James Cabell: The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck. A Comedy of Limitations

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    The Rivet in Grandfather's Neck. A Comedy of Limitations
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A Comedy of Limitations



"To this new South, who values her high past in chief, as fit foundation of that edifice whereon she labors day by day, and with augmenting strokes."



"Nightly I mark and praise, or great or small,
Such stars as proudly struggle one by one
To heaven's highest place, as Procyon,
Antarês, Naös, Tejat and Nibal

Attain supremacy, and proudly fall,
Still glorious, and glitter, and are gone
So very soon;—whilst steadfast and alone
Polaris gleams, and is not changed at all.

"Daily I find some gallant dream that ranges
The heights of heaven; and as others do,
I serve my dream until my dream estranges
Its errant bondage, and I note anew
That nothing dims, nor shakes, nor mars, nor changes,
Fond faith in you and in my love of you."

In the middle of the cupboard door was the carved figure of a man…. He had goat's legs, little horns on his head, and a long beard; the children in the room called him, "Major-General-field-sergeant -commander-Billy-goat's-legs" … He was always looking at the table under the looking-glass where stood a very pretty little shepherdess made of china…. Close by her side stood a little chimney-sweep, as black as coal and also made of china…. Near to them stood another figure…. He was an old Chinaman who could nod his head, and used to pretend he was the grandfather of the shepherdess, although he could not prove it. He, however, assumed authority over her, and therefore when "Major-general-field-sergeant-commander-Billy-goat's -legs" asked for the little shepherdess to be his wife, he nodded his head to show that he consented.

Then the little shepherdess cried, and looked at her sweetheart, the chimney-sweep. "I must entreat you," said she, "to go out with me into the wide world, for we cannot stay here." … When the chimney-sweep saw that she was quite firm, he said, "My way is through the stove up the chimney." … So at last they reached the top of the chimney…. The sky with all its stars was over their heads…. They could see for a very long distance out into the wide world, and the poor little shepherdess leaned her head on her chimney-sweep's shoulder and wept. "This is too much," she said, "the world is too large." … And so with a great deal of trouble they climbed down the chimney and peeped out…. There lay the old Chinaman on the floor … broken into three pieces…. "This is terrible," said the shepherdess. "He can be riveted," said the chimney-sweep…. The family had the Chinaman's back mended and a strong rivet put through his neck; he looked as good as new, but when "Major-General-field-sergeant-commander-Billy-goat's-legs" again asked for the shepherdess to be his wife, the old Chinaman could no longer nod his head.

And so the little china people remained together and were thankful for the rivet in grandfather's neck, and continued to love each other until they were broken to pieces.


"A singer, eh?… Well, well! but when he sings
Take jealous heed lest idiosyncrasies
Entinge and taint too deep his melodies;
See that his lute has no discordant strings

To harrow us; and let his vaporings
Be all of virtue and its victories,
And of man's best and noblest qualities,
And scenery, and flowers, and similar things.

"Thus bid our paymasters whose mutterings
Some few deride, and blithely link their rhymes
At random; and, as ever, on frail wings
Of wine-stained paper scribbled with such rhymes
Men mount to heaven, and loud laughter springs
From hell's midpit, whose fuel is such rhymes."



At a very remote period, when editorials were mostly devoted to discussion as to whether the Democratic Convention (shortly to be held in Chicago) would or would not declare in favor of bi-metallism; when golf was a novel form of recreation in America, and people disputed how to pronounce its name, and pedestrians still turned to stare after an automobile; when, according to the fashion notes, "the godet skirts and huge sleeves of the present modes" were already doomed to extinction; when the baseball season had just begun, and some of our people were discussing the national game, and others the spectacular burning of the old Pennsylvania Railway depot at Thirty-third and Market Street in Philadelphia, and yet others the significance of General Fitzhugh Lee's recent appointment as consul-general to Habana:—at this remote time, Lichfield talked of nothing except the Pendomer divorce case.

And Colonel Rudolph Musgrave had very narrowly escaped being named as the co-respondent. This much, at least, all Lichfield knew when George Pendomer—evincing unsuspected funds of generosity—permitted his wife to secure a divorce on the euphemistic grounds of "desertion." John Charteris, acting as Rudolph Musgrave's friend, had patched up this arrangement; and the colonel and Mrs. Pendomer, so rumor ran, were to be married very quietly after a decent interval.

Remained only to deliberate whether this sop to the conventions should be accepted as sufficient.

"At least," as Mrs. Ashmeade sagely observed, "we can combine vituperation with common-sense, and remember it is not the first time a Musgrave has figured in an entanglement of the sort. A lecherous race! proverbial flutterers of petticoats! His surname convicts the man unheard and almost excuses him. All of us feel that. And, moreover, it is not as if the idiots had committed any unpardonable sin, for they have kept out of the newspapers."

Her friend seemed dubious, and hazarded something concerning "the merest sense of decency."

"In the name of the Prophet, figs! People—I mean the people who count in Lichfield—are charitable enough to ignore almost any crime which is just a matter of common knowledge. In fact, they are mildly grateful. It gives them something to talk about. But when detraction is printed in the morning paper you can't overlook it without incurring the suspicion of being illiterate and virtueless. That's Lichfield."

"But, Polly—"

"Sophist, don't I know my Lichfield? I know it almost as well as I know Rudolph Musgrave. And so I prophesy that he will not marry Clarice Pendomer, because he is inevitably tired of her by this. He will marry money, just as all the Musgraves do. Moreover, I prophesy that we will gabble about this mess until we find a newer target for our stone throwing, and be just as friendly with the participants to their faces as we ever were. So don't let me hear any idiotic talk about whether or no I am going to receive her—"

"Well, after all, she was born a Bellingham. We must remember that."

"Wasn't I saying I knew my Lichfield?" Mrs. Ashmeade placidly observed.

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