Chapter 3

 

From the reception at the levee, which the Captain thought favorable, he began to entertain more confidence in the advancement of Teague; and, under this impression, thought it now adviseable to begin to take some pains with his bodily appearance, and by the next interview produce him to the best advantage.

To conduct this by system, the first thing was to heave him down, as it were, and scrape off his barnacles. This was done by ordering into an apartment of the kitchen, a tub of warm water. His overalls being stript off, and putting his feet and legs in this, with hickory ashes and a pint of soft soap, the hostler was occupied an hour or two, in the necessary lotion and friction, until the upper skin began to come off, and the natural complexion of his flesh to appear. After this, being stript altogether, his whole body underwent the same operation, the Captain standing by, and ordering his joints to be stretched, in the manner of the Turks in their baths. After this, a clean shirt was put on him, and the usual attire of a common man.


The next thing to be done towards forming the bog-trotter, to some degree of decency, was the teaching him some more easy movements of his person, so as not to lift his feet so high, or make such long strides: as not being necessary, where there were now no sloughs or ditches to leap over, but carpets, or plain floors to step upon. This with the instructing him in what manner to turn his toes out, or at least to keep his feet parallel in walking; and turning round, to throw one heel into the hollow of the other foot; at the same time, in what manner to bear his arms and head; and to preserve or incline his body, in receiving or returning a salutation-- considering by what means this was best attainable, the Captain thought to himself it might be adviseable, in the first instance, to employ a dancing master. For though the lessons of such a teacher, might not give ease of behaviour, all at once, yet these might lay the foundation of it. For no man ever came from the hands of a dancing master with a natural ease and flexibility of joint and limb; yet being taught to move by rule at first, in the course of mixing with good company, the wire edge of art would wear off, and an ease of demeanor be attained. --For this reason he thought proper, the next morning, to send for Monsieur Duperie and to address him as follows:

Monsieur Duperie, said he, here is a young man of some talents, as the world supposes, though I never could find them in him; who is in a fair way to be introduced into the political and probably the gay world: and as he is but rustic and awkward in his movements, I would wish to have him polished; not that I expect he can attain to great perfection in the highest species of the dance; such as the minuet, or the cotillion, or even the manoeuvres of a contre dance, but simply in the position of his feet, and to step and move with propriety. For I do not think it necessary for a statesman, that he be a proficient in the saltatory art; but, simply, that he be able to bear himself upright, and to enter a room in an easy manner, and not take too long strides in walking across the floor.

The Frenchman, eyeing Teague, thought with himself that he was but a rough subject to work upon; nevertheless, concealing his sentiments, as the manner of the nation is polite and compliant, he replied. Monsieur Captaine, said he, ver great sensible of de honneur, que vous me faites, de attitude of d'ourself be so ver natural, dat prove de high degree que vous acquis in de art dat I tashe; and trow un grand lustre, on de talents dat I possede.

Such was the compliment to the Captain himself; though, by the bye, he was but a plain man, and had never been taught to dance.

Monsieur Duperie continuing, turned his attention now to the bog-trotter. Dis Monsieur, said he, appear de best calcule of de vorld for de dance. Sa taille, ver good, his limb promettent, ver much en faveur of his talents futures. His muscle, et son apparance nerveuse, confirm me of his strense in de execution. His eye, be ver good, pour fixet son visavis, his partner. Tout me promet un grand expectation make Monsieur most egal myself in de art of de danse.

As to that, said the Captain, I would not have you too sanguine. You do not take into view the low state in which he is; and what pains will be necessary before you can bring him to that point where you begin with others. So low is my opinion of his present grade, in point of manners, that I had thought of putting him a while under the care of a person skilled in breaking oxen, that he might be taught to move by rule in some rough way at first, before I would trouble you with giving him the nicer precepts that respect the locomotive art.

Tres plaisant Capitaine, ver plaisant, said the dancing master, mais, je me promet dat Monsieur make ver good proficiance, in ver short time.

The Captain now thinking proper to withdraw, left Teague to his lessons.

Monsieur Patrick, said Monsieur Douperie, for understanding that he was an Irishman, and thinking that all Irishmen were named Patrick, he gave him this appellation; Monsieur Patrick, said he, il faut commencer, par les principes; must begin by de principle.

La premiere principe, de first lessong est placer les pieds; place de foot. Voyez; dis foot, cy; comme cela, (showing him how to place his foot) and ce luy, dat foot, la; comme dis foot. (Showing him by his own foot how to place it.) Tournez les pieds; open de foot, quoi! vous ouvrez la bouche; you open de mout, and not de foot. Vous keep vos foot in de same position, et vous baillez: you open de mout. La second principe, is to keep de body droit-- trait. Must sit firm sur ses membres, on de limb. Tenez votre body as dis (showing him in what manner to keep his body) assieyez vous, sur vos membres, comme ce la; dis way Monsieur Patrick. Fermez la bouche, shut the mout.

I stop here to observe, that the opening the mouth when an exertion of the mind or body is required, is a habit very common with uninformed men, and not at all peculiar to Teague. You will observe, that men who have not been long, or at least much in the habit of writing, when they put pen to paper, open the mouth, and protrude the tongue, moving it as the pen turns to the right hand or to the left, or draws the stroke long or short; and, you will see a cordwainer of good skill in his trade, from mere habit, and not any defect of art, put out his tongue, and move it as if it could guide his hand when he is paring nicely the margin of the sole of a shoe or boot: Having made this observation in justice to the bog-trotter, I return to my narration.

The Captain coming in at this point of the business, made enquiry of Monsieur Douperie, what success he had with his pupil. Bien tolerable, Monsieur Capitaine, said Monsieur Douperie, ver tolerable: Monsieur es d’une tres bonne natural; ver good disposition. A la commencement il ne faut pas nous flatter, must not flatter, wid de plus haut degre, du success; at de first of de lessong.

The Captain, not so much from the words of the dancing master as from his countenance and the tone of his voice, saw that he was not so sanguine with regard to the proficiency of the bog-trotter as he had been at first: Nevertheless he was not discouraged in suffering Monsieur Douperie to go on with his lessons; because he expected little more, as has been said, than some improvement of step and gait. Nor did he draw any conclusion unfavourable with respect to the attainments of the bog-trotter in a political career; because he well knew that awkwardness of manner is not at all inconsistent with the highest literary and political abilities; and that some of the greatest geniuses that the world has produced have never been able to attain the graces of behaviour. The poet Horace says of Virgil--magnum ingenium sub inculto corpore latet: and the anecdote of Harley, earl of Oxford, is well known; who, when Queen Anne made him lord treasurer, his dancing master expressed his astonishment, and wondered what the Queen could see in him, for he was the greatest dunce he ever had at his school.

With these reflections, withdrawing, he left the Frenchman to go on with his lesson.

La troisieme principe; de tird lessong, said Monsieur Douperie, is to lift de foot; you lift de foot, Monsieur Patrick, le pied droit, de right foot furs-- here Teague raised the left. O! mon dieu, said the dancing master, le pied droit, et non pas le guache; de right foot and not de left. Est il possible, you no disting de right foot from de left? Il faut lever le guache: a la bonne heure, you lift de left foot.

Now, Monsieur Patrick, un pas avec le pied guache; lift de left foot. Here Teague lifted the right foot, thinking of the former lesson, and willing to please the dancing master by giving him that foot which had seemed to be so much in request with him. O! mon dieu, par blieu, said Monsieur Douperie, est il possible you no disting de right foot from de left?

It is observable of the French character that while they preserve their temper, they are all complaisance, and have the softest words imaginable; but when they break, it is all at once, and they pass to the opposite extreme of peevishness. It is not altogether owing to an irritability of nerve but to that system of politeness which they cultivate; because when the chord of civility is immoderately stretched by a concealment of the feelings, when it is let go, it flies the farther, and with the quicker vibration, beyond the medium of its tension.

O! mon dieu, par blieu, said the Frenchman; and here he had almost said foutre, which is one of the worst epithets that is given, when great contempt is about to be expressed.

However, composing his temper and resuming his instructions, he continued; now Monsieur Patrick, said he, le pied droit, lift de right foot. Here Teague, as he had not pleased his instructor by what he had done last, viz. lifting the right foot, now lifted the left, being always at cross purposes as it were, or still too far forward or too far back in his motions, to correspond with the directions given.

O! diable, diable, said the Frenchman, raising his voice and almost vociferating, quoi ferai je? il est impossible d’instruire cet garcon: no possible make you understand fat I say, you do. Attendez vous, Monsieur Patrick? you look at me, and lift de fout dat I lift; now I lift de right foot; lift de right foot.

Teague standing opposite the master, and lifting that foot which was on the same side with that of the instructor made the same blunder as before, and lifted the left foot.

Monsieur Duperie enraged beyond all bearing, ran out of the room, and left his scholar for the present.

The day after this Monsieur Duperie, having composed his temper, and attending, the Captain made enquiry, as usual, of the progress of his pupil. The Frenchman endeavouring to put the best face on the matter, said some things of course and complimentary; but could not help intimating that it was une grand difficulty en le commencement, in de beginning, to make Monsieur disting de difference of de right foot and de left.

As to that, said the Captain, it is a national incapacity; for which, as also for their propensity to make what they call bulls, it is difficult to account. There are not a people more brave than the aborigines of Ireland, and are far from being destitute of talents, and yet there is a certain liability to blunders, both in their words and actions, that is singular. Whether it is that a mind strong and vigorous, and of extensive range cannot attend to small things; or that a great flow and hurry of animal spirits, carries them too fast for reflection; or that there is a transposition of the brain, so that things present themselves by contraries to the imagination; I cannot tell: but the fact is so that in their own country, as I have been told, when they are taught to dance, which, by the bye, is a hint which I forgot to give you, they bind on the right and left foot different badges, on the one a twisted wisp of straw, which they call a sugan, and on the other a band of ozier twisted in like manner, which they call a gad: so that when the word is given to raise the one foot and depress the other it is rise upon sugan, and sink upon gad; so, that though the tiro may not all at once, and on the word given, be able to distinguish the right foot from the left, he may easily tell gad from sugan, as his eye can assist his ear in this case, the object being simple; whereas right and left are relative terms, and that which is on the right in one position, will be on the left in the contrary.

Monsieur Duperie was willing to avail himself of this hint, for understanding the bog-trotter was a candidate for state affairs, he was greatly anxious to have the honour of giving him some proficiency. Accordingly, though he did not procure a straw sugan, and an ozier gad, yet he made use of what he thought might be equivalent, viz. a red rag, and a blue; so that instead of bidding him move the right foot or the left, he could desire him to move the red rag of the blue.

Having tied these upon his ancles next morning, he began his lesson. Now, Monsieur Patrick, said he, lift de foot dat hab de red ribbon Teague obeyed with exactness and promptitude, and raised that foot. Now, said Monsieur Duperie, de foot dat hab de blue ribbon. --Teague hit the direction, and raised the foot with the rag upon it.

A la bonne heure, vous y viola, said the dancing master: ver glad Monsieur Patrick you make so good proficiance; en peu de tems, presentera a l’assemble. You danse ver well, short time.

La quatrieme principe, said the dancing master, de fort lessong est former une pas, to made de step. Voyez Monsieur Patrick, fat I do. You make step, ne pas long step, mais van little step. The Irishman attempting to obey the directions and to step, made a stride about an ell in length with his arms stretched out, and gaping at the same time. Foutre, said the dancing master; quoi! Vous baillez; you open de mout yet. Oh, diable! diable! foutre! une bete! But composing himself, he proceeded. Rangez vous a quartier; step to de van side, comme ce la; showing in what manner to step out with one foot at right angles to the other.

The Irishman endeavouring to confine his feet to rule, felt himself as much embarrassed as if chained by the heels; and attempting to make the step as requested, and making the usual exertions, with his eyes staring, his arms stretched, and his mouth open, lost the command of himself on the floor, and being thrown from the line of gravity, was about to fall, when to save himself, he made a catch at the dancing master, and drew him down with him.

The dancing master supposing that he had understood him, though in French, when he used the term foutre, and called him a beast, and resenting this, was about to take vengeance, and having heard of their mode of biting, gouging, &c. in America, was much alarmed, and disposed to throw himself on the generosity of the Irishman, as not being able to contend with him in strength: He exclaimed, O! my lord Patrick, excusez moi, pardon, Monsieur Patrick, je demand pardon. Pauvre diable que je suis. I be van poor diable. Vous ets un honnete homme. Ver good man. Un homme brave, courageux, absolument un homme brave, gallant, tres brave, O! je suis un malheurreux, I be van poor diable. Je demand pardon, my lord Patrick.

These were the exclamations of the Frenchman, though at the same time he was uppermost, but entangled by the bog-trotter, who having still a hold of him, was endeavoring to rise, which the other was disposed to prevent, thinking it adviseable to retain the advantage he possessed, and to keep him down until he could appease him by his entreaties, or until help should arrive, so continuing his expostulation, he exclaimed, O! my lord Patrick, faites moi, grace. I give you my money. J’ai beaucoup d’argent. I give you an order sur mon intendant de cent Louis; one, two, tree hundred guinea. I forgive de compensation of de lessong.

Teague, in the mean time, having understood that chastisement was usually given at school for inattention or slowness in acquiring the elements, and not understanding broken French, conceived that the dancing master was expressing his resentment, and about to inflict punishment; and therefore endeavoured to excuse himself by a speech on his part. God love your shoul, said he, dont be after bateing me, because I can’t walk like a crippled goose, just at once. By Shaint Patrick dis is like stoodying law in de work house, where de first ting is a good bateing; God love your shoul, let me up, and I’ll step as strait as a lame shape, or a dog wid his leg broke into de bargain.

By this time, struggling they were both on their feet, the Frenchman, still calling out, voulez vous me tuer; O! ma femme, mes enfans, spare my life my lord Patrick, and the bog-trotter beginning to curse and swear, and to raise the Irish howl.

Being disengaged, the dancing master made his escape, and waiting on the Captain, not wishing to be under the necessity of giving any more lessons, gave him to understand that Monsieur had made ver good proficiance, en ver short time; that he was capable to present himself in public wid all de success possible; that it was not necessary to give him any more lessons.

The Captain did not suppose that the Irishman could have made such advances as the politeness of the Frenchman would lead him to believe, but he concluded he might have acquired what would be sufficient as a foundation for his obtaining some decency, though not elegance in his manner and deportment.

Paying, therefore, Monsieur Duperie the sum he demanded, and thanking him for the pains he had taken, the Frenchman withdrew.