D is for Doctor. Doctor Nicholas Brandwood is the GP in Cadblister Parva.
Doctor Brandwood woke to the sound of the telephone. His wife (now eight months deceased) had insisted on having it installed two years ago, and, in his heart of hearts, Dr. Brandwood agreed that it had many practical advantages. But his habit upon hearing the ring of “that accursed instrument” was to swear horribly. Dr. Brandwood swore horribly now. Then he went to answer the thing. As he passed the grandfather clock in the hall, he saw that it was just on 3 in the morning, and, seeing this, he hurried his step. He’d learned that calls that came at 3 A.M. were either sharp, sudden crises or calls that ought to have been made several hours earlier- that is, genuine emergencies.
“Dr. Brandwood? Oh, is it you? Good. This is Belinda Crabtree.”
“And what can I do for you, Lady Belinda?”
“It’s Aunt Theodolinda, doctor. She- wanders, you know. Well, she wandered tonight, into the snowstorm. We didn’t notice she was gone, because she often goes right up to bed after supper, and so we thought she’d just done that. If we thought anything about it, which of course we probably didn’t. Anyway, I was just about to go up to bed myself- it was at half past twelve or a little after- when there she was, in the hall, shivering and wet and talking rather oddly. So I got her into dry things and put her to bed, and I’ve been at her side ever since- and just now I tried to wake her,” Lady Belinda gulped, “and I… couldn’t.”
“Do you mean she’s dead, child?” Dr. Brandwood’s voice was less of a bark than usual. He approved of Lady Belinda, and thought she’d had quite enough to put up with without being growled at by sleepy GPs.
“No, no, not that. She has a pulse, but it is weak and thready. I just can’t wake her. And her color doesn’t look right. She doesn’t look right at all, doctor. Will you- could you possibly come to us? At once? I know it is a beastly lot to ask, but-”
“I’ll be there in half an hour.” And Dr. Brandwood cut off Lady Belinda’s effusive thanks by the simple expedient of ending the call. That was one thing he liked about the telephone- it was very easy to dispense with unnecessary civilities. In rather under five minutes, he was dressed and striding down his front walk, his black bag in one hand and a torch in the other. It was still snowing. Still, the walk would do him good, wake him up a bit. It was no weather for motoring. He set off down Main Street at his usual brisk pace, and soon reached the lane that led up to the Hall. He turned on his torch and started up the slight slope.
And then his torch showed him something that made his steps become brisker yet. Something was lying in the snowy lane. And by ‘something,’ Dr. Brandwood rather thought he meant ‘someone.’ The snow had performed a partial and un-reverend burial, but it had not yet effaced the basic shape of the human figure. He crouched next to where he thought the head would be and started to dig. After a moment, he leaned back and whistled.
“Well, one thing’s certain sure: there will be no dearth of suspects,” said Brandwood, and hurried back to town to wake Constable Wilkins.
An hour later, Dr. Brandwood finally arrived at the Hall.
“Oh doctor!” Cried Lady Belinda, who seemed to have been waiting in ambush for him. “What a time you’ve been! Aunt Theodolinda’s condition hasn’t changed- at least,” she paused, and shot a suspicious glance up somewhere beyond the sweeping Regency staircase, “I set Gerald to watch, and he promised to let me know if there was- any change- I do hope he hasn’t fallen asleep, the swine!”
“Your brother is here, then?” Dr. Brandwood asked. Lady Belinda nodded.
“Yes. We were expecting him rather earlier, but he had Important Business in town.” Lady Belinda grinned. “I thought the business might be a woman, but apparently not. Glad of that in a way, of course, for Verity is an awfully good stick, and it wouldn’t do for him to jilt her. Still, I thought it might be a woman, but it was a party. One of his set from Oxford has just returned from somewhere terribly exotic, and nothing would do but they had to paint the town red.” As she talked, she took his coat, explaining that she hadn’t liked to wake Sneakfork. “He’s so terribly imposing, you know, and quite a good butler, and frankly I didn’t dare.”
Dr. Brandwood looked closely at Lady Belinda. He didn’t like her nervous, jerky movements or the flush of too-bright colour upon her cheeks. Her eyes, too, were red and swollen. She’d had a bad night. Well, he was about to make it worse. No help for that. The only question was whether he should see his patient first and then break the news to Lady Belinda, or if it would be best to get it over now. Now, he decided. If he went up to the sick-room, Lady Belinda might quite naturally go off to bed. If he told her that he had something to tell her and asked her to wait up until he was finished with his patient, she’d be in a state of dreadful anticipation during the whole of his examination, and it looked like her nerves were badly strained already. No, now was best. He crossed to the drawing room and opened the door.
“Go in there,” he said. “I have news.”
“But Aunt Theodolinda!”
“I’ll go to her in a moment. Come, please. It is rather important.” When she’d sat down and he’d succeeded in locating the brandy decanter, he came out with it. “Your father has been murdered,” he said.
“Dear me!” Said Lady Belinda. And Dr. Brandwood was disturbed to see that the emotion that swept over was not grief but fear. Stark terror, in fact, came like a lightning-flash over her features, and for an instant she was horribly transformed. “Dear me,” she said again, breaking the spell. She was herself again, and the nightmare of a second before was as if it had never been. “You were right to tell me, but you must go up to Aunt Theodolinda now. I shall wait here. When you are done with your patient, come back and tell me how my father was killed.”
“Sensible girl,” Dr. Brandwood approved. “I’ll be back presently. Have some of that brandy, now.” And Dr. Brandwood went up to his patient.