Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 34

Chapter 34

New York was a crowded city, even then, but I never felt so lonely anywhere outside a camp in the big woods, The last day of the first week caine, but no letter from Hope. To make an end of suspense I went that Saturday morning to the home of the Fullers. The equation of my value had dwindled sadly that week. Now a small fraction would have stood for it - nay, even the square of it.

Hope and Mrs Fuller had gone to Saratoga, the butler told me. I came away with some sense of injury. I must try to be done with Hope 'there was no help for it. I must go to work at something and cease to worry and lie awake of nights. But I had nothing to do but read and walk and wait. No word had come to me from the Tribune' evidently it was not languishing for my aid. That day my tale was returned to me 'with thanks with nothing but thanks printed in black type on a slip of paper - cold, formal, prompt, ready-made thanks. And I, myself, was in about the same fix - rejected with thanks - politely, firmly, thankfully rejected. For a moment I felt like a man falling. I began to see there was no very clamourous demand for me in 'the great emporium , as Mr Greeley called it. I began to see, or thought I did, why liope had shied at my offer and was now shunning me. I went to the Tribune office. Mr Greeley had gone to Washington; Mr Ottarson was too busy to see me. I concluded that I would be willing to take a place on one of the lesser journals. I spent the day going from one office to another, but was rejected everywhere with thanks. I came home and sat down to take account of stock. First, I counted my money, of which there were about fifty dollars left. As to my talents, there were none left. Like the pies at the Hillsborough tavern, if a man came late to dinner - they were all out. I had some fine clothes, but no more use for them than a goose for a peacock's feathers. I decided to take anything honourable as an occupation, even though it were not in one of the learned professions. I began to answer advertisements and apply at business offices for something to give me a living, but with no success. I began to feel the selfishness of men. God pity the warm and tender heart of youth when it begins to harden and grow chill, as mine did then; to put away its cheery confidence forever; to make a new estimate of itself and others. Look out for that time, O ye good people! that have sons and daughters.

I must say for myself that I had a mighty cOurage and no small capital of cheerfulness. I went to try my luck with the newspapers of Philadelphia, and there one of them kept me in suspense a week to no purpose. When I came back reduced in cash and courage Hope had sailed.

There was a letter from Uncle Eb telling me when and by what steamer they were to leave. 'She will reach there a Friday,'he wrote, 'and would like to see you that evening at Fuller s.

I had waited in Philadelphia, hoping I might have some word, to give her a better thought of me, and, that night, after such a climax of ill luck, well - I had need of prayer for a wayward tongue. I sent home a good account of my prospects. I could not bring myself to report failure or send for more money. I would sooner have gone to work in a scullery.

Meanwhile my friends at the chalet were enough to keep me in good cheer. Therc were William McClingan, a Scotchman of a great gift of dignity and a nickname inseparably connected with his fame. He wrote leaders for a big weekly and was known as Waxy MeClingan, to honour a pale ear of wax that took the place of a member lost nobody could tell how. He drank deeply at times, but never to the loss of his dignity or self possession. In his cups the natural dignity of the man grew and expanded. One could tell the extent of his indulgence by the degree of his dignity. Then his mood became at once didactic and devotional. Indeed, I learned in good time of the rumour that he had lost his ear in an argument about the Scriptures over at Edinburgh.

I remember he came an evening, soon after my arrival at the chalet, when dinner was late. His dignity was at the full. He sat awhile in grim silence, while a sense of injury grew in his bosom.

'Mrs Opper,'said he, in a grandiose manner and voice that nicely trilled the r s, 'in the fourth chapter and ninth verse of Lamentations you will find these words - here he raised his voice a bit and began to tap the palm of his left hand with the index finger of his right, continuing: "They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger. for these pine away stricken through want of the fruits of the field." Upon my honour as a gentleman, Mrs Opper, I was never so hungry in all my life.

The other boarder was a rather frail man with an easy cough and a confidential manner, lie wrote the 'Obituaries of Distinguished Persons'for one of the daily papers. Somebody had told him once, his head resembled that of Washington. He had never forgotten it, as I have reason to remember. His mind lived ever among the dead. His tongue was pickled in maxims; his heart sunk in the brine of recollection; his humour not less unconscous and familiar than that of an epitaph; his name was Lemuel Franidin Force. To the public of his native city he had introduced Webster one fourth ofJuly - a perennial topic of his lighter moments.

I fell an easy victim to the obituary editor that first evening in the chalet. We had risen from the table and he came and held me a moment by the coat lapel. He released my collar, when he felt sure of me, and began tapping my chest with his forefinger to drive home his point I stood for quite an hour out of sheer politeness. By that time he had me forced to the wall - a God's mercy, for there I got some sense of relief in the legs. His gestures, in imitation of the great Webster, put my head in some peril. Meanwhile he continued drumming upon my chest. I looked longingly at the empty chairs. I tried to cut him off with applause that should be condusive and satisfying, but with no success. It had only a stimulating effect. I felt somehow like a cheap hired man badly overworked. I had lost all connection. I looked, and smiled, and nodded, and exclaimed, and heard nothing. I began to plan a method of escape. McClingan - the great and good Waxy McClingan - came out of his room presently and saw myplight.

'What is this?'he asked, interrupting, 'a serial stawry?

Getting no answer he called my name, and when Force had paused he came near.

'In the sixth chapter and fifth verse of Proverbs,'said he, 'it is written:

"Deliver thyself as a roe from the hand of the hunter and as a bird from the hand of the fowler." Deliver thyself, Brower.

I did so, ducking under Force's arm and hastening to my chamber.

'Ye have a brawling, busy tongue, man,'I heard McClingan saying. 'By the Lord! ye should know a dull tongue is sharper than a serpent's tooth.

'You are a meddlesome fellow,'said Force.

'If I were you,'said McClingan, 'I would go and get for myself the long ear of an ass and empty my memory into it every day. Try it, man. Give it your confidence exclusively. Believe me, my dear Force, you would win golden opinions.

'It would be better than addressing an ear of wax,'said Force, hurriedly withdrawing to his own room.

This answer made McClingan angry.

'Better an ear of wax than a brain of putty,'he called after him. 'Blessed is he that hath no ears when a fool's tongue is busy,'and then strode up and down the floor, muttering ominously.

I came out of my room shortly, and then he motioned me aside.

'Pull your own trigger first, man,'he said to me in a low tone. 'When ye see he's going to shoot pull your own trigger first. Go right up if him and tap him on the chest quiddy and say, "My dear Force, I have a glawrious stawry to tell you," and keep tapping him- his own trick, you know, and he can't complain. Now he has a weak chest, and when he begins to cough - man, you are saved.

Our host, Opper, entered presently, and in removing the tabledoth inadvertently came between us. McClingan resented it promptly.

'Mr Opper,'said he, leering at the poor German, 'as a matter of personal obligement, will you cease to interrupt us?

'All right! all right! gentlemens,'he replied, and then, fearingthat he had not quite squared himself, turned back, at the kitchen door, and added, 'Oxcuse me.

McClingan looked at him with that leering superior smile of his, and gave him just the slightest possible nod of his head.

McClingan came into my room with me awhile then. He had been everywhere, it seemed to me, and knew everybody worth knowing. I was much interested in his anecdotes of the great men of the time. Unlike the obituary editor his ear was quite as ready as his tongue, though I said little save now and then to answer a question that showed a kindly interest in me.

I went with him to his room at last. where he besought me to join him in drinking 'confusion to the enemies of peace and order . On my refusing, he drank the toast alone and shortly proposed 'death to slavery . This was followed in quick succession by 'death to the arch traitor, Buchanan ; 'peace to the soul of John Brown ; 'success to Honest Abe'and then came a hearty 'here's to the protuberant abdomen of the Mayor .

I left him at midnight standing in the middle of his room and singing 'The Land o'the Leal'in a low tone savoured with vast dignity.