The Bird of Paradise
Chapter VI. The will O' The Wisp and the Old Red Pump. Brosie's Leisure Hours
Chapter VI. The will O' The Wisp and the Old Red Pump. Brosie's Leisure Hours.
The final stages of the reprobate days of the American dentist and doctor of dental surgery of Apricot Street College, Chicago, U.S.A.—the stages of a partial regeneration from the condition into which he had lapsed after the downfall and decay of the emporium of Batty Tuke and Whitworth—were spent at Summer Hill, in full view of the open country around the Sabine River, at the residence of his brother.
He had temporarily retired from the mechanico-scientific profession, and showed no inclination whatever during a prolonged exile for the practice of the art of extracting stumps and fitting out the mouths of his friends with new teeth at a nominal charge. Most of his days were spent in studying the habits and customs of the flies on the ceiling of the drawingroom and in sampling the various brews of city beer. Most of the barmaids from whom he had received orders had never called for the teeth, which were never ready to hand over. They had been dismissed from the service of their masters and mistresses for over-confidence in the jaunty, seraphic and jovial young gentleman, exhibited by the unlimited credit they had one and all given him at the bar.
Brosie for the most part now spurned dental business in connection with bars and barmaids. Brosie preferred to have a quiet glass at home in comfort in the house at Summer Hill, which as far as his own feelings were concerned was just as good to all intents and purposes as if it were his own. He gave orders for the supply of cases of German Lager beer by the dozen from a New Orleans wine and spirit store. When the supply of "soft tack"1 had run out, putting on all the incognito he could by page 313fastening his shiny seedy coat collar well around his neck with his red cravat, pulling his old black slouch hat well down over his eyes, and holding an oily black clay cutty pipe — which was almost a permanent fixture in his mouth—with nothing in the bowl upside down. Brosie did not disdain to enter any strange bar—few as there were in the suburb unknown to Brosie after his first week—and call for six cents' worth of what he called amber in a dead-marine quart Mitchell's whisky-bottle. The cents were generally a loan by Lillie Delaine, although he was now and then financially assisted by the Flying Dutchman, who always acted according to the notion that an empty pocket is better than a full pocket at any time. This became at Summer Hill a regular practice, about half-past six a.m. as a corpse-reviver or pick-me-up, again about half-past eight every morning as a substitute for breakfast, again about one o'clock in the day as a substitute for lunch; again about six o'clock in the evening as a substitute for dinner; while an occasional sandwich, with a perpetual sucking away at the oily empty pipe, filled up the corners of his inside and completely satiated his indifferent appetite. Brosie had touched bottom at last, and for a long time he was held there with his head as if in a vyce.
After an ordinary day expended in this manner had been followed by a repetition of the process three times during the night, Brosie would subside into a narcotic phase of mind, with his clothes on upon the outside of the counterpane of his bed until the following morning. There was no agony of anticipation in waiting for consecutive snores; they came with the undulations of waves and all the tones of all the instruments in the Anglo-Hungarian band. Brosie's nose contained a gamut of minstrelsy ranging from the metallic timbre of a tiny tenor-viol to a double-bass doleful din of deep diapason2. Early next morning, the doctor himself would be aroused by a new matin-song which the children composed themselves. They would sit up all eyes and ears in their cots, listen for a while to the regiment of bugles in full operation—a band in a nutshell—in the nasal organ of Brosie on the outside of the bed in the adjoining room, and then barrel-organ away themselves at their wakeful father— "Boatie's dot my t'umpet—no it's mine: Boatie's dot my t'umpet—no it's mine: Boatie's dot my t'umpet—no it's mine." Like the billing and cooing of two doves on a magnified scale in the morning ere yet it is day, Valentine would bill away with the first bar of the serenata, and Pearly would coo in with the second. Their father did not know at the time he was supposed to pay two thousand dollars for those songs; but even if he had known, he would have considered himself amply rewarded by the mellifluous rhythmical cantos of those innocent cherubs of his own — his very own.
Most of Brosie's quart bottles of beer were obtained by the raising of the wind from the servants and the groom, but if ever he borrowed a cent from the money-box of the children he honourably paid it into their credit again in the dolly little bank, with fifty per cent, interest added. Easy-going, good-natured, and fond of the children, he treated little Pearly and page 314
Vallie as if they were the flower of creation—amusing them infinitely better than the hired nursery governess, and whiling away hours in their company alone. On the piano he would play 'The British Grenadiers,' 'Yankee Doodle,' The Minstrel Boy,' 'Marching through Georgia,' and other military airs, keeping time to the drumming of Valentine on a band-box fastened with a rope around his shoulder, and marching them both in rank and file with saltatory gyrations in the drawingroom to the spirit-stirring sounds of the revolutionary Marseillaise. Brosie turning round to follow them with his eyes in the romp and the dance, they would climb upon his knee, their bright eyes glancing into his own, anon to resume their rollicking abandon in a soirée dansante, marching merrily off with a rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub in front form and Indian file round about and round about the room.
This new pastime drove the picture-books and brick puzzles out of their minds altogether, and afforded them not a moment to learn their home-lessons for school. So enamoured did they become with the music of the band that they appeared to have come to the conclusion that their education after three months and a-half at school was completed, as did the ambitious Brosie himself in the case of his apprenticeship with Foster Wax and Co. at Galveston. In a deputation, of which Pearly was spokesman, they apprised their father of the arrangement they had made between themselves not to go to school any more because they knew all about the backboard and Vallie was out of the first book and Pearly was into the second.
Chicago Brosie never let the children see the quart bottle—he kept it in a good safe secret and inaccessible place in the stable, knowing that Frederick was more of a man for lemonade and raspberry. If ever the children noticed him wiping his mouth with the back of his hand or his sleeve as he returned to the parlour pastimes after a pull at the bottle, he would forestall their queries by avowing that he had just had a drink out of the tap in the yard. It was a high old time for Brosie at Summer Hill in the house of his brother; it was also a lofty time for his children; but the mischief was working its insidious way, and the drinking of the beer was contemporaneous with the brewing of another legal storm.
In appearance the nonchalant Brosie was the very image of his brother. Again and again the strong similarity was remarked to the doctor by his friends, and they had often been mistaken one for the other anear and afar. They were both inclined to be tall, with waving Saxon hair and full eyelids drooping over deep blue eyes. Brosie was two years older than Eugene, but they looked to be about the same age. Coming home one night from his surgery in the city, Eugene was accosted by a fellow-passenger in the omnibus—a medium-sized, assertive, actorial-looking man, dressed up to the nines, as if he had come out of a band-box, everything brand-new.
"What about your insolence to me last night in 'The Corner Pin' Hotel?" savagely said the stranger: "I'm the man whom you had the audacity to style a common low actor, you dog; I have played at the page 315Haymarket and Her Majesty's theatres in London, and I have at the Lyceum taken the rôle of Iago. Romeo and Henry V. No man dare, unless he were beastly drunk, as you were, offer me the insults which you did in that bar: where are your dirty low insults now?" raising his stick during a long theatrical declamation; while Eugene stood up on his feet and stared at what he thought was a maniac.
"Excuse me," said the chief commissioner of police; "this is Dr. Whitworth."
"I know it is: I know it is too well—too well: I know the blackguard; that is the name he called himself in the bar of 'The Corner Pin,'" proclaimed the actor with an incisive scowl on his face.
"But he has a brother that calls himself Dr. Whitworth too—a doctor of dentistry," said the commissioner pulling him back by the arm.
"No matter," yelled the actor; "has his brother the same smooth-shaved face, the same eyes, the same hair, the same voice? does his brother wear the same trousers?" as he lunged with the walking-stick at Eugene, who, grasping it, wrenched it from him and struck the actor a blow that sent him staggering back on the seat.
"Pardon me," said the entrepreneur on rising: "I humbly apologise: I can see the difference from hyar; the man I mean had a slight sign of a moustache—this man has none at all. Doct — ar, humbly I beg your pardon. I shall write out an apology and post it to-night," changing his facial expression with admirable skill. He offered his hand, which Eugene took and informed him that he had never seen the inside of "The Corner Pin" Hotel in his life. Next morning came to his residence a letter with a most abject apology. The doctor showed it to Brosie, who declared he knew not the man. It was the long-since mourned Henry Falconer of "Black Eyed Susan" fame3.
Round the town, up and down, if ever in his pocket there was a 'brown,' the callous Brosie would hawk that whisky bottle. Round and round the room, from the closing of the school till the time for their evening prayers, when Pearly would say Little Bo-Peep and Vallie "The Minstrel Boy" instead as they tired away into sleep would tramp those singularly winsome little children to the march of "The Cameron men," or the rhythmical tones of the Marseillaise. It soon became undeniably patent to Eugene that Brosie was going too far; but he never liked to cavil at him or remonstrate with him, as he took so intense an interest in and showed so great a love for the amusement of his little children. When he had them not in the drawingroom marching to the martial music he trumpeted out to them oboe-calls in the early dawn, snoring through the pores among the papillomata, roar after roar at the orderly Orient sun with his sonorous organ as the morn came o'er the sea and he lay in disorder, with his mouth wide open, asleep, boots and all, on the outside of the bed in the adjoining room.
One Saturday afternoon the musical Brosie proposed to take the children in the buggy for a drive towards Houston. The doctor acquiesced in the page 316proposal, and they all went together with Rosie, the old bay mare. The birds chirruped merrily among the trees and the loud clarion notes of the magpies resounded through the woods as they drove along the Mississippi road. Quietly along they drove, while the blue-jay called out his melodious tones from the towering cedars, and flights of green parroquêts crossed over their heads, till they could hear the roar of the billows and the plashing sound of the salt sea foam on the sand-girt shores where lay Moss Rose. In the absence of the unconnubial Marvel, there as years before along the foreshore the children played and romped in the sand with the St. Bernard, and gathered cowrie shells and seaweed for a couple of hours; while the old military mare browsed about cropping the short salt-grass. It was in the vicinity of the grave of Moss Rose, and with the children they walked over to the grave on the lonely unfrequented shore. Close to the mound they found the skeleton of a man lying among the bracken and the heather without a grave, "unhonoured and unsung." It was the remains of the faithful Patrick Flynn. How did they know it was the remains of Patrick Flynn? They found a faded green sarcenet4 cap entangled in the trailing sweet-briar.
Just as the mingling colours of the sunset-sky with its billowing mists were glowing in the western horizon, they betook themselves into the buggy, to find there was no candle in the lamps. The groom had not been told to put them there, and had expected them home before dark. Anxious to get back early on account of the children, their father covered them well over with rugs, while his brother took charge of the reins, and in their eagerness to reach home as quickly as possible, they decided on keeping a sharp look-out and driving after they left the bushy country along the middle of the road, as they did not expect to meet any heavy traffic.
Night's mantle changed into an all-pervading pitch-darkness. Not a star could be seen in the sky; not a light on the land or the sea. There is no breeching on American harness, and the brake broke. The country was enveloped in fog and the old mare seemed to be increasing her pace, but they soon reached home in safety. Next morning the police gathered the remains of the groom in a bag and at the magisterial inquiry the verdict returned was that "Patrick Flynn had died by the visitation of God."
In a few days a summons was brought by a policeman charging the doctor with driving without lights. When the charge was heard before the city police court, Brosie explained that he was the driver, so that if any fine were inflicted it should be imposed upon him. The magistrates accepted his version of the accident, mulcting Brosie in a fine of three dollars and five dollars costs, in default—distress.
There was not the slightest perturbation in the mind of the seraphic Brosie. Brosie would have remained perfectly tranquil and unconcerned even if the fine had been a thousand. He had nothing excepting the clothes which he carried about with him, and the old quart bottle which he page 317also carried about with him. The police department might take the bottle. Brosie knew where there was a square-faced dead-marine. The clothes they dare not touch, so the fine remained unpaid, unpaid for evermore. His brother gave him the money to discharge the debt to the police office. The dollars never got so far as that. They stopped short at the "Will o' the Wisp." They were the wherewithal for amber, and when they were all gone he found a bundle belonging to the nursegirl and pawned it for half-a-dollar It contained the nursegirl's drawers and chemisettes and a magenta linsey-woolsey petticoat; he also "ran in" the flat-irons and the corkscrew.
Returning from the police court that eventful morning in the becoming style of a hansom cab, which he had been flashing around the whole forenoon, the driver left the cab at the kerb and stood dunning him at the glass door of the house for the payment of the fare of a dollar and a-half. Brosie had not been, as he took some trouble in driving into the hackman's head, to his bank in the city that morning, but in lieu of the dollar and a-half he offered the man an I.O.U. of his own for three dollars. Nevertheless the disputations jehu waited, nodding his head at the people passing by, winking his eye at the little crowd collecting at the gate, and jerking his thumb over his shoulder at the open door, signifying that he had ran a "dead 'un" to earth. He seemed to have established a blockade of the place; while Brosie, who had prevailed upon the maid-of-all-work to impress upon the hackman the fact that the fare would be forthcoming when the doctor himself came home, slipped away through the back gate with the square-face dead-marine. Brosie chuckled at the mournful looks of the departing driver as he quietly watched him through the two round glass eyes of the green-baize door from the bar of the "Will o' the Wisp" driving away to the city. He returned to the house with a quart of entangling swipes.
"Lillie, my gal," he said with an imitation Chicago smile and the usual break-down affectations of American idioms and mannerisms: "that cab concarn has I calc'late left before I thought it would. I ken't say as I am over sorry it has depairted. The man was a reg'lar chunk: he don't know a gen'leman when he sees one. What he wanted was a slight elevation. I tried with every manner of means in my power to persuade that obstinate young man to desist from his everlasting botheration about the dollar and a haff; but finally I was driven to introdooce that fetching smile of yours into the cause and get you to bring it to bear upon that wall-eyed charioteer. I guess I was not far out in opinionating it would meet the case. Nothwithstanding, failing that I have carried a further gun into the field in order to make some capital out of the human natur' of the young man, in the shape of a full six of ambrosial tangle, which had it not been for that disgustin' partick'lar young man I calc'late I should have made a four."
"Wot's a four, Mr. Brosie?" said the maid-of-all-work, peeling potatoes page 318and apostrophising the cat with "Get down there cat orf the table lickin' the butter: who d'yer think's goan to get croupy after you?"
"A four, my dear Lillie," said Chicago: "Pshaw! wa'al I never! I guess upon my soul and honour your education has been sadly neglected. I am fairly surprised at such ignorance. I opinionate you are not posted up in the Amurican decimal system of coinage as you have not been here long; but to propound the scale—Two pumps, no froth, air a four; one pump and a haff, head and neck froth air a three; four pumps, chock-a-block to the cork, air a six. I guess I hear a pull at the bell; if so be it's that wooden blockhead wall-eyed charioteer bummin' around again, you know where I am—gone to the ranche in the city for the stuff. I calc'late you air a bit brainy, so invent some dodge of making him back off, and if he jest says he'll come back tell him I've got a way of carrying a tarnation smart little squirt in this pocket."
Bringing in a telegram, without a thought that it was for herself, she handed it over to Brosie, who shook hands with her, as they always do in Chicago on the slightest pretext.
"Ha! for me? No, for you; shall I open it?" said Brosie after he had already opened the message, which stated that the doctor had been suddenly called away and asked the girl to take care of the children as he did not expect to be back till late.
"Ha! ha!" continued Brosie, "my dear Lillie, I must offer you my humble apology for opening your telegram, as a gen'leman, which I always am. Am I or am I not? It belongs with you. The doctor has been called away I opine to the Sabine River on some case that will detain him late to-night. In his absence I may state right here you air aware I must do the honours of this ranche as a gen'leman, which I am—am I or am I not? Pass me over a mug for the amber—the ambrosial amber. That gal at the bar is a right down dependable gal; she never pumped me a flat lot yet; moreover, she is a right down brainy gal, that gal at the "Will o' the Wisp." You won't partake yourself of any, a fact of which I am fully aware. Now, my gal, you have, I have no doubt, heard my musical entertainment for the elevation of the children, the darling little akeribats. I have heard the tone of your warbling throat with the utmost enjoyment during my sojourn within these ancestral halls; sanctified by its tremors and the sound of the mouth-organ, the trumpet, the triangle and the soul-stirring band-box. As a gen'leman—am I or am I not?—I propose to invite you to grub: I am a lover of human natur' and it is my natur' to entertain good company. My natur' will not be denied. Fetch your friends with you; fetch Frederick and fetch Emma. When the reg'lar repast is over I will take the baton or I should rayther say the Aeolian wand in my own hands, so as to direct the singing and the movements of the akeribatic angels, as I make a little George Washington and Joan of Arc out of them on the drawingroom carpet. As a gen'leman—am I or am I not?—I uphold, respect and treat right-down liberally my retinue of domestic dependants. Make yourself and your friends right-page 319down welcome this evening in my humble cabouche and sanctuary; no backing off mind, and don't allow your collaborators to back off this evening. To-night after grub, at seven sharp, the performance will be started off with. I opinionate you will make the spread as savoursome as you can. Meanwhile if you can advance me a loan of as much as will obtain a screw of tobacco and a loan of a six, or a four, or even the ridiculously small amount of a three—as you will observe the amber from the "Will o' the Wisp" is shocking evanescing — I will elevate my hat, perched on that peg in the hall. I guess the bottle will do without another wash at the tap. Touching on that little fine, he was a rotten bad beak and I guess I shall be leader'd in the papers. Thanks, I'm sorry you don't take a drop of the amber yourself: don't 'forget your music this evening: no shilly-shallying and backing off—that's your ticket. I'll be back in two shakes. I will refund the four on the return of my brother the sawbones, then you'll allow I am a gen'leman and everything I say is the straight griffin."
True to his word he made an entry of the loan on the cleanest square inch of his shirt-cuff with the pen and ink, a pencil mark not standing out at all conspicuously thereon. Frowning at the cuff as much as to say "I calc'late there's no backing-off from that," and with the slouch hat—daubed here and there with ink to hide the stains—drawn well over his eyes, the cork and the neck of the bottle sticking out through the collar of his short sac coat and poking him every stride he took under the jaw, running the gauntlet of a ferocious mastiff he entered the "Will o' the Wisp" by the back way.
Emerging from the hotel and entering the kitchen, he accosted the girl again— "That's the last time I plank a four in her way; just look, she pumped it only up to there!" drawing with his finger the girl's attention to the low gauge amber-mark on the bottle; after he had clumsily knocked over the bottle and some of the beer had escaped as a libation to an imaginary Roman Bacchus riding along the table on a goat— "the rest is, you observe all froth. At the 'Old Red Pump' they take it out of the barrel with a tap. I prefer the wood and the tap. The 'Old Red Pump' fills it up that deep for a three. Dead loss of a brown! Lillie my gal I have recorded your generosity in my diary; don't pray have any botheration in your head about the four. I am good, I guess, for a six from the doctor. I can say I want it for a stamp, or for a telegram, or for a new toy, or for the fare to the city in quest of an appointment as gold-filler to Dent and Dragg—anything but what I do want it for I can say. I do not want a stamp; a telegram can be paid t'other end; I do not want a toy; I shall not go by that train—there is no such appointment vacant. If there was, I should not apply, nor accept if it were offered. I shall fetch back the four to you. I can raise a one from the bank on the mantlepiece to make a three for up to there on that bottle at the 'Old Red Pump.' You may opinionate that it's rayther queer, but my natur', my dear gal, is to rule over others, not to accept subordinate jack-leg appointments, and my natur' will page 320not be denied. A gen'leman dislikes filling appointments of a re-trograde character, and I am a gen'leman by profession—am I or am I not? I ken't be indooced to scatter broadcast away the fruits of seven years toil and study under the greatest dentists in creation upon an inferior masster. It curdles my blood cold to think of the base uses to which an Amurican doctor of dental science might lapse in these parts. Independence is my motto, and if that's not the straight griffin all square and serene ride me on a rail and say I'm a trimmer. Pass me over a mug and the scissors. That rascal gal has jambed down the cork, and I tombstoned the screw at the golden balls for a three. Thanks. (Pop: guggle-guggle-guggle.) I looks towards yer, my gal (guzzle-guzzle-guzzle): leave the cork out. Can you get me one of my brother's bugle-wipers? I haven't had a clean bugle-wiper for six weeks, and this tarnation wipe is getting greasy, shiney, glue-sized and beer-stained. I'll take the bottle and the mug into the drawingroom. My little akeribats will soon be back out of school. While I am there I shall jest run over a few little sing-songs which I intend to prodooce this evening for you all as my guests. Thanks: a-dieu jest now. Don't back off of the drawing-room this evening, or my natur' will be completely flabbergasted."
During most of the above effusion the servant was busily employed in flushing the floor of the kitchen with buckets of water, warring with the cat, and filling the air with comic songs. After the laborious scrubbing — in which no doubt she had been well drilled at "A777½" by Marvel — when she stood up to get the mouchoir the front of her dress was saturated with dirty water, in a pattern of the map of Europe, from the knees downward. After the departure of the ambrosial Brosie—not for the piano, but for a quiet dolce far niente5 on the sofa after nearly finishing the four—Miss Lillie Delaine essayed a few impromptues, declaring that Timothy Toddle was fond of his bottle; that Henry was on the wine, and others like songs of an improvisatore, as good practice for the musical evening, from which she would not have backed off for anything.
Shortly afterwards the children came running home with Cyril from school. Guinevere would walk part of the way home with them, and, leaving them at the corner a short distance from the house, she would watch Pearly and Valentine enter their own gate, taking Cyril away to the two-roomed cottage—the precious paradise of Guinevere.
"Come on, Boatie!" shouted the versatile, volatile Vallie; "where's my ban'-box djum—where's it, Pearly? Come on, Boatie, come on, Pearly—sodgers, Pearly! I say, Boatie, give us a d'ink o' dat."
Caught red-handed, or amber-handed, Brosie, always ready with a mouthful of subterfuges and never lost for a quick excuse with a verisimilitude of truth, called out to the servant to take out the bottle of dirty medicine poison, spitting on the floor to make little Vallie think it was castor oil. It was only for sick men, he said, and was awful, horrible nasty stuff. He further diverted the thoughts of the exuberant Valentine page 321with the information that they were all going to have a grand game after dinner: that Lillie and Frederick and Emma were coming; that he was going (whispered in great confidence) to charge a six each for the tickets to the concert and give some to Pearly, some to Vallie, and the rest to a nice man that sold the medicine around the corner to make him better.
The dinner was announced by the fashionable gong, a great flourish of trumpets and the playing of the Old Hundredth on the piano—"All people that on earth do dwell come ye before him and rejoice"—and the singing, papillomatoso, of the anthem "How pants the hart for cooling streams." All the dependants walked bashfully and hesitatingly into the drawingroom, which served the double purpose of eating - room and drill - room. In customary Chicago fashion, each was received with a cordial hand-shake and they were individually marshalled to their seats in style befitting the occasion by host Brosie, who so impressed their minds with the dignity of the banquet that they all talked to one another and the children as if they had never seen one another in their lives before. Lillie had picked up a few wrinkles from Marvel and, although it was in the middle of winter, the table was decorated—decorated with stalks of geraniums and cactus leaves. There was no prayer, but enough on the table to do a labourer's family for a week. The dinner, however, was consumed with rather less decorum than Madame Pompadour would have found in accordance with her library on etiquette. The prudish, sly, saucy, bumble-footed, little nurse-girl with a chlorotic6 face and signs of a coming ginger moustache,—the enemy of blowflies and cockroaches, —contrasted strongly with the gaucherie of the open and deferential nature of her fellow-employées; they shoved their knives half - way down their open countenances, and carefully placed them in the form of a criss-cross when after the second repetition of the plenteous dollops no more was left of their platefuls. Brosie was on the alert. His strict observance of the gentlemanly code, in which he had such good practice at Apricot Street, kept him exceedingly attentive to the approaching emptiness of their plates. In grand flourishes of the American language, sometimes bursting forth into whole verses of the poetry of Longfellow—who was in rapport as Professor of Belles Lettres at the Harvard University at the time7—he would delicately press upon them a little more turkey, another floury potato, pass them the mustard, pass them the salt, ring the bell for the waitress by knocking his knife against the tumbler, and apologise for the mistake by explaining that he had been accustomed to do so at Lily cottage.
What an apparition that Sally Lund8 repast for the binary stars of The Constellation, surpassing all the horrors Tam o'Shanter ever saw when he had the delirium tremens! what an apparition for the flashing eyes of the refined, sweet-tempered bird of Paradise and the Sun! what a match to the paradisal powder-barrel, especially if she had seen the jovial Brosie sitting as king of the feast and director of the drinking in good old Roman style!page 322
After picking at a bit of the blanc mange and sipping in painfully small quantities all the medicine left in the bottle, Brosie waited for Miss Delaine to rise as the hostess and oldest servant in the place; Miss Delaine waited for the prim and priggish Miss E. Powell: the prim and priggish Miss E. Powell waited for the bashful Frederick, and they all waited, with the exception of the children who ran away for the bugles and drums, until the Chicago-polished Brosie made a move himself. Rising, the host threw his serviette down on the table in the newest and most approved American style; the prim, fastidious Miss E. Powell folded her's up in a particular and painstaking manner, and tucked it under the rim of her plate; Miss Delaine watched how Brosie managed it and artlessly did as Chicago did; while, absent-mindedly, Frederick blew his nose upon the one set before him, and stuck it in his pocket with the starchy peak sticking up straight.
"Ladies and gen'lemen," said Brosie jauntily and brandishing an empty tumbler in the air: "Here's to the British lion and the Amurican eagle and the decoration of the union-jack of old England with the stars and stripes of the greatest country in creation! So mote it be! I have the most extreme felicity of your val'able company this evening to grub on my birthday, as I missed it, I guess, last summer. In order to make you feel you air quite at home and at ease in your minds, I must asseverate that my brother, the great doctor, will not be here till rayther late. In the meanwhile, I must presume that it belongs with me to do the honours within his hallowed walls as his lootenant and as a gen'leman. I will not press you with the enquerry whether I am or whether I am not. In order that I may duly carry out a promise to my little akeribats, Pearly and Valentine, such promise now standing three months, I shall propose that Miss Lillie Delaine do give the company a little sing-song. I uphold to the principle of every individual doing his best to entertain and elevate his brother-man and sister-woman. Now, Miss Lillie, if you please; no backing off; I shall accompany the song and turn over the leaves myself; Vallie, you keep quiet like a good boy and you'll see." The finish was whispered in strict confidence in Vallie's ear.
Miss Lillie Delaine thereupon produced the American and London song-book and handed it over with a crimson blush to the speaker. She knew all about the wake of Finnigan off by heart; she could dispense with the book herself, but she did not say whether Brosie was to check her off with it or put it on the music frame. However, as it contained no quavers, semi-quavers, or crotchets, or sharps, or flats, and would not keep open itself he was ungentlemanly enough to hand it back, when the young lady sweetly warbled in mezzo-soprano with noticeable nervousness, but con amore and with much pathos thrown into the sensational parts, the old thing about the man of Water Street. There was a patent want of a functionary like the Roman actor to direct the audience and compel them to applaud.
If anybody said thank-you, as they should have done, nobody could page 323have heard it for the clamorous demands of Pearly and Valentine for the "Mogitt and the sodgers;" when, to silence the din. Brosie struck up the national anthem of his adopted country. The children, fully equipped with all the musical toys in the house and the band-box with the rope, marched up and down portentously like two little marionettes: round and round the room, stamping time to the air of "Marching thro' Georgia," with loud variations of "The British Grenadiers" and the bagpipe skirl of "The Campbells are coming." Nobody said thank-you for that, although it threw Tim Finnigan into the shade altogether—it was so operatic. Nevertheless, by way of an encore demanded by themselves. Pearly sang a little ditty which her father had said was pretty, about a little kitty that ran away from school, with uncommon sweetness of expression, and Valentine recited with most fetching articulation the tale of the Inchcape Rock quite as well as any blue-jacketed sailor.
Nobody said thank-you for that, when, after a pause, the host called upon the groom for a sing-song, and bashful Freddy stepped forward boldly up to the candle-illuminated Mignon. After wiping his nose for the fortieth time on the improvised mouchoir, clearing his throat and hawking it out on the brass fender to make it rusty without missing the fire-irons, he sang a song something like that about the log of wood which was burning brightly on a night such as would banish all sin and when the bells were ringing the old year out and the—new—year—in, with a great swell on the last bar and a regular knock-out blow when he came to the finishing round.
Nobody said thank you to that, but nevertheless he sang the last verse for an 'ankor.' Once started he found it difficult to stop; singing another with twenty-three verses and a quaver at the end of every line; bolting away into another 'ankor' by singing nine verses of 'The Wild Arkansas Boy' over and over again and all the company joining in the chorus of 'John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave; John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave, while his soul goes marching on,' and the little flaneurs danced round and round on their light fantastic toes, Vallie in jack-tar costume and Pearly in pink accordeon pleats, merrily round and round and up and down and round and round the room.
Still no chorus of "thank you," and to fill the gap again in the concert the cymbal, the clarion and the Aeolian wand possessed themselves of the programme again. The umbrageous expression on Miss E. Powell's face dispersed before the light of her ophidian9 grin; when the master of ceremonies by way of a salve for the general inattention shown towards the young lady called upon the nursery governess for a solo. He had her chimmies and drawers in pawn at the time and would not ignore her in case she suspected him afterwards. Without getting up from the chair in the far off corner of the room the young lady screeched 'Kathleen Mavourneen cushla machree.'
Screwed—not metaphysically—mechanically screwed half-way round on the piano-stool and spanning out his hands on his knees, Brosie stared in awe at the rasping production; the young lady hostess stared; the wild page 324
Arkansas boy stared; Pearly said the exasperating warbler was 'a nasty thing,' and Valentine told her to shut up and threw the drum at her. Nobody said thank you.
The children stood up together singing 'By cool Siloam's shady rill how sweet the lily stands' and Brosie tried to pappilomatise 'Sweet spirit hear my prayer.' It was lovely.
Ultimately, taking advantage of the clamorous din of the children and opinionating that he had waited quite long enough, Brosie suggested that if anyone had a contribution of a one or a two, they might give it to the children to keep them quiet, inviting them, after the manner of the Salvation Army, "to plank down the spondulix on the table."
Miss Lillie Delaine, who had another song up her sleeve if required, sported a lot equal to a six, and jingled them on the table. Miss E. Powell broke her heart with a lot of three, and the groom planked down what sounded like a dollar—but no; it was only a cent.
Brosie pulled off the table-cover, spun the coins on their rims following one another around the table. Boomerang-like they all spun round till they fell on their heads or tails opposite to himself—he did it so cleverly. Grabbing the six, the one and the three he put the separate lots in his pocket and promised to give them to Pearly and Vallie in the morning if they kept quiet, while Miss Lillie Delaine sang about somebody standing at the corner of the street winking and blinking at every girl he could meet. It was creditably rendered, but there was no applause.
With the little capital of the six the one and the three, Chicago Brosie then tried very, very hard to get up a game of sing-tai-loo with cogged dice which he took out of the inaccessible fob under his waistcoat, but the guests knew nothing about the game and laconically refused to be taught, so that after making a note of his obligation to the children on his shirt-cuff he remembered that he had a letter to post; he left the corrobborree, assumed his hat, pulled down the rim that was hanging loose, stretched the coat around the bottle till the buttons were turned inside out, stuck the clay cutty in his mouth upside down, and, saying "so long," left the guests to entertain themselves, while he went to see the chemist of the wood and the tap. He entered the "Old Red Pump" by the back way.
During his absence, which was somewhat prolonged, as he had a lot of lost time to make up in the bar, each of the guests played a few fantasias, and Miss E. Powell, who fancied herself a bit, got hold of a piece of violin music, as abstruse as the légende by Stojowski or Scarlatti's Gigue in G: which she made the others believe she was playing on the Mignon, but it was more like a bad bagpipe skirl. Notwithstanding, the duet, supposed to be "Twinkle, twinkle little star," played by the children thundering on the piano was vouchsafed by the small crowd standing outside the fence—among which was the doctor himself—a piece of marvellous composìtion by Mendelssohn, far and a way superior to the efforts of the others. In page 325the middle of another dance by the children to the click of the castanets by Frederick, about ten o'clock the doctor himself entered the house with a latch-key and found the servants apparently amusing the children, who ran up to him as he stood at the drawingroom door, Pearly calling out—"Puppa, oh! puppa, Vallie can stand on his head and I can play 'Nellie Bly' on the trangle."
"Come on, Pearly and Vallie." said their father, and all the servants left the room.
Soon the sweet prayer to the gentle Jesus, the sufferer of little children, of whom was the Kingdom of Heaven as they played at His feet, was heard on their pretty lips, and dreaming of marches, bugles, drums, and triangles, the two little angels were soon in the sylvan fairyland of sleep, while Brosie stole into his room through the side window and bestowed himself on the counterpane for the night. Ashamed of the fermented turgidity and redness of his face, his whole internal economy rebellious at the thoughts of food or any dietetic treatment of the alcoholic disease, and with a general diminution of his vital powers, he would slink away from other company into the presence of the children, with whom alone his mind was at ease. Tossing this way and that way on the outside of a sweating and uneasy bed, in pain with the cravings of a thirst which nothing but beer would slake; his thoughts rambling with no consentience over a wilderness of woeful circumstance,—over shoreless seas of incertitude, over arid wastes and burning deserts of sand, peopled only by the muttering furies and the horrible forebodings of a delirium, without one cheering sight or sound or resting-place, but nothing but a dull tormenting incubus and a vain changing of posture—he would straggle with this phantasm and that ever-threatening terror and that grim obstacle to sleep throughout the slow long night, till as if held down by demons he would throw up his arms with a sigh of despair and subside for a few hours into a slumber disturbed with unquiet dreams. Nothing left but the violent oscillations and witch-wanderings of a mind persecuted by the diabolical harpies of the fiery thirst; all gone, every blessing of rest and peace sunburnt and scorched by the incendiary fiends of the fiery thirst; dragging him in whirling nightmares to unassailable pinnacles of hope and tumbling him down, with his temples whirring and throbbing like engines, down, hurtling down in sweating, sickening, headlong revolutions into the in-ferno of despair; spinning him around and a thousand times around with the temptation of appeasing the jeering demons of the fiery thirst—a false temptation of appeasing the jeering demons of the fiery thirst; preying upon his vitals and goading him through the fiery mists of unrest with the impossible hopes of placating the clinging demons of the fiery thirst; stealing away his brains and leaving him nothing but mist and fire and thirst: everything else—energy, hope, ambition, peace of mind and the refreshing power of sleep—driven out of his existence by the wretches of the fiery thirst. All mist! all fire! all thirst! Still he felt happy and indifferent in his fool's paradise, and he would wake in the repentant morning with the fever of page 326the previous night's potations to begin his round of imprudence through the humdrum day and the fierce battle with the hideous night again.
"Awake my soul! and with the sun
Thy daily stage of duty run:
Shake off dull sloth and early rise,
To pay thy morning sacrifice"
— With the bottle at the "Old Red Pump."
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
3 Black-Eyed Susan was a successful English play opening in 1829; the actor's name is unknown, but Dutton may be alluding to actor and playwright Edmund Falconer.
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]
[Note added by Sara Berger as annotator]