"'Law sakes,' sais I, 'Miss Phillis, does you tink I ab no sense; I hate a yaller gall as I do pyson.'
"'So does I,' said she, 'dey is neither chalk nor cheese; dey is a disgrace to de plantation dey is on; but raspberry Charlotte is a name I nebber heard tell ob for a dish."
"'Why, how you talks,' sais I. 'Well, den is de time for fish, such as stewed rocks.'
"'Now you is a funnin',' sais aunty, 'isn't you? how on airth do you stew rocks? yah! yah! yah!'
"'Easy as kiss my hand to you,' sais I, 'and if dere be no fish (and dat white Yankee oberseer is so cussed lazy bout catchin' of dem, I must struct missus to discharge him). Den dere is two nice little genteel dishes, 'birds in de grobe,' and 'plover on de shore,' and den top off wid soup; and I ain't particular about dat, so long as I ab de best; and dat, Miss Phillis, makes a grand soft bed, you see, for stantials like beef or mutton, or ham, or venson, to lay down easy on.'
"'Well, you is a wonderful man, Mr Sorrow,' sais Miss Phillis, 'I do really tink dat stands to reason and experience. When I married my fiff husband—no, it warn't my fiff, it was my sixth—I had lubly baby tree month old, and my old man killed it maken speriments. He would give it soup and minced veal to make it trong. Sais I, 'Mr Caesar, dat ain't natur; fust you know it must ab milk, den pap, and so on in order.' Sais he, 'I allus feeds master's young bull-dogs on raw meat.' Well, Caesar died dat same identical night child did (and she gub me a wink); 'sunthen disagreed wid him also that he eat.' ('Oh Massa,' he continued, 'bears dat ab cubs and women dat ab childern is dangerous.) 'Mr Sorrow,' said she, 'dat is a great 'skivery of yourn; you'd best tell missus.'
"'I is most afeard she is too much a slave to fashion,' sais I.
"'Uncle,' said she, 'you mustn't say dat ob dear Miss Lunn, or I must decline de onor to dine wid you. It ain't spectful. Mr Sorrow, my missus ain't de slave ob fashion—she sets it, by golly!' and she stood up quite dignant.
"'Sambo, clar out ob dis dinin' room quick stick,' sais I to de waiter; 'you is so fond ob lookin' out on de field, you shall go work dere, you lazy hound; walk out ob de room dis minit; when I has finished my dinner, I will make you jine de labor gang. Miss Phillis, do resume your seat agin, you is right as you allus is; shall I ab de honour to take glass ob wine wid you?'
"Now, Massa, try dat 'skivery; you will be able to eat tree times as much as you do now. Arter dat invention, I used to enjoy my sleep grand. I went into de hottest place in de sun, laid up my face to him, and sleep like a cedar stump, but den I allus put my veil on."
"To keep the flies off?" said I.
"Lordy gracious! no, master, dey nebber trouble me; dey is afraid in de dark, and when dey see me, dey tink it is night, and cut off."
"What is the use of it, then?"
"To save my complexion, Massa; I is afraid it will fade white. Yah, yah, yah!"
While we were engaged in eating our steak, he put some glasses on the table and handed me a black bottle, about two-thirds full, and said, "Massa, dis here fog ab got down my troat, and up into my head, and most kill me, I can't tell wedder dat is wine or rum, I is almost clean gwine distracted. Will Massa please to tell me?"
I knew what he was at, so sais I, "If you can't smell it, taste it." Well, he poured a glass so full, nobody but a nigger could have reached his mouth with it without spilling. When he had swallowed it he looked still more puzzled.
"Peers to me," he said, "dat is wine, he is so mild, and den it peers to me it's rum, for when it gets down to de stomach he feel so good. But dis child ab lost his taste, his smell, and his finement, altogedder."
He then poured out another bumper, and as soon as he had tossed it off, said, "Dat is de clear grit; dat is oleriferous—wake de dead amost, it is de genuine piticular old Jamaicky, and no mistake. I must put dat bottle back and give you todder one, dat must be wine for sartain, for it is chock full, but rum vaporates bery fast when de cork is drawn. Missus used to say, 'Sorrow, meat, when kept, comes bery high, but rum gets bery low.'"
"Happy fellow and lucky fellow too, for what white man in your situation would be treated so kindly and familiarly as you are? The fact is, Doctor, the negroes of America, as a class, whether slaves or free men, experience more real consideration, and are more comfortable, than the peasants of almost any country in Europe. Their notions of the origin of white men are very droll, when the things are removed I will make him give you his idea on the subject.
"Sorrow," said I, "what colour was Adam and Eve?"
"Oh, Massa," said he, "don't go for to ask dis child what you knows yourself better nor what he does. I will tell you some oder time, I is bery poorly just now, dis uncountable fog ab got into my bones. Dis is shocking bad country for niggars; oh, dere is nuffin' like de lubbly sout; it's a nateral home for blackies.
'In Souf Carolina de niggars grow If de white man will only plant his toe, Den dey water de ground wid baccy smoke, And out ob de soil dere heads will poke. Ring de hoop, blow de horn, I nebber see de like since I was born, Way down in de counte-ree, Four or five mile from de ole Peedee.'
"Oh, Massa, dis coast is only fit for seals, porpoises, and dog-fish, but not for gentleman, nor niggars, nor ladies. Oh, I berry bad," and he pressed both hands on his stomach as if he was in great pain.
"Perhaps another glass of old Jamaica would set you right," I said.
"Massa, what a most a grand doctor you would ab made," he said. "Yah, yah, yah—you know de wery identical medicine for de wery identical disease, don't you? dat is just what natur was callin' for eber so bad."
"Natur," sais I, "what's that, spell it."
"R-u-m," said he, "dat is human natur, and whiskey is soft sawder, it tickle de troat so nice and go down so slick. Dem is de names my old missus used to gib 'em. Oh, how she would a lubb'd you, if you had spunked up to her and tied up to our plantation; she didn't fection Yankees much, for dem and dead niggars is too cold to sleep with, and cunnuchs (Canadians) she hated like pison, cause they 'ticed off niggars; but she'd a took to you naterally, you is such a good cook. I always tink, Massa, when folks take to eatin' same breakfast, same lunch, same dinner, same tea, same supper, drinkin' same soup, lubbin' same graby, and fectioning same preserves and pickles, and cakes and pies, and wine, and cordials, and ice-creams, den dey plaguy soon begin to rambition one anodder, and when dey do dat, dey is sure to say, 'Sorrow, does you know how to make weddin' cake, and frost him, and set him off partikelar jam, wid wices of all kinds, little koopids, and cocks and hens, and bales of cotton, figs of baccy, and ears of corn, and all sorts of pretty things done in clarfied sugar. It do seem nateral to me, for when our young niggars go sparkin' and spendin' evenings, dey most commonly marries. It stand to reason. But, Massa, I is bery bad indeed wid dis dreadful pain in my infernal parts—I is indeed. Oh," said he, smackin' his lips, and drainin' his glass, "dat is def to a white man, but life to a niggar; dat is sublime. What a pity it is though dey make de glasses so almighty tunderin' small; de man dat inwented dem couldn't a had no remaginable nose at all, dat are a fac."
"But the colour of Adam?" said I.
"Oh, Massa," he said, "you knows bery well he was a black gentleman, and Missus Eve a most splendid Swanga black lady. Oh yes, Massa, dey were made black to enjoy de grand warm sun. Well, Cain was a wicked man, cause he killed his brudder. So de Lord say to him one day, 'Cain, where is your brudder?' 'I don't know, Massa,' said he, 'I didn't see him nowhere.' Well, de next time he asked him de sef-same question, and he answered quite sarcy, 'How in de world does I know,' sais he, 'I ain't my brudder's keeper.' Well, afore he know'd where he was, de Lord said to him, in a voice of tunder, 'You murdered him, you villain!' And Cain, he was so scared, he turned white dat very instant. He nebber could stand heat, nor enjoy summer no more again, nor none ob his childer arter him, but Abel's children remain black to dis day. Fac, Massa, fac, I does assure you. When you like supper, Massa?"
"At ten o'clock," sais I.
"Well, den, I will go and get sunthen nice for you. Oh! my ole missus was a lubbly cook; I don't believe in my heart de Queen ob England could hold a candle to her! she knowed twenty-two and a half ways to cook Indian corn, and ten or twelve ob 'em she inwented herself dat was de stonishment ob ebbery one."
"Half a way," I said, "what do you mean by that?"
"Why, Massa, de common slommachy way people ab ob boiling it on de cob; dat she said was only half a way. Oh, Lordy gracious, one way she wented, de corn was as white as snow, as light as puff, and so delicate it disgested itself in de mout."
"You can go," said Cutler.
"Tankee, Massa," said Sorrow, with a mingled air of submission and fun, as much as to say, "I guess I don't want leave for that, anyhow, but I thank you all the same as if I did," and making a scrape of his hind-leg, he retired.
"Slick," said Cutler, "it isn't right to allow that nigger to swallow so much rum! How can one wonder at their degradation, when a man like you permits them to drink in that manner?"
"Exactly," sais I, "you think and talk like all abolitionists, as my old friend Colonel Crockett used to say, the Yankees always do. He said, 'When they sent them to pick their cherries, they made them whistle all the time, so that they couldn't eat any.' I understand blacks better than you do. Lock up your liquor and they will steal it, for their moral perceptions are weak. Trust them, and teach them to use, and not abuse it. Do that, and they will be grateful, and prove themselves trustworthy. That fellow's drinking is more for the fun of the thing than the love of liquor. Negroes are not drunkards. They are droll boys; but, Cutler, long before thrashing machines were invented, there was a command, 'not to muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.' Put that in your pipe, my boy, the next time you prepare your Kinnikennic for smoking, will you?"
"'Kinnikennic,'" said the doctor, "what under the sun is that?"
"A composition," sais I, "of dry leaves of certain aromatic plants and barks of various kinds of trees, an excellent substitute for tobacco, but when mixed with it, something super-superior. If we can get into the woods, I will show you how to prepare it; but, Doctor," sais I, "I build no theories on the subject of the Africans; I leave their construction to other and wiser men than myself. Here is a sample of the raw material, can it be manufactured into civilization of a high order? Q stands for query, don't it? Well, all I shall do is to put a Q to it, and let politicians answer it; but I can't help thinking there is some truth in the old saw, 'Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise.'"
CHAPTER XIV. FEMALE COLLEGES.
After Sorrow had retired, we lighted our cigars, and turned to for a chat, if chat it can be called one, where I did most of the talking myself.
"Doctor," said I, "I wish I had had more time to have examined your collection of minerals. I had no idea Nova Scotia could boast of such an infinite variety of them. You could have taught me more in conversation in five minutes than I could have learned by books in a month. You are a mineralogist, and I am sorry to say I ain't, though every boarding-school miss now-a-days in our country consaits she is. They are up to trap at any rate, if nothing else, you may depend," and I gave him a wink.
"Now don't, Slick," said he, "now don't set me off, that's a good fellow."
"'Mr Slick,' said a young lady of about twelve years of age to me wunst, 'do you know what gray wackey is? for I do.'
"'Don't I,' sais I; 'I know it to my cost. Lord! how my old master used to lay it on!'
"'Lay it on!' she said, 'I thought it reposed on a primitive bed.'
"'No it don't,' said I. 'And if anybody knows what gray wackey is, I ought; but I don't find it so easy to repose after it as you may. Gray means the gray birch rod, dear, and wackey means layin' it on. We always called it gray whackey in school, when a feller was catching particular Moses.'
"'Why, how ignorant you are!' said she. 'Do you know what them mining tarms, clinch, parting, and black bat means?'
"'Why, in course I do!' sais I; 'clinch is marrying, parting is getting divorced, and black bat is where a fellow beats his wife black and blue."
"'Pooh!' said she, 'you don't know nothing.'
"'Well,' sais I, 'what do you know?'
"'Why,' said she, 'I know Spanish and mathematics, ichthiology and conchology, astronomy and dancing, mineralogy and animal magnetism, and German and chemistry, and French and botany. Yes, and the use of the globes too. Can you tell me what attraction and repulsion is?'
"'To be sure I can,' said I, and I drew her on my knee and kissed her. 'That's attraction, dear.' And when she kicked and screamed as cross as two cats, 'that, my pretty one,' I said, 'is repulsion. Now I know a great many things you don't. Can you hem a pocket-handkerchief?'
"'Nor make a pudding?'
"'Nor make Kentucky batter?'
"'Well, do you know any useful thing in life?'
"'Yes, I do; I can sing, and play on the piano, and write valentines,' sais she, 'so get out.' And she walked away, quite dignified, muttering to herself, 'Make a pudding, eh! well, I want to know!'
"Thinks I to myself, my pretty little may-flower, in this everlastin' progressive nation of ourn, where the wheel of fortune never stops turning day or night, and them that's at the top one minute are down in the dirt the next, you may say, "'I want to know' before you die, and be very glad to change your tune, and say, 'Thank heaven I do know!'"
"Is that a joke of yours," said the doctor, "about the young girl's geology, or is it really a fact?"
"Fact, I assure you," said I. "And to prove it I'll tell you a story about a Female College that will show you what pains we take to spoil our young ladies to home. Miss Liddy Adams, who was proprietor and 'dentess (presidentess) of a Female College to Onionville, was a relation of mother's, and I knew her when she was quite a young shoat of a thing to Slickville. I shall never forget a flight into Egypt I caused once in her establishment. When I returned from the embassy, I stopped a day in Onionville, near her university—for that was the name she gave hern; and thinks I, I will just call and look in on Lid for old acquaintance' sake, and see how she is figuring it out in life. Well, I raps away with the knocker as loud as possible, as much as to say, Make haste, for there is somebody here, when a tall spare gall with a vinegar face opened the door just wide enough to show her profile, and hide her back gear, and stood to hear what I had to say. I never see so spare a gall since I was raised. Pharaoh's lean kine warn't the smallest part of a circumstance to her. She was so thin, she actilly seemed as if she would have to lean agin the wall to support herself when she scolded, and I had to look twice at her before I could see her at all, for I warn't sure she warn't her own shadow."
"Good gracious!" said the doctor, "what a description! but go on."
"'Is the mistress to home?' said I.
"'I have no mistress,' said she.
"'I didn't say you had,' sais I, 'for I knew you hadn't afore you spoke.'
"'How did you know that?' said she.
"'Because,' sais I, 'seein' so handsome a lady as you, I thought you was one of the professors; and then I thought you must be the mistress herself, and was a thinking how likely she had grow'd since I seed her last. Are you one of the class-teachers?'
"It bothered her; she didn't know whether it was impudence or admiration; but when a woman arbitrates on a case she is interested in, she always gives an award in her own favour.
"'Walk in, Sir,' said she, 'and I will see,' and she backed and backed before me, not out of deference to me, but to the onfastened hooks of her gown, and threw a door open. On the opposite side was a large room filled with galls, peeping and looking over each other's shoulders at me, for it was intermission.
"'Are these your pupils?' sais I; and before she could speak, I went right past into the midst of 'em. Oh, what a scuddin' and screamin' there was among them! A rocket explodin' there couldn't a done more mischief. They tumbled over chairs, upsot tables, and went head and heels over each other like anything, shouting out, 'A man! a man!'
"'Where—where?' sais I, a chasin' of them, 'show him to me, and I'll soon clear him out. What is he a doing of?'
"It was the greatest fun you ever see. Out they flew through the door at the other eend of the room, some up and some down-stairs, singing out, 'A man! a man!' till I thought they would have hallooed their daylights out. Away I flew after them, calling out, 'Where is he? show him to me, and I'll soon pitch into him!' when who should I see but Miss Liddy in the entry, as stiff and as starch as a stand-up shirt collar of a frosty day. She looked like a large pale icicle, standing up on its broad end, and cold enough to give you the ague to look at her.
"'Mr Slick,' said she, 'may I ask what is the meaning of all this unseemly behaviour in the presence of young ladies of the first families in the State?'
"Says I, 'Miss Adam,' for as she used the word Mr as a handle to me, I thought I'de take a pull at the Miss,' some robber or housebreaker has got in, I rather think, and scared the young feminine gender students, for they seemed to be running after somebody, and I thought I would assist them.'
"'May I ask, Sir,' a drawin' of herself up to her full height, as straight and as prim as a Lombardy poplar, or rather, a bull-rush, for that's all one size. 'May I ask, Sir, what is the object of your visit here—at a place where no gentlemen are received but the parents or guardians of some of the children.'
"I was as mad as a hatter; I felt a little bit vain of the embassy to London, and my Paris dress, particularly my boots and gloves, and all that, and I will admit, there is no use talkin', I rather kinder sorter thought she would be proud of the connection. I am a good-natured man in a general way when I am pleased, but it ain't safe to ryle me, I tell you. When I am spotty on the back, I am dangerous. I bit in my breath, and tried to look cool, for I was determined to take revenge out of her.
"'Allow me to say, Sir,' said she, a perkin' up her mouth like the end of a silk purse, 'that I think your intrusion is as unwelcome as it is unpardonable. May I ask the favour of you to withdraw? if not, I must introduce you to the watchman.'
"'I came,' sais I, 'Miss Adam, having heard of your distinguished college in the saloons of Paris and London, to make a proposal to you; but, like a bull—'
"'Oh dear!' said she, 'to think I should have lived to hear such a horrid word, in this abode of learning!'
"'But,' I went on without stopping, 'like a bull in a chiny-shop, I see I have got into the wrong pew; so nothin' remains for me but to beg pardon, keep my proposal for where it will be civilly received, at least, and back out.'
"She was as puzzled as the maid. But women ain't throwed off their guard easily. If they are in a dark place, they can feel their way out, if they can't see it. So says she, dubious like:
"'About a child, I suppose?'
"'It is customary in Europe,' sais I, 'I believe, to talk about the marriage first, isn't it? but I have been so much abroad, I am not certified as to usages here.'
"Oh, warn't she brought to a hack! She had a great mind to order me out, but then that word 'proposal' was one she had only seen in a dictionary—she had never heard it; and it is such a pretty one, and sounded so nice to the ear; and then that word 'marriage' was used also, so it carried the day.
"'This is not a place, Mr Slick, for foundlings, I'de have you to know,' she said, with an air of disgust, 'but children whose parents are of the first class of society. If,' and she paused and looked at me scrutinisin', 'if your proposals are of that nature, walk in here, Sir, if you please, where our conversation will not be over-heard. Pray be seated. May I ask, what is the nature of the proposition with which you design to honour me?' and she gave me a smile that would pass for one of graciousness and sweet temper, or of encouragement. It hadn't a decided character, and was a non-committal one. She was doin' quite the lady, but I consaited her ear was itching to hear what I had to say, for she put a finger up, with a beautiful diamond ring on it, and brushed a fly off with it; but, after all, perhaps it was only to show her lily-white hand, which merely wanted a run at grass on the after-feed to fatten it up, and make it look quite beautiful.
"'Certainly,' sais I, 'you may ask any question of the kind you like.'
"It took her aback, for she requested leave to ask, and I granted it; but she meant it different.
"Thinks I, 'My pretty grammarian, there is a little grain of difference between, 'May I ask,' and, 'I must ask.' Try it again.'
"She didn't speak for a minute; so to relieve her, sais I:
"'When I look round here, and see how charmingly you are located, and what your occupation is, I hardly think you would feel disposed to leave it; so perhaps I may as well forbear the proposal, as it isn't pleasant to be refused.'
"'It depends,' she said, 'upon what the nature of those proposals are, Mr Slick, and who makes them,' and this time she did give a look of great complacency and kindness. 'Do put down your hat, Sir. I have read your Clockmaker,' she continued; 'I really feel quite proud of the relationship; but I hope you will excuse me for asking, Why did you put your own name to it, and call it 'Sam Slick the Clockmaker,' now that you are a distinguished diplomatist, and a member of our embassy at the court of Victoria the First? It's not an elegant appellation that, of Clockmaker,' sais she, 'is it?' (She had found her tongue now.) 'Sam Slick the Clockmaker, a factorist of wooden clocks especially, sounds trady, and will impede the rise of a colossal reputation, which has already one foot in the St Lawrence, and the other in the Mississippi.'
"'And sneezes in the Chesapeake,' sais I.
"'Oh,' said she, in the blandest manner, 'how like you, Mr Slick! you don't spare a joke even on yourself. You see fun in everything.'
"'Better,' sais I, 'than seeing harm in everything, as them galls—'
"'Young ladies,' said she.
"'Well, young ladies, who saw harm in me because I was a man. What harm is there in their seeing a man? You ain't frightened at one, are you, Liddy?'
"She evaded that with a smile, as much as to say, 'Well, I ain't much skeered, that's a fact.'
"'Mr Slick, it is a subject not worth while pursuing,' she replied. 'You know the sensitiveness, nervous delicacy, and scrupulous innocence of the fair sex in this country, and I may speak plainly to you as a man of the world. You must perceive how destructive of all modesty in their juvenile minds, when impressions are so easily made, it would be to familiarise their youthful eyes to the larger limbs of gentlemen enveloped in pantaloons. To speak plainly, I am sure I needn't tell you it ain't decent.'
"'Well,' sais I, 'it wouldn't be decent if they wern't enveloped in them.'
"She looked down to blush, but it didn't come natural, so she looked up and smiled (as much as to say, do get out you impudent critter. I know its bunkum as well as you do, but don't bother me. I have a part to play.) Then she rose and looked at her watch, and said the lecture hour for botany has come.
"'Well,' sais I, a taking up my hat, 'that's a charming study, the loves of the plants, for young ladies, ain't it? they begin with natur, you see, and—(well, she couldn't help laughing). 'But I see you are engaged.'
"'Me,' said she, 'I assure you, Sir, I know people used to say so, afore General Peleg Smith went to Texas.'
"'What that scallawag,' said I. 'Why, that fellow ought to be kicked out of all refined society. How could you associate with a man who had no more decency than to expect folks to call him by name!'
"'How?' said she.
"'Why,' sais I, 'what delicate-minded woman could ever bring herself to say Pe-leg. If he had called himself Hujacious Smith, or Larger-limb Smith, or something of that kind, it would have done, but Peleg is downright ondecent. I had to leave Boston wunst a whole winter, for making a mistake of that kind. I met Miss Sperm one day from Nantucket, and says I, 'Did you see me yesterday, with those two elegant galls from Albany?'
"'No,' said she, 'I didn't.'
"'Strange, too,' said I, 'for I was most sure I caught a glimpse of you, on the other side of the street, and I wanted to introduce you to them, but warn't quite sartain it was you. My,' sais I, 'didn't you see a very unfashionable dressed man' (and I looked down at my Paris boots, as if I was doing modest), 'with two angeliferous females? Why, I had a leg on each arm.'
"She fairly screamed out at that expression, rushed into a milliner's shop, and cried like a gardner's watering-pot. The names she called me ain't no matter. They were the two Miss Legges of Albany, and cut a tall swarth, I tell you, for they say they are descended from a govenor of Nova Scotia, when good men, according to their tell, could be found for govenors, and that their relations in England are some pumpkins, too. I was as innocent as a child, Letty.'
"'Well,' said she, 'you are the most difficult man to understand I ever see—there is no telling whether you are in fun or in earnest. But as I was a saying, there was some such talk afore General Smith went to Texas; but that story was raised by the Pawtaxet College folks, to injure this institution. They did all they could to tear my reputation to chitlins. Me engaged, I should like to see the man that—'
"'Well, you seemed plaguey scared at one just now,' sais I. 'I am sure it was a strange way to show you would like to see a man.'
"'I didn't say that,' she replied, 'but you take one up so quick.'
"'It's a way I have,' said I, 'and always had, since you and I was to singing-school together, and larnt sharps, flats, and naturals. It was a crotchet of mine,' and I just whipped my arm round her waist, took her up and kissed her afore she knowed where she was. Oh Lordy! Out came her comb, and down fell her hair to her waist, like a mill-dam broke loose; and two false curls and a braid fell on the floor, and her frill took to dancin' round, and got wrong side afore, and one of her shoes slipt off, and she really looked as if she had been in an indgian-scrimmage and was ready for scalpin'.
"'Then you ain't engaged, Liddy,' sais I; 'how glad I am to hear that, it makes my heart jump, and cherries is ripe now, and I will help you up into the tree, as I used to did when you and I was boy and gall together. It does seem so nateral, Liddy, to have a game of romps with you again; it makes me feel as young as a two-year-old. How beautiful you do look, too! My, what a pity you is shut up here, with these young galls all day, talking by the yard about the corrallas, calyxes, and staminas of flowers, while you
"'Are doom'd to blush unseen, And waste your sweetness on the desert air.'
"'Oh,' said she, 'Sam, I must cut and run, and 'blush unseen,' that's a fact, or I'm ruinated,' and she up curls, comb, braid, and shoe, and off like a shot into a bed-room that adjoined the parlour, and bolted the door, and double-locked it, as if she was afraid an attachment was to be levied on her and her chattels, by the sheriff, and I was a bum-bailiff.
"Thinks I, old gall, I'll pay you off for treating me the way you did just now, as sure as the world. 'May I ask, Mr Slick, what is the object of this visit?' A pretty way to receive a cousin that you haven't seen so long, ain't it? and though I say it that shouldn't say it, that cousin, too, Sam Slick, the attach to our embassy to the Court of Victoria, Buckingham Palace. You couldn't a treated me wuss if I had been one of the liveried, powdered, bedizened, be-bloated footmen from 't'other big house there of Aunt Harriette's.' I'll make you come down from your stilts, and walk naterel, I know, see if I don't.
"Presently she returned, all set to rights, and a little righter, too, for she had put a touch of rouge on to make the blush stick better, and her hair was slicked up snugger than before, and looked as if it had growed like anything. She had also slipped a handsome habit-shirt on, and she looked, take her altogether, as if, though she warn't engaged, she ought to have been afore the last five hot summers came, and the general thaw had commenced in the spring, and she had got thin, and out of condition. She put her hand on her heart, and said, 'I am so skared, Sam, I feel all over of a twitteration. The way you act is horrid.'
"'So do I,' sais I, 'Liddy, it's so long since you and I used to—'
"'You ain't altered a bit, Sam,' said she, for the starch was coming out, 'from what you was, only you are more forrider. Our young men, when they go abroad, come back and talk so free and easy, and take such liberties, and say it's the fashion in Paris, it's quite scandalous. Now, if you dare to do the like again, I'll never speak to you the longest day I ever live, I'll go right off and leave, see if I don't.'
"'Oh, I see, I have offended you,' sais I, 'you are not in a humour to consent now, so I will call again some other time.'
"'This lecture on botany must now be postponed,' she said, 'for the hour is out some time ago. If you will be seated, I will set the young students at embroidery instead, and return for a short time, for it does seem so nateral to see you, Sam, you saucy boy,' and she pinched my ear, 'it reminds one, don't it, of bygones?' and she hung her head a one side, and looked sentimental.
"'Of by-gone larks,' said I.
"'Hush, Sam,' she said, 'don't talk so loud, that's a dear soul. Oh, if anybody had come in just then, and caught us.'
("Us," thinks I to myself, "I thought you had no objection to it, and only struggled enough for modesty-like; and I did think you would have said, caught you.")
"'I would have been ruinated for ever and ever, and amen, and the college broke up, and my position in the literary, scientific, and intellectual world scorched, withered, and blasted for ever. Ain't my cheek all burning, Sam? it feels as if it was all a-fire;' and she put it near enough for me to see, and feel tempted beyond my strength. 'Don't it look horrid inflamed, dear?' And she danced out of the room, as if she was skipping a rope.
"Well, well," sais I, when she took herself off. "What a world this is! This is evangelical learning; girls are taught in one room to faint or scream if they see a man, as if he was an incarnation of sin; and yet they are all educated and trained to think the sole object of life is to win, not convert, but win one of these sinners. In the next room propriety, dignity, and decorum, romp with a man in a way to make even his sallow face blush. Teach a child there is harm in everything, however innocent, and so soon as it discovers the cheat, it won't see no sin in anything. That's the reason deacons' sons seldom turn out well, and preachers' daughters are married through a window. Innocence is the sweetest thing in the world, and there is more of it than folks generally imagine. If you want some to transplant, don't seek it in the enclosures of cant, for it has only counterfeit ones, but go to the gardens of truth and of sense. Corced innocence is like an imprisoned lark, open the door and it's off for ever. The bird that roams through the sky and the groves unrestrained knows how to dodge the hawk and protect itself, but the caged one, the moment it leaves its bars and bolts behind, is pounced upon by the fowler or the vulture.
"Puritans, whether in or out of the church (for there is a whole squad of 'em in it, like rats in a house who eat up its bread and undermine its walls), make more sinners than they save by a long chalk. They ain't content with real sin, the pattern ain't sufficient for a cloak, so they sew on several breadths of artificial offences, and that makes one big enough to wrap round them, and cover their own deformity. It enlarges the margin, and the book, and gives more texts.
"Their eyes are like the great magnifier at the Polytechnic, that shows you many-headed, many-armed, many-footed, and many-tailed awful monsters in a drop of water, which were never intended for us to see, or Providence would have made our eyes like Lord Rosse's telescope (which discloses the secrets of the moon), and given us springs that had none of these canables in 'em. Water is our drink, and it was made for us to take when we were dry, and be thankful. After I first saw one of these drops, like an old cheese chock full of livin' things, I couldn't drink nothing but pure gin or brandy for a week. I was scared to death. I consaited when I went to bed I could audibly feel these critters fightin' like Turks and minin' my inerds, and I got narvous lest my stomach like a citadel might be blowed up and the works destroyed. It was frightful.
"At last I sot up and said, Sam, where is all your common sense gone? You used to have a considerable sized phial of it, I hope you ain't lost the cork and let it all run out. So I put myself in the witness-stand, and asked myself a few questions.
"'Water was made to drink, warn't it?'
"'That's a fact.'
"'You can't see them critters in it with your naked eye?'
"'I can't see them at all, neither naked or dressed.'
"'Then it warn't intended you should?'
"'Seems as if it wasn't,' sais I.
"'Then drink, and don't be skeered.'
"'I'll be darned if I don't, for who knows them wee-monstrosities don't help digestion, or feed on human pyson. They warn't put into Adam's ale for nothin', that's a fact.'
"It seems as if they warn't,' sais I. 'So now I'll go to sleep.'
"Well, puritans' eyes are like them magnifiers; they see the devil in everything but themselves, where he is plaguy apt to be found by them that want him; for he feels at home in their company. One time they vow he is a dancin' master, and moves his feet so quick folks can't see they are cloven, another time a music master, and teaches children to open their mouths and not their nostrils in singing. Now he is a tailor or milliner, and makes fashionable garments; and then a manager of a theatre, which is the most awful place in the world; it is a reflex of life, and the reflection is always worse than the original, as a man's shadow is more dangerous than he is. But worst of all, they solemnly affirm, for they don't swear, he comes sometimes in lawn sleeves, and looks like a bishop, which is popery, or in the garb of high churchmen, who are all Jesuits. Is it any wonder these cantin' fellows pervert the understanding, sap the principles, corrupt the heart, and destroy the happiness of so many? Poor dear old Minister used to say, 'Sam, you must instruct your conscience; for an ignorant or superstitious conscience is a snare to the unwary. If you think a thing is wrong that is not, and do it, then you sin, because you are doing what you believe in your heart to be wicked. It is the intention that constitutes the crime.' Those sour crouts therefore, by creating artificial and imitation sin in such abundance, make real sin of no sort of consequence, and the world is so chock full of it, a fellow gets careless at last and won't get out of its way, it's so much trouble to pick his steps.
"Well, I was off in a brown study so deep about artificial sins, I didn't hear Liddy come in, she shut the door so softly and trod on tiptoes so light on the carpet. The first thing I knew was I felt her hands on my head, as she stood behind me, a dividin' of my hair with her fingers.
"'Why, Sam,' said she, 'as I'm a livin' sinner if you ain't got some white hairs in your head, and there is a little bald patch here right on the crown. How strange it is! It only seems like yesterday you was a curly-headed boy.'
"'Yes,' sais I, and I hove a sigh so loud it made the window jar; 'but I have seen a great deal of trouble since then. I lost two wives in Europe.'
"'Now do tell,' said she. 'Why you don't!—oh, jimminy criminy! two wives! How was it, poor Sam?' and she kissed the bald spot on my pate, and took a rockin'-chair and sat opposite to me, and began rockin' backwards and forwards like a fellow sawin' wood. 'How was it, Sam, dear?'
"'Why,' sais I, 'first and foremost, Liddy, I married a fashionable lady to London. Well, bein' out night arter night at balls and operas, and what not, she got kinder used up and beat out, and unbeknownst to me used to take opium. Well, one night she took too much, and in the morning she was as dead as a herring.'
"'Did she make a pretty corpse?' said Lid, lookin' very sanctimonious. 'Did she lay out handsum? They say prussic acid makes lovely corpses; it keeps the eyes from fallin' in. Next to dyin' happy, the greatest thing is to die pretty. Ugly corpses frighten sinners, but elegant ones win them.'
"'The most lovely subject you ever beheld,' said I. 'She looked as if she was only asleep; she didn't stiffen at all, but was as limber as ever you see. Her hair fell over her neck and shoulders in beautiful curls just like yourn; and she had on her fingers the splendid diamond rings I gave her; she was too fatigued to take 'em off when she retired the night afore. I felt proud of her even in death, I do assure you. She was handsome enough to eat. I went to ambassador's to consult him about the funeral, whether it should be a state affair, with all the whole diplomatic corps of the court to attend it, or a private one. But he advised a private one; he said it best comported with our dignified simplicity as republicans, and, although cost was no object, still it was satisfactory to know it was far less expense. When I came back she was gone.'
"'Gone!' said Liddy, 'gone where?'
"'Gone to the devil, dear, I suppose.'
"'Oh my!' said she. 'Well, I never in all my born days! Oh, Sam, is that the way to talk of the dead!'
"'In the dusk of the evening,' sais I, 'a carriage, they said, drove to the door, and a coffin was carried up-stairs; but the undertaker said it wouldn't fit, and it was taken back again for a larger one. Just afore I went to bed, I went to the room to have another look at her, and she was gone, and there was a letter on the table for me; it contained a few words only.—'Dear Sam, my first husband is come to life, and so have I. Goodbye, love."
"'Well, what did you do?'
"'Gave it out,' said I, 'she died of the cholera, and had to be buried quick and private, and no one never knew to the contrary.'
"'Didn't it almost break your heart, Sammy?'
"'No,' sais I. 'In her hurry, she took my dressing-case instead of her own, in which was all her own jewels, besides those I gave her, and all our ready money. So I tried to resign myself to my loss, for it might have been worse, you know,' and I looked as good as pie.
"'Well, if that don't beat all, I declare!' said she.
"'Liddy,' sais I, with a mock solemcoly air, 'every bane has its antidote, and every misfortin its peculiar consolation.'
"'Oh, Sam, that showed the want of a high moral intellectual education, didn't it?' said she. 'And yet you had the courage to marry again?'
"'Well, I married,' sais I, 'next year in France a lady who had refused one of Louis Philip's sons. Oh, what a splendid gall she was, Liddy! she was the star of Paris. Poor thing! I lost her in six weeks.'
"'Six weeks! Oh, Solomon!' said she, 'in six weeks.'
"'Yes,' sais I, 'in six short weeks.'
"'How was it, Sam? do tell me all about it; it's quite romantic. I vow, it's like the Arabian Nights' Entertainment. You are so unlucky, I swow I should be skeered—'
"'At what?' sais I.
"She was caught there; she was a goin' to say, 'at marryin' you,' but as she was a leadin' of me on, that wouldn't do. Doctor, you may catch a gall sometimes, but if she has a mind to, she can escape if she chooses, for they are as slippery as eels. So she pretended to hesitate on, till I asked her again.
"'Why,' sais she, a looking down, 'at sleeping alone tonight, after hearing of these dreadful catastrophes.'
"'Oh,' sais I, 'is that all?'
"'But how did you lose her?' said she.
"'Why, she raced off,' said I, 'with the Turkish ambassador, and if I had a got hold of him, I'de a lammed him wuss than the devil beatin' tan-bark, I know. I'de a had his melt, if there was a bowie-knife out of Kentucky.'
"'Did you go after her?'
"'Yes; but she cotched it afore I cotched her.'
"'How was that, Sam?'
"'Why, she wanted to sarve him the same way, with an officer of the Russian Guards, and Mahomet caught her, sewed her up in a sack, and throwed her neck and crop into the Bosphorus, to fatten eels for the Greek ladies to keep Lent with.'
"'Why, how could you be so unfortunate?' said she.
"'That's a question I have often axed myself, Liddy,' sais I; 'but I have come to this conclusion: London and Paris ain't no place for galls to be trained in.'
"'So I have always said, and always will maintain to my dying day,' she said, rising with great animation and pride. 'What do they teach there but music, dancing, and drawing? The deuce a thing else; but here is Spanish, French, German, Italian, botany, geology, mineralogy, icthiology, conchology, theology—'
"'Do you teach angeolology and doxyology?' sais I.
"'Yes, angeolology and doxyology,' she said, not knowing what she was a talking about.
"'And occult sciences?' sais I.
"'Yes, all the sciences. London and Paris, eh! Ask a lady from either place if she knows the electric battery from the magnetic—'
"'Or a needle from a pole,' sais I.
"'Yes,' sais she, without listening, 'or any such question, and see if she can answer it."
"She resumed her seat.
"'Forgive my enthusiasm,' she said, 'Sam, you know I always had a great deal of that.'
"'I know,' said I, 'you had the smallest foot and ankle of anybody in our country. My! what fine-spun glass heels you had! Where in the world have you stowed them to?' pretendin' to look down for them.
"'Kept them to kick you with,' she said, 'if you are sassy.'
"Thinks I to myself, what next? as the woman said to the man who kissed her in the tunnel, you are coming out, Liddy.
"'Kick,' said I, 'oh, you wouldn't try that, I am sure, let me do what I would.'
"'Why not?' said she.
"'Why,' sais I, 'if you did you would have to kick so high, you would expose one of the larger limbs.'
"'Mr Slick,' said she, 'I trust you will not so far forget what is due to a lady, as to talk of showing her larger limbs, it's not decent.'
"'Well, I know it ain't decent,' said I, 'but you said you would do it, and I just remonstrated a little, that's all.'
"'You was saying about London and Paris,' said she, 'being no place for educating young ladies in.'
"'Yes,' sais I, 'that painful story of my two poor dear wives (which is 'all in my eye,' as plain as it was then), illustrates my theory of education in those two capitals. In London, females, who are a great deal in society in the season, like a man who drinks, can't stop, they are at it all the time, and like him, sometimes forget the way home again. In Paris, galls are kept so much at home before marriage, when they once get out, they don't want to enter the cage again. They are the two extremes. If ever I marry, I'll tell you how I will lay down the law. Pleasure shall be the recreation and not the business of life with her. Home the rule—parties the exception. Duty first, amusement second. Her head-quarters shall always be in her own house, but the outposts will never be neglected.'
"'Nothin' like an American woman for an American man, is there?' said she, and she drew nearer, lookin' up in my face to read the answer, and didn't rock so hard.
"'It depends upon how they are brought up,' said I, looking wise. 'But, Liddy,' sais I, 'without joking, what an amazin' small foot that is of yours. It always was, and wunst when it slipt through a branch of the cherry-tree, do you recollect my saying, Well I vow that calf was suckled by two cows? now don't you, Liddy?'
"'No, Sir,' said she, 'I don't, though children may say many things that when they grow up they are ashamed to repeat; but I recollect now, wunst when you and I went through the long grass to the cherry-tree, your mother said, 'Liddy, beware you are not bit by a garter-snake, and I never knew her meanin' till now;' and she rose up and said, 'Mr Slick, I must bid you good morning.'
"'Liddy,' sais I, 'don't be so pesky starch, I'll be dod fetched if I meant any harm, but you beat me all holler. I only spoke of the calf, and you went a streak higher and talked of the garter.'
"'Sam,' said she, 'you was always the most impedent, forredest, and pertest boy that ever was, and travellin' hain't improved you one mite or morsel.'
"'I am sorry I have offended you, Liddy,' sais I, 'but really now, how do you manage to teach all them things with hard names, for we never even heard of them at Slickville? Have you any masters?'
"'Masters,' said she, 'the first one that entered this college would ruin it for ever. What, a man in this college! where the juvenile pupils belong to the first families—I guess not. I hire a young lady to teach rudiments.'
"'So I should think,' sais I, 'from the specimen I saw at your door, she was rude enough in all conscience.'
"'Pooh,' said she, 'well, I have a Swiss lady that teaches French, German, Spanish, and Italian, and an English one that instructs in music and drawing, and I teach history, geography, botany, and the sciences, and so on.'
"'How on earth did you learn them all?' said I, 'for it puzzles me.'
"'Between you and me, Sam,' said she, 'for you know my broughtens up, and it's no use to pretend—primary books does it all, there is question and answer. I read the question, and they learn the answer. It's the easiest thing in the world to teach now-a-days.'
"'But suppose you get beyond the rudiments?'
"'Oh, they never remain long enough to do that. They are brought out before then. They go to Saratoga first in summer, and then to Washington in winter, and are married right off after that. The domestic, seclusive, and exclusive system, is found most conducive to a high state of refinement and delicacy. I am doing well, Sam,' said she, drawing nearer, and looking confidential in my face. 'I own all this college, and all the lands about, and have laid up forty thousand dollars besides;' and she nodded her head at me, and looked earnest, as much as to say, 'That is a fact, ain't it grand?'
"'The devil you have,' said I, as if I had taken the bait. 'I had a proposal to make.'
"'Oh,' said she, and she coloured up all over, and got up and said, 'Sam, won't you have a glass of wine, dear?' She intended it to give me courage to speak out, and she went to a closet, and brought out a tray with a decanter, and two or three glasses on it, and some frosted plum-cake. 'Try that cake, dear,' she said, 'I made it myself, and your dear old mother taught me how to do it;' and then she laid back her head, and larfed like anything. 'Sam,' said she, 'what a memory you have; I had forgot all about the cherry-tree, I don't recollect a word of it.'
"'And the calf?' said I.
"'Get along,' said she, 'do get out;' and she took up some crumbs of the cake, and made 'em into a ball as big as a cherry, and fired it at me, and struck me in the eye with it, and nearly put it out. She jumped up in a minit: 'Did she hurt her own poor cossy's eye?' she said, 'and put it een amost out,' and she kissed it. 'It didn't hurt his little peeper much, did it?'
"Hullo, sais I to myself, she's coming it too peeowerful strong altogether. The sooner I dig out the better for my wholesomes. However, let her went, she is wrathy. 'I came to propose to you—'
"'Dear me,' said she, 'I feel dreadful, I warn't prepared for this; it's very onexpected. What is it, Sam? I am all over of a twiteration.'
"'I know you will refuse me,' sais I, 'when I look round and see how comfortable and how happy you are, even if you ain't engaged.'
"'Sam, I told you I weren't engaged,' she said: 'that story of General Smith is all a fabrication, therefore don't mention that again.'
"'I feel,' said I, 'it's no use. I know what you will say, you can't quit.'
"'You have a strange way,' said she, rather tart, 'for you ask questions, and then answer them yourself. What do you mean?'
"'Well,' sais I, 'I'll tell you, Liddy.'
"'Do, dear,' said she, and she put her hand over her eyes, as if to stop her from hearing distinctly. 'I came to propose to you—'
"'Oh, Sam,' said she, 'to think of that!'
"'To take a seat in my buggy,' sais I, 'and come and spend a month with sister Sally and me, at the old location.'
"Poor thing, I pitied her; she had one knee over the other, and, as I said, one hand over her eyes, and there she sot, and the way the upper foot went bobbin' up and down was like the palsy, only a little quicker. She never said another word, nor sighed, nor groaned, nor anything, only her head hung lower. Well, I felt streaked, Doctor, I tell you. I felt like a man who had stabbed another, and knew he ought to be hanged for it; and I looked at her as such a critter would, if he had to look on, and see his enemy bleed to death. I knew I had done wrong—I had acted spider-like to her—got her into the web—tied her hand and foot, and tantalized her. I am given to brag, I know, Doctor, when I am in the saddle, and up in the stirrups, and leavin' all others behind; but when a beast is choaked and down in the dirt, no man ever heard me brag I had rode the critter to death.
"No, I did wrong, she was a woman, and I was a man, and if she did act a part, why, I ought to have known the game she had to play, and made allowances for it. I dropt the trump card under the table that time, and though I got the odd trick, she had the honours. It warn't manly in me, that's a fact; but confound her, why the plague did she call me 'Mr,' and act formal, and give me the bag to hold, when she knew me of old, and minded the cherry-tree, and all that? Still she was a woman, and a defenceless one too, and I did'nt do the pretty. But if she was a woman, doctor, she had more clear grit than most men have. After a while she took her hand off her eyes and rubbed them, and she opened her mouth and yawned so, you could see down to her garters amost.
"'Dear me!' said she, trying to smile; but, oh me! how she looked! Her eyes had no more expression than a China-aster, and her face was so deadly pale, it made the rouge she had put on look like the hectic of a dying consumption. Her ugly was out in full bloom, I tell you. 'Dear cousin Sam,' said she, 'I am so fatigued with my labours as presidentess of this institution, that I can hardly keep my peepers open. I think, if I recollect—for I am ashamed to say I was a noddin'—that you proposed (that word lit her eyes up) that I should go with you to visit dear Sally. Oh, Sam!' said she (how she bit in her temper that hitch, didn't she?) 'you see, and you saw it at first, I can't leave on so short a notice; but if my sweet Sally would come and visit me, how delighted I should be! Sam, I must join my class now. How happy it has made me to see you again after so many years! Kiss me, dear; good bye—God bless you!' and she yawned again till she nearly dislocated her jaw. 'Go on and write books, Sam, for no man is better skilled in human natur and spares it less than yourself.' What a reproachful look she gave me then! 'Good bye, dear!'
"Well, when I closed the door, and was opening of the outer one, I heard a crash. I paused a moment, for I knew what it was. She had fainted and fell into a conniption fit.
"'Sam,' sais I to myself, 'shall I go back?'
"'No,' sais I, 'if you return there will be a scene; and if you don't, if she can't account naterally for it, the devil can't, that's all.'
"Doctor, I felt guilty, I tell you. I had taken a great many rises out of folks in my time, but that's the only one I repent of. Tell you what, Doctor, folks may talk about their southern gentlemen, their New York prince-merchants, and so on, but the clear grit, bottom and game, is New England (Yankee-doodle-dum). Male or female, young or old, I'll back 'em agin all creation."
Squire, show this chapter to Lord Tandembery, if you know him; and if you don't, Uncle Tom Lavender will give you a letter of introduction to him; and then ask him if ever he has suffered half so much as Sam Slick has in the cause of edication.
CHAPTER XV. GIPSEYING.
We tried the deck again, but the fog was too disagreeable to remain there, for the water fell from the ropes in such large drops, and the planks were so wet and slippery, we soon adjourned again to the cabin.
"I have to thank you, Doctor," said I, "for a most charming day at the Beaver-Dam. That was indeed a day in the woods, and I believe every one there knew how to enjoy it. How different it is from people in a town here, who go out to the country for a pic-nic! A citizen thinks the pleasure of gipseying, as they call it in England, consists solely in the abundance and variety of the viands, the quality and quantity of the wines, and as near an approach to a city dinner as it is possible to have, where there are neither tables, chairs, sideboards, nor removes. He selects his place for the encampment in the first opening adjoining the clearing, as it commands a noble view of the harbour, and there is grass enough to recline upon. The woods are gloomy, the footing is slippery, and there is nothing to be seen in a forest but trees, windfalls which are difficult to climb, and boggy ground that wets your feet, and makes you feel uncomfortable. The limbs are eternally knocking your hat off, and the spruce gum ruins your clothes, while ladies, like sheep, are for ever leaving fragments of their dress on every bush. He chooses the skirts of the forest therefore, the background is a glorious wood, and the foreground is diversified by the shipping. The o-heave-o of the sailors, as it rises and falls in the distance, is music to his ears, and suggestive of agreeable reflections, or profitable conversation peculiarly appropriate to the place and the occasion. The price of fish in the West Indies, or of deals in Liverpool, or the probable rise of flour in the market, amuse the vacant mind of himself and his partner, not his wife, for she is only his sleeping partner, but the wide-awake partner of the firm, one of those who are embraced in the comprehensive term the 'Co.' He is the depository of his secrets, the other of his complaints.
"His wife is equally happy, she enjoys it uncommonly, for she knows it will spite those horrid Mudges. She is determined not to invite them, for they make too much noise, it gives her the headache, and their flirting is too bad. Mrs White called them garrison hacks. And besides (for women always put the real reason last—they live in a postscript) they don't deserve it, for they left her girls out when they had the lobster-spearing party by torch-light, with the officers of the flag-ship, though that was no loss, for by all accounts it was a very romping party, knocking off the men's hats, and then exchanging their bonnets for them. And how any mother could allow her daughter to be held round the waist by the flag-lieutenant, while she leaned over the boat to spear the fish, is a mystery to her. The polka is bad enough, but, to her mind, that is not decent, and then she has something to whisper about it, that she says is too bad (this is a secret though, and she must whisper it, for walls have ears, and who knows but trees have, and besides, the good things are never repeated, but the too bad always is), and Mrs Black lifts up both her hands, and the whites of both eyes in perfect horror.
"'Now did you ever! Oh, is that true? Why, you don't!'
"'Lucy Green saw him with her own eyes,' and she opens her own as big as saucers.
"'And what did Miss Mudge say?'
"'Well, upon my word,' said she, 'I wonder what you will do next,' and laughed so they nearly fell overboard.
"'Oh, what carryings on, ain't it, dear? But I wonder where Sarah Matilda is? I don't see her and Captain De la Cour. I am afraid she will get lost in the woods, and that would make people talk as they did about Miss Mudge and Doctor Vincent, who couldn't find their way out once till nine o'clock at night.'
"'They'll soon get back, dear,' sais the other, 'let them be; it looks like watching them, and you know,' laying an emphasis on you, 'you and I were young once ourselves, and so they will come back when they want to, for though the woods have no straight paths in them, they have short cuts enough for them that's in a hurry. Cupid has no watch, dear; his fob is for a purse,' and she smiles wicked on the mother of the heiress.
"Well, then, who can say this is not a pleasant day to both parties? The old gentlemen have their nice snug business chat, and the old ladies have their nice snug gossip chat, and the third estate (as the head of the firm calls it, who was lately elected member for Grumble Town, and begins to talk parliamentary), the third estate, the young folks, the people of progression, who are not behind but rather ahead of the age they live in, don't they enjoy themselves? It is very hard if youth, beauty, health, good spirits, and a desire to please (because if people havn't that they had better stay to home), can't or won't make people happy. I don't mean for to go for to say that will insure it, because nothin' is certain, and I have known many a gall that resembled a bottle of beautiful wine. You will find one sometimes as enticin' to appearance as ever was, but hold it up and there is grounds there for all that, settled, but still there, and enough too to spile all, so you can't put it to your lips any how you can fix it. What a pity it is sweet things turn sour, ain't it?
"But in a general way these things will make folks happy. There are some sword-knots there, and they do look very like woodsmen, that's a fact. If you never saw a forrester, you would swear to them as perfect. A wide-awake hat, with a little short pipe stuck in it, a pair of whiskers that will be grand when they are a few years older—a coarse check or red flannel shirt, a loose neck-handkerchief, tied with a sailor's knot—a cut-away jacket, with lots of pockets—a belt, but little or no waistcoat—homespun trowsers and thick buskins—a rough glove and a delicate white hand, the real, easy, and natural gait of the woodman (only it's apt to be a little, just a little too stiff, on account of the ramrod they have to keep in their throats while on parade), when combined, actilly beat natur, for they are too nateral. Oh, these amateur woodsmen enact their part so well, you think you almost see the identical thing itself. And then they have had the advantage of Woolwich or Sandhurst, or Chobham, and are dabs at a bivouac, grand hands with an axe—cut a hop-pole down in half a day amost, and in the other half stick it into the ground. I don't make no doubt in three or four days they could build a wigwam to sleep in, and one night out of four under cover is a great deal for an amateur hunter, though it ain't the smallest part of a circumstance to the Crimea. As, it is, if a stick ain't too big for a fire, say not larger than your finger, they can break it over their knee, sooner than you could cut it with a hatchet for your life, and see how soon it's in a blaze. Take them altogether, they are a killing party of coons them, never miss a moose if they shoot out of an Indian's gun, and use a silver bullet.
"Well, then, the young ladies are equipped so nicely—they have uglies to their bonnets, the only thing ugly about them, for at a distance they look like huge green spectacles. They are very useful in the forest, for there is a great glare of the sun generally under trees; or else they have green bonnets, that look like eagle's skins; thin dresses, strong ones are too heavy, and they don't display the beauty of nature enough, they are so high, and the whole object of the party is to admire that. Their walking shoes are light and thin, they don't fatigue you like coarse ones, and India-rubbers are hideous, they make your feet look as if they had the gout; and they have such pretty, dear little aprons, how rural it looks altogether—they act a day in the woods to admiration. Three of the officers have nicknames, a very nice thing to induce good fellowship, especially as it has no tendency whatever to promote quarrels. There is Lauder, of the Rifles, he is so short, they call him Pistol; he has a year to grow yet, and may become a great gun some of these days. Russel takes a joke good-humouredly, and therefore is so fortunate as to get more than his share of them, accordingly he goes by the name of Target, as every one takes a shot at him. Duke is so bad a shot, he has twice nearly pinked the marksman, so he is called Trigger. He always lays the blame of his want of skill on that unfortunate appendage of the gun, as it is either too hard or too quick on the finger. Then there is young Bulger, and as everybody pronounces it as if it had two 'g's' in it, he corrects them and says, 'g' soft, my dear fellow, if you please; so he goes by the name of 'G' soft. Oh, the conversation of the third estate is so pretty, I could listen to it for ever.
"'Aunt,' sais Miss Diantha, 'do you know what gyp—gypsy—gypsymum—gypsymuming is? Did you ever hear how I stutter to-day? I can't get a word out hardly. Ain't it provoking?'
"Well, stammering is provoking; but a pretty little accidental impediment of speech like that, accompanied with a little graceful bob of the head, is very taking, ain't it?
"'Gypsuming,' sais the wise matron, 'is the plaster of Paris trade, dear. They carry it on at Windsor, your father says.'
"Pistol gives Target a wink, for they are honouring the party by their company, though the mother of one keeps a lodging-house at Bath, and the father of the other makes real genuine East India curry in London. They look down on the whole of the townspeople. It is natural; pot always calls kettle an ugly name.
"'No, Ma,' sais Di—all the girls address her as Di; ain't it a pretty abbreviation for a die-away young lady? But she is not a die-away lass; she is more of a Di Vernon. 'No, Ma,' sais Di, 'gipsey—ing, what a hard word it is! Mr Russel says it's what they call these parties in England. It is so like the gipsy life.'
"'There is one point,' sais Pistol, 'in which they differ.'
"'What's that?' sais Di.
"'Do you give it up?'
"'There the gipsy girls steal poultry; and here they steal hearts,' and he puts his left hand by mistake on his breast, not knowing that the pulsation there indicates that his lungs, and not his gizzard is affected, and that he is broken-winded, and not broken-hearted.
"'Very good,' every one sais; but still every one hasn't heard it, so it has to be repeated; and what is worse, as the habits of the gipsies are not known to all, the point has to be explained.
"Target sais, 'He will send it to the paper, and put Trigger's name to it,' and Pistol says, 'That is capital, for if he calls you out, he can't hit you,' and there is a joyous laugh. Oh dear, but a day in the woods is a pleasant thing. For my own part, I must say I quite agree with the hosier, who, when he first went to New Orleens, and saw such a swad of people there, said, he 'didn't onderstand how on earth it was that folks liked to live in a heap that way, altogether, where there was no corn to plant, and no bears to kill.'
"'My, oh my!' sais Miss Letitia, or Letkissyou, as Pistol used to call her. People ought to be careful what names they give their children, so as folks can't fasten nicknames on 'em. Before others the girls called her Letty, and that's well enough; but sometimes they would call her Let, which is the devil. If a man can't give a pretty fortune to his child, he can give it a pretty name at any rate.
"There was a very large family of Cards wunst to Slickville. They were mostly in the stage-coach and livery-stable line, and careless, reckless sort of people. So one day, Squire Zenas Card had a christenin' at his house.
"'Sais the Minister, 'what shall I call the child?'
"'Pontius Pilate,' said he.
"'I can't,' said the Minister, 'and I won't. No soul ever heerd of such a name for a Christian since baptism came in fashion.'
"'I am sorry for that,' said the Squire, 'for it's a mighty pretty name. I heard it once in church, and I thought if ever I had a son I'de call him after him; but if I can't have that—and it's a dreadful pity—call him Trump;' and he was christenened Trump Card.
"'Oh my!' sais Miss Letitia, lispin', 'Captain De la Cour has smashed my bonnet, see, he is setting upon it. Did you ever?'
"'Never,' said Di, 'he has converted your cottage bonnet into a country seat, I do declare!'
"Everybody exclaimed, 'That is excellent,' and Russel said, 'Capital, by Jove.'
"'That kind of thing,' said De la Cour, 'is more honoured in the breach than the observance;' and winked to Target.
"Miss Di is an inveterate punster, so she returns to the charge.
"'Letty, what fish is that, the name of which would express all you said about your bonnet?—do you give it up? A bon-net-o!' (Boneto).
"'Well, I can't fathom that,' sais De la Cour.
"'I don't wonder at that,' sais the invincible Di; 'it is beyond your depth, for it is an out-of-soundings fish.'
"Poor De la Cour, you had better let her alone, she is too many guns for you. Scratch your head, for your curls and your name are all that you have to be proud of. Let her alone, she is wicked, and she is meditating a name for you and Pistol that will stick to you as long as you live, she has it on the tip of her tongue—'The babes in the wood.'
"Now for the baskets—now for the spread. The old gentlemen break up their Lloyds' meeting—the old ladies break up their scandal club—the young ladies and their beaux are busy in arrangements, and though the cork-screws are nowhere to be found, Pistol has his in one of the many pockets of his woodsman's coat, he never goes without it (like one of his mother's waiters), which he calls his young man's best companion; and which another, who was a year in an attorney's office, while waiting for his commission, calls the crown circuit assistant; and a third, who has just arrived in a steamer, designates as the screw propeller. It was a sensible provision, and Miss Di said, 'a corkscrew and a pocket-pistol were better suited to him than a rifle,' and every one said it was a capital joke that—for everybody likes a shot that don't hit themselves.
"'How tough the goose is!' sais G soft. 'I can't carve it.'
"'Ah!' sais Di, 'when Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war.'
"Eating and talking lasts a good while, but they don't last for ever. The ladies leave the gentlemen to commence their smoking and finish their drinking, and presently there is a loud laugh; it's more than a laugh, it's a roar; and the ladies turn round and wonder.
"Letty sais, 'When the wine is in, the wit is out.'
"'True," sais Di, 'the wine is there, but when you left them the wit went out.'
"'Rather severe,' said Letty.
"'Not at all,' sais Di, 'for I was with you.'
"It is the last shot of poor Di. She won't take the trouble to talk well for ladies, and those horrid Mudges have a party on purpose to take away all the pleasant men. She never passed so stupid a day. She hates pic-nics, and will never go to one again. De la Cour is a fool, and is as full of airs as a night-hawk is of feathers. Pistol is a bore; Target is both poor and stingy; Trigger thinks more of himself than anybody else; and as for G soft, he is a goose. She will never speak to Pippen again for not coming. They are a poor set of devils in the garrison; she is glad they are to have a new regiment.
"Letty hasn't enjoyed herself either, she has been devoured by black flies and musquitoes, and has got her feet wet, and is so tired she can't go to the ball. The sleeping partner of the head of the firm is out of sorts, too. Her crony-gossip gave her a sly poke early in the day, to show her she recollected when she was young (not that she is so old now either, for she knows the grave gentleman who visits at her house is said to like the mother better than the daughter), but before she was married, and friends who have such wonderful memories are not very pleasant companions, though it don't do to have them for enemies. But then, poor thing, and she consoles herself with the idea the poor thing has daughters herself, and they are as ugly as sin, and not half so agreeable. But it isn't that altogether. Sarah Matilda should not have gone wandering out of hearing with the captain, and she must give her a piece of her mind about it, for there is a good deal of truth in the old saying, 'If the girls won't run after the men, the men will run after them;' so she calls out loudly, 'Sarah Matilda, my love, come here, dear,' and Sarah Matilda knows when the honey is produced, physic is to be taken, but she knows she is under observation, and so she flies to her dear mamma, with the feet and face of an angel, and they gradually withdraw.
"'Dear ma, how tired you look.'
"'I am not tired, dear.'
"'Well, you don't look well; is anything the matter with you?'
"'I didn't say I wasn't well, and it's very rude to remark on one's looks that way.'
"'Something seems to have put you out of sorts, ma, I will run and call pa. Dear me, I feel frightened. Shall I ask Mrs Bawdon for her salts?'
"'You know very well what's the matter; it's Captain De la Cour.'
"'Well, now, how strange,' said Sarah Matilda. 'I told him he had better go and walk with you; I wanted him to do it; I told him you liked attention. Yes, I knew you would be angry, but it isn't my fault. It ain't, indeed.'
"'Well, I am astonished,' replies the horrified mother. 'I never in all my life. So you told him I liked attention. I, your mother, your father's wife, with my position in societee; and pray what answer did he make to this strange conduct?'
"'He said, No wonder, you were the handsomest woman in town, and so agreeable; the only one fit to talk to.'
"'And you have the face to admit you listened to such stuff?'
"'I could listen all day to it, ma, for I knew it was true. I never saw you look so lovely, the new bishop has improved your appearance amazingly.'
"'Who?' said the mother, with an hysterical scream; 'what do you mean?'
"'The new bustler, ma.'
"'Oh,' said she, quite relieved, 'oh, do you think so?'
"'But what did you want of me, ma?'
"'To fasten my gown, dear, there is a hook come undone.'
"'Coming,' she said, in a loud voice.
"There was nobody calling, but somebody ought to have called; so she fastens the hook, and flies back as fast as she came.
"Sarah Matilda, you were not born yesterday; first you put your mother on the defensive, and then you stroked her down with the grain, and made her feel good all over, while you escaped from a scolding you know you deserved. A jealous mother makes an artful daughter. But, Sarah Matilda, one word in your ear. Art ain't cleverness, and cunning ain't understanding. Semblance only answers once; the second time the door ain't opened to it.
"Henrietta is all adrift, too; she is an old maid, and Di nicknamed her 'the old hen.' She has been shamefully neglected today. The young men have been flirting about with those forward young girls—children—mere children, and have not had the civility to exchange a word with her. The old ladies have been whispering gossip all day, and the old gentlemen busy talking about freights, the Fall-catch of mackarel, and ship-building. Nor could their talk have been solely confined to these subjects, for once when she approached them, she heard the head of the firm say:
"'The 'lovely lass' must be thrown down and scraped, for she is so foul, and her knees are all gone.'
"And so she turned away in disgust. Catch her at a pic-nic again! No, never! It appears the world is changed; girls in her day were never allowed to romp that way, and men used to have some manners. Things have come to a pretty pass!
"'Alida, is that you, dear? You look dull.'
"'Oh, Henrietta! I have torn my beautiful thread-lace mantilla all to rags; it's ruined for ever. And do you know—oh, I don't know how I shall ever dare to face ma again! I have lost her beautiful little enamelled watch. Some of these horrid branches have pulled it off the chain.' And Alida cries and is consoled by Henrietta, who is a good-natured creature after all. She tells her for her comfort that nobody should ever think of wearing a delicate and expensive lace mantilla in the woods; she could not expect anything else than to have it destroyed; and as for exposing a beautiful gold watch outside of her dress, nobody in her senses would have thought of such a thing. Of course she was greatly comforted: kind words and a kind manner will console any one.
"It is time now to re-assemble, and the party are gathered once more; and the ladies have found their smiles again, and Alida has found her watch; and there are to be some toasts and some songs before parting. All is jollity once more, and the head of the firm and his vigilant partner and the officers have all a drop in their eye, and Henrietta is addressed by the junior partner, who is a bachelor of about her own age, and who assures her he never saw her look better; and she looks delighted, and is delighted, and thinks a pic-nic not so bad a thing after all.
"But there is a retributive justice in this world. Even pic-nic parties have their moral, and folly itself affords an example from which a wise saw may be extracted. Captain de Courlay addresses her, and after all, he has the manners and appearance of a gentleman, though it is whispered he is fond of practical jokes, pulls 'colt ensigns' out of bed, makes them go through their sword exercise standing shirtless in their tubs, and so on. There is one redeeming thing in the story, if it be true, he never was known to do it to a young nobleman; he is too well bred for that. He talks to her of society as it was before good-breeding was reformed out of the colonies. She is delighted; but, oh! was it stupidity, or was it insolence, or was it cruelty? he asked her if she recollected the Duke of Kent. To be sure it is only fifty-two years since he was here; but to have recollected him! How old did he suppose she was? She bears it well and meekly. It is not the first time she has been painfully reminded she was not young. She says her grandmother often spoke of him as a good officer and a handsome man; and she laughs, though her heart aches the while, as if it was a good joke to ask her. He backs out as soon as he can. He meant well, though he had expressed himself awkwardly; but to back out shows you are in the wrong stall, a place you have no business in, and being out, he thinks it as well to jog on to another place.
"Ah, Henrietta! you were unkind to Alida about her lace mantilla and her gold watch, and it has come home to you. You ain't made of glass, and nothing else will hold vinegar long without being corroded itself.
"Well, the toasts are drunk, and the men are not far from being drunk too, and feats of agility are proposed, and they jump up and catch a springing bow, and turn a somerset on it, or over it, and they are cheered and applauded when De Courlay pauses in mid-air for a moment, as if uncertain what to do. Has the bough given way, or was that the sound of cloth rent in twain? Something has gone wrong, for he is greeted with uproarious cheers by the men, and he drops on his feet, and retires from the company as from the presence of royalty, by backing out and bowing as he goes, repeatedly stumbling, and once or twice falling in his retrograde motion.
"Ladies never lose their tact—they ask no questions because they see something is amiss, and though it is hard to subdue curiosity, propriety sometimes restrains it. They join in the general laugh however, for it can be nothing serious where his friends make merry with it. When he retires from view, his health is drank with three times three. Di, who seemed to take pleasure in annoying the spinster, said she had a great mind not to join in that toast, for he was a loose fellow, otherwise he would have rent his heart and not his garments. It is a pity a clever girl like her will let her tongue run that way, for it leads them to say things they ought not. Wit in a woman is a dangerous thing, like a doctor's lancet, it is apt to be employed about matters that offend our delicacy, or hurt our feelings."
"'What the devil is that?' said the head, of the firm, looking up, as a few drops of rain fell. 'Why, here is a thunder-shower coming on us as sure as the world. Come, let us pack up and be off.'
"And the servants are urged to be expeditious, and the sword-knots tumble the glasses into the baskets, and the cold hams atop of them, and break the decanters, to make them stow better, and the head of the firm swears, and the sleeping partner says she will faint, she could never abide thunder; and Di tells her if she does not want to abide all night, she had better move, and a vivid flash of lightning gives notice to quit, and tears and screams attest the notice is received, and the retreat is commenced; but alas, the carriages are a mile and a half off, and the tempest rages, and the rain falls in torrents, and the thunder stuns them, and the lightning blinds them.
"'What's the use of hurrying?' says Di, 'we are now wet through, and our clothes are spoiled, and I think we might take it leisurely. Pistol, take my arm, I am not afraid of you now.'
"'Your powder is wet, and you can't go off. You are quite harmless. Target, you had better run.'
"'You will be sure to be hit if you don't—won't he, Trigger?'
"But Pistol, and Target, and Trigger are alike silent. G soft has lost his softness, and lets fall some hard terms. Every one holds down his head, why, I can't understand, because being soaked, that attitude can't dry them.
"'Uncle,' says Di, to the head of the firm, 'you appear to enjoy it, you are buttoning up your coat as if you wanted to keep the rain in.'
"'I wish you would keep your tongue in,' he said, gruffly.
"'I came for a party of pleasure,' said the unconquerable girl, 'and I think there is great fun in this. Hen, I feel sorry for you, you can't stand the wet as those darling ducks can. Aunt will shake herself directly, and be as dry as an India rubber model.'
"Aunt is angry, but can't answer—every clap of thunder makes her scream. Sarah Matilda has lost her shoe, and the water has closed over it, and she can't find it. 'Pistol, where is your corkscrew? draw it out.'
"'It's all your fault,' sais the sleeping partner to the head of the firm, 'I told you to bring the umbrellas.'
"'It's all yours,' retorts the afflicted husband, 'I told you these things were all nonsense, and more trouble than they were worth.'
"'It's all Hen's fault,' said Di, 'for we came on purpose to bring her out; she has never been at a pic-nic before, and it's holidays now. Oh! the brook has risen, and the planks are gone, we shall have to wade; Hen, ask those men to go before, I don't like them to see above my ancles.'
"'Catch me at a pic-nic again,' said the terrified spinster.
"'You had better get home from this first, before you talk of another,' sais Di.
"'Oh, Di, Di,' said Henrietta, 'how can you act so?'
"'You may say Di, Di, if you please, dear,' said the tormentor; 'but I never say die—and never will while there is life in me. Letty, will you go to the ball to-night? we shall catch cold if we don't; for we have two miles more of the rain to endure in the open carriages before we reach the steamer, and we shall be chilled when we cease walking.'
"But Letty can do nothing but cry, as if she wasn't wet enough already.
"'Good gracious!' sais the head of the house, 'the horses have overturned the carriage, broke the pole, and run away.'
"'What's the upset price of it, I wonder?' sais Di, 'the horses will make 'their election sure;' they are at the 'head of the pole, they are returned and they have left no trace behind.' I wish they had taken the rain with them also.'
"'It's a pity you wouldn't rein your tongue in also,' said the fractious uncle.
"'Well, I will, Nunky, if you will restrain your choler. De Courcy, the horses are off at a 'smashing pace;' G soft, it's all dickey with us now, ain't it? But that milk-sop, Russel, is making a noise in his boots, as if he was 'churning butter.' Well, I never enjoyed anything so much as this in my life; I do wish the Mudges had been here, it is the only thing wanting to make this pic-nic perfect. What do you say, Target?'
"But Target don't answer, he only mutters between his teeth something that sounds like, 'what a devil that girl is!' Nobody minds teasing now; their tempers are subdued, and they are dull, weary, and silent—dissatisfied with themselves, with each other, and the day of pleasure.
"How could it be otherwise? It is a thing they didn't understand, and had no taste for. They took a deal of trouble to get away from the main road as far as possible; they never penetrated farther into the forest than to obtain a shade, and there eat an uncomfortable cold dinner, sitting on the ground, had an ill-assorted party, provided no amusements, were thoroughly bored, and drenched to the skin—and this some people call a day in the bush.
"There is an old proverb, that has a hidden meaning in it, that is applicable to this sort of thing—'As a man calleth in the woods, so it shall be answered to him.'"
CHAPTER XVI. THE WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.
We made another attempt at walking on the deck—the moon was trying to struggle through the fog, which was now of a bright copper colour.
"Doctor," said I, "have you ever seen a yellow fog before?"
"Yes," he said, "I have seen a white, black, red, and yellow fog," and went off into a disquisition about optics, mediums, reflections, refractions, and all sorts of scientific terms.
Well, I don't like hard words; when you crack them, which is plaguy tough work, you have to pick the kernel out with a cambric needle, and unless it's soaked in wine, like the heart of a hickory nut is, it don't taste nice, and don't pay you for the trouble. So to change the subject, "Doctor," sais I, "how long is this everlasting mullatto lookin' fog a goin' to last, for it ain't white, and it ain't black, but kind of betwixt and between."
Sais he, and he stopped and listened a moment, "It will be gone by twelve o'clock to-night."
"What makes you think so?" said I.
"Do you hear that?" said he.
"Yes," sais I, "I do; it's children a playin' and a chatterin' in French. Now it's nateral they should talk French, seein' their parents do. They call it their mother-tongue, for old wives are like old hosses, they are all tongue, and when their teeth is gone, that unruly member grows thicker and bigger, for it has a larger bed to stretch out in,—not that it ever sleeps much, but it has a larger sphere of action,—do you take? I don't know whether you have had this feeling of surprise, Doctor, but I have, hearing those little imps talk French, when, to save my soul, I can't jabber it that way myself. In course of nature they must talk that lingo, for they are quilted in French—kissed in French—fed in French—and put to bed in French,—and told to pray to the Virgin in French, for that's the language she loves best. She knows a great many languages, but she can't speak English since Henry the Eighth's time, when she said to him, 'You be fiddled,' which meant, the Scotch should come with their fiddles and rule England.
"Still somehow I feel strange when these little critters address me in it, or when women use it to me (tho' I don't mind that so much, for there are certain freemason signs the fair sex understand all over the world), but the men puzzle me like Old Scratch, and I often say to myself, What a pity it is the critters can't speak English. I never pity myself for not being able to jabber French, but I blush for their ignorance. However, all this is neither here nor there. Now, Doctor, how can you tell this fog is booked for the twelve o'clock train? Is there a Bradshaw for weather?"
"Yes," said he, "there is, do you hear that?"
"I don't hear nothing," sais I, "but two Frenchmen ashore a jawing like mad. One darsen't, and t'other is afraid to fight, so they are taking it out in gab—they ain't worth listening to. How do they tell you the weather?"
"Oh," said he, "it ain't them. Do you hear the falls at my lake? the west wind brings that to us. When I am there and the rote is on the beach, it tells me it is the voice of the south wind giving notice of rain. All nature warns me. The swallow, the pig, the goose, the fire on the hearth, the soot in the flue, the smoke of the chimney, the rising and setting sun, the white frost, the stars—all, all tell me."
"Yes," sais I, "when I am to home I know all them signs."
"The spider too is my guide, and the ant also. But the little pimpernel, the poor man's weather-glass, and the convolvulus are truer than any barometer, and a glass of water never lies."
"Ah, Doctor," said I, "you and I read and study the same book. I don't mean to assert we are, as Sorrow says, nateral children, but we are both children of nature, and honour our parents. I agree with you about the fog, but I wanted to see if you could answer signals with me. I am so glad you have come on board. You want amusement, I want instruction. I will swap stories with you for bits of your wisdom, and as you won't take boot, I shall be a great gainer."
After a good deal of such conversation, we went below, and in due season turned in, in a place where true comfort consists in oblivion. The morning, as the doctor predicted, was clear, the fog was gone, and the little French village lay before us in all the beauty of ugliness. The houses were small, unpainted, and uninviting. Fish-flakes were spread on the beach, and the women were busy in turning the cod upon them. Boats were leaving the shore for the fishing-ground. Each of these was manned by two or three or four hands, who made as much noise as if they were getting a vessel under weigh, and were severally giving orders to each other with a rapidity of utterance that no people but Frenchmen are capable of.
"Every nation," said the doctor, "has its peculiarity, but the French Acadians excel all others in their adherence to their own ways; and in this particular, the Chesencookers surpass even their own countrymen. The men all dress alike, and the women all dress alike, as you will presently see, and always have done so within the memory of man. A round, short jacket which scarcely covers the waistcoat, trowsers that seldom reach below the ankle-joint, and yarn stockings, all four being blue, and manufactured at home, and apparently dyed in the same tub, with moccasins for the feet, and a round fur or cloth cap to cover the head, constitute the uniform and unvaried dress of the men. The attire of the women is equally simple. The short gown which reaches to the hip, and the petticoat which serves for a skirt, both made of coarse domestic cloth, having perpendicular blue and white stripes, constitute the difference of dress that marks the distinction of the sexes, if we except a handkerchief thrown over the head, and tied under the chin, for the blue stockings and the moccasins are common to both, males and females.
"There has been no innovation for a century in these particulars, unless it be that a hat has found its way into Chesencook, not that such a stove-pipe looking thing as that has any beauty in it; but the boys of Halifax are not to be despised, if a hat is, and even an ourang-outang, if he ventured to walk about the streets, would have to submit to wear one. But the case is different with women, especially modest, discreet, unobtrusive ones, like those of the 'long-shore French.' They are stared at because they dress like those in the world before the Flood, but it's an even chance if the antediluvian damsels were half so handsome; and what pretty girl can find it in her heart to be very angry at attracting attention? Yes, their simple manners, their innocence, and their sex are their protection. But no cap, bonnet, or ribbon, velvet, muslin, or lace, was ever seen at Chesencook. Whether this neglect of finery (the love of which is so natural to their countrywomen in Europe) arises from a deep-rooted veneration for the ways of their predecessors, or from the sage counsel of their spiritual instructors, who desire to keep them from the contamination of the heretical world around them, or from the conviction that
'The adorning thee with so much art Is but a barbarous skill, 'Tis like the barbing of a dart, Too apt before to kill,'
I know not. Such however is the fact nevertheless, and you ought to record it, as an instance in which they have shown their superiority to this universal weakness. Still, both men and women are decently and comfortably clad. There is no such thing as a ragged Acadian, and I never yet saw one begging his bread. Some people are distinguished for their industry, others for their idleness; some for their ingenuity, and others for their patience; but the great characteristic of an Acadian is talk, and his talk is, from its novelty, amusing and instructive, even in its nonsense.
"These people live close to the banks where cod are found, and but little time is required in proceeding to the scene of their labour, therefore there is no necessity for being in a hurry, and there is lots of time for palaver. Every boat has an oracle in it, who speaks with an air of authority. He is a great talker, and a great smoker, and he chats so skilfully, that he enjoys his pipe at the same time, and manages it so as not to interrupt his jabbering. He can smoke, talk, and row at once. He don't smoke fast, for that puts his pipe out by consuming his tobacco; nor row fast, for it fatigues him."
"Exactly," sais I, "but the tongue, I suppose, having, like a clock, a locomotive power of its own, goes like one of my wooden ones for twenty-four hours without ceasing, and like one of them also when it's e'en amost worn-out and up in years, goes at the rate of one hundred minutes to the hour, strikes without counting the number, and gives good measure, banging away often twenty tunes at one o'clock."
Every boat now steered for the "Black Hawk," and the oracle stopped talking French to practise English. "How you do, Sare? how you do your wife?" said Lewis Le Blanc, addressing me.
"I have no wife."
"No wife, ton pee? Who turn your fish for you, den?"
"Whereat they all laugh, and all talk French again. And oracle says, 'He takes his own eggs to market, den.' He don't laugh at that, for wits never laugh at their own jokes; but the rest snicker till they actilly scream.
"What wind are we going to have, Lewis?"
Oracle stands up, carefully surveys the sky, and notices all the signs, and then looks wise, and answers in a way that there can be no mistake. "Now you see, Sare, if de wind blow off de shore, den it will be west wind; if it blow from de sea, den it will be east wind; and if it blow down coast," pointing to each quarter with his hand like a weather-cock, "den it will sartain be sout; and up de coast, den you will be sartain it will come from de nort. I never knew dat sign fail." And he takes his pipe from his mouth, knocks some ashes out of it, and spits in the water, as much as to say, Now I am ready to swear to that. And well he may, for it amounts to this, that the wind will blow from any quarter it comes from. The other three all regard him with as much respect as if he was clerk of the weather.
"Interesting people these, Doctor," said I, "ain't they? It's the world before the Flood. I wonder if they know how to trade? Barter was the primitive traffick. Corn was given for oil, and fish for honey, and sheep and goats for oxen and horses, and so on. There is a good deal of trickery in barter, too, for necessity has no laws. The value of money we know, and a thing is worth what it will fetch in cash; but swapping is a different matter. It's a horse of a different colour."
"You will find," said the doctor, "the men (I except the other sex always) are as acute as you are at a bargain. You are more like to be bitten than to bite if you try that game with them."
"Bet you a dollar," sais I, "I sell that old coon as easy as a clock. What, a Chesencooker a match for a Yankee! Come, I like that; that is good. Here goes for a trial, at any rate.
"Mounsheer," sais I, "have you any wood to sell?"
We didn't need no wood, but it don't do to begin to ask for what you want, or you can't do nothin'.
"Yes," said he.
"What's the price," said I, "cash down on the nail?" for I knew the critter would see "the point" of coming down with the blunt.
"It's ten dollars and a half," said he, "a cord at Halifax, and it don't cost me nothin' to carry it there, for I have my own shallop—but I will sell it for ten dollars to oblige you." That was just seven dollars more than it was worth.
"Well," sais I, "that's not high, only cash is scarce. If you will take mackarel in pay, at six dollars a barrel (which was two dollars more than its value), p'raps we might trade. Could you sell me twenty cord?"
"Yes, may be twenty-five."
"And the mackarel?" said I.
"Oh," said he, "mackarel is only worth three dollars and a half at Halifax. I can't sell mine even at that. I have sixty barrels, number one, for sale."
"If you will promise me to let me have all the wood I want, more or less," sais I, "even if it is ever so little; or as much as thirty cords, at ten dollars a cord, real rock maple, and yellow birch, then I will take all your mackarel at three and a half dollars, money down."
"Say four," said he.
"No," sais I, "you say you can't git but three and a half at Halifax, and I won't beat you down, nor advance one cent myself. But mind, if I oblige you by buying all your mackarel, you must oblige me by letting me have all the wood I want."
"Done," said he; so we warped into the wharf, took the fish on board, and I paid him the money, and cleared fifteen pounds by the operation.
"Now," says I, "where is the wood?"
"All this is mine," said he, pointing to a pile, containing about fifty cords.
"Can I have it all," said I, "if I want it?"
He took off his cap and scratched his head; scratching helps a man to think amazingly. He thought he had better ask a little more than ten dollars, as I appeared to be so ready to buy at any price. So he said,
"Yes, you may have it all at ten and a half dollars."
"I thought you said I might have what I wanted at ten."
"Well, I have changed my mind," said he, "it is too low."
"And so have I," sais I, "I won't trade with a man that acts that way," and I went on board, and the men cast off and began to warp the vessel again up to her anchor.
Lewis took off his cap and began scratching his head again, he had over-reached himself. Expecting an immense profit on his wood, he had sold his fish very low; he saw I was in earnest, and jumped on board.
"Capitaine, you will have him at ten, so much as you want of him."
"Well, measure me off half a cord."
"What!" said he, opening both eyes to their full extent.
"Measure me off half a cord."
"Didn't you say you wanted twenty or thirty cord?"
"No," sais I, "I said I must have that much if I wanted it, but I don't want it, it is only worth three dollars, and you have had the modesty to ask ten, and then ten and a half, but I will take half a cord to please you, so measure it off."