LEGAL COMPLICATIONS AND A JACKAL
My meditations brought me by a circuitous route, and ten minutes late, to the end of Fetter Lane, where, exchanging my rather abstracted air for the alert manner of a busy practitioner, I strode forward briskly and darted into the surgery with knitted brows, as though just released from an anxious case. But there was only one patient waiting, and she saluted me as I entered with a snort of defiance.
“Here you are, then?” said she.
“You are perfectly correct, Miss Oman,” I replied; “in fact, you have put the case in a nutshell. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you?”
“Nothing,” was the answer. “My medical adviser is a lady; but I’ve brought a note from Mr. Bellingham. Here it is,” and she thrust the envelope into my hand.
I glanced through the note and learned that my patient had had a couple of bad nights and a very harassing day. “Could I have something to give me a night’s rest?” it concluded.
I reflected a few moments. One is not very ready to prescribe sleeping draughts for unknown patients, but still, insomnia is a very distressing condition. In the end, I temporised with a moderate dose of bromide, deciding to call and see if more energetic measures were necessary.
“He had better take a dose of this at once, Miss Oman,” said I, as I handed her the bottle, “and I will look in later and see how he is.”
“I expect he will be glad to see you,” she answered, “for he is all alone to-night and very dumpy. Miss Bellingham is out. But I must remind you that he’s a poor man and pays his way. You must excuse my mentioning it.”
“I am much obliged to you for the hint, Miss Oman,” I rejoined. “It isn’t necessary for me to see him, but I should like just to look in and have a chat.”
“Yes, it will do him good. You have your points, though punctuality doesn’t seem to be one of them,” and with this parting shot Miss Oman bustled away.
Half-past eight found me ascending the great, dim staircase of the house in Nevill’s Court preceded by Miss Oman, by whom I was ushered into the room. Mr. Bellingham, who had just finished some sort of meal, was sitting hunched up in his chair gazing gloomily into the empty grate. He brightened up as I entered, but was evidently in very low spirits.
“I didn’t mean to drag you out after your day’s work was finished,” he said, “though I am very glad to see you.”
“You haven’t dragged me out. I heard you were alone, so I just dropped in for a few minutes’ gossip.”
“That is really kind of you,” he said heartily. “But I’m afraid you’ll find me rather poor company. A man who is full of his own highly disagreeable affairs is not a desirable companion.”
“You mustn’t let me disturb you if you’d rather be alone,” said I, with a sudden fear that I was intruding.