THE RESURRECTION OF WILLIE TODD
By Arthur Thompson Garrett
“WHAT! marry that insignificant nonentity? Never! Understand me, never!” and the Honorable Gregory Bismuth glared at his pretty daughter, his scant supply of gray hair standing fairly erect with indignation.
“But, papa,” answered Arabella Bismuth, the great lawyer’s only child, “Willie is a good young man; what have you against him?”
“I’ll have my foot against him the next time he comes here,” snorted the irascible father. “The idea of Arabella Bismuth, daughter of Gregory Bismuth, granddaughter of Anthony James Bismuth, great-grand—”
“Papa, papa, there is no need of you going over your ancestral tree in anti-chronological order. The question is, What is your objection to my marrying Willie Todd?”
“Objection! objection! you impudent young chit, just like your mother, though my objection is that he isn’t a man. He’s nothing but a plagiarism. I had hoped that my daughter would show more sense than to express a desire to wed a remote circumstance like William Todd;” and the lawyer departed for his office, leaving his daughter in tears.
Arabella Bismuth was a pretty girl and an heiress, two qualifications that were sufficient to make her quite a figure in the matrimonial market. She shunned, however, many seemingly advantageous opportunities to wed, and singled out young Todd as her future husband. This selection irritated her stately father exceedingly, as he was aware that Willie Todd would never set the world afire with his brilliant achievements. He had allowed the young man to come to the house, as he considered him a harmless, inoffensive dude, and had no fear of his fascinating the handsome daughter. Great was his surprise when Arabella informed him that she and Willie desired to marry (Willie could never have managed to screw his courage up to that point).
After the Hon. Gregory Bismuth’s majestic form had disappeared down the street, the object of his wrath, the effeminate Todd, emerged from a house across the way and, walking over, ascended the steps of the Bismuth mansion.
“How did he take it, Bell?” inquired the lover.
“Take it!” ejaculated Arabella. “It’s lucky for you, Willie, that you didn’t break the news, or I would probably have been a widow before being married.”
Willie shivered. “Heavens, what a narrow escape. Why, do you know, I came near bracing him yesterday!”
“It’s lucky that you didn’t, for— hide, Willie, hide; here comes papa. He has either forgotten something or seen you come in.”
“Great Scott. I hope not. Where can I hide?”
“Here, get behind this screen; I think I can keep him away from there.”
“Say, Arabella,” said Willie, as he concealed himself, “spring the subject on him again and let me see how he acts; perhaps he is only bluffing.”
“All right, but keep still; here he is.”
“With whom were you talking?” asked Mr. Bismuth as he entered the room.
“I was just talking to myself,” answered Arabella.
“Well, quit it; it’s a bad habit. Have you seen anything of my glasses?”
“No; did you forget them?”
“Oh, no, of course not,” answered her father, sarcastically. “I just simply walked back six blocks to casually inquire if you had seen them.”
“Well, I haven’t.”
“Don’t get saucy, you young minx, but help me find those confounded glasses;” and he commenced such a thorough and systematic search that Willie was sure he would be discovered. “I must have left them behind this screen, where I was reading;” and he walked over, but was stopped by Arabella, much to Willie’s relief.
“No, no, papa, they are not there, I’m sure. Look through your pockets again.”
Mr. Bismuth mechanically did as he was told, and after two or three frantic dives in different pockets he at last brought forth the missing glasses.
“Ha! ha! ha! and you had them all the time. Ha! ha! ha!” and Arabella laughed hysterically.
Her father looked at her in a puzzled way and said, “Yes, it’s very funny, but I guess I’d better send Dr. Hamline around to see you. You’re sick. Your face is flushed, and you laugh like a maniac.”
“No, I’m all right, papa, but before you go I wish you’d consent to my marrying Willie; won’t you?”
At this Mr. Bismuth boiled again. “Never, never, and when a Bismuth says never he means it. That scamp is a worthless loafer and I would take delight in paying his funeral expenses.”
“Papa, papa, do you know what you are saying?”
“Certainly I do—a Bismuth always knows what he is saying. He simply wants you for the money you will inherit, and I say he shall never have it, and a Bismuth never told a lie. I remarked a moment ago that I would delight in paying his funeral expenses, and to be true to not only the reputation of myself, but my ancestors, I will keep my word. That is all the money he will ever wring from the coffers of the house of Bismuth;” and the great attorney started for his office, after again assuring himself that his glasses were safely in his pocket.
“Whew,” remarked Willie, as he emerged from his hiding-place, “he seems to have it in for me in earnest, doesn’t he, Bell?”
“Yes, Willie, I am afraid we can never win him over.”
“Well, let’s elope.”
“Yes, certainly. Ain’t that what all lovers do? Let’s go away and get married, and then when it all blows over we can come back. Your father will cool down by that time and be ready to fall on my neck with tears of forgiveness.”
“Yes, Willie, he would fall on your neck quickly enough, but don’t put too much faith in the tears of forgiveness. That isn’t what he would fall with. Besides, Willie Todd, how much money have you right now?”
Willie began a diligent search and managed to show up thirty-seven cents and a pawn ticket for his overcoat.
“That looks like eloping, doesn’t it? Papa never allows me any money, and I wouldn’t part with my jewelry. No, Willie, we can’t elope on credit.”
But Willie did not answer for a few minutes; he was lost in thought. “Say, Bell,” he said, finally, “if I’ll raise money enough to pay the expenses of a first-class elopement, will you go, and take the chances of ultimate forgiveness?”
After a moment’s deliberation Arabella said, “I will.”
“All right, then, your father shall bear the expense.”
“My father? You must be crazy, Willie.”
“No, I’m not. He never breaks his word, does he?”
“He said he’d pay my funeral expenses, didn’t he?”
“Well, I’m going to die.”
“That’s what I said, and my lifeless body shall be placed in the cold and silent tomb, at the expense of your father, and I rely on you to make him come down handsomely.”
“Well, I must say that I cannot see through this; I’m not going to marry a corpse .”
“Oh, I don’t mean to really die. I’ve a friend that is a mesmerist, and I’ll have him put me in a trance. My cousin will be the undertaker. After the funeral they will dig me up, and then we can go on our wedding-tour with the funeral money. Great scheme, isn’t it?”
“That doesn’t sound very reasonable, Willie. Suppose something should happen to this mesmerist while you are in the ground, or that papa should hire another undertaker, or that the cemetery authorities should keep too close a watch, and prevent them from digging you up?”
“Oh, well, we’ve got to take some risks, but there isn’t much danger. I could live a month in that state. The only hitch is that you could not act the mourner in a natural way.”
“Yes, I can. I’ll put an onion in my handkerchief. I can be mournful enough then, for I abhor onions.”
“Well, good-by, then, for the present. I guess I’ll die to-night; there’s no time like the present, and, say, don’t forget to remind your father that I must have a handsome funeral. Broadcloth suit, very expensive coffin, and get a diamond ring, if you can;” and the blithe young man, so soon to be laid to rest, departed to find his friend the mesmerist.
That same evening, true to his word, Willie Todd, by the aid of Professor Drummond, lay on his bed, to all appearances a corpse. His cousin, the undertaker, having been engaged in the afternoon, soon made his appearance. He was to furnish all the requisites of a first-class funeral, the same to be returned to him in good order.
Arabella and her father were reading when the messenger arrived with the sad tidings. The lawyer was afflicted with catarrh, or he certainly would have detected the odor of onion in the room. When the news was gently broken, Arabella’s handkerchief flew to her face to produce the necessary tears.
“Well,” remarked the lawyer, “so he’s dead, is he? Most sensible thing he’s ever done;” and he resumed his reading.
“Papa, p-p-papa,” sobbed Arabella, “have you no feelings at all?” and the tears rolled down her cheeks. The onion was doing its work grandly.
“Certainly I have feelings; a Bismuth always has feeling, but I see no reason why I should be bowed down with grief. I’ll give him a grand funeral. A Bismuth never broke his word.”
“Will you b-b-buy him a new s-s-suit of broadcloth to be b-b-buried in?”
“And a three-hundred-dollar coffin?”
“And a diamond ring?”
Mr. Bismuth straightened up. “A diamond ring! What in Heaven’s name does a dead man want with a diamond ring? There are no pawn-shops in the other world.”
“Willie al-al-always admired diamonds s-s-so,” sobbed Arabella, “and you said you’d spare no expense.”
“All right; I’m getting out of it cheaply, anyway.”
Mr. Bismuth was truly liberal with that funeral. The cousin stayed with the body until Arabella and her father arrived, fearing another undertaker might be engaged. The doctor who examined the body gave a certificate of death from heart disease, a handy way of saying he didn’t know what was the matter. He mentioned a post-mortem examination, but the mesmerist, Arabella, and the undertaker strenuously objected. It might prove embarrassing, they thought, for Willie to come out of his trance with his internal mechanism disarranged, so the doctor was dissuaded and the heart-disease certificate was granted.
Willie’s cousin, the undertaker , said he had often heard the young man express a desire to be buried beneath a certain willow-tree that shaded a sparkling brook. Mr. Bismuth assented to this, although he remarked that he didn’t believe the deceased could now distinguish a sparkling brook from one of the common kind, but that it was Willie’s funeral and to carry it out any way to suit him. Clothed in his new broadcloth, his diamond ring sparkling in the light, the young man was placed in the most expensive coffin his cousin’s establishment afforded, and the funeral party set out for the weeping willow by the sparkling brook. At the grave the undertaker made a serious blunder when his assistant accidentally let his end of the box that held the coffin fall to the ground.
“Confound you, Bill, be careful; that coffin is worth $300 in cold cash, and I don’t want it scarred.”
“What if you don’t?” roared Bismuth in a tone of voice not usually heard at a funeral. “Whose coffin is that? I’m paying for that coffin, and it don’t make a cent’s difference to you whether it’s scarred or not.”
The undertaker stammered some un-intelligible reply, Arabella turned her face away, and the mesmerist grated his teeth. The interment was soon over, and Mr. Bismuth with his daughter started for home, after giving the undertaker a check for $500.
That night, after Arabella had retired, she thought she would see if her father’s heart had been softened any; so she arose, and went down-stairs, where he was reading.
“Papa,” she said, “I had a dream.”
“Too much supper,” commented her father, without looking up.
“No, papa, I dreamed that Willie came back from the grave; that he had been buried alive and was rescued.”
The old man glanced up from his book, and looked at his daughter sternly. “If he does an ungrateful trick like that after the expense he’s been to me, I’ll send him to the penitentiary for obtaining his coffin by false pretence. You’d better go back to bed and dream again;” and he resumed his book.
Arabella sighed and returned to her room. She was about to retire again, when she heard the signal agreed upon for their elopement. Hastily dressing, and picking up a few articles she wished to take, she noiselessly emerged from the house, unobserved by her father.
“Willie, you didn’t intend for us to leave to-night, did you?”
“Yes, the sooner the better. You see, everybody in this neighborhood thinks I’m dead, and I don’t want to be seen. I’ve got over four hundred dollars, and we can have a grand wedding-trip before we come home to be forgiven.”
“I don’t know about that,” rejoined Arabella, dubiously. “Papa didn’t seem a bit softened by your untimely death.”
“Oh, he’ll come around all right; they all do. We’ll write him an explanatory letter after we are safely married, and he won’t be long in extending his blessing. Come, now, and we can catch a train in a few minutes.”
The lovers stealthily made their way from the Bismuth grounds and were soon at the depot, where Willie purchased two tickets to a neighboring city. The next morning they were married, and started on a wedding-tour that made the $400 dwindle rapidly. The diamond ring was sacrificed, and then Arabella thought it was about time to write to papa.
“You write to him, Willie.”
“No, Arabella, my dear, it is your place to write. You know him better than I, and you can explain things in a more satisfactory way.”
So Arabella penned the following:
Doubtless you were surprised at my disappearing, but I know you will forgive your little daughter. Willie was not dead; it was a case of suspended animation. He was rescued, and signalled me to come down into the yard. I was terribly frightened, but he explained, and persuaded me to elope. We are nearly out of money, papa, and want you to forgive us. Write soon, and send us a check—that’s a dear —and we will soon be with you.
Your loving daughter, ARABELLA TODD.
They anxiously awaited a reply. At every whistle of the postman Willie would turn pale, and Arabella would get nervous. At last the expected missive arrived, and, eagerly tearing open the envelope, Arabella unfolded the sheet of paper and read:
MY DEAR DEPARTED DAUGHTER:
Yours of recent date at hand, and in reply will say that I absolutely and unequivocally refuse to have any dealings with a dead person. Mr. William Todd is dead. I saw him in his coffin, and, what is more convincing still, I have a receipt in full for his funeral expenses. Any female marrying into a foreign country, according to recognized international law, becomes a citizen of that country. If you have married the said deceased William Todd, then you are also dead. No Bismuth, ever, as near as I can learn, had any dealings with ghosts, and I trust that you and your husband, the late William Todd, will trouble me no more.
Your bereaved father, GREGORY BISMUTH.
Handing the letter to her husband, Arabella said, “I thought so. Read it.”
Willie perused the epistle, and it dropped from his nerveless fingers and floated to the floor. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, and then Arabella remarked:
“It’s no use, Willie; you’ll have to go to work.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] May 1897
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The memorably-named Arabella Bismuth seems to have seriously over-estimated her Papa’s capacity for extending the parental blessing. Willie Todd should have considered himself fortunate that the Hon. Gregory Bismuth did not bribe the undertaker to keep him underground until really and truly deceased. For such a harmless, inoffensive dude there seems only one course of action: he must go on the road with Professor Drummond the mesmerist, doing the “buried alive” stunt, so popular with pseudo-Indian fakirs, who went about the United States, mesmerising attractive young ladies and “professional corpses.” One suspects that Willie Todd would be the ideal professional corpse.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
Pingback: Papa Not a Very Acceptable Guest: 1752 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses
Pingback: Hist Went the Corpse: 1889 – The Victorian Book of the Dead