"Why—" interrogated Mrs. Lathrop.
"Young Dr. Brown wanted to," said Susan, "he wanted to fill my ears with mud, an' my eye, too, but I didn't feel to have it done. You can't die o' wasps' bills, an' you can o' young Dr. Brown's—leastways when you ain't got no money to pay 'em, like I ain't got just at present."
"It's—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Yes," said Susan, "it struck me that way, too. This seems to be a very unlucky town. Anything as comes seems to catch us all in a bunch. The cow most lamed the whole community an' the automobile most broke its back; time'll tell what'll be the result o' these wasps, but there won't be no church Sunday for one thing, I know.
"An' it ain't the least o' my woes, Mrs. Lathrop, to think as I've got to sit an' smile on Mr. Weskin to-night from between two such ears as I've got, for a man is a man, an' it can't be denied as a woman as is mainly ears ain't beguilin'. Besides, I may in confidence state to you, Mrs. Lathrop, as the one as buzzed aroun' my head wan't really no wasp a-tall in comparison to the one as got under my skirts."
Mrs. Lathrop's eyes were full of sincere condolence; she did not even imagine a smile as she gazed upon her afflicted friend.
"I must go," said the latter, rising with a groan, "seems like I never will reach the bottom o' my troubles this year. I keep thinkin' there's nothin' left an' then I get a wasp at each end at once. Well, I'll come over when Mr. Weskin goes—if I have strength."
Then she limped home.
* * * * *
It was about nine that night that she returned and pounded vigorously on her friend's window-pane. Mrs. Lathrop woke from her rocker-nap, went to the window and opened it. Susan stood below and the moon illuminated her smile and her ears with its most silvery beams.
"He's just gone!" she announced.
"Yes," said Mrs. Lathrop, rubbing her eyes.
"He's gone; I come over to tell you."
"What—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"I wouldn't care if my ears was as big as a elephant's now."
"Why—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Mrs. Lathrop, you know as I took them bonds straight after father died an' locked 'em up an' I ain't never unlocked 'em since?"
Mrs. Lathrop assented with a single rapt nod.
"Well, when I explained to Mr. Weskin as I'd got to have money an' how was the best way to sell a bond, he just looked at me, an' what do you think he said—what do you think he said, Mrs. Lathrop?"
Mrs. Lathrop hung far out over the window-sill—her gaze was the gaze of the ever earnest and interested.
Susan stood below. Her face was aglow with the joy of the affluent—her very voice might have been for once entitled as silvery.
"He said, Mrs. Lathrop, he said, 'Miss Clegg, why don't you go down to the bank and cut your coupons?'"
THE TWO PRISONERS
BY CAROLYN WELLS
Once upon a time there were two Prisoners at the bar, who endeavored to plead for themselves with Tact and Wisdom.
One concealed certain Facts prejudicial to his Cause; upon which the Judge said: "If you had Confessed the Truth it would have Biased me in your Favor; as it is, I Condemn you to Punishment."
The other stated his Case with absolute Truth and Sincerity, concealing Nothing; and the result was that he was Condemned for his Misdemeanors.
This Fable teaches that Honesty is the Best Policy, and that the Truth should not Be spoken at All Times.
A MODERN ADVANTAGE
BY CHARLOTTE BECKER
One morning, when the sun shone bright And all the earth was fair, I met a little city child, Whose ravings rent the air.
"I lucidly can penetrate The Which," I heard him say,— "The How is, wonderfully, come To clear the limpid way.
"The sentence, rarely, rose and fell From ceiling to the floor; Her words were spotlessly arranged, She gave me, strangely, more."
"What troubles you, my little man?" I dared to ask him then,— He fixed me with a subtle stare, And said, "Most clearly, when
"You see I'm occupied, it's rude To question of my aims— I'm going to the adverb school Of Mr. Henry James!"
THE RAGGEDY MAN
BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa; An' he's the goodest man ever you saw! He comes to our house every day, An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay; An' he opens the shed—an' we all ist laugh When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf; An' nen—ef our hired girl says he can— He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann.— Aint he a' awful good Raggedy Man? Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
W'y, The Raggedy Man—he's ist so good He splits the kindlin' an' chops the wood; An' nen he spades in our garden, too, An' does most things 'at boys can't do!— He clumbed clean up in our big tree An' shooked a' apple down fer me— An' nother'n, too, fer 'Lizabuth Ann— An' nother'n, too, fer The Raggedy Man.— Aint he a' awful kind Raggedy Man? Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
An' The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes An' tells 'em, ef I be good, sometimes: Knows 'bout Giunts, an' Griffuns, an' Elves, An' the Squidgicum-Squees 'at swallers therselves! An', wite by the pump in our pasture-lot, He showed me the hole 'at the Wunks is got, 'At lives 'way deep in the ground, an' can Turn into me, er 'Lizabuth Ann! Aint he a funny old Raggedy Man? Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
The Raggedy Man—one time when he Wuz makin' a little bow-'n'-orry fer me, Says "When you're big like your Pa is, Air you go' to keep a fine store like his— An' be a rich merchunt—an' wear fine clothes?— Er what air you go' to be, goodness knows!" An' nen he laughed at 'Lizabuth Ann, An' I says "'M go' to be a Raggedy Man!— I'm ist go' to be a nice Raggedy Man!" Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!
A MODERN ECLOGUE
BY BLISS CARMAN
If you were ferryman at Charon's ford, And I came down the bank and called to you, Waved you my hand and asked to come aboard, And threw you kisses there, what would you do?
Would there be such a crowd of other girls, Pleading and pale and lonely as the sea, You'd growl in your old beard, and shake your curls, And say there was no room for little me?
Would you remember each of them in turn? Put all your faded fancies in the bow, And all the rest before you in the stern, And row them out with panic on your brow?
If I came down and offered you my fare And more beside, could you refuse me there?
If I were ferryman in Charon's place, And ran that crazy scow with perilous skill, I should be so worn out with keeping trace Of gibbering ghosts and bidding them sit still,
If you should come with daisies in your hands, Strewing their petals on the sombre stream,— "He will come," and "He won't come," down the lands Of pallid reverie and ghostly dream,—
I would let every clamouring shape stand there, And give its shadowy lungs free vent in vain, While you with earthly roses in your hair, And I grown young at sight of you again,
Went down the stream once more at half-past seven To find some brand-new continent of heaven.
A CABLE-CAR PREACHER
BY SAM WALTER FOSS
"'Tis strange how thoughtless people are," A man said in a cable-car, "How careless and how thoughtless," said The Loud Man in the cable-car; And then the Man with One Lame Leg Said softly, "Pardon me, I beg, For your valise is on my knee; It's sore," said he of One Lame Leg.
A woman then came in with twins And stumbled o'er the Loud Man's shins; And she was tired half to death, This Woman Who Came in with Twins; And then the Man with One Lame Leg Said, "Madam, take my seat, I beg." She sat, with her vociferant Twins, And thanked the man of One Lame Leg.
"'Tis strange how selfish people are, They carry boorishness so far; How selfish, careless, thoughtless," said The Loud Man of the cable-car. A Man then with the Lung Complaint Grew dizzy and began to faint; He reeled and swayed from side to side, This poor Man with the Lung Complaint.
The Woman Who Came in with Twins Said, "You can hardly keep your pins; Pray, take my seat." He sat, and thanked The Woman Who Came in with Twins. The Loud Man once again began To curse the selfishness of man; Our lack of manners he bewailed With vigor, did this Loud, Loud Man.
But still the Loud Man kept his seat; A Blind Man stumbled o'er his feet; The Loud Man preached on selfishness, And preached, and preached, and kept his seat. The poor Man with the Lung Complaint Stood up—a brave, heroic saint— And to the Blind Man, "Take my seat," Said he who had the Lung Complaint.
The Loud Man preached on selfish sins; The Woman Who Came in with Twins; The poor Man with the Lung Complaint, Stood, while he preached on selfish sins. And still the Man with One Lame Leg Stood there on his imperfect peg And heard the screed on selfish sins— This patient Man with One Lame Leg.
The Loud Man of the cable-car Sat still and preached and traveled far; The Blind Man spake no word unto The Loud Man of the cable-car. The Lame-Legged Man looked reconciled, And she with Twins her grief beguiled, The poor Man with the Lung Complaint— All stood, and sweetly, sadly smiled.
HOW TO KNOW THE WILD ANIMALS
BY CAROLYN WELLS
If ever you should go by chance To jungles in the East, And if there should to you advance A large and tawny beast— If he roar at you as you're dyin', You'll know it is the Asian Lion.
If, when in India loafing round, A noble wild beast meets you, With dark stripes on a yellow ground, Just notice if he eats you. This simple rule may help you learn The Bengal Tiger to discern.
When strolling forth, a beast you view Whose hide with spots is peppered; As soon as it has leapt on you, You'll know it is the Leopard. 'T will do no good to roar with pain, He'll only lep and lep again.
If you are sauntering round your yard, And meet a creature there Who hugs you very, very hard, You'll know it is the Bear. If you have any doubt, I guess He'll give you just one more caress.
Whene'er a quadruped you view Attached to any tree, It may be 'tis the Wanderoo, Or yet the Chimpanzee. If right side up it may be both, If upside down it is the Sloth.
Though to distinguish beasts of prey A novice might nonplus; Yet from the Crocodile you may Tell the Hyena, thus: 'Tis the Hyena if it smile; If weeping, 'tis the Crocodile.
The true Chameleon is small— A lizard sort of thing; He hasn't any ears at all And not a single wing. If there is nothing on the tree 'Tis the Chameleon you see.
I REMEMBER, I REMEMBER
BY PHOEBE CARY
I remember, I remember, The house where I was wed, And the little room from which that night, My smiling bride was led. She didn't come a wink too soon, Nor make too long a stay; But now I often wish her folks Had kept the girl away!
I remember, I remember, Her dresses, red and white, Her bonnets and her caps and cloaks,— They cost an awful sight! The "corner lot" on which I built, And where my brother met At first my wife, one washing-day,— That man is single yet!
I remember, I remember, Where I was used to court, And thought that all of married life Was just such pleasant sport:— My spirit flew in feathers then, No care was on my brow; I scarce could wait to shut the gate,— I'm not so anxious now!
I remember, I remember, My dear one's smile and sigh; I used to think her tender heart Was close against the sky. It was a childish ignorance, But now it soothes me not To know I'm farther off from Heaven Then when she wasn't got.
THE COUPON BONDS
BY J.T. TROWBRIDGE
(Mr. and Mrs. Ducklow have secretly purchased bonds with money that should have been given to their adopted son Reuben, who has sacrificed his health in serving his country as a soldier, and, going to visit Reuben on the morning of his return home, they hide the bonds under the carpet of the sitting-room, and leave the house in charge of Taddy, another adopted son.)
* * * * *
Mr. Ducklow had scarcely turned the corner of the street, when, looking anxiously in the direction of his homestead, he saw a column of smoke. It was directly over the spot where he knew his house to be situated. He guessed at a glance what had happened. The frightful catastrophe he foreboded had befallen. Taddy had set the house afire.
"Them bonds! them bonds!" he exclaimed, distractedly. He did not think so much of the house: house and furniture were insured; if they were burned the inconvenience would be great indeed, and at any other time the thought of such an event would have been a sufficient cause for trepidation; but now his chief, his only anxiety was the bonds. They were not insured. They would be a dead loss. And, what added sharpness to his pangs, they would be a loss which he must keep a secret, as he had kept their existence a secret,—a loss which he could not confess, and of which he could not complain. Had he not just given his neighbors to understand that he had no such property? And his wife,—was she not at that very moment, if not serving up a lie upon the subject, at least paring the truth very thin indeed?
"A man would think," observed Ferring, "that Ducklow had some o' them bonds on his hands, and got scaret, he took such a sudden start. He has, hasn't he, Mrs. Ducklow?"
"Has what?" said Mrs. Ducklow, pretending ignorance.
"Some o' them cowpon bonds. I rather guess he's got some."
"You mean Gov'ment bonds? Ducklow got some? 'Tain't at all likely he'd spec'late in them without saying something to me about it. No, he couldn't have any without my knowing it, I'm sure."
How demure, how innocent she looked, plying her knitting-needle, and stopping to take up a stitch! How little at that moment she knew of Ducklow's trouble and its terrible cause!
Ducklow's first impulse was to drive on and endeavor at all hazards to snatch the bonds from the flames. His next was to return and alarm his neighbors and obtain their assistance. But a minute's delay might be fatal: so he drove on, screaming, "Fire! fire!" at the top of his voice.
But the old mare was a slow-footed animal; and Ducklow had no whip. He reached forward and struck her with the reins.
"Git up! git up!—Fire! fire!" screamed Ducklow. "Oh, them bonds! them bonds! Why didn't I give the money to Reuben? Fire! fire! fire!"
By dint of screaming and slapping, he urged her from a trot into a gallop, which was scarcely an improvement as to speed, and certainly not as to grace. It was like the gallop of an old cow. "Why don't ye go 'long?" he cried, despairingly.
Slap! slap! He knocked his own hat off with the loose end of the reins. It fell under the wheels. He cast one look behind, to satisfy himself that it had been very thoroughly run over and crushed into the dirt, and left it to its fate.
Slap! slap! "Fire! fire!" Canter, canter, canter! Neighbors looked out of their windows, and, recognizing Ducklow's wagon and old mare in such an astonishing plight, and Ducklow himself, without his hat, rising from his seat and reaching forward in wild attitudes, brandishing the reins, and at the same time rending the azure with yells, thought he must be insane.
He drove to the top of the hill, and, looking beyond, in expectation of seeing his house wrapped in flames, discovered that the smoke proceeded from a brush-heap which his neighbor Atkins was burning in a field near by.
The revulsion of feeling that ensued was almost too much for the excitable Ducklow. His strength went out of him. For a little while there seemed to be nothing left of him but tremor and cold sweat. Difficult as it had been to get the old mare in motion, it was now even more difficult to stop her.
"Why, what has got into Ducklow's old mare? She's running away with him! Who ever heard of such a thing!" And Atkins, watching the ludicrous spectacle from his field, became almost as weak from laughter as Ducklow was from the effects of fear.
At length Ducklow succeeded in checking the old mare's speed and in turning her about. It was necessary to drive back for his hat. By this time he could hear a chorus of shouts, "Fire! fire! fire!" over the hill. He had aroused the neighbors as he passed, and now they were flocking to extinguish the flames.
"A false alarm! a false alarm!" said Ducklow, looking marvelously sheepish, as he met them. "Nothing but Atkins's brush-heap!"
"Seems to me you ought to have found that out 'fore you raised all creation with your yells!" said one hyperbolical fellow. "You looked like the Flying Dutchman! This your hat? I thought 'twas a dead cat in the road. No fire! no fire!"—turning back to his comrades,—"only one of Ducklow's jokes."
Nevertheless, two or three boys there were who would not be convinced, but continued to leap up, swing their caps, and scream "Fire!" against all remonstrance. Ducklow did not wait to enter his explanations, but, turning the old mare about again, drove home amid the laughter of the by-standers and the screams of the misguided youngsters. As he approached the house, he met Taddy rushing wildly up the street.
"Thaddeus! Thaddeus! Where ye goin', Thaddeus?"
"Goin' to the fire!" cried Taddy.
"There isn't any fire, boy."
"Yes, there is! Didn't ye hear 'em? They've been yellin' like fury."
"It's nothin' but Atkins's brush."
"That all?" And Taddy appeared very much disappointed. "I thought there was goin' to be some fun. I wonder who was such a fool as to yell fire just for a darned old brush-heap!"
Ducklow did not inform him.
"I've got to drive over to town and get Reuben's trunk. You stand by the mare while I step in and brush my hat."
Instead of applying himself at once to the restoration of his beaver, he hastened to the sitting-room, to see that the bonds were safe.
"Heavens and 'arth!" said Ducklow.
The chair, which had been carefully planted in the spot where they were concealed, had been removed. Three or four tacks had been taken out, and the carpet pushed from the wall. There was straw scattered about. Evidently Taddy had been interrupted, in the midst of his ransacking, by the alarm of fire. Indeed, he was even now creeping into the house to see what notice Ducklow would take of these evidences of his mischief.
In great trepidation the farmer thrust in his hand here and there, and groped, until he found the envelope precisely where it had been placed the night before, with the tape tied around it, which his wife had put on to prevent its contents from slipping out and losing themselves. Great was the joy of Ducklow. Great also was the wrath of him when he turned and discovered Taddy.
"Didn't I tell you to stand by the old mare?"
"She won't stir," said Taddy, shrinking away again.
"Come here!" And Ducklow grasped him by the collar.
"What have you been doin'? Look at that!"
"'Twan't me!" beginning to whimper and ram his fists into his eyes.
"Don't tell me 'twan't you!" Ducklow shook him till his teeth chattered. "What was you pullin' up the carpet for?"
"Lost a marble!" sniveled Taddy.
"Lost a marble! Ye didn't lose it under the carpet, did ye? Look at all that straw pulled out!" shaking him again.
"Didn't know but it might 'a' got under the carpet, marbles roll so," explained Taddy, as soon as he could get his breath.
"Wal, sir,"—Ducklow administered a resounding box on his ear,—"don't you do such a thing again, if you lose a million marbles!"
"Hain't got a million!" Taddy wept, rubbing his cheek. "Hain't got but four! Won't ye buy me some to-day?"
"Go to that mare, and don't you leave her again till I come, or I'll marble ye in a way you won't like."
Understanding, by this somewhat equivocal form of expression, that flagellation was threatened, Taddy obeyed, still feeling his smarting and burning ear.
Ducklow was in trouble. What should he do with the bonds? The floor was no place for them after what had happened; and he remembered too well the experience of yesterday to think for a moment of carrying them about his person. With unreasonable impatience, his mind reverted to Mrs. Ducklow.
"Why ain't she to home? These women are forever a-gaddin'! I wish Reuben's trunk was in Jericho!"
Thinking of the trunk reminded him of one in the garret, filled with old papers of all sorts,—newspapers, letters, bills of sale, children's writing-books,—accumulations of the past quarter of a century. Neither fire nor burglar nor ransacking youngster had ever molested those ancient records during all those five-and-twenty years. A bright thought struck him.
"I'll slip the bonds down into that worthless heap o' rubbish, where no one 'ull ever think o' lookin' for 'em, and resk 'em."
Having assured himself that Taddy was standing by the wagon, he paid a hasty visit to the trunk in the garret, and concealed the envelope, still bound in its band of tape, among the papers. He then drove away, giving Taddy a final charge to beware of setting anything afire.
He had driven about half a mile, when he met a peddler. There was nothing unusual or alarming in such a circumstance, surely; but, as Ducklow kept on, it troubled him.
"He'll stop to the house, now, most likely, and want to trade. Findin' nobody but Taddy, there's no knowin' what he'll be tempted to do. But I ain't a-goin' to worry. I'll defy anybody to find them bonds. Besides, she may be home by this time. I guess she'll hear of the fire-alarm and hurry home: it'll be jest like her. She'll be there, and trade with the peddler!" thought Ducklow, uneasily. Then a frightful fancy possessed him. "She has threatened two or three times to sell that old trunkful of papers. He'll offer a big price for 'em, and ten to one she'll let him have 'em. Why didn't I think on't? What a stupid blunderbuss I be!"
As Ducklow thought of it, he felt almost certain that Mrs. Ducklow had returned home, and that she was bargaining with the peddler at that moment. He fancied her smilingly receiving bright tin-ware for the old papers; and he could see the tape-tied envelope going into the bag with the rest. The result was that he turned about and whipped his old mare home again in terrific haste, to catch the departing peddler.
Arriving, he found the house as he had left it, and Taddy occupied in making a kite-frame.
"Did that peddler stop here?"
"I hain't seen no peddler."
"And hain't yer Ma Ducklow been home, nuther?"
And, with a guilty look, Taddy put the kite-frame behind him.
Ducklow considered. The peddler had turned up a cross-street: he would probably turn down again and stop at the house, after all: Mrs. Ducklow might by that time be at home: then the sale of old papers would be very likely to take place. Ducklow thought of leaving word that he did not wish any old papers in the house to be sold, but feared lest the request might excite Taddy's suspicions.
"I don't see no way but for me to take the bonds with me," thought he, with an inward groan.
He accordingly went to the garret, took the envelope out of the trunk, and placed it in the breast-pocket of his overcoat, to which he pinned it, to prevent it by any chance from getting out. He used six large, strong pins for the purpose, and was afterwards sorry he did not use seven.
"There's suthin' losin' out o' yer pocket!" bawled Taddy, as he was once more mounting the wagon.
Quick as lightning, Ducklow clapped his hand to his breast. In doing so he loosed his hold of the wagon-box and fell, raking his shin badly on the wheel.
"Yer side-pocket! It's one o' yer mittens!" said Taddy.
"You rascal! How you scared me!"
Seating himself in the wagon, Ducklow gently pulled up his trousers-leg to look at the bruised part.
"Got anything in your boot-leg to-day, Pa Ducklow?" asked Taddy, innocently.
"Yes,—a barked shin!—all on your account, too! Go and put that straw back, and fix the carpet; and don't ye let me hear ye speak of my boot-leg again, or I'll boot-leg ye!"
So saying, Ducklow departed.
Instead of repairing the mischief he had done in the sitting-room, Taddy devoted his time and talents to the more interesting occupation of constructing his kite-frame. He worked at that until Mr. Grantly, the minister, driving by, stopped to inquire how the folks were.
"Ain't to home: may I ride?" cried Taddy, all in a breath.
Mr. Grantly was an indulgent old gentleman, fond of children: so he said, "Jump in;" and in a minute Taddy had scrambled to a seat by his side.
And now occurred a circumstance which Ducklow had foreseen. The alarm of fire had reached Reuben's; and, although the report of its falseness followed immediately, Mrs. Ducklow's inflammable fancy was so kindled by it that she could find no comfort in prolonging her visit.
"Mr. Ducklow'll be going for the trunk, and I must go home and see to things, Taddy's such a fellow for mischief. I can foot it; I shan't mind it."
And off she started, walking herself out of breath in anxiety.
She reached the brow of the hill just in time to see a chaise drive away from her own door.
"Who can that be? I wonder if Taddy's ther' to guard the house! If anything should happen to them bonds!"
Out of breath as she was, she quickened her pace, and trudged on, flushed, perspiring, panting, until she reached the house.
"Thaddeus!" she called.
No Taddy answered. She went in. The house was deserted. And, lo! the carpet torn up, and the bonds abstracted!
Mr. Ducklow never would have made such work, removing the bonds. Then somebody else must have taken them, she reasoned.
"The man in the chaise!" she exclaimed, or rather made an effort to exclaim, succeeding only in bringing forth a hoarse, gasping sound. Fear dried up articulation. Vox faucibus haesit.
And Taddy? He had disappeared, been murdered, perhaps,—or gagged and carried away by the man in the chaise.
Mrs. Ducklow flew hither and thither (to use a favorite phrase of her own), "like a hen with her head cut off;" then rushed out of the house and up the street, screaming after the chaise,—
"Murder! murder! Stop thief! stop thief!"
She waved her hands aloft in the air frantically. If she had trudged before, now she trotted, now she cantered; but, if the cantering of the old mare was fitly likened to that of a cow, to what thing, to what manner of motion under the sun, shall we liken the cantering of Mrs. Ducklow? It was original; it was unique; it was prodigious. Now, with her frantically waving hands, and all her undulating and flapping skirts, she seemed a species of huge, unwieldy bird, attempting to fly. Then she sank down into a heavy, dragging walk,—breath and strength all gone,—no voice left even to scream "murder!" Then, the awful realization of the loss of the bonds once more rushing over her, she started up again. "Half running, half flying, what progress she made!" Then Atkins's dog saw her, and, naturally mistaking her for a prodigy, came out at her, bristling up and bounding and barking terrifically.
"Come here!" cried Atkins, following the dog. "What's the matter? What's to pay, Mrs. Ducklow?"
Attempting to speak, the good woman could only pant and wheeze.
"Robbed!" she at last managed to whisper, amid the yelpings of the cur that refused to be silenced.
"Robbed? How? Who?"
"The chaise. Ketch it."
Her gestures expressed more than her words; and, Atkins's horse and wagon, with which he had been drawing out brush, being in the yard near-by, he ran to them, leaped to the seat, drove into the road, took Mrs. Ducklow aboard, and set out in vigorous pursuit of the slow two-wheeled vehicle.
"Stop, you, sir! Stop, you, sir!" shrieked Mrs. Ducklow, having recovered her breath by the time they came up with the chaise.
It stopped, and Mr. Grantly, the minister, put out his good-natured, surprised face.
"You've robbed my house! You've took—"
Mrs. Ducklow was going on in wild, accusatory accents, when she recognized the benign countenance.
"What do you say? I have robbed you?" he exclaimed, very much astonished.
"No, no! not you! You wouldn't do such a thing!" she stammered forth, while Atkins, who had laughed himself weak at Mr. Ducklow's plight earlier in the morning, now laughed himself into a side-ache at Mrs. Ducklow's ludicrous mistake. "But did you—did you stop at my house? Have you seen our Thaddeus?"
"Here I be, Ma Ducklow!" piped a small voice; and Taddy, who had till then remained hidden, fearing punishment, peeped out of the chaise from behind the broad back of the minister.
"Taddy! Taddy! how came the carpet—"
"I pulled it up, huntin' for a marble," said Taddy, as she paused, overmastered by her emotions.
"And the—the thing tied up in a brown wrapper?"
"Pa Ducklow took it."
"Yes; I seen him."
"Oh, dear!" said Mrs. Ducklow, "I never was so beat! Mr. Grantly, I hope—excuse me—I didn't know what I was about! Taddy, you notty boy, what did you leave the house for? Be ye quite sure yer Pa Ducklow—"
Taddy replied that he was quite sure, as he climbed from the chaise into Atkins's wagon. The minister smilingly remarked that he hoped she would find no robbery had been committed, and went his way. Atkins, driving back, and setting her and Taddy down at the Ducklow gate, answered her embarrassed "Much obleeged to ye," with a sincere "Not at all," considering the fun he had had a sufficient compensation for his trouble. And thus ended the morning adventures, with the exception of an unimportant episode, in which Taddy, Mrs. Ducklow, and Mrs. Ducklow's rattan were the principal actors.
BY A.B. LONGSTREET
Shooting-matches are probably nearly coeval with the colonization of Georgia. They are still common throughout the Southern States, though they are not as common as they were twenty-five or thirty years ago. Chance led me to one about a year ago. I was traveling in one of the northeastern counties, when I overtook a swarthy, bright-eyed, smirky little fellow, riding a small pony, and bearing on his shoulder a long, heavy rifle, which, judging from its looks, I should say had done service in Morgan's corps.
"Good morning, sir!" said I, reining up my horse as I came beside him.
"How goes it, stranger?" said he, with a tone of independence and self-confidence that awakened my curiosity to know a little of his character.
"Going driving?" inquired I.
"Not exactly," replied he, surveying my horse with a quizzical smile; "I haven't been a driving by myself for a year or two; and my nose has got so bad lately, I can't carry a cold trail without hounds to help me."
Alone, and without hounds as he was, the question was rather a silly one; but it answered the purpose for which it was put, which was only to draw him into conversation, and I proceeded to make as decent a retreat as I could.
"I didn't know," said I, "but that you were going to meet the huntsmen, or going to your stand."
"Ah, sure enough," rejoined he, "that mout be a bee, as the old woman said when she killed a wasp. It seems to me I ought to know you."
"Well, if you ought, why don't you?"
"What mout your name be?"
"It might be anything," said I, with a borrowed wit, for I knew my man and knew what kind of conversation would please him most.
"Well, what is it, then?"
"It is Hall," said I; "but you know it might as well have been anything else."
"Pretty digging!" said he. "I find you're not the fool I took you to be; so here's to a better acquaintance with you."
"With all my heart," returned I; "but you must be as clever as I've been, and give me your name."
"To be sure I will, my old coon; take it, take it, and welcome. Anything else about me you'd like to have?"
"No," said I, "there's nothing else about you worth having."
"Oh, yes there is, stranger! Do you see this?" holding up his ponderous rifle with an ease that astonished me. "If you will go with me to the shooting-match, and see me knock out the bull's-eye with her a few times, you'll agree the old Soap-stick's worth something when Billy Curlew puts his shoulder to her."
This short sentence was replete with information to me. It taught me that my companion was Billy Curlew; that he was going to a shooting-match; that he called his rifle the Soap-stick, and that he was very confident of winning beef with her; or, which is nearly, but not quite the same thing, driving the cross with her.
"Well," said I, "if the shooting-match is not too far out of my way, I'll go to it with pleasure."
"Unless your way lies through the woods from here," said Billy, "it'll not be much out of your way; for it's only a mile ahead of us, and there is no other road for you to take till you get there; and as that thing you're riding in ain't well suited to fast traveling among brushy knobs, I reckon you won't lose much by going by. I reckon you hardly ever was at a shooting-match, stranger, from the cut of your coat?"
"Oh, yes," returned I, "many a time. I won beef at one when I was hardly old enough to hold a shot-gun off-hand."
"Children don't go to shooting-matches about here," said he, with a smile of incredulity. "I never heard of but one that did, and he was a little swinge cat. He was born a shooting, and killed squirrels before he was weaned."
"Nor did I ever hear of but one," replied I, "and that one was myself."
"And where did you win beef so young, stranger?"
"At Berry Adams's."
"Why, stop, stranger, let me look at you good! Is your name Lyman Hall?"
"The very same," said I.
"Well, dang my buttons, if you ain't the very boy my daddy used to tell me about. I was too young to recollect you myself; but I've heard daddy talk about you many a time. I believe mammy's got a neck-handkerchief now that daddy won on your shooting at Collen Reid's store, when you were hardly knee high. Come along, Lyman, and I'll go my death upon you at the shooting-match, with the old Soap-stick at your shoulder."
"Ah, Billy," said I, "the old Soap-stick will do much better at your own shoulder. It was my mother's notion that sent me to the shooting-match at Berry Adams's; and, to tell the honest truth, it was altogether a chance shot that made me win beef; but that wasn't generally known; and most everybody believed that I was carried there on account of my skill in shooting; and my fame was spread far and wide, I well remember. I remember, too, perfectly well, your father's bet on me at the store. He was at the shooting-match, and nothing could make him believe but that I was a great shot with a rifle as well as a shot-gun. Bet he would on me, in spite of all I could say, though I assured him that I had never shot a rifle in my life. It so happened, too, that there were but two bullets, or, rather, a bullet and a half; and so confident was your father in my skill, that he made me shoot the half bullet; and, strange to tell, by another chance shot, I like to have drove the cross and won his bet."
"Now I know you're the very chap, for I heard daddy tell that very thing about the half bullet. Don't say anything about it, Lyman, and darn my old shoes, if I don't tare the lint off the boys with you at the shooting-match. They'll never 'spect such a looking man as you are of knowing anything about a rifle. I'll risk your chance shots."
I soon discovered that the father had eaten sour grapes, and the son's teeth were on edge; for Billy was just as incorrigibly obstinate in his belief of my dexterity with a rifle as his father had been before him.
We soon reached the place appointed for the shooting-match. It went by the name of Sims's Cross Roads, because here two roads intersected each other; and because, from the time that the first had been laid out, Archibald Sims had resided there. Archibald had been a justice of the peace in his day (and where is the man of his age in Georgia who has not?); consequently, he was called 'Squire Sims. It is the custom in this state, when a man has once acquired a title, civil or military, to force it upon him as long as he lives; hence the countless number of titled personages who are introduced in these sketches.
We stopped at the 'squire's door. Billy hastily dismounted, gave me the shake of the hand which he had been reluctantly reserving for a mile back, and, leading me up to the 'squire, thus introduced me: "Uncle Archy, this is Lyman Hall; and for all you see him in these fine clothes, he's a swinge cat; a darn sight cleverer fellow than he looks to be. Wait till you see him lift the old Soap-stick, and draw a bead upon the bull's-eye. You gwine to see fun here to-day. Don't say nothing about it."
"Well, Mr. Swinge-cat," said the 'squire, "here's to a better acquaintance with you," offering me his hand.
"How goes it, Uncle Archy?" said I, taking his hand warmly (for I am always free and easy with those who are so with me; and in this course I rarely fail to please). "How's the old woman?"
"Egad," said the 'squire, chuckling, "there you're too hard for me; for she died two-and-twenty years ago, and I haven't heard a word from her since."
"What! and you never married again?"
"Never, as God's my judge!" (a solemn asseveration, truly, upon so light a subject.)
"Well, that's not my fault."
"No, nor it's not mine, nither," said the 'squire.
Here we were interrupted by the cry of another Rancey Sniffle. "Hello, here! All you as wish to put in for the shoot'n'-match, come on here! for the putt'n' in's riddy to begin."
About sixty persons, including mere spectators, had collected; the most of whom were more or less obedient to the call of Mealy Whitecotton, for that was the name of the self-constituted commander-in-chief. Some hastened and some loitered, as they desired to be first or last on the list; for they shoot in the order in which their names are entered.
The beef was not present, nor is it ever upon such occasions; but several of the company had seen it, who all concurred in the opinion that it was a good beef, and well worth the price that was set upon it—eleven dollars. A general inquiry ran around, in order to form some opinion as to the number of shots that would be taken; for, of course, the price of a shot is cheapened in proportion to the increase of that number. It was soon ascertained that not more than twenty persons would take chances; but these twenty agreed to take the number of shots, at twenty-five cents each.
The competitors now began to give in their names; some for one, some for two, three, and a few for as many as four shots.
Billy Curlew hung back to the last; and when the list was offered him, five shots remained undisposed of.
"How many shots left?" inquired Billy.
"Five," was the reply.
"Well, I take 'em all. Put down four shots to me, and one to Lyman Hall, paid for by William Curlew."
I was thunder-struck, not at his proposition to pay for my shot, because I knew that Billy meant it as a token of friendship, and he would have been hurt if I had refused to let him do me this favor; but at the unexpected announcement of my name as a competitor for beef, at least one hundred miles from the place of my residence. I was prepared for a challenge from Billy to some of his neighbors for a private match upon me; but not for this.
I therefore protested against his putting in for me, and urged every reason to dissuade him from it that I could, without wounding his feelings.
"Put it down!" said Billy, with the authority of an emperor, and with a look that spoke volumes intelligible to every by-stander. "Reckon I don't know what I'm about?" Then wheeling off, and muttering in an under, self-confident tone, "Dang old Roper," continued he, "if he don't knock that cross to the north corner of creation and back again before a cat can lick her foot."
Had I been king of the cat tribe, they could not have regarded me with more curious attention than did the whole company from this moment. Every inch of me was examined with the nicest scrutiny; and some plainly expressed by their looks that they never would have taken me for such a bite. I saw no alternative but to throw myself upon a third chance shot; for though, by the rules of the sport, I would have been allowed to shoot by proxy, by all the rules of good breeding I was bound to shoot in person. It would have been unpardonable to disappoint the expectations which had been raised on me. Unfortunately, too, for me, the match differed in one respect from those which I had been in the habit of attending in my younger days. In olden times the contest was carried on chiefly with shot-guns, a generic term which, in those days, embraced three descriptions of firearms: Indian-traders (a long, cheap, but sometimes excellent kind of gun, that mother Britain used to send hither for traffic with the Indians), the large musket, and the shot-gun, properly so-called. Rifles were, however, always permitted to compete with them, under equitable restrictions. These were, that they should be fired off-hand, while the shot-guns were allowed a rest, the distance being equal; or that the distance should be one hundred yards for a rifle, to sixty for the shot-gun, the mode of firing being equal.
But this was a match of rifles exclusively; and these are by far the most common at this time.
Most of the competitors fire at the same target; which is usually a board from nine inches to a foot wide, charred on one side as black as it can be made by fire, without impairing materially the uniformity of its surface; on the darkened side of which is pegged a square piece of white paper, which is larger or smaller, according to the distance at which it is to be placed from the marksmen. This is almost invariably sixty yards, and for it the paper is reduced to about two and a half inches square. Out of the center of it is cut a rhombus of about the width of an inch, measured diagonally; this is the bull's-eye, or diamond, as the marksmen choose to call it; in the center of this is the cross. But every man is permitted to fix his target to his own taste; and accordingly, some remove one-fourth of the paper, cutting from the center of the square to the two lower corners, so as to leave a large angle opening from the center downward; while others reduce the angle more or less: but it is rarely the case that all are not satisfied with one of these figures.
The beef is divided into five prizes, or, as they are commonly termed, five quarters—the hide and tallow counting as one. For several years after the revolutionary war, a sixth was added: the lead which was shot in the match. This was the prize of the sixth best shot; and it used to be carefully extracted from the board or tree in which it was lodged, and afterward remoulded. But this grew out of the exigency of the times, and has, I believe, been long since abandoned everywhere.
The three master shots and rivals were Moses Firmby, Larkin Spivey and Billy Curlew; to whom was added, upon this occasion, by common consent and with awful forebodings, your humble servant.
The target was fixed at an elevation of about three feet from the ground; and the judges (Captain Turner and 'Squire Porter) took their stands by it, joined by about half the spectators.
The first name on the catalogue was Mealy Whitecotton. Mealy stepped out, rifle in hand, and toed the mark. His rifle was about three inches longer than himself, and near enough his own thickness to make the remark of Darby Chislom, as he stepped out, tolerably appropriate: "Here comes the corn-stalk and the sucker!" said Darby.
"Kiss my foot!" said Mealy. "The way I'll creep into that bull's-eye's a fact."
"You'd better creep into your hind sight," said Darby. Mealy raised and fired.
"A pretty good shot, Mealy!" said one.
"Yes, a blamed good shot!" said a second.
"Well done, Meal!" said a third.
I was rejoiced when one of the company inquired, "Where is it?" for I could hardly believe they were founding these remarks upon the evidence of their senses.
"Just on the right-hand side of the bull's-eye," was the reply.
I looked with all the power of my eyes, but was unable to discover the least change in the surface of the paper. Their report, however, was true; so much keener is the vision of a practiced than an unpracticed eye.
The next in order was Hiram Baugh. Hiram was like some race-horses which I have seen; he was too good not to contend for every prize, and too good for nothing ever to win one.
"Gentlemen," said he, as he came to the mark, "I don't say that I'll win beef; but if my piece don't blow, I'll eat the paper, or be mighty apt to do it, if you'll b'lieve my racket. My powder are not good powder, gentlemen; I bought it thum (from) Zeb Daggett, and gin him three-quarters of a dollar a pound for it; but it are not what I call good powder, gentlemen; but if old Buck-killer burns it clear, the boy you call Hiram Baugh eat's paper, or comes mighty near it."
"Well, blaze away," said Mealy, "and be d——d to you, and Zeb Daggett, and your powder, and Buck-killer, and your powder-horn and shot-pouch to boot! How long you gwine stand thar talking 'fore you shoot?"
"Never mind," said Hiram, "I can talk a little and shoot a little, too, but that's nothin'. Here goes!"
Hiram assumed the figure of a note of interrogation, took a long sight, and fired.
"I've eat paper," said he, at the crack of the gun, without looking, or seeming to look, toward the target. "Buck-killer made a clear racket. Where am I, gentlemen?"
"You're just between Mealy and the diamond," was the reply.
"I said I'd eat paper, and I've done it; haven't I, gentlemen?"
"And 'spose you have!" said Mealy, "what do that 'mount to? You'll not win beef, and never did."
"Be that as it mout be, I've beat Meal 'Cotton mighty easy; and the boy you call Hiram Baugh are able to do it."
"And what do that 'mount to? Who the devil an't able to beat Meal 'Cotton! I don't make no pretense of bein' nothin' great, no how; but you always makes out as if you were gwine to keep 'em makin' crosses for you constant, and then do nothin' but 'eat paper' at last; and that's a long way from eatin' beef, 'cordin' to Meal 'Cotton's notions, as you call him."
Simon Stow was now called on.
"Oh, Lord!" exclaimed two or three: "now we have it. It'll take him as long to shoot as it would take 'Squire Dobbins to run round a track o' land."
"Good-by, boys," said Bob Martin.
"Where are you going, Bob?"
"Going to gather in my crop; I'll be back again though by the time Sime Stow shoots."
Simon was used to all this, and therefore it did not disconcert him in the least. He went off and brought his own target, and set it up with his own hand.
He then wiped out his rifle, rubbed the pan with his hat, drew a piece of tow through the touch-hole with his wiper, filled his charger with great care, poured the powder into the rifle with equal caution, shoved in with his finger the two or three vagrant grains that lodged round the mouth of his piece, took out a handful of bullets, looked them all over carefully, selected one without flaw or wrinkle, drew out his patching, found the most even part of it, sprung open the grease-box in the breech of his rifle; took up just so much grease, distributed it with great equality over the chosen part of his patching, laid it over the muzzle of his rifle, grease side down, placed his ball upon it, pressed it a little, then took it up and turned the neck a little more perpendicularly downward, placed his knife handle on it, just buried it in the mouth of the rifle, cut off the redundant patching just above the bullet, looked at it, and shook his head in token that he had cut off too much or too little, no one knew which, sent down the ball, measured the contents of his gun with his first and second fingers on the protruding part of the ramrod, shook his head again, to signify there was too much or too little powder, primed carefully, placed an arched piece of tin over the hind sight to shade it, took his place, got a friend to hold his hat over the foresight to shade it, took a very long sight, fired, and didn't even eat the paper.
"My piece was badly loadned," said Simon, when he learned the place of his ball.
"Oh, you didn't take time," said Mealy. "No man can shoot that's in such a hurry as you is. I'd hardly got to sleep 'fore I heard the crack o' the gun."
The next was Moses Firmby. He was a tall, slim man, of rather sallow complexion; and it is a singular fact, that though probably no part of the world is more healthy than the mountainous parts of Georgia, the mountaineers have not generally robust frames or fine complexions: they are, however, almost inexhaustible by toil.
Moses kept us not long in suspense. His rifle was already charged, and he fixed it upon the target with a steadiness of nerve and aim that was astonishing to me and alarming to all the rest. A few seconds, and the report of his rifle broke the deathlike silence which prevailed.
"No great harm done yet," said Spivey, manifestly relieved from anxiety by an event which seemed to me better calculated to produce despair. Firmby's ball had cut out the lower angle of the diamond, directly on a right line with the cross.
Three or four followed him without bettering his shot; all of whom, however, with one exception, "eat the paper."
It now came to Spivey's turn. There was nothing remarkable in his person or manner. He took his place, lowered his rifle slowly from a perpendicular until it came on a line with the mark, held it there like a vice for a moment and fired.
"Pretty sevigrous, but nothing killing yet," said Billy Curlew, as he learned the place of Spivey's ball.
Spivey's ball had just broken the upper angle of the diamond; beating Firmby about half its width.
A few more shots, in which there was nothing remarkable, brought us to Billy Curlew. Billy stepped out with much confidence, and brought the Soap-stick to an order, while he deliberately rolled up his shirt sleeves. Had I judged Billy's chance of success from the looks of his gun, I should have said it was hopeless. The stock of Soap-stick seemed to have been made with a case-knife; and had it been, the tool would have been but a poor apology for its clumsy appearance. An auger-hole in the breech served for a grease-box; a cotton string assisted a single screw in holding on the lock; and the thimbles were made, one of brass, one of iron, and one of tin.
"Where's Lark Spivey's bullet?" called out Billy to the judges, as he finished rolling up his sleeves.
"About three-quarters of an inch from the cross," was the reply.
"Well, clear the way! the Soap-stick's coming, and she'll be along in there among 'em presently."
Billy now planted himself astraddle, like an inverted V; shot forward his left hip, drew his body back to an angle of about forty-five degrees with the plane of the horizon, brought his cheek down close to the breech of old Soap-stick, and fixed her upon the mark with untrembling hand. His sight was long, and the swelling muscles of his left arm led me to believe that he was lessening his chance of success with every half second that he kept it burdened with his ponderous rifle; but it neither flagged nor wavered until Soap-stick made her report.
"Where am I?" said Billy, as the smoke rose from before his eye.
"You've jist touched the cross on the lower side," was the reply of one of the judges.
"I was afraid I was drawing my bead a leetle too fine," said Billy. "Now, Lyman, you see what the Soap-stick can do. Take her, and show the boys how you used to do when you was a baby."
I begged to reserve my shot to the last; pleading, rather sophistically, that it was, in point of fact, one of the Billy's shots. My plea was rather indulged than sustained, and the marksmen who had taken more than one shot commenced the second round. This round was a manifest improvement upon the first. The cross was driven three times: once by Spivey, once by Firmby, and once by no less a personage than Mealy Whitecotton, whom chance seemed to favor for this time, merely that he might retaliate upon Hiram Baugh; and the bull's-eye was disfigured out of all shape.
The third and fourth rounds were shot. Billy discharged his last shot, which left the rights of parties thus: Billy Curlew first and fourth choice, Spivey second, Firmby third and Whitecotton fifth. Some of my readers may perhaps be curious to learn how a distinction comes to be made between several, all of whom drive the cross. The distinction is perfectly natural and equitable. Threads are stretched from the uneffaced parts of the once intersecting lines, by means of which the original position of the cross is precisely ascertained. Each bullet-hole being nicely pegged up as it is made, it is easy to ascertain its circumference. To this I believe they usually, if not invariably, measure, where none of the balls touch the cross; but if the cross be driven, they measure from it to the center of the bullet-hole. To make a draw shot, therefore, between two who drive the cross, it is necessary that the center of both balls should pass directly through the cross; a thing that very rarely happens.
The Bite alone remained to shoot. Billy wiped out his rifle carefully, loaded her to the top of his skill, and handed her to me. "Now," said he, "Lyman, draw a fine bead, but not too fine; for Soap-stick bears up her ball well. Take care and don't touch the trigger until you've got your bead; for she's spring-trigger'd and goes mighty easy: but you hold her to the place you want her, and if she don't go there, dang old Roper."
I took hold of Soap-stick, and lapsed immediately into the most hopeless despair. I am sure I never handled as heavy a gun in all my life. "Why, Billy," said I, "you little mortal, you! what do you use such a gun as this for?"
"Look at the bull's-eye yonder!" said he.
"True," said I, "but I can't shoot her; it is impossible."
"Go 'long, you old coon!" said Billy; "I see what you're at;" intimating that all this was merely to make the coming shot the more remarkable. "Daddy's little boy don't shoot anything but the old Soap-stick here to-day, I know."
The judges, I knew, were becoming impatient, and, withal, my situation was growing more embarrassing every second; so I e'en resolved to try the Soap-stick without further parley.
I stepped out, and the most intense interest was excited all around me, and it flashed like electricity around the target, as I judged from the anxious gaze of all in that direction.
Policy dictated that I should fire with a falling rifle, and I adopted this mode; determining to fire as soon as the sights came on a line with the diamond, bead or no bead. Accordingly, I commenced lowering old Soap-stick; but, in spite of all my muscular powers, she was strictly obedient to the laws of gravitation, and came down with a uniformly accelerated velocity. Before I could arrest her downward flight, she had not only passed the target, but was making rapid encroachments on my own toes.
"Why, he's the weakest man in the arms I ever seed," said one, in a half whisper.
"It's only his fun," said Billy; "I know him."
"It may be fun," said the other, "but it looks mightily like yearnest to a man up a tree."
I now, of course, determined to reverse the mode of firing, and put forth all my physical energies to raise Soap-stick to the mark. The effort silenced Billy, and gave tongue to all his companions. I had just strength enough to master Soap-stick's obstinate proclivity, and, consequently, my nerves began to exhibit palpable signs of distress with her first imperceptible movement upward. A trembling commenced in my arms; increased, and extended rapidly to my body and lower extremities; so that, by the time that I had brought Soap-stick up to the mark, I was shaking from head to foot, exactly like a man under the continued action of a strong galvanic battery. In the meantime my friends gave vent to their feelings freely.
"I swear poin' blank," said one, "that man can't shoot."
"He used to shoot well," said another; "but can't now, nor never could."
"You better git away from 'bout that mark!" bawled a third, "for I'll be dod darned if Broadcloth don't give some of you the dry gripes if you stand too close thare."
"The stranger's got the peedoddles," said a fourth, with humorous gravity.
"If he had bullets enough in his gun, he'd shoot a ring round the bull's-eye big as a spinning wheel," said a fifth.
As soon as I found that Soap-stick was high enough (for I made no farther use of the sights than to ascertain this fact), I pulled trigger, and off she went. I have always found that the most creditable way of relieving myself of derision was to heighten it myself as much as possible. It is a good plan in all circles, but by far the best which can be adopted among the plain, rough farmers of the country. Accordingly, I brought old Soap-stick to an order with an air of triumph; tipped Billy a wink, and observed, "Now, Billy, 's your time to make your fortune. Bet 'em two to one that I've knocked out the cross."
"No, I'll be dod blamed if I do," said Billy; "but I'll bet you two to one that you hain't hit the plank."
"Ah, Billy," said I, "I was joking about betting, for I never bet; nor would I have you to bet: indeed, I do not feel exactly right in shooting for beef; for it is a species of gaming at last: but I'll say this much: if that cross isn't knocked out, I'll never shoot for beef again as long as I live."
"By dod," said Mealy Whitecotton, "you'll lose no great things at that."
"Well," said I, "I reckon I know a little about wabbling. Is it possible, Billy, a man who shoots as well as you do, never practiced shooting with the double wabble? It's the greatest take in the world when you learn to drive the cross with it. Another sort for getting bets upon, to the drop-sight, with a single wabble! And the Soap-stick's the very yarn for it."
"Tell you what, stranger," said one, "you're too hard for us all here. We never hearn o' that sort o' shoot'n' in these parts."
"Well," returned I, "you've seen it now, and I'm the boy that can do it."
The judges were now approaching with the target, and a singular combination of circumstances had kept all my party in utter ignorance of the result of my shot. Those about the target had been prepared by Billy Curlew for a great shot from me; their expectations had received assurance from the courtesy which had been extended to me; and nothing had happened to disappoint them but the single caution to them against the "dry gripes," which was as likely to have been given in irony as in earnest; for my agonies under the weight of the Soap-stick were either imperceptible to them at the distance of sixty yards, or, being visible, were taken as the flourishes of an expert who wished to "astonish the natives." The other party did not think the direction of my ball worth the trouble of a question; or if they did, my airs and harangue had put the thought to flight before it was delivered. Consequently, they were all transfixed with astonishment when the judges presented the target to them, and gravely observed, "It's only second best, after all the fuss."
"Second best!" exclaimed I, with uncontrollable transports.
The whole of my party rushed to the target to have the evidence of their senses before they would believe the report; but most marvelous fortune decreed that it should be true. Their incredulity and astonishment were most fortunate for me; for they blinded my hearers to the real feelings with which the exclamation was uttered, and allowed me sufficient time to prepare myself for making the best use of what I had said before with a very different object.
"Second best!" reiterated I, with an air of despondency, as the company turned from the target to me. "Second best, only? Here, Billy, my son, take the old Soap-stick; she's a good piece, but I'm getting too old and dim-sighted to shoot a rifle, especially with the drop-sight and double wabbles."
"Why, good Lord a'mighty!" said Billy, with a look that baffles all description, "an't you driv the cross?"
"Oh, driv the cross!" rejoined I, carelessly. "What's that! Just look where my ball is! I do believe in my soul its center is a full quarter of an inch from the cross. I wanted to lay the center of the bullet upon the cross, just as if you'd put it there with your fingers."
Several received this palaver with a contemptuous but very appropriate curl of the nose; and Mealy Whitecotton offered to bet a half pint "that I couldn't do the like again with no sort o' wabbles, he didn't care what." But I had already fortified myself on this quarter of my morality. A decided majority, however, were clearly of opinion that I was serious; and they regarded me as one of the wonders of the world. Billy increased the majority by now coming out fully with my history, as he had received it from his father; to which I listened with quite as much astonishment as any other one of his hearers. He begged me to go home with him for the night, or, as he expressed it, "to go home with him and swap lies that night, and it shouldn't cost me a cent;" the true reading of which is, that if I would go home with him, and give him the pleasure of an evening's chat about old times, his house should be as free to me as my own. But I could not accept his hospitality without retracing five or six miles of the road which I had already passed, and therefore I declined it.
"Well, if you won't go, what must I tell the old woman for you, for she'll be mighty glad to hear from the boy that won the silk handkerchief for her, and I expect she'll lick me for not bringing you home with me."
"Tell her," said I, "that I send her a quarter of beef which I won, as I did the handkerchief, by nothing in the world but mere good luck."
"Hold your jaw, Lyman!" said Billy; "I an't a gwine to tell the old woman any such lies; for she's a reg'lar built Meth'dist."
As I turned to depart, "Stop a minute, stranger!" said one: then lowering his voice to a confidential but distinctly audible tone, "What you offering for?" continued he. I assured him I was not a candidate for anything; that I had accidentally fallen in with Billy Curlew, who begged me to come with him to the shooting-match, and, as it lay right on my road, I had stopped. "Oh," said he, with a conciliatory nod, "if you're up for anything, you needn't be mealy-mouthed about it 'fore us boys; for we'll all go in for you here up to the handle."
"Yes," said Billy, "dang old Roper if we don't go our death for you, no matter who offers. If ever you come out for anything, Lyman, jist let the boys of Upper Hogthief know it, and they'll go for you to the hilt, against creation, tit or no tit, that's the tatur."
I thanked them, kindly, but repeated my assurances. The reader will not suppose that the district took its name from the character of the inhabitants. In almost every county in the state there is some spot or district which bears a contemptuous appellation, usually derived from local rivalships, or from a single accidental circumstance.
BY TOM MASSON
Somewhat back from the village street Stands the old-fashioned country seat. Across its antique portico Tall poplar trees their shadows throw. And there throughout the livelong day, Jemima plays the pi-a-na. Do, re, mi, Mi, re, do.
In the front parlor, there it stands, And there Jemima plies her hands, While her papa beneath his cloak, Mutters and groans: "This is no joke!" And swears to himself and sighs, alas! With sorrowful voice to all who pass. Do, re, mi, Mi, re, do.
Through days of death and days of birth She plays as if she owned the earth. Through every swift vicissitude She drums as if it did her good, And still she sits from morn till night And plunks away with main and might, Do, re, mi, Mi, re, do.
In that mansion used to be Free-hearted hospitality; But that was many years before Jemima monkeyed with the score. When she began her daily plunk, Into their graves the neighbors sunk. Do, re, mi, Mi, re, do.
To other worlds they've long since fled, All thankful that they're safely dead. They stood the racket while alive Until Jemima rose at five. And then they laid their burdens down, And one and all they skipped the town. Do, re, mi, Mi, re, do.
[Footnote 1: By permission of Life Publishing Company.]
BY WALLACE IRWIN
(Being a Mental Attitude from Bernard Pshaw)
It's wrong to be thoroughly human, It's stupid alone to be good, And why should the "virtuous" woman Continue to do as she should? (It's stupid to do as you should!)
For I'd rather be famous than pleasant, I'd rather be rude than polite; It's easy to sneer When you're witty and queer, And I'd rather be Clever than Right.
I'm bored by mere Shakespeare and Milton, Though Hubbard compels me to rave; If I should lay laurels to wilt on That foggy Shakespearean grave, How William would squirm in his grave!
For I'd rather be Pshaw than be Shakespeare, I'd rather be Candid than Wise; And the way I amuse Is to roundly abuse The Public I feign to despise.
I'm a Socialist, loving my brother In quite an original way, With my maxim, "Detest One Another"— Though, faith, I don't mean what I say. (It's beastly to mean what you say!)
For I'm fonder of talk than of Husbands, And I'm fonder of fads than of Wives, So I say unto you, If you don't as you do You will do as you don't all your lives.
My "Candida's" ruddy as coral, With thoughts quite too awfully plain— If folks would just call me Immoral I'd feel that I'd not lived in vain. (It's nasty, this living in vain!)
For I'd rather be Martyred than Married, I'd rather be tempted than tamed, And if I had my way (At least, so I say) All Babes would be labeled, "Unclaimed."
I'm an epigrammatical Moses, Whose humorous tablets of stone Condemn affectations and poses— Excepting a few of my own. (I dote on a few of my own.)
For my method of booming the market When Managers ask for a play Is to say on a bluff, "I'm so fond of my stuff That I don't want it acted—go 'way!"
I'm the club-ladies' Topic of Topics, Where solemn discussions are spent In struggles as hot as the tropics, Attempting to find what I meant. (I never can tell what I meant!)
For it's fun to make bosh of the Gospel, And it's sport to make gospel of Bosh, While divorcees hurrah For the Sayings of Pshaw And his sub-psychological Josh.
[Footnote 2: From "At the Sign of the Dollar," by Wallace Irwin. Copyright, 1905, by Fox, Duffield & Co.]
MY HONEY, MY LOVE
BY JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS
Hit's a mighty fur ways up de Far'well Lane, My honey, my love! You may ax Mister Crow, you may ax Mr. Crane, My honey, my love! Dey'll make you a bow, en dey'll tell you de same, My honey, my love! Hit's a mighty fur ways fer ter go in de night, My honey, my love! My honey, my love, my heart's delight— My honey, my love!
Mister Mink, he creeps twel he wake up de snipe, My honey, my love! Mister Bull-Frog holler, Come alight my pipe! My honey, my love! En de Pa'tridge ax, Ain't yo' peas ripe? My honey, my love! Better not walk erlong dar much atter night, My honey, my love! My honey, my love, my heart's delight— My honey, my love!
De Bully-Bat fly mighty close ter de groun', My honey, my love! Mister Fox, he coax 'er, Do come down! My honey, my love!
Mister Coon, he rack all 'roun' en 'roun', My honey, my love! In de darkes' night, oh, de nigger, he's a sight! My honey, my love! My honey, my love, my heart's delight— My honey, my love!
Oh, flee, Miss Nancy, flee ter my knee, My honey, my love! 'Lev'n big, fat coons liv' in one tree, My honey, my love! Oh, ladies all, won't you marry me? My honey, my love! Tu'n lef, tu'n right, we'll dance all night, My honey, my love! My honey, my love, my heart's delight— My honey, my love!
De big Owl holler en cry fer his mate, My honey, my love! Oh, don't stay long! Oh, don't stay late! My honey, my love! Hit ain't so mighty fur ter de Good-by Gate, My honey, my love! Whar we all got ter go w'en we sing out de night, My honey, my love! My honey, my love, my heart's delight— My honey, my love!
THE GRAND OPERA
BY BILLY BAXTER
Well, I decided to get into my class, so I started for the smoking-room. I hadn't gone three feet till some woman held me up and began telling me how she adored Grand Opera. I didn't even reply. I fled madly, and remained hidden in the tall grasses of the smoking-room until it was time to go home. Jim, should any one ever tell you that Grand Opera is all right, he is either trying to even up or he is not a true friend. I was over in New York with the family last winter, and they made me go with them to Die Walkure at the Metropolitan Opera House. When I got the tickets I asked the man's advice as to the best location. He said that all true lovers of music occupied the dress-circle and balconies, and that he had some good center dress-circle seats at three bones per. Here's a tip, Jim. If the box man ever hands you that true-lover game, just reach in through the little hole and soak him in the solar for me. It's coming to him. I'll give you my word of honor we were a quarter of a mile from the stage. We went up in an elevator, were shown to our seats, and who was right behind us but my old pal, Bud Hathaway, from Chicago. Bud had his two sisters with him, and he gave me one sad look, which said plainer than words, "So you're up against it, too, eh!" We introduced all hands around, and about nine o'clock the curtain went up. After we had waited fully ten minutes, out came a big, fat, greasy looking Dago with nothing on but a bear robe. He went over to the side of the stage and sat down on a bum rock. It was plainly to be seen, even from my true lovers' seat, that his bearlets was sorer than a dog about something. Presently in came a woman, and none of the true lovers seemed to know who she was. Some said it was Melba, others Nordica. Bud and I decided that it was May Irwin. We were mistaken, though, as Irwin has this woman lashed to the mast at any time or place. As soon as Mike the Dago espied the dame it was all off. He rushed and drove a straight-arm jab, which had it reached would have given him the purse. But shifty Sadie wasn't there. She ducked, side-stepped, and landed a clever half-arm hook, which seemed to stun the big fellow. They clinched, and swayed back and forth, growling continually, while the orchestra played this trembly Eliza-crossing-the-ice music. Jim, I'm not swelling this a bit. On the level, it happened just as I write it. All of a sudden some one seemed to win. They broke away, and ran wildly to the front of the stage with their arms outstretched, yelling to beat three of a kind. The band cut loose something fierce. The leader tore out about $9.00 worth of hair, and acted generally as though he had bats in his belfry. I thought sure the place would be pinched. It reminded me of Thirsty Thornton's dance-hall out in Merrill, Wisconsin, when the Silent Swede used to start a general survival of the fittest every time Mamie the Mink danced twice in succession with the young fellow from Albany, whose father owned the big mill up Rough River. Of course, this audience was perfectly orderly, and showed no intention whatever of cutting in, and there were no chairs or glasses in the air, but I am forced to admit that the opera had Thornton's faded for noise. I asked Bud what the trouble was, and he answered that I could search him. The audience apparently went wild. Everybody said "Simply sublime!" "Isn't it grand?" "Perfectly superb!" "Bravo!" etc.; not because they really enjoyed it, but merely because they thought it was the proper thing to do. After that for three solid hours Rough House Mike and Shifty Sadie seemed to be apologizing to the audience for their disgraceful street brawl, which was honestly the only good thing in the show. Along about twelve o'clock I thought I would talk over old times with Bud, but when I turned his way I found my tired and trusty comrade "Asleep at the Switch."
At the finish, the woman next to me, who seemed to be on, said that the main lady was dying. After it was too late, Mike seemed kind of sorry. He must have give her the knife or the drops, because there wasn't a minute that he could look in on her according to the rules. He laid her out on the bum rock, they set off a lot of red fire for some unknown reason, and the curtain dropped at 12:25. Never again for my money. Far be it from me knocking, but any time I want noise I'll take to a boiler-shop or a Union Station, where I can understand what's coming off. I'm for a good-mother show. Do you remember The White Slave, Jim? Well, that's me. Wasn't it immense where the main lady spurned the leering villain's gold and exclaimed with flashing eye, "Rags are royal raiment when worn for virtue's sake." Great! The White Slave had Die Walkure beaten to a pulp, and they don't get to you for three cases gate-money, either.
IN A STATE OF SIN
BY OWEN WISTER
Judge and Mrs. Henry, Molly Wood, and two strangers, a lady and a gentleman, were the party which had been driving in the large three-seated wagon. They had seemed a merry party. But as I came within hearing of their talk, it was a fragment of the minister's sonority which reached me first:
"... more opportunity for them to have the benefit of hearing frequent sermons," was the sentence I heard him bring to completion.
"Yes, to be sure, sir." Judge Henry gave me (it almost seemed) additional warmth of welcome for arriving to break up the present discourse. "Let me introduce you to the Rev. Dr. Alexander MacBride. Doctor, another guest we have been hoping for about this time," was my host's cordial explanation to him of me. There remained the gentleman with his wife from New York, and to these I made my final bows. But I had not broken up the discourse.
"We may be said to have met already." Dr. MacBride had fixed upon me his full, mastering eye; and it occurred to me that if they had policemen in heaven, he would be at least a centurion in the force. But he did not mean to be unpleasant; it was only that in a mind full of matters less worldly, pleasure was left out. "I observed your friend was a skilful horseman," he continued. "I was saying to Judge Henry that I could wish such skilful horsemen might ride to a church upon the Sabbath. A church, that is, of right doctrine, where they would have opportunity to hear frequent sermons."
"Yes," said Judge Henry, "yes. It would be a good thing."
Mrs. Henry, with some murmur about the kitchen, here went into the house.
"I was informed," Dr. MacBride held the rest of us, "before undertaking my journey that I should find a desolate and mainly godless country. But nobody gave me to understand that from Medicine Bow I was to drive three hundred miles and pass no church of any faith."
The Judge explained that there had been a few a long way to the right and left of him. "Still," he conceded, "you are quite right. But don't forget that this is the newest part of a new world."
"Judge," said his wife, coming to the door, "how can you keep them standing in the dust with your talking?"
This most efficiently did break up the discourse. As our little party, with the smiles and the polite holdings back of new acquaintanceship, moved into the house, the Judge detained me behind all of them long enough to whisper dolorously, "He's going to stay a whole week."
I had hopes that he would not stay a whole week when I presently learned of the crowded arrangements which our hosts, with many hospitable apologies, disclosed to us. They were delighted to have us, but they hadn't foreseen that we should all be simultaneous. The foreman's house had been prepared for two of us, and did we mind? The two of us were Dr. MacBride and myself; and I expected him to mind. But I wronged him grossly. It would be much better, he assured Mrs. Henry, than straw in a stable, which he had tried several times, and was quite ready for. So I saw that though he kept his vigorous body clean when he could, he cared nothing for it in the face of his mission. How the foreman and his wife relished being turned out during a week for a missionary and myself was not my concern, although while he and I made ready for supper over there, it struck me as hard on them. The room with its two cots and furniture was as nice as possible; and we closed the door upon the adjoining room, which, however, seemed also untenanted.
Mrs. Henry gave us a meal so good that I have remembered it, and her husband, the Judge, strove his best that we should eat it in merriment. He poured out his anecdotes like wine, and we should have quickly warmed to them; but Dr. MacBride sat among us, giving occasional heavy ha-ha's, which produced, as Miss Molly Wood whispered to me, a "dreadfully cavernous effect." Was it his sermon, we wondered, that he was thinking over? I told her of the copious sheaf of them I had seen him pull from his wallet over at the foreman's. "Goodness!" said she. "Then are we to hear one every evening?" This I doubted; he had probably been picking one out suitable for the occasion. "Putting his best foot foremost," was her comment; "I suppose they have best feet, like the rest of us." Then she grew delightfully sharp. "Do you know, when I first heard him I thought his voice was hearty. But if you listen, you'll find it's merely militant. He never really meets you with it. He's off on his hill watching the battle-field the whole time."
"He will find a hardened pagan here."
"Oh, no! The wild man you're taming. He's brought you Kenilworth safe back."
She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him! But don't you find him intelligent?"
Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame him. But what did she want to do? The thought of her had made him blush this afternoon. No thought of him made her blush this evening.
A great laugh from the rest of the company made me aware that the Judge had consummated his tale of the "Sole Survivor."
"And so," he finished, "they all went off as mad as hops because it hadn't been a massacre." Mr. and Mrs. Ogden—they were the New Yorkers—gave this story much applause, and Dr. MacBride half a minute later laid his "ha-ha," like a heavy stone, upon the gaiety.
"I'll never be able to stand seven sermons," said Miss Wood to me.
* * * * *
"Do you often have these visitations?" Ogden inquired of Judge Henry. Our host was giving us whisky in his office, and Dr. MacBride, while we smoked apart from the ladies, had repaired to his quarters in the foreman's house previous to the service which he was shortly to hold.
The Judge laughed. "They come now and then through the year. I like the bishop to come. And the men always like it. But I fear our friend will scarcely please them so well."
"You don't mean they'll—"
"Oh, no. They'll keep quiet. The fact is, they have a good deal better manners than he has, if he only knew it. They'll be able to bear him. But as for any good he'll do—"
"I doubt if he knows a word of science," said I, musing about the Doctor.
"Science! He doesn't know what Christianity is yet. I've entertained many guests, but none—The whole secret," broke off Judge Henry, "lies in the way you treat people. As soon as you treat men as your brothers, they are ready to acknowledge you—if you deserve it—as their superior. That's the whole bottom of Christianity, and that's what our missionary will never know."
* * * * *
Thunder sat imminent upon the missionary's brow. Many were to be at his mercy soon. But for us he had sunshine still. "I am truly sorry to be turning you upside down," he said importantly. "But it seems the best place for my service." He spoke of the table pushed back and the chairs gathered in the hall, where the storm would presently break upon the congregation. "Eight-thirty?" he inquired.
This was the hour appointed, and it was only twenty minutes off. We threw the unsmoked fractions of our cigars away, and returned to offer our services to the ladies. This amused the ladies. They had done without us. All was ready in the hall.
"We got the cook to help us," Mrs. Ogden told me, "so as not to disturb your cigars. In spite of the cow-boys, I still recognize my own country."
"In the cook?" I rather densely asked.
"Oh, no! I don't have a Chinaman. It's in the length of after-dinner cigars."
"Had you been smoking," I returned, "you would have found them short this evening."
"You make it worse," said the lady; "we have had nothing but Dr. MacBride."
"We'll share him with you now," I exclaimed.
"Has he announced his text? I've got one for him," said Molly Wood, joining us. She stood on tiptoe and spoke it comically in our ears. "'I said in my haste, All men are liars.'" This made us merry as we stood among the chairs in the congested hall.
I left the ladies, and sought the bunk house. I had heard the cheers, but I was curious also to see the men, and how they were taking it. There was but little for the eye. There was much noise in the room. They were getting ready to come to church,—brushing their hair, shaving, and making themselves clean, amid talk occasionally profane and continuously diverting.
"Well, I'm a Christian, anyway," one declared.
"I'm a Mormon, I guess," said another.
"I belong to the Knights of Pythias," said a third.
"I'm a Mohammedist," said a fourth; "I hope I ain't goin' to hear nothin' to shock me."
What with my feelings at Scipio's discretion, and my human curiosity, I was not in that mood which best profits from a sermon. Yet even though my expectations had been cruelly left quivering in mid air, I was not sure how much I really wanted to "keep around." You will therefore understand how Dr. MacBride was able to make a prayer and to read Scripture without my being conscious of a word that he had uttered. It was when I saw him opening the manuscript of his sermon that I suddenly remembered I was sitting, so to speak, in church, and began once more to think of the preacher and his congregation. Our chairs were in the front line, of course; but, being next the wall, I could easily see the cow-boys behind me. They were perfectly decorous. If Mrs. Ogden had looked for pistols, dare-devil attitudes, and so forth, she must have been greatly disappointed. Except for their weather-beaten cheeks and eyes, they were simply American young men with mustaches and without, and might have been sitting, say, in Danbury, Connecticut. Even Trampas merged quietly with the general placidity. The Virginian did not, to be sure, look like Danbury, and his frame and his features showed out of the mass; but his eyes were upon Dr. MacBride with a creamlike propriety.