Without ascribing any particular merit to my own agency, I still know that I did, by a happy Providence, that for the imperiled soul and body of my school-mate which no one else had done or seemed likely to do. I say happy Providence, because I have an especial reason for not arrogating to myself the means which, in a material point of view, at the end of the four months I spent at the Heathburns' resulted in George's recovery. I refer to the Cannabis, whose first knowledge as an agent in cases like this I owed to another physician. This gentleman, with whom I became casually acquainted, deserves as much as I the credit of my patient's care, having made the pioneer experiment with the agent in a case every way hopeless as George Solero's, with the most perfect success, and that at a day when its use was far less known, and, if possible, more a bugbear to the profession generally than now. Daily I administered the drug to my patient, at the same time keeping it under lock and key, and refusing to acquaint him with its name; daily I had him as constantly as possible under my own immediate eye, using all the means that lie in force of will, active exercise, nourishment, regular rest and occupation, to restore him; and daily was it easier for him to refrain from the cursed banes that had before enthralled him. At the end of the time I mentioned he stood on free ground.
Many summers and winters had gone since the walls of Dresser Institute bid me good-by -- seeming to look with a human sadness at our parting. No saving of lives had I been privy to either as second or principal. The world outside of my school and succeeding college appeared much more of an everyday sort of affair than I had found it in even their routine life. Its dramatic interest often dragged; and sometimes I indulged the bitter reflection, common to many young men who have not the wealth to buy and doubt their strength to win a principal part, that I was only a scene-shifter in the play, and could well be spared by those who were walking their proud hour on the stage. Nevertheless, like the pendulum, by one laborious tick at a time through all the days and nights I had reached what might be called the striking point of my existence. I had worked, namely, till I was ready to work. In a subordinate office, upon one of the New York dailies, I had supported myself while I studied until now, on the first day of June, 185-, I found myself with a diploma from the Twenty-third Street College of Medicine in my pocket, and eight hundred thousand souls lying around me with bodies in various stages of dilapidation covering them, all of whom employed other men to do the mending. Truly, quoth I, a vast prospect and a glittering!
In all this time I had seen John Heathburn but once. He was settled in Norfolk, a partner in his wealthy father's large business. Five years after we both left Dresser Institute did glorious old King Agamemnon fall before a greater king than he. But not a King of Terrors. He died bravely, piously, simply, and quickly too, as all men of his physique do. One Sunday he sat at the head of his boy-troops listening to old Dominic Millverse upon the text, "Prepare to meet thy God" -- the next Wednesday and he had met Him, his whole life having been one steadfast preparation. He died without speaking any last words; he left behind him deeds to which there is no end. It was at the funeral that I clasped for the first time again the hand of John Heathburn. Body and soul he was just the man that gladdened old Agamemnon in the germ -- the same, amplified, as then, in the vigor of all that is best in manliness. And yet, as he on one side and I on the other stood head pall-bearers, I felt his strong arms shake with something that was not the weight of our great master's abandoned dwelling.
Though so far apart we had kept up a correspondance with each other to a degree of regularity which is unusual in school-boy friends. And now, as on this first day of June I stood with my diploma in my pocket, I was expecting a letter from him. When I reached my lodgings from the office of the last professor whose signature I had to obtain to the documents I was not disappointed. An envelope post-marked Norfolk, and directed in his well-known hand, looked cheerfully up from my table awaiting me. I tore it open and read:
My dear Arthur, -- By this time you will be standing in the shoes of Æsculapius. You deserve them I know: may they fit you snugly without pinching! While I speak thus playfully I have reason not to; for, in the first place, you are my best friend among all that grew up with me from swaddling-clothes, and I know well that life must be to you at present no laughing-matter. Your tutelar god, whose sole-leather you inherit, rejoices in so large a cord-wainer's business, and makes of that vast Babylon of yours so very a Lynn, whence so many pairs issue yearly to the devotees of his art, that I am sure you can not hope for very much opportunity of wearing your own buskins out, at least for the present. I have a large invoice to ship before three o'clock, and so I'll be briefer than my friendship would fain persuade me to be, and tell you, with businesslike plainness, just what moves me now particularly to write to you. One of our first physicians here has just moved to Key West, and his place is not yet supplied, nor, so far as I can learn, likely to be for some time. I have spoken to my father and several of our other prominent citizens about you -- saying all that my long friendship with you so well enables and warrants me to say -- and they all concur with me that you would be well received, and could not do better than to come on directly. There will, of course, be the difficulties in your way at first which oppose every young man such as your age, short experience, etc., etc., save one, the lack of recommendation. That I need not say you will never experience. I am so anxious to have you avail yourself of this chance that you will see I have taken the liberty (I know you'll forgive it from me) of loaning you our firm name to a check for $150. I don't know, you see, that you are in funds just now to enable you to wind up in New York and make the start, and if possible you must do it. I am selfish in this; for besides my longing so much to see you once more, poor George is very ill again. I beg you'll let me expect you by one of the next three or four steamers. In haste, but most affectionately,
I considered this letter for ten minutes, and then severed my connection with the paper by a note to the editors thereof, resigning my humble position in the corps, so delicately worded that the shock to their feelings was as light as possible. I mailed it, and then felt like the little boy who jumped off the main truck before he had struck the water. I had voluntarily knocked away the props of my only present support, and stood looking at hunger and nakedness over a fence consisting of one hundred and fifty dollars debit and a decent wardrobe plus my faith in God, John Heathburn, and Arthur Grosvenor. A man of worldly habits who counts his distance from those grim companions by the flight of eagles (solid currency) would have been uncomfortable. I never could acquire such habits, and was comfortable. I had nothing to "wind up," having lived on the principle that my own soda-biscuit and Croton assimilated better than Mr. Delmonlee's steaks and Chablis, which this gentleman might still hold a legal lien upon after they had been converted into my physical tissue.
Therefore, with all my household gods and goods I stood on the deck of the very next steamer for Norfolk, and in due time arrived at that port to find John Heathburn standing on the wharf awaiting me. Notwithstanding the earnestness of his invitation, and the fact that he had resolved to meet every steamer for the next month in expectation of seeing me step forth, he was very much surprised at my promptness. His hearty welcome instantly made Norfolk home. He insisted upon my taking up my quarters, for the present at least, at his father's house. Every body would be delighted to see me, he said, and every body when I reached that pleasant home, a mile out of town up Hampton Roads, seemed anxious to fulfill his promise.
The family was a small one. John's mother had been dead for many years, and his father never married again. Sister or brother he had none, and the household was thus composed of his father, George Solero, and himself, with an ancient maiden cousin, very prim and very kind, who acted according to the traditional wont of such relatives as housekeeper, familiar friend, and supervisor of the basement family of negroes.
By the father and the cousin house-mistress I was received with the most unobtrusive and cordial hospitality. George was not at the table at dinner, and when I made inquiries after him there were two red spots on the cheek-bones of the presiding cousin which came not of radiations from the soup, and she answered with civil stiffness that the young gentleman had been ill for several days, and though now recovering still confined to his room. I noticed at that dinner also that when the wine came to John, he left it untasted and passed the decanter with a repellant motion as if he loathed its touch.
The evening was cool, fair, and moonlight. After we rose from the chairs where we had taken our sociable coffee and smoked our Oronoko, Mr. Heathburn excused himself and went up stairs, while John proposed a stroll over the place. I assented gladly, having had for several days no further scope for the practice of Peripatetic Philosophy than was afforded by the slippery dock of a little steamer. Arm in arm we rambled through the pleasant locust and horse-chestnut avenues, talking of the dear old days at Dresser, of Doctor Byseps and the boys, the one now lifted to his fuller manhood in the land of great light, the others struggling toward that height, more or less followed by our loving eyes, through their checkered way of sun and shadow. And imperceptibly our thoughts and talk again came back to George Solero.
"What has he been doing since we left the Institute?" I was just asking, when we came to the little settlement of negro houses, merry with banjos and shuffling heels, that basked in the moonlight sifted between great pine boughs. And while I heard all this reveling I saw one of the cabins lying in a confused heap of charred ruins, which still sent up blue curls of smoke, telling of a recent fire. Around the black timbers, among heaps of ashes and burned household utensils, were little darkeys of all ages playing, and making the woods ring with their shouts, as they discovered some new plaything in a ruined pot-hook or a big fire-eaten spike.
"You ask me what George has been doing," said John, in a bitter voice that was very unlike him. "Look there!"
"Why, what do you mean? Doing what?"
"That burned-down house that you see -- the houseless family whom you don't see -- an old crippled woman of eighty, mother of half these servants, taken from her bed and carried out on her son's shoulders at one o'clock in the morning, while his wife and three little children followed him clinging to his skirts in terror, and the six only bringing themselves off with life-long scars, clothing, house, all being lost behind them!"
"But I don't understand you -- what accident caused it all? who did it?"
"My cousin -- George Solero!"
"Good Heavens! You don't mean to tell me that he has become deranged?"
"I wish I could say that, and mean it in the ordinary sense. He is worse than a man deprived of his reason by Heaven -- he has deprived himself of it -- he is, I must say it, an inveterate, so far as man can see, a hopeless drunkard!"
"But what about his connection with this house-burning?"
"Our Sam, who lived there, is the coachman. A more perfectly upright, faithful servant never breathed. George had been off on a drinking bout for three days, with some of the very most abandoned characters in the neighborhood. There was Tom Farrall, a noted cock-fighter; and Jem Bassett, keeper of a low, sailor-swindling groggery in Gosport; and three or four others, who are sunk so deep in the mire of their earthly hell that even ordinarily depraved drunkards won't associate with them; and George fell in with them, and was directly taken in too. I can't believe that in his sober moments -- which, God knows! are far between -- he would have deliberately chosen them to go on a spree with; but he has become so broken-down in nerve that a couple of horns of rum quite deprive him of responsibility. So my idea is that they happened purposely to be lounging around some comparatively decent, or less indecent, place where he was drinking, and pounced on him as soon as he had become incapable of discriminating. When he left home he had been keeping pretty straight for a week, and we began to hope a little for him once more. He told father, who happened to be the only one in the house at the time, that he felt the need of a little relaxation, and was going away for a day's shooting up the river. I hope in my soul that he believed that was what he meant to do; but no one can tell -- he doesn't hesitate to lie flatly nowadays. At any rate, he took with him my best double-barreled fowling-piece, having lost his own somewhere the last time he was out; and father, deciding to feel, or appear to feel, full confidence in him, gave him all the money he had about him -- fifteen or twenty dollars -- saying to him, the very last thing as he stood on the veranda, 'Dear George, remember your weakness, and don't touch a drop of the cursed stuff while you're gone.' George answered that the last glass had touched his lips -- damning himself if the assertion wasn't true. You can imagine that such a promise as that didn't very much increase my father's hopefulness; but he tried to look on the bright side, and let him depart without a word like reproof. Well, the upshot of it all was that he never came back for three days, and then his last cent was gone. He had sold the gun for rum, or bet it away at a drunken game of bluff; he had pledged his very vest, and the watch his mother left him; his diamond shirt-studs either went the same way, or were stolen from him; and he was raving mad with delirium tremens. The least hardened of all his villainous associates, Tom Farrall, brought him back as far as the lodge, and there left him to rave his way to the house as well as he could. I was standing at the door when he came up, and the very first thing he did on seeing me was to raise his arms, supposing in his craze that he still held the gun, and take imaginary aim at me. Then he waited a moment, seemed to hear the report and feel the piece recoil; and seeing me stand looking at him as before, cried out, 'Why don't you fall? I hit your heart, and thought you went to h--l, where I meant to send you before me!'"
"Horrible! horrible!" I exclaimed, hardly believing my ears.
"You may well say horrible! I ran out on the gravel where he stood, and caught him up in my arms easier than I would have done when we were at school, for he is emaciated to a shadow, and while he glared at me with eyes that seemed leaping from their sockets, and shrieked, 'Don't touch me, fiend! I'm as low down as I can get in the fire now!' I carried him into the house, up stairs to his room, and laid him on the bed. Shrunken as he is, it brought the sweat out all over my face to hold him. His fearful struggles and cries brought up all the servants; father and cousin, thank Heaven, were spared the agony of seeing and hearing him, being both down in town for the day; and we took our turns in keeping him on the bed till he wearied himself out, and fell into a slumber, which lasted twenty-four hours -- a slumber, I say, but every now and then, at intervals of from ten to forty minutes, he went into fierce convulsions, tried to break away -- now crying that the judgment was come, and a great black fiend was branding his forehead with the word 'Lost' -- now saying that a red-hot rock was falling on his head from heaven, and now full of the idea that he was chased by lions and tigers through labyrinths that had no end, over precipices, and into wells of boiling lead. I have seen him suffer awfully before, but I never knew what horror meant till that time."
"But did you have no medical help? didn't you administer any sedative?"
"Yes; we got a doctor up from town, who gave him a dose of Indian Hemp -- 'Cannabis,' I believe, he called it -- but it only made him wilder, and, if possible, put him into greater agony."
"Of course! It is a drug whose effects after those of liquor are most fearful. I remember it nearly proving fatal in the hospital once; but excuse me, go on."
"The fact is, we didn't dare to give him opium, which is the only other adequate sedative that seems to be known. It was tried once before, when he was suffering from the after-effects of a debauch, and though it relieved him at the time, his knowledge of its effects made him substitute it after that for liquor, as I shall tell you; and he was tending to the still worse hell if possible of that awful narcotic, when a supper, arrainged by his friends, turned him to liquor again. But I have my suspicions that he has been alternating the two ever since. To return to the account I was giving you. Toward dawn the next morning he began to gain possession of his faculties. Sam, the coachman, was sitting up alone with him. Besides being a good he's a very powerful man, and George was by this time so quiet that we fancied one attendant was enough to take care of him. As soon as he could talk coherently he felt the fierce thirst for rum come on again, and besought Sam, for the love of God, to go down to Norfolk and get him a bottle. For of course our cellar and pantry were locked up, and the keys put in safe hands as a precautionary measure for our very lives. Sam told him respectfully that it was against the Doctor's orders for him to have any thing stronger than the weak sangaree, which had been mixed to assuage his thirst. Still George pleaded with him -- offered him trinket after trinket that was in his bureau until he had reached a value not far from a hundred dollars -- told him that as soon as he was able to rise he would give him that amount in money. But Sam remained firm. 'Massa George,' said he, 'if you were to kill me I couldn't do what I think would kill you.' Then George tried threats, and Sam told me that he also struck him several times on the head, though not till I'd cross-examined it out of him, seeing the strip of plaster on the place where a heavy boot-heel hit him, and when he spoke there were tears in his eyes. 'And him to go and do dat -- him, de dear little fellah dat I used to be so proud of, and sot ou de fuss hoss he ever rode, goin' round with him and callin' him my little king, showin' his pretty black eyes to all de boys, bress his heart!' So at last George in his agony drunk the whole pitcher of sangaree at one draught, and with an awful curse upon Sam sunk into a heavy sleep again. You know the vindictiveness of George's nature -- how it used to show itself at Dresser, mingled with so many contending generous impulses. I used to think he'd outgrown it, and that when he came to be a man the good qualities would strengthen and take the rein; but it hasn't proved so. And in the worst state at which he's arrived, I can't help pity's triumphing over judgment in my estimate of him. The evil's in his blood. He makes me think many times of the old Greek idea of family fate. His father was a man of the most terrible passions, was a hard drinker all the latter part of his life, and died in a fit of apoplexy brought on by anger with one of his servants for some trivial offense. He made my poor aunt very wretched. And his father had been a drunkard before him. So that this fearful cumulative impulse to evil has descended into George from two ruined generations. I sometimes doubt whether his moral responsibility has ever been that of a sane man. But the night air is getting a little chilly. Let's walk toward the house, and I'll finish this long account as we go.
"All the next day George slept with fewer disturbances, and we hoped he was getting on pretty well. At nightfall he woke, seemed more natural, and took some nourishment. Then he went to sleep quietly again; and I suppose that the anxiety of Job, the waiter, who was taking his turn at watching, relaxed. At any rate, toward midnight he left the room for a few moments, and when he returned found George gone. All the clothes were on the chair at the foot of the bed except a pair of pantaloons and slippers. Job supposed, consequently, that his charge had not gone far, and for a quarter of an hour felt no uneasiness about him. But when the time grew on and he did not return, in considerable anxiety Job went out to look for him. Finding him nowhere in the house, he pursued his search about the grounds for an hour, still fruitlessly. Just as he was returning to arouse me he heard the clock in the kitchen strike one, and simultaneously a loud cry of 'Fire!' rang from the direction of the negro houses. Half frightened out of his wits, the boy looked around and saw the flames rolling up among the branches of the pines. In a moment every body in the house was awake. My father and I were first at the fire. Just as we came up to the place where I first showed you the ruins, such an awful sight met our eyes as we shall never forget. In his pantaloons alone, with his breast and back all bare, the shirt hanging from it in shreds, George ran out from the crackling pines. His face, breast, and arms were blackened with coal and smoke; in his hand he swung a blazing pine-knot, and he laughed wildly like a demon. I could hardly keep my father from falling on him and putting an end to his miserable life, even crazy and irresponsible as he knew him to be, so shocked and infuriated did the sight make him. 'It was I!' cried George; 'I roasted the black devil that let me roast with hell inside me, and wouldn't give me a drop to cool my tongue!'
"Happily, as I told you, all the inmates of the house escaped with their lives, though saving nothing else, and badly burned. We enjoined our servants not to speak a word to a soul off the place about George's agency in the fire, for they, every one of them, couldn't help knowing it. On the morrow we immediately set about building them a nice new house next to the coach-house; a stone building this time, that could not be burned, to pay him for his sufferings; and brought George back that same night to the house. He has been in his room ever since; and a more utterly broken, miserable, despairing soul never lived under God's heaven. A violent fever immediately set in upon him, and he is so wasted that I doubt if he ever rises from it. It's a dreadful thing to say, but perhaps it's better he should not."
"Will it be unadvisable for me to see him?"
"No, I don't think so; but I'll ask father, and if he consents, you will have the most painful privilege of your lifetime. I don't think you would know George now if you did see him. It's eight years ago this summer since he parted from you last, and he has been going down, down, down ever since."
"But what has he been doing -- I mean in the way of profession or business -- any thing?"
"Every thing. When he was expelled from William and Mary's College for a most exaggerated and passionate insult to a professor, father's influence got him a place in the office of one of the first lawyers in Richmond. He staid there for a year, during which he got into several disgraceful street brawls, and was absent from his studies for days at a time. His preceptor knew of this, but bore with him for the family's sake, and did all that a man could to reform him without avail. George was sadly affected; often, when his antagonism was not excited, acknowledged his fault with many tears, but still went down. He seemed to be possessed; he had no more control of himself than an infant. As he said to the lawyer once, he had an anvil chained to each foot, and there was no swimming for him. At the close of the year an eccentric impulse seized him -- though totally unprepared, he went into the examination for admission to the bar, that came on then, trusting to his good, or rather evil, genius to carry him through. He failed, ignominiously, as he might have expected, and in a paroxysm of despair went off on a spree that lasted a week. That closed his trial of the law.
"Then he made an experiment in your profession. For six months he seemed studying assiduously in the office of the physician whose vacant place we wish you to fill. The Doctor gave us good accounts of his progress; he came home regularly from town every evening in the carriage that brought father to dinner, and seemed to have abandoned drink entirely. He had his books in his room, here at home, and studied very often nearly all night. I never saw him interested so long in any one pursuit. All this time he was growing paler and thinner, his eyes assumed a hollower, more wildly intense look, and we began to fear for his brain. Father and I repeatedly counseled him not to sit up so late at night; to finish his study in the daytime. His answer always was that he could work better at night, that he couldn't sleep, that he was not hurting himself, and that now he was resolved to wipe out all the past by becoming great in this profession. But we used to say, 'If you eat and sleep so little as you do now, you will be in your own grave before you can save any one else from his.' He always shook his head and replied with a sadness that now makes me believe he had my idea of his family fate: 'The grave is not a bad place; some things above-ground are much worse.' I have seen my tender-hearted, impulsive father absolutely shed tears when he repeated this answer of George's, and told us how kindly he always took his admonitions nowadays, in spite of the painful irritability under which he seemed to labor. 'But,' at last said my father, 'we can not have him die now that he has just reformed and is doing so nobly in his studies; he must live to be an honor to himself and the poor dear mother, who, I have no doubt, rejoices over him where she has gone. I will speak to Doctor Parley about him.'
"So he did speak. 'You must take care of your student; he is very ambitious, and I'm afraid he's killing himself with overtasking of the brain by late study.' 'Ah! do you think it's that?' answered the Doctor, shaking his head, sadly. 'Why, what else do you think it is?' inquired father. Then Doctor Parley took him to a little drug-store, in a quiet, unfrequented part of town, and showed him on its entries six and a quarter pounds of laudanum sold to George Solero within the last five months. So that all this time he had been living on that stimulus while he studied, at the average rate of half an ounce a night. Doctor Parley had suspected it for a long time, and made inquiries, quietly, of all the other apothecaries in Norfolk before he bethought himself of this shop: and there, with the greatest difficulty, he wormed the truth out of an errand-boy who had been bribed to keep George's secret. This discovery almost broke my father's heart, loving my cousin as he does; I am glad to say like a son; but not so much as the solemn denial which George persisted in, in the very face of the plain proofs. To such depth of degradation, such utter annihilation of the moral sense, does that damnable narcotic sink men, that I am not sure but he really argued himself into the belief that he had not used it. Father then put him under the care of Doctor Farley as a patient, and tried every means to break him gradually from the indulgence, at the same time persuading him to keep up his studies. After miserable sufferings here at home, I hoped, though I couldn't tell positively, that he had become free from it. But as soon as his stimulus failed him, study seemed to become altogether impossible, and in his despair he went back to drink once more. Thus ended the six months' struggle toward your profession.
"He was a good accountant by nature; and even if he hadn't been, father would have made this last effort to put him into a position of respectability. He became an invoice clerk in our counting-house nearly a year ago; but there was not the slightest dependence to be placed upon him. He has the finest talents -- the most versatile mind, capable of winning him eminence in any work of life he chose to lay his strength to; but he lacks the morale. The very spine of manhood, the keystone of our nature's arch, is utterly deficient in him. Oh, Arthur! I love that poor boy like a brother this very hour, after all the past, yet hell seems burning in his blood, breaking out afresh in some new spot, when we have quenched it in the last one. I can see no way to keep it from finally devouring him."
John Heathburn finished this terrible history just as we struck into the horse-chestnuts that guarded the way to the house. He ceased not only because the story was complete, but because he could not command his voice for another word. His arm, locked in mine, drew it close to his heart, and his pure, noble face worked convulsively, as if that heart were choking itself down. I walked silently at his side for a moment, and then uttered, thinking aloud more than talking, "I believe that, with God's help, I can save him." John looked into my eyes with inquiring wonder. I went on: "Even in my short medical experience I have witnessed at least a dozen cases like his. In some of them the results to other lives and happiness were quite as terrible. In all of them the men and the women (for two-thirds of them were the last, and are still by the general average, though you start to hear it, in New York) were just as near the bottom of their earthly hell as he. And these cases have been my peculiar study; indeed the subject is a specialty to which I hope to devote my medical life. For old remembrance' sake I think that my utmost strength would be called forth by this case, and if you and your father are satisfied that it is best, I will take George Solero into my own hands."
Without saying any thing more upon the subject we entered the house and I retired to rest, being very tired. I do not know how long I had been asleep when a light in my room, and that indescribable fascinating sense of being looked at steadily, woke me. I sprang up in bed. There were two persons in the room. One was a young negro man employed as a house servant. The other, a white man, apparently about thirty-five years of age, whom I did not remember ever to have seen before. His step was irresolute and tottering, his eyes dull as death, deeply cavernous, and marked with crows-feet at the corners. His mouth was tightly shut, as if by some spasm of great pain; two mottled spots of livid red and chalky white marked his high cheek-bones; the rest of his face was a mortal sallow, and but for his jet black matted hair, which struggled wildly over his forehead to his very eyebrows, I should not have supposed him even as young as thirty-five. When I woke the servant seemed entreating him in whispers and gestures to leave the room, but he put him off with trembling, passionate hands, and kept retreating from the door to my bedside.
"Hallo!" said I, "what's the meaning of all this?"
"Oh, please 'scuse me, Sah, but I was tryin' to 'suade Massa George to go back to bed and not 'sturb you!"
That seemingly middle-aged man was George Solero.
"Go out, Cato; go out, I tell you! It will be hard for you if you don't mind me!"
"Yes, Cato," I interrupted, becoming wider awake. "You may leave Mr. Solero. I will be responsible for you. Return to his room and stay till I come for you: we prefer to be alone."
The negro obeyed and shut the door behind him.
I held out my hand, and, driving all surprise from my face, said, "Come and sit down by my bed. I am very glad you came to see me, dear George."
"Don't say that, Arthur Grosvenor! Don't say that, or I'll think you are in hell too and fly from you! There's one fiend who always says to me, 'I am glad to see you,' whenever I come into the fire where he stays, and he is the fearfulest of all! The grisliest of all, with a soul and a clutch like cold iron! He grasps me by the spine and I lie in his arms like a dead baby, though within me I'm shrieking my heart to pieces where nobody can hear me. Then he keeps whispering in my ear, as if he were speaking icicles and drops of hot lead, 'I'm glad to see you!' There are other fiends that don't say that, that are humanly mad and hateful; I hug them, I kiss them, but when I come to him I know I'm in hell! 'I'm glad to see you!' Oh, oh!"
It is impossible to represent the tone in which George Solero spoke these last words. The only approach to describing his manner is to say simply that they let me lower into the knowledge of abysmal terror than I had gone in all the experiences of my life. Rather did the fiend speak through him with his own voice than he for the fiend. A convulsion of agony went through his whole gaunt frame as he stopped, and communicated itself to me in a quick shudder.
"Say that you would shun me like the pestilence! Say that if you came upon me at a street corner you would turn and flee as from a mad dog! Say that if you had known what I am, and that I was in this house, you would not have dared to enter it even to save John Heathburn from dying! Say that even now you sit quaking in your bed as if the room were full of serpents, and I the slimiest, sharpest-fanged, quickest-darting, longest, strongest coiled, most poisonous of them all; that you fear me with a mad fear, that you loathe me, curse me back to my perdition, but don't say those horrid words, 'I'm glad.' Hell is glad. When I used to hear them talk of heaven -- when I thought there was a heaven -- I believed that was glad too: but let earth be full of wild weeping, and wringing of hands, and hung in funeral mourning when I come back to walk it for a little while. Then perhaps I can endure it; then, maybe, I can be let stay in it a little longer, till I have time to sit still!"
"George, come and sit down by my bedside now."
"Sit! who talks of sitting to me? I have been walking -- walking for hours and days and months and years and Eternities! Walking when four of them were straining their utmost, and thought they held me on my back -- walking when they believed I slept -- walking when I did sleep. Walking through waste places -- through great wildernesses of sand -- through a desert universe full of a red-hot iron light, where mountain shapes grew out of the air, and whispered and hissed and cursed. Walking always -- every where. Never stopping to rest or breathe or drink. There is a wandering Ahasuerus who walks till God shall come, and I am he."
"But you must sit now; take this chair by the side of my bed."
"Do you think that can hold me when eight stout men's arms could not? You knew my will in those days far back -- centuries back it looks now -- when we were together; that will is in me yet, and it has grown a devil! Were I bolted to that chair it would take my soul out of me and make that walk still."
"Nevertheless, sit down on this chair."
As I told John Heathburn, I had seen and dealt with many such cases before. They are anomalies in human suffering. Mere medical treatment will not do for them in their worst stages. They react against all sedatives, anodynes, counter-stimulants whatsoever, until the spiritual fiend within them is cast out. I have seen three drachms, nearly a half-ounce -- think of it -- of pulverized opium administered to a man in this state who had never taken it in any form before; and that force which held the citadel within him so utterly mastered it that it had no more effect upon him than as much liquorice powder. Yet opium is a giant. It controls men for damnable evil -- sometimes for temporary good, long, yes years, after the nervous system, which narcotics require as their basis for operation, has been utterly destroyed for all other purposes. Yet eventually there comes an hour when even opium is powerless, whether it or other indulgences have wrought the disorganization which baffles it. The all-powerful spirit, frenzied into Promethean stubbornness, stands between it and the nerve -- says, "Opium! even you shall not touch the body: I am your wall!" Then the business of the physician is to conquer that soul if he can; and if he can not, he had better leave it to some one else and devote himself to measles. His patient must feel that the Evil within him, and as far as he can see encircling him externally also like a globe of adamant, is still penetrable, vanquishable by the Good of another stronger soul still further outside. In fine, must be forced to see the incredible truth that, in this Universe with whose horrible realities he has become intimately acquainted, the Good is still the only all-powerful, all-whelming Principle; that it alone, but it certainly, shall bring his and every other Evil under. In such a case was Geroge Solero. And therefore I repeated firmly, as expecting to be obeyed,
"You must sit down upon this chair."
At first he looked at me with a searching gaze, half-suspicious, half-scornful. I returned it with a steady look, kind, to meet the first feeling, calm and unflinching, to cope with the second. He drew nearer and nearer, and finally dropped down at my side. I took his hand with a gentle unostentation, and never moved my eyes from him.
"You have been having a hard time, George, but from this moment you will grow better. You are coming out of the bad company you have been in; you will hereafter get into less turbulent society. They are all as bad as you say they are -- worse than the worst who still call themselves men, and the suffering you are in now is only their effort to get you back with them. The tiger's teeth shut tightest when the prey is taken from him."
"What?" exclaimed George Solero. "How did you know that it was a tiger which followed me? I did not tell you of the tiger."
"I have seen him."
"You? Were you ever in hell?"
"Yes, many times. I have been there to bring other men out."
"But did you? Did you ever bring them out?"
"Over and over again. And I have witnessed their bringing out by other hands still oftener. I do not mean that you shall ever go back there after this time. When you feel the pain that you are bearing now, you must not hereafter say, 'This is my aching brain, or burning throat, or shivering spine.' I can teach you something about yourself which even you do not know with all your experience. When you are at the worst, your eyes are so opened that you see clearly who it is that really is tormenting you. But when you become a little easier the pain is not great enough to quicken your sight, and you trace your sufferings falsely to the body. That has always been your mistake. Your pangs, as I told you, are nothing else but the enemies your eyes are not sharp enough at that time to see, trying to scourge you back to their wildernesses. And this is what you must say to them, 'You are liars: you may come at my head, my throat, my spine; but you are not them. You are only felons breaking into them, making a burglarious hell of them for the time being, but just as real and personal as you were a week ago. I feel you -- I know you -- though I can't see you. You are the tiger -- and you the ice-fiend -- you the grisly, gibbering ape -- and you are the boa-constrictor. You can not get me. Altogether you are to be conquered at last -- and because you know it you are making this uproar. You are children -- fools -- idiots showing your pique; not strong, unconquerable foes, with victory before you, and therefore patience to wait for it. I am holding by the hand an old school-fellow of mine who loves me as hard as you hate me. God, who loves me better than all, gave him a vigorous, thorough course of training in battle with just such mean rascals as you -- taught him your whole secret -- mapped out for him every winding of your course -- showed him all your tactics, your marching and countermarching, your truces, your ambuscades, your espials, your breaches of faith -- plainly acquainted him with the fact of your real weakness and final defeat -- then put a sword into his hand that can never be broken -- and told him of a sudden, one morning when he least expected it, to go down all the long way to Norfolk and take me away from you. And he is going to take me away. That is what you must say to them -- and that last, particularly, you may say with full truth, for I am going to."
While I said this George Solero's manner became less excited -- his attention more and more fixed. Still I held his hand and kept my eyes steadily upon him. At my last word he took my other hand into his and burst into tears, uttering brokenly, that I was the first man who ever knew what he had seen and where he had been. I felt that the very first step of my course was a success. The ice-bound floods within him had broken up. For nearly an hour longer I continued conversing with him, always managing to have him feel my grasp and my eye somewhere -- making it evident to him that I treated his torments as they were, as realities, not phantasms, and gradually drawing him off into the field of quieter subjects than the present. We spoke of good old Agamemnon -- the boys at Dresser -- our sports and studies there -- our mishaps, our excursions, our practical jokes even. And before we were through with these reminiscences I was astonished by hearing from him that most encouraging sign of returning reality, physical and mental, a natural laugh. After this I arose and took my medicine-chest from my trunk. In it lay a box of the solid extract of Cannabis Indica -- the Indian Hemp or Hasheesh of the East -- then little known to the practice, and now too little known in its highest office of controlling bad mental symptoms, but which I had already used with great success in cases of the most terrible delirium among those feeless patients whom I had treated in New York. Of this I made up a ten-grain pill, mixed it with a little myrrh to prevent the taste affording any clew to my patient should he seek it out as an indulgence, and then asked him how long it was since he had last tasted rum. Five days, he told me, and I thought this probable from comparison with the data given me by John.
"Then," said I, "take this pill, and immediately afterward we will go back to your room; you will lie down, and I will relieve Cato for an hour, sitting at your side."
He seemed completely in the possession of my will, and without an objection swallowed the dose mechanically. I took him back to his room, and, throwing a wrapper around me, sat at his side. In fifteeen minutes he was sleeping like a child. No spasm, no stertorous breathing; and a profuse sweat covered his face, so lately glazed and feverish. Cato was gone from the room. I quietly rose from my chair, and, kneling down by the side of that sad possessed one, who had suffered as he had sinned, prayed the Almighty Father and Healer that, even as he had sinned, so might he also be forgiven -- prayed as in my too careless, worldly life I had never done before, with an earnestness which nearly forced itself through my lips in words to awake the sleeper -- that I might be the means of saving this dismasted, rudderless soul from the black ocean where he was drifting without a star, bringing him back to a quiet harbor, while He who wielded me, and the skill which was His gift, took to His Holy Name all the glory. And particularly that he would so invigorate and work through that human Will which must be my chief enginery, that the greatest enginery should never make me swerve; that the monster Evil within my patient should feel it, cower under it, and be cast out. "For he hath a devil; and hath been brought unto Thy other disciples of the Divine Wisdom of Healing, and they could not cast him out. I believe: help my unbelief!"
The eastern sky was shedding a silvery twilight from its regions of dewy quiet when I arose with a better refreshment than sleep. I looked out of the open window; the carol of the first birds trickled in from the far cedars, and the cool wind that foreruns oncoming day seemed blowing straight from the morning star. Sitting clear in its tranquil gray field of sky, it looked like an island of the Blessed on that waveless sea of light, which is so far off to our weary, world-hampered hearts that we call it only Dawn. And to me in that moment it was an earnest of still grander beatitudes; it rested once more, as in the far first year of man's longing fulfilled -- God's meaning made intelligible -- over the spot where Hope was born. Then Bethlehem, the perfect certainty of sublimest Good to every home-coming creature, seemed not only below it, but above it, around it, every where. Yes, every where through the highest heights where its Maker is sung -- through the lowest depths where man's short-sighted unfaith thinks Him forever conquered. Hope! Hope! The Evil, after all its oscillations from least to greatest, from greatest to least, forever extinct through all times and spaces. The Good on the throne of the whole universe!
I drew back the curtain. "Blessed Star, shine on the soul of the sleeper, who thinks thee set!"
The servant returned, and I left George quietly. Throwing myself down upon my bed, I was soon restored to a better sleep than that from which I had been wakened. On coming down to breakfast at nine o'clock John's beaming face met me at the foot of the stairs, and he took my hands warmly in his own.
"I have spoken to father," said he, "and he gives his consent to your seeing George; in fact, to undertaking the entire care of his case. God bless you in it!"
"My dear John, I have already done that; and I believe that God has answered your prayer beforehand." Then I told him the events of the night.
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