Doctor in the house by R. Gordon (an extract)
At noon we arrived in the examination building. The same number of
candidates were there, but they were a subdued, muttering crowd, like
the supporters of a home team who had just been beaten in a cup tie.
We pushed our way into the large hall on the groung floor. It was packed
full with anxious students. On the side of the hall facing us was the
foot of a marble staircase. To the left of the staircase was a plain
open door, over which had been recently pinned a large black and white
card saying EXIT. To the night was a clock, which stood at a few minutes
We had heard exactly what would happen. At midday precisely the
Secretary of the Committee would descend the stairs and take his place
flanked by two uniformed porters, on the lowermost step. Under his arm
would be a thick, leather-covered book containing the results. One of
the porters would carry a list of the candidates' numbers and call them
out, one after the other. The candidates would step up closely to the
Secretary, who would say simply "Pass" or "Failed". Successful men would
go upstairs to receive the congratulations and handshakes of the
examiners and failures would slink miserably out of the exit to seek the
opiate of oblivion.
"One thing, it's quick", Benskin muttered nervously. "Like the drop,"
One minute to twelve. The room had suddenly come to a frightful,
unexpected silence and stillness, like an unexploded bomb A clock tinged
twelve in the distance. My palms were as wet as .sponges. Someone
coughed, and I expected the windows to rattle. With slow scraping feet
that could be heard before they appeared the Secretary and the porters
came slowly down the stairs.
They took up their positions; the leather book was opened. The elder
porter raised his voice.
"Number two hundred and nine," he began. "Number thirty seven. Number
one hundred and fifty."
The tension in the room broke as the students shuffled to the front and
lined up before the staircase. The numbers were not called in order, and
the candidates strained to hear their own over the rumble of
conversation and scraping of feet that rose from the assembly.
"Number one hundred and sixty one," continued the porter. "Number three
hundred and two. Number three hundred and six."
Grimsdyke punched me hard in the ribs.
"Go on," he hissed. It's you!"
I jumped, and struggled my way to the front of the restless crowd. My
pulse shot high in my ears. My face was burning hot and I felt my
stomach had been suddenly plucked from my body.
I lined up in the short queue by the stairs. My mind was empty and numb,
I scared at the red neck of the man in front of me, with its rim of blue
collar above his coat, and studied it with foolish intensity. Suddenly I
found myself on top of the Secretary.
"Number three on six?" the Secretary whispered, without looking up from
the book. "R. Gordon?"
"Yes," I croaked.
The world stood still. The traffic stopped, the plants ceased growing,
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