Taking Toll

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851


Mr. Smith kept an drug-store in the little village of Preston, which was situated a few miles from Lancaster. It was his custom to visit Lancaster every week or two, in order to purchase such articles as were needed from time to time in his business. One day, he drove off towards Lancaster, in his wagon, in which, among other things, was a gallon jug. On reaching the town, he called first at a grocer's with the inquiry,

"Have you any common wine?"

"How common?" asked the grocer.

"About a dollar a gallon. I want it to make medicinal wine."

"Yes; I have some just fit for that, and not much else, which I will sell at a dollar."

"Very well. Give me a gallon," said Mr. Smith. The jug was brought in from the wagon and filled. And then Mr. Smith drove off to attend to other business. Among the things to be done on that day, was to see a man who lived half a mile from Lancaster. Before going out on this errand, Mr. Smith stopped at the house of his particular friend, Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones happened not to be in, but Mrs. Jones was a pleasant woman, and he chatted with her for ten minutes, or so. As he stepped into his wagon, it struck him that the gallon jug was a little in his way, and so, lifting it out, he said to Mrs. Jones,

"I wish you would take care of this until I come back."

"O! certainly," replied Mrs. Jones, "with the greatest pleasure."

And so the jug was left in the lady's care.

Some time afterwards Mr. Jones came in, and among the first things that attracted his attention, was the strange jug.

"What is this?" was his natural inquiry.

"Something that Mr. Smith left."

"Mr. Smith from Preston?"

"Yes."

"I wonder what he has here?" said Mr. Jones, taking hold of the jug. "It feels heavy."

The cork was unhesitatingly removed, and the mouth of the vessel brought in contact with the smelling organ of Mr. Jones.

"Wine, as I live!" fell from his lips. "Bring me a glass."

"O! no, I wouldn't touch his wine," said Mrs. Jones.

"Bring me a glass. Do you think I'm going to let a gallon of wine pass my way without exacting toll? No no! Bring me a glass."

The glass, a half-pint tumbler, was produced, and nearly filled with the execrable stuff which was poured down the throat of Mr. Jones.

"Pretty fair wine, that; only a little rough," said Mr. Jones, smacking his lips.

"It's a shame!" remarked Mrs. Jones, warmly, "for you to do so."

"I only took toll," said the husband, laughing. "No harm in that,

I'm sure."

"Rather heavy toll, it strikes me," replied Mrs. Jones.

Meantime, Mr. Smith, having completed most of his business for that day, stopped at a store where he wished two or three articles wrapped up. While these were in preparation he said to the keeper of the store,

"I wish you would let your lad Tom step over for me to Mr. Jones'. I left a jug of common wine there, which I bought for the purpose of making it into medicinal wine.

"O! certainly," replied the store-keeper. "Here, Tom!" and he called for his boy.

Tom came, and the store-keeper said to him,

"Run over to Mr. Jones's and get a jug of medicinal wine which Mr. Smith left there. Go quickly, for Mr. Smith is in a hurry."

"Yes, sir," replied the lad, and away he ran.

After Mr. Jones had disposed of his half a pint of wine, he thought his stomach had rather a curious sensation, which is not much to be wondered at, considering the stuff with which he had burdened it.

"I wonder if that really is wine?" said he, turning from the window at which he had seated himself, and taking up tie jug again. The cork was removed, and his nose applied to the mouth of the huge bottle.

"Yes, it's wine; but I'll vow it's not much to brag of." And the cork was once more replaced.

Just then came a knock at the door. Mrs. Jones opened it, and the store-keeper's lad appeared.

"Mr. Smith says, please let me have the jug of medicinal wine he left here."

"Medicinal wine!" exclaimed Mr. Jones, his chin falling, and a paleness instantly overspread his face.

"Yes, sir," said the lad.

"Medicinal wine!" fell again, but huskily, from the quivering lips of Mr. Jones. "Send for the doctor, Kitty, quick! Oh! How sick I feel! Send for the doctor, or I'll be a dead man in half an hour!"

"Medicinal wine! Dreadful!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones, now as pale and frightened as her husband. "Do you feel sick?"

"O! yes. As sick as death!" And the appearance of Mr. Jones by no means belied his words. "Send for the doctor instantly, or it may be too late."

Mrs. Jones ran first in one direction and then in another, and finally, after telling the boy to run for the doctor, called Jane, her single servant, and started her on the same errand.

Off sprang Jane for the physician. Fortunately, the doctor was in his office, and he came with all the rapidity a proper regard to the dignity of his profession would permit, armed with a stomach pump and a dozen antidotes. On arriving at the house of Mr. Jones he found the sufferer lying upon a bed, ghastly pale, and writhing terribly.

"O! doctor! I'm afraid it's all over with me!" gasped the patient.

"How did it happen? what have you taken?" inquired the doctor, eagerly.

"I took, by mistake, nearly a pint of medicinal wine."

"Then it must be removed instantly," said the doctor; and down the sick man's throat went one end of a long, flexible rubber tube, and pump! pump! pump! went the doctor's hand at the other end. The result was very palpable. About a pint of reddish fluid, strongly smelling of wine, came up, after which the instrument was withdrawn.

"There," said the doctor, "I guess that will do. Now let me give you an antidote." And a nauseous dose of something or other was mixed up and poured down, to take the place of what had just been removed.

"Do you feel any better now?" inquired the doctor, as he sat holding the pulse of the sick man, and scanning, with a professional eye, his pale face, that was covered with a clammy perspiration.

"A little," was the faint reply. "Do you think all danger is past?"

"Yes, I think so. The antidote I have given you will neutralize the effect of the drug, as far as it has passed into the system."

"I feel as weak as a rag," said the patient. "I am sure I could not bear my own weight. What a powerful effect it had!"

"Don't think of it," returned the doctor. "Compose yourself. There is now no danger to be apprehended whatever."

The wild flight of Jane through the street, and the hurried movements of the doctor, did not fail to attract attention. Inquiry followed, and it soon became noised about that Mr. Jones had taken the poisonous potion.

Mr. Smith was just stepping into his wagon, when a man came up and said to him,

"Have you heard the news?"

"What news?"

"Mr. Jones has taken poison!"

"What?"

"Poison!"

"Who! Mr. Jones?"

"Yes. And they say he cannot live."

"Dreadful! I must see him." And without waiting for further information, Mr. Smith spoke to his horse and rode off at a gallop for the residence of his friend. Mrs. Jones met him at the door, looking very anxious.

"How is he?" inquired Mr. Smith, in a serious voice.

"A little better, I thank you. The doctor has taken it all out of his stomach. Will you walk up?"

Mr. Smith ascended to the chamber where lay Mr. Jones, looking as white as a sheet. The doctor was still by his side.

"Ah! my friend," said the sick man, in a feeble voice, as Mr. Smith took his hand, "that medicinal wine of yours has nearly been the death of me."

"What medicinal wine?" inquired Mr. Smith, not understanding his friend.

"The wine you left here in the gallon jug."

"That wasn't medicinal wine!"

"It was not?" fell from the lips of both Mr. and Mrs. Jones.

"Why, no! It was only wine that I had bought for the purpose of making medicinal wine."

Mr. Jones rose up in bed.

"Not medicinal wine?"

"No!"

"Why, the boy said it was."

"Then he didn't know anything about it. It was nothing but some common wine which I had bought."

Mr. Jones took a long breath. The doctor arose from the bedside, and Mr. Jones exclaimed,

"Well, I never!"

Then came a grave silence, in which one looked at the other, doubtingly.

"Good day!" said the doctor, and went downstairs.

"So you have been drinking my wine, it seems," laughed Mr. Smith, as soon as the man with the stomach pump had retired.

"I only took a little toll," said Mr. Jones, back into whose pale face the color was beginning to come, and through whose almost paralyzed nerves was again flowing from the brain a healthy influence. "But don't say anything about it! Don't for the world!"

"I won't, on one condition," said Mr. Smith, whose words were scarcely coherent, so strongly was he convulsed with laughter.

"What is that?"

"You must become a teetotaler."

"I'll think about that," replied Mr. Jones. "Give me a day or two to make up my mind."

"Very well. And now, good bye; the sun is nearly down, and it will be night before I get home."

And Mr. Smith shook hands with Mr. and Mrs. Jones and hurriedly retired, trying, but in vain, to leave the house in a grave and dignified manner. Long before Mr. Jones had made up his mind to join the teetotalers, the story of his taking toll was all over the town, and for the next two or three months, he had quite a time of it. After that, it became an old story.