The Marathon in the Mud and the Laurel Wreath
A stub-nosed Primary Pupil, richly endowed with old-gold Freckles, lived in a one-cylinder Town, far from the corroding influences of the Stock Exchange.
He arrived during the age of Board Sidewalks, Congress Gaiters, and Pie for Breakfast.
The Paper Collar, unmindful of the approaching Celluloid, was still affected by the more tony Dressers. Prison-made Bow Ties, with the handy elastic Fastener, were then considered right Natty.
Limousines, Eugenics, Appendicitis, and the regulation of Combines were beyond the rise of the Hill, so the talk was mostly about the Weather and Married Women.
The baptismal Cognomen of the mottled Offspring was Alexander Campbell Purvis, but on account of his sunny Disposition he was known to the Countryside as Aleck.
One morning the Lad did his crawl from under the Quilt at an hour when our Best People of the new Century are sending away the empty Siphons.
He was acting on a Hunch.
The far-famed Yankee Robinson show, with the Trick Mule and the smiling Tumblers, had exhibited the day before on the vacant Lot between the Grist-Mill and the Parsonage.
Aleck was familiar with the juvenile Tradition that Treasure could be discovered at or near the trampled Spot on which the Ticket-Wagon had been anchored.
It was known that the agitated Yahoos from up in the Catfish Country were likely to fumble and spill their saved-up Currency, thereby avoiding the trouble of handing it over to the Grafters later on.
Aleck was the first Prospector to show. He got busy and uncovered a Silver Buck.
It looked about the size of a Ferris Wheel.
While beating it for the parental Roof he began laying out in his Mind all the Pleasures of the Flesh that he could command with the Mass of Lucre.
The miscue he made was to flash his Fortune in the Family Circle.
After breakfast he found himself being steered to the Farmers & Merchants’ Bank.
He was pried away from the Cart-Wheel and given a teeny little Book which showed that he was a Depositor.
“Now, Alexander C.,” said his Ma, “if you will shin up the ladder and pick Cherries every day this week at two cents per Quart, by nightfall of Saturday you will have another Case-Note to put into Cold Storage.”
“But, if I continue dropping the proceeds of my Labor into the Reservoir, what is there in it for me?” asked the inquisitive Chick. His mother replied, “Why, you will have the Gratification of moving up to the Window at the Bank and earning a Smile of Approbation from old Mr. Fishberry with the Throat Whiskers.”
So the aspiring Manikin clung to the perilous Tree-Tops day after day, dropping the ruby Cherries into the suspended Bucket, while all of the Relatives stood on the ground and applauded.
One day there was a Conference and it was discovered that little Aleck was solvent to the extent of $2.80.
“Would it not be Rayzorius?” queried the Sire of Alexander; “would it not be Ipskalene if Aleck kept on and on until he had assembled five whole Dollars?”
Thus spurred to Endeavor by a large and rooting Gallery, the Urchin went prowling for Old Iron, which he trundled off to the Junkman.
Also for empty Bottles, which he laboriously scoured and delivered at the Drug Store for a mere dribble of Chicken Feed.
The sheet of Copper brought a tidy Sum, while old Mrs. Arbuckle wondered what had become of her Wash-Boiler.
With a V to his Credit, Aleck put a Padlock on every Pocket in his Store Suit and went Money-Mad.
He acquired a Runt and swilled it with solicitude until the Butcher made him an offer.
It was a proud Moment when he eased in the $7.60 to T. W. Fishberry, who told him to keep on scrouging and some day he would own a share in the Building & Loan.
Our Hero fooled away his time in School until he was all of eleven years old, when he became associated with one Blodgett in the Grocery Business, at a weekly Insult of Two Bones.
All the time Aleck was cleaning the Coal-Oil Lamps or watching the New Orleans Syrup trickle into the Jug, he was figuring how much of the Stipend he could segregate and isolate and set aside for the venerable Mr. Fishberry, the Taker-In up at the Bank with the Chinchilla on the Larynx.
For ten long years the White Slave tested Eggs and scooped the C Sugar.
When Aleck became of Age, Mr. Blodgett was compelling him to take $30 the first of every month.
He lived on Snowballs in the Winter and Dandelions in the Summer, but he had paid $800 on a two-story Brick facing Railroad Street. His name was a Byword and Hissing among the Pool-Players. Nevertheless, he stood Ace High with the old Two-per-cent-a Month up at the Abattoir known as the Farmers & Merchants’ Bank.
The Boys who dropped in every thirty Days came to know him as a Wise Fish and a Close Buyer. They boosted at Headquarters, so the first thing you know Aleck was a Drummer, with two Grips bigger than Dog-Houses and a chance to swing on the Expense Account.
A lowly and unsung Wanamaker would be sitting in his Prunery, wearing Yarn Wristlets to keep warm and meditating another Attack on the Bottle of Stomach Bitters in the Safe, when Aleck would breeze in and light on him and sell him several Gross of something he didn’t need.
The Traveling Salesman dug up many a Cross-Roads overlooked by the Map-Makers.
He knew how to pin a Rube against the Wall and make him say “Yes.”
He rode in Cabooses, fought the Roller-Towels, endured the Taunts of Ess, Bess, and Tess who shot the Sody Biscuit, and reclined in the Chamber of Horrors, entirely surrounded by Wall-Paper, but what cared he?
He was salting the Spon.
He was closing in on the Needful.
For a term of years he lived on Time-Tables and slept sitting up.
Day after day he dog-trotted through a feverish Routine of unpacking and packing, and then climbing back to the superheated Day Coach among the curdled Smells.
Every January 1st he did a Gaspard Chuckle when he checked up the total Get, for now he owned two Brick Buildings and had tasted a little Blood in the way of Chattel Mortgages.
One of the partners in the Jobbing Concern happened to die. Before Rigor Mortis could set in or the Undertaker had time to flash a Tape Measure, Aleck was up at the grief-stricken Home to cop out an Option on the Interest.
Now he could give the Cackle to all the Knights of the Road who had blown their Substance along the gay White Ways of Crawfordsville, Bucyrus, and Sedalia.
He was the real Gazook with a Glass Cage, a sliding Desk and a whole Battery of Rubber Stamps.
In order to learn every Kink of the Game, freeze out the other Holders of Stock and gradually possess himself of all the Money in the World, Aleck now found it necessary to organize himself into both a Day and a Night Shift and have his Lunches brought in.
The various Smoothenheimers who were out on the Road had a proud chance to get by with the padded Expense Account. Aleck could smell a Phoney before he opened the Envelope, because that is how he got His.
With a three-ton Burden on his aching Shoulders, he staggered up the flinty Incline.
Away back yonder, while sleeping above the Store, a vision had come to him. He saw himself sitting as a Director at a Bank Meeting—an enlarged and glorified Fishberry.
Now he was playing Fox and pulling for the Dream to work out.
The cold-eyed Custodians up at the main Fortress of Credit began to take notice of the Rustler.
He was a Glutton for Punishment, a Discounter from away back, and a Demon for applying the Acid Test to every Account.
He was a Sure-Thinger, air-tight and playing naught but Cinches. No wonder they all took a slant at him and spotted him as a Comer.
The Business Associates of Alexander liked to see Europe from the inside every summer and investigate the Cocktail Crop of Florida every winter, so they allowed him to be the Works.
He began building the Skids which finally carried them to the Fresh Air and left only one name on the Gold Sign.
Up to his Chin in Debt and with a Panic looming on the Horizon, it behooved Alexander to be on the job at 7:30 A.M. and hang around to scan the Pay-Roll until 9:30 P.M.
Ofttimes while galloping from his Apartment to the Galleys or chasing homeward to grab off a few wasteful hours of Slumber, he would see People of the Lower Classes going out to the Parks with Picnic Baskets, or lined up at the Vaudeville Palaces, or watching a hard-faced Soubrette demonstrate something in a Show Window.
It got him to think Dubs could frivol around and waste the golden Moments when they might be hopping on to a Ten-Cent Piece.
His usual Gait was that of a man going for the Doctor, and he talked Numbers to himself as he sped along and mumbled over the important Letters he was about to dictate.
Those who were pushed out of his way would overhear a scrap or two of the Raving and think he was Balmy.
The answer is that every hard-working Business Guy acts as if he had Screech-Owls in the Tower.
Aleck had his whole Staff so buffaloed that the Hirelings tried to keep up with him, so that Life in the Beehive was just one thing after another, with no Intermission.
The Whip cracked every five minutes, and the Help would dig in their toes and take a fresh lean-up against the Collars, for the Main Squeeze was trying to be a Bank Director, and Rockefeller had stolen a long start on him.
With a thousand important Details claiming his attention, Aleck had no time to monkey with side issues such as the general State of his Health or the multifarious plans for uplifting the Flat-Heads that he could see from his Window.
Those who recommended Golf to him seemed to forget that no one ever laid by anything while on the Links.
As for the Plain People, his only Conviction when he surveyed them in the Mass was that every Man-Jack was holding back Money that rightfully belonged to him (Alexander).
Needless to say, the battling Financier was made welcome at the Directors’ Table and handed a piece of a Trust Company and became an honored Guest when any Melon was to be sliced.
All that he dreamt while sleeping in the cold room over the Store had eventuated for fair.
The more Irons in the Fire, the more flip-flops he turned.
He never paused, except to weep over the fact that some of the rival Procurers were getting more than he could show. It was an unjust World.
Brushing away the salty Tears, he would leap seven feet into the Air and spear a passing Dollar.
By the time he had the Million necessary for the support of a suitable and well-recommended Lady, he was too busy to go chasing and too foxy to split his Pile with a rank Outsider.
His Motor-Car squawked at the Sparrow Cops when they waved their Arms.
The engineer who pulled the Private Car always had his Orders to hit it up.
Sometimes the Private Secretary would drop out from Exhaustion, but the Human Dynamo never slowed up. He would shout his General Orders into the Cylinder of a Talking Machine.
He reposed at Night with a Ticker on his Bosom and a Receiver at his Ear.
When he finally flew the Track and blew out the Carburetor, they had to use a Net to get him under Control so that he could be carted away to the Hospital.
Then the Trained Nurse had to practise all the Trick Holds known to Frank Gotch to keep him from arising to resume the grim Battle against his Enemies on the Board.
He fluttered long before calming down, but finally they got him all spread out and as nice a Patient as one could wish to see.
When he was too weak to start anything, Doc sat down and cheered him along by telling what Precautions should have been taken, along about 1880.
“And now, I have some News for you,” said the Practitioner, holding in his Grief so well that no one could notice it. “You are going away from here. Owing to the total absence of many Organs commonly regarded as essential, it will be impossible for you to go back to the Desk and duplicate any of your notable Stunts. No doubt we shall be able to engage Six Men of Presentable Appearance to act as Pall-Bearers. It is our purpose to proceed to the Cemetery by Automobile so as not to impede Traffic on any of the Surface Lines in which you are so heavily interested. I congratulate you on getting so far along before being tripped up, and I am wondering if you have a Final Request to make.”
“Just one,” replied the Great Man. “I’d like to have you or somebody else tell me what it’s all been about.”
The only remaining Fact to be chronicled is that the original Dollar, picked up on the Circus Lot, was found among the Effects.
A Nephew, whom Alexander Campbell Purvis never had seen, took the Dollar and with it purchased two Packs of Egyptian Cigaroots, Regal size, with Gold Tips. Moral: A pinch of Change, carefully put by, always comes in handy.
The Marathon in the Mud – Ade’s Fables