"Gilbert, would you please come see me in my office when you're finished with your patient?"
Gilbert Sansom pushed down his annoyance at being interrupted while he was examining a patient, and he glanced over at the well-dressed man standing in the doorway. "Of course, Sir Nigel," he replied, keeping his tone even. The man was his employer, after all. "Lady Swindon and I are almost finished here."
"Excellent." Nigel Janning flashed a bright, if insincere, smile at the woman who took up most of the upholstered settee in the tastefully appointed examining room. "So good to see you, Lady Swindon," he said. "I trust that young Gilbert has sussed out the nature of your pain?"
"Doctor Sansom was very thorough, Sir Nigel," she said. "In fact, his was the most thorough examination I have ever received in your office. It was also a refreshingly chatter-free examination, as Doctor Sansom seems more interested in practicing medicine than social niceties. It is his opinion that I am suffering from the gout."She pointed a plump, ring-laden finger at her swollen foot.
Janning tutted and wagged a finger at her. "Naughty girl! I've no reason to doubt his diagnosis, so make sure you heed his instructions. Carry on, Gilbert," he said, and shut the door.
"He does have his charm," Lady Swindon commented when the door closed. "Almost makes up for his outrageous fees." She looked at Gilbert as if seeing him for the first time. "You're Corman Sansom's son, aren't you? How silly of me, not realizing until just now, even though you have the same name. I remember seeing you here sometimes, when you were a small boy—hard to forget that golden mop of yours. Sir Corman was charming, too; I was very saddened to hear of his passing. And he was such a good doctor—if you are even half as good as your father was, young man, I will consider myself in good hands."
Gilbert grunted and reached for his prescription pad, hoping to deflect any further reminisces about his father—or his boyhood, for that matter. "Now then, Lady Swindon, I won't keep you any further. I'm writing you a prescription to take care of your immediate discomfort, and I suggest that you use a small footstool to keep your foot elevated." He scribbled down some ingredients and notes. "But I must tell you, you will be susceptible to more attacks like this unless you make some changes to your diet." He handed the sheet to his patient. "This is for your chemist."
"Aren't you a surgeon, Doctor Sansom?" she asked, taking the sheet. "I thought that only physicians like Sir Nigel and Sir Corman could give physic."
Gilbert was used to the question. "Yes, madam, I am a surgeon—but I am also a physician, and I am licensed by the Royal College." He indicated a lengthy trail of initials that followed his name at the top of the paper.
Lady Swindon cocked her head and regarded him. "That's rather convenient, I must say," she said. "I thought I would have to have a separate, more expensive, appointment with Sir Nigel. So, Doctor Sansom, what are these changes you wish to inflict upon on my poor person?"
Fifteen minutes later, after Gilbert helped Lady Swindon out to her waiting carriage, he strode down the hallway to Janning's private office and, after taking several deep breaths, rapped twice on the gleaming, carved oak door. God only knew what Janning wanted, but it wouldn't do to keep him waiting.
Gilbert let himself in and stood just inside the room. "You wished to see me, Sir Nigel?"
"Sit down, Gilbert." Janning watched as Gilbert took possession of a high backed, upholstered chair. "I must admit, I had my misgivings about bringing you into my practice after Corman died," he said. "You had a first-rate education, although why you chose to become one of those new-fangled 'General Practitioners'—"
"I can give better care as both a physician and surgeon," Gilbert retorted. It was not the first time that Janning had tried to ridicule his training.
Janning lazily waved off his argument. "It does seem that Lady Swindon agrees with you, and I have received similar compliments about the quality of your care from other patients. However, they have also commented on your lack of 'social niceties,' so I would like to remind you that these are very rich, influential people, and we cannot risk offense because you refuse to provide the occasional flattery or bit of charm. Your looks can only get you so far, Gilbert."
Gilbert studied his fingernails. "I should like to think that patients appreciate my knowledge and skills over my appearance, Sir Nigel."
Janning laughed. "All those ladies in your appointment ledger aren't there because of your stellar medical education, dear boy. Although you impressed the old bat today, I'll give you that. Lady Swindon is formidable, but rich, and I expect you will soon have appointments from some of her equally rich friends. So well done, Gilbert—just try to be a little more pleasant."
"Yes, sir." Gilbert started to rise from his seat, but Janning raised a hand to stop him.
"Not just yet," Janning said. "Your charm—or lack thereof—was not the main reason I wanted to see you."
Gilbert eased himself back onto the chair and waited.
Janning opened a small, ornate box that sat on one corner of his desk, and withdrew a thin cheroot. Striking a match, he lit it, inhaled deeply, and then expelled a lungful of smoke. "You studied under Joseph Bell when you were at Edinburgh, did you not?" He watched the smoke form a hazy cloud over his desk.
"Yes," Gilbert replied, frowning at the abrupt shift in the conversation, "most of my surgical training came from Doctor Bell."
Janning tapped off some ash into a china dish. "And you also studied his method of forensic medicine, yes? I seem to remember your father blathering on about that at some point."
Gilbert's hands tightened on the arm of the chair. "Yes. Speaking of points, what is yours?"
The corner of his employer's mouth quirked up at Gilbert's insolence, and then thinned to a firm line. "Last night I attended my monthly Royal College Fellows meeting, and one of our members had some alarming news; apparently, there is a man in London who has gained some notoriety for performing 'spiritual surgery,' claiming that he can remove tainted tissue from a patient without cutting their flesh."
"We are agreed on that," Janning said. "Yet there are a number of people who maintain that this man removed objects from their bodies without making any incisions." He studied the glowing tip of his cheroot. "He has also convinced people that some of their maladies are caused by ghostly attachments, and he claims to be able to remove these unwanted spirits. All of this, of course, for a hefty fee."
Gilbert made a rude noise. "Idiots."
"Yes, they very well may be, but this man is preying on our clientele. Not only is he attracting the attention of an increasing number of wealthy socialites, but there is the very real concern that his quackery will tarnish the reputations of the legitimate physicians here in London." The china dish clinked against the desk as Janning tapped his cheroot against it once more.
"He can't be truly healing these people," Gilbert said, "and it's only a matter of time before someone dies because they saw this devil instead of a proper doctor."
"Oh yes, that too."
It took a great effort on Gilbert's part to not roll his eyes. Of course, Janning was more worried about losing his wealthy patients than people actually losing their lives. "What does this have to do with my studies in Edinburgh?" he asked.
"I suggested that you would be the perfect person to find out how the blazes this man is doing this so-called 'surgery,' and and expose him for the fraud he is. Not only do you have surgical training, but you also have some experience with forensic medicine. In addition, your aunt, Lady Bosford, has society connections that will be useful in spreading the news once you've exposed his trickery." Janning took another deep inhalation of his cheroot. "Everyone thought it was a splendid idea."
"Of course they did," Gilbert muttered.
"Now Gilbert, don't be that way. If you succeed, there will be a Fellowship in your immediate future."
Gilbert couldn't help but be interested in the offer; while he was licensed with the Royal College of Physicians, to become one of their Fellows would vastly improve his chances of establishing his own practice. And getting his own practice would mean getting out from under Janning's thumb. "Very well," he said. "I'll do it."
"Splendid." Janning crushed out his cheroot and then he tossed a folder onto his desk. "Here are some notes on what we've learned so far. A swift resolution would be most beneficial; I would like to have this wrapped up by next month's meeting. We'll need to free up your schedule, so I will take over some of your less demanding appointments and then reschedule the others."
Gilbert stood and took the folder. "I'll do my best," he said.
Janning pushed his spectacles up higher on the bridge of his nose, and the light from the overhead pendant light struck the lenses and made them gleam brightly. "Our reputations and livelihoods are dependent on your success, Gilbert. I should hate for you to disappoint us."