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A young man of refined appearance, but evidently suffering great
mental distress, presented himself one morning at the residence of a
singular old man, who was known as a surgeon of remarkable skill. The
house was a queer and primitive brick affair, entirely out of date,
and tolerable only in the decayed part of the city in which it stood.
It was large, gloomy, and dark, and had long corridors and dismal
rooms; and it was absurdly large for the small family--man and wife--
that occupied it. The house described, the man is portrayed--but not
the woman. He could be agreeable on occasion, but, for all that, he
was but animated mystery. His wife was weak, wan, reticent, evidently
miserable, and possibly living a life of dread or horror--perhaps
witness of repulsive things, subject of anxieties, and victim of fear
and tyranny; but there is a great deal of guessing in these
assumptions. He was about sixty-five years of age and she about forty.
He was lean, tall, and bald, with thin, smooth-shaven face, and very
keen eyes; kept always at home, and was slovenly. The man was strong,
the woman weak; he dominated, she suffered.
Although he was a surgeon of rare skill, his practice was almost
nothing, for it was a rare occurrence that the few who knew of his
great ability were brave enough to penetrate the gloom of his house,
and when they did so it was with deaf ear turned to sundry ghoulish
stories that were whispered concerning him. These were, in great part,
but exaggerations of his experiments in vivisection; he was devoted to
the science of surgery.
The young man who presented himself on the morning just mentioned was
a handsome fellow, yet of evident weak character and unhealthy
temperament--sensitive, and easily exalted or depressed. A single
glance convinced the surgeon that his visitor was seriously affected
in mind, for there was never bolder skull-grin of melancholia, fixed
A stranger would not have suspected any occupancy of the house. The
street door--old, warped, and blistered by the sun--was locked, and
the small, faded-green window-blinds were closed. The young man rapped
at the door. No answer. He rapped again. Still no sign. He examined a
slip of paper, glanced at the number of the house, and then, with the
impatience of a child, he furiously kicked the door. There were signs
of numerous other such kicks. A response came in the shape of a
shuffling footstep in the hail, a turning of the rusty key, and a
sharp face that peered through a cautious opening in the door.
"Are you the doctor?" asked the young man.
"Yes, yes! Come in," briskly replied the master of the house.
The young man entered. The old surgeon closed the door and carefully
locked it. "This way," he said, advancing to a rickety flight of stairs. The young man
followed. The surgeon led the way up the stairs, turned into a narrow,
musty-smelling corridor at the left, traversed it, rattling the loose
boards under his feet, at the farther end opened a door at the right,
and beckoned his visitor to enter. The young man found himself in a
pleasant room, furnished in antique fashion and with hard simplicity.
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