2.—The Shattered Health of Mr. Podge
“How are you, Podge?” I said, as I sat down in a leather armchair beside him.
I only meant “How-do-you-do?” but he rolled his big eyes sideways at me in his flabby face (it was easier than moving his face) and he answered:
“I’m not as well to-day as I was yesterday afternoon. Last week I was feeling pretty good part of the time, but yesterday about four o’clock the air turned humid, and I don’t feel so well.”
“Have a cigarette?” I said.
“No, thanks; I find they affect the bronchial toobes.”
“Whose?” I asked.
“Mine,” he answered.
“Oh, yes,” I said, and I lighted one. “So you find the weather trying,” I continued cheerfully.
“Yes, it’s too humid. It’s up to a saturation of sixty-six. I’m all right till it passes sixty-four. Yesterday afternoon it was only about sixty-one, and I felt fine. But after that it went up. I guess it must be a contraction of the epidermis pressing on some of the sebaceous glands, don’t you?”
“I’m sure it is,” I said. “But why don’t you just sleep it off till it’s over?”
“I don’t like to sleep too much,” he answered. “I’m afraid of it developing into hypersomnia. There are cases where it’s been known to grow into a sort of lethargy that pretty well stops all brain action altogether—”
“That would be too bad,” I murmured. “What do you do to prevent it?”
“I generally drink from half to three-quarters of a cup of black coffee, or nearly black, every morning at from eleven to five minutes past, so as to keep off hypersomnia. It’s the best thing, the doctor says.”
“Aren’t you afraid,” I said, “of its keeping you awake?”
“I am,” answered Podge, and a spasm passed over his big yellow face. “I’m always afraid of insomnia. That’s the worst thing of all. The other night I went to bed about half-past ten, or twenty-five minutes after,—I forget which,—and I simply couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I read a magazine story, and I still couldn’t; and I read another, and still I couldn’t sleep. It scared me bad.”
“Oh, pshaw,” I said; “I don’t think sleep matters as long as one eats properly and has a good appetite.”
He shook his head very dubiously. “I ate a plate of soup at lunch,” he said, “and I feel it still.”
“You feel it!”
“Yes,” repeated Podge, rolling his eyes sideways in a pathetic fashion that he had, “I still feel it. I oughtn’t to have eaten it. It was some sort of a bean soup, and of course it was full of nitrogen. I oughtn’t to touch nitrogen,” he added, shaking his head.
“Not take any nitrogen?” I repeated.
“No, the doctor—both doctors—have told me that. I can eat starches, and albumens, all right, but I have to keep right away from all carbons and nitrogens. I’ve been dieting that way for two years, except that now and again I take a little glucose or phosphates.”
“That must be a nice change,” I said, cheerfully.
“It is,” he answered in a grateful sort of tone.
There was a pause. I looked at his big twitching face, and listened to the heavy wheezing of his breath, and I felt sorry for him.
“See here, Podge,” I said, “I want to give you some good advice.”
“About your health.”
“Yes, yes, do,” he said. Advice about his health was right in his line. He lived on it.
“Well, then, cut out all this fool business of diet and drugs and nitrogen. Don’t bother about anything of the sort. Forget it. Eat everything you want to, just when you want it. Drink all you like. Smoke all you can—and you’ll feel a new man in a week.”
“Say, do you think so!” he panted, his eyes filled with a new light.
“I know it,” I answered. And as I left him I shook hands with a warm feeling about my heart of being a benefactor to the human race.
Next day, sure enough, Podge’s usual chair at the club was empty.
“Out getting some decent exercise,” I thought. “Thank Heaven!”
Nor did he come the next day, nor the next, nor for a week.
“Leading a rational life at last,” I thought. “Out in the open getting a little air and sunlight, instead of sitting here howling about his stomach.”
The day after that I saw Dr. Slyder in black clothes glide into the club in that peculiar manner of his, like an amateur undertaker.
“Hullo, Slyder,” I called to him, “you look as solemn as if you had been to a funeral.”
“I have,” he said very quietly, and then added, “poor Podge!”
“What about him?” I asked with sudden apprehension.
“Why, he died on Tuesday,” answered the doctor. “Hadn’t you heard? Strangest case I’ve known in years. Came home suddenly one day, pitched all his medicines down the kitchen sink, ordered a couple of cases of champagne and two hundred havanas, and had his housekeeper cook a dinner like a Roman banquet! After being under treatment for two years! Lived, you know, on the narrowest margin conceivable. I told him and Silk told him—we all told him—his only chance was to keep away from every form of nitrogenous ultra-stimulants. I said to him often, ‘Podge, if you touch heavy carbonized food, you’re lost.’”
“Dear me,” I thought to myself, “there are such things after all!”
“It was a marvel,” continued Slyder, “that we kept him alive at all. And, of course”—here the doctor paused to ring the bell to order two Manhattan cocktails—“as soon as he touched alcohol he was done.”
So that was the end of the valetudinarianism of Mr. Podge.
I have always considered that I killed him.
But anyway, he was a nuisance at the club.