Title: Step Lively! A Carload of the Funniest Yarns that Ever Crossed the Footlights
Author: George Niblo
Release date: October 12, 2014 [eBook #47097]
Credits: Produced by Demian Katz and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (Images courtesy
of the Digital Library@Villanova University
S&S HUMOR LIBRARY No. 4 PRICE 25 CENTS
A CARLOAD OF THE FUNNIEST YARNS THAT EVER CROSSED THE FOOTLIGHTS
STREET & SMITH · PUBLISHERS · NEW YORK
A CARLOAD OF THE FUNNIEST
YARNS THAT EVER CROSSED
"B'Gosh," and "Atchoo!"
STREET & SMITH, Publishers
238 William Street, New York
By STREET & SMITH
There, there, there! Don't make such a racket or you'll make me nervous.
The manager said to me this morning: "Just give 'em a little nonsense, Mr. Niblo. You know a little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the best of men."
That's the reason he engaged me; said I was the most nonsensical man he ever knew. That's right. Laugh at me. Oh, I dearly love to see people's faces wreathed in smiles.
I've always been a seeker after fun myself.
Why, would you believe it, I once walked twenty miles to thrash a fellow—just for fun.
What's that—twenty more miles back again? Well, to tell you the truth, that didn't bother me.
You see, they carried me back in an ambulance.
I was thinking of telling you a ridiculous story about the dirty window, but I guess I'd better not.
You wouldn't see through it, anyway.
Instead of that let me relate a few amusing things[Pg 4] that happened to me while I was on the road last summer.
I always start in a Pullman, and generally come back—well, what's the use telling family secrets?
While I was doing the Ohio theatres I spent some little time with an old friend.
He is engaged in a country school, and for five days in the week wrestles with the task of teaching the young idea how to shoot. I went to see him at work, and of course the scholars were more backward than ordinary. Just as the baby will never be cunning when strangers are around.
It was a lesson in geography that quite broke me up.
"What is a cataract?" asked the pedagogue.
There was a complete frost.
No one had any idea apparently.
"Well, what is meant by a cape?" said my friend.
This was better. One of the children knew it was a point of land jutting out into the water.
"What is a strait?"
Over in the corner a hand went up.
"I know, teacher," said a small boy.
"Well, what is it?"
"It beats three of a kind," was the triumphant answer.
Feeling a little indisposed while at Sandusky, I sauntered into an apothecary shop, intending to purchase some mild drug, to the use of which I am addicted, and which usually comes to us from Havana.
As I stood a moment after getting my light, an old country-man came shuffling in.
He was a character, I'm telling you; why, it stuck out all over his furrowed face just like the tracks of a lost hen in the mud.
I saw him pull out a red bandanna handkerchief and frown as he surveyed the big knot in the end.
You needn't smile—that old codger wasn't the first man to forget why he had tied a knot in his handkerchief or a string around his finger.
"Well, uncle, what is it?" asked the clerk.
"I'll get around to it pretty quick. Now, what place is it down yonder on the lake?"
"Do you mean Put-in-Bay?"
"Yep, that's it. Now, who was it that put in there?"
"Perhaps you mean Commodore Perry?"
"The very man. And I want a bottle o' Perrygoric."
I saw at once that man knew what he was after, and was bound to get it.
Sandusky seems to breed that species.
Why, when I was at the station, waiting with a big crowd for a train that was late, a wide-awake chap pointed out to me a poorly dressed woman who sat alone and apparently disconsolate.
"Look here," called out this fellow, raising his voice and getting a crowd about him, arousing immediate attention, "this poor woman has no ticket to her destination. I'll chip in ten cents for her. Who'll help?"
Presently he had a hat partly filled with coin, which he dumped in her lap.
Then he called out again: "She has more than her fare, but not enough for a shawl. She needs a shawl; I'll chip in a quarter for that."
Again he made the round and again announced:
"She ought to have a bonnet. I'll chip in half a dollar for the bonnet."
When he made the rounds the third time, a newcomer entered the station, shook hands heartily with the woman, and turning to the philanthropist, said:
"Why, Hiram, I'm glad to see you and your wife again."
"How's this?" asked one of the contributors while the rest of us gaped. "Is this woman your wife?"
"Yes," drawled the philanthropist, grinning.
"What right have you to collect money for your wife?" demanded several.
"What right have I to collect money for any other fellow's wife?" was the retort that closed the debate.
I've never ceased to believe that fellow was the nerviest bunco man I ever met.
I traveled down to Coney Island the other day with a friend recently married.
They went to housekeeping, and I suspect the little woman has been bombarding him with all manner of fearful dishes which she insists upon trying.
That's so like my Clara—- oh, so like! Did I ever tell you about Clara? Well, I'll sing about her instead. Listen:
Good deal of truth there, you'll admit.
But speaking of Coney Island, many's the happy hour I've spent on its historic sands. And perhaps I've done my share at amusing the thousands who throng there on a hot holiday.
Yes, I was the Mikado of the seaside.
That was in the days when I never dreamed I should be standing before so brilliant an audience as I see before me tonight, in such a magnificent theatre, and under the auspices of such a generous-hearted proprietor—that means another fifty per! No, no, it was in the dear, dead days, when the world was young. It makes me weep to think how we fleeced—I mean entertained—those Coney Islanders. We gave a little show on the sands, and we had with us one jolly old actor who only once attempted playing in the legitimate. I was curious about that "once."
When in a confiding mood I confessed that I had heard of his aspirations, he chuckled and admitted that years back, growing disgruntled with amusing people he had boldly essayed the role of Hamlet.
"Well," I remarked, encouragingly, "I suppose the audience called you to come out before the curtain?"
"Called me," he said, soberly, "why, they just dared me!"
Then there was Signor Tossi, the wonderful diver, who for a stipend plunged from an elevated platform into a tank of water.
"See here," I said to him boldly one day, "the danger about this drop isn't much—how have you got the nerve to call it a leap for life?"
"Why, don't I make my living by it? See?"
I guess he was right, don't you?
You can just believe a Coney Island audience doesn't fancy being held up or swindled. But they put up with a good deal of it just the same.
Nor do they have any patience with delays.
Things must hustle right along down there to be popular.
Once this same actor tried to give a scene from Othello, where the filmy handkerchief plays such a part as evidence of Desdemona's amours.
You remember Iago sets up the game on his friend and talks about
Othello demands the handkerchief be produced, and repeats this several times in order to make it more effective.
The audience, or some of them at least, failed to appreciate this repetition, and grew decidedly restless.
At last, when for the third time Othello called for the handkerchief, somebody yelled out.
"Wipe yer nose on yer slaive, ye naygur, and let the play prosade."
Of course you all know that of late years a certain class of women have taken to enjoying man's attire.
Personally I don't like it.
There are some who do.
When I mentioned my prejudice to Bob Corwin only the other day he fairly jumped on me.
"Disapprove of it!" he said, "Great Scott, no! I wouldn't have it different for the world. Why, it was as good as a circus this morning to watch and listen to my wife when her collar button rolled under the dresser."
It was this same good little wife of Bob's who made something of a mistake a while back.
They had a pretty maid at their house, and perhaps Bob, quite naturally, let his eyes follow her a few times in an absent-minded way.
Men frequently do that, you know—don't mean anything wrong at all, and just simply—well, look.
Of course his better half noticed it.
Now, she was no more jealous than the majority of her sex, but somehow she foolishly began to suspect that he was in the habit of kissing the girl in the kitchen and was determined to catch him in the act.
One Saturday night she saw him pass quietly into the kitchen.
The hired girl was out, and the kitchen dark.
The jealous wife took a few matches in her hand, and, hastily placing a shawl over her head, as the hired girl often did, entered the back door.
Immediately she was seized and kissed and embraced in an ardent manner.
With heart almost bursting, the wife prepared to administer a terrible rebuke to the faithless spouse.
Tearing herself away from his fond embrace, she struck a match and stood face to face with Patrick, the hired man.
My colored barber takes an affectionate interest in my personal appearance.
No doubt he knows how much depends on my presenting a handsome front while on the stage.
"Youh hair 'pears to be fallin' out, boss," he remarked, yesterday, while trimming my locks, "I reckons I kin save it.'"
"All right," I said, promptly, "save it if you want to. I've got no use for it."
Perhaps he makes sofa cushions for the trade.
"I hear your name was proposed as a member of the Bon Ton Colored Artists' Club. Did you get in?" I asked him later on.
"Not dat time, boss. You see, dey white-balled me," he said.
Adolphus has a streak of humor in him.
He is particularly sensitive to the comic-paper jokes connected with a darky's love for chickens and watermelons.
As the years roll on those chestnuts never seem to die.
The barber grew so touchy that he hated the sight of fowls, and even refused to eat eggs.
One day his next door neighbor in Jersey City looked over the wall dividing their places.
"Seem to be busy, Adolphus—what you doing?"
"Jest plantin' some of my seeds, dat's all," remarked Adolphus.
"H'm, thought it looked like you was planting one of my hens."
"Dat's all right, Mr. Johnsing—de seed am inside," said Adolphus.
Adolphus was telling me recently about the poor success a book agent had with his wife.
He was selling a "Mother's Guide."
"With the aid of this indispensable book," he declared, "you will be able to bring up your children properly."
Mrs. Adolphus took the book and weighed it thoughtfully in her hand.
Then she caught it by the edge and brought it down on the palm of her hand, as if to see if it could be handled with ease and dexterity.
"I reckon I don't want it," she announced, "becase, as a fact, I don't see dat it's any bettah dan a slippah."
That's going back to first principles.
And you know as well as I do, that some of our best men were brought up that way.
There is nothing I enjoy better than the rattle of a political campaign.
Take such a hurly-burly time as we had when Jerome was running in New York for district attorney on the reform ticket.
Sometimes they call on me to make a speech, and if given enough time ahead in which to prepare, I get along all right.
Once, however, I was caught napping.
I had been given to understand that my name would be called last, and settled down to pick up some points from the other fellow's remarks, on which I could build. 'Tis an old trick.
Through some mistake my name was called second, and before I could fully collect my wits, I found myself there on the platform bowing to the applause.
"There seems to be some misunderstanding about my being called so early in the proceedings," I remarked, "and the incident puts me in mind of something that once happened in my native town.
"At the death of an eccentric citizen it was learned that he had himself written his epitaph.
"When the lettering on the stone was completed, we all went to see what our fellow-citizen had to say of himself, and this was what we read under his name and date of death:
"'I expected this, but not so soon.'"
That excused me. They didn't want any more speeches from me. They thought it was an insinuation[Pg 18] that our candidate would soon be a dead one.
And while I'm on the subject of politics I want to tell you of a little scene that I always look back on with a grin.
I happened to be in one of those happy Western towns during the heat of a campaign where they serve out cocktails and revolvers to all comers.
The governor was a candidate for re-election, and being a hustler, made many hot speeches from the hustings.
Some of the opposition had gathered in front of the hall, and with the idea of making him nervous, interrupted every little while just when he was waxing eloquent.
One very homely-looking man insisted on asking a question about every five minutes.
He usually prefaced them by such remarks[Pg 19] as "Just a minute, please," or "Let me interrupt for a minute."
Finally, in an unhappy moment, he broke in with:
"Pardon me, but——"
Before he could finish, the governor, quickly seizing his long-awaited opportunity, replied:
"Well, I've pardoned worse looking fellows than you in my time, and I suppose it would be unjust to draw the line now."
You bet there were no more interruptions after that.
Some of you know Claude de Forrest, the actor.
He occasionally finds an engagement, but never twice with the same manager.
And yet Claude has his good points, and can do some stunts in his line.
Last winter he was playing at the same house where I had an engagement.
As the hero of the play he had just died a glorious stage death.
Loud and long the audience applauded.
At last he appeared before the curtain.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "as you insist on having a man who died a few minutes ago come to life and appear before you with a bow and a smile, I am here to comply with your wish.
"By way of destroying the illusion still further I will, with your permission, occupy the time while the stage is being made ready for the next act by reciting 'Hooligan at the Bat.'"
Which he proceeded to do.
And I fancy those misguided people soon wished they had not resurrected him so soon.
When you manage to run across an original man it pays to cultivate his acquaintance.
Hobbyhead has been a gold mine to me.
Whenever I have an attack of the blues I just hunt him up, and ten to one forget all my troubles.
A few more of his sort would make a stampede among the physicians out our way.
To tell the truth, every humorist knocks out a dozen doctors.
We were chatting the other day about[Pg 21] things sacred and profane, when I chanced in the course of some remarks to mention that when Gabriel blew his horn on the final resurrection morn a good many persons would be surprised at the company they kept.
"Humph," grunted Hobbyhead, "don't you believe that our friend Gabriel will be the only trumpet sounder at the grand round-up."
"Why don't you think he won't?" I asked.
"Because every self-made man will insist on blowing his own horn."
While we were taking a walk through the country we met a farmer driving a fine bull in to market.
Both of us commented on the fact that it had a scrubby tail, and when Hobbyhead insisted on addressing the man I knew he had conceived a bright thought.
"I suppose, my friend, you'll have to sell that beast wholesale," he said.
The owner came from his reverie.
"Well," assured my solemn friend, nodding his head toward the scrubby tuft of hair, and pursing his lips, "well, you see you cant have him re-tailed."
But occasionally Hobbyhead finds himself tripped up.
The pitcher may go to the well once too often.
I saw the deed done recently, and you ought to have been there to watch the humorist turn green with envy.
He was having some additions made to his country house, and had occasion to hire a tramp carpenter.
Somehow he was suspicious of the man's ability, and proceeded to put him through a course of sprouts.
"See here, my friend, do you know all about carpenter work?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," was the reply.
"You can make windows, doors and blinds?"
"Why, certain, sir."
"How would you make a Venetian blind?"
The man considered steadily for several minutes.
"I think," he remarked finally, with a grin, "that I would punch him in the eye."
He was engaged as soon as John recovered his breath.
Such sharp-edged tools are rare among journeymen carpenters, and I've suspected Hobbyhead meant to utilize the fellow in order to brighten his own wits.
Hobbyhead's smallest boy came home from the Barnum show the other evening.
It was his first outing of the sort, and he was bursting with the knowledge of the wonders he had seen.
His parental guardian, of course, questioned him regarding the stupendous aggregation, and soon discovered that among the many astonishing gymnasts little Jack had been especially attracted toward the wizard who ties himself up into a bunch of knots.
"I'm going to be a contortionist when I grow up," he proudly announced, "and right away to-morrow you'll see me start in trainin'."
"All right," said the interested parent; "it's a glorious career, my son, and to show you how much I appreciate your ambition I shall order half a bushel of green apples to be sent around. They'll give you a good start."
Hobbyhead claims that he gets many of his tidiest puns from this young hopeful.
For instance, when little Jack was studying his book one evening he called his father's attention to a fact which he was sturdily prepared to dispute.
"Say, pa, this book says nature never wastes anything."
"I guess that's right, my son," replied the father, thoughtlessly.
"Then what's the use of a cow having two horns when she can't even play on one," asked Jack, triumphantly.
Hobbyhead's genius failed him in the emergency.
When Hobbyhead was taking a holiday down at Long Branch, with his family, the price he had to pay rather congealed his blood.
Some of the descendants of Captain Kidd must have settled there and grown up with the country.
At any rate they bleed a man just as thoroughly as in the palmy days of Blackbeard and his corsair crew.
Hobbyhead had intended spending two weeks at the shore, but when he scanned his bill he found he would have just about money enough left to pay fares home.
And he considered there must have been some mistake about it to leave him even that.
While he was feeling sore and disgruntled, he chanced to fall into conversation with the proprietor.
This gentleman complained that the rats gave them considerable trouble, and that he would pay considerable to be rid of the gnawing rodents.
"I can tell you an infallible cure, sir," said Hobbyhead.
"I should be deeply obliged to you," returned the landlord.
"Well, then, once a week make out your bill and charge the rats as you've charged me, and I'll be hanged if the rats ever come to your house again," said Hobbyhead.
Would you believe it, that landlord was hurt.
Some people never can take a joke.
Recently I came across a young fellow employed on a daily paper, and whom I have known some time.
As a usual thing he was a happy-go-lucky, cheerful chap, and I was surprised to see the dejected look on his face.
Remember, too, he had been only recently married, and to a charming girl, at that.
I immediately experienced some curiosity to know what had upset him.
"Hello, old chap!" I said. "You look glum. Nothing happened, eh? Not fired?"
"No; job's all right. I'm worried—that all," he replied.
"What's the trouble?"
"Well, I'll tell you. Fact is, I've got a seal-skin wife and a muskrat salary."
Then I laughed.
"Don't let that worry you, old man! Most of us fellows are in the same predicament. It's the same old story, so common—a champagne appetite and a lager beer pocketbook. Get used to it in time, so cheer up. Let's liquidate."
Perhaps you may never have suspected that I was one of the heroes who stormed San Juan Hill.
Only for me and Teddy there might have been a different story to tell of that great day.
I seldom mention the fact, being constitutionally bashful.
And, besides, it pleases me to see all the glory go to the man who leads such a strenuous life.
But, honest Injun, I was there where the Spanish Mausers were cracking merrily, and I wouldn't like to tell you how much foreign lead I took that day.
Perhaps you may remember that at one time matters got so hot that there was considerable consternation among our bold boys in blue.
One fellow, who was evidently getting his baptism in fire, had stood it for a time, though his knees must have been knocking together some.
It became necessary to retreat temporarily, while the bullets sang around like mad hornets; but once started for the rear this fellow's legs actually ran away with him.
He plunged along like a rhinoceros, utterly regardless.
An officer bellowed after him.
"Here, you, what are you running for?"
I saw the scared New Englander turn his head and throw over his shoulder:
"Because I can't fly, you darned fool!"
Hello, there, what was that—actually a mosquito trying to nip me, the bloodsucker!
Come to think of it, skeeters are about the slickest nuisances we've got.
Have you ever thought what sly coons they are, and how they maneuvre to get their suction pump at work, just as if they had learned army tactics?
Say, ever been down in Jacksonville when the mercury's so high you can't breathe and the skeeters are humming their monotonous anthem? This is the song they sing:
Aha! There's my friend Judge Longears in the back row. Now, don't everybody rubber. Well, well, well, he's scooted. I pity these bashful men. Judge Longears has in his day defended all manner of criminals.
Some of them escaped punishment Which they richly deserved, simply because they were wise enough to employ a smart lawyer.
And no doubt the fee he received often constituted the proceeds of the very robbery of which they had just been proven innocent.
Even in his early career I remember he had an experience of this character.
In my hearing his good wife said to him:
"So you cleared that poor Mr. Liftem from the charge of stealing that turkey? I'm glad of it, but he's such a worthless character that I don't believe you'll ever get a cent for your services."
I have never forgotten the smile that stole over the placid face of Longears, as he replied:
"Perhaps not, Maria, but I've got an all-fired good turkey out in the woodshed, just the same."
But I tell you Longears was a terror in his young days. I've seen him bullyrag a poor devil in the box until he caused him to say just what he wanted.
There are some men, however, who are the quintessence of meekness.
I knew one whose gardener used to crib and sell his fruit and vegetables, and had to be dismissed.
For the sake of his wife and family he gave him a letter of recommendation, which ran about like this:
"I hereby certify that Thomas Buck has been my gardener for over two years, and that during that time he got more out of my garden than any other man I ever employed."
I saw two disreputable citizens meet the other day, and judged they had not run across each other for a long spell of Sundays.
"Hullo, Hans, how's the wurrld threatin' ye?" demanded[Pg 32] the one who bore the map of Ireland on his face.
"I do not gomplain somethings mabbe. Such vindy veather is goot for my professions quite," replied the German.
"Be jabers, it's getting up in the wurrld ye must be. 'Pon yer 'onor now, phat do yees do to make a living?"
"I examine ribs."
"And I break the same; but phat joke is it ye're afther giving me to say yer a surgeon?"
"You should not so quick joomp at conclusions—I am an umbrella mender."
"On me own part, it's no need I hav to wurrk at all, since discoverin' that I belonged to a swell family."
"You don't say!"
"And that wun av me ancestors was a minute man."
"Ish it possible—tell me how that might come?"
"Why, don't ye see, ye omadhaun, didn't that same mimber av the family wurrk on Sixty-second Street?"
Then the rattle of an elevated train drowned the rest.
I felt that I had lost five dollars by not hearing how Hans got back again.
Sometimes when the Sunday morning bells calling to church jangle from various spires, I think of the well-known old poem on the subject of their music; and then my mind goes out to other belles, to be seen parading in their best gowns, ready to break the hearts of admiring mankind.
And talking about women makes you think of song. Wine, women and song, you know. We'll cut out the wine and have the song. Here she goes:
I spent a week or two with a friend in the suburbs last spring.
He had one little chap that greatly interested me.
He reminded me of what I must have been, for he was eternally in a peck of trouble.
Liked candy, too, and when I found that he no longer hooked lumps of sugar out of the bowl on the table, I became convinced that his cure must have been radical.
So I made an investigation.
The woodshed figured largely in the matter, too.
That brought back other tender recollections, for, do you know, we once had a woodshed.
Favorite place for an affectionate interview between father and son.
I never go past one without feeling hurt.
Frederick was inclined to be confidential, and readily admitted that his mother's solicitude concerning his state of health, and the possibility of his contracting a crop of worms from too steady a sugar diet had prompted her to a little exercise.
"She laid it on just like I was a little pig," he complained.
I saw the connection immediately.
"Just so," I said, "a ham, sugar-cured."
Bijinks buttonholed me on the way here, and I could see from his face that he was laying for me.
I've given him numerous falls from time to time, and he swore to get even.
I think he must have sat up nights, and just from curiosity I'd like to compare his gas bill with that of last month.
Good jokes come high, I tell you, and I'm really afraid poor old Bijinks will never be the same man he was before.
Success has made his hat seem too small, and presently I'll hear of him applying for my job.
But about the thing he tossed me.
Purposely he introduced the subject of the navy.
"Talking of ships," he said, soberly, "I suppose courtship might properly be considered a transport."
I told him that it was cruel to take advantage of me.
"But, sometimes," he continued, mercilessly, "it is nothing more nor less than a sort of wor—ship."
Then he artfully began to tell what wonders he had seen over in London during the time Edward was crowned king.
"Say, a coronation must be a dreadfully expensive affair," I chanced to remark, and how his eyes glittered as he drove it home, for the expected opening had come.
"Well, rather; why, the dentist charged me ten dollars just for crowning a single tooth."
That was also on me.
But Bijinks gets hold of some pretty good stories occasionally, and I expect he'll soon be working them off along with hoary chestnuts that have done duty for ages.
One I know bears the marks of newness, since the game of ping pong has only recently come into existence.
He says he knew the old fellow that said it, but I rather think he prevaricates, and must have discovered the joke in some obscure country paper.
It was in Texas it happened.
An old farmer had a girl attending school at Fort Worth, and in course of a letter home to the old folks chanced to say "I'm just in love with ping pong."
Whereupon up rose the Texan farmer in wrath and laid down the law in unmistakeable terms.
You see he had been to Fort Worth and even had his biled shirt done up at a Celestial laundry.
"Here, mother," says he, bringing down his horny fist on the table till the dishes danced. "You jest write and tell Amarillis Jane that if she's goin' to fall in love with any of them blamed Fort Worth Chinamen, she can just count on bein' cut off without a cent."
Bijinks puts up a bluff about having fought in the Spanish-American war. He was enrolled but he never fought. Fact is, he got discharged for a breach of etiquette. Yes, you see he turned his back to the enemy.
Do any of you people play golf? My advice is "Don't!" But what's the use of talking?
The fascination of golf has much to answer for.
At the same time one would hardly expect it to upset the calculations of a minister.
That's just what happened when I was in old Scotland, taking in their raw atmosphere, and a few other things besides.
I often watched the reverend gentleman play, and saw how infatuated he had become with the game.
Yet he labored under a great handicap.
When he missed the ball, and performed a wonderful series of gyrations, it must have been very hard to compress his agitated feelings in such a narrow compass as:
"Tut, tut," or, "Well, well," perhaps "Oh, dear, now."
More robust language alone meets the emergency.
The last I saw of him was when he had striven with unusual fervor to knock the ball from the tee, and his face shone with exertion and indignation.
"Dear, dear, but I'll hae to gie it up—I'll hae to gie it up," he said in despair.
"Give up playing golf—that's too bad," I remarked, whereupon he hastily turned upon me and said:
"Na, na, gie up the meenistry."
Feeling in high spirits when I entered my favorite restaurant yesterday, I asked the proprietor at the desk:
"Do you serve lobsters here?"
"Why, of course we do—have a seat. Now, what'll you have," was the reply.
That man knew me for sure.
The girl who waited on me began to rattle off a list of dishes which were on the menu.
Perhaps I was partly to blame, since I had asked:
"Well, Mame, what have you got to-day?"
"Pretty nearly everything, sir—I've got calves' brains, frogs' legs, chicken liver——"
"Hold on," I said.
"What's the matter?" she asked.
"Nothing, only you ought to see a doctor."
Did you ever notice what singular names many of the Rhode Island towns and cities have, as well as those in the wooden nutmeg State.
Now, there's old Nantucket, for instance, once the most noted whaling center of America.
That place always fascinates me; makes me burst into song, as it were.
Let's have a bar, professor.
Well, I fancy that is quite sufficient for one time.
Talking about names, I had often wondered why Maine has so long been a prohibition State, until recently when glancing over the map the truth flashed upon me.
Surely no drunken man could ever pronounce such jaw breakers as Umbazooksus and Mattawamkeag.
I went with Jack Rackstraw looking for board the other day.
Ever try it?
Funniest game going.
Talk about studying human nature, why nothing equals what you run across in boarding houses.
There was one vinegary old maid to whom he applied who gave me a cold chill.
She was so thin, that for the life of me I couldn't help thinking of the living skeleton who lost his balance while washing at the sink, and had to be pulled out of the waste pipe.
Rackstraw allowed himself to be questioned meekly enough.
Soon she knew more about his business and his remote ancestors than I did, and I had been his friend twice ten years.
At last she stormed the fort.
I saw blood in her eye, and knew what was on tap from the way her thin lips came together.
"You say you are married?"
"Ah! any family, Mr. Rackstraw?"
"One baby," he stammered, "would you mind that?"
"Mind it," she snapped, "what do you take me for—a nurse?"
Rackstraw didn't board there, I remark in passing.
Well, if you'd ever been a country school teacher, perhaps you wouldn't growl at things because they didn't come your way.
I went visiting while up in the Catskills, and before the school season was over.
The teacher lived at a small hotel, and of course didn't appreciate the trials of family housekeeping, but on that particular day I can tell you she got a pretty decent insight into the tribulations of those who have to live that way.
A little girl came in late.
"See here, Sarah, you are five minutes behind time. Yesterday it was three minutes. Explain!" she said.
But Sarah didn't scare worth a cent.
She broke loose like a steam-engine and fairly paralysed us both; and it was something like this:
"Please, ma'am, the alarm-clock stopped last night, and it was so dark and foggy this morning that the girl didn't wake until late, and then, trying to get to the kitchen window in the dark, she upset some water on the kindling wood; it was the water the mackerel was soaking in, and it was on a chair, and the wood was under it, and then because the wood was wet the fire wouldn't burn, and the other wood we ordered the[Pg 45] day before hadn't come, and the neighbor next door hadn't any either, and the girl had to go to the store for some, and she was a good while getting there, and then the storekeeper told her she needn't bring it, 'cause he would send it right around before she got back, and 'cause she didn't know him she believed him; and when she got back the wood wasn't there, and it was a long time before it came, and then it was all wet from the fog and rain, 'cause he didn't cover it up, and when we tried to start the fire again it wouldn't burn any better than the first time; and then mamma hurried over to our kind neighbor to get the use of her stove, but they were getting their breakfast and we could only use one hole at a time, and our kettles and pans wouldn't fit their stove, and we had to wait till some of theirs was cleaned, and then mamma tried to cook some oatmeal so I could hurry and get to school, and then the baker didn't come, and the girl had to go out for bread while I dressed Sally, and Johnny, and Mamie, and then the baby woke and began to cry hard, as if he was hurt, and mamma hurried upstairs to see what was the matter, and while she was finding out the oatmeal burned, and[Pg 46] we had to wait till the kettle could be cleaned and some more cooked, and when that was done I hurried and ate a little so I wouldn't be late to school, and I had just time to get here, but Johnny got the nose-bleed awful, and I had to wait until mamma could get through with him and wash her hands so she could write me an excuse for bein' late yesterday."
When the teacher could catch her breath, she said:
"Excused. Take your seat."
I struck a lawyer chum in the cars the other day and thought I'd interest him by talking shop.
"I hear old Judge Pennytobacco is breaking up housekeeping," I said.
"That's strange—I hardly believe that can be true. The judge is working night and day, simply overwhelmed with cases. He has no time to think of such a thing."
"What kind of cases?"
"Er—divorce cases, principally."
"That's it," I said.
"Oh!" He thought it over for a minute, then changed the conversation by remarking: "By the way, I hear you've taken to writing verses."
"Experimenting a little, that's all."
"Have you submitted any to the editor?"
"Yes, a few."
"And did the editor kick at the verses?"
"Well, he kicked all right, but not at the verses exactly. Here's one of 'em:
"This is where I get off," remarked my legal friend coldly.
"So do I," I cried, jumping up. "Let's take a turn round together."
As we sallied along we passed a meat market,[Pg 48] the proprietor of which was standing in the doorway.
He greeted us with a pleasant nod and a good-humored "You're looking well, sir."
"There's a fellow for you," I said. "He seems to increase in girth every month. I knew him when he tipped the scales at a hundred and thirty. Perhaps you wouldn't believe it—and what do you think he weighs now?"
"Well, what does he weigh?" asked my legal friend.
Fortunately at that moment my friend was stopped by an angry client.
Somehow this irate gentleman seemed to think he had gotten hold of the hot end of a deal.
And sputtering with rage he didn't hesitate to call a spade by its proper name.
"I see the scoundrel in your face!" exclaimed the angry man.
"That," replied the man of law, calmly, "I consider a personal reflection."
Then he sauntered on with me, and when the other found time to figure out things more fully, I guess he was madder than ever, don't you?
Smart chap, that lawyer! Sometimes he works so upon the feelings of the jury that he gets his man off.
And then again a case will arise that in spite of his eloquence goes against him.
He made a miss with Sikes, and I'm thinking that fellow will meet his end shortly.
This is in Jersey, where they still hang men, you know.
I went along to see the man, for somehow I'd never set eyes on a condemned criminal, and rather thought it might round out an experience.
Sikes was a hard-looking citizen.
I fear if I had been the judge, his face alone would have sent him to the gallows.
And yet he mellowed some and even laughed.
A prison visitor was wrestling with him, no doubt meaning well, but not having much effect on so hard a case.
She tried to make his mind revert to his childhood, when he said his prayers at his mother's knee, and all that sort of thing, you know.
"My poor fellow," I heard her say, "when you contemplate your approaching doom, does not your memory revert longingly to those innocent days, and would you not enjoy once more those childish sports of the long ago?"
"Well," said Sikes, reflecting, as though his mind had indeed traveled far back into the dim past, "sure, there's one thing I'd like mighty well to do, and that is skip the rope."
My legal friend really made a powerful plea in the Sikes case, and I thought he would win out.
But there must have been one jury-man for conviction,[Pg 51] who finally brought the other eleven obstinate men to his way of thinking.
Why, I actually felt the tears in my eyes and the accused began to look like an angel, whereas a short time before I had thought him a ruffian.
The lawyer's boy was present too, and when he went home he gave a report of the proceedings.
I had it straight from headquarters.
"It was a dandy speech, mamma—why he 'most cried himself, the prisoner wiped his eyes, some ladies had to be taken out of the room so the trial could go on, and I guess the jury felt powerfully bad too," he said.
"And how about you, son," inquired his pleased mother.
The little fellow cocked his eye and smiled.
"Oh! he can't fool me," he said.
While waiting one day in court for the case, in which I was a witness, to be called, they led a tough-looking citizen into the pen.
He was a typical burglar.
Why the burgle stood out all over him in lumps.
When I looked at him I thought how much I had to be thankful for that I didn't have to meet him under other distressing circumstances of a dark night.
In fact I figured that I was in just thirty cents.
Well, he was the last fellow you'd ever suspect of having a streak of humor in his make-up.
He objected to being called a thief.
"I've a trade, your honor."
"What is it?" demanded the judge.
"Just so; and what were you doing in the bank when the policemen took you?"
"Making a bolt for the door, sure."
But his jesting mood did not save him, and he was given another kind of job for a time.
When Rube comes to town there is a lot of fun poked at the rustic, and even gold bricks slipped into his pockets in exchange for the coveted long green.
And no doubt some of you good people know from experience that when a city man migrates to the country the farmers delight to expose his ignorance of things generally. I had an experience of that sort last summer when I engaged board for my little outfit at Farmer Wilkins'.
We arrived late in the evening and retired to our shuck mattresses very soon, being tired from the journey; so the tiller of the soil didn't have much of a chance to make my acquaintance.
Early in the morning I was abroad, and ran across Wilkins and his hired man milking the cows.
"Mornin'," said he, "come to find out whichever keow gives the buttermilk, or p'r'aps ye thought[Pg 54] to be airly enough to hear the haycock crow?" and he tipped a wink at his man, who was enjoying the fun.
"Well, neither, to tell the truth, Mr. Wilkins," I remarked, "I've just been out tying a knot in a cord of wood."
Wilkins, among his other possessions, owned an uncommonly homely dog which was a source of considerable interest to my youngest.
You see we were never the proud owners of even a brindle cur, and of course Harold made friends with Rover from the very start.
Whenever the beast wanted to play he would whirl around in a circle, chasing his own tail in a comical manner that never failed to make us laugh.
That humorous tale would have been worth a small fortune if properly brought to the attention of the editor of the Sunday paper comic section.
Harold had stood and looked at the revolving beast nearly ten minutes, urging him on with sundry shouts.
Then he turned to me.
"What kind of a dog is that, pa?"
I'm no connoisseur of dogs, and was never made a judge in a bench show in my life.
I knew several breeds, but this nondescript was really beyond my ken.
At the same time it's never good policy to confess ignorance when asked a point-blank question by Young America.
"Oh," I said casually, "why, he's a—yes, a watch dog, Harold."
The boy pondered a minute, while the beast kept revolving.
"Well," he observed, "from the long time it takes him to wind himself up, I guess he must be a Waterbury watch dog."
While on the way to the Grand Central Depot I had to take the seat at the rear end of an open car.
Of course as you all know the last three or four seats are generally reserved for men who must smoke or die.
Occasionally, on account of the crowded condition of the cars, a female or two finds herself tucked away between the users of the weed.
Perhaps she is accustomed to it at home and pays little attention to the puffs of pungent smoke that float around her.
I have seen cases, however, where the disgust was written in big letters on the lady's face, and she took the earliest occasion to change her seat.
Such an instance occurred that day.
I thought she was a woman with considerable temper, just from her looks, and when she spoke I was sure of it.
"Smoking on a car!" she exclaimed, as an Irishman with his short-stemmed pipe took his seat beside her.
"Oi am!" rejoined Pat, between long and determined puffs. "And av ye don't loike ut go wan up froont. These sates is resairved for smokhers."
"If you were my husband I'd give you poison," she snapped.
"Would ye, now?" Puff, puff. "Oi think av ye wor me woife"—puff, puff—"Oi'd take ut."
Hotel clerks stand in a class by themselves.
I have great admiration for the whole tribe, and am on speaking terms with quite a bunch.
But for pure nerve commend me to that chap—it was in Chattanooga where I was stopping at the time—who rung me up from the office, five stories down.
Time eleven thirty-seven at night.
I jumped out of bed, and turning on the electric light, rushed to the phone.
"This George Niblo?"
"Gone to bed, yet?"
"Sure. Do you think I——"
"That's all right. How're you feeling?"
"That's good. Feel equal to a hurry-up slide down the fire-escape?"
"Well, I might if I had to. Say——"
"All right; that's just how it stands. You wriggle into your clothes now,[Pg 58] and make a record doing it. You see, the hotel's on fire, and—and—gee! Don't talk like that, Brother Niblo, there are ladies in the next room. Good-by."
You bet I made record time, and got out in pretty decent order, considering that I carried all my clothes on my arms.
I always believe that telephone saved my life, though I never could quite forgive the impudence of the clerk.
Among his other accomplishments Benson writes fancy ads, and when I dropped in on him he was hard at work getting up a unique booklet.
My curiosity forced me to examine the cover, and I saw it was intended to puff the benefits to be derived from using Madam Tussaud's Hair Restorer.
"Going to have stories between the covers?" I asked.
"Oh, I can imagine the kind—all about the beautiful girl whose long braid was cut off by a rascal, and who found a rich husband."
"You're away off," he remarked.
"Well then, how about the maiden who paid the mortgage on the old home by sacrificing her wonderful crop of hair, depending upon the use of this stuff for a new supply—ain't that straight?"
"Humbug," he snorted.
"Very well—tell me what brand you expect to use."
"Ghost stories, of course."
"And why ghost stories?"
"Well, I'm blessed, when you know just as much as I do they're the only genuine hair-raising stuff."
On my way to the elevated I sometimes stop in to leave an order at our grocer's.
Just this morning I found him taking an order from a new customer, who, I judged, had not been married very long.
Of course I couldn't help hearing some fragments of their delightful conversation.
I have a higher opinion of that grocer now.
He must have served his time as a court interpreter.
"You might send me a pound of paralysed sugar," she said.
"Yes'm. What else?"
"A couple of cans of condemned milk."
"And a bag of fresh salt—be sure it's quite fresh."
"That's down, ma'am—anything more you can think of?"
"Why, yes, you might send a pound of desecrated codfish."
"Nothing more, ma'am—we have just received a fresh lot of nice horseradish which I can recommend."
"Not to-day, thank you. We don't keep a horse."
When she went out that man filed the order without even a smile upon his face.
I felt like fanning myself with a washboard, although it was bitter cold outside.
While I was calling on Bob Sherlock, to talk over a little business he and myself were interested in, there was something of a commotion.
It began after my arrival.
I sat in the parlor waiting for Bob, who was dressing.
The family were in the back parlor, there being several children patterned very much after Bob.
Presently I heard signs of trouble.
Then Mrs. Bob said, a little sharply:
"Lawrence, don't be so selfish. Let your baby brother play with your marbles a little while."
"But he means to keep them always," said a voice.
"Oh, I guess not."
"I guess yes, 'cause he's swallowed three of 'em already," said Lawrence, with the positiveness of conviction.
Then the fun began.
But the baby was saved, and I strongly suspect Lawrence stretched matters to suit his convenience.
My family doctor ordered me to a warmer climate last winter.
I told him I objected to going so soon.
However, we compromised matters by deciding that North Carolina might do.
Mountain air and Mountain Dew have been known to work wonders in combination.
Now, perhaps you remember that Bill Nye had a home down in the Tar Heel State, and I was glad to know I would soon be breathing the same pine woods' air.
While the wagon was taking me to the retired home of the settler with whom I meant to camp out, it stopped before a tumble-down cabin, where there was a well of the finest water on earth.
A small boy handed up the gourd, while a girl with a shock of carroty hair stood afar off and watched.
"What's your sister's name?" I asked.
"Yes—she's your sister, I suppose?"
"Well what do you call her?"
"Lize—we uns call her Uneasy Lize."
"That's strange. How did she come by it?"
"To school. Teacher told we uns to each git a motter an' larn it, and come to school an' say it; sister she learned 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,' but she got so scart when she come to say it she never got no further'n 'Uneasy lies——' an' that's the name she's gone by ever since. Thankee, mister. Have another drink?"
Say, did I tell you I met Judkins on the Elevated the other morning. Judkins is the greatest bore in the country. Take that from me. Well, sirs, he started in to tell me his family history.
"You know my wife's sister Gwendolyn!" he asked.
"From Boston—yes," I murmured, prepared to grin and bear it.
"Well, she don't understand why my youngest lad condescends to associate with some boys toward whom she has taken a cordial dislike on sight.
"Now, only this morning I heard her reproaching him.
"'How can you associate with that Bink's boy? I understand he's the worst scholar in the school.'
"'Huh!' said my little chap, quick as a shot, 'don't you think I've got any gratitude, aunty—why, if it wasn't for him, Harold Bangs or me'd be at the foot of the class.'"
While we stood there awaiting a belated express, a lady came up the stairs, who immediately attracted attention from every gentleman present.
She was certainly a stunner and no mistake.
When she sailed past with the carriage of a duchess we both discovered that art had supplanted nature in giving her cheeks such a delightful glow.
This gave me an opening.
Judkins had just been asserting that women are as honest as men.
"Not in all things, my boy. A man will always put up a sign 'Look out for paint,' but did you ever know a woman to do it? Not on your sweet life."
I never realized before how forgetful sailors are as a class, until the fact was brought to my attention last summer down at the Long Island resort we patronized.
Why, they had to weigh their anchor every time they left port—you'd think they could remember the weight easy enough.
And speaking about sailors reminds me of a queer old character I once knew down at the docks.
For more than thirty years he had labored faithfully at the same job, and stepped up to be paid every Saturday night.
But at last there came a ruler "who knew not Joseph," and the order went out that the old man be discharged to make room for some younger favorite.
His son brought the sad news to him.
It seemed to stupefy the old fellow.
He went home that evening in a daze.
Of course the old woman quickly saw that something was wrong, and began to ask questions.
"No, and I'm not sick at all. They're after dischargin' me down at the docks. I've recaved me notice for next month. I knowed it would come. Sure I towld ye the furrst day I wint to worruk there I didn't think 'tw'ud be a steady job, and be jabers, I wor roight."
Some accident prevented me from attending a musicale given by a would-be friend the other evening.
When I met him later he expressed himself after the usual style, about having missed me, but I had loaded up my old blunderbuss, and gave him a corker.
"And we were sorry not to be with you, Jones, but to tell you the truth, our cook had company unexpectedly, and she needed us to fill out the card tables."
Jones never speaks to me now.
I really imagine the fellow believed what I told him, which speaks well for my veracity.
Not that it matters much anyhow, for I understand they will soon move out of our neighborhood.
My wife says the signs are infallible, since they have begun to scratch matches on the walls.
By some accident I dropped into a strange barber shop to be shaved.
And it was the most—well, atrocious skin I ever ran up against.
The tears stood in my eyes, but that barbarian kept scratching away just as though he had taken a vow not to leave an inch of cuticle on my chin.
When the agony became unbearable, I said, humbly:
"I beg pardon, but I believe there's a hack in your razor."
"Well," said he, coldly, "what did you expect to find in it—an automobile?"
We were doing Florida with a Pennsylvania excursion.
There was a very modest young lady from Boston with our party and a ranch owner from Oklahoma.
I chanced to be near when they were introduced.
"I understand you've traveled some in the West, Miss Beacon?" he said.
"Why, yes; quite extensively. I've been through California, Arizona and New Mexico, where I was shown all the wonderful sights."
"Did you ever see the Cherokee Strip?" he asked, anxious to tell of his broad domain in that wonderland.
There was a painful silence, but finally she looked over her glasses at him, and said:
"In the first place, sir, I deem your question exceedingly rude; and in the second, you might have been more refined in your language by asking me if I had ever seen the Cherokee disrobe."
Occupying a seat just in front of me in the Pullman, was a young couple, evidently recently engaged.
Occasionally fragments of their conversation came to my ears, though I give you my word I was not endeavoring to pry into their secrets.
I was, however, a little bit interested when I heard him say:
"I believe you cared for me the first time we ever met."
"Why, what makes you think so?" she demanded.
"Because you kept looking at me steadily. Every time I glanced in your direction your gaze was riveted upon me."
The girl laughed in glee.
"Oh, but it wasn't because I had fallen in love with you. I was thinking what a pity it was there was no one near and dear to you who could tell you what wretched taste you had in neckties."
George was more subdued after that.
And I noticed that his necktie was in most excellent taste.
Right across the aisle two ladies were condoling with each other over the respective short-comings of their husbands.
I wondered if that sort of thing was common, and how John's ears would tingle during business hours if he could only know how his little faults[Pg 70] were being held up to ridicule by the partner of his bosom.
They did haul those poor fellows over the coals good and hard, which I thought bad taste, considering that it was only through the liberality of the same that these ladies were now off on a month's pleasure trip.
I heard one of them finally say:
"So your husband always humiliates you when you take him to church Sunday morning? What does he do—go to sleep and snore like my unmannerly husband?"
"Oh; it's worse than that, I assure you. He gives himself away so wretchedly."
"How is that?" asked the other, eagerly, for much as these ladies like to run their husbands down, they seem to enjoy learning that there are others still worse.
"Why, he always tries to sneak into church by the side door," was the disgusted reply.
I assure you I had reason to believe that man's home did not have much attraction for him.
Between New York and Philadelphia I ran across an old acquaintance, seated with a stranger who appeared to have a great affection for him.
He kept an arm on the seat back of my old friend Reginald, and every now and then spoke to him soothingly.
I was surprised at the change in Reginald.
There was an excited look in his face, and his eyes rolled restlessly, but he knew me and shook hands.
"Why I haven't seen you for several weeks! How's your health?" I asked.
"Poorly; every little thing-thong seems to affect me lately. Well, at any rate, you are looking like a king-kong."
"Feeling that way, except for a slight touch of spring fever," I replied.
"Yes; spring-sprong always affects me, too—makes my head ring-rong."
"What in thunder is the matter with you, old man, the way you've got to talking?"
"Nothing-thong," said Reginald, making a swinging movement of his arm[Pg 72] through empty air, as his friend backed away in amazement and alarm.
"I hear that you have become a great devotee of the fashionable fad of table tennis."
"Yes," he said, wildly; "I like to have my fling-flong, and enjoy the banjo sing-song of the game of ping-pong at every racquet's swing-swong, while the celluloid sphere is on the wing-wong. I know that game's the thing-thong——"
Just then the gentleman seated alongside spoke to him, and the poor fellow lapsed into silence.
I knew then that the dreadful ping-pong had gotten in its work, and that he was on his way to a sanitarium.
In Jacksonville I dropped into a restaurant with a friend, a Wall Street man off for a rest.
Presently the waiter came up.
"What'll you have to-day, sah?" asked the waiter. "We've got some nice lamb wid green peas."
"Yes," said the Wall Street operator, absent-mindedly, "let me have a little lamb with greenbacks."
You see its hard for those chaps to divorce themselves from their business.
After a while I noticed an old tortoise-shell tabby sitting on one of the tables.
It was back a little, but in full view of the patrons.
I wondered why none of the attendants chased the beast away, and my curiosity grew apace until I mentioned it to my companion.
So we hazarded many a guess.
He said she was a standing ad of the catsup.
I declared her duty was to keep tab on the waiters.
After we had exhausted all the old chestnuts, and strained our relations almost to the breaking point by manufacturing some atrocious new jokes, we decided to call the waiter to settle the matter.
He bent down and said mysteriously:
"You see, sah, we's got stewed rabbit on de bill ob fare to-day, and de govenor, sah, he say as how de customers like to hab de cat in evidence on dese days."
When we left the cat was still there.
I like the refreshing honesty of that restaurant man, don't you?
My wife and I had quite a spirited debate recently.
It concerned our youngest, who had been getting into trouble again, throwing stones at a neighbor's cat, or doing some such boyish misdemeanor, and his mother expressed her opinion that he was surely a chip of the old block.
This was not the first time I had heard her say that.
And, the worst of it was, I recognized its truth.
Nevertheless, being a man, and the head of the family, I thought I ought to protest.
"I suppose you believe the lad inherits all his good qualities from you, and his evil propensities from me?" I remarked, loftily.
"Certainly, I have good authority for it," she replied, not disturbed in the least by my haughty demeanor.
You see, she has known me a long time.
"Indeed," I said, "where do you get your authority?"
"Oh! from the Bible—you know it says that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children."
I rather guess she had me there.
All housewives dislike the good man to bring company home with him unexpectedly.
I know this from sad experience.
And, consequently, I always aim to let my better half know beforehand, so that she may prepare certain dishes that she delights to set before company, but which are strangers to our ordinary everyday bill of fare.
Even the best of intentions are liable to go astray.
And on this occasion I certainly overstepped the mark.
So I have taken a vow to abstain from slang hereafter.
This is what happened:
I left two gentlemen in the parlor, and wended my way to the realm where our meals are usually prepared.
My wife met me in the dining-room, and her face told me she was not happy.
"Surely you haven't brought any one home with you?" she said.
"Why, yes, my dear. You remember, of course, I told you this morning I would."
"Of course, not. You told me you'd bring home a couple of lobsters for dinner."
"Well, that's them in the parlor."
I finally compromised matters by taking a party of four to a neighboring restaurant, and that lobster episode cost me just ten dollars.
I had an embarassing moment the other day.
Le'me tell you how it was.
Some business took me to a certain quarter over in Newark, to see a man about a matter of importance.
He was out, but expected in shortly.
So I said I would wait, for it meant nearly half a day wasted if I had my trip for nothing.
The old lady gave me a chair in the kitchen, for they were good, honest German folks, you know.
I soon became interested watching a young girl who was busily engaged kneading bread.
Casual observation induced me to believe she might be about twelve years of age.
After some time, I broke the silence by remarking:
"Don't you go to school?"
"No; I stopped school some time ago," she replied, smiling.
"I should think that a girl of your age would want to get as much education as possible before taking the responsibility attending household duties," I said.
"But why don't you go to school, then?"
"Well," she stammered, "because my husband thinks I had better stay at home."
About that time something occurring outside the window attracted my attention.
I don't believe I've ever felt so cheap since I was a boy and used to join the other fellows in a genuine old country serenade when a wedding took place.
Did I tell you about it?
Well, this is what happened:
We heard that there was to be a wedding over at old Squire Joskins'—a[Pg 78] niece of his had come home to be married to some fellow or other.
Little we cared.
A wedding was all the same to us, if we could only indulge in a downright rollicking shivaree.
So a lot of us got together—I guess there was a dozen.
We had fishhorns and cowbells and tin pans galore.
Well, the racket we put up was enough to wake up the dead.
An hour went by, and not even a light showed.
This made us mad, for you see it's customary after a time to beg off from the serenade by calling the boys in and giving a spread.
We did it some more.
Another hour passed.
There was a lot of tired arms and ringing ears in that gang—say, we could hardly talk above a whisper.
Yet, with true American grit, we were determined to keep the ball rolling until we dropped dead or they gave in.
I think it must have been near the end of the third watch that I saw a head with a nightcap on it stuck out of a second-story window.
Immediately we all quit pounding and waited to hear the glad summons.
And this is what old Squire Joskins said:
"Don't stop if you're havin' a good time, boys. You ain't disturbin' nobody. The young folks that was married here this evenin' are both deaf and dumb."
Then the window was lowered and deep silence immediately began to reign.
We went home.
If any one tells you we are losing our fine sense of humor, don't you believe it.
To my mind as the years go on, human nature is taking more and more interest in whatever pertains to the funny side of life.
The growth of vaudeville proves it.
At the same time I must say some people go to extremes, like a certain individual I happened to run across one night on the Bowery.
I chanced to be passing a tough joint near Grand Street when they were ejecting a foreigner who bore all the signs of extremely rough usage, nevertheless was laughing immoderately.
"What is the joke?" I asked, holding him up.
"Why," said he, "a man came up to me in the bar just now, gave me a fearful punch on the nose, and said, 'Take that, you blooming Norwegian,'" and he fell to laughing again as though his sides would split.
I was interested, and said:
"Just so, but I don't see anything so funny about that."
"You don't, eh? That's queer," the man answered; "but then he hit me a crack in the eyes, and afterward knocked out one of my teeth, saying, 'And take that, too, you blooming Norwegian.'"
"But still I can't see anything funny," I protested.
"Ho! ho! ho!" the other yelled, "I made a fool of him, for you see, mister, the joke is that I'm a Swede."
They make it as easy as possible these days for those who want to become citizens.
Ever been on the scene when a lot of these fellows line up to be naturalized?
My friend, Clerk Donovan, down at City Hall, through whose hands the applications go, says it's as good as a circus.
One red-faced son of the Emerald Isle, whose carroty hair looked like a danger signal, stood in front of Clerk Donovan the other day, hoping to squeeze in.
It was necessary, before application could be granted, that he should show some familiarity with the style of government in this country.
Evidently Pat had not been properly coached, and hoped to pull through by natural assurance.
"Have you read the Declaration of Independence?" asked Clerk Donovan.
"Have you read the Constitution of the United States?"
"I hov not."
"Well, then," cried Clerk Donovan, in an exasperated tone, "have you read the history of the United States?"
"No? Well, what in thunder have you read?"
"Oi have red hair on me head, your honor," said the fellow, triumphantly.
He thought he had scored his point.
While I was dramatic editor on a metropolitan paper I used to mingle with the actors a good deal.
That's how I took to my present calling.
A fellow came to a manager I knew, one day, and wanted a berth.
He had been a high roller in his day, I guess, but had of late been on his uppers.
The manager looked over his list, and finally said:
"Well, that's the best I can do for you. You've been idle all season so far. Now, will you remain idle all the rest of the year, or take this small part?"
The actor considered a bit, and then made up his mind.
"I'll take it," he said. "In this case a small role is better than a whole loaf."
While I was attending the theatre in my official capacity as a critic, wishing to obtain the various[Pg 83] opinions of those patrons whose views should be valuable, I remember tackling a bald-headed man with whom I had scraped an acquaintance.
"Do you think vaudeville should be reformed?" I asked.
He grinned at me diabolically, and replied:
"No, but I'm of the positive opinion that some of these soubrettes they've been springing on us lately might be reformed all right."
Now, while dramatic editors may possibly know something of music, they don't claim to be high art critics.
The editor expects it, however.
He sent me to report a musicale once.
I dished it up to perfection I thought, with the assistance of a friend, a Bohemian who conducted an orchestra in a Broadway theatre.
Judge of my surprise when the editor had me on the carpet the following day.
I knew his digestion was bad, and that he meant to trip me up on some mere trifle.
So I was on my guard.
"See here," he said, "did you do this write-up of the concert last night?"
I confessed that it was my job.
He frowned and rapped the paper.
"I see you speak of the audience 'drinking in the marvelous strains of the orchestra.' That is a hackneyed phrase, I know, but tell me, how in the name of Heaven can any one drink in music?"
"Well," I suggested, "one way I suppose it might be done would be with a Rubinstein."
I should have been bounced, I know, but it was my first offense, and the great editor let me down easy.
Awowch! I've got it sure!
It's worse than being run over by a team of wild horses.
Where it comes from no fellow can discover, and once you've got it, look out, for it sticks closer than a porous plaster.
That's the grippe.
Ever have it—then see here if this don't just describe your feelings to a dot. All keep quiet,[Pg 85] please, while I tell how it throws a fellow worse than he ever went down in his football college days.
The little ballad is called "Please Bring the Ice;" or, "The Lay of the Last Lameback."
My butcher has evidently grown weary of hearing complaints regarding the high prices of meat.
And he is also suspicious of any one who begins to talk of the grinding monopoly controlling the market.
Why, it was only the other morning he closed up a sour-looking man so suddenly that I fancy the fellow has not up to this time got over wondering what hit him.
"It's got so now," he began to say, "that the infernal beef trust——"
"You won't find any beef trust at this shop, I'm telling you right now—my terms are strictly cash," was what the cruel purveyor of loins and steaks tossed at him.
And there was my old friend, the grocery man, getting into hot water again when I entered.
He is used to it, being parboiled every day.
When I saw the same young matron who had ordered "condemned milk" and those other astonishing things the other day, I pricked up my ears, under the belief that something rich, rare and racy might happen.
"I've come to complain of that flour you sent me," she was saying, with fire in her eye.
"What was the matter with it?" asked the grocer, meekly.
"It was tough. I made a pie with it, and it was as much as my husband could do to cut it," was what the dear young thing said in all candor.
And I suppose that grocer promised to remedy matters by sending up some "tender" flour.
While I loitered in the grocer's who should come in but Dr. Instantaneous, as gay and chipper as though he had never killed a man in his thirty years of deadly practice. He's a crank on the liquor question, and to stave him off, I said:
"Terrible thing, that case of Sweitzer, the brewer."
"The brewer—yes, I've heard his name—what happened to him?" he asked, innocently.
"Why, it must have been sudden."
"How did he die?"
"Too much absorbed in his business."
"Fell into one of his beer vats and was drowned."
Then the medical man smiled gently, but I knew he would want to moralize on the story and I let fly again.
"Notice that tall gentleman over yonder?" I said, mysteriously.
"The one looking at those truffles?"
"Yes. What do you think of his looks?"
"A very homely individual."
"Wouldn't take him for a heart-smasher?"
"I guess not."
"Well, he's turned more girls' heads, I suppose, than any other man in New York."
"H'm! a matinee idol, I suppose," grunted Dr. Instantaneous.
"Wrong. He's the manufacturer of the celebrated Madame Justine's hair bleach."
"Well, doctor," I rattled on, "days are getting pretty short now. Why, d'ye know the ink doesn't seem to have time to dry on a thirty-day note before it's due. But tell me, doctor, have you seen Prof. Bigsby since he came back from Martinique?"
"Has he really returned, then?" he asked, in surprise.
"Yes, they thought he had the measles, and sent him home as an invalid."
"Did he have them?"
"Hope it wasn't smallpox, then?"
"Nothing so serious. You see, during his investigations with regard to the causes of the volcanic disturbances, the professor must have swallowed a great quantity of lava dust. That was quite natural, wasn't it?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, it stands to reason that an eruption followed."
Perhaps you know that I've taken something of a prominent part in the agitation for merry-go-rounds in the public parks, to better the condition of the poor.
Seen my name among those of the committee, haven't you? Well, a certain genius called Cropsey dropped in on me to ask if it wouldn't be the proper caper in connection with those merry-go-rounds to enlist the sympathy and co-operation of the Daughters of the Revolution.
There! That ought to be enough to make you weep, like you'd been peeling onions.
"Onions! Now there's something I'm particularly fond of," he remarked.
"Ditto," I said, "the only trouble about onions is that when you eat them you have to take so many people into your confidence about it."
Speaking about confidence, what do you think of the sublime assurance of the monkey that lost his hold on the branch of the tree, and fell into the crocodile's waiting jaws? Even then his wits did not desert him.
"I just dropped in for dinner," he said, with an engaging smile.
"It seems to me," remarked a business acquaintance, "that our employees get more assurance every day they live. Now, there's that young bookkeeper of mine. He asked me, early in the week, whether I could let him off to attend his great-aunt's funeral."
"And what did you tell him?" I asked the man of business.
"That it was impossible, as we were so overwhelmed with work. He seemed to take it so to heart that I felt a touch of pity for him, so I told him that if business dropped off some I wouldn't mind his going to a funeral, say on Saturday afternoon."
Had a great game of poker last night. Here's an inch of horse-sense you poker-players will appreciate:
Zacharia, my barber, is quite a character.
I thought to joke him the last time he cut my hair.
"Look here," I remarked, "hair getting thin, eh?"
"Sure, it is."
"Seems to me you ought to charge me half price, since the quantity has fallen off so."
"It would 'pear so, sah, but on de udder hand I orter charge double price."
"How's that, Zacharia?"
"Jest see what trouble I has to find it."
Last summer I took Zacchy out in the country with me, as he wanted a change.
He did the chores around the place, you know, tended the horse, made the garden, cut the lawn.
It was quite a change for him.
And I guess he was awful glad to get back to town again.
Well, Zacchy has a pretty good disposition, easy-going, you know, like most darkies.
My wife noticed that right away.
It takes the women to see through things.
And she had the strongest way of remedying the trouble you ever heard of.
Would you believe it, one day she came to me all smiles, and she said:
"George, dear, I want you to be sure and give Zacharia a good scolding to-morrow morning."
I was surprised, and wondered what the fellow had been doing.
"Why not now?" I demanded, growing warm under the collar at the idea of the darky having been impudent.
"No, no, restrain your impetuosity. I said to-morrow morning.
"But what has he been doing?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing at all out of the way—he's such an easy-going chap, you know."
"Well," I said, "I don't understand. Zacchy's all right, and I quite fancy him. Now, why should I scold him in the morning?"
"You see, he has to beat the carpets to-morrow, and strikes ever so much harder when he's in a bad temper."
What do you think of that?
Who, but a woman could have conceived such a master stroke of genius?
I often feel compelled to take off my hat to Mrs. Niblo.
Why, we were discussing a particular lady friend who was noted for her eccentricities.
"She's such a stickler for doing everything appropriately," I chanced to remark.
"Well, I should say so," chimed in my better half, who had delighted to take note of these things; "why, she always does her marketing in a basket-phaeton."
I've had a little experience in building, and of course paid for it, as all men do.
They were putting an addition on my country house.
I call it by that name, for it sounds well.
I am generally a particular man, believing in the motto "A place for everything and everything in its place."
The boss carpenter annoyed me.
He seemed very careless—why, he would leave his tools just where he dropped them, and it took me half an hour every evening going around collecting the same.
Finally, I thought to reprove him gently.
"My friend, suppose some one should drop in here and get away with some of the valuable tools you let lie around. It would be a serious loss."
"Don't lose any sleep about it, my friend," he said, "all those things will be found in your bill."
Why, would you believe it, that same carpenter used to bring his dog around with him and charged me for his meals. That dog got so fat no sausage-maker could pass him by without a sigh.
I heard of a meditative kind of terrier that got grabbed up by a sausage-man the other day.
"Well," moaned the dog, as the net fell over him, "of all the unlucky dogs, I guess I'm the worst yet."
"No," chuckled the sausage-man, "you are not the wurst yet, but you pretty soon will be!"
Well, talking about sausages has made me hungry, so we'll call it off till we meet again.
No bouquets, please!
Images may be clicked to view larger versions.
A few missing periods have been restored.
Non-standard spellings (e.g. embarassing) have been retained from the original.
Page 38, changed "fellow that aid" to "fellow that said."
Page 50, changed "even raughed" to "even laughed" and "Sike's case" to "Sikes case."