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A Study in Gold

Chapter Text

Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of Judith L. Hopps, MD, Late of the Army Medical Department


It was by a hairsbreadth that I came back from the war at all; had the bullet gone infinitesimally higher or lower, it surely would have severed my femoral artery and I would have perished on that dusty battlefield. As it was, only the quick action of my orderly Asena, a capable wolf whose pack loyalty fortuitously extended to me as her superior officer, saved me from falling to the guns, claws, and teeth of those bloodthirsty desert primitives. I scarcely recall Asena's noble act, however, as the pain of my wound and the loss of blood conspired to blur my memories of the battle to almost nothing until my wound was tended to in the base's hospital.

When three weeks had passed, I found myself holding out hope that my leg would mend and I could return to my work. Fate, however, seemed to have a different plan for me, for scarcely had I begun to leave my bed and wheel my chair around the hospital before I was struck by an enteric fever. It was, I am told, one of the worst outbreaks to have ever hit a hospital, and it burned through the wards with the terrible swiftness of a wildfire. Many good mammals fortunate enough to survive the battlefields met their end of that fever, and I very nearly joined them in whatever lies beyond life.

For months, I passed in and out of delirium, and when at last I had convalesced enough to take in my surroundings, I found my health permanently ruined and my commission resigned. It was, I confess, a crushing blow, the single greatest loss I had ever suffered up until that point. I had spent decades, my entire lifetime, working towards my dream of serving as an army surgeon, and the eleven shillings and sixpence a day from my pension was cold comfort indeed for the loss of my dream. Directionless, I found myself plotting a course for the only home I had ever truly known, for once I left the family farm I had lived, in essence, as a ward of the military.

The reader may find it a peculiar path that my life has followed, to go from being the daughter of a farmer to an army surgeon, and may find it more peculiar yet that I was both of those things and a bunny besides. I have even heard it intimated that my injury, and my subsequent discharge from the service, are all the proof that is necessary to demonstrate that bunnies are unsuited for the rigors of serving as an officer. To that, I will only comment here that it was misfortune, not incompetence, that took my career. For, were I truly not up to the task, what would it say of my fellows that I graduated from both medical school and officer school at the top of my class?

I digress, and beg pardon for doing so; the astute reader may infer that the issue is one that I hold particularly close. The train ride back to Bunny Burrows, where the Hopps farm has stood for generations immemorial, was long and likely unpleasant, but I was still so enfeebled by injury and illness that I passed most of it in sleep. I was sorry to realize that I had consequently missed the train's journey through Zootopia; in my life I had only ever visited the city once before as part of my medical training, and the army had, perhaps wisely, not granted us doctors-in-training so much as an hour's leave. My disappointment was, however, cut short by a brief flutter of worry when I awoke to find the train stopped and knew not the station. The end of the line was in Dearborne, a full day's journey away from Bunny Burrows by foot, and I fretted that I would have to bear the expense of a telegram and incur my parents' not inconsiderable propensity to worry if I had missed my stop.

As it transpired, however, the old Bunny Burrows station that I recalled from my youth had years ago been razed and replaced as the farming community grew ever more prosperous. The speed and convenience of the train allowed ever greater shipments of fresh produce into Zootopia to meet the great city's demands for food, as there was little enough arable land within its borders.

For all the changes that had been wrought in my long absence, however, the clean and fresh air of the countryside was undiminished, and once I was off the train and beyond its sooty exhaust my first lungful of that air brought with it a pleasant wave of remembrance. Although the station was far more crowded than I could ever recall it being in the days of my kithood, my parents were immediately identifiable to me; both were grayer and perhaps somewhat thicker around the middle than I recalled, but there was no mistaking the pair. The converse, however, did not appear to be true, for my father's and mother's eyes both slid over and past me until I waved in greeting. When recognition did dawn, neither of them was able to conceal their shock at seeing my greatly reduced appearance; I had lost four pounds, nearly a third of my body weight, to my illness and had gained hardly any of it back. So too did they fuss over me when they saw how exhausted I was after moving my footlocker the short distance off the train and onto the platform.

They had, fortunately, hired a horse and carriage to collect me, and I did my best to rest as they peppered me with questions and their concerns in the manner that I believe to be unique to parents. While the horse pulled us along, pointedly ignoring our conversation with a discretion that was somewhat atypical of his profession, I attempted gamely to divert them from their lines of inquiry with questions of my own. I was finally successful in getting the topic off of myself when I observed that the road was no longer the rutted dirt I remembered from my youth and was instead properly cobbled. My mother, always the more considerate of the pair, seemed to understand my intent and allowed my father to pontificate at length on the taxes being levied and the projects to which they went. With my father's words in my ears and the gently rocking of the carriage to lull me, I dozed off again and did not wake until we reached the homestead.

Although I was closer in age to my youngest sibling than to my oldest, my parents' home was still full; in typical bunny fashion most kits did not leave home even after they were married and had kits of their own. I was, in that regard, an outlier, having left for my schooling and being unmarried. I had not expected to receive my old room, and neither was I prepared for it to appear completely untouched from how I had left it all those years ago. Moving back in was as simple as placing my footlocker at the end of the bed; I had siblings enough to ensure that my near-total lack of civilian clothes could be easily addressed with hand-me-downs.

Having thus moved back in with my parents, I found myself settling into an unthinking routine as I attempted to regain my strength. When I awoke, I would take walks, going as long as I could manage with the aid of a stout cane. My bad leg and diminished constitution rendered me incapable of most farm work; I found standing for long stretches of time tiring in the extreme and my arms felt weak as twigs. I spent most days, therefore, peeling vegetables or else running the till at the family farm stand. Meals I habitually took alone, unable to muster the energy my nieces and nephews demanded. I fell behind on my correspondences, retiring to bed early each evening and sleeping until mid-morning each day. The days themselves eventually turned into weeks, and the weeks into months before I paused to assess my life.

My parents had made no demands of my meager pension, and I could have easily lived the rest of my life in the family home. They had hinted, with varying degrees of subtlety, at the eligible bachelors for whom a doctor, even one approaching the age of spinsterhood, would be an acceptable match. But what of it? The village doctor of my youth had retired and his grandson, the capable Doctor Cony, had taken up the position. Cony the younger and I were but a year's difference apart in age, and Bunny Burrows scarcely needed a sawbones such as myself. Although Cony was one of those eligible bachelors, and my parents played up his virtues most of all with talk of the suitability of two doctors for each other, I could hardly imagine a drearier life for a doctor than to serve the village. The village was well-provisioned with midwives, who were generally trusted to handle all matters of health from birth through the loss of the last milk-tooth. A career of setting the occasional broken bone and suturing the occasional gash held no appeal for me, but I could not name what did.

My mental misgivings were gradually beginning to outweigh my physical infirmities. Although I still tired easily, two-and-a-half months of progressively longer walks had restored some measure of my former strength. I began resuming my correspondences in earnest, reaching out to those I knew or had served with who had left the army, and within a few weeks the responses started trickling in. Despite my efforts, however, the offer that set in motion the next adventure of my life was not in response to any missive I sent out. The grubby envelope that was waiting for me after one of my walks was so battered and travel-worn that I felt an immediate kinship to it, even as the many stamps and scrawled words upon it awoke my curiosity.

My initial investigation was sufficient to divine that it had been sent shortly after my discharge and had seemingly traveled the length of the empire as the military rerouted it at each juncture before finally sending it on to the address that I had taken up with my parents. The return address was no mystery; it had come from Claude Boargelat, my first instructor in the medical sciences and a pig whose talent and passion for teaching had made a lasting impact upon me.

I have retained this letter, although time and handling have worn it almost to pieces, and it read as follows:

Dear Dr. Hopps,

I have received word of your injury and subsequent discharge from the service. I offer my most sincere condolences; although I cannot pretend to imagine your feelings, I know that the army is the poorer for its loss. Of all my students, you were one of all too few who saw the calling of medical service as just that and not a means to an end in the search for wealth or standing. I imagine that the army has pensioned you off with enough to eke out a modest existence, but I somehow find myself doubting that you would choose that path.

If you are seeking a new path, St. Assisi's Teaching Hospital in Zootopia could use a surgeon of your caliber to instruct the next generation of doctors; I can promise neither a status any grander than that of teaching fellow nor much in the way of compensation, but perhaps you may find a single class a semester entirely sufficient as you regain your strength. If you find your interest piqued, even if for but a single semester, please wire me back; although I do not retain a permanent residence in the city my office shall set your message to me straightaway.

Your friend,

Dr. C. Boargelat

That, I supposed, settled my next action; lacking any suitable alternative I resolved to immediately journey to the train station, the only locale in Bunny Burrows with a telegraph, and wire a message to Dr. Boargelat's office.