Copyright
Kate Milner Rabb.

The wit and humor of America (Volume 2) online

. (page 4 of 24)
Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Rollo saw it coming and got out of the way.

"B-a-n!" his father shouted, "B-a-n, Ban! Ban! Ban!
Ban ! Ban ! Now go on, if you think you know how to
spell that ! What comes next ? Oh, you're enough to tire
the patience of Job ! I've a good mind to make you learn
by the Pollard system, and begin where you leave off!
Go ahead, why don't you? Whatta you waiting for?
Read on ! What comes next ? Why, croft, of course ; any-
body ought to know that — c-r-o-f-t, croft, Bancroft!
What does that apostrophe mean ? I mean, what does that
punctuation mark between t and s stand for ? You don't
know? Take that, then! (whack). What comes after
Bancroft? Spell it! Spell it, I tell you, and don't be all
night about it ! Can't, eh ? Well, read it then ; if you can't

451



ROLLO LEARNING TO READ

spell it, read it. H-i-s-t-o-r-y-ry, history ; Bancroft's His-
tory of the United States! Now what does that spell? I
mean, spell that! Spell it! Oh, go away! Go to bed!
Stupid, stupid child," he added as the little boy went
weeping out of the room, "he'll never learn anything so
long as he lives. I declare he has tired me all out, and I
used to teach school in Trivoli township, too. Taught one
whole winter in district number three when Nick Worth-
ington was county superintendent, and had my salary —
look here, Mary, what do you find in that English gram-
mar to giggle about ? You go to bed, too, and listen to me
— if Rollo can't read that whole book clear through with-
out making a mistake to-morrow night, you'll wish you
had been born without a back, that's all."

The following morning, when Rollo's father drove
away to business, he paused a moment as Rollo stood at
the gate for a final good-by kiss — for Rollo's daily good-
byes began at the door and lasted as long as his father
was in sight — Mr. Holliday said :

"Some day, Rollo, you will thank me for teaching you
to read."

"Yes, sir," replied Rollo, respectfully, and then added,
"but not this day."

Rollo's head, though it had here and there transient
bumps consequent upon foot-ball practice, was not nat-
urally or permanently hilly. On the contrary, it was quite
level.

SPELL AND DEFINE:

Tact Imperturbability Ebullition

Exasperation Red-hot Knout

Lamb Philosopher Terrier

Which end of a rattan hurts the more? — Why does reading make a
full man? — Is an occasional whipping good for a boy? — At precisely
what age does corporal punishment cease to be effective? — And



ROBERT J. BURDETTE

why? — State, in exact terms, how much better arc grown up people
without the rod, than little people with it. — And why? — When would
a series of good sound whippings have been of the greatest benefit to
Solomon, when he was a godly young man, or an idolatrous old
one? — In order to reform this world thoroughly, then, whom should
we thrash, the children or the grown-up people? — And why? — If,
then, the whipping post should be abolished in Delaware, why should
it be retained in the nursery and the school room? — Write on the
board, in large letters, the following sentence :

If a boy ten years old should

be whipped for breaking a window,

what should be done to a man

thirty-five years old for breaking

the third commandment?



453



ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER

BY LUCRETIA P. HALE

Elizabeth Eliza joined the Circumambient Club with
the idea that it would be a long time before she, a new
member, would have to read a paper. She would have
time to hear the other papers read, and to see how it was
done ; and she would find it easy when her turn came. By
that time she would have some ideas; and long before
she would be called upon, she would have leisure to sit
down and write out something. But a year passed away,
and the time was drawing near. She had, meanwhile, de-
voted herself to her studies, and had tried to inform her-
self on all subjects by way of preparation. She had con-
sulted one of the old members of the Club as to the choice
of a subject.

"Oh, write about anything," was the answer, — "any-
thing you have been thinking of."

Elizabeth Eliza was forced to say she had not been
thinking lately. She had not had time. The family had
moved, and there was always an excitement about some-
thing, that prevented her sitting down to think.

"Why not write on your family adventures?" asked
the old member,

Elizabeth Eliza was sure her mother would think it
made them too public ; and most of the Club papers, she
observed, had some thought in them. She preferred to
find an idea.

So she set herself to the occupation of thinking. She

454



LUCRETIA P. HALE

went out on the piazza to think ; she stayed in the house
to think. She tried a corner of the china-closet. She tried
thinking" in the cars, and lost her pocket-book ; she tried
it in the garden, and walked into the strawberry bed.
In the house and out of the house, it seemed to be the
same, — she could not think of anything to think of. For
many weeks she was seen sitting on the sofa or in the win-
dow, and nobody disturbed her. "She is thinking about
her paper," the family would say, but she only knew that
she could not think of anything.

Agamemnon told her that many writers waited till the
last moment, when inspiration came, which was much
finer than anything studied. Elizabeth Eliza thought it
would be terrible to wait till the last moment, if the in-
spiration should not come! She might combine the two
ways, — wait till a few days before the last, and then sit
down and write anyhow. This would give a chance for in-
spiration, while she would not run the risk of writing
nothing.

She was much discouraged. Perhaps she had better
give it up ? But, no ; everybody wrote a paper : if not now,
she would have to do it some time !

And at last the idea of a subject came to her! But it
was as hard to find a moment to write as to think. The
morning was noisy, till the little boys had gone to school ;
for they had begun again upon their regular course, with
the plan of taking up the study of cider in October. And
after the little boys had gone to school, now it was one
thing, now it was another, — the china-closet to be cleaned,
or one of the neighbors in to look at the sewing-machine.
She tried after dinner, but would fall asleep. She felt that
evening would be the true time, after the cares of the day
were over.

The Peterkins had wire mosquito-nets all over the

455



ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER

house, — at every door and every window. They were as
eager to keep out the flies as the mosquitoes. The doors
were all furnished with strong springs, that pulled the
doors to as soon as they were opened. The little boys had
practised running in and out of each door, and slamming
it after them. This made a good deal of noise, for they
had gained great success in making one door slam directly
after another, and at times would keep up a running vol-
ley of artillery, as they called it, with the slamming of the
doors. Mr. Peterkin, however, preferred it to flies.

So Elizabeth Eliza felt she would venture to write of
a summer evening with all the windows open.

She seated herself one evening in the library, between
two large kerosene lamps, with paper, pen, and ink before
her. It was a beautiful night, with the smell of the roses
coming in through the mosquito-nets, and just the faint-
est odor of kerosene by her side. She began upon her
work. But what was her dismay ! She found herself im-
mediately surrounded with mosquitoes. They attacked
her at every point. They fell upon her hand as she moved
it to the inkstand ; they hovered, buzzing, over her head ;
they planted themselves under the lace of her sleeve. If
she moved her left hand to frighten them off from one
point, another band fixed themselves upon her right hand.
Not only did they flutter and sting, but they sang in a
heathenish manner, distracting her attention as she tried
to write, as she tried to waft them off. Nor was this all.
Myriads of June-bugs and millers hovered round, flung
themselves into the lamps, and made disagreeable funeral-
pyres of themselves, tumbling noisily on her paper in their
last unpleasant agonies. Occasionally one darted with
a rush toward Elizabeth Eliza's head.

If there was anything Elizabeth Eliza had a terror of
it was a June-bug. She had heard that they had a tend-

456



LUCRETIA P. HALE

ency to get into the hair. One had been caught in the
hair of a friend of hers, who had long, luxuriant hair.
But the legs of the June-bug were caught in it like fish-
hooks, and it had to be cut out, and the June-bug was pnly
extricated by sacrificing large masses of the flowing
locks.

Elizabeth Eliza flung her handkerchief over her head.
Could she sacrifice what hair she had to the claims of
literature? She gave a cry of dismay.

The little boys rushed in a moment to the rescue. They
flapped newspapers, flung sofa-cushions; they offered to
stand by her side with fly-whisks, that she might be free
to write. But the struggle was too exciting for her, and
the flying insects seemed to increase. Moths of every de-
scription — large brown moths, small, delicate white mil-
lers — whirled about her, while the irritating hum of the
mosquito kept on more than ever. Mr. Peterkin and the
rest of the family came in to inquire about the trouble. It
was discovered that each of the little boys had been stand-
ing in the opening of a wire door for some time, watch-
ing to see when Elizabeth Eliza would have made her
preparations and would begin to write. Countless num-
bers of dorbugs and winged creatures of every description
had taken occasion to come in. It was found that they
were in every part of the house.

"We might open all the blinds and screens," suggested
Agamemnon, "and make a vigorous onslaught and drive
them all out at once."

"I do believe there are more inside than out now," said
Solomon John.

"The wire nets, of course," said Agamemnon, "keep
them in now."

"We might go outside," proposed Solomon John, "and
drive in all that are left. Then to-morrpw morning, when

457



ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER

they are all torpid, kill them and make collections of
them."

Agamemnon had a tent which he had provided in
case he should ever go to the Adirondacks, and he pro-
posed using it for the night. The little boys were wild
for this.

Mrs. Peterkin thought she and Elizabeth Eliza would
prefer trying to sleep in the house. But perhaps Elizabeth
Eliza would go on with her paper with more comfort
out of doors.

A student's lamp was carried out, and she was estab-
lished on the steps of the back piazza, while screens were
all carefully closed to prevent the mosquitoes and insects
from flying out. But it was no use. There were outside
still swarms of winged creatures that plunged themselves
about her, and she had not been there long before a huge
miller flung himself into the lamp and put it out. She
gave up for the evening.

Still the paper went on. "How fortunate," exclaimed
Elizabeth Eliza, "that I did not put it off till the last
evening!" Having once begun, she persevered in it at
every odd moment of the day. Agamemnon presented her
with a volume of "Synonymes," which was a great service
to her. She read her paper, in its various stages, to
Agamemnon first, for his criticism, then to her father in
the library, then to Mr. and Mrs. Peterkin together, next
to Solomon John, and afterward to the whole family as-
sembled. She was almost glad that the lady from Phila-
delphia was not in town, as she wished it to be her own
unaided production. She declined all invitations for the
week before the night of the Club, and on the very day
she kept her room with emi sucree, that she might save
her voice. Solomon John provided her with Brown's
Bronchial Troches when the evening came, and Mrs.

458



LUCRETIA P. HALE

Peterkin advised a handkerchief over her head, in case of
June-bugs.

It was, however, a cool night. Agamemnon escorted
her to the house.

The Club met at Ann Maria Bromwick's. No gentle-
men were admitted to the regular meetings. There were
what Solomon John called "pccasional annual meetings,"
to which they were invited, when all the choicest papers
of the year were re-read,

Elizabeth Eliza was placed at the head of the room, at
a small table, with a brilliant gas-jet on one side. It was
so cool the windows could be closed, Mrs. Peterkin, as
a guest, sat in the front row.

This was her paper, as Elizabeth Eliza read it, for she
frequently inserted fresh expressions : —

THE SUN

It is impossible that much can be known about it. This
is why we have taken it up as a subject. We mean the
sun that lights us by day and leaves us by night. In the
first place, it is so far off. No measuring-tapes could
reach it; and both the earth and the sun are moving
about us, that it would be difficult to adjust ladders to
reach it, if we could. Of course, people have written about
it, and there are those who have told us how many miles
off it is. But it is a very large number, with a great many
figures in it; and though it is taught in most if not all of
our public schools, it is a chance if any one of the scholars
remembers exactly how much it is.

It is the same with its size. We can not, as we have
said, reach it by ladders to measure it ; and if we did reach
it, we should have no measuring-tapes large enough, and
those that shut up with springs are difficult to use in a high

459



ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER

places. We are told, it is true, in a great many of the
school-books, the size of the sun ; but, again, very few of
those who have learned the number have been able to
remember it after they have recited it, even if they re-
membered it then. And almost all of the scholars have
lost their school-books, or have neglected to carry them
home, and so they are not able to refer to them, — I mean,
after leaving school. I must say that is the case with
me, I should say with us, though it was different. The
older ones gave their school-books to the younger ones,
who took them back to school to lose them, or who have
destroyed them when there were no younger ones to go
to school. I should say there are such families. What I
mean is, the fact that in some families there are no
younger children to take off the school-books. But even
then they are put away on upper shelves, in closets or in
attics, and seldom found if wanted, — if then, dusty.

Of course, we all know of a class of persons called
astronomers, who might be able to give us information
on the subject in hand, and who probably do furnish
what information is found in school-books. It should be
observed, however, that these astronomers carry on their
observations always in the night. Now, it is well known
that the sun does not shine in the night. Indeed, that is
one of the peculiarities of the night, that there is no sun
to light us, so we have to go to bed as long as there is
nothing else we can do without its light, unless we use
lamps, gas, or kerosene, which is very well for the even-
ing, but would be expensive all night long; the same
with candles. How, then, can we depend upon their
statements, if not made from their own observation, — I
mean, if they never saw the sun ?

We can not expect that astronomers should give us any
valuable information with regard to the sun, which they

460



' LUCRETIA P. HALE

never see, their occupation compelling them to be up at
night. It is quite likely that they never see it; for we
should not expect them to sit up all day as well as all
night, as, under such circumstances, their lives would
not last long.

Indeed, we are told that their name is taken from the
word aster, which means "star;" the word is "aster —
know — more." This, doubtless, means that they know
more about the stars than other things. We see, there-
fore, that their knowledge is confined to the stars, and we
can not trust what they have to tell us of the sun.

There are other asters which should not be mixed up
with these, — we mean those growing by the wayside in the
fall of the year. The astronomers, from their nocturnal
habits, can scarcely be acquainted with them; but as it
does not come within our province, we will not inquire.

We are left, then, to seek our own information about
the sun. But we are met with a difficulty. To know a
thing, we must look at it. How can we look at the sun ?
It is so very bright that our eyes are dazzled in gazing
upon it. We have to turn away, or they would be put
out, — the sight, I mean. It is true, we might use smoked
glass, but that is apt to come off on the nose. How, then,
if we can not look at it, can we find out about it? The
noonday would seem to be the better hour, when it is the
sunniest; but, besides injuring the eyes, it is painful to
the neck to look up for a long time. It is easy to say that
our examination of this heavenly body should take place
at sunrise, when we could look at it more on a level, with-
out having to endanger the spine. But how many people
are up at sunrise ? Those who get up early do it because
they are compelled to, and have something else to do than
look at the sun.

The milkman goes forth to carry the daily milk, the

461



ELIZABETH ELIZA WRITES A PAPER

ice-man to leave the daily ice. But either of these would
be afraid of exposing their vehicles to the heating orb
of day, — the milkman afraid of turning the milk, the ice-
man timorous of melting his ice — and they probably
avoid those directions where they shall meet the sun's
rays. The student, who might inform us, has been burn-
ing the midnight oil. The student is not in the mood to
consider the early sun.

There remains to us the evening, also, — the leisure hour
of the day. But, alas! our houses are not built with an
adaptation to this subject. They are seldom made to look
toward the sunset. A careful inquiry and close observa-
tion, such as have been called for in preparation of this
paper, have developed the fact that not a single house in
this town faces the sunset ! There may be windows look-
ing that way, but in such a case there is always a barn
between. I can testify to this from personal observations,
because, with my brothers, we have walked through the
several streets of this town with note-books, carefully
noting every house looking upon the sunset, and have
found none from which the sunset could be studied.
Sometimes it was the next house, sometimes a row of
houses, or its own wood-house, that stood in the way.

Of course, a study of the sun might be pursued out of
doors. But in summer, sunstroke would be likely to fol-
low; in winter, neuralgia and cold. And how could you
consult your books, your dictionaries, your encyclo-
paedias? There seems to be no hour of the day for study-
ing the sun. You might go to the East to see it at its
rising, or to the West to gaze upon its setting, but — you
don't.

Here Elizabeth Eliza came to a pause. She had written
five different endings, and had brought them all, think-
ing, when the moment came, she would choose one of

462



LUCRETIA P. HALE

them. She was pausing to select one, and inadvertently
said, to close the phrase, "you don't." She had not meant
to use the expression, which she would not have thought
sufificiently imposing, — it dropped out unconsciously, —
but it was received as a close with rapturous applause.

She had read slowly, and now that the audience ap-
plauded at such a length, she had time to feel she was
much exhausted and glad of an end. Why not stop
there, though there were some pages more? Applause,
too, was heard from the outside. Some of the gentlemen
had come, — Mr. Peterkin, Agamemnon, and Solomon
John, with others, — and demanded admission.

"Since it is all over, let them in," said Ann Maria
Bromwick.

Elizabeth Eliza assented, and rose to shake hands with
her applauding friends.



463



MR. STIVER'S HORSE

BY JAMES MONTGOMERY BAILEY

The other morning at breakfast Mrs. Perkins observed
that Mr. Stiver, in whose house we hve, had been called
away, and wanted to know if I would see to his horse
through the day.

I knew that Mr. Stiver owned a horse, because I occa-
sionally saw him drive out of the yard, and I saw the
stable every day, — ^but what kind of a horse I didn't
know. I never went into the stable, for two reasons : in
the first place, I had no desire to ; and, secondly, I didn't
know as the horse cared particularly for company.

I never took care of a horse in my life ; and, had I been
of a less hopeful nature, the charge Mr. Stiver had left
with me might have had a very depressing effect; but I
told Mrs. Perkins I would do it.

"You know how to take care of a horse, don't you?"
said she.

I gave her a reassuring wink. In fact, I knew so little
about it that I didn't think it safe to converse more
fluently than by winks.

After breakfast I seized a toothpick and walked out
towards the stable. There was nothing particular to do,
as Stiver had given him his breakfast, and I found him
eating it ; so I looked around. The horse looked around,
too, and stared pretty hard at me. There was but little
said on either side. I hunted up the location of the feed,
and then sat down on a peck measure and fell to studying

464



JAMES MONTGOMERY BAILEY

the beast. There Is a wide difference in horses. Some of
them will kick you over and never look around to see
what becomes of you. I don't like a disposition like that,
and I wondered if Stiver's horse was one of them.

When I came home at noon I went straight to the
stable. The animal was there all right. Stiver hadn't
told me what to give him for dinner, and I had not given
the subject any thought ; but I went to the oat-box and
filled the peck measure and sallied boldly up to the man-
ger.

When he saw the oats he almost smiled; this pleased
and amused him. I emptied them into the trough, and left
him above me to admire the way I parted my hair behind.
I just got my head up in time to save the whole of it. He
had his ears back, his mouth open, and looked as if he
were on the point of committing murder. I went out and
filled the measure again, and climbed up the side of the
stall and emptied it on top of him. He brought his head
up so suddenly at this that I immediately got down, let-
ting go of everything to do it. I struck on the sharp edge
of a barrel, rolled over a couple of times, then disappeared
under a hay-cutter. The peck measure went down on
the other side, and got mysteriously tangled up in that
animal's heels, and he went to work at it, and then ensued
the most dreadful noise I ever heard in all my life, and I
have been married eighteen years.

It did seem as if I never would get out from under that
hay-cutter ; and all the while I was struggling and wrench-
ing myself and the cutter apart, that awful beast was
kicking around in the stall, and making the most appalling
sound imaginable.

When I got out I found Mrs. Perkins at the door. She
had heard the racket, and had sped out to the stable, her
only thought being of me and three stove-lids which she

465



MR STIVER'S HORSE

had under her arm, and one of which she was about to fire
at the beast.

This made me mad,

"Go away, you unfortunate idiot !" I shouted : "do you
want to knock my brains out?" For I remembered seeing
Mrs. Perkins sHng a missile once before, and that I nearly
lost an eye by the operation, although standing on the
other side of the house at the time.

She retired at once. And at the same time the ani-
mal quieted down, but there was nothing left of that peck
measure, not even the maker's name.

I followed Mrs. Perkins into the house, and had her do
me up, and then I sat down in a chair and fell into a pro-
found strain of meditation. After a while I felt better,
and went out to the stable again. The horse was leaning
against the stable stall, with eyes half closed, and appeared
to be very much engrossed in thought.

"Step off to the left," I said, rubbing his back.

Pie didn't step. I got the pitchfork and punched him
in the leg with the handle. He immediately raised up
both hind legs at once, and that fork flew out of my
hands, and went rattling up against the timbers above,
and came down again in an instant, the end of the handle
rapping me with such force on the top of the head that I
sat right down on the floor under the impression that I
was standing in front of a drug-store in the evening. I
went back to the house and got some more stuff on me.
But I couldn't keep away from that stable. I went out
there again. The thought struck me that what the horse



Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 4 of 24)