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I think there are a good many coarse people in both callings. A delicate nature will not commonly choose a pursuit which implies the habitual infliction of suffering, so readily as some gentler office. Yet, while I am writing this paragraph, there passes by my window, on his daily errand of duty, not seeing me, though I catch a glimpse of his manly features through the oval glass of his chaise, as he rides by, a surgeon of skill and standing, so friendly, so modest, so tender-hearted in all his ways, that, if he had not approved himself at once adroit and firm, one would have said he was of too kindly a mould to be the minister of pain, even if it were saving pain.
You may be sure that some men, even among those who have chosen the task of pruning their fellow-creatures, grow more and more thoughtful and truly compassionate in the midst of their cruel experience. They become less nervous, but more sympathetic. They have a truer sensibility for others' pain, the more they study pain and disease in the light of science. I have said this without claiming any special growth in humanity for myself, though I do hope I grow tenderer in my feelings as I grow older. At any rate, this was not a time in which professional habits could keep down certain instincts of older date than these.
This poor little man's appeal to my humanity against the supposed rapacity of Science, which he feared would have her "specimen," if his ghost should walk restlessly a thousand years, waiting for his bones to be laid in the dust, touched my heart. But I felt bound to speak cheerily.
- We won't die yet awbile, if we can help it, - I said, -and I trust we can help it. But don't be afraid ; if I live longest, I will see that your resting place is kept sacred till the dandelions and buttercups blow over you.
He seemed to have got his wits together by this time, and to have a vague consciousness that he might have been saying more than he meant for anybody's ears. — I have been talking a little wild,
Sir, eh?- he said. — There is a great buzzing in my head with those drops of yours, and I doubt if my tongue has not been a little looser than I would have it, Sir. But I don't much want to live, Sir; that's the truth of the matter; and it does rather please me to think that fifty years from now nobody will know that the place where I lie doesn't hold as stout and straight a man as the best of 'em that stretch out as if they were proud of the room they take. You may get me well, if you can, Sir, if you think it worth while to try; but I tell you there has been no time for this many a year when the smell of fresh earth was not sweeter to me than all the flowers that grow out of it. There's no anodyne like your good clean gravel, Sir. But if you can keep me about awhile, and it amuses you to try, you may show your skill upon me, if you like. There is a pleasure or two that I love the daylight for, and I think the night is not far off, at best. — I believe I shall sleep now; you may leave me, and come, if you like, in the morning.
Before I passed out, I took one more glance round the apartment. The beautiful face of the portrait looked at me, as portraits often do, with a frightful kind of intelligence in its eyes. The drapery fluttered on the still outstretched arm of the tall object near the window ;-a crack of this was open, no doubt, and some breath of wind stirred the hanging folds. In my excited state, I seemed to see something ominous in that arm pointing to the heavens. I thought of the figures in the Dance of Death at Basle, and that other on the panels of the covered Bridge at Lucerne; and it seemed to me that the grim mask who mingles with every crowd and glides over every threshold was pointing the sick man to his far home, and would soon stretch out his bony hand and lead him or drag him on the unmeasured journey towards it.
The fancy had possession of me, and I shivered again as when I first entered the chamber. The picture and the shrouded shape; I saw only these two objects. They were enough. The house was
deadly still, and the night-wind, blowing and so gone blindly out to find her place through an open window, struck me as at the bedside,-a Sister of Charity withfrom a field of ice, at the moment I pass- out the cap and rosary; nay, unknowing ed into the creaking corridor. As I turn- whither her feet were leading her, and ed into the common passage, a white fig- with wide, blank eyes seeing nothing but ure, holding a lamp, stood full before me. the vision that beckoned her along. I thought at first it was one of those im- Well, I must wake her from her slumber ages made to stand in niches and hold a or trance. I called her name, but she light in their hands. But the illusion was did not heed my voice. momentary, and my eyes speedily recov- The Devil put it into my head that ered from the shock of the bright flame I would kiss one handsome young girl and snowy drapery to see that the fig- before I died, and now was my chance. ure was a breathing one. It was Iris, in She never would know it, and I should one of her statue-trances. She had come carry the remembrance of it with me down, whether sleeping or waking, I into the grave, and a rose perhaps grow knew not at first, led by an instinct that out of my dust, as out of Lord Lovtold her she was wanted,- or, possibly, el's, in memory of that immortal mohaving overheard and interpreted the ment! Would it wake her from her sound of our movements, or, it may be, trance ? and would she see me in the having learned from the servant that flush of my stolen triumph, and hate and there was trouble which might ask for despise me ever after? Or should I a woman's hand. I sometimes think carry off my trophy undetected, and alwomen have a sixth sense, which tells ways from that time say to myself, when them that others, whom they cannot see I looked upon her in the glory of youth or hear, are in suffering. How surely we and the splendor of beauty, “ My lips find them at the bedside of the dying ! have touched those roses and made their How strongly does Nature plead for them, sweetness mine forever"? You think that we should draw our first breath in my cheek was flushed, perhaps, and my their arms, as we sigh away our last upon eyes were glittering with this midnight their faithful breasts !
flash of opportunity. On the contrary, I With white, bare feet, her hair loosely believe I was pale, very pale, and I know knotted, dressed as the starlight knew that I trembled. Ah, it is the pale pasher, and the morning when she rose from sions that are the fiercest, it is the vioslumber, save that she had twisted a scarf lence of the chill that gives the measure round her long dress, she stood still as a of the fever! The fighting-boy of our stone before me, holding in one hand a school always turned white when he went lighted coil of wax-taper, and in the oth- out to a pitched battle with the bully of er a silver goblet. I held my own lamp some neighboring village ; but we knew close to her, as if she had been a figure what his bloodless cheeks meant,- the of marble, and she did not stir. There blood was all in his stout heart,- he was was no breach of propriety then, to scare a slight boy, and there was not enough the Poor Relation with and breed scan- to redden his face and fill his heart both dal out of. She had been “ warned in a at once. dream," doubtless suggested by her wak- Perhaps it is making a good deal of a ing knowledge and the sounds which had slight matter, to tell the internal conflicts reached her exalted sense. There was in the heart of a quiet person something nothing more natural than that she should more than juvenile and something less have risen and girdled her waist, and than senile, as to whether he should be lighted her taper, and found the silver guilty of an impropriety, and, if he were, goblet with - Er dono pupillorum” on it, whether he would get caught in his infrom which she had taken her milk and discretion. And yet the memory of the possets through all her childish years, kiss that Margaret of Scotland gave to
Alain Chartier has lasted four hundred my cheeks. The beautiful image which years, and put it into the head of many had so bewitched me faded gradually an ill-favored poet, whether Victoria or from my imagination, and I returned to Eugénie would do as much by him, if she the still perplexing mysteries of my little happened to pass him when he was asleep. neighbor's chamber. All was still there And have we ever forgotten that the fresh now. No plaintive sounds, no monoto cheek of the young John Milton tingled nous murmurs, no shutting of windows under the lips of some high-born Italian and doors at strange hours, as if somebeauty, who, I believe, did not think to thing or somebody were coming in or leave her card by the side of the slum- going out, or there was something to be bering youth, but has bequeathed the hidden in those dark mahogany presses. memory of her pretty deed to all coming Is there an inner apartment that I have time? The sound of a kiss is not so loud not seen? The way in which the house as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a is built might admit of it. As I thought deal longer.
it over, I at once imagined a Bluebeard's There is one disadvantage which the chamber. Suppose, for instance, that the man of philosophical habits of mind suf- narrow bookshelves to the right are realfers, as compared with the man of action. ly only a masked door, such as we reWhile he is taking an enlarged and ra- member leading to the private study of tional view of the matter before him, he one of our most distinguished townsmen, lets his chance slip through his fingers. who loved to steal away from his stately Iris woke up, of her own accord, before library to that little silent cell. If this I had made up my mind what I was go- were lighted from above, a person or ing to do about it.
persons might pass their days there withWhen I remember how charmingly she out attracting attention from the houselooked, I don't blame myself at all for bold, and wander where they pleased at being tempted; but if I had been fool night, - to Copp's-Hill burial-ground, if enough to yield to the impulse, I should they liked, I said to myself, laughing, certainly have been ashamed to tell of it. and pulling the bed-clothes over my head. She did not know what to make of it. There is no logic in superstitious fancies finding herself there alone, in such guise, any more than in dreams. A she-ghost and me staring at her. She looked down wouldn't want an inner chamber to herat her white robe and bare feet, and col- self. A live woman, with a valuable ored, then at the goblet she held in her soprano voice, wouldn't start off at night hand,- then at the taper; and at last her to sprain her ankles over the old graves thoughts seemed to clear up.
of the North-End cemetery. I know it all, -she said. He is going It is all very easy for you, middle-aged to die, and I must go and sit by him. reader, sitting over this page in the broad Nobody will care for him as I shall, and daylight, to call me by all manner of asI have nobody else to care for.
inine and anserine unchristian names, beI assured her that nothing was need- cause I had these fancies running through ed for him that night but rest, and per- my head. I don't care much for your suaded her that the excitement of her abuse. The question is not, what it is presence could only do harm. Let him reasonable for a man to think about, but sleep, and he would very probably awake what he actually does think about, in the better in the morning. There was noth- dark, and when he is alone, and his whole ing to be said, for I spoke with authori- body seems but one great nerve of hearty; and the young girl glided away with ing, and he sees the phosphorescent flashnoiseless step and sought her own cham- es of his own eyeballs as they turn sudber.
denly in the direction of the last strange The tremor passed away from my noise,—what be actually does think about, limbs, and the blood began to burn in as he lies and recalls all the wild stories
his head is full of, his fancy hinting the [My private opinion is, that there was most alarming conjectures to account for no small amount of punch absorbed on the simplest facts about him, his common- those two occasions, which I think I heard sense laughing them to scorn the next of at the time;- but the offer is a kind minute, but his mind still returning to one, and it isn't fair to question how he them, under one shape or another, until would like sitting up without the punch he gets very nervous and foolish, and re- and the company and the songs and members how pleasant it used to be to smoking. He means what he says, and have his mother come and tuck him up it would be a more considerable achieveand go and sit within call, so that she ment for him to sit quietly all night by could hear him at any minute, if he got a sick man than for a good many other very much scared and wanted her. Old people. I tell you this odd thing: there babies that we are!
are a good many persons, who, through Daylight will clear up all that lamp the habit of making other folks uncomlight has left doubtful. I longed for the fortable, by finding fault with all their morning to come, for I was more curious cheerful enjoyments, at last get up a kind than ever. So, between my fancies and of hostility to comfort in general, even in anticipations, I had but a poor night of their own persons. The correlative to it, and came down tired to the breakfast- loving our neighbors as ourselves is hattable. My visit was not to be made until ing ourselves as we hate our neighbors. after this morning hour;- there was noth- Look at old misers; first they starve their ing urgent, so the servant was ordered to dependants, and then themselves. So I tell me.
think it more for a lively young fellow to It was the first breakfast at which the be ready to play nurse than for one of high chair at the side of Iris had been those useful but forlorn martyrs who have unoccupied.--You might jest as well take taken a spite against themselves and love away that chair,--said our landlady, - to gratify it by fasting and watching.] he'll never want it again. He acts like
The time came at last for me to a man that's struck with death, 'n' I don't make my visit. I found Iris sitting by believe he'll ever come out of his cham- the Little Gentleman's pillow. To my ber till he's laid out and brought down disappointinent, the room was darkened. a corpse. — These good women do put He did not like the light, and would have things so plainly! There were two or the shutters kept nearly closed. It was three words in her short remark that al- good enough for me ;- what business had ways sober people, and suggest silence or I to be indulging my curiosity, when I brief moral reflections.
had nothing to do but to exercise such - Life is dreadful uncerting,—said skill as I possessed for the benefit of my the Poor Relation,--and pulled in her som patient? There was not much to be cial tentacles to concentrate her thoughts said or done in such a case; but I spoke on this fact of human history.
as encouragingly as I could, as I think If there was anything a fellah we are always bound to do. He did not could do, – said the young man John, seem to pay any very anxious attention, so called, ---- a fellah 'd like the chance but the poor girl listened as if her own o' helpin' a little cripple like that. He life and more than her own life were delooks as if he couldn't turn over any pending on the words I uttered. She handier than a turtle that's laid on his followed me out of the room, when I had back; and I guess there a'n't many peo- got through my visit. ple that know how to lift better than I do. How long ?-she said. Ask him if he don't want any watchers. Uncertain. Any time; to-day,— next I don't mind settin' up any more 'n' a week,- next month, --I answered.-One cat-owl. I was up all night twice last of those cases where the issue is not month.
doubtful, but may be sudden or slow.
The women of the house were kind, as files as their own food, sleep, or habits women always are in trouble. But Iris of any kind never presume to interfere pretended that nobody could spare the with. time as well as she, and kept her place, Day after day, and too often through hour after hour, until the landlady in the long watches of the night, she kept sisted that she'd be killin' herself, if she her place by the pillow.- That girl will begun at that rate, and haf to give up, if kill herself over me, Sir, — said the poor she didn't want to be clean beat out in Little Gentleman to me, one day, --- she less than a week.
will kill herself, Sir, if you don't call in At the table we were graver than com- all the resources of your art to get me off mon. The high chair was set back against as soon as may be. I shall wear her out, the wall, and a gap left between that of 'Sir, with sitting in this close chamber and the young girl and her nearest neighbor's watching when she ought to be sleeping, on the right. But the next morning, if you leave me to the care of Nature to our great surprise, that good-looking without dosing me. young Marylander had very quietly mov- This was rather queer pleasantry, uned his own chair to the vacant place. I der the circumstances. But there are certhought he was creeping down that way, tain persons whose existence is so out of but I was not prepared for a leap span- parallel with the larger laws in the midst ning such a tremendous parenthesis of of which it is moving, that life becomes to boarders as this change of position in them as death and death as life. — How cluded. There was no denying that the am I getting along ? - he said, another youth and maiden were a handsome pair, morning. He lifted his shrivelled hand, as they sat side by side. But whatever with the death's-head ring on it, and the young girl may have thought of her looked at it with a sad sort of complanew neighbor, she never seemed for a cency. By this one movement, which I moment to forget the poor little friend have seen repeatedly of late, I know that who had been taken from her side. There his thoughts have gone before to another are women, and even girls, with whom it condition, and that he is, as it were, lookis of no use to talk. One might as well ing back on the infirmities of the body as reason with a bee as to the form of his accidents of the past. For, when he was cell, or with an oriole as to the construc- well, one might see him often looking at tion of his swinging nest, as try to stir the handsome hand with the flaming jewthese creatures from their own way of el on one of its fingers. The single welldoing their own work. It was not a ques- shaped limb was the source of that pleastion with Iris, whether she was entitled ure which in some form or other Nature by any special relation or by the fitness almost always grants to her least richly of things to play the part of a nurse. endowed children. Handsome hair, eyes, She was a wilful creature that must have complexion, feature, form, hand, foot, her way in this matter. And it so proved pleasant voice, strength, grace, agility, that it called for much patience and long intelligence, — how few there are that endurance to carry through the duties, have not just enough of one at least of say rather the kind offices, the painful these gifts to show them that the good pleasures, that she had chosen as her Mother, busy with her millions of chilshare in the household where accident dren, has not quite forgotten them! But had thrown her. She had that genius of now he was thinking of that other state, ministration which is the special province where, free from all mortal impediments, of certain women, marked even among the memory of his sorrowful burden their helpful sisters by a soft, low voice, should be only as that of the case he has a quiet footfall, a light hand, a cheer- shed to the insect whose “deep-damasking smile, and a ready self-surrender to ed wings" beat off the golden dust of the the objects of their care, which such tri- lily-anthers, as he flutters in the ecstasy