George Niblo.

Step Lively! A Carload of the Funniest Yarns that Ever Crossed the Footlights



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One fellow, who was evidently getting his baptism in fire, had stood it for a time, though his knees must have been knocking together some.

It became necessary to retreat temporarily, while the bullets sang around like mad hornets; but once started for the rear this fellow's legs actually ran away with him.

He plunged along like a rhinoceros, utterly regardless.

An officer bellowed after him.

"Here, you, what are you running for?"

I saw the scared New Englander turn his head and throw over his shoulder:

"Because I can't fly, you darned fool!"

Hello, there, what was that – actually a mosquito trying to nip me, the bloodsucker!

Come to think of it, skeeters are about the slickest nuisances we've got.

Have you ever thought what sly coons they are, and how they maneuvre to get their suction pump at work, just as if they had learned army tactics?

Say, ever been down in Jacksonville when the mercury's so high you can't breathe and the skeeters are humming their monotonous anthem? This is the song they sing:

 
When at night yer gently sleepin',
Sleepin' in your trunnle bed,
An' yer hear a buzzin', creepin',
Creepin' round yer drowsy head;
Such a gentle kind o' buzzin',
Seems like some one's sayin' "Cousin,
Couz-in, couz-zin, couz-z-zin, couz-z-z-zin!"
When ye ain't got no sich kin,
Heads in under quick, an' cheat 'er!
It's a low down female skeeter,
That's a-lyin'
And a tryin'
To break in.
 
 
An' there ain't no good o' slidin'
'Neath the bedclothes – she won't leave —
For she knows yer only hidin'
An' yer got ter rise to breathe,
So she'll hover 'round there buzzin'
'Bout that everlastin' "Cousin,
Couz-in, couz-zin, couz-z-zin, couz-z-z-zin!"
She must love that chap a lot.
Heads from under – biff! she's got yer,
An' I told yer that she'd swat yer,
General Jackson!
Say, I'm axin'
Did she swat?
 
 
If yer git as hot as tinder,
Crouchin' thar beneath that sheet,
An' she journeys out the winder,
Don't you think you've fooled that skeet,
For she'll hustle back a buzzin',
"Couz-in, couz-zin, couz-z-zin, couz-z-z-zin!"
They'll locate you in the dark —
Biff! She has 'bout all ye owe 'er,
An' ye wonder why ole Noah
Let the first two,
An' the worst two,
In the ark!
 

Aha! There's my friend Judge Longears in the back row. Now, don't everybody rubber. Well, well, well, he's scooted. I pity these bashful men. Judge Longears has in his day defended all manner of criminals.

Some of them escaped punishment Which they richly deserved, simply because they were wise enough to employ a smart lawyer.

And no doubt the fee he received often constituted the proceeds of the very robbery of which they had just been proven innocent.

Even in his early career I remember he had an experience of this character.

In my hearing his good wife said to him:

"So you cleared that poor Mr.

Liftem from the charge of stealing that turkey? I'm glad of it, but he's such a worthless character that I don't believe you'll ever get a cent for your services."

I have never forgotten the smile that stole over the placid face of Longears, as he replied:

"Perhaps not, Maria, but I've got an all-fired good turkey out in the woodshed, just the same."

But I tell you Longears was a terror in his young days. I've seen him bullyrag a poor devil in the box until he caused him to say just what he wanted.

There are some men, however, who are the quintessence of meekness.

I knew one whose gardener used to crib and sell his fruit and vegetables, and had to be dismissed.

For the sake of his wife and family he gave him a letter of recommendation, which ran about like this:

"I hereby certify that Thomas Buck has been my gardener for over two years, and that during that time he got more out of my garden than any other man I ever employed."

I saw two disreputable citizens meet the other day, and judged they had not run across each other for a long spell of Sundays.

"Hullo, Hans, how's the wurrld threatin' ye?" demanded the one who bore the map of Ireland on his face.

"I do not gomplain somethings mabbe. Such vindy veather is goot for my professions quite," replied the German.

"Be jabers, it's getting up in the wurrld ye must be. 'Pon yer 'onor now, phat do yees do to make a living?"

"I examine ribs."

"And I break the same; but phat joke is it ye're afther giving me to say yer a surgeon?"

"You should not so quick joomp at conclusions – I am an umbrella mender."

"On me own part, it's no need I hav to wurrk at all, since discoverin' that I belonged to a swell family."

"You don't say!"

"And that wun av me ancestors was a minute man."

"Ish it possible – tell me how that might come?"

"Why, don't ye see, ye omadhaun, didn't that same mimber av the family wurrk on Sixty-second Street?"

Then the rattle of an elevated train drowned the rest.

I felt that I had lost five dollars by not hearing how Hans got back again.

Sometimes when the Sunday morning bells calling to church jangle from various spires, I think of the well-known old poem on the subject of their music; and then my mind goes out to other belles, to be seen parading in their best gowns, ready to break the hearts of admiring mankind.

And talking about women makes you think of song. Wine, women and song, you know. We'll cut out the wine and have the song. Here she goes:

 
Oh! the belles!
Summer belles!
What a plentitude of heartaches their giddiness compels;
How they giggle, giggle, giggle,
In the sea-breeze laden night,
How their victims squirm and wriggle
In an ecstasy of fright.
 
 
How they hurt
When they flirt,
When with ghoulish glee they gloat
On the squirming of a fellow when they have him by the throat.
 
 
Oh! the belles!
Brazen belles!
How they conjure, scheme and plan
To entrap the summer man,
The ribbon counter gentlemen who masquerade as swells.
 
 
Oh! the belles!
Greedy belles!
How they wring, wring, wring
Soda water, everything,
From the pockets of those "Cash!" – exclaiming swells.
 
 
Oh! the belles!
Foxy belles!
What a wealth of hints they fling
To compel the pleasant ring,
Diamond ring!
Ah! the heart engaging ring
Of the golden wedding bells, bells, bells, bells, bells.
Oh! the belles!
 

I spent a week or two with a friend in the suburbs last spring.

He had one little chap that greatly interested me.

He reminded me of what I must have been, for he was eternally in a peck of trouble.

Liked candy, too, and when I found that he no longer hooked lumps of sugar out of the bowl on the table, I became convinced that his cure must have been radical.

So I made an investigation.

The woodshed figured largely in the matter, too.

That brought back other tender recollections, for, do you know, we once had a woodshed.

Favorite place for an affectionate interview between father and son.

I never go past one without feeling hurt.

Frederick was inclined to be confidential, and readily admitted that his mother's solicitude concerning his state of health, and the possibility of his contracting a crop of worms from too steady a sugar diet had prompted her to a little exercise.

"She laid it on just like I was a little pig," he complained.

I saw the connection immediately.

"Just so," I said, "a ham, sugar-cured."

Bijinks buttonholed me on the way here, and I could see from his face that he was laying for me.

I've given him numerous falls from time to time, and he swore to get even.

I think he must have sat up nights, and just from curiosity I'd like to compare his gas bill with that of last month.

Good jokes come high, I tell you, and I'm really afraid poor old Bijinks will never be the same man he was before.

Success has made his hat seem too small, and presently I'll hear of him applying for my job.

But about the thing he tossed me.

Purposely he introduced the subject of the navy.

"Talking of ships," he said, soberly, "I suppose courtship might properly be considered a transport."

I told him that it was cruel to take advantage of me.

"But, sometimes," he continued, mercilessly, "it is nothing more nor less than a sort of wor – ship."

Then he artfully began to tell what wonders he had seen over in London during the time Edward was crowned king.

"Say, a coronation must be a dreadfully expensive affair," I chanced to remark, and how his eyes glittered as he drove it home, for the expected opening had come.

"Well, rather; why, the dentist charged me ten dollars just for crowning a single tooth."

That was also on me.

But Bijinks gets hold of some pretty good stories occasionally, and I expect he'll soon be working them off along with hoary chestnuts that have done duty for ages.

One I know bears the marks of newness, since the game of ping pong has only recently come into existence.

He says he knew the old fellow that said it, but I rather think he prevaricates, and must have discovered the joke in some obscure country paper.

It was in Texas it happened.

An old farmer had a girl attending school at Fort Worth, and in course of a letter home to the old folks chanced to say "I'm just in love with ping pong."

Whereupon up rose the Texan farmer in wrath and laid down the law in unmistakeable terms.

You see he had been to Fort Worth and even had his biled shirt done up at a Celestial laundry.

"Here, mother," says he, bringing down his horny fist on the table till the dishes danced. "You jest write and tell Amarillis Jane that if she's goin' to fall in love with any of them blamed Fort Worth Chinamen, she can just count on bein' cut off without a cent."

Bijinks puts up a bluff about having fought in the Spanish-American war. He was enrolled but he never fought. Fact is, he got discharged for a breach of etiquette. Yes, you see he turned his back to the enemy.

Do any of you people play golf? My advice is "Don't!" But what's the use of talking?

The fascination of golf has much to answer for.

At the same time one would hardly expect it to upset the calculations of a minister.

That's just what happened when I was in old Scotland, taking in their raw atmosphere, and a few other things besides.

I often watched the reverend gentleman play, and saw how infatuated he had become with the game.

Yet he labored under a great handicap.

When he missed the ball, and performed a wonderful series of gyrations, it must have been very hard to compress his agitated feelings in such a narrow compass as:

"Tut, tut," or, "Well, well," perhaps "Oh, dear, now."

More robust language alone meets the emergency.

The last I saw of him was when he had striven with unusual fervor to knock the ball from the tee, and his face shone with exertion and indignation.

"Dear, dear, but I'll hae to gie it up – I'll hae to gie it up," he said in despair.

"Give up playing golf – that's too bad," I remarked, whereupon he hastily turned upon me and said:

"Na, na, gie up the meenistry."

Feeling in high spirits when I entered my favorite restaurant yesterday, I asked the proprietor at the desk:

"Do you serve lobsters here?"

"Why, of course we do – have a seat. Now, what'll you have," was the reply.

That man knew me for sure.

The girl who waited on me began to rattle off a list of dishes which were on the menu.

Perhaps I was partly to blame, since I had asked:

"Well, Mame, what have you got to-day?"

"Pretty nearly everything, sir – I've got calves' brains, frogs' legs, chicken liver – "

"Hold on," I said.

"What's the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing, only you ought to see a doctor."

Did you ever notice what singular names many of the Rhode Island towns and cities have, as well as those in the wooden nutmeg State.

Now, there's old Nantucket, for instance, once the most noted whaling center of America.

That place always fascinates me; makes me burst into song, as it were.

Let's have a bar, professor.

 
There once was a man from Nantucket,
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter, named Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for his bucket, Nantucket.
 
 
This roused the old man from Nantucket,
Who chased them as far as Pawtucket;
Where he scolded Miss Nan,
Thrashed soundly the man,
And as for the bucket, Pawtucket.
 
 
The pair followed pa to Manhasset,
Where he still held the cash as an asset;
But Nan and the man
Stole the money and ran,
And as for the bucket, Manhasset.
 

Well, I fancy that is quite sufficient for one time.

Talking about names, I had often wondered why Maine has so long been a prohibition State, until recently when glancing over the map the truth flashed upon me.

Surely no drunken man could ever pronounce such jaw breakers as Umbazooksus and Mattawamkeag.

I went with Jack Rackstraw looking for board the other day.

Ever try it?

Funniest game going.

Talk about studying human nature, why nothing equals what you run across in boarding houses.

There was one vinegary old maid to whom he applied who gave me a cold chill.

She was so thin, that for the life of me I couldn't help thinking of the living skeleton who lost his balance while washing at the sink, and had to be pulled out of the waste pipe.

Rackstraw allowed himself to be questioned meekly enough.

Soon she knew more about his business and his remote ancestors than I did, and I had been his friend twice ten years.

At last she stormed the fort.

I saw blood in her eye, and knew what was on tap from the way her thin lips came together.

"You say you are married?"

"Yes, yes."

"Ah! any family, Mr. Rackstraw?"

"One baby," he stammered, "would you mind that?"

"Mind it," she snapped, "what do you take me for – a nurse?"

Rackstraw didn't board there, I remark in passing.

Well, if you'd ever been a country school teacher, perhaps you wouldn't growl at things because they didn't come your way.

I went visiting while up in the Catskills, and before the school season was over.

The teacher lived at a small hotel, and of course didn't appreciate the trials of family housekeeping, but on that particular day I can tell you she got a pretty decent insight into the tribulations of those who have to live that way.

A little girl came in late.

"See here, Sarah, you are five minutes behind time. Yesterday it was three minutes. Explain!" she said.

But Sarah didn't scare worth a cent.

She broke loose like a steam-engine and fairly paralysed us both; and it was something like this:

"Please, ma'am, the alarm-clock stopped last night, and it was so dark and foggy this morning that the girl didn't wake until late, and then, trying to get to the kitchen window in the dark, she upset some water on the kindling wood; it was the water the mackerel was soaking in, and it was on a chair, and the wood was under it, and then because the wood was wet the fire wouldn't burn, and the other wood we ordered the day before hadn't come, and the neighbor next door hadn't any either, and the girl had to go to the store for some, and she was a good while getting there, and then the storekeeper told her she needn't bring it, 'cause he would send it right around before she got back, and 'cause she didn't know him she believed him; and when she got back the wood wasn't there, and it was a long time before it came, and then it was all wet from the fog and rain, 'cause he didn't cover it up, and when we tried to start the fire again it wouldn't burn any better than the first time; and then mamma hurried over to our kind neighbor to get the use of her stove, but they were getting their breakfast and we could only use one hole at a time, and our kettles and pans wouldn't fit their stove, and we had to wait till some of theirs was cleaned, and then mamma tried to cook some oatmeal so I could hurry and get to school, and then the baker didn't come, and the girl had to go out for bread while I dressed Sally, and Johnny, and Mamie, and then the baby woke and began to cry hard, as if he was hurt, and mamma hurried upstairs to see what was the matter, and while she was finding out the oatmeal burned, and we had to wait till the kettle could be cleaned and some more cooked, and when that was done I hurried and ate a little so I wouldn't be late to school, and I had just time to get here, but Johnny got the nose-bleed awful, and I had to wait until mamma could get through with him and wash her hands so she could write me an excuse for bein' late yesterday."

When the teacher could catch her breath, she said:

"Excused. Take your seat."

I struck a lawyer chum in the cars the other day and thought I'd interest him by talking shop.

"I hear old Judge Pennytobacco is breaking up housekeeping," I said.

"That's strange – I hardly believe that can be true. The judge is working night and day, simply overwhelmed with cases. He has no time to think of such a thing."

"What kind of cases?"

"Er – divorce cases, principally."

"That's it," I said.

"Oh!" He thought it over for a minute, then changed the conversation by remarking: "By the way, I hear you've taken to writing verses."

"Experimenting a little, that's all."

"Have you submitted any to the editor?"

"Yes, a few."

"And did the editor kick at the verses?"

"Well, he kicked all right, but not at the verses exactly. Here's one of 'em:

 
"He harped upon her beauty, he harped upon her grace,
But she answered his proposal with a coldly cruel 'Never!'
So he took a dose of poison and proceeded to a place
Where, I venture the assertion, he will harp no more forever."
 

"This is where I get off," remarked my legal friend coldly.

"So do I," I cried, jumping up. "Let's take a turn round together."

As we sallied along we passed a meat market, the proprietor of which was standing in the doorway.

He greeted us with a pleasant nod and a good-humored "You're looking well, sir."

"There's a fellow for you," I said. "He seems to increase in girth every month. I knew him when he tipped the scales at a hundred and thirty. Perhaps you wouldn't believe it – and what do you think he weighs now?"

"Well, what does he weigh?" asked my legal friend.

"Meat."

Fortunately at that moment my friend was stopped by an angry client.

Somehow this irate gentleman seemed to think he had gotten hold of the hot end of a deal.

And sputtering with rage he didn't hesitate to call a spade by its proper name.

"I see the scoundrel in your face!" exclaimed the angry man.

"That," replied the man of law, calmly, "I consider a personal reflection."

Then he sauntered on with me, and when the other found time to figure out things more fully, I guess he was madder than ever, don't you?

Smart chap, that lawyer! Sometimes he works so upon the feelings of the jury that he gets his man off.

And then again a case will arise that in spite of his eloquence goes against him.

He made a miss with Sikes, and I'm thinking that fellow will meet his end shortly.

This is in Jersey, where they still hang men, you know.

I went along to see the man, for somehow I'd never set eyes on a condemned criminal, and rather thought it might round out an experience.

Sikes was a hard-looking citizen.

I fear if I had been the judge, his face alone would have sent him to the gallows.

And yet he mellowed some and even laughed.

A prison visitor was wrestling with him, no doubt meaning well, but not having much effect on so hard a case.

She tried to make his mind revert to his childhood, when he said his prayers at his mother's knee, and all that sort of thing, you know.

"My poor fellow," I heard her say, "when you contemplate your approaching doom, does not your memory revert longingly to those innocent days, and would you not enjoy once more those childish sports of the long ago?"

"Well," said Sikes, reflecting, as though his mind had indeed traveled far back into the dim past, "sure, there's one thing I'd like mighty well to do, and that is skip the rope."

My legal friend really made a powerful plea in the Sikes case, and I thought he would win out.

But there must have been one jury-man for conviction, who finally brought the other eleven obstinate men to his way of thinking.

Why, I actually felt the tears in my eyes and the accused began to look like an angel, whereas a short time before I had thought him a ruffian.

The lawyer's boy was present too, and when he went home he gave a report of the proceedings.

I had it straight from headquarters.

"It was a dandy speech, mamma – why he 'most cried himself, the prisoner wiped his eyes, some ladies had to be taken out of the room so the trial could go on, and I guess the jury felt powerfully bad too," he said.

"And how about you, son," inquired his pleased mother.

The little fellow cocked his eye and smiled.

"Oh! he can't fool me," he said.

While waiting one day in court for the case, in which I was a witness, to be called, they led a tough-looking citizen into the pen.

He was a typical burglar.

Why the burgle stood out all over him in lumps.

When I looked at him I thought how much I had to be thankful for that I didn't have to meet him under other distressing circumstances of a dark night.

In fact I figured that I was in just thirty cents.

Well, he was the last fellow you'd ever suspect of having a streak of humor in his make-up.

He objected to being called a thief.

"I've a trade, your honor."

"What is it?" demanded the judge.

"Locksmith."

"Just so; and what were you doing in the bank when the policemen took you?"

"Making a bolt for the door, sure."

But his jesting mood did not save him, and he was given another kind of job for a time.



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