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A short story by A. A. Milne

The Doctor

Title:     The Doctor
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

His slippered feet stretched out luxuriously to the fire, Dr. Venables, of Mudford, lay back in his arm-chair and gave himself up to the delights of his Flor di Cabajo, No. 2, a box of which had been presented to him by an apparently grateful patient. It had been a busy day. He had prescribed more than half a dozen hot milk-puddings and a dozen changes of air; he had promised a score of times to look in again to-morrow; and the Widow Nixey had told him yet again, but at greater length than before, her private opinion of doctors.

Sometimes Gordon Venables wondered whether it was only for this that he had been the most notable student of his year at St. Bartholomew's. His brilliance, indeed, had caused something of a sensation in medical circles, and a remarkable career had been prophesied for him. It was Venables who had broken up one Suffrage meeting after another by throwing white mice at the women on the platform; who day after day had paraded London dressed in the costume of a brown dog, until arrested for biting an anti-vivisector in the leg. No wonder that all the prizes of the profession were announced to be within his grasp, and that when he buried himself in the little country town of Mudford he was thought to have thrown away recklessly opportunities such as were granted to few.

He had been in Mudford for five years now. An occasional paper in _The Lancet_ on "The Recurrence of Anthro-philomelitis in Earth-worms" kept him in touch with modern medical thought, but he could not help feeling that to some extent his powers were rusting in Mudford. As the years went on his chance of Harley Street dwindled.

"Come in," he said in answer to a knock at the door.

The housekeeper's head appeared.

"There's been an accident, sir," she gasped. "Gentleman run over!"

He snatched up his stethoscope and, without even waiting to inquire where the accident was, hurried into the night. Something whispered to him that his chance had come.

After a quarter of an hour he stopped a small boy.

"Hallo, Johnny," he said breathlessly, "where's the accident?"

The boy looked at him with open mouth for some moments. Then he had an idea.

"Why, it's Doctor!" he said.

Dr. Venables pushed him over and ran on....

It was in the High Street that the accident had happened. Lord Lair, an eccentric old gentleman who sometimes walked when he might have driven, had, while dodging a motor-car, been run into by a child's hoop. He lay now on the pavement surrounded by a large and interested crowd.

"Look out," shouted somebody from the outskirts; "here comes Doctor."

Dr. Venables pushed his way through to his patient. His long search for the scene of the accident had exhausted him bodily, but his mind was as clear as ever.

"Stand back there," he said in an authoritative voice. Then, taking out his stethoscope, he made a rapid examination of his patient.

"Incised wound in the tibia," he murmured to himself. "Slight abrasion of the patella and contusion of the left ankle. The injuries are serious but not necessarily mortal. Who is he?"

The butcher, who had been sitting on the head of the fallen man, got up and disclosed the features of Lord Lair. Dr. Venables staggered back.

"His lordship!" he cried. "He is a patient of Dr. Scott's! I have attended the client of another practitioner! Professionally I am ruined!"

Lord Lair, who was now breathing more easily, opened his eyes.

"Take me home," he groaned.

Dr. Venables' situation was a terrible one. Medical etiquette demanded his immediate retirement from the case, but the promptings of humanity and the thought of his client's important position in the world were too strong for him. Throwing his scruples to the winds, he assisted the aged peer on to a hastily improvised stretcher and accompanied him to the Hall.

His lordship once in bed, the doctor examined him again. It was obvious immediately that there was only one hope of saving the patient's life. An injection of anthro-philomelitis must be given without loss of time.

Dr. Venables took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves. He never travelled without a small bottle of this serum in his waistcoat pocket--a serum which, as my readers know, is prepared from the earth-worm, in whose body (fortunately) large deposits of anthro-philomelitis are continually found. With help from a footman in holding down the patient, the injection was made. In less than a year Lord Lair was restored to health.

. . . . .

Dr. Gordon Venables' case came before the British Medical Council early in October. The counts in the indictment were two.

The first was that, "on the 17th of June last, Dr. Gordon Venables did feloniously and with malice aforethought commit the disgusting and infamous crime of attending professionally the client of another practitioner."

The second was that "in the course of rendering professional services to the said client, Dr. Venables did knowingly and wittingly employ the assistance of one who was not a properly registered medical man, to wit, Thomas Boiling, footman, thereby showing himself to be a scurvy fellow of infamous morals."

Dr. Venables decided to apologise. He also decided to send in an account to Lord Lair for two hundred and fifty guineas. He justified this to himself mainly on the ground that, according to a letter in that week's _Lancet_, the supply of anthro-philomelitis in earth-worms was suddenly giving out, and that it was necessary to recoup himself for the generous quantity he had injected into Lord Lair. Naturally, also, he felt that his lordship, as the author of the whole trouble, owed him something.

The Council, in consideration of his apology, dismissed the first count. On the second count, however, they struck him off the register.

It was a terrible position for a young doctor to be in, but Gordon Venables faced it like a man. With Lord Lair's fee in his pocket he came to town and took a house in Harley Street. When he had paid the first quarter's rent and the first instalment on the hired furniture, he had fifty pounds left.

Ten pounds he spent on embossed stationery.

Forty pounds he spent on postage-stamps.

For the next three months no journal was complete without a letter from 999 Harley Street, signed "Gordon Venables," in which the iniquity of his treatment by the British Medical Council was dwelt upon with the fervour of a man who knew his subject thoroughly; no such letter was complete without a side-reference to anthro-philomelitis (as found, happily, in earth-worms) and the anthro-philomelitis treatment (as recommended by peers). Six months previously the name of Venables had been utterly unknown to the man in the street. In three months' time it was better known even than ----'s, the well-known ----.

One-half of London said he was an infamous quack.

The other half of London said he was a martyred genius.

Both halves agreed that, after all, one might as well _try_ this new what-you-may-call-it treatment, just to see if there was anything _in_ it, don't you know.

It was only last week that Mr. Venables made an excellent speech against the super-tax.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Doctor