|←Chapter III||Oolie by
|published in: Harper's new monthly magazine. / Volume 31, Issue 185. October 1865|
"Dr. Mills, by all that is skillful! I thought I knew that Saxon head as I saw it by the dim light of the swinging lamp last night."
"Ay, ay, Dr. Mills at your service," and a hearty grasp of the hand told how unforgotten had been the incident of two years since when a broken arm was righted by his skill. To-night we meet again on board the transport that brings our poor boys home from Andersonville. I need say no more than that to tell of the long lines of wan and haggard faces, of the gleaming, hungry eyes, the shrunken limbs, and broken spirits.
Small skill had I except such help as strong hands a willing heart could give; but such as it was this had been my work for the past eighteen months. It was good for me to be busy, and so put out of mind the troubled past. I had left all business matters with my lawyer, and had heard nothing whatever from Greyrock since that shining August night when I walked to the station, and was miles away before the dawning. I suppose she is Mrs. Lee by this time. Ah, well!
"Guy Owen! here, if you please. Hold this man still until I can prepare the broth properly. He is raving with fever, and will kill himself if he is left alone." So I came at Dr. Mills's bidding, and clasped the poor thin arms in my grasp, speaking steadily all the while to the wretched creature I held. The soup was gulped down at a swallow, and it was hard to deny him more, but Dr. Mills was imperative. At last, muttering, he dropped to sleep, and an hour after I walked with the Doctor on the narrow space upon the upper deck. He stopped midway, and knocking the ashes off his cigar, said he,
"That fellow's face is familiar to me in spite of his fearful emaciation. I have seen it somewhere—strange—strange;" and we resumed our walk.
All at once he grasped my arm—"Guy Owen, as sure as you a living man that is Launt Austin!"
"Launt Austin? Why, I thought he was dead!" said I, breathlessly.
"No; he ran away and enlisted, and that made all the trouble. I suppose you know"—he continued, hesitatingly—"you know about Mrs. Austin?"
"No, I know nothing, except that they were a most incomprehensible family altogether," said I, somewhat bitterly.
"Oh, the sorrows that we doctors can not help knowing, which are safe from all the world besides! The bitter struggle of that poor Oolie's life has been enough to bow a strong man down. I wonder how it is now with her, poor child!"
"Tell me, for I am bewildered. What do you mean?" I spoke, at last.
"Mean? Why, I mean that four years ago Launt Austin ran away, and was never heard of until his name was published in a list of bounty-jumpers, which some one was rough enough to send to his father, and which, no doubt, was false. It almost broke his heart, but he did not tell his wife. She was bad enough without that; but she found it out somehow, and now she is hopelessly given up to the habit."
"Why, opium. She commenced by quieting her nerves, broken down by Launt's desertion. Many and many a time have I seen that poor girl on her knees begging her mother to give it up, when she had periled her life by an extra dose. And then the wretched woman would promise, and try to keep her word until the demon power grew strong again, and by threats of self-destruction, or appeals to Oolie's tenderness, she would wring from her promise to give her rest and peace in the old farm."
"You could surely see how sad the child was, and what a hopeless look had gathered on John Austin's face?" he went on.
"Can this be so?" And I rubbed my forehead, to make sure that I was sane and wide awake.
"Ay, Guy Owen; were your eyes tight shut that you could not see it? Arthur Lee"—I shivered a little at the name—"Arthur Lee has told me pitiful stories enough of the girl's slender store of pocket-money going through his hands in exchange for the dreadful drug; of her waiting for him on the way, when, worn out, she had yielded to her mother's prayers once more; and her bitter tears, always saying to him, 'Don't let father know.' And so this poor child has passed these weary years since Launt took himself off. I heard all this through Arthur. I suppose you know he will be my brother one of these days. Sister Mary has been engaged to him ever since she left school."
I could not speak. The air seemed to grow bright around me. The transport and its weary freight; the rocking, ceaseless waves; the crouching forms about me passed away; and I was again by the side of Cross-kill with a wounded arm, and Oolie—dear, sorrowful, lost Oolie—was by my side.
"What's the matter, Guy?" said the steady voice of my friend. "Your cigar is out, and your blanket is streaming out like a flag. Have you turned clean daft?"
"I believe I have. Tell me, if you can, what I must do. See if you can prescribe for a man who has been a stupid fool."
"Common disorder, my friend; very common. Don't often prescribe for it, but I'll try."