IT is sad enough at any time for a man to be compelled to confess himself _ailure, but I think it will be admitted that it is doubly so at that perio_f his career when he is still young enough to have some flickering sparks o_mbition left, while he is old enough to be able to appreciate at their prope_alue the overwhelming odds against which he has been battling so long an_nsuccessfully.
This was unfortunately my condition. I had entered the medical profession wit_verything in my favour. My father had built up a considerable reputation fo_imself, and, what he prized still more, a competency as a countr_ractitioner of the old-fashioned sort in the west of England. I was his onl_hild, and, as he was in the habit of saying, he looked to me to carry th_amily name up to those dizzy heights at which he had often gazed, but upo_hich he had never quite been able to set his foot. A surgeon I was to be, willy-nilly, and it may have been a throw-back to the parental instinc_lluded to above, that led me at once to picture myself flying at expres_peed across Europe in obedience to the summons of some potentate whose lif_nd throne depended upon my dexterity and knowledge.
In due course I entered a hospital, and followed the curriculum in th_rthodox fashion. It was not, however, until I was approaching the end of m_tudent days that I was burnt with that fire of enthusiasm which was destine_n future days to come perilously near consuming me altogether. Among th_tudents of my year was a man by whose side I had often worked—with whom I ha_ccasionally exchanged a few words, but whose intimate I could not in any wa_ave been said to be. In appearance he was a narrow-shouldered, cadaverous, lantern-jawed fellow, with dark, restless eyes, who boasted the name o_elleran, and was popularly supposed to be an Irishman. As I discovered later, however, he was not an Irishman at all, but hailed from the Blac_ountry—Wolverhampton, if I remember rightly, having the right to claim th_onour of his birth. His father had been the senior partner in an exceedingl_ealthy firm of hardware manufacturers, and while we had been in the habit o_itying and, in some instances I am afraid, of looking down upon the son o_ccount of his supposed poverty, he was, in all probability, in a position t_uy up every other man in the hospital twice over.
The average medical student is a being with whom the _world in_ general ha_y this time been made fairly familiar. His frolics and capacity—o_ncapacity, as you may choose to term it—for work have been the subject o_nnumerable jests. If this be a true picture, then Kelleran was certainl_ifferent to the usual run of us. In his case the order was reversed: wit_im, work was play, and play was work; a jest was a thing unknown, and _ractical joke a thing for which he allowed it to be seen that he had not th_lightest tolerance.
I have already said that my father had amassed a competency. I must now ad_hat up to a certain point he was a generous man, and for this reason m_llowance, under different circumstances, would have been ample for m_equirements. As ill luck would have it, however, I had got into the wron_et, and before I had been two years in the hospital was over head and ears i_uch a quagmire of debt and difficulties that it looked as if nothing but a_bsolute miracle could serve to extricate me. To my father I dared not apply: easy-going as he was on most matters, I had good reason to know that on th_ubject of debt he was inexorable. And yet to remain in my present conditio_as impossible. On every side tradesmen threatened me; my landlady's accoun_ad not been paid for weeks; while among the men of the hospital not one, bu_everal, held my paper for sums lost at cards, the mere remembrance of whic_as sufficient to send a cold shiver coursing down my back every time _hought of them. From all this it will be surmised that my position was no_nly one of considerable difficulty but that it was also one of no littl_anger. Unless I could find a sum either to free myself, or at least to stav_ff my creditors, my career, as far as the world of medicine was concerned, might be considered at an end. Even now I can recall the horror of that perio_s vividly as if it were but yesterday.
It was on a Thursday, I remember, that the thunder-clap came. On returning t_y rooms in the evening I discovered a letter awaiting me. With tremblin_ingers I tore open the envelope and drew out the contents. As I feared, i_roved to be a demand from my most implacable creditor, a money-lender to who_ had been introduced by a fellow-student. The sum I had borrowed from him, with the assistance of a friend, was only a trifling one, but helped out b_ines and other impositions it had increased to an amount which I was aware i_as hopelessly impossible for me to pay. What was I to do? What could I do?
Unless I settled the claim (to hope for mercy from the man himself was, to sa_he least of it, absurd), my friend, who, I happened to know, was himself non_oo well off at the moment, would be called upon to make it good. After tha_ow should I be able to face him or any one else again? I had not a singl_cquaintance in the world from whom I could borrow a sum that would be hal_ufficient to meet it, while I dared not go down to the country and tell m_ather of my folly and disgrace. In vain I ransacked my brains for a loophol_f escape. Then the whistle of a steamer on the river attracted my attention, filling my brain with such thoughts as it had never entertained before, and _ray, by God's mercy, may never know again. Here was a way out of m_ifficulty, if only I had the pluck to try it. Strangely enough, the effect i_ad upon me was to brace me like a draught of rare wine. This was succeeded b_ coldness so intense that both mind and body were rendered callous by it. Ho_ong it lasted I cannot say; it may have been only a few seconds—it may hav_een an hour before consciousness returned and I found myself still standin_eside the table, holding the fatal letter in my hand. Like a drunken man _umbled my way from the room into the hot night outside. What I was going t_o I had no notion. I wanted to be alone, in some place away from the crowde_avements, if possible, where I could have time to think and to determine upo_y course of action.
With a tempest of rage, against I knew not what or whom, in my heart, _urried along, up one street and down another, until I found myself panting, but unappeased, upon the Embankment opposite the Temple Gardens. All round m_as the bustle and life of the great city: cabs, containing men and women i_vening dress, dashed along; girls and their lovers, talking in hushed voices, went by me arm in arm; even the loafers, leaning against the stone parapet, seemed happy in comparison with my wretched self. I looked down at the dar_ater gliding so pleasantly along below me, and remembered that all I had t_o, as soon as I was alone, was to drop over the side, and be done with m_ifficulties for ever. Then in a flash the real meaning of what I proposed t_o occurred to me.
"You coward," I hissed, with as much vehemence and horror as if I had bee_ddressing a real enemy instead of myself, "to think of taking this way out o_our difficulty! If you kill yourself, what will become of the other man? G_o him at once and tell him everything. He has the right to know."
The argument was irresistible, and I accordingly turned upon my heel and wa_bout to start off in quest of the individual I wanted, when I found mysel_onfronted with no less a person than Kelleran. He was walking quickly, an_wung his cane as he did so. On seeing me he stopped.
"Douglas Ingleby!" he said: "well, this is fortunate! You are just the man _anted."
I murmured something in reply, I forget what, and was about to pass on. I ha_argained without my host, however. He had been watching me with his keen dar_yes, and when he made as if he would walk with me I was not altogethe_urprised.
"You do not object to my accompanying you I hope?" he inquired, by way o_ntroducing what he had to say. "I've been wanting to have a talk with you fo_ome days past."
"I'm afraid I'm in rather a hurry just now," I answered, quickening my pace _ittle as I did so.
"That makes no difference at all to me," he returned. "As I think you ar_ware, I am a fast walker. Since you are in a hurry, let us step out."
We did so, and for something like fifty yards proceeded at a brisk pace i_erfect silence. His companionship was more than I could stand, and at last _topped and faced him.
"What is it you want with me?" I asked angrily. "Cannot you see that I am no_ell to-night, and would rather be alone?"
"I can see you are not quite yourself," he answered quietly, still watching m_ith his grave eyes. "That is exactly why I want to walk with you. A littl_heerful conversation will do you good. You don't know how clever I am a_dapting my manner to other people's requirements. That is the secret of ou_rofession, my dear Ingleby, as you will some day find out."
"I shall never find it out," I replied bitterly. "I have done with medicine. _hall clear out of England, I think—go abroad, try Australia o_anada—anywhere, I don't care where, to get out of this!"
"The very thing!" he returned cheerily, but without a trace of surprise. "Yo_ouldn't do better, I'm sure. You are strong, active, full of life an_mbition; just the sort of fellow to make a good colonist. It must be a gran_ife, that hewing and hacking a place for oneself in a new country, watchin_nd fostering the growth of a people that may some day take its place amon_he powers of the earth. Ah! I like the idea. It is grand! It makes one tingl_o think of it."
He threw out his arms and squared his shoulders as if he were preparing fo_he struggle he had so graphically described. After that we did not walk quit_o fast. The man had suddenly developed a strange fascination for me, and, a_e talked, I hung upon his words with a feverish interest I can scarcel_ccount for now. By the time we reached my lodgings, I had put my troubl_side for the time being, but when I entered my sitting-room and found th_nvelope which had contained the fatal letter still lying upon the table, i_ll rushed back upon me, and with such force that I was well-nigh overwhelmed.
Kelleran meanwhile had taken up his position on the hearthrug, whence h_atched me with the same expression of contemplative interest upon his face t_hich I have before alluded.
"Hullo!" he said at last, after he had been some minutes in the house, and ha_ad time to overhaul my meagre library, "what are these? Where did you pic_hem up?"
He had taken a book from the shelf, and was holding it tenderly in his hand. _ecognised it as one of several volumes of a sixteenth-century work on Surger_hat I had chanced upon on a bookstall in Holywell Street some months before.
Its age and date had interested me, and I had bought it more out of curiosit_han for any other reason. Kelleran, however, could scarcely withdraw his eye_rom it.
"It's the very thing I've been wanting to make my set complete," he cried, when I had described my discovery of it. "Perhaps you don't know it, but I'm _erfect lunatic on the subject of old books. My own rooms, where, by the by, you have never been, are crammed from floor to ceiling, and still I go o_uying. Let me see what else you have."
So saying, he continued his survey of the shelves, humming softly to himsel_s he did so, and pulling out such books as interested him, and heaping the_pon the floor.
"You've the beginning of a by no means bad collection," he was kind enough t_ay, when he had finished. "Judging from what I see here, you must read a goo_eal more than most of our men."
"I'm afraid not," I answered. "The majority of these books were sent up to m_rom the country by my father, who thought they might be of service to me. _istaken notion, for they take up a lot of room, and I've often wished them a_anover."
"You have, have you? What a Goth you are!" he continued. "Well, then, I'l_ell you what I'll do. If you want to get rid of them, I'll buy the lot, thes_ld beauties included. They are really worth more than I can afford, but i_ou care about it, I'll make you a sporting offer of a hundred and fift_ounds for such as I've put upon the floor. What do you say?"
I could scarcely believe I heard aright. His offer was so preposterous, that _ould have laughed in his face.
"My dear fellow," I cried, thinking for a moment that he must be joking wit_e, and feeling inclined to resent it, "what nonsense you talk! A hundred an_ifty for the lot: why, they're not worth a ten-pound note, all told. The ol_ellows are certainly curious, but it is only fair that I should tell you tha_ gave five and sixpence for the set of seven volumes, complete."
"Then you got a bargain such as you'll never find again," he answered quietly.
"I wish I could make as good an one every day. However, there's my offer. Tak_t or leave it as you please. I will give you one hundred and fifty pounds fo_hose books, and take my chance of their value. If you are prepared to accept, I'll get a cab and take them away to-night. I've got my chequebook in m_ocket, and can settle up for them on the spot."
"But, my dear Kelleran, how can you afford to give such—" Here I stoppe_bruptly. "I beg your pardon—I know I had no right to say such a thing."
"Don't mention it," he answered quietly. "I am not in the least offended, _ssure you. I have always felt certain you fellows supposed me to be poor. A_ matter of fact, however, I have the good fortune, or the ill, as I sometime_hink, since it prevents my working as I should otherwise be forced to do, t_e able to indulge myself to the top of my bent without fear of th_onsequences. But that has nothing to do with the subject at present unde_iscussion. Will you take my price, and let me have the books, or not? _ssure you I am all anxiety to get my nose inside one of those old cover_efore I sleep to-night."
Heaven knows I was eager enough to accept, and if you think for one moment yo_ill see what his offer meant to me. With such a sum I could not only pay of_he money-lender, but well-nigh put myself straight with the rest of m_reditors. Yet all the time I had the uneasy feeling that the books were by n_eans worth the amount he had declared to be their value, and that he was onl_aking me the offer out of kindness.
"If you are sure you mean it, I will accept," I said. "I am awfully hard up, and the money will be a godsend to me."
"I am rejoiced to hear it," he replied, "for in that case we shall be doin_ach other a mutual good turn. Now let's get them tied up. If you wouldn'_ind seeing to that part of the business, I'll write the cheque and call th_ab."
Ten minutes later he and his new possessions had taken their departure, and _as back once more in my room standing beside the table, just as I had done _ew hours before, but with what a difference! Then I had seen no light ahead, nothing but complete darkness and dishonour; now I was a new man, and in _osition to meet the majority of calls upon me. The change from the on_ondition to the other was more than I could bear, and when I remembered tha_ess than sixty minutes before I was standing on that antechamber of death, the Embankment, contemplating suicide, I broke down completely, and sinkin_nto a chair buried my face in my hands and cried like a child.
Next morning, as soon as the bank doors were open, I entered and cashed th_heque Kelleran had given me. Then, calling a cab, I made my way with a ligh_eart, as you may suppose, to the office of the money-lender in question. Hi_urprise at seeing me, and on learning the nature of my errand, may be bette_magined than described. Having transacted my business with him, I wa_reparing to make my way back to the hospital, when an idea entered my hea_pon which I immediately acted. In something under ten minutes I stood in th_ookseller's shop in Holy-well Street where I had purchased the volume_elleran had appeared to prize so much.
"Some weeks ago," I said to the man who came forward to serve me, "I purchase_rom you an old work on medicine entitled 'The Perfect Chi-surgeon, or The Ar_f Healing as practised in divers Ancient Countries.'"
"Seven volumes very much soiled—five and sixpence," returned the ma_mmediately. "I remember the books."
"I'm glad of that," I answered. "Now, I want you to tell me what you woul_onsider the real value of the work."
"If it were wanted to make up a collection it might possibly be worth _overeign," the man replied promptly. "Otherwise, not more than we asked yo_or it."
"Then you don't think any one would be likely to offer a hundred pounds fo_t?" I inquired.
The man laughed outright.
"Not a man in the possession of his wits," he answered. "No, sir, I think _ave stated the price very fairly, though of course it might fetch a fe_hillings more or less, according to circumstances."
"I am very much obliged to you," I said; "I simply wanted to know as a matte_f curiosity."
With that I left the shop and made my way to the hospital, where I foun_elleran hard at work. He looked up at me as I entered, and nodded, but it wa_unch time before I got an opportunity of speaking to him.
"Kelleran," I said, as we passed oat through the great gates, "you deceived m_bout those books last night. They were not worth anything like the value yo_ut upon them."
He looked me full and fair in the face, and I saw a faint smile flicker roun_he corners of his mouth.
"My dear Ingleby," he said, "what a funny fellow you are, to be sure! Surel_f I choose to give you what I consider the worth of the books I am at perfec_iberty to do so. If you are willing to accept it, no more need be said upo_he subject. The value of a thing to a man is exactly what he cares to giv_or it, so I have always been led to believe."
"But I am convinced you did not give it because you wanted the books. You kne_ was in straits and you took that form of helping me. It was generous of yo_ndeed, Kelleran, and I'll never forget it as long as I live. You saved m_rom—but there, I cannot tell you. I dare not think of it myself. There is on_hing I must ask of you. I want you to keep the books and to let the amoun_ou gave me for them be a loan, which I will repay as soon as I possibly can."
I was aware that he was a passionate man: for I had once or twice seen him fl_nto a rage, but never into a greater one than now.
"Let it be what you please," he cried, turning from me. "Only for pity's sak_rop the subject: I've had enough of it."
With this explosion he stalked away, leaving me standing looking after him, divided between gratitude and amazement.
I have narrated this incident for two reasons: firstly because it will furnis_ou with a notion of my own character, which I am prepared to admit exhibit_ut few good points; and in the second because it will serve to introduce t_ou a queer individual, now a very great person, whom I shall always regard a_he Good Angel of my life, and, indirectly it is true, the bringer about o_he one and only real happiness I have ever known.
From the time of the episode I have just described at such length to th_resent day, I can safely say I have never touched a card nor owed a man _enny-piece that I was not fully prepared to pay at a moment's notice. An_ith this assertion I must revert to the statement made at the commencement o_his chapter—the saddest a man can make. As I said then, there could be n_oubt about it that I was a failure. For though I had improved in th_articulars just stated, Fate was plainly against me. I worked hard and passe_y examinations with comparative ease; yet it seemed to do me no good wit_hose above me. The sacred fire of enthusiasm, which had at first been s_onspicuously absent, had now taken complete hold of me; I studied night an_ay, grudging myself no labour, yet by some mischance everything I touche_ecoiled upon me, and, like the serpent of the fable, stung the hand tha_ostered it. Certainly I was not popular, and, since it was due almos_irectly to Kelleran's influence that I took to my work with such assiduity, it seems strange that I should also have to attribute my non-success to hi_gency. As a matter of fact, he was not a good leader to follow. From the ver_irst he had shown himself to be a man of strange ideas. He was no follower o_tickler for the orthodox; to sum him up in plainer words, he was what migh_e described as an experimentalist. In return, the authorities of the hospita_ooked somewhat askance upon him. Finally he passed out into the world, an_he same term saw me appointed to the position of House Surgeon. Almos_imultaneously my father died; and, to the horror of the family, a_xamination of his affairs proved that instead of being the wealthy man we ha_upposed him there was barely sufficient, when his liabilities were paid, t_eet the expenses of his funeral. The shock of his death and the knowledge o_he poverty to which she had been so suddenly reduced proved too much for m_other, and she followed him a few weeks later. Thus I was left, so far as _new, without kith or kin in the world, with but few friends, no money, an_he poorest possible prospects of ever making any.
To the circumstances under which I lost the position of House Surgeon I wil_ot allude. Let it suffice that I _did_ lose it, and that, although th_uthorities seemed to think otherwise, I am in a position to prove, whenever _esire to do so, that I was not the real culprit The effect, however, was th_ame. I was disgraced beyond hope of redemption, and the proud career I ha_apped out for myself was now beyond my reach for good and all.
Over the next twelve months it would perhaps be better that I should draw _eil. Even now I scarcely like to think of them. It is enough for me to sa_hat for upwards of a month I remained in London, searching high and low fo_mployment. This, however, was easier looked for than discovered. Try how _ould, I could hear of nothing. Then, wearying of the struggle, I accepted a_ffer made me, and left England as surgeon on board an outward-bound passenge_teamer for Australia.
Ill luck, however, still pursued me, for at the end of my second voyage th_ompany went into liquidation, and its vessels were sold. I shipped on boar_nother boat in a similar capacity, made two voyages in her to the Cape, wher_n a friend's advice I bade her goodbye, and started for Ashanti as surgeon t_n Inland Trading Company. While there I was wounded in the neck by a spear, was compelled to leave the Company's service, and eventually found myself bac_nce more in London tramping the streets in search of employment. Fortunately, however, I had managed to save a small sum from my pay, so that I was no_ltogether destitute; but it was not long before this was exhausted, and the_hings looked blacker than they had ever done before. What to do I knew not. _ad long since cast _my_ pride to the winds, and was now prepared to tak_nything, no matter what. Then an idea struck me, and on it I acted.
Leaving my lodgings on the Surrey side of the river, I crossed Blackfriar_ridge, and made my way along the Embankment in a westerly direction. As _ent I could not help contrasting my present appearance with that I had show_n the last occasion I had walked that way. Then I had been as spruce and nea_s a man could well be; boasted a good coat to my back and a new hat upon m_ead. Now, however, the coat and hat, instead of speaking for my prosperity, as at one time they might have done, bore unmistakable evidence of th_isastrous change which had taken place in my fortunes. Indeed, if the trut_ust be confessed, I was about as sorry a specimen of the professional man a_ould be found in the length and breadth of the Metropolis.
Reaching the thoroughfare in which I had heard that Kelleran had taken up hi_bode, I cast about me for a means of ascertaining his number. Compared wit_hat in which I myself resided, this was a street of palaces, but it seemed t_e I could read the characters of the various tenants in the appearance o_ach house-front. The particular one before which I was standing at the momen_as frivolous in the extreme: the front door was artistically painted, a_laborate knocker ornamented the centre panel, while the windows were withou_xception curtained with dainty expensive stuffs. Everything pointed to th_istress being a lady of fashion; and having put one thing and anothe_ogether, I felt convinced I should not find my friend there. The next I cam_o was a residence of more substantial type. Here everything was solid an_lain, even to the borders of severity. If I could sum up the owner, he was _uccessful man, a lawyer for choice, a bachelor, and possibly, and eve_robably, a bigot on matters of religion. He would have two or thre_riends—not more—all of whom would be advanced in years, and, like himself, successful men of business. He would be able to appreciate a glass of dr_herry, and would have nothing to do with anything that did not bear th_mpress of a gilt-edged security. As neither of these houses seemed to sugges_hat they would be likely to know anything of the man I wanted, I made my wa_urther down the street, looking about me as I proceeded. At last I came to _tandstill before one that I was prepared to swear was inhabited by my ol_riend. His character was stamped unmistakably upon every inch of it: th_ntidy windows, the pile of books upon a table in the bow, the marks upon th_ront door where his impatient foot had often pressed while he turned hi_atchkey: all these spoke of Kelleran, and I was certain my instinct was no_isleading me. Ascending the steps, I rang the bell. It was answered by a tal_nd somewhat austere woman of between forty and fifty years of age, upon who_ coquettish frilled apron and cap sat with incongruous effect. As _fterwards learnt, she had been Kelleran's nurse in bygone years, and since h_ad become a householder had taken charge of his domestic arrangements, an_uled both himself and his maidservants with a rod of iron.
"Would you be kind enough to inform me if Mr. Kelleran is at home?" I asked, after we had taken stock of each other.
"He has been abroad for more than three months," the woman answered abruptly.
Then, seeing the disappointment upon my face, she added, "I don't know when w_ay expect him home. He may be here on Saturday, and it's just possible we ma_ot see him for two or three weeks to come. But perhaps you'll not min_elling me what your business with him may be?"
"It is not very important," I answered humbly, feeling that my position was, to say the least of it, an invidious one. "I am an old friend, and I wanted t_ee him for a few minutes. Since, however, he is not at home, it does no_atter, I assure you. I shall have other opportunities of communicating wit_im. At the same time, you might be kind enough to tell him I called."
"You'd better let me know your name first," she replied, with a look tha_uggested as plainly as any words could speak that she did not for an instan_elieve my assertion that I was a friend of her master's.
"My name is Ingleby," I said. "Mr. Kelleran will be sure to remember me. W_ere at the same hospital."
She gave a scornful sniff as if such a thing would be very unlikely, and the_ade as if she would shut the door in my face. I was not, however, to be pu_ff in this fashion. Taking a card from my pocket, one of the last _ossessed, I scrawled my name and present address upon it and handed it t_er.
"Perhaps if you will show that to Mr. Kelleran he would not mind writing to m_hen he comes home," I said. "That is where I am living just now."
She glanced at the card, and, noting the locality, sniffed even mor_cornfully than before. It was evident that this was the only thing wanting t_onfirm the bad impression I had already created in her mind. For some second_here was an ominous silence.
"Very well," she answered, at length, "I'll give it to him. But—why, Heave_ave us! what's the matter? You're as white as a sheet. Why didn't you say yo_ere feeling ill?"
I had been running it rather close for more than a week past, and the new_hat Kelleran, my last hope, was absent from England had unnerved m_ltogether. A sudden giddiness seized me, and I believe I should have falle_o the ground had I not clutched at the railings by my side. It was then tha_he real nature of the woman became apparent. Like a ministering angel sh_alf led, half supported me into the house, and seated me on a chair in th_omewhat sparsely furnished hall.
"Friend of the master, or no friend," I heard her say to herself, "I'll tak_he risk of it."
I heard no more, for my senses had left me. When they returned I found mysel_ying upon a sofa in Kelleran's study, the housekeeper standing by my side, and a maidservant casting sympathetic glances at me from the doorway.
"I'm afraid I have put you to a lot of trouble," I said, as soon as I ha_ecovered myself sufficiently to speak. "I cannot think what made me go of_ike that. I have never done such a thing in my life before."
"You can't think?" queried the woman, with a curious intonation that was no_ost upon me. "Then it's very plain you've not much wit about you. I think, young man, I could make a very good guess at the truth if I wanted to. How- somever, let that be as it may, I'll put a bit of it right before you leav_his house, or my name's not what it is." Then turning to the maid, who wa_till watching me, she continued sharply, "Be off about your business, miss, and do as I told you. Are you going to waste all the afternoon standing ther_taring about you like a baby?"
The girl tossed her head and disappeared, only to return a few minutes late_ith a tray, upon which was set out a substantial meal of cold meat.
On the old woman's ordering me to do so I sat down to it, and dined as I ha_ot done for months past.
"There," she said, with an air of triumph as I finished, "that will make a ne_an of you." Then, having done all she could for me, and repenting, perhaps, of the leniency she had shown me, she returned to her former abrupt demeanour, and informed me, in terms there was no mistaking, that her time was valuable, and it behoved me to be off about my business as soon as possible. While sh_ad been speaking, my eyes had travelled round the room until they lighte_pon the mantelpiece (it was covered with pipes, books, photographs, and al_he innumerable odds and ends that accumulate in _a_ bachelor's apartment), where I discovered my own portrait with several others. I remembered havin_iven it to Kelleran two years before. It was not a very good one, but wit_ts assistance I proposed to establish my identity and prove to my ster_enefactress that I was not altogether the impostor she believed me to be.
"I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you for all you have done," I said, a_ rose and prepared to take my departure from the house. "At the same time _m very much afraid you do not altogether believe that I am the friend of you_aster's that I pretend to be."
"Tut, tut!" she answered. "If I were in your place I'd say no more about that.
Least said soonest mended, is my motto. I trust, however, I'm a Christia_oman, and do my best to help folk in distress. But I've warned ye alread_hat I've eyes in my head and wit enough to tell what's o'clock just as wel_s my neighbours. Why, bless my soul, you don't think I've been all my year_n the world without knowing what's what, or who's who?"
She paused as if for breath; and, embracing the opportunity, I crossed th_oom and took from the chimneypiece the photograph to which I have jus_lluded.
"Possibly this may help to reassure you," I said, _as_ I placed it befor_er. "I do not think I have changed so much, since it was taken, that yo_hould fail to recognise me."
She picked up the photo and looked at it, reading the signature at the botto_ith a puzzled face.
"Heaven save us, so it _is_!" she cried, when the meaning of it dawned upo_er. "You are Mr. Ingleby, after all? Well, I am a softy, to be sure. _hought you were trying to take me in. So many people come here asking to se_im, saying they were at the hospital with him that you've got to be more tha_areful. If I'd have thought it really was you, I'd have bitten my tongue ou_efore I'd have said what I did. Why, sir, the master talks of you to thi_ay: it's Ingleby this, and Ingleby that, from morning till night. Many's th_ime he's made inquiries from gentlemen who've been here, in the hopes o_inding out what has become of ye."
"God bless him!" I said, my heart warming at the news that he had no_orgotten me. "We were the best of friends once."
"But, Mr. Ingleby," continued the old woman after a pause, "if you'll allow m_o say so, I don't like to see you like this. You must have seen _a_ lot o_rouble, sir, to have got in such a state."
"The world has not treated me very kindly," I answered, with an attempt at _mile, "but I'll tell Kelleran all about it when I see him. You think it i_ossible he may be home on Saturday?"
"I hope so, sir, I'm sure," she replied. "You may be certain I'll give hi_our address, and tell him you've called, the moment I see him."
I thanked her again for her trouble, and took my departure, feeling a ver_ifferent man as I went down the steps and turned my face citywards. In my ow_eart I felt certain Kelleran would do something to help me. Had I known, however, what that something was destined to be, I wonder whether I shoul_ave awaited his coming with such eagerness.
As it transpired, it was on the Friday following my call at his house that, o_eturning to my lodgings after another day's fruitless search for employment, I found the following letter awaiting me. The handwriting was as familiar t_e as my own, and it may be imagined with what eagerness I tore open th_nvelope and scanned the contents. It ran:
> "MY DEAR INGLEBY,
> "It was a pleasant welcome home to find that you are in England once more. _m sorry, however, to learn from my housekeeper that affairs have not bee_rospering with you. This must be remedied, and at once. I flatter myself I a_ust the man to do it. It is possible you may consider me unfeeling when I sa_hat there never was such luck as your being in want of employment at thi_articular moment. I've a billet standing ready and waiting for you; one o_he very sort you are fitted for, and one that you will enjoy, unless you hav_ost your former tastes and inclinations. You have never met Dr. Nikola, bu_ou must do so without delay. I tell you, Ingleby, he is the most wonderfu_an with whom I have ever been brought in contact. We chanced upon each othe_n St. Petersburg three months ago, and since then he's fascinated me as n_ther man has ever done. I have spoken of you to him, and in consequence h_ines with me to-night in the hope of meeting you. Whatever else you do, therefore, do not fail to put in an appearance. You cannot guess the magnitud_f the experiment upon which he is at work. At first glance, and in any othe_an, it would seem incredible, impossible, I might almost say absurd. When, however, you have seen him, I venture to think you will not doubt that he wil_arry it through. Let me count upon you to-night, then, at seven.
> "Always your friend,
> "Andrew Fairfax Kelleran."
I read the letter again. What did it mean? At any rate, it contained a ray o_ope. It would have to be a very curious billet, I told myself, under presen_ircumstances, that I would refuse. But who was this extraordinary individual, Dr Nikola, who seemed to have exercised such a fascination over m_nthusiastic friend? Well, that I had to find out for myself.