S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

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with which I meant to combine immediate utility.

During my office-hours I sat for a while near my
window to observe the effect of my business-sign. It
was a rather pleasant study. The street was a quiet
byway, but morning and evening many people of all
classes passed through it. Most of them went by with
a passing glance of amusement or vague curiosity;
others paused in wonder, went on, looked back, and
again went on. Some crossed the street to make sure
they had rightly read my sign.

On the fourth day a young man crossed the street,
rang the bell, and was shown into my office. I recog-
nized the type at once. He was very sprucely dressed,
was not over-clean as to his hands, and in his side-
pocket I saw the top of a note-book. He sat down as
I rose from my seat at the window.

"Dr. West? "he said.

" Yes. You are a reporter ? *

" I am. How did you guess that ? "

" It is simple. A note-book and pencil, soiled fin-
gers, and, also "

"Now that 's rather smart," he broke in. "And
what else ? "



" Well, you 're right anyway. I 'm the social re-
porter for the < Standard.' "

" A collector of garbage to manure with fools' vani-
ties the devil's farms," I said. " You may not be bad
yourself, but you are part of a bad system. I do not
want you." On this his look of alert smartness sud-
denly faded.

He did not lose his temper, but replied in a tone of
some thoughtf ulness :

" A man must make a living."

" I wish," I said, " there was such a phrase as make
a dying. That 's what you are making. Go your way ;
mine is an honest business."

"But the public are interested. The thing is un-
usual. I should like to ask you a few questions."

"As man to man let me ask you one. Are you
y never ashamed of yourself ? "

He flushed a little. " Well, sometimes. I hate it."

" Then go and sin no more," I said, rising. " Good
morning." At this he too rose, replaced the note-book
he had drawn from his pocket, and, urging me no
further, went out with a simple " Good morning." He
must be young at the business, I reflected, and per-
haps I may have done him good. I was undeceived
two days later when I read in the " Standard " :


Crowds assembled about a curious sign :




Oar reporter was courteously received by Dr. West, who said
he was glad in the interest of the public to answer any ques-
tions. The interview was as follows :

" Yes ; I am a character doctor. My business is to furnish
characters to those who need them. Also I attend to sick char-
acters. Sometimes whole families consult me as to the amend-
ment and reconstruction of conflicting characters. Yes ; I expect
to have a character hospital, with wards for jealousy, anger,

Then came details of my life. How I was born in
Kamchatka, etc. I let the paper fall in dismay. It
was the dull season, and there was much more of it.
The man's trade-habit had been too much for him. I
had more of them, but I gave up advising, and simply
said that I would not answer. Then they interviewed
my maid, and, at last, the cook at the back gate. It
was almost as bad as the case of my friend who found
a reporter under his table just before a dinner he was
to give to a stranger of high position. I made a note
upon the influence of business upon character. In a
few days the plague abated.

Very soon my harvest began. At first I had an influx
of Biddies, who each wanted a character. It seemed
hard to make the public comprehend my purpose.

One afternoon about five I was told that some one
wished to see me, and, leaving the up-stairs room I
reserved for my books, went down to the office. On
the lounge lay a man about twenty, of a death-like
pallor. He sprang up as I came in, staggered, and fell
back. I saw that he was ill, and called to the maid
to bring wine, which he took eagerly. I said, " When
did you last eat ? "

"At seven to-day." Upon this I went out and


came back with food. " Eat," I said. By and by he
rose, saying : "I thank you. I came to see you for
but now I must tell you all. I left the penitentiary
to-day. I got a year for stealing from my employer.
A woman was the cause. Ah, three months would
have done. When I got out I walked and walked ; I
thought I could walk forever, and at the corners the
wind was in my face, sir. It was like heaven. Of a
sudden I grew weak, and, seeing your sign, I came in.
Now you know all. I fancy you '11 think I certainly
do need a character."

" Yes. Where are you going ? "

"To B , in Indiana. I have my good-service

money. I will go to L , and then walk. I am an

Englishman. I have no friends here. I was once in
B a little while."

"Now for my advice. You cannot walk. Here,

this will take you to B . You will get on, I think.

Pay me some day. Be tender to the wrong-doer in
days to come, and marry early a good woman, not
a fool ; mind that. Solomon's experience was large,
and, as you may remember, he gave pretty much the
same advice."

He looked at me, at the money, and began to cry.

"Don't," I said. "I never could stand that," and
went out of the room. In a few minutes he was gone.
I ought to add that he did greatly prosper, and is
to-day an esteemed citizen with many happy children.
About a week later a lad of seventeen called on me.
He was well dressed and well bred. As he faced me
I saw that he looked troubled, and that he hesitated.

"Well," I said.


"You are a character doctor?"

" Yes. What can I do for you ?;

" I do not know. I don't know why I came here at
all. Do I look like a bad fellow ? " And he regarded
me with eyes of honest calmness.

"No; you are not bad."

" Maybe 1 7 m a fool. I saw in the paper that you
could tell if a man was bad, and why he was bad."

" Oh, hang the papers ! What is it ? "

"Do you think, sir, a fellow could steal and not
know he did it ? "

" Yes. Suppose you tell me your story."

Always people have been too ready to confess things
to me ; it was one of the many torments of my life as
a doctor.

"Well, suppose a fellow had the key of a safe in
charge, and something was missing. Could any one
have taken it but him ? "

I replied : " You are only half trusting me. Were
I you I would be quite frank, or say nothing at
least to me."

There was a certain sweetness in the young man's
face as he looked up at me and said, " Well, I know
about doctors; they are like priests but "

" I am a physician."

" Must I tell you my name ? "

" No ; merely what happened."

"Well, father went out of town a month ago, and
left with me the key of the safe in his library in our
own house, you know. I did not want it, but my elder
brother is ill in bed, and there was no one else. The
day father left he showed me where all the papers


were, in case he wired for any of them, and also
showed me a necklace of emeralds my aunt my
au-nt, oh, I came awfully near telling her name,
my aunt left in his care, because she 's in Europe.
That safe kept me anxious. Yes, sir ; it seems silly,
but my mind was on it, and I am just nearly through
college, and I never have had any cares. Of course
it wore off by degrees, and then father came back.
Indeed, sir, he was worse troubled than I, but I think
I have been nearly crazy. I mean the necklace was
gone. Why, I heard mother tell father I was very
young and he must forgive me ; but she sits in her
room and rocks and rocks, and takes valerian. And
now there is a detective, and he searches the house,
and the servants look at me as if I were a thief, and
that scoundrel he talked to me yesterday and guessed
I 'd best own up."

" And is that all?"

"No, sir; I they all try not to think I did it,
and they believe I did. I think I must have done it.
I was wondering when it was. If I only knew what I
did with it ! Every one thinks I took it. But where
is it ? How can I confess it ? I am not sure."

At this he rose and moved about, looked out of
the window, and suddenly came back, saying, "By
George ! there 's that detective."

"Sit down," I said. "You need not tell me you
have been a good lad or worked at school."

" I 'm in the honor list, and I 'm captain of the
eleven," he said, with sorrowful pride, " and to think
but I did it. It 's so."

"Hush!" I returned. "The man who slanders


himself is wicked or weak. You are only weak, and
only that just now. You never did this act. I say
so. If a dozen people say to a man daily, ' You are
going to be ill/ that at last affects the most whole-
some. If all you love tell you in words, looks, and
ways that you have been a thief, at last a man doubts
the evidence of his own memory and conscience, and
loses his mental equilibrium, and joins the majority
against himself. Then he is on the verge of becom-
ing insane. Now, really, are all your people of one
opinion ? "

" No ; my sister Helen she just laughs at the whole
thing. I mean when she don't cry."

" Sister Helen has some sense, I should say. And
now listen. Go and play cricket to-day. Settle down
to your work ; you have neglected it. Mind, these are
prescriptions. It will come right. I know you for an
honest gentleman ; now hurry out of the door and de-
tect your detective. Tell him you have told me all,
and come back to-morrow. And your name, please ? "

He hesitated, and said, " Frederick Winslow."

" And mind, make a good score at cricket, and leave
it all to me."

" Thank you," he said. "I must try, sir. I what
is your charge ? "

"Let that rest now. When you go the detective
will visit me. It is our turn now."

A minute later, as I expected, the detective walked
in. " Mr. Winslow," he said, " says he has told you all.
I am Mr. Diggles. Here 's my card." It bore a large
eye in the center, and over it, " John Diggles, Confi-
dential Detective Agency."


" Glad lie owned up. Pretty smart boy, but they
gets worried into lettin' out at last." All this rather

" Sit down," I said. " You believe that young fel-
low stole an emerald necklace ? "

" Why, who else could have done it ? a

u There is a reason for crime, usually ? "

" Yes 5 I guess there 's always reason for wanting
other folks' things. But he has told you he took it f "

" No ; and if he had, in the state he is in now, I
should not have believed him."

"Why? Not believe him ! Why not ?"

" Because you took it yourself."

At this he sprang to his feet and exclaimed, " I did
not come here to be insulted,"

I was about to explain that the probability of his
being the thief was to me not less than of the necklace
having been stolen by my young captain of the cricket
eleven, but something in the sudden flush and rage of
a man living always in familiar nearness to crime gave
me reason to hesitate. Crime for these men loses its
horror, and becomes a mere enemy to be technically
dealt with. It troubles them as little as deceit does
the soldier, who plays the game of war. Fraud is his
weapon. I returned quickly : " What has been your
life compared to this boy's? His has been honest,
dutiful, and correct. And yours? What have you

The man was singularly bewildered, and said noth-
ing. I went on : " Who is most likely to be the thief,
you or he ? You had best go home and say the prayer
of a wiser man ' God be merciful to me, a fooL' "


" I want to know what that boy told you."

"That you will never know. Send me that lad's

"I won't do it."

" Take care how you act in this case."

You called me a thief."

"I did."

"Well, then, you look out, that >s all." He was
clearly foolish, as well as angry. "You think I stole
necklace. That's the kind of character doctor
you are ! "

" I said you were a thief. And now it is a man's
character, his honor, you are helping to steal, because
you have no sense, and come to a point on any obvious

"Oh, that 'sail, is it?"

The Winslows were well-known people, and I read-
ily found Mr. Winslow. He was a slow, precise, over-
accurate man of sixty. No imagination; horizons

ited ; undergoing in advance physical, moral, and
mental ossification. Of course, as a character doctor, I
was to him a queer, extra-social animal. I soon found
that I must tell him my whole story.

His astonishment was as large as his nature let it
be ; but as he knew my people, and conceded to the
class to which we belonged larger privileges than he
would admit for others, I was able to win his confi-

I then explained to him my conviction as to his
son's innocence.

" Oh, of course," he replied, " that is so. But, then,
the facts," and he began elaborately to describe

V me


them, ending with, " Of course it was n't he, but who
was it?"

I told him that the boy was being goaded by hints,
looks, doubts, half -belief s, and the detective's folly into
a form of mental disorder which would end in the
avowal of what he had never done.

He was puzzled and alarmed, but, on careful exam-
ination, nothing new came out. On my casually ask-
ing for his sick son, he said that he was an invalid
^/ unable to walk ; had neurasthenia, and now, refusing
to see doctors, remained in bed. I was nearly at the
end of my resources ; I asked if I might see him, for,
after our talk, I had so won my way that I was al-
lowed to examine the safe, and to talk with the mother
and daughter.

Mr. Winslow said : " Miss Winslow will take you up.
He dislikes me to come in. He says my boots creak.
V/ He says some people's boots always creak."

Miss Helen went up with me. I was on her side, as
she knew. She said to me : " He may refuse to see
you. Why do you want to see him ? "

" Because," I said, " we are in the tangle of a mys-
tery, and he too is rather mysterious."

She laughed. "I see." Clearly she had imagina-
tive possibilities, and I like that.

I said, " I will go in alone."

" I would," she returned, firmly.

The room was in half light. I said as I went in :
" Mr. Winslow, I am a physician. Your father desires
me to see you. My name is West. Let me open the

" Oh, if I must, I must," he said, peevishly.


The flood of light showed me a thin, apathetic man
of thirty. I sat down.

" Open your eyes." He obeyed. Then I went care-
fully into his case, and at the close he said :

" No, I can't walk or read j but I was better until
this necklace business. Every one bothers about it.

Aunt L says it is for my wife ; and so I say, it is

mine, and if I don't care, who else need care ? "

As I rose to go he said : " My legs hurt me. Now
you are here, just look at them."

I did so. There were on each leg bruises in the
same place, below the knees. Hesitating, I went on
to look at the feet. Then I said: "That will do.
What fire do you burn ? Oh, soft coal, I see. I will
think it over, and see you again." Down-stairs I found
Mr. Winslow.

" Well ? " he exclaimed.

" Your son says he cannot walk. On his soles are
marks of the black from the fire. On his legs are
two bruises ; one has a slight break of the skin.
Either he is untruthful, or he walks in his sleep."

" He did as a boy."

The result was that I had a watch set on the invalid.
After three nights he rose, lighted his candle, walked
into his brother's room, and with curious care searched
his clothes' pockets. At last he took a bundle of keys
from one of them, and went quietly down-stairs to the
/ safe. He was quite unconscious of being watched, and
foolishly but deliberately tried key after key, small or
large, and at last went back to his bed, dropping the
keys on the way.

When I was told of all this, I was greatly puzzled,


and regretted that the key of the safe had not been
left where he could get it. Saying that I was still
better satisfied of my young friend's innocence, I went
away, and before going home called at the steamer
agency to engage passage for the coming autumn.
As I entered I saw my detective go out of another
door. After settling for my berth, I asked if Mr.
Diggles was going to Europe. The clerk said,

I replied, " The man who just went out."

"Name of Stimpson," said the clerk. "He sails
next week.

The next day I sent for the man. He came early.

" Any news ? " he said, abruptly.

"No; I merely wanted to ask you a question or

" All right. Go ahead." He exhibited no hostility.

" When did you search the safe ? "

"The third day after Mr. Winslow came home."

"You did it thoroughly?"

"I did. Mr. Winslow he had n't unrolled all the
bundles. He said it was no use, they was only deeds
and such. I done it thorough."

" And are you not at the end of your resources ? "

"No, sir. By this day month we shall have him.
He is a boy, and he '11 try to sell or pawn it. I 've got
an eye on him."

" But you sail next week." The man suddenly tilted
back his chair, and in a certain loosening of his feat-
ures I saw alarm and astonishment

"I yes business abroad."

" Name of Stimpson ? " I urged. As I spoke I rose.


" Look here/' I said, " to-morrow you will go to the
house and ask leave to search that safe. The neck-
lace will be found the day after in a bundle of deeds."

" Are you crazy 1 "

" No j but you will be, and worse, if that necklace
is not found. Now, I know, and you have one day,
and no more. Remember, I know. It is this or ruin,
and you are watched."

He looked at me a moment and then went out with-
out a word, and did precisely what I had ordered him
to do.

" And the necklace ? " said Mrs. Vincent.

" Was found in a roll of deeds. My friend goes on
to say that his theory was that the sleep-walker took
the key, opened the safe, and who can say why?
removed the necklace from its case, and put it inside
a roll of old papers. On the detective's more thorough
search at his first inspection, he found it, and easily
contrived to pocket it."

" Meanwhile, we were set astray by the elder broth-
er's somnambulism, which, I confess, misled me in part.
The rest explains itself.

" The notes of the cases which follow are the last
I shall read to you, although there are others as
interesting. I find he has classified them under head-

Case 31 consults me.

X , at. 30. Male, good habits, fugitive ambitions,

intellect about No. 12 of my scale. Inexorably mate-
rialistic tendencies, with longings to see things more
spiritually. Want of imagination; general lack of
persistent energy ; hence constant efforts aborted by


incapacity for continued labor, and lack of the bribes
offered by imagination. Shifts responsibility on to
his ancestral inheritances. A life of self -excuses, but
says he is a failure. Advise the tonic of a desperate
love-affair with a woman of sense. He says the medi-
cine seems to be wisely ordered, but who is to be the
apothecary ? Prognosis bad.

" I think I shall call on that doctor," said St. Clair,
laughing. " I know an apothecary what next ? "

Case 47.

Mrs. B , set. 33. Not a strong nature, but mildly

disposed to do good, to attend to life's duties. No
tastes, no strong traits; morally anemic. Spoilt as
a child j indulged by a husband ; petted by fortune.
No intense maternal instincts, and relieved of the care
of her children. Is bored to the limit of endurance,
and is a li ttle pleased with her capacity for ennui ; re-
gards it as a distinction. A life without motives, and,
as a result, peevish discontentment. Her husband asks
advice. He is immensely rich. I advise poverty,
but he thinks that worse than ennui. There are no
moral tonics for these people. You shall and you
must are not in their drug-shops. That is the malaria
of excessive wealth.

Case 131. "This will interest you," I said, "in the
light of our recent talk. It is the last I shall trouble
you with."

L at thirty-five marries a woman of fortune and

attractions, an only child. By degrees she insists with
tears and entreaties on absorbing his life in her own.
He cannot leave her a day without difficulty ; has by
degrees given up his sports, his outdoor pursuits, and


at last is driven or decoyed into abandoning his busi-
ness, which is not a necessity, as she is rich and lav-
ishly generous. Her capacity for attachment is ab-
normally strong. Her case is one of jealousy carried
to the extent of hating a rival in his pursuits or his
tastes. She must be his life and adequate. This im-
plies vast belief in herself. Of other women she is
not jealous. Under this narrowing of existence he is
failing in health of mind and body, and thinks himself
a traitor to her. He is dissatisfied with a too merely
emotional life. The woman sometimes absorbs the
man; the man rarely captures the totality of the
woman. Either is unwholesome. He consults me.
I predict for him a sad failure unless he consents to
declare his independence and is willing to discipline
her into happiness. He will be unlikely to take my

At this point Clayborne broke in with a yawn.
" Really, my dear North," he said, " how much more of
this is there ? "

I laughed. " This is by no means all, but I shall
not ask you to hear more. There is material for a
dozen novels in these notes."

" That is an admirable reason for going no further.
I never read novels. I tried to once, but I found that
it made me desire to go beyond facts in my own

"To go beyond facts?" said St. Clair. "It seems
to me that imagination controlled by reason ought to
be indispensable to the true historian."

" Oh, your picturesque historian ? We know him.
Good night, Mrs. Vincent."


With this our evening ended. But as I went out
Mrs. Vincent said : " Come in to-morrow ; I want you
to help a friend of mine. It is and it is not a medical

I said I would come, and, turning, noticed a queer
smile on the features of Vincent.


Oil are good to come so early," said
our hostess. " Sit down."
" Is she old or young ? "
"I decline to say. You will be
amused and puzzled."

This time Mrs. Vincent was
mouse-colored, and clad in some stuff of silvery sheen
where it caught the light. The flowers were vivid
orchids, which looked like embroidered jokes or gro-
tesque floral caricatures.

" I want first," she said, " to talk a little about your
character doctor. Is not every true and clever physi-
cian more or less what he tries to be ? "

" And people confess to you ? "
"Ah, too much too much ! "
She was silent a moment, and then said : " I ought
to hesitate about putting burdens on one already
weighted heavily, but it so chances that a woman
indeed, women I esteem need help which you know
how to give. And oh, I meant to explain, but here
comes Mrs. Leigh."

As she spoke a large, handsome woman entered.
She was known to me by name, and, in fact, was one
of my kindred, but so far back as to give me no claim


of distinct relationship. Nor had we ever met, because
she had been for many years in Europe.

After I had been presented, she and Mrs. Vincent
fell into talk, and thus gave me a chance to observe
that the newcomer was clearly a woman somewhat
peculiar and positive, who had seen much of many
societies, and was evidently of a not rare type of the
woman of the world.

Presently Mrs. Vincent said : "I promised to talk
to Dr. North of your difficulty, but perhaps, as he is
here, and you too, it were better you said to him di-
rectly what you want."

" I would rather have done so through you, my dear.
But, in fact, I am troubled. I distrust my own opin-
ions, and I want to be just to my daughter."

" I am at your service," I said.

" You do not know my daughter Alice ? Of course
you could not."

" Suppose you state your difficulty."

" Alice is twenty-four Do tell him ; my dear. My
opinion is worthless."

" Gladly," said Mrs. Vincent. " Alice is a woman of
unusual force of character. As life has gone on she
has acquired a strong belief that a woman of fortune
and intellect (for she is more than merely intelligent)
should have some distinct career. She has seen much
of the gay world, and it does not satisfy her cravings.
Like Hamlet, neither men nor women delight her.
And now, coming home to live, she has grown de-
pressed and unhappy. Occupations without definite
aims dissatisfy her, and while she performs every duty
to her home circle and to society, which she measurably


likes, she has a strong sense that these do not compe-

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellCharacteristics → online text (page 14 of 19)