Bumbletree’s Bass-Horn

From the thick limbs of the maples came the discordant chatter of the
cricket, the katydid and the tree-frog; from the creek beyond the mill
the hoarse bellow of the bull-frog; from the darkening sky the shrill
call of the night-hawk; and out of the woods across the flats the
plaintive cry of the whippoorwill and the hoot of the owl. It was the
evening chorus, but the loungers on the store porch did not hear it, for
to them it was a part of the night’s stillness. But when, wafted across
the meadows from the hills beyond, the notes of a horn sounded faint and
clear, the Chronic Loafer, who for a long time had been smoking his pipe
in silence, cried, “What’s that?”

“Slatter up the Dingdang,” said the Storekeeper. He was sitting on the
steps.

“No, it ain’t; it’s Nellie Grey,” said the School Teacher in a voice that
brooked no contradiction. Then in a deep bass he began singing,

“Oh, me little Nellie Grey, they have taken her away,
An’ I’ll never see me darlin’ any more,
I’m a-settin’ be the river with—-”

“You’re a-settin’ on my porch,” cried the Storekeeper, for he was nettled
at having had his knowledge of music questioned. “Sam Butter can’t blow
that tune, an’ he has ben out every night a-practisin’ ‘Slatter up the
Dingdang!’”

The music on the hill ceased, leaving no tangible ground on which the
debate could be continued. The Chronic Loafer had too long been the butt
of the pedagogue’s cutting sarcasm to miss this opportunity of scoring
him.

“Ef that ain’t a good un,” he roared. “Why, you uns doesn’t know nawthin’
’bout tunes, Teacher. Jim Clock he was een last night an’ hear Sam
a-blowin’ that wery piece. He sayd it was ‘Slatter up the Dingdang,’ an’
I conjure that Jim knows, fer he is ’bout the best bass-horn player they
is.”

The Storekeeper feared that this support from the Loafer might somewhat
prejudice his own case in the minds of the others, so he ventured, “Not
the best they is.”

“Well, the best they is in Pennsylwany,” said the Loafer.

“There are some ignoramuses don’t know nothin’,” exclaimed the Teacher.
It was dark, but by the light of the lantern that hung in the window the
men could see that he was gazing meaningly at his adversary. “But I know
some that knows less than nothin’. The best horn-blower they is! Why,
where’s your Rubensteins, your Paddyrewskies, your Pattis?”

He stopped, for he saw that the mention of these names had had the
desired effect on his audience, as there was a wise wagging of heads.

But the Loafer was irrepressible. “Why,” he retorted, “Patti ain’t a
horn-player. He’s a singer. I was readin’ a piece in the paper ’bout him
jest last week. An’ ez fer ole Rube Stein, he never played nawthin’ but
checkers.”

“Well, can’t a man both sing an’ play the horn?” the Teacher snapped.

“Perfessor, I agree with ye, I agree with ye entirely.” The Tinsmith had
been silent hitherto, on the end of the bench. Now he leaned into view,
resting an elbow on his knee and supporting his head with his hand. “Jim
Clock don’t know no more ’bout blowin’ a bass-horn then my ole friend,
Borax Bumbletree. Borax he knowd jest that leetle he was fired outen the
Kishikoquillas In’epen’en’ Ban’. He come of a musical fam’ly, too. His
mother an’ pap use to play the prettiest kind o’ duets on the melodium
an’ ’cordine. His sister Amandy Lucy an’ his brother Hiram could sing
like nightingales an’ b’longed to the choir at Happy Grove Church. It
seems like Borax was left out in the distributin’ o’ music in that
fam’ly, an’ consequent it went hard with him. ’Henever strangers was
at the house it was allus, ‘Mr. Bumbletree, do play the melodium,’ or,
‘Now, Amanda Lucy, sing one o’ your beautiful pieces,’ an’ all that. Poor
Borax, he jest set an’ moped.

“Final he ’lowed he’d give the fam’ly a s’prise an’ learn the bass-horn,
cal’latin’ to make up be hard hustlin’ what he’d missed be natur’–the
knowledge of the dif’rence ’tween a sharp an’ a flat, a note an’ a bar,
a treble an’ a soprany, an’ all them things. He begin be j’inin’ the
In’pen’en’ Ban’. Fer six weeks he practised hard, an’ at last he did
git to playin’ a couple o’ pieces. But the other fellys in the ban’ was
continual’ complainin’ that Borax didn’t keep no kind o’ time; an’ not
only that, but he drownded ’em all out, fer he could make a heap o’
noise. They sayd they wouldn’t play with him no more tell he learned
to blow time. Borax was clean discouraged, but he didn’t give up. He
practised six weeks more an’ tried it with the ban’ boys agin. They sayd
now that he didn’t know pitch an’ ruined their pieces a-bellerin’ way
down in _A_ ’hen they was blowin’ up in high _C_. He was pretty well cut
up, but ’lowed he’d quit.

“I think he meant what he sayd an’ ’ud ’a’ kep’ his promise ef it hedn’t
’a’ ben that a woman interfered with his good intentions. She was Pet
Parsley–Widdy Parsley, who lived with her mother back in Buzzard
Walley. Borax hed a shine fer her afore she merried, an’ after she become
a widdy he was wus ’an ever. One night at a ban’ festival, ’hen she was
standin’ sellin’ at the ice-crim counter, he was a-jollyin’ her. Now he
noticed that young Bill Hooker, who’d tuk his place in the ban’, was
makin’ eyes at her over the top o’ his bass-horn while he was playin’.
That near drove Bumbletree mad, fer him an’ Bill hed ben runnin’ neck an’
neck, an’ he knowd they was approachin’ the string.

“‘Don’t Mr. Hooker play gran’?’ sais Pet kind o’ timid like.

“‘Well, I don’t know,’ answers Borax, ‘I’ve heerd better.’

“‘Oh, hev ye,’ sais she, kind o’ perkin’ up her nose. ’I ’low you’re
jealous. Can you play at all?’

“‘Well, can I?’ sais Borax. ‘Why, I can blow all ’round him.’

“‘I’d like to hear you,’ sais Pet. ‘Won’t you come an’ blow fer me
sometim’?’

“‘I will,’ he answers, wery determined.

“He went home that night bound to git time an’ pitch together. He started
to practise ’round the house but his fam’ly objected. The missus ’lowed
she could never play the ’cordine with sech a bellerin’ goin’ on. Amandy
Lucy went so fur ez to say it ’ud ruin her voice. But that didn’t stop
Borax. He sayd he’d practise ’way from the house. Every night after the
feedin’ was done he use to take his horn, his music marks an’ a lantern,
an’ go out on the hill ahint the barn. There, settin’ on a lawg, with
the lantern hangin’ on a saplin’, he’d blow away. Many a night that
summer ez I set over at our placet on the next ridge, I’d hear Borax a
boom-boom-boomin’ to git the time. The big tones ’ud go echoin’ way over
in the mo’ntain. Oncet in a while he’d hit it good, an’ I tell you uns
it sounded pretty to hear them notes a-rollin’ deep acrosst the gut,
a-sighin’ th’oo the trees an’ a-dyin’ way off in the woods.

“Then he tuk up pitch. He blowed pitch fer a week an’ then tried pitch
an’ time together. I thot he was doin’ pretty well. Still them ban’ boys
wasn’t satisfied. They sayd he didn’t go up an’ down right, an’ that they
couldn’t hev him a-blowin’ ’way at pitch an’ time an’ never makin’ no
new notes. He ’lowed to me that they was a heap to learn ’bout blowin’ a
bass-horn, but he was goin’ to git it ef it ’ud only be of uset in the
next worl’.

“At nights I could see his light a-twinklin’ in the woods acrosst the
gut an’ hear him tryin’ to blow time an’ pitch an’ ups an’ downs all at
oncet. He’d git his wind fixed to blow _A_, an’ out ’ud come a _C_; or
he’d try fer a _D_ an’ land an _E_. He ’lowed to me oncet that sometim’
he thot mebbe it was willed that he was never to git a tune. But he kep’
at it.

“Now Bill Hooker hed ben to Horrisburg that summer an’ got him a brown
cady hat. That was a new kind o’ headgear ’round Kishikoquillas an’ it
cot on wonderful well. All the boys ’lowed they’d git ’em, but tell
they had a chancet o’ buyin’ one they got to depend on Bill fer the
loan o’ hisn ’hen they was goin’ out shinin’. So Hooker wasn’t s’prised
one night ’hen Borax Bumbletree drove up to his placet an’ ’lowed mebbe
Hooker mightn’t like to loan him his cady, ez he was goin’ callin’. Bill
allus was obligin’ an’ thot no harm ’hen he watched Borax a-drivin’ away
with his cady settin’ way up on top o’ his head. Bumbletree hitched his
buckboard to a saplin’ on the edge o’ Pet Parsley’s clearin’. Then he
got his horn out from in under the seat, fixed himself on a stump ’bout
fifty feet from the house, put up his music marks so the moonlight shone
on ’em, an’ begin to play. He started the serynade with ‘Soft th’oo the
Eventide,’ that bein’ sentymental an’ his most famil’ar piece. He put his
whole heart into the work an’ was soon blowin’ time an’ pitch an’ ups
an’ downs all at oncet. The lamp that hed ben settin’ in the windy went
out–that was all to show he’d ben heard. He blowed ‘Pull fer the Shore,
Sailor.’ No sign o’ life in the house. He blowed ‘The Star Spangled
Banner.’ Still no sign. He then begin all over agin with ‘Soft th’oo the
Eventide.’ Be this time the whole chicken-house hed j’ined in, an’ the
cows was takin’ a hand too. He was desp’rit, dissypinted fearful an’ all
used up. So he went home.

“You take a reg’lar thief. He knows they’s only one eend to
thievin’–jail. An’ he’ll keep on stealin’ tell he gits there. Take a
reg’lar murderer. He knows they’s only one eend to murder–the galluses;
yit he’ll continyer murderin’ tell he gits there. So it is with a reg’lar
man. He knows they’s only one result o’ bein’ in lawv–to be merried
or git the mitten. An’ yit he’ll keep right on tell he gits one or the
other. So it was with Borax Bumbletree. He hed no reason to think he’d
git anything but the mitten, yit he went right up to Pet Parsley’s next
night to take his punishment. He tol’ me that day that he guesst his
serynade hed spoiled all the chancet he ever had, but he wanted it over.

“So he was kind o’ sheepish an’ hang-dog ’hen he’d sayd good evenin’ to
the widdy an’ set down melancholy like, on the wood-box. They was quiet a
piecet.

“Then he sayd, ‘I hear ye hed some music up here last night.’

“He was jest fishin’.

“‘Did I!’ sais she, flarin’ up. ‘Well, I guesst I did. An’ the chickens
was so stirred up they kep’ on all night an’ not a wink o’ sleep did we
git in this house. I never heerd sech bass-horn blowin’.’

“Borax jest hung his head an’ shuffled his feet.

“The widdy spoke up agin. ‘Does you ever see Bill Hooker?’

“‘Oncet in a long while,’ Borax answers.

“‘Well, you tell him,’ she sais, ‘that next time he comes up here to
serynade me to send notice so I can git over the other side the mo’ntain.’

“Borax Bumbletree gasped an’ almost fell offen the wood-box.

“‘How’d you know it was Bill Hooker?’ he asts quick.

“‘Well, didn’t I see that new fandangled hat o’ hisn–that cady I’ve
heerd so much about. Why, I’d ’a’ knowd him a mile.’

“Now Borax wasn’t ez slow on everything ez he was on music. He was right
smart, he was. He seen the way the wind blowed.

“Gittin’ offen the wood-box he went over to the settee alongside o’ her.

“‘Pet,’ he sais, ‘I allus told you Bill Hooker couldn’t blow the
bass-horn.’

“‘I otter ’a’ knowd you could blow a heap sight better,’ she sais quiet
like, but meanin’ business.

“‘That I can,’ sais he. ‘An’ after we’re merried–not tell after, mind
ye–I’ll blow sech music fer ye ez ye never dreamed of.’”

“My sights, but he was innercent!” the Loafer cried.

“What do you know ’bout it?” snapped the Tinsmith.

“Why, him thinkin’ she’d give him a chancet to blow.”