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Round the Red Lamp

A False Start
"Is Dr. Horace Wilkinson at home?"
"I am he. Pray step in."
The visitor looked somewhat astonished at having the door opened to him by the master
of the house.
"I wanted to have a few words."
The doctor, a pale, nervous young man, dressed in an ultra-professional, long black
frock-coat, with a high, white collar cutting off his dapper side- whiskers in the centre,
rubbed his hands together and smiled. In the thick, burly man in front of him he scented a
patient, and it would be his first. His scanty resources had begun to run somewhat low,
and, although he had his first quarter's rent safely locked away in the right-hand drawer
of his desk, it was becoming a question with him how he should meet the current
expenses of his very simple housekeeping. He bowed, therefore, waved his visitor in,
closed the hall door in a careless fashion, as though his own presence thereat had been a
purely accidental circumstance, and finally led the burly stranger into his scantily
furnished front room, where he motioned him to a seat. Dr. Wilkinson planted himself
behind his desk, and, placing his finger-tips together, he gazed with some apprehension at
his companion. What was the matter with the man? He seemed very red in the face. Some
of his old professors would have diagnosed his case by now, and would have electrified
the patient by describing his own symptoms before he had said a word about them. Dr.
Horace Wilkinson racked his brains for some clue, but Nature had fashioned him as a
plodder--a very reliable plodder and nothing more. He could think of nothing save that
the visitor's watch-chain had a very brassy appearance, with a corollary to the effect that
he would be lucky if he got half-a-crown out of him. Still, even half-a-crown was
something in those early days of struggle.
Whilst the doctor had been running his eyes over the stranger, the latter had been
plunging his hands into pocket after pocket of his heavy coat. The heat of the weather, his
dress, and this exercise of pocket-rummaging had all combined to still further redden his
face, which had changed from brick to beet, with a gloss of moisture on his brow. This
extreme ruddiness brought a clue at last to the observant doctor. Surely it was not to be
attained without alcohol. In alcohol lay the secret of this man's trouble. Some little
delicacy was needed, however, in showing him that he had read his case aright--that at a
glance he had penetrated to the inmost sources of his ailments.
"It's very hot," observed the stranger, mopping his forehead.
"Yes, it is weather which tempts one to drink rather more beer than is good for one,"
answered Dr. Horace Wilkinson, looking very knowingly at his companion from over his
finger-tips.
 
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