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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJezebel's Daughter - Between The Parts - Chapter 2
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Jezebel's Daughter - Between The Parts - Chapter 2 Post by :financ20 Category :Long Stories Author :Wilkie Collins Date :May 2012 Read :3509

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Jezebel's Daughter - Between The Parts - Chapter 2

BETWEEN THE PARTS
CHAPTER II

I next submit a copy of a letter addressed by the late Chemistry-Professor Fontaine to an honored friend and colleague. This gentleman is still living; and he makes it a condition of supplying the copy that his name shall not appear:--

"Illustrious Friend and Colleague,--You will be surprised at so soon hearing from me again. The truth is, that I have some interesting news for you. An alarming accident has enabled me to test the value of one of my preparations on a living human subject--that subject being a man.

"My last letter informed you that I had resolved on making no further use of the Formula for recomposing some of the Borgia Poisons (erroneously supposed to be destroyed) left to me on the death of my lamented Hungarian friend--my master in chemical science.

"The motives which have led me to this decision are, I hope, beyond the reach of blame.

"You will remember agreeing with me, that the two specimens of these resuscitated poisons which I have succeeded in producing are capable--like the poisons already known to modern medical practice--of rendering the utmost benefit in certain cases of disease, if they are administered in carefully regulated doses. Should I live to devote them to this good purpose, there will still be the danger (common to all poisonous preparations employed in medicine) of their doing fatal mischief, when misused by ignorance or crime.

"Bearing this in mind, I conceive it to be my duty to provide against dangerous results, by devoting myself to the discovery of efficient antidotes, before I adapt the preparations themselves to the capacities of the healing art. I have had some previous experience in this branch of what I call preservative chemistry, and I have already in some degree succeeded in attaining my object.

"The Formula in cipher which I now send to you, on the slip of paper enclosed, is an antidote to that one of the two poisons known to you and to me by the fanciful name which you suggested for it--'Alexander's Wine.'

"With regard to the second of the poisons, which (if you remember) I have entitled--in anticipation of its employment as medicine--'The Looking-Glass Drops,' I regret to say that I have not yet succeeded in discovering the antidote in this case.

"Having now sufficiently explained my present position, I may tell you of the extraordinary accident to which I have alluded at the beginning of my letter.

"About a fortnight since, I was sent for, just as I had finished my lecture to the students, to see one of my servants. He had been suffering from illness for one or two days. I had of course offered him my medical services. He refused, however, to trouble me; sending word that he only wanted rest. Fortunately one of my assistants happened to see him, and at once felt the necessity of calling in my help.

"The man was a poor half-witted friendless creature, whom I had employed out of pure pity to keep my laboratory clean, and to wash and dry my bottles. He had sense enough to perform such small services as these, and no more. Judge of my horror when I went to his bedside, and instantly recognized the symptoms of poisoning by "Alexander's Wine!"

"I ran back to my laboratory, and unlocked the medicine-chest which held the antidote. In the next compartment, the poison itself was always placed. Looking into the compartment now, I found it empty.

"I at once instituted a search, and discovered the bottle left out on a shelf. For the first time in my life, I had been guilty of inexcusable carelessness. I had not looked round me to see that I had left everything safe before quitting the room. The poor imbecile wretch had been attracted by the color of "Alexander's Wine," and had tasted it (in his own phrase) "to see if it was nice." My inquiries informed me that this had happened at least thirty--six hours since! I had but one hope of saving him--derived from experiments on animals, which had shown me the very gradual progress of the deadly action of the poison.

"What I felt when I returned to the suffering man, I shall not attempt to describe. You will understand how completely I was overwhelmed, when I tell you that I meanly concealed my own disgraceful thoughtlessness from my brethren in the University. I was afraid that my experiments might be prohibited as dangerous, and my want of common prudence be made the subject of public reprimand by the authorities. The medical professors were permitted by me to conclude that it was a case of illness entirely new in their experience.

"In administering the antidote, I had no previous experiments to guide me, except my experiments with rabbits and dogs. Whether I miscalculated or whether I was deluded by my anxiety to save the man's life, I cannot say. This at least is certain, I gave the doses too copiously and at too short intervals.

"The patient recovered--but it was after sustaining some incomprehensibly deteriorating change in the blood, which destroyed his complexion, and turned his hair gray. I have since modified the doses; and in dread of losing the memorandum, I have attached a piece of notched paper to the bottle, so as to render any future error of judgment impossible. At the same time, I have facilitated the future administration of the antidote by adding a label to the bottle, stating the exact quantity of the poison taken by my servant, as calculated by myself.

"I ought, by the way, to have mentioned in the cipher that experience has shown me the necessity, if the antidote is to be preserved for any length of time, of protecting it in blue glass from the influence of light.

"Let me also tell you that I found a vegetable diet of use in perfecting the effect of the treatment. That mean dread of discovery, which I have already acknowledged, induced me to avail myself of my wife's help in nursing the man. When he began to talk of what had happened to him, I could trust Madame Fontaine to keep the secret. When he was well enough to get up, the poor harmless creature disappeared. He was probably terrified at the prospect of entering the laboratory again. In any case, I have never seen him or heard of him since.

"If you have had patience to read as far as this, you will understand that I am not sure enough yet of my own discoveries to risk communicating them to any other person than yourself. Favor me with any chemical suggestions which may strike you--and then, in case of accidents, destroy the cipher. For the present farewell."

_Note to Doctor Fontaine's Letter

"Alexander's Wine" refers to the infamous Roderic Borgia, historically celebrated as Pope Alexander the Sixth. He was accidentally, and most deservedly, killed by drinking one of the Borgia poisons, in a bowl of wine which he had prepared for another person.

The formula for "The Looking-Glass Drops" is supposed to have been found hidden on removing the wooden lining at the back of a looking-glass, which had been used by Lucrezia Borgia. Hence the name.

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PART I CHAPTER XXIVAlmost instantaneously Madame Fontaine recovered her self-control. "I really couldn't help feeling startled," she said, explaining herself to Fritz and to me. "The last time I saw this man, he was employed in a menial capacity at the University of Wurzburg. He left us one day, nobody knew why. And he suddenly appears again, without a word of warning, in this house." I looked at Jack. A smile of mischievous satisfaction was on his face. He apparently enjoyed startling Madame Fontaine. His expression changed instantly for the better, when Minna approached and spoke to him. "Don't you remember
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