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"Doc" Shipman’s Fee
by [?]

It was in the Doctor’s own office that he told me this story. He has told me a dozen more, all pulled from the rag-bag of his experience, like strands of worsted from an old-fashioned reticule. Some were bright-colored, some were gray and dull–some black; most of them, in fact, sombre in tone, for the Doctor has spent much of his life climbing up the rickety stairs of gloomy tenements. Now and then there comes out a thread of gold which he weaves into the mesh of his talk–some gleam of pathos or heroism or unselfishness, lightening the whole fabric. This kind of story he loves best to tell.

The Doctor is not one of your new-fashioned doctors quartered in a brownstone house off the Avenue, with a butler opening the door; a pair of bob-tailed grays; a coupe with a note-book tucked away in its pocket bearing the names of various millionnaires; an office panelled in oak; a waiting-room lined with patients reading last month’s magazines until he should send for them. He has no such abode nor belongings. He lives all alone by himself in an old-fashioned house on Bedford Place–oh, Such a queer, hunched-up old house and such a quaint old neighborhood poked away behind Jefferson Market–and he opens the door himself and sees everybody who comes–there are not a great many of them nowadays, more’s the pity.

There are only a few such houses left up the queer old-fashioned street where he lives. The others were pulled down long ago, or pushed out to the line of the sidewalk and three or four stories piled on top of them. Some of these modern ones have big, carved marble porticos, made of painted zinc and fastened to the new brickwork. Inside these portals are a row of bronze bells and a line of speaking tubes with cards below bearing the names of those who dwell above.

The Doctor’s house is not like one of these. It would have been had it not belonged to his old mother, who died long ago and who begged him never to sell it while he lived. He was thirty years younger then, but he is still there and so is the old house. It looks a little ashamed of its shabbiness when you come upon it suddenly hiding behind its pushing neighbors. First comes an iron fence with a gate never shut, and then a flagged path dividing a grass-plot, and then an old-fashioned wooden stoop with two steps, guarded by a wooden railing (many a day since these were painted); and over these railings and up the supports which carry the roof of the portico straggles a honeysuckle that does its best to hide the shabbiness of the shingles and the old waterspout and sagging gutter, and fails miserably when it gets to the farther cornice, which has rotted away, showing under its dismal paint the black and brown rust of decaying wood.

Then way in under the portico comes the door with the name-plate, and next to it, level with the floor of the piazza or portico–either you please, for it is a combination of both–are two long French windows, always open in summer evenings and a-light on winter nights with the reflection of the Doctor’s soft-coal fire, telling of the warmth and cheer within.

For it is a cheery place. It doesn’t look like a doctor’s office. There are dingy haircloth sofas, it is true, and a row of shelves with bottles, and funny-looking boxes on the mantel–one an electric battery–and rows and rows of books on the walls. But there are no dreadful instruments about. If there are, you don’t see them.

The big chair he sits in would swallow up a smaller man. It is covered with Turkey red and has a roll cushion for his head. There are two of these chairs–one for you, or me; this last has big arms that come out and catch you under the elbows, a mighty help to a man when he has just learned that his liver or lungs or heart or some other part of him has gone wrong and needs overhauling.