Story type: Essay
[An Open Letter.]
Dear Sir: I have seen recently an open letter addressed to me, and written by you in a vein of confidence and strictly sub rosa. What you said was so strictly confidential, in fact, that you published the letter in New York, and it was copied through the press of the country. I shall, therefore, endeavor to be equally careful in writing my reply.
You refer in your kind and confidential note to your experience as an invalid, and your rapid recovery after the use of red-hot Mexican pepper tea in a molten state.
But you did not have such a physician as I did when I had spinal meningitis. He was a good doctor for horses and blind staggers, but he was out of his sphere when he strove to fool with the human frame. Change of scene and rest were favorite prescriptions of his. Most of his patients got both, especially eternal rest. He made a specialty of eternal rest.
He did not know what the matter was with me, but he seemed to be willing to learn.
My wife says that while he was attending me I was as crazy as a loon, but that I was more lucid than the physician. Even with my little, shattered wreck of mind, tottering between a superficial knowledge of how to pound sand and a wide, shoreless sea of mental vacuity, I still had the edge on my physician, from an intellectual point of view. He is still practicing medicine in a quiet kind of way, weary of life, and yet fearing to die and go where his patients are.
He had a sabre wound on one cheek that gave him a ferocious appearance. He frequently alluded to how he used to mix up in the carnage of battle, and how he used to roll up his pantaloons and wade in gore. He said that if the tocsin of war should sound even now, or if he were to wake up in the night and hear war’s rude alarum, he would spring to arms and make tyranny tremble till its suspender buttons fell off.
Oh, he was a bad man from Bitter Creek.
One day I learned from an old neighbor that this physician did not have anything to do with preserving the Union intact, but that he acquired the scar on his cheek while making some experiments as a drunk and disorderly. He would come and sit by my bedside for hours, waiting for this mortality to put on immortality, so that he could collect his bill from the estate, but one day I arose during a temporary delirium, and extracting a slat from my couch I smote him across the pit of the stomach with it, while I hissed through my clenched teeth:
“Physician, heal thyself.”
I then tottered a few minutes, and fell back into the arms of my attendants. If you do not believe this, I can still show you the clenched teeth. Also the attendants.
I had a hard time with this physician, but I still live, contrary to his earnest solicitations.
I desire to state that should this letter creep into the press of the country, and thus become in a measure public, I hope that it will create no ill-feeling on your part.
Our folks are all well as I write, and should you happen to be on Lake Superior this winter, yachting, I hope you will drop in and see us. Our latch string is hanging out most all the time, and if you will pound on the fence I will call off the dog.
I frequently buy a copy of your paper on the streets. Do you get the money?
Are you acquainted with the staff of The Century, published in New York? I was in The Century office several hours last spring, and the editors treated me very handsomely, but, although I have bought the magazine ever since, and read it thoroughly, I have not seen yet where they said that “they had a pleasant call from the genial and urbane William Nye.” I do not feel offended over this. I simply feel hurt.
Before that I had a good notion to write a brief epic on the “Warty Toad,” and send it to The Century for publication, but now it is quite doubtful.
The Century may be a good paper, but it does not take the press dispatches, and only last month I saw in it an account of a battle that to my certain knowledge occurred twenty years ago.