Neal Malone by William Carleton
There never was a greater-souled or doughtier tailor than little Neal Malone. Though but four feet four in height, he paced the earth with the courage and confidence of a giant; nay, one would have imagined that he walked as if he feared the world itself was about to give way under him. Let no one dare to say in future that a tailor is but the ninth part of a man. That reproach has been gloriously taken away from the character of the cross-legged corporation by Neal Malone. He has wiped it off like a stain from the collar of a secondhand coat; he has pressed this wrinkle out of the lying front of antiquity; he has drawn together this rent in the respectability of his profession. No. By him who was breeches-maker to the gods,--that is, except, like Highlanders, they eschewed inexpressibles,--by him who cut Jupiter's frieze jocks for winter, and eke by the bottom of his thimble, we swear that Neal Malone was more than the ninth part of a man.
Setting aside the Patagonians, we maintain that two thirds of mortal humanity were comprised in Neal; and perhaps we might venture to assert that two thirds of Neal's humanity were equal to six thirds of another man's. It is right well known that Alexander the Great was a little man, and we doubt whether, had Alexander the Great been bred to the tailoring business, he would have exhibited so much of the hero as Neal Malone. Neal was descended from a fighting family, who had signalised themselves in as many battles as ever any single hero of antiquity fought. His father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather were all fighting men, and his ancestors in general, up, probably, to Con of the Hundred Battles himself. No wonder, therefore, that Neal's blood should cry out against the cowardice of his calling; no wonder that he should be an epitome of all that was valorous and heroic in a peaceable man, for we neglected to inform the reader that Neal, though "bearing no base mind," never fought any man in his own person. That, however, deducted nothing from his courage. If he did not fight it was simply because he found cowardice universal. No man would engage him; his spirit blazed in vain; his thirst for battle was doomed to remain unquenched, except by whisky, and this only increased it. In short, he could find no foe. He has often been known to challenge the first cudgel-players and pugilists of the parish, to provoke men of fourteenstone weight, and to bid mortal defiance to faction heroes of all grades-but in vain. There was that in him which told them that an encounter with Neal would strip them of their laurels. Neal saw all this with a lofty indignation; he deplored the degeneracy of the times, and thought it hard that the descendant of such a fighting family should be doomed to pass through life peaceably, whilst so many excellent rows and riots took place around him. It was a calamity to see every man's head broken but his own; a dismal thing to observe his neighbours go about with their bones in bandages, yet his untouched, and his friends beat black and blue, whilst his own cuticle remained unscoloured.
"Blur an' agers!" exclaimed Neal one day, when half tipsy in the fair, "am I never to get a bit o' figtin'? Is there no cowardly spalpeen to stand afore Neal Malone? Be this an' be that, I'm blue-mowlded for want of a batin'! I'm disgracin' my relations by the life I'm ladin'! Will none o' ye fight me aither for love, money, or whisky, frind or inimy, an' bad luck to ye? I don't care a traneen which, only out o' pure frindship, let us have a morsel o' the rale kick-up,'t any rate. Frind or inimy, I say agin, if you regard me; sore that makes no differ, only let us have the fight."
This excellent heroism was all wasted; Neal could not find a single adversary. Except he divided himself like Hotspur, and went to buffets one hand against the other, there was no chance of a fight; no person to be found sufficiently magnanimous to encounter the tailor. On the contrary, every one of his friends--or, in other words, every man in the parish--was ready to support him. He was clapped on the back until his bones were nearly dislocated in his body, and his hand shaken until his arm lost its cunning at the needle for half a week afterward. This, to be sure, was a bitter business, a state of being past endurance. Every man was his friend--no man was his enemy. A desperate position for any person to find himself in, but doubly calamitous to a martial tailor.
Many a dolourous complaint did Neal make upon the misfortune of having none to wish him ill; and what rendered this hardship doubly oppressive was the unlucky fact that no exertions of his, however offensive, could procure him a single foe. In vain did he insult, abuse, and malign all his acquaintances. In vain did he father upon them all the rascality and villainy he could think of; he lied against them with a force and originality that would have made many a modern novelist blush for want of invention--but all to no purpose. The world for once became astonishingly Christian; it paid back all his efforts to excite its resentment with the purest of charity; when Neal struck it on the one cheek, it meekly turned unto him the other. It could scarcely be expected that Neal would bear this. To have the whole world in friendship with a man is beyond doubt an affliction. Not to have the face of a single enemy to look upon would decidedly be considered a deprivation of many agreeable sensations by most people as well as by Neal Malone. Let who might sustain a loss or experience a calamity, it was a matter of indifference to Neal. They were only his friends, and he troubled neither his head nor his heart about them.
Heaven help us! There is no man without his trials; and Neal, the reader perceives, was not exempt from his. What did it avail him that he carried a cudgel ready for all hostile contingencies, or knit his brows and shook his kippeen at the fiercest of his fighting friends? The moment he appeared they softened into downright cordiality. His presence was the signal of peace; for, notwithstanding his unconquerable propensity to warfare, he went abroad as the genius of unanimity, though carrying in his bosom the redoubtable disposition of a warrior; just as the sun, though the source of light himself, is said to be dark enough at bottom.
It could not be expected that Neal, with whatever fortitude he might bear his other afflictions, could bear such tranquillity like a hero. To say that he bore it as one would be basely to surrender his character; for what hero ever bore a state of tranquillity with courage? It affected his cutting out! It produced what Burton calls "a windie melancholie," which was nothing else than an accumulation of courage that had no means of escaping, if courage can, without indignity, be ever said to escape. He sat uneasy on his lap-board. Instead of cutting out soberly, he flourished his scissors as if he were heading a faction; he wasted much chalk by scoring his cloth in wrong places, and even caught his hot goose without a holder. These symptoms alarmed his friends, who persuaded him to go to a doctor. Neal went to satisfy them; but he knew that no prescription could drive the courage out of him, that he was too far gone in heroism to be made a coward of by apothecary stuff. Nothing in the pharmacopoeia could physic him into a pacific state. His disease was simply the want of an enemy, and an unaccountable superabundance of friendship on the part of his acquaintances. How could a doctor remedy this by a prescription? Impossible. The doctor, indeed, recommended blood-letting; but to lose blood in a peaceable manner was not only cowardly, but a bad cure for courage. Neal declined it: he would lose no blood for any man until he could not help it; which was giving the character of a hero at a single touch. His blood was not to be thrown away in this manner; the only lancet ever applied to his relations was the cudgel, and Neal scorned to abandon the principles of his family.
His friends, finding that he reserved his blood for more heroic purposes than dastardly phlebotomy, knew not what to do with him. His perpetual exclamation was, as we have already stated, "I'm blue-mowlded for want of a batin'!" They did everything in their power to cheer him with the hope of a drubbing; told him he lived in an excellent country for a man afflicted with his malady; and promised, if it were at all possible, to create him a private enemy or two, who, they hoped in heaven, might trounce him to some purpose.
This sustained him for a while; but as day after day passed and no appearance of action presented itself, he could not choose but increase in courage. His soul, like a sword-blade too long in the scabbard, was beginning to get fuliginous by inactivity. He looked upon the point of his own needle and the bright edge of his scissors with a bitter pang when he thought of the spirit rusting within him; he meditated fresh insults, studied new plans, and hunted out cunning devices for provoking his acquaintances to battle, until by degrees he began to confound his own brain and to commit more grievous oversights in his business than ever. Sometimes he sent home to one person a coat with the legs of a pair of trousers attached to it for sleeves, and despatched to another the arms of the aforesaid coat tacked together as a pair of trousers. Sometimes the coat was made to button behind instead of before; and he frequently placed the pockets in the lower part of the skirts, as if he had been in league with cutpurses.
This was a melancholy situation, and his friends pitied him accordingly.
"Don't be cast down, Neal," said they; "your friends feel for you, poor fellow."
"Divil carry my frinds," replied Neal; "sure, there's not one o' yez frindly enough to be my inimy. Tare an' ouns! what'll I do? I'm blue-mowlded for want of a batin'!"
Seeing that their consolation was thrown away upon him, they resolved to leave him to his fate; which they had no sooner done then Neal had thoughts of taking to the Skiomachia as a last remedy. In this mood he looked with considerable antipathy at his own shadow for several nights; and it is not to be questioned but that some hard battles would have taken place between them had it not been for the cunning of the shadow, which declined to fight him in any other position than with its back to the wall. This occasioned him to pause, for the wall was a fearful antagonist, inasmuch as it knew not when it was beaten; but there was still an alternative left. He went to the garden one clear day about noon, and hoped to have a bout with the shade free from interruption. Both approached, apparently eager for the combat and resolved to conquer or die, when a villainous cloud, happening to intercept the light, gave the shadow an opportunity of disappearing, and Neal found himself once more without an opponent.
"It's aisy known," said Neal, "you haven't the blood in you, or you'd come to the scratch like a man."
He now saw that fate was against him, and that any further hostility toward the shadow was only a tempting of Providence. He lost his health, spirits, and everything but his courage. His countenance became pale and peaceful-looking; the bluster departed from him; his body shrank up like a withered parsnip. Thrice was he compelled to take in his clothes, and thrice did he ascertain that much of his time would be necessarily spent in pursuing his retreating person through the solitude of his almost deserted garments.
God knows it is difficult to form a correct opinion upon a situation so parodoxical as Neal's was. To be reduced to skin and bone by the downright friendship of the world was, as the sagacious reader will admit, next to a miracle. We appeal to the conscience of any man who finds himself without an enemy whether he be not a greater skeleton than the tailor; we will give him fifty guineas provided he can show a calf to his leg. We know he could not; for the tailor had none, and that was because he had not an enemy. No man in friendship with the world ever has calves to his legs. To sum up all in a parodox of our own invention, for which we claim the full credit of originality, we now assert that more men have risen in the world by the injury of their enemies than have risen by the kindness of their friends. You may take this, reader, in any sense; apply it to hanging if you like; it is still immutably and immovably true.
One day Neal sat cross-legged, as tailors usually sit, in the act of pressing a pair of breeches; his hands were placed, backs up, upon the handle of his goose, and his chin rested upon the backs of his hands. To judge from his sorrowful complexion, one would suppose that he sat rather to be sketched as a picture of misery or of heroism in distress than for the industrious purpose of pressing the seams of a garment. There was a great deal of New Burlington Street pathos in his countenance; his face, like the times, was rather out of joint; "the sun was just setting, and his golden beams fell, with a saddened splendor, athwart the tailor's--" The reader may fill up the picture.
In this position sat Neal when Mr. O'Connor, the schoolmaster, whose inexpressibles he was turning for the third time, entered the workshop. Mr. O'Connor himself was as finished a picture of misery as the tailor. There was a patient, subdued kind of expression in his face which indicated a very fair portion of calamity; his eye seemed charged with affliction of the first water; on each side of his nose might be traced two dry channels, which, no doubt, were full enough while the tropical rains of his countenance lasted. Altogether, to conclude from appearances, it was a dead match in affliction between him and the tailor; both seemed sad, fleshless, and unthriving.
"Misther O'Connor," said the tailor, when the schoolmaster entered, "won't you be pleased to sit down?"
Mr. O'Connor sat; and, after wiping his forehead, laid his hat upon the lap-board, put his half-handkerchief in his pocket, and looked upon the tailor. The tailor, in return, looked upon Mr. O'Connor; but neither of them spoke for some minutes. Neal, in fact, appeared to be wrapped up in his own misery, and Mr. O'Connor in his; or, as we often have much gratuitous sympathy for the distresses of our friends, we question but the tailor was wrapped up in Mr. O'Connor's misery, and Mr. O'Connor in the tailor's.
Mr. O'Connor at length said: "Neal, are my inexpressibles finished?"
"I am now pressin' your inexpressibles," replied Neal; "but, be my sowl, Mr. O'Connor, it's not your inexpressibles I'm thinkin' of. I'm not the ninth part o' what I was. I'd hardly make paddin' for a collar now."
"Are you able to carry a staff still, Neal?"
"I've a light hazel one that's handy," said the tailor, "but where's the use o' carryin' it whin I can get no one to fight wid? Sure, I'm disgracin' my relations by the life I'm ladin'. I 'll go to my grave widout ever batin' a man or bein' bate myself; that's the vexation. Divil the row ever I was able to kick up in my life; so that I'm fairly blue-mowlded for want of a batin'. But if you have patience--"
"Patience!" said Mr. O'Connor, with a shake of the head that was perfectly disastrous even to look at,--"patience, did you say, Neal?"
"Ay," said Neal, "an' be my sowl, if you deny that I said patience I 'll break your head!"
"Ah, Neal," returned the other, "I don't deny it; for, though I'm teaching philosophy, knowledge, and mathematics every day in my life, yet I'm learning patience myself both night and day. No, Neal; I have forgotten to deny anything. I have not been guilty of a contradiction, out of my own school, for the last fourteen years. I once expressed the shadow of a doubt about twelve years ago, but ever since I have abandoned even doubting. That doubt was the last expiring effort at maintaining my domestic authority--but I suffered for it."
"Well," said Neal, "if you have patience, I 'll tell you what afflicts me from beginnin' to endin'."
"I will have patience," said Mr. O'Connor; and he accordingly heard a dismal and indignant tale from the tailor.
"You have told me that fifty times over," said Mr. O'Connor, after hearing the story. "Your spirit is too martial for a pacific life. If you follow my advice, I will teach you how to ripple the calm current of your existence to some purpose. Marry a wife. For twenty-five years I have given instruction in three branches, namely, philosophy, knowledge, and mathematics. I am also well versed in matrimony, and I declare that, upon my misery and by the contents of all my afflictions, it is my solemn and melancholy opinion that, if you marry a wife, you will, before three months pass over your concatenated state, not have a single complaint to make touching a superabundance of peace or tranquillity or a love of fighting."
"Do you mane to say that any woman would make me afeard?" said the tailor, deliberately rising up and getting his cudgel. "I 'll thank you merely to go over the words agin, till I thrasy you widin an inch of your life. That's all"
"Neal," said the schoolmaster, meekly, "I won't fight; I have been too often subdued ever to presume on the hope of a single victory. My spirit is long since evaporated; I am like one of your own shreds, a mere selvage. Do you not know how much my habiliments have shrunk in even within the last five years? Hear me, Neal, and venerate my words as if they proceeded from the lips of a prophet. If you wish to taste the luxury of being subdued--if you are, as you say, blue-moulded for want of a beating, and sick at heart of a peaceful existence--why, marry a wife. Neal, send my breeches home with all haste, for they are wanted, you understand. Farewell."
Mr. O'Connor, having thus expressed himself, departed; and Neal stood, with the cudgel in his hand, looking at the door out of which he passed, with an expression of fierceness, contempt, and reflection strongly blended on the ruins of his once heroic visage.
Many a man has happiness within his reach if he but knew it. The tailor had been hitherto miserable because he pursued a wrong object. The schoolmaster, however, suggested a train of thought upon which Neal now fastened with all the ardour of a chivalrous temperament. Nay, be wondered that the family spirit should have so completely seized upon the fighting side of his heart as to preclude all thoughts of matrimony; for he could not but remember that his relations were as ready for marriage as for fighting. To doubt this would have been to throw a blot upon his own escutcheon. He therefore very prudently asked himself to whom, if he did not marry, should he transmit his courage. He was a single man, and, dying as such, he would be the sole depository of his own valor, which, like Junius's secret, must perish with him. If he could have left it as a legacy to such of his friends as were most remarkable for cowardice, why, the case would be altered: but this was impossible, and he had now no other means of preserving it to posterity than by creating a posterity to inherit it. He saw, too, that the world was likely to become convulsed. Wars, as everybody knew, were certain to break out; and would it not be an excellent opportunity for being father to a colonel, or perhaps a general, that might astonish the world?
The change visible in Neal after the schoolmaster's last visit absolutely thunderstruck all who knew him. The clothes which he had rashly taken in to fit his shrivelled limbs were once more let out. The tailor expanded with a new spirit; his joints ceased to be supple, as in the days of his valor; his eye became less fiery but more brilliant. From being martial, he got desperately gallant; but, somehow, he could not afford to act the hero and lover both at the same time. This, perhaps, would be too much to expect from a tailor. His policy was better. He resolved to bring all his available energy to bear upon the charms of whatever fair nymph he should select for the honour of matrimony; to waste his spirit in fighting would, therefore, be a deduction from the single purpose in view.
The transition from war to love is by no means so remarkable as we might at first imagine. We quote Jack Falstaff in proof of this; or, if the reader be disposed to reject our authority, then we quote Ancient Pistol himself--both of whom we consider as the most finished specimens of heroism that ever carried a safe skin. Acres would have been a hero had he worn gloves to prevent the courage from oozing out at his palms, or not felt such an unlucky antipathy to the "snug lying in the Abbey"; and as for Captain Bobadil, he never had an opportunity of putting his plan for vanquishing an army into practice. We fear, indeed, that neither his character nor Ben Jonson's knowledge of human nature is properly understood; for it certainly could not be expected that a man whose spirit glowed to encounter a whole host could, without tarnishing his dignity, if closely pressed, condescend to fight an individual. But as these remarks on courage may be felt by the reader as an invidious introduction of a subject disagreeable to him, we beg to hush it for the present and return to the tailor.
No sooner had Neal begun to feel an inclination to matrimony than his friends knew that his principles had veered by the change now visible in his person and deportment. They saw he had ratted from courage and joined love. Heretofore his life had been all winter, darkened by storm and hurricane. The fiercer virtues had played the devil with him; every word was thunder, every look lightning; but now all that had passed away. Before he was the Fortiter in re; at present he was the Suaviter in modo. His existence was perfect spring, beautifully vernal. All the amiable and softer qualities began to bud about his heart; a genial warmth was diffused over him; his soul got green within him; every day was serene, and if a cloud happened to become visible, there was a roguish rainbow astride of it, on which sat a beautiful Iris that laughed down at him and seemed to say, "Why the dickens, Neal, don't you marry a wife?"
Neal could not resist the afflatus which decended on him; an ethereal light dwelled, he thought, upon the face of nature; the colour of the cloth which he cut out from day to day was, to his enraptured eye, like the colour of Cupid's wings--all purple; his visions were worth their weight in gold; his dreams a credit to the bed he slept on; and his feelings, like blind puppies, young and alive to the milk of love and kindness which they drew from his heart. Most of this delight escaped the observation of the world, for Neal, like your true lover, became shy and mysterious. It is difficult to say what he resembled; no dark lantern ever had more light shut up within itself than Neal had in his soul, although his friends were not aware of it. They knew, indeed, that he had turned his back upon valor; but beyond this their knowledge did not extend.
Neal was shrewd enough to know that what he felt must be love; nothing else could distend him with happiness until his soul felt light and bladderlike but love. As an oyster opens when expecting the tide, so did his soul expand at the contemplation of matrimony. Labour ceased to be a trouble to him; he sang and sewed from morning till night; his hot goose no longer burned him, for his heart was as hot as his goose; the vibrations of his head, at each successive stitch, were no longer sad and melancholy. There was a buoyant shake of exultation in them which showed that his soul was placid and happy within him.
Endless honour be to Neal Malone for the originality with which he managed the tender sentiment! He did not, like your commonplace lovers, first discover a pretty girl and afterward become enamoured of her. No such thing; he had the passion prepared beforehand--cut out and made up, as it were, ready for any girl whom it might fit. This was falling in love in the abstract, and let no man condemn it without a trial, for many a long-winded argument could be urged in its defence. It is always wrong to commence business without capital, and Neal had a good stock to begin with. All we beg is that the reader will not confound it with Platonism, which never marries; but he is at full liberty to call it Socratism, which takes unto itself a wife and suffers accordingly.
Let no one suppose that Neal forgot the schoolmaster's kindness, or failed to be duly grateful for it. Mr. O'Connor was the first person whom he consulted touching his passion. With a cheerful soul he waited on that melancholy and gentleman-like man, and in the very luxury of his heart told him that he was in love.
"In love, Neal!" said the schoolmaster. "May I inquire with whom?"
"Wid nobody in particular yet," replied Neal; "but o' late I'm got divilish fond o' the girls in general."
"And do you call that being in love, Neal?" said Mr. O'Connor.
"Why, what else would I call it?" returned the tailor. "Am n't I fond o' them?"
"Then it must be what is termed the 'universal passion,' Neal," observed Mr. O'Connor, "although it is the first time I have seen such an illustration of it as you present in your own person."
"I wish you would advise me how to act," said Neal; "I'm as happy as a prince since I began to get fond o' them an' to think o' marriage."
The schoolmaster shook his head again, and looked rather miserable. Neal rubbed his hands with glee, and looked perfectly happy. The schoolmaster shook his head again, and looked more miserable than before. Neal's happiness also increased on the second rubbing.
Now, to tell the secret at once, Mr. O'Connor would not have appeared so miserable were it not for Neal's happiness; nor Neal so happy were it not for Mr. O'Connor's misery. It was all the result of contrast; but this you will not understand unless you be deeply read in modern novels.
Mr. O'Connor, however, was a man of sense, who knew, upon this principle, that the longer he continued to shake his head the more miserable he must become, and the more also would he increase Neal's happiness; but he had no intention of increasing Neal's happiness at his own expense--for, upon the same hypothesis, it would have been for Neal's interest had he remained shaking his head there and getting miserable until the day of judgment. He consequently declined giving the third shake, for he thought that plain conversation was, after all, more significant and forcible than the most eloquent nod, however ably translated.
"Neal," said he, "could you, by stretching your imagination, contrive to rest contented with nursing your passion in solitude, and love the sex at a distance?"
"How could I nurse and mind my business?" replied the tailor. "I'll never nurse so long as I'll have the wife; and as for 'magination, it depends upon the grain o'it whether I can stretch it or not. I don't know that I ever made a coat o'it in my life."
"You don't understand me, Neal," said the schoolmaster. "In recommending marriage, I was only driving one evil out of you by introducing another. Do you think that, if you abandoned all thoughts of a wife, you would get heroic again--that is, would you take once more to the love of fighting?"
"There is no doubt but I would," said the tailor; "if I miss the wife, I'll kick up such a dust as never was seen in the parish, an' you're the first man that I'll lick. But now that I'm in love," he continued, "sure, I ought to look out for the wife."
"Ah, Neal," said the schoolmaster, "you are tempting destiny; your temerity be, with all its melancholy consequences, upon your own head."
"Come," said the tailor; "it wasn't to hear you groaning to the tune o' 'Dhrimmindhoo,' or 'The old woman rockin' her cradle,' that I came; but to know if you could help me in makin' out the wife. That's the discoorse."
"Look at me, Neal," said the schoolmaster, solemnly. "I am at this moment, and have been any time for the last fifteen years, a living caveto against matrimony. I do not think that earth possesses such a luxury as a single solitary life. Neal, the monks of old were happy men; they were all fat and had double chins; and, Neal, I tell you that all fat men are in general happy. Care cannot come at them so readily as at a thin man; before it gets through the strong outworks of flesh and blood with which they are surrounded, it becomes treacherous to its original purpose, joins the cheerful spirits it meets in the system, and dances about the heart in all the madness of mirth; just like a sincere ecclesiastic who comes to lecture a good fellow against drinking, but who forgets his lecture over his cups, and is laid under the table with such success that he either never comes to finish his lecture, or comes often to be laid under the table. Look at me, Neal, how wasted, fleshless, and miserable I am. You know how my garments have shrunk in, and what a solid man I was before marriage. Neal, pause, I beseech you; otherwise you stand a strong chance of becoming a nonentity like myself."
"I don't care what I become," said the tailor; "I can't think that you'd be so unreasonable as to expect that any o' the Malones should pass out o' the world widout either bein' bate or marrid. Have reason, Mr. O'Connor, an' if you can help me to the wife I promise to take in your coat the next time for nothin'."
"Well, then," said Mr. O'Connor, "what would you think of the butcher's daughter, Biddy Neil? You have always had a thirst for blood, and here you may have it gratified in an innocent manner, should you ever become sanguinary again. 'T is true, Neal, she is twice your size and possesses three times your strength; but for that very reason, Neal, marry her if you can. Large animals are placid; and Heaven preserve those bachelors whom I wish well from a small wife; 't is such who always wield the sceptre of domestic life and rule their husbands with a rod of iron."
"Say no more, Mr. O'Connor," replied the tailor; "she's the very girl I'm in love wid, an' never fear but I'll overcome her heart if it can be done by man. Now, step over the way to my house, an' we'll have a sup on the head o' it. Who's that calling?"
"Ah, Neal, I know the tones--there's a shrillness in them not to be mistaken. Farewell! I must depart; you have heard the proverb, 'Those who are bound must obey.' Young Jack, I presume, is squalling, and I must either nurse him, rock the cradle, or sing comic tunes for him, though Heaven knows with what a disastrous heart I often sing, 'Begone, dull care,' the 'Rakes of Newcastle,' or, 'Peas upon a Trencher.' Neal, I say again, pause before you take this leap in the dark. Pause, Neal, I entreat you. Farewell!"
Neal, however, was gifted with the heart of an Irishman, and scorned caution as the characteristic of a coward; he had, as it appeared, abandoned all design of fighting, but the courage still adhered to him even in making love. He consequently conducted the siege of Biddy Neil's heart with a degree of skill and valor which would not have come amiss to Marshal Gerald at the siege of Antwerp. Locke or Dugald Stewart, indeed, had they been cognisant of the tailor's triumph, might have illustrated the principle on which he succeeded; as to ourselves, we can only conjecture it. Our own opinion is that they were both animated with a congenial spirit. Biddy was the very pink of pugnacity, and could throw in a body-blow or plant a facer with singular energy and science. Her prowess hitherto had, we confess, been displayed only within the limited range of domestic life; but should she ever find it necessary to exercise it upon a larger scale, there was no doubt whatsoever, in the opinion of her mother, brothers, and sisters, every one of whom she had successively subdued, that she must undoubtedly distinguish herself. There was certainly one difficulty which the tailor had not to encounter in the progress of fats courtship: the field was his own, he had not a rival to dispute his claim. Neither was there any opposition given by her friends; they were, on the contrary, all anxious for the match; and when the arrangements were concluded, Neal felt his hand squeezed by them in succession, with an expression more resembling condolence than joy. Neal, however, had been bred to tailoring, and not to metaphysics; he could cut out a coat very well, but we do not say that he could trace a principle --as what tailor, except Jeremy Taylor, could?
There was nothing particular in the wedding. Mr. O'Connor was asked by Neal to be present at it; but he shook his head, and told him that he had not courage to attend it or inclination to witness any man's sorrows but his own. He met the wedding-party by accident, and was heard to exclaim with a sigh as they flaunted past him in gay exuberance of spirits: "Ah, poor Neal! he is going like one of her father's cattle to the shambles! Woe is me for having suggested matrimony to the taylor! He will not long be under the necessity of saying that he is 'blue-moulded for want of a beating.' The butcheress will fell him like a Kerry ox, and I may have his blood to answer for and his discomfiture to feel for in addition to my own miseries."
On the evening of the wedding-day, about the hour of ten o'clock, Neal, whose spirits were uncommonly exalted, for his heart luxuriated within him, danced with his bridesmaid; after the dance he sat beside her, and got eloquent in praise of her beauty; and it is said, too, that he whispered to her and chucked her chin with considerable gallantry. The tête-à-tête continued for some time without exciting particular attention, with one exception; but that exception was worth a whole chapter of general rules. Mrs. Malone rose up, then sat down again and took off a glass of the native; she got up a second time; all the wife rushed upon her heart. She approached them, and, in a fit of the most exquisite sensibility, knocked the bridesmaid down, and gave the tailor a kick of affecting pathos upon the inexpressibles. The whole scene was a touching one on both sides. The tailor was sent on all-fours to the floor, but Mrs. Malone took him quietly up, put him under her arm as one would a lap-dog, and with stately step marched away to the connubial apartment, in which everything remained very quiet for the rest of the night.
The next morning Mr. O'Connor presented himself to congratulate the tailor on his happiness. Neal, as his friend, shook hands with him, gave the schoolmaster's fingers a slight squeeze, such as a man gives who would gently entreat your sympathy. The schoolmaster looked at him, and thought he shook his head. Of this, however, he could not be certain; for, as he shook his own during the moment of observation, he concluded that it might be a mere mistake of the eye, or, perhaps, the result of a mind predisposed to be credulous on the subject of shaking heads.
We wish it were in our power to draw a veil, or curtain, or blind of some description, over the remnant of the tailor's narrative that is to follow; but as it is the duty of every faithful historian to give the secret causes of appearances which the world in general does not understand, so we think it but honest to go on, impartially and faithfully, without shrinking from the responsibility that is frequently annexed to truth.
For the first three days after matrimony Neal felt like a man who had been translated to a new and more lively state of existence. He had expected, and flattered himself, that the moment this event should take place he would once more resume his heroism, and experience the pleasure of a drubbing. This determination he kept a profound secret; nor was it known until a future period, when he disclosed it to Mr. O'Connor. He intended, therefore, that marriage should be nothing more than a mere parenthesis in his life--a kind of asterisk, pointing, in a note at the bottom, to this single exception in his general conduct--a nota bene to the spirit of a martial man, intimating that he had been peaceful only for a while. In truth, he was, during the influence of love over him and up to the very day of his marriage, secretly as blue-moulded as ever for want of a beating. The heroic penchant lay snugly latent in his heart, unchecked and unmodified. He flattered himself that he was achieving a capital imposition upon the world at large, that he was actually hoaxing mankind in general, and that such an excellent piece of knavish tranquillity had never been perpetrated before his time.
On the first week after his marriage there chanced to be a fair in the next market-town. Neal, after breakfast, brought forward a bunch of shillalahs, in order to select the best; the wife inquired the purpose of the selection, and Neal declared that he was resolved to have a fight that day if it were to be had, he said, for "love or money." "The truth is," he exclaimed, strutting with fortitude about the house, "the truth is, that I've done the whole of yez--I'm as blue-mowlded as ever for want of a batin'."
"Don't go," said the wife.
"I will go," said Neal, with vehemence; "I 'll go if the whole parish was to go to prevint me."
In about another half-hour Neal sat down quietly to his business instead of going to the fair!
Much ingenious speculation might be indulged in upon this abrupt termination to the tailor's most formidable resolution; but, for our own part, we will prefer going on with the narrative, leaving the reader at liberty to solve the mystery as he pleases. In the meantime we say this much; let those who cannot make it out carry it to their tailor; it is a tailor's mystery, and no one has so good a right to understand it--except, perhaps, a tailor's wife.
At the period of his matrimony Neal had become as plump and as stout as he ever was known to be in his plumpest and stoutest days. He and the schoolmaster had been very intimate about this time; but we know not how it happened that soon afterward he felt a modest, bride-like reluctance in meeting with that afflicted gentleman. As the eve of his union approached, he was in the habit, during the schoolmaster's visits to his workshop, of alluding, in rather a sarcastic tone, considering the unthriving appearance of his friend, to the increasing lustiness of his person. Nay, he has often leaped up from his lap-board, and, in the strong spirit of exultation, thrust out his leg in attestation of his assertion, slapping it, moreover, with a loud laugh of triumph that sounded like a knell to the happiness of his emaciated acquaintance. The schoolmaster's philosophy, however, unlike his flesh, never departed from him; his usual observation was, "Neal, we are both receding from the same point; you increase in flesh, whilst I, Heaven help me, am fast diminishing."
The tailor received these remarks with very boisterous mirth, whilst Mr. O'Connor simply shook his head and looked sadly upon his limbs, now shrouded in a superfluity of garments, somewhat resembling a slender thread of water in a shallow summer stream nearly wasted away and surrounded by an unproportionate extent of channel.
The fourth month after the marriage arrived, Neal, one day near its close, began to dress himself in his best apparel. Even then, when buttoning his waistcoat, he shook his head after the manner of Mr. O'Connor, and made observations upon the great extent to which it over-folded him.
"Well," thought he with a sigh, "this waistcoat certainly did fit me to a T; but it's wonderful to think how--cloth stretches!"
"Neal," said the wife, on perceiving him dressed, "where are you bound for?"
"Faith, for life" replied Neal, with a mitigated swagger; "and I'd as soon, if it had been the will of Provid--"
"Where are you going?" asked the wife a second time.
"Why," he answered, "only to dance at Jemmy Connolly's; I 'll be back early."
"Don't go," said the wife.
"I'll go," said Neal, "if the whole counthry was to prevint me. Thunder an' lightnin', woman, who am I?" he exclaimed, in a loud, but rather infirm voice. "Am n't I Neal Malone, that never met a man who'd fight him? Neal Malone, that was never beat by man! Why, tare an' ouns, woman! Whoo! I'll get enraged some time, an' play the divil! Who's afeard, I say?"
"Don't go," added the wife a third time, giving Neal a significant look in the face.
In about another half-hour Neal sat down quietly to his business instead of going to the dance!
Neal now turned himself, like many a sage in similar circumstances, to philosophy; that is to say, he began to shake his head upon principle, after the manner of the schoolmaster. He would, indeed, have preferred the bottle upon principle; but there was no getting at the bottle except through the wife, and it so happened that by the time it reached him there was little consolation left in it. Neal bore all in silence; for silence, his friend had often told him, was a proof of wisdom.
Soon after this, Neal one evening met Mr. O'Connor by chance upon a plank which crossed a river. This plank was only a foot in breadth, so that no two individuals could pass each other upon it. We cannot find words in which to express the dismay of both on finding that they absolutely glided past each other without collision.
Both paused and surveyed each other solemnly; but the astonishment was all on the side of Mr. O'Connor.
"Neal," said the schoolmaster, "by all the household gods, I conjure you to speak, that I may be assured you live!"
The ghost of a blush crossed the churchyard visage of the tailor.
"Oh!" he exclaimed, "why the divil did you tempt me to marry a wife?"
"Neal," said his friend, "answer me in the most solemn manner possible; throw into your countenance all the gravity you can assume; speak as if you were under the hands of the hangman, with the rope about your neck, for the question is indeed a trying one which I am about to put. Are you still 'blue-moulded for want of a beating'?"
The tailor collected himself to make a reply; he put one leg out--the very leg which he used to show in triumph to his friend, but, alas, how dwindled! He opened his waistcoat and lapped it round him until he looked like a weasel on its hind legs. He then raised himself up on his tiptoes, and, in an awful whisper, replied, "No!!! the divil a bit I'm blue-mowlded for want of a batin'!"
The schoolmaster shook his head in his own miserable manner; but, alas! he soon perceived that the tailor was as great an adept at shaking the head as himself. Nay, he saw that there was a calamitous refinement, a delicacy of shake in the tailor's vibrations, which gave to his own nod a very commonplace character.
The next day the tailor took in his clothes; and from time to time continued to adjust them to the dimensions of his shrinking person. The schoolmaster and he, whenever they could steal a moment, met and sympathised together. Mr. O'Connor, however, bore up somewhat better than Neal. The latter was subdued in heart and in spirit, thoroughly, completely, and intensely vanquished. His features became sharpened by misery, for a termagant wife is the whetstone on which all the calamities of a henpecked husband are painted by the devil. He no longer strutted as he was wont to do, he no longer carried a cudgel as if he wished to wage a universal battle with mankind. He was now a married man. Sneakingly, and with a cowardly crawl, did he creep along, as if every step brought him nearer to the gallows. The schoolmaster's march of misery was far slower than Neal's, the latter distanced him. Before three years passed he had shrunk up so much that he could not walk abroad of a windy day without carrying weights in his pockets to keep him firm on the earth which he once trod with the step of a giant. He again sought the schoolmaster, with whom, indeed, he associated as much as possible. Here he felt certain of receiving sympathy; nor was he disappointed. That worthy but miserable man and Neal often retired beyond the hearing of their respective wives, and supported each other by every argument in their power. Often have they been heard in the dusk of evening singing behind a remote hedge that melancholy ditty, "Let us both be unhappy together," which rose upon the twilight breeze with a cautious quaver of sorrow truly heartrending and lugubrious.
"Neal," said Mr. O'Connor on one of those occasions, "here is a book which I recommend to your perusal; it is called 'The Afflicted Man's Companion'; try if you cannot glean some consolation out of it."
"Faith," said Neal, "I'm forever oblaged to you, but I don't want it. I've had 'The Afflicted Man's Companion' too long, and not an atom o' consolation I can get out of it. I have one o' them, I tell you; but, be my sowl, I'll not undertake a pair o' them. The very name's enough for me." They then separated.
The tailor's vis vitae must have been powerful or he would have died. In two years more his friends could not distinguish him from his own shadow, a circumstance which was of great inconvenience to him. Several grasped at the hand of the shadow instead of his; and one man was near paying it five and sixpence for making a pair of small-clothes. Neal, it is true, undeceived him with some trouble, but candidly admitted that he was not able to carry home the money. It was difficult, indeed, for the poor tailor to bear what he felt; it is true he bore it as long as he could; but at length he became suicidal, and often had thoughts of "making his own quietus with his bare bodkin." After many deliberations and afflictions, he ultimately made the attempt; but, alas! he found that the blood of the Malones refused to flow upon so ignominious an occasion. So he solved the phenomenon; although the truth was that his blood was not "i' the vein" for it; none was to be had. What then was to be done? He resolved to get rid of life by some process, and the next that occurred to him was hanging. In a solemn spirit he prepared a selvage, and suspended himself from the rafter of his workshop. But here another disappointment awaited him, he would not hang. Such was his want of gravity that his own weight proved insufficient to occasion his death by mere suspension. His third attempt was at drowning; but he was too light to sink; all the elements, all his own energies, joined themselves, he thought, in a wicked conspiracy to save his life. Having thus tried every avenue to destruction, and failed in all, he felt like a man doomed to live forever. Henceforward he shrank and shrivelled by slow degrees, until in the course of time he became so attenuated that the grossness of human vision could no longer reach him.
This, however, could not last always. Though still alive, he was to all intents and purposes imperceptible. He could only now be heard; he was reduced to a mere essence; the very echo of human existence, vox etpraeterea nihil. It is true the schoolmaster asserted that he occasionally caught passing glimpses of him; but that was because he had been himself nearly spiritualised by affliction, and his visual ray purged in the furnace of domestic tribulation. By-and-by Neal's voice lessened, got fainter and more indistinct, until at length nothing but a doubtful murmur could be heard, which ultimately could scarcely be distinguished from a ringing in the ears.
Such was the awful and mysterious fate of the tailor, who, as a hero, could not, of course, die; he merely dissolved like an icicle, wasted into immateriality, and finally melted away beyond the perception of mortal sense. Mr. O'Connor is still living, and once more in the fulness of perfect health and strength. His wife, however, we may as well hint, has been dead more than two years.