Bridport Evening News,' together with a leader on the 'Extraordinary Rescue' in the 'Dumpshire Chronicle.' The practice promises to be a great success."
It has really become so, and Crabbe, it is only fair to say, richly deserves it as a clever as well as hardworking practitioner. He always stood high in the classes at college, and he now occupies an equally enviable place in the esteem of his fellow-townsmen. If he has any regret, it is because that what now in his calmer moments he feels to have been an unjustifiable ruse should have had anything to do with first making his merits known to a public with whom "fashion" was allowed to overshadow merit.
Crabbe's Practice (version 1922)
I wonder how many men remember Tom Waterhouse Crabbe, student of medicine in this city. He was a man whom it was not easy to forget if you had once come across him. Geniuses are more commonly read about than seen, but one could not speak five minutes with Crabbe without recognising that he had inherited some touch of that subtle, indefinable essence. There was a bold originality in his thought, and a convincing earnestness in his mode of expressing it, which pointed to something higher than mere cleverness. He studied spasmodically and irregularly, yet he was one of the first men — certainly the most independent thinker — of his year. Poor Crabbe — there was something delightfully original even in his mistakes. I can remember how he laboriously explained to his examiner that the Spanish fly grew in Spain. And how he gave five drops of Sabin oil credit for producing that state which it is usually believed to rectify.
Crabbe was not at all the type of man whom we usually associate with the word "genius." He was not pale nor thin, neither was his hair of abnormal growth. On the contrary he was a powerfully built, square-shouldered fellow, full of vitality, with a voice like a bull and a laugh that could be heard across the Meadows. A muscular Christian too, and one of the best Rugby forwards in Edinburgh.
I remember my first meeting with Crabbe. It gave me a respect both for his cool reasoning powers and for his courage. It was at one of the Bulgarian Atrocity meetings held in Edinburgh in '78. The hall was densely packed and the ventilation defective, so that I was not sorry to find that owing to my lateness I was unable to get any place, and had to stand in the doorway. Leaning against the wall there I could both enjoy the cool air and hear the invectives which speaker after speaker was hurling at the Conservative ministry. The audience seemed enthusiastically unanimous. A burst of cheering hailed every argument and sarcasm. There was not one dissentient voice. The speaker paused to moisten his lips, and there was a silence over the hall. Then a clear voice rose from the middle of it: "All very fine, but what did Gladstone?" There was a howl of execration and yells of "Turn him out!" But the voice was still audible. "What did Gladstone do in '63?" it demanded. "Turn him out. Show him out of the window! Put him out!" There was a perfect hurricane of threats and abuse. Men sprang upon the benches shaking their sticks and peering over each other's shoulders to get a glimpse of the daring Conservative. "What did Gladstone do in '63?" roared the voice; "I insist upon being answered." There was another howl of execration, a great swaying of the crowd, and an eddy in the middle of it. Then the mass of people parted and a man was borne out kicking and striking, and after a desperate resistance was precipitated down the stairs.
As the meeting became somewhat monotonous after this little divertisement, I went down into the street to cool myself. There was my inquisitive friend leaning up against a lamp-post with his coat torn to shreds and a pipe in his mouth. Recognising him by his cut as being a medical student, I took advantage of the freemasonry which exists between members of that profession.
"Excuse me," I said, "you are a medical, aren't you?"
"Yes," he, said; "Thomas Crabbe, a 'Varsity man."
"My name is Barton," I said. "Pardon my curiosity, but would you mind telling me what Gladstone did do in '63?"
"My dear chap," said Crabbe, taking my arm and marching up the street with me, "I haven't the remotest idea in the world. You see, I was confoundedly hot and I wanted a smoke, and there seemed no chance of getting out, for I was jammed up right in the middle of the hall, so I thought I'd just make them carry me out and I did — not a bad idea, was it? If you have nothing better to do, come up to my digs and have some supper."
"Certainly," said I; and that was the foundation of my friendship with Thomas Crabbe.
Crabbe took his degree a year before I did, and went down to a large port in England with the intention of setting up there. A brilliant career seemed to lie before him, for besides his deep knowledge of medicine, acquired in the most practical school in the world, he had that indescribable manner which gains a patient's confidence at once. It is curious how seldom the two are united. That charming doctor, my dear madam, who pulled young Charley through the measles so nicely, and had such a pleasant manner and such a clever face, was a noted duffer at college and the laughing-stock of his year. While poor little Doctor Grinder whom you snubbed so, and who seemed so nervous and didn't know where to put his hands, he won a gold medal for original research and was as good a man as his professors. After all, it is generally the outside case, not the inside works, which is noticed in this world.
Crabbe went down with his young degree, and a still younger wife, to settle in this town, which we will call Brisport. I was acting as assistant to a medical man in Manchester, and heard little from my former friend, save that he had set up in considerable style, and was making a bid for a high-class practice at once. I read one most deep and erudite paper in a medical journal, entitled "Curious Development of a Discopherous Bone in the Stomach of a Duck," which emanated from his pen, but beyond this and some remarks on the embryology of fishes he seemed strangely quiet.
One day to my surprise I received a telegram from Mrs. Crabbe begging me to run down to Brisport and see her husband, as he was far from well. Having obtained leave of absence from my principal, I started by the next train, seriously anxious about my friend. Mrs. Crabbe met me at the station. She told me Tom was getting very much broken down by continued anxiety; the expenses of keeping up his establishment were heavy, and patients were few and far between. He wished my advice and knowledge of practical work to guide him in this crisis.
I certainly found Crabbe altered very much for the worse. He looked gaunt and cadaverous, and much of his old reckless joyousness had left him, though he brightened up wonderfully on seeing an old friend.
After dinner the three of us held a solemn council of war, in which he laid before me all his difficulties. "What in the world am I to do, Barton?" he said. "If I could make myself known it would be all right, but no one seems to look at my door-plate, and the place is overstocked with doctors. I believe they think I am a D.D. I wouldn't mind if these other fellows were good men, but they are not. They are all antiquated old fogies at least half a century behind the day. Now there is old Markham, who lives in that brick house over there and does most of the practice in the town. I'll swear he doesn't know the difference between locomotor ataxia and a hypodermic syringe, but he is known, so they flock into his surgery in a manner which is simply repulsive. And Davidson down the road, he is only an L.S.A. Talked about epispastic paralysis at the Society the other night — confused it with liquor epispasticus, you know. Yet that fellow makes a pound to my shilling."
"Get your name known and write," said I.
"But what on earth am I to write about?" asked Crabbe. "If a man has no cases, how in the world is he to describe them? Help yourself and pass the bottle."
"Couldn't you invent a case just to raise the wind?"
"Not a bad idea," said Crabbe thoughtfully. "By the way, did you see my 'Discopherous Bone in a Duck's Stomach?"
"Yes, it seemed rather good."
"Good, I believe you! Why, man, it was a domino which the old duck had managed to gorge itself with. It was a perfect godsend. Then I wrote about embryology of fishes because I knew nothing about it and reasoned that ninety-nine men in a hundred would be in the same boat. But as to inventing whole cases, it seems rather daring, does it not?"
"A desperate disease needs desperate remedies," said I. "You remember old Hobson at college. He writes once a year to the British Medical and asks if any correspondent can tell him how much it costs to keep a horse in the country. And then he signs himself in the Medical Register as 'The contributor of several unostentatious queries and remarks to scientific papers!'"
It was quite a treat to hear Crabbe laugh with his old student guffaw. "Well, old man," he said, "we'll talk it over to-morrow. We mustn't be selfish and forget that you are a visitor here. Come along out, and see the beauties (save the mark!) of Brisport." So saying he donned a funereal coat, a pair of spectacles, and a hat with a desponding brim, and we spent the remainder of the evening roaming about and discussing mind and matter.
We had another council of war next day. It was a Sunday, and as we sat in the window, smoking our pipes and watching the crowded street, we brooded over many plans for gaining notoriety.
"I've done Bob Sawyer's dodge," said Tom despondingly. "I never go to church without rushing out in the middle of the sermon, but no one knows who I am, so it is no good. I had a nice slide in front of the door last winter for three weeks, and used to give it a polish up after dusk every night. But there was only one man ever fell on it, and he actually limped right across the road to Markham's surgery. Wasn't that hard lines?"
"Very hard indeed," said I.
"Something might be done with orange peel," continued Tom, "but it looks so awfully bad to have the whole pavement yellow with peel in front of a doctor's house."
"It certainly does," I agreed.
"There was one fellow came in with a cut head one night," said Tom, "and I sewed him up, but he had forgotten his purse. He came back in a week to have the stitches taken out, but without the money. That man is going about to this day, Jack, with half a yard of my catgut in him — and in him it'll stay until I see the coin."
"Couldn't we get up some incident," said I, "which would bring your name really prominently before the public?"
"My dear fellow, that's exactly what I want. If I could get my name into the Brisport Chronicle it would be worth five hundred a year to me. There's a family connection, you know, and people only want to realise that I am here. But how am I to do it unless by brawling in the street or by increasing my family? Now, there was the excitement about the discopherous bone. If Huxley or some of these fellows had taken the matter up it might have been the making of me. But they took it all in with a disgusting complacency as if it was the most usual thing in the world and dominoes were the normal food of ducks. I'll tell you what I'll do," he continued, moodily eyeing his fowls. "I'll puncture the floors of their fourth ventricles and present them to Markham. You know that makes them ravenous, and they'd eat him out of house and home in time. Eh, Jack?"
"Look here, Thomas," said I, "you want your name in the papers — is that it?"
"That's about the state of the case."
"Well, by Jove, you shall have it."
"Eh? Why? How?"
"There's a pretty considerable crowd of people outside, isn't there, Tom?" I continued. "They are coming out of church, aren't they? If there was an accident now it would make some noise."
"I say, you're not going to let rip among them with a shot gun, are you, in order to found a practice for me?"
"No, not exactly. But how would this read in to-morrow's Chronicle? — 'Painful occurrence in George Street. — As the congregation were leaving George Street Cathedral after the morning service, they were horrified to see a handsome, fashionably dressed gentleman stagger and fall senseless upon the pavement. He was taken up and carried writhing in terrible convulsions into the surgery of the well-known practitioner, Doctor Crabbe, who had been promptly upon the spot. We are happy to state that the fit rapidly passed off, and that, owing to the skilful attention which he received, the gentleman, who is a distinguished visitor in our city, was able to regain his hotel and is now rapidly becoming convalescent.' How would that do, eh?"
"Splendid, Jack — splendid!"
"Well, my boy, I'm your fashionably dressed stranger, and I promise you they won't carry me into Markham's."
"My dear fellow, you are a treasure — you won't mind my bleeding you?"
"Bleeding me, confound you! Yes, I do very much mind."
"Just opening a little vein," pleaded Tom.
"Not a capillary," said I. "Now, look here; I'll throw up the whole business unless you give me your word to behave yourself. I don't draw the line at brandy."
"Very well, brandy be it," grumbled Tom.
"Well, I'm off," said I. "I'll go into the fit against your garden gate."
"All right, old man."
"By the way, what sort of a fit would you like? I could give you either an epileptic or an apoplectic easily, but, perhaps you'd like something more ornate — a catalepsy or a trade spasm, maybe — with miner's nystagmus or something of that kind?
"Wait a bit till I think," said Tom, and he sat puffing at his pipe for five minutes: "Sit down again, Jack," he continued. "I think we could do something better than this. You see, a fit isn't a very deadly thing, and if I did bring you through one there would be no credit in it. If we are going to work this thing, we may as well work it well. We can only do it once. It wouldn't do for the same fashionably dressed stranger to be turning up a second time. People would begin to smell a rat."
"So they would," said I; "but hang it, you can't expect me to tumble off the cathedral spire, in order that you may hold an inquest on my remains! You may command me in anything reasonable, however. What shall it be?"
Tom seemed lost in thought. "Can you swim?" he said presently.
"You could keep yourself afloat for five minutes?"
"Yes, I could do that."
"You're not afraid of water?"
"I'm not much afraid of anything."
"Then come out," said Tom, "and we'll go over the ground."
I couldn't get one word out of him as to his intentions, so I trotted along beside him, wondering what in the wide world he was going to do. Our first stoppage was at a small dock which is crossed by a swinging iron bridge. He hailed an amphibious man with top-boots. "Do you keep rowing-boats and let them out?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said the man.
"Then, good day," and to the boatman's profound and audible disgust we set off at once in the other direction.
Our next stoppage was at the Jolly Mariner's Arms. Did they keep beds? Yes, they kept beds. We then proceeded to the chemist's. Did he keep a galvanic battery? Once again the answer was in the affirmative, and with a satisfied smile Tom Crabbe headed for home once more, leaving some very angry people behind him.
That evening, over a bowl of punch, he revealed his plan — and the council of three revised it, modified it, and ended by adopting it, with the immediate result that I at once changed my quarters to the Brisport Hotel.
I was wakened next day by the sun streaming in at my bedroom window. It was a glorious morning. I sprang out of bed and looked at my watch. It was nearly nine o'clock. "Only an hour," I muttered, "and nearly a mile to walk," and proceeded to dress with all the haste I could. "Well," I soliloquised as I sharpened my razor, "if old Tom Crabbe doesn't get his name in the papers to-day, it isn't my fault. I wonder if any friend would do as much for me!" I finished my toilet, swallowed a cup of coffee and sallied out.
Brisport seemed unusually lively this morning. The streets were crowded with people. I wormed my way down Waterloo Street, through the old Square and past Crabbe's house. The cathedral bells were chiming ten o'clock as I reached the above-mentioned little dock with the iron swinging bridge. A man was standing on the bridge leaning over the balustrades. There was no mistaking the heart-broken hat rim and the spectacles of Thomas Waterhouse Crabbe, M.B.
I passed him without sign of recognition, dawdled a little on the quay, and then sauntered down to the boathouse. Our friend of yesterday was standing at the door with a short pipe in his mouth.
"Could I have a boat for an hour?" I asked.
He beamed all over. "One minute, sir," he said, "an' I'll get the sculls. Would you want me to row you, sir?"
"Yes, you'd better," I replied.
He bustled about, and in a short time managed to launch a leaky-looking old tub, into which he stepped, while I squatted down in the sheets.
"Take me round the docks," I said. "I want to have a look at the shipping."
"Aye, aye, sir," said he, and away we went, and paddled about the docks for the best part of an hour. At the end of that time we turned back and pulled up to the little quay from which we had started. It was past eleven now and the place was crowded with people. Half Brisport seemed to have concentrated round the iron bridge. The melancholy hat was still visible.
"Shall I pull in, sir?" asked the boatman.
"Give me the sculls," said I. "I want a bit of exercise — let us change places," and I stood up.
"Take care, sir!" yelled the boatman as I gave a stagger. "Look out!" and he made a frantic grab at me, but too late, for with a melodramatic scream I reeled and fell over into the Brisport dock.
I hardly realised what it was I was going to do until I had done it. It was not a pleasant feeling to have the thick, clammy water closing over one's head. I struck the bottom with my feet, and shot up again to the surface. The air seemed alive with shouts. "Heave a rope!" "Where's a boat-hook!" "Catch him" "There he is!" The boatman managed to hit me a smart blow on the head with something, an oar, I fancy, and I went down again, but not before I had got my lungs well filled with air. I came up again and my top-booted friend seized me by the hair of my head as if he would tear my scalp off. "Don't struggle!" he yelled, "and I'll save you yet." But I shook him off, and took another plunge. There was no resisting him next time, however, for he got a boat-hook into my collar, and though I kept my head under water as long as possible I was ignominiously hauled to land.
There I lay on the hard stones of the quay, feeling very much inclined to laugh, but looking, no doubt, very blue and ghastly. "He's gone, poor chap!" said someone. "Send for a doctor." "Run, run to Markham." "Quite dead." "Turn him upside down." "Feel his pulse." "Slap him on the back."
"Stop," said a solemn voice — "stop! Can I be of any assistance? I am a medical man. What has occurred?"
"A man drowned," cried a score of voices. "Stand back, make a ring — room for the doctor!"
"My name is Doctor Crabbe. Dear me, poor young gentleman! Drop his hand," he roared at a man who was making for my pulse. "I tell you in such a state the least pressure or impediment to the arterial circulation might prove fatal."
To save my life I couldn't help giving a very audible, inward chuckle at Tom's presence of mind. There was a murmur of surprise among the crowd. Tom solemnly took off his hat. "The death rattle!" he whispered. "The young soul has flown — yet perchance science may yet recall it. Bear him up to the tavern."
A shutter was brought, I was solemnly hoisted on to the top of it, and the melancholy cortege passed along the quay, the corpse being really the most cheerful member of the company.
We got to the Mariner's Arms and I was stripped and laid in the best bed. The news of the accident seemed to have spread, for there was a surging crowd in the street, and the staircase was thronged with people. Tom would only admit about a dozen of the more influential of the townspeople into the room, but issued bulletins out of the window every five minutes to the crowd below.
"Quite dead," I heard him roar. "Respiration has ceased — no pulsation — but we still persevere, it is our duty."
"Shall I bring brandy?" said the landlady.
"Yes, and towels, and a hip bath and a basin — but the brandy first."
This sentiment met with the hearty approbation of the corpse.
"Why, he's drinking it," said the landlady, as she applied the glass to my lips.
"Merely an instance of a reflex, automatic action," said Tom. "My good woman, any corpse will drink brandy if you only apply it to the glossopharyngeal tract. Stand aside and we will proceed to try Marshall Hall's method of resuscitation."
The citizens stood round in a solemn ring, while Tom stripped off his coat and, climbing on the bed, proceeded to roll me about in a manner which seemed to dislocate every bone in my body.
"Hang it, man, stop!" I growled, but he only paused to make a dart for the window and yell out "No sign of life," and then fell upon me with greater energy than ever. "We will now try Sylvestre's method," he said, when the perspiration was fairly boiling out of him; and with that he seized me again, and performed a series of evolutions even more excruciating than the first. "It is hopeless!" he said at last, stopping and covering my head reverently with the bedclothes. "Send for the coroner! He has gone to a better land. Here is my card," he continued to an inspector of police who had arrived. "Doctor Crabbe of George Street. You will see that the matter is accurately reported. Poor young man!" And Tom drew his handkerchief across his eyes and walked towards the door, while a groan of sympathy rose from the crowd outside.
He had his hand upon the handle when a thought seemed to strike him, and he turned back. "There is yet a possible hope," he said, "we have not tried the magical effects of electricity — that subtle power, next of kin to nervous force. Is there a chemist's near?"
"Yes, doctor, there's Mr. McLagan just round the corner."
"Then run! run! A human life trembles in the balance — get his strongest battery, quick!" And away went half the crowd racing down the street and tumbling over each other in the effort to be first at Mr. McLagan's. They came back very red and hot, and one of them bore a shining, brown mahogany box in his arms which contained the instrument in question.
"Now, gentlemen," said Tom, "I believe I may say that I am the first practitioner in Great Britain who has applied electricity to this use. In my student days I have seen the learned Rokilansky of Vienna employ it in some such way. I apply the negative pole over the solar plexus, while the positive I place on the inner side of the patella. I have seen it produce surprising effects; it may again in this case."
It certainly did. Whether it was an accident or whether Tom's innate reckless devilry got the better of him I cannot say. He himself always swore that it was an accident, but at any rate he sent the strongest current of a most powerful battery rattling and crashing through my system. I gave one ear-splitting yell and landed with a single bound into the middle of the room. I was charged with electricity like a Leyden jar. My very hair bristled with it.
"You confounded idiot!" I shouted, shaking my fist in Tom's face. "Isn't it enough to dislocate every bone in my body with your ridiculous resuscitations without ruining my constitution with this thing?" and I gave a vicious kick at the mahogany box. Never was there such a stampede! The inspector of police and the correspondent of the Chronicle sprang down the staircase, followed by the twelve respectable citizens. The landlady crawled under the bed. A lodger who was nursing her baby while she conversed with a neighbour in the street below let the child drop upon her friend's head. In fact Tom might have founded the nucleus of a practice there and then. As it was, his usual presence of mind carried him through. "A miracle!" he yelled from the window. "A miracle! Our friend has been brought back to us; send for a cab." And then sotto voce, For goodness' sake, Jack, behave like a Christian and crawl into bed again. Remember the landlady is in the room and don't go prancing about in your shirt."
"Hang the landlady," said I, "I feel like a lightning conductor you've ruined me!"
"Poor fellow," cried Tom, once more addressing the crowd, "he is alive, but his intellect is irretrievably affected. He thinks he is a lightning conductor. Make way for the cab. That's right! Now help me to lead him in. He is out of all danger now. He can dress at his hotel. If any of you have any information to give which may throw light upon this case my address is 81 George Street. Remember, Doctor Crabbe, 81 George Street. Good day, kind friends, good-bye!" And with that he bundled me into the cab to prevent my making any further disclosures, and drove off amid the enthusiastic cheers of the admiring crowd.
I could not stay in Brisport long enough to see the effects of my coup d'état. Tom gave us a champagne supper that night, and the fur was fast and furious, but in the midst of it a telegram from my principal was handed in ordering me to return to Manchester by the next train. I waited long enough to get an early copy of the Brisport Chronicle, and beguiled the tedious journey by perusing the glowing account of my mishap. A column and a half was devoted to Dr. Crabbe and the extraordinary effects of electricity upon a drowned man. It ultimately got into some of the London papers, and was gravely commented upon in the Lancet.
As to the pecuniary success of our little experiment I can only judge from the following letter from Tom Crabbe, which I transcribe exactly as I received it:
"WHAT HO! MY RESUSCITATED CORPSE,
"You want to know how all goes in Brisport, I suppose. Well, I'll tell you. I'm cutting Markham and Davidson out completely, my boy. The day after our little joke I got a bruised leg (that baby), a cut head (the woman the baby fell upon), an erysipelas, and a bronchitis. Next day a fine, rich cancer of Markham's threw him up and came over to me. Also a pneumonia and a man who swallowed a sixpence. I've never had a day since without half a dozen new names on the list, and I'm going to start a trap this week. Just let me know when you are going to set up, and I'll manage to run down, old man, and give you a start in business, if I have to stand on my head in the water-butt. Goodbye. Love from the Missus.
"THOMAS WATERHOUSE CRABBE, M.B. Edin.
81 George Street, Brisport."