Story type: Literature
“So this here head brakeman, the same being a large, coarse, hairy, rectangular person with a square-toed jaw and a square-jawed toe, he up and boots the two of us right off this here freight train.”
My old and revered friend, Scandalous Doolan, is much addicted to opening a narrative smack down the middle, as though it were an oyster, and then, by degrees, working both ways–toward the start and the finish. So it did not greatly surprise me that without preface, dedication, index or chapter-heading, he should suddenly introduce a head brakeman and a freight train into a conversation which until that moment had dealt with topics not in the least akin to these. Indeed, knowing him as I did, it seemed to me all the better reason why I should promptly incline the greedy ear, for over and above his eccentricities in the matter of launching a subject, Mr. Doolan is the only member of his calling I ever saw who talks in real life as all the members of his calling are fondly presumed to talk, in story-books and on the stage.
I harkened, therefore, saying nothing, and sure enough, having dealt for a brief passage of time with the incident of a certain enforced departure from a certain as yet unnamed common carrier, he presently retraced his verbal footsteps and began at the beginning.
I quote in full:
“Yes, sir, that’s what he does. Refusing to listen to reason, this here head brakeman, which anybody could tell just by looking at him that he didn’t have no heart a-tall and no soul, so as you could notice it, he just red lights us off into the peaceful and sun-lit bosom of the rooral New York State landscape. But before reaching the landscape it becomes necessary for us to slide down a grade of a perpendicular character, and in passing I am much pleased to note that the right-of-way is self-trimmed to match the prevalent style of scenery, with maybe a few cinders interspersed for decorations. There is one class of travelers which prefers a road-bed rock-ballasted, and these is those which goes on trains from place to place. There’s another kind which likes a road-bed done in the matched or natural materials, and them’s the kind which goes off trains from time to time. And us two, being for the moment in this class, we are much gratified by the circumstance.
“And we sits up and dusts ourselves off in a nonchalant manner while the little old choo-choo continues upon her way to Utica, Syracuse, and all points west, leaving me and the Sweet Caps Kid with all the bright world before us, and nothing behind us but the police force.
“For some months previous to this, me and the Sweet Caps Kid has been sojourning in that favored metropolis which is bounded on one side by a loud Sound and on the other by a steep Bluff, and is doing her constant best at all times to live up to the surroundings. Needless to say, I refer to little Noo Yawk, the original haunt of the come-on and the native habitat of the sure thing, where the jays bite freely and the woods are full of fish. We have been doing very well there–very, very well, considering. What with working the nuts on the side streets right off Broadway and playing a little three-card monte down round Coney in the cool of the evening and once in a while selling a sturdy husbandman from over Jersey way a couple of admission tickets to Central Park, we have found no cause to complain at the business depression. It sure looks to us like confidence has been restored and any time she seems a little backward we take steps to restore her some ourselves. But all of a sudden, something seems to tell me that we oughter be moving.
“You know how them mysterious premonitions comes to a feller. A little bird whispers to you, or you have a dream, or else you walk into the mitt-joint and hand a he-note to a dark complected lady wearing a red kimono and a brown mustache, and she takes a flash at your palm and seems to see a dark man coming with a warrant, followed by a trip up a great river to a large stone building like a castle. Or else Headquarters issues a general alarm, giving names, dates, personal description, size of reward and place where last seen. This time it’s a general alarm. From what I could gather, a downcasted Issy Wisenheimer has been up to the front parlor beefing about his vanishing bankroll and his disappearing breast-pin. You wouldn’t think a self-respecting citizen of a great Republic like this’n would carry on so over thirty-eight dollars in currency and a diamond so yeller it woulda been a topaz if it had been any yellower. But such was indeed the case. I gleans a little valuable information from a friendly barkeeper who’s got a brother-in-law at the Central Office, and so is in position to get hold of much interesting and timely chit-chat before it becomes common gossip throughout the neighborhood. So then I takes the Sweet Caps Kid off to one side and I says to him, I says:
“‘Kiddo,’ I says, ‘listen: I’ve got a strong presentiment that we should oughter be going completely away from here. If we don’t, the first thing you know some plain-clothes bull with fallen arches and his neck shaved ‘way up high in the back will be coming round asking us to go riding with him down town into the congested district, and if we declines the invitation, like as not he’ll muss our clothes all up. Do you seem to get my general drift?’ I says.
“‘Huh,’ he says, ‘you talk as if there’d been a squeal.’
“‘Squeal?’ I says. ‘Squeal? Son, you can take it from me there’s been a regular season of grand opera. You and me are about to be accused of pernicious activity. What’s more, they’re liable to prove it. There’s a movement on foot in influential quarters to provide us with board and lodgings at a place which I will not name to you in so many words on account of your weak heart. The work there,’ I says, ‘is regular, and the meals is served on time, and you’re protected from the damp night air; but,’ I says, ‘the hours is too long and too confining to suit me.’ I’ve knowed probably a thousand fellers in my time that sojourned up at Bird Center-on-the-Hudson anywhere from one to fifteen years on a stretch, and I never seen one of them yet but had some fault to find with the place.
“‘Whereas, on the other hand,’ I says, ‘all nature seems to beckon to us. Let’s you and me steal forth under the billowy blue caliber of Heaven and make hay while the haymakers are good. Let us quit the city with its temptations and its snares and its pitfalls, ‘specially the last named,’ I says, ‘and in some peaceful spot far, far away, let us teach Uncle Joshua Whitcomb that the hand is quicker than the eye, him paying cash down in advance for the lessons. Tubby sure, the pickings has been excellent here in the shadow of the skyscrapers, and it’ll probably be harder sledding out amongst the disk-harrow boys. Everybody reads the papers these days, only the Rube believes what he reads and the city guy don’t. I hate to go, but I ain’t comfortable where I am. When my scalp begins to itch like it does now that’s a sign of a close hair-cut coming on. I’ve got educated dandruff,’ I says, ‘and it ain’t never fooled me yet. In short,’ I says, ‘I’ve been handed the office to skiddoo, and in such cases I believe in skiddooing. Let us create a vacancy in these parts sine quinine–which,’ I says, ‘is Latin, meaning it’s a bitter dose but you gotta take it.’
“‘I can start right this minute,’ says Sweet Caps; ‘my tooth-brush is packed and all I’ve got to do is to put on my hat. S’pose we run up to a Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, which is a nice secluded spot,’ he says, ‘and catch the rattler.’
“‘How are you fixed for currency?’ I says.
“‘Fixed?’ he says. ‘I ain’t fixed a-tall. A’int you been carrying the firm’s bank-roll? Say, ain’t you?’
“Well, right there I has to break the sad news to him. I does it as gentle as I could but still he seems peeved. Money has caused a lot of suffering in this world, they tell me, but I’m here to tell you the lack of it’s been responsible for consider’ble many heartburnings too. Up until that minute I hadn’t had the heart to tell the Sweet Caps Kid that our little joint partnership bank-roll is no longer with us. I’d been saving back them tidings for a more suitable moment, but now I has to tell him.
“It seems that the night before, I had been tiger hunting in the jungle down at Honest John Donohue’s. Of course I should have knowed better than to go up against a game run by anybody calling hisself Honest John. Them complimentary monakers always work with the reverse English. You are walking along and you see a gin-mill across the street with a sign over the door which says it’s Smiling Pete’s Place, and you cross over and look in, and behind the bar is an old guy who ain’t heard anything that really pleased him since the Martinique disaster. He’s standing there with his lip stuck out like a fender on a street car, and a bung starter handy, just hoping that somebody will come in and start to start something. That’s Smiling Pete. As for this here Donohue, he’s so crooked he can’t eat nothing such as stick candy and cheese straws without he gets cramps in his stomach. He’d take the numbers off your house. That’s why they call him Honest John. I know all this, good and well, but what’s a feller going to do when his is the only place in town that’s open? You’ve got to play somewheres, ain’t you? Somehow, I always was sort of drawed to faro.
“Well, you know the saying–one man’s meat is another’s pizen. He was my pizen and I certainly was his meat. So now, I ain’t got nothing in my pockets except the linings.
“I tells the Sweet Caps Kid just how it was–how right up to the very last minute I kept expecting the luck to turn and how even then I mighta got it all back if the game-keeper hadn’t been so blamed unreasonable and mercenary. When my last chip is gone I holds up a finger for a marker and tells him I’ll take another stack of fifty, all blues this time, but he only looks at me sort of chilly and distrustful and remarks in a kind of a bored way that there’s nothing doing.
“‘That’ll be all right,’ I says to him. ‘I’ll see you to-morrow.’
“‘No, you wont,’ he says, spiteful-like.
“‘Why,’ I says, ‘wont you be here to-morrow?’
“‘Oh, yes,’ he says, ‘we’ll be here to-morrow, but you wont.’
“‘Is that so?’ I says, sarcastical. ‘Coming in,’ I says, ‘I thought I seen the word Welcome on the doormat.’
“‘Going out,’ he says, ‘you’ll notice that, spelled backward, it’s a French word signifying Mind Your Step.’
“And while I’m thinking up a proper comeback for that last remark of his’n somebody hands me my hat, and in less’n a minute, seems-like, I’m out in the street keeping company with myself.
“I tells all this to the Sweet Caps Kid, but still he don’t seem satisfied with my explanation. That’s one drawback to the Kid’s disposition–he gets all put out over the least little thing. So I says to him: ‘Cheer up,’ I says, ‘things ain’t so worse. Due to my being in right with the proper parties we gets this here advance tip, and we beats the barrier while this here fat Central Office bull, who thinks he wants us, is slipping his collar on over his head in the morning. Remember,’ I says, ‘we are going to the high grass where the little birdies sing and the flowers bloom. Providence,’ I says, ‘has an eye on every sparrow that falls, but nothing is said about the jays,’ I says, ‘and we’ll see if a few of them wont fall for our little cute tricks.’
“Tubby sure, I’m speaking figurative. I aint really aiming for the deep woods proper. Only I’ve been in Noo Yawk long enough to git the Noo Yawk habit of thinking everybody beyond Rahway, New Jersey, is the Far West. I’m really figuring to land in one of them small junction points, such as Cleveland or Pittsburgh. And we would too, if it hadn’ta been for that there head brakeman.
“Anyway, we moons round in a kind of an unostentatious way, with the Kid still acting peevish and low in his mind, and me saying little things every now and then to chirk him up, until the shank of the evening arrives ‘long about two A.M. Then we slips over into the yards below Riverside Drive, taking due care not to wake up no sleeping policeman on the way. There we presently observes a freight train, which is giving signs of getting ready to make up its mind to go somewheres.
“A freight train is like a woman. When you see a woman coming out of the front door and running back seven or eight times to get something she’s forgot, you know that woman is on her way. And it’s the same with freights; that’s why they call ’em ‘shes‘. Pretty soon this here freight quits vacilliating back and forth, and comes sliding down past where we’re waiting.
“‘Here comes a side-door Pullman, with the side door open,’ I says. ‘Let’s get on and book a couple of lowers.’
“‘How do you know where she’s going?’ says the Kid, him being greatly addicted to idle questions.
“‘I don’t,’ I says; ‘the point is that she’s going. To-night she will be here but to-morrow she will be extensively elsewhere; and so,’ I says, ‘will we. Let us therefore depart from these parts while the departing is good,’ I says.
“Which we done so, just like I’m telling you. And for some hours we trundles along very snug and comfortable, both of us being engrossed in sleep. When we wakes up it’s another day, and the wicked city is far, far behind us, and we are running through a district which is entirely surrounded by scenery. If it hadn’ta been that something keeps reminding me I ai’nt had no breakfast I coulda been just as happy.
“‘Where’ll we git off?’ says Sweet Caps, setting up and rubbing his eyes.
“‘Well,’ I says, ‘we takes our choice. Maybe Albany,’ I says. ‘The legislature is in special session there, and a couple of grafters more or less wont make no material difference–they’ll probably take us for members. Maybe Rochester,’ I says, ‘which is a pleasant city, full of large and thriving industries. Maybe,’ I says, ‘if this here train don’t take a notion to climb down off the track and go berry-picking, maybe Chicago. Of course,’ I says, ‘Chi ain’t quite so polished as Noo Yawk. Chi has been called crude by some. When I think of Noo Yawk,’ I says, ‘I think of a peroxide chorus lady going home at three o’clock in the morning in two taxicabs, but when I think of Chicago I’m reminded of a soused hired girl, with red hair, on a rampage. But,’ I says, ‘what’s the difference? Everywhere you go,’ I says, ‘there’s always human life, and Chicago is reputed to be quite full of population and very probably we can find a few warm-hearted persons there who are more or less addicted to taking a chance.’
“But you know how it is in these matters–you never can tell. Just as I’m concluding my remarks touching on our two largest cities, this here brakeman comes snooping along and intimates that we better be thinking about getting off. He’s probably the biggest brakeman living. If he was any bigger than what he is, he’d be twins. We endeavors to argue him out of the notion but it seems like he’s sort of set in his mind. Besides, being so much larger than either one of us or both of us put together, for that matter, he has the advantage in repartee. So he makes an issue of it and we sees our way clear to getting off without waiting for the locomotive to slow up or anything. After our departure, the train continues on its way thither, we remaining hither.
“‘My young friend,’ I says when the dust has settled down, ‘the question which you propounded about five minutes ago is now answered in the affirmative. This is where we get off–right here on this identical spot. I don’t know the name of the place,’ I says; ‘maybe it’s so far out in the suburbs that they ain’t found time to get round to it yet and give it a name; but,’ I says, ‘there’s one consolation. By glancing first up this way and then down that way you will observe that from here to the point where the rails meet down yonder is exactly the same distance that it is from here to where the rails meet up yonderways–proving,’ I says, ‘that we are in the exact center of the country. So let us be up and doing,’ I says, ‘specially doing. But the first consideration,’ I say, ‘is vittles.’
“You know me well enough to know,” interjected Mr. Doolan, interrupting the thread of his narrative for a moment and turning to me with a wave of his stout arm, “that I ain’t no glutton. I can eat my grub when it’s set before me or I can let it alone, only I never do. I never begin to think about the next meal till I’m almost through with the last one. And right now my mind seems to dwell on breakfast.
“Well, anyway we arises up and goes away from there, walking in a general direction, and before long we comes to a sign which says we are now approaching the incorporated village of Plentiful Valley–Autos Reduce Speed to Eight Miles an Hour–No Tramps Allowed. I kind of favors the sound of that name–Plentiful Valley. And as I remarks to the Sweet Caps Kid, ‘We ain’t no autos and we ain’t no tramps but merely two professional men, looking for a chance to practise our profession.’
“This here is the first valley I ever see in the course of a long and more or less polka-dotted career that it is all up-hill and never no downhill. Be that as it may, we rambles on until it must be going on towards nine forty-five o’clock, and comes to a neat bungalow on a green slope inside of a high white fence. There’s a venerable party setting on the front porch, in his shirt-sleeves. He looks beneficent and well fed.
“‘Pull down your vest, son-boy,’ I says to Sweet Caps, ‘and please remember not to drink your coffee out of the sasser. I have a growing conviction,’ I says, ‘that we are about to partake of refreshment.’
“‘Hadn’t we better sell this ancient guy a few Bermuda oats, or something to start off with?’ says he.
“‘Not until after we have et,’ I says; business before pleasure. And anyway,’ I says, ‘I works best on a full stomach. Follow your dear uncle,’ I says, ‘and don’t do nothing till you hear from me.’
“With that I opens the gate and we meanders up a neat gravel path. As we draws near, the venerable party takes his feet down off the railings.
“‘Come in,’ he says cordially, ‘come right in and rest your face and hands. You’re out nice and early.’
“‘Suffer us,’ I says, ‘to introduce ourselves. We are a couple of prominent tourist-pedestrians walking from Noo Yawk to Portland, Oregon, on a bet. This,’ I says, pointing to Sweet Caps, ‘is Young Twinkletoes, and I am commonly knowed as old King Lightfoot the First. By an unfortunate coincidence,’ I says, ‘we got separated at an early hour from our provision wagon, as a result of which we have omitted breakfast and feel the omission severely. If we might impose,’ I says, ‘upon your good nature to the extent of–‘
“‘Don’t mention it,’ he says; ‘take two or three chairs and set down, and we’ll talk it over. To tell you the truth,’ he says, ‘I was jest setting here wishing somebody would come along and visit with me a spell. I’m keeping bachelor’s hall,’ he says, ‘and raising chickens on the side, and sometimes I get a mite lonely. I guess maybe the Chink might scare up something, although,’ he says, ‘to tell you the truth there ain’t hardly a bite in the house, except a couple of milk-fed broilers and some fresh tomattuses right out of the garden and a few hot biscuits and possibly some razzberries with cream; for I’m a simple feeder,’ he says, ‘and a very little satisfies me.’
“He pokes his head inside the door and yells to a Jap to put two more places at the table. So we reclines and indulges in edifying conversation upon the current topics of the day and, very shortly, nourishing smells begin for to percolate forth from within, causing me to water at the mouth until I has all the outward symptoms of being an ebb-tide. But this here pernicious Sweet Caps Kid, he can’t let well enough alone. Observing copious signs of affluence upon every side he gets ambitious and would abuse the sacred right of hospitality about half to three-quarters of an hour too soon. Out of the tail of my eye I sees him reaching in his pocket for the educated pasteboards and I gives him the high sign to soft pedal, but he don’t mind me. Out he comes with ’em.
“‘A little harmless game of cards,’ he says, addressing the elderly guy, ‘entitled,’ he says, ‘California euchre. I have here, you will observe, two jacks and an ace–the noble ace of spades. I riffle and shuffle and drop ’em in a row, the trick being to pick out the ace. Now, then,’ goes on this besetted Sweet Caps, with a winning smile, ‘just to while away the time before breakfast, s’pose you make a small bet with me regarding the present whereabouts of said ace.’
“The party with the whiskers gets up; and now, when he speaks I sees that in spite of him wearing a brush arbor, he aint no real rube.
“‘To think,’ he says, more in sorrow than in anger, ‘to think that I should live to see this day! To think that me, who helped Canady Bill sell the first gold brick that ever was molded in this country, should in my declining years have a couple of wooden-fingered amatoors come along and try to slip me the oldest graft in the known world! It is too much,’ he says, ‘it is too much too much. You lower a noble pursuit,’ he says, ‘and I must respectfully but firmly request you to be on your way. I’ll try to forgive you,’ he says, ‘but at this moment your mere presence offends me. On your way out,’ he says, ‘kindly latch the gate behind you–the chickens might stray off. Chickens,’ he says, ‘is not exciting for steady company,’ he says, ‘but in comparison with some humans I’ve met lately, chickens is absolutely gifted intellectually.
“‘Furthermore,’ he says, ‘I would offer you a word of advice, although you don’t really deserve it. Beware,’ he says, ‘of the constable in the village beyond. You’ll recognize him by his whiskers,’ he says. ‘Alongside of him, I look like an onion in the face. Ten years ago,’ he says, ‘that constable swore a solemn oath not never to shave until he’d locked up a thousand bums, and,’ he says, ‘he’s now on his last lap. Keep moving,’ he says, ’till you feel like stopping, and then don’t stop.’
“Them edifying smells has made me desperate. Besides, not counting the Chink, who don’t count we outnumbers him two to one.
“‘We don’t go,’ I says, ‘until we gets a bite.’
“‘Oh! I’ll see that you get a bite,’ he says. ‘Sato,’ he says, calling off-stage, ‘kindly unchain Ophelia and Ralph Waldo. Ophelia,’ he says, turning to us, ‘is a lady Great Dane, standing four feet high at the shoulder and very morose in disposition. But Ralph Waldo is a crossbreed–part Boston bull and part snapping turtle. Sometimes I think they don’t neither one of them care much for strangers. Here they come now! Sick ’em, pups!’
“Sweet Caps starts first but I beats him to the gate by half a length, Ophelia and Ralph Waldo finishing third and fourth, respectively. We fades away down the big road, and the last thing we sees as we turns a wistful farewell look over our shoulders is them two man-eaters raging back and forth inside the fence trying to gnaw down the palings, and the old guy standing on the steps laughing.
“So we pikes along, me frequently reproaching Sweet Caps for his precipitancy in spilling the beans. We passes through the village of Plentiful Valley without stopping and walks on and on and on some more, until we observes a large, prosperous-looking building of red brick, like a summer hotel with a lawn in front and a high stone wall in front of that. A large number of persons of both sexes, but mainly females, is wandering about over the front yard dressed in peculiar styles. Leaning over the gates is a thickset man gazing with repugnance upon a lettuce leaf which he is holding in his right hand. He sees us and his face lights up some, but not much.
“‘What ho, comrades!’ he says; ‘what’s the latest and newest in the great world beyond?’
“‘Mister,’ I says, disregarding these pleasantries, ‘how’s the prospects for a pair of footsore travelers to get a free snack of vittles here?’
“‘Poor,’ he says, ‘very poor. Even the pay-patients, one or two of whom I am which, don’t get anything to eat to speak of. The diet here,’ says, ‘is exclusively vegeterrible. You wouldn’t scarcely believe it,’ he says, ‘but we’re paying out good money for this. Some of us is here to get cured of what the docters think we’ve got, and some of us is here,’ he says, ‘because as long as we stay here they ain’t so liable to lock us up in a regular asylum. Yes,’ he says, pensively, ‘we’ve got all kinds here. That lady yonder,’ he says, pointing to a large female who’s dressed all in white like a week’s washing and ain’t got no shoes on, ‘she’s getting back to nature. She walks around in the dew barefooted. It takes quite a lot of dew,’ he says. ‘And that fat one just beyond her believes in reincarnation.’
“‘You don’t say!’ I says.
“‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I do. She wont eat potatoes not under no circumstances, because she thinks that in her last previous existence she was a potato herself.’
“I takes a squint at the lady. She has a kind of a round face with two or three chins that she don’t actually need, and little knobby features.
“‘Well,’ I says, ‘if I’m any judge, she ain’t entirely recovered yet. Might I ask,’ I says, ‘what is your particular delusion? Are you a striped cabbage worm or a pet white rabbit?’
“I was thinking about that lettuce leaf which he held in his mitt.
“‘Not exactly,’ he says, ‘I was such a good liver that I developed a bad one and so I paid a specialist eighty dollars to send me here. At this writing,’ he says, ‘the beasts of the field have but little on me. We both browse, but they’ve got cuds to chew on afterwards. It’s sickening,’ he says in tones of the uttermost conviction. ‘Do you know what we had for breakfast this morning? Nuts,’ he says, ‘mostly nuts, which it certainly was rank cannibalism on the part of many of those present to partake thereof,’ he says. ‘This here frayed foliage which I hold in my hand,’ he says, ‘is popularly known as the mid-forenoon refreshment. It’s got imitation salad dressing on it to make it more tasty. Later on there’ll be more of the same, but the big doings will be pulled off at dinner to-night. You just oughter see us at dinner,’ he says with a bitter laugh. ‘There’ll be a mess of lovely boiled carrots,’ he says, ‘and some kind of chopped fodder, and if we’re all real good and don’t spill things on our bibs or make spots on the tablecloth, why, for dessert we’ll each have a nice dried prune. I shudder to think,’ he says, ‘what I could do right this minute to a large double sirloin cooked with onions Desdemona style, which is to say, smothered.’
“‘Mister,’ I says, ‘I never thought I’d fall so low as to be a vegeterrier, but necessity,’ I says, ‘is the mother of vinegar. Could you please, sir, spare us a couple of bites out of that there ensilage of yourn–one large bite for me and one small bite for my young friend there to keep what little life we have until the coming of the corned beef and cabbage?’
“‘Fellow sufferer,’ he says, ‘listen here to me. I’ve got a dear old white-haired grandmother, which she was seventy-four her last birthday and has always been a life-long member of the First Baptist Church. I love my dear old grandmother, but if she was standing right here now and asked me for a nibble off my mid-day refreshment I’d tell her to go find a truck patch of her own. Yes sir, I’d turn her down cold; because if I don’t eat enough to keep me alive to get out of here when the times comes I wont be alive to get out of here when the time comes. Anywhere else I could love you like a brother,’ he says, ‘and divide my last bite with you, but not here,’ he says, ‘not here! Do you get me?’ he says.
“‘Sir,’ I says, ‘I get you. Take care of yourself and don’t get foundered on the green truck,’ I says. ‘A bran mash now and then and a wisp of cured timothy hay about once in so long ought to keep off the grass colic,’ I says. ‘Come on, little playmate,’ I says to Sweet Caps, ‘let us meander further into this here vale of plenty of everything except something to eat. Which, by rights,’ I says, ‘its real name oughter be Hungry Hollow.’
“So we meanders some more miles and pretty soon I’m that empty that I couldn’t be no emptier than I am without a surgical operation. My voice gets weak, and objects dance before my eyes.
“After while they quits dancing, and I realizes that I’m bowing low before probably the boniest lady that ever lived. A gold watch has got more extra flesh on it than this lady has on her. She is looking out of the front window of a small cottage and her expression verges on the disapproving. As nearly as I can figure out she disapproves of everything in general, and a large number of things in particular. And I judges that if there is any two things in the world which she disapproves of more than any other two things, those two things is me and the Sweet Caps Kid.
“I removes my lid and starts to speak, but she merely waves her arm in a majestic manner, meaning, if I know anything about the sign language, ‘Exit in case of dog.’ So we exits without even passing the time of the day with her and continues upon our way through the bright sunshine. The thermometer now registers at least ninety-eight in the shade, but then of course we don’t have to stay in the shade, and that’s some consolation.
“The next female land-owner we encounters lives away down in the woods. She’s plump and motherly-looking, with gold bows on her spec’s. She is out in her front garden picking pansies and potato bugs and other flora and fauna common to the soil. She looks up as the gate-latch clicks, and beholds me on the point of entering.
“‘Madam,’ I says, ‘pardon this here intrusion but in us you behold two weary travelers carrying no script and no purse. Might I ask you what the chances are of us getting a square meal before we perish?’
“‘You might,’ she says.
“‘Might what?’ I says.
“‘Might ask me,’ she says,’but I warn you in advance, that I ain’t very good at conundrums. I’m a lone widder woman,’ she says, ‘and I’ve got something to do,’ she says, ‘besides standing out here in the hot sun answering riddles for perfect strangers,’ she says. ‘So go ahead,’ she says.
“‘Madam,’ I says pretty severe, ‘don’t trifle with me. I’m a desperate man, and my friend here is even desperater than what I am. Remember you are alone, and at our mercy and–‘
“‘Oh,’ she says, with a sweet smile, ‘I ain’t exactly alone. There’s Tige,’ she says.
“I don’t see no Tige,’ I says, glancing around hurriedly.
“‘That ain’t his fault,’ she says. ‘I’ll call him,’ she says, looking like it wont be no trouble whatsoever to show goods.
“But we don’t wait. ‘Sweet Caps,’ I says to him as we hikes round the first turn in the road, ‘this district ain’t making no pronounced hit with me. Every time you ast ’em for bread they give you a dog. The next time,’ I says,’ anybody offers me a canine, I’m going to take him,’ I says. ‘If he can eat me any faster than I can eat him,’ I says, ‘he’ll have to work fast. And,’ I says, ‘if I should meet a nice little clean boy with fat legs–Heaven help him!’
“And just as I’m speaking them words we comes to a lovely glade in the woods and stops with our mouths ajar and our eyes bulged out like push buttons. ‘Do I sleep,’ I says to myself, ‘or am I just plain delirious?’
“For right there, out in the middle of the woods, is a table with a white cloth on it, and it’s all covered over with the most lucivicious looking viands you ever see in your life, including a ham and a couple of chickens and a pie and some cool-looking bottles with long necks on ’em and gilt-foil crowns upon their regal heads. And a couple of flunkies in long-tailed coats and knee breeches and white wigs are mooning round, fixing things up ship shape. And just then a tall lady comes sauntering out of the bushes, and she strolls up close and the flunkies bow and fall back and she says something about everything being now ready for Lady Gwyndolin’s garden party and departs the same way she came. And the second she’s out of sight, me and Sweet Caps can’t hold in no longer. We busts through the roadside thicket and tear acrost that open place, licketty-split. It seems too good to be true. And it is. When we gets up close we realizes the horrible truth.
“The ham is wood and the chickens is pasteboard and the pie is a prop pie and the bottles aint got nothing in ’em but the corks. As we pauses, stupefied with disappointment, a cheerful voice calls out: ‘That’s the ticket! Hold the spot and register grief–we can work the scene in and it’ll be a knock-out!’
“And right over yonder at the other side of the clearing stands a guy in a checked suit grinding the handle of a moving-picture machine. We has inadvertently busted right into the drammer. So we kicks over his table and departs on the run, with a whole troupe of them cheap fillum troopers chasing after us, calling hard names and throwing sticks and rocks and things.
“After while, by superior footwork, we loses ’em and resumes our journey. Well, unless you’ve got a morbid mind you wont be interested in hearing about our continued sufferings. I will merely state that by the time five o’clock comes we have traveled upwards of nine hundred miles, running sometimes but mostly walking, and my feet is so full of water blisters I’ve got riparian rights. Nearly everything has happened to us except something to eat. So we comes to the edge of a green field alongside the road and I falls in a heap, and Sweet Caps he falls in another heap alongside of me, making two heaps in all.
“‘Kiddo,’ I says, ‘let us recline here and enjoy the beauties of Nature,’ I says.
“‘Dern the beauties of Nature!’ says Sweet Caps. ‘I’ve had enough Nature since this morning to last me eleven thousand years. Nature,’ he says, ‘has been overdone, anyway.’
“‘Ain’t you got no soul?’ I says.
“‘Oh yes,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a soul, but the trouble is,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a lot of other vital organs, too. When I ponder,’ he says, ‘and remember how many times I’ve got up from the table and gone away leaving bones and potato peels and clam shells and lobster claws on the plate–when I think,’ he says, ‘of them old care-free, prodigal days, I could bust right out crying.’
“‘Sh-h!’ I says, ‘food has gone out of fashion–the best people ain’t eating any more. Put your mind on something else,’ I says. ‘Consider the setting sun,’ I says, ‘a-sinking in the golden west. Gaze yonder,’ I says, ‘upon that great yellow orb with all them fleecy white clouds banked up behind it.’
“‘I’m gazing,’ he says. ‘It looks something like a aig fried on one side. That’s the way I always uster take mine,’ he says, ‘before I quit eating–fried with the sunny side up.’
“I changed the subject.
“‘Ain’t it a remarkable fact,’ I says, ‘how this district is addicted to dogs? Look at that there little stray pup, yonder,’ I says, ‘jumping up and down in the wild mustard, making himself all warm and panty. That’s an edifying sight,’ I says.
“‘You bet,’ says the Sweet Caps Kid, kind of dreamy, ‘it’s a great combination,’ he says, ‘–hot dog with fresh mustard. That’s the way we got ’em at Coney,’ he says.
“‘Sweet Caps,’ I says, ‘you are breaking my heart. Desist,’ I says. ‘I ask you to desist. If you don’t desist,’ I says, ‘I’m going to tear your head off by the roots and after that I’ll probably get right rough with you. Fellow me,’ I says, ‘and don’t speak another word of no description whatsoever. I’ve got a plan,’ I says, ‘and if it don’t work I’ll know them calamity howlers is right and I wont vote Democratic never again–not,’ I says, ‘if I have to vote for Bryan!’
“He trails along behind me, and his head is hanging low and he mutters to hisself. Injun file we retraces our weary footsteps until we comes once more to the village of Plentiful Valley. We goes along Main Street–I know it’s Main Street because it’s the only street there is–until we comes to a small brick building which you could tell by the bars at the windows that it was either the local bank or the calaboose. On the steps of this here establishment stands a party almost entirely concealed in whiskers. But on his breast I sees a German silver badge gleaming like a full moon seen through thick brush.
“‘The town constable, I believe?’ I says to him.
“‘The same,’ he says. ‘What can I do for for you?’
“‘Lock us up,’ I says, ‘–him and me both. We’re tramps,’ I says, ‘vagrants, derilicks wandering to and fro,’ I says, ‘like raging lions seeking whatsoever we might devour–and not,’ I says, ‘having no luck. We are dangerous characters,’ I says, ‘and it’s a shame to leave us at large. Lock us up,’ I says, ‘and feed us.’
“‘Nothing doing,’ he says. ‘Try the next town–it’s only nine miles and a good hard road all the way.’
“‘I thought,’ I says, ‘that you took a hidebound oath never to shave until you’d locked up a thousand tramps.’
“‘Yep, he says, ‘that’s so; but you’re a little late. I pinched him about an hour ago.’
“‘Pinched who?’ I says.
“‘The thousandth one,’ he says. ‘Early to-morrow morning,’ he says, ‘I’m going to get sealed bids and estimates on a clean shave. But first,’ he says, ‘in celebration of a historic occasion, I’m giving a little supper to-night to the regular boarders in the jail. I guess you’ll have to excuse me–seems to me like I smell the turkey dressing scorching.’
“And with that he goes inside and locks the door behind him, and don’t pay no attention to us beating on the bars, except to open an upstairs window and throw a bucket of water at us.
“That’s the last straw. My legs gives way, both at once, in opposite directions. Sweet Caps he drags me across the street and props me up against a building, and as he fans me with his hat I speaks to him very soft and faint and low.
“‘Sweep Caps,’ I says, ‘I’m through. Leave me,’ I says, ‘and make for civilization. And,’ I says, ‘if you live to get there, come back sometime and collect my mortal remains and bury ’em,’ I says, ‘in some quiet, peaceful spot. No,’ I says, ‘don’t do that neither! Bury me,’ I says, ‘in a Chinee cemetary. The Chinees,’ I says, ‘puts vittles on the graves of their dear departeds, instead of flowers. Maybe,’ I says, ‘my ghost will walk at night,’ I says, ‘and eat chop suey.’
“‘Wait,’ he says, ‘don’t go yet. Look yonder,’ he says, pointing up Main Street on the other side. ‘Read that sign,’ he says.
“I looks and reads, and it says on a front window; ‘Undertaking and Emba’ming In All Its Branches.‘
“I rallies a little. ‘Son boy,’ I says, ‘you certainly are one thoughtful little guy–but can’t you take a joke? I talk about passing away, and before I get the words out of my pore exhausted vacant frame you begin to pick out the fun’el director. What’s your rush?’ I says. ‘Can’t you wait for the remains?’
“‘Keep ca’m,’ he says, ‘and look again. Your first look wasn’t a success. I don’t mean the undertaker’s,’ he says; ‘I mean the place next door beyond. It’s a delicatessen dump,’ he says, ‘containing cold grub all ready to be et without tools,’ he says. ‘And what’s more,’ he says, ‘the worthy delicatessener is engaged at this present moment in locking up and going away from here. In about a half an hour,’ he says, ‘he’ll be setting in his happy German-American home picking his teeth after supper, and reading comic jokes to his little son August out of the Fleagetty Bladder. And shortly thereafter,’ he says, ‘what’ll you and me be doing? We’ll be there, in that vittles emporium, in the midst of plenty,’ he says, ‘filling our midsts with plenty of plenty. That’s what we’ll be doing,’ he says.
“‘Sweet Caps,’ I says, reviving slightly, remember who we are? Remember the profession which we adorn? Would you,’ I says, ‘sink to burglary?’
“‘Scandalous,’ he says, with feeling, ‘I’m so hollow I could sink about three feet without touching nothing whatsoever. Death before dishonor, but not death by quick starvation. Are you with me,’ he says, ‘or ain’t you?’
“Well, what could you say to an argument like that? Nothing, not a syllable. So eventually night ensoos. And purty soon the little stars come softly out and at the same juncture me and the Sweet Caps Kid goes in. We goes into an alley behind that row of shops and after feeling about in the darkness for quite a spell and falling over a couple of fences and a lurking wheelbarrow and one thing and another, we finds a back window with a weak latch on it and we pries it open and we crawls in.
“Only, just as we gits inside all nice and snug, Sweet Caps he has to go and turn over a big long box that’s standing up on end, and down it comes ker-blim! making a most hideous loud noise.
“Then we hears somebody upstairs run across the floor over our heads and hears ’em pile down the steps, which is built on the outside of the building to save building ’em on the inside of the building, and in about a half a minute a fire bell or some similar appliance down the street a piece begins to ring its head off.
“‘The stuff’s off,’ says Sweet Caps to me in a deep, skeered whisper. ‘Let’s beat it.’
“‘Nix,’ I says. ‘You fasten that there window! I’m too weak to run now, and if they’ll give me about five minutes among the vittles I’ll be too full to run. Either way,’ I says, ‘it’s pinch, and,’ I says, ‘we’d better face it on a full stomach, than an empty one.’
“‘But they’ll have the goods on us,’ he says.
“‘Son,’ I says, ‘if they’ll only hang back a little we’ll have the goods in us. They won’t have no trouble proving the corpus delicatessen,’ I says, ‘–not if they bring a stomach pump along. Bar that window,’ I says, ‘and let joy be unconfined.’
“So he fastens her up from the inside, and while we hears the aroused and infuriated populace surrounding the place and getting ready to begin to think about making up their minds to advance en massy, I pulls down the front shades and strikes a match and lights up a coal-oil lamp and reaches round for something suitable to take the first raw edge off my appetite–such as a couple of hams.
“Then right off I sees where we has made a fatal mistake, and my heart dies within me and I jest plum collapses and folds up inside of myself like a concertina. And that explains,” he concluded, “why you ain’t seen me for going on the last eighteen months.”
“Did they give you eighteen months for breaking into the delicatessen shop?” I asked.
Mr. Doolan fetched a long, deep, mournful sigh.
“No,” he said simply, “they gave us eighteen months for breaking into the undertaker’s next door.”