TRIFLES FOR THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS.
BY H.S. ARMSTRONG.
J.B. LIPPINCOTT & CO.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by
HENRY S. ARMSTRONG,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the
District of Louisiana.
JAS. DAVIDSON HILL,
OF NEW ORLEANS,
A CHOSEN SCHOOL-FELLOW, A STANCH COMRADE IN ARMS, AND THE TRUE FRIEND OF
ARE AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
STORY OF A
LEAVES IN THE LIFE OF AN IDLER 45
MR. BUTTERBY RECORDS HIS CASE 71
DIAMONDS AND HEARTS
THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS.
Christmas! What worldly care could ever lessen the joy of that eventful
day? At your first waking in the morning, when you lie gazing in drowsy
listlessness at the brass ornament on your bed-tester, when the ring of
the milkman is like a dream, and the cries of the bread-man and
newspaper-boy sound far off in the distance, it peals at you in the
laughter and gay greetings of the servants in the yard. Your senses are
aroused by a promiscuous discharging of pistols, and you are filled with
a vague thought that the whole city has been formed into a line of
skirmishers. You are startled by a noise on the front pavement, which
sounds like an energetic drummer beating the long roll on a barrel-head;
and you have an indistinct idea that some improvident urchin (up since
the dawn) has just expended his last fire-cracker.
At length there is a stir in the room near you. You hear the patter of
little feet on the stairs, and the sound of childish voices in the
drawing-room. What transports of admiration, what peals of joyous
clamor, fall on your sleepy ears! The patter on the stairs sounds louder
and louder, the ringing voices come nearer and nearer; you hear the
little hands on your door-knob, and you hurry on your dressing-gown; for
it is Christmas morning.
What a wonderful time you have at breakfast! There are a half-dozen
silver forks for ma, a new napkin-ring for you, and what astonishing
hay-wagons and crying dolls for the children! Jane, the house-maid, is
beaming with happiness in a new collar and black silk apron; and Bridget
will persist in wearing her silver thimble and carrying her new
work-basket, though they threaten utter destruction to the
You sit an unusually long time over your coffee that morning, and say an
unusual number of facetious things to everybody. You cover Jane with
confusion, and throw Bridget into an explosion of mirth, by slyly
alluding to a blue-eyed young dray-man you one evening noticed seated on
the kitchen steps. Perhaps you venture a prediction on the miserable
existence he is some day destined to experience,--when a look from the
little lady in the merino morning-wrapper checks you, and you confess to
yourself that you are feeling uncommonly happy.
At last the breakfast ends, and the children go out for a romp. Perhaps
you are a little taken aback when you are informed your easy-chair has
been removed to the library; but you see Bridget, still in secure
possession of her thimble and work-basket, with a huge china bowl in one
hand and an egg-beater in the other, looking very warm and very much
confused, and you take your departure to your own domain, to con over
the morning papers.
You hear an indistinct sound of the drawing of corks and beating of
eggs; of a great many dishes being taken out of the china-closet, and a
good many orders being given in an undertone,--why is it women always
will speak in a whisper when there is a man about the house?--and you
lose yourself in the "leader," or the prices current.
The skirmishers have evidently suffered disaster; for the firing becomes
more and more distant, and at length dies from your hearing. You are
favored with a call from the improvident little boy, who requests you to
grant him the privilege of collecting such of his unexploded
fire-crackers as may be in your front yard, giving you, at the same
time, the interesting information that they are to be made into
"spit-devils." You are overwhelmed by a profound bow from the grocer's
lad as he passes your window, and you invite him in and beg that he will
honor you by accepting half a dollar and a handful of doughnuts:--the
lady in the merino morning-wrapper has provided a cake-basket full for
the occasion. You are also waited on by the milkman, who, you are glad
to see, is really flesh and blood, and not, as you have sometimes
supposed, an unearthly bell-ringer who visited this sublunary sphere
only at five A.M., and then for the sole purpose of disturbing
your morning nap. You are also complimented by the wood-man and
wood-sawyer, an English sailor with a wooden leg, who once nearly
swamped you in a tornado of nautical interjections, on your presenting
him a new pea-jacket. And then comes the German fruit-woman, whose first
customer you have the distinguished honor to be, and who, in
consequence, has taken breakfast in your kitchen for the last ten years.
You remember that on one occasion she spoke of her little boy, named
Heinderich, who was suffering with his teeth; and when you hope that
Heinderich is better, you are surprised to learn that he is quite a
large boy, going to the public school, and that the lady in the merino
morning-wrapper has just sent him a new cap.
The heaping pile of doughnuts gradually lessens, until finally there is
not one left. The last dish is evidently taken from the china-closet,
and the whole house is filled with that portentous stillness which
causes the mothers of mischievous offspring so much trepidation.
You expect to see the merino morning-wrapper reconnoitering the
movements of your own sweet pledges of affection; but she doesn't: you
can only hear the ticking of the little French clock on the
mantle-piece, and the spluttering of the coal as it bursts into a gassy
flame between the bars of the grate, and you almost imagine Christmas
has passed. You are deceived; for by-and-by you hear your children's
footsteps as they skip over the garden-walk, and the sound of their
ringing laughter as they rush in out of the cold, and their clamor rises
louder and gladder and more jubilant than ever. Grandpa! Who does not
know him, with his joyous face and hearty morning greeting? How
resplendent he looks in his broadcloth suit, his gold-headed cane and
great blue overcoat! What quantities of almonds and raisins, of oranges
and sweetmeats, those overcoat-pockets contain! What child ever lived
who did not believe grandpa's pocket a cornucopia for all juvenile
desires? The day passes on. The turkey never looked browner or juicier,
and the blaze on the pudding-sauce never burned bluer; the kissing under
the mistletoe was never more delightful, nor the blindman's-buff ever
played with a greater zest: but the merriest Christmas must end. Your
little girl, tired and sleepy, kneels at your feet, and you pass your
fingers through her soft curls, while she repeats her simple prayer:
"God bless pa, God bless ma, God bless grandpa, God bless little
brother, and God bless Santa Claus;" and you hope that God _will_ bless
Santa Claus. You thank your Creator you _are_ the master of that quiet
home and the father of those dear children, and go to your rest with a
heart full of gratitude. You hope that all the newspaper-boys, and all
the milkmen and bread-men's children, and all the little boys and girls
who have no fathers or mothers or grandpas, and all the poor, and all
the sick, and all the blind, and all the distressed, have had a merry
At a time like this, when the security of your own reward relaxes
scrutiny for the shortcomings of others, I would have you take up these
A CHRISTMAS MELODY.
"Twenty-nine dollars! Very well, Mr. John Redfield: I think you _have_
cut your allowance a _little_ low. With bracelets, bonbons, and other
gewgaws for your interesting friends, I must say your enjoyment of this
prospective Twenty-fifth of December is somewhat reduced. When a man has
skated over the frozen surface of society a little matter of
one-and-thirty years, it is just reasonable to hope he has reached that
desideratum known as years of discretion. There is a little adage
relating to the immeasurably short time the feeble-minded enjoy
pecuniary advantages, which I think decidedly applicable to you.
"A rather severe epigram, occurring in the Holy Scriptures, goes to show
the impossibility--even though the somewhat unsatisfactory argument of
the pestle and mortar be resorted to--of separating the same class of
people from their rather confused ideas of the fitness of things.
However, when the Mussulman, careering over Sahara, finds himself, by a
stumble of his horse, rolling in the sand, with his yataghan, pistols,
and turban scattered around him, he rises quietly, and exclaims, 'Allah
is great!' I know a Christian would have expended his wrath in a variety
of anathemas highly edifying, and close by wishing his unfortunate steed
in a much warmer climate than the Mohammedan has any idea of. I am a
poor church-man: let me emulate the philosophy of the simple child of
the desert, and when I fall into trouble bear it patiently.
"I wonder what the grim savage would do were he short of money in a land
thronging with beggars and other blissful adjuncts of civilization? Woe
unto every blind or club-foot man, and every one-armed or scalded woman,
_I_ meet to-day! They shall work out their own salvation with fear and
trembling, or I'm an idiot.
"Why, bless my soul, the fortunes bequeathed to all the novel-heroes
created this century, would not begin to supply them!"
Redfield shook his head decidedly when he came to this part of his
monologue, and put the gold and silver coins back into his pocket.
"I hate poor people--I positively do! I despise their pale faces and
cadaverous expression. I detest straggling little girls who come up to
you and say their mothers have been bedridden for three months, and all
their little brothers and sisters are down with the fever. I know it's
a lie. I can detect at once the professional whine, and am certain the
story has been repeated by rote a hundred times that day; but for the
life of me I cannot put out from my mind the imaginary picture of the
half-furnished room in some filthy back street, with a forlorn woman
with red hair stretched on a bed of straw, and half a dozen or more
red-haired children piled about promiscuously.
"There is a wretched little German girl, always managing to have a boil
either on her forehead or the back of her neck,--I believe in my soul
it's from overfeeding,--who follows my footsteps like a misanthropic
vampire. By what ingenuity she manages to cajole me out of my money I
know not, but I positively assert that in the last fortnight, according
to her account, her unhappy mother has suffered from eleven different
incurable diseases. My God! what a complication of misfortune! Why not
let them starve? When a man is not capable of maintaining a family, why
in Heaven's name does he ever have one?
"I think I will follow the maxims of political economists and all
respectable members of society, and vote beggars a nuisance. I wonder
how many people to-day, praying for deliverance by Christ's 'agony and
bloody sweat,' by his 'cross and passion,' his 'precious death and
burial,' his 'glorious resurrection and ascension,' and the 'coming of
the Holy Ghost,' don't?
"This _is_ a charitable frame of mind to precede a Christmas morning.
When did I contract the habit of talking to myself?
"I must be impressed with the two grand reasons of the man we all know
of: first, I like to talk to a sensible man, and second, I like to hear
a sensible man talk.
"I wonder if there is not something under the surface in Sol Smith's
charity sermon? I rather like its pithy style:
"'He that giveth to the poor, lendeth to the Lord. Now, brethren, if you
are satisfied with the security, down with the dust.'
"I once repeated it to a gaunt little parson, and his look of
unmitigated horror caused me to hide my diminished head. I knew from his
manner--he did not condescend a reply--what chamber in the Inferno was
being heated up for my especial benefit. Well, well! the sentiment is
doubtless creditable to his head and heart.
"What a pity it is I am not one of the 'good' people! What an
agonizingly cerulean expression I would wear, to be sure!
"I wonder why young mothers don't write for their children's first copy
Dante's inscription, and teach their baby lips to lisp of the world what
he says of hell. It's surprising to me that that parson is not crazed at
his sense of the certain perdition into which everybody except himself
is hurrying. Perhaps, after all, there is something in the question of
La Rochefoucauld, 'Is it not astonishing that we are not altogether
overpowered at the misfortunes of our friends?' Well, man learns
something every day. When I first saw a chicken take a billful of water
and hold up its head, in my childish simplicity I imagined it thanking
God: I afterward discovered it was only letting the water run down its
throat. My mind, like good wine or bad butter, must be strengthening by
"Why can't we take things quietly, as we did when we were boys? I expect
I had a rather comfortable time of it then, though I did get whipped for
tearing my clothes, and killing flies, which I used to do worse than any
"Now, that youngster walking before me is whistling like a lark, and, by
the Lord Harry, he has scarcely a shoe to his foot!"
He was a poor boy, perhaps seven or eight years old. His face was pale
and careworn, and though he whistled, it was a solemn kind of whistle,
that sounded more like a lamentation than the outburst of childish
gladness. His clothes were too thin and worn for his slight frame, for
the morning, though clear and bright, was frosty, and his little bare
toes peeping out of his shoes were blue with the cold. He hurried
through the streets with a bundle of papers, but, even while intent on
their sale, he had the walk of an old man, and his small shoulders
stooped as though they bent under the weight of years.
Redfield eyed him narrowly.
"So, in this frenzied struggle after bread, you are an itinerant vendor
of periodical literature?"
"You mean I sell papers, sir? Yes. I've only been at it three weeks. I'm
'stuck' this morning. Haven't got a good beat yet. Paper, sir?"
"Have you no fears of risking your commercial character by appearing on
the streets in that unheard-of dress?"
The boy reddened.
"I've been sick," said he, at length, "for a very long time."
"My Lord!" groaned the philosopher; "here's another conspiracy against
my unfortunate pocket-book! Why don't your mother take care of you?"
"She did, sir; but she sews for slop-shops, and has worked so much at
night that she's almost blind."
"Worse and worse! and here's an outfitting establishment just across the
street. When will I acquire anything like habits of prudence? Boy," said
he, fiercely, "you are a young vagabond, and deserve to starve. Your
mother should be put in the pillory for ever marrying. That's what the
world says,--and what I would think, if I wasn't a consummate ass. Were
you ever blessed with a view of the most unmitigated simpleton the sun
ever shone upon? Look at me! Look good: I am worthy of a close
inspection. Now come along, and see to what extent my folly sometimes
He caught the boy roughly by the arm, jerked rather than led him across
the street, and thrust him bodily among a crowd of astonished clerks who
stood at the door of a clothing-house.
"Take this young vagrant and put him into new boots, with woolen socks,
some kind of a gray jacket and trowsers, and a hat that's fit for a
Seeing that Redfield was really in earnest, the proprietor obeyed the
order promptly, and in half an hour the boy reappeared, rather red, a
little uncertain, but decidedly altered for the better.
"Now go," cried the cynic, with a smile, and a shake of his hand, "and
thank your stars the fool-killer did not come along before you."
"Nineteen dollars and a half! Bless me! what am I coming to? It may be
laying up treasures in heaven; but, by Jove, I had rather see it than
hear tell of it."
It certainly was the dreariest 24th of December an unhappy boy ever had
the misery of witnessing. In a vain endeavor to get up an excitement, I
expended my last fire-cracker; but the continuous drizzle drowned out
every one. It was only four o'clock, and yet the fog hung like a pall
over the windows, and the gas-men were lighting the lamps in the street.
My mother, and an old schoolmate, Mrs. Mary Morton, adjourned to the
privacy of her bedroom; and, a pet navigation enterprise, conducted in
the gutter, having resulted in shipwreck and a severe sore throat, I
also was permitted to enjoy its cosey quiet. John Redfield came in as
the evening advanced. He had been sick; and my mother, wheeling the
lounge near the fire, made him lie down and have something warm to
drink. He and Mrs. Morton were intimate with the family from my earliest
The four, in their childhood, lived near each other, among the
picturesque hills of Western Pennsylvania. They went to the same school,
played in the same woods, and now, in mature life, retained the warm
regard of the days gone by. I say four; for Mr. Redfield had a
sister,--Mrs. Hague, a pale, lovely little lady, who at one time visited
my mother very often. There had been some estrangement between her and
her brother, the particulars of which I never knew. She had married,
years before, a worthless kind of a man, who kept a shoestore; but he
became involved, the store was sold out by the sheriff and since then
both were in a manner lost.
John Redfield, though an abrupt man, and rather eccentric, had as kind a
heart as any one I ever knew. He was connected with a newspaper in the
city, and wrote wonderful articles about police courts, that, somehow,
sounded more like sermons than stories. In my early days, before
Gutenberg and his movable types came within the scope of my knowledge, I
believed he printed out the whole edition with a lead-pencil, and
entertained most exalted ideas of his capacity. He had a passion for
giving boys painted boats. I must have received twenty--all exactly
alike--at various outbreaks of his generosity. He had the queerest way
of bestowing favors I almost ever saw. When he wished to make a boy a
present, he shoved it roughly into his pocket, and then started off as
if the house was on fire. What brought up the subject I do not now
remember, but that evening Mrs. Morton persisted in talking about Clara
Hague. She spoke of their childhood, of the old homestead, of the
nutting, the apple-picking, the cider-making, and the hundred other
occupations and amusements of their young life.
She had a vivid power of description, and a charming simplicity in her
choice of words, that entertained even me; but I could see Mr. Redfield
was troubled. He moved restlessly on the lounge, and once drew a shawl
over his face. At last she touched on the shoestore, its doleful decay
and downfall, and the years the unhappy woman had struggled on. At this
he started to go; but there was something in her manner that detained
him. Her tone had been light and chatty before; and, though she spoke
with proper gravity, it was sprightly rather than earnest. I did not
notice any striking change; and yet it seemed suddenly to assume the
gentle impressiveness one sometimes fancies we should hear from the
"Whatever be her troubles, Clara has been a good sister to you. You were
the youngest; and a puny little fellow you were then, with all your
greatness. Many and many a time, in your quarrels with other boys, have
I seen her get into no end of disgrace for defending you. Do you
_remember_ that old log school-house, John? and our dinners under the
trees? What baskets of berries and bags of nuts we gathered in those
woods! Do you remember the little run we used to cross, and the fish you
caught in the pool?
"And oh, John! do you remember that day we started home when it rained?
You had been sick, and commenced to cry. We got under a big tree; but it
was November; the leaves had all blown down, and the rain beat through
the branches. What disconsolate little people we were! And when you sat
down on a flat stone, and declared you'd stay there and die, don't you
remember how Clara went out in the bushes, and, taking off her little
flannel petticoat, put it around your shoulders for a cloak?"
The strong man quivered; his face convulsed, and the hot tears started
into his eyes.
"YES! _I'll be hanged if I don't!_"
He clutched up his hat, and was gone in an instant, and the two women,
woman-like, stood sobbing in each other's arms.
The thousand-and-one young gentlemen in blue neck-ties, who for a
twelvemonth, in frantic strains, varying from _basso profundo_ to piping
tenor, had proclaimed their entire willingness to "_mourir pour la
patrie_," were engrossed at their shops; innumerable fascinating
trimmers of bonnets, who, like poor little "Dora," religiously believed
the chief end of man consisted in "dancing continually ta la ra, ta la
ra," sat busily plying the needle, elbow-deep in ribbons; the
consumptive-looking flute-player before the foot-lights trilled out his
spasmodic trickle of melody, and contemplated with melancholy pleasure
the excited audience; the lank danseuse ogled and smirked at it behind
them, and, with passionate gestures of her thin legs, implored its
applause; men, women, and children, of all grades and degrees, crowded
into the murky night; for a day was coming when the youths of the
neck-ties would not agree to _mourir_ on any account; when the
flute-player would cease to be contemplative; when the danseuse would
forget her attenuated extremities; when the whole world, where the grace
of the Redeemer is known, would believe that the chief end of the
_hour_, at least, consisted in "dancing continually ta la ra, ta la ra."
Shall "The Air" ring with the joyous notes of the carols, or breathe low
and soft with the sighs of the suffering?
Shall it burst into mad hilarity at the revelry, or wail with the sharp
cries of the poor?
It was a painted house, but the paint had worn off; it had a garden, but
the garden was choked with weeds; its two rooms were once handsomely
furnished, but the furniture was now common and old. It was once a
fashionable street; but fashion had fled before the victorious eagles of
trade. The tenants of that house were once happy and prosperous. What
are they now?
The occupant of the back room was a man, and the occupants of the front
room a woman and her children.
He was sitting at a rude deal table; before him were scattered some
dirty sheets of music, and around him the place was dreary and bare. By
the light of a tallow dip he was playing, in screeching tones, the
commonest of ditties and polkas by note. His coat was once of the
richest; but now it was old and threadbare. His hands were once white
and elegantly shaped; now they were dirty, and blue with cold. His face
once beamed with contentment; now it was worn with care and marked by
the hard lines of penury.
The other room was darker, and, if possible, more dreary. There were two
trundle-beds in a corner, and four bright beings, oblivious to the
discomfort, in the happy sleep of childhood. There was a mattress in
another corner, with a pile of bedquilts and a sheet.
The fire had burned down to a coal. It shone on the mantle with a sickly
glare; and this was the only light there was.
To the mantle-piece were pinned four little stockings, each waiting
open-mouthed for a gift from Santa Claus.
Below them crouched a woman, weeping bitterly.
The woman was Clara Hague; and she was weeping because the Christmas
dawn would find those little mouths unsatisfied.
Our "Air" is getting mournful,--too mournful for this hour of great joy.
The _Te Deum Laudamus_, not the _Miserere_, is for outbursts of gladness
Let it sing of the carriage that surprised the man from his fiddle and
the woman from her tears by its thunder in the quiet street.
Let it sing of the warm-hearted brother, forgetting the bitterness of
the past, his pockets replenished from a well-saved hoard, who rushed
in, startling the little sleepers with his joyous greeting. Let it chant
the praises of the hampers of wine, and fowls, and dainties, and the
bundles of toys, that same lumbering carriage contained. And last, but
not least, let it thrill with the glad shout of a little newsboy, who,
frantic with delight, hurried on a new gray suit and a pair of bran-new
boots, a present received that very day from his then unknown uncle,
STORY OF A BEAST.
It was a dirty, grasping little office, vile enough to have been built
by the Evil One; and the occupant was a dirty, grasping little man,
cruel enough to have been made out of its scraps. It was a hard,
remorseless little door, that took in a visitor at a gulp and closed
after him with a bite. If the luckless caller happened to be a debtor,
the fantastic barbarity of his reception was positively infernal. The
jerk of grotesque ferocity that greeted him was like the "hoop la!" of a
demonized gymnast. The straight-backed chair looked like a part of the
stiff, angular man. The yellow-wash on the wall seemed to have caught
its reflex from the faded face, and stared grimly at deep lines of
avarice ironed into it. Even the mud on the floor, the dust on the
table, and the cobwebs on the ceiling maliciously conspired against him,
and asserted themselves in every seam of his threadbare clothes. But the
face,--stern, stony, relentless, an uncertain compromise between the
ghastly severity of a German etching and the constipated austerity of
old pictures of the saints,--in that, one fixed idea had blotted out
every other vestige of humanity. Each starting vein, bone, and muscle
on the hungry visage had "stand and deliver" scarred all over it. The
eager metallic glitter of his eyes, the rigid harshness of his mouth,
and the nameless craving that seemed to speak from his lean, attenuated
cheeks, united to make the name of Hardy Gripstone and Beast synonymous.
He looked like a beast, he ate like a beast, he lived like a beast.
Beast started out of every bristle on his unkempt head; it shone in the
unhealthy gloss of his battered hat; it wallowed on the stock that clung
around his dirty neck; it glistened in the grease on his dingy clothes;
it starved on his thin, claw-like hands; it flourished in the grime
imbedded under his nails; it creaked in his worn-out, down-trodden
shoes. Men, as he shambled by on the streets, unconsciously muttered,
"Beast!" women, shrinking from him, whispered, "Beast!" between the
heart-throbs the terror of his presence created; children, hushing their
cries in silent horror at his grimace, stared "Beast!" out of their
wonder-stricken eyes. You might bray him in a mortar and boil the powder
in a caldron, yet amid all the envy, hatred, and malice that made up the
ingredients, Beast would have triumphantly floated on the top. Beast!
Beast! Beast! Beast! The universal verdict clutched him like the shirt
of Nessus. He actually grew proud of the title, and received the stigma
with a cluck of beastly joy, as though inspired with a certain beastly
ambition to deserve it. The laugh with which he hailed any appeal to his
charity was monstrous. It commenced with a leathery wheeze like the puff
of asthmatic bellows; it croaked with a grating chuckle, as if his
throat opened on rusty hinges; and then it broke out in a shrill vocal
shudder, that sounded like the shriek of a hyena.
It is an idiosyncrasy of mine to foster just such pet abominations; and
I cultivated Hardy Gripstone. My advances were not encouraged by that
overweening tenderness that indicates the possible victim of misplaced
confidence. Far from "wearing his heart upon his sleeve for daws to peck
at," it seemed to have been weaned years agone, and my milk of human
kindness fell flat as any whipped syllabub.
Felicitous as were the suggestions of his suspicious brain, it took me
fully three months to descend in his bearish estimation from a
highwayman to a ninny. There was an incredibility in my apparent lack of
motive that puzzled him. His dubious cordiality was doled out under
protest. As an exhibitor would clutch a vicious ape, he grabbed at every
show of feeling, and almost throttled the most pitiful courtesy, in his
nervous dread of its doing him some bodily harm. There was a low cunning
in his very acceptance of any little kindness. The sly way in which he
insinuated his withered face into my morning papers, and the smirk of
satisfaction with which he gloated on the triumph of having gratuitously
gleaned their entire contents, was in keeping with every other ludicrous
phase of his distorted nature. He looked upon me as a paragon of
stupidity; and I fear I considered him a piece of personal property, and
felt as much pride in the possession as did Barnum in his Aztec
I do not think the acquaintance tended in any way to exaggerate my ideas
of human purity. Though it extended through several years, no guilty act
I ever heard of detracted from his deserved reputation for beastliness.
My surmises never ventured to the hazardous period of infancy, or risked
the doubtful thought that kith or kin _could_ have loved him; but I have
often wondered if there ever _was_ a time when his rapacity found
employment in the robbing of a hen's nest, or his grasping ambition
culminated in the swop of a jack-knife. I wondered if in all the
grotesque concomitants that congregated to make up the hideous whole,
there existed a redeeming trait. Yes, there was _one_,--one I discovered
in the tears that sprung from his unrelenting eyes and rained on his
cadaverous cheeks. What was the anguish that shook his beastly frame?
what the agony that tore his grasping nature? who was the Moses that
smote water from this rock?
Dear hearers, it is here we find the text of the sermon, and here
commenceth the preaching.
* * *
Early one summer, the grasping little door bit to for good, and I missed
its mangy proprietor for probably four months. Had he planted himself in
the earth and regerminated, he could not have been more freshened. His
emaciated carcass fairly blossomed with magnificence; and gaudy ornament
sprouted all over him. It peeped through his shirt-front in flashy
studs, it twined on his fingers in glittering rings, it trailed around
his waist in glowing velvet, and expanded over his thin legs and arms in
a forest of broadcloth. 'Tis true, the shiny collar _would_ get over his
ears, the coat-sleeves darkened every sparkle on his hands, and the hems
of his trowsers persisted in being trodden under heel; but what were
petty annoyances like these, in a renovation so complete? His face had
been shaved and polished until it approached in glistening amiability
the ivory head on a walking-stick; but there was an uncertainty in its
ripples of merriment impressive of the belief that if once a genuine ha!
ha! was ventured, the galvanized look of joy would instantly vanish. It
was at a very uncertain gait he sidled into my office. He did not seem
at all sure I would know him, or, in fact, _very_ intimately acquainted
with himself. The mingled gruffness and cordiality of his greeting
suggested a dancing-master suffering with corns. It was a minute or two
before his wonted calmness returned; but finally, with a piteous look of
blended tenderness and brutal exultation, he handed me a card. It
contained the handsomely engraved compliments of Miss Florence
Gripstone, and a hope for the pleasure of my company at a soirée. This
was the magic wand that turned penury to wealth and made the sterile
rock blossom with gorgeous flowers. The beast had a daughter, and with
all the ardor of a distorted nature he loved her.
If, a week before, Gripstone's soirée had been hinted, I think I would
have laughed; but if the assertion had been ventured that it would be
given in a stately house, with spacious grounds, on a fashionable
street, and with "Gripstone" on the door-plate, I know I would have
shouted outright. Yet the house was stately, and the entertainment
superb. Carpets glowing with the gorgeous coloring of the Orient,
pictures that had caught their delicate tinge in sacred Rome, furniture
carved from the solid heart of rose-wood, plate vying in richness with
the state service of a scion of nobility, abounded. Fluttering in the
light of many tinted lamps, rare flowers breathed daintiest odors; and
floating through the high arches, soft music whispered plaintive
ecstasy. In the center of a throng of recently arrived guests, and
positively cropping with broadcloth and Marseilles, beamed the host.
Close at his side, radiant in her beauty, faultless in its adornment,
stood the daughter. In one, a magnificent swallow-tail, fleecy
shirt-frill, and snowy gloves had stamped their wearer with a look of
hopeless absurdity; in the other, exquisite taste, gentle dignity, and
true courtesy bore the impress of glorious womanhood. I was positively
bewildered. Could the father of that lovely girl be the wretch the world
hooted at? Could the owner of all this grandeur be the Beast I fancied
my private property?
Carriage-loads of elegantly attired women crowded each other in the
vestibule; dancing beaux congregated in the smoking-room; eminent
merchants, with their wives and daughters, wits of both sexes, women of
the most exclusive _ton_, thronged the spacious _salons_. Each in their
turn was greeted with a smirk of ecstatic glee. To Gripstone the
courtesy seemed invested with a proprietary interest. A nod was
receipted with a simper, a grasp of the hand with a scrape, the most
distant recognition by the most obsequious acknowledgment. There
appeared to be no doubt in his mind it was all bought and paid for, but
it did no harm to be polite for _once_; and comically polite he was.
I will not say he did not gradually begin to wear the look of a man who
had purchased an elephant; for he did. I found him late in the evening
posted behind a column and peering through the window at the assembled
merry-makers. It was evident he owned the whole party, and that every
ringing laugh went with the property; but to him it was a novel
investment, and perhaps more difficult to manage than any other article
he possessed. Partly from a dim consciousness that he had wandered
beyond his depth, and probably from the loneliness consequent to so
uncongenial a spectacle, a companion had become necessary; and, when I
approached, his jump of cordiality was as uncouth as it was unexpected.
So stunned were my senses by the extraordinary events, that, had he
cried out, "Come to my arms, my long-lost brother!" or were a
strawberry-mark actually found, I could not have been surprised. As it
was, his frenzied tugs at the lapel of my coat threatened its immediate
destruction, and my spinal column ached under his demoniac slaps on the
back, before I gasped out my congratulations.
Wine, excitement, or the society of one who at least had treated him
with common decency, warmed the little geniality that remained in him.
With a jerk he thrust me into his study, and, while thrilling music
swept through the echoing halls, and the solid flooring swayed under the
feet of the dancers, the Beast opened his heart. Shrinking, as though
'twere felony, from the penury of early life, flying from a brief hour
of married happiness, in wild triumph he plunged into the dreariness of
the upward struggle. Maddened with success, spurning all thought of
concealment, with shocking exactness he entered into every detail of the
contest, every incident in the appalling history. The low cunning and
miserable privation that accumulated the first paltry hundreds, the
trickery that made them thousands, the heartless sacrifice of
self-respect that doubled and trebled the swelling store, were gloated
over with a grin of delight. Transactions imbued with a depravity that
made me shudder, were narrated with a chuckle; chicaneries of a depth
and maliciousness positively devilish, were touched with a smirk. For
_this_ he had lied and cheated; for _this_ his wretched body grew lean
for want of food; for _this_ all the world loathed him. In _his_ youth
poverty _crushed_ him; but his little girl, away at school, never knew
the meaning of the word. Widows went portionless, but _she_ did not
want; orphans starved, _her_ platter was always full. _He_ had been
spattered by the coaches of the rich; but now his chariot, and _her_
chariot, would take a drive. They had called him Beast; but _now_ they
called him _gentleman_.
The hundreds who drank his wine and trifled with his sweets called him
gentleman, and hundreds more were ready to go down on their knees to his
own flesh and blood. Now was the time to enjoy, now the day of
happiness. Money was a drug; in his abundance, he could never want. He
had love, grandeur, troops of friends; _now_ he would live a monarch.
Flushed with victory, his eyes blazed, his voice rang clear and loud in
its exultation, and his lank form swelled with defiance. Springing to
his feet, and clutching up a decanter, he waved it wildly around his
head, and, challenging God or man to mar such peace, shivered it on the
Wonder-stricken at the intensity of his vulgarity, and shocked at the
sacrilege, I left; and from that moment Hardy Gripstone became a study.
Every step in his tortuous course, every phase of his ostentation, every
enormity on good taste, was followed with ceaseless vigilance. Excesses
that would have startled the most thoughtless were pursued with restless
activity; absurdities that drew forth a shout of ridicule were committed
with provoking good humor. No freak seemed exuberant, no folly
preposterous, no extremity extravagance. The joy of paternity, sinking
deep into his nature, made every peculiarity more glaringly apparent.
Money had been his idol, its accumulation the summit of his ambition;
its reckless sacrifice in his daughter's honor appeared the only
adequate expression of his love. The intervals of his devotion were
passed in idle boasting, and to me he detailed every incident. There was
something really touching in the abject way in which he mentioned each
trifle concerning her. Little circumstances connected with her daily
life were described as one would describe the traits of some rare
animal. His career of degradation seemed to have blunted every idea of
responsibility. He looked upon her as a superior being, and her
adornment as a sacred duty. The richness of her toilet, the magnificence
of her equipage, the glory of her beauty, became an inexhaustible
surprise and delight. The utter lack of congeniality, the barrier of
caste that divided them, was indescribably sad. Rapturous admiration,
gentle amazement, blind idolatry, meek bewilderment, the one twisted by
brutality to a living distortion, the other lifted by refinement to the
embodiment of womanly grace; and yet they were father and daughter. To
do her justice, she strove in every way to testify her love and
gratitude for her strange parent; the ties of blood asserted themselves
in her words and caresses, but they looked doubtfully out of her eyes.
Educated far away from him, and amid other associations, she could not
be blind to his faults and shortcomings. The social gulf that divided
them, though bridged by her sense of duty, was ever present in her
thoughts. I mourned over the remorseless avarice that made him what he
was; I almost regretted the culture that placed her so far above him;
but, knowing the rude shocks to her sensitive nature, the ruthless
trampling on every womanly instinct, I mourned for her the most.
Alas for the schemes of prosy men and women! when tender Loveliness
goes airing herself through shady lanes, frank young Valor is seldom far
off. The Eurydice may be only a school-girl, and Orpheus a brave, manly
boy in a blue coat; but there is a world of heart-fluttering, for all
that. The flush of conscious beauty blooming on the cheek of one, is
generally a shadow of the warm red that mantles the face of the other.
While Eurydice Gripstone mused in quiet nooks, it was no fabled youth of
magic lyre who sent the rhetoric and botany waltzing through her brain;
and when the fierce cry of "Lights out!" hurried _Jane Eyre_ under the
pillow, it was no dream of impossible mustaches that made her hear the
clocks chime dismally and the cocks crow for midnight.
When the long-looked-forward-to Commencement-day was at length looked
_on_, and our heroine tripped up to the platform to read her Essay on
Filial Affection, alas for its consistency! it was not the grin of Pluto
Gripstone staring stupidly at the show, but the smile of Orpheus, now
blessed with a strong beard, that set the recipient of undying fame a
trembling. And now, when the farewell had been said, and Orpheus left to
break his lyre and mourn,--when Pluto had carried home his prize and the
dreary occupation of being as extravagant as possible had
commenced,--they were no notes of weird pathos, but billets containing
many brave promises, that made strong coffee the most delectable of
drinks. Of course all these changes from dreamy reverie to tremulous joy
could not escape the searching eye of Pluto; and of course, when
questioned, no Eurydice of spirit would think of denying the mate for
whom she pined.
Oh, the consternation of the discovery! Oh, the thunders of remonstrance
with which Hades resounded! The wheel of Ixion might whirl, and the
pitchy depths blaze with the fires of indignation, but all this did not
dry the tears of the nymph, nor soothe her bitterness of woe. Every
tenderness that could reconcile, every enjoyment that could wean, was
vainly essayed; mourning for her Orpheus, she would not be comforted.
At last the Plutonian shadows opened to receive the matchless man. It
was with no impossible burst of harmony he charmed away the terrors of
this prison-house of injured innocence. Whatever might have been the
Orpheus of the fabled "long ago," our modern hero was a plain,
business-like man. He thought a great deal of the daughter, but for her
worn-out old hulk of a father he didn't care a button. Married he was
determined to be, _nolens volens_; and that was the long and the short
of it. To a piteous plea to remain and enjoy the old man's wealth, he
turned the deafest of ears. Business required his presence at home;
where business commanded, he obeyed; and that was the long and the short
of that. _He_ didn't propose to set up a museum of deformities, if the
daughter did; or stay to witness a burlesque on the society he was
brought up in, were she never so dutiful.
Oh, the misery of this reality! When shall I forget the anguish on that
cadaverous face, when the terror of the narration? For nineteen years he
had patiently plodded on, despised by the rich, hated by the poor,
spurned by both. He had driven hard bargains that she might drive her
carriage; he had turned his wretched debtors houseless into the streets
that she might be covered. With every spark of love in his heart, with
every instinct of tenderness in his soul, he had bowed down and
worshiped her. She had him all: he would set to work anew, were it
needful, for her sake; he would go in rags for her; he would starve for
her; and this was his reward!--his happiness filched from him by a
whipster of a day's acquaintance!
When two people, like the frogs of Æsop, conclude to plunge down a well
for the waters of happiness, it is generally the "weaker vessel" who
dallies. Let no one suppose our Eurydice quitted the blissful innocence
of nymphhood without a struggle, or coolly deserted her battered old
father without a regret.
With all the golden halo that hung about the future, there were walks
taken in those gardens in which the claw-like hands and tapering fingers
clutched each other very tightly, and there were sudden bursts of
emotion when the cadaverous cheeks were well-nigh smothered with kisses.
If you or I had had an interview with the pillow that adorned her
chamber, it would have told us of many a scalding tear that damped its
purity and many a smothered sob that fell on its feathery ears. If there
were red eyes and pallid cheeks at the breakfast-table on one side,
there was a very dismal face on the other. Step by step the hard fact
sunk into it, and furrow after furrow marked the progress. It was very
glorious for Orpheus; but it was very gloomy for the Beast, and he knew
it. Bravely did the old man hold out, and grim and silent was the
surrender. Perhaps a dawning light of their ill-assorted association,
and a fear for its influence on her happiness, might have opened the
sally-port to the conqueror; but he never admitted it. He laid down his
arms as coldly and quietly as ever any old Spanish knight gave up his
Once more the stately house opened wide its doors to a stately
gathering, and again there was music and dancing and feasting. There
were scores of richly-dressed women to kiss the bride, and there were
scores of brave men to congratulate the groom; but there was not one in
all that fair company had a kindly word for Hardy Gripstone, and of all
the throng who feasted that night there was not one saw his broken
From the hour the creaking steamer bore the happy pair to their Northern
home, he slunk out of society. The great house was closed, and the
little office, dirtier and more grasping than ever, opened. Every
witness to his outburst, myself included, was studiously avoided. I met
him often; but no sign of recognition escaped him.
Some months afterward, in passing his filthy little street, I found the
remorseless little door had gulped a policeman. Pulling apart its
ferocious jaws, and peering in, I saw the straight-backed chair; but the
body which seemed a part of it was much stiffer and more angular. The
yellow-wash on the wall was a paltry reflex of the ghastly yellow of his
faded visage; for the iron face was the face of a corpse.
Men who stood vacantly staring in muttered, "Beast!" women, shrinking
from the unsightly spectacle, whispered, "Beast!" and children, gazing
in silent horror with the rest, stared "Beast!" out of their
wonder-stricken eyes. So hard did they stare, so loud did they mutter,
and so many instances did they rehearse of the foul wrongs he had
committed, that I am doubtful about the matter myself, and ask you,
reader, Was he a Beast?
LEAVES IN THE LIFE OF AN IDLER.
Leaf the First.
When a man whom you have every reason to believe not only the coolest,
but the most unimpressible, of beings, suddenly turns white as a ghost
and shivers with a nervous spasm, it is safe to suppose he is
frightened. But when terror, turning into rage, changes one of the most
attentive and respectful of servants into a madman, it is scarcely safe
to suppose anything. As it was, I stared in mute amazement, and he
glared at me as though I had struck him. While waiting for a light, I
carelessly put my hand into a basket of hot-house vegetables. The small
egg-plant I took up certainly _did_ weigh twenty pounds, and when I
attempted to lift the basket the handle bent double; but why this should
frighten a man like Marcel, or provoke him to anger, is as inexplicable
as it is surprising.
He is pacing up and down the hall in a state of the wildest excitement;
and I, with man's truest comfort,--tobacco,--am left to my meditations.
What combination of circumstances reduced him to a porter, I cannot for
the life of me imagine. His hand is as soft as a woman's; and his brow
has a breadth of brain that would dignify a Senator. Notwithstanding the
scrupulous deference in his tone, his manner possesses the quiet ease of
a gentleman, to as great a degree as any I ever saw.
The utter incongruity of his appearance and position struck me the
moment I laid eyes on him. He flourished his napkin with the dainty
grace of a courtier; and when he lifted my luggage to his shoulder, I
was on the point of apologizing. He makes my bed, polishes my shoes,
performs with fidelity the most menial offices; and yet I _cannot_ but
look upon him as an equal. Poor devil! His cheek may burn with the
bluest blood in France. What a pity the world is not moral!
There is something enchanting to me in smoking. It is like a rich
cordial,--nerving every faculty to action. A draught from your
_Cabanas_, the pulse quickens, the mind clears, and thought awakes, like
a fine instrument under the magic touch of a master. The wind moans
drearily without, the rain beats dismally against the windows, the
fagots flicker blue-flamed and weird in the dark recesses of the
chimney-place; but what care I? The white walls are lurid in the flare,
the great bed stands out in the darkness like a grotesque engine of the
Inquisition; but who suffers? _Au troisième, No. 30, Rue Lepelletier_,
was never noted for its comforts; but who would ask a repose more
secure, a peace more perfect, than are enjoyed by the occupant of this
rambling old house? Blessed be the earth that bears this solace for
weary brains! Its very odor is pregnant with dreams of the _Vuelta
Abajo_. You see the luxuriant foliage of the tropics, the dark-green
waves curling on the coral beach, and the scarlet flamingoes that gather
shell-fish in the marshes away off in the golden sunset. You hear the
wild song of the Spanish fruit-man as he sculls his boat along the
broken wharves, and are soothed into utter listlessness by the thousand
perfumes that come off with the land-breeze. A taste of the fragrant
vapor, you recline in the odorous orange darkness of a dream-land,
languidly breathing the smoke from your hookah, and the lustrous leaves
moving over you are bathed in the soft and melting sunshine. The day
lingers luminously over far mountain-ranges, paling in brilliancy on the
hill-side, where the blushing vine, bending with the clusters, is still
enlivened by the song of the vintagers; and in the valley, where the
grain sheds its gold under the sickle. You are lost in voluptuous
reverie. You breathe the sunlight; intellect is thawed and mellowed;
emotions take the place of thought; "your senses, sun-tranced, rise into
the sphere of soul." You feel the heart of humanity throbbing through
all nature, and your own warms into quivering life.
"It is not good for man to live alone;" and you dream of another to
share the rapture your wild fancy has created.
_Your_ Haidee is pure. Her form has rather the statuesque roundness of
Psyche than the luxurious excess of Venus. Timid, yet not tremulous,
graceful even to delicacy, coquettish in outline, _her_ beauty is formed
for smiles. She is a still-eyed Xenobi, but knows nothing of Passion
with disheveled locks, divine frenzy, and fiery grasp. She is your
friend and comforter; and you are the strong rock her helplessness
clings to. Your uncouth manner softens as you behold her troubled look.
You become kind and considerate. You watch with pity the pinched faces
of anxiety that pass before you. You cheer the little beggar, and give
him of your abundance. Unhappy wanderer! he has started early on his
wretched pilgrimage for bread. "Your heart, enlarged by its new sympathy
with one, grows bountiful to all." The fragrant smoke curls in heavier
clouds, and is wafted imperceptibly into the darkness. Ah, Arthur
Granger! Arthur Granger! you are dreaming impossibilities, as the man
athirst dreams of flowing waters.
"Love has lost its wings of heavenly azure with which it soared light as
a lark into the empyrean, and now grovels on the earth, weighed down by
the burden of red gold."
How well I recollect that warm, balmy March morning! My mother had sent
me to Paris about six months before, to read law with an old relative.
Of course I was delighted; but that day I felt tired of the dull routine
of my life, and longed for the green fields, waving trees, and wild
mountain-torrents of my home. I was walking slowly down the street,
thinking gloomily of the labors of another day, and she was standing
near a school-house door, intently occupied in giving some directions to
an old soldier. In my whole life I do not think I ever saw a more
beautiful creature. The airiness of the lithe little figure, the
playfulness in the nod of the graceful head, the look of joyous
innocence on that perfect face, flitted through my mind like a bright
ray of sunshine during the entire day. Every morning, for years after, I
met that child; and every morning her beaming smile cheered my young
life like a glimpse of heaven. I never spoke to her; it was a long time
before she even knew of my existence; but by-and-by I noticed a
quizzical expression come over the old man's face, and I saw her
features warm with a faint flush of recognition. How many dreams I based
on that slight fabric! Of course I discovered her name; and of course I
learned that her father was very rich; but what was that to me? With
what pride did I gaze at his name in huge gilt letters on a great
warehouse near us, and what wonderful little gothic cottages did I build
on the strength of the "and Son" that would shortly be added to it! The
long nights with my cousin became less wearisome. I could hear the dull
creaking of the letter-press, and see him sit poring over his writing,
quite patiently. When the organ-grinder stopped on the corner and played
"Make me no gaudy chaplet," I did not long to rush into the streets, for
I had _her_ to think about. When the clock struck eleven, and my cousin,
with his peculiar "phew!" commenced another letter, I looked on quite
calmly, and began the construction of another cottage. Of course there
were rainy days, and Thursdays that were ages to me; and there were
Christmas holidays, and long, hot vacations, that she did not come; but
September brought back the radiant face, and I worshiped on.
Gradually I noticed a change in her dress. She wore little lace collars,
and bright ribbons I had not seen before; and sometimes she carried a
little bouquet of violets, with a white rosebud in the center. As she
grew older, I had many rivals. Gallant youths, brave in broadcloth and
beavers, followed by dozens the _Picciola_ I had watched so tenderly.
How proudly I passed them by! and how I sneered at the thought of their
I saw her form grow fuller and expand into a more queenly beauty. I saw
her eyes sparkle with a diviner light, and her bosom swell with new and
strange emotions. I watched her until she became a woman, and gloried in
her matchless loveliness.
At last the end came. One morning, the brown calico frock was changed
for an India silk, and the little school bonnet, with its blue veil, for
a new one, covered with artificials. She was accompanied by an elderly
lady, and looked nervous and excited. I was troubled at the tremulous,
uncertain expression of her face. The next day I read her name in the
list of graduates.
It does generally rain at picnics; but this time it didn't. When shall I
ever forget that picnic? I stole a holiday to attend it. It was late
when I arrived: the dinner was over, and I had one prepared expressly
for me. Would you believe it? my fair attendant was the little Blue
Veil. She was so kind and so gentle, and treated me in such a confiding,
sisterly way. There was a tenderness in the soft depths of her eyes, a
purity in the dazzling loveliness of her face, that my heart yielded to
with the blind fervor of a devotee. When shall I ever forget that
evening walk under the trees? Oh! those buttercups and daisies, and
little Quaker ladies! what recollections they bring back to me! The
pressure of that soft little hand on my arm, the timid grace of her
manner, the sound of her clear, girlish voice, with what emotions have
they stirred my soul! Heaven bless her! Thank God for that one glorious
picture! It was years ago; she is married now, and the mother of
children; yet even now I sometimes catch myself standing on the corners
and gazing wistfully down the street for the bright image that stole
into the morning of my young life like a soothing dream in a long,
Leaf the Second.
Gardening in midwinter!--what new freak has taken possession of that
eccentric man? The morning broke dank and drear, for the December air
had chilled the moisture into a fog. The wide verandas that opened on
the court-yard in rear were dripping with the rain, and the broad
flag-stones covered with a greasy slime. The diminutive grass-plot was
brown and soggy, but the withered blades rapidly disappeared under the
sturdy plunges of Marcel's spade. I had gone out on the gallery to fill
a ewer with water--in his excitement of the previous evening, Marcel had
forgotten my morning bath--and saw him distinctly through the
_jalousies_. He must have commenced at daylight; for, though it was then
early, the ground was almost entirely dug up. Near him, on the pavement,
was the basket over which he had displayed so much agitation. He
prepared six holes, each of which was carefully lined with straw, and
then deliberately commenced planting the egg-plants _whole_.
An hour or two later, he came up with the coffee. I thought he turned a
shade or two paler at seeing me up and dressed; but no vestige of
petulance remained. Having really taken no offense at the outburst, I
rallied him concerning it.
"I was wrong," said he, gravely; "but nature has left me destitute of
tact. An artist was once ordered to paint a one-eyed princess: the
artful man made the picture a profile. Devoid of his discernment, I saw
only my ruined treasures."
"And, after acting like a wild man, you sneer at my curiosity."
"One so secure in his position as M. Granger can lose nothing by
"In other words, I am to endure patiently the taunts of an apron,
because its wearer is worthy of a surtout?"
"The prompt nature of hunger is well known. Fifty years ago, I might
have shrieked in the _Place de la Concorde_. France has degenerated; I
polish your shoes."
The assumption of inferiority was so defiant that I said, bluntly, "This
can never excuse the neglect of faculties bestowed by Heaven."
He shrugged his shoulders, and answered, "There was a time when power
succumbed to intellect. 'Stand out of my sunlight,' said Diogenes to
Alexander; and Alexander did so. This is Paris, M. Granger, and we are
living on the _Rue Lepelletier_."
"And, frightened at its splendor, M. Marcel has prudently determined to
put his brains under regimen."
"M. Marcel has prudently determined to avoid in future a _tête-à-tête_
with his superiors."
He started abruptly to the door, and I called him back; determined
distance even in a servant is far from flattering, and I asked him
frankly if his visits to my apartments were as distasteful as his manner
would lead me to infer.
He answered, politely, "Were fickle Fortune waiting to conduct me to the
summit of my ambition, I would detain her a few hours to enjoy society
so charming; but M. Granger forgets he is addressing a domestic."
"Stubborn in your pride to the last! What am I to think of one who holds
all sympathy in contempt?"
"_Basta!_" he fiercely exclaimed. "I am like a vagrant cur: flying from
the sticks and stones of a vile rabble, I fawn with cringing servility
on the first hand that throws me a crust."
"Wrong, Marcel; wrong," I earnestly answered. "You are trying to warp
your nature, as you tried to force the fruits of summer to bloom and
ripen in midwinter. You _will_ be human, and your egg-plants will rot in
My words seemed to have taken away every particle of color there was in
him. His eyes contracted until they resembled those of a wild animal,
and for a moment I thought he was going to spring at my throat. His
voice--when finally he regained it--sounded like that of another
"M. Granger," said he, "a man visiting the _Jardin des Plantes_ once
undertook to stroke a leopard. Strange as it may appear, the animal was
more pleased with petting than the inquiring mind imagined. The instant
our naturalist attempted to desist, the creature raised his paw to
strike. There monsieur stood, for a whole night, gazing into his glaring
eyes and smoothing his soft neck. Can you imagine his feelings?"
With a bow that would have graced the Duc de Beaumont, he left. I heard
him hastily packing his modest wardrobe; and in fifteen minutes a
tilbury had whirled him away--whither, Heaven only knows.
Leaf the Third.
I do not think his own mother would call him handsome; he is certainly
not young, nor particularly brilliant; and yet there is a fascination
about the proprietor of this rambling old house that gave me an
unaccountable desire to become his tenant. He is a wine-merchant, and
occupies, as his counting-room, the entire second floor. The place is
desolate-looking and dusty, and the furniture old with service; but, I
am told, no man in Paris controls more of the grand vintages than M.
Pontalba. With a Frenchman, the _legality_ of a transaction depends on
its being negotiated in a _café_; and it was in one of these I first saw
him. He was seated at a table near me, absorbed with the contents of a
box of baby-clothes, while a rather pretty and exceedingly voluble
_modiste_ harangued him on their beauty. The tenderness of his
expression struck me. He took out the articles one by one, examining
each with the interest of a woman. He ran his fingers through the tiny
sleeves, and smoothed out the ruffles and lace, with a care that was
almost loving. Diminutive cambric shirts, snowy dresses, and silky
flannels,--all in their turn were inspected and replaced with a sigh of
An ardent young friend and I had been discussing the merits of Comte's
philosophy; but so attracted were we by the singular trait that both
stopped involuntarily, and watched him, until the woman was paid and a
messenger carried the fairy wardrobe away.
My friend was an enthusiastic metaphysician; and, resuming the subject
with a zest, was soon plunged into the phenomena of thought, the action
of the brain, and the vitality of the blood that sustained it. As all
conversant with the subject can readily believe, not many minutes
elapsed before his artful sophistries proved the non-existence of
heaven, hell, and even God himself.
M. Pontalba turned suddenly, and, drawing his chair close beside us,
with an apology for the seeming intrusion, addressed the incipient
"Behind the iron bars of that dreariest of studies, a prison, a little
weed once received the concentrated thought of a savant. The covering of
its stem, the first tender leaves, the development of the bud, the
expansion of the flower--each bewildering in its consummate
propriety--unfolded, in their turn, a system of laws in simplicity
transcendent. By the aid of a microscope, a 'gillyflower' was seen
protecting a chrysalis. Warm leaves cherished it, dainty juices aided
its digestion, wholesome offshoots nourished it to maturity. Eking out a
scant existence between two granite flags, this insignificant waif
reared a caterpillar. What man are you, who can say there is no God?"
There was a pathos in his voice, and a tone of simple fervor, which gave
that quiet old man the air of a priest.
It was more than a year afterward I took these rooms; but my
establishment was of short duration ere I learned the history of an
eventful morning which followed that incident:--of how the placid face
of the master peered among his people, beaming with a great joy; how a
sumptuous feast was fitted up in the private office for all in the
employ; of the two hundred francs, and a suit of clothes, presented to
each; and how every one, from the little messenger to the gray cashier,
with the rarest wine in the cellar, drank prosperity to the new-born son
and heir, and much happiness to the mother,--"God bless her!"
Once I saw a pony-carriage, with an aged, semi-military driver, pull up
at the door, and the flutter of a veil as the vehicle passed through
the entrance; and this was the only glimpse I ever caught of the little
lady that dingy office called mistress. There was, however, a certain
briskness in the movement of the clerks, and a glow of pleasure on their
faces, that always denoted a visit; and very frequent those visits were.
Without in any way obstructing it, her pretty interest seemed to throw a
halo around the dull routine of trade; and, if there was any
unpleasantness, the arrival of Jean Palliot, coachman and ex-grenadier,
with Madame Althie Pontalba, was sure to drive it away.
Why _will_ my heart, like a hungry thing, gloat on the happiness of
others? He has gone away--in the midst of the holidays--no one knows
whither; and his sweet wife and pleasant home are as dreary as I. There
is a mystery about this house which I have not yet unraveled. Marcel
left in the morning, and M. Pontalba in the evening. That has been two
weeks ago. I thought he would have fainted when I told him of the
_garçon's_ exodus. I attempted a history of the gardening; but he would
not listen to a word, and remained locked up in his private room during
the entire day. Late in the evening a stranger called, and insisted on
an interview. It resulted in a hasty consultation with the cashier, and
an order for a coach. The two went off together,--whither, or for how
long, no one knows.
Leaf the Fourth.
To-day finds a man in the full glow of health, and strength, and
happiness; to-morrow comes death, cold, pitiless, irresistible; mocking
all hope, freezing desire, crushing all effort with the eternal law of
time and human destiny, it strikes him down with the icy fury of a
fiend. Poetry, passion, humanity, are shivered at the touch. The
glorious creature who, an instant before, quivered with life and love
and energy, lies a shapeless mass, disgusting to the sight, loathsome to
the touch, revolting to every instinct of our nature. So, in its
ceaseless routine, forever and forever, wheels on the world. The
play-ground bully, the swindler of the corn exchange, who is the more
virtuous? dolls with life, babies with genius, which the more sensible?
Even baby has its "pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake," and is lulled to sleep with
visions of a coach and six little ponies. Dreams, dreams of self, that
man wraps himself in like the swathing of a mummy. Who ever saw a cake
marked with "T," who ever a "Valley of Tranquil Delight"?
The sun rises and sets on the weary diamond-digger of the South, the
crazed perfume-hunter in the East, the stifled hemp-curer in the fetid
swamps of Russia, the shriveled iron-worker in the scorching furnaces of
England. Here, in Paris, amid that motley herd who feed on virtue, the
moon shines down calmly on purblind embroiderers and peerless beauties,
on worn-out _roués_ and squalid beggars. The breeze that wafts to heaven
the pure prayer of the maiden witnesses the fierce ribaldry of the
courtesan; it flutters the curls of a sleeping infant, and bears on its
wings the whispered exchange of _chastity for bread_. And man goes on,
devouring his three poor meals a day, and babbling the meaningless
nothings he has learned by rote. Oh, land of enlightenment! Oh, age of
Christianity! Oh, zenith of civilization!
The smoke-wreaths curl into thicker clouds. I have painted bright
pictures, and they have faded. I have cherished fond dreams, and they
are vanished. "It is not good for man to live alone;" and I am most
solitary. I can make another picture,--without the roses; but it will be
It's a merry Christmas, this Twenty-fifth of December, eighteen hundred
and eighty-seven,--a very merry Christmas; times have scarcely changed
at all in the last thirty years. The sun shines down brightly, and the
frosty air is fall of gladness; for Santa Claus, with his untold
wonders, has come and gone. Ecstasies over dolls and transports over
tea-sets, screams of delight at hobby-horses and enthusiastic
exclamations at humming-tops, have passed. Paint-boxes and
writing-desks, leaden soldiers and tin trumpets, at last, are reduced to
blissful matters of course. The streets, which all the morning have
been thronged with laughing groups of happy children, are now almost
deserted. Senators and cabmen, ministers of state and town constables,
romping school-girls and worn-out actresses, _Lady Dedlock_ and her
washer-woman, men, women, and children of all degrees, have quietly
seated themselves to roasted turkey and plum-pudding. Even the little
boys who _will_ play marbles under the library windows, who are
constantly being "fat" and wanting "ups" and "roundings," and who are
invariably ordered to "knuckle down and bore it hard," are now intently
occupied with the succulent delights of "drum-sticks" and gizzards. And
yet the man whose fingers now form these letters _then_ sits alone. Time
has not passed lightly over _his_ head. The few hairs that straggle from
beneath his skull-cap are gray, and the faintest breath makes him wrap
closer in his thickly-wadded dressing-gown. His face is worn and pale,
and the wrinkled hand, though it only holds a little cigarette, will
sometimes tremble as it moves. The Christmas dinner is pushed away
untasted. _Château-Margaux_ has lost its flavor, and silver and crystal
do not bring appetite now. Even the glowing sunshine, which plate-glass
and silk damask cannot keep out, is unheeded. He gazes wearily at the
magnificent furniture, and smokes. He has talked much to the world, and
it has heard him. Flung into life without a friend, governed only by
the will of a race born to command, he has struggled through sneers and
sarcasm to eminence. Men fear him now, women flatter, nearly all envy;
yet he is alone. He knows this; he knows that in all the laughing groups
who enjoy this wine-drinking and turkey-eating day his name has not been
mentioned once. Nature allows no trifling with her laws; flowers do not
bloom in deserts. He has crushed sentiment; he has stifled affection.
With a heart by nature kindly, he sits now an image cut in steel. He
gazes calmly at his desolate hearth, at his joyless age, and smokes. Man
has no power to move him; fate condemned him to be a statue.
Ah! the strongest, after all, are but weak, erring, human beings. The
last of a race stands weary and old, trembling on the brink of eternity.
Who will close the fading eye? Who will smooth the dying pillow? With
all his great wealth, with all his wondrous knowledge, what one deed of
charity will that infirm old man take into the presence of his Creator?
He looks dreamingly out at the window. The plate-glass and damask are
not there now; the sunshine is warm and the air balmy. A mild, breezy
March morning, and he is standing on a corner, looking far down the
street. "She is coming, coming;" the dark eyes beam on him, and the
radiant face flushes the pallor of his cheek;--"come." He gives one
lingering, beseeching look at the passing figure, the cigarette drops
to the carpet, the withered hands clasp convulsively the arms of the
chair, the gray head slowly falls on his breast, and one more frail
human being, exhausted with the anxieties of a long and bitter life, is
at rest forever. It's a merry Christmas, this Twenty-fifth of December,
eighteen hundred and eighty-seven,--a very merry Christmas. Times have
scarcely changed at all in the last thirty years.
How he ever got there, or when, I do not now, nor will I ever, know, but
when I looked up Marcel was standing before me.
"M. Granger," said he, abruptly, "it will be necessary for you to seek
"I would do you a service. The proof lies in the future. This house is
"Poor Marcel," said I, with genuine pity, "some recent trouble has
turned your brain!"
"Mad!" he replied, laughing bitterly. "The wonder is that I am not. For
years I have been hunted,--hunted like a dog. Prisons have been my
dwelling-place, disguises my only clothing. My pillow is a spy; the very
atmosphere I breathe is analyzed."
"And what is your offense?"
"A desire to live as the great God intended an Italian should. A desire
to lift to his place among the free-born the corrupt descendant of
Coriolanus, now nourishing his miserable body on the _scudi_ extorted
from a stranger's patience. The vile crew whom our ancestors drove
howling and naked across the Danube, in undisturbed apathy gloat over
our dearest treasures. Our people are ground into the dust; our women,
stripped in the market-place, shriek under the pitiless lash of the
oppressor. One man, sworn to protect Italy with his life, can save her,
and has refused. That man dies."
"And you are pledged to kill him?"
"I am pledged to see you safely without these walls by this day
"Marcel, you are crazy."
"M. Granger, you are polite."
That night fortnight I was away; and this was the message that sent me:
"TO M. ARTHUR GRANGER:
"Your fatal discovery on the morning of my departure makes you
the only man to whom I can appeal. Let me pray the appeal be
not in vain. In the folly of my youth, while sojourning in
Italy, I joined a powerful secret order, whose demands cease
only with death, and whose penalty for denial is a sudden and
bloody end. You can judge, then, my anxiety on being compelled
to admit to my establishment, disguised as a servant, one of
its highest officers, and my horror at hearing of his abrupt
departure. Since then I have learned the unhappy cause. My life
is in another's hands. It is for him to command, and for me
blindly to obey. There are two beings in this world dearer to
me than my soul's salvation. To you, M. Granger, as a Christian
gentleman, I commend them. The sealed note inclosed (the
contents of which are a matter of life and death) I beg you
will at once deliver to my wife; and let me conjure you, until
the crisis is over, to make my house at Romainville your home.
Leaf the Last.
This is the 15th of January, 1858. France is in a blaze of excitement.
Last evening, in the _Rue Lepelletier_, an attempt was made to
assassinate the Emperor, by throwing grenades filled with fulminating
mercury under the coach that bore the Imperial family to the Italian
Opera. Count Felice Orsini, the murderer, himself desperately wounded,
has been arrested, and Paris is crying for his blood.
For several days I have been the honored guest of Madame Althie
Pontalba. It is a golden evening; the sky, an hour ago so clear and
blue, is piled with golden clouds, and stretches out into golden rivers,
with golden banks, flowing calmly down into a golden sea. The purple
slates on the church-steeple, the red tiles on the house-tops, the
gardens with their evergreens and jonquils and little blue violets
shrinking out of the frosty air, are wrapped in a golden mist. The light
streams through the windows in rays of pure gold, and trickles down the
walls in little golden currents. It is an enchanting little villa. The
steep gables covered with variegated slate, the thin fluted columns of
the verandas, the diminutive marble steps, the broad bow-windows with
their transparent plate-glass, look more like a fairy picture than a
reality. The trim shrubbery, the airy little statues, and even the white
palings, so frail and fanciful in their construction, are charmingly
It is an enchanting little room. The icy air is warmed by the bright
carpet and glowing curtains, and the trickling currents of golden light
on the walls are mellowed by the blazing sea-coals. It is a merry little
fire, an ardent, earnest, _home_ fire, that shoots out its whimsical
little flames as if it meant to burn one to a cinder, and flutters and
murmurs to itself and scatters down the white feathery ashes in a very
ecstasy of impetuous glee. The green porcelain tiles on the hearth, the
oval-shaped chairs, the wonderful tables, and the little easy-chair, are
all flushed up, and seem quite enlivened at its sportive tricks. The
silver sewing-bird, with its glittering little garnet eyes, is peering
curiously down at the painted fish-geranium on the teapot; and the
geranium, sweltering by the fire, seems almost wilted with the heat.
The teapot pants and struggles under its steaming contents, and looks
appealingly at the great china cup on the table; and now a lump of
sparkling sugar is dropped into its shiny recesses, and the fragrant
odor of that gentlest soother of troubled thoughts pervades the room.
How shall I describe the mistress of this fairy resting-place, as she
sits in the softened light of this golden winter evening, with the
trickling golden currents and the quivering firelight playing on her
dress, and the last rays of the sunshine melting into golden threads in
her hair? How can I picture the look of girlish innocence on her face,
the artless grace of her manner, her delicate feminine ways, and the
dainty arrangement of her toilet? How can I tell of the irresistible
charm that pervades every article about her, from the little French boot
resting on the rug, to the ruffle that circles her white throat? The
balmy morning of her young life has passed. The brown calico frock, and
the little school bonnet, with its blue veil, have been put away
forever. The lithe figure has grown matronly, the childish timidity is
gone; the softened face tells of changes,--changes made by much
happiness; changes also, alas! by trouble.
The dark eyes beam with a deeper tenderness, with a wealth of maternal
devotion, with a world of maternal anxiety. The aurora, with its hazy
glow, has disappeared, and now the sun shines brightly on the early
day; yet through all the love, and all the care, and all the joy of her
pure life, remains that radiant smile, the glorious creation of a
glorious God, that awakens in man one sensation,--tranquillity. O man,
with the joy of your _own_ young love, O woman blessed with a
remembrance of earlier days, is it needful I should say, Madame Althie
Pontalba is the Little Blue Veil?
There were two visitors here an hour ago,--a lady and a gentleman.
Whatever their lack of ostentation, there was an air of distinction
about both that would strike the most casual observer.
The cabriolet was plain, but the horses showed the purest blood, and the
harness and equipments a neatness one would not see in a day's ride. The
gentleman was tall and stately, with a well-shaped aquiline nose, and a
mustache and imperial pointed _à la militaire_; and the lady was petite
and graceful, with a face of rare loveliness. The features of both told
plainly of a great trial bravely endured. The lady entered alone. Her
carriage and demeanor possessed all that quiet elegance which is only
met with in the society of the great; but it was with no courtly speech
she addressed the mistress of this quiet home. To twine her arms
lovingly around that dear form, to draw it close to her bosom, to pour
out, in a voice broken with tears, a burst of gratitude, was the
mission. In moments when hearts are wrung, we do not practice our grand
politeness. A noble life had been saved, a terrible calamity averted.
The polished manner of the _salon_ was dropped. A _wife_ spoke, a
_woman_ listened. The visit was already a long one when Jean Palliot
took charge of the equipage, and, on leaving, it was into _his_ hand the
gentleman thrust a roulette of Napoleons.
"Sir," cried the indignant coachman, "a soldier of the Grand Army is not
"It is not the gold, but the portraits of his commander I give the
soldier of the Grand Army."
"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed the now affrighted veteran, "it is
* * *
Of the history of that attempt on the life of Napoleon, the world is
fully informed. That, thanks to a fortunate warning, the Imperial coach
was lined with boiler-iron, is well known. That warning, by direction of
her husband, was written by Madame Althie Pontalba, and delivered by me.
That the destructive missiles were manufactured in Birmingham, England,
our Minister Plenipotentiary has good cause to remember; but that they
were smuggled into Paris in the guise of egg-plants, and deposited in
the grass-plot in rear of house No. 30 of that now memorable street, I
believe is still a mystery.
That Count Felice Orsini (the man executed) was concealed for weeks, is
on record at the Prefecture; but that he assumed the position of a
servant, and the name of Marcel, is not.
As for me, I think a great deal, and say nothing; but if the young
Pontalba, who now studies type-setting with the Prince Imperial, was not
the baby whose clothes I once saw examined at a _café_ there is no truth
in these "Leaves of an Idler."
MR. BUTTERBY RECORDS HIS CASE.[A]
J. Moses Butterby, aged 40 years; a licensed broker; nativity, American;
temperament, sanguine; habit, slightly obese; constitution, robust.
History of the case as related by himself.
* * *
I don't see how I ever came to _be_ married. It was certainly the last
thing my friends expected of me, and it was the last thing I ever
expected of myself; but that I am married, Mrs. J. Moses Butterby, and
Master Alphonso Moses Butterby, are both here to testify.
What so aristocratic a family found in me to admire is as much a secret
now as then. I don't think it was intellect; for I am afraid that when
Nature designed me the "shining" element was left out. Somehow, at
school, the composition sent to the village journal was never mine; the
declamation repeated at every fresh arrival of directors was always
another's; and if, by any chance, a visitor asked to hear a recitation,
under no circumstances was I ever invited to show off. My modest part
in society was not crowned with greater success. Ma (dear heart!)
objected to dancing, and I never learned; I didn't go to picnics, for I
don't know how to drive; I tried smoking, and it made me sick; if I
drank wine, I was sure to go to sleep: in fact, none of the amusements
of other young men ever amused me; and the result was, the money they
spent, I saved.
Envious people have hinted at this as the attraction which first caught
the respected mother of my Malinda Jane and the respected mother-in-law
of myself; but ideas so unbecoming I repel with proper scorn.
I do not think myself more stupid than the average of mankind; but,
somehow, while they walked through the middle of the streets, I sought
the narrow alleys; and while others aspired to noise and distinction, I
found retirement and Malinda Jane. (It _was_ in an alley I first met
Mrs. J. Moses Butterby--though this in no way concerns the present
Malinda Jane (I trust I am not violating any matrimonial law in thus
familiarly speaking of my respected helpmeet)--Malinda Jane, from the
first time I beheld her, up to the present period of a long, and I may
say intimate, acquaintance, appears to me a paragon of all the modest
and retiring virtues. If among her many attractions she is possessed of
a distinguishing trait, it lies in the power of her eyes. So much
language do their depths contain, that to me, at least, any other is in
a great measure a superfluity. I should be afraid to count up the
consecutive hours we have spent in this silent converse, reading each
other's hearts, as some pleasant poet has styled it, "through the
windows of the soul." I would not have you suppose them almond-shaped or
piercing. No! Malinda Jane's eyes are round. It was their gentle blue
that enchanted me; and there I found the congeniality that cheered my
Looking back now upon our courtship, I am inclined to think it must have
been uninteresting to a third party; but there is no denying the fact
that to us it was most soothing, and well calculated to develop our
I have no accurate recollection of the event vulgarly called "popping."
Fortunately, I congratulate myself on escaping that breach of decorum.
If you join my friends in asking "how it came about," I reply,
"Naturally." The morning Malinda Jane's mother asked me if I had decided
upon October the 24th or November the 24th, I unhesitatingly answered,
"November the 24th, if you please;" and the whole affair was
I have said before, Malinda Jane is not of a demonstrative disposition,
but thinks (if I may strain a point) ponderously. I have never known her
to manifest any will in opposition to my own; and, since I come to think
of it, I do not remember her ever manifesting a will in opposition to
any one else. In this general term I of course include Master Moses
Alphonso Butterby and my most highly respected mother-in-law. Such a
family, according to all rule precedent, should be superlatively happy;
but there seems to be a disturbing element in all families, and mine,
alas! proved no exception. It came about thus.
Among the few parting words of my deceased ma were, "Mosie" (she always
called me Mosie), "never live with your mother-in-law." Treasuring the
command, as I may say I treasured everything the dear old lady left,
including the property, when finally the day _was_ fixed, I set about
obeying it. On an occasion when Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk--the name of
my respected mother-in-law--had described our imaginary bower, and her
imaginary apartment adjoining, until she had worked herself into a fever
of imaginary happiness, I mildly communicated the behest of my departed
The scene which followed I can only characterize as indescribably
touching. The look of blank despair on the face of Malinda Jane, and the
tears of rage and mortification that suffused the aristocratic nose of
her ma, I frankly confess, went to the bottom of my heart. It was many
months before I ceased to regret this rude banishment of their hopes;
but, looking upon it from my present stand-point, I am compelled to
admit my dear dead ma was right.
The only accident worthy of remark that happened to Malinda Jane on our
wedding-day was a fright. I have reason to congratulate myself at its
occurring _on_ that day, instead of a few weeks subsequent. The
consequences in the latter event, it is needless to say to married
people, might have been serious.
Passing out of the church-door, we were confronted by a drunken cobbler,
who, in a wild and insane manner, proposed "three cheers for Jinny." The
assembled crowd of dilapidated urchins hanging around the steps
proceeded to give them with a vim faintly suggestive of ridicule. The
single glance I obtained of the discourteous offender gave me an idea of
chimneys. His face was smoky, his clothes were fleecy, and his general
appearance was decidedly sooty throughout. A shock head, and more shocky
eyebrows, bore a strange resemblance to the patent chimney-sweep; while
his clothes seemed rich in past memories of the profession. I had before
caught sight of this individual, in a tumble-down, rickety shop near the
residence of Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk. I had, in fact, seen her on
more than one occasion bestowing charity upon him in the form of broken
victuals; but the recollection failed entirely to account for the effect
of his cheers for "Jinny" upon the too tender nerves of my dear wife and
her distinguished mother. I attributed the emotion to the trying nature
of the ceremony we had just passed through. Reflecting that people do
not get married every day, and appalled at the terrible conclusions
with which the mind would distract itself by pondering so alarming a
topic, I shudderingly abandoned it, and assisted Malinda Jane and her
ma, in a fainting condition, to the carriage.
It is needless to say that the cobbler was at once given in charge to a
policeman. The next morning, in consideration of a handsome fee, he
moved away. I accomplished this out of regard to the feelings of Mrs.
Lawk; but, I must confess, I never regretted anything more.
The commencement of married life (as many married men will bear me out)
is even more consoling than the happiest days of courtship. The smell of
varnish on new furniture is as delightfully novel as the odor of the
orange-blossoms; the brightness of the new carpets and the crispness of
the new curtains both mark an era,--even if the stove _is_ obstinate
about drawing or a man _is_ called out of bed to put up the coffee-mill.
There was Malinda Jane's night-robe hanging on one side of the bed, and
there was my night-robe on the other. My clothes were in the upper
drawer of the bureau, hers were in the lower--in such delightful and
loving proximity that I own to feeling a new man; I gloried in having
some one dependent on me: in short, I was happy.
I will not deny that there was some trouble about servants (I think
Malinda Jane had seven the first ten days). True, the meals were not
models of regularity; the chicken sometimes came on in too natural a
state,--blue and pulpy,--and the beefsteak betrayed a volcanic
appearance, as though reduced to lava by an irruption of gravy. I
remember one woman stole a keg of butter, and another went off with half
a dozen silver spoons. The former, Malinda Jane ascribed to the cat; the
latter, to a defective memory; but, then, Malinda Jane never learned
housekeeping (I don't see why she should, poor dear!), and trifles like
these failed to mar _our_ household peace.
I would mention the conduct of Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk as being, for
nearly a year, really saintly. Even the rare intervals at which she
visited were marked by a manner the reverse of familiar. Almost every
evening she would stand on the opposite side of the street, gazing
wistfully at us as we sat in the window; but no persuasion induced her
to pay a formal visit more than once a fortnight.
With this striking evidence of my wisdom before me, I grew worldly. I
think that during that short year I possessed a better opinion of myself
and my capacity than ever before or since.
Worse than this, I grew pharisaical. I ventured to pity my less
fortunate neighbors, bound hand and foot to the slavery of
mothers-in-law. I attempted to joke them, and poke them severely in the
ribs with my knuckles, when the magic name was mentioned. So often did
I congratulate myself on the shrewd stroke of genius displayed, that I
fear even her respectability became sadly impaired in my mind, and
depreciated to such an extent that I was gradually led to think of her
irreverently as an "old gal."
"Too much for you, old gal," got to be an exclamation so wonderfully
consoling that, it crept into my sleep, and in those halcyon days I
often waked up by the side of Malinda Jane, muttering the words, "Too
much for you, old gal." Waked up, I think I said. Ah! would I had never
waked up, particularly on the dismal clouds which for a season darkened
my domestic sunshine!
Scarce half a twelvemonth elapsed, ere the retiring disposition of
Malinda Jane seemed to shrink into even greater seclusion. I frequently
found her powerful mind wandering, and her eyes fixed on vacancy. In our
evening walks, which invariably preceded retiring for the night, she
leaned heavily on my arm.
Although the appearance of our daily repasts did not seem to justify it,
the cash demands for market-bills suddenly became enormous; and, when I
expostulated, my reasonable objections only produced tears. An
apparently needless grief had crept into our quiet home, and a lack of
confidence that pained me. For many weeks I helplessly pondered the
At last (oh that it had taken any shape but that!) the enigma developed
itself. Returning home one day, I had straightened my collar and
smoothed my hair before opening the door (feeling a proper pride in my
personal appearance, these preparations are usually a preliminary step),
when suddenly, just as the portal moved on its hinges, my sense of smell
was saluted with the odorous fumes of gin. From the first suffocating
whiff of this aromatic cordial do I date the commencement of my grief.
Malinda Jane, I knew, never indulged in as much as a sip of Cologne: so,
convinced that the breach of discipline was the guilty act of a servant,
with all the offended dignity I could embody in my deportment, I went
straight to the chamber of my wife.
Without being deficient in moral courage, I am not a boisterous man. I
do not boast of an eye like Mars, to threaten and command, or glory in
producing a shudder with the creaking of my shoes. I mention this to
show that my manner, though rebuking, was not intended to be severe. To
awe by my authority, and soothe by my condescension, was the design; but
even in this limited effort I am conscious of a lamentable failure.
Seated upon the floor, within an airy castle of dry-goods, whose
battlements of flannel and linen cambric frowningly encircled her, was
Malinda Jane. Before it, like an investing army, with colors flying, and
a face radiant with defiant triumph, was Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk.
She had complacently opened the siege with the mixture of a hot
gin-toddy. My appearance upon this warlike scene was the signal for a
salute both loud and watery (in short, tearful), entered into with a
mutual heartiness by besieger and besieged. It was, moreover, rendered
impressive by a waving spoon, which Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk moved
solemnly backward and forward in a warning, funereal manner, as though
protesting against some appalling fate. That she was in possession of my
apartment, if not my house, I instinctively realized. She sat bolt
upright, firm and strong as a Hindoo idol on its altar; a nebulous glare
invested her head with a halo, through which bristling hair-pins stuck
out in all directions, like lightning-rods with fitfully luminous
points. The crystal wall of spectacles that bridged her nose seemed
graven with the cabalistic words, "I've got you." A feeling of conscious
guilt, of what an enfeebled mind failed to grasp, succumbed to the
From amid the joint chorus of sobs and tears which burst forth with the
wail of a Scottish slogan or an Indian death-song, I heard--
"Oh, my poor darling! Oh, my poor dear angel! Oh, Mr. Butterby, how
"Madam," I inquired, in amazement, "how could I what?"
It may be well to state the endearing epithet was applied to Malinda
"Oh, dear! dear! and all this time she has been scrimping and saving, I
was unconscious as a child unborn. Cruel, _cruel_ man!"
Mrs. Lawk, burying her hand in the depths of her pocket, drew forth an
attenuated handkerchief, and carefully wiped her eyes.
"Please, ma----" interrupted Malinda Jane.
"Never, _never_ again shall you leave my protecting wing. Oh, inhuman
monster, how _could_ you be so heartless?"
"Monster" was given with a decidedly unpleasant bite, and recalled my
"Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk," I placidly observed, "I have not the
remotest idea what you are talking about."
"Moses Butterby, you're a brute."
She rose to her feet. A bundle, which, during the excitement, lay on her
lap, broke open; and my mother-in-law, like Cleopatra in her roses,
stood knee-deep in baby-clothes. In a moment the truth burst upon me. I
was unmanned, limp, and disjointed. The shock was too much! A baby
It is needless for me to remark to married men that the era of
prospective paternity is an era of sacrifice. Why, in this time-honored
custom, so much depends on one's mother-in-law, is a mystery I never
could unravel. I look upon it as one of the unaccountable fatalities of
man, to be placed in the category of grievances with prickly heat. Let
it not be understood that my conduct was absolutely lamb-like. It was
not until solemnly assured the visit would not be prolonged an
unnecessary hour that I finally yielded. I think during that time I had
a meaner opinion of my own importance than at any other period of my
life. My domestic career resembled that of a child guilty of an
irreparable wrong and tolerated only through dire necessity. Indeed, had
Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk been a modern Rachel, and I the ruthless
destroyer of her household, her conduct toward me could not have
exhibited more injured resignation. I somehow grew to _feel_ guilty, and
it was only at rare intervals I mustered courage to look either her or
Malinda Jane in the face.
The anticipated addition to the family brought an immediate addition to
our furniture. The way the chairs multiplied was marvelous, and the
number of sofas that accumulated in our parlor would have been
gratifying to a Grand Turk. We suddenly grew plethoric in wash-stands,
and appeared to possess armoires and bureaus in quantities and varieties
sufficient (as the advertisements say) to suit the most fastidious
taste. Even the bath-room did not seem to be neglected, and a modest
effort was made to furnish the back gallery. One day I was astonished to
find in the hall two hat-racks, and was nearly knocked down by the end
of a great four-post bedstead that followed me in. I turned on the
intruder, and discovered the little cobbler, apparently as much under
the influence of liquor as on the day of his previous eccentricity,
stupidly endeavoring to push one post in the door while the other bade
fair to thrust itself through the ventilator. It was then I learned that
in the array consisted the entire household treasures of Mrs.
I may here mention that the cobbler had contracted a chronic habit of
hanging around my back gate, but slunk away whenever I happened to
Gradually (leaving out the patients) our house began to wear the aspect
of a hospital. The doctor made his appearance three times daily. An
aged, red-faced nurse, smelling strong of whisky, wandered about like a
disembodied spirit; and a lively young woman, her assistant, clattered
up and down stairs at all hours of the day and night. Had the entire
city concluded to multiply and replenish, the preparations could not
have been on a grander scale.
Of the exact particulars of the event, I fear I am not altogether clear.
I have an indistinct recollection of battling with a midnight
thunder-storm, in a hopeless search for our medical man, and that,
immediately on my return, that functionary (who had arrived during my
absence) dispatched me on an equally important errand.
I remember pulling a great many night-bells and arousing an unlimited
number of apothecaries; but the only act at all fresh in my recollection
was slinking in the back gate at three o'clock A.M. (I had been
locked out the front way), and finding the little cobbler, and a
surrounding crowd of damp newsboys, cheering lustily for "Jinny." The
cause of that commotion was also a mystery; but, when I entered the
house, Master Moses Alphonso Butterby feebly echoed their shout of
Under different auspices, my paternal affection might have developed
rapidly; but really, during the first few weeks of Moses Alphonso's
existence, our intercourse was so exceedingly limited I scarcely knew
him. Any intrusion within his little horizon of flannel or atmosphere of
paregoric was so severe a tax on the nerves of Mrs. Lawk, that, out of
consideration for her feelings, I rather avoided it. Indeed, had it not
been for the activity of that eminently respectable lady, I would have
fancied Moses Alphonso a brother-in-law instead of a son.
Bolted in by flannel bandages, barred with a cambric shirt, locked up in
towels, imprisoned in petticoats, and finally incarcerated in a dungeon
of wrappers and shawls,--from the first he had the appearance of an
unhappy little convict. Mrs. Lawk invariably acted as chief jailer, and,
taking him into custody, changed his various places of confinement with
the austerity of a keeper of the Tower. My own position hourly became
more ambiguous; indeed, had it not been for the monthly bills, I would
have scarcely believed myself possessed of a house at all. I impatiently
awaited the promised evacuation; and when Moses Alphonso reached his
third birthday (babies have these interesting periods monthly instead of
annually) I ventured a hint that our own furniture was ample for all
To my despair, Mrs. Lawk had rented her house. Malinda Jane's
confinement (which in my simplicity I imagined was of short duration),
it seemed, had been protracted from the day of her marriage.
Society was essential to her happiness; and society Mrs. Lawk was
determined she should have. If through her illness my privileges
experienced curtailment, her recovery brought annihilation itself.
Notwithstanding my piteous petition, we suddenly expanded into eminent
I am dimly conscious that to many of our guests my introduction was to
Mrs. Lawk a poignant mortification. Most of them I never did know.
Several, however, seemed invited for my especial benefit; and this piece
of malignity will never cease to harrow.
How could _I_ talk to Miss Rose Buddington Violet, when she let down her
back hair and made eyes at the moon? _I_ had no back hair (in fact, none
at all to speak of), and scarcely knew there _was_ a moon.
When Mrs. Jesse Hennessee of Tennessee (whose husband is interested in
iron) persisted in making a blast-furnace of the kitchen stove, what
could I say?
There was Miss Aurelia Wallflower, who believed the world hollow, and
dolls stuffed with saw-dust, continually expatiating on the sufferings
of early Christians. _I_ have never read Fox's Book of Martyrs. With
Mrs. Lucretia McSimpkins I had some relief. She was fond of operatic
music, and, it is true, banged our piano out of tune at every
visit,--indeed, her efforts resembled a boiler-maker's establishment
under full headway; but, when she did subside, her perfect and
refreshing silence lasted for hours.
Malinda Jane, for whose amusement all this was designed, did not seem
more enthusiastic than myself. Most of her time was spent in a corner,
staring confusedly at the assembled company, and contemplating in silent
amazement the volubility of her respected parent.
In addition to toning down my exuberance with the softening influence of
ladies' society, Mrs. Lawk decided on a course of restriction. My
allowance of clean linen suddenly diminished one-half and under no
circumstances was I to presume to take a fresh pocket-handkerchief more
than once in two days. She changed the dinner-hour, and declared supper
(except for Malinda Jane, poor dear!) strictly prohibited. For a time I
mitigated the last grievance by eating oysters; but, an unlucky burst of
confidence having divulged the dissipation, a solemn lecture on my duty
to my family was its quietus. Every article of food was put under lock
and key, the night-latch was changed, and Mrs. Lawk, in addition to her
duties as jailer to Master Moses Alphonso, constituted herself turnkey
of the establishment. The parlor, except when we "received," was
declared forbidden ground: her dismay at finding my papers there, one
evening, was perfectly heart-rending. There was a sudden inquiry
concerning my loose change, and I was furnished with a memorandum-book
in which to write down my daily disbursements. Frequent visits to the
opera (oh, the torture of those evenings!) had been an invariable rule
with the Mountchessingtons; and, at the risk of rendering impotent the
tympanum of both ears, I was compelled to continue that respectable
custom. Persons occupying our position should be careful with whom they
associated; and the character of my companions underwent a severe
investigation. She even interfered with my business, and declared the
soap brokerage (one of my most lucrative departments) utterly beneath a
gentleman. One by one my little personal comforts faded away. Symptoms
of annoyance, persistently repeated, whenever I took off my coat or put
on my slippers, kept me at all times prepared for the streets. Cabbage
(a favorite dish) was quietly discarded from the dinner-table. My
library was turned into a nursery for Master B.
The mute, unresisting manner in which I surrendered my fading glory was
surprising. I was appalled in contemplating it; I am breathless now with
indignation in referring to it. In short, like Daniel and the Hebrew
children, I went up through much tribulation; but my deliverance (oh,
how I daily and hourly thank Divine Providence for that blessed moment!)
was at hand.
It was the evening of an election for an alderman, I think; but, as in
our retired portion of the city none but the lowest vagabonds gave
politics a thought, there was comparatively no excitement. Mrs. Lawk,
from the wide circle of society in which she moved, had invited a goodly
number to an entertainment. Even our inordinate supply of sofas were
filled, and scarcely a chair in the house remained unoccupied. In a rash
moment I asked two or three of my own cronies; but not many minutes
elapsed ere both my companions and myself were made to feel the folly of
Ignorant of dancing, unskilled in whist or the art of polite
conversation, we were terminating our third hour of judicious snubbing
in a corner. Mrs. McSimpkins had just concluded a battle-piece of great
length and power, when the rehearsal of our shuddering comments was
suddenly banished by the deafening roll of a drum. I rushed to the
window, and, to my horror, discovered a torchlight procession halted
immediately in front of the house. Perhaps a hundred men, in all stages
of political enthusiasm and intoxication, surrounded by a crowd of
wretched women and girls, waved their lights with demoniac frenzy, and,
apparently through a common throat, gurgled three hideous cheers. There
was a charge of Mrs. Lawk's friends to the windows, and then a stampede
to the back parlor. In vain I expostulated; idly I insisted on my utter
lack of interest in the questions of the day: the political party
_would_ come in, and how was I to prevent it? The absence of
embarrassment and amiable indifference to form that characterized the
intrusion was something unique. There was a difference in shape and mode
of wearing, about the hats, really refreshing, and a variety of quality
and nauseousness in the cigars everybody smoked, that, if anything,
added zest to the scene.
Boots unconscious of the existence of a door-mat speedily graced the
hall-floor with a perfect cushion of mud. Their wearers, rapidly
dividing into groups, plunged into earnest conversation concerning the
events of the day. The candid manner in which my own character was
discussed, and their frankness in touching on my peculiarities, was not
the least gratifying feature of the visit. In the course of two or three
minutes, one would have supposed my residence a political club-room, and
my uninvited guests in the peaceful enjoyment of their inalienable
At length there was a cry of "Here he is! here he is!"
Every window on the square went up, and the neighborhood suddenly
whitened with night-capped heads. I heard a crash of glass, and felt
convinced that this time the ventilator had gone for certain. There was
a fresh rush from the street, and, finally, seated on a shutter (borne
on the shoulders of four stout men) and complacently swinging his legs,
appeared the little cobbler. A radiant joy in his face, and a knowing
wink in his eye, told plainly the combined influence of triumph and
unlimited libation. Reeling profoundly to the assembled company, and
casting a drunken leer at Mrs. Lawk, he exclaimed, "Mary Ann,--'s--no
use, I'm--'s--good--as--he--is. I'm--an (hic)--an--Alderman.
Butterby--embrace--your poor ol'--father--'n--law."
Of the conclusion of this episode, I fear I am somewhat confused. I have
an indistinct recollection that Mrs. Lawk and Malinda Jane were both
carried off in a fainting condition; and that my enthusiastic friends
gave three rousing cheers for Alderman Lawk, and three more for me. I
remember my father-in-law insisted on holding a meeting then and there
and nominating me for Governor. His constituents considered the idea
most judicious, and warmly applauded it. Mrs. Lawk's friends disappeared
precipitately through the back way, amid renewed sounds of crashing
glass and breaking china, while I hovered around the unterrified
Democracy of the ---- ward, earnestly beseeching them to go into the
street. My efforts were at last crowned with success. I was left alone
amid the wreck of my household gods; but for an hour afterward, as I lay
cowering on the sofa, I could hear disconnected speeches from my
door-steps, encouraged from time to time with tremendous cheers for
Lawk, cheers for Butterby, and cheers for "Jinny." The same general
mystification and uncertainty regarding my actions pervaded the entire
night; but morning brought relief, and in more ways than one. Mrs. Lawk
had disappeared, and her chattels were following. The victory was as
sudden as it was unexpected.
Who would have thought that out of this storm of mortification was to
spring the bow of promise? The day after witnessed the exit of my most
respected mother-in-law and her amiable husband, for Cheyenne City; from
which place we have recently heard from them as ornamenting the first
Comanche and Blackfeet circles.
Her reason for concealing the relationship was never developed. Indeed,
I was too much overcome with joy ever to inquire. Undisturbed by
discordant elements, the fires of matrimonial affection burning as
brightly as when lighted upon my marriage morn, I now calmly survey the
re-establishment of a happy household, over which reign domestic bliss
and--Master Moses Alphonso Butterby.
* * *
Such is an accurate statement of the case, all of which is respectfully
[Footnote A: For many useful hints in this diagnosis, Mr. Butterby is
indebted to Mr. E.C. Hancock, of New Orleans.]
DIAMONDS AND HEARTS.
A Sketch of Rio de Janeiro.
The sun was setting on the Passeio Publico. On one side the fading light
gilded the delicate green of the palms, and on the other it shimmered on
the placid waters of the bay.
It whitened the little lodges, nestling in the luxuriance of foliage,
and glistened on the gaudy boats, lying motionless on the pearly bosom
of the deep. It sparkled on the little lakes where troops of joyous
children gathered around the swans, and lost itself in the blue mists
that circled the green and purple mountains in the distance.
Past the clustered giants of the sea, whose banners told of mighty
nations that made war, past the forts where the sentries kept weary pace
on the ramparts, it lighted up the "Pao de Assucar;" through the
crowded thoroughfares where the hum of traffic told of multitudes in
peace, it glowed on the Corcovado.
Far into the golden west, past the islands that dotted the harbor, past
the last villa of Sao Christovao, it burned and blazed among the
hills, until shadowy peaks, that seemed but ghosts in the dim
remoteness, burst resplendent on the view, gorgeous in their prodigality
Rio de Janeiro had mustered her children in crowds. Long and broad as
was the promenade, its marble mosaics scarce contained room for the
multitude. Anxious matrons, on one side, gathered on the granite stairs
to watch their children in the garden beneath; heedless youngsters, on
the other, hung over the balustrades for a view of the tide swelling at
the foot of the wall; fair young _donnas_, bewildered at the throng of
admirers, filled the air with peals of glad laughter; exquisite
_senhors_, thrilled by the music, yielded themselves willing captives to
the seductive influences of the hour.
Who but a Latin can understand the wild abandon of a _festa_? who but he
can enter into the spirit of the many fête-days sanctioned by his
Armand Dupleisis, in his seat over the sea, stared absently at the
jocose revelers, for he was a stranger in a strange land. He leaned back
on the granite railings with the easy indolence of an invalid, though
his frame was robust and sinewy as a mountaineer's. The hidden power of
his bronzed and Moresque features, if developed, might inspire a certain
amount of wonder; but _then_ you would as readily have sought
expression in the statues below. His gaze was almost indifferent; yet
the unmoving eyes took a mental inventory of everything. Had their owner
been provided with a memorandum-book and a stubby pencil, the catalogue
could not have been more complete.
Among the hundreds present, those eyes picked out one man and one woman.
They followed them in their rambles through the dome-roofed shelters;
they scrutinized them as they lingered near the band; they searched them
out when mingled with the throngs on the promenade. They did not seem to
be watching, but they were; and their owner did not look interested, but
The man, physically speaking, was a marvel; but there was an air of
foppish elegance in his movements, and a silky kind of beauty, like that
of a leopard. His head was small, but finely formed, and covered with
flossy hair black as ebony. His features, though clearly cut, wore, from
their extreme delicacy, an almost feminine expression. His hands were
small and exquisitely shaped; his mustache curled gracefully from his
lip; and, when speaking, he bit the ends of it in a nervous, almost
The woman was a proud, passionate daughter of the sun. The brown blood
of the sun burned in her veins, and the soul of the sun streamed shaded
from her eyes. A sumptuous splendor mingled, moist and languid, with
their light. She was clothed in the sunlight. It glistened in the soft
darkness of her hair; it glowed in the rubies that clung to her swelling
throat; it flashed on her robe tremulous with radiance. From a
coquettish little hat a long white plume fluttered over her curls, and a
floating cloud of fleecy under-sleeve half concealed an arm of snowy
purity. Her life, though in its spring, seemed goldened with the flush
of summer; her morning flashed with the meridian luster of perfect day;
and yet the eyes that scanned so closely remained undazzled. Their owner
had heard of her, and of her conversation, sparkling with wit and humor
and mocking irony; but he was not fascinated. He saw but a woman for
whom no surprises appear to survive. What see we?
Were you to question the crowd, they would tell you the man was Edgar
Fay; that, years before, his father brought him, a velvet-coated boy, to
Rio de Janeiro; that shortly afterward he died, leaving the son and a
baby sister a small fortune; that the sister, being under the control of
a mother who had deserted her husband, was never heard of; and that the
guardians, finding no coheir, had spent the money on Edgar's education,
afterward securing him a position under the Imperial government.
About the woman they would say, "She is Mademoiselle Milan, just arrived
on the French packet, to fill an engagement as leading lady at the
Concerning Dupleisis, except that he had arrived recently on the English
steamer, that he seemed to be a man of leisure, and paid promptly for
what he received, they could tell you nothing.
The glowing sunshine faded entirely out of the sky, the thick-walled
houses flickered faintly through their staring casements, the lamps on
the streets glimmered dismally at the returning crowds, and one by one
the lights began to quiver on the water. The Passeio, an hour before too
cramped for the multitude, was now deserted; but Dupleisis, nothing
daunted, smoked on. Disgusted at the necessity which compelled his
presence, and annoyed at the stupidity of the few people he had met, he
commented savagely on their peculiarities, and anathematized with
"Pshaw, M. Dupleisis! you are only angry because you cannot have
chicken-pie every day for dinner. What have the Brazilians done to you?"
Dupleisis gazed at the speaker in astonishment.
"Their impudence, rather than degeneracy, perhaps should surprise."
"Really, M. Dupleisis! I fear you are a cynic. In the gayest promenade
in the empire, you are filled with violence. You are a spoiled child
looking in at a shop-window and admiring nothing. Are you going to cry
with a mouth _full_ of sugar-plums?"
"Pardon me," said the Frenchman, haughtily, "but it is an awkward habit
of mine to feel curious concerning the _names_ of my associates."
"Let me hasten to enlighten you:--Percy Reed, diamond-dealer, Rua do
Ouvidor, at your service. You brought me a letter of introduction; but,
unluckily, I was out of town when you arrived."
The dark eyes glanced at the speaker closely as they had watched the man
and the woman. There was something in the face that commanded respect.
The broad high forehead, the eyes flashing with scornful mirth, and the
thin lips curling with such a whimsical mixture of kindliness and
sarcasm, bespoke a man of mind. Since reaching Rio, Dupleisis had
searched for these three, and he liked this one the best. Reed took out
his eye-glass, and, adjusting it carefully on his nose, surveyed
Dupleisis deliberately from head to foot.
"You'll do," he remarked, after some little thought; "but I still
believe that in your bread-and-butter days some friend thought you
sarcastic. I knew a young girl once who was told she had a musical
laugh, and the consequence was she giggled the rest of her life. Now, if
you don't wish to see us locked in here for the night, come along."
The establishment of Percy Reed, diamond-dealer, Rua do Ouvidor, was a
corner-building, almost the exact counterpart of a dozen edifices on the
same square. The basement was of polished blocks of black and white
marble, and the upper portion faced with blue and white porcelain tiles.
From above, the front rooms looked out through bow-windows at small
balconies with brass-knobbed railings and thick glass floors; those in
rear looked through glass doors at a flat roof, one story high, paved
with black and white marble squares. This breathing-place of the
household was adorned with pots of flowers and evergreens and provided
with neat iron chairs. It was divided from the breathing-place of the
adjoining household by a low brick wall.
Below, pedestrians gazed in through rose-wood doors and French plate
windows. The counting-room had rather the appearance of an elegant
boudoir than of a place of business. The floor was of alternate strips
of satin-wood and ebony; the walls and ceiling were paneled with
rose-wood, and rows of small glistening show-cases contained samples of
the dazzling gems. In the rear--but so covered with the glossy finish as
to be almost imperceptible--was a huge vault, containing precious
stones of a value almost sufficient to change the fate of an empire.
Farther back, and opening on the side street, was a long, dark hall-way,
from which a winding staircase led to the residence above. The second
floor of the adjoining house was usually let furnished to members of the
dramatic profession; and on this occasion it was occupied by
Mademoiselle Adrienne Milan, of the _Alcasar_.
The day after the _festa_, the lady, in a simple morning toilet, had
moved her table and sewing-chair into the open air. Instead of sewing,
she was occupied in furbishing up some old stage jewelry, and her
visitor, stretched on an iron bench, calmly puffed a cigar. From his
manner, one would imagine him master rather than guest; but that
Mademoiselle Milan and a female servant were the sole occupants there is
not a doubt.
With the utmost nonchalance, he had ordered a pillow, and, his ambrosial
locks buried in its soft depths and his feet raised high above his head,
he lounged a modern Apollo, scrutinizing with supercilious indifference
the lady's work. If the cigar-ashes at his side were a criterion, he had
been lying there for hours; and if the nervous movements of Mademoiselle
were significant, he had been lying there an hour too long. For some
minutes the silence was broken only by the jingle of the gaudy
ornaments, and then the man exclaimed, "But, _ma chère_ Adrienne, I am
short--deuced short. Delay is ruin. How am I to live?"
"Work," said the lady, curtly.
"There you are again, with your cursed woman's wisdom! What are you here
_for_? What am _I_ here for?"
Mademoiselle answered, with a shrug, "Judging from your position, I
would say, to enjoy your ease; from your language, to annoy me."
He raised himself to a sitting posture. "Adrienne Milan, do you take me
for an idiot?"
"Edgar Fay, you are insulting."
"Prima donnas of the _Alcasar_ are not usually so sensitive," broke out
the visitor, with a laugh.
The woman sprang to her feet, and in the haste overturned the table with
its glittering baubles.
"Go! go!" she fiercely exclaimed. "The compact between you and me is
sacred. Another word, and I reveal all."
White as any ghost, he started up, and, without uttering a sound, slunk
Trembling with rage and mortification, Mademoiselle Milan sunk into a
seat; but hers was not a nature to dwell long on trouble. With a woman's
spirit of order, she commenced picking up the finery scattered around
her, and putting it away. Among other things was a box of quartz
diamonds, which, being small, flew in all directions. All within view
were collected, and she turned to go.
"There are several lying near that flower-pot in the corner."
The lady looked up. Standing on a chair on the other side, and leaning
lazily over the wall, was Armand Dupleisis.
"Has Flora proved more attractive than Thalia?"
Armand Dupleisis, long since become acquainted, stood examining a
bouquet of roses and geraniums in the music-room of Mademoiselle Milan,
and the lady was seated near him, trifling with the keys of her piano.
"I gaze on beauty, mademoiselle, to accustom my eyes to divinity."
"Really! Were it not for his gigantic proportions, one would suppose man
was reared in an atmosphere of compliment."
"You mistake us. Though not a favorite diet, in Pekin we devour rice
with the gusto of the most polished Celestial."
"I bow to your sincerity. Women, then, are to be talked to of birds, and
flowers, and stars, and fed on water-cresses?"
"Women, mademoiselle, make men apt scholars in the art of pleasing. I
have studied much."
"How singular!" rejoined the lady. "I should never have detected it."
"True art, mademoiselle, lies in its concealment. My life has been one
"Now you pique my curiosity," she replied. "Do let me learn the
The smile on Mademoiselle Milan's face showed that the interest was
feigned, but the grim look about Dupleisis' mouth proved him conscious
of it. A man without an object would have changed the subject at once;
but Dupleisis _had_ an object, and did not.
"I was ushered into this land of hope and sunny smiles with scarcely any
other patrimony than a name."
"What limited resources!" ejaculated the lady, with a slight sneer.
"While blushing with the consciousness of my virgin cravat, I went to
Paris, that sacred ark, which saves from shipwreck all the wretched of
the provinces if but crowned with a ray of intellect."
"And which saved you, of course," continued the lady.
"Through the influence of my friends, I entered the _École
Polytechnique_, and, after graduating, cut the army, and cast my fate,
for better or for worse, in the flowery paths of literature."
"Now, do not say it proved for worse."
"It was for worse," said Dupleisis. "My family were treated shabbily;
'the muse is a maiden of good memory,' but a _cocote_; my satiric
efforts were rewarded by a _lettre de cachet_."
"What a loss to France!"
"At the accession of the Emperor, I returned, a prodigal son of Mars,
and now manage to sustain myself by----"
"By writing sonnets to Brazilian hospitality," interrupted mademoiselle.
Dupleisis bowed gravely. "Anxious to do so, mademoiselle, but I have
not, as yet, collected sufficient material."
The retort crimsoned the lady's face, and Dupleisis adroitly covered her
confusion by asking her to sing.
"What will you say to me, when you speak of yourself as though you were
a block of wood?"
"The prosy geologist talks pedantically of a granite rock, and is mute
when he sees the flower that blooms above it."
"_Mon Dieu_, M. Dupleisis! I cannot sit by and hear _Chamfort_ so
"Mademoiselle, you are unkind. I say nothing complimentary but you cry,
The lady played a few sparkling bars, and sang. She had a magnificent
voice, but her music, like herself, was studied, faultless, but chilling
as the north wind. It swelled deep and full, in rich, flute-like tones,
now ringing clear and sweet in pure, rippling notes, now quivering low
in waves of enchanting melody. There were soft, gurgling sounds, that
flowed wild and free as a mountain-rivulet. It was brilliant,
bewildering; but the dazzle was like the frozen glitter of an icicle.
Suddenly, a look of unmitigated scorn swept across her face, and the
She eyed Dupleisis for a moment half defiantly, and asked, "Would you
really like to hear me sing?"
Dupleisis answered, earnestly, "Yes."
A plaintive prelude followed, and her voice mingled with it almost
imperceptibly. It was one of those gloomy Spanish ballads, dramatic
rather than harmonious, that poured forth its mournful strains in the
fitful measure of an Æolian harp. There were bursts of pathos that
seemed to echo from her very soul. It was fierce, mocking, passionate;
tender, wicked, terrible. It sank in sobs of melting compassion; it
implored pity and sympathy in words of thrilling entreaty; and then it
rose, cold and calm, in sounds of withering derision and implacable
hate. It trembled, it scorned, it pleaded, it taunted, it struggled, it
hoped, it despaired; and then, as if for the dead, it wailed and died in
a long, helpless cry of sorrow.
Dupleisis sat listening to the dreary history entranced. There was love,
and feeling, and fond womanly devotion; there was refined thought,
gentle pity, and warm generous charity; and there was a neglected heart,
a gloomy, embittered mind, a life lost in utter desolation. The glorious
being whom God had created to cheer and encourage man was a beautiful
Who would teach that heart to feel again? Who turn to quivering flesh
that rigid marble? Yet the man of iron sat masking his features,
controlling his emotions, with every muscle under his command. It was a
flash of real feeling from a proud, sensitive woman, but it passed
lightly as a snowdrift on a frozen river.
"Mr. Reed, you certainly are the most old-maidish man I ever saw in my
The room did appear old-maidish, as Mademoiselle Milan stood looking in.
The balmy breeze fluttered pleasantly past the little French curtains,
the glowing sunshine warmed the delicate tracery of the walls and
lighted up the flowers on a huge rug spread on the bare floor. A tiny
bouquet of Spanish violets, in a wonderful little vase, filled the room
with a dreamy perfume, such as one sometimes imagines he would find in
those far-off little islands in the South seas. There were crayon
sketches hung between the windows, here and there a statuette filled a
niche, and out on the glass-floored gallery was a perfect bower of
flowers. There were several easy-chairs placed about in comfortable
positions, as if they were all made to sit on, and a great lounge,
covered with green marine, stood, like a small grass-mound, under one of
Percy Reed, seated near a table loaded with needle-books, silk-winders,
and a hundred little trinkets, with a cigar in his mouth, and a sock,
with a little round gourd shoved into the foot of it, in his hand, was
intently occupied in darning a hole in the toe.
"There! don't throw away your cigar. _Mon Dieu!_ can a person never see
you without being overpowered at your grand politeness?"
"Mademoiselle, I make no apologies. Buttons will come off, and stockings
will contract holes. Washer-women are heartless. The mountain will not
come to Mahomet: therefore I darn 'em myself."
"A philosopher under all circumstances. And pray what have you done with
your pupil in morality and economy?"
"Oh, Dupleisis? I have started him out in a carriage to view the wonders
of this 'River of January.' By-the-by, if you ever hope to attract,
don't dream of mentioning figures in the presence of our mysterious
"The branch of mathematics known as simple addition seems to be the
crowning glory of his intellect. He knows to a _milreis_ the value of
this building, from chimney-pot to cellar."
"Blessed with curiosity," said Mademoiselle, significantly.
"Mathematics entirely. If Armand Dupleisis were entering the pearly
gates of Paradise, amid the resounding hallelujahs of cherubim and
seraphim, he would deliberately count the cost of the entire wardrobe,
before he thought of receiving the waters of eternal life."
"Mr. Reed," said Mademoiselle, earnestly, "who _did_ you ever see of
whom you _could_ not speak lightly?"
"One person in the world--my mother. Sometimes in my dreams of the 'auld
lang syne' I almost see that dear little lady; she had a window just
like that, with the foliage rustling over it just as this does. Never,
mademoiselle, does that little morning-wrapper come up before my eyes
without making me a better and a purer man."
Both were silent for some minutes after this. Mademoiselle Milan sat
leaning her face against the crimson lining of her chair, apparently
lost in thought.
At length she said, "Would to God that all men understood women as well
"But _your_ mother; where is she, mademoiselle?"
The lady's face turned as pale as marble, and her little white hands
grasped the arms of her chair, until they seemed almost imbedded in the
ebony. She attempted an utterance, but her voice failed her, and there
was a dead silence.
Reed was a man of feeling. He did not talk, nor persuade her to talk. He
did not even sit doing nothing. He went out on the balcony to examine
the flowers. He climbed noiselessly up the lattice-work for jasmines
fluttering in the evening breeze. Finally, he took up a violin and
He always played well, but now the music was low and soft,--old Scotch
ballads, wild and mournful, touching little German songs, plaintive
romances full of subdued passion. Mademoiselle Milan did not notice him;
but in her heart she felt grateful for his consideration. Gradually the
color returned to her face, and, soothed by the sad, sweet strains, she
sunk into dreamy reverie.
"When we have reached another sphere, where emotion governs instead of
thought, I think that man will speak in splendid music."
Reed looked at her earnestly for a moment, and then said, "Mademoiselle,
why did you never write?"
"The public treats authors very much as drill-sergeants do
recruits,--drunk the first day, and beaten the rest of their lives."
"Great minds _rule_ the public."
"And yet I fear your courage would ooze away when you came to lay a
lance at rest against such a windmill as the common sense of the
nineteenth century, whirling its rotary sails under the steady breeze
of ridicule. I am a woman, and know a woman's place. I have had dreams
in my time,--'dreams like that flower that blooms in a single night, and
dies at dawn;' but they are passed. You see, I carry the glare of the
foot-lights even here." And a bitter smile curled from her lip.
"Mademoiselle," said Percy, solemnly, "the foot-lights enable you to
move man to a hundred passions."
"Yes; it reduces me to the level of a harlequin, to be laughed with, and
laughed _at_. Who are _my_ friends? Are they the idle boys who send me
bouquets and never mention my name without looking unutterable things?
Have I no tastes, no likings, no feelings, no emotions? In the name of
God, was I created only to memorize so many lines of Racine, Corneille,
or Voltaire per diem?"
It was a tone of almost ferocity with which she spoke, and the trembling
lip, the flashing eye, and the swollen veins on her temple betrayed the
self-scorn racking her heart within her.
A bang at the hall-door, and heavy footsteps on the marble pavement,
forced her to composure.
"Old-maidish to the last!" (the lady commenced picking the dead leaves
off a geranium). "This geranium looks as if you had watched it a year;
and this old gray hat, I suppose, you have hung above it for good luck."
"The hat belongs to a friend abroad, and is not to be moved until his
safe return; but the geranium was presented not a week ago by my
ever-faithful money. You see the magic charm. Here are careful watching,
weeks of anxiety, and, no doubt, a modicum of affection (for I _have_
heard people say they loved flowers), bartered away for one _milreis_."
"Apropos of money,--I thought I was to have a view of the treasures of
Aladdin, locked up in the vaults below."
"Of a surety you shall."
Reed excused himself, and in a short time reappeared, bearing a large
iron casket. Mademoiselle Milan's face turned a shade or two paler when
she saw him; for he was accompanied by Edgar Fay. It had now become
quite dark, and Percy Reed lighted the gas-jet before opening the
casket. It was made in imitation of the ordinary iron safe, but opening
at the top.
When the glare of the gas struck the dark recesses of the velvet lining,
a gleam of radiance shot up that fairly dazzled. Great grains of light,
large as peas, shimmered and glittered with an unearthly brilliancy.
Blue, purple, violet, and a gorgeous white that combined the whole,
sparkled in their turn with weird splendor. It looked like a flash from
heaven turned suddenly on a startled world. Both Mademoiselle Milan and
Fay stood breathless with astonishment, and it was many minutes before
they regained their composure.
Hearing the heavy rumbling caused by the lowering of the iron shutters
in the counting-room, Mademoiselle urged Mr. Reed to return the gems to
the vault before it closed.
He assured her it was entirely unnecessary, saying that larceny was a
crime unknown to Brazilians, and that he had provided for exigencies
such as this. Moving the piles of thread and embroidery silk to the side
of the table, he touched a spring, and a lid flew up. The table, though
presenting the appearance of fragility itself, was really of iron, and
contained a vault that would puzzle the most expert of burglars.
Just then Dupleisis called from the street, and both Reed and Edgar Fay
went out on the gallery to see him. He had made arrangements to spend
the night with a friend, and the three stood chatting for some minutes,
the Frenchman giving an amusing description of his adventures among the
Shortly afterward, Mademoiselle Milan and Fay took their leave. The wind
by this time was blowing so fiercely that no taper could live in the
gusts; so both were compelled to grope their way through the hall, which
was dark as Erebus.
The door was faithfully bolted, and the casket carefully placed in the
secret vault; but when Percy Reed awoke in the morning he found both
open, and the diamonds, worth a million, missing.
"Mademoiselle Milan, I wish you good-evening."
The lady bowed. She was reclining on a divan, before a large mirror,
absently turning the rings on her finger; but in her simple négligée she
appeared more beautiful than ever. The long, dark ringlets gave the oval
face a look of earnestness, the fierce Italian blood glowed in her
cheeks, and the flashing brilliancy of her eyes had a restlessness that
was unusual. She was evidently suffering from nervous excitement; but
there was a fascinating grace in every movement, and even in the easy
indolence of her position.
"Take a seat on that sofa, by the side of my little dog. Is he not
"Very," replied Dupleisis; "but I am more interested in his mistress. We
have not met for a week,--not, in fact, since two thieves robbed Mr.
Reed of a fortune."
Dupleisis said this with pointed significance; but the lady preserved
the coolest unconcern.
"The muse of the foot-lights is the most jealous of mistresses."
"True," replied Dupleisis; "but in this case she has had rivals."
"I choose to amuse myself with a crowd, who eat my suppers and make me
"And among the jesters you number the Minister of War and Chief of
"I may need their aid."
"Mademoiselle Milan, you _do_ need their aid; but, with all your
charming courtesies, you have not secured it."
"M. Dupleisis chooses to speak in enigmas. I am obtuse."
"At our last most agreeable _tête-à-tête_, you were pleased to feel
interested in my somewhat sluggish history. Would you pardon a few
inquiries concerning yours?"
"M. Dupleisis, I am at your service."
"Two months since, you resided in the Rue de Luxembourg, Paris."
"This is an assertion. I expected an inquiry."
Dupleisis took from a pocket-book a half-sheet of thin, closely-written
letter-paper, and spread it out on the table before him.
"It was about two months ago that this document was blown from your
window. Am I right, Mademoiselle Milan?"
"It _was_ blown from my writing-desk into the street."
"I knew I was right; for 'twas I that picked it up. It is a letter,
written in Rio de Janeiro, and contains the details of a plot to rob one
of the wealthiest diamond-dealers in this city. You may think my
interest singular, mademoiselle; but the merchant deals with every
large jewelry-house in Paris. Their loss by a felony of this magnitude
would be immense."
Mademoiselle Milan listened with an air of indifference that was
"You may think it singular, also, that when, shortly afterward, you
started for Bordeaux, I went by the same train; and that when you
concluded to prolong your journey to Brazil by the French packet, via
Lisbon, it was _I_ who assisted with your luggage."
"There is nothing low enough to be singular in M. Dupleisis."
"Mademoiselle Milan, one week ago you and Edgar Fay went into the
hall-way of Mr. Reed's house together, and you went _out_ alone. Denial
is useless, for I _saw_ you. If you remember, the door was banged
violently, and it was you who did it. A careless servant locked him in.
He opened the secret vault in that table, and abstracted diamonds worth
a million. You were wise in courting the Minister of War and Chief of
Police, but your passports have been stopped. No power under heaven can
get you out of Rio."
For the first time her countenance changed, and she looked at Dupleisis
with a smile of contemptuous pity.
"So I was not wrong in suspecting you to be an agent of the police. How
strong an alloy of cunning exists in every fool! The man whom you
believe to have stolen a million is my own brother. The letter which
caused this display of sagacity was paid for out of my wretched weekly
earnings. At the sacrifice of every _sou_ I owned, I came here to thwart
the plot it spoke of."
Dupleisis glanced at her with an incredulous sneer.
"He wrote to Paris for a woman to assist him,--what weaklings you men
are!--and, utterly unable to prevent the larceny, I pretended to be his
accomplice. While you were exposing your ill-breeding by coarse
criticisms on a people in every way your superior, I substituted for the
real diamonds the paste gems you were so particular in noticing. What
was stolen is my property. Go back to Mr. Reed, and tell him his
diamonds are bundled into an old hat that hangs on the wall of his
sitting-room; and tell him, furthermore, it was I who put them there. I
did court the favor of the Minister of War, but it was to put that man
in the army. I have watched over him for years, and, by the blessing of
God, I will watch over him to the end. He has never known me, nor will
he----" Suddenly she turned livid, and nervously clasped her hands over
"M. Dupleisis, I regret my inability to be present at the Assembly; but,
really, I am engaged."
Dupleisis looked at her in astonishment.
Edgar Fay, pale and trembling, was standing behind them. He must have
heard every word; for he sunk helplessly and faint on the floor, hiding
his face in the depth of his degradation.
Why should we follow them any further? _Can_ I tell how the miserable
man, cringing at the feet of that pure woman, narrated his dreary
history of folly, extravagance, and dishonor? Need it be said that,
through all his dissipation, frivolity, and crime, his gentle sister
clung to him, and, smiling through her tears, bade him go and sin no
more? She stole upon him like a shadow in the night, and, her labor of
love ended, faded away. No entreaty of the generous diamond-dealer
dissuaded her; no apology of the detective turned her from the one fixed
purpose. The star of the _Alcasar_ rose, culminated, and disappeared in
O woman! I have seen you in the brilliant whirl of society, where all
was gayety, gallantry, and splendor. I have seen your eyes flash
triumphant, and daintily gaitered feet move fast and furious to the
music of _les pièces d'or_. I have seen brave men stand fascinated at
your side, and careless youth overflow the bumper of Johannisberger to
health, and youth, and beauty. I have heard the stern cynic jingle his
Napoleons in unison with the frantic strains, and sneer out, "_Vive la
bagatelle!_" Daughters of marble! daughters of marble! Turn your snowy
arms to the glittering gorgeous, scatter the golden heaps, deluge the
world with champagne. Diamonds, _diamonds_ must win hearts. I have
watched you in a deeper, darker, madder whirl, while I have seen fair,
blooming flowers wither in the hot hands of drunken licentiousness. Oh,
Becky Sharp! Oh, _Dame aux Camellias_! you are but single dandelions in
a parterre of heliotropes!
* * *
There was hurrying to and fro on the broad decks. Bustling cabin-boys
rushed hither and thither with great baskets of stores; the
jauntily-arrayed stewardess chatted saucily with her friends in the
shore-boats; sailors slipped quietly over the bulwarks with their
secretly-collected menageries of pets; watermen contended stoutly at the
gangway for a landing near the steps; and dusky _cameradas_ cursed, in
broken French and Portuguese, at the weight of the trunks. Here a
naturalist trembled with anxiety for the fate of a coral; there a
bird-fancier worked himself into a small frenzy at the jostling of big
parrots. Bones, fossils, plants, bottled fish, bananas, oranges, and
mangoes, were mingled in one promiscuous heap. Monkeys of all tribes and
shades of complexion, from the golden Mumasitte to the fierce Machaca,
were crowded pell-mell into passages; and forcing them against the
bulkheads were boxes of wine, jellies, and _doces_ in their
infinitesimal variety. Men and women, crouching in retired places,
hurried through their few broken words of parting, and eyes were dried
for the great heart-throb left for the very last. Off in the painted
boats, ship-chandlers smilingly bowed their _bon voyage_, and faces
pallid with grief gazed with swollen eyes at loved ones convulsed with
emotion. The gorgeous custom-house officer has smoked his last cigarette
and taken his last "dispatch;" the belated passenger, whose agonizing
shrieks and spasmodic contortions finally attracted the attention of the
captain, is at length, carpet-bag in hand, on board, and the sharp crash
of the gong severs the lingering groups.
Who ever made an ocean voyage undismayed by the knell! It is the
trumpet-tongue of reality, awakening the mind from the lethargy of its
distress. The woe of separation, the terror of the journey, the vague
apprehension of the future, meeting, burst upon you in the fullness of
their stern reality. The bewildered mortal turns to gaze at the
companions of his danger, casts a lingering look on those he has left
behind; the groaning paddles, with reluctant plunges, begin their weary
labor; the faces of the cheering crowd, one by one, drop out of the
picture, until distance swallows the whole, and those nearer and dearer
than all earth beside become a memory.
Far aft, under the waving tricolor, stood the woman of our story. Her
fingers twined carelessly through the glittering necklace thrust into
her hand as Percy Reed clambered into his boat, and her eyes rested
sadly on an ungainly transport, already freighting with its cargo of
mortality for the sacrifice at Humaita. The golden glow of the harbor
was lost in the chilly mist; the bare mountain-tops loomed bleakly
through the piles of cloudy haze. White waves curled dismally at the
base of the Pao de Assucar, and the weird shrieks of the sea-gulls on
the rocks that jutted around it made the dreariness more desolate. Far
out in the trackless waste the sky lowered gloomily over the weary
waters. Fit emblem of her path through life--dark was the picture,
threatening the surroundings.
Pray for the woman doomed to a calling she cannot but despise! Pray for
the being overflowing with good thoughts toward all mankind, sentenced
to "tread the wine-press alone!" God have mercy upon us miserable