Well, with half-an-hour for lunch, this extraordinary business went on till a quarter to four in the afternoon. When the last patient had departed, Cullingworth led the way into the dispensary, where all the fees had been arranged upon the counter in the order of their value. There were seventeen half-sovereigns, seventy-three shillings, and forty-six florins; or thirty-two pounds eight and sixpence in all. Cullingworth counted it up, and then mixing the gold and silver into one heap, he sat running his fingers through it and playing with it. Finally, he raked it into the canvas bag which I had seen the night before, and lashed the neck up with a boot-lace.

We walked home, and that walk struck me as the most extraordinary part of all that extraordinary day. Cullingworth paraded slowly through the principal streets with his canvas bag, full of money, outstretched at the full length of his arm. His wife and I walked on either side, like two acolytes supporting a priest, and so we made our way solemnly homewards the people stopping to see us pass.

“I always make a point of walking through the doctor’s quarter,” said Cullingworth. “We are passing through it now. They all come to their windows and gnash their teeth and dance until I am out of sight.”

“Why should you quarrel with them? What is the matter with them?” I asked.

“Pooh! what’s the use of being mealy-mouthed about it?” said he. “We are all trying to cut each other’s throats, and why should we be hypocritical over it? They haven’t got a good word for me, any one of them; so I like to take a rise out of them.”

“I must say that I can see no sense in that. They are your brothers in the profession, with the same education and the same knowledge. Why should you take an offensive attitude towards them?”

“That’s what I say, Dr. Munro,” cried his wife. “It is so very unpleasant to feel that one is surrounded by enemies on every side.”

“Hetty’s riled because their wives wouldn’t call upon her,” he cried. “Look at that, my dear,” jingling his bag. “That is better than having a lot of brainless women drinking tea and cackling in our drawing-room. I’ve had a big card printed, Munro, saying that we don’t desire to increase the circle of our acquaintance. The maid has orders to show it to every suspicious person who calls.”

“Why should you not make money at your practice, and yet remain on good terms with your professional brethren?” said I. “You speak as if the two things were incompatible.”

“So they are. What’s the good of beating about the bush, laddie? My methods are all unprofessional, and I break every law of medical etiquette as often as I can think of it. You know very well that the British Medical Association would hold up their hands in horror if it could see what you have seen to-day.”

“But why not conform to professional etiquette?”

“Because I know better. My boy, I’m a doctor’s son, and I’ve seen too much of it. I was born inside the machine, and I’ve seen all the wires. All this etiquette is a dodge for keeping the business in the hands of the older men. It’s to hold the young men back, and to stop the holes by which they might slip through to the front. I’ve heard my father say so a score of times. He had the largest practice in Scotland, and yet he was absolutely devoid of brains. He slipped into it through seniority and decorum. No pushing, but take your turn. Very well, laddie, when you’re at the top of the line, but how about it when you’ve just taken your place at the tail? When I’m on the top rung I shall look down and say, ‘Now, you youngsters, we are going to have very strict etiquette, and I beg that you will come up very quietly and not disarrange me from my comfortable position.’ At the same time, if they do what I tell them, I shall look upon them as a lot of infernal blockheads. Eh, Munro, what?”

I could only say again that I thought he took a very low view of the profession, and that I disagreed with every word he said.

“Well, my boy, you may disagree as much as you like, but if you are going to work with me you must throw etiquette to the devil!”

“I can’t do that.”

“Well, if you are too clean handed for the job you can clear out. We can’t keep you here against your will.”

I said nothing; but when we got back, I went upstairs and packed up my trunk, with every intention of going back to Yorkshire by the night train. He came up to my room, and finding what I was at, he burst into apologies which would have satisfied a more exacting man than I am.

“You shall do just exactly what you like, my dear chap. If you don’t like my way, you may try some way of your own.”

“That’s fair enough,” said I. “But it’s a little trying to a man’s self-respect if he is told to clear out every time there is a difference of opinion.”

“Well, well, there was no harm meant, and it shan’t occur again. I can’t possibly say more than that; so come along down and have a cup of tea.”

And so the matter blew over; but I very much fear, Bertie, that this is the first row of a series. I have a presentiment that sooner or later my position here will become untenable. Still, I shall give it a fair trial as long as he will let me. Cullingworth is a fellow who likes to have nothing but inferiors and dependants round him. Now, I like to stand on my own legs, and think with my own mind. If he’ll let me do this we’ll get along very well; but if I know the man he will claim submission, which is more than I am inclined to give. He has a right to my gratitude, which I freely admit. He has found an opening for me when I badly needed one and had no immediate prospects. But still, one may pay too high a price even for that, and I should feel that I was doing so if I had to give up my individuality and my manhood.

We had an incident that evening which was so characteristic that I must tell you of it. Cullingworth has an air gun which fires little steel darts. With this he makes excellent practice at about twenty feet, the length of the back room. We were shooting at a mark after dinner, when he asked me whether I would hold a halfpenny between my finger and thumb, and allow him to shoot it out. A halfpenny not being forthcoming, he took a bronze medal out of his waistcoat pocket, and I held that tip as a mark. “Kling!” went the air gun, and the medal rolled upon the floor.

“Plumb in the centre,” said he.

“On the contrary,” I answered, “you never hit it at all!”

“Never hit it! I must have hit it!”

“I am confident you didn’t.”

“Where’s the dart, then?”

“Here,” said I, holding up a bleeding forefinger, from which the tail end of the fluff with which the dart was winged was protruding.

I never saw a man so abjectly sorry for anything in my life. He used language of self-reproach which would have been extravagant if he had shot off one of my limbs. Our positions were absurdly reversed; and it was he who sat collapsed in a chair, while it was I, with the dart still in my finger, who leaned over him and laughed the matter off. Mrs. Cullingworth had run for hot water, and presently with a tweezers we got the intruder out. There was very little pain (more to-day than yesterday), but if ever you are called upon to identify my body you may look for a star at the end of my right forefinger.

When the surgery was completed (Cullingworth writhing and groaning all the time) my eyes happened to catch the medal which I had dropped, lying upon the carpet. I lifted it up and looked at it, eager to find some topic which would be more agreeable. Printed upon it was—”Presented to James Cullingworth for gallantry in saving life. Jan. 1879.”

“Hullo, Cullingworth,” said I. “You never told me about this!”

He was off in an instant in his most extravagant style.

“What! the medal? Haven’t you got one? I thought every one had. You prefer to be select, I suppose. It was a little boy. You’ve no idea the trouble I had to get him in.”

“Get him out, you mean.”

“My dear chap, you don’t understand! Any one could get a child out. It’s getting one in that’s the bother. One deserves a medal for it. Then there are the witnesses, four shillings a day I had to pay them, and a quart of beer in the evenings. You see you can’t pick up a child and carry it to the edge of a pier and throw it in. You’d have all sorts of complications with the parents. You must be patient and wait until you get a legitimate chance. I caught a quinsy walking up and down Avonmouth pier before I saw my opportunity. He was rather a stolid fat boy, and he was sitting on the very edge, fishing. I got the sole of my foot on to the small of his back, and shot him an incredible distance. I had some little difficulty in getting him out, for his fishing line got twice round my legs, but it all ended well, and the witnesses were as staunch as possible. The boy came up to thank me next day, and said that he was quite uninjured save for a bruise on the back. His parents always send me a brace of fowls every Christmas.”

I was sitting with my finger in the hot water listening to this rigmarole. When he had finished he ran off to get his tobacco box, and we could hear the bellowing of his laughter dwindling up the stair. I was still looking at the medal, which, from the dents all over it, had evidently been often used as a target, when I felt a timid touch upon my sleeve; it was Mrs. Cullingworth, who was looking earnestly at me with a very distressed expression upon her face.

“You believe far too much what James says,” said she. “You don’t know him in the least, Mr. Munro. You don’t look at a thing from his point of view, and you will never understand him until you do. It is not, of course, that he means to say anything that is untrue; but his fancy is excited, and he is quite carried away by the humour of any idea, whether it tells against himself or not. It hurts me, Mr. Munro, to see the only man in the world towards whom he has any feeling of friendship, misunderstanding him so completely, for very often when you say nothing your face shows very clearly what you think.”

I could only answer lamely that I was very sorry if I had misjudged her husband in any way, and that no one had a keener appreciation of some of his qualities than I had.

“I saw how gravely you looked when he told you that absurd story about pushing a little boy into the water,” she continued; and, as she spoke, she drew from somewhere in the front of her dress a much creased slip of paper. “Just glance at that, please, Dr. Munro.”

It was a newspaper cutting, which gave the true account of the incident. Suffice it that it was an ice accident, and that Cullingworth had really behaved in a heroic way and had been drawn out himself insensible, with the child so clasped in his arms that it was not until he had recovered his senses that they were able to separate them. I had hardly finished reading it when we heard his step on the stairs; and she, thrusting the paper back into her bosom, became in an instant the same silently watchful woman as ever.

Is he not a conundrum? If he interests you at a distance (and I take for granted that what you say in your letters is not merely conventional compliment) you can think how piquant he is in actual life. I must confess, however, that I can never shake off the feeling that I am living with some capricious creature who frequently growls and may possibly bite. Well, it won’t be very long before I write again, and by that time I shall probably know whether I am likely to find any permanent billet here or not. I am so sorry to hear about Mrs. Swanborough’s indisposition. You know that I take the deepest interest in everything that affects you. They tell me here that I am looking very fit, though I think they ought to spell it with an “a.”