Round the Red Lamp
Behind The Times
My first interview with Dr. James Winter was under dramatic circumstances. It occurred
at two in the morning in the bedroom of an old country house. I kicked him twice on the
white waistcoat and knocked off his gold spectacles, while he with the aid of a female
accomplice stifled my angry cries in a flannel petticoat and thrust me into a warm bath. I
am told that one of my parents, who happened to be present, remarked in a whisper that
there was nothing the matter with my lungs. I cannot recall how Dr. Winter looked at the
time, for I had other things to think of, but his description of my own appearance is far
from flattering. A fluffy head, a body like a trussed goose, very bandy legs, and feet with
the soles turned inwards--those are the main items which he can remember.
From this time onwards the epochs of my life were the periodical assaults which Dr.
Winter made upon me. He vaccinated me; he cut me for an abscess; he blistered me for
mumps. It was a world of peace and he the one dark cloud that threatened. But at last
there came a time of real illness--a time when I lay for months together inside my
wickerwork-basket bed, and then it was that I learned that that hard face could relax, that
those country-made creaking boots could steal very gently to a bedside, and that that
rough voice could thin into a whisper when it spoke to a sick child.
And now the child is himself a medical man, and yet Dr. Winter is the same as ever. I can
see no change since first I can remember him, save that perhaps the brindled hair is a
trifle whiter, and the huge shoulders a little more bowed. He is a very tall man, though he
loses a couple of inches from his stoop. That big back of his has curved itself over sick
beds until it has set in that shape. His face is of a walnut brown, and tells of long winter
drives over bleak country roads, with the wind and the rain in his teeth. It looks smooth at
a little distance, but as you approach him you see that it is shot with innumerable fine
wrinkles like a last year's apple. They are hardly to be seen when he is in repose; but
when he laughs his face breaks like a starred glass, and you realise then that though he
looks old, he must be older than he looks.
How old that is I could never discover. I have often tried to find out, and have struck his
stream as high up as George IV and even the Regency, but without ever getting quite to
the source. His mind must have been open to impressions very early, but it must also
have closed early, for the politics of the day have little interest for him, while he is
fiercely excited about questions which are entirely prehistoric. He shakes his head when
he speaks of the first Reform Bill and expresses grave doubts as to its wisdom, and I have
heard him, when he was warmed by a glass of wine, say bitter things about Robert Peel
and his abandoning of the Corn Laws. The death of that statesman brought the history of
England to a definite close, and Dr. Winter refers to everything which had happened
since then as to an insignificant anticlimax.
But it was only when I had myself become a medical man that I was able to appreciate
how entirely he is a survival of a past generation. He had learned his medicine under that
obsolete and forgotten system by which a youth was apprenticed to a surgeon, in the days