Account Rendered

Goya attended by doctor arrieta 1820

William Fryer Harvey (1885-1937) is a member of that distinguished group, doctors who became writers, in such company as Arthur Conan Doyle, Weir Mitchell, and David H. Keller. He’s probably best known for the uber-creepy tale “The Beast With Five Fingers”, and the disquieting “August Heat,” but he wrote a lot of other macabre stories, both supernatural and otherwise. His style is brisk, with a dry humor; I like him a lot. If you’ve never read him before — and too many people haven’t — you should.

Today’s winter tale, “Account Rendered,” is part of his series Twelve Strange Tales, or as I like to think of it, the “Nurse Wilkie series,” which was published posthumously in 1951 as part of the collection The Arm of Mrs. Egan and other stories. The stories record the various macabre experiences that the nurse narrator (identified in a few of the stories as Nurse Wilkie) experiences in the course of her professional life. Most of the stories are crime stories, but there are a few supernatural tales as well, including this one.

Nurses at the time of Harvey’s medical practice seem to have occupied a limbo space between servant and gentlewoman (much like governesses and tutors, I imagine), and as members of an (at the time) all-female profession were largely undervalued. Dr. Harvey seems to have paid attention to his nurses, as people as well as colleagues; he voices Wilkie in a really empathetic and convincing way. He must have been a good doctor to work with (and to hear Wilkie talk, not all of them were).

In “Account Rendered,” our nurse and her uncle, a physician, meet a man with a strange desire: to be anesthetized on a certain December date, at midnight. And he’s willing to pay a lot for it. But why?

As the clock struck one Mr. Tolson stirred uneasily and began to mutter to himself. A little later he opened his eyes.

“Where am I?” he asked. “Where has he gone to?”

“Dr. Parkinson has been called out to a case,” I replied. “He will be back very soon.”

“It’s all over then,” he said. “it’s all safely over,” and he closed his eyes with a weary sigh of satisfaction….

Needless to say, this evening was not the last time that the narrator hears about Mr. Tolson.

You can read “Account Rendered” here.

Enjoy.


  • The image is Goya Attended by Doctor Arrieta by Francisco Goya, 1820. Source: WikiArt
  • Wordsworth has a good, inexpensive collection of Harvey’s short stories called The Beast With Five Fingers. I recommend it.
  • The list of all the winter tales I’ve blogged about previously is here.

Kitaro and the Beast with Five Fingers

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Ge Ge no Kitaro is quite possibly the single most famous Japanese manga series you’ve never heard of, even if you happen to be a manga fan.

— Matt Alt, from the introduction to Drawn and Quarterly’s new Kitaro collection

Except for Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work and the series Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (written by Eiji Ōtsuka and drawn by Housui Yamazaki), I don’t read manga; nor am I an expert on Japanese folklore. So I confess, I hadn’t heard of Kitaro or of his creator Shigeru Mizuki until recently. But when I found out that Mizuki is a cultural anthropologist as well as being the creator of one of the most enduring yokai (supernatural being, shape-shifter, “spirit monster”) characters in Japanese popular culture, I was sold. After all, one of the reasons that Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service resonates with me so much is because Ōtsuka is also an anthropologist and folklorist. The way he weaves traditional folkloric elements into his stories, with a twist, really appeals to me — for example, a story about Japanese ghost marriages where the ghosts of the deceased grooms want living brides (who don’t stay that way long).

So with that in mind, a series about a little yokai boy who uses his supernatural powers to help humans, written by an author who is an expert on Japanese folklore (and folklore in general) seemed right up my alley. Plus, Mr. Mizuki just sounds fascinating. And now the new Kitaro collection (which showcases tales from 1967-1969) is here with me, and NonNonBa and Onwards Towards Our Noble Deaths (both memoir works) are on my list.

The first two stories in the collection were a bit disappointing. They were too sketchy, the narrative jumped along too abruptly. They felt like outlines of stories that he never got around to writing. But the third story, “Cruise to Hell”, was great, and I’ve hit my groove with the collection. Plus, I did get a little unexpected treat from the first story, “The Hand”, which is the reason for this post… .

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