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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHouse - Chapter 20. I Acquire Poison And Experience
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House - Chapter 20. I Acquire Poison And Experience Post by :stevekiene Category :Nonfictions Author :Eugene Field Date :May 2012 Read :1810

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House - Chapter 20. I Acquire Poison And Experience


There is no telling to what unparalleled extent I should have carried my agricultural work but for a happening which interrupted my career in that direction and temporarily invalidated me for the performance of all manual labor. To make short of a long and painful story, I will tell you at once that in the very midst of my agricultural triumphs I was rudely awakened to a realization of the fact that I had been badly poisoned by ivy. The luxuriant growth in one part of our lawn which in my innocence I had mistaken for infant oak trees and had nurtured with great assiduity proved to be the poison vine which is shunned alike of knowing man and beast.

The truth about this insiduous (Transcriber's note: insidious?) plant was not revealed to me until after the harm was done. I awoke one night to find my hands and wrists afflicted with so pestiferous an itching that it verily seemed to me as if the points of ten thousand thousand hot needles were being thrust into my cuticle. There are no words capable of expressing how torturesome this affliction is; to my physical suffering there was added a distinct mental disquietude arising from a sense of injustice that nature, supposed to be so benignant to her friends, should have punished me so grievously for having sought to cultivate and foster her arts.

I was shocked, too, to discover that my misfortune awakened no feeling of sympathy in others; nay, my neighbors seemed to regard it rather as a joke that I, a scientist of no mean ability (if I _do say it myself), should have fallen victim to the commonest and most vicious of all destroyers of human happiness. The amount of badinage, sarcasm, and irony indulged in by these unfeeling folk at the expense of "Farmer" Baker (as they now jocosely dubbed me) would fill a royal octavo volume. I assure you that I regarded this species of humor as impertinent to the degree of atrocity.

My family physician, Dr. Hodges, prescribed several vials of pellets which bore a striking resemblance to one another, but whose virtues I was solemnly assured depended wholly upon my strict observance of the _ordo of their administration internally, which _ordo may have been simple and clear enough to Dr. Hodges, but was to me as intricate and complicated as a Bradshaw railway guide. Furthermore, having ascertained by artful inquiry what viands and beverages I particularly liked, Dr. Hodges strictly forbade my indulgence in them, and such articles of food and drink as I was particularly averse to be recommended for my diet. Meanwhile I was meeting constantly with people who had been afflicted with ivy poisoning, and these kind, cheery souls encouraged me with recitals of their experiences. I was told that it took seven years for ivy poison to get out of the system; that every year during the ivy season (whatever that may mean) there would be a recurrence of this pestiferous eruption, sometimes in one part of the body, sometimes in another, and not unfrequently upon the whole surface. There were, of course, numerous nostrums warranted to allay the fiery tingling and maddening stinging of the malady, and, as I cheerfully adopted every suggestion that came to my ears, I was presently stocked up with enough salves and solutions to fill an apothecary-shop, and my associates began to complain that I was as redolent of odors as a chemical laboratory. Naturally enough, therefore, I became morbid and despondent, and began to regard myself as a mercilessly afflicted and shunned thing.

But amid all this trouble there came to me one big, bright ray of satisfaction. I remembered that, when Alice took out a life policy with neighbor Treese Smith, I also took out an accident policy with the same gentleman in the Wabash Mutual Internecine Association of Indiana. There was, as you can well understand, a heap of consolation in the thought that no matter how little or how much or how long I suffered, the Wabash concern would have to pay for it. As I recollected, the insurance was fifty dollars a week during incapacity for work. If, therefore, the ivy poison remained in my system seven years, the amount of insurance due me would be--let me see:

Seven years--three hundred and sixty-four weeks.

Three hundred and sixty-four weeks at fifty dollars per week--eighteen thousand two hundred dollars.

This was, indeed, a considerable sum of money! I began to understand that, viewed from a purely business standpoint, my affliction might become financially profitable. It even occurred to me that in case the Wabash company paid promptly, and I got used to the tearing ebullitions of the ivy poison, I might contrive to get a renewal of the malady at the end of the first seven years. I wondered that, with this opportunity of getting rich cum otio et cum dignitate, there were so many poor people in the world; however, I mentally resolved not to discover my shrewd plan to anybody else.

When I called upon neighbor Treese Smith I was prudent enough to let him know that I probably had the worst case of ivy poisoning ever heard of, and with more than common pride I exhibited to him my hands and wrists in confirmation of my claims. Mr. Smith (whom you already know as a man of tender feelings and broad sympathies) expressed himself as being very sorry for me, and he asked me if I had tried certain remedies, which he named.

As it was another kind of remedy I was after, I adroitly led the conversation up to the proper point, and then I intimated that it would not harrow up my feelings if I were tendered a payment on account of my accident policy in the Wabash Mutual Internecine Association of Indiana. I liked Smith, and I felt that I ought to be candid with him. I told him that it was pretty generally agreed by the medical profession that when a person once got a dose of poison ivy it remained in his system for seven years, during which period it worked its baleful offices off and on with varying malignance. I recognized the fact that I had a valid claim on the Wabash company for fifty dollars a week for seven years; that the total amount of money due or paid me by said company at the end of the natural life of the ivy poison would be a trifle over eighteen thousand dollars. I told Mr. Smith that I was not disposed to take advantage of or to be too hard on the Wabash company, and that, being naturally of a conservative disposition, I was willing to compromise this matter for--say--well--ten thousand dollars, and cancel the policy.

Mr. Smith answered me in the tone and with the manner of one who is seeking to break bad news gradually and gently to another.

"It is painfully clear to me," said the kind, sympathetic man, "that you have not read the conditions upon which your accident policy is issued to you. I fear that when you come to examine it more carefully you will learn that in this case you have no claims upon our company--or, perhaps, I should say _the company, since I am merely its agent and have nothing to do with the framing of its contracts."

"I have the instrument with me," said I, producing the policy. "I have read it carefully and understand it fully. It is a simple, short, straightforward document, and the type is so big and clear that even a child could read it."

"Alas," said Mr. Smith, with a sigh, "I fear you have not read the conditions; you will find them on the other side of the sheet, printed in small type."

I turned the page, and surely enough there were a number of paragraphs under the title of "The Conditions"; they were printed in small type and pale-blue ink.

"But what have 'conditions' to do with this case?" I asked. "I got insured in the Wabash Mutual Internecine company against accident, and here I 've had an accident! Ivy poison is as severe an accident as can happen to any animal, except, perhaps, an alligator or a rhinoceros, and I think I 'm entitled to my money."

"You are quite right from your standpoint," said Mr. Smith, "but it is not the correct standpoint. You are insured (as you will see by referring to your policy) as an A No. 1 risk. Turn to the conditions, and you will observe that our A No. 1 risks are insured against accident by lightning only. If, now, you had been struck by lightning instead of by ivy, and if the subtle electric fluid had impaired your physical economy, or imparted to your veins any noxious rheum or any venom wherefrom either temporary or permanent harm or disquietude accrued to you, then you would have a legal and just claim against our--I mean _the company."

"But I supposed I was insured against every kind of accident," said I. "When it comes to getting pay for an accident, a dislocation of a toe is quite as desirable, in my opinion, as a broken neck."

"Ah, but insurance companies must differentiate," said Mr. Smith. "There are so many kinds of accidents that it is absolutely necessary to have grades and classes and differences and distinctions. You are insured against lightning: you belong to A No. 1. If you were insured against a broken leg you would be in X No. 2, or against a sprained wrist in H No. 3. My recollection is that our policies of insurance against poison ivy are written in Q No. 4, but I am not positive. If, however, you care to profit by this annoying experience and desire to insure against ivy poison, I will look the matter up the first thing to-morrow and write you out a policy at once. In your case the policy should be made out for a period of fourteen years, since your present dose of poison will not lose its efficacy for seven years, and that will render insurance taken _after the fact inoperative."

There was a heavy thunder shower the next day, and I stood out in it all the time in the hope of getting a chance to claim remuneration from the Wabash Mutual Internecine Association. But the lightning dodged me as if I had been a sacred and charmed object. I made up my mind that it was folly to try to get even with the insurance concern, and since a farming career was now closed against me, I determined to devote my spare time to watching the progress of affairs inside our new house and to cooeperate with Alice and Adah and our feminine neighbors in their herculean task of "having things as they should be."

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