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Bill Whiffletree's Dental Experience by Jonathan F. Kelley


Have you ever had the tooth-ache? If not, then blessed is your ignorance, for it is indeed bliss to know nothing about the tooth-ache, as you know nothing, absolutely nothing about pain—the acute, double-distilled, rectified agony that lurks about the roots or fangs of a treacherous tooth. But ask a sufferer how it feels, what it is like, how it operates, and you may learn something theoretically which you may pray heaven that you may not know practically.

But there's poor William Whiffletree—he's been through the mill, fought, bled, and died (slightly) with the refined, essential oil of the agony caused by a raging tooth. Every time we read Othello, we are half inclined to think that more than half of Iago's devilishness came from that “raging tooth,” which would not let him sleep, but tortured and tormented “mine ancient” so that he became embittered against all the world, and blackamoors in particular.

William Whiffletree's case is a very strong illustration of what tooth-ache is, and what it causes people to do; and affords a pretty fair idea of the manner in which the tooth and sufferer are medicinally and morally treated by the materia medica, and friends at large.

William Whiffletree—or “Bill,” as most people called him—was a sturdy young fellow of two-and-twenty, of “poor but respectable parents,” and 'tended the dry-goods store of one Ethan Rakestraw, in the village of Rockbottom, State of New York.

One unfortunate day, for poor Bill, there came to Rockbottom a galvanized-looking individual, rejoicing in the euphonium of Dr. Hannibal Orestes Wangbanger. As a surgeon, he had—according to the album-full of certificates—operated in all the scientific branches of amputation, from the scalp-lock to the heel-tap, upon Emperors, Kings, Queens, and common folks; but upon his science in the dental way, he spread and grew luminous! In short, Dr. Wangbanger had not been long in Rockbottom before his “gift of gab,” and unadulterated propensity to elongate the blanket, set every body, including poor Bill Whiffletree, in a furor to have their teeth cut, filed, scraped, rasped, reset, dug out, and burnished up!

Now Bill, being, as we aforestated, a muscularly-developed youth, got up in the most sturdy New Hampshire style, his teeth were teeth, in every way calculated to perform long and strong; but Bill was fast imbibing counter-jumper notions, dabbling in stiff dickeys, greased soap-locks, and other fancy “flab-dabs,” supposed to be essential in cutting a swarth among ye fair sex.

So that when Dr. Wangbanger once had an audience with Mr. William Whiffletree in regard to one of Mr. Whiffletree's molars which Bill thought had a “speck” on it, he soon convinced the victim that the said molar not only was specked, but out of the dead plumb of its nearest neighbor at least the 84th part of an inch!

“O, shocking!” says the remorseless hum; “it is well I saw it in time, Mr. Whiffletree. Why, in the course of a few weeks, that tooth, sir, would have exfoliated, calcareous supperation would have ensued, the gum would have ossified, while the nerve of the tooth becoming apostrophized, the roots would have concatenated in their hiatuses, and the jaw-bone, no longer acting upon their fossil exoduses, would necessarily have led to the entire suspension of the capillary organs of your stomach and brain, and—death would supervene in two hours!

Poor Bill! he scarcely knew what fainting was, but a queer sensation settled in his “ossis frontis,” while his ossis legso almost bent double under him, at the awful prospect of things before him! He took a long breath, however, and in a voice tremulous with emotion, inquired—

“Good Lord, Doctor! what's to be done for a feller?”

“Plug and file,” calmly said the Doctor.

“Plug and file what?”

“The second molar,” said the Doctor; though the treacherous monster meant Bill's wallet, of course!

“What'll it cost, Doctor?” says Bill.

“Done in my very best manner, upon the new and splendid system invented by myself, sir, and practiced upon all the crowned heads of Europe, London, and Washington City, it will cost you three dollars.”

“Does it hurt much, Doctor?” was Bill's cautious inquiry.

“Very little, indeed; it's sometimes rather agreeable, sir, than otherwise,” said the Doctor.

“Then go at it, Doctor! Here's the dosh,” and forking over three dollars, down sits William Whiffletree in a high-backed chair, and the Doctor's assistant—a sturdy young Irishman—clamping Bill's head to the back of the chair, to keep it steady, as the Doctor remarked, the latter began to “bore and file.”

“O! ah! ho-ho-hold on, hold on!” cries Bill, at the first gouge the Doctor gave the huge tooth.

“O! be me soul! be aizy, zur,” says the Irishman, “it's mesilf as untherstands it—I'll howld on till yees!

“O—O-h-h-h!” roars Bill, as the Doctor proceeds.

“Be quiet, sir; the pain won't signify!” says the Doctor.

“Go-goo-good Lord-d-d! Ho-ho-hol-hold on!”

“O, yeez needn't be afeared of that—I'm howldin' yeez tight as a divil!” cries Paddy, and sure enough he was holding, for in vain Bill screwed and twisted and squirmed around; Pat held him like a cider-press.

“Let me—me—O—O—O! Everlasting creation! let me go-o-o—stop, hold on-n-n!” as the Doctor bored, screwed, and plugged away at the tooth.

“All done, sir; let the patient up, Michael,” says the Doctor, with a confident twirl of his perfumed handkerchief. “There, sir—there was science, art, elegance, and dispatch! Now, sir, your tooth is safe—your life is safe—you're a sound man!

“Sound?” echoes poor Bill, “sound? Why, you've broken my jaw into flinders; you've set all my teeth on edge; and I've no more feelin'—gall darn ye!—in my jaws, than if they were iron steel-traps! You've got the wuth of your money out of my mouth, and I'm off!”

That night was one of anxiety and misery to William Whiffletree. The disturbed molar growled and twitched like mad; and, by daylight, poor Bill's cheek was swollen up equal to a printer's buff-ball, his mouth puckered, and his right eye half “bunged up.”

“Why, William,” says Ethan Rakestraw, as Bill went into the store, “what in grace ails thy face? Thee looks like an owl in an ivy-bush!”

“Been plugged and filed,” says Bill, looking cross as a meat-axe at his snickering Orthodox boss.

“Plugged and fined? Thee hain't been fighting, William?”

“Fined? No, I ain't been fined or fighting, Mr. Rakestraw, but I bet I do fight that feller who gave me the tooth-ache!—O! O!” moaned poor Bill, as he clamped his swollen jaw with his hand, and went around waving his head like a plaster-of-paris mandarin.

“O! thee's been to the dentist, eh? Got the tooth-ache? Go thee to my wife; she'll cure thee in one minute, William; a little laudanum and cotton will soon ease thy pain.”

Mrs. Rakestraw applied the laudanum to Bill's molar, but as it did no kind of good, old grandmother proposed a poultice; and soon poor Bill's head and cheek were done up in mush, while he groaned and grunted and started for the store, every body gaping at his swollen countenance as though he was a rare curiosity.

“Halloo, Bill!” says old Firelock, the gunsmith, as Bill was going by his shop; “got a bag in your calabash, or got the tooth-ache?”

Bill looked daggers at old Firelock, and by a nod of his head intimated the cause of his distress.

“O, that all? Come in; I'll stop it in a minute and a half; sit down, I'll fix it—I've cured hundreds,” says Firelock.

“What are you—O-h-h, dear! what are you going to do?” says Bill, eyeing the wire, and lamp in which Firelock was heating the wire.

“Burn out the marrow of the tooth—'twill never trouble you again—I've cured hundreds that way! Don't be afeared—you won't feel it but a moment. Sit still, keep cool!” says Firelock.

“Cool?” with a hot wire in his tooth! But Bill, being already intensely crucified, and assured of Firelock's skill, took his head out of the mush-plaster, opened his jaws, and Firelock, admonishing him to “keep cool,” crowded the hot, sizzling wire on to the tin foil jammed into the hollow by Wangbanger, and gave it a twist clear through the melted tin to the exposed nerve. Bill jumped, bit off the wire, burnt his tongue, and knocked Firelock nearly through the partition of his shop; and so frightened Monsieur Savon, the little barber next door, that he rushed out into the street, crying—

“Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! Ze zundair strike my shop!”

Bill was stone dead—Firelock crippled. The apothecary over the way came in, picked up poor Bill, applied some camphor to his nose, and brought him back to life, and—the pangs of tooth-ache!

“Kreasote!” says Squills, the 'pothecary. “I'll ease your pain, Mr. Whiffletree, in a second!”

Poor Bill gave up—the kreasote added a fresh invoice to his misery—burnt his already lacerated and roasted tongue—and he yelled right out.

“Death and glory! O-h-h-h-h, murder! You've pizened me!”

“Put a hot brick to that young man's face,” said a stranger; “'twill take out the pain and swelling in three minutes!”

Bill revived; he seemed pleased at the stranger's suggestion; the Brick was applied; but Bill's cheek being now half raw with the various messes, it made him yell when the brick touched him!

He cleared for home, went to bed, and the excessive pain, finally, with laudanum, kreasote, fire, and hot bricks, put him to sleep.

He awoke at midnight, in a frightful state of misery; walked the floor until daylight; was tempted two or three times to jump out the window or crawl up the chimney!

Until noon next day he suffered, trying in vain, every ten minutes, some “known cure,” oils, acids, steam, poultices, and the ten thousand applications usually tried to cure a raging tooth.

Desperation made Bill revengeful. He got a club and went after Dr. Wangbanger, who had set all the village in a rage of tooth-ache. Ten or a dozen of his victims were at his door, awaiting ferociously their turns to be revenged.

But the bird had flown; the teuth-doctor had sloped; yet a good Samaritan came to poor Bill, and whispering in his ear, Bill started for Monsieur Savon's barber-shop, took a seat, shut his eyes, and said his prayers. The little Frenchman took a keen knife and pair of pincers, and Bill giving one awful yell, the tooth was out, and his pains and perils at an end!


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