His bed-room door beside the fireplace stood partly open, and I looked in.
Old Wyat, a white, high-cauled ghost, was pottering in her slippers in the shadow at the far side of the bed. The doctor, a stout little bald man, with a paunch and a big bunch of seals, stood with his back to the fireplace, which corresponded with that in the next room, eyeing his patient through the curtains of the bed with a listless sort of importance.
The head of the large four-poster rested against the opposite wall. Its foot was presented toward the fireplace; but the curtains at the side, which alone I could see from my position, were closed.
The little doctor knew me, and thinking me, I suppose, a person of consequence, removed his hands from behind him, suffering the skirts of his coat to fall forward, and with great celerity and gravity made me a low but important bow; then choosing more particularly to make my acquaintance he further advanced, and with another reverence he introduced himself as Doctor Jolks, in a murmured diapason. He bowed me back again into my uncle’s study, and the light of old Wyat’s dreadful candle.
Doctor Jolks was suave and pompous. I longed for a fussy practitioner who would have got over the ground in half the time.
Coma, madam; coma. Miss Ruthyn, your uncle, I may tell you, has been in a very critical state; highly so. Coma of the most obstinate type. He would have sunk—he must have gone, in fact, had I not resorted to a very extreme remedy, and bled him freely, which happily told precisely as we could have wished. A wonderful constitution—a marvellous constitution—prodigious nervous fibre; the greatest pity in the world he won’t give himself fair play. His habits, you know, are quite, I may say, destructive. We do our best—we do all we can, but if the patient won’t cooperate it can’t possibly end satisfactorily.’
And Jolks accompanied this with an awful shrug. ’Is there anything? Do you think change of air? What an awful complaint it is,’ I exclaimed.
He smiled, mysteriously looking down, and shook his head undertaker-like.
’Why, we can hardly call it a complaint, Miss Ruthyn. I look upon it he has been poisoned—he has had, you understand me,’ he pursued, observing my startled look, ’an overdose of opium; you know he takes opium habitually; he takes it in laudanum, he takes it in water, and, most dangerous of all, he takes it solid, in lozenges. I’ve known people take it moderately. I’ve known people take it to excess, but they all were particular as to measure, and that is exactly the point I’ve tried to impress upon him. The habit, of course, you understand is formed, there’s no uprooting that; but he won’t measure—he goes by the eye and by sensation, which I need not tell you, Miss Ruthyn, is going by chance; and opium, as no doubt you are aware, is strictly a poison;