The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy

By William Makepeace Thackeray | Go to book overview

It is not only for the sick man, it is for the sick man's friends that the Doctor comes. His presence is often as good for them as for the patient, and they long for him yet more eagerly. How we have all watched after him! what an emotion the thrill of his carriage-wheels in the street, and at length at the door, has made us feel! how we hang upon his words, and what a comfort we get from a smile or two, if he can vouchsafe that sunshine to lighten our darkness! Who hasn't seen the mother prying into his face, to know if there is hope for the sick infant that cannot speak, and that lies yonder, its little frame battling with fever? Ah, how she looks into his eyes! What thanks if there is light there; what grief and pain if he casts them down, and dares not say "hope!" Or it is the house-father who is stricken. The terrified wife looks on, while the physician feels his patient's wrist, smothering her agonies, as the children have been called upon to stay their plays and their talk. Over the patient in the fever, the wife expectant, the children unconscious, the Doctor stands as if he were Fate, the dispenser of life and death: he must let the patient off this time: the woman prays so for his respite! One can fancy how awful the responsibility must be to a conscientious man: how cruel the feeling that he has given the wrong remedy, or that it might have been possible to do better: how harassing the sympathy with survivors, if the case is unfortunate -- how immense the delight of victory!

Having passed through a hasty ceremony of introduction to the new-comers, of whose arrival he had been made aware by the heartbroken little nurse in waiting without, the Doctor proceeded to examine the patient, about whose condition of high fever there could be no mistake, and on whom he thought it necessary to exercise the strongest antiphlogistic remedies in his power. He consoled the unfortunate mother as best he might; and giving her the most comfortable assurances on which he could venture, that there was no reason to despair yet, that everything might still be hoped from his youth, the strength of his constitution, and so forth; and having done his utmost to allay the horrors of the alarmed matron, he took the elder Pendennis aside into the vacant room ( Warrington's bedroom), for the purpose of holding a little consultation.

The case was very critical. The fever, if not stopped, might and would carry off the young fellow: he must be bled forthwith: the mother must be informed of this necessity. Why was that other young lady brought with her? She was out of place in a sick-room.

"And there was another woman still, be hanged to it!" the Major said, "the -- the little person who opened the door. His sister-in-law had brought the poor little devil's bonnet and shawl out, and flung them upon the study-table. Did Goodenough know anything about the -- the little person? I just caught a glimpse of her as we passed in," the Major said, "and begad she was uncommonly nice- looking." The Doctor looked queer: the Doctor smiled -- in the very gravest moments, with life and death pending, such strange contrasts and occasions of humour will arise, and such smiles will pass, to satirise the gloom, as it were, and to make it more gloomy!

"I have it," at last he said, re-entering the study; and he wrote a couple of notes hastily at the table there, and sealed one of them. Then, taking up poor Fanny's shawl and bonnet, and the notes, he went out in the passage to that poor little messenger, and said, "Quick, nurse; you must carry this to the surgeon, and bid him come instantly; and then go to my house, and ask for my servant, Harbottle, and tell him to get this prescription prepared; and wait until I -- until it is ready. It may take a little time in preparation."

So poor Fanny trudged away with her two notes, and found the apothecary, who lived in the Strand hard by, and who came straightway, his lancet in his pocket, to operate on his patient; and then Fanny made for the Doctor's house, in Hanover Square.

The Doctor was at home again before the prescription was made up, which took

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