I was all right now. I had got into San Pablo Bay, where it was all plain sailing. If I could manage to keep off the horizon I should be somewhere before daylight. But a new annoyance was in store for me. The steamboats on these waters are constructed of very frail materials, and whenever one came into collision with my flotilla, she immediately sank. This was most exasperating, for the piercing shrieks of the hapless crews and passengers prevented my getting any sleep. Such disagreeable voices as these people had would have tortured an ear of corn. I felt as if I would like to step out and beat them soft-headed with a club; though of course I had not the heart to do so while the padlock held fast.
The reader, if he is obliging, will remember that there was formerly an obstruction in the harbour of San Francisco, called Blossom Rock, which was some fathoms under water, but not fathoms enough to suit shipmasters. It was removed by an engineer named Von Schmidt. This person bored a hole in it, and sent down some men who gnawed out the whole interior, leaving the rock a mere shell. Into this drawing-room suite were inserted thirty tons of powder, ten barrels of nitro-glycerine, and a woman's temper. Von Schmidt then put in something explosive, and corked up the opening, leaving a long wire hanging out. When all these preparations were complete, the inhabitants of San Francisco came out to see the fun. They perched thickly upon Telegraph Hill from base to summit; they swarmed innumerable upon the beach; the whole region was black with them. All that day they waited, and came again the next. Again they were disappointed, and again they returned full of hope. For three long weeks they did nothing but squat upon that eminence, looking fixedly at the wrong place. But when it transpired that Von Schmidt had hastily left the State directly he had completed his preparations, leaving the wire floating in the water, in the hope that some electrical eel might swim against it and ignite the explosives, the people began to abate their ardour, and move out of town. They said it might be a good while before a qualified gymnotus would pass that way, although the State Ichthyologer assured them that he had put some eels' eggs into the head waters of the Sacramento River not two weeks previously. But the country was very beautiful at that time of the year, and the people would not wait. So when the explosion really occurred, there wasn't anybody in the vicinity to witness it. It was a stupendous explosion all the same, as the unhappy gymnotus discovered to his cost.
Now, I have often thought that if this mighty convulsion had occurred a year or two earlier than it really did, it would have been bad for me as I floated idly past, unconscious of danger. As it was, my little bark was carried out into the broad Pacific, and sank in ten thousand fathoms of the coldest water!—it makes my teeth chatter to relate it!
* * * * *
TONY ROLLO'S CONCLUSION.
To a degree unprecedented in the Rollo family, of Illinois, Antony was an undutiful son. He was so undutiful that he may be said to have been preposterous. There were seven other sons—Antony was the eldest. His younger brothers were a nice, well-behaved bevy of boys as ever you saw. They always attended Sunday School regularly; arriving just before the Doxology (I think Sunday School exercises terminate that way), and sitting in a solemn row on a fence outside, waiting with pious patience for the girls to come forth; then they walked home with them as far as their respective gates. They were an obedient seven, too; they knew well enough the respect due to paternal authority, and when their father told them what was what, and which side up it ought to lie, they never tarried until he had more than picked up a hickory cudgel before tacitly admitting the correctness of the riper judgment. Had the old gentleman commanded the digging of seven graves, and the fabrication of seven board coffins to match, these necessaries would have been provided with unquestioning alacrity.
But Antony, I bleed to state, was of an impractical, pensive turn. He despised industry, scoffed at Sunday-schooling, set up a private standard of morals, and rebelled against natural authority. He wouldn't be a dutiful son—not for money! He had no natural affections, and loved nothing so well as to sit and think. He was tolerably thoughtful all the time; but with some farming implement in his hand he came out strong. He has been known to take an axe between his knees, and sit on a stump in a "clearing" all day, wrapt in a single continuous meditation. And when interrupted by the interposition of night, or by the superposition of the paternal hickory, he would resume the meditation, next day, precisely where he left off, going on, and on, and on, in one profound and inscrutable think. It was a common remark in the neighbourhood that "If Tony Rollo didn't let up, he'd think his ridiculous white head off!" And on divers occasions when the old man's hickory had fallen upon that fleecy globe with unusual ardour, Tony really did think it off—until the continued pain convinced him it was there yet.
You would like to know what Tony was thinking of, all these years. That is what they all wanted to know; but he didn't seem to tell. When the subject was mentioned he would always try to get away; and if he could not avoid a direct question, he would blush and stammer in so distressing a confusion that the doctor forbade all allusion to the matter, lest the young man should have a convulsion. It was clear enough, however, that the subject of Tony's meditation was "more than average interestin'," as his father phrased it; for sometimes he would give it so grave consideration that observers would double their anxiety about the safety of his head, which he seemed in danger of snapping off with solemn nods; and at other times he would laugh immoderately, smiting his thigh or holding his sides in uncontrollable merriment. But it went on without abatement, and without any disclosure; went on until his poor mother's curiosity had worried her grey hairs in sorrow to the grave; went on until his father, having worn out all the hickory saplings on the place, had made a fair beginning upon the young oaks; went on until all the seven brothers, having married a Sunday-school girl each, had erected comfortable log-houses upon outlying corners of the father-in-legal farms; on, and ever on, until Tony was forty years of age! This appeared to be a turning-point in Tony's career—at this time a subtle change stole into his life, affecting both his inner and his outer self: he worked less than formerly, and thought a good deal more!
Years afterwards, when the fraternal seven were well-to-do freeholders, with clouds of progeny, making their hearts light and their expenses heavy—when the old homestead was upgrown with rank brambles, and the live-stock long extinct—when the aged father had so fallen into the sere and yellow leaf that he couldn't hit hard enough to hurt—Tony, the mere shadow of his former self, sat, one evening, in the chimney corner, thinking very hard indeed. His father and three or four skeleton hounds were the only other persons present; the old gentleman quietly shelling a peck of Indian corn given by a grateful neighbour whose cow he had once pulled out of the mire, and the hounds thinking how cheerfully they would have assisted him had Nature kindly made them graminivorous. Suddenly Tony spake.
"Father," said he, looking straight across the top of the axe-handle which he held between his knees as a mental stimulant, "father, I've been thinking of something a good bit lately."
"Jest thirty-five years, Tony, come next Thanksgiving," replied the old man, promptly, in a thin asthmatic falsetto. "I recollect your mother used to say it dated from the time your Aunt Hannah was here with the girls."
"Yes, father, I think it may be a matter of thirty-five years; though it don't seem so long, does it? But I've been thinking harder for the last week or two, and I'm going to speak out."
Unbounded amazement looked out at the old man's eyes; his tongue, utterly unprepared for the unexpected contingency, refused its office; a corncob imperfectly denuded dropped from his nerveless hand, and was critically examined, in turn, by the gossamer dogs, hoping against hope. A smoking brand in the fireplace fell suddenly upon a bed of hot coals, where, lacking the fortitude of Guatimozin, it emitted a sputtering protest, followed by a thin flame like a visible agony. In the resulting light Tony's haggard face shone competitively with a ruddy blush, which spread over his entire scalp, to the imminent danger of firing his flaxen hair.
"Yes, father," he answered, making a desperate clutch at calmness, but losing his grip, "I'm going to make a clean breast of it this time, for sure! Then you can do what you like about it."
The paternal organ of speech found sufficient strength to grind out an intimation that the paternal ear was open for business.
"I've studied it all over, father; I've looked at it from every side; I've been through it with a lantern! And I've come to the conclusion that, seeing as I'm the oldest, it's about time I was beginning to think of getting married!"
* * * * *
NO CHARGE FOR ATTENDANCE.
Near the road leading from Deutscherkirche to Lagerhaus may be seen the ruins of a little cottage. It never was a very pretentious pile, but it has a history. About the middle of the last century it was occupied by one Heinrich Schneider, who was a small farmer—so small a farmer his clothes wouldn't fit him without a good deal of taking-in. But Heinrich Schneider was young. He had a wife, however—most small farmers have when young. They were rather poor: the farm was just large enough to keep them comfortably hungry.
Schneider was not literary in his taste; his sole reading was an old dog's-eared copy of the "Arabian Nights" done into German, and in that he read nothing but the story of "Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp." Upon his five hundredth perusal of that he conceived a valuable idea: he would rub his lamp and corral a Genie! So he put a thick leather glove on his right hand, and went to the cupboard to get out the lamp. He had no lamp. But this disappointment, which would have been instantly fatal to a more despondent man, was only an agreeable stimulus to him. He took out an old iron candle-snuffer, and went to work upon that.
Now, iron is very hard; it requires more rubbing than any other metal. I once chafed a Genie out of an anvil, but I was quite weary before I got him all out; the slightest irritation of a leaden water-pipe would have fetched the same Genie out of it like a rat from his hole. But having planted all his poultry, sown his potatoes, and set out his wheat, Heinrich had the whole summer before him, and he was patient; he devoted all his time to compelling the attendance of the Supernatural.
When the autumn came, the good wife reaped the chickens, dug out the apples, plucked the pigs and other cereals; and a wonderfully abundant harvest it was. Schneider's crops had flourished amazingly. That was because he did not worry them all summer with agricultural implements. One evening when the produce had been stored, Heinrich sat at his fireside operating upon his candle-snuffer with the same simple faith as in the early spring. Suddenly there was a knock at the door, and the expected Genie put in an appearance. His advent begot no little surprise in the good couple.
He was a very substantial incarnation, indeed, of the Supernatural. About eight feet in length, extremely fat, thick-limbed, ill-favoured, heavy of movement, and generally unpretty, he did not at first sight impress his new master any too favourably.
However, he was given a stool at the fireside, and Heinrich plied him with a multitude of questions: Where did he come from? whom had he last served? how did he like Aladdin? and did he think they should get on well? To all these queries the Genie returned evasive answers; he was Delphic to the verge of unintelligibility. He would only nod mysteriously, muttering beneath his breath in some unknown tongue, probably Arabic—in which, however, his master thought he could distinguish the words "roast" and "boiled" with significant frequency. This Genie must have served last in the capacity of cook.
This was a gratifying discovery: for the next four months or so there would be nothing to do about the farm; the Slave could prepare the family meals during the winter, and in the spring go regularly to work. Schneider was too shrewd to risk everything by extravagant demands all at once. He remembered the roc's egg of the legend, and thought he would proceed with caution. So the good couple brought out their cooking utensils, and by pantomime inducted the Slave into the mystery of their use. They showed him the larder, the cellars, the granary, the chicken-coops, and everything. He appeared interested and intelligent, apprehended the salient points of the situation with marvellous ease, and nodded like he would drop his big head off—did everything but talk.
After this the frau prepared the evening meal, the Genie assisting very satisfactorily, except that his notions of quantity were rather too liberal; perhaps this was natural in one accustomed to palaces and courts. When all was on the table, by way of testing his Slave's obedience Heinrich sat down at the board and carelessly rubbed the candle-snuffer. The Genie was there in a second! Not only so, but he fell upon the viands with an ardour and sincerity that were alarming. In two minutes he had got away with everything on the table. The rapidity with which that spirit crowded all manner of edibles into his neck was simply shocking!
Having finished his repast he stretched himself before the fire and went to sleep. Heinrich and Barbara were depressed in spirit; they sat up until nearly morning in silence, waiting for the Genie to vanish for the night; but he did not perceptibly vanish any. Moreover, he had not vanished next morning; he had risen with the lark, and was preparing breakfast, having made his estimates upon a basis of most immoderate consumption. To this he soon sat down with the same catholicity of appetite that had distinguished him the previous evening. Having bolted this preposterous breakfast he arrayed his fat face in a sable scowl, beat his master with a stewpan, stretched himself before the fire, and again addressed himself to sleep. Over a furtive and clandestine meal in the larder, Heinrich and Barbara confessed themselves thoroughly heart-sick of the Supernatural.
"I told you so," said he; "depend upon it, patient industry is a thousand per cent. better than this invisible agency. I will now take the fatal candle-snuffer a mile from here, rub it real hard, fling it aside, and run away."
But he didn't. During the night ten feet of snow had fallen. It lay all winter too.
Early the next spring there emerged from that cottage by the wayside the unstable framework of a man dragging through seas of melting snow a tottering female of dejected aspect. Forlorn, crippled, famishing, and discouraged, these melancholy relics held on their way until they came to a cross-roads (all leading to Lagerhaus), where they saw clinging to an upright post the tatter of an old placard. It read as follows:
LOST, strayed, or stolen, from Herr Schaackhofer's Grand Museum, the celebrated Patagonian Giant, Ugolulah. Height 8 ft. 2 in., elegant figure, handsome, intelligent features, sprightly and vivacious in conversation, of engaging address, temperate in diet, harmless and tractable in disposition. Answers to the nickname of Fritz Sneddeker. Any one returning him to Herr Schaackhofer will receive Seven Thalers Reward, and no questions asked.
It was a tempting offer, but they did not go back for the giant. But he was afterwards discovered sleeping sweetly upon the hearthstone, after a hearty meal of empty barrels and boxes. Being secured he was found to be too fat for egress by the door. So the house was pulled down to let him out; and that is how it happens to be in ruins now.
* * * * *
Dan Golby held up his hand to enjoin silence; in a breath we were as quiet as mice. Then it came again, borne upon the night wind from away somewhere in the darkness toward the mountains, across miles of treeless plain—a low, dismal, sobbing sound, like the wail of a strangling child! It was nothing but the howl of a wolf, and a wolf is about the last thing a man who knows the cowardly beast would be afraid of; but there was something so weird and unearthly in this "cry between the silences"—something so banshee-like in its suggestion of the grave—that, old mountaineers that we were, and long familiar with it, we felt an instinctive dread—a dread which was not fear, but only a sense of utter solitude and desolation. There is no sound known to mortal ear that has in it so strange a power upon the imagination as the night-howl of this wretched beast, heard across the dreary wastes of the desert he disgraces.
Involuntarily we drew nearer together, and some one of the party stirred the fire till it sent up a tall flame, widening the black circle shutting us in on all sides. Again rose the faint far cry, and was answered by one fainter and more far in the opposite quarter. Then another, and yet another, struck in—a dozen, a hundred all at once; and in three minutes the whole invisible outer world seemed to consist mainly of wolves, jangled out of tune by some convulsion of nature.
About this time it was a pleasing study to watch the countenance of Old Nick. This party had joined us at Fort Benton, whither he had come on a steamboat, up the Missouri. This was his maiden venture upon the plains, and his habit of querulous faultfinding had, on the first day out, secured him the sobriquet of Old Pernicketty, which the attrition of time had worn down to Old Nick. He knew no more of wolves and other animals than a naturalist, and he was now a trifle frightened. He was crouching beside his saddle and kit, listening with all his soul, his hands suspended before him with divergent fingers, his face ashy pale, and his jaw hanging unconsidered below.
Suddenly Dan Golby, who had been watching him with an amused smile, assumed a grave aspect, listened a moment very intently, and remarked:
"Boys, if I didn't know those were wolves, I should say we'd better get out of this."
"Eh?" exclaimed Nick, eagerly; "if you did not know they were wolves? Why, what else, and what worse, could they be?"
"Well, there's an innocent!" replied Dan, winking slyly at the rest of us. "Why, they might be Injuns, of course. Don't you know, you old bummer, that that's the way the red devils run a surprise party? Don't you know that when you hear a parcel of wolves letting on like that, at night, it's a hundred to one they carry bows and arrows?"
Here one or two old hunters on the opposite side of the fire, who had not caught Dan's precautionary wink, laughed good-humouredly, and made derisive comments. At this Dan seemed much vexed, and getting up, he strode over to them to argue it out. It was surprising how easily they were brought round to his way of thinking!
By this time Old Nick was thoroughly perturbed. He fidgeted about, examining his rifle and pistols, tightened his belt, and looked in the direction of his horse. His anxiety became so painful that he did not attempt to conceal it. Upon our part, we affected to partially share it. One of us finally asked Dan if he was quite sure they were wolves. Then Dan listened a long time with his ear to the ground, after which he said, hesitatingly:
"Well, no; there's no such thing as absolute certainty, I suppose; but I think they're wolves. Still, there's no harm in being ready for anything—always well to be ready, I suppose."
Nick needed nothing more; he pounced upon his saddle and bridle, slung them upon his mustang, and had everything snug in less time than it takes to tell it. The rest of the party were far too comfortable to co-operate with Dan to any considerable extent; we contented ourselves with making a show of examining our weapons. All this time the wolves, as is their way when attracted by firelight, were closing in, clamouring like a legion of fiends. If Nick had known that a single pistol-shot would have sent them scampering away for dear life, I presume he would have fired one; as it was, he had Indian on the brain, and just stood by his horse, quaking till his teeth rattled like dice in a box.
"No," pursued the implacable Dan, "these can't be Injuns; for if they were, we should, perhaps, hear an owl or two among them. The chiefs sometimes hoot, owl-fashion, just to let the rabble know they're standing up to the work like men, and to show where they are."
It took us all by surprise. Nick made one spring and came down astride his sleepy mustang, with force enough to have crushed a smaller beast. We all rose to our feet, except Jerry Hunker, who was lying flat on his stomach, with his head buried in his arms, and whom we had thought sound asleep. One look at him reassured us as to the "owl" business, and we settled back, each man pretending to his neighbour that he had got up merely for effect upon Nick.
That man was now a sight to see. He sat in his saddle gesticulating wildly, and imploring us to get ready. He trembled like a jelly-fish. He took out his pistols, cocked them, and thrust them so back into the holsters, without knowing what he was about. He cocked his rifle, holding it with the muzzle directed anywhere, but principally our way; grasped his bowie-knife between his teeth, and cut his tongue trying to talk; spurred his nag into the fire, and backed him out across our blankets; and finally sat still, utterly unnerved, while we roared with the laughter we could no longer suppress.
Hwissss! pft! swt! cheew! Bones of Caesar! The arrows flitted and clipt amongst us like a flight of bats! Dan Golby threw a double-summersault, alighting on his head. Dory Durkee went smashing into the fire. Jerry Hunker was pinned to the sod where he lay fast asleep. Such dodging and ducking, and clawing about for weapons I never saw. And such genuine Indian yelling—it chills my marrow to write of it!
Old Nick vanished like a dream; and long before we could find our tools and get to work we heard the desultory reports of his pistols exploding in his holsters, as his pony measured off the darkness between us and safety.
For some fifteen minutes we had tolerable warm work of it, individually, collectively, and miscellaneously; single-handed, and one against a dozen; struggling with painted savages in the firelight, and with one another in the dark; shooting the living, and stabbing the dead; stampeding our horses, and fighting them; battling with anything that would battle, and smashing our gunstocks on whatever would not!
When all was done—when we had renovated our fire, collected our horses, and got our dead into position—we sat down to talk it over. As we sat there, cutting up our clothing for bandages, digging the poisoned arrow-heads out of our limbs, readjusting our scalps, or swapping them for such vagrant ones as there was nobody to identify, we could not help smiling to think how we had frightened Old Nick. Dan Golby, who was sinking rapidly, whispered that "it was the one sweet memory he had to sustain and cheer him in crossing the dark river into everlasting f——." It is uncertain how Dan would have finished that last word; he may have meant "felicity"—he may have meant "fire." It is nobody's business.
* * * * *
He was a dwarf, was Juniper. About the time of his birth Nature was executing a large order for prime giants, and had need of all her materials. Juniper infested the wooded interior of Norway, and dwelt in a cave—a miserable hole in which a blind bat in a condition of sempiternal torpor would have declined to hibernate, rent-free. Juniper was such a feeble little wretch, so inoffensive in his way of life, so modest in his demeanour, that every one was disposed to love him like a cousin; there was not enough of him to love like a brother. He, too, was inclined to return the affection; he was too weak to love very hard, but he made the best stagger at it he could. But a singular fatality prevented a perfect communion of soul between him and his neighbours. A strange destiny had thrown its shadow upon him, which made it cool for him in summer. There was a divinity that shaped his ends extremely rough, no matter how he hewed them.
Somewhere in that vicinity lived a monstrous bear—a great hulking obnoxious beast who had no more soul than tail. This rascal had somehow conceived a notion that the appointed function of his existence was the extermination of the dwarf. If you met the latter you might rely with cheerful confidence upon seeing the ferocious brute in eager pursuit of him in less than a minute. No sooner would Juniper fairly accost you, looking timidly over his shoulder the while, than the raging savage would leap out of some contiguous jungle and make after him like a locomotive engine too late for the train. Then poor Juniper would streak it for the nearest crowd of people, diving and dodging amongst their shins with nimble skill, shrieking all the time like a panther. He was as earnest about it as if he had made a bet upon the result of the race. Of course everybody was too busy to stop, but in his blind terror the dwarf would single out some luckless wight—commonly some well-dressed person; Juniper instinctively sought the protection of the aristocracy—getting behind him, ducking between his legs, surrounding him, dancing through him—doing anything to save the paltry flitch of his own bacon. Presently the bear would lose all patience and nip the other fellow. Then, ashamed of losing his temper, he would sneak sullenly away, taking along the body. When he had gone, poor Juniper would fall upon his knees, tearing his beard, pounding his breast, and crying Mea culpa in deep remorse. Afterwards he would pay a visit of condolence to the bereaved relations and offer to pay the funeral expenses; but of course there never were any funeral expenses. Everybody, as before stated, liked the unhappy dwarf, but nobody liked the company he kept, and people were not at home to him as a rule. Whenever he came into a village traffic was temporarily suspended, and he was made the centre of as broad a solitude as could be hastily improvised.
Many were the attempts to capture the terrible beast; hundreds of the country people would assemble to hunt him with guns and dogs. But even the dogs seemed to have an instinctive sense of some occult connection between him and the dwarf, and could never be made to understand that it was the former that was wanted. Directly they were laid on the scent they would forsake it to invest the dwarf's abode; and it was with much difficulty the pitying huntsmen could induce them to raise the siege. Things went on in this unsatisfactory fashion for years; the population annually decreasing, and Juniper making the most miraculous escapes.
Now there resided in a small village near by, a brace of twins; little orphan girls, named Jalap and Ginseng. Their considerate neighbours had told them such pleasing tales about the bear that they decided to leave the country. So they got their valuables together in a box and set out. They met Juniper! He approached to inform them it was a fine morning, when the great beast of a bear "rose like the steam of rich distilled perfume" from the earth in front of them, and made a mouth at him. Juniper did not run, as might have been expected; he stood for a moment peering into the brute's cavernous jaws, and then flew! He absented himself with such extraordinary nimbleness that after he was a mile distant his image appeared to be standing there yet; and looking back he saw it himself. Baffled of his dwarf, the bear thought he would make a shift to get on, for the present, with an orphan. So he picked up Jalap by her middle, and thoughtfully withdrew.
The thankful but disgusted Ginseng continued her emigration, but soon missed the jewel-box, which in their alarm had been dropped and burst asunder. She did not much care for the jewels, but it contained some valuable papers, among them the "Examiner" (a print which once had the misfortune to condemn a book written by the author of this tale) and this she doted on. Returning for her property, she peered cautiously around the angle of a rock, and saw a spectacle that begot in her mind a languid interest. The bear had returned upon a similar mission; he was calmly distending his cheeks with the contents of the broken box. And perched on a rock near at hand sat Juniper waiting for him!
It was natural that a suspicion of collusion between the two should dawn upon that infant's mind. It did dawn; it brightened and broadened into the perfect day of conviction. It was a revelation to the child. "At that moment," said she afterwards, "I felt that I could lay my finger on the best-trained bear in Christendom." But with praiseworthy moderation she controlled herself and didn't do it; she just stood still and allowed the beast to proceed. Having stored all the jewels in his capacious mouth, he began taking in the valuable papers. First some title-deeds disappeared; then some railway bonds; presently a roll of rent-receipts. All these seemed to be as honey to his tongue; he smiled a smile of tranquil happiness. Finally the newspaper vanished into his face like a wisp of straw drawn into a threshing machine.
Then the brute expanded his mouth with a ludicrous gape, spilling out the jewels, a glittering shower. Then he snapped his jaws like a steel trap afflicted with tetanus, and stood on his head awhile. Next he made a feeble endeavour to complicate the relations between his parts—to tie himself into a love-knot. Failing in this he lay flat upon his side, wept, retched, and finally, fashioning his visage into the semblance of sickly grin, gave up the ghost. I don't know what he died of; I suppose it was hereditary in his family.
The guilty come always to grief. Juniper was arrested, charged with conspiracy to kill, tried, convicted, sentenced to be hanged, and before the sun went down was pardoned. In searching his cavern the police discovered countless human bones, much torn clothing, and a mighty multitude of empty purses. But nothing of any value—not an article of any value. It was a mystery what Juniper had done with his ill-gotten valuables. The police confessed it was a mystery!
* * * * *
FOLLOWING THE SEA.
At the time of "the great earthquake of '68," I was at Arica, Peru. I have not a map by me, and am not certain that Arica is not in Chili, but it can't make much difference; there was earthquake all along there. As nearly as I can remember it occured in August—about the middle of August, 1869 or '70.
Sam Baxter was with me; I think we had gone from San Francisco to make a railway, or something. On the morning of the 'quake, Sam and I had gone down to the beach to bathe. We had shed our boots and begun to moult, when there was a slight tremor of the earth, as if the elephant who supports it were pushing upwards, or lying down and getting up again. Next, the surges, which were flattening themselves upon the sand and dragging away such small trifles as they could lay hold of, began racing out seaward, as if they had received a telegraphic dispatch that somebody was not expected to live. This was needless, for we did not expect to live.
When the sea had receded entirely out of sight, we started after it; for it will be remembered we had come to bathe; and bathing without some kind of water is not refreshing in a hot climate. I have heard that bathing in asses' milk is invigorating, but at that time I had no dealings with other authors. I have had no dealings with them since.
For the first four or five miles the walking was very difficult, although the grade was tolerably steep. The ground was soft, there were tangled forests of sea-weed, old rotting ships, rusty anchors, human skeletons, and a multitude of things to impede the pedestrian. The floundering sharks bit our legs as we toiled past them, and we were constantly slipping down upon the flat fish strewn about like orange-peel on a sidewalk. Sam, too, had stuffed his shirt-front with such a weight of Spanish doubloons from the wreck of an old galleon, that I had to help him across all the worst places. It was very dispiriting.
Presently, away on the western horizon, I saw the sea coming back. It occurred to me then that I did not wish it to come back. A tidal wave is nearly always wet, and I was now a good way from home, with no means of making a fire.
The same was true of Sam, but he did not appear to think of it in that way. He stood quite still a moment with his eyes fixed on the advancing line of water; then turned to me, saying, very earnestly:
"Tell you what, William; I never wanted a ship so bad from the cradle to the grave! I would give m-o-r-e for a ship!—more than for all the railways and turnpikes you could scare up! I'd give more than a hundred, thousand, million dollars! I would—I'd give all I'm worth, and all my Erie shares, for—just—one—little—ship!"
To show how lightly he could part with his wealth, he lifted his shirt out of his trousers, unbosoming himself of his doubloons, which tumbled about his feet, a golden storm.
By this time the tidal wave was close upon us. Call that a wave! It was one solid green wall of water, higher than Niagara Falls, stretching as far as we could see to right and left, without a break in its towering front! It was by no means clear what we ought to do. The moving wall showed no projections by means of which the most daring climber could hope to reach the top. There was no ivy; there were no window-ledges. Stay!—there was the lightning-conductor! No, there wasn't any lightning-conductor. Of course, not!
Looking despairingly upward, I made a tolerably good beginning at thinking of all the mean actions I had wrought in the flesh, when I saw projecting beyond the crest of the wave a ship's bowsprit, with a man sitting on it, reading a newspaper! Thank fortune, we were saved!
Falling upon our knees with tearful gratitude, we got up again and ran—ran as fast as we could, I suspect; for now the whole fore-part of the ship bulged through the water directly above our heads, and might lose its balance any moment. If we had only brought along our umbrellas!
I shouted to the man on the bowsprit to drop us a line. He merely replied that his correspondence was already very onerous, and he hadn't any pen and ink.
Then I told him I wanted to get aboard. He said I would find one on the beach, about three leagues to the south'ard, where the "Nancy Tucker" went ashore.
At these replies I was disheartened. It was not so much that the man withheld assistance, as that he made puns. Presently, however, he folded his newspaper, put it carefully away in his pocket, went and got a line, and let it down to us just as we were about to give up the race. Sam made a lunge at it, and got it—right into his side! For the fiend above had appended a shark-hook to the end of the line—which was his notion of humour. But this was no time for crimination and recrimination. I laid hold of Sam's legs, the end of the rope was passed about the capstan, and as soon as the men on board had had a little grog, we were hauled up. I can assure you that it was no fine experience to go up in that way, close to the smooth vertical front of water, with the whales tumbling out all round and above us, and the sword-fishes nosing us pointedly with vulgar curiosity.
We had no sooner set foot on deck, and got Sam disengaged from the hook, than the purser stepped up with book and pencil.
We told him we hadn't any tickets, and he ordered us to be set ashore in a boat. It was represented to him that this was quite impossible under the circumstances; but he replied that he had nothing to do with circumstances—did not know anything about circumstances. Nothing would move him till the captain, who was a really kind-hearted man, came on deck and knocked him overboard with a spare topmast. We were now stripped of our clothing, chafed all over with stiff brushes, rolled on our stomachs, wrapped in flannels, laid before a hot stove in the saloon, and strangled with scalding brandy. We had not been wet, nor had we swallowed any sea-water, but the surgeon said this was the proper treatment. I suspect, poor man, he did not often get the opportunity to resuscitate anybody; in fact, he admitted he had not had any such case as ours for years. It is uncertain what he might have done to us if the tender-hearted captain had not thrashed him into his cabin with a knotted hawser, and told us to go on deck.
By this time the ship was passing above the town of Arica, and the sailors were all for'd, sitting on the bulwarks, snapping peas and small shot at the terrified inhabitants flitting through the streets a hundred feet below. These harmless projectiles rattled very merrily upon the upturned boot-soles of the fleeting multitude; but not seeing any fun in this, we were about to go astern and fish a little, when the ship grounded on a hill-top. The captain hove out all the anchors he had about him; and when the water went swirling back to its legal level, taking the town along for company, there we were, in the midst of a charming agricultural country, but at some distance from any sea-port.
At sunrise next morning we were all on deck. Sam sauntered aft to the binnacle, cast his eye carelessly upon the compass, and uttered an ejaculation of astonishment.
"Tell you, captain," he called out, "this has been a direr convulsion of nature than you have any idea. Everything's been screwed right round. Needle points due south!"
"Why, you cussed lubber!" growled the skipper, moving up and taking a look, "it p'ints d'rectly to labbard, an' there's the sun, dead ahead!"
Sam turned and confronted him, with a steady gaze of ineffable contempt.
"Now, who said it wasn't dead ahead?—tell me that. Shows how much you know about earthquakes. 'Course, I didn't mean just this continent, nor just this earth: I tell you, the whole thing's turned!"
* * * * *
A TALE OF SPANISH VENGEANCE.
Don Hemstitch Blodoza was an hidalgo—one of the highest dalgos of old Spain. He had a comfortably picturesque castle on the Guadalquiver, with towers, battlements, and mortages on it; but as it belonged, not to his own creditors, but to those of his bitterest enemy, who inhabited it, Don Hemstitch preferred the forest as a steady residence. He had that curse of Spanish pride which will not permit one to be a burden upon the man who may happen to have massacred all one's relations, and set a price upon the heads of one's family generally. He had made a vow never to accept the hospitality of Don Symposio—not if he died for it. So he pervaded the romantic dells, and the sunless jungle was infected with the sound of his guitar. He rose in the morning and laved him in the limpid brooklet; and the beams of the noonday sun fell upon him in the pursuit of diet—
"The thistle's downy seed his fare, His drink the morning dew."
He throve but indifferently upon this meagre regimen, but beyond all other evils a true Spaniard of the poorer sort dreads obesity. During the darkest night of the season he will get up at an absurd hour and stab his best friend in the back rather than grow fat.
It will of course be suspected by the experienced reader that Don Hemstitch did not have any bed. Like the Horatian lines above quoted—
"He perched at will on every spray."
In translating this tale into the French, M. Victor Hugo will please twig the proper meaning of the word "spray"; I shall be very angry if he make it appear that my hero is a gull.
One morning while Don Hemstitch was dozing upon his leafy couch—not his main couch, but a branch—he was roused from his tranquil nap by the grunting of swine; or, if you like subtle distinctions, by the sound of human voices. Peering cautiously through his bed-hangings, he saw below him at a little distance two of his countrymen in conversation. The fine practised phrenzy of their looks, their excellently rehearsed air of apprehensive secrecy, showed him they were merely conspiring against somebody's life; and he dismissed the matter from his mind until the mention of his own name recalled his attention. One of the conspirators was urging the other to make one of a joint-stock company for the Don's assassination; but the more conscientious plotter would not consent.
"The laws of Spain," said the latter, "with which we have an acquaintance meanly withheld from the attorneys, enjoin that when one man murders another, except for debt, he must make provision for the widow and orphans. I leave it to you if, after the summer's unprofitable business, we are in a position to assume the care and education of a large family. We have not a single asset, and our liabilities amount to fourteen widows, and more than thirty children of strong and increasing appetite.
"Car-r-rajo!" hissed the other through his beard; "we will slaughter the lot of them!"
At this cold-blooded proposition his merciful companion recoiled aghast.
"Diablo!" he shrieked. "Tempt me no farther. What! immolate a whole hecatomb of guiltless women and children? Consider the funeral expense!"
There is really no moving the law-abiding soul to crime of doubtful profit. But Don Hemstitch was not at ease; he could not say how soon it might transpire that he had nor chick nor child. Should Don Symposio pass that way and communicate this information—and he was in a position to know—the moral scruples of the conscientious plotter would vanish like the baseless fabric of a beaten cur. Moreover, it is always unpleasant to be included in a conspiracy in which one is not a conspirator. Don Hemstitch resolved to sell his life at the highest market price.
Hastily descending his tree, he wrapped his cloak about him and stood for some time, wishing he had a poniard. Trying the temper of this upon his thumbnail, he found it much more amiable than his own. It was a keen Toledo blade—keen enough to sever a hare. To nerve himself for the deadly work before him, he began thinking of a lady whom he had once met—the lovely Donna Lavaca, beloved of El Toro-blanco. Having thus wrought up his Castilian soul to a high pitch of jealously, he felt quite irresistible, and advanced towards the two ruffians with his poniard deftly latent in his flowing sleeve. His mien was hostile, his stride puissant, his nose tip-tilted—not to put too fine a point upon it, petallic. Don Hemstitch was upon the war-path with all his might. The forest trembled as he trode, the earth bent like thin ice beneath his heel. Birds, beasts, serpents, and poachers fled affrighted to the right and left of his course. He came down upon the unsuspecting assassins like a mild Spanish avalanche.
"Senores!" he thundered, with a frightful scowl and a faint aroma of garlic, "patter your pater-nosters as fast as you conveniently may. You have but ten minutes to exist. Has either of you a watch?"
Then might you have seen a guilty dismay over-spreading the faces of two sinners, like a sudden snow paling twin mountain peaks. In the presence of Death, Crime shuddered and sank into his boots. Conscience stood appalled in the sight of Retribution. In vain the villains essayed speech; each palsied tongue beat out upon the yielding air some weak words of supplication, then clave to its proper concave. Two pairs of brawny knees unsettled their knitted braces, and bent limply beneath their loads of incarnate wickedness swaying unsteadily above. With clenched hands and streaming eyes these wretched men prayed silently. At this supreme moment an American gentleman sitting by, with his heels upon a rotted oaken stump, tilted back his chair, laid down his newspaper, and began operating upon a half-eaten apple-pie. One glance at the title of that print—one look at that calm angular face clasped in its crescent of crisp crust—and Don Hemstitch Blodoza reeled, staggered like an exhausted spinning-top. He spread his baffled hand upon his eyes, and sank heavily to earth!
"Saved! saved!" shrieked the penitent conspirators, springing to their feet. The far deeps of the forest whispered in consultation, and a distant hillside echoed back the words. "Saved!" sang the rocks—"Saved!" the glad birds twittered from the leaves above. The hare that Don Hemstitch Blodoza's poniard would have severed limped awkwardly but confidently about, saying, "Saved!" as well as he knew how.
Explanation is needless. The American gentleman was the Special Correspondent of the "New York Herald." It is tolerably well known that except beneath his searching eye no considerable event can occur—and his whole attention was focused upon that apple-pie!
That is how Spanish vengeance was balked of its issue.
* * * * *
MRS. DENNISON'S HEAD.
While I was employed in the Bank of Loan and Discount (said Mr. Applegarth, smiling the smile with which he always prefaced a nice old story), there was another clerk there, named Dennison—a quiet, reticent fellow, the very soul of truth, and a great favourite with us all. He always wore crape on his hat, and once when asked for whom he was in mourning he replied his wife, and seemed much affected. We all expressed our sympathy as delicately as possible, and no more was said upon the subject. Some weeks after this he seemed to have arrived at that stage of tempered grief at which it becomes a relief to give sorrow words—to speak of the departed one to sympathizing friends; for one day he voluntarily began talking of his bereavement, and of the terrible calamity by which his wife had been deprived of her head!
This sharpened our curiosity to the keenest edge; but of course we controlled it, hoping he would volunteer some further information with regard to so singular a misfortune; but when day after day went by and he did not allude to the matter, we got worked up into a fever of excitement about it. One evening after Dennison had gone, we held a kind of political meeting about it, at which all possible and impossible methods of decapitation were suggested as the ones to which Mrs. D. probably owed her extraordinary demise. I am sorry to add that we so far forgot the grave character of the event as to lay small wagers that it was done this way or that way; that it was accidental or premeditated; that she had had a hand in it herself or that it was wrought by circumstances beyond her control. All was mere conjecture, however; but from that time Dennison, as the custodian of a secret upon which we had staked our cash, was an object of more than usual interest. It wasn't entirely that, either; aside from our paltry wagers, we felt a consuming curiosity to know the truth for its own sake. Each set himself to work to elicit the dread secret in some way; and the misdirected ingenuity we developed was wonderful. All sorts of pious devices were resorted to to entice poor Dennison into clearing up the mystery. By a thousand indirect methods we sought to entrap him into divulging all. History, fiction, poesy—all were laid under contribution, and from Goliah down, through Charles I., to Sam Spigger, a local celebrity who got his head entangled in mill machinery, every one who had ever mourned the loss of a head received his due share of attention during office hours. The regularity with which we introduced, and the pertinacity with which we stuck to, this one topic came near getting us all discharged; for one day the cashier came out of his private office and intimated that if we valued our situations the subject of hanging would afford us the means of retaining them. He added that he always selected his subordinates with an eye to their conversational abilities, but variety of subject was as desirable, at times, as exhaustive treatment.
During all this discussion Dennison, albeit he had evinced from the first a singular interest in the theme, and shirked not his fair share of the conversation, never once seemed to understand that it had any reference to himself. His frank truthful nature was quite unable to detect the personal significance of the subject. It was plain that nothing short of a definite inquiry would elicit the information we were dying to obtain; and at a "caucus," one evening, we drew lots to determine who should openly propound it. The choice fell upon me.
Next morning we were at the bank somewhat earlier than usual, waiting impatiently for Dennison and the time to open the doors: they always arrived together. When Dennison stepped into the room, bowing in his engaging manner to each clerk as he passed to his own desk, I confronted him, shaking him warmly by the hand. At that moment all the others fell to writing and figuring with unusual avidity, as if thinking of anything under the sun except Dennison's wife's head.
"Oh, Dennison," I began, as carelessly as I could manage it; "speaking of decapitation reminds me of something I would like to ask you. I have intended asking it several times, but it has always slipped my memory. Of course you will pardon me if it is not a fair question."
As if by magic, the scratching of pens died away, leaving a dead silence which quite disconcerted me; but I blundered on:
"I heard the other day—that is, you said—or it was in the newspapers—- or somewhere—something about your poor wife, you understand—about her losing her head. Would you mind telling me how such a distressing accident—if it was an accident—occurred?"
When I had finished, Dennison walked straight past me as if he didn't see me, went round the counter to his stool, and perched himself gravely on the top of it, facing the other clerks. Then he began speaking, calmly, and without apparent emotion:
"Gentlemen, I have long desired to speak of this thing, but you gave me no encouragement, and I naturally supposed you were indifferent. I now thank you all for the friendly interest you take in my affairs. I will satisfy your curiosity upon this point at once, if you will promise never hereafter to allude to the matter, and to ask not a single question now."
We all promised upon our sacred honour, and collected about him with the utmost eagerness. He bent his head a moment, then raised it, quietly saying:
"My poor wife's head was bitten off!"
"By what?" we all exclaimed eagerly, with suspended breath.
He gave us a look full of reproach, turned to his desk, and went at his work.
We went at ours.
* * * * *
A FOWL WITCH.
Frau Gaubenslosher was strongly suspected of witchcraft. I don't think she was a witch, but would not like to swear she was not, in a court of law, unless a good deal depended upon my testimony, and I had been properly suborned beforehand. A great many persons accused of witchcraft have themselves stoutly disbelieved the charge, until, when subjected to shooting with a silver bullet or boiling in oil, they have found themselves unable to endure the test. And it must be confessed appearances were against the Frau. In the first place, she lived quite alone in a forest, and had no visiting list. This was suspicious. Secondly—and it was thus, mainly, that she had acquired her evil repute—all the barn-yard fowls in the vicinity seemed to bear her the most uncompromising ill-will. Whenever she passed a flock of hens, or ducks, or turkeys, or geese, one of them, with dropped wings, extended neck, and open bill, would start in hot pursuit. Sometimes the whole flock would join in for a few moments with shrill clamour; but there would always be one fleeter and more determined than the rest, and that one would keep up the chase with unflagging zeal clean out of sight.
Upon these occasions the dame's fright was painful to behold. She would not scream—her organs of screech seemed to have lost their power—nor, as a rule, would she curse; she would just address herself to silent prayerful speed, with every symptom of abject terror!
The Frau's explanation of this unnatural persecution was singularly weak. Upon a certain night long ago, said she, a poor bedraggled and attenuated gander had applied at her door for relief. He stated in piteous accents that he had eaten nothing for months but tin-tacks and an occasional beer-bottle; and he had not roosted under cover for so long a time he did not know what it was like. Would she give him a place on her fender, and fetch out six or eight cold pies to amuse him while she was preparing his supper? To this plea she turned a deaf ear, and he went away. He came again the next night, however, bringing a written certificate from a clergyman that his case was a deserving one. She would not aid him, and he departed. The night after he presented himself again, with a paper signed by the relieving officer of the parish, stating that the necessity for help was most urgent.
By this time the Frau's good-nature was quite exhausted: she slew him, dressed him, put him in a pot, and boiled him. She kept him boiling for three or four days, but she did not eat him because her teeth were just like anybody's teeth—no weaker, perhaps, but certainly no stronger nor sharper. So she fed him to a threshing machine of her acquaintance, which managed to masticate some of the more modern portions, but was hopelessly wrecked upon the neck. From that time the poor beldame had lived under the ban of a great curse. Hens took after her as naturally as after the soaring beetle; geese pursued her as if she were a fleeting tadpole; ducks, turkeys, and guinea fowl camped upon her trail with tireless pertinacity.
Now there was a leaven of improbability in this tale, and it leavened the whole lump. Ganders do not roost; there is not one in a hundred of them that could sit on a fender long enough to say Jack Robinson. So, as the Frau lived a thousand years before the birth of common sense—say about a half century ago—when everything uncommon had a smell of the supernatural, there was nothing for it but to consider her a witch. Had she been very feeble and withered, the people would have burned her, out of hand; but they did not like to proceed to extremes without perfectly legal evidence. They were cautious, for they had made several mistakes recently. They had sentenced two or three females to the stake, and upon being stripped the limbs and bodies of these had not redeemed the hideous promise of their shrivelled faces and hands. Justice was ashamed of having toasted comparatively plump and presumably innocent women; and the punishment of this one was wisely postponed until the proof should be all in.
But in the meantime a graceless youth, named Hans Blisselwartle, made the startling discovery that none of the fowls that pursued the Frau ever came back to boast of it. A brief martial career seemed to have weaned them from the arts of peace and the love of their kindred. Full of unutterable suspicion, Hans one day followed in the rear of an exciting race between the timorous dame and an avenging pullet. They were too rapid for him; but bursting suddenly in at the lady's door some fifteen minutes afterward, he found her in the act of placing the plucked and eviscerated Nemesis upon her cooking range. The Frau betrayed considerable confusion; and although the accusing Blisselwartle could not but recognize in her act a certain poetic justice, he could not conceal from himself that there was something grossly selfish and sordid in it. He thought it was a good deal like bottling an annoying ghost and selling him for clarified moonlight; or like haltering a nightmare and putting her to the cart.
When it transpired that the Frau ate her feathered persecutors, the patience of the villagers refused to honour the new demand upon it: she was at once arrested, and charged with prostituting a noble superstition to a base selfish end. We will pass over the trial; suffice it she was convicted. But even then they had not the heart to burn a middle-aged woman, with full rounded outlines, as a witch, so they broke her upon the wheel as a thief.
The reckless antipathy of the domestic fowls to this inoffensive lady remains to be explained. Having rejected her theory, I am bound in honour to set up one of my own. Happily an inventory of her effects, now before me, furnishes a tolerably safe basis. Amongst the articles of personal property I note "One long, thin, silken fishing line, and hook." Now if I were a barn-yard fowl—say a goose—and a lady not a friend of mine were to pass me, munching sweetmeats, and were to drop a nice fat worm, passing on apparently unconscious of her loss, I think I should try to get away with that worm. And if after swallowing it I felt drawn towards that lady by a strong personal attachment, I suppose that I should yield if I could not help it. And then if the lady chose to run and I chose to follow, making a good deal of noise, I suppose it would look as if I were engaged in a very reprehensible pursuit, would it not? With the light I have, that is the way in which the case presents itself to my intelligence; though, of course, I may be wrong.
* * * * *
THE CIVIL SERVICE IN FLORIDA.
Colonel Bulper was of a slumberous turn. Most people are not: they work all day and sleep all night—are always in one or the other condition of unrest, and never slumber. Such persons, the Colonel used to remark, are fit only for sentry duty; they are good to watch our property while we take our rest—and they take the property. But this tale is not of them; it is of Colonel Bulper.
There was a fellow named Halsey, a practical joker, and one of the most disagreeable of his class. He would remain broad awake for a year at a time, for no other purpose than to break other people of their natural rest. And I must admit that from the wreck of his faculties upon the rock of insomnia he had somehow rescued a marvellous ingenuity and fertility of expedient. But this tale is not so much of him as of Colonel Bulper.
At the time of which I write, the Colonel was the Collector of Customs at a sea-port town in Florida, United States. The climate there is perpetual summer; it never rains, nor anything; and there was no good reason why the Colonel should not have enjoyed it to the top of his bent, as there was enough for all. In point of fact, the Collectorship had been given him solely that he might repair his wasted vitality by a short season of unbroken repose; for during the Presidential canvass immediately preceding his appointment he had been kept awake a long time by means of strong tea, in order to deliver an able and exhaustive political argument prepared by the candidate, who was ultimately successful in spite of it. Halsey, who had favoured the other aspirant, was a merchant, and had nothing in the world to do but annoy the collector. If the latter could have kept away from him, the dignity of the office might have been preserved, and the object of the incumbent's appointment to it attained; but sneak away whithersoever he might—into the heart of the dismal swamp, or anywhere in the Everglades—some vagrom Indian or casual negro was sure to stumble over him before long, and go and tell Halsey, securing a plug of tobacco for reward. Or if he was not found in this way, some company was tolerably certain, in the course of time, to survey a line of railway athwart his leafy couch, and laying his prostrate trunk aside out of the way, send word to his persecutor; who, as soon as the line was as nearly completed as it ever would be, would come down on horseback with some diabolical device for waking the slumberer. I will confess there is a subtle seeming of unlikelihood about all this; but in the land where Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth there is an air of unreality in everything. I can only say I have had the story by me a long time, and it seems to me just as true as it was the day I wrote it.
Sometimes the Colonel would seek out a hillside with a southern exposure; but no sooner would he compose his members for a bit of slumber, than Halsey would set about making inquiries for him, under pretence that a ship was en route from Liverpool, and the collector's signature might be required for her anchoring papers. Having traced him—which, owing to the meddlesome treachery of the venal natives, he was always able to do—Halsey would set off to Texas for a seed of the prickly pear, which he would plant exactly beneath the slumberer's body. This he called a triumph of modern engineering! As soon as the young vegetable had pushed its spines above the soil, of course the Colonel would have to get up and seek another spot—and this nearly always waked him.
Upon one occasion the Colonel existed five consecutive days without slumber—travelling all day and sleeping in the weeds at night—to find an almost inaccessible crag, on the summit of which he hoped to be undisturbed until the action of the dew should wear away the rock all round his body, when he expected and was willing to roll off and wake. But even there Halsey found him out, and put eagles' eggs in his southern pockets to hatch. When the young birds were well grown, they pecked so sharply at the Colonel's legs that he had to get up and wring their necks. The malevolence of people who scorn slumber seems to be practically unlimited.
At last the Colonel resolved upon revenge, and having dreamed out a feasible plan, proceeded to put it into execution. He had in the warehouse some Government powder, and causing a keg of this to be conveyed into his private office, he knocked out the head. He next penned a note to Halsey, asking him to step down to the office "upon important business;" adding in a postscript, "As I am liable to be called out for a few moments at any time, in case you do not find me in, please sit down and amuse yourself with the newspaper until I return." He knew Halsey was at his counting-house, and would certainly come if only to learn what signification a Government official attached to the word "business." Then the Colonel procured a brief candle and set it into the powder. His plan was to light the candle, dispatch a porter with the message, and bolt for home. Having completed his preparations, he leaned back in his easy chair and smiled. He smiled a long time, and even achieved a chuckle. For the first time in his life, he felt a serene sense of happiness in being particularly wide awake. Then, without moving from his chair, he ignited the taper, and put out his hand toward the bell-cord, to summon the porter. At this stage of his vengeance the Colonel fell into a tranquil and refreshing slumber.
* * * * *
There is nothing omitted here; that is merely the Colonel's present address.
* * * * *
A TALE OF THE BOSPHORUS.
Pollimariar was the daughter of a Mussulman—she was, in fact, a Mussulgirl. She lived at Stamboul, the name of which is an admirable rhyme to what Pollimariar was profanely asserted to be by her two sisters, Djainan and Djulya. These were very much older than Pollimariar, and proportionately wicked. In wickedness they could discount her, giving her the first innings.
The relations between Pollimariar and her sisters were in all respects similar to those that existed between Cinderella and her sisters. Indeed, these big girls seldom read anything but the story of Cinderella; and that work, no doubt, had its influence in forming their character. They were always apparelling themselves in gaudy dresses from Paris, and going away to balls, leaving their meritorious little sister weeping at home in their every-day finery. Their father was a commercial traveller, absent with his samples in Damascus most of the time; and the poor girl had no one to protect her from the outrage of exclusion from the parties to which she was not invited. She fretted and chafed very much at first, but after forbearance ceased to be a virtue it came rather natural to her to exercise a patient endurance. But perceiving this was agreeable to her sisters she abandoned it, devising a rare scheme of vengeance. She sent to the "Levant Herald" the following "personal" advertisement:
"G.V.—Regent's Canal 10.30 p.m., Q.K.X. is O.K.! With coals at 48 sh-ll-ngs I cannot endure existence without you! Ask for G-field St-ch. J.G. + pro rata. B-tty's N-bob P-ckles. Oz-k-r-t! Meet me at the 'Turban and Scimitar,' Bebeck Road, Thursday morning at three o'clock; blue cotton umbrella, wooden shoes, and Ulster overskirt Polonaise all round the bottom.
One Who Wants to Know Yer."
The latter half of this contained the gist of the whole matter; the other things were put in just to prevent the notice from being conspicuously sensible. Next morning, when the Grand Vizier took up his newspaper, he could not help knowing he was the person addressed; and at the appointed hour he kept the tryst. What passed between them the sequel will disclose, if I can think it out to suit me.
Soon afterwards Djainan and Djulya received cards of invitation to a grand ball at the Sultan's palace, given to celebrate the arrival of a choice lot of Circassian beauties in the market. The first thing the wicked sisters did was to flourish these invitations triumphantly before the eyes of Pollimariar, who declared she did not believe a word of it; indeed, she professed such aggressive incredulity that she had to be severely beaten. But she denied the invitations to the last. She thought it was best to deny them.
The invitations stated that at the proper hour the old original Sultana would call personally, and conduct the young ladies to the palace; and she did so. They thought, at the time, she bore a striking resemblance to a Grand Vizier with his beard shaven off, and this led them into some desultory reflections upon the sin of nepotism and family favour at Court; but, like all moral reflections, these came to nothing. The old original Sultana's attire, also, was, with the exception of a reticule and fan, conspicuously epicene; but, in a country where popular notions of sex are somewhat confused, this excited no surprise.
As the three marched off in stately array, poor little deserted Pollimariar stood cowering at one side, with her fingers spread loosely upon her eyes, weeping like—a crocodile. The Sultana said it was late; they would have to make haste. She had not fetched a cab, however, and a recent inundation of dogs very much impeded their progress. By-and-by the dogs became shallower, but it was near eleven o'clock before they arrived at the Sublime Porte—very old and fruity. A janizary standing here split his visage to grin, but it was surprising how quickly the Sultana had his head off.
Pretty soon afterwards they came to a low door, where the Sultana whistled three times and kicked at the panels. It soon yielded, disclosing two gigantic Nubian eunuchs, black as the ace of clubs, who stared at first, but when shown a very cleverly-executed signet-ring of paste, knocked their heads against the ground with respectful violence. Then one of them consulted a thick book, and took from a secret drawer two metal badges numbered 7,394 and 7,395, which he fastened about the necks of the now frightened girls, who had just observed that the Sultana had vanished. The numbers on the badges showed that this would be a very crowded ball.
The other black now advanced with a measuring tape, and began gravely measuring Djainan from head to heel. She ventured to ask the sable guardian with what article of dress she was to be fitted.
"Bedad, thin, av ye must know," said he, grinning, "it is to be a sack."
"What! a sacque for a ball?"
"Indade, it's right ye are, mavourneen; it is fer a ball—fer a cannon-ball—as will make yer purty body swim to the bothom nately as ony shtone."
And the eunuch toyed lovingly with his measuring-tape, which the wretched girls now observed was singularly like a bow-string.
"O, sister," shrieked Djainan, "this is—"
"O, sister," shrieked Djulya, "this is—"
It was even so. A minute later the betrayed maidens were carried, feet-foremost-and-fainting, through a particularly dirty portal, over which gleamed the infernal legend: "Who enters here leaves soap behind!" I wash my hands of them.
Next morning the following "personal" appeared in the "Levant Herald:"
"P-ll-m-r-r.—All is over. The S-lt-n cleared his shelves of the old stock at midnight. If you purchased the Circ-n B-ties with the money I advanced, be sure you don't keep them too long on hand. Prices are sure to fall when I have done buying for the H-r-m. Meet me at time and place agreed upon, and divide profits. G—d V—r."
* * * * *
AN EDITORIAL ARTICLE FROM A JOURNAL. OF MAY 3rd, A.D. 3873.
At the quiet little village of Smithcester (the ancient London) will be celebrated to-day the twentieth, centennial anniversary of this remarkable man, the foremost figure of antiquity. The recurrence of what, no longer than six centuries ago, was a popular fete day, and which even now is seldom allowed to pass without some recognition by those to whom the word liberty means something more precious than gold, is provocative of peculiar emotion. It matters little whether or no tradition has correctly fixed the date of Smith's birth; that he was born—that being born he wrought nobly at the work his hand found to do—that by the mere force of his intellect he established our present perfect form of government, under which civilization has attained its highest and ripest development—these are facts beside which a mere question of chronology sinks into insignificance.
That this extraordinary man originated the Smitharchic system of government is, perhaps, open to honest doubt; very possibly it had a de facto existence in various debased and uncertain shapes as early as the sixteenth century. But that he cleared it of its overlying errors and superstitions, gave it a definite form, and shaped it into an intelligible scheme, there is the strongest evidence in the fragments of twentieth-century literature that have descended to us, disfigured though they are with amazingly contradictory statements of his birth, parentage, and manner of life before he strode upon the political stage as the liberator of mankind. It is stated that Snakeshear—one of his contemporaries, a poet whose works had in their day some reputation (though it is difficult to say why)—alludes to him as "the noblest Roman of them all;" our ancestors at the time being called Englishmen or Romans, indifferently. In the only fragment of Snakeshear extant, however, we have been unable to find this passage.
Smith's military power is amply attested in an ancient manuscript of undoubted authenticity, which has just been translated from the Japanese. It is an account of the water-battle of Loo, by an eyewitness whose name, unfortunately, has not reached us. In this battle it is stated that Smith overthrew the great Neapolitan general, whom he captured and conveyed in chains to the island of Chickenhurst.
In his Political History of the Twentieth Century, the late Mimble—or, as he would have been called in the time of which he writes, Mister Mimble—has this luminous sentence: "With the single exception of Coblentz, there was no European government the Liberator did not upset, and which he did not erect into a pure Smitharchy; and though some of them afterward relapsed temporarily into the crude forms of antiquity, and others fell into fanciful systems begotten of the intellectual activity he had stirred up, yet so firmly did he establish the principle, that in the Thirty-second Century the enlightened world was, what it has since remained, practically Smitharchic."
It may be noted here as a curious coincidence, that the same year which saw the birth of him who established rational government witnessed the death of him who perfected literature. In 1873, Martin Farquhar Tupper—next to Smith the most notable name in history—died of starvation in the streets of London. Like that of Smith, his origin is wrapped in profoundest obscurity. No less than seven British cities claimed the honour of his birth. Meagre indeed is our knowledge of this only bard whose works have descended to us through the changes of twenty centuries entire. All that is positively established is that during his life he was editor of "The Times 'magazine,'" a word of disputed meaning—and, as quaint old Dumbleshaw says, "an accomplished Greek and Latin scholar," whatever "Greek" and "Latin" may have been. Had Smith and Tupper been contemporaries, the iron deeds of the former would doubtless have been immortalized in the golden pages of the latter. Upon such chances does History depend for her materials!
Strangely unimpressible indeed must be the mind which, looking backward through the vista of twenty centuries upon the singular race from whom we are supposed to be descended, can repress a feeling of emotional interest. The names of John Smith and Martin Farquhar Tupper, blazoned upon the page of the dim past, and surrounded by the lesser names of Snakeshear, the first Neapolitan, Oliver Cornwell, Close, "Queen" Elizabeth, or Lambeth, the Dutch Bismarch, Julia Caesar, and a host of contemporary notables are singularly suggestive. They call to mind the odd old custom of covering the body with "clothes;" the curious error of Copernicus and other wide guesses of antique "science;" the lost arts of telegramy, steam locomotion, and printing with movable types; and the exploded theory of gunpowder. They set us thinking upon the zealous idolatry which led men to make pious pilgrimages to the then accessible regions about the North Pole and into the interior of Africa, which at that time was but little better than a wilderness. They conjure up visions of bloodthirsty "Emperors," tyrannical "Kings," vampire "Presidents," and useless "Parliaments"—strangely horrible shapes contrasted with the serene and benevolent aspect of our modern Smithocracy!
Let us to-day rejoice that the old order of things has for ever passed away; let us be thankful that our lot has been cast in more wholesome days than those in which John Smith chalked out the better destinies of a savage race, and Tupper sang divine philosophy to inattentive ears. And yet let us keep green the memory of whatever there was of good—if any—in the dark pre-Smithian ages, when men cherished quaint superstitions and rode on the backs of "horses"—when they passed over the seas instead of under them—when science had not yet dawned to chase away the shadows of imagination—and when the cabalistic letters A.D., which from habit we still affix to the numerals designating the age of the world, had perhaps a known signification.
* * * * *
Deidrick Schwackenheimer was a lusty young goatherd. He stood six feet two in his sabots, and there was not an ounce of superfluous bone or brain in his composition. If he had a fault, it was a tendency to sleep more than was strictly necessary. The nature of his calling fostered this weakness: after being turned into some neighbour's pasture, his animals would not require looking after until the owner of the soil turned them out again. Their guardian naturally devoted the interval to slumber. Nor was there danger of oversleeping: the pitchfork of the irate husbandman always roused him at the proper moment.
At nightfall Deidrick would marshal his flock and drive it homeward to the milking-yard. Here he was met by the fair young Katrina Buttersprecht, the daughter of his employer, who relieved the tense udders of their daily secretion. One evening after the milking, Deidrick, who had for years been nourishing a secret passion for Katrina, was smitten with an idea. Why should she not be his wife? He went and fetched a stool into the yard, led her tenderly to it, seated her, and asked her why. The girl thought a moment, and then was at some pains to explain. She was too young. Her old father required all her care. Her little brother would cry. She was engaged to Max Manglewurzzle. She amplified considerably, but these were the essential points of objection. She set them before him seriatim with perfect frankness, and without mental reservation. When she had done, her lover, with that instinctive sense of honour characteristic of the true goatherd, made no attempt to alter her decision. Indeed, he had nodded a heart-broken assent to each separate proposition, and at the conclusion of the last was fast asleep. The next morning he jocundly drove his goats afield and appeared the same as usual, except that he slept a good deal more, and thought of Katrina a good deal less.
That evening when he returned with his spraddling milch-nannies, he found a second stool placed alongside the first. It was a happy augury; his attentions, then, were not altogether distasteful. He seated himself gravely upon the stool, and when Katrina had done milking, she came and occupied the other. He mechanically renewed his proposal. Then the artless maid proceeded to recapitulate the obstacles to the union. She was too young. Her old father required all her care. Her little brother would cry. She was engaged to Max Manglewurzzle. As each objection was stated and told off on the frauelein's fingers, Deidrick nodded a resigned acquiescence, and at the finish was fast asleep. Every evening after that Deidrick proposed in perfect good faith, the girl repeated her objections with equal candour, and they were received with somnolent approval. Love-making is very agreeable, and by the usuage of long years it becomes a confirmed habit. In less than a decade it became impossible for Katrina to enjoy her supper without the regular proposal, and Deidrick could not sleep of a night without the preliminary nap in the goat-yard to taper off his wakefulness. Both would have been wretched had they retired to bed with a shade of misunderstanding between them.
And so the seasons went by. The earth grayed and greened herself anew; the planets sailed their appointed courses; the old goats died, and their virtues were perpetuated in their offspring. Max Manglewurzzle married the miller's daughter; Katrina's little brother, who would have cried at her wedding, did not cry any at his own; the aged Buttersprecht was long gathered to his fathers; and Katrina was herself well stricken in years. And still at fall of night she defined her position to the sleeping lover who had sought her hand—defined it in the self-same terms as upon that eventful eve. The gossiping frauen began to whisper it would be a match; but it did not look like it as yet. Slanderous tongues even asserted that it ought to have been a match long ago, but I don't see how it could have been, without the girl's consent. The parish clerk began to hanker after his fee; but, lacking patience, he was unreasonable.
The whole countryside was now taking a deep interest in the affair. The aged did not wish to die without beholding the consummation of the love they had seen bud in their youth; and the young did not wish to die at all. But no one liked to interfere; it was feared that counsel to the woman would be rejected, and a thrashing to the man would be misunderstood. At last the parson took heart of grace to make or mar the match. Like a reckless gambler he staked his fee upon the cast of a die. He went one day and removed the two stools—now worn extremely thin—to another corner of the milking-yard.
That evening, when the distended udders had been duly despoiled, the lovers repaired to their trysting-place. They opened their eyes a bit to find the stools removed. They were tormented with a vague presentiment of evil, and stood for some minutes irresolute; then, assisted to a decision by their weakening knees, they seated themselves flat upon the ground. Deidrick stammered a weak proposal, and Katrina essayed an incoherent objection. But she trembled and became unintelligible; and when he attempted to throw in a few nods of generous approval they came in at the wrong places. With one accord they arose and sought their stools. Katrina tried it again. She succeeded in saying her father was over-young to marry, and Max Manglewurzzle would cry if she took care of him. Deidrick executed a reckless nod that made his neck snap, and was broad awake in a minute. A second time they arose. They conveyed the stools back to their primitive position, and began again. She remarked that her little brother was too old to require all her care, and Max would cry to marry her father. Deidrick addressed himself to sleep, but a horrid nightmare galloped rough-shod into his repose and set him off with a strangled snort. The good understanding between those two hearts was for ever dissipated; neither one knew if the other were afoot or on horseback. Like the sailor's thirtieth stroke with the rope's-end, it was perfectly disgusting! Their meetings after this were so embarrassing that they soon ceased meeting altogether. Katrina died soon after, a miserable broken-spirited maiden of sixty; and Deidrick drags out a wretched existence in a remote town, upon an income of eight silbergroschen a week.
Oh, friends and brethren, if you did but know how slight an act may sunder for ever the bonds of love—how easily one may wreck the peace of two faithful hearts—how almost without an effort the waters of affection may be changed to gall and bitterness—I suspect you would make even more more mischief than you do now.
* * * * *
THE EARLY HISTORY OF BATH.
Bladud was the eldest son of a British King (whose name I perfectly remember, but do not choose to write) temp. Solomon—who does not appear to have known Bladud, however. Bladud was, therefore, Prince of Wales. He was more than that: he was a leper—had it very bad, and the Court physician, Sir William Gull, frequently remarked that the Prince's death was merely a question of time. When a man gets to that stage of leprosy he does not care much for society, particularly if no one will have anything to do with him. So Bladud bade a final adieu to the world, and settled in Liverpool. But not agreeing with the climate, he folded his tent into the shape of an Arab, as Longfellow says, and silently stole away to the southward, bringing up in Gloucestershire.
Here Bladud hired himself out to a farmer named Smith, as a swineherd. But Fate, as he expressed it in the vernacular, was "ferninst him." Leprosy is a contagious disease, within certain degrees of consanguinity, and by riding his pigs afield he communicated it to them; so that in a few weeks, barring the fact that they were hogs, they were no better off than he. Mr. Smith was an irritable old gentleman, so choleric he made his bondsmen tremble—though he was now abroad upon his own recognizances. Dreading his wrath, Bladud quitted his employ, without giving the usual week's notice, but so far conforming to custom in other respects as to take his master's pigs along with him.
We find him next at a place called Swainswick—or Swineswig—a mile or two to the north-east of Bath, which, as yet, had no existence, its site being occupied by a smooth level reach of white sand, or a stormy pool of black water, travellers of the time disagree which. At Swainswick Bladud found his level; throwing aside all such nonsense as kingly ambition, and the amenities of civilized society—utterly ignoring the deceitful pleasures of common sense—he contented his simple soul with composing bouts rimes for Lady Miller, at Batheaston Villa; that one upon a buttered muffin, falsely ascribed by Walpole to the Duchess of Northumberland, was really constructed by Bladud.
A brief glance at the local history of the period cannot but prove instructive. Ralph Allen was then residing at Sham Castle, where Pope accused him of doing good like a thief in the night and blushing to find it unpopular. Fielding was painfully evolving "Tom Jones" from an inner consciousness that might have been improved by soap and any water but that of Bath. Bishop Warburton had just shot the Count Du Barre in a duel with Lord Chesterfield; and Beau Nash was disputing with Dr. Johnson, at the Pelican Inn, Walcot, upon a question of lexicographical etiquette. It is necessary to learn these things in order the better to appreciate the interest of what follows.
During all this time Bladud never permitted his mind to permanently desert his calling; he found family matters a congenial study, and he thought of his swine a good deal, off and on. One day while baiting them amongst the hills, he observed a cloud of steam ascending from the valley below. Having always believed steam a modern invention, this ancient was surprised, and when his measly charge set up a wild squeal, rushing down a steep place into the aspiring vapour, his astonishment ripened into dismay. As soon as he conveniently could Bladud followed, and there he heard the saw—I mean he saw the herd wallowing and floundering multitudinously in a hot spring, and punctuating the silence of nature with grunts of quiet satisfaction, as the leprosy left them and clave to the waters—to which it cleaves yet. It is not probable the pigs went in there for a medicinal purpose; how could they know? Any butcher will tell you that a pig, after being assassinated, is invariably boiled to loosen the hair. By long usage the custom of getting into hot water has become a habit which the living pig inherits from the dead pork. (See Herbert Spencer on "Heredity.")
Now Bladud (who is said to have studied at Athens, as most Britons of his time did) was a rigid disciple of Bishop Butler; and Butler's line of argument is this: Because a rose-bush blossoms this year, a lamppost will blossom next year. By this ingenious logic he proves the immortality of the human soul, which is good of him; but in so doing he proves, also, the immortality of the souls of snakes, mosquitos, and everything else, which is less commendable. Reasoning by analogy, Bladud was convinced that if these waters would cure a pig, they would cure a prince: and without waiting to see how they had cured the bacon, he waded in.
When asked the next day by Sir William Waller if he intended trying the waters again, and if he retained his fondness for that style of bathing, he replied, "Not any, thank you; I am quite cured!" Sir William at once noised abroad the story of the wonderful healing, and when it reached the king's ears, that potentate sent for Bladud to "come home at once and succeed to the throne, just the same as if he had a skin"—which Bladud did. Some time afterwards he thought to outdo Daedalus and Icarus, by flying from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral. He outdid them handsomely; he fell a good deal harder than they did, and broke his precious neck.
Previously to his melancholy end he built the City of Bath, to commemorate his remarkable cure. He endowed the Corporation with ten millions sterling, every penny of the interest of which is annually devoted to the publication of guide-books to Bath, to lure the unwary invalid to his doom. From motives of mercy the Corporation have now set up a contrivance for secretly extracting the mineral properties of the fluid before it is ladled out, but formerly a great number of strangers found a watery grave.
If King Bladud was generous to Bath, Bath has been grateful in return. One statue of him adorns the principal street, and another graces the swimming pond, both speaking likenesses. The one represents him as he was before he divided his leprosy with the pigs; the other shows him as he appeared after breaking his neck.
Writing in 1631, Dr. Jordan says: "The baths are bear-gardens, where both sexes bathe promiscuously, while the passers-by pelt them with dead dogs, cats, and pigs; and even human creatures are hurled over the rails into the water." It is not so bad as that now, but lodgings are still held at rates which might be advantageously tempered to the shorn.
I append the result of a chemical analysis I caused to be made of these incomparable Waters, that the fame of their virtues may no longer rest upon the inadequate basis of their observed effects.
One hundred parts of the water contain:
Brandate of Sodium 9.50 parts. Sulphuretted Hydrogen 3.50 " Citrate of Magnesia 15.00 " Calves'-foot Jelly 10.00 " Protocarbonate of Brass 11.00 " Nitric Acid 7.50 " Devonshire Cream 6.00 " Treaclate of Soap 2.00 " Robur 3.50 " Superheated Mustard 11.50 " Frogs 20.45 " Traces of Guano, Leprosy, Picallilly, and Scotch Whiskey .05 "
Temperature of the four baths, 117 degrees each—or 468 altogether.
* * * * *
THE FOLLOWING DORG.
Dad Petto, as everybody called him, had a dog, upon whom he lavished an amount of affection which, had it been disbursed in a proper quarter, would have been adequate to the sentimental needs of a dozen brace of lovers. The name of this dog was Jerusalem, but it might more properly have been Dan-to-Beersheba. He was not a fascinating dog to look at; you can buy a handsomer dog in any shop than this one. He had neither a graceful exterior nor an engaging address. On the contrary, his exceptional plainness had passed into a local proverb; and such was the inbred coarseness of his demeanour, that in the dark you might have thought him a politician.
If you will take two very bandy-legged curs, cut one off just abaft the shoulders, and the other immediately forward of the haunches, rejecting the fore-part of the first and the rear portion of the second, you will have the raw material for constructing a dog something like Dad Petto's. You have only to effect a junction between the accepted sections, and make the thing eat.
Had he been favoured with as many pairs of legs as a centipede, Jerusalem would not have differed materially from either of his race; but it was odd to see such a wealth of dog wedded to such a poverty of leg. He was so long that the most precocious pupil of the public schools could not have committed him to memory in a week.
It was beautiful to see Jerusalem rounding the angle of a wall, and turning his head about to observe how the remainder of the procession was coming on. He was once circumnavigating a small out-house, when, catching sight of his own hinder-quarters, he flew into a terrible rage. The sight of another dog always had this effect upon Jerusalem, and more especially when, as in this case, he thought he could grasp an unfair advantage. So Jerusalem took after that retreating foe as hard as ever he could hook it. Round and round he flew, but the faster he went, the more his centrifugal force widened his circle, until he presently lost sight of his enemy altogether. Then he slowed down, determined to accomplish his end by strategy. Sneaking closely up to the wall, he moved cautiously forward, and when he had made the full circuit, he came smack up against his own tail. Making a sudden spring, which must have stretched him like a bit of India-rubber, he fastened his teeth into his ham, hanging on like a country visitor. He felt sure he had nailed the other dog, but he was equally confident the other dog had nailed him; so the problem was simplified to a mere question of endurance—and Jerusalem was an animal of pluck. The grim conflict was maintained all one day—maintained with deathless perseverance, until Dad Petto discovered the belligerent and uncoupled him. Then Jerusalem looked up at his master with a shake of the head, as much as to say: "It's a precious opportune arrival for the other pup; but who took him off me?"