Chapter 17

It had struck ingenious persons that the popular opinion of beasts speaking, and being taught to speak, might be turned to some account. Hence it was that two young men with a cart, from New-England, coming through the settlement, and vending tin-wares, or exchanging them for other articles, in order to sell again at a profit, projected the idea, or inveigling some rustic simpleton, and dressing him in the skin of a wild beast, put him in the vehicle, and pass him for a speaking Panther, or cat of the mountain; or what else they might think most likely to take with the multitude. Accordingly being in quest of some straggling individual, they got sight of the bog-trotter, and dogging him to a hayloft, into which he had crept to take a nap, they cast a noose about his neck, and dragging him to their receptacle, put him in their cage. A panther’s skin which seemed to accord with the colour of his hair, was thought a suitable disguise with which to invest him; and this they had at hand, having in the course of this exchange, procured it amongst other peltry, which they had in a bale on the top of their carriage. They found he could speak, but in a dialect which they did not well comprehend; nor perhaps could other people, and therefore the more suitable, as they thought, for their purpose, as having the appearance of articulation, but of a beast not yet brought to express himself with a correct idiom of any language. For these itinerant traders being from the eastward, and what are called Yankees, did not understand the vernacular of the west of Ireland, of which country Teague was.

Having cased him in the panther’s hide, they exhibited him as one of this species, and giving him a touch of the whip now and then, and causing him to exclaim, in the language of complaint, they proved to a demonstration, that a beast might be taught to speak.

The bog-trotter, in the mean time, had been missed, and something in the nature of a hue and cry had been raised on his account. Being found in the possession of the vagrants, they were questioned on the nature their property by the officers who had detected them; though this was not until they had had him in their custody several days, and had made money by the impostion. The detection of the fraud was unavoidable, being exhibited to so many, some of whom had been acquainted with the bog-trotter, and knew the peculiar idiom of his brogue; so that suspicion first arising of the kidnapping, it came to certainty by the investigation. The robbers, as they might be called, were apprehended by a warrant from the chief justice, and brought before him. The attorney general, Harum Scarum, was very warm of the occasion, and disposed to prosecute them, though not being well skilled in the law, he could not well tell for what; or in what shape to send up the indictment; whether for larceny, or burglary, or arson. But he gave the act and deed, many hard names, which he had heard of in the law. The chief justice thought it but a trespass, in legal contemplation, though of a very aggravated nature, and could not but lay a ground for an action of damages.

Young men, said he, you are from a country of steady habits; but these are not the habits in which it behooves to be steady. I have heard much of the religion, or rather hypocrisy, of your country. They tell me you chuse a chaplain when you go to steal a pig, for a thanksgiving day; or plot against the government. Not that I undertake to censure your stealing a pig, provided it is for a religious purpose; because it is amongst yourselves, and these are matters with which those that are without may not have a right to meddle. But your stealing a man from himself, and from the community to whom he may be useful, though, in law, it may not come under the denomination of stealing, under all circumstances, and where it is not to take him out of the country, yet is at least a very aggravated trespass, and in what is called a civil action, may subject to very high damages. And this, I say not as anticipating the trial of the cause, if a suit should be brought, but with a view to a compromise. You are not aware of the injury to the individual which must depend somewhat upon the dignity of the person trespassed on; and the injured in the case, is no less a person than one who has been a candidate for a seat in congress, and might have been a successful candidate, had he submitted to the canvass in his favour for that delegation. But he has been actually in the capacity of a judge, and sat upon a bench. It s not long since, that the people of this country would have made him major general, but for his own modesty that declined it, which I could wish others had done, who had, perhaps, less brain to be shot away by a cannon ball. It is alleged that he was wrought upon by his fears in declining the commission, as it might subject him to greater danger, with his uniform and his epaulets in an engagement. Riflemen, or what the Europeans denominate sharp-shooters, might take him off when he came to reconnoitre, or was discovered in the advance of an engagement. But what is it, whether fear or modesty led him to decline the honour, so it is that he was thought worthy of the command, if the governor had thought proper to give him the commission, o he could have reconciled it to himself to have accepted of it. I mention these things, not as approving the making bog-trotters generals, or advancing them merely because a chance circumstance has given them the eclat of fortune. For in war fortune avails much. Nor do I undervalue natural talents; for I can suppose a man drawing a plough, with his gears on, and to have his traces cut, and turned loose in a command, and far surpassing in the talents of a commander, another who had had all the science and all the experience that military schools and campaigns can give. But a presumption of abilities cannot but arise from education, and experience. There is something like certainty in the one, there is but accident in the other. But dropping this, I return to your misdemeanor; not what the law calls a misdemeanor; for that is a crime, and this at least borders on a crime; but unquestionably as respects the community, you have been guilty of a great indecorum. I admit, you would not think it an offence, or at least a great offence, in your land of steady habits, where the second table of the law has been almost struck out of the decalogue, and the ceremonies of religion, and observances of these, have taken place of justice in the way of your trumpery that you vend, or exchange through the country. But to purloin a valuable member of society, even if you did not mean eventually to detain him, is a transgression not easily reconcilable to a pure conscience and a good mind. But it is a maxim of the law, as well as of the gospel, or rather the law has derived it from the gospel, “talk with thine adversary whilst thou art in the way with him.” This is the foundation of our imparlances in the law, or the time given to speak with; so that as there is a tavern, or what is called an ordinary there, not far-off, I would recommend it to you young men, to take the bog-trotter aside, and, after eating and drinking together, you might perhaps come to terms.

Agreeable to the hint given, the young men took the bog-trotter away to the public house, in his panther’s habit as he was, and the presumption is, that a compromise did take place; for, in the language of law writs, there was no more clamour heard on that head for defect of justice.

The like finesse, but in a different way, though with the same view of making money out of the phrenzy of the country, was practised; a couple of speculating men, the one in the dress of a man, the other in the costume of a beast. For it had been agreed that the one should personate a publican, or inn-keeper, the other, who was the smaller man, should pass for the bar-keeper; and, to disguise the human form, he was invested with the skin of a wild cat. The tail had remained appended to it, and as the physiognomy of a cat somewhat approaches to that of a man, the skin drawn over the features, with the same orifice for mouth and eyes, unless to a very nice examination, there was no difference. The multitude of those that came to see the hotel, would not admit of the possibility of a metamorphose, but insisted that the bar-keeper was a real cat of the mountain. The faculty of speech, which it evidently had, made it the more interesting. For, as to having speech, there was no doubt; it spoke several languages, German and low Dutch, French and English. But whether it was a real beast or not, was the question. If it was a beast, and could speak, all admitted that the problem was solved, and it no longer remained an hypothesis, that there were beasts who spoke naturally, or that they could be brought to speak. There were amongst the incredulous, doubtless, some men of understanding and sagacity, and who reasoned from the laws of nature, and the analogy of the parts, there being no organs of speech to a brute creature; but abstract reasoning was borne down, by the testimony of the fact, the majority affirming, and actually believing, that it was a cat, and nevertheless was endued with the faculty of articulate speech. The inn-keeper, who affected to be a person of veracity, averred that he had known him when he was first brought from the mountains, an active skipping cat, without the smallest cultivation, or capacity of articulating a syllable, save in its own mother tongue, and a kind of mew that cats have; but that in the course of three years that he had had him as a waiter in France, Holland, Germany, and England, he had acquired sufficient of the languages of those countries to converse, or at least to understand sounds, and answer calls in German, French, &c.

There was not a word of truth in all this, I mean in the bar-keeper having been a cat, any more than a turkey-buzzard, but the whole fiction of the man who passed for land-lord, acquiesced in, and sanctioned by him who passed for the bar-keeper, and this to their mutual interest, and by their joint contrivance. And, nevertheless, it was as firmly believed for a considerable length of time as Redheiffer’s perpetual motion, a thing not less against the laws of nature, than even the speech of beasts. As in the case of Redheiffer, so also here, the press was, in some instances, on the side of the credulous, and there was at least one editor who menaced all the invectives of his journal against any one who should presume to express a doubt of the fact. All that existed short of Redheiffer’s case, was the appointment of a committee by the legislature, to ascertain and make report. Even at this day, when the bubble has burst, there are those who will excuse their belief, by saying that if the little bar-keeper was not a cat, he was at least as nimble as a cat. So that if they cannot get him to be what they had taken him to be, they will have him something that resembles it.

When the Governor came to interrogate Teague as to the treatment he had received in the tin cart, and the manner in which he had been apprehended, and put in it. He gave the following account.

By de holy faders, said he, I was tired trotting about de country, and just tought dat I would turn in, and slape a wink in a hay loft, when dese spalpeens, de on wid a shilelah, and de oder wid a whip, tod me I was a wild baste dat could spake. I said, de devil a bit o’ me was a wild baste more dan deir honours, but an honest Irishman from de county Drogheda. Wid dat one knocked me down, and de oder gave me a cut wid de whip, and marched me into dat cart yonder, and kept me dere two days, and make me spake to de paple, as if I was de panther dat had been skinned, but not to tell dat I was de bog-trotter; treatning to shoot me dead if I should own dat I was de governor’s sharvant. I had de devil’s own time, bad luck to dem, wid deir raw mate dey trew into my cage, save once or twice a dumplin, to shew de paple dat I would ate like a Christian baste; which I had learned, at de same time dat I was taught to spake wid my tongue, as dey said. I could spake wid de tear in my eye, but de devil a word I dared to say; or to tell fat I was, more dan dif I had a potatoe in my mouth. De big fellow o’ de two would order me out of de cage, to shew de paple dat I could stand on my hind feet, and dance like a human crature, as well as spake something. But we made all up wid a good treat, as de old gentleman, de chief justice, his honour recommended; and if dat had not been in de way, I would have broke deir heads for dem, widout more compassion dan I would a snake or a tarrapin.

The governor recommended him to be cautious of going into barns or hay lofts, or rambling far, as this was a new country, and the times were troublesome. It could not be anticipated, what it might be put into the peoples’ heads to do with him, or with any one else, or what projectors, or itinerant speculators might set on foot next. It had been by great good fortune that he had been discovered, and rescued from these Yankees before they had got him off to their own country, whence they might have taken him to England, and shewn him to old John Bull.