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Title: Homeburg Memories
Author: Fitch, George, 1877-1915
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Homeburg Memories" ***

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HOMEBURG MEMORIES

[Illustration: Finally the bass catches up with the cornets.

FRONTISPIECE. _See Page 176_]


Homeburg Memories

BY

GEORGE FITCH
AUTHOR OF "AT GOOD OLD SIWASH,"
"SIZING UP UNCLE SAM," ETC.


WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
IRMA DÉRÈMEAUX

[Illustration: Publisher's logo]

BOSTON
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
1915


_Copyright, 1915_,
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.

_All rights reserved_

Published, February, 1915

THE COLONIAL PRESS
C. H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.


TO

_MY FATHER_


CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                   PAGE

   I. THE 4:11 TRAIN                         1

  II. THE FRIENDLY FIRE-FIEND               26

 III. HOMEBURG'S TWO FOUR-HUNDREDTHS        47

  IV. THE SERVANT QUESTION IN HOMEBURG      71

   V. HOMEBURG'S LEISURE CLASS              91

  VI. HOMEBURG'S WORST ENEMY               116

 VII. THE HOMEBURG WEEKLY DEMOCRAT         142

VIII. THE HOMEBURG MARINE BAND             171

  IX. THE AUTO GAME IN HOMEBURG            200

   X. THE HOMEBURG TELEPHONE EXCHANGE      230

  XI. A HOMEBURG SCHOOL ELECTION           254

 XII. CHRISTMAS AT HOMEBURG                278


ILLUSTRATIONS

FINALLY THE BASS CATCHES UP WITH THE
CORNETS                                _Frontispiece_

IT SEEMED TO ME THEN AS IF SHE MUST
HAVE COME FROM HEAVEN BY AIR-LINE          PAGE   18

"SHE'S OUT, BOYS," HE SAYS                   "   148

IN HOMEBURG YOU COME HOME TO THE
WHOLE TOWN                                   "   284


Homeburg Memories



I

THE 4:11 TRAIN

_In Which the World Comes Once a Day to Visit Homeburg_


Hel-lo, Jim! Darn your case-hardened old hide, but I'm glad to see you!
Wait till I unclamp my fingers from this suit case handle and I'll shake
hands. Whoa--look out!! That's the fourth time that chap's tried to tag
me with his automobile baggage truck. He'll get me yet. I wish I were a
trunk, Jim. Why aren't they as kind to the poor traveler as they are to
his trunk? I don't see any electric truck here to haul me the rest of
the way into New York. It's a long, long walk to the front door of this
station, and my feet hurt.

That's the idea. Let the porter lug that suit case. I'd have hired one
myself, but I was afraid I couldn't support him in the style you fellows
have made him accustomed to. It was mighty nice of you to come down and
meet me, Jim. I've been standing here for five minutes in this infernal
mass meeting of locomotives, trying to keep out from underfoot, and
getting myself all calm and collected before I surged out of this
howling forty-acre depot and looked New York in the eye. It's nothing
but a plain case of rattles. I have 'em whenever I land here, Jim. Dump
me out on Broadway and I wouldn't care, but whenever I land back in the
bowels of a Union Station I'm a meek little country cousin, and I always
want some one to come along and take me by the hand.

It's the fault of your depots. They're the biggest things you have, and
it isn't fair for you to come at me with your biggest things first.
Every time I start for New York I swear to myself that I'm going to go
into a fifty thousand dollar dining-room full of waiters far above my
station, and tuck my napkin in my collar, just to show I'm a free-born
citizen; and I'm going to trust my life to crossing policemen, and go by
forty-story buildings without even flipping an eye up the corner and
counting the stories by threes. I'm mighty sophisticated until I hit the
city and get out into a depot which has a town square under roof and a
waiting-room so high that they have to shut the front door to keep the
thunder storms out. Then I begin to shrink. And by the time I've walked
from Yonkers or thereabouts, clean through the station and out of a
two-block hallway, with more stores on either side than there are in all
Homeburg, and have committed my soul to the nearest taxicab pirate, I
feel like a cheese mite in the great hall of Karnak.

No, sir; when I get into a big city depot, I'm a country Jake, and I
need a compass and kind words. I've suffered a lot from those depots. I
missed a train in Washington once because I figured it would take me
only ten minutes to go from my hotel to the train. But I counted only
the distance to the front door of the Union Station. By the time I'd
journeyed on through the fool thing, my train had gone. Once I missed a
train in the Boston station because I didn't know which one of the
thirty tracks my train was on. I guessed it was somewhere to the right,
and I guessed wrong. It was twenty-four tracks away to the left, and I
couldn't get back in time. So I went into their waiting-room, which is
as big as a New England cornfield and has all the benches named for
various towns. I had to stand up two hours because I couldn't find the
Homeburg bench.

I'm an admirer of big cities, Jim, and I wouldn't have you take a foot
off your Woolworth building, or a single crashity!! bang!! out of your
subways, but I wish there was a little more coziness in your depots.
Why, at Homeburg I'm nearer the train at my house than I am in New York
after I've got to the station. It's great to have a depot so big that it
takes the place of mountain scenery, but it's hard on the poor traveler,
even if it does have all the comforts of away-from-home in it. And then
it swallows up things so. It takes away all the pleasure of having a
railroad in the town. I suppose five hundred trains come into this
station every day, but they're just trains--nothing more. You don't get
any fun or information or excitement out of them. You can't even chase
them--they bang a gate in your face when you try. I'll bet you don't get
as much comfort and fun out of all these five hundred trains, Jim, as we
do out of the 4:11 train at Homeburg.

No; it's not any better than your trains. It's not as good. You can't
get raw oysters and magazines and individual cocktails and shaves on it.
All you can get is cinders and peanuts, and I would advise you, if you
were hungry, to eat the former and put the latter in your eye. It's the
kind of a train you New Yorkers would ride on and then write home
telling about the horrors of travel in the great West. But it means
everything to Homeburg. It means a lot more than the half dozen limited
trains which roar through our town fifty miles an hour every day and
have made us so expert at dodging that we will develop kangaroo legs in
another generation. It's our train. Here in New York a hundred trains
come in each morning from Chicago, New Orleans, Everywhere and points
beyond, and the office-boy next door to the depot doesn't stop licking
stamps long enough to look up. But when old Number Eleven, which is its
official railroad name, pulls into Homeburg from Chicago each
afternoon, loaded with mail, news, passengers, home-comers, adventurers,
mysterious strangers, friends, brides, heroes, widows and coffins, you
can just bet we're there to see her.

It's the town pastime. We all do it. Whenever a Homeburg man has nothing
else to do at four o'clock, he steps over to the depot and joins the
long line which leans up against the depot wall and keeps it in place
during the crisis. Some of them haven't missed a roll-call in years. Old
Bill Dorgan, the drayman, has stood on the platform every day since the
line was built, rain or shine. Josh James, the colored porter of the
Cosmopolitan Hotel, knows more traveling men than William J. Bryan. If
he was absent from his post, the engineer wouldn't know where to stop
the train. The old men come crawling down on nice days and sun
themselves for an hour before the train arrives. The boys sneak slyly
down on their way from school and stand in flocks worshiping the train
butcher, who is bigger than the Washington Monument to them. Sometimes a
few girls come down too, and hang around, giggling. But that doesn't
last long. We won't stand for it in our town. Some missionary tells the
girls' parents, and then they suddenly disappear from the ranks and look
pouty and insulted for a month, and we know, without being told, that a
couple of grown-up young ladies of sixteen or more have been spanked in
the good old-fashioned way. Homeburg is a good town, and it makes its
girls behave even if it has to half kill them.

You haven't any idea, Jim, how much bustle and noise and excitement and
general enthusiasm a passenger train can put into a small town for a few
minutes. Just imagine yourself in Homeburg on a cold winter afternoon.
It's four o'clock. The sun has stood the climate as long as it can and
is getting ready to duck for shelter behind the dreary fields to the
west. If you ran an automobile a mile a minute down the walk on Main
Street you wouldn't have to toot for a soul. Now and then a farmer comes
out of a store, takes a half hitch on the muffler around his neck, puts
on his bearskin gloves and unties his rig. You watch him drive off, the
wheels yelling on the hard snow, and wonder if it isn't more cheerful
out in the frozen country with the corn shocks for company. It's the
terrible half hour of bleak, fading light before the electricity is
turned on and the cozy dark comes down--the loneliest hour of the
winter's day.

You've stood it about as long as you can, when you notice signs of life
across the street. Three men carrying satchels are steering for the
depot. Dorgan's dray is rattling down the street. Dorgan's dray would
make a cheerful noise if it was the last sound on earth. Little flocks
and groups of people begin plodding across the square. You know them
all. Gibb Ogle is going over to watch the baggageman load trunks. It is
Gibb's life work. Pelty Amthorne is a little late, but he'll have time
to arrange himself against the east end door and answer the roll-call,
as he has for thirty years. Miss Ollie Mingle is going over too. She
must be expecting that Paynesville young man again. If the competition
between her and Ri Hawkes gets any keener, Ollie will have to meet the
train down at the crossing and nab the young man there. Sim Atkinson is
taking a handful of letters down to the station as usual. Ever since he
had his row with Postmaster Flint, he has refused to add to the receipts
of the office, and buys his stamps of the mail clerk. It is Sim's hope
and dream that sometime the annual receipts of the Homeburg post-office
will just miss being enough to bring a raise in salary. Then Sim will
bring it to Flint's attention that he would have bought his ten
dollars' worth of stamps that year at home, if Flint hadn't advertised
his lock box for rent when he neglected the quarterly dues. Watching Sim
thirst for revenge is as much fun as having a real Indian in town.

There's the headlight half a mile down the track! She's coming fast, ten
minutes late, and, because you've been lonesome all afternoon and need
exercise, you slip into your coat and hustle down. Just as you get to
the depot, Number Eleven comes in with a crash and a roar, bell ringing,
steam popping off, every brake yelling, platforms loaded, expectation
intense, confusion terrific, all nerves a-tingle, and fat old Jack Ball,
the conductor, lantern under arm, sweeping majestically by on the bottom
step of the smoker. Young Red Nolan and Barney Gastit, two of the
station agent's innumerable amateur helpers, race for the baggage car
with their truck, making a terrible uproar over the old planks. The mail
clerk dumps the sacks. Usually he gets a stranger in the shin with
them. Nothing doing to-day. Just missed a traveling man. We still tell
of the time the paper sack scooted across the icy platform and stood
Mayor Andrews on his head. He wanted to abolish the whole post-office
department.

I've always realized what the city gate must have meant to the medieval
loafers, because I've watched Homeburg's city gate at the 4:11 train so
often. There's Mrs. Sim Estabrook getting home. Must have been
unexpected. No one to meet her. Wonder if Sim's sick again. I'll call up
pretty soon. Wimble Horn's been to Chicago again, evidently. Wonder if
he'll dump his last eighty acres into the Board of Trade. Who's the
fine-looking duck in the fur-lined coat? Not a transient, evidently. He
passed Josh by. Must be visiting somebody. Yes; Mrs. Ackley's kissing
him. That might mean a scandal in New York, but at home it means
relatives. Poor old Jedson Bane's back, I see. Looks pretty bad.
Hospital didn't help him. Guess he's not long for us. Hello, Jed, old
man! How are you? Better? That's fine. You're looking great! For the
love of Mike, will you take a swift look at what's got off? I believe
it's from college. They don't wear clothes like that anywhere else. Oh,
yes, of course, that's why the Singers' automobile came down. Don't know
what we'd do, now that the circus has passed us up, if it wasn't for
Sally Singer. She imports a new specimen from the University about every
two weeks.

The crowd is off, and you hurl a few good-bys at the travelers getting
on. Our two editors check them off as they go. The _Argus_ and the
_Democrat_ get all their news at this train. There's no slipping in and
out of town in Homeburg. One and all we face the gantlet. Young Andy
Lowes hates to have us beg him not to miss the morning train back, as we
do three times a week; but he simply has to go to Jonesville that
often, and we all know why, and he knows we know. The Parsons are rid of
their Aunt Mary at last. She's worse than an oyster. Put her in a
guest-room and she grows fast to it. They've had her for six months now.
Hello! Peter Link's son is going down to Jonesville. Guess he's got his
job back. Andy would be a good boy if he would only stop trying to make
the distilleries work nights. There goes old Colonel Ackley on his
weekly trip. Wonder if he thinks he fools any one with that suit case.
Ever since the town went dry, he's had business in the next county.
Hello, Colonel! Don't drop that case. You'll break a suit of clothes!
Watch him glare.

The engine has gotten its breath by this time. Ever notice how human an
engine sounds when it stops after a long run and the air-brake apparatus
begins to pant? Old Ball has been fussing for a minute and now he yells
"'Board." Aunt Emma Newcomb gets in a few more kisses all around her
family. She's going down to the next station. The engine gives a few
loud puffs, spins its wheels a few times, and the cars begin moving
past. Hurrah! Something doing to-day. That grocery salesman who gets
here once a week is coming across the square two jumps to a rod. Go it,
old man! Go it, train! Ball will always stop for a woman, but the
drummers have to take her on the fly. There! He's on--all but his hat.
Red Nolan will keep that for him till his next trip.

She's moving fast now. The brakeman hops the next to the last car with
grace and carelessness. From every platform devoted friends and
relatives are spilling--it is a point of honor in Homeburg to remain
with your loved ones in the car as long as you dare before leaping for
life. The last car sweeps by. The red and green lights begin to grow
smaller with businesslike promptness. There is a parting clatter as the
train hits the last switch frog two blocks away. Then it's over. The
noise, bustle, confusion, and joyful excitement follow the flying
cinders out of town, and silence resumes its reign. I've never heard
anything so still as Homeburg after the 4:11 has pulled out.

But we're too busy to notice it as we string across the square to the
post-office. We have the day's cargo to digest. We have to wait for the
evening mail to be distributed, read the evening newspapers, shake hands
with all the returned Homeburgers, size up the brand new Homeburgers and
investigate the strangers. And it keeps us busy until supper time.

I've lived in Homeburg thirty-five years and more, and the 4:11 train
has been tangled up in my biography all the way. I remember the first
time I ever rode on it. The cars were funny-looking coops then, and the
engine had a sixty-gallon smokestack. I was four, and I yelled with
fear when the train came in and kept it up for the first twenty miles
after they lugged me on board. The conductor chucked me under the chin
and gave me his punch to play with. He was a young man then. He'd
carried my father and mother on their wedding journey, and twenty years
after that first ride of mine he carried me and my wife on our wedding
journey. The other day we gave our oldest girl two dollars and sent her
on her first trip down to Jonesville, by herself. Old Ball was on the
train, and he grinned at me and promised to take good care of her. He's
pretty gray now, but I hope he stays long enough to start another
generation of our family on its travels.

I went to my first circus, to Jonesville, on old Number Eleven. And I
went down there at sixteen, a member of the Republican Club, with a
torch, and the proudest boy in the State. The next year I started to
college with an algebra and a tennis racket under my arm (they wouldn't
jam into the trunk), and a dozen friends came down to see me off. On
Number Eleven that day I met four other boys going to the same school.
We are still close chums, though one is on the coast, another's here in
New York, and the third is in the Philippines.

[Illustration: It seemed to me then as if she must have come from heaven
by air-line.]

It was the next year that I noticed a girl as she stepped off of Number
Eleven and was met by one of the Homeburg girls. I didn't know who she
was, but it seemed to me then as if she must have come from heaven by
air-line, and I felt so friendly toward the girl who met her that I had
to go down to her house to call that very night. The visitor had come to
stay--her father was starting a new store in Homeburg. I'll tell you,
when a snorty old train, which assays two pecks of cinders per car,
hauls the most wonderful girl on earth into your town and dumps her
into your arms--so to speak, and bunching up events a little--you're
bound to love that train.

I could write the history of Homeburg from the 4:11 too. In fact, the
train has hauled most of Homeburg into the town. Year after year we
watch strangers get off the train and turn around three times, in the
way a stranger does when he tries to orient himself and locate the
nearest hotel. We get acquainted with those strangers, and in the next
week we discover their business and antecedents and politics and
preferences in jokes, and whether they pull for the Chicago Cubs or the
White Sox. In two weeks they are old-time citizens and go down with us
to welcome the newcomers. Henry Broar came to us on the 4:11. I remember
he wore a loppy hat and needed a shave that day, and we didn't assess
him very highly. But he had a whacking law practice inside of a year,
ran for county judge two years later, and now we swell up to the danger
point when people mention Congressman Broar, and let it slip modestly
that we are intimate enough with Hank to trade shirts with him.

I remember well the day two imposing strangers got off of Number Eleven,
and made the town nearly explode with curiosity by walking out to the
Dover farm at the edge of town and pacing it off this way and that. Took
us a month to learn their business. That was the time we got the Scraper
Works. When Allison B. Unk arrived, he made a tremendous impression by
wearing a plug hat still in its first youth, and rolling ponderously
around town in a Prince Albert. We've despised Prince Alberts ever since
because the town fell for that one and deposited liberally in Unk's new
bank, which closed up a year later. And then there was the time when the
trainmen put off a scared and sick cripple, who lay in the depot
waiting-room with a ring of sympathetic incompetents around him until
Doc Simms could help him. He touched our hearts, and we shelled out
enough to send him on a hundred miles to his people. He came back ten
years later and kept Homeburg balanced magnificently in the air for a
week by showing us how much fun it is to chum with a millionaire. Even
sick cripples are likely to guess the market right in this country, you
know, and he never forgot us.

As they come in on Number Eleven, so they go. The young men come to
Homeburg full of hope, and their sons go on elsewhere loaded with the
same. Mothers weep on the station platform many times a year while their
Willies and Johns and Petes hike gaily off to chase their fortunes. And
many times a year the old boys come back from Chicago. Some of them are
rich and proud, and some of them are rich and friendly, and some of them
are just friendly. But they all get off of Number Eleven under our
keen, discriminating glare, and they all get the same greeting while we
size them up and wonder if their nobby thirty-five dollar suits are
their sole stocks-in-trade, and just how much a "lucrative position"
means in Chicago.

When the big strike was on, twenty-five years ago, Number Eleven didn't
run for two days. We might as well have been marooned on St. Helena. It
was awful. When a hand-car came sweeping into town the third day with a
big sail on, we hailed it like starving sailors. It was Number Eleven
which took on a flat-car loaded with Paynesville's fire department
twenty years ago and saved our business section. When President Banks,
of the Great F. C. & L. Railroad, rolled into Homeburg in his private
car, to become "Pudge" Banks again for a day or two and revisit the
scenes of his boyhood, he came on Number Eleven of course. The train
hung around while the band played two selections and the mayor gave an
address of welcome. That was her longest visit in Homeburg.

The old train even bursts into local politics and social affairs now and
then. It managed to jump the track in the campaign of '96, leaving four
distinguished Democratic speakers, fizzing with oratory, in the
cornfields, and ruining the only rally the Dems attempted to pull off.
And it took DeLancey Payley down after all the rest of the town had
failed, in a manner which kept us tearful with delight for a week.
DeLancey was sequestered in an Eastern college by his loving parents,
and when he was graduated he came home and started an exclusive circle
composed mostly of himself. He was unapproachably haughty, until one day
he accompanied a proud beauty, who was visiting the Singers (our other
hothouse family) to Number Eleven, and lingered too long after the train
started. DeLancey got off, but in doing so he performed a variety of
difficult and instructive feats of balancing on his ear which were
viewed by a large audience with terrific enthusiasm. When DeLancey was
haughty after that, we always praised this feat, and you'd be surprised
to see how soon he got his nose down out of the zenith.

Every day old Number Eleven brings in its mail-bag full of hopes and
triumphs, of good news, bad news, and tragedy. Every day it brings the
new ideas from the world outside and the latest wrinkles in hanging on
to this whirling old sphere in a pleasant and successful manner. We get
our styles from the Chicago men who step off of its platforms and tarry
with us. We send our brides off on it with an entire change of bill at
each performance. We get our peeps into wonderland and romance and
comedy from the theatrical troupes which straggle out of its cars and
rush to the baggage car to make sure that no varlet has attached their
trunks since the last stop. It is the magic carpet which carries our
youth forth into the great world to wonder and learn and prevail. And
now and then it is the kindly beast of burden who brings back some old
playmate, done with weariness and striving, and coming home to rest in
our cemetery beyond the south hill.

No, Jim, your thousand trains a day, with their parlor cars, bathrooms,
barber shops and libraries, are all right, but they're just trains.
Number Eleven is a whole lot more than a train. It is the world come to
visit us once a day--a moving picture of life which we enjoyed long
before Edison took out his patent. Do you wonder that it makes me sad to
see so many perfectly good trains going to waste in this roofed-over
township of yours? Take me out of it, please.



II

THE FRIENDLY FIRE-FIEND

_The Joys of Fighting Him with a Volunteer Fire Department_


Hello! Here comes the fire department! Watch the people swarm! Uumpp!
Ouch! Excuse me for living. This is no place for a peaceable spectator.
I'm going to cast anchor in this doorway until the mob gets past.

No, thank you. I'll not join the Marathon. But you don't know how
homesick and happy it makes me to see this crowd run! I've been in New
York a week now, and honestly this is almost the first really human
impulse I've seen a citizen give way to. Until this minute I've felt as
if I were a hundred thousand miles from Homeburg, with all train
service suspended for the winter. If I could find the man who stepped on
my heels while chasing that engine, I'd thank him and ask him what
volunteer fire department he used to run with. See 'em scramble.

Whoop! Here comes the hook-and-ladder truck! This is nothing but
Homeburg on a big scale. I'm beginning to envy you city chaps now. That
makes the fourth engine that's come past. You get more for your money
than we do. Look at that chief hurdling curbstones in his little red
wagon. If Homeburg ever gets big enough to have a chief's wagon, I'll
suffocate with pride.

I see it's the same old story. Fire's all out. It always is by the time
you've run nine blocks. Watch the racers coming back. Stung, every one
of them--gold-bricked. There's a fat fellow who's run half a mile, I'll
bet. If his tongue hung out any farther, he'd trip up on it. But he'll
do it again next time. They all do. Learning to stop running to fires is
as hard as learning to stop buying mining-stock in the West. And it's
just as big a swindle too. The returns from running to fires are
marvelously small. They tell me that a hundred million dollars a year
goes up in flames in this country. I don't believe it. If it does, I
want to know who gets to see all the fun. I don't.

I've run to fires all my life, until lately, and I've drawn about three
hundred and seventy-five blanks. Once I almost saw a big grain-elevator
burn in a Western town. That is, I would have seen it, if I had looked
out of my hotel window. But I'd run two miles to see a burning haystack
in the afternoon, and I was so dead tired that I slept right through the
performance that night. And once I did see a row of stores burn, back in
Homeburg--at the distance of a mile. I was in school, and the teacher
wouldn't dismiss us. By stretching my neck several feet I could just see
the flames leaping over the trees, but that was all. Some of the bad
boys sneaked out of the door, but I was a good boy, and waited one
thousand years until school was out and the fire was ditto. I've never
felt quite the same since toward either goodness or education.

Some men run faithfully to fires year after year and view a fine
collection of burning beefsteaks and feverish chimneys and volcanic
wood-sheds, while others stroll out after dinner in a strange city and
spend a pleasant evening watching a burning oil-refinery make a Vesuvius
look pale and sickly in comparison. Luck is distributed in a dastardly
way, and as for myself I've quit trying. I don't run to fires at all any
more. The big cities have fooled me long enough by sending out forty
pieces of apparatus to smother a defective flue. I stay behind and
watch the crowd. It's more amusing and not half so much work.

Of course in Homeburg it's different. You city people don't realize what
a blessing the fire-fiend is to a small town. Fires mean a whole lot to
us. They keep us from petrifying altogether during the dull seasons. And
they don't have to be real fires, either. Any old alarm will do. Our
fire-bell sounds just as terrible for a little brush fire as it would
for a flaming powder-mill. It's an adventure merely to hear the thing.
Take a winter night in the dull season after Christmas, for instance.
You have begun to go to sleep right after supper. You've finished the
job at nine o'clock, and by two A.M. you're sailing placidly southwest
of Australia in a seagoing automobile.

Suddenly the pirate-ship in the rear, which you hadn't noticed before,
slips up and begins potting away at you with a dull metallic boom. The
auto slips its clutch, and the engine begins to clang and clatter, and
somebody off behind a red-hot mountain in the distance begins ringing an
enormous bell just as you slide downward into a crater of flame--and
then you wake up entirely, and the fire-bell is going
"clang-clang-clang-clang-clang," while below you hear the ringing crunch
of your neighbor's feet on the cold snow, and outside the north window
there is a red glare which may be either the end of the world or another
exploded lamp in 'Bige Brinton's chicken-incubator; you won't know which
until you have stabbed both feet into one pants-leg, crawled all over
the cold floor for a missing sock, and run half a mile, double-reefing
your nightshirt to keep it from trailing out from under your overcoat.
That's what a fire-alarm means in Homeburg.

It's just as interesting in the daytime too. Imagine a summer afternoon
in Homeburg about three o'clock. It's hotter than a simoon in the
Sahara, and the aggregate business being done along Front Street is
nineteen cents an hour. The nearest approach to life on the street is
Sam McAtaw sitting in a shady spot on the edge of the sidewalk and
leaning against a telephone-pole, sound asleep. You're sitting in your
office chair, with your feet on the desk, dozing, when suddenly you hear
footsteps outside. Whoever is making them is turning them out with great
rapidity, and that in itself is novel enough to be interesting. The
footsteps go by, and you look at their maker. It is Gibb Ogle surging up
the walk and yanking his ponderous feet this way and that with
tremendous energy. Nothing but a fire or a loose lion can make Gibb run,
and you don't take any stock in the lion theory; so you tumble out after
him.

By this time Sim Bone is on the street, and Harvey McMuggins is coming
up behind, while half a dozen heads have suddenly sprouted from as many
doorways. Your heart beats with suspense when Gibb comes to the
town-hall corner. Hurrah! He's steering for the fire-house. You're
overhauling him rapidly, and by a big sprint you beat out Clatt
Sanderson, and grab one handle of the fire-bell ropes. Gibb grabs the
other, and then you let her have it for all there is in you.

Did I say anything about Homeburg being asleep? Forget it. Before you've
hit the bell a dozen taps you can't hear it for the tramp of feet. Every
store in town is belching forth proprietors and clerks. They are coming
bareheaded and coatless; some of them are collarless. Chief Dobbs, who
shoes horses in his less glorious moments and keeps his helmet hanging
on the forge-cover, dashes into the engine-room, grabs his trumpet, and
begins firing orders, not singly, but in broadsides. There's nobody
there to order yet, but he's just getting his hand in, and ten seconds
later, when the first member of the company arrives, he is saluted with
nineteen stentorian commands in one blast. Half a minute later the
engine-house is clogged with fire-fighters, and the air is a maelstrom
of orders, counter orders, suggestions, objections, and hoarse yells.
Then a roar of wheels sounds outside, and you drop the bell-rope handle
and go out to see the finest sight of all.

I suppose those old Romans thought the chariot-races were pretty nifty,
but if an old Roman should reassemble himself and watch the dray-race to
a Homeburg fire, he'd wonder how he ever managed to sit through a silly
little dash around an arena. From the south comes a cloud of dust and a
terrific racket. At an equal distance from the east comes another cloud
of dust and an even more terrible uproar, Clay Billings's dray having
more loose spokes than Bill Dorgan's. The clouds approach with
tremendous speed. Bill is a little ahead. He is lashing his horses with
the ends of the reins, while from the bounding dray small articles of no
value, such as butter-firkins and cases of eggs, are emerging and
following on the road behind.

But Clay isn't beaten--not by a thousand miles. He's going to make it a
dead heat or better--no, Bill hit the crossing first. By George! That
Clay boy is a wonder. He deliberately pulled in and shot across behind
Bill, cutting off a good fifty feet. His team stops, sliding on their
haunches, and ten seconds later is being hitched to the hose-cart, while
Clay is on the seat clanging the foot-bell triumphantly. It's the
fiftieth race, or thereabouts, between the two, and the score is about
even. The winner gets two dollars for the use of his team. I've seen
horse-races for a thousand-dollar purse which weren't half as exciting.

In the meanwhile more messengers have arrived from the fire. It is in
the Mahlon Brown barn, and late advices indicate terrible progress. As
fast as forty-nine rival fingers can do it, the tugs are fastened, and
the cart is off down the street with a long trail of citizens after it.

Bill's team, badly blown, is hitched to the hook-and-ladder truck, and
willing hands push it out through the door. There is always more or less
of a feud between the hook-and-ladder boys and the hose-cart boys,
because the former get the second team and rarely arrive at the fire in
time to hoist the beautiful blue ladders before the hose-cart gang puts
the conflagration out. Indeed, the feeling has gotten so strong at times
that the hook-and-ladder gang has threatened to double the prize-money
by private subscription and get their rig out first, but patriotism has
thus far prevented this.

You have rung the bell until you are tired, by this time, and, besides,
the human flood has rushed on, leaving no one to whom you can explain
just how you thought you smelled fire and beat the world to the
engine-house. So you set out for the fire yourself and jog over the
half-mile in pretty fair time, considering the heat. It is an impressive
sight--not the fire itself, but the event. Two thousand, two hundred and
nine people are there--that being the population of Homeburg minus the
sick and wandering.

In the midst of the seething mass are the hose-cart and the
ladder-truck. Around them dozens of red helmets are bobbing, while the
quivering air is cut and slashed and mangled with a very hurricane of
orders: "Bring up that hose--" "Whoa, keep that horse still--" "Bring
her round this way--" "Bring her round _this_ way--" "Hey, you chumps,
the fire's _this_ side--" "Back up that wagon--" "Come ahead with the
wagon--" "Get out of here till we get a ladder up--" "Axes here--" "Turn
on that water--" "Turn on that water--" "_Turn on that water!!--_"
"Jones, go down and tell that wooden Indian to turn on that water."
"Hold that water, you--" "_Hold that water!_" "Turn her on, I say."
"Turn her--" "Wow--turn that nozzle the other way--"

And then the water comes with a mighty rush, yanking the nozzlemen this
way and that and sweeping firemen and common citizens aside as if they
were mere straws.

As a rule, this is the climax, and the end comes rapidly. By this time
Brown, who had put the fire out with a few pails of water before the
alarm sounded, has persuaded the department to call off its hose, the
barn being full of valuable hay. So there isn't anything to do. The
water is turned off. Gibb Ogle explains to the one hundred and eleventh
knot of people how he was going past the place when he saw the tongue of
flame, and every one disperses after a pleasant social time.

Everybody is tolerably well satisfied except the hook-and-ladder gang,
which, as usual, is skunked again--never got a ladder out. A couple of
the axmen had a little fun with a rear window, but otherwise the affair
is a flat failure. They go back sullenly, but are comforted when the
roll is called, when each member who was present draws a dollar from the
city treasury. As usual, Pete Sundbloom is late, and tries to edge in to
roll-call, though he was a mile away from peril, but he can't make it
stick and gets the hoarse hoot when his little game is discovered.

I want to ask you--isn't that a pleasant interruption on a dead day? It
makes life worth living, and I really wonder that there isn't more
incendiarism in small towns throughout the United States.

Of course all the alarms aren't fizzles. Sometimes we have a real fire,
and then the scene defies description. When a fair-sized house burns
down, Chief Dobbs is so hoarse that he can't talk for a week, and when
the row of wooden stores on the south side went up in flames a few years
ago, the old chief, Patrick McQuinn, burst a blood-vessel and had to
retire, the doctor having warned him that he must never use a
speaking-trumpet again.

I was away at the time, but they tell me that was a grand fire for the
hook-and-ladder boys. They were right in the middle of it, and every
ladder in the truck was out. There was some trouble over the fact that
the big extension ladder was too tall for the buildings, and when Art
Simms had climbed to the top, he managed to fall fifteen feet to the
roof of the furniture-store, bruising himself badly. But, on the whole,
great good was done, and the second story workers were kings that day.
When the hotel caught, and the hook-and-ladder gang got into it, the way
the upper windows belched mattresses, mirrors, toilet-sets, pictures and
beds was unbelievable. Almost everything in the building was saved, and
some of it was successfully repaired afterward.

The axmen had their innings that day, too. It was a great sight to see
Andy Lowes leap nimbly up the ladder and poke in window after window
with his spiked ax, stepping backward now and then into nozzleman
Jones's face in order to view the effect. The axmen got glory enough to
last for years, and it was an axman who put out the last scrap of fire.
Frank Sundell was the hero. He was sitting on the ridge-pole of
Emerson's restaurant when he noticed a few blazing spots on the shingle
roof beneath him. He might have called the hose department; but, as I
have said, there is a good deal of rivalry between the two, and,
besides, Sundell had had a slow time that day, Lowes doing most of the
display work. So Frank reached cautiously down with his trusty ax, cut
out a blazing section of shingles, and tossed it to the ground. The
crowd cheered, and he was so encouraged that he cut out the rest of the
hot spots and put out the fire single-handed. Sundell is one of our very
best firemen and stands in line for a nozzleman's position some day.

Of course a small-town fire department doesn't get as much practice in
twisting the fire-fiend's tail as a city fire company; but our boys have
a mighty good record, and we're proud of them. Since we've had
water-works, and the department hasn't had to depend on some cistern
which always went dry just at a critical moment, there hasn't been a
conflagration in Homeburg big enough to get into the city papers. The
boys may be a little overzealous now and then, but they are always on
the job ten minutes after the first tap of the bell, and the way they go
after a red tongue of flame on a kitchen roof reminds me of a terrier
shaking a rat. They are our real heroes,--the fire-laddies,--for outside
of Frank Ericson and Shorty McGrew, who work on the switching-crew, and
come sailing down through town hanging gracefully from the end of a
box-car ladder by one foot and hand, no one else has any chance to face
danger in Homeburg.

Of course our firemen don't face danger regularly, between meals, like
your big paid departments here, and about the most the ordinary business
man gets in the danger-line is the imminent peril of getting a new
twenty-five-dollar suit in line with the chemical hose; but we don't
forget in Homeburg how old Mrs. Agnew's house burned twenty years ago
this spring and the department was late, owing to the magnificent depth
of Exchange Street, the roads having broken up, and how, when it got
there, the house was a mass of flames, with the poor old lady, who had
been bedridden for years, shrieking inside, and a hundred neighbors
shrieking on the outside; and how Pat McQuinn and Henry Aultmeyer dove
in through a window, with wet coats around their heads and the
chemical-hose playing on their backs; and how they tugged and hauled at
Mrs. Agnew, who weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, and couldn't get a
grip on her, and finally upended the burning bed and dumped her out of
the window, breaking her hip, and then dumped themselves out and rolled
in the wet grass until their hair and mustaches and clothes quit
blazing--after which they retired into cotton-wool for a month.

Maybe your men would have done it more scientifically and entirely saved
poor Mrs. Agnew, who died the next month of the broken hip, but they
couldn't have stuck to the job any more heroically; and when Homeburg
citizens talk about "brave fire-laddies" and "homely heroes" at the
annual benefit supper of the Volunteer Company No. 1, they mean Pat and
Henry, and are perfectly willing to argue the question with any one.

So we worship our company to our heart's content, and when it comes
pacing slowly down the street at the head of every parade, with the
members looking handsomer than chorus girls in their dark-blue flannel
suits, red belts, and neat blue caps, we look at them full of pride and
confidence. Our little boys dream of the time when they will grow up and
join the company and wear seven-pound red helmets at fires, and come
home tired and muddy in the gray dawn after a fire and demand hot coffee
from their admiring women-folks; and as for the Homeburg girls--well,
the greatest social function of our town, or of the county for that
matter, is the annual ball of the Homeburg fire department.

And let me tell you, when the nine-piece orchestra--all home
talent--strikes up the grand march and Chief Dobbs, with his wide-gauge
mustache and vacuum-cleaned uniform, leads the company around the hall,
every hero with the girl or wife of his heart on his arm and a full
hundred couples of the mere laymen crowding in behind, in a long and
many-looped line, the Astor ball would have to do business with a brass
band and a display of fireworks to attract any more enthusiasm.

That's what the fire department means to us in Homeburg. We don't suffer
half so much from fires as we would from the lack of them; and when this
new concrete construction makes the world fire-proof, and the Homeburg
fire department rusts away and disappears, we will mourn it even more
sincerely than we did the opera house with a real gallery, which got
over-heated one night twenty-five years ago and burned, compelling us to
get along with a mere hall with a flat floor ever afterward.



III

HOMEBURG'S TWO FOUR-HUNDREDTHS

_The Struggles of our Best Families to Impress Us_


Hold on, Jim. Don't hurry so. Remember I don't have a chance to walk up
Fifth Avenue every day. Give me a chance to astonish myself. Here are
ten thousand women going by in clothes that would make a lily turn red
and burn up with shame, and an equal number of proud gents with curlycue
collars on their overcoats, and I want to do the sight justice.

You see all this parade every day, but I don't, and I want to drink it
all in. See that feminine explosion in salmon plush! That would
paralyze business back home. Watch that hat crossing the street--it
ought to be arrested for being without visible means of support--Oh, I
see! There's a girl under it with one of those rifle-barrel skirts. Gee!
Ssh, Jim! Did you see the lady who just passed? Let's beg her pardon for
intruding on this earth. Say, you could peel enough haughtiness off of
her to supply eight duchesses and still have enough for the lady cashier
at my hotel. I'll bet she is one of your Four Hundred. For goodness'
sake, Jim, if we pass any of your social lighthouses, point them out to
me. I'm here to see the sights.

I know the rest of the country throws it up to New York a lot because of
its Four Hundred, and that the ordinary small-town man gets so scornful
when he talks of the idle and diamond-crusted rich, with their
poodle-dog pastimes, that he lives in constant danger of stabbing his
eyes with his nose. But I'm not that way; I'm interested. Nothing
fascinates me so much as the stories in your papers about Mrs. Clymorr
Busst's clever pearl earrings, made to resemble door knobs; and about
Mrs. Spenser Coyne's determination to have Columbia University removed
because it interferes with the view from her garage; and about little
Mrs. Justin Wright's charming innocence in buying a whole steamship
whenever she goes over to Europe. I'd go a long way to see your Four
Hundred perform; and moreover, after I had accumulated a precarious
balance on an iron spike fence in order to rest one eye on a genuine
duke while he fought his way out of a church with one of your leading
local beauties, who had just been affixed to him for life, I would not
squint pityingly on the heaving mass of spectators and hiss:

"We don't do this in Homeburg."

Because we would do it fast enough if we had a chance.

We don't have anything like your Smart Set, of course, but I desire to
say with pride that while there aren't enough tiaras in Homeburg to fill
a pill box, and the only limousine we possess is the closed carriage
which is used for the family of the deceased at funerals, we have our
exclusive and magnificent class just as New York has. We haven't a Four
Hundred in Homeburg, but we have a Two Four-Hundredths. If you get as
much real, solid pleasure and amusement in New York watching your Four
Hundred as we do watching the Payleys and the Singers, I envy you.
They're worth all the trouble they cause.

For a good many years, Mrs. Wert Payley, wife of the First National
Bank, was our Smart Set, all by herself. There was never any question of
it. She admitted it, and we didn't take the trouble to deny it. In a
way, she was regarded as a public benefactor. Nobody else cared to
spend the money necessary to be a Smart Set, and since Mrs. Payley was
willing to fight and be bled, so to speak, to give our town tone and
inject a little excitement into our prairie lives now and then, we felt
that the least we could do was to regard her as a social colossus.

The Payleys were the only people in Homeburg who had lunch at noon, and
as early as 1900 they ate it from the bare table. She was the only woman
in Homeburg who could "look in" on an afternoon gabble of any kind for a
few minutes and get away with it without insulting the hostess. When she
shook hands with you, you always grabbed in the wrong place, no matter
how much thought you put into it, and while you were readjusting your
sights and clawing for her fingers and perspiring with mortification,
she was getting a start on you which kept you bashfully humble as long
as she was in sight. She was real goods, Mrs. Payley was--not arrogant,
but just naturally superior. People who called at the Payleys' evenings
were the social lights of Homeburg, and whenever some lady wanted to
discharge a few fireworks indicating her social position, she would form
a hollow square around Mrs. Payley in public and get intimate with her
in full view of everybody. Mrs. Payley ran the town, and everybody was
comfortable and content about it until the Singers arrived.

The Singers came from Cincinnati to cashier in the Farmers' State Bank:
Mrs. Singer was city bred and city heeled and when she met Mrs. Wert
Payley she didn't even blink. She put out her hand a little
nor'-nor'east of her chatelaine watch, when Mrs. Payley put out her hand
some four inches southwest by south, and waited calmly for Mrs. Payley
to correct herself. There was an awful moment of suspense, and when it
became evident that the only way to get Mrs. Singer's hand down to the
other level would be to excavate beneath her and change her foundations,
Mrs. Payley gave in and reached.

War was declared that minute, and I shudder now when I think of the
months which followed.

Mrs. Payley, having been on the ground a long time, had fortified it, of
course, and was president of all the clubs. But inside of a month Mrs.
Singer flanked her position. She declined to join most of the clubs on
the plea of being a busy woman, and organized a flower mission. Its
object was to distribute flowers to the sick and needy, who generally
consisted of Pat Ryan. Pat was nearly smothered in flowers that year,
being good-natured, and as the work of collecting said flowers involved
a great deal of meeting in the Singer home and dancing in the Singer
attic, which was floored with hard maple that winter, Mrs. Singer had
the girls of the town organized into a Roman phalanx before spring.

Mrs. Payley was triumphantly reëlected to the presidency of all her
clubs that winter, but Mrs. Singer organized a public library
association and pulled off a German. Mrs. Payley attended, and when she
tried to patronize Mrs. Singer with her compliments, that clever
infighter beat her to it by explaining the theory of the German to her.
That made Mrs. Payley so mad that the next month she invited the state
president of the Federation of Women's Clubs to visit her, and didn't
ask Mrs. Singer to the tea. The next week Mrs. Singer organized a
Country Club. It only consisted of a two-room pavilion in which picnics
could be held and dances could be pulled off, with long intermissions
for the extraction of slivers from the feet. But it was just as easy to
talk about while you were in town and to refer to in a hushed and
exclusive manner as if it cost a million, and when Mrs. Payley realized
that she could never hope to become exclusive enough to get into it,
though goodness knows she couldn't have been hired to belong to the
foolish thing, she quit speaking to Mrs. Singer, the split became a
chasm, and we began choosing up sides in earnest.

That winter Mrs. Singer seceded from the church which Mrs. Payley ran,
and founded an Episcopal church, taking seven choir members out of the
Congregational church, to say nothing of the organist. All this mixed up
religion in Homeburg that winter until you could scarcely tell it from a
ward caucus.

By spring it was dangerous to show favors to either side, and when the
school election came around, it was fought out between the Payley and
Singer factions. Sally Singer had been given higher marks than Sarah
Payley, and the upshot of it all was that when the Payley side prevailed
at election by nine votes, the superintendent lost his job. He was a
good superintendent and the cause of education didn't get over the jolt
for some years, but justice, of course, had to be done.

The Singers got some satisfaction out of it by electing the school board
treasurer, which took a lot of money out of the First National Bank.
That, of course, got the banks into the row. You city folks may have
your financial flurries, but if you've never been around and between and
under a bank scrap in a small town, you don't know what trouble is.
There were a couple of failures that needn't have happened, and a lot of
partisan financiering, and then the town rose up and sat down on our
social leaders with a most pronounced scrunch. We can stand just about
so much society in Homeburg, but when it gets to elbowing into business,
churches, schools and funerals, we are more sensible than you
metropolitans are. It only takes a half-day to pass the word through a
small town, and one fine morning the Payleys and Singers discovered
that while they were still facing each other like two snorty and
inextinguishable generals, their armies had gone off arm in arm.

That ended the feud and put society in Homeburg back in its proper
place--in the front parlors in the evening after the dishes had been
done up. The Payleys and Singers still continued to compete, but we
declined to fight and bleed for them and amused ourselves instead by
watching them from the sidelines. Mrs. Payley joined the "When I was in
Europe" brigade, and the Singers got the first automobile in town. It
kept the Singers so busy supporting and encouraging it, that the Payleys
were able to build the first modern house with a sleeping porch and
individual bathrooms--and about the time the Singers came back with a
two-story bungalow full of chopped wood furniture, Mrs. Payley went
abroad again and began to say: "The last time I was in Europe." It was
nip and tuck, year in and year out, between the two, and we all enjoyed
it a lot.

But it wasn't until the Payley and Singer children came home from
college and formed a tight little circle with their backs out, that we
began to reap the benefits of really haughty society.

The Payley and Singer children had absorbed all their families had to
offer, and then they went off to school in the East and laid in a
complete stock of the latest styles in superiority. They were all
finished in the same spring and shipped back to Homeburg--magnificent
specimens of college art with even their names done over--and when they
realized that they had to live forever in the old town, where no one
spoke their language or could even understand their clothes, the family
feud was forgotten and the four rushed together for mutual protection
and formed a real Smart Set.

It's just like your bigger crowd. It doesn't have anything to do with
us in particular. And we are just like you are. You open your Sunday
papers and read reams about the plumbing and pajamas and pet dogs and
love affairs of your first families, and I guess nothing that Sally
Singer or Sarah Payley ever did got past the scornful but lynx-eyed
Homeburgers. When Sarah was getting letters on expensive stationery from
Kansas City, the whole town discussed the probable character of a man
who would put blue sealing wax on his envelopes, and when Sally made her
pa put an addition on the Singer home, we knew what color she was going
to do her boudoir in three months in advance. But we are prouder than
your people. You hire down-trodden reporters to go and abase themselves
to get the information, while we wouldn't lower ourselves enough to ask
even by proxy. We just let the sewing women and hired girls tell us.

Being an exclusive set in a small town is a whole lot harder than it is
in New York, and I've always admired our youngsters for the way they've
carried it off. Of course, four people can't form a club or give parties
or support an exclusive restaurant; they can't even be exclusive all by
themselves. They have had to mingle with us, but they are always
carefully insulated. They joined our Country Club, but they did it with
their fingers crossed, so to speak. They always come out together and
protect each other from our rude advances as much as possible. They
import college friends whenever they can, and they always have a few
bush leaguers, or utility players, to work in on such occasions. Henry
Snyder used to say he could tell when there was need of the peasantry at
the Singer house by the way Sally Singer would suddenly descend from the
third cross-road beyond Mars to the street in front of the post-office
and ask him with an accurately hospitable smile if he couldn't bring
his sister up to the house that evening to meet a few guests. And once a
year all four turn in and give a real dress rehearsal of up-to-date
social science, to which Homeburg is liberally invited and at which
unknown and unsuspected things are served for refreshments and a new and
deadly variation of bridge or dancing or punch or receiving lines or
conversational technique is put on for our inspection and bewilderment.

We have a show at our opera-house now and then, and we always go to
these affairs largely to see our Smart Set perform. It always
comes--even East Lynne is better that West Homeburg--and I'll tell you,
by the time they have come rustling in about half way through the first
act, H. DeLancey Payley and W. Sam Singer in clawhammers with an acre
apiece of white shirt and holding about four bushels of pink fluff over
their arms, and the boys have consulted anxiously with the usher, the
two girls, beautiful visions of Arctic perfection, standing in well-bred
suspense and holding their gowns in the 1915 manner, and all four have
hurried down to the best seats and have unharnessed and stowed away
their upholsterings, and DeLancey has folded up his explosive hat and
Sam has leaned back in a lordly way and beckoned to the usher for
another program--by the time all this has transpired, the actors have
forgotten their lines, and we have gotten our money's worth out of the
evening's entertainment.

The hardships those people inflict on themselves in the sacred cause of
correctness are agonizing. It takes something more than nerve to wear a
silk hat and Prince Albert down to the Homeburg post-office on Sundays
to get the mail--especially with Ad Summers always on hand to spill a
large red laugh into his sleeve and say to some friend in a tremendous
stage whisper that the darn dude's legs must be bowed or he wouldn't
want to hide 'em that way. And as for the carriage proposition, I'm
certain that no martyrs have endured more. DeLancey persuaded Hi Nott to
buy a real city carriage, and the four have used it faithfully; only the
Payleys and Singers live in different edges of town, and by the time Hi
has hauled Sam and his sister across town to the Payleys, through
Homeburg's April streets, which average a little more depth than width,
and has hauled the four down to the theater, there are usually about
three breakdowns. I've seen the four of them plodding haughtily home
from "Wedded but No Wife", the girls holding their imported dresses out
of the mud, and the boys sounding for bottom on the crossings with their
canes, while Hi drove the carriage solemnly down the road beside them.
The mud was too deep for them to get home in the carriage, but everybody
could see it was there and that they had paid for it and had done their
darndest, anyway. After all, that's no worse than the way you New
Yorkers carry your gloves in your hand in warm weather. You don't need
them, but you want the world to know you've got 'em and wouldn't be
found dead without 'em.

When our Smart Set gives a party, we all try to live up to it as far as
possible, and so we insist on going by carriage. Hi starts hauling us at
six o'clock, six to a load in dry weather, and he usually gets the last
batch there just in time to begin hauling the first platoon home.

But those are just little troubles for our Smart Set. Your Smart Set has
no troubles except the job of spending its money fast enough to keep
from being smothered by the month's income. It does what it pleases, and
if anybody objects, it raises the price of something or other by way of
retort. But our Smart Set has to live in Homeburg, and what is more, it
has to live off of Homeburg, which is as hoity-toity a place to live
off of as you can find. Sally Singer can't afford to offend any one but
the depositors in the Payley Bank, and if DeLancey caused any Homeburger
to stalk down to his father's bank and extract a thousand-dollar savings
deposit, old man Payley would thrash DeLancey and set him to work on his
farm. They have to show their superiority over us so deftly and
pleasantly that we don't mind it. They have to keep us good-natured
while despising us. With half the genius for contemptuous conciliation
that the Payley and Singer children have displayed in the last five
years, the French nobility could have kept the peasantry yelling for
bread as a privilege long after 1793.

Emma Madigan weighs two hundred pounds and drives a milk route. She went
to high school with Sally Singer, and it is the joy of her life to poke
her head into the Singer home when Sally has company and yell: "Sall,
here's your milk!" But Sally never tries to refrigerate her with the
Spitzbergen glare which she uses on us collectively when she goes to the
theater. You couldn't possibly refrigerate Emma, but you might encourage
her to say more--like the time when Sarah Payley passed her on the
street without speaking, being busy treading the upper altitudes with a
young Princeton College visitor, and Em yelled back: "For goodness'
sakes, Sarey, if you didn't lace so tight you could get your chin down
and see some one!"

But most of us are not so frank. We are too good-natured. As a matter of
fact, we'd hate to see the Payleys and Singers common. They help to make
Homeburg interesting, and so long as they know their place and don't
irritate us, we wouldn't hurt their feelings for the world--that is, not
much.

There was a dancing school in Homeburg two winters ago, and to the
consternation of every one the Payley and Singer young folks joined it.
It took two meetings for us to discover what had clogged up the
atmosphere and taken the prance out of things. Then we tumbled. The
Payleys and Singers were educating us. They were fitting us to live in
the rarified upper altitudes of refinement and to mingle with rank
without stepping all over its feet. By the third meeting Henry Snyder
had caught on to most of the signals and he explained them to a lot of
us beforehand with care. When Sally Singer dropped on to a bench and
moved her skirt ever so slightly aside it was a sign that the young man
with whom she was speaking might sit down and hold sweet converse. And
when Sarah Payley smiled brightly at a gentleman from some distance and
just caressed the chair beside her with her eye for the millionth part
of a second, that young man, if he had a spark of gentility in him,
would hurdle the intervening chairs to arrive. We also discovered how
to get away just before the young ladies got bored, by other delicate
signs, and how to derive the fact that they were thirsty and needed
sustenance, and just how to imprison them in our strong but respectful
arms during a waltz, and how to collect fans and gloves and programs and
handkerchiefs from the floor without grunting or jolting the
conversation. It was hard work, and spoiled the evening to a certain
extent, but we did the best we could until Jim Reebe spoiled it all in
the fourth lesson. Miss Singer had collected her usual six men during
the intermission with as many bright glances, and was being admired
properly and according to Hoyle, when Jim up and remarks, in his
megaphone bass: "Say, Sall, you're a great work of art, but the time you
made a hit with me was the day you slid down the banisters at school."

That finished the course; and the Smart Set, being unanimously absent
the rest of the winter, we gave ourselves up to vulgar pleasure, stuffed
our white gloves back into the bureaus and yelled for encores when we
couldn't get them any other way.

I'll tell you, a man could be a hero to his valet with half the exertion
which it takes to be a Somebody to an old grammar-school mate in a small
town.

Our Smart Set is disintegrating now, and things look blue for social
progress in Homeburg. Sally Singer is getting ready to be married this
summer to a Pittsburgh man who wears a cane. The remaining three look
like the old guard at Waterloo closing in under a heavy fire. Looks to
me as if there were going to be some of these mess alliances to wind up
with, for Sam Singer is calling on Mabel Andrews in citizen's clothing,
she having jeered him out of his Prince Albert; and Henry Snyder has
stopped scoffing and infests the Payley house to an alarming extent. So
I imagine that our Smart Set will get back to shirtsleeves in two
generations less than yours usually requires, and we'll miss it a lot.
Next to the ill feeling between the _Argus_ and the _Democrat_, it has
been our greatest diversion.



IV

THE SERVANT QUESTION IN HOMEBURG

_How Mrs. Singer Amuses Us All by Insisting on Having It_


No apologies, Jim. If the Declaration of Independence who prepares your
meals for you has packed up and gone, I don't need any explanations. I
understand already. You can't ask me up to dinner because there isn't
going to be any dinner. If you don't go out to a restaurant, you'll get
a bite yourself while Mrs. Jim puts the children to bed. And then you'll
spend the evening wondering where you can beg, borrow, abduct,
hypnotize, or manufacture another cook.

I know all about it. The great sorrow has come upon you, and there's
only one comfort--there are others. It falls upon all who try to get out
of doing their own housework in New York. And I'll bet you were good
enough to the last cook, too--only asked her for one night out a week,
came to her meals promptly, didn't demand more than a fair living wage,
and let her have the rest. Yes, of course you did. And you're going to
let the next one have the best room and ring for her breakfast in the
morning, aren't you? What? Draw the line at that? Well, Jim, I admire
your nerve. You're one of the grand old rugged patriots who will not be
trodden on. Why did your last cook leave, anyway?

Didn't like the kitchen, eh? And being in a flat you couldn't tear it
out and rebuild it. Yes, I agree with you. The servant problem in New
York is getting to be very serious. To-day you are gay and happy with
luxury and comfort all about you, and to-morrow you are picking
sardines out of a can with a fork for dinner. I am certainly glad I live
in the country, where servant girls do not come on Monday with two
trunks and go away early Thursday morning with three trunks and a
bundle.

We have no servant problem in Homeburg. However, I exclude Mrs. Singer
from this "we." There are only two servants in the whole town. Mrs.
Singer has them. That is, she tries to have them. Mrs. Singer's attempt
to have servants in a town which is full of hired girls is one of the
things which make life worth living and talking about in Homeburg.

How do I know about it? Bless you, we all know about it. It's a public
tragedy. Can't help ourselves. We've had four of Mrs. Singer's
ex-servants in our house in six years, and they have all told their
troubles. Mrs. Singer trains girls for the entire town. She's twice as
good as a domestic science school, and she doesn't charge any tuition.
She is devoting her life to the training up of perfect hired girls, and
we revel in the results. It is ungrateful of us to blame her for taking
away our hired girls, because, as a matter of fact, she is our greatest
blessing. Right at this minute in Homeburg I know that two eager
families are sitting around waiting for the latest Singer class in
domestic science to graduate and come back to them for jobs. It ought to
come most any time. The course rarely lasts over three months.

You see, Mrs. Singer isn't one of us. She came to Homeburg from a large
city, and she brought her ideas with her. She's not the kind of a woman,
either, who is going to cut those ideas down to fit Homeburg. Her plan
is to change Homeburg over to fit her ideas. She's been working at it
for fifteen years now, and I must say she's won out in several cases.
Dress suits are now worn quite unblushingly, we have a country club
half a mile from the post-office--that's the advantage of a small town,
you can get away from the rush and bustle of the city into the sweet
cool country in about four jumps--and no one thinks of serving a party
dinner without salad any more. But she's fallen down on one thing. She
can't keep servants. That problem has been too much for her. Mrs.
Payley, her rival, has had the same hired girl for sixteen years or
more; but Mrs. Singer scorns a hired girl. She must have servants, two
of them, and while she has a remarkable constitution and has stood up
for years under the fight, I don't see how she can keep it up much
longer.

A hired girl in Homeburg is a very reasonable creature. We never have
any trouble with them, and they have very little with us. We usually
catch them green and wild, just off the steamer, and they come to us
equipped with a thorough working knowledge of the Swedish language, and
nothing else to speak of. Our wives take them in and teach them how to
boil water, make beds, handle a broom, use clothespins, and all the
simpler tricks of housework, to say nothing of an elementary knowledge
of English, which they usually acquire in a month; and we pay this kind
a couple of dollars a week, and they wash the clothes, take care of the
furnace, and mow the lawn with great pleasure. They usually stay a year
or so and then they go to Mrs. Singer's finishing school. They do not go
because they are discontented, but because she offers them five dollars
a week, which is a pretty fair-sized chunk of the earth to a young
Swedish girl just learning to do a few loops and spirals in English and
saving up the steamer fare to bring her sister over.

Mrs. Singer takes our nice, green, young hired girls, who are willing to
do anything up to the capacity of a stout back, and she tries to make
servants out of them. She gives them embroidered aprons and caps and
makes them keep house her way. And after they have spent a couple of
months making coffee to suit Mrs. Singer, and going over the mahogany to
suit Mrs. Singer, and arranging the magazines on the table to suit Mrs.
Singer, and taking up the breakfast to Miss Sally to suit Mrs. Singer,
and going over the back hall again to suit Mrs. Singer, and keeping
their mouths closed tightly all day to suit Mrs. Singer, and only going
out on Thursday afternoons to suit Mrs. Singer, they sort of get tired
of the job, and one after another they stop Mrs. Singer at a favorable
moment and say these fatal words:

"Aye gass aye ent stay eny longer."

Then some Homeburg family joyfully seizes on the deserter, and Mrs.
Singer starts out all over again on the job of making a servant out of a
hired girl.

I have to admire the woman for her eternal grit. She won't give up for
a minute. She is going to run her house just so if she has to train up
a million girls and lose them all. Half the time she has to do her own
work, but I'll bet that when she has the luncheon ready she puts her
little white lace napkin on her hair and comes in and announces it to
herself in the proper style; and I'll bet, too, that she doesn't talk to
herself while she is working in the kitchen, either. She says the way
Homeburg women talk to their servants is disgraceful; that it lowers a
servant's respect for her mistress. I'd give a lot to see Mrs. Singer
looking at herself coldly in the glass after breakfast and giving
herself orders for the day in a tone that would brook no familiarity
whatever.

Our women-folks, who are familiar with the Singer residence, say that it
is a beautiful thing full of monogrammed linen and embroidered towels
and curtains that have to be washed as often as a white shirt, and that
whenever they call they are pretty sure to find Mrs. Singer trying to
teach some new and slightly dizzy second girl how to take care of the
house without breaking off the edges.

You observe the fluency and ease with which I say "second girl." We all
do in Homeburg. We're used to talking about second girls since Mrs.
Singer has tried to keep one. As far as her experience has taught us, we
are firmly convinced that having a second girl is like having mumps on
the other side too. When Mrs. Singer isn't busy trying to teach her cook
how to run the oven and the plate heater and serve the soup all at the
same time, she is attempting to give a new second girl some inkling of
the general ideas of her duties. Trouble is most of them are ten-second
girls. They listen to the program in the Singer household and then they
sprint for safety to some family where they will work twice as hard, but
will give three times as much satisfaction. Then Mrs. Singer arms
herself with the dust rag and clear-starch bowl, and subs on the job
until she finds a new second girl--after which the cook gives up her job
with a loud report, and Mr. Singer stays down-town for dinner at the
Delmonico Hotel until the Singer house management is staved off the
rocks again.

We feel sorry for the Singers and invite them out a good deal while they
are hunting cooks. And they pay us back royally as soon as the household
staff is fully recruited once more. We eat strange but delicious dishes
made by a reluctant and mystified girl, plus Mrs. Singer's
persuasiveness and will power; and said girl, still reluctant, and
scared into the bargain, serves the dinner with a lace-edged apron and a
napkin on her hair, Mrs. Singer egging her in loud whispers like the
prompter in grand opera. Steering a green cook through a dinner party,
and keeping up a merry conversation at the same time, calls for about as
much social skill as anything I know of. I myself stand in awe of Mrs.
Singer.

As for the rest of us--we have no servant problem, having no servants.
And about the only hired girl problem we have is the following: "Shall
the girl eat with the family or in the kitchen?" Mrs. Singer wished that
on us. Ten years ago there was no question at all. The girl ate with the
family, and waited on the table when something was needed which couldn't
be reached. Then Mrs. Singer came to town and made her eat in the
kitchen, since which time the question has raged with more or less fury
and the whole town has chosen up sides on it. Half of us want the girl
to eat in the kitchen, and the other half are invincibly democratic and
have her at the table.

As for the girls, they are divided too. Half of the girls who come to
see about places ask us: "Do I have to eat in the kitchen?" and the
other half ask: "Do I have to eat with the family?" And of course it's
just our luck that the people who wish to dine by themselves never can
find girls who prefer the kitchen, and the people who insist on
associating with their help usually lose them because said help has been
spoiled somewhere else by being allowed to eat in the kitchen, far from
the domestic squabbles and the children with the implacable appetite for
spread bread.

But on the whole this problem doesn't bother us much, and our hired
girls are a great comfort. They usually stay with us until they are
married or retire from old age, and after they've been ten years in a
house they're pretty much one of the family. The Payleys' girl has been
with them sixteen years, as I said before, and when she wants to go to
the opera-house to an entertainment, Wert Payley makes young DeLancey
Payley take her. It's the only use he's found for DeLancey as yet. We
keep out of the kitchen after supper, unless too strongly pressed by
thirst, because usually from seven to ten some hardworking young Swedish
man sits bolt upright in a straight-backed chair, his head against the
wall, discussing romance and other subjects of interest with a scared,
resolute expression. Usually this goes on for about three years before
anything happens. Then the girl admits, with some hesitation, that she
is going to get married, and our wife or mother, as the case may be,
hustles around and helps make the trousseau and pick out the linen. The
wedding takes place in the parlor, and about a year later the young
Swedish-American citizen who arrives is named after whatever member of
our family is the most convenient as to sex.

We never entirely lose a good hired girl in Homeburg. They pass us on to
their relatives when they are married, and come back to visit with great
faithfulness. In this topsy-turvy Eldorado of ours where a man
sometimes becomes rich before he really knows what anything larger than
five dollars looks like, many of our girls draw prizes in the shape of
good farmers and prosperous young merchants. But their heads aren't
turned by it. They come around in their new automobiles and take us out
riding, just as if we had money too. The wife of our mayor used to work
for us, and when the electric light gang stuck a light where it would
shine straight into our back porch, thus reducing the value of our house
105 per cent. as a place of employment for a nice, attractive girl in
summers, I stepped over to the mayor's office and asked him if he
remembered how he used to sit on that porch himself. He smiled once,
winked twice, and three minutes afterward four men were on their way to
relocate that pole.

If I have any criticism of the hired girls in our town, it is because
they go to Europe too much. Now, of course, it's no worse for a hired
girl to go to Europe for the summer than it is for any one else to
indulge themselves in that way. But that's the irritating part. Nobody
else goes. Outside of Mrs. Wert Payley and one or two school teachers, I
don't suppose any Homeburg people have crossed the Atlantic. But half a
dozen of our hired girls go every year. They leave late in the spring,
and during the hot weary summer their mistresses toil patiently along
keeping the job open if they can't find a substitute who will work for a
few months, for the girls who go to Europe are usually pearls of great
price and must be gotten back at all cost. I don't suppose anything is
harder on the temper than to work over a hot kitchen stove all day in
July, and then to sit down to supper, a damp and wilted mess of
weariness, and read a souvenir card from your hired girl, said card
depicting a cool and inviting Swedish meadow with snow-topped mountains
in the distance.

Our girl has been to Europe three times. She has crossed on the
_Mauretania_, the old _Deutschland_ and the new _Olympic_. Two years
from this summer she thinks she will try the _Imperator_. Often in the
evening she tells us of the wonders of these great vessels--of the
beauty of the sunset at sea, and of the smoke and noise and majesty of
London. I suppose it indicates a jealous disposition, but it makes me
mad sometimes to think that it takes practically all the money I can
earn, working steadily and with two weeks off per year, to send that
girl abroad.

Of course I don't mean it just that way. She doesn't get all of it. In
fact she gets three dollars a week of it. Out of this she saves about
three dollars and twenty-five cents because sometimes she gets a dollar
extra for doing the washing. And when she goes to Europe for the summer
on the same ship with the Astors and the Vanderbilts, it sounds more
magnificent than it really is. She is on the same ship, but about
eleven decks down, in a corner of the steerage close to the stern, where
the smells are rich and undisturbed. And she doesn't visit ruins and art
galleries in Europe, but a huge circle of loving relatives, who pass her
around from farm to farm for months, while she does amateur business
agent work for the steamship lines, talking up the wonders of America
and--allow me to blush--the saintliness of her employers, and coming
blithely back home in the fall with three or four old childhood chums
for roommates.

Just the same, I envy our girls. I wish I could go to Europe in the
steerage, not being able to go any other way.

It's a fortunate thing for us that our hired girls do go back home and
proselyte for America, or else we would soon be jam up against the real
thing in help problems. If, for any reason, the Swedish nation should
cease contributing to Homeburg, we should have to do our own work. I
often wonder at the things our American girls will do rather than to go
on the fighting deck as commander of some one else's kitchen.
Twenty-five of our girls go up to Paynesville every morning at six on
the interurban and make cores in the rolling mills there all day.
Carfare and board deducted, they get less than a good hired girl--and
they don't go to Europe for the summers and never by any chance marry
some rising young farmer who has made the first payment on a quarter
section. Several of our middle-aged young ladies sew for a dollar a day
and keep house by themselves. And there's Mary Smith, who has been a
town problem. She's thirty-five and an orphan. She lives in a house
about as large as a piano box and tries to scare away the wolf by
selling flavoring extracts and taking orders for books. She's never more
than two meals ahead of an embarrassing appetite. Every fall we dig
down and buy her winter coal, and she hasn't bought any clothes for ten
years. Some one gives her an ex-dress and Mary does her best to make it
over, but she never looks much more enticing than a scarecrow in the
result.

Mary's hands are red with chilblains in the winter, and the poorhouse
yawns for her. But will she take a place as hired girl? Not she. Mary
has her pride. She'll sell you things you don't want, which is as near
begging as graft is to politics, and she'll wear second-hand clothes and
take home cold bread pudding from the hotel--but she will not be a hired
girl and go to Europe in the summer and marry into an automobile. Once
she did consent to become Mrs. Singer's second girl. Mrs. Singer was
desperate, and after a long defense Mary consented on condition that she
be called the "up-stairs maid." But she only lasted three days. Mary
could have drawn five dollars a week and Mrs. Singer's clothes, which
would have fitted her. But Mary couldn't take orders--not that kind. She
came back to take orders from us for a patent glass washtub or something
of the kind--and we sighed wearily.



V

HOMEBURG'S LEISURE CLASS

_It is not as large as New York's but it is twice as ingenious_


Confound it, Jim, I wish you hadn't told me that your friend Williston
never worked a day in his life! You don't know how it disappointed me.

Why? Because I don't know when I have met a man whom I liked so much at
first sight as I did Williston. He suited me from the ground up. I never
spent a more interesting afternoon with any one. No matter what he did,
he interested me--I enjoyed watching him handle his cigar as well as I
did hearing him tell about his Amazon adventures. Says I to myself:
"Here is a man whose friendship I will win if I have to live in New York
all my life to get it." And then you had to go and spoil it all.

Oh, yes, I know it's just my backwoods way of looking at things. I'm not
saying what I do as a boast. I'm making a confession of it. I know why
Williston doesn't work. It's because he owns a piano box full of bonds
left by his late lamented pa, and when he was educated, the word "work"
was crossed out of his spelling-book in red ink. And I'm not saying that
he isn't a fine fellow. He's intelligent and witty and companionable and
forty other desirable things. But he won't work. Somehow that sticks in
my vision of him. It reminds me of the case of Mamie Gastit, who was the
prettiest, best-dispositioned, and most capable girl in Homeburg, but
who had a glass eye. We didn't hold it up against her, but it made us
awfully sad. There were plenty of Homeburg girls who would have been
decorated by a glass eye. Why did Providence have to wish it on the
finest girl in town?

You say it is no crime not to work in New York? Bless you, I know it. In
fact, loafing in New York is the most fascinating business in the world.
Why, it seems as if you New York men actually struggle to get spare
time. I've sat in your office and watched you on Saturday morning
working yourself into a blue haze in your efforts to get done early
enough to cord up a fine big mess of leisure on Saturday afternoon.
That's the difference between New York and Homeburg. In Homeburg you
would have been stretching out your job to last until supper
time--unless you were one of our nineteen golfers, or the roads were
good enough to let you drive over to the baseball game at Paynesville.

Leisure in New York means pleasure, excitement, and seven dozen kinds of
interest. But for many and many a long year in hundreds of Homeburg
homes, leisure has meant waiting for meal times--and not much of
anything else.

City people laugh at country people for beating the chickens to roost.
But what are you going to do when going to bed is the most fascinating
diversion available after supper? I've noticed that as fast as a small
town man discovers something else to do in the evening, his light bill
goes up and up. When crokinole was introduced into Homeburg twenty odd
years ago, the kerosene wagon had to make an extra mid-week trip. When
the magazines came down from thirty-five cents to ten and you could get
three of them and a set of books for one dollar down and a dollar a
month until death did you part, they had to put an operator in the
telephone exchange after 8 P.M. because of the general sleeplessness.
When the automobile came, and when two moving picture theaters, a
Chautauqua, and a Lyceum course opened fire in one year, and the
business men fitted up a club with an ancient pool table in it, Homeburg
got chummy with all the evening hours, and kicked so hard about the
electric lights going off at midnight that the company had to run them
an hour longer. And I suppose if any invader ever puts in an all-night
restaurant where you can have lobster and a soubrette on the table at
the same time, a certain proportion of us will get as foolish as you are
and will forget how to go to bed at all by artificial light.

We've changed that much from the past generation. We know what to do
with leisure in the evening. But we're still awkward and embarrassed
when we meet it by daylight. Since we have built our Country Club, a few
of us have learned to enjoy ourselves in a fitful and guilty fashion
late in the afternoon. But as a rule, even to-day, when you give a
Homeburg man a bright golden daylight hour of leisure, he has no more
use for it than he would have for a five-ton white elephant with an
appetite for ice-cream. And that, Jim, is why I can't speed myself up to
appreciate a young man who has never worked and never intends to. I
still have to look at him with my Homeburg eyes. And in Homeburg, when a
man doesn't work when he has a chance and takes what amusement we have
to offer as a steady diet in perfect content, we know something is the
matter with him--and we are sorry for him.

Leisure has killed more people in Homeburg than work ever did. For years
our biggest problem was the job of keeping our retired farmers alive.
When a farmer has worked forty years or so, and has accumulated a
quarter section of land, and a few children who need high school
education, he rents his farm and moves into town, where he lives
comfortably on eighty dollars a month and fills a tasty tomb in a very
few years. It isn't so hard on the farmer's wife, because she takes her
housework into town with her and keeps busy. But when the farmer has
settled down in town, far from a chance to work, he discovers that he
has about fourteen hours of leisure each day on his hands and nothing to
do with them but to eat. Out of regard for his digestion he can't eat
more than three hours a day. That leaves him eleven hours in which to go
down-town for the mail and do the chores around the house.

He stands it pretty well the first year. The second year is so long that
he begins to lay plans for his centennial, and about the third year he
takes to his bed and dies, with a sigh of relief. That's what leisure
does to a Homeburg man who isn't used to it. And that is one of the
reasons why, when I see a man in New York with nothing to do from
choice, I think of the sad army of the unemployed in Homeburg draping
themselves around the grain office every day in fine weather, and
wearing away the weary years in idleness because they are too old to
work, and don't have to, anyway.

Of late years we have been working earnestly to conserve our retired
farmers. They are fine men, and we hate to see them wasted. We have been
trying to reduce their leisure--just as a city man tries to reduce his
flesh. We elect them to everything possible. We have taught a number of
them how to play pool in the Commercial Club. We have started a farmers'
elevator, a farmers' bank and a planter factory, and have got them to
invest money. That has been a godsend, because it has kept a large
number of them busy and happy trying to save the said money. But where
we have saved one retired farmer, the automobile has saved ten. Whenever
one of our unemployed comes out with a machine, we sigh with relief and
stop worrying about him. It's just the same as if he had been given
wings and a world to explore. In summer, our retired farmers who have
autos loaf around the country from Indiana to Idaho and talk crops in
the garages of a thousand towns. And in winter they rebuild their cars,
and talk good roads. Twenty years ago you could talk good roads to a
farmer or bang him with a club, with the same result. But last year our
retired farmers organized a good roads association, and to amuse
themselves they have dragged the roads for miles around and have built a
mile of rock road leading south to the cemetery--where in the old April
days, as Henry Snyder says, the deceased was buried once, but the
mourners got buried twice--going out and coming back.

We have a real leisure class in Homeburg, however, outside of the
retired farmers, who really can't help themselves. Our genuine
metropolitan leisure class consists of DeLancey Payley and Gibb Ogle.
They are, as far as I know, the only two people in Homeburg who loaf
from choice year in and year out in perfect content. We have done our
best with both of them, but we have given up. Leisure is what they were
created for. It is a talent with them, and their only talent. They have
developed it to the best of their ability.

DeLancey's is the saddest case, because so much money was wasted on him.
Wert Payley is the richest man in our part of the country. He owns a
bank and one or two counties out West. He sent DeLancey East to school,
where he was educated regardless of expense or anything else and was
returned a few years ago a finished product, sublime, though a little
terrifying to look at, and reeking with knowledge of one kind or
another. I have heard it said that DeLancey can tell offhand what has
been the correct thing in dress for each of the last thirty-five years,
and that he can handle as many as fifteen articles of cutlery and
forkery at a dinner table with absolute accuracy.

DeLancey has been at home almost ten years now, and his chief mission
has been to ornament Homeburg and add to its elegance on state
occasions. His father had designed him for a captain of finance, and
when he first came home DeLancey was put in the bank in order that he
might work up by degrees into the bond business or some other auriferous
form of toil. Wert Payley almost had nervous prostration from overwork
that year, and in the end he had to give up. He couldn't carry his own
load and make DeLancey work too. It was too much. No human being should
be asked to do it. Wert often says that if he had had nothing else to do
he could have kept DeLancey at work at least part of the time, but that
he was too old to shoulder the task on top of his other duties. So
DeLancey left the bank, except as an enthusiastic check casher, and took
up his life work--I mean that, of course, figuratively. I mean his life
occupation--hang it, that won't do either! He took up his mission--the
work for which his ardent young soul was fitted. He began to specialize
in leisure.

For close to nine years DeLancey has loafed. It is a miracle to us. We
can't understand his endurance. Yet he thrives on it. Wert Payley has
given up trying to make him work, but he has taken what he considers to
be an awful revenge. He has refused to spend one cent for carfare.
DeLancey can hang around Homeburg until he dies, but if he wants to
leave, he must earn the money himself. And DeLancey hasn't been fifty
miles from Homeburg since he slipped the clutch out of his tired,
throbbing brain and let it rest, nine years ago.

We have to admire his ingenuity. He kills time so scientifically. They
say it takes him two hours to do himself up in the morning after he gets
out of bed, and that he has almost as many beautifying tools as an
actress. He doesn't get down-town before ten. It takes him from fifteen
minutes to half an hour to buy his morning cigar. That is, he talks to
McMuggins, the druggist, as long as Mac will stand for it. Mac has a
regular schedule. If Delancey buys a ten-cent cigar, Mac will talk with
him fifteen minutes. If he buys a fifteen-cent cigar, he will talk half
an hour, if business isn't too brisk. Mac keeps a box of fifteen-cent
cigars especially for DeLancey, but he says it is an awful risk. If
DeLancey were to die on him, he couldn't sell those cigars in a hundred
years.

The tellers at the bank are good for fifteen minutes or so after
DeLancey has bought his cigar; he strolls in and gossips with them
until his father begins to snort ominously in his little railed-off pen
marked "President." Cooney Simpson, the tailor, likes DeLancey, and they
talk clothes for half an hour almost every morning. Then it's noon, and
this is his hardest problem, because every one goes to dinner at noon
except the Payleys and Singers, who have luncheon at one. If DeLancey
can find Sam Singer, he is all right. But Sam, who used to loaf
enthusiastically with him, has rosy ideas about Mabel Andrews now, and
he is working hard in his father's bank and on the farms. It was a
bitter day for DeLancey when Sam went to work. It almost shook his faith
in idleness. But he stood firm.

Luncheon kills two hours for DeLancey, and then he goes up to the
Homeburg Commercial Club and shoots the pool balls around the table
until 4:30, waiting eagerly for some one to stop working and come to
play with him. Sometimes they come and sometimes they don't. If they
don't, he goes down to the hotel and talks with a traveling man. I often
see him in the lobby of the Delmonico, sitting in magnificent ease,
blowing large smoke rings and talking with an air of unconscious
grandeur to some eager-eyed drummer, who is delighted but mystified at
the ease with which he is breaking into the first families. DeLancey has
a quiet way of talking about the East and the great people thereof which
fools even us sometimes.

DeLancey makes his toilet after dinner at night and that of course kills
an hour or more. Then he calls on Madeline Hicks, old Judge Hicks's
daughter, when she will let him. He has an idea he would like to marry
her, but while she likes him, they say she can't bring herself to marry
a man of leisure and have the whole town sorry for her. But he takes her
to all the parties, and about once a week his father lets him have the
automobile, if the chauffeur doesn't want to use it. On other nights
DeLancey comes down-town and buys another cigar at the restaurant. It is
as good as a show to see DeLancey buy his evening cigar. You'd think he
was taking over a railroad, he chooses it with such care. The young
farmer boys and the workers in the factory come down-town at night and
loaf around the restaurants without any excuse. They have to kill the
time. But that would be too coarse work for DeLancey. He doesn't come
down-town to loaf--Oh, no! He has merely dropped in on his orbit. It
takes him half the evening to buy his cigar and smoke it, conversing as
he does so with a few selected citizens on the benefits of slim-cut
clothes and the origin of the pussy-cat hat.

Sometimes DeLancey can abduct some busy young chap and make him play a
round of golf on week-day afternoons, but not often. That's the
difference between our clubs and yours. We have clubs, but we don't use
them. We wouldn't think of spending time there if we could spend it at
business. Nothing is lonelier on week days than our golf club, and one
of the chief duties of the caretaker at the Commercial Club is to dust
off the reading table. We have our clubs, and that is the main object.
We know that they are there, and that we could enjoy them if we wanted
to. Perhaps we do want to. But it's a hard art to learn. And, oh, how
patiently and earnestly DeLancey is trying to teach us! If it were any
one but he, we might learn faster. But he sort of figures as a horrible
example. It's like a battered and yellowed wreck advocating cigarettes,
or a bald-headed barber pushing his own hair tonic.

Gibb Ogle, the other member of our leisure class, is a very different
kind of a bird. His art is more sublime than DeLancey's because he has
no one to support him. He has worked down to his present state from
nothing at all. He is a self-unmade man. With no resources, not even a
loving wife with a wash tub, he lives a life of perfect ease and
idleness. He doesn't even have to hunt for means of killing time, as
DeLancey does. Time with him dies a natural death. He is not implicated
in the sad event in any way. All he does is to watch its demise. He
watches whole hours pass away while leaning against the door-frame of
the Delmonico Hotel. Chet Frazier and Sim Bone got into an argument one
day, and to settle it they went over and took Gibb away from the
building. It didn't fall, and Sim won. Gibb has watched several thousand
hours expire while propping up the Q. B. & C. depot. He is the chief
spectator at every fire, runaway, dog fight and public event. He is a
movable landmark, as permanent as the Republican flagpole in the city
park. I have never yet gone down-town in the morning without seeing Gibb
on the street. And very seldom have I gone home at night, even in the
howling blizzards of winter, without passing Gibb leaning against the
warm bright show window of the last open place of business, and waiting
with placid greediness for one final event of some kind to transpire
before going to his well-earned repose.

Beside Gibb's leisure, DeLancey's is poor amateurish stuff. Gibb's total
income during the year would hardly exceed twenty-five dollars, and it
doesn't do him much good at that. When he gets any money, he eats it up
in the most determined and hasty fashion. I have seen him eat a dollar's
worth of ham sandwiches in an afternoon--because he had the dollar. What
he does between dollars is a town mystery. He doesn't beg. He is
believed by some to absorb sustenance from the air, like a plant. But I
happen to know that he absorbs a good deal of sustenance from the
Delmonico Hotel. He has attached himself to this hotel as a sort of
retainer, and through all its changes of ownership he has hung on. He
will not work, but he gives the place his moral support and speaks
highly of it to all comers. He will even carry a satchel across to the
depot, but only as an accommodation to the hotel. In return he asks
nothing and thus saves his proud spirit from the insult of a refusal.
But I think he has first pick of the scattered remains of the dinners
that leave the kitchen door whenever the cook is good-natured.

I say I think so, because few of us have seen Gibb Ogle eat. He has a
pride, and performs this humiliating act in secret. But grocers tell me
that he is always offering to dispose of broken-up crackers, stale
cheese and old mackerel. "I'll just carry that out for you," he says.
And they understand and let him do it. One night as he hurried past me,
a package dropped from under his coat and broke at my feet. It was
food--dry bread and a bologna skin with a little meat in the end. He
stopped and told me how hard it was to find food for a dog in which he
was interested. But that was a fib. With all his faults Gibb never
maintained a dog in idleness.

In summers Gibb leads a care-free, happy life, sunning himself all day
and sleeping comfortably at night in any one of a dozen places. He is
our village grasshopper, taking no thought of the chill future. How he
lives through our fierce winters is a mystery. He sleeps in barns. He
sleeps on the coal in the electric light power house. If the clerk at
the hotel happens to be a friend of his, he curls up in a chair in the
lobby. Sometimes all of these fail him. I have heard that he spent one
winter in an empty room over a store, and thawed out his toes on
several mornings. We are always afraid some crackling January dawn will
find Gibb frozen hard on the streets, and it is a relief when spring
comes and he begins to fatten up a little and drink in sunshine again.

We'd like to send Gibb to the county home. Some of us are even willing
to contribute to his support, scandalous as it would be. But it is hard
to do, because Gibb is no pauper. He is a gentleman of leisure with the
dignity of an Indian. His worn suits are neat, and he is as dapper with
a battered hat and a four-year-old celluloid collar as if he spent real
money on his wardrobe. He chooses his life and lives it without
complaint. Periodically we strive heroically to make him work. The boys
at the planter factory, who are a rough lot but have some hold on Gibb
because they entertain him out of their lunch boxes, kidnap him about
twice a year and drag him in to the superintendent to get a job for
him. Gibb protests frantically that he has business which can't be
neglected--that he is just closing a deal for a good position at the
hotel--that he is going away on a trip--but nothing helps him. He
accepts the job with ill-concealed horror, and the factory boys climb up
on the roof of the main building and hoist a flag. We all know what it
means. Gibb is working again. And we all know what will happen next.

About two days later Gibb will be limping to the factory very late with
his off-foot done up in an enormous comforter. "That's what you have
done, boys," he will say with simple dignity, "you've hurt that old sore
foot of mine. It's never been right since I hurt it with the fire
company. It's in awful shape now. I guess I'll lose it at last. You
oughtn't to have done it, boys. Goodness knows, I'd have worked all
these years if I'd had any foot to speak of."

Then he goes in and resigns--after which the foot recovers in great
haste, and Gibb stands on it relentlessly twelve hours a day in the old
way, while he watches the world go round and waits for the judgment day.

You'd think from the way we hammer at both DeLancey and Gibb to go to
work that they would hang together, being in the same class. But they
don't. In fact they have the greatest contempt for each other. DeLancey
will not speak to Gibb, and thinks it is a crime that he isn't sent to
the stone pile; while Gibb speaks of DeLancey in pitying accents as a
young man who ought to know better than to waste his time herding a
little white pill into a hole in a cow pasture. Gibb is very severe on
the frivolities of the prosperous. He can't bear to see them frittering
away their time.

That's our leisure class in Homeburg, and it isn't growing. If it was
we'd be worried, and the Commercial Club would hold meetings about it.
And I'm just telling you these things so that you'll see why I am so
warped and foolish regarding Williston; it's just my small town
ignorance--My, I wish that chap would get a job!



VI

HOMEBURG'S WORST ENEMY

_How Old Man Opportunity Stands Outside the Town and Beckons to her
Greatest Men_


You don't say, Jim! Gosh, let me look! Where? Behind the big fellow in
the two-gallon plug hat? There--I see him! Yes, sir! It's he! I could
tell him anywhere. Do you suppose we could get up nearer? What, go up in
the elevator with him? Say, I haven't the nerve. No, I don't want--This
is close enough--Why, there isn't even a crowd! You mean to say he comes
down here just like this right along? Do you see him often?

Why, when I go home and tell the boys I watched Teddy Roosevelt go down
the street common as dirt and could have gone up in the same elevator
with him, they'll want me to give a lecture in the Woodmen Hall. It
certainly beats all what you can see in New York for nothing.

That's where you have all the luck, Jim--you big city folks. You keep
your interesting people at home; there's nowhere bigger for them to go.
No matter how famous or successful they are, they have to stick around
and mingle unless they get Europitis of the intellect. When you grow up
with a chum in New York and he discovers a talent that has been kicking
around in his garret ever since he was born, you don't lose him. He just
stays at home and grows up to fit the town. But when I want to see my
old Homeburg playmates who have succeeded, I have to go to New York or
Chicago or San Francisco, or some other big place where old Opportunity
keeps a wrecking crew busy all the time beating in doors. Opportunity
doesn't come into a small town and knock. He stands outside and beckons.

Life in Homeburg is one long bereavement because of this fact. Seems as
if the world was always looking Homeburg men over, the way a housewife
looks over an asparagus patch, and yanking out the ones who stick up a
little higher than the rest. We don't worry about the good who die young
in Homeburg; but the interesting who go early and forget to come back
make us sad and sore. No sooner does a Homeburg man begin to broaden out
and get successful and to hoist the town upward as he climbs himself,
than we begin to grieve. We know what is coming. Presently he will go
down to the _Democrat_ office and insert a notice, advertising for sale
a seven-room house with gas and water, good cistern, orchard with
bearing trees, good barn and milch cow, cement walks and watertight
cellar. And he will sell that place at a sacrifice, which he can well
afford, and go off to the city, where he will learn to wear a fur-lined
coat, kick about the financial legislation and visit us on Christmas Day
once per decade.

I sometimes wonder what Homeburg would be like if all her bright boys
and girls should come back. Don't suppose the town could hold them at
all. It would be stretched out of shape in a week. But it would be a
glorious place to live in, and wouldn't we shine in art and music and
politics and finance--to say nothing of baseball! Suppose we had Forrest
Brady back home, catching for the Homeburg team! He gets seven thousand
dollars a year from Boston now; but I remember when he helped put dents
in Paynesville baseball pride for nothing, and would pay some youngster
a quarter to hustle baggage at the depot in his absence. And suppose the
Congregational choir still had Mary Saunders! Why, we could charge a
dollar a seat for ordinary services, and people would come down from
Chicago to attend! When I think what she gets for one concert now, and
then think how long the Ladies' Aid Society has been working to paint
the church and haven't made it yet, it makes me wish we could put
Homeburg on wheels and haul it after some of our distinguished children.
And what if we had Alex McQuinn to write up the _Democrat_ again? Every
month we almost ruin ourselves at home buying all the magazines he
writes for; but when he was a fat young thing in spectacles hunting
locals and trying to write funny things for the _Democrat_, he wasn't
appreciated at all. Old Judge Hicks, who had no sense of humor, chased
him several miles once for telling how he tried to stop the 4:11 train
by yelling "Whoa" at it. And Editor Ayers had to fire Alex to keep the
peace.

When Rollin Derby, who draws pictures for your New York paper, went to
school, he could climb a tree by digging his bare toes into the rough
bark, but was not otherwise distinguished. When Maurice Gadby was a boy
in Homeburg, he went barefooted in summer with the rest of us, and who
could have guessed that he would grow up to give tango teas for your
four hundred and only allow the better quality of them to pay him
twenty-five dollars per cup at that? But the career that amuses me most
is Jack Nixon--"Shinner" Nixon, we used to call him. He commands a
battleship for a living now; and Homeburg is exactly seven miles from
the nearest stream that is navigable by a duck. We used to walk out to
that stream Saturday mornings, spend four hours building a dam and then
swim painfully on our elbows and knees in the puddle we had made until
dark, but Shinner wouldn't go in. He was a regular young Goethals when
it came to dam building, but he abhorred water, especially behind the
ears.

Back of my generation the batting average was just about as good. It
seemed to have been the fashion of Homeburg boys of thirty years ago to
go out and run Nebraska politically. Two governors and a representative
have come from our town. If we had them here now, we wouldn't have to
fight so desperately to get a county surveyor or coroner on the ticket
every four years. Samuel P. Wiggins, who now lives in a stone hut
covering an acre in Chicago and owns a flock of flour mills, was once
Sam Wiggins, who bought grain in our town and married the daughter of
one of our most reliable washerwomen. She comes back occasionally now,
and we can't see but that she's as nice as she used to be when she
hauled our family wash home in a little wagon every Saturday night.
Being rich hasn't hurt her at all, though it has spoiled her figure
beyond the utmost and most heartrending efforts of her clothes to
conceal.

Then there's Mrs. Maysworth. When she comes down from Chicago for a
visit, the old town fairly hums for a month. We pick up our interest in
art and woman's suffrage and cheap trips to Europe and Dante's
_Inferno_; the Shakespeare Club is revived, the bookstore sells its copy
of Browning, and the tone of the afternoon teas goes up about two
hundred per cent. Mrs. Maysworth was the ruling spirit of a little bunch
of prosperous Homeburg people who lived at the end of Milk Street--we
used to call it the cream end of Milk Street. When they were with us,
Homeburg was called the Athens of the Steenth Congressional District. We
heard singers and lecturers, who jumped towns of fifty thousand on
either side of us. We had state presidents of Women's Federations and
Church Societies. We had a free library before Mr. Carnegie had a bank
account. North Milk Street established it, and every Saturday afternoon
the muddy feet of the tough south side kids scuffled over Mrs.
Maysworth's hardwood floors, the first west of Chicago, while their
owners drew out books, the said library being located in an extinct
conservatory, which protruded from the house like a large wart.

Homeburg was a Mecca of learning and refinement in those days; and then
six of these families pulled out in the same year and moved to Chicago,
where they could soak up a little more culture instead of giving away
all they had. They left a chasm in our midst as big as the Grand Canyon.
It never has been filled--for me at least. I feel, when I wander up that
fine old shady street, past those houses filled with people who are only
as wise as I am, as if I were wandering through the deserted haunts of
an ancient and irreplaceable civilization.

That's the way it goes with us--one bereavement after another. It's
mighty hard to be a mother of sons in Homeburg. I worked in the
post-office for a year once--handed out mail--and I got to know just
exactly what most of the mothers in town wanted. I could please them
with a new magazine and mystify them with a circular or a business
letter. But if I wanted to light them up until they took the shadows out
of the corners as they went out, I would give them a letter from a son,
way off somewhere, making good. The best of them didn't write any too
often. Once a week is pretty regular, I suppose, from the other end; but
you should see the mother begin to come in hungry again the second day
after her letter came. And when a boy came home successful and
prosperous, and his proud mother towed him down Main Street on pretense
of getting him to carry a spool of thread home for her, it used to go
to my heart to see the wistful looks of her women friends. There is
hardly a family in Homeburg of the right age which hasn't a grown-up son
off at war somewhere--fighting failure. It's grand when they win; but I
hate to think of some of our boys who haven't come back.

If it's hard on the mothers, it's even harder on the Homeburg girls.
They say there are one hundred thousand old maids in Massachusetts. I'll
bet that's just about the number of Massachusetts young men who have
gone West or somewhere, and haven't remembered the things they said at
parting as well as the girls did. We've got plenty of girls in Homeburg
who are getting intimately acquainted with the thirties--fine girls,
still pretty, bright, and keeping up with the world. Young men come into
town and do their best to get on a "thou-beside-me" footing, but somehow
the girls don't seem to marry. At the root of almost every case there's
an old Homeburg boy. Maybe he's making good somewhere, and they're both
waiting until he does. Maybe he isn't making good and is too proud to
ask her to wait. Maybe she's waiting alone--because some other girl was
handier in the new place. And maybe it wasn't a case of wait at all,
only the boy who went away looked better to some Homeburg girl than any
of those who stayed at home. That was the case with Sam Flanburg and
Minnie Briggs a few years ago.

Sam is on the Chicago Board of Trade and is one of our old-time boys.
Two years ago he came back, roaringly prosperous, to visit for the first
time since he had left, and pretty suddenly he discovered to his
amazement that on packing up ten years before he'd left a pearl of great
price behind, said pearl being Minnie. In other words he fell in love
over his ears with her, and Minnie, who was one of our very nicest
girls, with a disposition like triple distilled extract of charity,
treated him like a dog. He stayed around for a month cluttering up the
Briggs's front porch day and night, while Minnie put up an imitation of
haughty indifference and careless frivolity which was as good as a show
for every one in town except Sam, who couldn't see through it. That's
one of our small town assets--you get to look on at most of the love
affairs. We watched Minnie and Sam with our hearts in our mouths for
fear she'd carry it too far and lose him, for every one had it straight
from Mary Askinson, who is intimately acquainted with a close friend of
Minnie's old school chum, that Minnie had been in love with Sam since
they graduated from the high school together. It was all we could do
from breaking in and interfering, especially when Sam went off his feed
and began to throw out ugly talk about going to the Philippines or some
place where fever can be gotten cheap. But one morning Sam came
down-town, and the first man who saw his face called up his wife and
told her the good news. Talk about extra editions for distributing news!
Before a city paper could have gotten an extra on the street, five
intimate friends of Minnie's had dropped in casually to see her, and
when they saw her face, of course they fell on her neck. Sam told Chet
Frazier next day that it made him so mad to think he'd lived twenty
years in the same town with Minnie and had never appreciated his
blessings that he felt like climbing Pikes Peak and kicking himself off.

There's Mary Smith. She's our prize old maid and dresses like a mail
sack full of government seeds, but they say she was the prettiest girl
in Homeburg when young Cyrus McCord went to Chicago to carve out his
future so that he could come home and marry her. But Cyrus didn't carve
out his future. He married it instead, and Mary is almost fifty now,
living alone and getting peculiar, like so many of our lonely old folks
do.

Taking it all around, you can't blame us for feeling a little bit
hostile to the big grabby towns which reach out like tax collectors
every year and take a tithe of our boy and girl crop--first choice too.
But of course we're enormously proud of our Homeburg people who go out
and help run the world, and we watch their careers like hawks. When
Chester Arnett was running for a state office out West, I'll bet twenty
Homeburg families subscribed for a Denver paper to read about him; and
when Deacon White was making his great plunges in Wall Street, Homeburg
looked at the financial page of the Chicago papers first and then read
the baseball. We're as happy over their success as if they were our
children--but it's always embarrassing for a little while when a
Homeburg man who has made good comes back to visit in the old town.
We're aching to rush up and wring his arm off, but we want to know how
he feels about it first. One or two experiences have made us gun-shy. We
can't forget Lyla Enbright, who moved away with her family years ago and
married a national bank or something of the kind in the East. She didn't
come home for ten years, but finally the father died and Lyla came back
to sell off some property. A lot of us had made mud pies with Lyla, and
while she hadn't shown any great genius in that or anything else, she
was jolly and we liked her, so we tried to rush up and greet her
rapturously.

Those who didn't do it say it was one of the funniest things that ever
happened in Homeburg, but I couldn't see it at the time. I was one of
the rushers. Lyla waited until my outstretched hand was within reaching
distance, and then she pulled a lorgnette on me. Say, Jim, did you ever
get right squarely in range of both barrels of an honest-for-God
lorgnette with about a thousand dollars worth of dry goods and a pinch
of brains behind it? If my turn ever comes to face a Gatling gun I hope
to march right up to it like a little man--but lorgnettes? No! Any
hostile army could lick Homeburg by aiming lorgnettes at it. I gave one
look at the thing and fell over myself in heaps getting away. I wouldn't
speak to Sim Bone for a week because he laughed. But after I had
recovered a little, I hunted up Chet Frazier in a hurry and told him
Lyla wanted to see him. By that I got even with Chet for about a dozen
practical jokes. When he got in range of that lorgnette, he said "Gosh!"
and actually ran. Then we survivors lined up and got some comfort out of
it, watching the rest get theirs.

As I said, Lyla and one or two others who have brought home their
prosperous and expanded corporal beings, and nothing else to speak of,
have made us a little timid about greeting our successful Prods. We hang
around all ready for action, but we need encouragement. We wouldn't
speak first for a farm. We wait for some calloused gabbler to break the
ice. Gibb Ogle usually does it. Gibb would act as a reception committee
for the Angel Gabriel without a quiver. He's always on the street,
anyway, propping up some building or other, and he is always willing to
waddle up to a returned governor or financier or rising young business
man, and stick out his unwashed paw, while we hold our breath and wait
for the result.

As a rule it's cheering. Our Homeburg boys don't fall down once in
twenty times. No matter who the visitor is, he grabs Ogle's hand and
yells: "Why, hello, Gibb, you fat old scoundrel, how's your sore foot?"
Then we crowd around and fight for the next turn, and go home and
hastily spread the news that So-and-so has come home big and prosperous
as all get-out, and not spoiled a bit.

Sometimes they don't come back at all, of course, and nervy scouts who
look up the delinquents in their city offices come back with badly
frosted ears and spread the warning. But there are few of these. Even
President Banks of the great F. C. & L. Railroad System, who played on
the Homeburg baseball nine thirty-five years ago, will stop puzzling
over the financial situation long enough to give the glad hand to a
Homeburg man during office hours. Of course I don't mean that any one
from Homeburg can break in on him and pile his desk full of feet. You
have to be a thirty-third degree Homeburger from his standpoint; that
is, you or your father must have stolen apples with him--I belong to the
inner lodge. My father and President Banks ate a peck of peaches one
night in Frazier's orchard, between them, and got half way through the
pearly gates before they were yanked back by two doctors. That's why
Banks took me to lunch when I went to call on him last month. If the
Government would let him, he'd give me a pass home.

I'll never forget the day when Banks came back to Homeburg. He hadn't
been back for thirty years and hadn't the slightest intention of coming
either, as he admitted afterward. But he was going through on his
special car, and old Number Eleven, which was hauling him, performed the
most intelligent act of its career. The engine broke down right at the
depot, and when Banks found he was in for an hour or two, he got out and
strolled down Main Street to see the town in which he had begun his
life.

It was a most depressing occasion. No one who had ever come back had
changed as much as Banks. If he had worn a pigtail and talked Choctaw,
he couldn't have grown farther away. It wasn't his fault. He tried his
best. But he hadn't talked our language for years. He couldn't get down
near enough to converse. He passed most of his playmates without
remembering them, but when he saw Pash Wade's sign, he went in and shook
hands with him. About forty of us came in to trade and watched him do
it. It was pathetic. They stood there like strangers from different
lands, Banks trying to unbutton his huge, thick ulster of dignity, and
not succeeding, and Pash trying to say something that would interest
Banks--along the line of high finance of course--state of the country,
etc. They gave it up in a minute, and Banks went out. He found Pelty
Amthorne and shook hands with him. Pelty is pretty loquacious as a rule,
but he couldn't talk to Banks--not that Banks, anyway. He'd never seen
him before. He said "How-dy-do," and, "It's a long time since you were
here," and Banks said, "It is indeed. I hope you and your family are
well." And then Pelty oozed hastily back into the crowd with a relieved
air as if he had done his duty, and Banks looked bored and took out his
watch. But just then Sim Askinson came up all out of breath and burst
through the crowd.

Sim is little and meek and has a hard time holding his own, even in our
peaceful world. But when he saw Banks, he snorted like a war horse and
grew up three inches.

"Hello, Pudge, you old son-of-a-gun!" he said, with both hands in his
pockets.

"Hello, Sim!" said Banks, sort of startled.

"Where'd you come from?" demanded Sim, "and why ain't you come before?
You're a nice friendly cuss, you are. Sucked any turkey eggs lately?"

"No, you knock-kneed dishwasher," said Banks as a grin began to edge its
way across his face. "Have you tried to sell any more toads for
bullfrogs?"

"No, nor I ain't fought out any bumble-bees' nest since the time you got
one up your pant leg and pretty near pounded yourself to death with a
ball bat," said Sim. "Can you still run as fast as the time Wert Payley
and I dared you to ride Malstead's bull?"

"Where's Wert?" demanded Banks. They were shaking hands now, using all
four of them. "Say, I've got to see him and Wim. Horn. I've got to leave
in a few minutes."

"Like fun you have," growled Sim, linking arms with Banks. "You seem to
think some one's chasing you. You're going to stay all night, that's
what you're going to do."

"I am not," said Banks; "and I wouldn't stay with you, anyway. You had a
garter snake in the bed last time I slept with you. I've got to see some
more of the boys, though."

"He thinks he's going away in a few minutes," said Sim to Wert Payley,
who had heard his name and was now shaking hands with Banks. "Why, the
old fat snide, nobody wants to see him outside of Homeburg. He's going
to get a free supper to-night. Remember Sadie Warren?"

"Remember!" shouted Banks. "What do you think I am?--Methuselah? I
remember more things than you ever heard of. Why, Sadie and I went
skating the night you couldn't find your fat horse and sleigh."

"Ya-a-a--" yelled Payley, with a sudden shriek of laughter. "Never knew
who took your rig, did you, Sim?"

"You--you--" said Sim, glaring at Banks. "You confounded horse thief, I
believe you took Sadie in my own sleigh."

"Ain't he bright, Pudge," gasped Payley, "only took him thirty years to
catch on."

"Well, Banksie," said Sim, "Sadie's been more particular about her
young men since that night. We've been married twenty-five years, and I
guess I'll let you come up and eat this evening, anyway. She lets me
bring most any old pelter home."

"Gosh, boys, I can't."

"Say, what are you? the porter on that varnished car down there?"
demanded Sim. "Won't they let you off a minute?"

"Tell you what we'll do," said Pelty Amthorne. "We'll take you to band
practice to-night. Sim still runs it, but he won't let me play any
more."

"I haven't touched a horn since I left Homeburg," laughed Banks. "But
I'd give ten dollars to see you and Wimble Horn blat away on those altos
again, with your eyes bulging out of your cheeks."

"We'll get Wimble and we'll break up band practice if you'll stay over."

"I--"

"No, you don't," said Sim. "I won't have riff-raff loafing around my
band."

"You won't, eh?" said Banks. "We'll show you. Come down to the car while
I send about forty telegrams, and then we'll fix you, Mister Askinson."

Which they did that night, while most of the town looked on. The next
fall Banks came back and stayed three days, and his conduct and that of
his old companions in crime set an example to our younger generation
which didn't wear off for years. They went out orchard robbing in an
automobile, and Banks said he never realized before the wonder of modern
conveniences.



VII

THE HOMEBURG WEEKLY DEMOCRAT

_Which Swamps the Post-Office Every Friday_


No, Jim, as I have already said about thirty-four times this week, I
don't care for a paper. Don't buy one for me. I could read your New York
papers for twenty-four hours at a stretch, and at the end of the time I
would have to stop some good-natured looking chap and ask what the news
was. It's all there, I know, but I don't seem able to find it. Even the
Chicago baseball scores are hidden in the blamed things. Instead of
putting them first, the way they ought to, they stick them down at the
end of the page. As for the editorial pages, I might as well go to
Labrador and hunt for personal friends as to read them. If there's
anything that makes a stranger feel about ten thousand miles from home,
with the cars not running, it is to get into the editorial page of an
unknown newspaper and try to sit in with the family discussions. It
makes me feel like a man who has gotten into a reunion of the Old
Settlers' Association of Zanzibar by mistake.

It's not much of a trick to go into a strange town and learn to navigate
from hotel to hotel, but it's a hopeless task to try to find your way
around a strange newspaper. Takes about two years to learn to read a
strange newspaper skilfully, anyway, and find your way through it
without banging into the want ads when you want to find the editorials,
and tripping over the poets' column when you are hunting for the crop
reports. You've been buying a paper every time you turned a corner for
the last week, Jim--you New Yorkers seem to have to have a paper about
as often as a whale needs a new lungful of air--and I've taken a hasty
look at all of them, but when I get home I am going to ask my wife what
has happened in the U. S. while I've been away from Homeburg. Outside of
the eternal Mexican case, I don't seem to have discovered a thing.

Mind you, I don't blame your papers for bearing down hard on the local
news. I suppose it's mighty interesting to you New Yorkers to learn
every morning just how much more money you owe on your new subway, and
whether or not the temperature of Mrs. Van Damexpense's second-best
Siberian wolf-hound is still rising. That's what newspapers are for--to
save you the trouble of stepping around and collecting the events of the
day from the back fence. But your papers don't bear down hard enough on
the Homeburg happenings, and that's why they don't suit me.

I don't pretend that our Homeburg paper is the equal of yours in any
particular. The best I can say for it is that it's no worse than it was
ten years ago. It hasn't any three-story type, and you could read it for
years without discovering who was being divorced in San Francisco or
murdered in Chicago. People who depend on it don't know yet that war has
been declared in the Balkans, and they won't hear any more politics
until 1916. All week long I think as little about the paper as all this.
But somehow, when Thursday evening comes around, rain or shine, I step
over to the post-office, and if my paper isn't there, I wait a few
minutes, growing more impatient all the time, and then I drift over to
the door of the _Homeburg Weekly Democrat_ office and join the silent
throng.

Like as not I'll find twenty people there. We don't expect any wild
news. There will probably not be anything in the _Democrat_ when it
comes out, but we want to make sure of it. We don't want to go home
without the paper. We've read it for twenty years, and every week we
open it up and poke through its internals after a sensation that will
stand Homeburg on its ear and split the Methodist church from steeple to
pipe organ. We're as patient as fishers in the Seine, and the fact that
the world has never rocked when the _Democrat_ did come out doesn't
discourage us any.

We want our paper, and so we stand there and grumble. Now and then one
of us stumps up the narrow hallway to the second story where the
_Democrat_ makes its lair, and looks on with an abused air while two
young lady compositors claw around the bottom of the boxes for enough
type to set the last items, and the foreman stuffs the forms of the last
two pages with old boiler plate, medicine ads and anything that will
fill. There isn't any reason for the _Democrat_ being late any more
than there is for the branch accommodation train, which got almost to
town on time once and stood beyond the crossing for twenty minutes
because her conductor forgot just when she was due and didn't want to
run in too soon. The _Democrat_ is just late naturally. It's part of its
function to be late. Makes it more eagerly sought after. We talk with
the foreman and make nuisances of ourselves generally, and presently old
man Ayers, who runs the paper, waddles in with another item to be set.
The compositors set down their sticks with a jerk and say, "Oh, my
land!" and the foreman goes and puts the item on the case with that air
of patient resignation which is a little more irritating than a swift
kick; and then Chet Frazier, if he's hanging around, which he usually
is, speaks up:

"For goodness' sakes, Ayers, let that item go and get to press," he
says. "Give it to me and I'll read it aloud down-stairs, your whole
subscription list's down there waiting."

But we have to wait just the same until the item is set up. Then the
foreman locks up the forms and bangs them on the face with his big
wooden plane, and he and the old man lug them out into the pressroom
while we all hold our breath--sometimes the form explodes on the way and
then we don't get the _Democrat_ for three days.

Pretty soon we hear the rattle-te-bang-te-clank-te-clicketty-clang of
the old press, and in five minutes more Editor Ayers comes out with an
armful of folded papers all fragrant with fresh black ink.

[Illustration: "She's out, boys," he says.]

"She's out, boys," he says. Then we grab copies and hurry to spread the
news of the birth of another _Democrat_. We open the sheet and look
carefully down the page where old man Ayers generally conceals his local
news. For a minute or two there is silence. Then somebody crams his
paper into his pocket. "Hmph, nothing in it," he says, and starts home.

He's right, too. Outside of the fact that it has another week of old man
Ayers's laborious and worried life in it, it is mighty bare. There isn't
enough news in it to cause a thrill in a sewing circle. But after supper
at home, when we look it over more carefully and the first hot flush of
anticipation has worn off, we do find a lot of information. We find that
Miss Ollie Mingle has gone to Paynesville for a two days' visit (aha,
that Paynesville young man's folks are going to look her over), and that
Mrs. Ackley is visiting her daughter in Ogallala, Neb. (Unless Ackley
straightens up, we don't expect her back.) Wimble Horn is erecting a new
porch and painting his house. (He must have beaten the bucket shop for
once.) We also find that Jedson Bane's peaches are ripe and of the best
quality, which fact he has just proven to the editor's entire
satisfaction. And that old Mrs. Gastit is feeling very poorly, and Pete
Parson, while working on his automobile the other night, contributed a
forefinger to the cause of gasoline by poking around in the cogs while
the engine was running.

All of this is news and interesting to us; so is the fact that Miss Ri
Hawkes is not teaching in the Snyder district school this week, because
of a sore toe. While this item does not jar the country quite so
extensively as it would if Miss Hawkes belonged to one of your leading
New York families, and was employing an eleven-thousand-dollar physician
to treat her for gout, it is just as important to Miss Hawkes. And there
you have the great keynote of our Homeburg journalism. In the eyes of
the _Democrat_ we are all equal.

There are not many of us Homeburgers. We will never see twenty-five
hundred again, for as families grow smaller, most of the Illinois towns
like Homeburg are contracting slowly in size even while prosperous. The
_Democrat_ hasn't above seven hundred subscribers, but every one of
those subscribers gets his name in the paper at least once a year, even
if it is only a general mention of his patriotism when he pays his
annual subscription. No baby born in Homeburg is too humble to get its
exact weight heralded to the world through the _Democrat_. Mrs.
Maloney's pneumonia and Banker Payley's quinsy grieve the town in the
same paragraph under the heading "Among our sick." The Widow Swanson's
ten-mile trip down the line to a neighboring town gets as careful
attention as Mrs. Singer's annual pilgrimage to California. In the
matter of news we are a pure democracy. The man who buys a new
automobile gets no more space than the member of Patrick McQuinn's
section crew who scores a clean scoop by digging his potatoes one week
ahead of the town. And when the humblest of us lies down in death he
does it with the serene consciousness that he will get half a column,
anyway, with more if his disease is rare and interesting, and that at
the end of the article the city will sympathize with the family in its
bereavement. When Mrs. Agnew died of her broken hip she got a column,
though she had been financially unable to take the paper for years,
while in the same issue Jay Gould got a two-inch obituary in its boiler
plate inside.

Your big papers pride themselves on their brevity, except in murder
cases, and I understand that almost every New York editor thinks he
could boil the story of the Creation down into less than the six hundred
words which the Bible wasted on it. But Editor Ayers could give all your
editors instructions in this kind of economy. If the Creation had
happened around Homeburg while he was on the job, he would have called
attention to it the next week about as follows:

"We understand there was a creation in these parts during the last week.
We did not learn the particulars but those who were on the ground at the
time say that it was a successful affair, and that the new world is
doing as well as could be expected under the circumstances."

Ayers would write it this way for two reasons. In the first place he
hates to write more than one paragraph. Coming after a hard day's work
collecting bills and chasing subscribers, it is a wearing effort.
Nothing gets much space in the _Democrat_ except obituaries and
marriages, and they are all contributed--the former by the relatives and
the latter by the minister. In the second place, there wouldn't be any
use of wasting a lot of space on a big item because by the time the
_Democrat_ comes out, everybody knows all about it, and the mere facts
would be stale and unimportant beside the superstructure of soaring
fancy which has been built up by the easy-running imaginations of our
chief news dispensers on the street corners. And so, when the creamery
burns down or the evening fast freight runs through an accommodation on
the crossing, the old man puts his duty off until the last minute and
then writes a few well-chosen lines merely to let us know that he is on
the job and lets no news escape him. When you are running a weekly
paper, your competitors in the news business are the talkers in the town
who mingle seven days a week and issue a hundred thrilling extras to
their fellow citizens before your press day comes around.

Besides, as I have said, old man Ayers can't afford to waste much time
chasing news. He has to get a living for himself as well as for the
_Democrat_, and keeping both his family and the paper alive is a
distinct feat performed weekly. His pay-roll for a foreman and two
girls must amount to over fifteen dollars a week, and that means cold
solid cash which must be wrung from a reluctant public. Seems to me I
never go into a store that I don't see old man Ayers trying to collect a
little cash on an advertising account or wheedling a subscriber into
coming out of the misty past and creeping cautiously down a few years
toward the present on his subscription account. If there is anything
which we can't do without and for which we positively object to paying
real money, it is our home newspaper. Sim Bone has a roaring shoe
business and pays cash for his automobiles, but he has often told me
that paying good paper money for advertising would be as wasteful as
eating it. He carries an ad in the _Democrat_ all the year and changes
it about every six months. It's July now, and he is still advertising
bargains in overshoes--but he won't pay any money. Ayers has to trade
the account out, as he has to do with every other advertiser in the
town.

People pity the poor ministers' families who have to live on the
scrambled proceeds of donation parties, but an editor's family in our
parts has even harder luck. I have seen Ayers order two suits of clothes
from a clothier who owed him a big bill and was getting wabbly, and then
pass by the meat market empty-handed, because his advertising account
there was traded out. He told me once that he has taken disk-plows,
flaxseed, magazines, encyclopedias and a new back porch in trade for
advertising and subscriptions, but that he has been wearing an obsolete
pair of spectacles, to his great discomfort, for ten years, because our
local jeweler will not advertise. The doctors in town carry cards in the
paper and owe him large amounts because his family is too healthy to
catch up with them; but it will be two years before either of our local
dentists accumulates a big enough bill to allow Mrs. Ayers to have some
very necessary construction and betterment work, as the railroad folks
say, done to her teeth.

If it weren't for the patent medicine ads, Ayers tells me, he wouldn't
be able to keep afloat for want of ready cash. He says a patent medicine
may be an abomination before the Lord, but that a patent medicine
advertising agent looks to him like a very present help in time of
trouble. The agent comes in and beats him down until he agrees to
publish several hundred yards of notices next to pure reading matter on
all sides for fifteen dollars. But the fifteen dollars is cash--he
doesn't have to take the stuff in trade. And so we are forever running
into such thrilling headlines as, "Horrible Wreck," "Her escape was
simply marvelous," "Worse than the Titanic Disaster," in the
_Democrat's_ local page. And then we exclaim: "Hurray! Real news at
last," and prowl eagerly down the items only to find that the horrible
wreck was a citizen of Swamp Hollow upon whom a wonderful cure was
effected; that "Her escape" was from inflammatory rheumatism by the aid
of Gettem's Dead Shot Specific, and that the Titanic Disaster is
eclipsed annually by the sad ends of thousands of people who neglect to
take Palaver's Punk Pills. It always makes us mad, but we can't kick. If
it weren't for the patent medicine people, we would have to pay for the
_Democrat_ all by ourselves.

They say that when Editor Ayers first came to Homeburg some forty years
ago he was a bright young man with a great rush of words from the pen,
and that he had a dapper air and was generally admired. The _Democrat_
contained about a page of solid editorial opinion each week on
everything, from the tariff to the duty of Russia, in whatever crisis
was then pending, and people swore by the paper and didn't make up
their opinions until they had read it. But times have changed. We don't
stand in awe of the _Democrat_ any more. Most of us laugh at it, even
those of us who are not financiers enough to keep our subscriptions
called up. We call it the "Weekly Gimlet" and the "Poorly Democrat," and
we make bright remarks to old man Ayers when he asks us for news and
tell him that he ought to turn the paper inside out so that we can read
the boiler plate first and not have to wade through his stuff. But he
doesn't object. Time and toil and the worry of keeping cash enough on
hand to pay the expressman who dumps his ready prints on the floor each
Wednesday and refuses to budge until he has collected $3.24 have taken
the pepper out of him. He doesn't write editorials any more except on
the week following a national election, and they are affairs of duty
which always begin: "Another election has come and gone and the party
of Jackson--"

He has made a living for forty years and has sent two sons through
college from the _Democrat_, and the effort has taken the fight out of
him. I never saw him resent a joke but once. That was when Pelty
Amthorne told him that his wife considered the _Democrat_ to be the best
paper she had ever seen. He let Ayers burst a couple of buttons from his
vest in his swelling pride before he explained that the _Democrat_, when
cut in two, exactly fitted his wife's pantry shelves, and that she
didn't have to trim it a bit. The old man turned on his heel without a
word and that week he kindled his old-time fires and wrote the following
for the local page:


A citizen of Homeburg who hasn't done anything more exciting for twenty
years than stand off his grocery bill poked fun at the _Democrat_ last
week to our face because there wasn't any more news in it. News, say
we--News in Homeburg? News in a town where an ice-cream social is a
sensation and a dog fight suspends business for three hours? News in a
town where it takes a couple five years to work up a wedding and seven
kinds of wedding cake is the only news in it? Where the city marshal
hasn't made an arrest for two years because no one has done anything
after nine P.M. except snore, and where they have to put up the lamps in
pairs to keep them from getting lonesome? We don't print news from
Homeburg because there isn't any, and the old rooster who joshed us
knows it. He's sore because we can't make half a column out of his trip
to Paynesville eight miles away last summer, but we'll promise to do
better. We'll dump the paste pot in the fire, throw the old shears out
of the window and get out a regular screamer of a _Democrat_ some week;
a paper with red ink on it and big headlines and a real piece of news in
it. We will when this gabby old fossil does his part. When he pays his
six years' subscription, we'll write two columns about it. And even then
no one will believe it.


Lafe Simpson, who runs the _Argus_, is a younger man than Ayers and more
ambitious. Oh, yes, we have two papers. In a town the size of Homeburg
you simply have to have two papers, because half of the people are
always mad at one paper. The _Argus_ and _Democrat_ trade subscription
lists about every seven years--not counting the hard-shell Democrats and
blown-in-the-bottle Republicans who have to stand by their papers
whether they get mad at them or not. I've been taking the _Democrat_ for
about five years because Simpson got too busy in the school election one
year to suit me. It's pretty hard on me, because Simpson runs a better
paper; but my neighbor, Sim Askinson, likes the _Democrat_ better and
can't take it because he took his whole family to Chicago one week, and
Ayers overlooked the fact. So he borrows my _Democrat_ every week and I
get his _Argus_, and thus both of us preserve our mad and our dignity
and get what we want just the same.

If there's anything keener than the competition between two weekly
newspapers in a small town, I'd like to see it--but not feel it. It's a
searching sort of competition which seems to work its way into every
detail of the town's affairs. We town people are judged by our editors
according to our patronage. If a man gives two jobs of letterheads in
succession to the _Argus_, Ayers looks on him as a man who has stabbed
him in the back and has twisted the sword. If the Board of Education
spends $67 for commencement invitations with the _Democrat_ one year and
$69.50 with the _Argus_ the next, things aren't exactly calm and
peaceable again until the discrimination has been explained. When twins
come to a man who has always taken the _Argus_ in preference to the
_Democrat_, old man Ayers wags his head as if to say, "He brought it on
himself;" and when Lafe Simpson meets a man who persistently refuses to
take his paper in preference to the sheet across the street, he greets
him as formally and warily as if he had smallpox and was passing free
samples around.

Lafe claims to have more circulation than the _Democrat_, and this comes
nearer giving Ayers apoplexy than anything else. He claims that Lafe's
circulation consists two thirds of wind and that he hasn't more than 750
bona fide subscribers, including deadhead copies to patent medicine
houses. Lafe, on the other hand, says Ayers prints 750 papers merely
from force of habit--that most of his subscribers have been trying to
stop the paper for years and can't. Lafe says that when a man puts his
name on Ayers's subscription list, he might as well carve it in stone
and then try to wipe it off with gasoline. Ayers says, in return, that
when a stranger arrives to make his home in Homeburg, Lafe Simpson meets
him at the train, takes him to his new residence, and hangs around the
doorstep until the stranger subscribes for the _Argus_ in order to
improve the atmosphere around the neighborhood.

Of course the two papers are always on opposite political sides--no
matter whether it is a school or national election. Makes us scheme a
good deal at times to keep one of them quiet on some public project so
that the other will not jump on it. We had a big time, when the plan to
pave Main Street was going through, to keep Lafe from jumping in and
shouting for it. That would have set Ayers off dead against it, and we
had to muzzle Lafe until Ayers had committed himself.

The struggles of the two editors to outdo each other have been titanic.
When Simpson put in a steam engine, Ayers mortgaged his plant and got
one of the new gasoline engines just then being introduced into an
unhappy world. He never used it much unless he had lots of time in which
to start it, but it was a great comfort and held Simpson level. When
Simpson bought the building in which the _Argus_ is printed, it nearly
killed Ayers, who couldn't have bought the sign on his building. But he
finally prevailed on the owner to put in a new front and name his block
"The Democrat Building." But about that time Simpson, who is a go-ahead
young chap, bought a young automobile in the last stage of lung trouble,
and Ayers has never really recovered from that blow.

The two papers go to press on the same day, and the rivalry is intense.
Early in the day the two foremen each visit the rival plants, ostensibly
to borrow some type and a little gasoline, but in reality to count the
advertisements and to see how late the rival sheet is going to be. All
afternoon the forces work feverishly, reports drifting in occasionally
to the effect that over in the other shop they are locking up the forms.
The minute the press turns in the _Democrat_ office, Ayers grabs the
first paper, folds it and saunters hastily over toward the _Argus_.
Sometimes he meets Simpson half way over with a copy of the _Argus_ in
his pocket, and sometimes he gets clear over and has a chance to swell
around for a minute with his new-born paper in plain sight, watching the
mad foreman lock up the forms. The first paper into the post-office gets
distributed first, while the subscribers of the other paper hang around
in a state of frenzy and waver in their allegiance in a manner to make
the stoutest heart quail. And one of the weekly diversions in Homeburg
is watching this race. If it isn't too late in starting, we hang around
and make mild bets on the result. One week old man Ayers and his
foreman will hurry out from the _Democrat_ office and trot hastily over
to the post-office carrying the week's issue of the paper between them
in a wash basket. And the next week Simpson and the office devil will
beat them to it. Now and then they will both appear at the same time and
race side by side, bareheaded, coatless, breathless, and full of hate. I
hear a good deal about the exertions to which your papers go to be on
the street first with extras, but I'll bet there has never been more
voltage in the competition here than there was in Homeburg the night old
man Ayers and young Simpson arrived at the post-office door at precisely
the same second and got their baskets and themselves in a hopeless jam.
Postmaster Flint had to appoint a peace conference to settle the
dispute.

Ayers is getting pretty old, and for several years we have been worrying
about his future. Since a cruel Government has decided that a newspaper
publisher must keep his subscription list paid up or go out of business,
times have been pretty hard for Ayers; formerly he could let a
subscription account run for ten years and then take a second-hand buggy
or a quarter of beef, or a few odd size grindstones on account; but of
late he has had to dun us every year, and of course that makes us mad,
and we quit his paper with great frequency and vim. I don't know what
would have happened to the old man if Wilson hadn't been elected. But
that, of course, has settled things for him. He will be our next
postmaster. Every one has conceded that except Pash Wade, Emery
Billings, Colonel Ackley, and Sim Askinson, who are also candidates.
However, old man Ayers's petition is as long as all the rest put
together, and when he is appointed and begins to draw down fifteen
hundred dollars a year for handing out his own paper to his
subscribers, we will sigh with relief, and Simpson's yells will be sweet
music in our ears.

If I had my way, I would put a clause in the Constitution giving all
third-class postmasterships to third-class editors, anyway. It's the
only chance they have of accumulating enough of a surplus to be able to
go into a store with their hats on one side and buy things like other
people.



VIII

THE HOMEBURG MARINE BAND

_Where Music is Cherished for its own Sweet Sake Regardless of
Dividends_


Where you New Yorkers get farthest ahead of us Homeburgers, Jim, is the
fact that you can go out and soak yourself in real, soul-hoisting music
whenever you feel like it--provided, of course, that you have the price
and that some speculator hasn't cornered the tickets, and that you can
get home at night in time to get dressed in time to go back to town, and
that you have sufficient nerve and endurance to go four rounds with your
celebrated subway in the same twenty-four hours.

You can't realize what having music constantly on tap means to a
pilgrim from a town where two concerts in a winter is a gorge, and where
about the only regular musical diversion is going to church on Sunday
morning and betting on where the veteran soprano in the choir is going
to hang on to the key or skid on the high turns. You laugh at me because
I can't eat down-town unless I am encouraged by a bull fiddle, and
because I gulp at free concert tickets like a young robin swallowing
worms. But if most of your life had been spent listening to Mrs. Sim
Estabrook jumping for middle C about as successfully as a dog jumps for
a squirrel in a hickory tree, you'd splash around in melody, too, while
you had the chance.

Of course, I don't mean to say that the music canneries don't do as big
a business out our way as they do anywhere. I'll bet they ship as much
as ten barrels of assorted masterpieces a month into Homeburg for our
graphophone cranks; and last winter Wimble Horn broke the piano-player
record by tramping out Tannhäuser in seven minutes flat. But while these
things educate us and enable us to roll our eyes in the right place in a
Wagner number, they don't satisfy the soul any more than souvenir cards
from Europe take away a thirst for travel. We want the real thing, and
year in and out we're music-hungry. We drive our young folks to the
piano and listen to them heroically until they get good, and then they
go away to the city where the gate receipts are better and leave us at
Lutie Briggs's mercy again. Time and time again the only thing that has
stood between Homeburg and a ghastly musical silence has been the
Homeburg Marine Band.

That's right! Laugh, darn you! What if Homeburg is twenty miles from the
nearest creek? Our band is a lot nearer salt water than your Café de
Paris is to France. And, besides, there are only three names for a
country band, anyway. If it isn't the Marine Band, it has to be the
Military Band, or the Silver Cornet Band. Chet Frazier, who is our
village cut-up, says that they named ours the Marine Band years ago,
after it had waded out to the cemetery on a wet Memorial Day through our
celebrated bottomless roads.

You can't realize what a comfort and pride a band is in a Class X town,
unless you have grown up in one. They say this isn't a musical country,
but its intentions are certainly good as far as brass bands go. Long
before an American town is big enough to have a post-office, its
citizens have either organized a brass band or are trying to get another
man to move in to complete a quorum. Life never gets so complicated out
on the grain elevator circuit that the station agent, school principal,
and the two rival blacksmiths, and the city marshal can't lug their
horns down-town once a week in the evening and soar sweetly off into
melody at band practice--that is, if they can get off on the same beat
during the evening.

I can hear our home band now--up over McMuggins' Drug Store on a summer
evening. It's hot--not hot enough to ignite the woodwork, but plenty
warm enough to fry eggs on the sidewalks--and the whole town is out on
the porches and lawns chasing a breeze, except the band. It is up in the
super-heated lodge room of the Modern Woodmen, huddled around two oil
lamps, because the less light it has the less heat will be generated,
and it is getting ready to practice the "Washington Post March" for the
Fourth of July parade. Our band has practiced the "Washington Post
March" for over twenty years, but while the band has altered greatly,
the grand old piece shows no sign of wear and is as fresh and
unconquerable as ever.

Querulous, complaining sounds come from the lodge room. The tenor horns
are crooning, and the bass horn blatting gently, while the clarionet
players are chasing each other up and down the scale, like squirrels
running round and round in a cage. The warming-up exercises are on. They
will continue until Frank Sundell shaves his last customer and gets up
to the hall with his trombone. You can tell when he comes. He pulls the
slide in and out a couple of times with an unearthly chromatic grunt,
and then there is a deep, pregnant silence. They are going to begin.

Usually they begin several times. It is as hard to get a band off
together in practice as it is to send a dozen horses from the wire. But
finally the bass catches up with the cornets, and the others sprint or
put on the brakes, and they land on the fourth or fifth beat together.

For a few minutes it's great. They go over the first four bars in a
bunch, and old Dobbs gets the half note and change of key in the bass,
which usually floors him, like a professional. It is a proud and happy
moment for the leader. But it doesn't last. It's too good to be true. Ad
Smith strikes a falsetto with his cornet and stops for wind; this
rattles his partner, who can't carry the air alone to save him. Dobbs
sits down on the wrong key in the bass. The tenors weaken, discouraged
by the cornet, and everybody hesitates. A couple of clarionets lose the
place and get to wandering around at random, creating terrible havoc.
The altos stop, being in doubt. Ad recovers and launches out with
terrific vim half a beat behind. There is a rally, but it is too late.
You can hear fragments of five different keys, and presently every one
stops except Mahlon Brown, who plays the bass drum and always bangs away
through fire or water until some one turns him off.

Then there is silence--a good deal of it. We all know what is
happening. Sim Askinson, the leader, is making a few well-chosen
remarks, and each player is turning around in his chair and going over
the faults of his neighbor in the most kindly and thorough fashion. Ed
Smith empties out his baritone horn and takes a little practice run, and
then they commence to begin--or begin to start--or start to
commence--whatever it is, all over again. But when they stop at ten
o'clock, they haven't played the "Washington Post March" clear through
in any one heat.

Doesn't sound encouraging for the Fourth, does it? But, pshaw, that's
only practice! When the big day comes and the boys put on their caps and
coats and such trousers as will come nearest to blending with the said
coats and march down the street, do they falter and blow up in the back
stretch? Not much. They canter through that air as if they had been born
whistling it. There's a wonderful inspiration in marching to a band
man--give him a horn, a ragged slip of music, and about four miles of
road, and he will prance down the street, climbing over ruts, wading
through mud, reading at night by the light of a torch carried by a boy
who is twenty feet away fighting with another boy; and he will blow his
immortal soul into his horn for hours at a stretch without missing a
note.

Part of the reason for the difference at home is because we always carry
a few amateurs, who are privileged to come in at practice and do all the
damage they can, but who have to keep mighty quiet on the march. They
can carry their horns, puff out their cheeks and look as grand as they
please, but if they'd presume to cut loose with some real notes and
smear up a piece, they'd be fired in no time.

We have always been mighty proud of our Homeburg band. Nobody knows how
old it is. We think it arrived with the first inhabitants. These are
all dead, but some of the original horns are still doing duty, and the
brass on them is worn thin and almost bright. Our band is much better
than the average band. That's one of the great Homeburg comforts.
Whenever we get blue about the muddy streets and the small stores, and
the great need of a sewage system, and the disgraceful condition of the
stove in the Q. B. & C. Depot, we think of our band and are comforted.
It has at least twenty members right along, most of whom can play their
instruments, and Sim Askinson, who is a professional music teacher, has
conducted it off and on for twenty-five years. Citizens from other towns
get mighty jealous when they come down to Homeburg Thursday evenings
during the summer and listen to the magnificent concerts which our band
gives. I've seen as many as three hundred rigs around the public square
those nights. And when our band practices up on "Poet and Peasant,"
which is its star piece, and goes off to the big band contests which
break loose in the summer and create great havoc, large numbers of our
citizens go along and bet their good money in a manner which keeps the
town poor for months afterward.

I don't know anything more magnificent than the way our band plays "Poet
and Peasant" with Sim Askinson leading, Ad Smith and Henry Aultmeyer
duetting perfectly for once with their cornets, and the clarionet
section eating up the fast parts in a manner that sends goose flesh up
and down your spine. We're head and shoulders above any other band that
enters the contests, but that's the trouble. The judges are never
educated up to "Poet and Peasant." They always give the prize to the
Paynesville Military Band, which has a five-foot painted bass drum and
has to play "Over the Waves" for a concert piece, because they haven't
got a decent cornet player in town. Sometime they will get a real
musician to judge these contests, and then we will win by seventeen
toots.

You may not believe it, Jim, but I am an alumnus of the Homeburg band.
Didn't suspect that I was anything but an ordinary citizen, did you? But
it's a fact. I am a band man. I'm too modest to brag about it, but I was
carrying a horn and had a uniform before I was eighteen. I suppose there
is nothing, not even the fire department, that fills a small town boy
with such wild ambition as a band. When I was twelve, I used to watch
that band in its more sublime passages, feeling that if I ever could
become great enough to play in it, others could run the country and win
its great battles with no jealousy from me. The snare drummer at that
time was a boy of sixteen. Of course, being snare drummer in the band,
he didn't mix around much with the common kids, and I didn't know him.
But I watched him until my ribs swelled out and cracked with envy; and I
used to wonder how fortune ever happened to reach down and yank that
particular boy so far up into the rarefied upper regions of glory.

When I was fourteen, I went after his job. But I never could learn to
play the snare drum. You have to learn to "roll," and I couldn't make my
left hand behave. I tried a year and would probably be trying yet but
for the fact that when Ed Norton left town, he traded me his ruinous old
alto horn for three dollars and a dog. There was about as much music
left in it as there is in a fish horn, but I was as delighted as if it
had been a pipe organ, and when the folks wouldn't let me practice at
home on it, I took it out in the country and kept it in Smily Garrett's
barn. After a while I learned how to fit my face into the mouthpiece in
just the right way, and as the sounds I made became more human, I sort
of edged into town, until finally I was practicing in our own barn. And
the next year Askinson let me come into the band and "pad" as second
alto during the less important engagements.

I played with the band for five years, and while I never got out of the
"thump section," which was what the trombonists and snare drummers and
the other aristocrats of the band call the altos, I had all the fun and
adventures that a high-priced musician could have had, and was perfectly
happy. I can still remember with pride the deep-green looks on the faces
of Pete Amthorne and Billy Madigan and Snoozer Ackley, as they watched
me marching grandly down the street lugging my precious old three
bushels of brass in my arms, and "ump-umping" until my eyes stuck out of
my head. Of course they didn't know that most of the time I was
watching a change in my notes half a bar away and wondering if I could
make it without falling all over the treble clef. I looked like Sousa to
them, and when I leaned grandly back in my chair at the band concerts
and borrowed a page of music from my neighbor--said page being mostly
Hebrew to me--I felt like a Senator or Chief Justice letting the common
herd have a look at him.

I pity the poor city boys who have to grow up nowadays and depend on
taxicabs and vaudeville for their excitement. Belonging to the band was
more fun than belonging to the baseball team or the torchlight brigade
or anything else. We got in on everything. They couldn't pull off a
rally or celebration, or even a really successful church social, without
us. I might say that the importance of a Homeburg citizen in the old
days was determined by whether or not the Homeburg Band escorted him to
his tomb. When great doings occurred in the neighboring towns, plain
citizens dug down in their pockets for car-fare, and then dug painfully
down once more for our car-fare. When an ordinary Homeburger wanted to
help boost McKinley to victory by parading in some distant town with a
torch, it cost him five dollars and a suit of clothes. But we not only
went free, but got two dollars apiece for plowing a wide furrow of glory
down the streets between rows of admiring eyes.

Those two dollars counted a lot in those days, too. It looked like an
easy income to us. All we had to do to earn it was to beg off from our
employers for half a day, travel thirty miles or so by train, usually
standing up and protecting our horns from the careless mob, march eight
or ten miles over unknown streets, picking out dry places underfoot and
notes from a piece of music bobbing up and down in the shadows above our
horns, and then drive home across country after midnight, getting home
in time to go to work in the morning. Why, it was just like finding
money; I've never had so much fun earning it since. I started once to
figure out how many miles our band marched during the first Bryan
campaign, but I gave it up. We never felt it at that time, but it made
me so tired counting that I quit with a distinct footsore feeling.

The most worrisome task about a Homeburg band was keeping it alive. I
suppose all small town bands have the same trials. We worked against
incredible difficulties. If city people had the same devotion to music
which we displayed, you would have a ten-thousand-piece philharmonic
orchestra in New York playing twenty-four hours a day for glory. We were
always building up our band with infinite pains, only to have Fate jerk
the gizzard out of it just as perfection was in sight. Talent was
scarce, and the rude, heartless city was forever reaching down into
Homeburg and yanking some indispensable players away. Of course there
was always a waiting list of youngsters who would coax a few hoarse
toots out of the alto horn, and we always had a bunch of kid
clarionetists who would sail along grandly through the soft parts and
then blow goose notes whenever they hit the solo part. But try as we
would, we could never get more than two cornets. One of these was Ad
Smith. He was a bum cornetist, but his brother Ed was a good baritone,
and we had to have both or none. The other was usually some anxious
young student who got along pretty well on plain work, but who would
come down the chromatic run in the "Chicago Tribune March" like a fat
man falling down the cellar stairs with an oleander plant.

As for trombones, there was a positive fatality among them; we were
always losing them. Trombone players have to be born, anyway, and there
was no hope of developing one. Besides, the neighbors wouldn't allow it.
Young Henry Wood showed promise once, but after his father had listened
to him for about six months, he took the slip end of his horn away from
him and beat carpets with it, until it was extinct as far as melody was
concerned.

For a year we had Mason Peters, who was a wonder on the slide trombone.
But he was only getting twelve dollars a week in Snyder's Shoe Emporium,
and Paynesville, which never tired of putting up dirty tricks on us,
hustled around and got him an eighteen dollar job up there--after which
they came down to Homeburg at the first opportunity with their band to
parade Peters before our eyes. It would have been a grand success if
they hadn't put Peters in the front row. He lived for his art, Peters
did, paying no attention to anything but his trombone, and besides he
was quite deaf. He got confused about the line of march, and when the
band swung around the public square he kept right on up Main Street all
alone, playing in magnificent form and solitary grandeur while the band
swung off the other way. The whole town followed him with tears of joy,
and he traveled two blocks before he became aware of the vast and
appalling silence behind him; then he kept right on for the city limits
on the run. It was a great comfort to us, and by the time we had gotten
through apologizing to the Paynesville boys for following Peters under
the impression that he was the real band, they had offered to fight us
singly or in platoons.

We used to watch every new citizen like Russian detectives, only we
searched them for horns instead of dynamite. Several times a trombonist
came to town, and music revived noticeably. But none of them lasted.
Trombonists seem to be temperamental, and when they are not changing
jobs they are resigning from the band because they are not allowed to
play enough solos. Our greatest bonanza was a quiet chap named Williams,
who came to town to work in the moulding room of the plow factory. After
he had been there a week, we discovered that he had a saxophone. No one
had ever heard or eaten a saxophone, but we looked it up, and when we
found out what it was, we made a rush for him. At the next practice he
appeared with a bright silver instrument covered with two bushels of
keys and played a solo which sounded like three clarionets with the
croup. We wept for joy and elected him leader on the spot.

This caused Sim Askinson to resign, of course, and he took Ad and Ed
Smith with him, and they remained in dignified and awful silence for two
years. But we didn't care. One saxophone was worth five baritones, and
while Williams was in town, we were an object of envy to all of the
other bands around. We changed our name to the Homeburg Saxophone Band,
and the way we rubbed it into Paynesville was pitiful. He was a little
fellow, Williams was, and short of wind, which caused him to gasp a good
deal during the variation parts. But he was willing. There was no shirk
about him. After a year our program usually consisted of eleven
saxophone solos and some other piece which could be done almost entirely
on the saxophone, and the jealous Paynesvillains used to ask why we used
nineteen men to play the rests when one man could have produced as much
silence at far less expense.

Those were glorious years; but of course they didn't last. Williams got
to resigning at the foundry just for the pleasure of having us come down
and plead with the proprietor to raise his pay. Finally he resigned so
much that the proprietor fired him, and then we had to take our caps in
hand and wheedle the Smiths and Askinson back into the band. I haven't
belonged for years, but they are still there. When I drop in at
practice, as many of the alumni do, Askinson greets me cordially and
takes some young cub's horn away from him, so I can sit in. It is just
like old times, especially when Ed Smith lays down his horn after a
slight altercation with some one and goes home never to come back--just
as he has done for the last thirty years.

That's the worst of music. One's art, you know, has so much influence
over one's temper. To see our band soaring majestically down Main Street
and playing "Canton Halifax" in one great throbbing rough-house of
melody you would never believe that anything but brotherly love existed
between the players. As a matter of fact, we never wasted any harmony
among ourselves. We didn't have any to spare. It took all we had to
produce the music. For twenty-five years the Smiths and Cooney Simpson,
who plays first clarionet, have been at swords' points, each with a
faction behind him. Cooney says it's a shame that a good band must limp
along with a cornetist who always takes three strikes to hit a high
note, and Ed Smith says Cooney wants to be leader and will not be
satisfied until he can play the solo and bass parts at once on his
clarionet. I can see Ed Smith now, after the band has run aground in
practice, taking his horn down and glaring around at Cooney.

"What you gobstick players need is a time-table," says he, "instead of
notes. Come in on the A about eight-fifteen. If you can do that well,
we'll try to struggle along."

"Don't get forte," Cooney replies cheerfully. "If you'd try to follow
both those cornets instead of rambling along by yourself, you'd split,
sure."

"Better play cornet, too, Cooney," says Ad Smith, whirling around.
"You've got enough mouth for both."

"Well, we ought to have a cornetist," says Cooney, "it's what we've
needed for years."

This riles the scrub cornet player, whoever he happens to be, and he
gets up excitedly. "We'd get along a lot better without one or two human
calliopes--" he begins.

"Set down, set down," says old Dobbs from the coils of his tuba. "Let
'em fight. They know it all between pieces--"

"Who asked you to horn in?" says Ed Smith, getting up preparatory to
going home with his baritone horn and leaving a broken and forlorn world
to grieve his loss.

Of course this is a crisis. But we never bust up. The Paynesville Band
busts up about twice a year over the division of profits and the color
of their new uniforms and the old question of whether the cornets or
trombones shall march in front. But we never go entirely to pieces. This
is largely because of Sam Green. He is our peacemaker and most faithful
player. He has played second alto in the band for thirty-five years
without a promotion, and is by all odds the worst player I ever saw,
being only entirely at home in the key of C; and he can't play
three-four time to save his soul. But his devotion is marvelous. He is
always the first man down to practice. He lights the lamps, builds the
fires, and when necessary goes out to Ed Smith's home and persuades him
to come back into the band for just this night. And whenever the dispute
between the factions gets to the point where Ed Smith begins gathering
up his doll things, Sam interferes.

"Come on now, boys," he pleads, "we've got to get this piece worked up.
You're all good players. Why, if Paynesville had you fellows, she'd
have a band. That was my fault that time. I'll get this here thing right
sometime. I'll sit out in the trio now and you fellows take it."

And pretty soon, as he argues, Ed's proud heart softens, and he comes
back with a glare at Cooney. Then Sim Askinson raps on his music rack
and says: "Gentlemen and trombone players," as he has for a quarter of a
century; and a minute later the band is tumbling eagerly through its
piece once more, all feuds suspended in the desperate effort to come out
even at the end with no surplus bars to be played by some floundering
horn.

Some time during the evening, as a rule, the various sections get
together on some passage and swim grandly through, every horn in perfect
time, and the parts blending like Mocha and Java. All differences are
forgotten, and the band breaks up with friendly words, Ed Smith and
Cooney going home together. Music has charms to soothe the savage beast,
and it also has a wonderful power of taking the temper out of the grocer
and the painter and the mahout of the waterwork's gasoline engine.

I never stepped so high or felt so grand as I did the first time I
marched out with the boys and went down the street in the back row of
the band next to the drums, a member in good standing, and dodging every
time I passed under a telephone wire to keep from scraping my cap off. I
never expect to feel that grand again. But I have an ambition. If ever I
should become so famous and successful that when I went back to Homeburg
to visit my proud and happy parents and stepped off of the 4:11 train, I
would find the Homeburg Marine Band there to meet me, I would know that
I had made good, and I would be content. The only thing that encourages
me in my ambition is that the band didn't come down to play when I went
away. Do you know, Jim, it's the funniest thing--the fellows we played
out-of-town in a blaze of glory never happened to be the chaps we came
down to the train to meet afterward, somehow. But I imagine we weren't
the only poor guessers in the world.



IX

THE AUTO GAME IN HOMEBURG

_It has Driven out Politics as a Subject of Debate_


Wait a minute, Jim. I want to look at this automobile.... Yes, I know it
is the sixth machine I've walked around in seven blocks, but what's time
to a New Yorker on Saturday afternoon? This nifty little mile-eater has
an electric gear shift, and I want to ask the chauffeur how he likes it.
Promised Ad Summers I would.

... Says it hangs a little if his voltage is low. That's what I'd be
afraid of--Gee! there's a new Jacksnipe with a center searchlight. Never
would do for rutty roads. How do you like the wire wheels, Jim? Bad for
side strains, I should think. Look at those foxy inset lamps. Listen to
that engine purr--two cycle, I'll bet. Say, Fifth Avenue is certainly
one great street! I could walk up and down here for a month. There's a
new Battleax--wonder if those two speed differentials are going to work
out.

All right, Jim, I'll reluctantly shut up and focus my attention on the
salmon-colored cloaks and green stockings for a while. I forgot that you
don't take any deep, abiding interest in automobiles. All they mean to
you is something to ride in, but to me they're as interesting as a new
magazine. I've spent about four days in the sales-rooms since I've been
here, and when I get home I'll be the center of breathless attention
until I've passed around all the information I've dug up. I could go
back without any information about the new shows, or the city campaign,
but if I were to come back without a bale of automobile gossip, I'd be
fired for gross incompetency from the League of Amateur Advisers at
Gayley's garage.

You thought I said I didn't own a machine? I did say it and I can prove
it. But do you suppose that makes any difference in Homeburg? Here the
other fellow's car is his own business. But in Homeburg an automobile is
every one's business. It's like the weekly newspaper, or the new
minister, or the latest wedding--it's common property. Since gasoline
has been domesticated we're all enthusiasts, whether we are customers or
not. The man who can't talk automobile is as lonely as the chap who
can't play golf at a country club. About all there is left for him to do
is to hunt up Postmaster Flint and talk politics. Flint has to talk all
our politics; it's what he's paid for, but it's mighty hard on him
because he just bought a new machine last spring himself.

No, you guessed wrong, Jim. Automobiles aren't a curiosity in Homeburg.
How many are there in New York? Say eighty thousand. One for every sixty
people. Homeburg has twenty-five hundred people and one hundred
machines, counting Sim Askinson's old one-lunger and Red Nolan's refined
corn sheller, which he built out of the bone-yard back of Gayley's
garage. That's one for every twenty-five people. Figure that out. It
only gives each auto five members of the family and twenty citizens to
haul around. We're about up to the limit. Of course another one hundred
people could buy machines, I suppose; but that would only allow twelve
and a half passengers, admirers, guests, and advisers for each car. That
isn't anywhere near enough. Why, it wouldn't be worth while owning a
machine! As it is, we are all busy. I've ridden in twenty new machines
this year and passed my opinion on them. It has taken a good deal of my
spare time. I've thought sometimes of buying one myself, but I don't
believe it would be right. If I had a car myself, I would have to
neglect all the others. It wouldn't do. Besides, I like to be peculiar.

Is every one in Homeburg a millionaire? Goodness, no! Our brag is that
we have less people per automobile than any other town, but then that's
the ordinary brag with an Illinois small town. We're not much ahead of
the others. Automobiles don't stand for riches out our way. Blamed if I
know what they do represent. Mechanical ingenuity, I guess. Country town
people pick up automobiles as easily as poor people do twins. And they
seem to support them about as inexpensively. If you were to take a trip
around Homeburg at seven A.M. on a Sunday morning, you would find about
eighty-seven automobile owners out in the back yard over, under, or
wrapped around their machines.

In the city you can only tell a car owner these days by his silk socks;
but in the country town the grimy hand is still the badge of the order.
The automobile owner does his own work, like his wife, and on Sunday
morning, instead of hustling for the golf links, he inserts himself into
his overalls and spends a couple of hours trying to persuade the
carbureter to use more air and less gasoline. The interest our
automobile owners take in the internals of their cars is intense. That
is the only thing which mars the pleasure of the professional guest,
such as myself. More than once I've sat in the sun twenty miles from
home while some host of mine has taken his engine down clear to the bed
plate, just because he had the time to do it and wanted to see how the
bearings were standing up.

I've lived in Homeburg all my life, but I haven't yet solved the mystery
of how some of our citizens own machines. It's a bigger mystery than
yours because our automobile owners pay their bills, and the mortgage
records don't tell us anything. There's Wilcox, the telegraph operator.
He makes seventy-five dollars a month. He works nights to earn it, and
he spends his days driving around the country in his runabout. He's
thirty years old, and I think he invested in an auto instead of a wife.

You can get a good meal in our local restaurant for twenty-five cents,
and when some painstaking plutocrat comes in and tries to spend a dollar
there, he has to be removed by kindly hands in a state of fatal
distension before the job is finished. A thousand dollars would buy
stock, fixtures, and good will. But a thousand wouldn't buy the
restaurant owner's automobile. He began with two hundred and fifty
dollars' worth of rubbish and a monkey wrench four years ago, and has
pottered and tinkered and traded and progressed until he now owns a last
year's model, staggering under labor-saving devices.

Our oculist, who does business in a tiny corner in a shoe-store and
never overcharged any one in his life, was our pioneer automobile owner.
He bought a homemade machine and a mule at the same time, and by
judiciously combining the two he got a good deal of mileage out of both.
He would work all morning getting the automobile down-town and all
afternoon getting the mule to haul it back. He has had three machines
since then, and the one he owns now is only third-hand.

For years Mrs. Strawn washed clothes for the town from morning till
night, two washings a day and all garments returned intact. Her boys
used to call at our house for the wash with a wheelbarrow. They come in
an automobile now. She bought it. It was a hopeless invalid at the time,
but they nursed it back to health, and I hear that next spring they are
going to trade it in for a new machine.... Why do I say machine? Because
that's what an automobile is out our way. It's a machine, and we treat
it as such. Most of our people couldn't take a lobster to pieces to save
their lives, but you ought to see them go through the shell of an auto.
Too many Americans buy portable parlors with sixty-seven coats of
varnish, and are then shocked and grieved to discover when too late that
said parlors have gizzards just like any other automobile and that they
should have been looked after.

I said there were one hundred automobiles in Homeburg. I was mistaken.
There are ninety-nine automobiles and one car. The Payleys own the car.
They bought it in New York, paid six thousand dollars for it, with a
chauffeur thrown in to drive them home, and they have been under his
thumb ever since. He was the only chauffeur who had ever been brought
alive in captivity to Homeburg, and the whole town inspected him with
the utmost care. He was the best stationary chauffeur I ever saw. He
seemed to regard that car as a monument and was shocked at the idea of
moving it around from place to place.

It was too high-priced a car to be touched by Sam Gayley, our local auto
doc., and somehow the chauffeur never seemed to be able to keep it in
running order long enough to get up to the Payley residence and take the
family out. He ran around the country a good deal, however, tuning it up
and trying it out, and as he was a sociable cuss, some of us always went
with him. In fact, about every one rode in the Payley car that summer
except the Payleys. Wert Payley used to stop me and ask if I could fix
it up to take him along sometime when I went riding with his chauffeur,
but I never would risk it. Besides, it would be imposing on the boy's
generosity to lug a friend along when you went riding.

The most of our machines vary from the one thousand, five hundred dollar
touring car to the five hundred dollar little fellows; and since they
have come, life in Homeburg is twice as interesting. They are our
dissipation, our excitement, our amusement, and the focus of our town
pride. The Checker Club disbanded last winter because the members got to
quarreling over self-starters, and I understand that in the Women's
Missionary Societies and the afternoon clubs the comparative riding
qualities of the various tonneaus about the city have about driven out
teething and styles as a subject of debate. For a while during the
Wilson campaign, it looked as if politics was going to get a foothold in
the town, but some enthusiast organized a flying squadron of automobiles
to propagate Democratic gospel, and then it was all off. Everybody
rushed into the squadron, and the trips around the district became
reliability runs, with a lone orator addressing the freeborn citizens
upon the tariff at each stop, and said freeborn citizens discussing
magnetos, springs, and tires with great earnestness and vehemence during
the speech.

Business always suspends for half a day whenever a new automobile comes
to town. There may be a dozen of the same make already, but that doesn't
make any difference. We are experts, trained to notice the finer shades
of perfection, and until we have seen each new machine put up the clay
hill four miles south of town and have ridden in it over the Q. B. & C.
crossing and the other places which show up bad springs, we can't fix
our minds on our work. Time was when a new baby could come into Homeburg
and hold the attention of the town for a week. Now a baby is lucky if
its birth notice isn't crowded out of the _Democrat_ to make room for
the list of new machines.

As for those of us who haven't automobiles, life is pleasant and without
responsibilities. We ride in every new automobile, and, what is more, we
go over it as carefully as a farmer does a new horse. We open its hood
and pry into its internal economy. We crank it to test its
compression--half the Homeburg men who have achieved broken wrists by
the crank route haven't autos at all. We denounce the owner's judgment
on oils and take his machine violently away from him in order to prove
that it will pull better uphill with the spark retarded. At night,
during the summer, we hurry through supper and then go out on the front
porch to wait for a chance to act as ballast.

No automobile owner in the dirt roads belt will go out without a full
tonneau if he can help it--makes riding easier--and this means permanent
employment during the evenings for about three hundred friends all
summer long. In fact the demand for ballast is often greater than the
supply. As a result, we have become hideously spoiled. I have passed up
as many as six automobiles in an evening on various captious pretexts,
waiting all the time for Sim Bone's car, whose tonneau is long and
exactly fits my legs. Once or twice Sim has failed to come around after
I have waved the rest of the procession by, and we have had to stay at
home. I have spoken to him severely about this, and he is more careful
now.

Because of our great interest in automobiles, vicarious or otherwise,
there is no class-hatred in Homeburg. If a man were to stop by the
roadside and begin to denounce the automobile as an oppressor of the
pedestrian, he would in all probability be kidnaped by some acquaintance
before he was half through and carried forty miles away for company's
sake. About the only Homeburg resident who doesn't ride is old Auntie
Morley, who broke her leg in a bobsled sixty years ago and has had a
holy horror of speed ever since.

In fact the only classes we have are the privileged class who merely
ride in automobiles and the oppressed class who ride and have to pay for
them, too. Lately the latter class has begun to feel itself abused and
has been grumbling a little, but we overlook it. No appeal to prejudice
and jealousy can move us. Of course, I don't think that an automobile
owner should be expected to leave his wife at home in order to
accommodate his neighbors, and there may be some just complaint when an
owner is called up late at night and asked to haul friends home from a
party to which he hasn't been invited. But on the whole the automobile
owners are very well treated. Suppose we spectators should band together
and refuse to ride in the things or talk about them! The market would
be glutted with second-hand cars in a month.

We have no trouble with the speed limit in Homeburg either. This may be
due partly to our good sense, but it is mostly due to our peculiar
crossings. Homeburg is paved with rich black dirt, and in order to keep
the populace out of the bosom of the soil in the muddy seasons, the
brick crossings are built high and solid, forming a series of
impregnable "thank-ye-marms" all over the town. One of our great
diversions during the tourist season is to watch the reckless strangers
from some other State dash madly into town at forty miles an hour and
hit the crossing at the head of Main Street. There is a crash and a
scream as the occupants of the tonneau soar gracefully into the top.
There is another crash and more screams at the other side of the street,
and before the driver has diagnosed the case, he has hit the Exchange
Street crossing, which sticks out like the Reef of Norman's Woe. When
he has landed on the other side of this crossing, he slows down and goes
meekly out of town at ten miles an hour, while we saunter forth and pick
up small objects of value such as wrenches, luncheon baskets, hairpins,
hats, and passengers.

Last summer we picked up an oldish man who had been thrown out of an
unusually jambangsome touring car. He had been traveling in the tonneau
alone, and even before he met our town he had not been enjoying himself.
The driver and his accomplice had not noticed their loss, and when we
had brushed off and restored the old gentleman, he said "Thank God!" and
went firmly over to the depot, where he took the next train for home,
leaving no word behind in case his friends should return--which they did
that afternoon and searched mournfully at a snail's pace for over twenty
miles on both sides of our town.

Since the automobile has begun to rage in our midst, the garage is the
center of our city life. The machine owners stop each day for
lubricating oil and news and conversation; the non-owners stroll over to
inspect the visiting cars and give advice when necessary; and the
loafers have abandoned the implement store, Emerson's restaurant, and
the back of McMuggins' drug store in favor of the garage, because they
find about seven times as much there to talk about. The city garage
can't compare with ours for adventure and news. I have spent a few hours
in your most prominent car-nurseries and I haven't heard anything but
profanity on the part of the owners and Broadway talk among the
chauffeurs.

In the country it's different. Take a busy day at Gayley's, for
instance. It usually opens about three A.M., when Gayley crawls out of
bed in response to a cataract of woe over the telephone and goes out
nine miles hither or yon to haul in some foundered brother. Gayley has a
soft heart and is always going out over the country at night to reason
with some erring engine; but since last April first, when he traveled
six miles at two A.M. in response to a call and found a toy automobile
lying bottom-side up in the road, he has become suspicious and
embittered, and has raised his prices.

At six A.M. Worley Gates, who farms eight miles south, comes in to catch
an early train and delivers the first bulletin. The roads to the south
are drying fast, but he went down the clay hill sidewise and had to go
through the bottom on low. At seven, Wimble Horn and Colonel Ackley and
Sim Bone drop in while waiting for breakfast. Bone thinks he'll drive to
Millford, but doesn't think he can get in an hour's business and get
back by noon.

This starts the first debate of the day, Colonel Ackley contending that
he has done the distance easily in an hour-ten, and Sim being frankly
incredulous. Experts decide that it can be done with good roads. Colonel
says he can do it in mud and can take the hills on high; says he never
goes into low for anything. Bill Elwin, one of our gasless experts,
reminds him of the time he couldn't get up Foster's Hill on second and
was passed by three automobiles and fourteen road roaches. This is a
distinct breach of etiquette on Bill's part, for he was riding with
Colonel at the time and should have upheld him. The discussion is just
getting good when Ackley's wife calls him home to breakfast over the
'phone, and the first tourist of the day comes in.

He has come from the west and has had heavy weather. He asks about the
roads east. Gibb Ogle, our leading pessimist, hastens to inform him that
very likely the roads are impassable, because the Highway Commissioners
have been improving them. Out our way road improvement consists of
tearing the roads out with a scraper and heaping them up in the middle.
It takes a road almost a year to recover from a good, thorough case of
improvement.

The stranger goes on dejectedly, and about nine A.M. young Andy Link
roars in with his father's car, which he has taken away from the old man
and converted into a racer by the simple process of taking off the
muffler and increasing the noise to one hundred miles per hour. Andy
declares that there has been no rain to the northwest and that he has
done sixty miles already this morning, but can't get his carbureter to
working properly, as usual. By this time several owners and a dozen
critics have assembled, and the morning debate on gasoline versus motor
spirit takes place. It ends a tie and both sides badly winded, when
Pelty Amthorne drives in, very mad. He has been over to Paynesville and
back. This is only twenty miles, but owing to the juicy and elusive
condition of the roads, his rear wheels have traveled upward of two
thousand miles in negotiating the distance and he has worn out two rear
casings.

Right here I wish to state that Homeburg roads are not always muddy. We
average three months of beautiful, smooth, resilient and joltless roads
each year. The remaining nine months, however, I mention with pain.
Illinois boosters say our beautiful rich black soil averages ten feet in
depth, but I think this understates the case--at least our beautiful
black dirt roads seem to be deeper than that in the spring. What we need
in the spring in Illinois are locks and harbor lights, and the man who
invents an automobile buoyant enough to float on its stomach and paddle
its way swiftly to and fro on the heaving bosom of our April roads will
be a public benefactor.

Pelty is justly indignant, because he had hoped to get another thousand
miles of actual travel out of his tires. We sympathize with him, but in
the middle of his grief Chet Frazier drives up. When he sees his ancient
enemy, he climbs out of his car, comes hastily over to where Pelty is
erupting, and starts trading autos with him.

Did you ever hear a couple of seasoned horse traders discussing each
other's wares? Horse traders are considerate and tender of each other's
feelings compared with two rural automobile owners who are talking swap
with any enthusiasm.

"Hello, Pelty," says Chet. "Separator busted again?"

Everybody laughs, and Chet walks all around the machine. "Why, it ain't
a separator at all," he finally says. "What is it, Pelty?"

"If you'd ever owned an automobile you'd know," grunts Amthorne,
hauling off a tire. "What's become of that tinware exhibit you used to
block up traffic with?"

Chet gets the laugh this time.

"That tinware exhibit stepped over from Jenniesburg in thirty minutes
flat this morning," says Chet. "Lucky you weren't on the road. I'd have
thrown mud on your wind shield."

"Say!" Pelty shouts. "Your machine couldn't fall ten miles in thirty
minutes. Why don't you get a real automobile? What will you give me to
boot for mine?"

They are off, and business in the vicinity suspends.

"I'll trade with you, Pelty," says Chet calmly--quite calmly. "Let me
look it over."

He walks carefully around the auto, opens the hood and looks in. "Funny
engine, isn't it? I saw one like that at the World's Fair."

Pelty has the hood of Chet's machine open too and is right there with
the retort courteous. "Is this an engine or a steam heater?" he asks.
"What pressure does she carry?"

"She never heats at all except when I run a long time on low," Chet says
eagerly.

"Oh, yes," says Pelty, "I never have to go into low much--"

"Gosh!" Chet explodes. "When you go up Sanders Hill, they have to close
two district schools for the noise."

"Only time you ever heard me I was hauling you up with your broken
jack-shaft," snorts Pelty. "You ought to get some iron parts for your
car. Cheese has gone out of style."

"You still use it for tires, I see," says Chet.

"Never mind," says Pelty wrathfully. "I get mileage out of my machine; I
don't drive around town and then spend two days shoveling out carbon."

"Peculiar radiator you've got," says Chet, changing the subject. "Oh, I
see; it's a road sprinkler. What do you get from the city for laying the
dust?"

"I can stop that leak in two minutes with a handful of corn meal," says
Pelty, busily surveying Chet's machine. "Do you still strip a gear on
this thing every time you try to back?"

"Why do you carry a horn?" asks Chet. "You're wasteful; I heard your
valves chattering when I was three blocks away."

"I didn't hear yours chatter much last Tuesday on Main Street," snorts
Pelty. "You cranked that thing long enough to grind it home by hand."

"Ya-a! Talk, will you?" yells Chet earnestly. "Any man who begins
carrying hot water out to his machine in a teakettle in September knows
a lot about starting cars."

"Well, get down to business," says Pelty. "You want to trade, you say.
I don't want that mess. It's an old back-number with tin springs, glass
gears and about as much compression as a bandbox. Give me five hundred
dollars and throw your automobile in. I need something to tie my cow to.
She'd haul away anything that was movable."

"Give you five hundred dollars for that parody on a popcorn wagon?"
snorts Chet. "Why, man, the poor old thing has to go into low to pull
its shadow! You're delirious, Pelty. I'll tell you what I'll do. You
give me a thousand dollars for my car, and I'll agree to haul that old
calliope up to my barn, out of your way, and make a hen roost out of it.
Come on now. It's your only chance."

Shortly after this they are parted by anxious friends, and the show is
over. I've known Homeburg men to give up a trip to Chicago because Chet
and Pelty began to trade their autos just before train time.

In New York an auto means comfort and pleasure and advertisement, like a
fur-lined overcoat with a Persian lamb collar. But in Homeburg it means
a lot more. It keeps us busy and happy and full of conversation and
debate. It pulls our old, retired farmers out of their shells and makes
them yell for improvements. It unbuckles our tight-wads and gives our
ingenious young loafers something to do. It promotes town pride, and it
keeps our money circulating so fast that every one has a chance to grasp
a chunk as it goes by.

It has made us so independent of railroads that we feel now when buying
a ticket to Chicago as if we were helping the poor old line out. Our
Creamery has been collecting milk and shipping butter in an old roadster
with a wagon bed thorax for a year. Two of our rural route mail carriers
use small machines, except in wet weather, and good-roads societies in
our vicinity are the latest fad. We raised one thousand five hundred
dollars last spring to bring the Cannon Ball Trail from Chicago to
Kansas City through our town, and our hotel-keeper contributed one
hundred dollars of it. He says we'll be on the gas-line tourist route to
the coast after the trail has been marked and drained and graded up
well.

But mostly the automobile means freedom to us. We're no longer citizens
of Homeburg but of the congressional district. We're neighbors to towns
we hadn't heard of ten years ago, and the horizon nowadays for most of
us is located at the end of a ten-gallon tank of gasoline. Why, in the
old days, you had to go fifty miles east and double back to get into the
north part of our county, and more of us had crossed the ocean than had
been to Pallsbury in the north tier of townships. Now our commercial
clubs meet together alternate months, and about seventeen babies in our
town have proud grandparents up there.

That's part of what the automobile means to us, Jim. Can you blame me
for being so interested in a new one? Maybe it will have some
contrivance for scaring cows out of a narrow road.



X

THE HOMEBURG TELEPHONE EXCHANGE

_What Would Happen if We Tried to Get Along With a City Operator_


All right, Jim! Having now completed the task of telephoning to Murray
Hill several thousand and something, I'm ready to join you at luncheon.
I'm glad I telephoned. I won't have to spend the afternoon doing it now
and, besides, I feel so triumphant. I got through this time without
forgetting to get a nickel first. I usually go into one of those wooden
overcoats and go through all the agonies of elbowing my way through half
a dozen centrals into some one's ear several miles away, and then
discover that I haven't anything but a half dollar. Then I have to stop
and begin all over again.

Telephoning is one of the prices you have to pay to live in a
metropolis, Jim. I suppose it will always hurt me to pay a nickel for
telephoning. Seems like paying for a lungful of air--and bad air at
that. Coming as I do from the simple bosom of the nation, where talk
over the wires is so cheap that you sometimes have to wait half an hour
while two women are planning a church social over your line, I can't
seem to resign myself to paying the price of a street-car ride every
time I breathe a few sentiments into a telephone. Now the street cars
never fail to dazzle me. They are a wonderful bargain. When we are too
tired to walk in Homeburg, we have to pay at least fifty cents for a
horse from the livery stable, unless some automobile is going our way.
Nothing is more pleasant to me than to slip a nickel to a street-car
conductor and ride ten miles on it. But when we want to use a telephone,
do we go through all this ceremony of dropping a nickel into a set of
chimes? Not much. My bill at home at five cents per telephone call would
be more than my income. Why, many a time I've called up as many as eight
people in the west part of town to know whether the red glow in the sky
was the sunset or the Rolling Mills at Paynesville burning down! And
almost every day I telephone McMuggins, the druggist, to collar a small
boy and send up an Eltarvia Cigar. If that call cost me five cents, I
would be practically smoking ten-cent cigars, and all Homeburg would
regard me with suspicion.

I suppose it will be a hundred years before we get over saying "Great
invention, isn't it?" every time we have finished a satisfactory session
over the telephone. But I don't think you city people realize how much
of an invention it is. Of course, the telephone is more important in
New York than it is in Homeburg. If you had to go back to the
old-fashioned stationary messenger boy to do your business here, a good
share of the city would have to close out at a sacrifice. You do things
with your telephones which dazzle us entirely, like talking into parlor
cars, calling up steamships, buying a railroad and saying airily "Charge
it," and tossing a few hectic words over to Pittsburgh or Cincinnati at
five dollars per remark, as casually as I would stop in and ask
Postmaster Flint why in thunder the Chicago papers were late again--and
that is about as casual as anything I know of.

I'm willing to admit that your telephones are much more wonderful than
ours, not only because of what they do for you, but because of the
amount of money they can get out of you without causing revolutions and
indignation meetings. Why, they tell me that business firms here think
nothing of paying one hundred dollars a year for a telephone! At home
once, when we tried to raise the farmer lines from fifty cents to a
dollar a month, we almost had to fortify the town. I take off my hat to
a telephone which can collect one hundred dollars a year from its user
without using thumbscrews. It must have more ways of working for you
than I have ever dreamed of.

No, the telephone in Homeburg is a very ordinary thing, and we could get
along without it quite nicely as far as exertion is concerned, it being
only a mile from end to end of the town. But if we had to do without our
telephone girls, we'd turn the whole town into a lodge of sorrow and
refuse to be comforted. I know of no grander invention than the country
town telephone girl. She's not only our servant and master, but she's
our watch-dog, guardian, memorandum book, guide, philosopher and family
friend. When our telephone can't give us convenience enough, she
supplies the lack. When brains at both ends are scarce, she dumps hers
into the pot; and when the poor overworked instrument falls down on any
task, she takes up the job. She not only gives our telephone a voice,
but she gives it feet and hands and something to think with.

I got into a big telephone exchange once and watched it for over a
minute before I was fired out. It was a very impressive sight--rows on
rows of switchboards, hundreds of girls, thousands of little flashing
lights, millions of clickety-clicks and not enough conversation to run a
sewing circle up to refreshment time. The company was very proud of it,
and I suppose it was good enough for a city--but, pshaw, it wouldn't do
Homeburg for a day. If some one were to offer that entire exchange to us
free of charge, we'd struggle along with it for a few hours, and then
we'd rise up en masse and trade it off for Carrie Mason, our chief
operator, throwing in whatever we had to, to boot.

Our exchange is in the back room of the bank building up-stairs. You
could put the entire equipment in a dray. Our switchboard is about as
big as an old-fashioned china closet and has three hundred drops. I
suppose an up-to-date telephone manager has forgotten what "drops" are
and you can't be expected to know. But out our way the telephone
companies are coöperative, and as every subscriber owns a share, we all
take a deep personal interest in the construction and operation of the
plant, discussing the need of a new switchboard and the advantage of
cabling the Main Street lead, in technical terms.

Well, anyway, a drop is a little brass door which falls down with a
clatter whenever the telephone which is hitched to that particular drop
wants a connection. And Miss Carrie Mason, our chief operator, sits on
a high stool with a receiver strapped over her rick of blond hair
jabbing brass plugs with long cords attached into the right holes with
unerring accuracy, and a reach which would give her a tremendous
advantage in any boarding-house in the land. Sometimes she has one
assistant, and in rush hours she has two. But on Sunday afternoons and
other quiet times she holds down the whole job alone for hours at a
time; and when I go up to her citadel and ask her to jam a toll call
through forty miles of barbed wire and miscellaneous junk to Taledo by
sheer wrist and lung power, she entertains me as follows while I wait:

"Yes, indeed, I'll get your call through as soon as I can, but the
connection's--Nmbr--awful--Nmbr--bad to-day--Nmbr--They're not at home,
Mrs. Simmons; they went to Paynesville--Nmbr--I'll ring
again--Nmbr--Hello, Doctor Simms, Mrs. McCord told me to tell you to
come right out to the farm; the baby's sick--Nmbr--The train's late
to-day, Mrs. Bane, you've got plenty of time--Nmbr--I can't get them,
Mrs. Frazier. I'll call up next door and leave word for them to call
you--Nmbr (To me: "Hot to-day, isn't it? I tell 'em we ought to have an
electric fan up here.")--Nmbr--("It would keep us better
tempered.")--Nmbr--Oh, Mrs. Horn, will you tell Mrs. Flint when she
comes home that Mrs. Frazier wants her to call her up?--Nmbr--Now,
Jimmy, you haven't waited two seconds. I know you're anxious to talk to
Phoeb, but she isn't home; she's at the cooking club--Nmbr--Cambridge,
do see if you can't get through to Taledo. I've a party here that's in a
hurry--Nmbr. (To me: "That Taledo line's awful. It's grounded somewhere
on that farmer's line west of Tacoma.")--Nmbr--Yes, Mr. Bell, I'll call
you quick as he comes in his office; I can see his door from my
window--Nmbr--No, Mrs. Bane, the doctor's just gone out to the McCord
farm. If you hurry, you can stop him as he goes past. He left about five
minutes ago--Nmbr--Gee, Paynesville, you gave me an awful ring in the
ear then! No, you can't get through, the line's busy. Well, you'll have
to wait. I can't take the line away from them--Nmbr--Oh! (very softly)
Hello, Sam. Oh, pretty well. I'm most melted--wait a
minute--Nmbr--Hello, Sam (long silence) Oh, get out! My ear's all full
of taffy--wait a minute--Nmbr--Nmbr--No, Mr. Martin, there hasn't been
any one in his office all day. I think he's gone to Chicago--Hello,
Sam--wait a minute, Sam--Nmbr--Nmbr--Hello, Sam--Say, I'm all alone and
jumping sidewise. Call me up about six (very softly). G'by, Sam--Nmbr.
Oh, Mrs. Lucey, is Mrs. Simms at your house? Tell her her husband will
be home late to supper, he's gone out in the country--Hello. Hello.
_Hello_, Taledo. Is your party ready? (To me: "All right, here they are.
You'll have to talk pretty loud.") Hello, Taledo. All ready--Nmbr."

That is a fair sample of Carrie. We couldn't keep house without her. And
that's why I feel an awful pang of jealousy when I hear that lobster Sam
talking to her. Maybe it's just the ordinary joshing which goes on over
the toll lines in the off hours. But maybe it isn't. Wherever Sam is and
whoever he is, he is a danger to Homeburg. Perhaps he is a lineman at
Paynesville, and then again he may be a grocer in some crossroads town
near by, with a toll telephone in the back of his store. But if he talks
to Carrie long enough and skilfully enough, he will come up to Homeburg,
marry her, and bear her away to his lair, far from our bereaved ears.
We've lost several telephone girls that way, and when a telephone girl
knows all of your habits and customs and those of your friends, and can
tell just where to find you or to find whomever you want found, and has
the business of the town down to the smallest details stowed away in her
capable head, it messes things up dreadfully to have her leave us high
and dry and go to housekeeping--which any one can do.

Telephone girls are born, not made, in towns like Homeburg. We require
so much more of them than city folks do. When my wife wants to know if
hats are being worn at an afternoon reception, she calls up Carrie. Ten
to one Carrie has caught a scrap of conversation over the line and
knows. But if she hasn't, she will call up and find out. When a doctor
leaves his office to make a call, he calls up Carrie, and she faithfully
pursues him through town and country all day, if necessary. When we are
preparing for a journey, we do not go down to the depot until we have
called up Carrie and have found out if the train is on time, and if it
isn't, we ask her to call us when it is discovered by the telegraph
operator. And when our babies wander away, we no longer run frantically
up and down the street hunting for them. We ask Carrie to advertise for
a lost child seven hands high, and wearing a four-hour-old face-wash;
and within five minutes she has called up fifteen people in various
parts of the town and has discovered that said child is playing Indian
in some back yard a few blocks away.

Carrie is also our confidante. I hate to think of the number of things
Carrie knows. Prowling into our lines while we are talking, as she does,
in search of connections to take down, she overhears enough gossip to
turn Homeburg into a hotbed of anarchy if she were to loose it. But she
doesn't. Carrie keeps all the secrets that a thousand other women
can't. She knows what Mrs. Wimble Horn said to Mrs. Ackley over the
line which made Mrs. Ackley so mad that the two haven't spoken for three
years. She knows just who of our citizens telephone to Paynesville when
Homeburg goes dry, and order books, shoes, eggs, and hard-boiled shirts
from the saloons up there to be sent by express in a plain package. She
knows who calls up Lutie Briggs every night or two from Paynesville, and
young Billy Madigan would give worlds for the information, reserving
only enough for a musket or some other duelling weapon. She knows how
hard it is for one of our supposedly prosperous families to get credit
and how long they have to talk to the grocer before he will subside for
another month.

There's very little that Carrie doesn't know. I shudder to think what
would happen if Carrie should get miffed and begin to divulge. Once we
had a telephone girl who did this. She was a pert young thing who had
come to town with her family a short time before. It was a mistake to
hire her--telephone girls should be watched and tested for discretion
from babyhood up--but our directors did it, and because she showed a
passion for literature and gum and very little for work, they fired her
in three months. She left with reluctance, but she talked with
enthusiasm; and Homeburg was an armed camp for a long time.

Goodness knows we have enough trouble with our telephone even with
Carrie to supply discretion for the whole town. Party lines and rubber
ears are the source of all our woe. You know what a party line is, of
course. It's a line on which you can have a party and gab merrily back
and forth for forty minutes, while some other subscriber is wildly
dancing with impatience. Most of our lines have four subscribers apiece,
and it's just as hard to live in friendliness on a party line as it is
for four families to get along good-naturedly in the same house.

There's Mrs. Sim Askinson, for instance. She's a good woman and her pies
have produced more deep religious satisfaction at the Methodist church
socials than many a sermon. But St. Peter himself couldn't live on the
same telephone line with her. She's polite and refined in any other way,
but when she gets on a telephone line she's a hostile monopolist. Early
in the morning she grabs it and holds it fiercely against all comers,
while talking with her friends about the awful time she had the night
before when the cold water faucet in the kitchen began to drip. Mrs.
Askinson can talk an hour on this fertile subject, stopping each minute
or two to say, with the most corrosive dignity, to some poor victim who
is wiggling his receiver hook: "Please get off this line, whoever you
are. Haven't you any manners? I'm talking, and I'll talk till I get
through." And then, like as not, when she's through, she'll leave the
receiver down so that no one else will be able to talk--thus holding the
line in instant readiness when another fit of conversation comes on.
Seven party lines have revolted in succession and have demanded that
Mrs. Askinson be taken off and wished on to some one else, and Sim is
mighty worried. His wife has lost him so many friends that he doubts if
he will be able to run for the town board next year.

We're a nice, peaceable folk in Homeburg, face to face. But like every
one else, we lay aside our manners when we get on the wires and push and
elbow each other a good deal. Funny what a difference it makes when you
are talking into a formless void to some strange human voice. I've never
said: "Get out of here," to any one in my office yet, but when some one
intrudes on my electric conversation, even by mistake, I boil with rage
and I yell with the utmost fervor and indignation: "Get off this line!
Don't you know any better than to ring in?" And the other person comes
right back with: "Well, you big hog, I've waited ten minutes, and I'll
ring all I want!" And then I say something more, and something is said
to me that eats a little semicircular spot out of the edge of my ear.
It's mighty lucky neither of us knows who is talking. Suppose Carrie
should tell. As I say, Carrie holds us in the hollow of her hand.

But the rubber ear is even worse than the Berkshire manners. A rubber
ear is one that is always stretching itself over some telephone line to
hear a conversation which doesn't concern it. For a long time we were
singularly obtuse about this little point of etiquette in the country.
The fact that all the bells on a line rang with every call was a
constant temptation to sit in when we weren't wanted. We listened to
other people's conversations when we felt like it. It amused us, and why
shouldn't we? We rented our telephone and we had a right to pick it up
and soak in everything that was going through it.

When the exchange was first put in, fifteen years ago, more than one
Homeburg woman used to wash her dishes with the telephone receiver
strapped tightly to her ear, dropping into the conversation whenever she
felt that she could contribute something of interest. As for the country
lines, it was the regular thing, and nobody minded it at all. That was
what killed the first line out of Homeburg. It had fourteen subscribers
and every one was hitched on the same wire. For a month everything went
nicely. Then old man Miller got mad at two neighbors who were sort of
sizing him up over the wire, and quit speaking to them. And Mrs. Ames
was caught gossiping, and a quarrel ensued in which about half the line
took part, all being on the wire and handy. Young Frank Anderson heard
Barney DeWolf making an engagement with his girl and licked Barney. One
thing led to another until not a subscriber would speak to another one,
and the line just naturally pined away.

Etiquette has tightened up a lot since then. Still, we have rubber ears
to-day, and they cause half the trouble in Homeburg. You see, the
telephone has entirely driven out the back fence as a medium of gossip.
It offers so much wider opportunities. Nowadays it does all the business
which begins with: "Don't breathe this to a soul, but I just heard--"
and half the time some uninvited listener with an ear like a graphophone
horn is drinking in the details, to be published abroad later. Mrs. Cal
Saunders had our worst case of gummy ear up to a couple of years ago,
and broke up two engagements by listening too much. But she doesn't do
it any more. Clayt Emerson cured her.

Something had to be done for the good of the town and Clayt, who lived
on the same line with her, conceived the plan of letting Mrs. Saunders
hear something worth while just to keep her busy and happy. So he called
up Wimble Horn and talked casually until he heard the little click which
meant that Mrs. Saunders had focused her large receptive ear on the
conversation. Then he told Horn that he was going to burn the darn stuff
up, trade being bad, anyway. Wimble offered to help him, and for three
nights they talked mysteriously about the crime, mentioning more
plotters, while Mrs. Cal hung on the line with her eyes bulging out, and
confided the secret to all the friends she had.

Finally on Friday night, Policeman Costello, who was in the deal, told
Clayt that the expected had happened and that Mrs. Saunders had told
him about the horrible incendiary plot which was being hatched. Saturday
night came, and Costello refused to go to Clayt's store unless Mrs.
Saunders would come and denounce the villains, who were among our most
respected citizens. So Mrs. Saunders finally agreed, in fear and
trembling, and, taking a couple of her firmest friends, she led
Policeman Costello down to Clayt's restaurant at midnight, and, sure
enough, there was a light in the back part. Costello burst open the
door, and when they all rushed down on the scene of the crime, they
found Clayt and half a dozen of us manfully smoking up a box of stogies
which a slick traveling man had unloaded on him. Mrs. Saunders insisted
that crime was about to be committed and got so excited that she
repeated Clayt's exact words--in the middle of which a great light came
to her, and she said she was going home.

"I think you had better," said Clayt, "and I'll tell you something more.
You listen to other people's affairs more than is good for you."

But she hasn't since.

Of course you don't have these troubles. But whenever I see New York
people harboring telephones in their homes which absolutely decline to
be civil until you feed them five cents, I think of our Homeburg
blessings and am content. Six dollars a year buys a telephone at home,
and about the only families which haven't telephones are a few widows
who live frugally on nothing a year, and old Mr. Stephens, who has one
hundred thousand dollars loaned out on mortgages and spends half an hour
picking out the biggest eggs when he buys half a dozen. There isn't a
farm within ten miles which isn't connected with the town, and while the
desk 'phone is a novelty with us and we still have to grind away at a
handle to get Central, we can put just as much conversation into the
transmitter and take just as much out of the receiver as if we were
connected with a million telephones. Our Homeburg 'phones are
old-fashioned; and the lines sound as if eleven million bees were
holding indignation meetings on them, but they have made a big family
out of three whole counties, and I guess they will take care of us all
right--so long as Carrie holds out and we can keep that Sam fellow where
he belongs.



XI

A HOMEBURG SCHOOL ELECTION

_Where Woman is Allowed to Vote and Man Has To_


Well, Jim, you've taken me to see a great many wonderful sights in this
municipal monstrosity of yours, but I don't believe one of them has
interested me as much as this parade. I've worn three fat men on my toes
for an hour to get a chance to watch it, but it was worth the agony.
Think of it--at home we are doing well to get an attendance of two
thousand at a fire. Here in New York are several hundred thousand people
stopping their mad grabs at limousines and country houses, and blocking
up the streets to watch a few women parading in the interest of the
ballot for psyche knots as well as bald heads. It's wonderful! How did
the women persuade you to do it? I can't help thinking that they lost a
tremendous chance for the cause. Think how much money the ladies would
have made if each one had worn a sandwich board advertising some new
breakfast food or velveteen tobacco! With a crowd like this reading
every word, they could have charged enough to pay the expenses of a
whole campaign!

It's the crowd that interested me. As far as the parade went, it wasn't
so much. Half a hundred women in cloaks and staffs setting off on foot
for Washington or Honolulu isn't terrifically exciting. I'd a lot rather
go down the line about twenty or thirty miles and watch them come in to
roost at night. There would be some inhuman interest in that. But what
does all this mob mean? Have you New Yorkers gone crazy over suffrage?
What! Just the novelty of the thing? Well, let me tell you then, you are
goners! You may not want suffrage now, but if the women are going to
choke traffic every time they spring a novelty, you're going to have to
grant them suffrage just to get the chance to attend to business now and
then.

Me? Of course I'm a suffragist. I'm a suffragist on twenty counts. No,
thanks, I won't argue the question now, because we have to get over to
the hotel for dinner in an hour or two, and there's no use starting a
thing you will have to leave in the middle. I'll just tell you the last
count to save time, and let it go at that. I'm a suffragist because I
want the rest of mankind to have what we've had in Homeburg for the last
twenty years or so. We've been through the whole thing. Whenever a man's
been through anything, he naturally isn't content until he can stand by
and watch some other man get his. Understand? I'm for suffrage in aged
little New York. I want you to have it and have it a plenty. And I want
to watch you while you're having it. It's a grand thing when you've got
used to it. It will do you good, Jim, just like medicine.

Do women vote in Homeburg? Of course they do. I'd like to see anybody
stop them. I don't mean that they vote for President. That is, they
won't until next time. It's only the more important elections that they
take part in. Oh, I know you folks in the big town think that unless
you're voting for governor or for the ringleaders of your city
government, the job isn't worth while. But that's where you differ from
Homeburg. We men vote for President and get a good deal of fun out of
the campaign. It's a favorite masculine amusement, and the women don't
interfere with us. But it's not important. I mean it's not important to
Homeburg. We stand up all summer and tear our suspender buttons off
trying to persuade each other that Homeburg's future depends on who
reviews the inaugural parade at Washington; but it isn't so, and we know
it.

The really burning question in Homeburg is the make-up of the next
school board. That is the election which paralyzes business, splits
families, and sours friendships. And let me just convey to you in a few
brief words, underscored with red ink, the fact that women vote in the
Homeburg school elections. If you want to see real, concentrated
politics with tabasco sauce trimmings, go to Homeburg or some other
small town which is fond of its school system and watch the women
getting out the vote.

Don't waste your time by coming the day before election. Don't even
expect to see any excitement in the morning. We don't smear our school
election troubles all over the almanac. We have the convulsion quickly
and get over it. You could stray into Homeburg on the morning of a
school election and not suspect that anything was going on except,
perhaps, a general funeral. Absolute quiet reigns. People are attending
to business with the usual calm.

You can tell that there is an election on by the little flags stuck out
a hundred feet from the engine-house doors, but that's the only way.
Inside the judges sit waiting for business about as successfully as a
cod fisher on the banks of the Mississippi. Now and then some one strays
in and casts a vote. By noon half a dozen are in the ballot box. The
nation is safe, the schools are progressing satisfactorily, the ticket
is going through without a kick. Even the candidates stop standing
around outside peddling their cards, go home to dinner and forget to
come back.

Pretty placid, eh? You bet it is. You know all about the calm before
the storm and the little cloud the size of the man's hand which comes up
about eight bells and does a general chaos business without any advance
notices. Well, that cloud in our school elections is impersonated by
Mrs. Delia Arbingle, and she usually arrives at the polls about three
P.M. with a new ticket, twenty warlike followers, and several thousand
assorted snorts of defiance.

That's when the storm breaks--and it's a whole lot bigger than a man's
hand by that time. Delia is a mighty plentiful woman physically, and
when she gets her war paint on, she's a regular cloudburst. As I say,
about three o'clock or thereabouts, we suddenly wake up to the fact that
we have a school election in our midst, and that unless we arise as true
men and patriots, it will soon be at our throats. How do we find it out?
Our women folks tell us. You never saw such devoted women folks, or such
determined ones, either. The minute Delia leaves her house with her
marauding band in her annual attempt to get the scalp of the high school
principal who whipped her oldest son seventeen years ago, the women of
Homeburg _rise_. And we men go and vote.

Now, we're not enthusiastic about voting. We're not afraid of Delia.
We've seen her insurge too often. But we go and vote, anyway. We go by
request. You've never had your loving wife come in and request you to
vote, have you, Jim? Well, you've got something coming. It's a request
which you're going to grant. You may not want to, but that has nothing
to do with the case. This is about the way it happens in Homeburg: I am
sitting in my office. I've got a lot of work on hand, and it's no use to
vote, anyway, and, to tell the truth, I had forgotten all about it.
Suddenly the telephone bell rings: I answer it. Here's my cross-section
of the conversation:

"Hello? Oh, hello!... No, I haven't voted yet.... Pretty busy to-day....
You're coming down?... No, I don't want to vote.--What's the use? It's
the same old.... Now, my dear, it's just the same old row. She can't get
any.... But I tell you I'm busy. You go on and.... Yes, of course I'm an
American citizen, but I don't get a salary for it. I'm trying to
earn.... Well, five minutes to cast a useless vote is.... Oh, all right.
Anything to please you.... No, I'll not call up Judge Hicks. He's old
enough to vote by himself.... Oh, all right.... Now, look here, my dear,
I can't ask Fleming to do that. His wife is a friend of Mrs.
Arbingle's.... Yes, I can say that, but it would be a threat.... Oh, the
schools will run anyway. Now, don't get excited.... All right, doggone
it, it'll make a regular fool of me though!... Good-by.

"Gosh."

I am mopping my forehead while I say that. I'm going to vote and, what
is more, I'm going over to get Judge Hicks, who is a cross old
man-eater, and get him to vote, and then I am going to call up Fleming,
who would otherwise vote against us, and tell him that if he doesn't
support our ticket, our grocery account will go elsewhere. I hate to do
that like the mischief. It isn't considered ethical in national
elections. But somehow we can't stop and discuss these fine points at
3.15 P.M. with our loving but excited wives. They don't seem to allow
it.

I get into my coat, pretty cross, and go down-stairs. Homeburg is
frantically awake. Down the street scores of patriots are marching to
the polls. They are not marching in lock-step, but most of them are
under guard just the same. Mrs. Chet Frazier, pale but determined, is
towing Chet out of his store. Mrs. Wimble Horn is hurrying down the
street with an umbrella in one hand and Wimble in the other. From the
post-office comes Postmaster Flint emitting loud wails. It is against
the law to leave the post-office unoccupied, but he can thresh that out
with his wife at home after he has voted. Attorney Briggs was going to
Chicago this afternoon, but I notice he is coming back from the depot.
Mrs. Briggs is bringing him. If I know anything about rage, Attorney
Briggs is ready to masticate barbed wire. His arms are making a blue
haze as they revolve. But he's coming back to vote. He can go to Chicago
to-morrow, but the nation must be saved before five o'clock.

I do my errands, losing one friend at Fleming's and considerable dignity
at the judge's, because the judge is an old widower and mighty
outspoken. Then I hurry back and go to the polls arm in arm with my
loving wife. We have to wait our turn outside the engine house. From
all corners of town the votes roll in, most of them under convoy. It's
a weird mixture--the men sullen and sheepish, the women inspired and
terrible. Even the candidates, most of whom are men, are embarrassed.
They are peddling tickets frantically, and whenever they falter and show
signs of running, their wives hiss something into their ears and brace
them up again.

The two hostile forces are eying each other with horrid looks. Mrs.
Arbingle is quiet but deadly. I never saw so much hostility coated over
one face as there is on hers. She is in her glory. This time she is
going to unmask the hosts of corruption, including those who will not
call on her, cave in the school ring, boot out the incompetents, and see
justice done to her son at last. Mrs. Wert Payley, who generally leads
the other side, has higher ideals, of course, and isn't so red in the
face. But she is hostile too. No viperess shall tread on the school
system if she can help it! She keeps her lieutenants hustling, and now
and then she looks over the crowd of captive men on the enemy's side and
issues a command. Then some woman talks to her husband, and he gets red
and mad and wags his arms. But in the end he goes over and talks to a
man on the other side. And then that conversation spreads like a prairie
fire, and the men knot up into a cluster, and hard words are used, and a
lot more friendships go into the back shop for repairs.

Five o'clock is coming fast. Mrs. Payley looks over her list. Young Ad
Summers has refused to budge from his shop. Miss Ri Hawkes blushes a
little and then goes away to a telephone. Pretty soon Ad appears. He's
panting, into the bargain. He gets in line, votes, and Ri walks away
with him. There is a sigh of relief from the Payley cohorts now because
old man Thompson is coming. He is over ninety and hates like thunder to
go out and vote, but he can't help himself. He has lived in a wheeled
chair for ten years and has to go wherever his granddaughter wheels him.
He passes in, muttering.

Only five minutes more. The excitement is intense. Hurrah! Some one has
gotten the telegraph operator's goat. He's coming on the run. That
probably means he'll go to the next dancing-club party. Judge Hicks
appears, four women around him. He is mad, but they are triumphant and
they look scornfully at me, saying "chump" with their eyes. He votes.
There is a commotion at the corner because Gibb Ogle has attempted in a
mild way to be corrupted. He wants to know why he can't sleep in the
South School basement. The women are indignant, and appoint two husbands
to deal with him. Gibb votes. Bang! The polls are closed. It's all over
but the counting.

We'd like to go back to work, but the suspense is too great. Not that we
have any suspense, but our wives have; and if we are worthy of the name
of men, we must help them endure it, even if we ourselves are not
interested in the schools. So we hang around and fume over the
jungle-fingered judges who take as much time as if they were enumerating
the fleas of Africa. Finally a cheer comes from the front of the crowd.
The women beside us gasp anxiously. Which side cheered? Hurrah! There's
Mrs. Payley waving her handkerchief. We win.

After that, we men can go. The schools have been saved by a vote of 453
to 78, but it was no thanks to us. No, indeed! If it weren't for the
women where would our schools be?

We've had women's suffrage in our midst for almost twenty years, as I
say, and looking back over it I can't see a single dull moment
politically. From the day when an indulgent State gave them permission,
our women have guarded the schools at the ballot box. They've done a
thorough and painstaking job, and I must say the schools have improved a
lot. But they have sprung a lot of political ideas which have made the
old-timers sit up with startled looks and scratch their heads
hopelessly.

That's what you are going to find out, Jim, when woman begins to vote
for herself around here and to vote you into the bargain. She isn't
going to play the game according to the old rules. She has no use for
them. She has her own way of going about things politically, and while
it is effective, its wear and tear on mankind is terrific. When the
Homeburg women first attempted to place a woman on the school board,
about fifteen years ago, most of the men objected, and they decided to
hold a town caucus and call the women in. There were a great many
reasons why a woman shouldn't leave her home and sit around on a school
board, and they felt sure that if they were to talk it over frankly in
meeting they could show them these reasons. And, anyway, the chairman
would be a man, which would of course take care of the situation.

So a caucus was called, and the Grand Opera House, which holds six
hundred human beings, and about a hundred boys in the front seats, was
jammed until it bulged. We knew that no woman could out-argue our
seasoned old politicians, and when Calvin Briggs, who has planned all
the inside work in the congressional district for twenty years, got up
and showed just why woman ought not to intrude, there was an abashed
silence all over the house, until Emma Madigan, who is a town character
and does just as she pleases, got up. She stood up about fifty-nine
seconds after Briggs had got a good start, and she argued with him as
follows:

"That's all right, Mr. Briggs--You can't make me sit down, Mr.
Chairman, you nor any of you politicians--You're a fine man to talk
about schools, Mr. Briggs. No, I won't stop. You know a lot about
children, don't you, coming up here with tobacco juice all over your
shirt front; and why don't you pay some taxes before you get up here and
tell how to run a town? All right, Chairman, I'm done."

But so was Briggs. We couldn't help laughing at him. Editor Simpson, who
runs the _Argus_, stepped into the breach and regretted greatly that so
disgraceful an attack had been made upon a well-beloved citizen by a
woman. No man would dare make such an attack, he opined. Then Emma got
up again. The chairman called her to order, but he might as well have
rapped down the rising tide.

"I know mighty well no man 'ud dare say what I did, Lafe Simpson," she
shouted. "'Nd you're the biggest coward of 'em all. If you thought you'd
have to lose the school printing, you'd vote for the devil for
president of the school board."

Of course it was perfectly disgraceful, but what could we do? Emma was a
woman. We couldn't throw her out. We couldn't even get her to listen to
parliamentary rules. And the worst of it was, she was telling the truth.
That was something no one presumes to tell in local elections. To do it
breaks the first commandment of politics; but what do the women, bless
'em, care for our commandments?

The president of the school board at that time was Sanford Jones. He was
a large party who panned out about ninety-five per cent. solemnity and
the rest water on the brain. At this point in the proceedings he judged
it best to rise and turn the subject by telling us why woman should stay
at home. He got about two hundred words into circulation before Emma got
up. Her scandalized women friends tried to pull her down, and Pelty
Amthorne yelled "whoa," but she was in politics to stay.

"You look mighty fine standing up there, Mr. Jones," she shouted, "and
tellin' us women to go back home where we belong. But I just want to
tell this here crowd to-night that if you wasn't tighter than the bark
on a tree, your wife wouldn't have to do her own washing.

"That's why you want her to home. So you can save money."

After that a gloom fell over the meeting, and as no one else seemed to
care to speak, people began adjourning on all sides of Emma. After every
one else had gone she adjourned. There was no further attempt to hold a
caucus that year, and even now when any school faction desires to get
together and discuss things, it carefully conceals the news from Miss
Madigan.

That was just one of the many little surprises woman has handed to us
in Homeburg politics. Since they've gotten interested in school
affairs, it beats all how much influence they've got. Take Sadie
Askinson for instance. Her husband wanted to run for member of the
school board, and Sadie didn't want him to, because he was away from
home enough nights anyway, goodness knows. Sim was stubborn, and said
the night before election that he was going down and have some ballots
printed, anyway, and run. But he didn't, because that night Sadie cut
every button off of every garment he had and threw them down into the
well. When the kindergarten business came up about ten years ago, old
Colonel Ackley hung out against it on the board. Said he wasn't going to
stand for wasting the people's money on such foolishness. But he did,
because the Young Ladies' Vigilance Society came and wept upon his
shoulder. It was organized for that purpose, and after the seventh young
lady had soaked up Ackley's coat, he said he'd either vote for
kindergarten or leave town, and he didn't care much which.

Mrs. Wert Payley, who really runs our school system and once marred her
proud record by defeating a good school superintendent because he didn't
give her daughter good marks, says the English suffragettes are poor
sticks and don't know how to demand the ballot. "If the Homeburg women
were ready to go after any more ballot than we have now," says she,
"would we fool away time getting arrested? Not much! We'd turn our
attention to the men. Every Homeburg woman would take care of her
husband and argue with him. Maybe all the men in town would find 'Votes
for Women' in place of their dinners on the table one night, and sewed
on to their coats the next morning. Maybe they would get corn-meal mush
for thirty days, and maybe, if any he politician presumed to get
obnoxious, he would be dealt with on the public street by a committee.
I know Homeburg, I think, and before Calvin Briggs would stand for the
guying he would receive after half a dozen women had gone down on their
knees to him and grabbed him around the legs so he couldn't get away,
he'd go out of politics. Suffragettes? Bah! What do they know about it?
I'd just like to know how long our men-folks in Homeburg would hold out
if we women were to get sick some fine morning and remain hopeless
invalids until we got the ballot. Why, if Wert Payley presumed to deny
me the ballot, I wouldn't think of parading about it. I'd just have the
girl starch his underwear for about two months, and if that didn't fetch
him, I'd start cleaning house and quit in the middle. The men will give
you anything, if you ask them the right way."

All of this makes us shiver, because we don't know just how long it will
be before the Homeburg women do make up their minds to have more
ballot. But when they do, we'll brace up like men and give it to them if
the State will let us. We just naturally hate to disappoint our
women-folks.



XII

CHRISTMAS AT HOMEBURG

_And What It Means_


Now don't urge me to stay longer, Jim, because I'm going to anyway. Just
to prove it, I'll take another of those gold-corseted cigars of yours,
which would elevate me from the masses to the classes in three puffs if
I smoked it back home. I didn't begin telling you how much I have
enjoyed myself because I intended to go and wanted to start the soft
music. I just wanted to begin on the job, that was all. It's going to
take me an hour, at least, to tell you and Mrs. Jim what this meal has
meant for me.

Oh, I know there have been better meals in history perhaps. I suppose
now and then a king gets real hungry and orders up a feed that might
have a shade on this one--just a shade. That's as far as I'll
compromise, Mrs. Jim. You needn't argue the matter. I'm a regular mule
in my opinions. But if you had given me crackers and cheese, and old,
decrepit flexible crackers at that, it would have been all the same. I'd
have devoured them with awe and thanksgiving, and I'd have marveled at
my luck. Here it is Christmas Day, and while half a million strangers in
New York have been eating their hearts along with the regular bill of
fare at boarding-houses and restaurants, I have been grabbed up and
taken into an actual home where they have a Christmas tree!

I always was lucky, Jim. Every time I fell out of a tree in my youth, I
landed on my head or some other soft spot, but this beats any luck I
ever had. Think of it! Me sitting around in the sub-cellar of gloom
yesterday afternoon with my family a thousand miles away, and deciding
to go to Boston for Christmas just because I'd have to travel ten hours
and that would be some time killed; and then, when I went to my
boarding-house for a clean collar, you called me up, just as I was
leaving. There's a special department of Providence working on my case.
Got a permanent assignment. And you are a Deputy Angel, Mrs. Jim.
Gratitude! You couldn't get my brand of gratitude anywhere. They don't
keep it in stock. Say the word and I will go back and eat a third piece
of mince pie, and die for you.

I don't want to seem critical. It's hard for me to criticize anything
right now, anyway, I'm so soaked and soused in contentment. I always
strive to admit all of New York's good points, and I've gotten a job
here largely to encourage the old town and help it along. But I do think
that in one respect New York is in the bush league, so to speak. Even
with such people as you to help, you can't get much Christmas out of it.
When I think of Homeburg to-day, I feel proud and haughty. You can beat
us on most everything else, but when it comes to Christmas, we can't
notice you. You don't compete.

Christmas in this town is only a feat. It's a race against time in two
heats. If you win the first one, you get your shopping done on the day
before. If you win the second, you get through Christmas Day, before
your patience and good spirits give out. Of course, New Yorkers, like
yourselves, who indulge in families and other old customs, have a mighty
good time out of it. Christmas with a family is great anywhere on earth.
But that isn't New York's fault. If you didn't have a family, you would
be dining out or going to some matinée or sitting around watching the
clock. That's where it is your solemn duty to envy Homeburg if you
never have done it before. And that's why I would be homesick to-day if
you had fed me four dinners, Mrs. Jim, and had been a whole covey, or
bevy, or flock, or constellation of angels--whichever is correct.

I don't mean to say that we get any more at Christmas than you do. We
enjoy and endure our presents, same as any one else. And we have just as
hard a time buying them. There aren't enough people in Homeburg to make
a Christmas jam, but we have our own line of troubles. The question in
Homeburg is not how to keep from spending so much money but how to spend
what we have. The storekeepers don't pamper us. In fact they are severe
with us. If we don't buy what they offer the first year, they store it
up, and we have to take it the next Christmas. When the Homeburg
storekeepers have had a bad season, it's up to us to go back the next
year and face the same old line of junk, knowing it will be there until
we give in and buy it. There are two Christmas gift edition copies of
Trilby still on sale in Homeburg, and Sam Green the druggist has had a
ten-dollar manicure set on sale for ten years now. He won't get another,
either. Says he was stung on the first one, and he's going to get his
money back before he goes in any deeper. It goes down about fifty cents
a year in price, and last year Jim Reebe almost bought it at four
dollars and seventy-five cents for Selma Snood. We have hopes of him
this year--unless he and Selma quarrel or get married, either of which
will be fatal.

No, we have our troubles, same as you do, and Homeburg is full, on the
day before Christmas, of worried fathers who duck into the stores about
seven P.M. and try to buy enough stuff to eat up a ten dollar bill
before the doors close. But that's a minor detail. What makes me love
our Christmas is its communism. Christmas isn't a family rite in
Homeburg. It's a town festival, a cross between Home-coming Week and a
general amnesty celebration.

[Illustration: In Homeburg you come home to the whole town.]

People come home for Christmas all over the world, but in Homeburg you
don't merely come home to your family, you come home to the whole town.
A week before the twenty-fifth the clans begin to gather. Usually the
college folks come first. Sometimes we have as many as a dozen, and the
whole town is on edge to see them. It's next to a circus parade in
interest because you never can tell what new sort of clothes the boys
are going to spring on us. In the grand old days when DeLancey Payley
and Sam Singer used to blow in for Christmas, they walked up from the
depot between double lines of admirers, and their clothes never failed
to strike us with awe. I remember the year when Sam came home with one
of those overcoats with a sort of hood effect in the back. I never
saw one before or since. He was also wearing a felt hat as flat as a
soup plate that year and a two-quart pipe fitted carefully into his
face, and when old Bill Dorgan, the drayman, saw him, he threw up both
hands and cried, "My gosh, it ain't possible!"

Then the children begin coming back. There is a great difference between
Homeburg and New York regarding children. In New York a child is
personal property. But in Homeburg a child belongs to the whole town. A
birth notice is a real news item in Homeburg. I suppose every baby is
personally inspected by at least two hundred citizens. We criticize
their care and feeding, suggest spanking when they are a little older,
quiver unanimously with horror when they begin to "flip" freight trains,
or get scarlet fever, and watch them grow up as eagerly as you New
Yorkers watched the Woolworth Building. When they are graduated from
high school we are all there with bouquets and presents, and we have an
equity in the whole brood. Molly Strawn, the washerwoman's daughter, got
more flowers than any one last year. And when they leave town to get a
job, if they are boys, or when some rude outsider breaks in with a
marriage license and despoils us of them, if they are girls, we all feel
the loss.

That's why Christmas means so much more to us. At Christmas time the
town children come home. Will Askinson comes home from Chicago. He's
doing very well up there, and it takes him two hours to get the length
of Main Street on the first day after he arrives. Every one has to hear
about it. Sadie Gastit comes home from Des Moines with a baby; regular
custom of hers. Sometimes she makes the same baby do for two years, but
usually it's a new one. I remember Sadie when she was only knee high to
a grasshopper, and her mother spanked her for climbing the Republican
flagpole during the McKinley campaign. The Flint children come down from
Chicago to visit their aunt. There were only a boy and girl when they
left fifteen years ago. Now there are eleven, counting wife, husband,
and acquisitions. Last year Ad Bridge brought a new wife home from
Denver to show us. Year before last Miss Annie Simms, who has been
teaching in Minneapolis, brought down a young man to show to her family.
She was going to be exclusive about it, but did it work? Not much. She
had to show him all around. We just happened over there in droves.
Everybody loves Annie and we were afraid for a little while that she was
going to be an old maid. The young man will bring her down this year I
suppose. They were married last June.

All the Homeburg children and grandchildren arrive in the last two days
before Christmas. They go home to their folks to deposit their baggage,
and then they all come down-town to the post-office, to get the mail
ostensibly but in reality to shake hands all around. The day before
Christmas is one long reception on Main Street. The old town fairly
hums.

As a matter of fact, Christmas is a good deal like a Union Depot. The
approaches are the most important part of it. By the day before
Christmas every one is feeling so good that things begin to happen.
People whom you have never suspected of caring for you come up to your
office and leave things--cigars, and toys for the children, and
Christmas cards. Men with whom you have quarreled during the year shake
hands violently all around a circle on the street, and when they come to
you they grab yours, too; and you begin to talk elaborately as if
nothing had happened--a good deal like two women wading through a formal
call; and it makes you feel so good that pretty soon you buy a box of
Colorado Durable cigars and you go over to the office of some man for
whom you have cherished an undying hatred, because he didn't vote for
you for the school board. You peek in his door, and if he isn't there
you go in and leave the cigars with your compliments.

There's never been a Christmas at home when I haven't been operated on
for a grouch of this sort, and most always it comes the day before. If I
had my way there wouldn't be any Christmas--only the day before. On the
day before you're so tickled over what the other folks are going to get
from you, and so full of pleased anticipation over what you may get from
the others, that good humor just bursts out all over you like spring
waters from the mountainside.

On Christmas Eve in Homeburg we all go to the Exercises to hear the
children perform. They build churches in Homeburg with big doors, so
that they can get big Christmas trees in them, and we grown-ups go
early in order to hear the kids squeal with wonder when they come in and
see those thirty-foot miracles in candles and tinsel, down in front.

Homeburg children are divided into two classes--those who get all of
their presents on the church Christmas trees and have to worry through
the next day without any additional excitement, and those who have to
sit through the Christmas Eve exercises with only a sack of candy to
sustain them and who land heavily the next day. The discussion as to
which is the better way has raged for a generation, anyway; at least my
chum and I discussed it every year when we were boys, he adhering to the
Christmas tree plan, and I to the homemade Christmas. And last year,
when he came back, we began it all over again, he claiming it was cruel
for me to make my children wait until Christmas Day, and I pitying his
poor youngsters for getting done with Christmas before it began.

Anyway, Christmas Eve is a grand occasion in the churches, and every
year I notice with amazement that some youngster whom I remember as
having been formally introduced to society through her birth notice only
a few weeks ago, seems to me, has gotten large enough to get up on the
platform and speak a piece. They do it at the most unheard-of ages. I
believe there are two-year-old orators in the Congregational Sunday
school. I get a good deal of suspense out of some of your baseball games
here, especially when Chicago plays you, but the most suspense per
individual I've ever noticed has been in these Christmas Eve exercises
when some youngster just high enough to step over a crack in the floor
gets up to recite a piece, and fourteen parents and relatives lean
forward and forget to breathe until he has gotten his forty words out,
wrong end to, and has been snatched off the stage by his relieved
mother.

Competition gets into everything, and it has marred our Christmas
exercises a little lately. The Methodists are growing fast and are very
ambitious. A few years ago they rented the Opera House, put in two
Christmas trees, with a real fireplace between and a Santa Claus who
came out of it, and charged ten cents admission. That embittered us
Congregationalists. It smacked of commercialism to us, and we would not
budge an inch--besides, there wasn't another Opera House to rent. So,
nowadays, our spirit of good-fellowship on Christmas Eve is sort of
absent-minded and anxious. We are always counting up our attendance and
sizing up our tree, and then sliding over to the Opera House and looking
over the Methodist layout. Sometimes we beat them, but generally they
have a regular mass meeting and make a barrel of money. Last year they
turned people away and brought Santa Claus on the stage in a real
automobile. We were so jealous that we could hardly cool down in time
for Christmas dinner.

As a matter of fact, the only unimportant part of our Christmas season
is Christmas Day itself. It is a sort of hiatus in the great doings.
When we go home on Christmas Eve, it is with a great peace. We have
bought our presents. We have greeted all the returned prodigals. We have
made up with a few carefully selected enemies. Our children have spoken
their pieces successfully at the Exercises, and have gotten a good start
on the job of eating their way through a young mountain range of mixed
candies and nuts. All the hustle and worry is over, and we are
unanimously happy. The week following Christmas will be one dizzy round
of parties and teas for the visitors, and Homeburg will be a delightful
place full of the friends of boyhood, with an average of one reunion
every fifteen minutes in and out of business hours. But on Christmas Day
nothing will happen except the dinner. We'll get our presents in the
morning, and then at noon the great crisis will come. We'll either
conquer the dinner, or it will conquer us.

You know how it is, Jim, because that's the kind of dinner you had
to-day. It was an Athletic Feat--not the ordinary kind of city dinner
where you save up carefully during seven courses, and finish strong on
the water crackers and cheese, but a real Christmas gorge. Every time I
sit down to a Christmas dinner in Homeburg, I feel more strongly than
ever that each guest should have his capacity stenciled on him. They are
more careful of box cars in this country than they are of humans. You
never see a box car that doesn't have "Capacity, 100,000 lbs." stenciled
on its sides. And they don't overload that car. There have been times
when, if I could have had "Capacity, two turkey thighs, one wish-bone,
trimmings, and two pieces of pie" stenciled on me, I would have gotten
along better. I think they ought to try to make these Olympic games more
useful to our nation by instituting a Christmas dinner marathon. If we
have to eat for two hours and a quarter, top speed, once or twice a
year, we ought to train up to the task as a nation.

I always feel a little bit nervous about Christmas dinner before it
comes, but I never shirk. As a matter of fact, it isn't really
dangerous. As far as I know, no one has ever actually exploded in
Homeburg on Christmas Day, and we all seem to get away with the job in
pretty fair shape. But it spoils the day for anything else. The town is
full, in the afternoon, of partially paralyzed men lying around on sofas
in a comatose condition, like anacondas sleeping off their bi-monthly
lunch. Homeburg is absolutely dead for the rest of the day. If a fire
broke out on Christmas afternoon, I don't believe even Chief Dobbs would
have the energy to get up and put on his helmet. It's hard on the exiled
men who just run down for Christmas Day from the cities. They don't get
in on anything but the eating. Sam Frazier struck last year. Said he
wasn't going to pay ten dollars fare and incidentals any more, to come
down from Chicago on Christmas Day for an all-afternoon view of his
brother's feet as said brother lay piled up on the sofa. He was going to
come down after this on the Fourth of July.

It doesn't affect the women so badly because they don't eat so much.
They haven't time. It takes two women to steer one child safely through
a Christmas dinner, anyway, and about three to get the ruins cleared
away in time to get up a light lunch in the evening for the reviving
hosts. If there is any one time when I would care less to be a woman
than at any other time, it is on Christmas afternoon, when her men-folks
have gone to sleep and have left her with a few cross children and a
carload of Christmas dinner fragments for company.

That's where you city folks with your servant problem have the best of
us, and I'll not dispute it, Mrs. Jim. On the other hand, the nicest
part of our Homeburg Christmas is the fact that, when we fold our tired
hands over our bulging vests after dinner and lie down to rest, we know
that there is no starving family in Homeburg which has had to celebrate
Christmas by taking on an extra drink of water and indulging in a long,
succulent sniff at a restaurant door.

We have poor people in Homeburg, but we haven't any poverty problem at
Christmas. It's a strictly local issue, and it is handled by the
neighbors. Having lived a long time in the city, Jim, you may not know
what a neighbor is. It's a person who lives close to you and takes a
personal interest in your affairs. A good neighbor is a woman whose
heart is so large that she has had to annex a lot of outlying territory
around the family real estate in order to fill it. No Homeburg woman
would think of constructing an extraordinarily fine pie without sending
a cut over to her nearest neighbor.

About Christmas time we are especially busy neighboring in Homeburg, and
any family which lives near us and isn't going very strong on the
Christmas game, because of sickness or trouble, is our meat. It would be
an insult to go across the town and help a family in some other
neighbor's territory, and that was what got Editor Simpson of the
_Argus_ into trouble a couple of years ago.

Simpson is a young man, a comparative newcomer from the city, and a very
earnest and enterprising party. He runs the _Argus_ on the high gear
and is never so happy as when he is promoting a public movement in real
city style. It occurred to Simpson three years ago that Homeburg ought
not to be behind Chicago in anything, especially at Christmas time, and
so he started a "Good-fellow" movement. They were running it strong in
Chicago that year. Any man who wished to be a "Good Fellow" sent his
name to the "Good-fellow Editor" and offered to provide a Christmas for
one or more poor children. It was a grand idea, stuffed full of
sentiment, and we Homeburg men just naturally ate it up. When the day
before Christmas came, seventy-five "Good Fellows" were on Simpson's
list, and they had offered to take care of one hundred and twenty-five
children, to give each a real Christmas. Simp's office was full of
groceries and toys, applicants were clamoring for children, all was
excitement and enthusiasm--and then a horrible state of affairs was
disclosed. Simpson hadn't provided any children. There was a bleak and
distressing lack of material for us to work upon. In all Homeburg there
weren't ten families who were going without Christmas turkey, or its
equivalent, and in each one of these cases some neighbor had sternly
ordered Simp to keep his hands off and mind his own affairs. There we
were--seventy-five Good Fellows with boatloads of cheer and no way to
dispose of it. The only person we could find in all the town to descend
on was Pat Ryan. We smothered him in groceries, and he ate himself into
biliousness that night and had to have a doctor for three days, which
helped some, but not much. On the whole, it was a dismal failure.

What! Nine o'clock? Excuse me, Jim. I seem to have taken root here. No;
I am going this time. Back to my room with Christmas all gotten through
with, thank goodness and you folks. You understand. You've made it as
nice for me as any two magicians could have done, and I thank you from
the bottom of my heart. But it's my last Christmas in New York, I hope.
Next month the wife and children come on, and by next Christmas, if I
have any luck at all, we'll join the happy army that swoops down on
Homeburg for the holidays. My, but it will be funny to look at the old
town from the outside in! Me--a visitor in Homeburg!

Do you know what prosperity is to a whole mob of city people, Jim? It's
the ability to pack up their families and go off to some Homeburg or
other for Christmas. And do you know what makes city people successful,
in Homeburg opinion? It's coming back every year. And if we made a
million apiece, and didn't preserve enough of the old home-town love to
come back, we wouldn't be successful in their eyes, not by a long way.
Well, good-by, philanthropists. And, thank you, I can't come again next
year. I'm saving up to go home. That's what makes this cigar taste so
good, Jim. Last one I'll smoke until carfare is in the bank.


THE END

[Illustration: Publisher's logo]





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