Round the Red Lamp
A Medical Document
Medical men are, as a class, very much too busy to take stock of singular situations or
dramatic events. Thus it happens that the ablest chronicler of their experiences in our
literature was a lawyer. A life spent in watching over death-beds--or over birth-beds
which are infinitely more trying--takes something from a man's sense of proportion, as
constant strong waters might corrupt his palate. The overstimulated nerve ceases to
respond. Ask the surgeon for his best experiences and he may reply that he has seen little
that is remarkable, or break away into the technical. But catch him some night when the
fire has spurted up and his pipe is reeking, with a few of his brother practitioners for
company and an artful question or allusion to set him going. Then you will get some raw,
green facts new plucked from the tree of life.
It is after one of the quarterly dinners of the Midland Branch of the British Medical
Association. Twenty coffee cups, a dozer liqueur glasses, and a solid bank of blue smoke
which swirls slowly along the high, gilded ceiling gives a hint of a successful gathering.
But the members have shredded off to their homes. The line of heavy, bulge-pocketed
overcoats and of stethoscope-bearing top hats is gone from the hotel corridor. Round the
fire in the sitting-room three medicos are still lingering, however, all smoking and
arguing, while a fourth, who is a mere layman and young at that, sits back at the table.
Under cover of an open journal he is writing furiously with a stylographic pen, asking a
question in an innocent voice from time to time and so flickering up the conversation
whenever it shows a tendency to wane.
The three men are all of that staid middle age which begins early and lasts late in the
profession. They are none of them famous, yet each is of good repute, and a fair type of
his particular branch. The portly man with the authoritative manner and the white, vitriol
splash upon his cheek is Charley Manson, chief of the Wormley Asylum, and author of
the brilliant monograph--Obscure Nervous Lesions in the Unmarried. He always wears
his collar high like that, since the half-successful attempt of a student of Revelations to
cut his throat with a splinter of glass. The second, with the ruddy face and the merry
brown eyes, is a general practitioner, a man of vast experience, who, with his three
assistants and his five horses, takes twenty-five hundred a year in half-crown visits and
shilling consultations out of the poorest quarter of a great city. That cheery face of
Theodore Foster is seen at the side of a hundred sick-beds a day, and if he has one-third
more names on his visiting list than in his cash book he always promises himself that he
will get level some day when a millionaire with a chronic complaint--the ideal
combination--shall seek his services. The third, sitting on the right with his dress shoes
shining on the top of the fender, is Hargrave, the rising surgeon. His face has none of the
broad humanity of Theodore Foster's, the eye is stern and critical, the mouth straight and
severe, but there is strength and decision in every line of it, and it is nerve rather than
sympathy which the patient demands when he is bad enough to come to Hargrave's door.
He calls himself a jawman "a mere jawman" as he modestly puts it, but in point of fact he
is too young and too poor to confine himself to a specialty, and there is nothing surgical
which Hargrave has not the skill and the audacity to do.