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The Twenty-Kroner
by [?]

The surgeon has a weakness for men who make their living on the sea. From the skipper of a Dogger Bank fishing-smack to the stoker of a Cardiff tramp, from Margate ‘longshoreman to a crabber of the Stilly Isles, he embraces them all in a lusty affection. And this not merely out of his own love of salt water but because his diagnosis reveals the gentleman in them more surely than in the general run of his wealthier patients. “A primitive gentleman, if you like,” Lincott will say, “not above tearing his meat with his fingers or wearing the same shirt night and day for a couple of months on end, but still a gentleman.” As one of the innumerable instances which had built up his conviction, Lincott will offer you the twenty-kroner story.

As he was walking through the wards of his hospital he stopped for a moment by the bed of a brewer’s drayman who was suffering from an access of delirium tremens. The drayman’s language was violent and voluble. But he sank into a coma with the usual suddenness common to such cases, and in the pause which followed Lincott heard a gentle voice a few beds away earnestly apologising to a nurse for the trouble she was put to. “Why,” she replied with a laugh, “I am here to be troubled.” Apologies of the kind are not so frequently heard in the wards of an East End hospital. This one, besides, was spoken with an accent not very pronounced, it is true, but unfamiliar. Lincott moved down to the bed. It was occupied by a man apparently tall, with a pair of remorseful blue eyes set in an open face, and a thatch of yellow hair dusted with grey.

“What’s the matter?” asked Lincott, and the patient explained. He was a Norseman from Finland, fifty-three years old, and he had worked all his life on English ships. He had risen from “decky” to mate. Then he had injured himself, and since he could work no more he had come into the hospital to be cured. Lincott examined him, found that a slight operation was all the man needed, and performed it himself. In six weeks time Helling, as the sailor was named, was discharged. He made a simple and dignified little speech of thanks to the nurses for their attention, and another to the surgeon for saving his life.

“Nonsense!” said Lincott, as he held out his hand. “Any medical student could have performed that operation.”

“Then I have another reason to thank you,” answered Helling. “The nurses have told me about you, sir, and I’m grateful you spared the time to perform it yourself.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Lincott.

“Find a ship, sir,” answered Helling. Then he hesitated, and slowly slipped his finger and thumb along the waist-band of his trousers. But he only repeated, “I must find a ship,” and so left the hospital.

Three weeks later Helling called at Lincott’s house in Harley Street. Now, when hospital patients take the trouble, after they have been discharged, to find out the doctor’s private address and call, it generally means they have come to beg. Lincott, remembering how Helling’s simple courtesies had impressed him, experienced an actual disappointment. He felt his theories about the seafaring man begin to totter. However, Helling was shown into the consulting-room, and at the sight of him Lincott’s disappointment vanished. He did not start up, since manifestations of surprise are amongst those things with which doctors find it advisable to dispense, but he hooked a chair forward with his foot.

“Now then, sit down! Chuck yourself about! Sit down,” said Lincott genially. “You look bad.”

Helling, in fact, was gaunt with famine; his eyes were sunk and dull; he was so thin that he seemed to have grown in height.

“I had some trouble in finding a ship,” he said; and sitting down on the edge of the chair, twirled his hat in some embarrassment.