OUR NERVOUS FRIENDS Illustrating the Mastery of Nervousness
ROBERT S. CARROLL, M.D. Medical Director Highland Hospital, Asheville, North Carolina
Author of "The Mastery of Nervousness," "The Soul in Suffering"
NEW YORK 1919
HEARTILY—TO THE HOST OF US
OUR FRIENDLY NERVES Illustrating the Capacity for Nervous Adjustment
THE NEUROTIC Illustrating Damaging Nervous Overactivity
THE PRICE OF NERVOUSNESS Illustrating Misdirected Nervous Energy
WRECKING A GENERATION Illustrating "The Enemy at the Gate"
THE NERVOUSLY DAMAGED MOTHER Illustrating the Child Wrongly Started
THE MESS OF POTTAGE Illustrating Nervous Inferiority Due to Eating-Errors
THE CRIME OF INACTIVITY Illustrating the Wreckage of the Pampered Body
LEARNING TO EAT Illustrating the Potency of Diet
THE MAN WITH THE HOE Illustrating the Therapy of Work
THE FINE ART OF PLAY Illustrating Re-creation Through Play
THE TANGLED SKEIN Illustrating a Tragedy of Thought Selection
THE TROUBLED SEA Illustrating Emotional Tyranny
WILLING ILLNESS Illustrating Willessness and Wilfulness
UNTANGLING THE SNARL Illustrating the Replacing of Fatalism by Truth
FROM FEAR TO FAITH Illustrating the Curative Power of Helpful Emotions
JUDICIOUS HARDENING Illustrating the Compelling of Health
THE SICK SOUL Illustrating the Sliding Moral Scale
THE BATTLE WITH SELFIllustrating the Recklessness that Disintegrates
THE SUFFERING OF SELF-PITY Illustrating a Moral Surrender
THE SLAVE OF CONSCIENCE Illustrating Discord with Self
CATASTROPHE CREATING CHARACTER Illustrating Disciplined Freedom
FINDING THE VICTORIOUS SELF Illustrating a Medical Conversion
THE TRIUMPH OF HARMONY Illustrating the Power of the Spirit
Vividly as abstractions may be presented, they rarely succeed in revealing truths with the appealing intensity of living pictures. In Our Nervous Friends will be found portrayed, often with photographic clearness, a series of lives, with confidences protected, illustrating chapter for chapter the more vital principles of the author's The Mastery of Nervousness.
OUR FRIENDLY NERVES
"Hop up, Dick, love! See how glorious the sun is on the new snow. Now isn't that more beautiful than your dreams? And see the birdies! They can't find any breakfast. Let's hurry and have our morning wrestle and dress and give them some breakie before Anne calls."
The mother is Ethel Baxter Lord. She is thirty-eight, and Dick-boy is just five. The mother's face is striking, striking as an example of fine chiseling of features, each line standing for sensitiveness, and each change revealing refinement of thought. The eyes and hair are richly brown. Slender, graceful, perennially neat, she represents the mother beautiful, the wife inspiring, the friend beloved. Happily as we have seen her start a new day for Dick, did she always add some cheer, some fineness of touch, some joy of word, some stimulating helpfulness to every greeting, to every occasion.
The home was not pretentious. Thoroughly cozy, with many artistic touches within, it snuggled on the heights near Arlington, the close neighbor to many of the Nation's best memories, looking out on a noble sweep of the fine, old Potomac, with glimpses through the trees of the Nation's Capitol, glimpses revealing the best of its beauties. It was a home from which emanated an atmosphere of peace and repose which one seemed to feel even as one approached. It was a home pervaded with the breath of happiness, a home which none entered without benefit.
The husband, Martin Lord, was an expert chemist who had long been in the service of the Government. Capable, worthy, manly, he was blest in what he was, and in what he had. They had been married eight years, and the slipping away of the first child, Margaret, was the only sadness which had paused at their door. Mrs. Lord had been Ethel Baxter for thirty years. Her father was an intense, high-strung business man, an importer, who spent much time in Europe where he died of an American-contracted typhoid-fever, when Ethel was ten. Her mother was one of a large well-known Maryland family, fair, brown-eyed too, and frail; also, by all the rights of inheritance, training and development, sensitive and nervous. In her family the precedents of blue blood were religiously maintained with so much emphasis on the "blue" that no beginning was ever made in training her into a protective robustness. So, in spite of elaborate preparation and noted New York skill and the highest grade of conscientious nursing, she recovered poorly after Ethel's birth. Strength, even such as she formerly had, did not return. She didn't want to be an invalid. She was devoted to her husband and eager to companion and mother her child. The surgeons thought her recovery lay in their skill, and in ten years one operated twice, and two others operated once each, but for some reason the scalpel's edge did not reach the weakness. Then Mr. Baxter died, and all of her physical discomforts seemed intensified until, in desperation, the fifth operation was undertaken, which was long and severe, and from which she failed to react. So Ethel was an orphan at eleven, though not alone, for the good uncle, her mother's brother, took her to his home and never failed to respond to any impulse through which he felt he could fulfil the fatherhood and motherhood which he had assumed. Absolutely devoted, affectionate, emotional, he planned impulsively, he gave freely, but he knew not law nor order in his own high-keyed life; so neither law nor order entered into the training of his ward.
Ethel Baxter's childhood had been remarkably well influenced, considering the nervous intensity of both parents. For the mother's sake, their winters had been spent in Florida, their summers on Long Island. Her mother, in face of the fact that she rarely knew a day of physical comfort and for years had not felt the thrill of physical strength, most conscientiously gave time, thought and prayer to her child's rearing. Hours were devoted to daily lessons, and many habits of consideration and refinement, many ideals of beauty, many niceties of domestic duty and practically all her studies, were mother-taught. Ethel was active, physically restless, impulsive, cheerful, fairly intense in her eagerness for an expression of the thrilling activities within. She was truly a high-type product of generations of fine living, and her blue blood did show from the first in the rapid development of keenness of mind and acuteness of feeling. Typically of the nervous temperament, she early showed a superb capacity for complex adjustments. Yet, with one damaging, and later threatening idea, the mother infected the child's mind; the conception of invalidism entered into the constructive fabric of the child-thought all the more deeply, because there was little of offensively selfish invalidism ever displayed by the mother. But many of the concessions and considerations instinctively demanded by the nervous sufferer were for years matters-of-course in the Baxter home; and these demands, almost unconsciously made by the mother, could but modify much of the natural expression of her child's young years.
Another damaging attitude-reaction, intense in its expression, followed the unexpected death of Ethel's father. The mother, true to the ancient and honorable precedents of her family, went into a month of helplessness following the sad news. She could not attend the funeral, and for weeks the activities of the household were muffled by mourning; when she left her room, it was to wear the deepest crepe, while a half-inch of deadest black bordered the hundreds of responses which she personally sent to notes of condolence. She never spoke again of her husband without reference to her bereavement. Then, a year later, when the mother herself suddenly went, it seemed to devolve on the child to fulfil the mother's teachings. Her uncle's attitude, moreover, toward his sister's death was in many ways unhappy, for he did not repress expressions of bitterness toward the surgeons and condemned the fate which had so early robbed Ethel of both parents.
Thus, early and intensely, a morbid attitude toward death, a conviction that self-pity was reasonable, normal, wholesome, a belief that it was her duty to publicly display intensive evidences of her affliction, determined a lasting and potent influence in this girl's life which was to alloy her young womanhood—disturbing factors, all, which before twelve caused much emotional disequilibrium. She now lived with her uncle in New York City and her summers were spent in Canada. The sense of fitness was so strong that during the next two vitally important, developing years she avoided any physical expression of her natural exuberance of spirits; and habits now formed which were, for years, to deny her any right use of her muscular self. She read much; she read well; she read intensely. She attended a private school and long before her time was an accredited young lady. Mentally, she matured very early, and with the exception of the damaging influences which have been mentioned, she represented a superior capacity for feeling and conceiving and accomplishing, even as she possessed an equally keen capacity for suffering.
She was most winsome at sixteen, a bit frail and fragile, often spoken of as a rare piece of Sevres, beloved with a tenderness which would have warped the disposition of one less unselfish; emotionally intense, brilliancy and vivacity periodically burst through the habit of her reserve. A perfect pupil, and in all fine things literary, keenly alive, she had written several short sketches which showed imaginative originality and a sympathetic sensitiveness, especially toward human suffering. And her uncle was sure that a greater than George Eliot had come. There was to be a year abroad, and as the doctor and her teacher in English agreed on Italy, there she went. At seventeen, during the year in Florence, the inevitable lover came. Family traditions, parents, her orphanage, the protective surroundings of her uncle's home, her instincts—all had kept her apart. Her knowledge of young lovers was but literary, and this particular young lover presented a side which soon laid deep hold on her confidence. They studied Italian together. He was musical, she was poetic, and he gracefully fitted her sonnets to melodies. Finally, it seemed that the great Song of Life had brought them together to complete one of its harmonies. Her confidence grew to love, the love which seemed to stand to her for life. Then the awful suddenness, which had in the past marked her sorrows, burst in again. In one heart-breaking, repelling half-hour his other self was revealed, and a damaged love was left to minister to wretchedness. Here was a hurt denied even the expression of mourning stationery or black apparel—a hurt which must be hidden and ever crowded back into the bursting within. Immediate catastrophe would probably have followed had not, first, the fine pride of her fine self, then the demands of her art for expression, stepped in to save. She would write. She now knew human nature. She had tasted bitterness; and with renewed seriousness she became a severely hard- working student. But the wealth of her joy-life slipped away; the morbid made itself apparent in every chapter she wrote, while intensity became more and more the key-note of thought and effort.
Back at her uncle's home, the uncle who was now even more convinced that Ethel had never outlived the shock of the loss of her parents, she found that honest study and devotion to her self-imposed tasks, and a life of much physical comfort and rarely artistic surroundings, were all failing to make living worth while. In fact, things were getting into a tangle. She was becoming noticeably restless. Repose was so lost that it was only with increasing effort that she could avoid attracting the attention of those near. Even in church it would seem that some demon of unrest would never be appeased and only could be satisfied by constant changing of position. Thoughts of father and mother, and the affair in Florence, intensified this spirit of unrest, and few conscious minutes passed that unseen stray locks were not being replaced. It seemed to be a relief to take off and put on, time and again, the ring which had been her mother's. Even her feet seemed to rebel at the confinement of shoes, and she became obsessed with the impulse to remove them, even in the theater or at the concert. A sighing habit developed. It had been growing for years into an air- hunger, and finally all physical, and much of mental, effort developed a sense of suffocation which demanded short periods of absolute rest. Associations were then formed between certain foods and disturbing digestive sensations. Tea alone seemed to help, and she became dependent upon increasingly numerous cups of this beverage. Knowing her history as we do, we can easily see how she had become abnormally acute in her responses to the discomforts which are always associated with painful emotions, and that emotional distress was interpreted, or misinterpreted, as physical disorder. Each year she became more truly a sensitive-plant, suffering and keenly alive to every discomfort, more and more easily fatigued by the conflicts between emotions, which craved expression, and the will, which demanded repression.
Since the days in Florence there had been a growing antagonism to men, certainly to all who indicated any suitor-like attitude. In her heart she was forsworn. She had loved deeply once. Her idealism said it could never come again. But her antagonism, and her idealism, and her strength of will all failed to satisfy an inarticulate something which locked her in her room for hours of repressed, unexplained sobbing. Her writing became exhausting. Talks before her literary class were a nightmare of anticipation—for through all, there had never been any weakening of the beauty and intensity of her unselfish desire to give to the world her best. The dear old uncle watched her with growing apprehension. He persuaded her to seek health. It was first a water- cure; then a minor, but ineffective operation; then much scientific massage; and finally a rest-cure, and at the end no relief that lasted, but a recurrence of symptoms which, to the uncle, spoke ominously of a threatened mental balance. What truly was wrong? Do we not see that this woman's nerves were crying out for help; that, as her wisest friends, they were appealing for right ways of living; that they were pleading for development of the body that had been only half-trained; that they were beseeching a replacing of morbidness of feeling by those lost joyous happiness-days? Were they not fairly cursing the wrong which had robbed her of the hope and rights of her womanhood?
A new life came when she was twenty-eight, with the saving helper who heard the cry of the suffering nerves, and interpreted their message. She had told him all. His wise kindness made it easy to tell all. He showed her the wrong invalidism thoughts, the unhappy, depressing, devitalizing attitude toward death. He revealed truths unthought by her of manhood and womanhood. He pointed out the poisonous trail of her enmity, and she put it from her. He inspired her to make friends with her nerves, who were so devotedly striving to save her. Simple, definite counsel he gave, for her body's sake. Her physical development could never be what early constructive care would have made it, but from out of her frailty grew, in less than a year of active building-training, a reserve of strength unknown for generations in the women of her line. Wholesome advice made her see the undermining influence of her morbid, mental habits, and resolutely she displaced them with the productive kind that builds character. Finally, new wisdom and a truly womanly conception of her duty and privilege replaced her antagonism to men, as understanding had obliterated enmity. It would seem as though Providence had been only waiting these changes, for they had hardly become certainties in her life when the real lover came—a man in every way worthy her fineness of instinct; one who could understand her literary ambitions and even helpfully criticize her work; one who brought wholesome habits of life and thought, and who could return cheer for cheer, and whose love responded in kind to that which now so wonderfully welled up within her.
Her new adjustments were to be deeply tried and their solidity and worthiness tested to their center. Little Margaret came to make their rare home perfect, and like a choice flower, she thrived in the glow of its sunshine. At eighteen months, she was an ideal of babyhood. Then the infection from an unknown source, the treacherous scarlatina, the days of fierce, losing conflict, and sudden Death again smote Ethel Lord. But she now knew and understood. There was deep sadness of loss; there was greater joy in having had. There was an emptiness where the little life had called forth loving attention; there was a fulness of perfect mother-love which could never be taken. There were no funeral days, no mourning black, no gruesome burial. There were flowers, more tender love, and a beautified sorrow. Death was never again to stand to Ethel Lord as irreparable loss, for a great faith had made such loss impossible.
And such is the life of this woman, filled with the spirit of beauty of soul—a woman who thrills husband and son with the uplift of her unremitting joy in living, who inspires uncle and friends as one who has mastered the art of a happy life, who holds the devotion of neighbors and servants through her unselfish radiation of cheer. Ethel Lord has learned truly the infinitely rich possibilities of our nerves when we make them our friends.
For four heart-breaking years, the strife of a nation at war with itself had spread desolation and sorrow broadcast. The fighting ceased in April. One mid-June day following, the town folk and those from countrysides far and near met on the ample grounds of a bride-to-be. Had it not been for the sprinkling of blue uniforms, no thought of war could have seemed possible that fair day. The bride's home had been a-bustle with weeks of preparation for this hour, and nature was rejoicing and the heavens smiling upon the occasion. Sam Clayton, the bridegroom, was certainly a "lucky dog." A quiet, unobtrusive son of a neighboring farmer, he and Elizabeth had been school-children together. Probably the war had lessened her opportunity for choice but the night before he left for the front, they were engaged—and her family was the best and wealthiest of the county. "Lucky dog" and "war romance," the men said. Nevertheless, six weeks ago he had returned with his chevrons well-earned, and fifty years of square living later proved his unquestioned worth. Elizabeth at twenty, on her bridal day, was slender, lithe, fair-skinned; of Scotch-Irish descent, her gray eyes bespoke her efficiency—to-day, they spoke her pride, though neither to-day nor in years to come were they often softened by love. But it was a great wedding, and the eating and dancing and merry- making continued late into the night with ample hospitality through the morrow for the many who had come far. "Perfectly suited," the women said of the young couple.
Sam Clayton had nothing which could be discounted at the bank, but the bride was given fifty fertile acres, and they both had industry and thrift, ambition and pluck. The fifty acres blossomed—Sam was a good farmer, but he proved himself a better trader, and before many years was running a small store in town. They soon added other fifty acres— one-hundred-and-fifty in fifteen years, and out of debt—then a partner with money, and a thriving business. At forty-five it was: Mr. Samuel Clayton, President of the Farmers' and Merchants' Bank, rated at $150,000. Mrs. Clayton's ability had early been manifest. Before her marriage she had taken prizes at the County Fair in crocheting and plum-jell. In after years no one pretended to compete with her annual exhibit of canned fruits, and the coveted prize to the County's best butter-maker was awarded her many successive autumns.
Our real interest in the Claytons must begin twenty-five years after the happy wedding. Their town, the county seat, had pushed its limits to the skirts of the broad Clayton acres; theirs was now the leading family in that section. Mr. Clayton, quiet, active, practical, was capable of adjusting himself without disturbance to whatever conditions he met. Three children had been born during the early years—a girl and two younger boys. The daughter was of the father's type—reserved, studious and truly worthy, for during the years that were to come, with the man she loved waiting, she remained at home a pillar of strength to which her mother clung. She turned from wifehood in response to the selfish needs of this mother. She and the older brother finished classical courses in the near-by "University," for their mother, particularly, believed in education. The brother and sister had much in common, were indeed much alike; he, however, soon married and moved into the new West and deservingly prospered. Fred, the youngest, was different. During his second summer he was very ill with cholera infantum—the days came and went—doctors came and went— and the wonder was how life clung to the emaciated form. The mother's love flamed forth with intensity and the nights without sleep multiplied until she, too, looked wan and ill. She did not know how to pray. Her parents had been Universalists—she termed herself a Moralist; for her, heaven held no God that can hear, no Great Heart that cares, no Understanding that notes a mother's agony. The doctors offered no hope. The child was starving; no food nor medicine had agreed, and the end was near. A neighboring grandmother told how her child had been sick the same way, and how she had given him baked sweet potato which was the first thing he had digested for days. As fate would have it, it was even so with Fred, and he recovered leaving his mother devoid of faith in any one calling himself doctor, and fanatically devoted to the child she had so nearly lost. From that sickness she hovered over him, protecting him from the training she gave her other children—the kind she herself had received. His wish became her law; he was humored into weakness. He never became robust physically, and early showed defects quite unknown in either branch of the family. He failed in college, for which failure his mother found adequate excuse. He entered the bank, but within a few months his peculations would have been discovered had he not confessed to his mother, who made the discrepancy good from her private funds. During the next few years she found it necessary on repeated occasions to draw cheeks on her personal account to save him from trouble—but never a word of censure for him, always excuses. He was drinking, those days, and gambling. In the near-by state capitol the cards went his way one night. Hilarious with success and drink, he started for his room. There was a mix-up with his companions. He was left in the snow, unconscious—his winnings gone. The wealth of his father and the devotion of his mother could not save him, and he went with pneumonia a few days later. It was said that this caused her breakdown—let us see.
As a girl, Elizabeth had lived in a home of plenty, in a home of local aristocracy. She was perfectly trained in all household activities and, for that period, had an excellent education, having spent one year in a far-away "Female Seminary." Her mind was good, her pride in appearance almost excessive. She said she "loved Sam Clayton," and probably did, though with none of the devotion she gave her son, nor with sufficient trust to share her patrimony which amounted to a small fortune with him when it came. In fact, she ran her own business, nor relied upon the safety of the "Farmers' and Merchants' Bank" in making her deposits. She was a housewife of repute, devoted to every detail of housewifery and economics. There was always plenty to eat and of the best; perfect order and cleanliness of the immaculate type were her pride. Excellent advice she frequently gave her husband about finances and management, but otherwise she added no interest to his life, and there was peace between husband and wife—because Sam was a peaceable man. As a mother, she taught the two older children domestic usefulness, with every care; they were always clad in good, clean clothes, clad better than the neighbors' children, and education was made to take first rank in their minds. Her sense of duty to them was strong; she frequently said: "I live and save and slave for my children." Fred, as we have seen, was her weakness. For him she broke every rule and law of her life.
At forty-five she was thin, her face already deeply seamed with worry lines, a veritable slave to her home, but an autocrat to servants, agents and merchants. They said her will was strong; at least, excepting Fred, she had never been known to give in to any one. We have not spoken of Mary. Poor woman! She, too, was a slave—she was the hired girl. Meek almost to automatism, a machine which never varied from one year's end to another, faithful as the proverbial dog, she noiselessly slipped through her unceasing round of duties for twenty-three years—then catastrophe. "That fool hired man has hoodwinked Mary." No wedding gift, no note of well-wishing, but a rabid bundling out of her effects. Howbeit, Central Ohio could not produce another Mary, and from then on a new interest was added to the Claytons' table-talk as one servant followed another into the Mother's bad graces. She was already worn to a feather-edge before Mary's ingratitude. But the shock of Fred's death completed the demoralization of wrongly lived years. For weeks she railed at a society which did not protect its citizens, at a church which failed to make men good, while she now recognized a God against whom she could express resentment.
This woman endowed with an excellent physical and mental organization had allowed her ability and capacity to become perverted. Orderliness, at first a well planned daily routine, gradually degenerated into an obsession for cleanliness. Each piece of furniture went through its weekly polishing, rugs were swept and dusted, sponged and sunned—even Mary could not do the table-linen to her taste—and Tuesday afternoon through the years went to immaculate ironing. The obsession for cleanliness bred a fear of uncleanliness, and for years each dish was examined by reflected light, to be condemned by one least streak. The milk and butter especially must receive care equaled only by surgical asepsis. Then there were the doors. The front door was for company, and then only for the elect—and Fred; the side door was for the family, and woe to the neighbor's child or the green delivery boy who tracked mud through this portal. No amount of foot-wiping could render the hired man fit for the kitchen steps after milking time—he used a step-ladder to bring up the milk to the back porch. Such intensity of attention to detail could not long fail to make this degenerating neurotic take note of her own body, which gradually became more and more sensitive, till she was fairly distraught between her fear of draughts and her mania for ventilation. It was windows up and windows down, opening the dampers and closing the dampers, something for her shoulders and more fresh air. Church, lecture-halls and theaters gradually became impossible. Finally she was practically a prisoner in the semiobscurity of her home—a prisoner to bodily sensation. Then came the autos to curse. The Clayton home was within a hundred yards of the county road, and when the wind was from the west really visible dust from passing motors presumed to invade the sanctity of parlor and spare rooms, and with kindling resentment windows were closed and windows were opened, rooms were dusted and redusted until she hated the sound of an auto-horn, until the smell of burning gasoline caused her nausea—but each year the autos multiplied.
At last the family realized that her loss of control was becoming serious, that she was really a sufferer; but her antagonism to physicians was deep-set, so the osteopath was called. Had he been given a fair chance, he might have helped, but her obsessions were such that she resented the touch of his manipulations, fearing that some unknown infection might exude from his palms to her undoing. Reason finally became helpless in the grip of her phobias. Her stomach lining was "destroyed," and into this "raw stomach" only the rarest of foods and those of her own preparation could be taken. She had fainted at Fred's funeral, and repeatedly became dazed, practically unconscious, at the mention of his name. Self-interests had held her attention from girlhood to her wreckage, and from this grew self- study, which later degenerated into self-pity. Her converse was of food and feelings and self. She bored all she met, for self alone was expressed in actions and words.
Father and daughter finally, under the pretext of a trip for her health, placed her in a Southern sanitarium. Much was done here for her, in the face of her protest. Illustrative of the unreasoning intensity with which fear had laid hold upon her was her mortal dread of grape-seeds. As she was again being taught to eat rationally, grapes were ordered for her morning meal. The nurse noticed that with painful care she separated each seed from the pulp, and explained to her the value of grape-seeds in her case. She wisely did not argue with the nurse, but two mornings later she was discovered ejecting and secreting the seeds. The physician then kindly and earnestly appealed for her intelligent cooperation. She thereupon admitted that many years ago a neighbor's boy had died of appendicitis, which the doctor said was caused by a grape-seed. The fallacy of these early-day opinions was shown her. Then was illustrated the weakness of her faith and the strength of her fear. She produced a draft for one thousand dollars, which she said she always carried for unforeseen emergencies, and offered it to the doctor to use for charity or as he wished, if he would change the order about the grapes. Suffice it to say she learned to eat Concords, Catawbas, Tokays and Malagas. She returned home better, but was never wholesomely well, and to-day dreads the death for which her family wait with unconscious patience.
What is the secret of this miserable old woman's failure to adjust herself to the richness which life offered her? A selfish self peers out from every act. Even her generosity to Fred was the pleasing of self. Given all that she had, what could she not have been! Physically, with the advantages of plenty and her country life and the promise of her fair girlhood, what attraction could not have been hers had kindness and generosity softened her eyes, tinted her cheeks, and love-wrinkles come instead of worry-wrinkles.
Her mind was naturally an unusual one. She lived within driving distance of one of Ohio's largest colleges—only an hour by train to the state capital. Fortune had truly smiled and selected her for happiness, but from the first it was self or her family and no further thought or plan or consideration.
Elizabeth Clayton was given a nervous system of superb quality, which used for the good of those she touched would have hallowed her life; misused, she drifts into unlovable old age, a selfish neurotic. She could have been a leader in her community, a blessing in her generation, a builder of faiths which do not die, but she failed to choose the good part which neither loss of servant, death of child nor advancing age can take away.
THE PRICE OF NERVOUSNESS
The price we pay for defective nerves is one of mankind's big burdens. Humanity reaches its vaunted supremacy, it realizes the heights of manhood and womanhood through its power to meet what the day brings, to collect the best therefrom and to fit itself profitably to use that best for the good of its kind. And these possibilities are all dependent on the superb, complicated nervous system. The miracles of right and wise living are rooted deep in the nerve-centers. Man's nervous system is his adjusting mechanism—his indicator revealing the proper methods of reaction. Nothing man will ever make can rival its sensitiveness and capacity. But when it is out of order, trouble is certain. Excessive, imperfect, inadequate reactions will occur and disintegrating forms of response to ourselves and our surroundings will certainly become habitual, unless wise and resolute readjustments are made. The common failure of the many to find the best, even the good in life, is apparent to all—so common indeed, that the search for the perfectly adjusted man, physically, mentally, morally adjusted, is about as fruitful as Diogenes' daylight excursions with his lantern. The physical, mental and moral are intricately related even as the primary colors in the rainbow. Our nerves enter intimately into every feeling, thought, act of life, into every function of our bodies, into every aspiration of our souls. They determine our digestion and our destinies; they may even influence the destinies of others. Let us turn a few pages of a life and see the cost of defective nervous-living.
The Pullman was crowded; every berth had been sold; the train was loaded with holiday travelers, and the ever interesting bridal couple had the drawing-room. The aisle was cluttered with valises and suitcases; the porter was feverishly making down a berth; while bolstered on a pile of pillows, surrounded by a number of anxious faces, lay the sick woman, the source of the commotion and the anxiety. Sobs followed groans, and exclamations followed sobs— apparently only an intense effort of self-control kept her from screaming. She held her head. Periodically, it seemed to relieve her to tear at her hair. She held her breath, she clutched her throat, she covered her eyes as though she would shut out every glimpse of life. She convulsively pressed her heart to keep it from bursting through; she clasped and wrung her hands, and now and then would crowd her forearm between her teeth to shut in her pent-up anguish. She would have thrown herself from the seat but for the unobtrusive little man who knelt in front to keep her from falling, and gently held her on as she spasmodically writhed. His plain, unromantic face showed deep anxiety, not unmixed with fear. He was eagerly assisted by the dear old lady who sat in front. Hers was mother-heart clear through; her satchel had been disturbed to the depths in her search for remedies long faithful in alleviating ministration; her camphor bottle lay on the floor, impulsively struck from her kind hand by the convulsed woman. The sweet-faced college girl who sat opposite had just finished a year in physiology and this was her first opportunity to use her new knowledge. "Loosen her collar and lower her head and let her have more air," she advised. "Yes," said the little man, "I'm her husband you see, and am a doctor. I've seen her this way before and those things don't help."
The drummer, who had the upper berth, had retreated at the first sign of trouble to the safety of the smoking-room, and was apparently trying more completely to hide himself in clouds of obscuring cigar smoke. The passengers were all cowed into attentive quietude; the sympathetic had offered their help, while the others found satisfaction for their aloofness in agreement with the sophisticated porter, who, after he had assisted in safely depositing the writhing woman behind the green curtains and had been rather roughly treated by her protesting heels, shrewdly opined to the smoking-room refugees that "That woman sho has one case o' high-strikes." The berth, however, proved no panacea—she was "suffocating," she must get out of the smoke and dust, she must get away from "those people" or she would stifle, and to the other symptoms were added paroxysms of coughing and gasping which sent shivers through the whole car of her sympathizers. Her husband explained that she was just out of a hospital, which they had left unexpectedly for home, that she never could sleep in a berth, and if they could only get the drawing-room so he could be alone with her he thought he could get her to sleep, but he did not know what the consequences would be if she did not get quiet. The Pullman conductor was strong for quiet, and he and the sweet-faced college girl and the dear old lady formed a committee who waited on the young bride and groom. It was hard, mighty hard, even in the bliss of their happiness, to give up the drawing-room for a lower. Had not that drawing-room stood out as one of their precious dreams during the last year, as, step by step, they had planned in anticipation of that short bridal week! But the sacrifice was made, the transfers effected, and out of the quiet which followed, emerged order and the cheer normal to holiday travelers. A number were gratified by the sense of their well- doing, they had gone their limit to help; others were equally comfortable in their satisfied sense of shrewdness, they agreed with the porter—they had sized her up and not been "taken in."
Mrs. Platt had been Lena Dalton. She was born in Galveston forty-five years before. Her father was a cattle-buyer, rough, dissipated, always indulgent to himself and, when mellow with drink, lavishly indulgent to the family. He never crossed Lena; even when sober and irritable to the rest, she had her way with him. The high point in his moral life was reached when she was seven. For three weeks she was desperately ill. A noted revivalist was filling a large tent twice a day; the father attended. He promised himself to join the church if Lena did not die—she got well, so there was no need. She remained his favorite. "Drunk man's luck" forgot him several years later when his pony fell and rolled on him, breaking more ribs than could be mended. He left some insurance, two daughters, and a very efficient widow. Mrs. Dalton had held her own with her husband, even when he was at his worst. She was strong of body and mind, practical, probably somewhat hard, certainly with no sympathy for folderols. Her common-school education, in the country, had not opened many vistas in theories and ideals, but she lived her narrow life well, doing as she would be done by—which was not asking much, nor giving much—caring for herself without fear or favor till she died, as she wished, at night alone, when she was eighty. She possessed qualities which with the help of a normal husband would have been a wholesome heritage to the children; but it was a home of double standards, certainly so in the training of Lena, who had never failed, when her father was home, to get the things her mother had denied her in his absence. She was thirteen when he died; at fifteen then followed her two most normal years. The accident occurred which, was to prove fateful for her life, and through hers, for others.
Lena was a good roller-skater, but was upset one night, at the rink, by an awkward novice and fell sharply on the back of her head. She was taken home unconscious and was afterward delirious, not being herself until noon the next day, when she found beside her an anxious mother who for several days continued ministering to her daughter's every wish. Three months later she set her heart on a certain dress in a near-by shop window; her mother said it was too old for her, and cost too much. Day after day passed and the dress remained there, more to be desired each time she saw it. The Sunday-school picnic was only a week off. She made another appeal at the supper table; her sister unwisely interjected a sympathetic "too bad." The emphasis of the mother's "No" sounded like a "settler," but just then things went dark for Lena. She grasped her head and apparently was about to fall—her face twitched and her body jerked convulsively. The mother lost her nerve, and feeling that her harshness had brought back the "brain symptoms" which followed the skating accident, spent the night in ministrations—and hanging at the foot of Lena's bed, when she was herself next morning, was the coveted dress. To those who know, the mental processes were simple; strong desire, an implacable mother, save when touched by maternal fear, the association in the girl's mind of a relationship between her accident and her mother's compliance, a remoter association of her illness at seven with her father's years of free giving. What was to restrain her jerkings and twitchings and meanings? Many of these reactions were taking place in the semi- mysterious laboratory of her subconscious self; but it was the beginning of a life of periodic outbreaks through which she had practically never failed to secure what she desired. To the end of her good mother's life, Lena remained the only one who could change her "no" to "yes."
The elder sister was a more normal girl. She studied stenography and soon married a promising young man. They had two children. He made a trip down the coast and died of yellow fever. The wife was much depressed and spent a bad year and most of the insurance money, getting adjusted. Then the Galveston storm with its harvest of death and miraculous escapes—the mother was taken, the two children left. Meanwhile Lena had finished high school, had taken a year in the Normal and secured a community school to teach, near Houston. She was now eighteen, her face was interesting, some of the features were fine. Her bluish-gray eyes could be particularly appealing; there was much mobility of expression; a wealth of slightly curling, light- chestnut hair was always stylishly arranged; in fact, her whole make- up caused the young fellows to speak of her as the "cityfied school- marm." Then came the merchant's son and all was going well, so well that they both pledged their love and plighted their troth. The temporary distraction of her lover's attention, deflected by the visiting brunette in silks, an inadvertently broken appointment (the train was late and he could not help it), and the first attack of the "jerks" among strangers is recorded. They hastily summoned old Jake Platt's son, just fresh from medical college, who, helpless with this suffering bit of femininity, supplied in attention and practical nursing what he lacked in medical discernment and skill, to the end that one engagement was broken and another formed in a fortnight. Old Jake had some money; the young doctor was starting in well, and needed a wife; she was still jealous, and young Dr. Platt got a wife, who molded his future as the modeler does his clay.
Within the first month the bride had another attack. They had planned a trip to Houston to do some shopping and to attend the theater. The doctor-husband was delayed on a case and found his young bride in the throes of another nervous storm when he reached home, nor did the symptoms entirely abate until he had promised her that he would always come at once, no matter what other duties he might have, when she needed him. By this promise he handicapped his future success as a physician and did all that devoted ignorance could do to make certain a periodic repetition of the convulsive seizures. This was but the first of a series of concessions which involved his professional, social and financial future, which her "infirmity" exacted of him as the years passed. Later old Jake died and the doctor's share of his big farms was an opportune help. But Mrs. Platt had a certain far- reaching ambition; therefore, they soon moved to Houston. He would have done well where he started; his education, his medical equipment, his personality were certain to limit his progress in a city. The doctor's wife was superficially bright, capable of adapting herself with distinct charm to those she admired. She formed intense likes and dislikes—while often impulsively kind-hearted, she could cling to vindictive abuse for months. Here was a woman who proved very useful on church committees, in societies, in Sunday-school, who worked effectively in the Civic Club. She sang fairly well naturally, of course "adored music" and was an efficient enthusiastic worker when interested. But Lena Platt was never able to work when not interested. Periodically her "fearful nervous spells" would interfere with all duties. The doctor was absolutely subsidized. Had any other attractions appealed to him, his wife's early evidences of implacable jealousy would have proven a sure antidote. He was an unconscious slave. Her nervousness expressed itself toward him in other terms than convulsively. She had a tongue which from time to time blistered the poor man. He would never talk back, fearful as he ever was of bringing on one of those storms which, in his inadequate medical knowledge, were as mysterious and ominous as epileptic attacks.
For years the absence of children in the home was a sorrow from which much affecting sentimentality evolved, being as well the pathetic cause for days of sickness, when outside interests were less attractive to this artful sufferer than the attentions elicited by her illness. Then out of the great gulf surged the heroic Galveston tragedy, and the two orphan children came to fill the idealized want. At first they received an abundance of impulsive loving, but unhappily one day, a few months after they came, the foster-mother overheard the elder girl make an unfavorable comparison between her and the real mother; and for years distinctions were made—the younger being always favored, the unfortunate, older child living half-terrorized, never knowing when angry, unfair words would assail her.
Lena Platt had confided to several of her bosom friends the tragedy of her unequal marriage and that she knew she would yet find a "soul mate." There was a Choral Society in Houston one winter, and following a few gratuitous compliments from the dapper young director, she decided she had found it. He left in the spring and this dream faded. A few months later the new minister's incautious exaggeration that "he didn't know how he could run the church without her" came near resulting in trouble, for some of the good sisters unkindly questioned the quality of her sudden excessive devotion and religious zeal. Mrs. Platt was not vicious, but she craved excitement; hers was a life of constantly forming new plans. Attention from any source was sweet and from those of prominence it was nectar. Things were pretty bad in the doctor's home after the preacher episode, and she was finally persuaded to let her husband call in another physician. He was very nice to her, and while he never pretended to understand her case, his medicine and advice benefited her tremendously and she went nearly a year without a bad attack. Her visits to his office and her conscienceless use of his time were finally brought to a sudden close when one day he deliberately called other patients in, leaving her unnoticed in the waiting-room. Bad times again, then other new doctors, other periods of immunity from attacks, with exaggerated devotion to each new helper until she had made the rounds of the desirable, professional talent of Houston.
Meanwhile, impulsive extravagance had sadly reduced the Platt inheritance, so when an acquaintance returned from St. Louis nervously recreated by a specialist there, the poor doctor had to borrow on his insurance to make it possible for her to have the benefit of this noted physician's skill. The trip North meant sacrifice for the entire family. Apparently she wished to be cured, and the treatment began most auspiciously. After careful, expert investigation, assurance had been given that if she would do her part, she could be made well in six months. Her husband told the physician that he hoped he would "look in on her often, for she will do anything on earth for one she likes." The treatment was thorough-going; it began at the beginning, and during the early weeks she was enthusiastically satisfied with the skill of her treatment and the care of her special nurse, in whom she found another "bosom friend," to whom she confided all. Her devotion for the new doctor grew by leaps. Mistaking his kindness and thinking perchance she might extract more beneficent sympathy by physical methods, she impulsively threw herself into where-his-arms-would-have- been had he not side-stepped. Her position physically and sentimentally was awkward; the doctor called the nurse and left her. Later he returned and did his best to appeal to her womanhood; he analyzed her illness and showed her some of the damage it had wrought both in her character and to others. He showed her the demoralization which had grown out of her wretched surrender to impulsive desire. He revealed to her the necessity for the effacement of much of her false self and the true spiritualizing of her mind as the only road to wholesome living. That same day Dr. Platt received a telegram peremptorily demanding that he come for her. Upon his arrival he had a short talk with the specialist who succinctly told him the problem as he saw it. For a few minutes, and for a few minutes only, was his faith in the helpless reality of his wife's sickness shaken; but faith and pity and indignation were united as she told of her mistreatment and how she had been outraged and her whole character questioned by that "brutal doctor," who talked to her as no one had ever dared before. She was going home on the first train and going home we found her, having another attack in the Pullman. A collapse, her husband told himself, from over-exertion and the result of her wounded womanhood. "A plain case o' high-strikes" was the porter's diagnosis; a sickness sufficiently adequate to have the sweet incense of much public attention poured upon her wounded spirit—and to secure the coveted drawing-room!
On her way home! She had spurned her one chance to be scientifically taught the woefully needed lessons of right living-on her way to the home which had become more and more chaotic with the passing of the years and the dwindling of their means.
Who can count the price this woman has paid for her nervousness? At fifty, with a scrawny, under-nourished body, the wrinkled remnants of beauty, she suffers actual weakness and distress. Quick prostration follows all effort, excepting when she is fired by excitement. All ability to reason in the face of desire is gone; she is dominated by emotions which become each year more unattractive; even the air- castles are tumbled into ruins. Her husband is a slave—used as a convenience. Her waning best is for those who attract her, her growing worst for those who offend. One child's life is maimed by indulgence, the other's by injustice. She has reached that moral depravity which fails to recognize and accept any truth which is opposed to her wishes. As she looks back over the vista of years, filled with many activities, no monument of wholesome constructiveness remains; she has blighted what she touched. Lena Platt, a wilful, spoiled, selfish hysteric!
WRECKING A GENERATION
The afternoon's heat was intense; it was reflecting in shimmering waves from everything motionless, this breathless September day in Donaldsville, Texas. Main Street is a half-mile long, unpainted "box- houses" fringe either end and cluster unkemptly to the west, forming the "city's" thickly populated "darky town." Near the station stands the new three-story brick hotel, the pride of the metropolis. Not even the Court House at the county seat is as imposing. Main Street is flanked by parallel rows of one and two story, brick store-buildings, from the fronts of which, and covering the wide, board-sidewalks, extend permanent, wooden awnings; these are bordered by long racks used for the ponies and mules of the Saturday crowds of "bottom niggers" and "post oak farmers." The higher ground east of Main Street is preempted by the comfortable residences of Donaldsville proper and culminates in Quality Hill, where the two bankers and a select group of wealthy bottom-planters lived in aristocratic supremacy. On this particular afternoon, the town's only business street was about deserted. On its shady side were hitched a few Texas ponies whose drooping heads and wilted ears bespoke the heat—so hot it was that the flies, even, did not molest them. Scattered groups of lounging, idle men indicated the enervating influence of the sizzling 108 degrees in the shade.
But Donaldsville was not dead—perspiring certainly, but still possessing one lively evidence of animation. From time to time peals of boisterous laughter, boisterous but refreshing as the breath of a breeze, a congenial, almost contagious laughter would roll up and down Main Street even to its box-house fringes. Each peal would call forth from some dusky denizen of the suburbs the proud recognition: "Dar's Doctor Jim laughin' some mo'." Doctor Jim's laughter was one of Donaldsville's attractive features. His friends living a mile away claimed they often heard it—and everybody was Doctor Jim's friend. No more genial, generous gentleman of the early post-bellum Texas South could be found. His was an unfathomed well of good nature, good humor and good stories. He knew all comers whether he had met them before or not. For him, it was never "Stranger," it was always "Friend."
Let us take his proffered hand and feel the heartiness of its greeting, feel its friendly shake, even to our shoe-soles. His good humor beams from his deep-blue eyes; his shock of gray hair, which knows no comb but his fingers, is pushed back from a brow which might have been a scholar's, were it not so florid. A soft, white linen shirt rolls deeply open, exposing a grizzled expanse of powerful chest. Roomy, baggy, spotless, linen trousers do homage to the heat, as does his broad, palm-fiber hat, used chiefly as a fan. Doctor Jim McDonald, six feet in his socks, weighing 180 pounds, erect and manly in bearing in spite of his negligee, is a remarkable specimen of physical manhood at sixty-five. Even with the Saturday afternoon crowds of the cotton-picking season, Main Street seems deserted if his resounding laughter is not heard; but it takes something as serious as a funeral to keep him away from his accustomed bench in front of Doctor Will's drug-store, centrally located on the shady side of the street. Doctor Will is Doctor Jim's brother, and is, according to the negroes, a "sho-nuff" doctor.
Doctor Jim's life is comfortably monotonous. He had put up the first windmill in the region roundabout and his was the first real bath-tub in the county, and long before Donaldsville thought of water-works, Doctor Jim's windmill was keeping the big cistern on stilts filled from his deep artesian well. He started each day with a stimulating plunge in his big tub, and never tired proclaiming that with this and enough good whiskey he would live to be a hundred—and then Main Street would stop and listen to the generous reverberations of his deep-chested laugh. Three good meals, the best old Aunt Sue could cook and Aunt Sue came from Mississippi with them after the war—were eaten with an unflagging relish by this man whose digestion had never discovered itself. Two mornings a week Doctor Jim drove leisurely out to his big Trinity River plantation, a two-thousand-acre plantation, where he was the beloved overlord of sixty negro families. This rich, river-bottom farm, when cotton was at a good price, brought in so much that Doctor Jim, with another of his big laughs, would say he was "mighty lucky in having those rascally twins to throw some of it away." One night a week he could always be found at the Lodge, and once a day he covered each way the half-mile separating his generous, rambling home on Quality Hill and Doctor Will's office. His only real recreation was funerals. He would desert his shady seat and drive miles to help lay away friend or foe—if foes he had. On such occasions only, would he pass the threshold of a church. He contributed generously to each of the town's five denominations and showed considerable restraint in the presence of the cloth in his choice of reminiscences, but it was always the occasion of a good- natured uproar for him to proclaim, "The Missus has enough religion for us both." Still the silence of his charity could have said truly that his donation had constructed one-fifth of each church-building in the town; in fact, it was his pride to double the Biblical one-tenth in his giving.
Of his open-heartedness Doctor Jim rarely spoke but another pride was his, to which he allowed no day to pass without some hilariously expressed reference. He was proud of his whiskey-drinking. One quart of Kentucky's best Bourbon from sun to sun, decade after decade! "I have drunk enough whiskey to float a ship—and some ship too. Look at me! Where will you find a healthier man at sixty-five? I haven't known a sick minute since the war. If you drink whiskey right, with plenty of water and plenty of eatin', it won't hurt anybody." This was the law and the gospel to Doctor Jim; he never failed to proclaim it to pale-faced youths or ailing mankind; and the Book of Judgment, alone, will reveal the harvest of destruction which Time reaped through Doctor Jim's influence in L—-County. Yet, oddly, it was Doctor Jim's principle and practice never to treat. He claimed he had never offered a living soul a social drink.
"Drink whiskey right and it won't hurt anybody!" Did it hurt?
Doctor Jim and his two brothers spent their early life on a plantation in Mississippi. The father wanted the boys to be educated. Two of them took medical courses in New Orleans. Doctor Jim wished to see more of the world, and literally did see much of it on a two-year cruise around the Horn to the East Indies and China. He was thirty-five years old in '60 when he married. Then he served as surgeon—"mighty poor surgeon" he used to say, for a Mississippi regiment throughout the four years of the Civil War. He and his two brothers passed through this conflict and returned home to find their father dead, the negroes scattered and the old plantation devastated. The three with their families journeyed to Texas—the then Land of Promise! At twenty-five cents an acre they bought river-bottom lands which are to-day priceless, and the losses of the past were soon forgotten in the rapid prosperity of the following years.
Mrs. McDonald represented all that high type of character which the dark years of the war brought out in so many instances of Southern womanhood. Patient, hopeful, uncomplaining she lived through the four years of war-time separation, left her own people and journeyed to the Southwest to begin life anew. She was particularly robust of physique, domestic in a high sense, gentle and deeply kind. She passed through hardship, privation and prosperity practically not knowing sickness. Her children could not have had better mother-stock, and the scant days were in the past, so they never knew the lack of plenty. There were eight, from Edith, born in 1870, to Frank, in 1885, including the twins.
Did whiskey-drinking hurt?
Edith grew into a slender, retiring girl, her paleness accentuated by her black hair. She was quiet, read much, and took little interest in out-of-door activities, entering into the play-life of the other children but rarely. Her father insisted, later, on her riding, and she became a fair horsewoman. She was refined in all her relations. Edith went to New Orleans at seventeen. The spring after, she developed a hacking cough and had one or two slight hemorrhages, but at twenty was better and married an excellent young merchant. The child was born when she was twenty-two; three weeks later the mother died, leaving a pitiable, scrofulous baby, which medical and nursing skill kept lingering eighteen months.
The first boy was named James, Jr., as we should expect, and, as we should not expect, was never called "Jim." But James was not right. He developed slowly, did not walk till over three, was talking poorly at five; he was subject to convulsions and destructive outbreaks; he was uncertain and clumsy in his movements, so provision was made that he might always have some one with him. But even in the face of this care, he stumbled and fell into the laundry-pot with its boiling family-wash, was badly scalded and seriously blinded. James mercifully died two years later in one of his convulsions.
Mabel was the flower of the family. Through her girlhood she was lovable in every way, and beloved. She was blond like her father, though not as robust as either father or mother, and in ideals and character was truly the latter's daughter. She finished in a finishing school, had musical ability and charm, and soon married and made a happy home—an unusual home, until the birth of the first child. Since then it has been a fight for health, with the pall of her family's history smothering each rekindling hope. Operations and sanatoria, health-resorts and specialists have not restored, and she lives, a neurasthenic mother of two neurotic children. Happiness has long fled the home where it so loved to bide those early days, before the strain and stress of maternity had drained the mother's poor reserve of vitality.
The history of Will and John, named for the two uncles, would prove racy reading through many chapters. "The Twins" were the father's text for spicy stories galore many years before their death. From the first, they were "two young sinners." They both had active minds— overactive in devising deviltry. Mischievous as little fellows, never punished, practically never corrected by their father, humored by sisters, house-servants, and the plantation-hands, feared and admired by other boys, they seemed proof against any helpful influence from the earnest, pained, prayerful mother. As boys of ten, they had become "town talk" and were held responsible for all pranks and practical jokes perpetrated in Donaldsville or thereabout, unless other guilty ones were captured red-handed. Multiply your conception of a "bad boy" by two and you will have Will at twelve; repeat the process and you will have John. They possessed one quality—dare we call it virtue?— which kept them dear to Doctor Jim's heart through their very worst. They never lied to him, no matter what their misdeeds. They could lie as veritable troopers, but from him the truth in its rankest boldness was never withheld. As the years passed, they made many and deep excursions into the old doctor's pocket. But he paid the bills cheerfully and sent his reverberating laugh chasing the speedy dollars, as soon as he got with some of his Main Street cronies. The boys planned and worked together, protecting each other most cleverly. Still they were expelled from every school they attended after they were thirteen. A military academy noted for its ability to handle hard cases found them quite too mature in their wild ways, and sent them home. They may, for reasons best known to themselves, have been "square with the old man," but they were a pair of thoroughgoing toughs by twenty, not only fast but cruel, even brutal, in their evil- doing.
Will was the first to show the strain of the pace. When twenty-two, the warning cough sobered him a bit, and in John's faithful and congenial company, he went first to Denver, then to New Mexico. Doctors' orders were irksome, whiskey and cards the only available recreation for the boys, and so they tried to follow their father's example in developing a powerful physique on Kentucky Bourbon ("best"). John suddenly quit drinking. "Acute nephritis" was on the shipping paster. Delirium tremens was the truth. Will was too frail to accompany his brother's remains home. He was pretty lonely and anxious, and miserable without John, but for several weeks behaved quite to the doctor's satisfaction. It didn't last long, and within the year tuberculosis and Bourbon laid him beside his brother.
May was a promising girl, "almost a hoiden," the neighbors said. She rode the ponies bareback; she played boys' games, and at twelve looked as though the problem of health could never complicate her glad, young life. But cough and hemorrhage, twin specters, stalked in at sixteen and the poor child fairly melted away and was gone in a year.
Annabel, the youngest girl, was a quiet child and thoughtful. Some called her dull, but rather, it seems, she early sensed her fate. When but a child she was sent to "San Antone" and operated on by a throat specialist. After May's death she went to the mountains each summer and spent two winters in South Texas. But she grew more and more thin, and in the end it was tuberculosis.
Frank, the last child, was different from all the others. He seemed bright of mind and active of body. He attended school as had none of the other boys; he even went to Sunday-school. Physically and mentally, he gave promise of prolonging the family line—but he proved his father's only admitted regret. He lied and he stole. The money which his father would have given him freely he preferred to get by cunning. Doctor Jim could not tolerate what he called dishonesty, and from time to time they would have words and Frank would be gone for months. His cleverness made him a fairly successful gambler; that he played the game "crooked" is probably evidenced by his being shot in a gambling-joint before he was thirty.
We have thus scanned the-wreckage of a generation bred in alcohol. Children they were of unusual physical and mental parentage, parents who never knowingly offended their consciences, children reared in most healthful surroundings with every comfort and opportunity for normal development. Four of them showed their physical inferiority through the early infection and unusually poor resistance to tuberculosis; one was born an imbecile; one died directly from the effects of drink; the only girl who survived early maturity, the best of them all, spent twenty years a nervous sufferer, mothering two nervously defective children; the physically best was the morally worst and died a criminal.
Doctor Jim lived on with his habits unchanged, his laugh, only, losing something in volume and more in infectiousness. Still proud of his health he preached the gospel of good whiskey well drunk, never sensing his part in the tragedy of his own fireside. He was nearly eighty when the stroke came which bereft him of any possibility of understanding, or of knowing remorse. He had laid his wife away some years previously and for months he lingered on paralyzed, demented, in the big, empty house, cared for by an old negro couple, hardly recognizing Mabel when she came twice a year, but never forgetting that, "Whiskey won't hurt anybody."
THE NERVOUSLY DAMAGED MOTHER
His name is not Lawrence Adams Abbott. The surname really is that of one of America's first families. He, himself, is among the few living of a third generation of large wealth.
It was an early-summer afternoon and Dr. Abbott—for he was a graduate of Cornell Medical—was standing at one of the train gates of the Grand Central Station in New York. As he waits apart from the small crowd assembled to welcome, he attracts observing attention. His face appears thirty; he is thirty-six. The features are finely cut, the chin is especially good. The eyes are blue-gray, and a slight pallor probably adds to his apparent distinction. His attitude is languid, the handling of his cane gracefully indolent, the almost habitual twisting of his chestnut-brown mustache attractively self-satisfied. His clothing is handsome, of distinctive materials, and tailored to the day. So much for an observing estimate. The critical observer would note more. He would detect a sluggishness in the responses of the pupils, as the eyes listlessly travel from face to face, producing an effect of haunting dulness. Mumbling movements of the lips, a slightly incoordinate swaying of the body, might speak for short periods of more than absent-mindedness.
But the gates open and after the eager, intense meetings, and the more matter-of-fact assumption of babies and bundles, the red-capped porters, with their lucky burdens of fashionable traveling-cases, pilot or follow the sirs and mesdames of fortune. Among these is one whose handsome face is mellowed by softening, early-gray hair, and whose perfect attire and tenderness in greeting our doctor at once associate mother and son. She has just come down the Hudson on one of the few seriously difficult errands of her fifty-six years.
Two weeks have passed. The room is stark bare, save for two mattresses, a heap of disheveled bed clothes, and two men. The hours are small and the dim, guarded light, intended to soften, probably intensifies the weirdness of the picture. The suspiciously plain woodwork is enameled in a dull monochrome. The windows are guarded with protecting screens. One man, an attendant, lies orderly on his pallet; the other, a slender figure in pajamas, crouches in a corner. His hair is bestraggled; his face is livid; his pupils, widely dilated; his dry lips part now and then as he mutters and mumbles inarticulately or chuckles inanely. Now starting, again abstracted, he is capable of responding for a moment only, as the attendant offers him his nourishment. A few seconds later he is groaning and twisting, obviously in pain, pain which is forgotten as quickly, as he reaches here and there for imaginary, flying, floating things. Real sleep has not closed his eyes for now nearly three nights. He is delirious in an artificial, merciful semi-stupor, which is saving him the untold sufferings of morphine denial. Before this unhappy Dr. Abbott stretch long, wearisome weeks of readjustment, weeks of physical pain and mental discomfort, weeks, let us hope, of soul-prodding remorse. His only chance for a future worth spending lies in months of physical reeducation, of teaching his femininely soft body the hardness which stands for manliness; for him must be multiplied days of mental reorganization to change the will of a weakling into saving masterfulness; nor will these suffice unless, in the white heat of a moral revelation, the false tinsel woven into the fabric of his character be consumed. For months he must deny himself the luxuries, even many of the comforts, his mother's wealth is eager to give. Yet these weeks and months of development may never be, for in a short time he will again be legally accountable, and probably will resent and refuse constructive discipline, and return to a satin-upholstered life—his cigarettes, his wine-dinners, his liquors, and his "rotten feeling" mornings after—then to his morphin and to his certain degradation. And why should this be? Time must turn back the hands on her dial thirty-three years that we may know.
The fine Abbott home was surrounded by a small suburban estate near Philadelphia, a generation ago; we have met the then young mistress of the mansion, at the Grand Central Station. It was a home of richness, a home of discriminating wealth, a home of artistic beauty; it was a home of nervous tension. This neurotic intensity was not of the cheap helter-skelter, melodramatic sort; there was a splendid veneer of control. But all the mother's plans and activities depended on the moods, whims and impulses of little Lawrence, the only child, then glorying in the hey-day of his three-year-old babyhood. It was a household kept in dignified turmoil by this child of wealth, who needed a poor boy's chance to be a lovable, hearty, normal chap. It was overattention to his health, with its hundreds of impending possibilities; to his food, with the unsolvable perplexity of what the doctor advised and of what the young sire wanted. More of satisfaction, perhaps, was found in clothing the youth, as he cared less about these details; still, an unending variety of weights and materials was provided that all hygienic and social requirements might be adequately met. Anxious thought was daily spent that his play and playmates might be equally pleasing and free from danger. Almost prayerful investigation was made of the servants who ministered, and tense, sleepless hours were spent by this nervous mother striving to wisely decide between the dangers to her child of travel and those other dangers of heated summers and bleak winters at home. Frequent trips into the city and frequent visitations from the city were made, that expert advice be obtained. Consultations were followed by counter consultations and conferences which but added the mocking counsel of indecision. And the marble of her beauty began to show faint marrings chiseled by tension and anxiety—for was not Lawrence her only son!
It was a home of double standards. The father was a wholesome, serious-minded, essentially reasonable, Cornell man. His ideas were manly and from time to time he laid down certain principles, and when at home, with apparently little effort, exacted and secured a ready and certainly not unhappy, obedience from his son. But business interests and responsibilities were large and the bracing tonic of his association with the boy was all too passing to put much blood- richness into the pallor of the child's developing character. Moreover, this intermittent helpfulness was more than counteracted by the mother's disloyal, though unconscious dishonesty. Hers was an open, if need be a furtive, overattention and overstimulation, an inveterate surrender to the sweet tyranny of her son's childish whims. There was probably nothing malicious in her many little plans which kept the father out of the nursery and ignorant of much of their boy's tutelage. The mother was only repeating fully in principle, and largely in detail, her own rearing; and had she not "turned out to be one of the favored few?"
The suburban special went into a crash, and all that a fine father might have done through future years to neutralize the unwholesome training of a nervous mother was lost. In fact, her power for harm was now multiplied. The large properties and business were hers through life, and with husband gone, and so tragically, there was increased opportunity, and unquestionably more reason, for the intensification of her motherly care. So the fate of a fine man's son is left in the hands of a servile mother.
It now became a home of restrained extravagance. The table was fairly smothered with rare and rich foods. Fine wines and imported liquors entered into sauces and seasonings. The boy's playroom was a veritable toy-shop, with its hundreds of useless and unused playthings. Long before any capacity for understanding enjoyment had come, this unfortunate child had lost all love for the simple. With Mrs. Abbott, it was always "the best that money can buy"—unwittingly, the worst for her child's character. It was a home of formal morality. Sunday morning services were religiously attended; charities of free giving, the giving which did not cost personal effort, were never failing. It was a home of selfish unselfishness. All weaknesses in the son throughout the passing years were winked at. Never from his mother did Lawrence know that sympathy, sometimes hard, often abrupt, never pampering, which breeds self-help.
Lawrence went to the most painstakingly selected, private preparatory- schools, and later, as good Abbotts had done for generations, entered Cornell. He had no taste for business. For years he had been associated with gifted and agreeable doctors; he liked the dignity of the title; so, after two years of academic work, he entered the medical department and graduated with his class. These were good years. His was not a nature of active evil. Many of his impulses were quite wholesome, and college fraternity camaraderie brought out much that was worthy. In the face of maternal anxiety and protest, he went out for track, made good, stuck to his training and in his senior year represented the scarlet and white, getting a second in the intercollegiate low hurdles. Another trolley crash now, and he might have been saved!
All through his college days a morbid fear had shortened his mother's sleep hours with its wretchedness. Her boy was everything that would attract attractive women. Away from her influence he might marry beneath him, so all the refinements of intrigue and diplomacy were utilized that a certain daughter of blood and wealth might become her daughter-in-law. The two women were clever, and woe it was that his commencement-day was soon followed by his wedding-day. No more sumptuous wedding-trip could have been arranged-to California, to the Islands of the Pacific, to India, to Egypt, then a comfortable meandering through Europe. A year of joy-living they planned that they might learn to know each other, with all the ministers of happiness in attendance. But the disagreements of two petted children made murky many a day of their prolonged festal journey, and beclouded for them both many days of the elaborate home-making after the home-coming. And the murkiness and cloudiness were not dissipated when parenthood was theirs. Neither had learned the first page in Life's text-book of happiness, and as both, could not have their way at the same time, rifts grew into chasms which widened and deepened. Then the wife sought attentions she did not get at home in social circles and the husband sought comforts his wife and his home did not give, in drink and fast living, later with cocain and morphin. The ugliness of it all could not be lessened by the divorce, which became inevitable. By mutual agreement, the rearing of the child was intrusted to the father's mother, who to-day shapes its destiny with the same unwholesome solicitude which denied to her own son the heritage of wholesome living.
We met father and grandmother as she arrived in New York to arrange for the treatment, which even his beclouded brain recognized as urgent; and we leave him with a darkening future, unless Fate snatches away a great family's millions, or works the miracle of self- revelation, or the greater miracle of late-life reformation in the son of this nervously damaged mother.
THE MESS OF POTTAGE
"I know Clara puts too much butter in her fudge. It always gives me a splitting headache, but gee, isn't it good! I couldn't help eating it if I knew it was going to kill me the next day." The Pale Girl looks the truth of her exclamations, as she strolls down the campus-walk arm-in-arm with the Brown Girl, between lectures the morning after.
Clara Denny had given the "Solemn Circle" another of her swell fudge- feasts in her room the night before, and, as usual, had wrecked sleep, breakfast, and morning recitations for the elect half-dozen, with the very richness of her hand-brewed lusciousness. They called Clara the Buxom Lass, and they called her well. She was, physically, a mature young woman at sixteen, healthy, vigorous, rose-cheeked, plump, and not uncomely, frolicsome and care-free, with ten dollars a week, "just for fun." She was a worthy leader of the Solemn Circle of sophomores which she had organized, each member of which was sacredly sworn to meet every Friday night for one superb hour of savory sumptuousness— in the vernacular, "swell feeds."
Clara was a Floridian. Her father had shrewdly monopolized the transfer business in the state's metropolis, and from an humble one- horse start now operated two-score moving-vans and motor-trucks, and added substantially, each year, to his real-estate holdings. Mr. Denny let fall an Irish syllable from time to time, regularly took his little "nip o' spirits," and ate proverbially long and often. Year after year passed, with the hardy man a literal cheer-leader in the Denny household, till his gradually hardening arteries began to leak. Then came the change which brought Clara home from college—home, first to companion, then to nurse, and finally through ugly years, to slave for this disintegrating remnant of humanity. Slowly, reluctantly, this genial, old soul descended the scale of human life. He was dear and pathetic in the early, unaccustomed awkwardness of his painless weakness. "Only a few days, darlin', and we'll have a spin in the car and your father'll show thim upstarts how to rustle up the business." The rustling days did not come, but short periods of irritability did. He wanted his "Clara-girl" near and became impatient in her absence. He objected to her mother's nursing, and later became suspicious that she was conspiring to keep Clara from him, and often greeted both mother and daughter with unreasonable words. His interests narrowed pitiably, until they did not extend beyond the range of his senses, and the senses themselves dulled, even as did his feelings of fineness. He grew careless in his habits, and required increasing attention to his beard and clothing. Coarseness first peeped in, then became a permanent guest—a coarseness which the wife's presence seemed to inflame, and which could be stilled finally only by the actual caress of his daughter's lips. And with the slow melting of brain-tissue went every vestige of decency; vile thoughts which had never crossed the threshold of John Denny's normal mind seemed bred without restraint in the caldron of his diseased brain. His was a vital sturdiness which, for ten years, refused death, but during the last of these he was physically and morally repellent. Sentiment, that too-often fear of unkind gossip, or ignorant falsifying of consequences, stood between this family and the proper institutional and professional care, which could have given him more than any family's love, and protected those who had their lives to live from memories which are mercilessly cruel.
Clara's older brother had much of his father's good cheer and less of his father's good sense. He, too, had money to use "just for fun," and Jacksonville was very wide open. So, after his father's misfortune had eliminated paternal restraint, the boy's "nips o' spirits" multiplied into full half-pints. For twelve years he drank badly, was cursed by his father, prayed for by his mother, and wept over by Clara. The wonderful power of a Christian revival saved him. He "got religion" and got it right, and lives a sane, sober life.
The older sister had married while Clara was at school, and lived with her little family in Charleston. Her "duty" was in her home, but this duty became strikingly emphasized when things "went wrong" in Jacksonville, and she frankly admitted that she was entirely "too nervous to be of any use around sickness"; nor did she ever come to help, even when Clara's cup of trouble seemed running over. And this cup was filled with bitterness when, suddenly, the mother had a "stroke," and the care of two invalids and the presence of her periodically drunk brother made ruthless demands on her twenty years. The mother had been a sensible woman, for her advantages, and most efficient, and under her teaching Clara had become exceptionally capable. The two invalids now lay in adjoining rooms. "Either one may go at any time," the doctor said, and when alone in the house with them the daughter was haunted with a morbid dread which frequently caused her to hesitate before opening the door, with the fear that she might find a parent gone. As it happened, she was away, taking treatment, unable to return home, when grippe and pneumonia took the mother, and the candle of the father's life finally flickered out.
Clara had handled the home situation with intermittent efficiency. When she entered her father's sick-room, called suddenly from the thoughtless hilarities of the Solemn Circle and fudge-feasts, and saw him so altered, and, for him, so dangerously frail, in his invalid chair, something went wrong with her breathing; the air could not get into her lungs; there was a smothering in her throat and she toppled over on the bed. It seemed to take smelling-salts and brandy to bring her back. She said afterwards that she was not unconscious, that she knew all that was happening, but felt a stifling sense of suffocation. Later after one of her father's first unnatural outbreaks, she suffered a series of chills and her mother thought, of course, it was malaria; but many big doses of quinin did not break it up, and no matter when the doctor came, his little thermometer revealed no fever. She spent three months at Old Point Comfort and the chills were never so bad again. Other distressing internal symptoms appeared closely following the shock of her mother's sudden paralysis. An operation and a month in a northern hospital were followed by comparative relief. But her nervous symptoms finally became acute and she was spending the spring and early summer on rest-cure in a sanitarium when her parents died. The Jacksonville home was then closed.
Soon after, Clara was profoundly impressed at the same revival in which her brother was converted. While she could not leave her church to join this less formal denomination, she entered into Home Missionary activities with much zest. At this time a friendship was formed with a woman-physician who, as months of association passed, attained a reasonably clear insight into her life and encouraged her to enter a well-equipped, church training-school for deaconesses. The spell of the religious influences of the past year's revival was still strong; this, and the stimulation of new resolves, carried her along well for six months. In her studies and practical work she showed ability, efficiency and flashes of common sense. Then she became enamored of a younger woman, a class-mate—her heart was empty and hungry for the love which means so much to woman's life. Unhappily, she overheard her unfaithful loved one comment to a confidante: "It makes me sick to be kissed by Clara Denny." Another damaging shock, followed by another series of bad attacks—the old spells, chills and internal revolutions had returned. She rapidly became useless and a burden. The school-doctor sent her a thousand miles to another specialist.
We first met Clara Denny effervescent, winning, almost charming—a sixteen-year-old minx. Let us scrutinize her at thirty-six. What a deformation! She weighs one hundred and seventy-three—she is only five-feet-four; her face is heavy, soggy, vapid; her eyes, abnormally small; her complexion is sallow, almost muddy; her chin, trembling and double; strongly penciled, black eye-brows are the only remnant apparent of the "Buxom Lass" of twenty years ago. Her hands are pudgy; her figure soft, mushy, sloppy; her presence is unwholesome. The specialist found her internally as she appeared externally. While not organically diseased, the vital organs were functionally inert. Every physical and chemical evidence pointed to the accumulation in a naturally robust body of the twin toxins—food poison and under oxidation. She was haunted by a fear of paralysis. She confused feelings with ideas and was certain her mind was going. The spells which had first started beside her invalid father were now of daily occurrence. She, nor any one else knew when she would topple over. She found another reason for her belief that her brain was affected in her increasingly frequent headaches. For years she had been unable to read or study without her glasses, because of the pain at the base of her brain. When these wonderful glasses were tested, they were found to represent one of the mildest corrections made by opticians; in fact, her eyes were above the average. Her precious glasses were practically window-glass.
Much of each day had been spent in bed, and hot coffee and hot-water bottles were required to keep off the nerve-racking chills which otherwise followed each fainting spell. Her appetite never flagged. She had been a heavy meat eater from childhood. There never was a Denny meal without at least two kinds of meat, and one cup of coffee always, more frequently two—no namby-pamby Postum effects, but the genuine "black-drip." In the face of much dental work, her sweet tooth had never been filled. She loved food, and her appetite demanded quantity as well as quality. Of peculiar significance was the fact that throughout the years she had never had a spell when physically and mentally comfortable, but, as the years passed, the amount of discomfort which could provoke a nervous disturbance became less and less. She was a well-informed woman, quite interesting on many subjects, outside of herself, and had done much excellent reading. Unafflicted, she would mentally have been more than usually interesting. When her specialist began the investigation of her moral self, he found her impressed with the belief that she was a "saved woman," ready and only waiting health that she might take up the Lord's work. But as he sought her soul's deeper recesses, he uncovered a quagmire. Resentment rankled against the sister who had left her alone to meet the exhausting burdens of their parents' illness and brother's drinking—a sister who had taken care of herself and her own family, regardless. Worse than resentment smoldered against the father, a dull, deadening enmity, born in the hateful hours of his odious, but helpless, dementia. Burning deep was an unappeased protest that, instead of the normal life and pleasures and opportunities of other girls, she had been chained to his objectionable presence.