Back to the Index Page


The Broomstick Marriage by Jonathan F. Kelley


“Marry in haste and repent at leisure,” is a time-honored idea, and calls to mind a matrimonial circumstance which, according to pretty lively authority, once came about in the glorious Empire State. A certain Captain of a Lake Erie steamer, who was blessed with an elegant temperament for fun, fashion, and the feminines, was “laid up,” over winter, near his childhood's home in Genesee county. Having nearly exhausted his private stock of jokes, and gone the entire rounds of life and liveliness of the season, he bethought him how he should create a little stir, and have his joke at the expense of a young Doctor, who had recently “located” in the neighborhood, and by his rather taking person and manners, cut something of a swath in the community, and especially amongst the calico!

The profession of young Esculapius gave him an access to private society that ordinary circumstances did not vouch to most men. Among the many families with which Dr. Mutandis had formed an acquaintance was that of old Capt. Figgles. The Captain was a queer old mortal, who in his hale old days had quit life on the ocean wave for the quietude of agricultural comfort. The Captain was a blustering salt, whimsical, but generous and social, as old sailors most generally are. He was supposed to be in easy circumstances, but how easy, very few knew.

Capt. Figgles's family consisted of himself, three daughters, one married and “settled,” the other two at home; an ancient colored woman, who had served in the Captain's family,—ship and shore—a lifetime. Dinah and old Sam, her husband, with two or three farm-laborers, constituted the Captain's household. Betsy, the youngest daughter, the old man's favorite, had been christened Elizabeth, but that not being warm enough for Capt. Figgles's idea of attachment, he ever called his daughter, Betsy, and so she was called by almost everybody at all familiar with the family. Betsy Figgles was not a very poetical subject, by name or size. She was a fine, bouncing young woman of four-and-twenty; she was dutiful and bountiful, if not beautiful. She was useful, and even ornamental in her old father's eyes, and, as he was wont to say, in his never-to-be-forgotten salt-water linguæ

“Betsy was a craft, she was; a square-bilt, trim, well-ballasted craft, fore and aft; none of your sky-scraping, taut, Baltimore clipper, fair-weather, no-tonnage jigamarees! Betsy is a woman; her mother was just like her when I fell in with her, and it wasn't long afore I chartered her for a life's voyage. And the man who lets such a woman slip her cable and stand off soundings, for 'Cowes and a market,' when he's got a chance to fill out her papers and take command, is not a man, but a mouse, or a long-tailed Jamaica rat!”

Between Capt. Tiller, our Lake boatman, and Capt. Figgles, there was an intimacy of some years' standing, but the old Captain and the young Captain didn't exactly “hitch horses”—whether it was because Capt. T. came under the old man's idea of “a Jamaica rat,” or because he looked upon inland sailors as greenhorns, deponent saith not.

Dr. Mutandis and Capt. Figgles were only upon so-so sort of business sociality, though both the junior Captain and the Doctor were intimate enough with both the Miss Figgleses. Capt. Tiller, as we intimated, was about to leave for coming duties on the Lake, and being so full of old Nick, it was indispensable that he must play off a practical joke, or have some fun with somebody, as a sort of a yarn for the season, on his boat.

The Figgleses announced a grand quilting scrape; the Doctor and Captain were among the invited guests, of course, and for some hours the assembled party had indeed as grand a good time generally as usually falls to the lot of a country community. Old black Ebenezer—but whose name had also been cut down for convenience sake to Sam, by the old Captain—did the orchestral duties upon his fiddle, which, aided by a youngster on the triangle and another on the tambourine, formed quite “a full band” for the occasion, and dancing was done up in style!

As a sort of “change of scene” or divertisement in the programme, somebody proposed games of this and games of that, and while old Capt. Figgles was as busy as “a flea in a tar bucket”—to use the old gentleman's simile—fulminating and fabricating a rousing bowl of egg flip for the entire party, Capt. Tiller and Dr. Mutandis were sort of paired off with a party of eight, in which were the two Miss Figgleses, to get up their own game.

“Good!” says Capt. Tiller, “pair off with Miss Betsy, Doctor, and I'll pair off with Miss Sally (the older daughter of Capt. F.), and now what say you? Let's make up a wedding-party—let's jump the broomstick!

“Agreed!” cries the Doctor. “Who'll be the parson?”

“I'll be parson,” says Capt. T.

“Well, get your book.”

“Here it is!” cries another, poking a specimen of current Scripture into the pseudo parson's hands.

“Miss Betsy and Dr. Mutandis, stand up,” says Capt. Tiller, assuming quite the air and grace of the parson.

Bridesmaids, grooms, &c., were soon arranged in due order, and the interesting ceremony of joining hands and hearts in one happy bond of mutual and indissoluble (slightly, sometimes!) love and obedience was progressing.

“Cap'n Figgles, you're wanted,” says one, interrupting the old man, now busy concocting his grog for all hands.

“Go to blazes, you son of a sea cook!” cries the old gentleman; “haven't you common decency to see when a man's engaged in a calculation he oughtn't to be disturbed, eh?”

“But Betsy's going to be married!” insists the disturber, who, in fact, was half-seas over in infatuation with Miss Betsy, and had had a slight inkling of a fact that by the law of the State anybody could marry a couple, and the marriage would be as obligatory upon the parties as though performed by the identical legal authorities to whom young folks “in a bad way” are in the habit of appealing for relief.

“Let 'em heave ahead, you marine!” cries Capt. Figgles.

“Are you really willing to allow it?” continues the swain.

“Me willing? It's Betsy's affair; let her keep the lookout,” said the old gent.

“But don't you know, Cap'n——”

“No! nor I don't care, you swab!” cries the excited Captain. “Bear away out of here,” he continued, beginning to get down the glasses from the corner-cupboard shelves, “unless—but stop! hold on! here, take this waiter, Jones, and bear a hand with the grog, unless you want to stand by, and see the ship's company go down by the lifts and braces, dry as powder-monkeys! There; now pipe all hands—ship aho-o-o-oy!” bawls the old Captain; “bear up, the whole fleet! Now splice the main-brace! Don't nobody stand back, like loblolly boys at a funeral—come up and try Capt. Figgles's grog!”

And up they came, the entire crew, old Ebenezer to the le'ard, sweating like an ox, and laying off for the piping bowl he knew he was “in for” from the hands of his indulgent old master.

In the mean time, the marriage ceremony had had its hour, and the bride and bridegroom were “skylarking” with the rest of the company as happily together as turtle-doves in a clover-patch. The evening's entertainment wound up with an old-fashioned dance, and the quilting ended. Dr. Mutandis lived some five miles distant, and having a call to make the next morning near Capt. Figgles's farm, Dr. M. concluded to stop with the Captain. As Capt. Tiller was leaving, he took occasion to whisper into the ear of his medical friend—

“I wish you much joy, my fine fellow; you're married, if you did but know it—fast as a church! Good time to you and Betsy!”

“The devil!” says the Doctor, musingly; “it strikes me, since I come to think it over, that the laws of this State do privilege anybody to marry a couple! By thunder! it would be a fine spot of work for me if I was held to the ceremony by Miss Figgles!”

But the Doctor kept quiet, and next morning, after breakfast, he departed upon his business. He had no sooner entered the house of his patient, than he was wished much joy and congratulated upon the fatness and jolly good nature of his bride!

“But,” says the Doctor, “you're mistaken in this affair. It's all a hoax—a mere bit of fun!”

“Ha! ha!” laughed his patient, “fun?—you call getting married fun?”

“Yes,” said the Doctor; “we were down at Capt. Figgles's; there was a quilting and sort of a frolic going on——”

“Yes, we heard of it.”

“And, in fun, to keep up the sports of the evening, Capt. Tiller proposed to marry some of us. So Miss Figgles and I stood up, and Captain Tiller acted parson, and we had some sport.”

“Well,” says the farmer (proprietor of the house), “Capt. Tiller has got you into a tight place, Doctor; he's been around, laughing at the trick he's played you, as perhaps you were not aware of the fact that by the law you are now just as legally and surely married as though the knot was tied by five dozen parsons or magistrates!”

“I'll shoot Capt. Tiller, by Heavens!” cries the enraged Doctor. “He's a scoundrel! I'll crop his ears but I'll have satisfaction!”

“Pooh!” says the farmer, “if Betsy Figgles does not object, and her father is willing and satisfied with the match as it is, I don't see, Doctor, that you need mind the matter.”

“I'll be revenged!” cries the Doctor.

“You were never previously married, were you?” says the farmer.

“No, sir,” replied the Doctor.

“Engaged to any lady?” continued the interrogator.

“No, sir; I am too poor, too busy to think of such a folly as increasing my responsibilities to society!”

“Then, sir,” said the farmer, “allow me to congratulate you upon this very fortunate event, rather than a disagreeable joke, for Capt. Figgles is worth nearly a quarter of a million of dollars, sir; and Miss Betsy is no gaudy butterfly, but, sir, she's an excellent girl, whom you may be proud of as your wife.”

“'Squire,” says the Doctor, “jump in with me, and go back to the Captain's and assist me to back out, beg the pardon of Miss Figgles and her father, and terminate this unpleasant farce.”

The magistrate-farmer got into the Doctor's gig, and soon they were at Capt. Figgles's door.

“Captain,” says the Doctor, “I don't know what excuse I can offer for the fool I've made of myself, through that puppy, Capt. Tiller, but, sir——”

“Look a-here!” says the Captain, staring the Doctor broad in the face, “I've got wind of the whole affair; now ease off your palaver. You've married my daughter Betsy, in a joke; she's fit for the wife of a Commodore, and all I've got to say is, if you want her, take her; if you don't want her, you're a fool, and ought to be made a powder-monkey for the rest of your natural life.”

“But the lady's will and wishes have not been consulted, sir.”

“Betsy!” cries the old Captain, “come here. What say you—are you willing to remain spliced with the Doctor, or not? Hold up your head, my gal—speak out!”

“Yes—I'm agreed, if he is,” said she.

“Well said, hurrah!” cries the Captain. “Now, sir (to the Doctor), to make all right and tight, I here give you, in presence of the 'Squire, my favorite daughter Betsy, and one of the best farms in the State of New York. Are you satisfied, Doctor?”

“Captain, I am. I shall try, sir, to make your daughter a happy woman!” returned the Doctor, and he did; he became the founder of a large family, and one of the wealthiest men in the State.

Rather pleased, finally, with the joke, the Doctor managed to turn it upon the Captain, who in due course of law was arrested upon the charge of illegally personating a parson, and marrying a couple without a license! He was fined fifty dollars and costs; and of course was thus caused to laugh on the wrong side of his mouth.


Back to the Index Page