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The Pickwick Papers
The Sea Wolf
probability the fever would not grow immediately worse, I left him, promising his miserable wife that I would repeat my visit next evening, and, if necessary, sit up with the patient during the night. I kept my promise. The last four-and-twenty hours had produced a frightful alteration. The eyes, though deeply sunk and heavy, shone with a lustre frightful to behold. The lips were parched, and cracked in many places; the hard, dry skin glowed with a burning heat; and there was an almost unearthly air of wild anxiety in the mans face, indicating even more strongly the ravages of the disease. The fever was at its height. I took the seat I had occupied the night before, and there I sat for hours, listening to sounds which must strike deep to the heart of the most callous among human beings--the awful ravings of a dying man. From what I had heard of the medical attendants opinion, I knew there was no hope for him: I was sitting by his death-bed. I saw the wasted limbs--which a few hours before had been distorted for the amusement of a boisterous gallery, writhing under the tortures of a burning fever--I heard the clowns shrill laugh, blending with the low murmurings of the dying man. It is a touching thing to hear the mind reverting to the ordinary occupations and pursuits of health, when the body lies before you weak and helpless; but when those occupations are of a character the most strongly opposed to anything we associate with grave and solemn ideas, the impression produced is infinitely more powerful. The theatre and the public-house were the chief themes of the wretched mans wanderings. It was evening, he fancied; he had a part to play that night; it was late, and he must leave home instantly. Why did they hold him, and prevent his going?--he should lose the money--he must go. No! they would not let him. He hid his face in his burning hands, and feebly bemoaned his own weakness, and the cruelty of his persecutors. A short pause, and he shouted out a few doggerel rhymes--the last he had ever learned. He rose in bed, drew up his withered limbs, and rolled about in uncouth positions; he was acting--he was at the theatre. A minutes silence, and he murmured the burden of some roaring song. He had reached the old house at last--how hot the room was. He had been ill, very ill, but he was well now, and happy. Fill up his glass. Who was that, that dashed it from his lips? It was the same persecutor that had followed him before. He fell back upon his pillow and moaned aloud. A short period of oblivion, and he was wandering through a tedious maze of low-arched rooms--so low, sometimes, that he must creep upon his hands and knees to make his way along; it was close and dark, and every way he turned, some obstacle impeded his progress. There were insects, too, hideous crawling things, with eyes that stared upon him, and filled the very air around, glistening horribly amidst the thick darkness of the place. The walls and ceiling were alive with reptiles--the vault expanded to an enormous size--frightful figures flitted to and fro--and the faces of men he knew, rendered hideous by gibing and mouthing, peered out from among them; they were searing him with heated irons, and binding his head with cords till the blood started; and he struggled madly for life. At the close of one of these paroxysms, when I had with great difficulty held him down in his bed, he sank into what appeared to be a slumber. Overpowered with watching and exertion, I had closed my eyes for a few minutes, when I felt a violent clutch on my shoulder. I awoke instantly. He had raised himself up, so as to seat himself in bed--a dreadful change had come over his face, but consciousness had returned, for he evidently knew me. The child, who had been long since disturbed by his ravings, rose from its little bed, and ran towards its father, screaming with fright--the mother hastily caught it in her arms, lest he should injure it in the violence of his insanity; but, terrified by the alteration of his features, stood transfixed by the bedside. He grasped my shoulder convulsively, and, striking his breast with the other hand, made a desperate attempt to articulate.
The Pickwick Papers page 18 The Pickwick Papers page 20