Chapter 8 | The Doctor's Guest | The Bag of Diamonds

As Dr Chartley’s hand was placed upon the latch the bell-handle creaked, and the wire was sawn to and fro, while the moment the door was opened a man in a soft slouch hat and pea-jacket, with an ulster thrown over his arm, laid his hand upon the doctor’s breast, thrusting him back, passing in quickly, and hastily closing and fastening the door.

The doctor stood back more in surprise than alarm, as his visitor seemed to come in with a cloud of yellowish fog, which made him look indistinct and strange, an aspect heightened by his thick beard and moustache being covered with dew-like drops—the condensation of the heavy steaming breath that came from his nostrils as he panted hard, as one pants after a long run.

“May I ask—is any one ill?” exclaimed the doctor, to whom the sudden call at any hour of an excited messenger was little matter of surprise.

“In, quick!” said the visitor hoarsely; and pressing the doctor back once more, he stood listening for a few moments as if for pursuers, and then, wild-eyed and strange, he followed Dr Chartley into the surgery, closing the door and leaning back against it breathing heavily, his eyes staring wildly round, his sun-browned face twisting, while a nervous disposition to start and run seemed to pervade him in every gesture.

The fog and smoke which came in with him added to the strangeness of his aspect as he stood there; his hair rather long, unkempt, and wet with fog; his hands gloveless, and high boots spattered with mud and soaked with half-molten snow. There was more of the brigand in his aspect than of the honest man, and yet his drawn, agitated face was well featured and not unpleasing, besides which his wandering eyes suggested fear suffered, and not a likelihood of inspiring fear; unless it should be, as the doctor surmised, that he was mad, and the pursuit he evidently feared were that of his keepers.

It formed a strange picture—the bland, smooth shining-pated doctor facing this wild excited man standing with his back to the door, his hands outspread as if to keep it fast, and his head half-turned as he listened for the sound of steps in the stillness of the winter night.

“Will you be seated?” said the doctor blandly. “Can I be of any service?”

“Hush! Can you hear anything? There! that!” cried the newcomer, in an excited whisper. “They’re coming!”

“Yes; mad,” said the doctor to himself. Then aloud, “The sound you hear is the dripping of the melting snow on the pavement.”

“Hah! Are you sure?”

“Oh, yes. Quite sure. Sit down, my dear sir. No, not here; come to my consulting-room. There is a fire.”

The coolness of a doctor in dealing with ordinary delirium or insanity is in its way as heroic as the manner in which a soldier will face fire. To most men the advent of the strange visitor would have suggested calling in help or taking instant steps for self-preservations; but armed with weapons such as would prostrate his visitor should he prove inimical, the doctor calmly led the way into his consulting-room, poked the fire, turned up the lamp a little, and pointed to a chair, watching his visitor keenly the while to satisfy himself whether his behaviour was the result of fever, drink, or an unbalanced brain.

The man glared at the doctor for a moment, stepped quickly to the room door, opened it, listened, drew back again, closed it, and slipped the bolt on the inside.

Science-armed as he was, however, the doctor displayed no sign of trepidation, but sat down, waiting till his visitor came quickly back, threw his ulster over the back of the chair set for him, sank into it with a groan, dropped his face into his hands, and burst into a hysterical fit of sobbing.

“Hah!” said the doctor, rising, and laying his hand upon the young man’s shoulder. “You seem overwrought, and—”

The stranger started back at the touch, and was about to spring up, a cry of fear escaping his lips; and his slouched hat fell off, showing his wet brow, with the tangled hair clinging to it in a matted mass.

“I thought—” he gasped. “Ah, doctor, it is you!”

“Yes, sir; sit down and let’s see. You seem quite exhausted.”

“Don’t you know me, doctor?”

“Know you? Good heavens!” cried the doctor in astonishment. “Mark Heath?”

“Mark Heath,” said the visitor, sinking back with a groan.

“We thought you must be dead,” said the doctor.

“You thought I must be dead,” said the young man, passing his hand over his brow, and speaking in a strange and laboured way. “Yes, and I thought I must be dead—a dozen times over. I’m half dead now. What’s that?”

He almost yelled the last words as he started to his feet again, his eyes wild, his right hand clinched, and his left thrust into the breast, as if in search of a weapon.

“I heard nothing,” said the doctor. “Sit down.”

“Some one in the street trying to get in.”

“No, no, no. Sit down, my dear boy. Come, come: what’s the matter?”

“Are you sure you cannot hear any one?”

“Quite, and even if I could, no one could get in without I opened the door.”

“Hah!” ejaculated the young man, sinking down; “brandy! for God’s sake, brandy!”

The doctor looked at him, hesitated, and ended by laying his hand upon his visitor’s pulse, as he sat gazing strangely at the door.

If the doctor’s soft touch had been that of white-hot iron the effect could not have been greater, for with a smothered shriek the young man sprang from his chair and stood at bay by the door.

“Why, Mark Heath, my good fellow, this will not do,” said the doctor blandly. “There, there, come and sit down. I was only feeling your pulse.”

A faint smile came over the young man’s face, and he walked back to his chair.

“I thought it was one of those fiends,” he said, with a shudder.

The doctor coupled the admission with the mention of the brandy, but he was not satisfied as to the symptoms, though, seeing his visitor’s exhaustion, he went to his closet and took out a spirit decanter, with tumblers, poured a little into one glass, and was about to add water to it from the little bright kettle singing on the hob, when the young man snatched at the glass, and tossed off the brandy at a gulp; but even as he was in the act of setting down the glass, he started and stared wildly round towards the door.

“Hist!” he whispered.

“Pooh! there is nothing, my dear sir,” said the doctor: “why, any one would think you were being hunted by the police.”

“Hunted? Yes,” cried the young man thrusting the glass from him, and leaning across and seizing the doctor’s wrist, “hunted—always hunted; but there were no police, doctor; why were they not near to protect me?”

“Ah, yes,” said the doctor, to humour his patient, as with keen interest he watched every change in his mien. “They are generally absent when wanted. So you have been hunted, eh?”

“Hunted! Yes; like some miserable hare by the hounds. They are on my scent now. Night and day, doctor, night and day, till they have nearly driven me mad.”

“Mad? Nonsense! Your brain is as sound as mine.”

“Yes, now; but they will drive me mad. Night and day, I tell you—night and day, I have not dared to sleep,” continued the young man wildly; “no, I have not dared to sleep, for fear that I should not wake again.”

“Indeed, Heath! And who hunted you?”

“Fiends—demons in human form. I have been so that I could not sleep for fear of them. They have always been on my track—on the road through the desert, across the mountains, at the port, on shipboard; they appeared again here in England, at the docks, at the hotel, in the streets; hunted, I tell you, till I have seemed to be hunted to death.”

“Be calm, my dear boy, be calm. Come, you must have sleep.”

“Sleep? Yes, if I could only sleep; but no, I could not—I could not—only drink, doctor, drink; and it has never made me drunk, only keep me up—help me to escape from the devils.”

“Ah, you have drunk a good deal, then?”

“Yes; brandy—brandy. It has been my only friend and support, doctor. I dared not go to an hotel; I was afraid to trust a bank; I had no friend to whom I could go; and I swore I would trust myself till I could get here safe in England.”

“Where you are safe now.”

“No, not yet, for they are tracking me. I got to Liverpool yesterday, and tried to throw them off; but they followed me to the hotel, and I dared trust no one there. They might have said I was mad, and claimed me; said I was a thief—a dozen things to get me into their hands.”

“Be calm, Heath, be calm.”

“Calm? How can a hunted man be calm with the jaws—the wet, hungry jaws—of the hounds on his heels—while he feels that in a moment they may spring upon him and rend him? Oh, doctor, doctor, you never were a hunted man.”

“No, no,” said the doctor blandly; “but we must master ourselves when we feel that excitement leading us astray.”

“Ay, and I have mastered myself till I can do no more,” cried the young man wildly; “I escaped from Liverpool.”


“Yes, and managed to get to the train, as I thought, unseen; but at the first stopping station I saw the demons pass my carriage and look in. They had changed their dress, and disguised themselves, but I knew them at once, and that my attempts were vain. It was growing dark when we reached London, and when they took the tickets I waited till the train went on again, and then leaped for my life.”

“You leaped from the train?”

“Yes. I wonder I did not when it was at full speed, faraway in the country.”

“Hah!” ejaculated the doctor.

“I leaped from the train; but they were watching me, and they followed down the embankment and into a maze of little streets in North London yonder, where the fog and snow bewildered me; but I kept on all the evening, fearing to ask help of the police, dreading to go to an hotel for dinner. The dread, the want of sleep, have made me nearly mad. I did not know where to go, and at last, after struggling wildly to escape, I knew that my brain was going, that before long the dogs would drag me down. Then in my despair I thought of you.”

“And came here?”

“Yes, for sanctuary, doctor. Save me from these devils—save me from myself. Doctor, is this to be the end of it all? I am alone—helpless: they may be listening even now. Doctor, for God’s sake save me; I can do no more!”

Trembling in every limb, wildly excited, and with his despair written in every lineament of his face, Mark Heath dropped from his chair, and crept upon his knees before the doctor, holding up his clasped hands, and evidently so completely exhausted that he might have been mastered by a child.

“Yes, yes; of course, of course I will,” said the doctor kindly. “There, come and lie down here on this couch.”

“Lie down?” said the young man, with a suspicious look.

“To be sure; it will rest you. You are quite safe here.”

“Safe? Am I safe?”

“Of course,” said the doctor, spreading the fallen ulster over the young man’s shivering form, as he slowly lay down.

“Stop! where are you going?”

“Only into the next room—the surgery,” said the doctor, turning to face his visitor’s fierce eyes as he started up from the couch.

“What for? Is it to admit those devils.”

Mark Heath, in a fit of impotent rage, made a dash to reach the fireplace, but his feet were hampered by the ulster, and he would have fallen heavily had not the doctor caught him in his arms.

“Why, man,” he said, “I was going to get you something to take—something to calm you. It is impossible for you to go on like this.”

The young man looked at him wildly.

“I can’t help it,” he said, calming down. “I have been hunted till I am afraid of everybody. Save me, doctor, for you can.”

“Lie down, then; there: that’s better.”

“Yes. I am so helpless and so weak,” the poor fellow moaned. “The brandy kept me up, but it makes me wild.”

“Then you shall have something that will calm you, and not make you wild,” said the doctor; and he went out of the room, leaving his visitor lying down with his eyes closed.

But the moment he was alone, Mark Heath started up on one arm, listening, and thrust his hand into his breast. He was listening for the unlocking of a door; but he heard the chink of a glass and the faint gurgle of some fluid, and he sank back with a sigh of relief.

“Rich—my darling,” he said softly; “it is for you, sweet—for you!”

“There,” said the doctor, re-entering with a glass; “drink that, and you must have some sleep. We shall soon get you right.”

“Heaven bless you, doctor!” cried the young man, hysterically pressing his hand after draining the glass. “I feel in sanctuary here. Ah,” he sighed, as he sank back, “to be at rest once more, and safe! Doctor, you must guard over me and what I have here.”

“Oh, yes,” said the doctor, sitting down after replenishing the fire. “Did you have a rough passage back?”

“I don’t know—I know nothing but that those fiends were after me to get it, and I knew that they would kill me if they could only get a chance. A heated hare sees nothing but the hounds.”

“No, of course not,” said the doctor, speaking softly to keep his patient’s attention, but watching him intently the while, to see the effect of his medicine. “Let’s see, you have been away four years.”

“Yes, four years,” said Mark, speaking more calmly now. “Lost every penny, farming, doctor. No good.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“Then I tried—wagon-driving, and made a respectable living—doing regular carter’s work till I had a team and wagon of my own; but I went one bad time—right across the desert, and found myself at last—seated on the last bullock of my team of twenty—by the wreck of my wagon—doctor dying—for want of water.”

“Ah! that was bad.”

“Yes, but I was picked up by a party who came in the nick of time. They were going by across journey to the diamond-fields.”

“Ah! you went there?”

“Yes, I went there,” said the young man drowsily, and speaking in a restful manner and with many pauses. “Rough life, and for six months—no good. Then luck turned. I went on. At last found—self rich man. Rather absurd, doctor—handful of stones—stones, crystals—handful in a leather bag. Soon nothing. I often laughed. Seemed so much trash, but the right thing. Very large some of them, and I worked on—digging—and picking. Knew I was a wealthy man.”

“You were very fortunate, then?”

“Yes,” was the drowsy reply. “Then began the curse of it. Couldn’t keep it—secret. Found out that it was dangerous. Ought to have banked, but they were—were so hard to get. ’Fraid of everybody. Felt—felt should be murdered. Nearly drove—drove me wild. Made secret—secret plans—escape—get home—old England. To bring—to bring—bag of diamonds—leather bag—worth a deal—bring home myself. Followed—followed me. Three men—part of gang out there—gamble and cheat men—at play. Always—always—on my track—hunted—at bay—sea—always watching—like tigers—Ah!”

He sprang up from his drowsy muttering state, in which he had been incoherently piercing together his imaginary or real adventures, and gazed wildly round.

“Who’s that?”

“It is only I—Doctor Chartley. Lie down again.”

“I thought they’d come, and I—I was telling them. Bag of diamonds. No. Nonsense! All rubbish! Poor man. Going home. ’Nough to pay his passage. All nonsense. No diamonds; no nothing.”

He had sunk back once more, and went on muttering as he dropped asleep.

The doctor sat watching him, and then rose and tapped the fire together, picking up a few fresh pieces of coal to augment the blaze, which seemed to send some of the fog out of the room.

“Wild dissipation—gambling with Nature for treasure,” said the doctor softly. “Imagination, poor wretch!”

The doctor bent down over his patient, who was now sleeping deeply, but had tossed the ulster aside, so that it was gliding down.

“Curious, this wild delirium,” said the doctor, rearranging the improvised cover. “I often wonder that I have not made it a study and—Good heavens!”

He started back from the couch, and stood staring at his patient for a few minutes before advancing again, and laying his hand upon his breast gently, and then thrusting it beneath the fold of the thick pea-jacket.

“It is not delirium; they—”

The doctor hesitated a few moments after drawing back from the couch once more. Then, with his whole manner changed, he thrust his hand into the sleeping man’s breast, glanced round, and, satisfied that he was not overlooked, drew forth a good-sized wash-leather bag, simply tied round the neck with a strip of the same skin.

“Stones,” muttered the doctor, with his face agitated and his eyes glittering; and after balancing the bag in his hand and glancing at the sleeping man, he placed it upon the table, where the light of the lamp was upon it full.

Then ensued a period of hesitation, the doctor’s fingers worked as he stood gazing down at the little yellowish-drab bag, and anon at his patient.

Then the newly awakened curiosity prevailed, and, unable to contain himself, he rapidly untied the string, drew open the bag, and saw that it was nearly full of large rough crystals, which sparkled in a feeble way in the light.

“Why, they must be worth a large sum,” muttered the doctor, pouring out some of the stones into his hand, but pouring them back with a shudder. “How horrible!”

He did not say what was horrible, but hastily retied the bag and placed it back in the sleeping man’s breast, before hurrying out into the surgery, and pacing to and fro in an agitated way.