Old Polka Dot’s Daughter by Bill Nye

Story type: Literature

I once decided to visit an acquaintance who had named his country place “The Elms.” I went partly to punish him because his invitation was so evidently hollow and insincere.

He had “The Elms” worked on his clothes, and embossed on his stationery and blown in his glass, and it pained him to eat his food from table linen that didn’t have “The Elms” emblazoned on it. He told me to come and surprise him any time, and shoot in his preserves, and stay until business compelled me to return to town again. He had no doubt heard that I never surprise any one, and never go away from home very much, and so thought it would be safe. Therefore I went. I went just to teach him a valuable lesson. When I go to visit a man for a week, he is certainly thenceforth going to be a better man, or else punishment is of no avail and the chastening rod entirely useless in his case.

“The Elms” was a misnomer. It should have been called “The Shagbark” or “The Doodle Bug’s Lair.” It was supposed to mean a wide sweep of meadow, a vine covered lodge, a broad velvet lawn, and a carriage way, where the drowsy locust, in the sensuous shadow of magnanimous elms, gnawed a file at intervals through the day, while back of all this the mossy and gray-whiskered front and corrugated brow of the venerable architectural pile stood off and admired itself in the deep and glassy pool at its base.

In the first place none of the yeomanry for eight miles around knew that he called his old malarial tank “The Elms,” so it was hard to find. But when I described the looks of the lord of The Elms they wink at each other and wagged their heads and said, “Oh, yes, we know him,” also interjecting well known one syllable words that are not euphonious enough to print.

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When I got there he was down cellar sprouting potatoes, and his wife was hanging out upon the clothes line a pair of gathered summer trousers that evidently were made for a man who had been badly mangled in a saw-mill.

The Elms was not even picturesque, and the preserves were out of order. I was received with the same cordiality which you detect on the face of any other kind of detected liar. He wanted to be regarded as a remarkable host and landed proprietor, without being really hospitable. I remained there at The Elms a few days, rubbing rock salt and Cayenne pepper into the wounds of my host, and suggesting different names for his home, such as “The Tom Tit’s Eyrie,” “The Weeping Willow,” “The Crook Neck Squash” and “The Muskrat’s Retreat.” Then I came away. His old look of apprehensive cordiality did not leave him until he had seen me climb on a load of hay with my trunk and start for home.

During my brief sojourn I noticed that the surrounding country was full of people, and I presume there was a larger population of “boarders,” as we were called indiscriminately, than ever before. The number of available points to which the victims of humidity and poor plumbing may retreat in summer time is constantly on the increase, while, so far as I know, all the private and public boarding places are filled to their utmost capacity. Everywhere, the gaudy boarder in flannels and ecru shoes looms upon the green lawn or the brown dirt road, or scales the mountain one day and stays in bed the following week, rubbing James B. Pond’s Extract on his swollen joints.

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I scaled Mount Utsa-yantha in company with others. We picked out a nice hot day, and, selecting the most erect wall of the mountain, facing west, we scaled it in such a way that it will not have to be done again till new scales grow on it.

Mount Utsa-yantha is 3,365 feet above sea level, and has a brow which reminds me of mine. It is broad, massive and bleak. The foot of the mountain is more massive, however. From the top of the mountain one gets, with a good glass, a view of six or seven states, I was told. Possibly there were that many in sight, though at that season of the year states look so much alike that it takes an expert to pick them out readily. When states are moulting, it is all I can do to tell Vermont from Massachusetts. On this mountain one gets a nice view and highly exhilarating birch beer.

Albany can be distinctly seen with a glass–a field glass, I mean, not a glass of birch beer. Some claim that the nub of a political boom may be seen protruding from the Capitol with the nude vision. Others say they can see the Green mountains, and as far south as the eye can reach. We took two hours and a half for the ascent of the mountain, and came down in about twenty minutes. We descended ungracefully–the way the Irishman claimed that the toad walked, viz.: “git up and sit down.”

Mount Utsa-yantha–I use the accepted orthography as found in the Blackhawk dictionary–has a legend also. Many centuries ago this beautiful valley was infested by the red brother and his bronze progeny. Where now the red and blue blazer goes shimmering through the swaying maples, and the girl with her other dress on and her straw colored canvas cinch knocketh the croquet ball galley west, once there dwelt an old chief whom we will call Polka Dot, the pride of his people. He looked somewhat like William Maxwell Evarts, but was a heavier set man. Places where old Polka Dot sat down and accumulated rest for himself are still shown to city people whose faith was not overworked while young.

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Old Polka Dot was a firm man, with double teeth all around, and his prowess got into the personal columns of the papers every little while. He had a daughter named Utsa-yantha, which means “a messenger sent hastily for treasure,” so I am told, or possibly old Polka Dot meant to imply “one sent off for cash.”

Anyhow Utsa-yantha grew to be quite comely, as Indian women go. I never yet saw one that couldn’t stop an ordinary planet by looking at it steadily for two minutes. She dressed simply, wearing the same clothes while tooling cross-country before breakfast that she wore at the scalp dance the evening before. In summer time she shellacked herself and visited the poor. Taking a little box of water colors in a shawl strap, so that she could change her clothes whenever she felt like it, she would go away and be gone for a fortnight at a time, visiting the ultra fashionable people of her tribe.

Finally a white man penetrated this region. He did it by asking a brakeman on the West Shore road how to get here and then doing differently. In that way he had no trouble at all. He saw Utsa-yantha and loved her almost instantly. She was skinning a muskrat at the time, and he could not but admire her deftness and skill. From that moment he was not able to drive her image from his heart. He sought her again and again to tell her of his passion, but she would jump the fence and flee like a frightened fawn with a split stick on its tail, if such a comparison may be permitted. At last he won her, and married her quietly in his working clothes. The nearest justice of the peace was then in England, and so rather than wait he was married informally to Utsa-yantha, and she went home very much impressed indeed. That fall a little russet baby came to bless their union. The blessing was all he had with him when he arrived.

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Then the old chief Polka Dot arose in his wrath, to which he added a pair of moose hide moccasins, and he upbraided his daughter for her conduct. He upbraided her with a piazza pole from his wigwam. He was very much agitated. So was the pole.

Then he cursed her for being the mother of a 1/2 breed child, and stalking 1/4 he slew the white man by cutting open his trunk and disarranging his most valuable possessions. He then wiped the stab knife on his tossing mane, and grabbing his grandson by his swaddling clothes he hurled the surprised little stranger into Lake Utsa-yantha. By pouring another pailful of water into the lake the child was successfully drowned.

Then the widowed and childless Utsa-yantha came forth as night settled down upon the beautiful valley and the day died peacefully on the mountain tops. Her eyes were red with weeping and her breath was punctuated with sobs. Putting on a pair of high rubber boots she waded out into the middle of the lake, where there is quite a deep place, and drowned herself.

When the old man found the body of his daughter he was considerably mortified. He took her to the top of the mountain and buried her there, and ever afterward, it is said, whenever any one spoke of the death of his daughter and her family, he would color up and change the subject.

This should teach us never to kill a son-in-law without getting his wife’s consent.

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