"What, you haven't been dissecting him again, have you?" said the grocery man, as he pulled a stool up beside the boy to hear the news. How did you bring him to his senses?"
"Well, Ma tried having the minister talk to Pa, but Pa talked Bible, about taking a little wine for the stomach's sake, and gave illustrations about Noah getting full, so the minister couldn't brace him up, and then Ma had some of the sisters come and talk to him, but he broke them all up by talking about what an appetite they had for champagne punch when they were out in camp last summer, and they couldn't have any affect on him, and so Ma said she guessed I would have to exercise my ingenuity on Pa again. Ma has an idea that I have got some sense yet, so I told her that if she would do just as I said, me and my chum would scare Pa so he would swear off. She said she would, and we went to work. First I took Pa's spectacles down to an optician, Saturday night, and had the glasses taken out and a pair put in their place that would magnify, and I took them home and put them in Pa's spectacle case. Then I got a suit of clothes from my chum's uncle's trunk, about half the size of Pa's clothes. My chum's uncle is a very small man, and Pa is corpulent. I got a plug hat three sizes smaller than Pa's hat, and the name out of Pa's hat and put it in the small hat. I got a shirt about half big enough for Pa, and put his initials on the thing under the bosom, and got a number fourteen collar. Pa wears seventeen. Pa had promised to brace up and go to church Sunday morning, and Ma put these small clothes where Pa could put them on. I told Ma, when Pa woke up, to tell him he looked awfully bloated, and excite his curiosity, and then send for me."
"You didn't play such a trick as that on a poor old man, did you?" said the grocery man, as a smile came over his face.
"You bet. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies. Well, Ma told Pa he looked awfully bloated, and that his dissipation was killing him, as well as all the rest of the family. Pa said he guessed he wasn't bloated very much, but he got up and put on his spectacles and looked at himself in the glass. You'd a dide to see him look at himself. His face looked as big as two faces, through the glass, and his nose was a sight. Pa looked scared, and then he held up his hand and looked at that. His hand looked like a ham. Just then I came in, and I turned pale, with some chalk on my face, and I begun to cry, and I said, 'O, Pa, what ails you? You are so swelled up I hardly knew you.' Pa looked sick to his stomach, and then he tried to get on his pants. O, my, it was all I could do to keep from laughing to see him pull them pants on. He could just get his legs in, and when I got a shoe horn and gave it to him, he was mad. He said it was a mean boy that would give his Pa a shoe horn to put on his pants with. The pants wouldn't come around Pa into ten inches, and Pa said he must have eat something that disagreed with him, and he laid it to watermelon. Ma stuffed her handkerchief in her mouth to keep from laffing, when she see Pa look at his-self. The legs of the pants were so tight Pa could hardly breathe, and he turned pale, and said, 'Hennery, your Pa is a mighty sick man,' and then Ma and me both laughed, and he said we wanted him to die so we could spend his life insurance in riotous living."
"But when Pa put on that condensed shirt, Ma she laid down on the lounge and fairly yelled, and I laughed till my side ached. Pa got it over his head, and got his hands in the sleeves, and couldn't get it either way, and he couldn't see us laugh, but he could hear us, and he said, 'It's darned funny, ain't it, to have a parent swelled up this way. If I bust you will both be sorry.' Well, Ma took hold of one side of the shirt, and I took hold of the other, and we pulled it on, and when Pa's head came up through the collar, his face was blue. Ma told him she was afraid he would have a stroke of apoplexy before he got his clothes on, and I guess Pa thought so too. He tried to get the collar on, but it wouldn't go half way around his neck, and he looked in the glass and cried, he looked so. He sat down in a chair and panted, he was so out of breath, and the shirt and pants ripped, and Pa said there was no use living if he was going to be a rival to a fat woman in the side show. Just then I put the plug hat on Pa's head, and it was so small it was going to roll off, when Pa tried to fit it on his head, and then he took it off and looked inside of it, to see if it was his hat, and when he found his name in it, he said 'Take it away. My head is all wrong too.' Then he told me to go for the doctor, mighty quick. I got the doctor and told him what we were trying to do with Pa, and he said he would finish the job. So the Doc. came in, and Pa was on the lounge, and when the Doc. saw him, he said it was lucky he was called just as he was, or we would have required an undertaker. He put some pounded ice on Pa's head the first thing, ordered the shirt cut open, and we got the pants off. Then he gave Pa an emetic, and had his feet soaked, and Pa said, 'Doc., if you will bring me out of this I will never drink another drop.' The Doc. told Pa that his life was not worth a button if he ever drank again, and left about half a pint of sugar pills to be fired into Pa every five minutes. Ma and me sat up with Pa all day Sunday, and Monday morning I changed the spectacles, and took the clothes home, and along about noon Pa said he felt as though he could get up. Well, you never see a tickleder man than he was when he found the swelling had gone down so he could get his pants and shirt on, and he says that doctor is the best in this town. Ma says I am a smart boy, and Pa has taken the pledge, and we are all right. Say, you don't think there is anything wrong in a boy playing it on his Pa once in a while, do you?"
"Not much, You have very likely saved your Pa's life. No, sir, joking is all right when by so doing you can break a person of a bad habit," and the grocery man cut a chew of tobacco off a piece of plug that was on the counter, which the boy had soaked in kerosene, and before he had fairly got it rolled in his cheek he spit it out and began to gag, and as the boy started leisurely out the door the grocery man said, "Lookahere, condemn you, don't you ever tamper with my tobacco again, or by thunder I'll maul you," and he followed the boy to the door, spitting cotton all the way; and, as the boy went around the corner, the groceryman thought how different a joke seemed when it was on somebody else. And then he turned to go in and rinse the kerosene out of his mouth, and found a sign on a box of new, green apples, as follows:—
COLIC OR CHOLERA INFANTUM
YOU PAYS YOUR MONEY
AND TAKES YOUR CHOICE.
GHOSTS DON'T STEAL WORMY FIGS—A GRAND REHERSAL—THE MINISTER MURDERS HAMLET—THE WATER-MELON KNIFE—THE OLD MAN WANTED TO REHERSE THE DRUNKEN SCENE IN RIP VAN WINKLE—NO HUGGING ALLOWED—HAMLET WOULDN'T HAVE TWO GHOSTS-"HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE AN IDIOT."
"I am thy father's ghost," said a sheeted form in the doorway of the grocery, one evening, and the grocery man got behind the cheese box, while the ghost continued in a sepulchral voice, "doomed for a certain time to walk the night," and, waving a chair round, the ghost strode up to the grocery man, and with the other ghostly hand reached into a box of figs.
"No you ain't no ghost," said the grocery man, recognizing the bad boy. "Ghosts do not go prowling around groceries stealing wormy figs. What do you mean by this sinful masquerade business? My father never had no ghost!"
"O, we have struck it now," said the bad boy as he pulled off his mask and rolled up the sheet he had worn around him. "We are going to have amateur theatricals, to raise money to have the church carpeted, and I am going to boss the job."
"You don't say," answered the grocery man, as he thought how much he could sell to the church people for a strawberry and ice cream festival, and how little he could sell for amateur theatricals. "Who is going into it and what are you going to play?"
"Pa and Ma, and me, and the minister, and three choir singers, and my chum, and the minister's wife, and two deacons, and an old maid are rehersing, but we have not decided what to play yet. They all want to play a different play, and I am fixing it so they can all be satisfied. The minister wants to play Hamlet, Pa wants to play Rip Van Winkle, Ma wants to play Mary Anderson, the old maid wants to play a boarding school play, and the choir singers want an opera, and the minister's wife wants to play Lady Macbeth, and my chum and me want to play a double song and dance, and I am going to give them all a show. We had a rehersal last night, and I am the only one able to be around to-day. You see they have all been studying different plays, and they all wanted to talk at once. We let the minister sail in first. He had on a pair of his wife's black stockings, and a mantle made of a linen buggy lap blanket and he wore a mason's cheese knife such as these fellows with poke bonnets and white feathers wear when they get an invitation to a funeral or an excursion. Well, you never saw Hamlet murdered the way he did it. His interpretation of the character was that Hamlet was a Dude that talked through his nose, and while he was repeating Hamlet's soliloquy, Pa, who had come in with an old hunting suit on, as Rip Van Winkle, went to sleep, and he didn't wake up till Lady Macbeth came in, in the sleep-walking scene. She couldn't find a knife, so I took a slice of watermelon and sharpened it for her, and she made a mistake in the one she was to stab, and she stabbed Hamlet in the neck with a slice of watermelon, and the core of the melon fell on Pa's face, as he lay asleep as Rip, and when Lady Macbeth said, 'Out damned spot,' Pa woke up and felt the gob of watermelon on his face and he thought he had been murdered, and Ma came in on a hop, skip and jump as 'Parthenia,' and threw her arms around a deacon who was going to play the grave digger, and began to call him pet names, and Pa was mad, and the choir singers they began to sing, 'In the North Sea lived a whale,' and then they quit acting. You'd a dide to see Hamlet. The piece of watermelon went down his neck, and Lady Macbeth went off and left it in the wound under his collar, and Ma had to pull it out, and Hamlet said the seeds and the juice was running down inside his shirt, and he said he wouldn't play if he was going to be stabbed with a slice of melon, so while his wife was getting the melon seeds out of his neck, and drying the juice on his shirt, I sharpened a cucumber for Lady Macbeth to use as a dagger, but Hamlet kicked on cucumbers, too, and I had more trouble than any stage manager ever had. Then Pa wanted to rehearse the drunken scene in Rip Van Winkle, where he hugs Grechten and drinks out of a flask behind her back, and he got one of the choir singers to act as Grechten, and I guess he would have been hugging till this time, and have swallowed the flask if Ma had not taken him by the ear, and said a little of that would go a good ways in an entertainment for the church. Pa said he didn't know as it was any worse than her prancing up to a grave digger and hugging him till the filling came out of his teeth, and then the minister decided that we wouldn't have any hugging at all in the play, and the choir girls said they wouldn't play, and the old maids struck, and the play come to a stand still."
"Well, that beats anything I ever heard tell of. It's a shame for people outside the profession to do play acting, and I won't go to the entertainment unless I get a pass," said the grocery man. "Did you rehearse any more?"
"Yes, the minister wanted to try the ghost scene," said the boy, "and he wanted me to be the ghost. Well, they have two 'Markses' and two 'Topsies' in Uncle Tom's cabin, and I thought two ghosts in Hamlet would about fill the bill for amateurs, so I got my chum to act as one ghost. We broke them all up. I wanted to have something new in ghosts, so my chum and me got two pair of Ma's long stockings, one pair red and one pair blue, and I put on a red one and a blue one, and my chum did the same. Then we got some ruffled clothes belonging to Ma, with flounces and things on, and put them on so they came most down to our knees, and we put sheets over us, clear to our feet, and when Hamlet got to yearning for his father's ghost, I came in out of the bath room with the sheet over me, and said I was the huckleberry he was looking for, and my chum followed me out and said he was a twin ghost, also, and then Hamlet got on his ear and said he wouldn't play with two ghosts, and he went off pouting, and then my chum and me pulled off the sheets and danced a clog dance. Well, when the rest of the troop saw our make up, it nearly killed them. Most of them had seen ballet dancers, but they never saw them with different colored socks. The minister said the benefit was rapidly becoming a farce, and before we had danced half a minute Ma she recognized her socks, and she came for me with a hot box, and made me take them off, and Pa was mad and said the dancing was the only thing that was worth the price of admission, and he scolded Ma, and the choir girls sided with Pa, and just then my chum caught his toe in the carpet and fell down, and that loosened the plaster overhead and about a bushel fell on the crowd. Pa thought lightning had struck the house, the minister thought it was a judgment on them all for play acting, and he began to shed his Hamlet costume with one hand and pick the plaster out of his hair with the other. The women screamed and tried to get the plaster out of their necks, and while Pa was brushing off the choir singers Ma said the rehearsal was adjourned, and they all went home, but we are going to rehearse again on Friday night. The play cannot be considered a success, but we will bring it out all right by the time the entertainment is to come off."
"By gum," said the grocery man, "I would like to have seen that minister as Hamlet. Didn't he look funny?"
"Funny! Well, I should remark. He seemed to predominate. That is, he was too fresh, too numerous, as it were. But at the next rehearsal I am going to work in an act from Richard the Third, and my chum is going to play the Chinaman of the Danites, and I guess we will take the cake. Say, I want to work in an idiot somewhere. How would you like to play the idiot. You wouldn't have to rehearse or anything—"
At this point the bad boy was seen to go out of the grocery store real spry, followed by a box of wooden clothes-pins that the grocery man had thrown after him.
THE CRUEL WOMAN AND THE LUCKLESS DOG—THE BAD BOY WITH A DOG AND A BLACK EYE-WHERE DID YOU STEAL HIM?—ANGELS DON'T BREAK DOGS' LEGS—A WOMAN WHO BREAKS DOGS' LEGS HAS NO SHOW WITH ST. PETER—ANOTHER BURGLAR SCARE—THE GROCERY DELIVERY MAN SCARED.
"Hello!" said the grocery man to the bad boy, as he came in with a black eye, leading a hungry looking dog that was walking on three legs, and had one leg tied up with a red silk handkerchief. "What is this—a part of your amateur theater? Now you get out of here with that dog, mighty quick. A boy that hurts dogs so they have to have their legs tied up, is no friend of mine," and the grocery man took up a broom to drive the dog out doors.
"There, you calm, yourself," says the boy to the grocery man, as the dog got behind the boy and looked up at the grocery man as though he was not afraid as long as the bad boy was around. "Set up the crackers and cheese, sausage, and pickles, and everything this dog wants to eat—he is a friend of mine—that dog is my guest, and those are my splints on his broken leg, and that is my handkerchief that my girl gave me, wound around it, and you touch that dog except in the way of kindness, and down comes your house." And the boy doubled up his fists as though he meant business.
"Poor doggie," said the grocery man, as he cut off a piece of sausage and offered it to the dog, which was declined with thanks, expressed by the wagging tail. "Where did you steal him?"
"I didn't steal him, and he is no cannibal. He won't eat your sausage!" and the boy put up his elbow as though to ward off on imaginary blow. "You see, this dog was following off a pet dog that belonged to a woman, and she tried to shoo him away, but he wouldn't shoo. This dog did not know that he was a low born, miserable dog, and had no right to move in the society of an aristocratic pet dog, and he followed right along. He thought this was a free country, and one dog was as good as another, and he followed that woman and her pet dog right into her door yard. The pet dog encouraged this dog, and he went in the yard, and when the woman got up on the steps she threw a velocipede at this dog and broke his leg, and then she took up her pet and went in the house so she wouldn't hear this dog howl. She is a nice woman, and I see her go to meeting every Sunday with a lot of morocco books in her hands, and once I pumped the organ in the church where she goes, and she was so pious I thought she was an angel—but angels don't break dogs' legs. I'll bet when she goes up to the gate and sees St. Peter open the book and look for the charges against her, she will tremble as though she had fits. And when St. Peter runs his finger down the ledger, and stops at the dog column, and turns and looks at her over his spectacles, and says, "Madam, how about your stabbing a poor dog with a velocipede, and breaking its leg?" she will claim it was an accident; but she can't fool Pete. He is on to everybody's racket, and if they get in there, they have got to have a clean record."
"Say, look-a-here," said the grocery man, as he looked at the boy in astonishment as he unwound the handkerchief to dress the dog's broken leg, while the dog looked up in the boy's face with an expression of thankfulness and confidence that he was an able practitioner in dog bone-setting, "what kind of talk is that? You talk of heaven as though its books were kept like the books of a grocery and you speak too familiarly of St. Peter."
"Well, I didn't mean any disrespect," said the boy, as he fixed the splint on the dog's leg, and tied it with a string, while the dog licked his hand, "but I learned in Sunday school that up there they watch even the sparrow's fail, and they wouldn't be apt to get left on a dog bigger than a whole flock of sparrows, 'specially when the dog's fall was accompanied with such noise as a velocipede makes when it falls down stairs. No sir, a woman who throws a velocipede at a poor, homeless dog, and breaks its leg, may carry a car load of prayer books, and she may attend to all the sociables, but according to what I have been told, if she goes sailing up to the gate of New Jerusalem, as though she owned the whole place, and expects to be ushered into a private box, she will get left. The man in the box office will tell her she is not on the list, and that there is a variety show below, where the devil is a star, and fallen angels are dancing the cancan with sheet-iron tights, on brimstone lakes, and she can probably crawl under the canvas, but she can't get in among the angelic hosts until she can satisfactorily explain that dog story that is told on her. Possibly I have got a raw way of expressing myself, but I had rather take my chances, if I should apply for admission up there, with this lame dog under my arm than to take hers with a pug that hain't got any legs broke. A lame dog and a clear conscience beats a pet dog, when your conscience feels nervous. Now I am going to lay this dog in the barrel of dried apples, where your cat sleeps, and give him a little rest, and I will give you four minutes to tell me all you know, and you will have three minutes on your hands with nothing to say. Unbutton your lip and give your teeth a vacation."
"Well, you have got gall. However, I don't know but you are right that woman that hurt the dog. Still, it may have been her way of petting a strange dog. We should try to look upon the charitable side of peoples' eccentricities. But say, I want to ask you if you have seen anything of my man that delivers groceries. Saturday night I sent him over to your house to deliver some things, about ten o'clock, and he has not showed up since. What do you think has become of him?"
"Well, by gum, that accounts for it. Saturday night, about ten o'clock we heard somebody in the back yard, around the kitchen door, just as we were going to bed, and Pa was afraid it was a burglar after the church money he had collected last Sunday. He had got to turn it over the next day, to pay the minister's expenses on his vacation, and it made him nervous to have it around. I peeked out of the window and saw the man, and I told Pa, and Pa got a revolver and began shooting through the wire screen to the kitchen window, and I saw the man drop the basket and begin to climb over the fence real sudden, and I went out and began to groan, as though somebody was dying in the alley, and I brought in the basket with the mackerel and green corn, and told Pa that from the groaning out there I guess he had killed the grocery delivery man, and I wanted Pa to go out and help me hunt for the body, but he said he was going to take the midnight train to go out west on some business, and Pa lit out. I guess your man was scared and went one way and Pa was scared and went the other. Won't they be astonished when they meet each other on the other side of the world? Pa will shoot him again when they meet, if he gives Pa any sass. Pa says when he gets mad he had just as soon eat as to kill a man."
"Well, I guess my man has gone off to a Sunday pic-nic or something, and will come back when he gets sober, but how are your theatricals getting along?" asked the grocery man.
"O, that scheme is all busted," said the boy. "At least until the minister gets back from his vacation. The congregation has noticed a red spot on his hand for some time, and the ladies said what he needed was rest. They said if that spot was allowed to go on it might develope into a pimple, and the minister might die of blood poison, superinduced by overwork, and they took up a collection, and he has gone. The night they bid him good bye, the spot on his hand was the subject of much comment. The wimmen sighed, and said it was lucky they noticed the spot on his hand before it had sapped his young life away. Pa said Job had more than four hundred boils worse than that, and he never took a vacation, and then Ma dried Pa up. She told Pa he had never suffered from blood poison, and Pa said he could raise cat boils for the market, and never squeal. Ma see the only way to shut Pa up was to let him go home with the choir singer. So she bounced him off with her, and he didn't get home till most 'leven o'clock, but Ma she set up for him. Maybe what she said to Pa made him go west after peppering your burglar. Well, I must go home now, 'cause I run the family, since Pa lit out. Say, send some of your most expensive canned fruit and things over to the house. Darn the expense." And the bad boy took the lame dog under his arm and walked out.
THE BAD BOY GROWS THOUGHTFUL—WHY IS LETTUCE LIKE A GIRL?— KING SOLOMON A FOOL—THINK OF ANY SANE MAN HAVING A THOUSAND WIVES—HE WOULD HAVE TO HAVE TWO HOTELS DURING VACATION—300 BLONDES—600 BRUNETTES, ETC—A THOUSAND WIVES TAKING ICE CREAM—I DON'T ENVY SOLOMON HIS THOUSAND.
"What you sitting there like a bump on a log for?" asked the grocery man of the bad boy, as the youth had sat on a box for half an hour, with his hands in his pockets, looking at a hole in the floor, until his eyes were set like a dying horse. "What you thinking of, anyway? It seems to me boys set around and think more than they used to when I was a boy," and the groceryman brushed the wilted lettuce and shook it, and tried to make it stand up stiff and crisp, before he put it out doors; but the contrary lettuce which had been picked the day before, looked so tired that the boy noticed it.
"That lettuce reminds me of a girl. Yesterday I was in here when it was new, like the girl going to the picnic, and it was as fresh and proud, and starched up, and kitteny, and full of life, and as sassy as a girl starting out for a picnic. To-day it has got back from the picnic, and, like the girl, the starch is all taken out, and it is limber, and languid, and tired, and can't stand up alone, and it looks as though it wanted to be laid at rest beside the rotten apples in the alley, rather than be set out in front of a store to be sold to honest people, and give them the gangrene of the liver," and the boy put on a health commissioner air that frightened the grocery man, and he threw the lettuce out the back door.
"You never mind about my lettuce," said the grocery man, "I can attend to my affairs. But now tell me what you were thinking about here all the morning?"
"I was thinking what a fool King Solomon was," said the boy, with the air of one who has made a statement that has got to be argued pretty strong to make it hold water.
"Now, lookahere," said the grocery man in anger, "I have stood it to have you play tricks on me, and have listened to your condemned foolishness without a murmur as long as you have confined yourself to people now living, but when you attack Solomon—the wisest man, the great king—and call him a fool, friendship ceases, and you must get out of this store. Solomon in all his glory, is a friend of mine, and no fool boy is going to abuse him in my presence. Now, you dry up!"
"Sit down on the ice box," said the boy to the grocery man, "what you need is rest. You are overworked. Your alleged brain is equal to wilted lettuce, and it can devise ways and means to hide rotten peaches under good ones, so as to sell them to blind orphans; but when it comes to grasping great questions, your small brain cannot comprehend them. Your brain may go up sideways to a great question and rub against it, but it cannot surround it, and grasp it. That's where you are deformed. Now, it is different with me. I can raise brain to sell to you grocery men. Listen. This Solomon is credited with being the wisest man, and yet history says he had a thousand wives. Just think of it. You have got one wife, and Pa has got one, and all the neighbors have one, if they have had any kind of luck. Does not one wife make you pay attention? Wouldn't two wives break you up? Wouldn't three cause you to see stars? How would ten strike you? Why, man alive, you do not grasp the magnitude of the statement that Solomon had a thousand wives. A thousand wives, standing side by side, would reach about four blocks. Marching by fours it would take them twenty minutes to pass a given point. The largest summer resort hotel only holds about five hundred people, so Sol would have had to hire two hotels if he took his wives out for a day in the country. If you would stop and think once in a while you would know more."
The grocery man's eyes had begun to stick out as the bad boy continued, as though the statistics had never been brought to his attention before, but he was bound to stand by his old friend Solomon, and he said, "Well, Solomon's wives must have been different from our wives of the present day."
"Not much," said the boy, as he see he was paralizing the grocery man. "Women have been about the same ever since Eve. She got mashed on the old original dude, and it stands to reason that Solomon's wives were no better than the mother of the human race. Statistics show that one woman out of every ten is red headed. That would give Solomon an even hundred red headed wives. Just that hundred red headed wives would be enough to make an ordinary man think that there was a land that is fairer than this. Then there would be, out of the other nine hundred, about three hundred blondes, and the other six hundred would be brunettes, and mabe he had a few albinos, and bearded women, and fat women, and dwarfs. Now, those thousand women had appetites, desires for dress and style, the same as all women. Imagine Solomon saying to them. 'Girls, lets all go down to the ice cream, saloon and have a dish of ice cream.' Can you, with your brain muddled with codfish and new potatoes, realize the scene that would follow? Suppose after Solomon's broom brigade bad got seated in the ice creamery, one of the red headed wives should catch Solomon winking at a strange girl at another table. You may think Solomon did not know enough to wink, or that he was not that kind of a flirt, but he must have been or he could never had succeeded in marrying a thousand wives, in a sparcely settled country. No, Sir, it looks to me as though Solomon in all his glory, was an old masher, and from what I have seen of men being bossed around with one wife, I don't envy Solomon his thousand. Why, just imagine that gang of wives going and ordering fall bonnets. Solomon would have to be a king, or a Vanderbilt to stand it. Ma wears five dollar silk stockings, and Pa kicks awfully when the bill comes in. Imagine Soloman putting up for a few thousand pair of silk stockings. I am glad you will sit down and reason with me in a rational way about some of these Bible stories that take my breath away. The minister stands me off when I try to talk with him about such things, and tells me to study the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the deacons tell me to go and soak my head. There is darn little encouragement for a boy to try and figure out things. How would you like to have a thousand red headed wives come into the store this minute and tell you they wanted you to send carriages around to the house at 3 o'clock so they could go for a drive? Or how would you like to have a hired girl come rushing in and tell you to send up six hundred doctors, because six hundred of your wives had been taken with cholera morbus? Or—"
"O, don't mention it," said the grocery man, with a shudder. "I wouldn't take Solomon's place, and be the natural protector of a thousand wives if anybody would give me the earth. Think of getting up in a cold winter morning and building a thousand fires. Think of two thousand pair of hands in a fellow's hair! Boy, you have shown me that Solomon needed a guardian over him. He didn't have sense."
"Yes," says the boy, "and think of two thousand feet, each one as cold as a brick of chocolate ice cream. A man would want a back as big as the fence of a fair ground. But I don't want to harrow up your feelings. I must go and put some arnica on Pa. He has got home, and says he has been to a summer resort on a vacation, and he is all covered with blotches. He says it is mosquito bites, but Ma thinks he has been shot full of bird shot by some water melon farmer. Ma hasn't got any sympathy for Pa because he didn't take her along, but if she had been there she would have been filled with bird shot, too. But you musn't detain me. Between Pa and the baby I have got all I can attend to. The baby is teething, and Ma makes me put my fingers in the baby's mouth to help it cut teeth. That is a humiliating position for a boy as big as I am. Say, how many babies do you figure that Solomon had to buy rubber toothing rings for in all his glory?"
And the boy went out leaving the grocery man reflecting on what a family Solomon must have had, and how he needed to be the wisest man to get along without a circus afternoon and evening.
FARM EXPERIENCES. THE BAD BOY WORKS ON A FARM FOR A DEACON— HE KNOWS WHEN HE HAS GOT ENOUGH—HOW THE DEACON MADE HIM FLAX AROUND—AND HOW HE MADE IT WARM FOR THE DEACON.
"Want to buy any cabbages?" said the bad boy to the grocery man, as he stopped at the door of the grocery, dressed in a blue wamus, his breeches tucked in his boots, and an old hat on his head, with a hole that let out his hair through the top. He had got out of a democrat wagon, and was holding the lines hitched to a horse about forty years old, that leaned against the hitching post to rest, "Only a shilling apiece."
"O, go 'way," said the grocery man. "I only pay three cents apiece." And then he looked at the boy and said "Hello, Hennery, is that you? I have missed you all the week, and now you come on to me sudden, disguised as a granger. What does this all mean?"
"It means that I have been the victim of as vile a conspiracy as ever was known since Caeesar was stabbed, and Marc Antony orated over his prostrate corpse in the Roman forum, to an audience of supes and scene shifters," and the boy dropped the lines on the sidewalk, said, "whoa, gol darn you," to the horse that was asleep, wiped his boots on the grass in front of the store and came in, and seated himself on the old half bushel. "There, this seems like home again."
"What's the row?—who has been playing it on you?" And the grocery man smelled a sharp trade in cabbages, as well as other smells peculiar to the farm.
"Well, I'll tell you. Lately our folks have been constantly talking of the independent life of the farmer, and how easy it is, and how they would like it if I would learn to be a farmer. They said there was nothing like it, and several of the neighbors join'd in and said I had the natural ability to be one of the most successful farmers in the state. They all drew pictures of the fun it was to work on a farm where you could get your work done and take your fish-pole and go off and catch fish, or a gun, and go out and kill game, and how you could ride; horses, and pitch hay, and smell the sweet perfume, and go to husking bees, and dances, and everything, and they got me all worked up so I wanted to go to work on a farm. Then an old deacon that belongs to our church, who runs a farm about eight miles out of town, he came on the scene, and said he wanted a boy, and if I would go out and work for him he would be easy on me because he knew my folks, and we belonged to the same church. I can see it now. It was all a put up job on me, just like they play three card monte on a fresh stranger. I was took in. By gosh, I have been out there a week, and here's what there is left of me. The only way I got a chance to come to town was to tell the farmer I could sell cabbages to you for a shilling a piece. I knew you sold them for fifteen cents and I thought that you would give a shilling. So the farmer said he would pay me my wages in cabbages at a shilling apiece and only charge me a dollar for the horse and wagon to bring them in. So you only pay three cents. Here are thirty cabbages, which will come to ninety cents. I pay a dollar for the horse, and when I get back to the farm I owe the farmer ten cents, besides working a week for nothing. O, it is all right. I don't kick, but this ends farming for Hennery. I know when I have got enough of an easy life on a farm. I prefer a hard life, breaking stones on the streets, to an easy, dreamy life on a farm."
"They did play it on you, didn't they," said the grocery man. "But wasn't the old deacon a good man to work for?"
"Good man nothing'," said the boy, as he took up a piece of horse radish and began to grate it on the inside of his rough hand. "I tell you there's a heap of difference in a deacon in Sunday school, telling about sowing wheat and tares, and a deacon out on a farm in a hurry season, when there is hay to get in and wheat to harvest all at the same time. I went out to the farm Sunday evening with the deacon and his wife, and they couldn't talk too much about the nice time we would have, and the fun; but the deacon changed more than forty degrees in five minutes after we got to the farm. He jump'd out of the wagon and pulled off his coat, and let his wife climb out over the wheel, and yelled to the hired girl to bring out the milk pail, and told me to fly around and unharness the horse, and throw down a lot of hay for the work animals, and then told me to run down to the pasture and drive up a lot of cows. The pasture was half a mile away, and the cows were scattered around in the woods, and the mosquitos were thick, and I got all covered with mud and burrs, and stung with thistles, and when I got the cattle near to the house, the old deacon yelled to me that I was slower than molasses in the winter, and then I took a club and tried to hurry the cows, and he yelled at me to stop hurrying, 'cause I would retard the flow of milk. By gosh I was mad. I asked for a mosquito bar to put over me next time I went after the cows, and the people all laughed at me, and when I sat down on the fence to scrape the mud off my Sunday pants, the deacon yelled like he does in the revival, only he said, 'come, come, procrastination is the thief of time. You get up and hump yourself and go and feed the pigs.' He was so darn mean that I could not help throwing a burdock burr against the side of the cow he was milking, and it struck her right in the flank on the other side from where the deacon was. Well, you'd a dide to see the cow jump up and blat. All four of her feet were off the ground at a time, and I guess most of them hit the deacon on his Sunday vest, and the rest hit the milk pail, and the cow backed against the fence and bellered, and the deacon was all covered with milk and cow hair, and he got up and throwed the three-legged stool at the cow and hit her on the horn and it glanced off and hit me on the pants just as I went over the fence to feed the pigs. I didn't know a deacon could talk so sassy at a cow, and come so near swearing without actually saying cuss words. Well, I lugged swill until I was homesick to my stomach, and then I had to clean off horses, and go to the neighbors about a mile away to borrow a lot of rakes to use the next day. I was so tired I almost cried, and then I had to draw two barrels of water with a well bucket, to cleanse for washing the next day, and by that time I wanted to die. It was most nine o'clock, and I began to think about supper, when the deacon said all they had was bread and milk for supper Sunday night, and I rasseled with a tin basin of skim milk, and some old back number bread, and wanted to go to bed, but the deacon wanted to know if I was heathen enough to want to go to bed without evening prayers. There was no one thing I was less mashed on than evening prayers about that minute, but I had to take a prayer half an hour long on the top of that skim milk, and I guess it curdled the milk, for I hadn't been in bed more than half an hour before I had the worst colic a boy ever had, and I thought I should die all alone up in that garret, on the floor, with nothing to make my last hours pleasant but some rats playing with ears of seed corn on the floor, and mice running through some dry pea pods. But how different the deacon talked in the evening devotions from what he did when the cow was galloping on him in the barnyard. Well, I got through the colic and was just getting to sleep when the deacon yelled for me to get up and hustle down stairs. I thought may be the house was on fire, 'cause I smelled smoke, and I got into my trousers and came down stairs on a jump yelling 'fire,' when the deacon grabbed me and told me to get down on my knees, and before I knew it he was into the morning devotions, and when he said 'amen' and jumped and said for us to fire breakfast into us quick and get to work doing chores. I looked at the clock and it was just three o'clock in the morning, just the time Pa comes home and goes to bed in town, when he is running a political campaign. Well, sir, I had to jump from one thing to another from three o'clock in the morning till nine at night, pitching hay, driving reaper, raking and binding, shocking wheat, hoeing corn, and everything, and I never got a kind word. I spoiled my clothes, and I think another week would make a pirate of me. But during it all I had the advantage of a pious example. I tell you, you think more of such a man as the deacon if you don't work for him, but only see him when he comes to town, and you hear him sing 'Heaven is my Home,' through his nose. He even is farther from home than any place I ever heard of. He would be a good mate on a Mississippi river steamboat if he could swear, and I guess he could soon learn. Now you take these cabbages and give me ninety cents, and I will go home and borrow ten cents to make up the dollar, and send my chum back with the horse and wagon and my resignation. I was not cut out for a farmer. Talk about fishing, the only fish I saw was a salt white fish we had for breakfast one morning, which was salted by Noah, in the ark," and while the grocery man was unloading the cabbages the boy went off to look for his chum, and later the two boys were seen driving off to the farm with two fishing poles sticking out of the hind end of the wagon.
DRINKING CIDER IN THE CELLAR—THE DEACON WILL NOT ACCEPT HENNERY'S RESIGNATION—HE WANTS BUTTER ON HIS PANCAKES—HIS CHUM JOINS HIM—THE SKUNK IN THE CELLAR—THE POOR BOY GETS THE "AGER."
"Well, I swow, here comes a walking hospital," said the grocery man as the bad boy's shadow came in the store, followed by the boy, who looked sick and yellow, and tired, and he had lost half his flesh. "What's the matter with you? Haven't got the yellow fever, have you?" and the grocery man placed a chair where the invalid could fall into it.
"No, got the ager," said the boy as he wiped the perspiration off his upper lip, and looked around the store to see if there was anything in sight that would take the taste of quinine out of his mouth. "Had too much dreamy life of ease on the farm, and been shaking ever since. Darn a farm anyway."
"What, you haven't been to work for the deacon any more, have you? I thought you sent in your resignation;" and the grocery man offered the boy some limberger cheese to strengthen him.
"O, take that cheese away," said the boy, as he turned pale and gagged. "You don't know what a sick person needs any more than a professional nurse. What I want is to be petted. You see I went out to the farm with my chum, and I took the fish-poles and remained in the woods while he drove the horse to the deacon's; and he gave the deacon my resignation, and the deacon wouldn't accept it. He said he would hold my resignation until after harvest, and then act on it. He said he could put me in jail for breach of promise, if I quit work and left him without giving proper notice; and my chum came and told me, and so I concluded to go to work rather than have any trouble, and the deacon said my chum could work a few days for his board if he wanted to. It was pretty darn poor board for a boy to work for, but my chum wanted to be with me, so he stayed. Pa and Ma came out to the farm to stay a day or two to help. Pa was going to help harvest, and Ma was going to help the deacon's wife, but Pa wanted to carry the jug to the field, and lay under a tree while the rest of us worked, and Ma just talked the arm off the deacon's wife. The deacon and Pa laid in the shade and see my chum and me work, and Ma and the deacon's wife gossipped so they forgot to get dinner, and my chum and me organized a strike, but we were beaten by monopoly. Pa took me by the neck and thrashed out a shock of wheat with my heels, and the deacon took my chum and sat down on him, and we begged and they gave us our old situations back. But we got even with them that night. I tell you, when a boy tries to be good, and quit playing jokes on people, and then has everybody down on him, and has his Pa hire him out on a farm to work for a deacon that hasn't got any soul except when he is in church, and a boy has to get up in the night to get breakfast and go to work, and has to work until late at night, and they kick because he wants to put butter on his pancakes, and feed him skim milk and rusty fat pork, it makes him tough, and he would play a joke on his aged grandmother. After my chum and me had got all the chores done that night, we sat out on a fence back of the house in the orchard, eating green apples in the moonlight, and trying to think of a plan of revenge. Just then I saw a skunk back of the house, right by the outside cellar door, and I told my chum that it would serve them right to drive the skunk down cellar and shut the door, but my chum said that would be too mean. I asked him if it would be any meaner than for the deacon to snatch us baldheaded because we couldn't mow hay away fast enough for two men to pitch it, and he said it wouldn't, and so we got on each side of the skunk and sort of scared it down cellar, and then we crept up softly and closed the cellar doors. Then we went in the house and I whispered to Ma and asked her if she didn't think the deacon had some cider, and Ma she began to hint that she hadn't had a good drink of cider since last winter, and the deacon's wife said us boys could take a pitcher and go down cellar and draw some. That was too much. I didn't want any cider, anyway, so I told them that I belonged to a temperance society, and I should break my pledge if I drawed cider, and she said I was a good boy, for me never to touch a drop of cider. Then she told my chum where the cider barrel was, down cellar; but he ain't no slouch. He said he was afraid to go down cellar in the dark, and so Pa said he and the deacon would go down and draw the cider, and the deacon's wife asked Ma to go down too, and look at the fruit and berries she had canned for winter, and they all went down cellar. Pa carried an old tin lantern with holes in it, to light the deacon to the cider barrel; and the deacon's wife had a taller candle to show Ma the canned fruit. I tried to get Ma not to go, cause Ma is a friend of mine, and I didn't want her to have anything to do with the circus; but she said she guessed she knew her business. When anybody says they guess they know their own business, that settles it with me, and I don't try to argue with them. Well, my chum and me sat there in the kitchen, and I stuffed a piece of red table cloth in my mouth to keep from laughing, and my chum held his nose with his finger and thumb, so he wouldn't snort right out. We could hear the cider run in the pitcher, and then it stopped, and the deacon drank out of the pitcher, and then Pa did, and then they drawed some more cider, and Ma and the deacon's wife were talking about how much sugar it took to can fruit, and the deacon told Pa to help himself out of a crock of fried cakes, and I heard the cover on the crock rattle, and just then I heard the old tin lantern rattle on the brick floor of the cellar, the deacon said 'Merciful goodness;' Pa said 'Helen damnation, I am stabbed;' and Ma yelled 'goodness sakes alive;' and then there was a lot of dishpans on the stairs begun to fall, and they all tried to get up cellar at once, and they fell over each other; and O, my, what a frowy smell came up to the kitchen from the cellar. It was enough to kill anybody. Pa was the first to get to the head of the stairs, and he stuck his head in the kitchen, and drew a long breath, and said 'whoosh! Hennery, your Pa is a mighty sick man.' The deacon came up next, and he had run his head into a hanging shelf and broken a glass jar of huckleberries, and they were all over him, and he said 'give me air. Earth's but a desert drear.' Then Ma and the deacon's wife came up on a gallop, and they looked tired. Pa began to peel off his coat and vest and said he was going out to bury them, and Ma said he could bury her, too, and I asked the deacon if he didn't notice a faint odor of sewer gas coming from the cellar, and my chum said it smelled more to him as though something had crawled in the cellar and died. Well, you never saw a sicker crowd, and I felt sorry for Ma and the deacon, 'cause their false teeth fell out, and I knew Ma couldn't gossip and the deacon couldn't talk sassy without teeth. But you'd a dide to see Pa. He was mad, and thought the deacon had put up the job on him, and he was going to knock the deacon out in two rounds, when Ma said there was no use of getting mad about a dispensation of providence, and Pa said one more such dispensation of providence would just kill him on the spot. They finally got the house aired, and my chum and me slept on the hay in the barn, after we had opened the outside cellar door so the animal could get out, and the next morning I had the fever and ague, and Pa and Ma brought me home, and I have been firing quinine down my neck ever since. Pa says it is malaria, but it is getting up before daylight in the morning and prowling around a farm doing chores before it is time to do chores, and I don't want any more farm. I thought at Sunday school last Sunday, when the superintendent talked about the odor of sanctity that pervaded the house on that beautiful morning, and looked at the deacon, that the deacon thought the superintendent was referring to him and Pa, but may be it was an accident. Well, I must go home and shoot another charge of quinine into me," and the boy went out as if he was on his last legs, though he acted as if he was going to have a little fun while he did last.