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A surfeit of doctors and a lack of common sense!
on 11 May 2014
I love all of Patricia Finney's novels about Sir Robert Carey and his vicissitudes, so fell on this short story with a cry of glee. The Careys are now part of the court of King James I and VI and Queen Anne, and would appear to have achieved a (probably temporary) settlement of their - or, rather, his - debts, thanks to selling a castle! However, rumours from further north took Sir Robert off to visit the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, and Governor to the 4 year old Prince Charles, Duke of York. All is far from well with the child, who does not speak, cannot walk, has problems eating, and is thought likely to die. Needless to say, the Careys, with their love of children, and ability to set aside the possible threat to any security they have just found, have soon taken over the care of the sickly child, and one of Elizabeth's first triumphs is to get Charles out of the perpetual attendance of the 4 doctors who contradict each other, insist on extreme treatments, and, no doubt, are all too happy with the fees they receive. Then suddenly a puppy gets into the little boy's chamber, chews on everything in sight, and later dies...
The story is never slow, and I am full of admiration for the author's ability to draw the reader into the times, setting, and customs of the 17th Century without any detailed descriptions, but rather by making everything matter-of-fact, so that having to dress Philly to meet the Queen, the clothing is simply listed as items Elizabeth swiftly tosses over her daughter's head in the panic to be ready for the summons. Likewise, the Royal Progress and its discomforts are experienced, right down to the massive numbers accompanying the Household, and the very cramped conditions under which they all live in the various houses visited. I loved the idea that, amongst the Duke of York's personal Household, he had two cradle-rockers (females, not wooden fitments!).
The story is a simple one on the surface, but the identification of the would-be murderer is very cleverly plotted, and the denouement is most satisfactory. What really sends a shiver down the spine are the final few paragraphs, where nothing is stated, but the enormity of the conclusion is devastating. Read it and see - it's worth every penny - and there are only a couple of typos which have been missed.