« AnteriorContinuar »
thing rolled up her great white eyes at her, and with a look of despair gave herself up for lost.
Miss Minikin, by long perseverance, and a present of a string of beads, at length obtained her confidence, and then obtained the information that lay so heavily at her heart. The old gentleman's name was Breckenridge, and his beautiful daughter's name was Amy; the black further said that they lived on a plantation in the State of Baltimore. Miss Minikin, elated with her discovery, went to the chamber of Mrs. Sylvanus Ebenezer, to convey the information, and the two held a conference upon their future mode of procedure, when they resolved that they would without delay inform Mr. Breckenridge that Alderman Turtlehovey was one of the guests of the house, intending this as a diplomatic measure, by which their own consequence would be reflected from that dignitary.
WHILE engaged in their ambitious projects, Minikin and Ebenezer had the address to procure for Noisy Tom the commission for the purchase of the trophy voted to Moses Dolebear, and were now in almost hourly expectation of its arrival.
The next thing to be considered was the completion of the committee, upon whom should devolve the honor of presenting it. A happy thought at length occurred to Mrs. Sylvanus Ebenezer, and it was this: that a no more fitting time would ever occur to approach the venerable Mr. Breckenridge. The Alderman and his friend the auctioneer were of course to be of the number; but that lady held it due to the distinguished stranger that he should be chairman of that committee, and all agreeing this to be the proper course to pursue, they impatiently awaited the arrival of the piece of plate.
Patience more than once was exhausted before it came, but their compensation was ample when it did arrive, in the contemplation of this unique but singular present. Nothing could exceed their delight when they came to witness its capabilities. Noisy Tom engaged their attention for several consecutive days in setting and springing it. Upon the slightest touch it would maliciously jump from the floor, and grasp in its teeth the instrument of torture that he punched it with; and so like a snapping-turtle did it seize its prey, that Minikin, lost in astonishment, wondered whether it was actually made, or whether it was of spontaneous origin.
All things being now ready, nothing remained in completing the committee but placing, with his consent, the name of Judge Breckenridge at its head. Ebenezer and Minikin set themselves at work in composing a note to be addressed to that gentleman, requesting him to act, setting forth feelingly the causes impelling them to take the course they had; and forcibly urging the benefits that would ensue to the public, by bestowing similar rewards to philanthropic enterprise.
Upon receiving the note, the Judge, as was his habit, looked first at the signature, but recognizing there neither the hand-writing nor the names of any persons of whom he had ever heard before, then began systematically at the beginning, and after carefully reading the whole, laid it upon his table,
under the conviction that there was some error in sending it, inasmuch as the parties were strangers to him, and of the matters of which it treated, there was a most perplexing incomprehensiveness that he was quite unable to unravel.
While yet ruminating over the letter, and not knowing what to do with it, any more than he knew what to make of its contents, Amy came in, and being requested to aid him in explaining the mystery, she ran her eyes hastily along its lines, and with that perception which was a prominent feature in her nature, at once understood what was intended, and expressed herself by an outburst of laughter, as startling to the nerves of the father as it was to his views of propriety. She excused herself, and at the same time explained to him the drift of the note in question.
As a lawyer, the Judge admitting no intermediate grades of society between the lord of the manor and the villein attached to the soil-knew but little of the character of those who in their struggles for ascendency had disqualified themselves for any grade, and who go whirling and staggering against all the established usages and customs of those who quietly repose upon the position to which they belong, and which by their own unobtrusiveness is yielded them by others, either on account of their own merit, or the blood of those running in their veins acknowledged public benefactors. Indeed the ruling of Judge Breckenridge in his own district was based upon the feudal structure existing in the times of the Crusades; and the lawyer practising at his bar would have made a sorry figure if not conversant with black-letter law, no matter how aptly he might have quoted from post Revolutionary decisions of eminent jurists, or how conversant with the Constitution of his country.
While he would punish a peer of his own for a trifling malfeasance, either one of his own serfs, or that of his neighbor, would go scot free for a far greater offence; for he held that nothing short of being instigated by the devil could prompt a gentleman to forget himself, while the exhibition of a mischievous spirit in a menial was a consequence naturally arising from their condition, and was therefore rather to be commiserated than punished.
The feeling resulting from such decisions was that of dislike by the neighboring planters, for more than one of them was serving out terms of years in prison, while their negroes were at home playing upon the banjo, with a chorus: 'De LORD bless Massa Breckenridge, yo ho! yo ho!'
The Judge could, therefore, no more understand Ebenezer and Minikin than they could him; and as for the merits of Moses Dolebear, or the reasons of presenting him a silver trap, he could not divine. He therefore, with the most punctilious etiquette, excused himself from the honor intended him, barely remarking, that if any man of gentle blood within his jurisdiction should fail to alleviate a fellow-creature in distress, and he should die by his neglect, he should instruct a jury to convict him of felonious homicide, and that he himself would take from him the privilege of pleading benefit of clergy. But Amy was of a later, if not a better generation, and would, if her father had permitted it, have entered upon the scheme of Mrs. Ebenezer and Miss Minikin; even as it was, to use a favorite expression of Noisy Tom's, she was
pretty well 'posted' as to what was going on at the 'Shades,' and inclined, whenever coming in sight of either Alderman Turtlehovey or Noisy Tom, to cough down a smile that threatened her propriety. Knowing the pain that any such indiscretion would give her father, she followed, so far as her nature would permit, the rigid school in which he had been educated; and in compliance with his commands forebore to become acquainted with any other than those from his own district, and who were hedged in with family lineage exclusive as himself.
The note addressed to Minikin by the Judge, from which the above extract is taken, was elaborated with the most punctilious phraseology; it was half covered with wax, upon which was impressed a coat of arms - not a modern one, cut up and quartered by as many scapegraces, but a simple shield, with a battle-axe for its crest of the days of Peter the Hermit.
This note was an ample compensation for the disappointment; the fine paper upon which it was written, its elegant diction, and more than all, its magnificent seal, could scarcely be sufficiently admired.
While it afforded a keepsake valuable to her in many respects, it would at the same time show her friends the character of her correspondents. Both of these leading ladies were elated beyond measure, and bore themselves accordingly; nothing was heard from them but encomiums expended upon their friend and correspondent, the honorable Mr. Breckenridge, and his pretty daughter Amy.
The time had now arrived when Moses was to be presented with the trap, and Minikin suggested that it were better that the Alderman and Noisy Tom should of themselves present it, than that any others of the male visitors be put upon the committee of presentation, which appointment of itself would put them upon an equality with the two favorites, and, forsooth, with Judge Breckenridge himself.
An incident occurred that might have been attended with unpleasant consequences; but prepossessions are not gotten easily rid of, and lucky was it for Noisy Tom that his position at the 'Shades,' and more particularly with Miss Minikin, was firmly established; for among the sweepings of his rooms a piece of paper was picked up, and by some means came into the possession of a person in the house who had once purchased jewelry of that individual, supposing it to be gold, but on being submitted to an assayer's process, was declared by him to be an agglomeration of unknown substances. Being thus cheated, he congratulated himself of now having a weapon in his hands with which he could chastise the auctioneer.
The paper purported to be an order to a manufacturer of traps, ordering the present to be made of German silver, which every body knows is no silver at all. This was shown to several of the visitors, who had subscribed liberally for a silver present; and it cannot be wondered at, that they were indignant that Noisy Tom should impudently attempt to defraud not only the donors, but Moses Dolebear himself, who had saved him from the jaws of Satan and the other dog Sneak.
It was soon spread abroad, and Minikin and Ebenezer hardly knew how to
defend him, for the evidence of his guilt was palpable; it existed in plain black and white. In this dilemma of but one horn, he applied to Alderman Turtlehovey for coun unsel, for notwithstanding the want of tact of that dignitary in keeping out of scrapes himself, it was allowed on all hands that he had shielded more rogues from punishment than any other alderman of modern times. He was so much of an adept that way that they seemed to get into difficulty merely for the pleasure it gave him in getting them out. The discovery of the attempt at fraud was so unexpectedly discovered, that the auctioneer at first was sadly nonplused, and a more sheepish-looking gentleman than himself was not to be seen at the 'Shades,' and it is to be hoped nowhere else.
The Alderman told his friend that he would do all he could for him, but if he was unsuccessful, he would recommend that he 'shoot the pit,' a phrase he used when delicately intimating that the culprit had better run away. This, to be sure, was poor comfort. Had he arrived at that?' he inquired of himself; to run away; to be disgraced!' He had attained to a great height at the 'Shades,' and to be dashed to pieces by a fall, the more terrific on account of that very altitude, was most unfortunate.
But for all these misgivings, Noisy Tom's fortune and the Alderman's ingenuity prevailed. Perceiving a large circle of ladies discussing the matter in the great drawing-room, the most of whom were in opposition to Ebenezer and Minikin, Turtlehovey threw himself among them as if by accident, and lightly joining in the discussion, remarked, 'that he had in former days carried on the manufacture of traps himself, and that the trade well knew that German silver was particularly adapted to the production of the article in question, as it united strength with elasticity to a remarkable degree, while on account of the slippery nature of pure silver, but little reliance could be placed upon it.' The Alderman then turned hurriedly upon his heel, as if the whole matter was indifferent to him, and carelessly said, 'that somehow or another, the prettier a lady, is the more she exposes her ignorance in all matters of business.'
He was rapturously applauded as he left the room, and giving the auctioneer a wink as he passed through the hall, the latter entered it amid the congratulations of a large majority of the assembled multitude. Being thus reïnstated in the good opinion of those who for a moment had doubted his honesty, he and the Alderman left the next morning upon their errand, as soon as breakfast was over, and after a fatiguing tramp through morasses and over endless hill-sides, ever rising one after another in abrupt and broken masses, they reached the Dolebear cabin, a little ahead of the sun's perpendicular.
Moses and his dogs were busily employed in skinning a bear. The dogs were too busily employed to perceive the messengers until they had fairly gotten within the protection of their master.
They showed a disposition at first to make an attack, but a sound box on the ear of Satan, and a kick at Sneak, made them more respectful; and judging them by their subsequent quiet demeanor, it was difficult to conceive how they could evince so much maliciousness toward these gentlemen, as heretofore they had done.
The Alderman, as he was about presenting the present, remarked to Moses
Dolebear, that his noble conduct in rescuing himself and friend from the dogs on that horrible night, made more dismal by hooting owls, and other dragons that seemed bent on tormenting them, was an incident in his life that would cause his heart to overflow whenever he recurred to it. It was fortunate,' he continued, 'for you, Mr. Dolebear, that I am one of the 'Aldermen of York,' for by that circumstance a notoriety has been given to your conduct that otherwise it might never have attained. Consequently, there is scarcely a prominent paper to be found that does not make honorable mention of the name of Dolebear.' And while in the act of handing him the trap he added: "Take this, and may it be as useful to you as you have been serviceable to us!'
Moses received it without emotion, and only remarked: The machine was most too hansum to be good for any thing.'
He then hung it upon a nail, driven into the side of the cabin, and at the request of the two gentlemen, agreed to accompany them part of the way home. As Sneak began to act distrustingly, whenever they moved, they inquired the cause of this conduct toward them, as the dog was civil to every body else. Upon that remark being made, Moses seemed to be impressed with a new idea. He passed around the gentlemen several times, snuffing now and then at one and then the other; when after resting, and tasting the air occasionally, he resumed, to the astonishment of Alderman Turtlehovey and Noisy Tom, his strange mode of inspection. At length he came to a stand, facing and looking inquiringly at them, he said: 'Han't you been arter skunks? '
They both assured him most solemnly that they had not.
'Han't you been where skunks was?'
They protested that they had never seen one in all their lives.'
Moses was informed that the pied ones came into the Alderman's possession, and he had made them into robes, which he used on great occasions at the 'Shades.'
'Why them's skunks,' he quickly answered, with a degree of earnestness denoting that he saw into the whole matter. He then quickly added: 'My dogs don't like skunks; they'll smell a feller a year what's been scented.'
The Alderman and Noisy Tom, upon this announcement, looked meaningly at each other, as much as to say, the riddle is solved, and the less we say concerning the matter the better it will be. But to satisfy themselves more thoroughly, if it were possible, that the smell could be sufficiently pungent to adhere to their persons, from the fact of merely coming in contact occasionally with the fur of the little animal, Turtlehovey, following the example of Moses Dolebear, went around Noisy Tom, occasionally smelling at him, and then stopping, as if whetting his senses. After he had got through, the latter personage said: 'Do you smell any thing of me?'
'I think I do,' was the reply, with an upturned nose, intimating that he not only smelt him, but that it was any thing but agreeable.
The auctioneer then followed the example of the Alderman, by making a circuit around him, practising short, hysterical snuffing, as he proceeded.