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A Case of Fever

2006-09-08 20:17

  “O, underneath the blood red sun,No bloodier deed was ever done!

  Nor fiercer retribution sought The hand that first red ruin wrought.“

  This is the doctor's story——

  The doctors on board the Atlantic liners are usually young men. They are good-looking and entertaining as well, and generally they can play the violin or some other instrument that is of great use at the inevitable concert which takes place about the middle of the Atlantic. They are urbane, polite young men, and they chat pleasantly and nicely to the ladies on board. I believe that the doctor on the Transatlantic steamer has to be there on account of the steerage passengers. Of course the doctor goes to the steerage; but I imagine, as a general thing, he does not spend any more time there than the rules of the service compel him to. The ladies, at least, would be unanimous in saying that the doctor is one of the most charming officials on board the ship.

  This doctor, who tells the story I am about to relate, was not like the usual Atlantic physician. He was older than the average, and, to judge by his somewhat haggard, rugged face, had seen hard times and rough usage in different parts of the world. Why he came to settle down on an Atlantic steamer——a berth which is a starting-point rather than a terminus——I have no means of knowing. He never told us; but there he was, and one night, as he smoked his pipe with us in the smoking-room, we closed the door, and compelled him to tell us a story.

  As a preliminary, he took out of his inside pocket a book, from which he selected a slip of creased paper, which had been there so long that it was rather the worse for wear, and had to be tenderly handled.

  “As a beginning,” said the doctor, “I will read you what this slip of paper says. It is an extract from one of the United States Government Reports in the Indian department, and it relates to a case of fever, which caused the death of the celebrated Indian chief Wolf Tusk.

  “I am not sure that I am doing quite right in telling this story. There may be some risk for myself in relating it, and I don't know exactly what the United States Government might have in store for me if the truth came to be known. In fact, I am not able to say whether I acted rightly or wrongly in the matter I have to tell you about. You shall be the best judges of that. There is no question but Wolf Tusk was an old monster, and there is no question either that the men who dealt with him had been grievously——but, then, there is no use in my giving you too many preliminaries; each one will say for himself whether he would have acted as I did or not. I will make my excuses at the end of the story.” Then he read the slip of paper. I have not a copy of it, and have to quote from memory. It was the report of the physician who saw Wolf Tusk die, and it went on to say that about nine o'clock in the morning a heavy and unusual fever set in on that chief. He had been wounded in the battle of the day before, when he was captured, and the fever attacked all parts of his body. Although the doctor had made every effort in his power to relieve the Indian, nothing could stop the ravages of the fever. At four o'clock in the afternoon, having been in great pain, and, during the latter part, delirious, he died, and was buried near the spot where he had taken ill. This was signed by the doctor.

  “What I have read you,” said the physician, folding up the paper again, and placing it in his pocket-book, “is strictly and accurately true, otherwise, of course, I would not have so reported to the Government. Wolf Tusk was the chief of a band of irreconcilables, who were now in one part of the West and now in another, giving a great deal of trouble to the authorities. Wolf Tusk and his band had splendid horses, and they never attacked a force that outnumbered their own. In fact, they never attacked anything where the chances were not twenty to one in their favour, but that, of course, is Indian warfare; and in this, Wolf Tusk was no different from his fellows.

  “On one occasion Wolf Tusk and his band swooped down on a settlement where they knew that all the defenders were away, and no one but women and children were left to meet them. Here one of the most atrocious massacres of the West took place. Every woman and child in the settlement was killed under circumstances of inconceivable brutality. The buildings, such as they were, were burnt down, and, when the men returned, they found nothing but heaps of smouldering ruin.

  “Wolf Tusk and his band, knowing there would be trouble about this, had made for the broken ground where they could so well defend themselves. The alarm, however, was speedily given, and a company of cavalry from the nearest fort started in hot pursuit.

  “I was the physician who accompanied the troops. The men whose families had been massacred, and who were all mounted on swift horses, begged permission to go with the soldiers, and that permission was granted, because it was known that their leader would take them after Wolf Tusk on his own account, and it was thought better to have every one engaged in the pursuit under the direct command of the chief officer.

  “He divided his troop into three parts, one following slowly after Wolf Tusk, and the other two taking roundabout ways to head off the savages from the broken ground and foothills from which no number of United States troops could have dislodged them. These flanking parties were partly successful. They did not succeed in heading off the Indians entirely, but one succeeded in changing their course, and throwing the Indians unexpectedly into the way of the other flanking party, when a sharp battle took place, and, during its progress, we in the rear came up. When the Indians saw our reinforcing party come towards them each man broke away for himself and made for the wilderness. Wolf Tusk, who had been wounded, and had his horse shot under him, did not succeed in escaping. The two flanking parties now having reunited with the main body, it was decided to keep the Indians on the run for a day or two at least, and so a question arose as to the disposal of the wounded chief. He could not be taken with the fighting party; there were no soldiers to spare to take him back, and so the leader of the settlers said that as they had had enough of war, they would convey him to the fort. Why the commander allowed this to be done, I do not know. He must have realized the feelings of the settlers towards the man who massacred their wives and children. However, the request of the settlers was acceded to, and I was ordered back also, as I had been slightly wounded. You can see the mark here on my cheek, nothing serious; but the commander thought I had better get back into the fort, as he was certain there would be no more need of my services. The Indians were on the run, and would make no further stand.

  “It was about three days' march from where the engagement had taken place to the fort. Wolf Tusk was given one of the captured Indian horses. I attended to the wound in his leg, and he was strapped on the horse, so that there could be no possibility of his escaping.

  “We camped the first night in a little belt of timber that bordered a small stream, now nearly dry. In the morning I was somewhat rudely awakened, and found myself tied hand and foot, with two or three of the settlers standing over me. They helped me to my feet, then half carried and half led me to a tree, where they tied me securely to the trunk.

  “'What are you going to do? What is the meaning of this?' I said to them in astonishment.

  “'Nothing,' was the answer of the leader; 'that is, nothing, if you will sign a certain medical report which is to go to the Government. You will see, from where you are, everything that is going to happen, and we expect you to report truthfully; but we will take the liberty of writing the report for you.

  “Then I noticed that Wolf Tusk was tied to a tree in a manner similar to myself, and around him had been collected a quantity of firewood. This firewood, was not piled up to his feet, but formed a circle at some distance from him, so that the Indian would be slowly roasted.

  “There is no use in my describing what took place. When I tell you that they lit the fire at nine o'clock, and that it was not until four in the afternoon that Wolf Tusk died, you will understand the peculiar horror of it.

  “'Now,' said the leader to me when everything was over,' here is the report I have written out,' and he read to me the report which I have read to you.

  “'This dead villain has murdered our wives and our children. If I could have made his torture last for two weeks I would have done so. You have made every effort to save him by trying to break loose, and you have not succeeded. We are not going to harm you, even though you refuse to sign this report. You cannot bring him to life again, thank God, and all you can do is to put more trouble on the heads of men who have already, through red devils like this, had more trouble than they can well stand and keep sane. Will you sign the report?'

  “I said I would, and I did.”

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