SINCE the tooth was mine, and a molar, this narrative must be a personal one; but while I shall not deny or attempt to conceal the heroism with which I endured pain, neither that heroism nor the pain is the subject of my tale. This is the account of events accident upon a toothache in Morocco.
About the end of May I received word in Marrakesh that a distinguished French officer, of whom I had long besought an interview, would receive me during the first days of June at his house in Rabat. Coupled with the invitation was a request that I take in my charge a young fellow from the mountains, Lahoucine, who had never traveled and who spoke no French, and bring him to the officer in Rabat. From Marrakesh to Rabat is a simple journey. One goes directly to Casablanca, and there changes to another bus for Rabat. I decided to take the six o’clock bus for Casablanca on Thursday morning.
Half-past five Thursday morning found me at a table on the terrace of the Café Glacier beside the bus station, drinking café au lait and waiting for Lahoucine to be brought to me by his brother. In the cool light of the dawn they came along the street together. Lahoucine proved to be a personable, well-mannered youngster neatly dressed in native fashion. His older brother, formerly a soldier under the officer to whom I was to take the younger, was a dignified, admirable fellow.
‘You will watch over my brother?’ he asked me, anxiously.
I promised not to let Lahoucine out of my sight.
‘You,’ he said to Lahoucine, ‘will never leave this Christian’s side.’
‘Nay, my brother, I will not leave him.’
Then Smith and Morton came along, a little shaky from a European party the night before. When they had had some brandy to pick them up and the Moors had drunk their coffee, we piled into the bus. We Europeans sat in front, Lahoucine in a seat at the rear; but I continually looked round to make sure no one had made off with him, nor he with himself.
Suddenly my tooth began to ache with a sharp pain that was from the start almost unbearably racking. For a while I tried to convince myself that it was not so bad as it felt; the tooth had been treated years before and there was no nerve in it. But I soon gave up reasoning with myself. There was no doubt about the pain; it pulled at all my mouth, at my neck, at my eyeballs, which smarted with ammoniacal tears.
Casablanca is a big, modern city, with excellent doctors and dentists, hospitals and morticians; but no one in the bus had had a toothache that year and none knew the name of a dentist there, though Morton had seen a dentist’s placard in the window of a big office building in the Place de France.
We were scheduled to arrive in Casablanca shortly after eleven, and I did not doubt that I should have time there to seek out a dentist. But we lost time on the way, and meanwhile I remembered that all offices would be closed at noon. It was not till quarter to twelve that we came into the Place de France. Desperately I scanned the windows as we sped by. And there was a big sign: DENTISTE.
Almost in a frenzy now, I escaped from the bus as soon as it stopped; but, goaded by pain, I was no quicker than Lahoucine, bound by his oath. He rushed to join me on the sidewalk, grabbing my hand amid the crowd. I looked at him wildly.
‘Mridh bi dhersa!’ I cried, which meant that I had a toothache, but such a toothache as in their proverbs the Arabs will not wish upon their enemy.
Then I ran, dragging Lahoucine after me. It lacked but a minute or two of noon when we arrived at the office building, and as we plunged into the dentist’s anteroom the clock struck twelve. Happily the dentist had not yet gone, and he would see me at once. Lahoucine rose to follow me; but the maid in attendance said, ‘No, you must stay here.’
I tore my hand from his clasp.
‘Don’t let him out,’ I moaned to the maid. ‘We are bound by an oath.’ And I left him sitting on the chair as if nothing but the crack of doom could start him from it.
The dentist’s office was clean and upto-date even by American standards; but the dentist himself was a dark Moor, over six feet tall. My heart sank. How could a Moor be a dentist? Nevertheless, he spoke French well, and he had quite the Christian’s way of opening a mouth and probing round in it.
‘There is only one thing to do,’ he pronounced. ‘Have it out here and now.’
We Americans, with our glib science, have heard that it is dangerous to extract a tooth while there is acute inflammation round it. Could a Moor know this? I ventured to inform him.
‘But you are in time,’ he answered quietly. ‘There is as yet no danger. Besides, I shall not hurt you.’
Oh, my little faith in this people who had ever shown more wisdom than my own! But no; I would not trust him.
‘Put in some drops to dull the pain,’ I said, ‘and let me go on to Rabat.’
He put drops in skillfully, but, doubting if they would relieve me, wrote something on a slip of paper. ‘Get these tablets at a druggist’s and take them if the pain becomes unbearable.’
So I paid him and bade him goodbye — the man who would have saved me all that was to come.
Lahoucine rose gracefully from his chair and, again clasping my hand, returned with me to the bus station. I fancied a little relief already, and his face brightened at the news.
‘What do you do when you have a toothache?’ I asked.
‘We go to the barber.’
‘And what does the barber do?’
‘He stands in the doorway of his shop and chooses two big men as they pass in the street. He invites them into his shop. Then you sit on the floor; and one big man grabs you so that you cannot move your arms, and the other big man grabs you so that you cannot move your legs. And the barber pulls out the tooth.’
‘And what do you do then?’
‘We yell,’ said Lahoucine.
I could eat no lunch. During the afternoon’s ride on to Rabat pain returned to my tooth and jaw with doubled ferocity, so that by the time we arrived at our destination I was like a crazed animal. I ran to the hotel, Lahoucine, gripping my hand, streaming behind me. From the hotel I ran him to a cab, for if I went slow I bellowed. The cabman drove us to Salé, where lived the French major I had taken the journey to see. He welcomed us cordially and his wife offered me tea, but I stood in need of more urgent service.
‘For God’s sake, give me the name of a dentist in Rabat!’
They knew of none; but the major, all sympathy, telephoned regimental medical headquarters, and headquarters said there was a Dr. Dubois in Rabat, of whom it had had no experience but of whom it had heard good report. Whirling round the room, I bade them good-bye, and in a moment was all but lashing the cabman’s horse back to Rabat.
An Arab servant opened the doctor’s door to me.
‘Oujaa bezzaf!’ I cried, which meant I was in great pain. He vanished a moment, then returned to show me into the office. It was an airy office, all in sanitary white; and everything in it, from the modern dental chair and its basin to the desk, had a holy, germicidal look. A soft voice behind me said: —
‘Vous souffrez, monsieur?’
There stood the dentist, white and germicidal as his office, with snowwhite hair and little pointed beard, snow-white eyebrows, snow-white garments. The only touch of color about him was in his bright little brown eyes, which looked up over his spectacles at me with solemn sympathy and solemn wisdom.
‘It’s terrible, doctor,’ I groaned, ‘ but I do not know what you can do about it; for I can hardly open my mouth, and cannot endure the touch of even my tongue on the tooth.’
‘Pray be seated.’
When, between us, my mouth had been opened and he had explored a bit, he gazed at me through his spectacles, twining and untwining his hands.
‘The abscess is not yet formed,’ he said. ‘I can prevent it and cure you. Did you ever hear of creosote?’
‘I shall drop creosote into the hole in your tooth. I shall seal it in there with a light layer of cement. It will seep down through the nerve canals and destroy the infection.’
Seal that tooth! The little science of mine which had thought it dangerous for the Moor to extract the tooth now shivered at the thought of stopping up the hole in it; yet I said nothing. I was in a mood to submit to anything. Besides, Dr. Dubois was hypnotic in some strange, mediæval way, a frail personification of dogma.
When he had sealed the creosote within the tooth, he said: —
‘You will soon be relieved. Meanwhile, I wish you to make external applications of hot water. I once conducted with a distinguished colleague a series of experiments in the efficacy of hot applications. We discovered that a temperature of between 41 and 45 degrees (centigrade) was most efficacious in preventing and dispersing congestion. You know, of course, that inflammation produces a congestion of blood. It will be worth your while to buy a thermometer on your way back to your hotel. Order hot water brought to your room. Soak a towel in it and fold it thus — thus, mind you. Take the temperature of the towel, and when it has fallen to 45 degrees apply it to your cheek and the side of your throat. Let it remain there. Then renew it.’
‘You mean,’ I asked, ‘renew it when it has cooled to a temperature of 41 degrees ? ’
‘Thank you, doctor,’I said, with tears of gratitude and pain.
On the way back to my hotel I could not bring myself to buy a thermometer; and I am glad of this, because it exonerates Dr. Dubois, whose kindly hypnotic spell I still feel. But I did buy the tablets the Moor had prescribed for the pain.
Morton was waiting in my room. He had a smattering of chemistry, and by a formula of ten-syllable words printed on the box of tablets discovered their active agent to be chloral hydrate.
‘What,’ I asked him, ‘is the effect of alcohol on chloral?’
‘Alcohol,’ replied Morton, ‘should heighten the effect of chloral.’
‘Then a drink —?’
‘Wholly advisable. Let’s go.’
And we went.
During the evening I took many of the chloral pills. They deadened the pain; and, reënforced by a coefficient, secured me some sleep that night. At five in the morning, however, I was aware of a curious feeling in the side of my face and my neck; and, hastening to the mirror, I saw that they were swollen. By swollen I mean filled out, so that no line or crease was left in the flesh. Consequently my face on that side looked the face of a monstrous baby, whereas the other side was hollow and creased like that of a faminestricken ancient. For a long time I studied this countenance, chuckling because I could not open my mouth to laugh.
When I showed up at the dentist’s later, he rubbed his fragile hands together.
‘Ah,’ he breathed, ‘the abscess is forming. Come at seven this evening, and I will lance it for you.’
Talking about what one may call the general dental condition of Morocco, he slipped back into his own past. During his early life in Paris he had specialized in medicine and had spent all his time and money in perfecting a diet cure for tuberculosis. This was infallible; but other physicians would not acknowledge it, and he avowed to me that he had never cured a patient, except an animal or two; but that was because patients had always come to him too late and had to die. He presented me with two brochures he had written on the subject, and even inscribed them for me. With a parting injunction then to apply hot water to my jaw and neck during the day, and always water at between 41 and 45 degrees of heat, he accompanied me affectionately to the door.
When I returned at seven in the evening, he took a good look into my mouth and pronounced the abscess ripe. He then fixed me with his bright little eyes.
‘It is the unfortunate custom,’ he said, ‘to open such abscesses with a knife; but incisions heal rapidly, closing the wound, whereas it should remain open to drain for eight days. Ah, the folly of practitioners! But my intention is to burn a hole into your abscess, for a burnt hole is slow to close.’
Naturally, I sickened at the thought; but he succeeded in injecting some anæsthetic which numbed my jaw. While this was taking effect, he drew out a long cord from a drawer, which he attached at one end to an electric circuit and at the other to something that was very big for a needle. But it was this pointed something which soon whitened and glared. When he applied it to the abscess I felt no pain at all. Smoke rose from my mouth with the acrid smell of grilling meat. That was all.
Then he laid aside the needle, disconnected the cord, and looked at his handiwork.
‘Strange,’ he said in a low voice, ‘I have burned an excellent hole, but no pus comes out.’ He probed round with an instrument. ‘Yes, the hole opens into the sac of the abscess, but no pus comes out. Strange.’
‘What’s to be done?’
‘Nothing. I have made the hole; the pus must find its way.’
This being settled, he took up talk of his own life again. After starving in Paris, he had married and gone to a general practice in Martinique. Here all the patients he told me of, both those who had come early and those who had come late, had died.
In a premonitory voice he said: ‘I must leave town to-morrow morning early for a consultation, and shall not return to Rabat before Monday. Such abscesses as yours often prove fatal. I will not say that only one thing now stands between you and death, but I will say that only one thing stands between you and serious results; that is — applications of water heated to a temperature between 41 and 45 degrees.’
With these words in mind and another brochure in hand, I returned to the hotel. During the night the pus found its way.
By morning my whole countenance, from temple to shoulder, was yet more greatly swollen. When I appeared before the wife of the hotel manager behind the office counter, she threw her head back and broke into shrieks of laughter. The more she tried to master herself, the wilder her fits of laughing; until, exhausted, she wiped her eyes and regarded me steadily. Horror then spread over her face.
‘I have known three people with faces like yours,’ she said, ‘and they died.’
Her husband joined in. ‘My brother’s wife was six months in hospital with an abscessed tooth and on the verge of death. You must take care. You must have it treated.’
‘I am going to Dr. Dubois, as it is,’ I said.
‘He has a diploma; he must be good,’ they said.
Being still in pain, I went forth to the druggist’s for more chloral tablets. As I passed the Arab porter at the door, a good friend of mine, he whispered, seriously, ‘Glaa-ha, glaa-ha,’ which meant ‘Have it out.’
The chemist gave me one glance. ‘Unless you take every precaution, you will die,’ he said, gratuitously. But he was very kind, and prepared for me a decoction of poppy seeds and some root or other to hold in my mouth (as hot as possible).
Meanwhile Madame la Gérante (the hotel manager’s wife) had lent me a small alcohol stove with a kettle which held enough water for a cup of tea. Round this I revolved during Saturday and Saturday night. First I heated a measure of the druggist’s decoction in the kettle. While I held this in my mouth I refilled the kettle with water and set it to boil. By the time the water boiled, my mouth was quite numb, though scalded. So I ejected the decoction, poured hot water on the towel, folded it, counted 45 instead of taking its temperature, and lay on the bed with the towel at my jaw. After an hour, I went through this process again; and so on. I could not eat; and I shunned people, for, with the exception of the Arab servants, every person I saw was reminded by me of friends who, from such a state as mine, had descended rapidly to death.
I read the dentist’s brochures; and though they mentioned no patient’s survival, they were impressive. In fact I pondered a great deal on Dr. Dubois, and concluded that my liking for him could never change. If I were indeed to die soon under his treatment, I would not forget that I had failed to buy a thermometer; and I would speak well of him in the next world. His life seemed to me sad in that he had everywhere done his best, yet had been doomed to kill where he had studied to save.
My face grew bigger and bigger. On Sunday morning I could not open my eye. When I presented myself downstairs in the office, the manager and his wife assumed a funereal look.
‘Yesterday I could laugh,’ said she, ‘but to-day it is evident that your condition is grave.’
Well, I remained standing by the office counter, my head sunk with the drag of congestion. Suddenly a hand touched my arm. I looked round, and there stood a man hardly more than five feet high, with a noble, pale countenance and big dark eyes. His raven hair fell to his shoulders. Over his lips drooped a silky black moustache; silky black whiskers flowed down the sides of his face. Both moustache and whiskers were sweetly scented.
‘Monsieur will pardon me,’ he said, ‘but may I lay my hand on his cheek?’
‘Certainly; go as far as you like,’ I replied, for there was no mistaking the shiver of compassion which fluttered his voice and all his hairs. At my consent he smiled brilliantly, and big purewhite teeth shone through his moustache. A woman six feet tall stood behind him, whose face assumed a look of sorrow. Light as a feather, his hand lay on my cheek a second.
‘Ah,’ he sighed, ‘your face is swollen.’
‘That is certainly true,’ said Madame la Gérante.
‘Now,’ said the noble little stranger, ‘may I look in your mouth?’
‘That would give me great pleasure,’ I answered, feeling myself respond to a ceremoniousness which both the stranger’s appearance and his accent accused of Castilian elegance. Outside the hotel door attended a handsome motor. The six-foot lady sent word to the chauffeur to wait; her husband was detained for a few minutes.
‘Would monsieur be so kind as to sit down on this chair?’
I sat down. He parted my jaws skillfully and looked in between them. ‘Ah, yes,’ he said, shutting my jaws, ‘the abscess should be opened.’
‘But it has been opened, and with a hole that will not close for eight days.’
‘To be sure,’ he said, sadly, ‘but such a little hole and such a very great infection. Monsieur, you will never get well that way. You need a wide slash of the knife. I am a dentist, monsieur. I have been court dentist to the Sultans of Morocco for twenty years. Permit me to give you my card.’
I have lost the card and forgotten the name that was on it, with all its y’s; but I am sure it is written in some golden book in Heaven.
‘Unhappily, being on a motor trip with my wife, I have no instruments with me. Moreover, to-day is Sunday, and I know not certainly that I shall be able to borrow any in Rabat. But, monsieur, I shall do my best to find a knife, and if I succeed I will myself open the abscess for you this afternoon at three-thirty.’
‘May the Lord bless you.’
‘Not at all, monsieur.’ He advised my applying wads of cotton soaked in permanganate to the wound. That would draw things and would prevent the spread of infection. ‘But,’ he added, ‘you have a bad abscess, monsieur; and I will do my best to find a knife.’
With these kind wnrds he went away. His wife’s high face brightened, and her smile floated to me through the perfume left in the air by her husband’s whiskers.
I laid the card before the hotel manager and his wife.
‘We observe that he has been dentist to the Sultans,’ they said, ‘but we cannot see that he has a diploma.’
‘However, he surely knows his business.’
‘He seems to; but Dr. Dubois has a diploma.’
As the hours crawled by, the thought of the Spanish doctor scouring Rabat for a knife began to play grotesquely on all my nerves; and although I enjoyed applying the permanganate by way of novelty in the treatment, I was aware, as the clock drew nearer three, of a growing panic in myself. This I could not subdue. Just before three, therefore, I stole from my room and from the hotel.
Driven by fear, I made my way to Salé and the house of the French officer. Lahoucine, coming to the gate, instantly coupled himself to my hand. By not so much as a lift of eyebrow did he show that he had noted the swelling which had so altered my face since he had last seen me.
‘Oh, my friend,’ I cried, ‘see how big is my face!’
‘It is big,’ he said, ‘but, God willing, the bigness will soon go to its own country’ — which in Moroccan Arabic is the destination of everything that goes away.
The major received me with every friendly attention.
‘You are my refuge,’ I explained, ‘from a good man seeking a knife.’
For a couple of hours and more he entertained me with tales of his own experiences in Morocco, which included dangers far more picturesque than toothache. As twilight fell I took my leave of him.
‘When do you return to Marrakesh?’ he asked me.
‘Tuesday morning, if all goes well.’
‘May I ask you to be so kind as to restore Lahoucine to his brother. It turns out that I have no need of him for the present; but I shall expect him to rejoin me in Rabat when I return from France. I have explained this to him, and you might add a word to his brother.’
When I glanced at Lahoucine, he moved up to seize my hand, but we put that off till Tuesday morning. The officer accompanied me to the river which runs between Salé and Rabat. There I hailed a boatman to ferry me across. Over the river mouth and the sea beyond, the twilight lingered splendidly, and the smell of the sea was good. Good to me also as I sat holding my cheek was the sight of the boatman, standing to his oars, lithe and graceful, handsome son of God knows how many fishermen and pirates. His dark eyes caught me watching him.
‘Toothache?’ he asked with a soft smile.
‘Yea, my brother.’
‘Have it out.’
‘At the barber’s?’
Smoothly we glided to the other shore, and when I had paid him I stole back to the hotel. From the shadow by the door I signaled the porter to come to me.
‘Has the Spanish doctor returned to the hotel?’ I whispered.
‘Has he a knife?’
‘A knife, monsieur? I do not know. He is in the parlor now. Shall I ask him?’
‘Do not dare speak to him.’
I entered the hotel and in the parlor before the entrance saw with my own eye the doctor talking to young ladies; so that, watching my chance, I was able to gain the stairs without his seeing me. The next morning he had gone, having left word with the manager that to his regret he had failed the day before to find a knife.
Dr. Dubois, although he remarked that the swelling had subsided no whit in my face, acquiesced in my returning to Marrakesh on the condition that I keep hot water applied to my face during the journey.
‘But I cannot do that in the bus,’ I objected.
‘Ah, impatience, monsieur, impatience! Buy in Rabat a small steel flask; buy at any druggist’s a small amount of sodium. Fill the flask with water; then add a small pinch of the chemical. That will heat the water, monsieur.’
‘To 45 degrees?’
‘More or less. You had better experiment this afternoon.’
His bill, which I then demanded, was very moderate. I thanked him for this consideration and for another brochure which he took from his desk and inscribed. I thanked him also for his kindness and wished him well. For he was an old man, no charlatan; and this was his last stand.
At nine o’clock the next morning Lahoucine was brought to me at the bus station, and, linking hands, we mounted into the vehicle. As we rode along, there came to my mind the fact that a month or so ago a man in Marrakesh, sorely afflicted with a bad tooth, had gone to an exceptionally good dentist in Casablanca. The name of the dentist I could not recall; but I determined that during the wait in Casablanca I would make an effort to find him; for, although my spirits had come up a little at the prospect of returning to my own house, I had more than a suspicion that I needed expert attention. After we had landed in Casablanca and engaged our seats for Marrakesh on the afternoon bus, grabbing Lahoucine by the hand, I set forth to track down the doctor. Luck favored me.
A pretty Italian girl opened the door to us, and on hearing my story both arranged for me to see the dentist at once and promised so far as possible to hold Lahoucine by the hand during my separation from him. The smile in her eyes and the melting look he cast upon her informed me that they would suffer no unhappiness in their brief conjunction.
Dr. Renoir was, in truth, an expert. He had no sooner looked at the tooth than he declared that the abscess must be cut open from one end to the other, and without delay.
‘If you do that now, may I return to Marrakesh this afternoon?’
‘By no means. You must stay here three days at least. I cannot tell how seriously the jaw is affected.’
I would not give up returning to Marrakesh; he refused to assume responsibility for the operation in fact, to operate at all. It was not until I had regained the street with Lahoucine that I realized what folly it would be to risk further troubles with my jaw by disregarding this excellent doctor’s advice. I contemplated breaking my oath; I remembered that I had made no such oath to the major as I had made to Lahoucine’s brother.
‘Lahoucine,’ I asked, ‘if I put you in your seat in the bus and watch till the bus leaves Casablanca, will you promise not to move out of it till the bus reaches Marrakesh?
He gave me this promise, and at intervals of five minutes I made him repeat it; so that he was tied up in a net of promises by the time the bus was ready to go. I put him in his seat, wove another promise into the net about him, and sadly watched him depart. He reached Marrakesh in complete safety.
Over the lancing of the abscess I pass without comment. The dentist said: ‘Notice that I do not trust poisons to find their way. When I open an abscess, everything comes out of it.’ I remarked that guillotining must be far less painful; and though he seemed shocked as by an exaggeration, that has remained my profound conviction.
On the way back to my hotel whom should I meet but the little Spanish doctor. We blocked traffic in mutual salutations. When I told him what had just happened, nothing would please him but that, by squatting, I reduce my height so that he could look into my mouth; and at the sight of what had been done he gave a cry of joy.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘an antiseptic wash and a syringe are indispensable. Come with me, come with me.’
Though I protested that I was now under another doctor’s care, he dragged me into a Spanish pharmacy near by and bought me a bottle of something and a little rubber squirt. He did not open the bottle, but with it and the syringe he went through all the motions of syringing out a wound like mine in his own mouth, which he opened exceedingly wide there in the drug store so that all his hand and the squirt disappeared within it. We rather danced than walked to my hotel together. Over a bottle of wine he talked of Morocco and remedies, and told me that a sure cure for dysentery was ripe olives, which are bitter as gall, brewed in sour milk.
On the third day after the dentist had opened the abscess the doubt of my condition which he had entertained became certainty. The infection had deeply attacked the jawbone and my case was one for a surgeon. With my consent, he telephoned at once to a surgical clinic in town, and before sunset I was moving from hotel to hospital. A fine big Arab admitted me to the hospital; and about half-past six in the afternoon a nurse came to my room and told me to prepare for the operation. When I asked her what anæsthetic they were going to give me she answered that she did not know the name of it, but it would make me sick.
Clad in a nice pair of pyjamas, I walked calmly to the operating room, which was a vast chamber hung all in black, lighted brilliantly, and overheated. Beneath the brightest cluster of lights stretched a table narrow as a plank, vacant. The surgeon and his assistant, both over six feet tall, wore white uniforms buttoned to their chins, and white aprons, and at the sight of me they rubbed their hands. My dentist was there, clad like the others. Before my mind flashed the picture of Lahoucine seated in the barber shop, the red-fezzed barber in the doorway, the passionately human crowd streaming in the street, the sunlight speckling them through the lattice overhead where grapevines grew, where, before a certain shop I knew, the grapes hung already in green clusters. I kept the picture to myself, but said something witty and courageous, which unhappily I do not recall.
‘Kindly lie on the table,’ they said.
Almost before I could straighten myself on the table, the two big men sprang toward me and clamped steel rings down over my knees and ankles; and then, seizing my hands, forced them into leathern gauntlets and strapped them tight to my sides. In less than a minute I was trussed.
‘I have done nothing wrong,’ I said.
They approached with the breather and set it over my face.
‘Now, breathe deeply and easily.’
I inhaled a faintly sweet gas. But I could not exhale. The breather fitted hard over my face and was, for some reason, air-tight against expulsion. Only by blowing with all my strength could I force the breath in my lungs out round the edges of it. I opened my eyes very wide, rolled my head, mumbled into the repressive cone. After a while they removed it.
‘What is the matter?’ they asked, not unkindly.
‘I can breathe in all right, but cannot breathe out.’
They tinkered with the breather, and the giant assistant murmured to the giant surgeon, ‘I told you that valve was stopped.’ To me they said, ‘You have big lungs, monsieur.’
When they readjusted the breather over my face again, I could no more exhale than before, and blew so hard that I could not possibly go to sleep. Again I opened my eyes, rolled my head, moaned. But no kind word came to me.
‘Turn on the chloroform,’ said one to another. The gas within the cone thickened and sweetened, my brain whirled a moment; then I awoke hungry in my bed.
When, ten days later, I returned to Marrakesh, Lahoucine and his brother came to see me. They and other friendly
Moors laid their hands on my check, where the swelling still lingered.
‘Little by little it will go to its own country,’ they said, and it did.
But I often think of what Ahmed said, who had been absent and who did not come to see me until most traces of what I had gone through had disappeared.
‘It was a terrible toothache,’ I said.
This made no impression upon him. What is a toothache, after all? Go to the barber and have it out.
‘And it cost me more than two thousand francs,’ I added.
That startled him. He looked at me in astonishment, and in compassion, too, for the Moors are tender with lunatics.
‘All Christians are a little crazy,’ he said. ‘God would have cured your toothache — and for nothing.’