Item of the Day: Chronicles of the City of Gotham (1830)
Chronicles of the City of Gotham. From the Papers of A Retired Common Councilman. Containing The Azure Hose. The Politician. The Dumb Girl. Edited by the author of "The Backwoodsman," "Konigsmarke," "John Bull in America," &c. &c.
Written by James Kirk Paulding. First edition of a novelette and two short stories of New York City. Printed in New York by G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830.
From The Azure Hose, The Prologue.
IT was one of those charming spring mornings, so peculiar to our western clime, when the light, cheering sunshine invites abroad to taste the balmy air, but when, if you chance to accept the invitation, you will be saluted by a killing, piercing, sea monster of a breeze, which chills the genial current of the soul, and drives you shivering to the fire-side to warm your fingers, and complain for the hundredth time of the backwardness of the season. In short, it was a non-descript day, too hot for a great coat, and too cool to go without one; when one side of the street was broiling in the sun, the other freezing in the shade.
Mr. Lightfoot Lee was seated at the breakfast table, with his only daughter, Miss Lucia Lightfoot Lee, one of the prettiest alliterations ever seen. She was making up her opinions for the day, from the latest number of the London Literary Gazette, and marking with a gold self-sharpening pencil a list of books approved by that infallible oracle, for the circulating library. Mr. Lee was occupied with matters of more importance. He held his watch in one hand, a newspaper in the other. By the way, if I wished to identify a North American beyond all question, I would exhibit him reading a newspaper. But at present Mr. Lee seemed employed in studying his watch, rather than the paper. He had good reasons for it.
Mr. Lightfoot Lee was exceedingly particular in boiling his eggs, which he was accustomed to say required more discretion than any other branch of the great art of cookery. The preparations for this critical affair were always made with due solemnity. First, Mr. Lee sat with his watch in his hand, and the parlour door, as well as all the other doors down to the kitchen, wide open. At the parlour door stood Juba, his eldest, most confidential servant. At the end of the hall leading to the kitchen, stood Pomp, the coachman; at the foot of the kitchen stairs stood Benjamin, the footman; and Dolly, the cook, was watching the skillet. "It boils," cried Dolly: "It boils," said Benjamin: "It boils," said Pompey the great: and "It boils," echoed Juba, Prince of Numidia. "Put them in," said Mr. Lee: "Put them in," said Juba: "Put them in," said Pomp; and "Put them in," cries Dolly, as she dropt the eggs into the skillet. Exactly a minute and a half afterwards, by his stop watch, Mr. Lee called out "Done;" and done was repeated from mouth to mouth as before. The perfection of the whole process consisted in Dolly's whipping out the eggs in half a second, from the last echo of the critical "done."
The eggs were boiled to his satisfaction, and Mr. Lee ate and pondered over the newspaper by turns. At length, all at once he started up in a violent commotion, and stumped about the room, exclaiming in an under tone to himself, "Too bad; too bad."
"What is the matter, father?" said Lucia; "is your egg overdone, or are you suffering the excruciating pangs of the gout, or enduring the deadly infliction of a hepatic paroxysm?"
"Hepatic fiddlestick! I wish to heaven you would talk English, Lucia."
"My dear sir, you know English now is very different from when you learned it."
"I know it, I know it," said he; "it is different as a quaker bonnet and a French hat. I see I mus go to school again. You and Mr. Goshawk talk Greek to me."
"Mr. Goshawk is a poet, sir."
"Well, there is no particular reason why a poet should not talk like other people, at least on common subjects."
"Ah! sir, the poet's eye is always in a fine frenzy rolling. He sees differently from other people--to him the sky is people with airy beings."
"Ay; gnats, flies, and devil's darning-needles," said Mr. Lee, pettishly. Lucia was half angry, and put up a lip as red as a cherry.
"Ah! too bad, too bad," continued Mr. Lee, stumping about again with his hands behind him.
"What is too bad, sir?" said Lucia, anxiously.
"What is too bad?" cried he, furiously advancing towards her with his fist doubled; "that puppy, Highfield, has not got the first honour after all, I see by the paper. The blockhead! I had set my heart upon it, and see here! he is at the tail of his class."
"Is that all? why father I am glad to hear it, Mr. Goshawk assures me that genius despises the trammels of scholastic rust, and soars on wings of polish'd"--
"Wings of a goose," cried the old gentleman. He had a provoking way of interrupting Lucia in her flights; and, had she not been one of the best natured of the azure tribe, she would have sometimes lost her temper.
"He'll be home to-morrow--I've a great mind to kick him out of doors."
"Who, dear father?"
"Why, Highfield, to be sure."
"For what, sir?"
"For not getting the first honour; the puppy, I wouldn't care a stiver, if I hadn't set my heart upon it? And away the good man stumped, again ejaculating, "Too bad, too bad, I shall certainly turn him out of doors."
"Ah! but if you do, sir, I shall certainly let him in again. I shall be glad to see my dear, good natured cousin Charles once more, though he has not got the first honour," said Lucia, smiling.
What more might have been said on this subject was cut short, by the entrance, without ceremony, of Mr. Diodorus Fariweather, a neighbour, and more particular friend and associate of Mr. Lee. These two gentlemen had a sincere regard for each other, kept up in all its pristine vigour, by the force of contrast. One took every thing seriously; the other considered the world, and all things in it a jest. One worshipped the ancients; the other maintained they were not worthy of tying the shoe-strings of the moderns. One insisted that the world was going backwards; the other, that it was rolling onwards in the path of improvement, beyond all former example. One was a violent federalist; the other a raging democrat. They never opened their mouths without disagreeing, and this was the cement of their friendship. The mind of Mr. Lee was not fruitful, and that of Mr. Fairweather was somewhat sluggish in suggesting topics of conversation. Had they agreed in every thing they must have required a succession of subjects; but uniformly differing, as they did on all occasions, it was only necessary to say a single word, whether it conveyed a proposition or not, and there was matter at once, for the day.
"A glorious morning," said Mr. Fairweather, rubbing his hands.
"I differ with you," said Mr. Lee.
"It is a beautiful sunshine."
"But, my good sir, if you observe, there is a cold, wet, damp, hazy, opake sky, through which the sun cannot penetrate; 'tis as cold as December."
"'Tis as warm as June," said Mr. Fairweather, laughing.
"Pish!" said Mr. Lee, taking up his hat mechanically, and following his friend to the door. They sallied forth without saying a word. At every corner, however, they halted, to renew the discussion; they disputed their way through a dozen different streets, and finally returned home, the best friends in the world, for they had assisted each other in getting through the morning. Mr. Lee invited Mr. Fairweather to return to dinner, and he accepted.
"Well, it does not signify," said Mr. Lee, bobbing his chin up and down, as was his custom when uttering what he considered an infallible dictum. "It does not signify, that Fairweather is enough to provoke a saint. I never saw such an absurd, obstinate, illnatured, passionate" --
"O father" said Lucia, "every body says Mr. Fairweather was never in a passion in his life."
"Well, but he is the cause of passion in others, and that is the worst kind of illnature."