THE YOUNG FLOOD

Two or three times before midnight Frank started spasmodically, and once
would have risen up in bed if Rich had not held him down; as it was, he
clasped his physician convulsively around the neck with great force.

“What is the matter, Frank?”

“I thought I was falling out of the tree. I suppose I was dreaming.”

In one respect Rich was favorably situated. He had but one patient, and
every moment he could spare from his school he either spent at the
bedside of the boy, or in studying his case by the aid of books; he
availed himself of the experience of Dr. Ryan, who knew the constitution
of the lad, sympathized with Rich, and, in the exercise of a noble
generosity, told him he was glad he had taken charge of the case, and
believed he would succeed.

The means resorted to by Rich to prevent inflammation were crowned with
success; the swelling of the muscles, never excessive, soon subsided,
and he found the wound was healing by the first intention, which far
exceeded his most sanguine hopes, as he feared some air might have
entered, or some splinter of bone be lying loose in the wound that would
cause suppuration.

It was time for new bone to begin to form, and consequently the shape
the limb now assumed it would retain through life. Rich knew several
persons in town whose limbs had been broken and set by Dr. Ryan, and he
could hardly recall a single instance in which the operation had been
entirely successful; nearly all walked with a hitch in their gait, many
used a staff, or wore a peculiarly-shaped shoe. He also noticed that
most of the persons thus partially crippled lived at a long distance
from Dr. Ryan, and concluded that it arose in a good degree either from
a mistaken economy on the part of the patient, anxious to save the cost
of a visit, or from careless bandaging on the part of the doctor.

Excited to the highest degree by the brilliant success thus far
attained, and knowledge that the boy’s life was safe, he longed, O, how
ardently! to make a _perfect_ cure, and restore the leg to its original
form and efficiency.

He reflected that less discretion and regard to future consequences were
to be expected from a lad like Frank than from a grown person; didn’t
feel satisfied with the old splints, was afraid that, unless he bandaged
the leg so tight as to impede the circulation, the restless boy would,
just at the critical period when the bone was forming, get the parts out
of place.

“I know,” said Rich to himself, “that I am mechanic enough to _place_
those bones as they should be, and I’ll see if I cannot contrive some
way to _keep_ them there in spite of this wide-awake youngster.”

He went to bed in order to think about it, and in the morning at the
breakfast table said to Mrs. Clemens,–

“Where did you get that blue clay the girl was putting on the floor
yesterday to take out a grease-spot? It had no more grit than
tailors’-chalk.”

“Daniel got it somewhere.”

“I got it down in Milliken’s Gully, Mr. Richardson. You might cut it
with a razor, and not dull the razor; there’s not a stone or one mite of
grit in it. I got it to make marbles.”

Richardson procured a quantity of the clay, dried, pounded, sifted, and
made it into a very thin mortar. He then took the splints from Frank’s
leg, placed the bones precisely as he wanted them, put the leg in a box,
fastened the upper portion of his body to the bed that he could not
move, and poured the clay mortar into the box till it completely
enveloped the leg and foot. He then pulled the bed under the window,
where the sun shone full on the clay, took hold of Frank’s foot, and sat
down.

“How long are you going to keep me lashed down so, Mr. Richardson?”

“Till this clay dries. And I shall hold your foot just where it is till
then.”

“Why, Mr. Richardson,” said Mrs. Merrill, “it will take all day for that
clay to dry.”

“No, it won’t, with the warmth of the leg on one side, and that of the
sun on the other, it won’t take _half_ a day.”

“But the academy bell will ring in about fifteen minutes.”

“Parson Meek is going to take my place this forenoon; so you may prepare
to give me some dinner, for I shall sit here till the clay hardens, if
it is till to-morrow evening.”

The clay was stiff, though not dry, before noon, and Frank’s leg
immovably fixed in the position Rich had placed it.

“Now, Frank, you have behaved so well, I am going to put you in a
chair.”

Rich and Mr. Merrill took Frank up, placed him in a chair, and put the
leg, box and all, on two others.

“Now, my boy, you may sit at the table and eat dinner with us, if you
will eat only what I prescribe; and you may thank the blue clay in
Milliken’s Gully for that. Blue clay, forever, Frank. Were it not for
that you would have had to lie on your back twenty days or more.”

After the meal was ended, Rich, with a saw, cut out a portion of the
clay, in order to be able to get at that part of the leg the bone had
penetrated. The box was also lined with paper, that the clay might not
stick to it, and put together with screws, in order that it might be
taken to pieces. This was Rich’s fracture box, not very elegant, and for
which he never took out any patent; being made, the sides, of the cover
of an old herring box; but it answered the purpose completely, fastening
the limb as firmly in the box as though it grew there, and as
effectually preventing any motion of the ankle or toes, by which the
bones might be displaced.

When Rich went to the academy in the afternoon, he returned Frank to his
bed; and the next morning he was taken up again, and, as the cure
progressed, sat up more and more. He could now read, play checkers with
Dan and Horace, and the time passed less tediously. He now importuned
his physician to take his leg out of the box; but Rich peremptorily
refused, though he allowed him a more generous diet.

When a full month had elapsed, Rich took the box apart, sawed through
the coating of clay the whole length, and peeled it off, removed the
bandage, washed the leg, gave it a smart rubbing, and compared it with
the other. After examining the limb a long time very carefully, he
said,–

“If those two legs are not as well matched as they were before, I am
very much mistaken.”

“Shall I be lame any, Mr. Richardson?” said Frank.

“If you are, it will be your own fault. If you are careless now, you
will rue it as long as you live, for the parts are not consolidated yet,
and the oblique fracture in the large bone requires a longer time to
heal than the square break in the other.”

Rich put on the clay again, but without the box, and in less quantity,
confining it by a bandage, slung the patient’s leg to his neck, and
permitted him to take exercise by walking about the house on crutches,
some one accompanying him; and when he permitted him to put his injured
leg to the floor, it was found to be of the same length as the other.

Mr. Merrill rewarded Rich most liberally, being abundantly able, and
with expressions of grateful feeling that were more gratifying to the
recipient than even the money. It was a proud and glad morning to him
when Frank Merrill came to school with his books under his arm, escorted
by Dan and Horace Williams, and with as firm a tread as his companions.

Scarcely had Frank’s case been disposed of, when a younger sister of
Mrs. Merrill, a member of the choir, and a most lovely girl as far as
personal attractions, correct principles, and amiability of disposition
went, was taken down with a lung fever; and the patient, with her
parents and Mrs. Merrill, insisted that Rich should manage the case.
This was more practice than Rich either desired or felt himself
qualified to assume, and he told them so, and that he should pursue
quite a different method from the ordinary practice, which was, in that
disease, to bleed patients till they fainted, give them antimony to
reduce the action of the heart, till, in reducing the inflammation, they
often made an end of the patient. The young lady’s relatives informed
him they were not at all concerned about that, and to adopt the course
his judgment dictated. In so doing, Rich drew no blood, and pursued a
course calculated to support the strength of the patient as much as
possible, and was successful in this case also.

At the conclusion of the summer term Rich resolved to make another visit
to his parents, but felt that in his present circumstances he could
afford to ride; and, what was very singular, he spent a night at farmer
Conant’s, taking the stage from his door the next afternoon. It
certainly could not have been from fatigue, as on the former occasion.
It was probably to thank the hospitable farmer for his kindness then,
and it was a noble thing in Rich not to forget, in the moment of
success, those who had been his friends in adversity.

With the fall term commenced another year of the academical course, when
it was necessary for Rich to make a new arrangement with the trustees,
who were very anxious to retain him, and offered to increase his
salary. On the other hand, Dr. Ryan wanted him to give up the academy,
devote himself entirely to the study of medicine, obtain a medical
diploma, go into practice with him and finally take his place, as he did
not care to practise any more.

The doctor said he loved him as a son, and that if he did not improve
the opening, some other young man would certainly come who might be very
objectionable.

Rich replied that he would at the expiration of two years, and then
agreed to keep the academy one year longer; thus affording himself a
year of uninterrupted study, in addition to what he could accomplish
while teaching, and resolutely refused all invitations to take charge of
patients.

The fall term had been going on but a week when he received a visit from
Morton. The inhabitants of the village showed great attention to Morton,
as a compliment to Rich, and especially Mr. Merrill’s family, and that
of Mr. George Litchfield, the father of the young lady Rich had attended
during a course of lung fever.

As the two friends were walking one evening, Morton said,–

“Rich, why don’t you make up to that Miss Litchfield? She’s a beautiful
girl, intelligent, accomplished, and of most amiable disposition, I
know, for she shows it in her very looks. You are about to jump into a
fat practice, that will give you a handsome living at once, and it is
time you were thinking of such matters. I know she likes you, and her
father is wealthy, which, though I know it would weigh little with you,
is not to be despised.”

“Mort, why did not you take Miss T., whom you used to like to escort to
exhibitions and commencements, and walk with, and who was more beautiful
than Harriet Litchfield, and in preference engaged yourself to Eliza
Longley?”

“Because I wanted a wife, not a doll, a woman who would make for me a
happy home.”

“Now you have answered your own question. Miss Litchfield is beautiful
and of a sweet temper, for I have seen her when sick, and sickness
developes character. She is well educated, sings finely, plays well, is
not vain, and is sincerely pious, but has neither industry, energy, nor
a single domestic trait. She cannot make or mend, get a meal’s victuals,
or tell anybody else how to do it. Her counsel in the emergencies of
life, which you and I have known something about even at our age, would
not be worth the asking. Why, Mort, she is as hollow as the stalk of a
seed onion; no resources in herself, and for all the practical duties of
life utterly useless. How could I respect a woman who, if she has not a
piano to amuse, or some gossip to engage her attention, sits and folds
her hands, and resembles a wooden clock, the face the best part of it?
You saw how my mother stood up under the load, and took her share of
it, when father’s property was swept into the Atlantic; and it will be a
long day before a boy who has such a mother marries a doll.”

“I rather think, Rich, such a woman as you want is not easily found.”

“Neither are diamonds. But you found such a one, and so have I.”

“Indeed! I congratulate you. But who and where is she? Is she handsome?”

“She is not beautiful, but as handsome as good health, regular features,
and a perfect form can render a woman.”

“Is she accomplished?”




“To the highest degree. She can spin and weave, wash and mend, make
butter, and make clothes; and when she’s tired, or has a leisure hour,
can sit down and obtain both profit and pleasure from a thoughtful
book.”

“It is little you would have thought of falling in love with such a
woman when we first knew each other. What has become of all the poetry
that was in you then, and, I had almost said, the froth on the top of
the liquor?”

“It went to sea when the boom broke.”

“I long to see her.”

“You shall Sunday, and eat a dinner of her cooking. We will ride over
there Saturday. She is a farmer’s daughter. There is no _property_ in
the matter, of the kind you referred to just now. It is all in _her_.”

“You know what I told you, Rich, so long ago, when we were sitting on
the steps of your old house, and the cat shoved her nose into your
bosom. It was dead _low water_ then; but now the tide has not only
turned, but it is young flood, and the tide will continue to flow till,
at high water it will lift the strawberry leaves on the edge of the
bank.”

“True, Mort; but I do not regret the trial. I have gained more than I
lost by it. Have you heard anything from college lately, or from our old
class?”

“No. All our acquaintances are gone, and there is a new set in
Radcliffe. But they are only going to keep it during the fall term;
after that it is to be made into a dwelling-house. Charlie Longley wrote
me that the dam at the Glen had washed away in the fall rains, and the
pond had run out.”

Their conversation was interrupted by meeting Dr. Ryan, who invited them
to go home with him, enjoy a sing, and take tea.