There was a fellow traveling around in that country," said Mr.
Nickerson, "with a moral-religious show--a sort of scriptural panorama
and he hired a wooden-headed old slab to play the piano for him. After
the first night's performance the showman says:
"'My friend, you seem to know pretty much all the tunes there are, and
you worry along first rate. But then, didn't you notice that sometimes
last night the piece you happened to be playing was a little rough on the
proprieties, so to speak--didn't seem to jibe with the general gait of
the picture that was passing at the time, as it were--was a little
foreign to the subject, you know--as if you didn't either trump or follow
suit, you understand?'
"'Well, no,' the fellow said; 'he hadn't noticed, but it might be; he had
played along just as it came handy.'
"So they put it up that the simple old dummy was to keep his eye on the
panorama after that, and as soon as a stunning picture was reeled out he
was to fit it to a dot with a piece of music that would help the audience
to get the idea of the subject, and warm them up like a camp-meeting
revival. That sort of thing would corral their sympathies, the showman
"There was a big audience that night-mostly middle-aged and old people
who belong to the church, and took a strong interest in Bible matters,
and the balance were pretty much young bucks and heifers--they always
come out strong on panoramas, you know, because it gives them a chance to
taste one another's complexions in the dark.
"Well, the showman began to swell himself up for his lecture, and the old
mud-Jobber tackled the piano and ran his fingers up and down once or
twice to see that she was all right, and the fellows behind the curtain
commenced to grind out the panorama. The showman balanced his weight on
his right foot, and propped his hands over his hips, and flung his eyes
over his shoulder at the scenery, and said:
"'Ladies and gentlemen, the painting now before you illustrates the
beautiful and touching parable of the Prodigal Son. Observe the happy
expression just breaking over the features of the poor, suffering youth
so worn and weary with his long march; note also the ecstasy beaming from
the uplifted countenance of the aged father, and the joy that sparkles in
the eyes of the excited group of youths and maidens, and seems ready to
burst into the welcoming chorus from their lips. The lesson, my friends,
is as solemn and instructive as the story is tender and beautiful.'
"The mud-Jobber was all ready, and when the second speech was finished,
"Oh, we'll all get blind drunk
When Johnny comes marching home!
"Some of the people giggled, and some groaned a little. The showman
couldn't say a word; he looked at the pianist sharp, but he was all
lovely and serene--he didn't know there was anything out of gear.
"The panorama moved on, and the showman drummed up his grit and started
"'Ladies and gentlemen, the fine picture now unfolding itself to your
gaze exhibits one of the most notable events in Bible history--our
Saviour and His disciples upon the Sea of Galilee. How grand, how awe-
inspiring are the reflections which the subject invokes! What sublimity
of faith is revealed to us in this lesson from the sacred writings! The
Saviour rebukes the angry waves, and walks securely upon the bosom of the
"All around the house they were whispering, 'Oh, how lovely, how
beautiful!' and the orchestra let himself out again:
"A life on the ocean wave,
And a home on the rolling deep!
"There was a good deal of honest snickering turned on this time, and
considerable groaning, and one or two old deacons got up and went out.
The showman grated his teeth, and cursed the piano man to himself; but
the fellow sat there like a knot on a log, and seemed to think he was
"After things got quiet the showman thought he would make one more
stagger at it, anyway, though his confidence was beginning to get mighty
shaky. The supes started the panorama grinding along again, and he says:
"'Ladies and gentlemen, this exquisite painting represents the raising of
Lazarus from the dead by our Saviour. The subject has been handled with
marvelous skill by the artist, and such touching sweetness and tendernessof expression has he thrown into it that I have known peculiarly
sensitive persons to be even affected to tears by looking at it. Observe
the half-confused, half-inquiring look upon the countenance of the
awakened Lazarus. Observe, also, the attitude and expression of the Saviour, who takes him gently by the sleeve of his shroud with one hand,
while He points with the other toward the distant city.'
"Before anybody could get off an opinion in the case the innocent old ass
at the piano struck up:
"Come rise up, William Ri-i-ley,
And go along with me!
"Whe-ew! All the solemn old flats got up in a huff to go, and everybody
else laughed till the windows rattled.
"The showman went down and grabbed the orchestra and shook him up and
"'That lets you out, you know, you chowder-headed old clam. Go to the
doorkeeper and get your money, and cut your stick--vamose the ranch!
Ladies and gentlemen, circumstances over which I have no control compel
me prematurely to dismiss the house."