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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 47, September, 1861 online

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sensitive taste.

But the sugar coated them.

To marry the daughter of the great sugar-planter of Louisiana I would
have taken medicines far more unpalatable and assafoetidesque than any
thus far offered.

Meanwhile Mr. Mellasys Plickaman, cousin of my betrothed, had changed
his tactics and treated me with civility and confidence. We drank
together freely, sometimes to the point of inebriation. Indeed, unless
he put me to bed, on the evening before the day of the events I am about
to describe, I do not know how I got there.

Morning dawned on the sixth of November.

I was awakened, as usual, by the outcries of the refractory negroes
receiving their matinal stripes in the whipping-house. Feeling a little
languid and tame, I strolled down to witness the spectacle.

It stimulated me quite agreeably. The African cannot avoid being comic.
He is the grotesque element in our civilization. He will be droll even
under the severest punishment. His contortions of body, his grimaces,
his ejaculations of "O Lor'! O Massa!" as the paddle or the lash strikes
his flesh, are laughable in the extreme.

I witnessed the flagellation of several pieces of property of either
sex. The sight of their beating had the effect of a gentle tickling upon
me. The tone of my system was restored. I grew gay and lightsome. I
exchanged jokes with the overseer. He appreciated my mood, and gave a
farcical turn to the incidents of the occasion.

I enjoyed my breakfast enormously. Saccharissa never looked so sweet;
Mr. Mellasys never so little like - pardon the expression - a cross
between a hog and a hyena; and I began to fancy that my mother-in-law's
general flabbiness of flesh and drapery was not so very offensive.

After breakfast, Mr. Mellasys left us. It was, he said, the day of the
election for President. How wretched that America should not be governed
by hereditary sovereigns and an order of nobles trained to control!

The day passed. It was afternoon, and I sat reading one of the novels
of my favorite De Balzac to my Saccharissa. At the same time my
imagination, following the author, strayed to Paris, and recalled to me
my bachelor joys in that gay capital. I resolved to repeat them again,
on our arrival there, at my bride's expense. How charming to possess a
hundred thousand dollars, ($100,000,) even burdened with a wife!

My reading and my reverie were interrupted by the tramp of horses
without. Six persons in dress-coats rode up, dismounted, and approached.
All were smoking cigars with the lighted ends in their mouths. Mellasys
Plickaman led the party. I recognized also the persons who had
questioned me as to my politics. They entered the apartment where I sat
alone with Saccharissa.

"Thar he is!" said Mellasys Plickaman. "Thar is the d - d Abolitionist!"

Seeing that he indicated me, and that his voice was truculent, I
looked to my betrothed for protection. She burst into tears and drew a
handkerchief.

An odor of musk combated for an instant with the whiskey reek diffused
by Mr. Plickaman and his companions. The balmy odor was, however,
quelled by the ruder scent.

"I am surprised, Mr. Plickaman," said I, mildly, but conscious of
tremors, "at your use of opprobrious epithets in the presence of a
lady."

"Oh, you be blowed!" returned he, with unpardonable rudeness. "You can't
skulk behind Saccharissy."

"To what is this change in tone and demeanor owing, Sir?" I asked, with
dignity.

"Don't take on airs, you little squirt!" said he.

It will be observed that I quote his very language. His intention was
evidently insulting.

"Mr. Chylde," remarked Judge Pyke, one of the gentlemen who had been
inquisitive as to my political sentiments, "The Vigilance Committee of
Fire-Eaters of Bayou La Farouche have come to the conclusion that you
are a spy, an Abolitionist, and a friend of Beecher and Phillips. We
intend to give you a fair trial; but I may as well state that we have
all made up our minds as to the law, the facts, and the sentence.
Therefore, prepare for justice. Colonel Plickaman, have you given
directions about the tar?"

"It'll be b'ilin' in about eight minutes," replied my quondam rival,
with a boo-hoo of vulgar laughter.

"Culprit!" said Judge Pyke, looking at me with a truly terrible
expression, "I have myself heard you avow, with insolent audacity,
that you were not a Democrat. Do you not know, Sir, that nothing but
Democrats are allowed to breathe the zephyrs of Louisiana? Silence,
culprit! Not a word! The court cannot be interrupted. I have also heard
you state that the immortal Breckenridge, Kentucky's favorite son,
was the same to you as the tiger Lincoln, the deadly foe of Southern
institutions. Silence, culprit!"

Here Saccharissa moaned, and wafted a slight flavor of musk to me from
her cambric wet with tears.

"Colonel Plickaman," continued the Judge, "produce the letters and
papers of the culprit."

I am aware that a rival has rights, and that a defeated suitor may,
according to the code, calumniate and slander the more fortunate one. I
have done so myself. But it seems to me that there should be limits; and
I cannot but think that Mr. Mellasys Plickaman overstepped the limits
of fair play, when he took advantage of my last night's inebriety
to possess himself of my journal and letters. I will not, however,
absolutely commit myself on this point. Perhaps everything is fair in
love. Perhaps I may desire to avail myself of the same privilege in
future.

I had spoken quite freely in my journal of the barbarians of Bayou La
Farouche. Each of the gentlemen now acting upon my jury was alluded to.
Colonel Plickaman read each passage in a pointed way, interjecting, - "Do
you hear that, Billy Sangaree?" "How do you like yourself now, Major
Licklickin?" "Here's something about your white cravat, Parson
Butterfut."

The delicacy and wit of my touches of character chafed these gentlemen.
Their aspect became truly formidable.

Meantime I began to perceive an odor which forcibly recalled to me the
asphaltum-kettles of the lively Boulevards of Paris.

"Wait awhile, Fire-Eaters," said Plickaman, "the tar isn't quite ready
yet."

The tar! What had that viscous and unfragrant material to do with the
present interview?

"I won't read you what he says of me," resumed the Colonel.

"Yes, - out with it!" exclaimed all.

Suffice it to say that I had spoken of Mr. Mellasys Plickaman as a
person so very ill-dressed, so very lavish in expectoration, so entirely
destitute of the arts and graces of the higher civilization, merited.
His companions required that he should read his own character. He did
so. I need not say that I was suffering extremities of apprehension all
this time; but still I could not refrain from a slight sympathetic smile
of triumph as the others roared with laughter at my accurate analysis of
my rival.

"You'll pay for this, Mr. A. Bratley Chylde!" says Plickaman.

So long as my Saccharissa was on my side, I felt no special fear of what
my foes might do. I knew the devoted nature of the female sex. "_Elles
meurent, ou elles s'attachent_," - beautiful thought! These riflers
of journals would, I felt confident, be unable to produce anything
reflecting my real sentiments about my betrothed. I had spoken of her
and her family freely - one must have a vent somewhere - to Mr. Derby
Deblore, my other self, my _Pylades_, my _Damon_, my _fidus Achades_ in
New York; but, unless they found Derby and compelled him to testify,
they could not alienate my Saccharissa.

I gave her a touching glance, as Mellasys Plickaman closed his reading
of my private papers.

She gave me a touching glance, - or rather, a glance which her amorphous
features meant to make touching, - and, waving musk from her handkerchief
through the apartment, cried, -

"Never mind, Arthur dear! I don't like you a bit the less for saying
what barbarous creatures these men are. They may do what they
please, - I'll stand by you. You have my heart, my warm Southern heart,
my Arthur!"

"Arthur!" shouted that atrocious Plickaman, - "the loafer's name's
Aminadab, after that old Jew, his grandfather."

Saccharissa looked at him and smiled contemptuously.

I tried to smile. I could not. Aminadab _was_ my name. That old dotard,
my grandfather, had borne it before me. I had suppressed it carefully.

"Aminadab's his name," repeated the Colonel. "His own mother ought to
know what he was baptized, and here is a letter from her which the
postmaster and I opened this morning. Look! - 'My dear Aminadab.'"

"Don't believe it, Saccharissa," said I, faintly, "It is only one of
those tender nicknames, relics of childhood, which the maternal parent
alone remembers."

"Silence, culprit!" exclaimed Judge Pyke. "And now, Colonel, read the
letter upon which our sentence is principally based, - that traitorous
document which you and our patriotic postmaster arrested."

The ruffian, with a triumphant glance at me, took from his pocket
a letter from Derby Deblore. He cleared his throat by a plenteous
expectoration, and then proceeded to read as follows: -

"Dear Bratley, - Nigger ran like a hound. Marshall and the rest only saw
his heels. I'm going on to Toronto to see how he does there. Keep your
eyes peeled, when you come through Kentucky. There's more of the same
stock there, only waiting for somebody to say, 'Leg it!' and they'll go
like mad."

Here the audience interrupted, - "Hang him! hang him! tar and feathers
a'n't half bad enough for the dam' nigger-thief!"

I began to comprehend Deblore's innocent reference to his favorite horse
Nigger; and a successful race he had made with the well-known racer
Marshall - not Rynders - was construed by my jury into a knowledge on my
part of the operations of the "Underground Railroad." What could have
been more absurd? I endeavored to protest. I endeavored to show them, on
general and personal grounds, how utterly devoted I was to the "Peculiar
Institution."

"Billy Sangaree," said Judge Pyke, "do you and Major Licklickin stand by
the low-lived Abolitionist, and if he says another word, blow out his
Black Republican heart."

They did so. I was silent. Saccharissa gave me a glance expressive of
continued devotion. So long as I kept her and her hundred thousand
dollars, ($100,000,) I little cared for the assaults of these noisy and
ill-bred persons.

"Continue, Colonel," said Judge Pyke, severely.

Plickaman resumed the reading of my friend's letter.

"Well, Bratley," Deblore went on, "I hope you'll be able to stand Bayou
La Farouche till you're married. I couldn't do it. I roar over your
letters. But I swear I respect your powers of humbug. I suppose, if you
didn't let out to me, you never could lie so to your dear Saccharissa.
Do you know I think you are a little too severe in calling her a mean,
spiteful, slipshod, vulgar, dumpy little flirt?"

"Read that again!" shrieked Saccharissa.

"You are beginning to find out your Aminadab!" says Plickaman.

I moved my lips to deny my name; but the pistol of Billy Sangaree was
at my right temple, the pistol of Major Licklickin at my left. I was
silent, and bore the scornful looks of my persecutors with patience and
dignity.

Plickaman repeated the sentence.

"But hear the rest," said he, and read on: -

"From what you say of her tinge of African blood and other charming
traits, I have constructed this portrait of the future Mrs. Bratley
Chylde, as the Hottentot Venus. Behold it!"

And Mellasys held up a highly colored caricature, covering one whole
side of my friend's sheet.

Saccharissa rose from the sofa where she had been sitting during the
whole of my trial.

She stood before me, - really I cannot deny it, - a little, ugly, vulgar
figure, overloaded with finery, and her laces and ribbons trembled with
rage.

She seemed not to be able to speak, and, by way of relieving herself of
her overcharge of wrath, smote me several times on either ear with that
pudgy hand I had so often pressed in mine or tenderly kissed.

At this exhibition of a resentment I can hardly deem feminine, the
Fire-Eaters roared with laughter and cheered her to continue. A circle
of negroes also, at the window, expressed their amusement at the scene
in the guttural manner of their race.

I could not refrain from tears at these unhappy exhibitions on the part
of my betrothed. They augured ill for the harmony of our married life.

"Hit him again, Rissy! he's got no friends," that vulgar Plickaman
urged.

She again advanced, seized me by the hair, and shook me with greater
muscular force than I should have expected of one of her indolent
habits. Delicacy for her sex of course forbade my offering resistance;
and besides, there were my two sentries, roaring with vulgar laughter,
but holding their pistols with a most unpleasant accuracy of aim at my
head.

"Saccharissa, my love," I ventured to say, in a pleading tone, "these
momentary ebullitions of a transitory rage will give the bystanders
unfavorable impressions of your temper."

"You horrid little wretch!" she screeched, "you sneak! you irreligious
infidel! you Black Republican! you Aminadab!" - -

Here her unnecessary passion choked her, and she took advantage of
the pause to handle my hair with extreme violence. The sensation was
unpleasant, but I began to hope that no worse would befall me, and
I knew that with a few dulcet words in private I could remove from
Saccharissa's mind the asperity induced by my friend's caricature.

"I leave it to you, gentlemen," said she, "whether I am vulgar, as this
fellow's correspondence asserts."

"Certainly not," said Judge Pyke. "You are one of the most high-toned
beauties in the sunny South, the land of the magnolia and the papaw."

"Your dignity," said Major Licklickin, "is only surpassed by your grace,
and both by your queenly calmness."

The others also gave her the best compliments they could, poor fellows!
I could have taught them what to say.

Here a grinning negro interrupted with, -

"De tar-kittle's a b'ilin' on de keen jump, Mas'r Mellasys."

"Gentlemen of the Jury," said Judge Pyke, "as you had agreed upon your
verdict before the trial, it is not requisite that you should retire to
consult. Prisoner at the Bar, rise to receive sentence."

I thought it judicious to fall upon my knees and request forgiveness;
but my persecutors were blinded by what no doubt seemed to them a
religious zeal.

"Git up!" said Major Licklickin; and I am ashamed, for his sake, to say
that there was an application of boot accompanying this remark.

"Prisoner," continued my Rhadamanthus, "you have had a fair trial, and
you are found guilty on all the counts of the indictment. First: Of
disloyalty to the South. Second: Of indifference to the Democratic
candidate for the Presidency. Third: Of maligning the character
of Southern patriots in a book intended, no doubt, for universal
circulation through the Northern States. Fourth: Of holding
correspondence with an agent of the Underground Railroad, who, as he
himself avows, has recently run off a nigger to Toronto. - Silence, Sir!
Choke him, Billy Sangaree, if he says a word! - Fifth: Of defaming a
Southern lady, while at the same time you were endeavoring to win her
most attractive property and person from those who should naturally
acquire them. Sixth: Of Agrarianism, Abolitionism, Atheism, and
Infidelity. Prisoner at the Bar, your sentence is, that you be tarred
and cottoned and leave the State. If you are caught again, you will be
hung by the neck, and Henry Ward Beecher have mercy on your soul!"

I was now marched along by my two sentries to a huge tree, not of the
bandanna species. Beneath it a sugar-kettle filled with ebullient tar
was standing.

My persecutors, with tranquil brutality, proceeded to disrobe me. As my
nether garments were removed, Mellasys Plickaman succeeded in persuading
Saccharissa to retire. She, however, took her station at a window
and peered through the blinds at the spectacle. I do not envy her
sensations. All her bright visions of fashionable life were destroyed
forever. She would now fall into the society from which I had endeavored
to lift her. Poor thing! knowing, too, that I, and my friend Derby
Deblore, perhaps the most elegant young man in America, regarded her as
a Hottentot Venus. Poor thing! I have no doubt that she longed to rush
out, fling herself at my feet, and pray me to forgive her and reconsider
my verdict of dumpiness and vulgarity.

Meantime I had been reduced to my shirt and drawers, - excuse the nudity
of my style in stating this fact. Mellasys Plickaman took a ladle-full
of the viscous fluid and poured it over my head.

"Aminadab," said he, "I baptize thee!"

I have experienced few sensations more unpleasant than this application.
The tar descended in warm and sluggish streams, trickling over my
forehead, dropping from my eyelids, rolling over my cheeks, sealing my
mouth, gluing my ears to my skull, identifying itself with my hair,
pursuing the path indicated by my spine beneath my shirt, - in short,
enveloping me with a close-fitting armor of a glutinous and most
unsavory material.

Each of the jury followed the example of my detested rival. In a few
moments the tarring was complete. Few can see themselves mentally or
physically as others see them; but, judging from the remarks made, I am
convinced that I must have afforded an entertaining spectacle to the
party. They roared with laughter, and jeered me. I, however, preserved a
silence discreet, and, I flatter myself, dignified.

The negroes, particularly those at whose fustigation I had assisted
in the morning, joined in the scoffs of their masters, calling me
Bobolitionist, Black Republican, Liberator, and other nicknames by
which these simple-hearted and contented creatures express dislike and
distrust.

"Bring the cotton!" now cried Mellasys Plickaman.

A bag of that regal product was brought.

"Roll him in it!" said Billy Sangaree.

"Let the Colonel work his own tricks," Major Licklickin said. "He's an
artist, he is."

I must admit that he was an artist. He fabricated me an elaborate wig of
the cotton. He arranged me a pair of bushy white eyebrows. He stuck
a venerable beard upon my chin, and a moustache upon my lip. Then he
proceeded to indicate my ribs with lines of cotton, and to cap my
shoulders with epaulets. It would be long to describe the fantastic
tricks he played with me amid the loud laughter of his crew.

Occasionally, also, I heard suppressed giggles from Saccharissa at the
window.

I have no doubt that I should have strangled my late _fiancée_, if such
an act had been consistent with my personal safety.

When I was completely cottoned, in the decorative manner I have
described, Mellasys took a banjo from an old negro, and, striking it,
not without a certain unsophisticated and barbaric grace appropriate to
the instrument, commanded me to dance.

I essayed to do so. But my heart was heavy; consequently my heels were
not light. My faint attempts at pirouettes were not satisfactory.

"Dance jollier, or we'll hang you," said Plickaman.

"No," says Judge Pyke, - "the sentence of the Court has been executed.
In the sacred name of Justice I protest against proceeding farther.
Culprit," continued he, in a voice of thunder, "cut for the North Star,
and here's passage-money for you."

He stuck a half-eagle into the tarry integument of my person. Billy
Sangaree, Major Licklickin, and others of the more inebriated, imitated
him. My dignity of bearing had evidently made a favorable impression.

I departed amid cheers, some ironical, some no doubt sincere. But to the
last, these chivalric, but prejudiced and misguided gentlemen declined
to listen to my explanations. Mellasys Plickaman had completely
perverted their judgments against me.

The last object I saw was Saccharissa, looking more like a Hottentot
Venus than ever, waving her handkerchief and kissing her hand to me. Did
she repent her brief disloyalty? For a moment I thought so, and resolved
to lie in wait, return by night, and urge her to fly with me. But while
I hesitated, Mellasys Plickaman drew near her. She threw herself into
his arms, and there, before all the Committee of Fire-Eaters of Bayou La
Farouche, she kissed him with those amorphous lips I had often compelled
myself to taste. Faugh!

I deemed this scene a token that my engagement was absolutely
terminated.

There was no longer any reason why I should degrade myself by remaining
in this vulgar society. I withdrew into the thickets of the adjoining
wood and there for a time abandoned myself to melancholy reminiscences.

Presently I heard footsteps. I turned and saw a black approaching,
bearing the homely viand known as corn-dodger. He offered it. I accepted
it as a tribute from the inferior race to the superior.

I recognized him as one whose fustigation had so revived my crapulous
spirits in the morning. He seemed to bear no malice. Malignity is
perhaps a mark of more highly developed character. I, for example,
possess it to a considerable degree.

The black led me to a lair in the wood. He took my half-eagles from my
tar. He scraped and cleansed me by simple methods of which he had the
secret. He clothed me in rude garments. Gunny-bag was, I think, the
material. He gave me his own shoes. The heels were elongated; but this
we remedied by a stuffing of leaves. He conducted me toward the banks of
Bayou La Farouche.

On our way, we were compelled to pass not far from the Mellasys mansion.
There was a sound of revelry. It was night. I crept cautiously up and
peered into the window.

There stood the Reverend Onesimus Butterfut, since a prominent candidate
for the archbishopric of the Southern Confederacy. Saccharissa, more
over-dressed than usual, and her cousin Mellasys Plickaman, somewhat
unsteady with inebriation, stood before him. He was pronouncing them man
and wife, - why not ogre and hag?

How fortunate was my escape!

As my negro guide would not listen to my proposal to set the Mellasys
establishment on fire while the inmates slept, I followed him to the
banks of the Bayou. He provided me with abundant store of the homely
food already alluded to. He launched me in a vessel; known to some as
a dug-out, to some as a gundalow. His devotion was really touching.
It convinced me more profoundly than ever of the canine fidelity and
semi-animal characteristics of his race.

I floated down the Bayou. I was picked up by a cotton-ship in the Gulf.
I officiated as assistant to the cook on the homeward voyage.

At the urgent solicitation of my mother, I condescended, on my return,
to accept a situation in my Uncle Bratley's cracker-bakery. The business
is not aristocratic. But what business is? I cannot draw the line
between the baker of hard tack - such is the familiar term we employ - and
the seller of the material for our product, by the barrel or the cargo.
From the point of view of a Chylde, all avocations for the making of
money seem degrading, and only the spending is dignified.

As my conduct during the Mellasys affair has been maligned and scoffed
at by persons of crude views of what is _comme il faut_, I have drawn up
this statement, confident that it will justify me to all of my order,
which I need not state is distinctively that of the Aristocrat and the
Gentleman.




MY ODD ADVENTURE WITH JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH.


More than twenty years ago, being pastor of a church in one of our
Western cities, I was sitting, one evening, meditating over my coal
fire, which was cheerfully blazing up and gloomily subsiding again, in
the way that Western coal fires in Western coal grates were then very
much in the habit of doing. I was a young, and inexperienced minister.
I had come to the West, fresh from a New England divinity-school, with
magnificent ideas of the vast work which was to be done, and with rather
a vague notion of the way in which I was to do it. My views of the West
were chiefly derived from two books, both of which are now obsolete.
When a child, with the omnivorous reading propensity of children, I had
perused a thin, pale octavo, which stood on the shelves of our library,
containing the record of a journey by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, of
Dorchester, from Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Allibone, whom nothing
escapes, gives the title of the book, "Journal of a Tour into the
Territory Northwest of the Allegheny Mountains in 1803, Boston, 1805."
That a man should write an octavo volume about a journey to Marietta now
strikes us as rather absurd; but in those days the overland journey to
Ohio was as difficult as that to California is now. The other book was a


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 47, September, 1861 → online text (page 6 of 20)