S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow online

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many rather than to concentrate it on myself.
That 's a rather neat phrase.

About six months after the date of this an-
noying adventure, an incident occurred which
altered somewhat, and for a time improved,
my professional position. During my morn-
ing office-hour an old woman came in, and
putting down a large basket, wiped her face
with a yellow-cotton handkerchief, and after-
wards with the corner of her apron. Then
she looked around uneasily, got up, settled
her basket on her arm with a jerk which may
have decided the future of an egg or two, and
remarked briskly : " Don't see no little bottles
about; got the wrong stall, I guess. You
ain't no homeopath doctor, are you I n


With great presence of mind, I replied:
" Well, ma'am, that depends upon what you
want. Some of my patients like one, and
some like the other." I was about to add,
" You pay your money and you take your
choice," but thought better of it, and held my
peace, refraining from classical quotation.

" Being as that 's the case," said the old lady,
" 1 11 just tell you my symptoms. You said
you give either kind of medicine, did n't you ? "

" Just so/ 7 replied I.

" Clams or oysters, whichever opens most
lively, as my old Joe says tends the oyster-
stand at stall No. 9. Happen to know Joe I "

No, I did not know Joe ; but what were the
symptoms ?

They proved to be numerous, and included
a stunning in the head and a misery in the
side, with bokin after victuals.

I proceeded, of course, to apply a stetho-
scope over her ample bosom, though what I
heard on this and similar occasions I should
find it rather difficult to state. I remember
well my astonishment in one instance where,
having unconsciously applied my instrument
over a clamorous silver watch in the watch-
fob of a sea-captain, I concluded for a mo-
ment that he was suffering from a rather


remarkable displacement of the heart. As to
my old lady, whose name was Checkers, and
who kept an apple-stand near by, I told her
that I was out of pills just then, but would
have plenty next day. Accordingly, I pro-
ceeded to invest a small amount at a place
called a homeopathic pharmacy, which I re-
member amused me immensely.

A stout little German, with great silver
spectacles, sat behind a counter containing
numerous jars of white powders labeled
concisely "Lac.," "Led.," "Onis.," "Op.,"
" Puls.," etc., while behind him were shelves
filled with bottles of what looked like minute
white shot.

"I want some homeopathic medicine,"
said I.

" Vat kindt ? " said my friend. " Vat you
vants to cure f "

I explained at random that I wished to
treat diseases in general.

" Veil, ve gif s you a case, mit a pook," and
thereon produced a large box containing bot-
tles of small pills and powders, labeled vari-
ously with the names of the diseases, so that
all you required was to use the headache or
colic bottle in order to meet the needs of
those particular maladies.


I was struck at first with the exquisite sim-
plicity of this arrangement ; but before pur-
chasing, I happened luckily to turn over the
leaves of a book, in two volumes, which lay
on the counter j it was called " Jahr's Man-
ual." Opening at page 310, vol. i, I lit upon
" Lachesis," which proved to my amazement
to be snake- venom. This Mr. Jahr stated to
be indicated for use in upward of a hundred
symptoms. At once it occurred to me that
" Lach." was the medicine for my money, and
that it was quite needless to waste cash on
the box. I therefore bought a small jar of
" Lach." and a lot of little pills, and started
for home.

My old woman proved a fast friend j and
as she sent me numerous patients, I by and
by altered my sign to " Homeopathic Physi-
cian and Surgeon," whatever that may mean,
and was regarded by my medical brothers as
a lost sheep, and by the little-pill doctors as
one who had seen the error of his ways.

In point of fact, my new practice had de-
cided advantages. All pills looked and tasted
alike, and the same might be said of the pow-
ders, so that I was never troubled by those
absurd investigations into the nature of
remedies which some patients are prone to


make. Of course I desired to get business,
and it was therefore obviously unwise to give
little pills of " Lac.," or " Puls.," or " Sep./ 7
when a man needed a dose of oil, or a white-
faced girl iron, or the like. I soon made the
useful discovery that it was only necessary
to prescribe cod-liver oil, for instance, as a
diet, in order to make use of it where re-
quired. When a man got impatient over an
ancient ague, I usually found, too, that I
could persuade him to let me try a good dose
of quinine j while, on the other hand, there
was a distinct pecuniary advantage in those
cases of the shakes which could be made to
believe that it "was best not to interfere
with nature." I ought to add that this kind
of faith is uncommon among folks who carry
hods or build walls.

For women who are hysterical, and go
heart and soul into the business of being
sick, I have found the little pills a most
charming resort, because you cannot carry
the refinement of symptoms beyond what my
friend Jahr has done in the way of fitting
medicines to them, so that if I had taken
seriously to practising this double form of
therapeutics, it had, as I saw, certain con-


Another year went by, and I was begin-
ning to prosper in my new mode of life. My
medicines (being chiefly milk-sugar, with va-
riations as to the labels) cost next to nothing ;
and as I charged pretty well for both these
and my advice, I was now able to start a gig.

I solemnly believe that I should have con-
tinued to succeed in the practice of my pro-
fession if it had not happened that fate was
once more unkind to me, by throwing in my
path one of my old acquaintances. I had a
consultation one day with the famous homeo-
path Dr. Zwanzig. As we walked away we
were busily discussing the case of a poor
consumptive fellow who previously had lost
a leg. In consequence of this defect, Dr.
Zwanzig considered that the ten-thousandth
of a grain of aurum would be an overdose,
and that it must be fractioned so as to allow
for the departed leg, otherwise the rest of the
man would be getting a leg-dose too much.
I was particularly struck with this view of
the case, but I was still more, and less pleas-
ingly, impressed at the sight of my former
patient Stagers, who nodded to me familiarly
from the opposite pavement.

I was not at all surprised when, that even-
ing quite late, I found this worthy waiting in


my office. I looked around uneasily, which
was clearly understood by my friend, who
retorted : " Ain't took nothin' of yours, doc.
You don't seem right awful glad to see me.
You need n't be afraid I Ve only fetched
you a job, and a right good one, too."

I replied that I had my regular business,
that I preferred he should get some one else,
and pretty generally made Mr. Stagers aware
that I had had enough of him. I did not ask
him to sit down, and, just as I supposed him
about to leave, he seated himself with a grin,
remarking, "No use, doc; got to go into it
this one time."

At this I, naturally enough, grew angry
and used several rather violent phrases.

" No use, doc," said Stagers.

Then I softened down, and laughed a little,
and treated the thing as a joke, whatever it
was, for I dreaded to hear.

But Stagers was fate. Stagers was in-
evitable. " Won't do, doc not even money
would n't get you off."

" No ! " said I, interrogatively, and as coolly
as I could, contriving at the same time to
move toward the window. It was summer,
the sashes were up, the shutters half drawn
in, and a policeman whom I knew was loung-


ing opposite, as I had noticed when I entered.
I would give Stagers a scare, charge him
with theft anything but get mixed up with
his kind again. It was the folly of a moment
and I should have paid dear for it.

He must have understood me, the scoun-
drel, for in an instant I felt a cold ring of
steel against my ear, and a tiger clutch on
my cravat. " Sit down," he said. " What a
fool you are ! Guess you forgot that there
coroner's business and the rest." Needless to
say that I obeyed. " Best not try that again,"
continued my guest. "Wait a moment";
and rising, he closed the window.

There was no resource left but to listen
and what followed I shall condense rather
than relate it in the language employed by
Mr. Stagers.

It appeared that my other acquaintance
Mr. File had been guilty of a cold-blooded
and long-premeditated murder, for which he
had been tried and convicted. He now lay
in jail awaiting his execution, which was to
take place at Carsonville, Ohio. It seemed
that with Stagers and others he had formed
a band of expert counterfeiters in the West.
Their business lay in the manufacture of
South American currencies. File had thus


acquired a fortune so considerable that I was
amazed at his having allowed his passion to
seduce him into unprofitable crime. In his
agony he unfortunately thought of me, and
had bribed Stagers largely in order that he
might be induced to find me. When the
narration had reached this stage, and I had
been made fully to understand that I was now
and hereafter under the sharp eye of Stagers
and his friends, that, in a word, escape was
out of the question, I turned on my tor-

"What does all this mean?" I said.
" What does File expect me to do ? "

" Don't believe he exactly knows," said
Stagers. "Something or other to get him
clear of hemp."

" But what stuff I " I replied. " How can I
help him? What possible influence could
I exert?"

" Can't say," answered Stagers, imperturb-
ably. " File has a notion you re 'most cun-
ning enough for anything. Best try some-
thing, doc."

"And what if I won't do it?" said I.
"What does it matter to me if the rascal
swings or no ? n

" Keep cool, doc," returned Stagers. " 1 7 m



only agent in this here business. My prin-
cipal, that 7 s File, he says: 'Tell Sandcraft
to find some way to get me clear. Once out,
I give him ten thousand dollars. If he don't
turn up something that will suit, I '11 blow
about that coroner business and Lou Wilson,
and break him up generally/ "

" You don't mean," said I, in a cold sweat
" you don't mean that, if I can't do this im-
possible thing, he will inform on me ? "

"Just so/' returned Stagers. "Got a
cigar, doc ? "

I only half heard him. What a frightful
position ! I had been leading a happy and an
increasingly profitable life no scrapes and
no dangers j and here, on a sudden, I had
presented to me the alternative of saving a
wretch from the gallows or of spending un-
limited years in a State penitentiary. As
for the money, it became as dead leaves for
this once only in my life. My brain seemed
to be spinning round. I grew weak all over.

" Cheer up a little," said Stagers. " Take
a nip of whisky. Things ain't at the worst,
by a good bit. You just get ready, and we '11
start by the morning train. Guess you '11 try
out something smart enough as we travel
along. Ain't got a heap of time to lose."


I was silent. A great anguish had me in
its grip. I might squirm as I would, it was
all in vain. Hideous plans rose to my mind,
born of this agony of terror. I might mur-
der Stagers, but what good would that do?
As to File, he was safe from my hand. At
last I became too confused to think any
longer. " When do we leave ? " I said feebly.

" At six to-morrow," he returned.

How I was watched and guarded, and how
hurried over a thousand miles of rail to my
fate, little concerns us now. I find it dreadful
to recall it to memory. Above all, an aching
eagerness for revenge upon the man who had
caused me these sufferings was uppermost in
my mind. Could I not fool the wretch and
save myself ? Of a sudden an idea came into
my consciousness. Then it grew and formed
itself, became possible, probable, seemed to
me sure. "Ah," said I, "Stagers, give me
something to eat and drink." I had not
tasted food for two days.

Within a day or two after my arrival, I
was enabled to see File in his cell, on the
plea of being a clergyman from his native

I found that I had not miscalculated my
danger. The man did not appear to have the


least idea as to how I was to help him. He
only knew that I was in his power, and he
used his control to insure that something
more potent than friendship should be en-
listed in his behalf. As the days went by,
his behavior grew to be a frightful thing to
witness. He threatened, flattered, implored,
offered to double the sum he had promised
if I would save him. My really reasonable
first thought was to see the governor of the
State, and, as Stagers's former physician,
make oath to his having had many attacks of
epilepsy followed by brief periods of homicidal
mania. He had, in fact, had fits of alcoholic
epilepsy. Unluckily, the governor was in a
distant city. The time was short, and the
case against my man too clear. Stagers said
it would not do. I was at my wit's end.
" Got to do something," said File, " or I '11
attend to your case, doc."

"But," said I, "suppose there is really

" Well," said Stagers to me when we were
alone, " you get him satisfied, anyhow. He '11
never let them hang him, and perhaps well,
I 'm going to give him these pills when I get
a chance. He asked to have them. But
what 's your other plan ? "


Stagers knew as much about medicine as
a pig knows about the opera. So I set to
work to delude Mm, first asking if he could
secure me, as a clergyman, an hour alone
with File just before the execution. He said
money would do it, and what was my plan ?

"Well," said I, "there was once a man
named Dr. Chovet. He lived in London. A
gentleman who turned highwayman was to
be hanged. You see," said I, " this was about
1760. Well, his friends bribed the jailer and
the hangman. The doctor cut a hole in the
man's windpipe, very low down where it could
be partly hid by a loose cravat. So, as they
hanged him only a little while, and the breath
went in and out of the opening below the
noose, he was only just insensible when his
friends got him "

"And he got well," cried Stagers, much
pleased with my rather melodramatic tale.

" Yes," I said, " he got well, and lived to
take purses, all dressed in white. People had
known him well, and when he robbed his
great-aunt, who was not in the secret, she
swore she had seen his ghost."

Stagers said that was a fine story ; guessed
it would work ; small town, new business, lots
of money to use. In fact, the attempt thus to


save a man is said to have been made, but, by
ill luck, the man did not recover. It answered
my purpose, but how any one, even such an
ass as this fellow, could believe it could suc-
ceed puzzles me to this day.

File became enthusiastic over my scheme,
and I cordially assisted his credulity. The
thing was to keep the wretch quiet until the
business blew up or and I shuddered
until File, in despair, took his pill. I should
in any case find it wise to leave in haste.

My friend Stagers had some absurd mis-
givings lest Mr. File's neck might be broken
by the fall j but as to this I was able to re-
assure him upon the best scientific authority.
There were certain other and minor questions,
as to the effect of sudden, nearly complete
arrest of the supply of blood to the brain;
but with these physiological refinements I
thought it needlessly cruel to distract a man
in File's peculiar position. Perhaps I shall
be doing injustice to my own intellect if I do
not hasten to state again that I had not the
remotest belief in the efficacy of my plan for
any purpose except to get me out of a very
uncomfortable position and give me, with
time, a chance to escape.

Stagers and I were both disguised as clergy-


men, and were quite freely admitted to the
condemned man's cell. In fact, there was in
the little town a certain trustful simplicity
about all their arrangements. The day but
one before the execution Stagers informed
me that File had the pills, which he, Stagers,
had contrived to give him. Stagers seemed
pleased with our plan. I was not. He was
really getting uneasy and suspicious of me
as I was soon to find out.

So far our plans, or rather mine, had
worked to a marvel. Certain of File's old
accomplices succeeded in bribing the hang-
man to shorten the time of suspension. Ar-
rangements were made to secure me two
hours alone with the prisoner, so that no-
thing seemed to be wanting to this tomfool
business. I had assured Stagers that I
would not need to see File again previous to
the operation ; but in the forenoon of the day
before that set for the execution I was seized
with a feverish impatience, which luckily
prompted me to visit him once more. As
usual, I was admitted readily, and nearly
reached his cell when I became aware, from the
sound of voices heard through the grating in
the door, that there was a visitor in the cell.
" Who is with him ?" I inquired of the turnkey.


" The doctor," he replied.

"Doctor F I said, pausing. "What doctor F

" Oh, the jail doctor. I was to come back
in half an hour to let him out j but he 's got
a quarter to stay. Shall I let you in, or will
you wait ? "

" No," I replied ; " it is hardly right to in-
terrupt them. I will walk in the corridor for
ten minutes or so, and then you can come
back to let me into the cell."

" Very good/ 7 he returned, and left me.

As soon as I was alone, I cautiously ad-
vanced until I stood alongside of the door,
through the barred grating of which I was
able readily to hear what went on within.
The first words I caught were these :

" And you tell me, doctor, that, even if a
man's windpipe was open, the hanging would
kill him are you sure ? "

" Yes, I believe there would be no doubt
of it. I cannot see how escape would be pos-
sible. But let me ask you why you have
sent for me to ask these singular questions.
You cannot have the faintest hope of escape,
and least of all in such a manner as this. I
advise you to think about the fate which is
inevitable. You must, I fear, have much to
reflect upon."


"But," said File, "if I wanted to try this
plan of mine, could n't some one be found to
help me, say if he was to make twenty thou-
sand or so by it ? I mean a really good doc-
tor." Evidently File cruelly mistrusted my
skill, and meant to get some one to aid me.

"If you mean me," answered the doctor,
"some one cannot be found, neither for
twenty nor fifty thousand dollars. Besides,
if any one were wicked enough to venture on
such an attempt, he would only be deceiving
you with a hope which would be utterly vain.
You must be off your head."

I understood all this with an increasing
fear in my mind. I had meant to get away
that night at all risks. I saw now that I must
go at once.

After a pause he said : " Well, doctor, you
know a poor devil in my fix will clutch at
straws. Hope I have not offended you."

"Not in the least," returned the doctor.
"Shall I send you Mr. Smith?" This was
my present name ; in fact, I was known as
the Rev. Eliphalet Smith.

"I would like it," answered File; "but as
you go out, tell the warden I want to see
him immediately about a matter of great


At this stage I began to apprehend very
distinctly that the time had arrived when it
would be wiser for me to delay escape no
longer. Accordingly, I waited until I heard
the doctor rise, and at once stepped quietly
away to the far end of the corridor. I had
scarcely reached it when the door which
closed it was opened by a turnkey who had
come to relieve the doctor and let me into the
cell. Of course my peril was imminent. If
the turnkey mentioned my near presence to the
prisoner, immediate disclosure would follow.
If some lapse of time were secured before the
warden obeyed the request from File that he
should visit him, I might gain thus a much-
needed hour, but hardly more. I therefore
said to the officer : " Tell the warden that the
doctor wishes to remain an hour longer with
the prisoner, and that I shall return myself
at the end of that time."

" Very good, sir," said the turnkey, allow-
ing me to pass out, and, as he followed me,
relocking the door of the corridor. " 1 11 tell
him," he said. It is needless to repeat that
I never had the least idea of carrying out the
ridiculous scheme with which I had deluded
File and Stagers, but so far Stagers's watch-
fulness had given me no chance to escape.


In a few moments I was outside of the
jail gate, and saw my fellow-clergyman, Mr.
Stagers, in full broadcloth and white tie,
coming down the street toward me. As
usual, he was on his guard; but this time
he had to deal with a man grown perfectly
desperate, with everything to win and no-
thing to lose. My plans were made, and,
wild as they were, I thought them worth the
trying. I must evade this man's terrible
watch. How keen it was, you cannot ima-
gine; but it was aided by three of the in-
famous gang to which File had belonged,
for without these spies no one person could
possibly have sustained so perfect a system.

I took Stagers's arm. "What time," said I,
" does the first train start for Dayton ? "

" At twelve. What do you want ? "

"How far is it?"

" About fifteen miles," he replied.

" Good. I can get back by eight o'clock

" Easily," said Stagers, " if you go. What
do you want ? "

" I want a smaller tube to put in the wind-
pipe must have it, in fact."

"Well, I don't like it," said he, "but the
thing 7 s got to go through somehow. If you


must go, I will go along myself. Can't lose
sight of you, doc, just at present. You 're
monstrous precious. Did you tell File I "

"Yes," said I; "he 7 s all .right. Come.
We 7 ve no time to lose. 77

Nor had we. Within twenty minutes we
were seated in the last car of a long train,
and running at the rate of twenty miles an
hour toward Dayton. In about ten minutes
I asked Stagers for a cigar.

" Can 7 t smoke here, 7 ' said he.

" No, 77 1 answered ; " of course not. 1 7 11 go
forward into the smoking-car. 77

"Come along, 77 said he, and we went
through the train.

I was not sorry he had gone with me when
I found in the smoking-car one of the spies
who had been watching me so constantly.
Stagers nodded to him and grinned at me,
and we sat down together.

"Chut!" said I, "left my cigar on the
window-ledge in the hindmost car. Be back
in a moment. 77

This time, for a wonder, Stagers allowed
me to leave unaccompanied. I hastened
through to the nearer end of the hindmost
car, and stood on the platform. I instantly
cut the signal-cord. Then I knelt down, and,


waiting until the two cars ran together, I
tugged at the connecting-pin. As the cars
came together, I could lift it a little, then as
the strain came on the coupling the pin held
fast. At last I made a great effort, and out
it came. The car I was on instantly lost
speed, and there on the other platform, a
hundred feet away, was Stagers shaking his
fist at me. He was beaten, and he knew it.
In the end few people have been able to get
ahead of me.

The retreating train was half a mile away
around the curve as I screwed up the brake
on my car hard enough to bring it nearly to
a stand. I did not wait for it to stop entirely
before I slipped off the steps, leaving the
other passengers to dispose of themselves as
they might until their absence should be dis-
covered and the rest of the train return.

As I wish rather to illustrate my very re-
markable professional career than to amuse
by describing its lesser incidents, I shall not
linger to tell how I succeeded, at last, in
reaching St. Louis. Fortunately, I had never
ceased to anticipate the moment when escape
from File and his friends would be possible,
so that I always earned about with me the
very small funds with which I had hastily

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow → online text (page 3 of 7)