Gentleman With the Brass Candlesticks

IF I may give advice, through the indulgence of the Atlantic, to anybody tempted to carry to town a pair of brass candlesticks unwrapped, I shall feel that my recent ordeal has had value as public service.

To begin with, the cause of this embarrassment was innocence and beauty itself, combined in the gorgeous form and ravishing voice of a Kentucky cardinal. I woke as usual at quarter-past six. It’s a heathenish hour to get up. It is impossible to bound energetically out of bed and begin the day conscientiously and methodically with heavenly music floating through the window. I lay enraptured exactly fifteen minutes, but it was enough to upset the first two hours of my daily schedule. I was late and rushed at everything I did. I got no breakfast. I tore out of the house and down the street and into the train, breathless, and bulging with a pair of three-branched brass candlesticks under my arm. There was no time to wrap them and I was to take them to town to be electrified. ‘ It’s very simple to do,’ my wife said. ‘Your electrician, I know, will do it.’

They were very ceremonial and religious-looking candlesticks. I looked as if I had robbed an altar and was away, breathless, with the loot. Somebody said so. Of course all my friends in the train asked all about the candlesticks. The more imaginative tried little jokes, the witty were very witty, the dull were deadly. I thought, ‘I shall be glad when this trip is over.’ The brass candlesticks’ evil work, however, had not begun! They were an inverted talisman.

When I reached town I decided not to subject myself to the intimacy of a street-car but to walk. The walk made me hungry and I began to want Childs’ buckwheat cakes and coffee. Everybody I passed smirked or smiled. I ducked into Childs’ as into a haven. There was no place to hang or check my brass ornaments, so I had to set them on the table. Having one in each hand, I set them down so, then hung up my hat and coat and sat down — accidentally, I suppose — in the mathematical centre of the two three-branched candlesticks. I must have looked like Gabriel or the Ark of the Covenant, in between, for everybody in the place was convulsed. I was embarrassed, of course, and started instinctively to move them so that the frame, at least, of this self-centred picture would be broken. Then I found I could n’t without acknowledging to the hilarious public I was entertaining that I was annoyed. So I sat more like a god or a Buddha than ever, apparently totally unconscious of the ribald compliments that were being paid me.

The waitress came and folded her hands and looked down as she would at prayer, and wondered in a whisper what my celestial being required for nourishment, if anything. The distinguished person who walks up and down the aisles in these establishments, doing nothing so elaborately and successfully, unbent and confided something side-splitting to the boy that carries out the overloaded trays of soiled dishes. Having made such an undeniable hit with this class of employed, she hastened to get applause from a rank much higher. She told the cashier and, not content with that, told the buckwheat cook, who was innocently patting the backs and curiously peering under the edges of my three sturdy cakes.

I had dropped down at the nearest table, so I overheard a word or two that gave me an insight into her mind and the quality of her wit. It seems that I represented in a highly burlesque way one of those classes of virgins used in the Bible as symbols of thriftiness and shiftlessness. The employees of this restaurant that flourishes and prospers so abundantly upon the principle of democracy and comradery were satisfied with my incongruous and irrational resemblance to a virgin, and not one of them, I was willing to wager, even considered the much more beguiling and moral aspect of the resemblance: Was I wise or foolish? Did I have candles concealed on my person? Was I prepared or not?

One of them did ask, but she had not been contaminated by the virgin joke, so I credited her with original and pure humor. She asked as she brought my cakes and coffee: ‘Shall I light the candles, sir?’ I said, ‘No, thank you,’ sweetly and ate those heavy, huge, and melancholy cakes in bitterness and genuine repentance. My repentance was not for being lazy merely, or for the sin of listening to a cardinal singing in the morning, or for taking a pair of brass candlesticks to town unwrapped. These were minor repentances. My all-consuming regret was for putting the blooming things on the table in such ceremonial positions. Then this passed and I regretted more than anything the instinct that suggested buckwheat cakes, and — of all places — Childs’.

I sneaked on to my office, hating the candlesticks more with every step, with every notice I got from the unencumbered and superior passers-by. I immediately called the electrician, for I could at least spare myself the sight of them on my desk all day. He looked at them in that absolutely final and don’t-argue-with-me way electricians have, and said they could not be electrified.

I should have thrown them at his head or out the window. Instead, I called the office boy and weakly said, ‘Will you please wrap these up?’