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“A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that hears it, never in the tongue
Of him that utters.”

Edgar Poe declares, with much gravity, that he has
often thought he could distinctly hear the sound of the
darkness coming over the horizon; and some one else,
perhaps the same poet, has listened to the growing of
the grass.

Late in the afternoon of this day when Cranston had
plunged into the forest behind the Indian, as the sun
was declining behind the ridge which bounds Montvale
Springs to the westward, a noise similar to the sound
of flying darkness and growing grass might have been
borne to the ears of three or four invalids, who had
crept out of their cabins to take the cool air and a
draught of the Chalybeate.

But this noise came neither from the gathering of
dark powers, nor from the struggle of grass-growth.

It was the rustle of silken dresses, and so forth, and
the crinkling of sundry coats, and so forth, in which
the male and female sojourners at beautiful Montvale
were at this moment arraying themselves for the
masque-ball of that night.

The impudent and invisible 24,999 may go with me
up into room 93, west wing, gentlemen's quarters, of the
seven-gabled hotel at Montvale.


Page 67

B. Chauncey Flemington, a gay representative of a
big plantation in Mississippi, is drawing on the left individual
of a pair of boots, whose yellow “insides” he
has caused to be cut and pulled over, after the manner
of the boots that Pizarro wears in the theatre.

John Briggs, whom nor I nor anybody know, except
that he was the best fellow in the English language, is
tying a blue ribbon round his knee to fasten a flesh-colored
long stocking, such as the genteel shepherd
wears in the theatre. Alf. Aubrey is tying the thong
of a Roman sandal upon his foot, occasionally pausing
to glance at an open Shakespeare lying on the table,
after each glance throwing back his head and shutting
his eyes, while his lips move slowly, as if he were repeating
in silent enjoyment the words of the master.

Boots, towels, trunks, trunk-trays, cologne-bottles,
and a thousand miscellanea of the masculine toilet, lie
scattered in inextricable confusion about the floor of
No. 93.

“John,” said Flemington, giving a last hitch to his
boots, “I wish to direct your serious attention to Aubrey,
there. I,” — regarding the right boot with intense
gaze, — “I wish to remind you that I have known Aubrey
from — I may say, from his youth up, or, I should say,
in view of his present course of life, from his youth
down. Now, during all this amazing stretch of time
that I have known Aubrey there, it has never been my
lot to see him read any book whatever; but adhering
with great consistency to his belief that books were
theoretical things, he has continued to study human
nature in the light of the sternly-practical, without the
assistance of written help. I wish to direct your serious


Page 68
attention (after this short preamble) to the fact that
from a period nearly contemporaneous with the first
hints that were given of this fancy-ball to-night, my
friend Aubrey there, discarding that rigorous practicality
which has hitherto distinguished him, has become
nothing more nor less than a — bookworm! The singularity
of this change is heightened by the fact that this
worm crawls only in one book, — that book, Shakespeare:
only on one page of that book, — that page, the
page where occurs the ninth scene of the third act of
Antony and Cleopatra, about the middle of the left-hand
column, beginning with the words — with the
words,” — and with an adroit movement, Flemington
snatched the book off the table before Aubrey could interpose,
and assuming a tragic attitude, continued: —
“with the words, I naturally imagine, which my friend
Aubrey there has marked in brackets with a pencil,
to wit: —
`Antony... Egypt, thou knewest too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings,
And thou should'st tow me after: o'er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knewest, and that
Thy Beck —'
I entreat you to believe, Briggs, that the capital B
which commences this word `beck' is Aubrey's and not
Shakespeare's, —

... `and that
Thy Beck might from the bidding of the Gods
Command me.'

“John Briggs, have I your serious attention?”

“At your request, I have concentrated my serious
attention, like the nozzle of a fire-engine, upon our


Page 69
friend Aubrey there. It is now spirting against him,
full steam. If you do n't relieve it shortly, I have no
doubt it 'll knock him out of the window!”

“It is well. I wish you to retain this quotation,
marked in brackets by my friend Aubrey there, in your
mind, while I relate a little circumstance that befell, a
matter of ten days ago. While I was one day reading
Shakespeare at the big oak out yonder, the sun crawled
round and shone too warmly for me, insomuch that I
was fain get behind the tree and lie down on the grass,
leaving my book open on the bench. In this situation
I fell asleep. Being presently awakened by the sound
of voices, I perceived a gentleman and lady approaching,
down the walk, and my attire being somewhat disordered,
I lay still, hoping not to be discovered. It is
hardly necessary for me to state that the gentleman was
my friend Aubrey there,” — Aubrey leaned his face
upon his hands — “and it is almost equally unnecessary
for me to state that the lady was the mother of Rebecca
Parven, whom Aubrey has been adoring in sight of
everybody for a month or more. They sat down on the

“`And so, my dear Mr. Aubrey,' Mrs. Parven said,
`Beck and I (I call my daughter Rebecca, Beck, —
you know `call me pet names, dearest' — ah!), Beck
and I concluded that we would bring you into our little
plot for having something recherche in the way of costumes
for the ball; because we want your advice about
the dresses, and we wish that you 'd get up a little
speech to make the characters go off natural like, you
know, and so on. Now, Beck wants to come as Cleopatra,
because Beck, you know, is a brunette, and
Cleopatra was a brunette, was n't she, Mr. Aubrey?'


Page 70

“`Ah — ah — so far as my recollection of history
serves me, Mrs. Parven, — she was!' says Aubrey.

“`Very good. Oh, I knew we would get on famously,
for our tastes run so together,' says Mrs. Parven, with a
heavenly smile at Aubrey. `Well, now, Beck, as I
said, will be Cleopatra, and I thought that I, being her
mother, would go as — as Egypt, you know, Mr. Aubrey,
represented in an allegorical costume. Now,
mind, Mr. Aubrey, this is confidential; what costume
shall I wear to — to represent Egypt allegorically?'

“Aubrey did not reply, Mr. Briggs, for some minutes.
I think I can see the exact process which went on in
his mind. `Let 's see,' says he to himself, `Egypt, —
Egypt: — Alligators, no, Crocodiles: and Mummies:
and — Sphynx; — yes, and Pyramids: — good!'

“`Well, Mrs. Parven,' says Aubrey at last, — `Crocodiles:
have you any crocodiles' skins among your very
extensive collection of — of furs?'

“`Oh, Mr. Aubrey,' cries she, `I thought they were

`Ah, no, Madame. In my trip to Europe, having of
course to pass through Egypt, I often saw them disporting
in the cool waters, and would have taken them for
beavers. However, it is immaterial. But,' says he,
`Mummies: — ah — have you any mummy - cloth
amongst your very extensive collection of — bareges,
Mrs. Parven?'

Mrs. P., you may remember, does not hear very distinctly,
Mr. Briggs.

“`Gummy - cloth?' says she, meditatively. `Well,
there 's Mr. Parven's gum-coat he goes duck-hunting
in; and I could rip it up, you know. Would it do,
Mr. Aubrey?'


Page 71

“`Oh, excellently well, ma'am,' says Aubrey. `Splendidly;
and, by the way, your naturally fair complexion
must be darkened a little, Mrs. Parven; it has passed
into a proverb, you know: “black as Egypt,” we say.
Your face must be dark — and hands,' added the atrocious

“`Dear me, Mr. Aubrey, how in the world shall I do
it? Ink, you know, would n't wash off, after it was
over; and I would n't like to lie abed a month to wear
it off,' says amiable Mrs. P.

“`Cork, ma'am: cork 's the thing. Get one out of a
champagne-bottle, you know, and hold it in a candle,
and then rub it on. Washes off, too, easy.'

“`Very well, then. The dress of gum-cloth. I suppose
I may relieve the sombre effect of the gum-cloth
by trimmings to suit my own fancy?'

“`Oh yes, certainly. And do n't forget your headdress,
which must be a pyramid. You can make it —
like a pin-cushion, you understand, of bran, or something
like that.'

“`Well,' says Mrs. P., with a long breath, `and that 's
all. Oh, I 'm so much obliged to you, Mr. Aubrey. I
know I shall make a good Egypt. And so kind in you
to tell me! I should have asked Mr. Flemington,
but —'

“`Madame,' says my friend Aubrey there,”' (Aubrey
slid from his chair and sat cross-legged with his face to
the wall); “`Madame, I advise you, as a friend, not to
apply to Mr. Flemington, for the reason that his lamentable
ignorance of history and of historical personages
would be certain to betray you into some ridiculous
mistake. And he 'd never admit that he knew nothing


Page 72
about it. No, madame, leave out Flemington, by all

“`Indeed, I certainly shall do so; especially since
you 've been so kind. And we want it to be a secret,
you know, so as to seem unpremediated. And now,
since all that is arranged, could n't you, please, Mr.
Aubrey, compose a little address to deliver to us, in
character, as we entered the ball-room door, to make it
all go off smooth and natural like?' Mr. Briggs, my
friend Aubrey there was staggered for a moment; his
eyes fell, — and that fall saved him! For they fell upon
my Shakespeare, which was lying open at Antony and
Cleopatra. Taking up the book, he commenced to read
the identical passage which I have described as marked
in brackets, and which I have just spoken. “O Egypt,”
and so forth, read he, until he came to the line —

“Thy Beck might from the bidding,”

when Mrs. P. cried out, `Oh, Mr. Aubrey, that 's not in
the book, and you 're just composing, you dear genius,
you! My Beck, indeed! How could Shakespeare
know any thing of my Beck?'

“`Madame,' says Aubrey, laying his hand on his
heart with that dignity for which his family is distinguished:
`Madame, the Latin word vates means at once
poet and prophet — a philological observation which
most satisfactorily accounts for the striking phenomenon
you have just mentioned. For doubtless the prophetic
eye of Shakespeare foresaw —

“`Dear me, Mr. Aubrey, I thought I heard a rustling
behind this tree. Maybe, it was a snake, and I do fear
snakes, so, and I saw one yesterday on the hill yonder,'
says Mrs. P., who felt that Aubrey was drawing her


Page 73
into dangerous grounds, philological and otherwise.
`There 's the gong, now, for tea; let 's go. Indeed, I
and Beck are very much obliged to you, and the little
speech will make it all go off so smooth and nat —'
and then they turned out of hearing. Mr. Briggs, have
I your serious attention?”

“I am an ear, Flemington,” said Briggs, sententiously;
but looked more like a nose, as he bent, with red
face, over his second ribbon-knot.

“I wish you to support me in the demand which I
feel I have a right to make upon Mr. Aubrey, after
what has passed. That demand is that Mr. Aubrey
shall immediately recite his little speech to us, so that
our hearts may not forebode his disgrace on the great
night; and that, failing in his rehearsal, he shall stand
on his head and drink a cobbler. Mr. Aubrey; recite!”

Aubrey, still sitting tailor-wise, had leaned his nose
against the wall, and was flattening the end of it
thereagainst, as if his soul's happiness depended thereupon.
At the summons he rose, and putting his best
foot foremost, which was the foot with the sandal on it,
the other being nude of sock or shoe, began in deep-tragic

“Egypt, thou knew 'st too well
My heart was to thy rudder tied with —”

“No; not `with': `by'!

“... was to thy rudder tied by the strings
And thou shouldst oh — should'st oh — oh —”

The prompter pointed in pantomime of deep significance
at the nude foot of the speaker; but this latter
looked utter ignorance.

“Toe, Aubrey: think of your toe!”


Page 74

“Ah, yes:

`And thou should'st tow me after: o'er my spirit
Thy full supremacy thou knew'st, and that —
And that — and th —”'

“Oh, monstrous! to break down right at the joke.
Briggs, he 's been cramming it ten days.”

“Nine, Flem; just nine!”

“Nine days, and can 't say it over. I do forthwith
adjudge that you, Alfred Aubrey, B. A. of Oxford, Mississippi,
do immediately reverse the ordinary position
of manhood, and during said reversal imbibe a sherry
cobbler. Bute,” — to the waiter at the door,” — “cobblers
for three. John, give me your assistance in drawing
out this table to the centre of the room, for my friend
Aubrey there to stand on his head on, and have free
play of his legs. I were loth, Mr. Briggs, that Mr.
Aubrey should receive detriment in the matter of legs.
Cobblers here. So; — time, Aubrey. Briggs, we must
have music!”

Steadily, and without a shadow of smile, Mr. Aubrey
reverse himself, head on table and feet in air, while
the entire band, through hollowed fist, trumpeted,
“Dying, Egypt, dying,” with most brilliant intonation;
but as Bute approached with the cobblers, a drop of the
lemon and sherry splashed into Aubrey's eye, and that
gentleman, with the most natural gesture in the world,
attempting to rub his spasmodically-closed optic with
his forefinger, suddenly lost balance. As he came down
with a mighty crash, he involved in one wide ruin all,
bringing down Flemington and cobbler with his legs,
and by a wild lunge of arms upsetting John Briggs
and cobbler after the most approved style of the clutch-desperate.


Page 75

Now broke the icy barriers of their gravity, and each
lay as he fell, with sides shaking and uproarious torrents
of laughter issuing from healthy lungs. When
the first paroxysm was over, “John,” commenced Aubrey;
but broke down, and the rest joined him in a
fresh burst. At length with many a fresh jet and eddy
of laughter,

“John,” said Aubrey, “you ought to have seen Flem
and me weigh — oh, I 'll die — weighing the old lady,
the other day. Flem got — ah — got it up. We invited
her to take a walk with us down to the stables to
loo — to look at the horses. You know the hay-scales
down there. I gently, very gently, guided her course
across 'em, Flem being behind; and just as we got on
the plat — platform, I stopped, engaging her in a very
animated discussion on Duplex Elliptics, while Flem
quietly arranged the beam behind and weighed the pair.
Presently he coughed, and at the signal we walked on.
On the way back to the hotel, `by the way, Aubrey,'
says he, `I must show you the result of those astronomical
calculations I was making last night,' and he
handed me this piece of a letter. Look on the back
of it.

“Weight of both  407 
“Mr. Aubrey (as ascertained 
by previous experiment),  139 
Remainder. Weight of Mrs. P.  268 
Deduct for Dup. Ell. and other hardware 
outside, say  10 
And exact nett weight Mrs. P.  258 

At this moment Bute announced the ball in half an
hour; whereat No. 93 proceeded to dress itself.