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
"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
"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
"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.