The Surgeon's Daughter, by Walter Scott

Chapter the Seventh.

A wise physician, skill’d our wounds to heal,

Is more than armies to the common weal.

POPE’S Homer.

As Middlemas returned to his senses, he was sensible that his blood felt more cool; that the feverish throb of his pulsation was diminished; that the ligatures on his person were removed, and his lungs performed their functions more freely. One assistant was binding up a vein, from which a considerable quantity of blood had been taken; another, who had just washed the face of the patient, was holding aromatic vinegar to his nostrils. As he began to open his eyes, the person who had just completed the bandage, said in Latin, but in a very low tone, and without raising his head, “Annon sis Ricardus ille Middlemas, ex civitate Middlemassiense? Responde in lingua Latina.”

“Sum ille miserrimus,” replied Richard, again shutting his eyes; for, strange as it may seem, the voice of his comrade Adam Hartley, though his presence might be of so much consequence in this emergency, conveyed a pang to his wounded pride. He was conscious of unkindly, if not hostile, feelings towards his old companion; he remembered the tone of superiority which he used to assume over him, and thus to lie stretched at his feet, and in a manner at his mercy, aggravated his distress, by the feelings of the dying chieftain, “Earl Percy sees my fall.” This was, however, too unreasonable an emotion to subsist above a minute. In the next, he availed himself of the Latin language, with which both were familiar, (for in that time the medical studies at the celebrated University of Edinburgh were, in a great measure, conducted in Latin,) to tell in a few words his own folly, and the villany of Hillary.

“I must be gone instantly,” said Hartley —“Take courage — I trust to be able to assist you. In the meantime, take food and physic from none but my servant, who you see holds the sponge in his hand. You are in a place where a man’s life has been taken for the sake of his gold sleeve-buttons.”

“Stay yet a moment,” said Middlemas —“Let me remove this temptation from my dangerous neighbours.”

He drew a small packet from his under waistcoat, and put it into Hartley’s hands.

“If I die,” he said, “be my heir. You deserve her better than I.”

All answer was prevented by the hoarse voice of Seelencooper.

“Well, Doctor, will you carry through your patient?”

“Symptoms are dubious yet,” said the Doctor —“That was an alarming swoon. You must have him carried into the private ward, and my young man shall attend him.

“Why, if you command it, Doctor, needs must; — but I can tell you there is a man we both know, that has a thousand reasons at least for keeping him in the public ward.”

“I know nothing of your thousand reasons,” said Hartley; “I can only tell you that this young fellow is as well-limbed and likely a lad as the Company have among their recruits. It is my business to save him for their service, and if he dies by your neglecting what I direct, depend upon it I will not allow the blame to lie at my door. I will tell the General the charge I have given you.”

“The General!” said Seelencooper, much embarrassed —“Tell the General? — ay, about his health. But you will not say any thing about what he may have said in his light-headed fits? My eyes! if you listen to what feverish patients say when the tantivy is in their brain, your back will soon break with tale-bearing, for I will warrant you plenty of them to carry.”

“Captain Seelencooper,” said the Doctor, “I do not meddle with your department in the hospital; my advice to you is, not to trouble yourself with mine. I suppose, as I have a commission in the service, and have besides a regular diploma as a physician, I know when my patient is light-headed or otherwise. So do you let the man be carefully looked after, at your peril.”

Thus saying, he left the hospital, but not till, under pretext of again consulting the pulse, he pressed the patient’s hand, as if to assure him once more of his exertions for his liberation.

“My eyes!” muttered Seelencooper, “this cockerel crows gallant, to come from a Scotch roost; but I would know well enough how to fetch the youngster off the perch, if it were not for the cure he has done on the General’s pickaninies.”

Enough of this fell on Richard’s ear to suggest hopes of deliverance, which were increased when he was shortly afterwards removed to a separate ward, a place much more decent in appearance, and inhabited only by two patients, who seemed petty officers. Although sensible that he had no illness, save that weakness which succeeds violent agitation, he deemed it wisest to suffer himself still to be treated as a patient, in consideration that he should thus remain under his comrade’s superintendence. Yet while preparing to avail himself of Hartley’s good offices, the prevailing reflection of his secret bosom was the ungrateful sentiment, “Had Heaven no other means of saving me than by the hands of him I like least on the face of the earth?”

Meanwhile, ignorant of the ungrateful sentiments of his comrade, and indeed wholly indifferent how he felt towards him, Hartley proceeded in doing him such service as was in his power, without any other object than the discharge of his own duty as a man and as a Christian. The manner in which he became qualified to render his comrade assistance, requires some short explanation.

Our story took place at a period, when the Directors of the East India Company, with that hardy and persevering policy which has raised to such a height the British Empire in the East, had determined to send a large reinforcement of European troops to the support of their power in India, then threatened by the kingdom of Mysore, of which the celebrated Hyder Ali had usurped the government, after dethroning his master. Considerable difficulty was found in obtaining recruits for that service. Those who might have been otherwise disposed to be soldiers, were afraid of the climate, and of the species of banishment which the engagement implied; and doubted also how far the engagements of the Company might be faithfully observed towards them, when they were removed from the protection of the British laws. For these and other reasons, the military service of the King was preferred, and that of the Company could only procure the worst recruits, although their zealous agents scrupled not to employ the worst means. Indeed the practice of kidnapping, or crimping, as it is technically called, was at that time general, whether for the colonies, or even for the King’s troops; and as the agents employed in such transactions must be of course entirely unscrupulous, there was not only much villany committed in the direct prosecution of the trade, but it gave rise incidentally to remarkable cases of robbery, and even murder. Such atrocities were of course concealed from the authorities for whom the levies were made, and the necessity of obtaining soldiers made men, whose conduct was otherwise unexceptionable, cold in looking closely into the mode in which their recruiting service was conducted.

The principal depot of the troops which were by these means assembled, was in the Isle of Wight, where the season proving unhealthy, and the men themselves being many of them of a bad habit of body, a fever of a malignant character broke out amongst them, and speedily crowded with patients the military hospital, of which Mr. Seelencooper, himself an old and experienced crimp and kidnapper, had obtained the superintendence. Irregularities began to take place also among the soldiers who remained healthy, and the necessity of subjecting them to some discipline before they sailed was so evident, that several officers of the Company’s naval service expressed their belief that otherwise there would be dangerous mutinies on the passage.

To remedy the first of these evils, the Court of Directors sent down to the island several of their medical servants, amongst whom was Hartley, whose qualifications had been amply certified by a medical board, before which he had passed an examination, besides his possessing a diploma from the University of Edinburgh as M. D.

To enforce the discipline of their soldiers, the Court committed full power to one of their own body, General Witherington. The General was an officer who had distinguished himself highly in their service. He had returned from India five or six years before, with a large fortune, which he had rendered much greater by an advantageous marriage with a rich heiress. The General and his lady went little into society, but seemed to live entirely for their infant family, those in number being three, two boys and a girl. Although he had retired from the service, he willingly undertook the temporary charge committed to him, and taking a house at a considerable distance from the town of Ryde, he proceeded to enrol the troops into separate bodies, appoint officers of capacity to each, and by regular training and discipline, gradually to bring them into something resembling good order. He heard their complaints of ill usage in the articles of provisions and appointments, and did them upon all occasions the strictest justice, save that he was never known to restore one recruit to his freedom from the service, however unfairly or even illegally his attestation might have been obtained.

“It is none of my business,” said General Witherington, “how you became soldiers — soldiers I found you, and soldiers I will leave you. But I will take especial care, that as soldiers you shall have every thing, to a penny or a pin’s head, that you are justly entitled to.” He went to work without fear or favour, reported many abuses to the Board of Directors, had several officers, commissaries, &c. removed from the service, and made his name as great a terror to the peculators at home, as it had been to the enemies of Britain in Hindostan.

Captain Seelencooper, and his associates in the hospital department, heard and trembled, fearing that their turn should come next; but the General, who elsewhere examined all with his own eyes, showed a reluctance to visit the hospital in person. Public report industriously imputed this to fear of infection. Such was certainly the motive; though it was not fear for his own safety that influenced General Witherington, but he dreaded lest he should carry the infection home to the nursery, on which he doated. The alarm of his lady was yet more unreasonably sensitive: she would scarcely suffer the children to walk abroad, if the wind but blew from the quarter where the hospital was situated.

But Providence baffles the precautions of mortals. In a walk across the fields, chosen as the most sheltered and sequestered, the children, with their train of Eastern and European attendants, met a woman who carried a child that was recovering from the small-pox. The anxiety of the father, joined to some religious scruples on the mother’s part, had postponed inoculation, which was then scarcely come into general use. The infection caught like a quick-match, and ran like wildfire through all those in the family who had not previously had the disease. One of the General’s children, the second boy, died, and two of the Ayas, or black female servants, had the same fate. The hearts of the father and mother would have been broken for the child they had lost, had not their grief been suspended by anxiety for the fate of those who lived, and who were confessed to be in imminent danger. They were like persons distracted, as the symptoms of the poor patients appeared gradually to resemble more nearly that of the child already lost.

While the parents were in this agony of apprehension, the General’s principal servant, a native of Northumberland like himself, informed him one morning that there was a young man from the same county among the hospital doctors, who had publicly blamed the mode of treatment observed towards the patients, and spoken of another which he had seen practised with eminent success.

“Some impudent quack,” said the General, “who would force himself into business by bold assertions. Doctor Tourniquet and Doctor Lancelot are men of high reputation.”

“Do not mention their reputation,” said the mother, with a mother’s impatience, “did they not let my sweet Reuben die? What avails the reputation of the physician, when the patient perisheth?”

“If his honour would but see Doctor Hartley,” said Winter, turning half towards the lady, then turning back again to his master. “He is a very decent young man, who, I am sure, never expected what he said to reach your honour’s ears; — and he is a native of Northumberland.”

“Send a servant with a led horse,” said the General; “let the young man come hither instantly.”

It is well known, that the ancient mode of treating the small-pox was to refuse to the patient every thing which Nature urged him to desire; and, in particular, to confine him to heated rooms, beds loaded with blankets, and spiced wine, when Nature called for cold water and fresh air. A different mode of treatment had of late been adventured upon by some practitioners, who preferred reason to authority, and Gideon Gray had followed it for several years with extraordinary success.

When General Witherington saw Hartley, he was startled at his youth; but when he heard him modestly, but with confidence, state the difference of the two modes of treatment, and the rationale of his practice, he listened with the most serious attention. So did his lady, her streaming eyes turning from Hartley to her husband, as if to watch what impression the arguments of the former were making upon the latter. General Witherington was silent for a few minutes after Hartley had finished his exposition, and seemed buried in profound reflection. “To treat a fever,” he said, “in a manner which tends to produce one, seems indeed to be adding fuel to fire.”

“It is — it is,” said the lady. “Let us trust this young man, General Witherington. We shall at least give our darlings the comforts of the fresh air and cold water, for which they are pining.”

But the General remained undecided. “Your reasoning,” he said to Hartley, “seems plausible; but still it is only hypothesis. What can you show to support your theory, in opposition to the general practice?”

“My own observation,” replied the young man. “Here is a memorandum-book of medical cases which I have witnessed. It contains twenty cases of small-pox, of which eighteen were recoveries.”

“And the two others?” said the General.

“Terminated fatally,” replied Hartley; “we can as yet but partially disarm this scourge of the human race.”

“Young man,” continued the General, “were I to say that a thousand gold mohrs were yours in case my children live under your treatment, what have you to peril in exchange?”

“My reputation,” answered Hartley, firmly.

“And you could warrant on your reputation the recovery of your patients?”

“God forbid I should be presumptuous! But I think I could warrant my using those means, which, with God’s blessing, afford the fairest chance of a favourable result.”

“Enough — you are modest and sensible, as well as bold, and I will trust you.”

The lady, on whom Hartley’s words and manner had made a great impression, and who was eager to discontinue a mode of treatment which subjected the patients to the greatest pain and privation, and had already proved unfortunate, eagerly acquiesced, and Hartley was placed in full authority in the sick room.

Windows were thrown open, fires reduced or discontinued, loads of bed-clothes removed, cooling drinks superseded mulled wine and spices. The sick-nurses cried out murder. Doctors Tourniquet and Lancelot retired in disgust, menacing something like a general pestilence, in vengeance of what they termed rebellion against the neglect of the aphorisms of Hippocrates. Hartley proceeded quietly and steadily, and the patients got into a fair road of recovery.

The young Northumbrian was neither conceited nor artful; yet, with all his plainness of character, he could not but know the influence which a successful physician obtains over the parents of the children whom he has saved from the grave, and especially before the cure is actually completed. He resolved to use this influence in behalf of his old companion, trusting that the military tenacity of General Witherington would give way on consideration of the obligation so lately conferred upon him.

On his way to the General’s house, which was at present his constant place of residence, he examined the package which Middlemas had put into his hand. It contained the picture of Menie Gray, plainly set, and the ring, with brilliants, which Doctor Gray had given to Richard, as his mother’s last gift. The first of these tokens extracted from honest Hartley a sigh, perhaps a tear of sad remembrance. “I fear,” he said, “she has not chosen worthily; but she shall be happy, if I can make her so.”

Arrived at the residence of General Witherington, our Doctor went first to the sick apartment, and then carried to their parents the delightful account, that the recovery of the children might be considered as certain.

“May the God of Israel bless thee, young man!” said the lady, trembling with emotion; “thou hast wiped the tear from the eye of the despairing mother. And yet — alas! alas! still it must flow when I think of my cherub Reuben. — Oh! Mr. Hartley, why did we not know you a week sooner! — my darling had not then died.”

“God gives and takes away, my lady,” answered Hartley; “and you must remember that two are restored to you out of three. It is far from certain, that the treatment I have used towards the convalescents would have brought through their brother; for the case, as reported to me, waa of a very inveterate description.”

“Doctor,” said Witherington, his voice testifying more emotion than he usually or willingly gave way to, “you can comfort the sick in spirit as well as the sick in body. But it is time we settle our wager. You betted your reputation, which remains with you, increased by all the credit due to your eminent success, against a thousand gold mohrs, the value of which you will find in that pocketbook.”

“General Witherington,” said Hartley, “you are wealthy, and entitled to be generous — I am poor, and not entitled to decline whatever may be, even in a liberal sense, a compensation for my professional attendance. But there is a bound to extravagance, both in giving and accepting; and I must not hazard the newly acquired reputation with which you flatter me, by giving room to have it said, that I fleeced the parents, when their feelings were all afloat with anxiety for their children. — Allow me to divide this large sum; one half I will thankfully retain, as a most liberal recompense for my labour; and if you still think you owe me any thing, let me have it in the advantage of your good opinion and countenance.”

“If I acquiesce in your proposal, Doctor Hartley,” said the General, reluctantly receiving back a part of the contents of the pocketbook, “it is because I hope to serve you with my interest, even better than with my purse.”

“And indeed, sir,” replied Hartley, “it was upon your interest that I am just about to make a small claim.”

The General and his lady spoke both in the same breath, to assure him his boon was granted before asked.

“I am not so sure of that,” said Hartley; “for it respects a point on which I have heard say, that your Excellency is rather inflexible — the discharge of a recruit.”

“My duty makes me so,” replied the General —“You know the sort of fellows that we are obliged to content ourselves with — they get drunk — grow pot-valiant — enlist over-night, and repent next morning. If I am to dismiss all those who pretend to have been trepanned, we should have few volunteers remain behind. Every one has some idle story of the promises of a swaggering sergeant Kite — It is impossible to attend to them. But let me hear yours, however.”

“Mine is a very singular case. The party has been robbed of a thousand pounds.”

“A recruit for this service possessing a thousand pounds! My dear Doctor, depend upon it, the fellow has gulled you. Bless my heart, would a man who had a thousand pounds think of enlisting as a private sentinel?”

“He had no such thoughts,” answered Hartley. “He was persuaded by the rogue whom he trusted, that he was to have a commission.”

“Then his friend must have been Tom Hillary, or the devil; for no other could possess so much cunning and impudence. He will certainly find his way to the gallows at last. Still this story of the thousand pounds seems a touch even beyond Tom Hillary. What reason have you to think that this fellow ever had such a sum of money?”

“I have the best reason to know it for certain,” answered Hartley; “he and I served our time together, under the same excellent master; and when he came of age, not liking the profession which he had studied, and obtaining possession of his little fortune, he was deceived by the promises of this same Hillary.”

“Who has had him locked up in our well-ordered hospital yonder?” said the General.

“Even so, please your Excellency,” replied Hartley; “not, I think, to cure him of any complaint, but to give him the opportunity of catching one, which would silence all enquiries.”

“The matter shall be closely looked into. But how miserably careless the young man’s friends must have been to let a raw lad go into the world with such a companion and guide as Tom Hillary, and such a sum as a thousand pounds in his pocket. His parents had better have knocked him on the head. It certainly was not done like canny Northumberland, as my servant Winter calls it.”

“The youth must indeed have had strangely hard-hearted, or careless parents,” said Mrs. Witherington, in accents of pity.

“He never knew them, madam,” said Hartley; “there was a mystery on the score of his birth. A cold, unwilling, and almost unknown hand, dealt him out his portion when he came of lawful age, and he was pushed into the world like a bark forced from shore, without rudder, compass, or pilot.”

Here General Witherington involuntarily looked to his lady, while, guided by a similar impulse, her looks were turned upon him. They exchanged a momentary glance of deep and peculiar meaning, and then the eyes of both were fixed on the ground.

“Were you brought up in Scotland?” said the lady, addressing herself, in a faltering voice, to Hartley —“And what was your master’s name?”

“I served my apprenticeship with Mr. Gideon Gray of the town of Middlemas,” said Hartley.

“Middlemas! Gray?” repeated the lady, and fainted away.

Hartley offered the succours of his profession; the husband flew to support her head, and the instant that Mrs. Witherington began to recover, he whispered to her, in a tone betwixt entreaty and warning, “Zilia, beware — beware!”

Some imperfect sounds which she had begun to frame, died away upon her tongue.

“Let me assist you to your dressing-room, my love,” said her obviously anxious husband.

She arose with the action of an automaton, which moves at a touch of a spring, and half hanging upon her husband, half dragging herself on by her own efforts, had nearly reached the door of the room, when Hartley following, asked if he could be of any service.

“No, sir,” said the General, sternly; “this is no case for a stranger’s interference; when you are wanted I will send for you.”

Hartley stepped back on receiving a rebuff in a tone so different from that which General Witherington had used towards him in their previous intercourse, and felt disposed for the first time, to give credit to public report, which assigned to that gentleman, with several good qualities, the character of a very proud and haughty man. Hitherto, he thought, I have seen him tamed by sorrow and anxiety, now the mind is regaining its natural tension. But he must in decency interest himself for this unhappy Middlemas.

The General returned into the apartment a minute or two afterwards, and addressed Hartley in his usual tone of politeness, though apparently still under great embarrassment, which he in vain endeavoured to conceal.

“Mrs. Witherington is better,” he said, “and will be glad to see you before dinner. You dine with us, I hope?”

Hartley bowed.

“Mrs. Witherington is rather subject to this sort of nervous fits, and she has been much harassed of late by grief and apprehension. When she recovers from them it is a few minutes before she can collect her ideas, and during such intervals — to speak very confidentially to you, my dear Doctor Hartley — she speaks sometimes about imaginary events which have never happened, and sometimes about distressing occurrences in an early period of life. I am not, therefore, willing that any one but myself, or her old attendant Mrs. Lopez, should be with her on such occasions.”

Hartley admitted that a certain degree of light-headedness was often the consequence of nervous fits.

The General proceeded. “As to this young man — this friend of yours — this Richard Middlemas — did you not call him so?”

“Not that I recollect,” answered Hartley; “but your Excellency has hit upon his name.”

“That is odd enough — Certainly you said something about Middlemas?” replied General Witherington.

“I mentioned the name of the town,” said Hartley.

“Ay, and I caught it up as the name of the recruit — I was indeed occupied at the moment by my anxiety about my wife. But this Middlemas, since such is his name, is a wild young fellow, I suppose?”

“I should do him wrong to say so, your Excellency. He may have had his follies like other young men; but his conduct has, so far as I know, been respectable; but, considering we lived in the same house, we were not very intimate.”

“That is bad — I should have liked him — that is — it would have been happy for him to have had a friend like you. But I suppose you studied too hard for him. He would be a soldier, ha? — Is he good-looking?”

“Remarkably so,” replied Hartley; “and has a very prepossessing manner.”

“Is his complexion dark or fair?” asked the General.

“Rather uncommonly dark,” said Hartley — “darker, if I may use the freedom, than your Excellency’s.”

“Nay, then, he must be a black ouzel, indeed! — Does he understand languages?”

“Latin and French tolerably well.”

“Of course he cannot fence or dance?”

“Pardon me, sir, I am no great judge; but Richard is reckoned to do both with uncommon skill.”

“Indeed! — Sum this up, and it sounds well. Handsome, accomplished in exercises, moderately learned, perfectly well-bred, not unreasonably wild. All this comes too high for the situation of a private sentinel. He must have a commission, Doctor — entirely for your sake.”

“Your Excellency is generous.”

“It shall be so; and I will find means to make Tom Hillary disgorge his plunder, unless he prefers being hanged, a fate he has long deserved. You cannot go back to the Hospital today. You dine with us, and you know Mrs. Witherington’s fears of infection; but tomorrow find out your friend. Winter shall see him equipped with every thing needful. Tom Hillary shall repay advances, you know; and he must be off with the first detachment of the recruits, in the Middlesex Indiaman, which sails from the Downs on Monday fortnight; that is, if you think him fit for the voyage. I dare say the poor fellow is sick of the Isle of Wight.”

“Your Excellency will permit the young man to pay his respects to you before his departure?”

“To what purpose, sir?” said the General hastily and peremptorily; but instantly added, “You are right — I should like to see him. Winter shall let him know the time, and take horses to fetch him hither. But he must have been out of the Hospital for a day or two; so the sooner you can set him at liberty the better. In the meantime, take him to your own lodgings, Doctor; and do not let him form any intimacies with the officers, or any others, in this place, where he may light on another Hillary.”

Had Hartley been as well acquainted as the reader with the circumstances of young Middlemas’s birth, he might have drawn decisive conclusions from the behaviour of General Witherington, while his comrade was the topic of conversation. But as Mr. Gray and Middlemas himself were both silent on the subject, he knew little of it but from general report, which his curiosity had never induced him to scrutinize minutely. Nevertheless, what he did apprehend interested him so much, that he resolved upon trying a little experiment, in which he thought there could be no great harm. He placed on his finger the remarkable ring intrusted to his care by Richard Middlemas, and endeavoured to make it conspicuous in approaching Mrs. Witherington; taking care, however, that this occurred during her husband’s absence. Her eyes had no sooner caught a sight of the gem, than they became riveted to it, and she begged a nearer sight of it, as strongly resembling one which she had given to a friend. Taking the ring from his finger, and placing it in her emaciated hand, Hartley informed her it was the property of the friend in whom he had just been endeavouring to interest the General. Mrs. Witherington retired in great emotion, but next day summoned Hartley to a private interview, the particulars of which, so far as are necessary to be known, shall be afterwards related.

On the succeeding day after these important discoveries, Middlemas, to his great delight, was rescued from his seclusion in the Hospital, and transferred to his comrade’s lodgings in the town of Ryde, of which Hartley himself was a rare inmate; the anxiety of Mrs. Witherington detaining him at the General’s house, long after his medical attendance might have been dispensed with.

Within two or three days a commission arrived for Richard Middlemas, as a lieutenant in the service of the East India Company. Winter, by his master’s orders, put the wardrobe of the young officer on a suitable footing; while Middlemas, enchanted at finding himself at once emancipated from his late dreadful difficulties, and placed under the protection of a man of such importance as the General, obeyed implicitly the hints transmitted to him by Hartley, and enforced by Winter, and abstained from going into public, or forming acquaintances with any one. Even Hartley himself he saw seldom; and, deep as were his obligations, he did not perhaps greatly regret the absence of one whose presence always affected him with a sense of humiliation and abasement.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29