Keeping up with Dan'l Webster/Part 2
KEEPING UP WITH DAN'L WEBSTER
IN TWO PARTS: PART II
WITH PICTURES BY F. C. YOHN
THE physical as well as the mental and moral boundaries of the community of Griggsby, in northern Vermont, were fitted to inspire eloquence. The town lay between two mountain-ranges, crowned with primeval forests, and near the shore of a beautiful lake, with the Canadian line a little north of it. There lived among us a lawyer from the State of Maine who had sung of its "forests, lakes, and rivers, and the magnificent sinuosities of its coast," but he had been silenced by Colonel Buckstone's "towering, cloud-capped, evergreen galleries above the silver floor of our noble lake."
There were also our mental and moral boundaries: on the east, hard times and history; on the west, the horse-traders of York State, mingled with wild animals and backed by pathless woods; on the north, the Declaration of Independence; on the south, the Democratic Party; while above was a very difficult heaven, and beneath a wide-open and most accessible inferno.
Our environment had some element that appealed to every imagination, and was emphasized by the solemn responsibilities of the time. Our ancient enemies in the South had begun to threaten the land under the leadership of Tilden and Hendricks. The oratory of New England was sorely taxed.
My own imagination had been touched by all these influences, and by another—the dear and beautiful girl of whom I have said not half enough. There was no flower in all the gardens of Griggsby so graceful in form or so beautiful in color as Florence Dunbar. I felt a touch of the tender passion every time I looked into her eyes. No, she was not of the "sweet Alice" type; she was too full-blooded and strong-armed for that. She never entered a churchyard without being able to walk out of it, and if she had cared for "Ben Bolt," she would have got him, to his lifelong happiness and advantage. She was a modest, fun-loving, red-cheeked, sweet-souled girl, with golden hair and hazel eyes, and seventeen when I saw her first. Candor compels me to admit that she had a few freckles, but I remember that I liked the look of them; they had come of the wind and the sunlight.
The father of my chum Henry and his sister Florence had gone West from Griggsby with his bride in the early fifties, and had made a fortune. Florence and her brother had grown up on a ranch, and had been sent back to enjoy the educational disadvantages of Griggsby. They could ride like Indians, and their shooting had filled us with astonishment. With a revolver, Florence could hit a half-dollar thrown in the air before it touched the ground.
Her brother Henry, who was two years older and as many inches taller than I, had begun to emulate the leading lights of the neighborhood. He and Ralph Buckstone, the handsome and gifted son of the great colonel, were friends and boon companions.
The morning of our return from the horse-races at Higglebury, having been chastened by misfortune like the great Dan'l Webster Smead, and being in dire need of money, we went straight to Florence's room and confessed our ruin and the folly that had led to it. She was kind, but, in addition to our conviction of guilt, she awoke in us a sense of idiocy which was hard to bear. I secretly resolved to keep my brain unspotted by suspicion thereafter, whatever might happen to my soul. We gladly promised to be good. We would have given our notes for a million acts of virtue. Henry agreed to be as saintlike as he possibly could, which, as he observed to me later, gave him another chance. Then Florence lent us the amount of our losses.
"I am afraid that Mr. Hall may send you both home," said she, and that indeed was our great fear.
I have tried to make it clear that there were some good men in Griggsby, and I must not fail to tell of one of them, the Reverend Appleton Hall, head of the academy, a plain, simple, modest citizen. What a splendid figure of a man he was—big, strong-armed, hard-handed, with black eyes and the head of a demigod, with wavy masses of hair and a beard as yellow as fine gold! What a tower of rugged strength and fatherly kindness! We loved the touch of his hand and the sound of his voice—when we did not fear them. As he stood with his feet in the soil of his garden and his collar loose at his throat, he reminded me of that man of old, of whom it was written, "A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee."
For the sake of the boys he fought against the powers of darkness. He was handicapped; he could not denounce the great men of the village by name as pestilential enemies of decency and order. Perhaps that should have been done by the ministers of religion. Old "App" Hall, as some called him, warned and watched us, but with his rugged figure, his old-fashioned clothes, and his farmer dialect, he had not the appeal—the dazzling appeal of Websterians like Griggs and Colonel Buckstone. However, there was something fatherly about him that made it easy to confess both our truancy and our money loss. Of course he forgave us, but with stern advice, which did not get under our jackets, as had that of Dan'l Webster Smead. He said we were fools, but we knew that, and would have admitted more.
I began to attend to business as a student, but Henry went on with his sky-larking. Dan'l Webster Smead went to work buying produce for the Boston market, and spent every evening at home. He got his wife a hired girl, and the poor woman soon had a happier look in her face. The children wore new clothes, and a touch of the buoyant spirit of the racer Montravers, now cast out of his life, soon entered the home of Smead.
Ralph Buckstone and I had become the special favorites of Appleton Hall. For some time Florence had managed to keep me out of mischief. Naturally my love for her had led to a respect for decency and honor, which meant that I must do the work set before me and keep on fairly good terms with myself. It was Florence, I am sure, who had had a like effect upon Ralph. We took no part, thereafter, in the ruder pranks of the boys, and did fairly good work in school.
One evening Ralph came to my room and told me that he had had a quarrel with his father. It seemed that a clever remark of Florence about the last spree of the colonel had reached his ears. In the presence of his son the colonel, boiling with indignation, had made some slighting reference to her and all other women. High words and worse had followed, in the course of which the sacred, gold-headed cane of the colonel, presented to him by the Republican electors of the town, had been splintered in a violent gesture. The cane had been used not for assault, but for emphasis. Ralph had been blamed by the colonel for the loss of his temper and the loss of his cane. The great man might have forgiven the former, but the latter went beyond his power of endurance. So he turned the boy out of doors, and Ralph came directly to my room, where his father found and forgave him with great dignity in the morning, and bade him return to his home.
There was some drunken brawling in the streets by night, and now and then a memorable battle, followed by prosecution and repairs. About then Appleton Hall gave a lecture on the morals of Griggsby which was the talk of the school and the village for a month or more. People began to wake up.
Our preachers came back from Samaria and Egypt, "from Afric's sunny fountains" and "India's coral strands," and began to think about Griggsby. At last they seemed to recognize that foreign heathen were not so pressingly in need as the home-made article—that they were not to be compared with the latter in finish and general efficiency. They turned their cannons of oratory, and altered the range of their fire. A public meeting was held in the town hall, and the curses of the village were discussed and berated. A chapter of the Cadets of Temperance was organized, and Ralph and I joined. We carried torch-lights in a small procession led by Samantha Simpson, and cheered and shouted and had a grand time; but we failed to overawe the enemy. Nothing resulted that could be discerned by the naked contemporary eye save the contempt and ridicule that were heaped upon us. If one wanted to create a laugh in a public speech, he would playfully refer to the Cadets of Temperance. Good people were wont to say, "What 's the use?"
The people are a patient ox. A big woolen mill polluted the stream that flowed through the village. It was our main water-supply. The people permitted the pollution until the water was not fit to use. Then they went back to the wells and springs again. There was some futile talk about the shame of it. Letters of complaint were printed in "The Little Corporal," our local paper. By and by a meeting was held and a committee appointed to see what could be done. They made various suggestions, most of which were ridiculed, and the committee succeeded only in getting themselves disliked.
As a matter of fact, the leading merchants and lawyers, and even the churches, derived a profit from the presence of the woolen mill. Then, too, about every man in Griggsby had his own imperishable views, and loved to ridicule those of his neighbor. Indolence, jealousy, and conceit were piled in the path of reform, which was already filled with obstacles.
Now, in those evil days a thing happened which I wish it were not my duty to recall. Unpleasant gossip had gone about concerning Florence and me. As to its source I had my suspicions. Colonel Buckstone had seen us sitting together by the roadside adjoining the meadow where we had gathered flowers. To Colonel Buckstone that was a serious matter, especially in view of the fact that Florence had expressed strong disapproval of his general conduct. Men like him are ever trying to hold the world in leash, and to pull it down to their own level.
Griggsby was like most country towns. The county fair had passed, the trotters had retired. Colonel Buckstone, with unusual sobriety, had not fallen from grace for some time, and the material for conversation had run low; somebody had to be sacrificed. The inventive talent of the village got busy. It needed a gay Lothario, and I was nominated and elected without opposition. I was voted at heart a base and subtle villain.
Florence naturally turned to me for advice, and I felt the situation bitterly.
"You poor thing!" said she, with a tearful laugh; "I 'm sorry for you, but don't worry. Your honor shall be vindicated."
"I 'll fight the colonel," I said.
"You shall not fight him," said she. "Go and fight somebody else. I want to save him for myself."
That is the way she took it, bravely, calmly. She did not ask any one to be sorry for her. A less courageous spirit would have given up and gone home in disgust; but she stood her ground, with the fatherly encouragement of Appleton Hall, and stored the lightning that, by and by, was to fall from her hand upon the appalled citizens of Griggsby.
I was at work in my room one evening when Dan'l Webster Smead came to my door.
"Florence Dunbar and a friend have called to see you," he said. "They are waiting in the parlor."
I went down to meet them at once. Florence and Miss Elizabeth Collins, Colonel Buckstone's stenographer, rose to greet me. Then came their story.
Before going home that evening, the colonel had dictated a letter to Roswell Dunbar, Florence's father, calculated to fill his mind with alarm, and cause him to recall her from Griggsby. Miss Collins had left the office with her employer, who had put the letter with others in his pocket, intending to mail them in the morning, the post-office having closed for the night. She said that the colonel had been imbibing freely that day, and had gone to the Palace Hotel for supper.
"I have decided to start for home in the morning," said Florence. "I must reach there before the letter does, and probably I shall not come back."
"Don't go," I said. "I 'll attend to the letter."
"How?" she asked.
"I don't know, but in some way," I said with the strong confidence of youth in its own capacity. "I only ask that you give me permission to consult my friend Dan'l Webster Smead in strict confidence. It won't do to let the colonel drive us out of town. He is the one to be driven out."
Florence agreed with me, and I walked home with the girls, and left them in a better frame of mind.
I asked Smead to come to my room with me, and laid the facts before him. He sat smoking thoughtfully, and said not a word until I had finished. Then he said in that slow drawl of his:
"I take it that you are willing to suffer, if need be, for the sake of decency and fair women."
"I am," was my response.
"Then again I ask you to follow me," he said, rising, and together we left his house as the old town clock was striking ten.
"I shall fight the colonel if necessary," I suggested.
"Hush, boy! Let us first try eloquence," said he. "It is only the vulgar mind that resorts to muscle when the tongue may do as well. Eloquence, my dear boy, is the jimmy of Griggsby; it is also the gold brick, the giant-powder, the nitroglycerin of Griggsby. Let us see what it can accomplish."
We went on in silence, and soon heard sounds of revelry in a bar-room. We stopped and listened a moment, after which he led me farther up the street.
"The colonel began to slide from his eminence to-day," my companion whispered. "I doubt not he is still sliding, and what I hope to hear are sundry deep-voiced remarks about the 'witchin' hour of night.’"
We came soon to the lighted windows of the Palace Hotel, through which a loud and mirthful joy floated into the still night. We listened again. I could hear the rumbling words, "When church-yards yawn, and graves give up their dead."
"We 're lucky," Smead whispered. "You sit down in the office; I 'll go in to the bar. Come on."
We entered. About the stove in the office were the usual crowd of horsemen with meerschaum pipes. I took the only vacant chair by the side of a maudlin old soldier, who did chores for his keep, and who addressed me with incoherent mumbles. The air was heavy with tobacco smoke and the odor of rum and molasses. "Rat" Emerson, a driver, was telling how he had worn out a faster horse than his in the scoring, and won a race. Through the open door of the bar-room I could see Colonel Buckstone standing in a group of friends, with his glass raised. He was saying in a deep, stentorian voice:
"’T is now the witchin' hour of night,
When churchyards yawn and graves give up their dead."
Then loud laughter, and another took the floor with:
Ye call me chief, and ye do well to call him chief who for twelve long years has met upon the arena every shape of man or beast the broad empire of Rome could furnish, and who never yet lowered his arm."
This tournament of orators was interrupted by Smead, who was suddenly and almost simultaneously embraced by every member of the group, while the barkeeper was preparing to minister to his needs.
"Again I am in the grasp of the octopus of intemperance," I heard Smead say, whereat the others roared with laughter.
Soon I saw him retire to one side of the room with the colonel. An hour passed; Dan'l W. came out of the bar-room door and left the Palace Hotel. I joined him on the street.
"My plan is that you take this, an' go home an' go to bed, an' sleep the 'sleep of the just,’" he whispered as he handed me the letter.
I was amazed, and so delighted that my eyes began to dampen.
"You can commit a robbery either with eloquence or a six-shooter," he went on. "The former method is perhaps less honorable, but it is safer and more gentlemanly. I asked the colonel for the letter, and he gave it to me. He would have given me anything. It was a crime to take it, but perhaps it would have been a greater crime to leave it. The colonel will probably never think of it again."
We walked on in a silence that was soon broken by Smead: "I 'm glad to get out of that nest of tragedians and statesmen. You must never tell what you know about this—not a word, not a syllable."
Early in the morning Mr. Smead went to the dormitory with a note that I had written to Florence. When I met her she took my hand, but did not speak. I knew why. For a long minute we walked together in silence; then she said rather brokenly:
"Havelock, you are the most wonderful boy that I ever met, and I owe you everything. What can I do for you?"
The words were a new blow to me, for, as the reader will understand, they put her farther away.
"Please take that back," I said almost woefully. "Please do not think that you owe me anything. I don't want you to feel that way. I did n't—"
I was about to say that it was not I who had obtained the letter from the colonel; but I halted, suddenly, remembering my promise.
"You strange, modest boy!" she exclaimed. "Don't you want me to be grateful to you?"
"Florence," I said with all the seriousness of my nature, "I 'd almost rather you 'd hate me."
I have never forgotten the look in her face then, and how quickly it changed color. A sorry fool I was not to have understood it; but, then, what did I know about women? She, too, knew as little of the heart of a Puritan lad who had grown up in the edge of a wilderness.
Dan'l Webster Smead was right. Colonel Buckstone never thought of the letter again. He went to New York next day, and Ralph went with him. Weeks passed, and they were still absent Then the truth came to me and to Florence in a letter from Ralph which she asked me to read. It ran as follows:
Dearest Florence:—I 'm having a hard time with the governor. I want you to know that I do not believe a word of all I 've heard about you, and that I shall never care about anybody else. I 'm going to England with my aunt. Dad suddenly decided that for me here in New York, and we 've had an awful row. It seems as if 1 ought to be there with you, but I can't. Luck is against me. I should have to walk to Griggsby and go to work for my living, for I should have no home. Don't worry; everything will come out all right. Dad says I may write to you and come home in a year. What do we care what people say so long as we are true to each other, which I will always be? Dad says that Henry is leading me astray. What do you think of that?
Then he added his signature and his London address.
The girl was game. Her eyes flashed with indignation.
"Never mind," said she; "my turn will come by and by."
She said that she had written to Ralph, and I knew, without saying it, that he would receive no letter from her, for I suspected that the cunning old politician would have laid his plans to discourage him with her silence. Two other letters came from Ralph, the last of which complained of what he called "her indifference"; and although I wrote him, as did she, again and again, I happen to know that Ralph looked in vain for a letter.
Yes, it was the old, old plan, and more easily managed in those days, when England was very far from us, and one who had crossed the ocean was more of a curiosity.
"Ralph ain't the right timber for a hero," said Smead as we sat together one day. "He won't do."
"Why not?" I asked.
"Too easily bamboozled. For one thing, a hero has got to be bigger than his father, especially when his father is only knee-high to a johnny-cake. If I were young an' full o' vinegar, I 'd jump in an' cut him out."
I made no answer.
"You 're a good jumper," he suggested; "why don't ye jump for this big prize? The girl has beauty an' character an' wit an' wealth. Don't be afraid; hop in an' take her."
"It 's impossible," I said. "She doesn't care for me; but that 's only one reason."
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed.
"She told me so," I insisted.
"Young man, I maintain that a lady cannot lie; but it ain't always best to believe her. You did n't expect that she was goin' to toss her heart into your lap at the first bid, did ye? They don't do that, not if they 're real cunnin'. They like to hang on to their hearts an' make ye bid for 'em. They want to know how much you 'll give; and they 're right—absolutely right. It 's good business. A girl has to be won."
I sat in a thoughtful silence, and Smead went on:
"It 's a kind of an auction-sale. 'How much am I bid?' the girl says with her eyes. You say, 'I offer my love.' It is n't enough. You offer houses an' lands. Still she shakes her head no. By an' by you speak up with a brave voice, an' offer the strong heart of a hero an' a love as deep an' boundless as the sea, an' you mean every word of it. That fetches her. You see, love is the biggest thing in a woman's life—or in the world, for that matter. So you 've got to say it big an' mean it big. Feeble words an' manners won't do when you 're tellin' the best girl in the world how ye love her. Now, you 've got the goods—the hero's heart an' all. Why don't ye offer 'em?"
I wish I had told him why; but I did not. In the first place, I knew that I was no hero, and, again, I was like most Yankee boys of that time—I could not bear to say much about my heart's history. It was full of deep sentiment, but somehow that was awfully sacred to me. Then, too, I was not much of a talker. I could not have said those pretty things to Florence. My words had never been cheapened by over-use or by lying. I remember that every one of them was worth a hundred cents on the dollar, and any sort of hyperbole would have made me ashamed of myself.
I decided to leave school soon, and go to New York to seek my fortune. So I should have done but for my next adventure.
There were days when there was a mighty ferment in the minds of Griggsby.
On a gray, chilly Saturday in the early autumn the village was full of farmer-folk who had come to market their produce. With these people and the mill-hands Saturday was apt to be a busy day, with all doors open until eight or nine o'clock. Most of the farmers went home in good order after their selling and buying. Some, however, squandered the proceeds, and went home reeling in their wagons, with horses running and lathering under the whip.
Late in the afternoon Henry Dunbar and I were walking down the main street when we saw a crowd gathering and heard an outburst of drunken profanity. We ran with the crowd, which was surrounding the town bully, a giant blacksmith, of the name of Josh, noted for his great strength and thunderous voice, and a farmer from an Irish neighborhood above the village. Both had been drinking, and the blacksmith was berating the farmer. We mounted a wagon that stood near, where we could see and hear. The blacksmith had rolled up his right shirt-sleeve to the shoulder, and stood with his huge arm raised, as the foul thunder of his wrath broke the peace of the village.
The farmer rushed in, striking with both fists. Josh seized him about the shoulders, and the two wrestled for a moment, then fell, the farmer underneath. Josh held him by his hair and ears, and was banging his head on the stone pavement. It was now like a fight between bulldogs; blood was flowing. The farmer had the blacksmith's thumb between his teeth, and the latter was roaring with pain. There were loud cries of "Stop it!" Two bystanders were tugging at the great shoulders of Josh.
Henry and I leaped from the wagon, pushed our way through the crowd, and, by laying hold of his hand, pulled the blacksmith from his victim. The farmer was surrounded and pushed away, while the mighty Josh started for me. I was minded to run away, but how could I, after all that Smead had said to me? I expected to be killed, but I could not run away. I ran straight at the giant, and, as I met him, delivered a blow, behind which was the weight and impulse of my body, full in the face of that redoubtable man. It was like the stroke of a hundred-and-sixty-pound sledge-hammer. The man toppled backward and fell into a cellar-way, head foremost, burst the door at the foot of the stairs, and stopped senseless on the threshold of a butcher's shop. It was a notable fall, that of this town bully, and his pristine eminence was never wholly recovered. Henry, too, was set upon, and was defending himself when the town constable reached the battle-field, and arrested Josh and the farmer and me for a breach of the peace. But the incident was not closed.
Friends of the fighters began to discuss the merits of the men and their quarrel in the bar-rooms and stable-yards of Griggsby. Feeling ran high, and there was noisy brawling in the streets.
Soon after nightfall a fight began in a bar-room between the two factions represented by farmer-boys and hostlers, and was carried into the back yard, where one young man was kicked in the chest until he was nearly dead. Word ran through the town that a murder had been committed. The Websterian age of Griggsby had come to its climax, and naturally.
Next day Henry was arrested for his part in the affray. His father, who happened to be in Boston at the time, was summoned by a telegram from Florence. He came, and the result of his coming was the purchase of "The Little Corporal" for his daughter. I sat with him and his son and daughter when Dan'l Webster Smead told him the story of that day with the insight of a true philosopher.
"The old town is in a bad way," said Dunbar, when the story was finished.
"But it can be set right," said Smead, "an' you 're the man to do it."
"Buy 'The Little Corporal' for your daughter, an' we 'll do the rest," said Smead.
Mr. Dunbar shook his head. "I 'd rather she 'd marry some fine young fellow and settle down," said he.
"What 's the matter with her doin' both?" Smead asked.
"Give me the 'Corporal,' and I 'll attend to the young fellow," said Florence.
"Well, if you 'll agree to help her in both enterprises," said Dunbar to Smead, "I 'll buy the paper. But you and Havelock must agree to help with the newspaper, and make no important contracts without my consent."
So I agreed to work for the "Corporal," and changed my plan of leaving Griggsby.
Immediately I began to suffer an ill-earned and unwelcome adulation. The Dan'l Websters touched their hats when I passed, and one likened me to Achilles; small boys followed me in the streets, and gazed into my face. Fortunately, my alleged crimes were soon forgotten. That is one curious thing about the Yankees: they may use a lie for conversational purposes, but they never believe it. They rarely love a man until they have taken him apart and put him together again by the surgery of conversation. They want to know how he stands it.
Good food, and plenty of it, were required to maintain the talents for leisure, racing, and Websterian grandeur that distinguished the men of Griggsby. As a rule, the women, therefore, were overworked. Men who could not afford the grandeur or the sport indulged in dreams of it, and surrendered their lives to inelegant leisure. Some left their farms and moved into the village to make Dan'l Websters of their sons. Some talked of going West, where the opportunities were better. You could hear men in blue denim dreaming of wealth on the pavements and cracker-barrels of Griggsby, while their wives battled with poverty at home.
Wifehood was still a form of bondage, as it was bound to be among a people who for generations had spent every Sabbath and the beginning and the end of every other day with Abraham and his descendants. Their ideals and their duties were from three to four thousand years apart so far apart that they seldom got acquainted with each other. Among the highest of their ideals was Ruth, of the country of Moab. Did she not touch her face to the ground to find favor with the man she loved? Did she not glean in the fields till even, and thresh out her bundles, and then lie down at the feet of Boaz?
In love and fear the wives of the Yankees were always gleaning. They found a certain joy in trouble. Sorrow was a form of dissipation to many, disappointment a welcome means of grace, and weariness a comforting sign of duty done. Their fears were an ever-present trouble in time of need. They were three: idleness, God, and the poorhouse. Whatever the men might do or fail to do in Griggsby, it was the part of the women to work and save. They squandered to save—squandered their abundant strength to save the earnings of the family, the souls of husbands, sons, and daughters, the lives of the sick. If ever they thought of themselves, it was in secret. Their hands were never idle.
The Yankee was often an orator to his own wife at least, and had convinced his little audience of one of two things, either that he had achieved greatness or was soon to be crowned. The lures of politics, invention, horsemanship, speculation, religion, and even poesy, led their victims from the ax and the plow. In certain homes you found soft-handed, horny-hearted tyrants of vast hope and good nature, and one or more slaves in calico. In my humble opinion, these willing slaves suffered from injustice more profound than did their dark-skinned sisters of the South.
You might see a judge or a statesman strutting in purple and fine linen, or exchanging compliments in noble rhetoric at a mahogany bar, while his aproned wife, with bare arms, was hard at work in the kitchen, trying to save the expense of a second hired girl. And you would find her immensely proud of her rhetorical peacock. His drinking and maudlin conduct were often excused as the sad but inevitable accessories of Websterian genius.
But the Websterian impulse had begun to show itself in a new generation of women. It flowered in resounding rhetoric.
Now and then Florence Dunbar called at the home of the Smeads, and had learned to enjoy the jests of Dan'l, and especially his talk about social conditions in Griggsby. It was there that she got the notion of buying the "Corporal"' and hiring Smead to help her reform the town.
One evening a number of my school-mates were asked to meet the daughters of Smead, who had attended the normal school before going out to teach.
"Ruth, won't you get up and give us a piece?" Mrs. Smead asked one of her daughters.
"Mince, apple, or pumpkin, Mother?" Dan'l W. inquired playfully.
"Oh, stop your joking!" said Mrs. Smead.
The young lady stepped to the middle of the floor, after the fashion of Charlotte Cushman in the sleep-walking scene of Lady Macbeth. She gave us Warren's "Address," trilling her rs and pronouncing my like me.
"There 's the makin' of another D. W.," said Smead, soberly.
Ruth did not get the point, and he went on: "She makes the boys and girls roar like cottage organs up there at the red school-house. They know how to work every stop in the organ, too. Patriotic Defiance, Hatred, Sorrow, Despair, Torpid Liver, Pious Rant. They need two more stops on the organ, Humor and Sanity."
Betsy, the younger sister of Ruth, would not speak "a piece," and I was glad of it. She sat by me and modestly told of her work, and now and then gave me a look out of her lovely, blue eyes that would have moved the heart of a stone. What a mouth and face she had, what a fair, full, soft crown of hair! I liked her; that is the most I can say.
Two other young ladies possessed by the demon of elocution shook out a few faded rags of literature with noble gestures and high-flavored tones. Yet these ladies of Griggsby were content with the intoxication of whirling words, while their husbands, sons, and brothers indulged in feelings of grandeur not so easily supported. But I do not wish you to forget that the women were always busy. If it had not been for them, Griggsby would long ago have perished of dignity, indolence, and katzenjammer.
To sum up: the women stood for industry, the men sat down for it; the women worked for decency, and every man recommended it to his neighbor. But the women had no voice in the government of the town.
A year had passed since Ralph's departure. For months no word from him had come to me, or to Florence, as she informed me.
"I 'm very sorry," I said as we were walking together.
"I 'm afraid I 'm not," she surprised me by saying.
I turned, and looked into her eyes.
"For a long time I 've been trying to make a hero of Ralph, but it 's hard work," she went on; "I fear it 's impossible."
"He does n't help me a bit; he does n't give me any material to work with."
There was a moment of silence in which the girl seemed to be trying to hold her poise. Then she added:
"Either he does n't care or he is very easily fooled."
I said nothing, but I heartily agreed with her.
Congress had adjourned, and the colonel had returned to his native haunts with all his Websterian accessories. There were moral-weather prophets in Griggsby who used to say, when the colonel came back, that they could tell whether it was going to be a wet or a dry summer by the color of his nose and the set of his high hat. "Wet" was now the general verdict as he strode down the main street swinging his gold-headed cane.
On a lovely May day I tramped off into the country to attend Betsy Smead's last day of school and to walk home with her. The latter was the main part of it. She was glad to see me, and I enjoyed the children, and the songs of the birds in the maples of the old school-yard.
In the middle of the afternoon a stern-faced old man, with a hickory cane in his hand, entered the school-house, and Betsy hurried to meet and kiss him. Then she helped him to a seat at the teacher's desk. He was stoutly built, and wore a high collar, a black stock, and a suit of faded brown. There was a fringe of iron-gray hair above his ears, with tufts of the same color In front of them. The rest of his rugged, deep-lined face was as bare as the top of his head. His stern, gray eyes quizzically regarded the girl and the pupils.
"Describe the course of the Connecticut River," he demanded of a member of the geography class.
To my joy, the frightened girl answered correctly.
"Very well, very well," said he, loudly, as though it were a matter of small credit, after all.
A member of the first class in arithmetic was not so fortunate. To him he put a problem.
"Go to the blackboard," the old gentleman commanded. "A man had three sons—put down three, if you please.
"To A he willed half his property, to B a quarter, and to C a sixth. Now, his property consisted of eleven sheep. The sons wished to divide the sheep without killing any, so they consulted a neighbor. The neighbor came with one of his own sheep and put it in with the eleven, making twelve in all. Then he gave 1⁄2 to A, making 6, 1⁄4 to B, making 3, 1⁄6 to C, making 2, a total of 11, and drove back his own sheep. Now, tell me, young man, what is the matter with that problem—tell me at once, sir."
The boy trembled, looked stupidly at the blackboard, and gave up.
"Huh! that will do," snapped the old gentleman.
Here was the grand, stentorian method applied to geography and mathematics.
At last school was dismissed. The tears of the children, as they parted with Betsy, seemed to please the old gentleman. His face softened a little.
"Ah, you 'll make a good mother, Betsy," he said rather snappishly as he came down from his seat, drawing his breath at the proper places of punctuation, and touching his right leg as though he had a pain in it. "Do ye know how to work, eh?"
"I 've always had to work," said Betsy.
"That 's good, that 's good," the old man exclaimed. "Your grandmother was a good woman to work."
"Grandfather, this is Mr. Havelock," said Betsy, as she presented me.
"How d' do?" snapped the old gentleman, looking sharply into my face. Then he turned to Betsy and said: "Don't be in a hurry to get married. There are plenty of fish in the sea, girl—plenty of fish. Huh! Tell your father that I am very much pleased with the last news of him—very much pleased; but I shall not trust him again, never, nor any of them except you."
A man was waiting for him in a buggy outside the door. I withdrew a little, and waited while Betsy spoke with the old gentleman. The girl joined me as her grandfather drove away, and together we walked down the hills to Griggsby that lovely afternoon of the early summer. We talked of many things, and always when I have thought of that hour, I have heard the hum of new life in ponds and marshes, and seen the light of a day's end glowing on windows, woods, and hills, and felt the joy of youth again.
"You are a friend of Florence Dunbar," said Betsy as we were crossing a field. "She has told me lots about you."
"I fear that I 'm not much of a success either as a subject or a predicate," I said.
"She thinks you are a great hero, and there are others who think it, too."
I blushed and stumbled a little in trying to say:
"Well—it—it is n't my fault. I 've—I 've done my best to—to keep her from making any mistake."
"We 've been hoping that you and she would make a match," the little school-teacher went on.
"It 's—it 's impossible," I said bitterly.
"Well, she—she feels so horribly grateful to me that—that if I asked her to be my wife, I—I suppose she would think it her duty to say yes."
Betsy laughed, and we walked along in silence for half a minute. Then she stopped, and her glowing eyes looked into mine as she said very soberly:
"Havelock, you 're a strange boy. I don't want to spoil you, but I think—well, I won't say what I think."
So I never knew what she thought, but I well remember there were tears in her eyes and mine as we walked in silence. She was the first to speak.
"If Florence said yes, it would be because she loves you," said Betsy.
"But you do not know all that I know," was my answer.
We were nearing the village, and had begun to meet people, and while we had a little distance to go, our serious talk went no further.
Graduation day had arrived, when Florence was to complete her course at the academy. The best women, as though by general agreement, had combined to right the wrong done her. No girl so noble and splendid had ever stood on the platform of the old academy. That very day she assumed control of "The Little Corporal" and began her work, with Dan'l Webster Smead as associate editor.
The first issue of the paper under its new management had an editorial to this effect:
Things are going to happen in Griggsby—things that have never happened before in Griggsby or elsewhere. We have a large, distinguished, and growing list of drunkards whose careers thus far have suffered from neglect, concealment, and a general lack of appreciation.
Full many a brawl of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed depths of Griggsby bear;
Full many a spree is born to blush unseen
And waste its fragrance on the midnight air.
It shall be so no longer. We propose to fathom the depths. Hereafter the adventures of our merry gentlemen shall be duly chronicled so that the public may share their joy, and give them credit according to their deserts.
We have a number of idlers and gamblers in Griggsby whose exploits have also been shrouded in obscurity. They, too, may rejoice that at last full justice is to be accorded them in this paper, so that their winning and losing shall no longer be a subject of inaccurate knowledge. Some are blamed who ought not to be blamed, and some are not blamed who ought to be blamed, and there is no health in the present situation.
We have a large number of young men who are looking to their elders for an example worthy of emulation. The Little Corporal will let its light shine hereafter upon the example set by the elder generation of Griggsby, to the end that none of it may be lost.
We have seven saloons and three drug stores that have violated the law with notable and unnoted persistence. They, too, may be assured that their achievements will no longer be overlooked.
But the biggest thing we have in Griggsby is a conscience. That, too, may rejoice that its findings are no longer to be unknown and neglected. It shall be busy night and day, and its approval shall be recorded with joy and its condemnations with deep regret in the Corporal, But both shall be duly signalized and set forth.
It is recorded of Napoleon, who was himself known as the Little Corporal, that one night, having found a sentinel asleep at his post, he took the weapon of the latter and stood guard for him until he awoke. That this paper will try to do for the conscience of Griggsby when it is weary and overworked.
Well, things did begin to happen in Griggsby. The Mutual Adulation Company that had paid its daily dividends in compliments and good wishes at the bar of the Palace Hotel went out of business. The souls of the leading citizens ceased to flow. The babbling brooks of flattery ran dry.
In the next number of the "Corporal," among other items, appeared this:
Jerry McMann attacked his horse in the street the other day, and, without any provocation that the bystanders could observe, beat him over the head with the butt of his whip, for which he has had to pay the utterly inadequate fine of five dollars. The Corporal hereby adds to his fine the distinction which his act has won. This beater of a helpless animal is probably the most brutal man in the township and the most arrant coward.
"The Little Corporal" passed from hand to hand, and waves of joy and consternation swept over the community. Thoughtful and worried looks gathered under the hats of silk and beaver. Colonel Buckstone smote the bar of the Palace Hotel, and roared about the "Magna Charta of our Liberties," as he viewed his image in a mirror among the outlines of a bird drawn in soap.
Now, there lived in the village of Griggsby a certain lawyer of the name of Pike—G. Washington Pike. He was the most magnificent human being in that part of the country. He shone every day in broadcloth, a tall beaver hat, and a stock and collar. He greeted one with a low bow and a sweeping gesture of the right hand, and said "Good morning" as though it were a solemn and eternal verity. His distinguished presence graced every public occasion, and he was made up as the living image of Dan'l Webster. At one time or another many who lived in the village had been nudged and asked, "Who is that grand-looking man?" It was a query not so easy to answer. He was a lawyer without visible clients, whose wife was the leading dressmaker of Griggsby.
I was sitting in the office of the "Corporal" with Smead when the great man entered, bowed low, and cut a scroll in the air with his right hand.
"Good morning, Editor Smead," said he, oratorically.
"Good morning, Mr. Pike," was the greeting of Smead.
"On this occasion it is Lawyer Pike, who presents his compliments to Editor Smead, and begs to confer with him on a matter of business," said the great man.
"Go ahead, Lawyer Pike," said the editor.
"While Mr. Pike has the highest personal regard for Mr. Smead, Lawyer Pike takes issue with Editor Smead in behalf of his client, Mr. Jeremiah McMann, and demands a retraction of certain words in the 'Corporal' of last week calculated to injure the reputation of said McMann."
Then the great Dan'l said:
"Editor Smead refuses the request of Lawyer Pike, and suggests that he and Horse-killer McMann should join hands and jump into the air as high as possible."
And so ended the first bluff in the new life of Griggsby.
A great public meeting was held in the town hall in support of the candidacy of Colonel Buckstone for the post of consul at Hong-Kong. The merchant princes and Dan'l Websters, representing the beauty and fashion of Griggsby, the women, representing its industry and sturdy virtue, were on hand. So were many mill-workers and students from the old academy.
Judge Warner was chosen to preside, and opened the meeting with sober, well-chosen words. Then followed a great and memorable tournament of the D. W's. Floods of impassioned eloquence swept over the crowd and out of the open windows, and at every impressive pause we could hear birds chattering as they slipped from their perches in the tree-tops that overhung the eaves.
The great Bill Smithers was telling of the poor, barefooted boy who came down from the hills long ago and bade fair to rise to the highest pinnacle of statesmanship.
Among other things he said: "Think of this poor boy who used to feed the chickens and milk the patient cow. Since then he has fed the multitude of his fellow-citizens with political wisdom, and milked the great Republic for their benefit."
He soared and roared in praise of the manly virtues of the colonel.
A stray cow began to bellow in the streets. Mr. Smithers, who was speaking, paused to inquire if some one would please stop that beast.
A voice in the gallery shouted, "Give the cow a chance." Another said, "It 's the cow that Sile milked." The crowd began to laugh, and the situation was critical; but fortunately the emotions of the cow subsided.
The Rev. Sam Shackleford came next, and tears rolled down his face while he told of the great talents and the noble heart of his distinguished fellow-townsman.
In due time Colonel Buckstone rose to acknowledge the kindness of his fellow-citizens. He spoke of the affairs of his native town and presently referred to the newspaper, which had always been a power for good in the village. He hoped that it would continue to be so, but had his fears. A certain editorial had already injured the fair fame of Griggsby. There was not a scintilla of evidence in support of its veiled and open charges, not one. He challenged Mr. D. W. Smead to prove that Griggsby was any worse than other communities.
In the name of heaven, what new assault was to be made upon the Magna Charta of our liberties, secured by the blood of our fathers? He would defend it. He served notice then and there that he would pour out his lifers blood, if need be, rather than see the liberties of the citizens of Griggsby abated by one jot or tittle. No, he would rather see his right arm severed from his body.
That dear old Magna Charta was often on his lips. Indeed, the chart of his liberties was so great and so threatening that Moses and the prophets had to get out of its way. Every day he referred to "jots and tittles" of abatement and absent "scintillas of evidence."
He closed his address with this Websterian peroration:
"When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may they not see him shining on the enslaved citizens of my native town. Rather let their last feeble and lingering glance behold them eating and drinking according to their needs and wishes, and in the full enjoyment of every blessing that the Almighty has showered upon us."
These sentiments met with noisy approval. How often the eyes of the great man were "turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven!"
There was a call for Dan'l W. Smead.
Mr. Smead rose from his seat in the audience, went to the platform, and said:
"I feel like Pompeii after the great eruption of seventy-nine a.d. I am overwhelmed, but I propose to dig myself up an' continue in business. First, let me say that I am glad that Colonel Buckstone is likely to enter the missionary field an' show the Christian virtues of New England to the heathen of the Orient. I have long thought that it was a good thing for him to do, a good thing for anybody to do. In my opinion, the colonel would soon take the conceit out of those foreign heathen. But we need him here. We do not wish him to be plucked from the garden of Griggsby. What, I ask you, what is to become of our own heathen if he is removed from among them? Have not the press and the pulpit already threatened their sacred liberties? Who would remind us of those jots and tittles of abatement, of those absent scintillas of evidence? It is too bad that the palladium of our oratory is threatened. It must not be. Think of the feelings of the sun in heaven if he were not again to be beheld for the last time in the village of Griggsby! Of course there are other villages, but let it never be said that we have fallen behind them.
"When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on a bereft an' joyful Griggsby; on citizens who have ceased to weep except for sorrow, whose tears have gone dry because the village pumps of oratory have failed them. God forbid that I should behold him shining upon men of genius in bondage or in exile! Rather let their last feeble and lingering glance see those citizens eating and drinking, according to their needs and wishes, at the Palace Hotel, while their wives are at work, according to their habit, in the kitchen and the laundry."
For a moment he was silenced by a storm of laughter.
It was a death-blow to the Dan'l Websters of Griggsby. Those hardened criminals of the rostrum,who had long been robbing the people of their tears, had themselves been touched. Their consciences were awakened. They tumbled and fell.
Bill Smithers, who had so highly praised his friend the colonel on the stage, said to a fellow-citizen after he had left the hall, "Well, after all is said and done, what a consummate pirate Buckstone is!"
That shows how sincere and heartfelt was the loud-sounding oratory of that time.
Next day a stern and sorrowful silence fell upon Colonel Buckstone. It boomed like an empty barrel at the slightest touch. Judge Brooks ventured to ask him what was the matter. He smote the air with his fist, muttered an oath, checked himself, shook his head, and said in a tone worthy of Edwin Forrest:
"The evil days have come, sir. I tremble for Griggsby."
Then he sadly strode away.
Now, that morning Colonel Buckstone had received a letter from the able editor of the "Corporal," in circumstances fraught with some peril to myself. The letter ran about as follows:
My dear Colonel: I have undertaken to improve the morals of Griggsby and, as a first step, I shall insist upon your retirement from public life. I inclose the proof of an article, now in type in this office, in which, as you will observe, is a full and accurate review of your career. In my opinion this justifies my demand that forthwith you resign your seat in Congress. If you fail to do so within one week from date, I shall submit this article to the judgment of the electors of the district, but I should like, if possible, to spare your family the pain of that process. I can only leave you to choose between voluntary and enforced retirement, with some unnecessary disgrace attending the latter. I am sending this by Mr. Havelock, who is instructed to deliver it to you, and only to you.
I had gone to work in the office of "The Little Corporal" and had delivered the message, of the nature of which I knew nothing. The colonel tore the envelop, grew hot with rage as he read the letter and the proof, struck at me with his cane, and shattered the ninth commandment with a cannon-shot of profanity.
I wondered what it was all about, and promptly decided that the profession of journalism was too full of peril for me.
"Ha! blackmailer!" he shouted. "Child of iniquity! I will not slay you until you have taken my reply to your mistress, who is a disgrace to the name of woman. Say to her that if she publishes the article, a proof of which I have just read, I shall kill her, so help me God!"
Yes, it was a kind of blackmail, but how noble and how absolutely feminine!
When I returned to the colonel's office I knew what I was doing. It was with a note which read as follows:
Dear Sir: This is to advise you, first, that you cannot change my purpose with cheap and vulgar threats; second, that resignation would be an easier means of retirement, and probably less painful, than a shooting-match with me.
The old bluff mill of his brain, which had won many lawsuits and jack-pots for the colonel, had failed him for once. Its goods, the quality of which had never been disputed, were now declared cheap and vulgar.
He was comparatively calm until he had finished reading the note, when the storm broke out again, and I fled before it.
Well, next day, a note of surprising politeness came from the colonel. It apologized for the haste and heat of his former message, and requested an interview. Miss Dunbar was quick to grant his request, demanding that the interview occur in her office and in the presence of a witness of her choosing, who could be trusted to divulge no part of the conversation. The interview took place, and I was the chosen witness.
The colonel was calm under a look of injured innocence.
"Young woman," he began, "let us be brief. You have it in your power to ruin me. That I admit, and only that, and ask what you want me to do."
[Illustration: "‘Young woman,’ he began, ‘let us be brief. You have it in your power to ruin me.’"]
"Resign," said she, firmly.
"Mademoiselle, I have been foolish," said the colonel, "but my follies are those which unfortunately are shared by many of my sex. I ask you to consider my family and my long devotion to the interests of this community. If I resign with no apparent reason, what will my constituents say, who are now being asked to sign a petition in favor of my appointment to a consular position? My fondest hopes will be crushed."
Colonel Buckstone wiped his watery eyes with his handkerchief.
Miss Dunbar spoke out with courage and judgment.
"I don't want to be hard upon you," she said. "There are two conditions which would induce me to modify my demand. The first is that you turn in and help us to improve the morals of this community."
"I have always labored in that cause," said the colonel, with a righteous look.
"But you have succeeded in concealing your efforts," she said. "You are one of the leading citizens of Griggsby. All eyes are upon you. Your example has a tremendous influence on the young men of this village. Often you have a highly moral pair of lungs in your breast, but your heart does not seem to agree with them. A man is known by his conduct, and not by his words. By your conduct you teach the young men to buy and sell votes, to go on sprees, to drink and gamble in public places, to have little regard for the virtue and good name of women."
Then a thing happened which gave me new hope of the colonel. It was the first time that his jacket had been warmed, and it looked as though the fire of remorse had begun to burn a little.
"Young woman," he said very solemnly, "if my humble example has been so misunderstood, if my conduct has so belied the sentiments of my heart, as to create such an impression in the mind of the observer, I will do anything in my power to make amends, and I will listen to any suggestions you are good enough to offer."
The suggestions were offered and accepted, and the sway of Buckstone was at its end.
"There is one other thing," said Miss Dunbar. "You have cruelly misjudged my character, and there is one thing I shall ask you to do."
"What is it?"
"That you join Ralph in Europe, and see that he returns all my letters within six weeks from date."
"It was my plan to join him for a needed rest," said the colonel, "and you may be glad to know that I propose to bring him back with me."
"What you propose to do with him is a matter of no interest to me," said Florence. "I only demand the letters."
I was discussing plans with Florence in her sanctum one afternoon when she said to me:
"Uriel, you 're a success. We can't get along without you. The advertising has doubled, and it 's due mostly to your efforts. Please consider yourself married to this paper, and with no chance of divorce. I 'll treble your salary."
"I could n't help doing well with such a paper to work for," I said. "There 's no credit due me."
"I don't agree with you. Of course we 've made a good paper. I thought it was about time that the women, who did most of the work, had a voice in the government of the village. Women have some rights, and I think I 've a right to know whether you still care for me or not."
"Florence, I love you more than ever," I said. I rose and stepped toward her, my face burning, and she quickly opened the gate of the railing, went behind it, and held me back with her hand.
"Havelock, you stupid thing!" said she, "what I want now is eloquence, real, Websterian eloquence and plenty of it."
I stood like a fool, blushing to the roots of my hair, and she took pity on me.
"Bear in mind," said she, "that I am not the least bit grateful. I just naturally love you, sir; that 's the truth about it."
Then my tongue was loosed. I do not remember what I said, but it was satisfactory to her, and right in the midst of it she unlocked the gate.
We were crying in each other's arms when there came a rap at the door.
"One moment," she called, as we endeavored to dry our eyes, while she noisily bustled about the room. Then she opened the door, and there stood Dan'l W. Smead.
"Come in," said she, "and don't mind my appearance. I have just listened to an address full of the most impassioned eloquence. It touched my heart."
Dan'l W. looked at us, smiled, and said with unerring insight, "I congratulate you both." He kissed her, gave me a little hug, and said, "Her father told me what would happen, an' I believe he gave his consent in advance."
"He did," said Florence.
"Old boy, you 've got a life job on your hands keepin' up with her. It suggests an editorial."
"How so?" Florence inquired.
"It will run about like this," Dan'l W. went on: "The first occupation of man was keepin' up with Eve. She got tired of seein' him lie in the shade an' of hearin' him lie in the shade. So she contrived a situation in which it was necessary for him to get busy: she got him a job. It was no temporary thing; it was a real, permanent job. Many have tried to resign an' devote their lives to rum, eloquence, an' trottin'-hosses. We have seen the result in Griggsby. It is deplorable. 'The Little Corporal' calls them back to their tasks."
We applauded his editorial.
"Oh, I could compose an 'Iliad,' now that I know you 're both happy," said he.
"Betsy did it," Florence exclaimed; "she gave me courage."
"Poor Betsy!" said Dan'l W. "You know, her grandfather died a few weeks ago, an' left her his fortune, an' she 's dreadfully grieved about it, because her beau, young Socrates Potter, has said that he would never marry a rich woman. The boys are gettin' awfully noble an' inhuman. I 'm glad that Havelock has reformed."
That was the end of the interview, and of the Websterian age in Griggsby. It still lives, the Websterian impulse, but, like many better things, it has gone West.
Our citizens had begun to fear and respect "The Little Corporal." Special officers with a commission from its editor paroled the streets. Our leading lights ceased to enter the public bar-rooms. Midnight brawls and revels were discontinued. The poker-players conducted their game with the utmost secrecy and good order. The Young Men's Social Improvement League was organized. New justices of the peace were elected. The first time that Thurst Giles got drunk and beat his wife, he was promptly put in jail at hard labor for a long term, while the man who had sold the whisky lost his license. A well-known and highly respected innkeeper, at whose bar a minor had bought drinks, was compelled to give a bond against any repetition of the offense or take a bitter and ruinous draft of publicity.
Every week "The Little Corporal" swept over the town like a wholesome rain-cloud, and refreshing showers of wit and lightning-shafts of ridicule fell out of it, and the people laughed and thought and applauded.
The poker-sharp and the ten-dollar man were praised as philanthropists, while the "trottin'-hoss" and the rum-scented brand of Websterian dignity were riddled with good-natured wit, and people began to look askance at them. The perennial springs of maudlin blasphemy and obscenity had begun to dry up, and their greatness had departed.
The common drunkards moved out of the village. The resounding Websterian coterie took their grog in wholesome fear and the strictest privacy.
"How are you?" one was heard to ask another on the street.
"Sir, I am well, but distressfully sober," said the man addressed.
At fair-time the half-mile track was used only for a big athletic meet, in which every large school in the county was represented. A company of the best metropolitan players amused the people in a large, open amphitheater, for which money had been raised by subscription. A quartet from Boston sang between the acts. The grounds were well policed; everything was done decently and in order. The citizens of Griggsby and its countryside found enlightenment and inspiration at the fair. Every exhibit of drunkenness went to jail as swiftly as a team of horses and ample help could take him there. The trotting farce was abolished, and the ten-dollar man was out of employment and no longer the observed of all observers.
By and by Ralph Buckstone returned, the harbinger of a new era. He was like the wooden horse of the Greeks: he came full of enemies that hastened the fall of Griggsby. He brought in the cigarette, the cocktail, the liqueur, and the cordial. They were welcomed without suspicion, and with every evidence of regard.
In a short time the flowers of rhetoric began to wither and die. Compliments turned to groans. The leading citizens were in trouble. Dan'l W. Smead has long since gone to his rest, with a name honored above all others in his own county; for having accomplished our purpose, we sold the "Corporal" to the man who had done much to make it. I qualified for the bar, and we settled in New York, and our lives have been blessed with children, great happiness, and a fair degree of success.
Ralph left Griggsby, broke down, and went a fast pace. I heard of him now and then in the next few years. He had gone into journalism in Boston, and it was rumored that he had made a handsome success. One day a friend of us both said to me:
"Ralph? Oh, he 's getting on famously. He is a typical journalist—talks like the first deputy of the Creator, and regards all things with a knowing and indulgent tolerance."
Well, on a day in June, twenty years after my marriage, I was in court in New York when a prisoner was brought in. The clerk read the charge; it was forgery, and the man was Ralph Buckstone. An officer explained that he was a gambler, and had never been arraigned before. Evidently the prisoner had no defense, and pleaded guilty, as I expected.
Then the recorder said to him: "You understand, I presume, what is involved in the step you are taking? Have you consulted counsel?"
"There is no occasion for it," said Ralph. "At last I have decided to speak and live the truth. I am guilty. I have been a weak and foolish man, but what I have been, and what I am to be henceforth, all the world is welcome to know. In my life hereafter there shall be no concealment, and I hope never again to be ashamed of the truth about me."
It was a great moment, and those were great words, simply and modestly spoken, and they were the very words of old Appleton Hall. Deep under the weeds, in the neglected soil of his spirit, the good seed had been lying all this long time. Now it had burst and was taking root, as though it had needed only the heat of his trouble. The face of the old recorder shone with kindness, and I, remembering my promise and the teaching of the old schoolmaster, was on my feet in a second.
"Your Honor," I said, "I appear for the prisoner. There was a time long ago when he and I were boys together. In the battles of our youth I defended him, as I shall again. I promise full reparation to any who have suffered loss through his conduct, in the matter charged, and a bond in any reasonable amount for his good behavior."
Then the tide turned for Ralph Buckstone. It is enough for me to say that he faced about, and became an able and successful man. Next to the defamed Daniel Webster himself Ralph had suffered most from those evil days in old Griggsby.
Yes, there are still swaggering D. W's in America—many of them; there are Griggses and Griggsbys; but our Griggsby is a changed town. The seats of leisure are now occupied by the ladies. They have suffered from the angel theory, and it is their own fault. They look like birds of paradise. I should like to see them give up sweetmeats and idleness, jewels and ethereal raiment, and rejoin the human ranks not as slaves, but as real women, with a work to do and with all the rights they may desire.