THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
THE CASE OF GEORGE DEDLOW
By S. Weir Mitchell, M.D., LL.D. Harvard And Edinburgh
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
THE CASE OF GEORGE DEDLOW
Both of the tales in this little volume appeared originally in the "Atlantic Monthly" as anonymous contributions. I owe to the present owners of that journal permission to use them. "The Autobiography of a Quack" has been recast with large additions.
"The Case of George Dedlow" was not written with any intention that it should appear in print. I lent the manuscript to the Rev. Dr. Furness and forgot it. This gentleman sent it to the Rev. Edward Everett Hale. He, presuming, I fancy, that every one desired to appear in the "Atlantic," offered it to that journal. To my surprise, soon afterwards I received a proof and a check. The story was inserted as a leading article without my name. It was at once accepted by many as the description of a real case. Money was collected in several places to assist the unfortunate man, and benevolent persons went to the "Stump Hospital," in Philadelphia, to see the sufferer and to offer him aid. The spiritual incident at the end of the story was received with joy by the spiritualists as a valuable proof of the truth of their beliefs.
S. WEIR MITCHELL
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK
At this present moment of time I am what the doctors call an interesting case, and am to be found in bed No. 10, Ward 11, Massachusetts General Hospital. I am told that I have what is called Addison's disease, and that it is this pleasing malady which causes me to be covered with large blotches of a dark mulatto tint. However, it is a rather grim subject to joke about, because, if I believed the doctor who comes around every day, and thumps me, and listens to my chest with as much pleasure as if I were music all through—I say, if I really believed him, I should suppose I was going to die. The fact is, I don't believe him at all. Some of these days I shall take a turn and get about again; but meanwhile it is rather dull for a stirring, active person like me to have to lie still and watch myself getting big brown and yellow spots all over me, like a map that has taken to growing.
The man on my right has consumption—smells of cod-liver oil, and coughs all night. The man on my left is a down-easter with a liver which has struck work; looks like a human pumpkin; and how he contrives to whittle jackstraws all day, and eat as he does, I can't understand. I have tried reading and tried whittling, but they don't either of them satisfy me, so that yesterday I concluded to ask the doctor if he couldn't suggest some other amusement.
I waited until he had gone through the ward, and then seized my chance, and asked him to stop a moment.
"Well, my man," said he, "what do you want!"
I thought him rather disrespectful, but I replied, "Something to do, doctor."
He thought a little, and then said: "I'll tell you what to do. I think if you were to write out a plain account of your life it would be pretty well worth reading. If half of what you told me last week be true, you must be about as clever a scamp as there is to be met with. I suppose you would just as lief put it on paper as talk it."
"Pretty nearly," said I. "I think I will try it, doctor."
After he left I lay awhile thinking over the matter. I knew well that I was what the world calls a scamp, and I knew also that I had got little good out of the fact. If a man is what people call virtuous, and fails in life, he gets credit at least for the virtue; but when a man is a—is—well, one of liberal views, and breaks down, somehow or other people don't credit him with even the intelligence he has put into the business. This I call hard. If I did not recall with satisfaction the energy and skill with which I did my work, I should be nothing but disgusted at the melancholy spectacle of my failure. I suppose that I shall at least find occupation in reviewing all this, and I think, therefore, for my own satisfaction, I shall try to amuse my convalescence by writing a plain, straightforward account of the life I have led, and the various devices by which I have sought to get my share of the money of my countrymen. It does appear to me that I have had no end of bad luck.
As no one will ever see these pages, I find it pleasant to recall for my own satisfaction the fact that I am really a very remarkable man. I am, or rather I was, very good-looking, five feet eleven, with a lot of curly red hair, and blue eyes. I am left-handed, which is another unusual thing. My hands have often been noticed. I get them from my mother, who was a Fishbourne, and a lady. As for my father, he was rather common. He was a little man, red and round like an apple, but very strong, for a reason I shall come to presently. The family must have had a pious liking for Bible names, because he was called Zebulon, my sister Peninnah, and I Ezra, which is not a name for a gentleman. At one time I thought of changing it, but I got over it by signing myself "E. Sanderaft."
Where my father was born I do not know, except that it was somewhere in New Jersey, for I remember that he was once angry because a man called him a Jersey Spaniard. I am not much concerned to write about my people, because I soon got above their level; and as to my mother, she died when I was an infant. I get my manners, which are rather remarkable, from her.
My aunt, Rachel Sanderaft, who kept house for us, was a queer character. She had a snug little property, about seven thousand dollars. An old aunt left her the money because she was stone-deaf. As this defect came upon her after she grew up, she still kept her voice. This woman was the cause of some of my ill luck in life, and I hope she is uncomfortable, wherever she is. I think with satisfaction that I helped to make her life uneasy when I was young, and worse later on. She gave away to the idle poor some of her small income, and hid the rest, like a magpie, in her Bible or rolled in her stockings, or in even queerer places. The worst of her was that she could tell what people said by looking at their lips; this I hated. But as I grew and became intelligent, her ways of hiding her money proved useful, to me at least. As to Peninnah, she was nothing special until she suddenly bloomed out into a rather stout, pretty girl, took to ribbons, and liked what she called "keeping company." She ran errands for every one, waited on my aunt, and thought I was a wonderful person—as indeed I was. I never could understand her fondness for helping everybody. A fellow has got himself to think about, and that is quite enough. I was told pretty often that I was the most selfish boy alive. But, then, I am an unusual person, and there are several names for things.
My father kept a small shop for the sale of legal stationery and the like, on Fifth street north of Chestnut. But his chief interest in life lay in the bell-ringing of Christ Church. He was leader, or No. 1, and the whole business was in the hands of a kind of guild which is nearly as old as the church. I used to hear more of it than I liked, because my father talked of nothing else. But I do not mean to bore myself writing of bells. I heard too much about "back shake," "raising in peal," "scales," and "touches," and the Lord knows what.
My earliest remembrance is of sitting on my father's shoulder when he led off the ringers. He was very strong, as I said, by reason of this exercise. With one foot caught in a loop of leather nailed to the floor, he would begin to pull No. 1, and by and by the whole peal would be swinging, and he going up and down, to my joy; I used to feel as if it was I that was making the great noise that rang out all over the town. My familiar acquaintance with the old church and its lumber-rooms, where were stored the dusty arms of William and Mary and George II., proved of use in my later days.
My father had a strong belief in my talents, and I do not think he was mistaken. As he was quite uneducated, he determined that I should not be. He had saved enough to send me to Princeton College, and when I was about fifteen I was set free from the public schools. I never liked them. The last I was at was the high school. As I had to come down-town to get home, we used to meet on Arch street the boys from the grammar-school of the university, and there were fights every week. In winter these were most frequent, because of the snow-balling. A fellow had to take his share or be marked as a deserter. I never saw any personal good to be had out of a fight, but it was better to fight than to be cobbed. That means that two fellows hold you, and the other fellows kick you with their bent knees. It hurts.
I find just here that I am describing a thing as if I were writing for some other people to see. I may as well go on that way. After all, a man never can quite stand off and look at himself as if he was the only person concerned. He must have an audience, or make believe to have one, even if it is only himself. Nor, on the whole, should I be unwilling, if it were safe, to let people see how great ability may be defeated by the crankiness of fortune.
I may add here that a stone inside of a snowball discourages the fellow it hits. But neither our fellows nor the grammar-school used stones in snowballs. I rather liked it. If we had a row in the springtime we all threw stones, and here was one of those bits of stupid custom no man can understand; because really a stone outside of a snowball is much more serious than if it is mercifully padded with snow. I felt it to be a rise in life when I got out of the society of the common boys who attended the high school.
When I was there a man by the name of Dallas Bache was the head master. He had a way of letting the boys attend to what he called the character of the school. Once I had to lie to him about taking another boy's ball. He told my class that I had denied the charge, and that he always took it for granted that a boy spoke the truth. He knew well enough what would happen. It did. After that I was careful.
Princeton was then a little college, not expensive, which was very well, as my father had some difficulty to provide even the moderate amount needed.
I soon found that if I was to associate with the upper set of young men I needed money. For some time I waited in vain. But in my second year I discovered a small gold-mine, on which I drew with a moderation which shows even thus early the strength of my character.
I used to go home once a month for a Sunday visit, and on these occasions I was often able to remove from my aunt's big Bible a five- or ten-dollar note, which otherwise would have been long useless.
Now and then I utilized my opportunities at Princeton. I very much desired certain things like well-made clothes, and for these I had to run in debt to a tailor. When he wanted pay, and threatened to send the bill to my father, I borrowed from two or three young Southerners; but at last, when they became hard up, my aunt's uncounted hoard proved a last resource, or some rare chance in a neighboring room helped me out. I never did look on this method as of permanent usefulness, and it was only the temporary folly of youth.
Whatever else the pirate necessity appropriated, I took no large amount of education, although I was fond of reading, and especially of novels, which are, I think, very instructive to the young, especially the novels of Smollett and Fielding.
There is, however, little need to dwell on this part of my life. College students in those days were only boys, and boys are very strange animals. They have instincts. They somehow get to know if a fellow does not relate facts as they took place. I like to put it that way, because, after all, the mode of putting things is only one of the forms of self-defense, and is less silly than the ordinary wriggling methods which boys employ, and which are generally useless. I was rather given to telling large stories just for the fun of it and, I think, told them well. But somehow I got the reputation of not being strictly definite, and when it was meant to indicate this belief they had an ill-mannered way of informing you. This consisted in two or three fellows standing up and shuffling noisily with their feet on the floor. When first I heard this I asked innocently what it meant, and was told it was the noise of the bearers' feet coming to take away Ananias. This was considered a fine joke.
During my junior year I became unpopular, and as I was very cautious, I cannot see why. At last, being hard up, I got to be foolishly reckless. But why dwell on the failures of immaturity?
The causes which led to my leaving Nassau Hall were not, after all, the mischievous outbreaks in which college lads indulge. Indeed, I have never been guilty of any of those pieces of wanton wickedness which injure the feelings of others while they lead to no useful result. When I left to return home, I set myself seriously to reflect upon the necessity of greater care in following out my inclinations, and from that time forward I have steadily avoided, whenever it was possible, the vulgar vice of directly possessing myself of objects to which I could show no legal title. My father was indignant at the results of my college career; and, according to my aunt, his shame and sorrow had some effect in shortening his life. My sister believed my account of the matter. It ended in my being used for a year as an assistant in the shop, and in being taught to ring bells—a fine exercise, but not proper work for a man of refinement. My father died while training his bell-ringers in the Oxford triple bob—broke a blood-vessel somewhere. How I could have caused that I do not see.
I was now about nineteen years old, and, as I remember, a middle-sized, well-built young fellow, with large eyes, a slight mustache, and, I have been told, with very good manners and a somewhat humorous turn. Besides these advantages, my guardian held in trust for me about two thousand dollars. After some consultation between us, it was resolved that I should study medicine. This conclusion was reached nine years before the Rebellion broke out, and after we had settled, for the sake of economy, in Woodbury, New Jersey. From this time I saw very little of my deaf aunt or of Peninnah. I was resolute to rise in the world, and not to be weighted by relatives who were without my tastes and my manners.
I set out for Philadelphia, with many good counsels from my aunt and guardian. I look back upon this period as a turning-point of my life. I had seen enough of the world already to know that if you can succeed without exciting suspicion, it is by far the pleasantest way; and I really believe that if I had not been endowed with so fatal a liking for all the good things of life I might have lived along as reputably as most men. This, however, is, and always has been, my difficulty, and I suppose that I am not responsible for the incidents to which it gave rise. Most men have some ties in life, but I have said I had none which held me. Peninnah cried a good deal when we parted, and this, I think, as I was still young, had a very good effect in strengthening my resolution to do nothing which could get me into trouble. The janitor of the college to which I went directed me to a boarding-house, where I engaged a small third-story room, which I afterwards shared with Mr. Chaucer of Georgia. He pronounced it, as I remember, "Jawjah."
In this very remarkable abode I spent the next two winters, and finally graduated, along with two hundred more, at the close of my two years of study. I should previously have been one year in a physician's office as a student, but this regulation was very easily evaded. As to my studies, the less said the better. I attended the quizzes, as they call them, pretty closely, and, being of a quick and retentive memory, was thus enabled to dispense with some of the six or seven lectures a day which duller men found it necessary to follow.
Dissecting struck me as a rather nasty business for a gentleman, and on this account I did just as little as was absolutely essential. In fact, if a man took his tickets and paid the dissection fees, nobody troubled himself as to whether or not he did any more than this. A like evil existed at the graduation: whether you squeezed through or passed with credit was a thing which was not made public, so that I had absolutely nothing to stimulate my ambition. I am told that it is all very different to-day.
The astonishment with which I learned of my success was shared by the numerous Southern gentlemen who darkened the floors and perfumed with tobacco the rooms of our boarding-house. In my companions, during the time of my studies so called, as in other matters of life, I was somewhat unfortunate. All of them were Southern gentlemen, with more money than I had. Many of them carried great sticks, usually sword-canes, and some bowie-knives or pistols; also, they delighted in swallow-tailed coats, long hair, broad-brimmed felt hats, and very tight boots. I often think of these gentlemen with affectionate interest, and wonder how many are lying under the wheat-fields of Virginia. One could see them any day sauntering along with their arms over their companions' shoulders, splendidly indifferent to the ways of the people about them. They hated the "Nawth" and cursed the Yankees, and honestly believed that the leanest of them was a match for any half a dozen of the bulkiest of Northerners. I must also do them the justice to say that they were quite as ready to fight as to brag, which, by the way, is no meager statement. With these gentry—for whom I retain a respect which filled me with regret at the recent course of events—I spent a good deal of my large leisure. The more studious of both sections called us a hard crowd. What we did, or how we did it, little concerns me here, except that, owing to my esteem for chivalric blood and breeding, I was led into many practices and excesses which cost my guardian and myself a good deal of money. At the close of my career as a student I found myself aged twenty-one years, and the owner of some seven hundred dollars—the rest of my small estate having disappeared variously within the last two years. After my friends had gone to their homes in the South I began to look about me for an office, and finally settled upon very good rooms in one of the down-town localities of the Quaker City. I am not specific as to the number and street, for reasons which may hereafter appear. I liked the situation on various accounts. It had been occupied by a doctor; the terms were reasonable; and it lay on the skirts of a good neighborhood, while below it lived a motley population, among which I expected to get my first patients and such fees as were to be had. Into this new home I moved my medical text-books, a few bones, and myself. Also, I displayed in the window a fresh sign, upon which was distinctly to be read:
DR. E. SANDERAFT. Office hours, 8 to 9 A.M., 7 to 9 P.M.
I felt now that I had done my fair share toward attaining a virtuous subsistence, and so I waited tranquilly, and without undue enthusiasm, to see the rest of the world do its part in the matter. Meanwhile I read up on all sorts of imaginable cases, stayed at home all through my office hours, and at intervals explored the strange section of the town which lay to the south of my office. I do not suppose there is anything like it else where. It was then filled with grog-shops, brothels, slop-shops, and low lodging-houses. You could dine for a penny on soup made from the refuse meats of the rich, gathered at back gates by a horde of half-naked children, who all told varieties of one woeful tale. Here, too, you could be drunk for five cents, and be lodged for three, with men, women, and children of all colors lying about you. It was this hideous mixture of black and white and yellow wretchedness which made the place so peculiar. The blacks predominated, and had mostly that swollen, reddish, dark skin, the sign in this race of habitual drunkenness. Of course only the lowest whites were here—rag-pickers, pawnbrokers, old-clothes men, thieves, and the like. All of this, as it came before me, I viewed with mingled disgust and philosophy. I hated filth, but I understood that society has to stand on somebody, and I was only glad that I was not one of the undermost and worst-squeezed bricks.
I can hardly believe that I waited a month without having been called upon by a single patient. At last a policeman on our beat brought me a fancy man with a dog-bite. This patient recommended me to his brother, the keeper of a small pawnbroking-shop, and by very slow degrees I began to get stray patients who were too poor to indulge in up-town doctors. I found the police very useful acquaintances; and, by a drink or a cigar now and then, I got most of the cases of cut heads and the like at the next station-house. These, however, were the aristocrats of my practice; the bulk of my patients were soap-fat men, rag-pickers, oystermen, hose-house bummers, and worse, with other and nameless trades, men and women, white, black, or mulatto. How they got the levies, fips, and quarters with which I was reluctantly paid, I do not know; that, indeed, was none of my business. They expected to pay, and they came to me in preference to the dispensary doctor, two or three squares away, who seemed to me to spend most of his days in the lanes and alleys about us. Of course he received no pay except experience, since the dispensaries in the Quaker City, as a rule, do not give salaries to their doctors; and the vilest of the poor prefer a "pay doctor" to one of these disinterested gentlemen, who cannot be expected to give their best brains for nothing, when at everybody's beck and call. I am told, indeed I know, that most young doctors do a large amount of poor practice, as it is called; but, for my own part, I think it better for both parties when the doctor insists upon some compensation being made to him. This has been usually my own custom, and I have not found reason to regret it.
Notwithstanding my strict attention to my own interests, I have been rather sorely dealt with by fate upon several occasions, where, so far as I could see, I was vigilantly doing everything in my power to keep myself out of trouble or danger. I may as well relate one of them, merely to illustrate of how little value a man's intellect may be when fate and the prejudices of the mass of men are against him.
One evening, late, I myself answered a ring at the bell, and found a small black boy on the steps, a shoeless, hatless little wretch, curled darkness for hair, and teeth like new tombstones. It was pretty cold, and he was relieving his feet by standing first on one and then on the other. He did not wait for me to speak.
"Hi, sah, Missey Barker she say to come quick away, sah, to Numbah 709 Bedford street."
The locality did not look like pay, but it is hard to say in this quarter, because sometimes you found a well-to-do "brandy-snifter" (local for gin-shop) or a hard-working "leather-jeweler" (ditto for shoemaker), with next door, in a house better or worse, dozens of human rats for whom every police trap in the city was constantly set.
With a doubt in my mind as to whether I should find a good patient or some dirty nigger, I sought the place to which I had been directed. I did not like its looks; but I blundered up an alley and into a back room, where I fell over somebody, and was cursed and told to lie down and keep easy, or somebody, meaning the man stumbled over, would make me. At last I lit on a staircase which led into the alley, and, after much useless inquiry, got as high as the garret. People hereabout did not know one another, or did not want to know, so that it was of little avail to ask questions. At length I saw a light through the cracks in the attic door, and walked in. To my amazement, the first person I saw was a woman of about thirty-five, in pearl-gray Quaker dress—one of your quiet, good-looking people. She was seated on a stool beside a straw mattress upon which lay a black woman. There were three others crowded close around a small stove, which was red-hot—an unusual spectacle in this street. Altogether a most nasty den.
As I came in, the little Quaker woman got up and said: "I took the liberty of sending for thee to look at this poor woman. I am afraid she has the smallpox. Will thee be so kind as to look at her?" And with this she held down the candle toward the bed.
"Good gracious!" I said hastily, seeing how the creature was speckled "I didn't understand this, or I would not have come. I have important cases which I cannot subject to the risk of contagion. Best let her alone, miss," I added, "or send her to the smallpox hospital."
Upon my word, I was astonished at the little woman's indignation. She said just those things which make you feel as if somebody had been calling you names or kicking you—Was I really a doctor? and so on. It did not gain by being put in the ungrammatical tongue of Quakers. However, I never did fancy smallpox, and what could a fellow get by doctoring wretches like these? So I held my tongue and went away. About a week afterwards I met Evans, the dispensary man, a very common fellow, who was said to be frank.
"Helloa!" says he. "Doctor, you made a nice mistake about that darky at No. 709 Bedford street the other night. She had nothing but measles, after all."
"Of course I knew," said I, laughing; "but you don't think I was going in for dispensary trash, do you?"
"I should think not," said Evans.
I learned afterwards that this Miss Barker had taken an absurd fancy to the man because he had doctored the darky and would not let the Quakeress pay him. The end was, when I wanted to get a vacancy in the Southwark Dispensary, where they do pay the doctors, Miss Barker was malignant enough to take advantage of my oversight by telling the whole story to the board; so that Evans got in, and I was beaten.
You may be pretty sure that I found rather slow the kind of practice I have described, and began to look about for chances of bettering myself. In this sort of locality rather risky cases turned up now and then; and as soon as I got to be known as a reliable man, I began to get the peculiar sort of practice I wanted. Notwithstanding all my efforts, I found myself, at the close of three years, with all my means spent, and just able to live meagerly from hand to mouth, which by no means suited a man of my refined tastes.
Once or twice I paid a visit to my aunt, and was able to secure moderate aid by overhauling her concealed hoardings. But as to these changes of property I was careful, and did not venture to secure the large amount I needed. As to the Bible, it was at this time hidden, and I judged it, therefore, to be her chief place of deposit. Banks she utterly distrusted.
Six months went by, and I was worse off than ever—two months in arrears of rent, and numerous other debts to cigar-shops and liquor-dealers. Now and then some good job, such as a burglar with a cut head, helped me for a while; but, on the whole, I was like Slider Downeyhylle in Neal's "Charcoal Sketches," and kept going "downer and downer" the more I tried not to. Something had to be done.
It occurred to me, about this time, that if I moved into a more genteel locality I might get a better class of patients, and yet keep the best of those I now had. To do this it was necessary to pay my rent, and the more so because I was in a fair way to have no house at all over my head. But here fortune interposed. I was caught in a heavy rainstorm on Seventh Street, and ran to catch an omnibus. As I pulled open the door I saw behind me the Quaker woman, Miss Barker. I laughed and jumped in. She had to run a little before the 'bus again stopped. She got pretty wet. An old man in the corner, who seemed in the way of taking charge of other people's manners, said to me: "Young man, you ought to be ashamed to get in before the lady, and in this pour, too!"
I said calmly, "But you got in before her."
He made no reply to this obvious fact, as he might have been in the bus a half-hour. A large, well-dressed man near by said, with a laugh, "Rather neat, that," and, turning, tried to pull up a window-sash. In the effort something happened, and he broke the glass, cutting his hand in half a dozen places. While he was using several quite profane phrases, I caught his hand and said, "I am a surgeon," and tied my handkerchief around the bleeding palm.
The guardian of manners said, "I hope you are not much hurt, but there was no reason why you should swear."
On this my patient said, "Go to ——," which silenced the monitor.
I explained to the wounded man that the cuts should be looked after at once. The matter was arranged by our leaving the 'bus, and, as the rain had let up, walking to his house. This was a large and quite luxurious dwelling on Fourth street. There I cared for his wounds, which, as I had informed him, required immediate attention. It was at this time summer, and his wife and niece, the only other members of his family, were absent. On my second visit I made believe to remove some splinters of glass which I brought with me. He said they showed how shamefully thin was that omnibus window-pane. To my surprise, my patient, at the end of the month,—for one wound was long in healing,—presented me with one hundred dollars. This paid my small rental, and as Mr. Poynter allowed me to refer to him, I was able to get a better office and bedroom on Spruce street. I saw no more of my patient until winter, although I learned that he was a stock-broker, not in the very best repute, but of a well-known family.
Meanwhile my move had been of small use. I was wise enough, however, to keep up my connection with my former clients, and contrived to live. It was no more than that. One day in December I was overjoyed to see Mr. Poynter enter. He was a fat man, very pale, and never, to my remembrance, without a permanent smile. He had very civil ways, and now at once I saw that he wanted something.
I hated the way that man saw through me. He went on without hesitation, taking me for granted. He began by saying he had confidence in my judgment, and when a man says that you had better look out. He said he had a niece who lived with him, a brother's child; that she was out of health and ought not to marry, which was what she meant to do. She was scared about her health, because she had a cough, and had lost a brother of consumption. I soon came to understand that, for reasons unknown to me, my friend did not wish his niece to marry. His wife, he also informed me, was troubled as to the niece's health. Now, he said, he wished to consult me as to what he should do. I suspected at once that he had not told me all.
I have often wondered at the skill with which I managed this rather delicate matter. I knew I was not well enough known to be of direct use, and was also too young to have much weight. I advised him to get Professor C.
Then my friend shook his head. He said in reply, "But suppose, doctor, he says there is nothing wrong with the girl?"
Then I began to understand him.
"Oh," I said, "you get a confidential written opinion from him. You can make it what you please when you tell her."
He said no. It would be best for me to ask the professor to see Miss Poynter; might mention my youth, and so on, as a reason. I was to get his opinion in writing.
"Well?" said I.
"After that I want you to write me a joint opinion to meet the case—all the needs of the case, you see."
I saw, but hesitated as to how much would make it worth while to pull his hot chestnuts out of the fire—one never knows how hot the chestnuts are.
Then he said, "Ever take a chance in stocks?"
I said, "No."
He said that he would lend me a little money and see what he could do with it. And here was his receipt from me for one thousand dollars, and here, too, was my order to buy shares of P. T. Y. Would I please to Sign it? I did.
I was to call in two days at his house, and meantime I could think it over. It seemed to me a pretty weak plan. Suppose the young woman—well, supposing is awfully destructive of enterprise; and as for me, I had only to misunderstand the professor's opinion. I went to the house, and talked to Mr. Poynter about his gout. Then Mrs. Poynter came in, and began to lament her niece's declining health. After that I saw Miss Poynter. There is a kind of innocent-looking woman who knows no more of the world than a young chicken, and is choke-full of emotions. I saw it would be easy to frighten her. There are some instruments anybody can get any tune they like out of. I was very grave, and advised her to see the professor. And would I write to ask him, said Mr. Poynter. I said I would.
As I went out Mr. Poynter remarked: "You will clear some four hundred easy. Write to the professor. Bring my receipt to the office next week, and we will settle."
We settled. I tore up his receipt and gave him one for fifteen hundred dollars, and received in notes five hundred dollars.
In a day or so I had a note from the professor stating that Miss Poynter was in no peril; that she was, as he thought, worried, and had only a mild bronchial trouble. He advised me to do so-and-so, and had ventured to reassure my young patient. Now, this was a little more than I wanted. However, I wrote Mr. Poynter that the professor thought she had bronchitis, that in her case tubercle would be very apt to follow, and that at present, and until she was safe, we considered marriage undesirable.
Mr. Poynter said it might have been put stronger, but he would make it do. He made it. The first effect was an attack of hysterics. The final result was that she eloped with her lover, because if she was to die, as she wrote her aunt, she wished to die in her husband's arms. Human nature plus hysteria will defy all knowledge of character. This was what our old professor of practice used to say.
Mr. Poynter had now to account for a large trust estate which had somehow dwindled. Unhappily, princes are not the only people in whom you must not put your trust. As to myself, Professor L. somehow got to know the facts, and cut me dead. It was unpleasant, but I had my five hundred dollars, and—I needed them. I do not see how I could have been more careful.
After this things got worse. Mr. Poynter broke, and did not even pay my last bill. I had to accept several rather doubtful cases, and once a policeman I knew advised me that I had better be on my guard.
But, really, so long as I adhered to the common code of my profession I was in danger of going without my dinner.
Just as I was at my worst and in despair something always turned up, but it was sure to be risky; and now my aunt refused to see me, and Peninnah wrote me goody-goody letters, and said Aunt Rachel had been unable to find certain bank-notes she had hidden, and vowed I had taken them. This Peninnah did not think possible. I agreed with her. The notes were found somewhat later by Peninnah in the toes of a pair of my aunt's old slippers. Of course I wrote an indignant letter. My aunt declared that Peninnah had stolen the notes, and restored them when they were missed. Poor Peninnah! This did not seem to me very likely, but Peninnah did love fine clothes.
One night, as I was debating with myself as to how I was to improve my position, I heard a knock on my shutter, and, going to the door, let in a broad-shouldered man with a whisky face and a great hooked nose. He wore a heavy black beard and mustache, and looked like the wolf in the pictures of Red Riding-hood which I had seen as a child.
"Your name's Sanderaft?" said the man.
"Yes; that's my name—Dr. Sanderaft."
As he sat down he shook the snow over everything, and said coolly: "Set down, doc; I want to talk with you."
"What can I do for you?" said I.
The man looked around the room rather scornfully, at the same time throwing back his coat and displaying a red neckerchief and a huge garnet pin. "Guess you're not overly rich," he said.
"Not especially," said I. "What's that your business?"
He did not answer, but merely said, "Know Simon Stagers?"
"Can't say I do," said I, cautiously. Simon was a burglar who had blown off two fingers when mining a safe. I had attended him while he was hiding.
"Can't say you do. Well, you can lie, and no mistake. Come, now, doc. Simon says you're safe, and I want to have a leetle plain talk with you."
With this he laid ten gold eagles on the table. I put out my hand instinctively.
"Let 'em alone," cried the man, sharply. "They're easy earned, and ten more like 'em."
"For doing what?" I said.
The man paused a moment, and looked around him; next he stared at me, and loosened his cravat with a hasty pull. "You're the coroner," said he.
"I! What do you mean?"
"Yes, you're the coroner; don't you understand?" and so saying, he shoved the gold pieces toward me.
"Very good," said I; "we will suppose I'm the coroner. What next?"
"And being the coroner," said he, "you get this note, which requests you to call at No. 9 Blank street to examine the body of a young man which is supposed—only supposed, you see—to have—well, to have died under suspicious circumstances."
"Go on," said I.
"No," he returned; "not till I know how you like it. Stagers and another knows it; and it wouldn't be very safe for you to split, besides not making nothing out of it. But what I say is this, Do you like the business of coroner?"
I did not like it; but just then two hundred in gold was life to me, so I said: "Let me hear the whole of it first. I am safe."
"That's square enough," said the man. "My wife's got"—correcting himself with a shivery shrug—"my wife had a brother that took to cutting up rough because when I'd been up too late I handled her a leetle hard now and again.
"Luckily he fell sick with typhoid just then—you see, he lived with us. When he got better I guessed he'd drop all that; but somehow he was worse than ever—clean off his head, and strong as an ox. My wife said to put him away in an asylum. I didn't think that would do. At last he tried to get out. He was going to see the police about—well—the thing was awful serious, and my wife carrying on like mad, and wanting doctors. I had no mind to run, and something had got to be done. So Simon Stagers and I talked it over. The end of it was, he took worse of a sudden, and got so he didn't know nothing. Then I rushed for a doctor. He said it was a perforation, and there ought to have been a doctor when he was first took sick.
"Well, the man died, and as I kept about the house, my wife had no chance to talk. The doctor fussed a bit, but at last he gave a certificate. I thought we were done with it. But my wife she writes a note and gives it to a boy in the alley to put in the post. We suspicioned her, and Stagers was on the watch. After the boy got away a bit, Simon bribed him with a quarter to give him the note, which wasn't no less than a request to the coroner to come to the house to-morrow and make an examination, as foul play was suspected—and poison."
When the man quit talking he glared at me. I sat still. I was cold all over. I was afraid to go on, and afraid to go back, besides which, I did not doubt that there was a good deal of money in the case.
"Of course," said I, "it's nonsense; only I suppose you don't want the officers about, and a fuss, and that sort of thing."
"Exactly," said my friend. "It's all bosh about poison. You're the coroner. You take this note and come to my house. Says you: 'Mrs. File, are you the woman that wrote this note? Because in that case I must examine the body.'"
"I see," said I; "she needn't know who I am, or anything else; but if I tell her it's all right, do you think she won't want to know why there isn't a jury, and so on?"
"Bless you," said the man, "the girl isn't over seventeen, and doesn't know no more than a baby. As we live up-town miles away, she won't know anything about you."
"I'll do it," said I, suddenly, for, as I saw, it involved no sort of risk; "but I must have three hundred dollars."
"And fifty," added the wolf, "if you do it well."
Then I knew it was serious.
With this the man buttoned about him a shaggy gray overcoat, and took his leave without a single word in addition.
A minute later he came back and said: "Stagers is in this business, and I was to remind you of Lou Wilson,—I forgot that,—the woman that died last year. That's all." Then he went away, leaving me in a cold sweat. I knew now I had no choice. I understood why I had been selected.
For the first time in my life, that night I couldn't sleep. I thought to myself, at last, that I would get up early, pack a few clothes, and escape, leaving my books to pay as they might my arrears of rent. Looking out of the window, however, in the morning, I saw Stagers prowling about the opposite pavement; and as the only exit except the street door was an alleyway which opened along-side of the front of the house, I gave myself up for lost. About ten o'clock I took my case of instruments and started for File's house, followed, as I too well understood, by Stagers.
I knew the house, which was in a small uptown street, by its closed windows and the craped bell, which I shuddered as I touched. However, it was too late to draw back, and I therefore inquired for Mrs. File. A haggard-looking young woman came down, and led me into a small parlor, for whose darkened light I was thankful enough.
"Did you write this note?"
"I did," said the woman, "if you're the coroner. Joe File—he's my husband—he's gone out to see about the funeral. I wish it was his, I do."
"What do you suspect?" said I.
"I'll tell you," she returned in a whisper. "I think he was made away with. I think there was foul play. I think he was poisoned. That's what I think."
"I hope you may be mistaken," said I. "Suppose you let me see the body."
"You shall see it," she replied; and following her, I went up-stairs to a front chamber, where I found the corpse.
"Get it over soon," said the woman, with strange firmness. "If there ain't no murder been done I shall have to run for it; if there was"—and her face set hard—"I guess I'll stay." With this she closed the door and left me with the dead.
If I had known what was before me I never could have gone into the thing at all. It looked a little better when I had opened a window and let in plenty of light; for although I was, on the whole, far less afraid of dead than living men, I had an absurd feeling that I was doing this dead man a distinct wrong—as if it mattered to the dead, after all! When the affair was over, I thought more of the possible consequences than of its relation to the dead man himself; but do as I would at the time, I was in a ridiculous funk, and especially when going through the forms of a post-mortem examination.
I am free to confess now that I was careful not to uncover the man's face, and that when it was over I backed to the door and hastily escaped from the room. On the stairs opposite to me Mrs. File was seated, with her bonnet on and a bundle in her hand.
"Well," said she, rising as she spoke, and with a certain eagerness in her tone, "what killed him? Was it poison?"
"Poison, my good woman!" said I. "When a man has typhoid fever he don't need poison to kill him. He had a relapse, that's all."
"And do you mean to say he wasn't poisoned," said she, with more than a trace of disappointment in her voice—"not poisoned at all?"
"No more than you are," said I. "If I had found any signs of foul play I should have had a regular inquest. As it is, the less said about it the better. The fact is, it would have been much wiser to have kept quiet at the beginning. I can't understand why you should have troubled me about it at all. The man had a perforation. It is common enough in typhoid."
"That's what the doctor said—I didn't believe him. I guess now the sooner I leave the better for me."
"As to that," I returned, "it is none of my business; but you may rest certain about the cause of your brother's death."
My fears were somewhat quieted that evening when Stagers and the wolf appeared with the remainder of the money, and I learned that Mrs. File had fled from her home and, as File thought likely, from the city also. A few months later File himself disappeared, and Stagers found his way for the third time into the penitentiary. Then I felt at ease. I now see, for my own part, that I was guilty of more than one mistake, and that I displayed throughout a want of intelligence. I ought to have asked more, and also might have got a good fee from Mrs. File on account of my services as coroner. It served me, however, as a good lesson; but it was several months before I felt quite comfortable.
Meanwhile money became scarce once more, and I was driven to my wit's end to devise how I should continue to live as I had done. I tried, among other plans, that of keeping certain pills and other medicines, which I sold to my patients; but on the whole I found it better to send all my prescriptions to one druggist, who charged the patient ten or twenty cents over the correct price, and handed this amount to me.
In some cases I am told the percentage is supposed to be a donation on the part of the apothecary; but I rather fancy the patient pays for it in the end. It is one of the absurd vagaries of the profession to discountenance the practice I have described, but I wish, for my part, I had never done anything more foolish or more dangerous. Of course it inclines a doctor to change his medicines a good deal, and to order them in large quantities, which is occasionally annoying to the poor; yet, as I have always observed, there is no poverty as painful as your own, so that I prefer to distribute pecuniary suffering among many rather than to concentrate it on myself. That's a rather neat phrase.
About six months after the date of this annoying adventure, an incident occurred which altered somewhat, and for a time improved, my professional position. During my morning office-hour an old woman came in, and putting down a large basket, wiped her face with a yellow-cotton handkerchief, and afterwards with the corner of her apron. Then she looked around uneasily, got up, settled her basket on her arm with a jerk which may have decided the future of an egg or two, and remarked briskly: "Don't see no little bottles about; got the wrong stall, I guess. You ain't no homeopath doctor, are you?"
With great presence of mind, I replied: "Well, ma'am, that depends upon what you want. Some of my patients like one, and some like the other." I was about to add, "You pay your money and you take your choice," but thought better of it, and held my peace, refraining from classical quotation.
"Being as that's the case," said the old lady, "I'll just tell you my symptoms. You said you give either kind of medicine, didn't you?"
"Just so," replied I.
"Clams or oysters, whichever opens most lively, as my old Joe says—tends the oyster-stand at stall No. 9. Happen to know Joe?"
No, I did not know Joe; but what were the symptoms?
They proved to be numerous, and included a stunning in the head and a misery in the side, with bokin after victuals.
I proceeded, of course, to apply a stethoscope over her ample bosom, though what I heard on this and similar occasions I should find it rather difficult to state. I remember well my astonishment in one instance where, having unconsciously applied my instrument over a clamorous silver watch in the watchfob of a sea-captain, I concluded for a moment that he was suffering from a rather remarkable displacement of the heart. As to my old lady, whose name was Checkers, and who kept an apple-stand near by, I told her that I was out of pills just then, but would have plenty next day. Accordingly, I proceeded to invest a small amount at a place called a homeopathic pharmacy, which I remember amused me immensely.
A stout little German, with great silver spectacles, sat behind a counter containing numerous jars of white powders labeled concisely "Lac.," "Led.," "Onis.," "Op.," "Puls.," etc., while behind him were shelves filled with bottles of what looked like minute white shot.
"I want some homeopathic medicine," said I.
"Vat kindt?" said my friend. "Vat you vants to cure!"
I explained at random that I wished to treat diseases in general.
"Vell, ve gifs you a case, mit a pook," and thereon produced a large box containing bottles of small pills and powders, labeled variously with the names of the diseases, so that all you required was to use the headache or colic bottle in order to meet the needs of those particular maladies.
I was struck at first with the exquisite simplicity of this arrangement; but before purchasing, I happened luckily to turn over the leaves of a book, in two volumes, which lay on the counter; it was called "Jahr's Manual." Opening at page 310, vol. i, I lit upon "Lachesis," which proved to my amazement to be snake-venom. This Mr. Jahr stated to be indicated for use in upward of a hundred symptoms. At once it occurred to me that "Lach." was the medicine for my money, and that it was quite needless to waste cash on the box. I therefore bought a small jar of "Lach." and a lot of little pills, and started for home.
My old woman proved a fast friend; and as she sent me numerous patients, I by and by altered my sign to "Homeopathic Physician and Surgeon," whatever that may mean, and was regarded by my medical brothers as a lost sheep, and by the little-pill doctors as one who had seen the error of his ways.
In point of fact, my new practice had decided advantages. All pills looked and tasted alike, and the same might be said of the powders, so that I was never troubled by those absurd investigations into the nature of remedies which some patients are prone to make. Of course I desired to get business, and it was therefore obviously unwise to give little pills of "Lac.," or "Puls.," or "Sep.," when a man needed a dose of oil, or a white-faced girl iron, or the like. I soon made the useful discovery that it was only necessary to prescribe cod-liver oil, for instance, as a diet, in order to make use of it where required. When a man got impatient over an ancient ague, I usually found, too, that I could persuade him to let me try a good dose of quinine; while, on the other hand, there was a distinct pecuniary advantage in those cases of the shakes which could be made to believe that it "was best not to interfere with nature." I ought to add that this kind of faith is uncommon among folks who carry hods or build walls.
For women who are hysterical, and go heart and soul into the business of being sick, I have found the little pills a most charming resort, because you cannot carry the refinement of symptoms beyond what my friend Jahr has done in the way of fitting medicines to them, so that if I had taken seriously to practising this double form of therapeutics, it had, as I saw, certain conveniences.
Another year went by, and I was beginning to prosper in my new mode of life. My medicines (being chiefly milk-sugar, with variations as to the labels) cost next to nothing; and as I charged pretty well for both these and my advice, I was now able to start a gig.
I solemnly believe that I should have continued to succeed in the practice of my profession if it had not happened that fate was once more unkind to me, by throwing in my path one of my old acquaintances. I had a consultation one day with the famous homeopath Dr. Zwanzig. As we walked away we were busily discussing the case of a poor consumptive fellow who previously had lost a leg. In consequence of this defect, Dr. Zwanzig considered that the ten-thousandth of a grain of aurum would be an overdose, and that it must be fractioned so as to allow for the departed leg, otherwise the rest of the man would be getting a leg-dose too much. I was particularly struck with this view of the case, but I was still more, and less pleasingly, impressed at the sight of my former patient Stagers, who nodded to me familiarly from the opposite pavement.
I was not at all surprised when, that evening quite late, I found this worthy waiting in my office. I looked around uneasily, which was clearly understood by my friend, who retorted: "Ain't took nothin' of yours, doc. You don't seem right awful glad to see me. You needn't be afraid—I've only fetched you a job, and a right good one, too."
I replied that I had my regular business, that I preferred he should get some one else, and pretty generally made Mr. Stagers aware that I had had enough of him. I did not ask him to sit down, and, just as I supposed him about to leave, he seated himself with a grin, remarking, "No use, doc; got to go into it this one time."
At this I, naturally enough, grew angry and used several rather violent phrases.
"No use, doc," said Stagers.
Then I softened down, and laughed a little, and treated the thing as a joke, whatever it was, for I dreaded to hear.
But Stagers was fate. Stagers was inevitable. "Won't do, doc—not even money wouldn't get you off."
"No?" said I, interrogatively, and as coolly as I could, contriving at the same time to move toward the window. It was summer, the sashes were up, the shutters half drawn in, and a policeman whom I knew was lounging opposite, as I had noticed when I entered. I would give Stagers a scare, charge him with theft—anything but get mixed up with his kind again. It was the folly of a moment and I should have paid dear for it.
He must have understood me, the scoundrel, for in an instant I felt a cold ring of steel against my ear, and a tiger clutch on my cravat. "Sit down," he said. "What a fool you are! Guess you forgot that there coroner's business and the rest." Needless to say that I obeyed. "Best not try that again," continued my guest. "Wait a moment"; and rising, he closed the window.
There was no resource left but to listen; and what followed I shall condense rather than relate it in the language employed by Mr. Stagers.
It appeared that my other acquaintance Mr. File had been guilty of a cold-blooded and long-premeditated murder, for which he had been tried and convicted. He now lay in jail awaiting his execution, which was to take place at Carsonville, Ohio. It seemed that with Stagers and others he had formed a band of expert counterfeiters in the West. Their business lay in the manufacture of South American currencies. File had thus acquired a fortune so considerable that I was amazed at his having allowed his passion to seduce him into unprofitable crime. In his agony he unfortunately thought of me, and had bribed Stagers largely in order that he might be induced to find me. When the narration had reached this stage, and I had been made fully to understand that I was now and hereafter under the sharp eye of Stagers and his friends, that, in a word, escape was out of the question, I turned on my tormentor.
"What does all this mean?" I said. "What does File expect me to do?"
"Don't believe he exactly knows," said Stagers. "Something or other to get him clear of hemp."
"But what stuff!" I replied. "How can I help him? What possible influence could I exert?"
"Can't say," answered Stagers, imperturbably. "File has a notion you're 'most cunning enough for anything. Best try something, doc."
"And what if I won't do it?" said I. "What does it matter to me if the rascal swings or no?"
"Keep cool, doc," returned Stagers. "I'm only agent in this here business. My principal, that's File, he says: 'Tell Sanderaft to find some way to get me clear. Once out, I give him ten thousand dollars. If he don't turn up something that will suit, I'll blow about that coroner business and Lou Wilson, and break him up generally.'"
"You don't mean," said I, in a cold sweat—"you don't mean that, if I can't do this impossible thing, he will inform on me?"
"Just so," returned Stagers. "Got a cigar, doc?"
I only half heard him. What a frightful position! I had been leading a happy and an increasingly profitable life—no scrapes and no dangers; and here, on a sudden, I had presented to me the alternative of saving a wretch from the gallows or of spending unlimited years in a State penitentiary. As for the money, it became as dead leaves for this once only in my life. My brain seemed to be spinning round. I grew weak all over.
"Cheer up a little," said Stagers. "Take a nip of whisky. Things ain't at the worst, by a good bit. You just get ready, and we'll start by the morning train. Guess you'll try out something smart enough as we travel along. Ain't got a heap of time to lose."
I was silent. A great anguish had me in its grip. I might squirm as I would, it was all in vain. Hideous plans rose to my mind, born of this agony of terror. I might murder Stagers, but what good would that do? As to File, he was safe from my hand. At last I became too confused to think any longer. "When do we leave?" I said feebly.
"At six to-morrow," he returned.
How I was watched and guarded, and how hurried over a thousand miles of rail to my fate, little concerns us now. I find it dreadful to recall it to memory. Above all, an aching eagerness for revenge upon the man who had caused me these sufferings was uppermost in my mind. Could I not fool the wretch and save myself? Of a sudden an idea came into my consciousness. Then it grew and formed itself, became possible, probable, seemed to me sure. "Ah," said I, "Stagers, give me something to eat and drink." I had not tasted food for two days.
Within a day or two after my arrival, I was enabled to see File in his cell, on the plea of being a clergyman from his native place.
I found that I had not miscalculated my danger. The man did not appear to have the least idea as to how I was to help him. He only knew that I was in his power, and he used his control to insure that something more potent than friendship should be enlisted in his behalf. As the days went by, his behavior grew to be a frightful thing to witness. He threatened, flattered, implored, offered to double the sum he had promised if I would save him. My really reasonable first thought was to see the governor of the State, and, as Stagers's former physician, make oath to his having had many attacks of epilepsy followed by brief periods of homicidal mania. He had, in fact, had fits of alcoholic epilepsy. Unluckily, the governor was in a distant city. The time was short, and the case against my man too clear. Stagers said it would not do. I was at my wit's end. "Got to do something," said File, "or I'll attend to your case, doc."
"But," said I, "suppose there is really nothing?"
"Well," said Stagers to me when we were alone, "you get him satisfied, anyhow. He'll never let them hang him, and perhaps—well, I'm going to give him these pills when I get a chance. He asked to have them. But what's your other plan?"
Stagers knew as much about medicine as a pig knows about the opera. So I set to work to delude him, first asking if he could secure me, as a clergyman, an hour alone with File just before the execution. He said money would do it, and what was my plan?
"Well," said I, "there was once a man named Dr. Chovet. He lived in London. A gentleman who turned highwayman was to be hanged. You see," said I, "this was about 1760. Well, his friends bribed the jailer and the hangman. The doctor cut a hole in the man's windpipe, very low down where it could be partly hid by a loose cravat. So, as they hanged him only a little while, and the breath went in and out of the opening below the noose, he was only just insensible when his friends got him—"
"And he got well," cried Stagers, much pleased with my rather melodramatic tale.
"Yes," I said, "he got well, and lived to take purses, all dressed in white. People had known him well, and when he robbed his great-aunt, who was not in the secret, she swore she had seen his ghost."
Stagers said that was a fine story; guessed it would work; small town, new business, lots of money to use. In fact, the attempt thus to save a man is said to have been made, but, by ill luck, the man did not recover. It answered my purpose, but how any one, even such an ass as this fellow, could believe it could succeed puzzles me to this day.
File became enthusiastic over my scheme, and I cordially assisted his credulity. The thing was to keep the wretch quiet until the business blew up or—and I shuddered—until File, in despair, took his pill. I should in any case find it wise to leave in haste.
My friend Stagers had some absurd misgivings lest Mr. File's neck might be broken by the fall; but as to this I was able to reassure him upon the best scientific authority. There were certain other and minor questions, as to the effect of sudden, nearly complete arrest of the supply of blood to the brain; but with these physiological refinements I thought it needlessly cruel to distract a man in File's peculiar position. Perhaps I shall be doing injustice to my own intellect if I do not hasten to state again that I had not the remotest belief in the efficacy of my plan for any purpose except to get me out of a very uncomfortable position and give me, with time, a chance to escape.
Stagers and I were both disguised as clergymen, and were quite freely admitted to the condemned man's cell. In fact, there was in the little town a certain trustful simplicity about all their arrangements. The day but one before the execution Stagers informed me that File had the pills, which he, Stagers, had contrived to give him. Stagers seemed pleased with our plan. I was not. He was really getting uneasy and suspicious of me—as I was soon to find out.
So far our plans, or rather mine, had worked to a marvel. Certain of File's old accomplices succeeded in bribing the hangman to shorten the time of suspension. Arrangements were made to secure me two hours alone with the prisoner, so that nothing seemed to be wanting to this tomfool business. I had assured Stagers that I would not need to see File again previous to the operation; but in the forenoon of the day before that set for the execution I was seized with a feverish impatience, which luckily prompted me to visit him once more. As usual, I was admitted readily, and nearly reached his cell when I became aware, from the sound of voices heard through the grating in the door, that there was a visitor in the cell. "Who is with him?" I inquired of the turnkey.
"The doctor," he replied.
"Doctor?" I said, pausing. "What doctor?"
"Oh, the jail doctor. I was to come back in half an hour to let him out; but he's got a quarter to stay. Shall I let you in, or will you wait?"
"No," I replied; "it is hardly right to interrupt them. I will walk in the corridor for ten minutes or so, and then you can come back to let me into the cell."
"Very good," he returned, and left me.
As soon as I was alone, I cautiously advanced until I stood alongside of the door, through the barred grating of which I was able readily to hear what went on within. The first words I caught were these:
"And you tell me, doctor, that, even if a man's windpipe was open, the hanging would kill him—are you sure?"
"Yes, I believe there would be no doubt of it. I cannot see how escape would be possible. But let me ask you why you have sent for me to ask these singular questions. You cannot have the faintest hope of escape, and least of all in such a manner as this. I advise you to think about the fate which is inevitable. You must, I fear, have much to reflect upon."
"But," said File, "if I wanted to try this plan of mine, couldn't some one be found to help me, say if he was to make twenty thousand or so by it? I mean a really good doctor." Evidently File cruelly mistrusted my skill, and meant to get some one to aid me.
"If you mean me," answered the doctor, "some one cannot be found, neither for twenty nor fifty thousand dollars. Besides, if any one were wicked enough to venture on such an attempt, he would only be deceiving you with a hope which would be utterly vain. You must be off your head."
I understood all this with an increasing fear in my mind. I had meant to get away that night at all risks. I saw now that I must go at once.
After a pause he said: "Well, doctor, you know a poor devil in my fix will clutch at straws. Hope I have not offended you."
"Not in the least," returned the doctor. "Shall I send you Mr. Smith?" This was my present name; in fact, I was known as the Rev. Eliphalet Smith.
"I would like it," answered File; "but as you go out, tell the warden I want to see him immediately about a matter of great importance."
At this stage I began to apprehend very distinctly that the time had arrived when it would be wiser for me to delay escape no longer. Accordingly, I waited until I heard the doctor rise, and at once stepped quietly away to the far end of the corridor. I had scarcely reached it when the door which closed it was opened by a turnkey who had come to relieve the doctor and let me into the cell. Of course my peril was imminent. If the turnkey mentioned my near presence to the prisoner, immediate disclosure would follow. If some lapse of time were secured before the warden obeyed the request from File that he should visit him, I might gain thus a much-needed hour, but hardly more. I therefore said to the officer: "Tell the warden that the doctor wishes to remain an hour longer with the prisoner, and that I shall return myself at the end of that time."
"Very good, sir," said the turnkey, allowing me to pass out, and, as he followed me, relocking the door of the corridor. "I'll tell him," he said. It is needless to repeat that I never had the least idea of carrying out the ridiculous scheme with which I had deluded File and Stagers, but so far Stagers's watchfulness had given me no chance to escape.
In a few moments I was outside of the jail gate, and saw my fellow-clergyman, Mr. Stagers, in full broadcloth and white tie, coming down the street toward me. As usual, he was on his guard; but this time he had to deal with a man grown perfectly desperate, with everything to win and nothing to lose. My plans were made, and, wild as they were, I thought them worth the trying. I must evade this man's terrible watch. How keen it was, you cannot imagine; but it was aided by three of the infamous gang to which File had belonged, for without these spies no one person could possibly have sustained so perfect a system.
I took Stagers's arm. "What time," said I, "does the first train start for Dayton?"
"At twelve. What do you want?"
"How far is it?"
"About fifteen miles," he replied.
"Good. I can get back by eight o'clock to-night."
"Easily," said Stagers, "if you go. What do you want?"
"I want a smaller tube to put in the windpipe—must have it, in fact."
"Well, I don't like it," said he, "but the thing's got to go through somehow. If you must go, I will go along myself. Can't lose sight of you, doc, just at present. You're monstrous precious. Did you tell File?"
"Yes," said I; "he's all right. Come. We've no time to lose."
Nor had we. Within twenty minutes we were seated in the last car of a long train, and running at the rate of twenty miles an hour toward Dayton. In about ten minutes I asked Stagers for a cigar.
"Can't smoke here," said he.
"No," I answered; "of course not. I'll go forward into the smoking-car."
"Come along," said he, and we went through the train.
I was not sorry he had gone with me when I found in the smoking-car one of the spies who had been watching me so constantly. Stagers nodded to him and grinned at me, and we sat down together.
"Chut!" said I, "left my cigar on the window-ledge in the hindmost car. Be back in a moment."
This time, for a wonder, Stagers allowed me to leave unaccompanied. I hastened through to the nearer end of the hindmost car, and stood on the platform. I instantly cut the signal-cord. Then I knelt down, and, waiting until the two cars ran together, I tugged at the connecting-pin. As the cars came together, I could lift it a little, then as the strain came on the coupling the pin held fast. At last I made a great effort, and out it came. The car I was on instantly lost speed, and there on the other platform, a hundred feet away, was Stagers shaking his fist at me. He was beaten, and he knew it. In the end few people have been able to get ahead of me.
The retreating train was half a mile away around the curve as I screwed up the brake on my car hard enough to bring it nearly to a stand. I did not wait for it to stop entirely before I slipped off the steps, leaving the other passengers to dispose of themselves as they might until their absence should be discovered and the rest of the train return.
As I wish rather to illustrate my very remarkable professional career than to amuse by describing its lesser incidents, I shall not linger to tell how I succeeded, at last, in reaching St. Louis. Fortunately, I had never ceased to anticipate the moment when escape from File and his friends would be possible, so that I always carried about with me the very small funds with which I had hastily provided myself upon leaving. The whole amount did not exceed sixty-five dollars, but with this, and a gold watch worth twice as much, I hoped to be able to subsist until my own ingenuity enabled me to provide more liberally for the future. Naturally enough, I scanned the papers closely to discover some account of File's death and of the disclosures concerning myself which he was only too likely to have made.
I came at last on an account of how he had poisoned himself, and so escaped the hangman. I never learned what he had said about me, but I was quite sure he had not let me off easy. I felt that this failure to announce his confessions was probably due to a desire on the part of the police to avoid alarming me. Be this as it may, I remained long ignorant as to whether or not the villain betrayed my part in that unusual coroner's inquest.
Before many days I had resolved to make another and a bold venture. Accordingly appeared in the St. Louis papers an advertisement to the effect that Dr. von Ingenhoff, the well-known German physician, who had spent two years on the Plains acquiring a knowledge of Indian medicine, was prepared to treat all diseases by vegetable remedies alone. Dr. von Ingenhoff would remain in St. Louis for two weeks, and was to be found at the Grayson House every day from ten until two o'clock.
To my delight, I got two patients the first day. The next I had twice as many, when at once I hired two connecting rooms, and made a very useful arrangement, which I may describe dramatically in the following way:
There being two or three patients waiting while I finished my cigar and morning julep, enters a respectable-looking old gentleman who inquires briskly of the patients if this is really Dr. von Ingenhoff's. He is told it is. My friend was apt to overact his part. I had often occasion to ask him to be less positive.
"Ah," says he, "I shall be delighted to see the doctor. Five years ago I was scalped on the Plains, and now"—exhibiting a well-covered head—"you see what the doctor did for me. 'T isn't any wonder I've come fifty miles to see him. Any of you been scalped, gentlemen?"
To none of them had this misfortune arrived as yet; but, like most folks in the lower ranks of life and some in the upper ones, it was pleasant to find a genial person who would listen to their account of their own symptoms.
Presently, after hearing enough, the old gentleman pulls out a large watch. "Bless me! it's late. I must call again. May I trouble you, sir, to say to the doctor that his old friend called to see him and will drop in again to-morrow? Don't forget: Governor Brown of Arkansas." A moment later the governor visited me by a side door, with his account of the symptoms of my patients.
Enter a tall Hoosier, the governor having retired. "Now, doc," says the Hoosier, "I've been handled awful these two years back." "Stop!" I exclaimed. "Open your eyes. There, now, let me see," taking his pulse as I speak. "Ah, you've a pain there, and there, and you can't sleep; cocktails don't agree any longer. Weren't you bit by a dog two years ago?" "I was," says the Hoosier, in amazement. "Sir," I reply, "you have chronic hydrophobia. It's the water in the cocktails that disagrees with you. My bitters will cure you in a week, sir. No more whisky—drink milk."
The astonishment of my patient at these accurate revelations may be imagined. He is allowed to wait for his medicine in the anteroom, where the chances are in favor of his relating how wonderfully I had told all his symptoms at a glance.
Governor Brown of Arkansas was a small but clever actor, whom I met in the billiard-room, and who day after day, in varying disguises and modes, played off the same tricks, to our great common advantage.
At my friend's suggestion, we very soon added to our resources by the purchase of two electromagnetic batteries. This special means of treating all classes of maladies has advantages which are altogether peculiar. In the first place, you instruct your patient that the treatment is of necessity a long one. A striking mode of putting it is to say, "Sir, you have been six months getting ill; it will require six months for a cure." There is a correct sound about such a phrase, and it is sure to satisfy. Two sittings a week, at two dollars a sitting, will pay. In many cases the patient gets well while you are electrifying him. Whether or not the electricity cured him is a thing I shall never know. If, however, he began to show signs of impatience, I advised him that he would require a year's treatment, and suggested that it would be economical for him to buy a battery and use it at home. Thus advised, he pays you twenty dollars for an instrument which cost you ten, and you are rid of a troublesome case.
If the reader has followed me closely, he will have learned that I am a man of large and liberal views in my profession, and of a very justifiable ambition. The idea has often occurred to me of combining in one establishment all the various modes of practice which are known as irregular. This, as will be understood, is really only a wider application of the idea which prompted me to unite in my own business homeopathy and the practice of medicine. I proposed to my partner, accordingly, to combine with our present business that of spiritualism, which I knew had been very profitably turned to account in connection with medical practice. As soon as he agreed to this plan, which, by the way, I hoped to enlarge so as to include all the available isms, I set about making such preparations as were necessary. I remembered having read somewhere that a Dr. Schiff had shown that he could produce remarkable "knockings," so called, by voluntarily dislocating the great toe and then forcibly drawing it back into its socket. A still better noise could be made by throwing the tendon of the peroneus longus muscle out of the hollow in which it lies, alongside of the ankle. After some effort I was able to accomplish both feats quite readily, and could occasion a remarkable variety of sounds, according to the power which I employed or the positions which I occupied at the time. As to all other matters, I trusted to the suggestions of my own ingenuity, which, as a rule, has rarely failed me.
The largest success attended the novel plan which my lucky genius had devised, so that soon we actually began to divide large profits and to lay by a portion of our savings. It is, of course, not to be supposed that this desirable result was attained without many annoyances and some positive danger. My spiritual revelations, medical and other, were, as may be supposed, only more or less happy guesses; but in this, as in predictions as to the weather and other events, the rare successes always get more prominence in the minds of men than the numerous failures. Moreover, whenever a person has been fool enough to resort to folks like myself, he is always glad to be able to defend his conduct by bringing forward every possible proof of skill on the part of the men he has consulted. These considerations, and a certain love of mysterious or unusual means, I have commonly found sufficient to secure an ample share of gullible individuals. I may add, too, that those who would be shrewd enough to understand and expose us are wise enough to keep away altogether. Such as did come were, as a rule, easy enough to manage, but now and then we hit upon some utterly exceptional patient who was both foolish enough to consult us and sharp enough to know he had been swindled. When such a fellow made a fuss, it was occasionally necessary to return his money if it was found impossible to bully him into silence. In one or two instances, where I had promised a cure upon prepayment of two or three hundred dollars, I was either sued or threatened with suit, and had to refund a part or the whole of the amount; but most people preferred to hold their tongues rather than expose to the world the extent of their own folly.
In one most disastrous case I suffered personally to a degree which I never can recall without a distinct sense of annoyance, both at my own want of care and at the disgusting consequences which it brought upon me.
Early one morning an old gentleman called, in a state of the utmost agitation, and explained that he desired to consult the spirits as to a heavy loss which he had experienced the night before. He had left, he said, a sum of money in his pantaloons pocket upon going to bed. In the morning he had changed his clothes and gone out, forgetting to remove the notes. Returning in an hour in great haste, he discovered that the garment still lay upon the chair where he had thrown it, but that the money was missing. I at once desired him to be seated, and proceeded to ask him certain questions, in a chatty way, about the habits of his household, the amount lost, and the like, expecting thus to get some clue which would enable me to make my spirits display the requisite share of sagacity in pointing out the thief. I learned readily that he was an old and wealthy man, a little close, too, I suspected, and that he lived in a large house with but two servants, and an only son about twenty-one years old. The servants were both women who had lived in the household many years, and were probably innocent. Unluckily, remembering my own youthful career, I presently reached the conclusion that the young man had been the delinquent. When I ventured to inquire a little as to his habits, the old gentleman cut me very short, remarking that he came to ask questions, and not to be questioned, and that he desired at once to consult the spirits. Upon this I sat down at a table, and, after a brief silence, demanded in a solemn voice if there were any spirits present. By industriously cracking my big toe-joint I was enabled to represent at once the presence of a numerous assembly of these worthies. Then I inquired if any one of them had been present when the robbery was effected. A prompt double knock replied in the affirmative. I may say here, by the way, that the unanimity of the spirits as to their use of two knocks for "yes" and one for "no" is a very remarkable point, and shows, if it shows anything, how perfect and universal must be the social intercourse of the respected departed. It is worthy of note, also, that if the spirit—I will not say the medium—perceives after one knock that it were wiser to say yes, he can conveniently add the second tap. Some such arrangement in real life would, it appears to me, be highly desirable.
It seemed that the spirit was that of Vidocq, the French detective. I had just read a translation of his memoirs, and he seemed to me a very available spirit to call upon.
As soon as I explained that the spirit who answered had been a witness of the theft, the old man became strangely agitated. "Who was it?" said he. At once the spirit indicated a desire to use the alphabet. As we went over the letters,—always a slow method, but useful when you want to observe excitable people,—my visitor kept saying, "Quicker—go quicker." At length the spirit spelled out the words, "I know not his name."
"Was it," said the gentleman—"was it a—was it one of my household?"
I knocked "yes" without hesitation; who else, indeed, could it have been?
"Excuse me," he went on, "if I ask you for a little whisky."
This I gave him. He continued: "Was it Susan or Ellen?"
"Was it—" He paused. "If I ask a question mentally, will the spirits reply?" I knew what he meant. He wanted to ask if it was his son, but did not wish to speak openly.
"Ask," said I.
"I have," he returned.
I hesitated. It was rarely my policy to commit myself definitely, yet here I fancied, from the facts of the case and his own terrible anxiety, that he suspected, or more than suspected, his son as the guilty person. I became sure of this as I studied his face. At all events, it would be easy to deny or explain in case of trouble; and, after all, what slander was there in two knocks? I struck twice as usual.
Instantly the old gentleman rose up, very white, but quite firm. "There," he said, and cast a bank-note on the table, "I thank you," and bending his head on his breast, walked, as I thought, with great effort out of the room.
On the following morning, as I made my first appearance in my outer room, which contained at least a dozen persons awaiting advice, who should I see standing by the window but the old gentleman with sandy-gray hair? Along with him was a stout young man with a head as red as mine, and mustache and whiskers to match. Probably the son, I thought—ardent temperament, remorse, come to confess, etc. I was never more mistaken in my life. I was about to go regularly through my patients when the old gentleman began to speak.
"I called, doctor," said he, "to explain the little matter about which I—about which I—"
"Troubled your spirits yesterday," added the youth, jocosely, pulling his mustache.
"Beg pardon," I returned; "had we not better talk this over in private? Come into my office," I added, touching the younger man on the arm.
Would you believe it? he took out his handkerchief and dusted the place I had touched. "Better not," said he. "Go on, father; let us get done with this den."
"Gentlemen," said the elder person, addressing the patients, "I called here yesterday, like a fool, to ask who had stolen from me a sum of money which I believed I left in my room on going out in the morning. This doctor here and his spirits contrived to make me suspect my only son. Well, I charged him at once with the crime as soon as I got back home, and what do you think he did? He said, 'Father, let us go up-stairs and look for it,' and—"
Here the young man broke in with: "Come, father; don't worry yourself for nothing"; and then turning, added: "To cut the thing short, he found the notes under his candle-stick, where he left them on going to bed. This is all of it. We came here to stop this fellow" (by which he meant me) "from carrying a slander further. I advise you, good people, to profit by the matter, and to look up a more honest doctor, if doctoring be what you want."
As soon as he had ended, I remarked solemnly: "The words of the spirits are not my words. Who shall hold them accountable?"
"Nonsense," said the young man. "Come, father"; and they left the room.
Now was the time to retrieve my character. "Gentlemen," said I, "you have heard this very singular account. Trusting the spirits utterly and entirely as I do, it occurs to me that there is no reason why they may not, after all, have been right in their suspicions of this young person. Who can say that, overcome by remorse, he may not have seized the time of his father's absence to replace the money?"
To my amazement, up gets a little old man from the corner. "Well, you are a low cuss!" said he, and taking up a basket beside him, hobbled hastily out of the room. You may be sure I said some pretty sharp things to him, for I was out of humor to begin with, and it is one thing to be insulted by a stout young man, and quite another to be abused by a wretched old cripple. However, he went away, and I supposed, for my part, that I was done with the whole business.
An hour later, however, I heard a rough knock at my door, and opening it hastily, saw my red-headed young man with the cripple.
"Now," said the former, taking me by the collar, and pulling me into the room among my patients, "I want to know, my man, if this doctor said that it was likely I was the thief after all?"
"That's what he said," replied the cripple; "just about that, sir."
I do not desire to dwell on the after conduct of this hot-headed young man. It was the more disgraceful as I offered but little resistance, and endured a beating such as I would have hesitated to inflict upon a dog. Nor was this all. He warned me that if I dared to remain in the city after a week he would shoot me. In the East I should have thought but little of such a threat, but here it was only too likely to be practically carried out. Accordingly, with my usual decision of character, but with much grief and reluctance, I collected my whole fortune, which now amounted to at least seven thousand dollars, and turned my back upon this ungrateful town. I am sorry to say that I also left behind me the last of my good luck.