AN EXTRAORDINARY PATIENT

Mad?
Not what the world calls madness–he is quiet
Raves not about strange matters–curbs his tongue
With wond’rous wisdom–ponders ere he speaks,
And yet I tell you he is mad, my liege;
The moon was regnant at his birth and all
The planets bowed to her strong influence.

If Dr. Nestley had been imaginative he might have thought that he was
being driven by one of the statues out of the old church, so grim and
stiff was the figure beside him. Munks had a hard-featured face, and
an equally hard manner, and in his suit of rough grey cloth he looked
like Don Juan’s Commandantore out for an airing. He devoted himself
exclusively to the raw-boned animal he was driving, and replied to Dr.
Nestley’s questions in what might be called a chippy manner, his
answers being remarkably monosyllabic.

Was the squire ill?–very! What made him ill?–Did not know! How many
people lived at the Grange?–Six! What were their names?–The squire,
Miss Una, Miss Cassandra, Patience Allerby, Jellicks and himself.

As Nestley did not find this style of conversation particularly
exhilarating, he relapsed into silence, and the stony Munks devoted
his attention once more to the raw-boned horse.

The dog-cart spun rapidly through the sleeping village with the
dark-windowed houses on either side–over the narrow, vibrating bridge
under which swept the sullen, grey river–across the wide common,
where the gorse bushes looked fantastic and unreal in the moonlight,
with only the silent sky overhead and the silent earth below–tall
trees on either side, some gaudy with the yellow and red of their
autumnal foliage, and others gaunt and bare, their leafless branches
ready for the winter snows. So still, so silent, with every now and
then the sad cry of some night bird from the lonely marshes, and the
steady beat of the horse’s hoofs on the hard, white road. The scenery,
grey and colourless under the pale light of the moon, changed with the
rapidity of a kaleidoscope. First the tangled, odorous hedges that
separated the road from the closely-reaped fields, afterwards a grove
of beeches, casting fantastic shadows on the ground, and then,
suddenly starting out of the earth as if by magic, the thick, dark
wood which surrounded Garsworth Grange, as though it were the
enchanted palace of the sleeping beauty. The rusty iron gates were
wide open, and they drove into the park between the tall white posts
with the leopards sejant thereon–up the broad, winding avenue with
the trees tossing their leafless branches in the chill wind–while
here and there at intervals the cloudy white forms of statues appeared
indistinctly. The wheels crunched the dead leaves that thickly
carpeted the path–a wide sweep of the avenue, and then a low, broad
terrace of white stone, to which a flight of shallow steps led up
through urns and statues to Garsworth Grange.

Nestley had no time to take any note of the architectural beauties of
the place; for, hastily alighting, he ran up the steps, while Munks,
still grimly silent, drove off, presumably in the direction of the
stables. So here, Nestley found himself alone in this ghostly white
world, with the keen wind whistling shrilly in his ears, and before
him a monstrous, many-pillared porch with a massive door scrolled
grotesquely with ironwork, like the entrance to a family mausoleum.
Whilst he was searching for a bell to ring or a knocker to knock with,
the door slowly swung open with a surly creak, and a tall, slim
figure, holding a flickering candle, appeared.

Was it one of the cold, white statues in the lonely garden that had by
some miracle awoke to life?–this sudden vision of lovely, breathing
womanhood standing out from the darkness amid a faint halo of
tremulous light, the rose-flushed face with its perfectly-chiselled
features delicately distinct under the coronet of pale, golden hair,
one slender arm raised aloft, holding the faintly-glimmering candle,
one eloquent finger placed warningly upon the full red lips, while the
supple body, clad in a loose white dress, was bent forward in a
graceful poise. Not Aphrodite, this midnight goddess, for the face was
too pure and childlike for that of the divine coquette, not Hera in
the imperial voluptuousness of undying beauty, but Hebe, bright,
girlish Hebe, with the smile of eternal youth on her lips, and the
vague innocence of maidenhood shining in her dreamy eyes.

The goddess evidently expected to see the familiar face of the village
doctor; for she started back in astonishment when she beheld a
stranger, and seemed to demand an explanation of his visit. This he
speedily furnished.

“Doctor Bland is ill, I understand,” he said, politely, “but I am a
medical man staying at the inn, and as the case seemed urgent, I came
in his place.”

The goddess smiled, and her frigid manner thawed rapidly.

“It’s very kind of you, Doctor–Doctor—-”

“Nestley,” said that gentleman, “Doctor Nestley.”

“It’s very kind of you, Doctor Nestley,” she said, in a musical voice,
“and, indeed, the case _is_ very urgent–please come in.”

Nestley stepped inside, and the young lady, closing the heavy door,
secured the innumerable fastenings. Catching Nestley’s eye, as he
looked on, rather puzzled, at the multiplicity of bolts and chains,
she laughed quietly.

“My cousin is very much afraid of thieves,” she remarked, as she
turned round, “he wouldn’t rest in his bed if he didn’t think the
front door was locked–by the way, I must introduce myself–Una
Challoner!”

“I have heard of you, Miss Challoner,” said Nestley, looking at her in
admiration.

“From whom?” she asked quickly.

“Mr. Blake and Mr. Pemberton.”

She flushed a little, and bowed with some hauteur.

“Will you come upstairs with me, Doctor,” she said, turning away from
him.

Dr. Nestley was about to follow, when his attention was arrested by
the unexpected apparition of a small, stout lady, by no means young,
who was, nevertheless, arrayed in a juvenile-looking gown of pink with
the remarkable addition of a tea-cosy perched on her head which gave
her the appearance of being half extinguished. She also held a candle
and stood in front of the doctor, smirking and smiling coquettishly.

“Introduce me, Una, dearest,” she cried, in a thin, piping voice which
seemed ridiculous, coming from such a stout person. “I’m so fond of
doctors. Most people aren’t–but then I’m odd.”

She certainly was, both in appearance and manner; but, Una being used
to her eccentricities, evinced no surprise, but, looking down on the
grotesque figure from her tall height, smiled gravely.

“Doctor Nestley, this is my aunt, Miss Cassandra Challoner,” she said,
in a soft voice.

Miss Cassandra shook her girlish head and made an odd little bow, to
which the doctor politely responded, then suddenly recollecting the
tea-cosy, snatched it off with an apologetic giggle, thereby
displaying a head of frizzy yellow hair.

“Draughty house,” she said, in explanation of her peculiar head-dress.
“I get neuralgia pains down the side of my nose and in my left eye.
I’m sure it’s the left, doctor. Very odd, isn’t it? I wear the
tea-cosy to keep the heat in my head. Heat is good for the nerves, but
you know all about that, being a doctor. How very odd. I mean, it
isn’t odd, is it?”

How long she would have rambled on in this aimless fashion it is
impossible to say, but, fortunately, a third woman, bearing a candle,
appeared descending the stairs, which put an end to Miss Cassandra’s
chatter.

“It’s Jellicks,” said Miss Challoner quickly, “the squire must be
worse.”

Jellicks was an ugly old woman of about sixty, with a withered,
wrinkled face, rough, greyish hair, and a peculiar kind of wriggling
movement, something like that of a dog who has done wrong and wants to
curry favour with his angry master. She wriggled down the stairs,
writhed up to Una, and, with a final wriggle, delivered her message in
one word and a whisper.

“Wuss!” she hissed out in a low, sibillant manner.

Dr. Nestley was beginning to feel bewildered with the strangeness of
his position. This cold, vault-like hall with its high roof,
tesselated black and white diamond pavement, massive figures in
suits of armour on either side, seemed to chill his blood, and the
three candles held by the three women danced before his eyes like
will-o’-the-wisps. A musty odour permeated the atmosphere, and the
flickering lights, which only served to show the darkness, assumed to
his distorted imagination the semblance of corpse candles. Shaking off
this feeling with an effort, he turned to Miss Challoner.

“I think I had better go up at once,” he said in a loud, cheerful
voice. “Every moment is precious.”

Miss Challoner bowed in silence, and preceded him up the stairs,
followed by the wriggling Jellicks and the girlish Miss Cassandra, who
declined to be left behind.

“No; positively no,” she whimpered, shaking her candle and replacing
the cosy on her head. “It’s like a tomb–the ‘Mistletoe Bough,’ you
know–very odd–he might die–his spirit and all that sort of
thing–nerves, doctor, nothing else–chronic; mother’s side–dear,
dear. I feel like a haunted person in what’s-his-name’s book? Dickens.
Charming, isn’t he? So odd.”

And, indeed, there was a ghostly flavour about the whole place as they
walked slowly up the wide stairs, with the darkness closing densely
around them. Every footfall seemed to awake an echo, and the painted
faces of the old Garsworths frowned and smiled grotesquely on them
from the walls as they moved silently along.

A wide corridor, another short flight of stairs, and then a heavy
door, underneath which could be seen a thin streak of light. Pausing
here, Una opened it, and the four passed into Squire Garsworth’s
bedroom, which struck the doctor as being almost as chill and ghostly
as the hall.

It was a large room with no carpet on the polished floor, hardly any
furniture and no lights, save at the further end, where a candle,
standing on a small round table, feebly illuminated a huge curtained
bed set on a small square of carpet on which were also the round table
aforesaid and two heavy chairs, the whole forming a kind of dismal
oasis in the desert of bare floor.

On the bed lay the squire, an attenuated old man with a face looking
as though it were carved out of old ivory, fierce black eyes and
scanty white hair flowing from under a black velvet skull cap. A
multiplicity of clothes were heaped on the bed to keep him warm, and
his thin arms and claw-like hands were outside the blankets plucking
restlessly at the counterpane. Beside him stood a woman in a
slate-coloured dress, with an expressionless white face and smooth
black hair, drawn back over her finely shaped head. She kept her eyes
on the floor and her hands folded in front of her, but, on hearing a
strange footstep, turned to look at the doctor. A strangely mournful
face it was, as if the shadow of a great sorrow had fallen across it
and would never more be lifted. Nestley guessed this to be Patience
Allerby, so the number of the extraordinary individuals who occupied
Garsworth Grange was now complete.

Hearing the doctor enter, Squire Garsworth, with the suspicious
celerity of a sick man, raised himself on his elbow and peered
malevolently into the darkness, looking like some evil magician of old
time.

“Who is there?” he asked in a querulous voice, “someone to rob me;
thieves and rogues–all–all rogues and thieves.”

“It is the doctor,” said Una, coming close to him.

“What does he bring? what does he bring?” asked the sick man, eagerly,
“life or death? Tell me, quick.”

“I cannot tell you till I ask a few questions,” said Nestley, stepping
into the radius of light.

“Ha!” cried Garsworth, with sudden suspicion, “not Bland. No; a
stranger. What do you want? Where is Bland?”

“He is ill,” said Nestley distinctly, coming close to him, “and cannot
come, but I am a doctor and will do as well.”

The old man looked at him anxiously, seeming to devour him with the
fierce intensity of his gaze.

“Weak,” he muttered, after a pause, “very weak, still there is
intellect in the face.”

Then he suddenly put out his hand and grasped that of Nestley in his
thin, claw-like fingers.

“I will trust you,” he said rapidly. “You are weak, but honest. Save
my life and I will pay you well.”

“I will do what I can,” replied Nestley simply.

The squire, with an effort, sat up in bed, and waved his hand
imperatively.

“Turn them all out,” he said sharply, pointing to the women. “I must
tell you what I wo’nt tell them. A physician is more of a confessor
than a priest. Go away and leave me with my confessor.”

Nestley was about to remonstrate, but Una placed her finger on her
lips, and all three women noiselessly withdrew, bearing their candles.
When the door closed after them the immense room was quite in
darkness, save for the feeble glimmer of the taper by the bed, which
shed its light on the pallid countenance of the old man now lying back
exhausted on his pillows. It was certainly a very strange situation,
and Nestley, modern physician though he was, felt little thrills of
superstitious awe running through him. He was about to speak when the
squire, turning on his side, looked at him earnestly and commenced to
talk.

“I do not want you to diagnose my case,” he said, in a low, feverish
voice. “I can tell you all about it. Your task is to supply remedies.
I am an old man, seventy-five years of age. It’s a long life, but not
long enough for what I want. The sword has worn out the scabbard–my
soul is encased in a worn-out body and I want you to sustain the vital
forces of the body. I can look after the soul; you mind the body.”

“I understand perfectly,” observed Nestley, feeling his pulse. “Nerve
exhaustion.”

“Aha! yes, that is it. I have been working too hard and overtaxed my
nerves. You must restore them to their normal state. Tonics,
electricity, rest–what you will, but give me back my vital powers in
their pristine vigour.”

“It is impossible to do that,” said Nestley, quickly, “you are not
young, remember, but I will give you some medicine that will replace
the wasted tissues and afford you relief, if not health; but you will
never be strong again.”

“Not in this body,” exclaimed Garsworth, raising himself on his elbow,
“no, but in my next incarnation I shall be–ah, you look surprised,
but you, no doubt, have heard of the mad squire. Mad! Poor fools, my
madness is their sanity. I shall be young and vigorous in my next
body, and I shall be rich. All this life I have been working for the
next, but I have not gained enough money. No, not half enough. Make me
well again, that I can complete my work, then I will gladly leave this
worn-out body for a new one. I will pay you–oh yes–I will pay you.”

He fell back exhausted on the pillows, worn out by the rapidity of his
speech, and Nestley called out loudly for assistance. Patience Allerby
entered the room, and, by the doctor’s orders brought some wine in a
glass. This Nestley held to the sick man’s lips, while the
housekeeper, at the other side of the bed, held the candle for him to
see by. The wine infused a fictitious life into the old man, and
seeing he was easier, Nestley determined to go back to Garsworth in
order to get some medicine.

He put the clothes over the squire and bent down to speak.

“You must lie quiet,” he said, in a slow voice, “and take some wine
whenever you feel exhausted. I will send you a sedative to-night, and
to-morrow morning will call and see you.”

The sick man, too exhausted to speak, made a motion with his hand to
show he understood, and lay back white and still, in complete contrast
to his former restlessness. Nestley saw that the effort had fatigued
him greatly, and was the more anxious to give him some soothing
draught, as every paroxysm of excitement exhausted the nerves and
rendered him weaker. But even in his anxiety, as he looked at him
lying so still with the candles on either side of the bed, he could
not help comparing him, in his own mind, to a corpse laid out
preparatory to burial. The thought was a horrible one, but the
atmosphere of the house seemed to engender horrible thoughts, so he
hurried to the door, anxious to leave this nightmare castle.

Patience Allerby, soft-footed and silent, lighted him downstairs, and
having seen him safe in the hall turned back without a word.

“A strange woman,” thought Nestley, looking after her, “and a strange
house;” then he turned to Una and Miss Cassey, who were anxiously
waiting his report.

“I have given him a little wine,” he said, putting on his gloves.
“Keep him as quiet as possible and I’ll send some opiate from
Garsworth; he is in a very exhausted condition and must be kept quiet.
How can I send the medicine?

“Munks will bring it when he drives you in,” said Una quickly. “You
will come again?”

“Yes, to-morrow morning,” he replied as she opened the door, and was
about to depart when Miss Cassey arrested him.

“I’ll take some of the medicine myself, doctor,” she said. “I’m so
easily upset–nerves again–it’s in the family; come and prescribe
for me to-morrow–I’m so odd, I think it’s the house–lonely, you
know–bromide is good, isn’t it? Yes, Doctor Pecks, in London, told me
so. Do you know him?–No–how odd–clever on nerves–my nerves–don’t
forget to-morrow–good-night–charming moon–yes–so odd.”

After hearing this incoherent speech, Dr. Nestley managed to get away,
and saying good-night to Una, went down the steps. The dog-cart was
waiting for him, and Munks, the Mute, drove him back grimly the whole
way. It was quite a relief getting into the cool fresh air, and
Nestley half thought the lonely house and its fantastic occupants were
phantoms, so unreal did they seem.