< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >


[-397-]

CHAPTER CCLI.

THE OBSTINATE PATIENT.

    IT was about a week after the exposure which had taken place in Stratton Street, that the following events occurred at the splendid mansion of the Marquis of Holmesford.
    Although the time-piece upon the mantel of this nobleman's bed-room had only just proclaimed time hour of three in the afternoon, yet the curtains were drawn close over the windows, and the chamber was rendered as dark as possible.
    In that apartment, too, there was a profound silence  broken only by the low but irregular breathing of some one who slept in the bed.
    By the side of time couch sate two elderly men, dressed in black, and who maintained a strict taciturnity  doubtless for fear of awakening the sleeper.
    On a small table between them were various bottles containing medicines.
    The bed stood upon a sort of dais, or raised portion of the floor, this platform being attained by two steps. High over the couch was a canopy of velvet and gold, surmounted by the coronet of a Marquis, and from whence the rich satin curtains, of dark purple, flowed over that voluptuous bed.
    The room itself was furnished in the most luxurious manner. The rose-wood tables were inlaid with mother of pearl: the chairs were of antique form, with high backs carved in the most exquisite manner;  the mirrors were large, the pictures numerous, and all set in magnificent frames;  and the toilette-table was of the most elegant and costly description.
    And yet he, for whom all this gorgeousness and splendour had been devised,  he, whose wealth had converted the entire mansion into a palace that would have even delighted the proudest Sultan that ever sate on an oriental throne,  this man, for whom earth had such delights  the world so many enjoyments,  this man  the Marquis of Holmesford  was about to succumb to the power of the Angel of Death.
    Oh! what a mockery was it to behold,  when the window-curtains were drawn back, upon the Marquis awaking from his uneasy slumber,  what a [-398-] mockery was it to behold that truly imperial magnificence surrounding the couch whereon lay a thin, weak, haggard, and attenuated old man, in whose eyes was already seen that stony glare which marks the last look of dissolving nature!
    The nobleman awoke, and turned round towards his physicians, who watched at the bedside.
    One of them rose and drew back the window-curtains as noiselessly as possible; and then the pure light of a lovely day streamed into the apartment.
    The other medical attendant quietly took the nobleman's hand, anxiously felt his pulse, and inquired in a low whisper "how his lordship felt now?"
    "Just the same  or may be a little worse," answered the Marquis, in a hollow but feeble tone. "And yet it is impossible that I should be in any real danger! Oh! no  I was only taken ill last night; and men surely do not-do not  die," he added, pronouncing the fatal word with a most painful effort, "upon so slight and slender a warning."
    "Your lordship is far from well  very far from well," said the physician, emphatically; "and I consider it is my duty to at once assure you of that fact."
    "But you  you do not think, doctor," stammered the Marquis, "that I am in any  any real-  real danger?"
    And as he spoke, his glassy eyes were for a few moments lighted up with the evanescent fire of intense excitement-the agitation of a suspense ineffably painful.
    "My lord," answered the physician, in a solemn tone, "if you have any affairs of a worldly nature to settle  "
    "No  no: it can't be! You are deceiving me!" almost shrieked the old nobleman, starting up wildly to a sitting posture: "do you mean to offend  to insult me when I am a little indisposed? For I am positively convinced that this is only a trifling indisposition  a mere passing illness."
    "My dear Marquis," said the second physician, advancing towards the bed, "my colleague performs but his duty  painful though it be  when he assures you  "
    "Oh! yes  I understand you," again interrupted the nobleman, catching at a straw: "you do right to prepare me for the worst! But mine is not an extreme case  is it? Oh! no-I am certain it cannot be! You are both clever men  well versed in all the mysteries of your profession  and you can soon restore me to health. There! I will give you each a cheque for five thousand pounds the day that you tell me that I may get up again!"
    And once more did he contemplate them with eager-anxious glances, expressive at once alike of uncertain, feverish hope and tremendous terror.
    "Speak  speak!" he cried: "answer me! Five thousand pounds for each of you, the day that I leave this bed!"
    "Were your lordship to offer us all your fortune," answered the elder physician  he who had first spoken,  "we could not do more for you than we are now doing. And if you excite yourself thus  "
    "Excite myself, indeed!" ejaculated the Marquis, attempting a laugh  which, however, rather resembled a death-rattle that seemed to shake his crazy old frame even to the very vital foundations: "is it not enough to make me excited, when you are so foolish as to joke with me about my being in danger-although you know that I must recover soon? Don't you know that, doctor?  tell me; dear doctor  shall I not be well in a few days-or at all events a few weeks? Come  reassure me: say that you only spoke in jest! Danger, indeed! Why, doctor, I possess a constitution of iron!"
    And, thus rapidly speaking, the Marquis fell back upon his pillow, in a state of extreme exhaustion.
    The younger physician forced him to swallow some medicine; and for a few minutes he lay panting and moaning as if the very chords of his existence were snapping rapidly one after the other.
    At length he turned again towards his medical attendants.
    "Well, I do believe that I am rather worse than I just now fancied myself to be," he said, in a very faint and feeble tone: "but still I am sure of getting better soon. That medicine has already done me good. Three or four bottles of it  and I shall be quite well. Ah! my dear friends, you are profoundly skilled in all the secrets of the human frame; and with two such physicians as you, it would be impossible to  to-die so soon!"
    "Pray, my lord, do not excite yourself," observed the elder medical attendant. "Repose and rest often prove more efficacious than drugs and potions."
    "Well  well  I will be quiet-I will tranquillise myself," said the Marquis. "But you must not frighten me any more-you must not talk to me about settling my worldly affairs-just as if I were indeed about to die," he added, with a ghastly attempt to smile away that expression of profound terror which he felt to be imprinted on his countenance. "No-no; it is too ridiculous to put such ideas into one's head! Why, answer me-how old do you imagine me to be, doctor?"
    "My lord, you afflict me greatly by this style of discourse," said the elder physician, who was thus appealed to. "Most solemnly do I adjure your lordship to compose your mind to that state in which every Christian should be prepared for the worst."
    "Doctor  doctor, you cannot be serious!" again half shrieked the affrighted nobleman. "What! am I indeed so very ill? No-no: consider the strength of my constitution  remember how able I am to procure by my wealth every means that may conduce to my recovery  also think of what you yourself can, I think, do for me  "
    "My lord," said the physician, solemnly, we will exert all human efforts to save you; but the result lies not with us  it rests entirely with God!"
    The Marquis uttered a hollow groan, and, closing his eyes, appeared to be suddenly wrapt in profound meditation.
    The scene which we have just described, was a most painful one  even to those two physicians whose experience in such matters was so extensive. There was something peculiarly horrible in that old man of shattered health and exhausted vigour, boasting of the strength of a constitution ruined by a long career of debauchery,  boasting, too, even against his own internal convictions!
    But, like all men who fear to die, the Marquis would not admit in words what his soul had acknowledged to itself. He seemed to feel as if there were a possibility of staving off the approach [-399-] of death, merely by reiterating a disbelief that the destroyer was advancing at all. Thus, though his mind was filled with the most appalling apprehensions, he nevertheless clung  he knew not how nor wherefore-to a hope that his physicians might be deceived  that they had exaggerated his danger  that their skill was potent enough to wrestle with the dissolution of nature  in a word, that it was quite possible for him to recover.
    And, if he feared to die, it was not precisely because he dreaded the idea of being suddenly plunged into eternity; for he had been a sceptic all his life, and was by no means convinced that there was any future state at all. But his mind shrank from the thought of death as from a revolting spectacle; and moreover the world had so many charms  such boundless attractions for him  that he could not endure the prospect of being called away from those delicious scenes for ever!
    He remained for nearly a quarter of an hour buried in the most profound and abstruse meditation.
    "My worthy friends," he at length said, opening his glassy eyes once more, and turning towards his physicians, "I am now prepared to hear without excitement any thing you may deem it advisable or proper to communicate. In one word, is my state really one of great and impending peril?"
    "Your lordship now speaks as becomes a man of strong mind," answered the elder physician; "and in this altered mood you will receive with due tranquillity the sad announcement which I am bound to make."
    "And that announcement?" said the Marquis, hastily.
    "Is that your lordship's recovery is in the hands of heaven," replied the physician, solemnly: "for no human agency can enable you to quit that bed in health again."
    "And this is your serious conviction?"' said the Marquis, grasping the bed-clothes tightly with both his hands, as if to restrain an explosion of him agonising feelings.
    "My duty towards your lordship compels me to answer in the affirmative," returned the physician.
    A pause of some minutes ensued: the Marquis could not trust himself to speak. Silence was for a time the only safeguard against a relapse into those wildly-expressed doubts, adjurations, and frantic wanderings which had ere now denoted and thrown a light upon the real condition of his mind.
    "It is then decided  and I must prepare for death!" he at length said, in a low and measured tone. "With a candour equal to that which you have already shown, doctor, tell me how long I may hope yet to live?"
    "Do not, I pray you, press me, my lord, on that head  "
    "Nay: now you are yourself adopting the very means to excite me," interrupted the Marquis, angrily. "I am nerved to hear the worst: but I wish that the worst may be communicated to me. Speak, doctor  speak fearlessly  and say how long do you really think I may expect yet to live?"
    The two physicians consulted each other with a rapid interchange of glances; and both thereby intimating an affirmative, the elder one said, "Your lordship might probably survive four-and. twenty hours."
    "Four-and-twenty hours!" repeated the Marquis, the bed actually shaking with the cold shudder that passed through his frame at this appalling announcement; "four-and-twenty hours!" he said a second time: "that is a very short reprieve, indeed! Has your skill no means, doctor, of prolonging my existence for a few days  for a few hours, even, longer than the amount which you have named?"
    "There is no hope of accomplishing such a result, my lord," was the reply.
    "No hope!" murmured the Marquis: then after another short pause, he said in a tone which it cost him a dreadful effort to render firm, "Have the kindness to direct that my solicitor may be sent for without delay."
    This desire was immediately complied with; and as the lawyer lived in the neighbourhood, scarcely half an hour elapsed ere he was ushered into the presence of the Marquis.
    The physicians were desired to remain in the room; and the solicitor, seating himself by the nobleman's directions at the table near the bed, prepared his writing materials.
    The Marquis of Holmesford then gave instructions relative to the disposal of his property; and the lawyer drew up the will in due form.
    Having detailed various bequests and legacies, and disposed of the great bulk of his fortune, the Marquis, who spoke in a firm and distinct tone of voice, addressed the lawyer in the following manner:  
    "And now, sir, have the kindness to insert the words which I am about to dictate to you:-'Also I will and bequeath to Katherine Bazzono [-sic-], half-sister of his Highness Richard Prince of Montoni, the sum of fifty thousand pounds, as a proof of the sincere contrition and deep regret which I experience on account of certain proceedings on my part, whereby the mother of the said Katherine Bazzano endured grievous wrongs and great afflictions, although perfectly innocent of any evil thought or deed in respect to her husband, the deceased father of the above-mentioned Richard Prince of Montoni.'  Have you written to my dictation?"
    "I have followed your lordship as accurately as the introduction of a few necessary legal technicalities into that last clause would permit," was the solicitor's reply.
    "Then naught now remains for me but to sign the will," said the Marquis; and he sate up in the bed, apparently with but little exertion.
    He affixed his name with a firm hand to the document, and requested the physicians to witness it.
    The ceremony was then completed; and the solicitor took his departure.
    So soon as he had left the room, the Marquis addressed himself to the physicians in these terms:-
    "My good friends, the ordeal which I most dreaded has been accomplished; and I feel as if a considerable weight were taken off my mind. What I now require is that you give me some powerful medicament or a strong cordial, that will endow me with sufficient energy to rise from this bed and proceed  alone and unattended  to another room in the house,  a room which I must visit  or I should not die in peace! And as a reward for this last service, I desire you to divide equally between you the amount which you will find in yonder writing-desk. That sum consists of a few thousands, and will, I hope, amply repay the kindness which I now expect at your hands."
    "While I thank your lordship for this instance of your bounty towards me and my colleague," said the elder physician, "I am convinced that I express his feelings an well as my own, in stating that we [-400-] cannot possibly allow you to quit your couch. The excitement might prove almost immediately fatal."
    "I have no time to waste in hearing or answering objections," said the Marquis, his glazing eyes lighting up with the fever of impatience, and a hectic flush appearing on his sallow, sunken, withered cheeks. "Do what I request  or leave me this moment: give me such a cordial as you may think suitable to the purpose-or my valet will supply me with a bumper of champagne."
    "My dear Marquis  "
    "My lord  my lord  "
    "In one word, do as I desire  or leave me," exclaimed the nobleman, cutting short the ejaculations of the two physicians by an imperious wave of his skeleton-like hand: "there shall be no other master save myself in this house, until the breath be out of my body."
    The physicians essayed farther remonstrances-but in vain. The Marquis grew fearfully irritated with their opposition, and then fell back so exhausted upon his pillow, that the medical attendants were compelled to administer as a restorative the cordial which he had demanded as an artificial stimulant a few minutes previously.
    The effect of the cordial was really surprising that old man, whom its influence had just snatched  but snatched only for a time  from the outstretched arms of death, sate up in his bed smiled and seemed to bid defiance to the destroying angel.
    "You must humour me now, my friends," he said, in a jocose manner, which contrasted awfully with the inevitable peril of his condition: "go to the writing-desk in yonder corner, and let me be assured you have possessed yourselves of that token of my good feeling which I bequeathe to you."
    The physicians, rather to please their obstinate patient than to gratify any avaricious longing on their part, did as they were desired: but, scarcely had they opened the desk, where they observed a bundle of Bank-notes, when a low chuckle met their ears.
    They turned and beheld the Marquis, clad in a long dressing-gown and with slippers on his feet, hurrying out of the room by a small door near the foot of his bed.
    To hasten after him was their first and most natural impulse; but the key was turned on the other side ere they even reached the door.
    Without losing a moment, they hastened from the room by a door at the opposite extremity; but in the adjoining passage they were met by the nobleman's principal valet.
    "Gentlemen," said the domestic, "his lordship desires me to inform you that he has no farther need of your services."
    "But, my good fellow," exclaimed the younger physician, "your master is dying  he cannot live another day; and this excitement-this rash proceeding  "
    "Is sheer madness!" added the senior medical attendant. "Whither has your master gone?"
    The valet whispered a few words to the physicians: they understood him full well, and exchanged locks of mingled disgust and horror.
    "The unnatural excitement of this proceeding," at length observed the elder physician,  will kill the Marquis within an hour!"

< previous chapter <  |  THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON [Vol. II]  |  > next chapter >