When "Mrs. Gallilee" wonders whether "Carmina has ever heard of the Diathermancy of Ebonite," she is thinking of proceedings at a conversazione in honour of Professor Helmholtz (reported in the Times of April 12, 1881), at which "radiant energy" was indeed converted into "sonorous vibrations." Again: when she contemplates taking part in a discussion on Matter, she has been slily looking into Chambers's Encyclopaedia, and has there discovered the interesting conditions on which she can "dispense with the idea of atoms." Briefly, not a word of my own invention occurs, when Mrs. Gallilee turns the learned side of her character to your worships' view.
I have now only to add that the story has been subjected to careful revision, and I hope to consequent improvement, in its present form of publication. Past experience has shown me that you have a sharp eye for slips of the pen, and that you thoroughly enjoy convicting a novelist, by post, of having made a mistake. Whatever pains I may have taken to disappoint you, it is quite likely that we may be again indebted to each other on this occasion. So, to our infinite relief on either side, we part friends after all.
London: April 1883
The weary old nineteenth century had advanced into the last twenty years of its life.
Towards two o'clock in the afternoon, Ovid Vere (of the Royal College of Surgeons) stood at the window of his consulting-room in London, looking out at the summer sunshine, and the quiet dusty street.
He had received a warning, familiar to the busy men of our time--the warning from overwrought Nature, which counsels rest after excessive work. With a prosperous career before him, he had been compelled (at only thirty-one years of age) to ask a colleague to take charge of his practice, and to give the brain which he had cruelly wearied a rest of some months to come. On the next day he had arranged to embark for the Mediterranean in a friend's yacht.
An active man, devoted heart and soul to his profession, is not a man who can learn the happy knack of being idle at a moment's notice. Ovid found the mere act of looking out of window, and wondering what he should do next, more than he had patience to endure.
He turned to his study table. If he had possessed a wife to look after him, he would have been reminded that he and his study table had nothing in common, under present circumstances. Being deprived of conjugal superintendence, he broke though his own rules. His restless hand unlocked a drawer, and took out a manuscript work on medicine of his own writing. "Surely," he thought, "I may finish a chapter, before I go to sea to-morrow?"
His head, steady enough while he was only looking out of window, began to swim before he had got to the bottom of a page. The last sentences of the unfinished chapter alluded to a matter of fact which he had not yet verified. In emergencies of any sort, he was a patient man and a man of resource. The necessary verification could be accomplished by a visit to the College of Surgeons, situated in the great square called Lincoln's Inn Fields. Here was a motive for a walk--with an occupation at the end of it, which only involved a question to a Curator, and an examination of a Specimen. He locked up his manuscript, and set forth for Lincoln's Inn Fields.
When two friends happen to meet in the street, do they ever look back along the procession of small circumstances which has led them both, from the starting-point of their own houses, to the same spot, at the same time? Not one man in ten thousand has probably ever thought of making such a fantastic inquiry as this. And consequently not one man in ten thousand, living in the midst of reality, has discovered that he is also living in the midst of romance.
From the moment when the young surgeon closed the door of his house, he was walking blindfold on his way to a patient in the future who was personally still a stranger to him. He never reached the College of Surgeons. He never embarked on his friend's yacht.
What were the obstacles which turned him aside from the course that he had in view? Nothing but a series of trivial circumstances, occurring in the experience of a man who goes out for a walk.
He had only reached the next street, when the first of the circumstances presented itself in the shape of a friend's carriage, which drew up at his side. A bright benevolent face encircled by bushy white whiskers, looked out of the window, and a hearty voice asked him if he had completed his arrangements for a long holiday. Having replied to this, Ovid had a question to put, on his side.
"How is our patient, Sir Richard?"
"Out of danger."
"And what do the other doctors say now?"
Sir Richard laughed: "They say it's my luck."
"Not convinced yet?"
"Not in the least. Who has ever succeeded in convincing fools? Let's try another subject. Is your mother reconciled to your new plans?"
"I can hardly tell you. My mother is in a state of indescribable agitation. Her brother's Will has been found in Italy. And his daughter may arrive in England at a moment's notice."
"Unmarried?" Sir Richard asked slyly.
"I don't know."
Ovid smiled--not cheerfully. "Do you think my poor mother would be in a state of indescribable agitation if there was not money?"
Sir Richard was one of those obsolete elderly persons who quote Shakespeare. "Ah, well," he said, "your mother is like Kent in King Lear--she's too old to learn. Is she as fond as ever of lace? and as keen as ever after a bargain?" He handed a card out of the carriage window. "I have just seen an old patient of mine," he resumed, "in whom I feel a friendly interest. She is retiring from business by my advice; and she asks me, of all the people in the world, to help her in getting rid of some wonderful 'remnants,' at 'an alarming sacrifice!' My kind regards to your mother--and there's a chance for her. One last word, Ovid. Don't be in too great a hurry to return to work; you have plenty of spare time before you. Look at my wise dog here, on the front seat, and learn from him to be idle and happy."
The great physician had another companion, besides his dog. A friend, bound his way, had accepted a seat in the carriage. "Who is that handsome young man?" the friend asked as they drove away.
"He is the only son of a relative of mine, dead many years since," Sir Richard replied. "Don't forget that you have seen him."
"May I ask why?"
"He has not yet reached the prime of life; and he is on the way--already far on the way--to be one of the foremost men of his time. With a private fortune, he has worked as few surgeons work who have their bread to get by their profession. The money comes from his late father. His mother has married again. The second husband is a lazy, harmless old fellow, named Gallilee; possessed of one small attraction--fifty thousand pounds, grubbed up in trade. There are two little daughters, by the second marriage. With such a stepfather as I have described, and, between ourselves, with a mother who has rather more than her fair share of the jealous, envious, and money-loving propensities of humanity, my friend Ovid is not diverted by family influences from the close pursuit of his profession.