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THE hero of this story is Mr. Festus Buckle, aged thirty-four, a lawyer, and unmarried. He is tall, symmetrical, broad-chested, and, but for a slight stoop in the shoulders, perfectly imposing. With profuse wavy chestnut hair, and an absolutely patriarchal full beard of the same color, a Garibaldi recklessness of dress, and a long, nervous walk; his eyes large, blue, but —from much reading—near-sighted; his nose regular; the remaining features hidden by his mustache and whiskers. These latter waved picturesquely back above his massive shoulders as he strode down Broadway, and, combined with the shoulders, gave to following eyes an impression of majestic largeness. Look at him from behind, and you would take him for a pirate. But as you approach him in front, and see his spectacles, the delusion vanishes. Perhaps, after all, the best description of his personal appearance is a pirate, with a theological and metaphysical turn of mind, who under no circumstances could have been induced to capture a vessel which had any women on board; for all this was expressed in his face to those who knew him.
I have said that Mr. Buckle was a lawyer; but although he had an office in the fourth story of a building in Wall Street, his principal avocation consisted in being the mainstay of his worthy parents: consulting large books in the Hall of Records, to discover whether his father had sufficient title to his back-yard to warrant him in erecting a system of clothes-lines therein, and such like profound investigations. In the evening he read to his parents till ten—retreating precipitately up stairs at the advent of lady visitors. The reader will note this peculiarity, for upon this trait of Mr. Buckle's character hinges this story.
So much by way of introduction. Now for action.
Time—Three P.m. of a delicious, sunny September afternoon. Place—The open window of a second story front-room in Twenty-third Street, being Mr. Festus Buckle's apartment. Actor— That profound legal gentleman himself, who, having wearied of practicing that arduous profession, smoking pipes in a law office, had come up town in the middle of the day, and was now sitting in the window aforesaid, with a dreamy gaze at his friend Doctor Piper's gilt shingle on the opposite side of the street, and wondering why there wasn't any specialty for the sole treatment of sick gentlemen, so that he could have been a doctor too.
As he gazed Piper's door opened. A jolly, round-faced man, of a decided family look and about the middle-age, came rushing forth. He was in a high perspiration about something, and did not look up till Mr. Buckle called,
"Hello, Piper! Whither away?"
The round-faced family man threw a quick glance at the window, and instead of rushing
down the street, as he had apparently intended, ran out into the middle of it.
"Hello yourself, Buckle! You're just the very man I want to see!"
"And I'm just the man that wants to see you. Come up, old boy!"
"I'm in an awful hurry! Run down and open the door!"
"Open it you—I'm lazy!" And with this Buckle tossed that rather superfluous uteusil, his night-key, to the pavement.
"Oh, bless me!" said Mr. Piper, entering, "I'm in such a hurry I don't know where to begin first!"
"Begin any where, then, and trust to luck for coming out right."
"The steamer Montgomery sails for Savannah at half past four!"
"It always does on Thursday afternoon."
"From Pier 4, North River!"
"I'm sure that's a very good place to sail from."
"Be still! You know Mrs. Belle Godfrey, don't you?"
"I never heard of her!" exclaimed Buckle, with a countenance of awakened alarm. "On my honor, I never did!"
"Don't make any difference. She's my wife's cousin; young widow, beautiful, highly accomplished; goes on the Montgomery this afternoon —only one hour and a fraction!"
"Oh!" said Buckle, greatly relieved, "she's going away, is she? I thought you were going to ask me to call with you, or something of that sort."
"The postman has just brought a letter for her. I know from the handwriting that it's of the utmost consequence she should have it immediately."
"And you want me to run and get a boy to carry it down!" exclaimed Buckle, impetuously. "I see! I will! I'll be off this minute! Where's the letter? Give me my hat! Sit down and wait till I come back!"
"A boy won't do! Won't trust him! Letter's very important! A man must go!"
"Very well. I'll run and call a carriage for you!"
"Bosh! Got one of my own. / haven't time to go. I have a case of leg at the hospital —cut it off, you know—at three and a half; and two tumors in Twelfth Street for five. You must go!"
"Bless my— Yon don't mean it!" Every individual hair on Buckle's head began to assume the perpendicular.
"I do. Be quick! Here's the letter—here's your hat. Run out to Broadway—take the first f^outh Ferry stage—get out at Morris Street, and go right west—takes you straight to Pier 4."
"You say she's a widow!"
"Talk about her affliction another time. When you get to the pier ask for the Purser—"
"Be quiet. If you can't find the Purser hurry down into the cabin and knock at state-room door No. 14."
'' Accomplished, heh? Knock at her door t" "If she isn't in the state-room she'll be outside, see you, and ask what you want. Give her my love, and hand her the letter. If she doesn't see you, call out 'Mrs. Godfrey' at the top of your voice."
"At—the—top—of my voice! All the cabin will hear me." "That's what you want." "No, I don't! I don't! I'd rather look round."
"Well, be off at any rate. Quick! There's not a second to lose. I've been here three minutes already."
With a face of the most abject despair Buckle crowded his hat over his eyes, and permitted himself to be pushed down stairs. At the door Piper left him to hurry off after his "case of leg;" and Buckle, wondering what the nightmare was like, if it wasn't this, sped for Broadway. Here, as prearranged, he took the first South Ferry stage. It was full, and he had to stand on the step. That he blessed himself over, for the jolt prevented him thinking connectedly. After coming near forgetting himself and going clear down to South Ferry, he jumped off at Morris Street, and was soon on board the Montgomery.
He asked the mate if he knew where the Purser was. The mate, who cherished ideas of discipline from having been in the navy, assumed a defensive attitude, and wanted to know if he looked like a Purser? Mr. Buckle had no distinct idea how a Purser did look, and forbore to reply. The next man he asked told him the Purser would go around just as they got off the Hook. Mr. Buckle had no desire to get off the Hook, but feeling much more like flying off the handle, pursued his queries further, and groped his way down to the cabin.
Finding No. 14, he grazed it tremulously with his fist. A rustle followed from within. Mr. Buckle started back.
"I declare I do believe she's in there!" said Mr. Buckle, speaking very much as if "she" were a ferocious individual of the gorilla family. The door-knob turned. Yes, she was coming out.
The dooropened—the woman appeared. There she stood, projecting her head in an attitude of inquiry, a little woman, plump and riante, her face set in the middle of that make-believe saintly halo of tarleton known as a widow's cap. Seeing that Mr. Buckle was the most self-conscious-looking person in the saloon, she asked him in a soft voice,
"Didyou knock, Sir?"
"Did you wish to see me?"
"Yes—no—well, not particularly. I mean to say—that is—well, I've brought a letter for you. Dr. Piper requested me to."
He emphasized the last remark in an apologetic tone, as if he wouldn't for the world leave any impression that he had come of his own accord. Then, after a little confused fumbling, he dived into his breast-pocket and brought the Vol. XXIII.—No. 134.—N
letter to the surface. Handing it to the widow, he was about to beat a precipitate retreat, when she stopped him with a smiling—
"Oh, pardon me, Sir. Mr.—what may I call your name?"
"Buckle—Festus Buckle. Mr. Festus—Mr. Buckle."
"Ah, Mr. Buckle! A near neighbor to my cousin—just across the way, I believe. Please be seated. I have had the pleasure of meeting your mother. I have also seen you—smoking at your window," she added, arehly.
"Have you, indeed?" said Buckle, perturbedly. "It's an abominable habit!"
"Oh, not at all! I am very fond of a good cigar."
"You are, really?"
"I am, really. Let me introduce myself. I am Mrs. Godfrey—Mrs. Belle—Mrs. Belle Godfrey. Perhaps you have heard my name before?"
"Oh yes! Piper has mentioned you—that is, incidentally you know." v
"Well, it would have been quite an omission not to. But how absurd for me to introduce myself when you knew, of course, whom you were so kind as to bring the letter to! Ha-haha!"
Her laugh was so fresh and silvery, so full of unrestrained bonhommie—to make a French bull by using a man's noun of a woman—that Buckle could not help assisting it with an antistrophe in that deep, gruff, pirate's chorus voice of his own.
"My acquaintance with your mother," continued the widow, "makes me feel quite as if we were old friends. I was therefore going to ask you to sit for a moment, excusing me while I read this letter, and then troubling you further to carry back a few lines if its contents need reply. I see it is quite an important one, judging from its handwriting. Can you easily spare time?"
"Oh, certainly!" returned the always obliging Buckle.
As Mrs. Godfrey sat reading the first bell rang. "Ah!" said she, finishing the letter hurriedly, "I must be quick about my answer. One moment, and I will get my writing-desk out of the state-room."
So Mrs. Godfrey jumped up, in a bewitching, bouncing-ball, little kind of a way, and ran into her state-room. There was a rattling, nervous sound in the state-room, and the moment after a soft voice called,
"Mr. Buckle! may I trouble you a moment?"
"Oh yes, Ma'am—I should say, not at all," replied Buckle, amiably. And emboldened by the extremity of his desire to confer an obligation, ventured within three feet of the state-room threshold.
"This lock plagues mo so! I never can turn the key when I want to!"
"Ah! shall—I—ah—come t'n f"
"You may, if you'll be so kind. My hat-box, where I have the desk, is rather too heavy for me to bring out."
Aghast at his own temerity, Mr. Buckle entered No. 14, and for the next two minutes his piratical whiskers, in a manner unintelligible as some tremendous dream, were brushing against the snowy puffs of the widow's cap as he tugged at the key, and she benevolently helped him by holding down the lid with two small, fat, white hands of about five-mouse power.
"There!" said Mr. Buckle, at length, lifting himself up in such confusion that he bumped his head against the berth, thereby enhancing a vague sense he had felt before of having done something dreadful. "I believe it's unlocked now." Then added, as he felt the thump, "Oh! beg pardon!" being bewildered for an instant into the view that it was somebody else's head, and he owed an apology for it.
"Did it hurt you? I'm so sorry! I have some liniment in my trunk; but, dear me! that's stowed away in the hold, and we can't get it out till we're at sea. Though you're not going. I really wish you were—it would be so nice not to be among strangers! Well, here's the desk. I'll have the note ready in five minutes."
Mrs. Belle Godfrey immediately opened her desk, sat down at the table in the saloon, took out a quire of black-rimmed note, straightened on the thumb-nail of her left hand the nibs of a tiny gold-pen, dipped it in the ink, and leisurely put down her heading, forgetting no circumstance of time or place, with all a woman's sublime faith in the indefinite stretchability of " five minutes." She had got half-way down the first page, when a singular noise arrested simultaneously the attention of both writer and waiter.
"Dear me—dear me!" cried Mrs. Godfrey, springing to her feet with an expression of intense distress, "Beppo has got out!"
"Beppo?" said Mr. Buckle, dreamily, debating whether this highly intelligible expression were some normal development of the unfamiliar animal, woman.
"Yes, Beppo," continued the widow, distractedly—" my pet red squirrel! Oh! where is he? He was in the state-room when we were unlocking the hat-box, fastened by a ribbon round his neck to the wire of the berth-curtain. We must have frightened the little precious so that he bit himself loose. Oh, do find him for me, Mr. Buckle! do catch him, or I shall never, never forgive myself!"
Mrs. Godfrey was trembling with grief, and might at any moment break out in that fresh spot known to Natural Historians who have cultivated her specialty as "a real good cry." Whatever that phenomenon might be, Mr. Buckle's admiration for scientific pursuits had never led him to witness it, and he didn't want to. So he straightway set about hunting the squirrel in good earnest. The arduousness of this gallant enterprise was slightly enhanced by Mrs. Godfrey's entreaty to the other benevolent passengers, who were prepared to join his chase, that they would by all means desist, for they might step on it, they knew, and then she would
give up. Not wishing to have her do that, they obeyed, and Mr. Buckle went forth after Beppo
j alone. A few successive "cher-r-r-rs" from the
j cushion over the stern-post soon revealed that as Master Beppo's locality. But this apocalypse was only the beginning of troubles. Mr. Buckle made a pounce at the little beast; the little beast jumped over Mr. Buckle's head. Then the straightforward race began. Beast down the saloon table—Buckle alongside of it. Ten to one on beast, and no takers. At the end of the
j table beast jumps down, and pops through the open door into the Social Hall. But before Buckle could shut the further doors of the Social Hall beast had gone through, and was making the fastest time on record along the midship guards, past the pantry, kitchen, and engineroom.
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Godfrey, "he'll get down into the machinery, and be ground to death!"
But the power which takes care of squirrels as well as sparrows and men prevented such a lamentable denouement. Beast still kept the straight line over all obstacles—and, to cut a long story short, eventually leaped through the steerage door, down the ladder, and, like Gill in the poem, Buckle came tumbling after.
Oh, the obliging Buckle! What a pickle he was in! He introduced himself to the astonished steerage passengers by shouting out," A dollar to any body who'll catch that squirrel!" then rejmembering that Mrs. Godfrey had forbidden any assistance to his sole efforts, and seeing the imminent danger which might result from a scramble of twenty pair of hob-nailed brogans, he was on the point of amending his offer to "A dollar to any one who won't catch him!" But fortunately for Beppo's prospects of an extreme old age, the steerage conceived the idea that he was a rat, and made room for him. He accordingly got into some one of the two dozen tumbled berths, and was speedily hid from sight. Into which one was now the question to be settled.
This investigation took twenty-five minutes. With a most conscientious sense of duty to his employer refusing all proffers of assistance, he turned down sheets, lifted mattresses, piled up pillows, and shook curtains. At the close of the time mentioned his efforts were rewarded with success, and finding Beppo panting in a corner, he gently clapped a pillow over him, and dexterously brought him prisoner up the steerage ladder.
As he reached the deck he heard, for the first time, the regular thug-thug, thug-thug of machinery, and looking aft, beheld Governor's Island quietly gliding past the quarter!
Nothing but the tenacity of despair at that moment prevented his dropping Beast, pillow and all, to do what they liked with themselves.
For a moment he stood like any sensation heroine—"pale, transfixed, motionless;" then remembering the dictum of a celebrated man— "Do the duty nearest thee"—he resolutely marched back to the cabin and presented the squirrel to Mrs. Godfrey.
"Oh, Heaven bless you, my kind friend!" exclaimed that lady, as she caught up her pet and fastened his ribbon to her berth once more.
"Thank you, Ma'am," replied Buckle; then, in the same breath, "We don't stop any where, I believe, before we get there?"
"Stop? Get wheref"
"To Savannah, Ma'am. I think that's where you're going? Because I find we've started."
"You don't tell me so! Oh, it must be a mistake! Stewardess, isn't there time for this gentleman to get off?"
"He could get off almost any where, Ma'am, but it would be rather wet," replied the stewardess, smiling.
"Oh dear me! And to think / have been the cause of it! What can I do, Mr. Buckle, to show how sorry I am? Oh, can you forgive me, Mr. Buckle?"
"I assure you I don't entertain the slightest gr— Oh, I mean to say certainly."
"Well, Mr. Buckle, since we can't help it, let's reflect that it might be much worse."
"Very true, Ma'am; so it might." For instance, Buckle was thinking, if there had been tiro ladies left on his hands instead of one.
"Will you excuse me a minute, Ma'am?" he added, after a short pause. Mrs. Godfrey bowed gracefully, and Mr. Buckle ascended the companion-way.
The Montgomery was now majestically approaching the Narrows. Of that magnificent gate, through which the gold and glory of our regal town is forever marching to pay tribute or bear away largess for the nations, Mr. Buckle had often thought, in the course of his wide studies, with patriotic enthusiasm. He had even written articles, entitled "The Narrows, and their Importance to New York, succinctly considered," which were refused by our very best journals. Love of the home fireside, and a proper caution against catching cold, had hitherto prevented him from making their closer acquaintance. He now had the opportunity of realizing his boyhood's dream. The Narrows were right before him!
But the Narrows did not seem to be exactly what he wanted. He retired to a sheltered place upon the poop-deck, and sitting down on the sky-lights of the after-hatch, drew from his breast-pocket the well-worn wallet, which, from the merry Christmas when it had happened in his stocking at the age of fourteen, had carried all the funds necessary for the accomplishment of his modest desires. Looking around to be sure that nobody saw him, he opened the wallet, and spreading his handkerehief on his knees to make a lap, shook the contents into it, and began counting, with this result:
"One receipt for waterproof blacking—cut from Scientific American. Key to my secretary. Shoe and Leather Bank—one dollar. Singular coin, brought from ruins of Pompeii—value supposed to be one cent. Two three-cent pieces. Mem. to have my next pantaloons cut looser in the knee. Eight postage stamps. Bank State
of New York—another dollar. Extract from Tennyson's 'Maud:' 'Oh that it were possible!' Member's ticket to Historical Society."
"Four cents and one dime make fourteen, and a quarter makes thirty-nine cents. Two dollars and seventy cents!" exclaimed Buckle, the cold perspiration standing on his forehead. "Two dollars and seventy cents! Oh, Piper, Piper! A cabin passage is fifteen; and I don't believe the steerage is under eight. What shall I do?"
With a countenance of the extremest anguish Mr. Buckle walked to the larboard netting, and beheld gray Fort Hamilton, gold-leafed by the setting September sun. Each window on the palatial heights of New Utrecht was a square of fire. The scene was one naturally fitted to inspire the artist, the poet, or the philosopher— unless he were hard up. Mr. Buckle leaned over the side, with no responsive echo in his soul to Nature's beauty; and for a moment took into consideration the mathematical question whether, if he jumped over, he would be able to swim ashore. But it immediately after occurred to him that he had forgotten to learn how. And then he thought of old Mr. and Mrs. Buckle— what would they think when they found him spending the night out for the first time since they had the pleasure of his acquaintance? Night? Yes, three nights before he could even telegraph them!
Thrown together in a despairing heap he pursued these thoughts until the sun was nearly down and the Montgomery was passing the Dumb Beacon. At this juncture he was aroused by a tap on the shoulder, and rising from his bench beheld a man standing with outstretched hand:
"Your ticket, Sir—the Purser."
"Are you the Purser?"
"Iam, Sir. Do you doubt it?"
"No; only I wish I had seen you a good while ago."
"Well, you see me now. Please hand over your ticket."
"Mr. Purser, on the word of a gentleman, I haven't got any!"
"You should have provided yourself beforehand. But the money will do as well now; though I can't promise you much in the way of a state-room."
"I haven't the money to pay for a stateroom!" said Mr. Buckle, his anguish visibly increasing.
"Then you're out of place, Sir," replied the Purser, mildly; for he thought he saw in Mr. Buckle a poor gentleman in distress. "You will find pretty good quarters in the steerage."
"I haven't money enough for that," gasped Mr. Buckle.
"Then," said the Purser, with asperity, regarding Mr. Buckle in the less lenient light of a Jeremy Diddler, "what the d—1 did you have the impudence to come on board for?"
"Sir! you are speaking to a—" began Mr. Buckle, in a defiant note; then recollecting that $2 70 is an inadequate specie basis for notes of