Ernest Hornung.

The Crime Doctor



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I
THE PHYSICIAN WHO HEALED HIMSELF

In the course of his meteoric career as Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Right Honorable Topham Vinson instituted many reforms and earned the reformer's whack of praise and blame. His methods were not those of the permanent staff; and while his notorious courage endeared him to the young, it was not in so strong a nature to leave friend or foe lukewarm. An assiduous contempt for tradition fanned the flame of either faction, besides leading to several of those personal adventures which were as breath to the Minister's unregenerate nostrils, but which never came out without exposing him to almost universal censure. It is matter for thanksgiving that the majority of his indiscretions were unguessed while he and his held office; for he was never so unconventional as in pursuance of those enlightened tactics on which his reputation rests, or in the company of that kindred spirit who had so much to do with their inception.

It was early in an autumn session that this remarkable pair became acquainted. Mr. Vinson had been tempted by the mildness of the night to walk back from Westminster to Portman Square. He had just reached home when he heard his name cried from some little distance behind him. The voice tempered hoarse excitement with the restraint due to midnight in a quiet square; and as Mr. Vinson turned on his door-step, a young man rushed across the road with a gold chain swinging from his outstretched hand.

"Your watch, sir, your watch!" he gasped, and displayed a bulbous hunter with a monogram on one side and the crest of all the Vinsons on the other.

"Heavens!" cried the Home Secretary, feeling in an empty waistcoat pocket before he could believe his eyes. "Where on earth did you find that? I had it on me when I left the House."

"It wasn't a case of findings," said the young man, as he fanned himself with his opera hat. "I've just taken it from the fellow who took it from you."

"Who? Where?" demanded the Secretary of State, with unstatesmanlike excitement.

"Some poor brute in North Audley Street, I think it was."

"That's it! That was where he stopped me, just at the corner of Grosvenor Square!" exclaimed Vinson. "And I went and gave the old scoundrel half-a-crown!"

"He probably had your watch while you were looking in your purse."

And the young man dabbed a very good forehead, that glistened in the light from the open door, with a white silk handkerchief just extracted from his sleeve.

"But where were you?" asked Topham Vinson, taking in every inch of him.

"I'd just come into the square myself. You had just gone out of it. The pickpocket was looking to see what he'd got, even while he hurled his blessings after you."

"And where is he now? Did he slip through your fingers?"

"I'm ashamed to say he did; but your watch didn't!" its owner was reminded with more spirit.

"I could guess whose it was by the crest and monogram, and I decided to make sure instead of giving chase."

"You did admirably," declared the Home Secretary, in belated appreciation. "I'm in the papers quite enough without appearing as a mug out of office hours. Come in, please, and let me thank you with all the honors possible at this time of night."

And, taking him by the arm, he ushered the savior of his property into a charming inner hall, where elaborate refreshments stood in readiness on a side-table, and a bright fire looked as acceptable as the saddlebag chairs drawn up beside it. A bottle and a pint of reputable champagne had been left out with the oysters and the caviar; and Mr. Vinson, explaining that he never allowed anybody to sit up for him, opened the bottle with the precision of a practised hand, and led the attack on food and drink with schoolboy gusto and high spirits.

In the meantime there had been some mutual note-taking. The Home Secretary, whose emphatic personality lent itself to the discreet pencil of the modern caricaturist, was in appearance exactly as represented in contemporary cartoons; there was nothing unexpected about him, since his boyish vivacity was a quality already over-exploited by the Press. His frankness was something qualified by a gaze of habitual penetration, but still it was there, and his manner could evidently be grand or colloquial at will. The surprise was in his surroundings rather than in the man himself. The perfect union of luxury and taste is none too common in the professed Sybarite who is that and nothing more; in men of action and pugnacious politicians it is yet another sign of sheer capacity. The bits of rich old furniture, the old glass twinkling at every facet, the brasses blazing in the firelight, the few but fine prints on the Morris wallpaper, might have won the approval of an art student, and the creature comforts that of the youngest epicure.

The young man from the street was easily pleased in all such respects; but indoors he no longer looked quite the young man. He had taken off an overcoat while his host was opening the champagne, and evening clothes accentuated a mature gauntness of body and limb. His hair, which was dark and wiry, was beginning to bleach at the temples; and up above one ear there was a little disk of downright silver, like a new florin. The shaven face was pale, eager, and austere. Dark eyes burnt like beacons under a noble brow, and did not lose in character or intensity by a distinct though slight strabism. So at least it seemed to Topham Vinson, who was a really wonderful judge of faces, yet had seldom seen one harder to sum up.

"I'm sorry you don't smoke," said he, snipping a cigar which he had extolled in vain. "And that champagne, you know! You haven't touched it, and you really should."

The other was on his legs that instant. "I never smoke and seldom drink," he exclaimed; "but I simply can not endure your hospitality, kind as it is, Mr. Vinson, without being a bit more honest with you than I've been so far. I didn't lose that pickpocket by accident or because he was too quick for me. I – I purposely packed him off."

In the depths of his softest chair Mr. Vinson lolled smiling – but not with his upturned eyes. They were the steel eyes of all his tribe, but trebly keen, as became its intellectual head and chief.

"The fellow pitched a pathetic yarn?" he conjectured. He had never seen a more miserable specimen, he was bound to say.

"It wasn't that, Mr. Vinson. I should have let him go in any case – once I'd recovered what he'd taken – as a matter of principle."

"Principle!" cried the Secretary of State. But he did not modify his front-bench attitude; it was only the well-known eyebrows that rose.

"The whole thing is," his guest continued, yet more frankly, "that I happen to hold my own views on crime and its punishment If I might be permitted to explain them, however briefly, they would at least afford the only excuse I have to offer for my conduct. If you consider it no excuse, and if I have put myself within reach of the law, there, sir, is my card; and here am I, prepared to take the consequences of my act."

The Home Secretary leaned forward and took the card from a sensitive hand, vibrant as the voice to which he had just been listening, but no more tremulous. Again he looked up, into a pale face grown paler still, and dark eyes smoldering with suppressed enthusiasm. It was by no means his baptism of that sort of fire; but it seemed to Mr. Vinson that here was a new type of eccentric zealot; and it was only by an effort that he resumed his House of Commons attitude and his smile.

"I see, Doctor Dollar, that you are a near neighbor of mine – only just round the corner in Welbeck Street. May I take it that your experience as a consultant is the basis of the views you mention?"

"My experience as an alienist," said Doctor Dollar, "so far as I can lay claims to that euphemism."

"And how far is that, doctor?"

"In the sense that all crime is a form of madness."

"Then you would call yourself – "

The broken sentence ended on a note as tactfully remote from the direct interrogative as practised speech could make it.

"In default of a recognized term," said Doctor Dollar, "which time will confer as part of a wider recognition, I can only call myself a crime doctor."

"A branch not yet acknowledged by your profession?"

"Neither by my profession nor by the law, Mr. Vinson; but both have got to come to it, just as surely as we all accept the other scientific developments of the day."

"But have you reduced your practise to a science, doctor?"

"I am doing so," said Doctor Dollar, with the restrained confidence which could not but impress one who knew the value of that quality in himself and in others. "I have made a start; if it were not so late I would tell you all about it. You are the Home Secretary of England, the man of all others whom I could wish to convert to my views. But already I have kept you up too long. If you would grant me an appointment – "

"Not at all," interrupted Mr. Vinson, as he settled himself even more comfortably in his chair. "The night is still young – so is my cigar. Pray say all you care to say, and say it as confidentially as you please. You interest me, Doctor Dollar; nor can I forget that I am much indebted to you."

"I don't want to trade on that," returned the doctor, hastily. "But it is an old dream of mine to tell you, sir, about my work, and how and why I came to take it up. I was not intended for medicine, you see; my people are army people, were Border outlaws once upon a time, and fighting folk ever since. My father was an ensign in the Crimea – Scots Fusiliers. I joined the Argyll and Sutherlands the year before South Africa – where, by the way, I remember seeing you with your Yeomen."

"I had eighteen months of it without a headache or a scratch."

"I wish I could say the same, Mr. Vinson. I was shot through the head at the Modder, ten days after I landed."

"Through the head, did you say?" asked the Home Secretary, lifting his own some inches.

The doctor touched the silver patch in his dark strong hair. "That's where the bullet came slinking out; any but a Mauser would have carried all before it! As it was, it left me with a bit of a squint, as you can see; otherwise, in a very few weeks, I was as fit as ever – physically."

"Wonderful!"

"Physically and even mentally – from a medical point of view – but not morally, Mr. Vinson! Something subtle had happened, some pressure somewhere, some form of local paralysis. And it left me a pretty low-down type, I can tell you! It was a case of absolute automatism – but I won't go into particulars now, if you don't mind."

"On no account, my dear doctor!" exclaimed the Secretary of State, with inadvertent cordiality. "This is all of extraordinary interest. I believe I can see what's coming. But I want to hear every word you care to tell me – and not one that you don't."

"It had destroyed my moral sense on just one curious point; but, thank God, I came to see the cause as well as to suffer unspeakably from the effect. After that it was a case of killing or curing oneself by hook or by crook. I decided to try the curing first. And – to cut a long yarn short – I was cured."

"Easily?"

"No. The slander may come home to roost, but I shall never think much of the London specialist! I've dropped my two sovereigns and a florin into too many of their itching palms, beginning with the baronets and knights and ending up with the unknown adventures. But not a man-Jack of them was ashamed to pocket his two guineas (in one case three) for politely telling me I was as mad as a hatter to think of such a thing as really was the matter with me!"

"And in the end?"

"In the end I struck a fellow with an open mind – but not in England – and if I said that he literally opened mine it might be an exaggeration, but that's all. He did go prospecting in my skull – risked his reputation as against my life – but we both came out on top."

"And you've been your own man ever since?"

Topham Vinson asked the question gravely; it would have taken as keen a superficial observer as himself to detect much difference in his manner, in his eyes, in anything about him. Doctor Dollar was not that kind of observer. To see far one must look high, and to look high is to miss things under one's nose. It is all a matter of mental trajectory. In the sheer height of his enthusiasm, the soaring visionary was losing touch with the hard-headed groundling in the chair.

"I was cured," he answered with tense simplicity. "It was a miraculous cure, and yet no miracle. Anybody could perform its like, given the nerve and skill. Yet it seemed to me a new thing; its possibilities were almost appalling in their fascination. I must not speak of them, for in a large measure they are only possibilities still. But I resolved to qualify, so that at least I might be in a position to do as I had been done by. I had already left the service; but my fighting days were not over. I was going to fight Crime as it had never been fought before!"

There was a challenge in the pause made here. But the listener did not take it up, and the harangue ended on a humbler note:

"I studied at St. Mary's under men whose names you know as well as they know yours. I was at Berlin under Winterschladen, and with Jens Jennsen in Stockholm. Before I was thirty I had put up my plate in Welbeck Street, and there I am still."

"And yet," said the Home Secretary, with a faint and wary smile – "and yet the possibilities are still only possibilities!"

"On the surgical side, yes; there I was misled by my own abnormal case. When another sudden injury makes a monkey of an honest man, I know where to take him; but the average injury is too gradual, too subtle for the knife. Congenital cases are, of course, quite hopeless in that respect. Yet there are ways of curing even what I regard as the very worst type of congenital criminal at the present day."

"I wish I knew of some!" said Mr. Vinson cheerily. "But what, may I ask, do you regard as the very worst type of congenital criminal at the present day?"

"The society type," replied the crime doctor without an instant's hesitation.

His host permitted himself to open his eyes once more.

"Your ideas are rather sensational, aren't they, Doctor Dollar?"

"It's rather a sensational age, isn't it, Mr. Vinson? Your twentieth-century criminal, with his telephone and his motor-car – for professional purposes – his high explosives and his scientific tools, has got to be an educated person, to begin with; and I am afraid there's an increasing number of educated people who have got to be criminals or else paupers all their lives. A vicious circle, I think you must agree?"

"If you can square it with the truth."

"Isn't it almost a truism, Mr. Vinson? When society women making a living out of bridge, traffic in tickets for Royal enclosures, charge a fat fee for a presentation at Court, and a small fortune for launching an unlikely family in their own set, there must be some reason for it apart from their own depravity. They are no more naturally depraved than I am, but their purse is perhaps even smaller, and their wants are certainly ten times as great. Cupidity is not the motive power; it's simple shortage of the needful – from their point of view. Society increases and multiplies in everything but money, and transmits its expensive tastes without the means to indulge them. So we get our good ladies with their tariff of introductions, and our members of the best clubs always ready for a deal over a horse or a car or anything else that's going to bring them in a fiver. It's a short step from that sort of thing to a shady trick, and from a shady trick to downright crime. But it's a step often taken by the type I mean – though not necessarily with their eyes open. And that's just where the crime doctor should come in."

"In opening their eyes?"

"In saving 'em from themselves while they're still worth saving; in that prevention which is not only better than cure, but the vital principle of modern therapeutics in every other direction. In keeping good material out of prison at all costs, Mr. Vinson, and even though you turn your prisons into country houses with feather beds and moral entertainments every night in life!"

The Secretary of State smiled again, but this time with some sympathy and much less restraint. He was beginning to see some method in what had seemed at first unmitigated mania, and to take some interest in a point of view at least novel and entertaining. But the prison system was not to be attacked, even in terms of fantastic levity, without protest from its official champion.

"Prisons, my dear Doctor Dollar, exist for the benefit of those who keep out of them rather than those who will insist on getting in. Of course, the ideal thing would be to benefit both sides; and that's what we're aiming at all the time. It isn't our fault if a man who gets into quod is a marked man ever after; he shouldn't get into quod."

"You've put your finger on your own vulnerable point!" cried the eager doctor. "Why should he be a marked man? Why force a professional status on the mere dabbler in crime, who might never have dabbled again? It isn't as if it undid anything he's done; even hanging your murderer doesn't bring your victim back to life, and the chances are that he would never want to murder anybody else. On the other hand, how many serious crimes might be hushed up without anybody being a bit worse off than they were the very moment after their commission!"

Mr. Vinson had been framing an ironical rebuke in the name of morality and the Mosaic law; but he was not sorry to drop the irony and pin his opponent down.

"I hope, Doctor Dollar, it is not to be a function of the new faculty to collaborate in the concealment of crime and criminals?"

"It is impossible," replied the enthusiast, duly drawn, "to define the scope of an embryonic science. When the crime doctor has come to stay – as he will – I can see him playing a Protean part with the full sanction of his profession and of the law. He will be preventive officer, private detective, and father confessor in one, if not even privileged accessory after some awful fact. The humbler pioneer can hope for no such powers; his only chance is to work in the dark on his own lines, to use his own judgment and to take his own risks as I've done to-night. If he really can save a man by screening him, let him do it and blow the odds! If he can stop a thing without giving it away, all the better for everybody, and if he fails to stop it all the worse for him! Let him be a law unto his patient and himself, but let him stand the racket if his law won't work."

"In other words, you would tackle character as ordinary doctors and persons devote themselves to the body and the soul?"

"It would come to that, Mr. Vinson. It's a large order, I know, and I don't expect to see the goods delivered in my time. It will take better men than I am, and many of 'em, even to start delivery on the scale I dream about. But that's the idea all right. Punishment has never signified prevention; what we want is to get under the criminal's skin before we make it smart, if not before there's an actual criminal in the case at all!"

"A very plausible confession of faith, Doctor Dollar."

The Minister's tone was dry after the other, but that was all. His fixed eyes seemed to be looking through the doctor's into the scheme itself, probing it on its merits in the very spirit in which it had been propounded. It is only the small men who laugh in the face of genuine enthusiasm, however wild and flighty it may seem. Topham Vinson was not a small man; but he, too, had been guilty of some wild flights in his day, and office had not altogether clipped his wings. The sportsman and the charlatan within him were only too ready to see themselves in another, to hear their own voices on other lips. But the appeal to temperament does not necessarily compromise the mind. And that citadel still flew a neutral flag.

"What about the practise?" asked Topham Vinson, forcing himself back to facts.

"Rome took less building than a London practise, by an unknown man striking out a new line for himself."

"I really don't wonder. Who would come to consult you about a homicidal tendency, or a trick of tampering with special offertories?"

"In the first instance, most likely, the patient's people; then they might send him to see me on some other pretext."

"And what form would the treatment take?"

"It would depend, of course, upon the case. They don't all know that they're being treated for incipient criminality. The majority think they are in an ordinary nursing home."

"A home!" cried the Secretary of State. The word had brought him to his feet at last, in a frame of mind no longer to be concealed by nods and smiles. "You don't mean to tell me, Doctor Dollar, that you actually run a nursing home for unconvicted criminals?"

"Potential criminals, Mr. Vinson. I have at present no patient who is actually wanted by the police."



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