The Body-Snatchers. (1884). Robert Louis Stevenson. EVERY night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at Debenham—the undertaker,

58 KB – 22 Pages

PAGE – 1 ============
˜e Body-Snatchers (1884)Robert Louis Stevenson EVERY night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at DebenhamŠthe undertaker, and the landlord, and Fettes, and myself. Sometimes there would be more; but blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair. Fettes was an old drunken Scotchman, a man of education obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in idleness. He had come to Debenham years ago, while still young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an adopted townsman. His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church- spire. His place in the parlour at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous, disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham. He had some vague Radical opinions and some ˜eeting in˚delities, which he would now and again set forth and emphasise with tottering slaps upon the table. He drank rumŠ˚ve glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation. We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known, upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents. One dark winter nightŠit had struck nine some time before the landlord joined usŠthere was a sick man in the George, a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man™s still greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his

PAGE – 2 ============
bedside. It was the ˚rst time that such a thing had happened in Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all proportionately moved by the occurrence. fiHe™s come,fl said the landlord, after he had ˚lled and lighted his pipe. fiHe?fl said I. fiWho?Šnot the doctor?fl fiHimself,fl replied our host. fiWhat is his name?fl fiDr. Macfarlane,fl said the landlord. Fettes was far through his third tumblers stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name fiMacfarlanefl twice, quietly enough the ˚rst time, but with sudden emotion at the second. fiYes,fl said the landlord, fithat™s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.fl Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest. We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead. fiI beg your pardon,fl he said. fiI am afraid I have not been paying much attention to your talk. Who is this Wolfe Macfarlane?fl And then, when he had heard the landlord out, fiIt cannot be, it cannot be,fl he added; fiand yet I would like well to see him face to face.fl fiDo you know him, Doctor?fl asked the undertaker, with a gasp. fiGod forbid!fl was the reply. fiAnd yet the name is a strange one; it were too much to fancy two. Tell me, landlord, is he old?fl fiWell,fl said the host, fihe™s not a young man, to be sure, and his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.fl fiHe is older, though; years older. But,fl with a slap upon the table, fiit™s the rum you see in my faceŠrum and sin. ˛is man, perhaps, may have an easy conscience and a good

PAGE – 3 ============
digestion. Conscience! Hear me speak. You would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not? But no, not I; I never canted. Voltaire might have canted if he™d stood in my shoes; but the brainsflŠwith a rattling ˚llip on his bald headŠfithe brains were clear and active, and I saw and made no deductions.fl fiIf you know this doctor,fl I ventured to remark, after a somewhat awful pause, fiI should gather that you do not share the landlord™s good opinion.fl Fettes paid no regard to me. fiYes,fl he said, with sudden decision, fiI must see him face to face.fl ˛ere was another pause, and then a door was closed rather sharply on the ˚rst ˜oor, and a step was heard upon the stair. fi˛at™s the doctor,fl cried the landlord. fiLook sharp, and you can catch him.fl It was but two steps from the small parlour to the door of the old George Inn; the wide oak staircase landed almost in the street; there was room for a Turkey rug and nothing more between the threshold and the last round of the descent; but this little space was every evening brilliantly lit up, not only by the light upon the stair and the great signal-lamp below the sign, but by the warm radiance of the barroom window. ˛e George thus brightly advertised itself to passers- by in the cold street. Fettes walked steadily to the spot, and we, who were hanging behind, beheld the two men meet, as one of them had phrased it, face to face. Dr. Macfarlane was alert and vigorous. His white hair set o˝ his pale and placid, although energetic, countenance. He was richly dressed in the ˚nest of broadcloth and the whitest of linen, with a great gold watch-chain, and studs and spectacles of the same precious material. He wore a broad-folded tie, white and speckled with lilac, and he carried on his arm a comfortable driving-coat of fur. ˛ere was no doubt but he became his years, breathing,

PAGE – 4 ============
as he did, of wealth and consideration; and it was a surprising contrast to see our parlour sotŠbald, dirty, pimpled, and robed in his old camlet cloakŠconfront him at the bottom of the stairs. fiMacfarlane!fl he said somewhat loudly, more like a herald than a friend. ˛e great doctor pulled up short on the fourth step, as though the familiarity of the address surprised and somewhat shocked his dignity. fiToddy Macfarlane!fl repeated Fettes. ˛e London man almost staggered. He stared for the swiftest of seconds at the man before him, glanced behind him with a sort of scare, and then in a startled whisper fiFettes!fl he said, fiyou!fl fiAy,fl said the other, fime! Did you think I was dead too? We are not so easy shut of our acquaintance.fl fiHush, hush!fl exclaimed the doctor. fiHush, hush! this meeting is so unexpectedŠI can see you are unmanned I hardly knew you, I confess, at ˚rst; but I am overjoyedŠ overjoyed to have this opportunity. For the present it must be how-d™ye-do and good-by in one, for my ˜y is waiting, and I must not fail the train; but you shallŠlet me seeŠyesŠyou shall give me your address, and you can count on early news of me. We must do something for you, Fettes. I fear you are out at elbows; but we must see to that for auld lang syne, as once we sang at suppers.fl fiMoney!fl cried Fettes; fimoney from you! ˛e money that I had from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.fl Dr. Macfarlane had talked himself into some measure of superiority and con˚dence, but the uncommon energy of this refusal cast him back into his ˚rst confusion. A horrible, ugly look came and went across his almost venerable countenance. fiMy dear fellow,fl he said, fibe it as you please; my last thought is to o˝end you. I would intrude on none. I will leave you my address howeverŠŠfl

PAGE – 5 ============
fiI do not wish itŠI do not wish to know the roof that shelters you,fl interrupted the other. fiI heard your name; I feared it might be you; I wished to know if, after all, there were a God; I know now that there is none. Begone!fl He still stood in the middle of the rug, between the stair and doorway; and the great London physician, in order to escape, would be forced to step to one side. It was plain that he hesitated before the thought of this humiliation. White as he was, there was a dangerous glitter in his spectacles; but while he still paused uncertain, he became aware that the driver of his ˜y was peering in from the street at this unusual scene, and caught a glimpse at the same time of our little body from the parlour, huddled by the corner of the bar. ˛e presence of so many witnesses decided him at once to ˜ee. He crouched together, brushing on the wainscot, and made a dart like a serpent, striking for the door. But his tribulation was not yet entirely at an end, for even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct, fiHave you seen it again?fl ˛e great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp, throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open space, and, with his hands over his head, ˜ed out of the door like a detected thief. Before it had occurred to one of us to make a movement the ˜y was already rattling toward the station. ˛e scene was over like a dream, but the dream had left proofs and traces of its passage. Next day the servant found the ˚ne gold spectacles broken on the threshold, and that very night we were all standing breathless by the barroom window, and Fettes at our side, sober, pale and resolute in look. fiGod protect us, Mr. Fettes!fl said the landlord, coming ˚rst into possession of his customary senses. fiWhat in the universe is all this? ˛ese are strange things you have been saying.fl Fettes turned toward us; he looked us each in succession in the face. fiSee if you can hold your tongues,fl said he. fi˛at

PAGE – 6 ============
man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have done so already have repented it too late.fl And then, without so much as ˚nishing his third glass, far less waiting for the other two, he bade us good-by and went forth, under the lamp of the hotel, into the black night. We three turned to our places in the parlour, with the big red ˚re and four clear candles; and as we recapitulated what had passed the ˚rst chill of our surprise soon changed into a glow of curiosity. We sat late; it was the latest session I have known in the old George. Each man, before we parted, had his theory that he was bound to prove; and none of us had any nearer business in this world than to track out the past of our condemned companion, and surprise the secret that he shared with the great London doctor. It is no great boast, but I believe I was a better hand at worming out a story than either of my fellows at the George; and perhaps there is now no other man alive who could narrate to you the following foul and unnatural events. In his young days Fettes studied medicine in the schools of Edinburgh. He had talent of a kind, the talent that picks up swiftly what it hears and readily retails it for its own. He worked little at home; but he was civil, attentive, and intelligent in the presence of his masters. ˛ey soon picked him out as a lad who listened closely and remembered well; nay, strange as it seemed to me when I ˚rst heard it, he was in those days well favoured, and pleased by his exterior. ˛ere was, at that period, a certain extramural teacher of anatomy, whom I shall here designate by the letter K. His name was subsequently too well known. ˛e man who bore it skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called loudly for the blood of his employer. But Mr. KŠŠ was then at the top of his vogue; he enjoyed a popularity due partly to his own talent and address, partly to the incapacity of his rival, the university professor. ˛e students, at least, swore by his name,

PAGE – 8 ============
consideration from his masters and his fellow-pupils, and he had no desire to fail conspicuously in the external parts of life. ˛us he made it his pleasure to gain some distinction in his studies, and day after day rendered unimpeachable eye-service to his employer, Mr. KŠŠ. For his day of work he indemni˚ed himself by nights of roaring, blackguardly enjoyment; and when that balance had been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared itself content. ˛e supply of subjects was a continual trouble to him as well as to his master. In that large and busy class, the raw material of the anatomists kept perpetually running out; and the business thus rendered necessary was not only unpleasant in itself, but threatened dangerous consequences to all who were concerned. It was the policy of Mr. KŠŠ to ask no questions in his dealings with the trade. fi˛ey bring the body, and we pay the price,fl he used to say, dwelling on the alliterationŠfl quid pro quo .fl And again, and somewhat profanely, fiAsk no questions,fl he would tell his assistants, fifor conscience sake.fl ˛ere was no understanding that the subjects were provided by the crime of murder. Had that idea been broached to him in words, he would have recoiled in horror; but the lightness of his speech upon so grave a matter was, in itself, an o˝ence against good manners, and a temptation to the men with whom he dealt. Fettes, for instance, had often remarked to himself upon the singular freshness of the bodies. He had been struck again and again by the hang-dog, abominable looks of the ru˙ans who came to him before the dawn; and putting things together clearly in his private thoughts, he perhaps attributed a meaning too immoral and too categorical to the unguarded counsels of his master. He understood his duty, in short, to have three branches: to take what was brought, to pay the price, and to avert the eye from any evidence of crime. One November morning this policy of silence was put sharply to the test. He had been awake all night with a racking

PAGE – 9 ============
toothacheŠpacing his room like a caged beast or throwing himself in fury on his bedŠand had fallen at last into that profound, uneasy slumber that so often follows on a night of pain, when he was awakened by the third or fourth angry repetition of the concerted signal. ˛ere was a thin, bright moonshine; it was bitter cold, windy, and frosty; the town had not yet awakened, but an inde˚nable stir already preluded the noise and business of the day. ˛e ghouls had come later than usual, and they seemed more than usually eager to be gone. Fettes, sick with sleep, lighted them upstairs. He heard their grumbling Irish voices through a dream; and as they stripped the sack from their sad merchandise he leaned dozing, with his shoulder propped against the wall; he had to shake himself to ˚nd the men their money. As he did so his eyes lighted on the dead face. He started; he took two steps nearer, with the candle raised. fiGod Almighty!fl he cried. fi˛at is Jane Galbraith!fl ˛e men answered nothing, but they shuˆed nearer the door. fiI know her, I tell you,fl he continued. fiShe was alive and hearty yesterday. It™s impossible she can be dead; it™s impossible you should have got this body fairly.fl fiSure, sir, you™re mistaken entirely,fl said one of the men. But the other looked Fettes darkly in the eyes, and demanded the money on the spot. It was impossible to misconceive the threat or to exaggerate the danger. ˛e lad™s heart failed him. He stammered some excuses, counted out the sum, and saw his hateful visitors depart. No sooner were they gone than he hastened to con˚rm his doubts. By a dozen unquestionable marks he identi˚ed the girl he had jested with the day before. He saw, with horror, marks upon her body that might well betoken violence. A panic seized him, and he took refuge in his room. ˛ere he re˜ected at length over the discovery that he had made; considered soberly the bearing of Mr. KŠŠ™s instructions and the danger to himself of interference in so serious a

PAGE – 10 ============
business, and at last, in sore perplexity, determined to wait for the advice of his immediate superior, the class assistant. ˛is was a young doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane, a high favourite among all the reckless students, clever, dissipated, and unscrupulous to the last degree. He had travelled and studied abroad. His manners were agreeable and a little forward. He was an authority on the stage, skilful on the ice or the links with skate or golf-club; he dressed with nice audacity, and, to put the ˚nishing touch upon his glory, he kept a gig and a strong trotting-horse. With Fettes he was on terms of intimacy; indeed, their relative positions called for some community of life; and when subjects were scarce the pair would drive far into the country in Macfarlane™s gig, visit and desecrate some lonely graveyard, and return before dawn with their booty to the door of the dissecting-room. On that particular morning Macfarlane arrived somewhat earlier than his wont. Fettes heard him, and met him on the stairs, told him his story, and showed him the cause of his alarm. Macfarlane examined the marks on her body. fiYes,fl he said with a nod, fiit looks ˚shy.fl fiWell, what should I do? fi asked Fettes. fiDo?fl repeated the other. fiDo you want to do anything? Least said soonest mended, I should say.fl fiSome one else might recognise her,fl objected Fettes. fiShe was as well known as the Castle Rock.fl fiWe™ll hope not,fl said Macfarlane, fiand if anybody doesŠ well, you didn™t, don™t you see, and there™s an end. ˛e fact is, this has been going on too long. Stir up the mud, and you™ll get KŠŠ into the most unholy trouble; you™ll be in a shocking box yourself. So will I, if you come to that. I should like to know how any one of us would look, or what the devil we should have to say for ourselves in any Christian witness-box. For me, you know there™s one thing certainŠthat, practically speaking, all our subjects have been murdered.fl fiMacfarlane!fl cried Fettes.

PAGE – 11 ============
fiCome now!fl sneered the other. fiAs if you hadn™t suspected it yourself!fl fiSuspecting is one thingŠŠfl fiAnd proof another. Yes, I know; and I™m as sorry as you are this should have come here,fl tapping the body with his cane. fi˛e next best thing for me is not to recognise it; and,fl he added coolly, fiI don™t. You may, if you please. I don™t dictate, but I think a man of the world would do as I do; and I may add, I fancy that is what KŠŠ would look for at our hands. ˛e question is, Why did he choose us two for his assistants? And I answer, because he didn™t want old wives.fl ˛is was the tone of all others to a˝ect the mind of a lad like Fettes. He agreed to imitate Macfarlane. ˛e body of the unfortunate girl was duly dissected, and no one remarked or appeared to recognize her. One afternoon, when his day™s work was over, Fettes dropped into a popular tavern and found Macfarlane sitting with a stranger. ˛is was a small man, very pale and dark, with coal- black eyes. ˛e cut of his features gave a promise of intellect and re˚nement which was but feebly realised in his manners, for he proved, upon a nearer acquaintance, coarse, vulgar, and stupid. He exercised, however, a very remarkable control over Macfarlane; issued orders like the Great Bashaw; became in˜amed at the least discussion or delay, and commented rudely on the servility with which he was obeyed. ˛is most o˝ensive person took a fancy to Fettes on the spot, plied him with drinks, and honoured him with unusual con˚dences on his past career. If a tenth part of what he confessed were true, he was a very loathsome rogue; and the lad™s vanity was tickled by the attention of so experienced a man. fiI™m a pretty bad fellow myself,fl the stranger remarked, fibut Macfarlane is the boyŠToddy Macfarlane, I call him. Toddy, order your friend another glass.fl Or it might be, fiToddy, you jump up and shut the door.fl fiToddy hates me,fl he said again. fiOh, yes, Toddy, you do!fl

58 KB – 22 Pages