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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Fitz Hugh Ludlow (1836–1870)

Brace of Boys

From “Little Brother, and Other Genre Pictures”

I AM a bachelor uncle. That, as a mere fact, might happen to anybody; but I am a bachelor uncle by internal fitness. I am one essentially, just as I am an individual of the Caucasian division of the human race; and if, through untoward circumstances—which Heaven forbid—I should lose my present position, I shouldn’t be surprised if you saw me out in the Herald under “Situations Wanted—Males.” Thanks to a marrying tendency in the rest of my family, I have now little need to advertise, all the business being thrown into my way which a single member of my profession can attend to.

I meander, like a desultory, placid river of an old bachelor as I am, through the flowery mead of several nurseries, but I am detained longest among the children of my sister Lu.

Lu married Mr. Lovegrove. He is a merchant, retired with a fortune amassed by the old-fashioned, slow processes of trade, and regards the mercantile life of the present day only as so much greed and gambling Christianly baptized…. Lu is my favorite sister; Lovegrove an unusually good article of brother-in-law; and I cannot say that any of my nieces and nephews interest me more than their two children, Daniel and Billy, who are more unlike than words can paint them. They are far apart in point of years; Daniel is twenty-two, Billy eleven. I was reminded of this fact the other day by Billy, as he stood between my legs scowling at his book of sums.

“‘A boy has eighty-five turnips and gives his sister thirty’—pretty present for a girl, isn’t it?” said Billy, with an air of supreme contempt. “Could you stand such stuff—say?”

I put on my instructive face and answered:

“Well, my dear Billy, you know that arithmetic is necessary to you if you mean to be an industrious man and succeed in business. Suppose your parents were to lose all their property, what would become of them without a little son who could make money and keep accounts?”

“Oh!” said Billy, with surprise, “hasn’t father got enough stamps to see him through?”

“He has now, I hope; but people don’t always keep them. Suppose they should go by some accident, when your father was too old to make any more stamps for himself?”

“You haven’t thought of Brother Daniel——”

True; for nobody ever had in connection with the active employments of life.

“No, Billy,” I replied, “I forgot him; but then, you know, Daniel is more of a student than a business man, and——”

“O Uncle Teddy! you don’t think I mean he’d support them? I meant I’d have to take care of father and mother and him, too, when they’d all got to be old people together. Just think! I’m eleven, and he’s twenty-two; so he is just twice as old as I am. How old are you?”

“Forty, Billy, last August.”

“Well, you aren’t so awful old, and when I get to be as old as you, Daniel will be eighty. Seth Kendall’s grandfather isn’t more than that, and he has to be fed with a spoon, and a nurse puts him to bed, and wheels him round in a chair like a baby. That takes the stamps, I bet! Well, I tell you how I’ll keep my accounts: I’ll have a stick like Robinson Crusoe, and every time I make a toadskin I’ll gouge a piece out of one side of the stick, and every time I spend one I’ll gouge a piece out of the other.”

“Spend a what?” said the gentle and astonished voice of my sister Lu, who, unperceived, had slipped into the room.

“A toadskin, ma,” replied Billy, shutting up Colburn with a farewell glance of contempt.

“Dear, dear! Where does the boy learn such horrid words?”

“Why, ma, don’t you know what a toadskin is? Here’s one,” said Billy, drawing a dingy five-cent stamp from his pocket. “And don’t I wish I had lots of ’em!”

“Oh!” sighed his mother, “to think I should have a child so addicted to slang! How I wish he were like Daniel!”

“Well, mother,” replied Billy, “if you wanted two boys just alike you’d oughter had twins. There ain’t any use of my trying to be like Daniel now, when he’s got eleven years the start. Whoop! There’s a dog-fight; hear ’em! It’s Joe Casey’s dog—I know his bark!”

With these words my nephew snatched his Glengarry bonnet from the table and bolted down-stairs to see the fun.

“What will become of him?” said Lu hopelessly; “he has no taste for anything but rough play; and then such language as he uses! Why isn’t he like Daniel?”

“I suppose because his Maker never repeats Himself. Even twins often possess strongly marked individualities. Don’t you think it would be a good plan to learn Billy better before you try to teach him? If you do, you’ll make something as good of him as Daniel; though it will be rather different from that model.”

“Remember, Ned, that you never did like Daniel as well as you do Billy. But we all know the proverb about old maid’s daughters and old bachelor’s sons. I wish you had Billy for a month—then you’d see.”

“I’m not sure that I’d do any better than you. I might err as much in other directions. But I’d try to start right by acknowledging that he was a new problem, not to be worked without finding out the value of X in his particular instance. The formula which solves one boy will no more solve the next one than the rule of three will solve a question in calculus—or, to rise into your sphere, than the receipt for one-two-three-four cake will conduct you to a successful issue through plum pudding.”

I excel in metaphysical discussion, and was about giving further elaboration to my favorite idea, when the door burst open. Master Billy came tumbling in with a torn jacket, a bloody nose, the traces of a few tears in his eyes, and the mangiest of cur dogs in his hands.

“O my! my!! my!!!” exclaimed his mother.

“Don’t you get scared, ma!” cried Billy, smiling a stern smile of triumph; “I smashed the nose off him! He won’t sass me again for nothing this while. Uncle Teddy, d’ye know it wasn’t a dog-fight after all? There was that nasty, good-for-nothing Joe Casey, ’n Patsy Grogan, and a lot of bad boys from Mackerelville; and they’d caught this poor little ki-oodle and tied a tin pot to his tail, and were trying to set Joe’s dog on him, though he’s ten times littler.”

“You naughty, naughty boy! How did you suppose your mother’d feel to see you playing with those ragamuffins?”

“Yes, I played ’em! I polished ’em—that’s the play I did! Says I, ‘Put down that poor little pup; ain’t you ashamed of yourself, Patsy Grogan?’ ‘I guess you don’t know who I am,’ says he.—That’s the way they always say, Uncle Teddy, to make a fellow think they’re some awful great fighters. So says I again, ‘Well, you put down that dog, or I’ll show you who I am’; and when he held on, I let him have it. Then he dropped the pup, and as I stooped to pick it up he gave me one on the bugle.”

“Bugle! Oh! oh! oh!”

“The rest pitched in to help him; but I grabbed the pup and while I was trying to give as good as I got—only a fellow can’t do it well with only one hand, Uncle Teddy—up came a policeman, and the whole crowd ran away. So I got the dog safe, and here he is!”

With that Billy set down his “ki-oodle,” bade farewell to every fear, and wiped his bleeding nose. The unhappy beast slunk back between the legs of his preserver and followed him out of the room, as Lu, with an expression of maternal despair, bore him away for the correction of his dilapidated raiment and depraved associations. I felt such sincere pride in this young Mazzini of the dog nation that I was vexed at Lu for bestowing on him reproof instead of congratulation; but she was not the only conservative who fails to see a good cause and a heroic heart under a bloody nose and torn jacket. I resolved that if Billy was punished he should have his recompense before long in an extra holiday at Barnum’s or the Hippotheatron.

You already have some idea of my other nephew, if you have noticed that none of us, not even that habitual disrespecter of dignities, Billy, ever called him Dan. It would have seemed as incongruous as to call Billy William. He was one of those youths who never gave their parents a moment’s uneasiness; who never had to have their wills broken, and never forget to put on their rubbers or take an umbrella. In boyhood he was intended for a missionary. Had it been possible for him to go to Greenland’s icy mountains without catching cold, or India’s coral strand without getting bilious, his parents would have carried out their pleasing dream of contributing him to the world’s evangelization. Lu and Mr. Lovegrove had no doubt that he would have been greatly blessed if he could have stood it….

Both she and his father always encouraged old manners in him. I think they took such pride in raising a peculiarly pale boy as a gardener does in getting a nice blanch on his celery, and so long as he was not absolutely sick, the graver he was the better. He was a sensitive plant, a violet by a mossy stone, and all that sort of thing….

At the time I introduce Billy, both Lu and her husband were much changed. They had gained a great deal in width of view and liberality of judgment. They read Dickens and Thackeray with avidity; went now and then to the opera; proposed to let Billy take a quarter at Dodworth’s; had statues in their parlor without any thought of shame at their lack of petticoats, and did multitudes of things which, in their early married life, they would have considered shocking…. They would greatly have liked to see Daniel shine in society. Of his erudition they were proud even to worship. The young man never had any business, and his father never seemed to think of giving him any, knowing, as Billy would say, that he had stamps enough to “see him through.” If Daniel liked, his father would have endowed a professorship in some college and given him the chair; but that would have taken him away from his own room and the family physician.

Daniel knew how much his parents wished him to make a figure in the world, and only blamed himself for his failure, magnanimously forgetting that they had crushed out the faculties which enable a man to mint the small change of every-day society in the exclusive cultivation of such as fit him for smelting its ponderous ingots. With that merciful blindness which alone prevents all our lives from becoming a horror of nerveless self-reproach, his parents were equally unaware of their share in the harm done him when they ascribed to a delicate organization the fact that, at an age when love runs riot in all healthy blood, he could not see a Balmoral without his cheeks rivaling the most vivid stripe in it. They flattered themselves that he would outgrow his bashfulness; but Daniel had no such hope, and frequently confided in me that he thought he should never marry at all.

About two hours after Billy’s disappearance under his mother’s convoy, the defender of the oppressed returned to my room bearing the dog under his arm. His cheeks shone with washing like a pair of waxy Spitzenbergs, and other indignities had been offered him to the extent of the brush and comb. He also had a whole jacket on….

Billy and I also obtained permission to go out together and be gone the entire afternoon. We put Crab on a comfortable bed of rags in an old shoebox, and then strolled hand-in-hand across that most delightful of New York breathing-places—Stuyvesant Square.

“Uncle Teddy,” exclaimed Billy with ardor, “I wish I could do something to show you how much I think of you for being so good to me. I don’t know how. Would it make you happy if I was to learn a hymn for you—a smashing big hymn—six verses, long meter, and no grumbling?”

“No, Billy, you make me happy enough just by being a good boy.”

“Oh, Uncle Teddy!” replied Billy decidedly, “I’m afraid I can’t do it. I’ve tried so often, and always make such a mess of it.”…

We now got into a Broadway stage going down, and being unable, on account of the noise, to converse further upon those spiritual conflicts of Billy’s which so much interested me, amused ourselves with looking out until just as we reached the Astor House, when he asked me where we were going.

“Where do you guess?” said I.

He cast a glance through the front window and his face became irradiated. Oh, there’s nothing like the simple, cheap luxury of pleasing a child to create sunshine enough for the chasing away of the bluest of adult devils!

“We’re going to Barnum’s!” said Billy, involuntarily clapping his hands.

So we were; and, much as stuck-up people pretend to look down on the place, I frequently am there. Not only so, but I always see that class largely represented there when I do go. To be sure, they always make believe that they only come to amuse the children, or because they’ve country cousins visiting them, and never fail to refer to the vulgar set one finds there, and the fact of the animals smelling like anything but Jockey Club; yet I notice that after they’ve been in the hall three minutes they’re as much interested as any of the people they come to pooh-pooh, and only put on the high-bred air when they fancy some of their own class are looking at them. I boldly acknowledge that I go because I like it. I am especially happy, to be sure, if I have a child along to go into ecstasies, and give me a chance, by asking questions, for the exhibition of that fund of information which is said to be one of my chief charms in the social circle, and on several occasions has led that portion of the public immediately about the Happy Family into the erroneous impression that I was Mr. Barnum, glibly explaining his five hundred thousand curiosities.

On the present occasion we found several visitors of the better class in the room devoted to the aquarium. Among these was a young lady, apparently about nineteen, in a tight-fitting basque of black velvet, which showed her elegant figure to fine advantage, a skirt of garnet silk, looped up over a pretty Balmoral, and the daintiest imaginable pair of kid walking-boots. Her height was a trifle over the medium; her eyes, a soft, expressive brown, shaded by masses of hair which exactly matched their color, and, at that rat-and-miceless day, fell in such graceful abandon as to show at once that nature was the only maid who crimped their waves into them. Her complexion was rosy with health and sympathetic enjoyment; her mouth was faultless, her nose sensitive, her manners full of refinement, and her voice as musical as a wood-robin’s when she spoke to the little boy of six at her side, to whom she was revealing the palace of the great show-king. Billy and I were flattening our noses against the abode of the balloon fish and determining whether he looked most like a horse-chestnut burr or a ripe cucumber, when his eyes and my own simultaneously fell on the child and lady. In a moment, to Billy the balloon fish was as though he had not been.

“That’s a pretty little boy,” said I. And then I asked Billy one of those senseless routine questions which must make children look at us, regarding the scope of our intellects very much as we look at Bushmen.

“How would you like to play with him?”

“Him!” replied Billy scornfully, “that’s his first pair of boots; see him pull up his little breeches to show the red tops to ’em! But, crackey! isn’t she a smasher!”

After that we visited the wax figures and the sleepy snakes the learned seal, and the glass-blowers. Whenever we passed from one room into another Billy could be caught looking anxiously to see if the pretty girl and child were coming too.

Time fails me to describe how Billy was lost in astonishment at the Lightning Calculator—wanted me to beg the secret of that prodigy for him to do his sums by—finally thought he had discovered it, and resolved to keep his arm whirling all the time he studied his arithmetic lesson the next morning. Equally inadequate is it to relate in full how he became so confused among the wax-works that he pinched the solemnest showman’s legs to see if he was real, and perplexed the beautiful Circassian to the verge of idiocy by telling her he had read in his geography all about the way they sold girls like her.

We had reached the stairs to that subterranean chamber in which the Behemoth of Holy Writ was wallowing about without a thought of the dignity which one expects from a canonical character. Billy had always languished upon his memories of this diverting beast, and I stood ready to see him plunge head-long the moment that he read the signboard at the head of the stairs. When he paused and hesitated there—not seeming at all anxious to go down till he saw the pretty girl and the child following after—a sudden intuition flashed across me. Could it be possible that Billy was caught in that vortex which whirled me down at ten years—a little boy’s first love?

We were lingering about the elliptical basin, and catching occasional glimpses between bubbles of a vivified hair trunk of monstrous compass, whose knobby lid opened at one end and showed a red morocco lining, when the pretty girl, in leaning over to point out the rising monster, dropped into the water one of her little gloves, and the swash made by the hippopotamus drifted it close under Billy’s hand. Either in play or as a mere coincidence the animal followed it. The other children about the tank screamed and started back as he bumped his nose against the side; but Billy manfully bent down and grabbed the glove not an inch from one of his big tusks, then marched around the tank and presented it to the lady with a chivalry of manner in one of his years quite surprising.

“That’s a real nice boy—you said so, didn’t you, Lottie?—and I wish he’d come and play with me,” said the little fellow by the young lady’s side, as Billy turned away, gracefully thanked, to come back to me with his cheeks roseate with blushes.

As he heard this Billy idled along the edge of the tank for a moment, then faced about and said:

“P’raps I will some day. Where do you live?”

“I live on East Seventeenth Street with papa—and Lottie stays there, too, now—she’s my cousin. Where d’you live?”

“Oh! I live close by—right on that big green square, where I guess the nurse takes you once in a while,” said Billy patronizingly. Then, looking up pluckily at the young lady, he added, “I never saw you out there.”

“No; Jimmy’s papa has only been in his new house a little while, and I’ve just come to visit him.”

“Say, will you come and play with me some time?” chimed in the inextinguishable Jimmy. “I’ve got a cooking-stove—for real fire—and blocks, and a ball with a string.”

Billy, who belonged to a club for the practice of the great American game, and was what A. Ward would call the most superior battist among the I. G. B. B. C, or “Infant Giants,” smiled from that altitude upon Jimmy, but promised to go and play with him the next Saturday afternoon.

Late that evening, after we had got home and dined, as I sat in my room over “Pickwick” with a sedative cigar, a gentle knock at the door told of Daniel. I called “Come in!” and, entering with a slow, dejected air, he sat down by my fire. For ten minutes he remained silent, though occasionally looking up as if about to speak, then dropping his head again, to ponder on the coals. Finally I laid down Dickens and spoke myself:

“You don’t seem well to-night, Daniel?”

“I don’t feel very well, uncle.”

“What’s the matter, my boy?”

“Oh-ah, I don’t know. That is, I wish I knew how to tell you.”

I studied him for a few moments with kindly curiosity, then answered:

“Perhaps I can save you the trouble by cross-examining it out of you. Let’s try the method of elimination. I know that you’re not harassed by any economical considerations, for you’ve all the money you want; and I know that ambition doesn’t trouble you, for your tastes are scholarly. This narrows down the investigation of your symptoms—listlessness, general dejection, and all—to three causes—dyspepsia, religious conflicts, love. Now, is your digestion awry?”

“No, sir; good as usual. I’m not melancholy on religion and——”

“You don’t tell me you’re in love?”

“Well—yes—I suppose that’s about it, Uncle Teddy.”

I took a long breath to recover from my astonishment at this unimaginable revelation, then said:

“Is your feeling returned?”

“I really don’t know, uncle; I don’t believe it is. I don’t see how it can be. I never did anything to make her love me. What is there in me to love? I’ve borne nothing for her—that is, nothing that could do her any good—though I’ve endured on her account, I may say, anguish. So, look at it any way you please, I neither am, do nor suffer anything that can get a woman’s love.”

“O, you man of learning! Even in love you tote your grammar along with you, and arrange a divine passion under the active, passive, and neuter!”

Daniel smiled faintly.

“You’ve no idea, Uncle Teddy, that you are twitting on facts; but you hit the truth there; indeed, you do. If she were a Greek or Latin woman I could talk Anacreon or Horace to her. If women only understood the philosophy of the flowers as well as they do the poetry——”

“Thank God they don’t, Daniel!” sighed I devoutly.

“Never mind—in that case I could entrance her for hours, talking about the grounds of difference between Linnæus and Jussieu. Women like the star business, they say—and I could tell where all the constellations are; but sure as I tried to get off any sentiment about them, I’d break down and make myself ridiculous. But what earthly chance would the greatest philosopher that ever lived have with the woman he loved if he depended for her favor on his ability to analyze her bouquet or tell her when she might look out for the next occultation of Orion? I can’t talk bread-and-butter talk. I can’t do anything that makes a man even tolerable to a woman!”

“I hope you don’t mean that nothing but bread-and-butter talk is tolerable to a woman!”

“No; but it’s necessary to some extent—at any rate, the ability is—in order to succeed in society; and it’s in society men first meet and strike women. And oh, Uncle Teddy! I’m such a fish out of water in society!—such a dreadful floundering fish! When I see her dancing gracefully as a swan swims, and feel that fellows like little Jack Mankyn, who ‘don’t know twelve times,’ can dance to her perfect admiration; when I see that she likes ease of manners—and all sorts of men without an idea in their heads have that—while I turn all colors when I speak to her, and am clumsy, and abrupt, and abstracted, and bad at repartee—Uncle Teddy! sometimes (though it seems so ungrateful to father and mother, who have spent such pains for me)—sometimes, do you know, it seems to me as if I’d exchange all I’ve ever learned for the power to make a good appearance before her!”

“Daniel, my boy, it’s too much a matter of reflection with you! A woman is not to be taken by laying plans. If you love the lady (whose name I don’t ask you, because I know you’ll tell me as soon as you think best), you must seek her companionship until you’re well enough acquainted with her to have her regard you as something different from the men whom she meets merely in society, and judge your qualities by another standard than that she applies to them. If she’s a sensible girl (and God forbid you should marry her otherwise), she knows that people can’t always be dancing, or holding fans, or running after orange-ice. If she’s a girl capable of appreciating your best points (and woe to you if you marry a girl who can’t!), she’ll find them out upon closer intimacy, and, once found, they’ll a hundred times outweigh all brilliant advantages kept in the show-case of fellows who have nothing on the shelves. When this comes about, you will pop the question unconsciously, and, to adapt Milton, she’ll drop into your lap ‘gathered—not harshly plucked.’”

“I know that’s sensible, Uncle Teddy, and I’ll try. Let me tell you the sacredest of secrets—regularly every day of my life I send her a little poem fastened round the prettiest bouquet I can get at Hanft’s.”

“Does she know who sends them?”

“She can’t have any idea. The German boy that takes them knows not a word of English except her name and address. You’ll forgive me, uncle, for not mentioning her name yet? You see, she may despise or hate me some day when she knows who it is that has paid her these attentions; and then I’d like to be able to feel that at least I’ve never hurt her by any absurd connection with myself.”

“Forgive you? Nonsense! The feeling does your heart infinite credit, though a little counsel with your head will show you that your only absurdity is self-depreciation.”

Daniel bade me good night. As I put out my cigar and went to bed my mind reverted to the dauntless little Hotspur who had spent the afternoon with me and reversed his mother’s wish, thinking:

“Oh, if Daniel were more like Billy!”

It was always Billy’s habit to come and sit with me while I smoked my after-breakfast cigar, but the next morning I did not see him enter my room until St. George’s hands pointed to a quarter of nine.

“Well, Billy Boy Blue, come blow your horn; what haystack have you been under till this time of day? We sha’n’t have a minute to look over our spelling together, and I know a boy who’s going in for promotion next week. Have you had your breakfast and taken care of Crab?”

“Yes, sir; but I didn’t feel like getting up this morning.”

“Are you sick?”

“No-o-o—it isn’t that; but you’ll laugh at me if I tell you.”

“Indeed I won’t, Billy!”

“Well”—his voice dropped to a whisper, and he stole close to my side—“I had such a nice dream about her just the last thing before the bell rang; and when I woke up I felt so queer—so kinder good and kinder bad—and I wanted to see her so much that, if I hadn’t been a big boy, I believe I should have blubbered. I tried ever so much to go to sleep and see her again; but the more I tried the more I couldn’t. After all, I had to get up without it, though I didn’t want any breakfast, and only ate two buckwheat cakes, when I always eat six, you know, Uncle Teddy. Can you keep a secret?”

“Yes, dear, so you couldn’t get it out of me if you were to shake me upside-down like a savings-bank.”

“Oh, ain’t you mean! That was when I was small I did that. I’ll tell you the secret, though—that girl and I are going to get married. I mean to ask her the first chance I get. Oh, isn’t she a smasher!”

“My dear Billy, won’t you wait a little while to see if you will always like her as well as you do now? Then, too, you’ll be older.”

“I’m old enough, Uncle Teddy, and I love her dearly! I’m as old as the kings of France used to be when they got married—I read it in Abbott’s histories. But there’s the clock striking nine! I must run or I shall get a tardy mark, and perhaps she’ll want to see my certificate sometimes.”

So saying, he kissed me on the cheek and set off for school as fast as his legs could carry him. Oh, Love, omnivorous Love, that sparest neither the dotard leaning on his staff nor the boy with pantaloons buttoning on his jacket—omnipotent Love, that, after parents and teachers have failed, in one instant can make Billy try to become a good boy!

With both of my nephews hopelessly enamored and myself the confidant of both, I had my hands full. Daniel was generally dejected and distrustful; Billy buoyant and jolly. Daniel found it impossible to overcome his bashfulness; was spontaneous only in sonnets, brilliant only in bouquets. Billy was always coming to me with pleasant news, told in his slangy New York boy vernacular. One day he would exclaim: “Oh, I’m getting on prime! I got such a smile off her this morning as I went by the window!” Another day he wanted counsel how to get a valentine to her—because it was too big to shove in a lamp-post, and she might catch him if he left it on the steps, rang the bell and ran away. Daniel wrote his own valentine; but, despite its originality, that document gave him no such comfort as Billy got from twenty-five cents’ worth of embossed paper, pink cupids and doggerel. Finally, Billy announced to me that he had been to play with Jimmy and got introduced to his girl.

Shortly after this Lu gave what they call “a little company” not a party, but a reunion of forty or fifty people with whom the family were well acquainted, several of them living in our immediate neighborhood. There was a goodly proportion of young folk, and there was to be dancing; but the music was limited to a single piano played by the German exile usual on such occasions, and the refreshments did not rise to the splendor of a costly supper. This kind of compromise with fashionable gaiety was wisely deemed by Lu the best method of introducing Daniel to the beau monde—a push given the timid eaglet by the maternal bird, with a soft tree-top between him and the vast expanse of society. How simple was the entertainment may be inferred from the fact that Lu felt somewhat discomposed when she got a note from one of her guests asking leave to bring along her niece, who was making her a few weeks’ visit. As a matter of course, however, she returned answer to bring the young lady and welcome.

Daniel’s dressing-room having been given up to the gentlemen, I invited him to make his toilet in mine, and, indeed, wanting him to create a favorable impression, became his valet pro tem., tying his cravat and teasing the divinity-student look out of his side hair. My little dandy Billy came in for another share of attention, and when I managed to button his jacket for him so that it showed his shirt-studs “like a man’s,” Count d’Orsay could not have felt a more pleasing sense of his sufficiency for all the demands of the gay world.

When we reached the parlor we found Pa and Ma Lovegrove already receiving. About a score of guests had arrived. Most of them were old married couples which, after paying their devoirs, fell in two like unriveted scissors—the gentlemen finding a new pivot in pa and the ladies in ma, where they mildly opened and shut upon such questions as severally concerned them, such as “the way gold closed” and “how the children were.”

Besides the old married people, there were several old young men of distinctly hopeless and unmarried aspect who, having nothing in common with the other class, nor sufficient energy of character to band themselves for mutual protection, hovered dejectedly about the arch pillars, or appeared to be considering whether, on the whole, it would not be feasible and best to sit down on the center-table. These subsisted upon such crumbs of comfort as Lu could get an occasional chance to throw them by rapid sorties of conversation—became galvanically active the moment they were punched up and fell flat the moment the punching was remitted. I did all I could for them, but, having Daniel in tow, dared not sail too near the edge of the Doldrums, lest he should drop into sympathetic stagnation and be taken preternaturally bashful, with his sails all aback, just as I wanted to carry him gallantly into action with some clipper-built cruiser of a nice young lady. Finally Lu bethought herself of that last plank of drowning conversationalists, the photograph album. All the dejected young men made for it at once, some reaching it just as they were about to sink for the last time, but all getting a grip on it somehow, and staying there in company with other people’s babies whom they didn’t know, and celebrities whom they knew to death, until, one by one, they either stranded upon a motherly dowager by the Fireplace Shoals, or were rescued from the Soda Reef by some gallant wrecker of a strong-minded young lady, with a view to taking salvage out of them in the German.

Besides these were already arrived a dozen nice little boys and girls, who had been invited to make it pleasant for Billy. I had to remind him of the fact that they were his guests, for in comparison with the queen of his affections they were in danger of being despised by him as small fry.

The younger ladies and gentlemen—those who had fascinations to disport or were in the habit of disporting what they considered such—were probably still at home consulting the looking-glass until that oracle should announce the auspicious moment for their setting forth.

Daniel was in conversation with a perfect godsend of a girl, who understood Latin and had begun Greek. Billy was taking a moment’s vacation from his boys and girls, busy with “Old Maid” in the extension room, and whispering with his hand in mine, “Oh, don’t I wish she were here!” when a fresh invoice of ladies, just unpacked from the dressing-room in all the airy elegance of evening costume, floated through the door. I heard Lu say:

“Ah, Mrs. Rumbullion! Happy to see your niece, too. How d’ye do, Miss Pilgrim?”

At this last word Billy jumped as if he had been shot, and the bevy of ladies opening about sister Lu disclosed the charming face and figure of the pretty girl we had met at Barnum’s.

Billy’s countenance rapidly changed from astonishment to joy.

“Isn’t that splendid, Uncle Teddy? Just as I was wishing it! It’s just like the fairy books!” and, rushing up to the party of newcomers, “My dear Lottie!” cried he, “if I’d only known you were coming I’d have gone after you!”

As he caught her by the hand I was pleased to see her soft eyes brighten with gratification at his enthusiasm, but my sister Lu looked on naturally with astonishment in every feature.

“Why, Billy!” said she, “you ought not to call a strange young lady ‘Lottie!’ Miss Pilgrim, you must excuse my wild boy.”

“And you must excuse my mother, Lottie,” said Billy, affectionately patting Miss Pilgrim’s rose kid, “for calling you a strange young lady. You are not strange at all—you’re just as nice a girl as there is.”

“There are no excuses necessary,” said Miss Pilgrim, with a bewitching little laugh. “Billy and I know each other intimately well, Mrs. Lovegrove; and I confess that when I heard the lady aunt had been invited to visit was his mother, I felt all the more willing to infringe etiquette this evening by coming where I had no previous introduction.”

“Don’t you care!” said Billy encouragingly. “I’ll introduce you to every one of our family; I know ’em, if you don’t.”

At this moment I came up as Billy’s reenforcement, and fearing lest in his enthusiasm he might forget the canon of society which introduces a gentleman to a lady, not the lady to him, I ventured to suggest it delicately by saying:

“Billy, will you grant me the favor of a presentation to Miss Pilgrim?”

“In a minute, Uncle Teddy,” answered Billy, considerably lowering his voice. “The older people first”; and after this reproof I was left to wait in the cold until he had gone through the ceremony of introducing to the young lady his father and his mother.

Billy, who had now assumed entire guardianship of Miss Pilgrim, with an air of great dignity entrusted her to my care and left us promenading while he went in search of Daniel. I myself looked in vain for that youth, whom I had not seen since the entrance of the last comers. Miss Pilgrim and I found a congenial common ground in Billy, whom she spoke of as one of the most delightfully original boys she had ever met—in fact, altogether the most fascinating young gentleman she had seen in New York society. You may be sure it wasn’t Billy’s left ear which burned when I made my responses.

In five minutes he reappeared to announce, in a tone of disappointment, that he could find Daniel nowhere. He could see a light through his keyhole, but the door was locked, and he could get no admittance. Just then Lu came up to present a certain—no, an uncertain—young man of the fleet stranded on parlor furniture earlier in the evening. To Lu’s great astonishment Miss Pilgrim asked Billy’s permission to leave him. It was granted with all the courtesy of a preux chevalier, on the condition, readily assented to by the lady, that she should dance one lanciers with him during the evening.

“Dear me!” exclaimed Lu, after Billy had gone back like a superior being to assist at the childish amusement of his contemporaries, “Would anybody ever suppose that was our Billy?”

“I should, my dear sister,” said I, with proud satisfaction; “but you remember I always was just to Billy.”

Left free, I went myself to hunt up Daniel. I found his door locked and a light shining through the keyhole, as Billy had stated. I made no attempt to enter by knocking, but, going to my room and opening the window next his, leaned out as far as I could, shoved up his sash with my cane, and pushed aside his curtain. Such an unusual method of communication could not fail to bring him to the window with a rush. When he saw me he trembled like a guilty thing, his countenance fell, and, no longer able to feign absence, he unlocked his door and let me enter by the normal mode.

“Why, Daniel Lovegrove, my nephew, what does this mean? Are you sick?”

“Uncle Edward, I am not sick—and this means that I am a fool. Even a little boy like Billy puts me to shame. I feel humbled to the very dust. I wish I’d been a missionary and got massacred by savages. Oh, that I’d been permitted to wear damp stockings in childhood, or that my mother hadn’t carried me through the measles! If it weren’t wrong to take my life into my own hands, I’d open that window, and—and—sit in a draft this very evening! Oh, yes! I’m just that bitter! Oh, oh, oh!”

And he paced the floor with strides of frenzy.

“Well, my dear fellow, let’s look at the matter calmly a minute. What brought on this sudden attack? You seemed doing well enough the first ten minutes after we came down. I was only out of your sight long enough to speak to the Rumbullion party, who had just come in, and when I turned around you were gone. Now you are in this fearful condition. What is there in the Rumbullions to start you off on such a bender of bashfulness as this which I here behold?”

“Rumbullion indeed!” said Daniel. “A hundred Rumbullions could not make me feel as I do. But she can shake me into a whirlwind with her little finger; and she came with the Rumbullions!”

“What! D’you—Miss Pilgrim?”

“Miss Pilgrim!”

I labored with Daniel for ten minutes, using every encouragement and argument I could think of, and finally threatened him that I would bring up the whole Rumbullion party, Miss Pilgrim included, telling them that he had invited them to look at his conchological cabinet, unless he instantly shook the ice out of his manner and accompanied me down-stairs. This dreadful menace had the desired effect. He knew that I would not scruple to fulfil it; and at the same time that it made him surrender, it also provoked him with me to a degree which gave his eyes and cheeks as fine a glow as I could have wished for the purpose of a favorable impression. The stimulus of wrath was good for him, and there was little tremor in his knees when he descended the stairs. Well-a-day! So Daniel and Billy were rivals!

The latter gentleman met us at the foot of the staircase.

“Oh, there you are, Daniel!” he said cheerily. “I was just going to look after you and Uncle Teddy. We’ve wanted you for the dances. We’ve had the lanciers twice, and three round dances; and I danced the second lanciers with Lottie. Now we’re going to play some games—to amuse the children, you know,” he added loftily, with the adult gesture of pointing his thumb over his shoulder at the extension room. “Lottie’s going to play, too; so will you and Daniel, won’t you, uncle? Oh, here comes Lottie now! This is my brother, Miss Pilgrim—let me introduce him to you. I’m sure you’ll like him. There’s nothing he don’t know.”

Miss Pilgrim had just come to the newel-post of the staircase, and, when she looked into Daniel’s face, blushed like the red, red rose, losing her self-possession perceptibly more than Daniel.

The courage of weak warriors and timid gallants mounts as the opposite party’s falls, and Daniel made out to say in a firm tone that it was long since he had enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Miss Pilgrim.

“Not since Mrs. Cramcroud’s last sociable, I think,” replied Miss Pilgrim, her cheeks and eyes still playing the telltale.

“Oho! so you don’t want any introduction!” exclaimed Master Billy. “I didn’t know you knew each other, Lottie?”

“I have met Mr. Lovegrove in society. Shall we go and join the plays?”

“To be sure we shall!” cried Billy. “You needn’t mind—all the grown people are going, too.”

On entering the parlor we found it as he had said. The guests being almost all well acquainted with each other, at the solicitation of jolly little Miss Bloomingal, sister Lu had consented to make a pleasant Christmas kind of time of it, in which everybody was permitted to be young again and romp with the rompiest. We played blindman’s buff till we were tired of that—Daniel, to Lu’s great delight, coming out splendidly as blindman, and evincing such “cheek” in the style he hunted down and caught the ladies as satisfied me that nothing but his eyesight stood in the way of his making an audacious figure in the world. Then a pretty little girl, Tilly Turtelle, who seemed quite a premature flirt, proposed “doorkeeper”—a suggestion accepted with great éclat by all the children, several grown people assenting.

To Billy—quite as much on account of his shining prominence in the executive faculties as of his character as host—was committed the duty of counting out the first person to be sent into the hall. There were so many of us that “Aina maina mona mike” would not go quite round; but, with that promptness of expedient which belongs to genius, Billy instantly added on, “Intery-mintery-cutery-corn,” and the last word of the cabalistic formula fell upon me—Edward Balbus. I disappeared into the entry amid peals of happy laughter from both old and young, calling, when the door opened again to ask me whom I wanted, for the pretty lisping flirt who had proposed the game. After giving me a coquettish little chirrup of a kiss and telling me my beard scratched, she bade me, on my return, send out to her “Mithter Billy Lovegrove.” I obeyed her; my youngest nephew retired; and after a couple of seconds, during which Tilly undoubtedly got what she proposed the game for, Billy being a great favorite with the little girls, she came back, pouting and blushing, to announce that he wanted Miss Pilgrim. That young lady showed no mock-modesty, but arose at once and laughingly went out to her youthful admirer, who, as I afterward learned, embraced her ardently and told her he loved her better than any girl in the world. As he turned to go back, she told him that he might send to her one of her juvenile cousins, Reginald Rumbullion. Now, whether because on this youthful Rumbullion’s account Billy had suffered the pangs of that most terrible passion, jealousy, or from his natural enjoyment of playing practical jokes destructive of all dignity in his elders, Billy marched into the room, and, having shut the door behind him, paralyzed the crowded parlor by an announcement that Mr. Daniel Lovegrove was wanted.

I was standing at his side and could feel him tremble—see him turn pale.

“Dear me!” he whispered in a choking voice, “can she mean me?”

“Of course, she does,” said I. “Who else? Do you hesitate? Surely you can’t refuse such an invitation from a lady?”

“No, I suppose not,” said he mechanically. And amid much laughter from the disinterested, while the faces of Mrs. Rumbullion and his mother were spectacles of crimson astonishment, he made his exit from the room. Never in my life did I so much long for that instrument described by Mr. Samuel Weller—a pair of patent double-million-magnifying microscopes of hextry power, to see through a deal door. Instead of this, I had to learn what happened only by report.

Lottie Pilgrim was standing under the hall burners with her elbow on the newel-post, looking more vividly charming than he had ever seen her before at Mrs. Cramcroud’s sociable or elsewhere. When startled by the apparition of Mr. Daniel Lovegrove instead of the little Rumbullion whom she was expecting, she had no time to exclaim or hide her mounting color, none at all to explain to her own mind the mistake that had occurred, before his arm was clasped around her waist, and his lips so closely pressed to hers that through her soft, thick hair she could feel the throbbing of his temples. As for Daniel, he seemed in a walking dream, from which he waked to see Miss Pilgrim looking into his eyes with utter though not incensed stupefaction—to stammer:

“Forgive me! Do forgive me! I thought you were in earnest.”

“So I was,” she said tremulously, as soon as she could catch her voice, “in sending for my cousin Reginald.”

“Oh, dear, what shall I do! Believe me, I was told you wanted me. Let me go and explain it to mother—she’ll tell the rest. I couldn’t do it—I’d die of mortification. Oh, that wretched boy Billy!”

On the principle already mentioned, his agitation reassured her.

“Don’t try to explain it now—it may get Billy a scolding. Are there any but intimate family friends here this evening?”

“No—I believe—no—I’m sure,” replied Daniel, collecting his faculties.

“Then I don’t mind what they think. Perhaps they’ll suppose we’ve known each other long; but we’ll arrange it by and by. They’ll think the more of it the longer we stay out here—hear them laugh! I must run back now. I’ll send you somebody.”

A round of juvenile applause greeted her as she hurried into the parlor, and a number of grown people smiled quite musically. Her quick woman’s wit showed her how to retaliate and divide the embarrassment of the occasion. As she passed me she said in an undertone:

“Answer quick! Who’s that fat lady on the sofa, that laughs so loud?”

“Mrs. Cromwell Craggs,” said I as quietly.

Miss Pilgrim made a satirically low courtesy, and spoke in a modest but distinct voice:

“I really must be excused for asking. I’m a stranger, you know; but is there such a lady here as Mrs. Craggs—Mrs. Cromwell Craggs? For if so, the present doorkeeper would like to see Mrs. Cromwell Craggs.”

Then came the turn of the fat lady to be laughed at; but out she had to go and get kissed like the rest of us.

Before the close of the evening Billy was made as jealous as his parents and I were surprised to see Daniel in close conversation with Miss Pilgrim among the geraniums and fuchsias of the conservatory. “A regular flirtation!” said Billy somewhat indignantly. The conclusion they arrived at was, that after all no great harm had been done, and that the dear little fellow ought not to be peached on for his fun. If I had known at the time how easily they forgave him, I should have suspected that the offense Billy had led Daniel into committing was not unlikely to be repeated on the offender’s own account; but so much as I could see showed me that the ice was broken.