The Confidence-Man, by Herman Melville

Chapter xxii.

In the Polite Spirit of the Tusculan Disputations.

—”‘Philosophical Intelligence Office’— novel idea! But how did you come to dream that I wanted anything in your absurd line, eh?”

About twenty minutes after leaving Cape Girádeau, the above was growled out over his shoulder by the Missourian to a chance stranger who had just accosted him; a round-backed, baker-kneed man, in a mean five-dollar suit, wearing, collar-wise by a chain, a small brass plate, inscribed P. I. O., and who, with a sort of canine deprecation, slunk obliquely behind.

“How did you come to dream that I wanted anything in your line, eh?”

“Oh, respected sir,” whined the other, crouching a pace nearer, and, in his obsequiousness, seeming to wag his very coat-tails behind him, shabby though they were, “oh, sir, from long experience, one glance tells me the gentleman who is in need of our humble services.”

“But suppose I did want a boy — what they jocosely call a good boy — how could your absurd office help me? — Philosophical Intelligence Office?”

“Yes, respected sir, an office founded on strictly philosophical and physio ——”

“Look you — come up here — how, by philosophy or physiology either, make good boys to order? Come up here. Don’t give me a crick in the neck. Come up here, come, sir, come,” calling as if to his pointer. “Tell me, how put the requisite assortment of good qualities into a boy, as the assorted mince into the pie?”

“Respected sir, our office ——”

“You talk much of that office. Where is it? On board this boat?”

“Oh no, sir, I just came aboard. Our office ——”

“Came aboard at that last landing, eh? Pray, do you know a herb-doctor there? Smooth scamp in a snuff-colored surtout?”

“Oh, sir, I was but a sojourner at Cape Girádeau. Though, now that you mention a snuff-colored surtout, I think I met such a man as you speak of stepping ashore as I stepped aboard, and ‘pears to me I have seen him somewhere before. Looks like a very mild Christian sort of person, I should say. Do you know him, respected sir?”

“Not much, but better than you seem to. Proceed with your business.”

With a low, shabby bow, as grateful for the permission, the other began: “Our office ——”

“Look you,” broke in the bachelor with ire, “have you the spinal complaint? What are you ducking and groveling about? Keep still. Where’s your office?”

“The branch one which I represent, is at Alton, sir, in the free state we now pass,” (pointing somewhat proudly ashore).

“Free, eh? You a freeman, you flatter yourself? With those coat-tails and that spinal complaint of servility? Free? Just cast up in your private mind who is your master, will you?”

“Oh, oh, oh! I don’t understand — indeed — indeed. But, respected sir, as before said, our office, founded on principles wholly new ——”

“To the devil with your principles! Bad sign when a man begins to talk of his principles. Hold, come back, sir; back here, back, sir, back! I tell you no more boys for me. Nay, I’m a Mede and Persian. In my old home in the woods I’m pestered enough with squirrels, weasels, chipmunks, skunks. I want no more wild vermin to spoil my temper and waste my substance. Don’t talk of boys; enough of your boys; a plague of your boys; chilblains on your boys! As for Intelligence Offices, I’ve lived in the East, and know ’em. Swindling concerns kept by low-born cynics, under a fawning exterior wreaking their cynic malice upon mankind. You are a fair specimen of ’em.”

“Oh dear, dear, dear!”

“Dear? Yes, a thrice dear purchase one of your boys would be to me. A rot on your boys!”

“But, respected sir, if you will not have boys, might we not, in our small way, accommodate you with a man?”

“Accommodate? Pray, no doubt you could accommodate me with a bosom-friend too, couldn’t you? Accommodate! Obliging word accommodate: there’s accommodation notes now, where one accommodates another with a loan, and if he don’t pay it pretty quickly, accommodates him, with a chain to his foot. Accommodate! God forbid that I should ever be accommodated. No, no. Look you, as I told that cousin-german of yours, the herb-doctor, I’m now on the road to get me made some sort of machine to do my work. Machines for me. My cider-mill — does that ever steal my cider? My mowing-machine — does that ever lay a-bed mornings? My corn-husker — does that ever give me insolence? No: cider-mill, mowing-machine, corn-husker — all faithfully attend to their business. Disinterested, too; no board, no wages; yet doing good all their lives long; shining examples that virtue is its own reward — the only practical Christians I know.”

“Oh dear, dear, dear, dear!”

“Yes, sir:— boys? Start my soul-bolts, what a difference, in a moral point of view, between a corn-husker and a boy! Sir, a corn-husker, for its patient continuance in well-doing, might not unfitly go to heaven. Do you suppose a boy will?”

“A corn-husker in heaven! (turning up the whites of his eyes). Respected sir, this way of talking as if heaven were a kind of Washington patent-office museum — oh, oh, oh! — as if mere machine-work and puppet-work went to heaven — oh, oh, oh! Things incapable of free agency, to receive the eternal reward of well-doing — oh, oh, oh!”

“You Praise–God-Barebones you, what are you groaning about? Did I say anything of that sort? Seems to me, though you talk so good, you are mighty quick at a hint the other way, or else you want to pick a polemic quarrel with me.”

“It may be so or not, respected sir,” was now the demure reply; “but if it be, it is only because as a soldier out of honor is quick in taking affront, so a Christian out of religion is quick, sometimes perhaps a little too much so, in spying heresy.”

“Well,” after an astonished pause, “for an unaccountable pair, you and the herb-doctor ought to yoke together.”

So saying, the bachelor was eying him rather sharply, when he with the brass plate recalled him to the discussion by a hint, not unflattering, that he (the man with the brass plate) was all anxiety to hear him further on the subject of servants.

“About that matter,” exclaimed the impulsive bachelor, going off at the hint like a rocket, “all thinking minds are, now-a-days, coming to the conclusion — one derived from an immense hereditary experience — see what Horace and others of the ancients say of servants — coming to the conclusion, I say, that boy or man, the human animal is, for most work-purposes, a losing animal. Can’t be trusted; less trustworthy than oxen; for conscientiousness a turn-spit dog excels him. Hence these thousand new inventions — carding machines, horseshoe machines, tunnel-boring machines, reaping machines, apple-paring machines, boot-blacking machines, sewing machines, shaving machines, run-of-errand machines, dumb-waiter machines, and the Lord-only-knows-what machines; all of which announce the era when that refractory animal, the working or serving man, shall be a buried by-gone, a superseded fossil. Shortly prior to which glorious time, I doubt not that a price will be put upon their peltries as upon the knavish ‘possums,’ especially the boys. Yes, sir (ringing his rifle down on the deck), I rejoice to think that the day is at hand, when, prompted to it by law, I shall shoulder this gun and go out a boy-shooting.”

“Oh, now! Lord, Lord, Lord! — But our office, respected sir, conducted as I ventured to observe ——”

“No, sir,” bristlingly settling his stubble chin in his coon-skins. “Don’t try to oil me; the herb-doctor tried that. My experience, carried now through a course — worse than salivation — a course of five and thirty boys, proves to me that boyhood is a natural state of rascality.”

“Save us, save us!”

“Yes, sir, yes. My name is Pitch; I stick to what I say. I speak from fifteen years’ experience; five and thirty boys; American, Irish, English, German, African, Mulatto; not to speak of that China boy sent me by one who well knew my perplexities, from California; and that Lascar boy from Bombay. Thug! I found him sucking the embryo life from my spring eggs. All rascals, sir, every soul of them; Caucasian or Mongol. Amazing the endless variety of rascality in human nature of the juvenile sort. I remember that, having discharged, one after another, twenty-nine boys — each, too, for some wholly unforeseen species of viciousness peculiar to that one peculiar boy — I remember saying to myself: Now, then, surely, I have got to the end of the list, wholly exhausted it; I have only now to get me a boy, any boy different from those twenty-nine preceding boys, and he infallibly shall be that virtuous boy I have so long been seeking. But, bless me! this thirtieth boy — by the way, having at the time long forsworn your intelligence offices, I had him sent to me from the Commissioners of Emigration, all the way from New York, culled out carefully, in fine, at my particular request, from a standing army of eight hundred boys, the flowers of all nations, so they wrote me, temporarily in barracks on an East River island — I say, this thirtieth boy was in person not ungraceful; his deceased mother a lady’s maid, or something of that sort; and in manner, why, in a plebeian way, a perfect Chesterfield; very intelligent, too — quick as a flash. But, such suavity! ‘Please sir! please sir!’ always bowing and saying, ‘Please sir.’ In the strangest way, too, combining a filial affection with a menial respect. Took such warm, singular interest in my affairs. Wanted to be considered one of the family — sort of adopted son of mine, I suppose. Of a morning, when I would go out to my stable, with what childlike good nature he would trot out my nag, ‘Please sir, I think he’s getting fatter and fatter.’ ‘But, he don’t look very clean, does he?’ unwilling to be downright harsh with so affectionate a lad; ‘and he seems a little hollow inside the haunch there, don’t he? or no, perhaps I don’t see plain this morning.’ ‘Oh, please sir, it’s just there I think he’s gaining so, please.’ Polite scamp! I soon found he never gave that wretched nag his oats of nights; didn’t bed him either. Was above that sort of chambermaid work. No end to his willful neglects. But the more he abused my service, the more polite he grew.”

“Oh, sir, some way you mistook him.”

“Not a bit of it. Besides, sir, he was a boy who under a Chesterfieldian exterior hid strong destructive propensities. He cut up my horse-blanket for the bits of leather, for hinges to his chest. Denied it point-blank. After he was gone, found the shreds under his mattress. Would slyly break his hoe-handle, too, on purpose to get rid of hoeing. Then be so gracefully penitent for his fatal excess of industrious strength. Offer to mend all by taking a nice stroll to the nighest settlement — cherry-trees in full bearing all the way — to get the broken thing cobbled. Very politely stole my pears, odd pennies, shillings, dollars, and nuts; regular squirrel at it. But I could prove nothing. Expressed to him my suspicions. Said I, moderately enough, ‘A little less politeness, and a little more honesty would suit me better.’ He fired up; threatened to sue for libel. I won’t say anything about his afterwards, in Ohio, being found in the act of gracefully putting a bar across a rail-road track, for the reason that a stoker called him the rogue that he was. But enough: polite boys or saucy boys, white boys or black boys, smart boys or lazy boys, Caucasian boys or Mongol boys — all are rascals.”

“Shocking, shocking!” nervously tucking his frayed cravat-end out of sight. “Surely, respected sir, you labor under a deplorable hallucination. Why, pardon again, you seem to have not the slightest confidence in boys, I admit, indeed, that boys, some of them at least, are but too prone to one little foolish foible or other. But, what then, respected sir, when, by natural laws, they finally outgrow such things, and wholly?”

Having until now vented himself mostly in plaintive dissent of canine whines and groans, the man with the brass-plate seemed beginning to summon courage to a less timid encounter. But, upon his maiden essay, was not very encouragingly handled, since the dialogue immediately continued as follows:

“Boys outgrow what is amiss in them? From bad boys spring good men? Sir, ‘the child is father of the man;’ hence, as all boys are rascals, so are all men. But, God bless me, you must know these things better than I; keeping an intelligence office as you do; a business which must furnish peculiar facilities for studying mankind. Come, come up here, sir; confess you know these things pretty well, after all. Do you not know that all men are rascals, and all boys, too?”

“Sir,” replied the other, spite of his shocked feelings seeming to pluck up some spirit, but not to an indiscreet degree, “Sir, heaven be praised, I am far, very far from knowing what you say. True,” he thoughtfully continued, “with my associates, I keep an intelligence office, and for ten years, come October, have, one way or other, been concerned in that line; for no small period in the great city of Cincinnati, too; and though, as you hint, within that long interval, I must have had more or less favorable opportunity for studying mankind — in a business way, scanning not only the faces, but ransacking the lives of several thousands of human beings, male and female, of various nations, both employers and employed, genteel and ungenteel, educated and uneducated; yet — of course, I candidly admit, with some random exceptions, I have, so far as my small observation goes, found that mankind thus domestically viewed, confidentially viewed, I may say; they, upon the whole — making some reasonable allowances for human imperfection — present as pure a moral spectacle as the purest angel could wish. I say it, respected sir, with confidence.”

“Gammon! You don’t mean what you say. Else you are like a landsman at sea: don’t know the ropes, the very things everlastingly pulled before your eyes. Serpent-like, they glide about, traveling blocks too subtle for you. In short, the entire ship is a riddle. Why, you green ones wouldn’t know if she were unseaworthy; but still, with thumbs stuck back into your arm-holes, pace the rotten planks, singing, like a fool, words put into your green mouth by the cunning owner, the man who, heavily insuring it, sends his ship to be wrecked —

‘A wet sheet and a flowing sea!’—

and, sir, now that it occurs to me, your talk, the whole of it, is but a wet sheet and a flowing sea, and an idle wind that follows fast, offering a striking contrast to my own discourse.”

“Sir,” exclaimed the man with the brass-plate, his patience now more or less tasked, “permit me with deference to hint that some of your remarks are injudiciously worded. And thus we say to our patrons, when they enter our office full of abuse of us because of some worthy boy we may have sent them — some boy wholly misjudged for the time. Yes, sir, permit me to remark that you do not sufficiently consider that, though a small man, I may have my small share of feelings.”

“Well, well, I didn’t mean to wound your feelings at all. And that they are small, very small, I take your word for it. Sorry, sorry. But truth is like a thrashing-machine; tender sensibilities must keep out of the way. Hope you understand me. Don’t want to hurt you. All I say is, what I said in the first place, only now I swear it, that all boys are rascals.”

“Sir,” lowly replied the other, still forbearing like an old lawyer badgered in court, or else like a good-hearted simpleton, the butt of mischievous wags, “Sir, since you come back to the point, will you allow me, in my small, quiet way, to submit to you certain small, quiet views of the subject in hand?”

“Oh, yes!” with insulting indifference, rubbing his chin and looking the other way. “Oh, yes; go on.”

“Well, then, respected sir,” continued the other, now assuming as genteel an attitude as the irritating set of his pinched five-dollar suit would permit; “well, then, sir, the peculiar principles, the strictly philosophical principles, I may say,” guardedly rising in dignity, as he guardedly rose on his toes, “upon which our office is founded, has led me and my associates, in our small, quiet way, to a careful analytical study of man, conducted, too, on a quiet theory, and with an unobtrusive aim wholly our own. That theory I will not now at large set forth. But some of the discoveries resulting from it, I will, by your permission, very briefly mention; such of them, I mean, as refer to the state of boyhood scientifically viewed.”

“Then you have studied the thing? expressly studied boys, eh? Why didn’t you out with that before?”

“Sir, in my small business way, I have not conversed with so many masters, gentlemen masters, for nothing. I have been taught that in this world there is a precedence of opinions as well as of persons. You have kindly given me your views, I am now, with modesty, about to give you mine.”

“Stop flunkying — go on.”

“In the first place, sir, our theory teaches us to proceed by analogy from the physical to the moral. Are we right there, sir? Now, sir, take a young boy, a young male infant rather, a man-child in short — what sir, I respectfully ask, do you in the first place remark?”

“A rascal, sir! present and prospective, a rascal!”

“Sir, if passion is to invade, surely science must evacuate. May I proceed? Well, then, what, in the first place, in a general view, do you remark, respected sir, in that male baby or man-child?”

The bachelor privily growled, but this time, upon the whole, better governed himself than before, though not, indeed, to the degree of thinking it prudent to risk an articulate response.

“What do you remark? I respectfully repeat.” But, as no answer came, only the low, half-suppressed growl, as of Bruin in a hollow trunk, the questioner continued: “Well, sir, if you will permit me, in my small way, to speak for you, you remark, respected sir, an incipient creation; loose sort of sketchy thing; a little preliminary rag-paper study, or careless cartoon, so to speak, of a man. The idea, you see, respected sir, is there; but, as yet, wants filling out. In a word, respected sir, the man-child is at present but little, every way; I don’t pretend to deny it; but, then, he promises well, does he not? Yes, promises very well indeed, I may say. (So, too, we say to our patrons in reference to some noble little youngster objected to for being a dwarf.) But, to advance one step further,” extending his thread-bare leg, as he drew a pace nearer, “we must now drop the figure of the rag-paper cartoon, and borrow one — to use presently, when wanted — from the horticultural kingdom. Some bud, lily-bud, if you please. Now, such points as the new-born man-child has — as yet not all that could be desired, I am free to confess — still, such as they are, there they are, and palpable as those of an adult. But we stop not here,” taking another step. “The man-child not only possesses these present points, small though they are, but, likewise — now our horticultural image comes into play — like the bud of the lily, he contains concealed rudiments of others; that is, points at present invisible, with beauties at present dormant.”

“Come, come, this talk is getting too horticultural and beautiful altogether. Cut it short, cut it short!”

“Respected sir,” with a rustily martial sort of gesture, like a decayed corporal’s, “when deploying into the field of discourse the vanguard of an important argument, much more in evolving the grand central forces of a new philosophy of boys, as I may say, surely you will kindly allow scope adequate to the movement in hand, small and humble in its way as that movement may be. Is it worth my while to go on, respected sir?”

“Yes, stop flunkying and go on.”

Thus encouraged, again the philosopher with the brass-plate proceeded:

“Supposing, sir, that worthy gentleman (in such terms, to an applicant for service, we allude to some patron we chance to have in our eye), supposing, respected sir, that worthy gentleman, Adam, to have been dropped overnight in Eden, as a calf in the pasture; supposing that, sir — then how could even the learned serpent himself have foreknown that such a downy-chinned little innocent would eventually rival the goat in a beard? Sir, wise as the serpent was, that eventuality would have been entirely hidden from his wisdom.”

“I don’t know about that. The devil is very sagacious. To judge by the event, he appears to have understood man better even than the Being who made him.”

“For God’s sake, don’t say that, sir! To the point. Can it now with fairness be denied that, in his beard, the man-child prospectively possesses an appendix, not less imposing than patriarchal; and for this goodly beard, should we not by generous anticipation give the man-child, even in his cradle, credit? Should we not now, sir? respectfully I put it.”

“Yes, if like pig-weed he mows it down soon as it shoots,” porcinely rubbing his stubble-chin against his coon-skins.

“I have hinted at the analogy,” continued the other, calmly disregardful of the digression; “now to apply it. Suppose a boy evince no noble quality. Then generously give him credit for his prospective one. Don’t you see? So we say to our patrons when they would fain return a boy upon us as unworthy: ‘Madam, or sir, (as the case may be) has this boy a beard?’ ‘No.’ ‘Has he, we respectfully ask, as yet, evinced any noble quality?’ ‘No, indeed.’ ‘Then, madam, or sir, take him back, we humbly beseech; and keep him till that same noble quality sprouts; for, have confidence, it, like the beard, is in him.’”

“Very fine theory,” scornfully exclaimed the bachelor, yet in secret, perhaps, not entirely undisturbed by these strange new views of the matter; “but what trust is to be placed in it?”

“The trust of perfect confidence, sir. To proceed. Once more, if you please, regard the man-child.”

“Hold!” paw-like thrusting put his bearskin arm, “don’t intrude that man-child upon me too often. He who loves not bread, dotes not on dough. As little of your man-child as your logical arrangements will admit.”

“Anew regard the man-child,” with inspired intrepidity repeated he with the brass-plate, “in the perspective of his developments, I mean. At first the man-child has no teeth, but about the sixth month — am I right, sir?”

“Don’t know anything about it.”

“To proceed then: though at first deficient in teeth, about the sixth month the man-child begins to put forth in that particular. And sweet those tender little puttings-forth are.”

“Very, but blown out of his mouth directly, worthless enough.”

“Admitted. And, therefore, we say to our patrons returning with a boy alleged not only to be deficient in goodness, but redundant in ill: ‘The lad, madam or sir, evinces very corrupt qualities, does he? No end to them.’ ‘But, have confidence, there will be; for pray, madam, in this lad’s early childhood, were not those frail first teeth, then his, followed by his present sound, even, beautiful and permanent set. And the more objectionable those first teeth became, was not that, madam, we respectfully submit, so much the more reason to look for their speedy substitution by the present sound, even, beautiful and permanent ones.’ ‘True, true, can’t deny that.’ ‘Then, madam, take him back, we respectfully beg, and wait till, in the now swift course of nature, dropping those transient moral blemishes you complain of, he replacingly buds forth in the sound, even, beautiful and permanent virtues.’”

“Very philosophical again,” was the contemptuous reply — the outward contempt, perhaps, proportioned to the inward misgiving. “Vastly philosophical, indeed, but tell me — to continue your analogy — since the second teeth followed — in fact, came from — the first, is there no chance the blemish may be transmitted?”

“Not at all.” Abating in humility as he gained in the argument. “The second teeth follow, but do not come from, the first; successors, not sons. The first teeth are not like the germ blossom of the apple, at once the father of, and incorporated into, the growth it foreruns; but they are thrust from their place by the independent undergrowth of the succeeding set — an illustration, by the way, which shows more for me than I meant, though not more than I wish.”

“What does it show?” Surly-looking as a thundercloud with the inkept unrest of unacknowledged conviction.

“It shows this, respected sir, that in the case of any boy, especially an ill one, to apply unconditionally the saying, that the ‘child is father of the man’, is, besides implying an uncharitable aspersion of the race, affirming a thing very wide of ——”

“— Your analogy,” like a snapping turtle.

“Yes, respected sir.”

“But is analogy argument? You are a punster.”

“Punster, respected sir?” with a look of being aggrieved.

“Yes, you pun with ideas as another man may with words.”

“Oh well, sir, whoever talks in that strain, whoever has no confidence in human reason, whoever despises human reason, in vain to reason with him. Still, respected sir,” altering his air, “permit me to hint that, had not the force of analogy moved you somewhat, you would hardly have offered to contemn it.”

“Talk away,” disdainfully; “but pray tell me what has that last analogy of yours to do with your intelligence office business?”

“Everything to do with it, respected sir. From that analogy we derive the reply made to such a patron as, shortly after being supplied by us with an adult servant, proposes to return him upon our hands; not that, while with the patron, said adult has given any cause of dissatisfaction, but the patron has just chanced to hear something unfavorable concerning him from some gentleman who employed said adult, long before, while a boy. To which too fastidious patron, we, taking said adult by the hand, and graciously reintroducing him to the patron, say: ‘Far be it from you, madam, or sir, to proceed in your censure against this adult, in anything of the spirit of an expost-facto law. Madam, or sir, would you visit upon the butterfly the caterpillar? In the natural advance of all creatures, do they not bury themselves over and over again in the endless resurrection of better and better? Madam, or sir, take back this adult; he may have been a caterpillar, but is now a butterfly.”

“Pun away; but even accepting your analogical pun, what does it amount to? Was the caterpillar one creature, and is the butterfly another? The butterfly is the caterpillar in a gaudy cloak; stripped of which, there lies the impostor’s long spindle of a body, pretty much worm-shaped as before.”

“You reject the analogy. To the facts then. You deny that a youth of one character can be transformed into a man of an opposite character. Now then — yes, I have it. There’s the founder of La Trappe, and Ignatius Loyola; in boyhood, and someway into manhood, both devil-may-care bloods, and yet, in the end, the wonders of the world for anchoritish self-command. These two examples, by-the-way, we cite to such patrons as would hastily return rakish young waiters upon us. ‘Madam, or sir — patience; patience,’ we say; ‘good madam, or sir, would you discharge forth your cask of good wine, because, while working, it riles more or less? Then discharge not forth this young waiter; the good in him is working.’ ‘But he is a sad rake.’ ‘Therein is his promise; the rake being crude material for the saint.’”

“Ah, you are a talking man — what I call a wordy man. You talk, talk.”

“And with submission, sir, what is the greatest judge, bishop or prophet, but a talking man? He talks, talks. It is the peculiar vocation of a teacher to talk. What’s wisdom itself but table-talk? The best wisdom in this world, and the last spoken by its teacher, did it not literally and truly come in the form of table-talk?”

“You, you, you!” rattling down his rifle.

“To shift the subject, since we cannot agree. Pray, what is your opinion, respected sir, of St. Augustine?”

“St. Augustine? What should I, or you either, know of him? Seems to me, for one in such a business, to say nothing of such a coat, that though you don’t know a great deal, indeed, yet you know a good deal more than you ought to know, or than you have a right to know, or than it is safe or expedient for you to know, or than, in the fair course of life, you could have honestly come to know. I am of opinion you should be served like a Jew in the middle ages with his gold; this knowledge of yours, which you haven’t enough knowledge to know how to make a right use of, it should be taken from you. And so I have been thinking all along.”

“You are merry, sir. But you have a little looked into St. Augustine I suppose.”

“St. Augustine on Original Sin is my text book. But you, I ask again, where do you find time or inclination for these out-of-the-way speculations? In fact, your whole talk, the more I think of it, is altogether unexampled and extraordinary.”

“Respected sir, have I not already informed you that the quite new method, the strictly philosophical one, on which our office is founded, has led me and my associates to an enlarged study of mankind. It was my fault, if I did not, likewise, hint, that these studies directed always to the scientific procuring of good servants of all sorts, boys included, for the kind gentlemen, our patrons — that these studies, I say, have been conducted equally among all books of all libraries, as among all men of all nations. Then, you rather like St. Augustine, sir?”

“Excellent genius!”

“In some points he was; yet, how comes it that under his own hand, St. Augustine confesses that, until his thirtieth year, he was a very sad dog?”

“A saint a sad dog?”

“Not the saint, but the saint’s irresponsible little forerunner — the boy.”

“All boys are rascals, and so are all men,” again flying off at his tangent; “my name is Pitch; I stick to what I say.”

“Ah, sir, permit me — when I behold you on this mild summer’s eve, thus eccentrically clothed in the skins of wild beasts, I cannot but conclude that the equally grim and unsuitable habit of your mind is likewise but an eccentric assumption, having no basis in your genuine soul, no more than in nature herself.”

“Well, really, now — really,” fidgeted the bachelor, not unaffected in his conscience by these benign personalities, “really, really, now, I don’t know but that I may have been a little bit too hard upon those five and thirty boys of mine.”

“Glad to find you a little softening, sir. Who knows now, but that flexile gracefulness, however questionable at the time of that thirtieth boy of yours, might have been the silky husk of the most solid qualities of maturity. It might have been with him as with the ear of the Indian corn.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” excitedly cried the bachelor, as the light of this new illustration broke in, “yes, yes; and now that I think of it, how often I’ve sadly watched my Indian corn in May, wondering whether such sickly, half-eaten sprouts, could ever thrive up into the stiff, stately spear of August.”

“A most admirable reflection, sir, and you have only, according to the analogical theory first started by our office, to apply it to that thirtieth boy in question, and see the result. Had you but kept that thirtieth boy — been patient with his sickly virtues, cultivated them, hoed round them, why what a glorious guerdon would have been yours, when at last you should have had a St. Augustine for an ostler.”

“Really, really — well, I am glad I didn’t send him to jail, as at first I intended.”

“Oh that would have been too bad. Grant he was vicious. The petty vices of boys are like the innocent kicks of colts, as yet imperfectly broken. Some boys know not virtue only for the same reason they know not French; it was never taught them. Established upon the basis of parental charity, juvenile asylums exist by law for the benefit of lads convicted of acts which, in adults, would have received other requital. Why? Because, do what they will, society, like our office, at bottom has a Christian confidence in boys. And all this we say to our patrons.”

“Your patrons, sir, seem your marines to whom you may say anything,” said the other, relapsing. “Why do knowing employers shun youths from asylums, though offered them at the smallest wages? I’ll none of your reformado boys.”

“Such a boy, respected sir, I would not get for you, but a boy that never needed reform. Do not smile, for as whooping-cough and measles are juvenile diseases, and yet some juveniles never have them, so are there boys equally free from juvenile vices. True, for the best of boys’ measles may be contagious, and evil communications corrupt good manners; but a boy with a sound mind in a sound body — such is the boy I would get you. If hitherto, sir, you have struck upon a peculiarly bad vein of boys, so much the more hope now of your hitting a good one.”

“That sounds a kind of reasonable, as it were — a little so, really. In fact, though you have said a great many foolish things, very foolish and absurd things, yet, upon the whole, your conversation has been such as might almost lead one less distrustful than I to repose a certain conditional confidence in you, I had almost added in your office, also. Now, for the humor of it, supposing that even I, I myself, really had this sort of conditional confidence, though but a grain, what sort of a boy, in sober fact, could you send me? And what would be your fee?”

“Conducted,” replied the other somewhat loftily, rising now in eloquence as his proselyte, for all his pretenses, sunk in conviction, “conducted upon principles involving care, learning, and labor, exceeding what is usual in kindred institutions, the Philosophical Intelligence Office is forced to charge somewhat higher than customary. Briefly, our fee is three dollars in advance. As for the boy, by a lucky chance, I have a very promising little fellow now in my eye — a very likely little fellow, indeed.”


“As the day is long. Might trust him with untold millions. Such, at least, were the marginal observations on the phrenological chart of his head, submitted to me by the mother.”

“How old?”

“Just fifteen.”

“Tall? Stout?”

“Uncommonly so, for his age, his mother remarked.”


“The busy bee.”

The bachelor fell into a troubled reverie. At last, with much hesitancy, he spoke:

“Do you think now, candidly, that — I say candidly — candidly — could I have some small, limited — some faint, conditional degree of confidence in that boy? Candidly, now?”

“Candidly, you could.”

“A sound boy? A good boy?”

“Never knew one more so.”

The bachelor fell into another irresolute reverie; then said: “Well, now, you have suggested some rather new views of boys, and men, too. Upon those views in the concrete I at present decline to determine. Nevertheless, for the sake purely of a scientific experiment, I will try that boy. I don’t think him an angel, mind. No, no. But I’ll try him. There are my three dollars, and here is my address. Send him along this day two weeks. Hold, you will be wanting the money for his passage. There,” handing it somewhat reluctantly.

“Ah, thank you. I had forgotten his passage;” then, altering in manner, and gravely holding the bills, continued: “Respected sir, never willingly do I handle money not with perfect willingness, nay, with a certain alacrity, paid. Either tell me that you have a perfect and unquestioning confidence in me (never mind the boy now) or permit me respectfully to return these bills.”

“Put ’em up, put ‘emup!”

“Thank you. Confidence is the indispensable basis of all sorts of business transactions. Without it, commerce between man and man, as between country and country, would, like a watch, run down and stop. And now, supposing that against present expectation the lad should, after all, evince some little undesirable trait, do not, respected sir, rashly dismiss him. Have but patience, have but confidence. Those transient vices will, ere long, fall out, and be replaced by the sound, firm, even and permanent virtues. Ah,” glancing shoreward, towards a grotesquely-shaped bluff, “there’s the Devil’s Joke, as they call it: the bell for landing will shortly ring. I must go look up the cook I brought for the innkeeper at Cairo.”

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 17:11