face from the past
night three of us sat in the small bar of The George Inn:
the landlord, an old drunken Scotsman called Fettes and myself.
Whatever the weather, we three were always there.
was obviously an educated man; a wealthy one too, since he
did not work. He had come to our town years ago, while he
was still young, and had lived there ever since. On his nightly
visits to The George he always sat with a glass of rum in
his right hand, drunk and unhappy.
called Fettes 'the Doctor', because people said he had some
special knowledge of medicine. Occasionally he set a broken
bone for someone or advised on an illness. Beyond this we
knew nothing about his character or background.
dark winter night there was a sick man in the George. A wealthy
local landowner had suddenly become ill that afternoon. The
landlord had made the great man comfortable, and telegraphed
his still greater London doctor to his bedside.
landlord came down to the bar some time after nine. ‘Dr
Macfarlane has arrived,’ he announced.
was now drinking his third rum, , and staring stupidly around
him. When he heard the name 'Macfarlane' he seemed to awaken.
He repeated it twice, quietly the first time, but then with
said the landlord, ‘that’s his name. Doctor Wolfe
became instantly sober. His eyes awoke, and his voice became
clear and loud. We were all startled by the change in him.
you say Wolfe Macfarlane?’
know him, Doctor?’ I asked.
shook his head, ‘It cannot be the same man,’ he
said. ‘But I would like to see him face to face. Tell
me, landlord, is he old?’
is not a young man,’ said the landlord. ‘And his
hair is white. But he looks younger than you.’
slapped his hand on the table. ‘He is many years older,’
he said. ‘It’s the rum you see in my face - rum
and bad conscience.
was a terrible pause and then a door closed loudly.
the doctor,’ cried the landlord. ‘Quick you can
you seen it again?’
followed Fettes out into the hall, just as Dr Macfarlane was
hurrying down towards the door to the street. The two men
faced each other at the bottom of the stairs.
Macfarlane appeared to be a respectable gentleman. He wore
expensive clothes and carried on his arm a fur overcoat. His
shirt was made from the finest white linen. Both his spectacles
his watch were gold.
said Fettes loudly.
great doctor stopped on the fourth step. He seemed to come
from a different world to that of the bald, dirty old drunk
now standing in front of him.
Macfarlane!’ repeated Fettes.
London man almost fainted. He stared for a second at the man
before him. Then he glanced behind him. ‘Fettes!’
he said, in a startled whisper. ‘It’s you!’
said the other, ‘it’s me! Did you think I was
no!’ cried the doctor. ‘I am delighted to see
you but for now we can only say hello and goodbye. Unfortunately
my carriage is waiting and I must catch the train. But give
me your address and you shall hear from me soon. We must do
something for you, Fettes. I fear that your financial circumstances
cried Fettes. ‘Money from you! The money that I had
from you is still lying where I threw it in the rain.’
horrible, ugly look appeared on Dr Macfarlane’s face.
‘My dear fellow,’ he said. ‘I did not mean
to offend you. I will leave you my address - ‘
do not want it,’ interrupted the other. ‘I heard
your name and feared it might be you.’
a moment there was a dangerous look behind the gold spectacles.
Then the doctor became aware that we were all watching him.
He moved quickly for the door to the street. As he was passing,
Fettes clutched him by the arm and whispered, ‘Have
you seen it again?’
great London doctor cried out aloud. With his hands over his
head, he ran out of the door, dropping his spectacles. The
next moment the carriage moved off towards the station. The
fine gold spectacles were left broken on the road.
protect us, Mr Fettes,’ said the landlord. ‘What
was all that about?’
turned towards us. ‘You don’t know how dangerous
that man Macfarlane is!’ he said. ‘What I am going
to tell you must never leave this room.’
young medical student
he was a young man Fettes studied medicine in Edinburgh. He
did not work very hard, but his teachers picked him out as
a talented student. They saw that he listened closely and
remembered well. It appears he was also - and this seemed
strange to me - a handsome young fellow.
was, at that time, a man who came from outside the university
to teach anatomy. Mr K, as I shall call him, was a popular
teacher with the students. He liked to live well, enjoying
good food, expensive clothes and clever conversation. Mr K
also liked intelligent and obedient students. Fettes quickly
became one of his favourites.
his second year, Fettes had become the second assistant in
Mr K’s class. It was his job to supply, receive, and
dissect the bodies used in anatomy classes. Mr K arranged
accommodation for him in the same building as the dissecting
rooms to help carry out this work.
morning, in the early hours before dawn, a special signal
called Fettes out of his bed to open a side entrance. The
two men he showed into the dissecting room looked like criminals,
and their names are now infamous throughout the land. Fettes
accepted their deliveries and paid them for their ‘goods’.
Then he returned to bed for a couple of hours sleep before
his first class.
supply of corpses was a continual problem in that large and
busy class. Mr K asked no questions in his dealings with the
trade. ‘They bring the body, and we pay the price,’
he used to tell his two assistants. ‘Ask no questions.’
Fettes did not ask questions about the freshness of the bodies
that were delivered before dawn. Though his doubts grew stronger,
he did his work. He turned his eyes away from any evidence
one cold, frosty November morning the men arrived later than
usual. They seemed nervous and even more than usually anxious
to leave quickly. Fettes, who had been awake all night with
a toothache, showed them into the dissecting room.
with sleep, Fettes leaned against a wall while they took the
body from the sack. He had to wake himself to find the men
their money. As he did so, he saw the dead face. Startled,
he took two steps nearer, and held his candle above the body.
God!’ he cried. ‘That is Jane Galbraith!’
men did not answer, but they moved nearer the door.
know her, I tell you,’ Fettes continued. ‘She
was alive and well yesterday.’
you are completely mistaken,’ said one of the men.
the other looked Fettes in the eyes. 'Give us the money!'
Fettes counted out the money. The moment his visitors departed
he looked at the body again. It was Jane Galbraith! And she
had been the victim of a violent attack.
great distress, the young student ran upstairs and locked
himself in his room. What was he to do? Mr K had warned him
not to ask questions about the bodies; it would be dangerous
to interfere in such a serious business. Fettes decided to
await the advice of the senior class assistant: a young doctor
named Wolfe Macfarlane.
Macfarlane was a great favourite among all the students. He
was very clever and an excellent sportsman. He even owned
his own horse and carriage.
and Macfarlane spent a lot of time together. When the class
was short of bodies they would go out at night in Macfarlane’s
carriage, driving far into the country until they found a
lonely graveyard. There they would dig up a body and take
it to the dissecting room before dawn.
that particular morning Macfarlane arrived earlier than usual.
Fettes met him on the stairs, and told him about the girl.
They went into the dissecting room, and Macfarlane examined
the marks on her body.
he said, with a nod, ‘it looks suspicious.’
what should I do?’ asked Fettes.
repeated the other. ‘Why do anything?’
else might recognise her,’ said Fettes. ‘She was
well known around the city.’
hope not,’ said Macfarlane, ‘and what if somebody
does recognise her? That doesn’t mean you did.’
has been going on too long, Fettes. If you say anything, you’ll
get K--- into terrible trouble. And what about you and I?
What could we say? It’s obvious that all our subjects
have been murdered.’
now! You must have suspected it yourself!’
is one thing -’
proof is another. Yes, I know. I’m as sorry as you are
about this.’ Macfarlane tapped the body with his walking
stick. ‘But the best thing is for me not to recognise
it. And I don’t,’ he added calmly. ‘I think
a man of the world would do the same.’
all things young Fettes wanted to be ‘a man of the world’.
He agreed to imitate Macfarlane. The body of the unfortunate
girl was dissected, and demonstrated in the class. No one
appeared to recognise her.
at the face’
afternoon, when his day’s work was over, Fettes visited
a popular tavern. He found Macfarlane sitting with a small,
pale, dark stranger named Gray. Fettes quickly saw that Gray
was a very unpleasant, and rather stupid fellow.
a bad fellow myself,’ Gray remarked, ‘but Macfarlane
is much worse. Toddy, get your friend another drink.’
call me that name,’ said Macfarlane.
laughed. ‘Toddy hates me,’ he said. ‘Oh,
yes, Toddy, you do! He would like to cut me up with a knife.’
medical students have a better way than that,’ said
Fettes. ‘When we dislike a dead friend, we dissect him.’
looked up angrily. It was obvious that he had not enjoyed
afternoon passed, and Gray invited Fettes to join them for
dinner. He then ordered a huge meal, which he insisted on
Macfarlane paying for.
was late before they separated. Gray was completely drunk,
and Fettes was only slightly less so. Macfarlane said little.
He did not respond to Gray’s continual insults, and
paid for everything. But there was a murderous look in his
left the other two and walked home soon after midnight. The
next day Macfarlane was absent from the class. Fettes smiled
to himself as he imagined Gray and Macfarlane still out drinking
class he went back to look for them, trying several different
taverns across the city without success. Eventually he returned
to his rooms and went to bed early.
four in the morning the familiar signal awoke him. Going down
to the door, he was astonished to find Macfarlane with his
carriage. In the carriage was one of those long and terrible
packages he knew so well.
happened?’ he cried. ‘Have you been out alone?
How did you manage to carry it?’
Macfarlane silenced him. ‘Help me carry this in,’
took the body upstairs and laid it on the table. Macfarlane
hesitated, ‘I think you should look at the face,’
stared at him in astonishment. ‘Where did you find it?
at the face,’ was the only answer.
Fettes looked from the young doctor to the body, and then
back again. Finally, he forced himself to look at the face.
belonged to the man they had drunk with the night before.