THE EDITOR OF OUR DAILY PAPER—THE APPEARANCE AND PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS OF COLONEL BANGS—THE AFFAIR WITH THE TOMBSTONE—ART NEWS—COLONEL BANGS IN THE HEAT OF A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN—PECULIAR TROUBLES OF PUBLIC SINGERS—THE PHENOMENA OF MENAGERIES—EXTRAORDINARY SAGACITY OF THE ANIMALS—THE WILD MAN OF AFGHANISTAN.
HE editor of our daily paper, The Morning Argus, is Col. Bangs—Colonel Mortimer J. Bangs. The colonel is an exceedingly important personage in the village, and he bears about him the air of a man who is acutely conscious of the fact. The gait of the colonel, the peculiar way in which he carries his head, the manner in which he swings his cane, and the art he has of impressing any one he happens to address with a feeling that he is performing an act of sublime condescension in permitting himself to hold communication with an inferior being, combine to excite in the vulgar mind a sentiment of awe. The eminent journalist manifests in his entire bearing his confidence in the theory that upon him devolves the responsibility of forming the public opinion of the place; and there is a certain grandeur in the manner in which he conveys to the public mind, through the public eye, the fact that while he appreciates the difficulties of what seemed to be an almost superhuman task, which would surely overwhelm men of smaller intellectual calibre, the work presents itself to his mind as something not much more formidable than pastime.
The appearance of Colonel Bangs is not only imposing, but sometimes it inclines to be almost ferocious. The form in which he wears his whiskers, added to the military nature of his title, would be likely to give to timid strangers an idea not only that the colonel has a raging and insatiable thirst for blood and an almost irresistible appetite for the horrors of war, but that upon very slight provocation he would suddenly grasp his sword, fling away the scabbard, and then proceed to wade through slaughter to a throne and shut the gates of mercy on mankind. But I rejoice to say that the colonel has not really such murderous and revolutionary inclinations. His title was obtained in those early years of peace when he led the inoffensive forces of the militia upon parade, and marshaled them as they braved the perils of the target-shooting excursion.
I think I am warranted in saying that Colonel Bangs would never voluntarily stand in the imminent deadly breach if there happened to be a man there with a gun who wanted him to leave, and that he will never seek the bubble reputation at the cannon's mouth unless the cannon happens to be unloaded. Place Colonel Bangs in front of an empty cannon, and for a proper consideration he would remain there for years without the quiver of a muscle:
Charge that piece of ordnance with powder and ball, and not all the wealth of the world would induce him to stand anywhere but in the rear of the artillery.
The Argus has never appeared to me to be an especially brilliant journal. To the intelligent and critical reader, indeed, the controlling purpose of the colonel seems to be to endeavor to ascertain how near he can bring the paper to imbecility without actually reaching that condition; and it is surprising how close a shave he makes of it. When we first came to the village, a gleam of intelligence now and then appeared in the editorial columns of the Argus, and this phenomenon was generally attributed to the circumstance that Colonel Bangs had permitted his assistant editor to spread his views before the public. On such occasions it was entertaining to observe in what manner the colonel would assume the honors of the authorship of his assistant's articles. Cooley, for instance, meeting him upon the street would observe:
"That was an uncommonly good thing, colonel, which appeared in the Argus this morning on The Impending Struggle; whose was it?"
COLONEL BANGS (with an air of mingled surprise and indignation). Whose was it? Whose was that article? I suppose you are aware, sir, that I am the editor of The Morning Argus."
COOLEY. "Yes; but I thought perhaps—"
COLONEL (with grandeur). "No matter, sir, what you thought. When an article appears in my own paper, Mr. Cooley, there is but a single inference to be drawn. When I find myself unable to edit the Argus, I will sell out, sir—I will sell out!"
COOLEY (calmly). "Well, but Murphy, your assistant, told me distinctly that he wrote that editorial himself."
COLONEL (coming down). "Ah! yes, yes! that is partly true, now I remember. I believe Murphy did scratch off the body of the article, but I overhauled it; it was necessary for me to revise it, to touch it up, to throw it into shape, as it were, before it went into type. Murphy means well, and with a little guidance—just a l-e-e-t-l-e careful training—he will do."
But Murphy did not remain long. One of the colonel's little nephews died, and a man who kept a marble-yard in Wilmington thought he might obtain a gratuitous advertisement by giving to the afflicted uncle a substantial expression of his sympathy. So he got up a gravestone for the departed child. The design, cut upon the stone in bas-relief, represented an angel carrying the little one in arms and flying away with it, while a woman sat weeping upon the ground. It was executed in a most dreadful manner. The tombstone was sent to the colonel, with a simple request that he would accept it. As he was absent, Mr. Murphy determined to acknowledge the gift, although he had not the slightest idea what it meant. So the next morning he burst out in the Argus with the following remarks:
"We have received from the eminent sculptor, Mr. Felix Mullins of Wilmington, a comic bas-relief designed for an ornamental fireboard. It represents an Irishman in his night-shirt running away with the little god Cupid, while the Irishman's sweetheart demurely hangs her head in the corner. Every true work of art tells its own story; and we understand, as soon as we glance at this, that our Irish friend has been coqueted with by the fair one, and is pretending to transfer his love to other quarters. There is a lurking smile on the Irishman's lips which expresses his mischievous intentions perfectly. We think it would have been better, however, to have clothed him in something else than a night-shirt, and to have smoothed down his hair. We have placed this chef d'oeuvre upon a shelf in our office, where it will undoubtedly be admired by our friends when they call. We are glad to encourage such progress in Delaware art."
This was painful. When the colonel returned next day, Mr. Mullins called on him and explained the tombstone to him, and that very night Mr. Murphy retired from the Morning Argus, and began to seek fresh fields for the exercise of his talents.
Colonel Bangs affords me most entertainment in the Argus when an election is approaching.
Your city editor often displays a certain amount of vehemence at such times, but his wildest frenzy is calmness, is absolute slumberous repose itself, when compared with the frantic enthusiasm manifested by Colonel Bangs. The latter succeeds in getting up as much fury over a candidate for constable as a city editor does over an aspirant for the Presidency. He will turn out column after column of double-leaded type, in which he will demonstrate with a marvelous profusion of adjectives that if you should roll all the prophets, saints and martyrs into one, you would have a much smaller amount of virtue than can be found in that one humble man who wants to be constable. He will prove to you that unless that particular person is elected, the entire fabric of American institutions will totter to its base and become a bewildering and hopeless ruin, while the merciless despots who grind enslaved millions beneath their iron heels will greet the hideous and irreclaimable chaos with fiendish laughter, and amid the remnants of a once proud republic they will erect bastiles which they will forge chains to fetter the wrists of dismayed and heart-broken patriots. He will ask you to take your choice between electing that man constable and witnessing the annihilation of the proud work for which the Revolutionary patriots bled and died.
The man who runs against the candidate of the Argus will be proved to be a moral and intellectual wreck, and it will be shown that all the vices which have corrupted the race since the fall of man are concentrated in that one individual. The day after election, if his man wins, Colonel Bangs will decorate his paper with a whole array of roosters and a menagerie of 'coons, and inform a breathless world that the nation is once more saved. If he loses, he will omit any reference to the frightful prophecies uttered during the campaign, keep his roosters in the closet, and mildly assert that the opposition man is not so bad, after all, and that the right party must triumph next time for certain. Then Colonel Bangs will keep his enthusiasm cool for a year, and during that period will rest his overwrought brain, while he edits his paper with a pair of predatory shears and a dishonest paste-pot.
It is extremely probable that we shall lose our servant-girl. She was the victim of a very singular catastrophe a night or two since, in consequence of which she has acquired a prejudice against the house of Adeler. We were troubled with dampness in our cellar, and in order to remove the difficulty we got a couple of men to come and dig the earth out to the depth of twelve or fifteen inches and fill it in with a cement-and-mortar floor. The material was, of course, very soft, and the workmen laid boards upon the surface, so that access to the furnace and the coal-bin was possible. That night, just after retiring, we heard a woman screaming for help, but after listening at the open window, we concluded that Cooley and his wife were engaged in an altercation, and so we paid no more attention to the noise.
Half an hour afterward there was a violent ring at the front-door bell, and upon going to the window again, I found Pitman standing upon the door-step below. When I spoke to him, he said:
"Max" (the judge is inclined sometimes, especially during periods of excitement, to be unnecessarily familiar), "there's somethin' wrong in your cellar. There's a woman down there screechin' and carryin' on like mad. Sounds 's if somebody's a-murderin' her."
I dressed and descended; and securing the assistance of Pitman, so that I would be better prepared in the event of burglars being discovered, I lighted a lamp and we went into the cellar.
There we found the maid-servant standing by the refrigerator, knee-deep in the cement, and supporting herself with the handle of a broom, which was also half submerged. In several places about her were air-holes marking the spot where the milk-jug, the cold veal, the lima beans and the silver-plated butter-dish had gone down. We procured some additional boards, and while Pitman seized the sufferer by one arm I grasped the other. It was for some time doubtful if she would come to the surface without the use of more violent means, and I confess that I was half inclined to regard with satisfaction the prospect that we would have to blast her loose with gunpowder. After a desperate struggle, during which the girl declared that she would be torn in pieces, Pitman and I succeeded in getting her safely out, and she went up stairs with half a barrel of cement on each leg, declaring that she would leave the house in the morning.
The cold veal is in there yet. Centuries hence some antiquarian will perhaps grub about the spot whereon my cottage once stood, and will blow that cold veal out in a petrified condition, and then present it to a museum as the fossil remains of some unknown animal. Perhaps, too, he will excavate the milk-jug and the butter-dish, and go about lecturing upon them as utensils employed in bygone ages by a race of savages called "the Adelers." I should like to be alive at the time to hear that lecture. And I cannot avoid the thought that if our servant had been completely buried in the cement, and thus carefully preserved until the coming of that antiquarian, the lecture would be more interesting, and the girl more useful than she is now. A fossilized domestic servant of the present era would probably astonish the people of the twenty-eighth century.
"I see," said Mrs. Adeler, who was looking over the evening paper upon the day following the accident, "that. Mlle. Willson, the opera-singer, has been robbed of ten thousand dollars' worth of diamonds in St. Louis. What a dreadful loss!"
"Dreadful, indeed, Mrs. A. These singing women are very unfortunate. They are constantly being robbed, or rolled over embankments in railway cars, or subjected to deadly perils in some other form; and the astonishing thing about it all is that these frightful things invariably occur precisely at the times when public interest in the victims begins to flag a little, and the accounts always appear in the papers of a certain city just before the singers begin an engagement in that place. It is very remarkable."
"You don't think this story is false, do you, and that all such statements are untrue?"
"Certainly not. I only refer to the fact because it shows how very wonderful coincidences often are. I have observed precisely the same thing in connection with other contributors to popular entertainment. But in these cases sometimes we may trace the effects directly to the cause. Take menageries, for example. The peculiar manifestations which frequently attend the movements of these collections of wild animals through the land can be attributed only to the wonderful instinct of the beasts. If I am to judge from the reports that appear occasionally in the provincial newspapers, it invariably happens that the animals come to the rescue of the menagerie people when the latter begin their campaigns and are badly in want of advertisements for which they are disinclined to pay.
"Regularly every season these ferocious beasts proceed to do something to secure sensational allusions to themselves in the papers. If the rhinoceros does not plunge through the side of the tent and prowl about until he comes home with an entire Sunday-school class of small boys impaled on his horn, the Nubian lion is perfectly certain to bite its keeper in half and lunch upon his legs. If the elephant should neglect to seize his attendant and fling him into the parquet circle, while at the same time it crushes the hyena into jelly, the Bengal tiger is very sure not to forget to tear half a dozen ribs out of the ticket agent, and then to assimilate ten or twelve village children who are trying to peep under the tent. Either the brass band, riding upon the den of lions, finds the roof caving in, and at last is rescued with the loss of the cymbal player and the operator upon the key bugle, and of a lot of legs and arms snatched from the bass drummer and the man with the triangle, or else there is a railroad accident which empties the cars and permits kangaroos, panthers, blue-nose baboons and boa-constrictors to roam about the country reducing the majorities of the afflicted sections previous to the election.
"You may find hundreds of accounts of such accidents in the rural press during the summer season; and whenever I read them, I am at a loss to determine which is more wonderful, the remarkable sagacity and the self-sacrificing devotion of these beasts, which perceive that something must be done and straightway do it, or the childlike confidence, the bland simplicity, of the editors who give gratuitous circulation to these narratives."
"Talking about menageries," observed Mr. Bob Parker, "did I ever tell you about Wylie and his love affair?" "No."
"Wylie, you know, was the brother of the porter in our store; and when he had nothing to do, he used to come around and sit in the cellar among the boxes and bales, and we fellows would go down when we were at leisure and hear him relate his adventures.
"One time, several years ago, he was awfully hard up, and he accepted a situation in a traveling show. They dressed him up in a fur shirt and put grizzly bears' claws on his feet and daubed some stuff over his face, and advertised him as 'The Wild Man of Afghanistan.' Then, when the show was open, he would stand in a cage and scrouge up against the bars and growl until he would scare the children nearly to death. The fat woman used to sit near him during the exhibitions just outside the cage, and by degrees he learned to love her. The keeper of the concern himself, it appears, also cherished a tender feeling for the corpulent young creature, and he became jealous of the Wild Man of Afghanistan."
"And the professor of avoirdupois—whom did she affect?"
"Well, when the visitors came, the keeper would procure a pole with a nail in the end, and he would stir up the Wild Man and poke him. Then he would ridicule the Wild Man's legs and deliver lectures upon the manner in which he turned in his toes; and he sometimes read to the audience chapters out of books of natural history to show that a being with a skull of such a shape must necessarily be an idiot. Then he would poke the Wild Man of Afghanistan a few more times with the pole and pass on to the next cage with some remarks tending to prove that the monkeys therein and the Wild Man were of the same general type.
"And all the time the fat woman would sit there and smile a cold and disdainful smile, as if she believed it all, and hated such legs and despised toes that turned in. At last the Wild Man of Afghanistan had his revenge. One day when all hands were off duty, the keeper fell asleep on the settee in the ticket-office adjoining the show-room. Then Mr. Wylie threw a blanket over him and went for the fat woman. He led her by the hand and asked her to be seated while he told her about his love. Then she suddenly sat down on the keeper."
'And killed him, I suppose, of course?"
"Wylie informed me that you could have passed the remains under a closed door without scraping the buttons of the waistcoat. They merely slid him into a crack in the ground when they buried him, and the fat woman pined away until she became thin and valueless. Then the Wild Man married her, and began life again on a new basis."
"Was Mr. Wylie what you might consider a man of veracity?"
"Certainly he was; and his story is undoubtedly true, because his toes did turn in."
"That settles the matter. With such incontrovertible evidence as that at hand, it would be folly to doubt the story. We will go quietly and confidently to tea instead of discussing it."