Part 2 out of 9
"She's lovely--she's divine," said Maltboy, rapturously finishing the
quotation. "I have made an impression. Congratulate me, old boy!"
"I do," said Marcus, laughing, "and only hope that you will find it as
easy getting out of the scrape as into it. And what have you
"That there isn't a sensible woman or an original idea, so far, on the
block. I wouldn't budge an inch farther, but for Quigg's promise to
introduce me to a young widow who lives next door--a regular prodigy of
science and art, according to his story. I think you said she was a
"I suppose so," said Quigg, "as I never saw nor heard of her husband;
and she's lived on this block five years last May."
The three besieged Marcus to lay aside his scruples for once, and join
them in visiting this accomplished lady. Marcus fought them until his
patience was exhausted, and then gave in.
The door to which they climbed, bore, on a large and shining plate, the
name "Slapman." This door was opened to them by a tall negro in livery,
which, like the wearer, had a borrowed appearance. As they entered, they
saw a little wiry man, with a pale face full of wrinkles and crowsfeet,
bounding up the first flight of stairs, two steps at a time. When the
little man reached the first landing he looked back, and directed a
strange, suspicious glance at the callers.
The opening of the parlor door discovered a room full of men, who were
sipping wine, eating cold fowl and confections, talking and laughing
loudly with each other, or exchanging repartees with a lady who stood in
the centre of the apartment and shed her light upon all. This lady was
Mrs. Grazella Jigbee Slapman.
Previous to her marriage, she had been not altogether unknown to the
corners of several weekly newspapers, under the name of "Grazella." She
had also cultivated a natural talent for painting, so assiduously, that
a little cabinet piece of hers, representing a cat, a lobster, and a
plate of fruit, was considered good enough to exhibit in the window of a
Broadway print shop, in which her uncle was a silent partner, and was
approvingly paragraphed in a paper partly owned by her first cousin. To
gifts capable of producing results like these, she added a great
aptitude for music; although an incurable indolence, she gracefully
said, had always prevented her from learning the piano. While yet
sustaining the name of Jigbee, she had achieved a high reputation in
private circles as a merciless judge of music. But her conversation had
been, from earliest girlhood, her chief attraction. She possessed the
extraordinary faculty of talking with a dozen persons upon a dozen
different subjects at the same time.
Unlike many people similarly endowed, she did not exercise this
wonderful gift for the brutal purpose of putting down feebler
intellects, but only to elicit TRUTH, which she often declared to be the
sole object of her existence. When, by her alliance with Mr. Slapman, a
thrifty speculator in real estate, she was installed as mistress of a
fine house and furniture, and a few thousand a year, the lady naturally
gathered about her a still larger circle of admirers. Her researches for
TRUTH were met halfway by people that were supposed to deal in that
article, abstractly considered; such as poets, painters, sculptors,
reformers, inventors. Anybody with a new idea was sure to be understood
and encouraged by her. Her fondness for new ideas was as keen as an
entomologist's for new bugs or butterflies.
Mrs. Slapman had not made the mistake of neglecting her physical and
perishable charms in deference to her intellectual and immortal nature.
She was twenty-four years old, and had clear, sparkling eyes, a fresh
complexion, good teeth, rich, heavy hair, and a substantial figure. The
pursuit of TRUTH did not disagree with her health.
Mrs. Slapman bustled out of the little knot of persons about her, and
advanced in a frank, hearty way to meet her visitors. To Mr. Quigg she
nodded patronizingly, as to one whom she had long known to be guiltless
of new ideas; but to the strangers who sought her society, she addressed
a cordial smile.
Mr. Quigg, having performed his office, judiciously stepped aside, and
left the honors and burdens of conversation with the three friends.
Matthew Maltboy, with the rashness of youth, opened the verbal
engagement, by remarking that it was a fine day.
This wretched conventionalism was met by a "Very," so obviously
sarcastic, that Marcus Wilkeson decided not to utter a remark which was
at that moment on his lips.
At this embarrassing juncture, Fayette Overtop came to the rescue. "As
we alighted from our sleigh, Mrs. Slapman, I noticed how firmly the snow
at the edge of the street was pressed down by the feet of the hundreds
who have called on you; and I could not but think how truly that white
surface, upon which the prints of so many boots were beautifully
blended, typified the purity of the motives which brought the owners of
those boots to your door."
"A most original and charming remark!" said Mrs. Slapman. "I must repeat
it to Chickson. The author of 'A Snowflake's Lament' will appreciate
that felicitous observation. You have heard of Chickson?"
Mr. Overtop read new books, magazines, literary papers, in considerable
quantities, but did not remember to have ever met with the name.
Speaking upon impulse, and to avoid explanation, however, he said:
"Oh, yes--certainly, but have not the pleasure of his acquaintance."
"You should know each other," said Mrs. Slapman. "Excuse me a minute."
She ran with girlish haste to the other end of the parlors, and brought
back an undersized young man. When he had been introduced to Overtop,
and shaken hands with him, the enthusiastic hostess quoted, somewhat
imperfectly, the beautiful conceit which Overtop had just uttered, and
remarked that it would be a capital subject for a poem.
Mr. Chickson turned his eyes upward to the ceiling, and then downward to
the floor, as if he were committing what he had heard to memory, and
then said it was very curious, but he had thought of the same theme
before, and was intending to write a poem on it next week.
"Now, that's just like you, you provoking creature!" said Mrs. Slapman,
tapping the poet playfully with her fan. "It's really selfish of you to
keep all your poetical thoughts for your poems."
Mr. Chickson smiled pleasantly, but said nothing; and when Mrs.
Slapman's attention was momentarily attracted by a passing remark from
another person, the poet improved the opportunity to slip away and take
another glass of champagne in the corner.
"Ah! gone, is he?" said Mrs. Slapman, remarking his disappearance.
"Though one of the most promising of our young poets, he is dull enough
in conversation. It may be said of him, as of Goldsmith, 'He writes like
an angel, but talks like poor Poll.' You may have read his poem, 'Echoes
of the Empyrean,' published in the _Weekly Lotus_."
Mr. Overtop was wicked enough to say that he had read and admired it.
"It is a curious fact in the history of the poem, that the subtle
thoughts which it evolves were the topic of discussion at one of my
_conversazioni_; and on that very night Chickson told me he had
forty-five lines written on the subject. The knowledge of that trifling
circumstance lends additional interest to the poem."
"That is, if anything could lend additional interest to it," observed
"You are right," said Mrs. Slapman. "TRUTH, like that which animates
every line of the 'Empyrean,' needs no factitious attractions. You have
read the 'Empyrean?'"--turning to Wilkeson and Maltboy, who had stood
hard by during this conversation, calm patterns of politeness.
Mr. Wilkeson, not understanding the question (his thoughts wandering
back to the pale mechanic and his child), nodded "Yes," and was
immediately put down on Mrs. Slapman's mental tablet as a quiet
gentleman of good taste. But Matthew Maltboy, distinctly understanding
it, was candid enough to say "No," and from that moment was as nothing
in the eyes of the lady.
Overtop proceeded to deepen the favorable impression which he had made
upon this charming patroness of intellect.
"Did it ever occur to you how many subjects for the highest order of
poetry lie unnoticed all about us? Take that chandelier, for example,
the prismatic drops of which are dull in the shade, but sparkle with
all the colors of the rainbow in the gaslight. Might not those hidden
splendors be compared to that genius whose brilliancy is alone evoked by
Beauty's radiant smile?"
Marcus Wilkeson squirmed, and Matthew Maltboy felt uneasy, while their
friend was delivering this elaborate idea, and felt easier when he
reached the end in safety. Mr. Overtop himself shared in the sensation
"Beautiful! beautiful!" cried Mrs. Slapman, in a species of rapture. "I
must repeat that delicious thought to Chickson. But not now." And she
looked inquiringly at Overtop, as if in expectation that he would utter
another new TRUTH immediately. That gentleman not happening to have one
on his tongue's end, Mrs. Slapman was kind enough to give him time for
INFIRMITIES OF GENIUS.
"Allow me to point out some of my friends, Mr. Overtop. Among them are
faces which you may have seen. If not, you will at least recognize
several of the names."
"But I must protest that I am monopolizing too much of your time,
madam," interposed Overtop, conscious that his neglected friends were
looking on awkwardly, and waiting for him.
"And I protest against your protesting," said Mrs. Slapman, with a merry
laugh. So saying, she motioned him to one of the front windows, and,
under the shade of heavy blue and gold curtains, commenced to point out
Mr. Overtop observed, first with regret and then with pride, that their
withdrawal into a corner elicited looks of surprise and curiosity, not
unmingled with envy, from the little group that hovered about the
refreshment table, and drank Mrs. Slapman's fine wines, and laughed and
joked together. He was glad to see that his two friends sauntered
through the parlors, examining the pictures and articles of taste which
caught the eye on every side; and that Mr. Quigg was engrossed in the
examination of some books on a centre table, opening them, and smoothing
their fair pages with his hand as if they were ledgers.
"You see that stout man with the double chin--the one drinking
champagne, to the left of the table? That is Mr. Scrymser, a gentleman
who has made several aeronautic excursions, and talked about a balloon
voyage to Europe last year. You may remember his portrait, and plans of
his air ship, in the illustrated papers."
"I do," said Overtop; "and also that he didn't go." "Precisely. Some
trouble about the currents, I believe. You note that small man, with the
sharp face--the one sipping a glass, to the right of the table? That is
Mr. Boskirk, inventor of the _'Submarine Summer House,'_ a species of
diving bell, which is to be owned and managed by a Joint-Stock Company.
I have promised to take a few shares in the concern."
"Excuse the digression, madam," said Overtop, "but ought not these two
gentlemen to change places in life? Is not the heavy one peculiarly
adapted to the diving bell, and the light one to the balloon?"
Mrs. Slapman smiled, and looked faintly surprised, as if the remark were
unworthy of her guest. "Probably you know that gentleman under the
picture of a landscape, talking very earnestly to another gentleman, who
seems to want to be getting away."
"The man with the long, curly, red hair? I know his face well, and,
though I have no further knowledge of him, am morally certain that he is
a social reformer."
"Why?" asked Mrs. Slapman.
"Because I never saw a man with long, curly, red hair, who was not a
social reformer. Men with red hair--the true carrot tint, I mean--have a
natural propensity for reform. Some of them repress it, but others give
rein to their inclinations, go into the reform business, and hang out
their curls as a sign to all mankind. And all mankind interpret it as
readily as they do the striped pole in front of a barber's shop."
"A striking thought, truly, and full of TRUTH," said Mrs. Slapman. "I
will mention it to Mr. Gormit. On reflection, however, I won't. I might
wound his feelings, for he is an exquisitely sensitive creature. As you
have ingeniously discovered, he _is_ a social reformer. At present he is
only known to the public as the editor of the 'Humanitarian Harbinger;'
but his select circle of friends are well aware that he is devoting his
ripened genius to the production of a work called the 'Progressional
Principia,' which will be in four volumes, and exhaust the whole subject
of social science. This immense undertaking is a favorite subject of his
ordinary conversation. He is probably, at this very moment, giving a
general outline of the book to that gentleman on his right.
"That slender young man with the Vandyke beard, cutting into a cake, you
may not need to be told, is Patching, the painter of those delicious
interiors which have been seen every year by those who had eyes to find
them, in obscure corners at the rooms of the National Academy of Design.
In short, Patching is the subject of a conspiracy in which the Hanging
Committee is implicated. But though professional envy may place his
works in the worst possible light, and for some time cast a shadow over
his prospects, an independent public taste will ultimately appreciate
his genius. Mark the melancholy that overspreads his features, as he
tastes that glass of sherry. Next to TRUTH, melancholy is the chief
characteristic of his style. In a miniature portrait which he painted of
me, last year, and which is regarded as a capital likeness, he
introduced a shade of sadness, which is, at least, not habitual
Mr. Overtop hastened to say, that of _that_ fact he needed no assurance.
"Without giving a minute account of all my guests, I may say generally,
that they include novelists, dramatists, actors, and musicians. Some
you may know by sight. The acquaintance of all you may make at a
At this strong hint, Mr. Overtop replied, that he should be only too
happy. He had by this time come to the conclusion that there never was a
more candid and delightful widow than Mrs. Slapman; and, furthermore,
that she was that rarity--a sensible woman--of which he had been so long
in search. Mr. Overtop mentally hugged himself.
"By the way, sir--you will pardon the impertinence of the question--but
to what profession do you belong?"
"I am a lawyer, madam," said he, fearful that the announcement would not
be well received. "Fayette Overtop, firm of Overtop & Maltboy."
Mrs. Slapman mused a moment, and said:
"It is a little singular, that, among my large collection--I mean
circle--of friends, there shouldn't be a single lawyer."
"As I am a _single_ lawyer, Mrs. Slapman, it is within my power to
supply that deficiency among those who are honored with your
friendship." Mr. Overtop thought, with some reason, as he finished this
remark, that he had never said a better thing in his life.
Mrs. Slapman's severe taste rejected Overtop's pun, but not himself, and
she was about to say that she should put him on the list for her next
_conversazione_, when another awkward interruption occurred, in
Signor Mancussi was a gentleman with an Italian name and a perfect
knowledge of English, who sang bass parts in a church up town, and
enjoyed the reputation of having personated the chief Druid in Norma, at
an early period of the New York opera. M. Bartin played one of numerous
violins at the Academy of Music, and was believed to be kept down only
by a powerful combination. Three months before this New Year's day, both
of these gentlemen had volunteered their services, in company with many
other musical people, to give a grand concert in aid of a benevolent
enterprise. To M. Bartin, as a man supposed to know something of sharp
management, from his connection with the opera, was intrusted the
supreme control of the whole affair. It is due to M. Bartin to say, that
he tried to perform his laborious duties faithfully and with perfect
justice to his associates.
When, therefore, in ordering the printing of the gigantic posters which
heralded the concert, he directed his own name to be placed at the head
of the "eminent artists who had offered their services for the
occasion," and in type half as large again as any of the rest, he only
expressed a conscientious opinion of his superiority over all of them.
In this opinion his associates happened to disagree with him, each one
claiming that himself, and nobody else, was entitled to typographical
Most keenly was the alleged injustice felt by Signer Mancussi, who stood
at the foot of the sloping list in letters less than an inch long; and
he had made a solemn vow to revenge himself on M. Bartin the first time
that they met after the concert. Their simultaneous appearance at Mrs.
Slapman's was that time. M. Bartin had been privately informed of the
Signer's intentions, and regretted that that gentleman's ridiculous
vanity should get the better of his judgment. Seeing him at Mrs.
Slapman's, M. Bartin avoided the Signer's presence, fearing they might
come into a collision disgraceful to the time and the place. The Signer,
for the same considerate reasons, kept shy of M. Bartin. After dodging
each other for a long time, they were at last brought, by accident, face
to face. M. Bartin was calm. Signor Mancussi tried to be tranquil, but
those small, lean black letters at the foot of the list rose vividly to
his mind; and, before he could check himself, he had whispered, or
hissed, between his set teeth, the word,
M. Bartin was taken unawares, but had sufficient presence of mind to
reply, "You're another," in a whisper, low, but freighted with meaning.
Whereupon the Signor responded, also under his breath, "You're no
gentleman." To this assertion, M. Bartin answered, with masterly irony,
"And you _are_ a gentleman, now, a'n't you?"
Up to this point the controversy had been pleasantly conducted in
whispers, and was unnoticed by the bystanders; but M. Bartin's last
insinuation had the strange effect of maddening the Signor still more.
He lost his self-control, and said, in an audible voice:
"You're only a scraper of catgut, anyhow."
M. Bartin, also oblivious of the proprieties, retorted, louder still:
"And what are you but an infernal screech owl?"
Cries of "Hallo!" "What's the row?" "Hush!" and "For shame!" rose from
all parts of the room, and the two musical gentlemen, conscious that
they had grossly misconducted themselves, stepped back a yard from each
other, and were immediately surrounded by several friends, and kindly
told that they were a pair of fools.
Mrs. Slapman and Overtop rushed to the spot. The latter measured the two
combatants with his eye, to see if he could safely undertake to pitch
both, or either of them, out of the room, if requested so to do by the
widow, and concluded that he could not.
Mrs. Slapman was much embarrassed by this painful outbreak. It was only
three weeks ago that M. Bartin had dedicated a new quadrille to her; and
but a fortnight since Signor Mancussi had sung four operatic airs
gratuitously at one of her musical and dramatic _soirees_. But respect
for herself and for her guests--especially for Mr. Overtop, of whose
talents she had formed an exalted opinion--pointed out her path of duty,
and she followed it. She stepped between the two disputants, and cast a
look of surprise and regret at each.
"I was hasty," said Signor Mancussi.
"And I was too impulsive," said M. Bartin.
"Then, gentlemen, if you would merit my continued friendship, please
make up your little difference, by shaking hands."
They recoiled from the proposition a moment, but, being pushed together
by their respective friends from behind, took each other's right hand,
shook it once feebly, and said distinctly, with their eyes, "We shall
"Very well done," said Mrs. Slapman, with the air of an empress,
tempered by a charming smile. "And let us hope that is the end of it.
Now, Mr. Overtop, allow me to offer you some refreshment."
Mrs. Slapman was in the act of handing a glass of champagne to the
favored Overtop, when an unearthly shriek was heard, which startled the
steadiest nerves. This shriek was repeated three times in quick
succession, and seemed to come from the sidewalk in front of the house.
There was a general rush to the window; but Wilkeson, Overtop, Maltboy,
and Quigg ran for the street at once, surmising the source of the cry.
There stood Captain Tonkins, in the sleigh, leaning against the
dashboard, holding in one hand an empty jug, and in the other his whip.
Around the sleigh were a dozen men and boys, who had been convoked by
the cry of "FELL' CITIZENS!" More men and more boys were seen coming in
As the four lessees of the sleigh approached him, the Captain again
yelled, "FELL' CITIZENS!"
"For heaven's sake, stop, Captain!" cried Quigg.
A smile of contempt played upon the Captain's large lips, as, shaking
his whip defiantly at the agitated group, he shouted:
"I--I know ye. Don' think I doknowye. You're Mulcahy men, ev' moth's
sonofye; and you've come to this 'ere meet'n' to put down free-ee-dom of
speech. But yer carndoit. 'Peat it, yer ca-arn-doit. I d'fy ye. I
The Captain was a powerful man; and Quigg, as well as his companions,
singly and collectively, shrank from trying physical persuasion on him.
Besides, a crowd of people had gathered, who were greatly enjoying the
scene, and desiring its continuance for an indefinite period.
"FELL' CITIZENS!" continued the Captain, "now these vile tools o'
Mulca-a-hy silenced, warntellye I'm can'date School 'Spector in this
ward. Fuss place, I'm only reg'l can'date. Secun' place, I feel great
int'st mor'l wants of all your chi-i-ld'n, Masay they are my own
child'n, Go'bless'em. Third place, my dear FELL' CIT'Z'NS, if yer'll
jess step in ter Phil Rooney's 'fore ye vote, yer'll find some whi-i-sky
there; and that--that's bess arg'ment, after all."
Having reached the logical end of the first and last speech ever made in
public by Captain Tonkins, the Captain tumbled out of his sleigh, and
sprawled upon the snow; whereat the bystanders shouted for joy, and the
widow Slapman and two large windows full of guests shook with laughter.
"'S pla-at-form fall'n'?" asked the Captain.
"Yes," replied one of the citizens, humoring the idea; "the platform
gave way, and you tumbled to the ground."
"I--I'no' who di't," resumed the Captain. "Them Mulca'men. They saw-awed
posts." Here the Captain descried two widow Slapmans smiling on him from
a window, and gallantly kissed his hand at them.
His heavy body was tumbled into the rear of the sleigh, a buffalo robe
thrown over it, and Captain Tonkins was then unconsciously borne toward
the bosom of his family, in Minetta lane (a friend officiating as
driver), amid the cheers of his late audience.
The three bachelors were satiated with their day's experiences. They
raised their hats to Mrs. Slapman, still laughing at the window, and
walked smartly home. Mr. Quigg, deriving much comfort from the thought
that Captain Tonkins had not been paid for his sleigh, and would not be,
hastened to a neighboring stable, hired the only remaining team, and
continued his round of calls, giving one minute to each.
Marcus Wilkeson's new acquaintance throve rapidly. Mr. Minford's
dealings with the world had made him shy and suspicious, and he was at
first disposed to keep his benevolent visitor at a safe business
distance. But the heart of the thoughtful mechanic could not long resist
the kind and earnest sympathy of the man who sought to be his friend.
With a caution born of experience, however, Mr. Minford, before
admitting the new guest to his full confidence, called upon a number of
Wall street brokers and South street merchants, to whom Marcus had
referred him, and learned from them that that gentleman bore a
reputation of the rarest honor and purity of character. While giving
this united testimony, however, they all agreed in condemning Mr.
Wilkeson's eccentricity--insanity, one broker called it--in retiring
from business at the very moment when he was most successful, and had a
great fortune within easy reach. The fact that he had retired with one
hundred and fifty thousand dollars, instead of mitigating his offence in
the eyes of those critics, increased it. "Why," said a noted bear, "with
that amount of capital, and Wilkeson's first-rate talents--when he chose
to use them--he might have become the king of Wall street. It's a pity
so smart a fellow should make a wreck of himself." And the bear heaved a
sigh of commiseration; which was by no means echoed by Mr. Minford, who
gathered, from all this evidence, an increased esteem for his
From the time when he first crossed the threshold of the house on his
mission of mercy, Pet had looked upon him with the deepest reverence.
She had read, in story books, of mysterious gentlemen who went about
doing good merely for the pleasure of it, and who always reached the
scene of distress with fairy-like certainty, when everybody and
everything would have gone to ruin without them. Such a strange,
supernatural embodiment of goodness seemed Marcus Wilkeson to her
childish fancy. When he entered the room--and he was an every-day caller
now--she looked around with great anxiety to see that all the chairs
were in their proper places; that there was no dirt or dust visible
anywhere; that everything was in a state of order and cleanliness worthy
so exalted a guest.
She would run to take his overcoat and hat and cane, and place them as
carefully in the clothes press as if they had been the robe, crown, and
sceptre of a king. Then she would sit in her little chair, and take her
sewing, or knitting, or embroidery, and pretend to be all absorbed in
it, while she was listening eagerly to every word that Marcus addressed
to her father, and occasionally looked up at the face of their guest,
and thought how noble it was, and how proud she should be to call
When he spoke to her, as he often did, and asked her about her work, or
her companions, or her studies (upon the latter subject he had grown
quite curious, of late), she would feel that she was blushing, and
answer, with downcast eyes, and be half glad and half sorry when he
ceased to question her, and would then sit and torment herself by
recalling what she had said, and thinking how much it might have
A sharp-eyed observer, had such been present, accustomed to studying
the human face and weighing motives, would have been puzzled to guess
the exact nature of the feelings which Marcus entertained for the
pretty, innocent young creature who sat there, always plying her little
fingers at some useful work. The puzzle would have been a still greater
one for Mr. Wilkeson himself. He felt a profound interest in Pet; and
she it was, and not the pale mechanic or his novel machine, that led him
daily up those three flights of rickety stairs to that humble room. He
said to himself, and he would have said to anybody who was entitled to
call upon him for an explanation, that he had always loved children, and
that the beauty and goodness of this child had deeply interested him. If
there was any other motive at the bottom of his heart, he studiously
concealed it from himself, as he would have concealed it from all
During these visits, Mr. Minford pursued his work without interruption.
The screens, which were at first jealously closed, were now thrown open,
and the inventor sat there in full sight of his visitor, laboring at his
great mechanical problem. Repeatedly he had begged of Marcus the
privilege of explaining to him the principles of the machine; but that
gentleman had always resolutely declined, for the reasons before stated.
And he had always observed that, a few moments after such refusal, the
face of the inventor would brighten up, as if with joy that he had not
parted with his secret even to one who held a fifth interest in it.
Of the wonderful results which the machine was sure to accomplish, Mr.
Minford was never tired of talking, nor Mr. Wilkeson of hearing,
although, at these times, his eyes followed the flying motions of Pet's
fingers, as if they were a part of the wonder of which the inventor
discoursed so glowingly.
Precisely what the machine was to effect, when completed, Marcus
Wilkeson would never have known, if he had been the most attentive of
listeners. Mr. Minford spoke in vague, general terms, that afforded no
clue to the mystery. He talked of old philosophers and mechanicians, who
had failed to discover an unnamed secret of Nature, because they had no
faith in its existence. Complete faith in the existence of the thing to
be discovered, as well as in the ability of the searcher to find it, he
regarded as indispensable conditions of an inventor's success.
The fact that the natural law which he was trying to demonstrate had
been pronounced an impossibility by professors of science, should weigh
as nothing in the mind of any man who remembered how every great
invention of the age had in turn been stamped "impossible" by those
dogmatizers in their academical chairs, their books, and their reviews.
Latterly (Mr. Minford confessed), the scientific theorists had been more
tolerant toward other people's inventions (they never invent anything
themselves); but with regard to the one upon which he was now engaged,
they had, with complete unanimity, decided that the thing could not be
done, and charitably called every man an idiot or a lunatic who
attempted to do it.
"The world has at last fallen into this belief," Mr. Minford would say,
bitterly, "and the few people with whom I am acquainted would all agree
in echoing these scientific opinions, if they knew what I am working at.
But no one shall know--excepting you, Mr. Wilkeson, to whom I should be
most happy to explain everything, if you would only let me. This
prejudice is too deep rooted to be readily pulled up. Even when my
invention is perfected, and has entered upon its boundless career of
usefulness, I know that it will be called a humbug; that people will
look at it, and see it in operation, and still say it is a lie. Yet the
time will come when the professors of science will feel proud to
expound, by formulas, the very invention which they have shown, by
formulas, to be an absolute contradiction of all the laws of Nature. As
for the rabble who make up the world (the inventor's lips curled as he
said this), they will be glad to atone for the mad hue-and-cry with
which they will follow me at first, by giving me, at last, limitless
wealth and immortal fame."
Mr. Minford's eyes flashed; and Marcus Wilkeson, looking up at them from
Pet's volant fingers, saw in their sudden glare what he took to be the
evidence of genius; but what, in an ordinary man, he would have called a
decided symptom of insanity.
A DELICATE PROPOSITION.
One afternoon--when Mr. Minford was in excellent humor, having made a
great discovery in the course of his experiments the previous
night--Marcus thought it a good opportunity to propose something that
had been on his mind for a week past.
"Mr. Minford," he said, "will you excuse me for meddling a little in
your household affairs?"
"Not if you offer me any more kindness," returned the inventor, smiling
gratefully at his guest. "I am too much in your debt already."
"But you forget that I hold an interest in your invention, which you
would make me take. I consider that more than payment in full."
"So you have confidence in my success?"
"You have begun to inspire me with it, I confess," replied Marcus,
indulging in a little unavoidable flattery. "But--but it was not to
_you_ that I was about to offer any kindness," he continued, emphasizing
the personal pronoun, and looking hard at Pet, who bent patiently over
her work, and began to blush in anticipation that her name would be
mentioned, Mr. Minford raised his eyes from a ratchet which he was
finishing in a vice, and glanced with curiosity at the speaker.
"Do you not think, sir, that your daughter might profitably spare a few
hours every day toward the completion of her education? You have told
me that her studies were interrupted by a change in your circumstances,
some years ago."
"Certainly she might," answered the inventor, "and I thank you for the
suggestion. This machine has so completely engaged my thoughts, that I
had quite lost sight of the dear girl's education. I should say,
however, that I have been expecting at any moment to put the finishing
touch on my invention, the very first profits of which I shall spend in
employing a dozen teachers, if need be, for my little Pet. She shall be
an educated lady, if money can make her so. Sha'n't you, Pet?"
The young girl's fingers twinkled faster at her work. "I hope so,
father," said she.
"But, Mr. Minford, it is possible--barely possible, you know--that your
invention may not be completed, nor money be realized from it, for many
months; perhaps one or two years. Suppose--only suppose, of course--your
triumph to be postponed for even one year; your daughter will then be
one year older, and less fitted to acquire the accomplishments which you
desire her to possess, than she now is. Pardon the suggestion, if it is
an obtrusive one. I plead the sincere interest which I take in you and
her as my only excuse."
"No apology is needed, my dear sir," replied the inventor "I know and
appreciate your thoughtful kindness toward us; and I consider your
advice most excellent, especially as I intend to travel in Europe, and
take out patents for my invention there. It would be desirable to have
my Pet learn French, and also to improve her knowledge of music. You
understand the English branches pretty well, I believe, my dear. Let me
see--how long is it since you left school?"
"Three years, pa."
"True! true!" said the inventor, sadly. "It was when our troubles first
began, and I found it necessary to economize. But I did very wrong to
take you from school at that time."
"You forget, pa," replied his daughter, in a sweet, chiding voice. "You
wanted me to go on with my studies, but I said that you must save the
tuition money, and let me learn to keep house. Don't you remember, pa?"
"Yes, child; I remember. And I was selfish enough to allow you to make
the sacrifice. But you shall have schooling to your heart's content now,
whether you will or not. I agree with our dear friend, that no time
should be lost in resuming your education. I shall insist upon setting
apart two hundred dollars for that purpose. Enough money will still be
left to perfect my invention; and that, too, within a month,
notwithstanding" (he added, playfully) "Mr. Wilkeson's discouraging
remarks a moment ago."
"And I shall insist upon not taking the money, pa," said Pet, laughing,
but shaking her head, and patting her feet on the floor in the most
"And I shall insist on furnishing the money," said Marcus Wilkeson,
folding his arms, and looking very much in earnest. "Let us see who can
be obstinate the longest."
"Then _I_ shall insist on your taking another fifth interest in the
invention. Upon that point I am immovable." Mr. Minford folded his arms
likewise, to imply that nothing could shake his granitic determination.
"Ah, now I see some prospect of a friendly arrangement. I will pay five
hundred dollars for another fifth, and esteem it a good bargain,
provided your daughter consents to let one half of it be spent on her
education. What do you say to that, Pet?"
"That I thank you very much for your kind offer," said the young girl,
whose eyes sparkled with gratitude; "but I must not accept it. Pa will
need all the money he can get to finish his work. I know it."
Marcus and the father exchanged pleasant looks, and the former said,
with an ill-assumed sternness:
"Then I don't advance another cent to him. I have named my conditions,
and they must be accepted. You have no idea, Pet, what a tremendously
obstinate fellow I am when I'm roused."
Nobody could have gathered the idea from his intensely amiable face at
"I see, my dear, that we must yield to this determined man," said Mr.
Minford, winking at Marcus. "We shall never have any peace with him
until we do."
"You know best, pa," returned his daughter, who shrank timidly from any
further discussion with their guest.
Marcus Wilkeson was delighted with the perfect confidence which father
and child reposed in him. "Now that this little matter is happily
settled," said he, "I must tell you that I have already taken the
liberty of selecting a school for her."
"How can we ever repay your goodness?" said Mr. Minford.
"It is situated only two blocks away," pursued Marcus.
"Capital!" cried Mr. Minford; "for then she will never be far from
"And if you want me at any time, pa, you can send for me, and I can be
here in a moment," said Pet. "It will be so delightful!"
"It is a private school, and, if your daughter prefers, she can be
taught separately from the other pupils. Miss Pillbody, the teacher,
tells me that she can give her an hour and a half in the morning, before
ten o'clock, and half an hour in the afternoon, after four o'clock."
"That will suit me exactly, pa," cried Pet, clapping her hands with
glee; "because then I can get your breakfast, dinner, and supper, and do
all the housework, without any interruption in my studies."
"Miss Pillbody thought the arrangement would suit you. She is a
perfectly competent teacher of French, Italian, the English branches,
music, drawing, the dead languages, and higher mathematics--quite a
prodigy, I assure you, for a lady not yet twenty-two years old." (Marcus
was addressing the father.) "I have been particular in my inquiries, and
all who know her speak in the highest terms of her remarkable
attainments, her ability to teach others, and her goodness of heart.
Your daughter will like her, without doubt."
"I know I shall," said Pet, with enthusiasm. "There are so many things
that I will learn, pa. First, music--"
"She has a fine piano, and plays splendidly," remarked the guest. "I
"And French and Italian, to please you, pa--that is, if I can learn
them--and everything else that the lady will teach me. I shall be so
The father and the guest smiled at the zeal with which this young
beginner proposed to grapple with the difficulties of human knowledge.
It was fortunate for her that a long series of hard and injudicious
teachers had not already sickened her of learning, and that she brought
a fresh and uncorrupted taste to the work.
Pet was thinking which one of her two dresses (equally faded) she should
wear to school, and what bit of ribbon or trimming she could introduce
in her old bonnet, to improve its general effect. Marcus Wilkeson was
marvelling at the confidence which the inventor and his daughter placed
in him, and at what there was about him to inspire it. Mr. Minford was
congratulating himself on having met with a man so generous and sincere
as this Mr. Wilkeson, and so entirely disinterested, too: "For,"
reasoned the inventor, "he cannot appreciate, as I do, the enormous
value of my discovery, and does not dream that his portion of it will
compensate him for his outlay more than a hundred times over."
The silence was broken by a sound as of heavy boots trying to move
softly on the stairs, and a subsequent modest rap at the door.
AN AUXILIARY OF MODERN CIVILIZATION.
The boy Bog rapped, and entered. He was more neatly dressed than when
Marcus saw him on the occasion of his first visit. His patched and
threadbare coat was replaced by a neat roundabout jacket; his greasy,
visorless cap, by a flat felt hat, of which the brim was symmetrically
turned up; his tattered shoes by great cowhide boots. The boy was of
that age when the human frame grows with vegetable-like rapidity; and he
seemed to hare increased a little all around within three weeks.
The boy looked distressingly awkward in his new articles of attire. Had
he stolen them, he could not have appeared more guilty in presence of
the rightful owner.
"Why, Bog!" said Mr. Minford, reproachfully; "where have you been these
three weeks? Not called to see us once!"
The boy's confusion increased at this unexpected salutation, and he hung
down his head at the threshold of the door. Mr. Minford partly reassured
his bashful visitor, by springing forward, shaking him heartily by the
hand, and saying, with earnestness, "My good lad, I am always glad to
see you." Pet was also by his side in an instant, and warmly shaking the
other hand. "You look real nice, Bog," said she. Mr. Wilkeson also came
forward, and said, "Don't you remember me, Bog?" and clasped him by the
right hand when the inventor had relinquished It.
Bog bowed and scraped and blushed, and murmured "Thank you, very well,"
several times, confusedly, and at last settled down into a chair which
was pushed under him by Pet. Having crossed his legs, he began to feel a
little more at ease.
"You've been very busy of late, haven't you, Bog?" asked Pet, charitably
anticipating an excuse for the boy's long absence.
"You'd better believe it," replied Bog, not looking at her, but studying
the pattern of his left boot. "The day after I called here last, Mr.
Fink he got a job to stick up bills for a new hair dye, all the way from
here to Dunkirk, on the Erie Railroad. Well, he couldn't go, cos he had
lots o' city posting, ye see; so he hires me to do it for ten dollars a
week and expenses. The pay was good, he said, because the work was
extry hard. The bills was to be posted on new whitewashed fences, new
houses, and places generally where there was signs up telling people not
to 'post no bills.'"
"That was a singular direction, Bog," said Mr. Minford.
"So I told Mr. Fink," replied the boy; "but he said as how them were the
hair-dye man's orders. He said the idea was to make folks look at bills
who wouldn't notice 'em if they was on a place all covered over with
adv'tisements. They was to be posted up high and strong, so that the
owner of the property couldn't tear 'em down easy. Mr. Fink thought the
idea was a good one; but he owned it was a little risky."
"Perhaps that is why he didn't care to do it himself," suggested Marcus
"Mebbe," said Bog; "but I didn't consider it no objection. I told him I
was goin' to be a bill poster, and wanted to study every branch o' the
business." At this point Bog hitched his chair nervously, uncrossed and
recrossed his legs, as if he were conscious of trespassing on the
patience of his auditors, and then went on: "Well, I hurried home, and
saw that aunt didn't want for nothin', and then I started on my travels.
I should ha' called and seen you, Mr. Minford," he added, casting a side
glance at the inventor, "but I hadn't time."
"No excuse necessary, my good Bog," returned Mr. Minford, kindly.
"Business before pleasure, you know. But I am anxious to hear how you
got along with the job."
"Well, pooty hard," said Bog, emphatically, "though I made out to go all
through the State, and stick up six thousand bills, every one on 'em on
a new house, shop, or fence. Lemme see--I was chased seven times by big
dogs that was set on me, shot at three times"
"Why, poor Bog!" interrupted Pet; "you wern't hurt, I hope?"
"No, Miss Minford; I wasn't hurt," answered Bog, looking her in the face
for the first time since he entered the house, "though I got one through
my old cap."
"I'm _so_ glad it was no worse, Bog."
These words of sympathy from the young girl flustered the poor boy for a
minute. Then he rallied:
"Besides that, I was took up four times by the perlice, and was carried
afore justices of the peace. When they asked what I had to say why I
shouldn't be fined, I told 'em the whole truth about it, and they all
laughed except one, and said it was really funny, and they hadn't no
doubt the hair dye was a very good thing to take, but could tell better
after they had tried some. I told 'em that the hair-dye man would send
'em a dozen bottles apiece. Mr. Fink had d'rected me to say this, if I
was 'rested and brought afore a justice. The justices--that is, all of
'em but one--then said they didn't want to be hard on me; and as that
was my first offence, they would let me go without any fine. And they
did, after givin' me their names, and tellin' me to be sure to have the
bottles sent on jest as soon as could be. Ye see, they were all as bald
on the top o' their heads as punkins. But the fourth justice that I was
took to, he wasn't bald, but had a crop o' hair like a picter; and when
I offered to put down his name for a dozen bottles, he swore, and fined
me five dollars for what he said was a insult to the dignity of justice,
and five dollars for postin' up bills in places where it was agin the
law. Mr. Fink had give me money from the hair-dye man to pay fines, as
well as my board; so I didn't care. But--but I am talking too much."
Bog paused, because, on taking a stealthy observation around him, he
suddenly become conscious that his three auditors were listening
attentively to his story.
"Not at all, my dear Bog," said Mr. Minford. "I, for one, am curious to
know how this ingenious plan of advertising, in defiance of the law,
succeeded." Mr. Wilkeson expressed himself curious on the same point.
Bog, thus encouraged, continued:
"When I come home, after havin' stuck up six thousand bills in the
principal towns and villages along the route, I went right to Mr. Fink.
He shook hands with me, and ses he, 'Bog, your fortun's made.' 'How's
that?' said I. 'Why, ses he, 'you're the greatest bill poster I ever
heerd of. Professor Macfuddle" (that was the hair-dye man) "ses the
money has begun to pour in to him like sixty, and he is buyin' up all
the hair dye in the market, and puttin' his labils on it to supply the
demand. He has given me ten dollars to present to you, besides the
thirty for your wages.' Mr. Fink then give me forty dollars, and ses he,
'That a'n't all; for I have so much business now, I want a pardner, and
I'll take you, and give you one third of the earnin's.' I rather guess I
snapped at the offer; and we is goin' into pardnership to-morrer."
"Success to you," said Marcus and the inventor together. They saw, in
this illustration of his bill-posting talents, only an evidence of
business shrewdness that deserved encouragement. The young girl,
however, viewed it in the light of a violation of law, and therefore
could not conscientiously approve of it. Bog noticed her silence, and
guessed the cause.
"Thank you very much," said he; "but I forgot to say I a'n't goin' to do
any more business on the Erie plan. It a'n't right. Come to think it
over, I was sorry I done it; and so I told Mr. Fink; and he sed it
wasn't exackly reg'lar either, and he shouldn't never ask me to do
"I am glad of that," said Pet, quietly.
Bog's eyes were instantly turned toward her with an expression of pride
"Oh! of course, it is always best to obey the laws," observed Mr.
"And I wouldn't for a moment be thought to advise anything else," added
Marcus Wilkeson; "though I never could help admiring pluck and sharpness
in business affairs."
"I am going to school again, Bog," said the young girl, hastening to
change the subject of conversation.
Bog looked up, surprised and pleased.
"Mr. Wilkeson," said Mr. Minford, "has taken another small share in my
invention, and pays me in advance for it. With that, Pet will finish her
education." The inventor would have made this disclosure of his private
affairs to no other human being but Bog; for this simple boy was the
only person he had ever known (excepting Marcus Wilkeson) who had not
openly ridiculed his mysterious labors.
"I am very glad to hear of it, sir," said Bog, awkwardly, but with an
air of profound respect. "How--how is the _ma_sheen, sir?" Bog asked the
question hurriedly, as if the machine were a sick person, whose health
he had until then forgotten to inquire after.
"Getting on finely, Bog. Only two or three springs, a cog here, a
ratchet here, a band at this point, and a lever up there (Mr. Minford
touched portions of the machine rapidly), and then look out for
"A noise!" repeated Bog, with juvenile earnestness.
"Not an explosion, my good fellow, but tremendous public
excitement--plenty of fame, mixed with a good deal of abuse at first,
and a _little_ money, I hope." The inventor's eyes flashed with the fire
that Bog had often seen; and when he emphasized the word "little," Bog
knew that he meant to express the boundlessness of the wealth that his
labors would bring to him.
"I believe it," said Bog, with sincerity pictured in every lineament of
his honest face. "I've always believed it."
"So you have, my dear Bog; and your faith has often cheered me," replied
the inventor, patronizingly. "By the way, how's your aunt?"
"Oh, yes; how _is_ your aunt, Bog?" asked Pet. "I had quite forgotten
"She's pooty well, ony them rheumatics troubles her some. They're
workin' their way from her left arm into her head, aunt says. Week afore
last they was in her feet, and they've ben clear round her and goin'
back agen since then. Queer things, them rheumatics!"
"They are very painful, Bog, you know," said Pet.
"Yes; so aunt says." Bog did not add, as he might have truly done, "A
thousand times a day."
"Give her my kind regards, Bog, and say I will call and see her,"
"My respectful regards also," added Mr. Minford.
"Thank you," said the boy; "but I guess you better not call, Miss
Minford. Aunt's a good woman, but kind o' cur'us, you know. Them
rheumatics has made a great change in her." Bog here referred, but made
no verbal allusion, to a certain friendly call which Pet had once made
upon his aunt, on which occasion that elderly lady had entertained her
visitor with a monologue two hours long, giving her a complete history
of the malady, from its birth in the right great toe, three years
previous, through all its eccentric phenomena, to that stage of the
disease which made it, as the venerable sufferer observed with, some
pride, the "very wust case the doctors ever heerd of."
Upon this fruitful theme, Bog's aunt could and would have discoursed for
hours longer, but for the appearance of Bog, when she sought a new
relief from her agonies by abusing that poor fellow, charging him with
neglect and ingratitude, finding fault with the food which he brought
home for her from market, and asking him when he was going to buy that
soft armchair he had promised her so long. Bog laughed, and explained
this outburst, by saying to Pet, "It's only aunt's rheumatics;" but the
old lady rejected the explanation, and went on scolding and faultfinding
with such increased fierceness, that Pet hastily put on her bonnet and
shawl, and bade the rheumatic grumbler "good-by," saying (which was
true) that her father would be anxious about her. Since then, the young
girl had kept away from Bog's aunt.
"I've bought her a nice, soft armchair lately," continued Bog; "but it
don't do her no good. The rheumatics seem to be getting wusser all the
time; and the thing that makes them wussest of all is calls. So I guess
it's better for aunt you should keep away, Miss Minford." Bog prided
himself on his tact in putting forth the last argument.
Then the conversation turned on Pet's education; Marcus and her father
fondly discussing what it ought to be, and Bog listening, and looking
stealthily at the young girl, still busy at her work; and they all sat,
happy in thoughts of the future, far into the twilight.
Miss Pillbody's school was unknown to the pages of the City Directory.
It was never advertised in the newspapers, with a long list of "Hons."
and bank presidents as unimpeachable references. The bright little plate
on her door exhibited only "Pillbody," in neat script, and no hint of
the existence of a school within. The school was select to such an
extent, that not more than a dozen pupils were admitted to its
privileges; and so private, that, outside of that number, its name was
not known except among its graduates; and there were reasons why they
should hesitate to spread its reputation abroad. If strictly classified
among the institutions of the city, it might be termed, "A school for
female adults in good circumstances, whose early education had been
The idea of this school originated with Miss Pillbody; and, like many
other valuable ideas, it was hit upon quite accidentally.
Dorcas Pillbody was the only daughter of a man who had amassed a fortune
in the oyster business, and had finally retired to a four-story house in
Sixteenth street, near the Sixth Avenue, where he purposed to spend the
balance of his days in the dignified enjoyment of his hard-earned money.
To this secluded oyster dealer, as solitary and happy in the midst of
his new grandeur as a bivalve in its native bed, came a plausible
stockbroker, who, after a series of interviews, persuaded Mr. Pillbody
to make a small investment in the "Sky Blue Ridge Pure Vein Copper
The small investment unfortunately turned out well. In less than sixty
days, the shares that he had bought at ten per cent, sold at
seventy-five, and ultimately advanced to par. Delighted with this
unexpected result, Mr. Pillbody determined to stake largely (he had been
a wholesale oyster dealer, and was a man of comprehensive ideas). Again
his venture prospered. Mr. Pillbody, intoxicated with success, invested
his entire means in the purchase of two new mines in a Southern State,
whose unparalleled richness was certified to by mineralogists of great
Just as Mr. Pillbody was making arrangements to bring these mines before
the public, his stockbroking friend, through whom he had effected the
purchase, left for Europe, and it was then discovered that Mr.
Pillbody's mines, if they existed at all, were ten feet under a swamp,
on property which belonged to somebody else, the title deeds of which
had been forged by the adroit operator. Mr. Pillbody could not endure
his misfortune. He wrote notes bidding farewell to his wife and child,
and commending them to the care of their relatives, to whom he had
always been bountifully generous. Then he went to Staten Island by
ferry, there took a row boat, proceeded to a celebrated oyster bed which
was the scene of his youthful labors, and drowned himself.
The widow and daughter (the latter twenty years of age, healthy, and
finely educated) applied to the two brothers of the deceased for
assistance, and were at once kindly received into their families, and
sat upon sofas and ate from tables purchased with money (never repaid)
of the late Mr. Pillbody. The two brothers, upon application to the
proper tribunal, were appointed executors of the estate, and were not
long in discovering that it was insolvent. Mother and daughter were
shifted about with almost monthly regularity from one house to the
other; and, though they tried to make themselves useful in every
capacity except that of a servant, they could not disguise the
conviction that their departure was an event a great deal more welcome
than their coming. The widow's talent for dressmaking (she had been a
milliner's apprentice before marriage), though of a high order, and
exerted to the utmost, failed to please. Miss Pillbody's thorough
knowledge of French, and the higher branches of an elegant education, as
well as her proficiency on the piano, and her sweet, simple style of
ballad singing, were worse than useless acquirements in her
Her uncles were cold, stern, ignorant men, who had an intense hatred for
the mere accomplishments of life. Each had two daughters, who, with the
natural tastes of the sex, were not averse to the graces of education,
in the abstract, but could not bear to see them displayed by their
"stuck-up, pauper cousin," as they often termed that hapless young lady
in private conversation. A kind offer, which she was imprudent enough,
to make, to teach them all she knew, had set them against her from
The widow endured the cold looks and cutting words of her husband's
relatives, and even the reproaches which they heaped upon his folly,
with a widow's patience, and seemed content to remain a poor,
broken-down, dependent creature. Miss Pillbody, on the contrary, was
quick to discern and to resent, mentally, the uncivil treatment daily
experienced by her mother and herself. Had she been alone in the world,
she would have left those inhospitable roofs when the unkind hints first
began to be dropped, and trusted to the cold charity of strangers; but
she could not bear the thought of being separated from her mother. So
she endured her wretched state of dependence as best she could, while
she quietly sought for some means of employment that would yield them
Profiting by the lessons she had learned from her uncles, she did not
apply to any person who had known her father and received favors from
him in their better days. She asked no favor from any one--only work, at
a fair price. By diligent hunting, she found several opportunities. She
could earn four dollars a week by embroidering (at which she was
skilful, and had taken premiums); or two dollars and a half for
teaching French, twice a week, in a country seminary; or her board and
washing for inducting a family of four little musical prodigies into all
the mysteries of the piano. But these tempting offers would still have
left her mother with her uncles, and she spurned them all.
A FRIEND IN NEED.
One day, as Miss Pillbody was riding up Broadway, in tending to visit a
Teachers' Agency for the sixteenth time, she accidentally made the
acquaintance of a middle-aged lady, who talked a great deal upon the
slightest provocation, trifled sadly with grammar and pronunciation, and
was excessively friendly and amiable. The diamonds in her ears and on
her fingers, and her overdone and gaudy style of dressing, were some
indication, though not a convincing one, that she was a woman of wealth;
and Miss Pillbody made bold to ask her if she knew anybody who wanted a
private teacher in her family.
The lady said she did not, "unless," she added, laughing very loud at
the humor of the suggestion, "you come into my family, and learn me
The remark was unpremeditated, but, the moment it was made, the lady
seemed to be greatly struck with its force, and immediately followed it
up with the question, "Do you s'pose you could learn grammar and
pronunciation, and how to talk French, to a grown-up woman like me?"
Miss Pillbody thought the lady with the diamonds was joking, and laughed
by way of reply. "But I am ra-ally in earnest," continued the lady,
thoughtfully, turning three heavy cluster rings on her little left
finger. "Ye see, my early eddication was rather poor, 'cos I was poor
then; but my old man made a spec' in tobacco, last year, and now I'm
pooty well off, and live in good s'ciety. I kinder feel the want of
grammar, French, and a few o' them things. I like your face and your
manners, and if you can learn me 'em, I'll give you ten dollars a week
to come to my house one hour every day, and be my private
schoolmistress. It'll be rather hard, I s'pose, to learn an old dog new
tricks; but there is no harm a-tryin'."
Notwithstanding the oddity of the proposition, Miss Pillbody saw by the
lady's face that she meant what she said. "I think I understand English
grammar, and French, and the other branches usually taught at
academies," she replied, "and should be very happy to accept
"Then consider the bargain closed," returned the lady. "Here is my
'dress" (handing her a card), "and you may come to-morrer mornin', at
ten o'clock, if that'll suit you. I have no children, and the old man
will be out at that time, and we shall be as snug as two bugs in a
rug, ye see."
Miss Pillbody was delighted with the sudden prospect of an honest living
thus opened to her, and she only feared that she would not be able to do
enough for her money. So, after she had again thanked the lady for her
kindness, she said:
"I think I could give you lessons on the piano, madam--unless you
understand that instrument better than I do."
"Lor' bless me, child!" responded the lady, holding up her thick, red
hands, and making the diamonds flash in the sunlight; "Lor' bless me!
them fingers is too stiff to play the pianner now. I've got a splendid
pianner, though, with an oleon 'tachment, three pedals, and pearl
keys--cost eight hundred dollar; and a nice piece of furniture it is,
you may believe. I let it be out of tune all the time. That's an excuse
for not playing when anybody asks me to, ye know. I don't mind tellin'
you this, because you'll be sure to find it out." And the lady laughed
very loudly at the confession of this small deceit, which Miss Pillbody
assured her was by no means confined to herself, but had been adopted by
her ingenious sex from time immemorial.
When the middle-aged pupil and her young teacher separated, as they did
on the arrival of the stage at an up-town jeweller's, where the former
got out to make a few purchases, Miss Pillbody felt as if she had known
her patroness for years, and that, in that coarse, showy, good-hearted
woman, she had found a true friend.
And so it turned out. However dull Mrs. Crull might be as a scholar, she
was quick-witted as a friend, and was constantly bestowing unexpected
kindnesses upon Miss Pillbody. Scarcely a day passed that the young
teacher did not receive from her pupil some little present--at times
rising to the value of a bonnet or a shawl. Mrs. Crull's all-embracing
kindness would have extended to the widow Pillbody too (in whom she was
much interested from the daughter's accounts of her), but for the shrewd
objection which she entertained against intrusting any one with the
secret of her pupilage. Miss Pillbody was often and particularly
enjoined by her not to tell any one--- not even her mother--of it; and
she saw the advantages of carefully observing the request. Great pains
were taken to keep Mr. Crull, and the housemaid, cook, and coachman,
from a knowledge of the mystery.
On Miss Pillbody's arrival daily at ten A.M., she was ushered into the
drawing room, where Mrs. Crull was always anxiously awaiting her. The
servant was told to say to callers that "Mistress is out" (Mrs. Crull
bolted at this trifling deception at first, but soon got used to it),
and the lesson began.
Mrs. Crull at first thought she was competent to learn her native tongue
and French together, in a series of half-hour lessons; but she soon
found out that the latter language had some eccentric peculiarities
quite beyond her powers of articulation, and that the spelling of a word
did not afford the slightest clue to the method of pronouncing it. After
floundering about heroically but hopelessly through the introductory
chapter of the first French grammar, she gave up the polite tongue in
despair, consoling herself with the reflection, that speaking bad French
was worse than speaking no French at all.
Miss Pillbody, who did not venture to advise her pupil on her choice of
studies, but left her to consult her own fancies undisturbed, heartily
approved of Mrs. Crull's conclusion, though she acknowledged that New
York society by no means took that view of the case, but tolerated bad
French with a courtesy worthy of France itself.
Mrs. Crull's studies were thereafter confined to English spelling,
grammar, and writing. She declared that she knew enough of arithmetic to
count change correctly, and wanted to know no more; and that geography
was of no earthly use to her. Besides, she never could remember the
names of places.
It was in pronunciation that Miss Pillbody's system achieved the
greatest good. Anxious to strengthen herself on that weak point, Mrs.
Crull set a watch on her language, and gave every word a good look
before she sent it forth. The effect of this constant introspection was
most happy; but, at times, Mrs. Crull would be thrown off her guard by a
rush of ideas, and all the old blunders would come out. Toward other
persons, she became, to some extent, a free teacher, and would, in the
most obliging manner, rectify their little errors of pronunciation, when
she was sure of them, and sometimes when she was not.
Of course, Mr. Crull was taken in training by her. That gentleman,
having made the discovery, early in life, that the less a man says, the
more he is supposed to know, had acquired a habit of taciturnity which
had become a second nature to him. His conversation consisted mainly of
grunts and nods; and it was astonishing how much he could express by
them. At any rate, they had "made his fortin', and he couldn't ha' done
more'n that if he'd talked like a house a-fire"--which explanation,
often repeated, was about the longest one ever known to be uttered by
Mr. Crull. Therefore Mr. Crull did not offer a large field for the
exhibition of his wife's new acquirements; but, by drawing him into
conversation, and then lying in wait for him, she found opportunities to
exhibit them for his good.
At first, Mr. Crull only stared and grunted. Then he laughed (his laugh
and Mrs. Crull's laugh were very similar, and were their strongest bond
of union). Once he said, "Wonder what's the matter with the ole woman?"
And, on a subsequent occasion, when Mrs. Crull had convicted him of
three mistakes in five words, he ventured upon this protracted remark:
"Guess the ole gal feels rather big since she got inter wot they call
good s'ciety, eh?" This was in allusion to the recent successful
speculation in tobacco, which had enabled Mr. Crull to buy the best
house in Twenty-third street, and take the second best pew in a
fashionable church, thereby placing Mrs. Crull at once within the
charmed circle of society.
As for himself, Mr. Crull took very little interest in society, having
observed that society had taken very little interest in him until that
"lucky turn in terbacker." Mrs. Crull would smile, and confess that
society had claims upon people, and that, when one is in Rome, one must
do as the Romans do. The moral of which proverb was, that Mr. Crull
ought to improve his speech. Mr. Crull replied, by asking "wot
difference 'twould make a hunderd years from now?" Which observation,
when Mr. Crull condescended to speak at such length, was a favorite
argument with him. But he little suspected his wife's secret.
To Miss Pillbody, this quiet little arrangement proved a fortune indeed.
In two weeks after she became acquainted with her benefactress, she was
rich enough to take lodgings for her mother and herself at a decent
boarding house. The old lady entertained singular notions about the
rights of relationship, and held that it was the duty of her husband's
brothers to give them a home for the balance of their lives, and
regarded her daughter's desire to cut loose from her uncles, and be
independent, as a romantic and absurd notion, born of novel reading, to
which Miss Pillbody was a good deal addicted.
To gratify her daughter's whim, the widow Pillbody finally consented to
move into a boarding house, though she did it in the firm belief that
the good luck which the young lady had fallen upon would be of brief
duration, and they would be glad to come back to their relatives
again--their "natteral protectors," as Mrs. P. called them.
In their new residence, Miss Pillbody was happy. The money which she
earned weekly, and which was always paid to her in advance, was
sufficient for her own and her mother's board. In addition to other
presents, Mrs. Crull had forced small sums upon her acceptance, at
different times; and Miss Pillbody began to enjoy the odd sensation of
laying up money in a savings bank. Of the future she thought but little;
first, because she had no head for plans; and second, because Mrs. Crull
had promised to set her up in a private school; and Miss Pillbody placed
a blind trust in that lady. An accident, in this wise, caused the
fulfilment of the promise much sooner than was expected.
Mr. Crull, in getting out of a stage, one day, slipped on the step, and
dislocated his left shoulder. At his age, careful treatment was
necessary for an injury of that kind; and the family doctor peremptorily
forbade him to leave the house for a month. Mr. Crull therefore stayed
at home, growling like a bear in a cage, and solacing himself with the
determination to bring a suit for damages against the stage company, the
carelessness of whose driver (in Mr. Crull's opinion) caused
Mr. Crull, like a good husband, would have nobody to nurse him, apply
his embrocations, and put on his bandages, but his wife; and Mrs. Crull,
like a good wife, cheerfully and tenderly performed that duty. But this
rendered necessary the abandonment of the daily lessons at her house;
for she was liable to be summoned to her husband's bedside at any moment
(he sent for her at every new twinge of pain); and, furthermore, it was
his custom to crawl out of his couch every half hour, and wander
restlessly through the house, until his wife, under the stern
instructions of the family doctor, sent him back to bed again.
Mrs. Crull, though not wanting in love for her disabled consort, was
loth to abandon her lessons. Having tasted of the Pierian spring, she
desired to drink deeply.
As Miss Pillbody could not continue her course of instruction at Mrs.
Crull's residence, without being detected in the act by the invalid lord
of that mansion; and as it was clearly impracticable for Mrs. Crull to
go to Miss Pillbody's boarding house, and turn the widow Pillbody out of
the little room which mother and daughter jointly occupied, the generous
pupil hit upon the idea of renting the ground floor of a house for her
teacher, setting apart one room as a schoolroom, fitting it up for her
in comfortable style, and helping her to get wealthy adult pupils enough
to pay all the expenses of the establishment, and a handsome
Miss Pillbody thankfully accepted the noble offer; though she feared
that she would never obtain scholars enough to repay the money which
Mrs. Crull was willing to advance, and also to defray the current
expenses of housekeeping.
Mrs. Crull entertained no such fears. She had great faith in the
efficacy of advertising. She had personally known three quacks who made
half a million apiece out of patent medicines; and one woman who had
turned a common recipe for removing superfluous hair into an eligible
establishment in Thirty-second street, and a country cottage, with
sixteen acres under good cultivation. She believed that newspaper
advertising was the shortest and surest road to fortune; and the only
standing cause of quarrel between her and her husband was the latter's
incredulous "Pooh! pooh!" at her theory upon this subject.
At her request, Miss Pillbody drew up this advertisement, and caused it
to be inserted twice in three daily papers:
"To LADIES IN GOOD SOCIETY WHO DESIRE TO IMPROVE THEIR EDUCATION.--A
young lady who has moved in wealthy and fashionable circles, and has
received the best education that New York city could afford, having met
with reverses in fortune, would be happy to accept, as private pupils, a
few ladies whose early cultivation was, for any reason, neglected.
French, Italian, Spanish, vocal music, the piano, and all the English
rudiments, taught at reasonable prices. Particular attention paid to
pronunciation, spelling, and writing. Satisfactory references given
"N.B.--Pupils taught separately, and at different hours.
"For further information, address 'Educatrix, New York Post Office.'"
* * * * *
There were many points in this advertisement to which Miss Pillbody's
modesty took exception; but Mrs. Crull insisted upon them in a way that
permitted no refusal. The little bit of bragging was the principal
thing, she said. She had always observed that people are inclined to
believe bragging advertisements, though they openly profess that they
can't be taken in by them. As for the satisfactory references, she would
undertake to give them, if they were required--which, of course, they
would not be, as the mere offering of them invariably sufficed. If
called upon, she would say that she knew a wealthy lady, the head of a
family, who had derived the greatest possible benefit from the
instructions of "Educatrix." If asked who she was, she could answer,
that "Educatrix" would on no account allow the name to be made known, as
it was a great merit of her system that she kept the names of her pupils
a profound secret from each other, and from the rest of the world. The
good sense of this regulation would at once be appreciated by all mature
ladies who wished to repair the defects of their early education. Her
own position as the mistress of an elegant mansion in Twenty-third
street, would (Mrs. Crull reasoned) entitle her statement to
The plan worked capitally. "Educatrix" received fifty answers to her
advertisement, and was busy more than a week calling at the houses of
those who desired an interview with her. The ladies were all in good
circumstances, and, without an exception, were the wives of men who had
made sudden fortunes, after the manner common in the United States.
Finding themselves elevated above the necessity of cooking their own
dinners and washing their own clothes, they keenly felt the want,
hitherto unknown, of an education which would fit them, in a measure,
for that society whose portals were now thrown wide open to them. Miss
Pillbody's gentle manners and polished ways gained for her the
confidence of all; and she could have had fifty pupils daily, at two
dollars a lesson (the fixed price), of one hour each, if it had been
possible to teach that number.
Acting on the advice of Mrs. Crull, Miss Pillbody decided to accept only
twelve pupils, for twenty-four lessons each, and devote six hours daily
to them. This arrangement would give her six pupils a day; and the
twelve would complete their course in about two months. Then she could
take twelve more, and so on. It was plain, from the success of the first
experiment, that there would never be a scarcity of pupils.
Mrs. Crull then rented the first floor and basement of a suitable house
in a quiet neighborhood, furnished it nicely, hired a grand piano for
the front parlor, and turned over the premises and their contents to her
young teacher. Miss Pillbody brought her mother to their new home, a
fair share of which had been set apart and fitted up expressly for her.
The old lady admitted, with some reluctance, that the house was not
badly furnished, and that her daughter's prospects might be worse than
they were. But who was this mysterious woman, that took such an interest
in her daughter? What was her motive? she would like to know. And why
was she so anxious to avoid her (Mrs. Pillbody)? To which questions her
daughter responded, as she had done fifty times before, that her
teaching was strictly private, and that none of her pupils would visit
her, except under a pledge of the profoundest secrecy. Mrs. Pillbody
shook her head doubtingly, and said, "We shall see," adding that she
only hoped they would be as comfortable there as they were at Uncle
John's and Daniel's, that was all.
The school throve. The pupils came with great punctuality at their
different hours, and were unknown to each other and to the world. The
secret of the school would never have got abroad, but for the incaution
of a certain Mrs. Brigback (wife of a man who had been connected with
the City Government for two years on a nominal salary, and retired
rich). She was so delighted at the progress which she made in the
English rudiments, and in the French (being able to ask for bread, or
fish, or concerning a person's health, in that language), that she could
not refrain from confidentially advising another lady (the wife of a
street contractor, suddenly opulent) to take a few lessons from the same
accomplished teacher. The street contractor's wife was perfectly
indifferent to society, and had no wish to remedy the defects of her
early education. She promised secrecy, and the next day told the story,
at the expense of her friend, to a mutual female acquaintance, who
passed it on with embellishments to a third, who amused a fourth with
its narration; and so it went through a succession of confidential
people, until, one day, it became the subject of conversation in a stage
in which Marcus Wilkeson was riding. He could not avoid hearing it; and,
although the two ladies (themselves shockingly astray in their grammar)
laughed at the absurdity of the thing, Marcus Wilkeson thought it was a
capital idea. A plan which he had been idly revolving in his mind for
the education of Miss Minford, began to take shape. The inventor (he
reasoned) would not be likely to object to a strictly private school for
his daughter, if the teacher were a lady of correct principles, and
Upon the last point, Marcus Wilkeson determined to satisfy himself. So
he addressed a note, through the General Post Office, to "Miss Pillbody,
New York City," requesting the privilege of an interview on business, at
the residence of the lady, the exact location of which she was asked to
The letter was advertised (Miss Pillbody's address being unknown to the
carrier), and, about two weeks after it was written, an answer came back
to Mr. Wilkeson, at his house, giving information as to the whereabouts
of the lady, and appointing the time for an interview.
Mr. Wilkeson called, and in five minutes' conversation was satisfied of
Miss Pillbody's moral and intellectual qualifications as teacher, and
thought himself very fortunate in securing a vacancy among the pupils
(caused by sudden illness) for Miss Minford. With what perfect
confidence the suspicious inventor, as well as his simple-hearted
daughter, accepted the frank offer of their friend and benefactor, we
have already seen.
THE LITTLE PUPIL.
It was a pleasant winter's morning, when Mr. Minford and his daughter,
and their singular friend, made a formal call on Miss Pillbody, by
appointment. The inventor had overcome a difficulty in his machine, by
introducing a cam movement, and was in excellent humor. As he walked
along the streets, he said that the snow and the sky and his future all
looked bright to him now. Of the two former objects his assertion was
obviously true, and Pet enjoyed the shining scene, as youth, health, and
innocence always do, without reference to the future.
A few minutes' walk brought them to Miss Pillbody's private schoolhouse.
A pull at the bell summoned a stout, red-faced servant girl to the door.
To the question, if Miss Pillbody was in, she said, "Yaas, sir, ef yer
plaze" (Miss P. had vainly endeavored to correct her English), and
ushered her visitors into the reception parlor, or schoolroom.
A pleasant place it was, and nicely warmed with a smouldering coal
fire, the coziness and comfort of which, were fitly reflected from the
red carpet, and red curtains, and red plush covered furniture. The grand
piano, hired for use, gave the room that completely furnished appearance
that nothing but a piano can give. A book of instruction, open at a
passage which strongly resembled a rail fence through a rolling country,
showed that inexperienced hands had recently been pounding the
instrument. There was no sign of a school or any side, excepting a small
blackboard, which had been hastily thrust into a corner, and which bore,
faintly traced in chalk, a sum in simple division.
The visitors sat down in the warm red chairs, and looked around the room
but a moment, when Miss Pillbody entered by a door connecting with the
rear parlor. She bowed gracefully to Mr. Wilkeson, and was by him
introduced to his two companions. To the father she was profoundly
respectful, and to the daughter tender and affectionate, grasping her
hand closely, and smiling a welcome upon her.
Pet was instantly fascinated with her future teacher. There was
something lovable not only in her intelligent face, pale with the
protracted labors of her daily life, but in the infirmity of her eyes,
for she was shortsighted, and could see objects distinctly only by
nearly closing the lids. This peculiarity, not disagreeable in itself,
won upon Pet's compassion, and made her feel more at home in the strange
lady's presence than if she were conscious that a pair of full-sighted
orbs were looking at her, and accurately noting her defects.
Miss Pillbody's occupation, for some weeks past, had given her a new
idea of the value of time, and she proceeded at once to business,
without wasting a single word upon the weather. In less than five
minutes, she had, by artful inquiries and a winning voice, found out the
exact range and extent of Miss Minford's acquirements, and agreed with
the father that a further education in the English branches was
unnecessary at that time (with the exception, perhaps, of an occasional
exercise in reading), and that his daughter might devote twenty-four
lessons to French and the piano, with hopes of success, provided she
could study and practise several hours a day at her own home.
Mr. Minford replied, that she could study French at home to her heart's
content, but he had no piano. Whereupon Mr. Wilkeson took the liberty of
suggesting that it might be possible to borrow one, at a moderate rate,
by the month, and set it up in their front room. Miss Pillbody applauded
this idea, and it was instantly agreed to.
"For certain reasons, which I will not now mention," said Mr. Minford,
"I am anxious to hurry up her education."
"By the way, what is your first name, my dear?" asked Miss Pillbody. "It
is quite awkward to call you Miss Minford, you know."
The inventor answered for his daughter. "Her name is Patty, miss; and we
call her Pet, for short, instead of Pat, which would be hardly
"A pretty name," said Miss Pillbody; "and she _is_ a pet, if I mistake
not." The teacher looked archly at Mr. Minford, and then affectionately
at the daughter, through her half-shut eyes. "I promise you she shall be
a pet here, provided, always, she learns her lessons like a good girl.
We always insist on that first." The teacher waved her hand with
magisterial authority as she spoke, but accompanied the act with a
laugh, which made Pet laugh also.
During this conversation, Mr. Minford had dwelt upon his machine in an
undercurrent of thought; and an idea just then occurred to him, which he
was desirous to test immediately. He therefore rose, and said that they
would not detain Miss Pillbody any longer, and that his daughter would
call and receive the first lesson at any time which that lady
"Her hour will be from nine to ten o'clock every other morning, and from
three to four on alternate afternoons," said Miss Pillbody. "It is now
half past ten," she added, consulting a watch. "Mrs. Penfeather, my
eleven-o'clock pupil, is put of town to-day: so Miss Minford--that is.
Pet--can commence now, and I will give her until twelve o'clock. This
will save time."
"Good!" remarked the inventor. "The great point is to save time. For
certain reasons, as I said before, you have none to lose in educating my
daughter. And, that we may not detain her a moment, Mr. Wilkeson, we
will leave, if you please."
Marcus Wilkeson was glad to do this, for the conversation had already
reached its natural terminus. He therefore followed Mr. Minford's
motion, and grasped his hat and cane.
"You are not afraid to stay here, child?" said-the inventor.
"Oh, no," replied Pet, with a happy laugh. "I already feel quite at
"And she shall always feel so here, I assure you, sir," added Miss
Mr. Minford's new idea occurred to him again with fresh force, and he
hurriedly said: "Good-by, Pet. Be a good girl, now, and see how much you
can learn in your first lesson." Then he kissed her, jerked a bow at
Miss Pillbody, and made his exit into the hall. Marcus Wilkeson added
his best wishes for the progress of the little scholar, bade her and her
teacher a pleasant farewell, and followed Mr. Minford.
The child ran after them to the front door, and exchanged good-bys with
them until they had turned the corner of the next street, when she
entered the schoolroom, and straightway began her first lesson in the
accomplishments of life.
THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT.
Pet studied hard, and made great progress. Her father and Marcus
Wilkeson watched her developing education with equal pride, and
constantly applauded and encouraged her.
The inventor did not know one word of French beyond the colloquial
phrases with which everybody is familiar; but he would ask his daughter
to read the crisp and tinkling tongue to him for hours at a time. He
would hammer softly and file gently as she read, so that he might not
lose a word of it. He would hear no news but that which she translated
from the triweekly French paper published in the city. With correct and
careful tuition at Miss Pillbody's, these constant exercises at home,
ambition, and an excellent memory for languages, Pet was soon able not
only to satisfy her teacher, but to make herself understood, in a small
way, by a real French woman, Mdlle. Duchette, the forewoman of a candy
store on the nearest business avenue.
Pet followed every lesson on the piano at Miss Pillbody's by three hours
of daily practice at home. Marcus had hired for her a small piano,
warranted to be just the thing for beginners. In other words, the keys
and pedals were nearly worn out, and could not be much further damaged
by unpractised hands and feet. This instrument was squeezed in between
the bureau and the washstand, filling up the last spare place in the
crowded little room. Pet wanted to have it set up in the next apartment,
and practise there in the cold, alone; but neither her father nor Marcus
would listen to that proposition for a moment.
Mr. Minford's nerves were extremely sensitive to sound. They vibrated to
it, like Aeolian harp in the wind. He placed pianos, cats, fish
peddlers, and hand organs on precisely the same footing, as nuisances.
Nothing but the ruling desire to make a lady of his child, could have
steeled him to the endurance, hour after hour, of her monotonous
"One--two--three--four," and the discordant banging which accompanied
those plaintive utterances.
The permanent discords with which the piano was afflicted, or the
striking of a false note, would sometimes set his teeth on edge; but he
would only hold his jaws tightly together, beat time with his head, and
smile a hypocritical approval. Sometimes he would torture himself
playfully, and make Pet laugh, by running a musical opposition with his
three-cornered file--a small but effective instrument.
Marcus Wilkeson was equally tolerant of Pet's practice, and there was
little false pretence in the patience with which he listened. Happily,
he was not all alive to sounds. Screeches and harmonies were pretty much
the same to him. Since he was a boy, he had been trying (privately) to
sing, or whistle, "Auld Lang Syne," and had not yet mastered the first
bar of it. He watched Pet's little fingers moving up and down the piano
with mechanical repetition, and was truly interested in the sight--for
two reasons: first, the motion was graceful; and second, she was
acquiring an accomplishment which he held in the highest esteem, because
Nature had put it entirely beyond his reach.
Sometimes, but not often, Bog was a listener at these rudimental
concerts. Since Marcus had come to the relief of the family, Bog felt
that his mission was ended. He knew that it was a piece of pure
hypocrisy to call once or twice a week to see if he could be of any
service, when he was aware that Mr. Minford had hired a woman, who lived
on the floor below, to do all their household work, marketing, cooking,
and general errands. He knew that Pet, on these occasions, asked him to
go for a spool of thread, or a paper of needles, or a package of candy,
merely to gratify him with the idea that he was making himself useful.
When he came into the room tidily dressed, and highly polished as to his
boots, he blushed even redder than he used to. It was not the
acquisition of a little money by Mr. Minford that had exalted his
daughter in the-eyes of Bog, but the French and the music. These two
accomplishments seemed to lift her into an upper air of delicacy and
refinement, for which Bog felt that his miserable education and clumsy
manners quite unfitted him. After Bog had performed some little invented
errand for her, she would reward him with a short exercise, and Bog
would sit, with open mouth and crossed legs, staring at Pet's face and
hands alternately, and beating time with his large red hands on
Bog knew the negro songs of the period, and admired them. He would have
liked to hear Pet play them, but feared she would think his musical
taste very bad if he asked her to. Her "exercises," as she called them,
he considered something perfectly wonderful, and belonging to a class of
scientific music which a poor fellow like him could not be expected to
enjoy. But, like many an older and more worldly-wise person, he
pretended to be thrown into raptures by it, and, at every pause in the
playing, would say, "Beautiful! a'n't it?" "That's prime!" or
"Splendid!" or "The best I ever heerd." Sometimes, at his earnest
entreaty, Pet would read a page of French to him; and he would listen
with awe and reverence, as to a beautiful sibyl prophesying in an
Bog always paid these visits in the afternoon. Marcus Wilkeson always
called in the evening. The two had met in the house rarely since New
Year's. When they accidentally met on the sidewalk, within a square or
two of the house, as they sometimes did, Bog colored up as if he were
guilty of something. Once Marcus Wilkeson saw Bog at a distance, turning
suddenly down a side street, as if to avoid him; and Marcus wondered
what could be the matter with the boy. By industry and tact, Bog made
money in his new partnership, and had already laid up a snug sum in the
Between Pet and her teacher a feeling of sisterly affection had sprung
up. Miss Pillbody turned with a feeling of relief from her dull elderly
pupils, stiff in manners, and firmly set in their habits, to this fresh,
impressible young creature. What she did conscientiously to the others
for pay, she would have done to Pet for love, had not her bills been
settled in advance. Whenever Miss Pillbody had a spare hour or two,
afforded by the indisposition of one of her older scholars (from
excessive fatigue occasioned by a dinner party or other laborious
hospitality the night before), she would send the red-headed servant to
Mr. Minford's, and notify Pet, who was only too happy to go to her
beloved teacher, and take an extra lesson.
Mrs. Crull could not be called a promising pupil. Her intentions were
excellent. Her patience and her good nature were unbounded. She was
always punctual at her lessons. Neither cold nor storm could keep her
away. While she was in the schoolroom, she would resolutely deny herself
the pleasure of indulging in more than a dozen episodes on the fashions
and bits of scandal which she picked up in her cruise through society.
With the exception of these little wanderings, she would go through her
recitations with as much correctness and docility as a sharp-witted
child of twelve years. She felt a childlike pride in gaining the
approval of her teacher. When she was under Miss Pillbody's
instructions, and knew that every mistake would be courteously but
firmly corrected on the spot (the teacher's invariable custom), she kept
such a guard upon her tongue that she sometimes read or conversed in
long sentences without making a single error. But when she was out of
Miss Pillbody's sight, there were certain blunders which she fell into
as surely as she opened her mouth.
Sometimes Mrs. Crull and Pet would meet on the doorsteps of Miss
Pillbody's house--the one going in and the other coming out--or on the
sidewalk in the neighborhood. Mrs. Crull would catch the child by both
hands, smack her heartily on the cheek (no matter how public the kiss),
and then a conversation something like this would follow:
"How bright and pretty you look this mornin', my darlin!" (Mrs. Crull
could not remember to pick up the "g's," except under Miss Pillbody's
eye, and then not always.)
"Thank you, Mrs. Crull; I am quite well. How are you, marm?"
"Oh! smart as a trap. Haven't known not a sick day these ten years."
(Mrs. Crull was weak on the double negatives.)
"How do you get along?" From motives of delicacy, Pet never added, "in
"Well, I don't mind tellin' you, as you are my confidential little
friend." Here Mrs. Crull would look around cautiously, to be sure no one
was listening. "The other studies isn't so hard, but grammar knocks me."
(Mrs. Crull's nominatives and verbs were irreconcilable.)
Then Pet would say, telling an innocent fib:
"I don't observe anything very wrong, Mrs. Crull."
"Ha! ha! there you are flattering me, you little chick. I know, or
think, I have improved a good deal with our dear Miss Pillbody; but a
smart little scholar like you must see lots of mistakes in me."
At this point, Pet would blush, and murmur, "No--no!"
"Humbug!" Mrs. Crull would say. "I know my incurable faults, and I know
that you know 'em. But Lor' bless you, child! there is plenty of ladies
in good s'ciety" (Mrs. C. always slurred on the first syllable of that
word) "who talk as bad as me. Their husbands, just like mine, got rich
suddenly, you see. I tell you, I was 'stonished to find how many of 'em
there was. They are thicker'n blackberries. I found out something else,
too." Here Mrs. Crull would shake her head knowingly, like one who had
discovered a great truth.
Pet would know what was coming, but would ask: "Pray, what is it, Mrs.
"Why, I found out that, if you give good dinners and big parties, and
keep a carriage, and have a conservatory, and rent a pew up near the
altar, your little shortcomin's in grammar isn't no objection to you.
'Money makes the mare go.' However, eddication, as Miss Pillbody says,
is a good thing of itself, and I shall keep on tryin' to get it."
These conversations always ended by an invitation to Pet to visit Mrs.
Crull. "I'll have our carriage call for you," she would say, "at your
father's house. We have no children, you know, and the old man would be
very good to you; though, of course, it wouldn't do to hint about the
school. But I can trust my little friend for that. Come, now,
But Pet always modestly declined these kind invitations. She knew her
father's pride, and his aversion to the patronage of rich people.
THE FALLING BOARD.
One afternoon, Pet had been taking an extra lesson from Miss Pillbody,
and had started homeward with a light heart, humming to herself a
musical exercise which she had practised for the first time that day. A
few doors from Miss Pillbody's, some workmen were repairing a wooden
awning. The framework was covered with loose boards, which the
carpenters were about to nail down. A feminine dread of danger would
have induced Pet to make a wide detour of this awning; but her mind was
so fully occupied by the musical exercise, that she walked, unheeding,
right under it.
"Look out! look out!" shrieked a chorus of voices overhead, accompanied
by a rattle of falling boards. Pet sprang forward just in time to escape
one of them, and to catch another on her shoulder. It touched her
gently, not even abrading her skin, for its fall had been stopped midway
by a young man.
"Stupid!" "Silly creature!" "The girl's a blockhead!" "Where's her eyes,
I wonder?" shouted the carpenters, after the manner of carmen and stage
drivers, when you narrowly escape being run over by _their_
carelessness, at the crossings.
"Shut up!" said the young man, savagely. "Why the d---l don't you keep
your boards where they belong, instead of tumbling them down on people's
heads?--I hope you are not hurt, miss?" (in a gentle voice).
"Oh, no; not at all. I am sure I thank you, sir, very much." Pet
blushed, and hurried away.
The young man and the carpenters then exchanged the customary abusive
epithets with each other, which might have resulted in something more
serious (though such verbal encounters rarely do), but for the desire of
the young man to overtake the young girl whom he had saved from a
bruised shoulder, or a worse accident. Shaking his fist at the four
jeering carpenters, and muttering a farewell execration between his
teeth, he rapidly followed Pet, and soon came up with her.
"You are sure you are not hurt?" said he. "Those scoundrelly workmen!
I'll thrash one of them yet."
Pet was confused by the second appearance of the young man at her side,
though she knew that he would follow her; even her brief experience
having taught her that it is not in the nature of man to do a kindness
to a woman, without exacting a full acknowledgment for it.
"No, sir; I am not hurt the least bit," she replied, looking in his face
no more than gratitude and civility required. Here she would have
stopped, but she feared (charming simplicity of girlhood) that the
young man would, some future day, get into trouble with the four
carpenters. So she added, timidly: "As for the workmen, sir, they were
not to blame. It was all my fault, running into the danger. I--I beg,
sir, that you won't say another word to them."
This was a long speech for timid Pet to make to a stranger, and she
blushed fearfully at the end of it, and wished that the young man
would go away.
"They deserve a thrashing, every one of them," said he; "but, for your
sake, I let them go." The young man spoke in a sweet voice, and his
manner was respectful. Pet had observed, in several hasty side glances,
that he was nicely dressed, and not ill-featured, in all except the
eyes. But had his eyes been large and handsome, instead of small and
forbidding, she would have desired his absence all the same.
"You say you are not hurt," he continued; "but you may be, without
knowing it. I have heard of people receiving serious injuries, and never
finding them out till they got home. Have you far to go, miss?"
"Only two blocks farther," said Pet, turning the corner.
"The very route I was going," observed the young man.
Although Pet felt that the young man's company was unnecessary and
disagreeable, she did not like to tell him so. She kept silence until
she reached her home, when she said, "I stop here, sir." She would have
added, "Good-by, sir," or "Thank you, sir," or something equivalent, but
instinct checked the expression, and she darted into the entry (the door
being accidentally ajar), and shut the door after her, before the young
man could say a word. Although the door was shut, he raised his hat
respectfully as one often does on Broadway _after_ he has passed a
female acquaintance upon whom he suddenly comes--the salute being
received and acknowledged with a stare by the next lady, or ladies,
following after. The young man then noted the number of the house,
nodded satisfactorily to himself, and strolled very leisurely along the
street, as if neither business nor pleasure had urgent demands upon him.
Neither Pet nor the young man saw the awkward figure of an overgrown
boy, who had followed them at a distance, on the other side of the
street, keeping the trunks of trees between them and him. This clumsy
figure, upon which a suit of good clothes and a new cap looked strangely
out of place, was Bog.
The boy Bog was often seen lounging about the neighborhood of Miss
Pillbody's school; and if the policeman on that beat had not known him
to be an honest lad from childhood, he would have watched him as a
suspicious character. From whatever part of the city Bog came home after
a bill-posting expedition, he invariably made a circuit past Miss
Pillbody's school, keeping the other side of the street always, and
never looking at the house. He walked hurriedly by, but came to a sudden
stop at a grocery store halfway up the second block beyond, and there he
would stand, partly covered by an awning post, and look strangely
around, letting his eyes fall occasionally, and as if by accident, on
that house. If his object in these singular manoeuvres was to see Miss
Minford, he always failed to improve the opportunity when it offered;
for, as surely as Pet came out from the school, or turned into the
street to go toward it, so surely did the boy Bog walk off whistling in
another direction. Nobody can understand the motives of Bog's conduct,
except those who have done the same thing in their youthful days.
On this eventful afternoon (eventful as a starting point in a history of
sorrows), Bog had taken his usual circuitous route home from a
profitable professional tour on the east side of town. Reaching the
grocery store, he sheltered himself behind the friendly post, and
commenced looking up and down the street, and across the way, and into
the sky, always winding up his mysterious observations by a single
glance at Miss Pillbody's front door. When Pet came out, after her
musical exercise, the boy Bog flushed up a little, turned upon his
heels, and walked quickly away. He had not gone a dozen steps, before
the shouts of the workmen and the sound of the first falling board
reached his ears. He suddenly turned about, and saw a young man catching
the next board that fell. His first impulse was to run to Pet's
assistance; but a fatal spell chained his feet.
Poor Bog had dreamed a thousand times, by night and by day, of the
ineffable bliss of rescuing Pet from a mad dog, from a runaway horse,
from the assault of ruffians, from drowning, from a burning building. He
had his plans all laid for doing every one of these things. He would
have coveted the pleasure of whipping three times his weight of any
well-dressed, white-handed young men, who should presume to insult her.
In imagination, he had done it times without number; and had contrived a
private method to double up a number of effeminate antagonists in
succession. But, in all his reveries, he had never anticipated peril to
Miss Minford from a falling board; nor had it occurred to him that the
supreme felicity of saving her from death or injury would ever be the
lot of anybody else.
The entire novelty of the accident and rescue struck him with amazement,
and fastened him to the spot long enough to see that Pet walked away
apparently unhurt. Hardly knowing what he did, or why he did it, he
shifted his body behind the awning post so as continually to keep
himself out of Pet's sight. Then the strong conviction came upon him
that it was his duty to escort Pet home; for, although she did not seem
to be hurt, she might be. This conviction was met and almost put down by
the thought that Pet would know he had been watching for her; and he
could not bear that. While he was halting and sweating between these two
opinions, the unknown young man had finished his little colloquy with
the four carpenters, and, by walking fast, had caught up with Pet.
Then the boy Bog decided that his wisest course, under all the
circumstances, would be to follow the couple at a distance, and see that
no harm came to her from the young man.
"If the feller insults her," murmured Bog, "just because he was lucky
enough to do her a little bit of a kindness, I'll lick him till he's
blue." Besides whipping him for the insults which he might offer, Bog
felt that he could give him a few good blows for his impudence in
assuming Bog's exclusive prerogative of rescuing that particular
Bog looked very sheepish as he sneaked from one street corner to
another, and skulked in shadows to avoid observation, though he tried to
flatter himself that he was doing something highly meritorious. Two or