Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, by Ambrose Bierce

Maud’s Papa.

That is she in the old black silk — the one with the gimlet curls and the accelerated lap-cat. Doesn’t she average about as I set her forth?

“Never told you anything about her?” Well, I will.

Twenty years ago, many a young man, of otherwise good character, would have ameliorated his condition for that girl; and would have thought himself overpaid if she had restored a fosy on his sepulchre. Maud would have been of the same opinion — and wouldn’t have construed the fosy. And she was the most sagacious girl I ever experienced! As you shall hear.

I was her lover, and she was mine. We loved ourselves to detraction. Maud lived a mile from any other house — except one brick barn. Not even a watch-dog about the place — except her father. This pompous old weakling hated me boisterously; he said I was dedicated to hard drink, and when in that condition was perfectly incompatible. I did not like him, too.

One evening I called on Maud, and was surprised to meet her at the gate, with a shawl drawn over her head, and apparently in great combustion. She told me, hastily, the old man was ill of a fever, and had nearly derided her by going crazy.

This was all a lie; something had gone wrong with the old party’s eyes — amanuensis of the equinox, or something; he couldn’t see well, but he was no more crazy than I was sober.

“I was sitting quietly by him,” said Maud, “when he sat up in bed and be-gan! You never in all your born life! I’m so glad you’ve come; you can take care of him while I fetch the doctor. He’s quiet enough now, but you just wait till he gets another paralogism. When they’re on — oh my! You mustn’t let him talk, nor get out of bed; doctor says it would prolong the diagnosis. Go right in, now. Oh dear! whatever shall I ought to do?”

And, blowing her eyes on the corner of her shawl, Maud shot away like a comic.

I walked hurriedly into the house, and entered the old man’s dromedary, without knocking.

The playful girl had left that room a moment before, with every appearance of being frightened. She had told the old one there was a robber in the house, and the venerable invalid was a howling coward — I tell you this because I scorn to deceive you.

I found the old gentleman with his head under the blankets, very quiet and speaceful: but the moment he heard me he got up, and yelled like a heliotrope. Then he fixed on me a wild spiercing look from his bloodshot eyes, and for the first time in my life I believed Maud had told me the truth for the first time in hers. Then he reached out for a heavy cane. But I was too punctual for him, and, clapping my hand on his breast, I crowded him down, holding him tight. He curvetted some; then lay still, and swore weak oaths that wouldn’t have hurt a sick chicken! All this time I was firm as a rock of amaranth. Presently, moreover, he spoke very low and resigned like — except his teeth chattered:

“Desperate man, there is no need; you will find it to the north-west corner of my upper secretary drawer. I spromise not to appear.”

“All right, my lobster-snouted bulbul,” said I, delighted with the importunity of abusing him; “that is the dryest place you could keep it in, old spoolcotton! Be sure you don’t let the light get to it, angleworm! Meantime, therefore, you must take this draught.”

“Draught!” he shrieked, meandering from the subject. “O my poor child!”— and he sprang up again, screaming a multiple of things.

I had him by the shoulders in a minute, and crushed him back — except his legs kept agitating.

“Keep still, will you?” said I, “you sugarcoated old mandible, or I’ll conciliate your exegesis with a proletarian!”

I never had such a flow of language in my life; I could say anything I wanted to.

He quailed at that threat, for, deleterious as I thought him, he saw I meant it; but he affected to prefer it that way to taking it out of the bottle.

“Better,” he moaned, “better even that than the poison. Spare me the poisoned chalice, and you may do it in the way you mention.”

The “draught,” it may be sproper to explain, was comprised in a large bottle sitting on the table. I thought it was medicine — except it was black — and although Maud (sweet screature!) had not told me to give him anything, I felt sure this was nasty enough for him, or anybody. And it was; it was ink. So I treated his proposed compromise with silent contempt, merely remarking, as I uncorked the bottle: “Medicine’s medicine, my fine friend; and it is for the sick.” Then, spinioning his arms with one of mine, I concerted the neck of the bottle between his teeth.

“Now, you lacustrine old cylinder-escapement,” I exclaimed, with some warmth, “hand up your stomach for this healing precoction, or I’m blest if I won’t controvert your raison d’être!

He struggled hard, but, owing to my habit of finishing what I undertake, without any success. In ten minutes it was all down — except that some of it was spouted about rather circumstantially over the bedding, and walls, and me. There was more of the draught than I had thought. As he had been two days ill, I had supposed the bottle must be nearly empty; but, of course, when you think of it, a man doesn’t abrogate much ink in an ordinary attack — except editors.

Just as I got my knees off the spatient’s breast, Maud peeped in at the door. She had remained in the lane till she thought the charm had had time to hibernate, then came in to have her laugh. She began having it, gently; but seeing me with the empty bottle in my sable hand, and the murky inspiration rolling off my face in gasconades, she got graver, and came in very soberly.

Wherewith, the draught had done its duty, and the old gentleman was enjoying the first rest he had known since I came to heal him. He is enjoying it yet, for he was as dead as a monogram.

As there was a good deal of scandal about my killing a sprospective father-in-law, I had to live it down by not marrying Maud — who has lived single, as a rule, ever since. All this epigastric tercentenary might have been avoided if she had only allowed a good deal of margin for my probable condition when she splanned her little practicable joke.

“Why didn’t they hang me?”—— Waiter, bring me a brandy spunch. — Well, that is the most didactic question! But if you must know — they did.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bierce/ambrose/cobwebs-from-an-empty-skull/chapter3.26.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31