No man ever lived who was fonder of a practical joke than our friend Dullis. He would spend time and money to carry out his special projects, and never begrudged the absolute waste of either, if he accomplished his jokes. A neighbor of his, whom we shall call Mumford, was nearly his match in design and execution, but he seldom indulged himself in the luxury of “practical jokes,” unless instigated by some prank of his friend Dullis. The consequence was that between these two there was generally “something going on” peculiar to their line of business. On a certain occasion, late at night, Dullis came on board a steamboat running on the lower Mississippi, and was put in a state-room, one berth of which was already occupied by a portly man buried in profound sleep. Dullis unrobed himself, “turned in,” and very soon accompanied his room-mate to the land of dreams. In the morning Dullis rose, dressed himself, and was about leaving his state-room, when he discovered that his fellow-traveller was no other than his old friend Mumford, who was still snoring away with a power that found no rival for noise and steady work, except in the steam-engine. The incident was suggestive; Dullis saw that Mumford was still unconscious that any one had shared his room, and he could not let him off without “doing something handsome.”

The negro waiters at the time were busy arranging the last touches of a splendid breakfast. While they were passing to and from along the cabin, Dullis got his eye upon one of commanding size, who, in outline at least, was no bad imitation of Mumford. Calling the darkey to his stateroom door, Dullis asked him “if he wanted a pair of nice pantaloons?” The negro grinned an eloquent Yes, sir, and added, “If you please, master.” Dullis picked up the unoccupied unmentionables of the unconscious Mumford, emptied the pockets in his vacated berth, and handed them over to the gratified African, remarking, “There now, go and put them on, and let me see if they fit you, and if they do, keep them on and behave yourself.” [1]

In a few moments Pomp was arrayed in all the glory of his unexpected addition to his wardrobe, and stepped about the cabin with an additional air to his natural self-complacency.

Meanwhile, Mumford awoke; the rattling of the knives and forks, and the conversation of some two hundred passengers discussing breakfast, interrupted even his profound slumbers; finding that he had “overslept himself,” he hastily commenced the preliminaries of dressing, when he discovered that a most important article of his dress had disappeared; it was apparent that he had been robbed. Unable to go into the cabin to make his complaints to the officers, he opened his state-room door ajar, and stuck out his nose, the very picture of helpless consternation. Dullis, while he was supping his coffee and anticipating just such a result, noticed the proceeding, and springing from the table, rushed up with the most intense surprise, exclaiming:

“Mumford, is this you? I didn’t know you were on the boat; how do you do, old fellow? Glad to see you; come and get your grub; everything is getting cold, don’t you see!”

Mumford was delighted that he had found somebody most unexpectedly to extricate him from his difficulties, and without ado entered upon the tale of his misfortunes. Dullis listened with the greatest attention, and decided that his deep sleep had been taken advantage of to rob him, and he concluded by giving it as his opinion that “some of the waiters had done it.”

An immense deal of examination followed; the clerk of the boat, the captain, and subordinate officers all were busy, and all were sent by Dullis, severally and individually, to Mumford’s room, to hear the sad tale--Mumford in the meanwhile cutting the most ridiculous figure, and being held in the most uncomfortable manner a prisoner. After this farce had been played long enough to suit the humor of Dullis, he went into Mumford’s room and asked him what were the general characteristics of the lost garment. Mumford stated that they “were brown broadcloth, and quite new.” Dullis speculated awhile, and finally seemed to be struck with an unexpected idea. Springing up, he exclaimed: “Mumford, I believe I saw that very pair of pantaloons you describe on one of the head waiters of the boat; so just take a peep at them as they move about, and see if my suspicions are not correct.”

Mumford followed the advice, as it seemed to be founded on probabilities, and made a sentinel of himself; he scanned the different darkies as they moved about, busied in their different occupations, Dullis at a distance looking on with apparent unconcern. Suddenly Mumford rushed from his room, seized an unfortunate waiter by the collar, and in a state of excitement that made him almost speechless, exclaimed:

“You are the scoundrel that has stolen my pantaloons, and then have had the impudence to put them on and wear them in my presence.”

The poor waiter turned a good ash-color with fright, and as he saw the huge fist of Mumford descending on his face, he fell on his knees, exclaiming:

“Master, for de Lord’s sake listen; a gemman wid de big white hat on gib me de trousers, I never tuck ‘em at all.”

Mumford, with a queer expression, looked up and around at the half-laughing half-astonished passengers who had crowded into the cabin, he discovered the twinkling eyes and grave face of Dullis. The truth flashed upon him with the force of lightning; loosening his hold upon the innocent darkie, he staggered into his state-room, exclaiming, “H--l! how badly sold!”

For a few moments Mumford was black with rage, and heaped all sorts of imprecations on Dullis; but as he worked off his steam, and learned that Dullis had been his room-mate half the night, and thoroughly comprehended the nature of the joke, and how beautifully it was done, and, finally, when he saw Dullis himself looking the very picture of comical contrition, he could not withstand the contagious laugh that echoed on all sides of him. Accepting a substitute for his irrevocably “done gone garment,” he finally appeared in the cabin looking quite “as good as new.” The end was, that Dullis and Mumford finished the breakfast together, and we are told, although we don’t believe it, that the barkeeper of the boat made a great deal of money in consequence of the “liquoring” that followed.


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 29.14 (14 May 1859): 157. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] " before "handed them over" ; typesetting error probable.

We would like to thank the staff of the Library of Virginia Archives and Special Collections, Alderman Library, and Barrett Collection for their assistance. This page contains material in the public domain and it may be reproduced in its entirety or cited for courses, scholarship, or other non-commercial uses. We ask that users cite the source and support the archives that have provided materials to the Spirit site.