The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley
Part 2 out of 3
very pale and thin, and the eyes so bright--so
bright! The kindly hand that smoothed away the
little sufferer's hair trembled and dropped tenderly
again upon the folded ones beneath the snowy
"Git me out the picture again!"
The trembling hand lifted once more and searched
beneath the pillow.
She drew the thin hands up, and, smiling, pressed
the pictured face against her lips. "David--Mason
--Jeffries," she said--"le's--me--and--you--go--
And ever in the empty home a voice goes
moaning on and on, and "Where is Mary Alice?" it
cries, and "Where--is--Mary--Alice--Smith?"
And the still belated echo, through the high depths
of the old hall overhead, answers quaveringly back,
"Oh--she--has--gone--home!" But her voice--
it is silent evermore!
"Oh, where is Mary Alice Smith?" She taught
us how to call her thus--and now she will not
answer us! Have we no voice to reach her with?
How sweet and pure and glad they were in those old
days, as we recall the accents ringing through the
hall--the same we vainly cry to her. Her fancies
were so quaint--her ways so full of prankish
mysteries! We laughed then; now, upon our knees,
we wring our lifted hands and gaze, through streaming
tears, high up the stairs she used to climb in
childish glee, to call and answer eerily. And now,
no answer anywhere!
How deft the little finger-tips in every task! The
hands, how smooth and delicate to lull and soothe!
And the strange music of her lips! The very
crudeness of their speech made chaster yet the
childish thought her guileless utterance had caught
from spirit-depths beyond our reach. And so her
homely name grew fair and sweet and beautiful
to hear, blent with the echoes pealing clear and
vibrant up the winding stair: "Where--where is Mary
Alice Smith?" She taught us how to call her thus
--but oh, she will not answer us! We have no
voice to reach her with.
THE OLD MAN
[Response made to the sentiment, "The Old Man,"
at a dinner of the Indianapolis Literary Club.]
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
THE OLD MAN never grows so old as to be
come either stale, juiceless, or unpalatable. The
older he grows, the mellower and riper he becomes.
His eyes may fail him, his step falter, and his big-
mouthed shoes--"a world too wide for his shrunk
shank"--may cluck and shuffle as he walks; his
rheumatics may make great knuckles of his knees;
the rusty hinges of his vertebrae may refuse
cunningly to articulate, but all the same the "backbone"
of the old man has been time-seasoned, tried, and
tested, and no deerskin vest was ever buttoned
round a tougher! Look at the eccentric kinks and
curvings of it--its abrupt depression at the base,
and its rounded bulging at the shoulders; but don't
laugh with the smart young man who airily observes
how full-chested the old man would be if his head
were only turned around, and don't kill the young
man, either, until you take him out some place and
tell him that the old man got himself warped up in
that shape along about the time when everybody
had to hump himself. Try to bring before the
young man's defective mental vision a dissolving
view of a "good old-fashioned barn-raisin' "--and
the old man doing all the "raisin' " himself, and
"grubbin'," and "burnin' " logs and "underbrush,"
and "dreenin' " at the same time, and trying to coax
something besides calamus to grow in the spongy
little tract of swamp-land that he could stand in the
middle of and "wobble" and shake the whole farm.
Or, if you can't recall the many salient features of
the minor disadvantages under which the old man
used to labor, your pliant limbs may soon overtake
him, and he will smilingly tell you of trials and
privations of the early days, until your anxiety about
the young man just naturally stagnates, and dries
up, and evaporates, and blows away.
In this little side-show of existence the old man
is always worth the full price of admission. He
is not only the greatest living curiosity on exhibition,
but the object of the most genial solicitude and
interest to the serious observer. It is even good to
look upon his vast fund of afflictions, finding
prominent above them all that wholesome patience that
surpasseth understanding; to dwell compassionately
upon his prodigality of aches and ailments, and yet,
by his pride in their wholesale possession, and his
thorough resignation to the inevitable, continually to
be rebuked, and in part made envious of the old
man's right-of-title situation. Nature, after all, is
kinder than unkind to him, and always has a
compensation and a soothing balm for every blow that
age may deal him. And in the fading embers of
the old man's eyes there are, at times, swift flashes
and rekindlings of the smiles of youth, and the old
artlessness about the wrinkled face that dwelt there
when his cheeks were like the pippins, and his
"Red lips redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill."
And thus it is the children are intuitively drawn
toward him, and young, pure-faced mothers are
forever hovering about him, with just such humorings
and kindly ministrations as they bestow on
the little emperor of the household realm, strapped
in his high chair at the dinner-table, crying "Amen"
in the midst of "grace," and ignoring the "substantials"
of the groaning board, and at once insisting
upon a square deal of the more "temporal blessings"
of jelly, cake, and pie. And the old man has justly
earned every distinction he enjoys. Therefore let
him make your hearthstone all the brighter with the
ruddy coal he drags up from it with his pipe, as he
comfortably settles himself where, with reminiscent
eyes, he may watch the curling smoke of his tobacco
as it indolently floats, and drifts and drifts,
and dips at last, and vanishes up the grateful flue.
At such times, when a five-year-old, what a haven
every boy has found between the old grandfather's
knees! Look back in fancy at the faces blending
there--the old man's and the boy's--and, with the
nimbus of the smoke-wreaths round the brows, the
gilding of the firelight on cheek and chin, and the
rapt and far-off gazings of the eyes of both, why,
but for the silver tinsel of the beard of one and the
dusky elf-locks of the other, the faces seem almost
With such a view of age, one feels like whipping
up the lazy years and getting old at once. In heart
and soul the old man is not old--and never will be.
He is paradoxically old, and that is all. So it is that
he grows younger with increasing years, until old
age at worst is always at a level par with youth.
Who ever saw a man so old as not secretly and most
heartily to wish the veteran years upon years of
greater age? And at what great age did ever any
old man pass away and leave behind no sudden
shock, and no selfish hearts still to yearn after him
and grieve on unconsoled? Why, even in the slow
declining years of old Methuselah--the banner old
man of the universe,--so old that history grew
absolutely tired waiting for him to go off some place and
die--even Methuselah's taking off must have seemed
abrupt to his immediate friends, and a blow to the
general public that doubtless plunged it into the
profoundest gloom. For nine hundred and sixty-nine
years this durable old man had "smelt the rose above
the mold," and doubtless had a thousand times
been told by congratulating friends that he didn't
look a day older than nine hundred and sixty-eight;
and necessarily the habit of living, with him, was
hard to overcome.
In his later years what an oracle he must
have been, and with what reverence his friends
must have looked upon the "little, glassy-headed,
hairless man," and hung upon his every utterance!
And with what unerring gift of prophecy
could he foretell the long and husky droughts
of summer--the gracious rains, at last,--the
milk-sick breeding autumn and the blighting
winter, simply by the way his bones felt after a
century's casual attack of inflammatory rheumatism!
And, having annually frosted his feet for some
odd centuries--boy and man--we can fancy with
what quiet delight he was wont to practise his
prognosticating facilities on "the boys," forecasting the
coming of the then fledgling cyclone and the gosling
blizzard, and doubtless even telling the day of the
month by the way his heels itched. And with what
wonderment and awe must old chronic maladies
have regarded him--tackling him singly or in solid
phalanx, only to drop back pantingly, at last, and
slink away dumfounded and abashed! And with
what brazen pride the final conquering disease must
have exulted over its shameless victory! But this is
pathos here, and not a place for ruthless speculation:
a place for asterisks--not words. Peace!
peace! The man is dead! "The fever called living
is over at last." The patient slumbers. He takes
his rest. He sleeps. Come away! He is the oldest
dead man in the cemetery.
Whether the hardy, stall-fed old man of the
country, or the opulent and well-groomed old man of
the metropolis, he is one in our esteem and the still
warmer affections of the children. The old man
from the country--you are always glad to see him
and hear him talk. There is a breeziness of the
woods and hills and a spice of the bottom-lands and
thickets in everything he says, and dashes of shadow
and sunshine over the waving wheat are in all the
varying expressions of his swarthy face. The grip
of his hand is a thing to bet on, and the undue
loudness of his voice in greeting you is even lulling
and melodious, since unconsciously it argues for the
frankness of a nature that has nothing to conceal.
Very probably you are forced to smile, meeting the
old man in town, where he never seems at ease,
and invariably apologizes in some way for his presence,
saying, perhaps, by way of explanation: "Yessir,
here I am, in spite o' myself. Come in day
afore yisterd'y. Boys was thrashin' on the place,
and the beltin' kept a-troublin' and delayin' of 'em
--and I was potterin' round in the way anyhow,
tel finally they sent me off to town to git some
whang-luther and ribbets, and while I was in,
I thought--I thought I'd jest run over and see the
Jedge about that Henry County matter; and as I
was knockin' round the court-house, first thing I
knowed I'll be switched to death ef they didn't pop
me on the jury! And here I am, eatin' my head off
up here at the tavern. Reckon, tho', the county'll
stand good for my expenses. Ef hit cain't, I kin!"
And, with the heartiest sort of a laugh, the old man
jogs along, leaving you to smile till bedtime over
the happiness he has unconsciously contributed.
Another instance of the old man's humor under
trying circumstances was developed but a few days
ago. This old man was a German citizen of an
inundated town in the Ohio valley. There was much
of the pathetic in his experience, but the bravery
with which he bore his misfortunes was admirable.
A year ago his little home was first invaded by the
flood, and himself and wife, and his son's family,
were driven from it to the hills for safety--but the
old man's telling of the story can not be improved
upon. It ran like this: "Last year, ven I svwim out
fon dot leedle home off mine, mit my vife, unt my
son, his vife unt leedle girls, I dink dot's der last
time goot-by to dose proberty! But afder der vater
is gone down, unt dry oop unt eberding, dere vas
yet der house dere. Unt my friends dey sait, 'Dot's
all you got yet.--Vell, feex oop der house--dot's
someding! feex oop der house, unt you vood still
hatt yet a home!' Vell, all summer I go to work,
unt spent me eberding unt feex der proberty. Den
I got yet a morgage on der house! Dees time here
der vater come again--till I vish it vas last year
vonce! Unt now all I safe is my vife, unt my son
his vife, unt my leedle grandchilderns! Else
everding is gone! All--everyding!--Der house gone--unt--unt--der
morgage gone, too!" And then the
old Teutonic face "melted all over in sunshiny
smiles," and, turning, he bent and lifted a sleepy
little girl from a pile of dirty bundles in the depot
waiting-room and went pacing up and down the
muddy floor, saying things in German to the child.
I thought the whole thing rather beautiful. That's
the kind of an old man who, saying good-by to
his son, would lean and kiss the young man's hand,
as in the Dutch regions of Pennsylvania, two or
three weeks ago, I saw an old man do.
Mark Lemon must have known intimately and
loved the genteel old man of the city when the once
famous domestic drama of "Grandfather Whitehead"
was conceived. In the play the old man--a
once prosperous merchant--finds a happy home in
the household of his son-in-law. And here it is
that the gentle author has drawn at once the poem,
the picture, and the living proof of the old
Wordsworthian axiom, "The child is father to the man."
The old man, in his simple way, and in his great
love for his wilful little grandchild, is being
continually distracted from the grave sermons and
moral lessons he would read the boy. As, for
instance, aggrievedly attacking the little fellow's
neglect of his books and his inordinate tendency
toward idleness and play--the culprit, in the meantime,
down on the floor clumsily winding his top--
the old man runs on something in this wise:
"Play! play! play! Always play and no work, no
study, no lessons. And here you are, the only child
of the most indulgent parents in the world--parents
that, proud as they are of you, would be ten times
prouder only to see you at your book, storing
your mind with useful knowledge, instead of, day
in, day out, frittering away your time over your
toys and your tops and marbles. And even when
your old grandfather tries to advise you and wants
to help you, and is always ready and eager to assist
you, and all--why, what's it all amount to? Coax
and beg and tease and plead with you, and yet--and
yet"-- (Mechanically kneeling as he speaks)--
"Now that's not the way to wind your top! How
many more times will I have to show you!" And
an instant later the old man's admonitions are
entirely forgotten, and his artless nature--dull now to
everything but the childish glee in which he shares--
is all the sweeter and more lovable for its simplicity.
And so it is, Old Man, that you are always
touching the very tenderest places in our hearts--
unconsciously appealing to our warmest sympathies,
and taking to yourself our purest love. We look
upon your drooping figure, and we mark your tottering
step and trembling hand, yet a reliant something
in your face forbids compassion, and a something
in your eye will not permit us to look sorrowfully
on you. And, however we may smile at your
quaint ways and old-school oddities of manner and
of speech, our merriment is ever tempered with the
THE GILDED ROLL
Nosing around in an old box--packed away,
and lost to memory for years--an hour ago
I found a musty package of gilt paper, or rather,
a roll it was, with the green-tarnished gold of the
old sheet for the outer wrapper. I picked it up
mechanically to toss it into some obscure corner,
when, carelessly lifting it by one end, a child's tin
whistle dropped therefrom and fell tinkling on the
attic floor. It lies before me on my writing table
now--and so, too, does the roll entire, though now
a roll no longer,--for my eager fingers have unrolled
the gilded covering, and all its precious contents
are spread out beneath my hungry eyes.
Here is a scroll of ink-written music. I don't
read music, but I know the dash and swing of the
pen that rained it on the page. Here is a letter,
with the selfsame impulse and abandon in every
syllable; and its melody--however sweet the other
--is far more sweet to me. And here are other
letters like it--three--five--and seven, at least. Bob
wrote them from the front, and Billy kept them
for me when I went to join him. Dear boy! Dear
Here are some cards of bristol-board. Ah! when
Bob came to these there were no blotches then.
What faces--what expressions! The droll, ridiculous,
good-for-nothing genius, with his "sad mouth,"
as he called it, "upside down," laughing always--
at everything, at big rallies, and mass-meetings and
conventions, county fairs, and floral halls, booths,
watermelon-wagons, dancing-tents, the swing, the
Daguerrean-car, the "lung-barometer," and the air-
gun man. Oh! what a gifted, good-for-nothing boy
Bob was in those old days! And here's a picture
of a girlish face--a very faded photograph--even
fresh from "the gallery," five and twenty years ago,
it was a faded thing. But the living face--how
bright and clear that was!--for "Doc," Bob's awful
name for her, was a pretty girl, and brilliant, clever,
lovable every way. No wonder Bob fancied her!
And you could see some hint of her jaunty loveliness
in every fairy face he drew, and you could
find her happy ways and dainty tastes unconsciously
assumed in all he did--the books he read--the
poems he admired, and those he wrote; and, ringing
clear and pure and jubilant, the vibrant beauty
of her voice could clearly be defined and traced
through all his music. Now, there's the happy pair
of them--Bob and Doc. Make of them just whatever
your good fancy may dictate, but keep in mind
the stern, relentless ways of destiny.
You are not at the beginning of a novel, only at
the threshold of one of a hundred experiences that
lie buried in the past, and this particular one most
happily resurrected by these odds and ends found
in the gilded roll.
You see, dating away back, the contents of this
package, mainly, were hastily gathered together
after a week's visit out at the old Mills farm; the
gilt paper, and the whistle, and the pictures, they
were Billy's; the music pages, Bob's, or Doc's; the
letters and some other manuscripts were mine.
The Mills girls were great friends of Doc's, and
often came to visit her in town; and so Doc often
visited the Mills's. This is the way that Bob first
got out there, and won them all, and "shaped the
thing" for me, as he would put it; and lastly, we
had lugged in Billy,--such a handy boy, you know,
to hold the horses on picnic excursions, and to
watch the carriage and the luncheon, and all that.--
"Yes, and," Bob would say, "such a serviceable
boy in getting all the fishing tackle in proper order,
and digging bait, and promenading in our wake up
and down the creek all day, with the minnow-
bucket hanging on his arm, don't you know!"
But jolly as the days were, I think jollier were
the long evenings at the farm. After the supper in
the grove, where, when the weather permitted,
always stood the table ankle-deep in the cool green
plush of the sward; and after the lounge upon the
grass, and the cigars, and the new fish stories, and
the general invoice of the old ones, it was delectable
to get back to the girls again, and in the old
"best room" hear once more the lilt of the old
songs and the staccatoed laughter of the piano
mingling with the alto and falsetto voices of the Mills
girls, and the gallant soprano of the dear girl Doc.
This is the scene I want you to look in upon,
as, in fancy, I do now--and here are the materials
for it all, husked from the gilded roll:
Bob, the master, leans at the piano now, and Doc
is at the keys, her glad face often thrown up side-
wise toward his own. His face is boyish--for there
is yet but the ghost of a mustache upon his lip.
His eyes are dark and clear, of over-size when looking
at you, but now their lids are drooped above
his violin, whose melody has, for the time, almost
smoothed away the upward kinkings of the corners
of his mouth. And wonderfully quiet now
is every one, and the chords of the piano, too, are
low and faltering; and so, at last, the tune itself
swoons into the universal hush, and--Bob is rasping,
in its stead, the ridiculous, but marvelously
perfect imitation of the "priming" of a pump, while
Billy's hands forget the "chiggers" on the bare
backs of his feet, as, with clapping palms, he dances
round the room in ungovernable spasms of delight.
And then we all laugh; and Billy, taking advantage
of the general tumult, pulls Bob's head down and
whispers, "Git 'em to stay up 'way late to-night!"
And Bob, perhaps remembering that we go back
home to-morrow, winks at the little fellow and whispers,
"You let me manage 'em! Stay up till broad
daylight if we take a notion--eh?" And Billy
dances off again in newer glee, while the inspired
musician is plunking a banjo imitation on his
enchanted instrument, which is unceremoniously
drowned out by a circus-tune from Doc that is
absolutely inspiring to every one but the barefooted
brother, who drops back listlessly to his old position
on the floor and sullenly renews operations on
his "chigger" claims.
"Thought you was goin' to have pop-corn to-night
all so fast!" he says, doggedly, in the midst of a
momentary lull that has fallen on a game of whist.
And then the oldest Mills girl, who thinks cards stupid
anyhow, says: "That's so, Billy; and we're going
to have it, too; and right away, for this game's
just ending, and I shan't submit to being bored with
another. I say 'pop-corn' with Billy! And after
that," she continues, rising and addressing the party
in general, "we must have another literary and
artistic tournament, and that's been in contemplation
and preparation long enough; so you gentlemen can
be pulling your wits together for the exercises, while
us girls see to the refreshments."
"Have you done anything toward it!" queries
Bob, when the girls are gone, with the alert Billy in
"Just an outline," I reply. "How with you?"
"Clean forgot it--that is, the preparation; but I've
got a little old second-hand idea, if you'll all help me
out with it, that'll amuse us some, and tickle Billy,
So that's agreed upon; and while Bob produces
his portfolio, drawing paper, pencils and so on, I
turn to my note-book in a dazed way and begin
counting my fingers in a depth of profound abstraction,
from which I am barely aroused by the reappearance
of the girls and Billy.
"Goody, goody, goody! Bob's goin' to make
pictures!" cries Billy, in additional transport to that
the cake pop-corn had produced.
"Now, you girls," says Bob, gently detaching the
affectionate Billy from one leg and moving a chair
to the table, with a backward glance of intelligence
toward the boy,--"you girls are to help us all you
can, and we can all work; but, as I'll have all the
illustrations to do, I want you to do as many of
the verses as you can--that'll be easy, you know,--
because the work entire is just to consist of a series
of fool-epigrams, such as, for instance,--listen,
Here lies a young man
Who in childhood began
To swear, and to smoke, and to drink,--
In his twentieth year
He quit swearing and beer,
And yet is still smoking, I think."
And the rest of his instructions are delivered in
lower tones, that the boy may not hear; and then, all
matters seemingly arranged, he turns to the boy with
--"And now, Billy, no lookin' over shoulders, you
know, or swinging on my chair-back while I'm at
work. When the pictures are all finished, then you
can take a squint at 'em, and not before. Is that all
"Oh! who's a-goin' to look over your shoulder--
only DOC." And as the radiant Doc hastily quits
that very post, and dives for the offending brother,
he scrambles under the piano and laughs derisively.
And then a silence falls upon the group--a
gracious quiet, only intruded upon by the very juicy
and exuberant munching of an apple from a remote
fastness of the room, and the occasional thumping
of a bare heel against the floor.
At last I close my note-book with a half slam.
"That means," says Bob, laying down his pencil,
and addressing the girls,--"that means he's
concluded his poem, and that he's not pleased with it
in any manner, and that he intends declining to read
it, for that self-acknowledged reason, and that he
expects us to believe every affected word of his
"Oh, don't!" I exclaim.
"Then give us the wretched production, in all its
And the girls all laugh so sympathetically, and
Bob joins them so gently, and yet with a tone, I
know, that can be changed so quickly to my further
discomfiture, that I arise at once and read, without
apology or excuse, this primitive and very callow
poem recovered here to-day from the gilded roll:
A BACKWARD LOOK
As I sat smoking, alone, yesterday,
And lazily leaning back in my chair,
Enjoying myself in a general way--
Allowing my thoughts a holiday
From weariness, toil and care,
My fancies--doubtless, for ventilation--
Left ajar the gates of my mind,--
And Memory, seeing the situation
Slipped out in the street of "Auld Lang Syne"--
Wandering ever with tireless feet
Through scenes of silence, and jubilee
Of long-hushed voices; and faces sweet
Were thronging the shadowy side of the street
As far as the eye could see;
Dreaming again, in anticipation,
The same old dreams of our boyhood's days
That never come true, from the vague sensation
Of walking asleep in the world's strange ways.
Away to the house where I was born!
And there was the selfsame clock that ticked
From the close of dusk to the burst of morn,
When life-warm hands plucked the golden corn
And helped when the apples were picked.
And the "chany dog" on the mantel-shelf,
With the gilded collar and yellow eyes,
Looked just as at first, when I hugged myself
Sound asleep with the dear surprise.
And down to the swing in the locust-tree,
Where the grass was worn from the trampled ground,
And where "Eck" Skinner, "Old" Carr, and three
Or four such other boys used to be
Doin' "sky-scrapers," or "whirlin' round":
And again Bob climbed for the bluebird's nest,
And again "had shows" in the buggy-shed
Of Guymon's barn, where still, unguessed,
The old ghosts romp through the best days dead!
And again I gazed from the old schoolroom
With a wistful look, of a long June day,
When on my cheek was the hectic bloom
Caught of Mischief, as I presume--
He had such a "partial" way,
It seemed, toward me.--And again I thought
Of a probable likelihood to be
Kept in after school--for a girl was caught
Catching a note from me.
And down through the woods to the swimming-hole--
Where the big, white, hollow, old sycamore grows,--
And we never cared when the water was cold,
And always "ducked" the boy that told
On the fellow that tied the clothes.--
When life went so like a dreamy rhyme,
That it seems to me now that then
The world was having a jollier time
Than it ever will have again.
The crude production is received, I am glad to
note, with some expressions of favor from the company
though Bob, of course, must heartlessly dissipate
my weak delight by saying, "Well, it's certainly
bad enough; though," he goes on with an air
of deepest critical sagacity and fairness, "considered,
as it should be, justly, as the production of a
jour.-poet, why, it might be worse--that is, a little
"Probably," I remember saying,--"probably I
might redeem myself by reading you this little
amateurish bit of verse, enclosed to me in a letter by
mistake, not very long ago." I here fish an envelope
from my pocket, the address of which all recognize
as in Bob's almost printed writing. He smiles
vacantly at it--then vividly colors.
"What date?" he stoically asks.
"The date," I suggestively answer, "of your last
letter to our dear Doc, at boarding-school, two days
exactly in advance of her coming home--this veritable
Both Bob and Doc rush at me--but too late. The
letter and contents have wholly vanished. The
youngest Miss Mills quiets us--urgently distracting
us, in fact, by calling our attention to the immediate
completion of our joint production; "For now," she
says, "with our new reinforcement, we can, with
becoming diligence, soon have it ready for both printer
and engraver, and then we'll wake up the boy (who
has been fortunately slumbering for the last quarter
of an hour), and present to him, as designed and
intended, this matchless creation of our united
intellects." At the conclusion of this speech we all go
good-humoredly to work, and at the close of half an
hour the tedious, but most ridiculous, task is
As I arrange and place in proper form here on the
table the separate cards-twenty-seven in number--
I sigh to think that I am unable to transcribe for
you the best part of the nonsensical work--the
illustrations. All I can give is the written copy of--
BILLY'S ALPHABETICAL ANIMAL SHOW
A WAS an elegant Ape
Who tied up his ears with red tape,
And wore a long veil
Half revealing his tail
Which was trimmed with jet bugles and crape.
B was a boastful old Bear
Who used to say,--"Hoomh! I declare
I can eat--if you'll get me
The children, and let me--
Ten babies, teeth, toe-nails and hair!"
C was a Codfish who sighed
When snatched from the home of his pride,
But could he, embrined,
Guess this fragrance behind,
How glad he would be to have died!
D was a dandified Dog
Who said,--"Though it's raining like fog
I wear no umbrellah,
Me boy, for a fellah
Might just as well travel incog!"
E was an elderly Eel
Who would say,--"Well, I really feel--
As my grandchildren wriggle
And shout 'I should giggle'--
A trifle run down at the heel!"
F was a Fowl who conceded
SOME hens might hatch more eggs than SHE did,--
But she'd children as plenty
As eighteen or twenty,
And that was quite all that she needed.
G was a gluttonous Goat
Who, dining one day, table d'hote,
Ordered soup-bone, au fait,
And fish, papier-mache,
And a filet of Spring overcoat,
H was a high-cultured Hound
Who could clear forty feet at a bound,
And a coon once averred
That his howl could be heard
For five miles and three-quarters around.
I was an Ibex ambitious
To dive over chasms auspicious;
He would leap down a peak
And not light for a week,
And swear that the jump was delicious.
J was a Jackass who said
He had such a bad cold in his head,
If it wasn't for leaving
The rest of us grieving,
He'd really rather be dead.
K was a profligate Kite
Who would haunt the saloons every night;
And often he ust
To reel back to his roost
Too full to set up on it right.
L was a wary old Lynx
Who would say,--"Do you know wot I thinks?--
I thinks ef you happen
To ketch me a-nappin'
I'm ready to set up the drinks!"
M was a merry old Mole,
Who would snooze all the day in his hole,
Then--all night, a-rootin'
Around and galootin'--
He'd sing "Johnny, Fill up the Bowl!"
N was a caustical Nautilus
Who sneered, "I suppose, when they've CAUGHT all us,
Like oysters they'll serve us,
And can us, preserve us,
And barrel, and pickle, and bottle us!"
O was an autocrat Owl--
Such a wise--such a wonderful fowl!
Why, for all the night through
He would hoot and hoo-hoo,
And hoot and hoo-hooter and howl!
P was a Pelican pet,
Who gobbled up all he could get;
He could eat on until
He was full to the bill,
And there he had lodgings to let!
Q was a querulous Quail,
Who said: "It will little avail
The efforts of those
Of my foes who propose
To attempt to put salt on my tail!"
R was a ring-tailed Raccoon,
With eyes of the tinge of the moon,
And his nose a blue-black,
And the fur on his back
A sad sort of sallow maroon.
S is a Sculpin--you'll wish
Very much to have one on your dish,
Since all his bones grow
On the outside, and so
He's a very desirable fish.
T was a Turtle, of wealth
Who went round with particular stealth,
"Why," said he, "I'm afraid
Of being waylaid
When I even walk out for my health!"
U was a Unicorn curious,
With one horn, of a growth so LUXURIOUS,
He could level and stab it--
If you didn't grab it--
Clean through you, he was so blamed furious!
V was a vagabond Vulture
Who said: "I don't want to insult yer,
But when you intrude
Where in lone solitude
I'm a-preyin', you're no man o' culture!"
W was a wild WOODchuck,
And you just bet that he COULD "chuck"--
He'd eat raw potatoes,
Green corn, and tomatoes,
And tree roots, and call it all "GOOD chuck!"
X was a kind of X-cuse
Of some-sort-o'-thing that got loose
Before we could name it,
And cage it, and tame it,
And bring it in general use.
Y is the Yellowbird,--bright
As a petrified lump of starlight,
Or a handful of lightning
Bugs, squeezed in the tight'ning
Pink fist of a boy, at night.
Z is the Zebra, of course!--
A kind of a clown-of-a-horse,--
Each other despising,
Yet neither devising
A way to obtain a divorce!
& here is the famous--what-is-it?
Walk up, Master Billy, and quiz it:
You've seen the REST of 'em--
Ain't this the BEST of 'em,
Right at the end of your visit?
At last Billy is sent off to bed. It is the prudent
mandate of the old folks: But so loathfully the poor
child goes, Bob's heart goes, too.--Yes, Bob himself,
to keep the little fellow company for a while, and,
up there under the old rafters, in the pleasant gloom,
lull him to famous dreams with fairy tales. And it
is during this brief absence that the youngest Mills
girl gives us a surprise. She will read a poem, she
says, written by a very dear friend of hers who,
fortunately for us, is not present to prevent her. We
guard door and window as she reads. Doc says she
will not listen; but she does listen, and cries, too--
out of pure vexation, she asserts. The rest of us,
however, cry just because of the apparent honesty
of the poem of--
O your hands--they are strangely fair!
Fair--for the jewels that sparkle there,--
Fair--for the witchery of the spell
That ivory keys alone can tell;
But when their delicate touches rest
Here in my own do I love them best
As I clasp with eager, acquisitive spans
My glorious treasure of beautiful hands!
They can coax roses to bloom in the strands
Of your brown tresses; and ribbons will twine,
Under mysterious touches of thine,
Into such knots as entangle the soul
And fetter the heart under such a control
As only the strength of my love understands--
My passionate love for your beautiful hands.
As I remember the first fair touch
Of those beautiful hands that I love so much,
I seem to thrill as I then was thrilled,
Kissing the glove that I found unfilled--
When I met your gaze, and the queenly bow
As you said to me, laughingly, "Keep it now!" . . .
And dazed and alone in a dream I stand,
Kissing this ghost of your beautiful hand.
When first I loved, in the long ago,
And held your hand as I told you so--
Pressed and caressed it and gave it a kiss
And said "I could die for a hand like this!"
Little I dreamed love's fullness yet
Had to ripen when eyes were wet
And prayers were vain in their wild demands
For one warm touch of your beautiful hands.
Beautiful Hands!--O Beautiful Hands!
Could you reach out of the alien lands
Where you are lingering, and give me, to-night
Only a touch--were it ever so light--
My heart were soothed, and my weary brain
Would lull itself into rest again;
For there is no solace the world commands
Like the caress of your beautiful hands.
. . . . . . . .
Violently winking at the mist that blurs my sight,
I regretfully awaken to the here and now. And is
it possible, I sorrowfully muse, that all this glory
can have fled away?--that more than twenty long,
long years are spread between me and that happy
night? And is it possible that all the dear old faces
--Oh, quit it! quit it! Gather the old scraps up and
wad 'em back into oblivion, where they belong!
Yes, but be calm--be calm! Think of cheerful
things. You are not all alone. BILLY'S living yet.
I know--and six feet high--and sag-shouldered--
and owns a tin and stove-store, and can't hear
And the youngest Mills girl--she's alive, too.
S'pose I don't know that? I married her!
BOB married her. Been in California for more
than fifteen years--on some blasted cattle-ranch, or
something,--and he's worth a half a million! And
am I less prosperous with this gilded roll?
A WILD IRISHMAN
Not very many years ago the writer was for
some months stationed at South Bend, a thriving
little city of northern Indiana. Its population is
mainly on the one side of the St. Joseph River, but
quite a respectable fraction thereof takes its
industrial way to the opposite shore, and there gains an
audience and a hearing in the rather imposing
growth and hurly-burly of its big manufactories,
and the consequent rapid appearance of multitudinous
neat cottages, tenement houses and business
blocks. A stranger entering South Bend proper on
any ordinary day, will be at some loss to account for
its prosperous appearance--its flagged and bouldered
streets--its handsome mercantile blocks, banks, and
business houses generally. Reasoning from cause to
effect, and seeing but a meager sprinkling of people
on the streets throughout the day, and these seeming,
for the most part, merely idlers, and in nowise
accessory to the evident thrift and opulence of their
surroundings, the observant stranger will be puzzled
at the situation. But when evening comes, and the
outlying foundries, sewing-machine, wagon, plow,
and other "works," together with the paper-mills and all the
nameless industries--when the operations
of all these are suspended for the day, and the
workmen and workwomen loosed from labor--then,
as this vast army suddenly invades and overflows
bridge, roadway, street and lane, the startled stranger
will fully comprehend the why and wherefore
of the city's high prosperity. And, once acquainted
with the people there, the fortunate sojourner will
find no ordinary culture and intelligence, and, as
certainly, he will meet with a social spirit and a
whole-souled heartiness that will make the place a
lasting memory. The town, too, is the home of
many world-known people, and a host of local
celebrities, the chief of which latter class I found,
during my stay there, in the person of Tommy Stafford,
or "The Wild Irishman" as everybody called
"Talk of odd fellows and eccentric characters,"
said Major Blowney, my employer, one afternoon,
"you must see our 'Wild Irishman' here before you
say you've yet found the queerest, brightest, cleverest
chap in all your travels. What d'ye say,
Stockford?" And the Major paused in his work of
charging cartridges for his new breech-loading shotgun
and turned to await his partner's response.
Stockford, thus addressed, paused above the
shield-sign he was lettering, slowly smiling as he
dipped and trailed his pencil through the ivory black
upon a bit of broken glass and said, in his deliberate,
half absent-minded way,--"Is it Tommy you're telling
him about?" and then, with a gradual broadening
of the smile, he went on, "Well, I should say so.
Tommy! What's come of the fellow, anyway? I
haven't seen him since his last bout with the mayor,
on his trial for shakin' up that fast-horse man."
"The fast-horse man got just exactly what he
needed, too," said the genial Major, laughing, and
mopping his perspiring brow. "The fellow was
barkin' up the wrong stump when he tackled
Tommy! Got beat in the trade, at his own game,
you know, and wound up by an insult that no Irishman
would take; and Tommy just naturally wore
out the hall carpet of the old hotel with him!"
"And then collared and led him to the mayor's
office himself, they say!"
"Oh, he did!" said the Major, with a dash of
pride in the confirmation; "that's Tommy all over!"
"Funny trial, wasn't it?" continued the ruminating
"Wasn't it though?" laughed the Major. "The
porter's testimony: You see, he was for Tommy,
of course, and on examination testified that the
horseman struck Tommy first. And here Tommy
broke in with: 'He's a-meanin' well, yer Honor, but
he's lyin' to ye--he's lyin' to ye. No livin' man iver
struck me first--nor last, nayther, for the matter o'
that!' And I thought--the--court--would--die!"
continued the Major, in a like imminent state of
"Yes, and he said if he struck him first,"
supplemented Stockford, "he'd like to know why the
horseman was 'wearin' all the black eyes, and the
blood, and the boomps on that head of um!' And
it's that talk that got him off with so light a fine!"
"As it always does," said the Major, coming to
himself abruptly and looking at his watch. "Stock,
you say you're not going along with our duck-shooting
party this time? The old Kankakee is just lousy
with 'em this season!"
"Can't go possibly," said Stockford, "not on
account of the work at all, but the folks ain't just
as well as I'd like to see them, and I'll stay here till
they're better. Next time I'll try and be ready for
you. Going to take Tommy, of course?"
"Of course! Got to have 'The Wild Irishman'
with us! I'm going around to find him now." Then
turning to me the Major continued, "Suppose you
get on your coat and hat and come along? It's the
best chance you'll ever have to meet Tommy. It's
late anyhow, and Stockford'll get along without you.
"Certainly," said Stockford; "go ahead. And you
can take him ducking, too, if he wants to go."
"But he doesn't want to go--and won't go,"
replied the Major with a commiserative glance at me.
"Says he doesn't know a duck from a poll-parrot--
nor how to load a shotgun--and couldn't hit a house
if he were inside of it and the door shut. Admits
that he nearly killed his uncle once, on the other side
of a tree, with a squirrel runnin' down it. Don't
want him along!"
When I reached the street with the genial Major,
he gave me this advice: "Now, when you meet Tommy, you mustn't
take all he says for dead earnest,
and you mustn't believe, because he talks loud, and
in italics every other word, that he wants to do all
the talking and won't be interfered with. That's the
way he's apt to strike folks at first--but it's their
mistake, not his. Talk back to him--controvert him
whenever he's aggressive in the utterance of his
opinions, and if you're only honest in the announcement
of your own ideas and beliefs, he'll like you all
the better for standing by them. He's quick-tempered,
and perhaps a trifle sensitive, so share your
greater patience with him, and he'll pay you back by
fighting for you at the drop of the hat. In short, he's
as nearly typical of his gallant country's brave,
impetuous, fun-loving race as one man can be."
"But is he quarrelsome?" I asked.
"Not at all. There's the trouble. If he'd only
quarrel there'd be no harm done. Quarreling's
cheap, and Tommy's extravagant. A big blacksmith
here, the other day, kicked some boy out of his
shop, and Tommy, on his cart, happened to be passing
at the time; and he just jumped off without a
word, and went in and worked on that fellow for
about three minutes, with such disastrous results that
they couldn't tell his shop from a slaughter-house;
paid an assault and battery fine, and gave the boy a
dollar besides, and the whole thing was a positive
luxury to him. But I guess we'd better drop the
subject, for here's his cart, and here's Tommy. Hi!
there, you 'Fardown' Irish Mick!" called the Major,
in affected antipathy, "been out raiding the honest
farmers' hen-roosts again, have you?"
We had halted at a corner grocery and produce
store, as I took it, and the smooth-faced, shaven-
headed man in woolen shirt, short vest, and suspenderless
trousers so boisterously addressed by the
Major, was just lifting from the back of his cart
a coop of cackling chickens.
"Arrah! ye blasted Kerryonian!" replied the
handsome fellow, depositing the coop on the curb
and straightening his tall, slender figure; "I were
jist thinkin' of yez and the ducks, and here ye come
quackin' into the prisence of r'yalty, wid yer canvas-
back suit upon ye and the schwim-skins bechuxt yer
toes! How air yez, anyhow--and air we startin' for
the Kankakee by the nixt post?"
"We're to start just as soon as we get the boys
together," said the Major, shaking hands. "The
crowd's to be at Andrews' by four, and it's fully that
now; so come on at once. We'll go 'round by Munson's
and have Hi send a boy to look after your
horse. Come; I want to introduce my friend
here to you, and we'll all want to smoke and jabber
a little in appropriate seclusion. Come on." And
the impatient Major had linked arms with his hesitating
ally and myself, and was turning the corner
of the street.
"It's an hour's work I have yet wid the squawkers,"
mildly protested Tommy, still hanging back
and stepping a trifle high; "but, as one Irishman
would say til another, 'Ye're wrong, but I'm wid
And five minutes later the three of us had joined
a very jolly party in a snug back room, with
"The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraitures of huntsman, hawk, and hound,
And the hurt deer;"
and where, as well, drifted over the olfactory
intelligence a certain subtle, warm-breathed aroma, that
genially combated the chill and darkness of the day
without, and, resurrecting long-dead Christmases,
brimmed the grateful memory with all comfortable
A dozen hearty voices greeted the appearance of
Tommy and the Major, the latter adroitly pushing
the jovial Irishman to the front, with a mock-heroic
introduction to the general company, at the conclusion
of which Tommy, with his hat tucked under
his left elbow, stood bowing with a grace of pose
and presence Lord Chesterfield might have applauded.
"Gintlemen," said Tommy, settling back upon his
heels and admiringly contemplating the group;
"gintlemen, I congratu-late yez wid a pride that
shoves the thumbs o' me into the arrum-holes of me
weshkit! At the inshtigation of the bowld O'Blowney--
axin' the gintleman's pardon--I am here wid
no silver tongue of illoquence to para-lyze yez, but
I am prisent, as has been ripresinted, to jine wid yez
in a stupendous waste of gunpowder, and duck-
shot, and 'high-wines,' and ham sandwiches, upon
the silvonian banks of the ragin' Kankakee, where
the 'di-dipper' tips ye good-by wid his tail, and the
wild loon skoots like a sky-rocket for his exiled
home in the alien dunes of the wild morass--or, as
Tommy Moore so illegantly describes the blashted
'Away to the dizhmal shwamp he spheeds--
His path is rugged and sore
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds
And many a fen where the serpent feeds,
And birrud niver flew before--
And niver will fly any more'
if iver he arrives back safe into civilization again--
and I've been in the poultry business long enough to
know the private opinion and personal integrity of
ivery fowl that flies the air or roosts on poles. But,
changin' the subject of my few small remarks here,
and thankin' yez wid an overflowin' heart but a dhry
tongue, I have the honor to propose, gintlemen, long
life and health to ivery mother's son o' yez, and
success to the 'Duck-hunters of Kankakee.' "
"The duck-hunters of the Kankakee!" chorused
the elated party in such musical uproar that for a
full minute the voice of the enthusiastic Major
who was trying to say something--could not be
heard. Then he said:
"I want to propose that theme--'The Duck-
hunters of the Kankakee', for one of Tommy's
improvisations. I move we have a song now from
Tommy on 'The Duck Hunters of the Kankakee.' "
"Hurrah! Hurrah! A song from Tommy," cried
the crowd. "Make us up a song, and put us all into
it! A song from Tommy! A song! A song!"
There was a queer light in the eye of the
Irishman. I observed him narrowly--expectantly. Often
I had read of this phenomenal art of improvised
ballad-singing, but had always remained a little
skeptical in regard to the possibility of such a feat.
Even in the notable instances of this gift as
displayed by the very clever Theodore Hook, I had
always half suspected some prior preparation--some
adroit forecasting of the sequence that seemed the
instant inspiration of his witty verses. Here was
evidently to be a test example, and I was all alert
to mark its minutest detail.
The clamor had subsided, and Tommy had drawn
a chair near to and directly fronting the Major's.
His right hand was extended, closely grasping the
right hand of his friend which he scarce perceptibly,
though measuredly, lifted and let fall throughout the
length of all the curious performance. The voice
was not unmusical, nor was the quaint old ballad-air
adopted by the singer unlovely in the least; simply
a monotony was evident that accorded with the
levity and chance-finish of the improvisation--and
that the song was improvised on the instant I am
certain--though in nowise remarkable, for other
reasons, in rhythmic worth or finish. And while his
smiling auditors all drew nearer, and leant, with
parted lips to catch every syllable, the words of the
strange melody trailed unhesitatingly into the line;
literally, as here subjoined:
"One gloomy day in the airly Fall,
Whin the sunshine had no chance at all--
No chance at all for to gleam and shine
And lighten up this heart of mine:
" 'Twas in South Bend, that famous town,
Whilst I were a-strollin' round and round,
I met some friends and they says to me:
'It's a hunt we'll take on the Kankakee!' "
"Hurrah for the Kankakee! Give it to us,
Tommy!" cried an enthusiastic voice between
verses. "Now give it to the Major!" And the song
"There's Major Blowney leads the van,
As crack a shot as an Irishman,--
For it's the duck is a tin decoy
That his owld shotgun can't destroy:"
And a half-dozen jubilant palms patted the
Major's shoulders, and his ruddy, good-natured
face beamed with delight. "Now give it to the rest
of 'em, Tommy!" chuckled the Major. And the
"And along wid 'Hank' is Mick Maharr,
And Barney Pince, at 'The Shamrock' bar--
There's Barney Pinch, wid his heart so true;
And the Andrews Brothers they'll go too."
"Hold on, Tommy!" chipped in one of the
Andrews; "you must give 'the Andrews Brothers' a
better advertisement than that! Turn us on a full
verse, can't you?"
"Make 'em pay for it if you do!" said the Major
in an undertone. And Tommy promptly amended.--
"O, the Andrews Brothers, they'll be there,
Wid good se-gyars and wine to sphare,--
They'll treat us here on fine champagne,
And whin we're there they'll treat us again."
The applause here was vociferous, and only
discontinued when a box of Havanas stood open on the
table. During the momentary lull thus occasioned,
I caught the Major's twinkling eyes glancing evasively
toward me, as he leaned whispering some further
instructions to Tommy, who again took up his
desultory ballad, while I turned and fled for the
street, catching, however, as I went, and high above
the laughter of the crowd, the satire of this quatrain
to its latest line.
"But R-R-Riley he'll not go, I guess,
Lest he'd get lost in the wil-der-ness,
And so in the city he will shtop
For to curl his hair in the barber shop."
It was after six when I reached the hotel, but I
had my hair trimmed before I went in to supper.
The style of trimming adopted then I still rigidly
adhere to, and call it "the Tommy Stafford stubble-
Ten days passed before I again saw the Major.
Immediately upon his return--it was late afternoon
when I heard of it--I determined to take my
evening walk out the long street toward his pleasant
home and call on him there. This I did, and
found him in a wholesome state of fatigue, slippers
and easy chair, enjoying his pipe on the piazza. Of
course, he was overflowing with happy reminiscences
of the hunt--the wood-and-water-craft--
boats--ambushes--decoys, and tramp, and camp,
and so on, without end;--but I wanted to hear him
talk of "The Wild Irishman"--Tommy; and I think,
too, now, that the sagacious Major secretly read my
desires all the time. To be utterly frank with the
reader I will admit that I not only think the Major
divined my interest in Tommy, but I know he did;
for at last, as though reading my very thoughts, he
abruptly said, after a long pause, in which he
knocked the ashes from his pipe and refilled and
lighted it:--"Well, all I know of 'The Wild Irishman'
I can tell you in a very few words--that is,
if you care at all to listen?" And the crafty old
Major seemed to hesitate.
"Go on--go on!" I said eagerly.
"About forty years ago," resumed the Major
placidly, "in the little, old, unheard-of town
Karnteel, County Tyrone, Province Ulster, Ireland,
Tommy Stafford was fortunate enough--despite
the contrary opinion on that point of his wretchedly
poor parents--to be born. And here, again, as I
advised you the other day, you must be prepared for
constant surprises in the study of Tommy's character."
"Go on," I said; "I'm prepared for anything."
The Major smiled profoundly and continued:--
"Fifteen years ago, when he came to America--
and the Lord only knows how he got the passage--
money--he brought his widowed mother with him
here, and has supported, and is still supporting her.
Besides," went on the still secretly smiling Major,
"the fellow has actually found time, through all his
adversities, to pick up quite a smattering of education,
here and there--"
"Poor fellow!" I broke in sympathizingly, "what
a pity it is that he couldn't have had such advantages
earlier in life," and as I recalled the broad brogue
of the fellow, together with his careless dress,
recognizing beneath it all the native talent and
brilliancy of a mind of most uncommon worth, I could
not restrain a deep sigh of compassion and regret.
The Major was leaning forward in the gathering
dusk, and evidently studying my own face, the
expression of which, at that moment, was very grave
and solemn, I am sure. He suddenly threw himself
backward in his chair, in an uncontrollable burst of
laughter. "Oh, I just can't keep it up any longer,"
"Keep what up?" I queried, in a perfect maze of
bewilderment and surprise. "Keep what up?" I
"Why, all this twaddle, farce, travesty and by-
play regarding Tommy! You know I warned you,
over and over, and you mustn't blame me for the
deception. I never thought you'd take it so in
earnest!" and here the jovial Major again went into
convulsions of laughter.
"But I don't understand a word of it all," I cried,
half frenzied with the gnarl and tangle of the whole
affair. "What 'twaddle, farce and by-play,' is it,
anyhow?" And in my vexation, I found myself on
my feet and striding nervously up and down the
paved walk that joined the street with the piazza,
pausing at last and confronting the Major almost
petulantly. "Please explain," I said, controlling my
vexation with an effort.
The Major arose. "Your striding up and down
there reminds me that a little stroll on the street
might do us both good," he said. "Will you wait
until I get a coat and hat?"
He rejoined me a moment later, and we passed
through the open gate; and saying, "Let's go down
this way," he took my arm and turned into a street,
where, cooling as the dusk was, the thick maples
lining the walk seemed to throw a special shade of
tranquillity upon us.
"What I meant was"--began the Major in a low
serious voice,--"What I meant was--simply this:
Our friend Tommy, though the truest Irishman in
the world, is a man quite the opposite every way of
the character he has appeared to you. All that rich
brogue of his is assumed. Though he was poor, as I
told you, when he came here, his native quickness,
and his marvelous resources, tact, judgment, business
qualities--all have helped him to the equivalent
of a liberal education. His love of the humorous
and the ridiculous is unbounded; but he has serious
moments, as well, and at such times is as dignified
and refined in speech and manner as any man you'd
find in a thousand. He is a good speaker, can stir
a political convention to highest excitement when he
gets fired up; and can write an article for the press
that goes spang to the spot. He gets into a great
many personal encounters of a rather undignified
character; but they are almost invariably bred of his
innate interest in the 'under dog,' and the fire and
tow of his impetuous nature."
My companion had paused here, and was looking
through some printed slips in his pocketbook. "I
wanted you to see some of the fellow's articles in
print, but I have nothing of importance here only
some of his 'doggerel,' as he calls it, and you've had
a sample of that. But here's a bit of the upper spirit
of the man--and still another that you should hear
him recite. You can keep them both if you care to.
The boys all fell in love with that last one,
particularly, hearing his rendition of it. So we had a
lot printed, and I have two or three left. Put these
two in your pocket and read them at your leisure."
But I read them there and then, as eagerly, too,
as I append them here and now. The first is
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be
It's plaze, if ye will, an' I'll say me say,--
Supposin' to-day was the winterest day,
Wud the weather be changing because ye cried,
Or the snow be grass were ye crucified?
The best is to make your own summer," says he,
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be!
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be,
It's the songs ye sing, an' the smiles ye wear,
That's a-makin' the sun shine everywhere;
An' the world of gloom is a world of glee,
Wid the bird in the bush, an' the bud in the tree,
An' the fruit on the stim of the bough," says he,
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be!
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be,
Ye can bring the Spring, wid its green an' gold,
An' the grass in the grove where the snow lies cold;
An' ye'll warm yer back, wid a smiling face,
As ye sit at yer heart, like an owld fireplace,
An' toast the toes o' yer sowl," says he,
"Whatever the weather may be," says he--
"Whatever the weather may be!"
"Now," said the Major, peering eagerly above my
shoulder, "go on with the next. To my mind, it is
even better than the first. A type of character you'll
recognize.--The same 'broth of a boy,' only
AMERICANIZED, don't you know."
And I read the scrap entitled--
It's Chairley Burke's in town, b'ys! He's down til "Jamesy's
Wid a bran'-new shave upon 'um, an' the fhwhuskers aff his face;
He's quit the Section-Gang last night, and yez can chalk it down
There's goin' to be the divil's toime, sence Chairley Burke's in
It's treatin' iv'ry b'y he is, an' poundin' on the bar
Till iv'ry man he's drinkin' wid must shmoke a foine cigar;
An' Missus Murphy's little Kate, that's coomin' there for beer,
Can't pay wan cint the bucketful, the whilst that Chairley's
He's joompin' oor the tops o' sthools, the both forninst an'
He'll lave yez pick the blessed flure, an' walk the straightest
He's liftin' barrels wid his teeth, and singin "Garry Owen,"
Till all the house be strikin' hands, sence Chairley Burke's in
The Road-Yaird hands coomes dhroppin' in, an' niver goin' back;
An' there's two freights upon the switch--the wan on aither
An' Mr. Gearry, from The Shops, he's mad enough to swear,
An' durstn't spake a word but grin, the whilst that Chairley's
Och! Chairley! Chairley! Chairley Burke! ye divil, wid yer ways
O' dhrivin' all the throubles aff, these dhark an' ghloomy days!
Ohone! that it's meself, wid all the graifs I have to dhrown,
Must lave me pick to resht a bit, sence Chairley Burke's in
"Before we turn back, now," said the smiling
Major, as I stood lingering over the indefinable
humor of the last refrain, "before we turn back I
want to show you something eminently characteristic.
Come this way a half-dozen steps."
As he spoke I looked up, first to observe that we
had paused before a handsome square brick residence,
centering a beautiful smooth lawn, its emerald
only littered with the light gold of the earliest
autumn leaves. On either side of the trim walk
that led up from the gate to the carved stone
ballusters of the broad piazza, with its empty easy
chairs, were graceful vases, frothing over with
late blossoms, and wreathed with laurel-looking
vines; and, luxuriantly lacing the border of the
pave that turned the farther corner of the house,
blue, white and crimson, pink and violet, went
fading away in perspective as my gaze followed the
gesture of the Major's.
"Here, come a little farther. Now do you see
that man there?"
Yes, I could make out a figure in the deepening
dusk--the figure of a man on the back stoop--a
tired-looking man, in his shirt-sleeves, who sat upon
a low chair--no, not a chair--an empty box. He
was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees,
and the hands dropped limp. He was smoking,
too, I could barely see his pipe, and but for the
odor of very strong tobacco, would not have known
he had a pipe. Why does the master of the house
permit his servants so to desecrate this beautiful
home? I thought.
"Well, shall we go now?" said the Major.
I turned silently and we retraced our steps. I
think neither of us spoke for the distance of a
"Guess you didn't know the man there on the
back porch?" said the Major.
"No; why?" I asked dubiously.
"I hardly thought you would, and besides the
poor fellow's tired, and it was best not to disturb
him," said the Major.
"Why; who was it--some one I know?"
"It was Tommy."
"Oh," said I inquiringly, "he's employed there in
"Yes, as master of the house."
"You don't mean it?"
"I certainly do. He owns it, and made every
cent of the money that paid for it!" said the Major
proudly. "That's why I wanted you particularly
to note that 'eminent characteristic' I spoke of.
Tommy could just as well be sitting, with a fine
cigar, on the front piazza in an easy chair, as, with
his dhudeen, on the back porch, on an empty box,
where every night you'll find him. It's the
unconscious dropping back into the old ways of his
father, and his father's father, and his father's
father's father. In brief, he sits there the poor
lorn symbol of the long oppression of his race."
JOHN B. McKINNEY, Attorney and Counselor
at Law, as his sign read, was, for many reasons,
a fortunate man. For many other reasons he was
not. He was chiefly fortunate in being, as certain
opponents often strove witheringly to designate
him, "the son of his father," since that sound old
gentleman was the wealthiest farmer in that section;
with but one son and heir to supplant him, in
time, in the role of "county god," and haply
perpetuate the prouder title of "the biggest taxpayer on
the assessment list." And this fact, too, fortunate
as it would seem, was doubtless the indirect occasion
of a liberal percentage of all John's misfortunes.
From his earliest school-days in the little
town, up to his tardy graduation from a distant
college, the influence of his father's wealth invited
his procrastination, humored its results, encouraged
the laxity of his ambition, "and even now," as John
used, in bitter irony, to put it, "it is aiding and
abetting me in the ostensible practise of my chosen
profession, a listless, aimless undetermined man of
forty, and a confirmed bachelor at that!" At the
utterance of his self-depreciating statement, John generally
jerked his legs down from the top of his
desk; and rising and kicking his chair back to the
wall he would stump around his littered office till
the manila carpet steamed with dust. Then he
would wildly break away, seeking refuge either in
the open street, or in his room at the old-time
tavern, The Eagle House, "where," he would say, "I
have lodged and boarded, I do solemnly asseverate,
for a long, unbroken, middle-aged eternity of ten
years, and can yet assert, in the words of the more
fortunately-dying Webster, that 'I still live'!"
Extravagantly satirical as he was at times, John
had always an indefinable drollery about him that
made him agreeable company to his friends, at
least; and such an admiring friend he had constantly
at hand in the person of Bert Haines. Both
were Bohemians in natural tendency, and, though
John was far in Bert's advance in point of age, he
found the young man "just the kind of a fellow to
have around;" while Bert, in turn, held his senior
in profound esteem--looked up to him, in fact, and
even in his eccentricities strove to pattern himself
after him. And so it was, when summer days were
dull and tedious, these two could muse and doze the
hours away together; and when the nights were long,
and dark, and deep, and beautiful, they could drift
out in the noonlight of the stars, and with "the soft
complaining flute" and "warbling lute," "lay the
pipes," as John would say, for their enduring
popularity with the girls! And it was immediately
subsequent to one of these romantic excursions, when
the belated pair, at two o'clock in the morning, had
skulked up a side stairway of the old hotel, and
gained John's room, with nothing more serious happening
than Bert falling over a trunk and smashing
his guitar,--just after such a night of romance and
adventure it was that, in the seclusion of John's
room, Bert had something of especial import to
"Mack," he said, as that worthy anathematized
a spiteful match, and then sucked his finger.
"Blast the all-fired old torch!" said John, wrestling
with the lamp-flue, and turning on a welcome flame
at last. "Well, you said 'Mack'! Why don't you
go on? And don't bawl at the top of your lungs,
either. You've already succeeded in waking every
boarder in the house with that guitar, and you want
to make amends now by letting them go to sleep
"But my dear fellow," said Bert with forced
calmness, "you're the fellow that's making all the
"Why, you howling dervish!" interrupted John,
with a feigned air of pleased surprise and
admiration. "But let's drop controversy. Throw the
fragments of your guitar in the wood-box there, and
proceed with the opening proposition."
"What I was going to say was this," said Bert,
with a half-desperate enunciation; "I'm getting
tired of this way of living--clean, dead-tired, and
fagged out, and sick of the whole artificial business!"
"Oh, yes!" exclaimed John, with a towering
disdain, "you needn't go any further! I know just
what malady is throttling you. It's reform--reform!
You're going to 'turn over a new leaf,' and
all that, and sign the pledge, and quit cigars, and
go to work, and pay your debts, and gravitate back
into Sunday-school, where you can make love to
the preacher's daughter under the guise of religion,
and desecrate the sanctity of the innermost pale of
the church by confessions at Class of your 'thorough
conversion'! Oh, you're going to--"
"No, but I'm going to do nothing of the sort,"
interrupted Bert resentfully. "What I mean--if
you'll let me finish--is, I'm getting too old to be
eternally undignifying myself with this 'singing of
midnight strains under Bonnybell's window-panes,'
and too old to be keeping myself in constant
humiliation and expense by the borrowing and stringing
up of old guitars, together with the breakage of the
same, and the general wear-and-tear on a constitution
that is slowly being sapped to its foundations
by exposure in the night-air and the dew."
"And while you receive no further compensation
in return," said John, "than, perhaps, the coy turning
up of a lamp at an upper casement where the
jasmine climbs; or an exasperating patter of
invisible palms; or a huge dank wedge of fruit-cake
shoved at you by the old man, through a crack in
"Yes, and I'm going to have my just reward, is
what I mean," said Bert, "and exchange the lover's
life for the benedict's. Going to hunt out a good
sensible girl and marry her." And as the young
man concluded this desperate avowal he jerked the
bow of his cravat into a hard knot, kicked his hat
under the bed, and threw himself on the sofa like
an old suit.
John stared at him with absolute compassion.
"Poor devil," he said half musingly, "I know just
how he feels--
"Ring in the wind his wedding chimes,
Smile, villagers, at every door;
Old churchyards stuffed with buried crimes,
Be clad in sunshine o'er and o'er.--"
"Oh, here!" exclaimed the wretched Bert, jumping
to his feet; "let up on that dismal recitative. It
would make a dog howl to hear that!"
"Then you 'let up' on that suicidal talk of
marrying," replied John, "and all that harangue of
incoherency about your growing old. Why, my dear
fellow, you're at least a dozen years my junior,
and look at me!" and John glanced at himself in the
glass with a feeble pride, noting the gray sparseness
of his side-hair, and its plaintive dearth on
top. "Of course I've got to admit," he continued,
"that my hair is gradually evaporating; but for all
that, I'm 'still in the ring,' don't you know; as
young in society, for the matter of that, as yourself!
And this is just the reason why I don't want
you to blight every prospect in your life by marrying
at your age--especially a woman--I mean the
kind of woman you'd be sure to fancy at your age."
"Didn't I say 'a good sensible girl' was the kind
I had selected?" Bert remonstrated.
"Oh!" exclaimed John, "you've selected her,
then?--and without one word to me!" he ended,
"Well, hang it all!" said Bert impatiently; "I
knew how YOU were, and just how you'd talk me
out of it; and I made up my mind that for once, at
least, I'd follow the dictations of a heart that--
however capricious in youthful frivolities--should
beat, in manhood, loyal to itself and loyal to its
"Go it! Fire away! Farewell, vain world!"
exclaimed the excited John.--"Trade your soul off for
a pair of ear-bobs and a button-hook--a hank of
jute hair and a box of lily-white! I've buried not
less than ten old chums this way, and here's another
nominated for the tomb."
"But you've got no REASON about you," began
Bert,--"I want to"--
"And so do _I_ 'want to,' " broke in John finally,
--"I want to get some sleep.--So 'register' and
come to bed.--And lie up on edge, too, when you
DO come--'cause this old catafalque-of-a-bed is just
about as narrow as your views of single blessedness!
Peace! Not another word! Pile in! Pile
in! I'm three-parts sick, anyhow, and I want
rest!" And very truly he spoke.
It was a bright morning when the slothful John
was aroused by a long vociferous pounding on the
door. He started up in bed to find himself alone--
the victim of his wrathful irony having evidently
risen and fled away while his pitiless tormentor
slept--"Doubtless to accomplish at once that
nefarious intent as set forth by his unblushing
confession of last night," mused the miserable John.
And he ground his fingers in the corners of his
swollen eyes, and leered grimly in the glass at the
feverish orbs, blood-shot, blurred and aching.
The pounding on the door continued. John
looked at his watch; it was only eight o'clock.
"Hi, there!" he called viciously. "What do you
mean, anyhow?" he went on, elevating his voice
again; "shaking a man out of bed when he's just
dropping into his first sleep?"
"I mean that you're going to get up; that's what!"
replied a firm female voice. "It's eight o'clock, and I
want to put your room in order; and I'm not going
to wait all day about it, either! Get up and go
down to your breakfast, and let me have the room!"
And the clamor at the door was industriously renewed.
"Say!" called John querulously, hurrying on his
clothes, "Say, you!"
"There's no 'say' about it!" responded the
determined voice: "I've heard about you and your
ways around this house, and I'm not going to put
up with it! You'll not lie in bed till high noon
when I've got to keep your room in proper order!"
"Oh, ho!" bawled John intelligently: "reckon
you're the new invasion here? Doubtless you're
that girl that's been hanging up the new window-
blinds that won't roll, and disguising the pillows
with clean slips, and hennin' round among my
books and papers on the table here, and aging me
generally till I don't know my own handwriting by
the time I find it! Oh, yes, you're going to
revolutionize things here; you're going to introduce
promptness, and system, and order. See you've
even filled the wash-pitcher and tucked two starched
towels through the handle. Haven't got any tin
towels, have you? I rather like this new soap, too!
So solid and durable, you know; warranted not to
raise a lather. Might as well wash one's hands with
And as John's voice grumbled away into the
sullen silence again, the determined voice without
responded: "Oh, you can growl away to your
heart's content, Mr. McKinney, but I want you
to understand distinctly that I'm not going to humor
you in any of your old bachelor, sluggardly,
slovenly ways, and whims and notions. And I
want you to understand, too, that I'm not hired
help in this house, nor a chambermaid, nor anything
of the kind. I'm the landlady here; and I'll give you
just ten minutes more to get down to your breakfast,
or you'll not get any--that's all!" And as
the reversed cuff John was in the act of buttoning
slid from his wrist and rolled under the dresser, he
heard a stiff rustling of starched muslin flouncing
past the door, and the quick italicized patter of
determined gaiters down the hall.
"Look here," said John to the bright-faced boy
in the hotel office, a half hour later. "It seems the
house here's been changing hands again."
"Yes, sir," said the boy, closing the cigar case,
and handing him a lighted match. "Well, the new
landlord, whoever he is," continued John, patronizingly,
"is a good one. Leastwise, he knows what's
good to eat, and how to serve it."
The boy laughed timidly,--"It ain't a 'landlord,'
though--it's a landlady; it's my mother."
"Ah," said John, dallying with the change the
boy had pushed toward him. "Your mother, eh?
And where's your father?"
"He's dead," said the boy.
"And what's this for?" abruptly asked John,
examining his change.
"That's your change," said the boy: "You got
three for a quarter, and gave me a half."
"Well, YOU just keep it," said John, sliding back
the change. "It's for good luck, you know, my boy.
Same as drinking your long life and prosperity.
And, oh yes, by the way, you may tell your mother
I'll have a friend to dinner with me to-day."
"Yes, sir, and thank you, sir," said the beaming
"Handsome boy!" mused John, as he walked
down street. "Takes that from his father, though,
I'll wager my existence!"
Upon his office desk John found a hastily written
note. It was addressed in the well-known hand of
his old chum. He eyed the missive apprehensively,
and there was a positive pathos in his voice as he
said aloud, "It's our divorce. I feel it!" The note,
headed, "At the Office, Four in Morning," ran like
"Dear Mack--I left you slumbering so soundly
that, by noon, when you waken, I hope, in your
refreshed state, you will look more tolerantly on my
intentions as partially confided to you this night. I
will not see you here again to say good-by. I
wanted to, but was afraid to 'rouse the sleeping
lion.' I will not close my eyes to-night--fact is, I
haven't time. Our serenade at Josie's was a
prearranged signal by which she is to be ready and at
the station for the five morning train. You may
remember the lighting of three consecutive matches
at her window before the igniting of her lamp.
That meant, 'Thrice dearest one, I'll meet thee at
the depot at four-thirty sharp.' So, my dear Mack,
this is to inform you that, even as you read, Josie
and I have eloped. It is all the old man's fault, yet
I forgive him. Hope he'll return the favor. Josie
predicts he will, inside of a week--or two weeks
anyhow. Good-by, Mack, old boy; and let a fellow
down as easy as you can. Affectionately,
"Heavens!" exclaimed John, stifling the note in
his hand and stalking tragically around the room.
"Can it be possible that I have nursed a frozen
viper? An ingrate? A wolf in sheep's clothing?
An orang-outang in gent's furnishings?"
"Was you calling me, sir?" asked a voice at the
door. It was the janitor.
"No!" thundered John; "Quit my sight! get out
of my way! No, no, Thompson, I don't mean
that," he called after him. "Here's a half-dollar
for you, and I want you to lock up the office, and
tell anybody that wants to see me that I've been
set upon, and sacked and assassinated in cold blood;
and I've fled to my father's in the country, and am
lying there in the convulsions of dissolution, babbling
of green fields and running brooks, and thirsting
for the life of every woman that comes in gunshot!"
And then, more like a confirmed invalid
than a man in the strength and pride of his prime,
he crept down into the street again, and thence back
to his hotel.
Dejectedly and painfully climbing to his room, he
encountered, on the landing above, a little woman
in a jaunty dusting-cap and a trim habit of crisp
muslin. He tried to evade her, but in vain. She
looked him squarely in the face--occasioning him
the dubious impression of either needing shaving
very badly, or having egg-stains on his chin.
"You're the gentleman in Number II, I believe?
Why, Mr. McKinney, are you ill?"
He nodded confusedly.
"Mr. McKinney is your name, I think," she
queried, with a pretty elevation of the eyebrows.
"Yes, ma'am," said John rather abjectly. "You
see, ma'am--But I beg pardon," he went on
stammeringly, and with a very awkward bow--"I beg
pardon, but I am addressing--ah--the--ah--the--"
"You are addressing the new landlady," she
interpolated pleasantly. "Mrs. Miller is my name. I
think we should be friends, Mr. McKinney, since I
hear that you are one of the oldest patrons of the
"Thank you--thank you!" said John, completely
embarrassed. "Yes, indeed!--ha, ha. Oh, yes--
yes--really, we must be quite old friends, I assure
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