Prattle

Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 22, 1881

Since the President’s appetite began to reject the unsatisfactory spoon-victual and clamor for the trusty beefsteak, subscriptions to the Widow Garfield fund have been livelier. It is believed that when the patient gets well enough to think himself a match for the veteran tendons of the spring chicken the subscriptions will have to be limited by the authorities, as was the case when St. Bernard promised his flock as many acres in heaven as they should give to the Abbey of Signi.

The Board of Supervisors have passed two resolutions of retrenchment. One suspends the capture and impounding of homeless dogs, the other extinguishes forty-five per cent of the street lamps. The latter somewhat mitigates the horrors of the former: if we are to be left in the darkness it is consoling to know that we shall not be able to see the shoreless ocean of disreputable dogs variously misbehaving.

 

Jonea whispered Smith: “No gipsy I,

But in your hand, sir, I descry

A sign that you’re about to gain

A sum your purse will not contain.”

Soon Smith, with a triumphant face,

Showed down four monarchs and an ace.

But palmistry’s a ticklish thing,

For t’other chap, depositing

Four aces and a monarch, wiled

The money toward himself, and smiled.

 

It is “believed in Washington” that the crews of the lost whalers, the Vigilant and the Mt. Wollaston, are safe on board the Jeannette and will be restored to their friends. By that time their bodies, which the Esquimaux found on the wrecks, will probably have been brought home, too, and the task of identification will be comparatively light and simple.

I am reminded of an incident that once occurred in the town of Brentville, Kansas. One day the body of a man was found in a wood near the town, and a coroner’s jury pronounced it that of James Garrett, a well- known resident of impecunious habit, who had been for some time missing, and it was declared he came to his death by suicide. No money being found on the body and the local laws making no provision for burial of the indigent dead, the coroner had it buried at his personal expense. A few weeks afterward Mr. James Garrett turned up, uncommonly alive and exceptionally prosperous. The coroner instantly sent him a bill for five dollars and sixty cents, expenses of the funeral, and on his refusing to pay it knocked him down—an act that I am the less disposed to justify for the reason that, as the coroner’s legal adviser, my plan was to sue.

The Chronicle is good enough to point out a singularly simple and obvious way for the Czar to prevent a bloody revolution, disconcert the plans of his enemies, preserve his life and establish his dynasty on a firm and enduring basis. The plan is faultless except in this respect: it requires the concurrence of the Czar, who obstinately prefers the advice of the Imperial Council to the superior statesmanship of Jimmy Bowman and the friendly foresight of Mike de Young. The Czar avers that Mr. de Young was never in Russia; that he has no experience as a sovereign; that his knowledge of the Russian laws, manners, customs, traditions and character is necessarily imperfect; that his relations with the other Powers are shadowy and whimsical, and that he isn’t a very nice fellow anyhow. To this I reply that Mr. de Young is a journalist of good physique, with a brilliant career behind him. It is the career of his brother, the late Charles de Young.

The Czar asserts that Mr. Bowman could hardly administer the affairs of Russia, for he has never been able to manage his own. To this I reply that Mr. Bowman is master of some of the most useful stock phrases known to the editorial profession; that he has had a great deal of experience in giving advice to kings; that he predicted the defeat of Hancock and accounted for the decline of Rome; that he is not responsible for either the French Revolution or the American Rebellion; that being too little to hold much he is considered temperate and abstemious, and that his private character has never been assailed in any European legislative body. If the Czar choose to have his own way, it will be at his own risk; Mr. Bowman will not be involved in any of the resulting disasters.

The City Hall Commissioners have increased the salary of the head gardener from $75 to $100 per month. What’s more, they have promised to look up a garden for him.

Someone has sent from Mexico to the Bulletin a knife nine-and-a-half inches long, which he avers he cut out of the breast of an antelope, where the skin had completely overgrown it, so long had it been there.

 

Ah! neighbor, you have been misled.

This is no knife; no,

‘Tis but a long, long arrow-head,

Shot from a long, long bow.

 

Acrident is a Republican politician, and so is Lingualonga, both enjoying some local reputation for eloquence and each naturally considering the other destitute of merit as a speaker. “Why didn’t you remain in the convention when Lingualonga spoke?” asked some one of Acrident. “Didn’t want to hear him spuke.” The remark was repeated to Liugunlonga. “He has always a pain in his vowels,” said he.

 

The editor of the Santa Cruz Sentinel is a daisy. He has published as an original contribution to his paper Poe’s familiar poem “Annabel Lee,” down to the lines

 

To shut her up in a sepulchre

In this kingdom by the sea.

 

There he breaks off and heads it “The Bones of Annabel Lee!” I suppose my gifted but dishonest contemporary had some dim and undefined notion that this performance would bring him distinction as an osteologist collecting skeletons from ancient places of sepulture; but I can tell him that his best fame is to be won in the legitimate walks of country-journalism as historiographer of the mammoth hen’s-egg and laureate of the preposterous potato.

 

Prologue

 

Nunc vide infra a collation

Of notes on an investigation.

 

I

Judge Amee he is a Prison Warden

Under official file accordin’.

For that he drinks the rumor’s bruited,

And that he eats is undisputed.

 

Next comes a certain Dr. Cary,

Whose occupation seems to vary

From finding fault to the detection

Of Dr. Cary’s own perfection.

 

III.

Then there appears good Parson Cummings,

Who executes the moral drummings

That rouse the convicts to repentance

In hope of shortening their sentence.

Each rattling loud and long alarum

Reforms ’em, though it doesn’t scare ’em.

 

A man there is, one Fulton Berry,

A kind of sailor-commissary,

Who buys fine beeves for his own dishes,

And to supply the prison—fishes.

 

Behold the honest Mr. Owen,

Who round the country once was goin’,

To tell how prisons might be emptied

If only his plan were attempted

Of human propagation balking —

As if it could be done by talking!

 

  1. VII. VIII.

Lo! Mills and Gibbs and Watt, appointed

As Saints-Commissioners-Anointed!

They stoutly (for themselves are sinless;

Bombard with rocks the bruised and skinless

Officials and suchlike infernals,

Already bombshelled by the journals,

And prove by each bewildered witness

Naught clear but their uncommon fitness.

 

The Devil last, in judgment sitting

Oil dark sins of his own committing,

Complainant now, and now defendant,

Anon as counsel independent,

He prompts, this legal necromancer,

Alike the question and the answer,

Records the minutes of the trial,

And for “confession” writes “denial.”

 

FINIS.

With breath suspended and abated,

The final finding is awaited,

For Mr. Devil will design it

And the Commissioners will sign it,

And Mr. Perkins will receive it,

And Mr. Nobody believe.

(Source: Archive.org, https://ia800604.us.archive.org/34/items/waspjulydec188107unse/waspjulydec188107unse.pdf)