Phonozoic Text Archive, Document 132

Mrs. Barstinglow's Phonograph

From the Burlington Hawkeye.  Reprinted as “Echoes from the Phonograph: What Mrs. Barstinglow Heard After Three Days’ Absence from Home,” The Sun, April 21, 1878 (omits final paragraph); and as “The Phonograph: An Evening with the Machine in a Western Town,” Evening Post, April 16, 1878.

                It happened that Mrs. Barstinglow was going down to Keokuk for a few days, and Mr. Barstinglow was inconsolable.  At one time he protested that she should not go; he could not endure the lonesome house during her absence.  And then again he declared that if she must go, he would neglect his office, and let his business go to the bow-wows, and he would go with her.  At length, however, she persuaded him to be reasonable, and on her repeated assurance that she would not remain away longer than three days, he consented to let her go.  He even bought her ticket, and ordered the carriage and paid for it two days ahead, lest his resolution should give way, and he should forbid her going from him.  And from that time till the morning of her departure Mr. Barstinglow spoke in subdued tones, and moved about with the air of a man whose heart was buried under mountains of grief.
                Before she left the house, Mrs. Barstinglow set the phonograph in the sitting room, behind the clock.  Then she kissed her disconsolate husband, and begged him to preserve his precious life for her sake while she was away, and then she was gone.
                Every day, during her three days’ visit to the Gate City, she received a letter from her mourning husband, begging her to come back and telling her how lonesome he was without her, and how like a grave the empty house seemed, and how the hours dragged over his aching heart with leaden feet.  And in three days she came home, and filled the solemn house with sunlight and laughter again.
                The evening after her return to Burlington, she took down the phonograph.
                “I wonder,” she said, “what we said last in its hearing?  It must have been something while we were discussing my visit.  Or may be it has caught some of your poor, longing moanings while I was away.”
                And then she turned the crank.
                “Lord, no,” croaked the phonograph, in tones of hearty reassurance, “no danger of that; she’s safe in Keokuk for three days; saw her safely off, myself, this morning.  Light your cigar while I light another lamp and make the room look cheerful.”
                “Why,” exclaimed Mrs. Barstinglow, in a countenance of amazement, “what on earth is it saying?”
                “Oh, some nonsense some of your visitors have talked into it some time or other,” replied her husband, nervously, “people talk all kinds of stuff into a phonograph, you know.  They say anything for talk.”
                Mrs. Barstinglow, looking only half convinced, gave the crank another turn.
                “This is devilish good whiskey, Barsty,” ejaculated the machine, very earnestly.  “You don’t get it in Burlington, do you?”
                Mrs. Barstinglow gave a little shriek.
                “My dear,” said her husband, looking now quite as worried as he had looked when he was begging her not to go to Keokuk, “put it away; somebody has had it out in the stable, and it might say something perfectly shocking, you know.  Put it away.”
                But Mrs. Barstinglow, upon whom the spirit of investigation had descended with great power, ground away, and the phonograph, in a voice marvellously like her husband’s, went remorselessly on.
                “Not much; they don’t make this kind now.  It’s some old Monongahela, copper distilled, that Mrs. Barstinglow’s mother gave her for medicinal purposes three years ago.  Fill up, there’s plenty of it, and I can replace it with any kind of beverage when it’s gone.  The old girl won’t know the difference.”                 Mrs. Barstinglow felt herself turning to stone, but the next turn of the crank brought out an uproarious
                “Ha, ha, ha!  Here’s to the o. g.!”
                That fanned her cheeks into flame.
                “For mercy’s sake, Malachi Barstinglow,” she shrieked, “what does this mean?”
                Mr. Barstinglow now looked as though he really did wish she had never gone to Keokuk.
                “It’s just as I tell you,” he said, with an effort to look unconcerned that was like a humorous book, a colossal success, so far as its utter failure was concerned.  “Somebody has been talking all sorts of nonsense into it just for talk’s sake.  How else could it get hold of such dreadful stuff in our dear little home, lovey?”
                Mrs. Barstinglow didn’t say, but she turned away and the phonograph asked carelessly:
                “Throw around for the deal?”
                She thought she would faint, but she didn’t, and the pitiless machine proceeded to remark, with a variety of voices:
                “It’s my age.”
                “You’ll have to straddle that blind if you come in.”
                “Give me two cards.”
                “Chip one.”
                “I’ll see your little one and raise you a couple.”
                “Push the bottle this way, Ben.”
                “Ain’t you going to stay in, Harry?”
                “Can’t stay in on a pair of sixes.”
                “Call you.”
                “Two small pair, kings to head.”
                “Tens and deuces.  Take the pot.”
                “Barsty, get us something to eat.  Old girl left the cupboard keys, didn’t she?”
                “Lord, yes; told her I was going to keep bach at home to save expenses and keep out of bad company.”
                “Ha, ha, ha!  Ho! ho!! ho!!!”
                “Oh,” yelled Mr. Barstinglow, unable to contain himself any longer, while his wife, more dead than alive, leaned over the phonograph and ground away at the crank in a dazed kind of a way.  “Oh, keep it up!  That’s right!  Keep her agoing!  Grind it all out!  Dog gone the diabolical power of black art and the vile assassin that invented it!  Keep it up!  That’s right!  Believe a senseless diabolical piece of monstrous mechanism rather than your husband.  Keep her agoing.  Keep it up!”
                And Mrs. Barstinglow did keep it up.  She kept it up, and listened to that phonograph swear and shout and howl; she heard it shriek “Oh, my eye; my eye!”  She heard it tell some one to let some one else “have it again in the same place;” she heard it warn somebody to “hold his head over the stove hearth, and not let his nose bleed on the carpet,” and at last, as it assured her very thickly and with some difficulty, that it was “a ban’ of jorry goof fuf-fuf-fellows,” and that it “won’-hic-won’ g’ ome till morning,” she ground it into silence, and asnk back, speechless and breathless, while Mr. Barstinglow took the phonograph out into the back yard and smashed it into so many and such small fragments that it couldn’t reproduce even a steamboat whistle.
                And now, when people go over to the Barstinglow’s to spend a pleasant evening, and happen to say, “What have you done with the phonograph, Mr. Barstinglow?” it affords the visitors entertainment for the rest of the evening to study the different expressions which creep over the faces of Mr. and Mrs. Barstinglow, while Mr. Barstinglow, as he answers the question, thinks he would give ten thousand dollars if he could find out how the members of the Paragraphers’ Association tell lies so easily and make them sound so marvellously like the truth.