MASTERPIECES OF AMERICAN WIT AND HUMOR
Edited by Thomas L. Masson
Fitzhugh Ludlow Harriet Beecher Stowe Danforth Marble William Dean Howells Samuel Minturn Peck William Cullen Bryant and others
AGNES REPPLIER A Plea for Humor
MARIETTA HOLLEY An Unmarried Female
FITZHUGH LUDLOW Selections from a Brace of Boys
ROBERT JONES BURDETTE Rheumatism Movement Cure
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES An Aphorism and a Lecture
JOSHUA S. MORRIS The Harp of a Thousand Strings
SEBA SMITH My First Visit to Portland
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT The Mosquito
JOHN CARVER Country Burial-places
DANFORTH MARBLE The Hoosier and the Salt-pile
ANNE BACHE The Quilting
FITZ-GREENE HALLECK A Fragment
CHARLES F. BROWNE ("Artemus Ward") One of Mr. Ward's Business Letters
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL Without and Within
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT Street Scenes in Washington
ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE Mis' Smith
JAMES JEFFREY ROOHE A Boston Lullaby
CHARLES GRAHAM HALPINE Irish Astronomy
SAMUEL MINTURN PEOK Bessie Brown, M. D.
ROBERT C. SANDS A Monody
CAROLYN WELLS The Poster Girl
JAMES GARDNER SANDERSON The Conundrum of the Golf Links
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE The Minister's Wooing
WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS Mrs. Johnson
ANONYMOUS The Trout, the Cat and the Fox The British Matron
A PLEA FOR HUMOR
More than half a dozen years have passed since Mr. Andrew Lang, startled for once out of his customary light-heartedness, asked himself, and his readers, and the ghost of Charles Dickens—all three powerless to answer—whether the dismal seriousness of the present day was going to last forever; or whether, when the great wave of earnestness had rippled over our heads, we would pluck up heart to be merry and, if needs be, foolish once again. Not that mirth and folly are in any degree synonymous, as of old; for the merry fool, too scarce, alas! even in the times when Jacke of Dover hunted for him in the highways, has since then grown to be rarer than a phenix. He has carried his cap and bells and jests and laughter elsewhere, and has left us to the mercies of the serious fool, who is by no means so seductive a companion. If the Cocquecigrues are in possession of the land, and if they are tenants exceedingly hard to evict, it is because of the encouragement they receive from those to whom we innocently turn for help: from the poets, novelists and men of letters whose duty it is to brighten and make glad our days.
"It is obvious," sighs Mr. Birrell dejectedly, "that many people appear to like a drab-colored world, hung around with dusky shreds of philosophy"; but it is more obvious still that, whether they like it or not, the drapings grow a trifle dingier every year, and that no one seems to have the courage to tack up something gay. What is much worse, even those bits of wanton color which have rested generations of weary eyes are being rapidly obscured by somber and intricate scroll-work, warranted to oppress and fatigue. The great masterpieces of humor, which have kept men young by laughter, are being tried in the courts of an orthodox morality and found lamentably wanting; or else, by way of giving them another chance, they are being subjected to the peine forte et dure of modern analysis, and are revealing hideous and melancholy meanings in the process. I have always believed that Hudibras owes its chilly treatment at the hands of critics—with the single and most genial exception of Sainte-Beuve—to the absolute impossibility of twisting it into something serious. Strive as we may, we cannot put a new construction on those vigorous old jokes, and to be simply and barefacedly amusing is no longer considered a sufficient raison d'etre. It is the most significant token of our ever- increasing "sense of moral responsibility in literature" that we should be always trying to graft our own conscientious purposes upon those authors who, happily for themselves, lived and died before virtue, colliding desperately with cakes and ale, had imposed such depressing obligations.
"'Don Quixote,'" says Mr. Shorthouse with unctuous gravity, "will come in time to be recognized as one of the saddest books ever written"; and, if the critics keep on expounding it much longer, I truly fear it will. It may be urged that Cervantes himself was low enough to think it exceedingly funny; but then one advantage of our new and keener insight into literature is to prove to us how indifferently great authors understood their own masterpieces. Shakespeare, we are told, knew comparatively little about "Hamlet," and he is to be congratulated on his limitations. Defoe would hardly recognize "Robinson Crusoe" as "a picture of civilization," having innocently supposed it to be quite the reverse; and he would be as amazed as we are to learn from Mr. Frederic Harrison that his book contains "more psychology, more political economy, and more anthropology than are to be found in many elaborate treatises on these especial subjects"—blighting words which I would not even venture to quote if I thought that any boy would chance to read them and so have one of the pleasures of his young life destroyed. As for "Don Quixote," which its author persisted in regarding with such misplaced levity, it has passed through many bewildering vicissitudes. It has figured bravely as a satire on the Duke of Lerma, on Charles V., on Philip II., on Ignatius Loyola-Cervantes was the most devout of Catholics—and on the Inquisition, which, fortunately, did not think so. In fact, there is little or nothing which it has not meant in its time; and now, having attained that deep spiritual inwardness which we have been recently told is lacking in poor Goldsmith, we are requested by Mr. Shorthouse to refrain from all brutal laughter, but, with a shadowy smile and a profound seriousness, to attune ourselves to the proper state of receptivity. Old-fashioned, coarse-minded people may perhaps ask, "But if we are not to laugh at 'Don Quixote,' at whom are we, please, to laugh?"—a question which I, for one, would hardly dare to answer. Only, after r eading the following curious sentence, extracted from a lately published volume of criticism, I confess to finding myself in a state of mental perplexity utterly alien to mirth. "How much happier," its author sternly reminds us, "was poor Don Quixote in his energetic career, in his earnest redress of wrong, and in his ultimate triumph over self, than he could have been in the gnawing reproach and spiritual stigma which a yielding to weakness never failingly entails!" Beyond this point it would be hard to go. Were these things really spoken of the "ingenious gentleman" of La Mancha or of John Howard or George Peabody or perhaps Elizabeth Fry—or is there no longer such a thing as recognized absurdity In the world?
Another gloomy indication of the departure of humor from our midst is the tendency of philosophical writers to prove by analysis that, if they are not familiar with the thing itself, they at least know of what it should consist. Mr. Shorthouse's depressing views about "Don Quixote" are merely introduced as illustrating a very scholarly and comfortless paper on the subtle qualities of mirth. No one could deal more gracefully and less humorously with his topic than does Mr. Shorthouse, and we are compelled to pause every now and then and reassure ourselves as to the subject matter of his eloquence. Professor Everett has more recently and more cheerfully defined for us the Philosophy of the Comic, in a way which, if it does not add to our gaiety, cannot be accused of plunging us deliberately into gloom. He thinks, indeed—and small wonder—that there is "a genuine difficulty in distinguishing between the comic and the tragic," and that what we need is some formula which shall accurately interpret the precise qualities of each, and he is disposed to illustrate his theory by dwelling on the tragic side of Falstaff, which is, of all injuries, the grimmest and hardest to forgive. Falstaff is now the forlorn hope of those who love to laugh, and when he is taken away from us, as soon, alas! he will be, and sleeps with Don Quixote in the "dull cold marble" of an orthodox sobriety, how shall we make merry our souls? Mr. George Radford, who enriched the first volume of "Obiter dicta" with such a loving study of the fat-witted old knight, tells us reassuringly that by laughter man is distinguished from the beasts, though the cares and sorrows of life have all but deprived him of this elevating grace and degraded him into a brutal solemnity. Then comes along a rare genius like Falstaff, who restores the power of laughter, and transforms the stolid brute once more into a man, and who accordingly has the highest claim to our grateful and affectionate regard. That there are those who persist in looking upon him as a selfish and worthless fellow is, from Mr. Radford's point of view, a sorrowful instance of human thanklessness and perversity. But this I take to be the enamored and exaggerated language of a too faithful partizan. Morally speaking, Falstaff has not a leg to stand upon, and there is a tragic element lurking always amid the fun. But, seen in the broad sunlight of his transcendent humor, this shadow is as the halfpennyworth of bread to his own noble ocean of sack, and why should we be forever trying to force it into prominence? When Charlotte Bronte advised her friend Ellen Nussey to read none of Shakespeare's comedies, she was not beguiled for a moment into regarding them as serious and melancholy lessons of life; but with uncompromising directness put them down as mere improper plays, the amusing qualities of which were insufficient to excuse their coarseness, and which were manifestly unfit for the "gentle Ellen's" eyes.
In fact, humor would at all times have been the poorest excuse to offer to Miss Bronte for any form of moral dereliction, for it was the one quality she lacked herself and failed to tolerate in others. Sam Weller was apparently as obnoxious to her as was Falstaff, for she would not even consent to meet Dickens when she was being lionized in London society—a degree of abstemiousness on her part which it is disheartening to contemplate. It does not seem too much to say that every shortcoming in Charlotte Bronte's admirable work, every limitation in her splendid genius, arose primarily from her want of humor. Her severities of judgment—and who more severe than she?—were due to the same melancholy cause; for humor is the kindliest thing alive. Compare the harshness with which she handles her hapless curates and the comparative crudity of her treatment, with the surprising lightness of Miss Austen's touch as she rounds and completes her immortal clerical portraits. Miss Bronte tells us, in one of her letters, that she regarded all curates as "highly uninteresting, narrow, and unattractive specimens of the coarser sex," just as she found all the Belgian schoolgirls "cold, selfish, animal and inferior." But to Miss Austen's keen and friendly eye the narrowest of clergymen was not wholly uninteresting, the most inferior of schoolgirls not without some claim to our consideration; even the coarseness of the male sex was far from vexing her maidenly serenity, probably because she was unacquainted with the Rochester type. Mr. Elton is certainly narrow, Mary Bennet extremely inferior; but their authoress only laughs at them softly, with a quiet tolerance and a good-natured sense of amusement at their follies. It was little wonder that Charlotte Bronte, who had at all times the courage of her convictions, could not and would not read Jane Austen's novels. "They have not got story enough for me," she boldly affirmed. "I don't want my blood curdled, but I like to have it stirred. Miss Austen strikes me as milk-and-watery and, to say truth, dull." Of course she did! How was a woman, whose ideas of after-dinner conversation are embodied in the amazing language of Baroness Ingram and her titled friends to appreciate the delicious, sleepy small-talk in "Sense and Sensibility," about the respective heights of the respective grandchildren? It is to Miss Bronte's abiding lack of humor that we owe such stately caricatures as Blanche Ingram and all the high-born, ill-bred company who gather in Thornfield Hall, like a group fresh from Madame Tussaud's ingenious workshop, and against whose waxen unreality Jane Eyre and Rochester, alive to their very finger-tips, contrast like twin sparks of fire. It was her lack of humor, too, which beguiled her into asserting that the forty "wicked, sophistical and immoral French novels" which found their way down to lonely Haworth gave her "a thorough idea of France and Paris"—alas! poor, misjudged France!—and which made her think Thackeray very nearly as wicked, sophistical and immoral as the French novels. Even her dislike for children was probably due to the same irremediable misfortune; for the humors of children are the only redeeming points amid their general naughtiness and vexing misbehavior. Mr. Swinburne, guiltless himself of any jocose tendencies, has made the unique discovery that Charlotte Bronte strongly resembles Cervantes, and that Paul Emanuel is a modern counterpart of Don Quixote; and well it is for our poet that the irascible little professor never heard him hint at such a similarity. Surely, to use one of Mr. Swinburne's own incomparable expressions, the parallel is no better than a "subsimious absurdity."
On the other hand, we are told that Miss Austen owed her lively sense of humor to her habit of dissociating the follies of mankind from any rigid standard of right and wrong; which means, I suppose, that she never dreamed she had a mission. Nowadays, indeed, no writer is without one. We cannot even read a paper upon gypsies and not become aware that its author is deeply imbued with a sense of his personal responsibility for these agreeable rascals whom he insists upon our taking seriously as if we wanted to have anything to do with them on such terms! "Since the time of Carlyle," says Mr. Bagehot, "earnestness has been a favorite virtue in literature"; but Oarlyle, though sharing largely in that profound melancholy which he declared to be the basis of every English soul, and though he was unfortunate enough to think Pickwick sad trash, had nevertheless a grim and eloquent humor of his own. With him, at least, earnestness never degenerated into dulness; and while dulness may be, as he unhesitatingly affirmed, the first requisite for a great and free people, yet a too heavy percentage of this valuable quality is fatal to the sprightly grace of literature. "In our times," said an old Scotchwoman, "there's fully mony modern principles," and the first of these seems to be the substitution of a serious and critical discernment for the light-hearted sympathy of former days. Our grandfathers cried a little and laughed a good deal over their books, without the smallest sense of anxiety or responsibility in the matter; but we are called on repeatedly to face problems which we would rather let alone, to dive dismally into motives, to trace subtle connections, to analyze uncomfortable sensations, and to exercise in all cases a discreet and conscientious severity, when what we really want and need is half an hour's amusement. There is no stronger proof of the great change that has swept over mankind than the sight of a nation which used to chuckle over "Tom Jones" absorbing a few years ago countless editions of "Robert Elsmer e." What is droller still is that the people who read "Robert Elsmere" would think it wrong to enjoy "Tom Jones," and that the people who enjoyed "Tom Jones" would have thought it wrong to read "Robert Elsmere"; and that the people who, wishing to be on the safe side of virtue, think it wrong to read either, are scorned greatly as lacking true moral discrimination.
Now he would be a brave man who would undertake to defend the utterly indefensible literature of the past. Where it was most humorous it was also most coarse, wanton and cruel; but, in banishing these objectionable qualities, we have effectually contrived to rid ourselves of the humor as well, and with it we have lost one of the safest instincts of our souls. Any book which serves to lower the sum of human gaiety is a moral delinquent; and instead of coddling it into universal notice and growing owlish in its gloom, we should put it briskly aside in favor of brighter and pleasanter things. When Father Faber said that there was no greater help to a religious life than a keen sense of the ridiculous, he startled a number of pious people, yet what a luminous and cordial message it was to help us on our way! Mr. Birrell has recorded the extraordinary delight with which he came across some after-dinner sally of the Reverend Henry Martyn's; for the very thought of that ardent and fiery spirit relaxing into pleasantries over the nuts and wine made him appear like an actual fellow-being of our own. It is with the same feeling intensified, as I have already noted, that we read some of the letters of the early fathers—those grave and hallowed figures seen through a mist of centuries—and find them jesting at one another in the gayest and least sacerdotal manner imaginable. "Who could tell a story with more wit, who could joke so pleasantly?" sighs St. Gregory of Nazienzen of his friend St. Basil, remembering doubtless with a heavy heart the shafts of good-humored raillery that had brightened their lifelong intercourse. With what kindly and loving zest does Gregory, himself the most austere of men, mock at Basil's asceticism—at those "sad and hungry banquets" of which he was invited to partake, those "ungarden-like gardens, void of pot-herbs," in which he was expected to dig! With what delightful alacrity does Basil vindicate his reputation for humor by making a most excellent joke in court, for the benefit of a brutal magistrate who fiercely threatened to tear out his liver! "Your intention is a benevolent one," said the saint, who had been for years a confirmed invalid. "Where it is now located, it has given me nothing but trouble." Surely, as we read such an anecdote as this, we share in the curious sensation experienced by little Tom Tulliver, when, by dint of Maggie's repeated questions, he began slowly to understand that the Romance had once been real men, who were happy enough to speak their own language without any previous introduction to the Eton grammar. In like manner, when we come to realize that the fathers of the primitive church enjoyed their quips and cranks and jests as much as do Mr. Trollope's jolly deans or vicars, we feel we have at last grasped the secret of their identity, and we appreciate the force of Father Faber's appeal to the frank spirit of a wholesome mirth.
Perhaps one reason for the scanty tolerance that humor receives at the hands of the disaffected is because of the rather selfish way in which the initiated enjoy their fun; for there is always a secret irritation about a laugh in which we cannot join. Mr. George Saintsbury is plainly of this way of thinking, and, being blessed beyond his fellows with a love for all that is jovial, he speaks from out of the richness of his experience. "Those who have a sense of humor," he says, "instead of being quietly and humbly thankful, are perhaps a little too apt to celebrate their joy in the face of the afflicted ones who have it not; and the afflicted ones only follow a general law in protesting that it is a very worthless thing, if not a complete humbug." This spirit of exclusiveness on the one side and of irascibility on the other may be greatly deplored, but who is there among us, I wonder, wholly innocent of blame? Mr. Saintsbury himself confesses to a silent chuckle of delight when he thinks of the dimly veiled censoriousness with which Peacock's inimitable humor has been received by one-half of the reading world. In other words, his enjoyment of the Reverend Doctors Folliott and Opimian is sensibly increased by the reflection that a great many worthy people, even among his own acquaintances, are, by some mysterious law of their being, debarred from any share in his pleasure. Yet surely we need not be so niggardly in this matter. There is wit enough in those two reverend gentlemen to go all around the living earth and leave plenty for generations now unborn. Each might say with Juliet:
"The more I give to thee, The more I have;"
for wit is as infinite as love, and a deal more lasting in its qualities. When Peacock describes a country gentleman's range of ideas as "nearly commensurate with that of the great king Nebuchadnezzar when he was turned out to grass," he affords us a happy illustration of the eternal fitness of humor, for there can hardly come a time when such an apt comparison will fail to point its meaning.
Mr. Birrell is quite as selfish in his felicity as Mr. Saintsbury, and perfectly frank in acknowledging it. He dwells rapturously over certain well-loved pages of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Mansfield Park," and then deliberately adds, "When an admirer of Miss Austen reads these familiar passages, the smile of satisfaction, betraying the deep inward peace they never fail to beget, widens like 'a circle in the water,' as he remembers (and he is always careful to remember) how his dearest friend, who has been so successful in life, can no more read Miss Austen than he can read the Moabitish stone." The same peculiarity is noticeable in the more ardent lovers of Charles Lamb. They seem to want him all to themselves, look askance upon any fellow-being who ventures to assert a modest preference for their idol, and brighten visibly when some ponderous critic declares the Letters to be sad stuff and not worth half the exasperating nonsense talked about them. Yet Lamb flung his good things to the wind with characteristic prodigality, little recking by whom or in what spirit they were received. How many witticisms, I wonder, were roared into the deaf ears of old Thomas Westwood, who heard them not, alas! but who laughed all the same, out of pure sociability, and with a pleasant sense that something funny had been said! And what of that ill-fated pun which Lamb, in a moment of deplorable abstraction, let fall at a funeral, to the surprise and consternation of the mourners? Surely a man who could joke at a funeral never meant his pleasantries to be hoarded up for the benefit of an initiated few, but would gladly see them the property of all living men; ay, and of all dead men, too, were such a distribution possible. "Damn the age! I will write for antiquity!" he exclaimed with not unnatural heat when the "Gypsy's Malison" was rejected by the ingenious editors of the Gem, on the ground that it would "shock all mothers"; and even this expression, uttered with pardonable irritation, manifests no solicitude for a narrow and esoteric audience.
"Wit is useful for everything, but sufficient for nothing," says Amiel, who probably felt he needed some excuse for burying so much of his Gallic sprightliness in Teutonic gloom; and dulness, it must be admitted, has the distinct advantage of being useful for everybody and sufficient for nearly everybody as well. Nothing, we are told, is more rational than ennui; and Mr. Bagehot, contemplating the "grave files of speechless men" who have always represented the English land, exults more openly and energetically even than Carlyle in the saving dulness, the superb impenetrability, which stamps the Englishman, as it stamped the Roman, with the sign-manual of patient strength. Stupidity, he reminds us, is not folly, and moreover it often insures a valuable consistency. "What I says is this here, as I was a-saying yesterday, is the average Englishman's notion of historical eloquence and habitual discretion." But Mr. Bagehot could well afford to trifle thus coyly with dulness, because he knew it only theoretically and as a dispassionate observer. His own roof-tree is free from the blighting presence; his own pages are guiltless of the leaden touch. It has been well said that an ordinary mortal might live for a twelvemonth like a gentleman on Hazlitt's ideas; but he might, if he were clever, shine all his life long with the reflected splendor of Mr. Bagehot's wit, and be thought to give forth a very respectable illumination. There is a telling quality in every stroke; a pitiless dexterity that drives the weapon, like a fairy's arrow, straight to some vital point. When we read that "of all pursuits ever invented by man for separating the faculty of argument from the capacity of belief, the art of debating is probably the most effective," we feel that an unwelcome statement has been expressed with Mephistophelian coolness; and remembering that these words were uttered before Mr. Gladstone had attained his parliamentary preeminence, we have but another proof of the imperishable accuracy of wit. Only say a clever thing, and mankind will go on forever furnishing living illustrations of its truth. It was Thurlow who originally remarked that, "companies have neither bodies to kick nor souls to lose," and the jest fits in so aptly with our everyday humors and experiences that I have heard men attribute it casually to their friends, thinking, perhaps, that it must have been born in these times of giant corporations, of city railroads, and of trusts. What a gap between Queen Victoria and Queen Bess; what a thorough and far-reaching change in everything that goes to make up the life and habits of men; and yet Shakespeare's fine strokes of humor have become so fitted to our common speech that the very unconsciousness with which we apply them proves how they tally with our modern emotions and opportunities. Lesser lights burn quite as steadily. Pope and Goldsmith reappear on the lips of people whose knowledge of the "Essay on Man" is of the very haziest character, and whose acquaintance with "She Stoops to Conquer" is confined exclusively to Mr. Abbey's graceful illustrations. Not very long ago I heard a bright schoolgirl, when reproached for wet feet or some such youthful indiscretion, excuse herself gaily on the plea that she was "bullying nature"; and, knowing that the child was but modestly addicted to her books, I wondered how many of Doctor Holmes's trenchant sayings have become a heritage in our households, detached often from their original kinship, and seeming like the rightful property of every one who utters them. It is an amusing, barefaced, witless sort of robbery, yet surely not without its compensations; for it must be a pleasant thing to reflect in old age that the general murkiness of life has been lit up here and there by sparks struck from one's youthful fire, and that these sparks, though they wander occasionally masterless as will-o'-the-wisps, are destined never to go out.
Are destined never to go out! In its vitality lies the supreme excellence of humor. Whatever has "wit enough to keep it sweet" defies corruption and outlasts all time; but the wit must be of that outward and visible order which needs no introduction or demonstration at our hands. It is an old trick with dull novelists to describe their characters as being exceptionally brilliant people, and to trust that we will take their word for it and ask no further proof. Every one remembers how Lord Beaconsfield would tell us that a cardinal could "sparkle with anecdote and blaze with repartee"; and how utterly destitute of sparkle or blaze were the specimens of His Eminence's conversation with which we were subsequently favored. Those "lively dinners" in "Endymion" and "Lothair" at which we were assured the brightest minds in England loved to gather became mere Barmecide feasts when reported to us without a single amusing remark, such waifs and strays of conversation as reached our ears being of the dreariest and most fatuous description. It is not so with the real masters of their craft. Mr. Peacock does not stop to explain to us that Doctor Folliott is witty. The reverend gentleman opens his mouth and acquaints us with the fact himself. There is no need for George Eliot to expatiate on Mrs. Poyser's humor. Five minutes of that lady's society is amply sufficient for the revelation. We do not even hear Mr. Poyser and the rest of the family enlarging delightedly on the subject, as do all of Lawyer Putney's friends, in Mr. Howells's story, "Annie Kilburn"; and yet even the united testimony of Hatboro' fails to clear up our lingering doubts concerning Mr. Putney's wit. The dull people of that soporific town are really and truly and realistically dull. There is no mistaking them. The stamp of veracity is upon every brow. They pay morning calls, and we listen to their conversation with a dreamy impression that we have heard it all many times before, and that the ghosts of our own morning calls are revisiting us, not in the glimpses of the moon, but in Mr. Howells's decorous and quiet pages. That curious conviction that we have formerly passed through a precisely similar experience is strong upon us as we read, and it is the most emphatic testimony to the novelist's peculiar skill. But there is none of this instantaneous acquiescence in Mr. Putney's wit; for although he does make one very nice little joke, it is hardly enough to flavor all his conversation, which is for the most part rather unwholesome than humorous. The only way to elucidate him is to suppose that Mr. Howells, in sardonic mood, wishes to show us that if a man be discreet enough to take to hard drinking in his youth, before his general emptiness is ascertained, his friends invariably credit him with a host of shining qualities which, we are given to understand he balked and frustrated by his one unfortunate weakness. How many of us know these exceptionally brilliant lawyers, doctors, politicians and journalists who bear a charmed reputation based exclusively upon their inebriety, and who take good care not to imperil it by too long a relapse into the mortifying self-revelations of soberness! And what wrong has been done to the honored name of humor by these pretentious rascals! We do not love Falstaff because he is drunk; we do not admire Becky Sharp because she is wicked. Drunkenness and wickedness are things easy of imitation; yet all the sack in Christendom could not beget us another Falstaff—though Seithenyn ap Seithyn comes very near to the incomparable model—and all the wickedness in the world could not fashion us a second Becky Sharp. There are too many dull topers and stupid sinners among mankind to admit of any uncertainty on these points.
Bishop Burnet, in describing Lord Halifax, tells us, with thinly veiled disapprobation, that he was "a man of fine and ready wit, full of life, and very pleasant, but much turned to satire. His imagination was too hard for his judgment, and a severe jest took more with him than all arguments whatever." Yet this was the first statesman of his age, and one whose clear and tranquil vision penetrated so far beyond the turbulent, troubled times he lived in that men looked askance upon a power they but dimly understood. The sturdy "Trimmer," who would be bullied neither by king nor commons, who would "speak his mind and not be hanged as long as there was law in England," must have turned with infinite relief from the horrible medley of plots and counterplots, from the ugly images of Oates and Dangerfield, from the scaffolds of Stafford and Russell and Sidney, from the Bloody Circuit and the massacre of Glencoe, from the false smiles of princes and the howling arrogance of the mob, to any jest, however "severe," which would restore to him his cold and fastidious serenity and keep his judgment and his good temper unimpaired. "Ridicule is the test of truth," said Hazlitt, and it is a test which Halifax remorselessly applied, and which would not be without its uses to the Trimmer of to-day, in whom this adjusting sense is lamentably lacking. For humor distorts nothing, and only false gods are laughed off their earthly pedestals. What monstrous absurdities and paradoxes have resisted whole batteries of serious arguments, and then crumbled swiftly into dust before the ringing death-knell of a laugh! What healthy exultation, what genial mirth, what loyal brotherhood of mirth attends the friendly sound! Yet in labeling our life and literature, as the Danes labeled their Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, "Not for amusement merely," we have pushed one step further, and the legend too often stands, "Not for amusement at all." Life is no laughing matter, we are told, which is true; and, what is still more dismal to contemplate, books are no laughing matters, either. Only now and then some gay, defiant rebel, like Mr. Saintsbury, flaunts the old flag, hums a bar of "Blue Bonnets over the Border," and ruffles the quiet waters of our souls by hinting that this age of Apollinaris and of lectures is at fault, and that it has produced nothing which can vie as literature with the products of the ages of wine and song.
AN UNMARRIED FEMALE
I suppose we are about as happy as the most of folks, but as I was sayin' a few days ago to Betsey Bobbet, a neighborin' female of ours—"Every station-house in life has its various skeletons. But we ort to try to be contented with that spear of life we are called on to handle." Betsey hain't married, and she don't seem to be contented. She is awful opposed to wimmin's rights—she thinks it is wimmin's only spear to marry, but as yet she can't find any man willin' to lay holt of that spear with her. But you can read in her daily life, and on her eager, willin' countenance, that she fully realizes the sweet words of the poet, "While there is life there is hope."
Betsey hain't handsome. Her cheek-bones are high, and she bein' not much more than skin and bone they show plainer than they would if she was in good order. Her complexion (not that I blame her for it) hain't good, and her eyes are little and sot way back in her head. Time has seen fit to deprive her of her hair and teeth, but her large nose he has kindly suffered her to keep, but she has got the best white ivory teeth money will buy, and two long curls fastened behind each ear, besides frizzles on the top of her head; and if she wasn't naturally bald, and if the curls was the color of her hair, they would look well. She is awful sentimental; I have seen a good many that had it bad, but of all the sentimental creeters I ever did see, Betsey Bobbet is the sentimentalest; you couldn't squeeze a laugh out of her with a cheeze-press.
As I said, she is awful opposed to wimmin's havin' any right, only the right to get married. She holds on to that right as tight as any single woman I ever see, which makes it hard and wearyin' on the single men round here.
For take the men that are the most opposed to wimmin's havin' a right, and talk the most about its bein' her duty to cling to man like a vine to a tree, they don't want Betsey to cling to them; they won't let her cling to 'em. For when they would be a-goin' on about how wicked it was for wimmin to vote—and it was her only spear to marry, says I to 'em, "Which had you ruther do, let Betsey Bobbet cling to you or let her vote?" and they would every one of 'em quail before that question. They would drop their heads before my keen gray eyes—and move off the subject.
But Betsey don't get discouraged. Every time I see her she says in a hopeful, wishful tone, "That the deepest men of minds in the country agree with her in thinkin' that it is wimmin's duty to marry and not to vote." And then she talks a sight about the retirin' modesty and dignity of the fair sect, and how shameful and revoltin' it would be to see wimmin throwin' 'em away and boldly and unblushin'ly talkin' about law and justice.
Why, to hear Betsey Bobbet talk about wimmin's throwin' their modesty away, you would think if they ever went to the political pole they would have to take their dignity and modesty and throw 'em against the pole and go without any all the rest of their lives.
Now I don't believe in no such stuff as that. I think a woman can be bold and unwomanly in other things besides goin' with a thick veil over her face, and a brass-mounted parasol, once a year, and gently and quietly dropping a vote for a Christian President, or a religious and noble-minded pathmaster.
She thinks she talks dreadful polite and proper. She says "I was cameing," instead of "I was coming"; and "I have saw," instead of "I have seen"; and "papah" for paper, and "deah" for dear. I don't know much about grammer, but common sense goes a good ways. She writes the poetry for the Jonesville Augur, or "Augah," as she calls it. She used to write for the opposition paper, the Jonesville Gimlet, but the editor of the Augur, a longhaired chap, who moved into Jonesville a few months ago, lost his wife soon after he come there, and sense that she has turned Dimocrat, and writes for his paper stidy. They say that he is a dreadful big feelin' man, and I have heard—it came right straight to me—his cousin's wife's sister told it to the mother-in-law of one of my neighbors' brother's wife, that he didn't like Betsey's poetry at all, and all he printed it for was to plague the editor of the Gimlet, because she used to write for him. I myself wouldn't give a cent a bushel for all the poetry she can write. And it seems to me, that if I was Betsey, I wouldn't try to write so much. Howsumever, I don't know what turn I should take if I was Betsey Bobbet; that is a solemn subject, and one I don't love to think on.
I never shall forget the first piece of her poetry I ever see. Josiah Allen and I had both on us been married goin' on a year, and I had occasion to go to his trunk one day, where he kept a lot of old papers, and the first thing I laid my hand on was these verses. Josiah went with her a few times after his wife died, on Fourth of July or so, and two or three camp-meetin's and the poetry seemed to be wrote about the time we was married. It was directed over the top of it, "Owed to Josiah," just as if she were in debt to him. This was the way it read:
"OWED TO JOSIAH
"Josiah, I the tale have hurn, With rigid ear, and streaming eye, I saw from me that you did turn, I never knew the reason why. Oh, Josiah, It seemed as if I must expiah.
"Why did you—oh, why did you blow Upon my life of snowy sleet, The fiah of love to fiercest glow, Then turn a damphar on the heat? Oh, Josiah, It seemed as if I must expiah.
"I saw thee coming down the street, She by your side in bonnet bloo, The stuns that grated 'neath thy feet, Seemed crunching on my vitals, too. Oh, Josiah, It seemed as if I must expiah.
"I saw thee washing sheep last night, On the bridge I stood with marble brow. The waters raged, thou clasped it tight, I sighed, 'should both be drownded now'- I thought, Josiah, Oh, happy sheep to thus expiah."
I showed the poetry to Josiah that night after he came home, and told him I had read it. He looked awful ashamed to think I had seen it, and, says he, with a dreadful sheepish look: "The persecution I underwent from that female can never be told; she fairly hunted me down. I hadn't no rest for the soles of my feet. I thought one spell she would marry me in spite of all I could do, without givin' me the benefit of law or gospel." He see I looked stern, and he added, with a sick-lookin' smile, "I thought one spell, to use Betsey's language, 'I was a gonah.'"
I didn't smile. Oh, no, for the deep principle of my sect was reared up. I says to him in a tone cold enough to almost freeze his ears: "Josiah Allen, shet up; of all the cowardly things a man ever done, it is goin 'round braggin' about wimmin likin' 'em, and follern' 'em up. Enny man that'll do that is little enough to crawl through a knot-hole without rubbing his clothes." Says I: "I suppose you made her think the moon rose in your head and set in your heels. I daresay you acted foolish enough round her to sicken a snipe, and if you makes fun of her now to please me, I let you know you have got holt of the wrong individual.
"Now," says I, "go to bed"; and I added, in still more freezing accents, "for I want to mend your pantaloons." He gathered up his shoes and stockin's and started off to bed, and we hain't never passed a word on the subject sence. I believe when you disagree with your pardner, in freein' your mind in the first on't, and then not to be a-twittin' about it afterward. And as for bein' jealous, I should jest as soon think of bein' jealous of a meetin'-house as I should of Josiah. He is a well-principled man. And I guess he wasn't fur out o' the way about Betsey Bobbet, though I wouldn't encourage him by lettin' him say a word on the subject, for I always make it a rule to stand up for my own sect; but when I hear her go on about the editor of the Augur, I can believe anything about Betsey Bobbet.
She came in here one day last week. It was about ten o'clock in the morning. I had got my house slick as a pin, and my dinner under way (I was goin' to have a b'iled dinner, and a cherry puddin' b'iled with sweet sass to eat on it), and I sot down to finish sewin' up the breadth of my new rag carpet. I thought I would get it done while I hadn't so much to do, for it bein' the first of March I knew sugarin' would be comin' on, and then cleanin'-house time, and I wanted it to put down jest as soon as the stove was carried out in the summer kitchen. The fire was sparklin' away, and the painted floor a-shinin' and the dinner a-b'ilin', and I sot there sewin' jest as calm as a clock, not dreamin' of no trouble, when in came Betsey Bobbet.
I met her with outward calm, and asked her to set down and lay off her things. She sot down but she said she couldn't lay off her things. Says she: "I was comin' down past, and I thought I would call and let you see the last numbah of the Augah. There is a piece in it concernin' the tariff that stirs men's souls. I like it evah so much."
She handed me the paper folded, so I couldn't see nothin' but a piece of poetry by Betsey Bobbet. I see what she wanted of me, and so I dropped my breadths of carpetin' and took hold of it, and began to read it.
"Read it audible, if you please," says she. "Especially the precious remahks ovah it; it is such a feast for me to be a-sittin' and heah it rehearsed by a musical vorce."
Says I, "I s'pose I can rehearse it if it will do you any good," so I began as follows:
"It is seldom that we present the readers of the Augur (the best paper for the fireside in Jonesville or the world) with a poem like the following. It may be, by the assistance of the Augur (only twelve shillings a year in advance, wood and potatoes taken in exchange), the name of Betsey Bobbet will yet be carved on the lofty pinnacle of fame's towering pillow. We think, however, that she could study such writers as Sylvanus Cobb and Tupper with profit both to herself and to them.
"Editor of the Augur."
Here Betsey interrupted me. "The deah editah of the Augah has no need to advise me to read Tuppah, for he is indeed my most favorite authar. You have devorhed him, haven't you, Josiah's Allen wife?"
"Devoured who?" says I, in a tone pretty near as cold as a cold icicle.
"Mahten, Fahqueah, Tuppah, that sweet authar," says she.
"No, mom," says I shortly; "I hain't devoured Martin Farquhar Tupper, nor no other man. I hain't a cannibal."
"Oh! you understand me not; I meant, devorhed his sweet, tender lines."
"I hain't devoured his tenderlines, nor nothin' relatin' to him," and I made a motion to lay the paper down, but Betsey urged me to go on, and so I read:
"GUSHINGS OF A TENDAH SOUL
"Oh let who will, Oh let who can, Be tied onto A horrid male man.
"Thus said I 'ere My tendah heart was touched, Thus said I 'ere My tendah feelings gushed.
"But oh a change Hath swept ore me, As billows sweep The 'deep blue sea.'
"A voice, a noble form One day I saw; An arrow flew, My heart is nearly raw.
"His first pardner lies Beneath the turf, He is wandering now, In sorrow's briny surf.
"Two twins, the little Deah cherub creechahs Now wipe the teahs From off his classic feachahs.
"Oh sweet lot, worthy Angel arisen, To wipe teahs From eyes like hisen.
"What think you of it?" says she, as I finished readin'.
I looked right at her 'most a minute with a majestic look. In spite of her false curls and her new white ivory teeth, she is a humbly critter. I looked at her silently while she sot and twisted her long yellow bunnet-strings, and then I spoke out. "Hain't the editor of the Augur a widower with a pair of twins?"
"Yes," says she with a happy look.
Then says I, "If the man hain't a fool, he'll think you are one."
"Oh!" says she, and she dropped her bunnet-strings and clasped her long bony hands together in her brown cotton gloves. "Oh, we ahdent soles of genious have feelin's you cold, practical natures know nuthing of, and if they did not gush out in poetry we should expiah. You may as well try to tie up the gushing catarack of Niagarah with a piece of welting-cord as to tie up the feelin's of an ahdent sole."
"Ardent sole!" says I coldly. "Which makes the most noise, Betsey Bobbet, a three-inch brook or a ten-footer? which is the tearer? which is the roarer? Deep waters run stillest. I have no faith in feelin's that stalk round in public in mournin' weeds. I have no faith in such mourners," says I.
"Oh, Josiah's wife, cold, practical female being, you know me not; we are sundered as fah apart as if you was sitting on the North Pole and I was sitting on the South Pole. Uncongenial being, you know me not."
"I may not know you, Betsey Bobbet, but I do know decency, and I know that no munny would tempt me to write such stuff as that poetry and send it to a widower with twins."
"Oh!" says she, "what appeals to the tendah feelin' heart of a single female woman more than to see a lonely man who has lost his relict? And pity never seems so much like pity as when it is given to the deah little children of widowehs. And," says she, "I think moah than as likely as not, this soaring sole of genious did not wed his affinity, but was united to a mere woman of clay."
"Mere woman of clay!" says I, fixin' my spektacles upon her in a most searchin' manner. "Where will you find a woman, Betsey Bobbet, that hain't more or less clay? And affinity, that is the meanest word I ever heard; no married woman has any right to hear it. I'll excuse you, bein' a female; but if a man had said it to me I'd holler to Josiah. There is a time for everything, and the time to hunt affinity is before you are married; married folks hain't no right to hunt it," says I sternly.
"We kindred soles soah above such petty feelin's—we soah far above them."
"I hain't much of a soarer," says I, "and I don't pretend to be; and to tell you the truth," says I, "I am glad I ain't."
"The editah of the Augah" says she, and she grasped the paper offen the stand, and folded it up, and presented it at me like a spear, "the editah of this paper is a kindred sole: he appreciates me, he undahstands me, and will not our names in the pages of this very papah go down to posterety togathah?"
"Then," says I, drove out of all patience with her, "I wish you was there now, both of you. I wish," says I, lookin' fixedly on her, "I wish you was both of you in posterity now."
SELECTIONS FROM A BRACE OF BOYS
I am a bachelor uncle. That, as a mere fact, might happen to anybody; but I am a bachelor uncle by internal fitness. I am one essentially, just as I am an individual of the Caucasian division of the human race; and if, through untoward circumstances—which heaven forbid—I should lose my present position, I shouldn't be surprised if you saw me out in the Herald under "Situations Wanted—Males." Thanks to a marrying tendency in the rest of my family, I have now little need to advertise, all the business being thrown into my way which a single member of my profession can attend to.
I meander, like a desultory, placid river of an old bachelor as I am, through the flowery mead of several nurseries, but I am detained longest among the children of my sister Lu.
Lu married Mr. Lovegrove. He is a merchant, retired with a fortune amassed by the old-fashioned, slow processes of trade, and regards the mercantile life of the present day only as so much greed and gambling Christianly baptized.... Lu is my favorite sister; Lovegrove an unusually good article of brother-in-law; and I cannot say that any of my nieces and nephews interest me more than their two children, Daniel and Billy, who are more unlike than words can paint them. They are far apart in point of years; Daniel is twenty-two, Bill eleven. I was reminded of this fact the other day by Billy, as he stood between my legs, scowling at his book of sums.
"'A boy has eighty-five turnips and gives his sister thirty'—pretty present for a girl, isn't it?" said Billy, with an air of supreme contempt, "Could you stand such stuff—say?"
I put on my instructive face and answered:
"Well, my dear Billy, you know that arithmetic is necessary to you if you mean to be an industrious man and succeed in business. Suppose your parents were to lose all their property, what would become of them without a little son who could make money and keep accounts?"
"Oh," said Billy, with surprise, "hasn't father got enough stamps to see him through?"
"He has now, I hope; but people don't always keep them. Suppose they should go by some accident, when your father was too old to make any more stamps for himself?"
"You haven't thought of Brother Daniel—"
True; for nobody ever had in connection with the active employments of life.
"No, Billy," I replied, "I forgot him; but then, you know, Daniel is more of a student than a business man, and—"
"Oh, Uncle Teddy! you don't think I mean he'd support them? I meant I'd have to take care of father and mother and him, too, when they'd all got to be old people together. Just think! I'm eleven, and he's twenty-two; so he is just twice as old as I am. How old are you?"
"Forty, Billy, last August."
"Well, you aren't so awful old, and when I get to be as old as you, Daniel will be eighty. Seth Kendall's grandfather isn't more than that, and he has to be fed with a spoon, and a nurse puts him to bed, and wheels him round in a chair like a baby. That takes the stamps, I bet! Well, I tell you how I'll keep my accounts: I'll have a stick like Robinson Crusoe, and every time I make a toadskin I'll gouge a piece out of one side of the stick, and every time I spend one I'll gouge a piece out of the other."
"Spend a what?" said the gentle and astonished voice of my sister Lu, who, unperceived, had slipped into the room.
"A toadskin, ma," replied Billy, shutting up Oolburn with a farewell glance of contempt.
"Dear, dear! Where does the boy learn such horrid words?"
"Why, ma, don't you know what a toadskin is? Here's one," said Billy, drawing a dingy five-cent stamp from his pocket. "And don't I wish I had lots of 'em!"
"Oh!" sighed his mother, "to think I should have a child so addicted to slang! How I wish he were like Daniel!"
"Well, mother," replied Billy, "if you wanted two boys just alike you'd oughter had twins. There ain't any use of my trying to be like Daniel now, when he's got eleven years the start. Whoop! There's a dog fight; hear 'em! It's Joe Casey's dog—I know his bark!"
With these words my nephew snatched his Glengarry bonnet from the table and bolted downstairs to see the fun.
"What will become of him?" said Lu hopelessly; "he has no taste for anything but rough play; and then such language as he uses! Why isn't he like Daniel?" "I suppose because his maker never repeats himself. Even twins often possess strongly marked individualities. Don't you think it would be a good plan to learn Billy better before you try to teach him? If you do, you'll make something as good of him as Daniel; though it will be rather different from that model."
"Remember, Ned, that you never did like Daniel as well as you do Billy. But we all know the proverb about old maid's daughters and old bachelor's sons. I wish you had Billy for a month—then you'd see."
"I'm not sure that I'd do any better than you. I might err as much in other directions. But I'd try to start right by acknowledging that he was a new problem, not to be worked without finding out the value of X in his particular instance. The formula which solves one boy will no more solve the next one than the rule of three will solve a question in calculus—or, to rise into your sphere, than the receipt for one-two-three-fourcake will conduct you to a successful issue through plum pudding."
I excel in metaphysical discussion, and was about giving further elaboration to my favorite idea, when the door burst open. Master Billy came tumbling in with a torn jacket, a bloody nose, the traces of a few tears in his eyes, and the mangiest of cur dogs in his hands.
"Oh my! my!! my!!!" exclaimed his mother.
"Don't you get scared, ma!" cried Billy, smiling a stern smile of triumph; "I smashed the nose off him! He won't sass me again for nothing this while. Uncle Teddy, d'ye know it wasn't a dog fight after all? There was that nasty, good-for-nothing Joe Casey, 'n Patsy Grogan, and a lot of bad boys from Mackerelville; and they'd caught this poor little ki-oodle and tied a tin pot to his tail, and were trying to set Joe's dog on him, though he's ten times littler."
"You naughty, naughty boy! How did you suppose your mother'd feel to see you playing with those ragamuffins?"
"Yes, I played 'em! I polished 'em—that's the play I did! Says I, 'Put down that poor little pup; ain't you ashamed of yourself, Patsy Grogan? 'I guess you don't know who I am,' says he. That's the way they always say, Uncle Teddy, to make a fellow think they're some awful great fighters. So says I again, 'Well, you put down that dog, or I'll show you who I am'; and when he held on, I let him have it. Then he dropped the pup, and as I stooped to pick it up he gave me one on the bugle."
"Bugle! Oh! Ooh! Ooh!"
"The rest pitched in to help him; but I grabbed the pup, and while I was trying to give as good as I got—only a fellow can't do it well with only one hand, Uncle Teddy—up came a policeman, and the whole crowd ran away. So I got the dog safe, and here he is!"
With that Billy set down his "ki-oodle," bid farewell to every fear, and wiped his bleeding nose. The unhappy beast slunk back between the legs of his preserver and followed him out of the room, as Lu, with an expression of maternal despair, bore him away for the correction of his dilapidated raiment and depraved associations. I felt such sincere pride in this young Mazzini of the dog nation that I was vexed at Lu for bestowing on him reproof instead of congratulation; but she was not the only conservative who fails to see a good cause and a heroic heart under a bloody nose and torn jacket. I resolved that if Billy was punished he should have his recompense before long in an extra holiday at Barnum's or the Hippotheatron.
You already have some idea of my other nephew, if you have noticed that none of us, not even that habitual disrespecter of dignities, Billy, ever called him Dan. It would have seemed as incongruous as to call Billy William. He was one of those youths who never gave their parents a moment's uneasiness; who never had to have their wills broken, and never forgot to put on their rubbers or take an umbrella. In boyhood he was intended for a missionary. Had it been possible for him to go to Greenland's icy mountains without catching cold, or India's coral strand without getting bilious, his parents would have carried out their pleasing dream of contributing him to the world's evangelization. Lu and Mr. Lovegrove had no doubt that he would have been greatly blessed if he could have stood it....
Both she and his father always encouraged old manners in him. I think they took such pride in raising a peculiarly pale boy as a gardener does in getting a nice blanch on his celery, and so long as he was not absolutely sick, the graver he was the better. He was a sensitive plant, a violet by a mossy stone, and all that sort of thing....
At the time I introduce Billy, both Lu and her husband were much changed. They had gained a great deal in width of view and liberality of judgment. They read Dickens and Thackeray with avidity; went now and then to the opera; proposed to let Billy take a quarter at Dodworth's; had statues in their parlor without any thought of shame at their lack of petticoats, and did multitudes of things which, in their early married life, they would have considered shocking. . . . They would greatly have liked to see Daniel shine in society. Of his erudition they were proud even to worship. The young man never had any business, and his father never seemed to think of giving him any, knowing, as Billy would say, that he had stamps enough to "see him through." If Daniel liked, his father would have endowed a professorship in some college and given him the chair; but that would have taken him away from his own room and the family physician.
Daniel knew how much his parents wished him to make a figure in the world, and only blamed himself for his failure, magnanimously forgetting that they had crushed out the faculties which enable a man to mint the small change of every-day society in the exclusive cultivation of such as fit him for smelting its ponderous ingots. With that merciful blindness which alone prevents all our lives from becoming a horror of nerveless self-reproach, his parents were equally unaware of their share in the harm done him when they ascribed to a delicate organization the fact that, at an age when love runs riot in all healthy blood, he could not see a Balmoral without his cheeks rivaling the most vivid stripe in it. They flattered themselves that he would outgrow his bashfulness; but Daniel had no such hope, and frequently confided in me that he thought he should never marry at all.
About two hours after Billy's disappearance under his mother's convoy, the defender of the oppressed returned to my room bearing the dog under his arm. His cheeks shone with washing like a pair of waxy Spitzenbergs, and other indignities had been offered him to the extent of the brush and comb. He also had a whole jacket on....
Billy and I also obtained permission to go out together and be gone the entire afternoon. We put Crab on a comfortable bed of rags in an old shoebox, and then strolled hand-in-hand across that most delightful of New York breathing places—Stuyvesant Square.
"Uncle Teddy," exclaimed Billy with ardor, "I wish I could do something to show you how much I think of you for being so good to me. I don't know how. Would it make you happy if I was to learn a hymn for you—a smashing big hymn—six verses, long metre, and no grumbling?"
"No, Billy, you make me happy enough just by being a good boy."
"Oh, Uncle Teddy!" replied Billy decidedly. "I'm afraid I can't do it. I've tried so often, and always make such a mess of it." ...
We now got into a Broadway stage going down, and being unable, on account of the noise, to converse further upon those spiritual conflicts of Billy's which so much interested me, amused ourselves with looking out until just as we reached the Astor House, when he asked me where we were going.
"Where do you guess?" said I.
He cast a glance through the front window and his face became irradiated. Oh, there's nothing like the simple, cheap luxury of pleasing a child to create sunshine enough for the chasing away of the blues of adult devils!
"We're going to Barnum's!" said Billy, involuntarily clapping his hands.
So we were; and, much as stuck-up people pretend to look down on the place, I frequently am. Not only so, but I always see that class largely represented there when I do go. To be sure, they always make believe that they only come to amuse the children, or because they've country cousins visiting them, but never fail to refer to the vulgar set one finds there, and the fact of the animals smelling like anything but Jockey Club; yet I notice that after they've been in the hall three minutes they're as much interested as any of the people they come to pooh-pooh, and only put on the high-bred air when they fancy some of their own class are looking at them. I boldly acknowledge that I go because I like it. I am especially happy, to be sure, if I have a child along to go into ecstasies, and give me a chance, by asking questions, for the exhibition of that fund of information which is said to be one of my chief charms in the social circle, and on several occasions has led that portion of the public immediately about the Happy Family into the erroneous impression that I was Mr. Barnum glibly explaining his five hundred thousand curiosities.
On the present occasion we found several visitors of the better class in the room devoted to the aquarium. Among these was a young lady, apparently about nineteen, in a tight-fitting basque of black velvet, which showed her elegant figure to fine advantage, a skirt of garnet silk, looped up over a pretty Balmoral, and the daintiest imaginable pair of kid walking-boots. Her height was a trifle over the medium; her eyes, a soft, expressive brown, shaded by masses of hair which exactly matched their color, and, at that rat-and-miceless day, fell in such graceful abandon as to show at once that nature was the only maid who crimped their waves into them. Her complexion was rosy with health and sympathetic enjoyment; her mouth was faultless, her nose sensitive, her manners full of refinement, and her voice as musical as a wood-robin's when she spoke to the little boy of six at her side, to whom she was revealing the palace of the great show-king. Billy and I were flattening our noses against the abode of the balloon fish and determining whether he looked most like a horse- chestnut burr or a ripe cucumber, when his eyes and my own simultaneously fell on the child and lady. In a moment, to Billy the balloon fish was as though he had not been.
"That's a pretty little boy," said I. And then I asked Billy one of those senseless routine questions which must make children look at us, regarding the scope of our intellects very much as we look at Bushmen.
"How would you like to play with him?"
"Him!" replied Billy scornfully, "that's his first pair of boots; see him pull up his little breeches to show the red tops to 'em! But, crackey! isn't she a smasher?"
After that we visited the wax figures and the sleepy snakes, the learned seal, and the glass-blowers. Whenever we passed from one room into another Billy could be caught looking anxiously to see if the pretty girl and child were coming too.
Time fails me to describe how Billy was lost in astonishment at the Lightning Calculator—wanted me to beg the secret of that prodigy for him to do his sums by—finally thought he had discovered it, and resolved to keep his arm whirling all the time he studied his arithmetic lesson the next morning. Equally inadequate is it to relate in full how he became so confused among the wax-works that he pinched the solemnest showman's legs to see if he was real, and perplexed the beautiful Circassian to the verge of idiocy by telling her he had read in his geography all about the way they sold girls like her.
We had reached the stairs to that subterranean chamber in which the Behemoth of Holy Writ was wallowing about without a thought of the dignity which one expects from a canonical character. Billy had always languished upon his memories of this diverting beast, and I stood ready to see him plunge headlong the moment that he read the signboard at the head of the stairs. When he paused and hesitated there, not seeming at all anxious to go down till he saw the pretty girl and the child following after—a sudden intuition flashed across me. Could it be possible that Billy was caught in that vortex which whirled me down at ten years—a little boy's first love?
We were lingering about the elliptical basin, and catching occasional glimpses between bubbles of a vivified hair trunk of monstrous compass, whose knobby lid opened at one end and showed a red morocco lining, when the pretty girl, in leaning over to point out the rising monster, dropped into the water one of her little gloves, and the swash made by the hippopotamus drifted it close under Billy's hand. Either in play or as a mere coincidence the animal followed it. The other children about the tank screamed and started back as he bumped his nose against the side; but Billy manfully bent down and grabbed the glove not an inch from one of his big tusks, then marched around the tank and presented it to the lady with a chivalry of manner in one of his years quite surprising.
"That's a real nice boy—you said so, didn't you, Lottie?—and I wish he'd come and play with me," said the little fellow by the young lady's side, as Billy turned away, gracefully thanked, to come back to me with his cheeks roseate with blushes.
As he heard this Billy idled along the edge of the tank for a moment, then faced about and said:
"P'raps I will some day. Where do you live?"
"I live on East Seventeenth Street with papa—and Lottie stays there, too, now—she's my cousin. Where d'you live?"
"Oh! I live close by—right on that big green square, where I guess the nurse takes you once in awhile," said Billy patronizingly. Then, looking up pluckily at the young lady, he added, "I never saw you out there."
"No; Jimmy's papa has only been in his new house a little while, and I've just come to visit him."
"Say, will you come and play with me some time?" chimed in the inextinguishable Jimmy. "I've got a cooking-stove—for real fire—and blocks, and a ball with a string."
Billy, who belonged to a club for the practise of the great American game, and was what A. Ward would call the most superior battist among the I. G. B. B. 0., or "Infant Giants," smiled from an altitude upon Jimmy, but promised to go and play with him the next Saturday afternoon.
Late that evening, after we had got home and dined, as I sat in my room over "Pickwick" with a sedative cigar, a gentle knock at the door told of Daniel. I called "Come in!" and, entering with a slow, dejected air, he sat down by my fire. For ten minutes he remained silent, though occasionally looking up as if about to speak, then dropping his head again, to ponder on the coals. Finally I laid down Dickens and spoke myself:
"You don't seem well to-night, Daniel?"
"I don't feel very well, uncle."
"What's the matter, my boy?"
"Oh-ah, I don't know. That is, I wish I knew how to tell you."
I studied him for a few minutes with kindly curiosity, then answered:
"Perhaps I can save you the trouble by cross-examining it out of you. Let's try the method of elimination. I know that you're not harassed by any economical considerations, for you've all the money you want; and I know that ambition doesn't trouble you, for your tastes are scholarly. This narrows down the investigation of your symptoms— listlessness, general dejection, and all—to three causes—dyspepsia, religious conflicts, love. Now, is your digestion awry?"
"No, sir; good as usual. I'm not melancholy on religion, and—"
"You don't tell me you're in love?"
"Well,—yes—I suppose that's about it, Uncle Teddy."
I took a long breath to recover from my astonishment at this unimaginable revelation, then said: "Is your feeling returned?"
"I really don't know, uncle; I don't believe it is. I don't see how it can be. I never did anything to make her love me. What is there in me to love? I've borne nothing for her—that is, nothing that could do her any good—though I've endured on her account, I may say, anguish. So, look at it any way you please, I neither am, do nor suffer anything that can get a woman's love."
"Oh, you man of learning! Even in love you tote your grammar along with you, and arrange a divine passion under the active, passive and neuter!"
Daniel smiled faintly.
"You've no idea, Uncle Teddy, that you are twitting on facts; but you hit the truth there; indeed, you do. If she were a Greek or Latin woman I could talk Anacreon or Horace to her. If women only understood the philosophy of the flowers as well as they do the poetry—"
"Thank God they don't, Daniel!" sighed I devoutly.
"Never mind—in that case I could entrance her for hours, talking about the grounds of differences between Linnaeus and Jussieu. Women like the star business, they say—and I could tell her where all the constellations are; but sure as I tried to get off any sentiment about them, I'd break down and make myself ridiculous. But what earthly chance would the greatest philosopher that ever lived have with the woman he loved if he depended for her favor on his ability to analyze her bouquet or tell her when she might look out for the next occultation of Orion? I can't talk bread-and-butter talk. I can't do anything that makes a man even tolerable to a woman!"
"I hope you don't mean that nothing but bread-and-butter talk is tolerable to a woman!"
"No; but it's necessary to some extent—at any rate, the ability is— in order to succeed in society; and it's in society men first meet and strike women. And, oh, Uncle Teddy! I'm such a fish out of water in society!—such a dreadful floundering fish! When I see her dancing gracefully as a swan swims, and feel that fellows like little Jack Mankyn, who 'don't know twelve times,' can dance to her perfect admiration; when I see that she likes ease of manners—and all sorts of men without an idea in their heads have that—while I turn all colors when I speak to her, and am clumsy, and abrupt, and abstracted, and bad at repartee—Uncle Teddy! sometimes (though it seems so ungrateful to father and mother, who have spent such pains for me)—sometimes, do you know, it seems to me as if I'd exchange all I've ever learned for the power to make a good appearance before her!"
"Daniel, my boy, it's too much a matter of reflection with you! A woman is not to be taken by laying plans. If you love the lady (whose name I don't ask you, because I know you'll tell me as soon as you think best), you must seek her companionship until you're well enough acquainted with her to have her regard you as something different from the men whom she meets merely in society, and judge your qualities by another standard than that she applies to them. If she's a sensible girl (and God forbid you should marry her otherwise), she knows that people can't always be dancing, or holding fans, or running after orange-ice. If she's a girl capable of appreciating your best points (and woe to you if you marry a girl who can't!), she'll find them out upon closer intimacy, and, once found, they'll a hundred times outweigh all brilliant advantages kept in the show-case of fellows who have nothing on the shelves. When this comes about, you will pop the question unconsciously, and, to adapt Milton, she'll drop into your lap, 'gathered—not harshly plucked.'"
"I know that's sensible, Uncle Teddy, and I'll try. Let me tell you the sacredest of secrets—regularly every day of my life I send her a little poem fastened round the prettiest bouquet I can get at Hanft's."
"Does she know who sends them?"
"She can't have any idea. The German boy that takes them knows not a word of English except her name and address. You'll forgive me, uncle, for not mentioning her name yet? You see, she may despise or hate me some day when she knows who it is that has paid her these attentions; and then I'd like to be able to feel that at least I've never hurt her by any absurd connection with myself."
"Forgive you? Nonsense! The feeling does your heart infinite credit, though a little counsel with your head will show you that your only absurdity is self-depreciation."
Daniel bid me good-night. As I put out my cigar and went to bed my mind reverted to the dauntless little Hotspur who had spent the afternoon with me and reversed his mother's wish, thinking:
"Oh, if Daniel were more like Billy!"
It was always Billy's habit to come and sit with me while I smoked my after-breakfast cigar, but the next morning did not see him enter my room until St. George's hands pointed to a quarter of nine.
"Well, Billy Boy Blue, come blow your horn; what haystack have you been under till this time of day? We shan't have a minute to look over our spelling together, and I know a boy who's going in for promotion next week. Have you had your breakfast and taken care of Orab?"
"Yes, sir; but I didn't feel like getting up this morning."
"Are you sick?"
"No-o-o—it isn't that; but you'll laugh at me if I tell you."
"Indeed I won't, Billy!"
"Well"—his voice dropped to a whisper, and he stole close to my side—"I had such a nice dream about her just the last thing before the bell rang; and when I woke up I felt so queer—so kinder good and kinder bad—and I wanted to see her so much that, if I hadn't been a big boy, I believe I should have blubbered. I tried ever so much to go to sleep and see her again; but the more I tried the more I couldn't. After all, I had to get up without it, though I didn't want any breakfast, and only ate two buckwheat cakes, when I always eat six, you know, Uncle Teddy. Can you keep a secret?"
"Yes, dear, so you couldn't get it out of me if you were to shake me upside-down like a savings bank."
"Oh, ain't you mean! That was when I was small I did that. I'll tell you the secret, though—that girl and I are going to get married. I mean to ask her the first chance I get. Oh, isn't she a smasher!"
"My dear Billy, won't you wait a little while to see if you always like her as well as you do now? Then, too, you'll be older."
"I'm old enough, Uncle Teddy, and I love her dearly! I'm as old as the kings of France used to be when they got married—I read it in Abbott's histories. But there's the clock striking nine! I must run or I shall get a tardy mark, and, perhaps, she'll want to see my certificate sometimes."
So saying, he kissed me on the cheek and set off for school as fast as his legs could carry him. Oh, Love, omnivorous Love, that sparest neither the dotard leaning on his staff nor the boy with pantaloons buttoning on his jacket—omnipotent Love, that, after parents and teachers have failed, in one instant can make Billy try to become a good boy!
With both of my nephews hopelessly enamored and myself the confidant of both, I had my hands full. Daniel was generally dejected and distrustful; Billy buoyant and jolly. Daniel found it impossible to overcome his bashfulness; was spontaneous only in sonnets, brilliant only in bouquets. Billy was always coming to me with pleasant news, told in his slangy New York boy vernacular. One day he would exclaim: "Oh, I'm getting on prime! I got such a smile off her this morning as I went by the window!" Another day he wanted counsel how to get a valentine to her—because it was too big to shove in a lamp-post, and she might catch him if he left it on the steps, rang the bell and ran away. Daniel wrote his own valentine; but, despite its originality, that document gave him no such comfort as Billy got from his twenty- five cents' worth of embossed paper, pink cupids and doggerel. Finally Billy announced to me that he had been to play with Jimmy and got introduced to his girl.
Shortly after this Lu gave what they call "a little company"—not a party, but a reunion of forty or fifty people with whom the family were well acquainted, several of them living in our immediate neighborhood. There was a goodly proportion of young folk, and there was to be dancing; but the music was limited to a single piano played by the German exile usual on such occasions, and the refreshments did not rise to the splendor of a costly supper. This kind of compromise with fashionable gaiety was wisely deemed by Lu the best method of introducing Daniel to the beau monde—a push given the timid eaglet by the maternal bird, with a soft tree-top between him and the vast expanse of society. How simple was the entertainment may be inferred from the fact that Lu felt somewhat discomposed when she got a note from one of her guests asking leave to bring along her niece, who was making her a few weeks' visit. As a matter of course, however, she returned answer to bring the young lady, and welcome.
Daniel's dressing-room having been given up to the gentlemen, I invited him to make his toilet in mine, and, indeed, wanting him to create a favorable impression, became his valet pro tem, tying his cravat and teasing the divinity student look out of his side hair. My little dandy Billy came in for another share of attention, and when I managed to button his jacket for him so that it showed his shirt-studs "like a man's," Count d'Orsey could not have felt a more pleasing sense of his sufficiency for all the demands of the gay world.
When we reached the parlor we found Pa and and Ma Lovegrove already receiving. About a score of guests had arrived. Most of them were old married couples, which, after paying their devoirs, fell in two like unriveted scissors—the gentlemen finding a new pivot in pa and the ladies in ma, where they mildly opened and shut upon such questions as severally concerned them, such as "the way gold closed" and "how the children were."
Besides the old married people, there were several old young men of distinctly hopeless and unmarried aspect who, having nothing in common with the other class, nor sufficient energy of character to band themselves for mutual protection, hovered dejectedly about the arch pillars or appeared to be considering whether, on the whole, it would not be feasible and best to sit down on the center table. These subsisted upon such crumbs of comfort as Lu could get an occasional chance to throw them by rapid sorties of conversation—became galvanically active the moment they were punched up and fell flat the moment the punching was remitted. I did all I could for them, but, having Daniel in tow, dared not sail too near the edge of the Doldrums, lest he should drop into sympathetic stagnation and be taken preternaturally bashful, with his sails all aback, just as I wanted to carry him gallantly into action with some clipper-built cruiser of a nice young lady. Finally, Lu bethought herself of that last plank of drowning conversationalists, the photograph album. All the dejected young men made for it at once, some reaching it just as they were about to sink for the last time, but all getting a grip on it somehow, and staying there in company with other people's babies whom they didn't know, and celebrities whom they knew to death, until, one by one, they either stranded upon a motherly dowager by the Fireplace Shoals, or were rescued from the Soda Reef by some gallant wrecker of a strong-minded young lady, with a view to taking salvage out of them in the German.
Besides these were already arrived a dozen nice little boys and girls, who had been invited to make it pleasant for Billy. I had to remind him of the fact that they were his guests, for, in comparison with the queen of his affections, they were in danger of being despised by him as small fry.
The younger ladies and gentlemen—those who had fascinations to disport or were in the habit of disporting what they considered such, were probably still at home consulting the looking-glass until that oracle should announce the auspicious moment for their setting forth.
Daniel was in conversation with a perfect godsend of a girl, who understood Latin and had begun Greek. Billy was taking a moment's vacation from his boys and girls, busy with "Old Maid" in the extension room, and whispering with his hand in mine, "Oh, don't I wish she were here!" when a fresh invoice of ladies, just unpacked from the dressing-room in all the airy elegance of evening costume, floated through the door. I heard Lu say:
"Ah, Mrs. Rumbullion! Happy to see your niece, too. How d'ye do, Miss Pilgrim?"
At this last word Billy jumped as if he had been shot, and the bevy of ladies opening about sister Lu disclosed the charming face and figure of the pretty girl we had met at Barnum's.
Billy's countenance rapidly changed from astonishment to joy.
"Isn't that splendid, Uncle Teddy? Just as I was wishing it! It's just like the fairy books!" and, rushing up to the party of newcomers, "My dear Lottie!" cried he, "if I'd only known you were coming I'd have gone after you!"
As he caught her by the hand I was pleased to see her soft eyes brighten with gratification at his enthusiasm, but my sister Lu looked on naturally with astonishment in every feature.
"Why, Billy!" said she, "you ought not to call a strange young lady 'Lottie!' Miss Pilgrim, you must excuse my wild boy."
"And you must excuse my mother, Lottie," said Billy, affectionately patting Miss Pilgrim's rose kid, "for calling you a strange young lady. You are not strange at all—you're just as nice a girl as there is."
"There are no excuses necessary," said Miss Pilgrim, with a bewitching little laugh. "Billy and I know each other intimately well, Mrs. Lovegrove; and I confess that when I heard the lady aunt had been invited to visit was his mother, I felt all the more willing to infringe etiquette this evening by coming where I had no previous introduction."
"Don't you care!" said Billy encouragingly—"I'll introduce you to every one of our family; I know 'em, if you don't."
At this moment I came up as Billy's reinforcement, and fearing lest in his enthusiasm he might forget the canon of society which introduces a gentleman to a lady, not the lady to him, I ventured to suggest it delicately by saying:
"Billy, will you grant me the favor of a presentation to Miss Pilgrim?"
"In a minute, Uncle Teddy," answered Billy, considerably lowering his voice. "The older people first;" and after this reproof I was left to wait in the cold until he had gone through the ceremony of introducing to the young lady his father and his mother.
Billy, who had now assumed entire guardianship of Miss Pilgrim, with an air of great dignity intrusted her to my care and left us promenading while he went in search of Daniel. I myself looked in vain for that youth, whom I had not seen since the entrance of the last comers. Miss Pilgrim and I found a congenial common ground in Billy, whom she spoke of as one of the most delightfully original boys she had ever met—in fact, altogether the most fascinating young gentleman she had seen in New York society. You may be sure it wasn't Billy's left ear which burned when I made my responses.
In five minutes he reappeared to announce, in a tone of disappointment, that he could find Daniel nowhere. He could see a light through his keyhole, but the door was locked, and he could get no admittance. Just then Lu came up to present a certain—no, an uncertain—young man of the fleet stranded on parlor furniture earlier in the evening. To Lu's great astonishment Miss Pilgrim asked Billy's permission to leave. It was granted with all the courtesy of a preux chevalier, on the condition readily assented to by the lady that she should dance one lancers with him during the evening.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Lu, after Billy had gone back like a superior being to assist at the childish amusement of his contemporaries, "would anybody ever suppose that was our Billy?"
"I should, my dear sister," said I, with proud satisfaction; "but you remember I always was just to Billy."
Left free, I went myself to hunt up Daniel, I found his door locked and a light shining through the keyhole, as Billy had stated. I made no attempt to enter by knocking, but, going to my room and opening the window next his, leaned out as far as I could, shoved up his sash with my cane, and pushed aside his curtain. Such an unusual method of communication could not fail to bring him to the window with a rush. When he saw me he trembled like a guilty thing, his countenance fell, and, no longer able to feign absence, he unlocked his door and let me enter by the normal mode.
"Why, Daniel Lovegrove, my nephew, what does this mean? Are you sick?" "Uncle Edward, I am not sick—and this means that I am a fool. Even a little boy like Billy puts me to shame. I feel humbled to the very dust. I wish I'd been a missionary and got massacred by savages. Oh, that I'd been permitted to wear damp stockings in childhood, or that my mother hadn't carried me through the measles! If it weren't wrong to take my life into my own hands, I'd open that window, and— and—sit in a draft this very evening! Oh, yes! I'm just that bitter! Oh, oh, oh!"
And he paced the floor with strides of frenzy.
"Well, my dear fellow, let's look at the matter calmly a minute. What brought on this sudden attack? You seemed doing well enough the first ten minutes after we came down. I was only out of your sight long enough to speak to the Rumbullion party, who had just come in, and when I turned around you were gone. Now you are in this fearful condition. What is there in the Rumbullions to start you off on such a bender of bashfulness as this which I here behold?"
"Rumbullion indeed!" said Daniel. "A hundred Rumbullions could not make me feel as I do. But she can shake me into a whirlwind with her little finger; and she came with the Rumbullions!"
"What! D'you—Miss Pilgrim?"
I labored with Daniel for ten minutes, using every encouragement and argument I could think of, and finally threatened him that I would bring up the whole Rumbullion party, Miss Pilgrim included, telling them that he had invited them to look at his conchological cabinet, unless he instantly shook the ice out of his manner and accompanied me downstairs. The dreadful menace had the desired effect. He knew that I would not scruple to fulfil it; and at the same time that it made him surrender, it also provoked him with me to a degree which gave his eyes and cheeks as fine a glow as I could have wished for the purpose of a favorable impression. The stimulus of wrath was good for him, and there was little tremor in his knees when he descended the stairs. Well-a-day! So Daniel and Billy were rivals!
The latter gentleman met us at the foot of the staircase.
"Oh, there you are, Daniel!" he said cheerily. "I was just going to look after you and Uncle Teddy. We've wanted you for the dances. We've had the lancers twice, and three round dances; and I danced the second lancers with Lottie. Now we're going to play some games—to amuse the children, you know," he added loftily, with the adult gesture of pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the extension room. "Lottie's going to play, too; so will you and Daniel, won't you, uncle? Oh, here comes Lottie now! This is my brother, Miss Pilgrim—let me introduce him to you. I'm sure you'll like him. There's nothing he don't know."
Miss Pilgrim had just come to the newel-post of the staircase and, when she looked into Daniel's face, blushed like the red, red rose, losing her self-possession perceptibly more than Daniel.
The courage of weak warriors and timid gallants mounts as the opposite party's falls, and Daniel made out to say in a firm tone that it was long since he had enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Miss Pilgrim.
"Not since Mrs. Cramcroud's last sociable, I think," replied Miss Pilgrim, her cheeks and eyes still playing the telltale.
"Oho! so you don't want any introduction!" exclaimed Master Billy. "I didn't know you knew each other, Lottie?"
"I have met Mr. Lovegrove in society. Shall we go and join the plays?"
"To be sure we shall!" cried Billy. "You needn't mind—all the grown people are going, too."
On entering the parlor we found it as he had said. The guests being almost all well acquainted with each other, at the solicitation of jolly little Miss Bloomingal, sister Lu had consented to make a pleasant Christmas kind of time of it, in which everybody was permitted to be young again and romp with the rompiest. We played blindman's buff till we were tired of that—Daniel, to Lu's delight, coming out splendidly as blindman, and evincing such "cheek" in the style he hunted down and caught the ladies as satisfied me that nothing but his eyesight stood in the way of his making an audacious figure in the world. Then a pretty little girl, Tilly Turtelle, who seemed quite a premature flirt, proposed "doorkeeper"—a suggestion accepted with great eclat by all the children, several grown people assenting.
To Billy—quite as much on account of his shining prominence in the executive faculties as of his character as host—was committed the duty of counting out the first person to be sent into the hall. There were so many of us that "Aina maina mona mike" would not go quite round; but, with that promptness of expedient which belongs to genius, Billy instantly added on, "Intery-mintery-cutery-corn," and the last word of the cabalistic formula fell upon me—Edward Balbus. I disappeared into the entry amidst peals of happy laughter from both old and young, calling, when the door opened again to ask me whom I wanted, for the pretty lisping flirt who had proposed the game. After giving me a coquettish little chirrup of a kiss and telling me my beard scratched, she bade me on my return, send out to her "Mithter Billy Lovegrove." I obeyed her; my youngest nephew retired; and after a couple of seconds, during which Tilly undoubtedly got what she proposed the game for, Billy being a great favorite with the little girls, she came back, pouting and blushing, to announce that he wanted Miss Pilgrim. That young lady showed no mock-modesty, but arose at once and laughingly went out to her youthful admirer, who, as I afterward learned, embraced her ardently and told her he loved her better than any girl in the world. As he turned to go back she told him that he might send to her one of her juvenile cousins, Reginald Rumbullion. Now, whether because on this youthful Rumbullion's account Billy had suffered the pangs of that most terrible passion, jealousy, or from his natural enjoyment of playing practical jokes destructive of all dignity in his elders, Billy marched into the room, and, having shut the door behind him, paralyzed the crowded parlor by an announcement that Mr. Daniel Lovegrove was wanted.
I was standing at his side and could feel him tremble—see him turn pale.
"Dear me!" he whispered in a choking voice, "can she mean me?"
"Of course she does," said I. "Who else? Do you hesitate? Surely you can't refuse such an invitation from a lady?"
"No, I suppose not," said he mechanically. And amidst much laughter from the disinterested while the faces of Mrs. Rumbullion and his mother were spectacles of crimson astonishment, he made his exit from the room. Never in my life did I so much long for that instrument described by Mr. Samuel Weller—a pair of patent double-million- magnifying microscopes of hextry power, to see through a deal door. Instead of this, I had to learn what happened only by report.
Lottie Pilgrim was standing under the hall burners with her elbow on the newel-post, looking more vividly charming than he had ever seen her before at Mrs. Cramcroud's sociable or elsewhere. When startled by the apparition of Mr. Daniel Lovegrove instead of the little Rum- bullion whom she was expecting, she had no time to exclaim or hide her mounting color, none at all to explain to her own mind the mistake that had occurred, before his arm was clasped around her waist, and his lips so closely pressed to hers, that through her soft thick hair she could feel the throbbing of his temples. As for Daniel, he seemed in a walking dream, from which he waked to see Miss Pilgrim looking into his eyes with utter though not incensed stupefaction—to stammer:
"Forgive me! Do forgive me! I thought you were in earnest."
"So I was," she said tremulously, as soon as she could catch her voice, "in sending for my cousin Reginald."
"Oh, dear, what shall I do! Believe me, I was told you wanted me. Let me go and explain it to mother—she'll tell the rest. I couldn't do it—I'd die of mortification. Oh, that wretched boy Billy!"
On the principle already mentioned, his agitation reassured her.
"Don't try to explain it now—it may get Billy a scolding. Are there any but intimate family friends here this evening?"
"No—I believe—no—I'm sure," replied Daniel, collecting his faculties.
"Then I don't mind what they think. Perhaps they'll suppose we've known each other long; but we'll arrange it by-and-by. They'll think the more of it the longer we stay out here—hear them laugh! I must run back now. I'll send you somebody."
A round of juvenile applause greeted her as she hurried into the parlor, and a number of grown people smiled quite musically. Her quick woman wit showed her how to retaliate and divide the embarrassment of the occasion. As she passed me she said in an undersone:
"Answer quick! Who's that fat lady on the sofa, that laughs so loud?"
"Mrs. Cromwell Crags," said I as quietly.
Miss Pilgrim made a satirically low courtsey and spoke in a modest but distinct voice:
"I really must be excused for asking. I'm a stranger, you know; but is there such a lady here as Mrs. Craggs—Mrs. Cromwell Craggs? For if so, the present doorkeeper would like to see Mrs. Cromwell Craggs."
Then came the turn of the fat lady to be laughed at; but out she had to go and get kissed like the rest of us.
Before the close of the evening Billy was made as jealous as his parents and I was surprised to see Daniel in close conversation with Miss Pilgrim among the geraniums and fuchsias of the conservatory. "A regular flirtation!" said Billy somewhat indignantly. The conclusion they arrived at was, that after all no great harm had been done, and that the dear little fellow ought not to be peached on for his fun. If I had known at the time how easily they forgave him, I should have suspected that the offense Billy had led Daniel into committing was not unlikely to be repeated on the offender's own account; but so much as I could see showed me that the ice was broken.
—From "Little Brother, and Other Genre Pictures."
Robert Jones Burdette
RHEUMATISM MOVEMENT CURE
One day, not a great while ago, Mr. Middlerib read in his favorite paper a paragraph stating that the sting of a bee was a sure cure for rheumatism, and citing several remarkable instances in which people had been perfectly cured by this abrupt remedy. Mr. Middlerib thought of the rheumatic twinges that grappled his knees once in awhile and made his life a burden.
He read the article several times and pondered over it. He understood that the stinging must be done scientifically and thoroughly. The bee, as he understood the article, was to be griped by the ears and set down upon the rheumatic joint and held there until it stung itself stingless. He had some misgivings about the matter. He knew it would hurt. He hardly thought it could hurt any worse than the rheumatism, and it had been so many years since he was stung by a bee that he had almost forgotten what it felt like. He had, however, a general feeling that it would hurt some. But desperate diseases require desperate remedies, and Mr. Middlerib was willing to undergo any amount of suffering if it would cure his rheumatism.
He contracted with Master Middlerib for a limited supply of bees; humming and buzzing about in the summer air, Mr. Middlerib did not know how to get them. He felt, however, that he could safely depend upon the instincts and methods of boyhood. He knew that if there was any way in heaven whereby the shyest bee that ever lifted a two hundred pound man off the clover could be induced to enter a wide- mouthed glass bottle, his son knew that way.
For the small sum of one dime Master Middlerib agreed to procure several, to wit: six bees, sex and age not specified; but, as Mr. Middlerib was left in uncertainty as to the race, it was made obligatory upon the contractor to have three of them honey and three humble, or, in the generally accepted vernacular, bumblebees. Mr. M. did not tell his son what he wanted those bees for, and the boy went off on his mission with his head so full of astonishment that it fairly whirled. Evening brings all home, and the last rays of the declining sun fell upon Master Middlerib with a short, wide-mouthed bottle comfortably populated with hot, ill-natured bees, and Mr. Middlerib and a dime. The dime and the bottle changed hands. Mr. Middlerib put the bottle in his coat pocket and went into the house eyeing everybody he met very suspiciously, as though he had made up his mind to sting to death the first person who said "bee" to him. He confided his guilty secret to none of his family. He hid his bees in his bedroom, and as he looked at them just before putting them away he half wished the experiment was safely over. He wished the imprisoned bees did not look so hot and cross. With exquisite care he submerged the bottle in a basin of water and let a few drops in on the heated inmates to cool them off.