I'm writing this longhand today, being on-the-job with some down time. It certainly changes your composition style. When I was Mathew, I knew shorthand--perhaps it was the subjective equivalent of my 111 wpm typing speed, today. This will be a bit long, but it shouldn't be painful, excepting for those with VWADD (Virtual World Attention Deficit Disorder). In recent entries, I have asserted that Mathew Franklin Whittier was the real author of the humorous story that Samuel Clemens read aloud to the distinguished guests at John Greenleaf Whittier's 70th birthday party in Boston, in 1877. I'm about to demonstrate that this is entirely plausible, as regards Mathew's writing skill, style and experience.
I'm going to begin by showing you Samuel Clemens' first known sketch, published in the May 1, 1852 "Carpet-Bag," when he was 16 years old. Keep in mind, that Mathew was a silent financial partner in that paper, having been a secret collaborator with its editor, B.P. Shillaber, before its launch (when Shillaber was the editor of the "Pathfinder"). Mathew helped set the tone of the "Carpet-Bag" with as many as four differently-signed pieces per weekly edition.
I'm then going to show you Mathew's advice to another writer in the May 31, 1851 Boston "Weekly Museum" (to which paper Mathew had been a frequent contributor since its launch in mid-1848). Here, he is writing as "Quails," which body of work was claimed by and for one Ossian Dodge. It wasn't Dodge--I have dealt with this issue in previous blog entries, and at length in my book. There is also a back-story to this particular letter by "Quails." It would seem that author Henry Ruggles, writing as "One Who Heard of It," was either imitating or downright plagiarizing Mathew's stories. But not having Mathew's personal character, he was adding in his own touches of cruelty, thus bastardizing Mathew's style (if not his actual work). This is my conclusion from studying his productions. Worst-case scenario, he was actually stealing some of Mathew's stories, or unfinished stories, and completing them with his own tasteless endings. Thus, while publicly giving Ruggles some friendly advice on writing, Mathew was privately putting him on notice, and at the same time distancing himself, for posterity, from anything published with this signature. Note how Mathew seems to praise Ruggles, with just a few reservations. It's an odd sort of lukewarm praise--and furthermore, he "outs" him, which normally Mathew would never do. I think that the closing, "we are one of the public 'who heard of it,'" has a double meaning. What he heard of, i.e., became aware of, is Ruggles' plagiarism. But what of the two men walking around town planning sketches? I think this may be a reference to Mathew having shared sketch ideas with Ruggles, by way of mentoring him, only to find that Ruggles had submitted those stories as his own. Otherwise it doesn't make much sense, as they would not actually be collaborators, in any case. Although Mathew thought he was a good judge of character, he had a track record of being naive and gullible. He was also friends with Ossian Dodge, who was a con-artist, and with the editor of the "Weekly Museum," Charles A.V. Putnam, who was of questionable character. Both men betrayed him, and in fact this was a predominant theme in Mathew's life.
I have recently discussed how Mathew, writing as "Quails," referred to Edgar Allan Poe as "this greatest of American poets." It's the same modus operandi. Mathew could be very circumspect and tactful with his sarcasm, especially when he was under cover, and/or writing for a conservative editor.* Only those in the know--or the person, himself--might get the message. Lest you are wondering, Mathew wasn't always cutting or sarcastic--his praise of the hotel owner, musical instruments, steamboat, carpets, etc. which follows, is quite sincere.
It appears that at this time, Mathew was mentoring more than one author in the small town of Norwich, Conn., through which town he passed in his work as a postal inspector. While this author was stealing his short stories, another was stealing his poetry. Note that "Quails" was supposed to be Ossian Dodge's first attempt at public writing. It is extremely unlikely he would take this mentoring tone with a fellow contributor to the paper, if he was a neophyte, himself. But Mathew had been publishing since 1827, or for 24 years, at this point. All of this, of course, is explored in my book. Note also that "Quails" visits the popular poet, Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney, and receives from her some copies of her poetry. Mathew would never attempt to steal or imitate her work; but this appears to be what has happened when Mathew similarly shared his work with others, who were less ethical (including Edgar Allan Poe).
Rather than excerpt just the relevant part of this "Quails" travelogue letter, I'm going to reproduce it in its entirety. Remember that Mathew appears to have been working as a liaison for William Lloyd Garrison. Where "Quails" mentions visiting with the improbable list of Washington notables, I believe that Mathew is actually reporting his contacts to Garrison, and his fellow-Abolitionist agents. The reason is that this is far safer, more reliable, and faster than writing to these people individually via the mails. "Quails'" official rationale for visiting all these V.I.P.'s, is that he is an elderly gentleman who works in some unclarified capacity for the government. But I have disproven "Quails'" advanced age by clues which appear in several entries, including that on one occasion, he vigorously hikes over miles of rough terrain with a friend. Emma Southworth was a liberal writer who published in the "National Era." This is typical of "Quails," who contacted fellow progressives, government officials, and potential donors, reporting those contacts in his travelogue as though he had visited them for other reasons. I should also mention that there is one reference in this letter which would seemingly be incorrect for Mathew, i.e., his "extensive farm." Some years earlier, Mathew had written his brother of his interst in purchasing a 70-acre farm near Portland, Maine. It's possible he was making enough money at this point, to buy one. However, more likely he was simply writing in-character as Quails, the elderly gentleman working for the government. Presumably, Mathew would occasionally add these touches to deepen his cover.
Although this is not his best letter, those who are familiar with Clemens' later travelogue work may wish to compare it with "Quails." My impression is that Clemens borrowed Mathew's jocular, familiar style, but spiced it with humor that was more cynical and worldly.
Next I'm going to give you one of Mathew's own stories, also written at age 16. You can compare the quality of these two youthful efforts for yourself. This was not Mathew's first attempt, but if I showed you the earliest of Mathew's pieces that I have, written at age 14, it would still compare quite favorably to Clemens' first effort at 16. However, two years being a huge gap in the teenage years, I didn't think that would have been fair to Mathew.
Finally, I'll present one of Mathew's mature works, also signed "Quails," from the Aug. 17, 1850 "Weekly Museum." This last was one of a series of sketches, published under this pseudonym, at a time when Mathew was between traveling postal assignments, and living in Boston. Note the expression, in the closing, "the old one." I have said that Mathew wrote the series of short stories which a known plagiarist, Francis A. Durivage, stole, retaining the signature, "The Old 'Un."
My purpose, here, is not necessarily to suggest that a young Samuel Clemens is imitating Mathew's style nine months later, in the May 1, 1852 "Carpet-Bag." Rather, I am simply demonstrating that Mathew was, in fact, the senior author in this genre by many years, and arguably possessed as much or more talent in this line than Clemens did.
Therefore, that Mathew was the actual writer of the Whittier birthday speech read by Clemens in 1877, is entirely plausible on this score. And when everything else is taken into account, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Mathew wrote in levels of meaning, such that the top-most layer might appeal to the general public, while the deeper layers might be understood only by a few (or, in many instances, only by himself). In the case of John Greenleaf Whittier's birthday story, the top-most layer seemed to be light comedy; but it soon became apparent to local newspaper editors, who as a group are more astute, that it concealed a sharper "bite" underneath.
I begin, now, with Samuel Clemens' first humorous sketch, which appeared in the May 1, 1852 edition of the Boston "Carpet-Bag."
Oh, as I prepare to key this in, I realize that the piece just above it on the page, "Tight Boots," by Fred. Freequill, is undoubtedly Mathew's. This makes five of Mathew's pieces in this one edition (and if you don't think he could possibly be so prolific, note how many entries I'm writing for this blog, lately). There is also a story by "Peter Snooks," the bane of Mathew's existence in this paper. He writes, in blatant imitation of Mathew's "Ethan Spike" style, a sketch entitled "Great Speech of Mr. Batkins, of Cranberry Centre, Concerning the Unconstitutionality of Doughnuts." As mentioned recently, the editor, B.P. Shillaber, stated in his notes to correspondents that he drew a distinction between imitation and plagiarism, which apparently meant he turned a blind eye to the former in order to fill his paper every week.
May 1, 1852
The Dandy Frightening the Squatter.
About thirteen years ago, when the now flourishing young city of Hannibal, on the Mississippi River, was but a "wood-yard," surrounded by a few huts, belonging to some hardy "squatters," and such a thing as a steamboat was considered quite a sight, the following incident occurred:
A tall, brawny woodsman stood leaning against a tree which stood upon the bank of the river, gazing at some approaching objects, which our readers would easily have discovered to be a steamboat.
About half a hour elapsed, and the boat was moored, and the hands busily engaged in taking on wood.
Now among the many passengers on this boat, both male and female, was a spruce young dandy, with a killing moustache, &c., who seemed bent on making an impression upon the hearts of the young ladies on board, and to do this, he thought he must perform some heroic deed. Observing our squatter friend, he imagined this to be a fine opportunity to bring himself into notice; so, stepping into the cabin, he said:
"Ladies, if you wish to enjoy a good laugh, step out on the guards. I intend to frighten that gentleman into fits who stands on the bank."
The ladies complied with the request, and our dandy drew from his bosom a formidable looking bowie-knife, and thrust it into his belt; then, taking a large horse-pistol in each hand, he seemed satisfied that all was right. Thus, equipped, he strode on shore, with an air which seemed to say--"The hopes of a nation depend on me." Marching up to the woodsman, he exclaimed:
"Found you at last, have I? You are the very man I've been looking for these three weeks! Say your prayers!" he continued, presenting his pistols, "you'll make a capital barn door, and I shall drill the key-hole myself!"
The squatter calmly surveyed him a moment, and then, drawing back a step, he planted his huge fist directly between the eyes of his astonished antagonist, who, in a moment, was floundering in the turbid waters of the Mississippi.
Every passenger on the boat had by this time collected on the guards, and the shout that now went up from the crowd speedily restored the crest-fall hero to his senses, and, as he was sneaking off towards the boat, was thus accosted by his conqueror:
"I say, yeou, next time yeou comes around drillin' key-holes, don't forget yer old acquantances!"
The ladies unanimously voted the knife and pistols to the victor.
The Boston "Weekly Museum"
May 31, 1851
From Our Flying Correspondent
Danielsonville, Ct., May 12th, 1851.
Dear Putnam:--After mailing our last letter at the city of Washington, we had the good fortune to ferret out, and have a very pleasant interview with, your able correspondent, "H.," and we found him up to his ears in business, in assisting the officers of Uncle Sam to straighten matters for the credit and honor of our extensive farm. In his company, we made a visit to the National Institute, or Museum, the Patent-Office, and through the Post-Office Department; and it was at the latter place where we enjoyed the greatest treat while in Washington. In the dead-letter office we witnessed the opening of returned letters, and notwithstanding we had read many descriptions of this operation, we were wholly unprepared for the novelty and richness which presented itself. From one letter was taken the daguerreotype of a "collud pussun," which was evidently intended for the sweet caresses of some romantic "Dianner," as the author wrote the following in the letter:--
"I beg of thee, my translucent jet,
To ware next thy heart thy Adolphus,
And with tears of erfectshun let the pictur be wet
Till the wave of obliveyun shal engulph us."
Beautiful, is n't it? Where can we find among the poetry of Milton, Byron, or Moore, another such touching passage? Only think of his spirit of devotion and self-sacrifice, to be willing to have his pictur wet with salt and ruinous tears, along side of his “translucent’s” heart, and while in that position both them engulfed in oblivyun. Very affecting!
Another letter contained two nightcaps, and an article of wearing apparel belonging to an infant. Attached to one letter was a bag containing eight or ten pounds of garden-seeds; to another, the horn of an ox. The latter was sent to the president of a temperance society by some unreformed drunkard, with the respects of the writer, and a wish that the horn might be accepted; but as it seems it was not, we are rather inclined to think that the donor, instead of the president, came out at the little end of the instrument. In one package was about half a card of gingerbread, sent by some political rival in Ohio to his opponent--a member of Congress at Washington. We saw one letter opened containing a good one hundred dollar bill on the Kenduskeag Bank, Bangor, Me. And quite a number of letters were opened during our stay, containing twos, threes, fives and tens, of other current money. Where letters contain one dollar and upward, the department makes effort to discover the writer, as also the persons who whom the letters are addressed; but all sums less than one dollar are thrown into the treasury, to help pay expenses.
We had somewhat long interviews, while in Washington, with the Hon. Daniel Webster, Secretary of State, the Hon. C. M. Conrad, Secretary of War, the Hon. N.K. Hall, Postmaster General, and the Hon. J.J. Crittenden, Attorney General, all, and each of whom, expressed themselves so well pleased with the manner in which we had conducted and managed the affairs of government which had been placed in our hands, that we have, by their urgent request, consented to serve in the same capacity during the remainder of the present administration. So much for faithfulness, or good looks--we hardly know which of the two compliments will best satisfy our conceited vanity.
We had a very pleasant interview, also, before leaving Washington, with the very gifted and finished writer, Miss Emma D.E.N. Southworth; and the public must not be taken by surprise, if they see articles from the pen of this popular authoress in the columns of the Museum during its next volume.
After enjoying ourself in visiting our friends and the literati at Washington as long as our engagement would permit, we took the cars at 5, P.M., for Baltimore, Md., and arrived in the Monumental City in about two and a half hours. We then took seat in the cars of the Baltimore & Philadelphia Railroad, and passing through Wilmington, Del, we arrived in Philadelphia at three o’clock the next morning. It being both too late and too early to take a bed, we strolled about the city of brotherly love--and firemens’ fights--for about three hours, and then took passage in the cars of the New-York & Philadelphia Railroad for Gotham, the great American metropolis, where we arrived after a ride of about five hours, and remained in the city until 5, P.M., and then left in the splendid steamer Knickerbocker, Capt. Wilcox, for Norwich, Ct., where we arrived precisely at twenty-five minutes after we had retired for the night. And as we were too fatigued to care much whether “school kept or not,” we remained in our berth until next morning at daylight, and then arose and had our baggage taken to the American House, where we were well cared for by its worthy hose, (whose name has unfortunately at this moment slipped from our memory). Bostonians about visiting New-York will find this a very pleasant route; the conductors on the trains are courteous and attentive, and the captains and clerks of the steamers Knickerbocker and Connecticut, manifest in every possible way their anxiety for the comfort and convenience of their passengers.
You will see by the above, that in less than twenty-four hours’ steady travel, we were in the District of Columbia, and States of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New-Jersey, New-York, and Connecticut.
Norwich, Ct., is a beautiful town, but strangers passing rapidly through it get but a very imperfect view of its beauties. The scenery here is fully equal to any in the State, either for beauty or wild effect. In addition to its other attractions, Norwich boasts of being the birth-place of the “Hemans of America,” Mrs. Lydia H. Sigourney, now resident of Hartford, in this State. The gifted poetess is very much beloved by the citizens of Norwich, and is ever spoken of as a kind and loving sister. We had an interview with this talented lady in Hartford, while on our journey west, and received from her hands a copy of her poems, a more extended notice of which we shall given on our return to Boston.
While in Norwich, we made the acquaintance of the poet and journalist who has for the last five or six years been writing over the poetical nom de plume of The Veiled Author, and contrary to our expectations, we found him a man of much sociability, and yet in the springtime of life. We also here met our old friend, Henry Ruggles, the poet and sketch-writer, and with him made a survey of the town, and concocted plans for sketches which should keep the readers of the Museum during the next year on a broad grin with their (the sketches) details.
There are but a few first-rate sketch-writers in America, and perhaps we might safely say in the world; for it requires a man who is not only good at relating mirth, but equally as good in originating. A sketch, written as it should be, should have the effect at the outset, of producing a feeling with the reader, if not of despondency, bordering on solemn attention, and as the tale proceeds, and dark clouds break from overhead, the light should steal in so gradually, that the reader unconsciously, as it were, becomes in a state of great nervous anxiety to ascertain what can be the result of the plot. The reader should be kept in this state until the last sentence of the sketch, and then the truth, or pith, (or glory, as Crockett was wont to call it) should burst forth with all its brightness, causing the reader to stamp on his hat, jump through a second story window, or, if in the evening, wake up the whole neighborhood with his unearthly screams and yells of delight. That’s what we call a sketch of effect; and though we can’t say positively that we have ever known one of Ruggles’ sketches to effect [sic] a man precisely in the manner stated above, still we can say, that his sketches, as a general thing, are well written, and some of them are tiptop. He writes over the euphonious nom de plume of One who Heard of It; and if he takes offence at Quails’ “putting him through,” and speaking of his ability and fame, we shall reply, that we are one of the public “who heard of it.”
From Norwich, we made a short visit to New-London, where we put up with our old friend, H.S. Crocker, of the Federal Street House. And this house, we will venture to say, is not surpassed by any hotel in the States, and that is saying a great deal in a few words. The table is quite equal to that of the Irving, in New-York city, and far superior to those of the hotels in Washington; the rooms are large and airy, beds new and of the best quality, and the attention paid to guests is far superior to that obtained either in New-York or Washington. The secret of this, however, is, that Crocker employs the best help, and pays them the best prices, and makes it a rule, that no servant in the house shall accept a bribe for extra attention to any one, and on the first instance of proof being produced of a servant receiving a bribe, he is instantly discharged. The same rule should be adopted in all public houses, as in that case, all are well treated, and treated alike. Mr. Crocker, will, on the first of next month, open the Stafford Springs House, at Stafford, in this State, for the accommodation of persons wishes to enjoy the invigorating and medicinal virtues of those waters.
The Stafford Springs House will be under the personal superintendence of Hazen Peavey, Esq., now head clerk at the Federal Street House, New-London; and of him we have only to say, he is the second edition of Crocker, and “every inch a gentleman,” to ensure him the confidence and patronage of the New-England public.
While in New-London, we made a visit to H.K. White’s celebrated manufactory of Carhart’s Improved Melodeons, and in justice to these instruments, we must say they are superior to anything of the kind we have ever seen. They are made of a variety of sizes, and vary in price from forty-five to two hundred and fifty dollars; but all sizes possess that sweetness and depth of tone which have for the past few years given this manufactory the great reputation which it now possesses. We propose to speak more particularly of these instruments in a future article.
Plying between Norwich and Stonington via. New-London and Mystic Bridge, is the swift little steamer Water Lily--commanded by Capt. J.A. Robinson--the most beautiful little steamer we have ever seen; and she is said to possess a speed unequaled by any vessel of her size in the world. She lies as gracefully in the water as a young swan, and at the first stroke of her wheels, shoots ahead like an Indian arrow. She is furnished in the most costly manner, and her floors carpeted without regard to expense.
By the way, speaking of carpets reminds us of the extensive oil-cloth carpet warerooms which we visited in New-York city, at Nos. 155 and 159 Broadway. The proprietor, Mr. E.E. Rice, is a Maine boy, and one of the aids of the Governor of that State. He manufactures his carpets at Hallowell, Me., and carries on an extensive wholesale and retail trade at his elegant warerooms named above. Our friends in New-York wishing anything in his line of the first quality and at the lowest price, must not fail to give Mr. Rice a call.
From New-London, we worked our way leisurely up to this place (Danielsonville), where we are quartered for the present at the Railroad House, kept by our generous, open-hearted, social, and capital friend, E. Buckminster, and what his house lacks in size and knick-knacks, he more than makes up by his ever cheerful countenance, and desire to make his guests feel at home.
The Windham County Telegraph, published at this place, is owned and edited by one of the Museum’s former vivacious and spicy correspondents, Frederick Peck, Esq., and as a proof that he is well-appreciated in his present situation, we would state that the paper has nearly doubled its circulation since passing into his hands. May his measure never be less.
As ever, thine,
The "New-England Galaxy and Boston Mercury"
June 5, 1829
A Tale of a Bag of Beans,
or Joe Bunker's Courtship.
There was a body met a body
In a bag of beans,
Can a body tell a body
What a body means?--Old Song.
Every body in the County of Essex has heard of Joe Bunker, and the quips and cranks by him enacted. In truth he was a famous fellow in his day, so noted for his bushwacking rusticity of breeding that his name has passed into a proverb and made him immortal. Joe Bunker's character is now regarded by all the old crones and gossips in the North East corner of Massachusetts as the beau ideal of a genuine unsophisticated Yankee clodhopper.
His fame for ten miles round the country ran
And all the old ladies called him a queer man.
He was the first mortal in these parts that ever picked his teeth with a wooden shoe. Various other fashions introduced by him are in the remembrance of many, but it is not our purpose now to specify them. The story of his courtship and bag of beans is not so common. It runs thus.
It was sometime in the month of April or May, or at any rate, just at the time of the planting of beans, of all the days in the year of a Sunday, that Joe being at meeting, spied Colonel Shute's daughter Hannah. It was in prayer time; (they make terrible long prayers in that part of the country) and Joe was hanging over the pew door in about the shape of a figure 5, tired to death and wriggling himself about in as awkward a slouching a fashion as can well be imagined. Joe looked at Hannah, and Hannah looked at Joe. It is pretty certain that the little hedgehog Cupid shot off a pair of his quills at the same instant, for Hannah was struck with a very queer sensation, and as for Joe, he felt something which he could not describe except by saying that it was a kind of an all-overness like.
This is all we happen to know of the first item in this chapter of accidents. The next morning Joe lay in bed so long that his father began to grumble, and present his mother came up stairs.
"Come Joe," said she, "get up and go to planting your beans."
"I can't," said Joe, "I'm sick."
"Sick. What's the matter with you? What ails you?"
"I don't know what ails me; I don't want to tell."
"Don't want to tell! a fiddlestick; let us know what it is."
Joe hid his face under the blanket for some time, and at last blubbered out, "I want to go and see the Colonel's Hannah." Down goes the old woman and reports proceedings to her husband. "What," says old Bunker, "he go to see the Colonel's Hannah! tell him to come instantly and plant his beans." The old woman runs back and tells this to Joe.
But Joe was hard to work upon. He was granite; he was adamant; there was no softening him, no moving him. You might as easily have shouldered Oldtown Hill from its foundation as have made him start a peg. "I won't go to planting beans; I will go and see the Colonel's Hannah." This was all she could get out of him, and so she paddled off again to her husband.
"Raally, Mr. Bunker, there's no getting Joe to mind; he says he won't go to planting beans nor touch to; and he will go and see the Colonel's Hannah. Now do let the poor boy have his way for once;--remember you was once a young man yourself." This was bringing the matter home, and Old Bunke though he was no logician, nor imagined how the thing could be proved in Baralipton or Ferito, yet he thought the reasoning so pat to the purpose that he fairly yielded. "Well, well, let him take Dobbin and go, but not stay long."
"But," said Joe on hearing this, "I won't go without I can go grand, and I won't have Dobbin." Off goes the old woman once more with this intelligence. "Well then," said old Bunker, "he may go grand, and let him take old Bob."
"But I won't ride upon old Bob," said Joe, "I'll have Posset." "Then take Posset," says his father, "and make haste back."
Hereupon Joe began to bustle about with all speed and bedizen himself out in his Sunday's best. He was a strapping, boney, long-sided fellow. It would do you good to see him dressed in the fashion of that day, astride of his nag. Here he is.
Joe had just bestowed a hearty kick upon the ribs of his Rozinante at setting out for the Colonel's, when old Bunker bawled after him, "Halloo, Joe! stop there, come back again. You are going by Pearson's mill, and you shall take a couple of bags of corn to be ground, while you go to the Colonels: and bring it back with you when you come away; so you can kill two dogs with one stone."--Joe was inclined to demur to this plan of mixing business, but hating to waste time in arguing with his father, he assented, and shambling off to the barn brought out his two bags and bestowed them snugly en croupe. Thus fairly accoutred, he trotted off to the mill.
"Pearson, can ye grind my grist while I go to Colonel Shute's."
"Yes, Joe, but what are ye going a courting for, so early?"
"Oh, who the dickens told you?"
"Never mind, Joe, pluck up courage: faint heart never won fair lady."
"Thank ye for nothing," said Joe. "I shall be back in an hour. Don't let your horse eat out of the hopper." So off he started for the Colonel's.
Joe bolted in at the Colonel's door without knocking. (Indeed it is affirmed he never was known to be guilty of making such a superfluous noise in all his life.) "Ah Mrs. Shute, the top of the morning to ye; where's Hannah?"
"Ah Joe Bunker! is that you? where's Hannah? why she's up stairs a spinning." At this Joe stumped off up stairs without any further idle palaver.
Hannah's wheel was humming right merrily when Joe entered. She blushed like a blue cat upon seeing him.--"How d'ye do Hannah," said Joe, and shambling up toward the window, he slouched himself into a marvellously uncomfortable skewing position on the corner of a chair.
Well! now was Joe fairly seated alongside of his Dulcinea; but how to begin conversation; ah there was the difficulty. What was he to say? Indeed he had never thought of that. However he looked out at the window and saw a flock of sheep; there is nothing like taking a hint from the first thing that offers,--
"Are these your father's sheep, Hannah?"
Joe gave a hem and tried to think of something else to say about the sheep, such as how much wool they gave, and whether they were of the Byfield breed, but he could not make it fadge. Presently he espied some cows--
"Are these your cows?"
"How many cows have you got?"
"Twenty! that's a tarnaton lot of 'em."
Here was another pause in the conversation, and Joe felt more awkwardly than ever. As for Hannah, she kept her wheel going, so she did not feel altogether quite so sheepish. Joe looked out at the window again, but could see nothing to talk of. He looked round the room and up to the ceiling, but there was nought save a seed cucumber, three red peppers and a crooknecked squash. They would not suit. He drummed with his fingers upon the table, and began unconsciously to whistle a stave of "The Tongs and The Bones;" this quavered away into Yankee Doodle, and finally he found himself humming a mixture of Old Hundred and Little Marlborough.
At last he was struck with an idea and out it came--
"Did you ever see a crow?"
"How black they are! an't they?"
Another pause. Joe began to wipe his forehead with his coat sleeve. Presently the appiration of another idea dawned upon him.
"Did you ever see an owl?"
"Do you love maple sugar, Hannah?"
"Next time I come I'll bring you a great gob."
Joe fairly made a hit in this remark, for he touched upon a sweet subject and it completely broke the ice. Remembering the advice of the miller, he plucked up courage and stood bolt upright; then making a sidelong blundering sort of a hitch a little nearer.
"Hannah," says he, "I love you."
Hannah let go her wheel from pure awkwardness, and Joe growing still bolder made a sudden grapple with both paws and bestowed upon her a smacking buss that made the very windows rattle. How long it lasted never was known. but Hannah's mother not hearing the wheel buzzing bawled out below:
"Hannah what are you doing up there with Joe Bunker?"
This interruption gave them a rouse like an electric shock. Joe clawed off in a terrible fright, thinking it was time to cut and run.
"Hannah," says he, "I must clear out; but I'll come again next Sunday night." So saying he made the best of his way off, hardly looking behind him.
"Well, Pearson, have you ground my corn?"
"Yes, Joe, and your beans too."
"Beans!" what d'ye mean?"
"Why was not one a bag of corn and 'tother a bag of beans?"
"No it wan't."
"Yes, it was, though."
"Bags and tarnation! was it? then I'm ruined! I've made a mistake and took the wrong bag. I'll snagger! father'll kill me; 'twas all the beans we'd got for seed! What the dickens shall I do? Oh murder and white-oak cheese."
In a terrible peck of troubles, Joe got on Posset with his bags, now thinking of Hannah and now of his unfortunate grist. Half way home he met his father upon old Bob; he was belaboring his sides with might and main, hoping to get to the mill in time to save his beans, for he had discovered Joe's blunder on going out to plant.
"Oh, Joe, Joe, you chowderhead, you blundering nomskull! you've carried the beans to mill! And I've come on a canter all the way to save them from being ground."
" It is too late, father, for they are all ground to smash!"
How the old man stormed and vowed Joe should pay for them, and how Joe attempted to clear himself by telling lies about the finding of the bags in the wrong place we have not time to state. The old man laid am embargo on Joe's courting expeditions, and spoke to the colonel about keeping Hannah at home! But Joe stole a march upon the old one, and struck a bargain with the sexton to publish him and Hannah in a sly fashion; the matter being conducted clandecently as Deacon Sobersides remarked, it was a match before anybody could interfere. So the long and the short of it is, that the agriculture of the Bunker Farm was knocked completely out of joint that year, by Joe's courtship and the blunder of the bags, for there were more turnips raised than pulse, a thing not heard of before among the Bunkers since the Pilgrims came over. Joe got a wife and saved his bacon, but lost his beans.
The Boston "Weekly Museum"
August 17, 1850
How He Got His Finger In It.
"Herr Alexander, the Magician was arrested on the 21st ultimo., at Rochester, and taken in irons to Lockport, at the instance of a man who was his bail two years ago in a case of damages, Alexander having failed to appear."
Dear Museum:--Finding the above item going the rounds of the press, and happening to know something about the "case of damages" above alluded to, perhaps we shall be pardoned, if we write a description of the laughable, though unfortunate affair.
At an evening's exhibition at Lockport, N.Y., some two years since, given by Herr Alexander, the Magician, he proposed among other feats of legerdomain and wonder, that any person in the audience should have the privilege of loading and firing a pistol at his head, in the presence of the audience, and he would catch between his front teeth, the identical ball used on the occasion.
As may well be supposed, an announcement of this kind posted up in all public places, in an inland village like Lockport, set the whole town by the ears, and at an early hour the spacious Hall was crowded almost to suffocation: and among the number assembled, was a young man who considered that his eye-teeth had been cut a little too long and a little too deep to be "done for" by a strolling Magician. Rising from his seat therefore, when the performances had proceeded as far as the "pistol act" he exclaimed--
"Jest you hold on, my old covy; I wants to look at that shooting-iron myself, afore its loaded."
"Oui, Monsieur," exclaimed the little Frenchman; "but 'tis all von--a--a--vot you call "im, de humbug; and I notis py your peautiful head and eyes, dat you catchy me in mine trick, so I tink as petter so I 'ave somepody else."
"No you do n't," replied the spirited young man; "I just want to have a fair pass at your head myself, and I'll blow your eyes where the crows can't find 'em: see if I do n't! So pass along the pistol and let me load it."
As the young man and his friends insisted upon the Magician's complying with the request, it being no more, as they said, than what was advertised on the bill, the audience realized a cold tremor as the pistol, powder and ball were handed to the young man to prepare for the expected tragedy, and as he was pouring in an uncommon large charge of powder, a friend at his side whispered in his ear--
"Do n't for Heaven's sake fire the pistol at him loaded in that way, or you'll blow his head all to pieces the first fire; then you'll have to answer for it by being strung up yourself."
"Never you mind about me," replied the excited marksman; "I've taken advice on the subject, and the law can't touch me, if I kill him on the spot. And I'm bound to do it, too, or lose a limb! I am, or I would n't say so!"
The little Magician, during this time, was nervously walking backward and forward, incoherently talking to himself and trying to explain to the young man how the pistol should be held, that it should not be injurious or dangerous to the person firing it.
"You moosht not take de pistole in both hands," exclaimed the nervous and solicitous magician; "if you take de pistole in both hands you will hurt yourself. Take de pistole in one hand and hold it from todder one, so longer as your arms, so! den if you kill me, you will not maky yourself no more."
"Don't you bother yoruself about how I hold the pistol," replied the young man; "I can blow yer head off half way across the room and hold the gun as I likes, so do n't you worry yourself about me, but just step back to the stand and let me have a broadside at yer, and I'll give you a lesson that'll make you d-a-n-c-e!"
But the little Magician would n't leave the young man's side, until he had promised to hold the pistol with one hand, and at arm's length from the body--stating as a reason, that there was danger in firing it in any other position.
We will now give a description of the pistol used on the occasion.--The lock was connected with the hole usually occupied on other pistols by the ramrod, and had no connection whatever with the barrel in which the young man had so carefully and maliciously placed a heavy charge of power and ball, but in the ramrod hole, there had previously been placed a small charge of powder, which should, on the explosion of the percussion cap, produce a report similar to the firing of a pistol when loaded with an ordinary charge of powder and ball. The ball which the young man had so carefully marked and as he supposed placed in the barrel of the pistol, had been taken from his fingers by the rapid motions of the Magician, and another skillfully substituted.
Telling the young man--and the now almost frantic audience, who were tremblingly expecting every minute to see a cold-blooded murder committed--that he particularly insisted that the pistol should be held with one hand and not fired until he shoudl get upon the stand--a distance of about fifteen feet--the Magiciain turned and started with rapid pace for the gorgeous throne of flying imps and half-hatched buzzards.
Being over-anxious not to miss his mark, the young man--on the instant the Magician turned his back--brought the pistol up to a level and commenced taking sight; but fearing that his arm would tremble if he held it with one hand, he brought the left hand up under the barrel, with the fore-finger over the muzzle of the ramrod aperture, and blazed away, exclaiming, at the same time--
"Now I've got you, my old boy."
The Magician sprang about two feet into the air, turned suddenly round to the audience, opened his lips wide, showing the ball between his teeth, and exclaimed--
"Ah, ah! mon fren, and dere is de ball, as you can examine so for yourself."
As the smoke cleared away, from the head of the young man he was seen to be wiping the tears from his eyes with his right hand, and holding the mutilated remains of the left, in close proximity to a lighted candle. The fore-finger was entirely blown off and the blood was flowing with great profuseness, as the Frenchman again broke the silence by exclaiming--
"Yes, mon little fren, you moosht did make way wid me, but dare is de ball, vat so you did put in de little gun."
"Oh, yes; I see the ball," replied the young man, as sparks of shame and uncontrollable anger came from his eyes, "but where in fire and brimstone is my finger?"
The young man, filled with shame and mortification, to think that instead of clearing up the mystery of the "pistol act," he had got his own "finger in it," entered a complaint and had the Magician bound over in the sum of four hundred dollars; for which amount a worthy citizen became surety; and although the Magician acted in an ungenerous and censurable manner towards his kind friend who volunteered to become his bail, the young man who most distinguished himself in the affair, could ever after be silenced in his highest moments of mirth, by any one in the company exclaiming--
"Oh, yes; I see the ball, but where in fire and brimstone is my finger?"
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
*His satire was quite direct when writing for the Boston "Chronotype" and its liberal editor, his personal friend, Elizur Wright.
Music opening this page: "King Tut," by Steve Martin and the Tootuncommons