School: James Gillespie’s High School, Edinburgh
Bath, December 1 1905
A group of friends and relatives had gathered for dinner at an elegant Bath townhouse in one of the salubrious stone crescents in Bath town. The diners were all there at the invitation of Lady Margaret Borthwick, daughter of the late 23rd Earl of Hertford. Among the guests were her nephew Lord Rollo Hamilton, son of the living Marquis of Aberdeen. Rollo was a journalist in London but was spending the winter in Bath with his friend and god-brother Hugh Muirhead, son of the Scottish landowner Sir Roderick Muirhead. The two chums had huddled into Hugh's horseless carriage and had driven through the snow bundled up in their overcoats to protect their white tie and starched shirts.
The streets were dark and the snow was falling thick and fast. The two men looked resplendent, their top hats skimming the roof of the car. Hugh popped open the motor window and took out a silver and enamel cigarette case and took one out and lit it with a long match.
"Who's coming tonight Rollo?" asked Hugh, punctuated by puffs on his Turkish cigarette.
"That self-made baronet and his wife, Charles Armstrong, his cousin Luella, second cousin actually and Andrew Mcnairn - he always seems so alive and young like a breath of fresh air.”
The car, a black car, long and boxy, arrived outside the townhouse, they both got out of the motor and made the short journey up the steps to the glossy black door. Hugh pulled up the knocker eager to join the fun they could hear inside.
"Hallo!" bellowed Andrew Mcnairn.
The pair ran up the steps, had a brief moment of surprise, then greeted Andrew.
"Evening old chap, how are you?" said Rollo.
"We heard you'd gone rogue from the Guards," said Hugh.
"Yes I didn't feel I was cut out to be a brigadier in the army, so I packed it in, parents furious of course, won't be though when I make a fortune with my new stethoscope business."
Hugh knocked. The colossal black door opened and a man who looked about sixty but was probably younger answered the door. The aged man ushered them into the drawing room.
"Rollo!" Lady Margaret zealously screamed in delight.
Lady Margaret, an old-ish spinster, was as wise as an owl but infinitely better connected, put down her neat whisky and glided over in her silvery white silk gown that would not be strenuous to compare to Miss Havisham.
"How are you?" said Lady Margaret.
"I'm very well thankyou, Aunt Margaret," replied Rollo.
"Your parents - are they well?" quizzed Lady Margaret.
"They're good, very good," said Rollo.
"Shall we go in?" Lady Margaret said.
And so they went in two by two and sat down at the table. There were three foot-tall candelabra guarding the table and footed dishes of flowers and fruits. The glasses ensconced in candlelight, lit up the table like Mr Edison’s lightbulb. The first course, a beef consommé, was brought through and placed in front of the guests. Rollo brought the soup spoon up to his mouth. Andrew slurped his consommé down. He was enjoying every spoonful. Suddenly Andrew dropped his spoon, the sound of the silver hitting the table cut through the conversation like a knife through flesh. Andrew started grasping at his throat. His neighbour at the table undid his bow tie and attempted to undo the studs on his shirt. They all stared aghast at their friend and fellow diner. Lady Margaret stood up and grabbed Rollo by the arm. They rushed out into the hall.
"Please go to the doctor’s house, two streets up, number 56 Fenton Crescent".
Rollo grabbed his overcoat and hat. He opened the door and jumped down the three or four icy steps and onto the snowy pavements. He walked past to the end house and ran up the hill streets to the doctor’s street and counted along the houses and found number 56 exactly where you'd expect it to be. He knocked on the door but was interrupted in his task by a stout little man in his motor car parked outside the front door of the doctors’ house.
"Are you the Doctor? Doctor Rowntree?" said Rollo in a hasty tone.
"Yes," said the doctor.
"I need your help desperately, Doctor," said Rollo, panicked to the core.
"Get in," said the doctor. He leant over and opened the passenger door.
Rollo stepped in, not wanting to lose a second.
"18 Stafford Crescent please, Lady Margaret Borthwick's house".
"Of course," said Dr Rowntree in a most curious manner.
Rollo could now see the man clearly. He was small and barrel shaped, he had auburn hair turning white and glasses that were little and round and much to small for his face. They arrived at the house and both left by their respective doors. The decrepit butler was waiting for them at the gargantuan door. The pair rushed past him.
Lady Margaret was waiting in the vestibule.
"He's up in the Armstrong bedroom, Rollo you know the way" said Lady Margaret.
Rollo led the doctor up the stair and went through the third door. The room, decorated in the chinoiserie style, had large portraits lining the walls, and was lit daintily by a couple of candles by the four poster, that had thick damask curtains. The doctor shoved past and went round the bed. The doctor sat down on a chair by the bed. Andrew Mcnairn looked bilious and pale; he had a cloth on his head and was being given some liquid from a crystal tumbler with a wedge of lemon in it. Dr Rowntree's small spectacles were glinting in the candlelight.
"I think I would like everyone to leave the room so I can treat Mr Mcnairn," said Dr Rowntree.
"How did you know his name?" said Rollo, confused.
"Oh, a maid must have told me," said Dr Rowntree, clearly ruffled. "Now please all leave," he said in a barking tone. Everyone in the room left and the last person shut the door.
"Now Mr Mcnairn," said the doctor, the fire building up in his eyes, "how's the stethoscope business going? Well, is it? Oh wait yes, you lost three thousand pounds of my dearest mother’s money, and tried to dodge the debt collectors. That was until I heard about your little dinner plans round the corner from my house. All it took was for me to sneak in and put a little something in your soup, and slip out the servants’ entrance in time for your little friend Rollo's visit.”
Andrew had fear in his eyes but was unable to say anything and could barely move.
"That powder in your soup brought you into this graciously decorated bedroom, all alone with me, but now I must finish you off," said the doctor.
The doctor reached for an agate set signet ring on his left hand and undid a small catch on it. There was some white powder in the little gold ring and the doctor poured it into the tumbler by Andrew’s bed and swirled it with the wedge of lemon.
"Open wide," said Doctor Rowntree.
Andrew was unable to move and could not resist when the doctor started pouring the liquid through the left nostril. There was a stinging sound and then it was done.
"In approximately thirty minutes you will be dead after a slow and painful time," said
Doctor Rowntree. He rang the bell and left the room locking it behind him. A housemaid had made her way up the stair and was met by Mr Rowntree.
"Andrew needs to sleep, please don't go near him for a couple of hours," Doctor Rowntree said to the maid in an almost giddy way.
Dr Rowntree then went down the stair, said his oh-so-polite goodbyes and left. Everyone had left except Rollo and Hugh, and of course Mr Mcnairn as Dr Rowntree had taken care of that. The hours past... they played bridge and backgammon for an hour and a half.
"We must go up and see him now," said Hugh, anxious.
The trio, consisting of Lord Rollo Hamilton, Lady Margaret Borthwick and Hugh Muirhead walked up the stair and halted outside the door. Lady Margaret knocked thrice and waited, nothing.
"Andrew old chap," said Rollo, pushing Margaret out of the way. Rollo tried the handle it was locked.
"Damn," said Hugh clearly anxious.
Lady Margaret went over to a flower vase on a table near by removed a set of keys from inside the vase. She unlocked the door and opened it with great trepidation. They all entered one by one and gasped.
Andrew Mcnairn, their friend, was lying on the bed with a scarlet trail tracing the lines of his face as blood and mucus haemorrhaged out of his nose and mouth. Lady Margaret screamed and screamed and cried and cried. Hugh was in shock and Rollo rang the police. Then he raced around and rang the bell of Dr Rowntree’s house. He rang and rang but nobody came.
And that was the story of the man the papers came to call ‘Dr Death’ and Andrew Mcnairn,