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had never known what youth or pleasure was, but had been the offspring of Nature's dotage, and always the gray, decrepit, sapless, miserable creatures, who now sat stooping round the doctor's table, without life enough in their souls or bodies to be animated even by the prospect of growing young again. They drank off the water, and replaced their glasses on the table.
Assuredly there was an almost immediate improvement in the aspect of the party, not unlike what might have been produced by a glass of generous wine, together with a sudden glow of cheerful sunshine, brightening over all their visages at once. There was a healthful suffusion on their cheeks, instead of the ashen hue that had made them look so corpse-like. They gazed at one another, and fancied that some magic power had really begun to smooth away the deep and sad inscription which Father Time had been so long engraving on their brows. The Widow Wycherly adjusted her cap, for she felt almost like a woman again.
“Give us more of this wondrous water !” cried they, eagerly. “We are younger—but we are still too old ! Quick-give us more ! »
“Patience, patience !" quoth Dr. Heidegger, who sat watching the experiment, with philosophic coolness. “ You have been a long time growing old. Surely, you might be content to grow young in half an hour ! But the water is at your service.”
Again he filled their glasses with the liquor of youth, enough of which still remained in the vase to turn half the old people in the city to the age of their own grandchildren. While the bubbles were yet sparkling on the brim, the doctor's four guests snatched their glasses from the table, and swallowed the contents at a single gulp. Was it delusion ! Even while the draught was passing down their throats, it seemed to have wrought a change on their whole systems. Their eyes grew clear and bright; a dark shade deepened among their silvery locks; they sat around the table, three gentleman, of middle age, and a woman, hardly beyond her buxom prime.
· My dear widow, you are charming !” cried Colonel Killigrew,
whose had been fixed upon her face, while the shadows of age were flitting from it like darkness from the crimson daybreak.
The fair widow knew, of old, that Colonel Killigrew's compliments were not always measured by sober truth ; so she started up and ran to the mirror, still dreading that the ugly visage of an old woman would meet her gaze. Meanwhile, the three gentlemen behaved in such a manner, as proved that the water of the Fountain of Youth possessed some intoxicating qualities;
unless, indeed, their exhilaration of spirits were merely a lightsome dizziness, caused by the sudden removal of the weight of years. Mr. Gascoigne's mind seemed to run on political topics, but whether relating to the past, present, or future, could not easily be determined, since the same ideas and phrases have been in vogue these fifty years. Now he rattled forth fullthroated sentences about patriotism, national glory, and the people's right; now he muttered some perilous stuff or other, in a sly and doubtful whisper, so cautiously that even his own conscience could scarcely catch the secret ; and now, again, he spoke in measured accents, and a deeply deferential tone, as if a royal ear were listening to his well-turned periods. Colonel Killigrew all this time had been trolling forth a jolly bottlesong, and ringing his glass in symphony with the chorus, while his eyes wandered toward the buxom figure of the Widow Wycherly. On the other side of the table, Mr. Medbourne was involved in a calculation of dollars and cents, with which was strangely intermiogled a project for supplying the East Indies with ice, by harnessing a team of whales to the polar icebergs.
As for the Widow Wycherly, she stood before the mirror, curtseying and simpering to her own image, and greeting it as the friend whom she loved better than all the world beside. She thrust her face close to the glass, to see whether some longremembered wrinkle or crow's-foot had indeed vanished. She examined whether the snow had so entirely melted from her hair, that the venerable cap could be safely thrown aside. At last, turning briskly away, she came with a sort of dancing step to the table.
"My dear old doctor,” cried she, “pray favor me with another glass ! ”
“Certainly, my dear madam, certainly !” replied the complaisant doctor ; " see ! I have already filled the glasses.”
There, in fact, stood the four glasses, brimful of this wonderful water, the delicate spray of which, as it effervesced from the surface, resembled the tremulous glitter of diamonds. It was now so nearly sunset, that the chamber had grown duskier than ever ; but a mild and moon-like splendor gleamed from within the vase, and rested alike on the four guests, and on the doctor's venerable figure. He sat in a high-backed, elaborately-carved, oaken arm-chair, with a gray dignity of aspect that might have well befitted that very Father Time, whose power had never been disputed, save by this fortunate company. Even while quaffing the third draught of the Fountain of Youth, they were almost awed by the expression of his mysterious visage.
But, the next moment, the exhilarating gush of young life
shot through their veins. They were now in the happy prime of youth. Age, with its miserable train of cares, and sorrows and diseases, was remembered only as the trouble of a dream, from which they had joyously awoke. The fresh gloss of the soul, so early lost, and without which the world's successive scenes had been but a gallery of faded pictures, again threw its enchantment over all their prospects. They felt like newcreated beings, in a new-created universe.
“We are young! We are young!” they cried, exultingly.
Youth, like the extremity of age, had effaced the strongly marked characteristics of middle life, and mutually assimilated them all. They were a group of merry youngsters, almost maddened with the exuberant frolicksomeness of their years. The most singular effect of their gaiety was an impulse to mock the infirmity and decrepitude of which they had so lately been the victims. They laughed loudly at their old-fashioned attire, the wide-skirted coats and flapped waistcoats of the young men, and the ancient cap and gown of the blooming girl. One limped across the floor, like a gouty grandfather; one set a pair of spectacles astride of his nose and pretended to pore over the blackletter pages of the book of magic; a third seated him. self in an arm n-chair, and strove to imitate the venerable dignity of Dr. Heidegger. Then they all shouted mirthfully, and leaped about the room. The Widow Wycherly--if so fresh a damsel could be called a widow-tripped up to the doctor's chair, with a mischievous merriment in her rosy face.
“Doctor, you dear old soul, » cried she, “ get up and dance with me.” And then the four young people laughed louder than ever, to think what a queer figure the poor old doctor would cut.
“Pray excuse me," answered the doctor, quietly. “I am old and rheumatic, and my dancing days were over long ago. But either of these gay young gentlemen will be glad of so pretty a partner.
“Dance with me, Clara,” cried Colonel Killigrew. “No, no, I will be her partner,” shouted Mr. Gascoigne. “ She promised me her hand, fifty years ago,
» exclaimed Mr. Medbourne.
They all gathered round her. One caught both her hands in his passionate grasp-another threw his arm about her waist -the third buried his hand among the glossy curls that clustered beneath the widow's cap. Blushing, panting, struggling, chiding, laughing, her warm breath fanning each of their faces by turns, she strove to disengage herself, yet still remained in their triple embrace. Never was there a livelier picture of youthful rivalship, with bewitching beauty for the prize. Yet
by a strange deception, owing to the duskiness of the chamber, and the antique dresses which they still wore, the tall mirror is said to have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grandsires, ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grandam.
But they were young: their burning passions proved them so. Inflamed to madness by the coquetry of the girl-widow, who neither granted nor quite withheld her favours, the three rivals began to interchange threatening glances. Still keeping hold of the fair prize, they grappled fiercely at one another's throats. As they struggled to and fro, the table was overturned, and the vase dashed into a thousand fragments, The precious Water of Youth flowed in a bright stream across the floor, moistening the wings of a butterfly, which, grown old in the decline of summer, had alighted there to die. The insect fluttered lightly through the chamber, and settled on the snowy head of Dr. Heidegger.
“Come, come, gentlemen !--come, Madam Wycherly," exclaimed the doctor, “I really must protest against this riot.”
They stood still, and shivered; for it seemed as if gray Time were calling them back from their sunny youth, far down into the chill and darksome vale of years. They looked at old Dr. Heidegger, who sat in his carved arm-chair, holding the rose of half a century, which he had rescued from among the fragments of the shattered vase. At the motion of his hand, the four rioters resumed their seats; the more readily, because their violent exertions had wearied them, youthful though they were.
My poor Sylvia's rose !” ejaculated Dr. Heidegger, holding it in the light of the sunset clouds: “it appears to be fading again.”
And so it was. Even while the party were looking at it, the flower continued to shrivel up, till it became as dry and fragile as when the doctor had first thrown it into the vase. He shook off the few drops of moisture which clung to its petals.
“I love it as well thus, as in its dewy freshness," observed he, pressing the withered rose to his withered lips. While he spoke, the butterfly fluttered down from the doctor's snowy head, and fell upon the floor.
His guests shivered again. A strange chillness, whether of the body or spirit they could not tell, was creeping gradually over them all. They gazed at one another, and fancied that each fleeting moment snatched away a charm, and left a deepening furrow where none had been before. Was it an illusion ? Had the changes of a life-time been crowded into so brief a space, and were they now four aged people, sitting with their old friend, Dr. Heidegger ?
Are we grown old again, so soon !” cried they, dolefully. In truth, they had. The Water of Youth possessed merely a virtue more transient than that of wine. The delirium which it created had effervesced away. Yes! they were old again. With a shuddering impulse, that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before her face, and wished that the coffin-lid were over it, since it could be no longer beautiful.
“Yes, friends, ye are old again,” said Dr. Heidegger; "and lo! the Water of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well -I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it-no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me !"
But the doctor's four friends had taught no such lesson to themselves. They resolved forth with to make a pilgrimage to Florida, and quaff at morning, noon, and night from the Fountain of Youth
MIRTH AND MELANCHOLY.
TIRED and languid with the summer heat,
Beneath a spreading oak my limbs reclined,
And endless nothings floating through my mind.
Wayworn and weary, as if wandering far,
Where balmy woods and cooling shadows are.
One had a voice with melody so fill'd
That when he spoke, its accents on the ear
Borne by light zephyrs o'er the waters clear.
That ere a mind ingenuous could devise
And mirth sat beaming in his merry eyes.