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“Penis Syringe”

breath-of-snow-coverDr. Fentiman lived in a modest house in the fashionable district—approximately ten houses, all told—of Cross Creek.  The doctor was not in when I called, but his servant, a neat, plain young woman with badly crossed eyes, admitted me and showed me to the consulting room.

This was a surprisingly pleasant room, with large windows and a worn but clean carpet, furnished with a desk, two comfortable chairs, and a chaise longue on which patients might recline for examination. He had a microscope standing on the desk, through which I peered with interest. It was a fine one, though not quite so good as my own, I thought with some complacency.

I was possessed of a strong curiosity about the rest of his equipment, and was debating with myself as to the whether it would be an abuse of the doctor’s hospitality to snoop through his cupboards, when the doctor himself arrived, borne on the wings of brandywine.

He was humming a little tune to himself, and carrying his hat under one arm, his battered medical case in the crook of the other. Seeing me, he dropped these carelessly on the floor and hastened to grasp me by the hand, beaming. He bowed over my hand and pressed moistly fervent lips to my knuckles.

"Mrs. Fraser! My dear lady, I am so pleased to see you! You are in no physical distress, I trust?"

I was in some danger of being overwhelmed by the fumes of alcohol on his breath, but kept as cordial a countenance as possible, unobtrusively wiping my hand upon my gown, whilst assuring him that I was entirely well, as were all the members of my immediate family.

"Oh, splendid, splendid," he said, plumping down quite suddenly upon a stool and giving me an enormous grin, revealing tobacco-stained molars. His oversized wig had slid round sideways, causing him to peer out from under it like a dormouse under a tea-cozy, but he seemed not to have noticed. "Splendid, splendid, splendid."

I took his rather vague wave as invitation and sat down as well. I had brought a small present in order to sweeten the good doctor, and now removed this from my bag—though in all truth, I rather thought he was so well-marinated as to require little more attention before I broached the subject of my errand.

He was, however, thrilled with my gift—a gouged-out eyeball which Young Ian had thoughtfully picked up for me following a fight in Yanceyville, hastily preserved in spirits of wine. Having heard something of Doctor Fentiman’s tastes, I thought he might appreciate it. He did, and went on saying, "Splendid!" at some length.

Eventually trailing off, he blinked, held the jar up to the light, and turned it round, viewing it with great admiration.

"Splendid," he said once more. "It will have a most particularly honorable place in my collection, I do assure you, Mrs. Fraser!"

"You have a collection?" I said, affecting great interest. I’d heard about his collection.

"Oh, yes, oh, yes! Would you care to see it?"

There was no possibility of refusal; he was already up and staggering toward a door at the back of his study. This proved to lead into a large closet, the shelves of which held thirty or forty glass containers, filled with alcoholic spirits—and a number of objects which could indeed be described as "interesting."

These ranged from the merely grotesque to the truly startling. One by one, he brought out a big toe sporting a wart the size and color of a edible mushroom, a preserved tongue which had been split—apparently during the owner’s lifetime, as the two halves were quite healed—a cat with six legs, a grossly malformed brain ("removed from a hanged murderer," as he proudly informed me. "I shouldn’t wonder," I murmured in reply), and several infants, presumably stillborn, and exhibiting assorted atrocious deformities.

"Now, this," he said, lifting down a large glass cylinder in trembling hands, "is quite the prize of my collection. There is a most distinguished physician in Germany, a Herr Doktor Blumenbach, who has a world-renowed collection of skulls, and he has been pursuing me—nay, absolutely pestering me, I assure you!—in an effort to persuade me to part with it."

"This" was the defleshed skulls and spinal column of a double-headed infant. It was, in fact, fascinating. It was also something that would cause any woman of child-bearing age to swear off sex immediately. I thought of Marsali, heavily pregnant with her fourth, and Brianna, and my mouth went dry.

Grisly as the Doctor’s collection was, though, it offered me an excellent opportunity for approaching my true errand.

"That is truly amazing," I said, leaning forward as though to examine the empty orbits of the floating skulls. They were separate and complete, I saw; it was the spinal cord that had divided, so that the skulls hung side by side in the fluid, ghostly white and leaning toward each other so that the rounded heads touched gently, as though sharing some secret, only separating when a movement of the jar caused them momentarily to float apart. "I wonder what causes such a phenomenon?"

"Oh, doubtless some dreadful shock to the mother," Doctor Fentiman assured me. "Women in an expectant condition are fearfully vulnerable to any sort of excitement or distress, you know. They must be kept quite sequestered and confined well away from any injurious influences."

"I daresay," I murmured. "But you know, some malformations—that one, for instance?—I believe are the result of syphilis in the mother."

It was; I recognized the typical malformed jaw, the narrow skull, and the caved-in appearance of the nose. This child had been preserved with flesh intact, and lay curled placidly in its bottle. By the size and lack of hair, it had likely been premature; I hoped for its own sake that it had not been born alive.

"Shiphi—syphilis," the Doctor repeated, swaying a little. "Oh, yes. Yes, yes. I got that particular little creature from a, um…" It occurred to him belatedly that syphilis was perhaps not a topic suitable to discuss with a lady. Murderer’s brains and two-headed children, yes, but not venereal disease. There was a jar in the closet that I was reasonably sure contained the scrotum of a Negro male who had suffered from elephantiasis; I noticed he hadn’t shown me that one.

"From a prostitute?" I inquired sympathetically. "Yes, I suppose such misfortunes must be common among such women."

To my annoyance, he slithered away from the desired topic.

"No, no. In fact—" he darted a look over his shoulder, as though fearing to be overhead, then leaned near me and whispered hoarsely, "I received that specimen from a colleague in London, some years ago. It is reputed to be the child of a foreign nobleman!"

"Oh, dear," I said, taken aback. "How…interesting."

At this rather inconvenient point, the servant came in with tea, and the conversation turned ineluctably toward social trivia. I was afraid that the tea might sober him up before I could inveigle him back in the right direction, but luckily the tea-tray also included a decanter of fine claret, which I dispensed liberally.

I had a fresh try at drawing him back into medical subjects, by leaning over to admire the jars left out on his desk. The one nearest me contained the hand of a person who had had such an advanced case of Dupuytren’s contracture as to render the appendage little more than a knot of constricted fingers. I made a mental note to tell Jamie to come and look at it; Tom Christie would pay no attention to my description, but he’d listen to Jamie. He wouldn’t like it, but he’d listen.

"Isn’t it remarkable, the variety of conditions that the human body displays?" I said.

He shook his head. He had discovered the state of his wig and turned it round; his wizened countenance beneath it looked like that of a solemn chimpanzee—bar the flush of broken capillaries that lit his nose like a beacon.

"Remarkable," he echoed. "And yet, what is quite as remarkable is the resilience a body may show in the face of quite terrible injury."

That was true, but it wasn’t at all the line I wished to work upon.

"Yes, quite. But—"

"I am very sorry not to be able to show you one specimen—it would have been a notable addition to my collection, I assure you! But alas, the gentleman insisted upon taking it with him."

"He—what?" Well, after all, I had in my time presented various children with their appendixes or tonsils in a bottle, following surgery. I supposed it wasn’t entirely unreasonable for someone to wish to retain an amputated limb.

"Yes, most astonishing." He took a meditative sip of claret. "A testicle, it was—I trust you will pardon my mentioning it," he added belatedly. He hesitated for an instant, but in the end, simply couldn’t resist describing the occurrence. "The gentleman had suffered a gunshot to the scrotum, a most unfortunate accident."

"Most," I said, feeling a sudden tingle at the base of my spine. I had been keeping off the claret, in the interests of a clear head, but now poured a tot, feeling it needed. "Did he say how this unfortunate incident transpired?"

"Oh, yes. A hunting accident, he said. But they all say that, don’t they?" He twinkled at me, the end of his nose bright red. "I expect it was a duello.  The work of a jealous rival, perhaps!"

"Perhaps."  It really was good claret, and I felt a little steadier. "You—er—removed the testicle?" He must have, if he had been contemplating adding it to his ghastly collection.

"Yes," he said, and was not too far gone to give a small sympathetic shudder at the memory. "The injury had been seriously neglected; he said it had occurred some days previous. I was obliged to remove the injured testicle, but fortunately preserved the other."

"I’m sure he was pleased about that."  Surely not, I was thinking, It can’t be…and yet… "Did this happen quite recently?"

"Mmm, yes." He tilted back in his chair, eyes crossing slightly with the effort of recall. "It was in the spring of last year—May? Perhaps May."

"Was the gentleman named Bonnet, by chance?"  was surprised that my voice sounded quite casual. "I believe I had heard that a Stephen Bonnet was involved in some such…accident."

"Well, you know, he would not give his name. Often patients will not, if the injury is one that might cause public embarrassment. I do not insist in such cases."

"But you do remember him." I found that I was sitting on the edge of my chair, claret cup clenched in my fist. With a little effort, I set it down.

"Mm-hmm." Damn, he was getting sleepy; I could see his lids begin to droop. "A tall gentleman, well-dressed. He had a…a most beautiful horse…"

"A bit more tea, Doctor Fentiman?" I urged a fresh cup upon him, willing him to stay awake. "Do tell me more about it. The surgery must have been quite delicate?"

In fact, men never like to hear that the removal of testicles is a simple matter, but it is. Though I would admit that the fact of the patient’s being conscious during the whole procedure had likely added to the difficulty.

Fentiman regained a bit of his animation, telling me about it.

"…and the ball had gone straight through the testicle; it had left the most perfect hole…You could look quite through it, I assure you." Plainly he regretted the loss of this interesting specimen, and it was with some difficulty that I got him to tell me what had become of the gentleman to whom it belonged.

"Well, that was odd. It was the horse, you see…" he said vaguely.  "Lovely animal…long hair, like a woman’s, so unusual…"

A Friesian horse. The Doctor had recalled that the planter Philip Wylie was fond of such horses, and had said as much to his patient, suggesting that as the man had no money, he might think of selling his animal to Wylie, as he would not be capable of riding comfortably for some time, in any case. The man had agreed to this, and had requested the Doctor to make inquiry of Wylie, who was in town for the Court Sessions.

Doctor Fentiman had obligingly gone out to do so, leaving his patient cozily tucked up on the chaise with a draft of laudanum.

Philip Wylie had professed himself most interested in the horse ("Yes, I’ll wager he was," I said, but the Doctor didn’t notice), and had hastened round to see it. The horse was present, but the patient was not, having absconded on foot in the doctor’s absence—taking with him half a dozen silver spoons, an enameled snuff-box, the bottle of laudanum, and six shillings, which happened to be all the money the Doctor had in the house.

"I cannot imagine how he managed it," Fentiman said, eyes quite round at the thought. "In such condition!" To his credit, he appeared more distressed at the notion of his patient’s condition than his own loss. He was a terrible drunkard, Fentiman, I thought; I’d never seen him completely sober—but not a bad doctor.

"Still," he added philosophically, "all’s well as ends well, is it not, my dear lady?"

By which he meant that Philip Wylie had purchased the horse from him for a price sufficient to more than compensate for his losses, and leave him with a tidy profit.

"Quite," I said, wondering just how Jamie would take this news. He had won the stallion—for it must of course be Lucas—from Philip Wylie in the course of an acrimonious card-game at River Run, only to have the horse stolen by Stephen Bonnet a few hours later.

On the whole, I expected that Jamie would be pleased that the stallion was back in good hands, even if they weren’t his. As for the news about Bonnet…"A bad penny always turns up," had been his cynical opinion, expressed when Bonnet’s body had failed to be discovered after Brianna had shot him last May.

Fentiman was openly yawning by now. He blinked, eyes watering, patted about his person in search of a handkerchief, then bent to rummage in his case, which he had dropped on the floor near his chair.

I had pulled out my own handkerchief and leaned across to hand it to him, when I saw them in the open case.

"What are those?" I asked, pointing. I could see what they were, of course; what I wanted to know was where he’d got them. They were syringes, two of them, lovely little syringes, made of brass. Each one was composed of two bits: a plunger with curled handles, and a cylindrical barrel, drawn out at the narrowed end into a very long, blunt-tipped needle.

"I—why—that is…ah…" He was terribly taken aback, and stammered like a schoolboy caught sneaking cigarettes behind the toilets. Then something occurred to him, and he relaxed.

"Ears," he declared, in ringing tones. "For cleansing ears. Yes, that is what they are, indubitably. Ear-clysters!"

"Oh, are they really?" I picked one up; he tried to stop me, but his reflexes were delayed, and he succeeded only in grabbing at the ruffle of my sleeve.

"How ingenious," I said, working the plunger. It was a little stiff, but not bad at all—particularly not when the alternative was a makeshift hypodermic composed of a leather tube with a rattlesnake’s fang attached. Of course a blunt tip wouldn’t do, but it would be a simple matter to cut it to a sharp angle. "Where did you get them? I should like very much to order one myself."

He stared at me in abject horror, jaw agape.

"I—er—I really do not think…" he protested feebly. Just then, in a perfect miracle of bad timing, his housemaid appeared in the doorway.

"Mr. Brennan’s come; it’s his wife’s time," she said briefly.

"Oh!" Doctor Fentiman leapt to his feet, slammed shut his case and snatched it up.

"My apologies, dear Mrs. Fraser…must go…matter of great urgency—so pleasant to have seen you!" He rushed out, case clutched to his bosom, stepping on his hat in his haste.

The maid picked up the crushed chapeau with an air of resignation, and punched it indifferently back into shape.

"Will you be wanting to leave now, Ma’am?" she inquired, with an intonation making it clear that I ought to be leaving, whether I wanted to or not.

"I will," I said, rising. "But tell me—" I held out the brass syringe on the palm of my hand, "do you know what this is, and where Doctor Fentiman got it?"

It was difficult to tell in which direction she was looking, but she bent her head as though to examine it, with no more interest than had it been a two-day old smelt offered her for sale in the market.

"Oh, that. Aye, Ma’am, it’s a penis syringe. I b’lieve he had it sent him from Philadelphia."

"A, um, penis syringe. I see," I said, blinking a little.

"Yes, Ma’am. It’s for treating of the drip, or the clap. The Doctor does a deal of business for the men what goes to Mrs. Silvie’s."

I took a deep breath.

"Mrs. Silvie’s. Ah. And would you know where Mrs. Silvie’s…establishment is?"

"Behind Silas Jameson’s ordinary," she replied, giving me for the first time a faintly curious look, as though wondering what sort of blockhead didn’t know that.  "Will you be needing anything else, Ma’am?"

"Oh, no," I said. "That will do nicely, thank you!" I made to hand her back the penis syringe, but then was struck by impulse. The doctor had two, after all.

"Give you a shilling for it," I said, meeting the eye that seemed most likely to be pointed in my direction.

"Done," she said promptly. "Mr. Bogues the apothecary has the wash for it."

[end section]

In which, Jamie has been having a Hard Day, including an argument with the local Committee of Safety that nearly got him tarred and feathered.  His day has not been improved by Claire’s account of her visit to Doctor Fentiman:

"Ye do what with it?" Jamie had flinched slightly during my recounting of the tale of Stephen Bonnet’s testicle. When I reached a description of the penis syringes, he crossed his legs involuntarily.

"Well, you work the needle-like bit down in, of course, and then flush a solution of something like mercuric chloride through the urethra, I suppose."

"Through the, er…"

"Do you want me to show you?" I inquired.

"No." He leaned forward and planted his elbows firmly on his knees. "D’ye suppose it burns much?"

"I can’t think it’s at all pleasant."

He shuddered briefly.

"No, I shouldna think so."

"I don’t think it’s really effective, either," I added thoughtfully. "Pity to go through something like that, and not be cured. Don’t you think?"

He was watching me with the apprehensive air of a man who has just realized that the suspicious-looking parcel sitting next to him is ticking.

"What—" he began, and I hurried to finish.

"So you won’t mind going round to Mrs. Sylvie’s and making the arrangements for me to treat the girls, will you?"

"Who is Mrs. Sylvie?" he asked suspiciously.

"The owner of the local brothel," I said, taking a deep breath. "Dr. Fentiman’s maid told me about her. Now, I realize that there might be more than one brothel in town, but I think that Mrs. Sylvie must certainly know the competition, if there is any, so she can tell you—"

Jamie drew a hand down over his face, pulling down his lower eyelids so that the bloodshot appearance of his eyes was particularly emphasized.

"A brothel," he repeated. "Ye want me to go to a brothel."

"Well, I’ll go with you if you like, of course," I said. "Though I think you might manage better alone. I’d do it myself," I added, with some asperity, "but I think they might not pay any attention to me."

He closed one eye, regarding me through the other, which looked as though it had been sandpapered.

"Oh, I rather think they would," he said. "So this is what ye had in mind when ye lured me to town, is it?" He sounded a trifle bitter.

"Well…yes," I admitted. "Though I really do need the chlorate of lime.  Besides," I added logically, "if we hadn’t come, you wouldn’t have found out about Bonnet. Or Lucas, for that matter."

He said something in Gaelic which I interpreted roughly as an indication that he could have lived quite happily in ignorance of either party.

"Besides, you’re quite accustomed to brothels," I pointed out. "You had a room in one, in Edinburgh!"

"Aye, I did," he agreed. "But I wasna marrit, then—or rather I was, but I—aye, well, I mean it quite suited me, at the time, to have folk think that I—" He broke off and looked at me pleadingly. "Sassenach, d’ye honestly want everyone in Cross Creek to think that I—"

"Well, they won’t think that if I go with you, will they?"

"Oh, God."

At this point, he dropped his head into his hands and massaged his scalp vigorously, presumably under the impression that this would help him figure out some means of thwarting me.

"Where is your sense of compassion for your fellow man?" I demanded. "You wouldn’t want some hapless fellow to be facing a session with Dr. Fentiman’s syringe, just because you—"

"As long as I’m no required to face it myself," he assured me, raising his head, "my fellow man is welcome to the wages of sin, and serve him just right, too."

"Well, I’m rather inclined to agree," I admitted. "But it isn’t only them.  It’s the women. Not just the whores; what about all the wives—and the children—of the men who get infected? You can’t let all of them die of the pox, if they can be saved, surely?"

He had by this time assumed the aspect of a hunted animal, and this line of reasoning did not improve it.

"But—the penicillin didna work on wee Manfred," he pointed out.  "What if it doesna work on the whores?"

"It’s a possibility," I admitted. "But between trying something that might not work—and not trying at all…" Seeing him still looking squiggle-eyed, I dropped the appeal to reason and resorted to my best weapon.

"What about Young Ian?"

"What about him?" he replied warily, but I could see that my words had caused an instant vision to spring up in his mind. Ian was not a stranger to brothels—thanks to Jamie, inadvertent and involuntary as the introduction had been.

"He’s a good lad, Ian," he said, stoutly. "He wouldna…"

"He might," I said. "And you know it."

I had no idea of the shape of Young Ian’s private life—if he had one. But he was twenty years old, unattached, and so far as I could see, a completely healthy young male of the species. Hence…

I could Jamie coming reluctantly to the same conclusions.  He had been a virgin when I married him, at the age of twenty-three. Young Ian, owing to factors beyond everyone’s control, had been introduced to the ways of the flesh at a substantially earlier age. And that particular innocence could not be regained.

"Mmphm," he said.

He picked up the towel, rubbed his hair ferociously with it, then flung it aside, and gathered back the thick, damp tail, reaching for a thong to bind it.

"If it were done when ’tis done, ’twere well it were done quickly," I said, watching with approval. "I think I’d best come, too, though. Let me fetch my box."

He made no response to this, merely setting grimly about the task of making himself presentable. Luckily he hadn’t been wearing his coat or waistcoat during the contretemps in the street, so was able to cover the worst of the damage to his shirt.

"Sassenach," he said, and I turned to find him regarding me with a bloodshot glint.


"Ye’ll pay for this."

[end section]

Copyright © 2005 Diana Gabaldon.

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