Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the Hilarious

"Children are never too tender to be whipped - like tough beefsteaks, the more you beat them the more tender they become."

-Edgar Poe

In the sundry Weeks since last I sent a Post-Mail, my Brain has been o'erclogg'd & choked with the sooty Work of Discovery. For well cou'd it be said, that before one may dig thro' the Ruins of Troy, it must burn.

Sept. pass'd with its belated, rosy Flirts & Plezantries, being too soon shoo'd off by her matronly Guardian - stern Octobra. Light dim'd, Leaves gilded & bronzed, and our Shoes trudg'd across the slippery Ground - all in the Echoe of Autumn's stormy Cackle.

God be prais'd, we had no Cause to fear of Sauvage Attack, tho' a grim Weroance frightened Mme Bainton quite out of her Wits. On his Way to Nemacolin's Path he took his Peace at my Porch, knowing Col. Bainton to be hospitable to our tattoo'd Neighbors. We drank our Cyder & spoke heartily of the Slaughter happily worked against the Shawnee - himself being Saponi, & harboring a toothsome Hatred for the Mingo. He gave out a Tale, that a young Shawnee wandered into the Path of the Weroance's party. They stripp'd him of his Clothes, which were meager, as he had been wandering for some Days. Thong'd to a dead Tree, he began to sing, which is the naturall Behavior of a captured Indian, as they wish to show their imperturb'd heart. My Weroance laugh'd to remember, how his Party whittled Twigs of Pine into tiny Needles, which were at once jabb'd & poked about the young Boy's Figure. Thus Porcupin'd, the Sauvages began setting the Needles alight - giving a similar Effect to what is describ'd by those Writers on Sieges, when they discuss the Work of Mines. For the Flames melted out Divotts of the Boy's skin, and boil'd his Blood, as it dripp'd from the Wounds.

Having our rawkous Chuckle 'twas hard to restrain our Bellies from bursting, full as they were with Corn-liquor & the glad Tidings of our Enemies' Woe. & to come to her Verandah, carrying Candle & wearing Shawl, only to find her Husband doubl'd o'er with Glee, while a brazen Sauvage strutt'd about in hilarious Mimicry of his Foe's Death-throes - such cou'd only disorder the frail Brains of Mme Bainton. Well is it said, that no Woman cou'd e'er pronounce Comedy, for they are too fill'd up with the cloudy Vapour of Emotion. Petulant Fancy strives with censorious Condemnation in her Mind - she has no room, amongst all her other Humours, for Humour.

A stern Rogering & the Promise to banish my Weroance-friend suffic'd to quiet my Wife. But what wou'd not be unquiet'd, was Curiosity, nagging like a toddling Youth, "What made the Weronace's Tale so hilarious?" I consult'd Herodotus, I pluck'd thro' Plutarch, & stoned myself with Plautus & Terentius. Yet none cou'd satisfy.

Goodman Stubb, most reliable of Manservants, intervenes at this point, making of himself a Exemplum. Bent o'er my tall Writing-desk, my Lucian open & my Notes still wett from furious Scribbling, I heard the fleet Steps of a Servant's soft Shoes shuffling up the Stairs. I made quick Work of closing my Nightgown, for I have been chastiz'd by Mme Bainton for suprizing the Maidservants with my uncover'd Munificence.

Alas it was only Stubb, one not unaccustom'd to the Sight of my naked J. Alfred. Panting & confused, his Eyes rolling like the cheap Marbles which consume his Time & Money, he lean'd 'gainst the Doorway, & pour'd out his Heart. Viz.:

-That two weeks prior (id est, Oct. 2), he had woo'd a young Hussy from a suspect Tavern;
-That she did operate 'pon him with the various Competencies naturall to such a One;
-That he had since been unable to pass his daily Waters, without excruciating Pain;
-That he was fill'd with regret, being unsatisfied with her Method, which, tho' effective & stimulating, was altogether too professional - a learned Pleasuring, a Bookkeeper's Joy.

He request'd my Help, as his trusted Mentor & Patron in this unkind Colonie, in retrieving a Doctor. I thought at once of my esteem'd Friend, the amicable & well-spun Leonard Galvan, a Root-worker most learned in the ways of Medicine. We had spent many a Night in the Cellars of old James Cittie, tippling & dauncing with the fine Ladies. I knew him for a Raconteur, & a solemn Ally in my Struggle 'gainst the vile King Bettie.

Galvan made Room immediate in his travelling Schedule, & rode to our Fort with all Haste. Quite stunned by the Presence of Indians, he cavill'd at me for some Time - "How is it, Epaph, that I am to work my Science, with the evidence of such Savagery about me at all Times?!" - "Such dusky Half-breeds ought be expung'd before they mingle their Mongrelcy amongst our Maidens!" Ordinarily, Leo. is not so mellifluous - but Drink soddens his Tongue, & saddens his naturally hopeful Disposition.

He examin'd Stubb in the Stables, & requir'd many grim Sacrifices on the Part of young Goodman. The Learned Galvan brought out his Foreceps, sundry Clampes & Pulleys, all straining at the suddenly-shrunk Equipment of poor S. Rods, Needles, Bits of glass, and sundry Shards of horse-iron were all applied to Stubb's Steve Coleman - and yet Galvan stood in mystification, struck nearly into Stone by the inefficacy of his Remedies. I brought Galvan the Parchment requested, which he used in a most peculiar Way - immediately paper-cutting poor Stubb's Billy Donovan. Stubb yelp'd but assured me that nothing cou'd singe him so much as wou'd continuing to suffer.

Bandaged, limping, but yet full of Enthusiasm for the Cure, Stubb took off to lie down. Galvan informed him sternly to return shou'd the Symptoms worsen. As soon as he had left our Sight, we betook ourselves to the aforemention'd Tavern - for the only Way to discover the Root of Stubb's Problems was Observation of this Hussy, perhaps even Examination.

With our Poor Richards quite unchanged by this Exercise, we spent the next Fortnight buried in Drink & Pastries. We found the Wench easy enough in her Affections that all Men struck her equal - a true Democrat of Love, a Model for those celebrated Strumpets of France, garbed in Silk & Champagne, giggling their Love for the People. To be sure, our Beery Hussy had no Silk, nor did she offer Burritoes, but she did not ask, as so many do, for Cookies, or Hat-pins, those two feminine Entertainments that have swallow'd Purses whole - like the Whale to Jonah. Or, indeed, like our Hussy, to any passing Willie Charles.

After digging thro' many a rumpled Bedsheet, faithful Stubb found us ensconced in the upper Rooms of a Boarding-house, teetering too much on the Brink of Ill-repute for me to name. He shudder'd into the Room, shaking with Confusion & Worry. "I am afeared, Sir, that I may be yet worse than I was."

From across the Room, under the Rump of a exhausted Whore, Galvan muttered, "It's the Lord's Vengeance, that you ne'er learn'd the dire Responsibility of jousting with yr Malcolm Lowry."


3 Days of Operation - and Nightmare - follow'd. At no inconsiderable Expense Galvan board'd with Mme Bainton & I. Tho' his Anticks are at first Comedy, soon enough they turn to Viciousness - as when he pinch'd at Mme Bainton's maidservant's Knickers, or cuff'd the Doorman for asking if he might take Galvan's Coat, or pour'd the Blood of a Steak into a Dog's Bowl, from which he drank Spirits & blood freely, or ate three Carrot-cakes, smuggling each away as they arrived from the Oven. "But Epaph," he would chortle, thro' Crumbs of my Wife's domestick Labor, "how was I to know yr solemn Wife was engag'd in entertaining? I am much too preoccupied with my curative Work to notice such Trifles!"

Not occupied enough, as it happened. The Galvan lurched & leer'd from one Corner of my Abode to another, eventually losing the Power of Speech to that merciless Master, Rum. Unhappily for Stubb, it was in one of these Phrenzies that he broke out a Mercury-pump. He declared, to the general Audience of the Dinner-table, that Stubb would soon be as good as Woman'd, if he cou'd not arrest the Progress of the Affliction.


For one fever'd Night I thought Galvan's merciless Medicine might finally have Stubb living up to his Name. Far-fallen are we indeed, that our Age's Hippocrates worships at the graped Altars of Bacchus & Venus Kallipygia - we have no Galen, only Galvan. In one of his Stupors, I packed Galvan away in a Trunk, hoping that he wou'd not regain Awareness before reaching Richmond. Tis in that Cittie that he most belongs.

Stubb remain'd lock'd away, excluded from Labor, in Consideration of his State. I continued my Work, the Carrot-cake return'd, and so too did the happy Countenance of Mme Bainton's Wench Lucy. She had been much out of Countenance over Stubb prior to his Disaster, nurturing towards him an ambivalent Regard, yet now seem'd pleasantly Curious, even Amorous. She attended on him daily, & wash'd his skin, hotly tingling-o'er with Pain & Duress.

One Morning I found her whistling as she scrubb'd the Panes of a Window, ponderous Work that she had detested formerly. Now the Suds dripp'd from her Wrist & the Glass gleamed in the pearly Light of late October.

"I say, Lucy," said I, "what has brought you to such a commodious Truce with yr Labor?"
She giggled & curtsied. "You might ask Mr. Stubb, sir - I mean no Impudence, please, no more of our last Guest, but - I think it a Conversation for Men."

I left Lucy to her squeaking Washcloth and hied at once to Stubb's Quarter, beneath the Stairs. I knock'd loudly, call'd him out, & found him altogether changed - his Hair smooth'd, his Carriage restored to unseemly Swagger, his Nails unbitten & his Cuffs white as Goose-down.

"What has worked you o'er, Stubb? Are you merely in that gross State of Health that obtains immediately prior to Death? Or are you consigned to Eunuchry?"
Stubb laughed a riotous Holler, & clapped his Hips. "Nay, sir, quite disproved of that. As soon as Galvan left, I put aside his vile Concoctions - if you don't mind me saying so, Sir - and submitted myself to another. Come to find, I'm healthy as a Buck! My Don Pedro is altogether remade!"

I rejoiced, and laughed a good Chuckle as I made haste upstairs. So close cou'd Man come to losing his Davey Bolingbroke, and yet emerge Strong as a Satyr! Such was Grist to my Mill - and Powder in Mme Bainton's Mortar, to which I soon applied my Pestle.


In other Newes - if ye be acquaint'd at all with the Hilarious, move post-haste at once to, and indulge in a Feast of Mirth.