The Old Wives' Tale HTML version

III.5. Fever
Then she was lying in bed in a small room, obscure because it was heavily
curtained; the light came through the inner pair of curtains of ecru lace, with a
beautiful soft silvery quality. A man was standing by the side of the bed--not
"Now, madame," he said to her, with kind firmness, and speaking with a
charming exaggerated purity of the vowels. "You have the mucous fever. I have
had it myself. You will be forced to take baths, very frequently. I must ask you to
reconcile yourself to that, to be good."
She did not reply. It did not occur to her to reply. But she certainly thought that
this doctor--he was probably a doctor--was overestimating her case. She felt
better than she had felt for two days. Still, she did not desire to move, nor was
she in the least anxious as to her surroundings. She lay quiet.
A woman in a rather coquettish deshabille watched over her with expert skill.
Later, Sophia seemed to be revisiting the sea on whose waves the cab had
swum; but now she was under the sea, in a watery gulf, terribly deep; and the
sounds of the world came to her through the water, sudden and strange. Hands
seized her and forced her from the subaqueous grotto where she had hidden into
new alarms. And she briefly perceived that there was a large bath by the side of
the bed, and that she was being pushed into it. The water was icy cold. After that
her outlook upon things was for a time clearer and more precise. She knew from
fragments of talk which she heard that she was put into the cold bath by her bed
every three hours, night and day, and that she remained in it for ten minutes.
Always, before the bath, she had to drink a glass of wine, and sometimes
another glass while she was in the bath. Beyond this wine, and occasionally a
cup of soup, she took nothing, had no wish to take anything. She grew perfectly
accustomed to these extraordinary habits of life, to this merging of night and day
into one monotonous and endless repetition of the same rite amid the same
circumstances on exactly the same spot. Then followed a period during which
she objected to being constantly wakened up for this annoying immersion. And
she fought against it even in her dreams. Long days seemed to pass when she
could not be sure whether she had been put into the bath or not, when all
external phenomena were disconcertingly interwoven with matters which she
knew to be merely fanciful. And then she was overwhelmed by the hopeless
gravity of her state. She felt that her state was desperate. She felt that she was
dying. Her unhappiness was extreme, not because she was dying, but because
the veils of sense were so puzzling, so exasperating, and because her exhausted
body was so vitiated, in every fibre, by disease. She was perfectly aware that she
was going to die. She cried aloud for a pair of scissors. She wanted to cut off her
hair, and to send part of it to Constance and part of it to her mother, in separate