Mr. Butterby Records His Case by Henry S. Armstrong
J. Moses Butterby, aged 40 years; a licensed broker; nativity, American; temperament, sanguine; habit, slightly obese; constitution, robust. History of the case as related by himself.
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I don't see how I ever came to be married. It was certainly the last thing my friends expected of me, and it was the last thing I ever expected of myself; but that I am married, Mrs. J. Moses Butterby, and Master Alphonso Moses Butterby, are both here to testify.
What so aristocratic a family found in me to admire is as much a secret now as then. I don't think it was intellect; for I am afraid that when Nature designed me the "shining" element was left out. Somehow, at school, the composition sent to the village journal was never mine; the declamation repeated at every fresh arrival of directors was always another's; and if, by any chance, a visitor asked to hear a recitation, under no circumstances was I ever invited to show off. My modest part in society was not crowned with greater success. Ma (dear heart!) objected to dancing, and I never learned; I didn't go to picnics, for I don't know how to drive; I tried smoking, and it made me sick; if I drank wine, I was sure to go to sleep: in fact, none of the amusements of other young men ever amused me; and the result was, the money they spent, I saved.
Envious people have hinted at this as the attraction which first caught the respected mother of my Malinda Jane and the respected mother-in-law of myself; but ideas so unbecoming I repel with proper scorn.
I do not think myself more stupid than the average of mankind; but, somehow, while they walked through the middle of the streets, I sought the narrow alleys; and while others aspired to noise and distinction, I found retirement and Malinda Jane. (It was in an alley I first met Mrs. J. Moses Butterby--though this in no way concerns the present narrative.)
Malinda Jane (I trust I am not violating any matrimonial law in thus familiarly speaking of my respected helpmeet)--Malinda Jane, from the first time I beheld her, up to the present period of a long, and I may say intimate, acquaintance, appears to me a paragon of all the modest and retiring virtues. If among her many attractions she is possessed of a distinguishing trait, it lies in the power of her eyes. So much language do their depths contain, that to me, at least, any other is in a great measure a superfluity. I should be afraid to count up the consecutive hours we have spent in this silent converse, reading each other's hearts, as some pleasant poet has styled it, "through the windows of the soul." I would not have you suppose them almond-shaped or piercing. No! Malinda Jane's eyes are round. It was their gentle blue that enchanted me; and there I found the congeniality that cheered my drooping spirit.
Looking back now upon our courtship, I am inclined to think it must have been uninteresting to a third party; but there is no denying the fact that to us it was most soothing, and well calculated to develop our mutual affection.
I have no accurate recollection of the event vulgarly called "popping." Fortunately, I congratulate myself on escaping that breach of decorum. If you join my friends in asking "how it came about," I reply, "Naturally." The morning Malinda Jane's mother asked me if I had decided upon October the 24th or November the 24th, I unhesitatingly answered, "November the 24th, if you please;" and the whole affair was accomplished.
I have said before, Malinda Jane is not of a demonstrative disposition, but thinks (if I may strain a point) ponderously. I have never known her to manifest any will in opposition to my own; and, since I come to think of it, I do not remember her ever manifesting a will in opposition to any one else. In this general term I of course include Master Moses Alphonso Butterby and my most highly respected mother-in-law. Such a family, according to all rule precedent, should be superlatively happy; but there seems to be a disturbing element in all families, and mine, alas! proved no exception. It came about thus.
Among the few parting words of my deceased ma were, "Mosie" (she always called me Mosie), "never live with your mother-in-law." Treasuring the command, as I may say I treasured everything the dear old lady left, including the property, when finally the day was fixed, I set about obeying it. On an occasion when Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk--the name of my respected mother-in-law--had described our imaginary bower, and her imaginary apartment adjoining, until she had worked herself into a fever of imaginary happiness, I mildly communicated the behest of my departed parent.
The scene which followed I can only characterize as indescribably touching. The look of blank despair on the face of Malinda Jane, and the tears of rage and mortification that suffused the aristocratic nose of her ma, I frankly confess, went to the bottom of my heart. It was many months before I ceased to regret this rude banishment of their hopes; but, looking upon it from my present stand-point, I am compelled to admit my dear dead ma was right.
The only accident worthy of remark that happened to Malinda Jane on our wedding-day was a fright. I have reason to congratulate myself at its occurring on that day, instead of a few weeks subsequent. The consequences in the latter event, it is needless to say to married people, might have been serious.
Passing out of the church-door, we were confronted by a drunken cobbler, who, in a wild and insane manner, proposed "three cheers for Jinny." The assembled crowd of dilapidated urchins hanging around the steps proceeded to give them with a vim faintly suggestive of ridicule. The single glance I obtained of the discourteous offender gave me an idea of chimneys. His face was smoky, his clothes were fleecy, and his general appearance was decidedly sooty throughout. A shock head, and more shocky eyebrows, bore a strange resemblance to the patent chimney-sweep; while his clothes seemed rich in past memories of the profession. I had before caught sight of this individual, in a tumble-down, rickety shop near the residence of Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk. I had, in fact, seen her on more than one occasion bestowing charity upon him in the form of broken victuals; but the recollection failed entirely to account for the effect of his cheers for "Jinny" upon the too tender nerves of my dear wife and her distinguished mother. I attributed the emotion to the trying nature of the ceremony we had just passed through. Reflecting that people do not get married every day, and appalled at the terrible conclusions with which the mind would distract itself by pondering so alarming a topic, I shudderingly abandoned it, and assisted Malinda Jane and her ma, in a fainting condition, to the carriage.
It is needless to say that the cobbler was at once given in charge to a policeman. The next morning, in consideration of a handsome fee, he moved away. I accomplished this out of regard to the feelings of Mrs. Lawk; but, I must confess, I never regretted anything more.
The commencement of married life (as many married men will bear me out) is even more consoling than the happiest days of courtship. The smell of varnish on new furniture is as delightfully novel as the odor of the orange-blossoms; the brightness of the new carpets and the crispness of the new curtains both mark an era,--even if the stove is obstinate about drawing or a man is called out of bed to put up the coffee-mill. There was Malinda Jane's night-robe hanging on one side of the bed, and there was my night-robe on the other. My clothes were in the upper drawer of the bureau, hers were in the lower--in such delightful and loving proximity that I own to feeling a new man; I gloried in having some one dependent on me: in short, I was happy.
I will not deny that there was some trouble about servants (I think Malinda Jane had seven the first ten days). True, the meals were not models of regularity; the chicken sometimes came on in too natural a state,--blue and pulpy,--and the beefsteak betrayed a volcanic appearance, as though reduced to lava by an irruption of gravy. I remember one woman stole a keg of butter, and another went off with half a dozen silver spoons. The former, Malinda Jane ascribed to the cat; the latter, to a defective memory; but, then, Malinda Jane never learned housekeeping (I don't see why she should, poor dear!), and trifles like these failed to mar our household peace.
I would mention the conduct of Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk as being, for nearly a year, really saintly. Even the rare intervals at which she visited were marked by a manner the reverse of familiar. Almost every evening she would stand on the opposite side of the street, gazing wistfully at us as we sat in the window; but no persuasion induced her to pay a formal visit more than once a fortnight.
With this striking evidence of my wisdom before me, I grew worldly. I think that during that short year I possessed a better opinion of myself and my capacity than ever before or since.
Worse than this, I grew pharisaical. I ventured to pity my less fortunate neighbors, bound hand and foot to the slavery of mothers-in-law. I attempted to joke them, and poke them severely in the ribs with my knuckles, when the magic name was mentioned. So often did I congratulate myself on the shrewd stroke of genius displayed, that I fear even her respectability became sadly impaired in my mind, and depreciated to such an extent that I was gradually led to think of her irreverently as an "old gal."
"Too much for you, old gal," got to be an exclamation so wonderfully consoling that, it crept into my sleep, and in those halcyon days I often waked up by the side of Malinda Jane, muttering the words, "Too much for you, old gal." Waked up, I think I said. Ah! would I had never waked up, particularly on the dismal clouds which for a season darkened my domestic sunshine!
Scarce half a twelvemonth elapsed, ere the retiring disposition of Malinda Jane seemed to shrink into even greater seclusion. I frequently found her powerful mind wandering, and her eyes fixed on vacancy. In our evening walks, which invariably preceded retiring for the night, she leaned heavily on my arm.
Although the appearance of our daily repasts did not seem to justify it, the cash demands for market-bills suddenly became enormous; and, when I expostulated, my reasonable objections only produced tears. An apparently needless grief had crept into our quiet home, and a lack of confidence that pained me. For many weeks I helplessly pondered the unaccountable mystery.
At last (oh that it had taken any shape but that!) the enigma developed itself. Returning home one day, I had straightened my collar and smoothed my hair before opening the door (feeling a proper pride in my personal appearance, these preparations are usually a preliminary step), when suddenly, just as the portal moved on its hinges, my sense of smell was saluted with the odorous fumes of gin. From the first suffocating whiff of this aromatic cordial do I date the commencement of my grief. Malinda Jane, I knew, never indulged in as much as a sip of Cologne: so, convinced that the breach of discipline was the guilty act of a servant, with all the offended dignity I could embody in my deportment, I went straight to the chamber of my wife.
Without being deficient in moral courage, I am not a boisterous man. I do not boast of an eye like Mars, to threaten and command, or glory in producing a shudder with the creaking of my shoes. I mention this to show that my manner, though rebuking, was not intended to be severe. To awe by my authority, and soothe by my condescension, was the design; but even in this limited effort I am conscious of a lamentable failure.
Seated upon the floor, within an airy castle of dry-goods, whose battlements of flannel and linen cambric frowningly encircled her, was Malinda Jane. Before it, like an investing army, with colors flying, and a face radiant with defiant triumph, was Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk. She had complacently opened the siege with the mixture of a hot gin-toddy. My appearance upon this warlike scene was the signal for a salute both loud and watery (in short, tearful), entered into with a mutual heartiness by besieger and besieged. It was, moreover, rendered impressive by a waving spoon, which Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk moved solemnly backward and forward in a warning, funereal manner, as though protesting against some appalling fate. That she was in possession of my apartment, if not my house, I instinctively realized. She sat bolt upright, firm and strong as a Hindoo idol on its altar; a nebulous glare invested her head with a halo, through which bristling hair-pins stuck out in all directions, like lightning-rods with fitfully luminous points. The crystal wall of spectacles that bridged her nose seemed graven with the cabalistic words, "I've got you." A feeling of conscious guilt, of what an enfeebled mind failed to grasp, succumbed to the shock.
From amid the joint chorus of sobs and tears which burst forth with the wail of a Scottish slogan or an Indian death-song, I heard--
"Oh, my poor darling! Oh, my poor dear angel! Oh, Mr. Butterby, how could you?"
"Madam," I inquired, in amazement, "how could I what?"
It may be well to state the endearing epithet was applied to Malinda Jane.
"Oh, dear! dear! and all this time she has been scrimping and saving, I was unconscious as a child unborn. Cruel, cruel man!"
Mrs. Lawk, burying her hand in the depths of her pocket, drew forth an attenuated handkerchief, and carefully wiped her eyes.
"Please, ma----" interrupted Malinda Jane.
"Never, never again shall you leave my protecting wing. Oh, inhuman monster, how could you be so heartless?"
"Monster" was given with a decidedly unpleasant bite, and recalled my calmness.
"Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk," I placidly observed, "I have not the remotest idea what you are talking about."
"Moses Butterby, you're a brute."
She rose to her feet. A bundle, which, during the excitement, lay on her lap, broke open; and my mother-in-law, like Cleopatra in her roses, stood knee-deep in baby-clothes. In a moment the truth burst upon me. I was unmanned, limp, and disjointed. The shock was too much! A baby Butterby!
It is needless for me to remark to married men that the era of prospective paternity is an era of sacrifice. Why, in this time-honored custom, so much depends on one's mother-in-law, is a mystery I never could unravel. I look upon it as one of the unaccountable fatalities of man, to be placed in the category of grievances with prickly heat. Let it not be understood that my conduct was absolutely lamb-like. It was not until solemnly assured the visit would not be prolonged an unnecessary hour that I finally yielded. I think during that time I had a meaner opinion of my own importance than at any other period of my life. My domestic career resembled that of a child guilty of an irreparable wrong and tolerated only through dire necessity. Indeed, had Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk been a modern Rachel, and I the ruthless destroyer of her household, her conduct toward me could not have exhibited more injured resignation. I somehow grew to feel guilty, and it was only at rare intervals I mustered courage to look either her or Malinda Jane in the face.
The anticipated addition to the family brought an immediate addition to our furniture. The way the chairs multiplied was marvelous, and the number of sofas that accumulated in our parlor would have been gratifying to a Grand Turk. We suddenly grew plethoric in wash-stands, and appeared to possess armoires and bureaus in quantities and varieties sufficient (as the advertisements say) to suit the most fastidious taste. Even the bath-room did not seem to be neglected, and a modest effort was made to furnish the back gallery. One day I was astonished to find in the hall two hat-racks, and was nearly knocked down by the end of a great four-post bedstead that followed me in. I turned on the intruder, and discovered the little cobbler, apparently as much under the influence of liquor as on the day of his previous eccentricity, stupidly endeavoring to push one post in the door while the other bade fair to thrust itself through the ventilator. It was then I learned that in the array consisted the entire household treasures of Mrs. Mountchessington Lawk.
I may here mention that the cobbler had contracted a chronic habit of hanging around my back gate, but slunk away whenever I happened to observe him.
Gradually (leaving out the patients) our house began to wear the aspect of a hospital. The doctor made his appearance three times daily. An aged, red-faced nurse, smelling strong of whisky, wandered about like a disembodied spirit; and a lively young woman, her assistant, clattered up and down stairs at all hours of the day and night. Had the entire city concluded to multiply and replenish, the preparations could not have been on a grander scale.
Of the exact particulars of the event, I fear I am not altogether clear. I have an indistinct recollection of battling with a midnight thunder-storm, in a hopeless search for our medical man, and that, immediately on my return, that functionary (who had arrived during my absence) dispatched me on an equally important errand.
I remember pulling a great many night-bells and arousing an unlimited number of apothecaries; but the only act at all fresh in my recollection was slinking in the back gate at three o'clock A.M. (I had been locked out the front way), and finding the little cobbler, and a surrounding crowd of damp newsboys, cheering lustily for "Jinny." The cause of that commotion was also a mystery; but, when I entered the house, Master Moses Alphonso Butterby feebly echoed their shout of triumph.
Under different auspices, my paternal affection might have developed rapidly; but really, during the first few weeks of Moses Alphonso's existence, our intercourse was so exceedingly limited I scarcely knew him. Any intrusion within his little horizon of flannel or atmosphere of paregoric was so severe a tax on the nerves of Mrs. Lawk, that, out of consideration for her feelings, I rather avoided it. Indeed, had it not been for the activity of that eminently respectable lady, I would have fancied Moses Alphonso a brother-in-law instead of a son.
Bolted in by flannel bandages, barred with a cambric shirt, locked up in towels, imprisoned in petticoats, and finally incarcerated in a dungeon of wrappers and shawls,--from the first he had the appearance of an unhappy little convict. Mrs. Lawk invariably acted as chief jailer, and, taking him into custody, changed his various places of confinement with the austerity of a keeper of the Tower. My own position hourly became more ambiguous; indeed, had it not been for the monthly bills, I would have scarcely believed myself possessed of a house at all. I impatiently awaited the promised evacuation; and when Moses Alphonso reached his third birthday (babies have these interesting periods monthly instead of annually) I ventured a hint that our own furniture was ample for all requirements.
To my despair, Mrs. Lawk had rented her house. Malinda Jane's confinement (which in my simplicity I imagined was of short duration), it seemed, had been protracted from the day of her marriage.
Society was essential to her happiness; and society Mrs. Lawk was determined she should have. If through her illness my privileges experienced curtailment, her recovery brought annihilation itself. Notwithstanding my piteous petition, we suddenly expanded into eminent gentility.
I am dimly conscious that to many of our guests my introduction was to Mrs. Lawk a poignant mortification. Most of them I never did know. Several, however, seemed invited for my especial benefit; and this piece of malignity will never cease to harrow.
How could I talk to Miss Rose Buddington Violet, when she let down her back hair and made eyes at the moon? I had no back hair (in fact, none at all to speak of), and scarcely knew there was a moon.
When Mrs. Jesse Hennessee of Tennessee (whose husband is interested in iron) persisted in making a blast-furnace of the kitchen stove, what could I say?
There was Miss Aurelia Wallflower, who believed the world hollow, and dolls stuffed with saw-dust, continually expatiating on the sufferings of early Christians. I have never read Fox's Book of Martyrs. With Mrs. Lucretia McSimpkins I had some relief. She was fond of operatic music, and, it is true, banged our piano out of tune at every visit,--indeed, her efforts resembled a boiler-maker's establishment under full headway; but, when she did subside, her perfect and refreshing silence lasted for hours.
Malinda Jane, for whose amusement all this was designed, did not seem more enthusiastic than myself. Most of her time was spent in a corner, staring confusedly at the assembled company, and contemplating in silent amazement the volubility of her respected parent.
In addition to toning down my exuberance with the softening influence of ladies' society, Mrs. Lawk decided on a course of restriction. My allowance of clean linen suddenly diminished one-half and under no circumstances was I to presume to take a fresh pocket-handkerchief more than once in two days. She changed the dinner-hour, and declared supper (except for Malinda Jane, poor dear!) strictly prohibited. For a time I mitigated the last grievance by eating oysters; but, an unlucky burst of confidence having divulged the dissipation, a solemn lecture on my duty to my family was its quietus. Every article of food was put under lock and key, the night-latch was changed, and Mrs. Lawk, in addition to her duties as jailer to Master Moses Alphonso, constituted herself turnkey of the establishment. The parlor, except when we "received," was declared forbidden ground: her dismay at finding my papers there, one evening, was perfectly heart-rending. There was a sudden inquiry concerning my loose change, and I was furnished with a memorandum-book in which to write down my daily disbursements. Frequent visits to the opera (oh, the torture of those evenings!) had been an invariable rule with the Mountchessingtons; and, at the risk of rendering impotent the tympanum of both ears, I was compelled to continue that respectable custom. Persons occupying our position should be careful with whom they associated; and the character of my companions underwent a severe investigation. She even interfered with my business, and declared the soap brokerage (one of my most lucrative departments) utterly beneath a gentleman. One by one my little personal comforts faded away. Symptoms of annoyance, persistently repeated, whenever I took off my coat or put on my slippers, kept me at all times prepared for the streets. Cabbage (a favorite dish) was quietly discarded from the dinner-table. My library was turned into a nursery for Master B.
The mute, unresisting manner in which I surrendered my fading glory was surprising. I was appalled in contemplating it; I am breathless now with indignation in referring to it. In short, like Daniel and the Hebrew children, I went up through much tribulation; but my deliverance (oh, how I daily and hourly thank Divine Providence for that blessed moment!) was at hand.
It was the evening of an election for an alderman, I think; but, as in our retired portion of the city none but the lowest vagabonds gave politics a thought, there was comparatively no excitement. Mrs. Lawk, from the wide circle of society in which she moved, had invited a goodly number to an entertainment. Even our inordinate supply of sofas were filled, and scarcely a chair in the house remained unoccupied. In a rash moment I asked two or three of my own cronies; but not many minutes elapsed ere both my companions and myself were made to feel the folly of the temerity.
Ignorant of dancing, unskilled in whist or the art of polite conversation, we were terminating our third hour of judicious snubbing in a corner. Mrs. McSimpkins had just concluded a battle-piece of great length and power, when the rehearsal of our shuddering comments was suddenly banished by the deafening roll of a drum. I rushed to the window, and, to my horror, discovered a torchlight procession halted immediately in front of the house. Perhaps a hundred men, in all stages of political enthusiasm and intoxication, surrounded by a crowd of wretched women and girls, waved their lights with demoniac frenzy, and, apparently through a common throat, gurgled three hideous cheers. There was a charge of Mrs. Lawk's friends to the windows, and then a stampede to the back parlor. In vain I expostulated; idly I insisted on my utter lack of interest in the questions of the day: the political party would come in, and how was I to prevent it? The absence of embarrassment and amiable indifference to form that characterized the intrusion was something unique. There was a difference in shape and mode of wearing, about the hats, really refreshing, and a variety of quality and nauseousness in the cigars everybody smoked, that, if anything, added zest to the scene.
Boots unconscious of the existence of a door-mat speedily graced the hall-floor with a perfect cushion of mud. Their wearers, rapidly dividing into groups, plunged into earnest conversation concerning the events of the day. The candid manner in which my own character was discussed, and their frankness in touching on my peculiarities, was not the least gratifying feature of the visit. In the course of two or three minutes, one would have supposed my residence a political club-room, and my uninvited guests in the peaceful enjoyment of their inalienable rights.
At length there was a cry of "Here he is! here he is!"
Every window on the square went up, and the neighborhood suddenly whitened with night-capped heads. I heard a crash of glass, and felt convinced that this time the ventilator had gone for certain. There was a fresh rush from the street, and, finally, seated on a shutter (borne on the shoulders of four stout men) and complacently swinging his legs, appeared the little cobbler. A radiant joy in his face, and a knowing wink in his eye, told plainly the combined influence of triumph and unlimited libation. Reeling profoundly to the assembled company, and casting a drunken leer at Mrs. Lawk, he exclaimed, "Mary Ann,--'s--no use, I'm--'s--good--as--he--is. I'm--an (hic)--an--Alderman. Butterby--embrace--your poor ol'--father--'n--law."
Of the conclusion of this episode, I fear I am somewhat confused. I have an indistinct recollection that Mrs. Lawk and Malinda Jane were both carried off in a fainting condition; and that my enthusiastic friends gave three rousing cheers for Alderman Lawk, and three more for me. I remember my father-in-law insisted on holding a meeting then and there and nominating me for Governor. His constituents considered the idea most judicious, and warmly applauded it. Mrs. Lawk's friends disappeared precipitately through the back way, amid renewed sounds of crashing glass and breaking china, while I hovered around the unterrified Democracy of the ---- ward, earnestly beseeching them to go into the street. My efforts were at last crowned with success. I was left alone amid the wreck of my household gods; but for an hour afterward, as I lay cowering on the sofa, I could hear disconnected speeches from my door-steps, encouraged from time to time with tremendous cheers for Lawk, cheers for Butterby, and cheers for "Jinny." The same general mystification and uncertainty regarding my actions pervaded the entire night; but morning brought relief, and in more ways than one. Mrs. Lawk had disappeared, and her chattels were following. The victory was as sudden as it was unexpected.
Who would have thought that out of this storm of mortification was to spring the bow of promise? The day after witnessed the exit of my most respected mother-in-law and her amiable husband, for Cheyenne City; from which place we have recently heard from them as ornamenting the first Comanche and Blackfeet circles.
Her reason for concealing the relationship was never developed. Indeed, I was too much overcome with joy ever to inquire. Undisturbed by discordant elements, the fires of matrimonial affection burning as brightly as when lighted upon my marriage morn, I now calmly survey the re-establishment of a happy household, over which reign domestic bliss and--Master Moses Alphonso Butterby.
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Such is an accurate statement of the case, all of which is respectfully submitted.