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   Chapter 20 THE STEAM-DOCTOR.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 15542

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


To return to the house of Samuel Anderson.

Scarcely had August passed out the door when Mrs. Anderson fell into a fit of hysterics, and declared that she was dying of heart-disease. Her time had come at last! She was murdered! Murdered by her own daughter's ingratitude and disobedience! Struck down in her own house! And what grieved her most was that she should never live to see the end of the world!

And indeed she seemed to be dying. Nothing is more frightful than a good solid fit of hysterics. Cynthy Ann, inwardly condemning herself as she always did, lifted the convulsed patient, who seemed to be anywhere in her last ten breaths, and carried her, with Mr. Anderson's aid, down to her room, and while Jonas saddled the horse, Mr. Anderson put on his hat and prepared to go for the doctor.

"Samuel! O Sam-u-el! Oh-h-h-h-h!" cried Mrs. Anderson, with rising and falling inflections that even patient Dr. Rush could never have analyzed, laughing insanely and weeping piteously in the same breath, in the same word; running it up and down the gamut in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable way; now whooping like a savage, and now sobbing like the last breath of a broken-hearted. "Samuel! Sam-u-el! O Samuel! Ha! ha! ha! h-a-a! Oh-h-h-h-h-h-h! You won't leave me to die alone! After the wife I've been to you, you won't leave me to die alone! No-o-o-o-o! HOO-HOO-oo-OO! You musn't. You shan't. Send Jonas, and you stay by me! Think--" here her breath died away, and for a moment she seemed really to be dying. "Think," she gasped, and then sank away again. After a minute she opened her eyes, and, with characteristic pertinacity, took up the sentence just where she had left off. She had carefully kept her place throughout the period of unconsciousness. But now she spoke, not with a gasp, but in that shrill, unnatural falsetto so characteristic of hysteria; that voice--half yell--that makes every nerve of the listener jangle with the discord. "Think, oh-h-h Samuel! why won't you think what a wife I've been to you? Here I've drudged and scrubbed and scrubbed and drudged all these years like a faithful and industrious wife, never neglecting my duty. And now--oh-h-h-h--now to be left alone in my--" Here she ceased to breathe again for a while. "In my last hours to die, to die! to die with, out--without--Oh-h-h!" What Mrs. Anderson was left to die without she never stated. Mr. Anderson had beckoned to Jonas when he came in, and that worthy had gone off in a leisurely trot to get the "steam-doctor."

"CORN-SWEATS AND CALAMUS."

Dr. Ketchup had been a blacksmith, but bard work disagreed with his constitution. He felt that he, was made for something better than shoeing horses. This ambitious thought was first suggested to him by the increasing portliness of his person, which, while it made stooping over a horse's hoof inconvenient, also impressed him with the fact that his aldermanic figure would really adorn a learned profession. So he bought one of those little hand-books which the founder of the Thomsonian system sold dirt-cheap at twenty dollars apiece, and which told how to cure or kill in every case. The owners of these important treasures of invaluable information were under bonds not to disclose the profound secrets therein contained, the fathomless wisdom which taught them how to decide in any given case whether ginseng or a corn-sweat was the required remedy. And the invested twenty dollars had brought the shrewd blacksmith a handsome return.

"Hello!" said Jonas in true Western style, as he reined up in front of Dr. Ketchup's house in the outskirts of Brayville. "Hello the house!" But Dr. Ketchup was already asleep. "Takes a mighty long time to wake up a fat man," soliloquized Jonas. "He gits so used to hearin' hisself snore that he can't tell the difference 'twixt snorin' and thunder. Hello! Hello the house! I say, hello the blacksmith-shop! Dr. Ketchup, why don't you git up? Hello! Corn-sweats and calamus! Hello! Whoop! Hurrah for Jackson and Dr. Ketchup! Hello! Thunderation! Stop thief! Fire! Fire! Fire! Murder! Murder! Help! Help! Hurrah! Treed the coon at last!"

This last exclamation greeted the appearance of Dr. Ketchup's head at the window.

"Are you drunk, Jonas Harrison? Go 'way with your hollering, or I'll have you took up," said Ketchup.

"You'll find that tougher work than making horseshoes any day, my respectable friend and feller-citizen. I'll have you took up fer sleeping so sound and snorin' so loud as to disturb all creation and the rest of your neighbors. I've heard you ever sence I left Anderson's, and thought 'twas a steamboat. Come, my friend, git on your clothes and accouterments, fer Mrs. Anderson is a-dyin' or a-lettin' on to be a-dyin' fer a drink of ginseng-tea or a corn-sweat or some other decoction of the healin' art. Come, I fotch two hosses, so you shouldn't lose no time a saddlin' your'n, though I don't doubt the ole woman'd git well ef you never gin her the light of your cheerful count'nance. She'd git well fer spite, and hire a calomel-doctor jist to make you mad. I'd jest as soon and a little sooner expect a female wasp to die of heart-disease as her."

"FIRE! MURDER!! HELP!!!"

The head of Dr. Ketchup had disappeared from the window about the middle of this speech, and the remainder of it came by sheer force of internal pressure, like the flowing of an artesian well.

Dr. Ketchup walked out, with ruffled dignity, carefully dressed. His immaculate clothes and his solemn face were the two halves of his stock in trade. Under the clothes lay buried Ketchup the blacksmith; under the wiseacre face was Ketchup the ignoramus. Ignoramus he was, but not a fool. As he rode along back with Jonas, he plied the latter with questions. If he could get the facts of the case out of Jonas, he would pretend to have inferred them from the symptoms and thus add to his credit.

"What caused this attack, Jonas?"

"I 'low she caused it herself. Generally does, my friend," said Jonas.

"Had anything occurred to excite her?"

"Well, yes, I 'low they had; consid'able, if not more."

"What was it?"

"Well, you see she'd been to Hankins's preachin'. Now, I 'low, my medical friend, the day of jedgment a'n't a pleasin' prospeck to anybody that's jilted one brother to marry another, and then cheated the jilted one outen his sheer of his lamented father's estate. Do you think it is, my learned friend?"

But Dr. Ketchup could not be sure whether Jonas was making game of him or not. So he changed the subject.

"Nice hoss, this bay," said the "doctor."

"Well, yes," said Jonas, "I don't 'low you ever put shoes on no better hoss than this 'ere in all your days--as a blacksmith. Did you now, my medical friend?"

"No, I think not," said Ketchup testily, and was silent.

Mrs. Anderson had grown impatient at the doctor's delay. "Samuel! Oo! oo! oo! Samuel! My dear, I'm dying. Jonas don't care. He wouldn't hurry. I wonder you trusted him! If you had been dying, I should have gone myself for the doctor. Oo! oo! oo! oh! If I should die, nobody would be sorry."

Abigail Anderson was not to blame for telling the truth so exactly in this last sentence. It was an accident. She might have recalled it but that Dr. Ketchup walked in at that moment.

He felt her pulse; looked at her tongue; said that it was heart-disease, caused by excitement. He thought it must be religious excitement. She should have a corn-sweat and some wafer-ash tea. The corn-sweat would act as a tonic and strengthen the pericardium. The wafer-ash would cause a tendency of blood to the head, and thus relieve the pressure on the juggler-vein. Cynthy Ann listened admiringly to Dr. Ketchup's incomprehensible, oracular utterances, and then

speedily put a bushel of ear-corn in the great wash-boiler, which was already full of hot water in expectation of such a prescription, and set the wafer-ash to draw.

Julia had, up to this time, stood outside her mother's door trembling with fear, and not daring to enter. She longed to do something, but did not know how it would be received. Now, while the deep, sonorous voice of Ketchup occupied the attention of all, she crept in and stood at the foot of Mrs. Anderson's bed. The mother, recovering from her twentieth dying spell, saw her.

"Take her away! She has killed me! She wants me to die! I know! Take her away!"

And Julia went to her own room and shut herself up in darkness and in wretchedness, but in all that miserable night there came to her not one regret that she had reached her hand to the departing August.

The neighbor-women came in and pretended to do something for the invalid, but really they sat by the kitchen-stove and pumped Cynthy Ann and the doctor, and managed in some way to connect Julia with her mother's illness, and shook their heads. So that when Julia crept down-stairs at midnight, in hope of being useful, she found herself looked at inquisitively, and felt herself to be such an object of attention that she was glad to take the advice of Cynthy Ann and find refuge in her own room. On the stairs she met Jonas, who said as she passed:

"Don't fret yourself, little turtle-dove. Don't pay no 'tention to ole Ketchup. Your ma won't die, not even with his corn-sweats to waft her on to glory. You done your duty to-night like one of Fox's martyrs, and like George Washi'ton with his little cherry-tree and hatchet. And you'll git your reward, if not in the next world, you'll have it in this."

Julia lay down awhile, and then sat up, looking out into the darkness. Perhaps God was angry with her for loving August; perhaps she was making an idol of him. When Julia came to think that her love for August was in antagonism to the love of God, she did not hesitate which she would choose. All the best of her nature was loyal to August, whom she "had seen," as the Apostle John has it. She could not reason it out, but a God who seemed to be in opposition to the purest and best emotion of her heart was a God she could not love. August and the love of August were known quantities. God and the love of God were unknown, and the God of whom Cynthy spoke (and of whom many a mistaken preacher has spoken), that was jealous of Mrs. Pearson's love for her baby, and that killed it because it was his rival, was not a God that she could love without being a traitor to all the good that God had put in her heart. The God that was keeping August away from her because he was jealous of the one beautiful thing in her life was a Moloch, and she deliberately determined that she would not worship or love him. The True God, who is a Father, and who is not Supreme Selfishness, doing all for His own glory, as men falsely declare; the True God--who does all things for the good of others--loved her, I doubt not, for refusing to worship the Conventional Deity thus presented to her mind. Even as He has pitied many a mother that rebelled against the Governor of the Universe, because she was told the Governor of the Universe, in a petty seeking for his own glory, had taken away her "idols."

But Julia looked up at the depths between the stars, and felt how great God must be, and her rebellion against Him seemed a war at fearful odds. And then the sense of God's omnipresence, of His being there alone with her, so startled her and awakened such a feeling of her fearful loneliness, orphanage, antagonism to God, that she could bear it no longer, and at two o'clock she went down again; but Mrs. Brown looked over at Mrs. Orcutt in a way that said: "Told you so! Guilty conscience! Can't sleep!" And so Julia thought God, even as she conceived Him, better company than men, or rather than women, for--well, I won't make the ungallant remark; each sex has its besetting faults.

Julia took back with her a candle, thinking that this awful God would not seem so close if she had a light. There lay on her bureau a Testament, one of those old editions of the American Bible Society, printed on indifferent paper, and bound in a red muslin that was given to fading, the like whereof in book-making has never been seen since. She felt angry with God, who, she was sure, was persecuting her, as Cynthy Ann had said, out of jealousy of her love for August, and she was determined that she would not look into that red-cloth Testament, which seemed to her full of condemnation. But there was a fascination about it she could not resist. The discordant hysterical laughter of her mother, which reached her ears from below, harrowed her sorely, and her grief and despair at her own situation were so great that she was at last fain to read the only book in the room in order that she might occupy her mind. There is a strange superstition among certain pietists which loads them to pray for a text to guide them, and then take any chance passage as a divine direction. I do not mean to say that Julia had any supernatural leading in her reading. The New Testament is so full of comfort that one could hardly manage to miss it. She read the seventh chapter of Luke: how the Lord healed the centurion's servant that was "dear unto him," and noted that He did not rebuke the man for loving his slave; how the Lord took pity on that poor widow who wept at the bier of her only son, and brought him back to life again, and "restored him to his mother." This did not seem to be just the Christ that Cynthy Ann thought of as the foe of every human affection. She read more that she did not understand so well, and then at the end of the chapter she read about the woman that was a sinner, that washed His feet with grateful tears and wiped them with her hair. And she would have taken the woman's guilt to have had the woman's opportunity and her benediction.

At last, turning over the leaves without any definite purpose, she lighted on a place in Matthew, where three verses at the end of a chapter happened to stand at the head of a column. I suppose she read them because the beginning of the page and the end of the chapter made them seem a short detached piece. And they melted into her mood so that she seemed to know Christ and God for the first time. "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden," she read, and stopped. That means me, she thought with a heart ready to burst. And that saying is the gateway of life. When the promises and injunctions mean me, I am saved. Julia read on, "And I will give you rest." And so she drank in the passage, clause by clause, until she came to the end about an easy yoke and a light burden, and then God seemed to her so different. She prayed for August, for now the two loves, the love for August and the love for Christ, seemed not in any way inconsistent. She lay down saying over and over, with tears in her eyes, "rest for your souls," and "weary and heavy laden," and "come unto me," and "meek and lowly of heart," and then she settled on one word and repeated it over and over, "rest, rest, rest." The old feeling was gone. She was no more a rebel nor an orphan. The presence of God was not a terror but a benediction. She had found rest for her soul, and He gave His beloved sleep. For when she awoke from what seemed a short slumber, the red light of a glorious dawn came in at the window, and her candle was flickering its last in the bottom of the socket. The Testament lay open as she had left it, and for days she kept it open there, and did not dare read anything but these three verses, lest she should lose the rest for her soul that she found here.

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