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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter IX. Cyril Payne with Diphtheria. Julian Jasper Gould, the Coal-King

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Chapter IX. Cyril Payne with Diphtheria. Julian Jasper Gould, the Coal-King.

From Augusta to Maconville was two hours' drive. The deciduous leaves of autumn strewed the roads, and on the borders of the broad fields, with the ploughing in full swing, stood miles of the pinus giganticus, their heavy odours, after the previous night's showers, thickly impregnating the moistened air. More than half way there, "Do you see those black structures straight across there?" said Lilliecrap; "those are the skips of the Cyclops coal-mine, and the ones behind are the skips of the Agamemnon. The township of Maconville, such as it is, lies just over this rise, at the foot of the Alleghany mountains. Sloping down to the sea-board, you see the whole district lies in an amphitheatre of hills, and from the top of this rise on a fine day you can see the city, seventy miles away. That mine there is the Hercules, and those other two the Great Extended Consols and the Black Horse United. Pipes three hundred miles long bring the oil from them to the sea-board."

"What is that loud rumbling noise?" said Eugene, as they approached the little town.

"Gould's pumping engines," said Lilliecrap. "He experiments with all sorts of machinery as well as coal-mining. His house is some distance—over a mile, I reckon–on the other side of the township: but we'll be there in half-an-hour. The pumping engines are going night and day; all the place feels strange when they stop at twelve o'clock on Saturday night for twenty-four hours."

The sun was setting as they drew near the pumping machinery, whose thunder incongruously contrasted with the cloudless face of the sky as it shone in the west like a field of gold. In the changing canopy of the heavens, gold rolled into crimson, crimson rolled into a greenish-blue, and blue into dull leaden colour, when the sun went down, and standing at the gate they saw the pale statuesque Guinevere waving her handkerchief towards the hill, and with looks full of anxious watching. Her eyes filled with tears as the buggy drew up at the little wooden gate, and "her fair face paled against the rosy flame,"1 while across the sky-line loomed the shadows of an airy city upon the sea.

"Thank God, you've come, Eugene," she said; "my little darling is so ill." As the tears trickled down her wan cheeks, he followed her to the bedroom down through the passage of Gould's house.

Supine lay the little sufferer whom he had carried in his arms a few nights before; his cheeks and lips livid, his eyes fixed on the ceiling and his laborious respiration fighting for air against a sense of impending death. The local doctor had been in constant attendance, and over his page 51little cot,—the one in which Marvel had slept as a child,—pinned to its stanchions was spread a calico sheet, while a large tin-kettle with a long spout stood on a portable stove, forcing medicated eucalyptus steam into the air of the room. On the little table stood a row of medicine bottles; some with only a few doses taken out of them, and one containing a brown mixture of perchloride of iron and glycerine for an application to the diphtherial membrane inside the throat. The two medical attendants thinking that all medical aids had been exhausted in vain, that some "pis aller"2 remedy must be tried and an operation performed, with the object of immediately relieving that distressing respiration and the ultimate hope of saving the child's life, Dr. Seymour administered a mixture of chloroform, alcohol and ether as an anæsthetic. Handing Eugene his pocket case of instruments, he held the little sufferer's neck across the pillow, and assisted Eugene in the operation of tracheotomy. A silver tube was inserted through the artificial orifice into the windpipe, and Guinevere's eyes filled with gratitude and hope. Her darling could now breathe quite freely, and Eugene told her there were hopes of his ultimate recovery. "In children," he said, "under four years of age the operation never succeeds. Trousseau, the great continental authority on the diseases of children, never had a success in one of four thousand cases from that operation of tracheotomy on children under four; but Cyril is past four, and if the grey membrane will only keep off the end of the silver tube he will be certain to recover within a fortnight, as the life of a diphtherial germ only lasts fourteen days in artificial cultures. If there are any symptoms of its attacking the trachea below the end of the tube, I will put this long copper tube into the wind-pipe without cutting him again, so that if the tracheotomy fails, we still have the intubation to fall back upon. Have you been doing all the nursing?"

"Yes," she replied, "but Mrs. Gould comes in sometimes and cleans up the room. Marvel was here but she went away, frightened of catching it; she has gone to her aunt's, but I believe she is coming here this evening."

"Mrs. Gould," she continued, leading him into the dining room. "this is a very old friend of mine, Dr. Whitworth."

"What do ye think o' hit,"? said Mrs Gould; hit might as weel be dead, which hit will be I'm thinkin': there must be something wrong with hit's throat, but there's no tellin'."

Whitworth replied that there undoubtedly was something wrong with its throat, and that it was diphtheria, one of the most appalling of all diseases of the throat, and very fatal to children, but that he was in hopes of a recovery; upon which Mrs. Gould vouchsafed that it was just as well if hit did recover, and walking out of the room down the passage, returned with a broom and a worn-out maroon sheepskin mat in her hand.

She spread it down at the doorway, saying slantindicularly3 to Eugene, as he stood inside the door in the room, "I nae believe in they dochthers: when Birdie was a bairn, she had the measles, and I bundled they dochthers oot, and curit hit with castor oil mysel'."

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Eugene said the operation was a dernier ressort, whereupon Mrs. Gould wanted to know, what sort of a thing was yon.

A strong-minded woman was Mrs. Gould, her harsh, decided, Scotch accent, unaltered by her staying in America, her hard face and her crossing, closely knitted brows, marks of the domestic battles which she had fought and the energy and doggedness with which she had faced them, gave her at first sight an austere, domineering and repellent appearance: and yet under the outside crust, there seemed to be a layer of softness and hospitality. "He'll be here hisself, dochter: sit ye doon," she said, and Eugene sat down by the fire, while Guinevere retreated to the bedroom.

The little room was choke-full of furniture, so that in moving one had to go sideways between the big cedar chiffionier4 and the leather sofa. A full suite of imitation leather chairs filled up the space, where two or three would have done. Covering the chiffionier were tea and coffee services, silver-plated trays, cruets5 and spirit-stands, each article having a little wool antimacassar6 of its own; while on the mantelpiece stood massive bronze vases, Parian marble statuettes, and a brazen clock, with little cupid constituting a pendulum, in a glass case, pointing to the time as half-past one, whereas the proper hour was seven.

"He never bothers hee's heed about the hoose." said Mrs. Gould: "all machinery, machinery, machinery." just as heavy measured tread was heard in the passage, and the great and mighty Gould appeared.

No introduction necessary for him; indeed he gave no time for any. "Put that whusky on the table," he said, and the old woman put down two thin-glazed large tumblers on the table, a jugful of water and an imperial quart bottle of Glasgow blended mountain dew.

A big, burly, broad-shouldered man, he was little short in stature of Chang the Chinese giant7, with a big head and an enormous nose. His hoary head was partly bald, and he wore a full white straggling bushy beard. His piercing steel-grey eyes glinted with their ever-changing and restless expression, lighting up his whole visage and speaking of a master mind. Intellect and an untiring determination and strength of will had driven him hard at the work of theoretical and practical coal-mining. He had given away his whole body and soul in the search for coal. Hard he drove the two hundred toilers down in the bowels of the earth, and dry he squeezed every pound of muscle in their bodies. Nothing daunted by failures, when company after company had dwindled down to a paltry few in numbers, Julian Jasper Gould was the last of the company to stand. The strongest among the strong, the undismayed among the dismayed, the most heroic of enterprising coal hunters, the lion-hearted veteran whose name was in the mouths of men, like Richelieu, knew no such word as 'fail.'8 Never relaxing his hold of the great grinding powers in his hand, he [unclear: to ed] with all his might and main over the stupendous plant of his powerful engines, and he ground down those men like a horde of Felaheen. Fortunes he had made and lost in striving for more, and fortunes he had squandered on machinery alone. Sixty-five he was now, yet his iron physique seemed as durable as page 53ever. New machinery he wanted, and most of his winnings from the earth had been melted away on machinery. Now in despair he felt inclined to put one of his mines on the New York market, or commission one of the members of the stock exchange to proceed to New York and float it into a company for its better working. The scheme did not succeed, and he worked it single - handed though short of funds himself. He was a Scotchman, but most of his early life had been spent on the colliery fields of Merthyr Tydfil, in Wales.

"Help yourself, dochther," he said, pushing the big bottle across the table, after filling his own tumbler half full and swallowing it down in one gulph: "If so be as ye're in no great hurry back to that hospital o' yours, we'll go out after a while and have a game o' forty-fives9 with old Swiveleye Mack at the Old Spade Bone."

Fluent of speech, he sat discussing, as if in soliloquy, the early days of the Welsh collieries, the vanished American companies he now alone represented, and his old mate Geordie Hood, who had been drowned in the river riding home alongside of him from Alabama one night five years before. He declared that for a week after Hood was drowned he had not let a morsel of food cross his lips, and that Geordie Hood was altogether a grand chap.

Eugene told of his early acquaintauce with Guinevere, the old friend's daughter, and the old coal-hunter growing deeply interested, pushed the imperial quart of mountain dew over to Eugene again. Leads, stopes, drives, and gutters he traversed in the seeming soliloquy, and hot-air engines, hydraulic rams, air-compressors, pumping engines, Dick's driving belts, steam engines and boilers of every description, and rock-boring drills, he analysed in his discourse before Whitworth, who knew as much about what he was talking of as the child lying at death's door with diphtheria. Eugene made a good listener, and the veteran coal-miner felt quite satisfied. He called back the old man's memory to the Cucullin Hills, in the island of Skye, as he had once been there when a medical student. In this he made a most palpable hit, as it found favour in the old woman's affections too, for she had come from the same village as the mighty man himself – Rhu Hurish, in the wild island of Skye. She melted. The old man had two more draps o' dew, and then sang "The Bonnie Hills o' Sco-oatland."

While the confabulation about his protean machines was proceeding, a young lady, a daughter of Mrs. Hornblower, walked into the room, and in a most homely manner took her seat at the table, with a work-basket containing flowered chintz in her hand. She was a monster of a girl; she must have weighed eighteen stone, and stood over six feet high. She was a most ungainly, muddy and oilskin-complexioned, old-fashioned young lady, with small ferrety eyes and a western American twang.

"Sukey," said the coal-king, "bring in some cake," and Sukey reached the silver-plated cake basket from the chiffonier. "Sukey bring in a page 54knife," which Sukey also reached from the chiffionier. He took the knife, talking away at a great rate, and scratched the back of his hoary head with the blade, pushed it down under his shirt and scratched his back. The little episode produced an expression of morgue or belly-ache on Sukey's bloodless lips, and a mortified frown that visibly moved the wig she wore.

Eugene thought to himself if Sukey was any relation of Marvel's it was a freak of creation. She was no more like Marvel than a rhinoceros was to a racehorse. The old man told him she was a niece of his, a daughter of the old auntie by her first marriage in Kansas. Sukey also sported a few of the paradisal plumes, but in spite of the embellishments of peacock's feathers a daw remains a daw.10

"Were you not at the ball, Miss Hornblower?" enquired Eugene.

"Oh, yes, rayther," came the idiomatically western reply; "I was thar about with Marvel and Mrs. Payne, and I saw you thar, but Mrs. Payne forgot to introdooce me." It was the voice of the cat.

A buggy and pair pulled up at the gate. The sprightly Marvel waltzed into the room, wrapped in a long astrakhan11 fur-lined diagonal blue mantle, and on her head a little brown boat-shaped toque, with an aigrette12 of peacockfrill in front. She stood in ostensible surprise at seeing Eugene there; when with a most delicious smile she advanced towards him to shake hands.

"Birdie," said the old man, "I'm going into Swivel-eye's; you can give the dochtor a tune."

Eugene began to fancy there was some family rivalry over a name for the Bird of Paradise, when her cousin called her "Days," which he imagined was an abbreviation of Daisy, and requested her to take off the cloak which in her agitation she seemed to have forgotten. Lilliecrap then came in, smoothing down the fat forelock on his forehead, with Mrs. Gould at his heels.

"When will dinner be ready?" said Birdie to her mother; "I'm pretty hungry, and I want to go back to Aunt's to-night," to which, with a large, rattling, old-fashioned tray in her hands, the old woman replied—"Ye'll nae get ony dinner, my leddie, till your faither comes ben: go and fetch him oot o' that bar yersel' and dinna be too fashus."

The flowered-chintz dropped; Sukey rooted the great and mighty man out of the bar of the "Old Spade Bone," when the wardsman, with his hair well plastered down upon his narrow forehead, sat down at the table before the bare tablecloth, and played a tattoo and a Chinese tom-tom tune with the knife. Then came in the plenteous, sumptuous feast. Mrs. Gould was evidently proud of her cookery, and begrudged nothing in the shape of eatables. The wardsman was, indeed, in clover. Boned turkey appeared to be the Piéce de resistance, and the old lady seemed to believe she held all the patent rights to its manufacture. Plenty of truffles made it look very tempting, and when she cut into it it fairly hissed. There was scarcely a vacant square inch on the cloth, which was entirely obscured by dishes and plates, while the clattering as Mrs. Gould brought them all in page 55and took them all out herself was something not soon to be forgotten. The great speculator, chattering away as if he were addressing the boned turkey on the subject next to his heart,—air-compressors and hydraulic rams—sat at the head of the table and gave an exhibition of sword-swallowing. Mistress Gould sat at the opposite end, said nothing and ate nothing as though she were a servant hired to cut up the turkey and pour out the tea. The suety-headed wardsman sat vis-à-vis to the old woman, and prated away a hurricane about balls in her ear, while Eugene had the two young ladies, like a pair of ponies, in charge although the kerosene lamp was so big he could scarcely see them.

"Have some more of this tack?" Julian asked Lilliecrap.

"No thanks." replied Lilliecrap, "I'm full up to the neck," and Marvel smiled under the lamp at Eugene.

The meal did not last long, and the doctor went back to the side of the little sufferer and Guinevere. The now quiescent and unimpeded breathing whispered softly through the tube; the lividity had disappeared from his face, and the little child after drinking some milk had subsided into a calm and peaceful slumber.

"I think you will find him much better in the morning," he said; "I must go back to the hospital now; but if any change sets in, you might send me a telegram in the morning."

"I don't know how to thank you," replied Guinevere, "for I feel sure he will recover now."

By this time Lilliecrap had brought the buggy to the front gate, and to Eugene's astonishment the paradisal bird was seated therein too.

"There's plenty of room in your buggy," she said, "and, if you don't mind, I want to go back to Sunnyside."

Assuring her that he was very proud and pleased at the pleasure of her company, he stepped into the buggy, took the reins from Lilliecrap and drove away. In the still, starlight glow of the autumn night Lilliecrap's reminiscences of the ball were the chief topic of conversation.

"I must go and win back those twenty dollars on Friday night." said Eugene: "will you be there?"

"Oh! yes," replied Marvel, "I'll be there; I'm going to stay some time at auntie's now."

How he wished he had not brought the chattering wardsman with him on that celestial night; afraid, as he was, to give any appearance of undue attention to the charming girl whom he inwardly worshipped, knowing well that it would all filter into the office of the "Evening Star," so that most of the time was dedicated to the glib cockney tongue of Lilliecrap. They drove past the hospital shining gray under the moonbeams, and driving on, after depositing the weighty wardsman, to Sunnyside. Marvel alighted, and asked him if he were not coming inside.

"Not to-night," be said: "You'll be the cause of my leaving the hospital yet; but you can tell Mrs. Hornblower to gel the money ready for page 56Friday night," and wheeling the buggy around, he drove slowly and thoughtfully home.

"How did you find old Scabby Nose?" said Patrick to the wardsman as he entered the gate, and Flynn had just come out of bed, in a pair of drawers, a strap, and a green cap.

"Best feed ever had in my life," said Lilliecrap: "You don't know the man at all," to which Patrick Flynn rejoined with a scornful utterance, a spit, and a bloodthirsty oath, and led the mare into the stable, apostrophising13 Rosie and telling her where she had been.

1 Reference to The Lotus-Eaters, Lord Alfred Tennyson. In original, "Dark faces pale against that rosy flame..."

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 Literally 'go worst', meaning option of last resort. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Obliquely. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 Chiffonier; a small cupboard whose top forms a sideboard.OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 A small bottle or vial for liquids, esp. glass; a bottle of oil , vinegar, or similar for the table.OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 A covering placed on furniture to protect it from soiling. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 Chang the Chinese Giant was born in approximately 1841 in Canton Province, China. At a claimed 8 feet 2 inches (2.49 metres) tall, he travelled the world as a curiosity for twenty-five years. He arrived in Victoria from America via New Zealand at the end of 1870. Chines-Australian Historical Images in Australia 2009.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 Quoting Edward Bulwer-Lytton's play Richelieu.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 A card game in which each trick counts five and the game is forty-five. OED Online, sense b.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

10 This is a reference to an Aesop's Fable about a jackdaw who dresses in discarded peacock feathers, but who is rejected by the peacocks when his feathers slip, and rejected by his own kind for his social climbing. 'Daw' is also archaic Scots slang for a lazy person, or particularly, a slattern. OED Online, n., senses 2b, 2c, 2d.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

11 The skin of very young lambs, referred to as a type of fur; or a fabric similar in texture. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

12 A spray of gems, feathers, or similar ornament, worn on the foreheadOED Online, sense 2

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

13 To give an exclamatory address to a (present) hearer. OED Online. See 'apostrophe', n.1.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]