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- The Complete Works of Artemus Ward, Part 3 - 6/8 -
As I said in Chapter VIII., there was an oration. There were also processions, and guns, and banners.
"This evening," said the chairman of the committee of arrangements, "this evening, fellow-citizens, there will be a grand display of fireworks on the village green, superintended by the inventor and manufacturer, our public-spirited townsman, Mr. Reuben Pettingill."
Night closed in, and an immense concourse of people gathered on the village green.
On a raised platform, amidst his fireworks, stood Pettingill.
He felt that the great hour of his life had come, and, in a firm, clear voice, he said:
"The fust fireworks, feller-citizens, will be a rocket, which will go up in the air, bust, and assume the shape of a serpint."
He applied a match to the rocket, but instead of going up in the air, it flew wildly down into the grass, running some distance with a hissing kind of sound, and causing the masses to jump round in a very insane manner.
Pettingill was disappointed, but not disheartened. He tried again.
"The next fireworks," he said, "will go up in the air, bust, and become a beautiful revolvin' wheel."
But alas! it didn't. It only ploughed a little furrow in the green grass, like its unhappy predecessor.
The masses laughed at this, and one man--a white-haired old villager--said, kindly but firmly, "Reuben, I'm 'fraid you don't understand pyrotechny."
Reuben was amazed. Why did his rockets go down instead of up? But, perhaps, the others would be more successful, and, with a flushed face, and in a voice scarcely as firm as before, he said:
"The next specimen of pyrotechny will go up in the air, bust, and become an eagle. Said eagle will soar away into the western skies, leavin' a red trail behind him as he so soars."
But, alas! again. No eagle soared, but, on the contrary, that ordinary proud bird buried its head in the grass.
The people were dissatisfied. They made sarcastic remarks. Some of them howled angrily. The aged man who had before spoken said, "No, Reuben, you evidently don't understand pyrotechny."
Pettingill boiled with rage and disappointment.
"You don't understand pyrotechny!" the masses shouted.
Then they laughed in a disagreeable manner, and some unfeeling lads threw dirt at our hero.
"You don't understand pyrotechny!" the masses yelled again.
"Don't I?" screamed Pettingill, wild with rage; "don't you think I do?"
Then seizing several gigantic rockets he placed them over a box of powder, and touched the whole off.
THIS rocket went up. It did, indeed.
There was a terrific explosion.
No one was killed, fortunately; though many were injured.
The platform was almost torn to pieces.
But proudly erect among the falling timbers stood Pettingill, his face flashing with wild triumph; and he shouted: "If I'm any judge of pyrotechny, THAT rocket has went off."
Then seeing that all the fingers on his right hand had been taken close off in the explosion, he added: "And I ain't so dreadful certain but four of my fingers has went off with it, because I don't see 'em here now!"
3.9. THE LAST OF THE CULKINSES.
A DUEL IN CLEVELAND--DISTANCE TEN PACES--BLOODY RESULT--FLIGHT OF ONE OF THE PRINCIPALS--FULL PARTICULARS.
A few weeks since a young Irishman name Culkins wandered into Cleveland from New York. He had been in America only a short time. He overflowed with book learning, but was mournfully ignorant of American customs, and as innocent and confiding withal as the Babes in the Wood. He talked much of his family, their commanding position in Connaught, Ireland, their immense respectability, their chivalry, and all that sort of thing. He was the only representative of that mighty race in this country. "I'm the last of the Culkinses!" he would frequently say, with a tinge of romantic sadness, meaning, we suppose, that he would be the last when the elder Culkins (in the admired language of the classics) "slipped his wind." Young Culkins proposed to teach Latin, Greek, Spanish, Fardown Irish, and perhaps Choctaw, to such youths as desired to become thorough linguists. He was not very successful in this line, and concluded to enter the office of a prominent law firm on Superior Street as a student. He dove among the musty and ponderous volumes with all the enthusiasm of a wild young Irishman, and commenced cramming his head with law at a startling rate. He lodged in the back-room of the office, and previous to retiring he used to sing the favorite ballads of his own Emerald Isle. The boy who was employed in the office directly across the hall used to go to the Irishman's door and stick his ear to the key-hole with a view to drinking in the gushing melody by the quart or perhaps pailful. This vexed Mr. Culkins, and considerably marred the pleasure of the thing, as witness the following:--
"O come to me when daylight sets.
[What yez doing at that door, yer d--d spalpane?]
Sweet, then come to me!
[I'll twist the nose off yez presently, me honey!]
When softly glide our gondolettes
[Bedad, I'll do murther to yez, young gintlemin!]
O'er the moonlit sea."
Of course, this couldn't continue. This, in short, was rather more than the blood of the Culkinses could stand, so the young man, through whose veins such a powerful lot of that blood courses, sprang to the door, seized the eavesdropping boy, drew him within, and commenced to severely chastise him. The boy's master, the gentleman who occupied the office across the hall, here interfered, pulled Mr. Culkins off, thrust him gently against the wall, and slightly choked him. Mr. Culkins bottled his furious wrath for that night, but in the morning he uncorked it and threatened the gentleman (whom for convenience sake we will call Smith) with all sorts of vengeance. He obtained a small horsewhip and tore furiously through the town, on the lookout for Smith.
He sent Smith a challenge, couched in language so scathingly hot that it burnt holes through the paper, and when it reached Smith it was riddled like an old-fashioned milk-strainer. No notice was taken of the challenge, and Culkins' wrath became absolutely terrific. He wrote handbills, which he endeavoured to have printed, posting Smith as a coward. He wrote a communication for the "New Herald," explaining the whole matter. (This wasn't very rich, we expect.) He urged us to publish his challenge to Smith. Somebody told him that Smith was intending to flee the city in fear on an afternoon train, and Culkins proceeded to the depot, horsewhip in hand, to lie in wait for him. This was Saturday last. During the afternoon Smith concluded to accept the challenge. Seconds and a surgeon were selected, and we are mortified to state that at 10 o'clock in the evening Scanton's Bottom was desecrated with a regular duel. The frantic glee of Culkins when he learned his challenge had been accepted can't be described. Our pen can't do it--a pig-pen couldn't. He wrote a long letter to his uncle in New York, and to his father in Connaught. At about ten o'clock the party proceeded to the field. The moon was not up, the darkness was dense, the ground was unpleasantly moist, and the lights of the town, which gleamed in the distance, only made the scene more desolate and dreary. The ground was paced off and the men arranged. While this was being done, the surgeon, by the light of a dark lantern, arranged his instruments, which consisted of 1 common hand-saw, 1 hatchet, 1 butcher knife, a large variety of smaller knives, and a small mountain of old rag. Neither of the principals exhibited any fear. Culkins insisted that, as the challenging party, he had the right to the word fire. This, after a bitter discussion, was granted. He urged his seconds to place him facing towards the town, so that the lights would be in his favour. This was done without any trouble, the immense benefits of that position not being discovered by Smith's second.
"If I fall," said Culkins to his second, "see me respectably buried and forward bill to Connaught. Believe me, it will be cashed." The arms (horse-pistols) were given to the men, and one of Culkins's seconds said:
"Gentlemen, are you ready?"
CULKINS:--Ready. The blood of the Culkinses is aroused!
SECOND:--One, Two, Three--fire!
Culkins's pistol didn't go off. Smith didn't fire.
"That was generous in Smith not to fire," said a second.
"It was inDADE," said Culkins; "I did not think it of the low-lived scoundrel!"
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