The Body Snatchers is a short story by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). First published in the Pall Mall Christmas "Extra" in December 1884, its characters were based on criminals in the employ of real-life surgeon Robert Knox (1791–1862) around the time of the notorious Burke and Hare murders (1828). A group of friends share a few drinks, when an eminent doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane, enters. One of the friends, Fettes, recognizes the name and angrily confronts the new arrival. Although his friends all find this behaviour suspicious, none of them can understand what might lie behind it. It transpires that Macfarlane and Fettes had attended medical school together, under the famous professor of anatomy, Robert Knox. Their duties included taking receipt of bodies for dissection, and paying the pair of shifty and suspicious men who supplied them. On one occasion, Fettes identifies a body as that of a woman he knew, and is convinced she has been murdered. But Macfarlane talks him out of reporting the incident, lest they are both implicated in the crime. Later, Fettes meets Macfarlane at a tavern, along with a man named Gray, who treats Macfarlane in a rude manner. The following night, Macfarlane brings Gray's body along as a dissection sample. Although Fettes is now certain that his friend has committed murder, Macfarlane again convinces him to keep his silence, persuading him that if he is not courageous enough to perform such manly deeds as these, he will end up as just another victim. The two men make sure the body is comprehensively dissected, destroying any forensic evidence. Fettes and Macfarlane continue their work, without being implicated in any crime. However, when a shortage of bodies leaves their mentor in need, they are sent to a country churchyard to exhume a recently buried woman. As they are driving back with the body seated between them, they begin to feel nervous and stop to take a better look.
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ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
Copyright © 2016 by Robert Louis Stevenson.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organiza- tions, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Sheba Blake Publishing
Book and Cover design by Sheba Blake Publishing
First Edition: January 2017
THE BODY SNATCHERS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Every night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at Debenham - the undertaker, and the landlord, and Fettes, and myself. Sometimes there would be more; but blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular armchair. Fettes was an old drunken Scotsman, a man of education obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in idleness. He had come to Debenham years ago, while still young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an adopted townsman. His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church-spire. His place in the parlour at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous, disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham. He had some vague Radical opinions and some fleeting infidelities, which he would now and again set forth and emphasize with tottering slaps upon the table. He drank rum - five glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation. We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but, beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents.
One dark winter night - it had struck nine some time before the landlord joined us - there was a sick man in the George, a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man's still greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his bedside. It was the first time that such a thing had happened in Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all proportionately moved by the occurrence.
'He's come,' said the landlord, after he had filled and lighted his pipe.
'He?' said I. 'Who? - not the doctor?'
'Himself,' replied our host.
'What is his name?'
'Dr Macfarlane,' said the landlord.
Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name 'Macfarlane' twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.
'Yes,' said the landlord, 'that's his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.'
Fettes became instantly sober: his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.
'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I am afraid I have not been paying much attention to your talk. Who is this Wolfe Macfarlane?' And then, when he had heard the landlord out, 'It cannot be, it cannot be,' he added; 'and yet I would like well to see him face to face.'
'Do you know him, Doctor?' asked the undertaker, with a gasp.
'God forbid!' was the reply. 'And yet the name is a strange one; it were too much to fancy two. Tell me, landlord, is he old?'
'Well,' said the host, 'he's not a young man, to be sure, and his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.'
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