Part 3 out of 9
three times, when the unknown young man inclined his head toward Pet, as
if to speak to her, Bog entertained a hope that she would command him to
leave her, and that he wouldn't. A single gesture from her, an impatient
shrug of the shoulders, a turning away of her head, would have been all
the hint that Bog needed to fly to her relief, and make up for his lost
opportunity by knocking his dandy rival into the gutter.
But not even Bog's sharp eyes could detect any impudent familiarity in
the young man's conduct, or any desire on the part of Pet to get rid of
him. "Everything is agin' me," said Bog, wiping the perspiration from
When Bog saw Pet part from the young man at Mr. Minford's door, his
first wild idea was to call on her, quite by accident, in the course of
half an hour. Perhaps she would tell him--as a piece of startling
news--about her narrow escape from the board, and what the young man
said to her. But Bog was unequal to the dissimulation involved in this
plan, and abandoned it. Then he had a notion of following the young man,
and seeing what became of him. But a sudden and very decided rising of
fresh blood to Bog's cheeks and ears told him that he had played the
part of spy long enough. So Bog determined--as many grown-up people in
graver dilemmas do--to go home to supper.
Bog found his supper all ready for him, and it was a good one. For his
aunt, although the victim of a chronic rheumatism, had contrived to
preserve a sharp appetite from the wreck of her former health, and
cooked three meals for herself and two for Bog (who was never home at
noon) daily. She was singularly punctual, too. Breakfast was always
smoking hot on the table at 6 A.M.; and supper (and dinner combined, for
Bog) was never a minute behind 5 P.M. in the winter time. Bog, who had a
truly boyish idea of feminine excellencies, considered that this knack
of cooking, and this amazing punctuality, were more than an offset for
his aunt's little infirmities of temper, and her everlasting discourse
on the rheumatics.
Though the beef hash was good, and the toast nicely browned and
buttered, and the tea strong, and the fire burning brightly through the
grates of the stove, and the curtains snugly drawn, and everything
cheerful and comfortable in Bog's humble home, the boy was unhappy, and
could not eat.
Happily, his aunt was so engrossed with her own physical troubles, that
she never noticed indications of ill health in other people. She held
that every other human ailment was unworthy of mention in the presence
of her sovereign affliction. Whenever anybody presumed to speak of their
little personal sufferings before her, she said: "You should thank
Heaven you haven't got the rheumatics," and would then proceed to give a
circumstantial history of her acquaintance with that disease. Therefore,
on this occasion, she was quite unaware that poor Bog sat opposite to
her with a pale, dejected face, playing aimlessly on his plate with his
knife and fork. She thought only, and talked only, of her malady, which
had been pranking in the oddest manner all day, and had settled, at
last, in her "limbs." Bog's aunt had no legs that she would own to.
After supper, Bog heaved a sigh, and said that he would go round to
Uncle Ith's; and asked his aunt if she had any word to send by him.
"Oh, no; nothing partickler," said she. "He don't care about me."
Uncle Ith, as everybody called him, was Bog's uncle on his mother's
side. Uncle Ith and the aunt had a standing difference touching that
rheumatism. Whenever they met--which was rarely--Uncle Ith would ask
her, with a wink, how she was; and when she candidly told him that she
was in a dreadful state, he would laugh at her, and say that half of it
was "imagination." This indignity he had repeated so often, that,
latterly, she scorned to complain in his presence, and bore her anguish
in noble silence.
"All right," said Bog, who took no part in these family differences. He
put on his cap, and left the house.
UP IN THE AIR.
"Uncle Ith" was one of the city bellringers, and lived at the top of a
tower a hundred feet high, which vibrated with every stroke of the great
bell hanging midway between his airy perch and the ground. He was sixty
years of age, and had white hair, but he was as strong as younger men,
and could swing the clapper against the side of the great bell with a
boom that could be heard across rivers, and far into the peaceful
country, on quiet nights. His eyes were so sharp, that, without the aid
of a glass, he could read names on the paddle boxes of steamboats, where
the unassisted vision of most persons descried nothing but a blur. He
had done duty on that tower during the six years since it was built; and
he knew the section of the city which lay spread out beneath him as a
man knows his own garden. In the daytime, he could always guess, within
a street or two, the location of any fire in his district. He knew all
the smokes from a hundred factories, foundries, distilleries, and never
confounded them with the fires which it was his business to detect. The
presence of a new and suspicious smoke among the black stretch of roofs,
caught his eye instantly; and he could tell in a moment, by its color,
its speed of ascent, and the quantity of sparks accompanying it, whether
it came from a carpenter's shop, a stable, a distillery, a camphene and
oil store, or some other kind of building. In the nighttime, he knew the
lights which mapped out the squares and the streets within his range of
observation, almost as well as the astronomer knows the other lights
that shine down upon the sleeping city from the heavens. He could fix
the position of a fire by night rather better than by day, because he
had the red reflection of the flames on well-known steeples, and high,
prominent roofs to guide him.
Such were Uncle Ith's qualifications for his place; and he was so loved
and trusted by the firemen of his district, that no mayor, however beset
by applicants for office, had ever dreamed of removing him. In all of
Uncle Ith's limited relations with the world, he was esteemed an honest
man; and his word would have possessed the literal novelty of being as
good as his note, had necessity ever required him to borrow money. But
Uncle Ith was frugal, and made his small salary suffice for himself and
a family of seven motherless children.
He had one eccentricity--a complete indifference to newspapers. He never
bought nor borrowed them. "What's the use of reading 'em?" he would say.
"Why not imagine the murders, suicides, political meetings, and other
trash that fills 'em, and save your money for terbacker?" This did Uncle
Ith, and he flattered himself that it was wisely done.
The bell tower was not far from the boy's home, and in a few minutes he
stood at the foot of it, and shouted to Uncle Ith: "Hallo, there!"
Uncle Ith, always on the alert for calls, poked his head out of the
window, which he left partly open for ventilation in the coldest nights,
and answered, rather gruffly, "Well, what's wanted?" He never allowed
his own children, nor any persons except his nephew Bog, and a few old
firemen, friends of his, to visit him in the tower at night. Uncle Ith
was conscientious. The presence of his children, with whom he loved to
converse, or that of strangers, who would stare vacantly all over the
lighted city, and ask innumerable questions, interfered with the
strictness of his watch. Uncle Ith was a little eccentric, too, in his
devotion to duty.
"It's me, uncle," said Bog, screaming upward.
"Glad to see you, Bog. You can come up," shouted the old man in return.
He slung a latch key, fastened to a string, out of the window. It slid
down the side of the tower, into Bog's hand. He unlocked the door, and
the next moment the key was jerked aloft. The boy entered the base of
the tower. He was so familiar with every crook and passage, that the
small light of a gas jet, inside, was not necessary to show him the way.
Up he ran, sometimes clearing two steps at a jump, slipping his hand
lightly along the rough wooden banister. A few spiral turns brought him
to the bell, which hung in an open framework of timber. He gave the huge
bronze a familiar tap as he passed, and wound on and upward until he
came to a trap door, which Uncle Ith held invitingly open. Then he
sprang into the little room at the top of the tower, and Uncle Ith shook
him by the hand.
"You look well, I see, Bog. And how is your aunt?" Uncle Ith was mindful
of the usages of society, and always asked after her.
"Oh, she's smart," said Bog, totally oblivious of her rheumatism, "and
sent her love to ye." Bog was a peacemaker.
"Sent her rheumatism, I guess yer mean. No doubt she wishes I had it."
Bog laughed, and his uncle laughed. And then his uncle, never forgetting
duty, took a sharp look out of the eight clearly polished windows that
commanded a view of the surrounding district. Discovering no sign of
fire, he resumed the conversation with his nephew, asking him about his
business (which he was happy to learn was prosperous), and giving him a
quantity of good advice which none but a genius could remember, or an
angel follow. During these exhortations, Uncle Ith paced to and fro in
the little room, looking out of some window at the end of every
sentence. Bog sat on a three-legged stool (the only seat except a
backless chair) by the side of a miniature stove, on whose top hissed
the kettle, from which Uncle Ith made his pot of coffee at midnight.
The night was cold; the little fire was warm; and Bog liked to hear
advice from his uncle; but his eyes would wander to a certain window, as
if, for some reason, he would derive great pleasure in opening and
looking out of it. This movement of his eyes was so frequent, that Uncle
Ith observed it, and said:
"Ah, I see! You want to stare out of that southeast window again. Now, I
think the sight is handsomer to the west, where you can see the lights
of Jersey City and Hoboken, and on the ferry boats and the shipping
anchored in North River. But that's a matter o' taste. Well, look out o'
the window, if you want to. I guess I can trust you for fires in
"That you may!" answered Bog, throwing open the southeast window.
The stars above twinkled crisply in the frosty air; and the sky, with
its low horizon on every side, seemed infinitely vaster than it did to
Bog in the narrow and high-walled streets of the city. But Bog, though
he used to puzzle over the wonders of the heavens when he was a few
years younger, and had picked up a little something of astronomy from
his uncle Ith (who knew something of that as of many other sciences),
did not turn his gaze to them. Nor did he give more than a sweeping
glance at the dotted line of lights below, stretching out in long
perspectives, until the two luminous points at the end seemed blended
into one. There were several parks in sight, which looked like portions
of the sky let down on the earth, in all but the mathematical regularity
of their mock stars. But Bog's eyes passed them by. To an inquisitive
mind, there was something of interest to be seen and speculated over, in
the lighted windows of houses all about him. People could be seen eating
their late suppers, rocking by the fire, playing the piano, dancing,
taking a rubber at whist or euchre, or diverting themselves with other
recreations of winter house life. In one upper chamber, a physician was
presenting a child just born to the proud father. In another, there was
a mysterious spectacle, which a closer examination might have proved to
be the preparing of a dead body for the morrow's burial. But Bog saw
none of these sights.
His eyes sought for, and found immediately, as if by instinct, one
light, which, in his opinion, was the only one worth looking at on earth
or sky. It was a single bright gas jet, burning very close to a window
about six hundred feet distant from him in an air line. Several tall
chimneys of intervening houses rose almost between him and this light,
and, perhaps, their dark, spectral shapes aided him in identifying it so
readily. The lower sash of the window through which the light shone was
curtained, but the upper part was uncovered; and an observer on the
tower, being fifty or sixty feet above the top of the curtain, could
easily look into the room. Bog rubbed his eyes, into which the cold but
not biting wind had brought the tears, and gazed anxiously into Mr.
The pale inventor stood a few feet from the window, attentively
examining a mass of machinery before him, upon which the light shone
strongly. Only the tops of the wheels and of the more complex parts were
visible; but there was one lever, or bar, connected with it, which rose
above the whole, and could be seen by Bog to the extent of at least two
feet. This was an addition to the strange machine as Bog had last seen
it, and he contemplated it with fearful interest.
Mr. Minford stood motionless for five minutes in the presence of his
creation. He was ghostlike and frightful in that fixed attitude, and Bog
wished that he would move. He did so, nodding his head, and smiling, as
he bent down and detached some part of the machine. All but his head and
his right shoulder then disappeared from view; but Bog knew, by the
vibrating motion of his shoulder blade, that he was filing upon
something. Mr. Minford then stooped again, as if to put the part of the
machine back into its proper place. Having done this, he stood erect
once more, folded his arms, and looked intently at the Mystery for the
TONGUES OF FIRE.
But now Bog's attention was diverted from Mr. Minford, and his heart was
made to beat more rapidly by a new sight. While he had kept both eyes
closely fixed upon the inventor, he had looked with an oblique, or
reflected vision, into the other window of the room. This window was
uncurtained, and Bog could distinctly see the chairs, bureau, and other
articles of furniture. A new light (so Bog oddly thought) was suddenly
irradiated through the darker portion of the apartment by the entrance
of Pet from the hall. She had no bonnet on; and Bog reasoned (if he
could be said to reason in his excited state) that she had been spending
a part of the evening, as was often her wont, with a poor family, rich
in children, who lived on the floor below. Her father smiled upon the
problem before him, as a new difficulty melted away under his burning
gaze. Then he turned, and smiled at Pet. She ran toward him, and he
kissed her tenderly. Bog was devouring this little episode with open
mouth and eyes, when the hoarse voice of Uncle Ith broke in upon the
"Hallo! there's a fire."
"What! Where?" shouted Bog, forgetting where he was.
"Why, you blind man!" said Uncle Ith; "straight afore ye. Don't ye see
it breaking out?"
Bog cast his eyes about him wildly; and, sure enough, directly in the
range of Mr. Minford's house, but four or five blocks beyond, there was
an illuminated streak of smoke curling up from a roof.
"It's in my district!" cried Uncle Ith. "So here goes." He seized the
long iron lever near him, by which the enormous clapper of the bell was
swung, and moved it like the handle of a pump. The second motion was
followed by a hoarse sound, which shook the tower to its foundations,
and started into listening attitudes a thousand firemen in their engine
or hose houses, in the streets, at the theatres, or at their own homes.
"Sha'n't I help you?" asked Bog, who always proffered his services on
"Pooh! no. It's baby play for me." By this time Uncle Ith had evoked the
second gruff note from the deep throat of the imprisoned monster below.
Then came a third in quicker succession, and louder, as if the bell had
warmed up to the work, and then other notes, until the district had been
struck; and then the bell, as if rejoicing in its strength to resist
blows, murmured plaintively for a repetition of them. Long before this
sad sound had died away, the deep bass of the City Hall bell, the shrill
tenor of the Post Office bell, and the intermediate pitches of the bells
all over the city, had taken up the chorus of alarm. There was a rattle
of engines, hose carriages, and hook-and-ladder trucks through the
streets. There was a frantic rush of men and boys, some with cumbrous
fire-caps on their heads, and putting on their coats as they ran. How
they knew the location of the fire, none could guess, for it had not yet
streamed out against the sky; but know it they did; and the dove goes to
its cote not more directly than they centred from all parts of the
district upon the exact spot of the fire. Meanwhile, Uncle Ith lashed
his mighty instrument into a sonorous fury; and all the other bells
played their echo, even to the far-away tinkler on Mount Morris, which,
having few fires in its own neighborhood to report, took a pleasure in
telling its little world of those which were raging down town.
For the information of his uncle, and to atone in part for his previous
neglect, Bog devoted only a half eye to the Minford family, and kept the
rest of his optics on the fire. Just after its discovery, the smoke had
loomed up dense and black, as if it were trying to suffocate the flames
beneath. Then it changed rapidly to a light blue, and was chased faster
upward by two tongues of fire. These tongues leaped aloft with a sudden
impulse, and shed a revelation of light over acres of houses, and
brought out church steeples in vivid relief against the sky, and put a
new gilding on storm-beat en vanes and weathercocks. All this Bog
described in his own way to his uncle; and his uncle, stooping at the
lever, kept on ringing with unabated zeal; and all the other bells
banged away like an orchestra of which Uncle Ith was the leader.
Then Bog saw the forms of men suddenly spring into sight, as if out of
the very roof, between the two fiery tongues. The tongues licked the air
about them with savage whirls; but the brave fellows dodged back, and
were unhurt. Then, advancing boldly again, they released their hands
from something which they had been holding, and lo! four jets of water
struck at the very roots of the flames, tripped at them, and made them
stagger, drove them twice into the roof, and caught them with deadly
accuracy as they came out again; and, in less than five minutes, changed
all their brave splendor to dull, black smoke, and set the victor's mark
upon them--the column of white steam which arises from the half-quenched
embers, and proclaims that the fire is put out of mischief at last.
"Nothing but a kind o' white smoke, now," said Bog.
Uncle Ith, who had just rung the last stroke of a round, relinquished
the lever, and looked over the shoulder of his nephew. "The fire's out,"
said he. "When you see the steam comin' up that way, you may know that
the water has whipped." The old man then seated himself in the backless
chair, produced a short black pipe from a crossbeam overhead, and
rewarded himself with a few long puffs.
When Uncle Ith had a pipe in his mouth, he became didactic, and he
therefore proceeded to renew his donations of valuable advice to his
nephew, who was still looking hard out of the southeast window.
Bog cocked his head on one side, to make a show of listening, and said
"Yes, sir," now and then, which was all that his uncle expected of him.
But his whole mind, and his heart, were in the little double-windowed
room, where Pet was now practising upon the piano. Through the
uncurtained glass, Bog could see her hands weaving music with the keys,
and almost fancy he could hear it. The inventor bent over his machine,
and plied the hammer, the chisel, and the file, on various parts of it.
Now and then he would pause, stand erect, and look proudly toward his
child, and keep time to her music with inclinations of his head. Bog,
without knowing it, would do the same thing.
While the boy was gloating over this scene, unconscious of the swift
passage of time, the clock on the nearest church struck nine. Bog
sighed, for he knew that that was Pet's hour for bed. Sure enough. Her
little hands shut up the piano, and neatly smoothed down the cloth over
it. Then she lit a candle, ran up to her father and kissed him, and in a
moment was lost from Bog's sight in her chamber. As she disappeared, the
boy's lips murmured "Good-night" with a fervor which made that simple
colloquial phrase both a prayer and a blessing.
When Pet had gone, Bog suddenly found that the night had become cold,
and that he was beginning to shiver. So he shut the southeast window,
and took a seat by the fire to warm himself before going home.
CHILDREN OF THE WORLD.
MYNDERT VAN QUINTEM AND SON.
One morning, when Marcus Wilkeson returned home from a ramble, he found
his half-sister Philomela violently dusting the furniture and books of
the snug little back parlor. The air was full of dancing motes, which
looked large and suffocating in the sunshine. Marcus had politely
requested his sister, fifty times at least, _not_ to molest that
sanctuary of meditation oftener than once a fortnight. To which she
always replied: "I suppose you great lazy fellows would like to have the
cobwebs grow on you. But you sha'n't, while I am in the house." Then,
with a few dexterous flourishes of her cloth, she would start the dust
up in a cloud.
On this morning, Marcus Wilkeson, being in the most tolerant of moods,
merely said "Whew!" and took a seat by his favorite window, the lower
sash of which he threw wide open, with the vain hope that some of the
dust would blow out. Miss Philomela smiled at this act so as to be seen
by him. But he did not appear to notice it. Then she whisked her cloth
under his very nose, as if to challenge objections. After this
aggravation had been repeated three or four times, Marcus felt compelled
to make a mild protest.
"Great deal of dust, sister," he said, stating what he presumed would
not be contradicted.
"Is there?" replied Miss Philomela, exulting in the success of her
stratagem. "_I_ didn't notice it; nor would you, if you had some
business to look after, like other people, instead of stopping in the
house all day."
Marcus had heard that argument and triumphantly put it down so often,
that he did not think it worth another word. Consequently he
This obstinate silence galled Miss Philomela; and, after waiting full
three minutes to see if Marcus would not answer, and meanwhile dusting
prodigiously in his neighborhood, she said:
"Well, it's some gratification to know that you do not have the
hardihood to defend yourself. You are well aware that nothing can
justify a healthy, middle-aged man--I may say, a young one--in retiring
from active life and society, and becoming a great lazy mope."
"I'm really too lazy to discuss it now," replied Marcus, smiling, and
filling his meerschaum from the tobacco pouch which hung conveniently at
the window's side.
Philomela regarded him for a moment with an expression of pity and
horror. Then she heaved a sigh, and muttered something about
"You had better say, 'Misapplied brooms and dusters,'" retorted her
half-brother. "I should be perfectly happy now, but for this
"Laugh away. I know you despise my sisterly advice. But you can never
say that I have not done my duty--"
"To the furniture, most assuredly," interrupted Marcus.
Miss Philomela Wilkeson heaved another sigh in the best style of
martyrdom, and precipitately left the room, followed by her brother's
cheerful, rattling laugh.
"A good old girl enough," said Marcus to himself, "but for her
well-meaning and strictly conscientious habit of making people
Then he lighted his meerschaum, closed the window, squared his chair in
front of it, and looked out. His face instantly flushed with pleasure at
a strange sight. The blinds of the lower parlor windows across the way,
which had been shut for several weeks, were now thrown open, and the
white-haired old gentleman, looking thin and pale, sat in his armchair
in his old place, and was gazing at him. At least so Marcus thought; but
he hesitated to bow until the old gentleman gave a distinct salutation.
Marcus returned it two or three times with emphasis, as if to express
his great pleasure at seeing his unknown neighbor and friend again. He
blushed as he did so, for he was conscious of wilful neglect and cruel
indifference, in not having called upon him on New Year's day, or since
then, during the period of the closed blinds; and worse still, in not
having thought of him a dozen times, though he had taken the trouble to
pass his door on his way to or from Mr. Minford's, and had felt relieved
to see no black crape on the bell-pull.
"But then," thought Marcus, pleading with and for himself, "my mind has
been occupied--very much occupied--- with other matters. Now, if he
beckons to me again, I will go over to him without a moment's delay. My
old friend looks very sick and unhappy."
Just then the old gentleman reached out his thin white hand, as if the
motion required an effort, and beckoned twice. Marcus answered with two
bows, and immediately rose, and laid down his pipe on the window sill,
thereby implying that he would come over at once. The old gentleman
smiled faintly, to express his delight.
In a few minutes Marcus Wilkeson stood at the antique mansion, and
pulled the bell. It vibrated feebly as if it shared with the house and
its owner the infirmities of age. The bell was answered by an old,
neatly dressed female servant. She had been told to admit the caller
instantly, and said, "Mr. Van Quintem will see you, sir."
He entered a wide hallway, and followed the noiseless step of the
servant, trying to remember, without success, where he had heard the
name of Van Quintem.
At the end of the hall the servant opened a door, and ushered him into a
room decorated at the edges of the ceiling with heavy wooden carvings,
and furnished in the style of the last century. The old gentleman partly
rose from his soft armchair, supported himself by one hand on it, and
extended the other to his visitor.
"My name is Myndert Van Quintem, sir," said he, "and I am very glad to
see you." There was a pleasant smile in the old gentleman's pale face,
and a warmth in the grasp of his thin right hand, that attested the
sincerity of his words.
"And my name is Marcus Wilkeson, sir; and I am truly happy to make your
acquaintance," responded the visitor, in his most genial manner.
The old gentleman here showed symptoms of faintness from the exertion of
standing; and Marcus, taking him by the arm, forced him gently into his
easy chair, and took a seat beside him.
"I must apologize for not having called before," said Marcus. "I--"
"Not a word, sir," interrupted the old gentleman. "It is I who must
apologize for the rudeness of nodding and beckoning to a perfect
stranger. But the fact was, I could not regard you as a stranger. Seeing
you at your window, smoking and reading, day after day, while I was
smoking and musing at mine, I gradually came to sympathize with you, and
to wish that the distance across the lots was short enough to allow us
to converse. I thought, perhaps, that on some subjects we might interest
each other. Now, be good enough to fill that pipe and smoke it, while I
tell you in few words who I am."
He pointed to a meerschaum, carved into the semblance of a Dutchman's
head, which looked not unlike his own. It was fitted to a long Turkish
stem, and hung against the wall by a silver chain, within reach of his
hand. Five other pipes of quaint design hung near it.
Marcus protested against smoking in an invalid's presence; but the old
gentleman insisted upon it, and playfully but firmly threatened to smoke
the pipe himself if his guest did not. So Marcus filled the large bowl
from a paper of old, mild tobacco, which hung in a pouch near it, and
drew a few gentle whiffs, intending to let the pipe go out. But the old
gentleman watched him.
"'Twon't do," said he. "That old pipe of mine is not used to neglect. As
a particular favor, now, I beg that you'll smoke, and puff out clouds,
as I have often seen you do across the way."
Marcus protested again, but the old gentleman stubbornly maintained his
point; and it was not till the pungent smoke began to curl upward, that
he proceeded with his personal disclosure.
"Have you ever heard my name before, Mr. Wilkeson?" said he.
Marcus bowed, and said that he had not had that pleasure.
"Of course not," returned the old gentleman, not displeased with the
answer. "I have taken infinite pains to keep out of public life since I
retired from business, twenty-five years ago. Even before that time, I
was known only to a very few persons as a silent partner in the large
iron-importing house of Sniggs, Buffet & Co. I had no relations, and few
friends, in the common acceptance of that much-abused word. My only
happiness was in my wife--that is her picture hanging over the
mantelpiece--and this house, which my father built, and which, according
to a tradition in our family, is on or near the spot where my
great-great-grandfather, the fourth Myndert Van Quintem, perished by the
hands of the Indians."
"Then," interrupted Marcus, "you belong to an old Dutch family?"
"To one of the oldest on record," replied Mr. Van Quintem. "My great
ancestor, the genuine original Myndert, came over as cook with Hendrik
Hudson. We have an iron spoon of doubtful authenticity, said to have
descended from him. Sometimes I have paid the penalty of this ancient
and distinguished origin, by receiving stupid compliments on my old
Dutch blood, as if that species of blood were better than any other.
That sort of nonsense I have always answered by informing the flatterer
that the first bearer of my venerable name was a cook; the second, a
tanner; the third--well, the least said about the third the better; and
the fourth, a barber. My grandfather, a very worthy saddler, in old
Queen's street, was the first of the series that was ever able to buy
and hold real estate. My father increased upon his purchases, and, when
the property came into my possession, I, in turn, added to its extent as
fast as I could. In forty years, this property has become valuable; and
I now find myself and my lots occupying a large space on the tax rolls.
"It is a curious fact, and illustrates the uncertainty of human events,
that my success is the result of accident, and is not in the least due
to my judgment or foresight. Every kind of business that I have engaged
in--and I have tried several kinds--has failed. Sniggs, Buffet & Co.
almost finished me; and, if I had not backed out as I did, the better
part of my estate would have been sacrificed. Among those who know me, I
pass for a very shrewd business man, who has made a fortune by his
numerous failures. This tribute to my abilities is flattering, but I
must disclaim it. But I am tiring you with these petty details of
"Not at all, really," said Marcus Wilkeson, who enjoyed the old
Mr. Van Quintem paused, and began to show signs of fatigue. He asked for
a cordial which stood on an old sideboard with great lion's feet, near
his visitor's chair. Having sipped of its contents, he expressed himself
relieved, and resumed his story:
"As I was saying, I found my whole happiness in my wife, and in this
house. With the exception of a few friends of my youth--now all
dead--she was my only society. Like me, she was fond of retirement and
of books. You, sir, can appreciate the quiet, satisfying pleasure which
we derived from books, for you, too, are a constant, happy reader; and
you have fine books, as I know by the size of them. You see, I have been
observing you closely," he added, with a smile. The old gentleman's
smile was sweet, but relapsed into a mild expression of sadness.
"Not more closely than I have observed you," said Marcus. "I have often
wondered what stout old quartos you were reading. To tell you the truth,
I inferred, from the dimensions of the books and your white cravat, that
you were a clergyman." Marcus might have added, that the old gentleman's
flowing white locks and benevolent features had contributed to the
illusion; but he had already discovered that Mr. Van Quintem, like
himself, was averse to compliments.
The old gentleman took the remark good-naturedly. "This is not the first
time," said he, "that my old-fashioned fancy for a white cravat has led
to that mistake. You will find very little of the body of divinity in
that library. When I recover from this illness so as to hobble about, we
will look over my little collection together."
Marcus said that nothing could give him greater delight, unless it was
to show his friend his own humble library.
"Thank you," returned Mr. Van Quintem; "and I promise to run over and
look at it when I am well enough to go out." The haste with which the
old gentleman made the last remark, and the fact that he did not invite
his visitor to examine the library then and there, led Marcus to think
that the old gentleman had some private trouble on his mind, which he
wished to diminish by imparting to another. Marcus was right.
The old gentleman heaved a sigh, and resumed:
"For ten years after my retirement, my wife and I lived on in the calm,
happy manner that I have described. We had no griefs--not even that one
which most commonly afflicts parents, the loss of children. Yet I
sometimes think, sir, that it would be far better for some children to
die in their youth and innocence, than to grow up and become bad men,
and torture and almost kill their parents with ingratitude and
unkindness." Marcus guessed what was to come.
"We had but one child--a boy--born long after I had given up all hopes
of having an heir. I need not tell you, sir, what a joy he was to us in
his infancy; for you, too, I presume, are a husband and a father."
Marcus replied confusedly, and as if it were something to be ashamed of,
that he was neither the one nor the other, though he hoped some day
(here he was exceedingly awkward) to be both.
The old gentleman was so wrapped up in his own thoughts, that he did not
seem to notice the reply. He again braced himself in the chair, as if he
would, by that act, gather strength to proceed.
"Of course, I called the child Myndert. He was the seventh of that name;
and I used to think, even when he was a toddling little baby, what plans
of education would be best suited to develop his talents. I know that a
parent's partiality is a magnifying glass of high power; but, to the
best of my belief, he was a most precocious child. I think so now, as I
look back upon the days of his prattling innocence.
"After a great deal of debating, my wife and I concluded to make a
lawyer of him. He was to be the first lawyer in our family annals; and
we fondly pictured to ourselves that he would become an eminent judge,
or that he would step from the bar into political life, and shed honor
upon his country and his family as a statesman. I know how ridiculous
these imaginings must seem to you, and I recall them only to show you
how deeply our hearts were wrapped up in that boy.
"When our little Myndert was five years old, my wife died." Here the old
gentleman clutched the arms of the chair firmly with both hands. "Our
son had been very sick for a week before, and my dear Clara had nearly
worn herself out watching over and nursing him. A severe cold, which she
caught while going to the druggist's in a rain, did the rest. She died
with one arm around me and the other around little Myndert; and her
last words were a blessing on the boy, and a request that I would always
love him for her sake." The old gentleman's eyes glistened with tears,
and his lips twitched convulsively. Marcus evinced his sympathy in the
fittest way, by keeping silence, and fixing his eyes on the floor.
"Well, sir, not to be tedious, I lavished my whole heart upon that
child. His presence seemed to be some consolation for the great loss I
had sustained. His features were so like hers, in all except the eyes,
that I seemed to see her through him; and thus, in a peculiar sense, I
loved him for her sake, indeed. He was petted and caressed from his very
cradle. Ah, there was my error; but who can blame a father for
over-loving his only son, and that one motherless!
"He early showed indications of a fierce temper and a sullen pride, in
which respects he resembled not his mother, but her father, who, with
the exception of these two faults, was a good and just man. I have heard
of cases in which strong mental traits jump over a generation, and
appear in the next one. I thought, and still think, that my son's
singular peculiarities might be explained in that way. If you will bear
with me, sir, I will give you some illustrations of his character.
"When he was nine years of age, a dear friend, now dead, advised me not
to injure so precocious an intellect by too much cultivation, but to put
the boy on a farm, where he could divide his time between healthful work
and youthful sports, and would be kept away from the contaminating
influences of the city, I agreed to make the experiment, though
reluctantly, for I could not bear the thought of parting with my child.
An old family acquaintance who owned a farm in Dutchess County, and had
no children, was willing to take my boy.
"Little Myndert liked the idea of going into the country, and for two
weeks he behaved very well; and his acting father wrote me, that if I
could spare the boy, he would like to adopt him as his own. But the next
letter, a week afterward, brought a different story. It was while
Myndert was not put to work, that he behaved so well. But when the
farmer gave him a little hoe, and asked him to grub up a few weeds in
the garden, the lad threw it down, and said to the farmer, 'I hate you.'
This was his favorite expression to those who aroused his displeasure
when a child. The good man was astonished at this insubordination, and
tried to persuade Myndert to do as he was told. But persuasion was
useless; and so were the threats with which the farmer tried to frighten
him. As for whipping the boy, he was, like me, too soft-hearted to
"So Myndert became the master there, as he had been here. His real
nature now came out. From that time until the worthy farmer sent the boy
home in despair--ten weeks later--he was the wonder and terror of the
neighborhood. Chickens, goslings, and young ducks were killed; boughs of
apple trees and other fruit trees were broken down; strawberry beds were
entered, and the plants pulled up by the roots; the windows of the
village church and schoolhouse were broken with stones; and three
fourths of these acts were traced to little Myndert. He always denied
the charges, and put on an air of innocence, which deceived
"The cunning which he exhibited in doing these malicious acts, and
trying to divert suspicion from himself, was truly wonderful in a child
of his age. One day he was caught by a farmer in the act of killing some
young chickens; and the owner was so mad, that he whipped the boy
soundly. That very night the farmer's wood shed was set on fire from the
outside; but a heavy rain came on, and put out the flames. The traces of
the fire were plainly to be seen next morning; and the farmer found
proofs enough, I fear, to have convicted my son of a felony.
"My friend informed me of all these facts in a very sorrowful letter,
and I hastened to take my son once more under my own roof.
"Here I tried every method that a father's love could devise to reform
him. But all was useless. He seemed to have no idea of truth or honor,
of affection or duty to me. When, at times, I thought he was showing
signs of improvement, I always found, afterward, that he was only
concealing his mischievous acts more carefully. I call them mischievous,
though the word 'malicious' would perhaps describe them better; for they
were all undertaken in a spirit of evil, and not of fun." The old
gentleman here rested, and refreshed himself with a sip of the cordial.
"But it would take days to tell you of all my troubles with that boy,
and I will briefly refer to the rest of them.
"By the advice of another friend (for I have never taken any step in the
treatment of my child without first seeking for friendly advice), I sent
him, when twelve years of age, to a celebrated school in Massachusetts,
where the discipline is very strict. I had a personal interview with the
master, and requested him, as a favor, to chastise Myndert, if all other
means failed to subdue him. Though I could not bear to whip him, I was
willing that he should suffer a proper punishment, inflicted in the
right spirit, from others. At this school he conducted himself properly
for about three weeks, and was taking a high rank as a scholar, when his
natural tastes asserted themselves, in all sorts of wicked pranks on his
fellow pupils, on the teachers, and on people in the village. The master
at first expostulated, and then gave Myndert a good thrashing. That
night the master narrowly escaped being hit by a large stone thrown
through his bedroom window. Next morning my son was missing, and for
three weeks no trace of him could be found. I advertised in newspapers,
describing him, and offering large rewards for his recovery. I had the
same notice printed on bills, and stuck up all through the country. I
employed detectives to trace out the runaway. A month passed, and no
tidings. I was in despair. Toward the close of the fifth week, one of
the detectives struck a trail on Cape Cod, and, after a patient search,
found the young rascal living, under the assumed name of Carlo, with a
fisherman, in a little seaside hamlet. As the fishing season was a good
one, and men were scarce, the fisherman had gladly received my son as
an apprentice for his board. The novelty, excitement, and sometimes
danger of the pursuit pleased Myndert greatly, and the old fisherman
said that he was a good hand for a boy. When the detective found him,
however, he was beginning to be tired of his strange occupation (nothing
pleases him long), and he consented to come home on condition that I
would not scold him, and would give him plenty of pocket money. I had
been weak enough to authorize the making of these promises.
"The return of my prodigal son made me happy. As I had promised, I did
not reproach him, and gave him all the money that he wished. He was not
old enough to know how to spend money viciously. His tastes, though
costly, were comparatively innocent. From childhood he had always been
very fond of new clothes, and he indulged that passion to the utmost. At
twelve years of age, he was called the 'Young Dandy' all through this
part of the town; and I sometimes heard of his attracting attention
"He was so well satisfied with my generosity, that he consented to
receive two short lessons daily from tutors at the house, and surprised
them, as he did everybody, with his wonderful aptitude for learning."
BUYING GOOD BEHAVIOR.
"For three years I bought my son's good behavior with unlimited pocket
money, and foolishly thought that his nature had changed. Occasionally
he would do malicious acts to his tutors, or to my housekeeper or
servants; but these occurred less frequently as time rolled on, and at
last ceased. At fifteen years of age, he was sufficiently advanced in
learning to pass a college examination, and I determined to send him to
college. He was delighted at the proposal, for he had begun now to
appreciate the advantages of education. Anticipating that he would have
trouble with the Faculty, I selected a college which was distinguished
for its means of learning, and was jet very lenient in its discipline.
Myndert easily obtained admission, and at once took high rank in his
class. Knowledge came so easy to him, that he had plenty of leisure, and
I feared that his old vicious habits would break out again. Greatly did
I rejoice not to hear a single complaint of him during his first term.
But, alas! I found, when he returned home, that he had learned to drink
and gamble, and that the large sums of money I had sent him had been
squandered in carousals, and over the card table. Still he maintained
the first position in his class, and of that I was proud.
"I remonstrated against his vices. He admitted that there was some truth
in what I had heard, mixed up with a great deal of exaggeration; and
justified his conduct by saying that it was the fashion, and he could
not keep out of it if he would. His good health and naturally high
spirits did not appear to be in the least affected by dissipation, and I
gladly allowed myself to believe that many of the reports about him
"The next term was still more expensive; and I found out that the larger
portion of my heavy outlay went for liquor and gambling. Still he kept a
high grade in his class--taking the second rank instead of the first;
and the Faculty either were ignorant of his misconduct, or did not think
it worth punishing. Through his first, second, and third years at
college, these were his only vices. His constitution, though strong, was
gradually undermined; and, at the end of his junior year, he showed
unmistakable signs of bloating, became very irregular in his attendance
on recitations, and had sunk to be the fifteenth in his class. I had
hopes that he would pass through his fourth year safely, and get a
diploma. But, at the very beginning of that year, he kept drunk, and
absented himself from recitations for a fortnight, and, when called
before the Faculty for a mild reprimand, cursed them with the most
horrible oaths, defied them, and left their presence. They had no
choice but to expel him from the college; and, a week after, he was
brought home to me nearly dead with intoxication.
"A month's illness followed, which brought him almost to the grave.
Though, at the time, I prayed with all a father's love for his recovery,
I have since thought--- oh, how often!--that it would have been far
better for him to have died. But he was spared; and, having been
thoroughly frightened by his narrow escape from the effects of
drunkenness, he vowed, on his recovery, that he would never touch
another drop of liquor. This pledge he kept for some months after his
health was fully restored.
"Having decided to educate him for the law--the only profession that he
did not hold in contempt--I procured a place for him in the office of
Mulroy, Biggup & Lartimore, an excellent firm with whom I had had
"Myndert entered upon his study of the profession with such ardor, that
I was obliged to caution him against ruining his health. But he only
laughed, and said he wanted to make up for past follies. I had never
before seen him in a penitent mood, and I was delighted. Mr. Mulroy, who
has had a hundred pupils in his time, told me that he never had a more
promising one than Myndert. He was a regular and constant attendant at
the office, and spent all his evenings at home. The natural strength of
his constitution came to his aid, as if to encourage him in his efforts
to reform; and, notwithstanding his severe studies, he began to look in
better health than he had ever been. Thus things went on six whole
weeks, and I was happy, and busied myself in framing plans for my son's
advancement in life.
"He told me, one day, that he had joined a club of young law students,
who met every evening and discussed legal points, held mock courts, and
thus sought to familiarize themselves with the duties of their
profession; and asked me if I approved of it. He sought my approval so
rarely for anything, that I freely gave it, cautioning him again,
however, to be careful of his health. He laughed at my apprehensions.
But I was pained to see how soon my fears proved true. Within a
fortnight, the rosy color of his cheeks had disappeared, and his eyes
were palpably sunken, dull, and marked with a sickly blue beneath. He
never returned home till midnight, and sometimes was out till three
o'clock in the morning. I scolded him for devoting so much time to his
law club; but he said that the members were, like himself, enthusiastic
students, and that he was always the first to leave their fascinating
debates and mimic trials. A week later, I marked the familiar bloat in
his cheeks, and suspected the truth.
"Placing a watch upon his movements--no easy matter, for he is very
shrewd and cautious--I soon found out that the law club was a myth, and
that his nights were passed in the wildest debauchery. He had not only
resumed all his old vices, but had acquired new ones.
"When I reproved him, as I did with just indignation, he threw off the
mask of concealment, which he said he was tired of wearing, and became
the same bold, defiant, reckless boy that he always was; while I
continued to be the same weak, foolish, fond parent. I cannot recount
the tortures inflicted upon me by my son since that fatal discovery. He
has not only abandoned all his law studies (having been expelled from
the office of Mulroy, Biggup & Lartimore for grossly insulting a young
female client), and utterly ruined his own body and soul, but, by his
acts, he has brought shame upon several families.
"When this new series of outrages came to my knowledge, I threatened to
disinherit him. He laughed at me. He knew how I loved him for his
mother's sake, and, with that hold upon my affections, he defied me.
"To heartless indifference he gradually added insults, and often cursed
me, his own father, in this very room, where his mother has rocked his
cradle a thousand times while she listened to my reading of an old poem
or novel. The last of his crimes of which I have heard, was brought to
my knowledge about six weeks ago. It was a piece of treachery the most
villanous, and I told my son, in plain words, what I thought of it. I
was weak and nervous from an illness which is hereditary in my family,
and I reprimanded him with more severity than usual. I told him, that if
God, in His infinite mercy, spared him, yet he was not secure from just
punishment from the friends of those whom he had wronged, and that the
human vengeance, which had been so long postponed, would surely come. He
looked at me with malice in his small gray eyes (not his mother's eyes),
and, when I ceased speaking, raised both hands to heaven, and, with the
most horrible blasphemy, called down its curses upon me; and then he
swore, that if I crossed his path, or thwarted his plans, or refused him
money, he would kill me.
"Just before he uttered this monstrous threat, I sprang from my chair
with horror, and caught him imploringly by both hands. I would have
saved him from that dreadful act, but I was too late. I saw him wrench
away his right hand, and raise it to strike me back.... I knew no more,
until Mrs. Frump, my niece, who has had charge of my household during
the past three years, entered the room, and found me stretched
insensible on the floor."
"I saw a part of the sad scene," said Marcus Wilkeson, who had listened
with mingled indignation and compassion to this strange tale. "Your son
was standing by that window, and you were sitting near him, also within
sight of me. I distinctly saw you catch your son's hands with your own;
he wrenched the right one away, and raised it; then you fell, but he did
not strike you, or attempt to. As you dropped to the floor, he glanced
anxiously through the window, saw me watching him, and then pulled down
"Then he did not strike me to the floor! I never believed he did, for
there was no bruise or other mark upon my head. Thank God, my son was
spared the commission of that crime! Bad as he is, he would not strike
his own father." And the poor old gentleman's heart found meagre
comfort, for a moment, in that thought.
"A few words more, and I am done. The shock brought my disease to a
crisis. For over a month my recovery was doubtful. But my naturally
tough constitution, skilful medical attendance, and the unceasing care
of Mrs. Frump, brought me safely out of it. The devotion of that good,
light-hearted woman was truly affecting. She never left my bedside,
night or day, except for a few hours' rest; and even to-day, when, as
you see, I am well enough to sit up and talk, and, in fact, am perfectly
restored to health, it was only by almost pushing her into the street
that I could get her to go out for a day's shopping--a luxury which the
good soul had denied to herself during all my illness."
("I must tell Maltboy about this excellent woman," thought Marcus,)
"My son did not come near my sickbed, and I have not seen him since that
unhappy day. He has visited the house daily, and shut himself in his
room for several hours. How he occupies his time, I cannot imagine, but
am sure that it is only in studying or practising evil."
"Possibly I may throw some light on that mystery," said Marcus. "I have
seen him, from my convenient window, enter his room, day after day,
generally in the afternoon, sit down at his table, and write for over an
"That is strange!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "He has given up the
study of law. He has no taste for literary labor. He writes a beautiful
hand, and would not waste time in trying to improve his penmanship. It
is singular, indeed."
"His work, whatever it is, does not seem to satisfy him; for I have
observed that he no sooner fills a page with writing, than he burns it
to ashes by the gas jet, which he always keeps faintly lighted above
"Some more villany, I am sure," said the old gentleman, with a deep
sigh. "We shall find it out by its terrible consequences, in due time.
He has plenty of leisure to cultivate his vices, but not a moment to
seek my forgiveness (which, God knows, I would freely grant, if he would
only ask it). He cannot even throw away a word upon Mrs. Frump, to find
out whether his own father is dead or alive."
The last thought gave acute pain to the wretched parent. Tears again
sprang to his eyes, and Marcus feared that he was about to witness that
saddest sight in nature--an old man weeping.
But, by an effort, Mr. Van Quintem stifled his emotion, and, turning
suddenly upon his visitor, cried, in a voice of despair:
"Tell me, sir, in Heaven's name, what _shall I_ do with my son?"
THE YOUNG MONSTER.
From boyhood, it had been Marcus Wilkeson's fortune (or the reverse) to
attract confidence, and to be sought out for advice. And it had most
generally happened that he was requested to bestow the last valuable
article in cases where inexperience absolutely disqualified him from
He had found, however, that, when people ask for advice, they expect to
receive it, although they reserve to themselves the right, and, in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, exercise the privilege, of
But Marcus had gathered, from the old gentleman's story, that the error
of his dealings with the rebellious son lay in his constantly seeking
advice from everybody, and taking it, too, instead of adopting some
firm, consistent, and independent course of his own toward that unfilial
monster. Furthermore, Marcus knew that the son was already beyond the
reach of reform. For the future peace of his venerable friend, and for
the good of society, he could have conscientiously recommended
First, the immediate hanging of Myndert Van Quintem, jr. Second, his
imprisonment for life in a penitentiary warranted to be strong enough
to hold him.
Neither of these courses being practicable until that young man had
entitled himself to the benefit of one or the other of them in the
legitimate way, Marcus Wilkeson had nothing to offer, and so he told the
Mr. Van Quintem was disappointed. He looked up wistfully, and said:
"Can't you suggest something?"
Thus appealed to, Marcus angled in the deep waters of his mind, and
fished up this inadequate idea:
"Let him travel a couple of years in Europe."
"I have proposed it," returned the old gentleman, "but he won't, unless
I give him five thousand dollars, and an unlimited letter of credit.
This I refused. Besides, to tell the truth, I do not wish to exile the
boy, but to reform him at home."
Marcus was too polite to say bluntly that that was impossible; so he
cast in his line again at random, and drew out this worthless
"Stop all his pocket money, and tell him plainly that you will
disinherit him unless he reforms."
"My dear sir," replied the old gentleman, "that might do with some sons,
but not with mine. He would obtain money by theft, or even a worse
crime, and bring disgrace upon my gray hairs. He might go even
farther--for he has threatened it, as I told you--and murder me in
revenge. Besides, he is on short allowance now. I give him only thirty
dollars a week--less than a quarter of what he used to receive from me.
Much as his conduct deserves punishment, I could not reduce him to
beggary, you know."
This useless discussion was cut short by the precipitate entrance of the
subject of it. Mr. Van Quintem was greatly surprised at the sudden
apparition, and his face exhibited signs first of astonishment, then of
indignation, then of pleasure, in quick succession. But before his
erring son Had advanced halfway toward the father's chair, the father
turned his head slightly away, as if not daring to trust himself to an
The son took one sharp survey of Marcus, and then slipped his right hand
insinuatingly in that of his father, which hung over an arm of the easy
chair. Mr. Van Quintem turned his face farther away, but Marcus observed
that his fingers closed upon the hand which lay within them.
"Are you quite well, my dear father?" asked the son, in a low, hollow
voice, not meant to be overheard by the visitor.
"I am, thanks to God, and the doctor, and my niece," said the father,
stealing a side look at his son.
"And no thanks to me, I know that. I feared, my dear father, after what
had occurred, that you could not bear the sight of me. Therefore I kept
away from your bedside."
"That is a lame excuse, Myndert," replied the father. He spoke in a
voice intended to be audible to Marcus Wilkeson.
A gleam in the son's sunken eyes, and a new pallor on his bloated
cheeks, indicated his displeasure at the turn which this conversation
was taking. He withdrew his hand, and said, in a deep whisper:
"I did not think you would quarrel with me, when I called to
congratulate you on your recovery."
Mr. Van Quintem wavered a moment. Then, looking at the calm face of
Marcus Wilkeson, as if to gather strength from it, he replied:
"My son, such language is not respectful to your father. You know, as
God knows, that I have been too indulgent with you."
The son coolly twirled the ends of his mustache--which protruded from
each side of his mouth like the antennae of a catfish--and gazed
impudently in his father's face. Then he turned about, and bestowed
another scornful, analyzing look on the tranquil Marcus.
"That is a friend of mine, Myndert, and I have no secrets from him. Mr.
Marcus politely rose, and offered his hand to the young man, who
accepted it reluctantly.
"I have seen you before, I believe," said he. "Across the way, eh?"
"I dare say," was the reply. "I sometimes sit at the window, reading."
Myndert then abruptly faced his fatherland Marcus resumed his chair.
"Since you have no secrets from this gentleman," said the son, "allow me
to ask if you could conveniently spare five hundred dollars
The old gentleman hesitated; then reassured himself by an observation of
Marcus Wilkeson's face, and said:
"No, my son; I can no longer encourage this extravagance. Where is your
last monthly allowance?"
"Gone, of course," answered the son, in a loud and insolent tone. "Do
you expect to keep me on miserable driblets like that?"
"Thirty dollars a week, and board and lodging, are enough for any
reasonable young man, Myndert. I cannot give you more."
The son glared on his father and Marcus Wilkeson (holding the latter
chiefly responsible for the refusal) with amazement.
"Since you are obstinate, then, make it three hundred." The son had
often been able to obtain half or two thirds of what he originally
asked, as a compromise.
Again the old gentleman wavered; and it was not until he had looked
Marcus Wilkeson straight in the eye, that he answered, striking the arm
of the chair with his thin white hand:
"Not one cent!"
The tumid cheeks assumed a sicklier white, and the small, offensive eyes
sparkled with a fiercer fury, as the son replied:
"Very well, sir. Be as stingy as you please. Take the advice of your new
friend here, and cut off my beggarly monthly allowance, too. But
remember, I must have money, and I will have it!"
Had Marcus Wilkeson not been present, the father might have been brought
to terms by this vague but dreadful threat. But now he shook his head,
as an intimation that nothing could move him.
"You have taken your own course, sir," continued the son, through his
closed teeth. "I shall take mine. Don't forget my last words. As for
you, sir," turning to Marcus Wilkeson, "we shall probably meet again."
Marcus urbanely responded that nothing could give him greater pleasure.
The son, darting a last malignant look at his father, whose face was
happily averted, strode out of the room, slamming the door, and
afterward the street door, with increased emphasis.
When he had gone, the father said to his visitor, feebly:
"Have I done right?"
"Precisely. Your conduct was firm, prudent, and will have a good
"I hope so--I hope so. But don't you think, now, I was a little too
severe--to begin with, I mean? I fear that my son will be driven to
crime; and that would kill me."
"I regard his threats as only empty words," replied Marcus. He has found
them useful heretofore, and he tries them now. Having learned that they
do not longer frighten you, he will never employ them again. That is one
point gained. If he is really bad enough to commit a crime for money,
your misjudged kindness will not prevent him, but will rather encourage
his evil disposition."
"There is truth in what you say," replied the old gentleman, faintly;
The protracted conversation, and the suppressed agony of the past few
minutes, were too much for the old gentleman to bear on his first day of
convalescence. He suddenly turned very pale, and his head drooped.
Marcus threw open a window, and held the cordial to his lips. As Marcus
was applying this restorative, without any perceptible benefit, the door
opened, and Mrs. Frump ran in, red in the face, and quite out of breath.
"Excuse me, sir. I am Mrs. Frump, Mr. Van Quintem's niece."
"I am Mr. Wilkeson, a friend of Mr. Van Quintem," said Marcus, hastily
introducing himself; "and I am glad you are come."
"Yes, I see. Fainted away. Revive in a moment. Fresh air. Cordial, Quite
right. Now a little water on his forehead."
Mrs. Frump made her sentences short, to accommodate her breath.
As she passed a cool sponge across the patient's brow, she said:
"I knew it would be so. He has been here. I saw him round the corner.
Looking pale and mad."
"You are right, madam. He _has_ been here."
Mrs. Frump's pleasant little eyes shone with unnatural anger, and there
was a presage of wrathful words in her quivering lips. Mrs. Frump was
desperately trying to keep back certain private opinions that she had
long entertained, but proved unequal to the effort. She burst out with:
"He's an undutiful son, sir. A monster, sir. And he's killing his poor
"Ah! what?" said Mr. Van Quintem, opening his eyes, and looking wildly
around, like one who wakes from a horrible dream.
"It's I. Your niece--Gusty," replied Mrs. Frump, changing her assumed
harsh tones into her natural soft ones "And I think you had better go to
bed. Please take hold, Mr. Wilkeson, and assist him to the next room."
She added, in a whisper, "Don't talk with him any more to-day."
Mr. Wilkeson nodded, raised his eyebrows to signify that he appreciated
the advice, and proceeded at once to aid Mrs. Frump in her benevolent
task. The old gentleman had considerably revived by this time.
"You are right, my dear Gusty," said he, looking fondly at his niece.
"You are always right. And you are right, too, sir," he added, turning
to Marcus. "Ah, if I had known such a good adviser years ago."
Marcus, remembering Mrs. Frump's injunction, made no answer to this
When the old gentleman had been led tottering into the adjacent parlor,
which was fitted up as his bedroom, and placed comfortably on a high
prop of pillows, Marcus drew out his watch, made an amiable pretence of
very important business down town, and bade his venerable friend
"I had hoped you could stay longer; for I feel that you are a true
friend, and I can confide my sorrows to you," murmured the old
gentleman, taking his guest fondly by the hand.
But Marcus, fortified by another significant look from Mrs. Frump,
declared that business was imperative, and he must go. He would call
to-morrow, without fail, and hoped to find his friend as cheerful as a
cricket. The old gentleman smiled at the absurdity of that hope, and
said he should depend on seeing him to-morrow.
So, shaking hands warmly with Mr. Van Quintem, and bowing most
respectfully to Mrs. Frump, Marcus took his departure, and meditated, as
he walked slowly home, on the strange occurrences of the day.
One evening, shortly after the events narrated in the last chapter, the
three bachelors, having finished dinner, and escaped from the grim
presence of Miss Philomela Wilkeson, took their accustomed seats and
pipes in the little back parlor. The curtains were drawn, the gas was
lighted, the fire burning brightly, and, upon these outward tokens of
cheer, the three bachelors reflected contentment and happiness from
their six eyes. In his own opinion, each of the three had unlimited
cause to be happy; and not even that killjoy of the household, Miss
Wilkeson, could mar the completeness of their felicity--when she was
Fayette Overtop was blessed with the thought, that in Mrs. Slapman he
had found, at last, that rare bird for which he had patiently hunted
through the valleys and uplands of society--"a sensible woman." The
intellectual sympathy which was enkindled between them on the memorable
occasion of their first meeting, had grown warmer at each successive
interview--first at a supper party, second at a _conversazione_, and
third at a private theatrical and musical entertainment, to all of which
Mr. Overtop had been invited, with the particular compliments of the
During this pleasant acquaintance, Mr. Overtop had made the
extraordinary discovery that Mrs. Slapman was married, and that the thin
little man whom he saw dodging up the stairs on New Year's day was
It would be difficult to explain, on behalf of Mr. Overtop, a phenomenon
which Mr. Overtop was never able to explain to the satisfaction of the
gossip-loving public, or of his best friends. We therefore content
ourselves with merely stating the fact, that Mr. Overtop's admiration
for Mrs. Slapman was purely intellectual; that he was fascinated by her
vivacious intellect, and not by her substantial person; by the charm of
her manners, and not of her face. He looked upon Mrs. Slapman as a
masculine mind and soul, of uncommon depth, made powerfully magnetic by
its enshrinement in a feminine form. Overtop once told Matthew Maltboy,
that he knew, in his own experience, the meaning of Platonic love. But
Matthew, who was a sad materialist even in his sentimental moods,
laughed at him, and winked. Overtop positively felt hurt at this unkind
reception of his confidences, and never again alluded to the state of
his feelings toward Mrs. Slapman, until subsequent occurrences made it
necessary in self-defence.
With Mr. Slapman he was not personally acquainted; but he had
ascertained privately, from a musical frequenter of the house, who
invariably brought his flute with him, and who was understood to be the
oldest friend of the family, that Mr. Slapman owned a large property in
wild land in Pennsylvania, not a hundred miles from New York; that he
was improving it, and selling it out in building lots, and had already
cleared a handsome fortune; that he was a strict business man, and
looked after his affairs in person, passing between New York and
Slapmansville (the name of the new settlement) twice a week, and
spending the larger part of his time at the latter place. Also that,
next to avarice, which was his crowning trait, his chief fault was
jealousy. It galled him to think that his wife had obtained a settlement
in bank from him before marriage, which enabled her to indulge her
tastes for society; and it enraged him still more to observe how much
she was loved and admired by others, when he had purchased her
exclusively for his private love and admiration. He it was who was to be
sometimes seen stalking through the parlors with a pale face, or running
up and down the front staircase in a state of great nervous agitation.
None of Mrs. Slapman's visitors had the pleasure of his personal
acquaintance; and it was considered a point of good breeding not to
allude to him in her presence.
For this misguided man Fayette Overtop felt a real pity. He yearned to
expostulate with him gently, as a friend. Taking Mr. Slapman's hand in
his own, he would have said:
"Your wife is a precious gift to the world. Seek not to check the
outflow of her ardent nature. Thank Heaven that you are the custodian of
such a treasure, not to be selfishly monopolized by yourself, but held
in trust for the benefit of society."
Overtop's meditations, on this particular occasion, pertained to the
style of the costume which would most become him as the lover of Mrs.
Slapman, in an original play to be enacted at her house toward the close
of the week. The question was chiefly of knee breeches. Overtop was
mentally debating whether he ought not, in justice to his thin legs, to
substitute an ampler style of integuments.
Matthew Maltboy had also been invited to this _soiree dramatique_ (as
Mrs. Slapman's large pasteboards expressed it). A fat man was a
necessity of the play. Mrs. Slapman was not cordial to Matthew,
regarding him as an excessively commonplace person, and had invited him
to her social gatherings out of courtesy to Overtop; but her artist eye
saw in him a fitness for the fat man. Matthew was delighted with the
implied compliment to those talents for the stage which every man
supposes himself to possess in some degree, and cheerfully undertook
The proprieties of costume did not in the least perplex Mr. Maltboy, as
he lay on the sofa digesting his dinner, and puffing out smoke rings by
the dozen. His thoughts were mildly fixed on that delightful Miss
Whedell. Five times he had been graciously permitted to visit the lady
at her house, and to discover a score of new charms at each interview. A
large experience in love making assured him that the object of his
idolatry was not wholly indifferent to him. The paternal Whedell had
hobbies. Matthew had studied them, like a skilful strategist, catered to
them, and felt quite sure that he had that revered individual on his
side. But, in the midst of these pleasant imaginings, there rose the
dark and baleful image of Chiffield!
Marcus Wilkeson was also pondering--pleasantly, if one might judge from
the contented smile upon his lips. The subject of his thoughts was one
which, for reasons that seemed good to him, he still kept secret from
his fellow bachelors. He had freely told them of his singular adventure
at the house of the old gentleman opposite; but not a word of the
inventor and his daughter, and of the private school at Miss Pillbody's.
Not even the minute and sometimes tedious accounts which Overtop and
Maltboy gave of their private thoughts and experiences, could induce
Marcus to reciprocate their confidence. For the first time in his life
he wore a mask before his companions, and prevaricated, and became, on a
small scale, a humbug.
The sharp ringing of the doorbell broke in upon the quiet reflections of
the three bachelors. Mash, the cook, who was at that moment reading the
fifteenth chapter of "The Buttery and the Boudoir: A Tale of Real Life,"
in her favorite weekly, threw down the paper in a passion, bounded up
stairs, and admitted John Wesley Tiffles, or Wesley Tiffles, as he
always subscribed himself on promissory notes and other worthless paper.
Mr. Tiffles chucked Mash familiarly under the chin (resented with a
scornful look by Mash, who had learned from "The Buttery and the
Boudoir" to set a proper value on herself), and then walked straight to
the parlor, like one who knew he was a welcome guest.
And he was right. For when he opened the door, and disclosed to the
three bachelors the well-known laughing eyes, hopeful face, and spare
figure of Wesley Tiffles, they hailed him with enthusiasm. He was a
walking cure for despondency, although he sometimes charged too high, in
the shape of borrowed money, for his professional services. But neither
of the three bachelors had yet sustained that pecuniary tax which Wesley
Tiffles always levied upon his friends, just before leaving them
forever. They formed a part of his reserve corps, which had latterly
been sadly thinned out in Mr. Tiffles's desperate contest with
Mr. Tiffles shook hands with Marcus Wilkeson, giving him the grip of
some unknown Order, slapped Overtop on the back, and playfully pulled
the whiskers of Maltboy. Then he filled a pipe, threw himself into a
chair, adjusted his legs in the true form of a compass, and opened his
coat ostentatiously. All this in about ten seconds, and with a geniality
that defied reproof. He was the very embodiment of cheer.
"Prepare to be astonished," said Mr. Tiffles, after his third whiff. "I
have a splendid idea." The three bachelors smiled, and nodded an
intimation that they were prepared,
"I have had some impracticable notions in my time; but this _is_ good,
and you'll say so. You know that dog, Mark, two doors below--the large
yellow one, with cropped ears, and a tail like the handle of a
Mr. Wilkeson replied that he had the pleasure of the animal's
"Well, as I was passing the dog's house on my way here, I slipped in the
snow. The dog, always on the alert for victims, took a mean advantage of
my situation, and jumped after me through the open gate. I scrambled to
my feet, but not before he had fastened his teeth in my right leg----"
"Good heavens! was he mad?" cried Overtop, who had a horror of dogs, and
made wide circuits about them in the street.
"Can't say as to that," replied Wesley Tiffles, "but advise you to keep
shy of him for the future, I was about to say that he bit me through the
leg of my trowsers. And on that very instant, as if by inspiration, I
caught--not the hydrophobia, but a magnificent idea. Having got on my
pins, I kicked the dog into his front yard, and immediately worked the
idea into shape. You'll be sure to like it."
Marcus Wilkeson, speaking for self and friends, said he had no doubt of
that. Mr. Tiffles's ideas always possessed the merit of novelty.
"That means that they have no other merit!" returned Tiffles, laughing,
"Very true of most of them, I confess all my failures. But here is an
idea which even you, skeptic as you are, will grant to be not only
novel, but great. You have all observed, gentlemen, the immense
differences in dogs. There are white, black, brown, gray, yellow (like
our suggestive canine friend two doors below), tan-colored,
mouse-colored, striped, and spotted dogs. There are round dogs, square
dogs, long dogs, short dogs, tall dogs, and low dogs. There are
full-grown dogs that weigh less than a pound, and others that kick the
beam at a hundred pounds. There are dogs that are pretty much all tail,
and there are dogs that have no tail to speak of. Among all the dogs
that you meet in the street, do you ever see two exactly alike?"
Fayette Overtop, who spoke from extensive and minute observation,
unhesitatingly said "No."
"True! Nature never repeats herself in dogs. In so doing, Nature works
directly for my benefit, as I will show you. Now, in the second place,
as you are probably aware, there is an ordinance forbidding unmuzzled
dogs to run in the streets during the hot months--"
"An excellent law," interrupted Overtop.
"If caught at large without muzzles, they are taken to the public pound,
and, unless redeemed by the owners within twenty-four hours, are drowned
in a tub--"
"Serve 'em right," remarked the hydrophobiac bachelor.
"Now, I am _slightly_ acquainted with some members of the Common
Council" (he laid emphasis on the word "slightly," to imply that he was
on terms of the closest intimacy with them), "and can easily obtain from
them the privilege of catching all the stray dogs, and taking them out
of the country next summer."
"Which would be very benevolent to the dogs; and, regarded from their
point of view, your idea is a noble one," thoughtfully observed Marcus
Wilkeson. "But I don't, at this moment, exactly see how you are
benefited by it."
Mr. Tiffles smiled with the consciousness of power, and chidingly said:
"You are dull this morning, Mark--quite dull. Strike, but hear! In a
word, then, I propose to exhibit two or three hundred of these dogs, in
some country where there are _no_ dogs. I would give them strange names,
put them in cages, and call them the 'American Menagerie of Trained
Animals.' A person who had never seen dogs, would suppose each one to be
a different species from the others--just as the lion, the tiger, and
the leopard are different, though all belonging to the one cat family.
Now, there is my idea. What do you think of it? Of course, you laugh,
Roars of laughter from the three bachelors had formed the chorus of
"Wesley Tiffles's closing sentences. Marcus Wilkeson, as became his age,
was the first to recover himself.
"The idea is a splendid one. None better. But there is one slight
difficulty in the way. Where are you to find your country that has no
dogs? If there were such a happy land on the face of this earth, Overtop
would have hunted it up long ago, and moved there."
Overtop laughingly replied, "That's so." He then informed Mr. Tiffles,
while admitting the theoretical excellence of his idea, that every
nation had its dogs as well as its fleas. Those two friends of man were
impartially distributed over the terrestrial globe. Overtop referred to
the standard Cyclopaedias, and several works on Natural History, in
proof of his assertion.
"Can't be! can't be!" retorted Wesley Tiffles, who was at first disposed
to defend his brilliant idea. But brilliant ideas were a common growth
of his fertile mind, and, like all things easily produced, he held them
cheaply. The moment that evidence, or the test of practice, showed them
to be fallacious, he gave them up, and drew upon his brain for others.
So, after a second's reflection, he added:
"Perhaps you are right. Dogs are not exactly in my line, after all. But
the idea, as an idea, was magnificent."
As Wesley Tiffles spoke, he repeated the act, for the twentieth time, of
throwing back his overcoat (a little seedy), and opening his vest, as if
to draw attention to his shirt front, whose natural whiteness was toned
down by a delicate neutral tint. Immediately afterward, he placed his
hand on a small breastpin in the centre of the shirt front, and turned
it to the right and left. It sparkled for the first time in the rays of
the fire, and revealed to the experienced eyes of the three bachelors
simultaneously, that Wesley Tiffles was the wearer of a real diamond.
"Excuse me," said Marcus Wilkeson, who divined that Tiffles wished his
diamond to be remarked upon, "but that is pretty!"
"Pretty! What?" said Tiffles, looking about the room.
"Oh! the diamond. Perhaps you would like to look at it?" (hands it round
for inspection). "Cost forty dollars. Rather a hard draw on my
exchequer" (that was Mr. Tiffles's word for a friend's pocket); "but I
considered it a most judicious investment for a young man just going
The novelty of this idea was not lost on Fayette Overtop. "Pray explain,
Tiffles," said he.
"Cheerfully," said Tiffles, replacing the gem in his shirt front, after
it had been duly handled and admired. "Nobody will acknowledge that he
is taken in by a diamond. He will say, 'Anybody can buy a diamond, by
saving up thirty or forty dollars; and why should I believe a man to be
rich who wears one?' Yet, in his heart of hearts, he does believe it,
unless the possessor of the diamond has the bad taste to dress flashily.
Then he passes for an impostor, and people will doubt, even against
their own senses, the genuineness of the stone. But let him dress
plainly, as I do," continued Mr. Tiffles, stroking down the left leg of
his black trowsers, shiny with wear, "and that little diamond shall
stand, in the eyes of the whole world, as the representative of a fat
bank account, a brown stone house, and a couple of corner lots."
Marcus and Matthew laughed, but Fayette Overtop, who absolutely revelled
in paradoxes, said, "True, Tiffles, true!"
"Don't think," pursued Tiffles, "that I expected to impose on you with
it. You know that I am a poor devil, living on my wits." (Tiffles was
delightfully frank with his intimate acquaintances.) "I hold out this
glittering bait, not for my friends, but for my old foe and natural
enemy, the world. You must know that I am on the eve of a grand
speculation--probably the grandest I have ever undertaken."
"Another plan of advertising with large kites by day, and pictorial
lanterns attached to their tails at night?" asked Marcus Wilkeson.
"Or another Submarine Pneumatic Parcel-Delivering Tube to Brooklyn?"
asked Matthew Maltboy.
"Or an Association for the Cultivation of Mushrooms in Dark Cellars?"
asked Fayette Overtop.
"Capital hits!" replied Wesley Tiffles, who took an unfeigned delight in
a friendly allusion to his failures. "But allow me to inform you
definitely, that those unfortunate speculations are not to be revived.
Like the lightning, I don't strike twice in the same place. No; the
project upon which I am now engaged is one so eminently practical, so
free from all that is visionary, that you will wonder how I thought of
it. That project is a PANORAMA OF AFRICA!"
THE PANORAMA OF AFRICA
The three bachelors concurred in the opinion that the idea was a good
one; but Marcus Wilkeson suggested that the field was too large.
"I thought you would like the general proposition," said Tiffles. "But,
bless you, Mark! I don't mean to paint the whole continent, from stem to
stern, so to speak; only the undiscovered part of Central Africa--say
from Cape Guardafui on the east to the Bight of Benin on the west."
"But how the deuce," asked Matthew Maltboy, "are you, or anybody else,
going to paint what has not been discovered?"
Tiffles could hardly suppress a smile at the simplicity of the question.
"Why," said he, "that's easy enough. Don't all the geographers tell us
that the interior of Africa is made up, so far as known, of alternate
deserts and jungles, like the patches on a coverlet? Very well. I
conform to this general principle of the continent. I put half of the
canvas in desert, and the rest in jungle, and I can't be far out of the
way. Take the idea?"
"Perfectly," said Matthew Maltboy; "but if you have nothing but
alternate, deserts and jungles, it strikes me your panorama will be a
little monotonous. Perhaps I am wrong." (Maltboy always offered
"I have thought of that, and guarded against it. I shall fill the
jungles with animated life--elephants, lions, tigers, panthers,
leopards, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, giraffes, zebras, crocodiles,
boa constrictors, and other specimens of natural history indigenous to
that delightful region."
"Good!" cried Overtop; "and if you will take a hint from me, you will
show your elephants in the act of being caught by natives, or engaged in
combats with each other; your lions fighting your tigers or your
rhinoceroses; your hippopotamuses engaged in death struggles with your
crocodiles; and your boa constrictors gobbling down your natives--or, if
that is objectionable on the score of humanity, your monkeys."
"Thank you for the hint; but the expense, and the necessity of
completing the panorama at an early day, put it out of the question. To
paint accurate representations of these animals engaged in their
innocent sports, would occupy the time of a first-class artist for
months, and cost an enormous sum."
"Ah, I see," interrupted Overtop, who liked to show that he snatched the
meaning; "you will put your animals in recumbent attitudes--sleeping,
perhaps, in the depth of jungles, shaded from the fierce rays of the
"You have guessed it," said Tiffles, with a broad smile. "Most of them
will be just there--out of sight. The others will be suggested rather
than introduced. Elephants will be signified by their trunks appearing
above the tops of the dense undergrowth. Lions, tigers, and other
quadrupeds, by the tips of their tails. A boa constrictor will be
expressed by a head, a coil, and a bit of tail showing at intervals. The
one horn of the rhinoceros will always tell where _he_ is. I shall have
two small lakes (they are scarce in Africa) for my hippopotamuses and
crocodiles. If they exhibit only small portions of their heads above the
surface, that is not my fault. It is the nature of the beasts,
"Ha! ha! That is what I call Art concealing Art," said Overtop.
"So it is," returned Tiffles; "and it will be appreciated, I doubt not,
by those who affect the school of Severe Simplicity in painting."
"One thing more," said Marcus Wilkeson. "Do you intend to take the
panorama through the country, and lecture on it?"
"I do. And here let me say, that I read up the law of false pretences
long ago. I shall style myself Professor Wesley on the bills. That I
have a right to do, as my full name doesn't look well in type. Actors
and singers do the same thing every day. I shall call myself a great
traveller. This is strictly true. I have been North to Boston, West to
Detroit, and South to Baltimore. I shall not say that I have been in
Africa, or that the sketches were taken on the spot. If my audience
choose to infer _that_, that is their business. If any one doubts the
accuracy of my panorama, I can say triumphantly, 'Prove it!'"
"Excellent, but a little risky," said Marcus Wilkeson, who could not
help admiring the audacity of the plan. "Your next great difficulty will
be to satisfy audiences after you have got them together, as I dare say
you will, by some brilliant system of advertising. I have heard--perhaps
you have--of audiences breaking furniture, smashing chandeliers, and
tarring and feathering people."
"All that has been thought of," was the reply. "Before I leave the city,
I shall give a private exhibition of the panorama to a few ministers of
various denominations, in the lecture room of some up-town church.
Ministers, you know, are debarred by their profession from attending the
opera and theatres, and will catch at the chance to see a panorama for
nothing. In private life, they are capital people, as a class--I have
known several of them--and will willingly certify that the panorama is a
highly moral, instructive, and interesting exhibition. I think I can
rely on my persuasive powers for that much. These certificates I shall
print on my posters and handbills. They will draw moral audiences. Moral
audiences do not break furniture, &c., &c. Comprehend my line of
"Perfectly," said Marcus; "and very ingenious, _as_ an argument."
"I thought you would like it. And now, to drop the subject, I want you
three fellows to come up to my rooms, No. 121, third floor, Bartholomew
Buildings, Broadway--you remember--and see this great work of art, early
"Is it nearly finished?" asked Marcus.
"Yes--in my mind's eye. That is the main thing. The painting has not yet
been begun. It will be a very simple matter. The canvas will be about
four hundred feet long. One half of it will be a dead level of yellow
paint, for desert; and the rest, perpendicular stripes of green paint,
for jungle. A good artist, with a whitewash brush and two tubsful of
paint, ought to do up the whole panorama in two days. The heads and
tails of animated life, the two small lakes, and a few other objects of
interest, such as the sun, the moon, birds flying in the air, &c., could
be put in afterward by an artist of higher grade. And, by the way, now I
think of it, I may as well open with a sunrise off Cape Guardafui, and a
distant view of the Straits of Babel Mandel, give a passing glance at
the sources of the Nile, which lie in that undiscovered region, a brief
glimpse at the Mountains of the Moon, and wind up with a splendid sunset
in the Bight of Benin. It--"
Mr. Tiffles's observations were cut short by the sudden entrance of Miss
Philomela Wilkeson. She shot rapidly into the room, but, when her eyes
rested on Mr. Tiffles, she recoiled with maiden modesty, and stepped
back as if to beat a retreat. Then, recovering her self-possession in a
small measure, she stepped forward again, and said, in the blandest of
tones, with just the least virgin coyness:
"I thought perhaps I had left my scissors here this afternoon."
Messrs. Wilkeson, Overtop, and Maltboy asserted, without rising from
their seats, that they had not seen her scissors, and doubted very much
whether the scissors were in that room. But Wesley Tiffles, who was the
most polite and obliging of mortals when there was a lady in the case,
rose respectfully upon her entrance, and insisted upon searching the
apartment for the missing tool.
Miss Wilkeson, thus being placed under obligations to Mr. Tiffles, was
compelled to take personal cognizance of him, which she did with the
nearest approach to a blush that she was ever known to make. "I beg,
sir, that you will not trouble yourself. I--I do not think the scissors
are here, after all."
"That can be ascertained only by searching, miss," replied Tiffles. Then
he glided about the room in his own nimble fashion, looking behind the
two vases on the mantelpiece, raking over the littered burden of the
table in the corner, and peering and poking into every place where there
was the least likelihood of finding a stray pair of scissors; Miss
Wilkeson all the while deprecating any further search.
Mr. Tiffles suddenly stopped, like a dragonfly in the midst of his
angular dartings, and said: "Since your scissors are not to be found, it
is fortunate that I have a pocket pair, which are always at your
service." Mr. Tiffles produced the ill-omened article, and handed it to
her. This called out a new lot of thanks, regrets for having troubled
him, apologies, and a peremptory refusal to take his scissors,
immediately followed by their acceptance, and a promise that she would
take the best care of them, and return them to the owner on his
Then was the auspicious moment for Miss Wilkeson to have retired with
dignity; but she stood at the door, twirling the fatal scissors in her
hand, and waiting either to say something which did not come
spontaneously, or to have something said to her.
Marcus Wilkeson saw a subtle motive in this awkward tarrying at the
door, and, having no objection to gratifying it, he straightway
introduced Mr. Wesley Tiffles to Miss Philomela Wilkeson. Mr. Tiffles
put himself into the form of an L, like a professional acrobat; and Miss
Wilkeson executed a courtesy in the old, exploded style. Then, as if
appalled at what she had done, she backed into the entry as fast as she
had come from it.
Mr. Tiffles, upon whom the small events of life made no impression,
thought no more of Miss Wilkeson that evening, but smoked three pipes,
told two funny stories, sang one comic song, and then went home, having
previously exacted from the three bachelors a promise to call at his
rooms and see at least one half of the panorama completed, on the
following day week.
Since Miss Wilkeson had been an inmate of that house, she had seen
Wesley Tiffles perhaps a dozen times, in the entry or on the doorsteps,
and had been impressed with his gentlemanlike air, his quick black eyes,
and his deferential manner toward her. Everybody is supposed to have a
realized ideal somewhere, if he or she could only find it. Such was
Wesley Tiffles to Philomela Wilkeson. Let it be confessed at once. The
lost scissors were all the time quietly resting at the bottom of Miss
Wilkeson's workbag, and she knew it. The prevalent frailty of human
nature must be her excuse.
She had-obtained not only an introduction to Wesley Tiffles, but a pair
of scissors which must be returned to him, and were therefore a bond of
friendship. But Miss Wilkeson forgot the fatality which the proverb
attaches to gifts or loans of that particular article of cutlery.
STOLEN--MOKE THAN A PURSE.
One morning, as Marcus Wilkeson was idly turning the pages of a
blue-and-gold favorite, the doorbell rang. In accordance with some
mysterious law of acoustics, the sound was full three minutes descending
the kitchen staircase, entering the keyhole of the kitchen door, and
striking on the tympanum of Mash, the cook, who was sitting by the fire,
reading the twenty-fifth chapter of "The Buttery and the Boudoir: A Tale
of Real Life." When Mash became fully conscious (which was not till the
end of the chapter) that the bell had rung, she expelled a sigh from her
fat chest, and wiped the tears from her eyes with the end of her clean
apron, and then went to the door with a noble resignation to her lot.
There she found a stout elderly woman, bearing a note for "Marcus
"Lor'! how slow you are!" said the stout woman, handing the letter to
Mash, who had read, in the twenty-third chapter, of the overwhelming way
in which the heroine cook had answered an insult by dignified silence,
said not a word in reply, but took the note, and slammed the door in the
stout woman's face.
The exclamation "Bah!" and certain indistinct mutterings which were
audible through the panels, convinced Mash that, by her self-denial, she
had won a moral victory. It was with a feeling of excusable pride that
she walked into the back parlor, and delivered the note to
"Thank you, Mash," said he. It was a singular illustration of his
excessive politeness, that he was no less grateful for paid services
than for free.
Mash retired, thinking to herself that, if Mr. Wilkeson were only a
pirate, a smuggler, a guerilla chieftain, or a dashing fellow in some
unlawful, dangerous business, a few years younger, he would be a
Marcus did not recognize the handwriting of the address. Tearing open
the envelope, he read the following lines, hastily scrawled on a bit of
MARCUS WILKESON, ESQ.:
SIR: Please come over and see me immediately. I have
something important to communicate.
Your obedient servant,
"Something must be wrong," said Marcus; and startling thoughts then
occurred to him. "Has her hard studying brought on illness? It can't be.
She was well enough last evening. What can be the matter?"
Marcus Wilkeson's temperament was of that unfortunate nervous sort which
is thrown off its balance by the slightest shock. His frame trembled as
he put on his overcoat and hat; and, when he looked in the mirror, he
noticed that his face was paler than usual, and his eyes were glassy.
"Pooh! what a sensitive fool I am!" said he.
He walked hurriedly to Mr. Minford's, and mounted the long, creaking
staircases, two steps at a time, tormenting himself all the way with
vague apprehensions of evil.
When he entered the room, without knocking (as was his custom of late),
he found the inventor standing in front of his machine, with bare arms,
hard at work. Marcus nervously said, "Good morning," and stepped forward
to shake him by the hand, but stopped when he saw that Mr. Minford
averted his face, and did not move.
"I wished to show you a letter which I received a few minutes ago," said
the inventor, still not facing Marcus, but busily filing off the rough
edge of a brass wheel fresh from the mould. "There it is, on the table."
Marcus caught up the letter, and read the following:
NEW YORK, Wednesday Forenoon.
RESPECTED SIR: Allow a true friend and well wisher to ask a
few questions. Who is this Mr. Marcus Wilkeson that has
suddenly taken such an interest in your family affairs? What
is his private history? Why is he relieving you from all
trouble and expense in the education of your beautiful child?
What are the man's _real_ motives? Would it not be well to
spare your eyes from your invention long enough to look into
these matters a little? Pardon the suggestion. The office of
a spy, and a secret accuser, is an unpleasant, and, perhaps,
a thankless one. I should never have assumed it, but for the
fact that your ardent devotion to science may render you the
easy dupe--and your daughter the innocent victim--of a
designing and heartless man of the world. I do not ask you to
believe the writer of an anonymous note, and therefore I make
no specific charges against this Wilkeson; but merely ask you
to inquire into his private character, and, above all, his
MOTIVES, for yourself.
ONE OF MANY.
Though Marcus Wilkeson was as innocent as a child, in deed and thought,
of the baseness hinted at in this letter, he felt that he was looking
guilty. Astonishment and indignation kindled in his eyes; but a flush of
shame mounted at the same time to his cheeks. Marcus had often said,
that if he were tapped on the shoulder in the street, and charged with a
petty theft, he would look guilty of grand larceny until he could regain
command of his feelings. This diseased sensitiveness, inherited from his
mother, was the curse of his physical and mental organization.
His shame was increased by a consciousness that the inventor was
stealthily watching him, and studying the enlargement of those horrid
red spots on his cheeks.
"When Marcus finished the letter, he put on an expression of outraged
innocence--which matched poorly with the flaming tokens of
"These are infernal lies, sir; and, if I knew the coward who wrote them,
I would cram them down his throat."
"Of course they are lies," returned Mr. Minford. "Every anonymous letter
writer is a liar--until it is proved that he tells the truth. I shall
believe none of these low aspersions on your honor, Mr. Wilkeson,
without conclusive evidence." As the inventor said this, not
emphatically, Marcus saw that he believed all that the letter had
By this time, Marcus had got his constitutional devil a little under
control. There was something of real boldness and honesty in his eyes,
as he answered:
"This is a distressing subject to talk or think of. But now that it has
been brought before us, I demand a full investigation. Go, wherever you
will, among those who know me, and inquire into my character. Recall
everything that has occurred between us since the beginning of our
acquaintance. Ask your daughter if I have ever spoken a word to her, or
cast a look at her, which could justify these infamous insinuations.
Thus much I ask of you, in justice to me."
"And I refuse, sir," said the inventor. "I will not insult you by an
unworthy suspicion. The world is full of impertinent people, and we can
no more stop their gabble, than that of swallows in the air. This
nameless fellow signs himself 'One of Many,' That is probably a lie. But
if there were thousands like himself prying into your and my affairs, I
should not care. As for motives, none but fools and misanthropes trouble
themselves about _them_."
The inventor tossed off the last sentence contemptuously. But Marcus
knew that he did attach a great importance to motives; although he could
not fairly be ranked either among the misanthropes or the fools. He
"The whole world is welcome to inquire into my motives. As I understand
them, they are: First, I take pleasure in your society, sir, because,
like myself, you are a quiet, thinking man. Second, you have a
hobby--your machine, there--and I admire people with hobbies. Third, I
am fond of children, and--and--your daughter is a very pleasant,
intelligent child. Fourth, you have insisted on selling me an interest
in your invention, in return for a small loan, and that fact would draw
me here, if nothing else did. These are motives enough to satisfy the
most inquisitive mind, I should think."
Marcus said this with an attempt at a light laugh. But there was one
motive not yet confessed--a motive which could hardly be called a
motive, for it lay dim and half-formed within his brain. He had never,
in his moments of self-inquisition, acknowledged its existence to
himself. How could he, then, venture to disclose it to another? It was
the suppression of this immature motive, that brought back that look of
deceit and guilt to Marcus Wilkeson's ingenuous face.
This unfortunate physiognomical revelation was not lost upon the keen
eyes of the inventor. But he said:
"Mr. Wilkeson, let us not say another word on this ridiculous subject. I
am ashamed of myself for showing you the letter. I ought to have thrown
it into the fire."
"There I differ with you, my dear sir," said Marcus. "You did perfectly
right, and I am glad that I have had the opportunity to define my
position here clearly, once and for all." Marcus could not avoid saying
this much in mere civility to the inventor, but he indulged the private
opinion that that gentleman should have burned the anonymous note.
"Who can have written this scoundrelly thing?" continued Marcus,
turning over the letter, and then the envelope, for the twentieth time
each, and minutely examining them.
The note was written on a half sheet of common letter paper. The
manufacturer's stamp in the corner had been cut off, and the size of the
half sheet further diminished by paring down one of the sides. The
writing was what is known as "backhanded," in strokes which appeared at
first sight to be of a uniform lightness. On inspecting it very closely,
Marcus discovered a tendency, in this backhanded penmanship, to ascend
from the line; and also that, in a few instances, the downward strokes
on certain long letters were a trifle thicker than on others. That the
writing was a man's, Marcus had no doubt, though he would have been
puzzled to give the reasons which led him to that conclusion. The
envelope was the ordinary prepaid-stamped one issued by the Government,
and therefore could not contribute to the identification of the
anonymous writer. The superscription was in the same backhand, and was
peculiar in nothing but a small curved nourish, like Hogarth's line of
beauty, beneath the words, "New York. City."
"The rascal has carefully disguised his hand," said Marcus, "and does
not mean to be found out. I can say nothing more positive, than that it
is written by somebody who has never corresponded with me. My memory of
autographs happens to be pretty tenacious."
"And I am positive that it is written by no acquaintance of mine, or of
my daughter's, for we have none--except you. As the case now stands, it
is a mystery, not worth the exploring."
"Again I differ with you," said Marcus. "Whoever wrote this false
letter, has powerful motives of hostility to me or you, or,
perhaps--worse still--to your daughter. I must try to smoke him out of
his hiding place. Meanwhile, I trust, sir, you will see the propriety of
concealing this unpleasant matter from Miss Minford."