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A Rill From the Town Pump

From Twice Told Tales


(SCENE.--The corner of two principal streets.--[Essex and Washington
Streets, Salem.]--The Town Pump talking through its nose.)


NOON, by the North clock! Noon, by the east! High noon, too, by these
hot sunbeams, which fall, scarcely aslope, upon my head, and almost
make the water bubble and smoke, in the trough under my nose. Truly, we
public characters have a tough time of it! And, among all the town
officers, chosen at March meeting, where is he that sustains, for a
single year, the burden of such manifold duties as are imposed, in
perpetuity, upon the Town Pump? The title of "town treasurer" is
rightfully mine, as guardian of the best treasure that the town has.
The overseers of the poor ought to make me their chairman, since I
provide bountifully for the pauper, without, expense to him that pays
taxes. I am at the head of the fire department; and one of the
physicians to the board of health. As a keeper of the peace, all water
drinkers will confess me equal to the constable. I perform some of the
duties of the town clerk, by promulgating public notices, when they are
posted on my front. To speak within bounds, I am the chief person of the
municipality, and exhibit, moreover, an admirable pattern to my brother
officers, by the cool, steady, upright, downright, and impartial
discharge of my business, and the constancy with which I stand to my
post. Summer or winter, nobody seeks me in vain; for, all day long, I am
seen at the busiest corner, just above the market, stretching out my
arms, to rich and poor alike; and at night, I hold a lantern over my
head, both to show where I am, and keep people out of the gutters.

At this sultry noontide, I am cupbearer to the parched populace, for
whose benefit an iron goblet is chained to my waist. Like a dram-seller
on the mall, at musterday, I cry aloud to all and sundry, in my plainest
accents, and at the very tiptop of my voice. Here it is, gentlemen!
Here is the good liquor! Walk up, walk up, gentlemen, walk up, walk up!
Here is the superior stuff! Here is the unadulterated ale of father
Adam,--better than Cognac, Hollands, Jamaica, strong beer, or wine of any
price; here it is, by the hogshead or the single glass, and not a cent to
pay! Walk up, gentlemen, walk up, and help yourselves!

It were a pity, if all this outcry should draw no customers. Here they
come. A hot day, gentlemen! Quaff, and away again, so as to keep
yourselves in a nice cool sweat. You, my friend, will need another
cupful, to wash the dust out of your throat, if it be as thick there as
it is on your cowhide shoes. I see that you have trudged half a score of
miles to-day; and, like a wise man, have passed by the taverns, and
stopped at the running brooks and well-curbs. Otherwise, betwixt heat
without and fire within, you would have been burned to a cinder, or
melted down to nothing at all, in the fashion of a jelly-fish. Drink,
and make room for that other fellow, who seeks my aid to quench the fiery
fever of last night's potations, which he drained from no cup of mine.
Welcome, most rubicund sir! You and I have been great strangers,
hitherto; nor, to confess the truth, will my nose be anxious for a closer
intimacy, till the fumes of your breath be a little less potent. Mercy
on you, man! the water absolutely hisses down your red-hot gullet, and is
converted quite to steam, in the miniature tophet, which you mistake for
a stomach. Fill again, and tell me, on the word of an honest toper, did
you ever, in cellar, tavern, or any kind of a dram-shop, spend the price
of your children's food for a swig half so delicious? Now, for the first
time these ten years, you know the flavor of cold water. Good by; and,
whenever you are thirsty, remember that I keep a constant supply, at the
old stand. Who next? O, my little friend, you are let loose from
school, and come hither to scrub your blooming face, and drown the memory
of certain taps of the ferule, and other school-boy troubles, in a
draught from the Town Pump. Take it, pure as the current of your young
life. Take it, and may your heart and tongue never be scorched with a
fiercer thirst than now! There, my dear child, put down the cup, and
yield your place to this elderly gentleman, who treads so tenderly over
the paving-stones, that I suspect he is afraid of breaking them. What!
he limps by, without so much as thanking me, as if my hospitable offers
were meant only for people who have no wine-cellars. Well, well, sir,--
no harm done, I hope! Go draw the cork, tip the decanter; but, when your
great toe shall set you a-roaring, it will be no affair of mine. If
gentlemen love the pleasant titillation of the gout, it is all one to the
Town Pump. This thirsty dog, with his red tongue lolling out, does not
scorn my hospitality, but stands on his hind legs, and laps eagerly out
of the trough. See how lightly he capers away again! Jowler, did your
worship ever have the gout?

Are you all satisfied? Then wipe your mouths, my good friends; and,
while my spout has a moment's leisure, I will delight the town with a few
historical reminiscences. In far antiquity, beneath a darksome shadow of
venerable boughs, a spring bubbled out of the leafstrewn earth, in the
very spot where you now behold me, on the sunny pavement. The water was
as bright and clear, and deemed as precious, as liquid diamonds. The
Indian sagamores drank of it, from time immemorial, till the fatal deluge
of the fire-water burst upon the red men, and swept their whole race away
from the cold fountains. Endicott, and his followers, came next, and
often knelt down to drink, dipping their long beards in the spring. The
richest goblet, then, was of birch-bark. Governor Winthrop, after a
journey afoot from Boston, drank here, out of the hollow of his hand.
The elder Higginson here wet his palm, and laid it on the brow of the
first town-born child. For many years it was the watering-place, and, as
it were, the wash-bowl of the vicinity,--whither all decent folks
resorted, to purify their visages, and gaze at them afterwards--at least,
the pretty maidens did--in the mirror which it made. On Sabbath days,
whenever a babe was to be baptized, the sexton filled his basin here, and
placed it on the communion-table of the humble meeting-house, which
partly covered the site of yonder stately brick one. Thus, one
generation after another was consecrated to Heaven by its waters, and
cast their waxing and waning shadows into its glassy bosom, and vanished
from the earth, as if mortal life were but a flitting image in a
fountain. Finally, the fountain vanished also. Cellars were dug on all
sides, and cartloads of gravel flung upon its source, whence oozed a
turbid stream, forming a mud-puddle, at the corner of two streets. In
the hot months, when its refreshment was most needed, the dust flew in
clouds over the forgotten birthplace of the waters, now their grave.
But, in the course of time, a Town Pump was sunk into the source of the
ancient spring; and when the first decayed, another took its place,--
and then another, and still another,--till here stand I, gentlemen and
ladies, to serve you with my iron goblet. Drink, and be refreshed! The
water is as pure and cold as that which slaked the thirst of the red
sagamore, beneath the aged boughs, though now the gem of the wilderness
is treasured under these hot stones, where no shadow falls, but from the
brick buildings. And be it the moral of my story, that, as this wasted
and long-lost fountain is now known and prized again, so shall the
virtues of cold water, too little valued since your father's days, be
recognized by all.

Your pardon, good people! I must interrupt my stream of eloquence, and
spout forth a stream of water, to replenish the trough for this teamster
and his two yoke of oxen, who have come from Topsfield, or somewhere
along that way. No part of my business is pleasanter than the watering
of cattle. Look! how rapidly they lower the water-mark on the sides of
the trough, till their capacious stomachs are moistened with a gallon or
two apiece, and they can afford time to breathe it in, with sighs of calm
enjoyment. Now they roll their quiet eyes around the brim of their
monstrous drinking-vessel. An ox is your true toper.

But I perceive, my dear auditors, that you are impatient for the
remainder of my discourse. Impute it, I beseech you, to no defect of
modesty, if I insist a little longer on so fruitful a topic as my own
multifarious merits. It is altogether for your good. The better you
think of me, the better men and women will you find yourselves. I shall
say nothing of my all-important aid on washing-days; though, on that
account alone, I might call myself the household god of a hundred
families. Far be it from me also to hint, my respectable friends, at the
show of dirty faces which you would present, without my pains to keep you
clean. Nor will I remind you how often when the midnight bells make you
tremble for your combustible town, you have tied to the Town Pump, and
found me always at my post, firm amid the confusion, and ready to drain
my vital current in your behalf. Neither is it worth while to lay much
stress on my claims to a medical diploma, as the physician, whose simple
rule of practice is preferable to all the nauseous lore, which has found
men sick or left them so, since the days of Hippocrates. Let us take a
broader view of my beneficial influence on mankind.

No; these are trifles, compared with the merits which wise men concede to
me,--if not in my single self, yet as the representative of a class--of
being the grand reformer of the age. From my spout, and such spouts as
mine, must flow the stream that shall cleanse our earth of the vast
portion of its crime and anguish, which has gushed from the fiery
fountains of the still. In this mighty enterprise, the cow shall be my
great confederate. Milk and water! The TOWN Pump and the Cow! Such is
the glorious copartnership, that shall tear down the distilleries and
brewhouses, uproot the vineyards, shatter the cider-presses, ruin the tea
and coffee trade, and finally monopolize the whole business of quenching
thirst. Blessed consummation! Then Poverty shall pass away from the
land, finding no hovel so wretched, where her squalid form may shelter
itself. Then Disease, for lack of other victims, shall gnaw its own
heart, and die. Then Sin, if she do not die, shall lose half her
strength. Until now, the frenzy of hereditary fever has raged in the
human blood, transmitted from sire to son, and rekindled in every
generation, by fresh draughts of liquid flame. When that inward fire
shall be extinguished, the heat of passion cannot but grow cool, and war
--the drunkenness of nations--perhaps will cease. At least, there will
be no war of households. The husband and wife, drinking deep of peaceful
joy,--a calm bliss of temperate affections,--shall pass hand in hand
through life, and lie down, not reluctantly, at its protracted close.
To them, the past will be no turmoil of mad dreams, nor the future an
eternity of such moments as follow the delirium of the drunkard. Their
dead faces shall express what their spirits were, and are to be, by a
lingering smile of memory and hope.

Ahem! Dry work, this speechifying; especially to an unpractised orator.
I never conceived, till now, what toil the temperance lecturers undergo
for my sake. Hereafter, they shall have the business to themselves. Do,
some kind Christian, pump a stroke or two, just to wet my whistle. Thank
you, sir! My dear hearers, when the world shall have been regenerated by
my instrumentality, you will collect your useless vats and liquor-casks
into one great pile, and make a bonfire, in honor of the Town Pump. And,
when I shall have decayed, like my predecessors, then, if you revere my
memory, let a marble fountain, richly sculptured, take my place upon this
spot. Such monuments should be erected everywhere, and inscribed with
the names of the distinguished champions of my cause. Now listen; for
something very important is to come next.

There are two or three honest friends of mine--and true friends, I know,
they are--who, nevertheless, by their fiery pugnacity in my behalf, do
put me in fearful hazard of a broken nose or even a total overthrow upon
the pavement, and the loss of the treasure which I guard. I pray you,
gentlemen, let this fault be amended. Is it decent, think you, to get
tipsy with zeal for temperance, and take up the honorable cause of the
Town Pump in the style of a toper, fighting for his brandy-bottle? Or,
can the excellent qualities of cold water be not otherwise exemplified,
than by plunging slapdash into hot water, and wofully scalding yourselves
and other people? Trust me, they may. In the moral warfare, which you
are to wage,--and, indeed, in the whole conduct of your lives,--you
cannot choose a better example than myself, who have never permitted the
dust and sultry atmosphere, the turbulence and manifold disquietudes of
the world around me, to reach that deep, calm well of purity, which may
be called my soul. And whenever I pour out that soul, it is to cool
earth's fever, or cleanse its stains.

One o'clock! Nay, then, if the dinner-bell begins to speak, I may as
well hold my peace. Here comes a pretty young girl of my acquaintance,
with a large stone pitcher for me to fill. May she draw a husband, while
drawing her water, as Rachel did of old. Hold out your vessel, my dear!
There it is, full to the brim; so now run hone, peeping at your sweet
image in the pitcher, as you go; and forget not, in a glass of my own
liquor, to drink--"SUCCESS TO THE TOWN PUMP!"


Nathaniel Hawthorne


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