The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade

Chapter 26

It was the afternoon of the next day. Gerard was no longer lightheaded, but very irritable and full of fancies; and in one of these he begged Denys to get him a lemon to suck. Denys, who from a rough soldier had been turned by tender friendship into a kind of grandfather, got up hastily, and bidding him set his mind at ease, “lemons he should have in the twinkling of a quart pot,” went and ransacked the shops for them.

They were not so common in the North as they are now, and he was absent a long while, and Gerard getting very impatient, when at last the door opened. But it was not Denys. Entered softly an imposing figure; an old gentleman in a long sober gown trimmed with rich fur, cherry-coloured hose, and pointed shoes, with a sword by his side in a morocco scabbard, a ruff round his neck not only starched severely, but treacherously stiffened in furrows by rebatoes, or a little hidden framework of wood; and on his head a four-cornered cap with a fur border; on his chin and bosom a majestic white beard. Gerard was in no doubt as to the vocation of his visitor, for, the sword excepted, this was familiar to him as the full dress of a physician. Moreover, a boy followed at his heels with a basket, where phials, lint, and surgical tools rather courted than shunned observation. The old gentleman came softly to the bedside, and said mildly and sotto voce, “How is’t with thee, my son?”

Gerard answered gratefully that his wound gave him little pain now; but his throat was parched, and his head heavy.

“A wound! they told me not of that. Let me see it. Ay, ay, a good clean bite. The mastiff had sound teeth that took this out, I warrant me;” and the good doctor’s sympathy seemed to run off to the quadruped he had conjured, his jackal.

“This must be cauterized forthwith, or we shall have you starting back from water, and turning somersaults in bed under our hands. ’Tis the year for raving curs, and one hath done your business; but we will baffle him yet. Urchin, go heat thine iron.”

“But, sir,” edged in Gerard, “’twas no dog, but a bear.”

“A bear! Young man,” remonstrated the senior severely, “think what you say; ’tis ill jesting with the man of art who brings his grey hairs and long study to heal you. A bear, quotha! Had you dissected as many bears as I, or the tithe, and drawn their teeth to keep your hand in, you would know that no bear’s jaw ever made this foolish trifling wound. I tell you ’twas a dog, and since you put me to it, I even deny that it was a dog of magnitude, but neither more nor less than one of these little furious curs that are so rife, and run devious, biting each manly leg, and laying its wearer low, but for me and my learned brethren, who still stay the mischief with knife and cautery.”

“Alas, sir! when said I ’twas a bear’s jaw? I said, ‘A bear:’ it was his paw, now.”

“And why didst not tell me that at once?”

“Because you kept telling me instead.”

“Never conceal aught from your leech, young man,” continued the senior, who was a good talker, but one of the worst listeners in Europe. “Well, it is an ill business. All the horny excrescences of animals, to wit, claws of tigers, panthers, badgers, cats, bears, and the like, and horn of deer, and nails of humans, especially children, are imbued with direst poison. Y’had better have been bitten by a cur, whatever you may say, than gored by bull or stag, or scratched by bear. However, shalt have a good biting cataplasm for thy leg; meantime keep we the body cool: put out thy tongue!-good!-fever. Let me feel thy pulse: good! — fever. I ordain flebotomy, and on the instant.”

“Flebotomy! that is bloodletting: humph! Well, no matter, if ’tis sure to cure me, for I will not lie idle here.” The doctor let him know that flebotomy was infallible, especially in this case.

“Hans, go fetch the things needful, and I will entertain the patient meantime with reasons.”

The man of art then explained to Gerard that in disease the blood becomes hot and distempered and more or less poisonous; but a portion of this unhealthy liquid removed, Nature is fain to create a purer fluid to fill its place. Bleeding, therefore, being both a cooler and a purifier, was a specific in all diseases, for all diseases were febrile, whatever empirics might say.

“But think not,” said he warmly, “that it suffices to bleed; any paltry barber can open a vein (though not all can close it again). The art is to know what vein to empty for what disease. T’other day they brought me one tormented with earache. I let him blood in the right thigh, and away flew his earache. By-the-by, he has died since then. Another came with the toothache. I bled him behind the ear, and relieved him in a jiffy. He is also since dead as it happens. I bled our bailiff between the thumb and forefinger for rheumatism. Presently he comes to me with a headache and drumming in the ears, and holds out his hand over the basin; but I smiled at his folly, and bled him in the left ankle sore against his will, and made his head as light as a nut.”

Diverging then from the immediate theme after the manner of enthusiasts, the reverend teacher proceeded thus:

“Know, young man, that two schools of art contend at this moment throughout Europe. The Arabian, whose ancient oracles are Avicenna, Rhazes, Albucazis; and its revivers are Chauliac and Lanfranc; and the Greek school, whose modern champions are Bessarion, Platinus, and Marsilius Ficinus, but whose pristine doctors were medicine’s very oracles, Phoebus, Chiron, Aesculapius, and his sons Podalinus and Machaon, Pythagoras, Democritus, Praxagoras, who invented the arteries, and Dioctes, ‘qui primus urinae animum dedit.’ All these taught orally. Then came Hippocrates, the eighteenth from Aesculapius, and of him we have manuscripts; to him we owe ‘the vital principle.’ He also invented the bandage, and tapped for water on the chest; and above all he dissected; yet only quadrupeds, for the brutal prejudices of the pagan vulgar withheld the human body from the knife of science. Him followed Aristotle, who gave us the aorta, the largest blood-vessel in the human body.”

“Surely, sir, the Almighty gave us all that is in our bodies, and not Aristotle, nor any Grecian man,” objected Gerard humbly.

“Child! of course He gave us the thing; but Aristotle did more, he gave us the name of the thing. But young men will still be talking. The next great light was Galen; he studied at Alexandria, then the home of science. He, justly malcontent with quadrupeds, dissected apes, as coming nearer to man, and bled like a Trojan. Then came Theophilus, who gave us the nerves, the lacteal vessels, and the pia mater.”

This worried Gerard. “I cannot lie still and hear it said that mortal man bestowed the parts which Adam our father took from Him, who made him of the clay, and us his sons.”

“Was ever such perversity?” said the doctor, his colour rising. “Who is the real donor of a thing to man? he who plants it secretly in the dark recesses of man’s body, or the learned wight who reveals it to his intelligence, and so enriches his mind with the knowledge of it? Comprehension is your only true possession. Are you answered?”

“I am put to silence, sir.”

“And that is better still; for garrulous patients are ill to cure, especially in fever; I say, then, that Eristratus gave us the cerebral nerves and the milk vessels; nay, more, he was the inventor of lithotomy, whatever you may say. Then came another whom I forget; you do somewhat perturb me with your petty exceptions. Then came Ammonius, the author of lithotrity, and here comes Hans with the basin-to stay your volubility. Blow thy chafer, boy, and hand me the basin; ’tis well. Arabians, quotha! What are they but a sect of yesterday who about the year 1000 did fall in with the writings of those very Greeks, and read them awry, having no concurrent light of their own? for their demigod, and camel-driver, Mahound, impostor in science as in religion, had strictly forbidden them anatomy, even of the lower animals, the which he who severeth from medicine, ‘tollit solem e mundo,’ as Tully quoth. Nay, wonder not at my fervour, good youth; where the general weal stands in jeopardy, a little warmth is civic, humane, and honourable. Now there is settled of late in this town a pestilent Arabist, a mere empiric, who, despising anatomy, and scarce knowing Greek from Hebrew, hath yet spirited away half my patients; and I tremble for the rest. Put forth thine ankle; and thou, Hans, breathe on the chafer.”

Whilst matters were in this posture, in came Denys with the lemons, and stood surprised. “What sport is toward?” said he, raising his brows.

Gerard coloured a little, and told him the learned doctor was going to flebotomize him and cauterize him; that was all.

“Ay! indeed; and yon imp, what bloweth he hot coals for?”

“What should it be for,” said the doctor to Gerard, “but to cauterize the vein when opened and the poisonous blood let free? ’Tis the only safe way. Avicenna indeed recommends a ligature of the vein; but how ’tis to be done he saith not, nor knew he himself I wot, nor any of the spawn of Ishmael. For me, I have no faith in such tricksy expedients; and take this with you for a safe principle: ‘Whatever an Arab or Arabist says is right, must be wrong.’”

“Oh, I see now what ’tis for,” said Denys; “and art thou so simple as to let him put hot iron to thy living flesh? didst ever keep thy little finger but ten moments in a candle? and this will be as many minutes. Art not content to burn in purgatory after thy death? must thou needs buy a foretaste on’t here?”

“I never thought of that,” said Gerard gravely; “the good doctor spake not of burning, but of cautery; to be sure ’tis all one, but cautery sounds not so fearful as burning.”

“Imbecile! That is their art; to confound a plain man with dark words, till his hissing flesh lets him know their meaning. Now listen to what I have seen. When a soldier bleeds from a wound in battle, these leeches say, ‘Fever. Blood him!’ and so they burn the wick at t’other end too. They bleed the bled. Now at fever’s heels comes desperate weakness; then the man needs all his blood to live; but these prickers and burners, having no forethought, recking nought of what is sure to come in a few hours, and seeing like brute beasts only what is under their noses, having meantime robbed him of the very blood his hurt had spared him to battle that weakness withal; and so he dies exhausted. Hundreds have I seen so scratched and pricked out of the world, Gerard, and tall fellows too; but lo! if they have the luck to be wounded where no doctor can be had, then they live; this too have I seen. Had I ever outlived that field in Brabant but for my most lucky mischance, lack of chirurgery? The frost chocked all my bleeding wounds, and so I lived. A chirurgeon had pricked yet one more hole in this my body with his lance, and drained my last drop out, and my spirit with it. Seeing them thus distraught in bleeding of the bleeding soldier, I place no trust in them; for what slays a veteran may well lay a milk-and-water bourgeois low.”

“This sounds like common sense,” sighed Gerard languidly, “but no need to raise your voice so; I was not born deaf, and just now I hear acutely.”

“Common sense! very common sense indeed,” shouted the bad listener; “why, this is a soldier; a brute whose business is to kill men, not cure them.” He added in very tolerable French, “Woe be to you, unlearned man, if you come between a physician and his patient; and woe be to you, misguided youth, if you listen to that man of blood.”

“Much obliged,” said Denys, with mock politeness; “but I am a true man, and would rob no man of his name. I do somewhat in the way of blood, but not worth mention in this presence. For one I slay, you slay a score; and for one spoonful of blood I draw, you spill a tubful. The world is still gulled by shows. We soldiers vapour with long swords, and even in war be-get two foes for every one we kill; but you smooth gownsmen, with soft phrases and bare bodkins, ’tis you that thin mankind.”

“A sick chamber is no place for jesting,” cried the physician.

“No, doctor, nor for bawling,” said the patient peevishly.

“Come, young man,” said the senior kindly, “be reasonable. Cuilibet in sua arte credendum est. My whole life has been given to this art. I studied at Montpelier; the first school in France, and by consequence in Europe. There learned I Dririmancy, Scatomancy, Pathology, Therapeusis, and, greater than them all, Anatomy. For there we disciples of Hippocrates and Galen had opportunities those great ancients never knew. Goodbye, quadrupeds and apes, and paganism, and Mohammedanism; we bought of the churchwardens, we shook the gallows; we undid the sexton’s work of dark nights, penetrated with love of science and our kind; all the authorities had their orders from Paris to wink; and they winked. Gods of Olympus, how they winked! The gracious king assisted us: he sent us twice a year a living criminal condemned to die, and said, ‘Deal ye with him as science asks; dissect him alive, if ye think fit.’”

“By the liver of Herod, and Nero’s bowels, he’ll make me blush for the land that bore me, an’ if he praises it any more,” shouted Denys at the top of his voice.

Gerard gave a little squawk, and put his fingers in his ears; but speedily drew them out and shouted angrily, and as loudly, “you great roaring, blaspheming bull of Basan, hold your noisy tongue!”

Denys summoned a contrite look.

“Tush, slight man,” said the doctor, with calm contempt, and vibrated a hand over him as in this age men make a pointer dog down charge; then flowed majestic on. “We seldom or never dissected the living criminal, except in part. We mostly inoculated them with such diseases as the barren time afforded, selecting of course the more interesting ones.”

“That means the foulest,” whispered Denys meekly.

“These we watched through all their stages to maturity.”

“Meaning the death of the poor rogue,” whispered Denys meekly.

“And now, my poor sufferer, who best merits your confidence, this honest soldier with his youth, his ignorance, and his prejudices, or a greybeard laden with the gathered wisdom of ages?”

“That is,” cried Denys impatiently, “will you believe what a jackdaw in a long gown has heard from a starling in a long gown, who heard it from a jay-pie, who heard it from a magpie, who heard it from a popinjay; or will you believe what I, a man with nought to gain by looking awry, nor speaking false, have seen; nor heard with the ears which are given us to gull us, but seen with these sentinels mine eye, seen, seen; to wit, that fevered and blooded men die, that fevered men not blooded live? stay, who sent for this sang-sue? Did you?”

“Not I. I thought you had.”

“Nay,” explained the doctor, “the good landlord told me one was ‘down’ in his house; so I said to myself, ‘A stranger, and in need of my art,’ and came incontinently.”

“It was the act of a good Christian, sir.”

“Of a good bloodhound,” cried Denys contemptuously. “What, art thou so green as not to know that all these landlords are in league with certain of their fellow-citizens, who pay them toll on each booty? Whatever you pay this ancient for stealing your life blood, of that the landlord takes his third for betraying you to him. Nay, more, as soon as ever your blood goes down the stair in that basin there, the landlord will see it or smell it, and send swiftly to his undertaker and get his third out of that job. For if he waited till the doctor got downstairs, the doctor would be beforehand and bespeak his undertaker, and then he would get the black thirds. Say I sooth, old Rouge et Noir? dites!”

“Denys, Denys, who taught you to think so ill of man?”

“Mine eyes, that are not to be gulled by what men say, seeing this many a year what they do, in all the lands I travel.”

The doctor with some address made use of these last words to escape the personal question. “I too have eyes as well as thou, and go not by tradition only, but by what I have seen, and not only seen, but done. I have healed as many men by bleeding as that interloping Arabist has killed for want of it. ’Twas but t’other day I healed one threatened with leprosy; I but bled him at the tip of the nose. I cured last year a quartan ague: how? bled its forefinger. Our cure lost his memory. I brought it him back on the point of my lance; I bled him behind the ear. I bled a dolt of a boy, and now he is the only one who can tell his right hand from his left in a whole family of idiots. When the plague was here years ago, no sham plague, such as empyrics proclaim every six years or so, but the good honest Byzantine pest, I blooded an alderman freely, and cauterized the symptomatic buboes, and so pulled him out of the grave; whereas our then chirurgeon, a most pernicious Arabist, caught it himself, and died of it, aha, calling on Rhazes, Avicenna, and Mahound, who, could they have come, had all perished as miserably as himself.”

“Oh, my poor ears,” sighed Gerard.

“And am I fallen so low that one of your presence and speech rejects my art and listens to a rude soldier, so far behind even his own miserable trade as to bear an arbalest, a worn-out invention, that German children shoot at pigeons with, but German soldiers mock at since ever arquebusses came and put them down?”

“You foul-mouthed old charlatan,” cried Denys, “the arbalest is shouldered by taller men than ever stood in Rhenish hose, and even now it kills as many more than your noisy, stinking arquebus, as the lancet does than all our toys together. Go to! He was no fool who first called you ‘leeches.’ Sang-sues! va!”

Gerard groaned. “By the holy virgin, I wish you were both at Jericho, bellowing.’

“Thank you comrade. Then I’ll bark no more, but at need I’ll bite. If he has a lance, I have a sword; if he bleeds you, I’ll bleed him. The moment his lance pricks your skin, little one, my sword-hilt knocks against his ribs; I have said it.”

And Denys turned pale, folded his arms, and looked gloomy and dangerous.

Gerard sighed wearily. “Now, as all this is about me, give me leave to say a word.”

“Ay! let the young man choose life or death for himself.”

Gerard then indirectly rebuked his noisy counsellors by contrast and example. He spoke with unparalleled calmness, sweetness, and gentleness. And these were the words of Gerard the son of Eli. “I doubt not you both mean me well; but you assassinate me between you. Calmness and quiet are everything to me; but you are like two dogs growling over a bone. And in sooth, bone I should be, did this uproar last long.”

There was a dead silence, broken only by the silvery voice of Gerard, as he lay tranquil, and gazed calmly at the ceiling, and trickled into words.

“First, venerable sir, I thank you for coming to see me, whether from humanity, or in the way of honest gain; all trades must live.

“Your learning, reverend sir, seems great, to me at least, and for your experience, your age voucheth it.

“You say you have bled many, and of these many, many have not died thereafter, but lived, and done well. I must needs believe you.”

The physician bowed; Denys grunted.

“Others, you say, you have bled, and-they are dead. I must needs believe you.

“Denys knows few things compared with you, but he knows them well. He is a man not given to conjecture. This I myself have noted. He says he has seen the fevered and blooded for the most part die; the fevered and not blooded live. I must needs believe him.

“Here, then, all is doubt.

“But thus much is certain; if I be bled, I must pay you a fee, and be burnt and excruciated with a hot iron, who am no felon.

“Pay a certain price in money and anguish for a doubtful remedy, that will I never.

“Next to money and ease, peace and quiet are certain goods, above all in a sick-room; but ‘twould seem men cannot argue medicine without heat and raised voices; therefore, sir, I will essay a little sleep, and Denys will go forth and gaze on the females of the place, and I will keep you no longer from those who can afford to lay out blood and money in flebotomy and cautery.”

The old physician had naturally a hot temper; he had often during this battle of words mastered it with difficulty, and now it mastered him. The most dignified course was silence; he saw this, and drew himself up, and made loftily for the door, followed close by his little boy and big basket.

But at the door he choked, he swelled, he burst. He whirled and came back open-mouthed, and the little boy and big basket had to whisk semicircularly not to be run down, for de minimis non curat Medicina-even when not in a rage.

“Ah! you reject my skill, you scorn my art. My revenge shall be to leave you to yourself; lost idiot, take your last look at me, and at the sun. Your blood be on your head!” And away he stamped.

But on reaching the door he whirled and came back; his wicker tail twirling round after him like a cat’s.

“In twelve hours at furthest you will be in the secondary stage of fever. Your head will split. Your carotids will thump. Aha! And let but a pin fall, you will jump to the ceiling. Then send for me; and I’ll not come.” He departed. But at the door-handle gathered fury, wheeled and came flying, with pale, terror-stricken boy and wicker tail whisking after him. “Next will come — CRAMPS of the STOMACH. Aha!

“Then — BILIOUS VOMIT. Aha!

“Then — COLD SWEAT, and DEADLY STUPOR.

“Then — CONFUSION OF ALL THE SENSES.

“Then — BLOODY VOMIT.

“And after that nothing can save you, not even I; and if I could I would not, and so farewell!”

Even Denys changed colour at threats so fervent and precise; but Gerard only gnashed his teeth with rage at the noise, and seized his hard bolster with kindling eye.

This added fuel to the fire, and brought the insulted ancient back from the impassable door, with his whisking train.

“And after that — MADNESS!

“And after that — BLACK VOMIT

“And then — CONVULSIONS!

“And then — THAT CESSATION OF ALL VITAL FUNCTIONS THE VULGAR CALL ‘DEATH,’ for which thank your own Satanic folly and insolence. Farewell.” He went. He came. He roared, “And think not to be buried in any Christian church-yard; for the bailiff is my good friend, and I shall tell him how and why you died: felo de se! felo de se! Farewell.”

Gerard sprang to his feet on the bed by some supernatural gymnastic power excitement lent him, and seeing him so moved, the vindictive orator came back at him fiercer than ever, to launch some master-threat the world has unhappily lost; for as he came with his whisking train, and shaking his fist, Gerard hurled the bolster furiously in his face and knocked him down like a shot, the boy’s head cracked under his falling master’s, and crash went the dumb-stricken orator into the basket, and there sat wedged in an inverted angle, crushing phial after phial. The boy, being light, was strewed afar, but in a squatting posture; so that they sat in a sequence, like graduated specimens, the smaller howling. But soon the doctor’s face filled with horror, and he uttered a far louder and unearthly screech, and kicked and struggled with wonderful agility for one of his age.

He was sitting on the hot coals.

They had singed the cloth and were now biting the man. Struggling wildly but vainly to get out of the basket, he rolled yelling over with it sideways, and lo! a great hissing; then the humane Gerard ran and wrenched off the tight basket not without a struggle. The doctor lay on his face groaning, handsomely singed with his own chafer, and slaked a moment too late by his own villainous compounds, which, however, being as various and even beautiful in colour as they were odious in taste, had strangely diversified his grey robe, and painted it more gaudy than neat.

Gerard and Denys raised him up and consoled him. “Courage, man, ’tis but cautery; balm of Gilead, why, you recommend it but now to my comrade here.”

The physician replied only by a look of concentrated spite, and went out in dead silence, thrusting his stomach forth before him in the drollest way. The boy followed him next moment but in that slight interval he left off whining, burst into a grin, and conveyed to the culprits by an unrefined gesture his accurate comprehension of, and rapturous though compressed joy at, his master’s disaster.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33