The Case Of Lady Sannox
The relations between Douglas Stone and the notorious Lady Sannox
were very well known both among the fashionable circles of which
she was a brilliant member, and the scientific bodies which
numbered him among their most illustrious confreres. There
was naturally, therefore, a very widespread interest when it was
announced one morning that the lady had absolutely and for ever
taken the veil, and that the world would see her no more. When,
at the very tail of this rumour, there came the assurance that
the celebrated operating surgeon, the man of steel nerves, had
been found in the morning by his valet, seated on one side of his
bed, smiling pleasantly upon the universe, with both legs jammed
into one side of his breeches and his great brain about as
valuable as a cap full of porridge, the matter was strong enough
to give quite a little thrill of interest to folk who had never
hoped that their jaded nerves were capable of such a sensation.
Douglas Stone in his prime was one of the most remarkable men
in England. Indeed, he could hardly be said to have ever reached
his prime, for he was but nine-and-thirty at the time of this
little incident. Those who knew him best were aware that famous as
he was as a surgeon, he might have succeeded with even greater
rapidity in any of a dozen lines of life. He could have cut his
way to fame as a soldier, struggled to it as an explorer, bullied
for it in the courts, or built it out of stone and iron as an
engineer. He was born to be great, for he could plan what another
man dare not do, and he could do what another man dare not plan.
In surgery none could follow him. His nerve, his judgement, his
intuition, were things apart. Again and again his knife cut away
death, but grazed the very springs of life in doing it, until his
assistants were as white as the patient. His energy, his
audacity, his full-blooded self-confidence--does not the memory
of them still linger to the south of Marylebone Road and the north
of Oxford Street?
His vices were as magnificent as his virtues, and infinitely
more picturesque. Large as was his income, and it was the third
largest of all professional men in London, it was far beneath the
luxury of his living. Deep in his complex nature lay a rich vein
of sensualism, at the sport of which he placed all the prizes of
his life. The eye, the ear, the touch, the palate, all were his
masters. The bouquet of old vintages, the scent of rare exotics,
the curves and tints of the daintiest potteries of Europe, it was
to these that the quick-running stream of gold was transformed.
And then there came his sudden mad passion for Lady Sannox, when a
single interview with two challenging glances and a whispered word
set him ablaze. She was the loveliest woman in London and the only
one to him. He was one of the handsomest men in London, but not
the only one to her. She had a liking for new experiences, and was
gracious to most men who wooed her. It may have been cause or it
may have been effect that Lord Sannox looked fifty, though he was
He was a quiet, silent, neutral-tinted man, this lord, with
thin lips and heavy eyelids, much given to gardening, and full of
home-like habits. He had at one time been fond of acting, had even
rented a theatre in London, and on its boards had first seen Miss
Marion Dawson, to whom he had offered his hand, his title, and the
third of a county. Since his marriage his early hobby had become
distasteful to him. Even in private theatricals it was no longer
possible to persuade him to exercise the talent which he had often
showed that he possessed. He was happier with a spud and a
watering-can among his orchids and chrysanthemums.
It was quite an interesting problem whether he was absolutely
devoid of sense, or miserably wanting in spirit. Did he know his
lady's ways and condone them, or was he a mere blind, doting fool?
It was a point to be discussed over the teacups in snug little
drawing-rooms, or with the aid of a cigar in the bow windows of
clubs. Bitter and plain were the comments among men upon his
conduct. There was but one who had a good word to say for him, and
he was the most silent member in the smoking-room. He had seen
him break in a horse at the University, and it seemed to have left
an impression upon his mind.
But when Douglas Stone became the favourite all doubts as to
Lord Sannox's knowledge or ignorance were set for ever at rest.
There was no subterfuge about Stone. In his high-handed, impetuous
fashion, he set all caution and discretion at defiance. The
scandal became notorious. A learned body intimated that his name
had been struck from the list of its vice-presidents. Two friends
implored him to consider his professional credit. He cursed them
all three, and spent forty guineas on a bangle to take with him to
the lady. He was at her house every evening, and she drove in his
carriage in the afternoons. There was not an attempt on either
side to conceal their relations; but there came at last a little
incident to interrupt them.
It was a dismal winter's night, very cold and gusty, with the
wind whooping in the chimneys and blustering against the window-
panes. A thin spatter of rain tinkled on the glass with each fresh
sough of the gale, drowning for the instant the dull gurgle and
drip from the eaves. Douglas Stone had finished his dinner, and
sat by his fire in the study, a glass of rich port upon the
malachite table at his elbow. As he raised it to his lips, he held
it up against the lamplight, and watched with the eye of a
connoisseur the tiny scales of beeswing which floated in its rich
ruby depths. The fire, as it spurted up, threw fitful lights upon
his bald, clear-cut face, with its widely-opened grey eyes, its
thick and yet firm lips, and the deep, square jaw, which had
something Roman in its strength and its animalism. He smiled from
time to time as he nestled back in his luxurious chair. Indeed, he
had a right to feel well pleased, for, against the advice of six
colleagues, he had performed an operation that day of which only
two cases were on record, and the result had been brilliant beyond
all expectation. No other man in London would have had the daring
to plan, or the skill to execute, such a heroic measure.
But he had promised Lady Sannox to see her that evening and it
was already half-past eight. His hand was outstretched to the bell
to order the carriage when he heard the dull thud of the knocker.
An instant later there was the shuffling of feet in the hall, and
the sharp closing of a door.
"A patient to see you, sir, in the consulting room," said the
"No, sir; I think he wants you to go out."
"It is too late," cried Douglas Stone peevishly. "I won't go."
"This is his card, sir."
The butler presented it upon the gold salver which had been
given to his master by the wife of a Prime Minister.
"`Hamil Ali, Smyrna.' Hum! The fellow is a Turk, I suppose."
"Yes, sir. He seems as if he came from abroad, sir. And he's
in a terrible way."
"Tut, tut! I have an engagement. I must go somewhere else.
But I'll see him. Show him in here, Pim."
A few moments later the butler swung open the door and ushered
in a small and decrepit man, who walked with a bent back and with
the forward push of the face and blink of the eyes which goes with
extreme short sight. His face was swarthy, and his hair and beard
of the deepest black. In one hand he held a turban of white muslin
striped with red, in the other a small chamois-leather bag.
"Good evening," said Douglas Stone, when the butler had closed
the door. "You speak English, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. I am from Asia Minor, but I speak English when I
"You wanted me to go out, I understand?"
"Yes, sir. I wanted very much that you should see my wife."
"I could come in the morning, but I have an engagement which
prevents me from seeing your wife tonight."
The Turk's answer was a singular one. He pulled the string
which closed the mouth of the chamois-leather bag, and poured a
flood of gold on to the table.
"There are one hundred pounds there," said he, "and I promise
you that it will not take you an hour. I have a cab ready at the
Douglas Stone glanced at his watch. An hour would not make it
too late to visit Lady Sannox. He had been there later. And the
fee was an extraordinarily high one. He had been pressed by his
creditors lately, and he could not afford to let such a chance
pass. He would go.
"What is the case?" he asked.
"Oh, it is so sad a one! So sad a one! You have not, perhaps
heard of the daggers of the Almohades?"
"Ah, they are Eastern daggers of a great age and of a singular
shape, with the hilt like what you call a stirrup. I am a
curiosity dealer, you understand, and that is why I have come to
England from Smyrna, but next week I go back once more. Many
things I brought with me, and I have a few things left, but among
them, to my sorrow, is one of these daggers."
"You will remember that I have an appointment, sir," said the
surgeon, with some irritation; "pray confine yourself to the
"You will see that it is necessary. Today my wife fell down in
a faint in the room in which I keep my wares, and she cut her lower
lip upon this cursed dagger of Almohades."
"I see," said Douglas Stone, rising. "And you wish me to dress
"No, no, it is worse than that."
"These daggers are poisoned."
"Yes, and there is no man, East or West, who can tell now what
is the poison or what the cure. But all that is known I know, for
my father was in this trade before me, and we have had much to do
with these poisoned weapons."
"What are the symptoms?"
"Deep sleep, and death in thirty hours."
"And you say there is no cure. Why then should you pay me this
"No drug can cure, but the knife may."
"The poison is slow of absorption. It remains for hours in the
"Washing, then, might cleanse it?"
"No more than in a snake bite. It is too subtle and too
"Excision of the wound, then?"
"That is it. If it be on the finger, take the finger off. So
said my father always. But think of where this wound is, and that
it is my wife. It is dreadful!"
But familiarity with such grim matters may take the finer edge
from a man's sympathy. To Douglas Stone this was already an
interesting case, and he brushed aside as irrelevant the feeble
objections of the husband.
"It appears to be that or nothing," said he brusquely. "It is
better to lose a lip than a life."
"Ah, yes, I know that you are right. Well, well, it is kismet,
and it must be faced. I have the cab, and you will come with me
and do this thing."
Douglas Stone took his case of bistouries from a drawer, and
placed it with a roll of bandage and a compress of lint in his
pocket. He must waste no more time if he were to see Lady Sannox.
"I am ready," said he, pulling on his overcoat. "Will you take
a glass of wine before you go out into this cold air?"
His visitor shrank away, with a protesting hand upraised.
"You forget that I am a Mussulman, and a true follower of the
Prophet," said he. "But tell me what is the bottle of green glass
which you have placed in your pocket?"
"It is chloroform."
"Ah, that also is forbidden to us. It is a spirit, and we make
no use of such things."
"What! You would allow your wife to go through an operation
without an anaesthetic?"
"Ah! she will feel nothing, poor soul. The deep sleep has
already come on, which is the first working of the poison. And
then I have given her of our Smyrna opium. Come, sir, for already
an hour has passed."
As they stepped out into the darkness, a sheet of rain was
driven in upon their faces, and the hall lamp, which dangled from
the arm of a marble Caryatid, went out with a fluff. Pim, the
butler, pushed the heavy door to, straining hard with his shoulder
against the wind, while the two men groped their way towards the
yellow glare which showed where the cab was waiting. An instant
later they were rattling upon their journey.
"Is it far?" asked Douglas Stone.
"Oh, no. We have a very little quiet place off the Euston
The surgeon pressed the spring of his repeater and listened to
the little tings which told him the hour. It was a quarter past
nine. He calculated the distances, and the short time which it
would take him to perform so trivial an operation. He ought to
reach Lady Sannox by ten o'clock. Through the fogged windows he
saw the blurred gas lamps dancing past, with occasionally the
broader glare of a shop front. The rain was pelting and rattling
upon the leathern top of the carriage, and the wheels swashed as
they rolled through puddle and mud. Opposite to him the white
headgear of his companion gleamed faintly through the obscurity.
The surgeon felt in his pockets and arranged his needles, his
ligatures and his safety-pins, that no time might be wasted when
they arrived. He chafed with impatience and drummed his foot upon
But the cab slowed down at last and pulled up. In an instant
Douglas Stone was out, and the Smyrna merchant's toe was at his
"You can wait," said he to the driver.
It was a mean-looking house in a narrow and sordid street. The
surgeon, who knew his London well, cast a swift glance into the
shadows, but there was nothing distinctive--no shop, no movement,
nothing but a double line of dull, flat-faced houses, a double
stretch of wet flagstones which gleamed in the lamplight, and a
double rush of water in the gutters which swirled and gurgled
towards the sewer gratings. The door which faced them was blotched
and discoloured, and a faint light in the fan pane above, it served
to show the dust and the grime which covered it. Above in one of
the bedroom windows, there was a dull yellow glimmer. The merchant
knocked loudly, and, as he turned his dark face towards the light,
Douglas Stone could see that it was contracted with anxiety. A
bolt was drawn, and an elderly woman with a taper stood in the
doorway, shielding the thin flame with her gnarled hand.
"Is all well?" gasped the merchant.
"She is as you left her, sir."
"She has not spoken?"
"No, she is in a deep sleep."
The merchant closed the door, and Douglas Stone walked down the
narrow passage, glancing about him in some surprise as he did so.
There was no oil-cloth, no mat, no hat-rack. Deep grey dust and
heavy festoons of cobwebs met his eyes everywhere. Following
the old woman up the winding stair, his firm footfall echoed
harshly through the silent house. There was no carpet.
The bedroom was on the second landing. Douglas Stone followed
the old nurse into it, with the merchant at his heels. Here, at
least, there was furniture and to spare. The floor was littered
and the corners piled with Turkish cabinets, inlaid tables, coats
of chain mail, strange pipes, and grotesque weapons. A single
small lamp stood upon a bracket on the wall. Douglas Stone took it
down, and picking his way among the lumber, walked over to a couch
in the corner, on which lay a woman dressed in the Turkish fashion,
with yashmak and veil. The lower part of the face was exposed, and
the surgeon saw a jagged cut which zigzagged along the border of
the under lip.
"You will forgive the yashmak," said the Turk. "You know our
views about women in the East."
But the surgeon was not thinking about the yashmak. This was
no longer a woman to him. It was a case. He stooped and examined
the wound carefully.
"There are no signs of irritation," said he. "We might delay
the operation until local symptoms develop."
The husband wrung his hands in uncontrollable agitation.
"Oh! sir, sir," he cried. "Do not trifle. You do not know.
It is deadly. I know, and I give you my assurance that an
operation is absolutely necessary. Only the knife can save her."
"And yet I am inclined to wait," said Douglas Stone.
"That is enough," the Turk cried, angrily. "Every minute is of
importance, and I cannot stand here and see my wife allowed to
sink. It only remains for me to give you my thanks for having
come, and to call in some other surgeon before it is too late."
Douglas Stone hesitated. To refund that hundred pounds was no
pleasant matter. But of course if he left the case he must return
the money. And if the Turk were right and the woman died, his
position before a coroner might be an embarrassing one.
"You have had personal experience of this poison?" he asked.
"And you assure me that an operation is needful."
"I swear it by all that I hold sacred."
"The disfigurement will be frightful."
"I can understand that the mouth will not be a pretty one to
Douglas Stone turned fiercely upon the man. The speech was a
brutal one. But the Turk has his own fashion of talk and of
thought, and there was no time for wrangling. Douglas Stone drew
a bistoury from his case, opened it and felt the keen straight edge
with his forefinger. Then he held the lamp closer to the bed. Two
dark eyes were gazing up at him through the slit in the yashmak.
They were all iris, and the pupil was hardly to be seen.
"You have given her a very heavy dose of opium."
"Yes, she has had a good dose."
He glanced again at the dark eyes which looked straight at his
own. They were dull and lustreless, but, even as he gazed, a
little shifting sparkle came into them, and the lips quivered.
"She is not absolutely unconscious," said he.
"Would it not be well to use the knife while it will be
The same thought had crossed the surgeon's mind. He grasped
the wounded lip with his forceps, and with two swift cuts he took
out a broad V-shaped piece. The woman sprang up on the couch with
a dreadful gurgling scream. Her covering was torn from her face.
It was a face that he knew. In spite of that protruding upper lip
and that slobber of blood, it was a face that he knew, She kept on
putting her hand up to the gap and screaming. Douglas Stone sat
down at the foot of the couch with his knife and his forceps. The
room was whirling round, and he had felt something go like a
ripping seam behind his ear. A bystander would have said that his
face was the more ghastly of the two. As in a dream, or as if he
had been looking at something at the play, he was conscious that
the Turk's hair and beard lay upon the table, and that Lord Sannox
was leaning against the wall with his hand to his side, laughing
silently. The screams had died away now, and the dreadful head had
dropped back again upon the pillow, but Douglas Stone still sat
motionless, and Lord Sannox still chuckled quietly to himself.
"It was really very necessary for Marion, this operation," said
he, "not physically, but morally, you know, morally."
Douglas Stone stooped for yards and began to play with the
fringe of the coverlet. His knife tinkled down upon the ground,
but he still held the forceps and something more.
"I had long intended to make a little example," said Lord
Sannox, suavely. "Your note of Wednesday miscarried, and I have it
here in my pocket-book. I took some pains in carrying out my idea.
The wound, by the way, was from nothing more dangerous than my
He glanced keenly at his silent companion, and cocked the small
revolver which he held in his coat pocket. But Douglas Stone was
still picking at the coverlet.
"You see you have kept your appointment after all," said Lord
And at that Douglas Stone began to laugh. He laughed long and
loudly. But Lord Sannox did not laugh now. Something like fear
sharpened and hardened his features. He walked from the room, and
he walked on tiptoe. The old woman was waiting outside.
"Attend to your mistress when she awakes," said Lord Sannox.
Then he went down to the street. The cab was at the door, and
the driver raised his hand to his hat.
"John," said Lord Sannox, "you will take the doctor home first.
He will want leading downstairs, I think. Tell his butler that he
has been taken ill at a case."
"Very good, sir."
"Then you can take Lady Sannox home."
"And how about yourself, sir?"
"Oh, my address for the next few months will be Hotel di Roma,
Venice. Just see that the letters are sent on. And tell Stevens
to exhibit all the purple chrysanthemums next Monday, and to wire
me the result."
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