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fortunately for him, poor man, the list of deformities did not end here, but was augmented by the appearance of the head and face. The little gentleman's head was large and long; he was bald over the forehead, and his hair, clipped short and bristly, showed a surprising field of bumps and excrescences; interesting, no doubt, to a phrenologist, but unsightly enough to an ordinary beholder. Then his eyes were small and beady, a trifle crossed I fancied, but bright and twinkling like a ferret's.
beard was thick and full, but was trimmed to a point that appeared usually elevated in advance of the rest of his person, and so made more remarkable the long lank face. Hair and beard, and also a pair of beetling eyebrows, were of a peculiar rusty-red colour, that showed up in sickly contrast against a shiny sallow skin, and somehow seemed to remind me of rotten apples.
The room into which the dentist led me was what Londoners call the first-floor-front.' There was nothing unusual in it beyond what one commonly sees in a dentist's consulting-room. It was fur-, nished sombrely and heavily, with leather-covered chairs, ponderous bookcases, and dark-coloured hangings and carpet. There were two windows, and a sort of table secrétaire stood below one of them, loaded with dental instruments and appliances. Another table occupied a corner, bearing several mahogany cases of suspicious appearance; while a movable gaslamp of unusual shape stood on a stand near it. The mantelpiece, above a fireplace in which a small fire was apparently dying out, and various brackets and bookshelves were pi'ed with plaster-casts and other general dental litter.
With exception of these particulars the apartment presented the
general aspect of a study or sittingroom. Stay, no! I have omitted one detail of importance. In the centre of the room, and facing one of the windows, stood THE CHAIR; that horrid combination of bolts and bars, sliding-rests and screws, that a carious generation knows only too well.
I looked at this engine with much the same feelings that a heretic in the judgment-hall of the Inquisition might be supposed to regard the sheeted rack in the dark corner. There it stood, seeming to carry an air of infernal triumph about it, and wearing a wolfish look in every joint and screw. I think some dim presentiment of what was to happen to myself mingled with those nervous apprehensions that any one may experience when they set eyes on the dentist's chair.
Flanking the chair on either side were two pillar-like stands, the one containing the usual water conveniences, and the other being, as I afterwards discovered, a receptacle for the apparatus used in generating and administering protoxide of nitrogen or laughinggas,' as it is popularly called.
In these days, when a visit to a dentist is no uncommon occurrence in the lives of any of us-worse luck!-I daresay you are surprised at my retaining for so many years such a full remembrance of the little details with which I have
just furnished you. But if you
will have patience to bear with me to the end of my story, I think you will see no reason to wonder that my memory has been so precise.
By the way, have you ever observed the curious transformation that comes over you directly the door closes behind you, and you are once fairly within the dentist's sanctum? That you have left your toothache behind you in the street,
or in what schoolboys aptly term 'the funking-room,' is an experience that surely no one will gainsay; but there is a further manifestation of the same feeling that I would draw your attention to. At the moment when the door has closed, and you feel that you are now entirely in the power of the gentleman who is about to operate on your offending ivories,' you become conscious of a feeling of moral abasement taking possession of you.
However mild-mannered be the individual dentist you confrontand these gentlemen are preëminent for their suavity-you have a singular desire to treat him with most exaggerated courtesy. You would like to bow constantly, and address him as 'Sir!' You laugh feverishly and inordinately at the tamest and stupidest joke he may emit. You abase yourself before him, feeling that he is to be your executioner in some sort, and that you are helplessly and utterly in his power. I had all that feeling on the occasion I am telling of, and I think it was somewhat more absorbing than common; for I remember having some very unusual thrills of nervous agitation, though there was nothing in especial to have caused them. I suppose it was presentiment of my coming fate.
Well, after a few preliminary questions, which he scarcely permitted me to answer, Mr. Masseter, with the dexterity of his craft, adroitly piloted me into the chair. Once safely within its embrace, I became like plastic dough under his manipulation. He hovered over me, examining my mouth, in a ghoul-like manner that was in itself sufficiently discomposing; and while he kept up a perpetual undercurrent of-Now, I'm not going to hurt you in the least! It's perfectly painless!
Now,' said the little man, after he had finished his explorations, 'I'll tell you what, sir: that's a very awkward stump of yours! It may give me a little trouble to extract; and come out it must, if you are to be freed from pain. Now what do you say to taking the gas, eh? It's perfectly harmless; effects don't last ten minutes; and it will save all pain. Luckily the apparatus is all ready, as I was using it this morning; and I won't charge you anything extra for it. Come now, what do you say?'
This he accented with divers grins and gestures that he probably meant to be cordial and persuasive, but that only served, unfortunately, to render his singular appearance more uncouth if possible. However, I felt his proposition to be so reasonable and kind that I at once assented to it.
Immediately that I had signified my willingness to be put under the influence of the gas, Mr. Masseter opened the stand or case that I mentioned, and having arranged the apparatus within it, he drew from it a coil of tube, one end of which was in connection with the gas-receiver, and the other was furnished with a sort of mouth and nosepiece. This mouthpiece he adjusted to my face as I sat back in the chair, telling me to respire gently.
I daresay many of you have
taken the gas at one time or another, and pretty well know what the experience is like; but I may as well describe to you the effects it had upon me.
I was first of all conscious of a kind of half-choking sensation in the throat and some uneasiness in the chest, but that quickly passed off. Then I began to get gradually more and more exhilarated in mind-somewhat like dram-drinking would affect one, but of course quicker, and also more easily and buoyantly. I wanted to talk, but the infernal mouthpiece prevented me. I seemed conscious that I had lots of things to say that were really very witty; but no, I could not get utterance for them. All sorts of humorous ideas struggled vaguely in my mind; and though I felt I was growing very silly, yet I wished to let the feeling increase. Then it appeared to me to be necessary that I should get up in order to give free vent to my mirthful tendencies; but no, the dentist held me down in the chair, and kept the mouthpiece still over my face. I struggled to get free, and fought with my hands to release myself; for I felt that there was a whole tempest of laughter within me that ought to be let out. Every moment, too, the dentist himself and the whole situation seemed to become more and more ludicrous to my mind, and I strove and strove with the little man, who was fairly lying on top of me now, until I suppose I lost consciousness more or less.
I came to all of a sudden, with a singular feeling of shame and contrition, as it were, for the foolishness I had been guilty of. But one consideration bore all others down before it. The pain in my jaw was intensified instead of being relieved.
Mr. Masseter was standing in front of me, looking rather rueful.
'Have you got it out?' I gasped.
No,' he said smilingly. The fact is you are a little rough under the gas. It excited you a good deal; and so, as you kept moving and struggling with me, I did not get a chance to operate till just as you were coming round again.'
'Well, what's to be done? What do you propose?' I said querulously.
'O,' he replied, 'it will be all right if you'll only just permit me to do what is needful in cases of a similar idiosyncrasy to your own.'
What is that?' I questioned. Nothing that need discompose you, sir,' he answered; merely to let me fasten your limbs for the moment, so that I may get at your mouth when you are under the gas. I've several times had to do just the same thing to lady-pa
Unusual, yes, in a general way; but every dentist who employs the gas must sometimes have recourse to it, or else operate without the gas at all; which, in your own case, would be very painful, as I have told you.'
'How do you mean to do it, then?' I asked him.
In this way,' he answered: 'I have here two collars or bracelets united by a short chain. Now if you will pass your hands behind the back of the chair, and permit me to fasten your wrists with this contrivance, I shall be able to get to your mouth without your fighting with me when you are under the influence of the gas. There is a bar here, too, that I can shut down over your knees to control them, and a strap to pass across your shins and keep you from kicking.'
My jaw was now aching so furiously that I was ready to close with any plan that offered speedy relief.
'Fire away,' I said. you like, only rid me of this pain.' So, in a minute or two, I was made securely captive in the chair, in the manner as aforesaid. I am not a suspicious man, and as every thing seemed natural enough, I had not the least reason for objecting to the plan. Certainly I felt a little foolish, and the thought crossed my mind that, if the unprepossessing little man who was busying himself about me meant foul play of any sort, he had me most completely in his power. But there was no excuse for harbouring such a notion; and if events had taken the course they were intended to, I should have had no occasion to grumble at my temporary bonds. That they did not do so the sequel of my tale will quickly show, but of course I could have no prevision at that moment of what actually was to follow.
So it was with perfect composure and acquiescence that I again felt the mouthpiece put over my face, and that I recommenced inhaling the gas. I underwent much the same succession of feelings on this second occasion as before, with this difference, that my bonds prevented my struggling and interfering with the dentist in the performance of his work. When I recovered from the gas, therefore, I found, to my delight, that the job was over, my offending member gone, and my pain with it. Mr. Masseter was holding a glass of water to my mouth, and I felt altogether in a state of tranquil blessedness.
So far, then, things had gone according to settled plan and intention; now they were quickly to ssume a course extraordinary.
What fiend prompted him to do it, I do not know; but, just at this juncture, Mr. Masseter asked me to let him take a cast of my upper jaw. It was from the lower, you understand, that the broken stump had just been extracted. The reason of his request was that I have a peculiar arrangement, or disarrangement if you like, of the teeth, and the dentist, so he told me, was desirous to have a cast of the jaw.
As you may suppose, the request, my compliance with it, and its execution occupied such a short moment, that I never thought to ask for release from my bonds first; and, to do the poor little man justice, I am perfectly sure it never occurred to him either.
Everything being in readiness, Mr. Masseter stepped over to me, and, telling me to open my mouth to its widest extent, he placed in it a sort of little spoon or trowel filled with some composition resembling putty in consistence. This spoon was flat at the bottom, and shaped so as to fit the mouth, which it nearly filled. By raising and manipulating it a little the composition came in contact with the palate and upper teeth, and being soft, moulded itself to their shape.
Just at the precise moment when my teeth were fixed in the composition in this way, the dentist moved to the table to reach a spatula or probe or some such instrument. He said something, but I failed to catch what it was, as he moved away from me. Then, to my utter amazement, he suddenly fell to the ground, turning partially towards me as he sank, so that his head and back came up against the panelling below the window in front of me, and were supported by it.
Naturally I thought he had but tripped over the carpet or some
thing, and I instinctively made an effort to rise and help him. Of course I could not do that, fixed as I was, and I was rather amused at the contretemps. I looked to see him spring up again at once, as a man would under the circumstances. For several moments I watched him, all the while seeing nothing but the ridiculous in the incident. Then my mirth gradually gave way to concern, and that became in its turn actual alarm. What could be the matter? The man did not move a muscle or even speak!
There he lay, or rather crouched, without visible motion of any kind, just as he had fallen; one leg was drawn up under him, the other extended; his back and shoulders were resting against the wall, his arms hanging loosely down, and his face fully turned in my direction. His eyes and mouth were open, the former fixed and staring, with a certain glassiness coming into them, while his complexion was beginning to assume a more ghastly and livid look. What on earth could be the matter with the man? I asked myself. Was he in a fit of some sort? Hardly, for there was none of that convulsive motion one usually associates with the idea of a fit. Then what was it? Could it be possible that the man-was-dead?
I had enough knowledge of medical science to know that these deformed subjects, born into the world with a body that had seemingly been the sport of creative nature, were often gifted with emotional capacities of a very extraordinary kind. In other words, it sometimes happened that a body, physically a structural abortion, might contain nervous centres and organisations capable of singularly delicate sensation and faculty. Again, I knew that persons, in whom was this hypersen
You will wonder what I was doing all this time. Briefly, then, I was making the strongest and most frantic efforts to free myself from my unfortunate position.
This is how I was situated. I was sitting in the chair, which was like an ordinary solidly built large armchair. The back had been let down to a considerable angle, so that I was really in a half-reclining posture. My arms were held
round the back of the chair, behind and partially below me, and were fastened at the wrists in the manner already described. So tightly were the bracelets buckled round my wrists, that it was impossible to slip them off; while the coupling-chain between them. had apparently been passed through a ring attached to the chair itself.
Across my knees was a bar that passed through the arms of the chair, and that was immovably fixed; while over my shins was a strap, completing the bonds that held me most securely fast.
To add to the miseries of my position, the spoon and its contents yet remained in my mouth, nor was any effort of mine able to dislodge it. Biting made no impression on the metal spoon, while every movement of tongue and teeth only forced the composition into my cheeks and gave it a firmer hold. I was simply bound and gagged in the securest possible manner. Had I been a slighterbuilt man, I might have contrived to wriggle my legs upwards, and so possibly I might have twisted