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Produced by John Bickers; Dagny


By H. Rider Haggard


In all sincerity

(but without permission)

to the



Some months since the leaders of the Government dismayed their
supporters and astonished the world by a sudden surrender to the clamour
of the anti-vaccinationists. In the space of a single evening, with
a marvellous versatility, they threw to the agitators the ascertained
results of generations of the medical faculty, the report of a Royal
Commission, what are understood to be their own convictions, and the
President of the Local Government Board. After one ineffectual fight the
House of Lords answered to the whip, and, under the guise of a "graceful
concession," the health of the country was given without appeal into the
hand of the "Conscientious Objector."

In his perplexity it has occurred to an observer of these events - as a
person who in other lands has seen and learned something of the ravages
of smallpox among the unvaccinated - to try to forecast their natural
and, in the view of many, their almost certain end. Hence these pages
from the life history of the pitiable, but unfortunate Dr. Therne.[*]
_Absit omen!_ May the prophecy be falsified! But, on the other hand,
it may not. Some who are very competent to judge say that it will not;
that, on the contrary, this strange paralysis of "the most powerful
ministry of the generation" must result hereafter in much terror, and in
the sacrifice of innocent lives.

[*] It need hardly be explained that Dr. Therne himself is a
character convenient to the dramatic purpose of the story,
and in no way intended to be taken as a type of anti-
vaccinationist medical men, who are, the author believes, as
conscientious in principle as they are select in number.

The importance of the issue to those helpless children from whom
the State has thus withdrawn its shield, is this writer's excuse for
inviting the public to interest itself in a medical tale. As for the
moral, each reader can fashion it to his fancy.




James Therne is not my real name, for why should I publish it to the
world? A year or two ago it was famous - or infamous - enough, but in
that time many things have happened. There has been a war, a continental
revolution, two scandals of world-wide celebrity, one moral and the
other financial, and, to come to events that interest me particularly
as a doctor, an epidemic of Asiatic plague in Italy and France, and,
stranger still, an outbreak of the mediaeval grain sickness, which is
believed to have carried off 20,000 people in Russia and German Poland,
consequent, I have no doubt, upon the wet season and poor rye harvest in
those countries.

These occurrences and others are more than enough to turn the public
mind from the recollection of the appalling smallpox epidemic that
passed over England last autumn two years, of which the first fury broke
upon the city of Dunchester, my native place, that for many years I had
the honour to represent in Parliament. The population of Dunchester, it
is true, is smaller by over five thousand souls, and many of those who
survive are not so good-looking as they were, but the gap is easily
filled and pock-marks are not hereditary. Also, such a horror will
never happen again, for now the law of compulsory vaccination is strong
enough! Only the dead have cause of complaint, those who were cut off
from the world and despatched hot-foot whither we see not. Myself I am
certain of nothing; I know too much about the brain and body to have
much faith in the soul, and I pray to God that I may be right. Ah! there
it comes in. If a God, why not the rest, and who shall say there is no
God? Somehow it seems to me that more than once in my life I have seen
His Finger.

Yet I pray that I am right, for if I am wrong what a welcome awaits me
yonder when grief and chloral and that "slight weakness of the heart"
have done their work.

Yes - five thousand of them or more in Dunchester alone, and, making
every allowance, I suppose that in this one city there were very many of
these - young people mostly - who owed their deaths to me, since it was
my persuasion, my eloquent arguments, working upon the minds of their
prejudiced and credulous elders, that surely, if indirectly, brought
their doom upon them. "A doctor is not infallible, he may make
mistakes." Quite so, and if a mistake of his should kill a few
thousands, why, that is the act of God (or of Fate) working through his
blindness. But if it does not happen to have been a mistake, if, for
instance, all those dead, should they still live in any place or shape,
could say to me, "James Therne, you are the murderer of our bodies,
since, for your own ends, you taught us that which you knew _not_ to be
the truth."

How then? I ask. So - let them say it if they will. Let all that great
cloud of witnesses compass me about, lads and maidens, children and
infants, whose bones cumber the churchyards yonder in Dunchester. I defy
them, for it is done and cannot be undone. Yet, in their company are two
whose eyes I dread to meet: Jane, my daughter, whose life was sacrificed
through me, and Ernest Merchison, her lover, who went to seek her in the

They would not reproach me now, I know, for she was too sweet and loved
me too well with all my faults, and, if he proved pitiless in the
first torment of his loss, Merchison was a good and honest man, who,
understanding my remorse and misery, forgave me before he died. Still,
I dread to meet them, who, if that old fable be true and they live, read
me for what I am. Yet why should I fear, for all this they knew before
they died, and, knowing, could forgive? Surely it is with another
vengeance that I must reckon.

Well, after her mother's death my daughter was the only being whom I
ever truly loved, and no future mental hell that the imagination can
invent would have power to make me suffer more because of her than I
have always suffered since the grave closed over her - the virgin martyr
sacrificed on the altar of a false prophet and a coward.

I come of a family of doctors. My grandfather, Thomas Therne, whose
name still lives in medicine, was a doctor in the neighbourhood of
Dunchester, and my father succeeded to his practice and nothing else,
for the old gentleman had lived beyond his means. Shortly after my
father's marriage he sold this practice and removed into Dunchester,
where he soon acquired a considerable reputation as a surgeon, and
prospered, until not long after my birth, just as a brilliant career
seemed to be opening itself to him, death closed his book for ever. In
attending a case of smallpox, about four months before I was born, he
contracted the disease, but the attack was not considered serious and
he recovered from it quickly. It would seem, however, that it left some
constitutional weakness, for a year later he was found to be suffering
from tuberculosis of the lungs, and was ordered to a warmer climate.

Selling his Dunchester practice for what it would fetch to his
assistant, Dr. Bell, my father came to Madeira - whither, I scarcely know
why, I have also drifted now that all is over for me - for here he hoped
to be able to earn a living by doctoring the English visitors. This,
however, he could not do, since the climate proved no match for his
disease, though he lingered for nearly two years, during which time he
spent all the money that he had. When he died there was scarcely enough
left to pay for his funeral in the little churchyard yonder that I can
see from the windows of this _quinta_. Where he lies exactly I do not
know as no record was kept, and the wooden cross, the only monument that
my mother could afford to set over him, has long ago rotted away.

Some charitable English people helped my mother to return to England,
where we went to live with her mother, who existed on a pension of about
120 pounds a year, in a fishing-village near Brighton. Here I grew up,
getting my education - a very good one by the way - at a cheap day school.
My mother's wish was that I should become a sailor like her own father,
who had been a captain in the Navy, but the necessary money was not
forthcoming to put me into the Royal Navy, and my liking for the sea was
not strong enough to take me into the merchant service.

From the beginning I wished to be a doctor like my father and
grandfather before me, for I knew that I was clever, and I knew also
that successful doctors make a great deal of money. Ground down as I
had been by poverty from babyhood, already at nineteen years of age
I desired money above everything on earth. I saw then, and subsequent
experience has only confirmed my views, that the world as it has become
under the pressure of high civilisation is a world for the rich. Leaving
material comforts and advantages out of the question, what ambition
can a man satisfy without money? Take the successful politicians for
instance, and it will be found that almost every one of them is rich.
This country is too full; there is scant room for the individual. Only
intellectual Titans can force their heads above the crowd, and, as a
rule, they have not even then the money to take them higher. If I had
my life over again - and it is my advice to all young men of ability and
ambition - I would leave the old country and settle in America or in one
of the great colonies. There, where the conditions are more elastic and
the competition is not so cruel, a hard-working man of talent does not
need to be endowed with fortune to enable him to rise to the top of the

Well, my desire was to be accomplished, for as it chanced a younger
brother of my father, who during his lifetime had never taken any notice
of me, died and left me 750 pounds. Seven hundred and fifty pounds! To
me at that time it was colossal wealth, for it enabled us to rent
some rooms in London, where I entered myself as a medical student at
University College.

There is no need for me to dwell upon my college career, but if any one
were to take the trouble to consult the old records he would find that
it was sufficiently brilliant. I worked hard, and I had a natural,
perhaps an hereditary liking, for the work. Medicine always fascinated
me. I think it the greatest of the sciences, and from the beginning I
was determined that I would be among the greatest of its masters.

At four and twenty, having finished my curriculum with high honours - I
was gold medallist of my year in both medicine and surgery - I became
house-surgeon to one of the London hospitals. After my term of office
was over I remained at the hospital for another year, for I wished
to make a practical study of my profession in all its branches before
starting a private practice. At the end of this time my mother died
while still comparatively young. She had never really recovered from the
loss of my father, and, though it was long about it, sorrow sapped her
strength at last. Her loss was a shock to me, although in fact we had
few tastes in common. To divert my mind, and also because I was somewhat
run down and really needed a change, I asked a friend of mine who was a
director of a great steamship line running to the West Indies and Mexico
to give me a trip out, offering my medicine services in return for the
passage. This he agreed to do with pleasure; moreover, matters were so
arranged that I could stop in Mexico for three months and rejoin the
vessel on her next homeward trip.

After a very pleasant voyage I reached Vera Cruz. It is a quaint and in
some ways a pretty place, with its tall cool-looking houses and narrow
streets, not unlike Funchal, only more tropical. Whenever I think of it,
however, the first memories that leap to my mind are those of the stench
of the open drains and of the scavenger carts going their rounds with
the _zaphilotes_ or vultures actually sitting upon them. As it happened,
those carts were very necessary then, for a yellow fever epidemic was
raging in the place. Having nothing particular to do I stopped there
for three weeks to study it, working in the hospitals with the local
doctors, for I felt no fear of yellow fever - only one contagious disease
terrifies me, and with that I was soon destined to make acquaintance.

At length I arranged to start for the City of Mexico, to which in
those days the journey from Vera Cruz was performed by diligence as the
railway as not yet finished. At that time Mexico was a wild country.
Wars and revolutions innumerable, together with a certain natural
leaning that way, had reduced a considerable proportion of its
inhabitants to the road, where they earned a precarious living - not by
mending it, but by robbing and occasionally cutting the throats of any
travellers whom they could catch.

The track from Vera Cruz to Mexico City runs persistently uphill;
indeed, I think the one place is 7000 feet above the level of the other.
First, there is the hot zone, where the women by the wayside sell you
pineapples and cocoanuts; then the temperate zone, where they offer you
oranges and bananas; then the cold country, in which you are expected
to drink a filthy liquid extracted from aloes called _pulque_, that in
taste and appearance resembles soapy water.

It was somewhere in the temperate zone that we passed a town consisting
of fifteen _adobe_ or mud houses and seventeen churches. The excessive
religious equipment of this city is accounted for by an almost
inaccessible mountain stronghold in the neighbourhood. This stronghold
for generations had been occupied by brigands, and it was the
time-honoured custom of each chieftain of the band, when he retired on
a hard-earned competence, to expiate any regrettable incidents in his
career by building a church in the town dedicated to his patron saint
and to the memory of those whose souls he had helped to Paradise. This
pious and picturesque, if somewhat mediaeval, custom has now come to an
end, as I understand that the Mexican Government caused the stronghold
to be stormed a good many years ago, and put its occupants, to the
number of several hundreds, to the sword.

We were eight in the coach, which was drawn by as many mules - four
merchants, two priests, myself and the lady who afterwards became my
wife. She was a blue-eyed and fair-haired American from New York. Her
name, I soon discovered, was Emma Becker, and her father, who was dead,
had been a lawyer. We made friends at once, and before we had jolted
ten miles on our journey I learned her story. It seemed that she was an
orphan with a very small fortune, and only one near relative, an aunt
who had married a Mexican named Gomez, the owner of a fine range or
_hacienda_ situated on the border of the highlands, about eighty miles
from the City of Mexico. On the death of her father, being like most
American girls adventurous and independent, Miss Becker had accepted
an invitation from her aunt Gomez and her husband to come and live with
them a while. Now, quite alone and unescorted, she was on her way to
Mexico City, where she expected to be met by some friends of her uncle.

We started from Vera Cruz about mid-day and slept, or rather passed the
night, at a filthy inn alive with every sort of insect pest. Two hours
before dawn we were bundled into the _diligencia_ and slowly dragged up
a mountain road so steep that, notwithstanding the blows and oaths of
the drivers, the mules had to stop every few hundred yards to rest. I
remember that at last I fell asleep, my head reposing on the shoulder
of a very fat priest, who snored tempestuously, then awoke to pray, then
snored again. It was the voice of Miss Becker, who sat opposite to me,
that wakened me.

"Forgive me for disturbing you, Dr. Therne," she said, "but you really
must look," and she pointed through the window of the coach.

Following her hand I saw a sight which no one who has witnessed it can
ever forget: the sun rising on the mighty peak of Orizaba, the Star
Mountain, as the old Aztecs named it. Eighteen thousand feet above our
heads towered the great volcano, its foot clothed with forests, its cone
dusted with snow. The green flanks of the peak and the country beneath
them were still wrapped in shadow, but on its white and lofty crest
already the lights of dawn were burning. Never have I seen anything more
beautiful than this soaring mountain top flaming like some giant torch
over a world of darkness; indeed, the unearthly grandeur of the sight
amazed and half paralysed my mind.

A lantern swung from the roof of the coach, and, turning my eyes from
the mountain, in its light I saw the face of my travelling companion
and - fell in love with it. I had seen it before without any such idea
entering my mind; then it had been to me only the face of a rather
piquante and pretty girl, but with this strange and inconvenient result,
the sight of the dawn breaking upon Orizaba seemed to have worked some
change in me. At least, if only for an instant, it had pierced the
barrier that day by day we build within us to protect ourselves from the
attack of the impulses of nature.

In that moment at any rate there was a look upon this girl's countenance
and a light shining in her eyes which overcame my caution and swept
me out of myself, for I think that she too was under the shadow of the
glory which broke upon the crest of Orizaba. In vain did I try to save
myself and to struggle back to common-sense, since hitherto the prospect
of domestic love had played no part in my scheme of life. It was
useless, so I gave it up, and our eyes met.

Neither of us said anything, but from that time forward we knew that we
did not wish to be parted any more.

After a while, to relieve a tension of mind which neither of us cared to
reveal, we drifted into desultory and indifferent conversation. In the
course of our talk Emma told me that her aunt had written to her that if
she could leave the coach at Orizaba she would be within fifty miles of
the _hacienda_ of La Concepcion, whereas when she reached Mexico City
she would still be eighty miles from it. Her aunt had added, however,
that this was not practicable at present, why she did not say, and that
she must go on to Mexico where some friends would take charge of her
until her uncle was able to fetch her.

Presently Emma seemed to fall asleep, at least she shut her eyes. But I
could not sleep, and sat there listening to the snores of the fat priest
and the strange interminable oaths of the drivers as they thrashed the
mules. Opposite to me, tied to the roof of the coach immediately above
Emma's head, was a cheap looking-glass, provided, I suppose, for the
convenience of passengers when making the toilette of travel. In it I
could see myself reflected, so, having nothing better to do, in view of
contingencies which of a sudden had become possible, I amused myself by
taking count of my personal appearance. On the whole in those days it
was not unsatisfactory. In build, I was tall and slight, with thin,
nervous hands. My colouring and hair were dark, and I had soft and
rather large brown eyes. The best part of my face was my forehead, which
was ample, and the worst my mouth, which was somewhat weak. I do not
think, however, that any one would have guessed by looking at me as I
then appeared at the age of seven and twenty, that I was an exceedingly
hard-working man with extraordinary powers of observation and a really
retentive memory.

At any rate, I am sure that it was not these qualities which recommended
me to Emma Becker, nor, whatever we may have felt under the influences
of Orizaba, was it any spiritual affinity. Doctors, I fear, are not
great believers in spiritual affinities; they know that such emotions
can be accounted for in other ways. Probably Emma was attracted to
me because I was dark, and I to her because she was fair. Orizaba and
opportunity merely brought out and accentuated these quite natural

By now the day had broken, and, looking out of the window, I could see
that we were travelling along the side of a mountain. Above us the slope
was gentle and clothed with sub-tropical trees, while below it became a
veritable precipice, in some places absolutely sheer, for the road was
cut upon a sort of rocky ledge, although, owing to the vast billows of
mist that filled it, nothing could be seen of the gulf beneath.

I was reflecting, I remember, that this would be an ill path to drive
with a drunken coachman, when suddenly I saw the off-front mule stumble
unaccountably, and, as it fell, heard a shot fired close at hand. Next
instant also I saw the driver and his companion spring from the
box, and, with a yell of terror, plunge over the edge of the cliff,
apparently into the depths below. Then from the narrow compass of that
coach arose a perfect pandemonium of sounds, with an under cry of a
single word, "Brigands! Brigands!"

The merchants shouted, supplicated their saints, and swore as with
trembling hands they tried to conceal loose valuables in their boots
and hats; one of the priests too literally howled in his terror, but the
other, a man of more dignity, only bowed his head and murmured a prayer.
By this time also the mules had tied themselves into a knot and were
threatening to overturn the coach, to prevent which our captors, before
meddling with us, cut the animals loose with their _machetes_ or swords,
and drove them over the brink of the abyss, where, like the drivers,
they vanished. Then a dusky-faced ruffian, with a scar on his cheek,
came to the door of the diligence and bowing politely beckoned to us
to come out. As there were at least a dozen of them and resistance was
useless, even if our companions could have found the courage to fight,
we obeyed, and were placed before the brigands in a line, our backs
being set to the edge of the gulf. I was last but one in the line, and
beyond me stood Emma Becker, whose hand I held.

Then the tragedy began. Several of the villains seized the first
merchant, and, stopping his cries and protestations with a blow in
the mouth, stripped him to the shirt, abstracting notes and gold and
everything else of value that they could find in various portions of his
attire where he had hidden them, and principally, I remember, from the
lining of his vest. When they had done with him, they dragged him away
and bundled him roughly into the diligence.

Next to this merchant stood the two priests. Of the first of these
the brigands asked a question, to which, with some hesitation,
the priest - that man who had shown so much terror - replied in the
affirmative, whereon his companion looked at him contemptuously and
muttered a Spanish phrase which means "Man without shame." Of him also
the same question was asked, in answer to which he shook his head,
whereon he was conducted, though without violence or being searched,
to the coach, and shut into it with the plundered merchant. Then the
thieves went to work with the next victim.

"Dr. Therne," whispered Emma Becker, "you have a pistol, do you not?"

I nodded my head.

"Will you lend it me? You understand?"

"Yes," I answered, "I understand, but I hope that things are not so bad
as that."

"They are," she answered with a quiver in her voice. "I have heard about
these Mexican brigands. With the exception of that priest and myself
they will put all of you into the coach and push it over the precipice."

At her words my heart stood still and a palpable mist gathered before
my eyes. When it cleared away my brain seemed to awake to an abnormal
activity, as though the knowledge that unless it was used to good effect
now it would never be used again were spurring it to action. Rapidly I
reviewed the situation and considered every possible method of escape.
At first I could think of none; then suddenly I remembered that the
driver and his companion, who no doubt knew every inch of the road, had
leaped from the coach, apparently over the edge of the precipice. This I
felt sure they would not have done had they been going to certain death,
since they would have preferred to take their chance of mercy at the
hands of the brigands. Moreover, these gentry themselves had driven the
mules into the abyss whither those wise animals would never have gone
unless there was some foothold for them.

I looked behind me but could discover nothing, for, as is common in
Mexico at the hour of dawn, the gulf was absolutely filled with dense
vapours. Then I made up my mind that I would risk it and began to
shuffle slowly backwards. Already I was near the edge when I remembered

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