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LETTER FROM DR. PATERSON TO THE REGISTRAR IN THECASE OF REG. V. PRITCHARD.
But if he thought the woman was being murdered--"
"My dear Charles," said the young man with the monocle, "it doesn't do for people, especially doctors, to go about 'thinking' things. They may get into frightful trouble. In Pritchard's case, I consider Dr. Paterson did all he reasonably could by refusing a certificate for Mrs. Taylor and sending that uncommonly disquieting letter to the Registrar. He couldn't help the man% being a fool. If there bad only been an inquest on Mrs. Taylor, Pritchard would probably have been frightened off and left his wife alone. After all, Paterson hadn't a spark of real evidence. And suppose he'd been quite wrong--what a dust-up there'd have been!"
"All the same," urged the nondescript young man, dubiously extracting a bubbling-hot Helix Pomatia from its shell, and eyeing it nervously before putting it in his mouth, "surely it's a clear case of public duty to voice one's -suspicions."
"Of your duty--yes," said the other. "By the way, it's not a public duty to eat snails if you don't like 'em. No, I thought you didn't. Why wrestle with a harsh fate any longer? Waiter, take the gentleman's snails away and bring oysters instead.... No-as I was saying, it may be part of your duty to have suspicions and invite investigation and generally raise hell for everybody, and if you're mistaken nobody says much, beyond that you're a smart, painstaking officer though alittle over-zealous. But doctors, poor devils! are everlastingly walking a kind of social tight-rope. People don't fancy calling in a man who's liable to bring out accusations of murder on the smallest provocation."
The thin-faced young man sitting alone at the next table had turned round eagerly.
"It's frightfully rude of me. to break in, but every word YOU say is absolutely true, and mine is a case in point. A doctor-you can't have any idea how dependent he is on the fancies and prejudices of -his patients. They resent the most elementary precautions. If you dare to suggest a postmortem, they're up in arms at the idea of 'cutting poor dear So-and-so up,' and even if you only ask permission to investigate an obscure disease in the interests of research, they imagine you're hinting at something unpleasant. Of course, if you let things go, and it turns out afterwards there's been any jiggery-pokery, the coroner jumps down your throat and the newspapers make a butt of you, and, whichever way it is, you wish you'd never been born."
"You speak with personal feeling," said the man with the monocle, with an agreeable air of interest.
"I do," said the thin-faced man, emphatically. "If I had behaved like a man of the world instead of a zealous citizen, I shouldn't be hunting about for a new job today."
The man with the monocle glanced round the little Soho restaurant with a faint smile. The fat man on their right was unctuously entertaining two ladies of the chorus; beyond him, two elderly habitues were showing their acquaintance with the fare at the "Au Bon Bourgeois" by consuming a Tripes 6 la Mode de Caen (which they do very excellently there) and a bottle of Chablis Moutonne 1916; on the other side of the room a provincial and his wife were stupidly clamouring for a cut off the joint with lemonade for the lady and whisky and soda for the gentleman, while at the adjoining table, the handsome silverhaired proprietor, absorbed in fatiguing a salad for a family party, had for the moment no thoughts beyond the nice adjustment of the chopped herbs and garlic. The head waiter, presenting for inspection a plate of Blue River Trout, helped the monocled man and his companion and retired, leaving them in the privacy which unsophisticated people always seek in genteel tea-shops and never, never find there.
"I feel," said the monocled man, "exactly like Prince Florizel of Bohemia. I am confident that YOU, Sir,' have an interesting story to relate, and shall be greatly obliged if you will favour us with the recital. I perceive that you have finished your dinner, and it will therefore perhaps not be disagreeable to you to remove to this table and entertain us with your story while we eat. Pardon my Stevensonian manner-my sympathy is none the less sincere on that account."
"Don't be an ass, Peter," said the nondescript man. "My friend is a much more rational person than you might suppose to hear him talk," he added, turning to the stranger, "and if there's anything you'd like to get off your chest, you may be perfectly certain it won't go any farther."
The other smiled a little grimly.
"I'll tell you about it with pleasure if it won't bore you. It just happens to be a case in point, that's all."
"On my side of the argument," said the man called Peter, with triumph. "Do carry on. Have something to drink. It's a poor heart that never rejoices. And begin right at the beginning, if you will, please. I have a very trivial mind. Detail delights me. Ramifications enchant me. Distance no object. No reasonable offer refused. Charles here will say the same."
"Well," said the stranger, "to begin from the very beginning, I am a medical man...