Favorite authors in prose and poetry online

. (page 64 of 66)
Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 64 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Kiss poor grandpapa and make him well ! " answered
the child, remembering the Doctor's own mode o, cure in
similar mishaps to herself. "It shall do poor grandpapa
good ! " she added, putting up her mouth to apply the

" Ah, little one, thou hast greater faith in thy medicines
than ever I had in my drugs," replied the patriarch with a
giggle, surprised and delighted at his own readiness of
response. " But the kiss is good for my feeble old heart,
Pansie, though it might do little to mend a broken neck ; so
give grandpapa another dose, and let us to breakfast."

In this merry humor they sat down to the table, great-
grandpapa and Pausie side by side, and the kitten, as soon
appeared, making a third in the party. First, she showed
her mottled head out of Pansie's lap, delicately sipping milk
from the child's basin without rebuke ; then she took post
on the old gentleman's shoulder, purring like a spinning-
wheel, trying her claws in the wadding of his dressing-
gown, and still more impressively reminding him of her
presence by putting out a paw to intercept a warmed-over
morsel of yesterday's chicken on its way to the Doctor's
mouth. After skilfully achieving this feat, she scrambled
down upon the breakfast-table and began to wasli her face
and hands. Evidently, these companions were all three on
intimate terms, as was natural enough, since a great manv
childish impulses were softly creeping back on the simple-
minded old man ; insomuch that, if no worldly necessities
nor painful infirmity had disturbed him, his remnant of life
might have been as cheaply and cheerily enjoyed as the
early playtime of the kitten and the child. Old Dr. Dol-
liver and his great-granddaughter (a ponderous title, which
seemed quite to overwhelm the tiny figure of Pansie) had
met one another at the two extremities of the life-circle


her sunrise served him for a sunset, illuminating his locks
of silver and hers of golden brown with a homogeneous
shimmer of twinkling light.

Little Pansie was the one earthly creature that inherited
a drop of the Dolliver blood. The Doctor's only child, poor
Bessie's offspring, had died the better part of a hundred
years before, and his grandchildren, a numerous and dimly
remembered brood, had vanished along his weary track in
their youth, maturity, or incipient age, till, hardly knowing
how it had all happened, he found himself tottering onward
with an infant's small fingers in his nerveless grasp. So
mistily did his dead progeny come and go in the patriarch's
decayed recollection, that this solitary child represented for
him the successive babyhoods of the many that had gone
before. The emotions of his early paternity came back to
him. She seemed the baby of a past age oftener than she
seemed Pansie. A whole family of grand-aunts, (one of
whom had perished in her cradle, never so mature as Pansie
now, another in her virgin bloom, another in autumnal maid-
enhood, yellow and shrivelled, with vinegar in her blood,
and still another, a forlorn widow, whose grief outlasted
even its vitality, and grew to be merely a torpid habit, and
was saddest then,) all their hitherto forgotten features
peeped through the face of the great-grandchild, and their
long inaudible voices sobbed, shouted, or laughed, in her
familiar tones. But it often happened to Dr. Dolliver, while
frolicking amid this throng of ghosts, where the one reality
looked no more vivid than its shadowy sisters, it often
happened that his eyes filled with tears at a sudden per-
ception of what a sad and poverty-stricken old man he was,
already remote from his own generation, and bound to
stray farther onward as the sole playmate and protector of a
child !

As Dr. Dolliver, in spite of his advanced epoch of life, is
likely to remain a considerable time longer upon our hands.


we deem it expedient to give a brief sketch of his position,
in order that the story may get onward with the greater
freedom when he rises from the breakfast-table. Deeming
it a matter of courtesy, we have allowed him the honorary
title of Doctor, as did all his townspeople and contempora-
ries, except, perhaps, one or two formal old physicians,
stingy of civil phrases and over-jealous of their own pro-
fessional dignity. Nevertheless, these crusty graduates were
technically right in excluding Dr. Dolliver from their fra-
ternity. He had never received the degree of any medical
school, nor (save it might be for the cure of a toothache, or
a child's rash, or a whitlow on a seamstress's finger, or some
such trifling malady) had he ever been even a practitioner
of the awful science with which his popular designation con-
nected him. Our old friend, in short, even at his highest
social elevation, claimed to be nothing more than an apothe-
cary, and, in these later and far less prosperous days, scarcely
so much. Since the death of his last surviving grandson,
(Pansie's father, whom he had instructed in all the mys-
teries of his science, and who, being distinguished by an ex-
perimental and inventive tendency, was generally believed to
have poisoned himself with an infallible panacea of his own
distillation,) since that final bereavement, Dr. Dolliver's
once pretty flourishing business had lamentably declined.
After a few months of unavailing struggle, he found it ex-
pedient to take down the Brazen Serpent from the position
to which Dr. Swinnerton had originally elevated it, in front
of his shop in the main street, and to retire to his private
dwelling, situated in a by-lane and on the edge of a burial-

This house, as well as the Brazen Serpent, some old med-
ical books, and a drawer full of manuscripts, had come to
him by the legacy of Dr. Swinnerton. The dreariness of the
locality had been of small importance to our friend in his
young manhood, when he first led his fair wife over the


threshold, and so long as neither of them had any kinship
with the human dust that rose into little hillocks, and still
kept accumulating beneath their window. But, too soon
afterwards, when poor Bessie herself had gone early to rest
there, it is probable that an influence from her grave may
have prematurely calmed and depressed her widowed hus-
band, taking away much of the energy from what should
have been the most active portion of his life. Thus he
never grew rich. His thrifty townsmen used to tell him,
that, in any other man's hands, Dr. Swinnerton's Brazen
Serpent (meaning, I presume, the inherited credit and goyd-
will of that old worthy's trade) would need but ten years*
time to transmute its brass into gold. In Dr. Dolliver's
keeping, as we have seen, the inauspicious symbol lost the
greater part of what superficial gilding it originally had.
Matters had not mended with him in more advanced life,
after he had deposited a further and further portion of his
heart and its affections in each successive one of a long row
of kindred graves ; and as he stood over the last of them,
holding Pansie by the hand and looking down upon the
coffin of his grandson, it is no wonder that the old man
wept, partly for those gone before, but not so bitterly as for
the little one that stayed behind. Why had not God taken
her with the rest? And then, so hopeless as he was, so
destitute of possibilities of good, his weary frame, his de-
crepit bones, his dried-up heart, might have crumbled into
dust at once, and have been scattered by the next wind over
all the heaps of earth that were akin to him.

This intensity of desolation, however, was of too positive
a character to be long sustained by a person of Dr. Dolli-
ver's original gentleness and simplicity, and now so com-
pletely tamed by age and misfortune. Even before he
turned away from the grave, he grew conscious of a slightly
cheering and invigorating effect from the tight grasp of the
child's warm little hand. Feeble as he was, she seemed to


adopt him willingly for her protector. And the Doctor
never afterwards shrank from his duty nor quailed beneath
it, but bore himself like a man, striving, amid the sloth of
age and the breakiug-up of intellect, to earn the competency
which he had failed to accumulate even in his most vigorous

To the extent of securing a present subsistence for Pansie
aud himself, he was successful. After his son's death, when
the Brazen Serpent fell into popular disrepute, a small share
of tenacious patronage followed the old man into his retire-
ment. In his prime, he had been allowed to possess more
skill than usually fell to the share of a Colonial apothecary,
having been regularly apprenticed to Dr. Swinnerton, who,
throughout his long practice, was accustomed personally to
concoct the medicines which he prescribed and dispensed.
It was believed, indeed, that the ancient physician had
learned the art at the world-famous drug-manufactory of
Apothecary's Hall, in London, and, as some people half-
malignly whispered, had perfected himself under masters
more subtle than were to be found even there. Unques-
tionably, in many critical cases he was known to have em-
ployed remedies of mysterious composition and dangerous
potency, which in less skilful hands would have been more
likely to kill than cure. He would willingly, it is said, have
taught his apprentice the secrets of these prescriptions, but
the la f ter, being of a timid character and delicate conscience,
had shrunk from acquaintance with them. It was probably
as the result of the same scrupulosity that Dr. Dolliver had
always declined to enter the medical profession, in which
his old instructor had set him such heroic examples of
adventurous dealing with matters of life and death. Never-
theless, the aromatic fragrance, so to speak, of the learned
Swinnerton's reputation had clung to our friend through
life ; and there were elaborate preparations in the pharma-
copoeia of that day, requiring such minute skill and consci-


entious fidelity in the concocter that the physicians were still
glad to confide them to one in whom these qualities were so

Moreover, the grandmothers of the community were kind
to him, and mindful of his perfumes, his rose-water, his
cosmetics, tooth-powders, pomanders, and pomades, the scent-
ed memory of which lingered about their toilet-tables, or
came faintly back from the days when they were beautiful.
Among this class of customers there was still a demand for
certain comfortable little nostrums, (delicately sweet and
pungent to the taste, cheering to the spirits, and fragrant in
the breath.) the proper distillation of which was the airiest
secret that the mystic Swinnerton had left behind him.
And, besides, these old ladies had always liked the manners
of Dr. Dolliver, and used to speak of his gentle courtesy be-
hind the counter as having positively been something to ad-
mire ; though, of later years, an unrefined, an almost rustic
simplicity, such as belonged to his humble ancestors, appear-
ed to have taken possession of him, as it often does of prettily
mannered men in their late decay.

But it resulted from all these favorable circumstances that
the Doctor's marble mortar, though worn with long service
and considerably damaged by a crack that pervaded it, con-
tinued to keep up an occasional intimacy with the pestle ;
and he still weighed drachms and. scruples in his delicate
scales, though it seemed impossible, dealing with such mi-
nute quantities, that his tremulous fingers should not put in
too little or too much, leaving out life with the deficiency or
spilling in death with the surplus. To say the truth, his
stanchest friends were beginning to think that Dr. Dolliver's
fits of absence (when his mind appeared absolutely to depart
from him, while his frail old body worked on mechanically)
rendered him not quite trustworthy without a close super-
vision of his proceedings. It was impossible, however, to
convince the aged apothecary of the necessity for such vigi-


lance ; and if anything could stir up his gentle temper to
wrath, or, as oftener happened, to tears, it was the attempt
(which he was marvellously quick to detect) thus to inter-
fere with his long-familiar business.

The public, meanwhile, ceasing to regard Dr. Dolliver in
his professional aspect, had begun to take an interest in him
as perhaps their oldest fellow-citizen. It was he that re-
membered the Great Fire and the Great Snow, and that had
been a grown-up stripling at the terrible epoch of Witch-
Times, and a child just breeched at the breaking-out of King
Philip's Indian War. He, too, in his school-boy days, had
received a benediction from the patriarchal Governor Brad-
street, and thus could boast (somewhat as Bishops do of
their unbroken succession from the Apostles) of a transmit-
ted blessing from the whole company of sainted Pilgrims,
among whom the venerable magistrate had been an honored
companion. Viewing their townsman in this aspect, the
people revoked the courteous Doctorate with which they
had heretofore decorated him, and now knew him most
familiarly as Grandsir Dolliver. His white head, his Puri-
tan band, his threadbare garb, (the fashion of which he had
ceased to change, half a century ago,) his gold-headed staff,
that had been Dr. Swinnerton's, his shrunken, frosty figure,
and its feeble movement, all these characteristics had a
wholeness and permanence in the public recognition, like
the meeting-house steeple or the town-pump. All the
younger portion of the inhabitants unconsciously ascribed
a sort of aged immortality to Grandsir Dolliver's infirm and
reverend presence. They fancied that he had been born
old, (at least, I remember entertaining some such notions
about age-stricken people, when I myself was young.) and
that he could the better tolerate his aches and incommodities,
his dull ears and dim eyes, his remoteness from human inter-
course within the crust of indurated years, the cold tempera-
ture that kept him always shivering and sad, the heavj


burden that invisibly bent down his shoulders, that all
these intolerable things might bring a kind of enjoyment to
Grandsir Dolliver, as the life-long conditions of his peculiar

But, alas ! it was a terrible mistake. This weight of
years had a perennial novelty for the poor sufferer. He
never grew accustomed to it, but, long as he had now borne
the fretful torpor of his waning life, and patient as he
seemed, he still retained an inward consciousness that these
stiffened shoulders, these quailing knees, this cloudiness of
sight and brain, this confused forgetfulness of men and
affairs, were troublesome accidents that did not really belong
to him. He possibly cherished a half-recognized idea that
they might pass away. Youth, however eclipsed for a
season, is undoubtedly the proper, permanent, and genuine
condition of man ; and if we look closely into this dreary
delusion of growing old, we shall find that it never abso-
lutely succeeds in laying hold of our innermost convictions.
A sombre garment, woven of life's unrealities, has muffled
us from our true self, but within it smiles the young man
whom we knew ; the ashes of many perishable things have
fallen upon our youthful fire, but beneath them lurk the
seeds of inextinguishable flame. So powerful is this in-
stinctive faith that men of simple modes of character are
prone to antedate its consummation. And thus it happened
with poor Grandsir Dolliver, who often awoke from an old
man's fitful sleep with a sense that his senile predicament
was but a dream of the past night ; and hobbling hastily
across the cold floor to the looking-glass, he would be griev-
ously disappointed at beholding the white hair, the wrinkles
and furrows, the ashen visage and bent form, the melancholy
mask of Age, in which, as he now remembered, some strange
and sad enchantment had involved him for years gone by !

To other eyes than his own, however, the shrivelled olf*
gentleman looked as if there were little hope of his throw-


ing off this too artfully wrought disguise, until, at no distant
day, his stooping figure should be straightened out, his hoary
locks be smoothed over his brows, and his much enduring
bones be laid safely away, with a green coverlet spread over
them, beside his Bessie, who doubtless would recognize her
youthful companion in spite of his ugly garniture of decay.
He longed to be gazed at by the loving eyes now closed ;
he shrank from the hard stare of them that loved him not,
"\Yalking the streets seldom and reluctantly, he felt a dreary
impulse to elude the people's observation, as if with a sense
that he had gone irrevocably out of fashion, and broken his
connecting links with the network of human life ; or else it
was that nightmare-feeling which we sometimes have in
dreams, when we seem to find ourselves wandering through
a crowded avenue, with the noonday sun upon us, in some
wild extravagance of dress or nudity. He was conscious of
estrangement from, his towns-people, but did not always
know how nor wherefore, nor why he should be thus grop-
ing through the twilight mist in solitude. It' they spoke
loudly to him, with cheery voices, the greeting translated
itself faintly and mournfully to his ears ; if they shook him
by the hand, it was as if a thick, insensible glove absorbed
the kindly pressure and the warmth. When little Pansie
was the companion of his walk, her childish gayety and
freedom did not avail to bring him into closer relationship
with men, but seemed to follow him into that region of in-
definable remoteness, that dismal Fairy-Land of aged fancy,
into which old Grander Dolliver had so strangely crept

Yet there were moments, as many persons had noticed,
when the great-grandpapa would suddenly take stronger
hin-s of life. It was as if his faded figure had been col-
ored over anew, or at least, as he and Pansie moved along
tin; street, as if a sunbeam had fallen across him, instead
of the gray gloom of an instant before. His chilled sensi-


bilities had probably been touched and quickened by the
warm contiguity of his little companion through the medium
of her hand, as it stirred within his own, or some inflection
of her voice that set his memory ringing and chiming with
forgotten sounds. While that music lasted, the old man
was alive and happy. And there were seasons, it might be,
happier than even these, when Pansie had been kissed and put
to bed, and Grandsir Dolliver sat by hi* fireside gazing in
among the massive coals, and absorbing their glow into those
cavernous abysses with which all men communicate. Hence
come angels or fiends into our twilight musings, according
as we may have peopled them in by-gone years. Over
our friend's face, in the rosy flicker of the. fire-gleam, stole
an expression of repose and perfect trust that made him as
beautiful to look at, in his high-backed chair, as the child
Pansie on her pillow ; and sometimes the spirits that were
watching him beheld a calm surprise draw slowly over his
features and brighten into joy, yet not so vividly as to break
his evening quietude. The gate of heaven had been kindly
left ajar, that this forlorn old creature might catch a glimpse
within. All the night afterwards, he would be semi-con-
scious of an intangible bliss diffused through the fitful lapses
of an old man's slumber, and would awake, at early dawn,
with a faint thrilling of the heartstrings, as if there had
been music just now wandering over them.



I LAY upon the headland-height, and listened
To the incessant sobbing of the sea
In caverns under me,

And watched the waves, that tossed and fled and glistened,
Until the rolling meadows of amethyst
Melted away in mist

Then suddenly, as one from sleep, I started ;
For round about me all the sunny capes

Seemed peopled with the shapes
Of those whom I had known in days departed,
Apparelled in the loveliness which gleams

On faces seen in dreams.

A moment only, and the light and glory
Faded away, and the disconsolate shore

Stood lonely as before ;
And the wild roses of the promontory
Around me shuddered in the wind, and shed

Their petals of pale red.

There was an old belief that in the embers
Of all things their primordial form exists,
And cunning alchemists


Could recreate the rose with all its members
From its own ashes, but without the bloom,
Without the lost perfume.

Ah, me ! what wonder-working, occult science
Can from the ashes in our hearts once more

The rose of youth restore ?
What craft of alchemy can bid defiance
To time and change, and for a single hour

Renew this phantom-flower ?

" Oh, give me back," I cried, " the vanished splendor*
The breath of morn, and the exultant strife,

When the swift stream of life
Bounds o'er its rocky channel, and surrenders
The pond, with all its lilies, for the leap

Into the unknown deep ! "

And the sea answered, with a lamentation,
Like some old prophet wailing, and it said,

" Alas ! thy youth is dead !
It breathes no more, its heart has no pulsation,
In the dark places with the dead of old

It lies forever cold ! "

Then said I, " From its consecrated cerements
I will not drag this sacred dust again,

Only to give me pain ;

But, still remembering all the lost endearments,
Go on my way, like one who looks before,

And turns to weep no more."

Into what land of harvests, what plantations
Bright with autumnal foliage and the glow
Of sunsets burning low ;


Beneath what midnight skies, whose constellations
Light up the spacious avenues between
This world and the unseen !

Amid what friendly greetings and caresses,
What households, though not alien, yet not mine,

What bowers of rest divine ;
To what temptations in lone wildernesses,
Whnt famine of the heart, what pain and loss,

The bearing of what cross !

I do not know ; nor will I vainly question
Those pages of the mystic book which hold

The story still untold,
But without rash conjecture or suggestion
Turn its last leaves in reverence and good heed,

Until " The End " I read.



[The following Tale was found among the papers of the late Died-
rich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very
curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of
the descendants from its primitive settlers. His historical re-
searches, however, did not lie so much among books as among men ;
for the former are lamentably scanty on his favorite topics ; whereas
he found the old burghers, and still more their wives, rich in that
legendary lore so invaluable to true history. Whenever, therefore,
he happened upon a genuine Dutch family, snugly shut up in its
low-roofed farmhouse, under a spreading sycamore, he looked upon
it as a little clasped volume of black-letter, and studied it with the
zeal of a bookworm.

The result of all these researches was a history of the province
during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some
years since. There have been various opinions as to the literary
character of his work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better
than it should be. Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which
indeed was a little questioned on its first appearance, but has since
been completely established ; and it is now admitted into all his-
torical collections, as a book of unquestionable authority.

The old gentleman died shortly after the publication of his work,
and now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much harm to his
memory to say, that his time might have been much better em-
ployed in weightier labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby
his own way ; and though it did now and then kick up the dust a
little in the eyes of ^iis neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some
friends, for whom he felt the truest deference and affection ; yet his
errors and follies are remembered "more in sorrow than in anger,"
and it begins to be suspected that he never intended to injure or


offend. But, however his memory may be appreciated by critics, it
is still held dear by many folk whose good opinion is well worth
having ; particularly by certain biscuit- bakers, who have gone so far
as to imprint his likeness on their new-year cakes ; and have thus
given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to the being
stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne's farthing.]

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 64 of 66)