The sick-room—what echoes does not the very name awaken in the memories of the past! There are few moments in our lives' history more solemn than those when we have watched by the bedside of one we love, whose life is trembling in the balance, and whose soul and body seem held together by so slight a thread that a breath of wind would part them. What vows have we not vowed, what good resolutions have we not formed, and how chastened have our minds been in these our hours of agony ! for of very truth "adversity doth best discover virtue."
Then—the doctor's visit. With what an anxious look will the wife, wearied with watching, try and read his eyes as he feels the pulse of the languid patient ! what a rush of joy fills her heart, as she sees the doctor smile ! for hope is brightest when it dawns from fears. The crisis is past, the patient is pronounced much better, and is ordered some good strong beef-tea. With burning eyes and bursting heart the thankful wife turns away to give the necessary orders, not forgetful, let us trust, of her vows vowed, of her resolutions made, or of the Great Physician who alone can cause the blind to see and the lame to walk.
Like a calm sea to the tempest-tost, like a draught of water after parching thirst, like a bed of down to the wearied traveller, do these sweet hours of convalescence follow after those weary ones of watching, when hope deferred made the heart sick— " Oh ! these were hours, when thrilling joy repaid A long, long course of darkness, doubts, and fears."
What pleasure, too, to watch the patient take his first cup of beef-tea or his first chop with evident enjoyment, and to see the faint tinge of colour return to the pale cheeks, foretelling of returning health and strength, as surely as the first blush of dawn upon the eastern mountain-tops foretells the coming day !
Again, too, the refreshment taken, the first long sound sleep, nature's great restorer, how different to watch now, to when the restless patient tossed and turned and muttered, and seemed to suffer more than when awake ! There is something very beautiful in a calm and tranquil sleep— "An infant when it gazes on the light, , A child the moment when it drains the breast, Feel rapture, but not such true joy are reaping As they who watch o'er what they love while sleeping.
"For there it lies, so tranquil, so beloved, All that it hath of life with us is living, So gentle, stirless, helpless, and unmoved, And all unconscious of the joy 'tis giving."
But let us leave the convalescent chamber with the watcher and the watched, and descend to the kitchen, and see what we there can do to help on the recovery so happily going on above.
First let us take that probably most valuable of all invalids' preparations—viz., beef-tea. The quickest and best method of preparing good beef-tea is as follows :—Take a pound of good lean gravy-beef, cut it up into little pieces, pour over them a pint of cold water, and add a little salt. Then take a fork and squeeze these pieces in every direction, in order, as much as possible, to extract the juices out of the pieces of meat. Next place it all—i.e., water and meat—in an enamelled saucepan, and place it by the side of the fire, not on the fire, and gradually heat it, taking the greatest care that it does not boil. Having continued this process for about an hour and a half or two hours, during the last half-hour keeping the beef-tea hot without boiling, strain the whole off through a strainer, pressing the meat again with a spoon, so as to squeeze as much as possible all the goodness out of it.
Then remove all the fat. This can be done by carefully skimming it, or, if time will allow, by letting it get cold, when the fat will harden on the top. Now, to my mind good beef-tea is one of the nicest things we can take when ill, but sick persons often tire of it, and loathe it. When this is the case, very often by adding a little sherry, and allowing it to get cold—when, if properly made, it will be a jelly—patients will take it in this form when they could not in the liquid state.
Veal broth and mutton broth are made on exactly the same principles as beef-tea, of course substituting either veal or mutton for the beef, and taking equal care to remove all the fat, and not to let the liquor boil.
Another method of making beef-tea very simply, in a way in which no careful watching is required, is to cut up a pound of gravy-beef as before, and simply put it with a pint of water into a stone jar, and put the jar in the oven ; if the oven is not too hot—i.e., not hot enough to absolutely make the liquid boil in the jar—this way will be found to be very good. Or the jar may be tied over with a cloth, and placed in a large saucepan of boiling water on the fire, the water in the saucepan to be kept gently simmering.
Very often young children, and even babies, are ordered beef-tea. Now all mothers know the difficulty at times of inducing sick children to take anything, and beef-tea by no means recommends itself to a child's appetite. Forcing food down a child's throat against its will should never be resorted to, save as a last resource, and at the doctor's order. There are many means, however, by which little children can be persuaded to take things, which sensible mothers probably know of. In the case of beef-tea an admirable plan is, instead of using salt, use a little sugar, and make the beef-tea sweet Grown-up person would probably consider such a mixture nasty to a degree; not so, however, the child. Young children have a natural taste for sweet things, and a natural dislike to salt.
In very early life the food that nature has supplied for children is sweet. Salt, on the other hand, is decidedly an acquired taste. Our dear old friend Robinson Crusoe had considerable difficulty in inducing his man Friday to eat salt; and when he did, it was only in very small quantities.
The next dish of importance for consideration is arrowroot. First I would strongly recommend the Bermuda arrowroot, and not the St. Vincent; the latter is cheaper, but very inferior in quality. Bad arrowroot is absolutely unwholesome, and a good deal of the bad arrowroot—too bad, in fact, to be sold as arrowroot at all—is, I fear, used to mix with and adulterate corn-flour.