- CHAPTER XXV. A SEVENTEENTH CENTURY POISON.
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A SEVENTEENTH CENTURY POISON.
PANOLA'S letters and a visit from an occasional tourist, attracted by Docteur Canonge's scientific fame, were the chief events in life to Mark now, when suddenly one morning Professor Römer presented himself at the gate. He was travel-worn and weary, and did not look at all like a respectable individual, his habiliments being considerably the worse for wear. But he had bought himself a shiny tall beaver hat, and a new cloth overcoat, which he displayed to Mark with all the joy of a child.
Mark fairly embraced Römer, and Docteur Canonge rapturously kissed him on both cheeks. Römer was at home in a few seconds, and then, after resting a day, he proceeded to enjoy himself in his own fashion. he brought out his blotting books and tin boxes, and took possession of part of the library. He was gratified at the opportunity to study the unknown flora of this country. Cherokee Joe had made his appearance again, and had taken up his quarters at Docteur Canonge's. He wouldn't go to Madame Bolling's house, but he might be seen at any hour of the day lounging about with his gun on his shoulder, or bringing a brace of teal or snipe from "the ponds."| | 224
Lizbette was always willing to give Joe what she called. "his wittles," because he kept the larder supplied with game. Joe slept in the hay-loft over the stable at night; but he could be found in the evenings sitting bolt upright at the kitchen fire, gazing into the blaze, and breaking his obstinate silence with the customary "ughs," in reply to Lizbette, who was glad to have anybody to talk to, even if it was only an Indian.
Professor Römer made friends with Joe, who showed him where all the rarest and strangest plants grew. One morning the professor came into Mark's study with his box of specimens well filled, and Joe followed after him, bearing a game-bag stuffed with the similar spoils of innocent science. Joe stood and watched with great curiosity, while the professor seated himself and began to and label his specimens for drying. It amused Mark too, and he aided the professor in laying the plants straight between the sheets of blotting paper which the professor carried about for this purpose. The professor talked all the time in broken English. He was a very communicative, genial man.
Joe had deposited his bag on the table, and stood now by it, immovably upright, with his hand upon his gun; his bright, black eves glancing curiously at Mark and the professor as they worked and talked about the plants before them.
"This mornin'," said the professor, "I have had | | 225 great success. I saw growing outside in the road, near von leetle house mit verandah, quite ruinous now, a plant what I have never yet see in dis contree. It grow plentiful in Europe, and I know it dere well. I was sure it could not be natif here. It stray ver like out of die garten of die house, or out of some cultivated place. It was die plant dat I do know. I examine him well. He was quite leetle. But I know die leaf. So I tell Joe dat I like to go inside in dat leetle house place for to see if zere was ever a garten. Joe say 'ugh,' and we clinic over die fence. Dere was no gate or it was nail up, and we get in dis leetle house garten. It was so wild. Every ting was vild. It have been long neglectit, but dere vas, oh, great variety of thos' interestin' plants dere dat I tink I ever see in one place togedder. Der was many natif plants, very interestin', and also dere was oders not natif. It was mos remarkable, the number of plants medicinal dere. I gader a great many. Some what you call die plants of poison. But so all is medicine. Medicine is poison, bad use; and poison is medicine, good use. I find dis leetle plant plenty in dere. Some of him was bloomin', here is he." And Professor Römer held up a spray of pea blossoms Mark started. He recognized the flowers. They were of the same kind as those that Madame Bolling had laid upon Chicora's breast. Joe saw this hasty movement. His eye twinkled as he met | | 226 Mark's, but he said nothing. He only stared harder at the professor, who was holding the little spray aloft, as he continued talking on rapidly.
"This pretty leetle papilionaceous flower is a very dangerous plant. It is an astragalus. It is the lathyrus sativus. In die seventeenth century it work much mischief. Die poebel eat it in dere bread, or in odor ways. It have no bad taste, only sweet an' ver' pleasant. But when it is eat good deal it have ver' bad effects. A great rigidity of die limbs will ensue, causing loss of all die muscular power beyon' die reach of cure. Dere is no premonitory pain; die patient experience only ver' slight diminution of strength, when all of sudden he fine his limbs all rigid an' movement is impossible. You will feed pigeons on die seeds, and dey will walk no more. I have try on die pigeons myself. George, Duke of Wirtemberg, in 1671, publish an edict forbidding die planting of dis pea, an' Leopold, his successor, publish two edicts, in 1705 and 1714, against dis leetle plant, an' now I finds him in America. Is it not ver' interestin'?"
The professor was so occupied in pasting down his "interestin'" specimen of "dis leetle pea," that he did not observe Mark's growing pallor, or the expression of intense horror that overspread his sensitive countenance. He shuddered as he looked at the plant which the unconscious professor was quietly spreading out and arranging to suit his fastidious taste.| | 227
"My God!" exclaimed horror-stricken Mark. Cherokee Joe leaned over, and looked at the plant, neatly stretched out, and stuck in its place by bits of paper glued with mucilage, lying before the professor.
"You tink dat so dreadful?" continued the professor. "Dere was plenty of plants in dat leetle garten worser as dat. Dere was many ver' wicked plants dere. I haf got dem all. I will show you."
Mark recovered himself. He dared not say more. He must take time to think before he acted. God! it was awful! awful! The drops stood upon his brow.
Joe drew back, after he had taken a careful look at the plant, with a deep "ugh." Then suddenly thrusting his red hand before the professor's eyes, almost knocking off the savant's spectacles, he said, "What that?"
They were the identical peas he had shown to Victor in years previous.
The professor took them out of Joe's hand and examined them.
"Why, those are the very peas," he said. "That is the fruit of the lathyrus sativus. What are you to do wid dem? Dey must not be eat."
"Take to Satana," said Joe, as he had said before to Victor. And Joe gathered the peas up out of the professor's hand, and replaced them in his skin pouch.| | 228
"Is there no antidote for this plant known?" asked Mark at length, when he could command his voice.
"None," replied Römer, laconically. "I have tried every zing on die pigeons. Dey never got any better."
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