Round the Red Lamp
A Physiologist's Wife
Professor Ainslie Grey had not come down to breakfast at the usual hour. The
presentation chiming-clock which stood between the terra-cotta busts of Claude Bernard
and of John Hunter upon the dining-room mantelpiece had rung out the half-hour and the
three-quarters. Now its golden hand was verging upon the nine, and yet there were no
signs of the master of the house.
It was an unprecedented occurrence. During the twelve years that she had kept house for
him, his youngest sister had never known him a second behind his time. She sat now in
front of the high silver coffee-pot, uncertain whether to order the gong to be resounded or
to wait on in silence. Either course might be a mistake. Her brother was not a man who
Miss Ainslie Grey was rather above the middle height, thin, with peering, puckered eyes,
and the rounded shoulders which mark the bookish woman. Her face was long and spare,
flecked with colour above the cheek-bones, with a reasonable, thoughtful forehead, and a
dash of absolute obstinacy in her thin lips and prominent chin. Snow white cuffs and
collar, with a plain dark dress, cut with almost Quaker-like simplicity, bespoke the
primness of her taste. An ebony cross hung over her flattened chest. She sat very upright
in her chair, listening with raised eyebrows, and swinging her eye-glasses backwards and
forwards with a nervous gesture which was peculiar to her.
Suddenly she gave a sharp, satisfied jerk of the head, and began to pour out the coffee.
From outside there came the dull thudding sound of heavy feet upon thick carpet. The
door swung open, and the Professor entered with a quick, nervous step. He nodded to his
sister, and seating himself at the other side of the table, began to open the small pile of
letters which lay beside his plate.
Professor Ainslie Grey was at that time forty- three years of age--nearly twelve years
older than his sister. His career had been a brilliant one. At Edinburgh, at Cambridge, and
at Vienna he had laid the foundations of his great reputation, both in physiology and in
His pamphlet, On the Mesoblastic Origin of Excitomotor Nerve Roots, had won him his
fellowship of the Royal Society; and his researches, Upon the Nature of Bathybius, with
some Remarks upon Lithococci, had been translated into at least three European
languages. He had been referred to by one of the greatest living authorities as being the
very type and embodiment of all that was best in modern science. No wonder, then, that
when the commercial city of Birchespool decided to create a medical school, they were
only too glad to confer the chair of physiology upon Mr. Ainslie Grey. They valued him
the more from the conviction that their class was only one step in his upward journey,
and that the first vacancy would remove him to some more illustrious seat of learning.