Home Gardening.ca - Gardening articles, gardening directory, flowers database, Vetegetable database. Visit Home Gardening.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Twenty Minutes For Refreshments








From: The Jimmyjohn Boss And Other Stories

Upon turning over again my diary of that excursion to the Pacific, I
find that I set out from Atlantic waters on the 30th day of a backward
and forlorn April, which had come and done nothing towards making its
share of spring, but had gone, missing its chance, leaving the trees as
bare as it had received them from the winds of March. It was not bleak
weather alone, but care, that I sought to escape by a change of sky;
and I hoped for some fellow-traveller who might begin to interest my
thoughts at once. No such person met me in the several Pullmans which
I inhabited from that afternoon until the forenoon of the following
Friday. Through that long distance, though I had slanted southwestward
across a multitude of States and vegetations, and the Mississippi lay
eleven hundred miles to my rear, the single event is my purchasing
some cat's-eyes of the news-agent at Sierra Blanca. Save this, my diary
contains only neat additions of daily expenses, and moral reflections
of a delicate and restrained melancholy. They were Pecos cat's-eyes, he
told me, obtained in the rocky canyons of that stream, and destined to
be worth little until fashion turned from foreign jewels to become aware
of these fine native stones. And I, glad to possess the jewels of my
country, chose two bracelets and a necklace of them, paying but twenty
dollars for fifteen or sixteen cat's-eyes, and resolved to give them
a setting worthy of their beauty. The diary continues with moral
reflections upon the servility of our taste before anything European,
and the handwriting is clear and deliberate. It abruptly becomes
hurried, and at length well-nigh illegible. It is best, I think,
that you should have this portion as it comes, unpolished, unamended,
unarranged--hot, so to speak, from my immediate pencil, instead of cold
from my subsequent pen. I shall disguise certain names, but that is all.

Friday forenoon, May 5.--I don't have to gaze at my cat's-eyes to kill
time any more. I'm not the only passenger any more. There's a lady.
She got in at El Paso. She has taken the drawing-room, but sits outside
reading newspaper cuttings and writing letters. She is sixty, I should
say, and has a cap and one gray curl. This comes down over her left ear
as far as a purple ribbon which suspends a medallion at her throat. She
came in wearing a sage-green duster of pongee silk, pretty nice, only
the buttons are as big as those largest mint-drops. "You porter," she
said, "brush this." He put down her many things and received it. Her
dress was sage green, and pretty nice too. "You porter," said she, "open
every window. Why, they are, I declare! What's the thermometer in this
car?" "Ninety-five, ma'am. Folks mostly travelling--" "That will do,
porter. Now you go make me a pitcher of lemonade right quick." She went
into the state-room and shut the door. When she came out she was dressed
in what appeared to be chintz bedroom curtains. They hang and flow
loosely about her, and are covered with a pattern of pink peonies. She
has slippers--Turkish--that stare up in the air, pretty handsome and
comfortable. But I never before saw any one travel with fly-paper. It
must be hard to pack. But it's quite an idea in this train. Fully a
dozen flies have stuck to it already; and she reads her clippings,
and writes away, and sips another glass of lemonade, all with the most
extreme appearance of leisure, not to say sloth. I can't imagine how she
manages to produce this atmosphere of indolence when in reality she is
steadily occupied. Possibly the way she sits. But I think it's partly
the bedroom curtains.

These notes were interrupted by the entrance of the new conductor.
"If you folks have chartered a private car, just say so," he shouted
instantly at the sight of us. He stood still at the extreme end and
removed his hat, which was acknowledged by the lady. "Travel is surely
very light, Gadsden," she assented, and went on with her writing. But
he remained standing still, and shouting like an orator: "Sprinkle the
floor of this car, Julius, and let the pore passengers get a breath of
cool. My lands!" He fanned himself sweepingly with his hat. He seemed
but little larger than a red squirrel, and precisely that color. Sorrel
hair, sorrel eyebrows, sorrel freckles, light sorrel mustache, thin
aggressive nose, receding chin, and black, attentive, prominent eyes.
He approached, and I gave him my ticket, which is as long as a neck-tie,
and has my height, the color of my eyes and hair, and my general
description, punched in the margin. "Why, you ain't middle-aged!"
he shouted, and a singular croak sounded behind me. But the lady was
writing. "I have been growing younger since I bought that ticket," I
explained. "That's it, that's it," he sang; "a man's always as old as he
feels, and a woman--is ever young," he finished. "I see you are true to
the old teachings and the old-time chivalry, Gadsden," said the lady,
continuously busy. "Yes, ma'am. Jacob served seven years for Leah and
seven more for Rachel." "Such men are raised today in every worthy
Louisiana home, Gadsden, be it ever so humble." "Yes, ma'am. Give a
fresh sprinkle to the floor, Julius, soon as it goes to get dry. Excuse
me, but do you shave yourself, sir?" I told him that I did, but without
excusing him. "You will see that I have a reason for asking," he
consequently pursued, and took out of his coat-tails a round tin box
handsomely labelled "Nat. Fly Paper Co.," so that I supposed it was
thus, of course, that the lady came by her fly-paper. But this was pure
coincidence, and the conductor explained: "That company's me and a man
at Shreveport, but he dissatisfies me right frequently. You know what
heaven a good razor is for a man, and what you feel about a bad one.
Vaseline and ground shells," he said, opening the box, "and I'm not
saying anything except it will last your lifetime and never hardens. Rub
the size of a pea on the fine side of your strop, spread it to an inch
with your thumb. May I beg a favor on so short a meeting? Join me in
the gentlemen's lavatory with your razorstrop in five minutes. I have
to attend to a corpse in the baggage-car, and will return at once."
"Anybody's corpse I know, Gadsden?" said the lady. "No, ma'am. Just a
corpse."

When I joined him, for I was now willing to do anything, he was
apologetic again. "'Tis a short acquaintance," he said, "but may I also
beg your razor? Quick as I get out of the National Fly I am going to
register my new label. First there will be Uncle Sam embracing the
world, signifying this mixture is universal, then my name, then the
word Stropine, which is a novelty and carries copyright, and I shall
win comfort and doubtless luxury. The post barber at Fort Bayard took a
dozen off me at sight to retail to the niggers of the Twenty-fourth, and
as he did not happen to have the requisite cash on his person I charged
him two roosters and fifty cents, and both of us done well. He's after
more Stropine, and I got Pullman prices for my roosters, the buffet-car
being out of chicken a la Marengo. There is your razor, sir, and I
appreciate your courtesy." It was beautifully sharpened, and I bought
a box of the Stropine and asked him who the lady was. "Mrs. Porcher
Brewton!" he exclaimed. "Have you never met her socially? Why she--why
she is the most intellectual lady in Bee Bayou." "Indeed!" I said. "Why
she visits New Orleans, and Charleston, and all the principal centres of
refinement, and is welcomed in Washington. She converses freely with our
statesmen and is considered a queen of learning. Why she writes po'try,
sir, and is strong-minded. But a man wouldn't want to pick her up for a
fool, all the samey." "I shouldn't; I don't," said I. "Don't you do it,
sir. She's run her plantation all alone since the Colonel was killed in
sixty-two. She taught me Sunday-school when I was a lad, and she used to
catch me at her pecan-trees 'most every time in Bee Bayou."

He went forward, and I went back with the Stropine in my pocket. The
lady was sipping the last of the lemonade and looking haughtily over the
top of her glass into (I suppose) the world of her thoughts. Her eyes
met mine, however. "Has Gadsden--yes, I perceive he has been telling
about me," she said, in her languid, formidable voice. She set her glass
down and reclined among the folds of the bedroom curtains, considering
me. "Gadsden has always been lavish," she mused, caressingly. "He seems
destined to succeed in life," I hazarded. "ah n--a!" she sighed, with
decision. "He will fail." As she said no more and as I began to resent
the manner in which she surveyed me, I remarked, "You seem rather sure
of his failure." "I am old enough to be his mother, and yours," said
Mrs. Porcher Brewton among her curtains. "He is a noble-hearted fellow,
and would have been a high-souled Southern gentleman if born to
that station. But what should a conductor earning $103.50 a month be
dispersing his attention on silly patents for? Many's the time I've
told him what I think; but Gadsden will always be flighty." No further
observations occurring to me, I took up my necklace and bracelets from
the seat and put them in my pocket. "Will you permit a meddlesome old
woman to inquire what made you buy those cat's-eyes?" said Mrs. Brewton.
"Why--" I dubiously began. "Never mind," she cried, archly. "If you were
thinking of some one in your Northern home, they will be prized because
the thought, at any rate, was beautiful and genuine. 'Where'er I roam,
whatever realms to see, my heart, untravelled, fondly turns to thee.'
Now don't you be embarrassed by an old woman!" I desired to inform her
that I disliked her, but one can never do those things; and, anxious
to learn what was the matter with the cat's-eyes, I spoke amiably and
politely to her. "Twenty dollars!" she murmured. "And he told you they
came from the Pecos!" She gave that single melodious croak I had heard
once before. Then she sat up with her back as straight as if she was
twenty. "My dear young fellow, never do you buy trash in these trains.
Here you are with your coat full of--what's Gadsden's absurd razor
concoctions--strut--strop--bother! And Chinese paste buttons. Last
summer, on the Northern Pacific, the man offered your cat's-eyes to me
as native gems found exclusively in Dakota. But I just sat and mentioned
to him that I was on my way home from a holiday in China, and he went
right out of the car. The last day I was in Canton I bought a box of
those cat's-eyes at eight cents a dozen." After this we spoke a little
on other subjects, and now she's busy writing again. She's on business
in California, but will read a paper at Los Angeles at the annual
meeting of the Golden Daughters of the West. The meal station is coming,
but we have agreed to--

Later, Friday afternoon.--I have been interrupted again. Gadsden
entered, removed his hat, and shouted: "Sharon. Twenty minutes for
dinner." I was calling the porter to order a buffet lunch in the car
when there tramped in upon us three large men of such appearance that
a flash of thankfulness went through me at having so little ready-money
and only a silver watch. Mrs. Brewton looked at them and said, "Well,
gentlemen?" and they took off their embroidered Mexican hats. "We've got
a baby show here," said one of them, slowly, looking at me, "and we'd
be kind of obliged if you'd hold the box." "There's lunch put up in
a basket for you to take along," said the next, "and a bottle of
wine--champagne. So losing your dinner won't lose you nothing." "We're
looking for somebody raised East and without local prejudice," said the
third. "So we come to the Pullman." I now saw that so far from purposing
to rob us they were in a great and honest distress of mind. "But I am
no judge of a baby," said I; "not being mar--" "You don't have to be,"
broke in the first, more slowly and earnestly. "It's a fair and secret
ballot we're striving for. The votes is wrote out and ready, and all
we're shy of is a stranger without family ties or business interests to
hold the box and do the counting." His deep tones ceased, and he wiped
heavy drops from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. "We'd be kind of
awful obliged to you," he urged. "The town would be liable to make it
two bottles," said the second. The third brought his fist down on the
back of a seat and said, "I'll make it that now." "But, gentlemen," said
I, "five, six, and seven years ago I was not a stranger in Sharon. If my
friend Dean Drake was still here--" "But he ain't. Now you might as well
help folks, and eat later. This town will trust you. And if you quit
us--" Once more he wiped the heavy drops away, while in a voice full of
appeal his friend finished his thought: "If we lose you, we'll likely
have to wait till this train comes in to-morrow for a man satisfactory
to this town. And the show is costing us a heap." A light hand tapped
my arm, and here was Mrs. Brewton saying: "For shame! Show your
enterprise." "I'll hold this yere train," shouted Gadsden, "if
necessary." Mrs. Brewton rose alertly, and they all hurried me out. "My
slippers will stay right on when I'm down the steps," said Mrs. Brewton,
and Gadsden helped her descend into the blazing dust and sun of Sharon.
"Gracious!" said she, "what a place! But I make it a point to see
everything as I go." Nothing had changed. There, as of old, lay the
flat litter of the town--sheds, stores, and dwellings, a shapeless
congregation in the desert, gaping wide everywhere to the glassy,
quivering immensity; and there, above the roofs, turned the slatted
wind-wheels. But close to the tracks, opposite the hotel, was an
edifice, a sort of tent of bunting, from which brass music issued,
while about a hundred pink and blue sun-bonnets moved and mixed near
the entrance. Little black Mexicans, like charred toys, lounged and lay
staring among the ungraded dunes of sand. "Gracious!" said Mrs. Brewton
again. Her eye lost nothing; and as she made for the tent the chintz
peonies flowed around her, and her step was surprisingly light. We
passed through the sunbonnets and entered where the music played. "The
precious blessed darlings!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "This
will do for the Golden Daughters," she rapidly added; "yes, this will
distinctly do." And she hastened away from me into the throng.

I had no time to look at much this first general minute. I could see
there were booths, each containing a separate baby. I passed a whole
section of naked babies, and one baby farther along had on golden wings
and a crown, and was bawling frightfully. Their names were over the
booths, and I noticed Lucille, Erskine Wales, Banquo Lick Nolin, Cuba,
Manilla, Ellabelle, Bosco Grady, James J. Corbett Nash, and Aqua Marine.
There was a great sign at the end, painted "Mrs. Eden's Manna in the
Wilderness," and another sign, labelled "Shot-gun Smith's twins." In the
midst of these first few impressions I found myself seated behind a bare
table raised three feet or so, with two boxes on it, and a quantity
of blank paper and pencils, while one of the men was explaining me
the rules and facts. I can't remember them all now, because I couldn't
understand them all then, and Mrs. Brewton was distant among the
sun-bonnets, talking to a gathering crowd and feeling in the mouths of
babies that were being snatched out of the booths and brought to her.
The man was instructing me steadily all the while, and it occurred to me
to nod silently and coldly now and then, as if I was doing this sort of
thing every day. But I insisted that some one should help me count, and
they gave me Gadsden.

Now these facts I do remember very clearly, and shall never forget them.
The babies came from two towns--Sharon, and Rincon its neighbor. Alone,
neither had enough for a good show, though in both it was every family's
pride to have a baby every year. The babies were in three classes: Six
months and under, one prize offered; eighteen months, two prizes; three
years, two prizes. A three-fourths vote of all cast was necessary to
a choice. No one entitled to vote unless of immediate family of a
competing baby. No one entitled to cast more than one vote. There were
rules of entry and fees, but I forget them, except that no one could
have two exhibits in the same class. When I read this I asked, how about
twins? "Well, we didn't kind of foresee that," muttered my instructor,
painfully; "what would be your idea?" "Look here, you sir," interposed
Mrs. Brewton, "he came in to count votes." I was very glad to have her
back. "That's right, ma'am," admitted the man; "he needn't to say a
thing. We've only got one twins entered," he pursued, "which we're glad
of. Shot-gun--", "Where is this Mr. Smith?" interrupted Mrs. Brewton.
"Uptown, drinking, ma'am." "And who may Mr. Smith be?" "Most popular
citizen of Rincon, ma'am. We had to accept his twins because--well,
he come down here himself, and most of Rincon come with him, and as we
aimed to have everything pass off pleasant-like--" "I quite comprehend,"
said Mrs. Brewton. "And I should consider twins within the rule; or any
number born at one time. But little Aqua Marine is the finest single
child in that six months class. I told her mother she ought to take that
splurgy ring off the poor little thing's thumb. It's most unsafe. But
I should vote for that child myself." "Thank you for your valuable
endorsement," said a spruce, slim young man. "But the public is not
allowed to vote here," he added. He was standing on the floor and
resting his elbows on the table. Mrs. Brewton stared down at him. "Are
you the father of the child?" she inquired. "Oh no! I am the agent. I--"
"Aqua Marine's agent?" said Mrs. Brewton, sharply. "Ha, ha!" went the
young man. "Ha, ha! Well, that's good too. She's part of our exhibit.
I'm in charge of the manna-feds, don't you know?" "I don't know," said
Mrs. Brewton. "Why, Mrs. Eden's Manna in the Wilderness! Nourishes,
strengthens, and makes no unhealthy fat. Take a circular, and welcome.
I'm travelling for the manna. I organized this show. I've conducted
twenty-eight similar shows in two years. We hold them in every State
and Territory. Second of last March I gave Denver--you heard of it,
probably?" "I did not," said Mrs. Brewton. "Well! Ha, ha! I thought
every person up to date had heard of Denver's Olympic Offspring Olio."
"Is it up to date to loll your elbows on the table when you're speaking
to a lady?" inquired Mrs. Brewton. He jumped, and then grew scarlet
with rage. "I didn't expect to learn manners in New Mexico," said he.
"I doubt if you will," said Mrs. Brewton, and turned her back on him. He
was white now; but better instincts, or else business, prevailed in his
injured bosom. "Well," said he, "I had no bad intentions. I was going
to say you'd have seen ten thousand people and five hundred babies at
Denver. And our manna-feds won out to beat the band. Three first medals,
and all exclusively manna-fed. We took the costume prize also. Of course
here in Sharon I've simplified. No special medal for weight, beauty,
costume, or decorated perambulator. Well, I must go back to our exhibit.
Glad to have you give us a call up there and see the medals we're
offering, and our fifteen manna-feds, and take a package away with you."
He was gone.

The voters had been now voting in my two boxes for some time, and I
found myself hoping the manna would not win, whoever did; but it seemed
this agent was a very capable person. To begin with, every family
entering a baby drew a package of the manna free, and one package
contained a diamond ring. Then, he had managed to have the finest babies
of all classes in his own exhibit. This was incontestable, Mrs. Brewton
admitted, after returning from a general inspection; and it seemed to us
extraordinary. "That's easy, ma'am," said Gadsden; "he came around here
a month ago. Don't you see?" I did not see, but Mrs. Brewton saw at
once. He had made a quiet selection of babies beforehand, and then
introduced the manna into those homes. And everybody in the room was
remarking that his show was very superior, taken as a whole they all
added, "taken as a whole"; I heard them as they came up to vote for
the 3-year and the 18-month classes. The 6-month was to wait till
last, because the third box had been accidentally smashed by Mr. Smith.
Gadsden caught several trying to vote twice. "No, you don't!" he would
shout. "I know faces. I'm not a conductor for nothing." And the victim
would fall back amid jeers from the sun-bonnets. Once the passengers
sent over to know when the train was going. "Tell them to step over here
and they'll not feel so lonesome!" shouted Gadsden; and I think a good
many came. The band was playing "White Wings," with quite a number
singing it, when Gadsden noticed the voting had ceased, and announced
this ballot closed. The music paused for him, and we could suddenly hear
how many babies were in distress; but for a moment only; as we began
our counting, "White Wings" resumed, and the sun-bonnets outsang their
progeny. There was something quite singular in the way they had voted.
Here are some of the 3-year-old tickets: "First choice, Ulysses Grant
Blum; 2d choice, Lewis Hendricks." "First choice, James Redfield; 2d,
Lewis Hendricks." "First, Elk Chester; 2d, Lewis Hendricks." "Can
it be?" said the excited Gadsden. "Finish these quick. I'll open the
18-monthers." But he swung round to me at once. "See there!" he cried.
"Read that! and that!" He plunged among more, and I read: "First choice,
Lawrence Nepton Ford, Jr.; 2d, Iona Judd." "First choice, Mary Louise
Kenton; 2d, Iona Judd." "Hurry up!" said Gadsden; "that's it!" And as we
counted, Mrs. Brewton looked over my shoulder and uttered her melodious
croak, for which I saw no reason. "That young whipper-snapper will go
far," she observed; nor did I understand this. But when they stopped the
band for me to announce the returns, one fact did dawn on me even
while I was reading: "Three-year-olds: Whole number of votes cast, 300;
necessary to a choice, 225. Second prize, Lewis Hendricks, receiving
300. First prize, largest number of votes cast, 11, for Salvisa van
Meter. No award. Eighteen-month class: Whole number of votes cast, 300;
necessary to a choice, 225. Second prize, Iona Judd, receiving 300.
Lillian Brown gets 15 for 1st prize. None awarded." There was a very
feeble applause, and then silence for a second, and then the sun-bonnets
rushed together, rushed away to others, rushed back; and talk swept like
hail through the place. Yes, that is what they had done. They had all
voted for Lewis Hendricks and Iona Judd for second prize, and every
family had voted the first prize to its own baby. The Browns and van
Meters happened to be the largest families present. "He'll go far! he'll
go far!" repeated Mrs. Brewton. Sport glittered in her eye. She gathered
her curtains, and was among the sun-bonnets in a moment. Then it fully
dawned on me. The agent for Mrs. Eden's Manna in the Wilderness was
indeed a shrewd strategist, and knew his people to the roots of the
grass. They had never seen a baby-show. They were innocent. He came
among them. He gave away packages of manna and a diamond ring. He
offered the prizes. But he proposed to win some. Therefore he made that
rule about only the immediate families voting. He foresaw what they
would do; and now they had done it. Whatever happened, two prizes went
to his manna-feds. "They don't see through it in the least, which is
just as well," said Mrs. Brewton, returning. "And it's little matter
that only second prizes go to the best babies. But what's to be done
now?" I had no idea; but it was not necessary that I should.

"You folks of Rincon and Sharon," spoke a deep voice. It was the first
man in the Pullman, and drops were rolling from his forehead, and his
eyes were the eyes of a beleaguered ox. "You fathers and mothers," he
said, and took another breath. They grew quiet. "I'm a father myself,
as is well known." They applauded this. "Salvisa is mine, and she got
my vote. The father that will not support his own child is not--does
not--is worse than if they were orphans." He breathed again, while they
loudly applauded. "But, folks, I've got to get home to Rincon. I've
got to. And I'll give up Salvisa if I'm met fair." "Yes, yes, you'll
be met," said voices of men. "Well, here's my proposition: Mrs. Eden's
manna has took two, and I'm satisfied it should. We voted, and will stay
voted." "Yes, yes!" "Well, now, here's Sharon and Rincon, two of the
finest towns in this section, and I say Sharon and Rincon has equal
rights to get something out of this, and drop private feelings, and
everybody back their town. And I say let this lady and gentleman, who
will act elegant and on the square, take a view and nominate the finest
Rincon 3-year-old and the finest Sharon 18-month they can cut out of the
herd. And I say let's vote unanimous on their pick, and let each town
hold a first prize and go home in friendship, feeling it has been
treated right."

Universal cheers endorsed him, and he got down panting. The band played
"Union Forever," and I accompanied Mrs. Brewton to the booths. "You'll
remember!" shouted the orator urgently after us; "one apiece." We
nodded. "Don't get mixed," he appealingly insisted. We shook our heads,
and out of the booths rushed two women, and simultaneously dashed their
infants in our faces. "You'll never pass Cuba by!" entreated one. "This
is Bosco Grady," said the other. Cuba wore an immense garment made of
the American flag, but her mother whirled her out of it in a second.
"See them dimples; see them knees!" she said. "See them feet! Only feel
of her toes!" "Look at his arms!" screamed the mother of Bosco. "Doubled
his weight in four months." "Did he indeed, ma'am?" said Cuba's mother;
"well, he hadn't much to double." "Didn't he, then? Didn't he indeed?"
"No at you; he didn't indeed and indeed! I guess Cuba is known to
Sharon. I guess Sharon'll not let Cuba be slighted." "Well, and I guess
Rincon'll see that Bosco Grady gets his rights." "Ladies," said Mrs.
Brewton, towering but poetical with her curl, "I am a mother myself, and
raised five noble boys and two sweet peerless girls." This stopped them
immediately; they stared at her and her chintz peonies as she put the
curl gently away from her medallion and proceeded: "But never did I
think of myself in those dark weary days of the long ago. I thought of
my country and the Lost Cause." They stared at her, fascinated. "Yes,
m'm," whispered they, quite humbly. "Now," said Mrs. Brewton, "what is
more sacred than an American mother's love? Therefore let her not shame
it with anger and strife. All little boys and girls are precious gems to
me and to you. What is a cold, lifeless medal compared to one of them?
Though I would that all could get the prize! But they can't, you know."
"No, m'm." Many mothers, with their children in their arms, were now
dumbly watching Mrs. Brewton, who held them with a honeyed, convincing
smile. "If I choose only one in this beautiful and encouraging harvest,
it is because I have no other choice. Thank you so much for letting
me see that little hero and that lovely angel," she added, with a yet
sweeter glance to the mothers of Bosco and Cuba. "And I wish them all
luck when their turn comes. I've no say about the 6-month class, you
know. And now a little room, please."

The mothers fell back. But my head swam slightly. The 6-month class, to
be sure! The orator had forgotten all about it. In the general joy over
his wise and fair proposition, nobody had thought of it. But they would
pretty soon. Cuba and Bosco were likely to remind them. Then we should
still be face to face with a state of things that--I cast a glance
behind at those two mothers of Sharon and Rincon following us, and I
asked Mrs. Brewton to look at them. "Don't think about it now," said
she, "it will only mix you. I always like to take a thing when it comes,
and not before." We now reached the 18-month class. They were the
naked ones. The 6-month had stayed nicely in people's arms; these were
crawling hastily everywhere, like crabs upset in the market, and
they screamed fiercely when taken upon the lap. The mother of Thomas
Jefferson Brayin Lucas showed us a framed letter from the statesman for
whom her child was called. The letter reeked with gratitude, and
said that offspring was man's proudest privilege; that a souvenir
sixteen-to-one spoon would have been cheerfully sent, but 428 babies had
been named after Mr. Brayin since January. It congratulated the swelling
army of the People's Cause. But there was nothing eminent about little
Thomas except the letter; and we selected Reese Moran, a vigorous Sharon
baby, who, when they attempted to set him down and pacify him, stiffened
his legs, dashed his candy to the floor, and burst into lamentation. We
were soon on our way to the 3-year class, for Mrs. Brewton was rapid
and thorough. As we went by the Manna Exhibit, the agent among his
packages and babies invited us in. He was loudly declaring that he would
vote for Bosco if he could. But when he examined Cuba, he became sure
that Denver had nothing finer than that. Mrs. Brewton took no notice of
him, but bade me admire Aqua Marine as far surpassing any other 6-month
child. I proclaimed her splendid (she was a wide-eyed, contented thing,
with a head shaped like a croquet mallet), and the agent smiled modestly
and told the mothers that as for his babies two prizes was luck enough
for them; they didn't want the earth. "If that thing happened to be
brass," said Mrs. Brewton, bending over the ring that Aqua was still
sucking; and again remonstrating with the mother for this imprudence,
she passed on. The three-year-olds were, many of them, in costume, with
extraordinary arrangements of hair; and here was the child with gold
wings and a crown I had seen on arriving. Her name was Verbena M., and
she personated Faith. She had colored slippers, and was drinking
tea from her mother's cup. Another child, named Broderick McGowan,
represented Columbus, and joyfully shouted "Ki-yi!" every half-minute.
One child was attired as a prominent admiral; another as a prominent
general; and one stood in a boat and was Washington. As Mrs. Brewton
examined them and dealt with the mothers, the names struck me
afresh--not so much the boys; Ulysses Grant and James J. Corbett
explained themselves; but I read the names of five adjacent girls--Lula,
Ocilla, Nila, Cusseta, and Maylene. And I asked Mrs. Brewton how they
got them. "From romances," she told me, "in papers that we of the upper
classes never see." In choosing Horace Boyd, of Rincon, for his hair,
his full set of front teeth well cared for, and his general beauty, I
think both of us were also influenced by his good sensible name, and his
good clean sensible clothes. With both our selections, once they were
settled, were Sharon and Rincon satisfied. We were turning back to the
table to announce our choice when a sudden clamor arose behind us,
and we saw confusion in the Manna Department. Women were running and
shrieking, and I hastened after Mrs. Brewton to see what was the matter.
Aqua Marine had swallowed the ring on her thumb. "It was gold! it was
pure gold!" wailed the mother, clutching Mrs. Brewton. "It cost a whole
dollar in El Paso." "She must have white of egg instantly," said Mrs.
Brewton, handing me her purse. "Run to the hotel--" "Save your money,"
said the agent, springing forward with some eggs in a bowl. "Lord! you
don't catch us without all the appliances handy. We'd run behind the
trade in no time. There, now, there," he added, comfortingly to the
mother. "Will you make her swallow it? Better let me--better let me--And
here's the emetic. Lord! why, we had three swallowed rings at the Denver
Olio, and I got 'em all safe back within ten minutes after time of
swallowing." "You go away," said Mrs. Brewton to me, "and tell them our
nominations." The mothers sympathetically surrounded poor little Aqua,
saying to each other: "She's a beautiful child!" "Sure indeed she is!"
"But the manna-feds has had their turn." "Sure indeed they've been
recognized," and so forth, while I was glad to retire to the voting
table. The music paused for me, and as the crowd cheered my small
speech, some one said, "And now what are you going to do about me?" It
was Bosco Grady back again, and close behind him Cuba. They had escaped
from Mrs. Brewton's eye and had got me alone. But I pretended in the
noise and cheering not to see these mothers. I noticed a woman hurrying
out of the tent, and hoped Aqua was not in further trouble--she was
still surrounded, I could see. Then the orator made some silence,
thanked us in the names of Sharon and Rincon, and proposed our
candidates be voted on by acclamation. This was done. Rincon voted for
Sharon and Reese Moran in a solid roar, and Sharon voted for Rincon and
Horace Boyd in a roar equally solid. So now each had a prize, and the
whole place was applauding happily, and the band was beginning again,
when the mothers with Cuba and Bosco jumped up beside me on the
platform, and the sight of them produced immediate silence.

"There's a good many here has a right to feel satisfied," said Mrs.
Grady, looking about, "and they're welcome to their feelings. But if
this meeting thinks it is through with its business, I can tell it that
it ain't--not if it acts honorable, it ain't. Does those that have had
their chance and those that can take home their prizes expect us 6-month
mothers come here for nothing? Do they expect I brought my Bosco from
Rincon to be insulted, and him the pride of the town?" "Cuba is known
to Sharon," spoke the other lady. "I'll say no more." "Jumping Jeans!"
murmured the orator to himself. "I can't hold this train much longer,"
said Gadsden; "she's due at Lordsburg now." "You'll have made it up by
Tucson, Gadsden," spoke Mrs. Brewton, quietly, across the whole assembly
from the Manna Department. "As for towns," continued Mrs. Grady, "that
think anything of a baby that's only got three teeth--" "Ha! Ha!"
laughed Cuba's mother, shrilly. "Teeth! Well, we're not proud of bald
babies in Sharon." Bosco was certainly bald. All the men were looking
wretched, and all the women were growing more and more like eagles.
Moreover, they were separating into two bands and taking their husbands
with them--Sharon and Rincon drawing to opposite parts of the tent--and
what was coming I cannot say; for we all had to think of something else.
A third woman, bringing a man, mounted the platform. It was she I
had seen hurry out. "My name's Shot-gun Smith," said the man, very
carefully, "and I'm told you've reached my case." He was extremely
good-looking, with a blue eye and a blond mustache, not above thirty,
and was trying hard to be sober, holding himself with dignity. "Are you
the judge?" said he to me. "Hell--" I began. "N-not guilty, your honor,"
said he. At this his wife looked anxious. "S-self-defence," he slowly
continued; "told you once already." "Why, Rolfe!" exclaimed his wife,
touching his elbow. "Don't you cry, little woman," said he; "this'll
come out all right. Where 're the witnesses?" "Why, Rolfe! Rolfe!" She
shook him as you shake a sleepy child. "Now see here," said he, and
wagged a finger at her affectionately, "you promised me you'd not cry
if I let you come." "Rolfe, dear, it's not that to-day; it's the twins."
"It's your twins, Shot-gun, this time," said many men's voices. "We
acquitted you all right last month." "Justifiable homicide," said
Gadsden. "Don't you remember?" "Twins?" said Shotgun, drowsily. "Oh yes,
mine. Why--" He opened on us his blue eyes that looked about as innocent
as Aqua Marine's, and he grew more awake. Then he blushed deeply, face
and forehead. "I was not coming to this kind of thing," he explained.
"But she wanted the twins to get something." He put his hand on her
shoulder and straightened himself. "I done a heap of prospecting before
I struck this claim," said he, patting her shoulder. "We got married
last March a year. It's our first--first--first"--he turned to me with a
confiding smile--"it's our first dividend, judge." "Rolfe! I never! You
come right down." "And now let's go get a prize," he declared, with his
confiding pleasantness. "I remember now! I remember! They claimed twins
was barred. And I kicked down the bars. Take me to those twins. They're
not named yet, judge. After they get the prize we'll name them fine
names, as good as any they got anywhere--Europe, Asia, Africa--anywhere.
My gracious! I wish they was boys. Come on, judge! You and me'll go give
'em a prize, and then we'll drink to 'em." He hugged me suddenly and
affectionately, and we half fell down the steps. But Gadsden as suddenly
caught him and righted him, and we proceeded to the twins. Mrs. Smith
looked at me helplessly, saying: "I'm that sorry, sir! I had no idea
he was going to be that gamesome." "Not at all," I said; "not at all!"
Under many circumstances I should have delighted in Shot-gun's society.
He seemed so utterly sure that, now he had explained himself, everybody
would rejoice to give the remaining-medal to his little girls. But
Bosco and Cuba had not been idle. Shotgun did not notice the spread of
whispers, nor feel the divided and jealous currents in the air as he
sat, and, in expanding good-will, talked himself almost sober. To entice
him out there was no way. Several of his friends had tried it. But
beneath his innocence there seemed to lurk something wary, and I grew
apprehensive about holding the box this last time. But Gadsden relieved
me as our count began. "Shot-gun is a splendid man," said he, "and he
has trailed more train-robbers than any deputy in New Mexico. But he has
seen too many friends to-day, and is not quite himself. So when he fell
down that time I just took this off him." He opened the drawer, and
there lay a six-shooter. "It was touch and go," said Gadsden; "but he's
thinking that hard about his twins that he's not missed it yet. 'Twould
have been the act of an enemy to leave that on him to-day.--Well, d'you
say!" he broke off. "Well, well, well!" It was the tickets we took out
of the box that set him exclaiming. I began to read them, and saw that
the agent was no mere politician, but a statesman. His Aqua Marine had a
solid vote. I remembered his extreme praise of both Bosco and Cuba. This
had set Rincon and Sharon bitterly against each other. I remembered his
modesty about Aqua Marine. Of course. Each town, unable to bear the
idea of the other's beating it, had voted for the manna-fed, who had 299
votes. Shot-gun and his wife had voted for their twins. I looked towards
the Manna Department, and could see that Aqua Marine was placid once
more, and Mrs. Brewton was dancing the ring before her eyes. I hope I
announced the returns in a firm voice. "What!" said Shot-gun Smith; and
at that sound Mrs. Brewton stopped dancing the ring. He strode to our
table. "There's the winner," said Gadsden, quickly pointing to the
Manna Exhibit. "What!" shouted Smith again; "and they quit me for that
hammer-headed son-of-a-gun?" He whirled around. The men stood ready, and
the women fled shrieking and cowering to their infants in the booths.
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" cried Gadsden, "don't hurt him! Look here!" And
from the drawer he displayed Shot-gun's weapon. They understood in a
second, and calmly watched the enraged and disappointed Shot-gun. But he
was a man. He saw how he had frightened the women, and he stood in the
middle of the floor with eyes that did not at all resemble Aqua Marine's
at present. "I'm all right now, boys," he said. "I hope I've harmed no
one. Ladies, will you try and forget about me making such a break? It
got ahead of me, I guess; for I had promised the little woman--" He
stopped himself; and then his eye fell upon the Manna Department. "I
guess I don't like one thing much now. I'm not after prizes. I'd not
accept one from a gold-bug-combine-trust that comes sneaking around
stuffing wholesale concoctions into our children's systems. My twins are
not manna-fed. My twins are raised as nature intended. Perhaps if they
were swelled out with trash that acts like baking-powder, they would
have a medal too--for I notice he has made you vote his way pretty often
this afternoon." I saw the agent at the end of the room look very queer.
"That's so!" said several. "I think I'll clear out his boxes," said
Shot-gun, with rising joy. "I feel like I've got to do something before
I go home. Come on, judge!" He swooped towards the manna with a yell,
and the men swooped with him, and Gadsden and I were swooped with them.
Again the women shrieked. But Mrs. Brewton stood out before the boxes
with her curl and her chintz.

"Mr. Smith," said she, "you are not going to do anything like that. You
are going to behave yourself like the gentleman you are, and not like
the wild beast that's inside you." Never in his life before, probably,
had Shot-gun been addressed in such a manner, and he too became
hypnotized, fixing his blue eyes upon the strange lady. "I do not
believe in patent foods for children," said Mrs. Brewton. "We agree
on that, Mr. Smith, and I am a grandmother, and I attend to what my
grandchildren eat. But this highly adroit young man has done you no
harm. If he has the prizes, whose doing is that, please? And who paid
for them? Will you tell me, please? Ah, you are all silent!" And she
croaked melodiously. "Now let him and his manna go along. But I have
enjoyed meeting you all, and I shall not forget you soon. And, Mr.
Smith, I want you to remember me. Will you, please?" She walked to Mrs.
Smith and the twins, and Shot-gun followed her, entirely hypnotized. She
beckoned to me. "Your judge and I," she said, "consider not only your
beautiful twins worthy of a prize, but also the mother and father
that can so proudly claim them." She put her hand in my pocket. "These
cat's-eyes," she said, "you will wear, and think of me and the judge
who presents them." She placed a bracelet on each twin, and the necklace
upon Mrs. Smith's neck. "Give him Gadsden's stuff," she whispered to me.
"Do you shave yourself, sir?" said I, taking out the Stropine. "Vaseline
and ground shells, and will last your life. Rub the size of a pea on
your strop and spread it to an inch." I placed the box in Shot-gun's
motionless hand. "And now, Gadsden, we'll take the train," said Mrs.
Brewton. "Here's your lunch! Here's your wine!" said the orator, forcing
a basket upon me. "I don't know what we'd have done without you and your
mother." A flash of indignation crossed Mrs. Brewton's face, but changed
to a smile. "You've forgot to name my girls!" exclaimed Shot-gun,
suddenly finding his voice. "Suppose you try that," said Mrs. Brewton to
me, a trifle viciously. "Thank you," I said to Smith. "Thank you.
I--" "Something handsome," he urged. "How would Cynthia do for one?" I
suggested. "Shucks, no! I've known two Cynthias. You don't want that?"
he asked Mrs. Smith; and she did not at all. "Something extra, something
fine, something not stale," said he. I looked about the room. There was
no time for thought, but my eye fell once more upon Cuba. This reminded
me of Spain, and the Spanish; and my brain leaped. "I have them!"
I cried. "'Armada' and 'Loyola.'" "That's what they're named!" said
Shot-gun; "write it for us." And I did. Once more the band played, and
we left them, all calling, "Good-bye, ma'am. Good-bye, judge," happy
as possible. The train was soon going sixty miles an hour through the
desert. We had passed Lordsburg, San Simon, and were nearly at Benson
before Mrs. Brewton and Gadsden (whom she made sit down with us) and I
finished the lunch and champagne. "I wonder how long he'll remember me?"
mused Mrs. Brewton at Tucson, where we were on time. "That woman is not
worth one of his boots."

Saturday afternoon, May 6.--Near Los Angeles. I have been writing all
day, to be sure and get everything in, and now Sharon is twenty-four
hours ago, and here there are roses, gardens, and many nice houses at
the way-stations. Oh, George Washington, father of your country, what a
brindled litter have you sired!

But here the moral reflections begin again, and I copy no more diary.
Mrs. Brewton liked my names for the twins. "They'll pronounce it
Loyo'la," she said, "and that sounds right lovely." Later she sent me
her paper for the Golden Daughters. It is full of poetry and sentiment
and all the things I have missed. She wrote that if she had been sure
the agent had helped Aqua Marine to swallow the ring, she would have let
them smash his boxes. And I think she was a little in love with Shot-gun
Smith. But what a pity we shall soon have no more Mrs. Brewtons! The
causes that produced her--slavery, isolation, literary tendencies,
adversity, game blood--that combination is broken forever. I shall speak
to Mr. Howells about her. She ought to be recorded.





Next: The Promised Land

Previous: Napoleon Shave-tail



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 429