A Man of Honor
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And over their breakfast they talked. But in telling his story, while he remembered to mention all the details of his situation losing and his situation getting, Mr. Robert somehow forgot to say anything about his other disappointment. He soon learned to know and to like his cousin, and, which was more to the purpose, he began to enjoy him right heartily, in his own way, bantering him on his queer uses of English, half in sport, half in earnest, until the Virginian declared that they had grown as familiar with each other "as a pair of Irishmen at a wake."
"I suppose you're off at once for your new place, a'n't you? This is September," said Billy after his cousin had finished so much of his story as he cared to reveal.
"No," said Robert. "My duties will not begin until January, and meantime I must go off on a tramp somewhere to get my muscles, physical and financial, up again. To tell the truth I have been dawdling at Cape May this summer instead of going off to the mountains or the prairies, as I usually do, for a healthful and economical foot journey, and the result is that my legs and arms are sadly run down. I have been spending too much money too, and so cannot afford to stay around Philadelphia until January. I think I must go off to some of the mountain counties, where the people think five dollars a fortune and call anything less than a precipice rising ground."
"Well, I reckon you won't," said the Virginian; "I've been inviting you to the 'home of your fathers' ever since I was born, and this is the very first time I ever got you to own up to a scrap of leisure as big as your thumb nail. I've got you now with nothing to do and nowhere to go, and I mean to take you with me this very evening to Virginia. We'll leave on the eleven o'clock train to-night, get to Richmond to-morrow at two, and go up home next morning in time for snack."
"But, my dear Billy – "
"But, my dear Bob, I won't hear a word, and I won't take no for an answer. That's poz roz and the king's English. I'm managing this little job. You can give up your rooms to-day, sell out your plunder, and stop expenses. Then you needn't open your pocket-book again for so long that you'll forget how it looks inside. Put a few ninepences into your breeches pocket to throw at darkeys when they hold your horse, and the thing's done. And won't we wake up old Shirley? I tell you it's the delightfulest two hundred year old establishment you ever saw or didn't see. As the Irish attorney said of his ancestral home: 'there isn't a table in the house that hasn't had jigs danced upon it, and there's not a chair that you can't throw at a friend's head without the slightest fear of breaking it.' When we get there we'll have as much fun as a pack of hounds on a fresh trail."
"Upon my word, Billy," said the professor cousin, "your metaphors have the merits of freshness and originality, at the least, though now and then, as in the present instance, they are certainly not very complimentary.However, it just occurs to me that I have been wanting to go to Shirley 'ever since I was born,' if you will allow me to borrow one of your forcible phrases, and this really does seem to be a peculiarly good opportunity to do so. I am a good deal interested in dialects and provincialisms, so it would be worth my while to visit you, if for no other reason, because my stay at Shirley will give me an excellent opportunity to study some of your own expressions. 'Poz roz,' now, is entirely new to me, and I might make something out of it in a philological way."
"Upon my word" said Mr. Billy, "that's a polite speech. If you'll only say you'll go, though, I don't care the value of a herring's left fore foot what use you make of me. I'm yours to command and ready for any sport that suits you, unless you take a notion to throw rocks at me."
"Pray tell me, Billy, do Virginians ever throw rocks? I am interested in muscle, and should greatly like to see some one able to throw rocks. I have paid half a dollar many a time to see a man lift extraordinary weights, but the best of the showmen never dream of handling anything heavier than cannon-balls. It would be decidedly entertaining to see a man throwing rocks and things of that sort about, even if he were to use both hands in doing it."
"Nonsense," said Billy; "I'm not one of your students getting a dictionary lesson. Waiter!"
"What will you have, sir?" asked the waiter.
"Some hot biscuit, please."
"They a'n't no hot biscuits, sir."
"Well some hot rolls then, or hot bread of some sort. Cold bread for breakfast is an abomination."
"They a'n't no hot bread in the house, sir. We never keep none. Hot bread a'n't healthy, sir."
"You impertinent – "
"My dear Billy," said Mr. Bob, "pray keep your temper. 'Impertinent' is not the word you wish to use. The man can not well be impertinent. He is a trifle impudent, I admit, but we can afford to overlook the impudence of his remark for the sake of the philological interest it has. Waiter, you ought to know, inasmuch as you have been brought up in a land of free schools, that two negatives, in English, destroy each other, and are equivalent to an affirmative; but the matter in which I am most interested just now is your remark that hot bread is not healthy. Your statement is perfectly true, and it would have been equally true if you had omitted the qualifying adjective 'hot.' No bread can be 'healthy,' because health and disease are not attributes or conditions of inanimate things. You probably meant, however, that hot bread is not wholesome, a point on which my friend here, who eats hot bread every day of his life, would naturally take issue with you. Please bring us some buttered toast."
The waiter went away bewildered – questioning the sanity of Mr. Bob in all probability; a questioning in which Billy was half inclined to join him.
"What on earth do you mean, Bob, by talking in that way to a waiter who don't know the meaning of one word in five that you use?"
"Well, I meant for one thing to keep you from losing your temper and so spoiling your digestion. Human motives are complicated affairs, and hence I am by no means sure that I can further unravel my purpose in this case."
"Return we to our muttons, then," said Billy; "I'll finish the business that brought me here, which is only to be present at the taking of a short deposition, by two or three o'clock. While I'm at it you can get your traps together, send your trunk to the depot, and get back here to dinner by four. Then we must get through the rest of the time the best way we can, and at eleven we'll be off. I'm crazy to see you with Phil once."
"Phil, who is he?"
"Oh! Phil is a character – a colored one. I want to see how his 'dialect' will affect you. I'm half afraid you'll go crazy, though, under it."
"Tell me – "
"No, I won't describe Phil, because I can't, and no more can anybody else. Phil must be seen to be appreciated. But come, I'm off for the notary's, and you must get you gone too, for you mustn't be late at dinner – that's poz."
With this the two young men separated, the Virginian lawyer to attend to the taking of some depositions, and his cousin to surrender his lodgings, pack his trunk, and make such other arrangements as were necessary for his journey.
This opportunity to visit the old homestead where his father had passed his boyhood was peculiarly welcome to Mr. Robert just now. There had always been to him a sort of glamour about the names Virginia and Shirley. His father's stories about his own childhood had made a deep impression on the mind of the boy, and to him Shirley was a palace and Virginia a fairy land. Whenever, in childhood, he was allowed to call a calf or a pig his own, he straightway bestowed upon it one or the other of the charmed names, and fancied that the animal grew stronger and more beautiful as a consequence. He had always intended to go to Shirley, but had never done so; just as you and I, reader, have always meant to do several scores of things that we have never done, though we can hardly say why. Just now, however, Mr. Billy's plan for his cousin was more than ever agreeable to Mr. Robert for various present and unusual reasons. He knew next to nobody in or about Philadelphia outside the precincts of the collegiate institute, and to hunt up acquaintances inside that institution was naturally enough not exactly to his taste. He had several months of time to dispose of in some way, and until Billy suggested the visit to Virginia, the best he had been able to do in the way of devising a time-killer was to plan a solitary wandering among the mountainous districts of Pennsylvania. Ordinarily he would have enjoyed such a journey very much, but just now he knew that Mr. Robert Pagebrook could hardly find a less agreeable companion than Mr. Robert Pagebrook himself. That little affair with Miss Nellie Currier kept coming up in his memory, and if the reader be a man it is altogether probable that he knows precisely how the memory of that story affected our young gentleman. He wanted company, and he wanted change, and he wanted out-door exercise, and where could he find all these quite so abundant as at an old Virginian country house? His love for Miss Nellie, he was sure, was a very genuine one; but he was equally sure that it was hopeless. Indeed, now that he knew the selfish insincerity of the damsel he did not even wish that his suit had prospered. This, at any rate, is what he thought, as you did, my dear sir, when you first learned what the word "Another" means when printed with a big A; and, thinking this, he felt that the first thing to be done in the matter was to forget Miss Nellie and his love for her as speedily as possible. How far he succeeded in doing this we shall probably see in the sequel. At present we have to do with the attempt only. New scenes and new people, Mr. Pagebrook thought, would greatly aid him in his purpose, and so the trip to Virginia seemed peculiarly fitting. It thus comes about that the scene of this young man's story suddenly shifts from Philadelphia to a Virginian country house, in spite of all I can do to preserve the dramatic unity of place. Ah! if I were making this story now, I could confine it to a single room, compress its action into a single day, and do other dramatic and highly proper things; but as Mr. Robert Pagebrook and his friends were not stage people, and, moreover, as they were not aware that their goings and comings would ever weave themselves into the woof of a story at all, they utterly failed to regulate their actions in accordance with critical rules, and went roving about over the country quite in a natural way and without the slightest regard for my convenience.