A VERY DISAGREEABLE PREDICAMENT—WILD EXULTATION OF PARKER—HE MAKES AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT—AN INTERVIEW WITH THE OLD MAN—THE EMBARRASSMENT OF MR. SPARKS, AND HOW HE OVERCAME IT—A STORY OF BISHOP POTTS—THE MISERIES OF TOO MUCH MARRIAGE—HOW POTTS SUFFERED, AND WHAT HIS END WAS.
AST evening, after waiting until eleven o'clock for Mr. Parker to come home, I went to bed. I had hardly composed myself for slumber when I thought I heard the door-bell ring; and supposing Bob had forgotten his latch-key, I descended for the purpose of letting him in. When I opened the door, no one was upon the porch; and although I was dressed simply in a night-shirt, I stepped out just beyond the doorway for the purpose of ascertaining if I could see any one who might have pulled the bell. Just as I did so the wind banged the door shut, and as it closed it caught a portion of my raiment which was fluttering about, and held it fast. I was somewhat amused at first, and I laughed as I tried to pull the muslin from the door; but after making very violent exertion for that purpose, I discovered that he material would not slip through. The garment was held so firmly that it could not possibly be removed. Then I determined to reach over to the other side of the doorway and pull the bell, in the hope that some one would hear it and come to my assistance But to my dismay I found that the doorway was so wide that even with the most desperate effort I could not succeed in touching the bell-knob with the tips of my fingers.
Meantime, I was beginning to freeze, for the night was very cold, and my legs and feet were wholly unprotected.
At last a happy thought struck me. I might very easily creep out of the shirt and leave it hanging in the door until I rang the bell, and then I could slip back again and await the result. Accordingly, I began to withdraw from the garment, and I had just freed myself from it and was about to pull the bell when I heard someone coming down the street. As the moon was shining brightly, I became panic-stricken, and hurried into the garment again. In my confusion I got it on backward, and found myself with my face to the wall; and then the person who was coming turned down the street just above my house, and didn't pass, after all.
I was afraid to try the experiment again, and I determined to shout for help. I uttered one cry, and waited for a response. It was a desperately cold night. I think the air must have been colder than it ever was before in the history of this continent. I stamped my feet in order to keep the blood in circulation, and then I shouted again for assistance. The river lay white and glistening in the light of the moon, and so clear was the atmosphere, so lustrous the radiance of the orb above, that I could plainly distinguish the dark line of the Jersey shore. It was a magnificent spectacle, and I should have enjoyed it intensely if I had had my clothing on. Then I began to think how very odd it was that a man's appreciation of the glorious majesty of nature should be dependent upon his trousers! How strange it was that cold legs should prevent an immortal soul from having felicity! Man is always prosaic when he is uncomfortable. Even a slight indigestion is utterly destructive of sentiment. I defy any man to enjoy the fruitiest poetry while his corns hurt him, or to feel a genuine impulse of affection while he has a severe cold in his head.
Then I cried aloud again for help, and an immediate response came from Cooley's new dog, which leaped over the fence and behaved as if it meditated an assault upon my defenceless calves. I was relieved from this dreadful situation by Bob, who came up the street whistling and singing in an especially joyous manner. He was a little frightened, I think, when he saw a figure in white upon the porch, and he paused for a moment before opening the gate, but he entered when I called to him; and unlocking the door with his key, he released me, and went up stairs laughing heartily at my mishap.
I was about to retire when I heard a series of extraordinary sounds in Bob's room overhead, and I thought it worth while to go up and ascertain what was going on. Standing outside the door, I could hear Bob chuckling and making use of such exclamations as,
"Bul-l-e-e-e! Ha! ha! All right, my boy! All right! You've fixed that, I guess! Bul-l-e-e-e-e-e!"
Then he seemed to be executing a hornpipe in his stockings upon the carpet; and when this exercise was concluded, he continued the conversation with himself in such tones as these:
"How are YOU, Smiley! No chance, hadn't I? Couldn't make it, couldn't I? I know a thing or two, I reckon. How are YOU, Lieutenant Smil-e-e-e-e! Ha! ha! I've settled your case, I guess, my boy! Bully for you, Parker! You've straightened that out, anyhow. Yes, air! Ha! ha! Fol de rol de rol de rol," etc., etc. (second performance of the hornpipe, accompanied by whistling and new expressions of intense satisfaction).
I went down stairs with a solemn conviction that Mr.Parker had explained himself to Miss Magruder, and had received an answer from her that was wholly satisfactory. I did not reveal the secret to Mrs. Adeler, concluding that it would be better to permit Bob to do that himself in the morning.
Parker rose about two hours earlier than usual, and I entertain a suspicion that he expended a portion of the time in going down the street to examine the exterior of Mr. Magruder's house. It probably gave him some satisfaction merely to view the tenement wherein his fair enslaver reposed. He came to the breakfast-table with a radiant countenance, and it was evident that he would be unable to contain the news for many moments longer. In order to prepare the way for him, I asked him:
"Why were you so late last night, Bob?"
"Oh, I had some important business on hand. Big things have been happening; I have some news to tell you."
"Another railroad accident?" I asked, carelessly, "or a riot in Philadelphia?"
"Riot? No! Thunder!" exclaimed Bob; "nothing of that kind. It's something more important. You know old Smiley—Fiji Island Smiley? Well, I've floored him; I've laid him out flat; I've knocked him into diminutive smithereens."
"Had a personal encounter with the lieutenant?" I asked, gravely.
"No, sir better than that. I've cut him out down at Magruder's. Bessie and I are engaged! What do you think of that, Max?"
"Think of it? Why, I congratulate you heartily. You have secured a treasure."
"And I congratulate you, too," said Mrs. A. "Bessie is a very fine girl, and will make you a good wife."
"That's what I think about it," observed Mr. Parker.
"I am very glad Lieutenant Smiley didn't succeed there," said Mrs. A.
"Smiley! Smiley!" exclaimed Bob, scornfully. "Why, he never had the ghost of a chance. Bessie told me last night she despised him. She wouldn't look at such a man as he is."
"Not while such men as you are around, at any rate, I suppose?"
"When are you going to speak to Bessie's father?" asked Mrs. Adeler.
A cloud suddenly passed over Bob's face, and he said:
"I don't know. I have to do it, I s'pose, but I hate it worse than I can tell you. I believe I'd rather propose to a woman a dozen times than to broach the matter to a stern parent once. It's all well enough to express your feelings to a woman who loves you; but when you come to explain the matter to a cold-blooded, matter-of-fact old man who is as prosy as a boiled turnip, it seems kind of ridiculous."
"Why don't you speak to Mrs. Dr. Magruder, then? She is a power in that family."
"No; I'll talk to Mr. Magruder. It's hard, but it has to be done. And see here, Max, don't you poke fun at Mrs. Magruder. She's a first-rate woman, and those things Dr. Jones told about her are the most rascally kind of lies. If you'll excuse me, I'll go down and see the old man now. I might as well settle the thing at once."
This evening, while we were waiting for tea, Bob made a report. The paternal Magruder, it seems, had already considered the subject carefully, and was not by any means as much surprised by Mr. Parker's statement as the latter expected he would be. Bob was amazed to find that although the old gentleman during the courtship had appeared wholly unconscious of the fact that his daughter was particularly intimate with the youth, yet somehow he seemed now to have had all the time a very clear perception of the state of the case.
"I thought he would get excited and, maybe, show a little emotion," said Bob, "but blame me if he didn't sit there and take it as coolly as if such things happened to him every day. And you know, when I began to tell him how much I thought of Bessie, he soused down on me and brought me back to prose with a question about the size of my income. But it's all right. He said he would be glad to have me a member of his family, and then he called in Bessie, and gave us a kind of a blessing and advised us not to be in a hurry about getting married."
"Very good advice, too. There is no need of haste. You ought to have plenty of time to think the matter over."
"Think it over!" exclaimed Bob, indignantly. "Why, I have thought it over. You don't suppose I'd be such! a fool as to engage myself to a girl without thinking seriously about it?"
"Certainly not; but marriage is a very solemn thing, and it should be undertaken advisedly. It is probable, I suppose, that you would never, under any circumstances, marry any woman but Bessie Magruder?"
"Never; no, never!"
"You don't believe in second marriages, then?"
"They do get a man into trouble very often. Did I ever tell you about old Sparks, of Pencadder Hundred?"
"I think not," said Bob.
“Well, old Sparks was married four times; and several years after the death of his last wife they started a new cemetery up there at Pencadder. Sparks bought a lot, and determined to remove his sacred dust from the old graveyard. Somehow or other, in taking the remains over to the cemetery in the wagon, they were hopelessly mixed together, so that it was utterly impossible to tell which was which. Any other man than Sparks would simply have taken the chances of having the reinterments properly made. But he was an extremely conscientious man; and when the sepulture was completed, he had a lot of new headstones set in, bearing such inscriptions as these: 'Here lies Jane (and probably part of Susan) Sparks;' 'Sacred to the memory of Maria (to say nothing of Jane and Hannah) Sparks.'
"'Stranger, pause and drop a tear,
For Susan Sparks lies buried here;
Mingled, in some perplexing manner,
With Jane, Maria and portions of Hannah:’"
“Don't it seem a little bit rough," said Bob, "to bring in such a story as that in connection with my engagement? I don't like it."
"Pardon me, Bob. Perhaps it was neither gracious nor in good taste, but somehow I just happened to think of old Sparks at that moment. I am sure, though, you won't object to another narrative which I am going to read to you upon the subject of too frequent marriage. It is the story of Bishop Potts. Do you feel like hearing it?"
"Well, no," said Bob, gloomily, "to tell you the truth, I don't; but I suppose I will have to hear it, so go ahead."
"Yes, I am going to inflict it upon you whether you want it or not. A man who is meditating matrimony, and is in a hurry, needs the influence of a few ‘awful examples' to induce him to proceed slowly. Here is the story. The hero was a dignitary in the Mormon Church, and his sufferings were the result of excessive marriage. The tale is entitled
"Bishop Potts, of Salt Lake City, was the husband of three wives and the father of fifteen interesting children. Early in the winter the bishop determined that his little ones should have a good time on Christmas, so he concluded to take a trip down to San Francisco to see what he could find in the shape of toys with which to gratify and amuse them. The good bishop packed his carpet-bag, embraced Mrs. Potts one by one and kissed each of her affectionately, and started upon his journey.
"He was gone a little more than a week, when he came back with fifteen brass trumpets in his valise for his darlings. He got out of the train at Salt Lake, thinking how joyous it would be at home on Christmas morning when the fifteen trumpets should be in operation upon different tunes at the same moment. But just as he entered the depot he saw a group of women standing in the ladies' room apparently waiting for him. As soon as he approached, the whole twenty of them rushed up, threw their arms about his neck and kissed him, exclaiming:
"'Oh, Theodore, we are so, so glad you have come back! Welcome home! Welcome, dear Theodore, to the bosom of your family!' and then the entire score of them fell upon his neck and cried over his shirt front and mussed him.
"The bishop seemed surprised and embarrassed. Struggling to disengage himself, he blushed and said:
"'Really, ladies, this kind of thing is well enough—it is interesting and all that; but there must be some kind of a—that is, an awkward sort of a—excuse me, ladies, but there seems to be, as it were, a slight misunderstanding about the—I am Bishop Potts.'
"'We know it, we know it, dear,' they exclaimed, in chorus, 'and we are glad to see you safe at home. We have all been very well while you were away, love.'
"'It gratifies me,' remarked the bishop, 'to learn that none of you have been a prey to disease. I am filled with serenity when I contemplate the fact; but really, I do not understand why you should rush into this railway station and hug me because your livers are active and your digestion good. The precedent is bad; it is dangerous!'
"'Oh, but we didn't!' they exclaimed, in chorus. 'We came here to welcome you because you are our husband.'
"Pardon me, but there must be some little—that is to say, as it were, I should think not. Women, you have mistaken your man!'
"Oh no they shouted; we were married to you while you were away I'
"'What exclaimed the bishop,; you don't mean to say that—'
"Yes, love. Our husband, William Brown, died on Monday, and on Thursday, Brigham had a vision in which he was directed to seal us to you; and so he performed the ceremony at once by proxy.'
"'Th-th-th-th-under!' observed the bishop.
"'And we are all living with you now—we and the dear children.'
"'Children! children!' exclaimed Bishop Potts, turning pale; you don't mean to say that there is a pack of children, too?'
"Yes, love, but only one hundred and twenty-five, not counting the eight twins and the triplet.'
"'Wha-wha-wha-what d'you say?' gasped the bishop, in a cold perspiration; 'one hundred and twenty-five! One hundred and twenty-five children and twenty more wives! It is too much—it is awful!' and the bishop sat down and groaned, while the late Mrs. Brown, the bride, stood around in a semicircle and fanned him with her bonnets, all except the red-haired one, and she in her trepidation made a futile effort to fan him with the coal-scuttle.
"But after a while the bishop became reconciled to his new alliance, knowing well that protests would be unavailing, so he walked home, holding several of the little hands of the bride, while the red-haired woman carried his umbrella and marched in front of the parade to remove obstructions and to scare off small boys.
"When the bishop reached the house, he went around among the cradles which filled the back parlor and the two second-story rooms, and attempted with such earnestness to become acquainted with his new sons and daughters that he set the whole one hundred and twenty-five and the twins to crying, while his own original fifteen stood around and swelled the volume of sound. Then the bishop went out and sat on the garden fence to whittle a stick and solemnly think, while Mrs. Potts distributed herself around and soothed the children. It occurred to the bishop while he mused, out there on the fence, that he had not enough trumpets to go around among the children as the family now stood; and so, rather than seem to be partial, he determined to go back to San Francisco for one hundred and forty-four more.
"So the bishop repacked his carpet-bag, and began again to bid farewell to his family. He tenderly kissed all of the Mrs. Potts who were at home, and started for the depot, while Mrs. Potts stood at the various windows and waved her handkerchiefs at him—all except the woman with the warm hair, and she, in a fit of absent-mindedness, held one of the twins by the leg and brandished it at Potts as he fled down the street toward the railway station.
"The bishop reached San Francisco, completed his purchases, and was just about to get on the train with his one hundred and forty-four trumpets, when a telegram was handed him. It contained in-formation to the effect that the auburn-haired Mrs. Potts had just had a daughter. This induced the bishop to return to the city for the purpose of purchasing an additional trumpet.
"On the following Saturday he returned home. As he approached his house a swarm of young children flew out of the, front gate and ran toward him, shouting, 'There's pa! Here comes pa! Oh, pa, but we're glad to see you! Hurrah for pa!' etc., etc.
"The bishop looked at the children as they flocked around him and clung to his legs and coat, and was astonished to perceive that they were neither his nor the late Brown's. He said, 'You youngsters have made a mistake; I am not your father;' and the bishop smiled good-naturedly.
"'Oh yes, you are, though!' screamed the little ones, in chorus.
“'But I say I am not,' said the bishop, severely, and frowning; you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Don't you know where little story-tellers go? It is scandalous for you to violate the truth in this manner. My name is Potts.'
"'Yes, we know it is,' exclaimed the children—'we know it is, and so is ours; that is our name now, too, since the wedding.'
"'Since what wedding?' demanded the bishop, turning pale.
"'Why, ma's wedding, of course. She was married yesterday to you by Mr. Young, and we are all living at your house now with our new little brothers and sisters.'
"The bishop sat down on the nearest front-door step and wiped away a tear. Then he asked,
"'Who was your father?'
"'Mr. Simpson,' said the crowd, 'and he died on Tuesday.'
"'And how many of his infernal old widows—I mean how many of your mother—are there?'
"'Only twenty-seven,' replied the children, 'and there are only sixty-four of us, and we are awful glad you have come home.'
"'The bishop did not seem to be unusually glad; somehow, he failed to share the enthusiasm of the occasion. There appeared to be, in a certain sense, too much sameness about these surprises; so he sat there with his hat pulled over his eyes and considered the situation. Finally, seeing there was no help for it, he went up to the house, and forty-eight of Mrs. Potts rushed up to him and told him how the prophet had another vision, in which he was commanded to seal Simpson's widow to Potts.
"Then the bishop stumbled around among the cradles to his writing-desk. He felt among the gum rings and rattles for his letter-paper, and then he addressed a note to Brigham, asking him as a personal favor to keep awake until after Christmas. 'The man must take me for a foundling hospital,' he said. Then the bishop saw clearly enough that if he gave presents to the other children, and not to the late Simpson's, the bride would make things warm for him. So he started again for San Francisco for sixty-four more trumpets, while Mrs. Potts gradually took leave of him in the entry—all but the red-haired woman, who was up stairs, and who had to be satisfied with screeching good-bye at the top of her voice.
"On his way home, after his last visit to San Francisco, the bishop sat in the car by the side of a man who had left Salt Lake the day before. The stranger was communicative. In the course of the conversation he remarked to the bishop:
"'That was a mighty pretty little affair up there at the city on Monday.'
"'What affair?' asked Potts.
"'Why, that wedding; McGrath's widow, you know—married by proxy.'
"'You don't say?' replied the bishop. 'I didn't know McGrath was dead.'
"'Yes; died on Sunday, and that night Brigham had a vision in which he was ordered to seal her to the bishop.'
"'Bishop!' exclaimed Potts. 'Bishop! What bishop?'
"'Well, you see, there were fifteen of Mrs. McGrath and eighty-two children, and they shoved the whole lot off on old Potts. Perhaps you don't know him?'
The bishop gave a wild shriek and writhed upon the floor as if he had a fit. When he recovered, he leaped from the train and walked back to San Francisco. He afterward took the first steamer for Peru, where he entered a monastery and became a celibate.
"His carpet-bag was sent on to his family. It contained the balance of the trumpets. On Christmas morning they were distributed, and in less than an hour the entire two hundred and eight children were sick from sucking the brass upon them. A doctor was called, and he seemed so much interested in the family that Brigham divorced the whole concern from old Potts and annexed it to the doctor, who immediately lost his reason, and would have butchered the entire family if the red-haired woman and the oldest boy had not marched him off to a lunatic asylum where he spent his time trying to arrive at an estimate of the number of his children by ciphering with an impossible combination of the multiplication table and algebra."
"And now that that's over," said Bob, as I folded up the manuscript, "will you please to tell me what the suffering of old Potts has to do with my engagement?"
"Well, to tell the truth, nothing in particular. I thought perhaps you might feel a sort of general interest in the mere subject of matrimony just now; and at any rate, I wanted your opinion of the merit of the story."
"Well, I think it is a pretty poor story. The humor of the Mormon business is stale, anyhow, and in your hands it becomes absolutely dismal. I can write a better Mormon story than that myself, and I don't even profess to be a scribbler."
Then Mr. Parker swaggered out with the air of a man whose opinions have the weight of a judicial decision. I think he has acquired, since his engagement, a much greater notion of his importance than he had before. It is remarkable how a youth who has succeeded in a love affair immediately begins to cherish the idea that his victory is attributable to the fact that he possesses particularly brilliant qualities of some kind. Bob was the humblest man in Delaware a week ago; to-day he walks about with such an air as he might have had if he had just won the battle of Waterloo.