An odd, anonymous fragmentary foray into creative writing, circa 1860.
Illustrated by the author.
The day is well nigh spent--from the front piazza of our rural retreat, with energies and ideas sharpened by an exhilarating ride, the party, still jovial and mischievously witty, assemble. Ere long the great red face of the sun, as though flushed with the day's sultry flight, sinks slowly down behind the western hills, the gorgeous hints of twilight disappear and mingle in the somber shades of night, and the mellow light of the moon, glimming and dancing through the dark heavy foliage of the oak and laurel, completes a picture of surpassing loveliness. A subdued feeling creeps gradually over us as appreciative sensibilities and reason drink in the charm of the wondrous and ever-changing beauties of the ambition of nature, and wander back to the great Father of all who has been so mindful of the happiness of his children.
The Ball"Then was a sound of revelry by night."
Although, as I have mentioned, we were but six and this number gloriously unequal as regarded the sexes, it had nevertheless come into some woman's head or been suggested by a combination of female craniums, that out of these unpromising materials, with what others might be improvised for the occasion, the pleasures of the ball were not beyond their reach.
Supper was over, and the gentlemen, who were in a powerless and unconsulted minority, ascertained that the "steward" of the establishment had been posted off for some disciple of Ole Bull who, it was rumored, was possessed of that magic instrument called the fiddle, upon which three strings were yet entire. The fiddle arrives, ditto fiddler, "steward," and another feller. A mere difficulty, which as I soon found, only lent renewed determination to the fair devotees of Terpsichore, had now arisen.
One of the two "gentlemen in attendance," still suffering from a recent illness, did not deem it prudent to "dance" while the others, whimsically perhaps, yet honestly, for reasons best known to himself, had abjured the cotillion, and nothing would shake his deep-seated antipathy. He therefore declared he "didn't know how"! Did they believe him? Oh yes! They believed him! What was to be done? Ye gods! What a fix! Already the tripthonged magnetizer of legs feminine was sending forth its soul-stirring strains--it stirred mine to the very depths of its disturbed deep--and awaking the sleeping echoes of the adjacent forest. Waltz, polka, schottische, etc. were suggested, but if gents couldn't dance cotillions, ladies wouldn't dance polkas!
"The devil from her eye flashing fire
And who would twice provoke her ire?!"But "necessity is the mother of invention." The "steward" was then glorious in gauntlets and the height of his shirt collar. There was "another fellow" and a third "gent"--figuratively speaking--was extemporized from among the crinoline. "Eight hands round!" was soon called by the "steward," which was triumphantly accomplished by our firm heroines in conjunction with their two masculine auxiliaries!
Jilted, by heavens! Did you ever feel the sensation, Mr. Editor? An awful sinking was the lower regions of the left ventricle. An alarmish sense of a disagreeable state of things, and a sudden inclination to wander by one's self! I must into the open air. The three--stringed Tantalus still smote upon my ears. I went further--unavailing attempt! The mockingbirds had caught the unusual sound, and a hundred mimic throats made air and woodland ring with a three-stringed "Old Dan Tucker"! And mechanically I repeated from Byron the lines
"It is the hour when from the boughsthough having no particular appropriateness to this occasion, it nevertheless served to pass time, and had one's thoughts away from disagreeable reflections.
The mocking-bird's high notes are heard"
But "all things in earth will have an end." A blessing on that fate which makes this law immutable! The "ball" was not an exception. Stretching Saturday night far into the sabbath morning, with a struggling, wandering, hysterical attempt at a melancholy polka, and screeching like the distressed wail of unhappy departed spirits, the last lingering groans of the instrument at length died on the morning air. And--
"With many a lingering look they leaveWe return to our chamber--my companion and I. To sleep? Who can tell? The bed seemed gaunt and bony. A thin partition only separates us from the devotees of "eight hands round"! They have retired, but not to bed. A confused rattle of tongues mingled with small screams and laughs; heavy jumps as from the tops of bedposts; the irregular tread of scuffling feet, and the rustling, muffled indication of crinoline in collision came through the wall. Dreamy visions of angels dancing "eight hands round," with monstrous hoops and grinning jarringly at me the while, floated disagreeably around my disturbed senses.
The spot of gladness past."
"Night wanes--the vapors round the mountains ended,
Melt into morn, and light awakes the world."
But--"No, 'twas not a dream,
Alas! the dreamer first must sleep."
At last I think I did sleep, but am not positive. The vision flitted and varied like the changes in a summer cloud. I seemed floating in a Shaker bonnet on a summer sea. Anon the summer sea changed into a huge bowl of eggnog of which myself appeared to be proprietor, while "eight hands round" circled to the left on the outside of it. Then I rose from the "bowl" a glorified spirit, upward into illimitable space--up among the stars, myself an angel, balancing with "eight hands round" in the center of the solar system. Again I was in Heaven, with a monstrous shirt collar standing erect in the act of leading out for a cotillion one of the celestial bodies with black eyes and a shining profusion of trailing crinoline. But oh, horrible! Imperceptibly, and mysteriously, as by some wizard spell, the bright and beautiful tissues of this fairy picture break and tumble to pieces, the glory is all rubbed off, and I am again a man of the world, in a company of flesh and blood schoolgirls, but my celestial shirt collar still stood out in all its captivating grandeur. "A change came o'er the spirit of my dream." My eyes turned on myself. The lofty linen still remained elate, but oh! Gods of confusion! It was solitary and alone! the only article of dress remaining. Mortified and abashed I tried to elude observation. All eyes were upon me! I staggered to the door; my gallant collar ingloriously wilted into a wretched Byron. I made a rush and--skedaddled. I awoke. The sun was far up the eastern sky, and "Old Dan Tucker," minus G sharp, still came through the windowpane from a feathered performer in an adjoining oak, while B____ was vociferating "eight hands round" to awake me. All was quiet in the next apartment. Nature had finally asserted its right, and drawn over the dissimulating ruin of coquetry the robes of unconscious innocence. Dressing immediately I descended to the scene of the last night's carousal. The room was silent and deserted--a few withered flowers, some bits of refreshments, and a sick kitten furnishing striking illustrations of the fruits of folly. By a vigorous rocking of the house for a half hour our fair companions of the day before at length made their appearance, all looking now--though begging the pardon for the comparison--very much like sick kittens and wilted flowers. Breakfast passed rather unsociably, with occasional sly glances between B___ and H____ and [illegible] among the ladies.
The carriage was ready immediately after breakfast, and "all aboard" for Table Rock, two miles distant. Riding a little more than half way, we left the carriage and horses in a grove of oak, and commenced the ascent on foot, which, at first gradual, then less easy, at length became steep, and finally abrupt and difficult. Following our guide, our walk was rapid, interrupted by occasional stops to take breath, and we soon arrived at the base of the crowning bluffs.
Climbing the steep and almost perpendicular side--some fifty feet in height--by scrambling up such rude and irregular steps as nature had provided, we stood upon the top of that gigantic table, old and immovable as the eternal hills. Here the gods of antiquity may have spread collations, and Jupiter and his bibulous companions have clinked their glasses over it in midnight carousal, while dance and song--which mortals have since continued to feebly imitate--went on in the amphitheater of the surrounding valley. The walk had sent the warm blood tingling through our veins; the cool morning breezes, invigorating and stimulating, wafted from the mountains, curled and floated around these flinty walls. All else was forgotten, and the senses, ravished by the beauty and grandeur surrounding us, reveled in the magnificence and sublimity of these architectural garnitures of nature. It is positions like this which discover, to the careful observer, the true character of individuals. One seems to approach too near to his creator for levity, and the most frivolous must have felt a something in his bosom--a something of gratification, wonder, and awe--which will whisper to
Unattributed, undated manuscript, SOHS M38D, Box 3
Last revised November 12, 2013