The New Magdalen
5. The German Surgeon
THE youngest of the three strangers--judging by features, complexion, and manner--was
apparently an Englishman. He wore a military cap and military boots, but was otherwise
dressed as a civilian. Next to him stood an officer in Prussian uniform, and next to the
officer was the third and the oldest of the party. He also was dressed in uniform, but his
appearance was far from being suggestive of the appearance of a military man. He halted
on one foot, he stooped at the shoulders, and instead of a sword at his side he carried a
stick in his hand. After looking sharply through a large pair of tortoise-shell spectacles,
first at Mercy, then at the bed, then all round the room, he turned with a cynical
composure of manner to the Prussian officer, and broke the silence in these words:
"A woman ill on the bed; another woman in attendance on her, and no one else in the
room. Any necessity, major, for setting a guard here?"
"No necessity," answered the major. He wheeled round on his heel and returned to the
kitchen. The German surgeon advanced a little, led by his professional instinct, in the
direction of the bedside. The young Englishman, whose eyes had remained riveted in
admiration on Mercy, drew the canvas screen over the doorway and respectfully
addressed her in the French language.
"May I ask if I am speaking to a French lady?" he said.
"I am an Englishwoman," Mercy replied.
The surgeon heard the answer. Stopping short on his way to the bed, he pointed to the
recumbent figure on it, and said to Mercy, in good English, spoken with a strong German
"Can I be of any use there?"
His manner was ironically courteous, his harsh voice was pitched in one sardonic
monotony of tone. Mercy took an instantaneous dislike to this hobbling, ugly old man,
staring at her rudely through his great tortoiseshell spectacles.
"You can be of no use, sir," she said, shortly. "The lady was killed when your troops
shelled this cottage."
The Englishman started, and looked compassionately toward the bed. The German
refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff, and put another question.
"Has the body been examined by a medical man?" he asked.
Mercy ungraciously limited her reply to the one necessary word "Yes."