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cheeks, and put on a white calico dress with small red spots, and a
white apron bound with blue. This was the dress that her father loved
the best. She looked in the glass, and examined her damaged reflection
with a charming coquetry, and said, "Pet, child, you are looking well
to-day. Now for breakfast."

Pet walked to the door, humming her last music lesson in a low voice.

She placed her hand upon the latch, and opened the door softly. As it
swung on its hinges, and she began to obtain a glimpse of the room, she
noticed the gas still burning, though the daylight filled the apartment.
This was strange. A shudder passed through her frame, and her cheeks
began to pale.

"Pooh! what nonsense!" she said. She pushed the door wide open.

Was it another mocking, maddening vision that she saw? She rubbed her
eyes in wild affright, and then raised her hands aloft with a
piercing shriek.

There, before her, lay the dead body of her father. In the centre of his
ghastly forehead was a small wound, from which the blood had trickled
over the temples, bedabbling his thin gray hairs, and forming a small
red pool by his side. Near him, on the floor, was a club with an iron
tip, which had done the dreadful deed. She recognized it at once as a
part of the machine.

The monstrous vision of the night was true! Her father was dead! Mr.
Wilkeson was his murderer! She was an orphan!

These agonizing thoughts flashed through her brain in the single
instant. She felt her head turning, and her limbs failing under her. She
had only strength to shriek, "Murder! murder! Help! help!" and then she
fell headlong and senseless upon her father's dead body.



BOOK SEVENTH.

JOURNEYINGS AGAINST FATE.



CHAPTER I.

PEA-SHOOTING AS A SCIENCE.

Be it said to the credit of Wesley Tiffles, that he always paid bills
promptly when he could borrow money to do it. The funds that he had
raised from Marcus Wilkeson, and others, for the panorama, had been
faithfully applied to that great object. If he could have borrowed money
from other people to repay those loans, that act of financial justice
would also have been done; and so on without end, like a round robin.

When Tiffles bestowed the last instalment of compensation upon Patching,
that individual shrugged his shoulders, and smiled. "The paltry price of
artistic degradation," said he. "Remember, I would have done this job
only for a friend. The world must not know it is a Patching - though I
fear that even on this hasty daub I have left marks of my style which
will betray me."

"You are safe, my dear fellow," said Tiffles. "I have already ordered
the posters and bills; and the name of Andrea Ceccarini will appear
thereon as the artist. Ceccarini has an Italian look, which is an
advantage; and, you will pardon me for saying, is rather more imposing
than Patching."

The artist was sensitive touching his name. It had been punned upon in
some of the comic papers. He could not take offence at the innocent
remark of a friend, but he felt hurt, and vindictively rammed the large
roll of one-dollar bills into his vest pocket without counting them.
(Whenever it was practicable, Tiffles paid his debts in bills of that
denomination. He had a theory that the amount looked larger, and was
more satisfactory to the receiver.)

As Tiffles saw how lightly the artist regarded the money, not even
counting it, he felt a momentary pang at the thought that he had
paid him.

The panorama of Africa had not only been finished and paid for, but it
had been exhibited to a large number of clergymen of all denominations,
at the lecture room of an up-town church. The clergymen, being debarred
from attending secular amusements, as a class, had gladly accepted the
invitation of "Professor Wesley" (Tiffles's panoramic name), and brought
with them their wives and a number of children apiece.

The panorama was rigged up at the end of the lecture room, in front of
the desk, under the personal supervision of a former assistant of
Banvard's, and worked beautifully, saving an occasional squeak in
the rollers.

Tiffles, in his character of Professor Wesley, told his story glibly and
with perfect coolness, interspersing the heavier details with amusing
anecdotes, which made the ministers smile, and brought out a loud titter
of laughter from the ministers' wives, and tremendous applause,
inclusive of stamping and the banging of hymn books, from the
ministers' children.

One of the children, with the love of mischief peculiar to that division
of the human family, had provided himself with peas, and, taking
advantage of the partial darkness in which the panorama was exhibited,
shot those missiles with practised aim at Professor Wesley, and now and
then hit him in the face. The lecturer kept in good humor; and when,
after a smart volley of peas, Rev. Dr. A - - arose, and suggested that
these disturbances were disgraceful, and, although he did not wish to
meddle with the household government of his brethren, he thought that
the children who were guilty of such outrages ought to be taken home,
soundly whipped, and put to bed - when Rev. Dr. A - - , moved by just
indignation, did this, the lecturer smiled, and blandly said: Oh, no; he
wasn't annoyed in the least (at the same time receiving a pea on his
left cheek). He would trust to the generosity of his young friends not
to fire their peas too hard; and he hoped that the reverend gentleman
would withdraw his suggestion.

Cries of "All right, brother!" "We'll keep the boys quiet!" "Go on! go
on!" went up from all parts of the room. Rev. Dr. A - - , yielding to the
pressure, sat down, and received, at that moment, one pea on the right
eye of his gold spectacles, and another square on the end of his nose.
The two peas were fired by his second son John, who had been delivering
this invisible artillery all the evening from the other end of the
identical pew in which the Rev. Dr. was seated. He groaned in the
spirit, and muttered something to Mrs. Rev. Dr. A - - about the
degeneracy of other people's children, which made that lady chuckle low,
under cover of the night; for she knew that her second son John was the
pea-shooter, and had made vain efforts to stop him, by pinching his leg,
though the good matron could not help laughing at every fine shot
achieved by her promising boy.

Professor Wesley "went on," as requested, and so did the pea-shooting,
until John's stock of ammunition gave out.

The lecturer had ransacked the Society, Astor, and Mercantile libraries,
and stuffed himself with facts touching the interior of Africa, so far
as that mystery had been explored. Fortified with these facts, and a
lively imagination, he found no difficulty in satisfying the curiosity
of his auditors on every point; and answered questions of all sorts,
which were fired at him even thicker than the peas, without the least
hesitation.

When the exhibition was over, every clergyman present signed a
certificate declaring that they had been highly entertained and
instructed by the Panorama of Africa, and Mr. Wesley's able lecture;
that they considered the painting a masterpiece of moral Art, and
cordially recommended it to the patronage of an enlightened public.



CHAPTER II.

BY STEAM.

Tiffles had selected, as his first field of active operations, the State
of New Jersey. His large number of relatives (the Tiffleses were
prolific on the female side) and friends, and occasional creditors,
scattered through New England and New York, effectually barred him from
all that territory. New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, then the West - those
were the great topographical features of his campaign.

For his initiatory performance, he had chosen a quiet little town less
than thirty miles from the city, on a line of railway. If his panorama
was to be a hopeless failure at the very outset, Tiffles wanted to be
within striking distance of New York. He was sanguine of success; but,
like a prudent general, he looked after his lines of retreat.

To this small town in New Jersey, with which the fate of the great
enterprise was to be indissolubly linked, Tiffles had sent a large stock
of posters and handbills. He had previously corresponded (free of
expense both ways) with that universal business man of every American
village, the postmaster, and, through him, had engaged Washington
Hall - the largest hall in the place, capable of holding six hundred
people - at five dollars for one night, with the refusal of two
nights more.

The name of the hall and the night of exhibition were written in blank
spaces on the posters and handbills with red chalk, in a fine commercial
hand, by Tiffles himself; and, for a small consideration, the postmaster
had agreed to stick up the posters on every corner; also on the post
office and the three town pumps; and to distribute the handbills in
every house. These labors the P.M. did not undertake to perform
personally - though he had plenty of leisure for them, as well as for the
local defence of the National Administration, which was his peculiar and
official function - but he turned them over to a semi-idiot, who
occasionally did jobs of that kind, and who was willing to trust for his
pay to the coming of Professor Wesley.

The last letter from the postmaster ran thus:

Yure's of the 6th reseved, and contense, including for my
pussenel expenses, dooly noted, Washinton Hall has been moped
out for you and is clene as a pin, six new tin cannel sticks
have been put up in the antyrum by the propryetor, this is
lyberul, all the hanbils has been distributid, and the
posters stuck up, sum of em wrong side down, owin to the
bilposter bein a little week-minded, which will be a kind of
curosity, and an advantije to you I think. I have sent
tickets to the village pastures and their famylis, as yu
requested and they red the notises last Sunday and advised
everybuddy to go. I have gut public opinion all rite for yu
here, now cum on with yer panyrammer of Afriky.

Yure's trooly,

B. PERSIMMON, p.m.

This was cheering; and Tiffles only hoped that he would be able to
secure so faithful an ally in every postmaster, for he had decided to do
this preliminary work through that variety of public functionary, until
the success of the panorama would justify hiring a special courier to go
in advance and smooth the way for him,

All these preparations having been satisfactorily made; and the
panorama, with the curtains, the lighting apparatus, and the other
properties, having been forwarded in three enormous boxes to the scene
of the impending conflict with public opinion, Tiffles made ready to
follow. And, on the eventful morning of the - - - of April, 185-, he
might have been seen at the Cortlandt-street ferry, accompanied by
Patching, who had graciously consented to see how the "thing worked" on
its first public trial.

Patching pulled his enormous hat still farther over his eyes, so that he
might not be recognized. This gave him an extremely questionable aspect;
and the ticket taker at the ferry peered under the huge brim
suspiciously as Patching came in. He also attracted the attention of a
detective in citizen's clothes, and was a general object of interest to
all the people congregated in the ferry house and waiting for the boat.

"This is fame," muttered Patching, glancing at his scrutinizers from the
shadow of the far-reaching hat. "This is what people starve and die for.
It is a bore." He struck an attitude, as if unconsciously, folding his
arms, and appearing to be in a profound revery. Then, after another
cautious glance about, he turned to Tiffles, by his side, and said:

"It is useless. I am recognized. But remember your solemn promise. I had
no hand in the painting of it."

"Not a little finger, my dear fellow," cheerfully replied Tiffles, who
had given the artist similar assurances of secrecy five times
that morning.

At that moment a hand touched Tiffles familiarly on the shoulder. He
turned suddenly, for he was always expecting rear attacks from
creditors. He saw Marcus Wilkeson.

"Best of friends," said Tiffles, with unfeigned joy, "I am glad to see
you. Of course you are going with us, though I hardly dared hope as much
when I sent you the invitation."

"To tell the truth, Tiffles, I had no intention of going, till this
morning, when it suddenly occurred to me that a little trip in the
country, and the fun of seeing your panorama and hearing you lecture,
would drive away the blues. I had a bad fit of them last night."

Here Patching turned, and looked Marcus in the face, without seeming to
recognize him. It was his habit (not a singular one among the human
species) to pretend not to remember people, and to wait for the first
word. Marcus indulged in the same habit to some extent, and, when he saw
Patching looking at him without a nod or a word, he also was blank and
speechless.

"Don't you remember each other?" said Tiffles. "Mr. Patching. Mr. Marcus
Wilkeson."

The gentlemen shook hands, and said:

"Oh, yes! How do you do? It is a fine morning. Very."

"So much paler than when I last saw you, that I didn't know you,
positively. Little ill, sir?" asked Patching. The artist was sure to
observe and speak of any signs of illness on the faces of his friends
and acquaintances. Some people called him malevolent for it.

To be told that one looks pale, always makes one turn paler. Marcus,
extra sensitive on the point of looks, became quite pallid, and said,
with confusion:

"I have not been well for several days, and my rest was badly broken
last night."

Tiffles had also remarked the unusual deadly whiteness of his friend's
complexion, and the air of lassitude and unhappiness which pervaded his
face, but he would not have alluded to them for the world. He never made
impertinent observations of that sort.

"Unwell?" said Tiffles. "I had not noticed it. In the morning, all New
York looks as if it had just come out of a debauch. Wilkeson will pass,
I guess." This calumny upon the city was Tiffles's favorite bit of
satire, and it had cheered up many a poor fellow who thought himself
looking uncommonly haggard.

Marcus smiled languidly, and turned away his head with a sigh. As his
eyes swept about, they encountered the gaze of the man in citizen's
clothes, previously noticed. At first, Marcus thought he had seen this
man somewhere before; and then he thought he was mistaken. The man
evinced no recognition of Marcus, and, an instant after, his sharp
glance wandered to some other person in the large group waiting for
the boat.

Here the boat came into the slip, and, after bumping in an uncertain way
against the piles on either side, neared almost within leaping distance
of the wharf. A solid crowd of passengers stood at the edge of the boat,
with their eyes fixed on the landing place, as if it were the soil of a
new world upon which they were to leap for the first time, like a party
of Columbuses When the distance had been diminished to about four feet,
the front row of passengers jumped ashore, and rushed wildly up the
street, as if impelled by a rocket-like power from behind. These people
could not have been more eager to get ashore, if they had come from the
other side of the globe on business involving a million apiece, to be
transacted on that day only.

In fact, they were only lawyers, tradesmen, mechanics, and clerks,
living in Jersey City, and going over to New York on their daily,
humdrum business. It was not the business that attracted them, but the
demon of American restlessness that pushed them on. They went back at
night in just the same hurry, and made equally hazardous jumps on the
Jersey side. They were mere shuttlecocks between the battledoors of
Jersey City and New York.

Tiffles and Patching lifted up the thin carpet bags which reposed at
their feet, and which contained an exceedingly small amount of personal
linen and other attire, and went on board the boat, followed by Marcus,
who was unencumbered with baggage. They entered the ladies' cabin. The
thick crowd of people pressed into the cabin in their front and rear,
and all about them, and scrambled for seats. There was a general
preference for the part forward of the wheelhouse, because it was a few
feet nearer New Jersey than the aft part. The rush to obtain these
preferred places was like that of the opera-going world for the front
row of boxes at a _matinée_. Ladies who obtained eligible seats, settled
themselves in them, spread out their dresses, put their gloved hands in
position, and smiled with a sweet satisfaction at ladies who had got no
seats. Those ladies, in turn, looked reproachfully at the gentlemen who
were comfortably seated. And those gentlemen, with the exception of a
few who rose and gracefully offered their seats to the youngest and
prettiest of the ladies, in turn looked out of the windows, or at the
floor, or at a paper, intently.

A stranger to the ferry boats and customs of the country would have
supposed that the passengers were bound for Europe instead of the
opposite shore of North River.

Marcus Wilkeson, Times, and Patching did not participate in this contest
for seats, but walked through the fetid and stifling cabins to the
forward deck, where fresh, bracing air, glorious sunlight, and a cheery
view of the river were to be had. But these charms of nature were
apparently thrown away on the trio. They all leaned over the railing,
and, looked steadily into the water. Times was thinking up his lecture,
and other matters of the panorama. Patching was misanthropically
reviewing his career, and exulting in future triumphs over his
professional enemies. Marcus was engrossed with some sad theme which,
once or twice, brought tears into his eyes. A burst of noble music, a
fine sentiment in a poem, a poor woman crying, keen personal
disappointment, or any acute mental trouble, had this strange effect on
the optics of Marcus Wilkeson.

The bell rang; voices shouted, "All aboard!" the gangplank was drawn in;
several belated people jumped on, at the risk of their lives, after the
boat had left the wharf, one man vaulting over ten feet; and the voyage
for Jersey was commenced.

Three minutes later, the inmates of the cabins began to go forward and
pick favorable positions for jumping off on the other side. The scramble
to evacuate the seats then was as sharp as the scramble to possess them,
three minutes before. A few more rounds of the wheels, and the boat
thumped in the usual way against one row of piles at the entrance of the
Jersey slip, and then caromed like a billiard ball on the other, each
time nearly knocking the passengers off their feet, and shaking a small
chorus of screams out of the ladies.

When the boat was within a yard of the wharf, the jumping commenced; and
all the able-bodied men, most of the boys, and some of the ladies, were
off before the boat butted with tremendous force against the wharf,
shaking both wharf and boat to their foundations, and giving to the
people on both a parting jar, which they carried in their bones for the
rest of the day.

Once safely on the wharf, the scramble was continued in various
directions and for various objects. Marcus, Tiffles, and Patching
indulged in the eccentricity of not scrambling; and, when they reached
the Erie Railroad cars, they found every seat taken, some by two
persons, but many by one lady and a bandbox or carpet bag, which was
intended to signify to the inquiring eye that the lawful human occupant
of that half of the seat was absent, but might be expected to come in
and claim it at any moment.

The three companions understood this conventional imposture, and
politely claimed the spare half seats from the nearest ladies. The fair
occupants looked forbidding, and slowly removed their bandboxes,
baskets, and other parcels, to the floor beneath, or the rack overhead;
and the disturbers of their peace and comfort ruthlessly took the
vacated seats, with a bow, signifying "Thank you."

The seats thus procured were some distance apart; and so the three
companions were precluded from conversing with each other. This suited
the taciturn mood of each that morning. As for the ladies who filled the
other half of the three seats, they might as well have been lay figures
from a Broadway drygoods store; conversation with them being prohibited
by the etiquette of railway travelling. A man may journey two hundred
and fifty miles in a car, with his elbow unavoidably jogging a lady's
all the way, and still be as far from her acquaintance (unless she is
graciously inclined to say something first) as if the pair were leagues
apart. This is proper, but peculiar.

The strange sadness that possessed Marcus that morning was intensified
as the ears rolled on. There is something in the monotonous vibration of
the train, and the recurring click of the wheels against the end of the
rails, that provokes melancholy. Marcus looked out of the window at the
flying landscape, and the distant patches of wood which seemed to be
slowly revolving about each other, and was profoundly wretched. He was
totally unconscious of the sharp, pale, nervous face by his side.

The owner of the face was about thirty-five years old, though the lines
on her brow and cheeks added an apparent five years to her age. If she
had been put upon her trial for murder, the police reporters would have
discovered traces of great beauty in her countenance. An ordinary
spectator, having no occasion to spice a paragraph, would have made the
equivocal remark that she had once been handsomer.

This lady was dressed plainly, comfortably, and in good taste. Her
hands, ungloved, were shapely, but red and hard with manual labor. On
the second finger of the left hand was a little gold ring, much thinned
by wearing. The eyes of this lady were regarding the unconscious Marcus
obliquely, with a singular expression of mingled recollection and doubt.
Sometimes her glance would drop to the ring, as if that were a link in
the chain of her perplexed reflections. A sudden jolt of the car, as the
train ran over a pole which had fallen on the track, roused Marcus to
the existence of this face and those eyes.

As he saw the eyes sternly bent on him, he thought that his staring out
of the window, past the lady's profile, might have offended her. So,
with a cough which was meant to serve as an apology for the
unintentional rudeness, he turned his face away, and continued his
gloomy revery among the odd patterns of the oilcloth on the floor of
the aisle.

Still the thin, nervous lady watched him obliquely.

A ride of three quarters of an hour brought them to their destination,
as they learned from a preliminary howl of the conductor through the
rear door of the car. The engine bell rang, the whistle screamed, the
clack of the wheels gradually became slower.

"Only one minute. Hurry!" howled the conductor again.

Marcus, Tiffles, and Patching were out of their seats and at the door
with American despatch. Before the car had quite stopped, they had
jumped off. Marcus did not notice that, behind him, was a woman
struggling between the two rows of seats with a bandbox, a workbasket,
an umbrella, and her hoops, all of which caught in turn on one side or
the other. Nor did the conductor observe that this burdened and
distressed lady was trying to make her way out; for, after looking from
the rear of the train, and seeing that three persons had landed, and
that there was nobody to get on, he concluded that it would be a waste
of time to stop a minute, and so rang the bell to go ahead. The engine
driver, equally impatient, jerked the starting lever, and the engine
bounded forward like a horse, giving a shock to the train, and nearly
upsetting the woman, who was still wrestling with her personal effects
between the rows of seats. With a sudden effort, she freed herself,
opened the door, and stood upon the platform.

The engine had wheezed three times, and she hesitated to jump. She
screamed shrilly. The sound entered the ears of Marcus Wilkeson, who was
whisking dust and ashes off his clothes with a handkerchief. He ran
forward, and saw the predicament of his pale and nervous fellow
traveller. She screamed again, as the engine wheezed for the
eighth time.

Marcus extended his hand. "Jump!" said he; "I'll catch you."

She did jump, much to the surprise of Marcus and the two lookers
on - thereby indicating decision of character.

Marcus caught her in his arms - bandbox, basket, and all - and the train
hurried on.

"Thank you, sir," said the lady, with some confusion. Then she walked



Online LibraryJohn Bell BoutonRound the Block → online text (page 17 of 36)