A Little Learning—Not Reprinted (Rudyard Kipling)
She had been twice married, had no children, and was dowered with a nervous temperament. Bemarápore is neither a large nor a cheerful station, ands Mrs. Widdle did not make friends easily. Therefore, after the rising of the Jabberwockies, and the departure of her husband, she invited, almost begged, her niece to come and stay with her.
Betty Saville was an enthusiastic girl, with strong ideas concerning Woman's Mission and Work in the World and their Duty; all with capital letters. Every one should have a Vocation, a Purpose in Life; and she had tried hard to find hers. She had been forced to realize that she could not be artist, author, actress or musician; but, no matter, she would be useful and practical, doing actual good. Florence Nightingale was nobler than Angelika Kauffman after all; she would be a nurse. No—a lady doctor.
Unfortunately for her high resolves, she had a prejudiced and narrow-minded father and mother, who imagined that their daughter would be better and happier living with them in India, than studying medicine in London. So that bright dream was abandoned. Before she left England, however, she had attended a course of medical lectures, and taken voluminous notes. Which she wrote out at great length in a huge blank-book. These gave her confidence, and she would have set a broken arm, or bandaged a cut finger with the same happy readiness of half-knowledge.
Since her arrival in India, her family had been singularly well. Her two little brothers seemed not to know what croup was, though she had learnt the lectures on "Diseases of Infancy and Childhood" almost by heart for their especial benefit. There was not scope for her talents in Maidanpore. Her mother objected to having the house reorganized in hygienic principles, and she was delighted at the prospect of a change. The big book of lecture-notes went with Miss Saville to Bemarápore.
"This cold weather is very trying," said Mrs. Widdle on the evening of Betty's arrival. "I am really suffering from sore throat."
"Oh, Aunt Mary, that is a dangerous symptom!" cried Betty promptly. "Have you done nothing for it?"
"The Civil Surgeon, Dr. Cardon, is out of the station my dear, and, with culpable carelessness, has left for his substitute a man so young that nothing would induce me to see him."
"I can cure you. Wait a minute" and then she ran off for the big note-book. "Now see, Auntie, a mustard plaster is what you must have for counter irritation, and I'll put on a cold compress for the night;—that will be sure to take it away. And is there any chlorate of potash in the house?"
"I'm afraid not" said Mrs. Widdle, almost overpowered by this helpful niece.
"Then you must do without a gargle. But you don't feel weak yet, do you? Not as if you needed stimulants? Sore throat is so lowering."
Mrs. Widdle having just eaten an excellent dinner felt strong enough.
"You see this is important" said Betty gravely. "A sore throat may so easily turn to diphtheria, and in that case you know the patient may die just six hours after the invasion, and seem particularly bright just before death."
Her aunt was easily terrified, and Betty was rather startled by the effect of her simple words.
"It's all right though," she said soothingly. "You have a mere sore-throat, which we will take in time. Your neck is not stiff, and the glands are not enlarged; so it can't be diphtheria."
Betty was in her element now, and Mrs. Widdle's faint objections were put aside. Having taken the skin off her aunt's throat with the severest of mustard-plasters, she swathed her neck in a long rough towel dripping with cold water and left her to rest as was possible under these circumstances. It is true that she forgot to put any oil-silk round her compress; but then she was a very young nurse.
The consequence of her enthusiasm was that Mrs. Widdle woke with a severe feverish cold and her confidence was a little shaken. But Betty was calm.
"You see you have neglected that throat for too long," said Betty joyfully, opening the big note book for purposes of comparison.
Mrs. Widdle was nervous and imaginative, as I have said, and her list of symptoms became startling. Betty hurried hither and thither among her lectures, from scarlet-fever to small-pox, and from typhoid to typhus. This was a serious responsibility, and really like being a doctor.
"I cannot be absolutely positive," she said at last "but I think you have the symptoms of typhoid, Auntie dear, and we must be careful. It will probably be nothing serious, but—"
"But I must have a doctor."
"Unskilled medical treatment during typhoid is frequently fatal!" read Betty from the notebook. "I know quite well what to do in the first stages, and Dr. Cardon will be back soon. You see typhoid is so long and gradual."
Mrs. Widdle, terrified by long extracts from the note-book, yielded completely, and Betty had her way. With the assistance of the Ayah, she carried her aunt in a blanket to another room, without quite letting her fall, and proceeded to arrange the sick chamber. Carpet, matting, curtains, wardrobes, all were banished, and Mrs. Widdle's feather-bed was replaced by a particularly hard horsehair mattress belonging to the Colonel.
When the invalid was brought back, she objected to the clunam and feebly remarked that she had once had such a comfortable illness on home in a four-poster.
"Typhoid is infectious. Therefore I must have the floor so that it can be swept with tea leaves and Condy's Fluid!" explained Betty.
"I daresay I shall feel better when I have some breakfast" said her aunt more hopefully.
"Oh Auntie! In typhoid cases, one gives one pint of milk with one ounce brandy for stimulants."
Mrs. Widdle meekly agreed; and when Betty had hung up, instead of a purdah, a large sheet steeped in a strong solution of carbolic acid, she immediately lost any desire for food.
Betty was happy and important all day. She put on a plain dress and apron, wore soft shoes, and took solemn notes concerning her aunt's state. That lady suffered from a severe headache caused by the disinfectants which Betty ranged in saucers about the floor, and was depressed in spirit by being fed on milk, which gave her indigestion, and greasy beef tea in a feeding-cup, which made her feel bilious. All that night Betty insisted on sitting up, nodding in a chair. She felt tired, but her enthusiasm supported her.
"Do shut the window," said Mrs. Widdle, shivering as the cold morning breeze rushed in.
" 'The outside air is purer than the inside, and should come in continuously night and day' " quoted Becky.
She was busy sweeping the walls with a very damp duster on a very long brush. Mrs. Widdle lay watching her, coughing, and feeling that she caught a fresh cold every time the duster was wetted, when the Ayah came in.
" Doctor Sahib hai."
"Oh, tell him to come in. Salaam—what is it they say?" cried the invalid eagerly.
Dr. Carbon came in through the carbolic sheeted door, and Betty began to feel vaguely uncomfortable.
"Why, what's all this, Mrs. Widdle? You see I come back sooner than I had intended, but evidently not before I was wanted. I heard something from the servants of you're not being well; but I didn't expect all this hospital paraphernalia!"
Explanations followed, till Betty wanted to run away and hide herself. All Mrs. Widdle's cherished symptoms were proved to be those of a feverish cold which had been much aggravated by her niece's treatment.
"Wrap up well and sit by a good fire in the next room, Mrs. Widdle, until this place is put to rights again. I never imagined such folly! A clunam floor in January for a cold! As for you, Miss Saville," as Betty murmured something incoherently apologetic about "nursing lectures," "didn't they ever tell you that a nurse must obey—not originate treatment for herself? Remember that golden rule, and you may do as a nurse; but take my word for it, you will never be a doctor."