The Elixir

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
 

"Doctor," said a man with a thin, sallow countenance, pale lips, and leaden eyes, coming up to the counter of a drug-store in Baltimore, some ten years ago "Doctor, I've been reading your advertisement about the 'UNIVERSAL RESTORER, AND BALSAM OF LIFE,' and if that Mr. John Johnson's testimony is to be relied on, it ought to suit my case, for, in describing his own sufferings, he has exactly described mine. But I've spent so much money in medicine, to no purpose, that I am tired of being fleeced: so, if you'll just tell me where I can find this Mr. Johnson, I'll give him a call. I'd like to know if he's a real flesh-and-blood man."

"You don't mean to insinuate that I'd forge a testimonial?" replied the man of medicine, with some slight show of indignation.

"Oh, no. I don't insinuate anything at all, doctor," answered the pale-looking man. "But I'd like to see this Mr. John Johnson, and have a little talk with him."

"You can do that, if you'll take the trouble to call on him," said the doctor, in an off-hand way.

"Where can I find him?" asked the man.

"He lives a little way out of town; about three miles on the Fredrick turnpike."

"Ah, so far?"

"Yes. Go out until you come to the three-mile stone; then keep on to the first road, turning off to the right, along which you will go about a quarter of a mile, when you will see a brick house. Mr. Johnson lives there."

The thin, sallow-faced man bowed and retired. As he left the store, the doctor gave a low chuckle, and then said, half aloud "I guess he won't try to find this Mr. John Johnson."

But he was mistaken. Three hours afterwards, the sick man entered the shop, and, sinking upon a chair with an expression of weariness, said, in a fretful tone

"Well, doctor, I've been out where you said, but no Mr. John Johnson lives there."

"Mr. Johnson lives at the place to which I directed you," said the doctor, positively.

But the man shook his head.

"You went out the Fredrick road to the three-mile stone?"

"Yes."

"And turned off at the first road on the left-hand side?"

"You told me the right hand side!" said the man.

"Oh, there's the mistake," replied the doctor, with the air of a man who had discovered a very material error, by which an important result was affected; "I told you to turn off to the left."

"I'm sure you said the right," persisted the man.

"Impossible!" returned the doctor, in a most confident tone of voice. "How could I have said the right-hand side, when I knew it was the left? I know Mr. Johnson as well as I know my own brother, and have been at his house hundreds of times."

"I am almost sure you said the right!" persisted the man.

"Oh, no! You misunderstood me," most positively answered the doctor.

"Well, I must only try it again," said the man, languidly; "but shall have to defer the walk until tomorrow, for I'm completely worn down."

"You'd better try a bottle of the RESTORER," said the doctor with a benevolent smile. "I know it will just suit your case. Mr. Johnson looked much worse than you do, when he commenced taking it, and three bottles made a well man of him."

And the doctor held up a bottle of the Restorer, with its handsome label, temptingly, before the eyes of the sick man, adding, as he did so

"It is only fifty cents."

"I've been fleeced too often!" replied the suspicious patron of medicine venders. "No; I'll see Mr. Johnson first."

"Well, did you see Mr. Johnson?" asked the doctor with a pleasant smile and confident air, as the testimonial-hunter entered his shop on the next day, about noon.

"No, I did not," was replied, a little impatiently. "Ah? Why is that? Did you follow the directions I gave?"

"Yes, to the very letter."

"Then you must have found Mr. Johnson."

"But I tell you, I didn't."

"It's very strange! I can't understand it. You turned off at the first road to the left, after passing the third milestone?"

"I did."

"Two tall poplars stood at the gate which opened from the turnpike?"

"What gate?"

"The gate opening into the lane leading to Mr. Johnson's house."

"I didn't turn of at any gate," said the man. "I kept on, as you directed, to the first road that led off from the turnpike. You didn't mention anything about a gate."

"I didn't suppose it necessary," replied the doctor, with a show of impatience. "A road is a road, whether you enter it by a gate or in any other manner. Roads leading to gentlemen's country-seats are not usually left open for every sort of ingress and egress. I don't wonder that you were unable to find Mr. Johnson."

"I wish you'd give me a more particular direction," said the invalid. "I'm nearly dead now with fatigue; I'll try once more to find this man, and if I don't turn him up, I'll let the matter drop. I don't believe your medicine will do me much good, anyhow."

"I'm sure it will help you," replied the doctor. "I can tell from your very countenance, that it is what you need. Hundreds affected as you are, have been restored to health. Better take a bottle."

"I want to see this Mr. Johnson first," persisted the sick man.

"Get a carriage, then. This walking in the hot sun is too much for you."

"Can't afford to ride in carriages. Have spent all my money in doctors and medicines. Oh, dear! Well! You say this man lives just beyond the three-mile stone, at the first road leading off to the left?"

"Yes."

"Two poplars stand at the gate?"

"Yes."

"I ought to find that," said the man.

"You can find it, if you try," returned the doctor.

The man started off again.

"Plague on the persevering fellow!" muttered the doctor, as soon as the invalid retired.

"I wish I'd sent him six miles, instead of three."

The day wore on, but the testimonial-hunter did not reappear. Early on the next morning, however, his pale, thin face and emaciated brows were visible in the shop of the quack-doctor.

"Ah! good morning! good morning!" cried the latter, with one of the most assured smiles in the world. "You found Mr. Johnson, and pleasant of course?"

"Confound you, and Mr. Johnson, too! No!" replied the invalid impatiently.

The doctor was a man of great self-control, and, of course, did not in the least become offended.

"Strange!" said he, seriously. "You surely didn't follow my directions."

"I surely did. The first gate on the left-hand side. But your two tall poplars was one tall elm."

"There it is again!" and the doctor, in the fullness of his surprise, actually let a small package, that he held in his hand, fall upon the counter. "I told you poplars, distinctly. The elm-tree gate is at least a quarter of a mile this side. But, to settle the matter at once," and the doctor, speaking like a man who was about doing a desperate thing, turned to his shelves and took therefrom a bottle of the Universal Restorer "here's the medicine. I know it will cure you. Take a bottle. It shall cost you nothing."

The sick man, tempted strongly by the hope of a cure, hesitated for a short time, and then said

"I don't want your stuff for nothing. But half a dollar won't kill me."

So he drew a coin from his pocket, laid it upon the counter, and, taking the medicine, went slowly away.

"Rather a hard customer that," said the doctor to himself, with a chuckle, as he slipped the money in his drawer. "But I'll take good care to send the next one like him a little farther on his fool's errand. He'd much better have taken my word for it in the beginning."

The sick man never came back for a second bottle of the "Restorer." Whether the first bottle killed or cured him is, to the chronicler, unknown.