The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
Brace of Boys
By Fitz Hugh Ludlow (18361870)
From Little Brother, and Other Genre Pictures
I AM a bachelor uncle. That, as a mere fact, might happen to anybody; but I am a bachelor uncle by internal fitness. I am one essentially, just as I am an individual of the Caucasian division of the human race; and if, through untoward circumstanceswhich Heaven forbidI should lose my present position, I shouldnt be surprised if you saw me out in the Herald under Situations WantedMales. Thanks to a marrying tendency in the rest of my family, I have now little need to advertise, all the business being thrown into my way which a single member of my profession can attend to.
Lu married Mr. Lovegrove. He is a merchant, retired with a fortune amassed by the old-fashioned, slow processes of trade, and regards the mercantile life of the present day only as so much greed and gambling Christianly baptized . Lu is my favorite sister; Lovegrove an unusually good article of brother-in-law; and I cannot say that any of my nieces and nephews interest me more than their two children, Daniel and Billy, who are more unlike than words can paint them. They are far apart in point of years; Daniel is twenty-two, Billy eleven. I was reminded of this fact the other day by Billy, as he stood between my legs scowling at his book of sums.
Well, my dear Billy, you know that arithmetic is necessary to you if you mean to be an industrious man and succeed in business. Suppose your parents were to lose all their property, what would become of them without a little son who could make money and keep accounts?
O Uncle Teddy! you dont think I mean hed support them? I meant Id have to take care of father and mother and him, too, when theyd all got to be old people together. Just think! Im eleven, and hes twenty-two; so he is just twice as old as I am. How old are you?
Well, you arent so awful old, and when I get to be as old as you, Daniel will be eighty. Seth Kendalls grandfather isnt more than that, and he has to be fed with a spoon, and a nurse puts him to bed, and wheels him round in a chair like a baby. That takes the stamps, I bet! Well, I tell you how Ill keep my accounts: Ill have a stick like Robinson Crusoe, and every time I make a toadskin Ill gouge a piece out of one side of the stick, and every time I spend one Ill gouge a piece out of the other.
Well, mother, replied Billy, if you wanted two boys just alike youd oughter had twins. There aint any use of my trying to be like Daniel now, when hes got eleven years the start. Whoop! Theres a dog-fight; hear em! Its Joe Caseys dogI know his bark!
I suppose because his Maker never repeats Himself. Even twins often possess strongly marked individualities. Dont you think it would be a good plan to learn Billy better before you try to teach him? If you do, youll make something as good of him as Daniel; though it will be rather different from that model.
Remember, Ned, that you never did like Daniel as well as you do Billy. But we all know the proverb about old maids daughters and old bachelors sons. I wish you had Billy for a monththen youd see.
Im not sure that Id do any better than you. I might err as much in other directions. But Id try to start right by acknowledging that he was a new problem, not to be worked without finding out the value of X in his particular instance. The formula which solves one boy will no more solve the next one than the rule of three will solve a question in calculusor, to rise into your sphere, than the receipt for one-two-three-four cake will conduct you to a successful issue through plum pudding.
I excel in metaphysical discussion, and was about giving further elaboration to my favorite idea, when the door burst open. Master Billy came tumbling in with a torn jacket, a bloody nose, the traces of a few tears in his eyes, and the mangiest of cur dogs in his hands.
Dont you get scared, ma! cried Billy, smiling a stern smile of triumph; I smashed the nose off him! He wont sass me again for nothing this while. Uncle Teddy, dye know it wasnt a dog-fight after all? There was that nasty, good-for-nothing Joe Casey, n Patsy Grogan, and a lot of bad boys from Mackerelville; and theyd caught this poor little ki-oodle and tied a tin pot to his tail, and were trying to set Joes dog on him, though hes ten times littler.
Yes, I played em! I polished emthats the play I did! Says I, Put down that poor little pup; aint you ashamed of yourself, Patsy Grogan? I guess you dont know who I am, says he.Thats the way they always say, Uncle Teddy, to make a fellow think theyre some awful great fighters. So says I again, Well, you put down that dog, or Ill show you who I am; and when he held on, I let him have it. Then he dropped the pup, and as I stooped to pick it up he gave me one on the bugle.
The rest pitched in to help him; but I grabbed the pup and while I was trying to give as good as I gotonly a fellow cant do it well with only one hand, Uncle Teddyup came a policeman, and the whole crowd ran away. So I got the dog safe, and here he is!
With that Billy set down his ki-oodle, bade farewell to every fear, and wiped his bleeding nose. The unhappy beast slunk back between the legs of his preserver and followed him out of the room, as Lu, with an expression of maternal despair, bore him away for the correction of his dilapidated raiment and depraved associations. I felt such sincere pride in this young Mazzini of the dog nation that I was vexed at Lu for bestowing on him reproof instead of congratulation; but she was not the only conservative who fails to see a good cause and a heroic heart under a bloody nose and torn jacket. I resolved that if Billy was punished he should have his recompense before long in an extra holiday at Barnums or the Hippotheatron.
You already have some idea of my other nephew, if you have noticed that none of us, not even that habitual disrespecter of dignities, Billy, ever called him Dan. It would have seemed as incongruous as to call Billy William. He was one of those youths who never gave their parents a moments uneasiness; who never had to have their wills broken, and never forget to put on their rubbers or take an umbrella. In boyhood he was intended for a missionary. Had it been possible for him to go to Greenlands icy mountains without catching cold, or Indias coral strand without getting bilious, his parents would have carried out their pleasing dream of contributing him to the worlds evangelization. Lu and Mr. Lovegrove had no doubt that he would have been greatly blessed if he could have stood it .
Both she and his father always encouraged old manners in him. I think they took such pride in raising a peculiarly pale boy as a gardener does in getting a nice blanch on his celery, and so long as he was not absolutely sick, the graver he was the better. He was a sensitive plant, a violet by a mossy stone, and all that sort of thing .
At the time I introduce Billy, both Lu and her husband were much changed. They had gained a great deal in width of view and liberality of judgment. They read Dickens and Thackeray with avidity; went now and then to the opera; proposed to let Billy take a quarter at Dodworths; had statues in their parlor without any thought of shame at their lack of petticoats, and did multitudes of things which, in their early married life, they would have considered shocking . They would greatly have liked to see Daniel shine in society. Of his erudition they were proud even to worship. The young man never had any business, and his father never seemed to think of giving him any, knowing, as Billy would say, that he had stamps enough to see him through. If Daniel liked, his father would have endowed a professorship in some college and given him the chair; but that would have taken him away from his own room and the family physician.
Daniel knew how much his parents wished him to make a figure in the world, and only blamed himself for his failure, magnanimously forgetting that they had crushed out the faculties which enable a man to mint the small change of every-day society in the exclusive cultivation of such as fit him for smelting its ponderous ingots. With that merciful blindness which alone prevents all our lives from becoming a horror of nerveless self-reproach, his parents were equally unaware of their share in the harm done him when they ascribed to a delicate organization the fact that, at an age when love runs riot in all healthy blood, he could not see a Balmoral without his cheeks rivaling the most vivid stripe in it. They flattered themselves that he would outgrow his bashfulness; but Daniel had no such hope, and frequently confided in me that he thought he should never marry at all.
About two hours after Billys disappearance under his mothers convoy, the defender of the oppressed returned to my room bearing the dog under his arm. His cheeks shone with washing like a pair of waxy Spitzenbergs, and other indignities had been offered him to the extent of the brush and comb. He also had a whole jacket on .
Billy and I also obtained permission to go out together and be gone the entire afternoon. We put Crab on a comfortable bed of rags in an old shoebox, and then strolled hand-in-hand across that most delightful of New York breathing-placesStuyvesant Square.
Uncle Teddy, exclaimed Billy with ardor, I wish I could do something to show you how much I think of you for being so good to me. I dont know how. Would it make you happy if I was to learn a hymn for youa smashing big hymnsix verses, long meter, and no grumbling?
We now got into a Broadway stage going down, and being unable, on account of the noise, to converse further upon those spiritual conflicts of Billys which so much interested me, amused ourselves with looking out until just as we reached the Astor House, when he asked me where we were going.
He cast a glance through the front window and his face became irradiated. Oh, theres nothing like the simple, cheap luxury of pleasing a child to create sunshine enough for the chasing away of the bluest of adult devils!
So we were; and, much as stuck-up people pretend to look down on the place, I frequently am there. Not only so, but I always see that class largely represented there when I do go. To be sure, they always make believe that they only come to amuse the children, or because theyve country cousins visiting them, and never fail to refer to the vulgar set one finds there, and the fact of the animals smelling like anything but Jockey Club; yet I notice that after theyve been in the hall three minutes theyre as much interested as any of the people they come to pooh-pooh, and only put on the high-bred air when they fancy some of their own class are looking at them. I boldly acknowledge that I go because I like it. I am especially happy, to be sure, if I have a child along to go into ecstasies, and give me a chance, by asking questions, for the exhibition of that fund of information which is said to be one of my chief charms in the social circle, and on several occasions has led that portion of the public immediately about the Happy Family into the erroneous impression that I was Mr. Barnum, glibly explaining his five hundred thousand curiosities.
On the present occasion we found several visitors of the better class in the room devoted to the aquarium. Among these was a young lady, apparently about nineteen, in a tight-fitting basque of black velvet, which showed her elegant figure to fine advantage, a skirt of garnet silk, looped up over a pretty Balmoral, and the daintiest imaginable pair of kid walking-boots. Her height was a trifle over the medium; her eyes, a soft, expressive brown, shaded by masses of hair which exactly matched their color, and, at that rat-and-miceless day, fell in such graceful abandon as to show at once that nature was the only maid who crimped their waves into them. Her complexion was rosy with health and sympathetic enjoyment; her mouth was faultless, her nose sensitive, her manners full of refinement, and her voice as musical as a wood-robins when she spoke to the little boy of six at her side, to whom she was revealing the palace of the great show-king. Billy and I were flattening our noses against the abode of the balloon fish and determining whether he looked most like a horse-chestnut burr or a ripe cucumber, when his eyes and my own simultaneously fell on the child and lady. In a moment, to Billy the balloon fish was as though he had not been.
Thats a pretty little boy, said I. And then I asked Billy one of those senseless routine questions which must make children look at us, regarding the scope of our intellects very much as we look at Bushmen.
After that we visited the wax figures and the sleepy snakes the learned seal, and the glass-blowers. Whenever we passed from one room into another Billy could be caught looking anxiously to see if the pretty girl and child were coming too.
Time fails me to describe how Billy was lost in astonishment at the Lightning Calculatorwanted me to beg the secret of that prodigy for him to do his sums byfinally thought he had discovered it, and resolved to keep his arm whirling all the time he studied his arithmetic lesson the next morning. Equally inadequate is it to relate in full how he became so confused among the wax-works that he pinched the solemnest showmans legs to see if he was real, and perplexed the beautiful Circassian to the verge of idiocy by telling her he had read in his geography all about the way they sold girls like her.
We had reached the stairs to that subterranean chamber in which the Behemoth of Holy Writ was wallowing about without a thought of the dignity which one expects from a canonical character. Billy had always languished upon his memories of this diverting beast, and I stood ready to see him plunge head-long the moment that he read the signboard at the head of the stairs. When he paused and hesitated therenot seeming at all anxious to go down till he saw the pretty girl and the child following aftera sudden intuition flashed across me. Could it be possible that Billy was caught in that vortex which whirled me down at ten yearsa little boys first love?
We were lingering about the elliptical basin, and catching occasional glimpses between bubbles of a vivified hair trunk of monstrous compass, whose knobby lid opened at one end and showed a red morocco lining, when the pretty girl, in leaning over to point out the rising monster, dropped into the water one of her little gloves, and the swash made by the hippopotamus drifted it close under Billys hand. Either in play or as a mere coincidence the animal followed it. The other children about the tank screamed and started back as he bumped his nose against the side; but Billy manfully bent down and grabbed the glove not an inch from one of his big tusks, then marched around the tank and presented it to the lady with a chivalry of manner in one of his years quite surprising.
Thats a real nice boyyou said so, didnt you, Lottie?and I wish hed come and play with me, said the little fellow by the young ladys side, as Billy turned away, gracefully thanked, to come back to me with his cheeks roseate with blushes.
Oh! I live close byright on that big green square, where I guess the nurse takes you once in a while, said Billy patronizingly. Then, looking up pluckily at the young lady, he added, I never saw you out there.
Billy, who belonged to a club for the practice of the great American game, and was what A. Ward would call the most superior battist among the I. G. B. B. C, or Infant Giants, smiled from that altitude upon Jimmy, but promised to go and play with him the next Saturday afternoon.
Late that evening, after we had got home and dined, as I sat in my room over Pickwick with a sedative cigar, a gentle knock at the door told of Daniel. I called Come in! and, entering with a slow, dejected air, he sat down by my fire. For ten minutes he remained silent, though occasionally looking up as if about to speak, then dropping his head again, to ponder on the coals. Finally I laid down Dickens and spoke myself:
Perhaps I can save you the trouble by cross-examining it out of you. Lets try the method of elimination. I know that youre not harassed by any economical considerations, for youve all the money you want; and I know that ambition doesnt trouble you, for your tastes are scholarly. This narrows down the investigation of your symptomslistlessness, general dejection, and allto three causesdyspepsia, religious conflicts, love. Now, is your digestion awry?
I really dont know, uncle; I dont believe it is. I dont see how it can be. I never did anything to make her love me. What is there in me to love? Ive borne nothing for herthat is, nothing that could do her any goodthough Ive endured on her account, I may say, anguish. So, look at it any way you please, I neither am, do nor suffer anything that can get a womans love.
Youve no idea, Uncle Teddy, that you are twitting on facts; but you hit the truth there; indeed, you do. If she were a Greek or Latin woman I could talk Anacreon or Horace to her. If women only understood the philosophy of the flowers as well as they do the poetry
Never mindin that case I could entrance her for hours, talking about the grounds of difference between Linnæus and Jussieu. Women like the star business, they sayand I could tell where all the constellations are; but sure as I tried to get off any sentiment about them, Id break down and make myself ridiculous. But what earthly chance would the greatest philosopher that ever lived have with the woman he loved if he depended for her favor on his ability to analyze her bouquet or tell her when she might look out for the next occultation of Orion? I cant talk bread-and-butter talk. I cant do anything that makes a man even tolerable to a woman!
No; but its necessary to some extentat any rate, the ability isin order to succeed in society; and its in society men first meet and strike women. And oh, Uncle Teddy! Im such a fish out of water in society!such a dreadful floundering fish! When I see her dancing gracefully as a swan swims, and feel that fellows like little Jack Mankyn, who dont know twelve times, can dance to her perfect admiration; when I see that she likes ease of mannersand all sorts of men without an idea in their heads have thatwhile I turn all colors when I speak to her, and am clumsy, and abrupt, and abstracted, and bad at reparteeUncle Teddy! sometimes (though it seems so ungrateful to father and mother, who have spent such pains for me)sometimes, do you know, it seems to me as if Id exchange all Ive ever learned for the power to make a good appearance before her!
Daniel, my boy, its too much a matter of reflection with you! A woman is not to be taken by laying plans. If you love the lady (whose name I dont ask you, because I know youll tell me as soon as you think best), you must seek her companionship until youre well enough acquainted with her to have her regard you as something different from the men whom she meets merely in society, and judge your qualities by another standard than that she applies to them. If shes a sensible girl (and God forbid you should marry her otherwise), she knows that people cant always be dancing, or holding fans, or running after orange-ice. If shes a girl capable of appreciating your best points (and woe to you if you marry a girl who cant!), shell find them out upon closer intimacy, and, once found, theyll a hundred times outweigh all brilliant advantages kept in the show-case of fellows who have nothing on the shelves. When this comes about, you will pop the question unconsciously, and, to adapt Milton, shell drop into your lap gatherednot harshly plucked.
I know thats sensible, Uncle Teddy, and Ill try. Let me tell you the sacredest of secretsregularly every day of my life I send her a little poem fastened round the prettiest bouquet I can get at Hanfts.
She cant have any idea. The German boy that takes them knows not a word of English except her name and address. Youll forgive me, uncle, for not mentioning her name yet? You see, she may despise or hate me some day when she knows who it is that has paid her these attentions; and then Id like to be able to feel that at least Ive never hurt her by any absurd connection with myself.
Well, Billy Boy Blue, come blow your horn; what haystack have you been under till this time of day? We shant have a minute to look over our spelling together, and I know a boy whos going in for promotion next week. Have you had your breakfast and taken care of Crab?
Wellhis voice dropped to a whisper, and he stole close to my sideI had such a nice dream about her just the last thing before the bell rang; and when I woke up I felt so queerso kinder good and kinder badand I wanted to see her so much that, if I hadnt been a big boy, I believe I should have blubbered. I tried ever so much to go to sleep and see her again; but the more I tried the more I couldnt. After all, I had to get up without it, though I didnt want any breakfast, and only ate two buckwheat cakes, when I always eat six, you know, Uncle Teddy. Can you keep a secret?
Oh, aint you mean! That was when I was small I did that. Ill tell you the secret, thoughthat girl and I are going to get married. I mean to ask her the first chance I get. Oh, isnt she a smasher!
Im old enough, Uncle Teddy, and I love her dearly! Im as old as the kings of France used to be when they got marriedI read it in Abbotts histories. But theres the clock striking nine! I must run or I shall get a tardy mark, and perhaps shell want to see my certificate sometimes.
So saying, he kissed me on the cheek and set off for school as fast as his legs could carry him. Oh, Love, omnivorous Love, that sparest neither the dotard leaning on his staff nor the boy with pantaloons buttoning on his jacketomnipotent Love, that, after parents and teachers have failed, in one instant can make Billy try to become a good boy!
With both of my nephews hopelessly enamored and myself the confidant of both, I had my hands full. Daniel was generally dejected and distrustful; Billy buoyant and jolly. Daniel found it impossible to overcome his bashfulness; was spontaneous only in sonnets, brilliant only in bouquets. Billy was always coming to me with pleasant news, told in his slangy New York boy vernacular. One day he would exclaim: Oh, Im getting on prime! I got such a smile off her this morning as I went by the window! Another day he wanted counsel how to get a valentine to herbecause it was too big to shove in a lamp-post, and she might catch him if he left it on the steps, rang the bell and ran away. Daniel wrote his own valentine; but, despite its originality, that document gave him no such comfort as Billy got from twenty-five cents worth of embossed paper, pink cupids and doggerel. Finally, Billy announced to me that he had been to play with Jimmy and got introduced to his girl.
Shortly after this Lu gave what they call a little company not a party, but a reunion of forty or fifty people with whom the family were well acquainted, several of them living in our immediate neighborhood. There was a goodly proportion of young folk, and there was to be dancing; but the music was limited to a single piano played by the German exile usual on such occasions, and the refreshments did not rise to the splendor of a costly supper. This kind of compromise with fashionable gaiety was wisely deemed by Lu the best method of introducing Daniel to the beau mondea push given the timid eaglet by the maternal bird, with a soft tree-top between him and the vast expanse of society. How simple was the entertainment may be inferred from the fact that Lu felt somewhat discomposed when she got a note from one of her guests asking leave to bring along her niece, who was making her a few weeks visit. As a matter of course, however, she returned answer to bring the young lady and welcome.
Daniels dressing-room having been given up to the gentlemen, I invited him to make his toilet in mine, and, indeed, wanting him to create a favorable impression, became his valet pro tem., tying his cravat and teasing the divinity-student look out of his side hair. My little dandy Billy came in for another share of attention, and when I managed to button his jacket for him so that it showed his shirt-studs like a mans, Count dOrsay could not have felt a more pleasing sense of his sufficiency for all the demands of the gay world.
When we reached the parlor we found Pa and Ma Lovegrove already receiving. About a score of guests had arrived. Most of them were old married couples which, after paying their devoirs, fell in two like unriveted scissorsthe gentlemen finding a new pivot in pa and the ladies in ma, where they mildly opened and shut upon such questions as severally concerned them, such as the way gold closed and how the children were.
Besides the old married people, there were several old young men of distinctly hopeless and unmarried aspect who, having nothing in common with the other class, nor sufficient energy of character to band themselves for mutual protection, hovered dejectedly about the arch pillars, or appeared to be considering whether, on the whole, it would not be feasible and best to sit down on the center-table. These subsisted upon such crumbs of comfort as Lu could get an occasional chance to throw them by rapid sorties of conversationbecame galvanically active the moment they were punched up and fell flat the moment the punching was remitted. I did all I could for them, but, having Daniel in tow, dared not sail too near the edge of the Doldrums, lest he should drop into sympathetic stagnation and be taken preternaturally bashful, with his sails all aback, just as I wanted to carry him gallantly into action with some clipper-built cruiser of a nice young lady. Finally Lu bethought herself of that last plank of drowning conversationalists, the photograph album. All the dejected young men made for it at once, some reaching it just as they were about to sink for the last time, but all getting a grip on it somehow, and staying there in company with other peoples babies whom they didnt know, and celebrities whom they knew to death, until, one by one, they either stranded upon a motherly dowager by the Fireplace Shoals, or were rescued from the Soda Reef by some gallant wrecker of a strong-minded young lady, with a view to taking salvage out of them in the German.
Besides these were already arrived a dozen nice little boys and girls, who had been invited to make it pleasant for Billy. I had to remind him of the fact that they were his guests, for in comparison with the queen of his affections they were in danger of being despised by him as small fry.
The younger ladies and gentlementhose who had fascinations to disport or were in the habit of disporting what they considered suchwere probably still at home consulting the looking-glass until that oracle should announce the auspicious moment for their setting forth.
Daniel was in conversation with a perfect godsend of a girl, who understood Latin and had begun Greek. Billy was taking a moments vacation from his boys and girls, busy with Old Maid in the extension room, and whispering with his hand in mine, Oh, dont I wish she were here! when a fresh invoice of ladies, just unpacked from the dressing-room in all the airy elegance of evening costume, floated through the door. I heard Lu say:
Isnt that splendid, Uncle Teddy? Just as I was wishing it! Its just like the fairy books! and, rushing up to the party of newcomers, My dear Lottie! cried he, if Id only known you were coming Id have gone after you!
And you must excuse my mother, Lottie, said Billy, affectionately patting Miss Pilgrims rose kid, for calling you a strange young lady. You are not strange at allyoure just as nice a girl as there is.
There are no excuses necessary, said Miss Pilgrim, with a bewitching little laugh. Billy and I know each other intimately well, Mrs. Lovegrove; and I confess that when I heard the lady aunt had been invited to visit was his mother, I felt all the more willing to infringe etiquette this evening by coming where I had no previous introduction.
At this moment I came up as Billys reenforcement, and fearing lest in his enthusiasm he might forget the canon of society which introduces a gentleman to a lady, not the lady to him, I ventured to suggest it delicately by saying:
In a minute, Uncle Teddy, answered Billy, considerably lowering his voice. The older people first; and after this reproof I was left to wait in the cold until he had gone through the ceremony of introducing to the young lady his father and his mother.
Billy, who had now assumed entire guardianship of Miss Pilgrim, with an air of great dignity entrusted her to my care and left us promenading while he went in search of Daniel. I myself looked in vain for that youth, whom I had not seen since the entrance of the last comers. Miss Pilgrim and I found a congenial common ground in Billy, whom she spoke of as one of the most delightfully original boys she had ever metin fact, altogether the most fascinating young gentleman she had seen in New York society. You may be sure it wasnt Billys left ear which burned when I made my responses.
In five minutes he reappeared to announce, in a tone of disappointment, that he could find Daniel nowhere. He could see a light through his keyhole, but the door was locked, and he could get no admittance. Just then Lu came up to present a certainno, an uncertainyoung man of the fleet stranded on parlor furniture earlier in the evening. To Lus great astonishment Miss Pilgrim asked Billys permission to leave him. It was granted with all the courtesy of a preux chevalier, on the condition, readily assented to by the lady, that she should dance one lanciers with him during the evening.
Left free, I went myself to hunt up Daniel. I found his door locked and a light shining through the keyhole, as Billy had stated. I made no attempt to enter by knocking, but, going to my room and opening the window next his, leaned out as far as I could, shoved up his sash with my cane, and pushed aside his curtain. Such an unusual method of communication could not fail to bring him to the window with a rush. When he saw me he trembled like a guilty thing, his countenance fell, and, no longer able to feign absence, he unlocked his door and let me enter by the normal mode.
Uncle Edward, I am not sickand this means that I am a fool. Even a little boy like Billy puts me to shame. I feel humbled to the very dust. I wish Id been a missionary and got massacred by savages. Oh, that Id been permitted to wear damp stockings in childhood, or that my mother hadnt carried me through the measles! If it werent wrong to take my life into my own hands, Id open that window, andandsit in a draft this very evening! Oh, yes! Im just that bitter! Oh, oh, oh!
Well, my dear fellow, lets look at the matter calmly a minute. What brought on this sudden attack? You seemed doing well enough the first ten minutes after we came down. I was only out of your sight long enough to speak to the Rumbullion party, who had just come in, and when I turned around you were gone. Now you are in this fearful condition. What is there in the Rumbullions to start you off on such a bender of bashfulness as this which I here behold?
I labored with Daniel for ten minutes, using every encouragement and argument I could think of, and finally threatened him that I would bring up the whole Rumbullion party, Miss Pilgrim included, telling them that he had invited them to look at his conchological cabinet, unless he instantly shook the ice out of his manner and accompanied me down-stairs. This dreadful menace had the desired effect. He knew that I would not scruple to fulfil it; and at the same time that it made him surrender, it also provoked him with me to a degree which gave his eyes and cheeks as fine a glow as I could have wished for the purpose of a favorable impression. The stimulus of wrath was good for him, and there was little tremor in his knees when he descended the stairs. Well-a-day! So Daniel and Billy were rivals!
Oh, there you are, Daniel! he said cheerily. I was just going to look after you and Uncle Teddy. Weve wanted you for the dances. Weve had the lanciers twice, and three round dances; and I danced the second lanciers with Lottie. Now were going to play some gamesto amuse the children, you know, he added loftily, with the adult gesture of pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the extension room. Lotties going to play, too; so will you and Daniel, wont you, uncle? Oh, here comes Lottie now! This is my brother, Miss Pilgrimlet me introduce him to you. Im sure youll like him. Theres nothing he dont know.
The courage of weak warriors and timid gallants mounts as the opposite partys falls, and Daniel made out to say in a firm tone that it was long since he had enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Miss Pilgrim.
On entering the parlor we found it as he had said. The guests being almost all well acquainted with each other, at the solicitation of jolly little Miss Bloomingal, sister Lu had consented to make a pleasant Christmas kind of time of it, in which everybody was permitted to be young again and romp with the rompiest. We played blindmans buff till we were tired of thatDaniel, to Lus great delight, coming out splendidly as blindman, and evincing such cheek in the style he hunted down and caught the ladies as satisfied me that nothing but his eyesight stood in the way of his making an audacious figure in the world. Then a pretty little girl, Tilly Turtelle, who seemed quite a premature flirt, proposed doorkeepera suggestion accepted with great éclat by all the children, several grown people assenting.
To Billyquite as much on account of his shining prominence in the executive faculties as of his character as hostwas committed the duty of counting out the first person to be sent into the hall. There were so many of us that Aina maina mona mike would not go quite round; but, with that promptness of expedient which belongs to genius, Billy instantly added on, Intery-mintery-cutery-corn, and the last word of the cabalistic formula fell upon meEdward Balbus. I disappeared into the entry amid peals of happy laughter from both old and young, calling, when the door opened again to ask me whom I wanted, for the pretty lisping flirt who had proposed the game. After giving me a coquettish little chirrup of a kiss and telling me my beard scratched, she bade me, on my return, send out to her Mithter Billy Lovegrove. I obeyed her; my youngest nephew retired; and after a couple of seconds, during which Tilly undoubtedly got what she proposed the game for, Billy being a great favorite with the little girls, she came back, pouting and blushing, to announce that he wanted Miss Pilgrim. That young lady showed no mock-modesty, but arose at once and laughingly went out to her youthful admirer, who, as I afterward learned, embraced her ardently and told her he loved her better than any girl in the world. As he turned to go back, she told him that he might send to her one of her juvenile cousins, Reginald Rumbullion. Now, whether because on this youthful Rumbullions account Billy had suffered the pangs of that most terrible passion, jealousy, or from his natural enjoyment of playing practical jokes destructive of all dignity in his elders, Billy marched into the room, and, having shut the door behind him, paralyzed the crowded parlor by an announcement that Mr. Daniel Lovegrove was wanted.
No, I suppose not, said he mechanically. And amid much laughter from the disinterested, while the faces of Mrs. Rumbullion and his mother were spectacles of crimson astonishment, he made his exit from the room. Never in my life did I so much long for that instrument described by Mr. Samuel Wellera pair of patent double-million-magnifying microscopes of hextry power, to see through a deal door. Instead of this, I had to learn what happened only by report.
Lottie Pilgrim was standing under the hall burners with her elbow on the newel-post, looking more vividly charming than he had ever seen her before at Mrs. Cramcrouds sociable or elsewhere. When startled by the apparition of Mr. Daniel Lovegrove instead of the little Rumbullion whom she was expecting, she had no time to exclaim or hide her mounting color, none at all to explain to her own mind the mistake that had occurred, before his arm was clasped around her waist, and his lips so closely pressed to hers that through her soft, thick hair she could feel the throbbing of his temples. As for Daniel, he seemed in a walking dream, from which he waked to see Miss Pilgrim looking into his eyes with utter though not incensed stupefactionto stammer:
Then I dont mind what they think. Perhaps theyll suppose weve known each other long; but well arrange it by and by. Theyll think the more of it the longer we stay out herehear them laugh! I must run back now. Ill send you somebody.
A round of juvenile applause greeted her as she hurried into the parlor, and a number of grown people smiled quite musically. Her quick womans wit showed her how to retaliate and divide the embarrassment of the occasion. As she passed me she said in an undertone:
I really must be excused for asking. Im a stranger, you know; but is there such a lady here as Mrs. CraggsMrs. Cromwell Craggs? For if so, the present doorkeeper would like to see Mrs. Cromwell Craggs.
Before the close of the evening Billy was made as jealous as his parents and I were surprised to see Daniel in close conversation with Miss Pilgrim among the geraniums and fuchsias of the conservatory. A regular flirtation! said Billy somewhat indignantly. The conclusion they arrived at was, that after all no great harm had been done, and that the dear little fellow ought not to be peached on for his fun. If I had known at the time how easily they forgave him, I should have suspected that the offense Billy had led Daniel into committing was not unlikely to be repeated on the offenders own account; but so much as I could see showed me that the ice was broken.