Authors: AJ Cronin
Dr Finlay’s Casebook
This ebook edition published in 2012 by
West Newington House
Copyright © the Estate of A.J. Cronin
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85790-208-5
Print ISBN: 978-1-84158-854-4
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Dr Finlay of Tannochbrae
A Delicate Matter
The building of the Caledonian, a great new international hotel, at Arrochar had caused only mild interest in Tannochbrae, where it was regarded with disdain as a further
intrusion on the Highlands, but one unlikely to disturb the even tenor of life in this quiet Scottish village. Reading an account in the
of the luxurious furnishing and splendid
appointments of the new hotel and the list of important people who had graced its opening, Dr Cameron looked quizzically at Dr Finlay over the edge of the paper.
‘We’ll be getting some grand new patients one o’ these days, lad. The number o’ lords and ladies mentioned here wad make ye blink. Ay, and there’s important foreign
personages as weel.’
‘They’ll not bother us, sir.’
‘I wouldna be too sure o’ that!’ Dr Cameron teased. ‘Ye’re a verra weel kent man in this part o’ Scotland. Your fame has gone before ye.’
Finlay laughed heartily at this joke against himself, then picked up his hat and his black bag and started on his daily round.
And indeed, as time went by, only fragments of news of the grand hotel filtered into Tannochbrae. It is true that Finlay, taking his usual weekly walk over the Hallerton Moors, would come across
alarming scraps of evidence, such as would-be sportsmen astoundingly attired – some even in the kilt – shepherded with their guns by Tam Douglas, the keeper, and obviously looking for
unsuspecting grouse, not yet in flight.
‘Anybody got shot yet, Tam?’ asked Finlay.
‘That’s what I’m trying to prevent. Although none o’ them could hit a bird if it was sittin’ looking at them, they’re quite capable o’ blowin’
each other to bits. But they’re quite content if I shoot a brace for them to take back to the hotel and brag about.’ Suddenly he looked towards the western sky. ‘Here, lad, take
my gun, there’s a flight coming over.’
‘Thanks, Tam,’ said Finlay. He took the gun and as the high, almost invisible, specks flew overhead he raised it to his shoulder.
‘He’s missed,’ shouted the bogus kiltie. But at that instant two birds dropped out of the sky and fell almost at his feet.
‘Nice work, lad,’ said Tam. ‘I wanted them to see that I am not the only Scot who can bring down a brace.’
‘Who is this good-shooting young gentleman?’ inquired one of the group who had gathered around Finlay.
‘He is Dr Finlay, the young doctor of Tannochbrae. One of the best doctors and best-loved men in the west of Scotland. Now see that your guns are unloaded, shoulder them and quick march
back to the hotel.’
Finlay finished his walk and forgot about the incident, but in the hotel that night he was freely discussed. Men who shoot badly are as a rule excellent talkers and the story of Finlay’s
quick double-barrel action was further enhanced by the revelation of his medical skill. That all this talent should be buried in a little West Highland village was a tasty titbit for the
As for Finlay, he continued with his practice, totally unconscious of the stir he had created. It meant nothing to him that one wet morning more than a week later, while he was still at
breakfast, a long, low Hispano-Suiza limousine drew silently to the front door. He called to Janet. ‘They’ve lost the way. Tell them to drive straight ahead for the main road.’
But when Janet went to the door she quickly returned.
‘It’s two very fine ladies, doctor, asking to see you. Shall I show them to the front parlour?’
‘Na, na, Janet,’ Dr Cameron intervened, ‘let them go to the consulting room.’ Then with a smile to Finlay, ‘I’ll bet you this is hotel stuff, we mustna turn
Finlay finished his breakfast, drank a last cup of coffee, then strode into the consulting room.
The two ladies were seated by the window and one glance assured him that they were of the highest class.
The younger of the two was extremely beautiful, with dark eyes and a pallor that indicated inner tension. The older woman was middle-aged and plainly English. She it was who spoke.
‘Dr Finlay, we have heard so much of your skill as a doctor that my dear friend here wishes to consult you. As she is a Spanish lady with only slight English, she has asked me to speak for
Finlay seated himself at his desk and the English woman drew her chair near to him.
‘Doctor,’ she began, ‘we have heard so much of your skill, my friend would like you to treat her. The truth is, she is suffering from a suppression of the blood and for some
weeks past has missed her period.’
‘Continue,’ said Finlay grimly.
‘We thought, doctor – and I am an experienced woman – that a few strokes of the curette would soon cure this affliction and bring back a healthy flow of blood.’
‘You are well informed, madam. How long have the periods been missed?’
She turned to her friend. ‘Is it five or six weeks dear – or perhaps a little longer?’
Finlay immediately smelled a rat. But he could not jump to conclusions on insufficient evidence.
‘Before taking any action in this matter, I must thoroughly examine the patient.’
‘But is this necessary, doctor? A curettage is so simple.’
‘You seem surprisingly knowledgeable, madam, but I can assure you I would never, but never, perform this operation, as minor as it may be, without a thorough examination of my
patient.’ He paused. ‘If you are looking for someone who will use such an instrument, and most probably a dirty one, on your friend, then
tout de suite
I bid you good morning.
You will find what you are looking for in the shadier quarters of Glasgow or Edinburgh.’
There was silence in the little consulting room. Then with a sigh, came the words, ‘I will not seek further, Edith, I trust this man. It must be he, or,’ she gave a little sob,
‘Come then, madam, I am a busy man. Remove your clothing and lie down on the couch. There is a soft Shetland shawl with which to cover yourself.’
When he saw that he was obeyed he went over to the wash basin, took off his jacket, and thoroughly washed his hands. When he turned back to the couch she had prepared herself and was lying on
‘Do not be afraid, madam, I shall not hurt you.’ He removed the shawl. Yes, she was a superbly beautiful woman, quite young, and of course she was pregnant. The nipples were slightly
pigmented, the breasts were veined and faintly full. He gently passed his hand over her abdomen, then, placing his stethoscope upon it, listened intently. Dear Lord, he thought, as he distinctly
heard the foetal heartbeat.
‘You can dress now, dear lady, and we will then talk together.’
‘What!’ cried the other woman. ‘Aren’t you going to do anything?’
‘Madam,’ said Finlay in a hard voice, ‘you sound like a prostitute yelling after a client who has suddenly tired of her.’ After seating himself at his desk he continued.
‘This young lady, who you tried to trick me into curetting, is at least four, possibly five months pregnant. Her child is alive within her. Now, do you wish to take her to some filthy crook
who will try to terminate her pregnancy and probably kill her and her baby too?’
‘Oh, no, no, doctor,’ wept the woman, ‘I had no idea the case was so far advanced. I wished only to help Isabel, who has foolishly got herself into this condition without the
knowledge of her husband, a distinguished nobleman who is at present Spanish Consul in Rio de Janeiro.’
‘She must make a pitiful confession and be forgiven.’
‘Ah, doctor, you do not know her husband. He is an aristocrat of the old school, a true caballero. He would not forgive her. He would discover her lover and kill him.’
‘Who is this lover?’
‘A worthless Parisian boulevardier who found her alone at Maxims on her way to England. They danced and drank lots of champagne. Then, when she was powerless to resist, the worst took
‘She is a beautiful woman, she will have a beautiful child, wouldn’t that cause her husband to relent?’
‘No, no, the reverse, doctor. He would think, “This little bastard is not mine, it is the evidence and eternal reminder of my wife’s sin. I don’t want it. I hate the
sight of it.” ’
‘And he will blame his wife equally?’
‘Oh, much more, doctor. In Spain, and especially to a man of his position, it is the unforgivable sin.’
Finlay was silent. He saw now that the Englishwoman’s stupid attempt to deceive him was not a true presentation of the case. Finally he said, ‘When does your Spanish friend return to
‘Oh! That is the real difficulty, doctor. For her husband is planning to visit her here in six weeks’ time.’
Finlay reflected for a moment. This was a serious matter, possibly with fatal consequences. He turned to the Spanish lady who, in silence, was studying him with beautiful, tragic, imploring
‘Your friend, dear lady, has almost prejudiced me by her stupid, misleading presentation of your case. But now I realise your true plight, I feel sorry for you in your trouble and want to
help. First answer me these vital questions. On what date did you leave your husband?’
‘On the morning of 1st of March.’
‘On the eve of that day, possibly even in the morning, did your husband . . . make love to you?’
She flushed but answered bravely. ‘Yes, doctor. On that very morning. And indeed on the evening before. He was so sad that I was leaving him.’
Finlay reflected. If conception dated from 1st March the child must now be almost seven months in utero.
‘And your husband proposes to visit you?’
‘In October. Just before the end of the shooting season.’
Again Finlay considered the dates. It would be a near thing but there was no alternative. After a moment, first glancing towards the English woman, he said, ‘There is a possibility that
the baby may be born before your husband arrives. You must write him a good, long letter with the news that you have just seen a doctor who tells you that you conceived on 1st March and that the
baby will be born towards the end of November. You must then suggest that he delay his visit by a few weeks, since you will be in bed surrounded by doctors and nurses and you want everything to be
over before he comes. Make it a very loving letter. Is all that clear?’
‘Yes, doctor. Indeed it is.’
‘One thing more,’ Finlay looked at the Englishwoman. ‘It would be thoroughly impracticable for the confinement to take place in the hotel where, at this season, there will be
all sorts of festivities, bands, dances, all-night disturbances of every variety, and,’ he paused significantly, ‘reporters. It will be necessary for you to move to a house in the
neighbourhood where I may attend you without publicity.’