"I am so glad to see you, Henry, and so surprised, too; for you know you expected to remain in St. Louis till after Christmas. It has been awfully stupid here at Helena since you have been gone. There has not been a single party of any kind that I have heard of. I don't know what I should have done but for that conceited coxcomb, Raymond, who has been trying his very best to do the agreeable, and I must say amused me exceedingly."
"What, you don't mean that foppish New York drummer? Why, he is greener than cucumbers; if he were turned loose out in the meadows the cows would follow him. He comes down here to Arkansas selling Yankee notions and gimcracks, and struts about in his new store clothes as though he were a heap better than any fellow in the State. And so, Kate, he has been shining around you, has he?"
"Yes, but I only laugh at him; a lady must have company of some kind, you know, Henry. If none come along whom she can laugh with, she sometimes is content with one she can laugh at. This fine New York gentleman Mr. Augustus K. Raymond he calls himself has invited me to the grand party to be given by Mrs. Gordon on Christmas night."
"But you surely did not accept, Kate; why, I heard of this party, and hurried home from St. Louis before my business was half over, on purpose to ask you to go with me."
"I am extremely sorry, Mr. Morgan, that you should be so disappointed; but what was a poor girl to do? I wouldn't have missed going for the world, and how could I know that you would put yourself to so much inconvenience for my sake?"
"Now, Kate, this is cruel in you. Why do you call me Mr. Morgan, and adopt this lofty tone toward me ? We are old schoolmates and old friends, and and I had flattered myself that we were very good friends. I had even ventured to hope that some day we might be still better friends. In fact but I am making myself as great a fool as that fop of a notion peddler. My dear Kate, I scarcely know what I am saying. I only know that I love you devotedly, and that if you will give me the least assurance that you love me in return, I shall be the happiest fellow in Arkansas. Can you give me just one word of encouragement?"
"Yes," replied the roguish girl with provoking brevity, but a serious look immediately stole over her countenance, and after a few minutes of silence, while the young man ardently pressed her hand, she added, as her downcast eyes were raised again to meet his: "You knew all the while that you were the only one my gentlemen friends for whom I really cared anything."
"I was bold enough to think you preferred me, dear Kate, or I should never have been brave enough to declare myself. But what's to be done now about this Christmas party? That simpleton, Raymond shall not go with you if I have to run him out of town."
"Never fear, Henry. I will get rid of him in some way. He bored me terribly before. He would be insufferable now."
"I know how we can get rid of him Kate. We young fellows will get up a sniping party for Christmas eve, and make him hold the bag.
"Oh! that will be capital, said Kate, gayly. "That's just the thing; but there’s the bell now, and no doubt it is he himself. Just wait and see how nicely I shall dispose of him. You are to be my cousin, mind."
A card bearing the name of Augustus K. Raymond was handed in, followed a moment later by an over-dressed young gentleman with waxed moustache, hair parted in the middle, and the air generally of one who has got himself up to make a stunning impression."
"Good evening, Mr. Raymond. Permit me to introduce you to my cousin. Mr. Morgan."
"Delighted to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, sir. You reside in Helena, I suppose."
"I live here," replied Morgan, curtly.
"Ah, then, perhaps you are in the mercantile business. I have the honor to represent one of the leading notion houses"
"No, I am not in the trade," interrupted Morgan, dryly.
"My cousin, explained the lady, is in the game business; and, apropos of game, he has just been telling me that he is going with a party of our young of our young gentlemen on a grand snipe hunt tomorrow evening Christmas eve."
"Yes," added Morgan, "and we should like to have you join us."
"Do go with them, Mr. Raymond. I do so want a snipe feather to wear in my hair at the party. They are all the rage with the girls now. Such beautiful feathers they are too! Long and drooping, with the richest red and yellow colors. You must go with them and get me a snipe feather, for I can't think of going to the party without one, and Cousin Henry here, even when he goes, is never smart enough to secure me a good feather. Somebody else always gets the privilege of holding the bag, and so secures the finest of the feathers."
"Certainly I'll go, with great pleasure. Miss Andrews, that is, if the gentlemen really desire that I should honor them with my company."
"Of course we'll feel greatly honored, Mr. Raymond," said Morgan, "if you will condescend to join us in one of our simple Western sports. I can even promise you the post of honor on the occasion."
"Really, you quite overwhelm me. I shall not fail to be with the party, if I can be of service! I am not familiar at all with with what did you call the game? snipe; but if they possess such beautiful feathers as Miss Andrews describes, they must form a conspicuous mark, and no doubt I shall be able to bring at least one down at every shot. They call me a good marksman at the shooting galleries in New York. You may rely upon me, Mr. Morgan."
So saying, Mr. Raymond bowed himself out in an impressive manner, and had scarcely closed the hall door behind him when both the" others broke out in a paroxysm of laughter.
"That joke of yours, Kate, about the red and yellow leathers, was excellent. It couldn't have been better managed, I'll get the boys together to arrange for the hoax. By 10 o'clock to-morrow night your gallant greeny will be standing up to his knees in the mud and water, out in one of the creeks, holding the bag, and expecting that the rest of us win drive the snipe into it. But he will be as likely to see Santa Claus himself out there as any snipe. When he gets tired of waiting for the game, and for us to return, he can sneak off home alone. It will spoil those striped pantaloons of his, though, and ruffle his temper, so that this climate will not be apt. to agree with him any longer."
The just-accepted lover, however, did not seem in a hurry about going, and it was considerably later in the evening when he finally bade his betrothed "good-night." The latter, we should have explained, was the belle of Helena, Arkansas.
She was a high-spirited, dashing young lady, as might be inferred from the foregoing, and, withal, unusually handsome. She had numerous admirers, and, as may be imagined, her talk about a lack of company was only a little mischievous fibbing, craftily intended to elicit a declaration from him who had long been her favored suitor. The only reason why she had accepted the invitation of Raymond for the party was that she and her friends might make themselves merry at his expense. He was disposed to be spoony, and was so little acquainted with the bluff, hearty manner and disregard of ultra etiquette which characterize the people of the West, that he was constantly making himself ridiculous in their eyes, and therefore was vastly entertaining to the lively young ladies upon whom he lavished his attentions, though in a wholly different way from what he supposed. It may not be fully understood that snipe hunts were formerly a favorite means of humiliating gentlemen from the East who went West with too disparaging ideas about the people resident there and too lofty ideas of themselves. How these affairs were managed will fully appear in the remainder of our story.
A dozen or two choice spirits were assembled by Morgan the next evening, and Raymond, having been notified of the time and place, was punctually in attendance, wearing his best clothes and an air of importance which seemed to say, "I am bestowing a great favor in consenting to join you;" and so he was, for his was the principal and an indispensable part in the farce about to be enacted.
The party proceeded several miles out of town by wagons, to a small stream of water in a wild, lonely place. The wagons were left some distance away from the proposed scene of operations, which was in a low, swampy bottom.
Of course, everything had been well arranged beforehand, but to disarm suspicion, it was proposed by one of the fellows that they pull straws to see who should have the privilege of holding the bag. All pretended to agree to this, except Morgan, who insisted that the drawing be dispensed with, saying:
"I promised the post of honor to our distinguished friend here, Mr. Augustus Raymond, of New York, and I intend to see that he has it.
"Thank you, Mr. Morgan, for championing my cause," said Raymond, condescendingly. "You may rely upon me, gentlemen, in whatever post you assign me. I flatter myself that I shall bag as much game as any of you. But it has just occurred to me that we have no guns. How are we to shoot the snipe without guns?'
"We will soon show you, said one of the party," Bob Norton. "We are to form a line and drive the snipe down the creek, while the best man is to stand in this narrow place holding a large bag with the open end up stream. We have sometimes caught hundreds of snipe alive in that way at a single haul. Did you ever have any experience in holding bags?"
"No; but I know I can do it. Only show me where I am to stand."
"You will get your feet wet," suggested another of the party, adding consolingly, "but they will soon dry again. Do you think you can keep perfectly still and wait patiently till the snipe come?"
"No difficulty about that," replied Raymond, who remembered that he had promised Kate the first pick of the feathers.
"Then you're our man," said Bob, and turning to Morgan, "You vouch for the reliability of your friend, I suppose?"
"No fear about him," said Morgan; "he represents one of the leading notion houses of New York; he is true grit, and I warrant he would stand firm in his place till midnight if it took us so long to get the snipe down to him."
Raymond was then furnished with a large bag, the end of which was kept open by a hoop, and suffered himself to be stationed where the water and soft mud were unpleasantly deep, his legs from the knees down being completely submerged. He by no means relished the position, but remembering that he had promised some of the finest red and yellow feathers to Kate, and that Kate's cousin had vouched for him so emphatically, determined to stick it out.
"The water is very cold," he rather meekly suggested as the practical jokers were leaving him. "Do you think it will take very long?"
"We can't tell," replied Morgan. "We may scare up a flock in a few minutes, and it may take half an hour or so. Then, sometimes, they don't drive well, and that causes delay. But don't leave or stir till you have bagged them, for if you should give up and go away you might just miss a splendid flock. We will go to the American Hotel after the hunt is over, and have a Christmas eve supper. That will make amends for all our trouble."
We need scarcely add that they went straight home, taking their wagons with them, and leaving Raymond sinking deeper and deeper into the mud and water. Returning to Morgan's own residence they had a jolly time, and I cracked many a joke at the expense of their poor victim.
"Santa Claus may take pity on him," said Bob Norton, "and fill up his bag with Christmas presents, if he waits there long enough. That would console him, perhaps."
"He wouldn't appreciate them," chimed in another, "unless Santa Claus certified that the toys and things came from that leading notion house which he represents."
"I don't think he would have consented so willingly to hold the bag if I had not worked upon his cursed vanity so well," said Morgan; "and then Kate Andrews made him believe that snipe had long, beautiful red and yellow feathers, and that she wanted him to bring her one to wear to the party tomorrow night."
"I'm thinking his own fine feathers, which he has been strutting about in ever since he came here, will be much the worse for to-night's work," observed another.
And so passed the time with them till long after Christmas had been ushered in. Meanwhile Raymond was standing patiently in the water. No sound disturbed the stillness of the night except the occasional splash of a big fish in a deeper part of the stream just above him.
"This is a delightful manner of spending Christmas eve," he thought to himself. "What would my New York friends think if they could see me in this position?"
His feet and legs were as wet as they possibly could be, and he shivered with cold. Several times he was on the point of giving up, when the thought of Kate, the party, and the promised feathers came to him. Nor could he bear the idea of provoking the ridicule, and perhaps the wrath, too, of the young follows, by deserting his post.
Nearly an hour thus passed and he was not only drenched with water but nearly benumbed with the cold, when suddenly a suspicion dawned upon him that he had been outrageously duped.
"They have made a fool of me," he muttered, with an added imprecation, as his teeth chattered involuntarily, and throwing away the bag he hurried off in search of the wagons.
Fear was added to his rage and mortification when he found they were gone, and that he was left entirely alone in the wild solitary place. Fortunately it was a straight road back to town, and he had no difficulty in following it. He ran most of the way, yet did not reach his hotel till some time after midnight, and it may be readily surmised took the first train next morning for home.
Henry Morgan accompanied Kate Andrews to the Christmas party, and it was remarked by all their friends that she never looked so well nor seemed in such lively spirits, and that he appeared to be unusually happy.
Neither was ever again troubled by the attentions of New York drummers, and just one year later there was a grand wedding in Helena!
The happy pair included New York in their tour, and in a Broadway store met their old acquaintance, Raymond. He greeted them pleasantly, and, after some explanations on both sides, inquired:
"So Mr. Morgan was not your cousin, after all?"
"No more than you were yourself."
"And I suppose he escorted you to the party. I see through it all now. Well, though it was a most unhandsome trick you played upon me, it has turned out for the best. By hurrying home then I got here in time to be of great service to our house at a critical junction, and as a reward, have since been taken into the firm. Besides, I have found another lady-love, the accomplished daughter of our senior partner; and if you can wait till next Thursday, you shall be present at our wedding."Christmas Snipe Hunt. December 25, 1873. Elk County Advocate 3(43): 1.