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The Adventures of Dick Maitland - A Tale of Unknown Africa

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122 pages
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Ajouté le : 08 décembre 2010
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Project Gutenberg's The Adventures of Dick Maitland, by Harry Collingwood This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: The Adventures of Dick Maitland A Tale of Unknown Africa Author: Harry Collingwood Illustrator: Alec Ball Release Date: April 13, 2007 [EBook #21059] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE ADVENTURES OF DICK MAITLAND *** Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England Harry Collingwood "The Adventures of Dick Maitland" Chapter One. The Catastrophe. Doctor Julian Humphreys was spoken of by those who believed that they knew him best as an eccentric; because, being a physician and surgeon of quite unusual ability, he chose —possessing a small independence amounting to a bare three hundred pounds per annum —to establish himself in the East-End of London, and there devote himself with zeal and enthusiasm to the amelioration of the sufferings of the very poor, instead of capitalising his income and setting up in Harley Street, where his exceptional qualifications would speedily and inevitably have brought him a handsome fortune. An income of three hundred pounds per annum—out of which one has to feed, clothe, and house oneself—does not afford very much scope for the practice of philanthropy, as Dr Humphreys very well knew; his establishment, therefore, was of very modest dimensions, consisting merely of three rooms with the usual domestic offices, one room—the front and largest one—being fitted up as surgery, dispensary, and consulting room, while, of the other two, one served as a sleeping apartment for himself and his pupil, Mr Richard Maitland, the third being sacred to Polly Nevis, a sturdy and willing, but somewhat untidy person, who discharged the united functions of parlour maid, housemaid, chamber maid, cook, and scullery maid to the establishment. The large red lamp which shone over Dr Humphreys’ door at night was the one and only picturesque feature of Paradise Street—surely so named by an individual of singularly caustic and sardonic humour, for anything less suggestive of the delights of Paradise than the squalid and malodorous street so named it would indeed be difficult to conceive—and in the course of the four years during which it had been in position that lamp had become a familiar object to every man, woman, and child within a radius of at least a mile; for the Doctor’s fame had soon spread, and his clientele comprised practically everybody within that radius. The apparently insignificant event that initiated the extraordinary series of adventures, of which this is the narrative, occurred about the hour of 8 a.m. on a certain day of September in the year of our Lord 19—; and it consisted in the delivery by the postman of a letter addressed to Mr Richard Maitland, care of Dr J. Humphreys, 19 Paradise Street, Whitechapel, E. The letter was addressed in the well-known handwriting of Dick’s mother; but the recipient did not immediately open it, for he was at the moment engaged in assisting the Doctor to dress and bind up the wounds of Mrs William Taylor, whose husband, having returned home furiously drunk upon the closing of the public houses on the previous night, had proceeded to vent his spleen upon his long-suffering wife, because, having no money and nothing that she could pawn, she had failed to have a hot supper ready for him upon his arrival. When, however, Mrs Taylor, scarcely recognisable because of the voluminous bandages that swathed her head and face, and carrying with her a powerful odour of iodoform, was bowed out of the surgery by Dr Humphreys, with a reminder—in reply to a murmur that she had no money just then—that she was one of his free patients, and a message from the Doctor to Mr William Taylor, which the poor woman had not the remotest intention to deliver, Dick drew his mother’s letter from his pocket and opened it. As he mastered its contents he went white to the lips, as well he might; for this is what he read: The Cedars, 14 South Hill, Sydenham. September 10th, 19— . “My dear Dick,— “I am sorry to be obliged to call you away from your work, but I must ask you to please come home to me as soon as you can possibly get away, for I have just received news of so disastrous a character that I dare not put it upon paper. Besides, I am so distracted that I scarcely know what I am writing, as you will no doubt understand when I tell you that we are ruined—absolutely and irretrievably ruined! Come as soon as you can, my dear, for I feel as though I shall go out of my senses if I cannot soon have someone to counsel me as to what is the best thing to be done under these dreadful circumstances. “Your loving but distracted mother,— “Edith Maitland.” “Hillo, Dick! what’s the matter?” exclaimed the Doctor, catching a glimpse of his assistant’s drawn face and pallid lips as Maitland stared incredulously at the letter in his hand. “Nothing wrong, I hope. You look as though you had just seen a ghost!” “So I have; the ghosts of—many things,” answered Dick. “Unless this letter is—but no, it is the dear Mater’s own handwriting beyond a doubt. Read it, Doctor; there are no secrets in it.” And Dick passed the letter over to Humphreys. “Phew!” whistled the Doctor, when he had read the letter twice—from the date to the signature; “that sounds pretty bad. You had better be off at once, and get at the rights of the thing. And when you have done so— By the way, have you any friends with whom you can consult, should you need help or advice of any sort?” “Not a soul in the world, so far as I know, unless I may call you a friend, Doctor,” answered Dick. “Of course there is Cuthbertson, the family solicitor and the sole executor of my father’s will; but the suggestion conveyed by this letter from my mother is that something has somehow gone wrong with him, and he may not be available.” “Quite so; he may not, as you say,” agreed the Doctor. “In that case, my dear Dick, come back to me after you have become acquainted with all the facts, and we will discuss the matter together. That you may call me your friend goes without saying, as you ought to know by
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