Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870, by the PUNCHINELLO PUBLISHING COMPANY,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, for the Southern District of New York.
THE MYSTERY OF MR. E. DROOD.
BY ORFHEUS C. KERR
THE H. AND H. OF J. BUMSTEAD.
The exquisitely sweet month of the perfectly delicious summer-vacation having come, Miss CAROWTHERS' Young Ladies have returned again, for a time, to their respective homes, MAGNOLIA PENDRAGON has gone to the city and her brother, and FLORA POTTS is ridiculously and absurdly alone.
Under the ardent sun of August, Bumsteadville slowly bakes, like an ogre's family-dish of stuffed cottages and greens, with here and there some slowly moving object, like a loose vegetable on a sluggish current of tidal gravy, and the spire of the Ritualistic church shooting-up at one end like an incorrigibly perpendicular leg of magnified mutton.
Hotter and hotter comes the breath fiery of nature's cookery, until some of the stuffing boils out of one cottage, in the shape of the Oldest Inhabitant, who makes his usual annual remark, that this is the Warmest Day in ninety-eight years, and then simmers away to some cooler nook amongst the greens. More and more intolerably quivers the atmosphere of the sylvan oven with stifling fervency, until there oozes from beneath the shingled crust of a vegetarian country-boarding-house a parboiled guest from the City, who, believing himself almost ready to turn, drifts feebly to where the roads fork and there is a shade more dun; while, to the speculative mind, each glowing field of corn, or buckwheat, is an incipient Meal, and each chimney, or barn, a mere temptation to guess how many Swallows there may be in it.
Upon the afternoon of such a day as this, Miss POTTS is informed, by a servant, that Mr. BUMSTEAD has arrived, and, sending her his love, would be pleased to have her come down stairs to him and bring him a fan.
"Why didn't you tell him I wasn't at home, you absurd thing?" cries the young girl, hurriedly practicing a series of agitated looks and pensive smiles before her mirror.
"So I did, Miss," answers the attached menial, "but he'd seen you looking at him with an opera-glass as he came up the path, and said that he could hear you taking a clean handkerchief out of tho drawer, on purpose to receive him with, before he'd got to the door."
"Oh, what shall I do? My hands are so red to-day!" sighs FLCKA, holding her arms above her head, that the blood may retire from the too pinkish members.
After a pause, and an adjustment of a curl over her right eye and the scarf at her waist, to make them look innocent, she yields to the meteorological mania so strikingly prevalent amongst all the other characters of this narrative, and says that she will receive the visitor in the yard, near the pump. Then, casting carelessly over her shoulder that web-like shawl without which no woman nor spider is complete, she arranges her lips in the glass for the last time, and, with a garden-hat hanging from the elbow latest singed, goes down, humming un-suspiciously, into the open-air, with the guileless bearing of one wholly unprepared for company.
Resting an elbow upon a low iron patent-pump, near a rustic seat, the Ritualistic organist, in his vast linen coat and imposing straw hat, looks not unlike an eccentric garden statue, upon which some prudish slave of modern conventionalities has placed the summer attire of a western editor. The great heat of the sun upon his back makes him irritable, and when Miss POTTS sharply smites with her fan the knuckles of the hand which he has affably extended to take her by the chin, more than the usual symptoms of acute inflammation appear at the end of his nose, and he blows hurriedly upon his wounded digits.
"That hurt like the mischief!" he remarks, in some anger. "I don't know when I've felt anything smart so."
"Then don't be so horrid," returns the pensive girl, taking a seat before him upon the rustic settee, and abstractedly arranging her dress so that only two-thirds of a gaiter-boot can be seen.
Munching cloves, the aroma of which ladens the air all around him, Mr. BUMSTEAD contemplates her with a calmness which would be enthralling, but for the nervous twisting of his features under the torments of a singularly adhesive fly.
"I have come, dear," he observes, slowly, "to know how soon you will be ready for me to give you your next music-lesson?"
"I prefer that you would not call me your 'dear,'" was the chilling answer.
The organist thinks for a moment, and then nods his head intelligently. "You are right," he says, gravely, "—there might be somebody listening who could not enter into our real feelings. And now, how about those music-lessons?"
"I don't want any more, thank you," says FLORA, coldly. "While we are all in mourning for our poor, dear absurd EDDY, it seems like a perfectly ridiculous mockery to be practicing the scales."
Fanning himself with his straw hat, Mr. BUMSTEAD shakes his bushy head several times. "You do not discriminate sufficiently," he replies. "There are kinds of music which, when performed rapidly upon the violin, fife, or kettle-drum, certainly fill the mind with sentiments unfavorable to the deeper anguish of human sorrow. Of such, however, is not the kind made by young girls, which is at all times a help to the intensity of judicious grief. Let me assure you, with the candor of an idolized friend, that some of the saddest hours of my life have been spent in teaching you to try to sing a humorous aria from DONIZETTI; and the moments in which I have most sincerely regretted ever having been born were those in which you have played, in my hearing, the Drinking-song from La Traviata. Believe me, then, my devoted pupil, there can be nothing at all inconsistent with a prevalence of profound melancholy in your continued piano-playing; whereas, on the contrary, your sudden and permanent cessation might at least surprise your friends and the neighborhood into a light-heartedness temporarily oblivious of the memory of that dear, missing boy, to whom you could not, I hear, give the love already bestowed upon me."
"I loved him ridiculously, absurdly, with my whole heart," cries FLORA, not altogether liking what she has heard. "I'm real sorry, too, that they think somebody has killed him."
Mr, BUMSTEAD folds his brown linen arms as he towers before her, and the dark circles around his eyes appear to shrink with the intensify of his gaze.
"There are occasions in life," he remarks, "when to acknowledge that our last meeting with a friend, who has since mysteriously disappeared, was to reject him and imply a preference for his uncle, may be calculated to associate us unpleasantly with that disappearance, in the minds of the censorious, and invite suspicions tending to our early cross-examination by our Irish local magistrate. I do not say, of course, that you actually destroyed my nephew for fear he should try to prejudice me against you; but I cannot withhold my earnest approval of your judicious pretence of a sentiment palpably incompatible with the shedding of the blood of its departed object. If you will move your dress a little, so that I can sit beside you and allow your head to rest upon my shoulder, that fan will do for both of us, and we may converse in whispers."
"My head upon your shoulder!" exclaims Miss POTTS, staring swiftly about to see if anybody is looking. "I prefer to keep my head upon my own shoulders, sir."
"Two heads are better than one," the Ritualistic organist reminds her. "If a little hair-oil and powder does come off upon my coat, the latter will wash, I suppose. Come, dearest, if it is our fate to never get through this hot day alive, let us be sunstruck together."
She shrinks timidly from the brown linen arm which he begins insinuating along the back of the rustic settee, and tells him that she couldn't have believed that he could be so absurd. He draws back his arm, and seems hurt.
"FLORA," he says,