TROUBLE FOR THE HERO AND HEROINE—A BROKEN ENGAGEMENT AND A FORLORN DAMSEL—BOB PARKER'S SUFFERING—A FORMIDABLE ENCOUNTER—THE PECULIAR CONDUCT OF A DUMB ANIMAL—COOLEY'S BOY AND HIS HOME DISCIPLINE—A STORY OF AN ECHO.
E had been talking of asking the Magruders to come to take tea with us, so that the two families, which were now to be brought into close relations, might become better acquainted. But one evening, just as I had settled myself for a comfortable perusal of the paper, Miss Magruder was ushered into the room by the servant. It was plainly evident from her appearance that she was in distress from some cause. We should have guessed from her visit at such an hour unaccompanied by any one that all was not right, even if her countenance had not manifested extreme agitation. After the usual salutation she asked,
"Is Mr. Parker not at home?"
"He has not yet returned from the city," I said. "I suppose be has been detained for some reason. It is probable that he will be here presently."
"I wanted to see him," she said, hesitatingly. "I am afraid you'll think it very queer for me to come here at such a strange time; but—but"—and here her voice quavered a little—"but oh, something dreadful has happened—something very, very dreadful."
Then the tears began to come into her pretty brown eyes, and the little maid, after striving desperately to restrain them and to retain her composure, buried her face in her hands and began to sob. There was a woman by her side in a moment to comfort her and to seek her confidence; but it was very awkward for me. I was not quite certain whether I ought not to fly from the room and permit the two to be alone. But I remained with mingled feelings of sympathy and curiosity, and with an indistinct notion that the forlorn damsel before me regarded me as a flinty-hearted brute because I didn't express violent indignation at her ill-treatment. I should have done so if I had had any conception of the nature of the wrong endured by her. At last, when she had obtained relief in a good cry—and it is surprising how much better a troubled woman feels when she has cried and wiped her weeping eyes—Bessie told us the story.
"Father came to me to-day," she said, "and told me that he had heard some dreadful things about Robert; and he said he could not consent to my marriage with such a man, and that our engagement must be broken off."
"What kind of things?" indignantly demanded Mrs. Adeler, whose family pride was aroused; "what did he hear?"
"Oh, something perfectly awful!" exclaimed Bessie, looking up with fresh tears in her eyes. "He said Robert drank a great deal and that he was very often intoxicated."
"What an outrageous falsehood!" exclaimed Mrs. Adeler.
"I told father it was," said Bessie; "but he said he knew it was true, and, worse than that, that Robert not only kept very bad company in the city, but that he was an atheist—that he only came to church in order to deceive us."
If the late Mr. Fahrenheit had had to indicate the warmth of Mrs. Adeler's indignation at this moment, he would have given 215° as the figure. "I declare," she said, "that is the wickedest falsehood I ever heard. I will call upon Mrs. Magruder to-morrow morning and tell her so."
"And father insisted," said Bessie, "that I should write a formal note to Robert, breaking our engagement and asking him to discontinue his visits to our house. I did so, but I could not bear to have him think me so heartless, and I felt as if I must come here and tell him about it before the note reached him. Please don't think it strange that I came, and don't let any one know it." Then Bessie began to sob again.
"Certainly, Bessie," I replied, "it was very proper for you to do as you have done. Your father has been unjust to you and to Bob. Robert shall see him and demand an explanation. But who do you suppose told your father these things?"
"I have no idea. But it must have been somebody who was opposed to our marriage, and who hated Robert. I can't believe that any one would have invented such stories without a very malicious motive."
"Well, Bessie, the only thing we can do now is to permit the matter to rest as it is until we have an opportunity to disprove these slanders. Let me go home with you; and when Bob comes in, I will tell him all about it. He shall call upon your father. I will do so myself to-morrow. Bob has been unfairly used. He is as proper a youth as any in the land, and worthy of the love of any woman."
Then I escorted Bessie to her home, and upon my way back I met Bob coming in hot haste toward me. He arrived at the house just after our departure; and a few words from Mrs. Adeler having placed him in command of the situation, he started off at once with the hope to overtake us and to have a few words with Bessie. He was breathless and in a condition of frenzy. He at first insisted upon storming the castle of the Magruders at once for the purpose of assailing the dragon that guarded his fair lady. But I showed him that it would perhaps injure Bessie if he should excite suspicion that she had visited him, and that it would be ridiculous at any rate to attack old Magruder at that time of night and while he was in such a state of excitement. It was finally agreed that we should wait until morning, and that then I should first visit Mr. Magruder and obtain an explanation from him, so that Bob could go there afterward fully prepared to vindicate himself.
"I'll bet anything," said Bob, as we walked home, "I know who is the author of these slanders. It is Cooley. He don't like you or any of your family, and he has taken this means of injuring us. If it is he, I'll give him an aggravated case of assault and battery to settle. I'll thrash him within an inch of his life."
"I don't believe Cooley did it," I replied. "It is not the kind of business that he would care to trouble himself with. It is some one who has an interest in separating you and Bessie."
"I don't know of any such person," said Bob.
"Perhaps Smiley did it."
"That may be," replied Bob; "he has little enough principle, but I hardly think he would display so much malice, Besides, he knows very well Bessie would not accept him under any circumstances."
"Well, let us wait patiently for further developments. It is not worth while to denounce any one until we can ascertain who the offender is."
Bob had been delayed in the city by a visit to his parents, who were going north for a week or two, and they consigned to his care his younger brother, who came with him to our house to remain during the absence of his father and mother. The boy was at the house when we reached it; and when the time came for him to go to bed, it was arranged that he should sleep with Bob. The consequences of this were somewhat peculiar. The youngster, it appears, has a habit of walking in his sleep, and he was so afraid that he would do so on this night, in a strange house, that Bob tied a strong piece of twine about the lad's waist and fastened the other end to his own body, so that he would be roused by any attempt on the part of his brother to prowl about the room. It turned out, however, that Bob was the, restless one. According to his own account, he got to dreaming of his troubles. He imagined that he was engaged in a frightful combat with Mr. Magruder, and that, at the last, that amiable old gentleman pursued him with a drawn dagger with the intent to butcher him. In his alarm Bob pushed over to Henry's side of the bed, and finally, as the visionary Magruder still appeared to be thirsty for his blood, he climbed over Henry, got upon the floor and hid himself beneath the bed. When the apparition of the sanguinary parent disappeared, Bob, still soundly asleep, must haveemerged from his hiding-place upon the side of the bed opposite that at which he entered it. At any rate, the cord ran from Henry's body beneath the bed clear around until it connected with Bob. Early in the morning Bob moved over suddenly toward his brother; and although he was more than half asleep, he was amazed to see Henry drop over upon the floor. Bob instantly jumped out after him, and as he did so, he was even more surprised to perceive the child dart under the bed. He followed Henry; and at the first movement in that direction, Henry shot up off the floor, and was heard rolling swiftly across the mattress above, only to disappear again over the side as Bob came once more to the surface. By this time both of them were wide awake and able to comprehend the phenomenon. This is Mr. Parker's version. It is probably exaggerated slightly. My private impression is that Henry was pulled out upon the floor and under the bed, and that the exercise ended immediately. Henry does not remember the particulars with sufficient distinctness to be considered a thoroughly reliable witness. His mind is clear upon only one point: he is fully persuaded that he will not sleep in harness with Bob again
Upon the day following Bessie's visit I called at Magruder's, in accordance with my agreement with Bob. The servant said Mr. Magruder had gone out, but that he would probably be home in a few moments. I declined an invitation to go in the house. It was a fine day, and I preferred to walk up and down the porch while waiting, When a considerable time had elapsed and Magruder did not come, I threw myself upon one of the chairs on the porch and began to read the Argus.
While I was sitting there Magruder's dog came bounding up the yard, and when he saw me instantly manifested a desire to investigate me. I have never liked Magruder's dog; he is very large, and he has an extremely bad reputation. When he approached me, he looked at me savagely, and growled in such a manner that cold chills began to run up and down my back. Then the dog walked up and sniffed my legs with an earnestness of purpose that I had never expected to see displayed by a dumb animal. During this operation I maintained a condition of profound repose. No man will ever know how quiet I was. It is doubtful if any human being ever before became so thoroughly still until his immortal soul went to the land of everlasting rest.
When the ceremony was ended, the dog lay down close to the chair. As soon as I felt certain that the animal was asleep, I thought I would go home without seeing Mr. Magruder; but when I attempted to rise, the dog leaped up and growled so fiercely that I sat down again at once. Then I thought perhaps it would be better not to go home. It occurred to me, however, that it would be as well to call some one to remove the dog, in case circumstances should make it desirable for me to depart. But at the very first shout the animal jumped to his feet, gave a fiendish bark and began to take a few more inquisitorial smells at my legs. And whenever I shuffled my feet, or attempted to turn the Argus over in order to continue an article on to the following page, or made the slightest movement, that infamous dog was up and at me. Once, when I was positively compelled to sneeze, I thought, from the indignation boisterously manifested by the dog, that my hour at last had come.
Finally, Cooley's dog, which happened to be in the neighborhood, became engaged in an angry controversy with another dog in the street in front of me. Magruder's dog was wide awake in a moment; and after turning a regretful glance at me, as if he knew he was deliberately and foolishly throwing away a chance of obtaining several glorious bites, he dashed down the walk and over the fence for the purpose of participating in the discussion between his two friends.
I did not actually run, because that would not have been dignified, and the servant-girl, looking from the kitchen window, and not understanding the nature of the emergency, might have suspected me of emotional insanity. But I walked rapidly—very rapidly—to the rear fence of the yard, and climbed over it. As I reached the top of the fence, I saw the dog coming at full gallop down the yard. He was probably chagrined, but I did not remain to see how he bore it. I went directly home. Mr. Parker may manage his own love affairs in the future. I shall not approach Mr. Magruder upon this disagreeable subject again. I have enough to do to attend to my own business.
When I reached home, I found Judge Pitman waiting for me. He came in for the purpose of borrowing my axe for a few moments. As we went around to the rear of the house to get it, the judge said:
"I reckon you don't use no terbacker, do you?"
"I smoke sometimes; that is all."
"Well, I was jist feelin's if I wanted a chaw, an' I thought p'rhaps you might have one about you. Seein' Cooley over there on his porch put me in mind of it."
"That is rather a singular circumstance. Why should a view of Cooley suggest such a thing?"
"'Tis kinder sing'lar; but you see," said the judge, "Cooley was a-tellin' me yesterday mornin' about somethin' that occurred the day before at his house. The old woman is opposed to his chawin', an' she makes it stormy for him when he does. So he never uses no terbacker 'round home, an' he told her he'd given it up. The other day, just as he was goin' in to supper, he pulled out his handkercher, an' out come a plug of terbacker 'long with it. He didn't know it, but directly Mrs. Cooley lit on it, an' she walked up to him a' wanted to know if it was his. It was a little rough, you understand, but he had presence of mind enough to turn to his boy and say, 'Great Heavens! is it possible you've begun to chow this ornary stuff? What d'you mean by sich conduct? Haven't I told you often enough to let ter-backer alone? Commere to me this minute, you rascal!' Cooley licked him like the nation, an' then threw the terbacker out the winder onto the porch, where he could git it agin in the mornin'."
"That was pretty severe treatment of the boy."
"An' Cooley says to me, 'By gracious, judge! s'pose'n my children had all been girls! It makes an old father's heart glad when he thinks he has a boy he can depend upon at sich times!' Healthy old parent, ain't he?"
"The word 'healthy' hardly expresses with sufficient vigor the infamy of his conduct."
"Cooley never did treat that there boy right," said the judge, as he seated himself on the saw-horse in the woodshed and locked his hands over one of his knees, evidently with the intention to have some sociable conversation. "He never behaved like a father to him. He brought up that there child to lie. That echo business, f'r instance; it was scand'lus in him."
"To what do you refer?"
"Why, afore Cooley come yer to live he kep' a hotel up in the Lehigh Valley—a fashionable kinder tavern, I reckon; an' there was another man about two miles furder up who had a bigger hotel. You could stand on this other man's porch an' make a splendid echo by whistlin' or hollerin'. You could hear the noise agin a dozen times. Leastways, Cooley told me so. Well, Cooley, you know, hated like pisin to be beaten on that echo, an' so he kinder concluded to git one up for himself. He made that there boy of his'n go over on the mountain across the river an' hide among the bushes, an' then he would take people up on the roof of the house and holler, an' the boy would holler back agin. He told everybody that the echo could only be heard on the roof, an' he kep' the trap door locked, so's nobody would find him out."
"That was a poor kind of a swindle."
"Yes, sir. Well, that boy, you 'bserve, gradually got rusty in the business an' tired of it, an' sometimes he'd take another boy over with him, an' they'd git to playin' an' forgit to answer. It was embarrassin' for Cooley, an' the secret begun to leak out. But one day the whole concern was bu'sted. Cooley took a lot of folks from the city, among 'em some o' them newspaper people, an' for a while the boy worked all right. But he had another feller with him, and he kep' a-repeatin' things that no-body said. Cooley stood it for a while, though he was mad as fury; an' at last, when somebody tried to start the echo, there was no answer. They all thought it was mighty queer, but after callin' a good many times, the boy come out in full view an' yelled back, 'I'm not a-goin' to answer any more. Bill Johnson won't gimme my knife, an' I won't holler till I git it; blamed if I do.' Cooley tells me that the manner in which he sailed across the creek after that child was somethin' awful to behold. But it knocked him, sir. It closed him up. Them newspaper men started the thing on him, an' they run him so hard that he had to quit. He sold out and come yer to live. But is it any wonder that boy's spiled? Cooley'd spile a blessed young angel the way he goes on. But I must say good-mornin'. Much obleeged for the axe. Good-bye."
And the judge went home meditating upon Cooley's unfitness for the duties of a parent. I would like to know if that echo story is true. I have no doubt the judge received it from Cooley, but it sounds as if the latter ingenious gentleman might have wrenched it from his imagination.