The Unfinished Manuscript: 1884

 

diphtheria skeleton stranging child richard tennant cooper 1912
Diphtheria strangling a child, Richard Tennant Cooper, 1912 https://wellcomecollection.org/works/gaqvgk4s

The Unfinished Manuscript

Literary men have, somehow, received a kind of social black eye; that is, no one believes that they are quite as good husbands or as good fathers as they should be; and, from the observatory of a casual view, this is correct. Few people know to what extremities literary men are reduced. Few, very few indeed, know how they court the so-called muse of inclination. The man who handles the drawing-knife or plane can, if he be in good physical condition, do his work creditably; but the literary man, though he be in robust health, and though he may not have an ache or a pain, is frequently unable to do acceptable work. This is a curious freak which no student of metaphysics can explain, for the mind of man, although it is constantly becoming clearer and more capable of comprehension, is still something which a Newton cannot define, nor a Bacon perfectly explore. A man’s mind seems to have but little to do with his affections, for, although his heart may be warm, his words are sometimes cold.

“I want you to go to bed,” said Mr. Mecklamore, the well-known novelist, to his little girl. “Every night when I sit down to work you persist in snorting around. Go to bed; I’ve got work to do.”

“She can’t understand you,” said Mrs. Mecklamore; “I don’t think that she is well.”

“She’s always ill when I want to work. She seems to study the time. What do you want to snort that way for? You are enough to drive a man crazy!”

“Robert, I don’t think the little girl can help it,” the wife replied. “She is too young to know anything about the importance of your work.”

“Well it’s time she was learning,” the author exclaimed, turning, with an angry air. “Other people can work without interruption. I don’t see why I should be imposed on. I’ll go down town, I can write there without interruption,” and he gathered up his papers and left the house.

Quietly, and without interruption, he worked for several hours. Occasionally, when his mind was deep in the molding of a character, he would see a little anxious face, and hear an exclamation of gladness; but he waved aside the vision and worked on. Late at night a boy came with a note. The message ran:

“I am very uneasy about Dora; I think she has the diphtheria.”

“My work is done for tonight,” he mused; and, arranging his papers with a discontented air, he went home. Ho found the doctor there. The little sufferer smiled at him when he entered.

She tried to say something, but “papa’s come,” was all he could understand.

An unfinished manuscript stared at him.

“Is it a very violent attack?” he asked of the physician.

“Yes, very.”

The mother sat on the edge of the bed. The father approached. He could not see the lines of the manuscript now. The little girl choked, and they lifted her up. The father put his arm under her head. The unfinished manuscript was dim.

“She has been ailing for several days,” said the mother, “but we did not think there was anything serious the matter with her. She has been so gay and so full of frolic that we didn’t think anything could ail her.”

The sufferer looked at her father and tried to speak, but failing, she put her hand into his and smiled. The unfinished manuscript was dim. With a struggle she said:

“Am I bad?”

“No, angel,” whispered the father.

“Do you want me to go to bed?”

“No darling.” The unfinished manuscript was fading more and more.

“She is past all help,” the doctor said.

The mother hid her face in the window curtain. The father took her in his arms. She looked at him and was dead.

The unfinished manuscript had faded.

The Daily Globe [St. Paul MN] 3 January 1884: p. 3

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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