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- Hilda Wade - 2/52 -
is to say, till she has attained some mysterious object she seems to have in view, about which she never speaks to anyone--not even to me. But I have somehow guessed it!"
"And it is?"
"Oh, I have not guessed what it IS: I am no Oedipus. I have merely guessed that it exists. But whatever it may be, Hilda's life is bounded by it. She became a nurse to carry it out, I feel confident. From the very beginning, I gather, a part of her scheme was to go to St. Nathaniel's. She was always bothering us to give her introductions to Dr. Sebastian; and when she met you at my brother Hugo's, it was a preconcerted arrangement; she asked to sit next you, and meant to induce you to use your influence on her behalf with the Professor. She was dying to get there."
"It is very odd," I mused. "But there!--women are inexplicable!"
"And Hilda is in that matter the very quintessence of woman. Even I, who have known her for years, don't pretend to understand her."
A few months later, Sebastian began his great researches on his new anaesthetic. It was a wonderful set of researches. It promised so well. All Nat's (as we familiarly and affectionately styled St. Nathaniel's) was in a fever of excitement over the drug for a twelvemonth.
The Professor obtained his first hint of the new body by a mere accident. His friend, the Deputy Prosector of the Zoological Society, had mixed a draught for a sick raccoon at the Gardens, and, by some mistake in a bottle, had mixed it wrongly. (I purposely refrain from mentioning the ingredients, as they are drugs which can be easily obtained in isolation at any chemist's, though when compounded they form one of the most dangerous and difficult to detect of organic poisons. I do not desire to play into the hands of would-be criminals.) The compound on which the Deputy Prosector had thus accidentally lighted sent the raccoon to sleep in the most extraordinary manner. Indeed, the raccoon slept for thirty-six hours on end, all attempts to awake him, by pulling his tail or tweaking his hair being quite unavailing. This was a novelty in narcotics; so Sebastian was asked to come and look at the slumbering brute. He suggested the attempt to perform an operation on the somnolent raccoon by removing, under the influence of the drug, an internal growth, which was considered the probable cause of his illness. A surgeon was called in, the growth was found and removed, and the raccoon, to everybody's surprise, continued to slumber peacefully on his straw for five hours afterwards. At the end of that time he awoke, and stretched himself as if nothing had happened; and though he was, of course, very weak from loss of blood, he immediately displayed a most royal hunger. He ate up all the maize that was offered him for breakfast, and proceeded to manifest a desire for more by most unequivocal symptoms.
Sebastian was overjoyed. He now felt sure he had discovered a drug which would supersede chloroform--a drug more lasting in its immediate effects, and yet far less harmful in its ultimate results on the balance of the system. A name being wanted for it, he christened it "lethodyne." It was the best pain-luller yet invented.
For the next few weeks, at Nat's, we heard of nothing but lethodyne. Patients recovered and patients died; but their deaths or recoveries were as dross to lethodyne, an anaesthetic that might revolutionise surgery, and even medicine! A royal road through disease, with no trouble to the doctor and no pain to the patient! Lethodyne held the field. We were all of us, for the moment, intoxicated with lethodyne.
Sebastian's observations on the new agent occupied several months. He had begun with the raccoon; he went on, of course, with those poor scapegoats of physiology, domestic rabbits. Not that in this particular case any painful experiments were in contemplation. The Professor tried the drug on a dozen or more quite healthy young animals--with the strange result that they dozed off quietly, and never woke up again. This nonplussed Sebastian. He experimented once more on another raccoon, with a smaller dose; the raccoon fell asleep, and slept like a top for fifteen hours, at the end of which time he woke up as if nothing out of the common had happened. Sebastian fell back upon rabbits again, with smaller and smaller doses. It was no good; the rabbits all died with great unanimity, until the dose was so diminished that it did not send them off to sleep at all. There was no middle course, apparently, to the rabbit kind, lethodyne was either fatal or else inoperative. So it proved to sheep. The new drug killed, or did nothing.
I will not trouble you with all the details of Sebastian's further researches; the curious will find them discussed at length in Volume 237 of the Philosophical Transactions. (See also Comptes Rendus de l'Academie de Medecine: tome 49, pp. 72 and sequel.) I will restrict myself here to that part of the inquiry which immediately refers to Hilda Wade's history.
"If I were you," she said to the Professor one morning, when he was most astonished at his contradictory results, "I would test it on a hawk. If I dare venture on a suggestion, I believe you will find that hawks recover."
"The deuce they do!" Sebastian cried. However, he had such confidence in Nurse Wade's judgment that he bought a couple of hawks and tried the treatment on them. Both birds took considerable doses, and, after a period of insensibility extending to several hours, woke up in the end quite bright and lively.
"I see your principle," the Professor broke out. "It depends upon diet. Carnivores and birds of prey can take lethodyne with impunity; herbivores and fruit-eaters cannot recover, and die of it. Man, therefore, being partly carnivorous, will doubtless be able more or less to stand it."
Hilda Wade smiled her sphinx-like smile. "Not quite that, I fancy," she answered. "It will kill cats, I feel sure; at least, most domesticated ones. But it will NOT kill weasels. Yet both are carnivores."
"That young woman knows too much!" Sebastian muttered to me, looking after her as she glided noiselessly with her gentle tread down the long white corridor. "We shall have to suppress her, Cumberledge. . . . But I'll wager my life she's right, for all that. I wonder, now, how the dickens she guessed it!"
"Intuition," I answered.
He pouted his under lip above the upper one, with a dubious acquiescence. "Inference, I call it," he retorted. "All woman's so-called intuition is, in fact, just rapid and half-unconscious inference."
He was so full of the subject, however, and so utterly carried away by his scientific ardour, that I regret to say he gave a strong dose of lethodyne at once to each of the matron's petted and pampered Persian cats, which lounged about her room and were the delight of the convalescents. They were two peculiarly lazy sultanas of cats--mere jewels of the harem--Oriental beauties that loved to bask in the sun or curl themselves up on the rug before the fire and dawdle away their lives in congenial idleness. Strange to say, Hilda's prophecy came true. Zuleika settled herself down comfortably in the Professor's easy chair and fell into a sound sleep from which there was no awaking; while Roxana met fate on the tiger-skin she loved, coiled up in a circle, and passed from this life of dreams, without knowing it, into one where dreaming is not. Sebastian noted the facts with a quiet gleam of satisfaction in his watchful eye, and explained afterwards, with curt glibness to the angry matron, that her favourites had been "canonised in the roll of science, as painless martyrs to the advancement of physiology."
The weasels, on the other hand, with an equal dose, woke up after six hours as lively as crickets. It was clear that carnivorous tastes were not the whole solution, for Roxana was famed as a notable mouser.
"Your principle?" Sebastian asked our sibyl, in his brief, quick way.
Hilda's cheek wore a glow of pardonable triumph. The great teacher had deigned to ask her assistance. "I judged by the analogy of Indian hemp," she answered. "This is clearly a similar, but much stronger, narcotic. Now, whenever I have given Indian hemp by your direction to people of sluggish, or even of merely bustling temperament, I have noticed that small doses produce serious effects, and that the after-results are most undesirable. But when you have prescribed the hemp for nervous, overstrung, imaginative people, I have observed that they can stand large amounts of the tincture without evil results, and that the after-effects pass off rapidly. I who am mercurial in temperament, for example, can take any amount of Indian hemp without being made ill by it; while ten drops will send some slow and torpid rustics mad drunk with excitement--drive them into homicidal mania."
Sebastian nodded his head. He needed no more explanation. "You have hit it," he said. "I see it at a glance. The old antithesis! All men and all animals fall, roughly speaking, into two great divisions of type: the impassioned and the unimpassioned; the vivid and the phlegmatic. I catch your drift now. Lethodyne is poison to phlegmatic patients, who have not active power enough to wake up from it unhurt; it is relatively harmless to the vivid and impassioned, who can be put asleep by it, indeed, for a few hours more or less, but are alive enough to live on through the coma and reassert their vitality after it."
I recognised as he spoke that this explanation was correct. The dull rabbits, the sleepy Persian cats, and the silly sheep had died outright of lethodyne; the cunning, inquisitive raccoon, the quick hawk, and the active, intense-natured weasels, all most eager, wary, and alert animals, full of keenness and passion, had recovered quickly.
"Dare we try it on a human subject?" I asked, tentatively.
Hilda Wade answered at once, with that unerring rapidity of hers: "Yes, certainly; on a few--the right persons. _I_, for one, am not afraid to try it."
"You?" I cried, feeling suddenly aware how much I thought of her. "Oh, not YOU, please, Nurse Wade. Some other life, less valuable!"
Sebastian stared at me coldly. "Nurse Wade volunteers," he said. "It is in the cause of science. Who dares dissuade her? That tooth of yours? Ah, yes. Quite sufficient excuse. You wanted it
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