University of Virginia Library


The last of August came sweltering in, hot, dusty, and faint,
and the most indefatigable belles of Saratoga began to show symptoms
of weariness. The stars disappeared gradually from the
ball-room; the barkeeper grew thin under the thickening accounts
for lemonades; the fat fellow in the black band, who “vexed”
the bassoon, had blown himself from the girth of Falstaff to an
“eagle's talon in the waist;” papas began to be waylaid in their


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morning walks by young gentlemen with propositions; and stage-coaches
that came in with their baggageless tails in the air, and
the driver's weight pressing the foot-board upon the astonished
backs of his wheelers, went out with the trim of a Venetian gondola—the
driver's up-hoisted figure answering to the curved proboscis
of that stern-laden craft.

The vocation of tin-tumblers and water-dippers was gone. The
fashionable world (brazen in its general habit) had drank its fill
of the ferrugineous waters. Mammas thanked Heaven for the
conclusion of the chaperon's summer solstice; and those who
came to bet, and those who came to marry, “made up their
books,” and walked off (if they had won) with their winnings.

Having taken a less cordial farewell of Van Pelt than I might
have done had not Miss Ellerton been hanging confidingly on his
arm, I followed my baggage to the door, where that small epitome
of the inheritance of the prince of darkness, an American stage-coach,
awaited me as its ninth inside passenger. As the last person
picked up, I knew very well the seat to which I was destined,
and drawing a final cool breath in the breezy colonnade, I summoned
resolution and abandoned myself to the tender mercies of
the driver.

The “ray of contempt” that “will pierce through the shell of
the tortoise,” is a shaft from the horn of a new moon in comparison
with the beating of an American sun through the top of a
stage-coach. This “accommodation” as it is sometimes bitterly
called, not being intended to carry outside passengers, has a top
as thin as your grandmother's umbrella, black, porous, and cracked;
and while intended for a protection from the heat, it just suffices
to collect the sun's rays with an incredible power and sultriness,
and exclude the air that makes it sufferable to the beasts of


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the field. Of the nine places inside this “dilly,” the four seats
in the corners are so far preferable that the occupant has the outer
side of his body exempt from a perspirative application of human
flesh (the thermometer at 100 degrees of Fahrenheit), while,
of the three middle places on the three seats, the man in the centre
of the coach, with no support for his back, yet buried to the
chin in men, women, and children, is at the ninth and lowest degree
of human suffering. I left Saratoga in such a state of happiness
as you might suppose for a gentleman, who, besides fulfilling
this latter category, had been previously unhappy in his love.

I was dressed in a white roundabout and trowsers of the same,
a straw hat, thread stockings, and pumps, and was so far a blessing
to my neighbors that I looked cool. Directly behind me, occupying
the middle of the back seat, sat a young woman with a
gratis passenger in her lap (who, of course, did not count among
the nine), in the shape of a fat and a very hot child of three years
of age, whom she called John, Jacky, Johnny, Jocket, Jacket,
and the other endearing diminutives of the namesakes of the great
apostle. Like the saint who had been selected for his patron, he
was a “voice crying in the wilderness.” This little gentleman
was exceedingly unpopular with his two neighbors at the windows,
aud his incursions upon their legs and shoulders in his occasional
forays for fresh air, ended in his being forbidden to look out at
either window, and plied largely with gingerbread to content him
with the warm lap of his mother. Though I had no eyes in the
back of my straw hat, I conceived very well the state in which a
compost of soft gingerbread, tears, and perspiration, would soon
leave the two unscrupulous hands behind me; and as the jolts of
the coach frequently threw me back upon the knees of his mother,
I could not consistently complain of the familiar use made of my


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roundabout and shoulders in Master John's constant changes of
position. I vowed my jacket to the first river, the moment I
could make sure that the soft gingerbread was exhausted—but I
kept my temper.

How an American Jehu gets his team over ten miles in the
hour, through all the variety of sand, ruts, clay-pits, and stump-thickets,
is a problem that can only be resolved by riding beside
him on the box. In the usual time we arrived at the pretty village
of Troy, some thirty miles from Saratoga; and here, having
exchanged my bedaubed jacket for a clean one, I freely forgave
little Pickle his freedoms, for I hoped never to set eyes on him
again during his natural life. I was going eastward by another

Having eaten a salad for my dinner, and drank a bottle of iced
claret, I stepped forth in my “blanched and lavendered” jacket
to take my place in the other coach, trusting Providence not to
afflict me twice in the same day with the evil I had just escaped,
and feeling, on the whole, reconciled to my troubled dividend of
eternity. I got up the steps of the coach with as much alacrity
as the state of the thermometer would permit, and was about
drawing my legs after me upon the forward seat, when a clammy
hand caught me unceremoniously by the shirt-collar, and the voice
I was just beginning to forget cried out with a chuckle, “Dada!

“Madam!” I said, picking off the gingerbread from my shirt
as the coach rolled down the street, “I had hoped that your infernal

I stopped in the middle of the sentence, for a pair of large blue
eyes were looking wonderingly into mine, and for the first time I
observed that the mother of this familiar nuisance was one of the


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prettiest women I had seen since I had become susceptible to the
charms of the sex.

“Are you going to Boston, sir?” she inquired, with a half
timid smile, as if, in that case, she appealed to me for protection
on the road.

“Yes, madam!” I answered, taking little Jocket's pasty hand
into mine, affectionately, as I returned her hesitating look; “may
I hope for your society so far?”

My fresh white waistcoat was soon embossed with a dingy yellow,
where my enterprising fellow-passenger had thrust his sticky
fist into the pockets, and my sham shirt-bosom was reduced incontinently
to the complexion of a painter's rag after doing a sunset
in gamboge. I saw everything, however, through the blue eyes
of his mother, and was soon on such pleasant terms with Master
John, that, at one of the stopping-places, I inveigled him out of
the coach and dropped him accidentally into the horse-trough,
contriving to scrub him passably clean before he could recover
breath enough for an outcry. I had already thrown the residuum
of his gingerbread out of the window, so that his familiarities for
the rest of the day were, at least, less adhesive.

We dropped one or two way-passengers at Lebanon, and I was
left in the coach with Mrs. Captain and Master John Thompson,
in both whose favors I made a progress that (I may as well depone)
considerably restored my spirits—laid flat by my unthrift
wooing at Saratoga. If a fly hath but alit on my nose when my
self-esteem hath been thus at a discount, I have soothed myself
with the fancy that it preferred me—a drowning vanity will so
catch at a straw!

As we bowled along through some of the loveliest scenery of
Massachusetts, my companion (now become my charge) let me a


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little into her history, and at the same time, by those shades of
insinuation of which women so instinctively know the uses, gave
me perfectly to comprehend that I might as well economize my
tenderness. The father of the riotous young gentleman who had
made so free with my valencia waistcoat and linen roundabouts,
had the exclusive copyhold of her affections. He had been three
years at sea (I think I said before), and she was hastening to show
him the pledge of their affections—come into the world since the
good brig Dolly made her last clearance from Boston bay.

I was equally attentive to Mrs. Thompson after this illumination,
though I was, perhaps, a shade less enamored of the interesting
freedoms of Master John. One's taste for children depends
so much upon one's love for their mothers!

It was twelve o'clock at night when the coach rattled in upon
the pavements of Boston. Mrs. Thompson had expressed so
much impatience during the last few miles, and seemed to shrink
so sensitively from being left to herself in a strange city, that I
offered my services till she should find herself in better hands, and,
as a briefer way of disposing of her, had bribed the coachman,
who was in a hurry with the mail, to turn a little out of his way,
and leave her at her husband's hotel.

We drew up with a prodigious clatter, accordingly, at the Marlborough
hotel, where, no coach being expected, the boots and
bar-keeper were not immediately forthcoming. After a rap “to
wake the dead,” I set about assisting the impatient driver in getting
off the lady's trunks and boxes, and they stood in a large
pyramid on the sidewalk when the door was opened. A man in
his shirt, three parts asleep, held a flaring candle over his head
and looked through the half-opened door.


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“Is Captain Thompson up?” I asked rather brusquely, irritated
at the sour visage of the bar-keeper.

“Captain Thompson, sir!”

“Captain Thompson, sir!!” I repeated my words with a voice
that sent him three paces back into the hall.

“No, sir,” he said at last, slipping one leg into his trowsers,
which had hitherto been under his arm.

“Then wake him immediately, and tell him Mrs. Thompson
is arrived.” Here's a husband, thought I, as I heard something
between a sob and a complaint issue from the coach-window at
the bar-keeper's intelligence. To go to bed when he expected
his wife and child, and after three years' separation! She might
as well have made a parenthesis in her constancy!

“Have you called the captain?” I asked, as I set Master John
upon the steps, and observed the man still standing with the candle
in his hand, grinning from ear to ear.

“No, sir,” said the man.

“No!” I thundered, “and what in the devil's name is the reason?”

“Boots!” he cried out in reply, “show this gentleman `forty-one.'
Them may wake Captain Thompson as likes! I never
hearn of no Mrs. Thompson!”

Rejecting an ungencrous suspicion that flashed across my mind,
and informing the bar-keeper en passant, that he was a brute and
a donkey, I sprang up the staircase after a boy, and quite out of
breath, arrived at a long gallery of bachelors' rooms on the fifth
floor. The boy pointed to a door at the end of the gallery, and
retreated to the banisters as if to escape the blowing up of a



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“Come in!” thundered a voice like a hailing trumpet. I took
the lamp from the boy, and opened the door. On a narrow bed
well tucked up, lay a most formidable looking individual, with a
face glowing with carbuncles, a pair of deep-set eyes inflamed and
fiery, and hair and eyebrows of glaring red, mixed slightly with
gray; while outside the bed lay a hairy arm, with a fist like the
end of the club of Hercules. His head tied loosely in a black
silk handkerchief, and on the light-stand stood a tumbler of brandy-and-water.

“What do you want?” he thundered again, as I stepped over
the threshold and lifted my hat, struck speechless for a moment
with this unexpected apparition.

“Have I the pleasure,” I asked, in a hesitating voice, “to address
Captain Thompson?”

“That's my name!”

“Ah! then, captain, I have the pleasure to inform you that
Mrs. Thompson and little John are arrived. They are at the
door at this moment.”

A change in the expression of Captain Thompson's face checked
my information in the middle, and as I took a step backward,
he raised himself on his elbow, and looked at me in a way that
did not diminish my embarrassment.

“I'll tell you what, Mr. Milk-and-water,” said he, with an
emphasis on every word like the descent of a sledge-hammer;
“if you're not out of this room in two seconds with your `Mrs.
Thompson and little John,' I'll slam you through that window, or
the devil take me!”

I reflected as I took another step backward, that if I were
thrown down to Mrs. Thompson from a fifth story window I should
not be in a state to render her the assistance she required and


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remarking with an ill-feigned gayety to Captain Thompson that
so decided a measure would not be necessary, I backed expeditiously
over the threshold. As I was closing his door, I heard
the gulp of his brandy-and-water, and the next instant the empty
glass whizzed past my retreating head, and was shattered to pieces
on the wall behind me.

I gave the “boots” a cuff for an untimely roar of laughter as
I reached the staircase, and descended, very much discomfited and
embarrassed, to Mrs. Thompson. My delay had thrown that lady
into a very moving state of unhappiness. Her tears were glistening
in the light of the street lamp, and Master John was pulling
away unheeded at her stomacher and crying as if he would split
his diaphragm. What to do? I would have offered to take her to
my paternal roof till the mystery could be cleared up—but I had
been absent two years, and to arrive at midnight with a woman
and a young child, and such an improbable story—I did not think
my reputation at home would bear me out. The coachman, too,
began to swear and make demonstrations of leaving us in the
street, and it was necessary to decide.

“Shove the baggage inside the coach,” I said at last, “and drive
on. Don't be unhappy, Mrs. Thompson! Jocket, stop crying,
you villain! I'll see that you are comfortably disposed of for the
night where the coach stops, madam, and to-morrow I'll try a little
reason with Captain Thompson.” How the devil can she love
such a volcanic specimen! I muttered to myself, dodging instinctively
at the bare remembrance of the glass of brandy-and-water.

The coachman made up for lost time, and we rattled over the
pavements at a rate that made Jocket's hullybaloo quite inaudible.
As we passed the door of my own home, I wondered what would be


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the impression of my respectable parent, could he see me whisking
by, after midnight, with a rejected woman and her progeny upon
my hands; but smothering the unworthy doubt that re-arose in my
mind, touching the legitimacy of Master John, I inwardly vowed
that I would see Mrs. Thompson at all risks fairly out of her

We pulled up with a noise like the discharge of a load of paving-stones,
and I was about saying something both affectionate and consolatory
to my weeping charge, when a tall handsome fellow, with a
face as brown as a berry, sprang to the coach-door and seized her
in his arms! A shower of kisses and tender epithets left me not
a moment in doubt. There was another Captain Thompson!

He had not been able to get rooms at the Marlborough, as he
had anticipated when he wrote, and presuming that the mail would
come first to the post-office, he had waited for her there.

As I was passing the Marlborough a week or two afterward, I
stopped to inquire about Captain Thompson. I found that he was
an old West India captain, who had lived there between his cruises
for twenty years more or less, and had generally been supposed a
bachelor. He had suddenly gone to sea, the landlord told me,
smiling at the same time, as if thereby hung a tale if he chose to
tell it.

“The fact is,” said Boniface, when I pushed him a little on the
subject, 'he was skeared off.”

“What scared him?” I asked very innocently.

“A wife and child from some foreign port!” he answered laughing
as if he would burst his waistband, and taking me into the
back parlor to tell me the particulars.