M.R. James ~ Two Doctors

It is a very common thing, in my experience, to find papers shut up in
old books; but one of the rarest things to come across any such that
are at all interesting. Still it does happen, and one should never
destroy them unlooked at. Now it was a practice of mine before the war
occasionally to buy old ledgers of which the paper was good, and which
possessed a good many blank leaves, and to extract these and use them
for my own notes and writings. One such I purchased for a small sum in
1911. It was tightly clasped, and its boards were warped by having for
years been obliged to embrace a number of extraneous sheets.
Three-quarters of this inserted matter had lost all vestige of
importance for any living human being: one bundle had not. That it
belonged to a lawyer is certain, for it is endorsed: _The strangest
case I have yet met_, and bears initials, and an address in Gray’s
Inn. It is only materials for a case, and consists of statements by
possible witnesses. The man who would have been the defendant or
prisoner seems never to have appeared. The _dossier_ is not complete,
but, such as it is, it furnishes a riddle in which the supernatural
appears to play a part. You must see what you can make of it.

The following is the setting and the tale as I elicit it.

Dr. Abell was walking in his garden one afternoon waiting for his
horse to be brought round that he might set out on his visits for the
day. As the place was Islington, the month June, and the year 1718, we
conceive the surroundings as being countrified and pleasant. To him
entered his confidential servant, Luke Jennett, who had been with him
twenty years.

“I said I wished to speak to him, and what I had to say might take
some quarter of an hour. He accordingly bade me go into his study,
which was a room opening on the terrace path where he was walking, and
came in himself and sat down. I told him that, much against my will, I
must look out for another place. He inquired what was my reason, in
consideration I had been so long with him. I said if he would excuse
me he would do me a great kindness, because (this appears to have
been common form even in 1718) I was one that always liked to have
everything pleasant about me. As well as I can remember, he said that
was his case likewise, but he would wish to know why I should change
my mind after so many years, and, says he, ‘you know there can be no
talk of a remembrance of you in my will if you leave my service now.’
I said I had made my reckoning of that.

“‘Then,’ says he, ‘you must have some complaint to make, and if I
could I would willingly set it right.’ And at that I told him, not
seeing how I could keep it back, the matter of my former affidavit and
of the bedstaff in the dispensing-room, and said that a house where
such things happened was no place for me. At which he, looking very
black upon me, said no more, but called me fool, and said he would pay
what was owing me in the morning; and so, his horse being waiting,
went out. So for that night I lodged with my sister’s husband near
Battle Bridge and came early next morning to my late master, who then
made a great matter that I had not lain in his house and stopped a
crown out of my wages owing.

“After that I took service here and there, not for long at a time,
and saw no more of him till I came to be Dr. Quinn’s man at Dodds Hall
in Islington.”

There is one very obscure part in this statement, namely, the
reference to the former affidavit and the matter of the bedstaff. The
former affidavit is not in the bundle of papers. It is to be feared
that it was taken out to be read because of its special oddity, and
not put back. Of what nature the story was may be guessed later, but
as yet no clue has been put into our hands.

The Rector of Islington, Jonathan Pratt, is the next to step forward.
He furnishes particulars of the standing and reputation of Dr. Abell
and Dr. Quinn, both of whom lived and practised in his parish.

“It is not to be supposed,” he says, “that a physician should be a
regular attendant at morning and evening prayers, or at the Wednesday
lectures, but within the measure of their ability I would say that
both these persons fulfilled their obligations as loyal members of the
Church of England. At the same time (as you desire my private mind) I
must say, in the language of the schools, _distinguo_. Dr. A. was to
me a source of perplexity, Dr. Q. to my eye a plain, honest believer,
not inquiring over closely into points of belief, but squaring his
practice to what lights he had. The other interested himself in
questions to which Providence, as I hold, designs no answer to be
given us in this state: he would ask me, for example, what place I
believed those beings now to hold in the scheme of creation which by
some are thought neither to have stood fast when the rebel angels
fell, nor to have joined with them to the full pitch of their

“As was suitable, my first answer to him was a question, What warrant
he had for supposing any such beings to exist? for that there was none
in Scripture I took it he was aware. It appeared–for as I am on the
subject, the whole tale may be given–that he grounded himself on such
passages as that of the satyr which Jerome tells us conversed with
Antony; but thought too that some parts of Scripture might be cited in
support. ‘And besides,’ said he, ‘you know ’tis the universal belief
among those that spend their days and nights abroad, and I would add
that if your calling took you so continuously as it does me about the
country lanes by night, you might not be so surprised as I see you to
be by my suggestion.’ ‘You are then of John Milton’s mind,’ I said,
‘and hold that

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.’

“‘I do not know,’ he said, ‘why Milton should take upon himself to say
“unseen”; though to be sure he was blind when he wrote that. But for
the rest, why, yes, I think he was in the right.’ ‘Well,’ I said,
‘though not so often as you, I am not seldom called abroad pretty
late; but I have no mind of meeting a satyr in our Islington lanes in
all the years I have been here; and if you have had the better luck, I
am sure the Royal Society would be glad to know of it.’

“I am reminded of these trifling expressions because Dr. A. took them
so ill, stamping out of the room in a huff with some such word as that
these high and dry parsons had no eyes but for a prayerbook or a pint
of wine.

“But this was not the only time that our conversation took a
remarkable turn. There was an evening when he came in, at first
seeming gay and in good spirits, but afterwards as he sat and smoked
by the fire falling into a musing way; out of which to rouse him I
said pleasantly that I supposed he had had no meetings of late with
his odd friends. A question which did effectually arouse him, for he
looked most wildly, and as if scared, upon me, and said, ‘_You_ were
never there? I did not see you. Who brought you?’ And then in a more
collected tone, ‘What was this about a meeting? I believe I must have
been in a doze.’ To which I answered that I was thinking of fauns and
centaurs in the dark lane, and not of a witches’ Sabbath; but it
seemed he took it differently.

“‘Well,’ said he, ‘I can plead guilty to neither; but I find you very
much more of a sceptic than becomes your cloth. If you care to know
about the dark lane you might do worse than ask my housekeeper that
lived at the other end of it when she was a child.’ ‘Yes,’ said I,
‘and the old women in the almshouse and the children in the kennel. If
I were you, I would send to your brother Quinn for a bolus to clear
your brain.’ ‘Damn Quinn,’ says he; ‘talk no more of him: he has
embezzled four of my best patients this month; I believe it is that
cursed man of his, Jennett, that used to be with me, his tongue is
never still; it should be nailed to the pillory if he had his
deserts.’ This, I may say, was the only time of his showing me that he
had any grudge against either Dr. Quinn or Jennett, and as was my
business, I did my best to persuade him he was mistaken in them. Yet
it could not be denied that some respectable families in the parish
had given him the cold shoulder, and for no reason that they were
willing to allege. The end was that he said he had not done so ill at
Islington but that he could afford to live at ease elsewhere when he
chose, and anyhow he bore Dr. Quinn no malice. I think I now remember
what observation of mine drew him into the train of thought which he
next pursued. It was, I believe, my mentioning some juggling tricks
which my brother in the East Indies had seen at the court of the Rajah
of Mysore. ‘A convenient thing enough,’ said Dr. Abell to me, ‘if by
some arrangement a man could get the power of communicating motion and
energy to inanimate objects.’ ‘As if the axe should move itself
against him that lifts it; something of that kind?’ ‘Well, I don’t
know that that was in my mind so much; but if you could summon such a
volume from your shelf or even order it to open at the right page.’

“He was sitting by the fire–it was a cold evening–and stretched out
his hand that way, and just then the fire-irons, or at least the
poker, fell over towards him with a great clatter, and I did not hear
what else he said. But I told him that I could not easily conceive of
an arrangement, as he called it, of such a kind that would not include
as one of its conditions a heavier payment than any Christian would
care to make; to which he assented. ‘But,’ he said, ‘I have no doubt
these bargains can be made very tempting, very persuasive. Still, you
would not favour them, eh, Doctor? No, I suppose not.’

“This is as much as I know of Dr. Abell’s mind, and the feeling
between these men. Dr. Quinn, as I said, was a plain, honest creature,
and a man to whom I would have gone–indeed I have before now gone to
him for advice on matters of business. He was, however, every now and
again, and particularly of late, not exempt from troublesome fancies.
There was certainly a time when he was so much harassed by his dreams
that he could not keep them to himself, but would tell them to his
acquaintances and among them to me. I was at supper at his house, and
he was not inclined to let me leave him at my usual time. ‘If you
go,’ he said, ‘there will be nothing for it but I must go to bed and
dream of the chrysalis.’ ‘You might be worse off,’ said I. ‘I do not
think it,’ he said, and he shook himself like a man who is displeased
with the complexion of his thoughts. ‘I only meant,’ said I, ‘that a
chrysalis is an innocent thing.’ ‘This one is not,’ he said, ‘and I do
not care to think of it.’

“However, sooner than lose my company he was fain to tell me (for I
pressed him) that this was a dream which had come to him several times
of late, and even more than once in a night. It was to this effect,
that he seemed to himself to wake under an extreme compulsion to rise
and go out of doors. So he would dress himself and go down to his
garden door. By the door there stood a spade which he must take, and
go out into the garden, and at a particular place in the shrubbery
somewhat clear and upon which the moon shone, for there was always in
his dream a full moon, he would feel himself forced to dig. And after
some time the spade would uncover something light-coloured, which he
would perceive to be a stuff, linen or woollen, and this he must clear
with his hands. It was always the same: of the size of a man and
shaped like the chrysalis of a moth, with the folds showing a promise
of an opening at one end.

“He could not describe how gladly he would have left all at this stage
and run to the house, but he must not escape so easily. So with many
groans, and knowing only too well what to expect, he parted these
folds of stuff, or, as it sometimes seemed to be, membrane, and
disclosed a head covered with a smooth pink skin, which breaking as
the creature stirred, showed him his own face in a state of death. The
telling of this so much disturbed him that I was forced out of mere
compassion to sit with him the greater part of the night and talk with
him upon indifferent subjects. He said that upon every recurrence of
this dream he woke and found himself, as it were, fighting for his

Another extract from Luke Jennett’s long continuous statement comes in
at this point.

“I never told tales of my master, Dr. Abell, to anybody in the
neighbourhood. When I was in another service I remember to have spoken
to my fellow-servants about the matter of the bedstaff, but I am sure
I never said either I or he were the persons concerned, and it met
with so little credit that I was affronted and thought best to keep it
to myself. And when I came back to Islington and found Dr. Abell still
there, who I was told had left the parish, I was clear that it behoved
me to use great discretion, for indeed I was afraid of the man, and it
is certain I was no party to spreading any ill report of him. My
master, Dr. Quinn, was a very just, honest man, and no maker of
mischief. I am sure he never stirred a finger nor said a word by way
of inducement to a soul to make them leave going to Dr. Abell and come
to him; nay, he would hardly be persuaded to attend them that came,
until he was convinced that if he did not they would send into the
town for a physician rather than do as they had hitherto done.

“I believe it may be proved that Dr. Abell came into my master’s house
more than once. We had a new chambermaid out of Hertfordshire, and she
asked me who was the gentleman that was looking after the master, that
is Dr. Quinn, when he was out, and seemed so disappointed that he was
out. She said whoever he was he knew the way of the house well,
running at once into the study and then into the dispensing-room, and
last into the bed-chamber. I made her tell me what he was like, and
what she said was suitable enough to Dr. Abell; but besides she told
me she saw the same man at church and some one told her that was the

“It was just after this that my master began to have his bad nights,
and complained to me and other persons, and in particular what
discomfort he suffered from his pillow and bedclothes. He said he must
buy some to suit him, and should do his own marketing. And accordingly
brought home a parcel which he said was of the right quality, but
where he bought it we had then no knowledge, only they were marked in
thread with a coronet and a bird. The women said they were of a sort
not commonly met with and very fine, and my master said they were the
comfortablest he ever used, and he slept now both soft and deep. Also
the feather pillows were the best sorted and his head would sink into
them as if they were a cloud: which I have myself remarked several
times when I came to wake him of a morning, his face being almost hid
by the pillow closing over it.

“I had never any communication with Dr. Abell after I came back to
Islington, but one day when he passed me in the street and asked me
whether I was not looking for another service, to which I answered I
was very well suited where I was, but he said I was a tickle-minded
fellow and he doubted not he should soon hear I was on the world
again, which indeed proved true.”

Dr. Pratt is next taken up where he left off.

“On the 16th I was called up out of my bed soon after it was
light–that is about five–with a message that Dr. Quinn was dead or
dying. Making my way to his house I found there was no doubt which was
the truth. All the persons in the house except the one that let me in
were already in his chamber and standing about his bed, but none
touching him. He was stretched in the midst of the bed, on his back,
without any disorder, and indeed had the appearance of one ready laid
out for burial. His hands, I think, were even crossed on his breast.
The only thing not usual was that nothing was to be seen of his face,
the two ends of the pillow or bolster appearing to be closed quite
over it. These I immediately pulled apart, at the same time rebuking
those present, and especially the man, for not at once coming to the
assistance of his master. He, however, only looked at me and shook
his head, having evidently no more hope than myself that there was
anything but a corpse before us.

“Indeed it was plain to any one possessed of the least experience that
he was not only dead, but had died of suffocation. Nor could it be
conceived that his death was accidentally caused by the mere folding
of the pillow over his face. How should he not, feeling the
oppression, have lifted his hands to put it away? whereas not a fold
of the sheet which was closely gathered about him, as I now observed,
was disordered. The next thing was to procure a physician. I had
bethought me of this on leaving my house, and sent on the messenger
who had come to me to Dr. Abell; but I now heard that he was away from
home, and the nearest surgeon was got, who however could tell no more,
at least without opening the body, than we already knew.

“As to any person entering the room with evil purpose (which was the
next point to be cleared), it was visible that the bolts of the door
were burst from their stanchions, and the stanchions broken away from
the door-post by main force; and there was a sufficient body of
witness, the smith among them, to testify that this had been done but
a few minutes before I came. The chamber being moreover at the top of
the house, the window was neither easy of access nor did it show any
sign of an exit made that way, either by marks upon the sill or
footprints below upon soft mould.”

The surgeon’s evidence forms of course part of the report of the
inquest, but since it has nothing but remarks upon the healthy state
of the larger organs and the coagulation of blood in various parts of
the body, it need not be reproduced. The verdict was “Death by the
visitation of God.”

Annexed to the other papers is one which I was at first inclined to
suppose had made its way among them by mistake. Upon further
consideration I think I can divine a reason for its presence.

It relates to the rifling of a mausoleum in Middlesex which stood in a
park (now broken up), the property of a noble family which I will not
name. The outrage was not that of an ordinary resurrection man. The
object, it seemed likely, was theft. The account is blunt and
terrible. I shall not quote it. A dealer in the North of London
suffered heavy penalties as a receiver of stolen goods in connexion
with the affair.

E Bathory ... Countess Dracula


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s