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Number Twelve
by [?]

WHEN I was a young man, working at my trade as a mason, I met with a severe injury by falling from a scaffolding placed at a height of forty feet from the ground. There I remained, stunned and bleeding, on the rubbish, until my companions, by attempting to remove me, restored me to consciousness. I felt as if the ground on which I was lying formed a part of myself; that I could not be lifted from it without being torn asunder; and, with the most piercing cries, I entreated my well-meaning assistants to leave me alone to die. They desisted for the moment, one running for the doctor, another for a litter, others surrounding me with pitying gaze; but amidst my increasing sense of suffering, the conviction began to dawn upon my mind, that the injuries were not mortal; and so, by the time the doctor and the litter arrived, I resigned myself to their aid, and allowed myself, without further objection, to be carried to the hospital.

There I remained for more than three months, gradually recovering from my bodily injuries, but devoured with an impatience at my condition, and the slowness of my cure, which effectually retarded it. I felt all the restlessness and anxiety of a labourer suddenly thrown out of employment difficult enough to procure, knowing that there were scores of others ready to step into my place; that the job was going on, and that, ten chances to one, I should never set my foot on that scaffolding again. The visiting surgeon vainly warned me against the indulgence of such passionate regrets–vainly inculcated the opposite feeling of gratitude demanded by my escape; all in vain. I tossed on my fevered bed, murmured at the slowness of his remedies, and might have thus rendered them altogether ineffectual, had not a sudden change been effected in my disposition by another, at first unwelcome, addition to our patients. He was placed in the same ward with me, and insensibly I found my impatience rebuked, my repinings hushed for very shame, in the presence of his meek resignation to far greater privations and sufferings. Fresh courage sprang from his example, and soon, thanks to my involuntary physician, I was in a fair road to recovery.

And he who had worked the charm, what was he? A poor, helpless old man, utterly deformed by suffering, his very name unnoticed, or at least never spoken in the place where he now was; he went only by the appellation of No. 12–the number of his bed, which was next to my own. This bed had already been his refuge during three long and trying illnesses, and had at last become a sort of property for the poor fellow in the eyes of doctors, students, nurse-tenders, in fact, the whole hospital staff. Never did a gentler creature walk on God’s earth; walk–alas! for him the word was but an old memory. Many years before he had totally lost the use of his legs; but, to use his own expression, “this misfortune did not upset him;” he still retained the power of earning his livelihood, which he derived from copying deeds for a lawyer at so much per sheet; and if the legs were no longer a support, the hands worked at the stamped parchments as diligently as ever. But some months passed by, and then the paralysis attacked his right arm; still undaunted, he taught himself to write with the left; but hardly had the brave heart and hand conquered the difficulty, when the enemy crept on, and disabling this second ally, no more remained for him than to be conveyed once more, though this time as a last resource, to the hospital. There he had the gratification to find his former quarters vacant, and he took possession of his old familiar bed with a satisfaction that seemed to obliterate all regret at being obliged to occupy it again. His first grateful accents smote almost reproachfully on my ear: “Misfortune must have its turn, but every day has a tomorrow!”