Much laughter followed, and some thought. The subject of this banter was, of course, not present at the time. There was one actor who hung about there who was decidedly skillful in make-up. On more than one occasion he had disguised himself there in the office for our benefit. Cooperating with us, he disguised himself now as a very severe and even savage-looking person of about thirty-five—side-burns, mustachios and goatee. Then, with our aid, timing his arrival to an hour when Paul was certain to be at his desk, he entered briskly and vigorously and, looking about with a savage air, demanded, "Where is Paul Dresser?"
The latter turned almost apprehensively, I thought, and at once seemed by no means captivated by the man's looks.
"That's Mr. Dresser there," explained one of the confederates most willingly.
The stranger turned and glared at him. "So you're the scoundrel that's been running around with my wife, are you?" he demanded, approaching him and placing one hand on his right hip.
Paul made no effort to explain. It did not occur to him to deny the allegation, although he had never seen the man before. With a rising and backward movement he fell against the rail behind him, lifting both hands in fright and exclaiming, "Why—why—Don't shoot!" His expression was one of guilt, astonishment, perplexity. As some one afterwards said, "As puzzled as if he was trying to discover which injured husband it might be." The shout that went up—for it was agreed beforehand that the joke must not be carried far—convinced him that a hoax had been perpetrated, and the removal by the actor of his hat, sideburns and mustache revealed the true character of the injured husband. At first inclined to be angry and sulky, later on he saw the humor of his own indefinite position in the matter and laughed as heartily as any. But I fancy it developed a strain of uncertainty in him also in regard to injured husbands, for he was never afterwards inclined to interest himself in the much-married, and gave such wives a wide berth.
But his great forte was of course his song-writing, and of this, before I speak of anything else, I wish to have my say. It was a gift, quite a compelling one, out of which, before he died, he had made thousands, all spent in the manner described. Never having the least power to interpret anything in a fine musical way, still he was always full of music of a tender, sometimes sad, sometimes gay, kind—that of the ballad-maker of a nation. He was constantly attempting to work them out of himself, not quickly but slowly, brooding as it were over the piano wherever he might find one and could have a little solitude, at times on the organ (his favorite instrument), improvising various sad or wistful strains, some of which he jotted down, others of which, having mastered, he strove to fit words to. At such times he preferred to be alone or with some one whose temperament in no way clashed but rather harmonized with his own. Living with one of my sisters for a period of years, he had a room specially fitted up for his composing work, a very small room for so very large a man, within which he would shut himself and thrum a melody by the hour, especially toward evening or at night. He seemed to have a peculiar fondness for the twilight hour, and at this time might thrum over one strain and another until over some particular one, a new song usually, he would be in tears!
And what pale little things they were really, mere bits and scraps of sentiment and melodrama in story form, most asinine sighings over home and mother and lost sweethearts and dead heroes such as never were in real life, and yet with something about them, in the music at least, which always appealed to me intensely and must have appealed to others, since they attained so wide a circulation. They bespoke, as I always felt, a wistful, seeking, uncertain temperament, tender and illusioned, with no practical knowledge of any side of life, but full of a true poetic feeling for the mystery and pathos of life and death, the wonder of the waters, the stars, the flowers, accidents of life, success, failure. Beginning with a song called "Wide Wings" (published by a small retail music-house in Evansville, Indiana), and followed by such national successes as "The Letter That Never Came," "I Believe It, For My Mother Told Me So" (!), "The Convict and the Bird," "The Pardon Came Too Late," "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me," "The Blue and the Grey," "On the Bowery," "On the Banks of the Wabash," and a number of others, he was never content to rest and never really happy, I think, save when composing. During this time, however, he was at different periods all the things I have described—a black-face monologue artist, an end- and at times a middle-man, a publisher, and so on.
I recall being with him at the time he composed two of his most famous successes: "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me," and "On the Banks of the Wabash," and noting his peculiar mood, almost amounting to a deep depression which ended a little later in marked elation or satisfaction, once he had succeeded in evoking something which really pleased him.
The first of these songs must have followed an actual encounter with some woman or girl whose life had seemingly if not actually gone to wreck on the shore of love or passion. At any rate he came into the office of his publishing house one gray November Sunday afternoon—it was our custom to go there occasionally, a dozen or more congenial souls, about as one might go to a club—and going into a small room which was fitted up with a piano as a "try-out" room (professionals desiring a song were frequently taught it in the office), he began improvising, or rather repeating over and over, a certain strain which was evidently in his mind. A little while later he came out and said, "Listen to this, will you, Thee?"
He played and sang the first verse and chorus. In the middle of the latter, so moved was he by the sentiment of it, his voice broke and he had to stop. Tears stood in his eyes and he wiped them away. A moment or two later he was able to go through it without wavering and I thought it charming for the type of thing it was intended to be. Later on (the following spring) I was literally astonished to see how, after those various efforts usually made by popular music publishers to make a song "go"—advertising it in the Clipper and Mirror, getting various vaudeville singers to sing it, and so forth—it suddenly began to sell, thousands upon thousands of copies being wrapped in great bundles under my very eyes and shipped express or freight to various parts of the country. Letters and telegrams, even, from all parts of the nation began to pour in—"Forward express today —— copies of Dresser's 'Tell Them That You Saw Me.'" The firm was at once as busy as a bee-hive, on "easy street" again, as the expression went, "in clover." Just before this there had been a slight slump in its business and in my brother's finances, but now once more he was his most engaging self. Every one in that layer of life which understands or takes an interest in popular songs and their creators knew of him and his song, his latest success. He was, as it were, a revivified figure on Broadway. His barbers, barkeepers, hotel clerks, theatrical box-office clerks, hotel managers and the stars and singers of the street knew of it and him. Some enterprising button firm got out a button on which the phrase was printed. Comedians on the stage, newspaper paragraphers, his bank teller or his tailor, even staid business men wishing to appear "up-to-date," used it as a parting salute. The hand-organs, the bands and the theater orchestras everywhere were using it. One could scarcely turn a corner or go into a cheap music hall or variety house without hearing a parody of it. It was wonderful, the enormous furore that it seemed to create, and of course my dear brother was privileged to walk about smiling and secure, his bank account large, his friends numerous, in the pink of health, and gloating over the fact that he was a success, well known, a genuine creator of popular songs.
It was the same with "On the Banks of the Wabash," possibly an even greater success, for it came eventually to be adopted by his native State as its State song, and in that region streets and a town were named after him. In an almost unintentional and unthinking way I had a hand in that, and it has always cheered me to think that I had, although I have never had the least talent for musical composition or song versification. It was one of those delightful summer Sunday mornings (1896, I believe), when I was still connected with his firm as editor of the little monthly they were issuing, and he and myself, living with my sister E——, that we had gone over to this office to do a little work. I had a number of current magazines I wished to examine; he was always wishing to compose something, to express that ebullient and emotional soul of his in some way.
"What do you suppose would make a good song these days?" he asked in an idle, meditative mood, sitting at the piano and thrumming while I at a nearby table was looking over my papers. "Why don't you give me an idea for one once in a while, sport? You ought to be able to suggest something."
"Me?" I queried, almost contemptuously, I suppose. I could be very lofty at times in regard to his work, much as I admired him—vain and yet more or less dependent snip that I was. "I can't write those things. Why don't you write something about a State or a river? Look at 'My Old Kentucky Home,' 'Dixie,' 'Old Black Joe'—why don't you do something like that, something that suggests a part of America? People like that. Take Indiana—what's the matter with it—the Wabash River? It's as good as any other river, and you were 'raised' beside it."
I have to smile even now as I recall the apparent zest or feeling with which all at once he seized on this. It seemed to appeal to him immensely. "That's not a bad idea," he agreed, "but how would you go about it? Why don't you write the words and let me put the music to them? We'll do it together!"
"But I can't," I replied. "I don't know how to do those things. You write it. I'll help—maybe."
After a little urging—I think the fineness of the morning had as much to do with it as anything—I took a piece of paper and after meditating a while scribbled in the most tentative manner imaginable the first verse and chorus of that song almost as it was published. I think one or two lines were too long or didn't rhyme, but eventually either he or I hammered them into shape, but before that I rather shamefacedly turned them over to him, for somehow I was convinced that this work was not for me and that I was rather loftily and cynically attempting what my good brother would do in all faith and feeling.
He read it, insisted that it was fine and that I should do a second verse, something with a story in it, a girl perhaps—a task which I solemnly rejected.
"No, you put it in. It's yours. I'm through."
Some time later, disagreeing with the firm as to the conduct of the magazine, I left—really was forced out—which raised a little feeling on my part; not on his, I am sure, for I was very difficult to deal with.
Time passed and I heard nothing. I had been able to succeed in a somewhat different realm, that of the magazine contributor, and although I thought a great deal of my brother I paid very little attention to him or his affairs, being much more concerned with my own. One spring night, however, the following year, as I was lying in my bed trying to sleep, I heard a quartette of boys in the distance approaching along the street in which I had my room. I could not make out the words at first but the melody at once attracted my attention. It was plaintive and compelling. I listened, attracted, satisfied that it was some new popular success that had "caught on." As they drew near my window I heard the words "On the Banks of the Wabash" most mellifluously harmonized.
I jumped up. They were my words! It was Paul's song! He had another "hit" then—"On the Banks of the Wabash," and they were singing it in the streets already! I leaned out of the window and listened as they approached and passed on, their arms about each other's shoulders, the whole song being sung in the still street, as it were, for my benefit. The night was so warm, delicious. A full moon was overhead. I was young, lonely, wistful. It brought back so much of my already spent youth that I was ready to cry—for joy principally. In three more months it was everywhere, in the papers, on the stage, on the street-organs, played by orchestras, bands, whistled and sung in the streets. One day on Broadway near the Marlborough I met my brother, gold-headed cane, silk shirt, a smart summer suit, a gay straw hat.
"Ah," I said, rather sarcastically, for I still felt peeved that he had shown so little interest in my affairs at the time I was leaving. "On the banks, I see."
"On the banks," he replied cordially. "You turned the trick for me, Thee, that time. What are you doing now? Why don't you ever come and see me? I'm still your brother, you know. A part of that is really yours."
"Cut that!" I replied most savagely. "I couldn't write a song like that in a million years. You know I couldn't. The words are nothing."
"Oh, all right. It's true, though, you know. Where do you keep yourself? Why don't you come and see me? Why be down on me? I live here, you know." He looked up at the then brisk and successful hotel.
"Well, maybe I will some time," I said distantly, but with no particular desire to mend matters, and we parted.
There was, however, several years later, a sequel to all this and one so characteristic of him that it has always remained in my mind as one of the really beautiful things of life, and I might as well tell it here and now. About five years later I had become so disappointed in connection with my work and the unfriendly pressure of life that I had suffered what subsequently appeared to have been a purely psychic breakdown or relapse, not physical, but one which left me in no mood or condition to go on with my work, or any work indeed in any form. Hope had disappeared in a sad haze. I could apparently succeed in nothing, do nothing mentally that was worth while. At the same time I had all but retired from the world, living on less and less until finally I had descended into those depths where I was in the grip of actual want, with no place to which my pride would let me turn. I had always been too vain and self-centered. Apparently there was but one door, and I was very close to it. To match my purse I had retired to a still sorrier neighborhood in B——, one of the poorest. I desired most of all to be let alone, to be to myself. Still I could not be, for occasionally I met people, and certain prospects and necessities drove me to various publishing houses. One day as I was walking in some street near Broadway (not on it) in New York, I ran into my brother quite by accident, he as prosperous and comfortable as ever. I think I resented him more than ever. He was of course astonished, shocked, as I could plainly see, by my appearance and desire not to be seen. He demanded to know where I was living, wanted me to come then and there and stay with him, wanted me to tell him what the trouble was—all of which I rather stubbornly refused to do and finally got away—not however without giving him my address, though with the caution that I wanted nothing.
The next morning he was there bright and early in a cab. He was the most vehement, the most tender, the most disturbed creature I have ever seen. He was like a distrait mother with a sick child more than anything else.
"For God's sake," he commented when he saw me, "living in a place like this—and at this number, too!" (130 it was, and he was superstitious as to the thirteen.) "I knew there'd be a damned thirteen in it!" he ejaculated. "And me over in New York! Jesus Christ! And you sick and run down this way! I might have known. It's just like you. I haven't heard a thing about you in I don't know when. Well, I'm not going back without you, that's all. You've got to come with me now, see? Get your clothes, that's all. The cabby'll take your trunk. I know just the place for you, and you're going there tomorrow or next day or next week, but you're coming with me now. My God, I should think you'd be ashamed of yourself, and me feeling the way I do about you!" His eyes all but brimmed.
I was so morose and despondent that, grateful as I felt, I could scarcely take his mood at its value. I resented it, resented myself, my state, life.
"I can't," I said finally, or so I thought. "I won't. I don't need your help. You don't owe me anything. You've done enough already."
"Owe, hell!" he retorted. "Who's talking about 'owe'? And you my brother—my own flesh and blood! Why, Thee, for that matter, I owe you half of 'On the Banks,' and you know it. You can't go on living like this. You're sick and discouraged. You can't fool me. Why, Thee, you're a big man. You've just got to come out of this! Damn it—don't you see—don't make me"—and he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. "You can't help yourself now, but you can later, don't you see? Come on. Get your things. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't. You've got to come, that's all. I won't go without you," and he began looking about for my bag and trunk.
I still protested weakly, but in vain. His affection was so overwhelming and tender that it made me weak. I allowed him to help me get my things together. Then he paid the bill, a small one, and on the way to the hotel insisted on forcing a roll of bills on me, all that he had with him. I was compelled at once, that same day or the next, to indulge in a suit, hat, shoes, underwear, all that I needed. A bedroom adjoining his suite at the hotel was taken, and for two days I lived there, later accompanying him in his car to a famous sanitarium in Westchester, one in charge of an old friend of his, a well-known ex-wrestler whose fame for this sort of work was great. Here I was booked for six weeks, all expenses paid, until I should "be on my feet again," as he expressed it. Then he left, only to visit and revisit me until I returned to the city, fairly well restored in nerves if not in health.
But could one ever forget the mingled sadness and fervor of his original appeal, the actual distress written in his face, the unlimited generosity of his mood and deed as well as his unmerited self-denunciation? One pictures such tenderness and concern as existing between parents and children, but rarely between brothers. Here he was evincing the same thing, as soft as love itself, and he a man of years and some affairs and I an irritable, distrait and peevish soul.
Take note, ye men of satire and spleen. All men are not selfish or hard.
The final phase of course related to his untimely end. He was not quite fifty-five when he died, and with a slightly more rugged quality of mind he might have lasted to seventy. It was due really to the failure of his firm (internal dissensions and rivalries, in no way due to him, however, as I have been told) and what he foolishly deemed to be the end of his financial and social glory. His was one of those simple, confiding, non-hardy dispositions, warm and colorful but intensely sensitive, easily and even fatally chilled by the icy blasts of human difficulty, however slight. You have no doubt seen some animals, cats, dogs, birds, of an especially affectionate nature, which when translated to a strange or unfriendly climate soon droop and die. They have no spiritual resources wherewith to contemplate what they do not understand or know. Now his friends would leave him. Now that bright world of which he had been a part would know him no more. It was pathetic, really. He emanated a kind of fear. Depression and even despair seemed to hang about him like a cloak. He could not shake it off. And yet, literally, in his case there was nothing to fear, if he had only known.
And yet two years before he did die, I knew he would. Fantastic as it may seem, to be shut out from that bright world of which he deemed himself an essential figure was all but unendurable. He had no ready money now—not the same amount anyhow. He could not greet his old-time friends so gayly, entertain so freely. Meeting him on Broadway shortly after the failure and asking after his affairs, he talked of going into business for himself as a publisher, but I realized that he could not. He had neither the ability nor the talent for that, nor the heart. He was not a business man but a song-writer and actor, had never been anything but that. He tried in this new situation to write songs, but he could not. They were too morbid. What he needed was some one to buoy him up, a manager, a strong confidant of some kind, some one who would have taken his affairs in hand and shown him what to do. As it was he had no one. His friends, like winter-frightened birds, had already departed. Personally, I was in no position to do anything at the time, being more or less depressed myself and but slowly emerging from difficulties which had held me for a number of years.
About a year or so after he failed my sister E—— announced that Paul had been there and that he was coming to live with her. He could not pay so much then, being involved with all sorts of examinations of one kind and another, but neither did he have to. Her memory was not short; she gave him the fullness of her home. A few months later he was ostensibly connected with another publishing house, but by then he was feeling so poorly physically and was finding consolation probably in some drinking and the caresses of those feminine friends who have, alas, only caresses to offer. A little later I met a doctor who said, "Paul cannot live. He has pernicious anaemia. He is breaking down inside and doesn't know it. He can't last long. He's too depressed." I knew it was so and what the remedy was—money and success once more, the petty pettings and flattery of that little world of which he had been a part but which now was no more for him. Of all those who had been so lavish in their greetings and companionship earlier in his life, scarcely one, so far as I could make out, found him in that retired world to which he was forced. One or two pegged-out actors sought him and borrowed a little of the little that he had; a few others came when he had nothing at all. His partners, quarreling among themselves and feeling that they had done him an injustice, remained religiously away. He found, as he often told my sister, broken horse-shoes (a "bad sign"), met cross-eyed women, another "bad sign," was pursued apparently by the inimical number thirteen—and all these little straws depressed him horribly. Finally, being no longer strong enough to be about, he took to his bed and remained there days at a time, feeling well while in bed but weak when up. For a little while he would go "downtown" to see this, that and the other person, but would soon return. One day on coming back home he found one of his hats lying on his bed, accidentally put there by one of the children, and according to my sister, who was present at the time, he was all but petrified by the sight of it. To him it was the death-sign. Some one had told him so not long before!!!
Then, not incuriously, seeing the affectional tie that had always held us, he wanted to see me every day. He had a desire to talk to me about his early life, the romance of it—maybe I could write a story some time, tell something about him! (Best of brothers, here it is, a thin little flower to lay at your feet!) To please him I made notes, although I knew most of it. On these occasions he was always his old self, full of ridiculous stories, quips and slight mots, all in his old and best vein. He would soon be himself, he now insisted.
Then one evening in late November, before I had time to call upon him (I lived about a mile away), a hurry-call came from E——. He had suddenly died at five in the afternoon; a blood-vessel had burst in the head. When I arrived he was already cold in death, his soft hands folded over his chest, his face turned to one side on the pillow, that indescribable sweetness of expression about the eyes and mouth—the empty shell of the beetle. There were tears, a band of reporters from the papers, the next day obituary news articles, and after that a host of friends and flowers, flowers, flowers. It is amazing what satisfaction the average mind takes in standardized floral forms—broken columns and gates ajar!
Being ostensibly a Catholic, a Catholic sister-in-law and other relatives insistently arranged for a solemn high requiem mass at the church of one of his favorite rectors. All Broadway was there, more flowers, his latest song read from the altar. Then there was a carriage procession to a distant Catholic graveyard somewhere, his friend, the rector of the church, officiating at the grave. It was so cold and dreary there, horrible. Later on he was removed to Chicago.
But still I think of him as not there or anywhere in the realm of space, but on Broadway between Twenty-ninth and Forty-second Streets, the spring and summer time at hand, the doors of the grills and bars of the hotels open, the rout of actors and actresses ambling to and fro, his own delicious presence dressed in his best, his "funny" stories, his songs being ground out by the hand organs, his friends extending their hands, clapping him on the shoulder, cackling over the latest idle yarn.
Ah, Broadway! Broadway! And you, my good brother! Here is the story that you wanted me to write, this little testimony to your memory, a pale, pale symbol of all I think and feel. Where are the thousand yarns I have laughed over, the music, the lights, the song?
Peace, peace. So shall it soon be with all of us. It was a dream. It is. I am. You are. And shall we grieve over or hark back to dreams?
The County Doctor
How well I remember him—the tall, grave, slightly bent figure, the head like Plato's or that of Diogenes, the mild, kindly, brown-gray eyes peering, all too kindly, into the faces of dishonest men. In addition, he wore long, full, brown-gray whiskers, a long gray overcoat (soiled and patched toward the last) in winter, a soft black hat that hung darkeningly over his eyes. But what a doctor! And how simple and often non-drug-storey were so many of his remedies!
"My son, your father is very sick. Now, I'll tell you what you can do for me. You go out here along the Cheevertown road about a mile or two and ask any farmer this side of the creek to let you have a good big handful of peach sprigs—about so many, see? Say that Doctor Gridley said he was to give them to you for him. Then, Mrs. ——, when he brings them, you take a few, not more than seven or eight, and break them up and steep them in hot water until you have an amber-colored tea. Give Mr. —— about three or four tea-spoonfuls of that every three or four hours, and I hope we'll find he'll do better. This kidney case is severe, I know, but he'll come around all right."
And he did. My father had been very ill with gall stones, so weak at last that we thought he was sure to die. The house was so somber at the time. Over it hung an atmosphere of depression and fear, with pity for the sufferer, and groans of distress on his part. And then there were the solemn visits of the doctor, made pleasant by his wise, kindly humor and his hopeful predictions and ending in this seemingly mild prescription, which resulted, in this case, in a cure. He was seemingly so remote at times, in reality so near, and wholly thoughtful.
On this occasion I went out along the long, cold, country road of a March evening. I was full of thoughts of his importance as a doctor. He seemed so necessary to us, as he did to everybody. I knew nothing about medicine, or how lives were saved, but I felt sure that he did and that he would save my father in spite of his always conservative, speculative, doubtful manner. What a wonderful man he must be to know all these things—that peach sprouts, for instance, were an antidote to the agony of gall stones!
As I walked along, the simplicity of country life and its needs and deprivations were impressed upon me, even though I was so young. So few here could afford to pay for expensive prescriptions—ourselves especially—and Dr. Gridley knew that and took it into consideration, so rarely did he order anything from a drug-store. Most often, what he prescribed he took out of a case, compounded, as it were, in our presence.
A brisk wind had fluttered snow in the morning, and now the ground was white, with a sinking red sun shining across it, a sense of spring in the air. Being unknown to these farmers, I wondered if any one of them would really cut me a double handful of fresh young peach sprigs or suckers from their young trees, as the doctor had said. Did they really know him? Some one along the road—a home-driving farmer—told me of an old Mr. Mills who had a five-acre orchard farther on. In a little while I came to his door and was confronted by a thin, gaunt, bespectacled woman, who called back to a man inside:
"Henry, here's a little boy says Dr. Gridley said you were to cut him a double handful of peach sprigs."
Henry now came forward—a tall, bony farmer in high boots and an old wool-lined leather coat, and a cap of wool.
"Dr. Gridley sent cha, did he?" he observed, eyeing me most critically.
"What's the matter? What does he want with 'em? Do ya know?"
"Yes, sir. My father's sick with kidney trouble, and Dr. Gridley said I was to come out here."
"Oh, all right. Wait'll I git my big knife," and back he went, returning later with a large horn-handled knife, which he opened. He preceded me out through the barn lot and into the orchard beyond.
"Dr. Gridley sent cha, did he, huh?" he asked as he went. "Well, I guess we all have ter comply with whatever the doctor orders. We're all apt ter git sick now an' ag'in," and talking trivialities of a like character, he cut me an armful, saying: "I might as well give ya too many as too few. Peach sprigs! Now, I never heered o' them bein' good fer anythin', but I reckon the doctor knows what he's talkin' about. He usually does—or that's what we think around here, anyhow."
In the dusk I trudged home with my armful, my fingers cold. The next morning, the tea having been brewed and taken, my father was better. In a week or two he was up and around, as well as ever, and during this time he commented on the efficacy of this tea, which was something new to him, a strange remedy, and which caused the whole incident to be impressed upon my mind. The doctor had told him that at any time in the future if he was so troubled and could get fresh young peach sprigs for a tea, he would find that it would help him. And the drug expense was exactly nothing.
In later years I came to know him better—this thoughtful, crusty, kindly soul, always so ready to come at all hours when his cases permitted, so anxious to see that his patients were not taxed beyond their financial resources.
I remember once, one of my sisters being very ill, so ill that we were beginning to fear death, one and another of us had to take turn sitting up with her at night to help and to give her her medicine regularly. During one of the nights when I was sitting up, dozing, reading and listening to the wind in the pines outside, she seemed persistently to get worse. Her fever rose, and she complained of such aches and pains that finally I had to go and call my mother. A consultation with her finally resulted in my being sent for Dr. Gridley—no telephones in those days—to tell him, although she hesitated so to do, how sister was and ask him if he would not come.
I was only fourteen. The street along which I had to go was quite dark, the town lights being put out at two a.m., for reasons of thrift perhaps. There was a high wind that cried in the trees. My shoes on the board walks, here and there, sounded like the thuds of a giant. I recall progressing in a shivery ghost-like sort of way, expecting at any step to encounter goblins of the most approved form, until finally the well-known outlines of the house of the doctor on the main street—yellow, many-roomed, a wide porch in front—came, because of a very small lamp in a very large glass case to one side of the door, into view.
Here I knocked, and then knocked more. No reply. I then made a still more forceful effort. Finally, through one of the red glass panels which graced either side of the door I saw the lengthy figure of the doctor, arrayed in a long white nightshirt, and carrying a small glass hand-lamp, come into view at the head of the stairs. His feet were in gray flannel slippers, and his whiskers stuck out most grotesquely.
"Wait! Wait!" I heard him call. "I'll be there! I'm coming! Don't make such a fuss! It seems as though I never get a real good night's rest any more."
He came on, opened the door, and looked out.
"Well," he demanded, a little fussily for him, "what's the matter now?"
"Doctor," I began, and proceeded to explain all my sister's aches and pains, winding up by saying that my mother said "wouldn't he please come at once?"
"Your mother!" he grumbled. "What can I do if I do come down? Not a thing. Feel her pulse and tell her she's all right! That's every bit I can do. Your mother knows that as well as I do. That disease has to run its course." He looked at me as though I were to blame, then added, "Calling me up this way at three in the morning!"
"But she's in such pain, Doctor," I complained.
"All right—everybody has to have a little pain! You can't be sick without it."
"I know," I replied disconsolately, believing sincerely that my sister might die, "but she's in such awful pain, Doctor."
"Well, go on," he replied, turning up the light. "I know it's all foolishness, but I'll come. You go back and tell your mother that I'll be there in a little bit, but it's all nonsense, nonsense. She isn't a bit sicker than I am right this minute, not a bit—" and he closed the door and went upstairs.
To me this seemed just the least bit harsh for the doctor, although, as I reasoned afterwards, he was probably half-asleep and tired—dragged out of his bed, possibly, once or twice before in the same night. As I returned home I felt even more fearful, for once, as I was passing a woodshed which I could not see, a rooster suddenly flapped his wings and crowed—a sound which caused me to leap all of nineteen feet Fahrenheit, sidewise. Then, as I walked along a fence which later by day I saw had a comfortable resting board on top, two lambent golden eyes surveyed me out of inky darkness! Great Hamlet's father, how my heart sank! Once more I leaped to the cloddy roadway and seizing a cobblestone or hunk of mud hurled it with all my might, and quite involuntarily. Then I ran until I fell into a crossing ditch. It was an amazing—almost a tragic—experience, then.
In due time the doctor came—and I never quite forgave him for not making me wait and go back with him. He was too sleepy, though, I am sure. The seizure was apparently nothing which could not have waited until morning. However, he left some new cure, possibly clear water in a bottle, and left again. But the night trials of doctors and their patients, especially in the country, was fixed in my mind then.
One of the next interesting impressions I gained of the doctor was that of seeing him hobbling about our town on crutches, his medicine case held in one hand along with a crutch, visiting his patients, when he himself appeared to be so ill as to require medical attention. He was suffering from some severe form of rheumatism at the time, but this, apparently, was not sufficient to keep him from those who in his judgment probably needed his services more than he did his rest.
One of the truly interesting things about Dr. Gridley, as I early began to note, was his profound indifference to what might be called his material welfare. Why, I have often asked myself, should a man of so much genuine ability choose to ignore the gauds and plaudits and pleasures of the gayer, smarter world outside, in which he might readily have shone, to thus devote himself and all his talents to a simple rural community? That he was an extremely able physician there was not the slightest doubt. Other physicians from other towns about, and even so far away as Chicago, were repeatedly calling him into consultation. That he knew life—much of it—as only a priest or a doctor of true wisdom can know it, was evident from many incidents, of which I subsequently learned, and yet here he was, hidden away in this simple rural world, surrounded probably by his Rabelais, his Burton, his Frazer, and his Montaigne, and dreaming what dreams—thinking what thoughts?
"Say," an old patient, friend and neighbor of his once remarked to me years later, when we had both moved to another city, "one of the sweetest recollections of my life is to picture old Dr. Gridley, Ed Boulder who used to run the hotel over at Sleichertown, Congressman Barr, and Judge Morgan, sitting out in front of Boulder's hotel over there of a summer's evening and haw-hawing over the funny stories which Boulder was always telling while they were waiting for the Pierceton bus. Dr. Gridley's laugh, so soft to begin with, but growing in force and volume until it was a jolly shout. And the green fields all around. And Mrs. Calder's drove of geese over the way honking, too, as geese will whenever people begin to talk or laugh. It was delicious."
One of the most significant traits of his character, as may be inferred, was his absolute indifference to actual money, the very cash, one would think, with which he needed to buy his own supplies. During his life, his wife, who was a thrifty, hard-working woman, used frequently, as I learned after, to comment on this, but to no result. He could not be made to charge where he did not need to, nor collect where he knew that the people were poor.
"Once he became angry at my uncle," his daughter once told me, "because he offered to collect for him for three per cent, dunning his patients for their debts, and another time he dissolved a partnership with a local physician who insisted that he ought to be more careful to charge and collect."
This generosity on his part frequently led to some very interesting results. On one occasion, for instance, when he was sitting out on his front lawn in Warsaw, smoking, his chair tilted back against a tree and his legs crossed in the fashion known as "jack-knife," a poorly dressed farmer without a coat came up and after saluting the doctor began to explain that his wife was sick and that he had come to get the doctor's advice. He seemed quite disturbed, and every now and then wiped his brow, while the doctor listened with an occasional question or gently accented "uh-huh, uh-huh," until the story was all told and the advice ready to be received. When this was given in a low, reassuring tone, he took from his pocket his little book of blanks and wrote out a prescription, which he gave to the man and began talking again. The latter took out a silver dollar and handed it to the doctor, who turned it idly between his fingers for a few seconds, then searched in his pocket for a mate to it, and playing with them a while as he talked, finally handed back the dollar to the farmer.
"You take that," he said pleasantly, "and go down to the drug-store and have the prescription filled. I think your wife will be all right."
When he had gone the doctor sat there a long time, meditatively puffing the smoke from his cob pipe, and turning his own dollar in his hand. After a time he looked up at his daughter, who was present, and said:
"I was just thinking what a short time it took me to write that prescription, and what a long time it took him to earn that dollar. I guess he needs the dollar more than I do."
In the same spirit of this generosity he was once sitting in his yard of a summer day, sunning himself and smoking, a favorite pleasure of his, when two men rode up to his gate from opposite directions and simultaneously hailed him. He arose and went out to meet them. His wife, who was sewing just inside the hall as she usually was when her husband was outside, leaned forward in her chair to see through the door, and took note of who they were. Both were men in whose families the doctor had practiced for years. One was a prosperous farmer who always paid his "doctor's bills," and the other was a miller, a "ne'er-do-well," with a delicate wife and a family of sickly children, who never asked for a statement and never had one sent him, and who only occasionally and at great intervals handed the doctor a dollar in payment for his many services. Both men talked to him a little while and then rode away, after which he returned to the house, calling to Enoch, his old negro servant, to bring his horse, and then went into his study to prepare his medicine case. Mrs. Gridley, who was naturally interested in his financial welfare, and who at times had to plead with him not to let his generosity stand wholly in the way of his judgment, inquired of him as he came out:
"Now, Doctor, which of those two men are you going with?"
"Why, Miss Susan," he replied—a favorite manner of addressing his wife, of whom he was very fond—the note of apology in his voice showing that he knew very well what she was thinking about, "I'm going with W——."
"I don't think that is right," she replied with mild emphasis. "Mr. N—— is as good a friend of yours as W——, and he always pays you."
"Now, Miss Susan," he returned coaxingly, "N—— can go to Pierceton and get Doctor Bodine, and W—— can't get any one but me. You surely wouldn't have him left without any one?"
What the effect of such an attitude was may be judged when it is related that there was scarcely a man, woman or child in the entire county who had not at some time or other been directly or indirectly benefited by the kindly wisdom of this Samaritan. He was nearly everybody's doctor, in the last extremity, either as consultant or otherwise. Everywhere he went, by every lane and hollow that he fared, he was constantly being called into service by some one—the well-to-do as well as by those who had nothing; and in both cases he was equally keen to give the same degree of painstaking skill, finding something in the very poor—a humanness possibly—which detained and fascinated him and made him a little more prone to linger at their bedsides than anywhere else.
"He was always doing it," said his daughter, "and my mother used to worry over it. She declared that of all things earthly, papa loved an unfortunate person; the greater the misfortune, the greater his care."
In illustration of his easy and practically controlling attitude toward the very well-to-do, who were his patients also, let me narrate this:
In our town was an old and very distinguished colonel, comparatively rich and very crotchety, who had won considerable honors for himself during the Civil War. He was a figure, and very much looked up to by all. People were, in the main, overawed by and highly respectful of him. A remote, stern soul, yet to Dr. Gridley he was little more than a child or schoolboy—one to be bossed on occasion and made to behave. Plainly, the doctor had the conviction that all of us, great and small, were very much in need of sympathy and care, and that he, the doctor, was the one to provide it. At any rate, he had known the colonel long and well, and in a public place—at the principal street corner, for instance, or in the postoffice where we school children were wont to congregate—it was not at all surprising to hear him take the old colonel, who was quite frail now, to task for not taking better care of himself—coming out, for instance, without his rubbers, or his overcoat, in wet or chilly weather, and in other ways misbehaving himself.
"There you go again!" I once heard him call to the colonel, as the latter was leaving the postoffice and he was entering (there was no rural free delivery in those days) "—walking around without your rubbers, and no overcoat! You want to get me up in the night again, do you?"
"It didn't seem so damp when I started out, Doctor."
"And of course it was too much trouble to go back! You wouldn't feel that way if you couldn't come out at all, perhaps!"
"I'll put 'em on! I'll put 'em on! Only, please don't fuss, Doctor. I'll go back to the house and put 'em on."
The doctor merely stared after him quizzically, like an old schoolmaster, as the rather stately colonel marched off to his home.
Another of his patients was an old Mr. Pegram, a large, kind, big-hearted man, who was very fond of the doctor, but who had an exceedingly irascible temper. He was the victim of some obscure malady which medicine apparently failed at times to relieve. This seemed to increase his irritability a great deal, so much so that the doctor had at last discovered that if he could get Mr. Pegram angry enough the malady would occasionally disappear. This seemed at times as good a remedy as any, and in consequence he was occasionally inclined to try it.
Among other things, this old gentleman was the possessor of a handsome buffalo robe, which, according to a story that long went the rounds locally, he once promised to leave to the doctor when he died. At the same time all reference to death both pained and irritated him greatly—a fact which the doctor knew. Finding the old gentleman in a most complaining and hopeless mood one night, not to be dealt with, indeed, in any reasoning way, the doctor returned to his home, and early the next day, without any other word, sent old Enoch, his negro servant, around to get, as he said, the buffalo robe—a request which would indicate, of course that the doctor had concluded that old Mr. Pegram had died, or was about to—a hopeless case. When ushered into the latter's presence, Enoch began innocently enough:
"De doctah say dat now dat Mr. Peg'am hab subspired, he was to hab dat ba—ba—buffalo robe."
"What!" shouted the old irascible, rising and clambering out of his bed. "What's that? Buffalo robe! By God! You go back and tell old Doc Gridley that I ain't dead yet by a damned sight! No, sir!" and forthwith he dressed himself and was out and around the same day.
Persons who met the doctor, as I heard years later from his daughter and from others who had known him, were frequently asking him, just in a social way, what to do for certain ailments, and he would as often reply in a humorous and half-vagrom manner that if he were in their place he would do or take so-and-so, not meaning really that they should do so but merely to get rid of them, and indicating of course any one of a hundred harmless things—never one that could really have proved injurious to any one. Once, according to his daughter, as he was driving into town from somewhere, he met a man on a lumber wagon whom he scarcely knew but who knew him well enough, who stopped and showed him a sore on the upper tip of his ear, asking him what he would do for it.
"Oh," said the doctor, idly and jestingly, "I think I'd cut it off."
"Yes," said the man, very much pleased with this free advice, "with what, Doctor?"
"Oh, I think I'd use a pair of scissors," he replied amusedly, scarcely assuming that his jesting would be taken seriously.
The driver jogged on and the doctor did not see or hear of him again until some two months later when, meeting him in the street, the driver smilingly approached him and enthusiastically exclaimed:
"Well, Doc, you see I cut 'er off, and she got well!"
"Yes," replied the doctor solemnly, not remembering anything about the case but willing to appear interested, "—what was it you cut off?"
"Why, that sore on my ear up here, you know. You told me to cut it off, and I did."
"Yes," said the doctor, becoming curious and a little amazed, "with what?"
"Why, with a pair of scissors, Doc, just like you said."
The doctor stared at him, the whole thing coming gradually back to him.
"But didn't you have some trouble in cutting it off?" he inquired, in disturbed astonishment.
"No, no," said the driver, "I made 'em sharp, all right. I spent two days whettin' 'em up, and Bob Hart cut 'er off fer me. They cut, all right, but I tell you she hurt when she went through the gristle."
He smiled in pleased remembrance of his surgical operation, and the doctor smiled also, but, according to his daughter, he decided to give no more idle advice of that kind.
In the school which I attended for a period were two of his sons, Fred and Walter. Both were very fond of birds, and kept a number of one kind or another about their home—not in cages, as some might, but inveigled and trained as pets, and living in the various open bird-houses fixed about the yard on poles. The doctor himself was intensely fond of these and all other birds, and, according to his daughter and his sons, always anticipated the spring return of many of diem—black-birds, blue jays, wrens and robins—with a hopeful, "Well, now, they'll soon be here again." During the summer, according to her, he was always an interested spectator of their gyrations in the air, and when evening would come was never so happy as when standing and staring at them gathering from all directions to their roosts in the trees or the birdhouses. Similarly, when the fall approached and they would begin their long flight Southward, he would sometimes stand and scan the sky and trees in vain for a final glimpse of his feathered friends, and when in the gathering darkness they were no longer to be seen would turn away toward the house, saying sadly to his daughter:
"Well, Dollie, the blackbirds are all gone. I am sorry. I like to see them, and I am always sorry to lose them, and sorry to know that winter is coming."
"Usually about the 25th or 26th of December," his daughter once quaintly added to me, "he would note that the days were beginning to get longer, and cheer up, as spring was certain to follow soon and bring them all back again."
One of the most interesting of his bird friendships was that which existed between him and a pair of crows he and his sons had raised, "Jim" and "Zip" by name. These crows came to know him well, and were finally so humanly attached to him that, according to his family, they would often fly two or three miles out of town to meet him and would then accompany him, lighting on fences and trees by the way, and cawing to him as he drove along! Both of them were great thieves, and would steal anything from a bit of thread up to a sewing machine, if they could have carried it. They were always walking about the house, cheerfully looking for what they might devour, and on one occasion carried off a set of spoons, which they hid about the eaves of the house. On another occasion they stole a half dozen tin-handled pocket knives, which the doctor had bought for the children and which the crows seemed to like for the brightness of the metal. They were recovered once by the children, stolen again by the crows, recovered once more, and so on, until at last it was a question as to which were the rightful owners.
The doctor was sitting in front of a store one day in the business-heart of town, where also he liked to linger in fair weather, when suddenly he saw one of his crows flying high overhead and bearing something in its beak, which it dropped into the road scarcely a hundred feet away. Interested to see what it was the bird had been carrying, he went to the spot where he saw it fall and found one of the tin-handled knives, which the crow had been carrying to a safe hiding-place. He picked it up and when he returned home that night asked one of his boys if he could lend him a knife.
"No," said his son. "Our knives are all lost. The crows took them."
"I knew that," said the doctor sweetly, "and so, when I met Zip uptown just now, I asked her to lend me one, and she did. Here it is."
He pulled out the knife and handed it to the boy and, when the latter expressed doubt and wonder, insisted that the crow had loaned it to him; a joke which ended in his always asking one of the children to run and ask Zip if she would lend him a knife, whenever he chanced to need one.
Although a sad man at times, as I understood, the doctor was not a pessimist, and in many ways, both by practical jokes and the humoring of odd characters, sought relief from the intense emotional strain which the large practice of his profession put upon him. One of his greatest reliefs was the carrying out of these little practical jokes, and he had been known to go to much trouble at times to work up a good laugh.
One of the, to him, richest jokes, and one which he always enjoyed telling, related to a country singing school which was located in the neighborhood of Pierceton, in which reading (the alphabet, at least), spelling, geography, arithmetic, rules of grammar, and so forth, were still taught by a process of singing. The method adopted in this form of education was to have the scholar memorize all knowledge by singing it. Thus in the case of geography the students would sing the name of the country, then its mountains, then the highest peaks, cities, rivers, principal points of interest, and so on, until all information about that particular country had been duly memorized in song or rhyme. Occasionally they would have a school-day on which the local dignitaries would be invited, and on a number of these occasions the doctor was, for amusement's sake merely, a grave and reverent listener. On one occasion, however, he was merely passing the school, when hearing "Africa-a, Africa-a, mountains of the moo-oo-oon" drawled out of the windows, he decided to stop in and listen a while. Having tethered his horse outside he knocked at the door and was received by the little English singing teacher who, after showing him to a seat, immediately called upon the class for an exhibition of their finest wisdom. When they had finished this the teacher turned to him and inquired if there was anything he would especially like them to sing.
"No," said the doctor gravely, and no doubt with an amused twinkle in his eye, "I had thought of asking you to sing the Rocky Mountains, but as the mountains are so high, and the amount of time I have so limited, I have decided that perhaps it will be asking too much."
"Oh, not at all, not at all" airily replied the teacher, and turning to his class, he exclaimed with a very superior smile: "Now, ladies and gentlemen, 'ere is a scientific gentleman who thinks it is 'arder to sing of 'igh mountings than it is to sing of low mountings," and forthwith the class began to demonstrate that in respect to vocalization there was no difference at all.
Only those, however, who knew Dr. Gridley in the sickroom, and knew him well, ever discovered the really finest trait of his character: a keen, unshielded sensibility to and sympathy for all human suffering, that could not bear to inflict the slightest additional pain. He was really, in the main, a man of soft tones and unctuous laughter, of gentle touch and gentle step, and a devotion to duty that carried him far beyond his interests or his personal well-being. One of his chiefest oppositions, according to his daughter, was to telling the friends or relatives of any stricken person that there was no hope. Instead, he would use every delicate shade of phrasing and tone in imparting the fateful words, in order if possible to give less pain. "I remember in the case of my father," said one of his friends, "when the last day came. Knowing the end was near, he was compelled to make some preliminary discouraging remark, and I bent over with my ear against my father's chest and said, 'Doctor Gridley, the disease is under control, I think. I can hear the respiration to the bottom of the lungs.'
"'Yes, yes,' he answered me sadly, but now with an implication which could by no means be misunderstood, 'it is nearly always so. The failure is in the recuperative energy. Vitality runs too low.' It meant from the first, 'Your father will not live.'"
In the case of a little child with meningitis, the same person was sent to him to ask what of the child—better or worse. His answer was: "He is passing as free from pain as ever I knew a case of this kind."
In yet another case of a dying woman, one of her relatives inquired: "Doctor, is this case dangerous?" "Not in the nature of the malady, madam," was his sad and sympathetic reply, "but fatal in the condition it meets. Hope is broken. There is nothing to resist the damage."
One of his patients was a farmer who lived in an old-time log house a few miles out from Silver Lake, who while working about his barn met with a very serious accident which involved a possible injury to the gall bladder. The main accident was not in itself fatal, but the possible injury to the gall bladder was, and this, if it existed, would show as a yellow tint in the eyeball on the tenth day. Fearing the danger of this, he communicated the possibility to the relatives, saying that he could do little after that time but that he would come just the same and make the patient as comfortable as possible. For nine days he came, sitting by the bedside and whiling away many a weary hour for the sufferer, until the tenth morning. On this day, according to his daughter, who had it from the sick man's relatives, his face but ill concealed the anxiety he felt. Coming up to the door, he entered just far enough to pretend to reach for a water bucket. With this in his hand he turned and gave one long keen look in the eye of the sick man, then walked down the yard to a chair under a tree some distance from the house, where he sat, drooping and apparently grieved, the certainty of the death of the patient affecting him as much as if he were his own child.
"There was no need for words," said one of them. "Every curve and droop of his figure, as he walked slowly and with bent head, told all of us who saw him that hope was gone and that death had won the victory."
One of his perpetual charges, as I learned later, was a poor old unfortunate by the name of Id Logan, who had a little cabin and an acre of ground a half dozen miles west of Warsaw, and who existed from year to year heaven only knows how.
Id never had any money, friends or relatives, and was always troubled with illness or hunger in some form or other, and yet the doctor always spoke of him sympathetically as "Poor old Id Logan" and would often call out there on his rounds to see how he was getting along. One snowy winter's evening as he was traveling homeward after a long day's ride, he chanced to recollect the fact that he was in the neighborhood of his worthless old charge, and fancying that he might be in need of something turned his horse into the lane which led up to the door. When he reached the house he noticed that no smoke was coming from the chimney and that the windows were slightly rimmed with frost, as if there were no heat within. Rapping at the door and receiving no response, he opened it and went in. There he found his old charge, sick and wandering in his mind, lying upon a broken-down bed and moaning in pain. There was no fire in the fireplace. The coverings with which the bed was fitted were but two or three old worn and faded quilts, and the snow was sifting in badly through the cracks where the chinking had fallen out between the logs, and under the doors and windows.
Going up to the sufferer and finding that some one of his old, and to the doctor well-known, maladies had at last secured a fatal grip upon him, he first administered a tonic which he knew would give him as much strength as possible, and then went out into the yard, where, after putting up his horse, he gathered chips and wood from under the snow and built a roaring fire. Having done this, he put on the kettle, trimmed the lamp, and after preparing such stimulants as the patient could stand, took his place at the bedside, where he remained the whole night long, keeping the fire going and the patient as comfortable as possible. Toward morning the sufferer died and when the sun was well up he finally returned to his family, who anxiously solicited him as to his whereabouts.
"I was with Id Logan," he said.
"What's ailing him now?" his daughter inquired.
"Nothing now," he returned. "It was only last night," and for years afterward he commented on the death of "poor old Id," saying always at the conclusion of his remarks that it must be a dreadful thing to be sick and die without friends.
His love for his old friends and familiar objects was striking, and he could no more bear to see an old friend move away than he could to lose one of his patients. One of his oldest friends was a fine old Christian lady by the name of Weeks, who lived down in Louter Creek bottoms and in whose household he had practiced for nearly fifty years. During the latter part of his life, however, this family began to break up, and finally when there was no one left but the mother she decided to move over into Whitley County, where she could stay with her daughter. Just before going, however, she expressed a wish to see Doctor Gridley, and he called in upon her. A little dinner had been prepared in honor of his coming. After it was over and the old times were fully discussed he was about to take his leave when Mrs. Weeks disappeared from the room and then returned, bearing upon her arm a beautiful yarn spread which she held out before her and, in her nervous, feeble way getting the attention of the little audience, said:
"Doctor, I am going up to Whitley now to live with my daughter, and I don't suppose I will get to see you very often any more. Like myself, you are getting old, and it will be too far for you to come. But I want to give you this spread that I have woven with my own hands since I have been sixty years of age. It isn't very much, but it is meant for a token of the love and esteem I bear you, and in remembrance of all that you have done for me and mine."
Her eyes were wet and her voice quivering as she brought it forward. The doctor, who had been wholly taken by surprise by this kindly manifestation of regard, had arisen during her impromptu address and now stood before her, dignified and emotionally grave, his own eyes wet with tears of appreciation.
Balancing the homely gift upon his extended hands, he waited until the force of his own sentiment had slightly subsided, when he replied:
"Madam, I appreciate this gift with which you have chosen to remember me as much as I honor the sentiment which has produced it. There are, I know, threads of feeling woven into it stronger than any cords of wool, and more enduring than all the fabrics of this world. I have been your physician now for fifty years, and have been a witness of your joys and sorrows. But, as much as I esteem you, and as highly as I prize this token of your regard, I can accept it but upon one condition, and that is, Mrs. Weeks, that you promise me that no matter how dark the night, how stormy the sky, or how deep the waters that intervene, you will not fail to send for me in your hour of need. It is both my privilege and my pleasure, and I should not rest content unless I knew it were so."
When the old lady had promised, he took his spread and going out to his horse, rode away to his own home, where he related this incident, and ended with, "Now I want this put on my bed."
His daughter, who lovingly humored his every whim, immediately complied with his wish, and from that day to the hour of his death the spread was never out of his service.
One of the most pleasing incidents to me was one which related to his last illness and death. Always, during his later years, when he felt the least bit ill, he refused to prescribe for himself, saying that a doctor, if he knew anything at all, was never such a fool as to take any of his own medicine. Instead, and in sequence to this humorous attitude, he would always send for one of the younger men of the vicinity who were beginning to practice here, one, for instance, who having other merits needed some assurance and a bit of superior recognition occasionally to help him along. On this occasion he called in a very sober young doctor, one who was greatly admired but had very little practice as yet, and saying, "Doctor, I'm sick today," lay back on his bed and waited for further developments.
The latter, owing to Dr. Gridley's great repute and knowledge, was very much flustered, so much so that he scarcely knew what to do.
"Well, Doctor," he finally said, after looking at his tongue, taking his pulse and feeling his forehead, "you're really a better judge of your own condition than I am, I'm sure. What do you think I ought to give you?"
"Now, Doctor," replied Gridley sweetly, "I'm your patient, and you're my doctor. I wouldn't prescribe for myself for anything in the world, and I'm going to take whatever you give me. That's why I called you in. Now, you just give me what you think my condition requires, and I'll take it."
The young doctor, meditating on all that was new or faddistic, decided at last that just for variation's sake he would give the doctor something of which he had only recently heard, a sample of which he had with him and which had been acclaimed in the medical papers as very effective. Without asking the doctor whether he had ever heard of it, or what he thought, he merely prescribed it.
"Well, now, I like that," commented Gridley solemnly. "I never heard of that before in my life, but it sounds plausible. I'll take it, and we'll see. What's more, I like a young doctor like yourself who thinks up ways of his own—" and, according to his daughter, he did take it, and was helped, saying always that what young doctors needed to do was to keep abreast of the latest medical developments, that medicine was changing, and perhaps it was just as well that old doctors died! He was so old and feeble, however, that he did not long survive, and when the time came was really glad to go.
One of the sweetest and most interesting of all his mental phases was, as I have reason to know, his attitude toward the problem of suffering and death, an attitude so full of the human qualities of wonder, sympathy, tenderness, and trust, that he could scarcely view them without exhibiting the emotion he felt. He was a constant student of the phenomena of dissolution, and in one instance calmly declared it as his belief that when a man was dead he was dead and that was the end of him, consciously. At other times he modified his view to one of an almost prayerful hope, and in reading Emily Bronte's somewhat morbid story of "Wuthering Heights," his copy of which I long had in my possession, I noted that he had annotated numerous passages relative to death and a future life with interesting comments of his own. To one of these passages, which reads:
"I don't know if it be a peculiarity with me, but I am seldom otherwise than happy while watching in the chamber of death, provided no frenzied or despairing mourner shares the duty with me. I see a repose that neither earth nor hell can break, and I feel an assurance of the endless and shadowless hereafter—the eternity they have entered—where life is boundless in its duration, and love in its sympathy, and joy in its fullness,"
he had added on the margin:
"How often I have felt this very emotion. How natural I know it to be. And what a consolation in the thought!"
Writing a final prescription for a young clergyman who was dying, and for whom he had been most tenderly solicitous, he added to the list of drugs he had written in Latin, the lines:
"In life's closing hour, when the trembling soul flies And death stills the heart's last emotion, Oh, then may the angel of mercy arise Like a star on eternity's ocean!"
When he himself was upon his death-bed he greeted his old friend Colonel Dyer—he of the absent overcoat and over-shoes—with:
"Dyer, I'm almost gone. I am in the shadow of death. I am standing upon the very brink. I cannot see clearly, I cannot speak coherently, the film of death obstructs my sight. I know what this means. It is the end, but all is well with me. I have no fear. I have said and done things that would have been better left unsaid and undone, but I have never willfully wronged a man in my life. I have no concern for myself. I am concerned only for those I leave behind. I never saved money, and I die as poor as when I was born. We do not know what there is in the future now shut out from our view by a very thin veil. It seems to me there is a hand somewhere that will lead us safely across, but I cannot tell. No one can tell."
This interesting speech, made scarcely a day before he closed his eyes in death, was typical of his whole generous, trustful, philosophical point of view.
"If there be green fields and placid waters beyond the river that he so calmly crossed," so ran an editorial in the local county paper edited by one of his most ardent admirers, "reserved for those who believe in and practice upon the principle of 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,' then this Samaritan of the medical profession is safe from all harm. If there be no consciousness, but only a mingling of that which was gentleness and tenderness here with the earth and the waters, then the greenness of the one and the sparkling limpidity of the other are richer for that he lived, and wrought, and returned unto them so trustingly again."
Culhane, the Solid Man
I met him in connection with a psychic depression which only partially reflected itself in my physical condition. I might almost say that I was sick spiritually. At the same time I was rather strongly imbued with a contempt for him and his cure. I had heard of him for years. To begin with, he was a wrestler of repute, or rather ex-wrestler, retired undefeated champion of the world. As a boy I had known that he had toured America with Modjeska as Charles, the wrestler, in "As You Like It." Before or after that he had trained John L. Sullivan, the world's champion prize fighter of his day, for one of his most successful fights, and that at a time when Sullivan was unfitted to fight any one. Before that, in succession, from youth up, he had been a peasant farmer's son in Ireland, a scullion in a ship's kitchen earning his way to America, a "beef slinger" for a packing company, a cooks' assistant and waiter in a Bowery restaurant, a bouncer in a saloon, a rubber down at prize fights, a policeman, a private in the army during the Civil War, a ticket-taker, exhibition wrestler, "short-change man" with a minstrel company, later a circus, until having attained his greatest fame as champion wrestler of the world, and as trainer of John L. Sullivan, he finally opened a sporting sanitarium in some county in upper New York State which later evolved into the great and now decidedly fashionable institution in Westchester, near New York.
It has always been interesting to me to see in what awe men of this type or profession are held by many in the more intellectual walks of life as well as by those whose respectful worship is less surprising,—those who revere strength, agility, physical courage, so-called, brute or otherwise. There is a kind of retiring worshipfulness, especially in men and children of the lower walks, for this type, which must be flattering in the extreme.
However, in so far as Culhane was concerned at this time, the case was different. Whatever he had been in his youth he was not that now, or at least his earlier rawness had long since been glazed over by other experiences. Self-education, an acquired politeness among strangers and a knowledge of the manners and customs of the better-to-do, permitted him to associate with them and to accept if not copy their manners and to a certain extent their customs in his relations with them. Literally, he owned hundreds of the best acres of the land about him, in one of the most fashionable residence sections of the East. He had already given away to some Sisters of Mercy a great estate in northern New York. His stables contained every type of fashionable vehicle and stalled and fed sixty or seventy of the worst horses, purposely so chosen, for the use of his "guests." Men of all professions visited his place, paid him gladly the six hundred dollars in advance which he asked for the course of six weeks' training, and brought, or attempted to, their own cars and retinues, which they lodged in the vicinity but could not use. I myself was introduced or rather foisted upon him by my dear brother, whose friend if not crony—if such a thing could have been said to exist in his life—he was. I was taken to him in a very somber and depressed mood and left; he rarely if ever received guests in person or at once. On the way, and before I had been introduced, I was instructed by my good brother as to his moods, methods, airs and tricks, supposed or rumored to be so beneficial in so many cases. They were very rough—purposely so.
The day I arrived, and before I saw him, I was very much impressed with the simplicity yet distinction of the inn or sanitarium or "repair shop," as subsequently I learned he was accustomed to refer to it, perched upon a rise of ground and commanding a quite wonderful panorama. It was spring and quite warm and bright. The cropped enclosure which surrounded it, a great square of green fenced with high, well-trimmed privet, was good to look upon, level and smooth. The house, standing in the center of this, was large and oblong and gray, with very simple French windows reaching to the floor and great wide balustraded balconies reaching out from the second floor, shaded with awnings and set with rockers. The land on which this inn stood sloped very gradually to the Sound, miles away to the southeast, and the spires of churches and the gables of villages rising in between, as well as various toy-like sails upon the water, were no small portion of its charm. To the west for a score of miles the green-covered earth rose and fell in undulating beauty, and here again the roofs and spires of nearby villages might in fair weather be seen nestling peacefully among the trees. Due south there was a suggestion of water and some peculiar configuration, which by day seemed to have no significance other than that which attached to the vague outlines of a distant landscape. By night, however, the soft glow emanating from myriads of lights identified it as the body and length of the merry, night-reveling New York. Northward the green waves repeated themselves unendingly until they passed into a dim green-blue haze.
Interiorly, as I learned later, this place was most cleverly and sensibly arranged for the purpose for which it was intended. It was airy and well-appointed, with, on the ground floor, a great gymnasium containing, outside of an alcove at one end where hung four or five punching bags, only medicine balls. At the other end was an office or receiving-room, baggage or store-room, and locker and dining-room. To the east at the center extended a wing containing a number of shower-baths, a lounging room and sun parlor. On the second floor, on either side of a wide airy hall which ran from an immense library, billiard and smoking-room at one end to Culhane's private suite at the other, were two rows of bedrooms, perhaps a hundred all told, which gave in turn, each one, upon either side, on to the balconies previously mentioned. These rooms were arranged somewhat like the rooms of a passenger steamer, with its center aisle and its outer decks and doors opening upon it. In another wing on the ground floor were kitchens, servants' quarters, and what not else! Across the immense lawn or campus to the east, four-square to the sanitarium, stood a rather grandiose stable, almost as impressive as the main building. About the place, and always more or less in evidence, were servants, ostlers, waiting-maids and always a decidedly large company of men of practically all professions, ages, and one might almost say nationalities. That is as nationalities are represented in America, by first and second generations.
The day I arrived I did not see my prospective host or manager or trainer for an hour or two after I came, being allowed to wait about until the very peculiar temperament which he possessed would permit him to come and see me. When he did show up, a more savage and yet gentlemanly-looking animal in clothes de rigueur I have never seen. He was really very princely in build and manner, shapely and grand, like those portraits that have come down to us of Richelieu and the Duc de Guise—fawn-colored riding trousers, bright red waistcoat, black-and-white check riding coat, brown leather riding boots and leggings with the essential spurs, and a riding quirt. And yet really, at that moment he reminded me not so much of a man, in his supremely well-tailored riding costume, as of a tiger or a very ferocious and yet at times purring cat, beautifully dressed, as in our children's storybooks, a kind of tiger in collar and boots. He was so lithe, silent, cat-like in his tread. In his hard, clear, gray animal eyes was that swift, incisive, restless, searching glance which sometimes troubles us in the presence of animals. It was hard to believe that he was all of sixty, as I had been told. He looked the very well-preserved man of fifty or less. The short trimmed mustache and goatee which he wore were gray and added to his grand air. His hair, cut a close pompadour, the ends of his heavy eyebrow hairs turned upward, gave him a still more distinguished air. He looked very virile, very intelligent, very indifferent, intolerant and even threatening.
"Well," he exclaimed on sight, "you wish to see me?"
I gave him my name.
"Yes, that's so. Your brother spoke to me about you. Well, take a seat. You will be looked after."
He walked off, and after an hour or so I was still waiting, for what I scarcely knew—a room, something to eat possibly, some one to speak a friendly word to me, but no one did.
While I was waiting in this rather nondescript antechamber, hung with hats, caps, riding whips and gauntlets, I had an opportunity to study some of the men with whom presumably I was to live for a number of weeks. It was between two and three in the afternoon, and many of them were idling about in pairs or threes, talking, reading, all in rather commonplace athletic costumes—soft woolen shirts, knee trousers, stockings and running or walking shoes. They were in the main evidently of the so-called learned professions or the arts—doctors, lawyers, preachers, actors, writers, with a goodly sprinkling of merchants, manufacturers and young and middle-aged society men, as well as politicians and monied idlers, generally a little the worse for their pleasures or weaknesses. A distinguished judge of one of the superior courts of New York and an actor known everywhere in the English-speaking world were instantly recognized by me. Others, as I was subsequently informed, were related by birth or achievement to some one fact or another of public significance. The reason for the presence of so many people rather above than under the average in intellect lay, as I came to believe later, in their ability or that of some one connected with them to sincerely appreciate or to at least be amused and benefited by the somewhat different theory of physical repair which the lord of the manor had invented, or for which at least he had become famous.
I have remarked that I was not inclined to be impressed. Sanitariums with their isms and theories did not appeal to me. However, as I was waiting here an incident occurred which stuck in my mind. A smart conveyance drove up, occupied by a singularly lean and haughty-looking individual, who, after looking about him, expecting some one to come out to him no doubt, clambered cautiously out, and after seeing that his various grips and one trunk were properly deposited on the gravel square outside, paid and feed his driver, then walked in and remarked:
"Ah—where is Mr. Culhane?"
"I don't know, sir," I replied, being the only one present. "He was here, but he's gone. I presume some one will show up presently."
He walked up and down a little while, and then added: "Um—rather peculiar method of receiving one, isn't it? I wired him I'd be here." He walked restlessly and almost waspishly to and fro, looking out of the window at times, at others commenting on the rather casual character of it all. I agreed.
Thus, some fifteen minutes having gone by without any one approaching us, and occasional servants or "guests" passing through the room or being seen in the offing without even so much as vouchsafing a word or appearing to be interested in us, the new arrival grew excited.
"This is very unusual," he fumed, walking up and down. "I wired him only three hours ago. I've been here now fully three-quarters of an hour! A most unheard-of method of doing business, I should say!"
Presently our stern, steely-eyed host returned. He seemed to be going somewhere, to be nowise interested in us. Yet into our presence, probably into the consciousness of this new "guest," he carried that air of savage strength and indifference, eyeing the stranger quite sharply and making no effort to apologize for our long wait.
"You wish to see me?" he inquired brusquely once more.
Like a wasp, the stranger was vibrant with rage. Plainly he felt himself insulted or terribly underrated.
"Are you Mr. Culhane?" he asked crisply.
"I am Mr. Squiers," he exclaimed. "I wired you from Buffalo and ordered a room," this last with an irritated wave of the hand.
"Oh, no, you didn't order any room," replied the host sourly and with an obvious desire to show his indifference and contempt even. "You wired to know if you could engage a room."
He paused. The temperature seemed to drop perceptibly. The prospective guest seemed to realize that he had made a mistake somewhere, had been misinformed as to conditions here.
"Oh! Um—ah! Yes! Well, have you a room?"
"I don't know. I doubt it. We don't take every one." His eyes seemed to bore into the interior of his would-be guest.
"Well, but I was told—my friend, Mr. X——," the stranger began a rapid, semi-irritated, semi-apologetic explanation of how he came to be here.
"I don't know anything about your friend or what he told you. If he told you you could order a room by telegraph, he's mistaken. Anyhow, you're not dealing with him, but with me. Now that you're here, though, if you want to sit down and rest yourself a little I'll see what I can do for you. I can't decide now whether I can let you stay. You'll have to wait a while." He turned and walked off.
The other stared. "Well," he commented to me after a time, walking and twisting, "if a man wants to come here I suppose he has to put up with such things, but it's certainly unusual, isn't it?" He sat down, wilted, and waited.
Later a clerk in charge of the registry book took us in hand, and then I heard him explaining that his lungs were not in good shape. He had come a long way—Denver, I believe. He had heard that all one needed to do was to wire, especially one in his circumstances.
"Some people think that way," solemnly commented the clerk, "but they don't know Mr. Culhane. He does about as he pleases in these matters. He doesn't do this any more to make money but rather to amuse himself, I think. He always has more applicants than he accepts."
I began to see a light. Perhaps there was something to this place after all. I did not even partially sense the drift of the situation, though, until bedtime when, after having been served a very frugal meal and shown to my very simple room, a kind of cell, promptly at nine o'clock lights were turned off. I lit a small candle and was looking over some things which I had placed in a grip, when I heard a voice in the hall outside: "Candles out, please! Candles out! All guests in bed!" Then it came to me that a very rigorous regime was being enforced here.
The next morning as I was still soundly sleeping at five-thirty a loud rap sounded at my door. The night before I had noticed above my bed a framed sign which read: "Guests must be dressed in running trunks, shoes and sweater, and appear in the gymnasium by six sharp." "Gymnasium at six! Gymnasium at six!" a voice echoed down the hall. I bounced out of bed. Something about the very air of the place made me feel that it was dangerous to attempt to trifle with the routine here. The tiger-like eyes of my host did not appeal to me as retaining any softer ray in them for me than for others. I had paid my six hundred ... I had better earn it. I was down in the great room in my trunks, sweater, dressing-gown, running shoes in less than five minutes.
And that room! By that time as odd a company of people as I have ever seen in a gymnasium had already begun to assemble. The leanness! the osseosity! the grandiloquent whiskers parted in the middle! the mustachios! the goatees! the fat, Hoti-like stomachs! the protuberant knees! the thin arms! the bald or semi-bald pates! the spectacles or horn glasses or pince-nezes!—laid aside a few moments later, as the exercises began. Youth and strength in the pink of condition, when clad only in trunks, a sweater and running shoes, are none too acceptable—but middle age! And out in the world, I reflected rather sadly, they all wore the best of clothes, had their cars, servants, city and country houses perhaps, their factories, employees, institutions. Ridiculous! Pitiful! As lymphatic and flabby as oysters without their shells, myself included. It was really painful.
Even as I meditated, however, I was advised, by many who saw that I was a stranger, to choose a partner, any partner, for medicine ball practice, for it might save me being taken or called by him. I hastened so to do. Even as we were assembling or beginning to practice, keeping two or three light medicine balls going between each pair, our host entered—that iron man, that mount of brawn. In his cowled dressing-gown he looked more like some great monk or fighting abbot of the medieval years than a trainer. He walked to the center, hung up his cowl and revealed himself lithe and lion-like and costumed like ourselves. But how much more attractive as he strode about, his legs lean and sturdy, his chest full, his arms powerful and graceful! At once he seized a large leather-covered medicine ball, as had all the others, and calling a name to which responded a lean whiskerando with a semi-bald pate, thin legs and arms, and very much caricatured, I presume, by the wearing of trunks and sweater. Taking his place opposite the host, he was immediately made the recipient of a volley of balls and brow-beating epithets.
"Hurry up now! Faster! Ah, come on! Put the ball back to me! Put the ball back! Do you want to keep it all day? Great God! What are you standing there for? What are you standing there for? What do you think you're doing—drinking tea? Come on! I haven't all morning for you alone. Move! Move, you ham! You call yourself an editor! Why, you couldn't edit a handbill! You can't even throw a ball straight! Throw it straight! Throw it straight! For Christ's sake where do you think I am—out in the office? Throw it straight! Hell!" and all the time one and another ball, grabbed from anywhere, for the floor was always littered with them, would be thrown in the victim's direction, and before he could well appreciate what was happening to him he was being struck, once in the neck and again on the chest by the rapidly delivered six ounce air-filled balls, two of which at least he and the host were supposed to keep in constant motion between them. Later, a ball striking him in the stomach, he emitted a weak "Ooph!" and laying his hands over the affected part ceased all effort. At this the master of the situation only smirked on him leoninely and holding up a ball as if to throw it continued, "What's the matter with you now? Come on! What do you want to stop for? What do you want to stand there for? You're not hurt. How do you expect to get anywhere if you can't keep two silly little balls like these going between us?" (There had probably been six or eight.) "Here I am sixty and you're forty, and you can't even keep up with me. And you pretend to give the general public advice on life! Well, go on; God pity the public, is all I say," and he dismissed him, calling out another name.
Now came a fat, bald soul, with dewlaps and a protruding stomach, who later I learned was a manufacturer of clothing—six hundred employees under him—down in health and nerves, really all "shot to pieces" physically. Plainly nervous at the sound of his name, he puffed quickly into position, grabbing wildly after the purposely eccentric throws which his host made and which kept him running to left and right in an all but panicky mood.
"Move! Move!" insisted our host as before, and, if anything, more irritably. "Say, you work like a crab! What a motion! If you had more head and less guts you could do this better. A fine specimen you are! This is what comes of riding about in taxis and eating midnight suppers instead of exercising. Wake up! Wake up! A belt would have kept your stomach in long ago. A little less food and less sleep, and you wouldn't have any fat cheeks. Even your hair might stay on! Wake up! Wake up! What do you want to do—die?" and as he talked he pitched the balls so quickly that his victim looked at times as though he were about to weep. His physical deficiencies were all too plain in every way. He was generally obese and looked as though he might drop, his face a flaming red, his hands trembling and missing, when a "Well, go on," sounded and a third victim was called. This time it was a well-known actor who responded, a star, rather spry and well set up, but still nervous, for he realized quite well what was before him. He had been here for weeks and was in pretty fair trim, but still he was plainly on edge. He ran and began receiving and tossing as swiftly as he could, but as with the others so it was his turn now to be given such a grilling and tongue-lashing as falls to few of us in this world, let alone among the successful in the realm of the footlights. "Say, you're not an actor—you're a woman! You're a stewed onion! Move! Move! Come on! Come on! Look at those motions now, will you? Look at that one arm up! Where do you suppose the ball is? On the ceiling? It's not a lamp! Come on! Come on! It's a wonder when you're killed as Hamlet that you don't stay dead. You are. You're really dead now, you know. Move! Move!" and so it would go until finally the poor thespian, no match for his master and beset by flying balls, landing upon his neck, ear, stomach, finally gave up and cried:
"Well, I can't go any faster than I can, can I? I can't do any more than I can!"
"Ah, go on! Go back into the chorus!" called his host, who now abandoned him. "Get somebody from the baby class to play marbles with you," and he called another.
By now, as may well be imagined, I was fairly stirred up as to the probabilities of the situation. He might call me! The man who was playing opposite me—a small, decayed person who chose me, I think, because he knew I was new, innocuous and probably awkward—seemed to realize my thoughts as well as his own. By lively exercise with me he was doing his utmost to create an impression of great and valuable effort here. "Come on, let's play fast so he won't notice us," he said most pathetically at one point. You would have thought I had known him all my life.
But he didn't call us—not this morning at any rate. Whether owing to our efforts or the fact that I at least was too insignificant, too obscure, we escaped. He did reach me, however, on the fourth or fifth day, and no spindling failure could have done worse. I was struck and tripped and pounded until I all but fell prone upon the floor, half convinced that I was being killed, but I was not. I was merely sent stumbling and drooping back to the sidelines to recover while he tortured some one else. But the names he called me! The comments on my none too smoothly articulated bones—and my alleged mind! As in my schooldays when, a laggard in the fierce and seemingly malevolent atmosphere in which I was taught my ABC's, I crept shamefacedly and beaten from the scene.