Flail, Trask, And Bisland by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

My quondam friends, Flail, Trask, and Bisland, are no more; they are dead, and with them has gone out of existence as gross an imposition as the moral cowardice of man were capable of inventing, constructing, and practising.

When Alice became my wife she knew that I was a lover and collector of books, but, being a young thing, she had no idea of the monstrous proportions which bibliomania, unchecked, is almost certain to acquire. Indeed, the dear girl innocently and rapturously encouraged this insidious vice. “Some time,” she used to say, “we shall have a house of our own, and then your library shall cover the whole top-floor, and the book-cases shall be built in the walls, and there shall be a lovely blue-glass sky-light,” etc. Moreover, although she could not tell the difference between an Elzevir and a Pickering, or between a folio and an octavo, Alice was very proud of our little library, and I recall now with real delight the times I used to hear her showing off those precious books to her lady callers. Alice made up for certain inaccuracies of information with a distinct enthusiasm and garrulity that never failed to impress her callers deeply. I was mighty proud of Alice; I was prepared to say, paraphrasing Sam Johnson’s remark about the Scotchman, “A wife can be made much of, if caught young.”

It was not until after little Grolier and little Richard de Bury were born to us that Alice’s regard for my pretty library seemed to abate. I then began to realize the truth of what my bachelor friend Kinzie had often declared,–namely, that the chief objection to children was that they weaned the collector from his love of books. Grolier was a mischievous boy, and I had hard work trying to convince his mother that he should by no means be allowed to have his sweet but destructive will with my Bewicks and Bedfords. Thumb and finger marks look well enough in certain places, but I protested that they did not enhance the quaint beauty of an old wood-cut, a delicate binding, or a wide margin. And Richard de Bury–a lovely little 16mo of a child–was almost as destructive as his older brother. The most painful feature of it all to me then was that their mother actually protected the toddling knaves in their vandalism. I never saw another woman change so as Alice did after those two boys came to us. Why, she even suggested to me one day that when we did build our new house we should devote the upper story thereof not to library but to nursery purposes!

See also  My Wife’s Tempter by Fitzjames O'Brien

Things gradually got to the pass that I began to be afraid to bring books into the house. At first Alice used to reproach me indirectly by eying the new book jealously, and hinting in a subtle, womanly way that Grolier needed new shoes, or that Richard was sadly in need of a new cap. Presently, encouraged by my lamb-like reticence, Alice began to complain gently of what she termed my extravagance, and finally she fell into the pernicious practice of berating me roundly for neglecting my family for the selfish–yes, the cruel–gratification of a foolish fad, and then she would weep and gather up the two boys and wonder how soon we should all be in the poorhouse.

I have spoken of my bachelor friend, Kinzie; there was a philosopher for you, and his philosophy was all the sweeter because it had never been embittered by marital experience. I had confidence in Kinzie, and I told him all about the dilemma I was in. He pitied me and condoled with me, for he was a sympathetic man, and he was, too, as consistent a bibliomaniac as I ever met with. “Be of good cheer,” said he, “we shall find a way out of all this trouble.” And he suggested a way. I seized upon it as the proverbial drowning man is supposed to clutch at the proverbial straw.

The next time I took a bundle of books home I marched into the house boldly with them. Alice fetched a deep sigh. “Ah, been buying more books, have you?” she asked in a despairing tone.

“No, indeed,” I answered triumphantly, “they were given to me,–a present from judge Trask. I’m in great luck, ain’t I?”

See also  Old Mother West Wind by Thomton Waldo Burgess

Alice was almost as pleased as I was. The interest with which she inspected the lovely volumes was not feigned. “But who is Judge Trask?” she asked, as she read the autographic lines upon a flyleaf in each book. I explained glibly that the judge was a wealthy and cultured citizen who felt somewhat under obligation to me for certain little services I had rendered him one time and another. I was not to be trapped or cornered. I had learned my sinful lesson perfectly. Alice never so much as suspected me of evil.

The scheme worked so well that I pursued it with more or less diligence. I should say that about twice a week on an average a bundle of books came to the house “with the compliments” of either Judge Trask or Colonel Flail or Mr. Bisland. You can understand that I could not hope to play the Trask deception exclusively and successfully. I invented Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland, and I contrived to render them quite as liberal in their patronage as the mythical Judge Trask himself. Occasionally a donation came in, by way of variety, from Smeaton and Holbrook and Caswell and other solitary creations of my mendacious imagination, when I used to blind poor dear Alice to the hideous truth. Touching myself, I gave it out that I had abandoned book-buying, was convinced of the folly of the mania, had reformed, and was repentant. Alice loved me all the better for that, and she became once more the sweetest, most amiable little woman in all the world. She was inexpressibly happy in the fond delusion that I had become prudent and thrifty, and was putting money in bank for that home we were going to buy–sometime.

See also  How The "Learned Blacksmith" Found Time by Orison Swett Marden

Meanwhile the names of Flail, Trask, and Bisland became household words with us. Occasionally Smeaton and Holbrook and Caswell were mentioned gratefully as some fair volume bearing their autograph was inspected; but, after all, Flail, Trask, and Bisland were the favorites, for it was from them that most of my beloved books came. Yes, Alice gradually grew to love those three myths; she loved them because they were good to me.

Alice had, like most others of her sex, a strong sense of duty. She determined to do something for my noble friends, and finally she planned a lovely little dinner whereat Judge Trask and Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland were to be regaled with choicest viands of Alice’s choice larder and with the sweetest speeches of Alice’s graceful heart. I was authorized only to convey the invitations to this delectable banquet, and here was a pretty plight for a man to be in, surely enough! But my bachelor friend Kinzie (ough, the Mephisto!) helped me out. I reported back to Alice that Judge Trask was out of town, that Colonel Flail was sick abed with grip, and that Mr. Bisland was altogether too shy a man to think of venturing out to a dinner alone. Alice was dreadfully disappointed. Still there was consolation in feeling that she had done her duty in trying to do it.

Well, this system of deception and perjury went on a long time, Alice never suspecting any evil, but perfectly happy in my supposed reform and economy, and in the gracious liberality of those three Maecenas-like friends, Flail, Trask, and Bisland, who kept pouring in rare and beauteous old tomes upon me. She was joyous, too, in the prospect of that new house which we would soon be able to build, now that I had so long quit the old ruinous mania for book-buying! And I–wretch that I was–I humored her in this conceit; I heaped perjury upon perjury; lying and deception had become my second nature. Yet I loathed myself and I hated those books; they reproached me every time I came into their presence. So I was miserable and helpless; how hard it is to turn about when one once gets into the downward path! The shifts I was put to, and the desperate devices which I was forced to employ,–I shudder to recall them! Life became a constant, terrifying lie.

See also  Farewell

Thank Heaven, it is over now, and my face is turned the right way. A third little son was born to us. Alice was, oh! so very ill. When she was convalescing she said to me one day: “Hiram, I have been thinking it all over, and I’ve made up my mind that we must name the baby Trask Flail Bisland, after our three good friends.”

I did n’t make any answer, went out into the hall, and communed awhile with my own hideous, tormented self. How my soul revolted against the prospect of giving to that innocent babe a name that would serve simply to scourge me through the rest of my wicked life! No, I could not consent to that. I would be a coward no longer!

I went back into Alice’s room, and sat upon the bed beside her, and took one of Alice’s dear little white hands in mine, and told her everything, told Alice the whole truth,–all about my wickedness and perjuries and deceptions; told her what a selfish, cruel monster I had been; dispelled all the sinful delusion about Flail, Trask, and Bisland; threw myself, penitent and hopeless, upon my deceived, outraged little wife’s mercy. Was it a mean advantage to take of a sick woman?

I fancied she would reproach me, for I knew that her heart was set upon that new house she had talked of so often; I told her that the savings she had supposed were in bank, were in reality represented only by and in those stately folios and sumptuous quartos which the mythical Flail, Trask, and Bisland had presumably donated. “But,” I added, “I shall sell them now, and with the money I shall build the home in which we may be happy again,–a lovely home, sweetheart, with no library at all, but all nursery if you wish it so!”

See also  The Two Systems by T. S. Arthur

“No,” said Alice, when I had ended my blubbering confession, “we shall not part with the books; they have caused you more suffering than they have me, and, moreover, their presence will have a beneficial effect upon you. Furthermore, I myself have become attached to them,–you know I thought they were given to you, and so I have learned to care for them. Poor Judge Trask and Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland,–so they are only myths? Dear Hiram,” she added with a sigh, “I can forgive you for everything except for taking those three good men out of our lives!”

After all this I have indeed reformed. I have actually become prudent, and I have a bank-account that is constantly increasing. I do not hate books; I simply do not buy them. And I eschew that old sinner, Kinzie, and all the sinister influences he represents. As for our third little boy, we have named him Reform Meigs, after Alice’s mother’s grandfather, who built the first saw-mill in what is now the State of Ohio, and was killed by the Indians in 1796.

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *