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Title: From Pillar to Post - Leaves from a Lecturer's Note-Book
Author: Bangs, John Kendrick, 1862-1922
Language: English
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FROM PILLAR TO POST


[Illustration: "I shall have to borrow some of your manly
courage to carry me through."]


FROM PILLAR TO POST

Leaves from a Lecturer's Note-Book

by

JOHN KENDRICK BANGS

Author of "The House-Boat on the Styx," etc.

With Illustrations by Jno. R. Neill



[Illustration]

New York
The Century Co.
1916

Copyright, 1916, by
The Century Co.

Copyright, 1915, by
Associated Sunday Magazines Incorporated

Published, March, 1916



    TO
    THAT WISE COUNSELLOR
    AND STERLING FRIEND
    J. HENRY HARPER



PREFATORY NOTE


I could not let these random notes of a delightful experience go forth
into the world without expressing in some way my deep appreciation of
the valued services rendered me in my ten years of platform work by my
friends of the Lyceum Bureaus. In office and in the field they have
labored strenuously, often affectionately, and always loyally, on my
behalf. But for their interest some of the most cherished experiences of
my life would have been beyond my reach. If sometimes in their zeal to
keep me busy they have booked me in Winnipeg on Monday night, in New
Orleans on Tuesday night, with little side-trips to San Diego,
California, and Presque Isle, Maine, on Wednesday and Thursday, not to
mention grand finales at Omaha and Key West on Friday and Saturday, I
view that sequence rather as a tribute to my agility than as a matter to
be unduly captious about. It is a manifestation of a confidence in my
powers to overcome the limitations of time and space that I think upon
with an expanding head, if not with a swelling heart, and whether this
required annihilation of distance has been wholly agreeable or not it
has enabled me to see more of my own country than I otherwise could have
seen, and to that extent, I hope, has made a better American of me.

Wherefore before beginning our ramble from Pillar to Post I record here
in testimony of my gratitude to them the names of Arthur C. Coit, and
Louis J. Alber, of the Coit Lyceum Bureau of Cleveland, Ohio; of Frank
A. Morgan, of the Mutual Lyceum Bureau, of Chicago; of Kenneth M. White,
of the White Entertainment Bureau of Boston; of S. Russell Bridges, of
the Alkahest Lyceum System of Atlanta, Georgia; of J. B. Pond, Jr., and
that tried friend both in the Lyceum field and out of it, William C.
Glass, of the J. B. Pond Lyceum Bureau of New York.

Thanks are due to the publishers of _Every Week_ for courtesies
extended, and finally I desire to inscribe a word of affectionate esteem
for my friends, J. Thomson Willing, and that inspiring editorial guide
and mentor, William A. Taylor, of the Associated Sunday Magazines, under
whose genial direction these papers were first presented to the public.

                                                JOHN KENDRICK BANGS.



CONTENTS


                                       PAGE
    I      GETTING USED TO IT             3
    II     SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY          23
    III    GETTING THE LEVEL             40
    IV     THE GOOD SAMARITAN            61
    V      A VAGRANT POET                83
    VI     BACK-HANDED COMPLIMENTS       98
    VII    FRIENDS OF THE ROAD          116
    VIII   CHAIRMEN I HAVE MET          134
    IX     CHANCE ACQUAINTANCES         155
    X      HUMORS OF THE ROAD           175
    XI     MINE HOST                    196
    XII    PERILS OF THE PLATFORM       220
    XIII   EMBARRASSING MOMENTS         243
    XIV    "SLINGS AND ARROWS"          266
    XV     EMERGENCIES                  290
    XVI    A PIONEER MANAGER            318



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                                                                  PAGE
  "I shall have to borrow some of your manly courage
  to carry me through"                                  _Frontispiece_

  "It was indeed a pretty sight to me!"                             21

  "Yes, and you are fifty years behind us in every other respect!"  28

  I knew that I had met a "Southern Gentleman"                      31

  "The consciously superior person cannot last long on the lecture
  platform"                                                         43

  "If there's anything you want to know about Darwin's Origin of
  Species, you ask me!"                                             60

  "I cannot say that his first remark was wholly cordial"           70

  "I'm an Ohio man, and I'll cash the check for you on your looks"  79

  In the last stages of poverty                                     85

  "Suffering Centipedes!" he cried. "That man must have been
  brought up on the bottle!"                                        93

  "The lecturer must deliver the goods!"                           100

  "They may 'go to sleep in his face'"                             103

  "I have been after 'em, suh; but it ain't no use"                122

  "These men on the engines are great characters"                  130

  "Pile it on so thick that the lecturer has to struggle hard
  to make good"                                                    136

  "The last I saw of my kindly host"                               145

  "When he got through I could have qualified for a college degree
  on the subject of straw hats"                                    162

  "She ast me was you so very comical," said he                    171

  "If yo're dealin' in brains, hit ain't likely yo' got enough
  to gib any away"                                                 185

  "A Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Locomotives would
  have had them indicted then and there"                           191

  "If it were possible to sweep a room clean with a welcoming
  wave of the hand--"                                              199

  "Cannot sleep comfortably between the sheets of William James's
  pragmatic philosophy, dry as they are"                           202

  "If he had shifted his chewing gum to the other side, we should
  have plunged into the river"                                     227

  "Laughter where tears would have been more appropriate"          239

  "I found the building wholly dark"                               247

  "But what was the point of this little joke last night?"         264

  "My grinning countenance stared back at me unflinchingly"        276

  "I was the sudden recipient of a blow on top of my head"         283

  "A craving to settle lingering doubts as to my right
  to be there"                                                     298



FROM PILLAR TO POST



I

GETTING USED TO IT


"I cannot imagine a more disagreeable way of qualifying for the income
tax," said one of America's most noted after-dinner speakers to me when
at a chance meeting he and I were discussing the joys and woes of the
lecture platform. I must admit that in a way I sympathized with him; for
I knew something of the sufferings endured for days and nights prior to
one's own public appearance as an after-dinner or platform speaker.

There was a time many years ago, upon which I look back with wonder that
I ever came through it without nervous prostration, when I suffered
those selfsame mental agonies as the hour approached for the fulfilment
of one of those rash promises which men fond of the sound of their own
voices make months in advance to those subtle flatterers who would lure
them from the easy solitudes of silence into the uneasy limelight of
after-dinner oratory. Not without reason has a certain wit, whose name
is unfortunately lost to fame, referred to the chairs behind the guest
table on the raised platform at revelries of this nature as "The Seats
of the Mighty and Miserable."

These sufferings involve a loss of appetite for days in advance of the
event; a complete derangement of the nervous system, with no chance of
recovery for at least ten days preceding the emergent hour, since sleep
either refuses to come to one's relief altogether, or coming brings in
its train a species of nerve-racking dream which leaves the last estate
of the weary slumberer worse than the first. The complication is far
more difficult to handle than that involved in the maturity of a
promissory note which one is unable to meet; for there are conditions
under which a tender-hearted creditor will permit a renewal of the
latter sort of obligation, and this thought provides some sort of rift
in the cloud of a debtor's despair.

But in the matter of public speaking there is no such comforting
possibility. Nothing short of inglorious flight, painful accident, or
serious illness, can save the signer of that promissory note for
twenty-five hundred personally conducted after-dinner words from being
called upon to pay in full the moment the note falls due. He can't even
plead to be permitted the payment of one paragraph on account, and the
balance in thirty days.

The contract can neither be evaded, postponed, nor sublet. It is then or
never with him, and while no great harm would come to the world if
ninety-nine and seven-eighths per cent. of the after-dinner speeches of
the ages had gone unspoken, no man of the right, forward-looking,
upstanding sort, whether his speeches be good, bad, or, like the most of
them, merely indifferent, may wilfully or comfortably permit a promise
of that nature to go to protest.

Yes, I sympathized with that excellent gentleman. I have known him to
take to his bed three days before the ordeal, tremblingly approach the
banquet board, rise to his feet, his nerves taut as a G string, his
knees quaking in the merciful seclusion of the regions under the table,
and then, with hardly a glimmering of consciousness of what he was doing
or saying, his whole being thrilled with terror, acquit himself
brilliantly, to return home at the conclusion of his trial physically
and nervously prostrated.

       *       *       *       *       *

One of the happiest recollections of my platform work, nevertheless, had
to do with just such a shivering, quivering condition. It was many years
ago--back in the mid-'90's of the last century, that so-called crazy
end-of-the-century period, which inspired Max Nordau's depressing
treatise on Degeneracy, and yet now seems so gloriously sane in contrast
to what is going on in the world at the present time.

In some mysterious fashion I had succeeded in writing what the literary
world is pleased to term a "best seller," and was in consequence
enjoying a taste of that notoriety which inexperienced youth so often
confounds with immortality. One result was a tolerably persistent demand
that I exhibit myself at one of those then popular functions known as
Authors' Readings. This was a form of entertainment almost as
barbarically cruel as those ancient ceremonies in which Christian
martyrs were thrown into an arena to demonstrate their powers in
combatting irritated tigers, and such other blood-thirsty beasts of the
jungle as the ingenious fancy of the management might suggest. It was,
in a manner of speaking, a sort of Literary Hagenbeck Show, whither the
curious among the readers of the day were lured in sweet Charity's name
by the promise of a personal performance by real literary lions, with an
occasional wild goose or two wearing temporarily the gorgeous plumage of
the Birds of Parnassus, thrown in to make the program longer.

Invited to take part in one of these affairs, and feeling that for
posterity's sake it was my duty to rivet my firm grasp upon Fame by
keeping such company as my remotest great-grandchild could wish to have
me known by, I carelessly accepted as if it were easy to comply, and all
in the day's work of a new sun dawning upon the horizon of letters.

But when the fateful evening arrived a "change came o'er the spirit of
my dream." Two dread situations arose which bade fair to drive me either
into the nearest sanatorium, or to the obscurity of the deepest
available jungle. Had I yielded to my immediate impulse, I should have
flown as far afield as the Virginia negro who, upon being advised to
leave town lest he suffer certain extreme penalties for his misdeeds,
replied that he was "gwine, an' gwine so fur it'll cost nine dollars to
send a postal card back."

On one side of the curtain at the great metropolitan hall where the
Readings were to be held sat nearly three thousand hungry readers,
waiting to see six unhappy authors prove whether or no they could read
their own productions and survive; and on the other side of the curtain
were five real Immortals and my sorely agitated self. My fellow
sufferers that night were Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, Dr. Henry Van Dyke,
William Dean Howells, the lamented Frank R. Stockton, and the ever
unforgettable Mrs. Julia Ward Howe.

It was rather godlike company for a mere mortal like myself, and as I
gazed upon them I realized, perhaps for the first time, the magnificent
distances that lie between Yonkers-on-Hudson and Parnassus-by-Helicon.
Frozen from heel to toe by the thought of having to appear before so
vast and critical an audience, the complete refrigeration of my nervous
system was accomplished by the thought of even temporary association
with those fixed stars in the firmament of American Letters. Instead of
a burning torch on the heights of Olympus, I felt myself more of a
possible cinder in the public eye. One might be willing to appear before
a Court of Literary Justice in the company of any one of them, but to
assume equality with five such household words all at once, and
especially before an audience many of whose members had from time
immemorial known me as "Johnny"--well, to speak with frankness, it got
on my nerves.

My condition was like that foreshadowed by a good old neighbor of mine
up on the coast of Maine, who when I asked him one morning if he ever
felt nervous when the thunder was roaring, and the lightning was
striking viciously, replied, "No, I hain't never felt nervous: _I'm jest
plain dam skeert to death!_" If the exits from the stage had not been
guarded, I should have fled; but there was no escape, and while I
awaited my turn to go out upon the platform I paced the back of the
stage, concealed from the public gaze by a drop scene, shaking from head
to foot with a nervous chill. I can scarcely even now bring myself to
believe that there was a seismograph anywhere between the northern and
southern poles so callous as to fail to register my vibrations.

It became evident as the moment approached that I should be utterly
unable to go out upon the platform and do anything but dance: not after
the graceful manner of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle, but of Saint Vitus
himself. To have held a book, even so light a one as my own, in my
shaking hand would have been physically impossible, and then, just as I
was about to seek out the chairman of the committee of arrangements, and
plead a sudden stroke of some sort, I felt a womanly arm thrust through
my own, and a soft white hand was laid gently and soothingly upon my
wrist. I glanced to my side, and there stood Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, her
lovely eyes full of sympathy, touched with a joyous reassuring twinkle.

"Oh, Mr. Bangs," said she, with a slight catch and tremor in her voice,
"do you know I am so nervous about going out before all those people
to-night that I really believe I shall have to borrow some of your manly
courage and strength to carry me through!"

A marvelous transformation of nervous attitude was the immediate result,
a determination to rush to the aid of a lady flying a signal of distress
summoning all my latent courage to her cause. A realization of the
lovely tactfulness of her approach and its true significance, and the
prompt response of my sense of humor, not yet quite dead, to the exact
facts of the situation, made a man of me for the time being--a man who
would dare the undarable, attempt the unattainable, and if need be, as
the eloquent African preacher once observed, "onscrew the onscrutable."
Nervousness, cowardice, muscular vibrations, and all disappeared like
the mists of the night before the radiance of the dawn in the face of
that gracious woman's tactful humor, and later on I went forth to my
doom so brazenly, and smiling so confidently, that one critic in the
next morning's newspaper intimated without much subtlety of phrasing
that I enjoyed myself far more than my audience did.

It would be too much to say that Mrs. Howe's timely intervention on my
behalf effected a permanent cure of my nervousness in platform work; but
it has helped me much to overcome it; for many a time since, when
through sheer weariness, or for some purely psychological reason, I have
approached my work with uneasy forebodings, the memory of that
delightful incident has come back to me, and I have invariably found
relief from my fears in the smile which it never fails to bring to my
lips, and to my spirit as well.

I do not know that it would be a good thing for any public speaker ever
to approach the emergent hour with entire assurance and utterly
calloused nerves. Such a condition might well bespeak an indifference to
the work in hand which would result either in a purely mechanical
delivery, or one so careless as to destroy the effect of the lecturer's
most valuable asset--a sympathetic personality. I recall far back in my
college days, in the early '80's of the last century, meeting at one of
my fraternity conventions that inspiring publicist, the late Senator
Frye of Maine. In the course of a pleasant chat, having myself to appear
before the convention with a committee report the following morning, and
feeling a trifle uncertain as to how I was going to "come through," I
asked the senator if he was ever a victim to nervousness when making a
public address, and his answer was very suggestive.

"Always, my lad," said he, "always! I have been making public speeches
off and on now for twenty-five or thirty years, and even to-day when I
rise up to speak in the United States Senate, or on the stump, my knees
shake a little under me. And I'm glad they do, Son," he went on
significantly; "for if they didn't, I should begin to feel that the days
of my usefulness were over, for it would mean that I really didn't care
whether I got through safely or not."

So it was that up to a certain point I sympathized with my friend the
distinguished after-dinner speaker when he intimated that the lecture
platform was no bed of roses. For one of his nervous organization and
temperament it would be impossible. It would make a nervous wreck of him
in a short while, and in the end would shorten his life, even as it has
shortened the span of many another robust spirit; such as the late
Alfred Tennyson Dickens, for instance, who in very truth succumbed to
the exactions of travel and of a lovely hospitality that he knew not how
to resist.

But for myself there is so much in the work that is inspiring, so much
that is pleasing in the human relationships it makes possible, that but
for the discomforts of travel I could really feed upon it spiritually,
and seek no happier diet. I defy any man to be a pessimist on the
subject of American character after a season or two on the lecture
platform; provided of course that he is a reasonably sympathetic man,
and is so constituted in matters social that he is what the politicians
call a "good mixer."

To the man who is not interested in the human animal, and insists upon
judging all men by his own rigid and narrow standards, measuring souls
by a yardstick, as it were, the work can never be a joy; but if he is
broad enough to take people as he finds them, looking for the good that
lies inherent in every human being, and judging them by the measure of
their capacity to become what they were designed to be, and are honestly
trying to be, then he will find it full of a living and a loving
interest almost equal to that of the "joy forever."

Pasted in my spiritual hat is a little rime by one whose name modesty
forbids my mentioning, running:

    I can't be what Shakespeare was,
    I can't do what great folks does;
    But, by Ginger, I can be
                ME!
    And among the folks that love me
    Nothin' more's expected of me.

The wandering platform speaker who will heed the intimations of that
little rime, and seize the friendships in kind that surely await his
coming in all parts of this great, genial country of ours, will find a
wondrous store of happiness ready to his hand. If in addition to this he
will cultivate the habit of looking for good in unpromising places, and
of resolutely refusing to admit the power of small irritations to
destroy his peace of mind, he will get along nicely. The latter of
course requires resolution of a kind that is persistent in the face of
unremitting annoyances. To say that these annoyances do not exist would
be idle; but not half so idle as the act of giving them controlling
importance in the making or the unmaking of a day's happiness.

The sooner one who travels the Platform Path learns to suspend judgment
as to his fellow beings, and to suspect the fallacy of the obvious, the
better it will be for him, and for his personal comfort. The first
conspicuous lesson I had in this particular was out in Arizona on my
first extended tour in our wonderful West in 1906. I found myself one
afternoon on my way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. After having satisfied
the inner man with an excellent Fred Harvey luncheon--an edible oasis
always in a desert of indigestibility--I had retired to the smoking car
for that spiritual refreshment which comes from watching the smoke
wreaths curl upward from the end of a good cigar.

Unhappily for the quality of that refreshment, I was no sooner seated in
the smoking room that I perceived that I was surrounded by men who,
judging by surface indications, were hopeless vulgarians. Among them
were three especially whose conversation was even lower than their
brows. I think I can best describe their conversation by saying that in
all probability Boccaccio's lady companions out Fiesole way, at the time
of the plague that drove the Florentine Four Hundred beyond the city
limits, would have fled blushingly before it, taking refuge by
preference in the pure, undefiled Rolloisms of the Decameron itself;
while poor old Rabelais, not always a master of reticence in things
better left unsaid, would, I am sure, have joined a literary branch of
the I. W. W. in sheer rebellion, rather than sully the refinement of his
pen by taking down any part of it.

One has to listen to a great deal of this sort of thing en route, and
pending the discovery of some kind of vocal silencer that shall render
such communications as noiseless as they are corrupting to good manners,
or a portable muffler which the unwilling listener may place over his
ears, the wandering platform performer who has not yet reached a point
where he can give up his cigar and be happy must needs endure them.
Indeed he is doing well if he is not lured into a shamefaced enjoyment
of such talk; for it must be admitted that some of the traveling
companions one meets thus by chance have rare powers as story-tellers,
and pour forth at times most objectionable periods with a smiling
enthusiasm almost fetching enough to tempt a Simeon Stylites down from
the top of his pillar into the lower regions of their alluring good
fellowship.

Neither a prig nor a prude am I; but on this particular occasion the
gross results of the conversation were so very gross as to preclude the
possibility of there being any "net proceeds" of value, and I fled.

On returning to my place in the sleeper I noticed in the section
directly across the aisle a handsome Englishwoman, traveling with no
other companion than a little daughter, a child of about three and a
half years of happy, bubbling youth. The little one was seated on her
mother's lap, and was enjoying a "let's pretend" drive across country,
using the maternal lorgnette chain in lieu of the ribbons wherewith to
guide her imaginary steeds.

An hour passed, when a boisterous laugh from the rear of the car
indicated the approach of the three barbarians of the smoker, who to my
disgust a moment later settled themselves in the section directly in
front of mine, and to my dismay began apparently to take a greater
interest in the lady across the aisle than the ordinary usages of polite
human intercourse warranted, lacking a formal introduction.

I have never posed as a Squire of Dames, and I have a wholesome distaste
for such troubles as an unseeing eye enables a man to avoid; but the
intrusion of these Goths, not to say Vandals, upon the lady's right to
travel unmolested was so obvious that I couldn't help seeing and
inwardly resenting it. The woman herself treated the situation with
becoming coolness and dignity, showing only by a slight change of color,
and now and then a vexed biting of the lips, that she noticed it at
all; but the cooler she became the more strenuous became the efforts of
the barbarians to "scrape an acquaintance."

I held an inward debate with myself as to my duty in the premises. I did
not care to get into a row; but the ogling soon became so pronounced
that it really seemed necessary to interfere. I reached out my hand to
ring for such reinforcements as the porter and the conductor might be
able to bring to our assistance, when to my astonishment the worst
offender of the three rose from his seat, and stepped quickly to the
lady's side--and then there was revealed to me the marvelous wisdom of
the old injunction, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"; for the supposed
ruffian, whom I would a moment before have willingly, and with seeming
justification, thrown bodily from the train, with the manner of a
Chesterfield in the rough lifted his hat and spoke.

"You will excuse me for speaking to you, ma'am," he said, and there was
a wistful smile on his lips and a tenderness in his eye worthy of a
seemingly better cause, "but I'm--I'm what they call a drummer, a
traveling man, and I've been away from home for three months. I've got
a little girl of my own at home about the same age as this kid of yours,
and I tell you, ma'am, you'd ease off an awful case of homesickness if
you'd let me play with the little lady just for a few minutes."

The mother's heart seemed to go right out to him, as did mine also. She
smiled graciously, and handed over her little daughter to the tender
mercies of that group whose presence I had fled only a short while
before--and for the rest of the afternoon that Pullman sleeper was
transformed into a particularly bright and joyous nursery that echoed
and reëchoed to the merry laughter of happy childhood.

If there is an animal of any kind in the zoos of commerce that those men
did not impersonate during the next two or three hours I do not know its
name, the especially objectionable barbarian transforming himself
instantly on demand into an elephant, a yak, a roaring lion, a tiger, or
a leopard changing its spots as actively as a flea, and all with a
graceful facility that Proteus himself might well have envied. And
later, when night fell, and weariness came with it, in the dusk of the
twilight it was indeed a pretty sight to me, and a sight that smote
somewhat upon my conscience for my over-ready contempt of the earlier
afternoon, when my gaze fell upon the figure of an exhausted drummer,
his eyes half-closed, sleepily humming a tender lullaby to a tired
little golden-haired stranger who lay cuddled up in his arms, fast
asleep, with her head upon his breast.

[Illustration: "It was indeed a pretty sight to me!"]

I like to think that that little incident was a valuable contribution
to my education in the science of brotherhood. It has not perhaps
produced in my soul a larger tolerance of the intolerable in casual
conversation, but it has served to warn me against the dangers of snap
judgments, and has certainly broadened my sympathies in respect to my
fellow man in my chance meetings with him upon the highways and byways
of life, whence sometimes, in the loneliness of my wanderings, I have
gathered much comfort, and reaped harvests in friendliness which
otherwise I might have lost.



II

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY


In traveling about the country, and especially in the South, I have been
impressed with the wisdom of the character in Owen Wister's delightful
story of "The Virginian," who when another man applied an unspeakable
name to him leveled a revolver in the speaker's face, and said, "When
you call me that, say it with a smile!" (I quote from memory.) A moment
on the road is made cheerful or difficult by the manner in which things
are said, and the wanderer's homesickness is either relieved or deepened
by the manner of a chance remark, which brings cheer if it be smiling,
and a deeper sense of loneliness if it be otherwise.

Throughout the South I have never felt quite so far away from home as in
some parts of New England less than a hundred miles from my own
rooftree, and I think that this is due largely to the positive effort on
the part of the average Southern man or woman to maintain the
traditional courtesy and hospitality of the South toward the stranger
within its gates. It is only semi-occasionally that one finds in some
sour-natured relic of other days any other attitude than that of smiling
welcome, and even with the thermometer ranging close to the zero mark I
have learned why the Southland is in spirit anyhow the "Land of Roses."

It must be admitted, however, that when the departure from the attitude
of cordiality is made it is done thoroughly, and with a sort of reckless
truculence which the wary traveler will be wise to ascribe solely to its
individual source.

In the winter and spring of 1913 there was a great deal of work cut out
for me in the Southern territory, and during my travels there, which
involved the crossing and recrossing of every State in the section
except Kentucky, from the Atlantic coast to the Mexican border, I
encountered much in the way of human experience that is delightful to
remember, and very little that I would rather forget. It was upon this
trip that two incidents occurred which showed very clearly the
difference between a cutting retort smilingly administered and that
other kind of peculiarly rasping repartee, born of a soured nature that
has confirmed its acid qualities by pickling itself in a mixture of
equal parts of gloomy self-sympathy over fancied wrongs, and--well, not
grape juice.

There is a kind of tonic dispensed in certain of our prohibition States
by licensed drugstores and carried by suffering patients in small black
bottles, secreted in their hip pockets, like deadly weapons--which
indeed they are (whence, possibly, we get the term "hipped" as
descriptive of the ailment of the sufferer)--which does not exactly
mellow the disposition of the consumer, whatever glow it may impart to
his countenance.

One morning I found myself on my way from Natchitoches, in Louisiana, a
lovely survival of a picturesque old French trading post, a perfect home
of roses, both human and floral, which will ever remain a garden spot in
my memory, to Shreveport. It was in the middle of May, and the whole
country was a delight to the eye, with its lovely greens and lush spring
coloring. I was returning from a lecture before the State Normal School,
and while sitting in the smoking car enjoying my weed was introduced to
a gentleman (I use the word carelessly, and without positive
conviction) whom everybody had been calling "Judge." I am glad to say
that I did not catch his last name. I do not even know whether or not he
was really a judge, or, if he were, what he was a judge of. He reminded
me more of the judges I have read of in fictional humor than any I have
ever seen on the bench, and from his general attitude toward his fellows
on the train I gained a tolerably clean-cut impression that he tried his
"cases" in solitary state, rather than in that more open fashion which
is such a bad example to the young, and productive of that ruinously
extravagant disease known as "treating." I may be doing the man an
injustice, but I am none the less trying to sketch him as I saw him. He
had the manner and manners of the solitary reveler, and the generally
"oily," but not suave, quality of his makeup confirmed my impression
that any love of temperance he might manifest was purely academic, or,
as one of our leading statesmen might put it, "largely psychological."
Desirous of starting things along pleasantly after my introduction to
the judge, I remarked upon the marvelous beauty of the country.

"Everything is beautifully green about here," I said. "It is a positive
pleasure to look out on those lovely fields."

"Glad you like 'em," said the judge, helping himself to a generous
mouthful of tobacco.

"Well, you see," said I, "I come from Maine, Judge, and I am
particularly fond of the spring, and we don't get ours until late. I
guess," I added, "that in respect to that we are about a month and a
half behind you people down here."

"Yes," said he explosively, "_and, by God! you are fifty years behind us
in every other respect!_"

It was a kindly and tactful remark, and I was duly edified. If he had
said it smilingly, I should have been happier, and would have been
inclined to enter upon a half-hour of jovial banter on the subject of
the respective merits of our several States; but there was a truculent
self-confidence about his honor's "atmosphere" that foreshadowed little
in the way of a satisfactory issue had I ventured to carry the
discussion further. I simply withdrew within myself, like a turtle,
finished my cigar in silence, and returned to my seat in the chair car,
convinced that in whatever line of action the judge was really an
expert--law, history, economics, or what-not--he at least knew how to
put a cork in a bottle, and jam it in so tight that nothing could get
out of it--I being the bottle.

[Illustration: "Yes, and you are fifty years behind us in every other
respect!"]

As I sat for the rest of my journey in that chair car my mind reverted
to another incident that had occurred two months earlier. The inviting
causes were similar; but the party of the second part was a very
different sort of individual. The judge was said to be prosperous, the
owner of many acres of fertile sugar land, and had, or so I was
informed, a professional income of fifteen thousand dollars a year. One
would think he could have afforded to be genial under such conditions.
The other was a man bent and broken under the stress of his years and
his trials, coming home, after a lifetime of failure, to pass his
remaining days, manifestly few in number, amid the scenes of his youth.
What few locks were left him were gray, and he limped painfully when he
walked. He had served on the Confederate side during the war, and still
carried with him the evidences of sacrifice.

I met him on the railway platform at a little junction town in Southern
Tennessee. I was en route to a small college town in Upper Mississippi.
We had had a long and tedious wait upon the fast decaying station
platform, hoping almost against hope that at least day before
yesterday's train would come along and pick us up, whatever might be the
fate of the special combination of wheezy engine and spring-halted cars
due that morning. As I nervously paced the dragging hours away I noticed
this old fellow limping anxiously about, making over and over again of
everybody he met the same inquiry as to the probable arrival or
non-arrival of our train; and now and then he would hobble with
difficulty over to a small soap box, with a slatted top, which stood
just outside the baggage room, in which there was imprisoned a poor,
shivering, and I fancy hungry, little fox terrier, whining to be let
out.

"Never mind, Bobby," the old man would whisper through the slatted top
of the box. "'Taint gwine to be much longer now. We'll be home soon."

The kindly attitude of the old man toward the unhappy little animal
touched me more deeply than his own poverty-stricken condition, and so,
yielding to a friendly impulse, I stood by him for a moment and spoke to
him.

"It's a long wait," said I.

"Oh, well," he said cheerfully, straightening himself up stiffly, "it's
so near the end I ain't complainin'. I been waitin' fohty yeahs for
this, Brother."

"Forty years?" I repeated.

"Yes, suh," he replied, "fohty long yeahs, suh. I ain't been home since
the end o' the wah, suh. An' now I'm comin' back, an' I reckon after I
git thar thar ain't a gwine to be but one mo' journey, suh, befo' I'm
through."

[Illustration: I knew that I had met a "Southern Gentleman."]

"You mean--" I began.

"I'm comin' home to die, suh," he said. "Not that I'm a gwine to be in
any hurry to do it," he added, with a winning smile, "but I'm tiahed o'
wanderin', an' what's left o' my time hyah, suh, 'll pass mo' pleasantly
back among the old scenes."

I endeavored to cover up my emotions by offering the old man a cigar.

"I thank you, suh," he said, taking it. "I'm very fond of a good
seegyar, though I don't git 'em any too often, suh. Are you a Tennessee
man, suh?"

"No," said I. "I come from Maine. That's a good way from here."

And then it came. The old fellow gave a great chuckle, and reached out
his hand and seized me by mine.

"I want to shake your hand, suh," he said with rare cordiality. "_The
last time I see a Maine man, suh, was durin' the wah, an' I was chasin'
him with a gun. He was a darned good runner; but I ketched him, an' I'm
glad I did, fo' he was a dam sight better feller than he was a runner!_"

I must confess that when later in the day I saw the old gentleman get
off the train in the midst of a welcoming multitude of old friends, with
his battered old suitcase in one hand, and the slatted soap box
containing the yelping Bobby in the other--all his earthly
possessions--I was glad to feel that he had come "home"; and as he waved
a feeble but courteous adieu to me from the platform as the train drew
out I knew that I had met a Southern gentleman of a peculiarly true and
lovable sort.

One finds much in these little jaunts in the Southland to appeal to
one's sense of humor; but after all there is much more that appeals to
one's sympathies. I had the pleasure of riding once in Louisiana on a
train in company with an old Confederate soldier, who made me as
completely his prisoner in the shackles of affectionate regard as he
might, because of his powerful build, have made me a prisoner in fact
had we met face to face on the field of battle. He was a man of
convictions; but he was always so thoroughly the honest-hearted
gentleman in presenting his points of view that, although we differed
radically upon almost every matter of present political interest, I
found for the moment, anyhow, a sweet reasonableness in his principles.
His manner was so calm, and gracious, and transparently sincere, that I
found him wholly captivating.

His chance remark that he hoped to attend the great Confederate reunion
shortly to be held at Chattanooga, or Chattanoogy, as he called it
(there is always a soft, caressing accent in the real Southerner's
discourse that changes a mere word or name into a term of endearment),
naturally brought up a reference to the great conflict, and I took a
certain amount of human pleasure out of the old man's present content
with the general situation, as shown in the naïve statement with which
he began to talk on the subject.

"You know, suh," said he, "I feel pretty well satisfied with the way
things turned out, even though at the time, suh, I didn't want 'em to
turn out just that a-way."

"We are undoubtedly stronger as a nation to-day than if it had turned
out differently," I ventured.

"Yes, suh," he said. "If we'd got away, suh, it wouldn't ha' been long
befo' the principle o' the right o' secession havin' been established,
we'd all ha' been secedin' from each othah, suh; and after the States
had done all the secedin' they could the parishes would ha' begun
secedin' from the States; an' the towns would ha' seceded from the
parishes--until the whole damn country would ha' landed in Mexico!"

"I never thought of it in that light before," I smiled; "but I guess
you're right."

"An' that ain't all, neither, suh," he went on. "I'd ha' felt a great
sight worse about it if we'd been licked, suh. If we'd been licked in
that great fight, suh, I don't think I'd evah have got ovah it, suh."

I maintained a discreet silence; for I could not but feel that I was on
the verge of a great philosophical discovery.

"When a fellah's licked, suh," the old man went on, "he just natcherly
kain't help feelin' sore, suh; _but if he's merely ovahpowahed, suh--why
that's very different_."

There may be minds to which that distinction is too subtle to be either
obvious or convincing; but the more I have thought it over since the
more has it seemed to me to involve a profound philosophy which would
make the world happier were it more widely accepted by those suffering
from reverses of fortune. To me there was a whole sermon in that brief
utterance, and the difference between being "licked" and being "merely
overpowered" has been one out of which I have derived no end of comfort
myself in hours of difficulty. To be whipped is one thing; to be merely
overcome is indeed another!

Nor was the old man's kindly feeling concerning the God of Things as
They Are, as expressed in words, mere lip service; for in the course of
our morning's chat other things developed which I am glad enough to put
upon record for Northern eyes.

"I wish," said he, "that you might stay ovah hyah at my home a day or
two, suh, and let me take you to one of our Post meetin's, suh. We'd
make you more than welcome."

"Yank though I be, eh?" I laughed.

"Yes, indeed, suh," he replied. "We ain't got anything against you on
that score, suh. My first meetin' with Yanks in a not strictly fightin'
capacity was once when a half a dozen of 'em took me prisoner. I found
myself surrounded by 'em one day durin' the wah when I was doin' picket
duty, and the way they run me in was a caution, suh. They bein' six to
one, I just let on that I was satisfied if they was."

"And what did they do to you?" I asked.

"They near killed me, suh, with seegyars, and mo' real food than I'd
seen in six months," he said with a chuckle. "The' wasn't anything they
had, from plug tobacker and seegyars up to a real meat dinner that I
didn't git mo' 'n my faiah share of."

"And how long did they keep you?" I queried.

"Fo' as long as I was willin' to stay, suh," was his reply. "The minute
they see I was beginnin' to feel oneasy they run me back to the line
again, and turned me loose. Speakin' about Yanks," he went on, "we've
got five of 'em buried in our own Confederate graveyard in the cemetery,
suh; and I'm kind of afraid it won't be long befo' they's six of 'em.
One of yo' old soldiers from up No'th come down here fo' his health last
year; but he's gone down steadily, and I reckon it ain't for long that
he'll be with us. When we heard he was an old soldier our Post sent him
to the hospital, and he's dyin' there now. He seemed to feel so bad
about the idee o' bein' buried in the Potter's Field that we voted to
give him a grave with the rest of the boys, and when he goes he'll lie
with soldiers, like he's allers wanted to do."

I could not find any words in the languages known to me, dead or alive,
to express what I felt, and so I kept silent.

"He won't be forgotten, neither, after he gits there," the old fellow
went on. "We have our Memorial Day, just as you have your Decoration
Day, and every year we go up to the lot and decorate the graves of 'em
all, Yank or Johnny, just the same. We put a little Confederate flag at
the head of every grave that holds one of our own; and every one o' them
Yanks has a little flag at the head of his grave too, only his is the
flag he fought for, just as ours is the flag we fought for. It's a
pretty sight, my friend," he added softly, "with them five little
American flags flutterin' away among the sixty or seventy others."

Verily this Southern hospitality is no vain thing, no mere empty show,
or ingratiating veneer to make a spurious article seem real. Personal
interest may sometimes rest at the basis of a seeming courtesy.
Selfishness may lie often at the bottom of a superficial graciousness of
manner assumed for the moment to conceal that very selfishness; but the
hospitality that leads a body of old soldiers to grant at their own
cost, and to take care of with their own loving hands, a green resting
place, a last sanctuary, for a former foe, that indeed is an unselfish,
genuine kind of hospitality which, like the peace of God, passeth all
understanding.



III

GETTING THE LEVEL


One of the more serious dangers confronting the platform speaker is the
presumption that his audience will not prove sufficiently intelligent to
grasp him when he is at what he thinks is his best. I use the word
"presumption" advisedly; for it is sheer presumption and nothing else,
and I may add that if my experience has taught me anything, it is that
it does not pay to be so presuming. If there is trouble anywhere in
"getting one's stuff over," as the saying is, the fault will be found in
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred to be with the lecturer, and not with
his audience.

My most earnest advice to those platform speakers who feel it necessary
to "get _down_ to the level" of an audience, instead of feeling an
inward urge to climb _up_ to it, is that they give up the platform
altogether, and take up some other occupation where conscious
superiority really counts; say that of head waiter in a New York
restaurant, for instance, or possibly that of literary critic on the
staff of a periodical, whose chief concern is pink socks, lavender
neckties, and the mysteries of lingerie. In these occupations conscious
superiority is an essential of success; but on the lecture platform the
consciously superior person cannot in the very nature of things last
very long: not in this country, anyhow; for, as I have studied the
American people face to face for the past ten years in every State of
the Union, I have learned that their capacity for pricking a bubble of
pretense on sight is surpassed only by their high appreciation of a
speaker who immediately gets into the atmosphere of the special occasion
confronting him.

For my own part, I have come to believe that each occasion establishes
its own "best," and that the chief duty confronting me is to measure up
to the "best" demanded by that occasion if I can. For this reason one's
lecture should be a moderately flexible affair, which can be so adjusted
to each and every occasion that it fits an audience as nicely as a
tailor-made garment. A lecture written out beforehand and committed to
memory can never quite fulfil these requirements. It becomes not a
lecture, but an essay; not platform work, but literary work; should be
read, not heard; and in its delivery becomes not a sympathetic talk, man
to man, but a mere recitation.

No one would be so foolish as to deny, however, that audiences do vary
materially in their capacity to take in the subtler points of a lecture
"fired" at them from the platform. I should not think of using the same
phrases in a talk before a gathering in an East Side settlement house in
New York that I would use before the ladies of a Browning Club in the
vicinity of Boston, or before a body of college professors, or vice
versa. But if I were fortunate enough to be asked to address all three,
I should endeavor to vary the wording of my discourse according to the
several needs of each, and base my notion of my "best" upon the demands
of those particular needs. I confess also that if in one single audience
all three classes of listeners were represented, I should not hesitate
to put my thought into the language required by the capacity of the East
Siders to understand, and be fairly assured of pleasing everybody; for
it is my observation of the ways of ladies addicted to Browning, and of
gentlemen of the academic kind, that they are after all very human, and
enjoy simplicity of discourse quite as much as the other sort.

[Illustration: "The consciously superior person cannot last long on the
lecture platform."]

There is greater sincerity in "playing to the gallery" than most of the
critics of that habit dream of, and personally I would rather fall short
of the expectations of the boxes than fail in the eyes of the gallery,
where reticence in the expression of critical opinion is not exactly a
conspicuous virtue. To put it more plainly, I should infinitely prefer
the humiliation of seeing a highborn lady falling asleep in an orchestra
chair because of the bromidic quality of my talk, than be reminded of
the same by flying vegetable matter consigned to me by some dissatisfied
individual sitting up among the "gods."

An amusing, if somewhat radical, contrast in audiences befell my lot
several years ago in the brief space of sixteen hours. In that time I
successively addressed the Harvard Union at Cambridge on a Tuesday
evening, and the ladies of a Woman's Club in a Boston suburb the
following morning. The audience at the Union was gathered in the
wonderfully beautiful auditorium of Memorial Hall, and contained not
less than twelve hundred particularly live wires, undergraduates mostly,
almost fresh from the football field, or at least still under the
influence of its system of expressing approval.

As I mounted the rostrum bedlam broke loose: not necessarily as a
tribute to myself, but because frenzy is the modern collegiate way of
making a visitor feel welcome. Thunderous noises never yet classified
shook the rafters--noises ranging from the hoarse clamor of an excited
populace at the finish of some great Olympian event, to the somewhat
uncertain cackle of a freshman voice changing from soprano to bass.
Pandemonium did not reign: it poured. Not since I visited the London Zoo
and witnessed there a fight between two caged lions to the excited,
clamorous interest of all the other beasts imprisoned there, have I
heard such a variegated din as greeted me on that occasion, and I
realized sympathetically for the first time perhaps the true
significance of Theodore Roosevelt's "dee-lighted" smile when as
President of the United States he took his annual stroll across the
football field at a Harvard and Yale game, and listened to the "voice of
the people." So contagious was it that I had all I could do to keep from
joining in myself and only the necessity of saving my voice for my
lecture prevented me from being myself heard above the din.

That noise was the keynote of the evening. I think I may say with due
modesty that my lecture had one or two touches of humor in it--three or
four, in fact--varying in character from the "scarcely perceptible
subtle" to the "inevitably obvious," with other sorts sandwiched in
between, and none of them was lost; although I was not permitted to
finish many of my sentences. The audience seemed to get in ahead of me
every time.

The situation reminded me in a way of the grandstand finish of a poor
paralyzed old darky named Joe, of whom I was once told by a Pullman car
porter on my way through Montana. Joe had been a famous sportsman in his
day; but now misfortune had overtaken him, and he lay bedridden, wholly
unable to use his legs, and awaiting the end. Several of his friends,
taking pity on him, resolved to give him the joy of one last glorious
coon hunt.

They put him on a stretcher and carried him out into the country where
that luscious creature "abounded and abutted." The dogs were let loose,
and finally showed unusual activity at the base of a tall tree; but, to
the dismay of all, the game turned out to be no coon, but a particularly
hungry, sore-headed, old she-bear.

As the roaring beast clambered down after her tormentors, Joe's litter
bearers, terrified, dropped their burden and made off down the road in
coward flight, and it was not until an hour after they had reached home
in safety that they thought of the possible fate of their paralytic
friend. Conscience-stricken, they resolved to go to Joe's home and
break the news of their cowardly behavior to the presumable widow. The
good woman met them at the door.

"What yo' niggahs want round here dis time o' night?" she demanded.

"We come to tell yo' 'bout Joe, Mis' Johnsing," said the embarrassed
spokesman.

"Yo' kain't tell me nothin' 'bout Joe what Ah don' know a'ready,"
replied Mrs. Johnson coldly.

"Yas'm; but yo' don' know whar Joe is, Mis' Johnsing," persisted the
speaker. "We done--"

"Yas, Ah do know whar Joe is," retorted the lady. "He's upstairs in he
bed."

"In he bed?" echoed the astonished visitors.

"Yass," said Mrs. Johnson. "Joe come in ovah an hour ago hollerin' like
a bullgine fohty yahds ahead o' de dawgs."

I think I may say without exaggeration that that Harvard Union audience
even beat Joe's record; for they were twice "fohty yahds ahead o' de
dawgs" all the way through, and as for "hollerin'" they were not so much
like one single "bullgine" as like a whole roundhouse full of them,
aided and abetted by a couple of boiler factories in full blast.

And then, only sixteen hours later, came the address at the Woman's Club
ten miles out of Boston; the same lecture, in a quiet drawing room,
before forty ladies who embroidered and crocheted while I talked, and
here the point that had raised the roof and shaken the foundations of
the Harvard Union was greeted by the _tapping of a thimble against the
wooden frame of an embroidery hoop_!

I cannot say which of the two varieties of approval pleased me more; but
I will say that no idea of talking "up" or "down" to my audience
occurred to me on either occasion: it was rather a matter of "getting
across."

One never can tell save by the "feel" of things in the hour of action
how they are going to turn out. Only this last season I found myself,
through a misapprehension of the character of my engagement, standing
before an audience in a New England amusement park on a Sunday
afternoon. I will say frankly that if I had known that I was to be a
sideshow to a Ferris Wheel and a scenic railway, with pink lemonade on
tap everywhere, and "all for ten cents," I should not have accepted the
engagement. While I have admired them at a respectful distance, I have
never envied the wild man of Borneo or the bearded lady their
opportunities for personal enrichment; but on this occasion in some way
or other I had gained an impression that my date had been arranged by,
and was to be under the auspices of, a combination of church interests,
designed to offset the evils of Sunday afternoon idleness in a
manufacturing town. It was a misunderstanding, however, that I now
rejoice in; for, amusement park or not, sideshow or main ring, I found
it an enjoyable and educating experience.

I approached it in fear and trembling, especially when I noticed as I
was awaiting my "turn" the vast quantities of chewing gum that were
being sold to my audience by the inevitable boy with the basket. There
is always something disconcerting to a public speaker in the constant,
simultaneous, and automatic movement of other jaws than his own, and in
the face of a collective jaw, made up of sixteen hundred lowers that
chewed as one, I feared that mine, singly and alone, would find the odds
against it overpowering. Strange to say, however, my real fear on this
occasion was not on the score of my audience, but whether I should be
able to acquit myself creditably before them. I have fondly hoped that
my little talk contained a message, and as I observed these seekers
after pleasure slowly gathering, and taking their places on tiers of
pine benches under the kindly shade of a row of noble pines, it occurred
to me that if there was any fruitful soil for my message anywhere it was
in the hearts of just such people as sat before me--toilers, the humbler
folk, the men and women whose lives had been too busy with
bread-and-butter problems for the acquirement of culture, and whose sole
opportunity for amusement, uplifting or otherwise, came on these very
Sunday afternoons.

There were men and boys there who under other conditions might have been
idling on street corners. I counted three Chinese, several Japanese, and
a half-dozen Negroes in my audience. A dozen women had their babies with
them, and many a small kiddie, too young to chew gum without exposure to
the peril of swallowing it, nibbled and absorbed ginger cookies as I
watched them. The question became _not_ were they good enough for me,
but could I convince them that I was good enough for them. It was not a
question of "getting down to their level," but of my own ability to
climb up to the level of my opportunity. For the time being whatever
superiority there was was altogether on their side, and the point was
how I could prove myself the real thing, and not the artificial; how I
could find the common denominator which would enable us to get on "like
a house afire" together.

As I was speaking the solution came--and a mighty simple one it turned
out to be; for it lay wholly in the simplest possible use of the English
language. "Cut out the big words," I said to myself. "Cut out all
unfamiliar terms. Get right down to good old Anglo-Saxon. Drop such
jawbreakers as _differentiate_, _terminology_, _intimations_,
_implications_, and _psychological_." My chief hope became that I might
once more at least measure up to that condition which was clearly set
forth a great many years ago by a Western chairman, at a time when I was
too much of a novice to do my work even passably well, who said to me as
we walked to my hotel after the lecture was over:

"We don't care so much for your lecture, Mr. Bangs; but we like you, and
we're going to have you back."

Whether or not my plan was successful I shall not attempt to say; but I
may be pardoned, perhaps, for recording here one of the most delightful
compliments I have ever had, paid me by a threadbare workingman who came
up behind me as I was leaving the park that afternoon, and put his arm
through mine as he spoke.

"Are you goin' to speak here to-night, Brother?" he said.

"No," said I. "I am hurrying off to Boston on the five o'clock train."

"Well, I'm sorry," said he. "I wanted to come out and hear ye again."

Bearing upon the cultivation, or lack of it, of the average American
audience, I recall a remark made to me several years ago by a well-known
poet from the shores of Britain, who had come here to lecture on the
Celtic Renaissance.

"I have had a most delightful surprise," said he, "in the wonderful
amount of real culture that I have found in the United States, and
especially in the smaller communities. Why, do you know," he added,
"when I first started in on my work I supposed that I should have to
spend at least half of my time explaining to my audiences just what a
Renaissance was, and the rest in consideration of the Irish movement;
but I hadn't been here a week before I discovered that for the most part
the people I was to talk to knew quite as much as I did about the
history of the movement, and I had all I could do to shed any new light
on it whatsoever."

He had, fortunately for himself, made the discovery at a critical part
of the "lecture game," as some people delight to call it, that it was up
to him to keep climbing, and not waste any of his valuable time trying
to descend to a lower level, if he wished his discourse to be favorably
regarded in this country--a discovery that I devoutly wish some of our
modern editors and theatrical managers, who think they must cater
exclusively to a "lowbrow" audience, as they call it, a clientele made
up out of the whole cloth of their own imaginings, might make.

Our wonderful West frequently affords illuminating incidents
demonstrating the real truth, as discovered by our distinguished
visitor. I remember going a few years ago into a small community in
Iowa, where possibly the English lecturer would have looked for very
little in the way of what he would consider learning. When sitting in
the office of the chairman of the lecture committee, a particularly
alert young man, a lawyer, and a graduate of the Harvard Law School, the
door opened, and a splendid specimen of physical manhood, a typical
pioneer in appearance, stalked in. The chairman introduced me to him.

"Mr. Bangs," said he, "I want you to know my father."

The caller gave my hand a grip that even now makes my fingers ache every
time I think of it. He then led me to a comfortable, leather-covered arm
chair, and, after almost shoving me into its capacious depths, seated
himself directly in front of me.

"Sit down, young man," said he. "I want to talk to you."

"Fire ahead!" said I. "And thank you for calling me a young man. I've
been feeling a trifle old for a couple of days."

"Well, you are young compared to me," he said. "I'm eighty."

"Good Lord!" said I. "You don't look over sixty, anyhow."

"No," he smiled, "I don't--but that's Ioway. I've been farmin' out here
for nigh onto seventy years, and we're all too busy to grow old. We live
forever in Ioway. It's the grandest country on the footstool."

I didn't feel at all inclined to dispute him, considering his more than
six feet of towering height, the fresh, healthful hardness of his
weather-beaten face, the breadth of his shoulders, and depth of his
chest. I contented myself with agreeing with him. And I didn't have to
work hard to do that, either; for I have known magnificent Iowa as a
most salubrious State for many years.

"Well, you see, sir," I said, "we can't all pick out our birthplaces. I
was born in New York through no choice of my own. Some are born at
birthplaces, some achieve birthplaces, and others have birthplaces
thrust upon them--which last was my case."

"Same here," said he. "I was born in Ohier; but my folks moved out here
when I was a babby. I've lived here ever since--and I'm glad of it. Of
course I hain't had your advantages in gettin' an eddication--most o'
mine's in my wife's name--but I've got some, and I've had to work so dam
hard to get it that sometimes I think I appreciate it just a leetle more
than you Eastern boys do who have it served to you on a silver platter.
I didn't know how to read till I was twenty-five."

"I congratulate you," said I. "Considering the sort of things the
greater part of our young people are reading to-day, I wish that
condition might prevail a little more widely than it does."

"That's it," said he. "When a thing comes too easy we're not likely to
make the best of it. When I think of how I had to sweat to learn to read
you don't ketch me wastin' any o' my talents in that direction on
trash."

"Then," I put in, "the chances are you've never read any of my books."

"Not many of 'em," he answered; "but one or two folks I know has read
'em, and they tell me there's nothin' deelyterious about 'em. But I tell
ye it was some work for me to get the knack o' readin'; but when it come
it come! Ye see, when I first come out here they wasn't any schools, and
they wasn't any too much help around in those days, either. What with
farmin', and diggin' food out o' the ground, and fightin' Injuns, they
wasn't much spare time for children to spend in schools, even if we'd a
had 'em. But along about the time I was twenty-three years old we
started one. We built a little schoolhouse, and then we sent East for a
schoolmarm, and when she come she boarded up at our house, and I
celebrated by fallin' head over heels in love with her."

"Good work!" said I.

"You bet it was good work!" he blurted out, with an admiring glance at
his son. "It was the best work I ever done, and the best part of it was
she liked me, and the first thing we knew we got married. Well, sir, do
you know what happened then? You're a smart man, and you won't need many
guesses. It was the very thing we might ha' foreseen. The idee o' me,
the husband o' the schoolmarm, not knowin' how to read--why,
it--was--simply--pree--posterous!"

I don't believe Colonel Roosevelt ever put more syrupy electricity into
the first syllable of his famous "dee-lighted" than that old gentleman
got into the _pre_ of his "preeposterous."

"Yes, sir," he ran on, "and there was no way out of it but that she
should teach me to read. _And she did!_ It was a tough proposition for
that wonderful teacher of mine; but her patience finally pulled us
through, and at the end of about a year I was ready to tackle 'most any
kind of stunt in the way of a printed page. And then the burning
question arose. Now that I know how, what in Dothan shall I read? That's
a big problem, my friend, to a young feller that has earned his right to
literature by the sweat of his brow. I wasn't goin' to waste any of my
new gift on flashy stuff. What I wanted was the real thing, and one
mornin' the problem was solved. A copy of a weekly paper come to the
house, with an advertisement in it of a book called 'The Origin of the
Species,' by a feller named Darwin, costin' two dollars and a half. That
was some money in those days; but somehow or other that title sounded
good and hefty, and I sent my little two-fifty by mail to the publisher,
and within a week or two 'The Origin of the Species' was duly received,
and I went at it."

"And what did you make out of it?" I asked, my interest truly aroused.

"Nothin'--not the first dam thing at first," said the old gentleman;
"except it made me wonder if I hadn't lost my mind, or something. I sat
down to read the thing, and by thunder, sir, I couldn't make head nor
tail out of it! I'd always thought I knew something about the English
language; but this time I was stumped, and it made me mad.

"'There's something happened to me,' I said to my wife. 'I've read this
darned first page here over five times, and I'm blest if I can get a
glimmer of anythin' out of it.' She smiled and advised me to try
something easier; but, '_Not--on--your--life!_' says I. 'I've been
through fire and famine and wind and blizzard in my day. I've seen the
roof over my head burnt to a cinder by savages, and I've fit Injuns, and
come nigh bein' scalped by 'em, and in all my life, my dear,' says I, 'I
hain't never been stumped yit, and I don't preepose to begin now,
specially by a page o' printed words, said to be writ in the English
language--_not--on--your--life!_'

"So I went at it again. I read it, and I reread it. I wrastled with
every page, paragraph, and sentence in that book. Sometimes I had to put
as much as five days on one page--but by Gorry, son, _when_ I got it I
got it good, and when it come it come with a rush--and _now_--"

The old man paused, drew himself up very straight, and squaring his
shoulders he leaned forward and put his hands on my knees.

[Illustration: "If there's anything you want to know about Darwin's
Origin of Species, you ask me!"]

"And _now_, my friend," he said, his eye flashing with the joy of
victory, "_if there's anything you want to know about Darwin's Origin of
the Species--you--just--ask--me!_"



IV

THE GOOD SAMARITAN


If there is any man in this wide world who doubts the beauty and heart
significance of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he need only go out
upon the lecture platform to have his eyes opened. I know of no workers
in the whole field of human effort this side of tramphood itself who
need more often the intervention of the Good Samaritan to get them out
of trouble than the followers of that same profession.

Indeed, I shall not even except the profession of the Hobo; for there is
a certain license granted to this latter sort of Knight of the Road that
is denied to us of the Lyceum Circuit. We are prone to forgive a hungry
tramp for breaking into a casual hencoop in search of the wherewithal to
satisfy the cravings of an empty stomach, and when his weary bones
demand a bed there are numerous expedients to which he may resort
without loss of dignity. I doubt, however, that if Dr. Hillis, or the
Hon. Champ Clark, or my humble self, were ever caught red-handed with a
farmer's fowls dangling by their legs from our fists, or were to be
discovered stealing a nap in the soft seclusion of a convenient hayloft,
we should get off quite so easily as do poor old Dusty Rhodes and his
famous colleague Weary Waggles.

Even as do our less loquacious brothers who foot it across country, and
earn their living by making after-dinner speeches to sympathetic
farmers' wives, so also do we more advanced members of the Fraternity of
Wanderers have often to throw ourselves upon the tender mercies of
others to get us out of the unexpected scrapes into which the most
careful of us sometimes fall. Life is ordinarily no very simple thing,
even to the man who lives all his days in one spot, and knows every
curve, crook, and corner of his special surroundings. How much more
complicated must it become, then, to him who has to change his spots
every twenty-four hours, and day after day, night in and night out,
readjust himself to new and unfamiliar conditions!

For the most part our troubles, such as they are, have to do with the
natural perversity of train schedules, or unexpected visitations of
Nature which will disarrange the most carefully forecast calculations of
men. In the machinery of our existence there are probably more human
cogs involved, which require our own individual attention, than in any
other known mechanism. Even the actor on the road is better looked after
than are we; for he has a manager to arrange for his transportation, to
look after his luggage, and to attend to all the little things that go
to make or mar the comfort of travel while we of the platform go out
wholly upon our own, unattended, and compelled at all times to shift for
ourselves.

I have been in many a scrape en route myself; but so far none of them
has found me without some personally devised expedient for my relief, or
the aid of a chance Good Samaritan, whose constant nearness in the hour
of need has convinced me that there are many more of his kind in
existence than most people are willing to admit. I have almost gone so
far at times as to believe in the "intervention of Providence," and
would quite do so did I not feel the idea somewhat belittling to the
Divine Intelligence that orders our goings out and our comings in.

On one occasion in the Far West I was so close to a scene of actual
murder that I might readily have been held as a material witness, and
escaped that great inconvenience only by pursuing the exceedingly
difficult policy of holding my tongue--always an arduous proposition for
a professional talker. I have faced starvation on a delayed train in
Oklahoma, starvation setting in in my case after fifteen hours without
food, and been suddenly relieved by the wholly chance appearance, at the
tail end of the train, dropping seemingly out of the mysterious regions
of Nowhere, of an Italian driving a wagonload of bananas across the
track, just as the train was starting along on another interminably
foodless stretch; an Italian who with remarkably quick wit--in response
to the lure of a new, shining silver dollar tossed into his
wagon--heaved a bunch of his stock large enough to feed an orphan asylum
on to the back platform.

I have even been threatened with complete annihilation, physical and
spiritual alike, by a man big enough to carry out his threat, unless I
would join him in a cocktail at six o'clock in the morning, and escaped
my doom, not as a great many readers may think, by accepting the
invitation, but only through the timely intervention on my behalf of
the blessed gift of sleep, which descended suddenly, and without
apparent cause, upon my convivial adversary before he had time to carry
out his amiable intentions looking toward my removal from the face of
the earth.

But there have been other times when nothing short of the sudden
appearance of the Good Samaritan himself has saved me from disaster. Two
of these instances I recall with feelings of gratitude, and I record
them here with sincere pleasure, since it may be that my willing helpers
may read what I have written about them, and learn from the record
something of the lasting quality of my grateful appreciation of their
courtesy.

The first of these incidents occurred in the distant city of Los Angeles
on a memorable afternoon when I was to all intents and purposes
stranded; not for the lack of ready money, but for the want of
transportation necessary to get me from where I was to the haven where I
was critically needed at that moment. It was a matter of making a train
or losing a whole chain of profitable engagements, arranged in such
sequence that if one were lost the others would in all probability go
also.

I was due to lecture in the beautiful California city on a Wednesday
evening, and was to go thence to Salt Lake City for a Friday night
lecture. Unfortunately for me it happened that on Tuesday I was booked
at Tucson, Arizona, and with a strange carelessness of consequences
somebody had thrown a glass of water on the tracks of the Southern
Pacific Railroad, and thereby completely demoralized the roadbed. I do
not wish to libel that useful railway system; but at that time the
casual impression of the traveler on the Southern Pacific was that its
rails had been laid on water, and were ballasted with quicksand. It
should be added in justification of the conditions that the
irrepressible Salton Sea, a body of water that has no known parentage in
the matter of sources, or real destiny in the matter of utility, and
acts accordingly, had been on one of its periodic rampages, the proper
handling of which had taxed to the uttermost the ingenuity of the
engineers on whose shoulders the responsibility for the line rested. It
was Nature who was to blame, and not the authorities.

At any rate, however, there were such serious delays on my way from
Tucson to Los Angeles that, scheduled to lecture at the latter city at
eight P.M. on Wednesday evening, I did not arrive there until four
o'clock on Thursday morning, and even a Western audience will not submit
to any such delay as that. Thanks to the quick wit of my principals, who
stood to lose a considerable stake by my failure to appear, another
lecture was arranged for Thursday afternoon at one o'clock, although my
train for Salt Lake was scheduled to leave at two-forty-five. The plan
was for me to take a carriage out to the lecture hall, about forty
minutes' drive from the center of activity, to go upon the platform
promptly at one o'clock, to condense my talk into one hour, to leave the
platform at two, and drive hurriedly over to the San Pedro station, and
catch my train with five minutes to spare.

The first part of the program was carried out to the letter, and at five
minutes after two I was at the entrance of the hall ready for my drive
to the station. But there was no carriage or vehicle of any other known
sort in sight. Through some misunderstanding either on my part or on
that of the local managers, the carriage that brought me out had not
waited, and there was no substitute to be had within reach. What to do
became a most embarrassing question. The succeeding dates had been
arranged in such a way that if I failed to catch that train to Salt Lake
City my whole tour would come down with a crash.

Fortunately there was a rather fine boulevard running in front of the
hall, a rare temptation to speeders both in motors and with horseflesh;
and as my managers and I were standing on the curb, expressing our
opinion as to the intelligence of hackmen in general and ourselves in
particular, and hopelessly scanning the horizon in search of relief,
there suddenly emerged out of the gloom, coming along at a rapid pace, a
horse lover, seated in a light wagon, and driving a big bay trotter of
no mean abilities. He was striking nothing poorer than a two-forty gait,
and as he loomed bigger and bigger as he drew nearer he looked like a
runaway avalanche; but as he came the idea flashed across my mind that
here was my only salvation. I therefore sprang out into the middle of
the road, directly in his path, and waved my arms violently at him. The
driver drew in his reins with a jerk, and man, horse, buggy, and all
came to a sliding, grinding stop. I cannot say that his first remark was
wholly cordial.

"What the dash is the matter with you?" he roared.

I panted out my explanation--how my carriage had not come, how much
depended on my catching my train, and how completely I had relied on
him.

"Oh, that's it, eh?" he said, amiably calming down. "I thought you'd
escaped from a lunatic asylum or something. Jump in. I can't take you
all the way to the station, because I've got an engagement myself at
two-fifteen; but I'll land you at the hotel in a jiffy."

I needed no second bidding, and in a moment we were bounding along at
breakneck speed in the direction of the city. We covered the distance
that had consumed forty minutes before the lecture in twelve minutes,
and all seemed well--only it was not well; for, arriving at the hotel, I
found myself still fifteen minutes distant from the railway station, and
not a taxi or other kind of cab to be had. What was more, the electric
roads were blocked by a fire or something farther up the street. I was
as badly off as ever--and then entered the Good Samaritan!

As I stood there in front of the hotel making sundry observations, most
of them unprintable, concerning the quality of my luck, a man of fine
appearance came out of the hotel and stepped quickly across the sidewalk
to a large touring car that stood awaiting him by the curb. He opened
the door, and after seating himself in the tonneau leaned forward to
give his instructions to his chauffeur, when I was seized with the
inspiration that here indeed was truly my White Hope. Again I took my
chances. I sprang forward, laid my hand gently on his arm, and blurted
out:

[Illustration: "I cannot say that his first remark was wholly cordial."]

"Excuse me, sir, but my name is Bangs--John Kendrick Bangs. I am out
here lecturing, and if I don't catch that two-forty-five train for Salt
Lake City I shall lose half a dozen engagements. If you have ever read
any of my books and liked them, sir, you will be willing to do me a
service. If you've read 'em and not liked them, you'll be glad to get me
out of town. Won't you be a Good Samaritan and give me a lift to the
station? _You're my only hope!_"

"Sure thing!" he answered without an instant's hesitation, opening the
door. "Get in--and, James," he added, turning to the chauffeur, "the San
Pedro station, and never mind the speed limit."

I clambered into the car as quickly as I could, and the car fairly
leaped forward.

"It's mighty good of you," said I breathlessly as we sped along.

"Don't mention it, Mr. Bangs," said my host. "Glad to be of service to
you. I read your 'House-Boat-on-the-Styx' once with a great deal of
pleasure; but there's one thing about you that I like a great sight
better than I do your humor."

"What's that?" I asked.

"_Your nerve, sir_," he replied, handing out a cigar.

We caught the train with eight minutes to spare, and as it drew out of
the station I realized possibly for the first time in my life that in my
particular line of business _nerve_ is a vastly better asset than
_nerves_, and I have faithfully cultivated the one and resolutely
refused to admit the existence of the other ever since, to my very great
advantage.

It may not be without interest to record here that in spite of all my
trials and tribulations at Los Angeles, the Salt Lake City engagement
was lost. Our engine broke down in the wilds of Nevada, and we did not
reach Salt Lake until long after midnight the following night.
Nevertheless I kept my hand in; for in response to the request of some
of my fellow passengers I delivered my lecture that night in the
observation car of the stalled train in the Nevada hills, to an audience
made up of fifteen fellow travelers, the train crew, and a half-dozen
Pullman porters.

I hesitate to think of what might have been my fate had I employed
similar tactics to get me out of such troubles in New York or Boston, or
some other of our Eastern cities. The chances are that my name would
have been spread upon the blotter of some police court as a disorderly
person; but in our great West--well, things seem somehow very different
out there. There are not so many sky-scrapers in that part of the
country, and the horizon of humanity may therefore be a little broader;
and perhaps too the strugglers out there are closer to the period of
their own trials and tribulations than we are here in the East, and
become in consequence more instantly sympathetic when they see the
signal of distress flying before them.

The second incident occurred nearer home. It was in Ohio, at the time of
the floods that wrought such havoc in Dayton and thereabouts in the
spring of 1913. I had lectured the night before at Ironton, and on my
way to Cleveland was to all intents and purposes marooned at Columbus.
Much doubt existed as to whether traffic out of Columbus was at all
possible, so completely demoralized were all the railroads centering
there. It is a cardinal principle with lyceum workers, however, to make
every possible effort to get through to their engagements at whatever
inconvenience or cost. So in spite of the warnings of subordinate
officials I took my chances and went out on a morning train which
passengers took at their own peril, through scenes of dreadful
desolation, and over a disquietingly soggy roadbed, until the train
reached an Ohio city which I shall not identify by name here. While I
have no hard feelings against it, or against any of its citizens, I
cannot bring myself to speak of it in terms of "endearment," as I should
much prefer to do.

At this point our train came to a standstill, and the announcement was
made that it would be impossible to get through to Cleveland because all
the bridges had been washed away. Motoring over for the same reason was
out of the question, and the engagement was lost. I immediately repaired
to the telegraph office and sent off several despatches--to the
Cleveland people, announcing my inability to get through; to my agents,
telling them of my plight; and to my family, assuring them of my safety.
These telegrams broke my "financial back"; for when I had paid for them
I found myself with only forty cents left in my pocket, marooned
possibly for days in wettest Ohio, hungry as a bear, and not a friend in
sight.

I did not worry much over the situation, however; for on several other
occasions when I found myself penniless in the West and in the South I
had not found any trouble in getting some one to cash my check. So,
after assuring myself that my train would be held there for at least two
or three hours before returning to Columbus, I set off blithe-heartedly
to secure the replenishment of my pocket. In the heavy rain I walked up
the main thoroughfare of the little city, and to my great relief espied
a national bank on one of the four corners of its square. I walked
boldly in and addressed the cashier, telling him my story with a few
"well chosen words."

"I thought possibly," said I, as he listened without too great a display
of interest, "that in view of all these circumstances you would be
willing to take a chance on me, and cash my check for twenty-five
dollars."

"Why, my dear sir," he replied, "_this is a bank_!"

I restrained a facetious impulse to tell him that I was surprised to
hear it, having come in under the impression that it was a butcher shop,
where I could possibly buy an umbrella, or a much needed eight-day
clock.

"I know," I contented myself with saying, smiling the while. "That's why
I came here for money."

"Well, you've come to the wrong place," he blurted out. "_We are not
running an asylum to give first aid to the injured!_"

"Thank you, sir," I replied. "You are quite right, and perhaps I should
not have asked such a favor--but I'll tell you one thing," I added.
"To-morrow or next day when the Governor of this State issues his appeal
for aid for the stricken, as he surely will, you will find that the
financial men in that part of the world where I come from are running
just such institutions, and when that golden horde for the relief of
your people pours in from mine I hope it will make you properly ashamed
of yourself, if you are not so already."

It was as fruitless as reading a Wordsworth sonnet on nature to a
rhinoceros; for all he did was to grunt.

"Humph!" said he, and I walked out.

Another bank was soon found, where I secured not accommodation but a
more courteous refusal. The president of the bank was one of the most
sympathetic souls I have ever met, and would gladly cash anybody's draft
for me; but my own check, that was out of the question. He was a trustee
of the funds in his charge--poor chap, apparently without a cent of his
own on deposit. However, he was courteous, and vocally sympathetic. He
realized very keenly the difficulties of my position, and actually
escorted me as far as the door to see me safely to the perils of the
pave, expressing the hope that I would soon find some way out of my
difficulty. I returned to the train, ate thirty cents' worth of sardines
in the dining car, gave the waiter a ten-cent tip, and repaired to the
smoking compartment absolutely penniless. A number of others were
gathered there, and we naturally fell into discussing the day's
adventures.

"Well," said I, "I've just had one of the strangest experiences of my
life. I've been in all parts of the United States in the last eight
years, and never until to-day have I found a place so poor in sympathy,
and easy money, that I couldn't get my check cashed if I happened to
need the funds. Why, I've known a Mississippi hotelkeeper who was so
poor that his wife had to do all the chambermaid's work in the house, to
go out at midnight to _borrow_ twenty-five dollars from a neighbor to
help me out; but here, with this flood knocking everything galley west,
I can't raise a cent!"

And I went on and narrated my experience with the two national banks as
recorded here.

"Well, by George!" ejaculated one of the men seated opposite to me,
slapping his knee vigorously as I finished. "I'm an Ohio man, sir, and
I blush for the State. I'll cash your check for you on your looks. How
much do you want?"

"Twenty-five dollars," said I.

"All right," he said, pulling a well-filled wallet from his pocket, and
counting out five five-dollar bills. "There's the stuff."

I thanked him, and drawing my check handed it over to him. He took it,
and glanced at the signature.

"_What?_" he exploded. "_The Idiot?_"

This was the title of one of my books.

"Guilty!" said I.

"Here, you!" he cried, pulling his wallet again from his pocket, and
holding it wide open, displaying a tempting bundle of ten-dollar bills
within. "_Here--just help yourself!_"

And yet there are people in this world who ask if "literature" pays!

About the most Samaritan of the Good Samaritans I ever encountered I met
in February last in one of the most flourishing of our northwestern
cities. He was a Samaritan with what the modern critic would call a
"kick" to him--or at least it struck me that way. As I made my way
northward from Minneapolis to fill my engagement there I was seized
with a terrific toothache which for the time being destroyed pretty
nearly all my interest in life. The offending molar was far back in the
region of the wisdom section, and inasmuch as it had been somewhat loose
in its behavior for several days I decided to be rid of it. All my
efforts to extract it myself were unavailing, and finally after a last
desperate effort to pull it out myself I returned to my chair in the
Pullman car and informed the Only Muse who upon this trip was Seeing
America with me that our first duty on reaching our destination was to
find a dentist and get rid of it.

[Illustration: "I'm an Ohio man, and I'll cash the check for you on your
looks."]

"I hope you will be careful to get the right kind of a man," said she.
"We can't afford any quack doctors, you know."

At this moment a charming woman seated on the opposite side of the car
leaned over and said, "I do not wish to intrude, but I have seen how you
were suffering, and I just overheard your remark. Now my son-in-law is a
dentist, and we think he is a good one. He is coming to meet me at the
station, and I think possibly he will be willing to help you."

I thanked the lady, and expressed the hope that he would.

On our arrival at the station the young man appeared as was expected,
and my kindly chaperone presented the case.

"He has been suffering dreadfully, James," she said, "and I told him you
would pull his tooth out for him."

"But, my dear mother," said the young man, "we are in a good deal of a
hurry. We have an engagement for to-night. My office is closed, and we
are not dressed for--"

"Thanks just the same," said I. "I am sure you would help me if you
could--maybe you will do the next best thing. I can't lecture unless I
have this confounded thing out."

"Lecture?" said he. "You are not John Kendrick--"

"Yes--I am," said I.

"Oh," said he, "that's different. You are our engagement. Come up to my
office, and I'll fix you up in a jiffy."

So we marched five long blocks up to his office, where I was soon
stretched out, and the desired operation put through with neatness and
despatch.

"Well, doctor," said I as he held the offending molar up before me
tightly gripped in his forceps, "you have given me the first moment of
relief I have had all day. My debt in gratitude I shall never be able to
repay, but the other I think I can handle. How much do I owe you?"

"Nothing at all, Mr. Bangs," he replied. "Nothing at all."

"Oh, that's nonsense, doctor," I retorted. "You are a professional man,
and I am a stranger to you--you must charge something."

"Oh, no, Mr. Bangs," said he, smilingly. "You are no stranger to me. I
have been reading your books for the past twenty years, and _it's a
positive pleasure to pull your teeth_."



V

A VAGRANT POET


The inimitable and forever to be lamented Gilbert, in one of his
delightful songs in Pinafore, bade us once to remember that--

    Things are seldom what they seem--
    Skim-milk masquerades as cream;
    Highlows pass as patent-leathers;
    Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

The good woman who sang this song--little Buttercup, they called
her--was in a pessimistic mood at the moment; for had she not been so
she would have reversed the sentiment, showing us with equal truth how
sometimes cream masquerades as skim milk, and how underneath the wear
and tear of time what outwardly appears to be a "high low" still
possesses some of the glorious polish of the "patent leather."
Everywhere I travel I find something of this latter truth; but never was
it more clearly demonstrated than when on one of my Western jaunts I
came unexpectedly upon an almost overwhelming revelation of a finely
poetic nature under an apparently rough and unpromising exterior.

It happened on a trip in Arizona back in 1906. My train after passing
Yuma was held up for several hours. Ordinarily I should have found this
distressing; but, as the event proved, it brought to me one of the most
delightfully instructive experiences I have yet had in the pursuit of my
platform labors. As the express stood waiting for another much belated
train from the East to pass, the door of the ordinary day coach--in
which I had chosen to while away the tedium of the morning, largely
because it was fastened to the end of the train, whence I could secure a
wonderful view of the surrounding country--was opened, and a man
apparently in the last stages of poverty entered the car.

He was an oldish man, past sixty, I should say, and a glance at him
caused my mind instinctively to revert to certain descriptions I had
heard of the sad condition of the downtrodden Westerner, concerning
whose unhappy lot our friends the Populists used to tell us so much. He
looked so very poor and so irremediably miserable that he excited my
sympathy. Upon his back there lay loosely the time-rusted and threadbare
remnant of what had once in the days of its pride and freshness been a
frock coat, now buttonless, spotted, and fringing at the edges. His
trousers matched. His neck was collarless, a faded blue polka-dotted
handkerchief serving as both collar and tie. His hat suggested service
in numerous wars, and on his feet, bound there for their greater
security with ordinary twine, were the uppers and a perforated part of
the soles of a one-time pair of congress gaiters. As for his face--well,
it brought vividly to mind the lines of Spenser--

    His rawbone cheekes, through penurie and pine,
      Were shronke into his jawes, as he did never dyne.

[Illustration: In the last stages of poverty.]

The old fellow shambled feebly to the seat adjoining my own, gazing
pensively out of the window for a few moments, and then turning fixed a
pair of penetrating blue eyes upon me. "Pretty tiresome waiting," he
ventured, in a voice not altogether certain in its pitch, as if he had
not had much chance to use it latterly.

"Very," said I carelessly. "But I suppose we've got to get used to this
sort of thing."

"I suppose so," he agreed; "but just the same for a man in your business
I should think it would be something awful. Don't it get on your
nerves?"

"What do you know about my business?" I asked, my curiosity aroused.

"Oh," he laughed, "I know who you are. I read one of your books once.
I've forgotten what it was about; but it had your picture in the front
of it, and I knew you the minute I saw you. Besides I was down in Tucson
the other day, and--you're going to lecture at Tucson Tuesday night,
aren't you?"

"I am if I ever get there," said I. "At this rate of speed I'm afraid
it'll be season after next."

"Well, they'll be ready for you when you arrive," he chuckled. "They've
got your picture plastered all over the place. It's in every drug-store
and saloon window in the town. They've got it tacked onto every tree,
hydrant, hitching post, billboard, and pump, from the railway station
out to the university and back. I ain't sure that there ain't a few of
'em nailed onto the ash barrels. You can't look anywhere without seeing
John Kendrick Bangs staring out at you from the depths of a
photographer's arm chair. Fact is," he added with a whimsical wink, "I
left Tucson to get away from the Bangs rash that's broken out all over
the place, and, by Jehosaphat! I get aboard this train, and _there sets
the original_!"

I laughed and handed the old fellow a cigar, which he accepted with
avidity, biting off at least a quarter of it in his eagerness to get
down to business.

"I'm not so bad as I'm lithographed," I said facetiously.

"So I see," he replied, "and it must be some comfort to you to realize
that if you ever get down and out financially you've got a first-class
case for libel against the feller that lithographed you."

He puffed away in silence for a minute or two, and then leaning over
the arm of his seat he re-opened the conversation.

"I say, Mr. Bangs," he said, rather wistfully, I thought, "you must read
a great deal from one year's end to another--maybe you could recommend
one or two good books for me?"

It was something of a poser. Somehow or other he did not suggest at
first glance anything remotely connected with a literary taste, and I
temporized with the problem.

"Why, yes," I answered cautiously. "I do run through a good many books
in the course of a year; but I don't like to prescribe a course of
literary treatment for a man unless I have had time to diagnose his
case, and get at his symptoms. You know you mightn't like the same sort
of thing that I do."

"That may be so too," he observed coolly. "But we've got some time on
our hands--suppose you try me and find out. I'm willin' to testify. Fire
ahead--nothin' like a few experiments."

"Well," said I, "personally I prefer biography to any other kind of
reading. I like novels well enough; but after all I'd rather read the
story of one real man's life, sympathetically presented, than any
number of absorbing tales concerning the deeds and emotions of the
fictitious creatures of a novelist's fancy. I like Boswell better than
Fielding, and Dr. Johnson is vastly more interesting to me than Tom
Jones."

"Same here," said my new friend. "That's what I've always said. What's
the use of puttin' in all your time on fiction when there's so much
romance to be found in the real thing? The only trouble is that there
ain't much in the way of good biography written these days--is there?"

"Oh, yes, there is," said I. "There's plenty of it, and now and then we
come upon something that is tremendously stimulating. I don't suppose it
would interest you very much, but I have just finished a two-volume life
of a great painter--it is called 'Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones,'
written by his wife."

The old man's face fairly shone with interest as I spoke, and reaching
down into the inner pocket of his ragged coat he produced a
time-smeared, pocket-worn envelop upon which to make a memorandum, and
then after rummaging around in the mysterious recesses of an over-large
waistcoat for a moment or two he brought forth the merest stub of a
pencil.

"Who publishes that book?" he asked, leaning forward and gazing eagerly
into my face.

"Why--the Macmillan Company," I replied, somewhat abashed. "But--would
_you_ be interested in that?"

And then came the illuminating moment--I fear its radiance even affected
the color of my cheeks when I thought of my somewhat patronizing manner
of a moment before.

"I guess I would be interested in that!" he replied with a real show of
enthusiasm. "_I've always been interested in that whole Preraphaelite
movement!_"

I tried manfully to conceal my astonishment; but I am very much afraid
that in spite of all my efforts my eyes gave my real feelings away. I
swallowed hard, and stared, and the old man chuckled as he went on.

"They were a great bunch, that crowd," he observed reflectively, "and I
don't suppose the world realizes yet what we owe to them and their
influence. Burne-Jones, William Morris, Madox Brown, Holman Hunt, and
Rossetti--I suppose you know your Rossetti like a book?"

I tried to convey the impression that I was not without due familiarity
with and appreciation of my Rossetti; but I began to feel myself getting
into deeper water than I had expected.

"There's a lot of fine things in poetry and in paint we'd never have had
if it hadn't been for those fellows," the old man went on. "Of course
there's a lot of minds so calloused over with the things of the past
that they can't see the beauty in anything that takes 'em out of a rut,
even if it's really old and only seems to be new. That's always the way
with any new movement, and the fellow that starts in at the head of the
procession gets a lot of abuse. Take poor old Rossetti, for instance,
how the critics did hand it to him, especially Buchanan--the idea of a
man like Robert Buchanan even daring to criticize Rossetti's 'Blessed
Damozel'! It's preposterous! It's like an elephant trying to handle a
cobweb to find out how any living thing could make a home of it. Of
course the elephant couldn't!"

I quite agreed that the average elephant of my acquaintance would have
found the average cobweb a rather insecure retreat in which to stretch
his weary length.

"Do you remember," he went on, "what Buchanan said about those lines?--

    "And still she bowed herself and stooped
      Out of the circling charm
    _Until her bosom must have made
      The bar she leaned on warm._

He said those lines were bad, and that the third and fourth were quite
without merit, and _almost without meaning_! Fancy that!--

    "_Until her bosom must have made
      The bar she leaned on warm_

_almost without meaning_! Suffering Centipedes!" he cried indignantly.
"That man must have been brought up on the bottle!"

I think I may truthfully say that from that point on I listened to the
old man breathlessly. Buchanan's monograph on "The Fleshly School of
Poetry" though wholly out of sympathy with my own views has long been a
favorite bit of literary excoriation with me, comparable to Victor
Hugo's incisive flaying of Napoleon III, and to have it spring up at me
thus out of the alkali desert, through the medium of this beloved
vagabond, was indeed an experience. Instead of conversing with my
friend, I turned myself into what theatrical people call a "feeder" for
the time being, putting questions, and now and then venturing a remark
sufficiently suggestive to keep him going. His voice as he ran on
gathered in strength, and waxed tuneful and mellow, until, if I had
closed my eyes, I could almost have brought myself to believe that it
was our much-loved Mark Twain who was speaking with that musical drawl
of his, shot through and through with that lyrical note which gave his
voice such rare sweetness.

[Illustration: "Suffering Centipedes!" he cried. "That man must have
been brought up on the bottle!"]

From Rossetti my new-found friend jumped to Whistler--to whom he
referred as "Jimmy"--thence to Watts, and from Watts to Ruskin; from
Ruskin he ran on to Burne-Jones, and then harked back to Rossetti again.

Rossetti now seemed to become an obsession with him; only it was
Rossetti the poet instead of Rossetti the painter to whom he referred.
In a few moments the stillness of that sordid coach was echoing to the
sonnet of "Lost Days":

    "The lost days of my life until to-day,
    What were they, could I see them on the street
    Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat
    Sown once for food but trodden into clay?
    Or golden coins squander'd and still to pay?
    Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?
    Or such spill'd water as in dreams must cheat
    The undying throats of Hell, athirst alway?
    I do not see them here; but after death
    God knows I know the faces I shall see--
    Each one a murder'd self, with low last breath;
    'I am thyself--what hast thou done to me?'
    'And I--and I--thyself' (lo! each one saith)--
    'And thou thyself to all eternity.'"

His voice trembled as he finished, and a long silence followed.

"Pretty good stuff, that, eh?" he said, at length.

"Fine!" said I, suddenly afflicted with a poverty of language quite
comparable to his own in the way of worldly goods.

"Takes you here, however," said he, tapping his forehead. "Makes you
think--and somehow or other I--I don't like to think. I'd rather
feel--and when it comes to that it's Christina Rossetti that takes you
here." He tapped his left breast over his heart. "She's got all the rest
of 'em skinned a mile, as far as I'm concerned. I love that 'Up Hill'
thing of hers--remember it?--

    "Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
      Yes, to the very end.
    Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
      From morn to night, my friend.

    "But is there for the night a resting-place?
      A roof for where the slow dark hours begin.
    May not the darkness hide it from my face?
      You cannot miss that Inn.

    "Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
      Those who have gone before.
    Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
      They will not keep you standing at the door.

    "Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
      Of labor you shall find the sum.
    Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
      Yea, beds for all who come.

"Ah, me!" he said. "I've got a deal of heartening out of that, and then
some day when things don't seem to go just right, I sing for my comfort
that song of hers:

    "When I am dead, my dearest,
      Sing no sad songs for me;
    Plant thou no roses at my head,
      Nor shady cypress tree:
    Be the green grass above me,
      With showers and dew-drops wet,
    And if thou wilt, remember,
      And if thou wilt, forget.

    "I shall not see the shadows.
      I shall not feel the rain.
    I shall not hear the nightingale
      Sing on, as if in pain:
    And dreaming through the twilight
      That doth not rise nor set,
    Haply I may remember,
      And haply may forget."

The train had long since started on toward our destination, the old
fellow discoursing gloriously as we ran along, I utterly unconscious of
everything save the marvelous contrasts of that picture--a seemingly
wretched vagabond, held in the grip of a relentless poverty, pouring
forth out of the depths of a rich mind as rare a spiritual disquisition
as I ever remember to have enjoyed. Our destination finally reached, I
held out my hand to bid him good-by.

"I can't thank you sufficiently," I said, "for a wonderful hour. I want
you to do something for me. You see you have the advantage of me. You
know who I am; but I don't know who you are. Won't you tell me your
name, that I may add it to the list of my friends?"

The old fellow's eyes filled with tears. He laid his hand gently on my
shoulder. "My young friend," he said, his voice growing hoarse and husky
again, "_who_ I am is one of the least important things on the face of
God's beautiful green earth. What is really important is the kind of man
I am. _I am one of those unfortunates who started in life at the top of
the ladder and moved in the only direction he thought was left open to
him._"

He seized my hand, gave it a soft, seemingly affectionate pressure, and
walked away, leaving me standing alone, and I have not seen nor heard
from him since.



VI

BACK-HANDED COMPLIMENTS


In a previous chapter of these rambling reminiscences I have said that I
defied any really human man to return from a lecture season in this
country in a pessimistic frame of mind. To this defiance I would add
another. I defy any man possessed of a hide anywhere short of that of a
rhinoceros, or a head of a thickness less than solid ivory, to return
from a tour of our country with any greater sense of his own importance
than he is entitled to.

There are a good many plain truths spoken in the presence of the
lecturer by the good people to whom he is consigned, especially in our
delightfully frank West, where they seem to have acquired the knack of
drawing a clean-cut distinction between the lecturer as a man and the
lecturer as a lecturer. Discourtesy is never encountered anywhere. At
least in the ten years of my platform experience, with nearly a thousand
public appearances to my credit, I have met with it only twice, and on
both occasions in Eastern communities; a proportion so negligible as to
amount really to nothing. Hospitality to the man has always been
cordial; the attitude toward the lecturer respectful. But in the showing
of this respect there is no slopping over, though now and then there is
an atmosphere of reserve in its manifestation which serves the lecturer
better in the line of criticism, if he is capable of sensing its
significance, than any amount of outspoken condemnation.

There is one element in the work of the Man on the Platform that is in
itself of the highest disciplinary value, and that is that in all
circumstances _he must deliver his goods himself_. There is nothing
vicarious about the operation. No substitute can relieve him of that
necessity. The man who writes books, or makes shoes or motor-cars, can
sit apart and let others face whatsoever blame may be visited upon a
middle man for defects of workmanship; but for the lecturer there is no
such happy shifting of responsibility. If people find his discourse
dull, they either get up and walk out, or, as the saying is, they "go to
sleep in his face."

[Illustration: "The lecturer must deliver the goods!"]

Occasionally, however, an ostentatiously emphatic expression of
disapproval gives the man on the platform a chance to redeem himself. It
is told of Henry Ward Beecher that on one occasion something he had said
proved so offensive to one of his auditors, who happened to be sitting
in the front row of a large and reverberant auditorium, that the
individual rose bruskly and walked out. As a sort of underscoring of his
disapproval the protesting soul was aided by a pair of new shoes that
squeaked so audibly as he strode down the aisle that they distracted the
attention of everybody. Mr. Beecher immediately stopped short, and
waited until the dissatisfied person had faded through the doorway and
the last echo of his suffering boots had died away, and then, with a
benignant smile, recited that good old nursery rime so dear to the
hearts of our childhood:

    Rings on his fingers,
      And bells on his toes;
    He shall have music
      Wherever he goes.

It was a bit of ready repartee that captivated the audience, and if
there were present any others who later found themselves in a protesting
mood it is pretty certain that they waited for a safer occasion upon
which to manifest it. Mr. Beecher on his feet was never a man to be
trifled with.

On a stumping campaign myself a number of years ago I was confronted by
a somewhat similar condition. An allusion to a statesman whom I greatly
admired elicited a decided hiss from a group of hostiles seated under
the gallery of a rural opera house. I silenced the hiss by pausing in my
remarks and appealing to the janitor to "turn off that steam radiator,"
since the hall was evidently already too hot for the comfort of some of
the audience. It was not particularly deft, but it served the purpose,
and we heard no more from that particular quarter for the rest of the
evening.

It is a safer rule, however, for the speaker to try to conciliate the
hostile element, and it has been a rule of mine for the last five years
to endeavor to locate such centers of frigidity as may be found before
me, and then direct all my energies toward "thawing them out." Popular
as the platform is in all parts of the country to-day, there is always
present in every community a small leaven of at least reluctant men who
are dragged unwillingly to the lecture halls by their enthusiastic
wives, when, if they were only permitted to have their own way, they
would be resting tranquilly at home, slippers on feet, feet on fender,
book or favorite newspaper in hand, and a sweet-scented briarwood pipe
for company. It is not difficult to locate these sufferers. They are
such conscious martyrs that they immediately betray themselves, and as a
rule while my chairmen are introducing me to my audiences I scan the
rows of faces before me in search of them.

They have certain unmistakable earmarks that betray them to the
sympathetic eye--which, with all due modesty, I may claim mine to be;
for, while I love lecturing, being lectured to or at, as the case may
be, bores me to extinction. I am like those doctors who rejoice in the
opportunity to amputate another man's leg, but would not give seven
cents to cut off one or both of their own.

The first of these earmarks is the expression of the face, which is
either one of hopeless resignation, or full of lowering, one might
almost say vengeful, contempt, as if the owner of the face were calling
down inwardly all the wrath of Heaven upon the lecturer in particular,
and the whole lyceum movement in general. With both these expressions go
arms tightly folded across the breast, as though the sufferer were
really trying hard to hold himself in.

[Illustration: "They may 'go to sleep in his face.'"]

The second almost certain manifestation is in the physical relation of
the sufferer to the chair in which he sits. He makes it bear the heavy
material burden of his despair by sitting not as Nature intended that he
should sit, but as nearly upon the small of his back as the available
space at his disposal will permit. If he occupy an aisle seat, he sits
wholly on the small of his back, with his legs crossed, and his hands
tightly clasped across his freer knee.

Once located, this man is the special person that I go after. It becomes
my persistent effort, and in so far as I can master the situation my
determination, to win his reluctant heart. If I can only get him sitting
up like a vertebrate animal, using his spine like a prop instead of like
a hammock, and returning my gaze with a gleam of interest, I am happy.
If I can get him not only to sit up but to lean forward with his head
cocked to one side, much as a horse will cock its ears when something
unexpected comes within the range of its vision, I feel that I have
scored a triumph. I should say that at a rough guess in eight cases out
of ten the effort is successful, although there have been ninth and
tenth cases that have chilled me to the marrow, and sent me home with
an uncomfortable sense of failure.

My lamented friend, the late R. K. Munkittrick, an American humorist who
never really received the full measure of appreciation to which his
delicious humor entitled him, once when we were "reading" together one
night at Albany, scoring a fiasco so complete that we could only laugh
over it, put the situation before me in terms so wholly comprehensive
that I have never forgotten it.

"See that red-headed chap in the fourth row?" he whispered, as the
chairman was indulging in some extended remarks concerning our greatness
to which we could never hope to live up.

"You mean the pall bearer with the green necktie?" I asked.

"Yes," said Munkittrick, "he's the one."

"Well--what of him?" said I.

"Oh, nothing," grinned Munkittrick, "but I'll bet you seven dollars and
forty-seven cents he's bet the boxoffice fifty cents we can't make him
laugh."

I may record with due humility that if good old Munkittrick's surmise
was correct our highly chromatic but otherwise funereal friend won his
bet. I doubt we could have moved him with dynamite.

But these gentlemen serve a highly useful purpose. They keep us with our
feet on the earth, and prevent us from soaring too high in our own
estimation.

Another effective factor in this disciplinary element in platform work
is the "back-handed" compliment that leaves the party of the second part
suspended like Mahomet's coffin, midway between heaven and earth, and in
some uncertainty as to exactly where "he is going to get off." I have
rejoiced in several such. The great State of Pennsylvania, which has
"officially" done so much for the platform by its liberal appropriations
for teachers' institutes, enabling the school centers to secure the
services of speakers of high cost who would otherwise be beyond their
reach, is responsible for one of these.

It occurred some three years ago, and grew out of an unexpected summons
by wire from one of the largest cities of the Quaker State asking me to
"fill in" for Dr. Griggs, who because of sudden indisposition was
unable to meet his engagement in a large and important course there. It
was an emergency call, which fortunately found me disengaged, and
willing to serve.

The chairman of the occasion was a delightful individual, with a
considerable fund of dry humor, and his introduction was a gem of subtle
wit. It occupied about fifteen minutes, the first five of which were
devoted to matters pertaining to the course; the second five to a well
deserved eulogy of Dr. Griggs for his inspiring lectures and the
uplifting nature of his work, coupled with an expression of the intense
disappointment which he, the chairman, knew the audience must feel on
learning that the good doctor could not be present. I thought he rather
rubbed the "disappointment" idea in a little too vigorously; but I tried
not to show it, and sat through that part of the chairman's remarks with
the usual stereotyped smile of satisfaction at hearing a colleague so
highly spoken of. This done, the chairman launched himself upon a
four-minute discourse upon what he called "The Age of Substitution."

"You know, my friends," said he, "that this great age in which we live
is so rich in resources that at times when we cannot immediately lay
our hands on some particular article we happen to want there is always
to be found somewhere a _just as good as_ article to take its place.
If you desire a particular kind of porous plaster to soothe an
all-too-self-conscious spine, and the druggist you call upon for aid
does not chance to have it in stock, he invariably has another at
hand which he assures you will do quite as well. So it is with the
nerve foods, breakfast foods, corn plasters, face powders, facial
soaps, suspenders, corsets, liver pills, and lecturers. If we
haven't what you want, we have something just as good in this Age of
Substitution. So is it with us to-night. While we may not receive the
all-wool-and-a-yard-wide spiritual uplift that Dr. Griggs would have
given us, we are privileged to listen to the near-silk humor of a
substitute, who, the committee in charge venture to hope, will prove
to be _just as good as_ the other. We of course don't know that it
will be; but we live in hope as well as on it, and, lacking the great
satisfaction that I had expected to be mine in presenting Dr. Griggs to
you this evening, it still gives me a certain melancholy pleasure to
introduce to this audience that highly mercerized near-speaker, Mr.
Just-as-Good-as K. Bangs, on whose behalf I bespeak your charity and
your tolerance."

As a rule I like to play a little with my chairmen; but I deemed it
unwise on this occasion to "monkey with a buzz saw," and plunged
directly into the work in hand without venturing upon the usual
facetious preliminaries. I felt that I had enough work cut out for me
already, and for an hour and a half exerted myself strenuously to be
_just as good as_ I could be, neither more nor less. Then, when it was
all over, and my case was in the hands of the jury, a charming woman,
with a delectable smile on her face, came rushing up to the platform.
She seized my hand and shook it vigorously as she spoke.

"Oh, Mr. Bangs," she said with an enthusiasm so delightful that I
listened eagerly for the honeyed words to come, "we are so glad you
came! _You have made our disappointment complete!_"

Another incident I prefer not to locate other than by saying that it was
in the West--and where the West begins no man may say. I know a New York
lady to whom it begins at the Cortlandt street opening of Mr. McAdoo's
Hudson River tubes, who has no notion at all that anything lies beyond
save the names of a few cities that mean nothing to her, and the Rocky
Mountains. With others it begins on the banks of the Mississippi. Once
in the heart of Iowa, when I was speaking to a young college student
there on the glorious opportunities of the West, in the hope of making
him see how much I appreciated the wonderful country in which he lived,
the young man staggered me with the reply:

"Yes, sir, I believe you are right. _My father wants me to go West when
I get through with my work here._"

So it would seem that the old rime about the little insect--

    Every flea has a little flea to bite him,
    And so it goes ad infinitem--

may very well be adapted to the uses of those good souls who now and
then try to reach the infinity of westernness. But there is another poem
more directly applicable to some conclusion as to the problem, which I
like to think of in moments when I am reflecting upon its cordial
welcome to me:

    Out where the hand clasp's a little stronger,
    Out where a smile dwells a little longer--
      That's where the West begins.
    Out where the sun is a little brighter,
    Where the snows that fall are a trifle whiter,
    Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter--
      That's where the West begins.

    Out where the world is in the making,
    Where fewer hearts with despair are aching--
      That's where the West begins.
    Where there's more of singing and less of sighing;
    Where there's more of giving and less of buying,
    And a man makes friends without half trying--
      That's where the West begins.

The author of those lines, who was, I believe, Arthur Chapman of Denver,
seems to me to have come closer to a solution of the problem than any
other. For our own purposes just now, however, let us say that the
incident to which I wish to refer took place in that part of the West
which lies between Sandy Hook and the Golden Gate.

My audience in this particular spot was delightfully responsive; so much
so that I was all of two hours in the delivery of a lecture that
ordinarily takes me an hour and a quarter to deliver. It was as
exhilarating as a cross-country run, with turf and skies just right. But
for the pauses made necessary by the interruptions in appreciation I
should have galloped across the finish line in less than an hour. So
stimulating in fact was the readiness of the good people before me to
take what I had to say and run away with it, that, while I was
immortally tired when I went out upon the platform, when I finished I
could have started in and done it all over again with zest.

But even with so pleasing a background of responsiveness, there was one
young man seated in the front row who was a source of particular
pleasure to me. He was a rather distinguished looking youth, with
flashing eyes, and somewhat longish blond hair, and a physique that
suggested a modern Viking. There was something in his face that
suggested the scholarly habit--occasionally his expression was wistfully
questioning. His eyes never left my face while I was speaking, and his
physical attitude, forward-leaning, and a trifle tense, seemed to
betoken an interest in what I had to say that was more than gratifying,
and his mouth was kept half open, ever ready for action. If there was to
be anything to laugh at, he at least was not going to be caught napping,
or in any way unprepared, if by keeping his mouth open he could remove
all obstacles that would have prevented the easy flow of his mirth.

And his laugh! I wish I might have a rubber record of that laugh to
secrete in an automatic machine located somewhere in the middle of my
lecture halls, so that in response to the pressure of an electric button
it could be let loose at certain psychological moments. It was as
infectious a laugh as I ever listened to, and there were times when its
contagion brought me perilously close to seeming to laugh at my own
jokes--which is a dangerous thing for a lecturer to do, and contrary to
the technic of the "business," which requires humorous periods to be
delivered with a face solemn to the point of the funereal. It had really
musical modulations, rising from pianissimo to fortissimo on the wings
of nicely graded crescendos, and returning whence it had come with a
sort of rippling gurgle that was mighty fetching.

Finally not only was nothing I had in mind lost upon him, but he
actually appeared to discover subtleties of wit in my discourse of whose
presence I had not myself had the slightest suspicion. It is hardly
necessary to say that he was pleasing unto my soul, and naturally
enough I spoke of him afterward to my chairman.

"Well, Mr. Bangs," said the chairman as we walked back to the hotel
together after the lecture was over, "what did you think of your
audience to-night? Some responsiveness there, all right, eh?"

I was impulsively enthusiastic enough to say that I thought it was a
"corking good audience." "If they were all like that," said I, "this
work would be as easy as cutting calves-foot jelly with an ax."

"I thought you liked them," said he. "Our people here are appreciative,
and they believe the laborer is worthy of his hire in showing it."

"I'll put Blanksville down in my red-letter book," said I. "But tell me
who and what is that rather distinguished looking young man with the
longish blond hair and snappy eyes, who sat in the aisle seat of the
front row next to the white-haired old lady with an audiphone? He had a
wistful sort of face, and--"

"Oh, I know who you mean," said the chairman. "He's So-and-So. What
about him--he didn't bother you, I hope?"

"On the contrary," said I, "I loved him. He was about the most
appreciative chap I ever talked to. He fairly hung on every word I
spoke, and when it came to a funny point I'm blest if he didn't meet me
more than halfway!"

"Yes," said the chairman, "he would. He's half-witted."

My swelling head immediately resumed its normal proportions, and when I
left Blanksville the following morning the only discomfort I found in
wearing my regular hat was that in some way or other it seemed to have
grown a little too large for me, and showed a tendency to settle down
over my ears. I have nevertheless comforted myself with the thought that
sometimes the difference between half-wittedness and genius is so slight
to the eye of the familiar beholder that wise men are not infrequently
believed by their neighbors to be fools. My young friend after all may
have been a poet, and, like some prophets, "without honor in his own
country."



VII

FRIENDS OF THE ROAD


In the days of my cynicism I used to laugh in my sleeve, and
occasionally in print, at the ways of the politicians and statesmen en
route, who have their pictures taken hobnobbing with locomotive
engineers, trainmen, and Pullman porters. Since I have myself become a
professional wanderer and have come into closer, somewhat enforced,
fellowship with these individuals I laugh at the politicians and
statesmen no more. On the contrary I commend them, and I think with
appreciation and gratitude of a poem by George Sterling, one of our real
voices to-day calling down blessings on the heads of these "workers of
the night" to whose watchful care we who travel intrust our lives.

One who makes only occasional journeys by rail is not likely to think
very much about the man at the throttle; but when one has practically
lived on the rail for two or three months running, not only the man at
the throttle, but the man at the switch, the flagman, the fireman, the
conductor, and the Pullman porter as well, come to be in a very real
sense members of his family.

Mr. Carnegie's hero medals are often bestowed, and worthily, upon men
who on sudden impulse have performed some deed of heroism and
self-sacrifice for the benefit of others; but I have yet to hear of one
of these desirable possessions being bestowed upon the flagman who, in
the face of a raging blizzard, at midnight, the thermometer at zero,
leaves the comparative comfort of the rear car, and walks, whistling for
company, back some four or five hundred yards along the icy track, and
stands there with his red lantern in hand to warn a possibly advancing
train behind of danger ahead.

When the ice-incased wires are down, and the signal and switch towers
are out of commission because of the rampageous elements, how many of us
who lie comfortably asleep in the warm berths of our stalled trains give
so much as a thought to the man outside in the freezing cold of the
night, keeping the switches clear that we may proceed, or to the
flagman at the rear, shelterless before the storm, who stands between us
and disaster? Most of us, I fancy, do not think of them at all, and I
fear that many of us so occupy ourselves with self-sympathy on these
occasions that we find no words of commendation in our hearts for
anybody connected with the whole railway system; but rather words of
condemnation for that system and everybody connected with it, from the
innocent stockholder looking for dividends, all the way down to those
poor devils who have forgotten under the stress of demoralizing
conditions to fill the water tanks that we may drink and get our fair
share of the nation's supply of typhoid germs.

For myself, I can truthfully say that the remark of a railway official
made to me many years ago in response to one of my complaints has of
late years gathered considerable force and significance. This gentleman
was a neighbor of mine, and one Christmas he presented me with an annual
pass on the Hudson River Railroad. It was a delightful gift, and I used
it with enthusiasm. One morning, however, as he and I sat together on a
local train that had in some mysterious way managed to lose four hours
on a thirty-minute run, I turned to him and said:

"Charlie, sometimes I wish I had never accepted that confounded old pass
of yours. I've bartered my freedom of speech for a beggarly account of
empty minutes. If it wasn't for that blankety-blank pass, I could tell
you what I think of your blinkety-blink old road. Here we are four hours
late on a thirty-minute run!"

"Why, my dear boy," he replied with an amiable smile, "you are
dingety-dinged lucky to get in at all!"

Individually I have experienced so much kindliness and courtesy at the
hands of the personnel of our railroads in all parts of the United
States that I sometimes get real satisfaction out of sharing with them
the discomforts of travel. I have discovered without half trying that
there are profound depths of friendliness in them which need to be given
only half a chance to manifest themselves. Rarely indeed have I met with
discourtesy at their hands, and many a weary hour has been cheered by
their native wit. For the most part, naturally, my contact has been with
the station agent and the conductor--and the Pullman porter.

While I deplore the abuses of tipping in this and other countries, I
have rarely grudged the Pullman porter his well earned extra quarter.
Perhaps the general run of us have not had the time, nor the
inclination, to acquaint ourselves with the difficulties of the Pullman
porter's job. We don't realize that with a car full of people ten
passengers will want the car cooled off, ten others will want a little
more heat, five will complain that there is too much air, five others
will complain that there is too little; and poor Rastus, ground between
the two millstones of complaint, has to make a show of pleasing
everybody. He above all others would be justified in announcing as his
favorite poem those fine old lines:

    As a rule a man's a fool:
    When it's hot he wants it cool;
    When it's cool he wants it hot--
    Always wanting what is not.

I recall one fine old darky once on a train running into Cleveland, who
was very unhappy over a complaint of mine that, with a car crowded to
the limit with women and children, some cigarette fiend had vitiated
what little air there was in the car by smoking in his berth. I was
awakened at three o'clock in the morning by the oppressive odor of
burning paper and near-perique. There is no mistaking the origin of that
aromatic nuisance, and my gorge rose at the boorish lack of
consideration that the smoker showed for the comfort and convenience of
his fellow travelers. I pressed the button alongside my berth, and a
moment later the porter was peering in at me through the curtains.

"Look here, John," said I in a stage whisper, "this is a little too
much! Somebody in this car is smoking cigarettes, and I think it's a
condemned outrage. With all these ladies on board it seems to me that
you ought to insist that the man who can't restrain his passion for
cigarettes should get off at the next stop and take the first cattle car
he finds running to where he thinks he is going."

"Yas, suh," returned the porter sadly. "It's too bad, suh, an' I've
tried my bes' to stop 'em twice, suh."

"Well, by George!" said I, sitting up. "If they won't stop for you,
maybe they will for me. If any man aboard this car thinks he can get
away with a nuisance like this--"

"Yas, suh," said the porter; "but that's jest whar de trouble comes in,
suh. I been after 'em, suh; but it ain't no use. In bofe cases, suh, it
was de ladies deirsefs dat was a-doin' all de smokin', suh."

And he grinned so broadly as I threw myself back on my pillow that when
I finally got to sleep again I dreamed of the opening to the Mammoth
Cave, through a natural association of ideas.

[Illustration: "I have been after 'em, suh; but it ain't no use."]

Occasionally one finds some trouble in keeping ahead of the Pullman
porter in the matter of repartee. There used to be on the night run to
Boston a venerable chap, black as the ace of spades, but patriarchal in
his dignity, of whom I was very fond. He was as wide awake at all hours
of the day and night as though sleep had not been invented. Like most of
his class, he was inclined to bestow titles on his charges.

"Yo' got enough pillows, Cap'n?" he asked on one occasion, after he had
fixed my berth.

"Yes, Major," I replied, putting him up a peg higher. "But it's a cold
night, and I think another blanket might come in handy."

"All right, Cunnel," said he, adding to my honors. "I'll git hit right
away."

"Thank you, General," said I, as he returned with the desired article.

"Glad to serve yo', Admiral," said he with deep gravity.

"And now, Bishop," said I, resolved to keep at it until I scored a
victory, "suppose--"

"Hol' on, mistuh!" he retorted instantly. "Hol' on! Dey ain't mo'n one
puhson in de Universe whut's higher 'n a bishop, an' I knows mighty well
yo' ain't Him!"

Our dusky brothers not infrequently fill me with a sense of consolation
in difficult moments. Two such cases occur to me at this writing; one in
my own experience, and the other in a story I heard in the South last
winter, the mere thought of which has many times since served to soften
my woes in troublesome moments.

The first occurred several years ago, when the steel passenger cars
first came into commission. Being myself of a somewhat inflammable
nature, I make it a rule to travel on these in preference to the
old-fashioned tinder boxes of ten years ago whenever I can. On this
particular occasion, however, on a hurried midwinter night run, I found
myself in a highly ornate, lumbering Pullman of the vintage of '68. It
was an essentially mid-Victorian affair, and in the matter of decoration
was a flamboyant specimen of the early A. T. Stewart period of American
interior embellishment.

Those whose memories hark back that far will remember that the Pullman
Company's money at that time was largely expended on lavish
ornamentation of a peculiarly assertive rococo style, consisting for the
main part of an eruption of gew-gaws which ran riot over the exposed
surfaces of the car like a rash on the back of a baby. The external
slant of the upper berth in these cars was ever a favorite surface for
this particular kind of gew-gawsity, and no occupant of a lower berth
known to me ever succeeded in getting safely into bed, or out of it,
without having one or more of these lovely patterns imprinted on the top
of his head with more force than delicacy. In collisions the occupant of
one of these varnish-soaked orgies of fretwork had about as much chance
of escaping unscathed as what a dear clerical friend of mine in a lay
sermon once characterized as "a celluloid dog chasing an asbestos cat
through the depths of purgatory." Whenever I find myself on one of these
cars I think instinctively of just three things, and in this order--my
past life, my possible permanent future, and my accident insurance
policy--and try to comfort myself by playing both ends against the
middle.

In my haste on this occasion I had not particularly noticed the
characteristics of the car until I attempted to remove my shoes to
retire. As I sat up after untying the laces I was brought to a painful
realization of the old-time nature of the vehicle by having impressed
most forcibly upon the top of my head the convolutions of an empire
wreath, carved out of pine splints, and embossed with gold leaf, which
served to give Napoleonic dignity to the upper berth when not in use.
The jar, plus the ensuing association of ideas, brought to my mind an
uneasy realization of the probable truth that the car was of antique
pattern, about as solid as any other box of potential toothpicks, and as
fireproof as a ball of excelsior soaked with paraffin. At the moment the
porter happened to be passing with the carpet-stepped ladder to assist a
two-hundred-and-fifty-pound traveling man into the berth overhead, and I
addressed him.

"See here, porter!" said I. "What kind of car do you call this, anyhow?
Isn't this the car Shem, Ham, and Japhet took when they moved back to
town from Ararat?"

"Yas, suh," he answered. "She suttinly am an ol' timah, suh."

"Well, I don't feel exactly safe, George," said I. "Aren't there any
steel cars on this train?"

"Oh, we's all safe enough, suh," said George, with the assurance of one
who is so well intrenched that no foe on earth could possibly get at
him. "De cyar behind an' de cyar in front, dey's bofe steel, suh."

I had never expected to enjoy in this life the sensations that I suspect
are those of a mosquito when he finds himself caught between the
avenging palms of a horny-fisted son of toil, who has at last got a
pestiferous nuisance where he wants him; but I must confess that such
were my sensations that night; and every time the train came to a sudden
stop in its plunging through the dark I had a not too comfortable sense
that when the steel front of the car behind finally came to meet the
iron end of the car ahead, through the unresisting mass of splinters and
Empire wreaths between, I would personally, in all likelihood, more
closely resemble a cubist painting of a sunset on the Barbary Coast than
a human being. I imagine that what really carried me uninjured through
the nervous ordeal of that night was the amused view I took of good old
George's notions as to what constituted absolute safety.

The other incident, as narrated to me by a fellow traveler, has given me
much comfort in exasperating moments. In sections of the South and West
the engineers have not as yet mastered the art of stopping or starting
their trains gently. When they stop they stop grindingly, with jolts and
jars sudden and violent enough to send a snoring traveler full of stored
up impetus head first through a stone wall; or, if it be in the
daytime, with a jerk of such a nature as would snap his head off
completely if the latter were not so firmly fastened to his neck. It is
a method that may do very well for freight, but for passengers and
dynamite it has its disadvantages.

It was on a line renowned for its jarring methods that the incident of
which my friend told me is alleged to have occurred. A train made up of
day coaches and Pullman sleepers broke through a wooden trestle and
landed in a frightful mass of twisted wreckage on the bottom of a ravine
some eighty feet below. The wrecking crew worked nobly, and after
several hours of heroic effort came to a crushed and splintered sleeper
at the base of the ruin. There amid the debris, sleeping peacefully,
with a beam across his chest, lay the porter, wholly unhurt, and
dreaming. He was even snoring. The foreman of the wrecking crew, with
suitable language expressing his amazement at the miracle, finally
succeeded in getting Sambo half awake.

"Wh-whut's de mattah?" stammered Sambo, sitting up, and gazing dazedly
at the ruin on every side.

"Matter?" echoed the foreman. "Why, Jumping Jehoshaphat, man! Don't you
know that this whole dod-gasted train has fallen through the trestle?
It's a wonder you weren't killed. Didn't you feel anything?"

"Why, yas, boss," said Sambo. "I did feel sumpin' kind o' jolty; but I
t'ought dey was jes' a-puttin' on de dinah at Jackson."

So it is that nowadays when these jolting, jarring notes come along to
vex my soul I no longer lose my temper as I used to do, but think rather
of that old darky and "de dinah at Jackson," and wax mellow, feeling
that that story alone, true or not, is a full justification of all the
sufferings I or others have had to endure at the ungentle hands of the
freight engineer at the passenger throttle.

These men on the engines are great characters, and whenever I can get
into touch with them I do so. In some of my zigzagging trips hither and
yon in the Middle and Northwest I often find myself back to-day on some
train or other that has carried me along on some previous trip, and it
is frequently much like a family reunion when I meet the crew for a
third or fourth time. "Glad to see you back," is a familiar greeting
from conductors, engineers, flagmen, and porters alike. There is one
diner on a Western run that I have visited so frequently that I receive
all the kindly special attention one used to look for at an inn to which
he was a constant visitor; and I think it all grew out of the fact that
the first time I traveled on that particular car I summoned the man in
charge to complain of the pie.

"I don't like to complain," said I; "but this pie--"

"What's the matter with the pie?" he asked, bristling a little.

"Why," said I, "it's so confoundedly good that even a whole one couldn't
satisfy me!"

[Illustration: "These men on the engines are great characters."]

Ever since the registry of that complaint I have really had more than
the law allows on that particular car. Preferential treatment that would
fill the Interstate Commerce Commission with anguish is always mine.
Neither the rack nor all the fires of the Inquisition could extract from
me its precise identity, lest its kindly crew be fined for overcourtesy
to a specific individual.

But to return to the engineers: I have always cherished the memory of a
stolid old graybeard in command of a special train circumstances once
compelled me to hire in order to meet an Arizona date for which there
was no possible regular connection by rail. My special started from
Phoenix shortly after midnight of a stormy day, to carry me down to
Maricopa, there to connect with an early morning express into Tucson.
The train consisted of an engine and a single day coach. Inasmuch as it
was mine for the time being, and at considerable cost, I decided to
exercise my proprietary rights and ride on the engine. A heavy rain
which had been falling all day had changed the dry, sandy beds of the
Salt and Gila rivers to torrential streams, to the great disadvantage of
the roadbeds. We literally seemed to be feeling our way along in the
dark, until suddenly the clouds broke away and a glorious moon shed its
radiance over everything. Just at this point the engineer with a
startled exclamation seized the throttle and brought us to a
disquietingly abrupt stop. He whispered a word or two to the fireman,
who immediately descended from the cab and ran on ahead along the track
until he was completely lost to sight.

"What's the trouble?" said I somewhat apprehensively, as the engineer
began examining his machinery.

"Oh, nothing," said he. "I've just sent Bill ahead to see if the bridge
is still there."

"Bridge? Still there?" I queried. "There's nothing wrong with the
bridges, I hope."

"Well--I dunno," said he. "Look over there," he added with a wave of his
hand off to the left of us. I peered across the stream in the direction
he had indicated, and there in the bright light of the moon I could see
that two huge iron spans of the Santa Fé bridge had been completely
undermined by the fierce flow of the waters, and now lay flat on their
sides in midstream.

"Ooo-hoo! All right!" came the voice of the fireman from the dark ahead.

I sat transfixed and speechless as the engineer started slowly ahead and
moved at a snail's pace along the soggy road. We came to the bridge,
which was still standing, in a few moments; but oh how it swayed as we
inched our way across! I should have felt safer if that train and I
were lying together in a hammock. We fairly lurched across it, and I
should not have been at all surprised if at any moment the whole
structure had collapsed under our weight. Finally we got across in
safety, and my heart condescended to emerge from my boots.

"By George, Mr. Engineer!" said I. "If there's any more like that, I
guess I'll get off and walk the rest of the way."

"All right, mister," said the engineer cheerfully. "If you prefer the
company of rattlesnakes and Gila monsters to mine, go ahead--and may the
Lord have mercy on your soul!"

I decided to remain.



VIII

CHAIRMEN I HAVE MET


Sometimes the Gentleman in the Chair is a Lady, but more often he is a
man, and, strange to relate, contrary to the general impression of the
comparative methods of the sexes, the ladies are vastly more direct in
their introductions than their Brothers in Suffering. Women are seldom
oratorically inclined. Men are invariably so--or at least chairmen are.
And as a result an introduction to an audience by a woman is likely to
become more of an "identification of the remains" than an illuminating
explanation of the speaker's right to be where he is; while the men
"pile it on" to such an extent that the lecturer has often to struggle
immortally to make good the chairman's kindly declarations on his
behalf.

Personally, with all due respect to the Lady Chairman, I prefer the
masculine method: not because I like to hear myself exalted to the
tipmost point of the blue vault above; for I do not. It is hard work to
sit still before five hundred people with a smug expression of
countenance and hear oneself compared to Dickens and Thackeray, and
Shakespeare and Moses, to the distinct disadvantages of that noble
quartet of literary strugglers; and I have never ceased to sympathize
with Anthony Hope, who on a postprandial occasion some years ago when I
was sitting next to him, after listening to a few eulogistic remarks by
a speaker in which he was made to appear the greatest Light of
Literature since the beginning of time, lifted the tablecloth, glanced
under it, and in a muffled tone murmured, "My God, Bangs! Isn't there
any way out of here? I cawn't live up to all this!"

Nevertheless, I do prefer the men's method, because it gives me more
time in which to study my audience, and, in so far as I may, adjust
myself and my discourse to the special problem confronting me. In the
one case (introductions by women) it is as if one were suddenly seized
by the scruff of the neck and thrown overboard without even time to say
one's prayers; in the other the victim is slowly and pleasantly carried
upward from the level of fact on the wings of kindly fancy to a
pinnacle of unearned increment of glory, and left there to shift for
himself: to soar higher if he have afflatus enough to attain loftier
heights, or to slide back to where he belongs as gracefully as may be.

[Illustration: "Pile it on so thick that the lecturer has to struggle
hard to make good."]

I have often thought as I have sat and listened to these delightful
flights of eulogy--so like the obituary notices we read in the
newspapers after a great man dies--of the great disadvantages of those
upper realms. It is very lonely and cold up there, and while the old saw
is undoubtedly correct, and there _is_ plenty of room at the top, let it
be recorded by one who has more than once been summarily hauled thither
as involuntarily as undeservedly, that it is elbow room only, with
mighty little solid earth on which to rest one's feet. The poet who
invented the expression "the giddy heights" knew what he was talking
about, and one has but to go out on the lecture platform and try to
stand gracefully on those abstract peaks to have it proved to his entire
satisfaction.

But there is another reason why I prefer the chair-_man_ to the
chair-_woman_, and it has to do solely with the technic of lecturing. No
one who has ever lectured can deny the apprehension of the first five
minutes of the effort. Those five minutes are perhaps the most critical
period of the evening. If the attack is not right, the whole affair is
likely to come down with a crash; for first impressions count perhaps
more than they should with the average audience. If the attack is good,
and the lecturer can "make himself solid" with his audience at the very
beginning, structural weaknesses and an occasional dull or dragging
moment will be forgiven later, because those who listen have come to
like the speaker personally, and decline to let him fail unless he
really insists upon doing so.

Now the technic of this attack, I should say if I were retained to write
a Primer for Lecturers, involves the chairman most materially. He is
the tangible hook on which the alert lyceumite almost invariably either
hangs or supports himself in those first five minutes. Human nature is
so constituted that people like a pleasantry at the expense of some
person or of some thing with which they are personally familiar. It
grows out of the love of the concrete--which is a failure of us all, I
fancy--and in every community there are always at least two concrete
things that are sure winners for the lecturer--the chairman of the
evening, and the railway system upon which the inhabitants of the
community depend. Jests broad or subtle at the expense of either are
received with howls of joy.

On my first transcontinental trip, made ten years ago, I never failed to
receive an immediate response from my audiences when I referred to the
letters N. P. R. R., the abbreviated form for the Northern Pacific
Railroad, as really signifying a "Not Particularly Rapid Route"; and in
other sections of the country served by those charming corporations the
shortest cut I know to the affections of the people is through a bald or
ribald jest at the expense of the Erie or the Baltimore & Ohio
Railroad.

The chairman, however, is an equally safe proposition. He is either a
very popular man in town, or directly the reverse, and in either case
his neighbors enjoy a little joke at his expense. Naturally the joke, to
be successful, must have to do with something peculiar to the moment,
which the lecturer must find in the chairman's opening remarks.
Obviously one cannot be so freely facetious with a woman as with a man,
and if he has been properly brought up does not even wish to be so. So
that the Lady Chairman invariably leaves the speaker with a restricted
field of operations at the outset.

Of course in all these reflections I am speaking merely of the lecturer
who seeks popular rather than academic favor, which is frankly my own
case. I should infinitely prefer to find myself liked by a miscellaneous
audience rather than by a limited company of scientificos who are
professionally more interested in things of the head than of the heart.
It is better to be human than great, and I care more for Humanity than
for the Humanities.

At a rough estimate I should say that in the last ten years I have been
the beneficiary of the services of not less than eight hundred
chairmen, and in that whole list I can recall but one that I did not
like, and no doubt he was a most likable fellow. He was a clergyman and
a man of information, if not education; but he seemed to think that
because somebody had once intimated that I was a "humorist" (a title
that I have neither laid claim to, nor specially desired to win) I must
naturally be reached only by a downward climb from his own dignified
heights. There are individuals in this world who conceive humor to be a
somewhat undignified pursuit, their own education in that branch of
human action having been confined to a study of the antics of the circus
clown, and they are likely to deny to humorists even the right to the
use of correct English.

"Well," said this special chairman unctuously when we met for the first
time, "you are from New York, I understand."

"I have been a New Yorker," I said noncommittally.

"I suppose you know Howells, and Mark Twain, and all that _bunch_?" he
went on, condescending to use the kind of language with which he of
course assumed I was most familiar.

And it was just there that I took a violent dislike to the man. The word
_bunch_, as applied to Mr. Howells and Mark Twain by one of his presumed
education was not pleasing to my soul, though I should have loved it
from a cowboy. It was as if somebody had referred to "those talented
_cusses_, Carlyle and Emerson," and I simmered slightly within.

"Well," I replied, "I've known Howells and his gang for ages--bunked
with the whole kit and caboodle of 'em for nearly twenty years--and you
can take it from me they're a nifty herd! But the other--who was the
other man?"

"Mark Twain," said he.

"I seem to have heard the name somewhere," said I; "but I don't think
I've ever met him, or at least I don't remember it. New York's a pretty
big place, you know, and you can't be expected to know everybody. What
was his line?"

I am not sure, but I think the reverend gentleman woke up at that point.
At any rate he gave me no clue as to Mark Twain's identity. He turned
away, and excused himself on the ground that he wanted to see if the
audience was "all in."

"Don't bother," I called after him. "It will be _all in_ when I get
through with it."

But he never cracked a smile. I presume there were refinements of slang
with which he was not familiar.

As to the others, however, I find as I run the noble army over in
retrospect that many have won their way into my affections, and none are
remembered save pleasantly. Several of them stand out preëminently for
acts of self-sacrificing kindness on my behalf; notably one gentleman in
Iowa who drove me over a distance of eighteen miles after midnight
through a raging blizzard, requiring the unremitting efforts of four
sturdy horses to pull us through, in order that I might catch a train
back East and be with my children at Christmas time, and he was not a
particularly emotional man, or anything of a sentimentalist, at that.

I shall never forget the spur of his answer to a remark I made to him
that night on our way from the hotel to the lecture hall. The snow was
falling lightly when he arrived, but the distance to the hall was so
short that we walked it. As we came to the public square I noticed that
hitched to the white railing about the county courthouse that stood in
the middle thereof were some thirty or forty teams, harnessed to farm
wagons of various types, large and small. It was already after eight
o'clock, and I was surprised to find the wagons there at so late an
hour.

"Your people work late, Mr. Robb," said I, as we sauntered along.

"What do you mean by that?" he inquired.

"Why," said I, "those wagons over there. Isn't it a trifle late for your
farmers to be in town?"

"Oh," he said, "those wagons--why no, Mr. Bangs. Those wagons are here
for pleasure, not on business. They have brought in a good part of your
audience. Some of your people to-night have driven in from as far as
twenty miles to hear you."

My heart sank. "Great Scott!" I ejaculated. "Twenty miles, eh? On a
night like this--I--I hope I'll be good enough for that."

"_I hope so!_" was his laconic response.

The rejoinder was as the prick of a spur, and by its aid, as well as
with the assistance of a delightfully receptive gathering of listeners
who had traveled far to have a good time, and meant to have it
anyhow--a characteristic of your Westerner--we pulled through in good
condition.

When all was over this noncommittal Iowan bundled me up in a borrowed
fur overcoat, and insisted on taking that all-night drive with me
through the raging storm that I might be sent safely and rejoicing back
to my youngsters awaiting my coming on the Atlantic coast. It was
shortly after four in the morning when my train drew out of the distant
station, and the last I saw of my kindly host he was standing on the
railway platform, knee deep in the snow, in the spotlight of a solitary
white electric lamp, hat in hand, and waving his farewells and good
wishes for me and mine.

I rejoice to say that he has remained my friend over the eight or nine
years that have since elapsed, and if by any chance he shall read these
lines I trust they will serve to prove to him that my affection, as
frequently expressed in my letters to him, is still quite as strong and
as deep as one with his capacity for friendliness could possibly wish it
to be. And I wish to add that his figure as it stands out in my memory
has become a symbol to me of the kindness, and courtesy, and
friendliness of the great-hearted people who dwell in what he and his
fellows properly and pridefully refer to always as "God's Own Country."

[Illustration: "The last I saw of my kindly host."]

Another Iowa chairman, whose charming companionship and courtesy I shall
always remember, will not mind, I am sure, if I record here a most
amusing "break" that he made at our first meeting, which, I hasten to
add, he more than redeemed afterward when the stress and strain of the
evening relaxed. He dwelt in what appeared to be a most flourishing
little city in the northern part of the State. I had arrived there early
in the afternoon, and was so much impressed by the clean-cut appearance
of everything I saw that I lingered upon the streets long after I
should have sought my couch to rest up for the evening. The streets were
as clean as a whistle. The dwellings were attractive in design and
setting, and the business blocks were of a dignified if not massive
style of architecture. Best of all, if I could judge from those I saw
to-ing and fro-ing upon the streets, the people themselves were alert
and active.

In view of all this apparent prosperity I was a trifle surprised when
the chairman arrived at the hotel to find him rather depressed. He was a
clergyman, and at first glance seemed to be suffering from profound
melancholy; so very profound indeed that I deemed it my duty to try to
cheer him up.

"What a fine, prosperous little city you have here, Doctor," said I with
genuine enthusiasm. "I've put in the greater part of the afternoon
looking the place over, and I tell you it has filled me with joy."

"Humph!" said he gloomily. "It looks prosperous, but--_it ain't_! It's a
bank-made town. The banks got here first, and induced people to come and
settle on easy terms, and the terms haven't turned out quite so easy as
they might. There's hardly a man in this town that isn't up to his chin
in debt."

"Oh, well, what of that?" said I, still resolved to win out on a
tolerably hopeless proposition. "Of course debt is a bad thing; but
sometimes it acts as a spur. Your people are a bright and brainy looking
lot. It won't take them long to settle up."

"Oh, they look bright and brainy," he returned sadly; "but _they ain't_!
There isn't one man in ten 'll understand a half of what you say to them
to-night."

"Look here, Doctor!" said I, beginning to wax a trifle chilly myself,
especially in the regions of my pedal extremities. "What are you trying
to do, discourage me?"

"Oh, no," he replied, with a mournful shake of his head. "If I'd been
trying to discourage you, I'd have told you about our lecture hall. It's
without any exception the meanest thing of its kind on the American
continent. Why," he added, holding out his hands in a gesture of utter
despair, "why, if we had a lecture hall that was only halfway decent,
_we could afford to have somebody out here to talk to us that
would be worth listening to!_"

The chairman who in the exuberance of his own eloquence forgets the name
of the individual he is introducing, even though he has announced that
that name is a "household word," is no creature of the imagination, and
if the stories that are told of him seem hackneyed, it is not because
they are so frequently told, but because they happen so frequently in
the experience of all platform speakers, and in almost identical manner.
Even so well known a man as Mr. Bryan has suffered from this, one
enthusiastic admirer in New York having once, after a skyscraping
peroration, led up with climacteric force to the name of "our Peerless
Leader, _William J. Brennings_."

In my own platform experience I have had chairmen come to me at the last
moment and confess with most childlike frankness that they have never
heard of me before, asking me to help them out because they really
didn't know "what in Tophet to say." One individual out on the Pacific
Coast approached me one night about ten minutes before the lecture was
scheduled to begin, and revealed to me his terrible embarrassment over
this latter situation.

"I didn't know until half an hour ago that I was to present you to our
people to-night," said he, "and to tell the honest truth, Mr. Bangs, _I
never heard of you before_. Will you please tell me who you are, and
_what_ you are, and _why_ you are? And is there anything pleasant I can
say about you in introducing you to your audience?"

"Well," said I, "if I had known I was to have the privilege of preparing
the obituary notice you are to deliver over my prostrate remains while I
lie in state upon the platform to-night, I should have written out
something that would have been mighty proud reading for the little
Bangses when I sent marked copies of to-morrow morning's papers back
East to show them what a great man their daddy is in the West. But I
haven't time to tell you the whole story of my past life, and there are
certain sections of it I wouldn't tell you if I had. I have been a
Democrat in New York and a Republican in Maine."

"You might at least make a suggestion or two to help me out, though," he
pleaded.

"Oh, yes," said I, "there are plenty of pleasant things you can say
about me. In the first place, you can tell that audience that--"

"Hold on a moment, Mr. Bangs," he interrupted, raising his hand to stop
me. "Just one minute, please! _You've got to remember that I am a
clergyman and must speak the truth!_"

I resolved to let him go his own gait, and comforted him by telling him
he could say whatever he pleased, and that I would "stand for it."

And I must confess he acquitted himself nobly. In his hands I became one
of the Princes of Letters, the titles of whose many books were too well
known to need any enumeration of them there, and as for my name--why, it
would be an impertinence for him even to mention it, "because, my
friends," said he, "I am perfectly well aware that that name is _as
familiar to you as it is to me_."

Another good gentleman in the South, summoned to do duty as chairman at
the last moment, sought no aid either from myself or from "Who's Who,"
trusting, like the good Christian he was, utterly to Holy Writ. He began
most impressively with selections from the Book of Genesis. "In the
beginning God created the earth," said he, and then he ran lightly over
the sequences of created things until he had ushered the birds of the
air, the beasts of the field, and the fishes of the sea on to the stage,
and thence with an easy jump he came to myself.

"And then, my friends," he said, with an impressive pause, "the Creator
felt that He should create something to have dominion over all these
things that He knew were good--a creature of heart, a creature of soul,
a creature of in-till-ect, and so He made man. My friends, it is such a
one that we have with us to-night who will speak to you upon his own
subject as only he can do. It gives me great pleasure to introduce to
you the speaker of the evening, who is too well known to you all to need
any further eulogy on my part."

The good gentleman then retired to a proscenium box at the right of the
stage, where he at once proceeded to fall asleep, and snored so lustily
that everybody in the house was delighted, including myself--although,
to tell the truth, I envied him his nap, for I was immortally tired.

One of the dearest of my chairmen was a fine old gentleman in West
Virginia, to meet and know whom was truly an inspiration. He was a
profound scholar, and had enjoyed the rare privilege in a long and
useful life of knowing intimately some of the demigods of American
literature. His reminiscences of Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, and
Longfellow, and Hawthorne, and others of our most brilliant literary
epoch, were a delight to listen to, and I was sorry when the time came
for us to go out upon the platform. It would have been a greater treat
for that audience to listen to him than to me, and I heartily wished we
might exchange places for the moment. Like a great many others of my
chairmen, this gentleman experienced some difficulty in getting the
title of my lecture, "Salubrities I Have Met," straight in his mind.
More than once during our little chat together he would pause and say:

"What is the title of your talk again? It has slipped my mind."

"Sal-u-bri-ties I Have Met," I would say.

"Tell me again--is it Salubrities or Celebrities?" he would ask.

"Salubrities," I would reply. And then I would spell it out for him,
"S-A-L-U-B-R-I-T-I-E-S, Salubrities. Not in any case Celebrities, or you
will spoil my opening."

"I'll try to remember it," he would say, with a mistrustful shake of
his head as if he feared it was impossible. "It's rather elusive, you
know."

"Perhaps I had better write it down on a slip of paper," I said at the
last.

"Oh, no," he replied. "I think I have it now--Salubrities, Salubrities,
Salubrities--yes--I--I think I have it."

We walked out upon the platform, and the dear old gentleman began a
short address so filled with witty and pleasant things that I have ever
since wished I could have had a stenographer present to take it down in
shorthand. It would have formed an excellent standard of conduct and
achievement worthy of any man's striving. And then he came to my
subject.

"And to-night, ladies and gentlemen," he said, "Mr. Bangs has come to us
to give us his famous lecture on--ahem--on--er--he has come, I say, to
give us his inimitable talk on--er--on--er--"

I leaned forward, and tried to give it to him in a stage whisper; but
was too late. His impetus carried him on to destruction.

"--his delightful talk on Lubricators He Has Met," said he.

Without any jealousies let me confess that that observation was truly
the hit of the evening. The bulk of the audience had been themselves so
mystified by the possible significance of the word Salubrities that they
knew the title by heart, and we began the evening with a roar of
laughter that made us all friends at once. And as a matter of fact no
harm was done; for "Lubricators I Have Met" was quite as good a title as
the other, for my Salubrities are men and women who have made the world
happier, and better, and sweeter, by their kindliness and graciousness,
and what in the world could be more fitting than that the people who do
that should be called Lubricators?



IX

CHANCE ACQUAINTANCES


The delightful author of that most appealing story, "The Friendly Road,"
had only to scratch the surface of things a little to find many a golden
nugget of friendliness and courtesy in the mines of the human spirit. As
I look back on my many thousands of miles of travel in this country I
find myself able to say with equal confidence that on the Roads of
Steel, and the lanes tributary thereto, where few of us would think to
look for such things, I too have found my golden nuggets without more
than half-trying to find them. I have already spoken of my friends among
the trainmen, to whose fidelity and watchful care I have owed my safe
transit and my comfort in many a long and weary stretch. They have been
an abundant source of happiness to me; but there have been others still,
in whose wit and fraternal companionship, and illuminating discourse, I
have found both pleasure and profit. Many of these have been the chance
acquaintances of the smoker and the observation car en route.

It does not happen often here in the East that we make friends "by
rail." Possibly it is because the distances traversed are comparatively
short. Perhaps too it is due to the Eastern Reserve, which is a State of
Mind, just as the Western Reserve has become several States of Being. I
know that the democratic Westerner traveling in the East finds us
apparently cold and unresponsive; though I doubt we are really so. We
are merely hurried, and possibly worried; too preoccupied to notice the
many little opportunities for friendly intercourse that a railway
journey presents.

It is my own impression that the distance to be traveled has largely to
do with this difference of manner between the Eastern man and his
brother from the West. The average Easterner who has never penetrated
the West farther than Sandy Hook has no real conception of the
magnificence of those distances about and beyond the Mississippi Valley.
At times when for reasons of business or pleasure I have gone from my
home in Maine to my encampment in New York, between the hours of six
P.M. on a Tuesday, say, and six A.M. of the following Wednesday, I have
passed through six separate American commonwealths: but in those Far
Western stretches I have time and again spent my full twenty-four hours
upon the road without in any wise finding myself subject to the rules
and regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Out of this rises, naturally enough, a difference in attitude toward
one's fellow travelers. There comes to be a greater sense of a settled
community interest on the longer journey, which brings with it greater
inclination for social intercourse with one's neighbors of the sleeper.

One of the conspicuous results of my contact with humanity on the road
has been that I have come to hold a very high respect for the traveling
man; so high indeed that where ten years ago I should probably have
spoken of him in the terms of our American vernacular as a drummer, I
have now definitely ejected that word from my vocabulary, save in its
narrower meaning as applied to that overnoisy person who beats that most
unmusical musical instrument, the drum, in our modern bands. These
commercial travelers average high in character and in intellect, and
the man who keeps his ears open while in their company can hardly fail
to learn much from their discourse. The best of them know their own
special lines from the ground up, and if my observation of them is
correct the very least of them are authorities on human nature.

I do not wish to boast, but I think that if some emergency should arise
requiring me to prepare offhand an article on suspenders, straw hats,
automobiles, or canned tomatoes, I could qualify as an apparent
authority, anyhow, from things I have heard directly from the good
fellows pursuing those particular lines, or have overheard in their
chats with others, in the smoking cars. More than once I have left a
symposium conducted by a group of these gentlemen almost obsessed with
the notion that our universities might be better qualified to do their
real work in life if the average college professor were able to "get his
stuff over" as humanly, as clearly, as entertainingly, and as
effectively as do the bulk of these advance agents of the American
industrial world. They are, according to their several capacities, full
of their subject, saturated with it, enthusiastic over it, and wholly
unreluctant when they get even half a chance to reveal their knowledge
to a ready listener.

I have met men on the road who were as eloquent on the subject of men's
underwear as I should like to be on the necessity of a cheerier spirit
in meeting the trials of life, and one effervescent soul on a Pacific
Coast trip once held me and mine spell-bound by his remarkable
disquisition on the spiritual influence of comfortable shoes, talking
for a longer time than I have ever yet listened willingly to a sermon on
some seemingly less homely topic. And as authorities on the state of the
nation, political, commercial, and spiritual--well, any kind of
administration, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, would not do badly
were it to summon a congress of these individuals to meet annually at
Washington, to confer with it, to inform it, and to lay before it
anything having directly or remotely to do with "things as is."

They are by nature diplomats, by instinct orators, and of necessity they
are profound students of human nature. They have to be adaptable to
circumstance, ready of resource, and full of tolerance. I take off my
hat to them, and heartily congratulate the business interests of the
United States to-day upon the high character and quality of manhood of
this splendid army in the field of commerce.

One of these good fellows several years ago enlivened me for many weary
hours on a tedious journey from Kansas City to Minneapolis. The journey
was full of annoying mishaps, thanks to a habit some of our Southern and
Western railway people have, lacking roses and other fresh flowers, of
strewing freight wrecks in my path. It is an expensive tribute; but I
would willingly go without it.

On this occasion my friend and I dined together, breakfasted together,
characterized our luck in a beautiful commingling of strong language
together, and together we watched the painfully slow operations of the
train wreckers removing that tributary debris from the tracks. He was
buoyant and undismayed by trial, and for hours he orated eloquently upon
his subject, which happened to be straw hats. When he got through, had I
taken notes, I could have qualified for a University degree upon that
subject if I had sought an S. T. D. (Doctor of Straw Tiling).

The vast gulf that separates the near-Panama from the real thing became
perfectly clear to me then, if it had never been so before, and I knew
how it had come about that a New Yorker could buy a Panama hat for two
dollars and fifty cents on Eighth avenue which on Fifth avenue would
cost him ten dollars; and why a three-dollar Leghorn purchased in
Chicago was inferior to a ninety-five dollar Leghorn manufactured in
Newark, New Jersey, was made so obvious that I have worn neither since.
His discourse was lucid, picturesque, convincing, and so completely
comprehensive that women's hats became no more of a mystery to me than
are those which our truck horses wear in midsummer with their ears
sticking up through holes in the crown. As we drew near our destination
I suddenly observed a smile breaking out on his lips, and a decided
twinkle in his eye.

"Good Lord!" said he. "I've only just realized that I have been talking
you deaf, dumb, and blind for nearly twenty-four straight hours, without
giving you a chance to slide in a word edge-wise. I hope I haven't made
you think life's nothing but a hat to me?"

"On the contrary," said I, "I've learned a lot. You've made life worth
living."

"I get so infernally interested in my business," said he
apologetically, "that sometimes I don't realize that maybe the other
fellow has something to say too. I meant to have asked you this morning,
but I forgot. What's your line?"

I was seized with a jocular impulse, and I answered instantly "Natural
gas."

He looked at me with a puzzled expression. "Natural gas?" he repeated.
"That's a queer business. How do you make deliveries?"

[Illustration: "When he got through I could have qualified for a college
degree on the subject of straw hats."]

"Come around to the lecture hall with me to-night and I'll show you,"
said I.

He threw his head back and roared with laughter. "By George! the
dinner's on me!" he said.

He accompanied me to the hall that evening, and sitting in the front row
gazed at me quizzically all through my labors--full of sympathy and
understanding, however--and after the affair was over and he joined me
for my return journey to the hotel he slapped me hard on the back.

"Some gas, all right!" said he. "I wouldn't blow that out if I could!"

Which I took to be one of the most genuine compliments I have ever
received.

I have never in any of my trips felt myself in danger of assassination,
and yet one of these chance acquaintances of mine involved me by his
love of practical joking in an implied ultimatum from a stranger of a
most awe-inspiring nature. In leaving a California city some years ago I
found myself seated with a group of other travelers just inside the rear
door of the observation car. The train had come to a sudden standstill
alongside a row of flourishing olive trees, and the traveling man (if I
remember correctly he was to Suspenders what Darwin was to the Origin of
Species) jumped from the platform and plucked a handful of their fruit
from branches overhanging the border of the road. Three of these he
passed in to me, and in the innocence of my young heart I immediately
plumped one of them into my mouth, and bit into it.

The result I shall not attempt to describe. Our dictionaries have at
least a dozen separate and distinct terms signifying that which is
bitter, no single one of which is adequate even to intimate the taste of
that olive. There are such expressions as "gall and wormwood"; there are
adjectives involving such qualifications of taste as "acrid,"
"nauseous," "sharp," "tangy," "stinging," "rough," and "gamy." None
suffices. I have tasted rue, I have tasted aloes, I have tasted quassia,
and I have nearly died of squills. As a small boy I once started in to
chew a four-grain quinine pill that had been rolled with no ameliorating
ingredient to take off the tang of it. But never in my life before or
since have I tasted anything comparable to that olive for pure,
unadulterated acerbity. It was an Ossa of Gall piled on a Pelion of
Wormwood--I might say that it represented the complete reunion of that
Gall which the historians of the past have told us was "divided into
three parts"--and I suffered accordingly.

But when I saw that traveling man's eye full of twinkling joy fixed upon
me I resolved not to let him know that the horrid thing was not the most
exquisite bit of ambrosial sweetness that had ever been perpetrated upon
my paralyzed palate. I simply chewed quietly ahead, externally as calm
and as placid as any cow that ever fletcherized her cud.

"How is it?" asked another traveler, sitting alongside me.

"Delicious!" said I. "Have one."

And I handed him over one of my two remaining olives. He was as innocent
as I, but not quite so self-controlled. Even as I had done, he too
plumped the olive into his mouth, bit into it--and forthwith exploded. I
shall not repeat here the appeal to Heaven that issued from his lips
along with the offending olive itself. Suffice it to say that although
there were several ladies present it was verbally adequate. And then out
of the depths of the car, from a physical giant lolling at ease in a
plush-covered arm chair, came a deep, basso-profundo voice.

"_I'd kill any man who did that to me!_" it said, with a vicious
aspirate at the beginning of the word kill.

But there was no murder done, and before night as our train rolled over
into Nevada we were as happy a family as one will be likely to find
under any kind of roof in the far-off days of the millennium.

It is not often that we look for fine literary and other distinctions in
the minds of men engaged in the humbler pursuits of life, and yet from
two of my chance acquaintances en route, both barbers, I have gathered
subtleties of line that have remained with me impressively ever since.
The first of these worthy toilers and subconscious philosophers I
discovered in a Chicago hotel in 1905. I was on my way into Iowa for a
week of one-night stands, having come almost directly from one of the
most delightful of my literary opportunities--Colonel George Harvey's
dinner in honor of Mark Twain's seventieth birthday.

The stains of travel needed to be removed, and I sought the aid of the
hero of my tale, a stocky little chap, whose face suggested an ancestry
part Spanish and part East Side New York. I will say that judged
externally I should not have cared to meet him in a dark alley after
midnight; but inwardly he turned out to be a pretty good sort of fellow.
His speech was pure vernacular.

As he was cutting my hair I glanced over the supplement to that week's
issue of "Harper's Weekly," at that time under Harvey's control, devoted
to a full account of the Mark Twain dinner both in picture and in text.
In turning over the leaves to see what kind of melon-shaped head the
flashlight photographer had given me I came upon the counterfeit
presentment of the group of which I had been a member, and was relieved
to find that the print had treated me fairly well, and that instead of
looking like a cross between a professional gambler and a train robber,
as most of my published portraits have made me appear, the thing was
recognizable, and in certain unsuspecting quarters might enable me to
pass as a reputable citizen. The snipping of the scissors back of my ear
suddenly ceased as I gazed upon my alleged "liniments"--as an old friend
of mine used to call them--and the barber's voice broke the stillness.

"Say," he said, pointing with the scissors point to the portrait of
myself, "that guy looks sump'n like you, don't he?"

"He ought to," said I. "Me and him's the same guy."

"Well whaddyer know about that!" he ejaculated. "Really?"

"Yep," said I.

"And you're from New York, eh?" he went on, resuming his labors. "What's
the name?"

I enlightened him, and received the inevitable question.

"Whaddyer think of Chicago?"

It had happened that every visit I had made to Chicago for several years
had shown that city almost completely hidden beneath a pall of sooty
cloud and lake fog; so I answered him accordingly.

"Why, I like Chicago very much," said I, "very much indeed; but there is
room for improvement here, of course. For instance, Chicago is dark, and
gloomy, and cold. Now over in New York," I added, "we have a little
round, yellow ball that is hauled up into the sky out of the wilds of
Long Island every morning, and it is so arranged that it moves in a
perfect semicircle through the sky at the rate of about sixty seconds a
minute. It is a wonderful invention. It sheds light on everything, on
everybody, and sort of warms things up for us, and unlike most things in
New York it doesn't cost anybody a cent. Best of all, when the day is
over, and we want things darkened up a bit so that we can go to sleep,
the little ball sinks out of sight over on the western side of the
city."

"Aw go wan!" he put in. "I know what you mean--you mean the sun."

"Yes," said I; "that's just what we call it. You've evidently heard of
it before--but why don't you have something of the kind out here?"

His reply was a mixture of a snort and a sniff.

I then went on my journey into Iowa, and at the end of about ten days
was back in Chicago once more, and in need of further renovation I again
sought the assistance of my tonsorial friend. After a cordial greeting
he said:

"Say--I told my wife how I'd fixed you up the other day, and _she'd
heard of you before_. You wrote a book called 'Tea and Coffee' once,
didn't cha?"

"Something like that," I replied. "It was called 'Coffee and
Repartee.'"

"Well, anyhow, whatever the thing was called, she'd read it," said the
barber.

"I have met two other people who have done the same thing and lived; so
don't worry," I observed.

"Whaddyer suppose she ast me?" he queried.

"I give it up," said I. "What?"

"She ast me," said he, "was you so very comical, and I told her no, _he
ain't so damned comical, but he's a hell of a kidder_!"

I may be wrong, but it has ever since seemed to me that there was a
particularly nice distinction involved in this spontaneous estimate of
my character, and it may be that a great many of our American humorists,
so called, would be more aptly described as _kidders_. Our guying
propensities, and the tongue-in-the-cheek style of humor so prevalent
to-day, suggest the thought anyhow that the term _kidder_ is more
discriminating than that of _humorist_, as signifying the qualities of a
Cervantes, a Rabelais, a Swift, or a Mark Twain.

It was in a South Carolina barber shop that the second nicety came
unexpectedly upon me. I had looked for a certain quaint philosophy and
humor among the negroes of the South, and must confess to considerable
disappointment in not finding much of it. The picturesque article in
the African line that has so delighted us in the fiction of our masters
of the pen from the South seems either to have vanished completely from
the face of the earth or to be a trifle shy in the revelation of itself
to outsiders. At any rate I found little of it in my wanderings in that
territory; although a somewhat disagreeable amount of self-conscious
quaintness, "for revenue only," was not wanting among negroes
encountered.

[Illustration: "She ast me was you so very comical," said he.]

But this white barber, an anemic little man, whose lazy drawl and
languid manner bespoke anything but independence of spirit, and in whose
presence I instinctively thought of the term "white trash," gave me in
full measure what I had looked for in the sons of Ham. After sitting in
his chair for a few minutes I mentioned casually that South Carolina
had a "fine Governor," referring to an individual named Blease, who at
that time, occupied the high seat at Columbia, and of whose gyroscopic
talents I had yet to find a South Carolinian of standing who was proud.

"I ain't got no use fo' _Mistuh_ Blease, suh," the man replied, stroking
his razor up and down the strop with a vigor entirely out of keeping
with his presumed character. If I had been a blind man, I should have
felt sure he was a negro, such was his accent.

"I am sorry to hear that," said I. "It would be pleasant to find
somebody in the State who has some use for him; but so far it all seems
to be the other way."

"No, suh, I ain't got no use fo' him, suh," continued the barber. "I
don't like his kind, suh. I have shaved _Mistuh_ Blease many a time,
suh, an' when he was runnin' fo' Governah he came in hyere most every
day, suh. One mornin' I says to him, 'Mistuh Blease,' says I, 'you'd
ought to be a mighty proud man, suh, runnin' fo' Governah of South
Cyarolina, suh, an' sure to git it. That's an honah, suh,' I says, 'fo'
yo' and yo' children and yo' children's children to be proud of.' And
what do you suppose he answered, suh? 'To Blank with the honah!' says
he. 'What the blank do yo' suppose I caiah fo' the honah?'

"_And I've nuvver give him the honah, suh; no, suh._ _Mis_-tuh Blease
done got elected, and I've shaved him twenty times since, suh; _but he's
nuvver had the honah from me, suh. I've nuvver called him Governah yit,
suh; but it's been Mistuh Blease every time, suh!_"

It was when I was recovering from this loyal assertion of the little
man's respect for the Commonwealth of his birth that the stillness of
the shop was broken by the excited voice of a tall, lantern-jawed
individual with a distinct type of accent, who came rushing in from the
street.

"Anybody round hyah knows what it costs to beat up a niggah in this hyah
State?" he cried.

I gasped, and the barber paused languidly in his ministrations, holding
his razor poised like the sword of Damocles over my head, while he
reflected.

"Why," said he, "I dunno aigsactly; but the las' time the co'hts decided
the question I think it was ten dollahs, suh."

"All right," said the intruder, starting to the door. "If it don't come
to no moh'n ten dollahs, I'll do it. Up home in Ferginia, where I come
from, it never costs moh'n five; but I'm willin' to go as high as
fifteen. A coon down hyah at my bohdin' house done give my wife some
back talk this mornin', _an if it don't cost moh'n fifteen dollahs I'm
gwine to throw the critter outen de winder_!"



X

HUMORS OF THE ROAD


It appears to be the habit of every age to lament its own dearth of
humor, and in our own time we have not been exempt from the charge that
we have no humorists. It is my own candid opinion in respect to this
matter that we are confronted by a paradox in that we have so many
humorists that in effect we seem to have none; so much of humor that in
the very surfeit of it its brilliance does not appear; in short, that
because of the trees we cannot see the wood.

A period that has produced a Dooley, and an Ade, and an Irvin Cobb, and
a Bert Leston Taylor, is surely not poor in humorous possessions of a
scintillating character, whether we demand that our humor shall be a
product of pure fun or of profoundly serious thinking. J. Montgomery
Flagg in picture and in text is as much a master of effervescent foolery
as ever was either John Phoenix or Artemas Ward; and in the humor that
is designed to interpret life itself I find an endless store of it in
the works of Wallace Irwin, of Montague Glass, of Miss Edna Ferber, and
of Mrs. Alice Regan Rice; the last two, by the way, forming a complete
refutation of the preposterous notion that women are devoid of the
sentiment that cheers but does not inebriate. And as for the wits, if
Oliver Herford were as lonely among wits as he is unique, I should still
feel that we were rich beyond measure in that form of humor which is for
the most part intellectual, of the mind rather than of the emotions.

But even if the charge were true--which of course it is not--that we no
longer have any purveyors of humor of the first class upon whom we may
rely for a service as regular as is our supply of milk, butter, and
eggs, we could still lay the flattering unction to our souls that
American life is full of humor. If any one doubts the fact, let him
throw himself headlong into the Lyceum Seas and find out from personal
contact. To me it seems to crop up everywhere, and whether I travel
north, south, east, or west I find it in great abundance--humor
conscious, and humor unconscious; humor of the mind, and humor of the
heart, or pathos; humor of situation, and the humor involving a mere
play upon words; humor in all its infinitely varied qualities, and of a
character most appealing. Writing a short while ago of an alleged
similar condition in another field of letters, that of lyric poetry, I
permitted myself the following rather sentimental reflections:

    No singers great are here to-day?
      Perhaps! Let the indictment stand.
    I hear no strong voice on the way,
      No lilt from some immortal hand;
    And yet as on the silver mere
      I float, and towering hillsides scan,
    Deep in my heart I seem to hear
      Again the merry pipes of Pan.

    No lyrics worthy of the name
      Are sung to-day by living men?
    Perhaps! Yet naught is there of shame
      That we have not old Herrick's pen,
    For as I wander 'neath these skies
      As fairly blue as skies can be
    And gaze into two special eyes,
      All life a lyric is to me.

With equal truth and sincerity I could say much the same in respect to
humor, and indeed I might properly even go further. I could not perhaps
say that all Americans, or even many Americans, are lyrists; but I
should not fall far short of the mark were I to say that most Americans
are humorists. In my travels I come across occasional "nonconductors,"
as a clever woman of my acquaintance once called a certain social light
who was as impervious to wit as is the rhinoceros to the sting of a
gnat; but they are few and far between. For the most part I have found
natural born humorists on nearly every bush.

In a previous chapter I have confessed to some disappointment in the
quality of the humor of the negro as I have encountered it in Southern
climes; but there have been, nevertheless, delightful rifts in that
cloud. I recall an aged son of Ethiopia who called for me one wintry
morning at four o'clock to drive me from my hotel at Greenville, South
Carolina, to the railway station. He was a ragged old fellow, and with
his snowy, wool-covered head composed a study in black and white worthy
of the brush of any of our best limners of character. He was as
communicative as he was ragged, and confided to me at the very beginning
of our acquaintance that he had moved away from Charleston to become a
resident of Greenville because down in Charleston he couldn't eat
"pohk" (which I took to be pork) without having to take to his bed;
while in the more salubrious climate of Greenville he could "swaller a
whole ham at a settin', an' nebber hyear a woid from dat old ham
forebber after." His name, he told me, was "mos' gin'rally George"; but
he "warn't biggetty" about what people called him, since he was willin'
to come "ef dey on'y jes' whistled."

The early morning hours were cold and dreary, and I found my fur-lined
horse blanket, as I have come to call my faithful winter overcoat, none
too warm. Noting George's rather inadequate provision against the chill
winds, I advised him to wrap his dilapidated old lap-robe about his
shoulders.

"Ah'm all right, Boss," he replied. "Don't yo' worry erbout me. Dis yere
old obercoat o' mine ain't much to look at; but hit's on de job jes' de
same." He gave a most amusing chuckle. "Yo'd ought to hyear mah fambly
takin' on erbout dis yere old obercoat!" he said. "Dey's kind o' proudy
folks, an' dey don't like it. Dey says hit don't look neat; but Ah tell
'um Ah'm a gwine t' wear hit jes' de same, neat er no neat--_de
undahtakah, he mek yo' look neat_!"

From which I deduced that George was not only a humorist, but in a fair
way to qualify as a philosopher as well.

Two days later I happened to be at Atlanta, Georgia, over Lincoln's
Birthday, and it pleased me beyond measure to find printed on the first
page of one of the prominent daily newspapers of that beautiful city a
three-column cut of Abraham Lincoln, with a suitable tribute in verse
from one of America's leading syndicate poets. I had myself for reasons
of taste, and in order to give no offense to my kindly hosts throughout
the Southland, omitted from my discourse passing references to certain
great figures of the Civil War; but on seeing this very notable
recognition by his old-time adversaries of the great virtues of our
martyred President, I hesitated no longer in respect to these
references, and from that time on reverted to the original form of my
talk.

After eating my breakfast on this morning of the eleventh I dallied for
awhile in the office of the massive Georgian Terrace Hotel, smoking my
cigar, and glancing over the news in the paper. As I was about to toss
the paper aside a fine old type of your Southern gentleman seated
himself on the divan alongside of me, and in the usual courteous
fashion of the country gave me a morning salutation. I responded in
kind, and then tapping my paper observed:

"That is a fine picture of Lincoln."

"Yes, suh, a verruh fine picture, suh," he replied. "I never had the
honah of seein' Mistuh Lincoln, suh; but from all I hyear, suh, he must
have resembled that picture pretty close, suh."

"It is a delight to me to find it in one of your Southern newspapers,"
said I, "especially in one so influential in the South as this."

"Yes, suh," he answered. "It shows that the South is not slow to
recognize genius, suh, wherever it is found, suh. But," he added, "there
is no occasion for surprise, suh. We have always appreciated Mr.
Lincoln's greatness down hyear, and we have admiahed him, suh; _though
we have had reason to believe that durin' the late onpleasantness, suh,
he was consid'rable of a No'thern sympathizah, suh_."

Conspicuous in my memory for both his conscious wit and his unconscious
humor is a strapping negro I encountered at a junction down in Alabama
last winter. I was marooned there for five weary hours, receiving at
the hands of its natives as high a courtesy and as fearful food as I
have ever yet had presented to me. The colored porter at the hotel had a
face as black as the ace of spades, and as childlike and bland as it was
black. He seemed to take a tremendous interest in me, especially in my
fur overcoat, which he appeared to think must "ha cost as much as eight
dollahs," and he plied me with questions as we stood on the railway
platform waiting for my train into Birmingham for a full hour that
nearly drove me to despair. I have not space for that illuminating
interchange of ideas in all its verbal fullness; but part of it ran in
this wise:

"Whar yo' come from?"

"Maine," said I.

"Maine?" he repeated. "What's Maine?"

"Why, Maine--Maine is a State," said I. "And it's a nice one too," I
added.

"Oh, yaas," he said. "Hit's ober yander, ain't it?" he continued, with a
wave of his hand sweeping enough to take in the whole universe.

"Yes," said I, "away over yonder. It's down East."

"Got any children?" he queried.

"Yes," said I, "I've got two sons in Detroit, and--"

"Dee-troit, eh?" he interrupted. "Yaas, suh, Ah've heerd o' Dee-troit.
Dee-troit's a nice State too--a mighty nice State--a nice State to have
two sons at, Ah reckon. So yo' was born in Dee-troit, was yuh?"

"No," I replied, "I wasn't born at Detroit; I was born at Yonkers--"

"O-o-oh! So yo' was born at Yonkers, was yuh? Yaas, suh--Yonkers! Ah
don't know much erbout Yonkers; but Ah guess Yonkers is a nice State
too, ain't it?"

"Well," I laughed, "yes--Yonkers is a pretty nice State too--what you
might call a Comatose State; but--"

"Yaas, suh--Ah've heern tell dat Yonkers was one o' dem cummytoe States,
an' Ah guess dat's a pretty good kind ob a State to be bohn in. What yo'
sellin'?" This with a hasty glance at my suitcase.

"Brains," said I.

"Lawsy me! Sellin' brains, eh?" said he. "Waal, suh, Ah'm sorry. Yo'
look so kind o' set up Ah thought yo' was a-sellin' seegyars. Yaas,
suh--Ah'd hoped yo' was." He gazed wistfully along the shining rails.
"Dem seegyar drummahs is mighty free wid deir samples, suh," he
continued, "and Ah been a hopin' yo'd be able to spar' me a han'ful like
de res' ob 'em does. But ef yo're dealin' in brains, hit ain't _likely
yo' got enough to gib any away_."

I may add that his disappointment was short-lived; for before we parted
I took him across to the general store that fronted on the railroad
track, and by the judicious expenditure of a quarter bought him a supply
of his favorite brand large enough to last him a week. A single one of
them would have done for me forever.

Repartee has always been a characteristic gift of the American people,
due no doubt to a political system that turns almost every community
into a debating society at least once a year, and sometimes oftener.
Readiness of verbal retort has thereby become an inheritance that grows
richer in the squandering of it. It has been a quality so conspicuous
that it has led a great many people, justly or otherwise, to assert that
there are more really good jokes to be found in the course of a year in
the columns of the "Congressional Record" than in the cleverest of the
world's comic papers. However this may be, I know that one of the
zestful things about a lecturer's life is the jestful thing that lurks
at his side almost everywhere he turns.

I have had many proofs of this in my own wanderings; some direct, and
some at long range. An amusing instance of the long-range retort
occurred some years ago when I found in my mail one morning a letter
from a gentleman living in Wyoming, an entire stranger to me, who said
that he had heard from a friend that I wrote after-dinner speeches for
others as part of my professional work.

     Somehow or other [he continued] I have managed to get a reputation
     as a wit which I don't deserve; but I've got to live up to it, or
     go under. Now it has occurred to me that since you are in the
     business of writing after-dinner speeches for others you might turn
     out three crackajacks for me.

[Illustration: "If yo're dealin' in brains, hit ain't likely yo' got
enough to gib any away."]

     So, without beating about the bush any longer, I want to ask you
     what you would charge me for three ripsnorters lasting about a half
     an hour each, speaking at the rate of a hundred and fifty words a
     minute, on the subjects of "Our Glorious Commonwealth," "The
     Star-Spangled Banner," and "The Ladies." If your terms are not too
     high, I shall be glad to give you the order.

I cannot say whether my sensations upon reading this delightful
communication were more of amazement or of amusement, but after due
deliberation I decided to answer the letter in a facetious spirit.

     I have your esteemed favor of Thursday last [I wrote], and beg to
     say that my regular charge for a single speech such as you require,
     suitable for delivery before a mixed gathering of ladies and
     gentlemen, has invariably been $1,000 in the past; but since your
     proposition is more or less on a wholesale basis, and business is
     slack, I will make an exception in your case and give you the
     special terms of $750 per, F. O. B. I must insist, however, that
     you regard these terms as strictly confidential; for it might
     involve me in serious complications if Mr. Choate, and Gen. Horace
     Porter, and Senator Blank were to learn that I was cutting rates.
     They have been among my best customers for many years, and for
     their own sakes, as well as for my own, I do not wish to lose their
     trade.

This letter, which I felt tolerably sure would end the matter once and
for all, was mailed, and within a week brought me the following
telegraphic response:

     _If you write Senator Blank's speeches, I don't want one from you
     at any price._

It added not a little to the poignancy of this retort that the telegram
was sent "collect."

Another example of ready American facetiousness cheered a dull day for
me last year in Tennessee. I was booked to lecture before a charming
collegiate community at Blue Mountain, Mississippi, and to get there
from Memphis was required to make a railway connection at a curious
little town called Middleton. Middleton was an amazing concoction of
piccaninnies, waste paper, inactive whites, and germ suggestion. Mr.
Goldberg, the cartoonist, would probably have referred to it if he had
been along with me as the town that put the Junk in Junction, and upon
its dilapidated railway platform I was compelled to wait for six mortal
hours, hungry and thirsty, but fearing to assuage the one or quench the
other for fear of internal complications beyond the reach of medical
science. If I had never believed in the hookworm before, I became an
abject coward in the fear of it then.

Middleton's chief excuse for being appeared to be that it was the
terminus of a featherbed affair called the New Orleans, Mobile &
Chicago Railway, possibly in ironic reference to the fact that as far as
I could learn it did not touch any point within two hundred miles of any
one of those cities. I imagine that the mileage of the New Orleans,
Mobile & Chicago Railway, or at least that particular section of it, was
somewhere between thirty-seven and thirty-eight miles linear measure;
though in the matter of jolting, careening, sliding, skidding, and
galumphing along generally, its emotional mileage was incalculable, and
the effect of a ride from Middleton at one end to New Albany at the
other on the liver surpassed that of all the great transcontinental
systems rolled into one.

From what I could gather in casual conversation with such bureaus of
information as were available at Middleton its trains ran anywhere from
twenty-seven hours to a year and six months late. I will say on behalf
of its management, however, that after trying it once I concluded that
it was a miracle it ran at all. Three or four times in the course of my
waiting I decided to give up the quest of Blue Mountain altogether and
to return to Memphis; but hope has always sprung eternal in my breast,
and each resolution to quit the game was superseded by some kind of
optimistic spiritual reassurance that held me true to my obligations.

Ultimately my optimism was justified, and a panting little combination
of whirring wheels and iron rust wheezed into view, dragging a passenger
car of I should say the vintage of 1852, and a shamefully big and modern
freight car after it. A Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Locomotives would have had everybody connected with the institution
indicted then and there, and I was again strongly inclined to give up my
effort to get through. It seemed the very height of inhumanity to ask
that poor little engine to carry my added weight. I should have much
preferred to lift it tenderly in my arms from the track, and put it into
the freight car, and pull the train to Blue Mountain myself; at any
rate, that seemed the most reasonable and the only really kind thing to
do at the moment.

Nevertheless I boarded the train, having first invested fifty cents in
twenty-fours' worth of postal card accident insurance at the ticket
office window and mailed it to my executors. In a couple of hours we
were sliding and bumping down grade through an oozy morass over tracks
ballasted with something having the consistency of oatmeal mush
liberally diluted with skim milk. We slid over the first half-mile in
about fifteen seconds, thanks to the weight of that shameless freight
car at the rear, which pushed the rest of us along at a terrific rate of
speed; but things were averaged up when we came to an upgrade, which, on
a rough estimate, I should say we accomplished at the rate of about a
mile a week. After awhile the conductor appeared--a nice, genial, kindly
soul, who inspired me with a confidence I had not yet managed to acquire
in the road itself. He was so smiling and serenely unaffected by what
loomed dark as dangers to me that I was soon feeling rather ashamed of
myself for being so full of coward fears, and it was not long before in
my mind I was singing those beautiful lines of Browning:

    The year's at the spring,
    And day's at the morn;
    Morning's at seven;
    The hillside's dew-pearled;
    The lark's on the wing;
    The snail's on the thorn;
    God's in his heaven--
    All's right with the world!

And as I was humming this comforting assurance to myself there broke
upon the silence of the car the following colloquy:

"Howdy, Sam!" this from a fellow traveler sprawled comfortably in the
seat just back of me.

[Illustration: "A Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Locomotives
would have had them indicted then and there."]

"Howdy, Jim!" this from the smiling conductor.

"How long you been with this hyere road, Sam?" asked the fellow
traveler.

"Seven years last March, Jim," replied the conductor.

"_My Gord, Sam!_" cried the fellow traveler, sitting up. "_This must be
your second trip!_"

As for subtle humor of a rather sly sort, perhaps the best example I
know of was a little jest perpetrated at the expense of one to whom I
shall refer as my Only Muse, who, I rejoice to say, accompanies me upon
most of my trips. She was with me once in Iowa when we were stranded at
an interesting little railway crossing for several hours. The place
consisted wholly of some stock-yards, a general store, and a small
wooden cot which passed for a hotel, in which we found every comfort
that courtesy could provide, even if some of the rather material
necessities of life were lacking.

We took dinner at the hotel. Seated opposite us at table were two
farmers, one a handsome middle-aged man, and the other a man wizened and
gray, with a weather-beaten face, and a kindly eye; seventy years old, I
imagine, but still as active and as interested in life as a boy, as all
Iowans, irrespective of foolish years, seem to be. One or two little
courtesies of the table started an acquaintance, and naturally enough I
was asked my business in the State.

"Oh, I am out here lecturing," I said.

"Well, we're farmers," said the old man.

Now the Only Muse takes a great interest in farming. She raises herself
most of the vegetables we consume at home, and one of my ambitions has
always been to set her up as the presiding Deity over a real farm some
day when the lure of the platform no longer operates to drag me off into
distant scenes. She had taken a course of lectures on farming at
Columbia University, and was enthusiastically full of the subject at the
time. Wherefore it happened that when my vis-à-vis announced that he was
a farmer it was the best kind of opening for the conversational powers
of the Only Muse--which to say the least are generally adequate--and she
made the most of it. She talked of apples, corn, cows, and bees. She
dilated eloquently upon the value of persistent "cultivation," and as I
sat listening admiringly to her evidently masterful handling of her
varied subjects I suddenly became conscious of the old man's eye
twinkling across the table at me, and then, as the Only Muse paused to
catch her breath for further disquisition, he leaned forward, and with
seemingly innocent curiosity asked:

"_Which one o' ye does the lecturin'?_" I trust that the outburst of
merriment that greeted his query conveyed to his mind with perfect
clarity the fact that there are no professional jealousies in my
household.

At any rate this, with the wonderfully witty response of a distinguished
railway president to certain reflections I had made in an after-dinner
speech on his road, appeals to me as one of the most delicately subtle
bits of wit I have encountered anywhere in real life--which life on the
road undoubtedly is.

That the reader may judge for himself if the railway president was
wittier than the Iowa farmer or not, I will close this chapter with a
short narration of that incident.

The gentleman in question was Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore
& Ohio, who on an occasion in New York listened courteously to some
facetious observations I had to make on the subject of the wonders of
the B. & O., and two days later heaped coals of fire upon my head by
sending me by mail a pass over his railroad. I was of course delighted;
but before using it decided to read carefully the "conditions and
limitations named on the reverse side," under which it was issued. I
turned the treasure over and read the following:

     This pass will be accepted for transportation WHEN ACCOMPANIED BY
     CERTIFICATE of Company's Agent, attested by office-stamp, that the
     bearer has presented evidence of being HOPELESSLY INDIGENT,
     DESTITUTE, AND HOMELESS, or an INMATE OF A CHARITABLE OR
     ELEEMOSYNARY INSTITUTION, a SOLDIER or SAILOR about to enter either
     a NATIONAL HOME or "A HOUSE BOAT ON THE STYX," or otherwise
     qualified as entitled to free transportation under Federal or State
     Laws.

I do not remember whether or not I ever thanked Mr. Willard for this
courtesy; but if I did not I do so now, and beg to assure him that I
would not exchange that little document to-day for a controlling
interest in his road. I am not much of a business man, but I have a keen
sense of relative values.



XI

MINE HOST


    Whoe'er has traveled life's dull round,
      Where'er his stages may have been,
    May sigh to think he still has found
      The warmest welcome at an inn.

So wrote William Shenstone, a minor poet of England in those brilliant
days that produced Addison, and Swift, and Richard Steele, and our own
great philosopher and humorist Benjamin Franklin. I used formerly to
sympathize deeply with the poet's sentiment, so charmingly expressed,
and in a certain way I do so still; but in the last decade, involving so
much wandering, and so many inns of varied degrees of excellence, I have
found that my sympathy with Shenstone's thought has undergone
considerable modification. I should indeed sigh to think that I had
found my warmest welcome at an inn; but I should hesitate to indorse any
sentiment that would seem to underestimate the value of the
whole-souled, genial character of Mine Host, as I have encountered him
in all parts of the United States.

While I cannot truthfully say that I think we Americans have a genius
for hotel management, such as our cousins of Switzerland, for instance,
appear to have, I can at least say that I believe we have a natural
aptitude for a peculiarly delightful kind of spontaneous hospitality, of
which I have been for years the grateful beneficiary. If a hotel were a
thing of the spirit solely, I should say that the hostelries of the
United States, taking them by and large, approximate perfection; but
unfortunately one cannot impart tenderness to a steak with cordial
smiles, freshness to an egg with a twinkling eye, or the essential
properties of coffee to a boiled bean with a pleasant word; and if in
the South and Middle West it were possible to sweep a room clean with a
welcoming wave of the hand, and to set a mobilized entomology in full
retreat with the fervor of an advance in friendliness, I should not
think so often, perhaps, upon the possible duties of local Boards of
Health in respect to the American hotel situation.

I hasten to add, however, that this situation, hopeless as it at times
appears to be, brings forcibly to my mind that ancient chestnut set
forth in the sign in the Far Western church--

    DON'T SHOOT THE ORGANIST:
    HE IS DOING THE BEST HE CAN--

for I verily believe that in nine cases out of ten the landlords of the
nation are in point of fact doing the "best they can," and in many
instances in the face of heart-breaking discouragement. They are
themselves quite aware of their deficiencies, as was once clearly
established in the inscription I saw in front of an Oklahoma caravansary
as I passed through on the Katy-Flyer, to the following effect:

    THE SALT AND TOOTHPICKS SERVED AT THE
       SAINT JAMES ARE AS GOOD AS THOSE
           AT ANY HOTEL IN AMERICA

Our American communities, unfortunately, have not yet awakened to the
economic fact that a good hotel is about as valuable an asset as a town
can have. An enterprise that might very properly, and for the general
good, be subsidized by the Board of Trade, or even by the town itself,
is left to private initiative; usually with barren, if not bankrupting,
results.

New England is slowly awakening to this need, and within the last few
years a number of fine hostelries have been established, with the
backing of real civic interest, and under trained management; but very
few of even the most progressive Western and Southern Communities seem
as yet to have taken so vital a matter into consideration. They have
good will and courtesy enough among them to run a thousand highly
acceptable caravansaries, and I have sometimes wished that some of their
individual qualities might in some way be engrafted upon our more
sumptuous Eastern hotels, where one is able to get anything one is
willing to pay for, except the feeling that somebody somewhere in the
hotel is glad he came.

[Illustration: "If it were possible to sweep a room clean with a
welcoming wave of the hand--"]

I do not know how many thousand library buildings our great Ironmaster
has caused to be built in this country--and we who write books have
cause to be grateful to him for having provided such rarely beautiful
mausoleums for the final interment of our cherished productions--but I
have often wished that his generous pursestrings had been loosened on
behalf of hospitality, rather than exclusively for the perpetuation of
current fiction and books of reference that nobody ever uses. Before the
trusts are finally curbed I hope that one or two more swollen fortunes
may be produced, and that the owners thereof may be inspired to carry
the light of living into communities in need of something of the sort,
by building hotels for them, in which clean rooms suitably aired, and
good food properly cooked, may be provided for those who have to travel,
and are so constituted that they cannot eat poetry, nor sleep
comfortably between the sheets of the lamented William James's
incursions into pragmatic philosophy, dry as they unquestionably are.

How next to impossible it is for our good landlords in certain sections
of the land to conduct their business profitably was once brought to my
attention by a little incident in a town not many leagues from Atlanta,
Georgia. I found myself seated one evening at table opposite a traveling
man of most marvelous gastronomic fortitude. For his supper he ordered
cereal and cream, two fried eggs "done on both sides," some bacon, "a
little of that steak," German fried potatoes, some baked beans, a bit of
kippered herring, milk toast, preserved peaches, hot biscuit, sponge
cake, and a cup of coffee. After the commissariat had responded
faithfully, and the table had been duly decorated with the serried ranks
of "bird-bath" dishes containing the bulk of the enumerated edibles, a
third party arrived, and an old friendship between himself and my
vis-à-vis was renewed.

"Well, Tommy, old man, it's ninety-seven moons since I saw you last!
How's things?" said the newcomer.

"Oh--pretty good," said my vis-à-vis wearily. "Business is good enough;
but I _ain't feelin' very well myself_."

"What's the trouble--caught cold?" asked the newcomer.

"No," said the other. "I'm just feelin' sort o' mean--_my stummick don't
seem just right. I guess I been workin' too hard_."

"You'd ought to eat milk toast," said the new arrival.

"Yes," said Tommy. "_I've ordered some._"

At this point the waitress came up for the newcomer's order.

"I'm too tired to order, Jennie," said he. "Just you bring me the same
as he has, and see that the buckwheats are hot."

"_Gee! Buckwheats!_" cried Tommy. "_I didn't know there was
buckwheats--bring me a stack of 'em too, Jennie!_"

[Illustration: "Cannot sleep comfortably between the sheets of William
James's pragmatic philosophy, dry as they are."]

And all of this was on the American plan, at the rate of two dollars
for three meals and a night's lodging! I am afraid my friend of the
uncertain digestive organs belonged to the same gastronomic school as a
famous war correspondent I met at my club many years ago. He was an
Englishman, and was delightfully enthusiastic about everything he had
found in America except our hotels.

"And even they wouldn't be so bad," said he, "if it wasn't for that
beastly American plan upon which they're run. Why, out in San Francisco
I actually had to eat and eat and eat until I was positively ill, to get
ahead of the game!"

Traveling Americans are inclined to criticize the hotels of foreign
countries for their lack of bathroom facilities, and I recall an
occasion in Rome some years ago when I found the act of taking a dip in
the one bathroom the hotel provided almost as formal a function as a
presentation at the Vatican, involving a series of escorts from my room
to the dark little hole on an upper floor where the tub was kept, far
greater in number than those involved in my progress from the American
college to the papal presence.

Indeed, the only occasion I can recall when in a foreign country I was
able to get a bath without encountering all sorts of obstacles was also
in Rome, four years ago, when I endeavored to order a bottle of mineral
water in my choicest Italian, and got a bath instead, the whiskered male
chambermaid of whom I ordered it having little familiarity with his own
tongue as "she was spoke" by an American.

But precisely similar conditions exist in this country. An eminent
singer in one of his famous poems lamented the difficulty of getting the
Time, the Place, and the Girl together; but if he had ever gone on the
Chautauqua circuit in this land I fear he would have written also of the
well nigh impossible operation of getting the Time, the Place, and the
Tub together; and I may add that I wish a law might be passed requiring
hotels that do provide bathing facilities to supply also at least one
towel that is visible to the naked eye.

The story of the man who asked an Indiana hotel clerk to "give" him "a
room and a bath," to be greeted by the instant response, "_We'll give
you the room; but you'll have to wash yourself_," contains quite as much
truth as humor. I had to forego my dip in a Southern hotel on one
morning because "_the last feller that took a bath here run off with
the key to the door_," and then on the following morning when the
bathroom door had been forced open I found the tub constructed of tiles,
with a lush growth of morning glory vines sprouting up between them.
When in an Ohio hotel several years ago, having insisted upon a room
with a bath, I found the latter in a dark cubbyhole whose doors and
windows had evidently not been opened for months. Atmospherically
speaking, the Black Hole of Calcutta was a thing of sweetness and light
compared to it. Nearly suffocated, I struggled with the frosted-glass
window at one side of the cell for several minutes, and finally with a
supreme effort got it up: only to find that it _opened on an inner
corridor of the hotel_.

And be it recorded that the heating facilities are quite on a par with
these. The heating apparatus of most hotels is either missing
altogether, or terrifying in character. The latter sort is especially in
evidence in the natural gas regions, where that useful commodity is used
with an airy carelessness that inspires dreadful forebodings.

I shall never forget my first introduction to natural gas as a heating
proposition. It was in an historic edifice in Ohio, which I shall not
name; for it has already been sufficiently advertised by its "loving
friends." Suffice it to say that by some strange oversight of Nature it
still stands. To get to my room, in the first place I was compelled to
rise several flights in an elevator whose lift was as uncertain as its
years, and then with the aid of a hallboy to thread an intricate maze of
interlocking corridors alongside of which the Dedalian Labyrinth was
simplicity itself. Arrived finally in the room assigned to me, I found
it dark, damp, and cold.

"How about a little heat here, Son?" said I, appealing to the hallboy.

"Sure!" said he.

The boy faded into the gloom of the far end of the room, leaned over,
and tugged away vigorously for a few moments on a screw in the
baseboard, and then standing back about two feet he began to bombard the
wall with lighted matches--the kind which light only on the seat of a
bellboy's trousers. I shall not attempt to say how many of these he lit
and threw at the wall before anything happened. It seemed to be an
appalling number, and considering the manifest inflammability of the
building, and the height of my room from the ground, it made me very
nervous.

"What the dickens are you doing?" said I.

But there was neither time nor need for his answer. One well projected
match seemed to hit the particular bullseye he was aiming at. There came
a boom and a flash, and in a second I saw a half-dozen sizable flames
creeping upward from the floor to a point about breast high on the wall,
where by some strange miracle the conflagration stopped.

"Nacheril gas!" said the boy, with a grin, as he departed.

It had been my intention to remain overnight in that city; but when I
realized that that same process was probably going on in at least a
dozen other apartments, above, beside, and below me, I suddenly decided
to return to New York on the night train. I will take my chances on the
future life; but while I live, breathe, and have my being upon this
terrestrial orb I believe in getting fire risks down to their lowest
reducible minimum by adopting a policy of complete avoidance.

Our clever newspaper humorists have made a good deal of capital out of
the haughty hotel clerk with the diamond stud; but I must confess that
I have never yet encountered this individual in the wide swath of my
wanderings. Save in one or two places, I have found on the contrary a
genial solicitude for my welfare, wholly undecorated as to
shirt-front--often indeed without the shirt-front itself--which has more
than offset such shortcomings as were characteristic of the inns over
whose desks they presided.

On one occasion in Indianapolis I encountered what seemed at first to be
a heartless lack of appreciation and cordial recognition on my arrival;
but it was more than compensated for in the end, and I should add was
rather the result of a too high expectation on my own part than the
fault of the man behind the register. I had long wished to visit
Indianapolis, largely because of its national reputation as a literary
center. A State that has produced so many authors of high distinction as
have come out of Indiana, with her General Lew Wallace, her James
Whitcomb Riley, Charles Major, Meredith Nicholson, George Ade, Booth
Tarkington, and those two purveyors of wholesome fiction and good, clean
humor, the McCutcheon brothers, is entitled to some of the laureled
interest of a literary Mecca, and I registered at the Claypool in my
boldest hand, quietly and confidently expecting some immediate
recognition, such as a not altogether unknown worker on the slopes of
Parnassus might expect to receive on arriving at Olympus.

The room clerk whisked the register round and studied the inscription
for a moment. "What's that--Boggs?" he inquired.

"No," said I, my crest falling a bit, "Bangs--John Ken--"

"Oh," said he, bringing his hand down heavily on the bell. "Front, show
this gentleman to number three hundred and nine."

He tossed a key to the bellboy, which the latter caught with the
dexterity of a Buck Ewing, the prize catcher in the ball games of my
young manhood, and holding my diminished head as high as I could I
followed him to the elevator, devoutly wishing that Riley or Ade might
happen in and fall upon my neck, and show that low-browed room clerk a
thing or two he wouldn't forget in a hurry.

And then came a sort of _amende honorable_. Scarcely had I got settled
in number three hundred and nine when a second bellboy arrived, bearing
a note addressed to "Mr. John Henry Banks," neatly typewritten, and
reading as follows:

     DEAR SIR,--If you wish a table for the display of your samples and
     a plug key for the protection of the same, please apply at the
     office.
                           Respectfully,               THE CLAYPOOL.

It was a salutary experience, and in my subsequent visits to the Athens
of America I have approached it in an appropriate spirit of humility and
respect. And philosophically I have tried to comfort myself with the
thought that after all it would not be very surprising if a scuttleful
of coal arriving at Newcastle were to find its coming a matter of small
importance to those good people who dig that useful commodity out of the
bowels of the earth at the rate of ten carloads a minute. Why should a
mere writer of books arriving at Indianapolis expect to create any
special commotion, when it is a well known fact that you could not
possibly heave a brick in any direction in that charming city without
hitting an author?

I think that for sheer originality in his craft, as well as for his
human interest, I must award the palm among innkeepers I have met to a
vigorous old fellow who either ran, or was run by, a hotel I once
visited in South Dakota. He was known to most people as "Conk": not
because of the rather hard shell one had to penetrate to get at him, but
because it was the first syllable of his last name.

His hotel was a two-story brick structure, sadly in need of a Noachian
Deluge for its preliminary renovation, and built upon the pleasing lines
of an infant penitentiary. This illusion was faithfully carried out by
the rooms within, which had many of the physical qualities of the cells
of commerce. The hotel had a dining room; but Conk had given up serving
meals therein, and had also as far as I could observe abandoned
everything else in the way of service as well.

My Muse and I arrived several hours before dawn, and after wandering
hand in hand for twenty or thirty minutes along invisible highways
reached the edifice. We registered, and were ushered to a pigeonhole on
the second tier by a large, yellow-haired youth, who was trying to keep
awake and mop up the office floor simultaneously, succeeding only
indifferently in both operations. The particular cell set apart for our
accommodation was lit by a half-candlepower bulb with a pronounced
flicker, which shed a dim, religious light upon a walled-in space about
ten feet square. In this there was a double bed, a nondescript piece of
furniture which suggested a collision between a washstand and a bureau,
a rocking chair that refused to rock, and a cane-bottomed arrangement of
perilous spindles that wouldn't do anything else. After I had disposed
of our two suitcases and my typewriting machine the only solution of
another difficulty that immediately arose was to leave our feet out in
the hall.

As soon as I noted the rather limited character of our accommodations I
repaired below, to see if there was not available something a trifle
more roomy: to find only the satisfaction involved in the contemplation
of the tow-headed six-footer lying asleep on a bench exchanging dreamy
nothings with his mop, which he held hugged tight to his breast. With
persistent effort I might have awakened the mop; but the tow-headed
youth was too far gone into the land of dreams to be recalled by
anything short of a universal cataclysm. I therefore crept sadly up the
stairs to our cell, and we reclined on the double bed until dawn, at
which time the merciful providence of the half-candlepower bulb was
completely revealed unto us; for if we had been able to see that bed in
its dim light no power on earth, not all the mobilized armies of the
world could have induced us to lie down upon it.

An hour later we breakfasted on ham and eggs at a stand-up all-night
lunch counter which we located after much wandering, and then, returning
to the hotel, Brother Conk in all his muscular majesty dawned upon the
horizon of my life. I can best describe him by saying that whatever he
might do in action, a camera fiend would have found in him a perfect
model for a snapshot of the long-looked-for White Hope. He was huge and
indescribably red. His name should have been Rufus, and the hand of Esau
was a smoothly shaven thing alongside of the Conkian fist. He had a
penetrating, yet rolling eye that would have subjugated a Kaiser with a
single glance. He was scrutinizing his fingernails as we entered his
presence, and in view of my supreme ambition to remain a hero always in
the eyes of my Muse I saw her safely deposited in our hermetically
sealed receiving vault above before venturing to address the gentleman.
This done, I started in to pay my respects to Mine Host.

"I don't suppose you could let us have a larger room," said I
tentatively, my words coming with a husky falter.

"I dunno what room ya got," was the gruff response, one of the rolling
eyes settling full upon both of mine.

"We're in nun-number thirty-two," I ventured meekly.

"Well, thirty-three's an inch and a half wider," said he, biting off a
hang nail. "Ya can move inta that if ya wanta."

It hardly seemed worth while, and considering that in respect to matters
other than its size, or lack of it, we already knew the worst as to
thirty-two, we left thirty-three unvisited on the principle that

    --makes us rather bear those ills we have
    Than fly to others that we know not of.

There were enough wings loose in number thirty-two to enable us to fly
anywhere on the face of the earth; but we decided not to avail ourselves
of them.

"Never mind, my dear," said I. "Sufferance is the badge of all our
tribe."

And the Only Muse merely laughed, and with feminine exaggeration
comforted me with the assurance that "it might be worse." I suppose it
might have been; though I don't know how. Anyhow I sat down on the
rockless rocker, drew an overdraft on the bank of cheer, and proceeded
to read aloud that fine story of Fiona Macleod's about the good old
North Countryman who every morning walked out upon his breezy headland
and "took off his hat to the beauty of the world."

Later in the day the chairman of the lecture committee called to pay his
respects, and in the course of our conversation I told him of my
experience with Conk.

"I congratulate you most heartily," said he, laughing. "You came off
rather better than an exchange professor from Germany who came out here
last year to give a course of lectures at our agricultural college. He
asked Conk in his pleasant German way for more spacious quarters, and
Conk's answer was, '_Sure I can give ya more space_.' And taking the
professor's suitcase in one hand, and the professor in the other, he
rushed them both to the front door, threw the suitcase out into the
street, and, pushing the professor gently out after it, remarked,
'_There--I guess there's room, enough for ya out there_.'"

Whether the chairman was a mind reader or not I do not know; but I do
know that in response to my telepathic calls for help he turned to the
Only Muse and suggested that in view of certain possibilities which
might incapacitate me from filling my engagement at the lecture hall
that night we had much better move over to his house, where we would
find a warm welcome.

"That's fine!" said I, rising with alacrity. "Just you take her over
with you now, and I'll see Conk, and pay my bill, and come over as soon
as I can with our luggage."

The plan was promptly carried out, and after seeing the Only Muse safely
on her way to other quarters I went to number thirty-two, gathered up
our traps, and with trepidation in my soul approached the landlord. This
time I found him sitting in the office, before the window, staring
Nature out of countenance.

"Well, Mr. Landlord," I said, as affably as I knew how, "I--I've come
to--to settle up. It seems we were expected to stay with Dr. and Mrs.
Soandso. We--er--we didn't know it when we arrived--and I--I'm sorry to
leave you; but--er--but of course--"

"_Thank God!_" the landlord returned explosively, rising and seizing my
hand in a viselike grip that even to remember two years later causes me
anguish. "That's the first good news I've had to-day. I been running
this blankety blank blank joint for seven years now, and it's cost me
over thirty thousand dollars already, and every time I see a blinkety
blank blank boarder come in through that front door it makes me so
dashed sick that I feel like nailin' the blankety blank door up so tight
old Beelzybub himself'd have to come down through the chimbley to get
inside!"

It was at this point that Conk and I parted company at the beginning of
what I am inclined to think might have ripened into a lifelong
friendship. _I had got his point of view!_ Strange as his conception of
hospitality seemed superficially to be, there was reason in him, and I
began to perceive that he had some mighty good points. Frankness was one
of them, and gratitude, and one of the incidents of his career as
narrated to me later by one of his neighbors was convincing proof that,
in sporting parlance, the old fellow was a good loser.

It seems that a certain traveling man of great nerve force stopped
overnight some years ago with Conk, probably occupying number
thirty-two. It was a fearfully hot night, and the room became unbearably
stuffy. For a long time the suffering guest strove to open the window,
but without results. Prayer, condemnation, muscular force, all alike
were powerless to move it. Finally in desperation the unhappy visitor
threw on his dressing robe, and stalked down to the office to make
complaint.

"It's hotter than Tophet in that room of mine," he protested, "and I've
been monkeying with that dod-gasted window of yours for the last hour,
and the dinged thing won't give an inch!"

"Well, if ya can't move it, why in Dothan dontcha kick it out?" retorted
Conk coldly.

"All right, I will," said the guest, returning to the furnace above.

And he did. Glass, frame, and sash were kicked with all the power of an
angry man into a mass of wreckage never again to be redeemed.

"Well," said the guest the following morning, as he started to leave for
the station, "what's the tax? What do I owe you?"

"_Not a blamed cent!_" gruffed Conk. "You're the first son of a sea
cook that's ever had the nerve to call my bluff, and _by Henry you don't
pay a nickel into my till except over my dead body_!"

If I have seemed in any wise severe in my treatment of Conk in this
tribute to his memory, I am sorry. The material facts could hardly be
glossed over; but as for the man himself I am truly glad to have met
him. I wouldn't have missed him for a farm. He was not much of a
Chesterfield; but he had his own ways, and they gave me a thrill. The
joyous, almost grateful courtesy with which he put me out of his front
door was a thing to remember, and I in turn am everlastingly grateful to
him for letting me out on the ground floor instead of seizing me by the
left leg and dragging me up through the skylight, and throwing me off
the roof. He could have done it easily, and I am sure it was only the
intrinsic, if considerably latent, nobility of his soul that restrained
the impulse to do so that I am confident he felt.



XII

PERILS OF THE PLATFORM


"Yours must be an extra hazardous occupation," said a chance
acquaintance on a little trip through Ohio last year. "Do you carry any
insurance?"

"Yes," said I. "I have an excellent accident insurance policy, and it is
a great comfort. Sometimes on dark nights when I am suddenly awakened by
some catastrophic quivering of my berth, as if a young earthquake had
come aboard, and realize that the train has probably left the track, and
is traveling ahead at a mile-a-minute clip over the rocky bed of some
mountain stream, it is a real pleasure to me to foot up the sum total of
the affluence that will be mine if we fail to strike a switch somewhere
that will get us back on the main line again."

"Affluence is good," said he; "but it won't be yours--not if you break
your neck."

"Oh, I never think of that," said I. "I think only of the possibility of
injuries, and from that point of view the accident insurance policy is a
joy forever. It makes you think so well of yourself, and as you lie off
in your berth figuring on two legs and a couple of arms at five thousand
dollars apiece, twenty toes and fingers at two hundred and fifty a
digit, with your neck valued at twenty-five thousand dollars, you begin
to feel that a man isn't such a worthless creature after all. I suppose
even my nose is worth something."

"Great Scott!" he ejaculated. "Do toes and fingers come as high as
that?"

"They do," said I. "I've carried a policy assuring me a market for them
at that rate for the last five years, and if I lose them in a railway
smash-up, in a taxicab, in a trolley, or in a public elevator somewhere,
the quotation doubles. Under certain contingencies my fingers and toes
have a market value of ten thousand dollars."

"Heavens!" he cried. "_Have you ever had any luck?_"

From his point of view I presume I have not had any "luck"; but I am
content, satisfied, and even grateful that so far the exigencies of
travel have not required me to collect anything on my policy, or
compelled me to sacrifice any of my digital collateral even at what seem
to be par or premium prices.

But my friend was not altogether wrong in regarding the occupation of an
itinerant lyceumite as a hazardous one. If one were to conjure up a
picture of the gods of evil shooting darts at human targets, one might
think that, a moving object being harder to hit than one that is
definitely fixed, the former would prove a better risk than the latter;
but it is one of the paradoxes of life that this is not the case, unless
of course the sniping fates are better sharpshooters than professional
artillerists.

The possibilities of accident to one who is constantly moving from
pillar to post on American railways, many of them starved to death in
the name of Progress, and unable to maintain an equipment that is even
moderately safe; on steamboat lines many of whose vessels are little
more than resin-soaked tinderboxes, over-crowded with pipe and cigarette
smokers, and speeding through fog-bound waters at night as though the
Evil One himself were just astern in pursuit of the Captain; sleeping
in hotels constructed of Georgia pine, on mattresses stuffed with
excelsior, with matches that, like flies, will light on anything in
sight, strewn about on every side,--well, to commute this sentence, the
possibilities of accident to such a one are of such a sort that "age
cannot wither nor custom stale their infinite variety."

And as for the lecture halls, one now and then encounters a place where
it seems as though it were a vain-glorious tempting of fate to enter it.
I recall one marvelous hall in one of the most cultured sections of New
England, in a town not more than seventy-five miles from Boston, the
home of one of America's most famous schools, and the capital of a State
that has produced men of worldwide eminence, which in any Court of
Commonsense would have been indicted as a menace to the public welfare.
It was reached by a climb of two flights of stairs, the first scarcely
wide enough for two people to walk up abreast, and the second rising
from the end of a dimly lighted corridor up six steps to a landing
whence ran on each side two other sections of four or five steps each to
a second landing, with still a third turn and another climb before the
auditorium floor was reached; and all this in an ordinary brick
building, erected long before fireproof construction was even thought
of.

My lecture in this architectural device of Beelzebub was delivered
before an audience of four hundred people, just one week after the
terrible disaster at Boyerstown, Pennsylvania, in which I know not how
many lives were lost in a fire started by the explosion of a
cinematograph machine. As I stepped upon the stage I inquired of my
escort if there were any fire escapes on the building, and was informed
that a huge iron door at the rear of the stage opened upon one. I was
moderately relieved until I tried to open the iron door, only to find it
locked--_and the janitor had left the key at home!_ I may add that if my
memory serves me correctly--and it does--this ingeniously designed
atrocity was pleasantly and appropriately known as Phenix Hall. _Absit
omen!_

In the main, however, the lecture halls of America are rather fine
affairs. In the State of New York and on the other side of the
Mississippi River I have found splendid auditoriums, acoustically
perfect, well ventilated, and as nearly safe as human ingenuity can make
them. The high schools of New York and Massachusetts, and the
flourishing educational institutions of the West, have set a pace which
other communities would do well to follow: not so much for the sake of
the itinerant platformist as for the "safety, honor, and welfare" of
their own sons and daughters. In Houston, Texas, where there is a
municipally owned free lecture and music course on Sunday afternoons,
beginning in October and running through to May, is one of the finest
auditoriums I have ever seen anywhere. It seats in comfort and safety an
audience of eight thousand, and neither New York, Boston, Philadelphia,
nor even Chicago, has anything comparable to it.

I have indeed had luck according to my own conception of it, on trains
traveled on, and in respect to trains missed as well. I have been in two
railway smash-ups, in the first of which the car behind mine was
overturned and reduced to kindling in the twinkling of an eye, and
miraculously without serious injury to any one; and in the other the
engine directly in front of the car in which I was sitting, having
endeavored to jump a frozen switch, succeeded only in landing upon its
own back, leaving my car teetering to and fro for a moment as if
undecided whether to roll down an embankment, or to remain poised on its
offside wheels like a ballet girl balanced upon one tangoing toe. If the
gentleman who sat beside me on that occasion had shifted his chewing gum
to the other side, I think we should have gone plunging down that
embankment into the river; but fortunately he was too paralyzed with
fear even to do that, and we remained fixed, safe as ever was the
intrepid Blondin when he essayed to walk across Niagara Falls on his
slack wire.

As for the trains missed, it was only an over-prolonged discussion of
the mysteries of golf between myself and a past-master of putting at
Haverhill, Massachusetts, which caused me to miss by ten seconds a
section of the Portland Express to New York that five hours later landed
in a ditch somewhere in Connecticut.

In respect to perils by water there are the steamboat perils, and those
more insidious dangers that come from too free indulgence in the only
kind of beverage the wise platformist dares adopt as a steady tipple.
These latter perils I have tried to reduce to a minimum by having a
billion and a half typhus germs mobilized within to patrol my system,
so that any skulking bacilli seeking to spread revolutionary ideas in my
midst, and gaining admittance thereto through my taste for ice water,
will be seized and duly throttled ere they have time to lay the
foundation for an effective propaganda.

[Illustration: "If he had shifted his chewing gum to the other side, we
should have plunged into the river."]

But there is no inoculation against the perils of steamboats; although I
have been in imminent danger only once in this way, and in its ultimate
results even that was far more amusing than terrifying. I was on my way
to Boston by the Fall River boat when the incident occurred. The night
was foggy, and I retired early. The faithful craft kept steadily on her
way, feeling her path through the dark waters of the sound. I slept only
fitfully until midnight, when weary Nature at last asserted herself, and
I fell into a profound slumber. At four in the morning, however, I was
awakened rudely by a fierce shriek of the whistle, a seemingly quick
reversal of the engines, a very decided shock as of an impact with some
heavy body, followed by a grinding sound, and much shouting.

I sprang from my berth, and glancing out of the window could see nothing
but grimly gray fog. It was the work of a moment to jump into my shoes
and bathrobe, and go speeding out into the main saloon.

"Any danger, Porter?" I inquired of a wide-awake gentleman of color, who
was leaning over the stair-railing.

"_Not unless yo' goes asho', Kuhnnel_," he replied with a grin. "_Dis is
Newport._"

But there are perils other than these which must be taken into account
in reckoning up the hazards of the profession--or perhaps in view of the
eternity of the chase it were better called a pursuit. They include
exposure to almost every kind of catastrophe mentioned in the Litany,
from battle, murder, and sudden death, through hunger and thirst, to the
tapering point of mere necessity and tribulation.

I have nearly starved with teeming granaries on every side of me. Once
in a delightful mid-New York community which I have since revisited and
come to hold in affection, I found myself after a long, tedious, and
foodless journey at a hotel where the table was frankly impossible. I
arrived late, and out of an ample bill of fare there was nothing left
but a few scraps of preserved fish, and not very well preserved at that.
If fish could be personified, this particular bit of piscatorial
cussedness might have passed as the Rip Van Winkle of the Sea, so long
had it evidently been since it left its home in the depths. The merest
glance at it filled the eye with visions of serried ranks of ptomaines,
armed cap-à-pie for trouble. It waved the red flag of digestive anarchy
from the end of every bone and fin, and fortunately for me the very
pungency of its aroma took care of my hunger for the moment. One sniff
appeased my appetite for any kind of food.

Later, when the chairman of the committee called and invited me to take
a drive with him about the town, even though I had had nothing to eat
for nearly twelve hours, I accepted. At the end of our drive we stopped
at the chairman's home, a delightfully comfortable, newly built house,
which he had designed himself and of which he was justly proud. As we
entered his dining room a natural association of ideas caused my
appetite to return with renewed vigor, and I thought I saw a chance for
at least one good meal that day.

"By Jove, Doctor!" said I, "what a pretty room this is!" And then I
added, with all the pathos I could put into my voice, "You don't know
what a joy it is to get a glimpse now and then of a real home dining
room after eating day after day in some of these fearful country hotels.
I don't want to seem unduly critical, but really I got the worst dinner
at the Blithers House to-day that I've ever had." And I stood expectant.

"Well," he said reflectively, "_you'll get a worse supper_!"

And lo, it was so.

A similarly distressing moment one morning out in Montana once brought
me a more satisfactory tribute. My train was hours late, and no
preparations had been made by the usually considerate management of the
Northern Pacific Railroad for the refreshment of the inner man. There
was neither diner nor buffet on the train, and as the morning wore on
toward noon I became famished to the extent of positive pain and general
giddiness. To my supreme relief, however, along about half-past eleven
o'clock the train drew into the little station of Livingston, where
connections are made by travelers to the Yellowstone. As we drew slowly
in the welcome sign of "LUNCH ROOM" greeted my vision; but the train did
not stop until we had passed the sign by at least a hundred yards.
Finally when we came to a standstill I rushed to the rear platform of
the train, and was about to jump off when the conductor intervened.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

"For food," said I. "I'm nearly dead for a cup of coffee."

"We're not going to stop any time," said he, with a glance at his watch.
"We're seven hours late as it is."

"Oh, come now, Conductor!" said I. "Five minutes more isn't going to
hurt anybody--"

"All right," said he, "go ahead. Only when you hear the whistle blow
don't lose a minute, hungry or no hungry."

With that understanding I sped to the lunch counter, and in a few
moments had a roll and a steaming cup of coffee before me; but, alas for
all human expectations! the coffee was so fearfully hot nothing but a
salamander could have hoped to drink it with safety, and I had hardly
taken one scalding sip of it when the whistle blew sharply. There was
but one thing to do, and I did it. I poured the coffee into my saucer
and drained as much as I could of it from that, thrust the roll into my
pocket, and darted after the train, which had already begun to move
slowly, conscious all the while of the soft thud of pattering feet, like
those of the white rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland," behind me. I caught
the train, seizing the rear platform rail with one hand, and when
swinging myself on board was projected almost flat on my face by another
passenger who suddenly developed like an infant battering ram at the
rear. He was a little man, and his breath came in appropriate pants.
Both completely winded, we gazed into each other's eyes.

"Bub-beg pardon," he gasped. "I dud-didn't mean to bub-bump into you.
Very grateful to you--yuh--you saved my life!"

"Saved your life?" said I. "How so?"

"Why," said he, "I was nearly gone for want of my coffee, and the stuff
was so infernally hot I couldn't drink it, and then when I saw you
pouring yours out into your saucer, I says to myself, '_Well, if a
swell-lookin' guy like that kin do that, I kin,--an' b'gosh, I did!_"

A not infrequent source of terror to the platform speaker, if not a real
peril, is the small boy one encounters en route, singly and alone or in
groups. I am glad to say that I have always delighted in him, and so
far, despite the possibilities, none of my contacts with him has
resulted disastrously; but, while nobody ever need mark him "FRAGILE,"
it is none the less true that he should be handled with care, and kept
right side up if possible, for the sake of the general comfort.

One of these youngsters once gave me a supreme example of intrinsic
honesty which I shall never forget. I met him on the evening of my
lecture in the town of Everett, Massachusetts. I had somehow got the
notion that Everett was farther afield from Boston than it really is,
and starting early I arrived at the high school hall a full hour before
the advertised time. The building was dark, and every door was locked;
so that for some thirty or forty minutes I was compelled to pace the
sidewalk in front of it, awaiting the arrival of somebody who could let
me in. After several turns up and down the street I was accosted by a
bright-faced little urchin who held a ticket for my lecture in his hand.

"Want to buy a ticket for to-night's lecture, mister?" said he.

"No, son," said I. "I've heard this lecture several times already, and I
wouldn't go through it again for seven dollars."

"Gee!" he ejaculated. "_If it's as bad as that, I guess I'd better tear
this up._" And he destroyed the ticket on which he had doubtless
expected to realize much soda-water money before my very eyes, and went
whistling along upon his honest little way.

Perhaps this little lad does not come properly under the head of
Hazards; but in one of the larger cities of Arkansas I once came upon a
group of boys who did, and they kept me in a state of trepidation for a
goodly part of the evening. It happened that simultaneously with my
arrival in town there arrived also a snowstorm that for that section of
the country was a heavy one. Heavy or light, it brought with it enough
snow to provide these forty-odd youngsters with the kind of occupation
that all healthy-minded youngsters find to their taste--that of
snow-balling passersby. When my motor arrived at the lecture hall the
boys were on hand, and for two or three minutes the car was the object
of a fierce fusillade of icy missiles that nearly put the chauffeur out
of commission. The committee hustled me into the hall with no more
damage than one rather slushy splosh of snow perilously close to my
neck.

"It's a shame, Mr. Bangs," said the chairman, "and I apologize. These
boys aren't a bad lot; but they are irrepressible. I'd advise you to go
slow with them to-night. They've broken up two lectures already."

"Gracious!" said I. "Do they attend the lectures?"

"Yes," said the chairman. "By arrangement with the school authorities
they have the first two rows reserved for them free."

And sure enough when I walked out upon the platform there they were, two
solid rows of them, eying me like hungry birds of prey ready to pounce
upon a particularly luscious morsel. I should have fled if flight had
been possible; but it was not, and I looked forward to an hour and a
half of trial. But as the chairman was introducing me an idea popped
into my head which I am glad to say saved the day--or rather the night.
Instead of my usual opening I addressed a few words to the boys.

"It is an awful shame, my young friends," said I, "that the requirements
of this lecture course and the necessities of my own engagements compel
you and me to waste such a delightful evening as this indoors. I feel
just as badly as you do about it; for while what few hairs I have are
gray, I give you my word that I'd rather go into a good redhot snowball
fight with you than listen to the finest lecture that was ever
delivered. If I didn't have to go on to Memphis to-night, I'd ask the
committee and the audience to postpone this lecture until the snow
melts, so that I could show you what a corking shot I am at any old
beaver hat, moving or fixed, that ever crowned a mortal head."

The effect was instantaneous. A wave of enthusiasm swept over the lads,
and the only interference I had from them during my talk was a somewhat
too-ready inclination on their part to help me along with laughter and
applause at points where tears and silence would have been more
appropriate. Moreover, when at the close of my lecture I started with
some reluctance to leave the hall, instead of the volley of arctic
ammunition that I had expected, I found those youngsters lined up twenty
on a side between the door and my motor with their hats off, forming a
little alley of honor for me to tread, giving me three rousing cheers as
I departed.

From which somewhat trying experience I deduce that there is a good deal
more latent courtesy in Young America than certain despairing critics
of modern manners would have us believe. It may be that the reason why
we do not find it oftener is that we do not ourselves give it the
opportunity to express itself.

I have spoken of our exposure to "battle, murder, and sudden death," and
to some it may have seemed an exaggeration to claim anything of the sort
as a platform peril; and yet there was one occasion upon which I was so
uncomfortably tangent to such conditions that they seemed all too real.
It was in one of our far western States. Scheduled to lecture there at
eight P.M., my train did not reach the town until nine-forty-five. I had
telegraphed news of my delay ahead, and my audience with rare courtesy
had voted to remain at the hall until I arrived.

I dressed on the train, and on descending from it was whisked to the
opera house in a prehistoric hack, which shed one of its wheels en
route, spilling the committee and myself into the road, but without
damage; while my Only Muse went on to the hotel, a two-story affair,
where she secured accommodations for the night. Later, on the conclusion
of my talk, on my arrival at the hotel, I found the Muse sitting up in
bed, pallid as a ghost, with a revolver at her side.

[Illustration: "Laughter where tears would have been more appropriate."]

"What on earth is the matter with you?" I demanded, more than startled
at the sight.

She hardly needed to answer; for almost as I spoke from a saloon located
immediately underneath our room came the sharp crack of pistols.
Somebody below there was engaged in the pleasing occupation of "shooting
up" the place. Not having seen the plans and specifications of the
hotel, I did not know how thick the floor was, or what were the
prospects for a sudden eruption of bullets through the carpet. It was
not any safer to venture out either; for there was no telling how far
the trouble might spread. So I jumped into bed and trusted to a
combination of Providence, floor, and hair mattress to hold me immune.
The disturbance did not last long, however, and shortly after midnight
all was quiet, and sleep came.

Two hours later we were awakened by a snarling quarrel going on directly
under our window. Two men were applying epithets of an uncomplimentary
nature to each other, when suddenly one of them passed the bounds of
even occidental toleration. He called the other a name that no
right-minded man could be expected to stand, and we heard three sharp
cracks of a revolver zipping out in the air. We sprang from the bed and
rushed to the window, and there lying flat on his back, on a light fall
of snow, in the glare of an electric lamp, was a man, with a gradually
widening red spot staining the white of the road on which he lay. There
was no sign of an assailant anywhere; but in a few moments, in absolute,
almost ghostly silence, black figures appeared from seemingly
everywhere, and bent over the fallen victim. We could hear low
whisperings, and then suddenly one of the black figures detached himself
from the group, and ran off down the street, returning shortly with a
covered carriage. Into this the murdered man was placed, the carriage
was driven off, the snow muffling the feet of the horses, the black
figures vanished as silently as they had come, and all that was left of
the tragedy was the red spot in the snow.

We had heard tales of witnesses to similar disturbances being detained
for months under surveillance, practically prisoners of the law, pending
the trial of the guilty, and were in no mind to suffer a similar
experience ourselves. Wherefore when morning came we rose with the first
glimmer of dawn, packed our suitcases, and, asking no questions of
anybody, departed for other scenes on the earliest milk train we could
catch; which happened, fortunately, to be going in the right direction
for us.

Personally I have a horror of the Zeppelin and its powers to make
things uncomfortable from its aërial thoroughfares; but as between it
and the perils of being shot up from below by playful spirits in a
frontier saloon I think I shall choose the Zeppelin if the choice must
be made. At any rate, if either emergency should ever again enter into
my life, I trust I shall have a bomb-proof roof overhead, or an
armor-plated hair mattress underneath me; for I have no taste for a last
end in which a coroner will be called upon to decide whether the victim
of the affair was a mortal being, or a lifeless combination of porous
plaster and human sieve.



XIII

EMBARRASSING MOMENTS


I shall never forget the expression of serene immunity from care on the
face of one of my editorial chiefs when some years ago I told him that I
was very much embarrassed by certain arrangements he himself had made
over my head. They were such arrangements as to make my position frankly
impossible.

"You have embarrassed me more than I care to say," said I.

"Embarrassment is a sign of weakness," he replied calmly. "Don't ever be
embarrassed."

"But what can I do?" said I. "You have made these arrangements, and--"

"Well, if I were you," said he, smiling, and putting considerable
emphasis on the _you_, "rather than admit that anything under heaven
embarrassed me I'd tell _me_ to go to the devil with my arrangements."

I took him at his word. We both laughed, and the immediate awkwardness
vanished. While I cannot truthfully say that telling him to "go to" was
a wholly satisfactory ultimate solution of all our difficulties, I have
as a matter of policy adopted that attitude toward troublesome things
ever since, to the material advantage at least of my own peace of mind.
I have found the philosophy involved a workable one, and more than
helpful to me in the pursuit of my platform labors, especially that part
of it involving the "laugh."

It certainly rescued me from a deal of unhappiness over a wasted date a
year or so ago in Michigan, for which I was in no sense to blame, and
which, had the various parties been inclined to quarrel over misfortune,
might have resulted in much unpleasantness.

Following a Wednesday night engagement in mid-Ohio was a Thursday night
in a more or less remote section of the Wolverine State. To reach the
Thursday night scene of action I was required to rise at five o'clock in
the morning and travel with one or two awkward changes of trains to Fort
Wayne, going thence to Kalamazoo, and from there by a way train to the
point in question. It was a long, tedious drive of a day, and when I
reached Kalamazoo I unburdened myself vigorously to the Only Muse to the
effect that if anybody, anywhere, would offer me a job as third
assistant manager of a tolerably stationary peanut stand at two dollars
a week, payable in deferred promises, I should consider the offer a most
tempting one.

My comfort was not at all enhanced by my discovery on reaching Kalamazoo
that I had completely misread the timetables, and that instead of
arriving at our destination at five in the afternoon, leaving me plenty
of time for rest, refreshment, and change of clothes, the only possible
train, even if it ran on time, could not get me through to the haven of
my desires until five minutes before eight, with the lecture scheduled
to begin at eight-fifteen. So I rested, refreshed, and dressed at
Kalamazoo, and perforce traveled over the last stage of that wearisome
journey in full evening dress, slowly but surely accumulating en route a
sufficient supply of soot, cinders, grit, and other appurtenances of
travel on a soft-coal, one-horse railroad, to make me appear like a
masterpiece of spatterwork when I arrived at the farther end.

By some odd mischance, never as yet satisfactorily accounted for, the
train got through on time. The Only Muse and I hastily boarded an
omnibus, and were whisked through the impenetrable depths of a dark
night to the hotel, whence, after seeing her properly bestowed, I
hastened to the Auditorium where the lecture was to be held. To my
surprise when I got there I found the building wholly dark. There was
not a sign of life anywhere about it. I banged, whacked, and thundered
on the door like an invading artillery corps; but with no response of
any sort. But a glance up the street a moment later relieved the
pressure of my woe; for there my vision was cheered by a brilliantly
lighted church.

"Of course," I thought, "the Auditorium is too small to accommodate the
audience, and they've changed over to the church."

I glanced at my watch, and discovered that I had two minutes to spare. A
goodly sprint brought me panting to the front door of the edifice, and
with some unnecessary noise, perhaps due wholly to the impetuosity of my
approach, I burst in upon the assembled multitude--to find, alas! that
the very sizable audience gathered there with their heads bowed, and
listening to an eloquent appeal for blessings desired by a gentleman
wearing a long frock coat and a white necktie, were not for me. To my
chagrin I soon learned that I had come within an ace of _breaking up_ a
prayer meeting--if I may be allowed the use of such incongruous terms in
the phrase. I backed out as gracefully as I could, and collided with a
late comer.

"Is there more than one Auditorium in town?" I whispered, after
apologizing for my reactionary behavior.

"Oh, yes," he replied politely, "there is the Auditorium, and the High
School Auditorium."

[Illustration: "I found the building wholly dark."]

"Well, would you mind telling me where they are?" I queried.

"That is the High School Auditorium up there," he said, pointing to the
Egyptian darkness I had just left. "The other is three squares down,
where you see all those electric lights."

Whether I thanked the gentleman or not I do not know. I hope I did; but
in the hurry of my departure I fear I seemed discourteous. Another
speedy dash, which left me completely winded, brought me to the other
Auditorium, and there in the full glare of an electric spotlight,
assisted in its quest of publicity by a hoarse-tongued barker with a
megaphone, I was confronted by a highly colored lithograph, showing a
very pink Mabel, Queen of the Movies, standing before a very blue
American soldier tied to a tree, shielding him from the bullets of a
line of very green Mexicans, under the command of a very red villain,
holding a very mauve sword in his very yellow hand, and bidding them to
"Fire!" If I was expected to take any part in the thrilling episode that
appeared to be going on inside, there was nothing in the chromatic
advertising outside to indicate the fact; though I confess I was
becoming painfully conscious of certain strong resemblances between my
very breathless self and that very blue American trooper tied to the
tree.

"Excuse me," said I, addressing the barker, "but is there to be a
lecture here to-night?"

"Not so's anybody'd notice it," said he. "These is the movies."

"Well--tell me--is there a lecture course of any kind in this town that
you know of?" I asked.

"Sure!" said he. "Miss So-and-So down at the library is runnin' a
lecture stunt of some kind this year. You'll find the library on Main
Street, opposite the hotel."

Again, late as it was, the skies cleared, and I moved on to the library,
completing the circuit of vast numbers of blocks to a point almost
opposite the spot I had started from fifteen lifelong minutes before. I
arrived in a state of active perspiration and suspended respiration that
did not seem to promise much in the way of a successful delivery of my
lecture that night. I hoped the Library Auditorium would not prove to be
a large one; for in my disorganized condition I did not feel capable of
projecting my voice even into the shallows, to say nothing of the
sometimes unfathomable depths of endless tiers of seats. And my hope
was realized; in fact it was more than realized, for there wasn't any
Library Auditorium at all.

The citizens of that town had a library that was devoted rather to good
literature than to architectural splendor. Their books were housed in an
ordinary shop, or store. It was deep, narrow, and bookishly cozy, and at
the far end of it, seated at a generously large table, engaged in
knitting, was a charming lady who glanced up from her needles as I
approached.

"Pardon my intrusion, madam," I panted, "but can you tell me where I can
find Miss So-and-So?"

"I am Miss So-and-So," she replied graciously.

"Well," said I, "I am Mr. Bangs."

Her knitting fell to the floor. "Why--Mr. Bangs!" she replied, with a
gasp almost equal to my own. "I am very glad indeed to see you; but what
are you doing here?"

"I--I've come to lecture," I said weakly, almost pleadingly.

"To lecture?" she echoed. "_Why, your lecture is not to be until a week
from to-night!_"

"Then I am afraid we shall have to get my astral body to work," said I;
"for a week from to-night I shall be at Hiawatha, Kansas. How do you
propose to have the lecture delivered--by long distance telephone, or
parcels post?"

We gazed into each other's eyes for a moment, and then--we both laughed.
It seemed the only thing to do.

Gallantry forbids my saying which of us had made the mistake under the
terms of the written contract. Suffice it to say that two months later I
returned to that good little town, and was received like a conquering
hero by an audience that in its cordiality more than compensated me for
the distressing effects of an "unlectured lecture."

What promised to be a more serious complication occurred about a month
later in Florida, where in pursuance of instructions from my Southern
managers I arrived at Daytona on a Monday, to open the flourishing
Chautauqua Course, which has become a permanent feature of life at that
attractive Southern resort. The seriousness of the situation grew out of
the quality of the genius and the nature of the popularity of the other
individual involved, who was no less a personage than the Hon. William
Jennings Bryan. Any minor star in the platform firmament who comes into
collision with the planetary splendor of this Monarch of Modern
Loquacity has about as much chance of escaping unscathed as a tallow-dip
would have in a passage at arms with the sun itself.

There is no escaping the fact that Mr. Bryan is the idol of the
Chautauqua Circuit, and it is equally true that every bit of the success
he has achieved therein he has earned many times over. I am not, never
have been, and see no possibility of my ever becoming, a devotee of Mr.
Bryan's political fortunes; but as a platform speaker he is far and away
the most brilliant and likable personality in the public eye to-day. He
is an expert in playing upon the emotions of an audience, large or
small--preferably large--as ever was Dudley Buck in the manipulation of
the keys and stops of an organ, and he can at will strike chords in the
human heart as searchingly appealing as any produced by an Elman or a
Kreisler on the violin, or a Paderewski at the piano.

The keynotes of his platform work are a seeming sincerity and a magnetic
humanness that are irresistible, and no individual who has ever listened
to him in matters outside of political controversy, however reluctant
to admit his greatness, has failed to fall beneath the winning spell of
man, matter, and method. He is an interesting personality, and has a
greater number of points of contact with the general run of humanity
than any other public speaker of to-day. It is a stimulating thing to
know that in this line of human endeavor he has got his reward in the
assured position he holds in a movement at which it is the fashion in
some uninformed and cynical quarters to sneer, but which in point of
fact has had a supremely awakening effect upon the American people, and
for which we are all of us the better off.

"All of which," as a friend of mine once put it after I had expressed
myself in similar terms concerning Mr. Bryan, "is some tribute for a
narrow-minded, hide-bound, bigoted, old standpat, reactionary,
antediluvian Republican to pay to a hated rival!"

I was frankly appalled on arriving at Daytona to find the town placarded
from end to end with posters announcing Mr. Bryan's appearance there
that evening--my evening, as I had supposed it to be. I did not know
exactly what to do. I knew perfectly well what would happen to me if it
came to a hand-to-hand contest for possession of the stage. Physically,
with Mr. Bryan and myself left to decide the matter for ourselves, after
the fashion of a pair of bantam white hopes, I felt that I might have a
fairly good chance to win out; for I am not altogether without brawn,
and in the matter of handling a pair of boxing gloves am probably quite
as expert as the late Secretary of State; but nobody outside of
Matteawan would be so blind to commonsense as to expect an audience
anywhere either to stand neutral or to indulge in a policy of "watchful
waiting" with such a contest going on on the platform.

My first impulse in the circumstances was to get out of town as quickly
and as quietly as I could, and forget that there was such a place as
Daytona on the map; but a careful scrutiny of my letter of instructions
reassured me. The date, according to the supreme managers at Atlanta,
was clearly mine, and I decided at least to go down with colors flying.
I have never run from my own lithographs, and I saw no reason why I
should flee from Mr. Bryan's. I got in touch with the local committee as
soon as possible, and soon had at least the solace of companionship in
my misery. They were as upset about it as I was.

"But, Mr. Bangs," protested the chairman, almost with tears in his
eyes--his voice was full of them--"you aren't due here until to-morrow
night."

"I don't see how that can be," I replied unfeelingly. "You know
perfectly well that I am not twins, and only twins can appear in two
places at once. I am to lecture at Miami to-morrow night."

I handed the gentleman my letter of instructions, confirming my
statement. It was all down in black and white.

"It's a perfectly terrible situation," said the chairman, tears even
springing from his brow, "and I'm blest if I know what to do!"

"There is only one of three things to be done," said I. "The first is to
let me sit in the audience to-night and listen to Mr. Bryan, collecting
my fee on the ground that I have earned it by holding my tongue--which
is some job for a man primed with unspoken words. The second is to let
Mr. Bryan and myself go out on the platform and indulge in a lecture
Marathon, he at one side of the stage, I at the other, talking
simultaneously, the one that gets through first to get the gate money.
The third and best is for you to telegraph Mr. Bryan and find out direct
from him what his understanding is as to the date."

The first or the last of the propositions would have suited me
perfectly; for I should have been delighted to listen to Mr. Bryan
whether I was paid for it or not--and most assuredly had Mr. Bryan
himself laid claim to the date no power on this earth could have lured
me into a dispute over its possession. I am too proud of this life to
risk its uncertain tenure for the brief glory of an hour on a preëmpted
platform.

I am glad to say that before dusk the complication was cleared off; for,
the third alternative having been accepted by the committee, Mr. Bryan
was caught on the wire, and replied instantly to the effect that he was
to lecture that night on some such subject as "The Curse of Wealth" at
Palm Beach, where many sufferers from that particular blight are
annually gathered together in large numbers. The skies immediately
cleared, and I went out that night before a packed house, the unwitting
beneficiary of widespread advertising on Mr. Bryan's behalf, and enjoyed
myself very much; although as I sped along I could "spot" here and
there in the audience individuals who, having come to hear Mr. Bryan,
like Rachel weeping for her children, "refused to be comforted."

My only lasting regret was that my contract did not call for the payment
to me of fifty per cent. of the boxoffice receipts. I have no doubt
there were people there that night who thought, and possibly still
think, that I stole that audience. And perhaps I did; but I was no more
responsible for the theft than was poor little Oliver Twist, who found
himself at unexpected places at unlooked for hours through the efforts
of those "higher up." I may add too in all sincerity that if Mr. Bryan
himself feels, or felt, in any way aggrieved over what he might call my
"unearned increment" in listeners, I will gladly exchange fees with him.
I will unhesitatingly, at his request, and by return mail, send him my
check for the full amount received by me on that somewhat nervous
occasion if he will send me a postoffice order for the amount received
by him the evening after.

Embarrassments of a less poignant character frequently arise in the
matter of unexpected calls for service, for which the public generally
assumes the platform speaker to be necessarily always prepared, but for
which as a matter of fact no amount of preparation could adequately fit
any man built on the old-fashioned plan in respect to his nervous
organization. One of these affairs came into my experience a decade ago,
when, crossing the Atlantic Ocean on that high-rolling ocean greyhound,
the _Lucania_, I was drafted by an overzealous committee of arrangements
to preside over one of those impromptu entertainments got up on
shipboard for the benefit of the widows and orphans of those who go down
into the sea in ships. To these more than worthy enterprises gratitude
for benefits received has always made me a willing contributor; but to
participate in them has ever been a trial. I would rather lecture before
the inmates of a deaf and dumb asylum with a sore thumb.

The company aboard a transatlantic liner is always, to say the least,
"mixed" in the matter of nationality; and, while one might be willing to
"make a stab" at being witty before a gathering all English, all French,
all German, or Pan-American, woe be unto him who vaingloriously attacks
the risibles of a multitude made up of all these widely varying racial
elements! Their standards of humor are as widely divergent as are their
several racial strains, and one might as well try to sit on four stools
at once with perfect composure as expect to find the "Chair" under such
conditions comfortable. One has to acquiesce in such demands, however,
or be set down as disagreeable, and when the committee approached me in
the matter they received a much readier yes than I really wished to give
them.

The night came, and I found myself at the head table in the dining
saloon working for dear life to keep the thing going. There was a pretty
slim array of talent, and from one end of the program to the other there
was nobody to hang a really good joke on, even if I had had one to hang.
A chairman can always be facetious at the expense of distinguished
people like Chauncey M. Depew, Henry James, or Mr. Caruso, and "get away
with it"; but the obscure amateur cannot be handled with brutal
impunity. I think I may say truthfully that no man ever worked harder at
the pumps of a sinking ship than I did that night. And to make matters
worse there was a heavy rolling sea on, and, while I never suffer from
seasickness, the combination of motion and nerves made me uncomfortably
conscious of an insurgent midst as I forged hopelessly ahead.

Finally, however, there came a rift in the cloud of my despair. A
pleasant little cockney ballad singer who was coming over to America for
a season in vaudeville volunteered to sing a ballad. It was well sung,
and most pathetic. It depicted in dramatic fashion the delirium of an
old British veteran, who, as the hour of death approached him, was
fighting over again in fancy the battles of his youth. The refrain of
the ballad was _Bring me the old Martini, and I shall die in
peace!_--referring of course to the rifle that for a period of years up
to 1890 had been the official weapon of Tommy Atkins. I made the most of
so obvious a lead, and before introducing the next number on the program
thanked the singer for his dramatic rendering of so fine a story.

"But, my friends," said I, "that ballad saddens me in more respects than
one. I have long believed in international brotherhood. In common with
my friend Conan Doyle and others who have advocated the hands stretched
across the sea, I have been in sympathetic accord with the idea of
universal brotherhood; but now and then certain little things crop up
that, insignificant in themselves, show us none the less how radically
far apart we really are. This splendid old British warrior calling for
his Martini is a case in point, and I am sure my own compatriots here
to-night at any rate will realize the vast gulfs of separation that
exist between the Britons and ourselves when I ask them what they would
bring to a dying American soldier, delirious or otherwise, if he were to
call for a Martini."

The point took with the Americans; but the others, charming Frenchmen,
delightful Germans, cultivated Englishmen, stared at me in stolid
silence, and one or two of them shook their heads as if bewildered. It
was a hard situation, and I slammed the rest of the evening through
without further attempts at playfulness, retiring to the seclusion that
my cabin granted an hour later, resolved never again to serve as
presiding elder at a vaudeville show either on land or sea.

I felt almost as solemnly embarrassed as I did one evening in
Pennsylvania, later, when my lecture was opened with prayer and I heard
a good clergyman begging the Lord to "show His mercy upon the audience
gathered here," to "protect them from all suffering, and in His
infinite wisdom, if it were His will, to enable the speaker of the
evening to rise to his opportunity."

But there was an after result of that Martini jest which more than made
up for the depression that followed its failure to strike home. I write
of it, however, with some diffidence; for I am convinced that some
reader somewhere will observe that the incident is only another
variation of Senator Depew's famous tale of the Englishman who wanted to
know what really was the matter with the mince pie. As a matter of fact
it is the twin brother of that famous anecdote; but, while I am
perfectly willing to think the Depew story really happened, I know that
mine did, and I therefore record it.

The morning following the impromptu concert I was pacing the deck of the
steamer when one of the more distinguished passengers aboard, an English
army officer, who occupied at that time, and still holds, an important
post in British military circles, stopped me.

"Mr. Bangs," he said, holding out his hand, "I want to thank you for a
charming evening last night, and to express my admiration for the
delightful way in which you carried off your difficult honors. It was
really most interesting."

"Thank you, General," said I. "That is very nice to hear. I thought it
fell rather flat."

"Not at all, not at all," he rejoined; "though, to speak quite frankly,
there was one of your jests that I--I--I didn't really get. What humor
you have, sir, I think I appreciate. During a period of convalescence in
the Transvaal somebody sent me a copy of your 'House Boat on the Styx,'
and I--I--I found it very amusing; but this joke last night--after the
little chap had sung that ballad--about the dying veteran you know--it
quite escaped me. Er--_what would they bring an American soldier who
called for a Martini?_"

"Well, General," said I, restraining an impulse to be amused, "I might
explain, and explain and explain the point to you, giving you a chart in
full detail, exploiting the theory of the thing as fully as possible,
without satisfactory results. It is a case where an object lesson will
demonstrate in a minute what no amount of abstract argument could convey
in a year. If you will come with me into the smoking room, I'll show you
exactly what nine out of ten people in America would give to a soldier
crying aloud for a Martini."

[Illustration: "But what was the point of this little joke last night?"]

We repaired accordingly to the smoking room, and in response to my order
the steward shortly placed two misty Martini cocktails before us.

"There you are, General," said I, smiling, "that's what!"

He gazed at the Martinis a moment, and then he fixed his handsome eyes
on me. There was a merry twinkle in them, and after he had swallowed
the object lesson he leaned over with a broad smile and spoke.

"I am very much afraid, Mr. Bangs," said he, "that that idea you
Americans have that we British are sometimes a trifle sluggish in our
perception of the subtler points of an American jest, bristling as they
often do with latent significance, is not altogether without
justification. In order to show you how completely, how fully, I
appreciate the excellence of your witticism I would suggest that _we
have two more_."

I draw no conclusions of an invidious nature from this little episode;
for I recall with pain, and some contrition, an American audience in a
prohibition section of one of our Eastern States before whom I had the
hardihood to tell that story on a hot summer night three years ago, only
one of whose six hundred members saw the point, and he didn't dare laugh
for fear that by doing so he might risk his reputation for sobriety--or
so he informed me for my consolation later in the evening as he and I
zig-zagged together down an ice-covered mountain-road to the railway
station in a rattling motor car driven by a chauffeur who had apparently
confounded his own stomach with the gasoline tank.



XIV

"SLINGS AND ARROWS"


One's democracy receives a pretty severe test on the road, and I am
indeed sorry for the man who is always so solicitous for his own dignity
that the free and easy habits of the American of Today affront him. The
lecture platform is no place for what Doctor Johnson's friend Richard
Savage would doubtless in these days have characterized as "the tenth
transmitter of a foolish pride."

A people like ours, made up of a hundred million sovereigns, and
actuated for the most part, in their social intercourse at least,
by a spirit of fraternity, mixed with a very decided inclination
to be facetious, forms a somewhat bristling environment for the
supersensitively self-centered. If such a one contemplates the invasion
of the lyceum territory, as a friend and brother let me advise him to
spend at least a year in some social settlement where he may be
inoculated with sundry useful social germs, as a preventive of much
misery ahead. He must get used to much familiarity of a sudden sort, and
realize fully that our American world, while it respects ability, and
withholds from it no atom of its due appreciation, is in no particular a
respecter of mere persons.

In respect to "having to be shown" we are by a large majority "from
Missouri," and it will never do for the lyceumite to try to hedge
himself about with any fences of false dignity. The palings of those
fences may be sharp, and connected with barbed wire; but the American
citizens of the hour walk through them, or vault them, as easily as if
they were not there. And it is all very harmless too; for no man's real
dignity has ever yet suffered from any assaults other than his own.

I recall an incident of my travels in the Dakotas some years ago that
brought this situation home to me very vividly. I was on my way to a
county seat in one of those vast twin commonwealths on a rather sluggish
way train, and found among my fellow travelers three very live human
beings who had apparently just met after a long separation. One of them
was a rather stout little man, with a fresh, boyish face; another was a
tall and spare ferret-eyed individual who might have posed as an
acceptable model for a picture of Sherlock Holmes; and the third was a
well built young giant, a veritable blond Samson, full of the boisterous
spirits of young manhood.

The three sat across the aisle from me, and inasmuch as Nature had not
seen fit to supply their vocal organs with soft pedals, or pianissimo
stops, I became an unwitting, though not unwilling, listener to their
conversation. It was amusing, clean, and bristling with good-fellowship,
though not wholly Chesterfieldian in character. Finally the Sherlock
Holmes man, turning to the stout little chap, who was sitting next to
the car window, observed:

"Well, old man, you're lookin' a heap better than ya did the last time I
saw ya."

"Yes," said the stout little man, "I'm feeling better. I've been on a
diet for the past six months."

And here the stalwart young blond Samson playfully interposed. "Well, it
was about time, ya big, fat stuff!" he said. "Ya had a stummick on ya
big enough for sixteen men." Whereupon he proceeded to jam the little
man's derby hat down over his eyes.

Ordinarily this would be regarded as a rather commonplace, unenlightened
conversation; but its application to my point came the following
morning, when, having several hours to spare before departing for other
scenes, I went into the county courthouse to watch the litigation in
progress there. It was a scene full of interest, and the proceedings
were conducted on a plane of dignity quite in keeping with the highest
traditions of the bench, everything going on decently and in order. But
the interesting and possibly amazing thing about it to me was the sight
that greeted my eyes in the person of the Sherlock Holmes man of the day
before, conducting an eloquent argument before the stout little man of
the train, who was no less a person than--_the Presiding Justice_! And
the young giant who had called him a big, fat stuff, and jammed his hat
down over his eyes, was the _court stenographer_!

I had the pleasure of lunching with all three of them later in the day,
and a finer lot of true-blue American citizens I have not met anywhere
else, before or since.

If one has any purely physical peculiarity of an obvious nature, he must
get reconciled to having it used as a hook for his discomfiture, or his
delectation, according as his own attitude toward the slings and arrows
of life causes him to take them. In my own case perhaps the most
conspicuous personal idiosyncrasy I present physically to the eye of the
casual beholder is an almost abnormal lack of hirsute adornment; always
a favorite point of attack by facetiously inclined chairmen, by whom I
have been eloquently likened to the "imperishable Alps" for that I
lacked "vegetation" on my "summit," to a "heliograph on the Hills of
Letters," and by one I was called "the legitimate successor of the
lamented Bill Nye, the Original Billiard Ball on the Pool Tables of
Modern Humor."

Most of my delectable misadventures in respect to this deficiency have
naturally occurred in the barber shops of the nation, and it has been
surprising to me, as an interested student of American humor, to note
how full of variety are the spontaneous outbursts of the Knights of the
Razor everywhere upon that seemingly barren topic.

One barber in Wisconsin, to whom I facetiously complained that he
should not charge me full price for a haircut when there was so little
to cut, came back immediately with, "Ah, but you see I had to work
overtime to find it!"

Another in Boston, after shaving me, inquired, "Now how do you want your
hair brushed?"

"Brush it back like that young man's in the next chair," said I,
pointing to a Harvard student with a perfect mop of hair, resembling a
huge yellow chrysanthemum, which the neighboring artist was brushing
laboriously back from the youthful forehead.

"Humph!" said my friend. "I'll try; but, take it from me, _it'll take a
blistering long time to brush your hair back_!"

But the readiest bit of repartee that I recall in respect to this
shortcoming was that of a Philadelphia barber two years ago, who was
trying to make me presentable for my audience that night in the
Witherspoon Hall University extension course, where I was to deliver a
series of lectures on American humorists.

"Now," said he, running his hand over the back of my head after he had
attended to my other needs, "how do you want your hair fixed?"

"In silence, and without humor," said I. "I am approaching my fiftieth
year in this world, and since thirty I have been as you see me now. In
the course of those twenty intervening years I have heard about every
joke on the subject of baldness that the human mind has been able to
conceive at least fifty thousand times."

"I guess that's right," said he. "You are pretty bald, ain't you?"

"I am, and I am not at all ashamed of it," I returned. "My baldness has
been honestly acquired. I have not lost my hair in dissipation, or by
foolish speculation, but entirely through generosity of spirit. _I have
given my hair to my children._"

"Gee!" he ejaculated with fervor. "_You must have the divvle of a large
family!_"

I made use of that incident in my lecture that night as a convincing
demonstration that whatever had happened to the humor of the
professional humorist, as a natural gift of the American people that
branch of humor known as repartee was still running strong.

Intentionally or otherwise, I think the best joke ever perpetrated upon
me in respect to my lack of capillary attraction occurred at
Bellingham, in the State of Washington, up near the Vancouver line, back
in 1906, when I made my first trip to the Pacific Coast. I was the
victim that season of a particularly distressing window card, got up in
a great hurry from a most unsatisfactory photograph, and designed to
arouse interest in my coming. It greeted me with grinning pertinacity
everywhere I looked.

I am skeptic on the subject of window cards anyhow. I could never
convince myself that printed cuts are really effective instruments of
publicity, and I vow with all the fervor of which I am capable that they
are a nuisance and a trial to what the public call "the talent." I also
know that in at least one instance they bade fair to work adversely to
my interests, as was shown in a letter received by me many years ago
from an unknown correspondent in Kansas City, who addressed me thus:

     MY DEAR SIR,--I inclose herewith a copy of a so-called photograph
     of yourself published in this morning's Kansas City "Star," and I
     want to know if you really look like that. The reason I write to
     inquire is that yesterday was my little boy's birthday, and his
     grandmother presented him with a copy of one of your books. I
     haven't had time to read the book myself; but I have taken it away
     from Willie, and shall keep it pending your reply, _for if you do
     look like this, you are no fit person to write for children_.

I must confess that a single glance at the muddy reproduction of a long
discarded photograph convinced me that my naïve correspondent was not a
whit more careful of his parental responsibilities than the situation
justified. I might readily have passed, if that photograph were
accurate, for a professional gambler, or a highly probable future
candidate for the Rogues' Gallery.

But, whether the platform worker is helped or retarded by this
indiscriminate plastering of public places with his counterfeit
presentment, committees seem to think it necessary, and we therefore
provide them with the most pulchritudinous pictorial composition that
Art, unrestrained by Nature, can produce.

But the one I used in 1906 was a most unflattering affair, and I grew
heartily sick of it as my tour progressed. At Bellingham it was
oppressively omnipresent. It seemed as if I had erupted all over the
place. It greeted me in the railway station when I descended from the
train. Two of them hung in the hotel office when I entered, and as I
walked up the street after luncheon I overheard sundry unregenerate
youths remark, "There he goes!" and "That's him!" and "Oh, look who's
here!" derisively, until I could almost have wrung every juvenile neck
in town. On one corner I found it in a laundry window, labeled, "John
Kendrick Bangs at the Normal School Tonight," and placed immediately
beneath this was a brown paper placard inscribed in great, red-chalk
letters with the words, "HELP WANTED." Farther up the street I found it
in a millinery shop window, pinned beneath a composite creation of
Bellingham and Paris which was not particularly becoming to my pictorial
style.

But the climax was reached when I found it in a drug-store window, where
the window dresser had placed it over another placard, the advertisement
of a well known patent remedy. My picture covered the whole of the
patent medicine placard except its essential advertising line at the
bottom, and as I stood there staring at myself through that plate glass
window my grinning countenance stared back at me unflinchingly, and
underneath it was the legend,

    HIRSUTERINE DID THIS AND WE
          CAN PROVE IT.

In gratitude to the perpetrator of that horrific joke let me say that I
have used the incident as the opening anecdote in my Salubrity lecture
ever since, and I really believe it has had as much to do with making me
_persona grata_ to my audiences as any other feature of my discourse.

[Illustration: "My grinning countenance stared back at me
unflinchingly."]

A tolerably effective arrow that struck fairly on the bullseye of
over-self-appreciation came to me out of the dark, of a well intended
compliment in a prominent New Jersey city several years ago. I had
lectured before a fairly appreciative audience, seated conspicuously in
the midst of which was a young man whom I recognized as the very
courteous and affable room clerk of the hotel at which I was stopping.
He and his friends formed a nucleus of appreciation which more than
compensated me for the barbed glances of one or two unwilling auditors
dragged thither reluctantly, probably from more alluring indulgences in
bridge or draw poker at their clubs. Both my heart and head expanded
under the influence of their continuous enthusiasm, and my emotions of
satisfaction were intensified when on my walk back to the hotel I heard
the friendly room clerk, stalking just ahead of me, exclaiming
enthusiastically:

"Didn't I tell you he'd be good? By George! I read one of his books
once, and I've wanted to see him ever since."

It was all very nice, and I hugged the pleasant intimations of his
remark to my breast all through my dreams that night. But the morning
brought disillusionment, and a mighty poignant shaft entered into the
soul of me. After eating my breakfast I stepped to the hotel desk to pay
my bill, and was there beamingly greeted by the room clerk.

"Well, Mr. Bangs," said he, with outstretched hand, "that was a fine
talk you gave us last night, and I enjoyed every minute of it. But I
knew it would be good."

"Thank you," said I, my chest expanding a bit.

"I've only read one of your books," he went on; "but it gave me a lead
on you. I don't want to flatter you, but--well, _it was the funniest
book I ever read_, and I've been wondering if you would write your
autograph in it for me."

"Surely," said I, not only willing to please him, but quite anxious to
see which of my books it was that had filled him with such enthusiasm.

"I have it here," said he, taking the volume out of a drawer.

"Good!" said I. "Let's have it."

He handed it to me, and I glanced at it. _It was a copy of Jerome K.
Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat, not to Mention the Dog!"_

"No flattery at all," said I, my growing conceit falling back to par.
"I'm glad you like it."

And then for the first and only time in my life I committed forgery. I
took the book to a writing table near at hand, and inscribed the flyleaf
with "Appreciatively yours, Jerome K. Jerome." And as I left the hotel
the last sight that greeted my eyes was my kindly deputy assistant host
studying that inscription with a look of extreme bewilderment on his
screwed-up countenance.

Apropos of this incident it is rather curious how frequently my name and
that of Jerome K. Jerome have been confounded. I have always considered
it a compliment, and I sincerely hope Jerome himself will not mind it. I
suppose the identity of our initials J. K. is responsible for it, and
possibly the fact also that Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat" and my own
"House-Boat on the Styx" were published at about the same time. One of
the most amusing incidents based upon this confusion of identity
occurred in California last spring. I was spending Easter Sunday at that
remarkable hostelry, the Mission Inn at Riverside, feeling that in some
way despite of my desserts I had got into heaven, and quite convinced
that I could stand an eternity of it if the particular atmosphere of
that wonderful Sunday were typical of life there. The inspiring Easter
sunrise service on Mount Rubidaux was over, and I was resting
comfortably in the office when a young woman paused at my side, and
said,

"You will excuse me for speaking to you, sir, but your face bothers me."

"I am very sorry, Madame," said I, "but it has bothered me too for over
fifty years."

"Oh, I don't mean that way," she answered quickly. "I mean that I can't
place it."

"Well," said I, trying to smile, "you really don't have to. It is
already located."

"But I don't know where I have seen it before," she pleaded.

"Nor do I," said I, "but I think I can reassure you on that point.
Knowing myself as I do I can assure you that it must have been in a
perfectly respectable place."

"I wish you would stop fooling," she retorted, a trifle impatiently. "I
want to know who you are. You see I'm of a rather nervous temperament,
and when I see a familiar face and cannot remember the name of the
individual who--er--who goes with it, sometimes it keeps me awake all
night."

"It would be too bad to have that happen," said I, "and inasmuch as I am
not at all ashamed of my name I shall be delighted to tell you what it
is. It is Bangs--John Kendrick Bangs."

"Oh--I know," she cried, her perplexity fading away, "You are the man
who wrote 'Three Men in a Boat.'"

And the dear lady seemed to be so pleased over the honor of meeting so
distinguished an author that I really hadn't the heart to undeceive her.

I have always thought of my young friend the room-clerk far more kindly
than of another New Jersey host whose airy nonchalance in what was to me
a moment of some seriousness struck me as being almost arctic in its
frigid non-acceptance of responsibility for untoward conditions. I had
put up overnight in his jerry-built hostelry, and all had gone well
until breakfast time. I was seated at table enjoying my frugal repast,
when without warning from anybody I found myself the sudden recipient of
a heavy blow on the top of my head, and upon emerging from the rather
dazed psychological condition in which the blow left me discovered that
I was covered from head to foot with plaster, and that my poor but
honest poached egg had become a scrambled one, mixed with the impalpable
dust of a shattered bit of molding.

A glance heavenward showed whence my trouble had come. A section of the
ceiling about four feet square had come loose, and had landed upon me.
I could think of no better way to voice my protest against such an
intolerable intrusion upon my rights of privacy at mealtimes than by
giving the hotel manager an object lesson then and there of what was
going on under his roof. So I rose from the table and walked directly to
the office just as I was.

"Great Scott!" said my host, as I loomed up before him like a glorified
ash heap. "What's happened to you?"

"A part of your condemned old ceiling has fallen on me, that's what!" I
sputtered somewhat wrathfully.

"Oh, that's it, eh?" he replied, with a smiling grace which I hardly
appreciated at the time. "Well, we don't do that for everybody, Mr.
Bangs," he added; "_but seeing it's you we won't make any extra
charge_."

I thanked him for his consideration. "I'd like to buy this hotel," I
added.

"Well, it's for sale," said he. "Like to run it yourself?"

"No," said I. "I thought it might be some fun to buy a Panama fan and
blow it down."

[Illustration: "I was the sudden recipient of a blow on top of my
head."]

With which we parted forever. I have returned to the gentleman's
bailiwick several times since; but never again have I entered the
portals of that hostelry, for fear that by the careless dropping of my
tooth-brush or a cake of soap I might cause the complete collapse of the
structure, with the possible destruction of innocent lives; though if I
were assured that in falling it would land only on that landlord's head
I think I would willingly go out of my way to hire an aëroplane some
night and drop a pebble upon its roof from a height of three or four
feet. This is not so vindictive as it seems, either; for it would not
hurt that landlord over-severely. You could drop a much heavier weight
than that hotel upon any bit of solid ivory within reach without hurting
the ivory unduly.

A less sordid, and indeed wholly inspiring, incident along similar lines
occurred three years ago at Georgetown, Texas, when on a terrific night
in February, which I shall never forget, I stood for a few minutes face
to face with what might have proved an appalling tragedy. As I look back
upon the incident now it seems to me to have been at once the most
thrilling, and at the same time the most stimulating, moment of my life.

I had arrived at Georgetown early in the afternoon, and simultaneously
with my coming--and, as some of my critics may intimate, possibly
because of it--there arrived also one of those dreaded windstorms known
in that section of the world as a norther. Perhaps the Texans are so
used to these outbursts of Nature that they take them as all in the
day's work; but to myself, unused to anything more boreally disturbing
than an occasional nor'easter on the Maine Coast, it was extremely
disturbing. I did not dare walk on any of the sidewalks, fearing that
the loudly rattling signboards of commerce might be precipitated upon
me. One of the best liked literary friends of my younger days had passed
from intellectual brilliance of a most promising sort into permanent
mental darkness through the falling upon his head of a swinging sign in
New York, and I had come to regard such possibilities with dread.

The Muse and I consequently spent the afternoon indoors in a quivering
but substantial and well kept hotel, whose courteous landladies neither
the Muse nor I will ever fail to remember with affectionate esteem. As I
rode in an omnibus to the lecture hall that night, I rejoiced in the
heaviness of the vehicle, which otherwise must have been overturned by
the heavy blasts to which it was subjected.

When I reached the college I found the auditorium on the third floor of
the main building in almost total darkness, the only light coming from
an oil lamp standing on a piano at one end of the stage. The wind had
put the electric lighting apparatus temporarily out of commission; but
students were at work upon it, and I was assured that all would be well
if I would defer my lecture for a little while. To this of course I
consented; for, however pleasing it may be to talk to one person in the
dark, there is no pleasure in addressing a multitude of people into
whose eyes one is unable to look.

After fifteen minutes of waiting the electric lights suddenly gleamed
forth, and I was gratified to see before me an audience of substantial
size, made up for the most part of students, with a fair proportion of
the townspeople scattered about here and there. The college was a
coeducational institution, and the boys and girls were in fair measure
paired off in congenial fashion.

With the restoration of the light the president of the college stepped
to the front of the platform and presented me to the audience, after
which I rose and approached the footlights to begin. But never a word
was I permitted to speak; for as I started in the howling wind outside
seemed to re-double in its fury and intensity. There came a sudden loud
grinding and ripping sound, and a huge part of the roof was lifted
bodily upward, and then dropped back with a crash. One heavy beam fell
squarely in one of the aisles without injury to any one, though two
feet off on either side it would have killed the occupants of the aisle
seats, and from all parts of the great room big chunks of plaster and
lathing fell in upon the audience.

There was present every element of a tragedy of fearful proportions; but
from that assembled multitude of young people came not even a scream,
and on every side I saw stalwart young Texans of To-day and To-morrow
rise up from their seats, and _lean over the girls sitting crouched in
the chairs beside them, taking all the weight and woe of that falling
ceiling upon their own manly shoulders_! It was a magnificent exhibition
of readiness of resource, self-control, and unselfish chivalry. Almost
instantly with the first shock the president of the college, with a
calmness at which I still marvel, rose from the chair behind me and
confronted the gathering.

"Now, my young friends," said he, speaking with amazing rapidity, each
word enunciated as incisively as though spoken with lips of chilled
steel, "remember--this is one of the emergencies you are supposed to be
trained to meet. There is no telling how serious this situation is; but
let us have no panic. Rise and walk out quietly, and without too much
haste."

The youngsters rose and marched out of the hall in a fashion that would
have delighted the soul of a martinet among drill masters, down three
flights of stairs to the campus, silently, and without the slightest
outward manifestation of the fear that must have been in the hearts of
every one of them.

There had appeared in one of America's best magazines only a few months
previously a scathing arraignment of the young American of To-day, in
which the girls were indicted as being frivolous, lacking in
self-control, and full of selfishness, and the American boy was held up
to public scorn as knowing naught of respect for authority, and wholly
deficient in the quality of chivalry for which the youth of other times
had been noted. I wished then and I wish now that the good lady who
spoke so witheringly on that subject could have witnessed what I looked
upon that night in Texas. I think she would have modified her utterance
at least, if indeed she would not have changed her point of view
completely. She would have made her assertions less sweeping, I am
convinced; for she would have learned from that episode, as I have
learned from my contact with the youth of this land, not only in Texas
but elsewhere, that save for a superficial element, fortunately not very
large, the American youth of to-day, boy or girl, is in the main a
strong-fibered, self-controlled, unselfish, chivalrous product which
would be a credit to any nation, anywhere, at any time, past, present,
or future.

In conclusion let me say that when I returned to Georgetown the
following season to deliver my undelivered lecture I was introduced to
practically the same audience as "the man who brought down the house
without even opening his mouth."

Which shows that not only are youthful chivalry and self-control not
dead in Texas, but that American humor likewise is in flourishing
condition in that truly imperial State of our Union.



XV

EMERGENCIES


Quick thinking on and off the platform is quite essential to the
happiness of the man on the road. The sniping fates are always after
him, in small ways as well as in large, and he must keep himself in a
state of constant readiness either to dodge their flying shafts, or with
some suddenly devised shield of resourcefulness to render himself arrow
proof.

Sometimes the successful warding off of a flying missile sped from the
bow of some malign goddess of mischance becomes the making of the man,
as in a case once reported to me by a gentleman in Montana when after my
lecture at Billings he and I were laughing over the complete capture of
my audience by a big gray tomcat that had entered the lists against me.
This privileged creature had leaped into the chair immediately behind
me, and begun massaging his face in true feline fashion, to the intense
delight of a most amiable gathering.

I suppose that if I had known what was going on behind me, I should have
tried to rise to the occasion on the spur of the moment; but not knowing
it I read on, in blissful unconsciousness of the fact that a series of
living pictures was flashing across the vision of my audience directly
to the rear. The only sensation experienced at the time by my innocent
self was one of supreme pleasure and satisfaction that my audience had
at last awakened to the beauty of my discourse, and was manifesting in
most gratifying fashion its appreciation of even the subtlest of my
points. When at the close of the reading the real truth was revealed to
me I merely smiled, and never for a moment let on that until the
chairman spoke of the animal I had not suspected its presence.

"We admired your composure, Mr. Bangs," said the chairman. "A good many
men would have been rattled by such an intrusion as that; but you went
right on without a break. In fact, if you don't mind my saying so, you
were better after the cat than you were before he came."

"Oh, well," said I, "we have to get used to that sort of thing. The
trained lecturer really ought to be able to go on even if a young
earthquake were to fall upon him. Do you always try your lecturers on a
cat?" I added.

"Well, I hadn't thought of it that way," he laughed; "but as a matter of
fact we most generally do. That cat belongs to our janitor, and he's
pretty sure to turn up somewhere during the evening. One year we had a
man out here giving some recitations, and I tell you old Tom helped him
out considerably. He was rolling along through some funny speech or
other, when the cat jumped upon the platform, washed his face two or
three times, scratched his ear for a minute, and then with his eye fixed
on the audience he walked straight over the electric footlights to the
other side of the stage and disappeared. The audience roared and the
recitationist stopped, gazed with mock indignation at the people for a
second or two, and then addressing me he said, '_Mr. Chairman, I
understood that this was to be a monologue--not a catalogue_.' Of course
it brought down the house, and ever since then that man has been about
the most popular number our lecture course has ever had."

As a standard of emergency repartee I am inclined to think this
incident sets the high-water mark.

The intrusion of four-footed creatures on the line of vision at lectures
is unfortunately not rare. Lecturers have no terrors for mice and rats,
and just as every hall is provided with a janitor, or janitrix, so is
every caretaker provided with a cat, as a preventive of rodential
troubles. I have got so used to their presence, however, that I no
longer bother about them. As long as they leave me alone, and hold their
tongues, I am content to have them disport themselves as they please, in
the public eye or out of it. But a dog is another proposition
altogether.

Personally I like dogs better than I like cats; but for platform
purposes I prefer the feline to the canine intrusion. One knows pretty
well in advance what a cat will do; but a dog is a most uncertain
quantity. The cat's attentions are likely to be general, or, if not,
centered wholly upon his or her own toilet--washing her face, manicuring
her ears, pursuing her tail--but the dog too frequently takes a direct
personal interest in the chief performer of the occasion. And while I
should never think of attributing critical faculties to any kind of
dog, they sometimes have a way of expressing what might pass for
opinions, worthy or unworthy, concerning the work in hand, in no
uncertain tones.

As evidence of this I recall an afternoon devoted not long since to the
reading of one of Browning's exceedingly difficult masterpieces, in the
presence of a number of ladies and one highly intelligent Irish terrier.
The poem was Browning's "Christmas Eve and Easter Day," full of beauty
and of inspired thought, but not easy reading, and requiring unusual
concentration of mind to get out the full measure of its charm. My small
audience was most appreciative, and as I approached the climacteric I
was feeling tolerably well satisfied with the results, when this keenly
critical terrier suddenly rose from his resting place, stationed himself
deliberately before me, stretched himself until it almost seemed that
one could hear his bones crack, and sent forth upon the mystery-laden
atmosphere about as expressive a whining yawn as one might expect from
the Seven Sleepers themselves, all rolled into one, and too early
awakened from their slumbers--and there the "climacteric" rests to this
day.

I never finished the reading, and what had been an hour of highly
concentrated mysticism reached its sixtieth second in a wild roar of
hilarious relief.

A less comfortable moment involving a canine intruder occurred at
Binghamton, New York, back in 1898, when I suffered the double intrusion
of a secret society initiation going on overhead, which may or may not
have been made interesting to the initiates by the presence of the
proverbial goat, and the sudden appearance upon the stage of a huge
bulldog of terrifying aspect.

Above me was every indication, in sound at least, of a wild creature
"abounding and abutting" upon the whole length of the superimposed
floor, accompanied by muffled yells, presumably from the despairing
throats of brothers elect. But this was as nothing in its effect upon my
peace of mind to the sudden development of that bulldog in our midst. He
came in through the open door of the hall, and walked deliberately down
the center aisle, and thence up the steps to the platform whereon I was
engaged in the pleasing occupation of "Reading from My Own Works."
Bright as I had fondly hoped these works would be thought, they
immediately went dark in the face of that undershot jaw with its
gleaming white teeth, the drooling lip, and the eager, curious eye on
each side of the squat nose, fixed intently upon my quaking self.
Whether I continued to read or merely extemporized I do not now
recall--in fact, I really never knew--I simply know that I continued to
make sounds with my vocal organs, one eye on the pages of my book, the
other glued to the lower jaw of the intruder.

The latter, after satisfying his visual perceptions as to my superficial
virtues and defects, seemed to find it necessary to satisfy also some
inward nasal craving to settle certain lingering doubts in his mind as
to my right to be where he found me, and to that end he proceeded to
place his squat nose hard up against the calf of my leg, and to sniff
vigorously.

By what strange mercy it was that I did not kick him, then and there,
with results that I hesitate even now to dwell upon, I don't know. The
supremely important facts are that I did not kick him, but droned
quaveringly on through my work, and soon learned happily from a scarcely
suppressed snort that he considered me too contemptible for further
attention. He departed, going out as he had come, through the open
doorway, and left me again in control of the situation, if not wholly of
myself. When he had completely faded into the outer darkness I paused
and said:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I appreciate deeply your tribute of regard; but
let me tell you frankly that I prefer flowers, even vegetables, to
bulldogs. If you have any further four-footed tokens of your esteem in
store for me, I beg that you will send them by special messenger to my
office in New York, or by mail to my residence in Yonkers, the address
of which you may secure from the chairman on your way out of the hall at
the conclusion of my reading."

The ultimate results of this incident were far from happy. I naturally
told the story, together with some other amusing details of my visit to
Binghamton, to friends at my club later, not any more in confidence than
they are related here, and as good-naturedly as their diverting quality
rendered appropriate; and the fact that I had done so coming to certain
Binghamtonian ears, I was placarded in one of the Binghamton papers as
being "no gentleman," "an ungrateful guest," and so on, _ad lib._, in
consequence of which Binghamton and I no longer speak as we pass by.

For this I am sincerely sorry, but none the less must rest content. I do
not think I should care to return there even if I were asked, for fear
that in pursuance of their system of tribute they might try my courage
upon the lineal descendant of that goat above stairs, or possibly upon
some actively inclined bull, playfully unleashed in my vicinity as a
test of my composure if not of my good manners.

[Illustration: "A craving to settle lingering doubts as to my right to
be there."]

The minor matter of dress is frequently the cause of emergency calls for
help from embarrassed lyceumites, and to get out of predicaments in
which mistakes of packing under the pressure of hurry place us sometimes
taxes our resources to the uttermost. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once told
me of an amusing complication along these lines by which he was
confronted in a New Jersey community, whither he had gone to dine with
and address the students of a famous school.

On his arrival at the scene of action Dr. Doyle, as he was then known,
discovered to his dismay that in the hurried packing of his suitcase he
had forgotten to put in his evening coat. Everything else was there; but
his swallowtail was missing. Now Sir Arthur is not only a distinguished
novelist and story writer, but is a particularly punctilious and
tactfully courteous gentleman as well; and, having heard stories of
other Britons coming to this country and attending functions given in
their honor in tweeds, as if we Americans knew nothing of the niceties
of dress, was careful always to avoid giving offense himself by similar
vagaries. So, rather than seem contemptuous of the conventionalities on
this occasion, the doctor pleaded a headache as his excuse for not
appearing at dinner, and in the interval of time thus gained transformed
his blue serge traveling coat into a perfectly good dinner jacket, or
Tuxedo, as some do call it, with properly rolling lapels, by cutting off
the buttons and rolling the front of his coat back into a broad lapel
effect; pressing the resulting garment into stayable shape by putting it
between the mattresses of his bed, and lying on them for an hour.

I cannot say that I have ever found myself master of any such wonderful
ingenuity when face to face with a similar predicament; but in Austin,
Texas, two years ago I suffered from a condition that for the time being
seemed quite as poignantly distressing.

My trunk had been despatched from San Antonio to Houston, and I was
"living in my suitcase." With only twenty-five minutes to spare before I
was due upon the platform, I found myself without shirt studs, and at
the moment without anything at hand to use as an acceptable substitute.
A hurried visit to the main street and some of its tributaries divulged
nothing in the nature of a haberdashery or a jeweler's shop that had not
been closed for the night.

I was in a terrific quandary; but the Only Muse, always a resourceful
person, reminded me of Oliver Herford's expedient many years before in
using in a similar emergency a set of brass-headed manuscript fasteners.
Fortunately I had with me several bits of manuscript that were held
together by these useful little contrivances--small pieces of metal with
shining brass caps, backed by flexible flanges to hold the caps in
place. These were inserted in the buttonholes of my shirt in most
satisfactory fashion, and in a few moments as far as externals were
concerned I presented as goodly an appearance as any man rejoicing in
the effulgent glory of three lustrously golden studs.

With a sigh of relief I then turned to put on my white waistcoat, only
to discover, alas! that that too was missing, nor was there any sign
anywhere of any other kind of vest that could do duty convincingly, or
even acceptably, with a claw-hammer coat. Again I flew precipitately
down the stairs, this time to the kindly room clerk in the hotel office.
I explained my predicament to him in a few well chosen words, ending up
with:

"Haven't you a white vest you can lend me?"

"Certainly I have," said he, and together we repaired to his room in
quest of the needed garment. He soon found it, and I returned rejoicing
to my room, the treasure hugged tightly to my breast; but when I came to
try it on I discovered, what I had overlooked in the agitation of the
moment, _that as eight is to thirty-two, so was the room clerk's façade
to mine_! I could get into the vest; but no compressor ever yet invented
could so adjust my physical proportions to the garment that it would
come within four inches of meeting in front.

"What the deuce am I going to do?" I cried, sinking into a chair in
despair.

"Slit it up the back, and I'll pin it on you," suggested the ever-ready
Muse.

"But it isn't mine," said I.

"Buy it," said she.

In an instant I had the room clerk on the telephone. "Will you sell me
that vest?" I asked.

"Why--no," he said. "I don't want to sell it."

"But I need it in my business," I pleaded.

"Well, you've got it, haven't you?"

"Yes, I've got it all right," I replied; "_but I can't get into it
without putting a yard of extra width in the back_. Come on--be a good
fellow and sell it to me," I added with all the pathos that I could
summon.

"No," he answered with a chuckle, "no--I couldn't sell it to you; _but
I'll give it to you with all the pleasure in the world_!"

In this fashion was the emergency met, and I went out before my audience
that night on time in improvised raiment pinned on to my person, "a
thing of shreds and patches," and blazoning as to my shirt-front with
all the resplendent gilt of three brass tacks, all of which brought
vividly to my mind the words of Antonio in "The Merchant of Venice":

    O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

It may seem to the casual observer that such matters as shirt studs and
white waistcoats are of too slight importance to worry a speaker; but a
"whole date" was once saved to me by the fact that I wore a high silk
hat, which caused a kindly livery-stable keeper to drive me eighteen
miles from a stranded railway train through a blizzard to the town of my
destination, because he judged from my hat that _I was a member of a
favorite minstrel troupe that was to perform there the same night_. When
he discovered that I was only one of "them lecture fellers," for whose
free tickets he had no use, he was terribly disappointed.

Anyhow, an audience likes a man to be wholly himself, and cares little
for a speaker who modifies his dress according to his ideas of how they
wish him to look. A popular and prominent candidate for Governor of New
York once lost a large number of votes that might have elected him
because in addressing a gathering of workingmen at an East Side rally,
the night being insufferably hot, he took off his coat and collar, and
spoke to them in his shirt sleeves. The men were deeply offended. They
significantly asked if he would have taken off his coat in the presence
of a fashionable uptown audience, and would have none of his presumed
assumption that they were any less worthy of his respect, or careful of
their own dignity, than his so-called smarter, better-class people.

I have always found the full evening dress and high collar of an effete
civilization wholly comfortable, and wear them accordingly wherever I
lecture, whether it be in the rarefied social atmosphere of high
academic circles, or in a mining camp where there dwell possibly
rougher, but none the less genuine, human folk. I think that in the
latter environment indeed it is a positive aid to success to do so; for
there can be no doubt that reduced to its essentials the evening dress
of the modern male creature is really a funny thing, and in an evening
devoted somewhat to humor any element that is in even the least degree
mirth-provoking does not come amiss.

Perhaps the most overpowering sense of being confronted by an emergency
came to me again back in 1898 out of an experience that turned out to be
critical only in my own imaginings. Most of our troubles are, I fancy,
imaginary--purely psychological, as the modern phrase has it--but while
they are on they are none the less acute for all that. On the occasion
of which I write, at a more than feverish moment in our relations with
Spain and Cuba, I was summoned to lecture at the attractive little port
of Brunswick, Georgia. It was here, by the way, that I first had the
pleasure of seeing my name on a hotel bill of fare, which in the
platform world is the height of fame, just as in the theatrical world it
is the acme of distinction for a star to see his name pasted on an ash
barrel, or spread across the hoardings of a ten-acre lot full of tin
cans and other undesirable bric-à-brac. They had me down on the supper
bill among the hot breads, somewhat like this:

                 HOT BREAD
    Tea Biscuit. Corn Muffins. Graham Gems.
                 Popovers.
    John Kendrick Bangs, Casino, To-night.

But that was not the Emergent Moment of which I would speak. This came
later, at the conclusion of my lecture, when a young man who in the dim
light of the street was scarcely perceptible, intercepted me as I left
the hall.

"Mr. Bangs," said he, "I have come here from Captain Maguffy of the
_Samuel J. Taylor_, to present his compliments to the skipper of the
'House-Boat on the Styx.' The captain was detained from your lecture
to-night, to his very great regret; but he wishes you would drop all
formality and join him at supper."

Knowing neither Captain Maguffy (the name is a substitute for the real
one) nor his ambassador, I thanked the latter, saying that while I was
grateful for his courtesy I was really very tired, had much work ahead
of me, and begged to be excused.

"The captain never takes no for an answer," persisted the young man. "He
will be terribly disappointed if you don't come, and as a matter of
fact, counting surely upon your good fellowship, he has made special
preparations for you."

Unfortunately--or fortunately, as it later turned out--among other
serious defects in my education I have never been taught the firmer uses
of the negative. I have never been able to say no to anybody as if I
really meant it, and it has involved me in more difficulties than I care
to record here or elsewhere. In any event, my regrets growing fainter
and fainter, and Captain Maguffy's ambassador's insistence more and more
marked, the sum total of some thirty-two negatives soon developed into
one positive affirmative.

"All right," I said finally, "I'll run in on the captain; but only for a
moment, just long enough to shake hands, say howdido, and get back to
bed. I must be in bed by midnight as a matter of principle."

The ambassador thereupon assisted me into one of those indescribable
one-horse "shays" that seem to sprout in the vicinity of Southern
railway stations and hotels about as lushly as mint in the patches of
the Carolinas. I used to think when I was a resident of Yonkers that the
Hudson River Valley was a sort of hack heaven, whither all sorts of
deceased vehicles went when they died; but several tours of the South
since have convinced me that that idea was mere presumption on my part.
The South, as well as the Hudson River Valley, fairly burgeons with
vehicular antiques that would delight the soul of an archæologist
anxious to find the connecting link between the carriages of the Cæsars
and those of Andrew Jackson and his successors up to the merry days of
Hayes.

The particular rattledy-bang old combination of wabbling wheels and
hair-erupting cushions into which I was ushered was drawn by a white
horse, and driven by a colored man. The horse was so very white that it
could hardly be seen on the white coquina roads, and the negro was so
black that he was equally imperceptible against the background of the
night; so that I seemed to be floating through the night enjoying
sensations similar to those of a man on his first journey in an
aëroplane. The whole effect was eery in the extreme, especially as we
drove and drove and drove, and floated and floated and floated, without
apparently getting anywhere.

Then, of a sudden, I became terribly uneasy. The thought flashed through
my mind, "Why, here you are, all alone, after ten o'clock at night, in
a strange country, going to see a man you never heard of before, in
company of an individual whose name you haven't asked, and whose face
you have seen only dimly in the dark! You are known to have several
hundred dollars in your pocket, and nobody under Heaven but yourself and
your companion knows where you are, or in what kind of company." It
really seemed time for a diplomatic "hedge."

"Where is Captain Maguffy's house?" I inquired as a starter, after we
had driven for an overlong time.

"Newark, New Jersey," was the consoling reply, but soberly made.

"Well--I don't feel equal to a drive that far," I said dryly. "I
supposed when I accepted this invitation that your captain was living
around the corner somewhere."

"No," said my companion. "_He's aboard his boat--the Samuel J. Taylor._"

"His boat?" I cried. "Oh, come now, my friend--if I'd known that--well,
really, I think we'd better turn back."

"Not now," said he. "We're almost there."

"But why doesn't the captain keep his boat closer to civilization?" I
queried. "Isn't there room for him closer to town?"

"Yes, there's plenty of room closer to town," replied my strange
acquaintance, "but the captain prefers to be closer to the sea in case
he needs to make a quick get-away. He and the government aren't on the
best of terms. Between you and me, he's _doing a little stunt in
filibustering_, and the folks up at Washington are getting suspicious."

My heart sank into my boots and then rebounded to my throat. "You should
have told me all this before we started," said I.

"Well, I should have," said he; "but--well, I was afraid if I did you
wouldn't come, and the captain told me not to come back without you.
What he says goes with me."

I could think of only one word. The simple term _kidnapped_ flashed
across my mind, and then the pleasing little phrase, so nice for a
headline, _Held for Ransom_, burned itself into my nerve. The beating of
my heart sounded like the muffled tread of that invisible steed ahead on
the coquina road. I glanced out of the chaise to see what my chances of
escape might be in case I made a break for liberty, and saw off to the
right of me the lines of a rotting pierhead, and the towering masts of a
huge schooner that was moored to its decaying piling. At the inner end
of the pier was a white-washed shed. Everything in sight except the
driver, the chaise, and my future looked white--a ghastly, ghostly white
that made me think of all the tales of horrid spooks I had ever heard.
Here the carriage came to a sudden halt, and a tall black figure loomed
up from behind the shed.

"_Did you get him?_" came a deep bass voice out of the night.

"You betcha!" was the reply from my companion.

I descended from the carriage, and my conductor led the way along the
rotting stringpiece of the pier, a little more than a foot wide, the
chill waters of St. Simon's Sound lapping about six feet below on each
side, and the dark figure from behind the shed immediately to the rear.
I was completely a captive. A moment later we came to a narrow gangplank
leading to the broad, holy-stoned deck of the schooner, in the fore part
of which was an open hatchway, out of which there streamed a steady
shaft of yellow light.

"Down this way, please," said my companion as we reached the hatchway.

Tremulously I followed him down the steps, and in a moment found
myself--in the prettiest, daintiest, little, white and gold parlor one
could have hoped to find anywhere outside of a mansion designed for a
Marie Antoinette, or a Madame de Maintenon! Everywhere was gold and
white--chairs, walls, table--and set in the panels of the walls (built
in) were a half-dozen exquisite little water-color paintings, all in
most perfect keeping with the general color scheme of the room; and on
each side of a door leading to an adjoining apartment, impassive as two
bits of sculpture, stood two negroes of gigantic size, not an inch under
six feet in height--two veritable genii out of the pages of the Arabian
Nights, but clad in blue flannel coats with brass buttons, white duck
trousers, and glazed white hats with black vizors.

It was really a wonderful picture; but I had hardly had time to take it
in when from behind me again the bass voice of the figure behind the
shed broke upon my hearing.

"Welcome, O Skipper of the Stygian House Boat, to the _Samuel J.
Taylor_!" it said, and quickly turning I found myself gazing into the
dark, flashing eyes of my host. If the white and gold cabin had amazed
me, the captain completely took my breath away. He looked as if he had
just come in from a five o'clock tea on Fifth avenue--frock coat, dark
gray trousers, all of perfect fit, white waistcoat, lavender tie with an
exquisite pearl pin stuck carelessly into its soft folds, and in his
hand the very latest thing in imported high silk hats! He was the beau
ideal of your conventional gentleman of society. As I have said, I was
breathless, and consequently speechless, for a moment; but I did manage
at the end of a few seconds to blurt out:

"Am I--am I awake, Captain?"

"Well--if you're not, we've plenty of room and time for you to sleep it
out," he replied.

"But this cabin--this saloon--these--these water colors!" I went on.

"A little fancy of my wife's," said mine host. "She fitted it all up
herself. The water colors, by the way, are all her own work. Rather
nice, I think. She was a pupil of a fellow Centurion of yours, Mr.
----." Here he mentioned one of our famous artists, a member of my club,
and a painter of rare distinction.

My desire to get away had become less keen; but I deemed it wise
nevertheless to make the effort. I still needed some reassurance as to
my safety.

"Well, Captain," said I, "it has been a pleasure to meet you, and I hate
to run; but I have had a hard day of it, and I'm very tired. I have come
just to shake hands with you and say howdido, before turning in for the
night."

"Oh, you mustn't go until you have broken bread with me," said he.

"I told him he could be in bed by twelve if he wanted to," interposed my
conductor.

"All right," said the captain. "We'll live up to your promise. You may
serve the supper at once," he added, turning to the two genii at the
door, who had not stirred a muscle through the whole conversation.

Then began the service of a supper in which for the first time I tasted
the joys of alligator pears, the sweets of real grapefruit made into
salad, the full possibilities of Moro crabs à la Newburg, alongside of
which even my beloved Maine lobsters are dull and dreary reptiles, and
of many other delightful edibles as well, with my choice of a liquid
refreshment as if from the cellar of a Lucullus--and through it all the
captain talked.

He told me of his interest in the Cuban struggle for independence; how
he had gone first to Havana as correspondent for an American newspaper
with a decided leaning toward Spanish interests; how he had resigned
rather than write the kind of material his chiefs demanded.

He told me then how he had at last decided to help the Cuban cause with
arms, and with what money he had; how he had chartered this lumber
schooner and gone ostensibly into the lumber business to cover his real
activities; and how every time he set out from Brunswick laden with
lumber consigned to some other port he always took time to run over to
Cuban waters, and carry weapons and ammunition to the insurgents.

"And what has Uncle Sam had to say to all these activities?" I asked.

"He's getting a little suspicious," laughed the captain. "Once I thought
he'd got me, too. I had a thousand rifles and ten thousand rounds of
ammunition in hand for the boys, the other day and while I was being
towed out to sea by a tug the _Vesuvius_, which had been watching me for
several days, fired a shot across my bows and stopped me. They sent a
search party aboard--and I tell you, sir, they were a mighty thorough
lot! There wasn't a nook or cranny of the _Samuel J. Taylor_ those
fellows didn't turn inside out. Not an inch from topmast to keel escaped
the official eye; but they found nothing, and I was allowed to go on."

"But how," said I, "did you manage to conceal the stuff?"

"Oh, that was simple," laughed the captain. "They went through the
_Samuel J. Taylor_ with a fine-tooth comb; _but they forgot to search
the tug_. We transferred the guns later, and forty-eight hours afterward
they were in the hands of the Cubans."

It was five o'clock in the morning when Captain Maguffy delivered me at
my hotel.

"Good-by, Captain," said I. "For a few moments I was afraid you were
going to kidnap me--and now, by George! _my only regret is that you
didn't_!"

He laughed heartily. "Well," he said, "if you really mean that, come
back on board. _I think it can be arranged._"

But freedom was too sweet, and besides I had to make my living; so I
reluctantly bade the captain good morning, and have thought of him
affectionately ever since.



XVI

A PIONEER MANAGER


No record made by a grateful pen of the joys and trials of the lecture
platform could be complete without some reference to the spiritual
benefits made possible by the profession of "Gad and Gab," as Mr.
Strickland Gillilan, the astute author of "Off Ag'in, On Ag'in,
Finnigin," himself a happy worker in the vineyard of peripatetic
eloquence, calls it, in the matter of friendships. Both as a producer
and as a consumer of the platform product I have been the beneficiary of
many friendships and acquaintances that I now hold among the cherished
memories of my professional life. As I think of them now they rush in
upon me with such tidal force that I find myself unable for lack of
space to treat of them in this volume, and they must be left for other
pages. And yet in the light of grateful reasoning it becomes clear that
I should not close this portion of my story without some reference to
one splendid soul, to whom primarily I owe all the happiness in this
line of human effort that it has been my privilege and my blessing to
enjoy, James B. Pond--the good old major, who during his long and busy
career as an organizer and manager was guide, mentor, and friend, always
faithful, always true, to the Man on the Platform. He was a big man in
every way, physically as well as spiritually. The only misfit about him,
if there were any, perhaps was in the size of his heart, which was, I
suspect, too large even for his gigantic frame. If any man was ever born
to be a pioneer in any kind of human endeavor requiring tenacity of
purpose, scrupulous integrity, courage in the face of trial, tolerance
of the shortcomings of others, and a dogged insistence upon "quality,"
that man was Major Pond, and he looked it.

If I were a painter, and wanted a model for one of those sturdy
Americans who were not afraid of anything, and went out into the wilds
of a new and dangerous country with all the zest of a boy on the trail
of a fox, to hew by main strength a way that civilization might follow
in his train, I should seek no further than that huge, strengthful
figure, massive, graceful even in its ungainliness, surmounted by the
frank, vigorous, hewn face that from its deep-set eyes flashed
determination and kindliness always. Somehow or other Major Pond always
made me think of the days of Forty-nine, and when he first dawned, or I
should perhaps better say loomed, on the horizon of my life, I began
first to sense the smallness of a mere library as a world in which to
live, and to think of those vast, remoter stretches where men did not
read and write romances, but lived them.

My first contact with Major Pond was as a consumer of the things he had
to sell, and I came soon to learn that the stamp of his approval was the
hallmark of excellence. The major's imprint upon a circular was enough
for me, and in several years of our relation as buyer and seller he
never failed me; and the merest cursory glance at the list of men and
women for whom he stood sponsor in the lyceum field shows why. It was a
marvelous galaxy of humans, many of them now passed imperishably into
the pages of history, for whom the major did yeoman service in this
country, beginning with Wendell Phillips, Charles Sumner, and Henry Ward
Beecher, and ending with Matthew Arnold, Henry M. Stanley, Julia Ward
Howe and that Prince among men, the never-to-be-forgotten John Watson,
dear to the hearts of readers everywhere as Ian Maclaren.

The service of the manager of the Major Pond type was not a mere
perfunctory business service only, but was of a more or less intimate
personal nature as well. The major was not content to make a booking for
a celebrity at some distant, well nigh inaccessible point, and then
shoot him out into the dark unknown to take care of himself, and get
along as best he might. On the contrary, he went along himself when he
could, and what hardships were to be faced he shared, and those that
might be staved off by a little kindly care and foresight he shielded
his people from. It was thus that he built up not only the most notable
list of lecturers the world has yet known, but at the same time
surrounded himself with a circle of gallant friends, who came to think
of him with rare affection.

This intimate personal contact with men of unusual distinction gave him
a fund of reminiscence that was a never-failing source of delight to his
friends. To Mr. Gladstone, Pond's stories were so tremendously
appealing that during one of the major's visits to London the great
British statesman requested permission to have a stenographer take them
down just as they fell from the lips of the picturesque old American.
Concerning Henry Ward Beecher and Mark Twain the major could talk
forever, and the little sidelights his fund of anecdote concerning them
cast upon the personality of these two men were invariably appealing.

Worn by the nervous strain of a hard bit of lecturing before the major's
own friends and neighbors one night many years ago, I was privileged to
sit and gather refreshment and peace of mind in the joy of one of the
major's reminiscent monologues lasting well into the early hours of the
morning, with which he regaled me upon my return to his hospitable
house. I was unhappily conscious of not having done my work particularly
well that night--in fact I had had to lecture from a manuscript, which
is always fatiguing both to speaker and to audience, and I hardly dared
ask the major what he thought of my performance--but after awhile in his
fatherly way he broached the subject himself.

"It was a good lecture, Bangs," he said, "and some day, maybe, _you
will find time to make it shorter_."

"What is a good lecture, Major, anyhow?" I asked, hoping that from such
an authority as he must by now have become I should get some clue to a
possible short cut, if not to success, at least away from failure.

He threw himself back in his chair and laughed. "That reminds me,
Bangs," said he. "Maybe you'd like to know what Horace Greeley
considered a good lecture--at any rate it is the only answer to your
question that I know. Greeley and Henry Ward Beecher and I were on our
way to Boston once, and as we passed through Bridgeport, Connecticut,
Greeley, glancing out of the car window, said, 'Hello, here's
Bridgeport, the home of P. T. Barnum! Nice town, Beecher. I gave a
successful lecture here once.'

"'What do you call a successful lecture, Greeley?' asked Mr. Beecher.

"'Why,' said Greeley, '_a successful lecture is where more people stay
in than go out_.'"

As for the major's relations with Mark Twain, there was always so much
of the spirit of pranksome boyhood in them both that their days
together, when Clemens was so bravely working to clear off the
indebtedness of the publishing house that he had unnecessarily but
chivalrously assumed as his own, must have been something of a romp,
despite the unquestioned hardships of such persistent travel.

As a specimen of the playful spirit in which the two men went at their
work I recall a story told me that night by the major of how in a far
western State, owing to a delayed train, they were kept waiting on a
railway station platform for several hours.

"Look here, Pond!" said Clemens after much dreary waiting. "You may not
know it, but this is a violation of our contract. You agreed to keep me
traveling, and this ain't traveling: it's just nothing but pure, cussed
condemned loafing!"

"All right, Mark," said the major. "Just a second and I'll fix you out."

The major walked up to the end of the platform, where there was an empty
baggage truck standing in front of the baggage room door. This he pushed
along to where Clemens was standing, and then picking the humorist up in
his arms he put him on board the truck and wheeled him up and down the
platform, to the astonishment of the gathered natives, until the train
came in, thus filling his contract to the letter, as was his invariable
custom.

Nor shall I ever forget the major's delightful characterization of the
platform work of Matthew Arnold.

"Arnold spoke from a manuscript," said he. "It was a printed affair,
done in large letters on ordinary cap paper, and bound up in a
portfolio. This he insisted on having on an easel at his right hand.
After bowing to his audience he would fasten his eyes on the manuscript
and then turn and recite a sentence from it to the people in front. Then
he would go back to the manuscript again, corral another sentence, and
recite that. _And so it went to the end of the show--and all in a voice
that nobody could hear!_"

The major paused a moment, and chuckled.

"General and Mrs. Grant attended the first Arnold lecture at Chickering
Hall," he said. "The place was packed; but I got them seats, well back,
but the best there were. After Arnold's lips had been moving without a
sign of a word that anybody could hear for ten or fifteen minutes the
General turned to Mrs. Grant and said, 'Well, my dear, we've _seen_ the
British Lion at least; but inasmuch as we cannot hear him roar I guess
we'd better go home!' Grant was known as the silent man," continued the
major; "but Arnold gave him a pointer on how a man could be silent and
talking at the same time."

The major was a great believer in the value of Author's Readings by what
he used to call "running mates,"--teams, as the vaudevillains have it.
He had had great success with such combinations as Mark Twain and George
W. Cable, Thomas Nelson Page and F. Hopkinson Smith, and Bill Nye and
James Whitcomb Riley. Trotting in double harness had proved in these
cases most profitable for everybody concerned, and the major was
constantly in search of new alliances. How his ordinarily sane judgment
ever came to be warped to such point that he could think of me in such a
connection I cannot even pretend to surmise; but it did happen that in
the mid-nineties of the last century he began singing a siren song in my
ears, to which in an hour of greed and weakness I yielded, the burden of
whose refrain was that R. K. Munkittrick of Puck, a man with a rare
gift of buoyant humor, and I could make a fortune for everybody if we
would only consent to "trot" together.

I had no particular illusions as to my abilities; but the fact that
Major Pond believed I could do it was enough for me. If the Gaekwar of
Baroda should ever assure me that a cracked bit of Pittsburg plate glass
was a diamond of fairest ray serene, I should be inclined to think there
was something in it so long as he wasn't trying to sell it to me, and so
when Major Pond was willing to stake his professional reputation on it
that Munkittrick and I would make a highly acceptable platform
constellation it was not for me to refuse to twinkle.

I shall never forget the experience. The horrors of it were such that
the Day of Judgment itself have possessed small terrors for me since. We
were tried out at Albany, New York, before an audience of sixty people,
in an auditorium capable of seating three thousand. Everything seemed to
go wrong, and on our way up to Albany Munkittrick managed to catch a
cold which left him terribly hoarse upon our arrival at the old Delavan
House in New York's capital city. To overcome this hoarseness
Munkittrick bought a box of troches of a well known brand, but instead
of taking one or two of them he devoured the whole box in about twenty
minutes, as if they had been gumdrops or marshmallows, with the result
that his tongue began to swell up, and by eight o'clock when we were due
on the platform that essential factor of clarity of enunciation was "too
big for the job," if I may so put it, occupying not less than
seven-eighths of the available space inside of Munkittrick's mouth, all
of which, combined with the natural nervousness of a debut, put us quite
out of commission.

As a matter of fact we should never have gone out upon the platform; but
we did, and while the chairman was announcing to the scattered multitude
in front that we were the greatest combination of wit, eloquence, and
humor the world had ever known, not even excepting Nye and Riley, who
had so often delighted Albany audiences in the past, Munkittrick and I
sat there quivering with fear, not even daring to look at each other. I
do not believe that even the Babes in the Wood themselves looked upon
their prospects with greater dread. It was an awful evening; so awful
that before it was over a frivolous reaction set in which I truly think
was the only thing that enabled us to push it through to the bitter end.

Of course it was a failure. We knew that almost before we began; but it
was borne in upon us at the end by the fact that the chairman, who had
invited us to join him in a little supper afterward to meet a few of his
friends, vanished as if the earth had opened up and swallowed him, and
not a crumb of his supper or the hem of his garment did either of us
ever see again. Fortunately we had been paid in cash before we went out
upon the stage. If it had not been so, or had we been paid by a check on
which payment could have been stopped, I doubt if either of us would
have realized a penny on the transaction. Moreover, I did not venture to
call upon the major for at least a week, and even then my meeting with
him was merely casual. I bumped against him on the street in front of
his office in the Everett House.

"Hello, Bangs!" said he. "Have a good time at Albany?"

"Fine!" said I. "The town is full of charming people."

"Well--I'm _glad somebody enjoyed it_," said the major.

"Any more bookings?" said I.

"No," said the major, with a far-away look in his eye. "Fact is, old
man, times are sort o' hard, and after thinking the matter over I've
decided that I guess we'd better put off our drive for new business
until--well, _until some other season_."

And that was all the chiding I received from that kindly soul!

Several years elapsed before I resumed professional relations with Major
Pond, and the incident that brought about that resumption has always
seemed to me to be most amusing, and to bring out in vivid colors the
quality of the major's temper. Indeed it was about as illuminating a
little farce-comedy as one would care to see.

It happened that somewhere about the beginning of this century I was
invited to prepare for a New York newspaper syndicate a series of
satirical biographies of prominent personages of the day. The series was
called "Who's What and Why in America." I was doing a great deal of
other work at the time, and the managers of the syndicate fell in
readily with my expressed view that lest my name should seem to appear
too frequently, and in too many competing quarters, it would be best
that for this venture I should use a pseudonym. I therefore did the work
over the pen name of Wilberforce Jenkins. The series was very well
received, and for over a year was one of the most popular syndicate
features running, as a result of which Wilberforce Jenkins began to
receive a great many letters from a great many people--so many as almost
to make me personally jealous of his growing fame. Among other
communications received was one from Major Pond, which ran somewhat like
this:

                                             New York, March 12, 1901.
     WILBERFORCE JENKINS, Esq.

     Dear Sir.--I have been reading with a great deal of interest your
     sparkling biographies of the Men of To-day in the New York "Blank."
     I don't want to flatter you, but you have more real humor in your
     thumb than all the rest of the funny men of the day rolled into one
     have in their million and a half fingers. Have you ever considered
     the desirability of using your gifts on the lecture platform? If
     you have, let me know. If you can talk half as well as you write,
     you will be a winner. Come and see me some day and talk it over. I
     think we can do business together.

                               Very truly yours,      JAMES B. POND.

The situation was too rich to neglect, and I resolved to have a little
innocent fun with the major. I repaired almost immediately to the
telephone and rang him up. The connection made, I inquired:

"Is this Major Pond?"

"Yes," was the reply. "Who are you?"

"Major J. B. Pond of the Pond Lyceum Bureau?" I continued.

"Yes, I'm Major Pond. Who's this talking?" he answered.

"I am Wilberforce Jenkins, the Who's What and Why man, Major," said I.

"Well--say, old man," said he, with a pleasant touch of enthusiasm in
his voice, "I'm mighty glad to hear from you. That's A-1 stuff you are
running in the _Blank_. Did you get my letter?"

"Yes," said I. "That's why I am ringing you up."

"Good!" said he. "Ready to talk turkey, are you?"

"Well--I don't know about that, Major," said I hesitatingly. "Of course
I know who you are, and the kind of things you do; but--well, to be
quite frank with you, I don't know whether I want to do business with
you or not."

"Oh!" said the major. "That's it, is it? Well--what seems to be the
matter?"

"Oh, nothing much," said I. "Only I was talking with a man about you the
other day, and from one or two things he said--"

"What did he say?" the major blurted out.

"Well, to begin with, he said you were an old palaverer," said I. "He
intimated that there was a good deal of what you might call hatwork in
the quality of your conversation. He said he'd done business with you
once, and while he liked you personally you were not all you seemed to
think you were as an impresario."

"Who the deuce ever told you that?" demanded the major. "You say he did
business with me once?"

"So he said," said I. "And he was pretty outspoken about it too. He told
me his tour with you was a rank failure."

"I'd like to know his name," said the major, and I could almost hear the
dear old gentleman biting into the wire.

"Well, I guess he wouldn't mind my telling," said I. "There wasn't
anything particularly confidential about our talk. His name is
Bangs--John Kendrick Bangs."

My name came back at me over the wire like an explosion of dynamite.
"_Bangs_!" retorted the major. "Good Lord--_Bangs_! Does he call a trip
up to Albany and back a tour? _I guess he was a failure!_ I can tell you
things about Bangs as a platform performer that'll show you mighty quick
whose failure it was, and if you want to bring him along to hear what I
have to say on that subject, _bring him_. The idea! My Heavens, old
man--why, he--"

"Oh, never mind all that, Major," said I. "I'm only telling you what he
said. I don't have to take it all as gospel truth, you know."

"Well I guess not!" snorted the major.

"Now I'm very busy these days," I continued, "and I really haven't got
time to go to your office; but if you will take lunch with me to-morrow
at the Century Club, about one o'clock, we can talk this thing over."

"I'll be there," said the major. "One o'clock sharp, and meanwhile if
you run across J. K. tell him with my compliments that he can go to
thunder. _Tour!_ I like that!"

"All right, Major," said I. "Don't fail me."

And there our telephone conversation closed. The following morning I
arranged at the club to have the major ushered into the reception room
in case he called and asked for Wilberforce Jenkins, and as the hour
approached I lingered around to see the fun.

Faithful to the minute the major arrived at one o'clock, inquired for
Mr. Jenkins, and was requested to wait in the reception room, since Mr.
Jenkins had not yet come in. After he had been sitting there for about
five minutes I decided that the time for action had arrived; so I walked
into the reception room myself.

"Why--hello, Major!" said I, as cordially as I really felt. "How are you
these days?"

"I'm all right," he said coldly, ignoring my outstretched hand.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I don't know that that's any of your business, Bangs," said he,
bridling up; "but I don't mind telling you that I've come to meet a man
who when it comes to writing real humor has got you skinned eight
billion miles."

"Good!" said I. "Who is this eighth wonder of the world?"

"His name," said Major Pond, "is Wilberforce Jenkins."

"Oh, Lord!" said I. "That faker? Well, I am at least glad to know what
your standards of humor are."

"_Faker?_" retorted the major. "You seem to have some gift for saying
nice things about your friends, Bangs," he added witheringly.

"Friends?" said I, with a laugh of scorn. "You don't call that idiot
Wilberforce Jenkins a friend of mine, do you? You must think I let
myself go pretty cheap."

"Well, he seemed to think you were a friend of his--at least he told me
so--but of course a man may be mistaken in respect to that," he observed
significantly.

"Well, don't you believe a word he says, Major," said I. "I know
Wilberforce Jenkins all the way through, and he and truth aren't upon
speaking terms. You say he has invited you here to meet him?"

"To take lunch with him," said the major.

"Well of all the pure unmitigated _nerve_!" said I. "That shows you what
sort of fellow Jenkins is. Why, Major, _he isn't even a member here_! He
has a ten-day card from me; but that doesn't entitle him to invite you
or anybody else here. You'd better come upstairs and have lunch with
me."

"I'll starve first!" said the major.

"Oh, all right," said I. "If you won't, you won't; but I'll bet you five
dollars right now that Wilberforce Jenkins doesn't come!"

"I don't bet," said the major. "I gave up gambling after that _tour_ of
yours up to Albany and back. It doesn't pay."

I retired to a writing table at one end of the room, and pretended to be
busy at letter writing for some ten or fifteen minutes, keeping one sly
eye on the major the while. He was visibly chafing. Now and then he
would take out his watch, and gaze intently into its telltale face. Then
he would rise and inspect the pictures on the walls. When half-past one
came and there was no Wilberforce Jenkins in sight his patience was
manifestly near its end, and regarding that as the psychological moment
I again approached him.

"'_He cometh not, she said_,'" I quoted in my most plaintive tones. "And
what's more, Major, he won't never be here. He never kept a promise or
an engagement in his life. Come along--change your mind and take lunch
with me."

"_I wouldn't lunch with you if_--" he began.

And then I burst out laughing. I could not carry the farce a bit
further. "Major," said I, "the reason why I know all about this
Wilberforce Jenkins and his general unreliability is very simple--_I am
Wilberforce Jenkins myself_."

The old gentleman gasped. His face was a study for a moment, and then
with a great laugh he sprang to his feet, and seized me by the arm.
"Here, Bangs," he said, "get your hat and come along with me! We'll eat
at Delmonico's."

"But you said just now you wouldn't take lunch with me," I protested.

"Yes, but by Simeon," he retorted, "_I never said that you wouldn't take
lunch with me_, and by the Eternal _you'll come or I'll carry you_!"

And the only hatchet that ever threatened our friendship was buried on
the instant.

Major Pond was indeed a rare and a loyal spirit. He always credited
James Redpath with being the Father of the Modern Lyceum, and perhaps he
was right. The Modern Lyceum owes much to James Redpath; but as for me I
prefer to award its paternal honors to Major Pond. His interest in it,
and his affectionate attitude toward those he helped along its
sometimes rugged path, were too strictly fatherly to warrant any lesser
title at the hands of one of its most grateful sons.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Various punctuation errors have been corrected without comment.





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