Recording A Day's Excursion Up The Potomac; Analyzing A Strawberry Festival, And Reporting Bomb Of The Orations At Susper College Commencement.
Chipmunk Court House, June 26, 1868.
The human soul - how sensitive a thing it is ! especially before its owner hears from his poor relations, or has a wife subject to sick-headache. How keenly alive it is to every impression of Change, even when the latter is not change for five dollars! How quickly will it swell, or collapse, at the least variation in the chromatic scales of that instrument of piano and forte emotions which we call Home!
You return to the latter after the day's business; and, before you have seen or spoken to a soul there, a subtle sensibility to some unpleasant change in it comes sicken-ingly over you. In another moment you detect a carpetbag and bandbox in the hall, and then you know that your wife's mother has come to spend a week with you. Regaining the same Home after a brief trip to the country, there is something in the aspect of the very front-door that inexplicably impresses you with a delightful sense of home's sweetest tranquillity. You enter, and are informed that your eldest unmarriageable sister-in-law has decided to defer her visit until next summer. So it is that some mysterious intuitive intelligence of the human soul - that possession coming by nature to every man save the New Jerseyman - detects the sadder and happier domestic changes for us long before the material senses can act. Thus it is that we need no telling to comprehend, that the man with the pew-bill has been waiting for us in the parlor nearly half an hour.
And how much stronger is the vibration of this fine instinct, when the very loudest component element of a home has gone out of it! There has been a Marriage in the house, and the merest stranger asks no telling to be aware of it before he has been within the door five minutes. There is no more poking of a head in curl-papers over the baluster of the second-story stairs every time the street-bell rings. There is no more screeching of alternate hymn-verses and "Duchess of Gerolstein" hand-organ airs through the third-story hall until eleven o'clock every morning. There is no more slapping of infant brothers to stop their crying for tumbling downstairs, and make them learn not to take their sister's back-hair off the bureau and use it for a ball another time. There is no more driving of nails (of her fingers) on the piano-forte, with all the parlor-windows open, at what a merciful Providence intended to be the quietest hour of the evening. There is no more standing on the front-stoop and taking three-quarters of an hour to scream and giggle a good-night to the departing Young Man already half-way to the corner, when five single gentlemen on the same block, who must get up at five o'clock in the morning, are trying to swear themselves to sleep. No; there has been a Marriage in the house, and the yearning souls of the survivors plaintively acknowledge that the cessation of so much sweetness and noise makes it seem just like Sunday, at home.
The late Confederate pageant of a Ritualistic marriage has left the ancient chateau of the Munchausens so lonely for me that I have made a flying excursion to Succotash Court House, where even orations by collegians are better than no noise at all. On the morning after the wedding, when Pendragon Penruthers, Esquire, his bride and brothers-in-law, started for a day's bridal-tour of the Charitable Institutions of Chipmunk Court House, Captain Villiam Brown and I were directed to remain in the kitchen with the aged seneschal and help clean the knives; but Villiam's unhappy disposition to want nobody to get married but himself had made him such poor company for the occasion, that a sense of there having been a Marriage in the house grew intolerable to me, and I suddenly resolved to take a sail up the Potomac for the day. When I told him of my determination, Villiam was cleaning a costly cast-iron carving-knife, which, as there had been no earthly use for it in the family since the late Vandal war, had grown quite rusty - and says he, -
" Go, my fren', and I will continue the great work of Reconstruction alone until your return. "Ah!" says Villiam, trying the highly-tempered blade on his fingernail, " it is now nearly time for our ten o'clock snub, and that bright being is not here to give it to us".
Perceiving that his Democratic Northern nature drooped in the anticipated absence of those daily affronts to which we were accustomed, I tried to comfort him with the certainty that Lady Penruthers would yet insult us oftener than ever before she finally went away with her lord to his home in the Almshouse; and so greatly did the assurance cheer him that, just previous to my departure, he cleaned a broken and very difficult fork in three minutes.
A brisk walk of about an hour - through plantations so covered with mortgages as to be actually dying because neither son nor heir could get to them - brought me to the landing where the Confederate steamboat, " South C. bubble," built in South Carolina, awaited such passengers as the captain was willing to trust for their passage-money. The floating palace, in question, had formerly been a coal-barge; but now, by aid of a second-hand cooking-stove, a tin clothes-boiler, a steam-pipe from thence to the hickory pistons of a walking-beam which had been ingeniously manufactured from a large wagon-spring, and a couple of U. S. ambulance-wheels at the sides, she made the best steamer that it was possible to run on credit.
My payment of my passage in actual money threw the entire crew into a profuse perspiration, and caused the captain to exhibit temporary signs of apoplexy; yet, at the proper moment, the great naval commander was sufficiently recovered to mount one of the wheel-houses, (half a cheese-box), draw forth his galvanized chronometer, and signal, the engineer to turn on the steam from the clothes-boiler. Wush-wush-wush-h-h went the ambulance-wheels, high curled the smoke from the stack of old hats acting as a smoke-pipe, and along moved the majestic vessel, after the manner of a dying swan.