The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
It was between four and five o'clock in the afternoon, when I called again at the Allen House. An old colored servant, who had been in the family ever since my remembrance--she went by the name of "Aunty"--was standing by the gate as I alighted from my chaise.
"'Deed, massa, Ise glad you come," said she in a troubled way.
"Why so, Aunty? No body very sick, I hope."
"'Deed, an dar is den; else old Aunty don't know nothin'."
"Why dat blessed young lady what drapped in among us, as if she'd come right down from Heaven. I was jest a gwine to run down an' ax you to come and see her right away."
I did not linger to talk with "Aunty," but went forward to the house. The mother of Blanche met me at the door. She looked very anxious.
"How is your daughter now?" I asked.
"Not so well as when you saw her this morning," she answered. Her voice trembled.
"I would have called earlier, but have been visiting a patient several miles away."
"She has been lying in a kind of stupor ever since you were here. What can it mean, Doctor?"
The mother looked intently in my face, and paused for an answer, with her lips apart. But I knew as little as she what it meant. Ah! how often do anxious friends question us, and hearken eagerly for our replies, when the signs of disease are yet too indefinite for any clear diagnosis!
"I can tell better after seeing your daughter," said I. And we went up to the sick girl's chamber; that north-west room, at the window of which I had first seen the fair stranger, as I stood wondering in storm and darkness. I found her lying in apparent sleep, and breathing heavily. Her face was flushed; and I noticed the peculiar odor that usually accompanies an eruptive fever.
"How do you feel now?" I asked.
She had opened her eyes as I took her hand. She did not answer, but looked at me in a half bewildered way. Her skin was hot and the pulse small, but tense and corded.
"Does your head ache?"
I wished to arouse her to external consciousness.
"Oh, it's you, Doctor."
She recognized me and smiled faintly.
"How are you now?" I inquired.
"Not so well, I think, Doctor," she answered. "My head aches worse than it did; and I feel sick all over. I don't know what can ail me."
"Have you any uneasiness, or sense of oppression in the stomach?" I inquired.
"Oh, yes, Doctor." She laid her hand upon her chest; and drew in a long breath, as if trying to get relief.
"Have you felt as well as usual for a week, or ten days past?" I inquired.
"No, Doctor." It was the mother who answered my question. "And in order that you may understand the case clearly, let me say, that it is only a week since we arrived from England. We came over in a steamer, and were fifteen days in making the trip. From Boston, we came here in our own carriage. Before leaving home, Blanche went around to see a number of poor cottagers in our neighbourhood, and there was sickness at several of the places where she called. In one cottage, particularly, was a case of low fever. I was troubled when I learned that she had been there, but still hoped that her excellent state of health would repel anything like contagion. During the first part of our voyage, she suffered considerably from sea-sickness; but got along very well after that. If it hadn't been for the unhappy scenes of the last few days, with their painfully exciting consummation, I think she would have thrown off, wholly, any lurking tendency to disease."
I turned my face partly aside, so that its expression could not be seen. The facts stated, and the symptoms as now presented, left me in little doubt as to the nature of the malady against which I had to contend. Even while her mother talked, my patient fell away into the stupor from which I had aroused her.
My treatment of the case coincided with the practice of men eminent in the school of medicine to which I then belonged. I am not a disciple of that school now, having found a system of exacter science, and one compassing more certain results with smaller risk and less waste of physical energy.
In order to remove the uneasiness of which my patient complained, I gave an emetic. Its action was salutary, causing a determination towards the skin, and opening the pores, as well as relieving the oppression from which she suffered.
"How is your head now?" I asked, after she had been quiet for some minutes.
"Better. I feel scarcely any pain."
"So far, all is right," said I, cheerfully.
The mother looked at me with an anxious face. I arose, and we retired from the room together. Before leaving, I spoke encouragingly to my patient, and promised to see her early in the morning.
"My daughter is very sick, Doctor. What is the disease?" The mother spoke calmly and firmly. "I am not one towards whom any concealments need be practised; and it is meet that I should know the worst, that I may do the best."
"The disease, madam," I replied, "has not yet put on all of its distinctive signs. A fever--we call it the fever of incubation--is the forerunner of several very different ailments, and, at the beginning, the most accurate eye may fail to see what is beyond. In the present case, however, I think that typhoid fever is indicated."
I spoke as evenly as possible, and with as little apparent concern as possible. But I saw the blood go instantly back from the mother's face.
"Typhoid fever!" she ejaculated, in a low voice, clasping her hands together. I learned afterwards that she had cause to dread this exhausting and often fatal disease. "Oh, Doctor! do for her as if she were your own and only child."
She grasped my arm, like one catching at a fleeting hope.
"As if she were my own and only child!" I repeated her words in promise and assurance, adding--
"The first result of the medicine which I gave is just what I desired. I will leave something more to be taken at intervals of two hours, until midnight. In the morning, I hope to find a very encouraging change."
"But, Doctor," she replied, "if this is a case of typhoid fever, no hope of any quick change for the better can be entertained. I am no stranger to the fearful malady."
"Attacks of all diseases," I answered to this, "are more or less severe, according to the nature of the predisposing and exciting causes. So far as your daughter is concerned, I should think, from the very slight opportunity I have had of forming an opinion in regard to her, that she is not readily susceptible of morbific intrusions. Under an unusual exposure to exciting causes, the balance of health has been overcome. If my presumption is correct, we have the steady effort of nature, in co-operation with remedial agencies, working towards a cure."
"Do you think the attack light, or severe?" the mother asked, speaking more calmly.
"Neither light nor severe; but of a character, judging from the first impression made upon it, entirely controllable by medicines."
This opinion gave her confidence. As I had spoken without any apparent concealment, she evidently believed the case to stand exactly as I had stated it. After leaving medicine to be taken, every two hours, for the first part of the night, I went away.
In the morning, I found my patient in that comatose state, the usual attendant upon typhoid fever. She aroused herself on my entrance, and answered all questions clearly. She had no pain in the head, nor any distressing symptoms. Her skin was soft and moist. All things looked favorable. I gave, now, only gentle diaphoretics, and let the case progress, watching it with the closest attention. In this, I followed my usual course of treatment as to giving medicines. If I could produce a reaction, or remove some obstruction, and give nature a chance, I did not think it wise to keep on with drugs, which, from their general poisonous qualities, make even well people sick--regarding the struggle of life with disease as hazardous enough, without increasing the risk by adding a new cause of disturbance, unless the need of its presence were unmistakably indicated.
The course of this fever is always slow and exhausting. My patient sunk steadily, day by day, while I continued to watch the case with more than common anxiety. At the end of a week, she was feeble as an infant, and lay, for the most part, in a state of coma. I visited her two or three times every day, and had the thought of her almost constantly in my mind. Her mother, nerved for the occasion, was calm, patient, and untiring. The excitement which appeared on the occasion of my first visits, when there was doubt as to the character of the disease, passed away, and never showed itself again during her daughter's illness. I saw, daily, deeper into her character, which more and more impressed me with its simple grandeur, if I may use the word in this connection. There was nothing trifling, mean, or unwomanly about her. Her mind seemed to rest with a profoundly rational, and at the same time child-like trust, in Providence. Fear did not unnerve her, nor anxiety stay her hands in any thing. She met me, at every visit, with dignified self-possession, and received my report of the case, each time, without visible emotion. I had not attempted to deceive her in any thing from the beginning; she had seen this, and the fact gave her confidence in all my statements touching her daughter's condition.
At the end of a week, I commenced giving stimulants, selecting, as the chief article, sound old Maderia wine. The effect was soon apparent, in a firmer pulse and a quickened vitality. The lethargic condition in which she had lain for most of the time since the commencement of the attack, began to give way, and in a much shorter period than is usually the case, in this disease, we had the unmistakable signs of convalescence.
"Thank God, who, by means of your skill, has given me back my precious child!" said the mother to me, one day, after Blanche was able to sit up in bed. She took my hand and grasped it tightly. I saw that she was deeply moved. I merely answered:
"With Him are the issues of life."
"And I have tried to leave all with Him," she said. "To be willing to suffer even that loss, the bare thought of which makes me shudder. But I am not equal to the trial, and in mercy He has spared me."
"He is full of compassion, and gracious. He knows our strength, and will not test it beyond the limits of endurance."
"Doctor," she said, a light coming into her face, "I have much to say to you, but not now. I think you can understand me."
I merely bowed.
"There is one thing," she went on, "that I have liked in you from the beginning. I am to you a total stranger, and my presence in this house is a fact that must awaken many questions in your mind. Yet you have shown no restless curiosity, have plied me with no leading questions, have left me free to speak, or keep silence. There is a manly courtesy about this that accords with my feelings."
I bowed again, but did not venture upon mere words of compliment.
"I am not sure," said she, "that my name even is known to you."
"It is not," I answered. "You have seemed to avoid any allusion thereto, and delicacy forbade my asking."
"There has been no purposed concealment. My name is Montgomery; and I am sister to the late Captain Allen."
"I had already inferred this relationship." The remark evidently surprised her.
"On what ground could you base such an inference?" she asked, curiously.
"On traditional ground. The history of this old mansion is familiar to most persons in S----; and some of the incidents connected with the family have too strong a tinge of romance about them to easily pass into oblivion. It is well known to us that Captain Allen had an only sister."
"What is it said became of her?"
"When she was about two years of age her mother carried her off, sailing, as was believed, to England, of which country she was a native."
"Is the name of the child preserved in this tradition?"
"Yes. It was Flora."
"My own name," she said.
"And in person you are identical."
"Yes. My mother's early life embraced some dreadful experiences. Her father and mother, with two brothers and a younger sister, were all murdered by pirates. She alone was spared, and afterwards became the wife of a sea captain, who, I fear, was not a man innocent of blood. On this point, however, my mother was reserved, almost silent. In the course of time she grew so wretched, as the wife of this man, that she sent a letter to England, addressed to some remembered relative, imploring him to save her from a life that was worse than death. This letter fell into the right hands. A cousin was sent out from England, and she fled with him. No attempt, as far as we know, was ever made to follow and regain her She did not live many years afterwards. I grew up among my relatives, ignorant of her history. My memory of her is distinct, though she died when I was but eight years old.
"I married, at the age of twenty-six, an officer in the British army, one of the younger sons in a titled family, for whom no way in the world is opened, except through the church or the battle-field. General Montgomery chose the profession of a soldier, not from a love of its exciting and fearful concomitants, but because he had no fancy for the gown and cassock, and could not be a hypocrite in religion. He went quite early to British India, and distinguished himself there by many acts of bravery, as well as by his humane and honorable conduct. So highly was he regarded by the East India Company, that he was selected for most important services, and assigned to posts of great responsibility. He was past thirty years of age when I met him, on the occasion of one of his visits to England. The attraction was mutual; and when he returned to Calcutta, I went with him as his wife. Then came twenty years of a happy married life;--happy, I mean, so far as a perfect union of souls can make us happy in this world, but miserable, at times, through intense anxiety for the absent one exposed to fearful perils.
"We had three children." There was a tremor in the voice of Mrs. Montgomery as she referred to her children. "One only remains." She paused, as if to recover herself, and then went on.
"I lost my husband first. Ten years ago, he fell at the post of duty, and, while my heart lay crushed and bleeding under the terrible blow, it leaped with throbbings of pride, as his honored name went sounding from lip to lip, and from land to land. I had not the sad pleasure of being with him in that last time. For the sake of our children, I was residing in England.
"Troubles rarely come alone. Two years afterwards my oldest son died. My home was in the family of General Montgomery, where I was treated with great kindness; but as my income was not sufficient for an establishment of my own, I felt a sense of obligation that is always oppressive to one of my nature. This feeling grew upon me daily, and at last began to haunt me like a constantly re-appearing spectre. It is now about three years since, in looking over some old letters and papers, I came unexpectedly upon a document written by my mother--all the evidence as to this was clear--and addressed to myself. How it should have remained so long unobserved, and yet in my possession, is one of the mysterious things which I do not attempt to explain. There is a Providence in all things, even to the most minute, and I simply refer the fact to Providence, and leave it there. This document spoke briefly, but with no special particularity, of her marriage with a Captain Allen, and settlement in this town. It stated that she had two children, a son and a daughter, and that in leaving America for England, she had taken her daughter, but left the son behind. There was no suggestion as to the use to be made of these facts; but there was such a statement of them as left their verification, I thought, easy. I turned them over and over in my mind, and in the end resolved to gain all accessible information touching the present condition of things. To this end, I sent over about two years ago, a man of prudence and intelligence, versed in legal matters, with instructions to obtain all possible particulars in regard to my brother, his family and estate. He brought back word that my brother was dead; that he had left no children, and that his widow--if, indeed, she were ever his legal wife, which seemed to be doubted--was old, in poor health, and verging towards mental imbecility, if not insanity. That there was a large and valuable estate, to which I, as sister of Captain Allen, was undoubtedly the heir.
"I kept these things, for the time being, to myself, and pondered over them in some perplexity as to the best course to take. But from these thoughts, my mind was soon turned by the illness of my oldest daughter. After a lingering sickness of many weeks, she died. It seemed almost impossible to arouse myself from the stunning effects of this blow. It crushed me down more than any previous sorrow, for it fell upon a heart weakened by pain. It was many months before the discipline of this affliction awakened me to thoughts of a higher life. Then I began to rise into serener heights--to see as by an interior vision, to believe that even our saddest things may fall upon us in mercy.
"Finally, circumstances of which I need not speak, made me resolve to leave England, and under legal advice of the highest authority, take quiet possession of this estate, which is mine."
Mrs. Montgomery ceased speaking.
"Perhaps," she resumed, after a moment, "it may be as well, all things considered, that you do not speak of this for the present. I shall, as soon as my daughter's full recovery gives me time to enter into the subject, place my affairs in the hands of a safe legal agent, in order that they may assume due form and order. You can, no doubt, refer me to the right individual."
"I can," was my reply. "Judge Bigelow, of our town, is the man. I speak of him with the utmost confidence."
"Thank you, Doctor. You lay me under additional obligation," she said. "I will, at an early day consult him."
Thus closed this deeply interesting interview.