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A QUACK'S TRIUMPH.
Some twelve or fifteen years ago a considerable section of Society - that Society which is now occupied in discussing Dunlop tyres and patent saddles—was suddenly electrified by accounts of the doings of a famous foreign ‘quack.'
Now there are quacks and quacks; but above and beyond the mass of dishonest and incompetent pretenders who are usually denoted by that name -above even the respectable class of orthodox and properly trained physicians, there are usually two or three practitioners to be heard of with whom the name, originally given in contempt, remains as an ironical title of distinction.
Such, for example, was Kotzau, the Polish dropsy specialist; and such was Von Eberstein, the aurist, ennobled, oddly enough, by the most unmusical of German monarchs for enabling His Majesty to hear the operas of Wagner.
Such, in fine, was M. Anatole Lavergne, the Swiss-French pastor, village doctor, magnetist,' and seer, the fame of whose cures became first known in England at one of our leading universities. Stories about him were related, only at second or third hand, with circumstantial care and sometimes with bated breath in half the common rooms; while his methods effectually set the most learned by the ears. The most wonderful thing about him, by all accounts, was the power of touch. This, as has been since explained in a scientific periodical, was first revealed to him, when quite a young man, in a singular and striking manner by the effect of the pressure of his fingers upon the growth of vegetation. The tree, the bough that he handled, bore fruit as if by magic, where others remained almost barren. The mere contact of his sensitive hands seemed to give him a mystic knowledge like that of the fairies who could hear the sap rise and the grass grow.
A little later the simple God-fearing pastor had been awestruck by the discovery that the touch of a human hand or body roused in his brain a host of impressions he had first put aside as visionary fancies, but which he gradually learnt to be physical and scientific truths.
He had clasped the hand of many a sick or suffering peasant,
and before the man opened his mouth had described the accident or the malady, even when its nature had puzzled a trained physician. The very past lives of the sufferers—so far at least as spiritual or physical suffering was concerned—seemed to lie open to his gaze. Nay, he had found the power, unaided and unimpeded by any effort or feeling of his own, extending or displaying itself still further. His actual presence he found to be unnecessary. A coat, a kerchief, or a ring worn by the patient and brought to him seemed to convey all that was necessary to his diagnosis of the symptoms of the case.
No account of M. Lavergne's singular powers attracted more attention in the University than that brought home by Lady Aubrey Valleson, the stately autocratic dame who, from her fastness in the country hard by, regulated so many of our social and connubial affairs.
By way of antidote to the anxious and medical element in the mission, she took with her as a companion Ida Houldsworth, the most splendidly athletic girl who ever, by a sudden freak of industry, passed a university examination-Ida Houldsworth, who had been known to hunt the whole day and dance the whole night afterwards without a sign of exhaustion.
Lady Aubrey, in fact, took the girl off to Switzerland in the full swing of the October term, as a sort of penance, it was believed, for some kind of insubordination. It was certain that Miss Houldsworth, who was a considerable heiress in her own right, had offended the old lady by refusing to marry Golightly, the Greek Verse Prizeman of St. Muriel's, and also by smiling at her prophetic excursions on the appalling dangers of over-exercise.
On similar grounds Lady Aubrey abused Golightly, a man known to be delicate, who insisted on knocking himself up every year by expeditions in the High Alps. People at a university, even those old enough to know better, seemed positively to require some one like herself to look after them.
Lady Aubrey's mission—at least, the more ostensible part of it-was quickly and successfully accomplished.
Her own health, she was assured in spite of a something in the breath that had alarmed her West End doctor, need give her ladyship no anxiety.
From a friend, about whom she was still more anxious, but who had contemptuously declined to present himself before a
foreign quack, she had surreptitiously borrowed a silk handkerchief unmarked, which she showed to M. Lavergne.
The pastor examined it with an irrepressible display of interest. Indeed, he seemed to check himself on the verge of some intensely interesting communication, and handing back the handkerchief merely resumed his professional tone of quiet confidence. No, it was not consumption, he said, but a form of malady not well understood by English doctors. He recommended a German treatment, and gave the necessary address in London. Further directions he would write.
The designing Lady Aubrey well knew the patient she had to do with. The opinion, the advice would have to come ostensibly from some other source than M. Lavergne. A pious fraud might substitute an accredited German doctor, living in the metropolis, as a greater authority.
The next afternoon was fixed for the departure of the two ladies. There could be no question of offering or accepting further hospitality, since the small country house could only admit four guests or patients at a time, and appointments had been made for many months in advance.
As it was, they had barely been in the house twenty-four hours, and Miss Houldsworth had scarcely had five minutes' talk with the pastor during that time. Having strapped up her Gladstone bag, she went downstairs to await Lady Aubrey, and had just thrown herself into a lounge-chair, in the parlour of the châlet, which served as ante-room for patients, when M. Lavergne strolled in.
Ida Houldsworth, as a young person fond of dining out and anxious to keep her small talk well up to date, would have been sorry to miss an interview with the European celebrity.
But, truth to tell, her curiosity was strongly leavened with a less pleasurable feeling. As a supremely healthy specimen who had never been anybody's ‘patient,' and, indeed, had little of the virtue required for sustaining that rôle, she cherished a decided dislike for everything that had to do with sickness or its discovery.
Secondly, she stood somewhat in awe of this great seer and healer, to whom eye and hand were so far more than scalpel and stethoscope to other physicians, of the atmosphere of lofty seriousness and beneficence—so far removed from the careless pleasure-loving world—in which he lived and worked, of the
dread simplicity with which he had revealed to some the hidden secrets of their lives.
He seemed to speak English with tolerable Auency. They exchanged a few conventional phrases about the scenery of the place and the latest accidents in the Alps.
Then Miss Houldsworth found the doctor looking at her with a new and more serious interest, as if the temptation of a diagnosis were too much for one who hardly knew how to be idle for five minutes.
Then he rose and took her engloved hand, as if to say goodbye. In her secret heart she would have liked to withhold it, knowing the method by which his wondrous power usually asserted itself. But common courtesy forbade this, and the shame of admitting to herself that she feared anything the Pastor could tell her.
She shook hands with him warmly, drawing herself up to her full height-she did not quite know why—and looking the old man full in the face, with something of an air of self-defence. As she had expected, he did not let go her hand at once, after the conventional gesticulation, but met her bright glance with one of tranquil melancholy, which she felt it might be difficult to face for many seconds.
* And you also, mademoiselle,' he said, 'you have something ?
All is not quite well . . . within . . . around you ?'
*Thank you,' said Miss Houldsworth—while her appearance seemed to say it even more clearly—'I am in the most excellent health.'
* Then you will pardon me, mademoiselle,' he said softly, releasing her hand and relapsing into silence.
She felt strangely impelled to say something.
'Perhaps you mean-morally or spiritually?' she asked, with a light laugh.
* The body and the soul, mademoiselle, are much more closely connected than many people suppose. There at least is an idea of my own, medical philosophy-a matter for discussion. But as to my own power, I may tell you that-once the material contact has taken place--I see the nature of a human being, of a patient -(I cannot explain it better-I cannot make you understand me, for I do not understand myself)—as a glass, a mirror held before me. If the mirror, so to speak, is blurred-it is almost always blurred-then there is some evil. It may be disease, VOL. V.NO. 25, N.S.
which she might talk for ever afterwards; not to be frightened by the predictions of a foreign quack, who very likely knew a good deal more about a few rare and curious diseases than he did of English health and sanity.
Then, as the thought of his great name and his mysterious and astonishing successes overpowered her, reason and instinct effected a rapid compromise. His specialised acumen, she said to herself, had laid hold of some passing accidental symptom and exaggerated it ... into an opinion which it was no less than an outrage to put into words. She had heard, she thought, of people wrongfully convicted of heart-disease through consulting a doctor just after running upstairs or something of the kind. She felt her own heart; it was beating fearfully. That was mere excitement; but she might as well ask a more detailed opinion. Le cour, she said huriedly, 'ai-je quelque mal là ?' 'Oui, mademoiselle,' was the answer, c'est vrai .. ' and before she could put another question there was Lady Aubrey Valleson's foot on the stairs, her hand at the door. Resolved not to discuss such nonsense in public, Ida Houldsworth made her adieux quickly and coldly.
'You have not mentioned this to any one ? Please never do so,' she said in a tone of icy contempt.
No, mademoiselle ; certainly not,' assented the doctor's voice, while his mind concluded a train of reflection almost as anxious as hers. “Yes,' he mused, “it was a great risk ... a great.responsibility either way but it seemed he had done no harm. The girl had overrated her own fortitude a little, but that momentary pallor meant only physical fear. With a sense of relief he watched her fine figure sweep from the room by a door opening on the front hall, while Lady Aubrey entered by the other.
*I have seen Miss Houldsworth,' said the pastor, holding out his hand to the old lady.
Oh!' said the latter shortly-her usual manner of acknowledging the occurrence of any event not expressly designed and executed by herself—and continued, as if only anxious to anticipate possible information, ‘I wish that she would change her way of life. She takes far too much exercise-golfing, riding, bicycling, tennis, all day and every day.'
'I can well believe it, madame,' said the doctor ambiguously. *You told her so?' said the old lady, putting up her glasses.