EDWARD T. MASON
NEW YORK & LONDON
G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS
The Knickerbocker Press
COPYRIGHT G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS 1886
Press of G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS New York
BAYARD TAYLOR Selections from the Experiences of the A.C.
WILLIAM ALLEN BUTLER Dobbs His Ferry
JOHN WILLIAM DE FOREST Father Higgins's Preferment
JOHN TOWNSEND TROWBRIDGE Fred Trover's Little Iron-Clad
OLIVER BELL BUNCE Mr. Bluff Discourses on the Country and Kindred Themes
CHARLES DUDLEY WARNER Garden Ethics
FRANCES LEE PRATT Captain Ben's Choice
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT Street Scenes in Washington Selections from Transcendental Wild Oats
WILLIAM WIRT HOWE Conversational Depravity
CHARLES FARRAR BROWNE ("Artemus Ward") The Tower of London Science and Natural History From the "Lecture"
FRANK R. STOCKTON Our Tavern A Piece of Red Calico
HARRIETT PRESCOTT SPOFFORD Aunt Pen's Funeral
SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS ("Mark Twain") The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
FITZ HUGH LUDLOW Ben Thirlwall's School-days Selections from a Brace of Boys
THOMAS BAILEY ALDRICH A Rivermouth Romance
(BORN, 1825—DIED, 1878)
* * * * *
SELECTIONS FROM THE EXPERIENCES OF THE A.C.
"Bridgeport! Change cars for the Naugatuck Railroad!" shouted the conductor of the New York and Boston Express Train, on the evening of May 27, 1858.... Mr. Johnson, carpet-bag in hand, jumped upon the platform, entered the office, purchased a ticket for Waterbury, and was soon whirling in the Naugatuck train towards his destination.
On reaching Waterbury, in the soft spring twilight, Mr. Johnson walked up and down in front of the station, curiously scanning the faces of the assembled crowd. Presently he noticed a gentleman who was performing the same operation upon the faces of the alighting passengers. Throwing himself directly in the way of the latter, the two exchanged a steady gaze.
"Is your name Billings?" "Is your name Johnson?" were simultaneous questions, followed by the simultaneous exclamations,—"Ned!" "Enos!"
Then there was a crushing grasp of hands, repeated after a pause, in testimony of ancient friendship, and Mr. Billings, returning to practical life asked:
"Is that all your baggage? Come, I have a buggy here: Eunice has heard the whistle, and she'll be impatient to welcome you."
The impatience of Eunice (Mrs. Billings, of course) was not of long duration; for in five minutes thereafter she stood at the door of her husband's chocolate-colored villa, receiving his friend....
J. Edward Johnson was a tall, thin gentleman of forty-five.... A year before, some letters, signed "Foster, Kirkup, & Co., per Enos Billings," had accidentally revealed to him the whereabouts of the old friend of his youth with whom we now find him domiciled....
"Enos," said he, as he stretched out his hand for the third cup of tea (which he had taken only for the purpose of prolonging the pleasant table-chat), "I wonder which of us is most changed."
"You, of course," said Mr. Billings, "with your brown face and big moustache. Your own brother wouldn't have known you, if he had seen you last, as I did, with smooth cheeks and hair of unmerciful length. Why, not even your voice is the same!"
"That is easily accounted for," replied Mr. Johnson. "But in your case, Enos, I am puzzled to find where the difference lies. Your features seem to be but little changed, now that I can examine them at leisure; yet it is not the same face. But really, I never looked at you for so long a time, in those days. I beg pardon; you used to be so—so remarkably shy."
Mr. Billings blushed slightly, and seemed at a loss what to answer. His wife, however, burst into a merry laugh, exclaiming:
"Oh, that was before the days of the A.C.!"
He, catching the infection, laughed also; in fact, Mr. Johnson laughed, but without knowing why.
"The 'A.C.'!" said Mr. Billings. "Bless me, Eunice! how long it is since we have talked of that summer! I had almost forgotten that there ever was an A.C.... Well, the A.C. culminated in '45. You remember something of the society of Norridgeport, the last winter you were there? Abel Mallory, for instance?"
"Let me think a moment," said Mr. Johnson, reflectively. "Really, it seems like looking back a hundred years. Mallory,—wasn't that the sentimental young man, with wispy hair, a tallowy skin, and big, sweaty hands, who used to be spouting Carlyle on the 'reading evenings' at Shelldrake's? Yes, to be sure; and there was Hollins, with his clerical face and infidel talk,—and Pauline Ringtop, who used to say, 'The Beautiful is the Good.' I can still hear her shrill voice singing, 'Would that I were beautiful, would that I were fair!'"
There was a hearty chorus of laughter at poor Miss Ringtop's expense. It harmed no one, however; for the tar-weed was already thick over her Californian grave.
"Oh, I see," said Mr. Billings, "you still remember the absurdities of those days. In fact, I think you partially saw through them then. But I was younger, and far from being so clearheaded, and I looked upon those evenings at Shelldrake's as being equal, at least, to the symposia of Plato. Something in Mallory always repelled me. I detested the sight of his thick nose, with the flaring nostrils, and his coarse, half-formed lips, of the bluish color of raw corned-beef. But I looked upon these feelings as unreasonable prejudices, and strove to conquer them, seeing the admiration which he received from others. He was an oracle on the subject of 'Nature.' Having eaten nothing for two years, except Graham bread, vegetables without salt, and fruits, fresh or dried, he considered himself to have attained an antediluvian purity of health,—or that he would attain it, so soon as two pimples on his left temple should have healed. These pimples he looked upon as the last feeble stand made by the pernicious juices left from the meat he had formerly eaten and the coffee he had drunk. His theory was, that through a body so purged and purified none but true and natural impulses could find access to the soul. Such, indeed, was the theory we all held....
"Shelldrake was a man of more pretence than real cultivation, as I afterwards discovered. He was in good circumstances, and always glad to receive us at his house, as this made him virtually the chief of our tribe, and the outlay for refreshments involved only the apples from his own orchard, and water from his well....
"Well, 't was in the early part of '45,—I think in April,—when we were all gathered together, discussing, as usual, the possibility of leading a life in accordance with Nature. Abel Mallory was there, and Hollins, and Miss Ringtop, and Faith Levis, with her knitting,—and also Eunice Hazleton, a lady whom you have never seen, but you may take my wife as her representative....
"I wish I could recollect some of the speeches made on that occasion. Abel had but one pimple on his temple (there was a purple spot where the other had been), and was estimating that in two or three months more he would be a true, unspoiled man. His complexion, nevertheless, was more clammy and whey-like than ever.
"'Yes,' said he, 'I also am an Arcadian! This false dual existence which I have been leading will soon be merged in the unity of Nature. Our lives must conform to her sacred law. Why can't we strip off these hollow Shams,' (he made great use of that word,) 'and be our true selves, pure, perfect, and divine?' ...
"Shelldrake, however, turning to his wife, said,—
"'Elviry, how many up-stairs rooms is there in that house down on the Sound?'
"'Four,—besides three small ones under the roof. Why, what made you think of that, Jesse?' said she.
"'I've got an idea, while Abel's been talking,' he answered. 'We've taken a house for the summer, down the other side of Bridgeport, right on the water, where there's good fishing and a fine view of the Sound. Now, there's room enough for all of us,—at least, all that can make it suit to go. Abel, you and Enos, and Pauline and Eunice might fix matters so that we could all take the place in partnership, and pass the summer together, living a true and beautiful life in the bosom of Nature. There we shall be perfectly free and untrammelled by the chains which still hang around us in Norridgeport. You know how often we have wanted to be set on some island in the Pacific Ocean, where we could build up a true society, right from the start. Now, here's a chance to try the experiment for a few months, anyhow.'
"Eunice clapped her hands (yes, you did!) and cried out,—
"'Splendid! Arcadian! I'll give up my school for the summer.' ...
"Abel Mallory, of course, did not need to have the proposal repeated. He was ready for any thing which promised indolence, and the indulgence of his sentimental tastes. I will do the fellow the justice to say that he was not a hypocrite. He firmly believed both in himself and his ideas,—especially the former. He pushed both hands through the long wisps of his drab-colored hair, and threw his head back until his wide nostrils resembled a double door to his brain.
"'O Nature!' he said, 'you have found your lost children! We shall obey your neglected laws! we shall hearken to your divine whispers! we shall bring you back from your ignominious exile, and place you on your ancestral throne!' ...
"The company was finally arranged to consist of the Shelldrakes, Hollins, Mallory, Eunice, Miss Ringtop, and myself. We did not give much thought, either to the preparations in advance, or to our mode of life when settled there. We were to live near to Nature: that was the main thing.
"'What shall we call the place?" asked Eunice.
"'Arcadia!' said Abel Mallory, rolling up his large green eyes.
"'Then,' said Hollins, 'let us constitute ourselves the Arcadian Club!'"
—"Aha!" interrupted Mr. Johnson, "I see! The A.C.!"
"Yes, you see the A.C. now, but to understand it fully, you should have had a share in those Arcadian experiences.... It was a lovely afternoon in June when we first approached Arcadia.... Perkins Brown, Shelldrake's boy-of-all-work, awaited us at the door. He had been sent on two or three days in advance, to take charge of the house, and seemed to have had enough of hermit-life, for he hailed us with a wild whoop, throwing his straw hat half-way up one of the poplars. Perkins was a boy of fifteen, the child of poor parents, who were satisfied to get him off their hands, regardless as to what humanitarian theories might be tested upon him. As the Arcadian Club recognized no such thing as caste, he was always admitted to our meetings, and understood just enough of our conversation to excite a silly ambition in his slow mind....
"Our board, that evening, was really tempting. The absence of meat was compensated to us by the crisp and racy onions, and I craved only a little salt, which had been interdicted, as a most pernicious substance. I sat at one corner of the table, beside Perkins Brown, who took an opportunity, while the others were engaged in conversation, to jog my elbow gently. As I turned towards him, he said nothing, but dropped his eyes significantly. The little rascal had the lid of a blacking-box, filled with salt, upon his knee, and was privately seasoning his onions and radishes. I blushed at the thought of my hypocrisy, but the onions were so much better that I couldn't help dipping into the lid with him.
"'Oh,' said Eunice, 'we must send for some oil and vinegar! This lettuce is very nice.'
"'Oil and vinegar?' exclaimed Abel.
"'Why, yes,' said she, innocently: 'they are both vegetable substances.'
"Abel at first looked rather foolish, but quickly recovering herself, said,—
"'All vegetable substances are not proper for food: you would not taste the poison-oak, or sit under the upas-tree of Java.'
"'Well, Abel,' Eunice rejoined, 'how are we to distinguish what is best for us? How are we to know what vegetables to choose, or what animal and mineral substances to avoid?'
"'I will tell you,' he answered, with a lofty air. 'See here!' pointing to his temple, where the second pimple—either from the change of air, or because, in the excitement of the last few days, he had forgotten it—was actually healed. 'My blood is at last pure. The struggle between the natural and the unnatural is over, and I am beyond the depraved influences of my former taste. My instincts are now, therefore, entirely pure also. What is good for man to eat, that I shall have a natural desire to eat: what is bad will be naturally repelled. How does the cow distinguish between the wholesome and the poisonous herbs of the meadow? And is man less than a cow, that he cannot cultivate his instincts to an equal point? Let me walk through the woods and I can tell you every berry and root which God designed for food, though I know not its name, and have never seen it before. I shall make use of my time, during our sojourn here, to test, by my purified instinct, every substance, animal, mineral, and vegetable, upon which the human race subsists, and to create a catalogue of the True Food of Man!' ...
"Our lazy life during the hot weather had become a little monotonous. The Arcadian plan had worked tolerably well, on the whole, for there was very little for any one to do,—Mrs. Shelldrake and Perkins Brown excepted. Our conversation, however, lacked spirit and variety. We were, perhaps unconsciously, a little tired of hearing and assenting to the same sentiments. But, one evening, about this time, Hollins struck upon a variation, the consequences of which he little foresaw. We had been reading one of Bulwer's works, (the weather was too hot for Psychology,) and came upon this paragraph, or something like it:—
"'Ah, Behind the Veil! We see the summer smile of the Earth,—enamelled meadow and limpid stream,—but what hides she in her sunless heart? Caverns of serpents, or grottoes of priceless gems? Youth, whose soul sits on thy countenance, thyself wearing no mask, strive not to lift the masks of others! Be content with what thou seest; and wait until Time and Experience shall teach thee to find jealousy behind the sweet smile, and hatred under the honeyed word!'
"This seemed to us a dark and bitter reflection but one or another of us recalled some illustration of human hypocrisy, and the evidences, by the simple fact of repetition, gradually led to a division of opinion,—Rollins, Shelldrake, and Miss Ringtop on the dark side, and the rest of us on the bright. The last, however, contented herself with quoting from her favorite poet Gamaliel J. Gawthrop:—
"'I look beyond thy brow's concealment! I see thy spirit's dark revealment! Thy inner self betrayed I see: Thy coward, craven, shivering ME!'
"'We think we know one another,' exclaimed Rollins; 'but do we? We see the faults of others, their weaknesses, their disagreeable qualities, and we keep silent. How much we should gain, were candor as universal as concealment Then each one, seeing himself as others see him, would truly know himself. How much misunderstanding might be avoided, how much hidden shame be removed, hopeless because unspoken love made glad, honest admiration cheer its object, uttered sympathy mitigate misfortune,—in short, how much brighter and happier the world would become, if each one expressed, everywhere and at all times, his true and entire feeling! Why, even Evil would lose half its power!'
"There seemed to be so much practical wisdom in these views that we were all dazzled and half-convinced at the start. So, when Hollins, turning towards me, as he continued, exclaimed,—'Come, why should not this candor be adopted in our Arcadia? Will any one—will you, Enos—commence at once by telling me now—to my face—my principal faults?' I answered, after a moment's reflection,—'You have a great deal of intellectual arrogance, and you are, physically, very indolent.'
"He did not flinch from the self-invited test, though he looked a little surprised.
"'Well put,' said he, 'though I do not say that you are entirely correct. Now, what are my merits?'
"'You are clear-sighted,' I answered, 'an earnest seeker after truth, and courageous in the avowal of your thoughts.'
"This restored the balance, and we soon began to confess our own private faults and weaknesses. Though the confessions did not go very deep,—no one betraying any thing we did not all know already,—yet they were sufficient to strengthen Hollins in his new idea, and it was unanimously resolved that Candor should thenceforth be the main charm of our Arcadian life....
"The next day, Abel, who had resumed his researches after the True Food, came home to supper with a healthier color than I had before seen on his face.
"'Do you know,' said he, looking shyly at Hollins, 'that I begin to think Beer must be a natural beverage? There was an auction in the village to-day, as I passed through, and I stopped at a cake-stand to get a glass of water, as it was very hot. There was no water,—only beer: so I thought I would try a glass, simply as an experiment. Really, the flavor was very agreeable. And it occurred to me, on the way home, that all the elements contained in beer are vegetable. Besides, fermentation is a natural process. I think the question has never been properly tested before.'
"'But the alcohol!' exclaimed Hollins.
"'I could not distinguish any, either by taste or smell. I know that chemical analysis is said to show it; but may not the alcohol be created, somehow, during the analysis?'
"'Abel,' said Hollins, in a fresh burst of candor, 'you will never be a Reformer, until you possess some of the commonest elements of knowledge.'
"The rest of us were much diverted: it was a pleasant relief to our monotonous amiability.
"Abel, however, had a stubborn streak in his character. The next day he sent Perkins Brown to Bridgeport for a dozen bottles of 'Beer.' Perkins, either intentionally or by mistake, (I always suspected the former,) brought pint-bottles of Scotch ale, which he placed in the coolest part of the cellar. The evening happened to be exceedingly hot and sultry; and, as we were all fanning ourselves and talking languidly, Abel bethought him of his beer. In his thirst, he drank the contents of the first bottle, almost at a single draught.
"'The effect of beer,' said he, 'depends, I think, on the commixture of the nourishing principle of the grain with the cooling properties of the water. Perhaps, hereafter, a liquid food of the same character may be invented, which shall save us from mastication and all the diseases of the teeth.'
"Hollins and Shelldrake, at his invitation, divided a bottle between them, and he took a second. The potent beverage was not long in acting on a brain so unaccustomed to its influence. He grew unusually talkative and sentimental, in a few minutes.
"'Oh, sing, somebody!' he sighed in hoarse rapture: 'the night was made for Song.'
"Miss Ringtop, nothing loath, immediately commenced, 'When stars are in the quiet skies'; but scarcely had she finished the first verse before Abel interrupted her.
"'Candor's the order of the day, isn't it?' he asked.
"'Yes!' 'Yes!' two or three answered.
"'Well, then,' said he, 'candidly, Pauline, you've got the darn'dest squeaky voice'—
"Miss Ringtop gave a faint little scream of horror.
"'Oh, never mind!' he continued. 'We act according to impulse, don't we? And I've the impulse to swear; and it's right. Let Nature have her way. Listen! Damn, damn, damn, damn! I never knew it was so easy. Why, there's a pleasure in it! Try it, Pauline! try it on me!'
"'Oh-ooh!' was all Miss Ringtop could utter.
"'Abel! Abel!' exclaimed Hollins, 'the beer has got into your head.'
"'No, it isn't Beer,—it's Candor!' said Abel. 'It's your own proposal, Hollins. Suppose it's evil to swear: isn't it better I should express it, and be done with it, than keep it bottled up, to ferment in my mind? Oh, you're a precious, consistent old humbug, you are!'
"And therewith he jumped off the stoop, and went dancing awkwardly down towards the water, singing in a most unmelodious voice, ''Tis home where'er the heart is.' ...
"We had an unusually silent breakfast the next morning. Abel scarcely spoke, which the others attributed to a natural feeling of shame, after his display of the previous evening. Hollins and Shelldrake discussed Temperance, with a special view to his edification, and Miss Ringtop favored us with several quotations about 'the maddening bowl,'—but he paid no attention to them....
"The forenoon was overcast, with frequent showers. Each one occupied his or her room until dinner-time, when we met again with something of the old geniality. There was an evident effort to restore our former flow of good feeling. Abel's experience with the beer was freely discussed. He insisted strongly that he had not been laboring under its effects, and proposed a mutual test. He, Shelldrake, and Hollins were to drink it in equal measures, and compare observations as to their physical sensations. The others agreed,—quite willingly, I thought,—but I refused....
"There was a sound of loud voices, as we approached the stoop. Hollins, Shelldrake and his wife, and Abel Mallory were sitting together near the door. Perkins Brown, as usual, was crouched on the lowest step, with one leg over the other, and rubbing the top of his boot with a vigor which betrayed to me some secret mirth. He looked up at me from under his straw hat with the grin of a malicious Puck, glanced towards the group, and made a curious gesture with his thumb. There were several empty pint bottles on the stoop.
"'Now, are you sure you can bear the test?' we heard Hollins ask, as we approached.
"'Bear it? Why, to be sure!' replied Shelldrake 'if I couldn't bear it, or if you couldn't, your theory's done for. Try! I can stand it as long as you can.'
"'Well, then,' said Hollins, 'I think you are a very ordinary man. I derive no intellectual benefit from my intercourse with you, but your house is convenient to me. I'm under no obligations for your hospitality, however, because my company is an advantage to you. Indeed, if I were treated according to my deserts, you couldn't do enough for me.'
"Mrs. Shelldrake was up in arms.
"'Indeed,' she exclaimed, 'I think you get as good as you deserve, and more too.'
"Elvira,' said he, with a benevolent condescension, 'I have no doubt you think so, for your mind belongs to the lowest and most material sphere. You have your place in Nature, and you fill it; but it is not for you to judge of intelligences which move only on the upper planes.'
"'Hollins,' said Shelldrake, 'Elviry's a good wife and a sensible woman, and I won't allow you to turn up your nose at her.'
"'I am not surprised,' he answered, 'that you should fail to stand the test. I didn't expect it.'
"'Let me try it on you!' cried Shelldrake. 'You, now, have some intellect,—I don't deny that,—but not so much, by a long shot, as you think you have. Besides that, you're awfully selfish in your opinions. You won't admit that anybody can be right who differs from you. You've sponged on me for a long time; but I suppose I've learned something from you, so we'll call it even. I think, however, that what you call acting according to impulse is simply an excuse to cover your own laziness.'
"'Gosh! that's it!' interrupted Perkins, jumping up; then, recollecting himself, he sank down on the steps again, and shook with a suppressed 'Ho! ho! ho!'
"Hollins, however, drew himself up with an exasperated air.
"'Shelldrake,' said he, 'I pity you. I always knew your ignorance, but I thought you honest in your human character. I never suspected you of envy and malice. However, the true Reformer must expect to be misunderstood and misrepresented by meaner minds. That love which I bear to all creatures teaches me to forgive you. Without such love, all plans of progress must fail. Is it not so, Abel?'"
"Shelldrake could only ejaculate the words, 'Pity!' 'Forgive!' in his most contemptuous tone; while Mrs. Shelldrake, rocking violently in her chair, gave utterance to that peculiar clucking 'ts, ts, ts, ts,' whereby certain women express emotions too deep for words.
"Abel, roused by Hollins' question, answered, with a sudden energy,—
"Love! there is no love in the world. Where will you find it? Tell me, and I'll go there. Love! I'd like to see it! If all human hearts were like mine, we might have an Arcadia; but most men have no hearts. The world is a miserable, hollow, deceitful shell of vanity and hypocrisy. No: let us give up. We were born before our time: this age is not worthy of us.'
"Hollins stared at the speaker in utter amazement. Shelldrake gave a long whistle, and finally gasped out,—
"'Well, what next?'
"None of us were prepared for such a sudden and complete wreck of our Arcadian scheme. The foundations had been sapped before, it is true; but we had not perceived it; and now, in two short days, the whole edifice tumbled about our ears. Though it was inevitable, we felt a shock of sorrow, and a silence fell upon us. Only that scamp of a Perkins Brown, chuckling and rubbing his boot, really rejoiced. I could have kicked him.
"We all went to bed, feeling that the charm of our Arcadian life was over.... In the first revulsion of feeling, I was perhaps unjust to my associates. I see now, more clearly, the causes of those vagaries, which originated in a genuine aspiration, and failed from an ignorance of the true nature of Man, quite as much as from the egotism of the individuals. Other attempts at reorganizing Society were made about the same time by men of culture and experience, but in the A.C. we had neither. Our leaders had caught a few half-truths, which, in their minds, were speedly warped into errors." ...—The Atlantic Monthly, February, 1862.
WILLIAM ALLEN BUTLER.
* * * * *
DOBBS HIS FERRY.
A Legend of the Lower Hudson.
The days were at their longest, The heat was at its strongest, When Brown, old friend and true, Wrote thus: "Dear Jack, why swelter In town when shade and shelter Are waiting here for you? Quit Bulls and Bears and gambling, For rural sports and rambling Forsake your Wall Street tricks; Come without hesitation, Check to Dobbs' Ferry Station, We dine at half-past six."
I went,—a welcome hearty, A merry country party, A drive, and then croquet, A quiet, well-cooked dinner, Three times at billiards winner,— The evening sped away; When Brown, the dear old joker, Cried, "Come, my worthy broker, The hour is growing late; Your room is cool and quiet, As for the bed, just try it, Breakfast at half-past eight."
I took Brown's hand, applauded His generous care, and lauded Dobbs' Ferry to the skies. A shade came o'er his features, "We should be happy creatures, And this a paradise, But, ah! the deep disgrace is, This loveliest of places A vulgar name should blight! But, death to Dobbs! we'll change it, If money can arrange it, So, pleasant dreams; good night!"
I could not sleep, but, raising The window, stood, moon-gazing, In fairyland a guest; "On such a night," et cetera— See Shakespeare for much better a Description of the rest,— I mused, how sweet to wander Beside the river, yonder; And then the sudden whim Seized my head to pillow On Hudson's sparkling billow, A midnight, moonlight swim!
Soon thought and soon attempted; At once my room was emptied Of its sole occupant; The roof was low, and easily, In fact, quite Japanese-ily, I took the downward slant, Then, without stay or stopping, My first and last eaves-dropping, By leader-pipe I sped, And through the thicket gliding, Down the steep hillside sliding, Soon reached the river's bed.
But what was my amazement,— The fair scene from the casement, How changed! I could not guess Where track or rails had vanished, Town, villas, station, banished,— All was a wilderness. Only one ancient gable, A low-roofed inn and stable, A creaking sign displayed, An antiquated wherry, Below it—"DOBBS HIS FERRY"— In the clear moonlight swayed.
I turned, and there the craft was, Its shape 'twixt scow and raft was, Square ends, low sides, and flat, And standing close beside me, An ancient chap who eyed me, Beneath a steeple-hat; Short legs—long pipe—style very Pre-Revolutionary,— I bow, he grimly bobs, Then, with some perturbation, By way of salutation, Says I, "How are you, Dobbs!"
He grum and silent beckoned, And I, in half a second, Scarce knowing what I did, Took the stern seat, Dobbs throwing Himself 'midships, and rowing, Swift through the stream we slid; He pulled awhile, then stopping, And both oars slowly dropping, His pipe aside he laid, Drew a long breath, and taking An attitude, and shaking His fist towards shore, thus said:—
"Of all sharp cuts the keenest, Of all mean turns the meanest, Vilest of all vile jobs, Worse than the Cow-Boy pillagers, Are these Dobbs' Ferry villagers A going back on Dobbs! 'Twould not be more anom'lous If Rome went back on Rom'lus (Old rum-un like myself), Or Hail Columbia, played out By Southern Dixie, laid out Columbus on the shelf!
"They say 'Dobbs' ain't melodious, It's 'horrid,' 'vulgar,' 'odious,' In all their crops it sticks; And then the worse addendum Of 'Ferry' does offend 'em More than its vile prefix. Well, it does seem distressing, But, if I'm good at guessing, Each one of these same nobs, If there was money in it, Would ferry in a minute, And change his name to Dobbs!
"That's it, they're not partic'lar, Respecting the auric'lar, At a stiff market rate; But Dobbs' especial vice is, That he keeps down the prices Of all their real estate! A name so unattractive Keeps villa-sites inactive, And spoils the broker's jobs; They think that speculation Would rage at 'Paulding's Station,' Which stagnates now at 'Dobbs.'
"'Paulding's!"—that's sentimental! An old Dutch Continental, Bushwhacked up there a spell; But why he should come blustering Round here, and filibustering, Is more than I can tell; Sat playing for a wager, And nabbed a British major. Well, if the plans and charts From Andre's boots he hauled out, Is his name to be bawled out Forever, round these parts?
"Guess not! His pay and bounty And mon'ment from the county Paid him off, every cent, While this snug town and station, To every generation, Shall be Dobbs' monument; Spite of all speculators And ancient-landmark traitors, Who, all along this shore, Are ever substitutin' The modern, highfalutin', For the plain names of yore.
"Down there, on old Manhattan, Where land-sharks breed and fatten, They've wiped out Tubby Hook. That famous promontory, Renowned in song and story, Which time nor tempest shook, Whose name for aye had been good, Stands newly christened 'Inwood,' And branded with the shame Of some old rogue who passes By dint of aliases, Afraid of his own name!
"See how they quite outrival, Plain barnyard Spuytenduyvil, By peacock Riverdale, Which thinks all else it conquers, And over homespun Yonkers Spreads out its flaunting tail! There's new-named Mount St. Vincent, Where each dear little inn'cent Is taught the Popish rites,— Well, ain't it queer, wherever These saints possess the river They get the finest sites!
"They've named a place for Irving, A trifle more deserving Than your French, foreign saints, But if he has such mention, It's past my comprehension Why Dobbs should cause complaints; Wrote histories and such things, About Old Knick and Dutch things, Dolph Heyligers and Rips; But no old antiquary Like him could keep a ferry, With all his authorships!
"By aid of these same showmen, Some fanciful cognomen Old Cro'nest stock might bring As high as Butter Hill is, Which, patronized by Willis, Leaves cards now as 'Storm-King!' Can't some poetic swell-beau Re-christen old Crum Elbow And each prosaic bluff, Bold Breakneck gently flatter, And Dunderberg bespatter, With euphony and stuff!
"'T would be a magnum opus To bury old Esopus In Time's sepulchral vaults, Or in Oblivion's deep sea Submerge renowned Poughkeepsie, And also ancient Paltz; How it would give them rapture Brave Stony Point to capture, And make it face about; Bid Rhinebeck sound much smoother Than in the tongue of Luther, And wipe the Catskills out!
"Well, DOBBS is DOBBS, and faster Than pitch or mustard-plaster Shall it stick hereabouts, While Tappan Sea rolls yonder, Or round High Torn the thunder Along these ramparts shouts. No corner-lot banditti, Or brokers from the City— Like you—" Here Dobbs began Wildly both oars to brandish, As fierce as old Miles Standish, Or young Phil Sheridan.
Sternwards he rushed,—I, ducking, Seized both his legs, and chucking Dobbs sideways, splash he went,— The wherry swayed, then righted, While I, somewhat excited, Over the water bent; Three times he rose, but vainly I clutched his form ungainly, He sank, while sighs and sobs Beneath the waves seemed muttered, And all the night-winds uttered In sad tones, "Dobbs! Dobbs! Dobbs!"
Just then some giant boulders Upon my head and shoulders Made sudden, fearful raids, And on my face and forehead, With din and uproar horrid, Came several Palisades; I screamed, and woke, in screaming, To see, by gaslight's gleaming, Brown's face above my bed; "Why, Jack, what is the matter? We heard a dreadful clatter And found you on the shed!
"It's plain enough, supposing You sat there, moon-struck, dozing, Upon the window's edge, Then lost yourself, and falling, Just where we found you, sprawling, Struck the piazza ledge; A lucky hit, old fellow, Of black and blue and yellow It gives your face a touch, You saved your neck, but barely; To state the matter fairly, You took a drop too much!"
I took the train next morning, Some lumps my nose adorning, My forehead, sundry knobs, My ideas slightly wandering, But, as I went, much pondering Upon my night with Dobbs; Brown thinks it, dear old sinner, A case of "after dinner," And won't believe a word, Talks of "hallucination," "Laws of association," And calls my tale "absurd."
Perhaps it is, but never, Say I, should we dissever Old places and old names; Guard the old landmarks truly, On the old altars duly Keep bright the ancient flames. For me the face of Nature, No luckless nomenclature Of grace or beauty robs; No, when of town I weary, I'll make a strike in Erie, And buy a place at DOBBS!
JOHN WILLIAM DE FOREST.
* * * * *
FATHER HIGGINS'S PREFERMENT.
Father Higgins was not the kind of divine who easily finds preferment in the Catholic Church, or who would be apt to make a shining mark in any other.
Fat and red-faced and pudding-headed was Father Higgins; uncommonly in the way of good eating, and now and then disposed for good drinking; as lazy as he dared be, ignorant enough for a hermit, and simple enough for a monk. His chief excellence lay in his kindliness of heart, which would doubtless have made him very serviceable and comfortable to his fellow-men, had it not been for his indolence, his spare intellectual gifts, and perhaps a little leaven of selfishness.
Such as he was, however, Father Higgins had no small "consate" of himself, and sometimes thought that even a bishopric would not be "beyant his desarts." He pleased himself with imagining how finely he would fill an episcopal chair, what apostolic labors he would accomplish in his diocese, what swarms of heretics or pagans he would convert, what a self-sacrificing and heroic life he would lead, and what a saintly name he would leave. One day, or to speak with a precision worthy of this true history, one evening, he became a bishop.
It happened on this wise. Father Higgins had ventured to treat himself to a spectacle. He had attended, for the first time in his life, an exhibition of legerdemain; this one being given by that celebrated master of the black-art, Professor Heller. He had seen the professor change turnips into gold watches, draw a dozen live pigeons in succession out of an empty box, send rings into ladies' handkerchiefs at the other end of the hall, catch a bullet out of an exploded pistol in his hand, and perform other marvels equally irrational and disturbing. From this raree-show Father Higgins had gone home feeling that he had witnessed something about as unearthly as he was likely to be confronted with in the next world.
For an hour or more he sat in his elbow-chair, puzzling over the professor's "diviltries," and crossing himself at the remembrance of each one of them. It was black midnight, and stormy at that; there was such an uproar in the elm branches over his house as if all the Salem witches were holding Sabbath there; the whole village of Sableburg swarmed with windy rushings and shriekings and slammings. It was one of those midnights when the devil evidently "has business on his hand."
Of a sudden there was a rustle in the room, and looking around to discover the cause of it, Father Higgins beheld a tall and dark man with startling black eyes, in whom he recognized Professor Heller.
"What's yer will, sir?" demanded the Father, a good deal astonished, but not a bit frightened.
"I understand, sir, that you would like to be a bishop," replied the professor, bowing politely, but seating himself unceremoniously.
"That's thrue enough, sir," replied Father Higgins, who somehow felt curiously at his ease, and disposed at once to be confidential with this utter stranger. "I've often imagined meself a bishop, an' doin' wondhers in me office. But it's nonsinse."
"What post would suit you?" inquired the visitor. "The diocese of New York?"
"No, no," said the father. "I'm not ayqual to sich a risponsebility; that is, not at wanst, ye ondherstand. I'd like best to come up to sich a place as that gintly an' by degrays. It's been a drame av mine to begin my prefarmint as biship av some far-away continent or archypilago, like, an' convart slathers av haythins an' cannebals for a practice. It ud plase me imagenation to prache among corrils an' coky-nuts an' naked crachurs. Y' are aware, I suppose, Misther Heller—or Professor Heller—av sich islands as Owyhee an' the Marquesas, famous a'ready in the history av the Propaganda Fide. Jist suppose me havin' me episkepal raysedence on wan av 'um, an' makin' me progresses to the others. There be great devoshin to a spiritual father among thim simple people, I'm thinkin.' I'd be a god to 'um, like. Sich obeyjince ud jist shuit me. Yes, I'd enj'y bein' Biship av the Cannebal Islands, or even av wan av um."
"Faith is necessary," replied Heller. "You must believe that you are to be Bishop of the Cannibal Islands."
"Sure an' it's not aisy at this distance to belave in the islands thimselves, let alone bein' spiritual father av the same," smiled the priest. "Howandiver, there's no harrum in tryin' to belave, an' so here goes for the exparimint. If ye'll kape silence a bit, I'll jist collect me moind on the subject, an' we'll see what happens."
For a moment the gray, piggish eyes of the Father, and the black, gleaming, mysterious orbs of his visitor were fixed upon each other. In the next moment Heller, bowing with a ceremonious air of respect, inquired, "What are your commands, my lord bishop?"
Startled by a consciousness of some wonderful change, doubtful in what land he was, or even in what age of the world, Father Higgins stared about him in expectation. A sunny shore, scattered groves of cocoa-nut trees, distant villages of circular huts, beyond them far-stretching forests and a smoking volcano; on the hither side bays alive with carved and painted canoes, near at hand a gathering crowd of half-naked savages—such were the objects that filled his vision.
"So this is me diocese," he said, without feeling the least surprise. "Well, the climate is deloightful. Let us hope that the coky-nuts will agree wid us, an' that the natives won't urge upon us the blissins av martyrdom. Professor, what may be the spiritual condition av things hereaway, do ye think?"
"A clear field—not a convert yet. Your predecessor, who went through the office of being eaten a year ago, had not even learned the language."
"The blissid saints watch over us! To hear the likes av that, whin I expected to be a god, like, among these wretches! Well, it's our duty we must do, Heller; we mustn't run away from our post; indade, we can't. Moreover, I feel a sthrong confidence that the howly Catholic Church is to be greatly glorified by me on these islands. What do ye say now to meself exhibitin' the gift av miracles an' tongues? If I should discoorse to these cannebals in their own contimptible language, would it surprise ye, Heller?"
"No," smiled the professor. "I have seen greater marvels in my time. I have seen men preach not merely words, but feelings and faiths, that they were ignorant of."
Father Higgins, closely followed by Heller, now advanced to a green hillock, a few rods from the shelly and pebbly beach, knelt down upon the thin sward, and repeated a prayer. Meantime the population gathered; behind them canoe after canoe touched the shore; before them there was a swift, tumultuous hurrying from the villages; presently they were surrounded by a compact, eager, barbaric multitude. The babble of its wonder turned to silence as the priest rose, extended his fat hands, and commenced a sermon.
Father Higgins was not a bit astonished at hearing himself pour forth a torrent of words which he did not understand, nor at seeing in the faces of his wild listeners that they perfectly comprehended his discourse. It was merely a supernatural inspiration; it was but another exhibition of the heavenly gifts of the Church; he was as much at his ease as if he had been in the habit of working miracles from his cradle. At the close of his harangue he took out his breviary, and translated a prayer into the unknown tongue. Evidently the auditors understood this also, for while some crouched to earth in undisguisable terror, others looked upward as if expecting an answer from the sky.
Presently a savage, in a many-colored robe of feathers, stepped in front of the multitude, and uttered a few sentences.
"It's a mighty quare providence that this miracle works ownly wan way," observed Father Higgins to Heller. "It's meself can prache acceptably to this poor haythin, an' it's meself, loikewise, can't sense a blissid word he gabbles."
"He is comparing you with your predecessor," exclaimed the professor. "He says the other man called himself a messenger from God; but as he could not talk Feejee, they saw that he was a liar, because God knows every language; and so, having found him a liar, they fattened him with fish and cocoa-nuts, and ate him. As for you, they admit that you are a heavenly personage, and they mean to worship you."
"How came ye to larn the language, annyway?" demanded the priest.
"I have wandered to and fro in the earth a good deal," replied Heller. "I have performed some of my best black-art in these islands."
Father Higgins, rather bothered by these statements, was about to ask further questions, when he was seized by four sturdy natives, who mounted him upon their naked shoulders, while four others uplifted the professor in like manner, all then setting off rapidly toward the village, followed by the whole crowd in procession.
"An' what if I should tell ye I had conscientious scruples agenst lettin' meself be adored for a heavenly personage?" objected the good Father.
"Don't think of it," counselled Heller. "Being worshipped is infinitely more agreeable than being eaten. Besides, consider the interests of the Church. If you are set up as a god, you can use the position to sprinkle holy water on your adorers, and so convert the whole island without trouble."
"Sure y' are mighty well varsed in the precepts and customs av the Jesuit Fathers," answered the priest, with a stare of wonder and admiration. "I moind me now that the missionaries in Chaynee baptized lashins av haythin babies under pretinse av rubbin' um with medicine. An' it's a maxim that whin the ind is salvatory, the manes are justified. It's a maxim, also, that y' ave no business to lead yer felly-crachurs into sin. Now cannebalism is a sin; it ud be a sin capital for these fellies to ate us; an', av coorse, it follies that it ud be a sin in me to timpt um to do it. But, by sufferin' meself to be worshipped I prevint that same. So, I advise an' counsel, Heller, that we go on as we are for a bit longer, until a proper time comes to expose the whole av the thrue faith."
Beguiling the way with such like discourse, Father Higgins journeyed on to the nearest village, where his bearers halted before an unusually large hut, evidently serving as a temple. In the door of this building the principal chief took post, and waving his hand toward the crowd, made the following speech:
"Hear, O chiefs! hear, O priests of our religion ye men of Feejee, hear! The god who can come over the waters is greater than the god who can only abide upon the land, and shall have his house and his sacrifices. Whosoever disapproves of this, let him offer himself for the trial of the sacred poison; if he is not ready so to do, let him hereafter hold his peace and submit."
No one objecting, the chief beckoned the bearers to follow him, and led the way into the temple. Mounting a platform eight or ten feet high, he advanced to an ugly scarecrow of an idol, slapped it, kicked it, and toppled it to the ground. Then, with vast labor and much joyful shouting, the ponderous form of Father Higgins was hoisted aloft, and installed in the seat of the dethroned deity. Next Professor Heller was set down upon his feet beside an altar which stood in front of the platform.
"What are ye afther doin', Heller?" inquired the clergyman from his eminence.
"I am about to sacrifice to your divinity two green cocoa-nuts, two roasted bread-fruit, and half a dozen fishes," was the answer.
"Well, I suppose it must be permitted," sighed Father Higgins. "Go on wid yer sacrifice, me dear felly. I presume, av coorse, that it will be in ordher for me to ate some av it. Let the fishes be well cooked, by-the-way, and sarved wid some kind av sauce. I'd almost as lave be devoured meself as devour raw fishes."
"Really, I have some scruples," smiled the mischievous professor. "You might shock the devotional feelings of your new worshippers."
"I insist upon it, Heller. I tell ye I won't ate raw fishes to convart a continent av haythins, much less a little bit island av 'um."
The fish being promptly broiled on the coals of the altar, were handed up to Father Higgins on a large leaf, together with one of the cocoa-nuts and a bread-fruit. The worthy man immediately proceeded to make a hearty meal, vastly to the delight and confirmation in the faith of his worshippers, they having never before been blessed with a god who could fairly and squarely eat his dinner. After another brief speech from the chief, and a benediction from the padre, the multitude dispersed.
"Is it me unavoidable duty to live on this perch, Heller?" demanded Father Higgins. "Me opinion is that in that case I shall get mightily tired av me mission. I'd about as lave be a parrot, an' sit in a tin ring."
"My dear Father, remember that blessed saint who roosted for twenty years on the top of a pillar," urged the professor. "Stay where you are until you have got a firm grip on the faith of these cannibals."
"Very good," assented Higgins, with a yawn. "But get me a bucket of wather, me dear felly. Sure I must have some blessed an' ready for use. The next time sarvice is conducted here I propose to sprinkle the worshippers. It'll benefit um in more ways nor wan, if I'm a judge of ayther sowl or body."
Such was the installation of Bishop Higgins, or, as the Feejeeans insisted upon considering him, Divinity Higgins, over the diocese of the Pacific.
There was something mysterious about the Cannibal Islands. Time flew like a bird there; the days seemed no more than minutes; they were coming, and they were gone. Events, emotions, changes of belief, transformations of character, succeeded each other with magical rapidity. Every thing was transacted at the wildest speed of dreams; and yet, what was strangest of all, every thing went smoothly and naturally; nothing excited astonishment. In a few days, or a few seconds, whatever the period of time might have been, Father Higgins enjoyed being Divinity Higgins.
"I think it best for the eventual spiritual interests av me paple that they should continue to worship me for a while longer," he said to Heller. "Human nature in a savage state, ye see, wont go at wan jump from a log av wood to the thrue Deity. I'm playin' the part av a steppin'-stone betwixt the two. Afther they've larned to lift their sowls to Higgins, they'll be able to go a bit higher, say to the saints first, an' thin to the blissid Vargin, an' so on, wan step at a time, till they've got the whole av it. But it'll be mortial slow, I'm doubtin'. I may have to bear an' forbear as I am for an intire gineration av the poor crachurs."
"Certainly," assented the professor. "Nothing so injurious to weak eyes as too much light."
"Y' 'ave put it in a nutshell," replied the priest. "Sure an' that's the rason we're opposed to gineral schoolin', an' to readin' the Bible to the children. Y' are a masther mind, Heller, an' ought to been in howly ordhers. An' that brings me to another idee av high importince. There should be somebody to run about with howly wather an' exthrame unction, an' the like. Now that business wouldn't shuit me pheesical conformation, an' nayther would it shuit the character I have to bear. It's betther that you should do the outside trampin', Heller. Ye know the tradditions an' docthrines av the Church well enough, an' y' are a dab at Latin. As for yer not bein' av the prastely office, I'll jist lay hands on ye an' qualify ye for the same. If it happens to be a bit irregular, why, the ind justifies the manes, ye remimber, or the ancient Fathers are all wrong, which is onpossible. An' now, Heller, do tell these poor, benighted, lazy loons that I must have me coky-nuts fresh, an' as great a variety av fish as can be procured in these wathers. The chap that preshumes to bring me an owld coky-nut I'll curse his basket an' his shtore."
After a brief missionary effort, Heller reported that the whole population of the island, barring a few obstinate seniors, had been baptized.
"That's well, me son," replied Father Higgins. "I s'pose y' 'ave done it rather on the wholesale, sprinklin' a hundred or so at a fling, but I've no doubt y' 'ave done it the best ye could in the time y' 'ave had; and surely it's a great work, no matter how done. As for the apostates—I mane the fellows that stick to their owld haythinism—it might be well to make an example av a few av thim, jist for the encouragemint av the faithful. Suppose ye should organize an inquisition, or howly office, Heller, an' conduct the proceedin's yerself intirely, be way av seein' that they are regular an' effective? Y' are parfectly able for it, wid your knowledge av Church history."
It was not long before Heller was able to state that all the old fogies and silver-grays who remained alive had been converted.
"Ah, but isn't that blissid news!" responded Father Higgins, joyfully. "An' wouldn't me brethren, the other biships, be glad to hear that same concernin' their dioceses! That's betther nor coky-nuts—of which, be-the-way, I'm gettin' a bit tired. I wondher, Heller, if some av these other islands wouldn't furnish us a change of diet? If we could find pataties an' grapes, it ud be a blessin' to body an' sowl. Surely it ud be a good deed to bring all this archypilago into the thrue faith. Couldn't the chafe, now, take an army out in his doubled-barrelled canoes, an' commince the work av convarsion? Tell him if he'll do that same, I'll grant him all the indulgences he can think av."
Another magical moment of these lightning-like days brought about important events. With an armament of scores of canoes and hundreds of warriors the chief invaded a large island, and was beaten in a bloody battle by its painim inhabitants, escaping with but a remnant of his followers. Then came a counter invasion. The worshippers of Father Higgins fought for their deity under his eye; the unbelievers were defeated and driven with great slaughter to their dug-outs. But as the hostile fleet still held command of the sea and hovered menacingly off the coast, keeping the faithful under arms and preventing them from fishing, the good Father decided that peace was necessary.
"This livin' on coky-nuts and bread-fruits intirely is bad for the stomich, Heller," he observed. "We must come to an ondherstandin' wid these raskilly infidels an' idolaters. See if ye can't make tarms wid um."
The adroit Heller soon arranged a secret treaty with the enemy to the following effect: Their chief, Umbaho, was to be universal king and his orthodox rival, Patoo-patoo, was to be beheaded; polygamy, cannibalism, and the use of the sacred poison were to continue in force; both islands were to adore Father Higgins and bring him sacrifices.
"Seems to me they're mighty sevare tarms," commented the Father. "I'd 'a been glad to get howld av a bit av timporal sovereighnty, don't you see? Moreover, I'm sorry about that poor divil, Patoo-patoo; he was my first convart. Annyway, I'll give um full absolution, so that death can't hurt um sariously, an' I'll canonize him as a martyr. Saint Patoo-patoo! If that don't satisfy um, an' if he ain't willin' to die for the extinsion av the faith, he's no thrue belayver, and desarves no pity. So jist see to gettin' um off aisy."
After another brief period of time, such as periods of time were in these mysterious islands, Father Higgins found himself the acknowledged divinity of the whole archipelago.
"This cannebalism an' polygamy an' the like greatly distresses me, however," he confessed to Heller. "Be moments I'm timpted to unfold the naked truth, an' bring these paple square up to the canons of the Church at wanst. But it ud be risky. We read av times, ye know, Heller, that God winked at. No doubt it's me duty, as a divinity, to go on winkin' at these polygamies an' cannebalisms a bit longer. Slow an' aisy is me motto, an' I've noticed it's the way of Providence mostly. Sure it was so at home in Sableburg, ye know, Heller; we didn't average a convart in twinty years."
Now ensued an event which troubled the holy Father more than any thing that had yet occurred during his episcopate. Two German priests, Heller informed him, had landed on one of the islands of the archipelago, and were preaching the pure doctrines of the Christian faith, denouncing cannibalism and polygamy, and otherwise sapping the established religion.
"Some av the New Catholics, I'll warrant ye!" exclaimed Higgins, indignantly. "Some of thim blatherskites av the Doellinger school, come over here to stir up sedition in the Church, as though they hadn't made worry enough in the owld counthries. An' what business has Dutchmen here, annyway, whin an Irishman has begun the good worrk? They've no right to take the labor of convartin' these haythins out of me hands that a-way. Me conscience won't allow me to permit such distarbances an' innovations. See if ye can't get um to lave the islands peaceable, Heller. If they won't, I shall have to let Umbaho settle wid um afther his fashion."
An embassy to the missionaries having obtained from them no other response than that they would welcome martyrdom rather than relinquish their labors, Umbaho was dispatched against them at the head of a sufficient army, with instructions to treat them as enemies of Feejee and of the unity of the Church.
But instead of slaughtering the missionaries, Umbaho was converted by them. He renounced cannibalism, polygamy, and the sacred poison; he denied Father Higgins. Accompanied by one of the Germans, he returned to Feejee at the head of his army, bent on establishing the true Christian faith.
"We must press a lot av min, an' beat um," responded the good Father, when Heller informed him of the approach and purposes of the chief. "Tell the faithful to give no quarter; tell um to desthroy ivery wan of these schismatics; an' as for the Dutchman, burrn him at the stake, as they used to do in the good owld times."
A great battle ensued; the adherents of Higginsism were defeated and dispersed; the door of the temple opened to Umbaho and the German. Father Higgins, by this time a helpless mass of fat, swaying perilously on his unsteady platform, looked down upon them with terror through the smoke of his altar.
"Sacrilegious wretch!" cried the German, God has put an end to thy mad and selfish and wicked dominion."
"I wish I had niver been a biship!" screamed Father Higgins at the top of his voice, as he rolled off the platform.
All the way from the Cannibal Islands he fell and tumbled and dropped, until, with a dull thump, he alighted upon the floor of his own study.
"There! y' 'ave rolled out av yer chair agen, Father Higgins," said his housekeeper, who at that moment entered the room to order him to bed, as was her merciful custom.
"So I have," returned the Father, picking himself up. "An' sarved me right, too. I thought I was the biggest raskil on the face av the earth. I wondher if it's true. The Lord presarve me from the timptation av great power, or I'll abuse it, an' abuse me felly-men and the Church!"—Harper's Magazine, May, 1872.
JOHN TOWNSEND TROWBRIDGE.
* * * * *
FRED TROVER'S LITTLE IRON-CLAD.
Did I never tell you the story? Is it possible? Draw up your chair. Stick of wood, Harry. Smoke?
You've heard of my Uncle Popworth, though. Why, yes! You've seen him;—the eminently respectable elderly gentleman who came one day last summer just as you were going; book under his arm, you remember; weed on his hat; dry smile on bland countenance; tall, lank individual in very seedy black. With him my tale begins; for if I had never indulged in an Uncle Popworth I should never have sported an Iron-Clad.
Quite right, sir; his arrival was a surprise to me. To know how great a surprise, you must understand why I left city, friends, business, and settled down in this quiet village. It was chiefly, sir, to escape the fascinations of that worthy old gentleman that I bought this place, and took refuge here with my wife and little ones. Here we had respite, respite and nepenthe from our memories of Uncle Popworth; here we used to sit down in the evening and talk of the past with grateful and tranquil emotions, as people speak of awful things endured in days that are no more. To us the height of human happiness was raising green corn and strawberries, in a retired neighborhood where uncles were unknown. But, sir, when that Phantom, that Vampire, that Fate, loomed before my vision that day, if you had said, "Trover, I'll give ye sixpence for this neat little box of yours," I should have said, "Done!" with the trifling proviso that you should take my uncle in the bargain.
The matter with him? What indeed could invest human flesh with such terrors,—what but this? he was—he is—let me shriek it in your ear—a bore—a BORE! of the most malignant type; an intolerable, terrible, unmitigated BORE!
That book under his arm was a volume of his own sermons;—nine hundred and ninety-nine octavo pages, O Heaven! It wasn't enough for him to preach and re-preach those appalling discourses, but then the ruthless man must go and print 'em! When I consider what booksellers—worthy men, no doubt, many of them, deserving well of their kind—he must have talked nearly into a state of syncope before ever he found one to give way, in a moment of weakness, of utter exhaustion and despair, and consent to publish him; and when I reflect what numbers of inoffensive persons, in the quiet walks of life, have been made to suffer the infliction of that Bore's Own Book, I pause, I stand aghast at the inscrutability of Divine Providence.
Don't think me profane, and don't for a moment imagine I underrate the function of the preacher. There's nothing better than a good sermon,—one that puts new life into you. But what of a sermon that takes life out of you? instead of a spiritual fountain, a spiritual sponge that absorbs your powers of body and soul, so that the longer you listen the more you are impoverished? A merely poor sermon isn't so bad; you will find, if you are the right kind of a hearer, that it will suggest something better than itself; a good hen will lay to a bit of earthen. But the discourse of your ministerial vampire, fastening by some mystical process upon the hearer who has life of his own,—though not every one has that,—sucks and sucks and sucks; and he is exhausted while the preacher is refreshed. So it happens that your born bore is never weary of his own boring; he thrives upon it; while he seems to be giving, he is mysteriously taking in—he is drinking your blood.
But you say nobody is obliged to read a sermon. O my unsophisticated friend! if a man will put his thoughts—or his words, if thoughts are lacking—between covers,—spread his banquet, and respectfully invite Public Taste to partake of it, Public Taste being free to decline, then your observation is sound. If an author quietly buries himself in his book,—very good! hic jacet; peace to his ashes!
"The times have been, That, when the brains were out, the man would die, And there an end; but now they rise again,"
as Macbeth observes, with some confusion of syntax, excusable in a person of his circumstances. Now, suppose they—or he—the man whose brains are out—goes about with his coffin under his arm, like my worthy uncle? and suppose he blandly, politely, relentlessly insists upon reading to you, out of that octavo sarcophagus, passages which in his opinion prove that he is not only not dead, but immortal? If such a man be a stranger, snub him; if a casual acquaintance, met in an evil hour, there is still hope,—doors have locks, and there are two sides to a street, and nearsightedness is a blessing, and (as a last resort) buttons may be sacrificed (you remember Lamb's story of Coleridge), and left in the clutch of the fatal fingers. But one of your own kindred, and very respectable, adding the claim of misfortune to his other claims upon you,—pachydermatous to slights, smilingly persuasive, gently persistent,—as imperturbable as a ship's wooden figurehead through all the ups and downs of the voyage of life, and as insensible to cold water;—in short, an uncle like my uncle, whom there was no getting rid of;—what the deuce would you do?
Exactly; run away as I did. There was nothing else to be done, unless, indeed, I had throttled the old gentleman; in which case I am confident that one of our modern model juries would have brought in the popular verdict of justifiable insanity. But, being a peaceable man, I was averse to extreme measures. So I did the next best thing,—consulted my wife, and retired to this village.
Then consider the shock to my feelings when I looked up that day and saw the enemy of our peace stalking into our little Paradise with his book under his arm and his carpet-bag in his hand! coming with his sermons and his shirts, prepared to stay a week—that is to say a year—that is to say forever, if we would suffer him,—and how was he to be hindered by any desperate measures short of burning the house down!
"My dear nephew!" says he, striding toward me with eager steps, as you perhaps remember, smiling his eternally dry, leathery smile,—"Nephew Frederick!"—and he held out both hands to me, book in one and bag in t'other,—"I am rejoiced! One would almost think you had tried to hide away from your old uncle! for I've been three days hunting you up. And how is Dolly? she ought to be glad to see me, after all the trouble I've had in finding you! And, Nephew Frederick!—h'm!—can you lend me three dollars for the hackman? for I don't happen to have—thank you! I should have been saved this if you had only known I was stopping last night at a public house in the next village, for I know how delighted you would have been to drive over and fetch me!"
If you were not already out of hearing, you may have noticed that I made no reply to this affecting speech. The old gentleman has grown quite deaf of late years,—an infirmity which was once a source of untold misery to his friends, to whom he was constantly appealing for their opinions, which they were obliged to shout in his ear. But now, happily, the world has about ceased responding to him, and he has almost ceased to expect responses from the world. He just catches your eye, and, when he says, "Don't you think so, sir?" or, "What is your opinion, sir?" an approving nod does your business.
The hackman paid, my dear uncle accompanied me to the house, unfolding the catalogue of his woes by the way. For he is one of those worthy, unoffending persons, whom an ungrateful world jostles and tramples upon,—whom unmerciful disaster follows fast and follows faster. In his younger days, he was settled over I don't know how many different parishes; but secret enmity pursued him everywhere, poisoning the parochial mind against him, and driving him relentlessly from place to place. Then he relapsed into agencies, and went through a long list of them, each terminating in flat failure, to his ever-recurring surprise,—the simple old soul never suspecting, to this day, who his one great, tireless, terrible enemy is!
I got him into the library, and went to talk over this unexpected visit—or visitation—with Dolly. She bore up under it more cheerfully than could have been expected,—suppressed a sigh,—and said she would go down and meet him. She received him with a hospitable smile (I verily believe that more of the world's hypocrisy proceeds from too much good-nature than from too little), and listened patiently to his explanations.
"You will observe that I have brought my bag," says he, "for I knew you wouldn't let me off for a day or two,—though I must positively leave in a week,—in two weeks, at the latest. I have brought my volume, too, for I am contemplating a new edition" (he is always contemplating a new edition, making that a pretext for lugging the book about with him), "and I wish to enjoy the advantages of your and Frederick's criticism;—I anticipate some good, comfortable, old-time talks over the old book, Frederick!"
We had invited some village friends to come in and eat strawberries and cream with us that afternoon; and the question arose, what should be done with the old gentleman? Harry, who is a lad of a rather lively fancy, coming in while we were taking advantage of his great uncle's deafness to discuss the subject in his presence, proposed a pleasant expedient. "Trot him out into the cornfield, introduce him to the scarecrow, and let him talk to that," says he, grinning up into the visitor's face, who grinned down at him, no doubt thinking what a wonderfully charming boy he was! If he were as blind as he is deaf, he might have been disposed of very comfortably in some such ingenious way;—the scarecrow, or any other lay figure, might have served to engage him in one of his immortal monologues. As it was, the suggestion bore fruit later, as you will see.
While we were consulting—keeping up our scattering fire of small-arms under the old talker's heavy guns—our parish minister called,—old Doctor Wortleby, for whom we have a great liking and respect. Of course we had to introduce him to Uncle Popworth,—for they met face to face; and of course Uncle Popworth fastened at once upon the brother clergyman. Being my guest, Wortleby could do no less than listen to Popworth, who is my uncle. He listened with interest and sympathy for the first half-hour; and then continued listening for another half-hour, after his interest and sympathy were exhausted. Then, attempting to go, he got his hat, and sat with it in his hand half an hour longer. Then he stood half an hour on his poor old gouty feet, desperately edging toward the door.
"Ah, certainly," says he, with a weary smile, repeatedly endeavoring to break the spell that bound him. "I shall be most happy to hear the conclusion of your remarks at some future time" (even ministers can lie out of politeness); "but just now—"
"One word more, and I am done," cries my Uncle Popworth, for the fiftieth time; and Wortleby, in despair, sat down again.
Then our friends arrived.
Dolly and I, who had all the while been benevolently wishing Wortleby would go, and trying to help him off, now selfishly hoped he would remain and share our entertainment—and our Uncle Popworth.
"I ought to have gone two hours ago," he said, with a plaintive smile, in reply to our invitation; "but, really, I am feeling the need of a cup of tea" (and no wonder!) "and I think I will stay."
We cruelly wished that he might continue to engage my uncle in conversation; but that would have been too much to hope from the sublime endurance of a martyr,—if ever there was one more patient than he. Seeing the Lintons and the Greggs arrive, he craftily awaited his opportunity, and slipped off, to give them a turn on the gridiron. First Linton was secured; and you should have seen him roll his mute, appealing orbs, as he settled helplessly down under the infliction. Suddenly he made a dash. "I am ignorant of these matters," said he; "but Gregg understands them;—Gregg will talk with you." But Gregg took refuge behind the ladies. The ladies receiving a hint from poor distressed Dolly, scattered. But no artifice availed against the dreadful man. Piazza, parlor, garden,—he ranged everywhere, and was sure to seize a victim.
At last tea was ready, and we all went in. The Lintons and Greggs are people of the world, who would hardly have cared to wait for a blessing on such lovely heaps of strawberries and mugs of cream as they saw before them; but, there being two clergymen at the table, the ceremony was evidently expected. We were placidly seated; there was a hush, agreeably filled with the fragrance of the delicious fruit: even my uncle Popworth, from long habit, turned off his talk at that suggestive moment: when I did what I thought a shrewd thing. I knew too well my relative's long-windedness at his devotions, as at everything else (I wonder if Heaven itself isn't bored by such fellows!)—I had suffered, I had seen my guests suffer, too much from him already,—to think of deliberately yielding him a fearful advantage over us; so I coolly passed him by, and gave an expressive nod to the old Doctor.
Wortleby began; and I was congratulating myself on my adroit management of a delicate matter, when—conceive my consternation!—Popworth—not to speak it profanely—followed suit! The reverend egotist couldn't take in the possibility of anybody but himself being invited to say grace at our table, he being present;—he hadn't noticed my nod to the Doctor, and the Doctor's low, earnest voice didn't reach him;—and there, with one blessing going on one side of the table, he, as I said, pitched in on the other! His eyes shut, his hands spread over his plate, his elbows on the board, his head bowed, he took care that grace should abound with us for once! His mill started, I knew there was no stopping it, and I hoped Wortleby would desist. But he didn't know his man. He seemed to feel that he had the stroke-oar, and he pulled away manfully. As Popworth lifted up his loud, nasal voice, the old Doctor raised his voice, in the vain hope, I suppose, of making himself heard by his lusty competitor. If you have never had two blessings running opposition at your table, in the presence of invited guests, you can never imagine how astounding, how killingly ludicrous it was! I felt that both Linton and Gregg were ready to tumble over, each in an apoplexy of suppressed emotions; while I had recourse to my handkerchief to hide my tears. At length, poor Wortleby yielded to fate,—withdrew from the unequal contest—hauled off—for repairs; and the old seventy-two gun-ship thundered away in triumph.
At last (as there must be an end to everything under the sun) my uncle came to a close; and a moment of awful silence ensued, during which no man durst look at another. But in my weak and jelly-like condition I ventured a glance at him, and noticed that he looked up and around with an air of satisfaction at having performed a solemn duty in a becoming manner, blissfully unconscious of having run a poor brother off the track. Seeing us all with moist eyes and much affected,—two or three handkerchiefs still going,—he no doubt flattered himself that the pathetic touches in his prayer had told.
This will give you some idea of the kind of man we had on our hands; and I won't risk making myself as great a bore as he is, by attempting a history of his stay with us; for I remember I set out to tell you about my little Iron-Clad. I'm coming to that.
Suffice it to say, he stayed—he stayed—he STAYED!—five mortal weeks; refusing to take hints when they almost became kicks; driving our friends from us, and ourselves almost to distraction; his misfortunes alone protecting him from a prompt and vigorous elimination: when a happy chance helped me to a solution of this awful problem of destiny.
More than once I had recalled Harry's vivacious suggestion of the scarecrow—if one could only have been invented that would sit composedly in a chair and nod when spoken to! I was wishing for some such automaton, to bear the brunt of the boring with which we were afflicted, when one day there came a little man into the garden, where I had taken refuge.
He was a short, swarthy, foreign-looking, diminutive, stiff, rather comical fellow,—little figure mostly head, little head mostly face, little face mostly nose, which was by no means little—a sort of human vegetable (to my horticultural eye) running marvellously to seed in that organ. The first thing I saw, on looking up at the sound of footsteps, was the said nose coming toward me, among the sweet-corn tassels. Nose of a decidedly Hebraic cast,—the bearer respectably dressed, though his linen had an unwholesome sallowness, and his cloth a shiny, much-brushed, second-hand appearance.
Without a word he walks up to me, bows solemnly, and pulls from his pocket (I thought he was laying his hand on his heart) the familiar, much-worn weapon of his class,—the folded, torn yellow paper, ready to fall to pieces as you open it,—in short, the respectable beggar's certificate of character. With another bow (which gave his nose the aspect of the beak of a bird of prey making a pick at me) he handed the document. I found that it was dated in Milwaukee, and signed by the mayor of that city, two physicians, three clergymen, and an editor, who bore united testimony to the fact that Jacob Menzel—I think that was his name—the bearer, any way,—was a deaf mute, and, considering that fact, a prodigy of learning, being master of no less than five different languages (a pathetic circumstance, considering that he was unable to speak one); moreover, that he was a converted Jew; and, furthermore, a native of Germany, who had come to this country in company with two brothers, both of whom had died of cholera in St. Louis in one day; in consequence of which affliction, and his recent conversion, he was now anxious to return to Fatherland, where he proposed to devote his life to the conversion of his brethren;—the upshot of all which was that good Christians and charitable souls everywhere were earnestly recommended to aid the said Jacob Menzel in his pious undertaking.
I was fumbling in my pocket for a little change wherewith to dismiss him,—for that is usually the easiest way of getting off your premises and your conscience the applicant for "aid," who is probably an impostor, yet possibly not,—when my eye caught the words (for I still held the document), "would be glad of any employment which may help to pay his way." The idea of finding employment for a man of such a large nose and little body, such extensive knowledge and diminutive legs—who had mastered five languages yet could not speak or understand a word of any one of them,—struck me as rather pleasant, to say the least; yet, after a moment's reflection,—wasn't he the very thing I wanted, the manikin, the target for my uncle?
Meanwhile he was scribbling rapidly on a small slate he had taken from his pocket. With another bow (as if he had written something wrong and was going to wipe it out with his nose), he handed me the slate, on which I found written in a neat hand half-a-dozen lines in as many different languages,—English, Latin, Hebrew, German, French, Greek,—each, as far as I could make out, conveying the cheerful information that he could communicate with me in that particular tongue. I tried him in English, French, and Latin, and I must acknowledge that he stood the test; he then tried me In Greek and Hebrew, and I as freely confess that I didn't stand the test. He smiled intelligently, nodded, and condescendingly returned to the English tongue, writing quickly,—"I am a poor exile from Fatherland, and I much need friends."
I wrote: "You wish employment?" He replied: "I shall be much obliged for any service I shall be capable to do,"—and passed me the slate with a hopeful smile.
"What can you do?" I asked. He answered: "I copy the manuscripts, I translate from the one language to others with some perfect exactitude, I arrange the libraries, I make the catalogues, I am capable to be any secretary." And he looked up as if he saw in my eyes a vast vista of catalogues, manuscripts, libraries, and Fatherland at the end of it.
"How would you like to be companion to a literary man?" I inquired.
He nodded expressively, and wrote: "I should that like overall. But I speak and hear not."
"No matter," I replied. "You will only have to sit and appear to listen, and nod occasionally."
"You shall be the gentleman?" he asked with a bright, pleased look.
I explained to him that the gentleman was an unfortunate connection of my family, whom we could not regard as being quite in his right mind.
Jacob Menzel smiled, and touched his fore head interrogatively.
I nodded, adding on the slate,—"He is perfectly harmless; but he can only be kept quiet by having some person to talk and read to. He will talk and read to you. He must not know you are deaf. He is very deaf himself, and will not expect you to reply." And, for a person wishing a light and easy employment, I recommended the situation.
He wrote at once, "How much you pay?"
"One dollar a day, and board you," I replied.
He of the nose nodded eagerly at that, and wrote, "Also you make to be washed my shirt?"
I agreed; and the bargain was closed. I got him into the house, and gave him a bath, a clean shirt, and complete instructions how to act.
The gravity with which he entered upon the situation was astonishing. He didn't seem to taste the slightest flavor of a joke in it all. It was a simple matter of business; he saw in it only money and Fatherland.
Meanwhile I explained my intentions to Dolly, saying in great glee: "His deafness is his defence: the old three-decker may bang away at him; he is IRON-CLAD!" And that suggested the name we have called him by ever since.
When he was ready for action, I took him in tow, and ran him in to draw the Popworth's fire—in other words, introduced him to my uncle in the library. The meeting of my tall, lank relative and the big-nosed little Jew was a spectacle to cure a hypochondriac! "Mr. Jacob Menzel—gentleman from Germany—travelling in this country," I yelled in the old fellow's ear. He of the diminutive legs and stupendous nose bowed with perfect decorum, and seated himself, stiff and erect, in the big chair I placed for him. The avuncular countenance lighted up: here were fresh woods and pastures new to that ancient shepherd. As for myself, I was wellnigh strangled by a cough which just then seized me, and obliged to retreat,—for I never was much of an actor, and the comedy of that first interview was overpowering.
As I passed the dining-room door, Dolly, who was behind it, gave my arm a fearful pinch, that answered, I supposed, in the place of a scream, as a safety-valve for her hysterical emotions. "O you cruel man—you miserable humbug!" says she; and went off into convulsions of laughter. The door was open, and we could see and hear every thing.
"You are travelling, h'm?" says my uncle. The nose nodded duly. "H'm! I have travelled, myself," the old gentleman proceeded; "my life has been one of vicissitudes, h'm! I have journeyed, I have preached, I have published;—perhaps you have heard of my literary venture"—and over went the big volume to the little man, who took it, turned the leaves, and nodded and smiled, according to instructions.
"You are very kind to say so; thank you!" says my uncle, rubbing his husky hands with satisfaction. "Rejoiced to meet with you, truly! It is always a gratification to have an intelligent and sympathizing brother to open one's mind to; it is especially refreshing to me, for, as I may say without egotism, my life and labors have not been appreciated."
From that the old interminable story took its start and flowed on, the faithful nose nodding assent at every turn in that winding stream.
The children came in for their share of the fun; and for the first time in our lives we took pleasure in the old gentleman's narration of his varied experiences.
"O hear him! see him go it!" said Robbie. "What a nose!"
"Long may it wave!" said Harry.
With other remarks of a like genial nature; while there they sat, the two,—my uncle on one side, long, lathy, self-satisfied, gesticulating, earnestly laying his case before a grave jury of one, whom he was bound to convince, if time would allow; my little Jew facing him, upright in his chair, stiff, imperturbable, devoted to business, honorably earning his money, the nose in the air, immovable, except when it played duly up and down at fitting intervals: in which edifying employment I left them, and went about my business, a cheerier man.
Ah, what a relief it was to feel myself free for a season from the attacks of the enemy—to know that my plucky little Iron-Clad was engaging him! In a hour I passed through the hall again, heard the loud blatant voice still discoursing (it had got as far as the difficulties with the second parish), and saw the unflinching nasal organ perform its graceful see-saw of assent. An hour later it was the same,—except that the speaker had arrived at the persecutions which drove him from parish number three. When I went to call them to dinner, the scene had changed a little, for now the old gentleman, pounding the table for a pulpit, was reading aloud passages from a powerful farewell sermon preached to his ungrateful parishioners. I was sorry I couldn't give my man a hint to use his handkerchief at the affecting periods, for the nose can hardly be called a sympathetic feature (unless indeed you blow it), and these nods were becoming rather too mechanical, except when the old gentleman switched off on the argumentative track, as he frequently did. "What think you of that?" he would pause in his reading to inquire. "Isn't that logic? isn't that unanswerable?" In responding to which appeals nobody could have done better than my serious, my devoted, my lovely little Jew.
"Dinner!" I shouted over my uncle's dickey. It was almost the only word that had the magic in it to rouse him from the feast of reason which his own conversation was to him. It was always easy to head him toward the dining-room—to steer him into port for necessary supplies. The little Iron-Clad followed in his wake. At table, the old gentleman resumed the account of his dealings with parish number three, and got on as far as negotiations with number four; occasionally stopping to eat his soup or roast-beef very fast; at which time Jacob Menzel, who was very much absorbed in his dinner, but never permitted himself to neglect business for pleasure, paused at the proper intervals, with his spoon or fork half-way to his mouth, and nodded,—just as if my uncle had been speaking,—yielding assent to his last remarks after mature consideration, no doubt the old gentleman thought.
The fun of the thing wore off after a while, and then we experienced the solid advantages of having an Iron-Clad in the house; Afternoon—evening—the next day—my little man of business performed his function promptly and assiduously. But in the afternoon of the second day he began to change perceptibly. He wore an aspect of languor and melancholy that alarmed me. The next morning he was pale, and went to his work with an air of sorrowful resignation.
"He is thinking of Fatherland," said the sympathizing Dolly; while Harry's less refined but more sprightly comment was, that the nose had about played out.
Indeed it had almost ceased to wave; and I feared that I was about to lose a most valuable servant, whose place it would be impossible to fill. Accordingly I wrote on a slip of paper, which I sent in to him,"—
"You have done well, and I raise your salary to a dollar and a quarter a day. Your influence over our unfortunate relative is soothing and beneficial. Go on as you have begun,—continue in well-doing, and merit the lasting gratitude of an afflicted family."