The Black Veil – 1836 – a gothic short story
|This was first published in 1836 in The Monthly Magazine. Dickens received nothing for the work.|
It tells the story of a young doctor’s first patient.
At around year 1800, or thereabouts, a young doctor is sitting in his surgery, it is recently opened and has yet to greet a patient. Day after day he waited but no patient presented. He dreams of Rose and this drives him to continue.
Until one wintry day a woman arrived. She was dressed in mourning costume with a big black shawl and veil. In this way her identity is completely hidden, though she is clearly very tall. He can feel her eyes on him, watching him, but at first she doesn’t speak.
The young doctor sent the lad, Tom, from the room and tried to strike up a rapport. It is difficult, he wonders if she might be a local madwoman. She eventually confirms that she is ill, mentally ill. But that she is there on behalf of another, one who’s condition is grave. The doctor says he will attend the person at once. But the woman says no, it would be useless.
The doctor states that there is inconsistency in what she says, and that if the person dies then the responsibility will lie with her. Before she leaves she gives vague directions as to where the doctor can find them tomorrow, at an obscure part of Walworth, she then makes her exit.
He spends time trying to think through this mysterious woman’s situation and particularly what he will find when he meets the other person. He concludes she must be disordered.
Where he has been directed is a poor part of Walworth, he finally gets to a detached house. He uses the knocker rather reluctantly.
He could hear whispering, then he heard someone aproach and release the door-chain. A tall pale man opens the door and asks him in and shows him to a room.
The room was cold, damp and silent, the broken window looked out onto a patch of ground almost covered with water. The doctor sat and prepared for his first professional call.
He listened as he heard a vehicle arrive, and the sound of several men carrying something heavy into the houseand upstairs. Then the previous silence was restored.
Time passed and he became restless, but then the woman presented at the door, dressed as she had been last night. She led the way upstairs. She knelt beside a bed that held a human form beneath coverings. She held the hand of the man who lay there with his head bandaged.
The doctor pressed past her and took the hand, and stated the man was dead. She insisted he try to save him. The doctor declared it was impossible.
He insisted the curtains were drawn, but the woman wants them closed. He insists that he must see the body properly because the man had no natural death, he suspected violence. The woman threw off her veil, to reveal a ‘woman about fifty, who hadonce been handsome’.
She confirms that there has been violence, that he has been mudered, He looks more closely and sees a mark around the neck. He suggests he is one of the men hanged that very morning. She confirms it. She idenitifies him as her son.
Her son had fallen into a criminal career and this had resulted in his being convicted and hanged, his mother had become insane as a result. The doctor, despite gaining many honours in his profession, would commit to daily visits to the woman until her death.