JUDGE PITMAN—HIS EXPERIMENT IN THE BARN—A LESSON IN NATURAL HISTORY—CATCHING THE EARLY TRAIN—ONE OF THE MISERIES OF LIVING IN A VILLAGE—BALL'S LUNG EXERCISE—MR. COOLEY'S IMPERTINENCE.
Y next-door neighbor upon the west is Judge Pitman. I heard his name mentioned before I became acquainted with him, and I fancied that he was either a present occupant of the bench, or else that he had gone into retirement after spending his active life in dispensing justice and unraveling the tangles of the law. But it appears that he has never occupied a judicial position, and that his title is purely complimentary, having no relation whatever to the nature of his pursuits either in the past or in the present. The judge, indeed, is merely the owner of a couple of steam-tugs and one or two wood sloops which ply upon the river and upon Chesapeake Bay. He spends most of his time at home, living comfortably upon the receipts of a business which is conducted by his hired men, and perhaps also upon the interest of a few good investments in this and other places.
A very brief acquaintance with the judge suffices to convince any one that he has never presided in court. He is a rough, uneducated man, with small respect for grammar, an irrepressible tendency to distort the language, and very little information concerning subjects which are not made familiar by the occurrences of every-day life. But he is hearty, genial, sincere and honest, and I very soon learned to like him and to find amusement in his quaint simplicity.
My first interview with the judge was somewhat remarkable. I came home early one afternoon for the purpose of training some roses and clematis against my fence. While I was busily engaged with the work, the judge, who had been digging potatoes in his garden, stuck his spade in the earth and came to the fence. After looking at me in silence for a few moments, he observed,
"Fine day, cap!"
The judge has the habit of conferring titles promiscuously and without provocation, particularly upon strangers. To call me "cap." was his method of expressing a desire for sociability.
"It is a beautiful day," I observed, "but the country needs rain."
"It never makes no difference to me," replied the judge, "what kinder weather there is; I'm allers satisfied. 'Twon't rain no sooner for wishin' for it."
As there was no possibility of our having a controversy upon this point, I merely replied, "That is true."
"How's yer pertaters comin' on?" inquired the judge.
"Very well, I believe. They're a little late, but they appear to be thriving."
"Mine's doin' first rate," returned the judge. "I guanered them in the spring, and I've bin a-hoein' at 'em and keepin' the weeds down putty stiddy ever since. Mons'ous sight o' labor growin' good pertaters, cap."
"I should think so," I rejoined, "although I haven't had much practical experience in that direction thus far."
"Cap.," observed the judge, after a brief interval of silence, "you're one of them fellers that writes for the papers and magazines, a'n't you?"
"Yes, I sometimes do work of that kind."
"Well, see here: I've got somethin' on my mind that's bin a-botherin' me the wust kind for a week and more. You've read the 'Atlantic Monthly,' haven't you?"
"Well, my daughter bought one of 'em, and I was areadin' it the other night, when I saw it stated that guanner could be influenced by music, and that Professor Brown had made some git up and come to him when he played a tune on the pianner."
I remembered, as the judge spoke, that the magazine in question did contain a paragraph to the effect that the iguana was susceptible of such influence, and that Mrs. Brown had succeeded in taming one of these animals, so that it would run to her at the sound of music. But I permitted Mr. Pitman to continue without interruption.
"Of course," said he, "I never really believed no such nonsense as that, but it struck me as kinder sing'lar, and I thought I'd give the old thing a trial, anyhow. So I got down my fiddle and went to the barn, and put a bag of guanner in the middle of the floor and begun to rake out a tune. First I played 'A Life on the Ocean Wave and a Home on the Rollin' Deep' three or four times; and there that guanner sot, just as I expected 'twould. Then I begun agin and sawed out a lot o' variations, but still she didn't budge. Then I put on a fresh spurt and jammed in a passel o' extra sharps and flats and exercises; and I played that tune backward and sideways and cat-a-cornered. And I stirred in some scales, and mixed the tune up with Old Hundred and Mary Blaine and some Sunday-school songs, until I nearly fiddled my shirt off, and nary time did that guanner bag git up off o' that floor. I knowed it wouldn't. I knowed that feller wa'n't tellin' the truth. But, cap., don't it strike you that a man who'd lie like that ought to have somethin' done to him? It 'pears to me 's if a month or two in jail 'd do that feller good."
The lesson in natural history which I proceeded to give to the judge need not be repeated here. He acknowledged that the laugh was fairly against him, and ended his affirmation of his new-born faith in the integrity of the Atlantic Monthly by inviting me to climb over the fence and taste some of his Bartlett pears. The judge and I have been steady friends ever since.
I find that one of the most serious objections to living out of town lies in the difficulty experienced in catching the early morning train by which I must reach the city and my business. It is by no means a pleasant matter, under any circumstances, to have one's movements regulated by a timetable and to be obliged to rise to breakfast and to leave home at a certain hour, no matter how strong the temptation to delay may be. But sometimes the horrible punctuality of the train is productive of absolute suffering. For instance: I look at my watch when I get out of bed and find that I have apparently plenty of time, so I dress leisurely, and sit down to the morning meal in a frame of mind which is calm and serene. Just as I crack my first egg I hear the down train from Wilmington. I start in alarm; and taking out my watch, I compare it with the clock and find that it is eleven minutes slow, and that I have only five minutes left in which to get to the depot. I endeavor to scoop the egg from the shell, but it burns my fingers, the skin is tough, and after struggling with it for a moment, it mashes into a hopeless mess. I drop it in disgust and seize a roll, while I scald my tongue with a quick mouthful of coffee. Then I place the roll in my mouth while my wife hands me my satchel and tells me she thinks she hears the whistle. I plunge madly around looking for my umbrella, then I kiss the family good-bye as well as I can with a mouth full of roll, and dash toward the door.
Just as I get to the gate, I find that I have forgotten my duster and the bundle my wife wanted me to take up to the city to her aunt. Charging back, I snatch them up and tear down the gravel-walk in a frenzy. I do not like to run through the village: it is undignified and it attracts attention; but I walk furiously. I go faster and faster as I get away from the main street. When half the distance is accomplished, I actually do hear the whistle; there can be no doubt about it this time. I long to run, but I know that if I do I will excite that abominable speckled dog sitting by the sidewalk a little distance ahead of me. Then I really see the train coming around the curve close by the depot, and I feel that I must make better time; and I do. The dog immediately manifests an interest in my movements. He tears after me, and is speedily joined by five or six other dogs, which frolic about my legs and bark furiously. Sundry small boys, as I go plunging past, contribute to the excitement by whistling with their fingers, and the men who are at work upon the new meeting-house stop to look at me and exchange jocular remarks with each other. I do feel ridiculous; but I must catch that train at all hazards.
I become desperate when I have to slacken my pace until two or three women who are standing upon the sidewalk, discussing the infamous price of butter, scatter to let me pass. I arrive within a few yards of the station with my duster flying in the wind, with my coat tails in a horizontal position, and with the speckled dog nipping my heels, just as the train begins to move. I put on extra pressure, resolving to get the train or perish, and I reach it just as the last car is going by. I seize the hand-rail; I am jerked violently around, but finally, after a desperate effort, I get upon the step with my knees, and am hauled in by the brakeman, hot dusty and mad, with my trousers torn across the knees, my legs bruised and three ribs of my umbrella broken.
Just as I reach a comfortable seat in the car, the train stops, and then backs up on the siding, where it remains for half an hour while the engineer repairs a dislocated valve. The anger which burns in my bosom as I reflect upon what now is proved to have been the folly of that race is increased as I look out of the window and observe the speckled dog engaged with his companions in an altercation over a bone. A man who permits his dog to roam about the streets nipping the legs of every one who happens to go at a more rapid gait than a walk, is unfit for association with civilized beings. He ought to be placed on a desert island in mid-ocean, and be compelled to stay there.
This will do as a picture of the experience of one morning—one melancholy morning. Of course it is exceptional. Rather than endure such agony of mind and discomfort of body frequently, I would move back to the city, and abandon for ever my little paradise by the Delaware.
I hardly think I shall get along so well with my neighbor on the other side, Cooley, as I do with Pitman. He is not only exceedingly ill-natured, but he inclines to be impertinent. Several times he has volunteered advice respecting the management of my garden and grounds, and has displayed a disposition to be somewhat sarcastic when his plans did not meet with my approval. I contrived, however, to avoid a breach of our amicable relations until the other day, when his conduct became absolutely unendurable.
I observed in the last number of Ball's Journal of Health some suggestions concerning a good method of exercising the lungs and expanding the chest. They were to this effect:
"Step out into the purest air you can find; stand perfectly erect with the head up and the shoulders back, and then, fixing the lips as though you were going to whistle, draw the air, not through the nostrils, but through the lips, into the lungs. When the chest is about half full, gradually raise the arms, keeping them extended with the palms of the hands down, as you suck in the air, so as to bring them over the head just as the lungs are quite full. Then drop the thumbs inward, and after gently forcing the arms backward and the chest open, reverse the process by which you draw your breath till the lungs are empty. This process should be repeated three or four times immediately after bathing, and also several times through the day."
This seemed reasonable, and I determined to give it a trial. For that purpose I went out into the yard; and pinning the directions to a tree, I stood in front of them where I could see them. Just as I began, Cooley came out; and perceiving me, he placed his elbows upon the fence, rested his chin upon his arms and watched me with a very peculiar smile upon his face. I was exceedingly annoyed and somewhat embarrassed, but I was determined that he should not have the gratification of driving me away from my own ground. I made up my mind that I would continue the exercise without appearing to notice him. In a few moments, however, he remarked:
"Training for a prize-fight, Adeler?"
I made no reply, but continued the exercise. When I had gone through the programme once, I began again. As I arrived at that portion of it where the instructions direct the arrangement of the lips, Mr. Cooley, by this time some. what incensed at my silence, observed,
"Whistle us a tune, Adeler. Give us something lively!"
As I paid no attention to this invitation, Cooley embraced the opportunity afforded by the upward motion of my arms, in accordance with the directions, to ask me if I was going to dive, and to offer to bring me out a tub in case I cherished such a design.
Then I completed the exercise and went into the house without giving Cooley any reason to suppose that I was aware of his presence. The next day I performed the ceremony at the same place, at the same hour. On the third day Cooley evidently expected me, for as soon as I appeared he came up to the fence and assumed his old position. He had with him a couple of friends, whom he must have summoned for the express purpose of tormenting me. When I had gone through the movements once, Cooley said:
"See here, Adeler, I don't want to do you any harm, but let me advise you as a friend to go to an asylum. I have known much worse cases than yours to be cured. It isn't kind to your family for you to remain at large. You're afflicted with only a mild form now; but if you don't do something, you'll have a violent paroxysm some day, and smash things. Now, take my advice, and put yourself under treatment."
Silence upon my part.
"How would you take it now," inquired Cooley, in a tone indicative of yearning tenderness, "if I should get over the fence and chain you to the pump while I go for the doctor? I really think you are getting dangerous."
"Mr. Cooley," I said, "I wish you would attend to your own business. I do not wish to quarrel with you, sir, but I will not have any interference on your part with my affairs. If it will make you any happier to learn what I am doing, I will tell you, seeing that you are so much interested in the matter, that I am exercising, under medical direction, for the benefit of my lungs."
"Exercising for the benefit of his lungs!" moaned Cooley. "His mind is entirely gone."
"Yes, sir," I said, angrily, "I am exercising for the benefit of my lungs, according to the directions of Dr. Ball, and I will thank you to keep your tongue quiet about it."
"He has them awfully bad," exclaimed Cooley, with a pathetic look. "There is no such man as Dr. Ball, you know," he remarked, in a confidential tone, to one of his companions.
"I wish you distinctly to understand that I will not tolerate this impertinence much longer, sir," I exclaimed, indignantly. "What right have you to interfere with me upon my own ground, you ruffian?"
"His intellect's completely shattered," said Cooley, with a mournful shake of his head, to his companions. "Poor Mrs. Adeler! It will be a terrible blow for her and for the children. My heart bleeds for them."
"Mr. Cooley," I said, "I want no more of this. I shall discontinue Dr. Ball's exercise at this place for the present, but I will tell you before I go that I consider you an insolent, unendurable idiot, and I will repay you some day or other for your outrageous behavior to me."
"Sad, sad, indeed!" said Cooley to his friends. "Strange how he clings to that fancy about a man named Ball, isn't it?"
One of Cooley's companions observed that the deranged were apt to get such notions in their heads, and he supplemented this statement with the remark, "This is a very interesting case—very."
Then I went into the house, and from the window saw Cooley and his companions walk away laughing. Not even the unpardonable insolence of Cooley can disguise the fact that the affair has a certain comic aspect; and when I became calmer, I confess that I appreciated this phase of the occurrence with some keenness, even though I happened to occupy an exceedingly unpleasant position as the victim of the joke. But I shall be even with Cooley for this. I will devise a scheme for tormenting him which will cause him to rue the day that he interfered with my pulmonary gymnastics. Dr. Ball's recipe, however, I think I will toss into the fire. I will expand my lungs by learning to sing or to play upon the flute. My family can then participate in my enjoyment. A married man has no right to be selfish in his pleasures.