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Authors: James Fenimore Cooper

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BOOK: The Pioneers
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“And I hope never will,” returned the Judge, “if you are to experience the uneasiness that I have suffered. But be of good cheer, my young friend, the injury must be small, as thou movest thy arm with apparent freedom.”
“Don't make the matter worse, 'duke, by pretending to talk about surgery,” interrupted Mr. Jones, with a contemptuous wave of the hand; “it is a science that can only be learnt by practice. You know that my grandfather was a doctor, but you haven't got a drop of medical blood in your veins. These kind of things run in families. All my family by the father's side had a knack at physic. There was my uncle that was killed at Brandywine—he died as easy again as any other man in the regiment, just from knowing how to hold his breath naturally. Few men know how to breathe naturally.”
“I doubt not, Dickon,” returned the Judge, meeting the bright smile which, in spite of himself, stole over the stranger's features, “that thy family thoroughly understood the art of letting life slip through their fingers.”
Richard heard him quite coolly, and putting a hand in either pocket of his surtout, so as to press forward the skirts, began to whistle a tune; but the desire to reply overcame his philosophy, and with great heat he exclaimed:
“You may affect to smile, Judge Temple, at hereditary virtues, if you please; but there is not a man on your Patent who don't know better. Here, even this young man, who has never seen anything but bears, and deer, and woodchucks, knows better than to believe virtues are not transmitted in families. Don't you, friend?”
“I believe that vice is not,” said the stranger abruptly, his eye glancing from the father to the daughter.
“The squire is right, Judge,” observed Benjamin, with a knowing nod of his head towards Richard, that bespoke the cordiality between them. “Now, in the old country, the king's majesty touches for the evil, and that is a disorder that the greatest doctor in the fleet, or, for the matter of that, admiral either, can't cure; only the king's majesty, or a man that's been hanged. Yes, the squire is right; for if so be that he wasn't, how is it that the seventh son always is a doctor, whether he ships for the cockpit or not? Now, when we fell in with the mounsheers, under De Grasse, d'ye see, we had aboard of us a doctor——”
“Very well, Benjamin,” interrupted Elizabeth, glancing her eyes from the hunter to Monsieur Le Quoi, who was most politely attending to what fell from each individual in succession, “you shall tell me of that, and all your entertaining adventures together; just now, a room must be prepared in which the arm of this gentleman can be dressed.”
“I will attend to that myself, cousin Elizabeth,” observed Richard, somewhat haughtily. “The young man shall not suffer because Marmaduke chooses to be a little obstinate. Follow me, my friend, and I will examine the hurt myself.”
“It will be well to wait for the physician,” said the hunter, coldly; “he cannot be distant.”
Richard paused and looked at the speaker, a little astonished at the language, and a good deal appalled at the refusal. He construed the latter into an act of hostility, and placing his hands in the pockets again, he walked up to Mr. Grant, and putting his face close to the countenance of the divine, said in an undertone:
“Now, mark my words: there will be a story among the settlers, that all our necks would have been broken but for that fellow—as if I did not know how to drive. Why, you might have turned the horses yourself, sir; nothing was easier; it was only pulling hard on the nigh rein, and touching the off flank of the leader. I hope, my dear sir, you are not at all hurt by the upset the lad gave us?”
The reply was interrupted by the entrance of the village physician.
———And about his shelves,
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders, and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread, and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scattered to make up a show.
DOCTOR ELNATHAN TODD, for such was the name of the man of physic, was commonly thought to be, among the settlers, a gentleman of great mental endowments; and he was assuredly of rare personal proportions. In height he measured, without his shoes, exactly six feet and four inches. His hands, feet, and knees corresponded in every respect with this formidable stature; but every other part of his frame appeared to have been intended for a man several sizes smaller, if we except the length of the limbs. His shoulders were square, in one sense at least, being in a right line from one side to the other; but they were so narrow that the long dangling arms they supported seemed to issue out of his back. His neck possessed, in an eminent degree, the property of length to which we have alluded, and it was topped by a small bullethead that exhibited, on one side, a bush of bristling brown hair, and on the other, a short, twinkling visage that appeared to maintain a constant struggle with itself in order to look wise. He was the youngest son of a farmer in the western part of Massachusetts, who, being in somewhat easy circumstances, had allowed this boy to shoot up to the height we have mentioned without the ordinary interruptions of field labor, wood chopping, and such other toils as were imposed on his brothers. Elnathan was indebted for this exemption from labor in some measure to his extraordinary growth, which, leaving him pale, inanimate, and listless, induced his tender mother to pronounce him “a sickly boy, and one that was not equal to work, but who might earn a living, comfortably enough, by taking to pleading law, or turning minister, or doctoring, or some such like easy calling.” Still there was great uncertainty which of these vocations the youth was best endowed to fill; but, having no other employment, the stripling was constantly lounging about the “homestead,” munching green apples, and hunting for sorrel, when the same sagacious eye that had brought to light his latent talents seized upon this circumstance as a clue to his future path through the turmoils of the world. “Elnathan was cut out for a doctor, she knew, for he was forever digging for herbs, and tasting all kinds of things that grow'd about the lots. Then again he had a natural love for doctor-stuff, for when she had left the bilious pills out for her man, all nicely covered with maple sugar, just ready to take, Nathan had come in, and swallowed them, for all the world as if they were nothing, while Ichabod (her husband) could never get one down without making such desperate faces that it was awful to look on.”
This discovery decided the matter. Elnathan, then about fifteen, was much like a wild colt, caught and trimmed by clipping his bushy locks; dressed in a suit of homespun dyed in the butternut bark; furnished with a “New Testament” and a “Webster's Spelling Book,” and sent to school. As the boy was by nature quite shrewd enough, and had previously, at odd times, laid the foundations of reading, writing, and arithmetic, he was soon conspicuous in the school for his learning. The delighted mother had the gratification of hearing, from the lips of the master, that her son was a “prodigious boy, and far above all his class.” He also thought that “the youth had a natural love for doctoring, as he had known him frequently advise the smaller children against eating too much; and once or twice, when the ignorant little things had persevered in opposition to Elnathan's advice, he had known her son to empty the school baskets with his own mouth, to prevent the consequences.”
Soon after this comfortable declaration from his schoolmaster, the lad was removed to the house of the village doctor, a gentleman whose early career had not been unlike that of our hero, where he was to be seen, sometimes watering a horse, at others watering medicines, blue, yellow, and red; then again he might be noticed, lolling under an apple tree, with Ruddiman's Latin Grammar in his hand and a corner of Denman's Midwifery sticking out of a pocket; for his instructor held it absurd to teach his pupil how to dispatch a patient regularly from this world before he knew how to bring him into it.
This kind of life continued for a twelvemonth, when he suddenly appeared at meeting in a long coat (and well did it deserve the name!) of black homespun, with little bootees, bound with uncolored calfskin, for the want of red morocco.
Soon after he was seen shaving with a dull razor. Three or four months had scarce elapsed before several elderly ladies were observed hastening towards the house of a poor woman in the village, while others were running to and fro in great apparent distress. One or two boys were mounted, bareback, on horses, and sent off at speed in various directions. Several indirect questions were put concerning the place where the physician was last seen; but all would not do; and at length Elnathan was seen issuing from his door with a very grave air, preceded by a little white-headed boy, out of breath, trotting before him. The following day the youth appeared in the street, as the highway was called, and the neighborhood was much edified by the additional gravity of his air. The same week he bought a new razor, and the succeeding Sunday he entered the meetinghouse with a red silk handkerchief in his hand, and with an extremely demure countenance. In the evening he called upon a young woman of his own class in life, for there were no others to be found, and, when he was left alone with the fair, he was called for the first time in his life, Doctor Todd, by her prudent mother. The ice once broken in this manner, Elnathan was greeted from every mouth with his official appellation.
Another year passed under the superintendence of the same master, during which the young physician had the credit of “riding with the old doctor,” although they were generally observed to travel different roads. At the end of that period, Dr. Todd attained his legal majority. He then took a jaunt to Boston to purchase medicines, and, as some intimated, to walk the hospital; we know not how the latter might have been, but if true, he soon walked through it, for he returned within a fortnight, bringing with him a suspicious-looking box that smelled powerfully of brimstone.
The next Sunday he was married, and the following morning he entered a one-horse sleigh with his bride, having before him the box we have mentioned, with another filled with homemade household linen, a paper-covered trunk, with a red umbrella lashed to it, a pair of quite new saddlebags, and a bandbox. The next intelligence that his friends received of the bride and bride-groom was that the latter was “settled in the new countries, and well-to-do as a doctor, in Templeton, in York state!”
If a Templar would smile at the qualifications of Marmaduke to fill the judicial seat he occupied, we are certain that a graduate of Leyden or Edinburgh would be extremely amused with this true narration of the servitude of Elnathan in the temple of Aesculapius. But the same consolation was afforded to both the jurist and the leech; for Dr. Todd was quite as much on a level with his compeers of the profession, in that country, as was Marmaduke with his brethren on the bench.
Time and practice did wonders for the physician. He was naturally humane, but possessed of no small share of moral courage; or, in other words, he was chary of the lives of his patients, and never tried uncertain experiments on such members of society as were considered useful; but once or twice when a luckless vagrant had come under his care, he was a little addicted to trying the effects of every phial in his saddlebags on the stranger's constitution. Happily their number was small, and in most cases their natures innocent. By these means Elnathan had acquired a certain degree of knowledge in fevers and agues, and could talk with much judgment concerning intermittents, remittents, tertians, quotidians, etc. In certain cutaneous disorders very prevalent in new settlements, he was considered to be infallible; and there was no woman on the Patent, but would as soon think of becoming a mother without a husband as without the assistance of Dr. Todd. In short, he was rearing, on this foundation of sand, a superstructure, cemented by practice, though composed of somewhat brittle materials. He, however, occasionally renewed his elementary studies, and, with the observation of a shrewd mind, was comfortably applying his practice to his theory.
In surgery, having the least experience, and it being a business that spoke directly to the senses, he was most apt to distrust his own powers; but he had applied oils to several burns, cut round the roots of sundry defective teeth, and sewed up the wounds of numberless wood choppers, with considerable eclat, when an unfortunate jobber
suffered a fracture of his leg by the tree that he had been felling. It was on this occasion that our hero encountered the greatest trial his nerves and moral feeling had ever sustained. In the hour of need, however, he was not found wanting. Most of the amputations in the new settlements, and they were quite frequent, were performed by some one practitioner, who possessing originally a reputation, was enabled by this circumstance to acquire an experience that rendered him deserving of it; and Elnathan had been present at one or two of these operations. But on the present occasion the man of practice was not to be obtained, and the duty fell, as a matter of course, to the share of Mr. Todd. He went to work with a kind of blind desperation, observing, at the same time, all the externals of decent gravity and great skill. The sufferer's name was Milligan, and it was to this event that Richard alluded when he spoke of assisting the Doctor at an amputation—by holding the leg! The limb was certainly cut off, and the patient survived the operation. It was, however, two years before poor Milligan ceased to complain that they had buried the leg in so narrow a box, that it was straitened for room; he could feel the pain shooting up from the inhumed fragment into the living members. Marmaduke suggested that the fault might lie in the arteries and nerves; but Richard, considering the amputation as part of his own handiwork, strongly repelled the insinuation, at the same time declaring that he had often heard of men who could tell when it was about to rain by the toes of amputated limbs. After two or three years, notwithstanding Milligan's complaints gradually diminished, the leg was dug up, and a larger box furnished, and from that hour no one had heard the sufferer utter another complaint on the subject. This gave the public great confidence in Dr. Todd, whose reputation was hourly increasing, and, luckily for his patients, his information also.
BOOK: The Pioneers
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