Special Theme: Professionalism: MEDICINE AND THE ARTS
From The Secret Agent, by Joseph Conrad, Doubleday, Page and Company.
Lisa Dittrich, managing editor of Academic Medicine, is the editor of “Medicine and the Arts.” (Unsolicited submissions are welcome.)
The Secret Agent tells the story of Verloc and his band of spies and anarchists who take on the task of blowing up the Greenwich Observatory. Verloc recruits his gentle but simple-minded brother-in-law Stevie to place the bomb, but events go tragically awry when Stevie trips and falls, blowing himself up in the process. In this scene from Chapter VIII, Stevie is traveling by coach to a Charity House with his mother and sister. Both his mental impairment and his sensitivity to suffering animals are apparent in this scene.
In the narrow streets the progress of the journey was made sensible to those within by the near fronts of the houses gliding past slowly and shakily, with a great rattle and jingling of glass, as if about to collapse behind the cab; and the infirm horse, with the harness hung over his sharp backbone flapping very loose about his thighs, appeared to be dancing mincingly on his toes with infinite patience. Later on, in the wider space of Whitehall, all visual evidences of motion became imperceptible. The rattle and jingle of glass went on indefinitely in front of the long Treasury building—and time itself seemed to stand still.
At last Winnie observed: “This isn't a very good horse.”
Her eyes gleamed in the shadow of the cab straight ahead, immovable. On the box, Stevie shut his vacant mouth first, in order to ejaculate earnestly: “Don't.”
The driver, holding high the reins twisted around the hook, took no notice. Perhaps he had not heard. Stevie's breast heaved.
The man turned slowly his bloated and sodden face of many colours bristling with white hairs. His little red eyes glistened with moisture. His big lips had a violet tint. They remained closed. With the dirty back of his whip-hand he rubbed the stubble sprouting on his enormous chin.
“You mustn't,” stammered out Stevie, violently, “it hurts.”
“Mustn't whip?” queried the other in a thoughtful whisper, and immediately whipped. He did this, not because his soul was cruel and his heart evil, but because he had to earn his fare. And for a time the walls of St. Stephen's, with its towers and pinnacles, contemplated in immobility and silence a cab that jingled. It rolled, too, however. But on the bridge there was a commotion. Stevie suddenly proceeded to get down from the box. There were shouts on the pavement, people ran forward, the driver pulled up, whispering curses of indignation and astonishment. Winnie lowered the window, and put her head out, white as a ghost. In the depths of the cab, her mother was exclaiming, in tones of anguish: “Is that boy hurt? Is that boy hurt?”
Stevie was not hurt, he had not even fallen, but excitement as usual had robbed him of the power of connected speech. He could do no more than stammer at the window: “Too heavy. Too heavy.”