Part 5 out of 9
satire, and it had cheered up many a poor fellow who thought himself
looking uncommonly haggard.
Marcus smiled languidly, and turned away his head with a sigh. As his
eyes swept about, they encountered the gaze of the man in citizen's
clothes, previously noticed. At first, Marcus thought he had seen this
man somewhere before; and then he thought he was mistaken. The man
evinced no recognition of Marcus, and, an instant after, his sharp
glance wandered to some other person in the large group waiting for
Here the boat came into the slip, and, after bumping in an uncertain way
against the piles on either side, neared almost within leaping distance
of the wharf. A solid crowd of passengers stood at the edge of the boat,
with their eyes fixed on the landing place, as if it were the soil of a
new world upon which they were to leap for the first time, like a party
of Columbuses When the distance had been diminished to about four feet,
the front row of passengers jumped ashore, and rushed wildly up the
street, as if impelled by a rocket-like power from behind. These people
could not have been more eager to get ashore, if they had come from the
other side of the globe on business involving a million apiece, to be
transacted on that day only.
In fact, they were only lawyers, tradesmen, mechanics, and clerks,
living in Jersey City, and going over to New York on their daily,
humdrum business. It was not the business that attracted them, but the
demon of American restlessness that pushed them on. They went back at
night in just the same hurry, and made equally hazardous jumps on the
Jersey side. They were mere shuttlecocks between the battledoors of
Jersey City and New York.
Tiffles and Patching lifted up the thin carpet bags which reposed at
their feet, and which contained an exceedingly small amount of personal
linen and other attire, and went on board the boat, followed by Marcus,
who was unencumbered with baggage. They entered the ladies' cabin. The
thick crowd of people pressed into the cabin in their front and rear,
and all about them, and scrambled for seats. There was a general
preference for the part forward of the wheelhouse, because it was a few
feet nearer New Jersey than the aft part. The rush to obtain these
preferred places was like that of the opera-going world for the front
row of boxes at a _matinee_. Ladies who obtained eligible seats, settled
themselves in them, spread out their dresses, put their gloved hands in
position, and smiled with a sweet satisfaction at ladies who had got no
seats. Those ladies, in turn, looked reproachfully at the gentlemen who
were comfortably seated. And those gentlemen, with the exception of a
few who rose and gracefully offered their seats to the youngest and
prettiest of the ladies, in turn looked out of the windows, or at the
floor, or at a paper, intently.
A stranger to the ferry boats and customs of the country would have
supposed that the passengers were bound for Europe instead of the
opposite shore of North River.
Marcus Wilkeson, Times, and Patching did not participate in this contest
for seats, but walked through the fetid and stifling cabins to the
forward deck, where fresh, bracing air, glorious sunlight, and a cheery
view of the river were to be had. But these charms of nature were
apparently thrown away on the trio. They all leaned over the railing,
and, looked steadily into the water. Times was thinking up his lecture,
and other matters of the panorama. Patching was misanthropically
reviewing his career, and exulting in future triumphs over his
professional enemies. Marcus was engrossed with some sad theme which,
once or twice, brought tears into his eyes. A burst of noble music, a
fine sentiment in a poem, a poor woman crying, keen personal
disappointment, or any acute mental trouble, had this strange effect on
the optics of Marcus Wilkeson.
The bell rang; voices shouted, "All aboard!" the gangplank was drawn in;
several belated people jumped on, at the risk of their lives, after the
boat had left the wharf, one man vaulting over ten feet; and the voyage
for Jersey was commenced.
Three minutes later, the inmates of the cabins began to go forward and
pick favorable positions for jumping off on the other side. The scramble
to evacuate the seats then was as sharp as the scramble to possess them,
three minutes before. A few more rounds of the wheels, and the boat
thumped in the usual way against one row of piles at the entrance of the
Jersey slip, and then caromed like a billiard ball on the other, each
time nearly knocking the passengers off their feet, and shaking a small
chorus of screams out of the ladies.
When the boat was within a yard of the wharf, the jumping commenced; and
all the able-bodied men, most of the boys, and some of the ladies, were
off before the boat butted with tremendous force against the wharf,
shaking both wharf and boat to their foundations, and giving to the
people on both a parting jar, which they carried in their bones for the
rest of the day.
Once safely on the wharf, the scramble was continued in various
directions and for various objects. Marcus, Tiffles, and Patching
indulged in the eccentricity of not scrambling; and, when they reached
the Erie Railroad cars, they found every seat taken, some by two
persons, but many by one lady and a bandbox or carpet bag, which was
intended to signify to the inquiring eye that the lawful human occupant
of that half of the seat was absent, but might be expected to come in
and claim it at any moment.
The three companions understood this conventional imposture, and
politely claimed the spare half seats from the nearest ladies. The fair
occupants looked forbidding, and slowly removed their bandboxes,
baskets, and other parcels, to the floor beneath, or the rack overhead;
and the disturbers of their peace and comfort ruthlessly took the
vacated seats, with a bow, signifying "Thank you."
The seats thus procured were some distance apart; and so the three
companions were precluded from conversing with each other. This suited
the taciturn mood of each that morning. As for the ladies who filled the
other half of the three seats, they might as well have been lay figures
from a Broadway drygoods store; conversation with them being prohibited
by the etiquette of railway travelling. A man may journey two hundred
and fifty miles in a car, with his elbow unavoidably jogging a lady's
all the way, and still be as far from her acquaintance (unless she is
graciously inclined to say something first) as if the pair were leagues
apart. This is proper, but peculiar.
The strange sadness that possessed Marcus that morning was intensified
as the ears rolled on. There is something in the monotonous vibration of
the train, and the recurring click of the wheels against the end of the
rails, that provokes melancholy. Marcus looked out of the window at the
flying landscape, and the distant patches of wood which seemed to be
slowly revolving about each other, and was profoundly wretched. He was
totally unconscious of the sharp, pale, nervous face by his side.
The owner of the face was about thirty-five years old, though the lines
on her brow and cheeks added an apparent five years to her age. If she
had been put upon her trial for murder, the police reporters would have
discovered traces of great beauty in her countenance. An ordinary
spectator, having no occasion to spice a paragraph, would have made the
equivocal remark that she had once been handsomer.
This lady was dressed plainly, comfortably, and in good taste. Her
hands, ungloved, were shapely, but red and hard with manual labor. On
the second finger of the left hand was a little gold ring, much thinned
by wearing. The eyes of this lady were regarding the unconscious Marcus
obliquely, with a singular expression of mingled recollection and doubt.
Sometimes her glance would drop to the ring, as if that were a link in
the chain of her perplexed reflections. A sudden jolt of the car, as the
train ran over a pole which had fallen on the track, roused Marcus to
the existence of this face and those eyes.
As he saw the eyes sternly bent on him, he thought that his staring out
of the window, past the lady's profile, might have offended her. So,
with a cough which was meant to serve as an apology for the
unintentional rudeness, he turned his face away, and continued his
gloomy revery among the odd patterns of the oilcloth on the floor of
Still the thin, nervous lady watched him obliquely.
A ride of three quarters of an hour brought them to their destination,
as they learned from a preliminary howl of the conductor through the
rear door of the car. The engine bell rang, the whistle screamed, the
clack of the wheels gradually became slower.
"Only one minute. Hurry!" howled the conductor again.
Marcus, Tiffles, and Patching were out of their seats and at the door
with American despatch. Before the car had quite stopped, they had
jumped off. Marcus did not notice that, behind him, was a woman
struggling between the two rows of seats with a bandbox, a workbasket,
an umbrella, and her hoops, all of which caught in turn on one side or
the other. Nor did the conductor observe that this burdened and
distressed lady was trying to make her way out; for, after looking from
the rear of the train, and seeing that three persons had landed, and
that there was nobody to get on, he concluded that it would be a waste
of time to stop a minute, and so rang the bell to go ahead. The engine
driver, equally impatient, jerked the starting lever, and the engine
bounded forward like a horse, giving a shock to the train, and nearly
upsetting the woman, who was still wrestling with her personal effects
between the rows of seats. With a sudden effort, she freed herself,
opened the door, and stood upon the platform.
The engine had wheezed three times, and she hesitated to jump. She
screamed shrilly. The sound entered the ears of Marcus Wilkeson, who was
whisking dust and ashes off his clothes with a handkerchief. He ran
forward, and saw the predicament of his pale and nervous fellow
traveller. She screamed again, as the engine wheezed for the
Marcus extended his hand. "Jump!" said he; "I'll catch you."
She did jump, much to the surprise of Marcus and the two lookers
on--thereby indicating decision of character.
Marcus caught her in his arms--bandbox, basket, and all--and the train
"Thank you, sir," said the lady, with some confusion. Then she walked
rapidly down the road toward the village, like one who lived there.
"A customer for the panorama, perhaps," said Tiffles. "I'm glad you
landed her safely." Tiffles had got through his thinking, and was
exhilarate again. He laughed so pleasantly, that even Marcus relaxed his
grim visage, and smiled.
"Not a bad ankle, that," observed Patching, looking at the rapidly
retreating form of the rescued woman. Patching, artist-like, was always
discovering beauties where nobody else looked for them.
Marcus had no eye for the charms of nature that morning, and he
responded not to the remark which the artist had addressed to him.
Whereupon Patching determined not to speak to Marcus again that day.
They followed the mysterious female down the road which led to the
village. On the fences, every few rods, were plastered posters
announcing the "Panorama of Africa" for that evening, at "Washington
Hall"--"Tickets, twenty-five cents"--"Children under twelve years of
age, half price," &c., &c. As B. Persimmon, P.M., had said, in one of
his letters, some of the posters were stuck upside down. This
circumstance did not seem to prevent the population from reading them;
for the party observed at least two boys (half prices) in the act of
spelling them out between their legs.
Tiffles was so absorbed in the contemplation of the posters, Patching in
a critical survey of the scenery on both sides of the road, and Marcus
Wilkeson in an introspection of his troubled heart, that none of them
observed how often the thin, nervous female, walking rapidly ahead,
looked over her shoulder at one of their number.
The village was composed of the usual ingredients, in the usual
proportions. Law, drygoods, liquor, blacksmithing, carpentry, education,
painting and glazing, medicine, dentistry, tinware, and other comforts
of civilization, were all to be had on reasonable terms. There were four
churches with rival steeples, and two taverns with rival signs. The
village contained everything that any reasonable man could ask for,
except a barber's shop. It takes a good-sized town to support a
As they marched into the village, they were conscious of attracting
general attention. Men looked out of the doors, women out of the
windows, and boys had begun to fall in procession behind.
"Them are the performers," said one boy to another "Wonder what that
feller with the big hat does?" observed a second. "Turns the crank,
guess," was the response.
Patching pulled his hat farther over his eyes, and smiled gloomily at
Tiffles, "They little think who I am," he murmured.
"What a solemncholy mug that tall chap's got," said another youthful
citizen. This made Marcus try to laugh genially at the boys. But
"Say, Bill, isn't that little feller's shirt out o' jail?"
Tiffles made a personal application of this remark. It was his constant
misfortune to suffer rents in portions of his garments where their
existence was least likely to be discovered by himself. As he could not
publicly verify the suggestion of the impertinent small boy, he buttoned
his coat tightly about him.
How their identity with the panorama of Africa had been established, was
a mystery. Small boys divine secrets by instinct, as birds find food
The two taverns were the National House and the United States Hotel.
Although the signs were large and clean, the taverns were small and
dirty. There was no choice between them, except in the fact that the
United States Hotel was directly opposite Washington Hall. Therefore the
adherents of the panorama cast their fortunes with that place of
entertainment for man and beast--particularly beast.
Mr. Thomas Pigworth, the landlord, was seated on the stoop of his
hostelry, discoursing of national politics to a small group of his
fellow citizens, who were performing acrobatic feats with chairs in a
circle about him. Pigworth was a justice of the peace, and was always
dressed in his best clothes, so as to perform his judicial functions at
a moments notice, with dignity and ease. He was tall, thin, baldheaded.
T.J. Childon, landlord of the "National," said hard things, as in duty
bound, of his rival. Among others, that he had kept himself lean by
running so hard for office for the last ten years. To which slander
Pigworth retorted, that Childon was fat (which was true--a fine, plump
figure was Childon's) only because he ate everything in his house, and
left nothing for his customers.
The three newcomers mounted the rotten wooden steps to the stoop. Mr.
Pigworth left his group of auditors, came forward, and received them
with the affability of a retired statesman.
"The landlord?" asked Tiffles.
"I keep the hotel," said Pigworth, with a smile which intimated that he
kept it for amusement rather than profit.
"Room and board for three of us?" asked Tiffles.
"Certainly," said Pigworth, with the air of a man who was doing them a
favor. "Ef you want only one apartment, I can give you the one occupied
last week by the Hon. Mr. Podhammer. You have heard of him?"
"Of course," responded Tiffles, to cut short the conversation.
"He spoke in Washington Hall, there, on the Cons'tution. He is smart on
some things, but THE CONS'TUTION he doesn't understand--not a word of
it. I told him so."
Tiffles was about to ask why, if the Hon. Mr. Podhammer didn't
understand a word of the Constitution, he had the audacity to lecture on
it; when he remembered that it was no uncommon thing for lecturers to
talk of what they don't understand--himself of Africa, for instance.
"Be good enough to show us the room," said he.
"I say, Judge" (Pigworth, being a justice of the peace, was universally
styled thus), cried a voice from the group, "do you, or do you not,
indorse my sentiments?"
Pigworth turned majestically, and spoke like an oracle:
"I do not indorse your sentiments. I wish it distinctly understood, that
I do not indorse them. I indorse nothing but the Cons'tution. That
instrument I indorse to any extent. Are you satisfied now?"
This speech was hailed by cries of "Good! good!" "That's so!" "Sound
doctrine, that!" "The Judge knows what's what!" Only one person, the
questioner, a young man with a preternatural head, was unappeased.
"A single word more," said this young man. "Do you, or do you not,
subscribe to my views on the Homestead Law?"
Pigworth looked at the three comers as if to say, "Mark how I crush him
now." Then, pointing his long right arm at the rash youth, he replied,
slowly, but with fearful distinctness: "I do not subscribe to your
views. Sooner would I lose this right arm than subscribe to them. There
is only one view that I subscribe to. That view to which I subscribe
(the Judge spoke with increased dignity here, and rose on his
toes)--that view is found in the Cons'tution. You would do well to study
the Cons'tution, my young friend."
This withering rebuke was greeted with shouts and clapping of hands from
all but the young man, who muttered something about humbug, and
The landlord had another excoriating remark, which he might have flung
at the young man and finished him up, but he magnanimously forbore.
"Now, my friends," said the landlord, patronizingly. He ushered them
into a dirty entry, and piloted the way up stairs.
"From New York, I suppose?" said the landlord. "Any political news?"
"Really, sir, we don't meddle with politics," replied Tiffles, sharply.
The landlord looked at him with an expression of pity "Oh! to be sure
not. You belong to the pannyrama. I recolleck that the last circus folks
that come here never talked about politics. Are you Professor Wesley?"
"I am," said Tiffles.
"I merely wanted to say," continued the landlord, "that six of my
lodgers are goin' to the pannyrama on my recommendation. I have a wife,
sister-in-law and five children."
Tiffles took the hint. "I will hand you a complimentary ticket for
yourself and family," said he.
"Oh, no! by no means!" replied the landlord. "I wouldn't think of taking
Mr. Pigworth then ushered his guests into the large, uncomfortable
apartment known as the "best room" in all country hotels. The ceiling
was low; there were three windows with small panes, the sashes of which
rattled in the wind; a rag carpet covered the floor; an old bureau,
topped off with a dirty white cloth, a rickety table similarly draped,
four cane-bottomed chairs, and a huge wooden spitbox filled with
sawdust, stood at intervals around. Two single beds occupied
With reference to the beds, Mr. Pigworth remarked:
"Podhammer and Gineral Chetley slept in that air one. Colonel
Hockensacker and Judge Waterfield in t'other. There was four other
mattresses put down here that night, each of 'em with two of our most
distinguished citizens on it. That convention was worth to me a good
With every respect for the precedent established by Podhammer and
associates, Marcus Wilkeson preferred to sleep alone, as he had done for
twenty years. He privately expressed to the landlord a desire for one of
the mattresses which had done duty during the convention.
The landlord smiled, evidently regarding the request as eccentric and
unreasonable, but nodded "All right." As for Tiffles and Patching,
having shared the same couch several nights during the incubation of the
panorama, the problem of how to distribute three men among two beds
gave them no concern. Pigworth then retired.
Marcus Wilkeson's first act was to open the windows, and mix some fresh
air with the damp and mouldy atmosphere of the apartment. Patching's
first act was to light his pipe, and throw himself on the nearest bed
for a smoke. Tiffles's first act was to inspect the rent which the
impertinent small boy had discovered, and make temporary repairs with a
pin. Having done these things, and arranged their toilets hastily in a
mirror with a crack running through it like a streak of lightning, the
three adventurers sallied forth, and crossed the street to
Washington Hall was the only place of public congregation, excepting the
churches, in the village. It was used on Sunday by a small but clamorous
religious sect; on Monday by a lodge of Free Masons; on Tuesday by a
lodge of Odd Fellows; on Wednesday by the Sons of Temperance; and for
the balance of the week was open to any description of exhibition that
came along. It was originally built for a loft, and its reconstruction
into a public hall was an afterthought. It was situated over a drug
store, and was owned by the druggist, Mr. Boolpin, who was universally
regarded as the meanest man in the village.
As the three drew near the door, Mr. Boolpin, strongly smelling of
aloes, and carrying a pestle in his hand, came out to greet them. He, in
common with all the inhabitants, knew that the "pannyrarmer folks" were
in town. The small boys had borne the glad intelligence all abroad. A
number of citizens, who had been lying in wait, issued forth with Mr.
Boolpin, and looked hard at the three.
"The proprietor of the hall," said Mr. Boolpin, introducing himself.
"My name is Wesley," responded Tiffles. He then introduced Patching as
Signor Ceccarini, and Wilkeson as Mr. Wilkes. Patching chuckled inwardly
at the thought of the incognito, and imagined the sensation that would
be produced by the accidental revelation of his real name. Marcus felt a
momentary humiliation at having consented to this innocent imposture.
Mr. Boolpin, having shaken hands solemnly with the three, asked them to
walk up stairs and look at the hall. They accordingly followed him up a
series of creaking steps.
"Everything in apple-pie order," said Mr. Boolpin. "The three boxes
containing the panorama right side up with care, you see. I had them
carted from the depot. Cost me a dollar. People thought they were
coffins. Ha! ha! Six new tin candlesticks, you observe; also the ceiling
whitewashed; also ten extra seats introduced, making the entire capacity
of the hall three hundred and fifty--giving twelve inches of sitting
room to each person. No extra charge for these fixings, though I made
them expressly on your account. There are some things about this hall to
which I would call your attention. Boo! Boo! Hallo! Hallo! No echo, you
perceive. Likewise notice the fine view from the window." Mr. Boolpin
pointed to a swamp which could be distinctly seen over a housetop toward
the east. "The ventilation is a great feature, too." Mr. Boolpin
directed his pestle toward a trap door in a corner of the ceiling,
through which a quantity of rain had come a night or two previous,
leaving a large wet patch on the floor. "It's almost too cheap for
fifteen dollars a night."
"For what?" asked Tiffles.
"For fifteen dollars," replied Mr. Boolpin, twirling his pestle
playfully. "Of course, not reckoning in the one dollar that you owe me
for cartage. It's too cheap. I ought to have made it twenty dollars."
"Why, Mr. Persimmon, the postmaster here, engaged the hall for five
dollars. Here is his letter mentioning the price." Tiffles produced the
letter, and pointed out the numeral in question.
"It's a 5, without any doubt," rejoined Mr. Boolpin; "but Persimmon had
no authority to name that price. I distinctly told him fifteen dollars.
But here he is. Perhaps he can explain it."
The three turned on their heels, and beheld, standing at the door, a
short, dirty man in a faded suit of black, and a cold-shining satin
vest. He wore an old hat set well back on a bald head, and his cravat
was tied on one side in hangman's fashion. One leg of his trowsers was
tucked into the top of his boot; the other hung down in its proper
position. The man's face and hands wanted washing. This was Mr.
Persimmon, postmaster. The secrets of his popularity were: First, his
addiction to dirt; second, his eccentricities of dress, heretofore
enumerated; third, a reputation for political craft and long-headedness,
not wholly unfounded, as his ingenuity in procuring the passage of
resolutions supporting the policy of the Administration, in all the
conventions of his party since he became postmaster, fully proved. This
political sage walked about town with Post-Office documents and
confidential communications from Washington sticking out of all his
pockets, and under the edge of his hat. He had a slight stoop in the
shoulders, which the local wits said had increased since he undertook to
carry the Administration.
"Professor Wesley?" remarked Persimmon, extending a grimy hand. "Happy
to see you."
"Your most obedient," said Tiffles, a little stiffly, for the fifteen
dollars annoyed him. It was a small sum to borrow, but a large one
"Have you such a thing as a morning newspaper about you?" asked the
postmaster. "Our bundle missed the train. As you may naturally imagine,
sir, I am anxious to see how the grand mass meeting went off last night
in your city. Perhaps you wos there?"
Tiffles had never attended such a thing in his life; although he was
aware that two or three grand mass meetings were held every week about
all the year round, and a dozen nightly in times of political
excitement. "No," said he; "but will you be good enough to tell me how
much you hired this room for?"
Persimmon thought how culpably ignorant some people were of the great
political movements of the day, but did not say so. Descending from
politics to the subject in hand, he replied:
"Oh! fifteen dollars, of course. You will find it stated in my last
letter to you." At this moment (no one of the three observing the act),
the long-headed postmaster tipped a slight wink to Mr. Boolpin, who
returned that signal of mutual understanding.
Tiffles handed the letter to the postmaster, pointing out the figure 5.
"Can I believe my eyes?" said the postmaster. "True enough, it is a 5.
Confound my absent-mindedness in not puttin' down a 1." It may here be
said, that similar instances of mental aberration were discovered in Mr.
Persimmon's accounts toward the close of his official term.
Tiffles was staggered, as he reflected that it would take sixty full
tickets to pay the single item of rent. He had less than half a dollar
in his own pocket. Patching was, as usual, reduced to his last
five-dollar bill. Marcus had incidentally observed, a few minutes
before, that he had left his wallet at home, and had only a handful of
small silver about him. Suppose the panorama should fail on the first
night, and be detained for debt! Tiffles had not thought of that.
Tiffles remonstrated, entreated, suggested compromises, but all to no
purpose. Boolpin was iron. The best arrangement that Tiffles could make,
was to postpone the final settlement of the terms until after the
performance. To that, Boolpin had not the least objection.
"One thing more," said Boolpin. "If there is a row, and any seats or
windows are broken, you are to pay the damages."
Tiffles laughed faintly. "Oh! of course," said he. "But you never have
rows here, do you?" He put the question with disguised interest.
"Sometimes," carelessly replied Mr. Boolpin. "There was a legerdemain
man got his machinery knocked to pieces, and his head broken. The mob
was quite reasonable about the furniture, and smashed only ten seats and
sixteen panes of glass. I charged the Professor twenty dollars for
damages, but took off two dollars on account of his illness. Poor
fellow! he was laid up more than a month. Then there was a band of
nigger minstrels, called the 'Metropoliganians.' They were regular
humbugs; and so the mob took them, and tarred and feathered them in the
back lot. Damage to furniture on that occasion was only sixteen dollars;
and I got every cent of it, by holding on to their trunks. There have
been a good many such little affairs in this village. I mention these
two cases only as examples."
"And yet no people in the world is more peaceable, nor more easily
satisfied, than the people of this town," said the postmaster. "They
only axes not to be imposed on. That's all."
"A kinder-hearted people don't live on the face of this earth," added
Boolpin, stating the case in another way; "but you mustn't give them
less than twenty-five cents' worth for a quarter."
Tiffles replied to the effect that he would give them a dollar's worth
apiece; but, in his heart, he foresaw, with that remarkable prescience
which is occasionally vouchsafed to mortals, that the panorama of Africa
was doomed to be a bad failure; and he bitterly regretted that he had
not tried some one of a dozen other immense speculations which he had
thought of. But he determined to give one night's exhibition, whatever
might be the consequences. "I may as well die for an old sheep as a
lamb," thought Tiffles.
During this conversation, Patching was secretly studying the effect of
the swamp, visible from the eastern windows; and Marcus was looking at
the cracked wall in a fit of abstraction.
Tiffles had observed several times, that morning, a youth, or man, of
singular aspect, following him. Occasionally, on turning around
suddenly, he would see this person at his elbow. Looking behind, at the
close of the colloquy with the landlord, he again saw the strange youth,
or man. The being was nearly six feet high, and powerfully built, like a
strong man of twenty-five. His face was childish even to the degree of
silliness. The mouth opened like a flytrap; the eyes were small and
intensely guileless. Only a few wrinkles, and a few hairs, which grew
wide apart on his cheeks and chin, indicated his manhood. But the oddest
feature was the falling away of his forehead, at an angle which a dirty
greased cap, pulled over his brow, could not conceal.
"Well, sir, what do you want?" said Tiffles.
"If you please, sir," said the singular being, in a cracked voice, "yure
the pannyrarmer, a'n't ye?"
"Not exactly, my lad, but I own it. And who are you?"
"My name's Stoop, if you please, sir."
Mr. Boolpin broke out with a laugh, which made the building reverberate.
"It's the village idiot," said he. "He goes by the name of Stoop, which
is short for Stupid. Ha! ha! Come, now, clear out, Stupid, and don't be
bothering the gentleman."
The boy-man began to whimper, when Tiffles, recollecting an allusion to
a semi-idiot in one of the postmaster's letters, said:
"Stay, my lad; I believe I owe you something."
"For pastin' up two hundred posters, fifty cents; and distributin' five
hundred bills, twenty-five cents. Totale, seventy-five cents." The idiot
did not hold out his hand for the pay, and Tiffles conceived an instant
esteem for him. An idea came to Tiffles. This idiot, as he was called,
had shown intelligence in reckoning. He might have a deal of good sense
under that dull exterior. Tiffles had observed, in his travels, that
_the_ idiot which Providence assigns to every town and village, is not
always the biggest fool in it. This idiot might have sufficient
intellect to turn the crank of the panorama, and render muscular aid in
other respects. At any rate, he was able-bodied enough.
"My lad," said Tiffles.
"Stoop, if you please, sir."
"Very good. Stoop, I think I can find some work for you behind the
scenes to-night. Can you turn a crank?"
"I've done it to grindstones, sir."
"It's the same principle," said Tiffles, laughing. "I'll engage you."
The idiot took off his greasy cap, and swung it in the air with joy. A
smile irradiated his great, coarse face, and his small eyes twinkled.
"Gosh golly!" he cried; "I'm goin' to be one of the performers. I'm
He said this, in a spirit of juvenile exultation, to the dozen boys who
stood gaping in at the doorway. This innocent bit of boasting provoked
their derisive laughter, and a quantity of playful epithets and
nicknames, which the idiot endured with marvellous patience, until one
dirty little boy put the thumb of his left hand to his nose, twirled the
fingers, and said, "Boo! boo! boo!" This act had the same effect on poor
Stoop as the shaking of a red handkerchief at a bull. It enraged him. He
sprang at the youth, and, but for the sudden closing of the door by the
offender, who had judiciously kept a hand on the knob, would have
chastised him on the spot.
The door not only arrested his progress, but suddenly checked his wrath.
"I'm very sorry, indeed, Professor," said he; "but Gorrifus! it makes
me so mad!"
Messrs. Boolpin and Persimmon laughed heartily. "He's a perfect idiot,
you see," remarked the former. "Coming the nose system at him always
makes him mad."
Tiffles did not understand how that was any proof of idiocy; but, to
prevent the recurrence of any difficulty between his new assistant and
the populace of small boys, he thought it best to take possession of the
hall, and lock the door. He therefore signified to Mr. Boolpin that they
would at once proceed to put up the panorama. Tiffles threw off his
coat, thereby intimating that he would go to work at once.
Messrs. Boolpin and Persimmon inquired, as a matter of form, whether
their further assistance was needed, and were answered in the negative.
Whereupon they retired--Mr. Boolpin uttering a farewell caution against
driving more nails in the wall than were necessary, and not to cut the
floor under any circumstances--and the panorama and its adherents were
Mr. Boolpin had driven the uproarious boys before him with his pestle,
administering smart taps to the reluctant ones. Tiffles suffered no
further annoyance from them that day, save an occasional "Boo! boo!"
shouted through the keyhole, and followed by an immediate scampering of
the perpetrators down stairs. This well-known sound always roused the
idiot to fury; and the peaceable persuasions, and even the gentle
violence of Tiffles, were needed to keep him from relinquishing his work
and springing to the door.
He was a most intelligent and useful idiot. He could measure distances
more accurately than either of the three, and could ply the saw, hammer,
plane, or hatchet (Tiffles brought all these tools with him) like a
carpenter. His strength and skill were so great, that Tiffles found
himself gratefully relieved from the necessity of lifting, or directing.
Marcus Wilkeson, who had also thrown off his coat with a manful
determination to do a hard day's work, in the hope of tiring out and
driving away the sadness that possessed him, put on the garment again,
and sat on a front bench, vacantly staring like an idiot at the idiot,
and all the while thinking, gloomily, of New York. Patching stalked
about the hall, and criticized the work as it progressed, from numerous
angles of observation; but even he confessed that he could make no
improvement on Stoop's highly artistic disposition of things.
The idiot worked on steadily and swiftly, and only two things
interrupted him. The first was the "Boo!" yelled through the keyhole, as
heretofore described. The second was the unrolling of portions of the
panorama as they were taken out of the boxes, fastened together, and
attached to the rollers.
As the canvas was unwound, Stoop would drop his saw, or hammer, or other
tool, and gaze, with his large mouth and small eyes wide open, at the
pictorial marvels successively disclosed. "Blame it!" said he; "a'n't
that splendid?" or, "By jingo! look at that!" or, "Thunder! don't that
beat all?" The tigers' tails and the elephants' trunks, the alligators'
snouts and the boa constrictor's convolutions, he recognized at once. He
had "read all about 'em in Olney's Jogriffy."
"He is an idiot of taste," thought Patching. "I wonder what they call
him an idiot for?" thought Tiffles. "It's a pity all the people aren't
idiots," said Marcus Wilkeson to Tiffles. "Your panorama would be
patronized and appreciated then." It was Marcus's first approach to a
joke that day.
By four o'clock in the afternoon the Panorama of Africa was all up, the
rollers and the curtain in good working order, and everything ready for
the eventful night. Stoop had taken a lesson at the wheel, and turned it
beautifully. Tiffles had arranged a system of signals with him. One
cough was "Stop;" two coughs were "Go on;" one stamp was "Slower;" two,
stamps were "Faster." Tiffles and Stoop rehearsed the system several
times, the one being before the curtain, in the position of the
lecturer, and the other behind it, at the crank. Nothing could be more
"Only one thing puzzles me," said Tiffles to his friends. "Why do they
call this smart fellow an idiot?"
AN AUDIENCE ANALYZED.
The eventful night came on. Tiffles and friends fortified themselves
with a poor supper, including numerous cups of weak black tea, at the
hotel, and repaired, full of anxiety and misgivings, to the hall. The
idiotic but intelligent Stoop had remained in charge of the panorama,
and feasted himself, intellectually, upon the splendors of that work of
Art, as disclosed by a single candle in front.
All the candles in the hall and the entry were then lighted up, and
produced quite a gorgeous illumination of the four windows fronting on
the main street. This having been done, Marcus (who, having a more
extensive acquaintance with the faces of bank bills than either of his
friends, had kindly consented to act as money taker and cashier) took
his seat in a little box with a pigeon hole in it, and his entire stock
of loose change, amounting to seventy-five cents in silver, spread
before him. Tiffles stood within the door of the hall, to see that
nobody came in (especially small boys) who had not paid. Stoop remained
behind the scenes, and was positively instructed to stay there. Patching
wandered up and down the hall, as if he were an early comer, and had
paid his quarter, and had no personal knowledge of or interest in
Performance was to commence at 8 o'clock. Doors were open at 61/2. Some
time previous to that hour, the stairs leading from the street door to
the hall were lined with the lads of the village, who amused themselves
with making jocular remarks about "the man in the cage there" (meaning
Marcus), and "t'other man at the door, whose shirt was out of jail"
(meaning Tiffles). Marcus smiled grimly at his assailants through the
small pigeon hole; and Tiffles, who felt reckless in the sure view of a
failure, laughed heartily at them, returned jokes as bad as they sent,
but, in the height of his humor, begged them distinctly to understand
that they could not get In without paying. At which the juvenile chorus
sarcastically replied, "P'r'aps not;" "Mebbe you're right," "You'll have
to stop up the keyhole, Mister;" "Mind I don't get down the
chimbley," &c., &c.
At precisely forty-seven minutes past six, the first man made his
appearance. He was a thick-set, pompous individual, with a gold-headed
cane and gold spectacles, and climbed up the stairs with dignity and
difficulty. He was followed by a pale little woman, four small children,
and a stout, red-haired nurse, bearing in her arms a baby, which was
laboring under an attack of the intermittent squalls. Marcus
reconnoitred the party through his pigeon hole, and nervously jingled
the seventy-five cents in his hand. Tiffles stepped forward to the head
of the stairs, in order that he might not be wanting in personal respect
to his first patron.
As this thick-set man ascended the stairs, the boys hushed their voices;
but Tiffles distinctly heard several of them say, "It's the Square."
Though apparently awestruck in his presence, the boys did not forget to
play a few practical jokes on "the Square's" children, such as slapping
them, and pinching their legs as they clambered wearily up. A peal of
cries from his tortured offspring, particularly the baby, who received a
pin in a sensitive part of its little person, so enraged "the Square,"
that he would have beaten all the boys with his gold-headed cane, had
they not jumped away, laughing, and got safely out of the building, only
to be back again the next minute.
"You should not allow these boys to hang around the stairs, sir," said
the pompous man, planting his foot on the topmost step, and bringing
down his cane on the floor with the ring of a watchman's club. "It's
trouble enough to come to your panorama, without being annoyed by all
the young vagabonds in the village."
"I'm sorry, sir," replied Tiffles, inwardly laughing, "but it would take
six strong men to regulate the little rascals."
"Then you ought to employ six strong men, sir. It's your business to see
that your patrons are not insulted."
Tiffles could only smile deprecatingly.
"Every exhibition in this hall, for a year past," continued the man,
"has been a humbug--an outrage on the common sense of mankind. Perhaps
yours is an exception, though, to be candid, I have my doubts of it. Do
I understand, sir, that you have travelled in Africa?"
Tiffles indulged in the unjustifiable deception of nodding his head.
"And you mean to say that the sketches for this panorama were taken on
"Yes, sir; on the spot--in a horn."
"In a horn! What's that?"
"A technical phrase, sir, which it is hardly worth while to explain at
length. Briefly, however, I may say, that no more ingenious or
satisfactory mode of taking sketches has been invented."
"Oh! never mind the details. I hate the jargon of Art. I only wished to
assure myself that I am not to be imposed on. Well, I think I will risk
it, and go in. You can put us on a front seat, I suppose?"
"First come, first served," said Tiffles, amiably, for he had reckoned
up, and found that this party brought him a dollar and a quarter,
counting the children as half prices, and the baby free.
"Under these circumstances we will go in, though I must confess I expect
to be disappointed. You will excuse my plain speaking." The thick-set
gentleman thereupon thrust a hand into a pocket, and produced--not a
huge roll of bank bills, or a half pint of silver, as Marcus, who eyed
him sharply through the pigeon hole, had expected, but--a card, which he
poked at Tiffles.
Tiffles recognized it at the first glance. It was one of thirty
complimentary tickets that he had caused to be distributed among the
leading men of the village that morning, by advice of the landlord; and
it bore the name of "C. Skimmerhorn, Esq."
"Welcome, sir, welcome!" said Tiffles, as he observed the dollar and a
quarter disappear from his mental horizon, and felt that, but for his
indomitable good nature, he would like to kick C. Skimmerhorn, Esq.,
down stairs. And Tiffles, nobly concealing his disappointment, showed C.
Skimmerhorn, Esq., and his domestic caravan to the best front seat. As
he turned back to the door, he heard that gentleman say to his spouse,
"That fellow looks like a humbug."
A stream of people on the stairs gladdened his eyes. In one sweeping
survey, he figured up three dollars. But they proved to be three
clergymen, with faded wives, large families, and female relatives
stopping with them. Each of the clergymen graciously informed Tiffles,
on delivering up his family ticket, that a panorama was one of the few
secular entertainments that he could consent to patronize. They doubted
very much whether they could have been persuaded to come, but for the
recommendation of their evangelical brethren in the city.
Tiffles bowed acknowledgment of the empty honor, and ushered the three
clergymen and families to the front row of seats, of which C.
Skimmerhorn, Esq., and his train, occupied as much as they could cover
by spreading out. Mr. Skimmerhorn recognized, in one of the clergymen,
his beloved pastor, and proceeded, in a pleasant, off-hand manner, and a
loud voice, to give a few of the reasons which inclined him to pronounce
the panorama a humbug.
"Being deadheads," sarcastically observed Tiffles to Marcus Wilkeson,
"of course they come early, and take the best seats."
The next customer was a poor but jovial mechanic, having a red-faced
little wife slung on his arm. This humble individual paid down fifty
cents in bright new silver to the grim treasurer, entered the hall, and
took seats about halfway up. "It's a splendid affair, Sally, this 'ere
pannyrammer, I'll bet anything." "Sha'n't we enjoy it, John!" returned
that healthy young woman.
More work for the amiable Tiffles, but none for the melancholy
Wilkeson. Two more clergymen with families, the County Judge, the local
railroad agent, all the members of the Board of Freeholders, and several
other people, who, according to the landlord of the United States Hotel,
were highly influential in moulding public opinion, and were in the
habit of receiving free tickets.
"Very good for a school of comparative anatomy," said Tiffles to Marcus
(in facetious allusion to the deadheads), "but decidedly bad for my
Marcus responded with a dreary smile through the pigeon hole.
Then there came a few more mechanics and other plain people, and then a
streak of fortune--an entire young ladies' seminary, headed by the
preceptress, and divided into squads, each commanded by an assistant
teacher acting as drill sergeant. They were admitted at half price (as
per advertisement), and brought five dollars and sixty-two cents into
the treasury. Tiffles rubbed his eyes at the sight of such a troop of
blooming faces, and his hands at the thought of the grand accession to
his cash box. The female seminary was accommodated with the two front
rows of the best seats left.
Following the seminary, in an unprecedented sequence of luck, was a
boys' school, that came whooping up the stairway like a tribe of young
Indians, in charge of a venerable sachem in spectacles. In the rush and
excitement of the moment, several of them ran toll--a circumstance of
which the old gentleman did not take cognizance when he settled with
Marcus Wilkeson for their admission at twelve and a half cents _per
capita_. Marcus had not noticed it, and Tiffles was far too generous to
make a fuss about a few shillings.
Then a party of six flashily dressed young men, who threw away their
cigars as they came up stairs, and thrust their quarters through the
pigeon hole at Marcus Wilkeson, as if they were good for nothing--which
proved to be true of two of them. Being informed of the fact by Marcus,
the owners of the counterfeits winked at each other, and whispered, "No
go," and then offered a broken bill on a Connecticut bank. This also
proved "no go," whereat the sharp practitioners winked again and
laughed, and this time paid out good current coin. These were some of
the fast men of the village. They took seats behind the female seminary.
Luck changed again, and brought in the landlord, Mr. Persimmon, P.M.,
Mr. Boolpin, and three more free tickets, with their wives and families.
Mr. Boolpin whispered in Tiffles's ear, that he hoped there wouldn't be
a row; but it was a hard-looking crowd that had just gone in ahead of
him. And there were plenty more of them coming.
The latter observation proved true. The next minute, the stairs swarmed
with a jovial party, under the leadership of a gorgeous person, who wore
in the middle of his snowy shirt front a cluster diamond pin larger than
a ten-cent piece. This was one of the gentlemanly conductors on the
railroad; and the mixed company which he had the honor to command, was
composed of ticket sellers, freight masters, brakemen, civil engineers,
and clerks of liberal dispositions and small salaries in various walks
of life. The party was slightly drunk, but not offensive. The
gentlemanly conductor paid for himself and associates out of a huge side
pocket full of loose silver. They rolled up the hall, and took the
nearest spare seats to the female seminary.
Seven and three quarters P.M. arrived. The people in the hall began to
stamp with a noise like thunder. Tiffles had marked the heavy boots of
the conductor, and could recognize them in the din. Several deep hisses
varied the monotony of the performance. There were no persons coming up
stairs. The small boys, Tiffles observed with astonishment, had vacated
the building some time before, and could now be heard whispering quietly
around the door below.
HUMOUS OF THE MANY-HEADED.
Tiffles knew that his time had come, and he accepted the crisis.
Requesting Marcus to pocket the funds, shut up the shop, and leave the
door to take care of itself, Tiffles marched boldly to his doom.
Previous to extinguishing the candles in the exhibition hall, he went
behind the curtain, and there found the idiot sitting patiently at the
crank, and rehearsing, in a low tone, the code of signals which had been
adopted. Patching was also there. He shrugged his shoulders in the
French style as Tiffles came in, but said not a word. Tiffles proceeded
straight to a bottle which stood on a window sill, and took a long drink
from it, and then passed it to Patching, who mutely did the same, and,
in turn, handed it to the idiot, who pulled at it with great gusto, in
the manner of a rational person.
Feeling that it would be superfluous to repeat his instructions to so
sagacious an idiot, Tiffles immediately presented himself before the
audience again, with a long stick, or wand, for pointing out the
beauties of the panorama.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to exhibit to you the Panorama of
Africa. You have all heard of Africa."
"True, my friend; therefore you will be well prepared to enjoy the
pictorial attractions which I am about to unfold."
VOICE. "H'ist the rag."
"My friend--who has no doubt paid his quarter--I respect your request.
The rag _is_ about to be h'isted. But, before that ceremony is proceeded
with, I would ask the gentlemen sitting nearest the candles to be good
enough to blow them out."
Never was request more cheerfully complied with. There was a scramble of
six or seven tall young men to each candle; and, at several of the
candles, a brisk but friendly struggle took place between rival
aspirants for the privilege. The room was then in total darkness, save a
small gleam which came through the partly opened door from a solitary
tallow in the entry, and the dull reflection of the panorama lights
through the curtain.
Some of the effects of this sudden extinguishment were extraordinary.
The female seminary all screamed slightly. The boys' school all laughed,
and several were heard to say, "Prime fun, a'n't it?" The railroad
conductor and his friends coughed fictitiously, and said, "Oh! oh!"
"A'n't you ashamed!" "Look out for pockets!" "Thief in the house!" and
other playful things, which put the entire audience in good humor. But
the strangest and most unexpected occurrence, was a grand rush, as of a
herd of wild bulls, on the stairs, accompanied by the dousing of the one
remaining light in the entry. Another moment, and over a hundred of the
choicest juvenile spirits tore into the hall, and knocked over each
other and everybody else in a frantic contest for free seats. The young
ladies' seminary screamed in concert, and all the elderly ladies cried,
"Oh my!" "Good gracious!" "What's that?"
"Only the boys," said Tiffles, with unruffled composure. "Let them come.
It is a moral entertainment, and will do them good."
After a pause of about three minutes, giving the boys time to seat
themselves, and the screams, mutterings, and laughter of the rest of the
audience to die away, Tiffles said:
"Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will introduce you to sunrise, in the
Bight of Benin."
This was the preconcerted signal for the raising of the curtain, which
office was performed by Patching, without a hitch. The gorgeous proem,
or introduction to the panorama, was then for the first time disclosed
to the public. Patching blushed as he thought of the vile pandering to
popular taste of which he had been guilty.
There was a dead calm for a minute. Tiffles was silent, in order that he
might not interrupt the quiet admiration of the spectators. The
spectators were silent, because they could not exactly understand the
scene, and did not know whether to laugh, hiss, or applaud. The silence
was broken, by a boy in the back part of the hall:
"I say, Mister, is that a cartwheel on top of a stonewall?"
"No, sonny not exactly," said Tiffles. "What your uneducated eyes
mistake for a cartwheel is the rising sun. The objects that your
immature judgment confounds with spokes, are rays. Your stone wall, it
is hardly necessary to inform riper intellects, is a distant range of
mountains. It is one of Ceccarini's happiest efforts."
"Hurrah for Checkerberry!" cried another lad, mistaking the name of the
high (imaginary) Italian artist.
"Are we to understand, sir, that this is a rolling prairie in the
foreground?" asked a deep voice, which Tiffles at once recognized as
emanating from C. Skimmerhorn, Esq.
"Oh! no, sir; it is the Bight of Benin; and I must say, though, perhaps,
I am too partial, that Ceccarini never did a better thing."
"The _what_ of Benin?" asked the voice.
"The Bight--or, in other words, as you may not be familiar with
geography, the Bay of Benin."
"Then why not say Bay, sir?" replied C. Skimmerhorn Esq., stung with the
allusion to his want of geographical knowledge. "Why this mystery
There were cries of "Go it, Square." "Dry up, old boy!" "Propel with the
show!" &c., &c. Tiffles adopted the latter suggestion, and without
answering the lawyer's insinuation, proceeded to point out the natural
appearance of the waves, the truthfulness of the distant mountains, the
absolute fidelity of the sunrise. "And here let me answer an
objection in advance. It may be said that this sunrise does not
look like a sunrise in Jersey. Admit it. Neither do the snakes
(_sensation_)--neither do the snakes which I am about, to exhibit
(_increased sensation_ and Oh! me's! from the Young Ladies' Seminary)
resemble the familiar green or striped serpent of your own peaceful
fields. Neither do the tigers, which I shall presently have the honor of
showing to you _(renewed sensation)_, bear any marked affinity to the
serene woodchuck that burrows in your happy hills. The sunrises and
sunsets, the boa constrictors, the tigers, and the other phenomena of
Africa, are all immense, gorgeous, and peculiar. They must be judged by
themselves, and not by comparison. My hearers will be kind enough to
bear this in mind, as we go on."
He then went on to repeat a great many statistics concerning the
population and resources of Africa. He had read up for these facts and
figures, under the impression that they would interest the solid portion
of his audience. But he soon found out that he interested nobody
(perhaps because the solid portion of audiences is a myth), and finally
yielded to general requests of "Push ahead!" "Fire away!" "Start your
train!" (the latter from the gentlemanly conductor and friends.)
Tiffles therefore whistled once, and the panorama commenced moving
slowly and steadily. The idiot, the rollers, and the lights, all
From the Bight of Benin, the voyaging spectators took an excursion up
The uninterrupted stretch of deep blue for water, and light blue for
sky, and green for the farther bank, with occasional palm trees looking
like long-handled pickaxes, seemed to satisfy them. At any rate they
looked on, and found no fault in words; which both Tiffles and Patching
took for an auspicious sign. Tiffles kept step with his explanations.
His method was this. When the palm tree came in sight, he would give a
minute account of that noble tropical growth, and the many uses to which
it and its products could be put. When a flock of wild ducks appeared
sailing majestically on the river, he would entertain his auditors with
a circumstantial description of how the natives caught wild ducks. A
boat or hollow log, with a human figure, suggested a reference to the
progress which the African had made in marine architecture and the
science of navigation. In this way, Tiffles thought he was beguiling his
customers. Some low sounds, like suppressed hisses, soon convinced him
of his error.
"I beg your pardon, Professor," said a thick-set voice, which he always
recognized as coming from C. Skimmerhorn, Esq.; "but it seems to me that
this portion of your panorama is a little monotonous. I presume that in
this suggestion, I express the sentiments of my fellow citizens here
assembled." Cries of "Go on, Square!" "That's so!" mingled with a
vigorous stamping of feet and catcalls from the boys in the background,
proved, alas! the truth of the conjecture.
Tiffles coughed twice for the idiot to stop, and was sagaciously obeyed.
"In behalf of Africa," he remarked, "representing her, as I may say, on
this occasion, I would beg leave to apologize to the learned gentleman
for the poverty of her scenery, at this stage of the panorama. If Africa
had been aware of the learned gentleman's preferences, she would,
doubtless, have got up some stunning effects for him in places where now
you see only a river, a sky, and a strip of green bank, all unadorned,
precisely as they are."
The exquisite irony of this retort pleased the audience, and elicited
general though faint applause, and several cries of "Shut up, Skim!"
"Got your match, old boy!" "Oh! let the man go on!" The last remark
issued from the gentlemanly conductor, and fell with peculiar pleasure
on Tiffles's ears.
"One word more, and I am done," resumed the lawyer, who was
professionally calm amid scenes of disturbance. "I only wish to elicit
the truth. Have you, and your artist (Mr. Chicory, I think you call
him), or either of you, actually gone over the scenery here represented.
We wish to understand that point!"
"We have, both of us, gone over this scenery repeatedly." This was true,
as both Tiffles and Patching, anticipating some such question, had
stepped over the canvas back and forth, in rolling and unrolling it,
several times. "Is the eminent counsellor satisfied?"
"Oh! yes," said C. Skimmerhorn, Esq., in a voice which signified that
he knew the panorama was a humbug, but, unfortunately, couldn't
One cough, and the panorama started again--but a little too fast.
Tiffles stamped once, and the idiot reduced the speed, until it was too
slow. Two stamps brought it right. The river soon disappeared in a
swamp, where the alligators' heads protruding above the water gave
Tiffles an opportunity to describe several terrific combats which he had
enjoyed with those pugnacious creatures. This entertained the audience
for several minutes.
"Have you no full views of alligators, sir?" asked a voice which Tiffles
presumed, from its solemn inflection, to come from a clergyman.
"None at all, sir. The African alligator persists in keeping out of
sight. You never see anything but his head--except his tail, as
represented here." Tiffles pointed with his wand to something that
looked like the end of a fence rail sticking out of the water. "True
Art, sir, sacrifices effect for Truth."
"Certainly, sir. Truth is what we are all after," replied the clergyman.
But there was an indefinable something in his voice that indicated a
wish for more alligator--much more.
The swamp ended in a dry jungle, interspersed with palm trees,
elephants, lions, tigers, and serpents. Tiffles counted upon interesting
his audience here. Snakes were first on the list. Two heads, with
expanded jaws and forked tongues, were looking at each other above the
jungle, and two tails were interlocked, also above the jungle, a few
feet off. This conveyed the idea of two boa constrictors fighting. Other
heads and other tails--there was always a tail for every head--stuck up
at regular intervals about. He stopped the panorama with a cough,
"The entire population of this particular jungle are--boa constrictors
of unprecedented size and ferocity."
Tiffles heard a rustle of fans and dresses not far off. It was the
whole female seminary shuddering. There was also a general movement
throughout the audience as of people adjusting themselves to obtain a
"These boa constrictors, so admirably delineated here,"--commenced
"Where?" said the voice of a country gentleman. "I don't see any bore
"Nor I." "Nor I." "Trot 'em out!" "Show 'em up!" "Produce your snakes!"
Such were the remarks that resounded through the hall.
"Oh, no!" "Don't!" "Please don't!" emanated from several girlish voices.
"My fair auditors have no cause for alarm. I have no living snakes to
show. I might have captured several hundred, and brought them to this
country and exhibited them, but, in deference to the well-known aversion
cherished toward snakes by cultivated communities, I forbore to do so.
The only boa constrictors that I have, are now before you. These are
their heads. These their tails" (indicating the termini of the snakes).
Now, the spectators--or a large number of them--had suffered fearful
expectations of seeing real snakes. When, therefore, it was announced
that these harmless daubs, resembling, at a distance, some variety of
tropical vegetation, were the only snakes they were to see, there was a
feeling, first, of relief, and then of disappointment.
The disappointment manifested itself in low hisses, and exclamations,
such as "Humbug!" "Gammon!" "Swindle!" Tiffles made several beginnings
of excellent snake stories, of which he was the hero, but was checked by
the tumult. Finding the snakes were not popular, he determined to try
the tigers, lions, and other beasts of prey farther on. He coughed once
emphatically, and the canvas moved like clockwork.
Before it had journeyed five feet, somebody on the front row of seats
coughed twice in precisely the same manner as Tiffles. The idiot,
supposing the signal came from his employer, stopped. Tiffles,
perceiving the mistake, coughed again, and the motion was resumed; when
a double cough resounded from the front seat, and the motion ceased.
Then Tiffles realized that his system of signals was understood by
somebody. What should he do? He could not stop the free, universal right
to cough. Therefore he stepped to the corner of the curtain, raised it,
and said, in a voice loud enough to be heard by the audience, "Stoop,
whenever I want you to 'stop,' or 'go on,' or 'faster,' or 'slower,' I
will say so. You understand?"
"Puffickly," replied the gifted idiot.
"I say, boys, Stoop's in there," shouted the somebody that had coughed.
"Stoop!" "Stoop!" "Bully for Stoop!" "Come out o' that, Stoop!" was
shouted all over the house; but Stoop remained faithful to his post, and
calmly ground away at the crank.
Suddenly it occurred to some boy to yell, "Boo! boo!" whereat the other
boys laughed, and took up the chorus, "Boo! boo!"
The canvas moved less steadily, slackening for a moment, and then
shooting ahead, as if the propelling power were the subject of strange
perturbation. The roguish boys, and the men too, and, chief of them,
that practical humorist of a conductor, observing this, screamed, "Boo!
boo! boo I boo!" all the louder. Tiffles knew that the critical time had
come, and philosophically laughed at the ruin of his last grand project,
as he had laughed at the ruin of forty other grand projects in
The panorama stopped without a signal this time. A hoarse voice
screamed, "Gorryfus! Gosh thunder! By jimminy!" The curtain was jerked
aside, and Stoop rushed into the hall like a fury. Coming out of a place
partly lighted into one totally dark, his first move was to run blindly
into Tiffles, nearly knocking that gentleman off his legs.
"Hold on, Stoop! Hold on!" shouted Tiffles, with what was left of his
breath. But the idiot only screamed, "Gosh thunder! Gorryfus!" and
darted for the main aisle, intending to run a muck among his
persecutors. There was a general scrambling of the boys to avoid this
incarnated wrath. The whole female seminary, and all the ladies present,
SCENES NOT IN THE BILLS.
The enraged idiot struck out right and left, without hurting
anybody--the objects of his vengeance contriving to elude him in the
dark. Most of the sturdy blows which he dealt, using his arms like
flails, fell upon the railings of the seats, and only bruised his hands.
Just as he had caught a boy by the collar, and was about to take a twist
in his hair, the door opened, and a light appeared. It came from three
candles borne by three men.
This apparition caused the furious idiot to suspend hostilities on the
All eyes were turned toward the three men. All voices were hushed. There
was a whisper in the air that something strange was about to happen.
The man who entered first was a stranger, who moved and looked about in
the quick, nervous way born of city life. The other two men were
well-known residents of the village. Some of the audience had had
unpleasant cause to know them.
Having locked the door, and stationed his associates in a position to
command the windows, the stranger walked quickly up the aisle, bearing
his lighted candle, and said, in a loud voice, which fell strangely on
the hushed assemblage:
"Marcus Wilkeson will be kind enough to give himself up. Upon my honor,
he cannot escape." This was said with a charming politeness.
A tall figure arose at the wall end of one of the back seats. "I am
Marcus Wilkeson. What do you want with me, sir?" His voice trembled, and
his face was livid.
"To go with me to New York, Mr. Wilkeson," said the tall stranger,
quickly. "Thank you for your promptness in answering. The only clue that
I had, was the hasty measure I took of you this morning, when I was
watching for an escaped convict at Cortlandt-street ferry. Perhaps you
remember seeing me there, sir?"
Marcus, though the sudden shock had almost stunned him, at once recalled
the man who had eyed him narrowly at the ferry that morning.
The two other candle bearers had stepped forward as Marcus declared
himself, and were about to lay hold of him, when the first man smilingly
pushed them back, and said:
"Don't touch him. It's all right. Mr. Wilkeson is a gentleman, and will
To Marcus he said, apologetically:
"Two Jersey constables I got to assist me. They don't do things exactly
in the style of Detective Leffingwell."
Marcus recognized the name; and so terrified was he at the thoughts
which it conjured up, that his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth.
The scene was like a horrid dream.
"Everything is regular, sir," continued the detective. "We have a
requisition for you from the Governor of this State. It was obtained by
telegraph from Trenton. You will excuse my dropping on you in this way;
but I wanted to take you to New York to-night, as the inquest meets
again at ten o'clock to-morrow morning."
"The inquest!--what inquest? Tell me, in God's name!" said Marcus,
finding his voice at last.
"Inquest! There must have been a murder committed." "What is it?" "Tell
us, Mr. Policeman." The question was asked on all sides.
"Now I _didn't_ want a scene," said Detective Leffingwell, politely,
"and I won't have one. Mr. Wilkeson and I understand each other. The
word 'inquest' dropped out of my mouth before I thought."
"As heaven is above us, we do not understand each other!" said Marcus.
"Tell me, pray tell me at once, or I shall go mad."
"Anything to please you," replied the officer; "but I can't bear these
explanations in public. It isn't my way of doing business." He then
leaned forward, and whispered in the ear of Marcus.
"Great God!" was all that Marcus could say. Then he sank to the seat,
and bowed his head in agony.
Tiffles, who had forced his way to his friend's side during the
excitement, threw his arms about him, and said:
"Never mind appearances, Marcus. I'll stake my life you are innocent of
the charge, whatever it is."
"Oh! you're a humbug," remarked C. Skimmerhorn, Esq.
"Call me and my panorama a humbug, if you please; but Mr. Wilkeson is a
gentleman and a man of honor." Tiffles's face beamed with a strange
kindness. He looked up, and saw the idiot standing near him. His small
eyes filled with tears as he gazed with an expression of intelligent
pity at the crushed man. Tiffles could have hugged the idiot, not only
as the most sensible man, but the best-hearted one he had seen in
C. Skimmerhorn, Esq., would have retorted severely, but his attention,
and that of all the crowd, was drawn, at that moment, to a citizen who
came forward, and, in a state of beathless excitement, said he guessed
he knew what it all meant. He was in New York that afternoon, and read,
in one of the evening papers, an account of a dreadful murder committed
on an old man named Minford. The supposed murderer, the paper said, was
a Mr. Wilkes or Wilkson.
"Now I hope you are satisfied," said Detective Leffingwell, looking
around with contempt at his hearers.
A slight scream was heard from the corner of a seat near by. From the
beginning of this unpleasant affair, it was observed that a plainly
dressed woman--a seamstress accompanying the family of a Mr. Graft--had
become very pale and nervous, and had been seen to move uneasily in her
seat. This woman had fainted away. She it was who had stared so
strangely at Marcus in the car that morning.
Mrs. Graft and her two daughters promptly removed the fainting woman to
the entry, where the fresh air soon restored her, and she was sent home.
"No wonder the women faint away, when you crowd round here so stupidly,"
said the officer, momentarily losing his temper. "Please step back, now,
and let Mr. Wilkeson and me get out. We must leave for New York by the
next train--and that starts in fifteen minutes." The detective referred
to his watch. "Are you ready, sir?" tapping Marcus gently on
Marcus rose, and displayed a face haggard with grief.
They all whispered, or thought, "He is guilty."
"I am ready," said he; "but I call heaven to witness that I know nothing
of this crime."
The detective bowed courteously, and then said:
"I also have summons for Mr. Tiffles and Mr. Patching, gentlemen
connected with this panorama, as witnesses. They will please
"I am Mr. Tiffles," said that person. "Wesley is my panoramic name."
This disclosure caused a small sensation. "I knew the man was a humbug
from the start," whispered C. Skimmerhorn, Esq., to a friend at his
elbow. "I'd like to prosecute him for swindling."
"And I am Mr. Patching," exclaimed the artist, presenting himself.
It should be here stated, that, when the disturbances of the evening
first set in, Patching, in pure disgust at the bad taste of the
audience, had quietly dropped himself out of the second story window at
the rear of the stage, and had been skulking in the back lot ever since.
Having heard, outside, of the arrest of Marcus Wilkeson, on an unknown
charge, he had plucked up courage and friendship enough to reenter the
hall, and tender his aid and consolation to that unhappy man. He came in
just in time to hear his name called.
"So that's the chap they called Chicory, or Checkerberry," whispered C.
Skimmerhorn, Esq. "Anybody can see he is a swindler by his slouched hat,
and beard. _Shouldn't_ I enjoy having a good case against him!"
Pigworth, J. P., landlord of the United States Hotel, and Mr. Boolpin,
proprietor, came forward with their little bills, and demanded immediate
payment. This financial difficulty was arranged in one minute by the
genius of Wesley Tiffles. After paying Stoop one dollar and a half (that
excellent idiot crying, and vowing that he didn't want it), the rest of
the proceeds, deducting enough for fares to New York, were divided
equally between the two other creditors; and the panorama and all the
appurtenances were left as a joint security for remaining obligations.
The panorama was worth twice the debts, to be cut into window shades.
After some grumbling, Messrs. Pigworth and Boolpin accepted the terms.
Five minutes later, the polite detective and his party started for New
York. There was a great number of people at the station to see them off,
but only one to say "good-by." That one was the man-boy Stoop, who cried
as if his great, simple heart would break.
A DRAMATIC INTERLUDE.
It was the last of a delightful series of dramatic nights at Mrs.
Slapman's; and her house was quite filled with embodied Poetry, Travels,
Dramatic Literature, Music, Art, and the Sciences.
The dramatic arrangements of Mrs. Slapman's house were simple, but
effective. A curtain, with rings, hung across the north end of the
parlor, established the confines of the stage, which was on a level with
the floor, and covered with green baize to represent rural scenes, or a
three-ply carpet to indicate refined interiors. Against the wall were
rollers, from which scenes could be dropped, affording perspectives of
country, or streets, or gilded saloons, as the necessities of the drama
required. There were six of these scenes, all painted by Patching (to
oblige Mrs. Slapman) in his leisure moments, which were numerous; and
they all exhibited evidences of his style. Six sets of flies, or side
scenes, matching with the rear views, had been executed by a
scene-painter's assistant, whom Mrs. Slapman had taken under her
patronage, and were thought, by some persons, superior to Patching's
efforts. Such was the belittling criticism to which that great artist
was constantly subjected. There was a space of about four feet between
the top of the curtain and the high ceiling. The light from the parlor
chandelier directly in front, aided by six gas jets behind the scenes,
made the whole performance and performers as clear as noonday.
This miniature theatre was constructed of portable frames, which could
be put up or taken down in half an hour, and was the ingenious invention
of the scene-painter's assistant. When it was removed, the only traces
of its former presence were two brass-headed spikes in the walls, from
which the side curtains depended.
These spikes imparted anguish to the mind of Mr. Slapman whenever he
gazed upon them. Mrs. S. had heard him say, that "some people would look
well hanging up there." By "some people," he was supposed to mean the
gentlemen who participated in her dramatic entertainments. Mrs. S. bore
the cruel remark meekly, merely replying that perhaps he had better try
the strength of the spikes first, by suspending himself from one
The audience, usually numbering about fifty, were seated in chairs,
which filled the parlor, with the exception of a space of ten feet in
front of the stage. A fair view of the entire proceedings could be had
from all but the two back rows of chairs, the occupants of which were
compelled to imagine the attachment of feet and ankles to the several
characters of the drama.
From the left wing of the stage a door opened into the hall, affording
communication by the staircase to the ladies' and gentlemen's dressing
rooms on the floor above. On the third floor (it was known to some of
the guests) was the private apartment of Mr. Slapman. A strong smell of
cigar smoke, as of one fumigating sullenly and furiously, was the
unvarying proof of his presence in the house. On this eventful night, he
had been seen, at an early hour, pacing up and down the hall of his
third floor, belching forth clouds of smoke, like Vesuvius just before a
People who were in the sad secret of Mrs. Slapman's household sorrows,
looked at each other and smiled, but said nothing; for it was a point of
good breeding not to allude to him in conversation. The newer guests,
unaware of the melancholy facts in the case, supposed that the restless
gentleman on the third floor was some one of Mrs. Slapman's eccentric
friends, working out an idea. Mrs. Slapman paid no attention to her
jealous spouse, imagining that he would smoke away his wrath quietly, as
usual, and not interfere with the evening's amusement. Hitherto, on
occasions, he had done nothing more disagreeable than to open the parlor
door furtively, cast one wild look inside, and then suddenly withdraw
his head, gently slamming the door after him.
The play of the evening was written "expressly for the occasion" by a
gentleman who had produced one melodrama at a Bowery theatre, and failed
to produce a large number of melodramas at all the theatres in Broadway.
Mrs. Slapman, a true patroness of genius, kindly permitted this
gentleman to prepare all her charades, and gratified him, on several
occasions by bringing out some of the minor plays from his stuffed
By eight o'clock all the chairs were filled, and the actors and
actresses were still lingering over their toilet. After waiting ten
minutes longer, and crossing and uncrossing their legs repeatedly, the
audience stamped and whistled very much in the manner of an impatient
crowd at a real theatre. Mrs. Slapman relished these little ebullitions
of natural feeling, because it made the illusion of her "Thespian
parlor" (as she called it) more complete.
At eight and a quarter o'clock, the orchestra, consisting of two flutes
and a violin, issued from behind the curtain, and seated itself before
some music stands ranged against the wall. The performers were amateurs
(two bookkeepers, and a cashier in private life), and could not have
been hired to play for any amount of money, though they were always
willing to favor a few friends. Mrs. Slapman humored them in this whim,
and they played regularly at her private theatricals.
After a few nods and facetious remarks to their friends in the audience
(familiarities from which a paid orchestra would have been totally cut
off), the musicians dashed into a new overture, composed by Signor
Mancussi, also "expressly for the occasion."
This musical composition had been rehearsed the week previous in the
presence of a select party of amateurs and critics, and had been
pronounced, by the sub-editor of a weekly paper, "remarkable for its
breadth and color." Under these circumstances, the overture was listened
to with much interest at first, which abated as the music progressed.
Touching the merits of "color" and "breadth" there might be some grounds
of doubt, but none whatever concerning its "length."
It lasted until twenty minutes of nine; and, toward the close, faint
scrapings of dissatisfaction were heard, which would have been more
audible had Signor Mancussi not been present. As the last twang of the
fiddle died on the air, M. Bartin was heard by several persons to say,
"Bah! a bad hash from Rossini and Auber." The remark was reported to
Signor Mancussi, and did not tend to enhance his friendly regards for
the other gentleman.
At eight and three quarters P.M. the curtain was rung up, and discovered
a rustic scene, in the midst of which Mrs. Slapman (Fidelia) was seated.
She was dressed in a white frock with low neck, and a flat hat, and was
trimmed out with red ribbons in all directions. She looked young and
pretty. Only an anxious knitting of her eyebrows revealed the cares and
troubles of intellect. Mrs. Slapman was applauded by a unanimous
clapping of hands. She was seated in a red-velvet rocking chair, at a
small but costly table, on which stood an expensive vase filled with
flowers. These properties, though few, were intended to signify
boundless affluence and luxury. Fidelia languidly waved a jewelled fan,
and sighed. "Will he never come?" said she.
She had hardly made this remark, when, by a singular coincidence,
Alberto (Overtop) entered from the left wing, and threw himself, with as
much grace as his tights would permit, at her feet. She emitted a small
shriek, and gave him her hand to kiss, which he did with ecstasy.
Alberto was habited like an Italian gentleman in good circumstances; and
no one would have suspected his poverty, if he had not commenced the
dialogue by an affecting allusion to his last _scudi_, which brought
tears to the eyes of the fair Fidelia.
Such trifling questions as lovers alone can ask and answer then passed
between them; and at last came the solemn interrogatory from the
kneeling Alberto: "And will you always love me, dearest?"
Fidelia turned her meek orbs toward the ceiling, raised her hand, said
"_Forever!_" and was about to add, "I swear," when Bidette (Miss Wick)
rushed upon the scene with the intelligence, "He comes."
"Who?" asked Alberto.
"My father!" shrieked Fidelia. "Go--that way." She pointed with her
small alabaster hand to the left wing.
Alberto vanished as per request, while Fidelia, with well-affected
calmness, commenced humming an opera air, and fanning herself. Bidette,
the favorite maid, pretended to readjust a flower in her mistress's
hair. These feminine artifices were to throw the coming father off
But the father (Mr. Johnsone, the junior of a small book-publishing
house) was sharp eyed, though he lacked spectacles. As he emerged from
the right wing, he caught a distinct view of a pair of soles
disappearing in the distance, and benignantly asked: "Who is that,
The child answered: "Only the postman, pa."
"Where is the letter?" he asked.
"Please, sir," interrupted Bidette, observing her mistress's confusion,
"there wasn't no letter. He mistook the house for another, sir."
The father nodded his head to express his complete satisfaction with
this explanation, and then told Bidette to leave the spot, as he had
something of the utmost importance to tell his daughter. Bidette pouted,
and withdrew, giving a bewitching shake of her striped calico dress, to
signify her hatred of brutal fathers. This touch of nature drew plaudits
from those among the audience who were but slightly acquainted with Miss
Wick. The others looked on with critical indifference.
The father took a chair, thrust out his legs like a reigning prince, and
proceeded, in a story of unnecessary length, to tell his daughter that
he owed one hundred and seventy thousand florins to Signor Rodicaso, and
would be a ruined man in forty-eight hours if that sum were not paid.
Life, in that event, would be simply insupportable. He had procured a
pistol to blow out his brains, but had subsequently concluded to make
one more effort to save himself. He would, therefore, appeal to his
daughter, _as_ a father, and ask her to marry Signor Rodicaso, and so
liquidate the debt, to-morrow. He did not wish to influence her
choice--far from it--but, if she did not consent, he should feel under
the painful necessity of shooting himself on the spot.
The father produced a pistol, and held it to his left ear.
Fidelia, looking like a marble statue of grief, said, in a low but
perfectly audible voice: "Stay! I will wed him." This was enunciated
with the calmness of despair. Not a gesture, nor a twinge of the
features, nor an accent to indicate emotion of any kind. It was in quiet
efforts like these that Mrs. Slapman excelled.
When the applause elicited by this stroke of genius had ceased, Mr.
Chickson (Signor Rodicaso) came rather awkwardly upon the stage. His
eyes (and, it might be added, his legs) rolled absently about, as if he
were endeavoring to recall his part, or were in the inward act of
composing a poem.
"Your future husband, Fidelia," said the father.
Fidelia rose from her seat--still imperturbable.
Chickson advanced with a sliding motion, and then paused, as if he had
forgotten what to do. Mrs. Slapman was heard to whisper something
(probably the cue), but he only rolled his eyes heavily in response. A
look of displeasure marred her serene features, and, instead of fainting
away in Signor Rodicaso's arms, as she should have done, she dropped
into the embrace of her father, taking that personage quite
unexpectedly, and nearly knocking him off his chair.
Chickson projected himself forward at the same time to catch her, and,
in so doing, lost his balance, and just escaped, by an effort, from
sprawling on the floor.
Then he looked helplessly at the audience; and there was no longer any
doubt entertained that Chickson was slightly intoxicated. Getting drunk,
now and then, was an infirmity of Chickson's genius.
The stage manager had the good sense to ring down the curtain on this
painful scene, and, the next moment, there was a dull sound, as of
somebody falling on the floor behind the green baize.
After an interval of fifteen minutes--protracted by the "unexpected
indisposition" of the poet, and the consequent necessity of intrusting
Signor Rodicaso to other hands--the curtain rises again, and discloses
Alberto in a humble cot, surrounded by three-legged stools, and other
evidences of extreme poverty. He is seated on a rickety table (in
preference to the greater uncertainty of the stools), his arms are
folded, and his head droops upon his breast.
In this attitude, he begins to soliloquize, and informs the audience
(what they did not know before) that, from a clump of shrubbery, he had
seen fully as much as they of the preceding scene. He does not blame
Fidelia. Oh! no. In her cruel dilemma, she could do no less. But he
curses--and curses again--and continues to curse for some time--that
Fate which deprives him of the "paltry means" (one hundred and seventy
thousand florins) to buy off the "heartless monster" (Rodicaso). Having
wreaked himself upon Destiny to his own satisfaction, he suddenly
remembers that he has not eaten anything for thirty-six hours. He feels
in all his pockets successively, but finds nothing. He then draws from
his bosom a portrait of his father, set with antique gems. He gazes upon
it reverently, kisses it, and says: "Shall I part with this sacred
memento for vulgar bread? Never! Let me die!" He restores the portrait
to his bosom, folds his arms again, inclines his head, and shuts his
eyes, as if preparing to expire comfortably.
All this time, a fat red face, belonging to a corpulent body, has been
watching the depressed lover from the right wing. As Alberto utters the
last sad ejaculation, a thick hand attached to a short arm raises a
kerchief to a pair of small eyes in this fat red face, and wipes them.
Then the stout gentleman reflects a moment, nods his head approvingly,
draws forth a wallet, opens it slowly, takes out some paper that rustles
like bank notes, produces a memorandum book, writes a few lines on one
of the leaves hastily with a pencil, tears out the leaf, encloses the
leaf and the bank notes in an envelope, emerges with his entire figure
into the full light of the stage, walks stealthily toward Alberto with a
pair of creaking shoes that would have waked the soundest sleeper,
places the note on the table by his side, raises his hands to heaven,
murmuring, "God bless the boy!" and retires in the same feline but
This mysterious visitor was Bignolio (Matthew Maltboy), a rich money
lender, uncle of Alberto, and commonly reported to be the "tightest old
skinflint in Venice."
After a pause, scarcely long enough to allow his uncle's heavy footsteps
to die away in the distance, Alberto came out of his revery. His first
act was to look at the ceiling, then at the floor, then all about
him--everywhere but at the note on the table. At last, when nothing else
remained to be scrutinized, his eyes naturally fell upon this valuable
"What is this?" he asked. Then he answered his own question by opening
the letter, and reading it, as follows:
Venice, Oct. 16,----.
I have watched you, and know all. You are indeed the son of
your father, and, I am proud to add, the nephew of your
uncle. Enclosed are sixty thousand florins. Go to Jinkerini
Bros., on the Rialto, and buy up judgments that they hold
against Rodicaso for three times that amount, and offset them
against old Corpetto's debts. Rodicaso conceals his property
so well, that none has ever been found to satisfy these
judgments. Drive a sharp bargain, and show yourself a chip of
the old block. Keep the balance for your wedding gift.
Farewell--till we meet again.
"Dear, dear uncle!" exclaimed Alberto, carefully buttoning up his pocket
over the funds, and kissing the letter in transports of joy. "And only
yesterday he would not lend me a _scudi_ to get my dinner. Generous man!
how have I wronged him! Now, Fate, I will floor thee and Rodicaso
[Exit Alberto, rapidly, by shortest land route to the Rialto.]
Overtop's acting, throughout this difficult scene, was of a superior
order. Nothing could be more natural, for instance, than the buttoning
up of his pocket over his uncle's gift. But neither that, nor the other
strong point, where he exulted in the finest tragedy tones over the
anticipated downfall of Fate and Rodicaso, produced the slightest
sensation among his hearers. Matthew Maltboy paid the penalty of his
intimate relations with Overtop, by an equal unpopularity. His fine
rendition of the character of Bignolio might as well have been played to
a select company of gravestones.
There was a necessary interval of twenty minutes for the fitting out of
the stage--during which time the amateur orchestra performed selections
from "Semiramide," but, happily, not loud enough to interfere with the
easy flow of conversation all over the room. The second flutist, while
looking over his shoulder angrily at the garrulous audience, executed a
false note, which almost threw the first (and only) violinist into fits.
In turning round to rebuke the errant performer, the violinist struck
his elbow against a similar projection of the other flutist, and knocked
a false note out of that gentleman too, besides momentarily ruffling his
temper. This little episode diffused unhappiness over the entire music.
The spectators had been told that there were imposing stage effects in
the second and last act; and they were not disappointed. The entire
front was filled with furniture, real mahogany and brocade, leaving
barely room for human beings to walk about. The background was a
perspective of pillars, conveying the idea of unlimited saloons, all
opening into each other. Three Bohemian vases, filled with natural
flowers, were placed on pedestals in places where they would be least in
the way, if it were possible to make such a discrimination. But the
great feature of the scene was a magnificent paper chandelier of nine
candles, which hung from the centre of the framework, and made every
spectator, while he admired, tremble with fear that it would set the
house on fire.
At a small table in front, covered by a rich cloth, sat the heroine,
dressed in a gorgeousness of apparel that mocked her misery. Beneath the
gems that studded her bosom, there was supposed to be unappeasable
wretchedness; and the white brow, covered with a spangled wreath, was
presumed to ache with mental agony. She was pale and beautiful. Murmurs
of applause ran round the apartment.
By her side was the faithful Bidette, armed with a bottle of salts. She
bent affectionately over her mistress, and asked if she wanted anything.
"Nothing, my child--but death," was the thrilling reply.
Bidette was taken somewhat aback. She made a respectful pause. Then she
"But, my dear mistress, though you do not love Signor Rodicaso--"
"In Heaven's name, stop, child! You are piercing my heart with a hot
iron. Name not love to me. Henceforth I erase it from the tablets of my
brain. Now go on" (with tranquil despair).
"I was about to say, dear mistress, please, that Signor Rodicaso has a
splendid town house, and a beautiful country seat (they say), and
thousands of acres of land, which will all be yours--"
The eloquent grief of her mistress's face checked the maid.
"Bidette," she said, "I shall want but a small portion of all his
"What do you mean, dear mistress?" asked the frightened maid.
"Only enough for--a grave," was the harrowing reply.
This dreary dialogue was here interrupted by the appearance of the
father in tights, knee buckles, velvet coat, ruffles, a powdered wig,
and a general air of having been got up for a great occasion. He
carefully picked his way through the furniture to his daughter, and
kissed her on the forehead.
"Are you happy, my dear daughter?" he asked.
"Happy? Oh! yes, father, I am _so_ happy! See how I smile." So saying,
she made a feeble attempt to smile, which was a most artistic failure,
and brought out another tribute of applause.
The father, not detecting the sad irony of the smile, replied:
"It is indeed fortunate that you are enabled not only to achieve your
own happiness by this marriage, but also to redeem what is dearer to me
than all else in this world--my mercantile credit. But here they come."
"Here they come," was the cue which was to bring in Signor Rodicaso and
party; but the Signor was momentarily delayed by the giving way of two
buttons in his doublet. When he had repaired damages with pins as well
as he could, he emerged into view, accompanied by a notary and a pair of
friendly witnesses. The Signor, this time, proved to be the author of
the play, who had kindly consented, at five minutes' notice, to take the
part in which the hapless Chickson had broken down. Stealing behind, in
the shadow of the others, was distinctly seen (by all except the people
on the stage) the burly form of Uncle Bignolio.
To satisfy the conventional idea of dramatic concealment, his left leg
was plunged in obscurity behind the scenes, while the rest of his figure
stood out in bold relief. He was observed, by those who watched him
narrowly, to send a pleasant wink and nod to Bidette, who responded with
a scarcely perceptible pout.
On the entrance of Signor Rodicaso and friends, Fidelia rose, turned
toward them, and made a profound courtesy, as if to signify her abject
submission. Signor Rodicaso bowed with equal profundity, and straightway
proceeded to make a speech to the lady, in which he spoke of the wild
idolatry that he had long felt for her, and alluded most disparagingly
to his own merits. If the Signor's statements could be relied on, he was
totally unworthy of an alliance with the beautiful Fidelia; in fact, was
a "dog who would be proud only but to bask in the sunshine of
This singular address, extending over "one length," or forty-five lines,
excited little less astonishment on the stage than in the audience. For
it was not set down in the acting copy, but had been improvised by the
author, to better the part of the Signor, which, as originally written,
was destitute of Long and effective orations.
Fidelia smiled, and could only reply to this unpremeditated effusion by
several modest inclinations of the head. The other actors and actress
turned aside to conceal their grins. Uncle Bignolio alone fulfilled the
requirements of his part, by casting Mephistophelean leers at the
Signor, and now and then stealthily shaking his fists at him.
The father, not being apt at off-hand oratory, did not attempt any
response to this speech, but merely bowed, to express his perfect
agreement in everything that had been said, and waved his hand toward a
table in the rear of the stage, as if to say, "Let us proceed to
The notary, taking the hint, seated himself at the table, opened his
black bag, drew forth a document from it, and spread it out. Then he
dipped a pen into an inkstand, and said:
"We now await the signing of the contract of marriage between Signor
Alessandro Arturo Rodicaso, gentleman, and Signorina Giulia Innocenza
Fidelia Corpetto, only daughter of Signor Francesco Corpetto, merchant."
In the absence of any definite information on the Venetian formula
adopted in such cases, the author had selected this style of
announcement as being sufficiently stiff and imposing.
Signor Rodicaso sprang forward with joyful alacrity to sign the
contract, dashing off his name in two strokes, as is the invariable
custom on the stage.
The climax of the drama had now arrived, and everybody stood aside for
the wretched Fidelia. Mrs. Slapman proved equal to the great occasion.
Directing one look to heaven, as if for strength, and pressing a hand
over the jewelled bodice which covered her bursting heart, she walked
with firm steps toward the fatal table. Never in her life had she been
more grandly simple. It was sublime!
As Fidelia came up to the little table, she faltered, and leaned upon it
to support herself; then, with a nervous motion, grasped the pen.
Several times she dipped the pen in the empty inkstand, and each time
her face assumed a look of more settled anguish. Then, bracing all her
nerves for the decisive act of woman's life, she put down the pen
boldly on the paper, and made one up stroke. Before she could make the
other down stroke which was necessary to complete her signature, a wild
figure, with hair dishevelled, and other evidences of hasty purpose,
burst upon the stage.
Fidelia paused; all stood back; and gentlemen who had swords laid hands
"Who is this?" asked the Father, with mercantile calmness.
"Who dares thus break in upon my happiness?" inquired Signor Rodicaso.
"Know you not, young man, that you are committing a breach of the
peace?" remarked the notary, regarding the intrusion with the eye of
The wild figure answered them all at once: "I am Alberto, and I come to
rend this impious contract--thus--thus--thus!" (snatching the parchment
from the table, tearing it to pieces, and trampling on it).
Fidelia, astonished at the turn events were taking, leaned back in her
chair, and looked on silently. Her time for fainting had not yet come.
"Draw and defend yourself, caitiff!" exclaimed Signor Rodicaso,
brandishing his sword.
"Anywhere but in the presence of a lady," was the sarcastic reply.
"Besides, I have claims on you, which, perhaps may teach you to
"Claims! Thou liest! What claims?"
"These! Hast seen them before? Ha! ha!" shouted Alberto, shaking a
bundle of papers in the face of his rival.
"Allow me to examine them, if you please?" asked Signor Rodicaso, with
"No, you don't," was the response. "But I'll tell you what they are.
They are judgments to the extent of one hundred and seventy thousand
florins--dost hear? one hundred and seventy thousand florins--against
you, which I have bought for less than quarter price from Jinkerini
Bros, No. 124 Rialto. With them I offset the sum which this unhappy but
excellent merchant" (pointing to the father) "owes you. Here, sir; now
you are released from yon monster's clutches." (Hands package of
judgments to the father, who, overpowered by the scene, takes and holds
them in dumb amazement.)
An expression of silent joy begins to steal over the face of Fidelia.
But her time for fainting had not yet come!
"Boy!" said Signor Rodicaso, with a composure that was perfectly
wonderful, "there is another hand than thine in all this work. Thou art
but the poor tool and I despise thee!"
"Here is the hand!" exclaimed the uncle Bignolio, drawing out his leg
from its seclusion, and bringing his whole body into full view. "Dost
know it?" He held up his right hand, to carry out the idea of
"It is the hand of Bignolio the usurer," said Signor Rodicaso,
despondingly, seeing now that the game was clearly against him.
"Bignolio the usurer!" exclaimed the father, still wrapped in amazement.
"Bignolio the usurer!" murmured Fidelia, whose woman's wit divined the
mystery of his appearance. But her time to faint had not _yet_ come.
"Bignolio the usurer!" cried the notary, witnesses, and Bidette in
"Yes," returned that gentleman; "Bignolio the _usurer,_ who now is proud
to claim the dearer title of 'own uncle' to his nephew Alberto. That
nephew he this day receives into his partnership, and proclaims his only
heir. Come to my arms, adopted son!"
Alberto flew to his uncle, and was silently embraced. Even at this
moment, sacred to the interchange of the noblest affections, several
persons in the audience distinctly saw the uncle's left eye wink over
Alberto's shoulder to Bidette, who responded to the unwelcome
familiarity, this time, with an indignant frown.