Punchinello, Volume 1, No. 15, July 9, 1870

Produced by Cornell University, Joshua Hutchinson, Sandra
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Punchinello, Vol. 1, No. 15, July 9, 1870

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FLORA, having no relations in the world that she knew of, had, ever since her seventh new bonnet, known no other home than Macassar Female College, in the Alms-House, and regarded Miss CAROWTHERS as her mother-in-lore. Her memory of her own mother was of a lady-like person who had swiftly waisted away in the effort to be always taken for her own daughter, and was, one day, brought down-stairs, by her husband, in two pieces, from tight lacing. The sad separation (taking place just before a party of pleasure), had driven FLORA’S father into a frenzy of grief for his better halves; which was augmented to brain fever by Mr. SCHENCK, who, having given a Boreal policy to deceased, felt it his duty to talk gloomily about wives who sometimes died apart after receiving unmerited cuts from their husbands, and to suggest a compromise of ten per cent, upon the amount of the policy, as a much more cheerful settlement than a coroner’s inquest. FLORA’S betrothal had grown out of the soothing of Mr. POTTS’S last year of mental disorder by Mr. DROOD, an old partner in the grocery business, who, too, was a widower from his wife’s use of arsenic and lead for her complexion. The two bereaved friends, after comparing tears and looking mournfully at each other’s tongues, had talked themselves to death over the fluctuations in sugar; willing their respective children to marry in future for the sake of keeping up the controversy.

From the FLOWERPOT’S first arrival at the Alms-House, her new things, engagement to be married, and stock of chocolate caramels, had won the deepest affections of her teachers and schoolmates; and, on the morning after the sectional dispute between EDWIN and MONTGOMERY, when one of the young ladies had heard of it as a profound secret, no pains were spared by the whole tender-hearted school to make her believe that neither of the young men was entirely given up yet by the consulting physicians. It was whispered, indeed, that a knife or two might have passed, and two or three guns been exchanged; but she was not to be at all worried, for persons had been known to get well with the tops of their heads off.

At an early hour, however, Miss PENDRAGON had paid a visit to her brother, in Gospeler’s Gulch; and, coming back with the intelligence, that, while he had been stabbed to the heart, it was chiefly by cruel insinuations and an umbrella, was enabled to assure Miss CAROWTHERS, in confidence, that nothing eligible for publication in the New York Sun had really occurred. Thus, when the legal conqueror of Breachy Mr. BLODGETT entered that principal recitation-room of the Macassar, formally known as the Cackleorium, she had no difficulty in explaining away the panic.

She said that “Unfounded Rumor, Ladies, is, we all know, a descriptive phrase applied by the Associated Press to all important foreign news procured a week or two in advance of its own similar European advices, by the Press Association[A]. We perceive then, Ladies, (Miss JENKINS will be good enough to stop scratching her nose while I am talking,) that Unfounded Rumor sometimes means–hem!–

‘The Associated Press
In bitter distress.’

In Bumsteadville, however, it has a signification more like what we should give it in relation to a statement that Senator SUMNER had delivered a Latin quotation without a speech selected for it. In this sense, Ladies, (Miss PARKINSON can scarcely be aware of how much cotton stocking can be seen when she lolls so,) the Unfounded Rumor concerning two gentlemen of different political views in this county was not correct. (Miss BABCOCK will learn four chapters in Chronicles by heart to-night, for making her handkerchief into a baby,) as proper inquiries have assured us that no more blood was shed than if the parties to the strife had been a Canadian and a Fenian. We will, therefore, drop the subject, and enter at once upon the flowery path of the first lesson in algebra.”

This explanation destroyed all the interest of a majority of the young ladies, who had anticipated a horridly delightful duel, at least; but FLORA was slightly hysterical about it, even late in the afternoon, when it was announced that her guardian had come to see her.

Mr. DIBBLE, of Gowanus, had been selected for his trust on account of his pre-eminent goodness, which, as seems to be invariably the case, was associated with an absence of personal beauty trenching upon the scarecrow. Possibly an excess of strong and disproportionate carving in nose, mouth and chin, accompanied by weak eyes and unexpectedness of forehead, may tend to make the Evil One but languid in his desire for the capture of its human exemplar. This may help account for the otherwise rather curious coincidence of frightful physiognomy and preternatural goodness in this world of sinful beauties[B]. Under such a theory, Mr. DIBBLE’S easy means of frightening the Arch-Tempter into immediate flight, and keeping himself free from all possible incitement to be anything but good, were a face, head and neck shaped not unlike an old-fashioned water-pitcher, and a form suggestive of an obese lobster balancing on an upright horse-shoe. His nose was too high up; his mouth and chin bulged too tremendously; his neck inside a whole mainsail of shirt-collar was too much fluted, and his eyes were as much too small and oyster-like as his ears were too large and horny.

Mr. DIBBLE found his ward in Miss CAROWTHER’S own private room, from which even the government mails were generally excluded; and, after saluting both ladies, and politely desiring the elder to remain present, in order to be sure that his conversation was strictly moral, the monstrous old gentleman pulled a memorandum book from his pocket and addressed himself to FLORA.

“I am a square man myself, dear kissling,” he said, with much double chin in his manner, “and like to do everything on the square. I am now ‘interviewing’ you, and shall make notes of your answers, though not necessarily for publication. First: is your health satisfactory?”

Miss POTTS admitted that, excepting occasional attacks of insatiable longing for True Sympathy, chiefly produced by over-eating of pickles and slate-pencils to avert excessive plumpness, she could generally take pie twice without experiencing a subsequent reactionary tendency to piety and gloomy presentiments.

“Second: is your allowance of pin-money sufficient to keep you in cold cream, Berlin wool, and other necessaries of life?”

The FLOWERPOT confessed that she had now and then wished herself able to buy a church and a velvet dressing-gown, (lined with cherry,) for a young clergyman with the consumption and side-whiskers; but, under common circumstances, her allowance was enough to procure all absolutely requisite Edging without running her into debt, and still leave sufficient to buy materials for any reasonable altar-cloth.

“And now, my dear,” said Mr. DIBBLE, evidently glad that all the more important and serious part of the interview was over, “we come to the subject of your marriage. Mr. EDWIN has seen you here, occasionally, I suppose, and you may possibly like him well enough to accept him as a husband, if not as a friend!”

“He’s such a perfectly absurd creature that I can’t help liking him,” returned FLORA, gravely; “but I am not certain that my utterly ridiculous deeper woman’s love is entirely satisfied with the shape of his nose.”

“That’ll be mostly hidden by his whiskers, when they grow,” observed her guardian.

“I hope they’ll be bushy, with a frizzle at the ends and a bald place for his chin,” said the young girl, reflectively; then suddenly asked: “If we shouldn’t be married, would either of us have to pay anything?”

“I should say not,” answered Mr. DIBBLE, “unless you sued him for breach.” (Here Miss CAROWTHERS was heard to murmur “BLODGETT,” and hastily took an anti-nervous pill.) “I should say that your respective parents wished you to marry only in case you should see no other persons whose noses you liked better. As on this coming Christmas you will be within a few months of your marriage, I have brought your father’s will with me, with the intention of depositing it in the hands of Mr. EDWIN’S trustee, Mr. BUMSTEAD–“

“Oh, leave it with EDDY, if you’ll please to be so ridiculously kind,” interrupted FLORA. “Mr. BUMSTEAD would certainly insist upon it that there were two wills, instead of one: and that would be so absurd.”

“Well, well,” assented Mr. DIBBLE, rising to go, “I’m a perfectly square man, even when I’m looking round, and will do as you wish. As a slight memento of my really charming visit here, might I humbly petition yonder lady to remit any little penalty that may happen to be in force just now against any lovely student of the College for eating preserves in bed, or writing notes to the Italian music teacher, who is already married, or anything of that kind?”

“FLORA,” said Miss CAROWTHERS, graciously, “you may tell Miss BABCOCK, that, in consequence of your guardian’s request, she will be excused from studying her Bible as a punishment.”

After due acknowledgment of this favor, the good Mr. DIBBLE made his farewell bow, and went forth to the turnpike. Following that high road, he presently found himself near the side-door of the Ritualistic Church of Saint Cow’s, and, while curiously watching the minor canons who were carrying in some fireworks to be used in the next day’s service, was confronted by Mr. BUMSTEAD just coming out.

“Let me see you home,” said Mr. BUMSTEAD, hastily holding out an arm. “I’ll tell the family it’s only vertigo.”

“Why, nothing is the matter with me,” pleaded Mr. DIBBLE. “I’ve only been having a talk with my ward.”

“I’ll bet cloves for two that she didn’t say she preferred me to NED,” insinuated Mr. BUMSTEAD, breathing audibly through his nose.

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