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The Hotwells Duel
by [?]

From the Memoirs of Joshua Frampton, Esq., late Honorary Physician to the Wells, and Surgeon.

I cannot pass this year 1790 without speaking of a ridiculous adventure which, but that it providentially happened at the close of our season, when the Spa was emptying and our fashionables talked more of packing their trunks than of the newest scandals, might have done me some professional damage besides bringing unmerited public laughter upon the heads of two honest gentlemen. As it was, our leading news-sheet, the Hotwells Courant, did not even smoke the affair, and so lost a nine days’ wonder; while the Whig Examiner, after printing an item which threw me into a two days’ perspiration, forbore to follow up the scent–the reason being that Mr. Lemoine, its editor, was shortly expecting an addition to his family, and, knowing his nervousness upon these occasions and his singular confidence in my skill, I was able to engage him by arguments to which at another time he might have listened less amiably.

I have already related how, on the approach of autumn, I advertised for an assistant. The young man whom I selected was a Scotsman from the University of Glasgow, Duncan MacRea by name, and no youth of his age could have brought better testimonials to ability or character. Relying upon these, I did not stand out for an interview–his home lying so far away as Largs, in Ayrshire–but came to terms at once, and he arrived at my door with his valise at the untimely hour of five in the morning, the fifteenth of October, having travelled all the way to Bristol in a ship laden with salted herrings.

I will own that this apparition on my doorstep in the cold morning light (he had rung the night-bell) surprised me somewhat. But I remembered the proverbial impetuosity of Scotsmen in pushing their fortunes, and his personal appearance may have helped to conciliate me, since my mind had misgiven me that I had done wiser to insist on an interview, instead of buying a pig in a poke; for looks no less than knowledge are a physician’s passepartout among the ladies who bring their ailments to our provincial spas. The face which the lad lifted towards my bedroom window was a remarkably handsome one, though pallid, and the voice in which he answered my challenge had a foreign intonation, but musical and in no way resembling the brogue for which I had been preparing myself.

So delighted was I at this dissipation of my fears that, slipping on my dressing-gown (I believe without removing my nightcap), and pausing only on the landing to call up to the maidservants to light a fire and prepare coffee with all speed, I hurried downstairs and unbarred the door. Whereupon Master MacRea instantly and with great cordiality shook me by the hand.

“It is a great pleasure to me, Dr. Frampton, to make your acquaintance, more especially, sir, to find you surrounded by those evidences of a prosperous practice which I had indeed inferred from your genteel reticence and the quality of your notepaper. At the end of a long journey, undertaken on the strength of that inference, it is delightful to find my best hopes confirmed.”

He shook me by the hand again very warmly. Taken aback by this extraordinary address, I gasped once or twice, and even then could find nothing better to say than that he must have found his journey fatiguing.

“Fatiguing, perhaps, but not tiresome. To the philosophic mind, Dr. Frampton, there should be no such thing as tedium, boredom, ennui, and I trust that mine is philosophic. You were much in my thoughts, sir, between the attacks of sea-sickness. By frequent perusal I had committed your two epistles to memory, and while silently rehearsing their well-turned sentences, in the words of Dr. Samuel Johnson I pursued in imagination the pleasures of hope, yet without listening to the whispers of credulity–for I was prepared to find your flattering description fade upon a nearer prospect. But I am reassured!”