The House by the Church-Yard, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Chapter 15

ÆSculapius to the Rescue.

It was not until Puddock had returned, that the gallant fireworker recollected all on a sudden that he had swallowed one of the bags.

‘Thwallowed? — thwallowed it!’ said Puddock, looking very blank and uncomfortable; ‘why, Thir, I told you you were to be very careful.’

‘Why, why curse it, it’s not, ‘tisn’t ——’

‘There was a long pause, and O’Flaherty stared a very frightened and hideous stare at the proprietor of the red quarto.

‘Not what, Thir?’ demanded Puddock, briskly, but plainly disconcerted.

‘Not anything — anything bad — or, or — there’s no use in purtendin’, Puddock,’ he resumed, turning quite yellow. ‘I see, Sir, I see by your looks, it’s what you think, I’m poisoned!’

‘I— I— do not, Thir, think you’re poisoned,’ he replied indignantly, but with some flurry; ‘that is, there’s a great deal in it that could not pothibly do you harm — there’s only one ingredient, yes — or, or, yes, perhapth three, but thertainly no more, that I don’t quite know about, depend upon it, ’tis nothing — a — nothing — a — seriouthly — a — But why, my dear Thir, why on earth did you violate the thimple directions — why did you thwallow a particle of it?’

‘Och, why did I let it into my mouth at all — the divil go with it!’ retorted poor O’Flaherty; ‘an’ wasn’t I the born eediot to put them devil’s dumplins inside my mouth? but I did not know what I was doin’— no more I didn’t.’

‘I hope your head’th better,’ said Puddock, vindicating by that dignified enquiry the character of his recipe.

‘Auch! my head be smathered, what the puck do I care about it?’ O’Flaherty broke out. ‘Ah, why the devil, Puddock, do you keep them ould women’s charrums and devilments about you? — you’ll be the death of some one yet, so you will.’

‘It’s a recipe, Sir,’ replied Puddock, with the same dignity ‘from which my great uncle, General Neagle, derived frequent benefit.’

‘And here I am,’ says O’Flaherty, vehemently; ‘and you don’t know whether I’m poisoned or no!’

At this moment he saw Dr. Sturk passing by, and drummed violently at the window. The doctor was impressed by the summons; for however queer the apparition, it was plain he was desperately in earnest.

‘Let’s see the recipe,’ said Sturk, drily; ‘you think you’re poisoned — I know you do;’ poor O’Flaherty had shrunk from disclosing the extent of his apprehensions, and only beat about the bush; ‘and if you be, I lay you fifty, I can’t save you, nor all the doctors in Dublin — show me the recipe.’

Puddock put it before him, and Sturk looked at the back of the volume with a leisurely disdain, but finding no title there, returned to the recipe. They both stared on his face, without breathing, while he conned it over. When he came about half-way, he whistled; and when he arrived at the end, he frowned hard; and squeezed his lips together till the red disappeared altogether, and he looked again at the back of the book, and then turned it round, once more reading the last line over with a severe expression.

‘And so you actually swallowed this — this devil’s dose, Sir, did you?’ demanded Sturk.

‘I— I believe he did, some of it; but I warned him, I did, upon my honour! Now, tell him, did I not warn you, my dear lieutenant, not to thwallow,’ interposed little Puddock, who began to grow confoundedly agitated; but Sturk, who rather liked shocking and frightening people, and had a knack of making bad worse, and an alacrity in waxing savage without adequate cause, silenced him with —

‘I p-pity you, Sir,’ and ‘pity’ shot like a pellet from his lips. ‘Why the deuce will you dabble in medicine, Sir? Do you think it’s a thing to be learnt in an afternoon out of the bottom of an old cookery-book?’

‘Cookery-book! excuse me, Dr. Sturk,’ replied Puddock offended. ‘I’m given to underthtand, Sir, it’s to be found in Culpepper.’

‘Culpepper!’ said Sturk, viciously. ‘Cull-poison — you have peppered him to a purpose, I promise you! How much of it, pray, Sir (to O’Flaherty,) have you got in your stomach?’

‘Tell him, Puddock,’ said O’Flaherty, helplessly.

‘Only a trifle I assure you,’ extenuated Puddock (I need not spell his lisp), ‘in a little muslin bag, about the size of the top joint of a lady’s little finger.’

‘Top joint o’ the devil!’ roared O’Flaherty, bitterly, rousing himself; ‘I tell you, Dr. Sturk, it was as big as my thumb, and a miracle it did not choke me.’

‘It may do that job for you yet, Sir,’ sneered the doctor with a stern disgust. ‘I dare say you feel pretty hot here?’ jerking his finger into his stomach.

‘And — and — and — what is it? — is it — do you think it’s anything — anyways — dangerous?’ faltered poor O’Flaherty.

‘Dangerous!’ responded Sturk, with an angry chuckle — indeed, he was specially vindictive against lay intruders upon the mystery of his craft; ‘why, yes — ha — ha! — just maybe a little. It’s only poison, Sir, deadly, barefaced poison!’ he began sardonically, with a grin, and ended with a black glare and a knock on the table, like an auctioneer’s ‘gone!’

‘There are no less than two — three — five mortal poisons in it,’ said the doctor with emphatic acerbity. ‘You and Mr. Puddock will allow that’s rather strong.’

O’Flaherty sat down and looked at Sturk, and wiping his damp face and forehead, he got up without appearing to know where he was going. Puddock stood with his hands in his breeches pockets, staring with his little round eyes on the doctor, I must confess, with a very foolish and rather guilty vacuity all over his plump face, rigid and speechless, for three or four seconds; then he put his hand, which did actually tremble, upon the doctor’s arm, and he said, very thickly —

‘I feel, Sir, you’re right; it is my fault, Sir, I’ve poisoned him — merthiful goodneth! — I— I—’

Puddock’s address acted for a moment on O’Flaherty. He came up to him pale and queer, like a somnambulist, and shook his fingers very cordially with a very cold grasp.

‘If it was the last word I ever spoke, Puddock, you’re a good-natured — he’s a gentleman, Sir — and it was all my own fault; he warned me, he did, again’ swallyin’ a dhrop of it — remember what I’m saying, doctor —’twas I that done it; I was always a botch, Puddock, an’ a fool; and — and — gentlemen — good-bye.’

And the flowered dressing-gown and ungartered stockings disappeared through the door into the bed-room, from whence they heard a great souse on the bed, and the bedstead gave a dismal groan.

‘Is there; — is there nothing, doctor — for mercy’s sake, think — doctor, do — I conjure you — pray think — there must be something’— urged Puddock, imploringly.

‘Ay, that’s the way, Sir, fellows quacking themselves and one another; when they get frightened, and with good reason, come to us and expect miracles; but as in this case, the quantity was not very much, ’tis not, you see, overpowering, and he may do if he takes what I’ll send him.’

Puddock was already at his bedside, shaking his hand hysterically, and tumbling his words out one over the other —

‘You’re thafe, my dear Thir — dum thpiro thpero — he thayth — Dr. Thturk — he can thave you, my dear Thir — my dear lieutenant — my dear O’Flaherty — he can thave you, Thir — thafe and thound, Thir.’

O’Flaherty, who had turned his face to the wall in the bitterness of his situation — for like some other men, he had the intensest horror of death when he came peaceably to his bedside, though ready enough to meet him with a ‘hurrah!’ and a wave of his rapier, if he arrived at a moment’s notice, with due dash and eclat — sat up like a shot, and gaping upon Puddock for a few seconds, relieved himself with a long sigh, a devotional upward roll of the eyes, and some muttered words, of which the little ensign heard only ‘blessing,’ very fervently, and ‘catch me again,’ and ‘divil bellows it;’ and forthwith out came one of the fireworker’s long shanks, and O’Flaherty insisted on dressing, shaving, and otherwise preparing as a gentleman and an officer, with great gaiety of heart, to meet his fate on the Fifteen Acres.

In due time arrived the antidote. It was enclosed in a gallipot, and was what I believe they called an electuary. I don’t know whether it is an obsolete abomination now, but it looked like brick-dust and treacle, and what it was made of even Puddock could not divine. O’Flaherty, that great Hibernian athlete, unconsciously winced and shuddered like a child at sight of it. Puddock stirred it with the tip of a tea-spoon, and looked into it with inquisitive disgust, and seemed to smell it from a distance, lost for a minute in inward conjecture, and then with a slight bow, pushed it ceremoniously toward his brother in arms.

‘There is not much the matter with me now — I feel well enough,’ said O’Flaherty, mildly, and eyeing the mixture askance; and after a little while he looked at Puddock. That disciplinarian understood the look, and said, peremptorily, shaking up his little powdered head, and lisping vehemently —

‘Lieutenant O’Flaherty, Sir! I insist on your instantly taking that physic. How you may feel, Sir, has nothing to do with it. If you hesitate, I withdraw my sanction to your going to the field, Sir. There’s no — there can be-no earthly excuse but a — a miserable objection to a — swallowing a — recipe, Sir — that isn’t — that is may be-not intended to please the palate, but to save your life, Sir — remember. Sir, you’ve swallowed a — you — you require, Sir — you don’t think I fear to say it, Sir! — you have swallowed that you ought not to have swallowed, and don’t, Sir — don’t — for both our sakes — for Heaven’s sake — I implore — and insist — don’t trifle, Sir.’

O’Flaherty felt himself passing under the chill and dismal shadow of death once more, such was the eloquence of Puddock, and so impressible his own nature, as he followed the appeal of his second. ‘Life is sweet;’ and, though the compound was nauseous, and a necessity upon him of swallowing it in horrid instalments, spoonful after spoonful, yet, though not without many interruptions, and many a shocking apostrophe, and even some sudden paroxysms of horror, which alarmed Puddock, he did contrive to get through it pretty well, except a little residuum in the bottom, which Puddock wisely connived at.

The clink of a horse-shoe drew Puddock to the window. Sturk riding into town, reined in his generous beast, and called up to the little lieutenant.

‘Well, he’s taken it, eh?’

Puddock smiled a pleasant smile and nodded.

‘Walk him about, then, for an hour or so, and he’ll do.’

‘Thank you, Sir,’ said little Puddock, gaily.

‘Don’t thank me, Sir, either of you, but remember the lesson you’ve got,’ said the doctor, tartly, and away he plunged into a sharp trot, with a cling-clang and a cloud of dust. And Puddock followed that ungracious leech, with a stare of gratitude and admiration, almost with a benediction. And his anxiety relieved, he and his principal prepared forthwith to provide real work for the surgeons.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lefanu/house/chapter15.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49