Step Lively! A Carload of the Funniest Yarns that Ever Crossed the Footlights
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When Rube comes to town there is a lot of fun poked at the rustic, and even gold bricks slipped into his pockets in exchange for the coveted long green.
And no doubt some of you good people know from experience that when a city man migrates to the country the farmers delight to expose his ignorance of things generally. I had an experience of that sort last summer when I engaged board for my little outfit at Farmer Wilkins'.
We arrived late in the evening and retired to our shuck mattresses very soon, being tired from the journey; so the tiller of the soil didn't have much of a chance to make my acquaintance.
Early in the morning I was abroad, and ran across Wilkins and his hired man milking the cows.
"Mornin'," said he, "come to find out whichever keow gives the buttermilk, or p'r'aps ye thought to be airly enough to hear the haycock crow?" and he tipped a wink at his man, who was enjoying the fun.
"Well, neither, to tell the truth, Mr. Wilkins," I remarked, "I've just been out tying a knot in a cord of wood."
Wilkins, among his other possessions, owned an uncommonly homely dog which was a source of considerable interest to my youngest.
You see we were never the proud owners of even a brindle cur, and of course Harold made friends with Rover from the very start.
Whenever the beast wanted to play he would whirl around in a circle, chasing his own tail in a comical manner that never failed to make us laugh.
That humorous tale would have been worth a small fortune if properly brought to the attention of the editor of the Sunday paper comic section.
Harold had stood and looked at the revolving beast nearly ten minutes, urging him on with sundry shouts.
Then he turned to me.
"What kind of a dog is that, pa?"
I'm no connoisseur of dogs, and was never made a judge in a bench show in my life.
I knew several breeds, but this nondescript was really beyond my ken.
At the same time it's never good policy to confess ignorance when asked a point-blank question by Young America.
"Oh," I said casually, "why, he's a – yes, a watch dog, Harold."
The boy pondered a minute, while the beast kept revolving.
"Well," he observed, "from the long time it takes him to wind himself up, I guess he must be a Waterbury watch dog."
While on the way to the Grand Central Depot I had to take the seat at the rear end of an open car.
Of course as you all know the last three or four seats are generally reserved for men who must smoke or die.
Occasionally, on account of the crowded condition of the cars, a female or two finds herself tucked away between the users of the weed.
Perhaps she is accustomed to it at home and pays little attention to the puffs of pungent smoke that float around her.
I have seen cases, however, where the disgust was written in big letters on the lady's face, and she took the earliest occasion to change her seat.
Such an instance occurred that day.
I thought she was a woman with considerable temper, just from her looks, and when she spoke I was sure of it.
"Smoking on a car!" she exclaimed, as an Irishman with his short-stemmed pipe took his seat beside her.
"Oi am!" rejoined Pat, between long and determined puffs."And av ye don't loike ut go wan up froont. These sates is resairved for smokhers."
"If you were my husband I'd give you poison," she snapped.
"Would ye, now?" Puff, puff. "Oi think av ye wor me woife" – puff, puff – "Oi'd take ut."
Hotel clerks stand in a class by themselves.
I have great admiration for the whole tribe, and am on speaking terms with quite a bunch.
But for pure nerve commend me to that chap – it was in Chattanooga where I was stopping at the time – who rung me up from the office, five stories down.
Time eleven thirty-seven at night.
I jumped out of bed, and turning on the electric light, rushed to the phone.
"This George Niblo?"
"Gone to bed, yet?"
"Sure. Do you think I – "
"That's all right. How're you feeling?"
"That's good. Feel equal to a hurry-up slide down the fire-escape?"
"Well, I might if I had to. Say – "
"All right; that's just how it stands. You wriggle into your clothes now, and make a record doing it. You see, the hotel's on fire, and – and – gee! Don't talk like that, Brother Niblo, there are ladies in the next room. Good-by."
You bet I made record time, and got out in pretty decent order, considering that I carried all my clothes on my arms.
I always believe that telephone saved my life, though I never could quite forgive the impudence of the clerk.
Among his other accomplishments Benson writes fancy ads, and when I dropped in on him he was hard at work getting up a unique booklet.
My curiosity forced me to examine the cover, and I saw it was intended to puff the benefits to be derived from using Madam Tussaud's Hair Restorer.
"Going to have stories between the covers?" I asked.
"Oh, I can imagine the kind – all about the beautiful girl whose long braid was cut off by a rascal, and who found a rich husband."
"You're away off," he remarked.
"Well then, how about the maiden who paid the mortgage on the old home by sacrificing her wonderful crop of hair, depending upon the use of this stuff for a new supply – ain't that straight?"
"Humbug," he snorted.
"Very well – tell me what brand you expect to use."
"Ghost stories, of course."
"And why ghost stories?"
"Well, I'm blessed, when you know just as much as I do they're the only genuine hair-raising stuff."
On my way to the elevated I sometimes stop in to leave an order at our grocer's.
Just this morning I found him taking an order from a new customer, who, I judged, had not been married very long.
Of course I couldn't help hearing some fragments of their delightful conversation.
I have a higher opinion of that grocer now.
He must have served his time as a court interpreter.
"You might send me a pound of paralysed sugar," she said.
"Yes'm. What else?"
"A couple of cans of condemned milk."
"And a bag of fresh salt – be sure it's quite fresh."
"That's down, ma'am – anything more you can think of?"
"Why, yes, you might send a pound of desecrated codfish."
"Nothing more, ma'am – we have just received a fresh lot of nice horseradish which I can recommend."
"Not to-day, thank you. We don't keep a horse."
When she went out that man filed the order without even a smile upon his face.
I felt like fanning myself with a washboard, although it was bitter cold outside.
While I was calling on Bob Sherlock, to talk over a little business he and myself were interested in, there was something of a commotion.
It began after my arrival.
I sat in the parlor waiting for Bob, who was dressing.
The family were in the back parlor, there being several children patterned very much after Bob.
Presently I heard signs of trouble.
Then Mrs. Bob said, a little sharply:
"Lawrence, don't be so selfish. Let your baby brother play with your marbles a little while."
"But he means to keep them always," said a voice.
"Oh, I guess not."
"I guess yes, 'cause he's swallowed three of 'em already," said Lawrence, with the positiveness of conviction.
Then the fun began.
But the baby was saved, and I strongly suspect Lawrence stretched matters to suit his convenience.
My family doctor ordered me to a warmer climate last winter.
I told him I objected to going so soon.
However, we compromised matters by deciding that North Carolina might do.
Mountain air and Mountain Dew have been known to work wonders in combination.
Now, perhaps you remember that Bill Nye had a home down in the Tar Heel State, and I was glad to know I would soon be breathing the same pine woods' air.
While the wagon was taking me to the retired home of the settler with whom I meant to camp out, it stopped before a tumble-down cabin, where there was a well of the finest water on earth.
A small boy handed up the gourd, while a girl with a shock of carroty hair stood afar off and watched.
"What's your sister's name?" I asked.
"Yes – she's your sister, I suppose?"
"Well what do you call her?"
"Lize – we uns call her Uneasy Lize."
"That's strange. How did she come by it?"
"To school. Teacher told we uns to each git a motter an' larn it, and come to school an' say it; sister she learned 'Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,' but she got so scart when she come to say it she never got no further'n 'Uneasy lies – ' an' that's the name she's gone by ever since. Thankee, mister. Have another drink?"
Say, did I tell you I met Judkins on the Elevated the other morning. Judkins is the greatest bore in the country. Take that from me. Well, sirs, he started in to tell me his family history.
"You know my wife's sister Gwendolyn!" he asked.
"From Boston – yes," I murmured, prepared to grin and bear it.
"Well, she don't understand why my youngest lad condescends to associate with some boys toward whom she has taken a cordial dislike on sight.
"Now, only this morning I heard her reproaching him.
"'How can you associate with that Bink's boy? I understand he's the worst scholar in the school.'
"'Huh!' said my little chap, quick as a shot, 'don't you think I've got any gratitude, aunty – why, if it wasn't for him, Harold Bangs or me'd be at the foot of the class.'"
While we stood there awaiting a belated express, a lady came up the stairs, who immediately attracted attention from every gentleman present.
She was certainly a stunner and no mistake.
When she sailed past with the carriage of a duchess we both discovered that art had supplanted nature in giving her cheeks such a delightful glow.
This gave me an opening.
Judkins had just been asserting that women are as honest as men.
"Not in all things, my boy. A man will always put up a sign 'Look out for paint,' but did you ever know a woman to do it? Not on your sweet life."
I never realized before how forgetful sailors are as a class, until the fact was brought to my attention last summer down at the Long Island resort we patronized.
Why, they had to weigh their anchor every time they left port – you'd think they could remember the weight easy enough.
And speaking about sailors reminds me of a queer old character I once knew down at the docks.
For more than thirty years he had labored faithfully at the same job, and stepped up to be paid every Saturday night.
But at last there came a ruler "who knew not Joseph," and the order went out that the old man be discharged to make room for some younger favorite.
His son brought the sad news to him.
It seemed to stupefy the old fellow.
He went home that evening in a daze.
Of course the old woman quickly saw that something was wrong, and began to ask questions.
"No, and I'm not sick at all. They're after dischargin' me down at the docks. I've recaved me notice for next month. I knowed it would come. Sure I towld ye the furrst day I wint to worruk there I didn't think 'tw'ud be a steady job, and be jabers, I wor roight."
Some accident prevented me from attending a musicale given by a would-be friend the other evening.
When I met him later he expressed himself after the usual style, about having missed me, but I had loaded up my old blunderbuss, and gave him a corker.
"And we were sorry not to be with you, Jones, but to tell you the truth, our cook had company unexpectedly, and she needed us to fill out the card tables."
Jones never speaks to me now.
I really imagine the fellow believed what I told him, which speaks well for my veracity.
Not that it matters much anyhow, for I understand they will soon move out of our neighborhood.
My wife says the signs are infallible, since they have begun to scratch matches on the walls.
By some accident I dropped into a strange barber shop to be shaved.
And it was the most – well, atrocious skin I ever ran up against.
The tears stood in my eyes, but that barbarian kept scratching away just as though he had taken a vow not to leave an inch of cuticle on my chin.
When the agony became unbearable, I said, humbly:
"I beg pardon, but I believe there's a hack in your razor."
"Well," said he, coldly, "what did you expect to find in it – an automobile?"
We were doing Florida with a Pennsylvania excursion.
There was a very modest young lady from Boston with our party and a ranch owner from Oklahoma.
I chanced to be near when they were introduced.
"I understand you've traveled some in the West, Miss Beacon?" he said.
"Why, yes; quite extensively. I've been through California, Arizona and New Mexico, where I was shown all the wonderful sights."
"Did you ever see the Cherokee Strip?" he asked, anxious to tell of his broad domain in that wonderland.
There was a painful silence, but finally she looked over her glasses at him, and said:
"In the first place, sir, I deem your question exceedingly rude; and in the second, you might have been more refined in your language by asking me if I had ever seen the Cherokee disrobe."
Occupying a seat just in front of me in the Pullman, was a young couple, evidently recently engaged.
Occasionally fragments of their conversation came to my ears, though I give you my word I was not endeavoring to pry into their secrets.
I was, however, a little bit interested when I heard him say:
"I believe you cared for me the first time we ever met."
"Why, what makes you think so?" she demanded.
"Because you kept looking at me steadily. Every time I glanced in your direction your gaze was riveted upon me."
The girl laughed in glee.
"Oh, but it wasn't because I had fallen in love with you. I was thinking what a pity it was there was no one near and dear to you who could tell you what wretched taste you had in neckties."
George was more subdued after that.
And I noticed that his necktie was in most excellent taste.
Right across the aisle two ladies were condoling with each other over the respective short-comings of their husbands.
I wondered if that sort of thing was common, and how John's ears would tingle during business hours if he could only know how his little faults were being held up to ridicule by the partner of his bosom.
They did haul those poor fellows over the coals good and hard, which I thought bad taste, considering that it was only through the liberality of the same that these ladies were now off on a month's pleasure trip.
I heard one of them finally say:
"So your husband always humiliates you when you take him to church Sunday morning? What does he do – go to sleep and snore like my unmannerly husband?"
"Oh; it's worse than that, I assure you. He gives himself away so wretchedly."
"How is that?" asked the other, eagerly, for much as these ladies like to run their husbands down, they seem to enjoy learning that there are others still worse.
"Why, he always tries to sneak into church by the side door," was the disgusted reply.
I assure you I had reason to believe that man's home did not have much attraction for him.
Between New York and Philadelphia I ran across an old acquaintance, seated with a stranger who appeared to have a great affection for him.
He kept an arm on the seat back of my old friend Reginald, and every now and then spoke to him soothingly.
I was surprised at the change in Reginald.
There was an excited look in his face, and his eyes rolled restlessly, but he knew me and shook hands.
"Why I haven't seen you for several weeks! How's your health?" I asked.
"Poorly; every little thing-thong seems to affect me lately. Well, at any rate, you are looking like a king-kong."
"Feeling that way, except for a slight touch of spring fever," I replied.
"Yes; spring-sprong always affects me, too – makes my head ring-rong."
"What in thunder is the matter with you, old man, the way you've got to talking?"
"Nothing-thong," said Reginald, making a swinging movement of his arm through empty air, as his friend backed away in amazement and alarm.
"I hear that you have become a great devotee of the fashionable fad of table tennis."
"Yes," he said, wildly; "I like to have my fling-flong, and enjoy the banjo sing-song of the game of ping-pong at every racquet's swing-swong, while the celluloid sphere is on the wing-wong. I know that game's the thing-thong – "
Just then the gentleman seated alongside spoke to him, and the poor fellow lapsed into silence.
I knew then that the dreadful ping-pong had gotten in its work, and that he was on his way to a sanitarium.
In Jacksonville I dropped into a restaurant with a friend, a Wall Street man off for a rest.
Presently the waiter came up.
"What'll you have to-day, sah?" asked the waiter. "We've got some nice lamb wid green peas."
"Yes," said the Wall Street operator, absent-mindedly, "let me have a little lamb with greenbacks."
You see its hard for those chaps to divorce themselves from their business.
After a while I noticed an old tortoise-shell tabby sitting on one of the tables.
It was back a little, but in full view of the patrons.
I wondered why none of the attendants chased the beast away, and my curiosity grew apace until I mentioned it to my companion.
So we hazarded many a guess.
He said she was a standing ad of the catsup.
I declared her duty was to keep tab on the waiters.
After we had exhausted all the old chestnuts, and strained our relations almost to the breaking point by manufacturing some atrocious new jokes, we decided to call the waiter to settle the matter.
He bent down and said mysteriously:
"You see, sah, we's got stewed rabbit on de bill ob fare to-day, and de govenor, sah, he say as how de customers like to hab de cat in evidence on dese days."
When we left the cat was still there.
I like the refreshing honesty of that restaurant man, don't you?
My wife and I had quite a spirited debate recently.
It concerned our youngest, who had been getting into trouble again, throwing stones at a neighbor's cat, or doing some such boyish misdemeanor, and his mother expressed her opinion that he was surely a chip of the old block.
This was not the first time I had heard her say that.
And, the worst of it was, I recognized its truth.
Nevertheless, being a man, and the head of the family, I thought I ought to protest.
"I suppose you believe the lad inherits all his good qualities from you, and his evil propensities from me?" I remarked, loftily.
"Certainly, I have good authority for it," she replied, not disturbed in the least by my haughty demeanor.
You see, she has known me a long time.
"Indeed," I said, "where do you get your authority?"
"Oh! from the Bible – you know it says that the sins of the father shall be visited upon the children."
I rather guess she had me there.
All housewives dislike the good man to bring company home with him unexpectedly.
I know this from sad experience.
And, consequently, I always aim to let my better half know beforehand, so that she may prepare certain dishes that she delights to set before company, but which are strangers to our ordinary everyday bill of fare.
Even the best of intentions are liable to go astray.
And on this occasion I certainly overstepped the mark.
So I have taken a vow to abstain from slang hereafter.
This is what happened:
I left two gentlemen in the parlor, and wended my way to the realm where our meals are usually prepared.
My wife met me in the dining-room, and her face told me she was not happy.
"Surely you haven't brought any one home with you?" she said.
"Why, yes, my dear. You remember, of course, I told you this morning I would."
"Of course, not. You told me you'd bring home a couple of lobsters for dinner."
"Well, that's them in the parlor."
I finally compromised matters by taking a party of four to a neighboring restaurant, and that lobster episode cost me just ten dollars.
I had an embarassing moment the other day.
Le'me tell you how it was.
Some business took me to a certain quarter over in Newark, to see a man about a matter of importance.
He was out, but expected in shortly.
So I said I would wait, for it meant nearly half a day wasted if I had my trip for nothing.
The old lady gave me a chair in the kitchen, for they were good, honest German folks, you know.
I soon became interested watching a young girl who was busily engaged kneading bread.
Casual observation induced me to believe she might be about twelve years of age.
After some time, I broke the silence by remarking:
"Don't you go to school?"
"No; I stopped school some time ago," she replied, smiling.
"I should think that a girl of your age would want to get as much education as possible before taking the responsibility attending household duties," I said.
"But why don't you go to school, then?"
"Well," she stammered, "because my husband thinks I had better stay at home."
About that time something occurring outside the window attracted my attention.
I don't believe I've ever felt so cheap since I was a boy and used to join the other fellows in a genuine old country serenade when a wedding took place.
Did I tell you about it?
Well, this is what happened:
We heard that there was to be a wedding over at old Squire Joskins' – a niece of his had come home to be married to some fellow or other.
Little we cared.
A wedding was all the same to us, if we could only indulge in a downright rollicking shivaree.
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