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The Bird of Paradise

Chapter IV. St. John's Chapel, Galveston.—Ambrose Vernon Whitworth

Chapter IV. St. John's Chapel, Galveston.—Ambrose Vernon Whitworth.

"The bells of Shandon they sound so grand
On the silent waters of the river Lee."1

St. John's Chapel, Galveston, contained in the interior of its lofty tower, a complete set of costly and ponderous bells. At six o'clock in the morning they roused out the sleepers from their beds: at short intervals clanking, clanking, clanking, and rattling the windows, smashing the crockery, and shaking the houses for miles like intermittent earthquakes.

High ritual was the order in St. John's. There was a performance at seven, a performance at eleven, a performance at three, and a performance at seven again, every day in the year. Each performance was announced by an hour's clanking of the bells, essaying the chimes of the 'Church's one foundation,' till people wondered how much longer that foundation page 18would stand, and winding up with half-an-hour's swinging tolls, at minute intervals, as if the mayor of the town died four times every day.

If a baby came to be christened, the bells rejoiced: if a bride was to be seen, they burst forth in peal upon peal of hilarious merriment; but if ever the governor of the State paid a visit to the town the bells tumbled topsy-turvy over one another as if they were being shaken up in a huge dice-box. With the tumultuous vibrations the earth trembled for a distance of forty miles.

These clanking, jarring bells of Shandon tinkled forth the sweetest melodies to Miriam. Together with another devout old party, she sat perishing within the four walls of St. John's before she had kindled the fire for breakfast, and late into the dewy eve, through all the christian year.

The divine service was a sort of three-cornered performance: the bachelor of divinity shining on the reredos2, at the top angle, Miriam and the old woman, who was known by the sobriquet of 'Holy Sarah,' at the bottom angles of the scene of the triangular play. After the verger had finished his smoke in the porch, around the large congregation he would stalk, with a crimson plush bag tied on the end of a cedar pole, poke it under the noses of every attendant, merely as a matter of form, then poke it at the stomach of the bachelor of divinity, and quick-march down the aisle, holding the palms of his hands flattened against his hips after the fashion of a mummy, and looking as if he had not had a smoke for a year. The two soldiers would then dismiss, after a short discourse on the debrutalisation of man; while the bells hammered away at the national anthem of the Netherlands, "Wilhelmus van Nassauwen",3. or sometimes the dead march in Saul.4

The Flying Dutchman never saw the inside of that euphonius sacred edifice: but he often caught himself swearing at the bells. In this respect he was a trifle inconsistent; for, practically speaking, he thought that cleanliness was a good thing to observe, and Sunday morning was the time set apart for its observation.

With marvellous magnanimity, "I don't think I'll go this morning, mother," (as if he ever had been there) he said every Sunday morning after breakfast, most of which he handed over to an ill-bred bull-dog, which he adored: "You go, and I'll clean up the ranch a bit," pulling out a black cutty pipe and heaving a profound sigh, with the air of one for whom the world had no pleasure in store.

At the last shock from the bells of Shandon, the performance in St. John's would begin, and simultaneously the performance in lily Cottage. With a huge stable-broom, strong and heavy enough to clear away six feet of snow from the streets of Shrewsbury, he would fill the rooms of Lily Cottage with what appeared to be all the dust in the town: roll up the mats, shake them against the verandah posts, spread them down at the doors again, and put all the red geraniums and trumpet lilies he could find into an old dipper upon the table; sucking the cutty and heaving the sighs at the finish of every act. With buckets of water and bars of magic soap, page 19he would fall to, all fours, on the kitchen floor, with the dandy-brush5 or the stable-broom, as if he was quite at home on the "Baltimore," and washing down her glorious decks again.

No exactly so, gentleman Ambrose. Brosie stayed in bed, as sometimes an enemy had put whisky into the ginger wine the night before, in consequence of which treachery Brosie's head was often like a foundry in full operation, and his stomach rebelled at the idea of getting up for breakfast.

With the dandy-brush floating in the bucket and the stable-broom slung over his shoulder, Dolly would, of malice prepense, disturb the frowsy slumbers of the unfortunate Ambrose. The performance on the organ at St. John's was now an hour in full swing, and Brosie's nasal organ was like a regiment of buglers on the march playing a lovely quintet with the clarionet, the oboe, the picollo, the bassoon, and the big trombone.

"Get out of that you lazy, skulking hound; go and feed that pig out there." (First salute of the Flying Dutchman.)

"Shut up, you marlin'-spike6, and let a gentleman get a bit of sleep." (Fort of Ambrose opens out on Baltimore.)

"Gentleman, be jiggered! get up your lubber or I'll throw the bucket of slops over you." (First volley from the Flying Dutchman.)

"Clear out you old woman and let a gentleman alone. Don't you know I am born to be a gentleman? A gentleman takes it out on Sunday mornings: I take it out on Sunday mornings; a gentleman keeps dogs for coursing and dogs for the gun; I keep dogs for coursing and dogs for the gun. My nature is to give orders, not to carry them out. Go and groom that horse, you fat porpoise, and when he's ready I'll get up and ride him out like a gentleman." (Shell explodes over Baltimore.)

"Go to the devil, you and your 'gentleman.' I'll clean out that stinking ferret and make a start with the dinner." (Second volley and profound sigh from the Flying Dutchman.)

"Good thing when you go back to China or Fiji and we get a proper servant, if I have to pay her wages myself." Whereupon, after the hit, the palpable hit, of Ambrose, the Flying Dutchman hoists a flag of truce, and the Strauss orchestra plays the 'Conquering hero'7 and an allegro in B flat major from Schumann's "Faschingsschwank aus Wien." Brosie's snores were tunes.

Big of heart, hot in temper, and strong as a cask, with great masses of muscle standing out on his limbs, the quondam sailor looked upon the Sunday morning's diversion as a nice little change. He had been lucky in the balloting for new candidate for employment in the service of the Mississippi Steam Navigation Company, and was now an entered apprentice engineer, the first steps of which consisted in brushing up the green coats of the steam engines. Wipers, they called themselves, and Dolly was champion wiper in the company's service.

Coming home to breakfast, after being up all night on the night-shift in the engine-room, he looked like a Christy minstrel8 off the stage, everywhere coal black, excepting the whites of his eyes. Whether he had been out page 20for a short stroll or had come back from the Christy minstrel performance, he would invariably swell out his burly chest with a deep inspiration, and blow out a cyclopean sigh with the force of a steam-jet, as if all the troubles in the world were upon his shoulders.

If ever Brosie had a thimbleful of whisky in the ginger wine, the prodigious sigh came from the abysmal depths of his soul. He had appointed himself to the post of monitor over the erring Brosie, and became his good genius and guardian angel. He often spent hours together at night squaring (as he called it) another Christy minstrel to do his work on the night shift, while he would often root Brosie out of some shanty and bring him home in a cab, with his legs hanging out of the window, and sitting on the top of him.

Hauling him out of the cab and towing him in like some young forty barrel right whale he had captured, "Here is the beauty," he would say, shoving Brosie in before his father, and throwing every stumbling-block he could in the way of Brosie's efforts to sheer off to bed.

"Where did you find the hidiot?" would come from old Christopher, jumping up off the sofa, with his hair standing on end.

"In the back parlour of the 'Dogs and Guns,'" Dolly would respond; but Brosie one night forestalled the reception by declaring in a blustering speech, "I'm not drunk, father, I'm not drunk," as he stood propped up at the back by the Flying Dutchman, his hat stove in, his eyes half closed, and some of the ginger wine running out of his mouth, while the sleeve of his coat and the knees of his pantaloons had just come out of the mud. "I've done a good thing to-night. I'm going as clerk to the bub—bub—bub—brewery. Ten dollars a day once a week," squeezing with his hand below the region of his liver as if the barb of the harpoon was sticking there still.

Honour to whom honour is due. The young gentleman was remarkably precocious and shrewd. No one of his years had ever before held the honorable position of judge at the great international-horticultural-agricultural, pigeon, poultry, canary and dog show, held in the reserve at New Orleans.

He could rattle off at a moment's notice all the precise and proper tints on the legs and beaks of all the birds in the air and the fowls on the land. From an ungainly Malay game or brahmapootra all through the numerous varieties down to a pert little duckwing bantam9, his knowledge of 'points'10 was incontrovertible. He could go through the genealogical tree of any fox-terrier or greyhound of note in the land, and describe the set of his nose or the curve of his tail, and all the minutiæ of his pedigree to a nicety. No tricks of painting faulty feathers in a silver-pencilled Hamburg rooster ever escaped his notice at the show, for he had performed the same tricks himself before, and had prizes for them hanging up over his bed.

When he went for a ride on the old grey horse, his chief object was to coax a clutch of eggs from some fowl-fancier; none knew better how to trim his sails when there was anything in the fowl or dog line to be got. page 21He would bite off the ends of the tails of all the fox-terrier puppies in the town to get his pick of the litter. By holding up a duck-egg to the sun, he could tell if it contained a prolific germ, or if it had been boiled or pricked with a needle to deceive him, and neutralise its virtues.

At one time he reigned supreme over twenty-seven greyhounds and thirty-nine fox-terriers, and he was unanimously elected president of the Louisiana Fox-terrier Club. The cardinal rule of the Louisiana Fox-terrier Club was to first catch a squirrel in an onion net, shut it up in a box, knock one of the knots in the wood out of the side of the box, and deliberately starve it from Monday morning till Saturday afternoon. It was then let out on the stroke of three by the duly appointed trapper before the gaze of a motley throng of spectators, laying and taking the odds which of two dogs would bump up against it first, this being all that was necessary to kill the squirrel, for it could not run and was scared out of its life before it got out of the trap.

The services of Brosie, as accountant, were duly inaugurated in the brewery; but he resigned at the end of the week, when he got into the bottle-works. He left the bottle-works and got into a paint-shop, a wool-store, an estate-agency, a rope-works, and back to the brewery again. Out of the brewery again and into a merchant's office, a recreation club, a billiard room, a soap-boiling establishment, a coffee palace, and into the brewery again. Out of the brewery again and into the stearine11 works, where he stayed for six weeks. He had cosmopolitan and philanthropical ideas and tried to help all he could. His variegated avocation from one post to another during three months culminated in his entering the rooms of a dental firm known as Foster Wax and Co. Eight hundred and fifty dollars were paid as premium for his admission, part of it being prize-money won at the university, and the first orders which the young gentleman received were to sweep out the rooms in the mornings.

"Jumping Jehosaphat!" screamed Brosie, "I haven't worn petticoats since I was a two-year-old, and my old governor has nothing left now to buy them."

Unfortunately Dolly was too much occupied in the science and art of wiping, or he would have washed out the place every morning into the bargain. A ragged-tailed street-arab was thereupon engaged to sweep the rooms. Brosie towered over him as a subordinate, and congratulated himself on skipping so lightly over the first lessons in the art of surgical and mechanical dentistry. This urchin he drew into a conspiracy, so that, whenever the boy met Miriam in the town, he would in a barrel-organ like way accost her with the following remark on every occasion:—"Good day, Mrs. Whitworth. Mister Brosie is not drunk, Mrs. Whitworth, but he might not be home, Mrs. Whitworth, till late, as he has to stop in the workroom, Mrs. Whitworth, watching the vulcanizer12 Good day, Mrs. Whitworth."

On his exemption from the preliminary duties and studies in the fashionable art, the new apprentice was sent out to deliver a large number of the page 22monthly accounts. These, slipping round the corner, he coolly tore to pieces, threw them into the first dust-bin, and filled in the remainder of the day acting as referee at a couple of cock-fights, or "battles" in the terminology of the gallinaceous club.

Having thus diligently initiated himself into the mechanism of the mouths of the people, he was raised a step higher in the mechanico-scientific ladder. He performed for three months with one foot upon a treadle machine, while he stood up from ten to four every day on the other, and held a tooth-plate against a revolving brush between the two balls of his thumbs, without taking his eye off the spinning brush for a second.

He introduced the art of homing pigeons into the dental emporium, and brought it to the pitch of a monomania, which preyed upon not only the operatives in the laboratory, but attacked even Foster Wax himself and and all the faculty of the Co., who thought they had done a grand stroke of business when they paid forty dollars for a pair of blue-chequered antwerps, wattle-eyed carriers, or fiery dragons, with little crops of warts around their orbits. Every morning they would all arrive with a pigeon in each pocket, put them all at the same time, to a tick, in a box and work the totalisator13, or take odds from Brosie. Wiper Dolly would call for the consignment and send them off in the steamer, to be liberated in the adjoining State, never to return, never to return any more.

Christopher William Whitworth was by nature a very credulous man. Honest, as he was to a fault, he thought everybody else was honest too; so overflowing was Christopher with the milk of human kindness, that if anybody asked him for his eye-teeth he would willingly hand them over.

Brosie was a born past-master at rigging up a scheme, and a born orator at expounding that scheme before his father. He was a perfect artist of fiction, especially whenever he got into a scrape. One evening after having appropriated all the money he could from Foster Wax and Co., by invariably, in the betting, laying against the return of the warty-eyed antwerps, he preambled with the avowal that all that mortal man could learn at the emporium of Foster Wax and Co. during the full term of his apprenticeship, he had acquired in the four months on the treadle.

Next he stated that to complete his studies in the mechanico-scientific art of dentistry, and to finish him off as a first-class extractor and gold filler, Chicago, Lake Michigan, was the only place in the wide world. As great as he had suddenly become in his own estimation as an extractor of teeth, still greater did he loom as an extractor of money from his father. Six months he stipulated as sufficient in Chicago; after which he could set up an emporium of his own in the city of New Orleans. He wished to perfect himself in pivotting, and the specialty of crown-and-bridge work, in which he opined in every mouth there was a miniature fortune. No other school but that of Chicago could impart this recondite art, and to Chicago, Lake Michigan he must go, or throw the thing up altogether and go back to the brewery again.

He did not, however, mention the fact that during the dinner hour, page 23when Foster Wax was away, he treated in the operating room any clients that called, and nearly ruined the business. Before he had treadled a month, he persuaded the bought and sold old woman of Adam Quain into a new set of ivory. He cut down and patched up with bird-wire an old set which his grandmother had left behind her, and, drilling holes in the old shrunken jaw of Bathsheba, he laced them in with the bird-wire. He gilded the wire, and charged Bathsheba fifty dollars. The death certificate, written out some years after, contained the words—"Cause of death: primary, 'necrosis of the jaw-bone'; secondary, 'blood-poisoning from suppuration of the jaw.'" The disease worried the old woman for the rest of her life.

His early attempts at surgical dentistry were undoubtedly original and heroic; he even performed an extraction and bleeding combined on old Adam himself, when he called one day during the dinner hour with the "hell o' a' diseases."14 It was hanging to his gum.

"Gas?" said Brosie, looking down the old man's cavernous throat.

"Wa'al we don't know much about gas t'ome; you'd better give me karosene." said Adam.

Brosie gave him a wineglass-ful of peppermint water, pulled the "hell o' a' diseases" out with his fingers, and charged him ten dollars for calorific fluid!15

The scheme with all its inns and outs thoroughly cut and dried, having been with great painstaking promulgated before old Christopher Whitworth, Brosie waited his answer, with his mouth open, and his tongue hanging out.

"I think, Brosie, you had better see Eugene about that, and if Foster Wax will return some of the eight hundred and fifty dollars, I daresay we might manage it," came forth from the oracle.

Thereupon, he performed a monetary extraction upon his brother, who thought it was advisable to knock the heroics on the head, and that probably they would do so in Chicago. The whole family saw him off by the New York steamer, and Miriam was left in Lily Cottage, with the sighing Christy minstrel—the Flying Dutchman, once again.

1 The Bells of Shandon. Reverend Francis Sylvester Mahony.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

2 An ornamental screen of stone or wood covering the wall at the back of the altar. OED Online. Sense 5a.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

3 Composed in honour of William of Orange.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

4 Saul: an oratorio by George Frideric Handel.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

5 A stiff brush used for cleaning horses. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

6 A pointed iron or wooden tool used to lift the strands of rope in splicing. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

7 A chorus from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

8 A member of a band of entertainers with blacked faces, performing songs and music derived from, or imitative of, the black communities of the southern United States. OED Online. See 'minstrel', n., sense 3b. (Note that the eponymous "Christy's Minstrels" first performed in 1846).

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

9 All varieties of domestic fowl. OED Online. See 'Malay', sense 3; brahmapootra; bantam.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

10 A quality or feature in the appearance of an animal (esp. a horse) by which it may be assessedOED Online,n.1, sense 13b.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

11 The commercial name of a preparation consisting of purified fatty acids, primarily used for making candles. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

12 An apparatus used for theeprocess of treating crude india-rubber with sulfur and subjecting it to intense heat, to render it more durable and make it adaptable for various purposes. OED Online. See also The New York Times, July 1886.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

13 An apparatus for registering and indicating the number of tickets sold to betters on each horse [or greyhound, and so on] in a race. OED Online.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

14 Toothache, as referred to in Robert Burns' poem Address to the Toothache.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]

15 From caloric theory, in which a "caloric fluid" was proposed (Lavoisier, 1783) to explain the transfer of heat between bodies. An outdated concept by either 1835 or 1896.

[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]