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that kind, terminated in a mild, soft voice: "I didn't want to come on board, Mr. Purser. I came to oblige a friend—Dr. Piper, of Twentythird Street—and got left. No! didn't get left, I mean. You may know Dr. Piper? He's a rising young physician—"
"Don't try that on me, Sir 1 I'm acquainted with Piper—your kind of Piper that is, that smuggles himself aboard to hook a passage! That's a Piper that don't pay! You'll get Piper when the Captain sees you! You'd better go forward to the steerage-deck, and then perhaps he won't be so hard on you when I bring him up to you."
In the last stages of mental collapse—his hands in his pockets and his piratical beard upon his breast—poor Buckle clambered forward, and sat down over the forecastle. He didn't want a row with the Purser right in hearing of the cabin.
Ten minutes of suicidal wretchedness elapsed, and Buckle heard the Purser's voice saying, close behind him,
"There! that's the fellow!"
"Hello you, Sir!" said the Captain—his fresh, jolly face knit into the highest expression of ferocity which such a fresh, jolly face could wear—" are you the man that's trying to steal a passage to Savannah?"
"No, Sir! I haven't been trying to do any such thing!" exclaimed Buckle, in spite of his native mildness now quite brought to bay. "The passage has been forced upon me, Sir! So far am I from wishing to steal it, that if I were ashore I'd pay twice its value to have it taken off my hands. I'm a gentleman, Sir! And it strikes me that if the Purser had habitually associated with that class, he'd have recognized it in me when I told him I'd got left— hadn't got left, I would say!"
The Purser patted the deck with his foot and looked at the Captain—the Captain likewise at the Purser. Then they retired together to the extreme bow and consulted in whisper; while, like an ancient Christian martyr, Mr. Buckle looked to Heaven and awaited their sentence, leaning against the foremast.
"I don't know exactly what to make of the man," said the Captain.
"It's my opinion, "said the Purser, influenced, unconscious to his own sense of justice, by the recent insinuations of Mr. Buckle, "that he's a swindler."
"But there's something about him which doesn't look just like a swindler."
"Swindlers generally wear those savage-looking whiskers."
"Yes, but then they don't put on spectacles. Whiskers and spectacles belong to different lines of the business. The whiskers are always rich English noblemen going South on a shooting tour, and having their funds sent by mistake to Savannah. The spectacles are young clergymen on their way to Augustine, with something bad the matter with their throats, under a misunderstanding that such cases are always passed free.
They always finish up the effect with a white choker. You see he mixes the whiskers and the spectacles. A swindler would pay more regard to probabilities, seems to me."
"Very well. We can let him stay in the steerage, if you say so. But suppose we try him with a few questions first?"
"All right. Go ahead!"
They returned, and Mr. Purser commenced the examination:
"I suppose you haven't any objection to mention your name?"
"No, Sir, I have not—especially where it's known. Mr. Festus Buckle."
"Buckle's not a bad name," said the Captain, encouragingly. "Drive on, Mr. Purser."
"And your residence?" "No — Twenty-third Street, New York."
"Very nice street, too," again interposed the Captain, parenthetically.
"You say you came down for a friend—Dr. Piper—and got caught. What did Dr. Piper send you to do?"
"To bring a letter of importance, which came at the last moment, to a person on board."
"And is that person on board still?"
"She is a passenger in No. 14."
"No. 14, No. 14!" said the Captain, hastily. "Who is that? Look over your list, Mr. Purser."
Mr. Purser obeyed, and on inspection replied, "Mrs. Belle Godfrey."
"Mrs. Belle Godfrey! Bless my soul!" exclaimed the Captain. "Why, I know her as well as I do myself! She's gone South with me every winter since I've been in the line! Why, Mr. Buckle, I beg your pardon! Why didn't you tell us of this before? I'll go and see her directly!"
"Oh don't! really don't! Don't say any thing to her about it! I shall die of mortification; you see, I'm not at all acquainted with her, and only had any thing to do with her to oblige Piper."
'' There!" said the Purser. '' You hear that f He don't know her—only to oblige Piper—and all that sort of thing. I believe he is a swindler, after all! Well, Mr. Buckle, we shall soon find out; and if you are, we'll have to borrow your watch to pay for the passage you're borrowed."
The two officers then left Mr. Buckle to keep a look-out for Sandy Hook Light, while they repaired to the cabin.
In five minutes they returned, and Mrs. Belle Godfrey had persisted in clambering up to the forecastle deck with them, laughing at the idea that any place where her lively little feet could carry her was not good enough for ladies.
"Oh you poor, dear man!" she cried, taking the stupefied Buckle naively by the hand. "I'm so glad to find you! I was afraid you'd jumped overboard—I really was! Why in the world didn't you come and tell me what a pickle you were in? Of course nobody could expect you to go on an errand to the pier all prepared to make a voyage to Savannah! Just think if I'd got on to one of the Collins steamers by mistake instead of this. Why, / shouldn't be ready to make the trip to England, should I? It's all my fault from beginning to end, and I only beg yon to forget all about it. Let's take a walk on deck till tea, and then we'll go down into the cabin again. Nobody else besides us knows any thing about this."
This frank statement of the bearings of such a terribly practical matter was something utterly unlooked-for by Mr. Buckle, in a woman. He had no idea that they ever thought of such matterof-fact things as money; he supposed, if he ever reflected about them at all, that somebody always paid their passage for them. That they ate like himself he had occasionally noticed—that they also slept, was a truth which he held upon tradition, though in a rose-colored, angelic sort of a way which never mussed their hair; but these points of resemblance to male beings he had considered anomalies, and as to their thinking or talking like men in any respect, why, impossible! So that whenever circumstances over which he had no control had fatally forced him to address them, it was only upon the most trivial subjects, and in a style as nearly like Maud as prose could be. This I suggest as one of the probable reasons why he avoided them, because he did not succeed in that absolutely necessary kind of talk.
So now, when this cool wave of the widow's common sense dashed over his fevered brow, by mere astonishment it woke him from his previous bad dream, and he answered:
"I'm really very much obliged to you, Ma'am. Will you also have the kindness, if you can do it conscientiously, to certify to these gentlemen that I am Mr. Festus Buckle of No. — Twentythird Street, of competent and respectable family, Attorney and Counselor, No. —Wall Street, and that all these facts, in form and substance, as averred, are true of your own knowledge and belief, so help you—"
"Oho!" burst in the Captain. "No need of an affidavit, I can assure you, Mr. Buckle."
"And, furthermore, that I am to be relied on as paying for my passage upon my earliest communication with my friends."
"Never mind that, Mr. Buckle," interposed the Purser. "It's settled. Mrs. Godfrey wouldn't permit us to return till we had assigned the debt to her. She's your creditor now.""You—don't—mean—to say—!" "That I have paid your passage?" laughed the little widow. "Is it such a very frightful liberty to take? Forgive mo then, and, perhaps, 111 never do it again, unless Bcppo gets loose, ha-ha-ha-ha!"
"Then, allowme to remark, "said Mr. Buckle, in the fullness of his magnanimity lavishing upon her the attitude, expression, and peroration which he had been years keeping for that jury he expected to have some day—"allow mo to remark that I consider it as doing honor to the noblest sentiments of the human heart! Also, that I will return you the exact sum for value received at the earliest possible opportunity."
"I'll stand surety for him!" said the Captain. '' He sha'n't go off the ship till we get to Savannah. If he tumbles over we'll catch him. Fare fifteen dollars and found, you know! See large bills."
"And to make assurance doubly sure, as well as to get forgiveness for my rough usage (Pursers must be Pursers, you know, Mr. Buckle!), I'll confine him in the upper berth in my room every night till we get to Savannah. It's the only vacant one in the ship; so I'm a pretty good jailor!"
"And I'll keep my eye on him!" said the widow, bewitchingly.
"Now, that's the crudest punishment of all!" said the Captain. What with so much bantering, and the fact that the widow had just taken his arm to lead him away for the proposed promenade, Mr. Buckle felt himself blushing to a degree uuprecedented since a bad dream he had years ago, when he thought he was at a tea-party where the company was all ladies but himself.
When the tea-gong did sound the twin lights of Neversink Highlands were close behind the stern.
''There's tea,"chirped Mrs. Godfrey. "Now, Mr. Buckle, like a good child say 'My Native Land, good-night!' and let's go down and find out whether we're hungry. The next time you see your native land you'll have to say ' Howdy' —that's the Savanueso for 'how d'ye do?' If I'm sick, will you take care of me?"
"I'll try to," replied Buckle. Give him credit for the heroism of the answer! If there were no one else to do it on board, he would have taken care of the steam-engine, with similar feelings of graceful adaptedness, and about the same amount of knowledge of the subject. "Do you feel sick nowf" he continued, apprehensively.
"No, not yet. But I shall be. I always am just about the time those lights get out of sight. I've made three voyages to Savannah and back. We're beginning to roll a little now. Are you ever sick, Mr. Buckle?"
"Fruit sometimes disagrees with me, Ma'am. But I don't think I was ever quite so far out at sea before; and I'm not sure about any thing else."
"Well, don't let's think about it. I hope you won't be. Let's go down to supper now, and banish disagreeable subjects."
People never think of banishing disagreeable subjects, you may havo noticed, till those subjects are very pressing in their calls on attention. So it will not surprise you and me as much as it did Mr. Buckle, to know that Mrs. Godfrey had scarcely sent out for a piece of hot steak, stirred the sugar in her coffee, and with a forced smile accepted the butter from Mr. Buckle who sat next her, when, as in the case of Miss Muffett, who sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey,
There camo n great wave
"Ah!" said an unfeeling passenger, who set up (I need not say without any substantial foundation) to be the wit of the vessel, "There is a lady who has no fondness for rolls with her coffee."
Mr. Buckle glared on the insensate wretch through his spectacles.
"I beg your pardon," said the passenger, instantly, "I did not know the lady was your wife, Sir."
"Oh!" groaned Mr. Buckle, once more blushing to his boots, and rose precipitately, under pretense of following Mrs. Godfrey—a duty to which his attention was thus providentially assisted. Simultaneously with him rose another roll, also three more lady passengers, though not from unselfish sympathy for Mrs. Godfrey.
Mr. Buckle found the little widow leaning against her berth, the roses fled from her cheeks and replaced by the pallor of deep, uunamable distress. She had not felt strength enough even to shut the state-room door, which was the only reason why Mr. Buckle saw her.
"Don't you think you'd like an omelet, or a plate of hot buttered toast?" asked Mr. Buckle, considerately.
"Oh, ugh! Go away!" exclaimed the widow, in a ghostly tone; and for reasons best known to herself, found strength to close the door. Mr. Buckle stood aghast. Was that the woman who had abashed him with her smiles, so short a time before? He was getting on fast in his Natural History of the animal's habits!
"Look-a-here!" said the Captain, rising and bending to his ear, "You just leave her alone for a few minutes, and then come back and carry her on deck. That's the best thing for her."
"Do you always have to carry them?" asked Mr. Buckle, in a confidential but excited tone.
The Captain was compelled to smile audibly. "When they can't walk," said he. "I hope that isn't this lady's case; but if it is, nerve yourself up to it, you might have a worse load! At any rate, take her on deck in five minutes, and keep her there as long as you can."
Mr. Buckle obeyed, and occupied the five minutes with the consideration what he should do with her when he got her there, also in the hasty achievement of his supper. At the expiration of the time, he knocked at the door of 14, and was answered by a gentle voice, "Come in."
"The Captain says I must take you on deck, Mrs. Godfrey."
"The Captain says! Well, I don't see that you are compelled to mind him, if you don't wish to," spoke the voice again, in a slight tone of pique, like a petulant sick child.
Mr. Buckle had not thought of his words as being liable to this construction, and was much taken aback.
"Oh no!" said he, putting his shoulders as well as his head inside No. 14, "I didn't mean that! I beg you won't think so. I only intended to say—well, that I'd like to do it myself. That is, of course, if you haven't the least objection."
"Well, Sir, if you really would like to, I'll oblige you."
"But don't put yourself out, you know."
"Oh, not in the least! I'll be ready in a moment, Mr. Buckle."
After a little bustling about in the state-room, Mrs. Belle Godfrey appeared, looking a little paler, to be sure, than when they started, and exhibiting some slight tremulousness in her gait —but still, a very pretty statue of Plumpness in marble.
This time, to his great surprise, not to speak of hers, Mr. Buckle offered the lady an arm of his own accord. The floor was by this time churning up and down with that charming regularity and ease which will some day, I hope, suggest to one of our brilliant inventors the idea of filling a steamer's hold with milk, and trusting to Providence to have it arrive at the Savannah market good fresh butter. This pleasant little motion made it necessary for Mrs. Godfrey to lean closer to Mr. Buckle's manly side than is regular in the less staggering walks of good society, and gave him an opportunity to discover other facts in the Natural History of the animal.
"How much softer and rounder their arms arethan ours!" thought Mr. Buckle. "Ireally am not sure but the sensation is pleasant."
When they reached the top of the companionway, Mr. Buckle helped Mrs. Godfrey to a scat on the leeward quarter of the stern-deck, where the pilot-house sheltered her from a rather stiff nor'wester which was blowing.
"Please to arrange this rigolette, it's rather too much over my eyes; and my arms are piuned fast under my shawl," said Mrs. Godfrey, as she settled herself upon the bench.
Without any remarks upon the singularity of this inextricable entanglement, which had happened during the short time since she abandoned his arm, Mr. Buckle did with his arms the work of hers, and arranged the troublesome piece of raiment in such a skillful and experienced manner as to suggest that he must have acquired it about the same time that he was learning to fly. He then procured a stool for himself and occupied it, about four feet from the widow.
"Now, thanks to your kindness, I am very comfortable," said the widow, in a sweet, rich voice, which would have meant a hundred compliments to you or me more than it did to Buckle.
"Oh, don't mention it! It is only my disposition. I like to oblige," said Mr. Buckle, trusting his conversational pinions the first time for a flight in that dangerous region, his own personality.
"I think your tendency is merciful. I have reason to know it particularly."
"Indeed? Piper, I suppose? He is always saying something good about me." From the mild, half-reproachful tone of Mr. Buckle, one would have thought he meant something bad. And he did, for Piper never would stop praising him to ladies, who straightway wanted to know him—which was disagreeable in Piper, very.
"No. From actual observation. For instance, that otter of hot buttered toast when I seemed to be riding head downward in a balloon. It was well meant, though I was provoked at the time—excuse me. And it—it—well, it resulted beneficially."
"Did it indeed? I'm charmed. Shall I go after some now?"
"Ha-ha-ha! I am all the time right on the point of saying, 'You dear creature!' If I do, sometime, call it sea-sickness. I don't mean the toast, you see. I mean the mention of it. I feel much better for it. These stars are beautiful. I wish we had a moon."
"So do I!" responded Buckle, enthusiastically, dimly seeing an opening for the necessary kind of woman talk.
There was a pause for some three minutes, during which Mrs. Godfrey patted the round of the stool with her little gaiter. But ah! she did not know what gigantic struggles were going on in the bosom at her elbow! Or did she know and enjoy them? Perhaps. Women, like babies, know a great deal more than we men are apt to give them credit for.
The fact is that Buckle was thinking over his little repertoire of lunar and astral poems—the magazine whence he extracted his final weapons of defensive warfare when brought to bay by a woman, and Maud had failed. He was wondering which he would quote first—also whether he might not be obliged to go on through a whole poem if he began a stanza—also whether it were best to quote at all.
Out of this delirious state of uncertainty he plunged with all a modest man's desperate recklessness, by forcing himself to hear the sound of his own voice. This would commit him to something—reassure him also.
"Speaking of the moon, don't you like Longfellow, Mrs. Godfrey?"
"Yes, indeed—I love him."
"That's a sweet thing of his which begins u'The night has come, but not too soon,'
(" Wouldn't this be as good a place as any to stop at? Oh no! I haven't got the moon in yet.) "'And sinking silently,
All silently, the little moon—'
("Now I can hold up! No, I can't; there isn't any sense in it: the moon's got to do something.)
"'Drops down behind the sky.'
("There! she's done it.")
"Yes, I remember it very well. Do you know the rest of the lines?"
Buckle groaned in spirit; then, with bare two second intervals for breath, repeated them continuously from beginning to end.
"Iam very, very much obliged to you. Don't you know something else?"
Another internal groan, followed by a recitation of
"The day is done, and the darkness," etc. "I am very, very much obliged to you. Don't you know something else?" Groan internal No. 3, accompanied by a grow
ing sense of resistless motion down a steep acclivity without certainty of stopping short of the bottom. This preceded the recitation of uOh that it were possible!"
"I am very, very much obliged to you. Don't you know something else?"
If Mr. Buckle had been compelled to recite his little verses with a similar pleasant alternative to that on which Scheharazade complied with the request, "My dear sister, if you are not asleep, relate to me one of those little narratives which you relate so well," he could not have been more thunder-struck than he was by this fourth invitation from Mrs. Godfrey. He had heard of "quizzing"—but heretofore no lady of all his slight acquaintance had ever had the hardihood to try it on him. In general ladies liked him, but with a certain feeling of unattainability—as you or I would like a coach-and-four. They did not know the solemn reality of Buckle well enough to play with it. "But," thought Buckle, remembering that he had heard of quizzing, "I wonder whether this isn't the thing?"
The expression of his face just then—seen in the pale starlight which he had been so desperately be-rhyming—was of a kind which this slender pen forbids me to portray, save by saying that it was indescribable, and that after holding in before it as long as there was any probable chance of salvation for her basque buttons, Mrs. Godfrey gave way to an uncontrollable burst of "cachiunatory silver.',' Silver is proper novelesque for ladies' laugh, I believe.
"Don't—you—ha-ha-ha-ha—know any thing else?" said Mrs. Godfrey.
Mr. Buckle was silent. Also hurt. Also offended. It was rude. It was the rudest thing he ever saw. It was inexplicable. (It might not have been had he been aware how that Piper had told Mrs. Godfrey that his friend knew all the poetry in the English language, and kept it to talk to ladies.)
Mrs. Godfrey reined herself up—kept Buckle company in blushing (though rather too late, as he very properly thought)—put her hand upon his arm with a timid, gliding motion, as she would propitiate her squirrel—and said,
"I do beg your pardon—I do, sincerely. I have given you a beautiful opinion of my goodbreeding."
"Oh, not at all — not at all!" answered Buckle, in his flurry, more anxious to gratify his pacable tendency than to express himself complimentarily.
"I am perfectly ashamed of myself," the little widow continued, in a soft and penitent voice; "but the fact is that we poor women hear so much poetry from gentlemen that we begin to believe that is the original channel of conversation between the two. Now look at me! On the honor of a lady, who, to be frank, has lived twenty-six years, I never talked poetry since I was born. I talk prose. I always have talked prose. I always expect to. I understand it."
"Bless my soul!" thought Buckle; "this creature has told me her age! I had heard they never do! And she is twenty-six! I nevei knew any of them were over twenty-five at the limit, but my mother."
Mrs. Godfrey went on:
"When I asked you if you didn't know any thing else, I meant, to be frank with you again, a double-entendre."
What a peculiarly delicious effect" frank with you" has, coming from a woman's lips! Buckle, beneath it, became like molasses candy before a school-girl.
Still further continued Mrs. Godfrey:
"I meant, don't you know any thing about travels, or history, or geology, or even metaphysies? Polities too, which I dote on—and art, and all sorts of general incidents? I know you do! that's the reason I ask you. You read immeusely—you know almost every thing that's worth knowing—you are a very, very learned man! And—will you believe it?—I'm really not afraid of that kind of people at all! We poor little women have to spend so much time in toilets and insipid calls—for that's the kind of life you bad, monopolizing men force us to adopt—that we have no leisure, no constitution left for any books that will not read themselves without an effort on our part. Suppose you had danced in every set from ten o'clock in the evening till two the next morning; then slept till eleven; then cut up your day till five into little ten-minute fribbles of talk with people who are so stupid that you'd no sooner think of calling on them than on the lay-figures at Dibblee's, if you weren't compelled to do it or lose your entree; then gone home to dress for dinner and eat dinner; and, finally, finished up Tuesday night exactly like Monday, would you find strength or time to readt"
Buckle shook his head solemnly. It was the only answer he could give in his amazement at hearing the creature talk after such a fashion.
"No, of course you wouldn't! So that poetry is the extremest thing that we poor little women can attempt. As a matter of course, we know that pretty well—as any body would who gave all the remnants of her mind to it. Now I know you're an excellent Italian scholar, so you understand 'Donna e mobile;' and you're a man, so you hold it for Gospel truth besides. We are changeable; at least to the extent of not loving to do the same thing in the same way with the same people and the same aggravations, all the day long and all the year round, like a horse in a mill. So would you be!"
Mr. Buckle rubbed his forehead. It was unprecedented. It was an earthquake of astonishment. Wasn't she a man who wrote articles for some art newspaper in woman's clothes?
At length he burst forth with childlike fervor,
"Mrs. Godfrey, you are the most sensible woman I ever saw!"
"Not a bit of it!" laughed the widow, tossing off the compliment with a witching little shake of her rigolette. '' I know fifty women as sensible. Yes, a hundred. And I believe that if all of them who know you were as little afraid
of you as / am (more's the pity for my politeness, perhaps you'll say), ninety-nine out of a hundred would tell you the same sensible truth that I do."
"But suppose I talked what I read—metaphysics or politics, you know, or something like that, which they call dry—wouldn't a lady laugh at me?"
'' That's just the point! What need is there of talking just what a man reads? Why can't he talk about what he reads with his own thoughts, if he has any, added? When you're interested in a new discovery in geography, and go across the way to converse about it with Cousin Piper, you don't run on in this way for instance: 'It will be remembered by all our readers that on the twenty-seventh day of December, in the year eighteen hundred and fiftyseven, the author, accompanied by sixty-nine natives, each carrying a wooden spear and six boxes of matches, set out for the mountain of Bullygooroogooroo, which he ascertained to be exactly five hundred thousand feet above the level of the sea, well wooded with tapioca, damson plums, and pond lilies, and precisely eight hundred and six miles twenty-five rods in circumference.' That isn't the style, is it? You don't commit a book to memory, do you? You read it, then cast it over in your mind, and talk that new cast. Unless you are talking to us women —in which case you give us the real thing verbatim, with the rhymes all right, and not a foot dislocated or sprained in the whole of it! Thank you kindly, but we have the same thing on our centre tables in better binding—blue and gold. I was going to say, 'instead of at least /«i//-calf,' but I won't, for the joke's not new nor delicate cither."
Mr. Buckle laughed heartily at the widow's report of that verbatim talk on travels. This was a point gained. He could not have laughed unless the terrible creature had recently become a shade less terrible. So much more did he feel at ease that, for answer to her little oration, he indulged in one of his own. He had written and committed it to memory years before, when he was not quite sure but he should devote himself to the profession of a highly successful popular lecturer making ten thousand per annum.
It began like this: "Yes, indeed! The mind of a man is not a sponge but a crucible. He who merely draws knowledge in and pours it out unaltered does his neighbor a wrong—cheats him of the additional value which he should have impressed upon it by reflection. The true and honest intellect receives facts, melts them in the proportions of its favorite alloy, then crystallizes them into new systems and theories, runs them into ingots in the mould of its own peculiar thinking, or stamps them for rare, currentable coius in the royal minting-mill of Genius. Thus, when they come forth again to pass for value in the uses of the world, they are gems that attract men to Truth by a new brilliancy, golden bars purified for the purpose of some other mind's remanufacture, or coius whose novel form and