Parnassus On Wheels
by Christopher Morley
H.B.F. and H.F.M.
"Trusty, dusky, vivid,true"
A LETTER TO
David Grayson, Esq.
OF HEMPFIELD, U. S. A.
MY DEAR SIR,
Although my name appears on the title page, the real author of
this book is Miss Helen McGill (now Mrs. Roger Mifflin), who
told me the story with her own inimitable vivacity. And on her
behalf I want to send to you these few words of acknowledgment.
Mrs. Mifflin, I need hardly say, is unskilled in the arts of
authorship: this is her first book, and I doubt whether she
will ever write another. She hardly realized, I think, how
much her story owes to your own delightful writings. There
used to be a well-thumbed copy of "Adventures in Contentment"
on her table at the Sabine Farm, and I have seen her pick it
up, after a long day in the kitchen, read it with chuckles,
and say that the story of you and Harriet reminded her of
herself and Andrew. She used to mutter something about
"Adventures in Discontentment" and ask why Harriet's side of
the matter was never told? And so when her own adventure came
to pass, and she was urged to put it on paper, I think she
unconsciously adopted something of the manner and matter that
you have made properly yours.
Surely, sir, you will not disown so innocent a tribute! At any
rate, Miss Harriet Grayson, whose excellent qualities we have
all so long admired, will find in Mrs. Mifflin a kindred spirit.
Mrs. Mifflin would have said this for herself, with her
characteristic definiteness of speech, had she not been out of
touch with her publishers and foolscap paper. She and the
Professor are on their Parnassus, somewhere on the high roads,
happily engrossed in the most godly diversion known to
man--selling books. And I venture to think that there are no
volumes they take more pleasure in recommending than the
wholesome and invigorating books which bear your name.
Believe me, dear Mr. Grayson, with warm regards,
I wonder if there isn't a lot of bunkum in higher education?
I never found that people who were learned in logarithms and
other kinds of poetry were any quicker in washing dishes or
darning socks. I've done a good deal of reading when I could,
and I don't want to "admit impediments" to the love of books,
but I've also seen lots of good, practical folk spoiled by too
much fine print. Reading sonnets always gives me hiccups, too.
I never expected to be an author! But I do think there are
some amusing things about the story of Andrew and myself and
how books broke up our placid life. When John Gutenberg,
whose real name (so the Professor says) was John Gooseflesh,
borrowed that money to set up his printing press he launched
a lot of troubles on the world.
Andrew and I were wonderfully happy on the farm until he
became an author. If I could have foreseen all the bother his
writings were to cause us, I would certainly have burnt the
first manuscript in the kitchen stove.
Andrew McGill, the author of those books every one reads, is
my brother. In other words, I am his sister, ten years
younger. Years ago Andrew was a business man, but his health
failed and, like so many people in the story books, he fled to
the country, or, as he called it, to the bosom of Nature. He
and I were the only ones left in an unsuccessful family. I
was slowly perishing as a conscientious governess in the
brownstone region of New York. He rescued me from that and we
bought a farm with our combined savings. We became real
farmers, up with the sun and to bed with the same. Andrew
wore overalls and a soft shirt and grew brown and tough. My
hands got red and blue with soapsuds and frost; I never saw a
Redfern advertisement from one year's end to another, and my
kitchen was a battlefield where I set my teeth and learned to
love hard work. Our literature was government agriculture
reports, patent medicine almanacs, seedsmen's booklets, and
Sears Roebuck catalogues. We subscribed to Farm and Fireside
and read the serials aloud. Every now and then, for real
excitement, we read something stirring in the Old
Testament--that cheery book Jeremiah, for instance, of which
Andrew was very fond. The farm did actually prosper, after a
while; and Andrew used to hang over the pasture bars at
sunset, and tell, from the way his pipe burned, just what the
weather would be the next day.
As I have said, we were tremendously happy until Andrew got
the fatal idea of telling the world how happy we were. I am
sorry to have to admit he had always been rather a bookish
man. In his college days he had edited the students'
magazine, and sometimes he would get discontented with the
Farm and Fireside serials and pull down his bound volumes of
the college paper. He would read me some of his youthful
poems and stories and mutter vaguely about writing something
himself some day. I was more concerned with sitting hens than
with sonnets and I'm bound to say I never took these threats
very seriously. I should have been more severe.
Then great-uncle Philip died, and his carload of books came to
us. He had been a college professor, and years ago when
Andrew was a boy Uncle Philip had been very fond of him--had,
in fact, put him through college. We were the only near
relatives, and all those books turned up one fine day. That
was the beginning of the end, if I had only known it. Andrew
had the time of his life building shelves all round our
living-room; not content with that he turned the old hen house
into a study for himself, put in a stove, and used to sit up
there evenings after I had gone to bed. The first thing I
knew he called the place Sabine Farm (although it had been
known for years as Bog Hollow) because he thought it a
literary thing to do. He used to take a book along with him
when he drove over to Redfield for supplies; sometimes the
wagon would be two hours late coming home, with old Ben
loafing along between the shafts and Andrew lost in his book.
I didn't think much of all this, but I'm an easy-going woman
and as long as Andrew kept the farm going I had plenty to do
on my own hook. Hot bread and coffee, eggs and preserves for
breakfast; soup and hot meat, vegetables, dumplings, gravy,
brown bread and white, huckleberry pudding, chocolate cake and
buttermilk for dinner; muffins, tea, sausage rolls,
blackberries and cream, and doughnuts for supper--that's the
kind of menu I had been preparing three times a day for years.
I hadn't any time to worry about what wasn't my business.
And then one morning I caught Andrew doing up a big, flat
parcel for the postman. He looked so sheepish I just had to
ask what it was.
"I've written a book," said Andrew, and he showed me the title page--
Even then I wasn't much worried, because of course I knew no
one would print it. But Lord! a month or so later came a
letter from a publisher--accepting it! That's the letter
Andrew keeps framed above his desk. Just to show how such
things sound I'll copy it here:
DECAMERON, JONES AND COMPANY
UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK
January 13, 1907.
DEAR MR. McGILL:
We have read with singular pleasure your manuscript "Paradise
Regained." There is no doubt in our minds that so spirited an
account of the joys of sane country living should meet with
popular approval, and, with the exception of a few revisions
and abbreviations, we would be glad to publish the book
practically as it stands. We would like to have it
illustrated by Mr. Tortoni, some of whose work you may have
seen, and would be glad to know whether he may call upon you
in order to acquaint himself with the local colour of your
We would be glad to pay you a royaLty of 10 per cent. upon the
retail price of the book, and we enclose duplicate contracts
for your signature in case this proves satisfactory to you.
Believe us, etc., etc.,
DECAMERON, JONES & CO.
I have since thought that "Paradise Lost" would have been a
better title for that book. It was published in the autumn of
1907, and since that time our life has never been the same.
By some mischance the book became the success of the season;
it was widely commended as "a gospel of health and sanity" and
Andrew received, in almost every mail, offers from publishers
and magazine editors who wanted to get hold of his next book.
It is almost incredible to what stratagems publishers will
descend to influence an author. Andrew had written in
"Paradise Regained" of the tramps who visit us, how quaint and
appealing some of them are (let me add, how dirty), and how we
never turn away any one who seems worthy. Would you believe
that, in the spring after the book was published, a
disreputable-looking vagabond with a knapsack, who turned up
one day, blarneyed Andrew about his book and stayed overnight,
announced himself at breakfast as a leading New York publisher?
He had chosen this ruse in order to make Andrew's acquaintance.
You can imagine that it didn't take long for Andrew to become
spoiled at this rate! The next year he suddenly disappeared,
leaving only a note on the kitchen table, and tramped all over
the state for six weeks collecting material for a new book.
I had all I could do to keep him from going to New York to
talk to editors and people of that sort. Envelopes of
newspaper cuttings used to come to him, and he would pore over
them when he ought to have been ploughing corn. Luckily the
mail man comes along about the middle of the morning when
Andrew is out in the fields, so I used to look over the
letters before he saw them. After the second book ("Happiness
and Hayseed" it was called) was printed, letters from
publishers got so thick that I used to put them all in the
stove before Andrew saw them--except those from the Decameron
Jones people, which sometimes held checks. Literary folk used
to turn up now and then to interview Andrew, but generally I
managed to head them off.
But Andrew got to be less and less of a farmer and more and
more of a literary man. He bought a typewriter. He would
hang over the pigpen noting down adjectives for the sunset
instead of mending the weather vane on the barn which took a
slew so that the north wind came from the southwest. He hardly
ever looked at the Sears Roebuck catalogues any more, and after
Mr. Decameron came to visit us and suggested that Andrew write
a book of country poems, the man became simply unbearable.
And all the time I was counting eggs and turning out three
meals a day, and running the farm when Andrew got a literary
fit and would go off on some vagabond jaunt to collect
adventures for a new book. (I wish you could have seen the
state he was in when he came back from these trips, hoboing it
along the roads without any money or a clean sock to his back.
One time he returned with a cough you could hear the other
side of the barn, and I had to nurse him for three weeks.)
When somebody wrote a little booklet about "The Sage of
Redfield" and described me as a "rural Xantippe" and "the
domestic balance-wheel that kept the great writer close to the
homely realities of life" I made up my mind to give Andrew
some of his own medicine. And that's my story.
It was a fine, crisp morning in fall--October I dare say--and
I was in the kitchen coring apples for apple sauce. We were
going to have roast pork for dinner with boiled potatoes and what
Andrew calls Vandyke brown gravy. Andrew had driven over to town
to get some flour and feed and wouldn't be back till noontime.
Being a Monday, Mrs. McNally, the washerwoman, had come over
to take care of the washing. I remember I was just on my way
out to the wood pile for a few sticks of birch when I heard
wheels turn in at the gate. There was one of the fattest
white horses I ever saw, and a queer wagon, shaped like a van.
A funny-looking little man with a red beard leaned forward
from the seat and said something. I didn't hear what it was,
I was looking at that preposterous wagon of his.
It was coloured a pale, robin's-egg blue, and on the side, in
big scarlet letters, was painted:
GOOD BOOKS FOR SALE
SHAKESPEARE, CHARLES LAMB, R. L. S.
HAZLITT, AND ALL OTHERS
Underneath the wagon, in slings, hung what looked like a tent,
together with a lantern, a bucket, and other small things.
The van had a raised skylight on the roof, something like an
old-fashioned trolley car; and from one corner went up a stove
pipe. At the back was a door with little windows on each side
and a flight of steps leading up to it.
As I stood looking at this queer turnout, the little reddish
man climbed down from in front and stood watching me. His
face was a comic mixture of pleasant drollery and a sort of
weather-beaten cynicism. He had a neat little russet beard
and a shabby Norfolk jacket. His head was very bald.
"Is this where Andrew McGill lives?" he said.
I admitted it.
"But he's away until noon," I added. "He'll be back then.
There's roast pork for dinner."
"And apple sauce?" said the little man.
"Apple sauce and brown gravy," I said. "That's why I'm sure
he'll be home on time. Sometimes he's late when there's
boiled dinner, but never on roast pork days. Andrew would
never do for a rabbi."
A sudden suspicion struck me.
"You're not another publisher, are you?" I cried. "What do
you want with Andrew?"
"I was wondering whether he wouldn't buy this outfit," said
the little man, including, with a wave of the hand, both van
and white horse. As he spoke he released a hook somewhere,
and raised the whole side of his wagon like a flap. Some kind
of catch clicked, the flap remained up like a roof, displaying
nothing but books--rows and rows of them. The flank of his
van was nothing but a big bookcase. Shelves stood above
shelves, all of them full of books--both old and new. As I
stood gazing, he pulled out a printed card from somewhere and
gave it to me:
Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old;
Books, the truest friends of man,
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books to satisfy all uses,
Golden lyrics of the Muses,
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming,
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us?
By R. Mifflin, Prop'r.
Star Job Print, Celeryville, Va.
While I was chuckling over this, he had raised a similar flap
on the other side of the Parnassus which revealed still more
shelves loaded with books.
I'm afraid I am severely practical by nature.
"Well!" I said, "I should think you would need a pretty stout
steed to lug that load along. It must weigh more than a coal wagon."
"Oh, Peg can manage it all right," he said. "We don't travel
very fast. But look here, I want to sell out. Do you suppose
your husband would buy the outfit--Parnassus, Pegasus, and
all? He's fond of books, isn't he?
"Hold on a minute!" I said. "Andrew's my brother, not my
husband, and he's altogether too fond of books. Books'll be
the ruin of this farm pretty soon. He's mooning about over
his books like a sitting hen about half the time, when he
ought to be mending harness. Lord, if he saw this wagonload
of yours he'd be unsettled for a week. I have to stop the
postman down the road and take all the publishers' catalogues
out of the mail so that Andrew don't see 'em. I'm mighty glad
he's not here just now, I can tell you!"
I'm not literary, as I said before, but I'm human enough to like
a good book, and my eye was running along those shelves of his as
I spoke. He certainly had a pretty miscellaneous collection.
I noticed poetry, essays, novels, cook books, juveniles, school
books, Bibles, and what not--all jumbled together.
"Well, see here," said the little man--and about this time I
noticed that he had the bright eyes of a fanatic--"I've been
cruising with this Parnassus going on seven years. I've
covered the territory from Florida to Maine and I reckon I've
injected about as much good literature into the countryside as
ever old Doc Eliot did with his five-foot shelf. I want to
sell out now. I'm going to write a book about `Literature
Among the Farmers,' and want to settle down with my brother in
Brooklyn and write it. I've got a sackful of notes for it.
I guess I'll just stick around until Mr. McGill gets home and
see if he won't buy me out. I'll sell the whole concern,
horse, wagon, and books, for $400. I've read Andrew McGill's
stuff and I reckon the proposition'll interest him. I've had
more fun with this Parnassus than a barrel of monkeys. I used to
be a school teacher till my health broke down. Then I took this
up and I've made more than expenses and had the time of my life."
"Well, Mr. Mifflin," I said, "if you want to stay around I
guess I can't stop you. But I'm sorry you and your old
Parnassus ever came this way."
I turned on my heel and went back to the kitchen. I knew
pretty well that Andrew would go up in the air when he saw
that wagonload of books and one of those crazy cards with Mr.
Mifflin's poetry on it.
I must confess that I was considerably upset. Andrew is just
as unpractical and fanciful as a young girl, and always
dreaming of new adventures and rambles around the country. If
he ever saw that travelling Parnassus he'd fall for it like
snap. And I knew Mr. Decameron was after him for a new book
anyway. (I'd intercepted one of his letters suggesting
another "Happiness and Hayseed" trip just a few weeks before.
Andrew was away when the letter came. I had a suspicion what
was in it; so I opened it, read it, and--well, burnt it.
Heavens! as though Andrew didn't have enough to do without
mooning down the road like a tinker, just to write a book
As I worked around the kitchen I could see Mr. Mifflin making
himself at home. He unhitched his horse, tied her up to the
fence, sat down by the wood pile, and lit a pipe. I could see
I was in for it. By and by I couldn't stand it any longer.
I went out to talk to that bald-headed pedlar.
"See here," I said. "You're a pretty cool fish to make
yourself so easy in my yard. I tell you I don't want you
around here, you and your travelling parcheesi. Suppose you
clear out of here before my brother gets back and don't be
breaking up our happy family."
"Miss McGill," he said (the man had a pleasant way with him,
too--darn him--with his bright, twinkling eye and his silly
little beard), "I'm sure I don't want to be discourteous. If
you move me on from here, of course I'll go; but I warn you I
shall lie in wait for Mr. McGill just down this road. I'm
here to sell this caravan of culture, and by the bones of
Swinburne I think your brother's the man to buy it."
My blood was up now, and I'll admit that I said my next
without proper calculation.
"Rather than have Andrew buy your old parcheesi," I said,
"I'll buy it myself. I'll give you $300 for it."
The little man's face brightened. He didn't either accept or
decline my offer. (I was frightened to death that he'd take
me right on the nail and bang would go my three years' savings
for a Ford.)
"Come and have another look at her," he said.
I must admit that Mr. Roger Mifflin had fixed up his van
mighty comfortably inside. The body of the wagon was built
out on each side over the wheels, which gave it an unwieldy
appearance but made extra room for the bookshelves. This left
an inside space about five feet wide and nine long. On one
side he had a little oil stove, a flap table, and a
cozy-looking bunk above which was built a kind of chest of
drawers--to hold clothes and such things, I suppose; on the
other side more bookshelves, a small table, and a little
wicker easy chair. Every possible inch of space seemed to be
made useful in some way, for a shelf or a hook or a hanging
cupboard or something. Above the stove was a neat little row
of pots and dishes and cooking usefuls. The raised skylight
made it just possible to stand upright in the centre aisle of
the van; and a little sliding window opened onto the driver's
seat in front. Altogether it was a very neat affair. The
windows in front and back were curtained and a pot of geraniums
stood on a diminutive shelf. I was amused to see a sandy Irish
terrier curled up on a bright Mexican blanket in the bunk.
"Miss McGill," he said, "I couldn't sell Parnassus for less
than four hundred. I've put twice that much into her, one
time and another. She's built clean and solid all through,
and there's everything a man would need from blankets to
bouillon cubes. The whole thing's yours for $400--including
dog, cook stove, and everything--jib, boom, and spanker.
There's a tent in a sling underneath, and an ice box (he
pulled up a little trap door under the bunk) and a tank of
coal oil and Lord knows what all. She's as good as a yacht;
but I'm tired of her. If you're so afraid of your brother
taking a fancy to her, why don't you buy her yourself and go
off on a lark? Make him stay home and mind the farm!...
Tell you what I'll do. I'll start you on the road myself,
come with you the first day and show you how it's worked. You
could have the time of your life in this thing, and give
yourself a fine vacation. It would give your brother a good
surprise, too. Why not?"
I don't know whether it was the neatness of his absurd little
van, or the madness of the whole proposition, or just the
desire to have an adventure of my own and play a trick on
Andrew, but anyway, some extraordinary impulse seized me and
I roared with laughter.
"Right!" I said. "I'll do it."
I, Helen McGill, in the thirty-ninth year of my age!
Well," I thought, "if I'm in for an adventure I may as well be
spry about it. Andrew'll be home by half-past twelve and if
I'm going to give him the slip I'd better get a start. I
suppose he'll think I'm crazy! He'll follow me, I guess.
Well, he just shan't catch me, that's all!" A kind of anger
came over me to think that I'd been living on that farm for
nearly fifteen years--yes, sir, ever since I was
twenty-five--and hardly ever been away except for that trip to
Boston once a year to go shopping with cousin Edie. I'm a
home-keeping soul, I guess, and I love my kitchen and my
preserve cupboard and my linen closet as well as grandmother
ever did, but something in that blue October air and that
crazy little red-bearded man just tickled me.
"Look here, Mr. Parnassus," I said, "I guess I'm a fat old
fool but I just believe I'll do that. You hitch up your horse
and van and I'll go pack some clothes and write you a check.
It'll do Andrew all the good in the world to have me skip.
I'll get a chance to read a few books, too. It'll be as good
as going to college!" And I untied my apron and ran for the
house. The little man stood leaning against a corner of the
van as if he were stupefied. I dare say he was.
I ran into the house through the front door, and it struck me
as comical to see a copy of one of Andrew's magazines lying on
the living-room table with "The Revolt of Womanhood" printed
across it in red letters. "Here goes for the revolt of Helen
McGill," I thought. I sat down at Andrew's desk, pushed aside
a pad of notes he had been jotting down about "the magic of
autumn," and scrawled a few lines:
Don't be thinking I'm crazy. I've gone off for an adventure.
It just came over me that you've had all the adventures while
I've been at home baking bread. Mrs. McNally will look after
your meals and one of her girls can come over to do the
housework. So don't worry. I'm going off for a little
while--a month, maybe--to see some of this happiness and
hayseed of yours. It's what the magazines call the revolt of
womanhood. Warm underwear in the cedar chest in the spare
room when you need it.
I left the note on his desk.
Mrs. McNally was bending over the tubs in the laundry. I
could see only the broad arch of her back and hear the vigorous
zzzzzzz of her rubbing. She straightened up at my call.
"Mrs. McNally," I said, "I'm going away for a little trip.
You'd better let the washing go until this afternoon and get
Andrew's dinner for him. He'll be back about twelve-thirty.
It's half-past ten now. You tell him I've gone over to see
Mrs. Collins at Locust Farm."
Mrs. McNally is a brawny, slow-witted Swede. "All right Mis'
McGill," she said. "You be back to denner?"
"No, I'm not coming back for a month," I said. "I'm going
away for a trip. I want you to send Rosie over here every day
to do the housework while I'm away. You can arrange with Mr.
McGill about that. I've got to hurry now."
Mrs. McNally's honest eyes, as blue as Copenhagen china,
gazing through the window in perplexity, fell upon the
travelling Parnassus and Mr. Mifflin backing Pegasus into the
shafts. I saw her make a valiant effort to comprehend the
sign painted on the side of the van--and give it up.
"You going driving?" she said blankly.
"Yes," I said, and fled upstairs.
I always keep my bank book in an old Huyler box in the top
drawer of my bureau. I don't save very quickly, I'm afraid.
I have a little income from some money father left me, but
Andrew takes care of that. Andrew pays all the farm expenses,
but the housekeeping accounts fall to me. I make a fairish
amount of pin money on my poultry and some of my preserves
that I send to Boston, and on some recipes of mine that I send
to a woman's magazine now and then; but generally my savings
don't amount to much over $10 a month. In the last five
years I had put by something more than $600. I had been
saving up for a Ford. But just now it looked to me as if that
Parnassus would be more fun than a Ford ever could be. Four
hundred dollars was a lot of money, but I thought of what it
would mean to have Andrew come home and buy it. Why, he'd be
away until Thanksgiving! Whereas if I bought it I could take
it away, have my adventure, and sell it somewhere so that
Andrew never need see it. I hardened my heart and determined
to give the Sage of Redfield some of his own medicine.
My balance at the Redfield National Bank was $615.20. I sat
down at the table in my bedroom where I keep my accounts and
wrote out a check to Roger Mifflin for $400. I put in plenty
of curlicues after the figures so that no one could raise the
check into $400,000; then I got out my old rattan suit case
and put in some clothes. The whole business didn't take me
ten minutes. I came downstairs to find Mrs. McNally looking
sourly at the Parnassus from the kitchen door.
"You going away in that--that 'bus, Mis' McGill?" she asked.
"Yes, Mrs. McNally," I said cheerfully. Her use of the word
gave me an inspiration. "That's one of the new jitney 'buses
we hear about. He's going to take me to the station. Don't
you worry about me. I'm going for a holiday. You get Mr.
McGill's dinner ready for him. After dinner tell him there's
a note for him in the living-room."
"I tank that bane a queer 'bus," said Mrs. McNally, puzzled.
I think the excellent woman suspected an elopement.
I carried my suit case out to the Parnassus. Pegasus stood
placidly between the shafts. From within came sounds of
vigorous movement. In a moment the little man burst out with
a bulging portmanteau in his hand. He had a tweed cap slanted
on the back of his head.
"There!" he cried triumphantly. "I've packed all my personal
effects clothes and so on--and everything else goes with the
transaction. When I get on the train with this bag I'm a free
man, and hurrah for Brooklyn! Lord, won't I be glad to get
back to the city! I lived in Brooklyn once, and I haven't
been back there for ten years," he added plaintively.
"Here's the check," I said, handing it to him. He flushed a
little, and looked at me rather shamefacedly. "See here," he
said, "I hope you're not making a bad bargain? I don't want
to take advantage of a lady. If you think your brother...."
"I was going to buy a Ford, anyway," I said, "and it looks to
me as though this parcheesi of yours would be cheaper to run
than any flivver that ever came out of Detroit. I want to
keep it away from Andrew and that's the main thing. You give
me a receipt and we'll get away from here before he comes back."
He took the check without a word, hoisted his fat portmanteau
on the driver's seat, and then disappeared in the van. In a
minute he reappeared. On the back of one of his poetical
cards he had written:
Received from Miss McGill the sum of four hundred dollars in
exchange for one Travelling Parnassus in first class
condition, delivered to her this day, October 3rd, 19----.
"Tell me," I said, "does your Parnassus--my Parnassus,
rather--contain everything I'm likely to need? Is it stocked
up with food and so on?"
"I was coming to that," he said. "You'll find a fair supply
of stuff in the cupboard over the stove, though I used to get
most of my meals at farmhouses along the road. I generally
read aloud to people as I go along, and they're often good for
a free meal. It's amazing how little most of the country folk
know about books, and how pleased they are to hear good stuff.
Down in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania...."
"Well, how about the horse?" I said hastily, seeing him about
to embark on an anecdote. It wasn't far short of eleven
o'clock, and I was anxious to get started.
"It might be well to take along some oats. My supply's
I filled a sack with oats in the stable and Mr. Mifflin showed
me where to hang it under the van. Then in the kitchen I
loaded a big basket with provisions for an emergency: a dozen
eggs, a jar of sliced bacon, butter, cheese, condensed milk,
tea, biscuits, jam, and two loaves of bread. These Mr. Mifflin
stowed inside the van, Mrs. McNally watching in amazement.
"I tank this bane a queer picnic!" she said. "Which way are
you going? Mr. McGill, is he coming after you?"
"No," I insisted, "he's not coming. I'm going off on a
holiday. You get dinner for him and he won't worry about
anything until after that. Tell him I've gone over to see
I climbed the little steps and entered my Parnassus with a
pleasant thrill of ownership. The terrier on the bunk jumped
to the floor with a friendly wag of the tail. I piled the
bunk with bedding and blankets of my own, shook out the
drawers which fitted above the bunk, and put into them what
few belongings I was taking with me. And we were ready to start.
Redbeard was already sitting in front with the reins in hand.
I climbed up beside him. The front seat was broad but
uncushioned, well sheltered by the peak of the van. I gave a
quick glance around at the comfortable house under its elms
and maples--saw the big, red barn shining in the sun and the
pump under the grape arbour. I waved good-bye to Mrs. McNally
who was watching us in silent amazement. Pegasus threw her
solid weight against the traces and Parnassus swung round and
rolled past the gate. We turned into the Redfield road.
"Here," said Mifflin, handing me the reins, "you're skipper,
you'd better drive. Which way do you want to go?"
My breath came a little fast when I realized that my adventure
Just out of sight of the farm the road forks, one way running
on to Walton where you cross the river by a covered bridge,
the other swinging down toward Greenbriar and Port Vigor.
Mrs. Collins lives a mile or so up the Walton road, and as I
very often run over to see her I thought Andrew would be most
likely to look for me there. So, after we had passed through
the grove, I took the right-hand turn to Greenbriar. We began
the long ascent over Huckleberry Hill and as I smelt the fresh
autumn odour of the leaves I chuckled a little.
Mr. Mifflin seemed in a perfect ecstasy of high spirits.
"This is certainly grand," he said. "Lord, I applaud your
spunk. Do you think Mr. McGill will give chase?"
"I haven't an idea," I said. "Not right away, anyhow. He's
so used to my settled ways that I don't think he'll suspect
anything till he finds my note. I wonder what kind of story
Mrs. McNally will tell!"
"How about putting him off the scent?" he said. "Give me your
I did so. He hopped nimbly out, ran back down the hill (he
was a spry little person in spite of his bald crown), and
dropped the handkerchief on the Walton Road about a hundred
feet beyond the fork. Then he followed me up the slope.
"There," he said, grinning like a kid, "that'll fool him. The
Sage of Redfield will undoubtedly follow a false spoor and the
criminals will win a good start. But I'm afraid it's rather
easy to follow a craft as unusual as Parnassus."
"Tell me how you manage the thing," I said. "Do you really
make it pay?" We halted at the top of the hill to give
Pegasus a breathing space. The terrier lay down in the dust
and watched us gravely. Mr. Mifflin pulled out a pipe and
begged my permission to smoke.
"It's rather comical how I first got into it," he said. "I
was a school teacher down in Maryland. I'd been plugging away
in a country school for years, on a starvation salary. I was
trying to support an invalid mother, and put by something in
case of storms. I remember how I used to wonder whether I'd
ever be able to wear a suit that wasn't shabby and have my
shoes polished every day. Then my health went back on me.
The doctor told me to get into the open air. By and by I got
this idea of a travelling bookstore. I had always been a
lover of books, and in the days when I boarded out among the
farmers I used to read aloud to them. After my mother died I
built the wagon to suit my own ideas, bought a stock of books
from a big second-hand store in Baltimore, and set out.
Parnassus just about saved my life I guess."
He pushed his faded old cap back on his head and relit his
pipe. I clicked to Pegasus and we rumbled gently off over the
upland, looking down across the pastures. Distant cow bells
sounded tankle-tonk among the bushes. Across the slope of the
hill I could see the road winding away to Redfield. Somewhere
along that road Andrew would be rolling back toward home and
roast pork with apple sauce; and here was I, setting out on
the first madness of my life without even a qualm.
"Miss McGill," said the little man, "this rolling pavilion has
been wife, doctor, and religion to me for seven years. A
month ago I would have scoffed at the thought of leaving her;
but somehow it's come over me I need a change. There's a book
I've been yearning to write for a long time, and I need a desk
steady under my elbows and a roof over my head. And silly as
it seems, I'm crazy to get back to Brooklyn. My brother and
I used to live there as kids. Think of walking over the old
Bridge at sunset and seeing the towers of Manhattan against a
red sky! And those old gray cruisers down in the Navy Yard!
You don't know how tickled I am to sell out. I've sold a lot
of copies of your brother's books and I've often thought he'd
be the man to buy Parnassus if I got tired of her."
"So he would," I said. "Just the man. He'd be only too
likely to--and go maundering about in this jaunting car and
neglect the farm. But tell me about selling books. How much
profit do you make out of it? We'll be passing Mrs. Mason's
farm, by and by, and we might as well sell her something just
to make a start."
"It's very simple," he said. "I replenish my stock whenever
I go through a big town. There's always a second-hand
bookstore somewhere about, where you can pick up odds and
ends. And every now and then I write to a wholesaler in New
York for some stuff. When I buy a book I mark in the back
just what I paid for it, then I know what I can afford to sell
it for. See here."
He pulled up a book from behind the seat--a copy of "Lorna
Doone" it was--and showed me the letters a m scrawled in
pencil in the back.
"That means that I paid ten cents for this. Now, if you sell
it for a quarter you've got a safe profit. It costs me about
four dollars a week to run Parnassus--generally less. If you
clear that much in six days you can afford to lay off on Sundays!"
"How do you know that a m stands for ten cents?" I asked.
"The code word's manuscript. Each letter stands for a figure,
from 0 up to 9, see?" He scrawled it down on a scrap of paper:
m a n u s c r i p t
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
"Now, you see a m stands for 10, a n would be 12, n s is
24, a c is 15, a m m is $1.00, and so on. I don't pay much
over fifty cents for books as a rule, because country folks
are shy of paying much for them. They'll pay a lot for a
separator or a buggy top, but they've never been taught to
worry about literature! But it's surprising how excited they
get about books if you sell 'em the right kind. Over beyond
Port Vigor there's a farmer who's waiting for me to go
back--I've been there three or four times--and he'll buy about
five dollars' worth if I know him. First time I went there I
sold him `Treasure Island,' and he's talking about it yet. I
sold him `Robinson Crusoe,' and `Little Women' for his
daughter, and `Huck Finn,' and Grubb's book about `The
Potato.' Last time I was there he wanted some Shakespeare, but
I wouldn't give it to him. I didn't think he was up to it yet."
I began to see something of the little man's idealism in his
work. He was a kind of traveling missionary in his way. A
hefty talker, too. His eyes were twinkling now and I could
see him warming up.
"Lord!" he said, "when you sell a man a book you don't sell
him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue--you sell him
a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at
sea by night--there's all heaven and earth in a book, a real
book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or
the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came
by--just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with
everlasting salvation--yes, ma'am, salvation for their little,
stunted minds--and it's hard to make 'em see it. That's what
makes it worth while--I'm doing something that nobody else
from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever
thought of. It's a new field, but by the bones of Whitman
it's worth while. That's what this country needs--more books!"}
He laughed at his own vehemence. "Do you know, it's comical,"
he said. "Even the publishers, the fellows that print the
books, can't see what I'm doing for them. Some of 'em refuse
me credit because I sell their books for what they're worth
instead of for the prices they mark on them. They write me
letters about price-maintenance--and I write back about
merit-maintenance. Publish a good book and I'll get a good
price for it, Say I! Sometimes I think the publishers know
less about books than any one else! I guess that's natural,
though. Most school teachers don't know much about children."
"The best of it is," he went on, "I have such a darn good
time. Peg and Bock (that's the dog) and I go loafing along
the road on a warm summer day, and by and by we'll fetch up
alongside some boarding-house and there are the boarders all
rocking off their lunch on the veranda. Most of 'em bored to
death--nothing good to read, nothing to do but sit and watch
the flies buzzing in the sun and the chickens rubbing up and
down in the dust. First thing you know I'll sell half a dozen
books that put the love of life into them, and they don't
forget Parnassus in a hurry. Take O. Henry, for
instance--there isn't anybody so dog-gone sleepy that he won't
enjoy that man's stories. He understood life, you bet, and he
could write it down with all its little twists. I've spent an
evening reading O. Henry and Wilkie Collins to people and had
them buy out all their books I had and clamour for more."
"What do you do in winter?" I asked--a practical question, as
most of mine are.
"That depends on where I am when bad weather sets in," said
Mr. Mifflin. "Two winters I was down south and managed to
keep Parnassus going all through the season. Otherwise, I
just lay up wherever I am. I've never found it hard to get
lodging for Peg and a job for myself, if I had to have them.
Last winter I worked in a bookstore in Boston. Winter before,
I was in a country drugstore down in Pennsylvania. Winter
before that, I tutored a couple of small boys in English
literature. Winter before that, I was a steward on a steamer;
you see how it goes. I've had a fairly miscellaneous
experience. As far as I can see, a man who's fond of books
never need starve! But this winter I'm planing to live with
my brother in Brooklyn and slog away at my book. Lord, how
I've pondered over that thing! Long summer afternoons I've
sat here, jogging along in the dust, thinking it out until it
seemed as if my forehead would burst. You see, my idea is
that the common people--in the country, that is--never have
had any chance to get hold of books, and never have had any
one to explain what books can mean. It's all right for
college presidents to draw up their five-foot shelves of great
literature, and for the publishers to advertise sets of their
Linoleum Classics, but what the people need is the good,
homely, honest stuff--something that'll stick to their
ribs--make them laugh and tremble and feel sick to think of
the littleness of this popcorn ball spinning in space without
ever even getting a hot-box! And something that'll spur 'em
on to keep the hearth well swept and the wood pile split into
kindling and the dishes washed and dried and put away. Any
one who can get the country people to read something worth
while is doing his nation a real service. And that's what}
this caravan of culture aspires to.... You must be weary of
this harangue! Does the Sage of Redfield ever run on like that?"
"Not to me," I said. "He's known me so long that he thinks of
me as a kind of animated bread-baking and cake-mixing machine.
I guess he doesn't put much stock in my judgment in literary
matters. But he puts his digestion in my hands without
reserve. There's Mason's farm over there. I guess we'd
better sell them some books--hadn't we? Just for a starter."
We turned into the lane that runs up to the Mason farmhouse.
Bock trotted on ahead--very stiff on his legs and his tail
gently wagging--to interview the mastiff, and Mrs. Mason who
was sitting on the porch, peeling potatoes, laid down the pan.
She's a big, buxom woman with jolly, brown eyes like a cow's.
"For heaven's sake, Miss McGill," she called out in a cheerful
voice--"I'm glad to see you. Got a lift, did you?"
She hadn't really noticed the inscription on Parnassus, and
thought it was a regular huckster's wagon.
"Well, Mrs. Mason," I said, "I've gone into the book business.
This is Mr. Mifflin. I've bought out his stock. We've come
to sell you some books."
She laughed. "Go on, Helen," she said, "you can't kid me! I
bought a whole set of books last year from an agent--`The
World's Great Funeral Orations'--twenty volumes. Sam and I ain't
read more'n the first volume yet. It's awful uneasy reading!"
Mifflin jumped down, and raised the side flap of the wagon.
Mrs. Mason came closer. I was tickled to see how the little
man perked up at the sight of a customer. Evidently selling
books was meat and drink to him.
"Madam," he said, "`Funeral Orations' (bound in sackcloth, I
suppose?) have their place, but Miss McGill and I have got
some real books here to which I invite your attention. Winter
will be here soon, and you will need something more cheerful
to beguile your evenings. Very possibly you have growing
children who would profit by a good book or two. A book of
fairy tales for the little girl I see on the porch? Or
stories of inventors for that boy who is about to break his
neck jumping from the barn loft? Or a book about road making
for your husband? Surely there is something here you need?
Miss McGill probably knows your tastes."
That little red-bearded man was surely a born salesman. How
he guessed that Mr. Mason was the road commissioner in our
township, goodness only knows. Perhaps it was just a lucky
shot. By this time most of the family had gathered around the
van, and I saw Mr. Mason coming from the barn with his
"Sam," shouted Mrs. Mason, "here's Miss McGill turned book
pedlar and got a preacher with her!"
"Hello, Miss McGill," said Mr. Mason. He is a big, slow-
moving man of great gravity and solidity. "Where's Andrew?"
"Andrew's coming home for roast pork and apple sauce," I said,
"and I'm going off to sell books for a living. Mr. Mifflin
here is teaching me how. We've got a book on road mending
that's just what you need."
I saw Mr. and Mrs. Mason exchange glances. Evidently they
thought me crazy. I began to wonder whether we had made a
mistake in calling on people I knew so well. The situation
was a trifle embarrassing.
Mr. Mifflin came to the rescue.
"Don't be alarmed, sir," he said to Mr. Mason. "I haven't
kidnapped Miss McGill." (As he is about half my size this was
amusing.) "We are trying to increase her brother's income by
selling his books for him. As a matter of fact, we have a
wager with him that we can sell fifty copies of `Happiness and
Hayseed' before Hallowe'en. Now I'm sure your sporting
instinct will assist us by taking at least one copy. Andrew
McGill is probably the greatest author in this State, and every
taxpayer ought to possess his books. May I show you a copy?"
"That sounds reasonable," said Mr. Mason, and he almost
smiled. "What do you say, Emma, think we better buy a book or
two? You know those `Funeral Orations.'..."
"Well," said Emma, "you know we've always said we ought to
read one of Andrew McGill's books but we didn't rightly know
how to get hold of one. That fellow that sold us the funeral
speeches didn't seem to know about 'em. I tell you what, you
folks better stop and have dinner with us and you can tell us
what we'd ought to buy. I'm just ready to put the potatoes on
the stove now."
I must confess that the prospect of sitting down to a meal I
hadn't cooked myself appealed to me strongly; and I was keen
to see what kind of grub Mrs. Mason provided for her
house-hold; but I was afraid that if we dallied there too long
Andrew would be after us. I was about to say that we would
have to be getting on, and couldn't stay; but apparently the
zest of expounding his philosophy to new listeners was too
much for Mifflin. I heard him saying:
"That's mighty kind of you, Mrs. Mason, and we'd like very
much to stay. Perhaps I can put Peg up in your barn for a
while. Then we can tell you all about our books." And to my
amazement I found myself chiming in with assent.
Mifflin certainly surpassed himself at dinner. The fact that
Mrs. Mason's hot biscuits tasted of saleratus gave me far less
satisfaction than it otherwise would, because I was absorbed
in listening to the little vagabond's talk. Mr. Mason came to
the table grumbling something about his telephone being out of
order--(I wondered whether he had been trying to get Andrew
on the wire; he was a little afraid that I was being run away
with, I think)--but he was soon won over by the current of the
little man's cheery wit. Nothing daunted Mifflin. He talked
to the old grandmother about quilts; offered to cut off a
strip of his necktie for her new patchwork; and told all about
the illustrated book on quilts that he had in the van. He
discussed cookery and the Bible with Mrs. Mason; and she being
a leading light in the Greenbriar Sunday School, was
pleasantly scandalized by his account of the best detective
stories in the Old Testament. With Mr. Mason he was all
scientific farming, chemical manures, macadam roads, and crop
rotation; and to little Billy (who sat next him) he told
extraordinary yarns about Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Kit
Carson, Buffalo Bill, and what not. Honestly I was amazed at
the little man. He was as genial as a cricket on the hearth,
and yet every now and then his earnestness would break
through. I don't wonder he was a success at selling books.
That man could sell clothes pins or Paris garters, I guess,
and make them seem romantic.
"You know, Mr. Mason," he said, "you certainly owe it to these
youngsters of yours to put a few really good books into their
hands. City kids have the libraries to go to, but in the}
country there's only old Doc Hostetter's Almanac and the
letters written by ladies with backache telling how Peruna did
for them. Give this boy and girl of yours a few good books
and you're starting them on the double-track, block-signal
line to happiness. Now there's `Little Women'--that girl of
yours can learn more about real girlhood and fine womanhood
out of that book than from a year's paper dolls in the attic."
"That's right, Pa," assented Mrs. Mason. ("Go on with your
meal, Professor, the meat'll be cold.") She was completely won
by the travelling bookseller, and had given him the highest
title of honour in her ken. "Why, I read that story when I
was a girl, and I still remember it. That's better readin'
for Dorothy than those funeral speeches, I reckon. I believe
the Professor's right: we'd ought to have more books laying
around. Seems kind of a shame, with a famous author at the
next farm, not to read more, don't it, now?"
So by the time we got down to Mrs. Mason's squash pie (good
pie, too, I admit, but her hand is a little heavy for pastry),
the whole household was enthusiastic about books, and the
atmosphere was literary enough for even Dr. Eliot to live in
without panting. Mrs. Mason opened up her parlour and we sat
there while Mifflin recited "The Revenge" and "Maud Muller."
"Well, now, ain't that real sweet!" said Emma Mason. "It's
surprising how those words rhyme so nicely.
Seems almost as though it was done a-purpose! Reminds me of
piece day at school. There was a mighty pretty piece I
learned called the `Wreck of the Asperus.'" And she subsided
into a genteel melancholy.
I saw that Mr. Mifflin was well astride his hobby: he had
started to tell the children about Robin Hood, but I had the
sense to give him a wink. We had to be getting along or
surely Andrew might be on us. So while Mifflin was putting
Pegasus into the shafts again I picked out seven or eight
books that I thought would fit the needs of the Masons. Mr.
Mason insisted that "Happiness and Hayseed" be included among
them, and gave me a crisp five-dollar bill, refusing any
change. "No, no," he said, "I've had more fun than I get at
a grange meeting. Come round again, Miss McGill; I'm going to
tell Andrew what a good show this travelling theayter of yours
gives! And you, Professor, any time you're here about
road-mending season, stop in an' tell me some more good
advice. Well, I must get back to the field."
Bock fell in under the van, and we creaked off down the lane.
Mifflin filled his pipe and was chuckling to himself. I was
a little worried now for fear Andrew might overtake us.
"It's a wonder Sam Mason didn't call up Andrew," I said. "It
must have looked mighty queer to him for an old farm hand like
me to be around, peddling books."
"He would have done it straight off," said Mifflin, "but you
see, I cut his telephone wire!"
I gazed in astonishment at the wizened little rogue. Here was
a new side to the amiable idealist! Apparently there was a
streak of fearless deviltry in him besides his gentle love of
books. I'm bound to say that now, for the first time, I
really admired him. I had burnt my own very respectable boats
behind me, and I rather enjoyed knowing that he, too, could
act briskly in a pinch.
"Well!" I said. "You are a cool hand! It's a good job for
you that you didn't stay a schoolmaster. You might have taught
your pupils some fine deviltries! And at your age, too!"
I'm afraid my raillery goes a little too far sometimes. He
flushed a bit at my reference to his age, and puffed sharply
at his pipe.
"I say," he rejoined, "how old do you think I am, anyway?
Only forty-one, by the bones of Byron! Henry VIII was only
forty-one when he married Anne Boleyn. There are many
consolations in history for people over forty! Remember that
when you get there.
"Shakespeare wrote `King Lear' at forty-one," he added, more
humorously; and then burst out laughing. "I'd like to edit
a series of `Chloroform Classics,' to include only books
written after forty. Who was that doctor man who recommended
anaesthetics for us at that age? Now isn't that just like a
medico? Nurse us through the diseases of childhood, and as
soon as we settle down into permanent good health and worldly
wisdom, and freedom from doctors' fees, why he loses interest
in us! Jove! I must note that down and bring it into my book."
He pulled out a memorandum book and jotted down "Chloroform
Classics" in a small, neat hand.
"Well," I said (I felt a little contrite, as I was sincerely
sorry to have offended him), "I've passed forty myself in some
measurements, so youth no longer has any terrors for me."
He looked at me rather comically.
"My dear madam," he said, "your age is precisely eighteen. I
think that if we escape the clutches of the Sage of Redfield
you may really begin to live."
"Oh, Andrew's not a bad sort," I said. "He's absentminded,
and hot tempered, and a little selfish. The publishers have
done their best to spoil him, but for a literary man I guess
he's quite human. He rescued me from being a governess, and
that's to his credit. If only he didn't take his meals quite
so much as a matter of course...."
"The preposterous thing about him is that he really can
write," said Mifflin. "I envy him that. Don't let him know
I said so, but as a matter of fact his prose is almost as good
as Thoreau. He approaches facts as daintily as a cat crossing
a wet road."
"You should see him at dinner," I thought; or rather I meant
to think it, but the words slipped out. I found myself
thinking aloud in a rather disconcerting way while sitting
with this strange little person.
He looked at me. I noticed for the first time that his eyes
were slate blue, with funny birds' foot wrinkles at the corners.
"That's so," he said. "I never thought of that. A fine prose
style certainly presupposes sound nourishment. Excellent
point that... And yet Thoreau did his own cooking. A sort of
Boy Scout I guess, with a badge as kitchen master. Perhaps he
took Beechnut bacon with him into the woods. I wonder who
cooked for Stevenson--Cummy? The `Child's Garden of Verses'
was really a kind of kitchen garden, wasn't it? I'm afraid
the commissariat problem has weighed rather heavily on you.
I'm glad you've got away from it."
All this was getting rather intricate for me. I set it down
as I remember it, inaccurately perhaps. My governess days are
pretty far astern now, and my line is common sense rather than
literary allusions. I said something of the sort.
"Common sense?" he repeated. "Good Lord, ma'am, sense is the
most uncommon thing in the world. I haven't got it. I don't
believe your brother has, from what you say. Bock here has
it. See how he trots along the road, keeps an eye on the
scenery, and minds his own business. I never saw him get into
a fight yet. Wish I could say the same of myself. I named him
after Boccaccio, to remind me to read the `Decameron' some day."
"Judging by the way you talk," I said, "you ought to be quite
a writer yourself."
"Talkers never write. They go on talking."
There was a considerable silence. Mifflin relit his pipe and
watched the landscape with a shrewd eye. I held the reins
loosely, and Peg ambled along with a steady clop-clop.
Parnassus creaked musically, and the mid-afternoon sun lay
rich across the road. We passed another farm, but I did not
suggest stopping as I felt we ought to push on. Mifflin
seemed lost in meditation, and I began to wonder, a little
uneasily, how the adventure would turn out. This quaintly
masterful little man was a trifle disconcerting. Across the
next ridge I could see the Greenbriar church spire shining white.
"Do you know this part of the country?" I asked finally.
"Not this exact section. I've been in Port Vigor often, but
then I was on the road that runs along the Sound. I suppose
this village ahead is Greenbriar?"
"Yes," I said. "It's about thirteen miles from there to Port
Vigor. How do you expect to get back to Brooklyn?"
"Oh, Brooklyn?" he said vaguely. "Yes, I'd forgotten about
Brooklyn for the minute. I was thinking of my book. Why, I
guess I'll take the train from Port Vigor. The trouble is,
you can never get to Brooklyn without going through New York.
It's symbolic, I suppose."
Again there was a silence. Finally he said, "Is there another
town between Greenbriar and Port Vigor?"
"Yes, Shelby," I said. "About five miles from Greenbriar."
"That'll be as far as you'll get to-night," he said. "I'll see
you safe to Shelby, and then make tracks for Port Vigor. I hope
there's a decent inn at Shelby where you can stop overnight."
I hoped so, too, but I wasn't going to let him see that with
the waning afternoon my enthusiasm was a little less robust.
I was wondering what Andrew was thinking, and whether Mrs.
McNally had left things in good order. Like most Swedes she
had to be watched or she left her work only three quarters
done. And I didn't depend any too much on her daughter Rosie
to do the housework efficiently. I wondered what kind of
meals Andrew would get. And probably he would go right on
wearing his summer underclothes, although I had already
reminded him about changing. Then there were the chickens...
Well, the Rubicon was crossed now, and there was nothing to be done.
To my surprise, little Redbeard had divined my anxiety. "Now
don't you worry about the Sage," he said kindly. "A man that
draws his royalties isn't going to starve. By the bones of
John Murray, his publishers can send him a cook if necessary!
This is a holiday for you, and don't you forget it."
And with this cheering sentiment in my mind, we rolled
sedately down the hill toward Greenbriar.
I am about as hardy as most folks, I think, but I confess I
balked a little at the idea of facing the various people I
know in Greenbriar as the owner of a bookvan and the companion
of a literary huckster. Also I recollected that if Andrew
should try to trace us it would be as well for me to keep out
of sight. So after telling Mr. Mifflin how I felt about
matters I dived into the Parnassus and lay down most
comfortably on the bunk. Bock the terrier joined me, and I
rested there in great comfort of mind and body as we ambled
down the grade. The sun shone through the little skylight
gilding a tin pan that hung over the cook stove. Tacked here
and there were portraits of authors, and I noticed a faded
newspaper cutting pinned up. The headlines ran: "Literary
Pedlar Lectures on Poetry." I read it through. Apparently
the Professor (so I had begun to call him, as the aptness of
the nickname stuck in my mind) had given a lecture in Camden,
N. J., where he had asserted that Tennyson was a greater poet
than Walt Whitman; and the boosters of the Camden poet had
enlivened the evening with missiles. It seems that the chief
Whitman disciple in Camden is Mr. Traubel; and Mr. Mifflin had
started the rumpus by asserting that Tennyson, too, had
"Traubels of his own." What an absurd creature the Professor
was, I thought, as I lay comfortably lulled by the rolling wheels.
Greenbriar is a straggling little town, built around a large
common meadow. Mifflin's general plan in towns, he had told
me, was to halt Parnassus in front of the principal store or
hotel, and when a little throng had gathered he would put up
the flaps of the van, distribute his cards, and deliver a
harangue on the value of good books. I lay concealed inside,
but I gathered from the sounds that this was what was
happening. We came to a stop; I heard a growing murmur of
voices and laughter outside, and then the click of the raised
sides of the wagon. I heard Mifflin's shrill, slightly nasal
voice making facetious remarks as he passed out the cards.
Evidently Bock was quite accustomed to the routine, for though
his tail wagged gently when the Professor began to talk, he
lay quite peaceably dozing at my feet.
"My friends," said Mr. Mifflin. "You remember Abe Lincoln's
joke about the dog? If you call a tail a leg, said Abe, how
many legs has a dog? Five, you answer. No, says Abe; because
calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg. Well, there are
lots of us in the same case as that dog's tail. Calling us
men doesn't make us men. No creature on earth has a right to
think himself a human being if he doesn't know at least one
good book. The man that spends every evening chewing Piper
Heidsieck at the store is unworthy to catch the intimations of
a benevolent Creator. The man that's got a few good books on
his shelf is making his wife happy, giving his children a
square deal, and he's likely to be a better citizen himself.
How about that, parson?"
I heard the deep voice of Reverend Kane, the Methodist
minister: "You're dead right, Professor!" he shouted. "Tell
us some more about books. I'm right with you!" Evidently Mr.
Kane had been attracted by the sight of Parnassus, and I could
hear him muttering to himself as he pulled one or two books
from the shelves. How surprised he would have been if he had
known I was inside the van! I took the precaution of slipping
the bolt of the door at the back, and drew the curtains. Then
I crept back into the bunk. I began to imagine what an absurd
situation there would be if Andrew should arrive on the scene.
"You are all used to hucksters and pedlars and fellows selling
every kind of junk from brooms to bananas," said the
Professor's voice. "But how often does any one come round
here to sell you books? You've got your town library, I dare
say; but there are some books that folks ought to own. I've
got 'em all here from Bibles to cook books. They'll speak for
themselves. Step up to the shelves, friends, and pick and choose."
I heard the parson asking the price of something he had found
on the shelves, and I believe he bought it; but the hum of
voices around the flanks of Parnassus was very soothing, and
in spite of my interest in what was going on I'm afraid I fell
asleep. I must have been pretty tired; anyway I never felt
the van start again. The Professor says he looked in through
the little window from the driver's seat, and saw me sound
asleep. And the next thing I knew I woke up with a start to
find myself rolling leisurely in the dark. Bock was still
lying over my feet, and there was a faint, musical clang from
the bucket under the van which struck against something now
and then. The Professor was sitting in front, with a lighted
lantern hanging from the peak of the van roof. He was humming
some outlandish song to himself, with a queer, monotonous refrain:
Shipwrecked was I off Soft Perowsa
And right along the shore,
And so I did resolve to roam
The country to explore.
Tommy rip fal lal and a balum tip
Tommy rip fal lal I dee;
And so I did resolve to roam
The country for to see!
I jumped out of the bunk, cracked my shins against something,
and uttered a rousing halloo. Parnassus stopped, and the
Professor pushed back the sliding window behind the driver's seat.
"Heavens!" I said. "Father Time, what o'clock is it?"
"Pretty near supper time, I reckon. You must have fallen
asleep while I was taking money from the Philistines. I made
nearly three dollars for you. Let's pull up along the road
and have a bite to eat."
He guided Pegasus to one side of the road, and then showed me
how to light the swinging lamp that hung under the skylight.
"No use to light the stove on a lovely evening like this," he
said. "I'll collect some sticks and we can cook outside. You
get out your basket of grub and I'll make a fire." He
unhitched Pegasus, tied her to a tree, and gave her a nose bag
of oats. Then he rooted around for some twigs and had a fire
going in a jiffy. In five minutes I had bacon and scrambled
eggs sizzling in a frying pan, and he had brought out a pail
of water from the cooler under the bunk, and was making tea.
I never enjoyed a picnic so much! It was a perfect autumn
evening, windless and frosty, with a dead black sky and a tiny
rim of new moon like a thumb-nail paring. We had our eggs and
bacon, washed down with tea and condensed milk, and followed
by bread and jam. The little fire burned blue and cozy, and
we sat on each side of it while Bock scoured the pan and ate
"This your own bread, Miss McGill?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "I was calculating the other day that I've
baked more than 400 loaves a year for the last fifteen years.
That's more than 6,000 loaves of bread. They can put that on
"The art of baking bread is as transcendent a mystery as the
art of making sonnets," said Redbeard. "And then your hot
biscuits--they might be counted as shorter lyrics, I
suppose--triolets perhaps. That makes quite an anthology, or
a doxology, if you prefer it."
"Yeast is yeast, and West is West," I said, and was quite
surprised at my own cleverness. I hadn't made a remark like
that to Andrew in five years.
"I see you are acquainted with Kipling," he said.
"Oh, yes, every governess is."
"Where and whom did you govern?"
"I was in New York, with the family of a wealthy stockbroker.
There were three children. I used to take them walking in
"Did you ever go to Brooklyn?" he asked abruptly.
"Never," I replied.
"Ah!" he said. "That's just the trouble. New York is
Babylon; Brooklyn is the true Holy City. New York is the city
of envy, office work, and hustle; Brooklyn is the region of
homes and happiness. It is extraordinary: poor, harassed New
Yorkers presume to look down on low-lying, home-loving
Brooklyn, when as a matter of fact it is the precious jewel
their souls are thirsting for and they never know it.
Broadway: think how symbolic the name is. Broad is the way
that leadeth to destruction! But in Brooklyn the ways are
narrow, and they lead to the Heavenly City of content.
Central Park: there you are--the centre of things, hemmed in
by walls of pride. Now how much better is Prospect Park,
giving a fair view over the hills of humility! There is no
hope for New Yorkers, for they glory in their skyscraping
sins; but in Brooklyn there is the wisdom of the lowly."
"So you think that if I had been a governess in Brooklyn I
should have been so contented that I would never have come
with Andrew and compiled my anthology of 6,000 loaves of bread
and the lesser lyrics?"
But the volatile Professor had already soared to other points
of view, and was not to be thwarted by argument.
"Of course Brooklyn is a dingy place, really," he admitted.
"But to me it symbolizes a state of mind, whereas New York is
only a state of pocket. You see I was a boy in Brooklyn: it
still trails clouds of glory for me. When I get back there
and start work on my book I shall be as happy as
Nebuchadnezzar when he left off grass and returned to tea and
crumpets. `Literature Among the Farmers' I'm going to call
it, but that's a poor title. I'd like to read you some of my
notes for it."
I'm afraid I poorly concealed a yawn. As a matter of fact I
was sleepy, and it was growing chilly.
"Tell me first," I said, "where in the world are we, and what
time is it?"
He pulled out a turnip watch. "It's nine o'clock," he said,
"and we're about two miles from Shelby, I should reckon.
Perhaps we'd better get along. They told me in Greenbriar
that the Grand Central Hotel in Shelby is a good place to stop
at. That's why I wasn't anxious to get there. It sounds so
darned like New York."
He bundled the cooking utensils back into Parnassus, hitched
Peg up again, and tied Bock to the stern of the van. Then he
insisted on giving me the two dollars and eighty cents he had
collected in Greenbriar. I was really too sleepy to protest,
and of course it was mine anyway. We creaked off along the
dark and silent road between the pine woods. I think he
talked fluently about his pilgrim's progress among the farmers
of a dozen states, but (to be honest) I fell asleep in my
corner of the seat. I woke up when we halted before the one
hotel in Shelby--a plain, unimposing country inn, despite its
absurd name. I left him to put Parnassus and the animals away
for the night, while I engaged a room. Just as I got my key
from the clerk he came into the dingy lobby.
"Well, Mr. Mifflin," I said. "Shall I see you in the morning?"
"I had intended to push on to Port Vigor to-night," he said,
"but as it's fully eight miles (they tell me), I guess I'll
bivouac here. I think I'll go into the smoking-room and put them
wise to some good books. We won't say good-bye till to-morrow."
My room was pleasant and clean (fairly so). I took my suit
case up with me and had a hot bath. As I fell asleep I heard
a shrill voice ascending from below, punctuated with masculine
laughter. The Pilgrim was making more converts!
I had a curious feeling of bewilderment when I woke the next
morning. The bare room with the red-and-blue rag carpet and
green china toilet set was utterly strange. In the hall
outside I heard a clock strike. "Heavens!" I thought, "I've
overslept myself nearly two hours. What on earth will Andrew
do for breakfast?" And then as I ran to close the window I
saw the blue Parnassus with its startling red letters standing
in the yard. Instantly I remembered. And discreetly peeping
from behind the window shade I saw that the Professor, armed
with a tin of paint, was blotting out his own name on the side
of the van, evidently intending to substitute mine. That was
something I had not thought of. However, I might as well make
the best of it.
I dressed promptly, repacked my bag, and hurried downstairs
for breakfast. The long table was nearly empty, but one or
two men sitting at the other end eyed me curiously. Through
the window I could see my name in large, red letters, growing
on the side of the van, as the Professor diligently wielded
his brush. And when I had finished my coffee and beans and
bacon I noticed with some amusement that the Professor had
painted out the line about Shakespeare, Charles Lamb, and so
on, and had substituted new lettering. The sign now read:
GOOD BOOKS FOR SALE
COOK BOOKS A SPECIALTY
Evidently he distrusted my familiarity with the classics.
I paid my bill at the desk, and was careful also to pay the
charge for putting up the horse and van overnight. Then I
strolled into the stable yard, where I found Mr. Mifflin
regarding his handiwork with satisfaction. He had freshened
up all the red lettering, which shone brilliantly in the
"Good-morning," I said.
He returned it.
"There!" he cried--"Parnassus is really yours! All the world
lies before you! And I've got some more money for you. I
sold some books last night. I persuaded the hotel keeper to
buy several volumes of O. Henry for his smoking-room shelf,
and I sold the `Waldorf Cook Book' to the cook. My! wasn't
her coffee awful? I hope the cook book will better it."
He handed me two limp bills and a handful of small change. I
took it gravely and put it in my purse. This was really not
bad--more than ten dollars in less than twenty-four hours.
"Parnassus seems to be a gold mine," I said.
"Which way do you think you'll go?" he asked.
"Well, as I know you want to get to Port Vigor I might just as
well give you a lift that way," I answered.
"Good! I was hoping you'd say that. They tell me the stage
for Port Vigor doesn't leave till noon, and I think it would
kill me to hang around here all morning with no books to sell.
Once I get on the train I'll be all right."
Bock was tied up in a corner of the yard, under the side door
of the hotel. I went over to release him while the Professor
was putting Peg into harness. As I stooped to unfasten the
chain from his collar I heard some one talking through the
telephone. The hotel lobby was just over my head, and the
window was open.
"What did you say?"
"---- ---- ---- ----"
"McGill? Yes, sir, registered here last night. She's here now."
I didn't wait to hear more. Unfastening Bock, I hurried to
tell Mifflin. His eyes sparkled.
"The Sage is evidently on our spoor," he chuckled. "Well, let's
be off. I don't see what he can do even if he overhauls us."
The clerk was calling me from the window: "Miss McGill, your
brother's on the wire and asks to speak to you."
"Tell him I'm busy," I retorted, and climbed onto the seat.
It was not a diplomatic reply, I'm afraid, but I was too
exhilarated by the keen morning and the spirit of adventure to
stop to think of a better answer. Mifflin clucked to Peg, and
off we went.
The road from Shelby to Port Vigor runs across the broad hill
slopes that trend toward the Sound; and below, on our left,
the river lay glittering in the valley. It was a perfect
landscape: the woods were all bronze and gold; the clouds
were snowy white and seemed like heavenly washing hung out to
air; the sun was warm and swam gloriously in an arch of superb
blue. My heart was uplifted indeed. For the first time, I
think, I knew how Andrew feels on those vagabond trips of his.
Why had all this been hidden from me before? Why had the
transcendent mystery of baking bread blinded me so long to the
mysteries of sun and sky and wind in the trees? We passed
a white farmhouse close to the road. By the gate sat the
farmer on a log, whittling a stick and smoking his pipe.
Through the kitchen window I could see a woman blacking the
stove. I wanted to cry out: "Oh, silly woman! Leave your
stove, your pots and pans and chores, even if only for one
day! Come out and see the sun in the sky and the river in the
distance!" The farmer looked blankly at Parnassus as we
passed, and then I remembered my mission as a distributor of
literature. Mifflin was sitting with one foot on his bulging
portmanteau, watching the tree tops rocking in the cool wind.
He seemed to be far away in a morning muse. I threw down the
reins and accosted the farmer.
"Morning to you, ma'am," he said firmly.
"I'm selling books," I said. "I wonder if there isn't
something you need?"
"Thanks, lady," he said, "but I bought a mort o' books last
year an' I don't believe I'll ever read 'em this side Jordan.
A whole set o' `Funereal Orations' what an agent left on me at
a dollar a month. I could qualify as earnest mourner at any
death-bed merrymakin' now, I reckon."
"You need some books to teach you how to live, not how to
die," I said. "How about your wife--wouldn't she enjoy a good
book? How about some fairy tales for the children?"
"Bless me," he said, "I ain't got a wife. I never was a
daring man, and I guess I'll confine my melancholy pleasures
to them funereal orators for some time yet."
"Well, now, hold on a minute!" I exclaimed. "I've got just
the thing for you." I had been looking over the shelves with
some care, and remembered seeing a copy of "Reveries of a
Bachelor." I clambered down, raised the flap of the van (it
gave me quite a thrill to do it myself for the first time),
and hunted out the book. I looked inside the cover and saw
the letters n m in Mifflin's neat hand.
"Here you are," I said. "I'll sell you that for thirty cents."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am," he said courteously. "But honestly
I wouldn't know what to do with it. I am working through a
government report on scabworm and fungus, and I sandwich in a
little of them funereal speeches with it, and honestly that's
about all the readin' I figure on. That an' the Port Vigor Clarion."
I saw that he really meant it, so I climbed back on the seat.
I would have liked to talk to the woman in the kitchen who was
peering out of the window in amazement, but I decided it would
be better to jog on and not waste time. The farmer and I
exchanged friendly salutes, and Parnassus rumbled on.
The morning was so lovely that I did not feel talkative, and
as the Professor seemed pensive I said nothing. But as Peg
plodded slowly up a gentle slope he suddenly pulled a book out
of his pocket and began to read aloud. I was watching the
river, and did not turn round, but listened carefully:
"Rolling cloud, volleying wind, and wheeling sun--the blue
tabernacle of sky, the circle of the seasons, the sparkling
multitude of the stars--all these are surely part of one
rhythmic, mystic whole. Everywhere, as we go about our small
business, we must discern the fingerprints of the gigantic
plan, the orderly and inexorable routine with neither
beginning nor end, in which death is but a preface to another
birth, and birth the certain forerunner of another death. We
human beings are as powerless to conceive the motive or the
moral of it all as the dog is powerless to understand the
reasoning in his master's mind. He sees the master's acts,
benevolent or malevolent, and wags his tail. But the master's
acts are always inscrutable to him. And so with us.
"And therefore, brethren, let us take the road with a light
heart. Let us praise the bronze of the leaves and the crash
of the surf while we have eyes to see and ears to hear. An
honest amazement at the unspeakable beauties of the world is
a comely posture for the scholar. Let us all be scholars
under Mother Nature's eye.
"How do you like that?" he asked.
"A little heavy, but very good," I said. "There's nothing in
it about the transcendent mystery of baking bread!"
He looked rather blank.
"Do you know who wrote it?" he asked.
I made a valiant effort to summon some of my governessly
recollections of literature.
"I give it up," I said feebly. "Is it Carlyle?"
"That is by Andrew McGill," he said. "One of his cosmic
passages which are now beginning to be reprinted in
schoolbooks. The blighter writes well."
I began to be uneasy lest I should be put through a literary
catechism, so I said nothing, but roused Peg into an amble.
To tell the truth I was more curious to hear the Professor
talk about his own book than about Andrew's. I had always
carefully refrained from reading Andrew's stuff, as I thought
it rather dull.
"As for me," said the Professor, "I have no facility at the
grand style. I have always suffered from the feeling that
it's better to read a good book than to write a poor one; and
I've done so much mixed reading in my time that my mind is
full of echoes and voices of better men. But this book I'm
worrying about now really deserves to be written, I think, for
it has a message of its own."
He gazed almost wistfully across the sunny valley. In the
distance I caught a glint of the Sound. The Professor's faded
tweed cap was slanted over one ear, and his stubby little
beard shone bright red in the sun. I kept a sympathetic
silence. He seemed pleased to have some one to talk to about
his precious book.
"The world is full of great writers about literature," he
said, "but they're all selfish and aristocratic. Addison,
Lamb, Hazlitt, Emerson, Lowell--take any one you choose--they
all conceive the love of books as a rare and perfect mystery
for the few--a thing of the secluded study where they can sit
alone at night with a candle, and a cigar, and a glass of port
on the table and a spaniel on the hearthrug. What I say is,
who has ever gone out into high roads and hedges to bring
literature home to the plain man? To bring it home to his
business and bosom, as somebody says? The farther into the
country you go, the fewer and worse books you find. I've
spent several years joggling around with this citadel of
crime, and by the bones of Ben Ezra I don't think I ever found
a really good book (except the Bible) at a farmhouse yet,
unless I put it there myself. The mandarins of culture--what
do they do to teach the common folk to read? It's no good
writing down lists of books for farmers and compiling
five-foot shelves; you've got to go out and visit the people
yourself--take the books to them, talk to the teachers and
bully the editors of country newspapers and farm magazines and
tell the children stories--and then little by little you begin
to get good books circulating in the veins of the nation.}
It's a great work, mind you! It's like carrying the Holy
Grail to some of these way-back farmhouses. And I wish there
were a thousand Parnassuses instead of this one. I'd never
give it up if it weren't for my book: but I want to write
about my ideas in the hope of stirring other folk up, too. I
don't suppose there's a publisher in the country will take it!"
"Try Mr. Decameron," I said. "He's always been very nice to Andrew."
"Think what it would mean," he cried, waving an eloquent hand,
"if some rich man would start a fund to equip a hundred or so
wagons like this to go huckstering literature around through
the rural districts. It would pay, too, once you got started.
Yes, by the bones of Webster! I went to a meeting of
booksellers once, at some hotel in New York, and told 'em
about my scheme. They laughed at me. But I've had more fun
toting books around in this Parnassus than I could have had in
fifty years sitting in a bookstore, or teaching school, or
preaching. Life's full of savour when you go creaking along
the road like this. Look at today, with the sun and the air
and the silver clouds. Best of all, though, I love the rainy
days. I used to pull up alongside the road, throw a rubber
blanket over Peg, and Bock and I would curl up in the bunk and
smoke and read. I used to read aloud to Bock: we went
through `Midshipman Easy' together, and a good deal of
Shakespeare. He's a very bookish dog. We've seen some queer
experiences in this Parnassus."
The hill road from Shelby to Port Vigor is a lonely one, as
most of the farmhouses lie down in the valley. If I had known
better we might have taken the longer and more populous way,
but as a matter of fact I was enjoying the wide view and the
solitary road lying white in the sunshine. We jogged along
very pleasantly. Once more we stopped at a house where
Mifflin pleaded for a chance to exercise his art. I was much
amused when he succeeded in selling a copy of "Grimm's Fairy
Tales" to a shrewish spinster on the plea that she would enjoy
reading the stories to her nephews and nieces who were coming
to visit her.
"My!" he chuckled, as he gave me the dingy quarter he had
extracted. "There's nothing in that book as grim as she is!"
A little farther on we halted by a roadside spring to give Peg
a drink, and I suggested lunch. I had laid in some bread and
cheese in Shelby, and with this and some jam we made excellent
sandwiches. As we were sitting by the fence the motor stage
trundled past on its way to Port Vigor. A little distance
down the road it halted, and then went on again. I saw a
familiar figure walking back toward us.
"Now I'm in for it," I said to the Professor. "Here's Andrew!"
Andrew is just as thin as I am fat, and his clothes hang on
him in the most comical way. He is very tall and shambling,
wears a ragged beard and a broad Stetson hat, and suffers
amazingly from hay fever in the autumn. (In fact, his essay
on "Hay Fever" is the best thing he ever wrote, I think.) As
he came striding up the road I noticed how his trousers
fluttered at the ankles as the wind plucked at them. The
breeze curled his beard back under his chin and his face was
quite dark with anger. I couldn't help being amused; he
looked so funny.
"The Sage looks like Bernard Shaw," whispered Mifflin.
I always believe in drawing first blood.
"Good-morning, Andrew," I called cheerfully. "Want to buy any
books?" I halted Pegasus, and Andrew stood a little in front
of the wheel--partly out of breath and mostly out of temper.
"What on earth is this nonsense, Helen?" he said angrily.
"You've led me the deuce of a chase since yesterday. And who
is this--this person you're driving with?"
"Andrew," I said, "you forget your manners. Let me introduce
Mr. Mifflin. I have bought his caravan and am taking a
holiday, selling books. Mr. Mifflin is on his way to Port
Vigor where he takes the train to Brooklyn."
Andrew stared at the Professor without speaking. I could tell
by the blaze in his light-blue eyes that he was thoroughly
angry, and I feared things would be worse before they were
better. Andrew is slow to wrath, but a very hard person to
deal with when roused. And I had some inkling by this time of
the Professor's temperament. Moreover, I am afraid that some
of my remarks had rather prejudiced him against Andrew, as a
brother at any rate and apart from his excellent prose.
Mifflin had the next word. He had taken off his funny little
cap, and his bare skull shone like an egg. I noticed a little
sort of fairy ring of tiny drops around his crown.
"My dear sir," said Mifflin, "the proceedings look somewhat
unusual, but the facts are simple to narrate. Your sister has
bought this van and its contents, and I have been instructing
her in my theories of the dissemination of good books. You as
a literary man..."
Andrew paid absolutely no attention to the Professor, and I
saw a slow flush tinge Mifflin's sallow cheek.
"Look here, Helen," said Andrew, "do you think I propose to
have my sister careering around the State with a strolling
vagabond? Upon my soul you ought to have better sense--and at
your age and weight! I got home yesterday and found your
ridiculous note. I went to Mrs. Collins, and she knew
nothing. I went to Mason's, and found him wondering who had
bilked his telephone. I suppose you did that. He had seen
this freight car of yours and put me on the track. But my God!
I never thought to see a woman of forty abducted by gypsies!"
Mifflin was about to speak but I waved him back.
"Now see here Andrew," I said, "you talk too, quickly. A
woman of forty (you exaggerate, by the way) who has compiled
an anthology of 6,000 loaves of bread and dedicated it to you
deserves some courtesy. When you want to run off on some
vagabond tour or other you don't hesitate to do it. You
expect me to stay home and do the Lady Eglantine in the
poultry yard. By the ghost of Susan B. Anthony, I won't do
it! This is the first real holiday I've had in fifteen years,
and I'm going to suit myself."
Andrew's mouth opened, but I shook my fist so convincingly
that he halted.
"I bought this Parnassus from Mr. Mifflin fair and square for
four hundred dollars. That's the price of about thirteen
hundred dozen eggs," I said. (I had worked this out in my
head while Mifflin was talking about his book.)
"The money's mine, and I'm going to use it my own way. Now,
Andrew McGill, if you want to buy any books, you can parley
with me. Otherwise, I'm on my way. You can expect me back
when you see me." I handed him one of Mifflin's little cards,
which were in a pocket at the side of the van, and gathered up
the reins. I was really angry, for Andrew had been both
unreasonable and insulting.
Andrew looked at the card, and tore it in halves. He looked
at the side of Parnassus where the fresh red lettering was
"Well, upon my word," he said, "you must be crazy." He burst
into a violent fit of sneezing--a last touch of hay fever, I
suspect, as there was still goldenrod in the meadows. He
coughed and sneezed furiously, which made him madder than
ever. At last he turned to Mifflin who was sitting
bald-headed with a flushed face and very bright eyes. Andrew
took him all in, the shabby Norfolk jacket, the bulging
memorandum book in his pocket, the stuffed portmanteau under
his foot, even the copy of "Happiness and Hayseed" which had
dropped to the floor and lay back up.
"Look here, you," said Andrew, "I don't know by what infernal
arts you cajoled my sister away to go vagabonding in a
huckster's wagon, but I know this, that if you've cheated her
out of her money I'll have the law on you."
I tried to insert a word of protest, but matters had gone too
far. The Professor was as mad as Andrew now.
"By the bones of Piers Plowman," he said, "I had expected to
meet a man of letters and the author of this book"--he held up
"Happiness and Hayseed"--"but I see I was mistaken. I tell
you, sir, a man who would insult his sister before a stranger,
as you have done, is an oaf and a cad." He threw the book
over the hedge, and before I could say a word he had vaulted
over the off wheel and ran round behind the van.
"Look here sir," he said, with his little red beard bristling,
"your sister is over age and acting of her own free will. By
the bones of the Baptist, I don't blame her for wanting a
vacation if this is the way you treat her. She is nothing to
me, sir, and I am nothing to her, but I propose to be a
teacher to you. Put up your hands and I'll give you a lesson!"
This was too much for me. I believe I screamed aloud, and
started to clamber from the van. But before I could do
anything the two fanatics had begun to pummel each other. I
saw Andrew swing savagely at Mifflin, and Mifflin hit him
square on the chin. Andrew's hat fell on the road. Peg stood
placidly, and Bock made as if to grab Andrew's leg, but I
hopped out and seized him.
It was certainly a weird sight. I suppose I should have wrung
my hands and had hysterics, but as a matter of fact I was almost
amused, it was so silly. Thank goodness the road was deserted.
Andrew was a foot taller than the Professor, but awkward,
loosely knit, and unmuscular, while the little Redbeard was
wiry as a cat. Also Andrew was so furious that he was quite
beside himself, and Mifflin was in the cold anger that always
wins. Andrew landed a couple of flailing blows on the other
man's chest and shoulders, but in thirty seconds he got
another punch on the chin followed by one on the nose that
tumbled him over backward.
Andrew sat in the road fishing for a handkerchief, and Mifflin
stood glaring at him, but looking very ill at ease. Neither
of them said a word. Bock broke away from me and capered and
danced about Mifflin's feet as if it were all a game. It was
an extraordinary scene.
Andrew got up, mopping his bleeding nose.
"Upon my soul," he said, "I almost respect you for that punch.
But by Jove I'll have the law on you for kidnapping my sister.
You're a fine kind of a pirate."
Mifflin said nothing.
"Don't be a fool, Andrew" I said. "Can't you see that I want
a little adventure of my own? Go home and bake six thousand
loaves of bread, and by the time they're done I'll be back
again. I think two men of your age ought to be ashamed of
yourselves. I'm going off to sell books." And with that I
climbed up to the seat and clucked to Pegasus. Andrew and
Mifflin and Bock remained standing in the road.
I was mad all the way through. I was mad at both men for
behaving like schoolboys. I was mad at Andrew for being so
unreasonable, yet in a way I admired him for it; I was mad at
Mifflin for giving Andrew a bloody nose, and yet I appreciated
the spirit in which it was done. I was mad at myself for
causing all the trouble, and I was mad at Parnassus. If there
had been a convenient cliff handy I would have pushed the old
thing over it. But now I was in for it, and just had to go
on. Slowly I rolled up a long grade, and then saw Port Vigor
lying ahead and the broad blue stretches of the Sound.
Parnassus rumbled on with its pleasant creak, and the mellow
sun and sweep of the air soon soothed me. I began to taste
salt in the wind, and above the meadows two or three seagulls
were circling. Like all women, my angry mood melted into a
reaction of exaggerated tenderness and I began to praise both
Andrew and Mifflin in my heart. How fine to have a brother so
solicitous of his sister's welfare and reputation! And yet,
how splendid the little, scrawny Professor had been! How
quick to resent an insult and how bold to avenge it! His
absurd little tweed cap was lying on the seat, and I picked it
up almost sentimentally. The lining was frayed and torn.
From my suit case in the van I got out a small sewing kit, and
hanging the reins on a hook I began to stitch up the rents as
Peg jogged along. I thought with amusement of the quaint life
Mr. Mifflin had led in his "caravan of culture." I imagined
him addressing the audience of Whitman disciples in Camden,
and wondered how the fuss ended. I imagined him in his
beloved Brooklyn, strolling in Prospect Park and preaching to
chance comers his gospel of good books. How different was his
militant love of literature from Andrew's quiet satisfaction.
And yet how much they really had in common! It tickled me to
think of Mifflin reading aloud from "Happiness and Hayseed,"
and praising it so highly, just before fighting with the
author and giving him a bloody nose. I remembered that I
should have spoken to Andrew about feeding the hens, and
reminded him of his winter undergarments. What helpless
creatures men are, after all!
I finished mending the cap in high good humour.
I had hardly laid it down when I heard a quick step in the
road behind me, and looking back, there was Mifflin, striding
along with his bald pate covered with little beads of
moisture. Bock trotted sedately at his heels. I halted Peg.
"Well," I said, "what's happened to Andrew?"
The Professor still looked a bit shamefaced. "The Sage is a
tenacious person," he said. "We argued for a bit without much
satisfaction. As a matter of fact we nearly came to blows
again, only he got another waft of goldenrod, which started
him sneezing, and then his nose began bleeding once more. He
is convinced that I'm a ruffian, and said so in excellent
prose. Honestly, I admire him a great deal. I believe he
intends to have the law on me. I gave him my Brooklyn address
in case he wants to follow the matter up. I think I rather
pleased him by asking him to autograph `Happiness and Hayseed'
for me. I found it lying in the ditch."
"Well," I said, "you two are certainly a great pair of
lunatics. You both ought to go on the stage. You'd be as
good as Weber and Fields. Did he give you the autograph?"
He pulled the book out of his pocket. Scrawled in it in
pencil were the words I have shed blood for Mr. Mifflin.
"I shall read the book again with renewed interest," said
Mifflin. "May I get in?"
"By all means," I said. "There's Port Vigor in front of us."
He put on his cap, noticed that it seemed to feel different,
pulled it off again, and then looked at me in a quaint
"You are very good, Miss McGill," he said.
"Where did Andrew go?" I asked.
"He set off for Shelby on foot," Mifflin answered. "He has a
grand stride for walking. He suddenly remembered that he had
left some potatoes boiling on the fire yesterday afternoon,
and said he must get back to attend to them. He said he hoped
you would send him a postal card now and then. Do you know,
he reminds me of Thoreau more than ever."
"He reminds me of a burnt cooking pot," I said. "I suppose
all my kitchenware will be in a horrible state when I get home."
Port Vigor is a fascinating old town. It is built on a point
jutting out into the Sound. Dimly in the distance one can see
the end of Long Island, which Mifflin viewed with sparkling
eyes. It seemed to bring him closer to Brooklyn. Several
schooners were beating along the estuary in the fresh wind,
and there was a delicious tang of brine in the air. We drove
direct to the station where the Professor alighted. We took
his portmanteau, and shut Bock inside the van to prevent the
dog from following him. Then there was an awkward pause as he
stood by the wheel with his cap off.
"Well, Miss McGill," he said, "there's an express train at
five o'clock, so with luck I shall be in Brooklyn to-night.
My brother's address is 600 Abingdon Avenue, and I hope when
you're sending a card to the Sage you'll let me have one, too.
I shall be very homesick for Parnassus, but I'd rather leave
her with you than with any one I know."
He bowed very low, and before I could say a word he blew his
nose violently and hurried away. I saw him carrying his
valise into the station, and then he disappeared. I suppose
that living alone with Andrew for all these years has unused
me to the eccentricities of other people, but surely this
little Redbeard was one of the strangest beings one would be
likely to meet.
Bock yowled dismally inside, and I did not feel in any mood to
sell books in Port Vigor. I drove back into the town and
stopped at a tea shop for a pot of tea and some toast. When
I came out I found that quite a little crowd had collected,
partly owing to the strange appearance of Parnassus and partly
because of Bock's plaintive cries from within. Most of the
onlookers seemed to suspect the outfit of being part of a
travelling menagerie, so almost against my will I put up the
flaps, tied Bock to the tail of the wagon, and began to answer
the humourous questions of the crowd. Two or three bought
books without any urging, and it was some time before I could
get away. Finally I shut up the van and pulled off, as I was
afraid of seeing some one I knew. As I turned into the
Woodbridge Road I heard the whistle of the five o'clock train
to New York.
The twenty miles of road between Sabine Farm and Port Vigor
was all familiar to me, but now to my relief I struck into a
region that I had never visited. On my occasional trips to
Boston I had always taken the train at Port Vigor, so the
country roads were unknown. But I had set out on the
Woodbridge way because Mifflin had spoken of a farmer, Mr.
Pratt, who lived about four miles out of Port Vigor, on the
Woodbridge Road. Apparently Mr. Pratt had several times bought
books from the Professor and the latter had promised to visit
him again. So I felt in duty bound to oblige a good customer.
After the varied adventures of the last two days it was almost
a relief to be alone to think things over. Here was I, Helen
McGill, in a queer case indeed. Instead of being home at
Sabine Farm getting supper, I was trundling along a strange
road, the sole owner of a Parnassus (probably the only one in
existence), a horse, and a dog, and a cartload of books on my
hands. Since the morning of the day before my whole life had
twisted out of its accustomed orbit. I had spent four hundred
dollars of my savings; I had sold about thirteen dollars'
worth of books; I had precipitated a fight and met a
philosopher. Not only that, I was dimly beginning to evolve
a new philosophy of my own. And all this in order to prevent
Andrew from buying a lot more books! At any rate, I had been
successful in that. When he had seen Parnassus at last, he
had hardly looked at her--except in tones of scorn. I caught
myself wondering whether the Professor would allude to the
incident in his book, and hoping that he would send me a copy.
But after all, why should he mention it? To him it was only
one of a thousand adventures. As he had said angrily to
Andrew, he was nothing to me, nor I to him. How could he
realize that this was the first adventure I had had in the
fifteen years I had been--what was it he called
it?--compiling my anthology. Well, the funny little gingersnap!
I kept Bock tied to the back of the van, as I was afraid he
might take a notion to go in search of his master. As we
jogged on, and the falling sun cast a level light across the
way, I got a bit lonely. This solitary vagabonding business
was a bit sudden after fifteen years of home life. The road
lay close to the water and I watched the Sound grow a deeper
blue and then a dull purple. I could hear the surf pounding,
and on the end of Long Island a far-away lighthouse showed a
ruby spark. I thought of the little gingersnap roaring toward
New York on the express, and wondered whether he was
travelling in a Pullman or a day coach. A Pullman chair would
feel easy after that hard Parnassus seat.
By and by we neared a farmhouse which I took to be Mr.
Pratt's. It stood close to the road, with a big, red barn
behind and a gilt weathervane representing a galloping horse.
Curiously enough Peg seemed to recognize the place, for she
turned in at the gate and neighed vigorously. It must have
been a favourite stopping place for the Professor.
Through a lighted window I could see people sitting around a
table. Evidently the Pratts were at supper. I drew up in the
yard. Some one looked out of a window, and I heard a girl's voice:
"Why, Pa, here's Parnassus!"
Gingersnap must have been a welcome visitor at that farm, for
in an instant the whole family turned out with a great
scraping of chairs and clatter of dishes. A tall, sunburnt
man, in a clean shirt with no collar, led the group, and then
came a stout woman about my own build, and a hired man and
"Good evening!" I said. "Is this Mr. Pratt?"
"Sure thing!" said he. "Where's the Perfessor?"
"On his way to Brooklyn," said I. "And I've got Parnassus.
He told me to be sure to call on you. So here we are."
"Well, I want to know!" ejaculated Mrs. Pratt. "Think of
Parnassus turned suffrage! Ben, you put up the critters, and
I'll take Mrs. Mifflin in to supper."
"Hold on there," I said. "My name's McGill--Miss McGill.
See, it's painted on the wagon. I bought the outfit from Mr.
Mifflin. A business proposition entirely."
"Well, well," said Mr. Pratt. "We're glad to see any friend
of the Perfessor. Sorry he's not here, too. Come right in
and have a bite with us."
They were certainly good-hearted folk, Mr. and Mrs. Ben Pratt.
He put Peg and Bock away in the barn and gave them their
supper, while Mrs. Pratt took me up to her spare bedroom and
brought me a jug of hot water. Then they all trooped back
into the dining-room and the meal began again. I am a
connoisseur of farm cooking, I guess, and I've got to hand it
to Beulah Pratt that she was an A-1 housewife. Her hot
biscuit was perfect; the coffee was real Mocha, simmered, not
boiled; the cold sausage and potato salad was as good as any
Andrew ever got. And she had a smoking-hot omelet sent in for
me, and opened a pot of her own strawberry preserve. The
children (two boys and a girl) sat open-mouthed, nudging one
another, and Mr. Pratt got out his pipe while I finished up on
stewed pears and cream and chocolate cake. It was a regular
meal. I wondered what Andrew was eating and whether he had
found the nest behind the wood pile where the red hen always
drops her eggs.
"Well, well," said Mr. Pratt, "tell us about the Perfessor.
We was expectin' him here some time this fall. He generally
gets here around cider time."
"I guess there isn't so much to tell," I said. "He stopped up
at our place the other day, and said he wanted to sell his
outfit. So I bought him out. He was pining to get back to
Brooklyn and write a book."
"That book o' his!" said Mrs. Pratt. "He was always talkin'
on it, but I don't believe he ever started it yet."
"Whereabout do you come from, Miss McGill?" said Pratt. I
could see he was mighty puzzled at a woman driving a vanload
of books around the country, alone.
"Over toward Redfield," I said.
"You any kin to that writer that lives up that way?"
"You mean Andrew McGill?" I said. "He's my brother."
"Do tell!" exclaimed Mrs. Pratt. "Why the Perfessor thought
a terrible lot of him. He read us all to sleep with one of
his books one night. Said he was the best literature in this
State, I do believe."
I smiled to myself as I thought of the set-to on the road from Shelby.
"Well," said Pratt, "if the Perfessor's got any better friends
than us in these parts, I'm glad to meet 'em. He come here
first time 'bout four years ago. I was up working in the
hayfield that afternoon, and I heard a shout down by the mill
pond. I looked over that way and saw a couple o' kids waving
their arms and screamin'. I ran down the hill and there was
the Perfessor just a pullin' my boy Dick out o' the water.
Dick's this one over here."
Dick, a small boy of thirteen or so, grew red under his freckles.
"The kids had been foolin' around on a raft there, an' first
thing you know Dick fell in, right into deep water, over by
the dam. Couldn't swim a stroke, neither. And the Perfessor,
who jest happened to be comin' along in that 'bus of his,
heard the boys yell. Didn't he hop out o' the wagon as spry
as a chimpanzee, skin over the fence, an' jump into the pond,
swim out there an' tow the boy in! Yes, ma'am, he saved that
boy's life then an' no mistake. That man can read me to sleep
with poetry any night he has a mind to. He's a plumb fine
little firecracker, the Perfessor."
Farmer Pratt pulled hard on his pipe. Evidently his
friendship for the wandering bookseller was one of the
realities of his life.
"Yes, ma'am," he went on, "that Perfessor has been a good
friend to me, sure enough. We brought him an' the boy back to
the house. The boy had gone down three times an' the
Perfessor had to dive to find him. They were both purty well
all in, an' I tell you I was scared. But we got Dick around
somehow--rolled him on a sugar bar'l, an' poured whiskey in
him, an' worked his arms, an' put him in hot blankets. By and
by he come to. An' then I found that the Perfessor, gettin'
over the barb-wire fence so quick (when he lit for the pond)
had torn a hole in his leg you could put four fingers in.
There was his trouser all stiff with blood, an' he not sayin'
a thing. Pluckiest little runt in three States, by Judas!
Well, we put him to bed, too, and then the Missus keeled
over, an' we put her to bed. Three of them, by time the Doc
got here. Great old summer afternoon that was! But bless
your heart, we couldn't keep the Perfessor abed long. Next
day he was out lookin' fer his poetry books, an' first thing
you know he had us all rounded up an' was preachin' good
literature at us like any evangelist. I guess we all fell
asleep over his poetry, so then he started on readin' that
`Treasure Island' story to us, wasn't it, Mother? By hickory,
we none of us fell asleep over that. He started the kids
readin' so they been at it ever since, and Dick's top boy at
school now. Teacher says she never saw such a boy for
readin'. That's what Perfessor done for us! Well, tell us
'bout yerself, Miss McGill. Is there any good books we ought
to read? I used to pine for some o' that feller Shakespeare
my father used to talk about so much, but Perfessor always
'lowed it was over my head!"
It gave me quite a thrill to hear all this about Mifflin. I
could readily imagine the masterful little man captivating the
simple-hearted Pratts with his eloquence and earnestness. And
the story of the mill pond had its meaning, too. Little
Redbeard was no mere wandering crank--he was a real man, cool
and steady of brain, with the earmarks of a hero. I felt a
sudden gush of warmth as I recalled his comical ways.
Mrs. Pratt lit a fire in her Franklin stove and I racked my
head wondering how I could tread worthily in the Professor's
footsteps. Finally I fetched the "Jungle Book" from Parnassus
and read them the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. There was a long
pause when I had finished.
"Say, Pa," said Dick shyly, "that mongoose was rather like
Professor, wasn't he!"
Plainly the Professor was the traditional hero of this family,
and I began to feel rather like an impostor!
I suppose it was foolish of me, but I had already made up my
mind to push on to Woodbridge that night. It could not be
more than four miles, and the time was not much after eight.
I felt a little twinge of quite unworthy annoyance because I
was still treading in the glamour of the Professor's
influence. The Pratts would talk of nothing else, and I wanted
to get somewhere where I would be estimated at my own value,
not merely as his disciple. "Darn the Redbeard," I said to
myself, "I think he has bewitched these people!" And in spite
of their protests and invitations to stay the night, I
insisted on having Peg hitched up. I gave them the copy of
the "Jungle Book" as a small return for their hospitality, and
finally sold Mr. Pratt a little copy of "Lamb's Tales from
Shakespeare" which I thought he could read without brain
fever. Then I lit my lantern and after a chorus of good-byes
Parnassus rolled away. "Well," I said to myself as I turned
into the high road once more, "drat the gingersnap, he seems
to hypnotize everybody... he must be nearly in Brooklyn by
It was very quiet along the road, also very dark, for the sky
had clouded over and I could see neither moon nor stars. As
it was a direct road I should have had no difficulty, and I
suppose I must have fallen into a doze during which Peg took
a wrong turning. At any rate, I realized about half-past nine
that Parnassus was on a much rougher road than the highway had
any right to be, and there were no telephone poles to be seen.
I knew that they stretched all along the main road, so plainly
I had made a mistake. I was reluctant for a moment to admit
that I could be wrong, and just then Peg stumbled heavily and
stood still. She paid no heed to my exhortations, and when I
got out and carried my lantern to see whether anything was in
the way, I found that she had cast a shoe and her foot was
bleeding. The shoe must have dropped off some way back and
she had picked up a nail or something in the quick. I saw no
alternative but to stay where I was for the night.
This was not very pleasant, but the adventures of the day had
put me into a stoical frame of mind, and I saw no good in
repining. I unhitched Peg, sponged her foot, and tied her to
a tree. I would have made more careful explorations to
determine just where I was, but a sharp patter of rain began
to fall. So I climbed into my Parnassus, took Bock in with
me, and lit the swinging lamp. By this time it was nearly ten
o'clock. There was nothing to do but turn in, so I took off
my boots and lay down in the bunk. Bock lay quite comfortably
on the floor of the van. I meant to read for a while, and so
did not turn out the light, but I fell asleep almost immediately.
I woke up at half-past eleven and turned out the lamp, which
had made the van very warm. I opened the little windows front
and back, and would have opened the door, but I feared Bock
might slip away. It was still raining a little. To my
annoyance I felt very wakeful. I lay for some time listening
to the patter of raindrops on the roof and skylight--a very
snug sound when one is warm and safe. Every now and then I
could hear Peg stamping in the underbrush. I was almost
dozing off again when Bock gave a low growl.
No woman of my bulk has a right to be nervous, I guess, but
instantly my security vanished! The patter of the rain seemed
menacing, and I imagined a hundred horrors. I was totally
alone and unarmed, and Bock was not a large dog. He growled
again, and I felt worse than before. I imagined that I heard
stealthy sounds in the bushes, and once Peg snorted as though
frightened. I put my hand down to pat Bock, and found that
his neck was all bristly, like a fighting cock. He uttered a
queer half growl, half whine, which gave me a chill. Some one
must be prowling about the van, but in the falling rain I
could hear nothing.
I felt I must do something. I was afraid to call out lest I
betray the fact that there was only a woman in the van. My
expedient was absurd enough, but at any rate it satisfied my
desire to act. I seized one of my boots and banged vigorously
on the floor, at the same time growling in as deep and
masculine a voice as I could muster: "What the hell's the
matter? What the hell's the matter?" This sounds silly
enough, I dare say, but it afforded me some relief. And as
Bock shortly ceased growling, it apparently served some purpose.
I lay awake for a long time, tingling all over with
nervousness. Then I began to grow calmer, and was getting
drowsy almost in spite of myself when I was aroused by the
unmistakable sound of Bock's tail thumping on the floor--a
sure sign of pleasure. This puzzled me quite as much as his
growls. I did not dare strike a light, but could hear him
sniffing at the door of the van and whining with eagerness.
This seemed very uncanny, and again I crept stealthily out of
the bunk and pounded on the floor lustily, this time with the
frying pan, which made an unearthly din. Peg neighed and
snorted, and Bock began to bark. Even in my anxiety I almost
laughed. "It sounds like an insane asylum," I thought, and
reflected that probably the disturbance was only caused by
some small animal. Perhaps a rabbit or a skunk which Bock had
winded and wanted to chase. I patted him, and crawled into my
bunk once more.
But my real excitement was still to come. About half an hour
later I heard unmistakable footsteps alongside the van. Bock
growled furiously, and I lay in a panic. Something jarred one
of the wheels. Then broke out a most extraordinary racket.
I heard quick steps, Peg whinneyed, and something fell heavily
against the back of the wagon. There was a violent scuffle on
the ground, the sound of blows, and rapid breathing. With my
heart jumping I peered out of one of the back windows. There
was barely any light, but dimly I could see a tumbling mass
which squirmed and writhed on the ground. Something struck
one of the rear wheels so that Parnassus trembled. I heard
hoarse swearing, and then the whole body, whatever it was,
rolled off into the underbrush. There was a terrific crashing
and snapping of twigs. Bock whined, growled, and pawed madly
at the door. And then complete silence.
My nerves were quite shattered by this time. I don't think I
had been so frightened since childhood days when I awakened
from a nightmare. Little trickles of fear crept up and down
my spine and my scalp prickled. I pulled Bock on the bunk,
and lay with one hand on his collar. He, too, seemed agitated
and sniffed gingerly now and then. Finally, however, he gave
a sigh and fell asleep. I judged it might have been two
o'clock, but I did not like to strike a light. And at last I
fell into a doze.
When I woke the sun was shining brilliantly and the air was
full of the chirping of birds. I felt stiff and uneasy from
sleeping in my clothes, and my foot was numb from Bock's weight.
I got up and looked out of the window. Parnassus was standing
in a narrow lane by a grove of birch trees. The ground was
muddy, and smeared with footprints behind the van. I opened
the door and looked around. The first thing I saw, on the
ground by one of the wheels, was a battered tweed cap.
My feelings were as mixed as a crushed nut sundae. So the
Professor hadn't gone to Brooklyn after all! What did he mean
by prowling after me like a sleuth? Was it just homesickness
for Parnassus? Not likely! And then the horrible noises I
had heard in the night; had some tramp been hanging about the
van in the hope of robbing me? Had the tramp attacked
Mifflin? Or had Mifflin attacked the tramp? Who had got the
better of it?
I picked up the muddy cap and threw it into the van. Anyway,
I had problems of my own to tackle, and those of the Professor
Peg whinneyed when she saw me. I examined her foot. Seeing
it by daylight the trouble was not hard to diagnose. A long,
jagged piece of slate was wedged in the frog of the foot. I
easily wrenched it out, heated some water, and gave the hoof
another sponging. It would be all right when shod once more.
But where was the shoe?
I gave the horse some oats, cooked an egg and a cup of coffee
for myself at the little kerosene stove, and broke up a dog
biscuit for Bock. I marvelled once more at the completeness
of Parnassus' furnishings. Bock helped me to scour the pan.
He sniffed eagerly at the cap when I showed it to him, and
wagged his tail.
It seemed to me that the only thing I could do was to leave
Parnassus and the animals where they were and retrace my steps
as far as the Pratt farm. Undoubtedly Mr. Pratt would be glad
to sell me a horse-shoe and send his hired man to do the job
for me. I could not drive Peg as she was, with a sore foot
and without a shoe. I judged Parnassus would be quite safe:
the lane seemed to be a lonely one leading to a deserted
quarry. I tied Bock to the steps to act as a guard, took my
purse and the Professor's cap with me, locked the door of the
van, and set off along the back track. Bock whined and tugged
violently when he saw me disappearing, but I could see no
The lane rejoined the main road about half a mile back. I
must have been asleep or I could never have made the mistake
of turning off. I don't see why Peg should have made the
turn, unless her foot hurt and she judged the side track would
be a good place to rest. She must have been well used to
stopping overnight in the open.
I strode along pondering over my adventures, and resolved to
buy a pistol when I got to Woodbridge. I remember thinking
that I could write quite a book now myself. Already I began
to feel quite a hardened pioneer. It doesn't take an
adaptable person long to accustom one's self to a new way of
life, and the humdrum routine of the farm certainly looked
prosy compared to voyaging with Parnassus. When I had got
beyond Woodbridge, and had crossed the river, I would begin to
sell books in earnest. Also I would buy a notebook and jot
down my experiences. I had heard of bookselling as a
profession for women, but I thought that my taste of it was
probably unique. I might even write a book that would rival
Andrew's--yes, and Mifflin's. And that brought my thoughts to
Of all extraordinary people, I thought, he certainly takes the
cake--and then, rounding a bend, I saw him sitting on a rail
fence, with his head shining in the sunlight. My heart gave
a sort of jump. I do believe I was getting fond of the
Professor. He was examining something which he held in his hand.
"You'll get sunstroke," I said. "Here's your cap." And I
pulled it out of my pocket and tossed it to him.
"Thanks," he said, as cool as you please. "And here's your
horse-shoe. Fair exchange!"
I burst out laughing, and he looked disconcerted, as I hoped he would.
"I thought you'd be in Brooklyn by now," I said, "at 600
Abingdon Avenue, laying out Chapter One. What do you mean by
following me this way? You nearly frightened me to death
last night. I felt like one of Fenimore Cooper's heroines,
shut up in the blockhouse while the redskins prowled about."
He flushed and looked very uncomfortable.
"I owe you an apology," he said. "I certainly never intended
that you should see me. I bought a ticket for New York and
checked my bag through. And then while I was waiting for the
train it came over me that your brother was right, and that it
was a darned risky thing for you to go jaunting about alone in
Parnassus. I was afraid something might happen. I followed
along the road behind you, keeping well out of sight."
"Where were you while I was at Pratt's?"
"Sitting not far down the road eating bread and cheese," he
said. "Also I wrote a poem, a thing I very rarely do."
"Well, I hope your ears burned," I said, "for those Pratts
have certainly raised you to the peerage."
He got more uncomfortable than ever.
"Well," he said, "I dare say it was all an error, but anyway
I did follow you. When you turned off into that lane, I kept
pretty close behind you. As it happens, I know this bit of
country, and there are very often some hoboes hanging around
the old quarry up that lane. They have a cave there where
they go into winter quarters. I was afraid some of them might
bother you. You could hardly have chosen a worse place to
camp out. By the bones of George Eliot, Pratt ought to have
warned you. I can't conceive why you didn't stop at his house
"If you must know, I got weary of hearing them sing your praises."
I could see that he was beginning to get nettled.
"I regret having alarmed you," he said. "I see that Peg has
dropped a shoe. If you'll let me fix it for you, after that
I won't bother you."
We turned back again along the road, and I noticed the right
side of his face for the first time. Under the ear was a
large livid bruise.
"That hobo, or whoever he was," I said, "must have been a
better fighter than Andrew. I see he landed on your cheek.
Are you always fighting?"
His annoyance disappeared. Apparently the Professor enjoyed
a fight almost as much as he did a good book.
"Please don't regard the last twenty-four hours as typical of
me," he said with a chuckle. "I am so unused to being a squire
of dames that perhaps I take the responsibilities too seriously."
"Did you sleep at all last night?" I asked. I think I began
to realize for the first time that the gallant little creature
had been out all night in a drizzling rain, simply to guard me
from possible annoyance; and I had been unforgivably churlish
"I found a very fine haystack in a field overlooking the
quarry. I crawled into the middle of it. A haystack is
sometimes more comfortable than a boarding-house."
"Well," I said penitently, "I can never forgive myself for the
trouble I've caused you. It was awfully good of you to do
what you did. Please put your cap on and don't catch cold."
We walked for several minutes in silence. I watched him out
of the corner of my eye. I was afraid he might have caught
his death of cold from being out all night in the wet, to say
nothing of the scuffle he had had with the tramp; but he
really looked as chipper as ever.
"How do you like the wild life of a bookseller?" he said.
"You must read George Borrow. He would have enjoyed Parnassus."
"I was just thinking, when I met you, that I could write a
book about my adventures."
"Good!" he said. "We might collaborate."
"There's another thing we might collaborate on," I said, "and
that's breakfast. I'm sure you haven't had any."
"No," he said, "I don't think I have. I never lie when I know
I shan't be believed."
"I haven't had any, either," I said. I thought that to tell
an untruth would be the least thing I could do to reward the
little man for his unselfishness.
"Well," he said, "I really thought that by this time----"
He broke off. "Was that Bock barking?" he asked sharply.
We had been walking slowly, and had not yet reached the spot
where the lane branched from the main road. We were still
about three quarters of a mile from the place where I had
camped overnight. We both listened carefully, but I could hear
nothing but the singing of the telephone wires along the road.
"No matter," he said. "I thought I heard a dog." But I
noticed that he quickened his pace.
"I was saying," he continued, "that I had really thought to
have lost Parnassus for good by this morning, but I'm tickled
to death to have a chance to see her again. I hope she'll be
as good a friend to you as she has been to me. I suppose
you'll sell her when you return to the Sage?"
"I don't know I'm sure," I said. "I must confess I'm still a
little at sea. My desire for an adventure seems to have let
me in deeper than I expected. I begin to see that there's
more in this bookselling game than I thought. Honestly, it's
getting into my blood."
"Well, that's fine," he said heartily. "I couldn't have left
Parnassus in better hands. You must let me know what you do
with her, and then perhaps, when I've finished my book, I can
buy her back."
We struck off into the lane. The ground was slippery under
the trees and we went single file, Mifflin in front. I looked
at my watch--it was nine o'clock, just an hour since I had
left the van. As we neared the spot Mifflin kept looking
ahead through the birch trees in a queer way.
"What's the matter?" I said. "We're almost there, aren't we?"
"We are there," he said. "Here's the place."
Parnassus was gone!
We stood in complete dismay--I did, at any rate--for about as
long as it takes to peel a potato. There could be no doubt in
which direction the van had moved, for the track of the wheels
was plain. It had gone farther up the lane toward the quarry.
In the earth, which was still soggy, were a number of footprints.
"By the bones of Polycarp!" exclaimed the Professor, "those
hoboes have stolen the van. I guess they think it'll make a
fine Pullman sleeper for them. If I'd realized there was more
than one of them I'd have hung around closer. They need a lesson."
Good Lord! I thought, here's Don Quixote about to wade into
"Hadn't we better go back and get Mr. Pratt?" I asked.
This was obviously the wrong thing to say. It put the fiery
little man all the more on his mettle. His beard bristled.
"Nothing of the sort!" he said. "Those fellows are cowards
and vagabonds anyway. They can't be far off; you haven't been
away more than an hour, have you? If they've done anything to
Bock, by the bones of Chaucer, I'll harry them. I thought I
heard him bark."
He hurried up the lane, and I followed in a panicky frame of
mind. The track wound along a hillside, between a high bank
and a forest of birch trees. I think the distance can't have
been more than a quarter of a mile. Anyway, in a very few
minutes the road made a sharp twist to the right and we found
ourselves looking down into the quarry, over a sheer rocky
drop of a hundred feet at least. Below, drawn over to one
side of the wall of rock, stood Parnassus. Peg was between
the shafts. Bock was nowhere to be seen. Sitting by the van
were three disreputable looking men. The smoke of a cooking
fire rose into the air; evidently they were making free with
my little larder.
"Keep back," said the Professor softly. "Don't let them see
us." He flattened himself in the grass and crawled to the
edge of the cliff. I did the same, and we lay there, invisible
from below, but quite able to see everything in the quarry.
The three tramps were evidently enjoying an excellent breakfast.
"This place is a regular hang-out for these fellows," Mifflin
whispered. "I've seen hoboes about here every year. They go
into winter quarters about the end of October, usually.
There's an old blasted-out section of this quarry that makes
a sheltered dormitory for them, and as the place isn't worked
any more they're not disturbed here so long as they don't make
mischief in the neighbourhood. We'll give them...."
"Hands up!" said a rough voice behind us. I looked round.
There was a fat, red-faced villainous-looking creature
covering us with a shiny revolver. It was an awkward
situation. Both the Professor and I were lying full length
on the ground. We were quite helpless.
"Get up!" said the tramp in a husky, nasty voice. "I guess
youse thought we wasn't covering our trail? Well, we'll have
to tie you up, I reckon, while we get away with this Crystal
Pallis of yourn."
I scrambled to my feet, but to my surprise the Professor
continued to lie at full length.
"Get up, deacon!" said the tramp again. "Get up on them
graceful limbs, if you please."
I guess he thought himself safe from attack by a woman. At
any rate, he bent over as if to grab Mifflin by the neck. I
saw my chance and jumped on him from behind. I am heavy, as
I have said, and he sprawled on the ground. My doubts as to
the pistol being loaded were promptly dissolved, for it went
off like a cannon. Nobody was in front of it, however, and
Mifflin was on his feet like a flash. He had the ruffian by
the throat and kicked the weapon out of his hand. I ran to
"You son of Satan!" said the valiant Redbeard. "Thought you
could bully us, did you? Miss McGill, you were as quick as
Joan of Arc. Hand me the pistol, please."
I gave it to him, and he shoved it under the hobo's nose.
"Now" he said, "take off that rag around your neck."
The rag was an old red handkerchief, inconceivably soiled.
The tramp removed it, grumbling and whining. Mifflin gave me
the pistol to hold while he tied our prisoner's wrists
together. In the meantime we heard a shout from the quarry.
The three vagabonds were gazing up in great excitement.
"You tell those fashion plates down there," said Mifflin, as
he knotted the tramp's hands together, "that if they make any
fight I'll shoot them like crows." His voice was cold and
savage and he seemed quite master of the situation, but I must
confess I wondered how we could handle four of them.
The greasy ruffian shouted down to his pals in the quarry, but
I did not hear what he said, as just then the Professor asked
me to keep our captive covered while he got a stick. I stood
with the pistol pointed at his head while Mifflin ran back
into the birchwood to cut a cudgel.
The tramp's face became the colour of the under side of a
fried egg as he looked into the muzzle of his own gun.
"Say, lady," he pleaded, "that gun goes off awful easy, point
her somewhere else or you'll croak me by mistake."
I thought a good scare wouldn't do him any harm and kept the
barrel steadily on him.
The rascals down below seemed debating what to do. I don't
know whether they were armed or not; but probably they
imagined that there were more than two of us. At all events,
by the time Mifflin came back with a stout birch staff they
were hustling out of the quarry on the lower side. The
Professor swore, and looked as if he would gladly give chase,
but he refrained.
"Here, you," he said in crisp tones to the tramp, "march on
ahead of us, down to the quarry."
The fat ruffian shambled awkwardly down the trail. We had to
make quite a detour to get into the quarry, and by the time we
reached there the other three tramps had got clean away. I
was not sorry, to tell the truth. I thought the Professor had
had enough scrapping for one twenty-four hours.
Peg whinneyed loudly as she saw us coming, but Bock was not in sight.
"What have you done with the dog, you swine?" said Mifflin.
"If you've hurt him I'll make you pay with your own hide."
Our prisoner was completely cowed. "No, boss, we ain't hurt
the dog," he fawned. "We tied him up so he couldn't bark,
that's all. He's in the 'bus." And sure enough, by this time
we could hear smothered yelping and whining from Parnassus.
I hurried to open the door, and there was Bock, his jaws tied
together with a rope-end. He bounded out and made
super-canine efforts to express his joy at seeing the
Professor again. He paid very little attention to me.
"Well," said Mifflin, after freeing the dog's muzzle, and with
difficulty restraining him from burying his teeth in the
tramp's shin, "what shall we do with this heroic specimen of
manhood? Shall we cart him over to the jail in Port Vigor, or
shall we let him go?"
The tramp burst into a whining appeal that was almost funny,
it was so abject. The Professor cut it short.
"I ought to pack you into quod," he said. "Are you the
Phoebus Apollo I scuffled with down the lane last night? Was
it you skulking around this wagon then?"
"No, boss, that was Splitlip Sam, honest to Gawd it was. He
come back, boss; said he'd been fightin' with a
cat-o'-mountain! Say, boss, you sure hit him hard. One of
his lamps is a pudding! Boss, I'll swear I ain't had nothin'
to do with it."
"I don't like your society," said the Professor, "and I'm
going to turn you loose. I'm going to count ten, and if
you're not out of this quarry by then, I'll shoot. And if I
see you again I'll skin you alive. Now get out!"
He cut the knotted handkerchief in two. The hobo needed no
urging. He spun on his heel and fled like a rabbit. The
Professor watched him go, and as the fat, ungainly figure
burst through a hedge and disappeared he fired the revolver
into the air to frighten him still more. Then he tossed the
weapon into the pool near by.
"Well, Miss McGill," he said with a chuckle, "if you like to
undertake breakfast, I'll fix up Peg." And he drew the
horse-shoe from his pocket once more.
A brief inspection of Parnassus satisfied me that the thieves
had not had time to do any real damage. They had got out most
of the eatables and spread them on a flat rock in preparation
for a feast; and they had tracked a good deal of mud into the
van; but otherwise I could see nothing amiss. So while
Mifflin busied himself with Peg's foot it was easy for me to
get a meal under way. I found a gush of clean water trickling
down the face of the rock. There were still some eggs and
bread and cheese in the little cupboard, and an unopened tin
of condensed milk. I gave Peg her nose bag of oats, and fed
Bock, who was frisking about in high spirits. By that time
the shoeing was done, and the Professor and I sat down to an
improvised meal. I was beginning to feel as if this gipsy
existence were the normal course of my life.
"Well, Professor," I said, as I handed him a cup of coffee and
a plate of scrambled eggs and cheese, "for a man who slept in
a wet haystack, you acquit yourself with excellent valour."
"Old Parnassus is quite a stormy petrel," he said. "I used to
think the chief difficulty in writing a book would be to
invent things to happen, but if I were to sit down and write
the adventures I'd had with her it would be a regular Odyssey."
"How about Peg's foot?" I asked. "Can she travel on it?"
"It'll be all right if you go easy. I've scraped out the
injured part and put the shoe back. I keep a little kit of
tools under the van for emergencies of all sorts."
It was chilly, and we didn't dawdle over our meal. I only
made a feint of eating, as I had had a little breakfast
before, and also as the events of the last few hours had left
me rather restless. I wanted to get Parnassus out on the
highway again, to jog along in the sun and think things over.
The quarry was a desolate, forbidding place anyway. But
before we left we explored the cave where the tramps had been
preparing to make themselves comfortable for the winter. It
was not really a cave, but only a shaft into the granite
cliff. A screen of evergreen boughs protected the opening
against the weather, and inside were piles of sacking that had
evidently been used as beds, and many old grocery boxes for
tables and chairs. It amused me to notice a cracked fragment
of mirror balanced on a corner of rock. Even these
ragamuffins apparently were not totally unconscious of
personal appearance. I seized the opportunity, while the
Professor was giving Peg's foot a final look, to rearrange my
hair, which was emphatically a sight. I hardly think Andrew
would have recognized me that morning.
We led Peg up the steep incline, back into the lane where I
had strayed, and at length we reached the main road again.
Here I began to lay down the law to Redbeard.
"Now look here, Professor," I said, "I'm not going to have you
tramp all the way back to Port Vigor. After the night you've
had you need a rest. You just climb into that Parnassus and
lie down for a good snooze. I'll drive you into Woodbridge
and you can take your train there. Now you get right into
that bunk. I'll sit out here and drive."
He demurred, but without much emphasis. I think the little
fool was just about fagged out, and no wonder. I was a trifle
groggy myself. In the end he was quite docile. He climbed
into the van, took off his boots, and lay down under a
blanket. Bock followed him, and I think they both fell asleep
on the instant. I got on the front seat and took the reins.
I didn't let Peg go more quickly than a walk as I wanted to
spare her sore foot.
My, what a morning that was after the rain! The road ran
pretty close to the shore, and every now and then I could
catch a glimpse of the water. The air was keen--not just the
ordinary, unnoticed air that we breathe in and out and don't
think about, but a sharp and tingling essence, as strong in
the nostrils as camphor or ammonia. The sun seemed focussed
upon Parnassus, and we moved along the white road in a flush
of golden light. The flat fronds of the cedars swayed gently
in the salty air, and for the first time in ten years, I
should think, I began amusing myself by selecting words to
describe the goodness of the morning. I even imagined myself
writing a description of it, as if I were Andrew or Thoreau.
The crazy little Professor had inoculated me with his literary
bug, I guess.
And then I did a dishonourable thing. Just by chance I put my
hand into the little pocket beside the seat where Mifflin kept
a few odds and ends. I meant to have another look at that
card of his with the poem on it. And there I found a funny,
battered little notebook, evidently forgotten. On the cover
was written, in ink, "Thoughts on the Present Discontents."
That title seemed vaguely familiar. I seemed to recall
something of the kind from my school days--more than twenty
years ago, goodness me! Of course if I had been honourable I
wouldn't have looked into it. But in a kind of quibbling
self-justification I recalled that I had bought Parnassus and
all it contained, "lock, stock, barrel and bung" as Andrew
used to say. And so....
The notebook was full of little jottings, written in pencil in
the Professor's small, precise hand. The words were rubbed
and soiled, but plainly legible. I read this:
I don't suppose Bock or Peg get lonely, but by the bones of
Ben Gunn, I do. Seems silly when Herrick and Hans Andersen
and Tennyson and Thoreau and a whole wagonload of other good
fellows are riding at my back. I can hear them all talking as
we trundle along. But books aren't a substantial world after
all, and every now and then we get hungry for some closer,
more human relationships. I've been totally alone now for
eight years--except for Runt, and he might be dead and never
say so. This wandering about is fine in its way, but it must
come to an end some day. A man needs to put down a root
somewhere to be really happy.
What absurd victims of contrary desires we are! If a man is
settled in one place he yearns to wander; when he wanders he
yearns to have a home. And yet how bestial is content--all
the great things in life are done by discontented people.
There are three ingredients in the good life: learning,
earning, and yearning. A man should be learning as he goes;
and he should be earning bread for himself and others; and he
should be yearning, too: yearning to know the unknowable.
What a fine old poem is "The Pulley" by George Herbert! Those
Elizabethan fellows knew how to write! They were marred
perhaps by their idea that poems must be "witty." (Remember
how Bacon said that reading poets makes one witty? There he
gave a clue to the literature of his time.) Their fantastic
puns and conceits are rather out of our fashion nowadays. But
Lord! the root of the matter was in them! How gallantly,
how reverently, they tackle the problems of life!
When God at first made man (says George Herbert) He had a
"glass of blessings standing by." So He pours on man all the
blessings in His reservoir: strength, beauty, wisdom,
honour, pleasure--and then He refrains from giving him the
last of them, which is rest, i.e., contentment. God sees
that if man is contented he will never win his way to Him.
Let man be restless, so that
"If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast."
Some day I shall write a novel on that theme, and call it "The
Pulley." In this tragic, restless world there must be some
place where at last we can lay our heads and be at rest. Some
people call it death. Some call it God.
My ideal of a man is not the Omar who wants to shatter into
bits this sorry scheme of things, and then remould it nearer
to the heart's desire. Old Omar was a coward, with his silk
pajamas and his glass of wine. The real man is George
Herbert's "seasoned timber"--the fellow who does handily and
well whatever comes to him. Even if it's only shovelling coal
into a furnace he can balance the shovel neatly, swing the
coal square on the fire and not spill it on the floor. If
it's only splitting kindling or running a trolley car he can
make a good, artistic job of it. If it's only writing a book
or peeling potatoes he can put into it the best he has. Even
if he's only a bald-headed old fool over forty selling books
on a country road, he can make an ideal of it. Good old
Parnassus! It's a great game.... I think I'll have to give
her up soon, though: I must get that book of mine written.
But Parnassus has been a true glass of blessings to me.
There was much more in the notebook; indeed it was half full
of jotted paragraphs, memoranda, and scraps of writing--poems
I believe some of them were--but I had seen enough. It
seemed as if I had stumbled unawares on the pathetic, brave,
and lonely heart of the little man. I'm a commonplace
creature, I'm afraid, insensible to many of the deeper things
in life, but every now and then, like all of us, I come face
to face with something that thrills me. I saw how this
little, red-bearded pedlar was like a cake of yeast in the
big, heavy dough of humanity: how he travelled about trying
to fulfil in his own way his ideals of beauty. I felt almost
motherly toward him: I wanted to tell him that I understood
him. And in a way I felt ashamed of having run away from my
own homely tasks, my kitchen and my hen yard and dear old,
hot-tempered, absent-minded Andrew. I fell into a sober mood.
As soon as I was alone, I thought, I would sell Parnassus and
hurry back to the farm. That was my job, that was my glass of
blessings. What was I doing--a fat, middle-aged
woman--trapesing along the roads with a cartload of books I
I slipped the little notebook back into its hidingplace. I
would have died rather than let the Professor know I had seen it.
We were coming into Woodbridge; and I was just wondering
whether to wake the Professor when the little window behind me
slid back and he stuck his head out.
"Hello!" he said. "I think I must have been asleep!"
"Well, I should hope so," I said. "You needed it."
Indeed he looked much better, and I was relieved to see it.
I had been really afraid he would be ill after sleeping out
all night, but I guess he was tougher than I thought. He
joined me on the seat, and we drove into the town. While he
went to the station to ask about the trains I had a fine time
selling books. I was away from the locality where I was
known, and had no shyness in attempting to imitate Mifflin's
methods. I even went him one better by going into a hardware
store where I bought a large dinner bell. This I rang lustily
until a crowd gathered, then I put up the flaps and displayed
my books. As a matter of fact, I sold only one, but I enjoyed
myself none the less.
By and by Mifflin reappeared. I think he had been to a
barber: at any rate he looked very spry: he had bought a
clean collar and a flowing tie of a bright electric blue which
really suited him rather well.
"Well," he said, "the Sage is going to get back at me for that
punch on the nose! I've been to the bank to cash your check.
They telephoned over to Redfield, and apparently your brother
has stopped payment on it. It's rather awkward: they seem to
think I'm a crook."
I was furious. What right had Andrew to do that?
"The brute!" I said. "What on earth shall I do?"
"I suggest that you telephone to the Redfield Bank," he said,
"and countermand your brother's instructions--that is, unless
you think you've made a mistake? I don't want to take
advantage of you."
"Nonsense!" I said. "I'm not going to let Andrew spoil my
holiday. That's always his way: if he gets an idea into his
head he's like a mule. I'll telephone to Redfield, and then
we'll go to see the bank here."
We put Parnassus up at the hotel, and I went to the telephone.
I was thoroughly angry at Andrew, and tried to get him on the
wire first. But Sabine Farm didn't answer. Then I telephoned
to the bank in Redfield, and got Mr. Shirley. He's the
cashier, and I know him well. I guess he recognized my voice,
for he made no objection when I told him what I wanted.
"Now you telephone to the bank in Woodbridge," I said, "and
tell them to let Mr. Mifflin have the money. I'll go there
with him to identify him. Will that be all right?"
"Perfectly," he said. The deceitful little snail! If I had
only known what he was concocting!
Mifflin said there was a train at three o'clock which he could
take. We stopped at a little lunch room for a bite to eat,
then he went again to the bank, and I with him. We asked the
cashier whether they had had a message from Redfield.
"Yes," he said. "We've just heard." And he looked at me
"Are you Miss McGill?" he said.
"I am," I said.
"Will you just step this way a moment?" he asked politely.
He led me into a little sitting-room and asked me to sit down.
I supposed that he was going to get some paper for me to sign,
so I waited quite patiently for several minutes. I had left
the Professor at the cashier's window, where they would give
him his money.
I waited some time, and finally I got tired of looking at the
Life Insurance calendars. Then I happened to glance out of
the window. Surely that was the Professor, just disappearing
round the corner with another man?
I returned to the cashier's desk.
"What's the matter?" I said. "Your mahogany furniture is
charming, but I'm tired of it. Do I have to sit here any
longer? And where's Mr. Mifflin? Did he get his money?"
The cashier was a horrid little creature with side whiskers.
"I'm sorry you had to wait, Madam," he said. "The transaction
is just concluded. We gave Mr. Mifflin what was due him.
There is no need for you to stay longer."
I thought this was very extraordinary. Surely the Professor
would not leave without saying good-bye? However, I noticed
that the clock said three minutes to three, so I thought that
perhaps he had had to run to catch his train. He was such a
strange little man, anyway....
Well, I went back to the hotel, quite a little upset by this
sudden parting. At least I was glad the little man had got
his money all right. Probably he would write from Brooklyn,
but of course I wouldn't get the letter till I returned to the
farm as that was the only address he would have. Perhaps that
wouldn't be so long after all: but I did not feel like going
back now, when Andrew had been so horrid.
I drove Parnassus on the ferry, and we crossed the river. I
felt lost and disagreeable. Even the fresh movement through the
air gave me no pleasure. Bock whined dismally inside the van.
It didn't take me long to discover that Parnassing all alone
had lost some of its charms. I missed the Professor: missed
his abrupt, direct way of saying things, and his whimsical
wit. And I was annoyed by his skipping off without a word of
good-bye. It didn't seem natural. I partially appeased my
irritation by stopping at a farmhouse on the other side of the
river and selling a cook book. Then I started along the road
for Bath--about five miles farther on. Peg's foot didn't seem
to bother her so I thought it would be safe to travel that far
before stopping for the night. Counting up the days (with
some difficulty: it seemed as though I had been away from
home a month), I remembered that this was Saturday night. I
thought I would stay in Bath over Sunday and get a good rest.
We jogged sedately along the road, and I got out a copy of
"Vanity Fair." I was so absorbed in Becky Sharp that I
wouldn't even interrupt myself to sell books at the houses we
passed. I think reading a good book makes one modest. When
you see the marvellous insight into human nature which a truly
great book shows, it is bound to make you feel small--like}
looking at the Dipper on a clear night, or seeing the winter
sunrise when you go out to collect the morning eggs. And
anything that makes you feel small is mighty good for you.
"What do you mean by a great book?" said the Professor--I
mean, I imagined him saying it. It seemed to me as if I could
see him sitting there, with his corncob pipe in his hand and
that quizzical little face of his looking sharply at me.
Somehow, talking with the Professor had made me think. He was
as good as one of those Scranton correspondence courses, I do
believe, and no money to pay for postage.
Well, I said to the Professor--to myself I mean--let's see:
what is a good book? I don't mean books like Henry James's
(he's Andrew's great idol. It always seemed to me that he had
a kind of rush of words to the head and never stopped to sort
them out properly). A good book ought to have something
simple about it. And, like Eve, it ought to come from
somewhere near the third rib: there ought to be a heart
beating in it. A story that's all forehead doesn't amount to
much. Anyway, it'll never get over at a Dorcas meeting. That
was the trouble with Henry James. Andrew talked so much about
him that I took one of his books to read aloud at our sewing
circle over at Redfield. Well, after one try we had to fall
back on "Pollyanna."
I haven't been doing chores and running a farmhouse for
fifteen years without getting some ideas about life--and even
about books. I wouldn't set my lit'ry views up against yours,
Professor (I was still talking to Mifflin in my mind), no, nor
even against Andrew's--but as I say, I've got some ideas of
my own. I've learned that honest work counts in writing books
just as much as it does in washing dishes. I guess Andrew's
books must be some good after all because he surely does mull
over them without end. I can forgive his being a shiftless
farmer so long as he really does his literary chores up to the
hilt. A man can be slack in everything else, if he does one
thing as well as he possibly can. And I guess it won't matter
my being an ignoramus in literature so long as I'm rated A-1
in the kitchen. That's what I used to think as I polished and
scoured and scrubbed and dusted and swept and then set about
getting dinner. If I ever sat down to read for ten minutes
the cat would get into the custard. No woman in the country
sits down for fifteen consecutive minutes between sunrise and
sunset, anyway, unless she has half a dozen servants. And
nobody knows anything about literature unless he spends most
of his life sitting down. So there you are.
The cultivation of philosophic reflection was a new experience
for me. Peg ambled along contentedly and the dog trailed
under Parnassus where I had tied him. I read "Vanity Fair"
and thought about all sorts of things. Once I got out to pick
some scarlet maple leaves that attracted me. The motors
passing annoyed me with their dust and noise, but by and by
one of them stopped, looked at my outfit curiously, and then
asked to see some books. I put up the flaps for them and we
pulled off to one side of the road and had a good talk. They
bought two or three books, too.
By the time I neared Bath the hands of my watch pointed to
supper. I was still a bit shy of Mifflin's scheme of stopping
overnight at farmhouses, so I thought I'd go right into the
town and look for a hotel. The next day was Sunday, so it
seemed reasonable to give the horse a good rest and stay in
Bath two nights. The Hominy House looked clean and
old-fashioned, and the name amused me, so in I went. It was
a kind of high-class boarding-house, with mostly old women
around. It looked to me almost literary and Elbert Hubbardish
compared to the Grand Central in Shelby. The folks there
stared at me somewhat suspiciously and I half thought they
were going to say they didn't take pedlars; but when I flashed
a new five-dollar bill at the desk I got good service. A
five-dollar bill is a patent of nobility in New England.
My! how I enjoyed that creamed chicken on toast, and
buckwheat cakes with syrup! After you get used to cooking all
your own grub, a meal off some one else's stove is the finest
kind of treat. After supper I was all prepared to sit out on
the porch with my sweater on and give a rocking chair a hot
box, but then I remembered that it was up to me to carry on
the traditions of Parnassus. I was there to spread the gospel
of good books. I got to thinking how the Professor never
shirked carrying on his campaign, and I determined that I
would be worthy of the cause.
When I think back about the experience, it seems pretty crazy,
but at the time I was filled with a kind of evangelistic zeal.
I thought if I was going to try to sell books I might as well
have some fun out of it. Most of the old ladies were
squatting about in the parlour, knitting or reading or playing
cards. In the smoking-room I could see two dried-up men. Mrs.
Hominy, the manager of the place, was sitting at her desk
behind a brass railing, going over accounts with a quill pen.
I thought that the house probably hadn't had a shock since
Walt Whitman wrote "Leaves of Grass." In a kind of do-or-die
spirit I determined to give them a rouse.
In the dining-room I had noticed a huge dinner bell that stood
behind the door. I stepped in there, and got it. Standing in
the big hall I began ringing it as hard as I could shake my arm.
You might have thought it was a fire alarm. Mrs. Hominy
dropped her pen in horror. The colonial dames in the parlour
came to life and ran into the hall like cockroaches. In a
minute I had gathered quite a respectable audience. It was up
to me to do the spellbinding.
"Friends," I said (unconsciously imitating the Professor's
tricks of the trade, I guess), "this bell which generally
summons you to the groaning board now calls you to a literary
repast. With the permission of the management, and with
apologies for disturbing your tranquillity, I will deliver a
few remarks on the value of good books. I see that several of
you are fond of reading, so perhaps the topic will be congenial?"
They gazed at me about as warmly as a round of walnut sundaes.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," I continued, "of course you remember
the story of Abe Lincoln when he said, `if you call a leg a
tail, how many tails has a dog?' `Five,' you answer. Wrong;
because, as Mr. Lincoln said, calling a leg a tail...."
I still think it was a good beginning. But that was as far as
I got. Mrs. Hominy came out of her trance, hastened from the
cage, and grabbed my arm. She was quite red with anger.
"Really!" she said. "Well, really!... I must ask you to
continue this in some other place. We do not allow commercial
travellers in this house."
And within fifteen minutes they had hitched up Peg and asked
me to move on. Indeed I was so taken aback by my own zeal
that I could hardly protest. In a kind of daze I found
myself at the Moose Hotel, where they assured me that they
catered to mercantile people. I went straight to my room and
fell asleep as soon as I reached the straw mattress.
That was my first and only pubic speech.
The next day was Sunday, October sixth. I well remember the date.
I woke up as chipper as any Robert W. Chambers heroine. All
my doubts and depressions of the evening before had fled, and
I was single-heartedly delighted with the world and everything
in it. The hotel was a poor place, but it would have taken
more than that to mar my composure. I had a bitterly cold
bath in a real country tin tub, and then eggs and pancakes for
breakfast. At the table was a drummer who sold lightning
rods, and several other travelling salesmen. I'm afraid my
conversation was consciously modelled along the line of what
the Professor would have said if he had been there, but at any
rate I got along swimmingly. The travelling men, after a
moment or two of embarrassed diffidence, treated me quite as
one of themselves and asked me about my "line" with interest.
I described what I was doing and they all said they envied me
my freedom to come and go independently of trains. We talked
cheerfully for a long time, and almost without intending to,
I started preaching about books. In the end they insisted on
my showing them Parnassus. We all went out to the stable,
where the van was quartered, and they browsed over the
shelves. Before I knew it I had sold five dollars' worth,
although I had decided not to do any business at all on
Sunday. But I couldn't refuse to sell them the stuff as they
all seemed so keen on getting something really good to read.
One man kept on talking about Harold Bell Wright, but I had to
admit that I hadn't heard of him. Evidently the Professor
hadn't stocked any of his works. I was tickled to see that after
all little Redbeard didn't know everything about literature.
After that I debated whether to go to church or to write
letters. Finally I decided in favour of the letters. First
I tackled Andrew. I wrote:
The Moose Hotel, Bath,
It seems absurd to think that it's only three days since I
left Sabine Farm. Honestly, more has happened to me in these
three days than in three years at home.
I'm sorry that you and Mr. Mifflin disagreed but I quite
understood your feelings. But I'm very angry that you should
have tried to stop that check I gave him. It was none of your
business, Andrew. I telephoned Mr. Shirley and made him send
word to the bank in Woodbridge to give Mifflin the money. Mr.
Mifflin did not swindle me into buying Parnassus. I did it of
my own free will. If you want to know the truth, it was your
fault! I bought it because I was scared you would if I
didn't. And I didn't want to be left all alone on the farm
from now till Thanksgiving while you went off on another trip.
So I decided to do the thing myself. I thought I'd see how
you would like being left all alone to run the house. I
thought it'd be pretty nice for me to get things off my mind
a while and have an adventure of my own.
Now, Andrew, here are some directions for you:
1. Don't forget to feed the chickens twice a day, and collect
all the eggs. There's a nest behind the wood pile, and some
of the Wyandottes have been laying under the ice house.
2. Don't let Rosie touch grandmother's blue china, because
she'll break it as sure as fate if she lays her big, thick
Swedish fingers on it.
3. Don't forget your warmer underwear. The nights are
4. I forgot to put the cover on the sewing machine. Please
do that for me or it'll get all dusty.
5. Don't let the cat run loose in the house at night: he
always breaks something.
6. Send your socks and anything else that needs darning over
to Mrs. McNally, she can do it for you.
7. Don't forget to feed the pigs.
8. Don't forget to mend the weathervane on the barn.
9. Don't forget to send that barrel of apples over to the
cider mill or you won't have any cider to drink when Mr.
Decameron comes up to see us later in the fall.
10. Just to make ten commandments, I'll add one more: You
might 'phone to Mrs. Collins that the Dorcas will have to meet
at some one else's house next week, because I don't know just
when I'll get back. I may be away a fortnight more. This is
my first holiday in a long time and I'm going to chew it
before I swallow it.
The Professor (Mr. Mifflin, I mean) has gone back to Brooklyn
to work on his book. I'm sorry you and he had to mix it up on
the high road like a couple of hooligans. He's a nice little
man and you'd like him if you got to know him.
I'm spending Sunday in Bath: to-morrow I'm going on toward
Hastings. I've sold five dollars' worth of books this morning
even if it is Sunday.
Your affte sister
P.S. Don't forget to clean the separator after using it, or
it'll get in a fearful state.
After writing to Andrew I thought I would send a message to
the Professor. I had already written him a long letter in my
mind, but somehow when I began putting it on paper a sort of
awkwardness came over me. I didn't know just how to begin.
I thought how much more fun it would be if he were there
himself and I could listen to him talk. And then, while I was
writing the first few sentences, some of the drummers came
back into the room.
"Thought you'd like to see a Sunday paper," said one of them.
I picked up the newspaper with a word of thanks and ran an eye
over the headlines. The ugly black letters stood up before
me, and my heart gave a great contraction. I felt my
fingertips turn cold.
ON THE SHORE LINE
EXPRESS RUNS INTO OPEN SWITCH
TEN LIVES LOST, AND
MORE THAN A SCORE INJURED
FAILURE OF BLOCK SIGNALS
The letters seemed to stand up before me as large as a Malted
Milk signboard. With a shuddering apprehension I read the
details. Apparently the express that left Providence at four
o'clock on Saturday afternoon had crashed into an open siding
near Willdon about six o'clock, and collided with a string of
freight empties. The baggage car had been demolished and the
smoker had turned over and gone down an embankment. There
were ten men killed... my head swam. Was that the train the
Professor had taken? Let me see. He left Woodbridge on a
local train at three. He had said the day before that the
express left Port Vigor at five.... If he had changed to the
In a kind of fascinated horror my eye caught the list of the
dead. I ran down the names. Thank God, no, Mifflin was not
among them. Then I saw the last entry:
UNIDENTIFIED MAN, MIDDLE-AGED.
What if that should be the Professor?
And I suddenly felt dizzy, and for the first time in my life
Thank goodness, no one else was in the room. The drummers had
gone outside again, and no one heard me flop off the chair.
I came to in a moment, my heart whirling like a spinning top.
At first I did not realize what was wrong. Then my eye fell
on the newspaper again. Feverishly I re-read the account, and
the names of the injured, too, which I had missed before.
Nowhere was there a name I knew. But the tragic words
"unidentified man" danced before my eyes. Oh! if it
were the Professor....
In a wave the truth burst upon me. I loved that little man:
I loved him, I loved him. He had brought something new into
my life, and his brave, quaint ways had warmed my fat old
heart. For the first time, in an intolerable gush of pain, I
seemed to know that my life could never again be endurable
without him. And now--what was I to do?
How could I learn the truth? Certainly if he had been on the
train, and had escaped from the wreck unhurt, he would have
sent a message to Sabine Farm to let me know. At any rate, that
was a possibility. I rushed to the telephone to call up Andrew.
Oh! the agonizing slowness of telephone connections when
urgent hurry is needed! My voice shook as I said "Redfield
158 J" to the operator. Throbbing with nervousness I waited
to hear the familiar click of the receiver at the other end.
I could hear the Redfield switchboard receive the call, and
put in the plug to connect with our wire. In imagination I
could see the telephone against the wall in the old hallway at
Sabine Farm. I could see the soiled patch of plaster where
Andrew rests his elbow when he talks into the 'phone, and the
place where he jots numbers down in pencil and I rub them off
with bread crumbs. I could see Andrew coming out of the
sitting-room to answer the bell. And then the operator said
carelessly, "Doesn't answer." My forehead was wet as I came
out of the booth.
I hope I may never have to re-live the horrors of the next
hour. In spite of my bluff and hearty ways, in times of
trouble I am as reticent as a clam. I was determined to hide
my agony and anxiety from the well-meaning people of the Moose
Hotel. I hurried to the railway station to send a telegram to
the Professor's address in Brooklyn, but found the place
closed. A boy told me it would not be open until the
afternoon. From a drugstore I called "information" in
Willdon, and finally got connected with some undertaker to
whom the Willdon operator referred me. A horrible, condoling
voice (have you ever talked to an undertaker over the
telephone?) answered me that no one by the name of Mifflin had
been among the dead, but admitted that there was one body
still unidentified. He used one ghastly word that made me
shudder--unrecognizable. I rang off.
I knew then for the first time the horror of loneliness. I
thought of the poor little man's notebook that I had seen. I
thought of his fearless and lovable ways--of his pathetic
little tweed cap, of the missing button of his jacket, of the
bungling darns on his frayed sleeve. It seemed to me that
heaven could mean nothing more than to roll creaking along
country roads, in Parnassus, with the Professor beside me on
the seat. What if I had known him only--how long was it? He
had brought the splendour of an ideal into my humdrum life.
And now--had I lost it forever? Andrew and the farm seemed
faint and far away. I was a homely old woman, mortally lonely
and helpless. In my perplexity I walked to the outskirts of
the village and burst into tears.
Finally I got a grip on myself again. I am not ashamed to say
that I now admitted frankly what I had been hiding from
myself. I was in love--in love with a little, red-bearded
bookseller who seemed to me more splendid than Sir Galahad.
And I vowed that if he would have me, I would follow him to
the other end of nowhere.
I walked back to the hotel. I thought I would make one more
try to get Andrew on the telephone. My whole soul quivered
when at last I heard the receiver click.
"Hello?" said Andrew's voice.
"Oh, Andrew," I said, "this is Helen."
"Where are you?" (His voice sounded cross.)
"Andrew, is there any--any message from Mr. Mifflin? That
wreck yesterday--he might have been on that train--I've been
so frightened; do you think he was--hurt?"
"Stuff and nonsense," said Andrew. "If you want to know about
Mifflin, he's in jail in Port Vigor."
And then I think Andrew must have been surprised. I began to
laugh and cry simultaneously, and in my agitation I set down
My first impulse was to hide myself in some obscure corner
where I could vent my feelings without fear or favour. I
composed my face as well as I could before leaving the 'phone
booth; then I sidled across the lobby and slipped out of the
side door. I found my way into the stable, where good old Peg
was munching in her stall. The fine, homely smell of
horseflesh and long-worn harness leather went right to my
heart, and while Bock frisked at my knees I laid my head on
Peg's neck and cried. I think that fat old mare understood
me. She was as tubby and prosaic and middle-aged as I--but
she loved the Professor.
Suddenly Andrew's words echoed again in my mind. I had barely
heeded them before, in the great joy of my relief, but now
their significance came to me. "In jail." The Professor in
jail! That was the meaning of his strange disappearance at
Woodbridge. That little brute of a man Shirley must have
telephoned from Redfield, and when the Professor came to the
Woodbridge bank to cash that check they had arrested him.
That was why they had shoved me into that mahogany
sitting-room. Andrew must be behind this. The besotted old
fool! My face burned with anger and humiliation.
I never knew before what it means to be really infuriated. I
could feel my brain tingle. The Professor in jail! The
gallant, chivalrous little man, penned up with hoboes and
sneak thieves suspected of being a crook... as if I couldn't
take care of myself! What did they think he was, anyway? A
Instantly I decided I would hurry back to Port Vigor without
delay. If Andrew had had the Professor locked up, it could
only be on the charge of defrauding me. Certainly it couldn't
be for giving him a bloody nose on the road from Shelby. And
if I appeared to deny the charge, surely they would have to
let Mr. Mifflin go.
I believe I must have been talking to myself in Peg's
stall--at any rate, just at this moment the stableman appeared
and looked very bewildered when he saw me, with flushed face
and in obvious excitement, talking to the horse. I asked him
when was the next train to Port Vigor.
"Well, ma'am," he said, "they say that all the local trains is
held up till the wreck at Willdon's cleared away. This being
Sunday, I don't think you'll get anything from here until
I reflected. It wasn't so awfully far back to Port Vigor. A
flivver from the local garage could spin me back there in a
couple of hours at the most. But somehow it seemed more
fitting to go to the Professor's rescue in his own Parnassus,
even if it would take longer to get there. To tell the truth,
while I was angry and humiliated at the thought of his being
put in jail by Andrew, I couldn't help, deep down within me,
being rather thankful. Suppose he had been in the wreck? The
Sage of Redfield had played the part of Providence after all.
And if I set out right away with Parnassus, I could get to
Port Vigor--well, by Monday morning anyway.
The good people of the Moose Hotel were genuinely surprised at
the hurry with which I dispatched my lunch. But I gave them
no explanations. Goodness knows, my head was full of other
thoughts and the apple sauce might have been asbestos. You
know, a woman only falls in love once in her life, and if it
waits until she's darn near forty--well, it takes! You see
I hadn't even been vaccinated against it by girlish
flirtations. I began to be a governess when I was just a kid,
and a governess doesn't get many chances to be skittish. So
now when it came, it hit me hard. That's when a woman finds
herself--when she's in love. I don't care if she is old or
fat or homely or prosy. She feels that little flutter under
her ribs and she drops from the tree like a ripe plum. I
didn't care if Roger Mifflin and I were as odd a couple as old
Dr. Johnson and his wife, I only knew one thing: that when
I saw that little red devil again I was going to be all
his--if he'd have me. That's why the old Moose Hotel in Bath
is always sacred to me. That's where I learned that life
still held something fresh for me--something better than
baking champlain biscuits for Andrew.
. . . . . . . . .
That Sunday was one of those mellow, golden days that we New
Englanders get in October. The year really begins in March,
as every farmer knows, and by the end of September or the
beginning of October the season has come to its perfect,
ripened climax. There are a few days when the world seems to
hang still in a dreaming, sweet hush, at the very fulness of
the fruit before the decline sets in. I have no words (like
Andrew) to describe it, but every autumn for years I have
noticed it. I remember that sometimes at the farm I used to
lean over the wood pile for a moment just before supper to
watch those purple October sunsets. I would hear the sharp
ting of Andrew's little typewriter bell as he was working in his
study. And then I would try to swallow down within me the beauty
and wistfulness of it all, and run back to mash the potatoes.
Peg drew Parnassus along the backward road with a merry little
rumble. I think she knew we were going back to the Professor.
Bock careered mightily along the wayside. And I had much time
for thinking. On the whole, I was glad; for I had much to
ponder. An adventure that had started as a mere lark or whim
had now become for me the very gist of life itself. I was
fanciful, I guess, and as romantic as a young hen, but by the
bones of George Eliot, I'm sorry for the woman that never has
a chance to be fanciful. Mifflin was in jail; aye, but he
might have been dead and--unrecognizable! My heart refused
to be altogether sad. I was on my way to deliver him from
durance vile. There seemed a kinship between the season and
myself, I mused, seeing the goldenrod turning bronze and
droopy along the way. Here was I, in the full fruition of
womanhood, on the verge of my decline into autumn, and lo! by
the grace of God, I had found my man, my master. He had
touched me with his own fire and courage. I didn't care what
happened to Andrew, or to Sabine Farm, or to anything else in
the world. Here were my hearth and my home--Parnassus, or
wherever Roger should pitch his tent. I dreamed of crossing
the Brooklyn Bridge with him at dusk, watching the skyscrapers
etched against a burning sky. I believed in calling things by
their true names. Ink is ink, even if the bottle is marked
"commercial fluid." I didn't try to blink the fact that I was
in love. In fact, I gloried in it. As Parnassus rolled along
the road, and the scarlet maple leaves eddied gently down in
the blue October air, I made up a kind of chant which I called
Hymn for a Middle-Aged Woman (Fat)
Who Has Fallen into Love
O God, I thank Thee who sent this great adventure my way! I
am grateful to have come out of the barren land of
spinsterhood, seeing the glory of a love greater than myself.
I thank Thee for teaching me that mixing, and kneading, and
baking are not all that life holds for me. Even if he doesn't
love me, God, I shall always be his.
I was crooning some such babble as this to myself when, near
Woodbridge, I came upon a big, shiny motor car stranded by the
roadside. Several people, evidently intelligent and
well-to-do, sat under a tree while their chauffeur fussed with
a tire. I was so absorbed in my own thoughts that I think I
should have gone by without paying them much heed, but
suddenly I remembered the Professor's creed--to preach the
gospel of books in and out of season. Sunday or no Sunday, I
thought I could best honour Mifflin by acting on his own
principle. I pulled up by the side of the road.
I noticed the people turn to one another in a kind of
surprise, and whisper something. There was an elderly man
with a lean, hard-worked face; a stout woman, evidently his
wife; and two young girls and a man in golfing clothes.
Somehow the face of the older man seemed familiar. I wondered
whether he were some literary friend of Andrew's whose photo
I had seen.
Bock stood by the wheel with his long, curly tongue running in
and out over his teeth. I hesitated a moment, thinking just
how to phrase my attack, when the elderly gentleman called out:
"Where's the Professor?"
I was beginning to realize that Mifflin was indeed a public character.
"Heavens!" I said. "Do you know him, too?"
"Well, I should think so," he said. "Didn't he come to see me
last spring about an appropriation for school libraries, and
wouldn't leave till I'd promised to do what he wanted! He stayed
the night with us and we talked literature till four o'clock
in the morning. Where is he now? Have you taken over Parnassus?"
"Just at present," I said, "Mr. Mifflin is in the jail at Port Vigor."
The ladies gave little cries of astonishment, and the
gentleman himself (I had sized him up as a school commissioner
or something of that sort) seemed not less surprised.
"In jail!" he said. "What on earth for? Has he sandbagged
somebody for reading Nick Carter and Bertha M. Clay? That's
about the only crime he'd be likely to commit."
"He's supposed to have cozened me out of four hundred
dollars," I said, "and my brother has had him locked up. But
as a matter of fact he wouldn't swindle a hen out of a
new-laid egg. I bought Parnassus of my own free will. I'm on
my way to Port Vigor now to get him out. Then I'm going to
ask him to marry me--if he will. It's not leap year, either"}
He looked at me, his thin, lined face working with
friendliness. He was a fine-looking man--short, gray hair
brushed away from a broad, brown forehead. I noticed his
rich, dark suit and the spotless collar. This was a man of
"Well, Madam," he said, "any friend of the Professor is a
friend of ours." (His wife and the girls chimed in with
assent.) "If you would like a lift in our car to speed you on
your errand, I'm sure Bob here would be glad to drive
Parnassus into Port Vigor. Our tire will soon be mended."
The young man assented heartily, but as I said before, I was
bent on taking Parnassus back myself. I thought the sight of
his own tabernacle would be the best balm for Mifflin's
annoying experience. So I refused the offer, and explained
the situation a little more fully.
"Well," he said, "then let me help in any way I can." He took
a card from his pocketbook and scribbled something on it.
"When you get to Port Vigor," he said, "show this at the jail
and I don't think you'll have any trouble. I happen to know
the people there."
So after a hand-shake all round I went on again, much cheered
by this friendly little incident. It wasn't till I was some
way along the road that I thought of looking at the card he
had given me. Then I realized why the man's face had been
familiar. The card read quite simply.
RALEIGH STONE STAFFORD
The Executive Mansion,
It was the Governor of the State!
I couldn't help chuckling, as Parnassus came over the brow of
the hill, and I saw the river in the distance once more. How
different all this was from my girlhood visions of romance.
That has been characteristic of my life all along--it has been
full of homely, workaday happenings, and often rather comic in
spite of my best resolves to be highbrow and serious. All the
same I was something near to tears as I thought of the tragic
wreck at Willdon and the grief-laden hearts that must be
mourning. I wondered whether the Governor was now returning
from Willdon after ordering an inquiry.
On his card he had written: "Please release R. Mifflin at
once and show this lady all courtesies." So I didn't
anticipate any particular trouble. This made me all the more
anxious to push on, and after crossing the ferry we halted in
Woodbridge only long enough for supper. I drove past the bank
where I had waited in the anteroom, and would have been glad
of a chance to horsewhip that sneaking little cashier. I
wondered how they had transported the Professor to Port Vigor,
and thought ironically that it was only that Saturday morning
when he had suggested taking the hoboes to the same jail.
Still I do not doubt that his philosophic spirit had made the
best of it all.
Woodbridge was as dead as any country town is on Sunday night.
At the little hotel where I had supper there was no topic of
conversation except the wreck. But the proprietor, when I
paid my bill, happened to notice Parnassus in the yard.
"That's the bus that pedlar sold you, ain't it?" he asked
with a leer.
"Yes," I said, shortly.
"Goin' back to prosecute him, I guess?" he suggested. "Say,
that feller's a devil, believe me. When the sheriff tried to
put the cuffs on him he gave him a black eye and pretty near
broke his jaw. Some scrapper fer a midget!"
My own brave little fighter, I thought, and flushed with pride.
The road back to Port Vigor seemed endless. I was a little
nervous, remembering the tramps in Pratt's quarry, but with
Bock sitting beside me on the seat I thought it craven to be
alarmed. We rumbled gently through the darkness, between
aisles of inky pines where the strip of starlight ran like a
ribbon overhead, then on the rolling dunes that overlook the
water. There was a moon, too, but I was mortally tired and
lonely and longed only to see my little Redbeard. Peg was
weary, too, and plodded slowly. It must have been midnight
before we saw the red and green lights of the railway signals
and I knew that Port Vigor was at hand.
I decided to camp where I was. I guided Peg into a field
beside the road, hitched her to a fence, and took the dog into
the van with me. I was too tired to undress. I fell into the
bunk and drew the blankets over me. As I did so, something
dropped down behind the bunk with a sharp rap. It was a
forgotten corncob pipe of the Professor's, blackened and
sooty. I put it under my pillow, and fell asleep.
Monday, October seventh. If this were a novel about some
charming, slender, pansy-eyed girl, how differently I would
have to describe the feelings with which I woke the next
morning. But these being only a few pages from the life of a
fat, New England housewife, I must be candid. I woke feeling
dull and sour. The day was gray and cool: faint shreds of
mist sifting up from the Sound and a desolate mewing of
seagulls in the air. I was unhappy, upset, and--yes--shy.
Passionately I yearned to run to the Professor, to gather him
into my arms, to be alone with him in Parnassus, creaking up
some sunny by-road. But his words came back to me: I was
nothing to him. What if he didn't love me afterall?
I walked across two fields, down to the beach where little
waves were slapping against the shingle. I washed my face and
hands in salt water. Then I went back to Parnassus and brewed
some coffee with condensed milk. I gave Peg and Bock their
breakfasts. Then I hitched Peg to the van again, and felt
better. As I drove into the town I had to wait at the grade
crossing while a wrecking train rumbled past, on its way back
from Willdon. That meant that the line was clear again. I
watched the grimy men on the cars, and shuddered to think what
they had been doing.
The Vigor county jail lies about a mile out of the town, an
ugly, gray stone barracks with a high, spiked wall about it.
I was thankful that it was still fairly early in the morning,
and I drove through the streets without seeing any one I knew.
Finally I reached the gate in the prison wall. Here some kind
of a keeper barred my way. "Can't get in, lady," he said.
"Yesterday was visitors' day. No more visitors till next month."
"I must get in," I said. "You've got a man in there on a
"So they all say," he retorted, calmly, and spat halfway
across the road. "You wouldn't believe any of our boarders
had a right to be here if you could hear their friends talk."
I showed him Governor Stafford's card. He was rather
impressed by this, and retired into a sentry-box in the
wall--to telephone, I suppose.
Presently he came back.
"The sheriff says he'll see you, ma'am. But you'll have to
leave this here dynamite caboose behind." He unlocked a little
door in the immense iron gate, and turned me over to another
man inside. "Take this here lady to the sheriff," he said.
Some of Vigor county's prisoners must have learned to be
pretty good gardeners, for certainly the grounds were in good
condition. The grass was green and trimly mowed; there were
conventional beds of flowers in very ugly shapes; in the
distance I saw a gang of men in striped overalls mending a
roadway. The guide led me to an attractive cottage to one
side of the main building. There were two children playing
outside, and I remember thinking that within the walls of a
jail was surely a queer place to bring up youngsters.
But I had other things to think about. I looked up at that
grim, gray building. Behind one of those little barred
windows was the Professor. I should have been angry at
Andrew, but somehow it all seemed a kind of dream. Then I was
taken into the hallway of the sheriff's cottage and in a
minute I was talking to a big, bull-necked man with a
"You have a prisoner here called Roger Mifflin?" I said.
"My dear Madam, I don't keep a list of all our inmates in my
head. If you will come to the office we will look up the records."
I showed him the Governor's card. He took it and kept looking
at it as though he expected to see the message written there
change or fade away. We walked across a strip of lawn to the
prison building. There, in a big bare office, he ran over a
"Here we are," he said. "Roger Mifflin; age, 41; face, oval;
complexion, florid; hair, red but not much of it; height, 64
inches; weight, stripped, 120; birthmark...."
"Never mind," I said. "That's the man. What's he here for?"
"He's held in default of bail, pending trial. The charge is
attempt to defraud one Helen McGill, spinster, age..."
"Rubbish!" I said. "I'm Helen McGill, and the man made no
attempt to defraud me."
"The charge was entered and warrant applied for by your
brother, Andrew McGill, acting on your behalf."
"I never authorized Andrew to act on my behalf."
"Then do you withdraw the charge?"
"By all means," I said. "I've a great mind to enter a
counter-charge against Andrew and have him arrested."
"This is all very irregular," said the sheriff, "but if the
prisoner is known to the Governor, I suppose there is no
alternative. I cannot annul the warrant without some
recognizance. According to the laws of this State the next of
kin must stand surety for the prisoner's good behaviour after
release. There is no next of kin...."
"Surely there is!" I said. "I am the prisoner's next of kin."
"What do you mean?" he said. "In what relationship do you
stand to this Roger Mifflin?"
"I intend to marry him just as soon as I can get him away from here."
He burst into a roar of laughter. "I guess there's no
stopping you," he said. He pinned the Governor's card to a
blue paper on the desk, and began filling in some blanks.
"Well, Miss McGill," he went on, "don't take away more than
one of my prisoners or I'll lose my job. The turnkey will
take you up to the cell. I'm exceedingly sorry: you can see
that the mistake was none of our fault. Tell the Governor
that, will you, when you see him?"
I followed the attendant up two flights of bare, stone stairs,
and down a long, whitewashed corridor. It was a gruesome
place; rows and rows of heavy doors with little, barred
windows. I noticed that each door had a combination knob,
like a safe. My knees felt awfully shaky.
But it wasn't really so heart-throbby as I had expected. The
jailer stopped at the end of a long passageway. He spun the
clicking dial, while I waited in a kind of horror. I think I
expected to see the Professor with shaved head (they couldn't
shave much off his head, poor lamb!) and striped canvas suit,
and a ball and chain on his ankle.
The door swung open heavily. There was a narrow, clean little
room with a low camp bed, and under the barred window a table
strewn with sheets of paper. It was the Professor in his own
clothes, writing busily, with his back toward me. Perhaps he
thought it was only an attendant with food, or perhaps he
didn't even hear the interruption. I could hear his pen
running busily. I might have known you never would get any
heroics out of that man! Trust him to make the best of it!
"Lemon sole and a glass of sherry, please, James," said the
Professor over his shoulder, and the warder, who evidently had
joked with him before, broke into a cackle of laughter.
"A lady to see yer Lordship," he said.
The Professor turned round. His face went quite white. For
the first time in my experience of him he seemed to be at a
loss for speech.
"Miss--Miss McGill," he stammered. "You are the good
Samaritan. I'm doing the John Bunyan act, see? Writing in
prison. I've really started my book at last. And I find the
fellows here know nothing whatever about literature. There
isn't even a library in the place."
For the life of me, I couldn't utter the tenderness in my
heart with that gorilla of a jailer standing behind us.
Somehow we made our way downstairs, after the Professor had
gathered together the sheets of his manuscript. It had
already reached formidable proportions, as he had written
fifty pages in the thirty-six hours he had been in prison. In
the office we had to sign some papers. The sheriff was very
apologetic to Mifflin, and offered to take him back to town in
his car, but I explained that Parnassus was waiting at the
gate. The Professor's eyes brightened when he heard that, but
I had to hurry him away from an argument about putting good
books in prisons. The sheriff walked with us to the gate and
there shook hands again.
Peg whickered as we came up to her, and the Professor patted
her soft nose. Bock tugged at his chain in a frenzy of joy.
At last we were alone.
I never knew just how it happened. Instead of driving back
through Port Vigor, we turned into a side road leading up over
the hill and across the heath where the air came fresh and
sweet from the sea. The Professor sat very silent, looking
about him. There was a grove of birches on the hill, and the
sunlight played upon their satin boles.
"It feels good to be out again," he said calmly. "The Sage
cannot be so keen a lover of open air as his books would
indicate, or he wouldn't be so ready to clap a man into quod.
Perhaps I owe him another punch on the nose for that."
"Oh, Roger," I said--and I'm afraid my voice was trembly--"I'm
sorry. I'm sorry."
"Not very eloquent, was it? And then, somehow or other, his
arm was around me.
"Helen," he said. "Will you marry me? I'm not rich, but I've
saved up enough to live on. We'll always have Parnassus, and
this winter we'll go and live in Brooklyn and write the book.
And we'll travel around with Peg, and preach the love of books
and the love of human beings. Helen--you're just what I need,
God bless you. Will you come with me and make me the happiest
bookseller in the world?"
Peg must have been astonished at the length of time she had
for cropping the grass, undisturbed. I know that Roger and I
sat careless of time. And when he told me that ever since our
first afternoon together he had determined to have me, sooner
or later, I was the proudest woman in New England. I told
Roger about the ghastly wreck, and my agony of apprehension.
I think it was the wreck that made us both feel inclined to
We had a light luncheon together there on the dunes above the
Sound. By taking a short cut over the ridge we struck into
the Shelby road without going down into Port Vigor again. Peg
pulled us along toward Greenbriar, and we talked as we went.
Perhaps the best of it was that a cold drizzle of rain began
to fall as we moved along the hill road. The Professor--as I
still call him, by force of habit--curtined in the front of
the van with a rubber sheet. Bock hopped up and curled
himself aginst his master's leg. Roger got out his corncob
pipe, and I sat close to him. In the gathering gloom we
plodded along, as happy a trio--or quartet, if you include
fat, cheery old Peg--as any on this planet. Summer was over,
and we were no longer young, but there were great things
before us. I listened to the drip of the rain, and the steady
creak of Parnassus on her axles. I thought of my "anthology"
of loaves of bread and vowed to bake a million more if Roger
wanted me to. It was after supper time when we got to
Greenbriar. Roger had suggested that we take a shorter road
that would have brought us through to Redfield sooner, but I
begged him to go by way of Shelby and Greenbriar, just as we
had come before. I did not tell him why I wanted this. And
when finally we came to a halt in front of Kirby's store at the
crossroads it was raining heavily and we were ready for a rest.
"Well, sweetheart," said Roger, "shall we go and see what sort
of rooms the hotel has?"
"I can think of something better than that," said I. "Let's
go up to Mr. Kane and have him marry us. Then we can get back
to Sabine Farm afterward, and give Andrew a surprise."
"By the bones of Hymen!" said Roger. "You're right!"
It must have been ten o'clock when we turned in at the red
gate of Sabine Farm. The rain had stopped, but the wheels
sloshed through mud and water at every turn. The light was
burning in the sitting-room, and through the window I could
see Andrew bent over his work table. We climbed out, stiff
and sore from the long ride. I saw Roger's face set in a
comical blend of sternness and humour.
"Well, here goes to surprise the Sage!" he whispered.
We picked our way between puddles and rapped on the door.
Andrew appeared, carrying the lamp in one hand. When he saw
us he grunted.
"Let me introduce my wife," said Roger.
"Well, I'll be damned," said Andrew.
But Andrew isn't quite so black as I've painted him. When
he's once convinced of the error of his ways, he is almost
pathetically eager to make up. I remember only one remark in
the subsequent conversation, because I was so appalled by the
state of everything at Sabine Farm that I immediately set
about putting the house to rights. The two men, however, as
soon as Parnassus was housed in the barn and the animals under
cover, sat down by the stove to talk things over.
"I tell you what," said Andrew--"do whatever you like with
your wife; she's too much for me. But I'd like to buy that
"Not on your life!" said the Professor.