Kate Milner Rabb.

The wit and humor of America (Volume 2) online

. (page 7 of 24)
Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Honorable Tim upon him, hedged round about by the
frightened or admiring regard of the First-Reader Class,
Morris blinked rapidly, swallowed resolutely, and re-
marked :

"Teacher, this year's Nineteen-hundred-and-twp," and
knew that all was over.

The caressing clasp of Teacher's hands grew into a
grip of anger. The countenance of Mr. O'Shea took on
the beautiful expression of the prophet who has found
honor and verification in his own country.

"The best of boys has his off days and this is one of
them," he remarked.

"Morris," said Teacher, "did you stop a reading lesson
to tell me that ? Do you think I don't know what the year
is? I'm ashamed pf you."

Never had she spoken thus. If the telling had been
difficult to Morris when she was "glad on him," it was
impossible now that she was a prey to such evident "mad
feelings." And yet he must make some explanation. So



he murmured : "Teacher, I tells you 'scuse. I know you
knows what year stands, on'y it's polite I tells you some-
thing, und I had a fraid."

"And so you bothered your Teacher with that non-
sense," said Tim. "You're a nice boy !"

Morris's eyes were hardly more appealing than Teach-
er's as the two culprits, for so they felt themselves, turned
to their judge.

"Morris is a strange boy," Miss Bailey explained. "He
can't be managed by ordinary methods — "

"And extraordinary methods don't seem to work to-
day," Mr. O'Shea interjected.

"And I think," Teacher continued, "that it might be
better not to press the point."

"Oh, if you have no control over him — " Mr. O'-
Shea was beginning pleasantly, when the Principal sug-
gested :

"You'd better let us hear what he has to say, Miss Bai-
ley; make him understand that you are master here."
And Teacher, with a heart-sick laugh at the irony of this
advice in the presence of the Associate Superintendent,
turned to obey.

But Morris would utter no words but these, dozens of
times repeated : "I have a fraid." Miss Bailey coaxed,
bribed, threatened and cajoled ; shook him surreptitiously,
petted him openly. The result was always the same : "It's
polite I tells you something out, on'y I had a fraid."

"But, Morris, dear, of what?" cried Teacher. "Are
you afraid of me ? Stop crying now and answer. Are you
afraid of Miss Bailey?"

"N-o-o-oh m-a-a-an."

"Are you afraid of the Principal?"

"N-o-o-oh m-a-a-an."

"Are you afraid," — with a slight pause, during which



a native hue of honesty was foully "done to 'death' — "of
the kind gentleman we are all so glad to see?"

"N-o-o-oh m-a-a-an."

"Well, then what is the matter with you? Are you
sick ? Don't you think you would like to go home to your

"No-o-o-oh m-a-a-an ; I ain't sick. I tells you *scuse."

The repeated imitation of a sorrowful goat was too
much for the Honorable Tim.

"Bring that boy to me," he commanded. "I'll show you
how to manage refractory and rebellious children."

With much difficulty and many assurances that the gen-
tleman was not going to hurt him. Miss Bailey succeeded
in untwining Morris's legs from the supports of the desk
and in half carrying, half leading him up to the chair of
state. An ominous silence had settled over the room. Eva
Gonorowsky was weeping softly, and the redoubtable Isi-
dore Applebaum was stiffened in a frozen calm.

"Morris," began the Associate Superintendent in his
most awful tones, "will you tell me why you raised your
hand ? Come here, sir."

Teacher urged him gently, and like dog to heel, he
went. He halted within a pace or two of Mr. O'Shea, and
lifted a beseeching face toward him.

"I couldn't to tell nothing out," said he. "I tells you
'scuse. I'm got a fraid."

The Honorable Tim lunged quickly and caught the ter-
rified boy preparatory to shaking him, but Morris escaped
and fled to his haven of safety — his Teacher's arms.
When Miss Bailey felt the quick clasp of the thin little
hands, the heavy beating of the over-tired heart, and the
deep convulsive sobs, she turned on the Honorable Tim-
othy O'Shea and spoke:

"I must ask you to leave this room at once," she an-



nounced. The Principal started and then sat back. Teach-
er's eyes were dangerous, and the Honorable Tim might
profit by a lesson. "You've frightened the child until he
can't breathe. I can do nothing with him while you re-
main. The examination is ended. You may go."

Now Mr. O'Shea saw he had gone a little too far in
his effort to create the proper dramatic setting for his
clemency. He had not expected the young woman to
"rise" quite so far and high. His deprecating half-apol-
ogy, half-eulogy, gave Morris the opportunity he craved.
"Teacher," he panted ; "I wants to whisper mit you in
the ear."

With a dexterous movement he knelt upon her lap and
tore put his solitary safety-pin. He then clasped her
tightly and made his explanation. He began in the soft-
est of whispers, which increased in volume as it did in
interest, so that he reached the climax at the full power
of his boy soprano voice.

"Teacher, Missis Bailey, I know you know what year
stands. On'y it's polite I tells you something, und I had a
fraid the while the 'comp'ny mit the whiskers' sets und
rubbers. But, Teacher, it's like this : your jumper's stick-
ing out und you could to take mine safety-pin."

He had understood so little of all that had passed that
he was beyond being surprised by the result of this com-
munication. Miss Bailey had gathered him into her arms
and had cried in a queer helpless way. And as she cried
she had said over and over again : "Morris, how could
you ? Oh, how could you, dear ? How could you ?"

The Principal and "the comp'ny mit whiskers" looked
solemnly at one another for a struggling moment, and had
then broken into laughter, long and loud, until the visit-
ing authority was limp and moist. The children waited
in polite uncertainty, but when Miss Bailey, after some in-



decision, had contributed a wan smile, which later grew
into a shaky laugh, the First-Reader Class went wild.

Then the Honorable Timothy arose to say good-by.
He reiterated his praise of the singing and reading, the
blackboard work and the moral tone. An awkward pause
ensued, during which the Principal engaged the young
Gonorowskys in impromptu conversation. The Honor-
able Tim crossed over to Miss Bailey's side and steadied
himself for a great effort.

"Teacher," he began meekly, "I tells you 'scuse. This
sort of thing makes a man feel like a bull in a china shop.
Do you think the little fellow will shake hands with me ?
I was really only joking."

"But surely he will," said Miss Bailey, as she glanced
down at the tangle of dark curls resting against her
breast. "Morris, dear, aren't you going to say good-by to
the gentleman ?"

Morris relaxed one hand from its grasp on his lady
and bestowed it on Mr. O'Shea.

"Goqd-by," said he gently. "I gives you presents, from
gold presents, the while you're friends mit Teacher. I'm
loving much mit her, too."

At this moment the Principal turned, and Mr. O'Shea,
in a desperate attempt to retrieve his dignity, began : "As
to class management and discipline — "

But the Principal was not to be deceived.

"Don't you think, Mr. O'Shea," said he, "that you and
I had better leave the management of the little ones to the
women ? You have noticed, perhaps, that this is Nature's




"There's a harvest for you," said the Idiot, as he
perused a recently published criticism of a comic opera.
"There have been thirty-nine new comic operas produced
this year and four of 'em were worth seeing. It is very
evident that the Gilbert and Sullivan industry hasn't gone
to the wall whatever slumps other enterprises have suf-
fered from."

"That is a goodly number," said the Poet. "Thirty-
nine, eh ? I knew there was a raft of them, but I had no
idea there were as many as that."

"Why don't you go in and do one, Mr. Poet?" sug-
gested the Idiot. "They tell me it's as easy as rolling off a
log. All you've got to do is to forget all your ideas and
remember all the old jokes you ever heard. Slap 'em to-
gether around a lot of dances, write two dozen lyrics
about some Googoo Belle, hire a composer, and there you
are. Hanged if I haven't thought of writing one myself."

"I fancy it isn't as easy as it looks," observed the Poet.
"It requires just as much thought to be thoughtless as it
does to be thoughtful."

"Nonsense," said the Idiot. "I'd undertake the job
cheerfully if some manager would make it worth my
while, and what's more, if I ever got into the swing of
the business I'll bet I could turn out a libretto a day for
three days of the week for the next two months."

"If I had your confidence I'd try it," laughed the Poet,



'iDut alas, in making me Nature did not design a confi-
dence man."

"Nonsense again," said the Idiot. "Any man who can
get the editors to print Sonnets to Diana's Eyebrow, and
Httle lyrics of Madison Square, Longacre Square, Battery
Place and Boston Common, the way you do, has a right to
consider himself an adept at bunco. I tell you what I'll do
with you, I'll swap off my confidence for your lyrical
facility and see what I can do. Why can't we collaborate
and get up a libretto for next season? They tell me
there's large money in it."

"There certainly is if you catch on," said the Poet.
"Vastly more than in any other kind of writing that I
know. I don't know but that I would like to collaborate
with you on something of the sort. What is your idea ?"

"Mind's a blank on the subject," sighed the Idiot.
"That's the reason I think I can turn the trick. As I said
before, you don't need ideas. Better off without 'em. Just
sit down and write."

"But you must have some kind of a story," persisted
the Poet.

"Not to begin with," said the Idiot. "Just write your
choruses and songs, slap in your jokes, fasten 'em to-
gether, and the thing is done. First act, get your hero
and heroine into trouble. Second act, get 'em out."

"And for the third ?" queried the Poet.

"Don't have a third," said the Idiot. "A third is al-
ways superfluous — but if you must have it, make up some
kind of a vaudeville show and stick it in between the first
and second."

"Tush!" said the Bibliomaniac. "That would make a
gay comic opera."

"Of course it would, Mr. Bib," the Idiot agreed. "And
that's what we want. If there's anything in this world



that I hate more than another it is a sombre comic opera.
I've been to a lot of 'em, and I give you my word of
honor that next to a funeral a comic opera that lacks
gaiety is one of the most depressing functions known to
modern science. Some of 'em are enough to make an
undertaker weep with jealous rage, I went to one of 'em
last week called 'The Skylark' with an old chum of mine,
who is a surgeon. You can imagine what sort of a thing
it was when I tell you that after the first act he suggested
we leave the theater and come back here and have some
fun cutting my leg off. He vowed that if he ever went
to another opera by the same people he'd take ether be-

*T shouldn't think that would be necessary," sneered
the Bibliomaniac, "If it was as bad as all that why didn't
it put you to sleep ?"

*Tt did," said the Idiot. "But the music kept waking
us up again. There was no escape from it except that of
actual physical flight."

"Well — about this collaboration of ours," suggested
the Poet. "What do you think we should do first ?"

"Write an opening chorus, of course," said the Idiot.
"What did you suppose ? A finale ? Something like this :

"If you want to know who we are.
Just ask the Evening Star,

As he smiles on high

In the deep blue sky,
"With his tralala-la-la-la.
We are maidens sweet
With tripping feet,
And the Googoo eyes
Of the Skippity-hi's,
And the smile of the fair Gazoo;
And you'll find our names
'Mongst the wondrous dames
Of the Whos Who-hoo-hoo-hoo.


"Get that sung with spirit by sixty-five ladies with
blonde wigs and gold slippers, otherwise dressed up in
the uniform of a troop of Russian Cavalry, and you've
got your venture launched."

"Where can you find people like that ?" asked the Bib-

"New York's full of 'em," replied the Idiot.

"I don't mean the people to act that sort of thing — ^but
where would you lay your scene?" explained the Biblio-

"Oh, any old place in the Pacific Ocean," said the
Idiot; "Make your own geography — everybody else
does. There's a million islands out there of one kind or
another, and as defenseless as a two weeks' old infant.
If you want a real one, fish it out and fire ahead. If you
don't, make one up for yourself and call it 'The Isle of
Piccolo,' or something of that sort. After you've got your
chorus going, introduce your villain, who should be a man
with a deep bass voice and a piratical past. He's the chap
who rules the roost and is going to marry the heroine to-
morrow. That will make a bully song :

"I'm a pirate bold
With a heart so cold

That it turns the biggest joys to solemn sorrow;
And the hero-ine,
With her eyes so fine,

I am going to-marry — to-morrow.

Chorus :

"He is go-ing to-marry — to-morrow
The maid with a heart full of sorrow;
For her we are sorry
For she weds to-morry —
She is go-ing to-marry — to-morrow.


"Gee !" added the Idiot enthusiastically. "Can't you al-
most hear that already ?"

"I am sorry to say," said Mr. Brief, "that I can. You
ought to call your heroine Drivelina.'*

"Splendid," cried the Idiot. "Drivelina goes. Well,
then on comes Drivelina and this beast of a Pirate grabs
her by the hand and makes love to her as if he thought
wooing was a game of snap the whip. She sings a soprano
solo of protest and the Pirate summons his hirelings to
cast Drivelina into a Donjuan cell when, boom ! an Amer-
ican warship appears on the horizon. The crew under the
leadership of a man with a squeaky tenor voice named
Lieutenant Somebody or other comes ashore, puts Drive-
lina under the protection of the American flag while his
crew sings the following :

"We are Jackies, Jackies, Jackies,

And we smoke the best tobaccys
You can find from Zanzibar to Honeyloo.

And we fight for Uncle Sammy,

Yes indeed we do, for damme
You can bet your life that that's the thing to do — doodle-do !
You can bet your life that that's the thing to doodle — doodle —
doodle — doodle-do.

"Eh! What?" demanded the Idiot.

"Well — what yourself?" asked the Lawyer. "This is
your job. What next?"

"Well — the Pirate gets lively, tries to assassinate the
Lieutenant, who kills half the natives with his sword and
is about to slay the Pirate when he discovers that he is
his long lost father," said the Idiot. "The heroine then
sings a pathetic love song about her Baboon Baby, in a
green light to the accompaniment of a lot of pink satin
monkeys banging cocoa-nut shells together. This drowsy
lullaby puts the Lieutenant and his forces to sleep and the



curtain falls on their capture by the Pirate and his follow-
ers, with the chorus singing :

"Hooray for the Pirate bold,
With his pockets full of gold,
He's going to marry to-morrow.

To-morrow he'll marry,

Yes, by the Lord Harry,
He's go-ing — to-marry — to-mor-row I
And that's a thing to doodle-doodle-doo.

"There," said the Idiot, after a pause. "How is that for
a first act?"

"It's about as lucid as most of them," said the Poet,
"but after all you have got a story there, and you said you
didn't need one."

"I said you didn't need one to start with," corrected the
Idiot. "And I've proved it. I didn't have that story in
mind when I started. That's where the easiness of the
thing comes in. Why, I didn't even have to think of a
name for the heroine. The inspiration for that popped
right out of Mr. Brief's mouth as smoothly as though the
name Drivelina had been written on his heart for cen-
turies. Then the title — Isle of Piccolo — that's a dandy
and I give you my word of honor I'd never even thought
of a title for the opera until that revealed itself like a
flash from the blue ; and as for the coon song, 'My Baboon
Baby,' there's a chance there for a Zanzibar act that will
simply make Richard Wagner and Reginald De Koven
writhe with jealousy. Can't you imagine the lilt of it :

"My Bab-boon — ba-habee,
My Bab-boon — ba-habee —
I love you dee-her-lee
Yes dee-hee-hee-er-lee.
My Baboon — ba-ha-bee,
My Baboon — ba-ha-bee,
My baboon — Ba-hay-hay-hay-hay-hay-hay-bee-bee.


"And all those pink satin monkeys bumping their
cocoanut shells together in the green moonlight — "

"Well, after the first act, what?" asked the Biblio-

"The usual intermission," said the Idiot. "You don't
have to write that. The audience generally knows what to

"But your second act ?" asked the Poet.

"Oh, come off," said the Idiot rising. "We were to do
this thing in collaboration. So far I've done the whole
blooming business. I'll leave the second act to you. When
you collaborate, Mr. Poet, you've got to do a little collab-
bing on your own account. What did you think you were
to do — collect the royalties?"

"I'm told," said the Lawyer, "that that is sometimes
the hardest thing to do in a comic opera."

"Well, I'll be self-sacrificing," said the Idiot, "and bear
my full share of it."

"It seems to me," said the Bibliomaniac, "that that
opera produced in the right place might stand a chance of
a run."

"Thank you," said the Idiot. "After all, Mr. Bib, you
are a man of some penetration. How long a run?"

"One consecutive night," said the Bibliomaniac.

"Ah — and where?" demanded the Idiot with a smile.

"At Bloomingdale," answered the Bibliomaniac se-

"That's a very good idea," said the Idiot. "When you
go back there, Mr. Bib, I wish you'd suggest it to the




"Yes, sir," said the short, chunky man, as he leaned
back against the gorgeous upholstery of his seat in the
smoking compartment of the sleeping-car; "yes, sir, I
knew you was a preacher the minute I laid eyes on you.
You don't wear your collar buttoned behind, nor a black
thingumbob over your shirt front, nor Presbyterian
whiskers, nor a little gold cross on a black string watch
chain; them's the usual marks, I know, and you hain't
got any of 'em. But I knew you just the same. You
can't fool J. P. Wamsley. You see, there's a peculiar air
about a man that's accustomed to handle any particular
line of goods. You can tell 'em all, if you'll just notice,
— any of 'em, — white-goods counter, lawyer, doctor,
travelin' man, politician, railroad, — every one of 'em's
got his sign out, and it don't take a Sherlock Holmes to
read it, neither. It's the same way with them gospel
goods. You'll excuse me, but when I saw you come in
here and light a cigar, with an air of I-will-now-give-
you-a-correct-imitation-of-a-human-being, I says to my-
self, 'There's one of my gospel friends.' Murder will out,
as the feller says.

"Experience, did you say ? I must have had considera-
ble experience ? Well, I guess yes ! Didn't you never hear
of my invention, Wamsley's Automatic Pastor, Self-
feedin' Preacher and Lightning Caller ? Say, that was the
hottest scheme ever. I'll tell you about it.



"You see, it's this way. I'm not a church member
myself — believe in it, you know, and all that sort of thing,
— I'm for religion strong, and when it comes to payin'
I'm right there with the goods. My wife is a member,
and a good one; in fact, she's so blame good that we
average up pretty well.

"Well, one day they elected me to the board of trus-
tees at the church; because I was the heaviest payer, I
suppose. I kicked some, not bein' anxious to pose as a
pious individual, owin' to certain brethren in the town
who had a little confidential information on J. P. and
might be inclined to get funny. But they insisted, allowin*
that me bein' the most prominent and successful merchant
in the town, and similar rot, I ought to line up and help
out the cause, and so on ; so finally I give in.

"I went to two or three of their meetin's — and say,
honest, they were the fiercest things ever."

The minister smiled knowingly.

"You're on, I see. Ain't those official meetin's of a
church the limit ? Gee ! Once I went — a cold winter night
— waded through snow knee-deep to a giraffe — and sat
there two hours, while they discussed whether they'd
fix the pastor's back fence or not — price six dollars! I
didn't say anything, bein' sort o' new, you know, but I
made up my mind that next time I'd turn loose on 'em, if
it was the last thing I did.

"I says to my wife when I got home, *Em,' says I, *if
gittin' religion gives a man softenin' of the brain, like I
see it workin' on them men there to-night, I'm afraid I
ain't on prayin' ground and intercedin' terms, as the
feller says. The men in that bunch to-night was worth
over eight hundred thousand dollars, and they took
eleven dollars and a half's worth o' my time chewin' the
rag over fixin* the parson's fence. I'm goin' to bed,' I


says, 'and if I shouldn't wake up in the mornin', if you
should miss petty in the mornin', you may know his vital
powers was exhausted by the hilarious proceedin's of this

"But I must get along to my story, about my auto-
matic pastor. One day the preacher resigned, — life prob-
ably hectored out of him by a lot o' cheap skates whose
notion of holdin' office in church consisted in cuttin'
down expenses and findin' fault with the preacher be-
cause he didn't draw in sinners enough to fill the pews
and pay their bills for 'em.

"When it come to selectin' a committee to get a new
pastor, I butted right in. I had an idea, so — me to the
front, leadin' trumps and bangin' my cards down hard
on the table. Excuse my gay and festive reference to
playin'-cards, but what I mean is, that I thought the
fullness of time had arrived and was a-hollerin' for J. P.

"Well, sir, it was right then and there I invented my
automatic pastor, continuous revolving hand-shaker and
circular jolly-hander.

"I brung it before the official brethren one night and
explained its modus operandi. I had a wax figger made
by the same firm that supplies me with the manikins for
my show-windows. And it was a peach, if I do say it my-
self. Tall, handsome figger, benevolent face, elegant
smile that won't come ofif, as the feller says, Chauncey
Depew spinnage in front of each ear. It was a sure lu-lu.

" 'Now,' I says to 'em, 'gentlemen, speakin' o' pastors,
I got one here I want to recommend. It has one advan-
tage anyhow; it won't cost you a cent. I'll make you a
present of it, and also chip in, as heretofore, toward oper-
atin' expenses.' That caught old Jake Hicks — worth a
hundred thousand dollars, and stingier 'n all git-out.


He leaned over and listened, same as if he was takin' 'em
right off the bat. He's a retired farmer. If you'll find
me a closer boy than a retired farmer moved to town, you
can have the best plug hat in my store.

" 'You observe,' I says, 'that he has the leadin' quali-
fications of all and comes a heap cheaper than most. He
is swivel mounted; that is, the torso, so to speak, is
pinioned onto the legs, so that the upper part of the body
can revolve. This enables him to rotate freely without
bustin' his pants, the vest bein' unconnected with the

" 'Now, you stand this here, whom we will call John
Henry, at the door of the church as the congregation
enters, havin' previously wound him up, and there he
stays, turning around and givin' the glad hand and
cheery smile, and so doth his unchangin' power display
as the unwearied sun from day to day, as the feller says.
Nobody neglected, all pleased. You remember the last
pastor wasn't sociable enough, and there was considera-
ble complaint because he didn't hike right down after the
benediction and jolly the flock as they passed out. We'll
have a wire run the length of the meetin' house, with a
gentle slant from the pulpit to the front door, and as soon
as meetin's over, up goes John Henry and slides down to
the front exit, and there he stands, gyratin' and handin'
out pleasant greeting to all, — merry Christmas and happy

Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 24)