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By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Short stories Detective and mystery stories
My Friend The Murderer
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sir Conan Doyle, Arthur)
“Number 481 is no better, doctor,” said the head—warder, in a slightly reproachful accent, looking in round the corner of my door.
“Confound 481” I responded from behind the pages of the Australian Sketcher.
“And 61 says his tubes are paining him. Couldn’t you do anything for him?”
“He is a walking drug—shop,” said I. “He has the whole British pharmacopaae inside him. I believe his tubes are as sound as yours are.”
“Then there’s 7 and 108, they are chronic,” continued the warder, glancing down a blue slip of paper. “And 28 knocked off work yesterday–said lifting things gave him a stitch in the side. I want you to have a look at him, if you don’t mind, doctor. There’s 81, too–him that killed John Adamson in the Corinthian brig–he’s been carrying on awful in the night, shrieking and yelling, he has, and no stopping him either.”
“All right, I’ll have a look at him afterward,” I said, tossing my paper carelessly aside, and pouring myself out a cup of coffee. “Nothing else to report, I suppose, warder?”
The official protruded his head a little further into the room. “Beg pardon, doctor,” he said, in a confidential tone, “but I notice as 82 has a bit of a cold, and it would be a good excuse for you to visit him and have a chat, maybe.”
The cup of coffee was arrested half—way to my lips as I stared in amazement at the man’s serious face.
“An excuse?” I said. “An excuse? What the deuce are you talking about, McPherson? You see me trudging about all day at my practise, when I’m not looking after the prisoners, and coming back every night as tired as a dog, and you talk about finding an excuse for doing more work.”
“You’d like it, doctor,” said Warder McPherson, insinuating one of his shoulders into the room. “That man’s story’s worth listening to if you could get him to tell it, though he’s not what you’d call free in his speech. Maybe you don’t know who 82 is?”
“No, I don’t, and I don’t care either,” I answered, in the conviction that some local ruffian was about to be foisted upon me as a celebrity.
“He’s Maloney,” said the warder, “him that turned Queen’s evidence after the murders at Bluemansdyke.”
“You don’t say so?” I ejaculated, laying down my cup in astonishment. I had heard of this ghastly series of murders, and read an account of them in a London magazine long before setting foot in the colony. I remembered that the atrocities committed had thrown the Burke and Hare crimes completely into the shade, and that one of the most villainous of the gang had saved his own skin by betraying his companions. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, it’s him right enough. Just you draw him out a bit, and he’ll astonish you. He’s a man to know, is Maloney; that’s to say, in moderation;” and the head grinned, bobbed, and disappeared, leaving me to finish my breakfast and ruminate over what I had heard.
The surgeonship of an Australian prison is not an enviable position. It may be endurable in Melbourne or Sydney, but the little town of Perth has few attractions to recommend it, and those few had been long exhausted. The climate was detestable, and the society far from congenial. Sheep and cattle were the staple support of the community; and their prices, breeding, and diseases the principal topic of conversation. Now as I, being an outsider, possessed neither the one nor the other, and was utterly callous to the new “dip” and the “rot” and other kindred topics, I found myself in a state of mental isolation, and was ready to hail anything which might relieve the monotony of my existence. Maloney, the murderer, had at least some distinctiveness and individuality in his character, and might act as a tonic to a mind sick of the commonplaces of existence. I determined that I should follow the warder’s advice, and take the excuse for making his acquaintance. When, therefore, I went upon my usual matutinal round, I turned the lock of the door which bore the convict’s number upon it, and walked into the cell.
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