Ruggles of Red Gap
Harry Leon Wilson
Part 3 out of 6
embarrassing, as I was confident that any frank disclosure of my
opinion, being necessarily hurried, might easily be misunderstood. I
at length devised a conventional formula of praise which, although
feeling a frightful fool, I delivered each time thereafter.
Thus we progressed the length of their commercial centre, the
incidents varying but little.
"Hello, Sour-dough, you old shellback! When did you come off the
"Just got in. My lands! but it's good to be back. Billy, shake hands
with my friend Colonel Ruggles."
I mean to say, the persons were not all named "Billy," that being used
only by way of illustration. Sometimes they would be called "Doc" or
"Hank" or "Al" or "Chris." Nor was my companion invariably called
"shellback." "Horned-toad" and "Stinging-lizard" were also epithets
much in favour with his friends.
At the end of this street we at length paused before the office, as I
saw, of "The Red Gap _Recorder_; Daily and Weekly." Cousin Egbert
entered here, but came out almost at once.
"Henshaw ain't there, and she said I got to be sure and give him this
here piece personally; so come on. He's up to a lawn-feet."
"A social function, sir?" I asked.
"No; just a lawn-feet up in Judge Ballard's front yard to raise money
for new uniforms for the band--that's what the boy said in there."
"But would it not be highly improper for me to appear there, sir?" I
at once objected. "I fear it's not done, sir."
"Shucks!" he insisted, "don't talk foolish that way. You're a peach of
a little mixer all right. Come on! Everybody goes. They'll even let me
in. I can give this here piece to Henshaw and then we'll spend a
little money to help the band-boys along."
My misgivings were by no means dispelled, yet as the affair seemed to
be public rather than smart, I allowed myself to be led on.
Into another street of residences we turned, and after a brisk walk I
was able to identify the "front yard" of which my companion had
spoken. The strains of an orchestra came to us and from the trees and
shrubbery gleamed the lights of paper lanterns. I could discern tents
and marquees, a throng of people moving among them. Nearer, I observed
a refreshment pavilion and a dancing platform.
Reaching the gate, Cousin Egbert paid for us an entrance fee of two
shillings to a young lady in gypsy costume whom he greeted cordially
as Beryl Mae, not omitting to present me to her as Colonel Ruggles.
We moved into the thick of the crowd. There was much laughter and
hearty speech, and it at once occurred to me that Cousin Egbert had
been right: it would not be an assemblage of people that mattered, but
rather of small tradesmen, artisans, tenant-farmers and the like with
whom I could properly mingle.
My companion was greeted by several of the throng, to whom he in turn
presented me, among them after a bit to a slight, reddish-bearded
person wearing thick nose-glasses whom I understood to be the pressman
we were in search of. Nervous of manner he was and preoccupied with a
notebook in which he frantically scribbled items from time to time.
Yet no sooner was I presented to him than he began a quizzing sort of
conversation with me that lasted near a half-hour, I should say. Very
interested he seemed to hear of my previous life, having in full
measure that naive curiosity about one which Americans take so little
pains to hide. Like the other natives I had met that evening, he was
especially concerned to know what I thought of Red Gap. The chat was
not at all unpleasant, as he seemed to be a well-informed person, and
it was not without regret that I noted the approach of Cousin Egbert
in company with a pleasant-faced, middle-aged lady in Oriental garb,
carrying a tambourine.
"Mrs. Ballard, allow me to make you acquainted with my friend Colonel
Ruggles!" Thus Cousin Egbert performed his ceremony. The lady grasped
my hand with great cordiality.
"You men have monopolized the Colonel long enough," she began with a
large coquetry that I found not unpleasing, and firmly grasping my arm
she led me off in the direction of the refreshment pavilion, where I
was playfully let to know that I should purchase her bits of
refreshment, coffee, plum-cake, an ice, things of that sort. Through
it all she kept up a running fire of banter, from time to time
presenting me to other women young and old who happened about us, all
of whom betrayed an interest in my personality that was not
unflattering, even from this commoner sort of the town's people.
Nor would my new friend release me when she had refreshed herself, but
had it that I must dance with her. I had now to confess that I was
unskilled in the native American folk dances which I had observed
being performed, whereupon she briskly chided me for my backwardness,
but commanded a valse from the musicians, and this we danced together.
I may here say that I am not without a certain finesse on the
dancing-floor and I rather enjoyed the momentary abandon with this
village worthy. Indeed I had rather enjoyed the whole affair, though I
felt that my manner was gradually marking me as one apart from the
natives; made conscious I was of a more finished, a suaver formality
in myself--the Mrs. Ballard I had met came at length to be by way of
tapping me coquettishly with her tambourine in our lighter moments.
Also my presence increasingly drew attention, more and more of the
village belles and matrons demanding in their hearty way to be
presented to me. Indeed the society was vastly more enlivening, I
reflected, than I had found it in a similar walk of life at home.
Rather regretfully I left with Cousin Egbert, who found me at last in
one of the tents having my palm read by the gypsy young person who had
taken our fees at the gate. Of course I am aware that she was probably
without any real gifts for this science, as so few are who undertake
it at charity bazaars, yet she told me not a few things that were
significant: that my somewhat cold exterior and air of sternness were
but a mask to shield a too-impulsive nature; that I possessed great
firmness of character and was fond of Nature. She added peculiarly at
the last "I see trouble ahead, but you are not to be downcast--the
skies will brighten."
It was at this point that Cousin Egbert found me, and after he had
warned the young woman that I was "some mixer" we departed. Not until
we had reached the Floud home did he discover that he had quite
forgotten to hand the press-chap Mrs. Effie's manuscript.
"Dog on the luck!" said he in his quaint tone of exasperation, "here
I've went and forgot to give Mrs. Effie's piece to the editor." He
sighed ruefully. "Well, to-morrow's another day."
And so the die was cast. To-morrow was indeed another day!
Yet I fell asleep on a memory of the evening that brought me a sort of
shamed pleasure--that I had falsely borne the stick and gloves of
Cousin Egbert. I knew they had given me rather an air.
I have never been able to recall the precise moment the next morning
when I began to feel a strange disquietude but the opening hours of the
day were marked by a series of occurrences slight in themselves yet so
cumulatively ominous that they seemed to lower above me like a cloud
Looking from my window, shortly after the rising hour, I observed a
paper boy pass through the street, whistling a popular melody as he
ran up to toss folded journals into doorways. Something I cannot
explain went through me even then; some premonition of disaster
slinking furtively under my casual reflection that even in this remote
wild the public press was not unknown.
Half an hour later the telephone rang in a lower room and I heard Mrs.
Effie speak in answer. An unusual note in her voice caused me to
listen more attentively. I stepped outside my door. To some one she
was expressing amazement, doubt, and quick impatience which seemed to
culminate, after she had again, listened, in a piercing cry of
consternation. The term is not too strong. Evidently by the unknown
speaker she had been first puzzled, then startled, then horrified; and
now, as her anguished cry still rang in my ears, that snaky
premonition of evil again writhed across my consciousness.
Presently I heard the front door open and close. Peering into the
hallway below I saw that she had secured the newspaper I had seen
dropped. Her own door now closed upon her. I waited, listening
intently. Something told me that the incident was not closed. A brief
interval elapsed and she was again at the telephone, excitedly
demanding to be put through to a number.
"Come at once!" I heard her cry. "It's unspeakable! There isn't a
moment to lose! Come as you are!" Hereupon, banging the receiver into
its place with frenzied roughness, she ran halfway up the stairs to
"Egbert Floud! Egbert Floud! You march right down here this minute,
From his room I heard an alarmed response, and a moment later knew
that he had joined her. The door closed upon them, but high words
reached me. Mostly the words of Mrs. Effie they were, though I could
detect muffled retorts from the other. Wondering what this could
portend, I noted from my window some ten minutes later the hurried
arrival of the C. Belknap-Jacksons. The husband clenched a crumpled
newspaper in one hand and both he and his wife betrayed signs to the
trained eye of having performed hasty toilets for this early call.
As the door of the drawing-room closed upon them there ensued a
terrific outburst carrying a rich general effect of astounded rage.
Some moments the sinister chorus continued, then a door sharply opened
and I heard my own name cried out by Mrs. Effie in a tone that caused
me to shudder. Rapidly descending the stairs, I entered the room to
face the excited group. Cousin Egbert crouched on a sofa in a far
corner like a hunted beast, but the others were standing, and all
glared at me furiously.
The ladies addressed me simultaneously, one of them, I believe, asking
me what I meant by it and the other demanding how dared I, which had
the sole effect of adding to my bewilderment, nor did the words of
Cousin Egbert diminish this.
"Hello, Bill!" he called, adding with a sort of timid bravado: "Don't
you let 'em bluff you, not for a minute!"
"Yes, and it was probably all that wretched Cousin Egbert's fault in
the first place," snapped Mrs. Belknap-Jackson almost tearfully.
"Say, listen here, now; I don't see as how I've done anything wrong,"
he feebly protested. "Bill's human, ain't he? Answer me that!"
"One sees it all!" This from Belknap-Jackson in bitter and judicial
tones. He flung out his hands at Cousin Egbert in a gesture of
pitiless scorn. "I dare say," he continued, "that poor Ruggles was
merely a tool in his hands--weak, possibly, but not vicious."
"May I inquire----" I made bold to begin, but Mrs. Effie shut me off,
brandishing the newspaper before me.
"Read it!" she commanded in hoarse, tragic tones. "There!" she added,
pointing at monstrous black headlines on the page as I weakly took it
from her. And then I saw. There before them, divining now the enormity
of what had come to pass, I controlled myself to master the following
RED GAP'S DISTINGUISHED VISITOR
Colonel Marmaduke Ruggles of London and Paris, late of the
British army, bon-vivant and man of the world, is in our midst
for an indefinite stay, being at present the honoured house
guest of Senator and Mrs. James Knox Floud, who returned from
foreign parts on the 5:16 flyer yesterday afternoon. Colonel
Ruggles has long been intimately associated with the family
of his lordship the Earl of Brinstead, and especially with
his lordship's brother, the Honourable George Augustus
Vane-Basingwell, with whom he has recently been sojourning
in la belle France. In a brief interview which the Colonel
genially accorded ye scribe, he expressed himself as delighted
with our thriving little city.
"It's somewhat a town--if I've caught your American slang,"
he said with a merry twinkle in his eyes. "You have the garden
spot of the West, if not of the civilized world, and your
people display a charm that must be, I dare say, typically
American. Altogether, I am enchanted with the wonders I have
beheld since landing at your New York, particularly with the
habit your best people have of roughing it in camps like that
of Mr. C. Belknap-Jackson among the mountains of New York, where
I was most pleasantly entertained by himself and his delightful
wife. The length of my stay among you is uncertain, though I
have been pressed by the Flouds, with whom I am stopping, and
by the C. Belknap-Jacksons to prolong it indefinitely, and in
fact to identify myself to an extent with your social life."
The Colonel is a man of distinguished appearance, with the
seasoned bearing of an old campaigner, and though at moments
he displays that cool reserve so typical of the English
gentleman, evidence was not lacking last evening that he can
unbend on occasion. At the lawn fete held in the spacious
grounds of Judge Ballard, where a myriad Japanese lanterns
made the scene a veritable fairyland, he was quite the most
sought-after notable present, and gayly tripped the light
fantastic toe with the elite of Red Gap's smart set there
From his cordial manner of entering into the spirit of the
affair we predict that Colonel Ruggles will be a decided
acquisition to our social life, and we understand that a
series of recherche entertainments in his honour has already
been planned by Mrs. County Judge Ballard, who took the
distinguished guest under her wing the moment he appeared
last evening. Welcome to our city, Colonel! And may the warm
hearts of Red Gap cause you to forget that European world of
fashion of which you have long been so distinguished an
In a sickening silence I finished the thing. As the absurd sheet fell
from my nerveless fingers Mrs. Effie cried in a voice hoarse with
"Do you realize the dreadful thing you've done to us?"
Speechless I was with humiliation, unequal even to protesting that I
had said nothing of the sort to the press-chap. I mean to say, he had
wretchedly twisted my harmless words.
"Have you nothing to say for yourself?" demanded Mrs. Belknap-Jackson,
also in a voice hoarse with emotion. I glanced at her husband. He,
too, was pale with anger and trembling, so that I fancied he dared not
trust himself to speak.
"The wretched man," declared Mrs. Effie, addressing them all, "simply
can't realize--how disgraceful it is. Oh, we shall never be able to
live it down!"
"Imagine those flippant Spokane sheets dressing up the thing," hissed
Belknap-Jackson, speaking for the first time. "Imagine their
"And that awful Cousin Egbert," broke in Mrs. Effie, pointing a
desperate finger toward him. "Think of the laughing-stock he'll
become! Why, he'll simply never be able to hold up his head again."
"Say, you listen here," exclaimed Cousin Egbert with sudden heat;
"never you mind about my head. I always been able to hold up my head
any time I felt like it." And again to me he threw out, "Don't you let
'em bluff you, Bill!"
"I gave him a notice for the paper," explained Mrs. Effie plaintively;
"I'd written it all nicely out to save them time in the office, and
that would have prevented this disgrace, but he never gave it in."
"I clean forgot it," declared the offender. "What with one thing and
another, and gassing back and forth with some o' the boys, it kind of
went out o' my head."
"Meeting our best people--actually dancing with them!" murmured Mrs.
Belknap-Jackson in a voice vibrant with horror. "My dear, I truly am
so sorry for you."
"You people entertained him delightfully at your camp," murmured Mrs.
Effie quickly in her turn, with a gesture toward the journal.
"Oh, we're both in it, I know. I know. It's appalling!"
"We'll never be able to live it down!" said Mrs. Effie. "We shall have
to go away somewhere."
"Can't you imagine what Jen' Ballard will say when she learns the
truth?" asked the other bitterly. "Say we did it on purpose to
humiliate her, and just as all our little scraps were being smoothed
out, so we could get together and put that Bohemian set in its place.
Oh, it's so dreadful!" On the verge of tears she seemed.
"And scarcely a word mentioned of our own return--when I'd taken such
pains with the notice!"
"Listen here!" said Cousin Egbert brightly. "I'll take the piece down
now and he can print it in his paper for you to-morrow."
"You can't understand," she replied impatiently. "I casually mentioned
our having brought an English manservant. Print that now and insult
all our best people who received him!"
"Pathetic how little the poor chap understands," sighed
Belknap-Jackson. "No sense at all of our plight--naturally,
"'A series of entertainments being planned in his honour!'" quavered
"'The most sought-after notable present!'" echoed Mrs. Effie
Again and again I had essayed to protest my innocence, only to provoke
renewed outbursts. I could but stand there with what dignity I
retained and let them savage me. Cousin Egbert now spoke again:
"Shucks! What's all the fuss? Just because I took Bill out and give
him a good time! Didn't you say yourself in that there very piece that
he'd impart to coming functions an air of smartiness like they have
all over Europe? Didn't you write them very words? And ain't he
already done it the very first night he gets here, right at that there
lawn-feet where I took him? What for do you jump on me then? I took
him and he done it; he done it good. Bill's a born mixer. Why, he had
all them North Side society dames stung the minute I flashed him;
after him quicker than hell could scorch a feather; run out from under
their hats to get introduced to him--and now you all turn on me like a
passel of starved wolves." He finished with a note of genuine
irritation I had never heard in his voice.
"The poor creature's demented," remarked Mrs. Belknap-Jackson
"Always been that way," said Mrs. Effie hopelessly.
Belknap-Jackson contented himself with a mere clicking sound of
"All right, then, if you're so smart," continued Cousin Egbert. "Just
the same Bill, here, is the most popular thing in the whole Kulanche
Valley this minute, so all I got to say is if you want to play this
here society game you better stick close by him. First thing you know,
some o' them other dames'll have him won from you. That Mis' Ballard's
going to invite him to supper or dinner or some other doings right
away. I heard her say so."
To my amazement a curious and prolonged silence greeted this amazing
tirade. The three at length were regarding each other almost
furtively. Belknap-Jackson began to pace the floor in deep thought.
"After all, no one knows except ourselves," he said in curiously
hushed tones at last.
"Of course it's one way out of a dreadful mess," observed his wife.
"Colonel Marmaduke Ruggles of the British army," said Mrs. Effie in a
peculiar tone, as if she were trying over a song.
"It may indeed be the best way out of an impossible situation,"
continued Belknap-Jackson musingly. "Otherwise we face a social
upheaval that might leave us demoralized for years--say nothing of
making us a laughingstock with the rabble. In fact, I see nothing else
to be done."
"Cousin Egbert would be sure to spoil it all again," objected Mrs.
Effie, glaring at him.
"No danger," returned the other with his superior smile. "Being quite
unable to realize what has happened, he will be equally unable to
realize what is going to happen. We may speak before him as before a
babe in arms; the amenities of the situation are forever beyond him."
"I guess I always been able to hold up my head when I felt like it,"
put in Cousin Egbert, now again both sullen and puzzled. Once more he
threw out his encouragement to me: "Don't let 'em run any bluffs,
Bill! They can't touch you, and they know it."
"'Touch him,'" murmured Mrs. Belknap-Jackson with an able sneer. "My
dear, what a trial he must have been to you. I never knew. He's as bad
as the mater, actually."
"And such hopes I had of him in Paris," replied Mrs. Effie, "when he
was taking up Art and dressing for dinner and everything!"
"I can be pushed just so far!" muttered the offender darkly.
There was now a ring at the door which I took the liberty of
answering, and received two notes from a messenger. One bore the
address of Mrs. Floud and the other was quite astonishingly to myself,
the name preceded by "Colonel."
"That's Jen' Ballard's stationery!" cried Mrs. Belknap-Jackson. "Trust
her not to lose one second in getting busy!"
"But he mustn't answer the door that way," exclaimed her husband as I
handed Mrs. Effie her note.
They were indeed both from my acquaintance of the night before.
Receiving permission to read my own, I found it to be a dinner
invitation for the following Friday. Mrs. Effie looked up from hers.
"It's all too true," she announced grimly. "We're asked to dinner and
she earnestly hopes dear Colonel Ruggles will have made no other
engagement. She also says hasn't he the darlingest English accent. Oh,
isn't it a mess!"
"You see how right I am," said Belknap-Jackson.
"I guess we've got to go through with it," conceded Mrs. Effie.
"The pushing thing that Ballard woman is!" observed her friend.
"Ruggles!" exclaimed Belknap-Jackson, addressing me with sudden
"Listen carefully--I'm quite serious. In future you will try to
address me as if I were your equal. Ah! rather you will try to address
me as if you were _my_ equal. I dare say it will come to you
easily after a bit of practice. Your employers will wish you to
address them in the same manner. You will cultivate toward us a manner
of easy friendliness--remember I'm entirely serious--quite as if you
were one of us. You must try to be, in short, the Colonel Marmaduke
Ruggles that wretched penny-a-liner has foisted upon these innocent
people. We shall thus avert a most humiliating contretemps."
The thing fair staggered me. I fell weakly into the chair by which I
had stood, for the first time in a not uneventful career feeling that
my _savoir faire_ had been overtaxed.
"Quite right," he went on. "Be seated as one of us," and he amazingly
proffered me his cigarette case. "Do take one, old chap," he insisted
as I weakly waved it away, and against my will I did so. "Dare say
you'll fancy them--a non-throat cigarette especially prescribed for
me." He now held a match so that I was obliged to smoke. Never have I
been in less humour for it.
"There, not so hard, is it? You see, we're getting on famously."
"Ain't I always said Bill was a good mixer?" called Cousin Egbert, but
his gaucherie was pointedly ignored.
"Now," continued Belknap-Jackson, "suppose you tell us in a chatty,
friendly way just what you think about this regrettable affair." All
sat forward interestedly.
"But I met what I supposed were your villagers," I said; "your small
tradesmen, your artisans, clerks, shop-assistants, tenant-farmers, and
the like, I'd no idea in the world they were your county families.
Seemed quite a bit too jolly for that. And your press-chap--preposterous,
quite! He quizzed me rather, I admit, but he made it vastly different.
Your pressmen are remarkable. That thing is a fair crumpler."
"But surely," put in Mrs. Effie, "you could see that Mrs. Judge
Ballard must be one of our best people."
"I saw she was a goodish sort," I explained, "but it never occurred to
me one would meet her in your best houses. And when she spoke of
entertaining me I fancied I might stroll by her cottage some fair day
and be asked in to a slice from one of her own loaves and a dish of
tea. There was that about her."
"Mercy!" exclaimed both ladies, Mrs. Belknap-Jackson adding a bit
maliciously I thought, "Oh, don't you awfully wish she could hear him
say it just that way?"
"As to the title," I continued, "Mr. Egbert has from the first had a
curious American tendency to present me to his many friends as
'Colonel.' I am sure he means as little by it as when he calls me
'Bill,' which I have often reminded him is not a name of mine."
"Oh, we understand the poor chap is a social incompetent," said
Belknap-Jackson with a despairing shrug.
"Say, look here," suddenly exclaimed Cousin Egbert, a new heat in his
tone, "what I call Bill ain't a marker to what I call you when I
really get going. You ought to hear me some day when I'm feeling
"Really!" exclaimed the other with elaborate sarcasm.
"Yes, sir. Surest thing you know. I could call you a lot of good
things right now if so many ladies wasn't around. You don't think I'd
be afraid, do you? Why, Bill there had you licked with one wallop."
"But really, really!" protested the other with a helpless shrug to the
ladies, who were gasping with dismay.
"You ruffian!" cried his wife.
"Egbert Floud," said Mrs. Effie fiercely, "you will apologize to
Charles before you leave this room. The idea of forgetting yourself
that way. Apologize at once!"
"Oh, very well," he grumbled, "I apologize like I'm made to." But he
added quickly with even more irritation, "only don't you get the idea
it's because I'm afraid of you."
"Tush, tush!" said Belknap-Jackson.
"No, sir; I apologize, but it ain't for one minute because I'm afraid
"Your bare apology is ample; I'm bound to accept it," replied the
other, a bit uneasily I thought.
"Come right down to it," continued Cousin Egbert, "I ain't afraid of
hardly any person. I can be pushed just so far." Here he looked
significantly at Mrs. Effie.
"After all I've tried to do for him!" she moaned. "I thought he had
something in him."
"Darn it all, I like to be friendly with my friends," he bluntly
persisted. "I call a man anything that suits me. And I ain't ever
apologized yet because I was afraid. I want all parties here to get
"Say no more, please. It's quite understood," said Belknap-Jackson
hastily. The other subsided into low mutterings.
"I trust you fully understand the situation, Ruggles--Colonel
Ruggles," he continued to me.
"It's preposterous, but plain as a pillar-box," I answered. "I can
only regret it as keenly as any right-minded person should. It's not
at all what I've been accustomed to."
"Very well. Then I suggest that you accompany me for a drive this
afternoon. I'll call for you with the trap, say at three."
"Perhaps," suggested his wife, "it might be as well if Colonel Ruggles
were to come to us as a guest." She was regarding me with a gaze that
was frankly speculative.
"Oh, not at all, not at all!" retorted Mrs. Effie crisply. "Having
been announced as our house guest--never do in the world for him to go
to you so soon. We must be careful in this. Later, perhaps, my dear."
Briefly the ladies measured each other with a glance. Could it be, I
asked myself, that they were sparring for the possession of me?
"Naturally he will be asked about everywhere, and there'll be loads of
entertaining to do in return."
"Of course," returned Mrs. Effie, "and I'd never think of putting it
off on to you, dear, when we're wholly to blame for the awful thing."
"That's so thoughtful of you, dear," replied her friend coldly.
"At three, then," said Belknap-Jackson as we arose.
"I shall be delighted," I murmured.
"I bet you won't," said Cousin Egbert sourly. "He wants to show you
off." This, I could see, was ignored as a sheer indecency.
"We shall have to get a reception in quick," said Mrs. Effie, her eyes
narrowed in calculation.
"I don't see what all the fuss was about," remarked Cousin Egbert
again, as if to himself; "tearing me to pieces like a passel of
The Belknap-Jacksons left hastily, not deigning him a glance. And to
do the poor soul justice, I believe he did not at all know what the
"fuss" had been about. The niceties of the situation were beyond him,
dear old sort though he had shown himself to be. I knew then I was
never again to be harsh with him, let him dress as he would.
"Say," he asked, the moment we were alone, "you remember that thing
you called him back there that night--'blighted little mug,' was it?"
"It's best forgotten, sir," I said.
"Well, sir, some way it sounded just the thing to call him. It sounded
bully. What does it mean?"
So far was his darkened mind from comprehending that I, in a foreign
land, among a weird people, must now have a go at being a gentleman;
and that if I fluffed my catch we should all be gossipped to rags!
Alone in my room I made a hasty inventory of my wardrobe. Thanks to
the circumstance that the Honourable George, despite my warning, had
for several years refused to bant, it was rather well stocked. The
evening clothes were irreproachable; so were the frock coat and a
morning suit. Of waistcoats there were a number showing but slight
wear. The three lounge-suits of tweed, though slightly demoded, would
still be vogue in this remote spot. For sticks, gloves, cravats, and
body-linen I saw that I should be compelled to levy on the store I had
laid in for Cousin Egbert, and I happily discovered that his top-hat
set me quite effectively.
Also in a casket of trifles that had knocked about in my box I had the
good fortune to find the monocle that the Honourable George had
discarded some years before on the ground that it was "bally
nonsense." I screwed the glass into my eye. The effect was tremendous.
Rather a lark I might have thought it but for the false military
title. That was rank deception, and I have always regarded any sort of
wrongdoing as detestable. Perhaps if he had introduced me as a mere
subaltern in a line regiment--but I was powerless.
For the afternoon's drive I chose the smartest of the lounge-suits, a
Carlsbad hat which Cousin Egbert had bitterly resented for himself,
and for top-coat a light weight, straight-hanging Chesterfield with
velvet collar which, although the cut studiously avoids a fitted
effect, is yet a garment that intrigues the eye when carried with any
distinction. So many top-coats are but mere wrappings! I had, too,
gloves of a delicately contrasting tint.
Altogether I felt I had turned myself out well, and this I found to be
the verdict of Mrs. Effie, who engaged me in the hall to say that I
was to have anything in the way of equipment I liked to ask for.
Belknap-Jackson also, arriving now in a smart trap to which he drove
two cobs tandem, was at once impressed and made me compliments upon my
tenue. I was aware that I appeared not badly beside him. I mean to
say, I felt that I was vogue in the finest sense of the word.
Mrs. Effie waved us a farewell from the doorway, and I was conscious
that from several houses on either side of the avenue we attracted
more than a bit of attention. There were doors opened, blinds pushed
aside, faces--that sort of thing.
At a leisurely pace we progressed through the main thoroughfares. That
we created a sensation, especially along the commercial streets, where
my host halted at shops to order goods, cannot be denied. Furore is
perhaps the word. I mean to say, almost quite every one stared. Rather
more like a parade it was than I could have wished, but I was again
resolved to be a dead sportsman.
Among those who saluted us from time to time were several of the
lesser townsmen to whom Cousin Egbert had presented me the evening
before, and I now perceived that most of these were truly persons I
must not know in my present station--hodmen, road-menders, grooms,
delivery-chaps, that sort. In responding to the often florid
salutations of such, I instilled into my barely perceptible nod a
certain frigidity that I trusted might be informing. I mean to say,
having now a position to keep up, it would never do at all to chatter
and pal about loosely as Cousin Egbert did.
When we had done a fairish number of streets, both of shops and
villas, we drove out a winding roadway along a tarn to the country
club. The house was an unpretentious structure of native wood,
fronting a couple of tennis courts and a golf links, but although it
was tea-time, not a soul was present. Having unlocked the door, my
host suggested refreshment and I consented to partake of a glass of
sherry and a biscuit. But these, it seemed, were not to be had; so
over pegs of ginger ale, found in an ice-chest, we sat for a time and
"You will find us crude, Ruggles, as I warned you," my host observed.
"Take this deserted clubhouse at this hour. It tells the story. Take
again the matter of sherry and a biscuit--so simple! Yet no one ever
thinks of them, and what you mean by a biscuit is in this wretched
hole spoken of as a cracker."
I thanked him for the item, resolving to add it to my list of curious
Americanisms. Already I had begun a narrative of my adventures in this
wild land, a thing I had tentatively entitled, "Alone in North
"Though we have people in abundance of ample means," he went on, "you
will regret to know that we have not achieved a leisured class. Barely
once in a fortnight will you see this club patronized, after all the
pains I took in its organization. They simply haven't evolved to the
idea yet; sometimes I have moments in which I despair of their ever
As usual he grew depressed when speaking of social Red Gap, so that we
did not tarry long in the silent place that should have been quite
alive with people smartly having their tea. As we drove back he
touched briefly and with all delicacy on our changed relations.
"What made me only too glad to consent to it," he said, "is the sodden
depravity of that Floud chap. Really he's a menace to the community. I
saw from the degenerate leer on his face this morning that he will not
be able to keep silent about that little affair of ours back there.
Mark my words, he'll talk. And fancy how embarrassing had you
continued in the office for which you were engaged. Fancy it being
known I had been assaulted by a--you see what I mean. But now, let him
talk his vilest. What is it? A mere disagreement between two
gentlemen, generous, hot-tempered chaps, followed by mutual apologies.
A mere nothing!"
I was conscious of more than a little irritation at his manner of
speaking of Cousin Egbert, but this in my new character I could hardly
When he set me down at the Floud house, "Thanks for the breeze-out," I
said; then, with an easy wave of the hand and in firm tones, "Good
day, Jackson! See you again, old chap!"
I had nerved myself to it as to an icy tub and was rewarded by a glow
such as had suffused me that morning in Paris after the shameful
proceedings with Cousin Egbert and the Indian Tuttle. I mean to say, I
felt again that wonderful thrill of equality--quite as if my superiors
were not all about me.
Inside the house Mrs. Effie addressed the last of a heap of
invitations for an early reception--"To meet Colonel Marmaduke
Ruggles," they read.
Of the following fortnight I find it difficult to write coherently. I
found myself in a steady whirl of receptions, luncheons, dinners,
teas, and assemblies of rather a pretentious character, at the greater
number of which I was obliged to appear as the guest of honour. It
began with the reception of Mrs. Floud, at which I may be said to have
made my first formal bow to the smarter element of Red Gap, followed
by the dinner of the Mrs. Ballard, with whom I had formed acquaintance
on that first memorable evening.
I was during this time like a babe at blind play with a set of chess
men, not knowing king from pawn nor one rule of the game. Senator
Floud--who was but a member of their provincial assembly, I
discovered--sought an early opportunity to felicitate me on my changed
estate, though he seemed not a little amused by it.
"Good work!" he said. "You know I was afraid our having an English
valet would put me in bad with the voters this fall. They're already
saying I wear silk stockings since I've been abroad. My wife did buy
me six pair, but I've never worn any. Shows how people talk, though.
And even now they'll probably say I'm making up to the British army.
But it's better than having a valet in the house. The plain people
would never stand my having a valet and I know it."
I thought this most remarkable, that his constituency should resent
his having proper house service. American politics were, then, more
debased than even we of England had dreamed.
"Good work!" he said again. "And say, take out your papers--become one
of us. Be a citizen. Nothing better than an American citizen on God's
green earth. Read the Declaration of Independence. Here----" From a
bookcase at his hand he reached me a volume. "Read and reflect, my
man! Become a citizen of a country where true worth has always its
chance and one may hope to climb to any heights whatsoever." Quite
like an advertisement he talked, but I read their so-called
Declaration, finding it snarky in the extreme and with no end of silly
rot about equality. In no way at all did it solve the problems by
which I had been so suddenly confronted.
Social lines in the town seemed to have been drawn by no rule
whatever. There were actually tradesmen who seemed to matter
enormously; on the other hand, there were those of undoubted
qualifications, like Mrs. Pettengill, for example, and Cousin Egbert,
who deliberately chose not to matter, and mingled as freely with the
Bohemian set as they did with the county families. Thus one could
never be quite certain whom one was meeting. There was the Tuttle
person. I had learned from Mrs. Effie in Paris that he was an Indian
(accounting for much that was startling in his behaviour there) yet
despite his being an aborigine I now learned that his was one of the
county families and he and his white American wife were guests at that
first dinner. Throughout the meal both Cousin Egbert and he winked
atrociously at me whenever they could catch my eye.
There was, again, an English person calling himself Hobbs, a baker, to
whom Cousin Egbert presented me, full of delight at the idea that as
compatriots we were bound to be congenial. Yet it needed only a glance
and a moment's listening to the fellow's execrable cockney dialect to
perceive that he was distinctly low-class, and I was immensely
relieved, upon inquiry, to learn that he affiliated only with the
Bohemian set. I felt a marked antagonism between us at that first
meeting; the fellow eyed me with frank suspicion and displayed a taste
for low chaffing which I felt bound to rebuke. He it was, I may now
disclose, who later began a fashion of referring to me as "Lord Algy,"
which I found in the worst possible taste. "Sets himself up for a
gentleman, does he? He ain't no more a gentleman than wot I be!" This
speech of his reported to me will show how impossible the creature
was. He was simply a person one does not know, and I was not long in
letting him see it.
And there was the woman who was to play so active a part in my later
history, of whom it will be well to speak at once. I had remarked her
on the main street before I knew her identity. I am bound to say she
stood out from the other women of Red Gap by reason of a certain dash,
not to say beauty. Rather above medium height and of pleasingly full
figure, her face was piquantly alert, with long-lashed eyes of a
peculiar green, a small nose, the least bit raised, a lifted chin, and
an abundance of yellowish hair. But it was the expertness of her
gowning that really held my attention at that first view, and the fact
that she knew what to put on her head. For the most part, the ladies I
had met were well enough gotten up yet looked curiously all wrong,
lacking a genius for harmony of detail.
This person, I repeat, displayed a taste that was faultless, a
knowledge of the peculiar needs of her face and figure that was
unimpeachable. Rather with regret it was I found her to be a Mrs.
Kenner, the leader of the Bohemian set. And then came the further
items that marked her as one that could not be taken up. Perhaps a
summary of these may be conveyed when I say that she had long been
known as Klondike Kate. She had some years before, it seemed, been a
dancing person in the far Alaska north and had there married the
proprietor of one of the resorts in which she disported herself--a man
who had accumulated a very sizable fortune in his public house and who
was shot to death by one of his patrons who had alleged unfairness in
a game of chance. The widow had then purchased a townhouse in Red Gap
and had quickly gathered about her what was known as the Bohemian set,
the county families, of course, refusing to know her.
After that first brief study of her I could more easily account for
the undercurrents of bitterness I had felt in Red Gap society. She
would be, I saw, a dangerous woman in any situation where she was
opposed; there was that about her--a sort of daring disregard of the
established social order. I was not surprised to learn that the men of
the community strongly favoured her, especially the younger dancing
set who were not restrained by domestic considerations. Small wonder
then that the women of the "old noblesse," as I may call them, were
outspokenly bitter in their comments upon her. This I discovered when
I attended an afternoon meeting of the ladies' "Onwards and Upwards
Club," which, I had been told, would be devoted to a study of the
English Lake poets, and where, it having been discovered that I read
rather well, I had consented to favour the assembly with some of the
more significant bits from these bards. The meeting, I regret to say,
after a formal enough opening was diverted from its original purpose,
the time being occupied in a quite heated discussion of a so-called
"Dutch Supper" the Klondike person had given the evening before, the
same having been attended, it seemed, by the husbands of at least
three of those present, who had gone incognito, as it were. At no time
during the ensuing two hours was there a moment that seemed opportune
for the introduction of some of our noblest verse.
And so, by often painful stages, did my education progress. At the
country club I played golf with Mr. Jackson. At social affairs I
appeared with the Flouds. I played bridge. I danced the more dignified
dances. And, though there was no proper church in the town--only
dissenting chapels, Methodist, Presbyterian, and such outlandish
persuasions--I attended services each Sabbath, and more than once had
tea with what at home would have been the vicar of the parish.
It was now, when I had begun to feel a bit at ease in my queer foreign
environment, that Mr. Belknap-Jackson broached his ill-starred plan
for amateur theatricals. At the first suggestion of this I was
immensely taken with the idea, suspecting that he would perhaps
present "Hamlet," a part to which I have devoted long and intelligent
study and to which I feel that I could bring something which has not
yet been imparted to it by even the most skilled of our professional
actors. But at my suggestion of this Mr. Belknap-Jackson informed me
that he had already played Hamlet himself the year before, leaving
nothing further to be done in that direction, and he wished now to
attempt something more difficult; something, moreover, that would
appeal to the little group of thinking people about us--he would have
"a little theatre of ideas," as he phrased it--and he had chosen for
his first offering a play entitled "Ghosts" by the foreign dramatist
I suspected at first that this might be a farce where a supposititious
ghost brings about absurd predicaments in a country house, having seen
something along these lines, but a reading of the thing enlightened me
as to its character, which, to put it bluntly, is rather thick. There
is a strain of immorality running through it which I believe cannot be
too strongly condemned if the world is to be made better, and this is
rendered the more repugnant to right-thinking people by the fact that
the participants are middle-class persons who converse in quite
commonplace language such as one may hear any day in the home.
Wrongdoing is surely never so objectionable as when it is indulged in
by common people and talked about in ordinary language, and the
language of this play is not stage language at all. Immorality such as
one gets in Shakespeare is of so elevated a character that one accepts
it, the language having a grandeur incomparably above what any person
was ever capable of in private life, being always elegant and
Though I felt this strongly, I was in no position to urge my
objections, and at length consented to take a part in the production,
reflecting that the people depicted were really foreigners and the
part I would play was that of a clergyman whose behaviour throughout
is above reproach. For himself Mr. Jackson had chosen the part of
Oswald, a youth who goes quite dotty at the last for reasons which are
better not talked about. His wife was to play the part of a
serving-maid, who was rather a baggage, while Mrs. Judge Ballard was
to enact his mother. (I may say in passing I have learned that the
plays of this foreigner are largely concerned with people who have
been queer at one time or another, so that one's parentage is often
uncertain, though they always pay for it by going off in the head
before the final curtain. I mean to say, there is too much
neighbourhood scandal in them.)
There remained but one part to fill, that of the father of the
serving-maid, an uncouth sort of drinking-man, quite low-class, who,
in my opinion, should never have been allowed on the stage at all,
since no moral lesson is taught by him. It was in the casting of this
part that Mr. Jackson showed himself of a forgiving nature. He offered
it to Cousin Egbert, saying he was the true "type"--"with his weak,
dissolute face"--and that "types" were all the rage in theatricals.
At first the latter heatedly declined the honour, but after being
urged and browbeaten for three days by Mrs. Effie he somewhat sullenly
consented, being shown that there were not many lines for him to
learn. From the first, I think, he was rendered quite miserable by the
ordeal before him, yet he submitted to the rehearsals with a rather
pathetic desire to please, and for a time all seemed well. Many an
hour found him mugging away at the book, earnestly striving to
memorize the part, or, as he quaintly expressed it, "that there piece
they want me to speak." But as the day of our performance drew near it
became evident to me, at least, that he was in a desperately black
state of mind. As best I could I cheered him with words of praise, but
his eye met mine blankly at such times and I could see him shudder
poignantly while waiting the moment of his entrance.
And still all might have been well, I fancy, but for the extremely
conscientious views of Mr. Jackson in the matter of our costuming and
make-up. With his lines fairly learned, Cousin Egbert on the night of
our dress rehearsal was called upon first to don the garb of the
foreign carpenter he was to enact, the same involving shorts and gray
woollen hose to his knees, at which he protested violently. So far as
I could gather, his modesty was affronted by this revelation of his
lower legs. Being at length persuaded to this sacrifice, he next
submitted his face to Mr. Jackson, who adjusted it to a labouring
person's beard and eyebrows, crimsoning the cheeks and nose heavily
with grease-paint and crowning all with an unkempt wig.
The result, I am bound to say, was artistic in the extreme. No one
would have suspected the identity of Cousin Egbert, and I had hopes
that he would feel a new courage for his part when he beheld himself.
Instead, however, after one quick glance into the glass he emitted a
gasp of horror that was most eloquent, and thereafter refused to be
comforted, holding himself aloof and glaring hideously at all who
approached him. Rather like a mad dog he was.
Half an hour later, when all was ready for our first act, Cousin
Egbert was not to be found. I need not dwell upon the annoyance this
occasioned, nor upon how a substitute in the person of our hall's
custodian, or janitor, was impressed to read the part. Suffice it to
tell briefly that Cousin Egbert, costumed and bedizened as he was, had
fled not only the theatre but the town as well. Search for him on the
morrow was unavailing. Not until the second day did it become known
that he had been seen at daybreak forty miles from Red Gap, goading a
spent horse into the wilds of the adjacent mountains. Our informant
disclosed that one side of his face was still bearded and that he had
kept glancing back over his shoulder at frequent intervals, as if
fearful of pursuit. Something of his frantic state may also be gleaned
from the circumstance that the horse he rode was one he had found
hitched in a side street near the hall, its ownership being unknown to
For the rest it may be said that our performance was given as
scheduled, announcement being made of the sudden illness of Mr. Egbert
Floud, and his part being read from the book in a rich and cultivated
voice by the superintendent of the high school. Our efforts were
received with respectful attention by a large audience, among whom I
noted many of the Bohemian set, and this I took as an especial tribute
to our merits. Mr. Belknap-Jackson, however, to whom I mentioned the
circumstance, was pessimistic.
"I fear," said he, "we have not heard the last of it. I am sure they
came for no good purpose."
"They were quite orderly in their behaviour," I suggested
"Which is why I suspect them. That Kenner woman, Hobbs, the baker, the
others of their set--they're not thinking people; I dare say they
never consider social problems seriously. And you may have noticed
that they announce an amateur minstrel performance for a week hence.
I'm quite convinced that they mean to be vulgar to the last
extreme--there has been so much talk of the behaviour of the wretched
Floud, a fellow who really has no place in our modern civilization. He
should be compelled to remain on his ranche."
And indeed these suspicions proved to be only too well founded. That
which followed was so atrociously personal that in any country but
America we could have had an action against them. As Mr.
Belknap-Jackson so bitterly said when all was over, "Our boasted
liberty has degenerated into license."
It is best told in a few words, this affair of the minstrel
performance, which I understood was to be an entertainment wherein the
participants darkened themselves to resemble blackamoors. Naturally, I
did not attend, it being agreed that the best people should signify
their disapproval by staying away, but the disgraceful affair was
recounted to me in all its details by more than one of the large
audience that assembled. In the so-called "grand first part" there
seemed to have been little that was flagrantly insulting to us,
although in their exchange of conundrums, which is a peculiar feature
of this form of entertainment, certain names were bandied about with a
freedom that boded no good.
It was in the after-piece that the poltroons gave free play to their
vilest fancies. Our piece having been announced as "Ghosts; a Drama
for Thinking People," this part was entitled on their programme,
"Gloats; a Dram for Drinking People," a transposition that should
perhaps suffice to show the dreadful lengths to which they went; yet I
feel that the thing should be set down in full.
The stage was set as our own had been, but it would scarce be credited
that the Kenner woman in male attire had made herself up in a
curiously accurate resemblance to Belknap-Jackson as he had rendered
the part of Oswald, copying not alone his wig, moustache, and fashion
of speech, but appearing in a golfing suit which was recognized by
those present as actually belonging to him.
Nor was this the worst, for the fellow Hobbs had copied my own dress
and make-up and persisted in speaking in an exaggerated manner alleged
to resemble mine. This, of course, was the most shocking bad taste,
and while it was quite to have been expected of Hobbs, I was indeed
rather surprised that the entire assembly did not leave the auditorium
in disgust the moment they perceived his base intention. But it was
Cousin Egbert whom they had chosen to rag most unmercifully, and they
were not long in displaying their clumsy attempts at humour.
As the curtain went up they were searching for him, affecting to be
unconscious of the presence of their audience, and declaring that the
play couldn't go on without him. "Have you tried all the saloons?"
asked one, to which another responded, "Yes, and he's been in all of
them, but now he has fled. The sheriff has put bloodhounds on his
trail and promises to have him here, dead or alive."
"Then while we are waiting," declared the character supposed to
represent myself, "I will tell you a wheeze," whereupon both the
female characters fell to their knees shrieking, "Not that! My God,
not that!" while Oswald sneered viciously and muttered, "Serves me
right for leaving Boston."
To show the infamy of the thing, I must here explain that at several
social gatherings, in an effort which I still believe was
praiseworthy, I had told an excellent wheeze which runs: "Have you
heard the story of the three holes in the ground?" I mean to say, I
would ask this in an interested manner, as if I were about to relate
the anecdote, and upon being answered "No!" I would exclaim with mock
seriousness, "Well! Well! Well!" This had gone rippingly almost quite
every time I had favoured a company with it, hardly any one of my
hearers failing to get the joke at a second telling. I mean to say,
the three holes in the ground being three "Wells!" uttered in rapid
Of course if one doesn't see it at once, or finds it a bit subtle,
it's quite silly to attempt to explain it, because logically there is
no adequate explanation. It is merely a bit of nonsense, and that's
quite all to it. But these boors now fell upon it with their coarse
humour, the fellow Hobbs pretending to get it all wrong by asking if
they had heard the story about the three wells and the others
replying: "No, tell us the hole thing," which made utter nonsense of
it, whereupon they all began to cry, "Well! well! well!" at each other
until interrupted by a terrific noise in the wings, which was followed
by the entrance of the supposed Cousin Egbert, a part enacted by the
cab-driver who had conveyed us from the station the day of our
arrival. Dragged on he was by the sheriff and two of the town
constables, the latter being armed with fowling-pieces and the sheriff
holding two large dogs in leash. The character himself was heavily
manacled and madly rattled his chains, his face being disguised to
resemble Cousin Egbert's after the beard had been adjusted.
"Here he is!" exclaimed the supposed sheriff; "the dogs ran him into
the third hole left by the well-diggers, and we lured him out by
making a noise like sour dough." During this speech, I am told, the
character snarled continuously and tried to bite his captors. At this
the woman, who had so deplorably unsexed herself for the character of
Mr. Belknap-Jackson as he had played Oswald, approached the prisoner
and smartly drew forth a handful of his beard which she stuffed into a
pipe and proceeded to smoke, after which they pretended that the play
went on. But no more than a few speeches had been uttered when the
supposed Cousin Egbert eluded his captors and, emitting a loud shriek
of horror, leaped headlong through the window at the back of the
stage, his disappearance being followed by the sounds of breaking
glass as he was supposed to fall to the street below.
"How lovely!" exclaimed the mimic Oswald. "Perhaps he has broken both
his legs so he can't run off any more," at which the fellow Hobbs
remarked in his affected tones: "That sort of thing would never do
This I learned aroused much laughter, the idea being that the remark
had been one which I am supposed to make in private life, though I
dare say I have never uttered anything remotely like it.
"The fellow is quite impossible," continued the spurious Oswald, with
a doubtless rather clever imitation of Mr. Belknap-Jackson's manner.
"If he is killed, feed him to the goldfish and let one of the dogs
read his part. We must get along with this play. Now, then. 'Ah! why
did I ever leave Boston where every one is nice and proper?'" To which
his supposed mother replied with feigned emotion: "It was because of
your father, my poor boy. Ah, what I had to endure through those years
when he cursed and spoke disrespectfully of our city. 'Scissors and
white aprons,' he would cry out, 'Why is Boston?' But I bore it all
for your sake, and now you, too, are smoking--you will go the same
"But promise me, mother," returns Oswald, "promise me if I ever get
dusty in the garret, that Lord Algy here will tell me one of his funny
wheezes and put me out of pain. You could not bear to hear me knocking
Boston as poor father did. And I feel it coming--already my
mother-in-law has bluffed me into admitting that Red Gap has a right
to be on the same map with Boston if it's a big map."
And this was the coarsely wretched buffoonery that refined people were
expected to sit through! Yet worse followed, for at their climax, the
mimic Oswald having gone quite off his head, the Hobbs person, still
with the preposterous affectation of taking me off in speech and
manner, was persuaded by the stricken mother to sing. "Sing that dear
old plantation melody from London," she cried, "so that my poor boy
may know there are worse things than death." And all this witless
piffle because of a quite natural misunderstanding of mine.
I have before referred to what I supposed was an American plantation
melody which I had heard a black sing at Brighton, meaning one of the
English blacks who colour themselves for the purpose, but on reciting
the lines at an evening affair, when the American folksongs were under
discussion, I was told that it could hardly have been written by an
American at all, but doubtless by one of our own composers who had
taken too little trouble with his facts. I mean to say, the song as I
had it, betrayed misapprehensions both of a geographical and faunal
nature, but I am certain that no one thought the worse of me for
having been deceived, and I had supposed the thing forgotten. Yet now
what did I hear but that a garbled version of this song had been
supposedly sung by myself, the Hobbs person meantime mincing across
the stage and gesturing with a monocle which he had somehow procured,
the words being quite simply:
"Away down south in Michigan,
Where I was a slave, so happy and so gay,
'Twas there I mowed the cotton and the cane.
I used to hunt the elephants, the tigers, and giraffes,
And the alligators at the break of day.
But the blooming Injuns prowled about my cabin every night,
So I'd take me down my banjo and I'd play,
And I'd sing a little song and I'd make them dance with glee,
On the banks of the Ohio far away."
I mean to say, there was nothing to make a dust about even if the song
were not of a true American origin, yet I was told that the creature
who sang it received hearty applause and even responded to an encore.
I need hardly say that this public ridicule left me dazed. Desperately
I recalled our calm and orderly England where such things would not be
permitted. There we are born to our stations and are not allowed to
forget them. We matter from birth, or we do not matter, and that's all
to it. Here there seemed to be no stations to which one was born; the
effect was sheer anarchy, and one might ridicule any one whomsoever.
As was actually said in that snarky manifesto drawn up by the rebel
leaders at the time our colonies revolted, "All men are created free
and equal"--than which absurdity could go no farther--yet the lower
middle classes seemed to behave quite as if it were true.
And now through no fault of my own another awkward circumstance was
threatening to call further attention to me, which was highly
undesirable at this moment when the cheap one-and-six Hobbs fellow had
so pointedly singled me out for his loathsome buffoonery.
Some ten days before, walking alone at the edge of town one calm
afternoon, where I might commune with Nature, of which I have always
been fond, I noted an humble vine-clad cot, in the kitchen garden of
which there toiled a youngish, neat-figured woman whom I at once
recognized as a person who did occasional charring for the Flouds on
the occasion of their dinners or receptions. As she had appeared to be
cheerful and competent, of respectful manners and a quite marked
intelligence, I made nothing of stopping at her gate for a moment's
chat, feeling a quite decided relief in the thought that here was one
with whom I need make no pretence, her social position being sharply
We spoke of the day's heat, which was bland, of the vegetables which
she watered with a lawn hose, particularly of the tomatoes of which
she was pardonably proud, and of the flowering vine which shielded her
piazza from the sun. And when she presently and with due courtesy
invited me to enter, I very affably did so, finding the atmosphere of
the place reposeful and her conversation of a character that I could
approve. She was dressed in a blue print gown that suited her no end,
the sleeves turned back over her capable arms; her brown hair was
arranged with scrupulous neatness, her face was pleasantly flushed
from her agricultural labours, and her blue eyes flashed a friendly
welcome and a pleased acknowledgment of the compliments I made her on
the garden. Altogether, she was a person with whom I at once felt
myself at ease, and a relief, I confess it was, after the strain of my
high social endeavours.
After a tour of the garden I found myself in the cool twilight of her
little parlour, where she begged me to be seated while she prepared me
a dish of tea, which she did in the adjoining kitchen, to a cheerful
accompaniment of song, quite with an honest, unpretentious
good-heartedness. Glad I was for the moment to forget the social
rancors of the town, the affronted dignities of the North Side set,
and the pernicious activities of the Bohemians, for here all was of a
simple humanity such as I would have found in a farmer's cottage at
As I rested in the parlour I could not but approve its general air of
comfort and good taste--its clean flowered wall-paper, the pair of
stuffed birds on the mantel, the comfortable chairs, the neat carpet,
the pictures, and, on a slender-legged stand, the globe of goldfish.
These I noted with an especial pleasure, for I have always found an
intense satisfaction in their silent companionship. Of the pictures I
noted particularly a life-sized drawing in black-and-white in a large
gold frame, of a man whom I divined was the deceased husband of my
hostess. There was also a spirited reproduction of "The Stag at Bay"
and some charming coloured prints of villagers, children, and domestic
animals in their lighter moments.
Tea being presently ready, I genially insisted that it should be
served in the kitchen where it had been prepared, though to this my
hostess at first stoutly objected, declaring that the room was in no
suitable state. But this was a mere womanish hypocrisy, as the place
was spotless, orderly, and in fact quite meticulous in its neatness.
The tea was astonishingly excellent, so few Americans I had observed
having the faintest notion of the real meaning of tea, and I was
offered with it bread and butter and a genuinely satisfying compote of
plums of which my hostess confessed herself the fabricator, having, as
she quaintly phrased the thing, "put it up."
And so, over this collation, we chatted for quite all of an hour. The
lady did, as I have intimated, a bit of charring, a bit of plain
sewing, and also derived no small revenue from her vegetables and
fruit, thus managing, as she owned the free-hold of the premises, to
make a decent living for herself and child. I have said that she was
cheerful and competent, and these epithets kept returning to me as we
talked. Her husband--she spoke of him as "poor Judson"--had been a
carter and odd-job fellow, decent enough, I dare say, but hardly the
man for her, I thought, after studying his portrait. There was a sort
of foppish weakness in his face. And indeed his going seemed to have
worked her no hardship, nor to have left any incurable sting of loss.
Three cups of the almost perfect tea I drank, as we talked of her own
simple affairs and of the town at large, and at length of her child
who awakened noisily from slumber in an adjacent room and came
voraciously to partake of food. It was a male child of some two and a
half years, rather suggesting the generous good-nature of the mother,
but in the most shocking condition, a thing I should have spoken
strongly to her about at once had I known her better. Queer it seemed
to me that a woman of her apparently sound judgment should let her
offspring reach this terrible state without some effort to alleviate
it. The poor thing, to be blunt, was grossly corpulent, legs, arms,
body, and face being wretchedly fat, and yet she now fed it a large
slice of bread thickly spread with butter and loaded to overflowing
with the fattening sweet. Banting of the strictest sort was of course
what it needed. I have had but the slightest experience with children,
but there could be no doubt of this if its figure was to be
maintained. Its waistline was quite impossible, and its eyes, as it
owlishly scrutinized me over its superfluous food, showed from a face
already quite as puffy as the Honourable George's. I did, indeed,
venture so far as suggesting that food at untimely hours made for a
too-rounded outline, but to my surprise the mother took this as a
tribute to the creature's grace, crying, "Yes, he wuzzum wuzzums a
fatty ole sing," with an air of most fatuous pride, and followed this
by announcing my name to it with concerned precision.
"Ruggums," it exclaimed promptly, getting the name all wrong and
staring at me with cold detachment; then "Ruggums-Ruggums-Ruggums!" as
if it were a game, but still stuffing itself meanwhile. There was a
sort of horrid fascination in the sight, but I strove as well as I
could to keep my gaze from it, and the mother and I again talked of
matters at large.
I come now to speak of an incident which made this quite harmless
visit memorable and entailed unforeseen consequences of an almost
quite serious character.
As we sat at tea there stalked into the kitchen a nondescript sort of
dog, a creature of fairish size, of a rambling structure, so to speak,
coloured a puzzling grayish brown with underlying hints of yellow,
with vast drooping ears, and a long and most saturnine countenance.
Quite a shock it gave me when I looked up to find the beast staring at
me with what I took to be the most hearty disapproval. My hostess
paused in silence as she noted my glance. The beast then approached
me, sniffed at my boots inquiringly, then at my hands with increasing
animation, and at last leaped into my lap and had licked my face
before I could prevent it.
I need hardly say that this attention was embarrassing and most
distasteful, since I have never held with dogs. They are doubtless
well enough in their place, but there is a vast deal of sentiment
about them that is silly, and outside the hunting field the most
finely bred of them are too apt to be noisy nuisances. When I say that
the beast in question was quite an American dog, obviously of no
breeding whatever, my dismay will be readily imagined. Rather
impulsively, I confess, I threw him to the floor with a stern,
"Begone, sir!" whereat he merely crawled to my feet and whimpered,
looking up into my eyes with a most horrid and sickening air of
devotion. Hereupon, to my surprise, my hostess gayly called out:
"Why, look at Mr. Barker--he's actually taken up with you right away,
and him usually so suspicious of strangers. Only yesterday he bit an
agent that was calling with silver polish to sell--bit him in the leg
so I had to buy some from the poor fellow--and now see! He's as
friendly with you as you could wish. They do say that dogs know when
people are all right. Look at him trying to get into your lap again."
And indeed the beast was again fawning upon me in the most abject
manner, licking my hands and seeming to express for me some hideous
admiration. Seeing that I repulsed his advances none too gently, his
owner called to him:
"Down, Mr. Barker, down, sir! Get out!" she continued, seeing that he
paid her no attention, and then she thoughtfully seized him by the
collar and dragged him to a safe distance where she held him, he
nevertheless continuing to regard me with the most servile affection.
[Illustration: "WHY, LOOK AT MR. BARKER--HE'S ACTUALLY TAKEN UP WITH
YOU RIGHT AWAY, AND HIM USUALLY SO SUSPICIOUS OF STRANGERS"]
"Ruggums, Ruggums, Ruggums!" exploded the child at this, excitedly
waving the crust of its bread.
"Behave, Mr. Barker!" called his owner again. "The gentleman probably
doesn't want you climbing all over him."
The remainder of my visit was somewhat marred by the determination of
Mr. Barker, as he was indeed quite seriously called, to force his
monstrous affections upon me, and by the well-meant but often careless
efforts of his mistress to restrain him. She, indeed, appeared to
believe that I would feel immensely pleased at these tokens of his
As I took my leave after sincere expressions of my pleasure in the
call, the child with its face one fearful smear of jam again waved its
crust and shouted, "Ruggums!" while the dog was plainly bent on
departing with me. Not until he had been secured by a rope to one of
the porch stanchions could I safely leave, and as I went he howled
dismally after violent efforts to chew the detaining rope apart.
I finished my stroll with the greatest satisfaction, for during the
entire hour I had been enabled to forget the manifold cares of my
position. Again it seemed to me that the portrait in the little
parlour was not that of a man who had been entirely suited to this
worthy and energetic young woman. Highly deserving she seemed, and
when I knew her better, as I made no doubt I should, I resolved to
instruct her in the matter of a more suitable diet for her offspring,
the present one, as I have said, carrying quite too large a
preponderance of animal fats. Also, I mused upon the extraordinary
tolerance she accorded to the sad-faced but too demonstrative Mr.
Barker. He had been named, I fancied, by some one with a primitive
sense of humour, I mean to say, he might have been facetiously called
"Barker" because he actually barked a bit, though adding the "Mister"
to it seemed to be rather forcing the poor drollery. At any rate, I
was glad to believe I should see little of him in his free state.
And yet it was precisely the curious fondness of this brute for myself
that now added to my embarrassments. On two succeeding days I paused
briefly at Mrs. Judson's in my afternoon strolls, finding the lady as
wholesomely reposeful as ever in her effect upon my nature, but
finding the unspeakable dog each time more lavish of his disgusting
affection for me.
Then, one day, when I had made back to the town and was in fact
traversing the main commercial thoroughfare in a dignified manner, I
was made aware that the brute had broken away to follow me. Close at
my heels he skulked. Strong words hissed under my breath would not
repulse him, and to blows I durst not proceed, for I suddenly divined
that his juxtaposition to me was exciting amused comment among certain
of the natives who observed us. The fellow Hobbs, in the doorway of
his bake-shop, was especially offensive, bursting into a shout of
boorish laughter and directing to me the attention of a nearby group
of loungers, who likewise professed to become entertained. So
situated, I was of course obliged to affect unconsciousness of the
awful beast, and he was presently running joyously at my side as if
secure in my approval, or perhaps his brute intelligence divined that
for the moment I durst not turn upon him with blows.
Nor did the true perversity of the situation at once occur to me. Not
until we had gained one of the residence avenues did I realize the
significance of the ill-concealed merriment we had aroused. It was not
that I had been followed by a random cur, but by one known to be the
dog of the lady I had called upon. I mean to say, the creature had
advertised my acquaintance with his owner in a way that would lead
base minds to misconstrue its extent.
Thoroughly maddened by this thought, and being now safely beyond close
observers, I turned upon the animal to give it a hearty drubbing with
my stick, but it drew quickly off, as if divining my intention, and
when I hurled the stick at it, retrieved it, and brought it to me
quite as if it forgave my hostility. Discovering at length that this
method not only availed nothing but was bringing faces to neighbouring
windows, and that it did not the slightest good to speak strongly to
the beast, I had perforce to accompany it to its home, where I had the
satisfaction of seeing its owner once more secure it firmly with the
Thus far a trivial annoyance one might say, but when the next day the
creature bounded up to me as I escorted homeward two ladies from the
Onwards and Upwards Club, leaping upon me with extravagant
manifestations of delight and trailing a length of gnawed rope, it
will be seen that the thing was little short of serious.
"It's Mr. Barker," exclaimed one of the ladies, regarding me brightly.
At a cutlery shop I then bought a stout chain, escorted the brute to
his home, and saw him tethered. The thing was rather getting on me.
The following morning he waited for me at the Floud door and was
beside himself with rapture when I appeared. He had slipped his
collar. And once more I saw him moored. Each time I had apologized to
Mrs. Judson for seeming to attract her pet from home, for I could not
bring myself to say that the beast was highly repugnant to me, and
least of all could I intimate that his public devotion to me would be
seized upon by the coarser village wits to her disadvantage.
"I never saw him so fascinated with any one before," explained the
lady as she once more adjusted his leash. But that afternoon, as I
waited in the trap for Mr. Jackson before the post-office, the beast
seemed to appear from out the earth to leap into the trap beside me.
After a rather undignified struggle I ejected him, whereupon he
followed the trap madly to the country club and made a farce of my
golf game by retrieving the ball after every drive. This time, I
learned, the child had released him.
It is enough to add that for those remaining days until the present
the unspeakable creature's mad infatuation for me had made my life
well-nigh a torment, to say nothing of its being a matter of low
public jesting. Hardly did I dare show myself in the business centres,
for as surely as I did the animal found me and crawled to fawn upon
me, affecting his release each day in some novel manner. Each morning
I looked abroad from my window on arising, more than likely detecting
his outstretched form on the walk below, patiently awaiting my
appearance, and each night I was liable to dreams of his coming upon
me, a monstrous creature, sad-faced but eager, tireless, resolute,
determined to have me for his own.
Musing desperately over this impossible state of affairs, I was now
surprised to receive a letter from the wretched Cousin Egbert, sent by
the hand of the Tuttle person. It was written in pencil on ruled
sheets apparently torn from a cheap notebook, quite as if proper pens
and decent stationery were not to be had, and ran as follows:
DEAR FRIEND BILL:
Well, Bill, I know God hates a quitter, but I guess I got
a streak of yellow in me wider than the Comstock lode. I was
kicking at my stirrups even before I seen that bunch of whiskers,
and when I took a flash of them and seen he was intending I
should go out before folks without any regular pants on, I says
I can be pushed just so far. Well, Bill, I beat it like a bat
out of hell, as I guess you know by this time, and I would like
to seen them catch me as I had a good bronc. If you know whose
bronc it was tell him I will make it all O.K. The bronc will be
all right when he rests up some. Well, Bill, I am here on the
ranche, where everything is nice, and I would never come back
unless certain parties agree to do what is right. I would not
speak pieces that way for the President of the U.S. if he ask
me to on his bended knees. Well, Bill, I wish you would come
out here yourself, where everything is nice. You can't tell what
that bunch of crazies would be wanting you to do next thing with
false whiskers and no right pants. I would tell them "I can be
pushed just so far, and now I will go out to the ranche with
Sour-dough for some time, where things are nice." Well, Bill,
if you will come out Jeff Tuttle will bring you Wednesday when
he comes with more grub, and you will find everything nice. I
have told Jeff to bring you, so no more at present, with kind
regards and hoping to see you here soon.
Your true friend,
P.S. Mrs. Effie said she would broaden me out. Maybe she did,
because I felt pretty flat. Ha! ha!
Truth to tell, this wild suggestion at once appealed to me. I had an
impulse to withdraw for a season from the social whirl, to seek repose
among the glens and gorges of this cattle plantation, and there try to
adjust myself more intelligently to my strange new environment. In the
meantime, I hoped, something might happen to the dog of Mrs. Judson;
or he might, perhaps, in my absence outlive his curious mania for me.
Mrs. Effie, whom I now consulted, after reading the letter of Cousin
Egbert, proved to be in favour of my going to him to make one last
appeal to his higher nature.
"If only he'd stick out there in the brush where he belongs, I'd let
him stay," she explained. "But he won't stick; he gets tired after
awhile and drops in perhaps on the very night when we're entertaining
some of the best people at dinner--and of course we're obliged to have
him, though he's dropped whatever manners I've taught him and picked
up his old rough talk, and he eats until you wonder how he can. It's
awful! Sometimes I've wondered if it couldn't be adenoids--there's a
lot of talk about those just now--some very select people have them,
and perhaps they're what kept him back and made him so hopelessly low
in his tastes, but I just know he'd never go to a doctor about them.
For heaven's sake, use what influence you have to get him back here
and to take his rightful place in society."
I had a profound conviction that he would never take his rightful
place in society, be it the fault of adenoids or whatever; that low
passion of his for being pally with all sorts made it seem that his
sense of values must have been at fault from birth, and yet I could
not bring myself to abandon him utterly, for, as I have intimated,
something in the fellow's nature appealed to me. I accordingly
murmured my sympathy discreetly and set about preparations for my
Feeling instinctively that Cousin Egbert would not now be dressing for
dinner, I omitted evening clothes from my box, including only a
morning-suit and one of form-fitting tweeds which I fancied would do
me well enough. But no sooner was my box packed than the Tuttle person
informed me that I could take no box whatever. It appeared that all
luggage would be strapped to the backs of animals and thus
transported. Even so, when I had reduced myself to one park
riding-suit and a small bundle of necessary adjuncts, I was told that
the golf-sticks must be left behind. It appeared there would be no
And so quite early one morning I started on this curious pilgrimage
from what was called a "feed corral" in a low part of the town. Here
the Tuttle person had assembled a goods-train of a half-dozen animals,
the luggage being adjusted to their backs by himself and two
assistants, all using language of the most disgraceful character
throughout the process. The Tuttle person I had half expected to
appear garbed in his native dress--Mrs. Effie had once more referred
to "that Indian Jeff Tuttle"--but he wore instead, as did his two
assistants, the outing or lounge suit of the Western desperado, nor,
though I listened closely, could I hear him exclaim, "Ugh! Ugh!" in
moments of emotional stress as my reading had informed me that the
Indian frequently does.
The two assistants, solemn-faced, ill-groomed fellows, bore the
curious American names of Hank and Buck, and furiously chewed the
tobacco plant at all times. After betraying a momentary interest in my
smart riding-suit, they paid me little attention, at which I was well
pleased, for their manners were often repellent and their abrupt,
direct fashion of speech quite disconcerting.
The Tuttle person welcomed me heartily and himself adjusted the saddle
to my mount, expressing the hope that I would "get my fill of
scenery," and volunteering the information that my destination was
"one sleep" away.
Although fond of rural surroundings and always interested in nature,
the adventure in which I had become involved is not one I can
recommend to a person of refined tastes. I found it little enough to
my own taste even during the first two hours of travel when we kept to
the beaten thoroughfare, for the sun was hot, the dust stifling, and
the language with which the goods-animals were berated coarse in the
Yet from this plain roadway and a country of rolling down and heather
which was at least not terrifying, our leader, the Tuttle person,
swerved all at once into an untried jungle, in what at the moment I
supposed to be a fit of absent-mindedness, following a narrow path
that led up a fearsomely slanted incline among trees and boulders of
granite thrown about in the greatest disorder. He was followed,
however, by the goods-animals and by the two cow-persons, so that I
soon saw the new course must be intended.
The mountains were now literally quite everywhere, some higher than
others, but all of a rough appearance, and uninviting in the extreme.
The narrow path, moreover, became more and more difficult, and seemed
altogether quite insane with its twistings and fearsome declivities.
One's first thought was that at least a bit of road-metal might have
been put upon it. But there was no sign of this throughout our
toilsome day, nor did I once observe a rustic seat along the way,
although I saw an abundance of suitable nooks for these. Needless to
say, in all England there is not an estate so poorly kept up.
There being no halt made for luncheon, I began to look forward to
tea-time, but what was my dismay to observe that this hour also passed
unnoted. Not until night was drawing upon us did our caravan halt
beside a tarn, and here I learned that we would sup and sleep,
although it was distressing to observe how remote we were from proper
surroundings. There was no shelter and no modern conveniences; not
even a wash-hand-stand or water-jug. There was, of course, no central
heating, and no electricity for one's smoothing-iron, so that one's
clothing must become quite disreputable for want of pressing. Also the
informal manner of cooking and eating was not what I had been
accustomed to, and the idea of sleeping publicly on the bare ground
was repugnant in the extreme. I mean to say, there was no _vie
intime_. Truly it was a coarser type of wilderness than that which
I had encountered near New York City.
The animals, being unladen, were fitted with a species of leather
bracelet about their forefeet and allowed to stray at their will. A
fire was built and coarse food made ready. It is hardly a thing to
speak of, but their manner of preparing tea was utterly depraved, the
leaves being flung into a tin of boiling water and allowed to
_stew_. The result was something that I imagine etchers might use
in making lines upon their metal plates. But for my day's fast I
should have been unequal to this, or to the crude output of their
Yet I was indeed glad that no sign of my dismay had escaped me, for
the cow-persons, Hank and Buck, as I discovered, had given unusual
care to the repast on my account, and I should not have liked to seem
unappreciative. Quite by accident I overheard the honest fellows
quarrelling about an oversight: they had, it seemed, left the
finger-bowls behind; each was bitterly blaming the other for this,
seeming to feel that the meal could not go forward. I had not to be
told that they would not ordinarily carry finger-bowls for their own
use, and that the forgotten utensils must have been meant solely for
my comfort. Accordingly, when the quarrel was at its highest I broke
in upon it, protesting that the oversight was of no consequence, and
that I was quite prepared to roughen it with them in the best of good
fellowship. They were unable to conceal their chagrin at my having
overheard them, and slunk off abashed to the cooking-fire. It was
plain that under their repellent exteriors they concealed veins of the
finest chivalry, and I took pains during the remainder of the evening
to put them at their ease, asking them many questions about their wild
Of the dangers of the jungle by which we were surrounded the most
formidable, it seemed, was not the grizzly bear, of which I had read,
but an animal quaintly called the "high-behind," which lurks about
camping-places such as ours and is often known to attack man in its
search for tinned milk of which it is inordinately fond. The spoor of
one of these beasts had been detected near our campfire by the
cow-person called Buck, and he now told us of it, though having at
first resolved to be silent rather than alarm us.
As we carried a supply of the animal's favourite food, I was given two
of the tins with instructions to hurl them quickly at any high-behind
that might approach during the night, my companions arming themselves
in a similar manner. It appears that the beast has tushes similar in
shape to tin openers with which it deftly bites into any tins of milk
that may be thrown at it. The person called Hank had once escaped with
his life only by means of a tin of milk which had caught on the
sabrelike tushes of the animal pursuing him, thus rendering him
harmless and easy of capture.
Needless to say, I was greatly interested in this animal of the quaint
name, and resolved to remain on watch during the night in the hope of
seeing one, but at this juncture we were rejoined by the Tuttle
person, who proceeded to recount to Hank and Buck a highly coloured
version of my regrettable encounter with Mr. C. Belknap-Jackson back
in the New York wilderness, whereat they both lost interest in the
high-behind and greatly embarrassed me with their congratulations upon
this lesser matter. Cousin Egbert, it seemed, had most indiscreetly
talked of the thing, which was now a matter of common gossip in Red
Gap. Thereafter I could get from them no further information about the
habits of the high-behind, nor did I remain awake to watch for one as
I had resolved to, the fatigues of the day proving too much for me.
But doubtless none approached during the night, as the two tins of
milk with which I was armed were untouched when I awoke at dawn.
Again we set off after a barbarous breakfast, driving our laden
animals ever deeper into the mountain fastness, until it seemed that
none of us could ever emerge, for I had ascertained that there was not
a compass in the party. There was now a certain new friendliness in
the manner of the two cow-persons toward me, born, it would seem, of
their knowledge of my assault upon Belknap-Jackson, and I was somewhat
at a loss to know how to receive this, well intentioned though it was.
I mean to say, they were undoubtedly of the servant-class, and of
course one must remember one's own position, but I at length decided
to be quite friendly and American with them.
The truth must be told that I was now feeling in quite a bit of a funk
and should have welcomed any friendship offered me; I even found
myself remembering with rather a pensive tolerance the attentions of
Mr. Barker, though doubtless back in Red Gap I should have found them
as loathsome as ever. My hump was due, I made no doubt, first, to my
precarious position in the wilderness, but more than that to my
anomalous social position, for it seemed to me now that I was neither
fish nor fowl. I was no longer a gentleman's man--the familiar
boundaries of that office had been swept away; on the other hand, I
was most emphatically not the gentleman I had set myself up to be, and
I was weary of the pretence. The friendliness of these uncouth
companions, then, proved doubly welcome, for with them I could conduct
myself in a natural manner, happily forgetting my former limitations
and my present quite fictitious dignities.
I even found myself talking to them of cricket as we rode, telling
them I had once hit an eight--fully run out it was and not an
overthrow--though I dare say it meant little to them. I also took
pains to describe to them the correct method of brewing tea, which
they promised thereafter to observe, though this I fear they did from
Our way continued adventurously upward until mid-afternoon, when we
began an equally adventurous descent through a jungle of pine trees,
not a few of which would have done credit to one of our own parks,
though there were, of course, too many of them here to be at all
effective. Indeed, it may be said that from a scenic standpoint
everything through which we had passed was overdone: mountains, rocks,
streams, trees, all sounding a characteristic American note of
Then at last we came to the wilderness abode of Cousin Egbert. A rude
hut of native logs it was, set in this highland glen beside a tarn.
From afar we descried its smoke, and presently in the doorway observed
Cousin Egbert himself, who waved cheerfully at us. His appearance gave
me a shock. Quite aware of his inclination to laxness, I was yet
unprepared for his present state. Never, indeed, have I seen a man so
badly turned out. Too evidently unshaven since his disappearance, he
was gotten up in a faded flannel shirt, open at the neck and without
the sign of cravat, a pair of overalls, also faded and quite wretchedly
spotty, and boots of the most shocking description. Yet in spite of
this dreadful tenue he greeted me without embarrassment and indeed
with a kind of artless pleasure. Truly the man was impossible, and when
I observed the placard he had allowed to remain on the waistband of his
overalls, boastfully alleging their indestructibility, my sympathies
flew back to Mrs. Effie. There was a cartoon emblazoned on this placard,
depicting the futile efforts of two teams of stout horses, each attached
to a leg of the garment, to wrench it in twain. I mean to say, one might
be reduced to overalls, but this blatant emblem was not a thing any
gentleman need have retained. And again, observing his footgear, I was
glad to recall that I had included a plentiful supply of boot-cream in
my scanty luggage.
Three of the goods-animals were now unladen, their burden of
provisions being piled beside the door while Cousin Egbert chatted
gayly with the cow-persons and the Indian Tuttle, after which these
three took their leave, being madly bent, it appeared, upon
penetrating still farther into the wilderness to another cattle farm.
Then, left alone with Cousin Egbert, I was not long in discovering
that, strictly speaking, he had no establishment. Not only were there
no servants, but there were no drains, no water-taps, no ice-machine,
no scullery, no central heating, no electric wiring. His hut consisted
of but a single room, and this without a floor other than the packed
earth, while the appointments were such as in any civilized country
would have indicated the direst poverty. Two beds of the rudest
description stood in opposite corners, and one end of the room was
almost wholly occupied by a stone fireplace of primitive construction,
over which the owner now hovered in certain feats of cookery.
Thanks to my famished state I was in no mood to criticise his efforts,
which he presently set forth upon the rough deal table in a hearty but
quite inelegant manner. The meal, I am bound to say, was more than
welcome to my now indiscriminating palate, though at a less urgent
moment I should doubtless have found the bread soggy and the beans a
pernicious mass. There was a stew of venison, however, which only the
most skilful hands could have bettered, though how the man had
obtained a deer was beyond me, since it was evident he possessed no
shooting or deer-stalking costume. As to the tea, I made bold to speak
my mind and succeeded in brewing some for myself.
Throughout the repast Cousin Egbert was constantly attentive to my
needs and was more cheerful of demeanour than I had ever seen him. The
hunted look about his eyes, which had heretofore always distinguished
him, was now gone, and he bore himself like a free man.
"Yes, sir," he said, as we smoked over the remains of the meal, "you
stay with me and I'll give you one swell little time. I'll do the
cooking, and between whiles we can sit right here and play cribbage
day in and day out. You can get a taste of real life without moving."
I saw then, if never before, that his deeper nature would not be
aroused. Doubtless my passing success with him in Paris had marked the
very highest stage of his spiritual development. I did not need to be
told now that he had left off sock-suspenders forever, nor did I waste
words in trying to recall him to his better self. Indeed for the
moment I was too overwhelmed by fatigue even to remonstrate about his
wretched lounge-suit, and I early fell asleep on one of the beds while
he was still engaged in washing the metal dishes upon which we had
eaten, singing the while the doleful ballad of "Rosalie, the Prairie
It seemed but a moment later that I awoke, for Cousin Egbert was again
busy among the dishes, but I saw that another day had come and his
song had changed to one equally sad but quite different. "In the hazel
dell my Nellie's sleeping," he sang, though in a low voice and quite
cheerfully. Indeed his entire repertoire of ballads was confined to
the saddest themes, chiefly of desirable maidens taken off untimely
either by disease or accident. Besides "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower,"
there was "Lovely Annie Lisle," over whom the willows waved and
earthly music could not waken; another named "Sweet Alice Ben Bolt"
lying in the churchyard, and still another, "Lily Dale," who was
pictured "'neath the trees in the flowery vale," with the wild rose
blossoming o'er the little green grave.
His face was indeed sad as he rendered these woful ballads and yet his
voice and manner were of the cheeriest, and I dare say he sang without
reference to their real tragedy. It was a school of American balladry
quite at variance with the cheerful optimism of those I had heard from
the Belknap-Jackson phonograph, where the persons are not dead at all
but are gayly calling upon one another to come on and do a folkdance,
or hear a band or crawl under--things of that sort. As Cousin Egbert
bent over a frying pan in which ham was cooking he crooned softly:
"In the hazel dell my Nellie's sleeping,
Nellie loved so long,
While my lonely, lonely watch I'm keeping,
Nellie lost and gone."
I could attribute his choice only to that natural perversity which
prompted him always to do the wrong thing, for surely this affecting
verse was not meant to be sung at such a moment.
Attempting to arise, I became aware that the two days' journey had
left me sadly lame and wayworn, also that my face was burned from the
sun and that I had been awakened too soon. Fortunately I had with me a
shilling jar of Ridley's Society Complexion Food, "the all-weather
wonder," which I applied to my face with cooling results, and I then
felt able to partake of a bit of the breakfast which Cousin Egbert now
brought to my bedside. The ham was of course not cooked correctly and
the tea was again a mere corrosive, but so anxious was my host to
please me that I refrained from any criticism, though at another time
I should have told him straight what I thought of such cookery.
When we had both eaten I slept again to the accompaniment of another
sad song and the muted rattle of the pans as Cousin Egbert did the
scullery work, and it was long past the luncheon hour when I awoke,
still lame from the saddle, but greatly refreshed.
It was now that another blow befell me, for upon arising and searching
through my kit I discovered that my razors had been left behind. By
any thinking man the effect of this oversight will be instantly
perceived. Already low in spirits, the prospect of going unshaven
could but aggravate my funk. I surrendered to the wave of homesickness
that swept over me. I wanted London again, London with its yellow fog
and greasy pavements, I wished to buy cockles off a barrow, I longed
for toasted crumpets, and most of all I longed for my old rightful
station; longed to turn out a gentleman, longed for the Honourable
George and our peaceful if sometimes precarious existence among people
of the right sort. The continued shocks since that fateful night of
the cards had told upon me. I knew now that I had not been meant for
adventure. Yet here I had turned up in the most savage of lands after
leading a life of dishonest pretence in a station to which I had not
been born--and, for I knew not how many days, I should not be able to
shave my face.
But here again a ferment stirred in my blood, some electric thrill of
anarchy which had come from association with these Americans, a
strange, lawless impulse toward their quite absurd ideals of equality,
a monstrous ambition to be in myself some one that mattered, instead
of that pretended Colonel Ruggles who, I now recalled, was to-day
promised to bridge at the home of Mrs. Judge Ballard, where he would
talk of hunting in the shires, of the royal enclosure at Ascot, of
Hurlingham and Ranleigh, of Cowes in June, of the excellence of the
converts at Chaynes-Wotten. No doubt it was a sort of madness now
seized me, consequent upon the lack of shaving utensils.
I wondered desperately if there was a true place for me in this life.
I had tasted their equality that day of debauch in Paris, but
obviously the sensation could not permanently be maintained upon
spirits. Perhaps I might obtain a post in a bank; I might become a
shop-assistant, bag-man, even a pressman. These moody and unwholesome
thoughts were clouding my mind as I surveyed myself in the wrinkled
mirror which had seemed to suffice the uncritical Cousin Egbert for
his toilet. It hung between the portrait of a champion middle-weight
crouching in position and the calendar advertisement of a brewery
which, as I could not fancy Cousin Egbert being in the least concerned
about the day of the month, had too evidently been hung on his wall
because of the coloured lithograph of a blond creature in theatrical
undress who smirked most immorally.
Studying the curiously wavy effect this glass produced upon my face, I
chanced to observe in a corner of the frame a printed card with the
heading "Take Courage!" To my surprise the thing, when I had read it,
capped my black musings upon my position in a rather uncanny way.
Briefly it recited the humble beginnings of a score or more of the
world's notable figures.
"Demosthenes was the son of a cutler," it began. "Horace was the son
of a shopkeeper. Virgil's father was a porter. Cardinal Wolsey was the
son of a butcher. Shakespeare the son of a wool-stapler." Followed the
obscure parentage of such well-known persons as Milton, Napoleon,
Columbus, Cromwell. Even Mohammed was noted as a shepherd and
camel-driver, though it seemed rather questionable taste to include in
the list one whose religion, as to family life, was rather scandalous.
More to the point was the citation of various Americans who had sprung
from humble beginnings: Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Garfield, Edison. It
is true that there was not, apparently, a gentleman's servant among
them; they were rail-splitters, boatmen, tailors, artisans of sorts,
but the combined effect was rather overwhelming.
From the first moment of my encountering the American social system,
it seemed, I had been by way of becoming a rabid anarchist--that is,
one feeling that he might become a gentleman regardless of his
birth--and here were the disconcerting facts concerning a score of
notables to confirm me in my heresy. It was not a thing to be spoken
lightly of in loose discussion, but there can be no doubt that at
this moment I coldly questioned the soundness of our British system,
the vital marrow of which is to teach that there is a difference
between men and men. To be sure, it will have been seen that I was not
myself, having for a quarter year been subjected to a series of
nervous shocks, and having had my mind contaminated, moreover, by
being brought into daily contact with this unthinking American
equality in the person of Cousin Egbert, who, I make bold to assert,
had never for one instant since his doubtless obscure birth considered
himself the superior of any human being whatsoever.
This much I advance for myself in extenuation of my lawless
imaginings, but of them I can abate no jot; it was all at once clear
to me, monstrous as it may seem, that Nature and the British Empire
were at variance in their decrees, and that somehow a system was base
which taught that one man is necessarily inferior to another. I dare
say it was a sort of poisonous intoxication--that I should all at once
"His lordship tenth Earl of Brinstead and Marmaduke Ruggles are two
men; one has made an acceptable peer and one an acceptable valet, yet
the twain are equal, and the system which has made one inferior
socially to the other is false and bad and cannot endure." For a
moment, I repeat, I saw myself a gentleman in the making--a clear
fairway without bunkers from tee to green--meeting my equals with a
friendly eye; and then the illumining shock, for I unconsciously added
to myself, "Regarding my inferiors with a kindly tolerance." It was
there I caught myself. So much a part of the system was I that,
although I could readily conceive a society in which I had no
superiors, I could not picture one in which I had not inferiors. The
same poison that ran in the veins of their lordships ran also in the
veins of their servants. I was indeed, it appeared, hopelessly
inoculated. Again I read the card. Horace was the son of a shopkeeper,
but I made no doubt that, after he became a popular and successful
writer of Latin verse, he looked down upon his own father. Only could
it have been otherwise, I thought, had he been born in this fermenting
America to no station whatever and left to achieve his rightful one.
So I mused thus licentiously until one clear conviction possessed me:
that I would no longer pretend to the social superiority of one
Colonel Marmaduke Ruggles. I would concede no inferiority in myself,
but I would not again, before Red Gap's county families vaunt myself
as other than I was. That this was more than a vagrant fancy on my
part will be seen when I aver that suddenly, strangely, alarmingly, I
no longer cared that I was unshaven and must remain so for an untold
number of days. I welcomed the unhandsome stubble that now projected
itself upon my face; I curiously wished all at once to be as badly
gotten up as Cousin Egbert, with as little thought for my station in
life. I would no longer refrain from doing things because they were
"not done." My own taste would be the law.
It was at this moment that Cousin Egbert appeared in the doorway with
four trout from the stream nearby, though how he had managed to snare
them I could not think, since he possessed no correct equipment for
angling. I fancy I rather overwhelmed him by exclaiming, "Hello,
Sour-dough!" since never before had I addressed him in any save a
formal fashion, and it is certain I embarrassed him by my next
proceeding, which was to grasp his hand and shake it heartily, an
action that I could explain no more than he, except that the violence
of my self-communion was still upon me and required an outlet. He
grinned amiably, then regarded me with a shrewd eye and demanded if I
had been drinking.
"This," I said; "I am drunk with this," and held the card up to him.
But when he took it interestedly he merely read the obverse side which
I had not observed until now. "Go to Epstein's for Everything You
Wear," it said in large type, and added, "The Square Deal Mammoth
"They carry a nice stock," he said, still a bit puzzled by my tone,
"though I generally trade at the Red Front." I turned the card over
for him and he studied the list of humble-born notables, though from a
point of view peculiarly his own. "I don't see," he began, "what right
they got to rake up all that stuff about people that's dead and gone.
Who cares what their folks was!" And he added, "'Horace was the son of
a shopkeeper'--Horace who?" Plainly the matter did not excite him, and
I saw it would be useless to try to convey to him what the items had
meant to me.
"I mean to say, I'm glad to be here with you," I said.
"I knew you'd like it," he answered. "Everything is nice here."
"America is some country," I said.
"She is, she is," he answered. "And now you can bile up a pot of tea
in your own way while I clean these here fish for sapper."
I made the tea. I regret to say there was not a tea cozy in the place;
indeed the linen, silver, and general table equipment were sadly
deficient, but in my reckless mood I made no comment.
"Your tea smells good, but it ain't got no kick to it," he observed
over his first cup. "When I drench my insides with tea I sort of want
it to take a hold." And still I made no effort to set him right. I now
saw that in all true essentials he did not need me to set him right.
For so uncouth a person he was strangely commendable and worthy.
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