Being the Love Story of Eliph' Hewlitt Book Agent
By Ellis Parker Butler
I. Eliph' Hewlitt II. Susan III. "How to Win the Affections" IV. Kilo V. Sammy Mills VI. The Castaway VII. The Colonel VIII. The Medium-sized Box IX. The Witness X. The Boss Grafter XI. The False Gods of Doc Weaver XII. Getting Acquainted XIII. "Second: a Small Present" XIV. Something Turns Up XV. Difficulties XVI. Two Lovers, and a Third XVII. According to Jarby's XVIII. Another Trial XIX. Pap Briggs' Hen Food
CHAPTER I. Eliph' Hewlitt
Eliph' Hewlitt, book agent, seated in his weather-beaten top buggy, drove his horse, Irontail, carefully along the rough Iowa hill road that leads from Jefferson to Clarence. The Horse, a rusty gray, tottered in a loose-jointed manner from side to side of the road, half asleep in the sun, and was indolent in every muscle of his body, except his tail, which thrashed violently at the flies. Eliph' Hewlitt drove with his hands held high, almost on a level with his sandy whiskers, for he was well acquainted with Irontail.
The road seemed to pass through a region of large farms, offering few opportunities for selling books, the houses being so far apart, but Eliph' knew the small settlement of Clarence was a few miles farther on, and he was carrying enlightenment to the benighted. He glowed with missionary zeal. In his eagerness he thoughtlessly slapped the reins on the back of Irontail.
Instantly the plump, gray tail of the horse flashed over the rein and clamped it fast. Eliph' Hewlitt leaned over the dashboard of his buggy and grasped the hair of the tail firmly. He pulled it upward with all his strength, but the tail did not yield. Instead, Irontail kicked vigorously. Eliph' Hewlitt, knowing his horse as well as he knew human nature, climbed out of the buggy, and taking the rein close by the bit led Irontail to the side of the road. Then he took from beneath the buggy seat a bulky, oil-cloth-wrapped parcel and seated himself near the horse's head. There was no safety for a timid driver when Irontail had thus assumed command of the rein. There was no way to get a rein from beneath that tail but to ignore it. In an hour or so Irontail would grow forgetful, carelessly begin flapping flies, and release the rein himself.
Eliph' Hewlitt unwrapped the oilcloth from the object in enfolded. It was a book. It was Jarby's 'Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science, Art, Comprising Useful Information on One Thousand and One Subjects, Including A History of the World, the Lives of all Famous Men, Quotations From the World's Great Authors, One Thousand and One Recipes, Et Cetera'. One Volume, five dollars bound in cloth; seven fifty in morocco. Eliph' Hewlitt passed his hand affectionately over the gilt-stamped cover, and then opened it at random and read.
For years he had been reading Jarby's Encyclopedia, and among its ten thousand and one subjects he always found something new. It opened now at "Courtship-How to Make Love—How to Win the Affections—How to Hold Them When Won," and although he had read the pages often before, he found in all parts of the book, whenever he read it, a new meaning. It occurred to him that even a book agent might have reason to use the helpful words set for in clear type in the chapter on "Courtship—How to Make Love," and he realized that sometime he must reach the age when he would need a home of his own. For years he had thought of woman only as a possible customer for Jarby's Encyclopedia. Every woman, not already married, he now saw, might be a possible Mrs. Eliph' Hewlitt.
Suddenly he raised his head. On the breeze there was borne to him the sound of voices—many voices. He closed the book with a bang. His small body became tense; his eyes glittered. He scented prey. He wrapped the book in its oilcloth, laid it upon the buggy seat, and taking Irontail by the bridle, started in the direction of the voices.
Half a mile down the road he came upon a scene of merriment. In a cleared grove men, women and children were gathered; it was a church picnic. Eliph' Hewlitt took his hitching strap from beneath the buggy seat and secured Irontail to a tree.
"Church picnic," he said to himself; "one, two, sixteen, twenty-four, AND the minister. Good for twelve copies of Jarby's Encyclopedia or I'm no good myself. I love church picnics. What so lovely as to see the pastor and his flock gathered together in a bunch, as I may say, like ten-pins, ready to be scooped in, all at one shot?"
He walked up to the rail fence and leaned against it so that he might be seen and invited in. It was better policy than pushing himself forward, and it gave him time to study the faces. He did not find them hopeful subjects. They were not the faces of readers. They were not even the faces of buyers. Even in their holiday finery, the women were shabby and the men were careworn. The minister himself, white-bearded and gray-haired, showed more signs of spiritual grace than intellectual strength.
One woman, fresh and bright as a butterfly, appeared among them, and Eliph' Hewlitt knew her at once as a city dweller, who had somehow got into this dull and hard-working community. Almost at the same moment she noticed him, and approached him. She smiled kindly and extended her hand.
"Won't you come in?" she asked. "I don't seem to remember your face, but we would be glad to have you join us."
Eliph' Hewlitt shook his head.
"No'm," he said sadly. "I'd better not come in. Not that I don't want to, but I wouldn't be welcome. There ain't anything I like so much as church picnics, and when I was a boy I used to cry for them, but I wouldn't dare join you. I'm a"—he looked around cautiously, and said in a whisper—"I'm a book agent."
The lady laughed.
"Of course," she said, "that DOES make a difference; but you needn't be a book agent to-day. You can forget it for a while and join us."
Eliph' Hewlitt shook his head again.
"That's it," he said. "That's just the reason. I CAN'T forget it. I try to, but I can't. Just when I don't want to, I break out, and before I know it I've sold everybody a book, and then I feel like I'd imposed on good nature. They take me in as a friend and then I sell 'em a copy of Jarby's 'Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art,' ten thousand and one subjects, from A to Z, including recipes for every known use, quotations from famous authors, lives of famous men, and, in one word, all the world's wisdom condensed into one volume, five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid."
He paused, and the lady looked at him with an amused smile.
"Of seven fifty, handsomely bound in morocco," he added. "So you see I don't feel like I ought to impose. I know how I am. You take my mother now. She hadn't seen me for eight years. I'd been traveling all over these United States, carrying knowledge and culture into the homes of the people at five dollars, easy payments, per home, and I got a telegram saying, 'Come home. Mother very ill.'" He nodded his head slowly. "Wonderful invention, the telegraph," he said. "It tells all about it on page 562 of Jarby's 'Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art,'—who invented; when first used; name of every city, town, village and station in the U.S. that has a telegraph office; complete explanation of the telegraph system, telling how words are carried over a slender wire, et cetery, et cetery. This and ten thousand other useful facts in one volume, only five dollars, bound in cloth. So when I got that telegram I took the train for home. Look in the index under T. 'Train, Railway—see Railway.' 'Railway; when first operated; inventor of the locomotive engine; railway accidents from 1892 to 1904, giving number of fatal accidents per year, per month, per week, per day, and per miles; et cetery, et cetery. Every subject known to man fully and interestingly treated, WITH illustrations."
"I don't believe I care for a copy to-day," said the lady.
"No," said Eliph' Hewlitt, meekly. "I know it. Nor I don't want to sell you one. I just mentioned it to show you that when you have a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge you have an entire library in one book, arranged and indexed by the greatest minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One dollar down and one dollar a month until paid. But—when I got home I found mother low—very low. When I went in she was just able to look up and whisper, 'Eliph'?' 'Yes, mother,' I says. 'Is it really you at last?' she says. 'Yes, mother,' I says, 'it's me at last, mother, and I couldn't get here sooner. I was out in Ohio, carrying joy to countless homes and introducing to them Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art. It is a book, mother,' I says, 'suited for rich or poor, young or old. No family is complete without it. Ten thousand and one subjects, all indexed from A to Z, including an appendix of the Spanish War brought down to the last moment, and maps of Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America and Australia. This book, mother,' I says, 'is a gold mine of information for the young, and a solace for the old. Pages 201 to 263 filled with quotations from the world's great poets, making select and helpful reading for the fireside lamp. Pages 463 to 468, dying sayings of famous men and women. A book,' I says, 'that teaches us how to live and how to die. All the wisdom of the world in one volume, five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid.' Mother looked up at me and says, 'Eliph', put me down for one copy.' So I did. I hope I may do the same for you."
The lady was about to speak, but Eliph' Hewlitt held up his hand warningly.
"No," he said. "I beg your pardon. I didn't MEAN to say that. I couldn't think of taking your order. I didn't mean to ask it any more than I meant to ask mother. It's habit, and that's what I'm afraid of. I'd better not intrude."
The lady evidently did not agree with him. He amused her because he was what she called a "type," and she was always on the lookout for "types." She urged him to join the picnic, and said he could try not to talk books, and reminded him that no one could do more than try. He climbed the fence with a reluctance that was the more noticeable because his climbing was retarded by the oilcloth-covered parcel he held beneath his arm. The lady smiled as she noticed that he had not feared his soliciting habits sufficiently to leave the book in the buggy, and she made a mental note of this to be used in the story she meant to write about this book-agent type.
"My name is Smith," she told him, as she tripped lightly toward the group about the lunch baskets.
Eliph' Hewlitt was a small man and his movements were short and jerky. He drew his hand over his red whiskers and coughed gently when she mentioned her name, and as she hurried on before him he looked at her tall, straight figure; noticed the stylish mode of her simple summer gown, and caught a glimpse of low, white shoes and neat ankles covered by delicately woven silk.
"Courtship—How to Make Love—How to Win the Affections—How to Hold Them When Won," he meditated. "Lovely, but she will not suit. She is an encyclopedia of knowledge and compendium of literature, science and art, but she is not the edition I can afford. She is gilt-edged and morocco bound, and an ornament to any parlor, but I can't afford her. My style is cloth, good substantial cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid. As I might say."
CHAPTER II. Susan
Mrs. Tarbro-Smith had arranged the picnic herself, hoping to bring a little pleasure into the dullness of the summer, enliven the interest in the little church, and make a pleasant day for the people of Clarence, and she had succeeded in this as in everything she had undertaken during her summer in Iowa. As the leader of her own little circle of bright people in New York, she was accustomed to doing things successfully, and perhaps she was too sure of always having things her own way. As sister of the world-famous author, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, she was always received with consideration in New York, even by editors, but in seeking out a dead eddy in middle Iowa she had been in search of the two things that the woman author most desires, and best handles: local color and types. The editor of MURRAY'S MAGAZINE had told her that his native ground—middle Iowa—offered fresh material for her pen, and, intent on opening this new mine of local color, she had stolen away without letting even her most intimate friends know where she was going. To have her coming heralded would have put her "types" on their guard, and for that reason she had assumed as an impenetrable incognito one-half her name. No rays of reflected fame glittered on plain Mrs. Smith.
While her literary side had found some pleasure in studying the people she had fallen among, she was not able to recognize the distinctness of type in them that the editor of MURRAY'S had led her to believe she should find. She had hoped to discover in Clarence a type as sharply defined as the New England Yankee or the York County Dutch of Pennsylvania, but she could not see that the middle Iowan was anything but the average country person such as is found anywhere in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, a type that is hard to portray with fidelity, except with rather more skill than she felt she had, since it is composed of innumerable ingredients drawn not only from New England, but from nearly every State, and from all the nations of Europe. However, her kindness of heart had been able to exert itself bountifully, and she had had enough experience in her sundry searches for local color to know that a lapse of time and of distance would emphasize the types she was now seeing, and that by the middle of the winter, when once more in her New York apartment, her present experiences and observations would have the right perspective, and their salient features would stand out more plainly. So she won the hearts of her hostess, and of the dozen or more children of the house, with small gifts, and overjoyed with this she set about making the whole community happier. Little presents, smiles, and kind words meant so much to the overworked, hopeless women, and her cheery manner was so pleasant to men and children, that all worshipped her—clumsily and mutely, but whole-heartedly. She was a fairy lady to them.
The truth was that, in her eagerness to secure the most vivid kind of local color, she had gone a step too far. Clarence, with its decayed sidewalks and rotting buildings, was not typical of middle Iowa any more than a stagnant pool lift by a receded river after a flood is typical of the river itself. Before the days of railroads Clarence had been a lively little town, but it was on the top of a hill, and, when the engineer of the Jefferson Western Railroad had laid his ruler on the map and had drawn a straight line across Iowa to represent the course of the road, Clarence had been left ten or twelve miles to one side, and, as the town was not important enough to justify spoiling the beauty of the straight line by putting a curve in it, a station was marked on the road at the point nearest Clarence, and called Kilo. For a while the new station was merely a sidetrack on the level prairie, a convenience for the men of Clarence, but before Clarence knew how it had happened Kilo was a flourishing town, and the older town on the hill had begun to decay. Even while Clarence was still sneering at Kilo as a sidetrack village, Kilo had begun to sneer at Clarence as a played-out crossroads settlement. Clarence, when Mrs. Tarbro-Smith visited it, was no more typical of middle Iowa than a sunfish really resembles the sun.
In Clarence Mrs. Smith's best loved and best loving admirer was Susan, daughter of her hostess, and, to Mrs. Smith, Susan was the long sought and impossible—a good maid. From the first Susan had attached herself to Mrs. Smith, and, for love and two dollars a week, she learned all that a lady's maid should know. When Mrs. Smith asked her if she would like to go to New York, Susan jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Susan was as sweet and lovable as she was useful, and under Mrs. Smith's care she had been transformed into such a thing of beauty that Clarence could hardly recognize her. Instead of tow-colored hair, crowded back by means of a black rubber comb, Susan had been taught a neat arrangement of her blonde locks—so great is the magic of a few deft touches. Instead of being a gawky girl of seventeen, in a faded blue calico wrapper, Susan, as transformed by one of Mrs. Smith's simple white gowns, was a young lady. She so worshipped Mrs. Smith that she imitated her in everything, even to the lesser things, like motions of the hand, and tossings of the head.
When Mrs. Smith broached the matter of taking Susan to New York, she received a shock from Mr. and Mrs. Bell. She had not for one moment doubted that they would be delighted to find that Susan could have a good home, good wages, and a city life, instead of the existence in such a town as Clarence.
"Well, now," Mr. Bell said, "we gotter sort o' talk it over, me an' ma, 'fore we decide that. Susan's a'most our baby, she is. T'hain't but four of 'em younger than what she is in our fambly. We'll let you know, hey?"
Ma and Pa Bell talked it over carefully and came to a decision. The decision was that they had better talk it over with some of the neighbors. The neighbors met at Bell's and talked it over openly in the presence of Mrs. Smith.
They agreed that it would be a great chance for Susan, and they said that no one could want a nicer, kinder lady for boss than what Mrs. Smith was—"but 'tain't noways right to take no risks."
"You see, ma'am," said Ma Bell, "WE don't know who you are no more than nothin', do we? And we do know how as them big towns is ungodly to beat the band, don't we? I remember my grandma tellin' me when I was a little girl about the awful goin's on she heard tell of one time when she was down to Pittsburg, and I reckon New York must be twice the size of Pittsburg was them days, so it must be twice as wicked. So we tell you plain, without meanin' no harm, that WE don't know who you are, nor what you'd do with Susan, once you got her to New York."
"Oh, I now what you want," said Mrs. Smith; "you want references."
"Them's it," said Mrs. Bell, with great relief.
"Well," said Mrs. Smith, "that is easy. I know EVERYBODY in New York."
She thought a moment.
"There's Mr. Murray, of MURRAY'S MAGAZINE," she suggested, mentioning her friend of the great monthly magazine.
"Guess we never heard of that," said Mrs. Bell doubtfully.
"Then do you know the AEON MAGAZINE? I know the editor of AEON."
The neighbors and Mrs. Bell looked at each other blankly, and shook their heads.
Mrs. Smith named ALL the magazines. She had contributed stories to most of them, but not one was known, even by name, to her inquisitors. One shy old lady asked faintly if she had ever heard of Mr. Tweed. She thought she had heard of a Mister Tweed of New York, once.
Then, quite suddenly, Mrs. Smith remembered her own brother, the great Marriott Nolan Tarbro, whose romances sold in editions of hundreds of thousands, and who was, beyond all doubt, the greatest living novelist. Kings had been glad to meet him, and newsboys and gamins ran shouting at his heels when he walked the streets.
"How silly of me," she said. "You must have heard of my brother, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, you know, who wrote 'The Marquis of Glenmore' and 'The Train Wreckers'?"
Mrs. Bell coughed apologetically behind her hand.
"I'm not very littery, Mrs. Smith," she said kindly, "but mebby Mrs. Stein knows of him. Mrs. Stein reads a lot."
Mrs. Stein, whose sole reading was the Bible and such advertising booklets as came by mail, or as she could pick up on the counter of the drugstore, when she went to Kilo, moved uneasily. For years she had had the reputation of being a great reader, and brought face to face with the sister of an author she feared her reputation was about to fall.
"What say his name was?" she asked.
"Tarbro," said Mrs. Smith, as one would mention Shakespeare or Napoleon. "Tarbro. Marriott Nolan Tarbro."
"Well," said Mrs. Stein slowly, turning her head on one side and looking at the spot on the ceiling from which the plaster had fallen, "I won't say I haven't. And I won't say I have. When a person reads as much as what I do, she reads so many names they slip out of memory. Just this minute I don't quite call him to mind. Mighty near, though; I mind a feller once that peddled notions through here name of Tarbox. Might you know him?"
"No," said Mrs. Smith, "I haven't the honor."
"I thought mebby you might know him," said Mrs. Stein. "His business took him 'round considerable, and I thought mebby it might have took him to New York, and that mebby you might have met him."
Mrs. Bell sighed audibly.
"It's goin' to be an awful trial to Susan if she can't go," she said; "but I dunno WHAT to say. Seems like I oughtn't to say 'go,' an' yet I can't abear to say 'stay.'"
"I MUST have Susan," said Mrs. Smith, putting her arm about the girl. "I know you can trust her with me."
"Clementina," said Mr. Bell suddenly, "why don't you leave it to the minister? He'd settle it for the best. Why don't you leave it to him? Hey?"
"Well, bless my stars," said Mrs. Bell, brightening with relief, "I'd ought to have thought of that long ago. He WOULD know what was for the best. I'll ask him to-morrow."
To-morrow was the picnic day.
As Mrs. Smith led the way for Eliph' Hewlitt, the minister left the group of women who had clustered about him, and walked toward her.
"Sister Smith," he said, in his grave, kind way, "Sister Bell tells me you want to carry off our little Susan. You know we must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves I deciding, and"—he laid his hand on her arm—"though I doubt not all will be well, I must think over the matter a while. Welcome, brother," he added, offering his hand to Eliph' Hewlitt.
The little book agent shook it warmly.
"'I was a stranger and ye took me in,'" he said glibly. "Fine weather for a picnic."
His eyes glowed. To meet the minister first of all! This was good, indeed. Years of experience had taught him to seek the minister first. To start the round of a small community with the prestige of having sold the minister himself a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia made success a certainty.
He took the oilcloth-covered parcel from beneath his arm, and handed it to the minister gently, lovingly.
"Keep it until the picnic is over," he said. "I'm a book agent. I sell books. THIS is the book I sell. Take it away and hide it, so I can forget it and be happy. Don't let me have it until the picnic is over. PLEASE don't!"
He stretched out his arms in freedom, and the minister smiled and led the way toward the place where a buggy cushion had been laid on the grass as his seat of honor.
"I will retain the book," said the minister, with a smile, "although I don't think you can sell the book here. My brethren in Clarence are not readers. I read little myself. We are poor; we have no time to read. Except the Bible, I know of but one book in this entire community. Sister Dawson has a copy of Bunyan's sublime work, 'Pilgrim's Progress.' It was an heirloom. Be seated," he said, and Eliph' Hewlitt seated himself Turk-fashion, on the sod.
The minister took the book carefully on his knees. Even to feel a new book was a pleasure he did not often have, and his fingers itched upon it.
In three minutes Eliph' Hewlitt knew the entire story of Mrs. Smith and Susan, so far as it was known to the minister, and he leaned over and tapped with his forefinger the book on the minister's knee.
"Open it," he said.
The minister removed the wrapper.
"Page 6, Index," said Eliph' Hewlitt, turning the pages. He ran his finger down the page, and up and down page 7, stopped at a line on page 8, and hastily turned over the pages of the book. At page 974 he laid the book open, and the minister adjusted his spectacles and read where the book agent pointed. Then he pushed his spectacles up on his forehead and looked carefully at the picnickers. He singled out Mrs. Tarbro-Smith, and waved her toward him with his hand. She came and stood before him.
The minister wiped his spectacles on his handkerchief, readjusted them on his nose, and bent over the book.
"What is your brother's name?" he asked kindly, but with solemnity.
"Marriott Nolan Tarbro," she answered.
He traced the lines carefully with his finger.
"Born?" he asked.
"June 4, 1864, at Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson."
"And he is married?"
"Married Amanda Rogers Long, at Newport, Rhode Island, June 14, 1895."
"Where is he living now?" he asked.
"Last year he was living in New York—I am a widow, as you know—but last fall he went to Algiers."
"The book says Algiers. What-er-clubs is he a member of?"
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Smith; "The Authors and The Century."
"I have no doubt," said the minister, "from what the book says, and what you say, that you are indeed the sister of this—ah—celebrated"—he looked at the book—"celebrated novelist, who is a man of such standing that he received—ah—several more lines in this work than the average, more, in fact, than Talmage, more than Beecher, and more than the present governor of the State of Iowa. I think I may safely advise Mrs. Bell to let Susan go with you."
"One!" said Eliph' Hewlitt quickly. "That's just ONE question that came up flaring, and was mashed flat by Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, a book in which are ten thousand and one subjects, fully treated by the best minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One subject for every day in the year for twenty-seven years, and some left over. Religion, politics, literature, every subject under the sun, gathered in one grand colossal encyclopedia with an index so simple that a child can understand it. See page 768, 'Texts, Biblical; Hints for Sermons; The Art of Pulpit Eloquence.' No minister should be without it. See page 1046, 'Pulpit Orators—Golden Words of the Greatest, comprising selections from Spurgeon, Robertson, Talmage, Beecher, Parkhurst,' et cetery. A book that should be in every home. Look at 'P': Poets, Great. Poison, Antidotes for. Poker, Rules of. Poland, History and Geography of, with Map. Pomeroy, Brick. Pomatum, How to Make. Ponce de Leon, Voyages and Life of. Pop, Ginger,' et cetery, et cetery. The whole for the small sum of five dollars, bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid."
The minister turned the pages slowly.
"It seems a worthy book," he said hesitatingly.
Eliph' Hewlitt looked at Mrs. Smith, with a question in his eyes.
"Ah!" he said. "Mrs. Smith, sister of the well-known novelist, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, takes two copies of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, bound in full morocco, one of which she begs to present to the worthy pastor of this happy flock, with her compliments and good wishes."
"I can't thank you," stammered the minister; "it is so kind. I have so few books, and so few opportunities of securing them."
Eliph' Hewlitt held out his hand for the sample volume.
"When you have this book," he declared, "you NEED no others. It makes a Carnegie library of the humblest home."
The entire picnic had gradually gathered around him.
"Ladies and gents," he said, "I have come to bring knowledge and power where ignorance and darkness have lurked. This volume——"
He stopped and handed his sample to the minister.
"Introduce me to the lady in the blue dress," he said to Mrs. Smith, and she stepped forward and made them acquainted.
"Miss Briggs, this is Mr——"
"Hewlitt," he said quickly, "Eliph' Hewlitt."
"Mr. Hewlitt," said Mrs. Smith. "Miss Sally Briggs of Kilo."
"I'm glad to know you, Miss Briggs," said Eliph' Hewlitt. "I hope we may become well acquainted. As I was sayin' to Mrs. Smith, I'm a book agent."
For the chapter on Jarby's Encyclopedia that dealt with "Courtship—How to Win the Affections," said that the first step necessary was to become well acquainted with the one whose affections it was desired to win. It was not Eliph' Hewlitt way to waste time when making a sale of Jarby's, and he felt that no more delay was necessary in disposing of his heart.
CHAPTER III. "How to Win the Affections"
Miss Sally glanced hurriedly around, seeking some retreat to which she could fly. Mrs. Smith, having introduced Eliph' Hewlitt, had turned away, and the other picnickers were gathered around the minister, looking over his shoulders at the copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia. Although she could have no idea, as yet, that Eliph' Hewlitt had decided to marry her, Miss Sally was afraid of him. She was a dainty little woman, with just a few gray hairs tucked out of sight under the brown ones, but although she was ordinarily able to hold her own, each year that was added to her life made her more afraid of book agents.
Time after time she had succumbed to the wiles of book agents. It made no difference how she received them, nor how she steeled her heart against their plausible words, she always ended buying whatever they had to sell, and after that it was a fight to get the money from her father with which to pay the installments. Pap Briggs objected to paying out money for anything, but he considered that about the most useless thing he could spend money for was a book. Whenever he heard there was a book agent in Kilo he acted like a hen when she sees a hawk in the sky, ready to pounce down upon her brood, and he pottered around and scolded and complained and warned Miss Sally to beware, and then in the end the book agent always made the sale, and Miss Sally felt as if she had committed seven or eight deadly sins, and it made her life miserable. Only a few months before she had fallen prey to a man who had sold her a set of Sir Walter Scott's Complete Works, two dollars down, and one dollar a month, and she felt that the work of urging the monthly dollar out of her father's pocket was all she could stand.
Why and how she bought books always remained a mystery to her; it is a mystery to many book buyers how they happen to buy books. Book agents seemed to have a mesmerizing effect on Miss sally, as serpents daze birds before they devour them. The process applied between the time when she stated with the utmost positiveness that she did not want, and would not buy, a book, and the time, a few minutes later, when she signed her name to the agent's list of subscribers, was something she could not fathom.
And now she had been left face to face with a book agent, actually introduced to him, and her father still under monthly miseries on account of Sir Walter Scott's Complete Works.
"I don't want any books to-day," said Miss Sally nervously, when she saw that she could not run away.
"And I'm not going to sell you any," said Eliph' Hewlitt cheerfully. He had studied Miss Sally thoroughly, with the quick eye of the experienced book agent who has learned to read character at sight, and he had decided that no more suitable Mrs. Hewlitt was he apt to find. "And I'm not going to SELL you any," he repeated. "This is picnic day, and I'm not selling books, although I may say there is no day in the whole year when Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art is not needed. It is a book that contains a noble thought or useful hint for every hour of every day from the cradle to the grave, comprising ten thousand and one subjects, neatly bound."
"I don't want one," said Miss Sally, backing away. "I don't live here, and you might do better selling it to someone who does."
Eliph' Hewlitt's eyes beamed kindly through his spectacles.
"It is just as useful to them that is traveling as to them that is home," he said, "if not more so. If you ever took a copy along with you on your travels you would never travel again without it. Take the chapter on 'Traveling,' for instance, page 46." He looked around, as if he would have liked to get his sample copy, but it was in such a number of eager hands that he turned back to Miss Sally. "Take the directions on Sleeping Cars," he said. "For that one thing alone the book is worth its price to anyone going to travel by rail. It gives full instructions how much to give the porter, how to choose a berth, how to undress in an upper berth without damage to the traveler or the car, et cetery. And, when you consider that that is but one of the ten thousand and one things mentioned in this volume, you can see that it is really giving it away when I sell it, neatly bound in cloth, for five dollars."
"I don't think I want one," said Miss Sally doubtfully, for she was beginning to fall under the spell.
"No!" said Eliph' firmly. "No! You don't. And I don't want to SELL you one. Nothing ain't farther from my mind than wanting to sell you a copy of that book. Just rest perfectly easy about THAT, Miss Briggs. We'll put 'Literature, Science, and Art' to one side and enjoy the delights of the open air, and, if I happen to say anything that sounds like book, just you excuse me, for I don't mean it. Mebby I DO get to talking about that book when I don't mean to, for it is a book that a man that knows it as well as I do just can't HELP talking about. It's a wonderful book. It is a book that has all the wisdom and knowledge of the world condensed into one volume, including five hundred ennobling thoughts form the world's great authors, inclusive of the prose and poetical gems of all ages, beginning on page 201, sixty-two solid pages of them, with vingetty portraits of the authors, this being but one of the many features that make the book helpful to all people of refinement and mind. Now, when you take a book like that and bind it in a neat cloth cover, making it an ornament to any center table in the country, and sell it for the small price of five dollars, it is not selling it; it is giving it away. Five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down, and one dollar a month until paid."
Miss Sally looked hopelessly toward the sample copy, which the minister was still exhibiting to the picnickers with real pleasure. She was enthralled, but she was puzzled. Never had she bought a book that she had not first looked through. Invariably the agent had begun his dissertation on the book's merits by an explanation of the illuminated frontispiece—if it had one—and ended by turning the last page to show the sheet where she must sign her name, underneath those of "the other leading citizens of this town." There was something wrong, but she was not quite sure what it was. She glanced back at the eager face of Eliph' Hewlitt, and mistook the glow of "Affection, How to Hold it When Won," for the intense glance of the predatory book seller.
"I'll take a copy," she said recklessly.
Eliph' Hewlitt's face clouded, and he put out his hand as if to ward off a blow.
"No, you won't!" he said, with distress. "You don't want one, and I won't sell you one."
He cast his mind quickly over the chapter on "Courtship—How to Win the Affections," and recalled its directions. He wished he had the book in his hands, so that he could turn to the chapter and freshen his memory, but the first direction was, certainly, to become well acquainted.
"I don't want to sell you one," he said more gently. "I want to sit down on this nice grass and get acquainted. You and me are both strangers here, and I guess we ought to talk to each other."
He seated himself as he said the word, and crossed his legs, Turk-fashion, and looked up at Miss Sally, with an invitation in his eyes. For a minute she stood looking down at him doubtfully. She was unable to understand the actions of this new variety of book agent that refused to sell books after talking up to the selling point, and she suddenly remembered that she was away from home, and that the book was sold on installments. She flushed. Did his refusal to sell imply that she might not be able to pay the installments?
"I'll take a copy of that book, IF you please," she said haughtily. "I guess there ain't no question but that I'm able to PAY for it. I've bought books before, and paid for them; and I guess I'm just as able to pay as most folks you sell to. If you've any doubt about it, there's references I can give right here in Clarence that will satisfy you."
Eliph' Hewlitt coughed gently behind his hand, and stroked his whiskers, as he looked up at the indignant Miss Briggs. He did not want to sell her a book' it would place him in her mind once, and, probably, for all, as one of the tribe of book agents, and nothing more. Yet he could not offend her. He might compromise by giving her a copy, but the chapter on "Courtship—How to Win the Affections," distinctly advised this as a later act. First it was necessary to become well acquainted; then it was advisable to proceed to give small presents, books or flowers or sweets being particularly mentioned, and Eliph' Hewlitt would never have thought of doing first the thing Jarby's Encyclopedia advised doing second. He had been selling Jarby's for many years. He had seen the "talking feature" of the colored plates of the Civil War pass, and had seen them succeeded by colored plates of the Franco-Prussian War, and had seen these make way for colored plates of one war after another until the present plates of the Spanish War appeared, and through all these changes in the last chapter he had studied the book until he knew its contents as well as he knew his "two—times—two." He could recite the book forward or backward, read it upside down—as a book agent has to read a book when it is in a customer's lap—or sideways, and could turn promptly to nearly any word in it without hesitation. The more he studied it the more he loved it and admired it and believed in it. It was his whole literature, and he found it to be sufficient. If he saw a thing in Jarby's he knew it was so, and if it was not in Jarby's it was not worth knowing. Under such circumstances he could not make Miss Sally a present of the book until he and she had first become well acquainted. Jarby's said so. He scrambled hurriedly to his feet.
"Miss Briggs," he said earnestly, "You ain't near guessing the reason why I don't want to sell you a copy of the world-famous volume. You ain't nowhere near it at all. If I was to tell you what the reason was I guess you'd be surprised. But I ain't going to tell you. It ain't because you can't pay for it, for if it was a library of one thousand volumes at ten dollars a volume, ten dollars down and ten dollars a month, I'd be glad to take your order. And it ain't because I ain't going to sell any more copies here, because I am, and I'm going to sell all I can, right here at this picnic, just to show you what I can do when I try. But I ain't going to sell you one. I've got a good reason."
Miss Sally was not fully pacified by this, for now she was sure she had guessed the reason Eliph' Hewlitt did not want to sell her a copy. She imagined now that some book agent had told him of her father's aversion to books—when they had to be paid for—and that Eliph' Hewlitt was willing to forego a sale rather than lead her into new trouble with her father. Possibly he had met the Walter Scott man. She turned away.
"I guess I'll go and help Mrs. Smith lay out the lunch," she said, as the easiest way to be rid of the annoyance.
"I guess I'll go, too," said Eliph' Hewlitt promptly and cheerfully. "I'm a good hand at that. It tells all about it in Jarby's Encyclopedia. Look under 'P':'Picnic Lunches. Picnic, How to Organize and Conduct. Picnic, Origin of,' et cetery, et cetery. A book that contains all the knowledge in the world condensed into one volume, with lives of all the world's great men, from Adam to Roosevelt, and the dying words of them that is dead."
Miss Sally turned on him sharply.
"Goodness sakes!" she exclaimed, "I wish you would either sell me a copy of that book or keep still about it. Ain't I going to have no peace at all?"
"I didn't mention it, did I?" asked Eliph' Hewlitt innocently, and he did not know that he had. "I was speaking of this happy gathering. Ain't it pretty to see all kinds of folks gathered together this way to make each other happier? It's like a living Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, a little of everything in one volume, and all of it good. All the good things from parson to pickles. I suppose you put up your own pickles, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," said Miss Sally, who was now walking toward where the ladies were unpacking the lunch. "Why do you ask it?"
"It called to my mind the recipe for making pickles that is in Jarby's Encyclopedia," said Eliph', unmindful of the look of anger that flushed Miss Sally's face at the mention of that book. "Them that has tried it says it is the best they have ever used. That and seven hundred and ninety-nine other tested recipes, all contained in the chapter called 'The Complete Kitchen Guide,' see page 100, including roasts, fries, pastry, cakes, bread, puddings, entrees, soups, how to make candy, how to clean brass, copper, silver, tin, et cetery, et cetery. Them that uses Jarby's tested recipes as given in this volume, uses no other."
There was a stiffening of Miss Sally's back as she walked ahead of him, and even Eliph' Hewlitt could not fail to observe it. It told plainly that if he could have seen her lips he would have seen them close firmly, and he made haste to reassure her.
"I ain't trying to sell you a book," he said, taking a quicker step to reach her side, but she hurried the more as he did so, and crowded in among the other women so that he could not follow. He stood a moment watching her, but she began talking rapidly to one of the women, ignoring him conspicuously, and he coughed gently behind his hand, as if to apologize for her affront, and then walked away.
He could not account for his poor success in getting well acquainted with Miss Sally, and he began to fear that he had not fully understood the directions given by Jarby's Encyclopedia in the chapter on "Courtship—How to Win the Affections." He realized that he had used that chapter less often in talking up a sale than he had used any other, and that for that reason he had studied it less closely, and he saw now, more than ever, that there was no chapter in the whole book that a possessor could afford to neglect. He walked over to where the minister was still holding the book, but now holding it closed in his lap, and he asked politely if he might have it for a few minutes. The minister handed it to him, and Eliph', walking to where one of the smaller trees of the grove made a spot of shade, seated himself, and fixed his eyes on the chapter on "Courtship—How to Win the Affections."
For the first time in his life he was unable to fix his attention firmly on the pages of Jarby's Encyclopedia. His eyes insisted on turning to where Miss Sally moved about the cloth spread on the grass; the tablecloth on which green bugs and black bugs and brown bugs were already parading, as bugs always do at a picnic. Occasionally he stroked his sandy-gray whiskers, and whenever she turned her face in his direction he cast his eyes upon his book, but he could not read.
He hoped he would have the good fortune to be seated next to Miss Sally when the lunch time came, and he had little doubt that he would be near her, for it was likely that he and she, being strangers, would be put near the minister. He closed the book, seeing at length that it was impossible for him to read it, and, as the men began to bring the cushions from the buggies and place them around the cloth, he arose and went to bring his own to add to the supply. As he reached the fence, a barefoot boy, mounted on a horse with no other saddle than a blanket, came galloping down the road, and stopped before him.
"Say," said the boy, wide-eyed with importance, "is Sally Briggs in there?"
Eliph' said she was.
"Well, say," said the boy, "she's got to go home to Kilo, right away. Her dad telephoned up, and he don't know whether he's dying or not, and she's got to go right home."
Eliph' turned and hurried to where Miss Sally was standing.
"I hope it ain't nothing serious, Miss Briggs," he said, "but that boy has come to give you a message that come by telephone. I think your father ain't well."
Miss Sally dropped the cake she was holding, and ran to the fence.
"What is it?" she gasped.
"Well," said the boy, "my dad was in the post office just now, and the telephone bell rang, and he looked around to see where Julius was, and Julius he had gone outside to see what Mr. Fogarty, from up to the Corners, wanted. I don't know what he wanted. Pa didn't tell me. I don't know as pa knew, anyway, but I guess he wanted something, or else he wouldn't have motioned Julius to go out, unless he just wanted to talk to Julium. Mebby he just wanted to ask Julius if there was any mail for him. So pa answered the telephone."
"Well, what did it say?" asked Miss Sally impatiently.
"You've got a pa, haven't you?" asked the boy.
"Yes," said Miss Sally.
"Well, has he got false teeth?" asked the boy.
"Yes," said Miss Sally more impatiently.
"Well, that's all right, then," said the boy. "Pa couldn't tell exactly whether it was false teeth or not, the telephone at the post office works so poor, and pa ain't no hand at it, anyhow. He said it sounded like false teeth. So you pa wants you to come right home to Kilo. Mebby he's dying."
"Dying!" cried Miss Sally, as white as a sheet.
"Yes, mebby he is," continued the boy. "He ain't right sure, but he says you'd better come right home, so if he IS dying you'll be on hand. And, if he ain't, you can help him hunt for them. He says he went to bed last night, same as always, but he don't recall whether he took out his false set of teeth or left them in, and he ain't sure whether he swallowed them last night, or put them down somewheres and lost them. He says he's got a pain like he swallowed them, but he ain't sure but what it's some of the cooking he's been doing that give him that, and anyway he wants you to come right home."
"Goodness sakes!" exclaimed Miss Sally, "why don't he go see Doc Weaver?"
The boy shook his head.
"I don't know," he said. "I guess pa didn't think to ask him that. I'll have to ask him when I git back."
The departure of Miss Sally made a break in the orderly progress of the picnic, for it not only terminated her part of the day's pleasures, but also cut short her visit in Clarence, and she had to say farewell to all the picnickers before she could go.
Eliph' Hewlitt offered to drive her to Clarence, but she refused him, and arranged to have one of the young boys, who had a faster horse, drive her to Kilo. The whole picnic leaned over the rail fence and watched until she was out of sight, and then went on with the lunch, which was just ready when her summons came.
It was a severe blow to Eliph' Hewlitt. He had hoped to have carried his courtship so far during the day that it would have been at least to the third paragraph of the first page of "Courtship—How to Win the Affections," and now Miss Sally had left, and he had not progressed at all. It reminded him of the quotation in the Alphabet of Quotations, in Jarby's Encyclopedia, "The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth."
Miss Sally's departure, however, and the strange circumstance of it, allowed him to ask questions about her and about Kilo that he could not otherwise have asked. He learned how far she would have to travel to reach Kilo, who her father was, and all that he wished to know. He decided that the only course for him to follow was to omit his canvass of the interlying farms and of the town of Clarence for the present, and follow Miss Sally to Kilo.
When the picnic ended, Irontail had released the rein, and Eliph' Hewlitt drove off, well pleased with his day's work. He had not only secured a wife—for he had no doubt that it only needed an application of the rules set forth in Jarby's Encyclopedia in order to "Win the Affections" of Miss Sally, and "Hold Them When Won," but he took with him subscriptions for sixteen volumes of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, bound in cloth, five dollars, and two bound in morocco, at seven fifty.
CHAPTER IV. Kilo
The next evening Jim Wilkins, landlord of the Kilo House and proprietor of the Kilo Livery, Feed and Sale Stable, was sitting in front of his hotel, with his chair tipped back against the wall, trading bits of indolent gossip with Pap Briggs, when Eliph' Hewlitt drove his horse Irontail down Main Street, and pulled up before the hotel. Pap Briggs had not swallowed his store teeth; he had not even worn them to bed, and Miss Sally found them on top of the pump in the back yard, where Pap had doubtless put them when he went to pump himself a drink. He often lost them, as he wore them more for ornament than for use, and commonly removed them when he wished to talk, eat, or laugh. It was Sally who made him buy them, and he wore them more for her sake than for any other reason, and he was always uncomfortable with them, for they were a plain, unmistakable misfit, and felt, as he said, "like I got my mouth full o' tenpenny nails." When out of Sally's sight he avoided this feeling by carrying them in his hand, hidden in his red bandana handkerchief. About town he used to show them with a great deal of pride, and openly boasted of their cost and beauty. On Sunday he wore them all day.
Whenever Eliph' Hewlitt drove into a town he looked about with a seeing eye, for he had learned to judge the capacity of a place for Jarby's Encyclopedia by the appearance of the town, but as he drove into Kilo he was more than usually interested. If this was the home of Miss Sally Briggs, it followed that when he had completed his courtship, and had won her affections and held them, it would be his home, also, and he was curious to see whether it was a town he would like or not like. He liked it. It was a real American town, and it looked like a good business town, because there could be no possible reason for people building a town on that particular situation unless it was for business.
The town was built on a flat space, and the country was flat on all sides of it. It was on no river, brook, or creek. It was as unbeautiful in location as it was in architecture. It was just a homely, common, busy little Iowa village, and even so late in the evening it was as hot as Sahara; but Eliph' Hewlitt knew it at once for a good town, for the street was knee deep in dust, which meant much trade, and the four buildings at the corners of Main and Cross Streets were of brick, which meant profitable business. There were a couple of other brick buildings on Main Street, and one or two with "tin" fronts, and of the other business places only one or two were so ramshackle that they looked as if their firmer neighbors were holding them up, letting the weaker structures lean against them as a strong man might support an invalid.
Eliph' Hewlitt liked the town; it was just his idea of what a town should be, not much as to style, but business-like. There were two full blocks of Main Street devoted to business, and nearly half a block of Cross Street was given over to the same purpose, and the dwellings were well scattered over the surrounding level tract. Three or four of the dwellings "out Main Street" had conspicuous lawns that had felt the blades of a lawn mower, but most of the yards were merely grass, with flower beds filled with the more hardy kinds of flowers, such as would grow tall and show over the top of the surrounding grass. The plank walks, which on Main and Cross Streets were made of boards laid crossways, tapered down into narrow walks with the boards—two of them—laid lengthways very soon after the stores were passed, and a little farther out became dirt paths along the fences, and beyond that pedestrians were supposed to walk on the road. But most of the houses were painted, either freshly, or at least not anciently.
The corner of Main and Cross Streets, the business center of Kilo, was like the business centers of other small country towns. A long hitching rail extended at the side of the street before the buildings on each corner, and the dirt beneath was worn away by the scraping of the feet of the many horses that had been tied to the rails. Just below the corner, on Cross Street, were other holes worn by tossing horseshoes at pegs, which, if America was composed of small towns only, would be our national game.
It was a good little town, and Eliph' Hewlitt was pleased.
On one of the corners of Main Street stood the Kilo Hotel, and before it Eliph' checked the slow gait of Irontail.
Jim Wilkins, the landlord, tipped his chair forward, and got out of it with a grunt of laziness.
"Hotel running?" asked Eliph' Hewlitt briskly.
"You might call it runnin' if you wasn't dictionary—particular what you called it," said the landlord. "If you had to keep it you'd more likely say it was tryin' to learn to walk. But it's open for business. Want your rig put up?"
"Yes," admitted Eliph'. "I've had my supper."
"That's all right," said the landlord cheerfully. "I'm sort of glad of it; save the old lady gittin' up a meal. I was just tellin' Pap Briggs here that I figgered Kilo had the hottest mean summer temperature, and the meanest hot summer temperature on earth, and it's hotter over a kitchen stove than anywheres else. We generally have cold suppers in this here hotel, unless some guest happens in. Hey, S. Potts! Come here and git this feller's horse!"
The livery stable was convenient, just around the corner on Cross Street, and S. Potts came lankly and lazily around the corner. He stood and looked at Irontail a minute critically, and then felt the horse's hocks and shook his head at the result of his investigation. Then he opened Irontail's mouth and looked at his teeth.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" he said, and he called around the corner, "Hey, Daniel!" and from the livery stable came a very old man.
"Look at this," said S. Potts, opening Irontail's mouth again, and Daniel looked and shook his head, as S. Potts had done.
"And feel this," said S. Potts, putting his hand on Irontail's hock again. Daniel felt as he was told, and again shook his head.
"Now, what do you make of that?" asked S. Potts triumphantly.
"I dunno what to make of it, S. Potts," said the old man, shaking his head. "What do you make of it?"
The landlord broke in upon the conversation with sudden energy.
"Look here," he said, "you git that horse around to the stable, and shut up," and S. Potts and Daniel hastily clambered into the buggy and drove around the corner.
"I wonder if anything's the mater with my horse?" said Eliph'.
"Matter?" laughed Jim Wilkins. "That's just S. Potts tryin' to show off before strangers, like he always does. He don't mean no harm, but he can't be satisfied to just come around and git a horse and lead it to the stable. He's got to draw attention to hisself or he ain't happy. He's harmless, but he's just naturally one of the know-it-all-kind, and he's got to show off."
There is no man in a small town who can give such a satisfying and official welcome to a stranger as that given by the liveryman, and when the landlord of the hotel and the owner of the livery stable are combined in one man he is better than a reception committee composed of the mayor and the leading citizens. He is glad to see the stranger, and he lets him know it. He has a gruff, hearty, and not too servile manner, and a way of speaking of the men of the town and the farmers of the surrounding country as if he owned them. Having bought horses of many of them, he knows their bad traits, and he has an air of knowing much more than he would willingly tell regarding them. He is not inquisitive about the stranger's business, and is willing to give him information. Probably it is his trade of buying and selling and renting horses that gives him such a flavor of his own, for he knows that the horses he lets out on livery are often as intelligent as the men who hire them. He comes as near the chivalric model of the old Southern planter as a Northern business man can, but his slaves are horses, and his overseer the hostler. He is a man in authority, even though is authority is over horses.
Modern civilization has few finer sights and sounds than the liveryman when he is asked if he has a horse he can let out for a ten-mile drive into the country. He looks at the supplicant doubtfully; "Well, I dunno," he says, "where was it you wanted to drive to?" He receives the answer with a non-committal air. "That's nearer fourteen mile than ten," he says and then turns to the hostler. "Say, Potts, Billy's out, ain't he?" Potts growls out the answer, "Doc Weaver's got him out. Won't be back till seven." The liveryman pulls slowly at his cigar, and runs his hand over his hair. "How's the bay mare's hoof today?" he asks. Potts shakes his head. "That's right," says the liveryman, "it don't do to take no chances with a hoof like that. And we haven't got a thing else in the barn except that black horse, have we, Potts?" "Everything else out," says Potts. The liveryman walks away a few steps, and then turns suddenly. "Hitch up the black, Potts," he says, with an air of sudden recklessness. "Put him in that light, side-bar buggy of Doc Weaver's. Want a hitching strap? Put in a hitching strap, Potts. AND that new whip."
The result is that you get the horse and buggy the liveryman intended you to have from the minute he saw you coming toward him down the street, but you get it with a fine touch of style that is worth much in this dollar and cent world. Potts drives the rig around to where you are standing, and the liveryman sends Potts back to get a clean laprobe instead of the one that is in the buggy. He pats the horse on the neck as you climb in, and as you pick up the reins he says, as if conferring a parting favor that money could not repay, "Keep a fair tight rein on him; it's the first time he has been out of the stable to-day."
Eliph' Hewlitt, in his travels, had learned the value of the liveryman. He used him as friend and directory. None else could tell him so well where the prosperous farmers lived, nor who was most likely to fall a victim to Jarby's Encyclopedia in the town itself. From the liveryman he could learn which minister, if there were more than one, would be the best to have head his list of subscribers, which lady was head of the Society, and what society she was head of. He took one of the chairs that were ranged along the side of the hotel, and laid his sample across his knees. He chose the chair that was next to Pap Briggs, for he was ready to become acquainted with the man he intended soon to have for a father-in-law.
"Nice town you got here," he said.
"She's purty good," agreed Pap, "except for taxes. Taxes is eternal high, and it's all us propputy owners can do to keep 'em from goin' clean out o' sight. City council don't seem to care a dumb how high they git. I wish't I'd stayed on my farm."
"Taxes ain't so high here as what they are in Jefferson, Pap," suggested the landlord. "If you lived down there they'd make you holler, all right."
"Well, Jim," said Pap, "they ain't much choice. If these here young fellers git their way taxes will go right up. What do they want to decorate this here town all up for, anyhow? What you think young Toole was sayin' to me to-day? He was sayin' it was a disgrace to Kilo to have the public square rented out an' a crop o' buckwheat growin' in it. He says we ought to plant it in grass an' stick a fountain in the middle. But that's the way she goes; anything to raise up the taxes. All I says to him was, 'All right, who'll pump water to make the fountain squirt? Suppose the taxpayers 'll take turns, hey?'"
"Well," said the landlord, "I ain't in favor of a fountain, myself. I reckon a nice piece of statuary would look better, so long as we ain't got water works to make the fountain fount out water. But it don't look right to have a public square rented out to grow buckwheat in. It ain't city-like."
"It brings in seven dollars a year to the town," said Pap, "an' that's better than payin' out good money for statuary. I'm agin high taxes every time. It costs too much to live, anyhow, especially when you've got a daughter to support, and no money comin' in, to speak of. And just when some does come in, along comes a pesky book agent or somethin' and fools the women out of the money. They ought to be a law agin book agent. City council ought to put a license on 'em, and keep 'em out of town."
"Some towns," he said softly, "do have licenses against book agents. One of the relics of the dark ages, but abolished wherever the light o' culture is loved and esteemed. What so helpful as the book? What so comforting? What so uplifting? And who but the book agent carries help and comfort and uplift, and leaves it scattered around, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid; who but the humble but useful book agent? To mention but one book, Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art has carried wisdom into a million homes, making each better and brighter. It is a book that makes the toil of the day easy, by giving one thousand and one hints and helps, and that sweetens rest after toil, by quotations from all the world's great authors. In this one book——"
Pap Briggs had put his hands on the arm of his chair, preparing to run away, but the landlord leaned forward and looked in Eliph' Hewlitt's face.
"Say," he said, "is your name Mills?"
"Hewlitt," said the book agent, "Eliph' Hewlitt."
He turned to the landlord and looked him fairly in the face, and as he looked the air of suspicion that had suddenly shone in his eyes vanished.
"Jim Wilkins!" he exclaimed. "Isn't it Jim Wilkins?"
"Ain't it!" cried the landlord. "Well, I should say it is! And to think, you little, sawed-off propagator of human knowledge didn't recognize your old side pardner in the field of sellin' improvin' and intellectooal works of genius! Don't say you don't remember the 'Wage of Sin,' Sammy! Don't say you don't remember Kitty!"
"Kitty?" asked Eliph' doubtfully.
"Well, if the little red-head ain't forgot Kitty!" exclaimed Wilkins. "Why, I MARRIED Kitty, Sammy. For an actual, truthful fact I did. And to think I should run across Sammy Mills after all these years."
"Hewlitt," said Eliph'. "Eliph' Hewlitt is that name I'm known by."
"And to think you stuck by that name all these years!" said Wilkins. "And still sellin' works of literatoor, are you? Pap, this is my old boyhood's chum come meanderin' backwards out of the past. And still sellin' books! Well, I don't want to discourage your ambitiousness, but I guess you've struck Kilo about the worst time in the century. Ever hear of a literary writer called Sir Walter Scott? Well, sir, Kilo is chuck full of Sir Walter; full as a goat. She ain't begun to near git through with Sir Walter yet, and I don't figger she'll take in no more libraries just now. Sir Walter hit her pretty hard."
"Ten volumes, fifteen dollars cloth, twenty dollars half morocco?" inquired Eliph' Hewlitt.
"The identical same," said the landlord. "I purchased a group of Sir Walters in red leather myself. So did everybody in Kilo; at least I ain't found anybody that's been missed yet. Paper here got some."
"My daughter Sally——" began the old man.
"Same thing," said Wilkins; "you pay just the same if you bought the books. Why, Sammy, there's enough Sir Walter right here in Kilo now to start up a book business. Kilo's light on literatoor generally, but when she goes in, she goes in heavy. There ain't many towns where you'll find every livin' soul ready to swaller down fifteen dollars worth of Sir Walter Scott, two dollars down and one dollar a month until paid; but I calculate them ten volumes will last Kilo quite a spell, and if worst comes to worst she won't buy no more literatoor till she gits paid up on Sir Walter. I figger from my own sense of feelin's that about the worst time to sell a feller books is when he is still payin' once a month on the old lot. About the second time the collector drops in to collect on a set of works of literatoor, a man feels like he had been foolish, but he grins cheerful, and pays up, but if another man drops in about then to sell another set of the world's great masterpieces it is pretty near an insult to human intelligence."
Eliph' Hewlitt drew his hand across his whiskers and coughed gently.
"They told me in Jefferson," he said softly, "that Kilo was the most intellectual town in central Iowa."
"Everybody says the same," said Wilkins with a touch of pride. "The Sir Walter Scott man said it, and I guess it's so. But there's other things besides books. Kilo may be strong and willin' on books, but she's strong other ways, too, and just now she is lookin' at another kind of horse, and that's why I say you've miscalculated your comin'. If I was you I'd go elsewhere and come back later. Kilo has got more books now than she can handle without straining something, and just now her mind's off on another tack. We struck a big missionary revival here last week, and you can bet a wager that every dollar that goes out of Kilo these days, except what goes for dues on Sir Walter, is goin' for the brethren. The women folks is havin' a sale this very evenin' to raise cash to help the heathen."
Eliph' Hewlitt arose from his chair and tucked the oilcloth-covered parcel that had been lying on his knees under his left arm. He was a small man, and his movements were apt to be short and jerky.
"Missionary sale?" he said briskly. "I guess I'll go around and look in on it. Strangers welcome, I suppose? I'm rather fond of missionary sales, and I think the world and all of the heathen. Think the ladies would like to see a stranger?"
"Pap," he said, "what you think? Think they'll fall on his neck if he has any money? From what I have experienced of them sales I figger to calculate that anybody that is anxious to buy gingham aprons an' sofa pillows is sure to be took by the hand and given a front seat. I'd go around with you, but I've got my taxes to pay, like Pap here, and I don't actually need any pink tidies. It ain't far; just up to Doc Weaver's; two blocks up, and you can't miss the house. It's the yeller mansion, this side the road, an' the gate's off the hinges and laid up alongside the fence. But I guess if them's your samples in that there package, you might as well leave them here."
But Eliph' Hewlitt did not leave them there; he tucked them under his arm, and hurried away with brisk little steps.
CHAPTER V. Sammy Mills
"There ought to be a license agin book agents," said Pap Briggs spitefully, when Eliph' Hewlitt had hurried away.
"It wouldn't harm that feller," said Wilkins. "He's a red hot one at book-agenting, he is, an' he'd find out some way to git round it. I hear lot of book agents that come round this way tell of him. He's got a record of sellin' more copies of that encyclopedia book of his than any one man ever sold of any one book, an' he's a sort of hero of the book-agenting business. It makes me proud to call to remembrance that him an' me was kids together down at Franklin, years ago. Him an' me took to the book-agentin' biz the same day, we did. I needed cash, like I always do, and he had literatoor in the family. So we went an' did it. We did it to Gallops Junction first, and after that Eliph' sowed literatoor pretty general all over Iowa, an' next I heard of him all over the United States. Iowa is now a grand State, an as full of culture as a Swiss cheese is full of holes, an' I don't take all the credit for it; I give Eliph' his share. Hotels help to scatter the seed, but literatoor scatters more.
"One day, down there at Franklin, Eliph' says to me, 'Jim, you know that book pa wrote?' That's what Eliph' remarked to me on the aforesaid day, but I wish to state his name wasn't Eliph' on that date, an' it wasn't Hewlitt, neither. It was plain Sammy; Sammy Mills. Eliph' Hewlitt was a sort of fancy name my pa had give to a horse he had that he thought was a racer, but wasn't. It was a good enough horse to enter in a race, but not good enough to win. It was the kind of race horse that kept pa poor, but hopeful.
"'Why, yes, Sammy,' I says, 'I've heard tell of that grand literary effort of your dad.'
"'Well,' he says—we was sittin' on the porch of his pa's house—'Pa he had a thousand of them printed.'
"'Dickens he did!' I remarked, supposin' it was us to me to do some remarkin'.
"'And,' says Sammy, 'he's got eight hundred an' sixty-four of them highly improvin' an' intellectooal volumes stored in the barn right now.'
"'Quite a lib'ry,' I says, off-hand like.
"'Numerous, but monotonous,' says Sam. 'As a lib'ry them books don't give the variety of topics they oughter. They all cling to the same subject too faithful. Eight hundred an' sixty-four volumes of the "Wage of Sin," all bound alike, don't make what I call a rightly differentiated lib'ry. When you've read one you've read all.'
"'Alas!' I says, or somthin' like that, sympathetic an' attentive.
"'Likewise,' says Sam, 'they clutter up the barn. They ought to be got out to make room for more hay.'
"'This was indeed true. I saw it was all good sense. Horses don't take to literatoor like they does to hay.
"'Well,' says Sammy, 'what's the matter with chuckin' them eight hundred an' sixty-four "Wages of Sin" into the rustic communities of this commonwealth of Iowa, U.S.A.? Here we've got a barnful of high-class, intellectooal poem, an' yon we have a State full of yearnin' minds, clamorous for mental improvement at one fifty per volume. It's our duty to chuck them poems into them minds, an' to intellectooally subside them clamors.'
"I shook my head quite strenuous.
"'Nix for me!' I remarked; 'no book-agenting for me.'
"'Who said book-agenting?" asked Sammy, deeply offended. 'Do you calculate that the son of a high-class author of a famous an' helpful book would turn book agent? Never!'
"'What then?' I asks him.
"'Just a little salubrious an' entertainin' canvassin' for a work of genius,' he says. 'A few heart-to-heart talks with the educated ladies of Gallops Junction an' Tomville on the beauties of the "Wage of Sin." That ain't no book-agenting,' says he, 'that's pickin' money off the trees. It's pie ready cut an' handed to us on a plate with a gilt edge. All we've got to do is to bite it.'
"No, let me tell you right here, Pap, that the 'Wage of Sin' was a thoroughbred treat to read. It was a moral book. Next to the Bible it was the morallest book I ever tackled, an' when W. P. Mills wrote that book he gave the literatoor of the U.S.A. a boost in the right direction that it hasn't recovered from yet. It was the champion long distance poem of the nineteenth century. That book showed what a chunky an' nervous mind old W. P Mills had. There was ten thousand verses to that book of poem, partitioned off into various an' sundry parts so the read thereof could sit up an' draw breath about every thousand verses, an' get his full wind ready for the run through the next slice.
"That 'Wage of Sin' book was surely for to admire, any way you looked at it. Take the subject; it wasn't any of your little, sawed-off, one-year sprints. No siree! W. P. Mills started away back in the front vestibule of time. He said, right in the preface—an' that was all poetry, too—
Now, reader, go along with me Away back to eternity, A hundred thousand years, and still Keep backing backwards if you will.
"An' when he got away back there he sort of expectorated on his hands an' started in at Genesis, Chapter One, Verse One, an' went right along down through the Bible like a cross-cut saw through a cottonwood log. He never missed a single event that was important, if true. He got all them old fellers rhymed right into that book—Jereboam, Rehoboam, Meschach, Schadrach, an' Abednego, an' all the whole caboodle, from Adam with an A to Zaccheus with a Z.
"That certain was a moral tome, an' no prevarication. It was plumb drippin' with moral from start to finish. You see Eve she set the ball a-rollin' when she swiped them apples. That was where she done dead wrong, and that was the 'Sin' as mentioned in the name of the book, an' old W. P. Mills he showed in that literary volume how everybody has had to pay the 'Wages' ever since. It was great. I never read anything else moral that I could say I really hankered for, but I sure did enjoy that book. Old W. P. Mills was a wonder at poetry.
"It beat all how vivid he made all them Old Testament people, an' the things they did. Why, I never cared two cents for Shadrach, Meshach, an' Abednego before I read that book, but after I read it I never could git them lines of W. P.'s out of my head—
'The King perhaps that moment saw A thing that filled his soul with awe-Shadrach and Meshach, to and fro, Walked and talked with Abednego.'
"I tell you, you can't obliterate them three men out of your mind when you read that verse once. You see them walkin' in that fiery furnace, even when you're in your little bed; walkin' an' carryin' on a conversation, which, when you come to think of it, was the most natural thing for them to be doin'. You wouldn't look to see them sit down on a hot log, or to stand still sayin' nothin'. Walk an' talk, that's what they did, an' it's what anybody would do in similar circumstances. I guess fiery furnaces has that effect all the world over, but it took W. P. Mills to see it with his mind's eye, an' put it into verses.
"So, when Sammy gently intimated to me that it was his pa's book we was to canvass, the job looked different. I might shy at an encyclopedia, or at a life of Stephen A. Douglas, but to handle a moral volume like the 'Wage of Sin' sort of appealed to the financial morality of my conscience. So I asked Sammy what the gentlemanly canvassers would get out of it.
"'Pa had a lot of faith in that lyric poem,' says Sammy to me, 'an' no one had a better right to, for he wrote it himself, but the publishing game was dull an' depressed about the time he got ready to issue it forth, an' he was necessitated to compensate the cost of printing it himself. And,' he says, 'the rush an' hurry of the public to buy that book is such it reminds me of the eagerness of a kid to get spanked. So I figger we can get several wagon-loads of "Wage of Sin" at fifty cents per volume.'
"'That's a cheap price,' I says, 'That's two hundred verses for one cent, an' the cover free.'
"Sammy was one of the confidential kind that gets close up to your ear and whispers, even if he is only tellin' you that it looks like rain, so he looks all around and whispers to me:
"'We'll make our initiative beginnin' first off at Gallops Junction,' he says, 'where we ain't known, an' where pa ain't known, an' where the book ain't known. I've a premonition,' he says, 'that 'twould be better so. If we was to start in here we would get discouraged, for the folks ain't used to buyin' "Wage of Sin." They've been given it so bountiful an' free that pa can't give away another copy to the poorest man in town. They've got so that they run when they see pa comin'.'
"'You've got sense in that red head of your'n,' I says.
"'For me,' he says, 'it will be merely a voluptuous excursion. It will be pie to sell that book, because I am the son of its author. Filial relationship to genius,' he says, 'will make them overawed, an' grateful to be allowed to buy of me, but you will have it harder. You can't claim nearer kin to genius than that you helped the son of it chop wood at various and sundry times.'
"'And gave him a handsome black eye one time,' I says reminiscently. 'I'll make the most of that. The public likes anecdotes.'
"'No,' says Sammy, 'you can omit to mention that black-eye business. That kind of an anecdote would be harrowing to the minds of literary inclined gentlefolks. You can reminisce about how you helped me carry wood while I recited passages of poem out of that book at you.'
"What I would have spoke next don't matter, because I omitted to speak it. I was gettin' a glimmer of an idea into my head, and I wanted to get it clear in and settled down to stay before I lost it. It got in, an' I had a realization that it was an O.K. idea, an' that it beat Sammy's son-of-his-father idea quite scandalous.
"When me an' Sammy got down to Gallops Junction we found that as a municipality of art an' beauty it was a red-hot fizzle, but as a red-hot, sizzling sandheap it was the leader of the world. As near as we could judge from a premature look at the depot platform the principal occupations of the grizzly inhabitants was pickin' sand burrs from the inside rim of their pants-leg. It was a dreary village, but Sammy restrained my unconscious impulse to get right aboard the train again. He had that joyful light of combat in them blue eyes of his, an' he looked at that bunch of paintless houses that was dumped around the Gallops Junction Hotel like Columbus must have looked at Plymouth Rock when he landed there.
"I had an immediate notion that the thing for me to do was to go over to the hotel, an' sit in the shade there, an' study the inhabitants a while, an' get the gauge of 'em, an' learn their manners an' customs, before harshly thrustin' myself into their bosoms, so I went an' did it; but Sammy proceeded immediate to visit their homes with the 'Wage of Sin' in one hand an' the torch of culture in the other.
"The more I set under the board awning of that hotel the less I felt like goin' for the to uplift the populace, so I went calmly an' respectfully to sleep, like everybody else in sight, an' the gentle hours sizzled past like rows of hot griddles.
"It was contiguous to five o'clock when I woke up, an' I had put three hours of blissful ignorance into the past, an' I seen it was too late to begin my labors of helpfulness that day. I crossed my legs the other way from what they had been crossed, an' I was about to extend my ruminations to other thoughts, when I noticed a young female exit out of a grocery store across the road. She had a basket of et ceterys on her arm, an' a face that was as beautiful as a ham sandwich looks to a man after a forty days' fast. I recognized her right away as the prettiest girl of my life's experience, an' as she stepped out I slid out of my chair an' made up my mind to make a disposal of one copy of that book as soon as she struck home.
"She went into her house at the back door, as most folks do, an' before she slid the basket off her plump but modest arm, she looked up in surprise to see what gentlemanly visitor was knockin' the paint off the screen door with his knuckles. The glad object that her eyes beheld was me, smilin' an' amiable, with one hand shyly feeling if my necktie was loose, while the other concealed behind my back the interesting volume entitled the 'Wage of Sin.'
"I won't circumlocute about how I got in and got set down on a chair alongside of the kitchen stove. Approaching the female species promptly and slick was my hard card always. So there I set, face to face with that beautiful specimen of female bric-a-brac, and about two inches from a ten-horse-power cook stove in full blossom. It was a warm day, and extry warm on the side of me next that stove. The night side of me felt like sudden fever aggravated by applications of breaths from the orthodox bit of brimstone, and even my off side was perspirating some.
"Thus situated before that young female lady, I was baked but joyous, and I set right in to sell her a 'Wage of Sin.'
"'Ma genully buys books when we buy any, but we never do,' she says.
"'Your ma in now?' I asks, respectful, but in a way to show that her eyes and hair wasn't being wasted on no desert hermit.
"'Yes, she's in,' she says. 'Looks like it's guna rain.'
"'Its some few warm,' I says, shifting my most cooked side a little. 'Can I converse with your ma?'
"'Only in spirit,' she says. 'Otherwise she's engaged.'
"'Dead?' I asks, her words seeming to imply her ma's having departed hence.
"'Oh, no,' she says, smiling. 'She's in the front room, talking. She has a very previous engagement with a gent, and can't break away.'
"'You'll do just as well,' I says, 'if not better. You have that intellectual look that I always spot on the genooine lover of reading matter.'
"'If you are gun to talk book, you better git right down to business and talk book' she says, 'because when I whoop up that stove to git supper, as I'm gun to soon, it's liable to git warm in this kitchen.'
"I took a look at the cooking apparatus, and decided that she knew what she was conversing about. I liked the way she jumped right into the fact that I had a few things to say about books, too. She was an up-and-coming sort, and that's my sort. It's up-and-comingness that has made the Kilo Hotel what it is.
"'All right, sister,' I says, 'this book is the famous "Wage of Sin."'
"'No?" she exlamates. 'Not the "Wage of Sin"? The celebrated volume by our fellow Iowan, Mr. What's-his-name?'
"'The same book!' I says, glad to know its knowledge had passed far down the State. 'Price one-dollar-fifty per each. A gem of purest razorene. A rhymed compendium of wit, information, and highly moral so-forths. Ten thousand verses, printed on a new style rotating duplex press, and bound up in pale-gray calico. Let me quote you that sweet couplet about the flood:
"I hear the mother in her grief Imploring heaven for relief As up the mountain-side she drags Herself by mountain peaks and crags."
"'When I wrote that—'
"'When you wrote that!' she cries joyous, stopping to gaze at me. 'What! Do I see before me a real, genooine author? Do I see in our humble but not chilly kitchen a reely trooly author?'
"'Yes'm,' I says, modest, like G. W. when is papa caught him executing the cherry tree. 'I wrote it. I am the author. Here, as you see me now, in tropical but dripping diffidence, I am the author of that tome. It's a warm day.'
"She stood in my proximity and explored me with her eyes.
"'An author!' she says, stunned but pleased. 'A real live author! My! But it is hard for me to grasp a realization of that fact. So you wrote it?'
"'Yes'm,' I says again. 'I done it.'
"'So young, too,' she says. 'Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus.'
"'It's easy when you know how,' I says off-hand like. 'Book-writing is born in us. When we get warmed up to it it's no trick at all. An author can't no more help authorizing than a stray pup can help scratching.'
"'But,' she says, 'it must be true what I've heard about authorizing being a poor paying job.'
"'Why?' I asks, being suspicious.
"'Because,' she says, 'if it wasn't you wouldn't be touring around to sell your own books after you've wrote them. That is hard work. Now, I have to stay in this kitchen and perspire because I have to, but if you was rich off your books you wouldn't sit on that chair and get all stewed up. I can see that.'
"'What you can't see,' I says, 'is that I came here just because I was the writer of this here composition. Money I don't desire to wish for. Being a rich man and a philanthropist, I give all I make off of this book to the poor. But it ain't everybody can experience the satisfiedness of seeing a reely genooine author. So I travel around exhibiting myself for the good of the public. And as a special and extraordinary thing—a sort of guarantee to one and all that they have seen a genooine living author—I write my autograph in each and every volume of this book that I sell at the small sum of one-fifty per. Think of it! Ten thousand verses; moral, intellectooal, and witty; cloth cover, and the author's own autograph written by himself, all for one-fifty. The autograph of the famous boy author.'
"'That's a big bargain,' she says, thoughtful.
"'Jigantic,' I says
"'Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus,' she repeats again, dreamy.
"'Ain't it!' I responds, sniffing to see if it was my pants that was scorching. 'Will you have one volume?'
"She hesitated, and then she says, 'No. No, I don't dast to. Not yet. Not till I see how ma comes out. Mebby she'll purchase one before she gits through being talked to.'
"I set straight upward on my hotly warmed chair. 'Being talked to!' I says, astonished.
"'Yes,' says the sweet sample of girl. 'Your son, you know, Mister Samuel Mills; he's in the front room interviewing ma.'
"'My son!' I ejaculates weakly, the thermometer in my spinal backbone going up ten thousand degrees hotter.
"'Such an oldish son, too,' she says, sinfully joyous, 'for such a youngish father. He must have been two years old the day you were born. Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus!'
"I set there a minute, wilted, but nervous. Then I got hot, and arose in anger.
"'My son!' I says, scornful. 'So that's what he says, it is? Disgracing his father in that way! All right for him! I disown him out of my family. And I furthermore remark that he ain't my son, nor never was.'
"'Well,' she says, 'you needn't get so hot about it. He's a hard worker. He's been here all day.'
"'I ain't hot,' I says, forgetting that my temperature was torrid plus glowing, 'but I'm mad to think that that boy which I hired to sell my book should pass himself off as my son, and then stay talking all day in one place, instead of selling books throughout the promiscuous neighborhood.'
"'Then,' she says, as if for the first time seeing light, 'that young man in their ain't no son of the author of this "Sin" book?'
"'Never; subsequent nor previous, nor wasn't, nor will be,' I solemnly made prevarication.
"'Well,' she says, 'he said he was when he come in; and me and ma didn't think it likely an author person would have his son out book-peddling, so we asservated back that he wasn't; and him and ma has been having a high-grade talking match all day in the front parlor to convince each other otherwise than what they are convinced of.'
"'Him,' continued the lovely girl, 'says he'll sell ma a book BECAUSE he's the son of the author thereof, and ma says she'll buy a book if he owns up truthful that he ain't the son of the author thereof. She says that if she buys a book off of him when he's making false witness of having a talented dad she'll be encouraging lying, which she can't do, being a full-blood Baptist. So they've got a deadlock, and the jury is hung, and the plurality is equal and unbiased on both sides, and up to date nobody wins.'
"'Then,' I says, 'I don't sell no "Wage of Sin" do I?'
"'Not as no author if it,' she says. 'If you want to tackle us as a common book agent, you'll find us right in the market.'
"'Katie,' I says, 'call your ma out here a minute. If I can sell a copy of this volume I am willing to sell my birthmark for a mess of potash any day of the week.'
"'That,' she says, cheerful, 'is spoke like a financier and a gentleman.'
"With that she started for the front room, but just then the door swung open, and out came her ma and Sammy, tired with fatigue, but satisfied.
"'What!' says the young daughter, 'is the tie untied? Is the jawfest concluded?'
"'It is,' says the maternal ancestor of that girl, weak but happy. 'We talked seven miles and six furloughs, but I won. He has renounced his sin. He ain't no son of no author. I've boughten his book.'
"I gazed at Sammy with a moist, reproachful eye.
"'Sammy! Sammy!' I says, shaking my head, 'to think——'
"'Hush!' he says, 'don't say it. I ain't no Sammy. I ain't no Mills. Them is not my name.'
"'Alas!' I says, mournful, 'am I then deceived since childhood's happy hours?'
"I see the respectable old lady pricking up her ears and getting ready for another season of conversation. Sammy likewise made the same observation, and he fended off the deadly blow.
"'Yes,' he says, 'I have deceived you. My name is——'
"He stopped and looked doubtful and perplexed, and scratched his ear with his forepaw.
"'My name is——' he says, and stops, and then he turns to the elderly female, and asks desperate: 'What in tunket did I say my name was?'
"'Hewlitt,' she says, 'Eliph' Hewlitt.'
"'Oh, yes!' says Sammy, 'that's it. I guess I'll just write that down, so as to have it handy. You know,' he says, looking at me, 'my memory's awful bad since I had the scarlet fever. It's terrible. Why, when I come in here I knowed I had SOMETHING to say about this book, and I tried to remember, and I seemed to remember that I was the son of the author who authored it. I never come so near lying in my life. I'm all in a tremble over it to think how near to lying I was! An' I got the notion Eliph' Hewlitt was the name of a horse.'
"'Ma,' says Katie, giving me a wicked smile, 'this here other young man has got a bad scarlet fever memory, too. HE'S come near to lying, likewise. You'd ought to speak a few words of helpfulness with him, too!'
"'Now, here,' I says, 'you pass that by, Katie. All that that I said was a novel I was thinking of writing out when I got my full growth, which I told you to pass the time away whiles this What's-his-name was busy. I never wrote nothing!'
"'Well,' she says, 'you don't look as if you had the sense to, so I guess you ain't lying now.'
"But ma lit into me, and spent two hours, steady talk, convincing me I wasn't W. P. Mills, although every time she said I wasn't I said so, too. The more I agreed that I wasn't the more she would fire up and take a fresh hold, and try to bear it home to me that I wasn't. There was never in the world such a long fight, with both sides saying the same thing. Ordinary persons couldn't have done it, but hat lady mother could, an' did, an' every now an' then she would dig into Sammy again. An' all of it was right near to that enthusiastical stove. So at last she laid a couple of extra hard words against us an' we keeled over, as you might say, an' toppled out of the kitchen. We was dazed with language that was all words, an' when we come to the gate we was so stupefied that we climbed right over it, an' so weak that we fell down off the other side of it, an' Sammy all the time repeatin' 'Eliph' Hewlitt,' like a man in a dream. By next day he was able to leave the hotel, an' he took the train, an' I ain't seen him until this day, so I guess he stuck right to that name, for fear he might meet the talkin' lady again. I don't see how he could get the name out of his system when once Katie's ma had talked it in, anyway, for she was a great talker. I ought to know, for I went back an' chinned with Katie as soon as I got the daze out of my head, an' the long-come short-come of it was I married Katie.