Chapter 4Walking somewhat slowly by reason of his concentration, the boy - an ancient man in some phases of thought, much younger than his years in others - was overtaken by a light-footed pedestrian, whom, notwithstanding the gloom, he could perceive to be wearing an extraordinarily tall hat, a swallow-tailed coat, and a watch-chain that danced madly and threw around scintillations of sky-light as its owner swung along upon a pair of thin legs and noiseless boots. Jude, beginning to feel lonely, endeavoured to keep up with him.
`Well, my man! I'm in a hurry, so you'll have to walk pretty fast if you keep alongside of me. Do you know who I am?'
`Yes, I think. Physician Vilbert?'
`Ah - l'm known everywhere, I see! That comes of being a public benefactor.'
Vilbert was an itinerant quack-doctor, well known to the rustic population, and absolutely unknown to anybody else, as he, indeed, took care to be, to avoid inconvenient investigations. Cottagers formed his only patients, and his Wessex-wide repute was among them alone. His position was humbler and his field more obscure than those of the quacks with capital and an organized system of advertising. He was, in fact, a survival. The distances he traversed on foot were enormous, and extended nearly the whole length and breadth of Wessex. Jude had one day seen him selling a pot of coloured lard to an old woman as a certain cure for a bad leg, the woman arranging to pay a guinea, in instalments of a shilling a fortnight, for the precious salve, which, according to the physician, could only be obtained from a particular animal which grazed on Mount Sinai, and was to be captured only at great risk to life and limb. Jude, though he already had his doubts about this gentleman's medicines, felt him to be unquestionably a travelled personage, and one who might be a trustworthy source of information on matters not strictly professional.
`I s'pose you've been to Christminster, Physician?'
`I have - many times,' replied the long thin man. `That's one of my centres.'
`It's a wonderful city for scholarship and religion?'
`You'd say so, my boy, if you'd seen it. Why, the very sons of the old women who do the washing of the colleges can talk in Latin - not good Latin, that I admit, as a critic: dog-Latin - cat-Latin, as we used to call it in my undergraduate days.'
`Well - that's more for the men who are in training for bishops, that they may be able to read the New Testament in the original.'
`I want to learn Latin and Greek myself.'
`A lofty desire. You must get a grammar of each tongue.'
`I mean to go to Christminster some day.'
`Whenever you do, you say that Physician Vilbert is the only proprietor of those celebrated pills that infallibly cure all disorders of the alimentary system, as well as asthma and shortness of breath. Two and threepence a box - specially licensed by the government stamp.'
`Can you get me the grammars if I promise to say it hereabout?'
`I'll sell you mine with pleasure - those I used as a student.'
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