IX. THE PARADE, BRADFIELD, 23rd April, 1882

Most of it, however, is poor stuff, and we are each agreed that the other was never meant for a novelist.

So much for our domestic proceedings, and all these little details which you say you like to hear of. Now I must tell you of the great big change in my affairs, and how it came about.

I have told you about the strange, sulky behaviour of Cullingworth, which has been deepening from day to day. Well, it seemed to reach a climax this morning, and on our way to the rooms I could hardly get a word out of him. The place was fairly crowded with patients, but my own share was rather below the average. When I had finished I added a chapter to my novel, and waited until he and his wife were ready for the daily bag-carrying homewards.

It was half-past three before he had done. I heard him stamp out into the passage, and a moment later he came banging into my room. I saw in an instant that some sort of a crisis had come.

“Munro,” he cried, “this practice is going to the devil!”

“Ah!” said I. “How’s that?

“It’s going to little pieces, Munro. I’ve been taking figures, and I know what I am talking about. A month ago I was seeing six hundred a week. Then I dropped to five hundred and eighty; then to five-seventy-five; and now to five-sixty. What do you think of that?”

“To be honest, I don’t think much of it,” I answered. “The summer is coming on. You are losing all your coughs and colds and sore throats. Every practice must dwindle at this time of year.”

“That’s all very well,” said he, pacing up and down the room, with his hands thrust into his pockets, and his great shaggy eyebrows knotted together. “You may put it down to that, but I think quite differently about it.”

“What do you put it down to, then?”

“To you.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well,” said he, “you must allow that it is a very queer coincidence—if it is a coincidence—that from the day when your plate was put up my practice has taken a turn for the worse.”

“I should be very sorry to think it was cause and effect,” I answered. “How do you think that my presence could have hurt you?”

“I’ll tell you frankly, old chap,” said he, putting on suddenly that sort of forced smile which always seems to me to have a touch of a sneer in it. “You see, many of my patients are simple country folk, half imbecile for the most part, but then the half-crown of an imbecile is as good as any other half-crown. They come to my door, and they see two names, and their silly jaws begin to drop, and they say to each other, ‘There’s two of ’em here. It’s Dr. Cullingworth we want to see, but if we go in we’ll be shown as likely as not to Dr. Munro.’ So it ends in some cases in their not coming at all. Then there are the women. Women don’t care a toss whether you are a Solomon, or whether you are hot from an asylum. It’s all personal with them. You fetch them, or you don’t fetch them. I know how to work them, but they won’t come if they think they are going to be turned over to anybody else. That’s what I put the falling away down to.”

“Well,” said I, “that’s easily set right.” I marched out of the room and downstairs, with both Cullingworth and his wife behind me. Into the yard I went, and, picking up a big hammer, I started for the front door, with the pair still at my heels. I got the forked end of the hammer under my plate, and with a good wrench I brought the whole thing clattering on to the pavement.

“That won’t interfere with you any more,” said I.

“What do you intend to do now?” he asked.

“Oh, I shall find plenty to do. Don’t you worry about that,” I answered.

“Oh, but this is all rot,” said he, picking up the plate. “Come along upstairs and let us see where we stand.”

We filed off once more, he leading with the huge brass “Dr. Munro” under his arm; then the little woman, and then this rather perturbed and bemuddled young man. He and his wife sat on the deal table in the consulting room, like a hawk and a turtle-dove on the same perch, while I leaned against the mantelpiece with my hands in my pockets. Nothing could be more prosaic and informal; but I knew very well that I was at a crisis of my life. Before, it was only a choosing between two roads. Now my main track had run suddenly to nothing, and I must go back or find a bye-path.

“It’s this way, Cullingworth,” said I. “I am very much obliged to you, and to you, Mrs. Cullingworth, for all your kindness and good wishes, but I did not come here to spoil your practice; and, after what you have told me, it is quite impossible for me to work with you any more.”

“Well, my boy,” said he, “I am inclined myself to think that we should do better apart; and that’s Hetty’s idea also, only she is too polite to say so.”

“It is a time for plain speaking,” I answered, “and we may as well thoroughly understand each other. If I have done your practice any harm, I assure you that I am heartily sorry, and I shall do all I can to repair it. I cannot say more.”

“What are you going to do, then?” asked Cullingworth.

“I shall either go to sea or else start a practice on my own account.”

“But you have no money.”

“Neither had you when you started.”

“Ah, that was different. Still, it may be that you are right. You’ll find it a stiff pull at first.”

“Oh, I am quite prepared for that.”

“Well, you know, Munro, I feel that I am responsible to you to some extent, since I persuaded you not to take that ship the other day.”

“It was a pity, but it can’t be helped.”

“We must do what we can to make up. Now, I tell you what I am prepared to do. I was talking about it with Hetty this morning, and she thought as I did. If we were to allow you one pound a week until you got your legs under you, it would encourage you to start for yourself, and you could pay it back as soon as you were able.”

“It is very kind of you,” said I. “If you would let the matter stand just now, I should like just to take a short walk by myself, and to think it all over.”

So the Cullingworths did their bag-procession through the doctors’ quarter alone to-day, and I walked to the park, where I sat down on one of the seats, lit a cigar, and thought the whole matter over. I was down on my luck at first; but the balmy air and the smell of spring and the budding flowers soon set me right again. I began my last letter among the stars, and I am inclined to finish this one among the flowers, for they are rare companions when one’s mind is troubled. Most things on this earth, from a woman’s beauty to the taste of a nectarine, seem to be the various baits with which Nature lures her silly gudgeons. They shall eat, they shall propagate, and for the sake of pleasing themselves they shall hurry down the road which has been laid out for them. But there lurks no bribe in the smell and beauty of the flower. It’s charm has no ulterior motive.

Well, I sat down there and brooded. In my heart I did not believe that Cullingworth had taken alarm at so trifling a decrease. That could not have been his real reason for driving me from the practice. He had found me in the way in his domestic life, no doubt, and he had devised this excuse for getting rid of me. Whatever the reason was, it was sufficiently plain that all my hopes of building up a surgical practice, which should keep parallel with his medical one, were for ever at an end. On the whole, bearing in mind my mother’s opposition, and the continual janglings which we had had during the last few weeks, I was not very sorry. On the contrary, a sudden curious little thrill of happiness took me somewhere about the back of the midriff, and, as a drift of rooks passed cawing over my head, I began cawing also in the overflow of my spirits.

And then as I walked back I considered how far I could avail myself of this money from Cullingworth. It was not much, but it would be madness to start without it, for I had sent home the little which I had saved at Horton’s. I had not more than six pounds in the whole world. I reflected that the money could make no difference to Cullingworth, with his large income, while it made a vast one to me. I should repay him in a year or two at the latest. Perhaps I might get on so well as to be able to dispense with it almost at once. There could be no doubt that it was the representations of Cullingworth as to my future prospects in Bradfield which had made me refuse the excellent appointment in the Decia. I need not therefore have any scruples at accepting some temporary assistance from his hands. On my return, I told him that I had decided to do so, and thanked him at the same time for his generosity.

“That’s all right,” said he. “Hetty, my dear, get a bottle of fez in, and we shall drink success to Munro’s new venture.”

It seemed only the other day that he had been drinking my entrance into partnership; and here we were, the same three, sipping good luck to my exit from it! I’m afraid our second ceremony was on both sides the heartier of the two.

“I must decide now where I am to start,” I remarked. “What I want is some nice little town where all the people are rich and ill.”

“I suppose you wouldn’t care to settle here in Bradfield?” asked Cullingworth.

“Well, I cannot see much point in that. If I harmed you as a partner, I might do so more as a rival. If I succeeded it might be at your expense.”

“Well,” said he, “choose your town, and my offer still holds good.”

We hunted out an atlas, and laid the map of England before us on the table. Cities and villages lay beneath me as thick as freckles, and yet there was nothing to lead me to choose one rather than another.

“I think it should be some place large enough to give you plenty of room for expansion,” said he.

“Not too near London,” added Mrs. Cullingworth.

“And, above all, a place where I know nobody,” said I. “I can rough it by myself, but I can’t keep up appearances before visitors.”

“What do you say to Stockwell?” said Cullingworth, putting the amber of his pipe upon a town within thirty miles of Bradfield.

I had hardly heard of the place, but I raised my glass. “Well, here’s to Stockwell!” I cried; “I shall go there to-morrow morning and prospect.” We all drank the toast (as you will do at Lowell when you read this); and so it is arranged, and you may rely upon it that I shall give you a full and particular account of the result.