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"He oughtn't to wear that coloured hood with that coloured hair," said a little old lady, obviously up from the country, to the clumsy young colt at her side who sat nursing a diploma which entitled him to do his worst to his fellow men.
"He's got no choice. It's his university hood."
"Then a man with that coloured hair oughtn't to go to that university." The mixture of magenta and scarlet certainly was an unfortunate combination for a red-haired man, but the granite-hard, granite-grey face under the brushed-back red hair that was beginning to recede slightly on the temples, stared out into space oblivious and indifferent.
"He looks a proper butcher," said the little old lady.
"You're wrong, he's one of the physicians."
"I shouldn't like him to physic me."
"I don't suppose he could; there's not much physic given in his department."
"What does he give?"
"Doesn't give anything. Nothing much you can give. Sometimes the surgeons can operate, and sometimes they can't. He tells them whether they can or they can't. Only chap they take orders from. If he says go in, they go in; and if he says leave it alone, they leave it alone."
"I only hope he leaves me alone," said the little old lady.
"I hope so, too, mother," said her ribald son with a chuckle, and made a mental note of the joke for the students' common room. Then the singing of "God save the Queen" brought the proceedings to an end and the object of their interest took advantage of his position on the extreme wing of the semicircle to slip quietly off the platform ahead of the crush of his colleagues.
His end of the platform, however, was the end remote from the robing-room, and he found himself in the passage leading to the refectory still clad in his gaudy plumage and engulfed in a sea of humanity surging in search of refreshments. Pressed up against him by the crowd was a little old lady who stared at him with the same absorbed, impersonal interest that is bestowed on the Horse Guards on duty in Whitehall.
He, not being accustomed to this kind of attention concluded she must be an old patient.
"Good afternoon, how are you keeping?" he asked with a curt nod.
"I'm very well, thank you," she replied in a meek, rather startled voice, obviously not expecting to be spoken to.
"My mother, sir," said the youth beside her.
"Huh," said the older man ungraciously, and suddenly, to the astonishment of all present, peeled off his gorgeous robes, appearing in his shirt-sleeves. Twisting the magnificent garments into a bundle, he thrust them into the hands of the startled student.
"Put these in the senior common room, will you?" he said, and went shouldering off through the press, using his elbows mercilessly to clear a way for himself.
"What a funny man!" said the little old lady.
"You can afford to be funny when you've got a reputation like his," said her son.
"I don't think I like him," she said.
"Nobody likes him," said her son, "but we jolly well trust him."
Meanwhile the object of her disapproval raced up a flight of stone stairs three at a time, entered an empty laboratory, got an old tweed jacket from a peg, and thus incongruously clad and hatless, let himself out by a side door into a dark quadrangle. He crossed it, treading heavily on the gravel, causing a nurse to glance out of a ward window and add another item to the legend of the famous Dr. Malcolm's eccentricities, and went on his way regardless, through back streets to the Underground station. Arrived there, he swore-his pocket-book, with his note-case and season ticket, was in the breast pocket of the jacket left behind in the robing-room, and the miscellaneous collection in his trouser pockets yielded exactly three halfpence in coppers.
He was too impatient by temperament to return to the hospital; the weather was exceptionally mild for the time of year, and he determined to walk back along the Embankment to his rooms in Grosvenor Road, no great distance for a man as active and energetic as he was.
He made his way over cobblestones past warehouses, till climbing up steps by the abutment of a bridge, he came on to the Embankment.
It had been raining, and the usual quota that gather on the Embankment seats at dusk had taken refuge in casual wards and the shelters of voluntary charity; there were few pedestrians at that hour, and he had the wide riverside pavement practically to himself.
He strode along at his usual rapid gait, enjoying the freshness of the rain-washed air after the stuffy steam-heat of the great hall in which he had spent a boring afternoon. He watched the shimmer of the lamps on the water and the riding-lights of the hulks moored here and there; a tug toiled up-stream with its barges, and a launch of the river police went chugging down-stream; all the familiar life of the river went on as the man watched it, forgetful for a time of the great city and the great hospital and the daily grind of his routine that alternated between Wimpole Street and the slums.
With the abruptness that characterised all his movements he halted so suddenly that another pedestrian following just behind had to chassée sideways to avoid a collision. Leaning his elbows on the granite coping, he followed in his imagination the ebbing tide going down past the docks and shipping, and thought of himself as he would have been if he had followed his first choice of a career and gone to sea. He would be a ship's officer now, keeping watch-a poorly-paid, hard, comfortless life. His present life was hard because he was a merciless taskmaster to himself, but it was not poorly paid, and as comfortable as he had the wit to make it.
But that was not saying a great deal. He was not a man who knew how, to make things comfortable either for himself or others. His wife, an invalid since the birth of their child in the first year of their marriage, made her home at a seaside resort where he visited her at fairly frequent weekends. She dreaded these visits, and he hated them, but he was a man with an inflexible sense of duty, so they went on year after year till his fiery red hair began to be dulled by grey and to recede on the temples and his temperament likewise cooled down a little, and he congratulated himself on the achievement of self-mastery.
The years of semi-celibacy had not been easy ones; endowed by Nature with a fierce integrity and uprightness, the idea of an illicit liaison was abhorrent to him. Moreover there was in him a pride in his own imperious will that made him take a perverse delight in wrestling with wild beasts at Ephesus, and the more Nature tried to force the door of his moral code, the tighter it jammed. The result was admirable from the ethical point of view, but it had not sweetened his temper or made him a pleasanter colleague or more agreeable companion. Red hair does not take well to repression, and a restless irritability of temper was the reward of virtue. Moreover, he was an uncertain sleeper, which did not improve matters, and only his tremendous vitality and rugged physique took him through a terms work.
His students hated him because he bullied and drove them mercilessly, yet he could have a sanguinary row with a fellow examiner over an unfair viva; the nurses disliked him because he was exacting, yet he would move heaven and earth to get sick-leave for them when he thought they needed it; patients were terrified at his brusque, harsh manner, yet he never spared either himself or the hospital in their service; in addition to which a large portion of his work consisted in weeding out the hysterics from the genuine organic cases, and it did not add to his already scanty popularity when his duty obliged him to tell the professional paralytic to take up his bed and walk.
He camped out year after year in furnished rooms; books, papers, and specimens in various states of preservation accumulating around him; letting his landlady feed him how she liked and his tailor dress him how he would. It was less than half a life but the half that was lived, though singularly barren for himself, was fruitful for others. The blind, the halt, the dumb, the epileptic, the lunatic, were freed from their bondage and returned to normal life when this man who never touched a knife himself, stood at the elbow of the surgeon and directed him to the precise spot in the brain where lay the root of the trouble that expressed itself in so many grotesque and bizarre guises. What he did not know about the machinery of the mind was not worth knowing, but what he knew about the mind itself was precious little.
He resumed his walk, striding along beside the darkly-running water, and wondered why it had never occurred to him to use this route before instead of the crowded Underground. He had not bothered with a car of his own of recent years, preferring to rely on taxis, a car being an intolerable nuisance in the City area, and parking space at the hospital congested by the magnificent vehicles of the junior staff, who could ill afford them but had to have them for the sake of prestige; he, who had all the prestige that any man could need, turned up at a consultation in a taxi.
He liked walking; whenever he went down to see his wife he always spent the day in a long tramp over the downs, returning in the evening tired out by the flesh air and unaccustomed exercise and falling asleep in an armchair over the fire, the irony of it all never occurring to him. He had often thought of taking a tramping holiday, but somehow he never managed to take a holiday at all, doing three men's work all through August when the hospital was short-handed, to the consternation of old chronics accustomed to more urbane methods. He had no interests outside his profession and no relaxation save reading the international literature of his own speciality.
It was a grim, joyless, hard-driven existence. Most of his work was diagnostic, little treatment being possible in his speciality. There had been a time when, improbable as it might appear to his colleagues, he worried over his cases; but of recent years he had begun to accept the acts of God with some degree of philosophy, barking out a diagnosis and a prognosis and dismissing the matter from his mind-save in the cases of children. Sometimes he thought of refusing to take children, but it was not feasible in his hospital work, where he had to take all comers. Children worried him. He would detect the first slight sign of trouble in some hitherto bonny youngster, and the future would rise before his eyes and haunt him for days. In consequence his manner of dealing with children was even more unfortunate than that of dealing with adults-the yelling child, the indignant mother and the disgusted students forming a singularly unpleasing picture, especially as it was believed that from his judgment there was no appeal to God or man-if he said a child would grow up a cripple, grow up a cripple it would. It seemed sometimes as if he were passing sentence rather than giving an opinion.
He was a man who habitually walked fast, going charging down hospital corridors and letting trolleys and stretcher-bearers do the dodging, and he was covering the ground on the Embankment in his usual manner, overtaking and leaving behind all other pedestrians going in the same direction as himself, when he noticed that one shadowy figure on ahead was not being overtaken, but keeping its distance steadily. He must have noticed it subconsciously for some time, for when he noticed it consciously, he was aware that he had been following it for a considerable distance, and with the dawning awareness his imagination was intrigued, for it so closely resembled a recurring dream that had come to him on and off for years whenever he was more than usually overworked.
On such occasions his normally insufficient sleep became unsatisfactory in quality as well as in quantity, and he would lie in a curious half-dreaming state between sleeping and waking, not sufficiently asleep to be immersed in his dream, and not sufficiently awake to know that it was a dream. He would spend the night sliding backwards and forwards over the borderline of sleep, sometimes actually in the kingdom of dream, sometimes looking into it more or less consciously and watching its shadow-show like a cinematograph picture.
These dreams were invariably of landscapes and sea-scapes-very often of land and sea-scape combined, which he attributed to his walks over the downs when visiting his wife, and in these scenes there were never any figures, with one exception-occasionally there appeared a cloaked figure in a wide-brimmed hat, which he attributed to an advertisement of Sandeman's port in coloured lights that flickered up and down on a building he had occasion to pass when travelling between his consulting rooms in Wimpole Street and his lodgings in Pimlico. It was quite simple, quite obvious; and though psychology was merely a side-line with him, and only for differential diagnosis, he had a sufficient working knowledge of its theories to trace one set of symbols to the bungalow-sprinkled downs behind the seaside town, and the other to the frequently seen advertisement. He attributed the one to sex-repression, a safe guess in the case of most respectable citizens, and a particularly safe one in the case of a professional man placed as he was; the other symbol he attributed to his subconscious desire for the stimulant thus picturesquely advertised-a very understandable desire in an over-worked man given to worrying. Both desires being repressed without any shadow of compromise, even Dr. Rupert Annersley Malcolm, neurologist and endocrinologist, could see that they might turn round on him and escape into his dreams. That they might do more than that never entered his head.
It intrigued his imagination to see this cloaked figure of dream moving ahead of him in the dusk over the wet London pavement as it had so often done through the landscapes of sleep. True, he knew it was only a woman in a mackintosh cape, but nevertheless it thrilled him to meet his subconscious fantasy thus exteriorised.
Excerpted from MOON MAGIC by DION FORTUNE Copyright © 2003 by Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted July 26, 2011
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Posted August 27, 2010
No text was provided for this review.