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“I don’t like either,” said Martin. “Folks who eat onions belong to a low order of humanity. Criminals and idiots and such folks are always fond of them, I’ve read.”
“Where do you get that stuff?” asked Stacey Ross. “Look at Garibaldi.”
“Where?” asked Martin flippantly.
“Wasn’t he a patriot and a man of brains and – and blameless life?” pursued Stacey.
“I guess so,” assented Martin doubtfully.
“All right! Garibaldi invented onions, didn’t he?”
Martin viewed him suspiciously. “Well, maybe he did, but I’ll bet he didn’t eat them! Carbol invented carbolic acid, but he didn’t drink it, did he?”
“Garibaldi,” remarked Bob gravely, “made onions his principal diet: ate them three times a day and fed his army on them!”
“Oh, well, he was an Italian,” said Martin. “I’m talking about folks in this country.”
“George Washington invariably began the day with a raw sliced onion,” said Bob. “History tells you that.”
“Sure,” asserted Stacey. “Wasn’t it Washington who said ‘In onion there is strength’?”
“You fellows make me weary,” retorted Martin. “I’ll bet you eat them yourselves! As I remarked hitherto, the onion is the favorite fruit of the mentally deficient! And you fellows talk like you never ate anything else!”
Stacey continued to expatiate on the merits of the onion, but Bob relapsed into silence. He had been visited by an idea and he was busy developing it all the rest of the way back to school. When he said good night to Martin later in front of Lykes there was an expression on his face that might have caused the other some uneasiness had he noticed it.
“It’s awfully funny,” remarked Martin after dinner the next day, “but I can still taste those onions, Brand.”
“What onions?” asked Willard.
“In that lunch-cart last night. Taste the smell of them, I mean. It’s just as though I’d eaten them myself. Gosh, I didn’t enjoy my dinner a bit, either. Everything seemed to smell of the beastly things!”
“We didn’t have onions at our table,” said Willard.
“Neither did we, but I’ll swear I could almost smell them! It’s queer, but I simply can’t stand the smell of onions. It almost makes me sick. I can go a little of it, of course, and I manage to eat soups and things like that that are flavored with onions, but I don’t like them.”
“Maybe there was onion in the gravy or something,” Willard suggested. But Martin shook his head.
“It isn’t that. I guess I got my lungs full of the smell last night. Funny thing is, though, that it seems almost as if I could taste them!”
“You’ll get over it,” Willard consoled. “Let’s go for a walk. Maybe the air will do you good.”
Later Martin confessed that the imaginary onions bothered him less, but after supper the trouble recurred, and he was fairly miserable and wore a pained look all the evening. “I guess it’s dyspepsia,” he confided to them in Bob’s room. “No matter what I eat, seems as if it was flavored with onion.
I ought never to go near the beastly things.”
“You must have a very delicate stomach,” observed Bob sympathetically. “I knew a fellow once who was like you. He couldn’t stand the sight of garlic. He’d go a mile out of his way so as not to have to pass by a garlic – er – grove. Used to get sick at the mere mention of the word!”
“Is that so?” asked Martin with almost a sneer. “What was his name?”
“His name? Why – er – Smith, Jack Smith. Did you know him?”
“No, but I knew an awful liar once,” answered Martin stiffly. “His name wasn’t Jack, though, it was Robert.”
Afterwards, back in the room and preparing for bed, Martin spoke earnestly of seeing a doctor on the morrow if he didn’t stop smelling onions and even tasting them, and Willard said he thought it would be a very sensible thing to do, and was careful to hide his smile behind the jacket of his pajamas. In the morning, though, Martin was quite himself again and told Willard he guessed he’d imagined those onions.
But two hours later, returning to Number 16 for a book, Willard discovered a very pale and unhappy Martin stretched out on the window-seat with his head on the ledge and a chilling October wind ruffling his locks. “Onions,” groaned Martin in response to Willard’s concerned inquiry. “I – I’ve got them again, something fierce!” He closed his eyes and shuddered. “Do you smell them, Brand?” he asked weakly.
Willard sniffed the air and truthfully replied that he didn’t. Martin sighed dolorously. “I can’t make it out,” he said. “I was all right this morning until breakfast. Then, just as soon as I got to the table it came back. Everything seemed to smell of onions, and taste of ’em, too. Why, even the coffee did!”
“I suppose you imagined it,” murmured Willard.
“I suppose so. No one else noticed it. I guess I’ll have to cut French. Tell Metcalfe I’m sick, will you, Brand?”
“Yes, but why don’t you take something?”
“What’ll I take?” groaned Martin.
“Soda-mint tablets are good, I think. Hot water, too. Want me to get you some hot water?”
Martin nodded weakly but gratefully, and Willard went off to the lavatory and presently returned with a tooth-mug filled with scalding-hot water. As it was then time for a nine o’clock recitation, he had to leave Martin sipping and shuddering. When he next saw him, shortly before dinner, he was much better physically but in poor mental condition. His disposition was utterly vile. He put his tongue out and wagged it accusingly at Willard.
“I burned my tongue,” he said. “That water was too blamed hot!”
“Too bad,” replied Willard soothingly. “It made you feel better, though, didn’t it?”
“What if it did? What’s the good of feeling better if your tongue is all scalded?” Martin demanded huffily. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?” asked Willard indignantly. “Not to burn your tongue, you simp?”
“Tell me it was so hot! How’d I know?”
“I thought maybe you could tell by the feel of it,” answered Willard dryly. “Most folks can!”
“Funny, aren’t you?” Martin turned disgruntedly to the window, and after a moment Willard asked:
“Did you get to any classes?”
“Math,” grunted the other. “I was too sick for the rest of them. What time is it?”
“Nearly half-past. Coming along?”
“I don’t believe I want any dinner. What’s the use? It’ll just taste of – of those things!”
“Onions?” asked Willard innocently.
“Shut up! Don’t speak of ’em!” yelled Martin. “Now you’ve made me all squirmy again!” He sank to the window-seat, placed anxious hands on his waistcoat and glared at Willard accusingly. “I was feeling all right, too!”
“Well, how did I know you didn’t want me to say – ”
“Cut it out, I tell you!”
“I wasn’t going to say on – ”
“You’re saying it!” shrieked Martin. “I hope you get it, too! When you do, I’ll say ‘onions’ to you! You see if I don’t!”
“You just said it yourself,” said Willard, grinning.
“That’s different.” Martin glared ferociously. “You’re just trying to make me sick again!”
“Oh, be good,” answered the other humoringly. “Tell you what I’ll do, Mart. I’ll go over to the drug store and get you some soda-mints right after dinner.”
Martin looked slightly mollified for an instant. Then he asked suspiciously: “Do they taste awful?”
“N – no, not very. Come along to dinner. You’d better try to eat something, even if you don’t feel hungry.”
“Well, all right, but I know I can’t eat.”
MARTIN CALLS QUITS
From his own table, by craning his neck, Willard could see Martin’s, and it was apparent that the latter was not making much of a meal. Bob, who sat at his left, was plainly sympathetic and solicitous: Willard could see Bob passing the spinach and urging his neighbor to eat, and could see Martin’s dismal refusal. Perhaps it was because Martin partook only of a little soup and a dish of rice pudding that the malady returned to him less severely after the noon meal. Willard kept his promise and procured a small bottle of soda-mint tablets, and all the rest of the day Martin’s expression was one of supreme disgust as he continuously dissolved the tablets in his mouth. The remedy at least allowed him to take an active part in practice, which was fortunate since he was given a try-out at left tackle. He was a bit slow at first, but, with Mr. Cade constantly urging, he showed quite a lot of speed toward the end of the practice. He confessed to Willard later that he might have done better if the onion smell hadn’t bothered him. “It came on in the locker room,” he said. “I didn’t notice it until I was changing. Then I got it strong and it stayed with me all the time. I – I get it yet, but it’s not so bad.”
“It must be your imagination,” said Willard. “Ever troubled like this before? I say, Mart, there isn’t – isn’t any – ”
“Well, any – er – insanity in your family, is there?”
“Don’t be a silly fool!” begged Martin.
“I just thought that maybe – ”
“Listen here, Brand! There’s no imagination about it. I’ve been poisoned.”
“Poisoned!” gasped Willard. Martin nodded gravely.
“Yes, I’ve got it all doped out. I’ve been onion poisoned.”
“But onions aren’t – aren’t poisonous,” expostulated Willard.
“Maybe not to some folks, but they are to me,” Martin spoke with conviction. “What happened is just this. That night we went to the lunch-cart the place was full of onion odor. Remember? Well, I breathed a lot of it into my system and it poisoned me. It’s in my blood probably. If I’m not all right tomorrow I’m going to see a doctor.”
Willard considered the theory for a moment and then gravely acknowledged that there might be something in it.
“You bet there is,” Martin assured him. “Why, it stands to reason. Look what chloroform does. It gets into your blood when you inhale it, doesn’t it? Well, it’s the same way with onions. Some folks aren’t affected by it, but I’m different. I guess a doctor would be mighty interested in my case.” Martin paused to consider the idea and then went on proudly. “Yes, sir, I’ll bet he would! I’ll bet he’d write about me to the – the medical association!”
“I dare say,” assented Willard. “Maybe it would get in the New York papers, too. ‘Poisoned by Onions! Strange Case of Young Preparatory School Student Puzzles the Medical Fraternity!’ Maybe they’d print your picture, Mart.”
“You can make a silly joke of it if you like,” said Martin, “but I’ll bet I’m right!”
Joe and Bob came up to the room that night and Martin explained his theory again for their benefit. He was undergoing another visitation of the onion malady, but interest in his case and in his solution of it gave him strength to bear up better than usual. Joe and Bob – Bob especially – were tremendously impressed with the theory and Bob recalled having read of a similar case. “Only,” he said, “in that case the man had been poisoned by eating watercress.”
“Eating what?” asked Martin incredulously.
“Watercress,” repeated Bob. “It doesn’t affect most people, but some fellows can’t eat it at all. You’ve heard that, haven’t you, Joe?”
“Yes,” Joe assented soberly. “I had a cousin like that. Watercress and strawberries were like poison to him.”
Martin looked from Joe to Bob suspiciously, but they were so evidently in earnest that he asked: “What happened to this fellow?”
“Why, he ate watercress and was poisoned. It got into his blood, you know, and the only way they could save his life was by transfusion.”
“What’s that? You mean pumping someone else’s blood into him?”
“Sure! That’s the only thing possible in extreme cases.”
Martin hurriedly produced his bottle and popped a soda-mint into his mouth. “Well, I guess onions wouldn’t do that to a fellow,” he said with a confidence that didn’t quite ring true. “Would you think so, Joe?”
“Search me,” replied Joe comfortingly. “I never heard of onion poisoning before.”
“Nor I,” said Bob troubledly. “I guess it’s a pretty rare disease, and maybe the doctors don’t understand it yet. Guess it’s sort of like sleeping sickness,” he added blandly.
Martin shot a hostile and wary look at him, but Bob only smiled sympathetically and reached out his hand. “Let’s see one of those tablets, Mart,” he requested. “I’ve got a sort of a heavy feeling myself tonight.”
“You don’t notice the taste of onions, do you?” asked Martin hopefully as he tossed the bottle across the table.
“N – no, not exactly. More a sort of gone sensation. I guess it was the baked potato I ate.” He took some time to get a tablet out, under cover of the table; so long that Martin said impatiently: “Shake the bottle. They’re probably stuck.”
“I’ve got it, thanks.” Bob popped a tablet into his mouth, made a wry face, screwed the cover on the bottle again and tossed it back. “Nasty tasting things, aren’t they?” he asked.
“You get used to them after awhile,” replied Martin consolingly. “I guess I’ve eaten twenty of them today. When you have blood trans – whatever it is, Bob, how do you do it? I mean, where do you get the blood?”
“Advertise, I think. It isn’t easy, of course, because the other fellow, the one who gives the new blood, has to be pretty healthy. Lots of times you can’t find anyone and it’s no use.”
“What happens then?” inquired Martin uneasily.
Bob shrugged. “The patient dies, of course. You hear of it very often.”
Martin gulped and almost swallowed his tablet. “Gee! I guess I’d find someone if I had to,” he said. “Maybe, though, it’s more imagination than anything with me. You know you can imagine all sorts of things, and I guess onions wouldn’t be very hard, eh?”
“N – no,” said Joe, “but I have a hunch that your theory is about right, Mart. It certainly sounds mighty reasonable to me.”
“I don’t see how you make that out,” replied Martin shortly. “If it was really a case of – of being poisoned I guess I’d be a lot worse now than I am. It’s been going on two days, and anyone knows that poison acts pretty quick.”
“Some poisons,” answered Bob significantly. “But there are others that act – er – very slowly. There’s hemp, for instance.”
“That’s a rope,” said Martin derisively.
“It’s a very deadly poison,” said Bob sternly, “and it’s very – very – what’s the word, Joe?”
“Lingering?” asked Joe.
“Insidious,” suggested Willard.
“Insidious, that’s it! Sometimes the patient suffers for weeks.”
“Well, I haven’t eaten any hemp,” said Martin crossly. “I haven’t eaten anything, confound it! I’m mighty near starved! Maybe that’s what the trouble is. If it wasn’t so late I’d go out and get a sandwich or a piece of pie or something.”
“What you need is hearty food,” said Bob. “A nice steak and onions, for instance.”
“Shut up! I hope you choke!” Martin fairly gibbered. “I wish you had it! I wish you all had it, you gang of grinning apes! You make me sick!” In proof of the latter assertion he shuddered violently, hurriedly produced his bottle of soda-mint tablets and, keeping his lips very tightly closed, agitatedly unscrewed the top. The others watched with almost painful intensity. Martin inverted the bottle, seized a tablet and popped it into his mouth. Instantly a strange, haunted look came over his face. He swallowed once, his eyes round and alarmed, and then the tablet came out of his mouth even quicker than it had gone in and he laid hands on his stomach and closed his eyes.
“What is it?” asked Bob anxiously. “Feeling sick, Mart?”
“Sick! I – I’m dying! They – they’re full of it!”
“What are? Full of what?” asked Joe.
“The tablets.” Martin opened his eyes slowly, and gazed in horror at the questioner. “They’re full of – of onion! Oh, gee!”
“Nonsense,” said Bob cheerfully. “How could they be? Let’s see them.” Martin weakly brought them forth from his pocket and held them out with averted head. Bob removed the lid and held the bottle to his nose. “I don’t smell anything,” he said. “Do you, Brand?”
“Not a thing,” replied Willard gravely. “You try, Joe.”
“Well, there’s a faint – ah – medicinal odor apparent,” said Joe judicially, “but as for onions – ”
“Let me smell,” demanded Martin. He took the bottle and put it to his nostrils. Then it went flying across the room and its contents rolled merrily about the floor. “It is!” he yelled. “They are! Can’t you fellows smell it?”
“Look here, Martin,” responded Joe sternly. “You’d better pull yourself together, old man. It won’t do to let this – this hallucination go too far. Better get into bed and try to forget about onions. Maybe a good night’s rest is what you need. In the morning I’d have a talk with the doctor. Of course your trouble may not be serious, Mart. I dare say if you take it in time you can be cured. But I’d feel a whole lot easier if you saw a doctor, old man.”
Martin’s expression of glowering distaste changed slightly. He stared in growing fascination at Bob.
“It might be,” continued the latter kindly, “that you’ve been bitten by the Diptera onionensis, otherwise known as the onion-fly. Of course, it isn’t probable, but you never can tell, Mart. There’s the tse-tse fly, now. You wouldn’t expect to find that around here, but I’ve been told that it is quite common. Then why not the onion-fly?”
Martin’s gaze was fixed on Bob and Martin’s mouth was slowly dropping open. He was like one who is seeing a Great Light and who is still too dazed by its refulgence for speech. Bob smiled gently and continued, keeping, however, perhaps unintentionally, the table between him and Martin.
“You’ve been so awfully sympathetic about my sleeping sickness, Mart, that I just can’t bear to see you troubled like this. It would certainly be a load off my mind if you’d just talk things over with the doctor – ”
“You did it!” hissed Martin. “You – you played a trick on me!”
“Why, Mart,” protested Bob in hurt tones. “How can you sit there and say them cruel words?”
Martin glared wildly about him. Joe was so entirely overcome by some emotion that he had his head in his hands and Willard was gasping, perhaps with pain, his countenance hidden behind a propped-up book. Martin swallowed hard once, drew his feet beneath him and then was out of his chair with a roar.
“I’ll onion you!” he shouted. “I’ll – I’ll – ”
Around the table they plunged, hurdling Joe’s legs, since that youth was too helpless to draw them back, twirling Willard around in his chair like a chip in a maelstrom as they passed, Bob a half circuit to the good at the end of each lap. Noise and confusion reigned supreme, but through it came Bob’s voice, made faint by laughter:
“For the love of Mike, Mart, use discretion!”
Martin’s invariable reply was a savage howl of wrath.
On the tenth circuit – or perhaps it was the eleventh! – disaster overtook the pursued. Bob slipped coming into the backstretch and went down, and Martin hurled himself on him. Over and over they went, grunting, gasping, gurgling. Willard rescued the lamp just before the table went over on top of the battlers, showering them with books and papers. Had Bob been in his best form that contest would have been brief, for he was bigger and stronger than his antagonist, but laughter drugged him and before he could cry for mercy Martin had thumped his head many times on the rug and jounced merrily up and down on his ribs. When, at last, Martin drew off and Bob climbed weakly to his feet the room was a wreck and over the scene hung, like a horrible miasma, the sickening concentrated odor of onions!
Martin sniffed and would have flung himself on Bob again if the latter had not pointed beseechingly to the floor. Martin looked and picked up the stoppered remains of a broken bottle. To it clung a paper label. “Onion Extract,” he read.
When peace, if not complete order, had been restored Bob confessed. “I gave you fair warning, Mart,” he said. “I told you I’d get even. Trouble with you is you think you invented joking and that no one else can get away with it. I got the idea that night when you turned up your nose at the onions in the lunch-cart. I paid the cook a quarter for that bottle of onion extract and the rest was easy. All I had to do was get to table long enough ahead of you to drop a little of the stuff around: on your napkin, in your porridge, in your salt-cellar and so on. I was clever enough not to be too generous with it, you know. Once, when you were looking the other way, I got some on your meat, and another time in your coffee. Yesterday I sprinkled a good big lot on your football togs. Maybe you noticed it?”
Martin said: “Hm!” grimly.
“I tried to get Brand to put some on your toothbrush and your pillow, but he was too tender-hearted,” added Bob. Martin turned a sorrowfully accusing look on Willard. “And that’s that,” Bob ended, smilingly.
“Huh,” said Martin this time, scornfully. “I knew all along it was just some silly joke!”
“Oh, no, you didn’t, pettie! Anyhow, we’ll call it quits now if you like. I’m satisfied if you are. Only, Mart, no more ‘tse-tse flies’ and ‘sleeping sickness’ stuff. My health is very good, thank you, and if you want a place on the team, son, you get out and earn it!”
“Oh, that’s all right, Bob,” answered Martin, grinning. “Johnny told me today I was to play left tackle after this. So I don’t care whether you have sleeping sickness or not!” Then, after a perceptible pause, he added: “Much!”
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