Story type: Literature
Last week Colonel Bill Root, formerly Duke of Council Bluffs, paid me a visit, and as I desired to show him Central Park, I took him to Fifty-Eighth street and hired a carriage, my own team being at my country place. I also engaged the services of a dark-eyed historical student, who is said to know more about Central Park than any other man in New York, having driven through it, as he has, for years. He was a plain, sad man, with a mustache which was mostly whiskers. He dressed carelessly in a neglige suit of neutral-tinted clothes, including a pair of trousers which seemed to fit him in that shy and reluctant manner which characterized the fit of the late lamented Jumbo’s clothes after he had been indifferently taxidermed.
Colonel Root and I called him “Governor,” and thereby secured knowledge which could not be obtained from books. Colonel Root is himself no kindergarten savant, being the author and discoverer of a method of breaking up a sitting-hen by first calling her away from her deep-seated passion, tying a red-flannel rag around her leg, and then still further turning her attention from her wild yearning to hatch out a flock of suburban villas by sitting on a white front-door knob. This he does by deftly inserting the hen into a joint of stove-pipe and then cementing both ends of the same. Colonel Root is also the discoverer of a cipher which shows that Julius Caesar’s dying words were: “Et tu Brute. Verily the tail goeth with the hide.”
After a while the driver paused. Colonel Root asked him why he tarried.
“I wanted to call your attention,” said the Governor, “to the Casino, a place where you can provide for the inner man or any other man. You can here secure soft-shell crabs, boiled lobster, low-neck clams, Hamburger steaks, chicken salad, miscellaneous soups, lobster salad with machine-oil on it, Neapolitan ice-cream, Santa Cruz rum, Cincinnati Sec, pie, tooth-picks, and finger-bowls.”
“How far does the waiter have to go to get these things cooked?” inquired Colonel Root, looking at his valuable watch.
“That,” said the Governor, as he swung around with his feet over in our part of the carriage and asked me for a light, “depends on how you approach him. If you slip a half dollar up his coat-sleeve without his knowledge he will get your twenty-five cent meal cooked somewhere near by, but otherwise I have known him to go away and come back with gray side-whiskers and cobwebs on the pie instead of the wine.”
We went in and told the proprietor to see that our driver had what he wanted. He did not want much, aside from a whisky sour, a plate of terrapin, a pint of Mr. Pommery’s secretary’s beverage, and a baked duck. We had a little calves’ liver and custard pie. Then we visited Cleopatra’s Needle.
“And who in creation was Cleopatra?” asked Colonel Root.
“Cleopatra,” said the driver, “was a goodlooking Queen of Egypt. She was eighteen years old when her father left the throne, as it was screwed down to the dais, and died. He left the kingdom to Cleopatra, in partnership with Ptolemy, her brother. Ptolemy, in 51 B. C., deprived her of the throne, leaving Cleopatra nothing but the tidy. She appealed to Julius Caesar, who hired a man to embalm Ptolemy, and restored Egypt to his sister, who was as likely a girl as Julius had ever met with. She accompanied him to Rome in 46 B. C., and remained there a couple of years. When Caesar was assassinated by a delegation of Roman tax-payers who desired a change, Cleopatra went back and began to reign over Egypt again. She also attracted the attention of Antony. He thought so much of her that he would frequently stay away from a battle and deny himself the joys of being split open with a dull stab-knife in order to hang around home and hold Cleopatra’s hand, and, though she was a widow practically, she was the Amelie Rives style of widow, and he said that it had to be an all-fired good battle that could make him put on his iron ulster and fight all day on the salary he was getting. She pizened herself thirty years before Christ, at the age of thirty-nine years, rather than ride around Rome in a gingham dress as a captive of Augustus. She died right in haying time, and Augustus said he’d ruther of lost the best horse in Rome. This is her needle. It was brought to New York mostly by water, and looks well here in the park. She was said to be as likely a queen as ever jerked a sceptre over Egypt or any other place. Everybody that saw her reign said that the country never had a magneticker queen.”
As we rode swiftly along, the slight, girlish figure of a middle-aged woman might have been seen striving hurriedly to cross the driveway. She screamed and beckoned to a park policeman, who rushed leisurely in and caught her by the arm, rescuing her from the cruel feet of our mad chargers, and then led her to a seat. As we paused to ask the policeman if the lady had been injured, he came up to the side of the carriage and whispered to me behind his hand: “That woman I have rescued between thirty and forty times this year, and it is only the first of July. Every pleasant day she comes here to be rescued. One day, when business was a little dull and we didn’t have any teams on the drive, and time seemed to hang heavy on her hands, she told me her sad history. Before she was eighteen years of age she had been disappointed in love and prevented from marrying her heart’s choice, owing to the fact that the idea of the union did not occur to him. He was not, in fact, a union man. Time passed on, from time to time, glad spring, and bobolinks, and light underwear succeeded stern winter, frost, and heavy flannels, and yet he cometh not, she sayed. No one had ever caught her in his great strong arms in a quick embrace that seemed to scrunch her whole being. Summer came and went. The dews on the upland succeeded the frost on the pumpkin. The grand ratification of the partridge ushered in the wail of the turtle dove and the brief plunk of the muskrat in the gloaming. And yet no man had ever dast to come right out and pay attention to her or keep company with her. She had an emotional nature that just seemed to get up on its hind feet and pant for recognition and love. She could have almost loved a well-to-do man who had, perhaps, sinned a few times, but even the tough and erring went elsewhere to repent. One day she came to town to do some trading. She had priced seven dollars and fifty cents’ worth of goods, and was just crossing Broadway to price some more, when the gay equipage of a wealthy humorist, with silver chains on the neck-yoke and foam-flecks acrost the bosom of the nigh hoss, came plunging down the street.
“The red nostrils of the spirited brutes were above her. Their hot breath scorched the back of her neck and swayed the red-flannel pompon on her bonnet. Every one on Broadway held his breath, with the exception of a man on the front stoop of the Castor House, whose breath had got beyond his control. Every one was horrified and turned away with a shudder, which rattled the telegraph wires for two blocks.
“Just then a strong, brave policeman rushed in and knocked down both horses and the driver, together with his salary. He caught the woman up as though she had been no more than a feather’s weight. He bore her away to the post-office pavement, where it is still the custom to carry people who are run over and mangled. He then sought to put her down, but, like a bad oyster, she would not be put down. She still clung about his neck, like the old party who got acquainted with Sinbad the Sailor, though, of course, in a different manner. It took quite a while to shake her off. The next day she came back and was almost killed at the same crossing. It went on that way until the policeman had his beat changed to another part of town. Finally, she came up here to get her summer rescuing done. I do it when it falls to my lot, but my heart is not in the work. Sometimes the horrible thought comes over me that I may be too late. Several times I have tried to be too late, but I haven’t the heart to do it.”
He then walked to a sparrow that refused to keep off the grass and brained it with his club.
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