George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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they are performing some friendly and generous
deed. Nor is their's a half-way performance. I will

give a single instance in proof of the whole-souled
way of doing things in the Flatback household.

Late one evening, about five years ago, my aunt
came running to the house in great alarm. She had
been frightened by a strange-looking man, who was
approaching the house. This man soon made his
appearance. He was a sight to see, indeed. A mass-
of rags saturated with water enveloped an emaciated
frame, and under an immense shock of matted hair
peered forth a haggard face, the picture of death.
He was a poor Irishman, making his way on foot to
a distant city. While trudging the railroad he had
been taken ill, had applied at various houses for
lodging, and had been refused, no doubt because of
his frightful appearance. In this condition he had
been forced to lie out in the rain for two consecutive
nights ; had dragged his way to Israel Hill, where
the negroes directed him to Governor Flatback's, a&
perhaps the only place in which he would be sure of
finding a shelter.

Most people would have been satisfied with giving
the poor man supper and a night's lodging ; but this
was not the Flatback way of doing things. The
next morning he would have pursued his journey.
No ; the Flatbacks would not hear of it ; he must
stay until his clothes were washed, and until he got
stronger. James Flatback took him in charge, gave
him a good bath, cut his long, tangled hair, rigged
him from the skin out in a suit of his own clothes, filled
his pipe with good tobacco, and put him in the yard
under a tree to dry. I never saw a man so improved.


He had an honest, intelligent face, and sat under the
tree in a state of high enjoyment.

No sooner had he finished smoking than a big
Flatback watermelon was pressed upon him, and this,
of course, brought on an attack of the ague and
fever, which had seized him some days before. He
was put to bed, treated with calomel and quinine,
and very soon got upon his legs again. But the
chills had hardly subsided before a galloping con-
sumption came on, and we expected every day to see
him die. It was pronounced by a competent phy-
sician a case of genuine pulmonary phthisis, and no
one expected him to live. The poor fellow suffered
horribly. As he lay in the little room adjoining my
uncle's chamber it was fearful, during the paroxysms
of expectoration, to hear him alternately cursing and
praying for death to release him from his pangs.

Brandy (in spite of old Flatback's prejudices against
liquor), cod-liver oil, and whatever else was needed,
was supplied ad libitum, and six. weeks after, to our
utter amazement, Paddy rallied and gave unmistak-
able evidence of an intention to live. He did live.
Skilful treatment, good nursing, and generous living
cured him, and for three years he occupied the little
room next to my uncle's, working whenever it suited
him, and entertaining Governor Flatback, who became
very fond of him, with stories of his adventurous
life, with recitations of poetry, and with a never-
failing flow of Irish humor. Soon after the war
broke out he joined the army, became one of Jack-
son's " foot cavalry," was in the great campaign of


the Valley, from McDowell to Fort Republic, got
wounded in the battles before Richmond, visited
Mountain View during his convalescence, received a
hearty welcome, and returned to his command, where
he is to this day, for aught I know.

Such are the Flatbacks. If they had not over-
whelmed me time and again with kindness ; if the
patience of people who read were inexhaustible, and
if paper were as cheap as the Flatbacks are generous,
I should make it a point to allude to them, casually
at least, if not favorably and at length. As it is, I
must dismiss them with a simple " God bless 'em,"
-as a people too warm-hearted and unworldly for
serious notice in so brief and pointed an article as
this. But if time, Yankees, Confederate taxes, and
things generally, spare me, I intend some day to do
them justice, and to make the Flatbacks and myself
as famous as Willis' Mountain, Beard's Old Tavern,
or the Masonic Hall in Curdsville.


WE do not marry our own wives ! We many
the wives of somebody, of anybody else, and
anybody or somebody else marries our wives. It
may sound very funny and very silly to say this, but
it is the plain, hard truth, and nine out of ten mar-
ried men will, in their secret souls, admit it. I re-
peat it, we don't marry our own wives; and all the
lawyers, legislators, judges, jurists, statesmen, philo-
sophers, physiologists and phrenologists on earth can't
make us do it, or devise a way by which we might
do it, if we chose. And I believe we would choose,
for I have a good opinion of human nature. This is
a puzzle for the spirit-rappers a riddle which even
the Fourierites can not solve. Speculation, ratiocin-
ation, imagination, no mental faculty or process will
avail us here. I doubt if that " internal appercep-
tion at a depth within the penetralia of consciousness
to which Kant never descended," of which Cousin
boasts, will mend the matter. But the reason is very
plain to me. It was not intended for us to marry
our own wives ; " God's last best gift is reserved " unto
another higher life ; elsewise this earthly existence
would of itself be Heaven.


And now you know what I mean by "wife." Not
merely your wedded spouse and lawful mother of
your children, but that woman-soul, fashioned by
God himself as the one only partner and complement
of your soul; truly the "better half" of your inmost
self; with whom you are perfect man, without whom
you are but an unhappy segment, more or less dimly
conscious and complaining of your incompleteness.
You see I am a believer in the exploded theory of
" matches made in heaven." Yes, I am ; for I have
seen four sucli matches in my life, and I do not ex-
aggerate when I say that, for them, the rmllenium
has already come. But I have been lucky ; for such
matches are exceedingly rare, most people never
having seen them at all.

Not only do we not marry our own wives, but fre-
quently we never so much as see them, or, if we do
see them, don't know them. On the other hand, a
man may see his wife and know her to be his wife,
but his wife may not know him, may never know
him in this life ; vice versa, the wife may know her
husband and never be known by the husband, and so
on. I wish to record iny experience on this subject;
and if I do so in a somewhat frivolous style, it must
not be inferred that I am not in earnest ; the infer-
ence might be false - " many a true word is spoken
in jest."

It follows, or may follow, from what has been said,
that we are all married. Yes, that is my opinion.
Now, in the eye of the law and of society, I am a
bachelor, with every prospect of remaining a bach-


elor ; but in point of fact, and in the eye of reason,
I am a married man just as much of a married man
as Brigham Young is ; the only difference between
us being that his wives are visible, or to speak phil-
osophically, phenomenal, while my wife is not, ex-
cept, as before said, in the eye of reason particu-
larly my reason. I say again, and most emphatically,
I am a married man ; I say so because I know my
wife, that is, I know her name and have seen her
twice. I have never been introduced to her, never
spoke a word to her in the whole course of my life,
and never expect to. She doesn't know me from a
side of sole-leather, probably never heard of me ; and
if I were to go up to her and tell her she was rny
wife (which is the fact), would have me put in jail or
a mad-house. But, poor thing ! that's no fault of
hers (she being entirely ignorant of my theory, and
of the eye of reason also), and she is my wife, to the-
contrary notwithstanding.

The first time, which was the next to the last time,
I ever saw her was about three years ago three years
ago exactly, next February. It was in the town of
Plantationton a little, old, drowsy town situated on
the banks of a little muddy river, with a long, ugly
Indian name. The stage in which I was travelling at
the eventful time stopped in Plantationton, and the
stage-passengers dined there in a rusty old tavern r
with a big worm-eaten porch, and a gangrenous,
cracked bell. I got out of the stage, feeling very
cramped-up and dirty, and straightway betook my-
self to a tin basin (there were half a dozen more on


the old, hacked-up bench), full of clear, cold spring-
water, by the help of which and a piece of sticky
turpentine soap, I managed to make a very respect-
able ablution. My face washed, I applied it for a few
minutes to a long, greasy, ragged old linen towel,
that hung up on a roller fastened to a scabby, old
weather-boarding ; then I parted my hair with the
half of an old horn comb that was tied to a string,
and smoothed it with a little, old, wiry, worn-out hair-
brush that was tied to another string; and then I was
ready for dinner, which was not yet ready for me.
Pending dinner, I sat down in a split-bottomed chair
elevated my heels, leaned back, took out my knife
and commenced paring my nails. I had seen the
little old town frequently before, and didn't care to
see it again, especially on a miserable, gummy, cloudy,
damp, chilly day in February, and so confined my
attention for some time to my fingers, of which I am
rather proud. But, fortunately for me, I heard an
old fellow behind me say, "By dads ! she's beautiful ;"
and looking up, saw the young lady alluded to. I wish
to Heaven I had never looked down ! She was stand-
ing exactly opposite me, in the front door of a dried-
up wooden store ; her head was turned up the street,
as if she was looking for somebody, and her lit-
tle foot was patting the sill with the sauciest,
sweetest impatience imaginable. That young lady
was my wife ! I didn't know it then, but I know it

She was beautiful bewi tellingly beautiful so
beautiful that for a long time I did not know I was


looking at her didn't know I was looking at any
tiling didn't know any thing. The joy of her
presence was flowing in one uninterrupted stream
through all the avenues of sense, and it was not un-
til my soul became full to the brim of her beauty
that I could say I saw at all. Whether she was
dressed in silk, barege^ delaine, or calico I could never
tell, and never cared; I remember only her little
bonnet of simple straw neat, trim, and vastly be-
coming, as the bonnets of pretty women always are.
She was young not more than eighteen rather
above the medium height; of round and perfect
figure ; her hair was golden, and her eyes were blue ;
her complexion pure as light itself, fresh as the dew,
and glowing as the dawn. She must have felt the
many eyes feeding on her cheek and brow, for she
turned presently, and how instantly the impatient
little foot disappeared, how archly modest the smile
that illumined her lightly-blushing face ! I could
read her character at a glance. She was warm, and
tender, and true ; good, wise, merry, healthy, happy,
sweet-tempered, willing, patient, loving, tidy, thrifty,
and sincere, and every thing a wife ought to be or
could be. Why didrft I know she was my wife ?
Why didn't she come over and tell me so ? Alas !
we were both blind and she remains so still !

There I sat, drinking my fill of beauty inhaling
bliss at every breath. How little did she dream of
what was going on in my soul ! How could she tell
that her radiant image was effacing all other images
from my heart, to be itself effaced for a time, but


only to reappear in the hallowing and charmful hues
of memory the one solitary and sufficing ideal of
my unblessed life ! She saw me gazing, at her, but
only as she had seen hundreds gaze before.

A primrose, 'mid the tavern's stir,
A yellow primrose was to her,
And it was nothing more.

I was only a sallow-faced young man, with a black
mustache and a deal of impudence. I didn't look
like her husband a bit ; but I was her husband for
all that I know I was.

Fair reader, let us here moralize a little. But no ;
I am not good at that, and, besides, I am too prolix
any way. Yet remember, beautiful maiden, and be
watchful of your looks ; for, all unknown to yourself,
you may be shaping for life, and perhaps for life be-
yond life, the destiny of some ill-looking biped
who glares at you from the opposite side of the
street !

All the other stage-passengers, and all the tobacco-
spitting loungers about the tavern, were gazing at
her as well as myself; she knew it, too the little
rogue ! and was pleased, as she ought to have been.
She ceased to look for that somebody up the street,
who never came, and stole a sweet, bright glance
toward us, as if to say, " I can't help being pretty,
indeed I can't. I am glad you think me so, and you
may look as long as you please ; I sha'n't charge you

Bless her sweet little soul! Every man in that


porch ought to have bent his knee in homage to so
much beauty and goodness.

But the confounded dinner-bell rang, and the
beasts in broadcloth rushed to their food just as any
other beasts would have done. I am ashamed to
confess it, but a most unromantic sense of propriety
smote me the moment I heard that accursed bell.
" It is out of the question," said I to myself, " for
you to be staring that young lady out of countenance ;
get right up and go to your dinner. It is true, you
may never see so beautiful a face again, but then,
you know, your health is delicate, and it won't do to
neglect so important a meal as dinner. You have a
long and wearisome ride before you; besides, she
don't care anything for you, and even if she did, you
are in no condition to marry."

Thus did mere animal cravings prevail against the
sweet appeals of beauty ; aud thus (as the last clause
of my mental argumentation abundantly shows) did
my mind unconsciously refuse to entertain the possi-
bility of a rejection, and so assert the truth of the
statement I have made, namely, that she was my
wife. The world will call this vanity, but I call it
intuition or spontaneous unconscious apperception.
With great reluctance I rose as if to go; she saw
that all except myself had gone, but still stood in the
front door of that dried-up old store, patting the sill
once more with the tip of her tiny little slipper.
She was so good that she could not refuse to gladden
even one poor mortal with the^light of her blessed
^countenance. It flashed across my mind that I


might save fifty cents by missing my dinner ; avarice
had come to the aid of beauty, and I sat down again.
But hunger (yes, miserable human that I am, it was
hunger) defeated them both.

Ah ! if I had only known then as much as I know
now, how differently I would have acted. I would
have dismissed the contemptible subject of dinner,
and, having summoned a waiter, would have ad-
dressed him thus: "Boy, do you see that old red
trunk in the boot of the stage yonder? Well, just-
take that trunk off ; I am so pleased with your lovely
village that I intend to stay here until I get married."
The young lady on the opposite side of the street
would have heard me; it would have produced a
deep impression on her (and first impressions, you
know, are everything) ; I would have remained in
my seat until the young lady left ; I would have
eaten my dinner in peace ; afterward I would have
donned my new doeskin breeches and my new black
coat; then, by hook or by crook, I would have pro-
cured an introduction to my wife; and after a while
I would have married her there's no doubt about it.
Although I was poor, her beauty and her love would
have made me rich ; my love for her would have
made me strong and able to work; by this time I
would have acquired a standing in society I would
have been happy.

But I sold my wife for a mess of pottage I went
in to dinner. When I reached the door of the
dining-room I hesitated, went back to the porch and
commenced gazing at my wife as before. She saw


me, and gave me a smile ; upon my honor she did.
It was the sweetest smile I ever received. I may
have valued smiles before, but it is certain I have
never valued one since. Whatever made me return
to the dining-room after receiving so great a favor

1 could never remember. It was so fated. I did
go back to the dining-room, harried through my
dinner, which had become cold and indigestible, and
hurried back to the porch. She had gone !

The stage was waiting for me ; I jumped in, and it
rattled out of the little old town. We had not gone
many miles before the consequences of hasty eating
brought on a terrible attack of dyspepsia. I became
painfully aware that I had lost my dinner and my
fifty cents ; but I did not know I had lost my wife

2 forgot her ! I was returning, after a long absence,
to my native city, to enter upon a new and untried
profession ; and there were a thousand things to oc-
cupy my attention, to the exclusion, not only of wives,
but even of sweethearts. So I lost my wife and
didrft know it ! And so, I imagine, most of us lose
our wives.

About a year and a half afterwards ; that is, about
one year ago, having failed in business, as an aimless,
unmarried that is, phenomenally unmarried man
is very apt to do ; though it doesn't make much dif-
ference if such a man does fail, especially after he
has lost his wife having failed in business, I say,,
and having nothing to do, I returned to Plantationton r
not in the stage, but in the cars, the railroad having
been in the meantime completed. So completely


had my wife gone out of my mind, that I did not
once think of her when I sat down in the old tavern
porch and looked over at the dried-up little store, in
the door of which I had seen her patting her little
foot so prettily. I ordered a buggy and drove out
to my uncle's, about three miles from town, and spent
many pleasant weeks there during the hot summer
months. Being a young man of a marriageable age,
my relations very naturally offered to introduce rne to
the marriageable ladies of the neighborhood. I ex-
pressed my willingness. Which sort did I fancy
fair or dark, blonde or brunette ? Fair, by all means ;
who ever heard of a sallow man fancying a woman
of his own complexion? Oh! then, I ought to
have been here a year ago ; there was a young lady
living in town, a great friend of ours, perfectly beau-
tiful, and the very best girl in all the world, who
would have suited me exactly. Ah, who was she ?
Miss Jenny So-and-so. Jenny! the very name I
want my wife to have; describe her to me. They
described her. It was the identical young lady I
had seen standing in the old store. I became ex-
cited, and my pulse rose as I asked the question,
" Where is she now?" "Oh! she has been married
.a long time to Mr. Thingamy, and lives now in the
.city of Jacksburg, about a hundred miles from here."
My pulse sank, not because I knew she was my wife
(that is quite a recent discovery), and I had lost her,
but for the good and sufficient reason (which authors
have but lately had the honesty to avow) that every
bachelor feels himself defrauded when a pretty


woman marries. From the bottom of my heart I
wished Mr. Thingamy and the city of Jacksburg had
been at the bottom of the sea before they ever had
heard of the beautiful Miss Jenny. I felt indignant
she should have displayed so much haste to get mar-
ried; and I refused to be introduced to anybody in
the neighborhood of my uncle's. But whenever
-conversation (as it will often do in the best of fami-
lies) turned on the subject of young ladies, my uncle's
family were sure to bring their favorite Miss Jenny
forward as a paragon of beauty, sweetness, good-
breeding, good every thing. As often as this would
happen an unaccountable depression and feeling of
loneliness and bereavement would come over rne, and
last for hours. I can now account for it it was the
as yet inarticulate, unintelligible premonition a
species of spontaneous, unconscious apperception of
nature, protesting against, and at the same time pre-
paring me for, the full consciousness of the great
loss I had sustained in losing my wife. My uncle
had named a beautiful kitten after her; do you
wonder that I petted Jenny, and fed her and caressed
her every day I remained in the country ? I do not.
I am naturally fond of cats, and that, they say, is a
sign I am going to be an old bachelor. Well, what
if it is ?

When the summer was ended, I left my uncle's
and returned home, still ignorant that I had lost
my wife, and forgetting her as before. For nearly
a year I knocked about among the young ladies,
falling now a little in love, and then falling out


again ; charging myself with fickleness and want of
decision of character, and wondering greatly why I
could nut fall really in love with any body. Poor
fool! I didn't know that there was nobody left to
love ; I was married and didn't know it. Many a
man is in the same fix.

Things remained in this condition until about a
month ago, when, having failed a second time in
business, I concluded to spend another summer at
my uncle's. The cars dropped me at Plantationton ;
I went to the same old tavern, sat down in the same
old porch, in the same old split-bottomed chair, and
looked over at the same old store, and there, by
heaven ! stood my wife, in almost the very spot I
had first seen her. She was waiting for her husband,
who was following with the nurse and child. Her
husband was a dark-skinned fellow almost as dark
as myself, and not very unlike me. I have since ex-
pended some severe thought on this resemblance be-
tween me, the spiritual husband, and Thingamy, the
phenomenal husband of my wife, and it is perfectly
plain to my mind that, under the influence of the
same spontaneous, unconscious apperception, she was
trying her very best to marry me ; in fact, did marry
as near me as she possibly could. How that fact
has made me love her !

The whole party had come down on the same train
with me, and I had not known it. Fate again.
They stood opposite me for some time, apparently
resting, and I had the second and last (I know it
will be the last) long, good look at her. She was


greatly changed. Xo longer the same buxom,
blooming girl I had seen years before, patting her
pretty foot against the sill, but a beautiful woman,
infinitely lovelier than the girl; pale, but beautiful
as the bright fulfilment of the perfect day is beauti-
ful more beautiful than the rosiest hues of the
uncertain dawn; thin, but beautiful, as thought and
loving cares beautify and make delicate mere matter ;
older looking, but possessed of that ineffable charm
which only the realization of woman's destiny can
impart to woman. I gazed on her, not with breath-
less admiration as at first, but with calm, intelligent
adoration. Positively, hers was and is the sweetest
human face in all this world. Nothing, absolutely
nothing was wanting from those pale and gentle
features ; they expressed all that a wife and mother
ought to be. And even as I gazed, there came into
my soul that strange pain of vacuity and depriva-
tion a numb and formless hurt which needed
only the light of reflection to assume the acuteness
of thought, the permanence of knowledge.

From that day I have known she was my wife;
how I knew it, and why I knew it, has been told
already, or if not told, never will be, for it never can
be. The knowledge or conviction, if you prefer to
call it so, grows on me ; it increases with the increas-
ing light of morning, is revealed in the splendor of
high noon, deepens in the pensive summer twilight,
and rises with the tutelary stars. The winds tell of
it to the melancholy trees ; the waters repeat it with
their many liquid voices. It is written in cloudy


hieroglyphs upon the distant sky; it is the shadow
thrown upon the plain of life by the sun of hope
which sinks behind my heart enlarging and to en-
large, darkening and to increase in darkness until
the night of death. It is but I am getting absurd.

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Online LibraryGeorge William BagbySelections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 27)