CHAPTER I. DR. SINGLETARY is dead!
Well, what of it? All who live die sooner or later; and pray who was Dr. Singletary, that his case should claim particular attention?
Why, in the first place, Dr. Singletary, as a man born to our common inheritance of joy and sorrow, earthly instincts and heavenward aspirations,–our brother in sin and suffering, wisdom and folly, love, and pride, and vanity,–has a claim upon the universal sympathy. Besides, whatever the living man may have been, death has now invested him with its great solemnity. He is with the immortals. For him the dark curtain has been lifted. The weaknesses, the follies, and the repulsive mental and personal idiosyncrasies which may have kept him without the sphere of our respect and sympathy have now fallen off, and he stands radiant with the transfiguration of eternity, God’s child, our recognized and acknowledged brother.
Dr. Singletary is dead. He was an old man, and seldom, of latter years, ventured beyond the precincts of his neighborhood. He was a single man, and his departure has broken no circle of family affection. He was little known to the public, and is now little missed. The village newspaper simply appended to its announcement of his decease the customary post mortem compliment, “Greatly respected by all who knew him;” and in the annual catalogue of his alma mater an asterisk has been added to his name, over which perchance some gray-haired survivor of his class may breathe a sigh, as he calls up, the image of the fresh-faced, bright-eyed boy, who, aspiring, hopeful, vigorous, started with him on the journey of life,–a sigh rather for himself than for its unconscious awakener.
But, a few years have passed since he left us; yet already wellnigh all the outward manifestations, landmarks, and memorials of the living man have passed away or been removed. His house, with its broad, mossy roof sloping down on one side almost to the rose-bushes and lilacs, and with its comfortable little porch in front, where he used to sit of a pleasant summer afternoon, has passed into new hands, and has been sadly disfigured by a glaring coat of white paint; and in the place of the good Doctor’s name, hardly legible on the corner-board, may now be seen, in staring letters of black and gold, “VALENTINE ORSON STUBBS, M. D., Indian doctor and dealer in roots and herbs.” The good Doctor’s old horse, as well known as its owner to every man, woman, and child in the village, has fallen into the new comer’s hands, who (being prepared to make the most of him, from the fact that he commenced the practice of the healing art in the stable, rising from thence to the parlor) has rubbed him into comparative sleekness, cleaned his mane and tail of the accumulated burrs of many autumns, and made quite a gay nag of him. The wagon, too, in which at least two generations of boys and girls have ridden in noisy hilarity whenever they encountered it on their way to school, has been so smartly painted and varnished, that if its former owner could look down from the hill-slope where he lies, he would scarcely know his once familiar vehicle as it whirls glittering along the main road to the village. For the rest, all things go on as usual; the miller grinds, the blacksmith strikes and blows, the cobbler and tailor stitch and mend, old men sit in the autumn sun, old gossips stir tea and scandal, revival meetings alternate with apple-bees and bushings,–toil, pleasure, family jars, petty neighborhood quarrels, courtship, and marriage,–all which make up the daily life of a country village continue as before. The little chasm which his death has made in the hearts of the people where he lived and labored seems nearly closed up. There is only one more grave in the burying-ground,–that is all.