Directly upon commencing the study of anatomy, Rich began to feel the
need of something more than the plates contained in the books.
It was some distance to go, for the study of bones, to the doctor’s
house, and he wanted something that he could keep in his room, and have
at hand to refer to; besides, the doctor had none of the bones of the
trunk–only the skull and part of the limbs. He likewise wished to
dissect and study muscles, tendons, the structure of skin, bone, veins,
arteries, and internal organs, in their natural state, since for him to
procure a human subject was at that time out of the question, as he was
without means to purchase even a skeleton.
In these circumstances he conceived that much might be learned by a
careful study and dissection of the bodies of animals in connection with
the plates found in the books.
Mr. Clemens, the husband of Rich’s landlady, owned and worked a large
breadth of land, which necessitated the keeping of many horses, as he
did all his farm work with horses; but after his decease the greater
part of the land, and all the horses except one, were sold. On the lower
floor of the stable was a small room, once devoted to storing and oiling
harnesses, in which was a fireplace, and at one corner, a large closet
without shelves, and very broad, where the more valuable riding
harnesses, not in constant use, were hung, to defend them from dust.
There were also some harness-maker’s tools, old straps, thorough-braces,
and a large leather boot, that had survived the vehicle to which it was
Fire-wood in those days was made but small account of, especially by
Mrs. Clemens, who could not consume half of the decaying and downwood on
“Mrs. Clemens,” said Rich, “are you willing I should clear out the old
harness-room, and make a fire there occasionally?”
“What for, Mr. Richardson? If you want more room in the house you can
have it. It will certainly be more comfortable than the barn; besides, I
am afraid you will take cold.”
“Indeed, Mrs. Clemens, I need not hesitate to tell a lady of your
respect for and appreciation of the medical profession, that as I
proceed in my studies, I shall want to dissect and experiment upon the
bodies of animals. You know that, although the courts and the community
are ever ready to prosecute a physician to the extent of the law for a
mistake in setting a bone, they throw every obstacle in the way of his
obtaining any accurate knowledge of the machine he is expected to
repair.” The law in respect to this matter was more stringent then than
“But, Mr. Richardson, if you should lose a mother, sister, or dear
friend,–Mr. Perkins, for instance,–and had placed them in the earth,
with all the respect nature dictates, could you bear to feel that they
were taken from the grave, exposed upon a table, and cut to pieces by
students smoking cigars, and laughing, and jesting, as though to fit and
harden them for their profession by driving every spark of feeling and
humanity out of their bosoms?”
“No, I could not. I don’t believe, however, that there is the least
necessity of this hardening process you have referred to; if I believed
that, by devoting myself to the study of medicine, I should lose one
particle of kindly feeling that I now possess, should harden my heart
and curtail my sympathies, or change in any respect, except in obtaining
self-command that I might discharge more efficiently my duty, I would
relinquish study and go back to the anvil to-morrow. If a doctor is
rough and unfeeling, it is to be attributed to his natural temper, and
want of culture, not to his profession.”
“Then I suppose you are just the one who ought to be a doctor, though I
think it is strange that you should choose that profession. As I was
telling Mrs. Merrill the other day, I observed you was so sensitive you
never _could_ do some of those dreadful things doctors were obliged to
perform. But as for the harness-room, you may do whatever you like with
it; there’s a padlock in the house belongs to the outside door, and a
key to the lock on the closet. If there is anything there worth saving,
put it in the loft, and any old rubbish you can burn up.”
“But the wood, I will pay for that.”
“By no means, there’s wood enough.”
After clearing out the place, and cleansing it thoroughly, Rich made a
table, and put iron rings into it, in order that he might fasten any
animal that he wished to operate upon. He then procured buckles and
waxed ends, and from the boot of the old chaise made straps of different
lengths for the same purpose, and put a lock on the door in lieu of the
padlock. As the stern, patient smith of the wilderness, amid the
melancholy moan of pine forests, and the roar of the stream, wrought out
by sheer pluck and perseverance, a mechanical trade, so his earnest
grandson, completely absorbed in his chosen pursuit, strove to verify,
by experiment upon the bodies of such animals as he could procure, the
theories he studied.
In short, under the intoxication of a dominant impulse, he did things
that, had they come to the knowledge of Mrs. Clemens, she would no
longer have doubted of his adaptedness to the medical profession on the
score of sensitiveness; so impervious to emotion in certain directions
will an absorbing idea render a person otherwise most impressible.
He dissected frogs to observe the muscles of the thigh, and irritated
the muscular tissue of animals, thus creating inflammation, in order to
watch its progress. Though there are striking differences between the
composition of man and the animal, still there is correspondence enough
to admit of much being learned; and in default of a human subject, he
resorted to this method, as his grandfather, unable to procure an anvil,
made a stone answer the purpose. The lungs of a hog are very similar to
those of a man, and he found no difficulty in procuring these. If a
stray dog came along, he was most kindly welcomed by Rich; but it was
observed that no stray dog, having once entered Mrs. Clemens’s yard, was
ever seen to come out again.
Marvelous was the industry of Rich, only equalled by his ingenuity. He
soon had the large closet in the stable filled to overflowing with the
skeletons of various animals he had dissected and wired together with
great skill. He was much attached to Dan, who procured him animals to
operate upon, while he, in turn mounted birds and squirrels for Dan–a
matter in which Rich was very skilful.
He had been for a long time desirous of examining the structure of the
eye, but could not procure a suitable subject. Mrs. Clemens possessed a
cat of beautiful color and proportions, affectionate disposition,
intelligent, and perfectly trained. Between this member of the family
and Dan the affections of the good lady were about equally divided.
When, as occasionally happened, Gertrude was unwell, the good lady was
at her wits’ end, as she would have nothing from Buchan, and eschewed
Burgundy pitch plasters, salts, and senna. Indeed, she had much rather
Dan would be sick, than Gertrude, for she knew what to do for Dan, while
Gertrude would have nothing but catnip. At every meal she sat beside
Mrs. Clemens in a high chair, and never offered to take anything from
the table, waiting the leisure of her mistress. Dan also loved Gertrude
dearly, and had taught her a great many tricks. Rich likewise conceived
a fondness for the cat, being naturally fond of pets.
Gertrude was exceedingly social in her disposition, rejoiced in a
numerous circle of friends, and was not in the least stuck up.
There was a large Thomas cat–an enormous creature–that often came to
call upon Gertrude, in a friendly way, and spend a sociable evening.
Silver-gray along the back, annular stripes on the tail, white feet,
snow-white breast, large, lustrous, prominent eyes, and a magnificent
pair of _whiskers_; in short, this Thomas cat was a splendid creature,
and, as Rich thought, would afford him, if in his possession, an
excellent opportunity to observe the structure of the eye. Dan, Frank
Merrill, and Horace Williams, did their best to take the creature, dead
or alive, but in vain.
A door opened from the wood-shed into the stable, and a passage was left
to this door in piling the wood that was tiered up on either side to the
height of five, and on one side seven, feet. Several times the boys had
got the Thomas cat in this passage; but the wily creature either went
over the top of the wood, or ran through a small hole beside the door,
that it would seem no cat _could_ get through. Rich nailed the mouth of
a meal-bag to this hole on the stable side, and placed a board on the
other, ready to put up to prevent the cat’s return.
One Wednesday Horace Williams came over to spend the afternoon and take
tea with Dan. Just before the tea hour, Dan, coming in, whispered to
Rich, “The cat’s in the passage. I can see his eyes shine just like
balls of fire.” Armed with sticks of wood, they approached the end of
the passage, gave a fearful howl and let the wood fly; the globes of
fire vanished, and they knew by the sound the cat had not gone over the
“He’s in the bag, I know,” said Dan. “I heard him squeeze through the
hole. O, crimini!” and he ran to put up the piece of board. Rich and
Horace lost no time in putting a string round the bag in which the cat
was struggling, tearing it from the hole, and immersing it in a tub of
water. Just as the struggling ceased the bell rang for supper, and
flinging the bag and its contents into a horse-stall to drip and dry,
they sat down to eat.
Dan sat on his mother’s right hand, next to him Horace, and on her left
was Gertrude’s high chair; but it was empty.
“Where can Gertrude be?” said Mrs. Clemens, after pouring out the tea;
“for seven years she has never before been absent from my side at meals
A fearful suspicion crossed the mind of Rich, and catching the eye of
Dan, he saw that he was similarly affected.
Hastening to the stable when the meal was over, with a light, they
turned out the contents of the bag, and lo! it was poor Gertrude, that
in the dark they had mistaken for the Thomas cat and drowned. Rich was
very much distressed; so was Dan, as, aside from his sorrow for his
mother, the cat was a favorite pet of his, and had grown up with him.
Placing the dead body of Gertrude upon the dissecting table, they locked
the door for consultation. At first they thought of owning up, but
finally concluded to keep the secret, and, as long as she was dead,
thought they might as well make the remains of some advantage to
science. Richardson possessed already one skeleton of a cat, and only
cared for the eyes. Dan therefore persuaded him to mount Gertrude for
him. This Rich did, making a small incision, turning the body through
it, and replacing the skull and leg bones, after removing the brains and
flesh, supplying the rest of the skeleton, so far as was needed, with
Having already mounted several birds for Dan, he made a tree, put the
birds in the branches, and having furnished Gertrude with eyes of
colored glass, placed her under the tree in a natural attitude, as
though watching a squirrel, the wire in the limbs enabling him to bend
them in any direction. A red squirrel was also placed half way up the
tree, as though alarmed by the cat. Dan was delighted, and thought he
had much rather have his pet dead than alive.
All these operations were performed with closed doors, and the birds and
animals placed under lock and key in the closet.
Mrs. Clemens mourned for her cat, and refused to be comforted.
Gertrude’s empty chair was always placed beside her; at table she often
recounted the virtues of the departed, considered and spoke of the event
as one of those mysterious dispensations of Providence, to which,
though we cannot fathom, it is our duty to submit.
“I do wish my mother would bury that cat,” said Dan. “I’m sick and tired
of hearing about her–should think she might pick up another kitten.”
Month after month passed, and still Mrs. Clemens mourned the loss of her
pet. At the expiration of this period, Fred Evans, a cousin of Dan, came
to visit him. One afternoon Dan persuaded Rich to put all the things on
the table, make a grand show, and let Fred see them. To this Rich
consented; the door was locked, and Fred sworn to secrecy.
On the table was placed the tree set in a block, with birds in its
branches; half way up the trunk a red squirrel looking down and
chattering at the cat, crouched at the roots as in act to spring.
Disposed around the tree that occupied the centre were the skeletons of
various animals, wired together, and in an upright position, fastened to
blocks–rabbits, dogs, a cat, wood-chuck, rooster, and pig. The tree was
formed with great ingenuity, by placing a real branch in a thick block
of pine, carving the spur roots from the substance of the block, and
covering with moss, dried leaves, and twigs, confined with glue, while
Gertrude, seated on the moss, seemed actually alive.
Horace Williams was invited, being already in the secret, to help
entertain Fred, and as an intimate friend of Dan.
Rich wanted a shingle to put under one leg of the table, the floor being
uneven, and sent Horace after it, who forgot to lock the door at his
Mrs. Clemens, having occasion for Dan, and not finding him in the house
or yard, sought him in the harness-room, where she knew he spent much of
his leisure time.
Opening the door upon the startled group, the first object that arrested
her attention was the long lost and bitterly lamented Gertrude, as she
verily thought, alive, and in the act of springing upon a squirrel.
Exclaiming, “Gertrude! _my_ Gertrude! where have you been?” she clasped
the effigy to her breast. Alas! there was no answering caress; there was
no “speculation” in those eyes of stained glass, and the dried skin
rattled in her fond embrace. It was a _stuffed_ cat. “What does this
mean?” she cried, permitting the imposture to drop on the floor,
thoroughly overcome and faint with this sudden blasting of new-born
hopes. She would have fallen to the floor; but Rich and Dan conveyed her
to the house, where, after seeing her safely placed in the easy-chair,
Rich took to flight, feeling that _Dan_ could settle the affair far
better than himself.
It required all Dan’s eloquence and power of argument to convince his
mother that Gertrude was killed by mistake.
“But why did you not tell me at once, Daniel, that I might have had her
properly interred, instead of making an exhibition of the remains?”
Dan at length convinced his mother that it was his affection for
Gertrude that led him to take this method of keeping her in remembrance.
But never after this did Mrs. Clemens deem Rich unfitted for his
profession by over-sensitiveness.