THE PETTIBONE LINEAGE
BY JAMES T. FIELDS
My name is Esek Pettibone, and I wish to affirm in
the outset that it is a good thing to be well-born.
In thus connecting the mention of my name with a
positive statement, I am not aware that a catastrophe
lies coiled up in the juxtaposition. But I can not
help writing plainly that I am still in favor of a
distinguished family-tree. ESTO PERPETUA! To have
had somebody for a great-grandfather that was somebody
is exciting. To be able to look back on long lines
of ancestry that were rich, but respectable, seems
decorous and all right. The present Earl of Warwick,
I think, must have an idea that strict justice has
been done him in the way of being launched
properly into the world. I saw the Duke of Newcastle
once, and as the farmer in Conway described Mount
Washington, I thought the Duke felt a propensity
to "hunch up some." Somehow it is pleasant to look
down on the crowd and have a conscious right to do
Left an orphan at the tender age of four years,
having no brothers or sisters to prop me round with
young affections and sympathies, I fell into three
pairs of hands, excellent in their way, but peculiar.
Patience, Eunice, and Mary Ann Pettibone were my
aunts on my father's side. All my mother's relations
kept shady when the lonely orphan looked about for
protection; but Patience Pettibone, in her stately
way, said,--"The boy belongs to a good family, and
he shall never want while his three aunts can support
him." So I went to live with my plain, but benignant
protectors, in the state of New Hampshire.
During my boyhood the best-drilled lesson that fell
to my keeping was this: "Respect yourself. We come
of more than ordinary parentage. Superior blood was
probably concerned in getting up the Pettibones.
Hold your head erect, and some day you shall have
proof of your high lineage."
I remember once, on being told that I must not share
my juvenile sports with the butcher's three little
beings, I begged to know why not. Aunt Eunice looked
at Patience, and Mary Ann knew what she meant.
"My child," slowly murmured the eldest sister, "our
family, no doubt, came of a very old stock; perhaps we
belong to the nobility. Our ancestors, it is thought,
came over laden with honors, and no doubt were embarrassed
with riches, though the latter importation has dwindled
in the lapse of years. Respect yourself, and when you
grow up you will not regret that your old and careful
aunt did not wish you to play with the butcher's
I felt mortified that I ever had a desire to "knuckle
up" with any but kings' sons, or sultans' little boys.
I longed to be among my equals in the urchin line, and
fly my kite with only high-born youngsters.
Thus I lived in a constant scene of self-enchantment
on the part of the sisters, who assumed all the port
and feeling that properly belonged to ladies of quality.
Patrimonial splendor to come danced before their dim
eyes; and handsome settlements, gay equipages, and a
general grandeur of some sort loomed up in the future
for the American branch of the House of Pettibone.
It was a life of opulent self-delusion, which my aunts
were never tired of nursing; and I was too young to
doubt the reality of it. All the members of our little
household held up their heads, as if each said, in so
many words, "There is no original sin in our composition,
whatever of that commodity there may be mixed up with
the common clay of Snowborough."
Aunt Patience was a star, and dwelt apart. Aunt Eunice
looked at her through a determined pair of spectacles,
and worshiped while she gazed. The youngest sister lived
in a dreamy state of honors to come, and had constant
zooelogical visions of lions, griffins, and unicorns,
drawn and quartered in every possible style known to
the Heralds' College. The Reverend Hebrew Bullet, who
used to drop in quite often and drink several compulsory
glasses of home-made wine, encouraged his three parishoners
in their aristocratic notions, and extolled them for
what he called their "stooping-down to every-day life."
He differed with the ladies of our house only on one
point. He contended that the unicorn of the Bible and
the rhinoceros of to-day were one and the same animal.
My aunts held a different opinion.
In the sleeping-room of my Aunt Patience reposed a trunk.
Often during my childish years I longed to lift the lid
and spy among its contents the treasures my young fancy
conjured up as lying there in state. I dared not ask to
have the cover raised for my gratification, as I had
often been told I was "too little" to estimate aright
what that armorial box contained. "When you grow up,
you shall see the inside of it," Aunt Mary used to say
to me; and so I wondered, and wished, but all in vain.
I must have the virtue of years before I could view
the treasures of past magnificence so long entombed in
that wooden sarcophagus. Once I saw the faded sisters
bending over the trunk together, and, as I thought,
embalming something in camphor. Curiosity impelled me
to linger, but, under some pretext, I was nodded out
of the room.
Although my kinswomen's means were far from ample,
they determined that Swiftmouth College should have
the distinction of calling me one of her sons, and
accordingly I was in due time sent for preparation to
a neighboring academy. Years of study and hard fare
in country boarding-houses told upon my self-importance
as the descendant of a great Englishman, notwithstanding
all my letters from the honored three came with counsel
to "respect myself and keep up the dignity of the
family." Growing-up man forgets good counsel. The
Arcadia of respectability is apt to give place to the
levity of football and other low-toned accomplishments.
The book of life, at that period, opens readily at fun
and frolic, and the insignia of greatness give the
school-boy no envious pangs.
I was nineteen when I entered the hoary halls of
Swiftmouth. I call them hoary, because they had been
built more than fifty years. To me they seemed
uncommonly hoary, and I snuffed antiquity in the
dusty purlieus. I now began to study, in good earnest,
the wisdom of the past. I saw clearly the value of
dead men and mouldy precepts, especially if the former
had been entombed a thousand years, and if the latter
were well done in sounding Greek and Latin. I began
to reverence royal lines of deceased monarchs, and
longed to connect my own name, now growing into
college popularity, with some far-off mighty one who
had ruled in pomp and luxury his obsequious people.
The trunk in Snowborough troubled my dreams. In that
receptacle still slept the proof of our family
distinction. "I will go," quoth I, "to the home of
my aunts next vacation and there learn how we
became mighty, and discover precisely why we don't
practice to-day our inherited claims to glory."
I went to Snowborough. Aunt Patience was now anxious
to lay before her impatient nephew the proof he burned
to behold. But first she must explain. All the old
family documents and letters were, no doubt, destroyed
in the great fire of '98, as nothing in the shape of
parchment or paper implying nobility had ever been
discovered in Snowborough, or elsewhere. But there
had been preserved, for many years, a suit of imperial
clothes that had been worn, by their great-grandfather
in England, and, no doubt, in the New World also. These
garments had been carefully watched and guarded, for
were they not the proof that their owner belonged to
a station in life second, if second at all, to the
royal court of King George itself? Precious casket,
into which I was soon to have the privilege of gazing!
Through how many long years these fond, foolish virgins
had lighted their unflickering lamps of expectation
and hope at this cherished old shrine!
I was now on my way to the family repository of all
our greatness. I went up stairs "on the jump." We all
knelt down before the well-preserved box; and my proud
Aunt Patience, in a somewhat reverent manner, turned
the key. My heart,--I am not ashamed to confess it now,
although it is forty years since the quartet, in search
of family honors, were on their knees that summer
afternoon in Snowborough,--my heart beat high. I was
about to look on that which might be a duke's or an
earl's regalia. And I was descended from the owner in
a direct line! I had lately been reading Shakespeare's
Titus Andronicus; and I remembered, there before
the trunk, the lines:
"O sacred receptacle of my joys,
Sweet cell of virtue and nobility!"
The lid went up, and the sisters began to unroll the
precious garments, which seemed all enshrined in
aromatic gums and spices. The odor of that interior
lives with me to this day; and I grow faint with the
memory of that hour. With pious precision the clothes
were uncovered, and at last the whole suit was laid
before my expectant eyes.
Reader! I am an old man now, and have not long to
walk this planet. But whatever dreadful shock may
be in reserve for my declining years, I am certain
I can bear it; for I went through that scene at
Snowborough, and still live!
When the garments were fully displayed, all the
aunts looked at me. I had been to college; I had
studied Burke's Peerage; I had been once to
New York. Perhaps I could immediately name the exact
station in noble British life to which that suit
of clothes belonged. I could; I saw it all at a
glance. I grew flustered and pale. I dared not look
my poor deluded female relatives in the face.
"What rank in the peerage do these gold-laced
garments and big buttons betoken?" cried all three.
"It is a suit of servant's livery!" gasped
I, and fell back with a shudder.
That evening, after the sun had gone down, we buried
those hateful garments in a ditch at the bottom of
the garden. Rest there perturbed body-coat, yellow
trousers, brown gaiters, and all!
"Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~