Incidents In A Fortune-hunter's Life

We do not now recollect what philosopher it was who said, "it's no

disgrace to be poor, but it's often confoundedly unhandy!" But, we have

little or no sympathy for poor folks, who, ashamed of their poverty,

make as many and tortuous writhings to escape its inconveniences, as

though it was "against the law" to be poor. It is the cause of

incalculable human misery, to seem what we are not; to appear beyond

want--yea, ev
n in affluence and comfort, when the belly is robbed to

clothe the back--the inner man crucified to make the outside lie you

through the world, or into--genteel "society." This, though abominable,

is common, and leads to innumerable ups and downs, crime and fun, in

this old world that we temporarily inhabit.

Choosing rather to give our life pictures a familiar and diverting--and

certainly none the less instructive garb--than to hunt up misery, and

depict the woeful tragics of our existence, we will give the facts of a

case--not uncommon, we ween, either, that came to us from a friend of

one of the parties.

In most cities--especially, perhaps, in Baltimore and Washington, are

any quantity of decayed families; widows and orphans of men--who, while

blessed with oxygen and hydrogen sufficient to keep them healthy and

active--held offices, or such positions in the business world as enabled

them and their families to carry pretty stiff necks, high heads, and go

into what is called "good society;" meaning of course where good

furniture garnishes good finished domiciles, good carpets, good rents,

good dinners, and where good clothes are exhibited--but where good

intentions, good manners and morals are mostly of no great importance.

As, in most all such cases, when, by some fortuitous accident, the head

of the family collapses, or dies,--the reckless regard for society

having led to the squandering of the income, fast or faster than it

came, the poor family is driven by the same society, so coveted, to hide

away--move off, and by a thousand dodges of which wounded pride is

capable, work their way through the world, under tissues of false

pretences; at once ludicrous and pitiable. Such a family we have in

view. Colonel Somebody held a lucrative office under government, in the

city of Washington. Colonel Somebody, one day, very unexpectedly, died.

There was nothing mysterious in that, but the Somebodies having always

cut quite a swell in the "society" of the capital--which society, let us

tell you, is of the most fluctuating, tin-foil and ephemeral character;

it was by some considered strange, that as soon as Colonel Somebody had

been decently buried in his grave, his family at once made a sale of

their most expensive furniture--the horses, carriage, and man-servant

disappeared, and the Somebodies apprized society that they were going

north, to reside upon an estate of the Colonel's in New York. And so

they vanished. Whither they went or how they fared society did not know,

and society did not care!

Mrs. Somebody had two daughters and a son, the eldest twenty-three,

confessedly, and the youngest, the son, seventeen. Marriages, in such

society, floating and changing as it does in Washington, are not

frequent, and less happy or prosperous when effected; every body,

inclined to become acquainted, or form matrimonial connections, are ever

on the alert for something or somebody better than themselves; and under

such circumstances, naturally enough, Miss Alice Somebody--though a

pretty girl--talented, as the world goes, highly educated, too, as many

hundreds beside her, was still a spinster at twenty-three. The fact was,

Mrs. Somebody was a woman of experience in the world--indeed, a dozen

years' experience in life at Washington, had given her very definite

ideas of expediency and diplomacy; and hence, as the means were cut off

to live in their usual style and expensiveness--Mrs. Somebody packed up

and retired to Baltimore. The son soon found an occupation in a

store--the daughter, being a woman of taste and education, resorted

to--as a matter of diversion--they could not think of earning a

living, of course!--the needle--while Mrs. Somebody arranged a pair of

neat apartments, for two "gentlemen of unexceptionable reference," as


During their palmy days at the capital of the nation, Miss Alice

Somebody came in contact with a young gentleman named Rhapsody,--of

pleasant and respectable demeanor, an office-holder, but not high up

enough to suit the tastes and aims of Colonel Somebody and his lady; and

so, our friend Rhapsody stood little or no chance for favor or

preferment in the graces of Miss Alice, though he was a recognized

visitor at the Colonel's house, and essayed to make an impression upon

the heart's affections of the Colonel's daughter.

Time fled, and with its fleetings came those changes in the fates and

fortunes of the Somebodies, we have noted. Nor was our friend Rhapsody

without his changes,--mutations of fortune, a change of government, made

changes. Rhapsody one morning was not as much surprised as mortified to

find his "services no longer required," as a new hand was awaiting his

withdrawal. Rhapsody, true to custom at the capital--lived up to and

ahead of his salary; and, when deposed, deemed it prudent to make his

exit from a spot no longer likely to be favorable to the self-respect or

personal comfort of a man bereft of power, and without patronage or

position. Rhapsody, by trade (luckily he had a trade), was a boot-maker.

Start not, reader, at the idea; we know "shoemaker" may have a tendency

to shock some people, whose moral and mental culture has been sadly

neglected, or quite perverted; but Rhapsody was but a boot-maker, and no

doubt quite as gentlemanly--physically and mentally considered, as the

many thousands who merely wear boots, for the luxury of which they are

indebted to the skill, labor and industry of others. Rhapsody came down

gracefully, and quite as manfully, to his level, only changing the scene

of his endeavors to the city of monuments. Rhapsody had feelings--pride.

He sought obscurity, in which he might perform the necessary labors of

his craft, to enable him to keep his head above water, and await that

tide in the affairs of men, when perhaps he might again be drifted to

fortune and favor.

Rhapsody took lodgings in a respectable hotel; he arose late--took

breakfast, read the news--smoked--lounged--dressed, and went through the

ordinary evolutions of a gentleman of leisure, until he dined at 3 P.

M.; then, by a circuitous way, he proceeded to his shop--put on his

working attire, and went at it faithfully, until midnight, when, having

accomplished his maximum of toil, he re-dressed--walked to his

hotel--talked politics--fashions, etc., took his glass of wine with a

friend, and very quietly retired; to rise on the morrow, and go through

the same routine from day to day, only varying it a little by an eye to

an eligible marriage, or a place.

Rhapsody--we must give him the credit of the fact--from no mawkish

feeling of his own, but from force of public opinion, resorted to this

secret manner of eking out his daily bread, and acting out his part of

the fictitious gentleman. During one of his morning

lounges--accidentally, Rhapsody met Miss Somebody in the street. They

had not met for some few years, and it may not be troublesome to

conceive, that Miss Alice--under the new order of things--was more

pleased than otherwise to renew the acquaintance of other days, with a

gentleman still supposed to be--and his attire and manner surely gave

no sign of an altered state of affairs--in a position recognizable by


Rhapsody renewed his attentions to the Somebody family, and Miss Alice

in particular--with fervor. He admitted himself no longer an attache

of government, but offset the deprivation of government patronage, by

asserting that he was graduating for a higher sphere in life than the

drudgery and abjectness of a clerkship--he was studying political

economy, and the learned profession of the law!

The Somebodies were game; not a concession would they make to stern

indigence; it was merely for the sake of quietude, said Mrs. Somebody,

and the solace of retirement from the gay and tempestuous whirls of

society, that we changed the scene and dropped a peg lower in domestic

show. Rhapsody believed Colonel Somebody a man of substance. He knew how

easy it was to account for the expenditure of fifteen hundred dollars a

year, but it did not so readily appear possible for a man holding the

Colonel's place and perquisites, some thousands a year, to die poor,

without estate; ergo, the Somebodies were still, doubtless, somebody,

and the more the infatuated Rhapsody dwelt upon it, the more he absorbed

the idea of forming an alliance with the dead Colonel's family. And the

favor with which he was received seemed to facilitate matters as

desirably as could be wished for. What airy castles, or gossamer

projects may have haunted the fancy of our sanguine friend, Rhapsody, we

know not; but that he whacked away more cheerily at his trade, and kept

up his appearances spiritedly, was evident enough. An expert and

artistic craftsman, he secured paying work, and executed it to the

satisfaction of his employers.

The industry of the Somebodies was one of the traits in the characters

of the two young women, particularly commendatory to Rhapsody; he

seldom paid them a morning or afternoon call, that they were not

diligently engaged with needles and Berlin wool--fashioning wrought

suspenders for brother, slippers for brother, or mother, or sister, or

the Rev. Mr. So-and-So--the recently made inmate of the family. The

multiplicity of such performances, for brother, mother, sister, the

reverend gentleman--mere pastime, as Mrs. Somebody would remark,--most

probably would have caused a mystery or misgiving in the minds of many

adventurous Lotharios; but Rhapsody, though, as we see, a man of the

world, had something yet to learn of society and its complexities.

Things progressed smoothly--the reverend gentleman facetiously cajoled

Miss Alice and the mother upon the issue of coming events--the lively

young lawyer, etc., etc.,--and it seemed to be a settled matter that

Miss Alice was to be the bride of Mr. Rhapsody at last.

Rhapsody, usually, after dark, in the evening, in his laboring garments,

made his return of work and received more. Whilst thus out, one evening,

on business, in making a sudden turn of a corner, he came plump upon

Mrs. Somebody and Alice! Rhapsody would have dashed down a cellar--into

a shop--up an alley, or sunk through the footwalk, had any such

opportunity offered, but there was none--he was there--beneath the flame

of a street lamp, with the eagle eyes of all the party upon him! Cut off

from retreat, he boldly faced the enemy!

He was going to a political caucus meeting in a noisy and turbulent

ward--apprehended a disturbance--donned those shady habiliments, and the

large green bag in his hand, that a--well, though it did not seem to

contain such goods, was supposed, for the nonce, to contain his books

and papers; documents he was likely to have use for at the caucus!

Rhapsody got through--it was a tight shave; he dexterously declined

accompanying the ladies home--they were rather queerly attired

themselves, it occurred to Rhapsody; they made some excuse for their

appearance, and so the maskers quit, even. Time passed on--Alice and

Rhapsody had almost climaxed the preparatory negotiations of an hymenial

conclusion, when another contretemps came to pass--it was the grand


It was on a rather blustery night, that Rhapsody, in haste, sought the

shop of his employer; he had work in hand which, being ordered done at a

certain hour, for an anxious customer, he was in haste to deliver. His

green bag under his arm, in rushed Rhapsody,--the servant of the

customer was awaiting the arrival of the bottier and his master's

boots. The shopman eagerly seized Rhapsody's verdant-colored satchel,

and out came the boots, and which underwent many critical inspections,

eliciting sundry professional remarks from the shopman, to our hero,

Rhapsody, who, in his business matters had assumed, it appeared, the

more humble name of Mr. Jones, in the shop. The customer's servant

stood by the counter--fencing off a lady, further on--from immediate

notice of Rhapsody. A side glance revealed sundry patterns or specimens

of most elegantly-wrought slippers--the boss of the shop, and the lady,

were apparently negotiating a trade, in these embroidered articles; the

lady, now but a few feet from Rhapsody and the garrulous shopman, turned

toward the poor fellow just as the shopman had stuffed more work into

the green bag--their eyes met. Rhapsody felt an all-overish sensation

peculiar to that experienced by an amateur in a shower bath, during his

first douse, or the incipient criminal detected in his initiatory

crime! Poor Rhapsody felt like fainting, while Miss Alice Somebody,

without the nerve to gather up her work, or withstand a further test of

the force of circumstances, precipitately left the store, her face red

as scarlet, and her demeanor wild and incomprehensible, at least to all

but Rhapsody.

* * * * *

Rhapsody was at breakfast the next morning--a servant announced a

gentleman in the parlor desirous of an interview with Mr. Rhapsody--it

was granted, and soon Jones, the boot-maker, confronted the Rev. Mr.

So-and-So. Though an inclination to smile played about the pleasant

features of the reverend gentleman, he assumed to be severe upon what he

called the duplicity of Mr. Rhapsody; and that gentleman patiently

hearing the story out, quietly asked:

"Are you, sir, here as an accuser--denouncer, or an ambassador of peace

and good will?"

"The latter, sir, is my self-constituted mission," said the reverend


"Then," said Rhapsody, "I am ready to make all necessary concessions--a

clean breast of it, you may say. I am in a false position--struggling

against public opinion--false pride--falsely, and yet honestly, working

my way through the world. I am no more nor less, nominally, than Jones,

the boot-maker. Now," continued Rhapsody, "if a false purpose covers

not a false heart also, I can yet be happy in the affections of Miss

Somebody, and she in mine. For those who can battle as we have, against

the common chances of indigence, upright and alone in our integrity, may

surely yet win greater rewards by mutual consolation and support, our

fortunes joined."

"I have not been mistaken, then, sir," said the reverend gentleman, "in

your character, if I was in your occupation; and you may rely upon my

friendly service in an amicable and definite arrangement of this very

delicate matter."

* * * * *

When General Harrison took the "chair of state," our friend Rhapsody was

reinstated in his place, occupied years before, and by fortuitous

circumstances he got still higher--an appointment of trust connected

with a handsome salary; so that Jones, the boot-maker, was enabled to

re-enter the Somebodies into the gay and fluctuating society at the

national capital, from which they had been so unceremoniously driven by

the death of the husband and father. Mrs. Somebody, that was, however,

is now a much older and much wiser person, the wife of our ministerial

friend, who vouches the difficulty he had in overcoming Mrs. Somebody's

repugnance to leather--and for sundry quibbles--yea, strong arguments

against any blood of hers ever uniting with the fates and fortunes of a

boot-maker; with what propriety, her experience has long since taught

her. Alice is the happiest of women, mother of many fine children, the

wife of a man poverty could not corrupt, if public opinion forced him to

mask the means that gave him bread. Rhapsody is no longer a politician,

or office-holder, but engaged in lucrative pursuits that yield comfort

and position in society. To relate the trials, courtship and marriage of

"Jones, the boot-maker," is one of our friend Rhapsody's standing jokes,

to friends at the fireside and dinner table; but that such a safe and

happy tableau would again befall parties so circumstanced, is a very

material question; and the moral of our story, being rather complex,

though very definite, we leave to society, and you, reader, to