Fie! Fie! (The Fair Physician) Page 01
Fie! Fie! or, the Fair Physician
First published simultaneously in The Spirit of the Times and The Pictorial World Christmas Supplement in December 1882. The story appeared subsequently in The Seaside Library in April 1883. This is one of the stories Collins did not want reprinted after his death. It was never collected in book-form.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs Crossmichael made an interesting announcement in her family circle. She said, 'I am positively determined to write an account of it; I shall furnish the raw material, and an editor shall manufacture the narrative.'
Whatever is said of Mrs Crossmichael's family in these pages must be said from Mrs Crossmichael's point of view. The editor would prefer his own point of view; but he knows his lady, and uses his pen cautiously when he mentions her father, her mother, and her unmarried sister. A profound scholar and a handsome old man; a venerable lady with grand remains of beauty; a sweet girl, who is also an accomplished musician -- named respectively Reverend and Mrs Skirton, and Miss Salome Slirton -- comprise the audience addressed by Mrs Crossmichael, when she expressed her resolution to produce the present narrative.
'My mind being quite made up,' she said, 'I am now ready to hear what you think of it.' Her husband came in at the moment; but she took no notice of him.
Mrs Skirton smiled over her knitting, and made no remark. In the cases of some rare persons, silent smiles have a meaning of their own: Mrs Skirton's smile meant gentle encouragement. Reverend Mr Skirton expressed himself in words. 'Have it privately printed, my dear, and it cannot fail to be productive of advantage to others.' Miss Salome modestly exhibited her father's view in detail. 'It will be productive,' she said 'of a warning to young ladies.' Nobody consulted Mr Crossmichael, sitting modestly in a corner. Like the present Editor (but with infinitely superior opportunities), he knew his lady, and he kept his opinions to himself. Had he not promised at the altar (as Mrs Crossmichael frequently reminded him) to love, honour, and obey his wife? They were the happiest married couple in all England.
Venerable and learned and charming as they were, the family had failed, nevertheless, to penetrate the object which Mrs Crossmichael had in view. It was not to please her excellent mother; it was not to 'prove of advantage to others;' it was not to 'offer a warning to young ladies,' that she had determined to take up her pen. Her one motive for favouring the Editor with his 'raw material' shall be stated in the lady's own words: --
'I hate her.'
Who was she? And why did Mrs Crossmichael hate her?
Here, again, the expressive brevity of 'the raw material' may be quoted with advantage. The instructions run as follows: 'Say the worst you can of her at starting; and condemn her unheard by means of her own visiting card.'
Here it is:
Sophia Pillico, M.D.
Is M.D. sufficiently intelligible? Let no hasty persons answer, 'Of course!' There are full-grown inhabitants of the civilised universe who have never heard of Julius Cæsar, Oliver Cromwell, or Napoleon the Great. There may be other inhabitants, who are not aware that we have invented fair physicians in these latter days. M.D. (let it be known to these benighted brethren) means that Sophia has passed her examination, and has taken her Doctor's degree. Mrs Crossmichael is further willing to admit that Miss Pillico is sufficiently young, and -- we all know there is no accounting for tastes -- passably pretty. (NOTE, attached to the instructions: 'We are not on oath, and we may be allowed our own merciful reserves. Never mind her figure -- oh dear no, never mind her figure: Men-doctors get on very well with clumsy legs and no waists. Why should women doctors not do the same? Equal justice to the two sexes, Sophia, was the subject of your last lecture -- I was present, and heard you say it!')
The second question still remains unanswered. Why did Mrs Crossmichael hate her?
For three good reasons. Because she delivered lectures on the rights of women in our Assembly Room. Because she set herself up in medical practice, and in our south-eastern suburb of London, and within five minutes walk of our house. Because she became acquainted with our next-door neighbours, and to my sister Salome. The Editor can bear witness to this. (He bears witness with pleasure.) The Editor can describe our next-door neighbours. (No: he is not sufficiently well acquainted with them. He knows a lady who can take the story, at the present stage of it, out of his hands -- and to that lady he makes his bow, and offers his pen.)
Mrs Crossmichael abhors flattery, and considers descriptions to be the bane of literature. If she is to accept the pen, it must be on one condition. The next-door neighbours shall describe themselves.
II Our suburb possesses the most convenient detached houses in all England.