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قراءة كتاب Miss Mehetabel's Son

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‏اللغة: English
Miss Mehetabel's Son

Miss Mehetabel's Son

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

Franklin, and fought at the battle of Bunk—no, it is the old negro man who fought at Bunker Hill, a mere infant, of course, at that period. Really, now, it is quite curious to observe how that venerable female slave—formerly an African princess—is repeatedly dying in her hundred and eleventh year, and coming to life again punctually every six months in the small-type paragraphs. Are you aware, sir, that within the last twelve years no fewer than two hundred and eighty-seven of General Washington's colored coachmen have died?"

For the soul of me I could not tell whether this quaint little gentleman was chaffing me or not. I laid down my knife and fork, and stared at him.

"Then there are the mathematicians!" he cried vivaciously, without waiting for a reply. "I take great interest in them. Hear this!" and Mr. Jaffrey drew a newspaper from a pocket in the tail of his coat, and read as follows: "It has been estimated that if all the candles manufactured by this eminent firm (Stearine & Co.) were placed end to end, they would reach 2 and 7/8 times around the globe. Of course," continued Mr. Jaffrey, folding up the journal reflectively, "abstruse calculations of this kind are not, perhaps, of vital importance, but they indicate the intellectual activity of the age. Seriously, now," he said, halting in front of the table, "what with books and papers and drives about the country, I do not find the days too long, though I seldom see any one, except when I go over to K——— for my mail. Existence may be very full to a man who stands a little aside from the tumult and watches it with philosophic eye. Possibly he may see more of the battle than those who are in the midst of the action. Once I was struggling with the crowd, as eager and undaunted as the best; perhaps I should have been struggling still. Indeed, I know my life would have been very different now if I had married Mehetabel—if I had married Mehetabel."

His vivacity was gone, a sudden cloud had come over his bright face, his figure seemed to have collapsed, the light seemed to have faded out of his hair. With a shuffling step, the very antithesis of his brisk, elastic tread, he turned to the door and passed into the road.

"Well," I said to myself, "if Greenton had forty thousand inhabitants, it could n't turn out a more astonishing old party than that!"


A man with a passion for bric-à-brac is always stumbling over antique bronzes, intaglios, mosaics, and daggers of the time of Benvenuto Cellini; the bibliophile finds creamy vellum folios and rare Alduses and Elzevirs waiting for him at unsuspected bookstalls; the numismatist has but to stretch forth his palm to have priceless coins drop into it. My own weakness is odd people, and I am constantly encountering them. It was plain that I had unearthed a couple of very queer specimens at Bayley's Four-Corners. I saw that a fortnight afforded me too brief an opportunity to develop the richness of both, and I resolved to devote my spare time to Mr. Jaffrey alone, instinctively recognizing in him an unfamiliar species. My professional work in the vicinity of Greenton left my evenings and occasionally an afternoon unoccupied; these intervals I purposed to employ in studying and classifying my fellow-boarder. It was necessary, as a preliminary step, to learn something of his previous history, and to this end I addressed myself to Mr. Sewell that same night.

"I do not want to seem inquisitive," I said to the landlord, as he was fastening up the bar, which, by the way, was the salle à manger and general sitting-room—"I do not want to seem inquisitive, but your friend Mr. Jaffrey dropped a remark this morning at breakfast which—which was not altogether clear to me."

"About Mehetabel?" asked Mr. Sewell, uneasily.


"Well, I wish he would n't!"

"He was friendly enough in the course of conversation to hint to me that he had not married the young woman, and seemed to regret it."

"No, he did n't marry Mehetabel."

"May I inquire why he did n't marry Mehetabel?"

"Never asked her. Might have married the girl forty times. Old Elkins's daughter, over at K———. She 'd have had him quick enough. Seven years, off and on, he kept company with Mehetabel, and then she died."

"And he never asked her?"

"He shilly-shallied. Perhaps he did n't think of it. When she was dead and gone, then Silas was struck all of a heap—and that's all about it."

Obviously Mr. Sewell did not intend to tell me anything more, and obviously there was more to tell. The topic was plainly disagreeable to him for some reason or other, and that unknown reason of course piqued my curiosity.

As I was absent from dinner and supper that day, I did not meet Mr. Jaffrey again until the following morning at breakfast. He had recovered his bird-like manner, and was full of a mysterious assassination that had just taken place in New York, all the thrilling details of which were at his fingers' ends. It was at once comical and sad to see this harmless old gentleman with his naïve, benevolent countenance, and his thin hair flaming up in a semicircle, like the footlights at a theatre, revelling in the intricacies of the unmentionable deed.

"You come up to my room to-night," he cried, with horrid glee, "and I 'll give you my theory of the murder. I 'll make it as clear as day to you that it was the detective himself who fired the three pistol-shots."

It was not so much the desire to have this point elucidated as to make a closer study of Mr. Jaffrey that led me to accept his invitation. Mr. Jaffrey's bedroom was in an L of the building, and was in no way noticeable except for the numerous files of newspapers neatly arranged against the blank spaces of the walls, and a huge pile of old magazines which stood in one corner, reaching nearly up to the ceiling, and threatening to topple over each instant, like the Leaning Tower at Pisa. There were green paper shades at the windows, some faded chintz valances about the bed, and two or three easy-chairs covered with chintz. On a black-walnut shelf between the windows lay a choice collection of meerschaum and brier-wood pipes.

Filling one of the chocolate-colored bowls for me and another for himself, Mr. Jaffrey began prattling; but not about the murder, which appeared to have flown out of his mind. In fact, I do not remember that the topic was even touched upon, either then or afterwards.

"Cosey nest this," said Mr. Jaffrey, glancing complacently over the apartment. "What is more cheerful, now, in the fall of the year, than an open wood-fire? Do you hear those little chirps and twitters coming out of that piece of apple-wood? Those are the ghosts of the robins and bluebirds that sang upon the bough when it was in blossom last spring. In summer whole flocks of them come fluttering about the fruit-trees under the window: so I have singing birds all the year round. I take it very easy here, I can tell you, summer and winter. Not much society. Tobias is not, perhaps, what one would term a great intellectual force, but he means well. He 's a realist—believes in coming down to what he calls 'the hard pan;' but his heart is in the right place, and he 's very kind to me. The wisest thing I ever did in my life was to sell out my grain business over at K———, thirteen years ago, and settle down at the Corners. When a man has made a competency, what does he want more? Besides, at that time an event occurred which destroyed any ambition I may have had. Mehetabel died." "The lady you were engaged to?" "N-o, not precisely engaged. I think it was quite understood between us, though nothing had been said on the subject. Typhoid," added Mr. Jaffrey, in a low voice.

For several minutes he smoked in silence, a vague, troubled look playing over his countenance. Presently this passed away, and he fixed his gray