|Chapter Number||Intro; I|
|Newspaper Title||The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859)|
|Trove Title||The Story of a Feather|
THE STORY OF A FEATHER.
By Douglas ???.
I AM a native of Africa; but my parent Ostrich having been hunted down for the property he carried about with him, I was, many years ago, shipped at the Cape of Good Hope for London; in which magnificent city I have lived a life of many changes. On my arrival, I was preferred to the house of a duke; there, I waved, and fluttered, and tossed my head among the noblest of the land; and now—
But I will narrate my adventures in the order they befell me. My duty to my parent demands that I should champion him against the supercilious sneers of the world-that I should vindicate his memory from the ignorant slander of mankind.
I will confess it, when, after a race of some fifty leagues, with the horses close at my parent's tail—
"Cujus fui minima pars"
(where, reader, I picked up my Latin, shall, in good time, be made known to you,)-when I beheld my honoured sire thrust his head into a bush, believing, as it was too plain he did, that because he could not see himself, nobody could see him,-I do confess, despite of filial love, I felt a fluttering of indig- nation, not unalloyed-may I be pardoned the sin?-with contempt. The world has taught me better wisdom. Expe- rience hath made me tolerant. Since I have seen men, praised, too, for their excelling prudence, commit the self-same folly as my unfortunate sire, reproach has subsided into sorrow, and contempt become ennobled by regret.
But I come of an outraged, a slandered race. What bouncing fibs have been written of me, by sand-blind philosophers, and glibly repeated by gossips of all sorts at their firesides! How venerable does a lie become by length of years! Truth is never a babe, and never a hag. As at the first, so at the last: full- blown yet young; her eyes lustrous through ages, and her lip ruddy and fresh as with the dews of Eden: upon her brow sits an eternity of beauty. Now Falsehood is born a puling, roar- ing thing: its very infancy is anticipative of its old age, and stamped with the grossness of mortality. Day by day it waxes bigger and stronger; has increase of reputation, crowds of clients; until at length, its unrighteous hoariness makes it worshipped by multitudes for no other reason save this-it has gray hairs. And so the wrinkled wizard keeps his court, and works his mischief-dealing, paralysing spells, until Truth at some time turn her sapphire eyes full upon him, and as a bubble at a finger's touch, Falsehood is gone.
For thousands of years my ancestors have borne the weight of lies upon their backs. And first, for the shameless scandal that the family of Ostriches wanted the love which even with the wasp makes big its parental heart towards its little ones:
"The Ostrich, having laid her eggs, leaves them to be hatched by the heal of the sun."
Such is the wickedness that for tens of centuries has passed among men for truth, reducing the ostrich to a level with those hollow-hearted children of Adam, who leave their little ones to the mercies of the world-to the dandling of chance-to the hard rearing of the poor-house. There is Lord de Bowelless; he has a rent-roll of thousands; is a plumed and jewelled peer. Look at him in his robes;-behold "law-maker" written on the broad tablet of his comprehensive brow. He is in the House of Peers ; the born protector of his fellow-man. How the consciousness of high function sublimates his nature! He looks, and speaks, and lays his hand upon his breast, the invin- cible champion of all human suffering-all human truth. Turn a moment from the peer, and look at yonder biped. There is an old age of cunning cut and lined in the face of a mere youth. He has counted some nineteen summers, yet is his soul
wrinkled with deceit. And wherefore? Poor wretch! His
very birth brought upon her who bore him abuse and infamy— his first wail was to his mother's ear the world's audible reproach. He was shuffled off into the world, a thing anyway to be for- gotten, lost, got rid of. In his very babihood, he was no more to men than the young lizard that crawls upon a bank, and owes its nurture to the bounty of the elements. And so this hapless piece of human offal-this human ostrich deserted in its very shell-was hatched by wrong and accident into a thief, and there he stands, charged with the infamy of picking pockets. The world taught him nothing wise or virtuous, and now, most properly, will the world scourge him for his ignorance.
And thus, because Man, and Man alone, can with icy heart neglect his little ones-can leave them in the world's sandy desert to crawl into life as best they may,-because as Lord de Bowelless can suffer his natural baby to be swaddled in a work- house, to eat the pap of poor-laws-to learn as it grows nothing but the readiest means of satisfying its physical instincts,-be- cause his Lordship can let his own boy sneak, and wind, and filch through life, ending the life the peer did him the deep wrong to bestow upon him, in Macquarie Harbour,-because, forsooth, his Lordship is capable of all this, he must, in the consciousness of his own depraved nature, libel the parental feelings of the affectionate ostrich! Oh, that the slander could perish and for ever! Oh, that I could pierce the lie to the heart; with a feather pierce it, though cased in the armour of forty centuries!
Again, the Ostrich is libelled for his gluttony. Believe w li.it is said of him, and you would not trust him even in the Hojal stables, lest he should devour the very shoes from the feet of the horses. Why, the Ostrich ought to be taken as the one em- blem of temperance. He lives and flourishes in the desert: his choicest food a bitter, spikey shrub, with a few stones-for how rarely can he find iron, how few the white days in which the poor Ostrich can, in Arabia Petrea, have the luxury of a lenpenny nail,-to season, as with salt, his vegetable diet I And yet common councilman Prawns, with face purple as the pur- ple grape, will call the Ostrich-glutton I
For how many centuries did that stately rajah, the Elephant, move about the earth, mankind all the while resolutely denying to bim the natural joints of his legs 1 Poor fellow 1 although thousands and thousands of times he must have knelt before men-going upon his knees that his riders might tell the truth of him,-they nevertheless refused to him the power of bending. But the Elephant hu become a traveller-has con descended to eat cakes at a fair-has shown the combined humility and magnanimity of his nature, by going on his marrow-bones on the boards of a playhouse, and the world has at length passed a truthful sentence upon him. In the year 1843, the Elephant has joints !
I have endeavoured, feebly enough I know, to vindicate the character of the maligned östlich. Let that pass. My purpose in the following chapters-and whether I shall proceed to one or five hundred chapters, is a doubt at present hidden in the mysterious depths of a bottle of ink-is to tell what I have seen in my eventful, ever-shifting existence, as a leather among men. An ostrich feather I Consider my mutations, and give courteous car to my history 1
MY ARRIVAL IN ENGLAND; VISIT TO
SHADRACH JACOBS, OF THE MINORIES.
Mr voyage from the Cope to the port of London I would Tain pass with the fewest words. I bad at least this consolation -I was an unwilling traveller. Otherwise, I had deserved all the miseries of ship-board-the darkness, Ihe fetor, Ihe hubbub and violence of the place. I have some pity for anything that in its ignorance of salt-water first trust* itself to its mercies; but none for the fool that ventures twice. There may be some Eden-like spots even in a coal-mine; but, the hold of s ship -n«h 1
1 remember being once present at a party of the Bishop of Fat-o'-tlie-lands. The conversation turned apon the bounti fulness of the sea, ordained, as it assuredly was, for the facile communication of man with man. Poor simpletons I It is my inherent faith that the ocean waa expressly created to keep nations as much as possible separate ; but that the courageous wickedness of man has set at nought the benevolent design of nature, and-to hei astonishment-has triumphed in the very teeth of sea-sickness. Nay have I not, on my side, the wisdom of law-makers? For were they not of my faith, would they tax silks and pepper ? On the contrary, would tbey not take to their boioms the adventurous men who are tossed to and from the far East for rare commodities to clothe UM limbs, and tickle the palates of tbelrfellow.bipeds? And what is the fact? Why, legislation, ai s check to the presumption of man, makes Mat- in a hundred different modes-pay for hit temerity. The tes was intended to keep people to themselves; but the human heart ia wicked, and man became ship-builders.
Let meliere advise the reader of one of my besetting fault*. I ian now and then apt to give up the thread of a narrative, that
1 may run after some butterfly-thought starting up before me ; however, if the reader have patience, he will find that I always return to my story. If he have not, let him make the history and utility of the Pyramids, and at once lay down the feathery tale before him. I am conscious of this infirmity of falling into idle chit-chat. Consider, however, the prejudices of my early education. Consider the time of life at which I was taken to court-consider the society amidst which I passed my whitest days, and you will pardon the small-talk of this my forlorn, ragged, mortified old age.
However, to begin the history of my adventures in merry miserable England:-I found myself the properly of the third mate of the Jupiter, who had purchased me, with other of my companions, of a Kaffer, for a twist of pigtail ; my new master rejoicing himself exceedingly at the cultivated intellect which enabled him to trick the savage. He never, I am certain, felt so much of an Englishman, as when he had fobbed the Hot- tentot Jack Lipscomb, for so was my new master named, combined in his nature-at least, so he thought-all the courage and daring of the sailor, with the prudence and foresight of the experienced merchant. With this belief, he had the deepest contempt for every man of every other nation, save England. He believed that the blessings of arithmetic were wholly con- fined to his own beloved country and her darling sons ; hence, in his small traffic with Chinese, Malay, and Hottentot, he would insist that two and two made seven, five mid seven fifteen or twenty, as he might feel it convenient to arrange the figures. In n word, he considered every foreigner to be produced by benevolent nature for this one purpose-to bestow profit and pleasure on a freaborn Briton. It was this consciousness of superiority that made him vote himself " honest Jack Lips- comb,-a man as was above a lie, and didn't care who knew it. He'd no deceit in him, not he : no-he never did nothing that he need hide from nobody." It was, doubtless, this fine prin- ciple that induced the ingenuous sailor lo pack myself and some twenty companions between lils shirt and jacket ere he quilted the Docks Doubtless there was no need ot such an arrange- ment, no other than the whim, the caprice of honest Jack Lipscomb.
On leaving the Docks, Jack took his way towards the Almo- ríes ; and in a short time smote the hospitable door of an ancient Hebrew, known among his people as Shailrach Jacobs, and still more familiarly recognised hy his intimates as "old Fluffy." Shadrach was a dealer in the pomps and vanities of life, turning the honest penny by such commodities, and still benevolently deploring their existence. He would employ au hour, per- suading a poor wench that ear-rings of mosaic metal were of the purest ore, pocket the girl's quarter's wages for the small commercial deceit, and then sigh for the promised innocence, the pure felicity of the New Jerusalem. This was the trades- man who, for the past four voyages, had purchased the mer- chandise of honest, knowing Jack Lipscomb.
"Velll if it isn't Mr. Lipscomb-if I didn't dream on you last night-if 1 didn't dream you was come home, captain, don't never believe mc, that's all." Such uiis the salutation of the Hebrew dealer, as Jack stood revealed nt the door-step. " This ray, Mr. Lipscomb-this vay ;" and old Flu Hy fluttered down the passage, and mounted the narrow staircase, shaking nt lcist twenty years from his heels, with the expectation of sudden gain. Jack was speedily conducted into the Jew's room, crammed and littered as it was with exotic produce-shells, feathers, birds, bamboo-sticks, Indian hammocks, war-swords, canoe-paddles, with half-a-dozen screaming parrots and macaws, enriched the commercial sanctuary of the Hebrew.
"If 1 didn't dream you was captain, Mr. Lipscomb 1" re- peated the Jew us Jack dropt himself upon a chair.
" Captain I" ciied Jack, affecting a contempt for such vain dignity.
" Veil, then, first mate," said the Jew, as though his dream comprehended even the second rank.
" Ugh I" cried Jack, «« a pretty first-mate we've got-yes, a good 'un, hu is-just know* a bowsprit from a umbrella, and
that's all. "
41 Bless me ! veil I" sighed the Jew, and then smiling and rubbing his hands, he turned himself towards Jack, and with an affected look of anxiety, said, " In course, Mr. Lipscomb, j ou
comet back second ?"
" I tell you what, old Fluffy," said Jack, stung with the feeling of unrewarded personal merit, "I tell you what-I'm just what I was-honest Jack Lipscomb-third mate of the Jupiter,-and I'd like you to show meamorestraightforwarder, honester, cleverer fellow 1"
" Ha I it would do good to my eyes to see him us could," said Shadrach; and then, in a tone of sympathy, "only third-mate -veil, this is a vorld, to be sure I" Having thus delivered him- self, Mr. Jacobs proceeded to the- first business or his life ; namely, to business Itself. He had thought it merely prudent to learn the condition of his old acquaintance, whether improved or not, since they last met. This, It must be owned on the part of the Jew, was really respectful to station in the abstract ; for if Mr. Lipscomb were Captain Lipscomb, Mr Jacobs, of course, knew too well what was due to rank to offer to a com- mander, or even to a first or second mate, that which in the trader's own opinion, was merely due to the third " Veil, and vot have you brought us, Jack ?" usked the Jew, with the old familiarity of an old friend.
" In the first place," answered the sailor, " feathers ;" and he produced me.
" Feathers,-veil, I don't know," mused the Jew, " as for feathers, Jack, they're down to nolliin'. There's no vonder the vorld's vot it is, for feathers Is quite gone out Look at them shelves, there ; look at them boxes-all full-nut sold a feather this six months. I don't know vot's come to peoplu. Some say it's edication- 1 don't know; if it is, it ought to be put down, for it innkes the feather trade notliin'-nothin'-nothln'." Thui spoke the Jew, his voice deepening on each of the last three words, until he sounded what seemed the very bass-string of despair.
Indeed, the Jew and the sailor might have made a picture. Shadrach had, in his youth, rejoiced in luxuriant locks of more than golden : they were, in the intense signification of the phrase, red gold. These, in the storms of life, had become thickly specked with gray and white ; yet remained there a departing ray among them to indicate the glory that was past. Shadrach's face was lean and pointed; his eyes quick, and, as at times they seemed, trembling with excess of light-a light reflected as from guineas. His nose »as boldly bowed, indi- cating the true son of Israel ; and whilst the corners of his upper lip were twitched hy muscular emotion-(how myste- riously is fashioned the civilised man, when there is a connexion between the seat of the pocket and the seat of the mouth) emotion, due homage to the spirit of gain, his under lip hung down, lapped over with the weight of sensibility, or sensuality, I cannot here decide. His sharp face, quick eye, faded yellow hair and ardent complexion, gave him, to the eye of fancy, the visage of an old fox. grown venerably grey in the blood of stolen geese. And thus Shadrach sat and gated at Jack Lipscomb.
And Jack received the looks of the Jew with the stalwart manner of a British tar, chewing the while that sweetest con- diment-pigtail tobacco I
(To be continued.) . - ».