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BEST HOPES. CARRIER DUCKS.
This was Haliburton's masterpiece. He had no room for more, however, and was obliged to reserve for the next day his answer to No. 31, which was simply,
A real equinoctial now parted us for nearly a week, and at the end of that time they were so low in our northern horizon that we could not make out their signals; we and they were obliged to wait till they had passed through two-thirds of their month before we could communicate again. I used the time in speeding to No. 9. We got a few carpenters together, and arranged on the Flat two long movable black platforms, which ran in and out on railroad-wheels on tracks, from under green platforms; so that we could display one or both as we chose, and then withdraw them. With this apparatus we could give forty-five signals in a minute, corresponding to the line and dot of the telegraph; and thus could compass some twenty letters in that time, and make out perhaps two hundred and fifty words in an hour. Haliburton thought that, with some improvements, he could send one of Mr. Buchanan's messages up in thirty-seven working-nights.
I own to a certain mortification in confessing that after this interregnum, forced upon us by so long a period of non-intercourse, we never resumed precisely the same constancy of communication as that which I have tried to describe at the beginning. The apology for this benumbment, if I may so call it, will suggest itself to the thoughtful reader.
It is indeed astonishing to think that we so readily accept a position when we once understand it. You buy a new house. You are fool enough to take out a staircase that you may put in a bathing-room. This will be done in a fortnight, everybody tells you, and then everybody begins. Plumbers, masons, carpenters, plasterers, skimmers, bell-hangers, speaking-tube men, men who make furnace-pipe, paper-hangers, men who scrape off the old paper, and other men who take off the old paint with alkali, gas men, city-water men, and painters begin. To them are joined a considerable number of furnace-men's assistants, stovepipe-men's assistants, mason's assistants, and hodmen who assist the assistants of the masons, the furnace-men, and the pipe-men. For a day or two these all take possession of the house and reduce it to chaos. In the language of Scripture, they enter in and dwell there. Compare, for the details, Matt. xii. 45. Then you revisit it at the end of the fortnight, and find it in chaos, with the woman whom you employed to wash the attics the only person on the scene. You ask her where the paper-hanger is; and she says he can do nothing because the plaster is not dry. You ask why the plaster is not dry, and are told it is because the furnace-man has not come. You send for him, and he says he did come, but the stove-pipe man was away. You send for him, and he says he lost a day in coming, but that the mason had not cut the right hole in the chimney. You go and find the mason, and he says they are all fools, and that there is nothing in the house that need take two days to finish.
Then you curse, not the day in which you were born, but the day in which bath-rooms were invented. You say, truly, that your father and mother, from whom you inherit every moral and physical faculty you prize, never had a bath-room till they were past sixty, yet they thrived, and their children. You sneak through back streets, fearful lest your friends shall ask you when your house will be finished. You are sunk in wretchedness, unable even to read your proofs accurately, far less able to attend the primary meetings of the party with which you vote, or to discharge any of the duties of a good citizen. Life is wholly embittered to you.
Yet, six weeks after, you sit before a soft-coal fire in your new house, with the feeling that you have always lived there. You are not even grateful that you are there. You have forgotten the plumber's name; and if you met in the street that nice carpenter that drove things through, you would just nod to him, and would not think of kissing him or embracing him.
Thus completely have you accepted the situation.
Let me confess that the same experience is that with which, at this writing, I regard the BRICK MOON. It is there in ether. I cannot keep it. I cannot get it down. I cannot well go to it,--though possibly that might be done, as you will see. They are all very happy there,-- much happier, as far as I can see, than if they lived in sixth floors in Paris, in lodgings in London, or even in tenement-houses in Phoenix Place, Boston. There are disadvantages attached to their position; but there are also advantages. And what most of all tends to our accepting the situation is, that there is "nothing that we can do about it," as Q. says, but to keep up our correspondence with them, and to express our sympathies.
For them, their responsibilities are reduced in somewhat the same proportion as the gravitation which binds them down,--I had almost said to earth,--which binds them down to brick, I mean. This decrease of responsibility must make them as light-hearted as the loss of gravitation makes them light-bodied.
On which point I ask for a moment's attention. And as these sheets leave my hand, an illustration turns up which well serves me. It is the 23d of October. Yesterday morning all wakeful women in New England were sure there was some one under the bed. This is a certain sign of an earthquake. And when we read the evening newspapers, we were made sure there had been an earthquake. What blessings the newspapers are,--and how much information they give us! Well, they said it was not very severe, here, but perhaps it was more severe elsewhere; hopes really arising in the editorial mind that in some Caraccas or Lisbon all churches and the cathedral might have fallen. I did not hope for that. But I did have just the faintest feeling that IF--if if--it should prove that the world had blown up into six or eight pieces, and they had gone off into separate orbits, life would be vastly easier for all of us, on whichever bit we happened to be.
That thing has happened, they say, once. Whenever the big planet between Mars and Jupiter blew up, and divided himself into one hundred and two or more asteroids, the people on each one only knew there had been an earthquake when and after they read their morning journals. And then, all that they knew at first was that telegraphic communication had ceased beyond--say two hundred miles. Gradually people and despatches came in, who said that they had parted company with some of the other islands and continents. But, as I say, on each piece the people not only weighed much less, but were much lighter-hearted, had less responsibility.
Now will you imagine the enthusiasm here, at Miss Hale's school, when it should be announced that geography, in future, would be confined to the study of the region east of the Mississippi and west of the Atlantic,--the earth having parted at the seams so named. No more study of Italian, German, French, or Sclavonic,-- the people speaking those languages being now in different orbits or other worlds. Imagine also the superior ease of the office-work of the A. B. C. F. M. and kindred societies, the duties of instruction and civilizing, of evangelizing in general, being reduced within so much narrower bounds. For you and me also, who cannot decide what Mr. Gladstone ought to do with the land tenure in Ireland, and who distress ourselves so much about it in conversation, what a satisfaction to know that Great Britain is flung off with one rate of movement, Ireland with another, and the Isle of Man with another, into space, with no more chance of meeting again than there is that you shall have the same hand at whist to-night that you had last night! Even Victoria would sleep easier, and I am sure Mr. Gladstone would.
Thus, I say, were Orcutt's and Brannan's responsibilities so diminished, that after the first I began to see that their contracted position had its decided compensating ameliorations.
In these views, I need not say, the women of our little circle never shared. After we got the new telegraph arrangement in good running-order, I observed that Polly and Annie Haliburton had many private conversations, and the secret came out one morning, when, rising early in the cabins, we men found they had deserted us; and then, going in search of them, found them running the signal boards in and out as rapidly as they could, to tell Mrs. Brannan and the bride, Alice Orcutt, that flounces were worn an inch and a half deeper, and that people trimmed now with harmonizing colors and not with contrasts. I did not say that I believed they wore fig-leaves in B. M., but that was my private impression.
After all, it was hard to laugh at the girls, as these ladies will be called, should they live to be as old as Helen was when she charmed the Trojan senate (that was ninety-three, if Heyne be right in his calculations). It was hard to laugh at them because this was simple benevolence, and the same benevolence led to a much more practical suggestion when Polly came to me and told me she had been putting up some baby things for little Io and Phoebe, and some playthings for the older children, and she thought we might "send up a bundle."
Of course we could. There were the Flies still moving! or we might go ourselves!
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The Brick Moon and Other Stories -by- Edward Everett Hale