The Fever Draught: 1890s

Logsdail, William; Portrait of a Nurse; 1915 Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust;

Logsdail, William; Portrait of a Nurse; 1915 Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust;

Sister Clare, under which name Nurse Benson was known at the Grand Central Hospital, was young, good-looking and the daughter of an Army officer, who had lost his life in his country’s service. She was devoted to her profession and proficient in it, and nothing could show more clearly the value placed upon her than the fact that she was selected by the War Office out of many applicants to go down to the Gold Coast and take charge of the nursing of the soldiers then employed in one of the frequent small but deadly wars of Great Britain. The order came for her to be ready to join the transport at Portsmouth in forty-eight hours.

The news was a great blow to young Dr. Levinge, the resident assistant physician at the hospital. He felt he could not allow Miss Benson to leave England without having given and received a promise which should secure the happiness of their future.

The doctor had loved Clare for some months and although there existed, no doubt, a silent understanding between the two, neither had spoken openly, Levinge waiting till he should have bought a practice and be able to offer his wife a home. The approaching departure of Miss Benson altered circumstances, and the evening heard mutual declarations and saw the couple betrothed. All seemed to come natural, it was simply the telling over of an old tale, love had been doing its work for many months, the present outburst was the final touch to the long story.

“And now, my dearest, as you are about to visit a country of vast fever-swamps, I give you a remedy which never fails to cure. My friend Sunderland, who has spent many years in the region of Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast, has discovered it and he assures me that he has saved many a life of men already in the grip of death.” He brought out of his medicine chest (they were in his room now) a phial which he filled with a brown fluid possessing a most powerful pungent scent which immediately pervaded the room. “At the first indication of fever administer five drops on a piece of sugar and continue the doses every hour till the pulse has become normal.”

  • • • •

The story as it is given here was told me by the young physician to whom it happened, and who vouched for its truth.

Nurse Benson left on the appointed day. On her return from her work of mercy she would become Dr. Levinge’s wife. The latter embraced an opportunity offered near his native town to buy the practice of an old friend of his family who retired from active work, and took with the practice the old doctor’s house, furnished it afresh and prepared it for the reception of its new mistress.

Five months had passed since Miss Benson had left, and her last letters, full of hope and happiness, promised her speedy return.

One evening Dr. Levinge came home from a long tour of visits and sat down to write to his love when suddenly his attention was engaged by a strong pungent smell pervading his study. He  called his servant who assisted in making up the mixtures, but was surprised to find he could not perceive any odour. It was the pungent smell of his fever draught and the bottle must have been opened. The chest was brought, but no trace of an escape of the medicine could be found. The doctor could not get the scent out of his nose, to the astonishment of his man, who did not detect anything out of the common.

The clock struck ten. Levinge had finished his letter and retired, being tired and uneasy on account of the remarkable occurrence of the penetrating scent he alone could perceive. His night’s sleep was greatly disturbed and it was early in the morning, when he rose and again and again investigated fully every possibility of the strange delusion of the previous evening. In vain; he could not discover even a theory which would hold its ground.

  • • • • •

Two weeks after the above related incident the news arrived of the death of Sister Clare of fever on board H.M.S. Stork. Her illness had lasted only three days. The hour and day coincided exactly with that in which Dr. Levinge had the strange experience with the pungent smell of the fever-medicine. Some time afterwards he met the army-surgeon who had attended Miss Benson in her fatal illness and heard how she had called for Dr. Levinge shortly before she died and had asked fervently for the draught by which she had saved so many lives, but which, unfortunately, had been exhausted by the time when she herself was struck down by the terrible enemy.

The Occult Review November 1912

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil longs to know if this was more than a tragic and touching story written for an avid audience of occult-tale-fanciers. There were seven Royal Navy ships called H.M. S. Stork, none of which seem to coincide exactly with the chronology of this tale. Of course, it would help to know which of the “small but deadly wars” this was; there was conflict in the Gold Coast from 1822-1900.

Fever nursing was a deadly speciality, corresponding to what to-day would be called “infectious disease.” Fever hospitals formed the bulk of nursing hospitals in England just before the Great War. One also wonders if the receipt for the potent fever draught is known. The pungent scent and the administration on a lump of sugar suggests that quinine is one ingredient. Oil of Eucalyptus was also administered for malarial fevers in this way. Many antiquated medicines are being returned to the formulary. Such a draught might prove useful in the many recent outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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