S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

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"That 's rather nice," said St. Glair. "About trees
we are all of a mind. I wonder there never was a tree


"And," I added, "what various pleasure one gets
out of them, how many kinds of joy."

"I have said before," remarked Vincent, "where my
own limitations lie. My pleasure is in simple obser-
vation. When people talk of books which influenced
them, I gratefully think that it was Ruskin who taught
me what to see, how to see, and the happiness of it.
Then I would come to a place where he spread wings
of a larger delight, and left me sighing."

"One should train children to see," I said; "really
to see. What is to be had in the way of enjoyment
out of the trained powers of the naturalist none know
who are not familiar with the higher grade of such

"And that I can more easily comprehend," returned

"You ought to know Leidy,"* I said. "You remem-
ber my speaking once of his memory for specific
names. As were Agassiz and Wyman, so is he to-
day a delightful companion. He would stand here
and call by name every living thing, and the stones
beneath your feet also. Turn over a bit of rock, and
as the queer tiny menagerie of its sheltered life scut-
tles out, he knows them one and all their lives, their
marriages, what they eat, their ways, their deaths, a
hundred little dramas of this swarming vitality. And
then the knowledge is all so easily given, with so much
placid enjoyment, with such childlike directness, and
yet with but little sense of the deeper poetic relation-
ships which they bring to a rare few. He has the
morale of the best naturalists simplicity, earnestness,
* This greatest of our naturalists is since dead.


and magnanimity. To help others to observe is his
greatest joy, and, my dear St. Glair, he does not really
care a sixpence for all the poetry from Homer to Long-

"Poor fellow," said the sculptor. "If that is where
science takes a man, leave me to my folly."

"Happy man!" said Vincent. "Come, the dew is
falling ; let us go."

"The dew is condensing on the chilled earth, Mr.
Philosopher," I said. "It only falls for poets."

"Come," said St. Clair ; "I am tired."

After this the talk died out, and in the shadows we
wandered along the river-bank until the lights of the
town appeared in lanes of red on the water and in a
broad glow of luminous reflection from the sky above.


OMETIMES it happened that I saw
often one or another of the three
men I called friends. Vincent and
I were both busy. St. Clair was at
times invisible for days 5 was shut up
with statues, or away alone on the
hills or by the sea. He used to say : "Every man has
need at times of a monastic life. If he cannot make
one for himself, he must be a poor creature. If I were
married, I should desire divorce for six months in each

As to Clayborne, he was always accessible, and, as I

have said, Vincent alone was married. I myself had

had in earlier life a great trouble. For months it had

left me like one who has been near to death, and

escaped. In fact, it came close to being the foolish

death of all tender sentiment, of all respect for women.

I From this I had the wholesome logical recoil brought

\ about by the tremendous business called war. It saved

' me from a fate worse than its bullets prepared for me.

That Vincent and his wife knew my story helped to

increase my intimacy with him. "We, too, were also

of the busy world of men and affairs, in which St.

Clair and Clayborne had no share, the one being in-


different, the other mildly scornful. None of us were
what I call ordinary men j and, indeed, Vincent used
to say that, to complete our group, we needed some
merely good fellow, who would represent the common-
place and commercial aspects of every-day life.

I called one morning upon Vincent on my way to
the hospital. He came down to his library at once,
and made me welcome with the cordiality which has so
much value in a man by habit reserved and tranquil.

"Ah," said he, "since you have been away our poor
iron-worker is able to move about on crutches, and is
going to make a little money out of his patent. St.
Clair is anywhere. As to Clayborne, he is just now
writing like mad. Some fellow in Berlin says he has
made grave errors in facts in that last book. You
should see him ; you would think the man had phys-
ically insulted him."

"And the good wife?" I said.

Oh, well ; and, by George ! North, she has another
oung woman in training for you. Look out. It will
be the woman you take in to dinner the first time you
dine here."

"'Who feels the warmth escapes the fire.' Come in
to-night j I have an ocean of talk dammed up for you.
Come late."

"I will. I meant to see you on a professional
matter ; it will keep until then."

As we went through the hall, Mrs. Vincent appeared
on the stair. "How lucky to catch you! How well
you look ! Come and dine on Friday night. You need
not think about it. I say yes for you ; it is settled."

Vincent smiled.


I said, "It were useless to hesitate over so impla-
cable a fate," and went away.

That evening, late, I sat in what the American
doctor calls his office, but which was for me rather a
library, as the many tools my work required were kept
out of view in another room. I had none of Clay-
borne's desire to be walled in with books. The few
I loved best, a couple of hundred, were on one wall in
low shelves. Another case was full of dictionaries (of
which I am fond), and the walls were covered above
with pictures, prints, etchings, and the hundred me-
morials of a life of war, travel, and varied tastes and

"I want at least an hour," said Vincent, as he en-

"Then give me first ten minutes, Fred," I said. "I
have some notes to answer. I can write and talk, too,
in a way."

I gave such orders as would leave us undisturbed,
and went on with my work, while Vincent, putting a
portfolio on the table, took a cigar and wandered
about the room.

"If you really do not mind my talking "

"Oh, no ; not in the least."

"Well, if I say anything worth answering you may
reply or not. You have been shifting your pictures,
I see. We both have that fancy for rearrangement.
I like to prowl about a man's living-room ; there is a
sense of animal freedom in the name he gives it, a
den, and yours is full of the bones of things past.
Few women get much character into their rooms. The
very derivation of the name they bear is unamiable.


I could tell that you have the taste of the savage for
pronounced color, and for disorder, too."

"Go on," I said, laughing. "I shall presently have
my whole biography evolved out of my surround-
ings. I simply loathe the precision of that table of

"Yes," said Vincent; "no doubt. It would annoy
me to have it otherwise, and I prefer to pamper my
own feelings rather than at their cost to coddle my
friend's sentiments. I am naturally selfish."

"Cold and indifferent," I went on.

"So says the world ; but, really, I do not think I am.
I am as tender inside as a crab, and sometimes I get
into the soft-shell state, and then alas! But as for
you," he added, "it is quite true that your room is
characteristic, at least of your tastes even of your
sentiments. Your table represents order amidst ap-
pearance of disorder. I should say you had trained
yourself to be methodical from absolute need to be so.
Also you are a hero-worshiper."

"Am I ? I could wish it were more common. But,"
I added, dropping my pen, " I have done. You have
not yet noticed the new bronze of one of my heroes."
I directed his attention to a mask of Lincoln.

He stood a moment regarding it with interest.
" Curious, that," he remarked. " The side face smiles ;
there is humor in it. That is an immense help in a
serious life. It is the gentlest and wisest of critics.
And the full face is grave and homely."

" Do you see any resemblance to the masks of Crom-

" Faintly. And to Luther, who resembled Lincoln


strongly in some ways; but the German face was

"To Lincoln," I said, "humor was both sword
and shield; and yet he escaped that evil influence
which for some who possess it largely makes men like
Greeley absurd, or too ridiculous for charitable treat-

" It seems to me to have been intellectually helpful
to the man. Certainly it aided him to understand a
people who are at once the gravest on earth and the
most humorous."

" I suspect," said I, " that it plays a larger part on
the stage of life, even of the largest lives, than men
suppose, and, assuredly, it is a quality which asserts
itself even when death is near. Its absence is fatal to

some careers."

" There is none of it in this other hero of yours in
his face, at least," returned Vincent, turning to look at
a noble portrait of William Harvey.

"Not in the face," I said, "nor in his life as we
knew it until quite lately. But in his notes for lect-
ures on anatomy, just published, there is plenty of it.
Very early in his career, not remote from the date of
Shakspere's death, he must have been pretty surely
aware of the true doctrine of the circulation of the
blood, but, although he discussed it for his class, he
waited many years before he put it into print. Imag-
ine such reticent patience in these noisy days of hurry
and scramble to get the last novelty into print, lest it
should be found out and made public by some one else.
Haste does not belong to genius. That has the pa-
tience which seems to have been assigned by nature


to all forms of the creative faculty. For the gods, and
for genius, time is not."

" How un-English the face is," said Vincent. " The
type is that of a New England professor. The hands
are badly drawn."

"No; that is the gout. The painter knew better
than to manufacture hands for him. You are right in
the belief that he is one of my heroes. He had every
quality I should desire. He was grave, but humorous ;
gentle, but courageous; magnanimous, truthful, pa-
tient, and religious j and, above all, simple. I said he
had humor. Some idiots have been saying of late that
Bacon wrote Shakspere's plays. One point settled it
for me. Humor is a light no man can hide. Bacon
has none of it, and it is everywhere in Shakspere."

" The point," said Vincent, " as we lawyers put it, is
well taken."

" Here are Harvey's lecture notes," I went on. " The
other day I reread his life by Willis. Unluckily, we
know little of him, and grave text-books of science
give small chance for play of humorous thought ; but
in these notes we catch him in a familiar hour. See
how crabbed is the English hand of that day. The
notes, you see, are a medley of Latin and English.
He has set down headings and hints for illustrations.
The humor is quaint. An acid taste rising from the
stomach into the mouth reminds him of a motion from
the Lower to the Upper House of Parliament l ventris
inferni ' (nasty), he says, ' yett recompensed by admiry '
(admirable variety). The brain is the parlor, the
stomach the kitchen, and so on. But what is it you
want, Fred ? "


"I want a little professional help. Last week a
woman came to consult me, a slight, tall person, re-
markably graceful, rather pretty, and, I may say, well-
bred a lady. She said that the case she wished to
lay before me was of a criminal nature. I replied that
I did not practise in the courts of criminal law.

" She returned at once, ' No, I was aware of that ;
but I need a gentleman, a man of my own class, and,
above all, one capable of imagining as possible what
seems to most men incredible.'

"I said at once, 'Sit down. 7 Her evident intelli-
gence, her calmness of statement, and her pretty man-
ners excited my sympathy. I begged her to go on.
She was a better witness than most, but her story was
a long one. I have condensed it into a few pages. I
will read them. Make your comments, or, better, note
them for discussion afterward.

"Seven years ago J. C , aged thirty, married

a woman of twenty in a Western city. She was
rich, very rich, I may say, and in person as I de-
scribed her.

" J. C , a man of refined and scholarly tastes, a

student of Oriental languages, failed in business soon
after their marriage. She induced him to retire to the
country, where they possessed, on a Western lake, a
charming home. He was a man without other than
mere intellectual tastes, slight, but healthy; refined,
gentle, and of a temper generally gay. At times, but
rarely, he was subject to depression, and was never
happy away from his wife and only child. In youth
he had been a sleep-walker. His father died early of
palsy. The father was an only child."


""A neurotic family," I said, "and two generations of
one child each. Some element of weakness. Go on."

"One year ago she received a check for twenty
thousand dollars, the amount of a mortgage paid off.
She indorsed it over to him to enable him to arrange,
in a city near by, for the payment of the only business
debt he had left, and, very happy at the promised re-
lease, he left her.

" On his arrival at M , he wrote her that he had

never been more glad, and that he was about to be rid
of the one burden which had troubled a life otherwise
entirely happy. From that day until a month back,
he was never heard of. He drew the money from the
bank, paid no one, was known to have taken an East-
ern-bound train, and that was all.

" The woman's distress of mind was evident to me,
but she had all of that self-control which belongs
to the thoroughbred woman, and, despite her distress,
was clear and exact in her statements. By and by it
became only too plain that she was a deserted wife.
The detectives, whom at last she employed, traced him
to this city, and here lost the clue. He was gone.
The case got into the papers, and was a nine-day

" Meanwhile, two months passed, and Mrs. C ,

having paid his debts in full, came hither to live, with
some vague hope of finding him ; and now comes the
second and more curious part of her story. It is al-
most as incredible as anything in fiction.

"After living here until July, and exhausting the
powers of the police, she went one day to the post-office
to ask for a letter which had been underpaid. At the


general-delivery window the clerk was running over a
bundle of letters, and, as she waited, threw them one
by one on the window-shelf. Suddenly the handwrit-
ing on a letter caught Mrs. C 's eye. She said, ' Is

not that a letter for me?' The man said, 'Which?
What letter?'

" ' Oh, the last but one you threw down.'

" ' Your name is ? '

" She mentioned it.

" He returned, ' There is no such name in this lot.'

" She turned away, went at once to the office of the
postmaster, and, simply telling her story, said she had
recognized her husband's handwriting in the address
of a letter. The official declined to allow her to in-
spect the letters. But at last she so satisfied him as
to herself and her object that he sent for the clerk, and
allowed him to run over the letters in question while
she looked on.

"Presently she said, "There! He wrote that ad-
dress.' It was Mrs. Louis Wilson, No. 422 Blank
street. The official of course declined to do more;
nor did she insist, being clear-headed enough to be
satisfied with the clue. Then she went back to her
detectives, and in a week or two knew all that there
was to know. Here is the report.

" Six months ago a man took a small house No.
422 Blank street. He was presumed to be married.
The man was roughly dressed and careless in person ;
had some business occupation as a clerk in a dry-goods
house ; known there as a good worker and punctual,
but slovenly as to dress, and unpopular by reason of


an abrupt temper and general lack of social qualities.
Traced back to a small hotel where he had once lived.
Was believed to have married one of the maids a
rough, good-natured, common woman older than he j
was now on a week's vacation at the shore. Name,
Louis Wilson. Home habits of life unknown. Might
drink at times, as he occasionally frequented a tavern
near by.

" After this Mrs. C easily contrived to see the

man. She is sure it is her husband. Her own force
and intelligence are shown by the fact that she did
not speak to him, and it is certain that there is some
mystery back of it all. Lastly, she comes to me."

" Well," said I,

"Oh, I could, of course, fasten on him; prove
bigamy ; punish him 5 free her ; or pay off the woman
in possession. By the way, he is certainly married ;
that I learned to-day. As against either course there
is much to be urged, and to neither course does Mrs.
C consent."

"And what does she want?"

" Nothing yet. She insists that the whole affair is
incredible under any assumption of sanity on the part
of C . How does it look to you ? "

" If all she says be true, the man is not insane."

" No. I have seen his employer ; you know him, I
fancy. I was able to learn from him all I wanted to
hear without alarming the man C . He is un-
sociable and even morose ; ill-dressed, even uncleanly,
so that he has been told that he must be neater. He
is said to be clear-headed, punctual, and accurate."


"All that might be, and yet he might have left
her under some delusion of which there had been no

"Well, it seems unlikely, and, let me add, Mrs.

C 's people I find are known to me. You may rest

assured as to her intelligent truthfulness, and even as

to her accuracy. I wired Mr. R , in M , and

now know all about her. What do you think ? and is
it a case for a doctor ? I myself am secure only as to
this not being an example of mere vulgar desertion."

" No ; there we are at one."

"Mr. S , his employer, has arranged to send

C to me with a letter to-morrow at eleven ; Mr.

C to wait for an answer. Could you meet us ? "

"Yes; I should like to. Let us adjourn further
consideration of the matter until then."

The next day I was talking to Vincent when Mr.
C came in. Vincent said to me, " Sit down, Doc-
tor, please, until I answer this note." While he wrote

I studied C . He was dressed carelessly; cuffs

and collar soiled; hair unkempt; nails uncared for.
Nevertheless, his facial lines were refined, if not strong,
and both hands and feet were of delicate make. He
sat in quiet, apparently a stolid, indifferent man.

At last Vincent looked up as he inclosed his reply,

and said : " I have asked Mr. S to name a man

who can do accurately a large amount of copying from
notes of testimony. It needs care to decipher two or
three bad handwritings. Once in clear shape, I can
have it type-written. He says you can do it."

" Yes, I can ; but I am slow. I could take it home.
I would be glad to do it."


As C spoke I observed that it was with slowness

and as if unsure of his words.

Vincent went on, " Will you let me see your writ-
ing ? "

" I will bring some to-morrow. I write slowly."

"You speak a little like a foreigner." And then
carelessly, " Where were you born ? "

C looked at him, hesitated a moment, and said,

"I don't know."

" None of us do," returned Vincent in his gentlest
manner. "But where were you brought up? Are
you an American ? "

"I do not know; I kind of don't know. I must
have been sick ; I don't remember rightly."

The language and the tones were unrefined. Evi-
dent embarrassment was in the speaker's face, and he
moved uneasily.

" Try to think," said Vincent, kindly. When one
employs a man, it is desirable to know a little about

" Yes, sir ; I see " ; and he was silent.

" Where does your memory fail you ? "

"About seven months ago."

" And before that all is a blank," said I, abruptly.

C turned to answer me, troubled as I could see,

but with no sign of alarm or anger.

" Yes ; I think that is it. I don't go back any more
than if I was born seven months ago. I can't make
it out ; sometimes I am unhappy about it."

" Could you tell how you got here ? "

" Yes ; on the railroad from M ."

"Gould you write and read when you came hither?"


" That is a strange question, sir. I could speak. I
speak badly. I must have been sick. I speak better
now. I could not write my name in the hotel book.
The clerk said that was queer, but I told him my
name. He wrote it. In a few weeks I tried to write ;
at first I wrote from right to left, but I learned soon.
I must have had a fever."

As he spoke, he became less disturbed and more in-
terested. Then pausing, he added, " Why do you ask
me ? It quite bothers me."

Ignoring his query, I went on. " You came hither

from M , you say. Did you ever know a Mr. J.

C ? You quite resemble him."

" No ; never heard of such a man."

" An Oriental scholar. Student of Sanskrit, and so

" What '& Sanskrit ? " he replied. " Never heard of
that either."

At this moment Vincent rose, with a glance at me,
and saying, " Wait a moment, Mr. Wilson, I will get
a few pages of the notes. You may copy them and
let me see to-morrow how you get on. Then we can
arrange as to terms."

So saying he passed us and went into the outer
room ; was gone a minute or two and returned, fol-
lowed by Mrs. C . Her dignity of carriage and

extraordinary calmness overwhelmed me with amaze-
ment. She looked at C , flushed, and, drawing

back a chair, as women do when about to sit down,
adjusted her skirts, and took a seat.

I instantly turned to watch C . Not a sign be-
trayed memory of the woman.


"Mrs. C ," said Vincent, "my friend Doctor

North." I bowed. "Mrs. C 's difficulty I have

already mentioned," continued Vincent. "She has as
yet no news of her husband, and, by the way, Mr.
Wilson here is a Western man, Mrs. C . I vent-
ured on the mere chance of a clue to ask him if he
ever heard of Mr. C . I think you said no."

" Never heard of any such man."

I saw a change go over the woman's face ; it was
almost too severe a trial. The muscles of her chin
twitched. She was silent for a moment, and then said,

with evident effort, " You look like Mr. C " ; and,

rising, " you might be he. I am his wife."

The clerk smiled. " Well, I am Louis Wilson, and
have a wife of my own."

I saw Vincent touch his lips with his finger as she
turned toward him. At once her remarkable self-
control asserted itself.

" Excuse me," she said ; " I must go. Pray send me
the title-deeds, Mr. Vincent. I really must go. Good
morning," and went out.

" My clerk has the notes ready, Mr. Wilson," said
Vincent; "you need not wait here in the outer
room, please." And then the lawyer and I were alone.
"What now?" said he.

" It is a case of what is called double consciousness.
This man abruptly lost all memory of his lif e and its
events that is, of people, of things, not of words;
probably of all written signs. Most habits must have
remained, but as to this we do not know. The intel-
lect was not altered. He was able rapidly to reacquire
a new store of guiding, useful remembrances, and to


learn to write. In a case I know of there was this
same tendency to write to the left."

" He knew Hebrew ; did it not come from that ? *

" No," I said. " The other case was that of a half-
educated country girl."

" When," returned Vincent, " he came to the H

House here, he was like a rough, ignorant child, and
was alarmed when addressed by a stranger. The
chambermaid said he must have been ill. After a
while she learned that he had money. He seemed able
to count it, but for a long while could not understand
what a bank was. The landlord, an honest German,
took an interest in him, and finally induced him to de-
posit the money in a bank. His intellectual apprecia-
tion of things returned with great rapidity, and now
you see what he is."

" Yes ; it seems incredible. These cases are rarely
seen in their abnormal state; that is the difficulty.
Of this I am sure, the loss of memory of people, of
animals, of places, is absolute ; of language the loss is
incomplete; of writing, entire. But the reacquired
writing is identical as to the forms of the letters with
what has been lost ; you will be able to verify that with
ease. Strangest of all is the change of character, of
tastes, of manners. In one instance a sad, morbidly
religious person became gay, vivacious, ignorant of
religion, fond of jokes, and at last wrote queer dog-

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellCharacteristics → online text (page 9 of 19)