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ANONYMOUS

DR. DAWSON'S WARD

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Ex Libris

First published in The Weekly Mail, Cardiff, February 1909

Reprinted in
The Tungamah and Lake Rowan
Express and St. James Gazette
,
Victoria, Australia, 17 Jul 1913

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2024
Version Date: 2024-02-25

Produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.



DR. ARTHUR DAWSON rose from his easy-chair, and welcomed to his comfortably furnished consulting-room the well-dressed young man whose card his servant had just handed him.

"Always glad to see you, George. I think I can guess what your visit means. You wish to ask me to consent to your engagement to Laura?"

George Abbot felt far more nervous than on the well-remembered occasion of making his first speech to a jury; and stammered out, "Ye-es, sir. But how did you know? Has Laura—"

"Laura has said nothing to me. But it is said, you know, that 'lookers-on see most of the game,' and your attentions were such as no honourable man would offer without serious intentions."

"Then you consent?" the younger man broke in.

"If, after you have heard the story I am about to relate to you, you still persist in your request for my ward's hand—"

"Your ward!"

"Yes, Laura is not my own child. She is my adopted daughter, and I love her as dearly as, 25 years ago, I loved her poor, ill-fated mother. But listen to her father's history.

"After passing through Guy's, and being duly licensed to kill," said the doctor, "I proceeded to India, having obtained a Government appointment in the land of cholera and chutnee. I was there fifteen years, and was resident surgeon at Berri-Berri Barracks, in the Neilgherry Hills, when I first met Captain Kerr. He was a tall, undeniably handsome man, probably about 50 years of age.

"The colonel of his regiment was Walter White, whose fag I had been at Winchester. I was a frequent visitor at his bungalow, and one of the many victims to the charms of his lovely daughter.

"Laura—her child bears her name—had many suitors, and amongst them was Rupert Kerr.

"One day a startling rumour passed round the camp. I heard of it as I made my morning rounds, and, though I pooh-poohed it, it still gained currency. Men said that Captain Kerr had been secretly married, more than a year ago, to a half-caste woman at Bombay, and that she had appeared in the camp to claim her rights as his wife.

"After the mess, at which Colonel White and the captain were both absent, I was summoned to the colonel's bungalow. I went across at once, and found that poor Laura was in a high fever. Her father and mother were endeavouring to calm her, but in vain, and ever and anon she would shriek, 'My Rupert, my Rupert—no, you're not mine! Not mine, oh, dear!' and then would follow a burst of tears. I then learnt that the sinister rumour was no cantonment gossip, but the plain, unvarnished truth.

"On returning to my quarters I was astonished at finding Captain Kerr awaiting me. 'Ha! doctor!' he exclaimed, as he saw me, 'I want you to come over and see my—my—my wife,' with a curiously hard intonation of the last word.

"On a couch in the veranda was stretched an exceedingly fat mulatto woman, with brown features and a curiously puckered skin. She was lying on her back, and was snoring like a Stentor.

"I grasped her arm and felt her pulse. It beat fast and irregularly. The captain stood at the head of the sofa and leant over her. Almost at that instant the woman awoke, and poured forth such a voluble string of the most awful language (English and Hindustani) that even I shrank back appalled.

"The captain motioned me to the door. 'She's come round, doctor, so there's no necessity for your kind services. I will only ask you not to describe Mrs. Kerr to the mess.' I gave the required pledge and left him.

"For some weeks I attended Mrs. Kerr in her apparently cataleptic trances. They came at irregular intervals, and were always marked by similar symptoms.

"My other patient, Laura White, had by this time recovered, but was hardly more than the shadow of her old sunny self. Naturally, Kerr was cut by the regiment; and I, for one, felt sincerely glad when it was announced that he had exchanged into a home regiment, and would shortly sail for England.

"My affection for Laura was only strengthened, and, one day after paying my morning visit, I asked her in her father's presence to become my wife.

"She burst into tears, and when she had recovered her composure, she answered: 'I feel that I am honoured by the affection of a good and noble man, and, though I cannot give you the love I ought, I will try to make you a good and faithful wife.'

"On the day that our engagement was published, Kerr's wife died. I was present when she passed away in a cataleptic fit, and gave my certificate to that effect.

"Forty-eight hours later, my brief cup of happiness was dashed to the ground. Captain Kerr had left for England, and Laura White had fled with him. They had been married in Bombay and had sailed for England before the colonel and I reached that port.

"I returned to England a few months later, to find that Kerr had never entered upon his duties in his new regiment, but had sent in his papers immediately after his arrival. I sought for news of them, but could learn nothing.

"About three years later, I read in the 'Times' the announcement of Laura Kerr's death. It had taken place at Cheltenham, to which town I at once proceeded. Here my inquiries led to my ascertaining that she had died in lodgings in the High-street, and that her husband had taken his departure immediately after the funeral, accompanied by his little daughter. The landlady of the lodgings gave me the address of the medical man who had attended her, and on him I at once called. He courteously answered my inquiries, and informed me that the cause of death was catalepsy.

"Catalepsy, again! That was, indeed, singular. But my suspicions were not as yet awakened. There was no trace of Kerr or his child, and I could do nothing.

"Another period of three years passed, and I had set up my brass-plate here in Birmingham and had built up a prosperous and remunerative practice. One lovely summer afternoon I received a telegraphic call to an accident case at Dudley. The carriage came and I started. But we had not passed through Handsworth when it became evident that one of the horses was dead lame. I accordingly dismissed the carriage, and decided to complete the journey by cab. This was done, and it was nearly nine o'clock when, after partaking of some food, I left my patient's house.

"There is always a scarcity of cabs in the outlying parts of the Black Country, and I had perforce to make my return by tram. At Handsworth I changed on to a cable-tram and mounted to the top of the vehicle to enjoy a cigar in the pleasant night air.

"My nearest neighbour on the tram-roof was a tall, thin man, close-shaven and with short, iron-grey hair, and apparently about 50 years of age, though he might be younger. He had mounted the vehicle at its first stopping-place, bearing in his arms a little girl—a wee, winsome maiden of four or five summers, with long silken blonde hair, and lovely violet eyes. Surely I had seen those eyes before! I could not see the man's face; it was too dark a night.

"Suddenly, from some failure of the brake, our car collided roughly with the preceding one, and was thrown off the lines.

"I have never seen such horror and dismay as blazed forth in an instant; the silent, self-contained man snatched up his child's senseless form, sprang up to his feet, and almost screamed, 'My child is hurt! Run for a doctor; don't lose a moment.' I put my hand on his shoulder, and said quietly, 'I am a medical man, and, as I saw those steely grey eyes, I added, 'Captain Rupert Kerr.'

"He turned angrily upon me, and I thought he was about to strike me. Then he remembered his little one, and said, 'Dr. Dawson, I did you a great wrong once. But be merciful, and save her child.'

"The child was carried downstairs, and into a shop close by. I took out my instrument case, lint, etc., and washed, stitched, and bandaged the wound in the baby's forehead. Then I asked, 'Where do you live? I will see her safely to bed.' 'Thank you,' was the sullen response, 'my address is my own business'; and he carried his child out, got into a cab with her, and said 'Birmingham' to the driver. There was no means of stopping him, but I had presence of mind enough to jot down that driver's number on my shirt-cuff.

"The next day I employed a secret inquiry agent to find Rupert Kerr. He had driven to New-street, taken a fresh cab, and doubled back to Handsworth, where he directed the cabman to take him to 17, Roman-road. The second cabby had been found through the help of the police at New-street Station.

"I now did what should have been done before. Whilst the first agent was instructed to find out Kerr's present manner of life, a second detective was sent to Cheltenham to inquire into his earlier proceedings.

"Kerr was, as I had always known, an inveterate gambler. It was ascertained that he had brought to England with him the greater portion of his first wife's property, and had almost dissipated this, when poor Laura's death put him in possession of her father's savings—for poor Colonel White had died soon after his daughter's elopement, and had bequeathed his possessions to her. Moreover, both wives had been heavily insured. From the other detective I learnt that he followed no occupation, but frequented betting-clubs and hotel-bars, and seemed to be rather deeply involved. Moreover, it was popularly believed that Arthur Wren, as he now called himself, would soon marry a lady of supposed wealth, whose acquaintance he had made at a local garden-party. Fagg, the inquiry agent, had also ascertained that his daughter Laura had recently been insured for 500. She had hitherto enjoyed absolutely good health, but since the insurance had been completed she had suffered from cataleptic fits.

"When this last development of the situation reached me, my smouldering suspicions of the man blazed into flame at once. Remembering that Percival, who had been stationed with the cavalry brigade at the cantonment, was then in command at Lichfield, I wired to him to come over at once 'on a matter of life and death'—as I really feared it was.

"General Percival arrived that night, and we sat up till dawn discussing the state of affairs. He had remained in India some years later than I had, and was able to give me a clue. It seems that previous to his marriage with the half-caste woman who was his first wife, Kerr had been on terms of friendship with several Brahmin magnates. His most usual associate was a man named Saga Nuni—and this same fellow had afterwards been convicted of poisoning his brother, and had been hanged for the crime.

"We at last resolved to seek the advice and assistance of the local police, that little Laura's life might, at least, be preserved. A consultation with the chief-constable followed, and the doctor who attended little Laura, arranged to telephone the news of her next attack. His summons came within a week, and Kerr, alias Wren, was arrested at his daughter's bedside. He made a most frantic resistance, crying out that he, and he alone, could restore the child to consciousness; but was at last removed to the station and searched. A hypodermic syringe, filled with a dark, blood-coloured fluid, of unknown properties and a curiously-pungent odour, was found upon him; and a similar syringe was found in the room where Laura's apparently dead body lay. This contained a sort of viscid green matter, quite unknown to European medicine, and smelling like rotten bananas.

"Laura remained unconscious, and at last even my hopes of her recovery faded away, and the corpse of the little one was laid out to await a post-mortem examination.

"Swanston, the local practitioner, noticed that there were seven punctures made by the syringe on her left arm and six on the right. On this slender basis, and on Kerr's excited declaration that he could save her, Swanston built up a curious theory. It was that, as the insurance had not been in force six months, and, therefore, had not matured, the man had no present intention of slaying his daughter, but was only preparing the way, and he pointed out that this was her seventh attack. He therefore argued that an injection of the blood-coloured fluid would restore her to life and health!

Accordingly, Swanston and I, accompanied by the police doctor and the inspector, returned to the chamber of death. The injection was made. For a moment there was absolute quiescence, then, by little and little, the signs of returning animation were perceived. Gradually life and warmth and colour returned to the wan and pallid corpse; faint pulsation became apparent; the eyelids quivered, and a deep sigh told us that for once the Angel of Death had yielded up his prey!

"As the police could not prove that Kerr had caused the catalepsy, the prosecution broke down and he was discharged. He was immediately re-arrested, charged with murdering his second wife, and remanded.

"An order from the Home Secretary having been obtained, Mrs. Kerr's body was exhumed. A most awful spectacle was revealed; the unhappy girl—she was only in her twenty-first year—had been buried alive! or rather, the influence of this horrible invention, this fiend-wrought catalepsy, had been exhausted after burial, and—no, no, I can't dwell any more upon it.

"Kerr slew himself in prison, whilst awaiting his trial. How he procured the drug I know not, but be took arsenic, and saved the country hangman's expenses. He left a sort of confession scrawled on the fly-leaves of the Bible in his cell. He averred that he had intended to take little Laura's supposed body to Cheltenham for burial as soon as the insurance came in force, and he would have resuscitated her on the way. This I believe; for his love for the little maid marked the one soft spot in his demon's heart.

"Laura came to my house and has been brought up as my daughter. The brain-fever that followed this awful trance swept away all memory of her real father, and I never intend her to be enlightened about him.

"Now, George," concluded the doctor, "that you know the stock that Laura Kerr has sprung from, do you still desire to make her your wife?"

George Abbot rose. "I say what I said before, doctor. A parent's crimes cannot possibly affect a daughter's character. I love Laura; Laura loves me; and I would make her my wife if her father had committed every crime in the Newgate Calendar."

The doctor opened the study door, and called "Laura!" In a moment or two, a young lady in evening dress, and looking bewilderingly pretty in her confusion, tripped into the room. She had been awaiting the result of the interview with considerable trepidation of mind.

"George has something to tell you," said the doctor, escaping into the hall, and shutting them in.

What George said may be surmised from the fact that an unusually smart wedding took place from the doctor's house, some six months later.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.