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?"
"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."
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 Brontë'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."