The Little Hard-Faced Old Gentleman
by Theodore S. Fay
THE LITTLE, HARD-FACED OLD
I was passing from my office one day, to indulge myself with a walk,
when a little, hard-faced old man, with a black coat, broad-brimmed
hat, velvet breeches, shoes and buckles, and gold-headed cane, stopped
me, standing directly in my path. I looked at him. He looked at me. I
crossed my hands before me patiently, forced my features into a civil
smile, and waited the development of his intentions; not being
distinctly certain, from his firm, determined expression, whether he
was "a spirit of health or goblin damned," and whether his intents were
"wicked or charitable"—that is, whether he came to discontinue or
subscribe, to pay a bill or present one, to offer a communication or a
pistol, to shake me by the hand or pull me by the nose. Editors
now-a-days must always be on their guard. For my part, I am peaceable,
and much attached to life, and should esteem it exceedingly
disagreeable to be either shot or horsewhipped. I am not built for
action, but love to sail in quiet waters; cordially eschewing gales,
waves, water-spouts, sea-serpents, earthquakes, tornadoes, and all such
matters, both on sea and land. My antipathy to a horsewhip is an
inheritance from boyhood. It carried me across Cæsar's bridge, and
through Virgil and Horace. I am indebted to it for a tolerable
understanding of grammar, arithmetic, geography, and other occult
sciences. It enlightened me not a little upon many algebraic processes,
which, to speak truth, presented, otherwise, but slender claims to my
consideration. It disciplined me into a uniform propriety of manners,
and instilled into my bosom early rudiments of wisdom, and principles
of virtue. In my maturer years, the contingencies of life have thrust
me, rather abruptly, if not reluctantly, into the editorial fraternity,
(heaven bless them, I mean them no disrespect,) and in the same candor
which distinguishes my former acknowledgments, I confess that visions
of this instrument have occasionally obtruded themselves, somewhat
forcibly upon my fancy, in the paroxysms of an article, dampening the
glow of composition, and causing certain qualifying interlineations and
prudent erasures, prompted by the representations of memory or the
whispers of prudence. The reader must not fancy, from the form of my
expression, that I have ever been horsewhipped. I have hitherto
escaped, (for which heaven be praised!) although my horizon has been
darkened by many a cloudy threat and thundering denunciation.
Nose-pulling is another disagreeable branch of the editorial
business. To have any part of one pulled is annoying; but there is a
dignity about the nose impatient even of observation or remark; while
the act of taking hold of it with the thumb and finger, is worse than
murder, and can only be washed out with blood. Kicking, cuffing, being
turned out of doors, being abused in the papers, &c., are bad, but
these are mere minor considerations. Indeed many of my brother editors
rather pique themselves upon some of them, as a soldier does on the
scars obtained in fighting the battles of his country. They fancy that,
thereby, they are invested with claims upon their party, and suffer
indefinite dreams of political eminence to be awakened in their bosoms.
I have seen a fellow draw his hat fiercely down over his brow, and
strut about, with insufferable importance, on the strength of having
been thoroughly kicked by the enemy.
This is a long digression, but it passed rapidly through my mind, as
the little, hard-faced old gentleman stood before me, looking at me
with a piercing glance and a resolute air. At length, unlike a ghost,
he spoke first:
"You are the editor?"—&c.
A slight motion of acquiescence with my head, and an affirmative
wave of my hand, a little leaning toward the majestic, announced to my
unknown friend the accuracy of his conjecture.
The little old gentleman's face relaxed—he took off his
broad-brimmed hat and laid it down with his cane carefully on the
table, then seized my hand and shook it heartily. People are so polite
and friendly when about to ask a favour.
"My dear sir," said he, "this is a pleasure I have long sought
vainly. You must know, sir, I am the editor of a theatrical weekly—a
neat thing in its way—here's the last number." He fumbled about in
his pocket, and produced a red-covered pamphlet.
"I have been some time publishing it, and, though it is admitted by
all acquainted with its merits, to be clearly the best thing of the
kind ever started this side of the Atlantic, yet people do not seem to
take much notice of it. Indeed, my friends tell me, that the public are
not fully aware of its existence. Pray let me be indebted to you for a
notice. I wish to get fairly afloat. You see, I have been too diffident
about it. We modest fellows allow our inferiors to pass us often. I
will leave this number with you. Pray, pray give it a good notice."
He placed in my hands the eleventh number of the "North American
Thespian Magazine," devoted to the drama, and also to literature,
science, history, and the arts. On reading over the prospectus, I found
it vastly comprehensive, embracing pretty much every subject in the
world. If so extensive a plan were decently filled up in the details,
the "North American Thespian Magazine" was certainly worth the annual
subscription money, which was only one dollar. I said so under my
"literary notices," in the next impression of my journal; and, although
I had not actually read the work, yet it sparkled so with asterisks,
dashes, and notes of admiration, that it looked interesting. I added in
my critique, that it was elegantly got up, that its typographical
execution reflected credit on the publishers, that its failure would
be a grievous reproach to the city, that its editor was a scholar, a
writer, and a gentleman, and was favorably known to the literary
circles by the eloquence, wit, and feeling of his former productions.
What those productions were, I should have been rather puzzled to say,
never having read, or even heard of them. This, however, was the cant
criticism of the day, which is so exorbitant and unmeaning, and so
universally cast in one mould, that I was in some tribulation, on
reading over the article in print, to find that I had omitted the words
"native genius," which possess a kind of commonlaw-right to a place in
all articles on American literary productions. Forth, however, it went
to the world, and I experienced a philanthropic emotion in fancying how
pleased the little hard-faced old gentleman would be, with these
flattering encomiums on his "Thespian Magazine."
The very day my paper was out, as I was sitting "full fathom five"
deep in an article on "the advantages of virtue," (an interesting
theme, upon my views of which I rather flattered myself,) I was
startled by three knocks at the door, and my "come in" exhibited to
view the broad-brimmed hat of the hardfaced old gentleman, with his
breeches, buckles, gold-headed cane, and all. He laid aside his hat and
cane with the air of a man who has walked a great way, and means to
rest himself a while. I was very busy. It was one of my inspired
moments. Half of a brilliant idea was already committed to paper.
There it lay—a fragment—a flower cut off in the bud—a mere
outline—an embryo; and my imagination cooling like a piece of red-hot
iron in the open air. I raised my eyes to the old gentleman, with a
look of solemn silence, retaining my pen ready for action, with my
little finger extended, and hinting in every way, that I was "not i'
the vein." I kept my lips closed. I dipped the pen in the ink-stand
several times, and held it hovering over the sheet. It would not do.
The old gentleman was not to be driven off his ground by shakes of the
pen, ink-drops, or little fingers. He fumbled about in his pockets, and
drew forth the red-covered "North American Thespian Magazine," devoted
to the drama, &c., number twelve. He wanted "a good notice. The
last was rather general. I had not specified its peculiar claims upon
the public. I had copied nothing. That sort of critique did no
good. He begged me to read this carefully—to analyze
it—to give it a candid examination." I was borne down by his
emphatic manner; and being naturally of a civil deportment as well as,
at that particular moment, in an impatient, feverish hurry to get on
with my treatise on the "advantages of virtue," which I felt now oozing
out of my subsiding brain with an alarming rapidity, I promised to
read, notice, investigate, analyze to the uttermost extent of his
wishes, or at least of my ability.
I could scarcely keep myself screwed down to common courtesy till
the moment of his departure; a proceeding which he accomplished with a
most commendable self-possession and deliberate politeness. When he
was fairly gone, I poked my head out, and called my boy.
"Did you see that little old gentleman, Peter?"
"Should you know him again, Peter?"
"Well, if he ever come here again, Peter, tell him I am not in."
I re-entered my little study, and closed the door after me with a
slam, which could only have been perceptible to those who knew my
ordinary still and mild manner. There might have been also a slight
accent in my way of turning the key, and (candor is a merit!) I could
not repress a brief exclamation of displeasure at the little old
gentleman with his magazine, who had broken in so provokingly upon my
"essay on virtue." `Virtue or no virtue,' thought, I, `I wish him to
My room is on the ground-floor, and a window adjoining the street
lets in upon me the light and air through a heavy crimson curtain, near
which I sit and scribble. I was just enlarging upon the necessity of
resignation, while the frown yet lingered on my brow, and was writing
myself into a more calm and complacent mood, when—another knock at
the door. As I opened it, I heard Peter's voice asserting, sturdily,
that I had "gone out." Never dreaming of my old enemy, I betrayed too
much of my person to withdraw, and I was recognized, and pounced upon
by the little old gentleman, who had come back to inform me, that he
intended, as soon as the increase of his subscription would permit, to
enlarge and improve the "North American Thespian Magazine," and to
employ all the writers in town. "I intend also,"—said he, and he was
in the act of again laying aside that everlasting hat and cane, when a
cry of fire in the neighborhood, and the smell of the burning rafters
attracted him into the street, where, as I feared, he escaped unhurt.
In many respects fires are calamities; but I never saw a more forcible
exemplification of Shakspeare's remark, "there is some spirit of good
in things evil," than in the relief afforded me on the present
occasion. I wrote, after that, with my door locked. This I knew was,
from the confined air, prejudicial to my health; but what was dyspepsy
or consumption to that little hard-faced old gentleman—to those
breeches—to that broad-brimmed hat—to those buckles—to that
"Remember, Peter," said I, the second morning after the foregoing,
"I have gone out."
"Where have you gone?" inquired Peter, with grave simplicity. "They
always ask me where you have gone, sir. The little man with the hat,
was here last night, and wanted to go after you."
"Forbid it heaven! I have gone to Albany, Peter, on business."
I can hear in my room pretty much what passes in the adjoining one,
where visiters first enter from the street. I had scarcely got
comfortably seated, in a rare mood for poetry, giving the last touches
to a poem, which, whatever might be the merits of Byron and Moore, I
did not think altogether indifferent, when I heard the little old
gentleman's voice inquiring for me.
"I must see him; I have important business," it said.
"He has gone out," replied Peter, in an under tone, in which I could
detect the consciousness that he was uttering a bouncer.
"But I must see him," said the voice.
"The scoundrel!" muttered I.
"He is not in town, sir," said Peter.
"I will not detain him a single minute. It is of the greatest
importance. He would be very sorry, very, should he miss me."
I held my breath—there was a pause—I gave myself up for
lost—when Peter replied firmly,
"He is in Albany, sir. Went off at five o'clock this morning."
"Be back soon?"
"Where does he stay?"
"I'll call to-morrow."
I heard his retreating footsteps, and inwardly resolved to give
Peter a half-dollar, although he deserved to be horsewhipped for his
readiness at deception. I laughed aloud triumphantly, and slapped my
hand down upon my knee with the feelings of a fugitive debtor, who,
hotly pursued by a sheriff's officer, escapes over the line into
another county and snaps his fingers at Monsieur Bailiff. I was aroused
from my merry mood of reverie by a touch on my shoulder. I turned
suddenly. It was the hardfaced little old gentleman, peeping in from
the street. His broad-brimmed hat and two-thirds of his face were just
lifted above the window-sill. He was evidently standing on tiptoe; and
the window being open, he had put aside the curtain, and was soliciting
my attention with the end of his cane.
"Ah!" said he, "is it you? Well, I thought it was you. Though
I wasn't sure. I won't interrupt you. Here are the proofs of number
thirteen; you'll find something glorious in that—just the thing for
you—don't forget me next week—good by. I'll see you again in a day
I shall not cast a gloom over my readers by dwelling upon my
feelings. Surely, surely, there are sympathetic bosoms among them. To
them I appeal. I said nothing. Few could have detected any thing
violent or extraordinary in my manner, as I took the proofs from the
end of the little old gentleman's cane, and laid them calmly on the
table. I did not write any more about "virtue" that morning. It was out
of the question. Indeed my mind scarcely recovered from the shock for
When my nerves are in any way irritated, I find a walk in the woods
a soothing and agreeable sedative. Accordingly, the next afternoon, I
wound up the affairs of the day earlier than usual, and set out for a
ramble through the groves and along the shore of Hoboken. I was soon on
one of the abrupt acclivities, where, through the deep rich foliage of
the intertwining branches, I overlooked the Hudson, the wide bay, and
the superb, steepled city, stretching in a level line of magnificence
upon the shining waters, softened with an overhanging canopy of thin
haze. I gazed at the picture, and contemplated the rivalry of nature
with art, striving which could most delight. As my eye moved from ship
to ship, from island to island, and from shore to shore—now reposing
on the distant blue, then revelling in the nearer luxuriance of the
forest green, I heard a step in the grass, and a little ragged fellow
came up, and asked me if I was the editor of the ——. I was about
replying to him affirmatively, when his words arrested my attention. "A
little gentleman with a hat and cane," he said, "had been inquiring for
the editor, &c., at the adjoining hotel, and had given him sixpence to
run up into the woods and find him." I rushed precipitately, as I
thought, into the thickest recesses of the wood. The path, however,
being very circuitous, I suddenly came into it, and nearly ran against
a person whom it needed no second glance to recognize, although his
back was luckily toward me. The hat, the breeches, the cane, were
enough. If not, part of a red-covered pamphlet, sticking out of the
coatpocket, was. "It must be number thirteen!" I exclaimed; and as the
little old gentleman was sauntering north, I shaped my course with all
possible celerity in a southerly direction.
In order to protect myself for the future, I took precautionary
measures; and in addition to having myself denied, I kept the window
down, and made my egress and ingress through a door round the corner,
as Peter told me he had several times seen the little old gentleman,
with a package in his hand, standing opposite the one through which we
usually entered, and looking at the office wistfully.
By means of these arrangements, I succeeded in preserving my
solitude inviolate, when, to my indignation, I received several
letters, from different parts of the country, written by my friends,
and pressing upon me, at the solicitation of the little old gentleman,
the propriety of giving the "Thespian Magazine" a good notice. I tore
the letters, each one as I read them, into three pieces, and dropped
them under the table. Business calling me, soon after, to Philadelphia,
I stepped on board the steamboat, exhilarated with the idea that I was
to have at least two or three weeks respite. I reached the place of my
destination about five o'clock in the afternoon. It was lovely weather.
The water spread out like unrippled glass, and the sky was painted with
a thousand varying shadows of crimson and gold. The boat touched the
shore, and while I was watching the change of a lovely cloud, I heard
the splash of a heavy body plunged into the water. A sudden sensation
ran along the crowd, which rushed from all quarters towards the spot;
the ladies shrieked, and turned away their heads; and I perceived that
a man had fallen from the deck, and was struggling in the tide, with
only one hand held convulsively above the surface. Being a practised
swimmer, I hesitated not a moment, but flung off my hat and coat, and
sprang to his rescue. With some difficulty I succeeded in bearing him
to a boat and dragging him from the stream. I had no sooner done so,
than to my horror and astonishment, I found I had saved the little
hard-faced old gentleman. His snuff-colored breeches were dripping
before me—his broad-brimmed hat floated on the current—but his cane
(thank heaven!) had sunk for ever. He suffered no other ill
consequences from the catastrophe, than some injury to his garments and
the loss of his cane. His gratitude for my exertions knew no bounds. He
assured me of his conviction that the slight acquaintance previously
existing between us, would now be ripened into intimacy, and informed
me of his intention to lodge at the same hotel with me. He had come to
Philadelphia to see about a plate for his sixteenth number, which was
to surpass all its predecessors, and of which he would let me have an
early copy, that I might notice it as it deserved.