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A Desperate and Despicable Dwarf: Section Twenty Five

       Last updated: Monday, September 20, 2004 22:16 EDT




    Call me Bart. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, I thought I would settle down a little and see the clerical part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. With a philosophical flourish, Cato Sfrondrati-Piccolomini throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the desk. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feeling towards pen and ink with me.

    Circumabulate the city of a dreamy afternoon. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, sit thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in scribal reveries. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to a place you may sit before a desk, if pen and ink there be in all that region.

    Now, when I say that I am in the habit of taking up pen and ink whenever the furor of the active life grows heavy upon my spirit, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever sit down as an author. For to write as an author you must needs have a brain, and a brain is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, authors get soulsick—grow quarrelsome—don't sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never write as an author; nor, though I am something of a scribe, do I ever set pen to paper as an Accountant, or an Official, or, indeed, a Man of Importance of any kind. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all responsibility, accountability—trials and tribulations, the lot! It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of affairs, ados, annals, and what not.

    No, when I go to scribe, I go as a simple clerk, right before the office, plumb down in the bowels of the scribblers' room. True, they rather order me about some, and make me scurry from file to file, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. But what of it, if some old husk of a Chief Clerk orders me to fill an inkwell or trim a quill? Who aint a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old graphologists may order me about—however much they may huff and puff me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is in one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is.

    In proof of which, the tale which follows:

    Applying for an advertised position, I found myself before a tall, carved, grayish door settled beneath the overhang of a grim, looming, grinning gargoyle. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you.

    Unfrozen I was by the opening of the door, and the surly, booming, harsh command which followed.


    So I did, and was interrogated in a shrewd, curt, brooding manner by a great, fat-paunched, beadle-faced man, who possessed the most annoying habit of knuckling the two temples of his skull throughout the interview.

    Shortly thereafter I found myself in the employ of an august, aloof, mysterious employer. The identity of this employer was not, at first, given to me. I was led into a small room, bereft of all occupants, barren of all ornamentation, indeed, empty in its entirety except for a chair and a long, low, shelf-like table covered with inkpots and stands of quills. Here I was ordered to set myself to work, copying the contents of various messages and letters into a large, blue-colored, many-paged binder.

    So I did, and did lackadaisically—scrawling utter nonsense into sundry notebooks. And what else was I to do?—seeing as how I had been given no instructions. All the better, of course.

    This idyllic existence lasted but half a day, however. For, early in the afternoon, the beadle-faced man charged into the room, eyed me with great suspicion, and demanded loudly: "Are you to be trusted, man?"

    And what a question is that? Lack of trustiness, from the earliest times of record, is due to great energy and overweening ambition on the part of the trustee. Such treachery,—and I have consulted the historical record,—requires the exercise of vast effort and toil leading to no end, in the overwhelming majority of cases, but the gibbet, or exile, and the general contumely of the race. There's the fruits of promotion now; there's the vanity of glory; there's the insanity of life! Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all earthy effort. I, on the other hand, being a man of philosophical bent, follow a more enlightened course. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.

    An impatient man! "Speak, dolt! Are you mute?" He heaved his paunch in a threatening manner and advanced upon me. A quick scan of my few pages of copy seemed to mollify his temper.

    "Haven't done much, I see. Now, that's good insofar as it speaks to your character, for indolence bespeaks a trusty man. But bad, insofar as we require an industrious as well as reliable employee."

    "With submission, sir," I protested, "the material I've been set to copy is pure gibberish. None of it makes the slightest sense."

    "I should hope not!" barked the beadle-faced man. "It's written in the world's most indecipherable code. But, as it happens, I now have need of your services as a translator of this very same code you have been copying, and so I shall ask you to follow me to your next place of work."

    I seldom lose my temper; much more seldom indulge in dangerous indignation at wrongs and outrages; but I must be permitted to be rash here and declare, that I considered the sudden and violent abrogation of my office as copyist, as a—premature act, inasmuch as I had counted upon a lifetime of easy labor, whereas I only received those of a few short hours. But this is by the way.

    There being nothing for it, I dutifully followed the beadle-faced man as he led me in his portly way down a long corridor ending, to my mild surprise, in a steel, bolted, locked door. This odd device the beadle-faced man worked at in some industry for a moment, until, opening it wide, he ushered me into the room beyond. As he took some time to re-close, and, I well assume, re-lock and re-bolt the door, I examined my new surroundings.

    A mild sort of horror, it was. For, imagine if you can, the ultimate in scrivenery, insofar as we deal here with the architectural side of the trade. No sunlit room, this! Not a window to be seen, not anywhere in that yawning cavern of a room. The only light was provided by torches on the walls and a motley of candles scattered about the well-nigh uncountable desks. But of those, more anon. For the moment, let us complete our inventory of the room itself.

    This much, this much,—the ceiling was wondrously high, a feature did much to alleviate what would otherwise have been an intolerable closetedness. And, on the far wall of the room, visible even at that great distance, was a truly magnificent painting. Flanked, on either side, by monumental cenotaphs commemorating devoted scribes of old, the painting depicted a vast office,—the very office in which I stood, in fact,—but an office, one of whose wooden walls were the black billowing clouds of a thunderstorm while, on the opposite side, loomed the terrifying, snowy breakers of the sea in its fury. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's face; and this bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the desks below. "Ah, noble clerks," the angel seemed to say, "scribe on, scribe on, and with a true hand; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling off—serenest azure is at hand."

    What could be more full of meaning?—for the desk is ever this earth's foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the desk leads the world. From thence it is the storm of the employer's quick wrath is first descried, and the desk must bear the first record. From thence it is the portents fair or foul are first filed for favorable response. Yes, the world's an office in its daily routine; and the desk is its prow.

    Now, leaving behind the architectural marvels of the room, leave us examine its contents. I begin, even as the philosophers of old, with its inanimate, dull-blooded, inert portions.

    The geography of the room, if I may be allowed the whimsy of so calling it, might be described as ten islands,—ten isles, say rather,-- each composed of a cluster of tall, narrow, black-painted secretaries arranged in a circle, each one being matched with like stool. Grim, grim. A group rather of burnt stumps than of isles; looking much as the world at large might, after a penal conflagration.

    The inhabitants of these isles, if I may move to an inventory of the room's animate,—the word is here used with caution,—contents, seemed in all things suited to their seats. Ten clusters of pallid faces bent low in scrutiny; ten clusters of hands moving in slow, pained, crabbed progress across sheets; and such cramped and crooked hands!—in no world but a fallen one could such hands exist. The souls which infused those hands were faithfully reflected in their faces; indeed, in their every dimension. Though different, as men are, they appeared invariably the same: fixed, cast, glued into the very body of cadaverous death. The great feeling inspired by these creatures was that of age:—dateless, indefinite endurance. Of conversation, none; of banter and jolly exchange, less; no voice, no low, no howl is heard; the chief sound of life here is a hiss, caused by the occasional errant ink-spot and the ensuing frenzied effort to erase it.

    And here, I must say, that one cause of the sad fact why idiocy more prevails among clerks than any other class of people, is owing to their undertaking the erasure of ink-spots. The enterprise is a hopeless one. It is a laborious one; it is a bootless one. It is an enterprise to make the heart break. Vast pains squandered upon a vanity. For how can one erase that which by its nature is designed to be ineradicable? By what magic put pencil lead into quills which have been filled with ink? This it is, this wretched endeavor to erase ink-spots, which drives many clerks into the asylum.

    At the very center of the room, rising up from the tenfold cluster of desks, was a most marvelous contraption,—part watchtower, part sentry post. Egress to it was by means of a rope ladder. Atop, like the perfect icon, stood a short, lugubrious, round-shouldered man, whose sole occupation, it seemed, was to chant an endless and, truth to tell, dolorous tune.

    "That's Cantadas," commented the beadle-faced man. "N. Cantadas. I believe the N. stand for Norman, but I'm not certain. He does his job well and faithfully, so I've never seen the need to inquire." He fixed me with a cold eye. "I disapprove of familiarity above all things, short of Godlessness."

    "I, too," I replied solemnly.

    "Excellent. No doubt you shall do famously at your new position."

    "And what is that, if I might inquire?"

    "You certainly may not!" barked the beadle-faced man, whose name, it now seemed certain, I was not to know. "Your new duties are extremely confidential, and, as such, none of your affair."

    "That is a most sensible arrangement," I agreed solemnly.

    "Is it not? Confidence, man! That's the secret to a well-run world. Let every Dick and Robert know what they are doing, and what's next? What's next, I ask? Anarchy, that's what! Anarchy, heresy, pillage, rapine, bringandage. The whole business."

    Saying no further words, he led me to an unoccupied desk in one of the outlying clusters and motioned me to seat myself. Once seated, he fixed me again with his cold, hot, baleful eye; saying no word, but instructing me none the less infallibly to be about my new duties. And then, like the heroes of old, departed.

    Immediately, I set about my new duties, which, I was delighted to note, were of an ease to satisfy Sloth itself, consisting, as they did, of absolutely nothing, since, logic and philosophy both inform us, one cannot proceed about a task of which one is utterly ignorant.

    Alas, if I might paraphrase the ancient saying: stupidity is forever; ignorance can be fixed. And my neighbor at the next desk,—insufferable busybody!—saw fit to dispel my ignorance.

    "You're supposed to translate the coded messages," he hissed.

    "How?" I demanded. He gestured at a small, green, copper-bound booklet on the desk before me.

    "Codebook," he hissed, and fell silent. Too late, alas, to do any good.

    There seemed nothing for it but to set about the work. No doubt the beadle-faced man would eventually inquire as to my progress, and there was no doubt that my wretched neighbor would hasten to explain that he had seen fit to stick his nose into my business for the sake of explaining it.

    Have no doubt of it! For of all the ills which plague mankind, of all the cankerous notions which have vexed him since the fall from grace, there exists none so odious, execrable, and vile as the envious malice which is, in all lands and in all climes, felt by the laboring and diligent toward the idle and carefree—fatal to the last degree of fatality; as the smitten tree gives birth to its fungi.

    O, doubt it not! doubt it never! But place before the eyes of an industrious man the sight of a lackadaisical fellow, and his brow will heave up like the Leviathan breaching from the sea, leaving a white and turbid wake, pale waters,—paler cheeks!—the envious billows sidelong swelling. He will smite his chest, which rings most vast, but hollow; that emptiness instantly filled with an ocean of spite and envy, in whose turbulent waters will swim before him the image of his lazy counterpart, the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which toiling men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern ecclesiasts ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient heathens reverenced in their statue devil;—deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred loafer, the industrious man pits himself, all mutilated, against him. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to the diligent, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in the idler. He piles upon the layabout's slump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from the first toiler down, and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he bursts his hot heart's shell upon it.

    Doubt me not, in this. I speak from long, bitter, unassailable acquaintance. To the inevitable, it is always the better course to bend; for, in bending, there is still more rest than in breaking. And so I began to translate.

    Gibberish, anon, became, for the most part, nonsense and foolishness. The first missive which I transcribed from code came from a certain,—I give you his name and title exact, as it sat before me, in a cramped hand on crumpled sheets—"G. Gordon Inkman, Godferret Superior #8." In this tissue of phantasms and fables, this certain G. Gordon proposed to convince his audience of the most preposterous tale; a veritable stew of intrigue and alarums. Nothing,—I say, nothing,—failed his fancy. A devious wizard intent on devilishness; his companions?—a malignant gnome, an arch-heretic, a,—only this was lacking!—prehistoric monster; a desperate flight; a desperate struggle; a desperate escape; a desperate capture; a desperate struggle; a desperate capture; a desperate imprisonment; a desperate planned escape,—enough! 'Twas the most arrant nonsense, and I saw no reason to toil for hours in the transcription of it. "Nothing worth reporting," seemed adequate, and so I copied it down.

    The next missive was more to my liking; this, from a certain Ollie Inkman, Godfather Superior #14, or, as he preferred to style himself, "the Colonel." To be sure, there was nothing here but an equal mishmash of myth and legend, long-winded, brash, boastful,—but!—this much to be said, the man wrote in a flowing and easy hand, and, as he claimed to have destroyed all evidence of his heroic deeds in the cause of confidentiality, did not plague me with pettisome details. "All is well; the world is ours, and fairly won; details to follow," seemed to capture the heart of it, and so I transcribed it into the official ledger.

    The next missive was from a collection of persons, all of whom bore the most august titles and resonant names, and who, as a grandiose assemblage, claimed to be the superiors of the aforementioned Ollie Inkman. This message laid waste the legends and myths advanced in "the Colonel's" preceding missive, but did so not by what one would have imagined to be the most pragmatic course, the exposure of the fanciful tales to the cold light of day, but by the curious and circuitous route of swearing fealty to the tales but disclaiming responsibility for the results, not, mind you, in that the results were displeasing but in that they were not, properly speaking, results, inasmuch as they had not, in the actual world as it actually existed, actually happened, but,—bear on! the end is nigh—inasmuch as they might become known to have possibly happened had not Ollie Inkman been a rogue, a rapscallion, and, what was worse, a loudmouth, cause embarrassment to those who should not suffer such, among which persons, the august assemblage assured the reader, they themselves numbered prominently.

    Well; this all seemed, from the viewpoint of a transcriber, to be tediously long-winded, and dreary beyond belief. "Happy failure; we are not responsible," seemed to sum it up satisfactorily, and so it went into the official record.

    But of all this, more anon. For already we are launched upon our tale; but soon we shall be lost in its unshored, harborless immensities. Ere that comes to pass; ere our soon-to-be-introduced protagonist comes locked in combat with his despised foe; at the outset it is well to attend to a matter almost indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding of the more special narrative revelations and allusions of all sorts which are to follow.



    It is some systematized exhibition of the scribe's craft in its broad genera, that I would now fain put before you. Yet it is no easy task. The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid down.

    "No branch of Scribery is so much involved as that which is entitled Narration," says [NEED NAME].

    "It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the inquiry as to the true method of dividing Scrivenery into groups and types. * * * Utter confusion exists among the historians of this craft," says [NEED NAME].

    "Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters." "Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the narrative art." "A field strewn with thorns." "All these incomplete indications but serve to torture us philologians."

    Thus speak of Scribery, the great [NAME], and [NAME], and [NAME], those lights of lexicology and glossography. Nevertheless, though of real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty; and so in some small degree, with Scrivenery, of the science of scribe-craft. That said, there are only two books in being which at all pretend to put the living scribe before you, and at the same time, in the remotest degree succeed in the attempt. Those books are [NAME]'s and [NAME]'s; both in their time scribes to makers of world events, and both exact and reliable men. As yet, however, the scribe's work, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any literature. Far above all other noble trades, his is an unwritten life.

    Now the various types of scribery need some sort of popular comprehensive classification, if only an easy outline one for the present, hereafter to the filled in all its departments by subsequent laborers. As no better man advances to take this matter in hand, I hereupon offer my own poor endeavors. I promise nothing complete; my object here is simply to project the draught of a systematization of Scrivenery. I am the architect, not the builder.

    There are some preliminaries to settle.

    First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Scrinevery is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a scribe be a clerk. In his System of Nature, Linnaeus Sfrondrati-Piccolomini declares, "I hereby separate the scribe from the clerk." But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the present time, copyboys and crossfilers, stenographers and staplers, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of office space with the scribe.

    The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the scribe from the office, he states as follows: "On account of their independent possession of the literate skill, their summary powers, their exercise of judgement,"—and so on and so forth. I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macy and Charley Coffin, of Ozarae, both officemates of mine in scribal service to no less a personage than Benito, Cardinal Cereno, and they united in their opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.

    Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the scribe is a clerk. The fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what respect does the scribe differ from other clerks. How shall we define the scribe, by his obvious externals, so as conspicuously to label him for all time to come? To be short, then, a scribe is a writing clerk with a horizontal tail. There you have him. However contracted, that definition is the result of expanded meditation. An author writes much like a scribe, but the author is not a scribe, because he is ambitious. But the last term of the definition is still more cogent, as coupled with the first. Almost any one must have noticed that the buttocks of most clerks familiar to office-goers have not a horizontal, but a vertical, position. Whereas among writing clerks, the buttocks, though it may be similarly shaped, invariably assumes a seated position, and is thus horizontal.

    But I now leave my scrivenological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Pludne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. Such is the folly of authors, who are naught but scribes suffering from a peculiar malady of the mind.

    Now, taking this question to hand, the grand distinction drawn between author and scribe, is this—the first lives daft, the last straightforward. For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base. This it is, that for ever keeps God's true authors from the world's bounty, for they think that their scribblings can affect the deeds of the world's great; and, on the other hand, leaves empty the deeds of the world's great, for these deeds bear neither honor nor prize save that they are recorded by the scribe. And so it is, that, though hidden alike from the great and the small, the literate and the unlettered, the world crouches abased before the power of the scrivener.

    But of this, more anon. The protagonist of our tale makes his energetic way into our musings. For my enigmatic employer—heretefore closeted beyond my sight—made now his entrance into the grand office.

    Foreboding shivers ran over me; reality outran apprehension. He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze, in an unalterable mold. The lambent, fierce, unforgiving gleam in his eyes bespoke a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain and a ponderous heart.

    And his brow!—a thing of wonder! Few are the foreheads which like my employer's rise so high, and descend so low, that the eyes themselves seem clear, eternal, tideless mountain lakes; and all above them in his forehead's wrinkle, I seemed to track the antlered thoughts descending there to drink. Gazing on it, in that full front view, I felt the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature.

    To my dismay, indolence and idleness perished from before him. The languorous scratchings of the scribes assumed a feverish dimension, as if by some sultanism of my employer's brain.

    I felt a twinge of melancholy. Hard world! hard world! Here I am, as good a fellow as ever lived—hospitable—open-hearted—easy-going to a fault; and the Fates forbid that I should possess the fortune to bless the country with my easy going. Nay, while many a tyrannical employer rolls in idleness, I, heart of nobleness as I am, I am forced to earn my wage by desperate toil! I bowed my head, and felt forlorn—unjustly used—abused—unappreciated—in short, miserable.

    Oh! my friends, but this is man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long toilings extracted from this world's vast bulk its small but valuable coin; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul; hardly is this done, when—Time for work!—the ghost is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life's old routine again.

    Oh! the metempsychosis!

    Now, my employer spoke. "Down, dogs, and kennel!" Then, as if displeased: "Come, why don't some of ye burst a blood-vessel?" Then, again: "What d'ye say, scribblers; are you the men to snap your spine in two-and-twenty pieces for the honor of the Old Geister? What d'ye say?"

    Now, for myself, I am not used to be spoken to that way; I do but less than half like it. But then my employer called us ten times donkeys, and mules, and asses, and vowed to clear the world of us, and I determined to avoid all discord with him. A hot old man! His brow flashed like a bleached bone.

    While he was speaking these stormy words, he seem tossed by a storm himself. His deep chest heaved as with a groundswell; his tossed arms seemed the warring elements at work; and the thunders that rolled away from off his ashen brow, and the light leaping from his eye, made all his hearers look at him with a quick fear. Then, falling silent for a moment, until, --

    "Ishmael!" he hissed.

    I jerked in my stool, hearing my name unexpectedly called. But 'twere a misapprehension, for there proved to be another Ishmael present. An elderly clerk sitting at another table rose and scuttled to my employer's side.

    "I shall need you to transcribe my forthcoming interview with Dr. Laebmauntsforscynneweëld," announced my employer.

    Ishmael, in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, "I would prefer not to."

    An excellent line, I thought—one I have used to good occasion myself from time to time. And I was delighted to see this old tyrant brought short in his temper. Employers need to be chastened, on occasion.

    Alas, wrong employer.

    "Would you, dog!" cried he. And, with no further ado, raised his arms like the wings of a swooping, feral, hungry raptor, and,—or so it seemed,—caused a bolt of lightning to flash down from the ceiling and fry Ishmael right there where he stood, or, I should say, had stood, for there was naught left of him but a little pile of hissing, spattered, spiteful cinders.

    A moment later my employer's glowing eyes were upon me.

    "And what is your name?" he demanded. "You,—there! The new man with the slouch!"

    As it happens, my given name was Ishmael, but I saw fit, on the instant, to adopt another.

    "Call me Bartleby!" I cried.

    "Bah!" sneered my employer. "There was a Bartleby in my employ, at one time—"

    His bony finger pointed to a burnt-looking spot on the floor some distance away.

    "There lies Bartleby. Another lightning-rod man, if I do say it!" My employer's face furrowed into a leering, loathing, leaden grimace, he all the while rubbing his elbows in a deep and, it seemed, metaphysical muse.



    Then, he turned; and beckoned me follow. This, I did; with an alacrity which brought pain to my feet and gloom to my heart. I found myself in a long, leaden, featureless corridor. The old terror strode before me as if Heaven awaited. Of a sudden, drawing abreast of a cistern, he stopped, dipped his fingers into the water and anointed himself; then, dropping to his knees, offered a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the bottom of the sea. Thereafter, rising, he drew forth a briar, stuffed it with tobacco from a pouch, and began a vigorous puffing; all the while glaring down upon me.

    "'Tis my life's curse to be plagued by the necessity of scriveners," he snarled. "Scurvy knaves, the lot—and none scurvier nor more insolent than this potsmudge here,"—his bony finger pointed to yet another little pile of ashes on the floor,—"once the scribe Bartholomew. Unless,"—here a vigorous puffing,—"'twere this impudent sod,"—his pony finger indicated an object which resembled a rasher of bacon,—"once known as the scribe Bartholdi."

    He puffed some more, then spoke again. "My name, or, as I should say, the name by which I am known, is God's Own Tooth." Here he rubbed his elbows, driven by some transcendental urge. "Thus I feel the weight of insolence more heavily than others." A cry,—a great, groaning, quavering wail.

    "Dyspepsia, too—I am troubled with that." Silence, again; puffing, puffing. Then:—"Gradually, I slid into the persuasion that these troubles of mine, touching scriveners, had been all predestined from eternity, and that Ishmael and Bartleby and Bartholomew and Bartholdi and all such had been billeted upon me for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providence, which it was not for a mere mortal like me to fathom."

    Here came a very vigorous rubbing of the elbows, accompanied by a sudden glare at his pipe.

    "But what business have I with this pipe?" he demanded, to no one in particular. "This thing is meant for sereneness, to send up milk white vapors among mild white hairs, not among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I'll smoke no more—" He tossed the still lighted pipe into the cistern. The fire hissed in the holy water; the same instant he turned, strode off, shot by the bubble the sinking pipe made. But, still speaking, now over his shoulder.

    "Then, happily, the thought came to me one fine morning, upon hearing"—here, to my astonishment, he flapped his elbows and, stretching marvelously his neck, called out "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!—the crowing of the noble cock Beneventano, which belongs to my neighbor The Marquis de Grandvin, the thought I say—but who am I?, in my humility, to assume some mysterious purpose of Providence when, for all I knew, 'twas some simple misunderstanding 'twixt me and my Lord God in Heaven. So I asked Him. Much like this."

    Here the vigorous elbow-flapping was conjoined by a piercing whistle. A vast, violent, insubstantial form filled the room.


    "You whistled, pet?"

    "Yes, Lord, I did. I was demonstrating the manner in which I had spoken to you on that earlier occasion when you set me straight on that Bartleby fellow."

    "Fried him, you did, as I recall. And my recall is perfect; I'm God."

    "It's been said I'm a liar about it."

    "Who said that? Who vexes my favorite?"

    My employer pointed a long bony finger at me. "He said it. Or thought it, which amounts to the same thing. He's another of these insolent scriveners with the long, loquacious, lip-curling names."

    Taken by a sudden urge, I began to hop about in wild gesticulation.

    "Bart! Bart! Bart!" I cried. "Just Bart! Only Bart! Poor little Bart! Bart! Bart! Ding, dong, ding! Who's seen Bart? He must be here, let's try the door!"

    I scampered down the corridor and plunged through a door at the end. I found myself in what I took to be my employer's office. This judgment, hastily made, was conditioned by the nature and contents of the room, insofar as I could inventory this nature and these contents, light being provided by naught but a single taper guttering, ominously, upon a table against the far wall.

    Ominous taper; illuminating a yet more ominous table. Dingy and dusty, set out with broken, be-crusted, old purple vials and flasks, and a ghostly, dismantled old quarto, it seemed just such a necromantic little old table as might have belonged to a student of darkness. Two plain features it had, significant of conjurations and charms—the circle and tripod; the slab being round, supported by a twisted little pillar, which, about a foot from the bottom, sprawled out into three crooked legs, terminating in three cloven feet. A very satanic-looking little old table, indeed, and quite at odds with the holy symbols hanging on the wall behind it; though not, to be sure, the implements of torture appended on the proximate wall.

    All I have described was seen but hazily, for all sight was filtrated through a dense curtain of cobwebs. Indeed, the whole room, and all its contents, were festooned, and carpeted, and canopied with cobwebs; which, in funereal accumulations, hung, too, from the groined, murky ceiling, like moss in a cypress forest. In these cobwebs swung, as in aerial catacombs, myriads of all tribes of mummified insects.

    My hair felt like growing grass.

    A moment later, the horrible old man followed into the room, like a great, flapping, pitiless vulture. But I felt the huge, harmonious, terrible presence of God vanish. To my relief!—I'm as devout as the next man, but,—the Almighty, as you might say, is the Ultimate Employer, and, as such, best found in another office.

    "Sit, fool," growled my employer, pointing to an old escritoire against the near wall, from whose pigeonholes suddenly sprang two mice.

    "Here, then, I'll seat me!" I cried, rushing to comply; for I have no fear of mice. "Bart! Bart! Just plain Bart!"

    A tremendous tarantula sprang from another pigeonhole, and, on the instant, devoured the two mice. I shrieked; for I have a terror of arachnids. My shriek occasioned a giggle from elsewhere in the room; I suddenly noticed, in a dim corner of the office, a huge seated form. Then, a high-pitched voice, quite at odds with the giant size of the speaker.

    "Ha! Another clerk driven to gibbering terror! Excellent! I approve!"

    "Bart! Bart! Just plain Bart!"

    The giant rose and towered above me. "Are you chagrined, clerk? Are you abashed?"

    "Bart! Bart! Just plain Bart!"

    The giant smiled seraphically. Looking to my employer, he gestured at me and said, "Here, holy one, is true and faithful repentance; not clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment."

    God's Own Tooth glared at me. "Bah! He is a scribe, a clerk, a scrivener; as such, slothful; as such, given to airs, and besotted of calm, tranquility, and indulgence." His voice rose to a keen pitch. "Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appall!"

    "Woe, indeed!" said the giant.

    "Bart! Bart! Just plain Bart!" said I.

    "Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin," said God's Own Tooth, this last, a confirmation of my growing disquiet that I had hired on unwisely.

    My employer now transferred his gaze to the giant, who had, for his part, resumed his seat.

    "The beadle-faced man tells me that thou hast news of great import."

    The giant's eyes gleamed; what seemed humor—'twas difficult to discern—crossed his face.

    "Indeed! News of Zulkeh!"

    Of a sudden, my employer's face seemed pinched, shriveled into moldy whiteness, like a mildewed grape; then, oddly, a certain grim internal merriment set all his ancient wrinkles into antic play—but merriment not without Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.

    "Speak, thou vast and venerable head," he muttered, gazing intently at the giant. To the tale which followed, my employer listened with fierce attention; so fierce that vapor rose about him. For he was both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts.

    A deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes; eyes, which, for their part, underwent a most awful transformation;—again, and yet again;—at one moment, racing in circles within their brow-shadowed orbits, much as the circus-running sun races within his fiery ring, needing no sustenance but what's in himself. Then, still as diamonds. Terrible stillness! So, though in the clear air of day, suspended against a blue-veined neck, the pure-watered diamond drop will healthful glow; yet, when the cunning jeweler would show you the diamond in its most impressive luster, he lays it against a gloomy ground, and then lights it up, not by the sun, but by some unnatural gases. Then come out those fiery effulgences, infernally superb; then the evil-blazing diamond, once the divinest symbol of the crystal skies, looks like some crown-jewel stolen from the King of Hell.

    When, at the last, the giant's tale was done, my employer, looking out from his welkin eyes as from windows, cast two glances upon me. Such a horror these glances from those eyes brought to my soul! Those lights of human intelligence, losing human expression, were gelidly protruding like the alien eyes of certain uncatalogued creatures of the deep. The first mesmeristic glance was one of serpent fascination; the last was as the paralyzing lurch of the torpedo fish.

    "Can he be trusted?" he mused, as to himself, pondering terrible deeds. My tongue was cloven to the roof of my mouth; but, to my everlasting relief, the giant spoke.

    "Of course he can be trusted! I must say, God's Own Tooth, you are such a skeptic! Why, just look at the man—a sunken-cheeked, heron-legged bachelor of uncertain years, eschewing the rigors of marriage and child-rearing from a lack not solely of spirit and warmth, but from the deepest aversion to labor of any kind. Is it not so, man?"

    "Indeed!" I concurred readily. "I am sloth personified! The thought of marriage appalls me;—a wife? A wife? Perish the thought! For what is a wife but a woman welded to your destiny? And what is a woman but discontent given limbs and animate spirit? The maxim of woman, in defiance of all manly reason, is nothing but this: 'Whatever is, is wrong; and what is more, must be altered.' Dreadful maxim for a religious and pious man such as myself, who dotes on seven days as days of rest, and, out of a sabbatical horror of industry, will go out of my road a quarter of a mile, to avoid the sight of a man at work. And children? Worse yet!—those immature little specimens of humanity, obstreperous enough of themselves; Malthusian superfluities of the household, the chastisement of intemperate wedlock, and the bane, as we all have experienced, of many summer resorts."

    The giant waved his hand airily. "You see, holy one? He is a clerk; and being a clerk, and thus a man, he has a soul; but a clerk's soul's a centipede, that moves upon a hundred legs. And besides, he is from the Ozarine,—'tis plain from his clothing. And there is an Ozarine centipede in some souls that can alike rise up from the loam in the blackest gorges of the canyons, and scurry out of them again and become invisible in the sunless soil. And even if he for ever crawls within the gorge, that gorge is in the canyon; so that even in his highest scuttle the centipede is still lower than other bugs upon the plain, even though they burrow."

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