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The Bigger Fool, the Better Luck by Jonathan F. Kelley


The American “Ole Bull,” young Howard, one of the most scientific crucifiers of the violin we ever heard, gave us a call t'other day, and not only discoursed heavenly music upon his instrument, but gave us the “nub” of a few jokes worth dishing up in our peculiar style. Howard spent last winter in a tour over the State of Maine and Canada. During this cool excursion, he got way up among the wood-choppers and log-men of the Aroostook and Penobscot country. These wood-chopping and log-rolling gentry, according to all accounts, must be a jolly, free-and-easy, hard-toiling and hardy race. The “folks” up about there live in very primitive style; their camps and houses are very useful, but not much addicted to the “ornamental.” Howard had a very long, tedious and perilous tramp, on foot, during a part of his peregrinations, and coming at last upon the settlement of the log-men, he laid up several days, to recuperate. In the largest log building of the several in the neighborhood, Howard lodged; the weather was intensely cold—house crowded, and wood and game plenty. After a hard day's toil, in snow and water, these log-men felt very much inclined, to sleep. A huge fire was usually left upon the hearth, after the “tea things” were put away, Howard gave them a choon or two, and then the woodmen lumbered up a rude set of steps—into a capacious loft overhead, and there, amid the old quilts, robes, skins and straw, enjoyed their sound and refreshing sleep—with a slight drawback.

Among these men of the woods, was a hard old nut, called and known among them as—Old Tantabolus! He was a wiry and hardy old rooster; though his frosty poll spoke of the many, many years he had “been around,” his body was yet firm and his perceptions yet clear. The old man was a grand spinner of yarns; he had been all around creation, and various other places not set down in the maps. He had been a soldier and sailor: been blown up and shot down: had had all the various ills flesh was heir to: suffered from shipwreck and indigestion: witnessed the frowns and smiles of fortune—especially the frowns; in short, according to old man Tantabolus's own account of himself, he had seen more ups and downs, and made more narrow and wonderful escapes, than Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver both together—with Baron Trenck into the bargain!

For the first season, the old man and his narrations, being fresh and novel, he was quite a lion among the woodmen, but now that the novelty had worn off, and they'd got used to his long yarns, they voted him “an old bore!” The old fellow smoked a tremendous pipe, with tobacco strong enough to give a Spaniard the “yaller fever.” He would eat his supper, light his pipe—sit down by the fire, and spin yarns, as long as a listener remained, and longer. In short, Old Tantabolus would spin them all to bed, and then make their heads spin, with the clouds of baccy smoke with which he'd fill the ranche.

Going to bed, at length, on a bunk in a corner, the old chap would wheeze and snore for an hour or two, and then turning out again, between daybreak and midnight, Old Tantabolus would pile on a cord or two of fresh wood—raise a roaring fire—make the ranche hot enough to roast an ox, then treat all hands to another stifling with his old calumet, and nigger-head tobacco! Then would commence a—

“A-booh! oo-oo!” by one of the lodgers, overhead.

“Boo-oo-ooh! Old Tantabolus's got that—booh-oo-oo-oo,—pipe of his'n again,—boo-oo-oo!” chimed another.

“A-a-a-chee! oo-oo-augh-h-h-ch-chee! Cuss that—a- chee—pipe. Tantabolus, you old hoss-marine, put out that—a- chee!—darn'd old pipe!” bawled another.

“A'nand?” was the old fellow's usual reply.

“A-boo-ooh-ooh!” hoarse and loud as a boatswain's call, in a gale of wind, would be issued from the throat of an old “logger,” as the fumigacious odor interfered with his respiratory arrangements, and then would follow a miscellaneous—

“A-chee-o! Ah-chee! boo-ooh-oo-ooh!” tapering off with divers curses and threats, upon Old Tantabolus and his villanous habits of arousing “the whole community” in “the dead watches and middle of the night,” with heat and smoke, no flesh and blood but his own could apparently endure.

At length, a private caucus was held, and a diabolical plan set, to put a summary end to the grievous nuisances engendered by Old Tantabolus—“let's blow him up!

And this they agreed to do in this wise. Before “retiring to rest,” as we say in civilized parlance, the lodging community were in the habit of laying in a surplus of firewood, alongside of the capacious fire-place, in order—should a very common occurrence occur,—i. e., a fall of snow six to ten feet deep, and kiver things all up, the insiders might have wherewith to make themselves comfortable, until they could work out and provide more. But Old Tantabolus was in the wasteful practice of turning out and burning up all this extra fuel; so the caucus agreed to bore an inch and a quarter hole into a solid stick—pack it with powder—lay it among the wood, and when Old Tantabolus riz to fire up, he'd be blowed out of the building, and disappear—in a blue blaze! Well, poor old man, Tantabolus, quite unconscious of the dire explosion awaiting him, told his yarns, next evening, with greater gusto than usual, and one after another of his listeners finally dropped off to roost, in the loft above, leaving the old man to go it alone—finish his pipe, stagnate the air and go to his bunk, which, as was his wont to do—he did. Stillness reigned supreme; though Old Tantabolus took his usual snooze in very apparent confidence, many of his no less weary companions above—watched for the approaching tableaux! And they were gratified, to their heart's content, for the tableaux came!

“Now, look out, boys!” says one, “Old Tanty's about to wake up!” and then some dozen of the upper story lodgers, who had kept their peepers open to enjoy the fun, began to spread around and pull away the loose straw in order to get a view of the scene below. Sure enough, the old rooster gave a long yawn—“Aw-w-w-w-um!” flirted off his “kiverlids” and got up, making a slow move towards the fire-place, reaching which, he gave an extra “Aw-w-w-um!” knocked the ashes out of his pipe—filled it up with “nigger-head,” dipped it in the embers, gave it a few whiffs, and then said:

“Booh! cold mornin'; boys'll freeze, if I don't start up a good fire.” Then he went to work to cultivate a blaze, with a few chips and light sticks of dry wood.

“Ah, by George, old feller,” says one, “you'll catch a bite, before you know it!”

“Yes, I'm blamed if you ain't a goner, Old Tantabolus!” says another, in a pig's whisper.

“There! there he's got the fire up—now look out!”

“He's got the stick—”

“Goin' to clap it on!”

“Now it's on!”

“Look out for fun, by George, look out!”

“He'll blow the house up!”

“Godfrey! s'pose he does?”

“What an infernal wind there is this morning!” says the old fellow, hearing the buzz and indistinct whispering overhead; “guess it's snowin' like sin; I'll jist start up this fire and go out and see.” But, he had scarcely reached and opened the door, when—“bang-g-g!” went the log, with the roar of a twelve pounder; hurling the fire, not only all over the lower floor, but through the upper loose flooring—setting the straw beds in a blaze—filling the house with smoke, ashes and fire! There was a general and indiscriminate rush of the practical jokers in the loft, to make an escape from the now burning building; but the step-ladder was knocked down, and it was at the peril of their lives, that all hands jumped and crawled out of the ranche! The only one who escaped the real danger was Old Tantabolus, the intended victim, whose remark was, after the flurry was over—“Boys, arter this, be careful how you lay your powder round!


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