"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
It is unclear when the events written about below took place, other than it was before 1955 when Halliday Sutherland wrote it down.
I never thanked the woman who helped me in one of my darkest hours, but this is the story.
On a bright May morning I was working with my secretary in the library whose windows overlook the terrace. Along the terrace came a chauffeur-driven limousine which stopped at our gate. The chauffeur got out, came up the steps, rang the bell, delivered a message, and then drove away.
“That’s curious,” said my secretary.
A moment later the maid handed me a letter. “He said there was no reply.”
I opened the letter. It was from the private secretary of one of my patients who, so the letter said, had decided with great reluctance and regret to accept the advice of his counsellors and dispense with my services as a doctor. He would continue to take the same interest in me and my affairs as in the past. Would I please send my account.
I handed the letter to my secretary who having read it said: “Even a servant is entitled to notice, but they dismiss you like this. Once I thought I might be interested in your religion, but never again.” She dried her eyes and continued typing.
Never before had I seen her in tears, and I did not point out the flaw in her reasoning. I could have quoted Hilaire Belloc who said that if anyone had told Alexander I there was too much poisoning in Vatican circles, the Pope could have replied that poisoning did not affect the power of the Keys. That is true and to say the contrary is heresy. So I left the house and went for a long walk.
I walked to the top of the Tottenham Court Road where I saw a public-house which I had not previously visited. I entered the four-ale bar. It was almost deserted but round the walls were wooden rectangular tables with wooden benches. I bought a drink and sat down. At the next table was a fat, flouncing blowzy woman with peroxide hair and aged between 40 and 50. She smiled ingratiatingly, I scowled at her and bought myself another drink.
On returning to the table I noticed that the woman had been joined by another somewhat younger woman. I overheard their conversation. They were on the way to a V.D. Clinic where they were to receive an intravenous injection for syphilis. They were discussing the effect on the injections of the gin they were now drinking. The doctor had told them not to drink. Disgusting. I went for another drink, and as I ordered my third whisky the barman looked at me curiously. I cursed myself for having a speaking face. Then I returned to my table and determined to curse the world in general.
I cursed the man who had been an agent provocateur, for in my opinion the agent provocateur, whoever he be, is among the most degraded of mankind. I cursed myself for having walked into a blatant trap. I cursed the Sunday newspaper that published a spurious interview in which I had commented on the health of my patient. There had been no interview. The whole thing was an invention. I cursed myself for having told a man that I contemplated legal proceedings. These would have been abhorrent to my patient. Strange to say I did not curse the patient who I knew to be a very sick man.
The two women rose to go and as they passed my table the older one bent towards me and spoke the words that follow — “Laddie, I don’t know what your trouble is, but remember there’s a day called Tomorrow.” Before I could answer, she was in the street.
She was right. The past had been my fault and there was a day called Tomorrow. I left the pub, got on a bus home, and told my wife of this strange adventure. I had never thanked the lady in the pub, but I believe that for her kindness to me she will receive on the Great Day of Judgement high commendation.
From Irish Journey
See Dr Sutherland’s world: there is a contemporary Google Street View of Stafford Terrace here. Sutherland lived at no. 5 and the library in which the story above begins was on the first floor.