“Sayings, Wise and Otherwise,” by Frederic S. Cozzens; American Book Exchange, New York; 1880; pp. 243-254.
I AM a medical man by profession, and a quack in practice. Now understand me. I am a regular practitioner — college bred — studied with old Dr. Trichianosis, got a diploma from the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and am empowered legally to do what I please with my patients, — “patients on a monument” (Shakespeare), or under one? he! he! — and so far am regular. But the quackery lies in the way I practice. To tell you the truth, I am by nature a humorist, and would dote upon a joke, with the limits of becoming mirth; but I dare not do it. It would ruin my practice; I should lose all my patients, — that is to say, I should lose all of them, whereas now I only lose some of them; so I have schooled myself to a degree of seriousness that is as good as a fortune to me. Here is where I applaud myself for being a quack. I believe I could even stand by the bedside of old Dr. Phineas B. Mumps, my rival, and see him depart, without a smile on my lips, although I know the old rascal has been trying to get my patients away all his life, and I know also that I would have my pick of his as soon as the breath was out of his body. But if I show no outward and visible signs of the mirth that rages within me, I suffer 244 a great deal from congestion of the jocose membranes. That is a complaint not in the books, but it ought to be.
One very cold winter the poor became so alarmingly numerous in our village that the price of bread and coal nearly doubled in value. The consequence was that the Ladies’ United Tatting and Crochet Association for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Meritorious Poor held a meeting, and it was determined to give an Entertainment at the village hall for the benefit of the unfortunate. But what kind of an entertainment? Never had anything in our slow and sleepy village been seen beyond lectures and negro minstrels; and so when the proposition was made “to have an amateur theatrical entertainment,” some of the elderly female officers of the meeting nearly fainted away. The proposition was at once indignantly voted down, but the thought had taken root, and it was not long before it developed itself outside of the Society. Those members who had the rosiest cheeks and the brightest eyes and the softest curls would persist in asking serious people — like myself, for instance, and the clergy of the different denominations — whether there really was any harm in the performance, if the play had no swearing in it, and the funds collected were for a good object. The answers being perfectly satisfactory, you should have seen how the contagion spread! Finally it was arranged that there should be an amateur performance; that the word “dramatic” should be suppressed, out of regard to the tender consciences of several families who would not attend if it was called by that name, but who would subscribe for tickets if it were simply an “entertainment.” The business 245 of preparation was placed in the hands of a committee of gentlemen, and the time of performance fixed at two weeks from that date by the ladies of the Society — with a request that the play should be “Hamlet.” The committee had but little to do in two weeks. They had only to cast the piece so as to allot proper persons to the different characters; the performers had to study their parts, rehearse, and get ready their costumes; the stage manager had to provide all the scenery; and as the rural stage had no conveniences, carpenters were to be suborned to supply the necessary slides, grooves, gear, and tackle; the property-man was enjoined to get foils and bowls of poison, skulls and spades for the grave-diggers, and everything — so that nothing should be wanting to prevent our having a lively time of it.
O, how I wanted to play Polonius! I knew the part by heart, but it would ruin me in my professional practice if I ever ventured to reveal that I had a mind acute enough to discern the points of that wonderful character.
However, the play of “Hamlet” had to be given up. When the committee requested the gentlemen, at a subsequent meeting, to write down their names on a slip of paper, with the characters they would be willing to assume in this celebrated tragedy, they found in the hat nine names for Hamlet, and not one for anything else, — all owing to the influence of Edwin Booth no doubt. Then in regard to the carpenter — he wanted a month at least to prepare his fixtures. As for the scenery, that had not been ordered yet. Some of the ladies suggested that we might to go the New York theatres and borrow some old scenery that 246 they did not want to use. But that was objected to upon the ground that as regular stage scenery was usually thirty, forty, or even fifty feet high, and as our amateur stage had a clear head-room of only twelve feet, we could not stand up the borrowed scenes even if we had them. Upon which they proposed to play “Hamlet” without scenery. On consideration it was found this proposition would not answer. So after due deliberation it was determined to abandon “Hamlet,” and to play the “Dead Shot,” with “Bombastes Furioso” as the after-piece. Six weeks were allowed for the preparation of even these slight pieces, but then we had nothing ready, and had to get everything made.
The Figaro of the whole affaire was Mr. Lempriere, the young banker. Under his active management the preparations were all completed in due time. It invariably happens in amateur performances that something is forgotten which spoils the whole play. Mr. Lempriere forgot nothing. He had the scenery painted and the carpenter’s work completed; he had the broken china and pistols for the Dead Shot; the dash of red paint for the supposed death-wound; the punch-bowl, ladle, pipes, tobacco, foils, and boots for Bombastes — everything, in fact, provided, so that the actors had nothing to but to learn their parts. Then they were drilled by book R. H. U. E. and C. and exit L. H., and all the choruses were rehearsed on various pianos in our suburban village; and nothing was wanting. I say nothing was wanting — I am mistaken — one performer was wanting. Every other character in the farce and the burlesque was beautifully filled except the part 247 of the tall grenadier in the army of Bombastes. No one could be found to take that part. How I wanted to do it! I was fitted for the character, being six foot two inches high. As the time rolled on toward the opening night, and no one volunteered, my fingers’ ends thrilled with the pent-up desire within me. Nobody thought of asking me to play the part — the gravest man in Goose Common! So I began to fish for an invitation. I called upon Figaro. “Sir,” said I, in my professional voice, “I see no harm in this proposed entertainment, if conducted, as it will be, with a due regard to decorum and public opinion. In fact, I do not think, grave and serious as is my nature, that I would hesitate even to take a part in it myself, provided I had no study to perplex me, and that I could be so disguised that no one would know me, for in all benevolent enterprises for the benefit of the poor I am ready to lend a helping hand, both professionally and otherwise.” There was but one prominent thought in the mid of Figaro, and that was how to get some one to play the tall grenadier. So after hopping about in a very ridiculous manner, snapping his fingers, and surveying my tall thin form with evident satisfaction, he said, in a whisper, “Suppose there was just such a character, would you undertake it?” “Ah, my friend,” said I, gravely, “do not ask me; I would not participate in a stage dialogue for the world.” “But,” responded Figaro, “if I could find a part in which you would not have a word to say; and the make-up would so effectually disguise you that your own wife would not know you, would you — just for this once — be willing to undertake it for the sake of helping a benevolent enterprise?”248
“If there were such a part, and nobody else could be had to fill it, I might promise to do it, for the sake of hu—man—i—ty!”
“Then,” said he, taking out his tablets, “you are booked for the tall soldier in the army of Bombastes. Here’s the play; study your part; no rehearsal needed; I’ll tell nobody, you’ll tell nobody —
“‘Nobody, nobody, nobody, no!’
and nobody will be the wiser,” and he went on reciting his part —
But I had to interrupt him and take my leave.
Doctor Seneca booked for the big soldier in “Bombastes Furioso!” How completely I’ll disguise myself, and how I’ll astonish them — wife and all! Lempriere is a banker, and knows how to keep a secret; how I’ll roll mine like a rich morsel under the tongue! Nobody shall ever know who played the part of the tall soldier, and I will play it so they will all want to know; and won’t I hear of it when I visit my patients next morning! Let me see what the text says: —
“R. Enter Bombastes, attended by one drummer, one fifer, and two soldiers, all very materially differing in size.”
I do not know how the others will appear; but I shall very materially differ in size from three of them.249
That very night I began to prepare. I could not have had a more favorable opportunity. My wife had gone to the United Tatting and Crochet Association, as it was the regular night; my man, Dutch Joe, drove her there in the family chariot, which consisted of one horse and a vehicle that, for want of a better name, I had christened the Rigmarole. That I might not be disturbed, I went down to the kitchen to tell the girls they need not attend to the office grate, as I would see to it myself; that they might bring up a pitcher of cold water; and if they wished to visit the neighbors’ girls, they might go for a couple of hours, which favor they did not refuse. So, going up to my office again, I sat down and smilingly began to think over affairs. In the first place, I must have a heavy black mustache and beard; they could easily be procured in the city. But then my nose was long, straight, and thin — a peculiar nose. What was I to do with it? Over a black mustache and beard it would be more conspicuously noted — perhaps recognized at once. There was not another nose like it in Goose Common. Couldn’t the tip be turned up with a thread running behind my ears so as to make a snub of it? I tried it, and it was capital in effect; but the sharp-edged thread was highly irritating to the pugnacious organ. That wouldn’t do. Could I enlarge my nostrils by stuffing them full of cotton? I tried this; but nature — always ready with contrivances of her own to rid herself of incumbrances — came to the rescue with such a tremendous sneeze, as I was packing the cotton into its place, that it blew both plugs out and across the room. So that had to be abandoned.250
At last an idea struck me as feasible. We had plenty of garden seeds in Dutch Joe’s room, and among the rest a quantity of dried Lima beans. I would get a couple of these beans, glue them fast with Spaulding’s patent glue to the outside of my “nosterils,” as Chaucer calls them; and as a Lima bean is precisely the shape of a large nostril, they would do admirably. Then over them I would lay a piece of wet, diaphanous isinglass plaster, which would adhere so closely to the bridge and beans of the reconstructed organ that all would appear as one; and then I would paint all up to look as showy as possible. My wife would not be home for two hours; I had no professional calls to make; all was quiet indoors; and it does not take long to glue two beans to your nose, cover them with a wet plaster, and wait until it dries, while you are getting the carmine paint ready.
Howbeit the white shiny Limas shone through the thin, skin-colored plaster like white blisters — or, to speak professionally, like a couple of cysts provided with plentiful supplies of pus.
While the plaster was gradually drying I fashioned a comic eyebrow with burned cork over my left eye; but the first one being a failure I was trying another one higher up, and had partly finished number two when I heard the door-bell ring. As I supposed the hired girl would attend the door I paid no attention to it, but the ringing continuing, the thought flashed across my mind that both the girls had gone out. So I thought I would peel my nose and take off the accoutrements before I opened the door. But the plaster was dried hard; and as the bell kept up a continuous 251 jingle, I thought that somebody might require instant medical advice, and, nose in hand, I opened the door, and in walked the Rev. Dr. Job Baldblather, the eloquent Old School Presbyterian divine, whose sermon on last Sunday had been levelled at theatrical performances in general, and at this entertainment in particular — and his wife. He had the richest congregation in Goose Common, many of them afflicted with good old-fashioned chronic complaints. I was his family physician; his patronage secured the very pearls of his congregation; and here I was, caught with a nose half-dramatized! Fortunately the hall-lamp was only dimly burning, and he had not seen much as yet.
“We saw your office-lamp shining through the blinds,” said he, in a pretty gruff voice, “and we knew you were at home — no, not in the parlor” — (I was in hopes to get them seated there in the parlor in the dark, and under pretense of getting a light, plunge my nose in warm water and relieve it of all incumbrances) — “no, not in the parlor,” said he; “we will go in the office. Mrs. Baldblather’s tonsils are swelled to an enormous size, and she has come to you for advice.”
Could anything be more unfortunate? In that office was a Carcel-lamp of great brilliancy, a burned cork, rouge, strips of adhesive plaster, a play-book, and a bowl of Lima beans! Something must be done. I instantly threw a newspaper over the dramatic materials, and exposing my nasal organ to their astonished view, waited to hear what they would say. Great Jones Street! how it frightened them! Mrs. Baldblather threw up her hands and eyes 252 and bleated like a lamb; and the eloquent divine gazed at my apparition of a nose with an expression in his spectacles such as Brutus might have put on when he saw the ghost of Cæsar’s Roman nose at Philippi!
A happy thought rose in my mind. “You see,” said I, “how poor men of science suffer that multitudes may be benefited! I am trying experiments on my nose. By a topical application to the skin an irritation is produced which raises the cuticle in the form of a vesicle filled with serous fluid. You will perceive,” said I, laying my forefinger upon the right-hand bean, “the peculiar shape of this sack or bag” — Just then the door-bell rang again, but I had now an excuse ready — a plausible one, that would explain everything; and I would not have cared if all the congregation of the Rev. Dr. Baldblather called upon me; so, as bold as a lion, I went to the door and opened it.
It was my friend Figaro. As soon as he caught a dim glimpse of my spectre of a nose and comic eyebrow he burst into such an uproarious fit of laughter that the house echoed with it. “Capital!” he shouted out. “O, Doctor, what a genius you have for the comic! That nose will bring down the house! O ho! ho! ho! You intend to paint it red — a true Bardolphian nose! O ho! ho! oh!” In vain I pulled him by the arm and pointed to the office door, and with shrugs and gestures signified that I had company. The nose and the double eyebrow ruined all my attempts at anything like a remonstrative or appealing expression. At last I quieted him, whispered the state of the case in his ear, opened the study door, and ushered him 253 into the presence of Dr. Baldblather, who was furiously reading the paper I had used as a screen, while his wife was inspecting the dramatic materials which had been hidden under it.
An instant had scarcely elapsed before the sound of wheels was heard rapidly approaching, sudden jerks of the bell, continued uninterruptedly, and I had to admit a third visitor. It was Dutch Joe, my gardener, groom, and charioteer. His head was hanging down so that he did not perceive my altered visage; his arms were swinging from side to side; to my surprise he was weeping violently. “O, Doctor, your wife is maybe det!” “Dead?” ‘Yes, she hat a catfit at de singin’ schule, and I dink she’s det and gone by dis dime. All de laties drow der scissor and der spools and der neetles; some for vater vent; some opened der vintoes, some to cry begin: O, mein Himmel! and some say, ‘Joe, run for de Doctor!’ Der old hoss is most use up, I trove so quick as you never see; hooray up, Doctor: maybe she’s det so soon dat you never more will see if she don’t be alife yet.” Good Heavens! my head swam around! The awful intelligence brought by Joseph had been heard in the office, and everybody came out in the hall. I was bundled into the vehicle as Dr. Baldblather whispered in my ear, “This is a judgment upon you;” and the next moment I was whirling toward the fatal Society rooms where, perhaps, I would be too late to receive even a parting recognition from my angel of a wife! At these thoughts I sobbed out aloud, and Joe joined me in a howl of sympathetic grief.
We reached the church, in the basement of which were 254 the rooms of the Society; down the stairs I flew, burst into the lecture-room, and there found my wife lying upon pillows on a sort of sofa, looking as pale as a ghost, but still alive. In fact, the rooms having been overheated was the cause of her fainting away, which had so frightened Dutch Joe. “My angel, what is the matter with you?” I cried, as I affectionately folded her in my arms; but she caught a glimpse of my nose, did not recognize me, gave a yawp, and fainted away again as dead as Jephthah’s daughter.
Nearly all the ladies of the U. T. & C. A. screamed and flew out of the lecture-room. Joe, who had not had a view of my frontispiece before, and who was naturally superstitious, gave a yell, and bolted also. The flying congregation soon brought in the excellent clergyman who had charge of the parish to which the United Tatting and Crochet Association belonged; they also brought in Dr. Phineas B. Mumps, my rival; Dr. Baldblather and his wife followed hard upon our heels; Figaro summoned all the dramatis personæ; the Society ladies all flocked inside again; all the village vagabonds gathered about the windows and peered through them; my wife had her hands chafed, and wet rags wrapped around her head. I went to the vestry-room, procured a bowl of hot water, and un-nosed myself; my wife recovered, but I lost my very best patient. The fault was, not that I had constructed a nose of Lima beans, but that I had been caught while making it.