Out of the Hurly-Burly - CHAPTER V.



ISS BESSIE MAGRUDER is the object upon which the affections of Mr. Bob Parker are fixed at the present moment. He met her, I believe, while she was attending school in the city last winter, and what with accompanying her to matinees, taking her to church and lingering by her side in the parlor oftentimes in the evening with the gas turned low, the heart of Mr. Parker gradually was induced to throb only for the pretty maid from New Castle. She has been very gracious to him during all the time that he has devoted himself to her, and has seemed to like him so well that there is really no reason for doubting that when the climax of the little drama is reached and the question asked, she will droop her eyelids, crimson her cheeks with blushes and whisper "Yes."

But Mr. Parker's courage has not yet been quite equal to the presentation of the proposition in a definite form. When I asked him the other day, good-humoredly, if he had explained himself to Miss Magruder, he told me confidentially that he had not. At least a dozen times he had prepared the question in a graceful and effective form, and after committing it to memory he had started out with a valiant determination to declare his passion in that precise language the very moment he should encounter Miss Magruder.

"The words seem all right enough when I'm not with her," sighed Bob. "The very way I wrote 'em out appears to express exactly what I want to say, and as I go along the street I repeat 'em over and think to myself: 'By George, I'll do it now or die!' But as soon as I see her it seems ridiculous to blurt out a speech like that the first thing. So we begin to talk about something else, and then it seems's if I couldn't break right in abruptly on the conversation. Then I get to wondering how she'd feel if she knew what I was thinking about. Then very likely somebody comes in, and the chance is gone and I have to put it off. It worries me nearly to death. I'll go down there some day soon and plump it right out without saying another word first; I will, by George!"

It is an odd circumstance that every man who finds himself in the position occupied by Mr. Parker should entertain the conviction that he is the first human being who ever suffered such embarrassment. Bob, my dear boy, you are traveling an old, a very old road, and all those rough and stony places whereupon you endure distress, and where your timid feet stumble, have been passed for hundreds of centuries by love-sick wayfarers who were as eager, as unwise and as cowardly as you!

It is very curious to observe how quickly the partiality of a young man for a maid is perceived by their acquaintances, and with what zest the gossiping tongues tell the tale. Women, of course, display deepest interest and acutest perception in such matters. A movement made in the direction of courtship by a young fellow sends a strong ripple of excitement circling over the surface of the little world in which they live; and there is something wonderful in the rapidity with which the involved questions of suitability, social standing and financial condition are considered and settled. It is soon perceived whether the business is a serious one upon both sides; and as the two chief actors proceed slowly toward the moment when their hearts shall be unfolded to each other, sharp eyes are watching them, and though they think they are keeping their secret very fast from their friends, every step of their progress is perceived, and the gentle excitement of suspense increases and intensifies day by day among the watchers until it culminates in the formal announcement that they are engaged.

So they remain objects of general and tender consideration until that other grand climax—the wedding—is at last attained; and the bride, with her orange blossoms and her veil, with her satin, her silver-ware and her sweetness, becomes the central figure of a happy festival whose gayety is tempered by the solemn thoughts which will come concerning that great unknown future whose threshold is being passed.

And then, when all this is over, when the lights are out, the wedding garments folded away, the practical domestic life begun and the period of romance passed, the interest which followed the pair from the first blossom of their love expires, and, as far as sentiment is concerned, their day—a time full of pleasant things, of grateful happiness in the present and joyful expectation for the future—is done for ever. Thenceforward their lives will be but prosy and dull to the world, however full to them the years may be of serenity and peace.

I have been making some inquiries concerning the Magruder family, in order to satisfy my wife that Bob's prospective relations are "the right kind of people." The expression, I know, is vague; and now that we have learned something of the Magruders, my inability to determine precisely what qualifications are necessary in order to make people of the right kind forbids the formation of a definite opinion upon my part concerning them. But Mrs. Adeler will decide; women are always mistresses of such subjects.

Mr. Magruder is apparently a man of leisure and of comparative wealth; his social position is very good, and he has enough intelligence and cultivation to enable him to get along comfortably in the society of very respectable persons. Mrs. Magruder, it seems, is rather inclined to emphasize herself. She is a physician, an enthusiast in the study and practice of medical science, and a woman of such force that she succeeds in keeping Mr. Magruder, if not precisely in a state of repression, at least slightly in the background. He married her, according to report, shortly after her graduation; and as he was at that time an earnest advocate of the theory that women should practice medicine, a belief prevails that he became attached to her while under her treatment. She touched his heart, we may presume, by exciting activity in his liver. He loved her, let us say, for the blisters she had spread, and demanded her hand because he had observed the singular dexterity with which it cut away tumours and tied up veins.

But if what Dr. Tobias Jones, our family physician, tells me is true, the sentiments of Magruder on the subject of medical women have undergone a radical change in consequence of an exuberance of enthusiasm on the part of Mrs. Magruder. Dr. Jones entertains the regular professional hatred for Mrs. Dr. Magruder, and so I have my private doubts respecting the strict accuracy of his narrative.

He said that a few years ago the Magruders lived in Philadelphia, and Mrs. Magruder was a professor in the Women's Medical College. At that time Magruder was in business; and as he generally came home tired, he had a habit of lying on the sitting-room sofa in the evening, for the purpose of taking a nap. Several times when he did so, and Mrs. Magruder had some friends with her downstairs, he noticed upon awaking that there was a peculiar feeling of heaviness in his head and a queer smell of drugs in the room. When he questioned Mrs. Magruder about it, she invariably colored and looked confused, and said he must have eaten something which disagreed with him.

Ultimately the suspicions of Magruder were aroused. He suspected something wrong. A horrible thought crossed his mind that Mrs. Magruder intended to poison him for his skeleton—to sacrifice him so that she could dangle his bones before her class, and explain to the seekers after medical truth the peculiarities of construction which enabled the framework of her husband to move around in society.

So Magruder revealed his suspicions to his brother, and engaged him to secrete himself in a closet in the room while he took his usual nap on a certain evening upon the sofa.

When that night arrived, Mrs. Magruder pretended to have the "sewing circle" from the church in the parlor, while her husband went to sleep in the sitting-room with that vigilant relative of his on guard. About nine o'clock Mr. Magruder's brother was surprised to observe Mrs. Magruder softly stealing up stairs, with the members of the "sewing circle" following her noiselessly in single file. In her hand Mrs. Magruder carried a volume. If her brother-in-law had conceived the idea that the book might contain the tender strains of some sweet singer amid whose glowing imagery this woman reveled with the ecstasy of a sensitive nature, he would have been mistaken, for the work was entitled "Thompson on the Nervous System;" while those lines traced in a delicate female hand, upon the perfumed note-paper, and carried by Mrs. Magruder, so far from embodying an expression of the gentlest and most sacred emotions of her bosom, were merely a diagnosis of an aggravated case of fatty degeneration of the heart.

I give the story literally as I received it from that eminent practitioner Jones.

When the whole party had entered the room, Mrs. Magruder closed the door and applied chloroform to her husband's nose. As soon as he became completely insensible, the sewing in the hands of the ladies was quickly laid aside, and to Magruder's secreted brother was disclosed the alarming fact that this was a class of students from the college.

If Dr. Jones is to be believed, Professor Magruder began her lecture with some very able remarks upon the nervous system; and in order to demonstrate her meaning more plainly, she attached a galvanic battery to her husband's toes, so that she might make him wriggle before the class. And he did wriggle. Mrs. Magruder gave him a dozen or two shocks and poked him with a ruler to make him jump around, while the students stood in a semi-circle, with note-books in their hands, and exclaimed, "How very interesting!"

Magruder's brother thought it awful, but he was afraid to come out when he reflected that they might want two skeletons at the college.

Mrs. Magruder then said that she would pursue this branch of the investigation no further at that moment, because Mr. Magruder's system was somewhat debilitated in consequence of an overdose of chlorate of potash which she had administered in his coffee upon the previous day for the purpose of testing the strength of the drug.

Mrs. Magruder then proceeded to "quiz" the class concerning the general construction of her husband. She said, for instance, that she had won what was called the heart of Mr. Magruder, and she asked the students what it was that she had really won.

"Why, the cardia, of course," said the class; "it is an azygous muscle of an irregular pyramid shape, situated obliquely and a little to the left side of the chest, and it rests on the diaphragm."

One fair young thing said that it didn't rest on the diaphragm.

Another one said she would bet a quart of paregoric it did, and until the dispute was settled by the professor, Magruder's brother's hair stood on end with fear lest they should go to probing around inside of Magruder with a butcher-knife and a lantern, for the purpose of determining the actual condition of affairs respecting his diaphragm.

Mrs. Magruder continued. She explained that when she accepted Mr. Magruder he seized her hand, and she required the class to explain what it was that Mr. Magruder actually had hold of.

The students replied that he held in his grip twenty-seven distinct bones, among which might be mentioned the phalanges, the carpus and the metacarpus.

The beautiful creature who was incredulous concerning the diaphragm suggested that he also had hold of the deltoid. But the others scornfully suggested that the deltoid was a muscle; they knew, because they had dissected one that very morning. The discussion became so exciting that thumb-lancets were drawn, and there seemed to be a prospect of bloodshed, when the professor interfered and demanded of the girl who had begun to cry about the deltoid what was the result when Mr. Magruder kissed her.

"Why merely a contraction of the orbicularis oris muscle; thus," said the student as she leaned over and kissed Mr. Magruder.

Magruder's brother, in the closet, thought maybe it wasn't so very solemn for Magruder after all. He considered this portion of the exercises in a certain sense soothing.

But all the students said it was perfectly scandalous. And the professor herself, after informing the offender that hereafter when illustration of any point in the lesson was needed it would be supplied by the professor, ordered her to go to the foot of the class, and to learn eighty new bones as a punishment.

"Do you hear me, miss?" demanded the professor, when she perceived that that blooming contractor of the orbicularis oris did not budge.

"Yes," she said, "I am conscious of a vibration striking against the membrana tympanum, and being transmitted through the labyrinth until it agitates the auditory nerve, which conveys the impression to the brain."

"Correct," said the professor. "Then obey me, or I will call my biceps and flexors and scapularis into action and put you in your place by force."

"Yes, and we will help her with our spinatus and infraspiralis," exclaimed the rest of the class.

Magruder's brother in the gloom of his closet did not comprehend the character of these threats, but he had a vague idea that the life of that lovely young sawbones was menaced by firearms and other engines of war of a peculiarly deadly description. He felt that the punishment was too severe for the crime. Magruder himself, he was convinced, would have regarded that orbicularis operation with courageous fortitude and heroic composure.

Mrs. Magruder then proceeded to give the class practice in certain operations in medical treatment. She vaccinated Magruder on the left arm, while one of the students bled his right arm and showed her companions how to tie up the vein. They applied leeches to his nose, under the professor's instructions; they cupped him on the shoulder blades; they exercised themselves in spreading mustard plasters on his back; they timed his pulse; they held out his tongue with pincers and examined it with a microscope, and two or three enthusiastic students kept hovering around Magruder's leg with a saw and a carving-knife, until Magruder's brother in retirement in the closet shuddered with apprehension.

But the professor restrained these devotees of science; and when the other exercises were ended, she informed the students that they would devote a few moments in conclusion to study of the use of the stomach-pump.

Dr. Jones continued: "I shall not enter into particulars concerning the scene that then ensued. There is a certain want of poetry about the operation of the weapon just named, a certain absence of dignity and sentiment, which, I may say, render it impossible to describe it in a manner which will elevate the soul and touch the moral sensibilities. It will suffice to observe that as each member of the class attacked Magruder with that murderous engine, Magruder's brother, timid as he was, solemnly declared to himself that if the class would put away those saws and things he would rush out and rescue his brother at the risk of his life.

"He was saved the necessity of thus imperiling his safety. Magruder began to revive. He turned over; he sat up; he stared wildly at the company; he looked at his wife; then he sank back upon the sofa and said to her, in a feeble voice:

"'Henrietta, somehow or other I feel awfully hungry!'

"Hungry! Magruder's brother considered that, after that last performance of the class, Magruder ought to have a relish for a couple of raw buffaloes, at least. He emerged from the closet, and seizing a chair, determined to tell the whole story. Mrs. Magruder and the class screamed, but he proceeded. Then up rose Magruder and discussed the subject with vehemence, while his brother brandished his chair and joined in the chorus. Mrs. Magruder and the class cried, and said Mr. Magruder was a brute, and he had no love for science. But Mr. Magruder said that as for himself, 'hang science!' when a woman became so infatuated with it as to chop up her husband to help it along. And his brother said he ought to put in even stronger terms than that. What followed upon the adjournment of the class is not known. But Magruder seems somehow to have lost much of his interest in medicine, and since then there has been a kind of coolness between him and the professor."

I shall repeat this extraordinary narrative to Mr. Parker. He ought to be aware of the propensities of his prospective mother-in-law beforehand, so that he may not encounter the dangers which attend her devotion to her profession without realizing the fact of their existence. Admitting that Jones adheres closely to truth in his statement, we may very reasonably fear that Mrs. Magruder would not hesitate to vivisect a mere son-in-law, or in an extreme case to remove one of his legs. A mother-in-law with such dangerous proclivities ought not to be accepted rashly or in haste. Prudence requires that she should be meditated upon.


"I want to ask you a question," observed Mr. Parker, as we sat out upon the porch after tea with Mrs. Adeler. "I notice that you always say 'is being done,' and not 'is doing.' Now, which is correct? I think you're wrong. Some of those big guns who write upon such subjects think so too. Grind us out an opinion."

"The subject has been much discussed, Bob, and a good many smart things have been said in support of both theories. But I stick to 'is being done,' first, because it is more common, and therefore handier, and second, because it is the only form that is really available in all cases. Suppose, for instance, you wished to express the idea that our boy Agamemnon is enduring chastisement; you would say, Agamemnon is being spanked,' not 'Agamemnon is spanking.' The difference may seem to you very slight, but it would be a matter of considerable importance to Agamemnon; and if a choice should be given him, it is probable that he would suddenly select the latter form."

"Just so," exclaimed Mr. Parker.

"You say again, 'Captain Cook is being eaten.' Certainly this expresses a very different fact from that which is conveyed by the form, 'Captain Cook is eating.' I venture to say that Captain Cook would have insisted upon the latter as by far the more agreeable of the two things."

"Precisely," said Mr. Parker.

"And equally diverse are the two ideas expressed by the phrases 'The mule is being kicked' and 'The mule is kicking.' But it is to be admitted that there are occasions when the two forms indicate a precisely similar act. You assert, I will say, that 'Hannah is hugging.'"

"Which would be a very improper thing for Hannah to do," suggested Mr. P.

"Of course it would; but there is an extreme probability that you would indicate Hannah's action under the circumstances if you should say, 'Hannah is being hugged.' It is in most cases a reciprocal act. Or suppose I say, 'Jane is kissing'?"

"And her mother ought to know about it if she is," remarked Bob.

"It is nearly the same as if I should say, 'Jane is being kissed,' for one performance in most cases presupposes the other. It will not, however, be necessary for you to attempt to prove this fact by practice anywhere in the neighborhood of the Magruder mansion. If you find it necessary to explain to Miss Magruder my views of this grammatical question, it will be better to confine your illustrations to the case of Captain Cook. But you can safely continue to say, 'is being built.' Nobody will object to that but a few superfine people who are so far ahead of you in such matters that they will be tolerably sure to regard you as an idiot whichever form you happen to use, while if you adopt the other form in conversation with your unfastidious acquaintances, you will be likely to confuse your meaning very often in such a manner as to impress them with the conviction that your reason is dethroned."



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