HOW THE PLUMBER FIXED MY BOILER—A VEXATIOUS BUSINESS—HOW HE DIDN'T COME TO TIME, AND WHAT THE ULTIMATE RESULT WAS—AN ACCIDENT, AND THE PATHETIC STORY OF YOUNG CHUBB—REMINISCENCES OF GENERAL CHUBB—THE ECCENTRICITIES OF AN ABSENT-MINDED MAN—THE RIVALS—PARKER VERSUS SMILEY.
E have had a great deal of trouble recently with our kitchen boiler, which is built into the wall over the range. It sprang a leak a few weeks ago, and the assistance of a plumber had to be invoked for the purpose of repairing it. I sent for the plumber, and after examining the boiler, he instructed the servant to let the fire go out that night, so that he could begin operations early the next morning.
His order was obeyed, but in the morning the plumber failed to appear. We had a cold and very uncomfortable breakfast, and on my way to the depot I overtook the plumber going in the same direction. He said he was sorry to disappoint me, but he was called suddenly out of town on imperative business, and he would have to ask me to wait until the next morning, when he would be promptly on hand with his men.
So we had no fire in the range upon that day, and the family breakfasted again upon cool viand without being cheered with a view of the plumber. Upon calling at the plumber's shop to ascertain why he had not fulfilled his promise, I was informed by the clerk that he had returned, but that he was compelled to go over to Wilmington. The man seemed so thoroughly in earnest in his assertion that the plumber positively would attend to my boiler upon the following morning that we permitted the range to remain untouched, and for the third time we broke our fast with a frigid repast. But the plumber and his assistants did not come.
As it seemed to be wholly impossible to depend upon these faithless artisans, our cook was instructed to bring the range into service again without waiting longer for repairs, and to give the family a properly prepared meal in the morning. While we were at breakfast there was a knock at the gate, and presently we perceived the plumber and his men coming up the yard with a general assortment of tools and materials. The range at the moment of his entrance to the kitchen was red hot; and when he realized the fact, he flung his tools on the floor and expressed his indignation in the most violent and improper language, while his attendant fiends sat around in the chairs and growled in sympathy with their chief. When I appeared upon the scene, the plumber addressed me with the air of a man who had suffered a great and irreparable wrong at my hands, and he really displayed so much feeling that for a few moments I had an indistinct consciousness that I had somehow been guilty of an act of gross injustice to an unfortunate and persecuted fellow-being. Before I could recover myself sufficiently to present my side of the case with the force properly belonging to it, the plumbers marched into the yard, where they tossed a quantity of machinery and tools and lead pipe under the shed, and then left.
We had no fire in the range the next morning, but the plumbers did not come until four o'clock in the afternoon, and then they merely dumped a cart load of lime-boxes and hoes upon the asparagus bed and went home. An interval of four days elapsed before we heard of them again; and meanwhile the cook twice nearly killed herself by stumbling over the tools while going out into the shed in the dark. One morning, however, the gang arrived before I had risen; and when I came down to breakfast, I found that they had made a mortar bed on our best grass plot, and had closed up the principal garden walk with a couple of wagon loads of sand. I endured this patiently because it seemed to promise speedy performance of the work. The plumbers, however, went away at about nine o'clock, and the only reason we had for supposing they had not forgotten us was that a man with a cart called in the afternoon and shot a quantity of bricks down upon the pavement in such a position that nobody could go in or out of the front gate. Two days afterward the plumbers came and began to make a genuine effort to reach the boiler. It was buried in the wall in such a manner that it was wholly inaccessible by any other method than by the removal of the bricks from the outside.
The man who erected the house evidently was a party with the plumber to a conspiracy to give the latter individual something to do. They labored right valiantly at the wall, and by supper-time they had removed at least twelve square feet of it, making a hole large enough to have admitted a locomotive. Then they took out the old boiler and went away, leaving a most discouraging mass of rubbish lying about the yard.
That was the last we saw of them for more than a week. Whenever I went after the plumber for the purpose of persuading him to hasten the work, I learned that he had been summoned to Philadelphia as a witness in a court case, or that he had gone to his aunt's funeral, or that he was taking a holiday because it was his wife's birthday, or that he had a sore eye.
I have never been able to understand why the house was not robbed. An entire brigade of burglars might have entered the cottage and frolicked among its treasures without any difficulty. I did propose at first that Bob and I should procure revolvers and take watch and watch every night until the breach in the wall should be repaired; but Mr. Parker did not regard the plan with enthusiasm, and it was abandoned. We had to content ourselves with fastening the inner door of the kitchen as securely as possible, and we were not molested. But we were nervous. Mrs Adeler, I think, assured me positively at least twice every night that she heard robbers on the stairs, and entreated me not to go out after them; and I never did.
Finally the men came and began to fill the hole with new bricks. That evening the plumber walked into my parlor with mud and mortar on his boots, and informed me that by an unfortunate mistake the hole left for the boiler by the bricklayers was far too small, and he could not insert the boiler without taking the wall down again.
"Mr. Nippers," I said, "don't you think it would be a good idea for me to engage you permanently to labor upon that boiler? From the manner in which this, business has been conducted, I infer that I can finally be rid of annoyance about such matters by employing a perennial plumber to live for ever in my back yard, and to spend the unending cycles of eternity banging boilers and demolishing walls."
Mr. Nippers said, with apparent seriousness, that he thought it would be a first-rate thing.
"Mr. Nippers, I am going to ask a favor of you. I do not insist upon compliance with my request. I know that I am at your mercy. Nippers, you have me, and I submit patiently to my fate. But my family is suffering from cold, we are exposed to the ravages of thieves, we are deprived of the means of cooking our food properly, and we are made generally uncomfortable by the condition of our kitchen. I ask you, therefore, as a personal favor to a man who wishes you prosperity here and felicity hereafter, and who means to settle your bill promptly, to fix that boiler at once."
Mr. Nippers thereupon said that he always liked me, and he swore a solemn oath that he would complete the job next day without fail. That was on Tuesday. Neither Nippers nor his men came again until Saturday, and then they put the boiler in its place and went away, leaving four or five cart loads of ruins in the yard. On Sunday the boiler began to leak as badly as ever, and I feel sure Nippers must have set the old one in again, although when he called early Monday morning with a bill for $237.84, which he wanted at once because he had a note to meet, he declared upon his honor that the boiler was a new one, and that it would not leak under a pressure of one thousand pounds to the square inch.
I am going to buy a cooking stove, and defy Nippers and the entire plumbing fraternity.
Cooley's boy has been in trouble again. Yesterday morning Mrs. Adeler heard loud screaming in Cooley's yard, and in a few moments a servant came to say that Mrs. Cooley wished to see Mrs. Adeler at once. Mrs A. hurried over there, supposing that something terrible had happened. She found Mrs. Cooley shaking her boy and crying, while the lad stood, the picture of misery and fright, his eyes protruding from his head and his hands holding his stomach. Mrs. Cooley explained in a voice broken with sobs that Henry had been playing with a small "mouth organ," and had accidentally swallowed it. The case was somewhat peculiar; and as Mrs. Adeler was not familiar with the professional methods which are adopted in such emergencies, she recommended simply a liberal use of mustard and warm water. The application was ultimately successful, and the missing musical instrument was surrendered by the boy. The incident is neither interesting nor remarkable, and I certainly should not have mentioned it but for the fact that it had a result which is perhaps worth chronicling here.
Last evening Bob came into the sitting-room and behaved in a manner which led me to believe that he had something on his mind. I asked him if ally thing was the matter. He said,
"Well, no; not exactly. The fact is I've been thinking about that accident to Cooley's boy, and it kind of suggested something to me."
"What was the nature of the suggestion?"
"I've jotted it down on paper. I've half a notion to send it to the Argus if you think it's good enough, and that's what I want to find out. I want to hear your opinion of the story. I don't do much of this sort of thing, and I'm kind of shy about it. Shall I read it?"
"Of course; let us hear it"
"I'm going to call it 'The Fate of Young Chubb' I expect it'll make old Cooley mad as fury when he sees it. It is founded upon the catastrophe of which his boy was the victim."
THE FATE OF YOUNG CHUBB.
When Mr. Chubb, the elder, returned from Europe, he brought with him from Geneva a miniature musical box, long and very narrow, and altogether of hardly greater dimensions, say, than a large pocket-knife. The instrument played four cheerful little tunes for the benefit of the Chubb family, and they enjoyed it. Young Henry Chubb enjoyed it to such an extent that, one day, just after the machine had been wound up ready for action, he got to sucking the end of it, and in a moment of inadvertence it slipped, and he swallowed it. The only immediate consequence of the accident was that a harmonic stomach-ache was organized upon the interior of Henry Chubb, and he experienced a restlessness which he well knew would defy peppermint and paregoric.
Henry Chubb kept his secret in his own soul, and in his stomach also, determined to hide his misery from his father, and to spare the rod to the spoiled child—spoiled, at any rate, as far as his digestive apparatus was concerned.
But that evening, at the supper-table, Henry had eaten but one mouthful of bread when strains of wild, mysterious music were suddenly wafted from under the table. The family immediately made an effort to discover whence the sounds came, although Henry Chubb at there filled with agony and remorse and bread and tunes, and desperately asserted his belief that the music came from the cellar, where the servant-girl was concealed with a harp. He well knew that Mary Ann was unfamiliar with the harp. But he was frantic with anxiety to hide his guilt. Thus it is that one crime leads to another.
But he could not disguise the truth for ever, and that very night, while the family was at prayers, Henry all at once began to hiccough, and the music box started off without warning with "Way down upon the Suwanee River," with variations. Whereupon the paternal Chubb arose from his knees and grasped Henry kindly but firmly by his hair and shook him up and inquired what he meant by such conduct. And Henry asserted that he was practicing something for a Sunday-school celebration, which old Chubb intimated was a singularly thin explanation. Then they tried to get up that music box, and every time they would seize Henry by the legs and shake him over the sofa cushion, or would pour some fresh variety of emetic down his throat, the instrument within would give a fresh spurt, and joyously grind out "Listen to the Mocking Bird" or "Thou'lt Never Cease to Love."
At last they were compelled to permit that musical box to remain within the sepulchral recesses of young Chubb. To say that the unfortunate victim of the disaster was made miserable by his condition would be to express in the feeblest manner the state of his mind. The more music there was in his stomach, the wilder and more completely chaotic became the discord in his soul. As likely as not it would occur that while he lay asleep in the middle of the night the works would begin to revolve, and would play "Home, Sweet Home" for two or three hours, unless the peg happened to slip, when the cylinder would switch back again to "Way down upon the Suwanee River," and would rattle out that tune with variations and fragments of the scales until Henry's brother would kick him out of bed in wild despair, and sit on him in a vain effort to subdue the serenade, which, however, invariably proceeded with fresh vigor when subjected to unusual pressure.
And when Henry Chubb went to church, it frequently occurred that, in the very midst of the most solemn portion of the sermon, he would feel a gentle disturbance under the lower button of his jacket; and presently, when everything was hushed, the undigested engine would give a preliminary buzz and then reel off "Listen to the Mocking Bird" and "Thou'lt Never Cease to Love," and scales and exercises, until the clergyman would stop and glare at Henry over his spectacles and whisper to one of the deacons. Then the sexton would suddenly tack up the aisle and clutch the unhappy Mr. Chubb by the collar and scud down the aisle again to the accompaniment of "Home, Sweet Home," and then incarcerate Henry in the upper portion of the steeple until after church.
But the end came at last, and the miserable boy found peace. One day while he was sitting in school endeavoring to learn his multiplication table to the tune of "Thou'lt Never Cease to Love," his gastric juice triumphed. Something or other in the music box gave way all at once, the springs were unrolled with alarming force, and Henry Chubb, as he felt the fragments of the instrument hurled right and left among his vitals, tumbled over on the floor and expired.
At the post mortem examination they found several pieces of "Home, Sweet Home" in his liver, while one of his lungs was severely torn by a fragment of "Way down upon the Suwanee River." Small particles of "Listen to the Mocking Bird" were removed from his heart and breast-bone, and three brass pegs of "Thou'lt Never Cease to Love" were found firmly driven into his fifth rib.
They had no music at the funeral. They sifted the machinery out of him and buried him quietly in the cemetery. Whenever the Chubbs buy musical boxes now, they get them as large as a piano and chain them to the wall.
While Bob was engaged in reading the account of the melodious misery of the unhappy Chubb, Lieutenant Smiley came in, and the result was that both became uneasy. Bob disliked to subject himself to the criticism of a man whom he regarded as an enemy, and the lieutenant was so jealous of Bob's success that he began instantly to try to think of something that would enable him at least to maintain his reputation as a teller of stories.
"That is very good indeed, Bob," I said. "Bangs will be only too glad to publish it. It is very creditable. Put your name to it, however, if it goes into the Argus, or the colonel will persuade the community that he is the author of it."
"He will have to get a new brain-pan set in before he can write anything as good," said Bob.
"It is a very amusing story," remarked Mrs. Adeler. "I had no idea that you ever attempted such things. It is quite good, is it not, lieutenant?"
"Oh, very good indeed," said Smiley. "V-e-r-y good. Quite an achievement, in fact. Ha! ha! do you know that name 'Chubb' reminds me of a very comical incident."
"Ha! yes! Old General Chubb was the actor in it. Perhaps you knew him, Parker?"
"No, I didn't," growled Bob.
"Well, he was a very eccentric old man. Deuced queer, you know, and the most absent-minded person that ever lived. He had a wooden leg late in his life, and I've often known him to put that leg on backward with the toes pointing behind him, and then he would come jolting down the street in the most extraordinary manner, with his good knee bending north and his timber knee doubling up southwardly; and when I would meet him, he would stop and growl because the authorities kept the pavements in such bad repair that a man could hardly walk."
"I don't see anything very funny about that," said Bob, impolitely and savagely.
"Well, one day a few months ago," continued Smiley, without noticing Mr. Parker's ill-nature, "he sauntered into the studio of the celebrated marine painter Hamilton, in Philadelphia. The artist was out at the moment, but standing upon the floor was a large and very superb picture of the sea-beach, with the surf rolling in upon it. The general stood looking at it for a while, until his mind wandered off from the present, and under the influence of the picture he was gradually impressed with a vague notion that he was at the seashore.
So, still gazing at the painting, he slowly removed his clothes, and finally stood in a revery without a stitch upon him. Then he clasped his nose with his fingers, bent his neck forward and plunged head foremost into the surf. The people on the floor below thought there was an earthquake. The artist came rushing in, and found General Chubb with his head against the washboard, one leg hanging from the ragged surf and the toes of his left foot struggling among the ruins of the lighthouse. Hamilton has that torn picture yet. He says that Chubb's dive is the highest tribute ever paid to his genius."
As the lieutenant finished the narrative, Bob rose and left the room with the suggestion, muttered as he passed me, that the story was tough.
"Mr. Parker don't seem well," remarked the lieutenant when Bob had gone.
"Oh yes, he is perfectly well. I imagine that he does not regard you with precisely the same amount of enthusiastic admiration that he might perhaps feel if you were not treading on his toes a little."
"Oh," laughed the lieutenant, "you refer, of course, to our relations with the Magruders? I don't like to talk much about that matter, of course; it is delicate, and you may think I am meddling with a business in which I have no concern. But perhaps I may as well tell you frankly that Parker has no earthly chance there—not the least in the world. The young lady won't smile on him. I am as certain of that as I am of death."
"You are positive of that, are you?"
"Yes, sir, you can rely upon my word. Parker might as well give it up. By the way, I wonder if he has gone down there now?"
"Well, I must say good-night, then; I promised to call there at half-past eight, and it is time to be off.".
So Lieutenant Smiley bade us adieu. Mrs. Adeler immediately asked:
"Do you believe what that man says?"
"Certainly not, my dear. I have as much faith as a dozen ordinary men, but it would require a grand army to believe him. He is foolish enough to hope to frighten Bob away. But Bob shall settle the matter to-morrow. If he doesn't, we will disown him. The end of the campaign has come. Now for victory or defeat!"