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- The Doctor's Dilemma - 1/24 -
TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: The edition from which this play was taken was printed with no contractions, thus "we've" is written as "weve", "hadn't" as "hadnt", etc. There is no trailing period after Mr, Dr, etc., and "show" is spelt "shew", "Shakespeare" is Shakespear.
THE DOCTOR'S DILEMMA
I am grateful to Hesba Stretton, the authoress of "Jessica's First Prayer," for permission to use the title of one of her stories for this play.
On the 15th June 1903, in the early forenoon, a medical student, surname Redpenny, Christian name unknown and of no importance, sits at work in a doctor's consulting-room. He devils for the doctor by answering his letters, acting as his domestic laboratory assistant, and making himself indispensable generally, in return for unspecified advantages involved by intimate intercourse with a leader of his profession, and amounting to an informal apprenticeship and a temporary affiliation. Redpenny is not proud, and will do anything he is asked without reservation of his personal dignity if he is asked in a fellow-creaturely way. He is a wide-open-eyed, ready, credulous, friendly, hasty youth, with his hair and clothes in reluctant transition from the untidy boy to the tidy doctor.
Redpenny is interrupted by the entrance of an old serving-woman who has never known the cares, the preoccupations, the responsibilities, jealousies, and anxieties of personal beauty. She has the complexion of a never-washed gypsy, incurable by any detergent; and she has, not a regular beard and moustaches, which could at least be trimmed and waxed into a masculine presentableness, but a whole crop of small beards and moustaches, mostly springing from moles all over her face. She carries a duster and toddles about meddlesomely, spying out dust so diligently that whilst she is flicking off one speck she is already looking elsewhere for another. In conversation she has the same trick, hardly ever looking at the person she is addressing except when she is excited. She has only one manner, and that is the manner of an old family nurse to a child just after it has learnt to walk. She has used her ugliness to secure indulgences unattainable by Cleopatra or Fair Rosamund, and has the further great advantage over them that age increases her qualification instead of impairing it. Being an industrious, agreeable, and popular old soul, she is a walking sermon on the vanity of feminine prettiness. Just as Redpenny has no discovered Christian name, she has no discovered surname, and is known throughout the doctors' quarter between Cavendish Square and the Marylebone Road simply as Emmy.
The consulting-room has two windows looking on Queen Anne Street. Between the two is a marble-topped console, with haunched gilt legs ending in sphinx claws. The huge pier-glass which surmounts it is mostly disabled from reflection by elaborate painting on its surface of palms, ferns, lilies, tulips, and sunflowers. The adjoining wall contains the fireplace, with two arm-chairs before it. As we happen to face the corner we see nothing of the other two walls. On the right of the fireplace, or rather on the right of any person facing the fireplace, is the door. On its left is the writing-table at which Redpenny sits. It is an untidy table with a microscope, several test tubes, and a spirit lamp standing up through its litter of papers. There is a couch in the middle of the room, at right angles to the console, and parallel to the fireplace. A chair stands between the couch and the windowed wall. The windows have green Venetian blinds and rep curtains; and there is a gasalier; but it is a convert to electric lighting. The wall paper and carpets are mostly green, coeval with the gasalier and the Venetian blinds. The house, in fact, was so well furnished in the middle of the XIXth century that it stands unaltered to this day and is still quite presentable.
EMMY [entering and immediately beginning to dust the couch] Theres a lady bothering me to see the doctor.
REDPENNY [distracted by the interruption] Well, she cant see the doctor. Look here: whats the use of telling you that the doctor cant take any new patients, when the moment a knock comes to the door, in you bounce to ask whether he can see somebody?
EMMY. Who asked you whether he could see somebody?
REDPENNY. You did.
EMMY. I said theres a lady bothering me to see the doctor. That isnt asking. Its telling.
REDPENNY. Well, is the lady bothering you any reason for you to come bothering me when I'm busy?
EMMY. Have you seen the papers?
EMMY. Not seen the birthday honors?
REDPENNY [beginning to swear] What the--
EMMY. Now, now, ducky!
REDPENNY. What do you suppose I care about the birthday honors? Get out of this with your chattering. Dr Ridgeon will be down before I have these letters ready. Get out.
EMMY. Dr Ridgeon wont never be down any more, young man.
She detects dust on the console and is down on it immediately.
REDPENNY [jumping up and following her] What?
EMMY. He's been made a knight. Mind you dont go Dr Ridgeoning him in them letters. Sir Colenso Ridgeon is to be his name now.
REDPENNY. I'm jolly glad.
EMMY. I never was so taken aback. I always thought his great discoveries was fudge (let alone the mess of them) with his drops of blood and tubes full of Maltese fever and the like. Now he'll have a rare laugh at me.
REDPENNY. Serve you right! It was like your cheek to talk to him about science. [He returns to his table and resumes his writing].
EMMY. Oh, I dont think much of science; and neither will you when youve lived as long with it as I have. Whats on my mind is answering the door. Old Sir Patrick Cullen has been here already and left first congratulations--hadnt time to come up on his way to the hospital, but was determined to be first--coming back, he said. All the rest will be here too: the knocker will be going all day. What Im afraid of is that the doctor'll want a footman like all the rest, now that he's Sir Colenso. Mind: dont you go putting him up to it, ducky; for he'll never have any comfort with anybody but me to answer the door. I know who to let in and who to keep out. And that reminds me of the poor lady. I think he ought to see her. Shes just the kind that puts him in a good temper. [She dusts Redpenny's papers].
REDPENNY. I tell you he cant see anybody. Do go away, Emmy. How can I work with you dusting all over me like this?
EMMY. I'm not hindering you working--if you call writing letters working. There goes the bell. [She looks out of the window]. A doctor's carriage. Thats more congratulations. [She is going out when Sir Colenso Ridgeon enters]. Have you finished your two eggs, sonny?
EMMY. Have you put on your clean vest?
EMMY. Thats my ducky diamond! Now keep yourself tidy and dont go messing about and dirtying your hands: the people are coming to congratulate you. [She goes out].
Sir Colenso Ridgeon is a man of fifty who has never shaken off his youth. He has the off-handed manner and the little audacities of address which a shy and sensitive man acquires in breaking himself in to intercourse with all sorts and conditions of men. His face is a good deal lined; his movements are slower than, for instance, Redpenny's; and his flaxen hair has lost its lustre; but in figure and manner he is more the young man than the titled physician. Even the lines in his face are those of overwork and restless scepticism, perhaps partly of curiosity and appetite, rather than of age. Just at present the announcement of his knighthood in the morning papers makes him specially self- conscious, and consequently specially off-hand with Redpenny.
RIDGEON. Have you seen the papers? Youll have to alter the name in the letters if you havnt.
REDPENNY. Emmy has just told me. I'm awfully glad. I--
RIDGEON. Enough, young man, enough. You will soon get accustomed to it.
REDPENNY. They ought to have done it years ago.
RIDGEON. They would have; only they couldnt stand Emmy opening the door, I daresay.
EMMY [at the door, announcing] Dr Shoemaker. [She withdraws].
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