Poor Jack

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In which the doctor lets out some very novel modes of medical treatment, which are attended with the greatest success.

Such a change has taken place since I can first recollect Greenwich that it will be somewhat difficult for me to make the reader aware of my localities. Narrow streets have been pulled down, handsome buildings erected—new hotels in lieu of small inns—gay shops have now usurped those which were furnished only with articles necessary for the outfit of the seamen. Formerly, long stages, with a basket to hold six behind, and dillies which plied at the Elephant and Castle, were the usual land conveyances—now they have made place for railroads and omnibuses. Formerly, the wherry conveyed the mariner and his wife, with his sea-chest, down to the landing-place—now steamboats pour out their hundreds at a trip. Even the view from Greenwich is much changed, here and there broken in upon by the high towers for shot and other manufactories, or some large building which rises boldly in the distance; while the "Dreadnaught's" splendid frame fills up half the river, and she that was used to deal out death and destruction with her terrible rows of teeth, is now dedicated by humanity to succor and relieve.

I mention this because the house in which Dr. Tadpole formerly lived no longer exists; and I wish particularly to describe it to the reader.

When I left Greenwich in 1817 or 1818, it was still standing, although certainly in a very dilapidated state. I will, however, give a slight sketch of it, as it is deeply impressed on my memory.

It was a tall, narrow building of dark red brick, much ornamented, and probably built in the time of Queen Elizabeth. It had two benches on each side the door; for, previous to Tadpole's taking possession of it, it had been an alehouse, and much frequented by seamen. The doctor had not removed these benches, as they were convenient, when the weather was fine, for those who waited for medicine or advice; and moreover, being a jocular, sociable man, he liked people to sit down there, and would often converse with them. Indeed, this assisted much to bring him into notice, and made him so well known among the humbler classes that none of them, if they required medicine or advice, ever thought of going to any one but Dr. Tadpole. He was very liberal and kind, and I believe there was hardly a poor person in the town who was not in his debt, for he never troubled them much about payment. He had some little property of his own, or he never could have carried on such a losing concern as his business really must have been to him. In early life he had been a surgeon in the navy, and was said, and I believe with justice, to be very clever in his profession. In defending himself against some act of oppression on the part of his captain—for in those times the service was very different to what it is now—he had incurred the displeasure of the Navy Board, and had left the service. His enemies (for even the doctor had his enemies) asserted that he was turned out of the service; his friends, that he left the service in disgust; after all, a matter of little consequence. The doctor is now gone, and has left behind him in the town of Greenwich a character for charity and generosity of which no one can deprive him. He was buried in Greenwich churchyard; and never was there, perhaps, such a numerous procession as voluntarily followed his remains to the grave. The poor fully paid him the debt of gratitude, if they did not pay him their other debts; and when his will was opened, it was found that he had released them all from the latter. Peace be to him, and honor to his worth!

The shop of Dr. Tadpole was fitted up in a very curious manner, and excited a great deal of admiration. During his service afloat he had collected various objects of natural history, which he had set up or prepared himself: the lower rows of bottles in the windows were full of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles; the second tier of bottles in the window were the same as are now generally seen—large globes containing blue and yellow mixtures, with gold hieroglyphics outside of them; but between each of these bottles was a stuffed animal of some kind, generally a small monkey, or of that description. The third row of bottles was the most incomprehensible: no one could tell what was in them; and the doctor, when asked, would laugh and shake his head: this made the women very curious. I believe they were chiefly preparations of the stomach, and other portions of the interior of the animal frame; but the doctor always said that it was his row of "secrets," and used to amuse himself with evading the questions of the other sex. There were some larger specimens of natural history suspended from the ceiling, chiefly skulls and bones of animals; and on the shelves inside a great variety of stones and pebbles and fragments of marble figures, which the doctor had picked up, I believe, in the Mediterranean: altogether the shop was a strange medley, and made people stare very much when they came into it. The doctor kept an old woman to cook and clean the house, and his boy Tom, whom I have already mentioned. Tom was a good-natured lad, and, as his master said, very fond of liquorice; but the doctor used to laugh at that (when Tom was not by), saying, "It's very true that Tom cribs my liquorice; but I will say this for him, he is very honest about jalap and rhubarb, and I have never missed a grain."

Next door to the doctor lived another person, who kept a small tobacconist's shop, which was a favorite resort of the pensioners and other poor people. She was an Irishwoman, with a strong accent of her country—a widow by her own account. Who her husband had been was not satisfactorily known: if the question was put, she always evaded it as much as possible. All she said was that his name was St. Felix, and that he had been of no profession. She was about twenty-two or twenty-three, very handsome, and very pleasing in her manners, which was perhaps one cause of the surmises and scandal which were continually afloat. Some said that her husband was still alive; others that he had been transported for seven years; and many (and among them my mother) declared that she could not produce her "marriage lines." Indeed, there was no end to ill-natured reports, as always will be the case when men are so unfortunate as to have a reputation, or women so unfortunate as to be pretty. But the widow appeared to be indifferent to what people said: she was always lively and cheerful, and a great favorite with the men, whatever she may have been with the women. Dr. Tadpole had courted her ever since she had settled at Greenwich: they were the best of friends, but the doctor's suit did not appear to advance. Nevertheless, the doctor seldom passed a day without paying her a visit, and she was very gracious to him. Although she sold every variety of tobacco, she would not permit people to smoke, and had no seats either in the shop or at the door—but to this rule an exception was made in favor of the doctor. He seldom failed to be there every evening; and, although she would not allow him a chair, she permitted him to remain standing at the counter and smoke his cigar while they conversed. It was this indulgence which occasioned people to think that she would marry the doctor; but at last they got tired of waiting, and it became a sort of proverb in Fisher's Alley and its precincts, when things were put off to an indefinite period, to say, "Yes, that will be done when the widow marries the doctor."

One evening, Ben had sent me to fill his tobacco-box at Mrs. St. Felix's, and when I went in, I found the doctor in her shop.

"Well, Master Tom Saunders or Mr. Poor Jack," said the widow, "what may your pleasure be?"

"Pigtail," said I, putting down the penny.

"Is it for your father, Jack, for report tells me that he's in want of it?"

"No," replied I, "it's for old Ben—father's a long way from this, I expect."

"And do you intend to follow him, Jack? It's my opinion you'll be the very revarse of a good sailor if you cruise bottom up as you did on your first voyage."

"It's not the pleasantest way of sailing, is it, Jack?" observed the doctor.

"Not in the winter-time," replied I.

The widow measured the length of the pigtail, as milliners do tape, from the tip of the finger to the knuckle, and cut it off.

"And now will you oblige me with a cigar?" said the doctor. "I think this is the sixth, is it not, Mrs. St. Felix? so here's my shilling."

"Really, doctor, if it were not that the wry faces I make at physic would spoil my beauty, I'm almost in honor bound to send for something to take out of your shop, just by the way of return for your patronage."

"I trust you will never require it, Mrs. St. Felix. I've no objection to your sending for anything you please, but don't take physic."

"Well, my girl Jane shall have a dose, I declare, she is getting so fat and lumpy. Only don't let it be laudanum, doctor, she's so sleepy-headed already. I told her this morning that she was looking pale, just by way of preparing her."

"Mrs. St. Felix, you must excuse me, but you've no right to interfere with my practice. I prescribe physic when I think it necessary, and Jane is perfectly well at present, and shall not have any."

"And you've no right to interfere with my household, doctor. If I choose, I'll physic Jane, and the dog, and the cat, and the kitten, which I reckon to be the whole of my establishment, all four of them on the same day. Tell me, doctor, how much ipecacuanha will make a kitten sick?"

"Mrs. St. Felix, I am not a veterinary surgeon, and therefore cannot answer."

"Veterinary! Well, I thought they only doctored horses."

"I beg your pardon, their practice extends further, as I can prove to you. I was once at the establishment of one in London, and I observed in a large room about a dozen little lap-dogs all tied up with strings. The poor little unwieldy waddling things were sent to him because they were asthmatic, and I don't know what all; and how do you think he cured them?"

"It's for me to ask that question, doctor."

"Well, then, he told me his secret. He tied them all up, and gave them nothing to eat, only water to drink; and in three weeks they were returned in as beautiful condition, and as frisky as young kids. Nothing but diet, Mrs. St. Felix."

"I should rather think it was no diet, doctor. Well, I do declare, I'll tie up Jane for three weeks, and see if nothing but water will cure her complaints. Well, Mr. Jack, why don't you take the tobacco to Ben?"

"Oh! he's in at supper now; there's no hurry," replied I; "and I like to hear you talk."

"Well, there'll be less scandal in your remaining to hear us than there would be if we sent you away, anyhow. How's little Miss Virginia, sister to Poor Jack."

"She's quite well, and wants to come and see you, only mother won't let her."

"Many thanks to your sister for her compliment; and not forgetting your mother for hers, also. So your mother has given up 'making lay on reasonable terms'?"

"'Cause people wouldn't come."

"And that is a sufficient reason, even if she had not another; which is, that she's never out of hot water without boiling more. Doctor, you're as mute as a fish. You told me how to cure Jane and the dogs, now tell me what's the dose for a cat and a kitten?"

"A ha'p'orth of liver, cut into small pieces."

"There'll be no difficulty in getting that down their throats, anyhow."

"Talking about liver, Mrs. St. Felix, I once knew a friend of mine who cured some geese of a liver complaint."

"Had they been long in the East Indies, poor creatures?"

"No, but they had been in a very hot climate. You see, he was over in France during the last peace, and he went to the baths at Montpellier for the benefit of his health. He lodged with an old Frenchman. Now, you see, Mrs. St. Felix, in the south of France they have a custom of making certain pies, which are much esteemed, and are called pâtes de foie gras—that means livers of geese, in French."

"It don't sound much like livers in English, doctor; but never mind that, go on with your story."

"Here's a customer, Mrs. St. Felix; serve him first, and then I will go on with my story."

An old pensioner came in, and laying the coppers on the counter, asked for a ha'p'orth of returns and a farthing of snuff.

"That's a large ready money order, doctor," said the widow, as the man left the shop. "Ain't I making my fortune? Now go on; I'm as eager about the liver as my own cat."

"Well, the great object is to increase the size of the geese's livers, that is, to bring on a regular liver complaint; and, to effect this, they put the poor animals in a hot closet next the kitchen fire, cram the food into their mouths through a funnel, and give them plenty of water to drink. This produces the disease; and the livers of the geese, when they are killed, very often weigh three or four pounds, while the animals themselves are mere skeletons."

"And the French eat those liver complaints?" interrupted the widow, making a face.

"Yes, they do, and are as fond of it as my boy Tom is of liquorice. Well, this doctor, who is a friend of mine, quarreled with his host, who boasted of his geese having the largest livers in Montpellier, and was very proud of it. My friend knew that he could not annoy him more than by preventing his success; so, having a large quantity of Cheltenham salts with him, he used every morning to put a quantity of them in the water which the geese were given to drink. This had the same effect upon them as it has upon men and women; and instead of becoming more diseased every day, the geese recovered their health and spirits. The Frenchman crammed and crammed, made his closet still hotter, and sacre bleu'd, and actually tore his hair, because his geese would be well and hearty; but, the more he tried to make them ill, the more salts were given to them by the doctor, who gained his point and his revenge."

"Well, that's a funny story, doctor; and since you know how to cure it, the first time I meet with a sick goose I'll send him to you."

"Many thanks; but, as it is, there's plenty of geese to send for the doctor."

"That's true enough. And now, Master Jack, you've had quite enough for your penny, and I won't allow Ben to be kept waiting any longer."

"You are not going to tell any more stories, doctor?" said I.

"Why, you mud-larking vagabond, you don't mean to say that I've told stories? Be off with you! And, I say, as you pass round the corner, just tell Tom that I'm coming home directly."

"Won't that be a story, doctor?" said I, as I went out of the door. I heard them both laugh, but I did not hear what they said.

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