‘Order! Order!‘ Dr. Farlingsworth tapped his fist loudly upon on the stout dissection table. Squinting against the dim lantern-light, he perceived that the rabble of medical students in the surrounding seats were still jostling, joshing and scuffling merrily.
‘What, oh what, would noble Asclepius think of this horde of roisterers I see before me?‘ He bellowed. This only served to draw a few hearty laughs from the depths of the rabble.
In an instant, the good doctor felt like an actor on a Shakespearean stage, surrounded by an audience of churls, drunkards and orange-sellers. An impression hammered further home by his memory of catching young Wilkinson sneaking in before the dissection to proclaim “Friends! Romans! Countrymen!” to his amused cohorts. At least, Farlingsworth noted with some relief, the impetuous fellow had refrained from using the cloth covering the specimen as an improvised toga.
Of course, the specimen! With a showman’s grace, Dr. Farlingsworth doddered over to the other side of the table and unveiled the specimen with a flourish. The noise continued. Alas, he surmised, these students were fresh enough to make merry in the halls of learning but seasoned enough not to fall silent at the sight of a body.
Above the clamourous rabble, a voice called out: ‘One of Mr. Burke’s, sir?‘ Another voice called out ‘I didn’t see that poor fellow at Tyburn today.‘ More laughter followed.
Taking a deep breath, the good doctor bellowed: ‘Gentlemen! What you see before you on this table is no ordinary man!‘
Another voice laughed: ‘Of course not, he’s croaked it!‘
Flashing a steely glare at the source of the voice, Dr. Farlingsworth continued: ‘Stevenson! Pipe down, will you! Where was I? Oh, yes! What you see before you today is no ordinary man. In fact, I would even hazard to guess that he is some hitherto unknown advancement of the human species.‘
For once, the only reply was blissful silence. Against the dim flickering of the lanterns, Farlingsworth noted with some satisfaction that thirty pairs of eyes stared forwards at him in rapt fascination.
Farlingsworth continued his lecture: ‘This unfortunate fellow was discovered in the nets of a fishing trawler three days ago and yet he appears to be perfectly preserved. Although the more superstitious amongst you may be keen to attribute this to a miracle, I posit that there is a rational scientific explanation for this phenomenon. An explanation, gentlemen, that I plan to uncover today.‘
The theatre remained as silent as a tomb. Allowing himself to stand an inch taller, Farlingsworth gently opened the specimen’s mouth and said: ‘Preliminary examinations carried out by my colleague Throckmorton noted that the body displayed notably enlarged incisors, perhaps comparable to those of the hyena skull we recently added to our collection.‘
Around him, the students jostled and leaned forwards, eager to catch a glimpse of this unusual feature. The stout oak bannisters surrounding the theatre creaked quietly. As the warm glow of the lantern played across the faces of his audience, Farlingsworth could not help but think of Joseph Wright’s scientific paintings or perhaps that clumsy copy of a Caravaggio that Throckmorton hung in his dining room.
In an instant, Farlingsworth’s reverie was interrupted by the sight of his students recoiling in horror. For a second, he stood there bewildered until he felt something grasp his neck. Then, two sharp pains like the bodkin needles used in Jenner’s famed vaccinations. He glanced down to find that the specimen had not only returned to life, but was at his throat like a hungry wolf. Yet, he felt no terror. Instead, a comfortably warm sensation, not unlike quaffing a bottle of good cognac, seemed to wash through his body.
When one of the panicked students finally saw fit to inform the local constable, an examination of the theatre turned up neither the doctor nor his specimen. After further investigations proved fruitless, the authorities procured the services of a well-respected amateur. Yet, even this famed consultant could deduce no cause or trace of what was said to have occurred on that frightful night.
Within no less than two weeks, the ghastly event had passed into university folklore. Despite the efforts of the faculty to suppress such macabre rumours, it was not uncommon to find copies of Varney The Vampire and other such penny dreadfuls surreptitiously placed amongst the hallowed tomes of the university library.
Yet, within several more weeks, the incident had been mostly forgotten. Ghoulish whispers had quickly been overtaken by the excitement of such things as the inter-varsity cricket championships and that well-renowned boat race. Yet, dear reader, even to this day the medical students never so much as grin or chortle when taking anatomy classes. If poor Farlingsworth was still amongst the land of the living, he would no doubt have permitted himself a smile at his newfound legacy.