The Good Doctor
Holmes turned to me, his face alight with the glee of another case.
“What do you make of our friend Herbert Lancaster?”
“He seems earnest enough,” I replied. “It certainly is an unusual occurrence, this Doctor’s sudden behaviour.”
“Indeed, Watson. And the occurrence becomes even more peculiar with another clue I withheld from our client lest it guide him to unfruitful action.”
“Another clue? From the letter?”
“From the writing.” Holmes handed me the letter and I stared hard at the scribbled text. “Describe it to me.”
“An educated form of lettering, looks as though it is usually neat, although not in this instance. It is indeed slanted slightly to the left.”
“And the letters themselves?” directed my friend.
“They appear scrawled.”
“More than that, Watson: they appear tremulous as though from an unsteady hand; the man was either in a state of fright or nervous tension, or is quite ill. We shall see which tomorrow morning.”
“We’re meeting him tomorrow?”
“No, Mr. James Kingsley and his carer will meet the good Doctor tomorrow. That is, if you’re not averse to playing the role of carer?”
“Of course not, Holmes, though I confess I don’t see the merit in such an elaborate pretence.”
“Trust me, Watson. It shall be a most interesting day tomorrow. For now, I’m going for a walk. Don’t expect me for a few hours.”
The following morning Holmes roused me before dawn, his eyes bright in anticipation of his plans. As I got out of bed, I observed my friend’s worn garments and unkempt hair. Holmes caught my eye and smiled mischievously. “The worst is yet to come, Watson,” said he. “I hope you won’t think less of me once I am in my role, though you must treat me so momentarily.”
“Whatever do you mean, Holmes?” I asked.
“I am to play an idiot, an invalid in need of a consultation and you are my long-suffering carer, and you must treat me as such with as much condescension as you please. I am a cousin of Ms. Kingsley visiting London and you have heard that Berger is her Doctor.”
“A fine plan,” I remarked. “Except for the fact that you are not ill, no matter how well you act.”
“True, but I have not eaten since yesterday morning nor slept last night and exercised considerably both yesterday and this morning, so at the very least I will be weak and the Doctor will recommend rest.”
“You’re most committed!” I exclaimed. “Though I hope you will rest, speaking as a Doctor.”
“No need to worry, Watson,” grinned Holmes. “We’ve both been through harder circumstances. Now, let’s get you dressed! We can’t have Doctor Berger recognising a fellow practitioner.”
At precisely eight O’clock Mr. James Kingsley, escorted in a wheelchair by his carer, Mr. Andrew Lake, entered the surgery of Doctor Berger. His secretary looked up from her desk.
“May I help you, gentlemen?”
“Yes, thank you,” I affirmed. “My name is Andrew Lake; I’m the carer of Mr Kingsley. We’re visiting London, but James seems to have become ill and I’ve heard that Doctor Berger has taken good care of James’ cousin. I don’t suppose he could spare a few minutes for an examination?” She consulted a diary, running through appointments with her finger.
“I’m afraid he’s quite busy all day, but his first appointment isn’t for another ten minutes. Perhaps he won’t mind seeing you briefly.”
“Who is this, Margaret?” The Doctor himself appeared in the doorway. He was thin and pale with coal black eyes; he certainly wasn’t in full health - a thin sheen of sweat coated his face.
“Andrew! Andrew!” cried Holmes. It was easy not to recognise my companion, for he was completely transformed. Even now, his wide eyes started vacantly, a broad grin upon his face.
“No, James, Andrew is my name.” I replied patiently. “Sorry, Doctor. Mr. Kingsley isn’t in possession of his full faculties. He’s also become ill on our visit and I heard that you were the Doctor of his cousin.”
“Jane Kingsley?” asked the Doctor, interested.
“Yes. I was wondering if you could spare a few minutes for an examination, just to be sure. It’s difficult to judge illness for a man in his condition.”
“Of course, of course. Come in,” smiled the Doctor. We followed him into an examination room furnished with a desk, several chairs and an examination bench as well as various shelves stacked with books and medical tools. “Now,” said the Doctor when I was seated. “What seems to be the problem?”
“For several days now, James has eaten very little and generally been either quite agitated or completely fatigued. You must understand that his level of communication is quite low – he normally doesn’t sustain basic conversation for more than a few minutes. He has also become quite weak so that I have been compelled to transport him in this wheelchair as it is the easiest way; he’s not very strong even when healthy. I fear he may have contracted an illness of some sort.”
“I see. Well, Mr. Kingsley, if you’ll sit still I’ll take a look at you.” Holmes had been straining in his wheelchair in order to see as he appraised the room with a calculated eye behind the dumb façade. He let out a whimper and shrunk back in the chair as the Doctor approached.
“It’s alright, James,” I soothed. “This is Doctor Berger. He’s going to help you.” Holmes turned his head away stubbornly as the Doctor tried to check his pupils and temperature. I leant down and placed a reassuring hand upon his shoulder, as one would a child. “Stay still now, James,” I murmured. Holmes groaned in protest and twisted awkwardly as Berger took his pulse. I stared in wonder at this great man reduced to the lowest level of humankind, the great intellect masked in helpless stupidity. Suddenly, as the Doctor attempted to take his blood pressure, Holmes thrashed and grunted in dissent, roughly tearing the hands away.
“Off! Off!” he cried and grabbed Berger’s shirt sleeve. I sprang from my chair with an exclamation as the sleeve ripped in Holmes’ fury and assisted in restraining him. He seemed to calm as I held him, as a well-known friend would.
“I’m so sorry, Doctor Berger,” I apologised. “He isn’t himself.”
“That’s quite alright, Mr…”
“Lake. Andrew Lake. So, how is he? Physically, of course.”
“So far as I can tell he’s just weak, in need of a good rest. Whether it’s the result of an infection or virus, I shall need to take a blood sample to confirm. It’s a shame I can’t question him to achieve a more accurate diagnosis.”
“A blood sample?” I enquired. “He won’t like it, I’m warning you.”
“Just a little prick. Perhaps if you hold him down.”
“Are you quite sure?” I cautioned warily. “There is nothing you can recommend from the current information?”
“I don’t know about you, Mr. Lake, but I like to be absolutely specific and as certain as possible about a diagnosis, or indeed any notion, before I act upon it. Please, trust me as a physician.” I looked down at Holmes who was still glaring at Berger, lips compressed in a pout.
“Yes, of course, Doctor,” I said contritely. “You must know best. If that’s what you propose. Let me just settle him first.” A twinkle in Holmes’ eye disclosed that he had caught the minute tinge of disdain in my words. I knelt before him a moment, murmuring reassurance. “Now you just let the nice Doctor take a tiny bit of blood to look at, alright, James? I’ll just stay here with you…” I gently rolled his left sleeve up, then took hold of both his arms as the Doctor came forward with the needle. As soon as he caught sight of the needle, Holmes began to moan fearfully again, turning wide anxious eyes upon me, though behind them I sensed the calm reason of his true identity. “It’s alright, James,” I soothed, painfully conscious of how easily this patronising role was to play. Holmes struggled and whimpered as Berger took the sample. I held him down, watching uneasily as my friend’s arm was punctured and blood drawn, though I dared not interfere however uncomfortable this consultation made us both. Holmes glowered angrily at Berger, nursing his arm as the Doctor stood upright with the needle, canister now a half full.
“There, now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Berger smiled emptily, a Doctor’s professional smile. “Here, bandage his arm with this.” He tossed me a bandage as he prepared to store the sample.
“How long before you have some results?”
“Come back in a few days. I should have a precise diagnosis by then. For now, he needs rest and plenty of water. Lots of vitamins and fresh air.”
“Of course, Doctor. Thank you for seeing him, and I’m sorry about the trouble.” This was more to Holmes than the Doctor, though he couldn’t have known it.
“Not to worry, not to worry,” he replied with a nonchalant wave.