THE WIT AND HUMOR OF AMERICA
In Ten Volumes
THE WIT AND HUMOR OF AMERICA
EDITED BY MARSHALL P. WILDER
Funk & Wagnalls Company New York and London
Copyright MDCCCCVII, BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY Copyright MDCCCCXI, THE THWING COMPANY
PAGE April Aria, An R.K. Munkittrick 711 "As Good as a Play" Horace E. Scudder 749 Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, The Oliver Wendell Holmes 753 Briefless Barrister, The John G. Saxe 585 Cable-Car Preacher, A Sam Walter Foss 647 Caesar's Quiet Lunch with Cicero James T. Fields 760 Cheer for the Consumer Nixon Waterman 740 Comin' Home Thanksgivin' James Ball Naylor 763 Complaint of Friends, A Gail Hamilton 604 Coupon Bonds, The J.T. Trowbridge 654 Crankidoxology Wallace Irwin 688 Desolation Tom Masson 686 Desperate Race, A J.F. Kelley 742 De Stove Pipe Hole William Henry Drummond 774 Economical Pair, The Carolyn Wells 602 Family Horse, The Frederick A. Cozzens 715 Girl from Mercury, The Herman Knickerbocker Viele 779 Grand Opera, The Billy Baxter 693 Greco-Trojan Game, The Charles F. Johnson 595 How to Know the Wild Animals Carolyn Wells 650 How We Bought a Sewin' Machine and Organ Josiah Allen's Wife 729 I Remember, I Remember Phoebe Cary 652 In a State of Sin Owen Wister 696 Loafer and the Squire, The Porte Crayon 767 Love Sonnets of a Husband, The Maurice Smiley 725 Meditations of a Mariner Wallace Irwin 713 Modern Advantage, A Charlotte Becker 642 Modern Eclogue, A Bliss Carman 645 My Honey, My Love Joel Chandler Harris 691 Ponchus Pilut James Whitcomb Riley 624 Praise-God Barebones Ellen Mackay Hutchinson Cortissoz 765 Raggedy Man, The James Whitcomb Riley 643 Shooting-Match, The A.B. Longstreet 666 Sonnet of the Lovable Lass and the Plethoric Dad J.W. Foley 723 Story of the Two Friars Eugene Field 588 Two Husbands, The Carolyn Wells 587 Two Pedestrians, The Carolyn Wells 603 Two Prisoners, The Carolyn Wells 641 Victory Tom Masson 714 Wolf at Susan's Door, The Anne Warner 626
COMPLETE INDEX AT THE END OF VOLUME X.
THE BRIEFLESS BARRISTER
BY JOHN G. SAXE
An attorney was taking a turn, In shabby habiliments drest; His coat it was shockingly worn, And the rust had invested his vest.
His breeches had suffered a breach, His linen and worsted were worse; He had scarce a whole crown in his hat, And not half a crown in his purse.
And thus as he wandered along, A cheerless and comfortless elf, He sought for relief in a song, Or complainingly talked to himself:—
"Unfortunate man that I am! I've never a client but grief: The case is, I've no case at all, And in brief, I've ne'er had a brief!
"I've waited and waited in vain, Expecting an 'opening' to find, Where an honest young lawyer might gain Some reward for toil of his mind.
"'Tis not that I'm wanting in law, Or lack an intelligent face, That others have cases to plead, While I have to plead for a case.
"O, how can a modest young man E'er hope for the smallest progression,— The profession's already so full Of lawyers so full of profession!"
While thus he was strolling around, His eye accidentally fell On a very deep hole in the ground, And he sighed to himself, "It is well!"
To curb his emotions, he sat On the curbstone the space of a minute, Then cried, "Here's an opening at last!" And in less than a jiffy was in it!
Next morning twelve citizens came ('Twas the coroner bade them attend), To the end that it might be determined How the man had determined his end!
"The man was a lawyer, I hear," Quoth the foreman who sat on the corse. "A lawyer? Alas!" said another, "Undoubtedly died of remorse!"
A third said, "He knew the deceased, An attorney well versed in the laws, And as to the cause of his death, 'Twas no doubt for the want of a cause."
The jury decided at length, After solemnly weighing the matter, That the lawyer was drownded, because He could not keep his head above water!
THE TWO HUSBANDS
BY CAROLYN WELLS
Once on a Time there were Two Men, each of whom married the Woman of his Choice. One Man devoted all his Energies to Getting Rich.
He was so absorbed in Acquiring Wealth that he Worked Night and Day to Accomplish his End.
By this Means he lost his Health, he became a Nervous Wreck, and was so Irritable and Irascible that his Wife Ceased to live with him and Returned to her Parents' House.
The Other Man made no Efforts to Earn Money, and after he had Spent his own and his Wife's Fortunes, Poverty Stared them in the Face.
Although his Wife had loved him Fondly, she could not Continue her affection toward One who could not Support her, so she left him and Returned to her Childhood's Home.
This Fable teaches that the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil, and that When Poverty Comes In At the Door, Loves Flies Out Of the Window.
THE STORY OF THE TWO FRIARS
BY EUGENE FIELD
It befell in the year 1662, in which same year were many witchcrafts and sorceries, such as never before had been seen and the like of which will never again, by grace of Heaven, afflict mankind—in this year it befell that the devil came upon earth to tempt an holy friar, named Friar Gonsol, being strictly minded to win that righteous vessel of piety unto his evil pleasance.
* * * * *
Now wit you well that this friar had grievously offended the devil, for of all men then on earth there was none more holier than he nor none surer to speak and to do sweet charity unto all his fellows in every place. Therefore it was that the devil was sore wroth at the Friar Gonsol, being mightily plagued not only by his teachings and his preachings, but also by the pious works which he continually did do. Right truly the devil knew that by no common temptations was this friar to be moved, for the which reason did the devil seek in dark and troublous cogitations to bethink him of some new instrument wherewith he might bedazzle the eyes and ensnare the understanding of the holy man. On a sudden it came unto the fiend that by no corporeal allurement would he be able to achieve his miserable end, for that by reason of an abstemious life and a frugal diet the Friar Gonsol had weaned his body from those frailties and lusts to which human flesh is by nature of the old Adam within it disposed, and by long-continued vigils and by earnest devotion and by godly contemplations and by divers proper studies had fixed his mind and his soul with exceeding steadfastness upon things unto his eternal spiritual welfare appertaining. Therefore it beliked the devil to devise and to compound a certain little booke of mighty curious craft, wherewith he might be like to please the Friar Gonsol and, in the end, to ensnare him in his impious toils. Now this was the way of the devil's thinking, to wit: This friar shall suspect no evil in the booke, since never before hath the devil tempted mankind with such an instrument, the common things wherewith the devil tempteth man being (as all histories show and all theologies teach) fruit and women and other like things pleasing to the gross and perishable senses. Therefore, argueth the devil, when I shall tempt this friar with a booke he shall be taken off his guard and shall not know it to be a temptation. And thereat was the devil exceeding merry and he did laugh full merrily.
* * * * *
Now presently came this thing of evil unto the friar in the guise of another friar and made a proper low obeisance unto the same. But the Friar Gonsol was not blinded to the craft of the devil, for from under the cloak and hood that he wore there did issue the smell of sulphur and of brimstone which alone the devil hath.
"Beshrew me," quoth the Friar Gonsol, "if the odour in my nostrils be spikenard and not the fumes of the bottomless pit!"
"Nay, sweet friar," spake the devil full courteously, "the fragrance thou perceivest is of frankincense and myrrh, for I am of holy orders and I have brought thee a righteous booke, delectable to look upon and profitable unto the reading."
Then were the eyes of that Friar Gonsol full of bright sparklings and his heart rejoiced with exceeding joy, for he did set most store, next to his spiritual welfare, by bookes wherein was food to his beneficial devouring.
"I do require thee," quoth the friar, "to shew me that booke that I may know the name thereof and discover whereof it treateth."
Then shewed the devil the booke unto the friar, and the friar saw it was an uncut unique of incalculable value; the height of it was half a cubit and the breadth of it the fourth part of a cubit and the thickness of it five barleycorns lacking the space of three horsehairs. This booke contained, within its divers picturings, symbols and similitudes wrought with incomparable craft, the same being such as in human vanity are called proof before letters, and imprinted upon India paper; also the booke contained written upon its pages, divers names of them that had possessed it, all these having in their time been mighty and illustrious personages; but what seemed most delectable unto the friar was an autographic writing wherein 'twas shewn that the booke sometime had been given by Venus di Medici to Apollos at Rhodes.
When therefore the Friar Gonsol saw the booke how that it was intituled and imprinted and adorned and bounden, he knew it to be of vast worth and he was mightily moved to possess it; therefore he required of the other (that was the devil) that he give unto him an option upon the same for the space of seven days hence or until such a time as he could inquire concerning the booke in Lowndes and other such like authorities. But the devil, smiling, quoth: "The booke shall be yours without price provided only you shall bind yourself to do me a service as I shall hereafter specify and direct."
Now when the Friar Gonsol heard this compact, he knew for a verity that the devil was indeed the devil, and but that he sorely wanted the booke he would have driven that impious fiend straightway from his presence. Howbeit, the devil, promising to visit him again that night, departed, leaving the friar exceeding heavy in spirit, for he was both assotted upon the booke to comprehend it and assotted upon the devil to do violence unto him.
It befell that in his doubtings he came unto the Friar Francis, another holy man that by continual fastings and devotions had made himself an ensample of piety unto all men, and to this sanctified brother did the Friar Gonsol straightway unfold the story of his temptation and speak fully of the wondrous booke and of its divers many richnesses.
When that he had heard this narration the Friar Francis made answer in this wise: "Of great subtility surely is the devil that he hath set this snare for thy feet. Have a care, my brother, that thou fallest not into the pit which he hath digged for thee! Happy art thou to have come to me with this thing, elsewise a great mischief might have befallen thee. Now listen to my words and do as I counsel thee. Have no more to do with this devil; send him to me, or appoint with him another meeting and I will go in thy stead."
"Nay, nay," cried the Friar Gonsol, "the saints forefend from thee the evil temptation provided for my especial proving! I should have been reckoned a weak and coward vessel were I to send thee in my stead to bear the mortifications designed for the trying of my virtues."
"But thou art a younger brother than I," reasoned the Friar Francis softly; "and, firm though thy resolution may be now, thou art more like than I to be wheedled and bedazzled by these diabolical wiles and artifices. So let me know where this devil abideth with the booke; I burn to meet him and to wrest his treasure from his impious possession."
But the Friar Gonsol shook his head and would not hear unto this vicarious sacrifice whereon the good Friar Francis had set his heart.
"Ah, I see that thou hast little faith in my strength to combat the fiend," quoth the Friar Francis reproachfully. "Thy trust in me should be greater, for I have done thee full many a kindly office; or, now I do bethink me, thou art assorted on the booke! Unhappy brother, can it be that thou dost covet this vain toy, this frivolous bauble, that thou wouldst seek the devil's companionship anon to compound with Beelzelub? I charge thee, Brother Gonsol, open thine eyes and see in what a slippery place thou standest."
Now by these argumentations was the Friar Gonsol mightily confounded, and he knew not what to do.
"Come, now, hesitate no longer," quoth the Friar Francis, "but tell me where that devil may be found—I burn to see and to comprehend the booke—not that I care for the booke, but that I am grievously tormented to do that devil a sore despight!"
"Odds boddikins," quoth the other friar, "me-seemeth that the booke inciteth thee more than the devil."
"Thou speakest wrongly," cried the Friar Francis. "Thou mistakest pious zeal for sinful selfishness. Full wroth am I to hear how that this devil walketh to and fro, using a sweet and precious booke for the temptation of holy men. Shall so righteous an instrument be employed by the prince of heretics to so unrighteous an end?"
"Thou sayest wisely," quoth the Friar Gonsol, "and thy words convince me that a battaile must be made with this devil for that booke. So now I shall go to encounter the fiend!"
"Then by the saints I shall go with thee!" cried the Friar Francis, and he gathered his gown about his loins right briskly.
But when the Friar Gonsol saw this he made great haste to go alone, and he ran out of the door full swiftly and fared him where the devil had appointed an appointment with him. Now wit you well that the Friar Francis did follow close upon his heels, for though his legs were not so long he was a mighty runner and he was right sound of wind. Therefore was it a pleasant sight to see these holy men vying with one another to do battle with the devil, and much it repenteth me that there be some ribald heretics that maintain full enviously that these two saintly friars did so run not for the devil that they might belabor him, but for the booke that they might possess it.
It fortuned that the devil was already come to the place where he had appointed the appointment, and in his hand he had the booke aforesaid. Much marveled he when that he beheld the two friars faring thence.
"I adjure thee, thou devil," said the Friar Gonsol from afar off, "I adjure thee give me that booke else I will take thee by thy horns and hoofs and drub thy ribs together!"
"Heed him not, thou devil," said the Friar Francis, "for it is I that am coming to wrestle with thee and to overcome thee for that booke!"
With such words and many more the two holy friars bore down upon the devil; but the devil thinking verily that he was about to be beset by the whole church militant stayed not for their coming, but presently departed out of sight and bore the book with him.
Now many people at that time saw the devil fleeing before the two friars, so that, esteeming it to be a sign of special grace, these people did ever thereafter acknowledge the friars to be saints, and unto this day you shall hear of St. Gonsol and St. Francis. Unto this day, too, doth the devil, with that same booke wherewith he tempted the friar of old, beset and ensnare men of every age and in all places. Against which devil may Heaven fortify us to do battle speedily and with successful issuance.
THE GRECO-TROJAN GAME
BY CHARLES F. JOHNSON
First on the ground appeared the god-like Trojan Eleven, Shining in purple and black, with tight and well-fitting sweaters, Woven by Andromache in the well-ordered palace of Priam. After them came, in goodly array, the players of Hellas, Skilled in kicking and blocking and tackling and fooling the umpire. All advanced on the field, marked off with white alabaster, Level and square and true, at the ends two goal posts erected, Richly adorned with silver and gold and carved at the corners, Bearing a legend which read, "Don't talk back at the umpire"— Rule first given by Zeus, for the guidance of voluble mortals. All the rules of the game were deeply cut in the crossbars, So that the players might know exactly how to evade them.
On one side of the field were ranged the Trojan spectators, Yelling in composite language their ancient Phrygian war-cry; "Ho-hay-toe, Tou-tais-ton, Ton-tain-to; Boomerah Boomerah, Trojans!" And on the other, the Greeks, fair-haired, and ready to halloo, If occasion should offer and Zeus should grant them a touch-down, "Breck-ek kek-kek-koax, Anax andron, Agamemnon!"
First they agreed on an umpire, the silver-tongued Nestor. Long years ago he played end-rush on the Argive eleven; He was admitted by all to be an excellent umpire Save for the habit he had of making public addresses, Tedious, long-winded and dull, and full of minute explanations, How they used to play in the days when Cadmus was half-back, Or how Hermes could dodge, and Ares and Phoebus could tackle; Couched in rhythmical language but not one whit to the purpose. On his white hair they carefully placed the sacred tiara, Worn by the foot-ball umpires of old as a badge of their office, Also to save their heads, in case the players should slug them. Then they gave him a spear wherewith to enforce his decisions, And to stick in the ground to mark the place to line up to. He advanced to the thirty-yard line and began an oration:
"Listen, Trojans and Greeks! For thirty-five seasons, I played foot-ball in Greece with Peleus for half-back and captain. Those were the days of old when men played the game as they'd orter. Once, I remember, AEacus, the god-like son of Poseidon, Kicked the ball from a drop, clean over the city of Argos. That was the game when Peleus, our captain, lost all his front teeth; Little we cared for teeth or eyes when once we were warmed up. Why, I remember that AEacus ran so that no one could see him, There was just a long hole in the air and a man at the end on't. Hercules umpired that game, and I noticed there wasn't much back-talk."
Him interrupting, sternly addressed the King Agamemnon: "Cease, old man; come off your antediluvian boasting; Doubtless our grandpas could all play the game as well as they knew how. They are all dead, and have long lined up in the fields of elysium; If they were here we would wipe up the ground with the rusty old duffers. You call the game, and keep your eye fixed on the helmeted Hector. He'll play off-side all the while, if he thinks the umpire don't see him!" Then the old man threw the lots, but sore was his heart in his bosom. "Troy has the kick-off," he said, "the ball is yours, noble Hector." Then he gave him the ball, a prolate spheroid of leather, Much like the world in its shape, if the world were lengthened, not flattened, Covered with well-sewed leather, the well-seasoned hide of a bison, Killed by Lakon, the hunter, ere bisons were exterminated. On it was painted a battle, a market, a piece of the ocean, Horses and cows and nymphs and things too many to mention.
Then the heroes peeled off their sweaters and put on their nose-guards, Also the fiendish expressions the great occasion demanded. Ajax stood on the right; in the center the great Agamemnon; Diomed crouched on the left, the god-like rusher and tackler, Crouched as a panther crouches, if sculptors do justice to panthers. Crafty Ulysses played back, for none of the Trojans could pass him, All the best Greeks were in line, but Podas Okus Achilleus, Who though an excellent kicker stayed all day in his section.
Hector dribbled the ball, then seized it and putting his head down, And, as a lion carries a lamb and jumps over fences— Dodging this way and that the shepherds who wish to remonstrate— So did the son of Priam carry the ball through the rush line, Till he was tackled fair by the full-back, the crafty Ulysses. Even then he carried the ball and the son of Laertes Full five yards till they fell to the ground with a deep indentation Where one might hide three men so that no man could see them— Men of the present day, degenerate sons of the heroes—
Now, when Pallas Athene discovered the Greeks would be beaten, She slid down from the steep of Olympus upon a toboggan. Sudden she came before crafty Ulysses in guise like a maiden; Not that she thought to fool him, but since Olympian fashion Made the form of a woman good form for a goddess' assumption. She then spoke to him quickly, and said, "O son of Laertes, Seize thou the ball; I will pass it to thee and trip up the Trojan." Her replying, slowly re-worded the son of Laertes— "That will I do, O goddess divine, for he can outrun me." Then when the ball was in play, she cast thick darkness around it. Also around Ulysses she poured invisible darkness. Under this cover, taking the ball he passed down the middle, Silent and swift, unseen, unnoticed, unblocked, and untackled. Meanwhile she piled the Greeks and the Trojans in conglomeration, Much like a tangle of pine-trees where lightning has frequently fallen, Or like a basket of lobsters and crabs which the provident housewife Dumps on the kitchen floor and vainly endeavors to count them, So seemed the legs and the arms and the heads of the twenty-one players. Sudden a shout arose, for under the crossbar, Ulysses, Visible, sat on the ball, quietly making a touch-down; On the tip of his nose were his thumb and fingers extended, Curved and vibrating slow in the sign of the blameless Egyptians. Violent language came to the lips of the helmeted Hector, Under his breath he murmured a few familiar quotations, Scraps of Phrygian folk-lore about the kingdom of Hades; Then he called loud as a trumpet, "I claim foul, Mr. Umpire!" "Touch-down for Greece," said Hector; "'twixt you and me and the goal-post I lost sight of the ball in a very singular manner."
Then they carried the sphere back to the twenty-five yard line, Prone on the ground lay a Greek, the leather was poised in his fingers— Thrice Agamemnon adjusted the sphere with deliberation; Then he drew back as a ram draws back for deadly encounter. Then he tripped lightly ahead, and brought his sandal in contact Right at the point; straight flew the ball right over the crossbar, While like the cries of pygmies and cranes the race-yell resounded: "Breck-ek kek-kek-koax, Anax andron, Agamemnon!"
THE ECONOMICAL PAIR
BY CAROLYN WELLS
Once on a Time there was a Man and his Wife who had Different Ideas concerning Family Expenditures.
The Man said: "I am Exceedingly Economical; although I spend Small Sums here and there for Cigars, Wines, Theater Tickets, and Little Dinners, yet I do not buy me a Yacht or a Villa at Newport."
But even with these Praiseworthy Principles, it soon Came About that the Man was Bankrupt.
Whereupon he Reproached his Wife, who Answered his Accusations with Surprise.
"Me! My dear!" she exclaimed. "Why, I am Exceedingly Economical. True, I Occasionally buy me a Set of Sables or a Diamond Tiara, but I am Scrupulously Careful about Small Sums; I Diligently unknot all Strings that come around Parcels, and Save Them, and I use the Backs of old Envelopes for Scribbling-Paper. Yet, somehow, my Bank-Account is also Exhausted."
This Fable teaches to Takes Care of the Pence and the Pounds will Take Care of Themselves, and that we Should Not Be Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish.
THE TWO PEDESTRIANS
BY CAROLYN WELLS
Once on a time there were two Men, one of whom was a Good Man and the other a Rogue.
The Good Man one day saw a Wretched Drunkard endeavoring to find his way Home.
Being most kind-hearted, the Good Man assisted the Wretched Drunkard to his feet and accompanied him along the Highway toward his Home.
The Good Man held fast the arm of the Wretched Drunkard, and the result of this was that when the Wretched Drunkard lurched giddily the Good Man perforce lurched too.
Whereupon, as the Passing Populace saw the pair, they said: "Aha! Another good man gone wrong," and they Wisely Wagged their Heads.
Now the Bad Man of this tale, being withal of a shrewd and canny Nature, stood often on a street corner, and engaged in grave conversation with the Magnates of the town.
To be sure, the Magnates shook him as soon as possible, but in no wise discouraged he cheerfully sauntered up to another Magnate. Thus did he gain a Reputation of being a friend of the Great.
This Fable teaches us that A Man is known by the Company he Keeps, and that We Must not Judge by Appearances.
A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS
BY GAIL HAMILTON
If things would not run into each other so, it would be a thousand times easier and a million times pleasanter to get on in the world. Let the sheepiness be set on one side and the goatiness on the other, and immediately you know where you are. It is not necessary to ask that there be any increase of the one or any diminution of the other, but only that each shall preempt its own territory and stay there. Milk is good, and water is good, but don't set the milk-pail under the pump. Pleasure softens pain, but pain embitters pleasure; and who would not rather have his happiness concentrated into one memorable day, that shall gleam and glow through a lifetime, than have it spread out over a dozen comfortable, commonplace, humdrum forenoons and afternoons, each one as like the others as two peas in a pod? Since the law of compensation obtains, I suppose it is the best law for us; but if it had been left with me, I should have made the clever people rich and handsome, and left poverty and ugliness to the stupid people; because—don't you see?—the stupid people won't know they are ugly, and won't care if they are poor, but the clever people will be hampered and tortured. I would have given the good wives to the good husbands, and made drunken men marry drunken women. Then there would have been one family exquisitely happy instead of two struggling against misery. I would have made the rose stem downy, and put all the thorns on the thistles. I would have gouged out the jewel from the toad's head, and given the peacock the nightingale's voice, and not set everything so at half and half.
But that is the way it is. We find the world made to our hand. The wise men marry the foolish virgins, and the splendid virgins marry dolts, and matters in general are so mixed up, that the choice lies between nice things about spoiled, and vile things that are not so bad after all, and it is hard to tell sometimes which you like the best, or which you loathe least.
I expect to lose every friend I have in the world by the publication of this paper—except the dunces who are impaled in it. They will never read it, and if they do, will never suspect I mean them; while the sensible and true friends, who do me good and not evil all the days of their lives, will think I am driving at their noble hearts, and will at once fall off and leave me inconsolable. Still I am going to write it. You must open the safety-valve once in a while, even if the steam does whiz and shriek, or there will be an explosion, which is fatal, while the whizzing and shrieking are only disagreeable.
Doubtless friendship has its advantages and its pleasures; doubtless hostility has its isolations and its revenges; still, if called upon to choose once for all between friends and foes, I think, on the whole, I should cast my vote for the foes. Twenty enemies will not do you the mischief of one friend. Enemies you always know where to find. They are in fair and square perpetual hostility, and you keep your armor on and your sentinels posted; but with friends you are inveigled into a false security, and, before you know it, your honor, your modesty, your delicacy are scudding before the gales. Moreover, with your friend you can never make reprisals. If your enemy attacks you, you can always strike back and hit hard. You are expected to defend yourself against him to the top of your bent. He is your legal opponent in honorable warfare. You can pour hot-shot into him with murderous vigor; and the more he writhes, the better you feel. In fact, it is rather refreshing to measure swords once in a while with such a one. You like to exert your power and keep yourself in practice. You do not rejoice so much in overcoming your enemy as in overcoming. If a marble statue could show fight you would just as soon fight it; but as it can not, you take something that can, and something, besides, that has had the temerity to attack you, and so has made a lawful target of itself. But against your friend your hands are tied. He has injured you. He has disgusted you. He has infuriated you. But it was most Christianly done. You can not hurl a thunderbolt, or pull a trigger, or lisp a syllable against those amiable monsters who, with tenderest fingers, are sticking pins all over you. So you shut fast the doors of your lips, and inwardly sigh for a good, stout, brawny, malignant foe, who, under any and every circumstance, will design you harm, and on whom you can lavish your lusty blows with a hearty will and a clear conscience.
Your enemy keeps clear of you. He neither grants nor claims favors. He awards you your rights,—no more, no less,—and demands the same from you. Consequently there is no friction. Your friend, on the contrary, is continually getting himself tangled up with you "because he is your friend." I have heard that Shelley was never better pleased than when his associates made free with his coats, boots, and hats for their own use, and that he appropriated their property in the same way. Shelley was a poet, and perhaps idealized his friends. He saw them, probably, in a state of pure intellect. I am not a poet; I look at people in the concrete. The most obvious thing about my friends is their avoirdupois; and I prefer that they should wear their own cloaks and suffer me to wear mine. There is no neck in the world that I want my collar to span except my own. It is very exasperating to me to go to my bookcase and miss a book of which I am in immediate and pressing need, because an intimate friend has carried it off without asking leave, on the score of his intimacy. I have not, and do not wish to have, any alliance that shall abrogate the eighth commandment. A great mistake is lying round loose hereabouts,—a mistake fatal to many friendships that did run well. The common fallacy is that intimacy dispenses with the necessity of politeness. The truth is just the opposite of this. The more points of contact there are, the more danger of friction there is, and the more carefully should people guard against it. If you see a man only once a month, it is not of so vital importance that you do not trench on his rights, tastes, or whims. He can bear to be crossed or annoyed occasionally. If he does not have a very high regard for you, it is comparatively unimportant, because your paths are generally so diverse. But you and the man with whom you dine every day have it in your power to make each other exceedingly uncomfortable. A very little dropping will wear away rock, if it only keep at it. The thing that you would not think of, if it occurred only twice a year, becomes an intolerable burden when it happens twice a day. This is where husbands and wives run aground. They take too much for granted. If they would but see that they have something to gain, something to save, as well as something to enjoy, it would be better for them; but they proceed on the assumption that their love is an inexhaustible tank, and not a fountain depending for its supply on the stream that trickles into it. So, for every little annoying habit, or weakness, or fault, they draw on the tank, without being careful to keep the supply open, till they awake one morning to find the pump dry, and, instead of love, at best, nothing but a cold habit of complacence. On the contrary, the more intimate friends become, whether married or unmarried, the more scrupulously should they strive to repress in themselves everything annoying, and to cherish both in themselves and each other everything pleasing. While each should draw on his love to neutralize the faults of his friend, it is suicidal to draw on his friend's love to neutralize his own faults. Love should be cumulative, since it can not be stationary. If it does not increase, it decreases. Love, like confidence, is a plant of slow growth, and of most exotic fragility. It must be constantly and tenderly cherished. Every noxious and foreign element must be carefully removed from it. All sunshine, and sweet airs, and morning dews, and evening showers must breathe upon it perpetual fragrance, or it dies into a hideous and repulsive deformity, fit only to be cast out and trodden under foot of men, while, properly cultivated, it is a Tree of Life.
Your enemy keeps clear of you, not only in business, but in society. If circumstances thrust him into contact with you, he is curt and centrifugal. But your friend breaks in upon your "saintly solitude" with perfect equanimity. He never for a moment harbors a suspicion that he can intrude, "because he is your friend." So he drops in on his way to the office to chat half an hour over the latest news. The half-hour isn't much in itself. If it were after dinner, you wouldn't mind it; but after breakfast every moment "runs itself in golden sands," and the break in your time crashes a worse break in your temper. "Are you busy?" asks the considerate wretch, adding insult to injury. What can you do? Say yes, and wound his self-love forever? But he has a wife and family. You respect their feelings, smile and smile, and are villain enough to be civil with your lips, and hide the poison of asps under your tongue, till you have a chance to relieve your o'ercharged heart by shaking your fist in impotent wrath at his retreating form. You will receive the reward of your hypocrisy, as you richly deserve, for ten to one he will drop in again when he comes back from his office, and arrest you wandering in Dreamland in the beautiful twilight. Delighted to find that you are neither reading nor writing,—the absurd dolt! as if a man weren't at work unless he be wielding a sledge-hammer!—he will preach out, and prose out, and twaddle out another hour of your golden eventide, "because he is your friend." You don't care whether he is judge or jury,—whether he talks sense or nonsense; you don't want him to talk at all. You don't want him there anyway. You want to be alone. If you don't, why are you sitting there in the deepening twilight? If you wanted him, couldn't you send for him? Why don't you go out into the drawing-room, where are music and lights, and gay people? What right have I to suppose, that, because you are not using your eyes, you are not using your brain? What right have I to set myself up as a judge of the value of your time, and so rob you of perhaps the most delicious hour in all your day, on pretense that it is of no use to you?—take a pound of flesh clean out of your heart, and trip on my smiling way as if I had not earned the gallows?
And what in Heaven's name is the good of all this ceaseless talk? To what purpose are you wearied, exhausted, dragged out and out to the very extreme of tenuity? A sprightly badinage,—a running fire of nonsense for half an hour,—a tramp over unfamiliar ground with a familiar guide,—a discussion of something with somebody who knows all about it, or who, not knowing, wants to learn from you,—a pleasant interchange of commonplaces with a circle of friends around the fire, at such hours as you give to society: all this is not only tolerable, but agreeable,—often positively delightful; but to have an indifferent person, on no score but that of friendship, break into your sacred presence, and suck your blood through indefinite cycles of time, is an abomination. If he clatters on an indifferent subject, you can do well enough for fifteen minutes, buoyed up by the hope that he will presently have a fit, or be sent for, or come to some kind of an end. But when you gradually open to the conviction that vis inertiae rules the hour, and the thing which has been is that which shall be, you wax listless; your chariot-wheels drive heavily; your end of the pole drags in the mud, and you speedily wallow in unmitigated disgust. If he broaches a subject on which you have a real and deep living interest, you shrink from unbosoming yourself to him. You feel that it would be sacrilege. He feels nothing of the sort. He treads over your heart-strings in his cowhide brogans, and does not see that they are not whip-cords. He pokes his gold-headed cane in among your treasures, blind to the fact that you are clutching both arms around them, that no gleam of flashing gold may reveal their whereabouts to him. You draw yourself up in your shell, projecting a monosyllabic claw occasionally as a sign of continued vitality; but the pachyderm does not withdraw, and you gradually lower into an indignation,—smothered, fierce, intense.
Why, why, WHY will people inundate their unfortunate victims with such "weak, washy, everlasting floods?" Why will they haul everything out into the open day? Why will they make the Holy of Holies common and unclean? Why will they be so ineffably stupid as not to see that there is that which speech profanes? Why will they lower their drag-nets into the unfathomable waters, in the vain attempt to bring up your pearls and gems, whose luster would pale to ashes in the garish light, whose only sparkle is in the deep sea-soundings? Procul, O procul este, profani!
O, the matchless power of silence! There are words that concentrate in themselves the glory of a lifetime; but there is a silence that is more precious than they. Speech ripples over the surface of life, but silence sinks into its depths. Airy pleasantnesses bubble up in airy, pleasant words. Weak sorrows quaver out their shallow being, and are not. When the heart is cleft to its core, there is no speech nor language.
Do not now, Messrs. Bores, think to retrieve your character by coming into my house and sitting mute for two hours. Heaven forbid that your blood should be found on my skirts! but I believe I shall kill you, if you do. The only reason why I have not laid violent hands on you heretofore is that your vapid talk has operated as a wire to conduct my electricity to the receptive and kindly earth; but if you intrude upon my magnetisms without any such life-preserver, your future in this world is not worth a crossed sixpence. Your silence would break the reed that your talk but bruised. The only people with whom it is a joy to sit silent are the people with whom it is a joy to talk. Clear out!
Friendship plays the mischief in the false ideas of constancy which are generated and cherished in its name, if not by its agency. Your enemies are intense, but temporary. Time wears off the edge of hostility. It is the alembic in which offenses are dissolved into thin air, and a calm indifference reigns in their stead. But your friends are expected to be a permanent arrangement. They are not only a sore evil, but of long continuance. Adhesiveness seems to be the head and front, the bones and the blood, of their creed. It is not the direction of the quality, but the quality itself, which they swear by. Only stick, it is no matter what you stick to. Fall out with a man, and you can kiss and be friends as soon as you like; the recording angel will set it down on the credit side of his books. Fall in, and you are expected to stay in, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. No matter what combination of laws got you there, there you are, and there you must stay, for better, for worse, till merciful death you do part,—or you are—"fickle." You find a man entertaining for an hour, a week, a concert, a journey, and presto! you are saddled with him forever. What preposterous absurdity! Do but look at it calmly. You are thrown into contact with a person, and, as in duty bound, you proceed to fathom him: for every man is a possible revelation. In the deeps of his soul there may lie unknown worlds for you. Consequently you proceed at once to experiment on him. It takes a little while to get your tackle in order. Then the line begins to run off rapidly, and your eager soul cries out, "Ah! what depth! What perpetual calmness must be down below! What rest is here for all my tumult! What a grand, vast nature is this!" Surely, surely, you are on the high seas. Surely, you will not float serenely down the eternities! But by and by there is a kink. You find that, though the line runs off so fast, it does not go down,—it only floats out. A current has caught it and bears it on horizontally. It does not sink plumb. You have been deceived. Your grand Pacific Ocean is nothing but a shallow little brook, that you can ford all the year round, if it does not utterly dry up in the summer heats, when you want it most; or, at best, it is a fussy little tormenting river, that won't and can't sail a sloop. What are you going to do about it? You are going to wind up your lead and line, shoulder your birch canoe, as the old sea-kings used, and thrid the deep forests, and scale the purple hills, till you come to water again, when you will unroll your lead and line for another essay. Is that fickleness? What else can you do? Must you launch your bark on the unquiet stream, against whose pebbly bottom the keel continually grates and rasps your nerves—simply that your reputation suffer no detriment? Fickleness? There is no fickleness about it. You were trying an experiment which you had every right to try. As soon as you were satisfied, you stopped. If you had stopped sooner, you would have been unsatisfied. If you had stopped later, you would have been dissatisfied. It is a criminal contempt of the magnificent possibilities of life not to lay hold of "God's occasions floating by." It is an equally criminal perversion of them to cling tenaciously to what was only the simulacrum of an occasion. A man will toil many days and nights among the mountains to find an ingot of gold, which, found, he bears home with infinite pains and just rejoicing; but he would be a fool who should lade his mules with iron-pyrites to justify his labors, however severe.
Fickleness! what is it, that we make such an ado about it? And what is constancy, that it commands such usurious interest? The one is a foible only in its relations. The other is only thus a virtue. "Fickle as the winds" is our death-seal upon a man; but should we like our winds unfickle? Would a perpetual northeaster lay us open to perpetual gratitude? or is a soft south gale to be orisoned and vespered forevermore?
I am tired of this eternal prating of devotion and constancy. It is senseless in itself and harmful in its tendencies. The dictate of reason is to treat men and women as we do oranges. Suck all the juice out and then let them go. Where is the good of keeping the peel and pulp-cells till they get old, dry, and mouldy? Let them go, and they will help feed the earth-worms and bugs and beetles who can hardly find existence a continued banquet, and fertilize the earth, which will have you give before you receive. Thus they will ultimately spring up in new and beautiful shapes. Clung to with constancy, they stain your knife and napkin, impart a bad odor to your dining-room, and degenerate into something that is neither pleasant to the eye nor good for food. I believe in a rotation of crops, morally and socially, as well as agriculturally. When you have taken the measure of a man, when you have sounded him and know that you can not wade in him more than ankle-deep, when you have got out of him all that he has to yield for your soul's sustenance and strength, what is the next thing to be done? Obviously, pass him on; and turn you "to fresh woods and pastures new." Do you work him an injury? By no means. Friends that are simply glued on, and don't grow out of, are little worth. He has nothing more for you, nor you for him; but he may be rich in juices wherewithal to nourish the heart of another man, and their two lives, set together, may have an endosmose and exosmose whose result shall be richness of soil, grandeur of growth, beauty of foliage, and perfectness of fruit, while you and he would only have languished into aridity and a stunted crab-tree.
For my part, I desire to sweep off my old friends with the old year, and begin the new with a clean record. It is a measure absolutely necessary. The snake does not put on his new skin over the old one. He sloughs off the first, before he dons the second. He would be a very clumsy serpent, if he did not. One can not have successive layers of friendships any more than the snake has successive layers of skins. One must adopt some system to guard against a congestion of the heart from plethora of loves. I go in for the much-abused, fair-weather, skin-deep, April-shower friends,—the friends who will drop off, if let alone,—who must be kept awake to be kept at all,—who will talk and laugh with you as long as it suits your respective humors and you are prosperous and happy,—the blessed butterfly-race, who flutter about your June mornings, and when the clouds lower, and the drops patter, and the rains descend, and the winds blow, will spread their gay wings and float gracefully away to sunny, southern lands, where the skies are yet blue and the breezes violet-scented. They are not only agreeable, but deeply wise. So long as a man keeps his streamer flying, his sails set, and his hull above water, it is pleasant to paddle alongside; but when the sails split, the yards crack, and the keel goes staggering down, by all means paddle off. Why should you be submerged in his whirlpool? Will he drown any more easily because you are drowning with him? Lung is lung. He dies from want of air, not from want of sympathy. When a poor fellow sits down among the ashes, the best thing his friends can do is to stand afar off. Job bore the loss of property, children, health, with equanimity. Satan himself found his match there; and for all his buffeting, Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. But Job's three friends must needs make an appointment together to come and mourn with him and to comfort him, and after this Job opened his mouth, and cursed his day,—and no wonder.
Your friends have an intimate knowledge of you that is astonishing to contemplate. It is not that they know your affairs, which he who runs may read, but they know you. From a bit of bone, Cuvier could predicate a whole animal, even to the hide and hair. Such moral naturalists are your dear five hundred friends. It seems to yourself that you are immeasurably reticent. You know, of a certainty, that you project only the smallest possible fragment of yourself. You yield your universality to the bond of common brotherhood; but your individualism—what it is that makes you you—withdraws itself naturally, involuntarily, inevitably into the background,—the dim distance which their eyes can not penetrate. But, from the fraction which you do project, they construct another you, call it by your name, and pass it around for the real, the actual you. You bristle with jest and laughter and wild whims, to keep them at a distance; and they fancy this to be your every-day equipment. They think your life holds constant carnival. It is astonishing what ideas spring up in the heads of sensible people. There are those who assume that a person can never have had any grief, unless somebody has died, or he has been disappointed in love,—not knowing that every avenue of joy lies open to the tramp of pain. They see the flashing coronet on the queen's brow, and they infer a diamond woman, not recking of the human heart that throbs wildly out of sight. They see the foam-crest on the wave, and picture an Atlantic Ocean of froth, and not the solemn sea that stands below in eternal equipoise. You turn to them the luminous crescent of your life, and they call it the whole round globe; and so they love you with a love that is agate, not pearl, because what they love in you is something infinitely below the highest. They love you level: they have never scaled your heights nor fathomed your depths. And when they talk of you as familiarly as if they had taken out your auricles and ventricles, and turned them inside out, and wrung them, and shaken them,—when they prate of your transparency and openness, the abandonment with which you draw aside the curtain and reveal the inmost thoughts of your heart,—you, who are to yourself a miracle and a mystery, you smile inwardly, and are content. They are on the wrong scent, and you may pursue your plans in peace. They are indiscriminate and satisfied. They do not know the relation of what appears to what is. If they chance to skirt along the coasts of your Purple Island, it will be only chance, and they will not know it. You may close your port-holes, lower your drawbridge, and make merry, for they will never come within gunshot of the "round tower of your heart."
There is no such thing as knowing a man intimately. Every soul is, for the greater part of its mortal life, isolated from every other. Whether it dwell in the Garden of Eden or the Desert of Sahara, it dwells alone. Not only do we jostle against the street crowd unknowing and unknown, but we go out and come in, we lie down and rise up, with strangers. Jupiter and Neptune sweep the heavens not more unfamiliar to us than the worlds that circle our own hearthstone. Day after day, and year after year a person moves by your side; he sits at the same table; he reads the same books; he kneels in the same church. You know every hair of his head, every trick of his lips, every tone of his voice; you can tell him far off by his gait. Without seeing him, you recognize his step, his knock, his laugh. "Know him? Yes, I have known him these twenty years." No, you don't know him. You know his gait, and hair, and voice. You know what preacher he hears, what ticket he voted, and what were his last year's expenses; but you don't know him. He sits quietly in his chair, but he is in the temple. You speak to him; his soul comes out into the vestibule to answer you, and returns,—and the gates are shut; therein you can not enter. You were discussing the state of the country; but when you ceased, he opened a postern-gate, went down a bank, and launched on a sea over whose waters you have no boat to sail, no star to guide. You have loved and reverenced him. He has been your concrete of truth and nobleness. Unwittingly you touch a secret spring, and a Blue-Beard chamber stands revealed. You give no sign; you meet and part as usual; but a Dead Sea rolls between you two forevermore.
It must be so. Not even to the nearest and dearest can one unveil the secret place where his soul abideth, so that there shall be no more any winding ways or hidden chambers; but to your indifferent neighbor, what blind alleys, and deep caverns, and inaccessible mountains! To him who "touches the electric chain wherewith you're darkly bound," your soul sends back an answering thrill. One little window is opened, and there is short parley. Your ships speak each other now and then in welcome, though imperfect communication; but immediately you strike out again into the great, shoreless sea, over which you must sail forever alone. You may shrink from the far-reaching solitudes of your heart, but no other foot than yours can tread them, save those
"That, eighteen hundred years ago, were nailed, For our advantage, to the bitter cross."
Be thankful that it is so,—that only His eye sees whose hand formed. If we could look in, we should be appalled at the vision. The worlds that glide around us are mysteries too high for us. We can not attain to them. The naked soul is a sight too awful for man to look at and live. There are individuals whose topography we would like to know a little better, and there is danger that we crash against each other while roaming around in the dark; but for all that, would we not have the constitution broken up. Somebody says, "In Heaven there will be no secrets," which, it seems to me, would be intolerable. (If that were a revelation from the King of Heaven, of course I would not speak flippantly of it; but though towards Heaven we look with reverence and humble hope, I do not know that Tom, Dick and Harry's notions of it have any special claim to our respect.) Such publicity would destroy all individuality, and undermine the foundations of society. Clairvoyance—if there be any such thing—always seemed to me a stupid impertinence. When people pay visits to me, I wish them to come to the front door, and ring the bell, and send up their names. I don't wish them to climb in at the window, or creep through the pantry, or, worst of all, float through the key-hole, and catch me in undress. So I believe that in all worlds thoughts will be the subjects of volition,—more accurately expressed when expression is desired, but just as entirely suppressed when we will suppression.
After all, perhaps the chief trouble arises from a prevalent confusion of ideas as to what constitutes a man your friend. Friendship may stand for that peaceful complacence which you feel towards all well-behaved people who wear clean collars and use tolerable grammar. This is a very good meaning, if everybody will subscribe to it. But sundry of these well-behaved people will mistake your civility and complacence for a recognition of special affinity, and proceed at once to frame an alliance offensive and defensive while the sun and the moon shall endure. O, the barnacles that cling to your keel in such waters! The inevitable result is, that they win your intense rancor. You would feel a genial kindliness toward them, if they would be satisfied with that; but they lay out to be your specialty. They infer your innocent little inch to be the standard-bearer of twenty ells, and goad you to frenzy. I mean you, you desperate little horror, who nearly dethroned my reason six years ago! I always meant to have my revenge, and here I impale you before the public. For three months, you fastened yourself upon me, and I could not shake you off. What availed it me, that you were an honest and excellent man? Did I not, twenty times a day, wish you had been a villain, who had insulted me, and I a Kentucky giant, that I might have the unspeakable satisfaction of knocking you down? But you added to your crimes virtue. Villainy had no part or lot in you. You were a member of a church, in good and regular standing; you had graduated with all the honors worth mentioning; you had not a sin, a vice, or a fault that I knew of; and you were so thoroughly good and repulsive that you were a great grief to me. Do you think, you dear, disinterested wretch, that I have forgotten how you were continually putting yourself to horrible inconveniences on my account? Do you think I am not now filled with remorse for the aversion that rooted itself ineradicably in my soul, and which now gloats over you, as you stand in the pillory where my own hands have fastened you? But can nature be crushed forever? Did I not ruin my nerves, and seriously injure my temper, by the overpowering pressure I laid upon them to keep them quiet when you were by? Could I not, by the sense of coming ill through all my quivering frame, presage your advent as exactly as the barometer heralds the approaching storm? Those three months of agony are little atoned for by this late vengeance; but go in peace!
Mysterious are the ways of friendship. It is not a matter of reason or of choice, but of magnetisms. You can not always give the premises nor the argument, but the conclusion is a palpable and stubborn fact. Abana and Pharpar may be broad, and deep, and blue, and grand; but only in Jordan shall your soul wash and be clean. A thousand brooks are born of the sunshine and the mountains: very, very few are they whose flow can mingle with yours, and not disturb, but only deepen and broaden the current.
Your friend! Who shall describe him, or worthily paint what he is to you? No merchant, nor lawyer, nor farmer, nor statesman claims your suffrage, but a kingly soul. He comes to you from God,—a prophet, a seer, a revealer. He has a clear vision. His love is reverence. He goes into the penetralia of your life,—not presumptuously, but with uncovered head, unsandaled feet, and pours libations at the innermost shrine. His incense is grateful. For him the sunlight brightens, the skies grow rosy, and all the days are Junes. Wrapped in his love, you float in a delicious rest, rocked in the bosom of purple, scented waves. Nameless melodies sing themselves through your heart. A golden glow suffices your atmosphere. A vague, fine ecstasy thrills to the sources of life, and earth lays hold on Heaven. Such friendship is worship. It elevates the most trifling services into rites. The humblest offices are sanctified. All things are baptized into a new name. Duty is lost in joy. Care veils itself in caresses. Drudgery becomes delight. There is no longer anything menial, small, or servile. All is transformed
"Into something rich and strange."
The homely household-ways lead through beds of spices and orchards of pomegranates. The daily toil among your parsnips and carrots is plucking May violets with the dew upon them to meet the eyes you love upon their first awaking. In the burden and heat of the day you hear the rustling of summer showers and the whispering of summer winds. Everything is lifted up from the plane of labor to the plane of love, and a glory spans your life. With your friend, speech and silence are one; for a communion mysterious and intangible reaches across from heart to heart. The many dig and delve in your nature with fruitless toil to find the spring of living water: he only raises his wand, and, obedient to the hidden power, it bends at once to your secret. Your friendship, though independent of language, gives to it life and light. The mystic spirit stirs even in commonplaces, and the merest question is an endearment. You are quiet because your heart is over-full. You talk because it is pleasant, not because you have anything to say. You weary of terms that are already love-laden, and you go out into the highways and hedges, and gather up the rough, wild, wilful words, heavy with the hatreds of men, and fill them to the brim with honey-dew. All things great and small, grand or humble, you press into your service, force them to do soldier's duty, and your banner over them is love.
With such a friendship, presence alone is happiness; nor is absence wholly void,—for memories, and hopes, and pleasing fancies, sparkle through the hours, and you know the sunshine will come back.
For such friendship one is grateful. No matter that it comes unsought, and comes not for the seeking. You do not discuss the reasonableness of your gratitude. You only know that your whole being bows with humility and utter thankfulness to him who thus crowns you monarch of all realms.
And the kingdom is everlasting. A weak love dies weakly with the occasion that gave it birth; but such friendship is born of the gods, and immortal. Clouds and darkness may sweep around it, but within the cloud the glory lives undimmed. Death has no power over it. Time can not diminish, nor even dishonor annul it. Its direction may have been earthly, but itself is divine. You go back into your solitudes: all is silent as aforetime, but you can not forget that a Voice once resounded there. A Presence filled the valleys and gilded the mountain-tops,—breathed upon the plains, and they sprang up in lilies and roses,—flashed upon the waters, and they flowed to spheral melody,—swept through the forests, and they, too, trembled into song. And though now the warmth has faded out, though the ruddy tints and amber clearness have paled to ashen hues, though the murmuring melodies are dead, and forest, vale, and hill look hard and angular in the sharp air, you know that it is not death. The fire is unquenched beneath. You go your way not disconsolate. There needs but the Victorious Voice. At the touch of the prince's lips, life shall rise again and be perfected forevermore.
BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
Ponchus Pilut used to be 1st a Slave, an' now he's free. Slaves wuz on'y ist before The War wuz—an' ain't no more.
He works on our place fer us,— An' comes here—sometimes he does. He shocks corn an' shucks it.—An' He makes hominy "by han'!"—
Wunst he bringed us some, one trip, Tied up in a piller-slip: Pa says, when Ma cooked it, "MY! This-here's gooder'n you buy!"
Ponchus pats fer me an' sings; An' he says most funny things! Ponchus calls a dish a "deesh"— Yes, an' he calls fishes "feesh"!
When Ma want him eat wiv us He says, "'Skuse me—'deed you mus'!— Ponchus know good manners, Miss.— He aint eat wher' White-folks is!"
'Lindy takes his dinner out Wher' he's workin'—roun' about.— Wunst he et his dinner, spread In our ole wheel-borry-bed.
Ponchus Pilut says "'at's not His right name,—an' done fergot What his sho'-nuff name is now— An' don' matter none nohow!"
Yes, an' Ponchus he'ps Pa, too, When our butcherin's to do, An' scalds hogs—an' says "Take care 'Bout it, er you'll set the hair!"
Yes, an' out in our back-yard He he'ps 'Lindy rendur lard; An', wite in the fire there, he Roast' a pig-tail wunst fer me.—
An' ist nen th'ole tavurn-bell Rung, down town, an' he says "Well!— Hear dat! Lan' o' Canaan, Son, Aint dat bell say 'Pig-tail done!'
—'Pig-tail done! Go call Son!— Tell dat Chile dat Pig-tail done!'"
THE WOLF AT SUSAN'S DOOR
BY ANNE WARNER
"Well, Lucy has got Hiram!"
There was such a strong inflection of triumphant joy in Miss Clegg's voice as she called the momentous news to her friend that it would have been at once—and most truthfully—surmised that the getting of Hiram had been a more than slight labor.
Mrs. Lathrop was waiting by the fence, impatience written with a wandering reflection all over the serenity of her every-day expression. Susan only waited to lay aside her bonnet and mitts and then hastened to the fence herself.
"Mrs. Lathrop, you never saw nor heard the like of this weddin' day in all your own days to be or to come, and I don't suppose there ever will be anything like it again, for Lucy Dill didn't cut no figger in her own weddin' a-tall,—the whole thing was Gran'ma Mullins first, last and forever hereafter. I tell you it looked once or twice as if it wouldn't be a earthly possibility to marry Hiram away from his mother, and now that it's all over people can't do anything but say as after all Lucy ought to consider herself very lucky as things turned out, for if things hadn't turned out as they did turn out I don't believe anything on earth could have unhooked that son, and I'm willin' to swear that anywhere to any one.
"Do you know, Mrs. Lathrop, that Gran'ma Mullins was so bad off last night as they had to put a mustard plaster onto her while Hiram went to see Lucy for the last time, an' Mrs. Macy says as she never hear the beat o' her memory, for she says she'll take her Bible oath as Gran'ma Mullins told her what Hiram said and done every minute o' his life while he was gone to see Lucy Dill. And she cried, too, and took on the whole time she was talkin' an' said Heaven help her, for nobody else could, an' she just knowed Lucy'd get tired o' Hiram's story an' he can't be happy a whole day without he tells it, an' she's most sure Lucy won't like his singin' 'Marchin' Through Georgia' after the first month or two, an' it's the only tune as Hiram has ever really took to. Mrs. Macy says she soon found she couldn't do nothin' to stem the tide except to drink tea an' listen, so she drank an' listened till Hiram come home about eleven. Oh, my, but she says they had the time then! Gran'ma Mullins let him in herself, and just as soon as he was in she bu'st into floods of tears an' wouldn't let him loose under no consideration. She says Hiram managed to get his back to the wall for a brace 'cause Gran'ma Mullins nigh to upset him every fresh time as Lucy come over her, an' Mrs. Macy says she couldn't but wonder what the end was goin' to be when, toward midnight, Hiram just lost patience and dodged out under her arm and run up the ladder to the roof-room an' they couldn't get him to come down again. She says when Gran'ma Mullins realized as he wouldn't come down she most went mad over the notion of her only son's spendin' the Christmas Eve to his own weddin' sleepin' on the floor o' the attic and she wanted to poke the cot up to him but Mrs. Macy says she drew the line at cot-pokin' when the cot was all she'd have to sleep on herself, and in the end they poked quilts up, an' pillows an' doughnuts an' cider an' blankets, an' Hiram made a bed on the floor an' they all got to sleep about three o'clock.
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, what do you think? What do you think? They was so awful tired that none of 'em woke till Mrs. Sperrit come at eleven next day to take 'em to the weddin'! Mrs. Macy says she hopes she'll be put forward all her back-slidin's if she ever gets such a start again. She says when she peeked out between the blinds an' see Mrs. Sperrit's Sunday bonnet an' realized her own state she nearly had a fit. Mrs. Sperrit had to come in an' be explained to, an' the worst of it was as Hiram couldn't be woke nohow. He'd pulled the ladder up after him an' put the lid on the hole so's to feel safe, an' there he was snug as a bug in a rug an' where no human bein' could get at him. They hollered an' banged doors an' sharpened the carvin' knife an' poured grease on the stove an' did anything they could think of, but he never budged. Mrs. Macy says she never was so close beside herself in all her life before, for Gran'ma Mullins cried worse 'n ever each minute an' Hiram seemed like the very dead couldn't wake him.
"They was all hoppin' around half crazy when Mr. Sperrit come along on his way to the weddin' an' his wife run out an' told him what was the matter an' he come right in an' looked up at the matter. It didn't take long for him to unsettle Hiram, Mrs. Macy says. He got a sulphur candle an' tied it to a stick an' h'isted the lid with another stick, an' in less 'n two minutes they could all hear Hiram sneezin' an' comin' to. An' Mrs. Macy says when they hollered what time it was she wishes the whole town might have been there to see Hiram Mullins come down to earth. Mr. Sperrit didn't hardly have time to get out o' the way an' he didn't give his mother no show for one single grab,—he just bounced into his room and you could have heard him gettin' dressed on the far side o' the far bridge.
"O' course, us at Lucy's didn't know anythin' a-tall about Mrs. Macy's troubles. We had our own, Heaven help us, an' they was enough, for the very first thing of all Mr. Dill caught his pocket on the corner of Mrs. Dill an' come within a ace of pullin' her off her easel. That would have been a pretty beginnin' to Lucy's weddin' day if her father had smashed her mother to bits, I guess, but it couldn't have made Lucy any worse; for I will say, Mrs. Lathrop, as I never see no one in all my born life act foolisher than Lucy Dill this day. First she'd laugh an' then she'd cry an' then she'd lose suthin' as we'd got to have to work with. An' when it come to dressin' her!—well, if she'd known as Hiram was sleepin' a sleep as next to knowed no wakin' she couldn't have put on more things wrong side out an' hind side before! She wasn't dressed till most every one was there an' I was gettin' pretty anxious, for Hiram wasn't there neither, an' the more fidgety people got the more they caught their corners on Mrs. Dill. I just saved her from Mr. Kimball, an' Amelia saw her goin' as a result o' Judge Fitch an' hardly had time for a jump. The minister himself was beginnin' to cough when, all of a sudden, some one cried as the Sperrits was there.
"Well, we all squeezed to the window, an' such a sight you never saw. They was gettin' Gran'ma Mullins out an' Hiram was tryin' to keep her from runnin' the color of his cravat all down his shirt while she was sobbin' 'Hi-i-i-i-ram, Hi-i-i-i-i-ram,' in a voice as would wring your very heart dry. They got her out an' got her in an' got her upstairs, an' we all sat down an' begin to get ready while Amelia played 'Lead, Kindly Light' and 'The Joyous Farmer' alternate, 'cause she'd mislaid her Weddin' March.
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you never knowed nothin' like it!—we waited, an' we waited, an' we waited, an' the minister most coughed himself into consumption, an' Mrs. Dill got caught on so often that Mr. Kimball told Ed to stand back of her an' hold her to the easel every minute. Amelia was just beginning over again for the seventeenth time when at last we heard 'em bumpin' along downstairs. Seems as all the delay come from Lucy's idea o' wantin' to walk with her father an' have a weddin' procession, instid o' her an' Hiram comin' in together like Christians an' lettin' Mr. Dill hold Gran'ma Mullins up anywhere. Polly says she never see such a time as they had of it; she says fightin' wolves was layin' lambs beside the way they talked. Hiram said frank an' open as the reason he didn't want to walk in with his mother was he was sure she wouldn't let him out to get married, but Lucy was dead set on the procession idea. So in the end they done it so, an' Gran'ma Mullins's sobs fairly shook the house as they come through the dinin'-room door. Lucy was first with her father an' they both had their heads turned backward lookin' at Hiram an' his mother.
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, it was certainly a sight worth seem'! The way that Gran'ma Mullins was glued on! All I can say is as octopuses has got their backs turned in comparison to the way that Hiram seemed to be all wrapped up in her. It looked like wild horses, not to speak of Lucy Dill, wouldn't never be able to get him loose enough to marry him. The minister was scared; we was all scared. I never see a worse situation to be in.
"They come along through the back parlor, Lucy lookin' back, Mr. Dill white as a sheet, an' Hiram walkin' like a snow-plough as isn't sure how long it can keep on makin' it. It seemed like a month as they was under way before they finally got stopped in front o' the minister. An' then come the time! Hiram had to step beside Lucy an' take her hand an' he couldn't! We all just gasped. There was Hiram tryin' to get loose and Mr. Dill tryin' to help him. Gran'ma Mullins's tears dripped till you could hear 'em, but she hung on to Hiram like he'd paid for it. They worked like Trojan beavers, but as fast as they'd get one side of him uncovered she'd take a fresh wind-round. I tell you, we all just held our breath, and I bet Lucy was sorry she persisted in havin' a procession when she see the perspiration runnin' off her father an' Hiram.
"Finally Polly got frightened and begun to cry, an' at that the deacon put his arm around her an' give her a hug, an' Gran'ma Mullins looked up just in time to see the arm an' the hug. It seemed like it was the last hay in the donkey, for she give a weak screech an' went right over on Mr. Dill. She had such a grip on Hiram that if it hadn't been for Lucy he'd have gone over, too, but Lucy just hung on herself that time, an' Hiram was rescued without nothin' worse than his hair mussed an' one sleeve a little tore. Mr. Sperrit an' Mr. Jilkins carried Gran'ma Mullins into the dinin'-room, an' I said to just leave her fainted till after we'd got Hiram well an' truly married; so they did.
"I never see the minister rattle nothin' through like that marriage-service. Every one was on whole papers of pins an' needles, an' the minute it was over every one just felt like sittin' right straight down.
"Mrs. Macy an' me went up an' watered Gran'ma Mullins till we brought her to, and when she learned as it was all done she picked up wonderful and felt as hungry as any one, an' come downstairs an' kissed Lucy an' caught a corner on Mrs. Dill just like she'd never been no trouble to no one from first to last. I never seen such a sudden change in all my life; it was like some miracle had come out all over her and there wasn't no one there as wasn't rejoiced to death over the change.
"We all went out in the dinin'-room and the sun shone in and every one laughed over nothin' a-tall. Mrs. Sperrit pinned Hiram up from inside so his tear didn't show, and Lucy and he set side by side and looked like no one was ever goin' to ever be married again. Polly an' the deacon set opposite and the minister an' his wife an' Mr. Dill an' Gran'ma Mullins made up the table. The rest stood around, and we was all as lively as words can tell. The cake was one o' the handsomest as I ever see, two pigeons peckin' a bell on top and Hiram an' Lucy runnin' around below in pink. There was a dime inside an' a ring, an' I got the dime, an' they must have forgot to put in the ring for no one got it."
Susan paused and panted.
"It was—" commented Mrs. Lathrop, thoughtfully.
"Nice that I got the dime?—yes, I should say. There certainly wasn't no one there as needed it worse, an', although I'd never be one to call a dime a fortune, still it is a dime, an' no one can't deny it the honor, no matter how they feel. But, Mrs. Lathrop, what you'd ought to have seen was Hiram and Lucy ready to go off. I bet no one knows they're brides—I bet no one knows what they are,—you never saw the like in all your worst dreams. Hiram wore spectacles an' carpet-slippers an' that old umbrella as Mr. Shores keeps at the store to keep from bein' stole, and Lucy wore clothes she'd found in trunks an' her hair in curl-papers, an' her cold-cream gloves. They certainly was a sight, an' Gran'ma Mullins laughed as hard as any one over them. Mr. Sperrit drove 'em to the train, an' Hiram says he's goin' to spend two dollars a day right along till he comes back; so I guess Lucy'll have a good time for once in her life. An' Gran'ma Mullins walked back with me an' not one word o' Hiram did she speak. She was all Polly an' the deacon. She said it wa'n't in reason as Polly could imagine him with hair, an' she said she was thinkin' very seriously o' givin' her a piece o' his hair as she's got, for a weddin' present. She said Polly 'd never know what he was like the night he give her that hair. She said the moon was shinin' an' the frogs were croakin', an' she kind o' choked; she says she can't smell a marsh to this day without seein' the deacon givin' her that piece of hair. I cheered her up all I could—I told her anyhow he couldn't give Polly a piece of his hair if he died for it. She smiled a weak smile an' went on up to Mrs. Brown's. Mrs. Brown asked her to stay with her a day or two. Mrs. Brown has her faults, but nobody can't deny as she's got a good heart,—in fact, sometimes I think Mrs. Brown's good heart is about the worst fault she's got. I've knowed it lead her to do very foolish things time an' again—things as I thank my star I'd never think o' doin'—not in this world."
Mrs. Lathrop shifted her elbows a little; Susan withdrew at once from the fence.
"I must go in," she said, "to-morrow is goin' to be a more 'n full day. There's Polly's weddin' an' then in the evenin' Mr. Weskin is comin' up. You needn't look surprised, Mrs. Lathrop, because I've thought the subject over up an' down an' hind end foremost an' there ain't nothin' left for me to do. I can't sell nothin' else an' I've got to have money, so I'm goin' to let go of one of those bonds as father left me. There ain't no way out of it; I told Mr. Weskin I'd expect him at sharp eight on sharp business an' he'll come. An' I must go as a consequence. Good night."
* * * * *
Polly Allen's wedding took place the next day, and Mrs. Lathrop came out on her front piazza about half past five to wait for her share in the event.
The sight of Mrs. Brown going by with her head bound up in a white cloth, accompanied by Gran'ma Mullins with both hands similarly treated, was the first inkling the stay-at-home had that strange doings had been lately done.
Susan came next and Susan was a sight!
Not only did her ears stand up with a size and conspicuousness never inherited from either her father or her mother, but also her right eye was completely closed and she walked lame.
"The Lord have mercy!" cried Mrs. Lathrop, when the full force of her friend's affliction effected its complete entrance into her brain,—"Why, Susan, what—"
"Mrs. Lathrop," said Miss Clegg, "all I can say is I come out better than the most of 'em, an' if you could see Sam Duruy or Mr. Kimball or the minister you'd know I spoke the truth. The deacon an' Polly is both in bed an' can't see how each other looks, an' them as has a eye is goin' to tend them as can't see at all, an' God help 'em all if young Dr. Brown an' the mud run dry!" with which pious ejaculation Susan painfully mounted the steps and sat down with exceeding gentleness upon a chair.
Mrs. Lathrop stared at her in dumb and wholly bewildered amazement. After a while Miss Clegg continued.
"It was all the deacon's fault. Him an' Polly was so dead set on bein' fashionable an' bein' a contrast to Hiram an' Lucy, an' I hope to-night as they lay there all puffed up as they'll reflect on their folly an' think a little on how the rest of us as didn't care rhyme or reason for folly is got no choice but to puff up, too. Mrs. Jilkins is awful mad; she says Mr. Jilkins wanted to wear his straw hat anyhow and, she says she always has hated his silk hat 'cause it reminds her o' when she was young and foolish enough to be willin' to go and marry into a family as was foolish enough to marry into Deacon White. Mrs. Jilkins is extra hot because she got one in the neck, but my own idea is as Polly Allen's weddin' was the silliest doin's as I ever see from the beginnin', an' the end wan't no more than might o' been expected—all things considered.
"When I got to the church, what do you think was the first thing as I see, Mrs. Lathrop? Well, you'd never guess till kingdom come, so I may as well tell you. It was Ed an' Sam Duruy an' Henry Ward Beecher an' Johnny standin' there waitin' to show us to our pews like we didn't know our own pews after sittin' in 'em for all our life-times! I just shook my head an' walked to my pew, an' there, if it wasn't looped shut with a daisy-chain! Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I wish you could have been there to have felt for me, for I may remark as a cyclone is a caterpillar wove up in hisself beside my face when I see myself daisy-chained out o' my own pew by Polly Allen. Ed was behind me an' he whispered 'That's reserved for the family.' I give him one look an' I will state, Mrs. Lathrop, as he wilted. It didn't take me long to break that daisy-chain an' sit down in that pew, an' I can assure you as no one asked me to get up again. Mrs. Jilkins's cousins from Meadville come an' looked at me sittin' there, but I give them jus' one look back an' they went an' sat with Mrs. Macy themselves. A good many other folks was as surprised as me over where they had to sit, but we soon had other surprises as took the taste o' the first clean out o' our mouths.
"Just as Mrs. Davison begin to play the organ, Ed an' Johnny come down with two clothes-lines wound 'round with clematis an' tied us all in where we sat. Then they went back an' we all stayed still an' couldn't but wonder what under the sun was to be done to us next. But we didn't have long to wait, an' I will say as anythin' to beat Polly's ideas I never see—no—nor no one else neither.
"'Long down the aisle, two an' two, an' hand in hand, like they thought they was suthin' pretty to look at, come Ed an' Johnny an' Henry Ward Beecher an' Sam Duruy, an' I vow an' declare, Mrs. Lathrop, I never was so nigh to laughin' in church in all my life. They knowed they was funny, too, an' their mouths an' eyes was tight set sober, but some one in the back just had to giggle, an' when we heard it we knew as things as wasn't much any other day would use us up this day, sure. They stopped in front an' lined up, two on a side, an' then, for all the world like it was a machine-play, the little door opened an' out come the minister an' solemnly walked down to between them. I must say we was all more than a little disappointed at its only bein' the minister, an' he must have felt our feelin's, for he began to cough an' clear up his throat an' his little desk all at once. Then Mrs. Davison jerked out the loud stop an' began to play for all she was worth, an' the door behind banged an' every one turned aroun' to see.
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, we saw,—an' I will in truth remark as such a sawin' we'll never probably get a chance to do again! Mrs. Sweet says they practised it over four times at the church, so they can't deny as they meant it all, an' you might lay me crossways an' cut me into chipped beef an' still I would declare as I wouldn't have the face to own to havin' had any hand in plannin' any such weddin'.
"First come 'Liza Em'ly an' Rachel Rebecca hand in hand carryin' daisies—of all things in the world to take to a weddin'—an' then come Brunhilde Susan, with a daisy-chain around her neck an' her belt stuck full o' daisies an'—you can believe me or not, jus' as you please, Mrs. Lathrop, an' still it won't help matters any—an' a daisy stuck in every button down her back, an' daisies tangled up in her hair, an' a bunch o' daisies under one arm.
"Well, we was nigh to overcome by Brunhilde Susan, but we drawed some fresh breath an' kept on lookin', an' next come Polly an' Mr. Allen. I will say for Mr. Allen as he seemed to feel the ridiculousness of it all, for a redder man I never see, nor one as looked more uncomfortable. He was daisied, too—had three in his button-hole;—but what took us all was the way him an' Polly walked. I bet no people gettin' married ever zig-zagged like that before, an' Mrs. Sweet says they practised it by countin' two an' then swingin' out to one side, an' then countin' two an' swingin' out to the other—she watched 'em out of her attic window down through the broke blind to the church. Well, all I can say is, that to my order o' thinkin' countin' an' swingin' is a pretty frame o' mind to get a husband in, but so it was, an' we was all starin' our eyes off to beat the band when the little door opened an', to crown everythin' else, out come the deacon an' Mr. Jilkins, each with a daisy an' a silk hat, an' I will remark, Mrs. Lathrop, as new-born kittens is blood-red murderers compared to how innocent that hat o' Mr. Jilkins' looked. Any one could see as it wasn't new, but he wasn't new either, as far as that goes, an' that was what struck me in particular about the whole thing—nothin' an' nobody wasn't any different only for Polly's foolishness and the daisies.
"Well, they sorted out an' begun to get married, an' us all sittin' lookin' on an' no more guessin' what was comin' next than a ant looks for a mornin' paper. The minister was gettin' most through an' the deacon was gettin' out the ring, an' we was lookin' to get up an' out pretty quick, when—my heavens alive, Mrs. Lathrop, I never will forget that minute—when Mr. Jilkins—poor man, he's sufferin' enough for it, Lord knows!—when Mr. Jilkins dropped his hat!
"That very next second him an' Ed an' Brunhilde Susan all hopped an' yelled at once, an' the next thing we see was the minister droppin' his book an' grabbin' his arm an' the deacon tryin' madly to do hisself up in Polly's veil. We would 'a' all been glum petrified at such goin's on any other day, only by that time the last one of us was feelin' to hop and grab an' yell on his own account. Gran'ma Mullins was tryin' to slap herself with the seat cushion, an' the way the daisies flew as folks went over an' under that clematis rope was a caution. I got out as quick as I—"
"But what—" interrupted Mrs. Lathrop, her eyes fairly marble-like in their redundant curiosity.
"It was wasps!" said Susan, "it was a young wasps' nest in Mr. Jilkins's hat. Seems they carried their hats to church in their hands 'cause Polly didn't want no red rings around 'em, an' so he never suspected nothin' till he dropped it. An' oh, poor little Brunhilde Susan in them short skirts of hers—she might as well have wore a bee hive as to be like she is now. I got off easy, an' you can look at me an' figure on what them as got it hard has got on them. Young Dr. Brown went right to work with mud an' Polly's veil an' plastered 'em over as fast as they could get into Mrs. Sweet's. Mrs. Sweet was mighty obligin' an' turned two flower-beds inside out an' let every one scoop with her kitchen spoons, besides runnin' aroun' herself like she was a slave gettin' paid. They took the deacon an' Polly right to their own house. They can't see one another anyhow, an' they was most all married anyway, so it didn't seem worth while to wait till the minister gets the use of his upper lip again."