Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. V: Literature of the Republic, Part II., 18211834
The Colonels Clothes
By Caroline Howard Gilman (17941888)
[Born in Boston, Mass., 1794. Died in Washington, D.C., 1888. Recollections of a Southern Matron. 1867.]
EVERY man has some peculiar taste or preference, and, I think, though papa dressed with great elegance, his was a decided love of his old clothes; his garments, like his friends, became dearer to him from their wear and tear in his service, and they were deposited successively in his dressing-room, though mamma thought them quite unfit for him. He averred that he required his old hunting-suits for accidents; his summer jackets and vests, though faded, were the coolest in the world; his worm-eaten but warm roquelaure was admirable for riding about the fields, etc. In vain mamma represented the economy of cutting up some for the boys, and giving others to the servants; he would not consent, nor part with articles in which he said he felt at home. Often did mamma remonstrate against the dressing-rooms looking like a haberdashers shop; often did she take down a coat, hold it up to the light, and show him perforations that would have honored New Orleans or Waterloo; often, while Chloe was flogging the pantaloons, which ungallantly kicked in return, did she declare that it was a sin and a shame for her master to have such things in the house; still the anti-cherubic shapes accumulated on the nails and hooks, and were even considered as of sufficient importance to be preserved from the fire at the burning of Roseland.
Our little circle about this time was animated by a visit from a peddler. As soon as he was perceived crossing the lawn with a large basket on his arm, and a bundle slung across a stick on his shoulder, a stir commenced in the house. Mamma assumed an air of importance and responsibility; I felt a pleasurable excitement; Chloes and Floras eyes twinkled with expectation; while, from different quarters, the house servants entered, standing with eyes and mouth silently open, as the peddler, after depositing his basket and deliberately untying his bundle, offered his goods to our inspection. He was a stout man. with a dark complexion, pitted with the small-pox, and spoke in a foreign accent. I confess that I yielded myself to the pleasure of purchasing some gewgaws, which I afterward gave to Flora, while mamma looked at the glass and plated ware.
Mamma took the pitchers in her hand with an inquisitorial air, balanced them, knocked them with her small knucklesthey rang as clear as a bellexamined the glassthere was not a flaw in it. Chloe went through the same process; they looked significantly at each other, nodded, set the pitchers on the slab, and gave a little approbatory cough.
I will just step up and see those pantaloons, said mamma, in a consulting tone. It will be a mercy to the colonel to clear out some of that rubbish. I am confident he can never wear the pantaloons again; they are rubbed in the knees, and require seating, and he never will wear seated pantaloons. These things are unusually cheap, and the colonel told me lately we were in want of a few little matters of this sort. Thus saying, with a significant whisper to me to watch the peddler, she disappeared with Chloe.
They soon returned, Chloe bearing a variety of garments, for mamma had taken the important premier pas. The pantaloons were first produced. The peddler took them in his hand, which flew up like an empty scale, to show how light they were; he held them up to the sun, and a half contemptuous smile crossed his lips; then shaking his head, he threw them down beside his basket. A drab overcoat was next inspected, and was also thrown aside with a doubtful expression.
Mamma and Chloe glanced at each other and at me; I was absorbed in my own bargains, and said, carelessly, that the pitchers were perfect beauties. Chloe pushed one pitcher a little forward, mamma pushed the other on a parallel line, then poised a decanter, and again applied her delicate knuckles for the test. That, too, rang out the musical, unbroken sound, so dear to the housewifes ear, and, with a pair of plated candlesticks, was deposited on the table. The peddler took up the drab overcoat.
Mamma looked disconcerted. The expression of her face implied the fear that the peddler would not even accept it as a gift. Chloe and she held a whispering consultation. At this moment Binah came in with little Patsey, who, seeing the articles on the slab, pointed with her dimpled fingers, and said her only words,
There was a slight embarrassment in mammas manner when he entered, mingled with the same quantity of bravado. He nodded to her, tapped me on the head with his riding-whip, gave Patsey a kiss as she stretched out her arms to him, tossed her in the air, and, returning her to her nurse, was passing on.
Mamma looked frightened, and he passed on up-stairs. He was one of those gentlemen who keep a house alive, as the phrase is, whether in merriment or the contrary, and we were always prepared to search for his hat, or whip, or slippers, which he was confident he put in their places, but which, by some miracle, were often in opposite directions. Our greatest trial, however, was with mammas and his spectacles, for they had four pairs between themfar-sighted and near-sighted. There were, indeed, optical delusions practised with them; for when papa wanted his, they were hidden behind some pickle-jar; and when mamma had carefully placed hers in her key-basket, they were generally found in one of papas various pockets; when a distant object was to be seen, he was sure to mount the near-sighted, and cry Pshaw! and if a splinter was to be taken out, nothing could be found but the far-sighted ones, and he said something worse: sometimes all four pairs were missing, and such a scampering ensued!
Mamma swallowed as if a dry artichoke was in her throat, as she said, slowly, Why, colonel, you know you had not worn that coat for months, and as you have another one, and a roquelaure, and the coat was full of moth-holes, I exchanged it with the peddler for cut glass and plate.