Commentary

Disciples


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Sunday, December 20, 1891

     First to Harned's. I found him reading the Press—in no way other than pleased with the report. Together to W.'s. Longaker did not get in till 10:20. Warrie reports W. "better"—that is, stronger—that he sat on the edge of the bed and ate the reedbird Stoddart left yesterday—had in fact asked for it himself, nor seemed longer to resent the punches but rather to ask for them. Told Mrs. Davis he had no wish to see anybody today. Not even his brother George? "No, not even George. I do not feel to." And gave such indications of his disposition towards reserve and quiet. Warrie had said something about the papers, that the Press had "done him up" this morning. "Have they got me dead?" asked W.

     Harned and I went upstairs and into the room to look at him. He did not notice our entrance—was in a deep doze—lay on his left side, his face to the light—mouth and eyes blue—the left hand holding a folded handkerchief (beautiful, now slender, hand). Breathing regular but greatly choked, head and throat. We went downstairs again, Longaker almost instantly coming. Harned, L., Warrie and I up thereupon to W.'s room together. L. took his place north of the bed and took W.'s hand, at which he woke up. "Ah! Doctor! It is you!" And then questions and answers. His answers easy and ready. "I am a little confused about the days, Doctor. I had to ask Warrie this morning what day it was. I felt better this morning, but this afternoon I felt

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just as weak again—just as weak, Doctor!"
Even now confused about the hour. Telling of the whiskey he had taken, W. also said, "I ask Warrie for a good deal of water—cold water, but he thinks I ought not to have it." Here W. laughed audibly and cracked his little joke. "Warrie is a very faithful nurse, Doctor. He is very insistent. He quotes against me the old Scotchman, 'Ye ken have yer whack, Johnny, but nae ma! nae ma!'" And then, "I must have got a good deal of sleep last night, Doctor—a good deal. I seem to be holding my own." W. coughed a good deal, working up much mucus.

     After retiring Longaker consulted in the little back room with us a minute. While there Warrie came out to ask if W. could have a few peaches—he had asked them. L. said of them as of the water—let him have what he wishes. L. went back in the room, said something to W. which led W. to ask, "How am I, Doctor?" "You are a very sick man, Mr. Whitman." "Yes, Doctor, I suppose I must be." Longaker then spoke of our presence and asked if he had particular things to say to us. "I cannot stand it, Doctor. I am more nervous than my friends understand." And so Longaker did not press it, saying "good-bye" and rejoining us. L. not registered as doctor in Camden. We decided to call in McAlister as committee. Longaker wrote him a note which Harned will deliver. L. says of W.'s condition, "He is no better, which is in fact to say he is worse. The apparent improvement is no more—it is the result of the great stimulation. I still hold to what I said last night. I see four or five days ahead of us—perhaps a week, but a reduction of the life—a fall in the pulse—an increased inability to throw off that mucus—finally substantial suffocation." We are all to meet at five this afternoon at W.'s—perhaps to make a new attempt to get W. and Harned in contact. Gave five dollars to Warrie for his extras. Is faithful—up night and day.

     To Camden again in afternoon, reaching W.'s about five. Harned in at 5:05, McAlister a couple of minutes later and Longaker at 5:18. L. and McA. upstairs together at once. I followed

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them and lingered in the room and in Warrie's room next. They entered into a close consultation and examination. W. remembered McAlister. "And you have a sister Nellie? I have met her often up at Tom Harned's, and I want to be remembered to her, too." He got into an oddly humorous banter with Longaker about the bitterness of the medicine. "Don't you like it?" "Doctor, you are joking." "No, I am not." "What! You will mix salt, vinegar, aloes, assafetida, with a few other damndest things, and say you like them?" "Liking is a matter of taste." "Of damned bad taste often." Longaker quoted him a German story or proverb.

     When they commenced this examination W. assisted them every way he could. They sat him up at one time—sounding him lustily. After they were finished, he remarked, "I feel none the worse for the ordeal except for my left leg: that is the side of my paralysis. Whenever I get that in such a position, it soon gets to pain horribly. Otherwise I feel no pain."

     Said W. at one moment, "Dr. McAlister, do I look like a dying man? None of your doctor stories, but the truth—the naked, sheer truth. In the morning? Then I was very far down—very low. I was depressed—I had not vim enough to lift my hand. I have eaten solids. I have drinked a little beef tea. You think the punch has done me good? Anyhow, here I am. It is hard to say how. Now much that was dim seems swept away." Doctors proposed to go out to consult. Said W., "Yes, go out, and tell the result to Warrie or Mary Davis and let them tell me—but tell them the result. I want to know it—no doctorial hidings and seekings."

     Left Longaker and McAlister in the little room together where they spent well upon half an hour alone. In meanwhile to parlor. The Press reporter, there when I had come, still there. Warrie told me Ingram had been over with a bottle of wine which W. had enjoyed. Warrie thought W. greatly improved. He had sat up in chair while Warrie changed bed and had been able to submit to re-clothing.


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     Longaker and McAlister now downstairs. McAlister at once said to our inquiries, "He is a dangerously sick man." "How sick—fatally?" "Yes, I think fatally." "How long can he live?" "I should say, about four days." "Then you give up?" "Not absolutely, but the chances are only one in a million." "Then the improvement indicates what?" "It is mainly the result of the stimulants." "And will not continue?" "No." The reporter was all open ears. It seems the right lung is all collapsed—that he now practically does all breathing by the one lung. I walked up the street with Longaker, who really says, "I see no cause to revise my morning's judgment." Should I telegraph Bucke? He rather thought not, if I meant to do so positively—wait till tomorrow. They had ordered a flax-seed poultice. McAlister will come at nine in the morning unless called before. Longaker will meet him at four at 328 for further consultation. I went up to Harned's, where we had lunch together. And then we sat down and made up the following telegram for Bucke, whom we considered we should notify: Walt very sick. Doctors say fatally, giving him not over five days. Bronchitis. Right lung collapsed. He is cheerful, and we are not without some hope. Use your judgment about coming. May die any moment.


After the meal, going out together, we found no telegraph office in the town open. Then to 328 again—finding Tom Donaldson there with a big blow about a long talk with W. "More than half an hour, and he wouldn't let me go." Which I found out from Warrie was impossible. "I was only out 15 minutes, and when I came back, he was already in the parlor, while when I went he had not come." Some talk about Bernhardt and other persons and matters. Afterwards upstairs with Warrie, who busied himself about W.'s room, with fire, medicine, etc. He asked W. if the throat was "freer" and he said, "I do not know, Warrie. I could hardly say." And when Warrie bantered about the unpleasant medicine, he seemed oblivious to

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the remarks. Seemed filled up again—distinctly worse in the last two hours. I should not be surprised if the end came tonight. His mail and daily papers remain untouched in the parlor. While I was upstairs I watched his face, which was large and impassive and seemed not to be stirred from a noble faith and pleasure even.

     McAlister had gone back with Longaker this afternoon. W. asked, "Well, what's the verdict?' "A bad one—you are a very sick man." Was it fatal? They said they thought it was. He never winced. Afterward W. remarked to Warrie, "They give me up. We will beat the doctors yet!"

     Sent Bucke's telegram off from Broad and Montgomery Avenue, also the following cable to Wallace: "Walt critical. Small hope. Traubel."

     Back still again to W.'s 11:30. Warrie and Mrs. Davis both in parlor—both with colds (Mrs. Davis a bad headache superinduced). Offered to stay but found I could do nothing. W. still as he was. Mrs. Davis went up and asked him how he was and he reported "so-so." The lights evidently going out. Warrie seems to fear the night. Is to have Tom and I instant anything occurs. The outlook without relief. I scarcely slept last night. This day has been full of work and unrest. Poor Bucke—with that telegram for breakfast! And poor Bolton—with the chill few words!


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