The Glens of Stone – Episode 38

Most members of Edinburgh’s medical profession were to be found in the taverns or coffee houses of their choice at set times daily. There they were visited by prospective patients to discuss diagnoses and prognoses.

Dr Daniel Turner abided by the custom and was sitting in the World’s End tavern at the meridian, nursing a glass of French brandy.

He observed a man wending his way through the tables towards him.

The fellow was not prepossessing, being shabbily dressed and sporting an eye-patch together with heavy side-whiskers and a straggly beard.

He seemed unlikely to have sufficient money to meet a consultation fee.

“Good day to you, sir,” the newcomer said, pulling out a chair. “Are you Doctor Turner?”

“I am.” Turner inclined his head. “Pray tell me what ails you.”

“Nothing ails me, Doctor. I’m here to enquire after the health of one of your patients, Miss Alison Porteous.”

The doctor raised his hand.

“If you please, it is not my custom to discuss my patients with others.”

The man leaned in and grabbed one of the doctor’s wrists.

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me?” The voice held menace. “I asked after Miss Porteous.”

“She is seriously ill,” Turner stammered, his mouth dry. “Typhus.”

“So I understand. But she will recover.”

“If God wishes,” the doctor said.

The grip on his wrist tightened.

“That was not a question, Doctor, it was a statement. She will recover!”

Doctor Turner stared at the unprepossessing stranger who threatened him. He couldn’t possibly be sure Alison Porteous would recover, as the man demanded.

“But typhus is a scourge almost as bad as cholera!”

A smile crossed the man’s face.

“Miss Porteous is young and strong, Doctor. I trust you are attending her regularly?”

Turner sought the right words.

“I’m a busy man, sir. I have numerous other patients to attend.” He forced a smile. “Besides, I have a lady constantly looking in on the girl. Surely that . . .?”

He jumped as the stranger’s free hand thumped the table.

“Doctor, let me suggest three things to you,” the whispering voice said urgently. “Firstly, that you replace the old hag of a nursewife attending Miss Porteous at present with someone more versed in the healing arts. Secondly, that you ensure you visit the girl each morning, noon and night. And lastly . . .”

He paused, increasing Turner’s discomfort.

“Lastly, I would suggest that, should Miss Porteous fail to recover, you make preparations to leave the city hurriedly, for I will assuredly seek you out.”

So saying, the stranger relaxed his grip and stood up, his face creased with a chilling smile. From a pouch he extracted a small bag which he tossed on to the table. It landed heavily.

“Your fee, Doctor. I’m sure you’ll earn it well.” The man touched the brim of his tattered hat and was gone.

Turner sat completely still until his heartbeats slowed, then cautiously opened the bag.

“Dear me,” he murmured as he counted out 20 golden coins.

Stepping into the crowded street outside the tavern, Ewan Ogilvie set off on the long walk back to Duddingston, knowing he had done all in his power to ensure Alison Porteous received the best possible treatment.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.