The Bird of Paradise
Chapter XXV. The Pine-Forests of the Sabine River. Rattle-Snakes, Roebucks, Peaches
Chapter XXV. The Pine-Forests of the Sabine River. Rattle-Snakes, Roebucks, Peaches.
Towards the end of the summer season for forty years, the Paradise vineyard, the Montpelier and the St. Quentin vineyards foremost, portions of the soil of the Sabine River district were redolent with the fruit of the vine and the fragrance of unmanufactured tobacco. Upon an undulating and hilly country which, its pioneers maintained was a perfect counterpart and replica picture of Spain—the native land of many of the contemporary settlers—spread itself out one far-reaching, waving, emerald sward of rose-flowering tobacco herbs and green grape-vines. The sweet-water, the Sauvignon, the chasselas, the muscatel, and the black prince found a befitting soil in the vicinity of the little town: while the raspberry vied with the grape in its profusion, in the deep, red earth skirting the vine-clad areas, and farther out in their season the slaves were busy in the black-dotted cotton fields.
The Bacchanalia of the Sabine River, celebrated by a great public banquet and affording employment to large numbers of the unemployed about the city, was inaugurated by the festive god shortly after the arrival of Eugene. Boys—big boys and little boys, boys with boots and boys without boots, boys like Glue-pot Ike with sticky fingers and raptorial propensities, good boys and boys with shang-hais1 — all flocked to the festival on boot or on foot from the congested metropolis to participate in the work of grape-gathering. The slave labour was confined to the cotton fields. Waggons laden with the raw cotton page 177poured into the town every day from morn till dewy eve on their creaking way to the railway station; while grapes found their way to the great public battery, the dozen stamp-heads of the hydraulic rammed wine-press or grape-compressor. The heat of the air most oppressive, the thermometer at 120° Fahrenheit in the shade, was tempered only by the appearance of the far-stretching acres under tobacco and vines, and the light fragrance of the balmy vineyards; it was moderated by the whispering shade of the pine-trees and peach-trees in full bloom.
"Fred," he called out to the groom, "get the buggy ready to go towards the head of the river to-day to Prince's orchard." In half an hour the new pair which he had bought since he came to Bendemeer (five horses being there in constant work or standing in the stable, while one sufficed in Galveston) being ready, getting into the buggy they drove out of the township on a visit to a patient at a distance of twenty-nine miles.
"Pull up the hood, Fred," he said; "it's roasting hot to-day, and let them go steadily; we can't get back before night." On they trotted at a moderate pace past Grassmere, a little hamlet three miles out; past Daisy Hill and Noonoon, all the road the dragon-flies alighting upon them unawares and stinging their faces like bees and—whew! round and round came in riotous gambols the whirlwind-borne red dust making sport of the whole turn-out as they drove along the main Colorado road.
"Pull up, Fred: the whip! the whip! quick, lively," said the doctor, as the dreaded rattle-snake (crotalus durissus) lay disabled at the side of the road. Up the little bank to the path the sleeky serpent could not clamber: one of the pair had put his foot on him, contrary to the laws of the nature of snakes, and there he wriggled, surly at his awkward fix, with his head in beauty raised and his gleaming eyes and his venomous fangs protruding. Swish, swish, and the vicious and varnished and sleeky serpent, with his head in beauty raised and his gleaming eyes and venomous fangs protruding, dropped his lower jaw and resigned the following evening. Five miles more, and three more followed in the wake of the one with the gleaming eyes and venomous fangs protruding, while Eugene regretted that Guinevere was not there to discourse science in the hot-bed of natural history, as he rubbed little purple mounds and pyramids on his hands, the work of the bronze-winged stinging dragon-flies with the frowsy hum and the shrill tenor voice, up-borne on the bosom of the whirlwind, and killed the convincing proofs that he was on the paradise threshold.
"Only another three miles to the orchard," said the doctor: "just look at those pines over the creek. I never saw such trees in my life," as they came to a little bridge, spanning the Mayflower creek. There, arrayed in all their cool green glory stood a nation of the great ornamental pines of the Southern States, casting their umbrageous demarcations over an earthy disc three miles in diameter, spreading out their gigantic, green, feathery fronds to kiss and overlap one another: towering in verdant emulation over each other, the green kings defending their green tribes from the day-page 178god enemy and forming meandering labyrinthine avenues for the drive to Prince's orchard; sheltering from the tropical sun the lesser varieties of their order, from the dark-green foliage of the young araucarias to the delicately-toned and exquisite plumes of the pinus canariensis. Rippling about their scaly trunks trickled a tiny brooklet, prattling in childish simplicity and vivacity, "dancing its wayward round,"2 and hurrying along with captive chips of bark and withered leaves to tumble them into the Mayflower creek.
"Jerusalem! wild horses," shouted Frederick, but Brick Bore ought to have been there: "about a hundred—just look at 'em taking that hill," as a large mob of the Indian mustangs by leaps and bounds fell back in the trackless fastnesses of the mountain side.
"Oh! lord!" (Brick Bore in great request); "Deer! some's got 'orns and some aint. Whoa there: whoa, whoa!" as the pair prepared for a bolt, and there resounded through the solitudes of the swaying pines, piercing, spreading, echoing and swelling into echoes again through the forest the sharp loud report of a Snider rifle, and one of the field fell with a muffled thud on the grass, while the others came closer to the buggy and took up their quarters with a herd of browsing polled-Angus cattle. With his ponderous antlers thrown back, he called upon the stragglers to forsake their death-stricken mate and to fly for their lives to the higher regions of the mountain peak. In the twinkling of an eye the fleet-footed roebucks and red-deer had vanished: when not having learnt to pity the flocks that roam the valleys free, a beastly man emerged from the side of the gorge, and having previously condemned one of the flock that roamed the primeval forests free to slaughter, he proceeded to chop off its head with a clasp knife, while the buggy proceeded on its way to Prince's orchard.
It was only another mile, and as the doctor got out of the buggy there advanced a man with a terrified look and a face as white as a sheet.
"She's very bad doctor; I'm afraid it's too late," he said as Eugene followed him into the mia-mia.3
The little reed-hut was a veritable Canaan of peaches: peaches stacked on the table, peaches in boxes stacked on the floor, peaches on the cupboard, peaches in the cupboard; peaches on the sofa, on the hobs of the fireplace, and peaches rolling about the floor—peaches, peaches everywhere: slipstone peaches, clingstone peaches, roseate, blushing, rich ripe peaches, fresh from the trees in the orchard. In the partitioned bedroom, as he entered, peaches blooming full and tight as gooseberries on the clothes-box, in the clothes-basket, on the window sill, on the floor under the bed—and upon the bed a moaning woman, whose exsanguine face portrayed the flow of flooding blood, as it filled an iron pail in the room and formed river beds upon the floor among the peaches. Two sick children sat up affrighted, their eyes as big as saucers staring at the intruding doctor, and as they rubbed them with their dirty little fists they called for their mother and their picture-book. page 179At the side of the doomed woman lay, lustily yelling out its little spongy lungs, a scarlet-skinned baby attached by emptied bloodvessels to its mother.
"She had a fit before the baby was born, sir," said the man: I couldn't get near the neighbours on account of the fire."
"Throw up the window," gasped the spasmodic sufferer: "I can't breathe here, it's so close," notwithstanding the fact that the door and window were open and there was abundant cross-draught ventilation from the pure mountain breezes in the draughty hut.
"It's too late for me to do anything," said the doctor; "that is a common cry of a woman after losing so much blood." She heaved one long desperate gasp for air, her uplifted arms fell at her side, her glassy eyes closed, and she sank with a shudder in death.
"Mary, my poor wife; my poor wife, my Mary," he threw his strong arms around her and cried bitterly; while Eugene took up the wondering little waifs and carried them out of the room. "My Mary in Heaven."
What a blow to that lonesome peach-grower, the death of his hardworking mate, stolen away in the midst of his harvest by the Almighty ruler over all; cut down before the gaze of his babbling children and severed for ever from the forsaken and helpless babe. No neighbourly hand to relieve him of some of his burthen—not one of his own old enough to run a message! For years he struggled with them, buying and mending their clothes with his own hands, teaching them himself in his own untaught way, forming out of them a little school on Sundays; well he reared and trained them in the paths of virtue and holiness. Ten years therefrom his little girl filled her mother's place. Condoling with the stricken man for an hour or so, he returned to the buggy, which the man filled with cases of peaches. He shook hands with the father of the two little girls and his horses' heads were turned for home.
"Keep on the same side of the creek." said the peach-grower. "the fire is coming down the other way; it's only about half a mile from the bridge new."
The prairie across the Sabine River was on fire. Passing through the avenues of pines they again crossed the bridge over the Mayflower creek, when through the moaning forest, droning with the blast of a thousand bagpipes, could be heard the crackling flames of the prairie fire, and now and then a far-sounding crash as a pine-tree fell to the ground. Crashing through the others and carrying them down before him, a massive king of the forest fell with the shock of a thunderbolt across the road, a stone's-throw from the horses.
"Hold them! Fred; hold them, or they'll see that fire and go mad," he cried, as the great pine-tree laid open through the others which it had brought down a wide vista of smoke and flame. Alive, leaping and dancing in its mad tumult, the fire came upon them, cutting and sweeping its way through the wilderness.
"Right about, Fred, and we'll get back to the green avenues," said the page 180doctor, and round the frightened blood-horses came, catching a glimpse of the flames as they turned and snorting and sniffing at the smoke. With one simultaneous snort, those spirited steeds lifted that buggy almost bodily off the ground, and bounding together into the air they flew away with it in the direction of the pine-avenues and the Mayflower creek. Nearer and nearer crackled and roared the flames among the dead pines; faster and faster fell the trees in the great prairie fire of America; louder and more boisterous howled the east wind, driving the terrified horses almost out of their senses.
"Let them go, Fred, over the bridge," said the doctor, and the stamp of their hoofs on the little, wooden structure chimed in with the empty roar of the fire. No barricade on one side of the low bridge, and into the creek plunged the horses, where they halted, while the buggy and its occupants were left on the bridge. Taking the reins from the groom, he cracked the whip over their heads and called upon Pearly and Vallie to go; they dragged the buggy into the creek and pulled it across to the opposite bank. Straight for the pine-tree shades he drove, where he stood with the groom holding the heads of the quivering horses and speaking to them, while the prairie fire blistered their faces and raged with the furies of Inferno. Now and then a burning branch would fall on the backs of the horses, but quickly the groom knocked them off, and spreading over them the rug he took out his pipe and smoked. With its hoarse, stentorian throat roaring, rattling, the raking, roving prairie flames laid every dry monarch in the fastness low; but luckily for the doctor and his equipage no tree fell within the pine-avenue areas, though the thudding trees around sounded like the volleys of a feu-de-joie4. Hares, white rabbits, racoons, bandicoots, squirrels, badgers and coons fled in terror from the thickets and overgrown scrub to the creek, and many gaudy-skinned copper-headed snakes and rattlesnakes were seen climbing the pine-trees. Enormous cones and pyramids of fire vied with each other in attaining stupendous heights, and from their aërial craters vomited forth the black smoke and charred ashes, wind-borne across the vast wilderness to fall and enshroud like a pall the town.
For two hours they had been standing in the pine-tree hermitage, and beyond the scorching of the outer boundaries not a trunk of the enclosure had been touched by the flames. Soon all danger from the fire and the horses had passed away, when they seated themselves again in the buggy and cautiously drove upon an improvised track homewards. Charred and burning trunks of pine-trees stood like spectres and beacons in the darkening night, the higher parts of the thick, mutilated boughs winking and blinking at the fallen light breezes, and shooting their shining red-hot gems into the night air, as the horses jumped a prostrate tree here and there, bumping against it the wheels of the buggy travelling home. Not an extraneous sound but the night-calls of the scared and sequestered fallow deer, and that sound that always took back Eugene's recollection to the night when old Adam raised the bones of the dead from the grave by the page 181cockspur of the Colorado ranges—the weird screech of the lonesome wild goose—wa-wa—in the deepening dark.
"Safe home at last," said the doctor, as he got out of the buggy and rang the door-bell of Bendemeer, while the groom took out the overwrought horses and bedded them down in the stable for the night.
"There's a letter for you." said the housekeeper, a repulsive-looking old woman with scattered fangs in her mouth, as she held it open like a jaw-dropping dog, and went to bring the letter for him. Martha Wax's husband, supposed to be blind, called every night and carried away every night a large bundle of necessaries for their own establishment in a pillowslip, while the old dame herself carried home her heart afloat in a stomach-full of whisky.
"Came to-day," she said with a glorious smile, as she handed it over. It was from Marvel, and said —"Dear Doctor,—Send me a hundred dollars at once. You can come for us next week.—Yours, etc., Marvel I. Whitworth." The bell rang, and upon the half-muddled dame with the jaw-drop and the doggy teeth opening the door, could be heard before he was seen (by the holy poker he could) the great investor of other people's capital.
"Halloa, my boy, how are you?" he sang out with an air of breezy familiarity and a few introductory double-barrelled oaths, laughing all over his face and throwing his hat into the air—give us your hand (hand nearly wrenched off). "By the lord Harry, the old man is ropable mad. He's in it. I'm right—everything in my wife's name. He's properly in it. He's wrong—nothing in his wife's name. Downright glorious swindle. Vernon Jay a drunken old blatherskite—drunk all the time he was with us on the field. Told the old man that he got the specimens from the mine. By the lord Harry, no tin there! The old man swears he'll never touch another Company in his life. Plenty paper—no tin—no money except the old man's to pay incurred expenses. By the holy father, I won't lose a blooming cent—everything in my wife's name. Julian Jasper Gould, old man, plank down your hundred thousand. By the holy poker, it's a grand bit of fun—grand fun, by the saints in hell it's grand—grand," rubbing his hands together and taking a seat beside Whitworth.
"Has the company been formed," inquired Eugene.
"Formed!" exclaimed the jubilant Brick Bore: "why, it was formed three months ago, and the blooming asses ordered a plant to cost a hundred thousand. By Heavens, they got it fixed up a bit out of Diamantino in the West of Brazil in the wrong spot, and strike me blind there was not a speck of ore to be seen. I'll spike their guns—everything in my wife's name—my wife's name. Jumping Jehosaphat! I spiked their guns—all in my wife's name."
For fully three hours he sat, explaining the inns and outs of the floating of the Great Leviathan Antediluvian Diamantino Tin-Mine, characterising it as a swindle and bubble—how that it rivalled in historical importance the South Sea Bubble; how that it had ruined thousands of shareholders, page 182of which, indeed, the doctor was one, though not a ruined one; crippled the farmers and the vignerons of Sabinnia, whom he traversed as a blooming set of fat-heads and donkeys; and how it had even besmirched the good and theretofore unwhispered-against name of the great and mighty patron himself. Brick Bore maintained that they had all been put on the wrong scent by Jay, and that there was tin in the vicinity.
For forty years Julian Jasper Gould had bored into the womb of the earth for coal. For years he was one of the most prominent promoters of mining companies, and for more than half his life-time—thirty-five years in Wales and five years in the Alleghanies of America—he was the sole representative to stand his ground when company after company had vanished into thin air. For legitimate and straight-forward mining he had never slackened one screw of his indomitable courage, and had drilled holes for leagues through rocks that required an adamantine heart to face them. To trickery, chicanery, fraud, and swindling, the name of Julian Jasper Gould was never, unless unwittingly, loaned. Never a whisper had been heard from even his enemies that he was dishonest or roguish in any of his many transactions. Now, after withstanding the voices of the tempters at the usurious exchanges for forty years his good name was tarnished and blackened with the tar-brush of his old obtuse and hood-winked manager. For months after the collapse of the colossal tin-mining company, the solicitors for the company and the solicitors for the vendors of the plant kept the old man waiting for hours in their offices, knowing that they had him in their clutches and need not trouble to chase after him. They ruthlessly held him for months in suspense while a threatened lawsuit for payment and an exposure of the whole swindle was hanging over his head, to (as they called it) let him off lightly after six months worry and torment that helped to drag him to his grave by accepting the consideration of ninety thousand dollars.
"Catchpole cleared out," continued the sweet-toned, the pure-souled, the unoffending adventurer: "cleared out to Callao; Toynbee hasn't got a bean; Brick Bore hasn't got a bean either—everything in his wife's name. By the lord Harry, look you here, doctor, you should have seen that belltopper when he came up to the old man in the street after the exposure was disclosed in the New York Herald: strike me blind, the old man knocked it spinning in the gutter; followed him into the Old Angel hotel and knocked him sprawling three times in the passage. The crowning beauty of the whole affair is to see the old woman trotting and traipsing about all over the highways, the alleys and the bye-ways, looking for the old rover. She followed him, only last night, in the dark and saw him meet the dashing young party, and drive away with her to the suburban domicile right before the old geyser's eyes. It's the fun of the world, by Heavens—by Jehosaphat, it's the fun of the world; and he's got that suburban villa called Don Juan House—yes, by the lord Harry, Don Juan House. Come up to-morrow night and hear a little more," he said, preparing to go; "I'm page 183going to the city in the morning and will be back by last train at night. Oh! by the way, when is she coming down? I didn't ask the old man—forgot all about her," and the doctor replied that he was not sure when, but thought probably next week.
"Look you here," he said, tapping the doctor on the shoulder with a hunting-crop: "You let her sweat where she is; she'll come soon enough and very glad to come some day. By the lord Harry, I would no more bother my brains over a thing like her than I would over black Julia; I know those Goulds—they're a queer, cunning lot. I'd spike their guns, every one of them. She would trouble over you, unless she wanted something, as much as I would over that black nigger. I know the greedy, selfish crew, and every one of the tribe. Put money in thy purse, my boy, and let the Goulds go to hell—I'd spike their guns. Here's luck again," and down went half a tumblerful raw: "come up to-morrow night and hear the play—I'll give you all the news from the city."
"I would rather not go," said the doctor, "than go to hear my wife maligned. Toujours," as turning on his heel he shut the door, and the wondrous adventurer hied him home.
During the time the macrophonic Brick Bore was engaged pouring his microcosmic tirade into the ears of the doctor, and during the time he occupied riding to his aerial castle the big black horse which the Salomon islander had been holding for three hours outside the gate, the busy little gas-engine of the "Sabinnia Standard" puffed away at fifteen-second intervals, and up till midnight it kept up the puffing and spitting out of newspapers every fifteen seconds till it was utterly exhausted from want of its gaseous breath. The gas supply had been shut off from the gasometer. Next morning the bi-weekly newspaper was quickly snapped up and its contents greedily devoured by the inhabitants, as if each copy were a last will and testament and every buyer's name was mentioned in its columns. Copied from the city papers—because the most useful factors to the success of the "Sabinnia Standard" and the office in general were held by the entire staff to be a sharp pair of scissors and a pot of paste—the great mining bubble was disclosed. The great swindle was laid bare—the history of Brick Bore's flagitious5coup d'état6 was published in full detail. The dismal outlook for the shareholders was painted in terms as black as pitch, and the columns surrounded by deep black borders.
As far as the vignerons and tobacco-planters were concerned, they laid the whole mischief at the door of the Chocolate Hill castle. Some of them contemplated an attack on the castle, and Brick Bore himself prepared for even another sortie on the village. His enemies were, however, scared by the colour of his skin, tanned by years of wandering in Polynesia, and by his huge and ferocious moustache and the determined Vandyck beard he wore7. They would have fared as well in the jaws of the Numidian lion8, for he was a bold, herculean, and masterful man, utterly devoid of fear even under the most desperate circumstances. He had had many hairbreadth escapes, and had passed through the deadliest perils page 184save battle and murder and sudden death, and was not a man to be backward at using his derringer if occasion required. Brick Bore for months had his hand against every man in that village, and every man in that village bad his hand against Brick Bore. The ruthless adventurer alone they knew in the matter, and he had sold them scrip that he alone knew was not worth the paper on which it was printed. They talked about lynching Brick Bore. The revolutionary article forcibly provoked an assault upon the castle, and a general melée was only prevented by the timely judgment of the police, who had placards printed and posted about the town proclaiming that it was only a rúse on the part of the original promoters to bring the shares down in the market and buy them back at a low price themselves. Bogus telegrams were received purporting that ever since its christening-day the mine was looking well; that a meeting of the directors was taking place that very afternoon; that the alarm was entirely without foundation, and that the scrip-holders might return to their homes and occupations without fear.
Brick Bore knew better. Dreading an inroad of bailiffs—whom, however, he had often before entertained in really handsome style in the princely castle—he had not wasted a minute of the few days subsequent to his visit to the doctor. The visit had taken place on the Monday night, and on the Thursday morning Eugene rode up to the castle to ascertain further particulars from the master, surmising that he had met the prostrated coal-king a couple of days before, and probably since. When the cannabalistic Julia had opened the big front door he entered. Not a stick of furniture could be seen in the place. The linoleums had been ripped up from the passage floors; the carpets from every room. Nothing remained but the bare walls, with chips of plaister broken away in the hurried removal of pictures, and wisps of loose straw lay here and there on the floors. All the household Lares9 had taken their departure.
"Come up to the tower, Whitworth," he shouted. "You'll see what I've done—you'll see what this son of a gun has done, what Brick Bore has done in spite of the old Hebrew Jew up here in the tower; by the lord Harry I spiked their guns, and I spiked Mosey's guns too—Mosey's guns too—poor old Mosey Moss."
Climbing the narrow spiral staircase and pushing up the trap-door as he stood on the step-ladder on the second floor he pushed up another trap-door and emerged from below upon the leaden floor of the tower, to survey the vast expanse of land, mountain range, and ocean, and noticed a fat, porky, greasy little Jew, his hands holding his knees together as he squatted on the leaden floor in the corner.
"All I vath got for my golden moneyth," he said with a first-prize oleaginous sneer all over his flabby face, "vath a thong on that blathted banjo and a drink of dat damned two-year old vineth out of that dirty bridle mit der neck broke; by Himmel s'help me, it's a nithe buthneth!"
"Never mind, old man—did you ever hear this?" and the strange man whistled to the accompaniment of the banjo as he too squatted on the lead page 185in the next corner. He whistled in notes as clear as the song of the nightingale without moving his lips, which he held tight together, and without emitting the air through his mouth. He had a little hole in the column of his nose, and another little whistling hole in the roof of his mouth. Allegrato he sang in tuneful melody with the banjo and the grace of a Tyrolese troubadour, "I'm selling up me 'appy 'ome, I'm parting with the dear old sticks." He vocalised his intention of cutting the two legs with a saw off his mother-in-law, and many others he sweetly warbled into the greasy ears of the lamenting, sour-visaged Moses Moss, while the doctor sat smiling in the corner at the winks and pantomimic performances of the self-possessed and victorious Brick Bore putting cowrie shells into his eyes and taking them out of his mouth.
"By the holy poker, you're not the only one, Mosey—think of that." he suddenly reflected—"here's a nice little blister to send a man:—'Brick Bore, Esq., bought of Mrs. Maguffin—drinks, five hundred and fifty-five dollars five cents,'" sticking the bill under the nose of the Jew with the force of a catapult.
"Vell, Mithter Brick Bore," said the unbeliever, "You vath a von damned scoundrel. I vil go avay midoud dot sheck to get you oud of my thight," as he left the proscenium of the stage and disappeared like an elf in the Midsummer Night's Dream through the flapping tower trap-door. Down the ladder and down the spiral staircase he fretted his fat, and with a few farewell woe-begone looks at the rooms he said "tit-tit-tit" with the tip of his tongue and his teeth and quietly and mournfully he waddled slowly away through the trees, while Brick Bore declared he was like the Peri at the gate of Paradithe without the drop of blood but with the sigh and the tear.10
"You see, doctor," said the callous-hearted man with the whistling hole in the roof of his mouth. "I sold my wife's aunt the sticks for a sort of release from a trifle I owed her—everything in my wife's name. Have a taste out of that bottle—never see any more of that. Holy smoke, by the angels of heaven!—five hundred and fifty-five dollars five cents for drinks! Never mind, Mrs. Maguffin—everything in my wife's name. I'm safe as houses," as he strummed his thumb over the banjo again, and put it down, saying—"I say, old man, awfully sorry for saying anything about the Missus—never mind—never saw the old man, but I'm going in to-day again."
"I'm going in too," said the doctor: "there's the train at the next station—hurry up, and we'll catch her"—when banjo and all, except the dead marine with the head knocked off, hurried away from the castle on Chocolate Hill.
Upon arriving at the local station the doctor purchased a ticket. The man with the banjo did without a ticket. He walked past the porter nipping tickets at the wicket-gate as if he were the commissioner-in-chief of the railway department, and showed neither ticket nor pass.page 186
Seated in the carriage on the way to the city—"What's the matter in the city?" he inquired.
"Only a paltry affair," said the doctor, "I had a letter from my wife yesterday saying that she intended to stay in Maconville till some mystery about this account from Swan, Berry, and White's is cleared up. Here it is—an account for four white lace aprons, and the firm has sent it to her. I know nothing about it, but I suppose it is some nonsense she has got into her head about an old friend of mine, a Mrs. Downward, who lived at one time in Augusta. She is in New Orleans now—do you know her?"
Looking over the bill, "Know her!" said Brick Bore: "I should think I did know her. My father was a blooming parson and married her to the doctor I never heard anything about her but what was good. By the lord Harry, she's a perfect lady, and if I heard any man say anything about her, by the holy poker, I'd spike his guns and knock him silly. I told you so—that's it; she wants to kick up a row, so as to pose as an injured innocent and suck money out of the old man. By Heavens, I know her; you take my advice and let her slide."
"I'll see the bottom of this now I'm here," said the doctor, "and if you see Mr. Gould you might tell him I am waiting for him to fulfill his promise, and that I am getting about tired of waiting for Marvel to come home."
The train stopped at the metropolitan station and they alighted on the platform. Past the ticket-collecting and brass-locket-pass-inspecting porter, nodding and winking at the ticket-collecting and brass-locket-pass-inspecting porter, the complacent Brick Bore stalked, and turned his nonchalant face around to stand and wait for the doctor, with an air of supreme contempt and indifference towards the ticket—collecting arid brass-locket-pass-inspecting official. He stared with the expression of one who should say—"Don't you know me? I am nearly a blood-relation of George Stephenson11: if it hadn't been for my immortal uncle you wouldn't be getting that two dollars a day. I travel the railways of the world free and I am known wherever I travel." He thuswise bluffed the porter every day for twelve months, and never was once rooted out of the train to be stood out on the platform as was often the case of many artful dodgers, who were in that manner reminded of their youthful days at school.
Upon reaching the drapery fair of Swan, Berry and White, the doctor inquired of the shop-walker for the manager: the manager referred him to the accountant; the accountant referred him to the assistant-manager; the assistant-manager to the ledger-keeper; the ledger-keeper referred him back to the accountant; the accountant back to the manager; the manager to the head of the firm, and the head of the firm being out he ran the gauntlet of the counterjumpers, answered the questions of the calico gents, got beaten by the milliners in a staring match, and was referred by the head of the firm to the registering clerk of the country orders. The registering clerk of the country orders, from a wooden tub full of blue-page 187mouldy and dusty letters unearthed an order from the bird of Paradise dated three months back and saying—"Please send me at once four white lace pinafores on approbation and oblige, Yours truly, Marvel Imogen Narramore Whitworth."
"I see," said the clerk for the taking and registering of country orders: "Mrs. Whitworth has ordered pinafores and the book-keeper has entered them as aprons: hence the mistake."
The book-keeper, the manager, the accountant, the assistant-manager, the ledger-keeper, the head of the firm and the clerk for the taking and registering of country orders humbly sent in their apologies to the doctor for the mistake which their mistaken generosity acknowledged as their own, the proper designation of the articles being aprons, and they all told off the foreman-shopwalker for the express duty of blandly smiling upon and bowing the doctor out of the big glass door, after putting him through an examination to find out if he didn't require any cuffs or collars or shirts, ties, handkerchiefs, hats or gloves; boots, shoes or a suit for tennis and a light serge suit for summer. After being reassured that his orders were highly esteemed, although he hadn't given any, and that they would receive the strictest attention by every member of the fair, relieved of the load which he had carried into the drapery establishment of Swan, Berry and White in Broad Street, gladly he left the fair for home.
"When on earth will this absurdity cease?" he soliloquised on his way to Sabinnia in the train: never, he thought, while he took notice of every whim and folly of a renegade, vain and frivolous wife; never while he groaned in pain at her prolonged absences from home; never until she had discovered for herself that he had done everything that lay in his power to please her, and could do no more; never while the vision of wealth to be some day hers was kept floating before her eyes in Edenhall. Vanity, frippery, finery, ostentation and kittenish frivolity were the creatures of the brain of the Paradisal bird. Passion, jealousy and avarice were the idols of this worshipper and server of Mammon. Peace, contentment and calm could never come into the home of Eugene until the idols were dragged from their pedestals and shattered by the hand of some iconoclast into ruins.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
10 From Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh. The Peri is barred from heaven and brings a drop of heroic blood, a sigh of sacrifice in love, and a penitent's tear to gain entrance.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]