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Elsie Venner by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 8 out of 8

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Dr. Cr.

To salary for quarter By Deduction for absence
ending Jan 1st @ $75 per 1 week 3 days ...........$10.00
quarter ................ $75.00
"Board, lodging, etc for
10 days @ 75 cts per day.. 7.50

"Damage to Institution by
absence of teacher from
duties, say ............. 25.00

"Stationary furnished ..... .43

"Postage-stamp ............ .01

"Balance due Helen Darley. 32.06
------ --------
$75.00 $75.00

ROCKLAND, Jan. 1st, 1859.

Now Helen had her own private reasons for wishing to receive the
small sum which was due her at this time without any unfair
deduction,--reasons which we need not inquire into too particularly,
as we may be very sure that they were right and womanly. So, when
she looked over this account of Mr. Silas Peckham's, and saw that he
had contrived to pare down her salary to something less than half its
stipulated amount, the look which her countenance wore was as near to
that of righteous indignation as her gentle features and soft blue
eyes would admit of its being.

"Why, Mr. Peckham," she said, "do you mean this? If I am of so much
value to you that you must take off twenty-five dollars for ten days'
absence, how is it that my salary is to be cut down to less than
seventy-five dollars a quarter, if I remain here?"

"I gave you fair notice," said Silas. "I have a minute of it I took
down immed'ately after the intervoo."

He lugged out his large pocket-book with the strap going all round
it, and took from it a slip of paper which confirmed his statement.

"Besides," he added, slyly, "I presoom you have received a liberal
pecooniary compensation from Squire Venner for nussin' his daughter."

Helen was looking over the bill while he was speaking.

"Board and lodging for ten days, Mr. Peckham,--whose board and
lodging, pray?"

The door opened before Silas Peckham could answer, and Mr. Bernard
walked into the parlor. Helen was holding the bill in her hand,
looking as any woman ought to look who has been at once wronged and

"The last turn of the thumbscrew!" said Mr. Bernard to himself.

"What is it, Helen? You look troubled."

She handed him the account.

He looked at the footing of it. Then he looked at the items. Then
he looked at Silas Peckham.

At this moment Silas was sublime. He was so transcendently
unconscious of the emotions going on in Mr. Bernard's mind at the
moment, that he had only a single thought.

"The accaount's correc'ly cast, I presoom;--if the' 's any mistake of
figgers or addin' 'em up, it'll be made all right. Everything's
accordin' to agreement. The minute written immed'ately after the
intervoo is here in my possession."

Mr. Bernard looked at Helen. Just what would have happened to Silas
Peckham, as he stood then and there, but for the interposition of a
merciful Providence, nobody knows or ever will know; for at that
moment steps were heard upon the stairs, and Hiram threw open the
parlor-door for Mr. Dudley Venner to enter.

He saluted them all gracefully with the good-wishes of the season,
and each of them returned his compliment,--Helen blushing fearfully,
of course, but not particularly noticed in her embarrassment by more
than one.

Silas Peckham reckoned with perfect confidence on his Trustees, who
had always said what he told them to, and done what he wanted. It
was a good chance now to show off his power, and, by letting his
instructors know the unstable tenure of their offices, make it easier
to settle his accounts and arrange his salaries. There was nothing
very strange in Mr. Venner's calling; he was one of the Trustees, and
this was New Year's Day. But he had called just at the lucky moment
for Mr. Peckham's object.

"I have thought some of makin' changes in the department of
instruction," he began. "Several accomplished teachers have applied
to me, who would be glad of sitooations. I understand that there
never have been so many fust-rate teachers, male and female, out of
employment as doorin' the present season. If I can make
sahtisfahctory arrangements with my present corpse of teachers, I
shall be glad to do so; otherwise I shell, with the permission of the
Trustees, make sech noo arrangements as circumstahnces compel."

"You may make arrangements for a new assistant in my department, Mr.
Peckham," said Mr. Bernard, "at once,--this day,--this hour. I am
not safe to be trusted with your person five minutes out of this
lady's presence,--of whom I beg pardon for this strong language. Mr.
Venner, I must beg you, as one of the Trustees of this Institution,
to look at the manner in which its Principal has attempted to swindle
this faithful teacher whose toils and sacrifices and self-devotion to
the school have made it all that it is, in spite of this miserable
trader's incompetence. Will you look at the paper I hold?"

Dudley Venner took the account and read it through, without changing
a feature. Then he turned to Silas Peckham.

"You may make arrangements for anew assistant in the branches this
lady has taught. Miss Helen Darley is to be my wife. I had hoped to
have announced this news in a less abrupt and ungraceful manner. But
I came to tell you with my own lips what you would have learned
before evening from my friends in the village."

Mr. Bernard went to Helen, who stood silent, with downcast eyes, and
took her hand warmly, hoping she might find all the happiness she
deserved. Then he turned to Dudley Venner, and said,
"She is a queen, but has never found it out. The world has nothing
nobler than this dear woman, whom you have discovered in the disguise
of a teacher. God bless her and you!"

Dudley Venner returned his friendly grasp, without answering a word
in articulate speech.

Silas remained dumb and aghast for a brief space. Coming to himself
a little, he thought there might have been some mistake about the
items,--would like to have Miss barley's bill returned,--would make
it all right,--had no idee that Squire Venner had a special int'rest
in Miss barley,--was sorry he had given offence,--if he might take
that bill and look it over--

"No. Mr. Peckham," said Mr. Dudley Venner, "there will be a full
meeting of the Board next week, and the bill, and such evidence with
reference to the management of the Institution and the treatment of
its instructors as Mr. Langdon sees fit to bring forward will be laid
before them."

Miss Helen Darley became that very day the guest of Miss Arabella
Thornton, the Judge's daughter. Mr. Bernard made his appearance a
week or two later at the Lectures, where the Professor first
introduced him to the reader.

He stayed after the class had left the room.

"Ah, Mr. Langdon! how do you do? Very glad to see you back again.
How have you been since our correspondence on Fascination and other
curious scientific questions?"

It was the Professor who spoke,--whom the reader will recognize as
myself, the teller of this story.

"I have been well," Mr. Bernard answered, with a serious look which
invited a further question.

"I hope you have had none of those painful or dangerous experiences
you seemed to be thinking of when you wrote; at any rate, you have
escaped having your obituary written."

"I have seen some things worth remembering. Shall I call on you this
evening and tell you about them?"

"I shall be most happy to see you."

This was the way in which I, the Professor, became acquainted with
some of the leading events of this story. They interested me
sufficiently to lead me to avail myself of all those other
extraordinary methods of obtaining information well known to writers
of narrative.

Mr. Langdon seemed to me to have gained in seriousness and strength
of character by his late experiences. He threw his whole energies
into his studies with an effect which distanced all his previous
efforts. Remembering my former hint, he employed his spare hours in
writing for the annual prizes, both of which he took by a unanimous
vote of the judges. Those who heard him read his Thesis at the
Medical Commencement will not soon forget the impression made by his
fine personal appearance and manners, nor the universal interest
excited in the audience, as he read, with his beautiful enunciation,
that striking paper entitled "Unresolved Nebulae in Vital Science."
It was a general remark of the Faculty,--and old Doctor Kittredge,
who had come down on purpose to hear Mr. Langdon, heartily agreed to
it,--that there had never been a diploma filled up, since the
institution which conferred upon him the degree of Doctor Medicdnce
was founded, which carried with it more of promise to the profession
than that which bore the name of




Mr. Bernard Langdon had no sooner taken his degree, than, in
accordance with the advice of one of his teachers whom he frequently
consulted, he took an office in the heart of the city where he had
studied. He had thought of beginning in a suburb or some remoter
district of the city proper.

"No," said his teacher,--to wit, myself,--"don't do any such thing.
You are made for the best kind of practice; don't hamper yourself
with an outside constituency, such as belongs to a practitioner of
the second class. When a fellow like you chooses his beat, he must
look ahead a little. Take care of all the poor that apply to you,
but leave the half-pay classes to a different style of doctor,--the
people who spend one half their time in taking care of their
patients, and the other half in squeezing out their money. Go for
the swell-fronts and south-exposure houses; the folks inside are just
as good as other people, and the pleasantest, on the whole, to take
care of. They must have somebody, and they like a gentleman best.
Don't throw yourself away. You have a good presence and pleasing
manners. You wear white linen by inherited instinct. You can
pronounce the word view. You have all the elements of success; go
and take it. Be polite and generous, but don't undervalue yourself.
You will be useful, at any rate; you may just as well be happy, while
you are about it. The highest social class furnishes incomparably
the best patients, taking them by and large. Besides, when they
won't get well and bore you to death, you can send 'em off to travel.
Mind me now, and take the tops of your sparrowgrass. Somebody must
have 'em,--why shouldn't you? If you don't take your chance, you'll
get the butt-ends as a matter of course."

Mr. Bernard talked like a young man full of noble sentiments. He
wanted to be useful to his fellow-beings. Their social differences
were nothing to him. He would never court the rich,--he would go
where he was called. He would rather save the life of a poor mother
of a family than that of half a dozen old gouty millionnaires whose
heirs had been yawning and stretching these ten years to get rid of

"Generous emotions! "I exclaimed. "Cherish 'em; cling to 'em till
you are fifty, till you are seventy, till you are ninety! But do as
I tell you,--strike for the best circle of practice, and you 'll be
sure to get it!"

Mr. Langdon did as I told him,--took a genteel office, furnished it
neatly, dressed with a certain elegance, soon made a pleasant circle
of acquaintances, and began to work his way into the right kind of
business. I missed him, however, for some days, not long after he
had opened his office. On his return, he told me he had been up at
Rockland, by special invitation, to attend the wedding of Mr. Dudley
Venner and Miss Helen Darley. He gave me a full account of the
ceremony, which I regret that I cannot relate in full. "Helen looked
like an angel,"--that, I am sure, was one of his expressions. As for
her dress, I should like to give the details, but am afraid of
committing blunders, as men always do, when they undertake to
describe such matters. White dress, anyhow,--that I am sure of,--
with orange-flowers, and the most wonderful lace veil that was ever
seen or heard of. The Reverend Doctor Honeywood performed the
ceremony, of course. The good people seemed to have forgotten they
ever had had any other minister, except Deacon Shearer and his set of
malcontents, who were doing a dull business in the meeting-house
lately occupied by the Reverend Mr. Fairweather.

"Who was at the wedding?"

"Everybody, pretty much. They wanted to keep it quiet, but it was of
no use. Married at church. Front pews, old Dr. Kittredge and all
the mansionhouse people and distinguished strangers,--Colonel Sprowle
and family, including Matilda's young gentleman, a graduate of one of
the fresh-water colleges,--Mrs. Pickins (late Widow Rowens) and
husband,--Deacon Soper and numerous parishioners. A little nearer
the door, Abel, the Doctor's man, and Elbridge, who drove them to
church in the family-coach. Father Fairweather, as they all call him
now, came in late with Father McShane."

"And Silas Peckham?"

"Oh, Silas had left The School and Rockland. Cut up altogether too
badly in the examination instituted by the Trustees. Had removed
over to Tamarack, and thought of renting a large house and 'farming'
the town-poor."

Some time after this, as I was walking with a young friend along by
the swell-fronts and south-exposures, whom should I see but Mr.
Bernard Langdon, looking remarkably happy, and keeping step by the
side of a very handsome and singularly well-dressed young lady? He
bowed and lifted his hat as we passed.

"Who is that pretty girl my young doctor has got there?" I said to my

"Who is that?" he answered. "You don't know? Why, that is neither
more nor less than Miss Letitia Forrester, daughter of--of--why, the
great banking firm, you know, Bilyuns Brothers & Forrester. Got
acquainted with her in the country, they say. There 's a story that
they're engaged, or like to be, if the firm consents."

"Oh" I said.

I did not like the look of it in the least. Too young,--too young.
Has not taken any position yet. No right to ask for the hand of
Bilyuns Brothers & Co.'s daughter. Besides, it will spoil him for
practice, if he marries a rich girl before he has formed habits of

I looked in at his office the other day. A box of white kids was
lying open on the table. A three-cornered note, directed in a very
delicate lady's-hand, was distinguishable among a heap of papers. I
was just going to call him to account for his proceedings, when he
pushed the three-cornered note aside and took up a letter with a
great corporation-seal upon it. He had received the offer of a
professor's chair in an ancient and distinguished institution.

"Pretty well for three-and-twenty, my boy," I said. "I suppose
you'll think you must be married one of these days, if you accept
this office."

Mr. Langdon blushed.--There had been stories about him, he knew.
His name had been mentioned in connection with that of a very
charming young lady. The current reports were not true. He had met
this young lady, and been much pleased with her, in the country, at
the house of her grandfather, the Reverend Doctor Honeywood,--you
remember Miss Letitia Forrester, whom I have mentioned repeatedly?
On coming to town, he found his country-acquaintance in a social
position which seemed to discourage his continued intimacy. He had
discovered, however; that he was a not unwelcome visitor, and had
kept up friendly relations with her. But there was no truth in the
current reports,--none at all.'

Some months had passed, after this visit, when I happened one evening
to stroll into a box in one of the principal theatres of the city. A
small party sat on the seats before me: a middle-aged gentleman and
his lady, in front, and directly behind them my young doctor and the
same very handsome young lady I had seen him walking with on the
sidewalk before the swell-fronts and south-exposures. As Professor
Langdon seemed to be very much taken up with his companion, and both
of them looked as if they were enjoying themselves, I determined not
to make my presence known to my young friend, and to withdraw quietly
after feasting my eyes with the sight of them for a few minutes.

"It looks as if something might come of it," I said to myself. At
that moment the young lady lifted her arm accidentally in such a way
that the light fell upon the clasp of a chain which encircled her
wrist. My eyes filled with tears as I read upon the clasp, in sharp-
cut Italic letters, E. Y. They were tears at once of sad remembrance
and of joyous anticipation; for the ornament on which I looked was
the double pledge of a dead sorrow and a living affection. It was
the golden bracelet,--the parting-gift of Elsie Venner.

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