S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

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

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THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 67

provided myself upon leaving. The whole
amount did not exceed sixty-five dollars, but
with this, and a gold watch worth twice as
much, I hoped to be able to subsist until my
own ingenuity enabled me to provide more
liberally for the future. Naturally enough,
I scanned the papers closely to discover some
account of File's death and of the disclo-
sures concerning myself which he was only
too likely to have made.

I came at last on an account of how he had
poisoned himself, and so escaped the hangman.
I never learned what he had said about me,
but I was quite sure he had not let me off easy.
I felt that this failure to announce his confes-
sions was probably due to a desire on the part
of the police to avoid alarming me. Be this
as it may, I remained long ignorant as to
whether or not the villain betrayed my part
in that unusual coroner's inquest.

Before many days I had resolved to make
another and a bold venture. Accordingly ap-
peared in the St. Louis papers an advertise-
ment to the effect that Dr. von Ingenhoff, the
well-known German physician, who had spent
two years on the Plains acquiring a know-
ledge of Indian medicine, was prepared to
treat all diseases by vegetable remedies alone.



68 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

Dr. von Ingenhoff would remain in St. Louis
for two weeks, and was to be found at the
Grayson House every day from ten until two
o'clock.

To my delight, I got two patients the first
day. The next I had twice as many, when at
once I hired two connecting rooms, and made
a very useful arrangement, which I may de-
scribe dramatically in the following way :

There being two or three patients waiting
while I finished my cigar and morning julep,
enters a respectable-looking old gentleman
who inquires briskly of the patients if this is
really Dr. von Ingenhoff's. He is told it is.
My friend was apt to overact his part. I
had often occasion to ask him to be less
positive.

" Ah," says he, "I shall be delighted to see
the doctor. Five years ago I was scalped on
the Plains, and now" exhibiting a well-cov-
ered head " you see what the doctor did for
me. ? T is n't any wonder I 7 ve come fifty
miles to see him. Any of you been scalped,
gentlemen 1 "

To none of them had this misfortune ar-
rived as yet ; but, like most folks in the lower
ranks of life and some in the upper ones, it
was pleasant to find a genial person who




"'ANY OF YOU BEEN SCALPED, GENTLEMEN? ' :>



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 71

would listen to their account of their own
symptoms.

Presently, after hearing enough, the old
gentleman pulls out a large watch. " Bless
me ! it 's late. I must call again. May I
trouble you, sir, to say to the doctor that his
old friend called to see him and will drop in
again to-morrow? Don't forget: Governor
Brown of Arkansas." A moment later the
governor visited me by a side door, with his
account of the symptoms of my patients.

Enter a tall Hoosier, the governor having
retired. " Now, doc," says the Hoosier, " I 've
been handled awful these two years back."
"Stop!" I exclaimed. "Open your eyes.
There, now, let me see," taking his pulse as I
speak. " Ah, you 've a pain there, and there,
and you can't sleep j cocktails don't agree any
longer. Were n't you bit by a dog two years
ago ? " "I was," says the Hoosier, in amaze-
ment. "Sir," I reply," you have chronic hy-
drophobia. It 's the water in the cocktails
that disagrees with you. My bitters will cure
you in a week, sir. No more whisky drink
milk."

The astonishment of my patient at these
accurate revelations may be imagined. He is
allowed to wait for his medicine in the ante-



72 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

room, where the chances are in favor of his
relating how wonderfully I had told all his
symptoms at a glance.

Governor Brown of Arkansas was a small
but clever actor, whom I met in the billiard-
room, and who day after day, in varying dis-
guises and modes, played off the same tricks,
to our great common advantage.

At my friend's suggestion, we very soon
added to our resources by the purchase of
two electromagnetic batteries. This special
means of treating all classes of maladies has
advantages which are altogether peculiar. In
the first place, you instruct your patient that
the treatment is of necessity a long one. A
striking mode of putting it is to say, " Sir,
you have been six months getting ill ; it will
require six months for a cure." There is a
correct sound about such a phrase, and it is
sure to satisfy. Two sittings a week, at two
dollars a sitting, will pay. In many cases the
patient gets well while you are electrifying
him. "Whether or not the electricity cured
him is a thing I shall never know. If, how-
ever, he began to show signs of impatience, I
advised him that he would require a year's
treatment, and suggested that it would be
economical for him to buy a battery and use



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 73

it at home. Thus advised, he pays you twenty
dollars for an instrument which cost you ten,
and you are rid of a troublesome case.

If the reader has followed me closely, he
will have learned that I am a man of large
and liberal views in my profession, and of a
very justifiable ambition. The idea has often
occurred to me of combining in one establish-
ment all the various modes of practice which
are known as irregular. This, as will be
understood, is really only a wider application
of the idea which prompted me to unite in my
own business homeopathy and the practice of
medicine. I proposed to my partner, accord-
ingly, to combine with our present business
that of spiritualism, which I knew had been
very profitably turned to account in connec-
tion with medical practice. As soon as he
agreed to this plan, which, by the way, I hoped
to enlarge so as to include all the available
isms, I set about making such preparations as
were necessary. I remembered having read
somewhere that a Dr. Schiff had shown that
he could produce remarkable " knockings," so
called, by voluntarily dislocating the great
toe and then forcibly drawing it back into its
socket. A still better noise could be made by
throwing the tendon of the peroneus longus



74 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

muscle out of the hollow in which it lies,
alongside of the ankle. After some effort I
was able to accomplish both feats quite readily,
and could occasion a remarkable variety of
sounds, according to the power which I em-
ployed or the positions which I occupied at
the time. As to all other matters, I trusted
to the suggestions of my own ingenuity,
which, as a rule, has rarely failed me.

The largest success attended the novel plan
which my lucky genius had devised, so that
soon we actually began to divide large profits
and to lay by a portion of our savings. It is,
of course, not to be supposed that this desir-
able result was attained without many annoy-
ances and some positive danger. My spiritual
revelations, medical and other, were, as may
be supposed, only more or less happy guesses ;
but in this, as in predictions as to the weather
and other events, the rare successes always
get more prominence in the minds of men
than the numerous failures. Moreover,
whenever a person has been fool enough to
resort to folks like myself, he is always glad
to be able to defend his conduct by bringing
forward every possible proof of skill on the
part of the men he has consulted. These con-
siderations, and a certain love of mysterious



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 75

or unusual means, I have commonly found
sufficient to secure an ample share of gullible
individuals. I may add, too, that those who
would be shrewd enough to understand and
expose us are wise enough to keep away alto-
gether. Such as did come were, as a rule,
easy enough to manage, but now and then we
hit upon some utterly exceptional patient
who was both foolish enough to consult us
and sharp enough to know he had been swin-
dled. When such a fellow made a fuss, it
was occasionally necessary to return his
money if it was found impossible to bully
him into silence. In one or two instances,
where I had promised a cure upon prepayment
of two or three hundred dollars, I was either
sued or threatened with suit, and had to re-
fund a part or the whole of the amount j but
most people preferred to hold their tongues
rather than expose to the world the extent of
their own folly.

In one most disastrous case I suffered per-
sonally to a degree which I never can recall
without a distinct sense of annoyance, both
at my own want of care and at the disgusting
consequences which it brought upon me.

Early one morning an old gentleman called,
in a state of the utmost agitation, and ex-



76 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

plained that he desired to consult the spirits
as to a heavy loss which he had experienced
the night before. He had left, he said, a sum
of money in his pantaloons pocket upon going
to bed. In the morning he had changed his
clothes and gone out, forgetting to remove the
notes. Returning in an hour in great haste,
he discovered that the garment still lay upon
the chair where he had thrown it, but that the
money was missing. I at once desired him to
be seated, and proceeded to ask him certain
questions, in a chatty way, about the habits
of his household, the amount lost, and the like,
expecting thus to get some clue which would
enable me to make my spirits display the re-
quisite share of sagacity in pointing out the
thief. I learned readily that he was an old
and wealthy man, a little close, too, I suspected,
and that he lived in a large house with but
two servants, and an only son about twenty-
one years old. The servants were both women
who had lived in the household many years,
and were probably innocent. Unluckily, re-
membering my own youthful career, I pres-
ently reached the conclusion that the young
man had been the delinquent. When I ven-
tured to inquire a little as to his habits, the
old gentleman cut me very short, remarking



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 77

that lie came to ask questions, and not to be
questioned, and that he desired at once to
consult the spirits. Upon this I sat down at
a table, and, after a brief silence, demanded
in a solemn voice if there were any spirits
present. By industriously cracking my big
toe-joint I was enabled to represent at once
the presence of a numerous assembly of these
worthies. Then I inquired if any one of them
had been present when the robbery was ef-
fected. A prompt double knock replied in
the affirmative. I may say here, by the way,
that the unanimity of the spirits as to their
use of two knocks for "yes 77 and one for
" no " is a very remarkable point, and shows,
if it shows anything, how perfect and univer-
sal must be the social intercourse of the re-
spected departed. It is worthy of note, also,
that if the spirit I will not say the medium
perceives after one knock that it were wiser
to say yes, he can conveniently add the second
tap. Some such arrangement in real life
would, it appears to me, be highly desirable.

It seemed that the spirit was that of Vidocq,
the French detective. I had just read a trans-
lation of his memoirs, and he seemed to me a
very available spirit to call upon.

As soon as I explained that the spirit who



78 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

answered had been a witness of the theft, the
old man became strangely agitated. "Who
was it?" said he. At once the spirit indi-
cated a desire to use the alphabet. As we
went over the letters, always a slow method,
but useful when you want to observe excitable
people, my visitor kept saying, " Quicker
go quicker." At length the spirit spelled out
the words, " I know not his name."

" Was it," said the gentleman" was it a
was it one of my household ? "

I knocked " yes " without hesitation ; who
else, indeed, could it have been ?

" Excuse me," he went on, " if I ask you for
a little whisky."

This I gave him. He continued: "Was it
Susan or Ellen?"

"No, no!"

" Was it" He paused. " If I ask a ques-
tion mentally, will the spirits reply ? " I knew
what he meant. He wanted to ask if it was
his son, but did not wish to speak openly.

"Ask," said I.

" I have," he returned.

I hesitated. It was rarely my policy to
commit myself definitely, yet here I fancied,
from the facts of the case and his own terrible
anxiety, that he suspected, or more than sus-



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 79

pected, his son as the guilty person. I be-
came sure of this as I studied his face. At
all events, it would be easy to deny or explain
in case of trouble; and, after all, what slan-
der was there in two knocks ? I struck twice
as usual.

Instantly the old gentleman rose up, very
white, but quite firm. " There," he said, and
cast a bank-note on the table, " I thank you,"
and bending his head on his breast, walked,
as I thought, with great eif ort out of the room.

On the following morning, as I made my
first appearance in my outer room, which con-
tained at least a dozen persons awaiting ad-
vice, who should I see standing by the window
but the old gentleman with sandy- gray hair?
Along with him was a stout young man with
a head as red as mine, and mustache and
whiskers to match. Probably the son, I
thought ardent temperament, remorse, come
to confess, etc. I was never more mistaken
in my life. I was about to go regularly
through my patients when the old gentleman
began to speak.

" I called, doctor," said he, " to explain the
little matter about which I about which I"

" Troubled your spirits yesterday," added
the youth, jocosely, pulling his mustache.



80 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

"Beg pardon," I returned; "had we not
better talk this over in private ? Come into
my office," I added, touching the younger man
on the arm.

Would you believe it ? he took out his hand-
kerchief and dusted the place I had touched.
" Better not/ 7 said he. " Go on, father ; let
us get done with this den."

" Gentlemen," said the elder person, address-
ing the patients, " I called here yesterday, like
a fool, to ask who had stolen from me a sum
of money which I believed I left in my room
on going out in the morning. This doctor
here and his spirits contrived to make me sus-
pect my only son. Well, I charged him at
once with the crime as soon as I got back
home, and what do you think he did? He
said, l Father, let us go up-stairs and look for
it/ and"

Here the young man broke in with : " Come,
father; don't worry yourself for nothing";
and then turning, added : "To cut the thing
short, he found the notes under his candle-
stick, where he left them on going to bed.
This is all of it. We came here to stop this
fellow " (by which he meant me) " from carry-
ing a slander further. I advise you, good
people, to profit by the matter, and to look up



THE AUTOBIOGEAPHY OF A QUACK 81

a more honest doctor, if doctoring be what
you want."

As soon as he had ended, I remarked sol-
emnly : " The words of the spirits are not my
words. Who shall hold them accountable ? "

" Nonsense/ 7 said the young man. " Come,
father"; and they left the room.

Now was the time to retrieve my character.
"Gentlemen," said I, "you have heard this
very singular account. Trusting the spirits
utterly and entirely as I do, it occurs to me
that there is no reason why they may not,
after all, have been right in their suspicions
of this young person. Who can say that,
overcome by remorse, he may not have seized
the time of his father's absence to replace the
money ? "

To my amazement, up gets a little old man
from the corner. " Well, you are a low cuss ! "
said he, and taking up a basket beside him,
hobbled hastily out of the room. You may
be sure I said some pretty sharp things to him,
for I was out of humor to begin with, and it
is one thing to be insulted by a stout young
man, and quite another to be abused by a
wretched old cripple. However, he went away,
and I supposed, for my part, that I was done
with the whole business.



82 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

An hour later, however, I heard a rough
knock at my door, and opening it hastily, saw
my red-headed young man with the cripple.

" Now," said the former, taking me by the
collar, and pulling me into the room among
my patients, "I want to know, my man, if
this doctor said that it was likely I was the
thief after all?"

" That 's what he said," replied the cripple ;
"just about that, sir."

I do not desire to dwell on the after con-
duct of this hot-headed young man. It was
the more disgraceful as I offered but little re-
sistance, and endured a beating such as I
would have hesitated to inflict upon a dog.
Nor was this all. He warned me that if I
dared to remain in the city after a week he
would shoot me. In the East I should have
thought but little of such a threat, but here
it was only too likely to be practically carried
out. Accordingly, with my usual decision of
character, but with much grief and reluctance,
I collected my whole fortune, which now
amounted to at least seven thousand dollars,
and turned my back upon this ungrateful
town. I am sorry to say that I also left be-
hind me the last of my good luck.

I traveled in a leisurely way until I reached




'HK WARNED ME THAT ... HE WOULD SHOOT ME.'



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 85

Boston. The country anywhere would have
been safer, but I do not lean to agricultural
pursuits. It seemed an agreeable city, and I
decided to remain.

I took good rooms at Parker's, and conclud-
ing to enjoy life, amused myself in the com-
pany of certain, I may say uncertain, young
women who danced at some of the theaters.
I played billiards, drank rather too much,
drove fast horses, and at the end of a delight-
ful year was shocked to find myself in debt,
and with only seven dollars and fifty-three
cents left I like to be accurate. I had only
one resource : I determined to visit my deaf
aunt and Peninnah, and to see what I could
do in the r61e of the prodigal nephew. At
all events, I should gain time to think of what
new enterprise I could take up; but, above
all, I needed a little capital and a house over
my head. I had pawned nearly everything
of any value which I possessed.

I left my debts to gather interest, and went
away to Woodbury. It was the day before
Christmas when I reached the little Jersey
town, and it was also by good luck Sunday-
I was hungry and quite penniless. I wan-
dered about until church had begun, because
I was sure then to find Aunt Rachel and Pe-



86 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

ninnah out at the service, and I desired to
explore a little. The house was closed, and
even the one servant absent. I got in with
ease at the back through the kitchen, and hav-
ing at least an hour and a half free from in-
terruption, I made a leisurely search. The
role of prodigal was well enough, but here
was a better chance and an indulgent oppor-
tunity.

In a few moments I found the famous Bible
hid away under Aunt Rachel's mattress. The
Bible bank was fat with notes, but I intended
to be moderate enough to escape suspicion.
Here were quite two thousand dollars. I re-
solved to take, just now, only one hundred,
so as to keep a good balance. Then, alas ! I
lit on a long envelop, my aunt's will. Every
cent was left to Christ Church ; not a dime to
poor Pen or to me. I was in a rage. I tore
up the will and replaced the envelop. To
treat poor Pen that way Pen of all people !
There was a heap more will than testament,
for all it was in the Bible. After that I
thought it was right to punish the old witch,
and so I took every note I could find. When
I was through with this business, I put back
the Bible under the mattress, and observing
that I had been quite too long, I went down-



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 87

stairs with a keen desire to leave the town as
early as possible. I was tempted, however,
to look further, and was rewarded by finding
in an old clock case a small reticule stuffed
with bank-notes. This I appropriated, and
made haste to go out. I was too late. As I
went into the little entry to get my hat and
coat, Aunt Rachel entered, followed by Pe-
ninnah.

At sight of me my aunt cried out that I was
a monster and fit for the penitentiary. As
she could not hear at all, she had the talk to
herself, and went by me and up-stairs, rum-
bling abuse like distant thunder overhead.

Meanwhile I was taken up with Pen. The
pretty fool was seated on a chair, all dressed
up in her Sunday finery, and rocking back-
ward and forward, crying, " Oh, oh, ah ! " like
a lamb saying, " Baa, baa, baa ! " She never
had much sense. I had to shake her to get a
reasonable word. She mopped her eyes, and
I heard her gasp out that my aunt had at last
decided that I was the person who had thinned
her hoards. This was bad, but involved less
inconvenience than it might have done an
hour earlier. Amid tears Pen told me that a
detective had been at the house inquiring for
me. When this happened it seems that the



88 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

poor little goose had tried to fool deaf Aunt
Rachel with some made-up story as to the man
having come about taxes. I suppose the girl
was not any too sharp, and the old woman, I
guess, read enough from merely seeing the
man's lips. You never could keep anything
from her, and she was both curious and sus-
picious. She assured the officer that I was a
thief, and hoped I might be caught. I could
not learn whether the man told Pen any par-
ticulars, but as I was slowly getting at the
facts we heard a loud scream and a heavy
fall.

Pen said, " Oh, oh ! " and we hurried up-
stairs. There was the old woman on the
floor, her face twitching to right, and her
breathing a sort of hoarse croak. The big
Bible lay open on the floor, and I knew what
had happened. It was a fit of apoplexy.

At this very unpleasant sight Pen seemed
to recover her wits, and said : " Go away, go
away! Oh, brother, brother, now I know
you have stolen her money and killed her,
and and I loved you, I was so proud of
you ! Oh, oh ! "

This was all very fine, but the advice was
good. I said : " Yes, I had better go. Eun
and get some one a doctor. It is a fit of




'THE BIG BIBLE LAY OPEN ON THE FLOOB."



THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK 91

hysterics 5 there is no danger. I will write
to you. You are quite mistaken."

This was too feeble even for Pen, and she
cried :

"No, never ; I never want to see you again.
You would kill me next."

" Stuff ! " said I, and ran down-stairs. I
seized my coat and hat, and went to the
tavern, where I got a man to drive me to
Camden. I have never seen Pen since. As
I crossed the ferry to Philadelphia I saw that
I should have asked when the detective had
been after me. I suspected from Pen's terror
that it had been recently.

It was Sunday and, as I reminded myself,
the day before Christmas. The ground was
covered with snow, and as I walked up Mar-
ket street my feet were soon soaked. In my
haste I had left my overshoes. I was very
cold, and, as I now see, foolishly fearful. I
kept thinking of what a conspicuous thing a
fire-red head is, and of how many people
knew me. As I reached Woodbury early
and without a cent, I had eaten nothing all
day. I relied on Pen.

Now I concluded to go down into my old
neighborhood and get a lodging where no
references were asked. Next day I would



92 THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK

secure a disguise and get out of the way. I
had passed the day without food, as I have
just said, and having ample means, concluded
to go somewhere and get a good dinner. It
was now close to three in the afternoon. I
was aware of two things : that I was making
many plans, and giving them up as soon as
made ; and that I was suddenly afraid with-
out cause, afraid to enter an eating-house,
and in fear of every man I met.

I went on, feeling more and more chilly.
When a man is really cold his mind does not
work well, and now it was blowing a keen
gale from the north. At Second and South
I came plump on a policeman I knew. He
looked at me through the drifting snow, as if
he was uncertain, and twice looked back after
having passed me. I turned west at Chris-
tian street. When I looked behind me the
man was standing at the corner, staring after
me. At the next turn I hurried away north-
ward in a sort of anguish of terror. I have
said I was an uncommon person. I am. I
am sensitive, too. My mind is much above
the average, but unless I am warm and well
fed it does not act well, and I make mistakes.
At that time I was half frozen, in need of


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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe autobiography of a quack and the case of George Dedlow → online text (page 4 of 7)