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The Starling, A Scotch Story
Chapter XXI. - The Quack


It was true, as Jock Hall had heard, that Sergeant Mercer was very unwell. The events of the few previous weeks, however trivial in the estimation of the great world, had been to him very real and afflicting. The ecclesiastical trials and the social annoyances, with the secret worry and anxiety which they had occasioned, began to affect his health. He grew dull in spirits, suffered from a sense of oppression, and was "head-achy," "fushionless," and "dowie." He resolved to be cheerful, and do his work; but he neither could be the one nor do the other. His wife prescribed for him out of her traditional pharmacopia, but in vain. Then, as a last resort, "keeping a day in bed" was advised, and this was at once acceded to.

At the risk of breaking the thread of our narrative, or—to borrow an illustration more worthy of the nineteenth century—of running along a side rail to return shortly to the main line, we may here state, that at the beginning of the Sergeant's illness, a person, dressed in rather decayed black clothes, with a yellowish white neckloth, looking like a deposed clergyman, gently tapped at his door. The door was opened by Katie. The stranger raised his broad-brimmed hat, and saluted her with a low respectful bow. He entered with head uncovered, muttering many apologies with many smiles. His complexion was dark; his black hair was smoothly combed back from his receding forehead, and again drawn forward in the form of a curl under each large ear, thus directing attention to his pronounced nostrils and lips; while his black eyes were bent down, as if contemplating his shining teeth. His figure was obese; his age between forty and fifty.

This distinguished-looking visitor introduced himself as Dr. Mair, and inquired in the kindest, blandest, and most confidential manner as to the health of "the worthy Sergeant," as he condescendingly called him. Katie was puzzled, yet pleased, with the appearance of the unknown doctor, who explained that he was a stranger— his residence being ordinarily in London, except when travelling on professional business, as on the present occasion. He said that he had devoted all his time and talents to the study of the complaint under which the Sergeant, judging from what he had heard, was evidently labouring; and that he esteemed it to be the highest honour —a gift from heaven, indeed - to be able to remedy it. His father, he stated, had been a great medical man in the West Indies, and had consecrated his life to the cure of disease, having made a wonderful collection of medicines from old Negroes, who, it was well known, had a great knowledge of herbs. These secrets of Nature his father had entrusted to him, and to him alone, on the express condition that he would minister them in love only. He therefore made no charge, except for the medicine itself—a mere trifle to cover the expense of getting it from the West Indies. Might he have the privilege of seeing the Sergeant? One great blessing of his medicines was, that if they did no good—which rarely happened—they did no harm. But all depended —he added, looking up towards heaven—on His blessing!

After a long unctuous discourse of this kind, accompanied by a low whine and many gestures expressive of, or intended to express, all the Christian graces, added to Nature's gifts, the doctor drew breath.

Katie was much impressed by this self-sacrificing philanthropist, and expressed a cordial wish that he should see the Sergeant. Adam, after some conversation with his wife, saw it was best, for peace' sake, to permit the entrance of the doctor. After he had repeated some of his former statements and given assurances of his skill, the Sergeant asked him: "Hoo do I ken ye're speakin' the truth, and no' cheatin' me?"

"You have my word of honour, Sergeant!" replied Dr. Mair, "and you don't think I would lie to you? Look at me! I cannot have any possible motive for making you unwell. Horrible thought! I hope I feel my sense of responsibility too much for that!" Whereupon he looked up to heaven, and then down into a black bag, out of which he took several phials and boxes of pills, arranging them on a small table at the window. He proceeded to describe their wonderful qualities in a style which he intended for the language of a scholarly gentleman, interlarding his speed with Latinized terms, to give it a more learned colouring.

"This medicine," he said, "acts on the spirits. It is called the spirituin cheerabilum. It cures depression; removes all nervous, agitating feelings —what we term depressiones; soothing the anxious mind because acting on the vital nerves—going to the root of every painful feeling, through the gastric juice, heart, and liver, along the spinal cord and thence to the head and brain. This view according to common-sense, you must admit. A few doses of such a medicine would put you on your legs, Sergeant, in a week! I never once knew it fail when taken perseveringly and with faith—with faith!" he added, with a benignant smile; "for faith, I am solemnly persuaded, can even yet remove mountains!"

"Doctor, or whatever ye are," said the Sergeant, in an impatient tone of voice, "I want nane o' yer pills or drugs; I hae a guid eneuch doctor o' my ain."

"Ha!" said Dr. Mair; "a regular practitioner, I presume? Yes, I understand. Hem! College bred, and all that."

"Just so," said the Sergeant. "Edicated, as it were, for his wark, and no' a doctor by guess."

"But can you believe his word?" blandly asked Dr. Mair.

"As muckle, surely, as yours," replied the Sergeant; "mair especial' as guid and learned men o' experience agree wi' him, but no' wi' you."

"How do you know they are good and learned?" asked Dr. Mair, smiling.

"Mair onyhoo than I ken ye're good and learned, and no' leein'," said Adam.

"But God might surely reveal to me the truth" replied Mair, "rather than to ten thousand so called learned men. Babes and sucklings, you know, may receive what is concealed from the great and self-confident."

"My word! ye're neither a babe nor a sucklin', doctor, as ye ca' yersel'; and, depen' on't, neither am I!" said the Sergeant. "Onyhoo, I think it's mair likely the Almighty wad reveal himsel' to a' the sensible and guid doctors rather than to you alane, torbye a' yer niggers!"

"But I have testimonials of my cures!" continued Dr. Mair.

"Wha kens aboot yer testimonials?" exclaimed Adam. "Could naebody get testimonials but you? And hae ye testimonials frae them ye've kill't? I'se warrant no'! I tell ye again ye'll never pruve tae me that ye're richt and a' the edicated doctors wrang."

"But it's possible?" asked Dr. Mair, with a smile.

"Possible!" said the Sergeant; "but it's ten thoosand times mair possible that ye're chetin' yoursel' or cheatin' me. Sae ye may gang."

"But I charge nothing for my attendance, my dear sir, only for the medicine."

"Just so," replied the Sergeant; "sac mony shillings for what maybe didna cost ye a bawbee—pills o' aitmeal or pcasebrose. I'm an auld sodger, and canna be made a fule o' that way!"

"I do not depend on my pills so much as on my prayers for the cure of disease," said the quack, solemnly. "Oh, Sergeant! have you no faith in prayer?"

"I houp I hae," replied the Sergeant; "but I hae nae tàith in you—nane whatsonever!—sae guid day tae ye!"

Dr. Mair packed up his quack medicine in silence, which was meant to be impressive. He sighed, as if in sorrow for human ignorance and unbelief; but seeing no favourable effect produced on the Sergeant he said, "Your blood be on your own unbelieving head! I am free of it."

"Amen!" said the Sergeant; "and gang about yer business to auld wives and idewits, that deserve to dee if they trust the like o' you."

And so the great Dr. Mair departed in wrath— real or pretended—to pursue his calling as a leech, verily sucking the blood of the credulous, of whom there are not a few among rich and poor, who, loving quackery, are quacked. [It may be added as an instructive fact, that such leeches suck at least £300,000 a year out of the people of this country.]

Having disposed of the Quack, we now back into the main line, and resume our journey.


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