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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Mortal Antipathy - XVII. Dr. BUTTS'S PATIENT
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A Mortal Antipathy - XVII. Dr. BUTTS'S PATIENT Post by :Cardo Category :Long Stories Author :Oliver Wendell Holmes Date :April 2012 Read :2458

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A Mortal Antipathy - XVII. Dr. BUTTS'S PATIENT

XVII. Dr. BUTTS'S PATIENT

The physician found Maurice just regaining his heat after a chill of a somewhat severe character. He knew too well what this meant, and the probable series of symptoms of which it was the prelude. His patient was not the only one in the neighborhood who was attacked in this way. The autumnal fevers to which our country towns are subject, in the place of those "agues," or intermittents, so largely prevalent in the South and West, were already beginning, and Maurice, who had exposed himself in the early and late hours of the dangerous season, must be expected to go through the regular stages of this always serious and not rarely fatal disease.

Paolo, his faithful servant, would fain have taken the sole charge of his master during his illness. But the doctor insisted that he must have a nurse to help him in his task, which was likely to be long and exhausting.

At the mention of the word "nurse" Paolo turned white, and exclaimed in an agitated and thoroughly frightened way,

"No! no nuss! no woman! She kill him! I stay by him day and night, but don' let no woman come near him,--if you do, he die!"

The doctor explained that he intended to send a man who was used to taking care of sick people, and with no little effort at last succeeded in convincing Paolo that, as he could not be awake day and night for a fortnight or three weeks, it was absolutely necessary to call in some assistance from without. And so Mr. Maurice Kirkwood was to play the leading part in that drama of nature's composing called a typhoid fever, with its regular bedchamber scenery, its properties of phials and pill-boxes, its little company of stock actors, its gradual evolution of a very simple plot, its familiar incidents, its emotional alternations, and its denouement, sometimes tragic, oftener happy.

It is needless to say that the sympathies of all the good people of the village, residents and strangers, were actively awakened for the young man about whom they knew so little and conjectured so much. Tokens of their kindness came to him daily: flowers from the woods and from the gardens; choice fruit grown in the open air or under glass, for there were some fine houses surrounded by well-kept grounds, and greenhouses and graperies were not unknown in the small but favored settlement.

On all these luxuries Maurice looked with dull and languid eyes. A faint smile of gratitude sometimes struggled through the stillness of his features, or a murmured word of thanks found its way through his parched lips, and he would relapse into the partial stupor or the fitful sleep in which, with intervals of slight wandering, the slow hours dragged along the sluggish days one after another. With no violent symptoms, but with steady persistency, the disease moved on in its accustomed course. It was at no time immediately threatening, but the experienced physician knew its uncertainties only too well. He had known fever patients suddenly seized with violent internal inflammation, and carried off with frightful rapidity. He remembered the case of a convalescent, a young woman who had been attacked while in apparently vigorous general health, who, on being lifted too suddenly to a sitting position, while still confined to her bed, fainted, and in a few moments ceased to breathe. It may well be supposed that he took every possible precaution to avert the accidents which tend to throw from its track a disease the regular course of which is arranged by nature as carefully as the route of a railroad from one city to another. The most natural interpretation which the common observer would put upon the manifestations of one of these autumnal maladies would be that some noxious combustible element had found its way into the system which must be burned to ashes before the heat which pervades the whole body can subside. Sometimes the fire may smoulder and seem as if it were going out, or were quite extinguished, and again it will find some new material to seize upon, and flame up as fiercely as ever. Its coming on most frequently at the season when the brush fires which are consuming the dead branches, and withered leaves, and all the refuse of vegetation are sending up their smoke is suggestive. Sometimes it seems as if the body, relieved of its effete materials, renewed its youth after one of these quiet, expurgating, internal fractional cremations. Lean, pallid students have found themselves plump and blooming, and it has happened that one whose hair was straight as gnat of an Indian has been startled to behold himself in his mirror with a fringe of hyacinthine curls about his rejuvenated countenance.

There was nothing of what medical men call malignity in the case of Maurice Kirkwood. The most alarming symptom was a profound prostration, which at last reached such a point that he lay utterly helpless, as unable to move without aid as the feeblest of paralytics. In this state he lay for many days, not suffering pain, but with the sense of great weariness, and the feeling that he should never rise from his bed again. For the most part his intellect was unclouded when his attention was aroused. He spoke only in whispers, a few words at a time. The doctor felt sure, by the expression which passed over his features from time to time, that something was worrying and oppressing him; something which he wished to communicate, and had not the force, or the tenacity of purpose, to make perfectly clear. His eyes often wandered to a certain desk, and once he had found strength to lift his emaciated arm and point to it. The doctor went towards it as if to fetch it to him, but he slowly shook his head. He had not the power to say at that time what he wished. The next day he felt a little less prostrated; and succeeded in explaining to the doctor what he wanted. His words, so far as the physician could make them out, were these which follow. Dr. Butts looked upon them as possibly expressing wishes which would be his last, and noted them down carefully immediately after leaving his chamber.

"I commit the secret of my life to your charge. My whole story is told in a paper locked in that desk. The key is--put your hand under my pillow. If I die, let the story be known. It will show that I was--human--and save my memory from reproach."

He was silent for a little time. A single tear stole down his hollow cheek. The doctor turned his head away, for his own eyes were full. But he said to himself, "It is a good sign; I begin to feel strong hopes that he will recover."

Maurice spoke once more. "Doctor, I put full trust in you. You are wise and kind. Do what you will with this paper, but open it at once and read. I want you to know the story of my life before it is finished--if the end is at hand. Take it with you and read it before you sleep." He was exhausted and presently his eyes closed, but the doctor saw a tranquil look on his features which added encouragement to his hopes.

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