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In White Raiment

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  In White RaimentBy William Le QueuxPublished by Ward, Lock and Co, Ltd, London, Melbourne and Toronto.This edition dated 1919.

  In White Raiment, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________IN WHITE RAIMENT, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.


  Yes; it was utterly inexplicable.

  So strange, indeed, were all the circumstances, and so startling theadventures that befell me in my search after truth, that until to-day Ihave hesitated to relate the narrative, which is as extraordinary as itis unique in the history of any living man.

  If it were not for the fact that a certain person actively associatedwith this curious drama of our latter day civilisation, has recentlypassed to the land that lies beyond the human ken, my lips would haveperforce still remained sealed.

  Hitherto, my literary efforts have been confined to the writing ofhalf-illegible prescriptions or an occasioned contribution to one orother of the medical journals; but at the suggestion of the one who isdearest to me on earth, I have now resolved to narrate the whole of theastonishing facts in their due sequence, without seeking to disguiseanything, but to lay bare my secret, and to place the whole matterunreservedly before the reader.

  Every doctor has a skeleton in his cupboard. I am no exception.

  Any dark or mysterious incident, however trivial, in the life of amedical man, is regarded as detrimental by his patients. It is solelybecause of that I am compelled to conceal one single fact--my true name.

  For the rest, reader, I shall be quite straightforward and open in myconfession, without the affectation of academic phrases, even though Imay be a physician whose consulting-room in Harley Street is invariablyfull, whose fees are heavy, and whose name figures in the public printsas the medical adviser of certain leaders of society. As RichardColkirk, M.D., M.R.C.S., M.R.C.P., F.R.S., specialist on nervousdisorders, I am compelled to keep up appearances and impress, with asense of superior attainments, the fashionable world who seek my advice;but as Dick Colkirk, the narrator of this remarkable romance, I can atall times be frank and sometimes confidential.

  In the wild whirl of social London there occur daily incidents which,when written down in black and white, appear absolutely incredible.Amid the fevered rush of daily life in this, our giant city of violentcontrasts, the city where one is oftentimes so lonely among millions,and where people starve and die in the very midst of recklessextravagance and waste, one sometimes meets with adventures quite asastounding as those related by the pioneers of civilisation--adventureswhich, if recounted by the professional novelist, must of necessity beaccepted with considerable reserve.

  Reader, I am about to take you into my confidence. Think for a moment.Have you not read, in your daily paper, true statements of fact farstranger than any ever conceived by the writer of fiction? Have you notsat in a dull, dispiriting London police-court and witnessed thatphantasmagoria of comedy, tragedy, and mystery as presented to thatlong-suffering public servant, the Metropolitan Stipendiary?

  If you have, then you will agree that romance is equally distributedover Greater London. Love is as honest and hearts beat as true inPeckham, Paddington, or Plaistow as in that fashionable half-mile areaaround Hyde-park Corner; life is as full of bitterness and broken idolsin Kensington as it is in Kentish Town, Kennington, or the Old KentRoad. The two worlds rub shoulders. All that is most high and noblemingles with all that is basest and most criminal; therefore it is notsurprising that the unwary frequently fall into the cunningly-devisedtraps prepared for them, and even then most prosaic persons meet withqueer and exciting adventures.



  My worst enemy--and, alas! I have many--would not accuse me of being ofa romantic disposition.

  In the profession of medicine any romance, acquired in one's youth orcollege days, is quickly knocked out of one by the first term at thehospital. The medical student quickly becomes, in a manner, callous tohuman suffering, and by the time he obtains his degree he is generally ashrewd and sympathetic observer, but with every spark of romance crusheddead within his heart. Thus, there is no bachelor more confirmed thanthe celibate doctor.

  I had left Guy's a year. It is not so very long ago, for I am stillunder forty--young, they say, to have made my mark. True, success hascome to me suddenly, and very unworthily, I think, for I confess that myadvancement has been more by good luck than by actual worth.

  At Guy's I had been under Lister and other great men whose names willever remain as medical landmarks, and when I left with my degree Iquickly discovered that the doctor's calling was anything but lucrative.

  My first engagement was as assistant to a country practitioner atWoodbridge, in Suffolk; a man who had a large but very poor practice,most of his patients being club ones. Upon the latter I was allowed toexercise my maiden efforts in pills and mixtures, while my principalindulged freely in whisky in his own room over the surgery. He was ahard drinker, who treated his wife as badly as he did his patients, andwhose habit it was to enter the cottages of poor people who could notpay him, and seize whatever piece of family china, bric-a-brac, or oldoak which he fancied, and forcibly carry it away as payment of the debtowing. By this means he had, in the course of ten years, made quite apresentable collection of curios, although he had more than once verynarrowly escaped getting into serious trouble over it.

  I spent a miserable year driving, by day and by night, in sunshine andrain, far afield over the Suffolk plains, for owing to my principal'spenchant for drink, the greater part of the work devolved upon myself.The crisis occurred, however, when I had been with him some eighteenmonths. While in a state of intoxication he was called out to treat aman who had met with a serious accident in a neighbouring village. Onhis return he gave me certain instructions, and sent me back to visitthe patient. The instructions--technical ones, with which it is uselessto puzzle the reader--I carried out to the letter, with the result thatthe poor fellow's life was lost. Then followed an inquest, exposure,censure from the coroner, a rider from the jury, and my employer, withperfect _sang froid_, succeeded in fastening the blame upon myself inorder to save the scanty reputation he still enjoyed over thecountryside.

  The jury were, of course, unaware that he was intoxicated when heattended the man and committed the fatal blunder, while I, in perfectinnocence, had obeyed his injunctions. It is useless, however, toprotest before a coroner; therefore I at once resigned my position, andthat same night returned to London, full of indignation at the treatmentI had received.

  My next practice was as an assistant to a man at Hull, who proved animpossible person, and through the five years that followed I did mybest to alleviate human ills in Carlisle, Derby, Cheltenham, and Leedsrespectively.

  The knowledge I obtained by such general and varied practice, beingalways compelled to dispense my own prescriptions, was of courseinvaluable. But it was terribly uphill work, and a doctor's drudge, asI was, can save no money. Appearances have always to be kept up, andone cannot put by very much on eighty or one hundred pounds a year.Indeed, one night, seven years after leaving Guy's, I found myself againin London, wandering idly along the Strand, without prospects, and withonly a single sovereign between myself and starvation.

  I have often reflected upon that memorable night. How different theworld seemed then! In those days I was content to pocket a singleshilling as a fee; now they are guineas, ten or more, for as manyminutes of consultation. It was an unusually hot June, and the nightwas quite stifling for so early in summer. Although eight o'clock, itwas not yet dark; but, as
I strolled westward past the Adelphi, therewas in the sky that dull purple haze with which Londoners are familiar,the harbinger of a storm. I had sought several old friends of hospitaldays, but all were out of town. June was running out, and the seasonwas at an end.

  London may be declared empty, and half a million persons may have leftto disport themselves in the country or by the sea, yet the ebb and flowin that most wonderful thoroughfare in the world--the Strand--is everthe same, the tide in the dog-days being the same as in December. It isthe one highway in London that never changes.

  I had strolled along to the corner of Bedford Street, down-hearted andlow-spirited, I must confess. Ah! to know how absolutely lonely a mancan be amid those hurrying millions, one must be penniless. In theseven years that had passed, most of my friends had dispersed, and thosewho still remained cared little for a ne'er-do-well such as myself. Inthat walk I calmly reviewed the situation. Away in quiet old Shrewsburymy white-haired, widowed mother lived frugally, full of fond thoughts ofher only boy. She had