Part 4 (1/2)

Toodlebug! and n.o.body would come to our daughter's parties.” The good woman ran on in this way for several minutes, compelling her dear Chapman to keep the peace. At length she settled back into her rocking chair, and there was a pause.

”My dear,” said Chapman, meekly, ”I have always held that a man could commit no greater folly than that of quarrelling with a woman on a question of family pride. In such a contest the man is sure to get the worst of it. I say this understandingly, my dear.” And Chapman shut up his book, and looked up into his wife's face, as if to watch the changes of her countenance.

”We may agree on that matter yet, my dear. A man is never so low by birth (I mean in this country, at least,) but that he may rise to the highest office of honor and trust--”

”Not with such a name as Toodlebug--never!” Mrs. Chapman interrupted, curtly.

”That's a mistake, my dear. Names never distinguished people. A man's merit and money are the things that do it. This is a free country. A woman may have as many quarrels as she pleases, and have her own way in things generally. Nothing personal, my dear.

”But to go back to what I was pondering over when you interrupted me. A family never gets through the world easy without a solid basis; and I was thinking how to give a solid basis to our little family. Marrying is all well enough in its way; but the woman who marries a man without a solid basis, either in money or character, marries into misery. That's my philosophy--”

”Exactly!” interrupted Mrs. Chapman, with a stately nod of the head, and rubbing her fat hands. ”Now you talk as I like to hear you. There's no getting up in the world without money.”

”I intended to make that point in my logic, and was coming to it, my dear. You see, we have got the building and everything in it, all our own. And we have got two or three thousand dollars, all put away for a wet day. Property all honorably made. Heaven knows I would not have a dollar that was not. That, my dear, is a good beginning for a good basis. We must keep adding to it; keep the tide flowing in the channel of success. I was thinking, my dear, of inventing a new religion.”

”My dear!” exclaimed Mrs. Chapman, with an air of astonishment, ”what an inventive head you have got. But you have said so often that there was too much religion in the world, and not enough of true goodness.”

”Of the old kind, I meant, my dear;” resumed the little man. ”What I mean is to invent a religion that is new and novel, has something broad and attractive in it, and that people of a curious turn of mind would pay for enjoying. That's the kind of religion that pays, you see. And if we could put the church on its feet again with something of that kind.

It's the propensity people have to go galloping after new things in religion that we must study and turn to our advantage if we would be prosperous.” The little man fretted his fingers nervously through his unkept hair, and his face a.s.sumed an air of great seriousness.

”How, my dear,” enquired Mrs. Chapman, ”could you put the church on its feet with such a load of scandal on its back? Could'nt you invent something else that would be novel and profitable?”

”There's where my new conception was coming in. That's the point I was considering when you interrupted me with Mattie's love affair,” Chapman replied, looking more serious than ever.

”It struck me that we might do something profitable by getting up a company for the discovery of Kidd's treasure. 'The Great Kidd Discovery Company' would be a good name, my dear. You must always give a company a good name. Then you must manage it with tact and prudence. A prodigious enterprise, my dear. These simple-minded and honest Dutch people would fall into it like a flock of sheep. They honestly believe Kidd was a bold pirate, who ama.s.sed a great fortune by plundering towns on the Spanish Main. That, having more gold and silver than he could invest to advantage, he buried it on the bank of the river, a few leagues above this place, where he entered into an agreement with the devil to stand guard over it until he returned. They believe, also, that Hanz Toodleburg, whose father knew Kidd well, and perhaps had something to do with his adventures, is the only man now living who possesses the secret of where that treasure is buried.”



It was spring-time of the year 1824. A new era in the history of the nation's wealth and progress seemed to have fairly begun. Strong and vigorous intellects ruled in the councils of the nation and inspired confidence in the people. Science was breathing new life into our enterprise, and leading us rapidly into new fields and richer prospects.

It was also brus.h.i.+ng away the prejudices that had narrowed our thoughts and confined our action to things of a past age. Steam was an adjustable power now, a reality; still there were sensible men who shook their heads in doubt; and the men who declared it would soon revolutionize the commerce of the world were set down as not safe to do business with.

Steamboats of improved model and of increased size seemed to spring up every day, and might be seen pa.s.sing up and down the Hudson night and morning. Now a company of reckless New Yorkers proposed to build a steamboat two hundred feet long, and with an engine of one hundred and fifty horse power, to navigate the Hudson to Albany at the rate of thirteen miles an hour. This great experiment, regarded so hazardous at that time, sent the honest and peace-loving Dutchmen along the banks of the river into such a state of alarm that they called meetings, and in the most solemn manner declared that no man's life would be safe while sailing at such a dangerous rate of speed. And they further declared that all these new-fas.h.i.+oned methods of putting an end to the lives of honest people must be stopped. In fine, they predicted nothing but distress and ruin on all who had anything to do with them.

It was at one of these meetings, held in Nyack about this time, and presided over by the school-master, that a number of these honest and peace-loving old settlers resolved, after much grave deliberation, that a man who paid his debts and was contented with what he had was the only true Christian. And it was further resolved, that the world was getting to be very wicked and very full of foolish people, who were in such a hurry to get to the devil before their time that they had devised these steamboats to carry them. And seeing that it was neither wisdom nor prudence for honest people to travel on such craft, they would also not send their vegetables to market on them.

This resolution was kept good for a number of years, the honest people who made it firmly believing that all good and prudent persons would follow their example, and in that way drive the steamboats from the river. Alarming as these things were, there were others which fairly frightened these honest people out of all their courage. The gossips had gathered in force at t.i.tus Bright's inn one night, to enjoy a pipe and a mug of his new ale. There was the school-master, and Doctor Critchel, and Hanz Toodleburg, and other choice spirits, who knew all about the affairs of the nation. When they had discussed all manner of subjects, t.i.tus drew from his pocket a newspaper and read, to the astonishment and evident alarm of his guests, that a man in England had invented a machine to do away with horses. The doctor set down his ale and adjusted his spectacles, and gazed at the speaker with an air of surprise and astonishment, while Hanz and the school-master suddenly ceased smoking.

”Now don't get alarmed, my friends,” said t.i.tus, watching with evident delight the increasing alarm of his guests. ”It is all here, and true.

He has invented a steam-horse, with an iron stomach and wheels; and the animal can, with good management, be made to run over a road at the rate of twenty miles an hour. Yes,” added t.i.tus, with a look of great seriousness, ”people are already risking their lives by riding in this way.”

The doctor heaved a sigh, and, half raising his pipe, gave it as his opinion that a man who would invent such dangerous machines must be in league with the devil. This profound opinion was endorsed by both Hanz and the school-master. The latter, in short, suggested that such men were generally vagabonds, whom it were well to throw into the Tappan Zee, with stones around their necks.

”If the world was going to the devil in this way, what was the use of living in it,” inquired the school-master, finis.h.i.+ng his ale, and pa.s.sing his mug for a fresh draught.

”Sure enough, sure enough!” a number of voices e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed simultaneously.

”Truly, the dragons are to be let loose upon us,” resumed Bright, pa.s.sing the schoolmaster his mug of ale. ”An' here's now in New York, that's got to be so wicked honest folks can't live in it, a lot o' crazy men talking about building one of these here steamboats big enough to cross the Atlantic.”

”Der won't be much heerd of de mans nir de vomans vat goes in um,”

interrupted Hanz.