The Doctor Who Held Hands - Hulbert Footner - ebook

The Doctor Who Held Hands ebook

Hulbert Footner



As well as penning some of the most popular detective fiction, Conan Doyle also wrote thrilling adventure stories. „Rodney Stone” is a combination of both. Nelson, Beau Brummell, Fox and King George III himself appear in a tale at the heart of which is, as one character says, „a pretty conspiracy – a criminal, an actress and a prize-fighter, all playing their parts”. The book is narrated by Rodney, in 1851 thinking back over the events 1803, when Rodney was 17 and his best friend, Boy Jim, was 19. This is the year Rodney’s uncle comes to introduce the boy to London society. Sir Charles is a dandy, and a friend of Beau Brummell and the Prince of Wales. But Rodney’s father has hopes for his son going into the Royal Navy. Boy Jim also has a life decision to make. He has been raised by Champion Harrison as a blacksmith, but after befriending an alcoholic ex-actress, he yearns to see more of the world, at least London.

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Liczba stron: 387

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The long envelope inclosed something crisp and firm that immediately suggested bank notes. Madame Storey has taught me to notice such things. The messenger who brought it required a receipt in her own hand. After I had handed him his receipt and returned to my employer’s room, I saw the bills scattered on her desk: five smooth, fresh, orange-backed engravings direct from the Federal Reserve Bank, the prettiest pictures on earth. They were thousand-dollar bills, the first I had ever seen. Those five scraps of paper were equivalent to a trip around the world, a high-powered car, or any delightful folly that one might dream about. To me it was a lot of money.

Mme. Storey was reading the letter which had accompanied it. Seeing me goggle at the money, she said airily: “That’s only our retaining fee, Bella. There is ten times as much in this case, if we can pull it off. Besides an unlimited expense account.”

I waited in no little eagerness to hear more. When she had finished the letter she handed it over without comment, and taking a cigarette, leaned back in her chair and puffed a cloud of smoke thoughtfully toward the ceiling. From this I gathered that we were likely to take the case. I read:

Dear Madame Storey:

I am sending you $5,000 in the hope of enlisting your services in a cause which is not only very near my heart but would, if prosecuted to a successful conclusion, confer a benefit on the entire community. I wish, for reasons which will be apparent to you as you read, to remain anonymous in the affair. Therefore I send the money in cash. The truth is, I cannot bear to expose my wounds to the public gaze. In brief, here is my proposition. I will pay you $50,000 if you can put Dr. Jacmer Touchon behind prison bars. In addition, you may draw on me without reserve for all legitimate expenses in connection with the case. The Duane National Bank will act as my disbursing agent. This scoundrel calls himself a “psycho-synthetist” or “soul-builder” and seeks his victims among well-to-do women. Psycho-synthesis, examined coldly, appears to be a blend of all the fakes one ever heard of, but the doctor is an extraordinarily plausible and persuasive practitioner. He appears to possess a really superior mind, which renders him, of course, all the more dangerous.

I can describe to you his modus operandi in one case, but can furnish no proof without exposing my identity. It is up to you to get the proof. One who was dear to me consulted Dr. Touchon in respect to an unfortunate mental condition. He told her that her trouble arose from harbouring evil thoughts, and that if she would relieve herself of such thoughts he could undertake a cure. Well, I suppose everyone harbours some evil thoughts. If one keeps them to one’s self they can do no harm. But none would like to see them broadcasted. This person told her thoughts, believing that she was confiding them solely to the doctor’s private ear. For several weeks she regularly visited his office for consultations. His fee was $100 for half an hour’s treatment. This figures out rather handsomely for a day’s work, you will agree, but still the greedy doctor was not satisfied. His patient finally began to suspect he was a fraud, and she ceased going to his office. Some little time afterward he sent for her to come to him and told her in seeming distress that a part of his records had been stolen from him, including the record of her case. This was the first she knew there was a record of it. He excused himself by saying it was necessary for him to have a record to study, and confessed that while she was confiding her thoughts to him, there had been a clerk concealed within hearing who had taken it all down. Observe the man’s fiendish cleverness. He told her that he felt it his duty to let her know that the record had been stolen, but that she need not be under the slightest apprehension concerning it because there was nothing on the card to identify it as her case to anybody but himself. This was all bunkum, of course. Within a short time the unfortunate woman received a communication ostensibly from another quarter, demanding a large sum of money if she wished to keep her confessions out of print. She paid. She went on paying until she died. Before she died she told me the whole story and the wicked thoughts were not so wicked after all. That is the pity of it. The scoundrel had worked on a nervous woman’s fears. There is no doubt but that worry over this affair hastened her end. There, my dear Madame Storey, is your case. I have restrained myself as far as possible, because I don’t want to inflict my private feelings on you. I wish that I might come out into the open, so that we could work together, but I could not bear it, if even so much as a hint of what I have been through should become public property. You may acknowledge this letter through the bank. You will learn there that your financial support is assured. If you don’t want the case you will hand them back the money, but I trust that will not happen. For if you won’t take it, I fear there will be nothing for me to do but to go out and shoot the scoundrel. Pray accept my felicitations for the good work you have done in other directions. I always find you on the side of the right. Yours sincerely, AN ADMIRER.

The contents of this letter inspired me with a vague disquiet. “I hate blackmail cases,” I said involuntarily. “It’s like digging in pitch.”

“Oh, quite,” said Mme. Storey. “But you must admit this has intriguing possibilities.”

“We have plenty of other work,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “but we could take this on quite easily. Barney Craigin is convicted and sentenced. The decks are cleared of that mess.”

“And now you’re considering dumping a worse mess upon them,” I said.

“Well, that’s our job,” she said, laughing; “cleaning up messes.”

I sighed. I saw she was going to take it. I had a strong premonition of evil but it would have been useless to speak of it. I reread the letter. “One who was dear to me,” I quoted musingly.

“Wife is suggested,” said Mme. Storey.

“We could look up the wives of rich men who have died lately,” I said.

“Oh,” said my mistress, “if I find the facts as stated, and if the money is all right, I’m not going to bother with trying to explode the anonymity of our client. His reasons for wishing to keep himself in the dark are perfectly natural.”

“Good heavens!” I exclaimed, going over the letter. “To make believe that his records were stolen, then to have the demand for blackmail seem to come from another source! What infernal cleverness!”

“Ah! we would be up against a very superior antagonist here!” said Mme. Storey. “One hears about Dr. Jacmer Touchon on every side. He seems to be the inventor of psycho-synthesis. It is the latest craze. Psychoanalysis is becoming a little demode, you understand; everybody who has the price has been psychoanalyzed by this time, and Dr. Touchon catches them on the rebound by going psychoanalysis one better. ‘Soul-building!’ Who could resist it? The phrase was an inspiration. He must be coining money!…But I never suspected that blackmailing was a by-product of the institution. He really ought to have stopped with psycho-synthesis.”

She arose and began to pace the long room with very bright eyes. “Years ago I used to know Jacmer Touchon,” she went on. “He was professor of psychology in my university. He had written several books on the subject which I as a budding psychologist was bound to read. Very good books, too. In fact, he had an international reputation. Unfortunately he began to take too warm a personal interest in one of his students who shall be nameless. In fact, there was a scene and I was forced to cut his lectures, much as I enjoyed them. Later he resigned his chair and I heard no more of him. Now he turns up as a psycho-synthetist. I suppose he found that the big rewards were never for pure science and so turned crooked. What a strange turn of fortune. Bella, this man was my master in psychology. I foresee that we are going to have the fight of our lives!”

Alas! I am not cast in the heroic mould like my beautiful mistress, and I was filled with a wretched anxiety. By an exceptionally brilliant piece of work she had just succeeded in convicting the notorious Barney Craigin of murder. She was at the very summit of her fame. She had everything to lose and nothing to gain by embarking on such an adventure.

“Hadn’t you better call up the bank first?” I suggested drily.

“To be sure!” she said, returning to her desk, and taking down the receiver.

To make a long story short the Duane National confirmed the contents of our letter. The sum of one hundred thousand dollars had been put in the hands of the bank to be paid to Mme. Storey’s order upon the submission of vouchers of expenses. The bank claimed not to know the name of their client. The business had been effected through an attorney who likewise claimed to be ignorant of his principal’s identity. However, the president of the bank (an acquaintance of my employer’s) assured her that the money was there. An officer of the bank was to pass on the correctness of the vouchers.

“That appears to be all right,” said Mme. Storey. “You may notify your client–I assume you have the means of doing so–that I will take the case.”

When she had hung up I asked, somewhat stiffly I suspect: “What will be your first move?”

“Obviously,” she said with a provoking smile, “you must go to Dr. Touchon as a prospective patient. He’s a neighbour of ours. His place is in the Westmoreland apartments, cater-cornered across the square.”

My heart sank. “But you know,” I said helplessly, “I have no natural talent for impersonation.”

“You may have no natural talent,” she retorted, “but you have brains, which is more important. I can’t go myself because he knows me, and there is no other woman I could trust on so important and so difficult an assignment.”

I continued to make feeble objections, but she went on as if the matter were settled: “You must be provided with an absolutely watertight character. And you must have a story to tell that will bear the closest examination. Naturally, the doctor will have you looked up before he commits himself to anything…I have it!” she cried in elation. “You shall masquerade as Mrs. Sylvanus Ensor, that poor woman who comes to me for treatments. She will give her permission. Her husband is a prosperous manufacturer of Detroit and she’s supposed to be travelling in Europe while she remains quietly in New York under my care. Such a story would bear investigation as far as Dr. Touchon wanted to go. He would be delighted to get such a patient…I’ll make you up to resemble Mrs. Ensor as far as I am able.”

“She looks like a walking corpse!” I objected.

Mme. Storey laughed at my expression of offended vanity. “So much the better!” she said. “A fit subject for the psycho-synthetist!”


This Mrs. Ensor was an unfortunate woman who believed that she had promptings to kill her husband. Hers was one of those obscure borderline cases; she was not mad, she only thought she was. Having tried everything else, she had come to New York to put herself in Mme. Storey’s hands for psychological treatments. She already seemed better. She lived very quietly with her maid in a small hotel near our office and came in three mornings a week for treatments. Meanwhile, in order to save the feelings of her family, it had been given out at home that she was travelling in Europe.

As all this was exactly what I needed, I took over her history, her character, and her symptoms entire. It saved a lot of invention. She very willingly gave her permission. Mme. Storey, a past mistress in the art of make-up, experimented in making me resemble her. Mrs. Ensor was in her early thirties but looked ten or twelve years older. She had a strange, dead-leaf complexion with circles almost black under her eyes. It was perfectly easy for me to assume her harassed and tormented air, because, goodness knows! I felt just like that at the prospect of bearding the terrible Dr. Touchon in his den. Mrs. Ensor, who was wealthy, dressed in a very smart, plain style that made an odd contrast with her haggard face. All in all, it was a rather conspicuous make-up, but Mme. Storey considered that there was safety in its very boldness.

On the third day my clothes came home from the makers. I went to Mme. Storey’s house to dress and make up. I had a smart tailored ensemble of black messaline with coat to match, and a close-fitting black hat that completely covered my red hair. In a mirror I was absolutely unrecognizable to myself. It made me shiver to see myself looking so exactly like what I was supposed to be: the smart woman of the world who had everything to live for, but who, poor soul, had lost her grip on life. It was just the thing to make a fake doctor’s mouth water.

Mme. Storey lent me her Grace to play the part of my maid. When our smart luggage was packed (it all bore the labels of expensive foreign hotels) we drove to the Vandermeer Hotel and engaged an expensive suite; registering as Mrs. Sylvanus Ensor and maid, Detroit. I called up Dr. Touchon’s office and was given an appointment for the following morning.

The Westmoreland was the first of the great apartment houses to be built on Gramercy Park. It is old now but has managed to maintain its supremacy amongst the new buildings. Its air of old-fashioned magnificence was well calculated to inspire confidence in those who sought the doctor’s advice. He had the ground-floor apartment on the corner. It must have comprised twelve or fourteen rooms. His door was opened by a gentle old man with an innocent and disarming smile. Again the doctor showed his astuteness in choosing such a one for his servant. I was shown into a small reception room. I gather that there were several such waiting rooms, so that the patients need never meet.

In due course the old servant returned to say that the doctor was ready to see me. I followed him with a fast-beating heart. The consultation room was an immense and lofty chamber with a row of tall windows looking out on the Park. It had dark crimson walls covered with fine paintings in elaborate frames, superb Oriental rugs, and a quantity of heavy carved furniture. The subtle psychological effect to be conveyed by this conservative splendour was that the doctor had been established at the head of his profession for a long time past.

The instant I caught sight of the master of the room I recognized his unique power and my heart failed me. How was I to cope with such a man? There was nothing of the greasy and overeager charlatan about Jacmer Touchon. His professional manner was first class. He waited for me in cool dignity, bowed with assurance, and waved me to a seat. A handsome, stalwart, dark man in the prime of his vigour–if anything he was too handsome; there was a certain luscious Oriental quality in his fleshly features and full, beaming dark eye. I suppose many women like that. Perhaps it was not of the Orient so much as the Renaissance; cruel, clever, and sensual; one saw him in one’s mind decked out superbly in doublet and hose at the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

All the other doctors I have ever consulted took care to seat their patients facing the light, but Dr. Touchon’s method was the reverse. The important thing was that you should see him, you understand. When he sat down with the light from the windows falling in his eyes, I received an impression of power that made me feel weak. I can scarcely describe those strange eyes. They seemed to burn with changing flames. They were so dark in colour one could scarcely tell where pupil ended and iris began. Suddenly I perceived that the pupil was widely distended, almost filling the iris. Was it that which gave him his look of insane power? At a later moment I noticed that the pupil had contracted until it was not much larger than a pinhead. It struck a feeling of dread into me. I struggled hard against my feeling of weakness.

“You wish to consult me?” he asked in a velvety voice. It had a hypnotic quality that went with the eyes.

I nodded silently.

“It is only fair to tell you,” he said, “that my fee for the first consultation is five hundred dollars; one hundred for subsequent treatments.”

“I am prepared to pay it,” I murmured.

“Did your physician send you to me?” he asked. (What superb effrontery!)

“No,” I said, “a friend recommended you to me; a Mrs. Wilkinson of Detroit.”

“I don’t seem to remember the name,” he said with cold courtesy.

I shivered internally under his look of suspicion. “She was not a patient of yours,” I said hurriedly; “it was a friend of hers who was benefited by your treatments. I don’t know the friend’s name.”

Apparently he was satisfied. “How much have you been told about my methods?” he asked.

“Scarcely anything,” I said; “only that it was a sort of improved psychoanalysis.”

He raised his hand with a look of pretended horror. What an actor the man was! Though I knew he was acting, he was able to prevail upon me. “Oh, no, no!” he said. “There is no relation between psychoanalysis and psycho-synthesis; they are the exact opposites of one another. Psychoanalysis, with its emphasis upon the basest impulses of human nature, destroys the soul! Fortunately it is rapidly becoming discredited.” Here he quoted a lot of impressive-sounding authorities. “Whereas psycho-synthesis” (his voice became tender when he spoke the word) “builds the soul and makes it strong! Do not be misled by the similarity of terms, my dear lady; there is the same difference between the two methods as there is between the words ‘destructive’ and ‘constructive’!”

When I write it down it sounds hollow enough. I can give you no idea of how convincingly it came out in his mellow and velvety voice. He was so utterly sure of his power over women!

“You are giving me hope,” I murmured.

“What is your particular trouble?” he asked sympathetically.

“I am going mad!” I said in Mrs. Ensor’s husky, despairing tones. “At least I think I am. That is worse than actually going mad. For mad people, they say, are happy!”

He nodded understandingly. “What makes you think you are not normal?”

“Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing!” I cried in seeming despair. I had rehearsed this over and over. “I suddenly come to and find myself in a place without the least recollection of how I got there.”

“What is it that fills your mind to the exclusion of your surroundings?”

“Terrible, terrible things,” I murmured, hanging my head.

“Look at me, Mrs. Ensor,” he purred. “Lose yourself in my eyes. Yield yourself freely. Let everything come out!”

Plain terror filled me. How could I lose myself in him and at the same time keep my wits about me? For the first time I realized the full difficulty of the part I had to play. And I had to look forward to playing it over and over. I had to lead him on through psycho-synthesis to blackmail. “I can’t! I can’t!” I murmured.

“How else can I cure you?” he said gently. And then in a soft, peremptory tone: “Look at me!”

It had to be done. Slowly I raised my eyes to his. It was a dreadful experience. Dark lightnings seemed to shoot through and through me, blotting everything out, striking down my personality. Secretly, while I allowed my eyes to submit to his, I was resisting him with all my might. It was like a creeping paralysis. I could feel the fine drops of sweat springing out on my face. The advantage was all with him. Eyes, when you probe into them as deeply as that, cannot lie. He knew I was resisting him still.

“Relax!…Relax!…Relax!” he purred.

I sighed deeply to persuade him that I was obeying. In order to help resist the terrible desire to let everything go at the command of those eyes, I fixed my mind on nursery rhymes, repeating them over and over. “How can I go through with this for twenty visits?” I thought in despair.

“What are these terrible things that torment you?” he asked softly.

I used the question as an excuse to cover my face with my hands. “Something urges me to kill my husband,” I murmured, as I had heard Mrs. Ensor do. “Yet I love him, too. This temptation is always with me. I have no peace!”

Now I can read eyes, too, and astute as he was, I saw between my fingers a certain complacency appear in his eyes when I said this. He thought he was going to find an easy victim in me. “Poor lady! Poor lady!” he murmured sympathetically; then, very casually: “Have you any reason to make away with him?”

“None whatever!” I wailed. “He is the best of husbands!”

“You are not being quite frank with me now,” he said reproachfully. “You must have some reason, or think that you have.”

“No reason except that he is so good to me,” I said. I had got this from Mrs. Ensor also. I was very thankful I had this ready-made case to draw on, for I was sure I would never have been able to make anything up that would have withstood the scrutiny of those terrible eyes. “It is his very goodness which drives me wild,” I added.

“That feeling is perfectly understandable to a psychologist,” he said with a judicial air. “To use a slang phrase, you have got yourself in wrong, Mrs. Ensor. It is this wrongness in you that is outraged by your husband’s rightness. With your coöperation I will remove the wrongness, and you will be as happy as ever you were.”

“Oh, if you could!” I said, clasping my hands. “You might ask me anything!…anything!”

“But mind, I said with your coöperation,” he warned me. “I am a surgeon of souls. You must bare your soul to me before I can operate.”

This was exactly in line with what we had been told respecting his methods; everything was going well so far. I even had a little feeling of triumph that, clever as he was, I was fooling him successfully. I started telling him the wicked thoughts I had so carefully rehearsed, and he listened attentively. On my right hand as I sat with my back to the windows there was an arched opening closed with handsome tapestry portières. Behind those portières I made no doubt there was a clerk taking down everything I said. But though things seemed to be going all right, I was still terrified. Dr. Touchon leaned toward me across the corner of his desk, his dark eyes mantling with flame and growing dull again. It was like making friends with a boa constrictor. Repeated shudders went through me. It was well that I was supposed to be half crazy.

He asked me innumerable questions dealing with the relations between my supposed husband and myself. I had to think fast in order to answer them readily. Finally he asked carelessly:

“What sort of razor does your husband shave with, Mrs. Ensor?”

I gaped at him. “A–a safety razor,” I stammered.

“That is very important,” he said oracularly. “How often does he shave?”

A horrible suspicion occurred to me that this ridiculous question was a trap, and I seemed to fall through space. “What has that got to do––” I started to say.

He shut me off with a peremptory wag of his hand. “Please answer the question,” he said. “If I stopped to explain my reasons for everything we should never get anywhere.”

The absurd question stumped me. Never having had any brothers, I am not familiar with the domestic habits of men. “I–I never noticed,” I stammered.

He passed right on to something else and I could not be sure if any damage had been done. I still had that horrible sinking feeling. I would not give up. I went on confessing to the most outrageous thoughts. I wept and raved and accused myself, just as I had heard Mrs. Ensor do. He listened with every outward appearance of sympathy, but deep in his eyes I imagined that I saw a flicker of cold, amused contempt. It suggested that he was enjoying the spectacle of the genuine terror that was lending so much effect to my pretended ravings. But I could not be sure. I felt as helpless as a wave flinging itself against a cliff. Finally, with a glance at his little desk clock, he remarked deprecatingly:

“I am sorry, but there is another patient waiting.”

“When shall I come again?” I faltered.

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