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Wit and Humor of America, The Vol 02

HOW "RUBY" PLAYED

BY GEORGE W. BAGBY

(Jud Brownin, when visiting New York, goes to hear Rubinstein, and gives the following description of his playing.)

Well, sir, he had the blamedest, biggest, catty-cornerdest pianner you ever laid eyes on; somethin' like a distracted billiard-table on three legs. The lid was hoisted, and mighty well it was. If it hadn't been, he'd 'a' tore the entire inside clean out and shattered 'em to the four winds of heaven.

Played well? You bet he did; but don't interrupt me. When he first sit down he 'peared to keer mighty little 'bout playin' and wisht he hadn't come. He tweedle-leedled a little on a treble, and twoodle-oodled some on the base,—just foolin' and boxin' the thing's jaws for bein' in his way. And I says to a man sittin' next to me, says I, "What sort of fool playin' is that?" And he says, "Heish!" But presently his hands commenced chasin' one another up and down the keys, like a passel of rats scamperin' through a garret very swift. Parts of it was sweet, though, and reminded me of a sugar squirrel turnin' the wheel of a candy cage.

"Now," I says to my neighbor, "he's showin' off. He thinks he's a-doin' of it, but he ain't got no idee, no plan of nothin'. If he'd play me a tune of some kind or other, I'd—"

But my neighbor says, "Heish!" very impatient.

I was just about to git up and go home, bein' tired of that foolishness, when I heard a little bird waking up away off in the woods and call sleepy-like to his mate, and I looked up and see that Rubin was beginning to take some interest in his business, and I sit down again. It was the peep of day. The light came faint from the east, the breezes blowed gentle and fresh, some more birds waked up in the orchard, then some more in the trees near the house, and all begun singin' together. People began to stir, and the gal opened the shutters. Just then the first beam of the sun fell upon the blossoms a leetle more, and it techt the roses on the bushes, and the next thing it was broad day; the sun fairly blazed, the birds sung like they'd split their little throats; all the leaves was movin', and flashin' diamonds of dew, and the whole wide world was bright and happy as a king. Seemed to me like there was a good breakfast in every house in the land, and not a sick child or woman anywhere. It was a fine mornin'.

And I says to my neighbor, "That's music, that is."

But he glared at me like he'd like to cut my throat.

Presently the wind turned; it begun to thicken up, and a kind of gray mist came over things; I got low-spirited directly. Then a silver rain began to fall. I could see the drops touch the ground; some flashed up like long pearl ear-rings, and the rest rolled away like round rubies. It was pretty, but melancholy. Then the pearls gathered themselves into long strands and necklaces, and then they melted into thin silver streams, running between golden gravels, and then the streams joined each other at the bottom of the hill, and made a brook that flowed silent, except that you could kinder see the music, especially when the bushes on the banks moved as the music went along down the valley. I could smell the flowers in the meadow. But the sun didn't shine, nor the birds sing: it was a foggy day, but not cold.

The most curious thing was the little white angel-boy, like you see in pictures, that run ahead of the music brook and led it on, and on, away out of the world, where no man ever was, certain, I could see the boy just as plain as I see you. Then the moonlight came, without any sunset, and shone on the graveyards, where some few ghosts lifted their hands and went over the wall, and between the black, sharp-top trees splendid marble houses rose up, with fine ladies in the lit-up windows, and men that loved 'em, but could never get anigh 'em, who played on guitars under the trees, and made me that miserable I could have cried, because I wanted to love somebody, I don't know who, better than the men with the guitars did.

Then the sun went down, it got dark, the wind moaned and wept like a lost child for its dead mother, and I could 'a' got up then and there and preached a better sermon than any I ever listened to. There wasn't a thing in the world left to live for, not a blame thing, and yet I didn't want the music to stop one bit. It was happier to be miserable than to be happy without being miserable. I couldn't understand it. I hung my head and pulled out my handkerchief, and blowed my nose loud to keep me from cryin'. My eyes is weak anyway; I didn't want anybody to be a-gazin' at me a-sniv'lin', and it's nobody's business what I do with my nose. It's mine. But some several glared at me mad as blazes. Then, all of a sudden, old Rubin changed his tune. He ripped out and he rared, he tipped and he tared, he pranced and he charged like the grand entry at a circus. 'Peared to me that all the gas in the house was turned on at once, things got so bright, and I hilt up my head, ready to look any man in the face, and not afraid of nothin'. It was a circus and a brass band and a big ball all goin' on at the same time. He lit into them keys like a thousand of brick; he give 'em no rest day or night; he set every livin' joint in me a-goin', and, not bein' able to stand it no longer, I jumped spang onto my seat, and jest hollered,—

"Go it, my Rube!"

Every blame man, woman and child in the house riz on me, and shouted, "Put him out! put him out!"

"Put your great-grandmother's grizzly gray greenish cat into the middle of next month!" I says. "Tech me if you dare! I paid my money, and you jest come anigh me!"

With that some several policemen run up, and I had to simmer down. But I would 'a' fit any fool that laid hands on me, for I was bound to hear Ruby out or die.

He had changed his tune again. He hop-light ladies and tip-toed fine from end to end of the key-board. He played soft and low and solemn. I heard the church bells over the hills. The candles of heaven was lit, one by one; I saw the stars rise. The great organ of eternity began to play from the world's end to the world's end, and all the angels went to prayers.... Then the music changed to water, full of feeling that couldn't be thought, and began to drop—drip, drop—drip, drop, clear and sweet, like tears of joy falling into a lake of glory. It was sweeter than that. It was as sweet as a sweet-heart sweetened with white sugar mixed with powdered silver and seed-diamonds. It was too sweet. I tell you the audience cheered. Rubin he kinder bowed, like he wanted to say, "Much obleeged, but I'd rather you wouldn't interrup' me."

He stopped a moment or two to catch breath. Then he got mad. He run his fingers through his hair, he shoved up his sleeve, he opened his coat-tails a leetle further, he drug up his stool, he leaned over, and, sir, he just went for that old pianner. He slapped her face, he boxed her jaws, he pulled her nose, he pinched her ears, and he scratched her cheeks, until she fairly yelled. He knocked her down and he stamped on her shameful. She bellowed like a bull, she bleated like a calf, she howled like a hound, she squealed like a pig, she shrieked like a rat, and then he wouldn't let her up. He run a quarter stretch down the low grounds of the base, till he got clean in the bowels of the earth, and you heard thunder galloping after thunder through the hollows and caves of perdition; and then he fox-chased his right hand with his left till he got 'way out of the treble into the clouds, whar the notes was finer than the p'ints of cambric needles, and you couldn't hear nothin' but the shadders of 'em. And then he wouldn't let the old pianner go. He for'ard two'd, he crost over first gentleman, he chassade right and left, back to your places, he all hands'd aroun', ladies to the right, promenade all, in and out, here and there, back and forth, up and down, perpetual motion, double twisted and turned and tacked and tangled into forty-eleven thousand double bow-knots.

By jinks! it was a mixtery. And then he wouldn't let the old pianner go. He fetcht up his right wing, he fetcht up his left wing, he fetcht up his center, he fetcht up his reserves. He fired by file, he fired by platoons, by company, by regiments, and by brigades. He opened his cannon,—siege-guns down thar, Napoleons here, twelve-pounders yonder,—big guns, little guns, middle-sized guns, round shot, shells, shrapnels, grape, canister, mortar, mines and magazines, every livin' battery and bomb a-goin' at the same time. The house trembled, the lights danced, the walls shuk, the floor come up, the ceilin' come down, the sky split, the ground rocked—heavens and earth, creation, sweet potatoes, Moses, ninepences, glory, tenpenny nails, Samson in a 'simmon-tree, Tump Tompson in a tumbler-cart, roodle-oodle-oodle-oodle-ruddle-uddle-uddle-uddle—raddle-addle-eedle—riddle-iddle-iddle-iddle—reedle-eedle-eedle-eedle—p-r-r-r-rlank! Bang!!! lang! perlang! p-r-r-r-r-r!! Bang!!!!

With that bang! he lifted himself bodily into the a'r, and he come down with his knees, his ten fingers, his ten toes, his elbows, and his nose, striking every single solitary key on the pianner at the same time. The thing busted and went off into seventeen hundred and fifty-seven thousand five hundred and forty-two hemi-demi-semi-quivers, and I know'd no mo'.

When I come to, I were under ground about twenty foot, in a place they call Oyster Bay, treatin' a Yankee that I never laid eyes on before and never expect to ag'in. Day was breakin' by the time I got to the St. Nicholas Hotel, and I pledge you my word I did not know my name. The man asked me the number of my room, and I told him, "Hot music on the half-shell for two!"



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