Earlier centuries saw a great many practices that were commonplace then but which would be considered inappropriate in our more enlightened age. Nowhere was this truer than in (merry old) England — purchasing a plump Irish child for special dinner occasions in the 18th century, for instance, or in the 19th century, selling a spouse one had grown weary of. One such sale took place on April 8, 1832, an account of which was recorded for the amusement of generations that followed. Joseph Thompson, a farmer, had been married for three unhappy years when he and his wife decided to call it quits. As was customary, Thompson took his wife to town and set her up for public auction. At noon, the sale commenced with Thompson delivering a short speech:
“Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Ann Thomson . . . whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a born serpent. I took her for my comfort, and the good of my home; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil. Gentlemen, I speak truth from my heart when I say — may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome women! Avoid them as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera morbus, Mount Etna, or any other pestilential thing in nature.”
What a sales pitch! This guy could sell anything. The asking price for Mary Ann was 50 shillings. Eventually, the price was knocked down and a deal was made — 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog.
Everyone satisfied, they parted company, Mary Ann and a gentleman named Henry Mears in one direction, Joseph and the dog in the other.
Don’t Hurry Worry Me, Part 3: Blue Denim Ahoy
“Does anyone here need some pants?” Ismelde asked the three sailors sitting on the dock, amusing themselves with beer and cigars. They eyed Ismelde with suspicion at first, then stared intently, their seafaring eyes inspecting her from stem to stern.
“I’d be needing some pants,” said the largest and swarthiest of the three.
“Oh dear,” said Ismelde, “I don’t think they’ll fit you, sir.”
The youngest of the three spoke up. “I reckon they’d fit me.” Ismelde studied him. He was of much the same build as Randall.
“Why don’t you try them on?” suggested the other sailor with a big, toothless grin.
The young sailor stood and grinned back at his mates. “Let’s do that. Couldn’t take them if they didn’t fit. Come on.” He pulled a reluctant Ismelde aboard their sloop, leaving the other two sailors chuckling and speculating. A few moments later, a very red-faced Ismelde emerged from the sloop and hurried away. Just behind her the young sailor zipping his newly acquired, tight-fitting blue denims swaggered ashore, boasting to the others: “I guess she’s never put pants on a sailor before.”
Randall couldn’t have told you this part of the story, someone would complain. Chicken Avery just shrugged them off. Now don’t you hurry me, he’d say. Don’t worry me. Someone told me this, someone else told me that. I just put it all together.
Three hours later, the young sailor was still swaggering, promenading the length of the deck, as the sloop plied the choppy waters off the windward side of the island. And perhaps it was that swaggering that rendered his sea legs useless against the lurching of the sloop, that threw him off balance and allowed him to be tossed off the starboard side, blue denims and all.
Elton Sinclair’s hours of sobriety were few. And he spent those few hours combing the beach for clues to the buried treasure that would lift him out of the drudgery of island life and whisk him away to the upper strata of European society, where he would drink cognac instead of rum. The corpse in the blue denim trousers lying in a heap on Pigeon Beach presented Elton with a bit of a moral dilemma. Should he report the body to the authorities and subject himself to all their suspicious interrogation or just let someone else discover the body and deal with the fuss. He realized that, if everyone who happened onto the body were to save themselves the fuss, the body would never be officially discovered even though everyone on the island must know about it. On the other hand, he was a busy man; there were others with more time to waste on fuss.
Having faced the first moral dilemma and making a sound decision, Elton face a second moral dilemma. Would the authorities, once the body had been discovered by someone other than Elton, care whether the corpse was attired in a pair of handsome blue denims or in a pair of shabby brown pants much like those that Elton wore? Of course not. Elton knelt down next to the sailor and peeled the pants from his lifeless body. He was about to remove his own pants and put them on the body when it struck him that the poor wretch lying there was free of all care and certainly any care about whether or not he wore pants at all. So Elton saluted the naked corpse, slung the blue denims over one arm and headed down the beach, keeping watch for any telltale signs of treasure.
This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.