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A Bill From The Town Pump
1 8 9 4

(Scene—The corner of two principal streets. 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 made 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 mind, as guardian of the best treasure that the town has. 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, more over, 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.

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 leaf-strewn 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 washbowl, 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.

Thus one generation after another cast their 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, through now the gem of the wilderness is treasured under these hot stones, where no shadow falls but from the brink 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.

First Book In English
Copyright©1894 William H. Maxwell, M.A.
City Superintendent of Schools
City of New York
American Book Company
New York, New York

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