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present, or future, could not easily be determined, since the same ideas and phrases have been in vogue these fifty years. Now he rattled forth full-throated sentences about patriotism, national glory, and the people's right; now he muttered some perilous stuff or other, in a sly and doubtful whisper, so cautiously that even his own conscience could scarcely catch the secret; and now, again, he spoke in measured accents, and a deeply deferential tone, as if a royal ear were listening to his well-turned periods. Colonel Killigrew all this time had been trolling forth a jolly bottle-song, and ringing his glass in symphony with the chorus, while his eyes wandered toward the buxom figure of the Widow Wycherly. On the other side of the table, Mr. Medbourne was involved in a calculation of dollars and cents, with which was strangely intermingled a project for supplying the East Indies with ice, by harnessing a team of whales to the polar icebergs.
As for the Widow Wycherly, she stood before the mirror, curtseying and simpering to her own image, and greeting it as the friend whom she loved better than all the world beside. She thrust her face close to the glass, to see whether some long-remembered wrinkle or crow's-foot had indeed vanished. She examined whether the snow had so entirely melted from her hair, that the venerable cap could be safely thrown aside. At last, turning briskly away, she came with a sort of dancing step to the table.
• My dear old doctor,' cried she, 'pray favor me with another glass !'
Certainly, my dear madam, certainly! replied the complaisant doctor; 'see ! I have already filled the glasses.
There, in fact, stood the four glasses, brim full of this wonderful water, the delicate spray of which, as it effervesced from the surface, resembled the tremulous glitter of diamonds. It was now so nearly sunset, that the chamber had grown duskier than ever; but a mild and moon-like splendor gleamed from within the vase, and rested alike on the four guests, and on the doctor's venerable figure. He sat in a high-backed, elaborately-carved, oaken arm-chair, with a gray dignity of aspect that might have well befitted that very Father Time, whose power had never been disputed, save by this fortunate company. Even while quaffing the third draught of the Fountain of Youth, they were almost awed by the expression of his mysterious visage.
But, the next moment, the exhilarating gush of young life shot through their veins. They were now in the happy prime of youth. Age, with its miserable train of cares, and sorrows, and diseases, was remembered only as the trouble of a dream, from which they had joyously awoke. The fresh gloss of the soul, so early lost, and without which the world's successive scenes had been but a gallery of faded pictures, again threw its enchantment over all their prospects. They felt like new-created beings, in a new-created universe.
• We are young! We are young!' they cried, exultingly.
Youth, like the extremity of age, had effaced the strongly marked characteristics of middle life, and mutually assimilated them all. They were a group of merry youngsters, almost maddened with the exuberant foolishness of their years. The most singular effect of
their gayety was an impulse to mock the infirmity and decrepitude of which they had so lately been the victims. They laughed loudly at their old-fashioned attire, the wide-skirted coats and flapped waistcoasts of the young men, and the ancient cap and gown of the blooming girl. One limped across the floor, like a goury grand-father; one set a pair of spectacles astride of his nose, and pretended to pore over the black-letter pages of the book of magic; a third seated himself in an arm-chair, and strove to imitate the venerable dignity of Dr. Heidegger. Then all shouted mirthfully, and leaped about the room. The Widow Wycherly — if so fresh a damsel could be called a widow — tripped up to the doctor's chair, with a mischievous merriment in her rosy face.
* Doctor, you dear old soul,' cried she, 'get up and dance with me!' And then the four young people laughed louder than ever, to think what a queer figure the poor old doctor would cut.
* Pray excuse me,' answered the doctor, quietly. 'I am old and rheumatic, and my dancing days were over long ago. But either of these gay young gentlemen will be glad of so pretty a partner.'
* Dance with me, Clara !' cried Colonel Killigrew. No, no, I will be her partner! shouted Mr. Gascoigne. She promised me her hand, fifty years ago !' exclaimed Mr. Medboume.
They all gathered round her. One caught both her hands in his passionate grasp
another threw his arm about her waist — the third buried his hand among the glossy curls that clustered beneath the widow's cap. Blushing, panting, struggling, chiding, laughing, her warm breath fanning each of their faces by turns, she sirove to disengage herself, yet still remained in their triple embrace. Never was there a livelier picture of youthful rivalship, with bewitching beauty for the prize. Yet, by a strange deception, owing to the duskiness of the chamber, and the antique dresses which they still wore, the tall mirror is said to have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grand-sires, ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled grand-dam.
But they were young : their burning passions proved them so. Inflamed to madness by the coquetry of the girl-widow, who neither granted nor quite withheld her favors, the three rivals began to interchange threatening glances. Still keeping hold of the fair prize, they grappled fiercely at one another's throats. As they struggled to and fro, the table was overturned, and the vase dashed into a thousand fragments. The precious Water of Youth flowed in a bright stream across the floor, moistening the wings of a butterfly, which, grown old in the decline of summer, had alighted there to die. The insect fluttered lightly through the chamber, and settled on the snowy head of Dr. Heidegger.
. Come, come, gentlemen ! - come, Madam Wyeherly,' exclaimed the doctor, 'I really must protest against this riot.'
They stood still, and shivered; for it seemed as if gray Time were calling them back from their sunny youth, far down into the chill and darksome vale of years. They looked at old Dr. Heidegger, who sat in his carved arm-chair, holding the rose of half a century, which he had rescued from among the fragments of the shattered vase. At the motion of his hand, the four rioters resumed their seats; the more readily, because their violent exertions had wearied them, youthful though they were.
My poor Sylvia's rose ! ejaculated Dr. Heidegger, holding it in the light of the sunset clouds : it appears to be fading again.'
And so it was. Even while the party were looking at it, the flower continued to shrivel up, till it became as dry and fragile as when the doctor had first thrown it into the vase. He shook off the few drops of moisture which clung to its petals.
• I love it as well thus, as in its dewy freshness,' observed he, pressing the withered rose to his withered lips. While he spoke, the butterfly fluttered down from the doctor's snowy head, and fell upon the floor.
His guests shivered again. A strange chillness, whether of the body or spirit they could not tell, was creeping gradually over them all. They gazed at one another, and fancied that each fleeting moment snatched away a charm, and left a deepening furrow where none had been before. Was it an illusion ? Had the changes of a life-time been crowded into so brief a space, and were they now four aged people, sitting with their old friend, Dr. Heidegger ? *Are we grown old again, so soon !' cried they, dolefully.
In truth, they had. The Water of Youth possessed merely a virtue as transient as that of wine. The delirium which it created had effervesced away. Yes! they were old again. With a shuddering impulse, that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before her face, and wished that the coffin-lid were over it, since it could be no longer beautiful.
Yes, friends, ye are old again,' said Dr. Heidegger; "and lo! the Water of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well - I bemoan it not; for if the fountain gushed at my very door-step, I would not stoop to bathe my lips in it — no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments. Such is the lesson ye have taught me!'
But the doctor's four friends had taught no such lesson to themselves. They resolved forthwith to make a pilgrimage to Florida, and quaff at morning, noon, and night, from the Fountain of Youth.
THOUGHTS ON THE NATURE OF COMETS. The present age is characterized by new theories and speculations, and it is difficult to avoid imbibing a portion of its prevailing spirit. This fact, then, must be my apology for offering the following remarks on the nature of cometary bodies a subject at present replete with uncertainty, and therefore presenting ample scope for the visionary and the theorist to hazard conjecture, which, in default of more safe and serious investigation, may serve to amuse, if it fail to instruct. Science appears to have paused in her pursuit of this subject, satisfied, apparently, with the triumph of having successfully predicted the path and the return of one comet whose orbit extends beyond our system so far as our system is yet known to extend — and of two within it. In the mean time, the hypotheses of the ignorant will not be entirely useless, if they serve but to suggest a new fulcrum on which the lever of science may rest, or if they point out but the weight of an additional grain to increase the momentum necessary to move the world of doubt beneath which the truth is buried.
The subject at present is embarrassed with apparent contradictions. Down to the present day, the question remains subjudice, whether comets are solid, opaque bodies, or whether they are thin and transparent; some of the learned contending that a perfect occultation of a fixed star occurs when a comet passes between it and the spectator's eye - others affirming that no such occultation takes place, but that the fixed star is visible through the nucleus of the comet. From this difference of opinion has arisen the monstrous supposition, that some comets are solid, and others vaporous as if it were possible that bodies with natures diametrically opposite, could be governed by precisely the same law.
Scientific men have labored in vain to account for the embarrassing fact, that a vast body, drawing after it a train of 20°, 60°, and
even 100°, should not only produce no perceptible effect upon the motion of the planets near which it passes, but that such a body itself should be retarded in its exceedingly rapid course, and suffer an alteration in the diameter of its orbit, by the attraction of a single planet. The comet of Halley, in its return in 1759, was delayed in its approach to the sun, nearly one hundred days, by the attractive influence of Saturn, and nearly five hundred days by that of Jupiter. This fact has never been satisfactorily accounted for, and upon the supposition that comets are solid bodies, it is utterly inexplicable; for it would stand forth a solitary instance of opposition to all the known laws of motion by which the universe is governed. In this dilemma, astronomers are obliged to resort to the expedient of calling comets exceedingly small bodies, surrounded by a large and luminous atmosphere ; but such a supposition becomes highly improbable, when we consider at what an immense distance their nuclei are visible.
Again : It is the property of opaque bodies to project a shadow into space. The light from the sun falling upon the heavenly bodies in lines nearly parallel, causes their shadow to extend to an immense distance. Thus we perceive that the size of the earth's shadow suffers comparatively but a slight diminution in its passage to the moon; and there is little doubt but that a partial eclipse of the latter body would occur, were she more than five times her present distance from the earth. Now, since the tail spreads off from the comet in exactly the same direction in which the nucleus should project a shadow, it would seem that, if the nucleus were opaque, it should render a portion of the tail immediately behind it dark : but such an appearance, as far as I have been able to learn, has never been observed, even in the largest of these bodies.
From these considerations, I am inclined to suppose that the nucleus, or star, of a comet is not a solid, opaque body, but rather an accumulation in one point of the same matter as that of which the tail is composed, concentrated and coherent by the sun's attractions, or by some law resembling that which regulates chemical combinations and preferences ; and in that form — moving in vacuo, or nearly so obeying the general laws of motion. This idea contains nothing improbable, or contradictory to the established theory of matter and attraction. Of whatever matter the tails of comets be composed, * there is nothing absurd in supposing them to contain particles of greater or less density ; and if so, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that the attraction of the sun would act more powerfully on those denser particles, and draw them forward with greater force. This would necessarily have the effect of causing a conglomeration of such particles exactly in that part of the comet where the nucleus now appears. And it is equally reasonable to suppose, that the rarer particles, being less strongly impelled by the sun's attraction, should obey that impulse more slowly, and form themselves into a train behind the nucleus, the ratio of their density determining their position, till the extreme end would become so rare as to be no longer visible. This refers to the comet's passage toward the sun ; the
* Of this anon.