The Crime Doctor
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"It's me – Edenborough," it continued in a hurried whisper. "I want you to get into some clothes and come up to the ice-run as quick as possible!"
"Why? What has happened?" asked the doctor, jumping out of bed as Edenborough drew the curtains.
"Nothing yet. I hope nothing will – "
"But something has!" interrupted the doctor. "What's the matter with your eye?"
"I'll tell you as you dress, only be as quick as you can. Did you forget it was the toboggan races this morning? They're having them at eight instead of nine, because of the sun, and it's ten to eight now. Couldn't you get into some knickerbockers and stick a sweater over all the rest? That's what I've done – wish I'd come to you first. They'll want a doctor if we don't make haste!"
"I wish you'd tell me about your eye," said Dollar, already in his stockings.
"My eye's all right," returned Edenborough, going to the glass. "No, by jove, it's blacker than I thought, and my head's still singing like a kettle. I shouldn't have thought Laverick could hit so hard – drunk or sober."
"That madman?" cried Dollar, looking up from his laces. "I thought he turned in early for once in a way?"
"He was up early, anyhow," said Edenborough, grimly; "but I'll tell you the whole thing as we go up to the run, and I don't much mind who hears me. He's a worse hat even than we thought. I caught him tampering with the toboggans at five o'clock this morning!"
"One of the lot they keep in a shed just under our window, at the back of the hotel. I was lying awake and I heard something. It was like a sort of filing, as if somebody was breaking in somewhere. I got up and looked out, and thought I saw a light. Lucy was fast asleep; she is still, by the way, and doesn't know a thing."
"I'm ready," said Dollar. "Go on when we get outside."
It was a very pale blue morning, not a scintilla of sunlight in the valley, neither shine nor shadow upon clambering forest or overhanging rocks. Somewhere behind their jagged peaks the sun must have risen, but as yet no snowy facet winked the news to Winterwald, and the softer summits lost all character against a sky only less white than themselves.
The village street presented no difficulties to Edenborough's gouties and the doctor's nails; but there were other people in it, and voices travel in a frost over silent snow. On the frozen path between the snow-fields, beyond the village, nails were not enough, and the novice depending upon them stumbled and slid as the elaborated climax of Edenborough's experience induced even more speed.
"It was him all right – try the edge, doctor, it's less slippy. It was that young brute in his domino, as if he'd never been to bed at all, and me in my dressing-gown not properly awake. We should have looked a funny pair in – have my arm, doctor."
"But his electric lamp was the only light. He didn't attempt to put it out.'Just tuning up my toboggan,' he whispered. 'Come and have a look.' I didn't and don't believe it was his own toboggan; it was probably that Captain Strong's, he's his most dangerous rival; but, as I tell you, I was just going to look when the young brute hit me full in the face without a moment's warning. I went over like an ox, but I think the back of my head must have hit something. There was daylight in the place when I opened the only eye I could."
"Had he locked you in?"
"No; he was too fly for that; but I simply couldn't move till I heard voices coming, and then I only crawled behind a stack of garden chairs and things. It was Strong and another fellow – they did curse to find the whole place open! I nearly showed up and told my tale, only I wanted to tell you first."
"I'm glad you have, George."
"I knew your interest in the fellow – besides, I thought it was a case for you," said George Edenborough simply. "But it kept me prisoner till the last of the toboggans had been taken out – I only hope it hasn't made us too late!"
His next breath was a devout thanksgiving, as a fold in the glistening slopes showed the top of the ice-run, and a group of men in sweaters standing out against the fir-trees on the crest. They seemed to be standing very still. Some had their padded elbows lifted as though they were shading their eyes. But there was no sign of a toboggan starting, no sound of one in the invisible crevice of the run. And now man after man detached himself from the group, and came leaping down the subsidiary snow-track meant only for ascent.
But John Dollar and George Edenborough did not see all of this. A yet more ominous figure had appeared in their own path, had grown into Mostyn Scarth, and stood wildly beckoning to them both.
"It's Jack!" he shouted across the snow. "He's had a smash – self and toboggan – flaw in a runner. I'm afraid he's broken his leg."
"Only his leg!" cried Dollar, but not with the least accent of relief. The tone made Edenborough wince behind him, and Scarth in front look round. It was as though even the crime doctor thought Jack Laverick better dead.
He lay on a litter of overcoats, the hub of a wheel of men that broke of itself before the first doctor on the scene. He was not even insensible, neither was he uttering moan or groan; but his white lips were drawn away from his set teeth, and his left leg had an odd look of being no more a part of him than its envelope of knickerbocker and stocking.
"It's a bu'st, doctor, I'm afraid," the boy ground out as Dollar knelt in the snow. "Hurting? A bit – but I can stick it."
Courage was the one quality he had not lost during the last year; nobody could have shown more during the slow and excruciating progress to the village, on a bobsleigh carried by four stumbling men; everybody was whispering about it. Everybody but the crime doctor, who headed the little procession with a face in keeping with the tone which had made Edenborough wince and Scarth look round.
The complex case of the night – this urgent one – both were forgot in Dollar's own case of years ago. He was back again in another Winterwald, another world. It was no longer a land of Christmas-trees growing out of mountains of Christmas cake; the snow melted before his mind's eye; he was hugging the shadows in a street of toy-houses yielding resin to an August sun, between green slopes combed with dark pines, under a sky of intolerable blue. And he was in despair; all Harley Street could or would do nothing for him. And then – and then – some forgotten ache or pain had taken him to the little man – the great man – down this very turning to the left, in the little wooden house tucked away behind the shops.
How he remembered every landmark – the handrail down the slope – the little porch – the bare stairs, his own ladder between death and life – the stark surgery with its uncompromising appliances in full view! And now at last he was there with such another case as his own – the minor case that he had yet burned to bring there – and there was Alt to receive them in the same white jacket and with the same simple countenance as of old!
They might have taken him on to the hotel, as Scarth indeed urged strongly; but the boy himself was against another yard, though otherwise a hero to the end.
"Chloroform?" he cried faintly. "Can't I have my beastly leg set without chloroform? You're not going to have it off, are you? I can stick anything short of that."
The two doctors retired for the further consideration of a point on which they themselves were not of one mind.
"It's the chance of our lives, and the one chance for him," urged Dollar vehemently. "It isn't as if it were such a dangerous operation, and I'll take sole responsibility."
"But I am not sure you have been right," demurred the other. "He has not even had concussion, a year ago. It has been only the ear."
"There's a lump behind it still. Everything dates from when it happened; there's some pressure somewhere that has made another being of him. It's a much simpler case than mine, and you cured me. Alt, if you had seen how his own mother wrote about him, you would be the very last man to hesitate!"
"It is better to have her consent."
"No – nobody's – the boy himself need never know. There's a young bride here who'll nurse him like an angel and hold her tongue till doomsday. She and her husband may be in the secret, but not another soul!"
And when Jack Laverick came out of chloroform, to feel a frosty tickling under the tabernacle of bedclothes in which his broken bone was as the Ark, the sensation was less uncomfortable than he expected. But that of a dull deep pain in the head drew his first complaint, as an item not in the estimate.
"What's my head all bandaged up for?" he demanded, fingering the turban on the pillow.
"Didn't you know it was broken, too?" said Lucy Edenborough gravely. "I expect your leg hurt so much more that you never noticed it!"
Ten days later Mostyn Scarth called at Doctor Alt's, to ask if he mightn't see Jack at last. He had behaved extremely well about the whole affair; others in his position might easily have made trouble. But there had been no concealment of the fact that injuries were not confined to the broken leg, and the mere seat of the additional mischief was enough for a man of sense. It is not the really strong who love to display their power. Scarth not only accepted the situation, but voluntarily conducted the correspondence which kept poor Mrs. Laverick at half Europe's length over the critical period. He had merely stipulated to be the first to see the convalescent, and he took it as well as ever when Dollar shook his head once more.
"It's not our fault this time, Mr. Scarth. You must blame the sex that is privileged to change its mind. Mrs. Laverick has arrived without a word of warning. She is with her son at this moment, and you'll be glad to hear that she thinks she finds him an absolutely changed character – or, rather, what he was before he ever saw Winterwald a year ago. I may say that this seems more or less the patient's own impression about himself."
"Glad!" cried Scarth, who for the moment had seemed rather staggered. "I'm more than glad; I'm profoundly relieved! It doesn't matter now whether I see Jack or not. Do you mind giving him these magazines and papers, with my love? I am thankful that my responsibility's at an end."
"The same with me," returned the crime doctor. "I shall go back to my work in London with a better conscience than I had when I left it – with something accomplished – something undone that wanted undoing."
He smiled at Scarth across the flap of an unpretentious table, on which lay the literary offering in all its glory of green and yellow wrappers; and Scarth looked up without a trace of pique, but with an answering twinkle in his own dark eyes.
"Alt exalted – restored to favor – Jack reformed character – born again – forger forgot – forging ahead, eh?"
It was his best Mr. Jingle manner; indeed, a wonderfully ready and ruthless travesty of his own performance on the night of Dollar's arrival. And that kindred critic enjoyed it none the less for a second strain of irony, which he could not but take to himself.
"I have not forgot anybody, Mr. Scarth."
"But have you discovered who did the forgery?"
"I always knew."
"Have you tackled him?"
Scarth looked astounded. "And what's to happen to him, doctor?"
"I don't know." The doctor gave a characteristic shrug. "It's not my job; as it was, I'd done all the detective business, which I loathe."
"I remember," cried Scarth. "I shall never forget the way you went through that prescription, as though you had been looking over the blighter's shoulder! Not an expert – modest fellow – pride that apes!"
And again Dollar had to laugh at the way Mr. Jingle wagged his head, in spite of the same slightly caustic undercurrent as before.
"That was the easiest part of it," he answered, "although you make me blush to say so. The hard part was what reviewers of novels call the 'motivation.'"
"But you had that in Schickel's spite against Alt."
"It was never quite strong enough to please me."
"Then what was the motive, doctor?"
"Young Laverick's death."
"I wish it were, Mr. Scarth."
"But who is there in Winterwald who could wish to compass such a thing?"
"There were more than two thousand visitors over Christmas, I understand," was the only reply.
It would not do for Mostyn Scarth. He looked less than politely incredulous, if not less shocked and rather more indignant than he need have looked. But the whole idea was a reflection upon his care of the unhappy youth. And he said so in other words, which resembled those of Mr. Jingle only in their stiff staccato brevity.
"Talk about 'motivation'! – I thank you, doctor, for that word – but I should thank you even more to show me the thing itself in your theory. And what a way to kill a fellow! What a roundabout, risky way!"
"It was such a good forgery," observed the doctor, "that even Alt himself could hardly swear that it was one."
"Is he your man?" asked Scarth, in a sudden whisper, leaning forward with lighted eyes.
The crime doctor smiled enigmatically. "It's perhaps just as lucky for him, Scarth, that at least he could have had nothing to do with the second attempt upon his patient's life."
"What second attempt?"
"The hand that forged the prescription, Scarth, with intent to poison young Laverick, was the one that also filed the flaw in his toboggan, in the hope of breaking his neck."
"My dear doctor," exclaimed Mostyn Scarth, with a pained shake of the head, "this is stark, staring madness!"
"I only hope it was – in the would-be murderer," rejoined Dollar gravely. "But he had a lot of method; he even did his bit of filing – a burglar couldn't have done it better – in the domino Jack Laverick had just taken off!"
"How do you know he had taken it off? How do you know the whole job wasn't one of Jack's drunken tricks?"
"What whole job?"
"The one you're talking about – the alleged tampering with his toboggan," replied Scarth, impatiently.
"Oh! I only thought you meant something more." Dollar made a pause. "Don't you feel it rather hot in here, Scarth?"
"Do you know, I do!" confessed the visitor, as though it were Dollar's house and breeding had forbidden him to volunteer the remark. "It's the heat of this stove, with the window shut. Thanks so much, doctor!"
And he wiped his strong, brown, beautifully shaven face; it was one of those that require shaving more than once a day, yet it was always glossy from the razor; and he burnished it afresh with a silk handkerchief that would have passed through a packing-needle's eye.
"And what are you really doing about this – monster?" he resumed, as who should accept the monster's existence for the sake of argument.
"Nothing? You intend to do nothing at all?"
Scarth had started, for the first time; but he started to his feet, while he was about it, as though in overpowering disgust.
"Not if he keeps out of England," replied the crime doctor, who had also risen. "I wonder if he's sane enough for that?"
Their four eyes met in a protracted scrutiny, without a flicker on either side.
"What I am wondering," said Scarth deliberately, "is whether this Frankenstein effort of yours exists outside your own imagination, Doctor Dollar."
"Oh! he exists all right," declared the doctor. "But I am charitable enough to suppose him mad – in spite of his method and his motive."
"Did he tell you what that was?" asked Scarth with a sneer.
"No; but Jack did. He seems to have been in the man's power – under his influence – to an extraordinary degree. He had even left him a wicked sum in a will made since he came of age. I needn't tell you that he has now made another, revoking – "
"No, you need not!" cried Mostyn Scarth, turning livid at the last moment. "I've heard about enough of your mares' nests and mythical monsters. I wish you good morning, and a more credulous audience next time."
"That I can count upon," returned the doctor at the door. "There's no saying what they won't believe – at Scotland Yard!"