PITMAN AS A POLITICIAN—HE IS NOMINATED FOR THE LEGISLATURE—HOW HE WAS SERENADED, AND WHAT THE RESULT WAS—I TAKE A HAND AT POLITICS—THE STORY OF MY FIRST POLITICAL SPEECH—MY RECEPTION AT DOVER—MISERY OF A MAN WITH ONLY ONE SPEECH—THE SCENE AT THE MASS MEETING—A FRIGHTFUL DISCOMFITURE.
OME of the friends of Judge Pitman induced him, just before the last election, to permit himself to be nominated for the State Legislature, and accordingly he was presented to the people of this community as a candidate. Of course he was not selected because of his fitness for the position. The party managers knew him to be a very popular man; and as the success of the party is the only thing they care for, they chose Pitman as the person most likely to secure that result. I cannot say that I disapproved of the selection. For some reason, it appears to be entirely impossible for the American citizens who live in any of the Middle States to find educated and intelligent men who are willing to represent them in the Legislatures. Those bodies are composed for the most part of men whose solitary purpose is plunder.
They are legislators simply because it pays better to blackmail railroad companies and to accept bribes from people who want votes for rascally measures than it does to pick pockets. They have the instincts and the principles of a pickpocket, but their ambition is greater. They do not steal handkerchiefs and watches, because they can filch fabulous sums of money from the public treasury and from villains who want to do dirty work under the color of the law. They know enough to enable them, with the assistance of party rings, to have themselves counted in at election-time, and to devise new and dexterous schemes of dishonesty; but in other and rather more desirable of the qualifications of law-makers they are deficient. They occupy the most important place in republican governments without knowing what republicanism means, and they create laws for the communities without having any knowledge of the science of law or the slightest acquaintance with the needs and requirements of the people for whom they act. The average American legislator is both ignorant and dishonest. Judge Pitman is ignorant, but he is honest; and as his election would secure at least a very important half of a fitting legislator, I supported him.
My other neighbor, Cooley, was the chairman of the committee to whose care was consigned the management of the campaign in which Judge Pitman played so prominent a part; and Cooley conducted the business with even an excess of enthusiasm. Just after the nomination of Pitman, Cooley called on him to say that a number of his friends had declared their intention to offer him a serenade. Cooley informed the judge that some refreshment must be given to the serenaders, but he, as the chairman of the committee, would attend to that; the judge need not make preparations of any kind. Accordingly, on the following evening a brass band, accompanied by a score or two politicians, entered Pitman's front yard, and for half an hour there was some very good music. Then the judge came out upon the porch and made a better speech than I had expected to hear from him. He concluded by asking the company to enter his house. Cooley was there with a wagon-load of meat and drink, including, of course, a large quantity of rum of the most impressive kinds. The judge, with the fear of the temperance society present in his mind, protested against the liquor; but Cooley demonstrated to him that he would be defeated and the party ruined if it was excluded, and so Pitman reluctantly permitted it to be placed upon his table. Besides, as Cooley had been so very liberal in undertaking to make this provision at his own cost, the judge disliked to hurt his feelings by refusing to permit the use of that which Cooley evidently considered the most important portion of it.
The guests remained at the banquet until four o'clock the next morning, the politicians meanwhile making speeches and the band playing occasionally in the dining-room in a most uproarious manner. We could hear the noise at my house during the night, and sleep was possible only with the windows closed.
At four o'clock my door-bell rang violently; and upon descending to ascertain the cause of a visit at such an unseemly hour, I encountered Judge Pitman. He was nearly frantic with indignation.
"Adeler," he said, "them fellers is a-carryin' on an' smash the furniture an' bu'st things generally. Mrs. Pitman's 'bout skeered to death. Can't you come over an' help me clear them out?"
"Why don't you call a couple of policemen? You hunt up two or three officers while I dress myself, and we will see if we can't adjourn the meeting."
By the time I was ready Pitman arrived with one policeman, and we proceeded to his house. As we entered, the leader of the band was sitting upon the stairs, infamously drunk, with the handle of his umbrella in his mouth, vainly endeavoring to play a tune by fumbling his fingers among the ribs. Mr. Cooley was in a corner of the parlor supporting himself by the wall while he endeavored to discuss the question of the tariff with Pitman's plaster bust of Daniel Webster, and to correct Daniel's view of the local option law. Another politician was sitting upon the carpet crying because, so he informed us, his wife's maiden name was McCarthy, and just as the policeman was removing him a combat occurred between the bass drummer and a man from Wilmington, during which the drummer was hurled against the pier glass and then dragged out to bleed upon the rug. The house was finally cleared of the company just as the church clock struck six, and then Pitman went to bed with sentiments of complete disgust for politics and politicians.
But he remained a candidate of the party. He had promised to run, and he determined to go through with the business.
"That serenade was rough enough without anythin' wuss," said the judge to me a day or two afterward; "but I did think Cooley was a-rubbin' it in 'most too hard when he come over yesterday with a bill for the refreshments which he wanted me to pay."
"Why, I thought he agreed to supply the supper?"
"So he did. But now he says that of course he was only actin' for me. 'The candidate,' he says, 'always foots all the bills.' I'll foot this one, an' then I'll foot Cooley if he ever brings them ruffians to my house agin. I expect nothin' else but the temperance society will shut down on me for that riot we had t'other night."
"I hope not; but I should think that affair would have made you sorry that you ever undertook this business."
"So it does," replied the judge, "but I never back down when I go into a thing. I 'm goin' to run for the Legislatur'; and if I'm elected, I'm goin' to serve my country honestly until my time's up. Then I'm comin' home, an' goin' to stay home. And what's more, I'll stir up that Legislatur' while I'm in it. You mind me!"
The result of the contest was that the judge was elected by a large majority, and he will sit in the next Assembly.
I played a peculiar part in the campaign; and although the narrative of my experience as an amateur politician is not a particularly grateful one to me, it might as well be given, if for no other reason, because it will serve to warn others against the fate that befel me.
I had for some time entertained a strong conviction that nature designed me for an orator. I was assured that I possessed the gift of eloquence which enables great speakers to sway the passions of the multitude, and I felt that I needed but the opportunity to reveal this fact to the world. Accordingly, at the beginning of the political campaign of which I speak I sent my name to one of the executive committees of the State, in Wilmington, with the request that it might be written down with the names of the speakers who could be called upon whenever important meetings were held. I waited impatiently all through the campaign for a summons to appear and electrify the people. It did not come, and I was almost in despair. But on the day before the election I received from the chairman a brief note, saying that I had been announced to speak at Dover that evening before a great mass meeting, and requesting me to take the early afternoon train, so that I might report to the local chairman in Dover before nightfall. The pleasure with which this summons was received was in some measure marred by the fact that I had not a speech ready, and the time was so short that elaborate preparation was impossible. But I determined to throw into some sort of shape the ideas and arguments which would readily occur to the mind of a man familiar with the ordinary political questions of the day and with the merits of the candidates, and to trust to the inspiration of the occasion for the power to present them forcibly and eloquently.
Of course it was plain that anything like an attempt at gorgeousness in such a speech would be foolish, so I concluded to speak plainly and directly to the point, and to enliven my argument with some amusing campaign stories. In order to fix my points firmly in my mind and to ensure their presentation in their proper order, they were numbered and committed to memory, each argument and its accompanying anecdote being associated with a particular arithmetical figure. The synopsis, if it may be called by that name, presented an appearance something like the following, excepting that it contained a specification of the points of the speech which need not be reproduced here.
1. Exordium, concluding with Scott's famous lines, "Breathes there a man with soul so dead," etc.
2. Arguments, introducing a narrative of the facts in the case of Hotchkiss, who was locked out upon the roof of his house all night. (See particulars farther on.) The design of the story is to give a striking picture of the manner in which the opposition party will be left out in the cold by the election. (Make this strong, and pause for cheers.)
3. Arguments, followed by the story of the Kickapoo Indian who saw a locomotive approaching upon the plains, and thinking it was a superior breed of buffalo, determined to capture it, so that he could take the first prize at the Kickapoo agricultural fair. He tied his lasso to his waist and threw the other end over the smoke-stack. The locomotive did not stop; but when the engineer arrived at the next station, he went out and cut the string by which a small bit of copper-colored meat was tied to his smoke-stack. This is to illustrate the folly of the attempt of conservatism to check the onward career of pure and enlightened liberalism toward perfect civilization, etc., etc.
4. Arguments, and then the anecdote of that Dutchman in Berks county, Pa., who on the 10th of October, 1866, was observed to go out into his yard and raise the American flag; then he got his gun and fired a salute seventeen or eighteen times, after which he consumed six packs of fire-crackers and gave three cheers for the Union. He enjoyed himself in this manner nearly all day, while his neighbors gathered around outside and placed their elbows upon the fence, watching him and wondering what on earth he meant. A peddler who came along stopped and had an interview with him. To his surprise, he found that the German agriculturist was celebrating the Fourth of July, 1859. He did not know that it was any later in the century, for he had been keeping his time on a notched stick; and having been sick a great deal, he had gotten the thing in a dreadful tangle. When he learned that he was seven Fourths in arrears, he was depressed; but he sent out and bought a box of fire-crackers and a barrel of gunpowder, and spent a week catching up. (Tell this vivaciously, and make the point that none but a member of the other party could forget the glorious anniversary of our country's birth, and say that the whole party will have to do up a lot of back patriotism some day, if it desires to catch up with the people whose devotion to the country is encouraged and kept active by our aide.)
5. Arguments, supplemented with the narrative of a confiding man who had such child-like faith in a patent fire-extinguisher which he had purchased that he set fire to his house merely to have the fun of putting it out. The fire burned furiously, but the extinguisher gave only two or three imbecile squirts and then collapsed, and in two hours his residence was in ashes. Go on to say that our enemies have applied the torch of anarchy to the edifice of this government, but that there is an extinguisher which will not only not collapse, but will subdue the flames and quench the incendiary organization, and that extinguisher is our party. (Allow time for applause here.)
6. Arguments, introducing the story of the Sussex county farmer who was discouraged because his wife was perfidious. Before he was married she vowed over and over again that she could chop four cords of wood a day, but after the ceremony the farmer found he was deceived. The treacherous woman could not chop more than two cords and a half, and so the dream of the husband was dissipated, and he demanded a divorce as the only balm for the wounds which lacerated his hear. Let this serve to illustrate the point that our political enemies have deceived us with promises to reduce the debt, to institute reforms, etc., etc., none of which they have kept, and now we must have the government separated from them by such a divorce as will be decreed to-morrow, etc., etc.
7. Peroration, working in if possible the story of Commodore Scudder's dog, which, while out with its master one day, pointed at some partridges. The commodore was about to fire, but he suddenly received orders to go off on a three years' cruise, so he dropped his gun, left the dog standing there and went right to sea. When he returned, three years later, he went back to the field, and there was his gun, there was the skeleton of the dog still standing and pointing just as he had left it, and a little farther on were the skeletons of the partridges. Show how our adversaries in their relations to the negro question resemble that dog. We came away years ago and left them pointing at the negro question, and we come back now to find that they are at it yet. Work this in carefully, and conclude in such a manner as to excite frantic applause.
It was not much of a speech, I know. Some of the arguments were weak, and several of the stories failed to fit into their places comfortably. But mass meetings do not criticize closely, and I was persuaded I should make a good impression, provoking laughter and perhaps exciting enthusiasm. The only time that could be procured for study of the speech was that consumed by the journey. So when the train started I took my notes from my pocket and learned them by heart. Then came the task of enlarging them, in my mind, into a speech. This was accomplished satisfactorily. I suppose that speech was repeated at least ten times between New Castle and Dover until at last I had it at my tongue's end. In the cars the seat next to mine was occupied by a colored gentleman, who seemed to be a little nervous when he perceived that I was muttering something continually; and he was actually alarmed once or twice when in exciting passages I would forget myself and gesticulate violently in his direction. Finally, when I came to the conclusion and was repeating to myself the exhortation, "Strike for your altars and your fires," etc., etc., I emphasized the language by striking fiercely at the floor with the ferule of my umbrella. It hit something soft. I think it was the corn of my colored friend, for he leaped up hurriedly, and ejaculating "Gosh!" went up and stood by the water-cooler during the rest of the journey, looking at me as if he thought it was dangerous for such a maniac to be at large.
When the train arrived at Dover, I was gratified to find the chairman of the local committee and eighteen of his fellow-citizens waiting for me with carriages and a brass band. As I stepped from the car the band played "See, the Conquering Hero comes!" I marched into the waiting-room of the depot, followed by the committee and the band. The chairman and his friends formed a semi-circle and stared at me. I learned afterward that they had received information from Wilmington that I was one of the most remarkable orators in the. State. It was impossible not to perceive that they regarded me already with enthusiastic admiration; and my heart sank a little as I reflected upon the possibility of failure.
Then the music ceased, and the chairman proposed "three cheers for our eloquent visitor." The devoted beings around him cheered lustily. The chairman thereupon came forward and welcomed me in the following terms:
"My dear sir, it is with unfeigned satisfaction that I have—may I say the exalted honor?—of welcoming you to the city of Dover. You come, sir, at a moment when the heart of every true patriot beats high with hope for a glorious triumph over the enemies of our cherished institutions; you come, sir, at a time when our great party, the true representative of American principles and the guardian of our liberties, bends to grapple with the deadly foe of our country; at a time, sir, when the American eagle—proud bird, which soars, as we would, to the sun—screams forth its defiance of treason, and when the banner of the free, the glorious emblem of our nationality, waves us onward to victory; you come, sir, to animate with eloquence the hearts of our fellow-citizens; to inspire with your glowing language the souls of those who shrink from performing their duty in this contest; to depict in words of burning, scathing power, the shame, the disgrace, the irretrievable ruin, which will befall our land if its enemies are victorious, and to hold up those enemies, as you well know how, to the scorn and contempt of all honest men. We give you a hearty welcome, then, and assure you that Dover will respond nobly to your appeal, giving to-morrow such a vote for justice, truth and the rights of man that the conservative wolf will shrink back in dismay to his lair. Welcome, sir, thrice welcome to our city!"
I stood looking at this man throughout his speech with a conviction, constantly growing stronger, that I should be obliged to reply to him at some length. The contemplation of such a thing, I need hardly say, filled me with horror. I had never made a speech of the kind that would be required in my life, and I felt positively certain that I could not accomplish the task now. I had half a mind to hurl at the heads of this chairman and his attendant fiends the entire oration prepared for the evening; but that seemed so dreadfully inappropriate that the idea was abandoned. And besides, what should I say at the mass meeting? The comfort of the situation was not, by any means, improved by the fact that these persons entertained the belief that I was an experienced speaker who would probably throw off a dozen brilliant things in as many sentences. It was exceedingly embarrassing; and when the chairman included his remarks, the cold perspiration stood on my forehead and my knees trembled.
Happily, the leader of the band desired to make himself conspicuous, so he embraced the opportunity afforded by the pause to give us some startling variations on "The Star-Spangled Banner."
As we stood there listening to the music, I observed that the energetic gentleman who played upon the drum and cymbals was looking at me with seemed to be a scornful smile. He had a peculiarly cold eye, and as he fixed it on me I felt that the frigid optic pierced through and through my assumption of ease and perceived what a miserable sham it was for me to stand there pretending to be an orator. I quailed before that eye. Its glance humiliated me; and I did not feel more pleasantly when, as the band dashed in to the final quavers which bring up suggestions of "the land of the free and the home of the brave," I saw the scorn which erst flashed from that eye change into a look of wild exultation. The cymbal man knew that my hour had come. He gave a final clash with his brasses and paused. I had to begin. Bowing to the chairman, I said,
“Mr Chairman and fellow-citizens, there are times—times—there are times, when, fellow-citizens, when—when the heart—there are times, I say, Mr. Chairman and fellow-citizens, when the heart—the heart of—of—" It wouldn't do. I stuck fast, and could not get out another word.
The cold-eyed man seemed ready to play triumphal strains upon his drum and to smash out a pćan upon his cymbals. In the frenzy and desperation of the moment, I determined to take the poetry from my exordium and to jam it into the present speech, whether it was appropriate or not. I began again: "There are times, I say, fellow-citizens and Mr. Chairman, when the heart inquires if there breathes a man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, 'This is my own, my native land '—whose heart has ne'er within him burned as home his footsteps he hath turned from wanderings on a foreign shore? If such there breathe, go, mark him well!" (Here I pointed to the street, and one of the committee, who seemed not to comprehend the thing exactly, rushed to the window and looked out, as if he intended to call a policeman to arrest the wretch referred to.) "For him no minstrel raptures swell." (Here the leader of the band bowed, as if he had a vague idea that this was a compliment ingeniously worked into the speech for his benefit; but the cold-eyed man had a sneering smile which seemed to say, "It won't do, my man, it won't do. I can't be bought off in that manner.") "High though his titles, proud his name, boundless his wealth as wish can claim; despite these titles, power and pelf, the wretch, concentred all in self, living, shall forfeit fair renown, and doubly dying shall go down to the vile dust from whence he sprung, unwept, unhonored and unsung."
I stopped. There was embarrassing silence for a moment, as if everybody thought I had something more to say. But I put on my hat and shouldered my umbrella to assure them that the affair was ended. Then it began to be apparent that the company failed to grasp the purpose of my remarks. One man evidently thought I was complaining of something that happened to me while I was upon the train, for he took me aside and asked me in a confidential whisper it wouldn't be better for him to see the conductor about it. Another man inquired if the governor was the man referred to. I said, "No; the remarks were of a poetical nature; they were quoted." The man seemed surprised, and asked where I got them from. "From Marmion." He considered a moment, and then said, “Don't know him. Philadelphia man, I reckon?" The occasion was too sad for words. I took the chairman's arm and we marched out to the carriages, the cold-eyed man thumping his drum as if his feeling of animosity for me would kill him if it did not find vigor of that kind.
We entered the carriages and formed a procession, the band, on foot, leading the way and playing "Hail to the Chief." I rode with the chairman, who insisted that I should carry the American flag in my hand. As we passed up the street the crowd cheered us vehemently several times, and the chairman said he thought it would be better if I would rise occasionally and bow in response. I did so, remarking, at the last, that it was rather singular such a reception should be given to a complete stranger.
The chairman said he had been thinking of that, and it had occurred to him just at that moment that perhaps the populace had mistaken the character of the parade. "You see," said he, "there is a circus in town, and I am a little bit afraid the people are impressed with the idea that this is the showman's procession, and that you are the Aerial King. That monarch is a man of about your build, and he wears whiskers."
The Aerial King achieved distinction and a throne by leaping into the air and turning two backward somersaults before alighting, and also by standing poised upon one toe on a wire while he balanced a pole upon his nose. I had no desire to share the sceptre with that man, or to rob him of any of his renown, so I furled the flag of my beloved country, pulled my hat over my eyes and refused to bow again.
It was supper-time when we reached the hotel, and as soon as we entered, the chairman invited us into one of the parlors, where an elaborate repast had been prepared for the whole party. We went into the room, keeping step with a march played by the band, which was placed in the corner. When supper was over, it was with dismay that I saw the irrepressible chairman rise and propose a toast, to which he called upon one of the company to respond. I knew my turn would come presently, and there seemed to be no choice between the sacrifice of my great speech to this paltry occasion and utter ruin and disgrace. It appeared to me that the chairman must have guessed that I had but one speech, and that he had determined to force me to deliver it prematurely, so that I might be overwhelmed with mortification at the mass meeting. But I made up my mind to cling desperately to the solitary oration, no matter how much pressure was brought to bear to deprive me of it. So I resolved that if the chairman called upon me I would tell my number two story, giving the arguments, and omitting all of it from my speech in the evening.
He did call. When two or three men had spoken, the chairman offered the toast, "The orator of the evening," and it was received with applause. The chairman said: "It is with peculiar pleasure that I offer this sentiment. It gives to my eloquent young friend an opportunity which could not be obtained amid the embarrassments of the depot to offer, without restraint, such an exhibition of his powers as would prove to the company that the art which enabled Webster and Clay to win the admiration of an entranced world was not lost—that it found a master interpreter in the gentleman who sits before me."
This was severe. The cold-eyed child of the Muses sitting with the band looked as if he felt really and thoroughly glad in the inmost recesses of his soul for the first time in his life.
I rose, and said: "Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I am too much fatigued to make a speech, and I wish to save my voice for to-night; so I will tell you a story of a man I used to know whose name was Hotchkiss. He lived up at New Castle, and one night he thought he would have a little innocent fun scaring his wife by dropping a loose brick or two down the chimney into the fireplace in her room. So he slipped softly out of bed; and dressed in his night-shirt, he stole up stairs and crept out upon the roof. Mr. Hotchkiss dropped nineteen bricks down that chimney, Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, each one with an emphatic slam, but his wife didn't scream once."
Everybody seemed to think this was the end of the story; so there was a roar of laughter, although I had not reached the humorous part or the real point of the anecdote, which describes how Hotchkiss gave it up and tried to go down stairs, but was surprised to find that Mrs. Hotchkiss, who had been watching all the time, had retreated, fastening the trap-door, so that he spent the next four hours upon the comb of the roof with his trailing garments of the night fluttering in the evening breeze. But they all laughed and began to talk; and the leader of the band, considering that his turn must have come, struck out into "Hail Columbia," while the man with the cymbals seemed animated with fiendish glee.
I tried to explain to the chairman that it was all wrong, that the affair was terribly mixed.
He said he thought himself that it seemed so somehow, and he offered to explain the matter to the company and to give me a chance to tell the story over again properly.
I intimated, gloomily, that if he undertook such a thing I would blow out his brains with the very first horse-pistol I could lay my hands upon.
He said perhaps, then, it would be better not to do so.
The proceedings at the mass meeting were to begin at eight o'clock. At half-past seven I went to the telegraph office, and sent the following despatch to the Wilmington papers, fearing the office might be closed when the meeting adjourned:
"DOVER,——,18—: A tremendous mass meeting was held here to-night. The utmost enthusiasm was displayed by the crowd. Effective speeches were made by several prominent gentlemen, among them the eloquent young orator Mr. Max Adeler, whose spirited remarks, interspersed with sparkling anecdote, provoked uproarious applause. Dover is good for five hundred majority, and perhaps a thousand."
At eight o'clock a very large crowd really did assemble in front of the porch of one of the hotels. The speakers were placed upon the balcony, which was but a few feet above the pavement, and there was also a number of persons connected with the various political clubs of the town. I felt somewhat nervous; but I was tolerably certain I could speak my piece acceptably, even with the poetry torn out of the introduction and the number two story sacrificed. I took a seat upon the porch and waited while the band played a spirited air or two. It grieved me to perceive that the band stood directly in front of us upon the pavement, the cold-eyed drummer occupying a favorable position for staring at me.
The chairman began with a short speech in which he went over almost precisely the ground covered by my introduction; and as that portion of my oration was already reduced to a fragment by the use of the verses, I quietly resolved to begin, when my turn came, with point number two.
The chairman introduced to the crowd Mr. Keyser, who was received with cheers. He was a ready speaker, and he began, to my deep regret, by telling in capital style my story number three, after which he used up some of my number six arguments, and concluded with the remark that it was not his purpose to occupy the attention of the meeting for any length of time, because the executive committee in Wilmington had sent an eloquent orator who was now upon the platform and would present the cause of the party in a manner which he could not hope to approach.
Mr. Keyser then sat down, and Mr. Schwartz was introduced. Mr. Schwartz observed that it was hardly worth while for him to attempt to make anything like a speech, because the gentleman from New Castle come down on purpose to discuss the issues of the campaign, and the audience, of course, was anxious to hear him. Mr. Schwartz would only tell a little story which seemed to illustrate a point he wished to make, and he thereupon related my anecdote number seven, making it appear that he was the bosom friend of Commodore Scudder and an acquaintance of the man who made the gun. The point illustrated I was shocked to find was almost precisely that which I had attached to my story number seven. The situation began to have a serious appearance. Here, at one fell swoop, two of my best stories and three of my sets of arguments were swept off into utter uselessness.
When Schwartz withdrew, a man named Krumbauer was brought forward. Krumbauer was a German, and the chairman announced that he would speak in that language for the benefit of those persons in the audience to whom the tongue was pleasantly familiar. Krumbauer went ahead, and the crowd received his remarks with roars of laughter. After one particularly exuberant outburst of merriment, I asked the man who sat next to me, and who seemed deeply interested in the story,
"What was that little joke of Krumbauer's? It must have been first rate."
"So it was," he said. "It was about a Dutchman up in Berks county, Penna., who got mixed up in his dates."
"What dates?" I gasped, in awful apprehension.
"Why, his Fourths of July, you know. Got seven or eight years in arrears and tried to make them all up at once. Good, wasn't it?"
"Good? I should think so; ha! ha! My very best story, as I'm a sinner!"
It was awfully bad. I could have strangled Krumbauer and then chopped him into bits. The ground seemed slipping away beneath me; there was the merest skeleton of a speech left. But I determined to take that and do my best, trusting to luck for a happy result.
But my turn had not yet come. Mr. Wilson was dragged out next, and I thought I perceived a demoniac smile steal over the countenance of the cymbal player as Wilson said he was too hoarse to say much; he would leave the heavy work for the brilliant young orator who was here from New Castle. He would skim rapidly over the ground and then retire. He did. Wilson rapidly skimmed all the cream off of my arguments numbers two, five and six, and wound up by offering the whole of my number four argument. My hair fairly stood on end when Wilson bowed and left the stand. What on earth was I to do now? Not an argument left to stand upon; all my anecdotes gone but two, and my mind in such a condition of frenzied bewilderment that it seemed as if there was not another available argument or suggestion or hint or anecdote remaining in the entire universe. In an agony of despair, I turned to the man next to me and asked him if I would have to follow Wilson.
He said it was his turn now.
"And what are you going to say?" I demanded, suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing," he replied—" nothing at all. I want to leave room for you. I'll just tell a little story or so, to amuse them, and then sit down."
"What story, for instance?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing, nothing; only a little yarn I happen to remember about a farmer who married a woman who said she could cut four cords of wood, when she couldn't."
My worst fears were realized. I turned to the man next to me, and said, with suppressed emotion,
"May I ask your name, my friend?"
He said his name was Gumbs.
"May I inquire what your Christian name is?"
He said it was William Henry.
"Well, William Henry Gumbs," I exclaimed, "gaze at me! Do I look like a man who would slay a human being in cold blood?"
"Hm-m-m, n-no; you don't," he replied, with an air of critical consideration.
"But I AM!" said I, fiercely I AM; and I tell you now that if you undertake to relate that anecdote about the farmer's wife I will blow you into eternity without a moment's warning; I will, by George!"
Mr. Gumbs instantly jumped up, placed his hand on the railing of the porch, and got over suddenly into the crowd. He stood there pointing me out to the bystanders, and doubtless advancing the theory that I was an original kind of a lunatic, who might be expected to have at any moment a fit which would be interesting when studied from a distance.
The chairman looked around, intending to call upon my friend Mr. Gumbs; but not perceiving him, he came to me and said:
"Now is your chance, sir; splendid opportunity; crowd worked up to just the proper pitch. We have paved the way for you; go in and do your best."
"Oh yes; but hold on for a few moments, will you? I can't speak now; the fact is I am not quite ready. Run out some other man."
"Haven't got another man. Kept you for the last purposely, and the crowd is waiting. Come ahead and pitch in, and give it to 'em hot and heavy."
It was very easy for him to say "give it to them," but I had nothing to give. Beautifully they paved the way for me! Nicely they had worked up the crowd to the propser pitch! Here I was in a condition of frantic despair, with a crowd of one thousand people expecting a brilliant oration from me who had not a thing in my mind but a beggarly story about a fire-extinguisher and a worse one about a farmer's wife. I groaned in spirit and wished I had been born far away in some distant clime among savages who knew not of mass meetings, and whose language contained such a small number of words that speech-making was impossible.
But the chairman was determined. He seized me by the arm and fairly dragged me to the front. He introduced me to the crowd in flattering, and I may say outrageously ridiculous, terms, and then whispering in my ear, "Hit 'em hard, old fellow, hit 'em hard," he sat down.
The crowd received me with three hearty cheers. As I heard them I began to feel dizzy. The audience seemed to swim around and to increase tenfold in size. By a resolute effort I recovered my self-possession partially, and determined to begin. I could not think of anything but the two stories, and I resolved to tell them as well as I could. I said,
"Fellow-citizens: It is so late now that I will not attempt to make a speech to you." (Cries of "Yes!" "Go ahead!" "Never mind the time!" etc., etc.) Elevating my voice, I repeated: "I say it is so late now that I can't make a speech as I intended on account of its being so late that the speech which I intended to make would keep you here too late if I made it as I intended to. So I will tell you a story about a man who bought a patent fire-extinguisher which was warranted to split four cords of wood a day; so he set fire to his house to try her, and—No, it was his wife who was warranted to split four cords of wood—I got it wrong; and when the flames obtained full headway, he found she could only split two cords and a half, and it made him—What I mean is that the farmer, when he bought the eating—courted her, that is, she said she could set fire to the house. and when he tried her, she collapsed the first time the extinguisher did, and he wanted a divorce because his house—Oh, hang it, fellow-citizens, you understand that this man, or farmer, rather, bought a—I should say courted a—that is, a fire-ex—" (Desperately.) "Fellow-citizens! IF ANY MAN SHOOTS THE AMERICAN FLAG, PULL HIM DOWN UPON THE SPOT; BUT AS FOR ME, GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH!"
As I shouted this out at the top of my voice, in an ecstasy of confusion, a wild, tumultuous yell of laughter came up from the crowd. I paused for a second beneath the spell of that cold eye in the band, and then, dashing through the throng at the back of the porch, I rushed down the street to the depot, with the shouts of the crowd and the uproarious music of the band ringing in my ears. I got upon a freight train, gave the engineer five dollars to take me along on the locomotive, and spent the night riding to New Castle.