Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
"What's all this tackle?" asked the burly and somewhat red-faced customs officer at Fort Erie.
"This," said Yates, "is a tent, with the poles and pegs appertaining thereto. These are a number of packages of tobacco, on which I shall doubtless have to pay something into the exchequer of her Majesty. This is a jug used for the holding of liquids. I beg to call your attention to the fact that it is at present empty, which unfortunately prevents me making a libation to the rites of good-fellowship. What my friend has in that valise I don't know, but I suspect a gambling outfit, and would advise you to search him."
"My valise contains books principally, with some articles of wearing apparel," said the professor, opening his grip.
The customs officer looked with suspicion on the whole outfit, and evidently did not like the tone of the American. He seemed to be treating the customs department in a light and airy manner, and the officer was too much impressed by the dignity of his position not to resent flippancy. Besides, there were rumors of Fenian invasion in the air, and the officer resolved that no Fenian should get into the country without paying duty.
"Where are you going with this tent?"
"I'm sure I don't know. Perhaps you can tell us. I don't know the country about here. Say, Stilly, I'm off uptown to attend to the emptiness in this stone utensil. I've been empty too often myself not to sympathize with its condition. You wrestle this matter out about the tent. You know the ways of the country, whereas I don't."
It was perhaps as well that Yates left negotiations in the hands of his friend. He was quick enough to see that he made no headway with the officer, but rather the opposite. He slung the jar ostentatiously over his shoulder, to the evident discomfort of the professor, and marched up the hill to the nearest tavern, whistling one of the lately popular war tunes.
"Now," he said to the barkeeper, placing the jar tenderly on the bar, "fill that up to the nozzle with the best rye you have. Fill it with the old familiar juice, as the late poet Omar saith."
The bartender did as he was requested.
"Can you disguise a little of that fluid in any way, so that it may be taken internally without a man suspecting what he is swallowing?"
The barkeeper smiled. "How would a cocktail fill the vacancy?"
"I can suggest nothing better," replied Yates. "If you are sure you know how to make it."
The man did not resent this imputation of ignorance. He merely said, with the air of one who gives an incontrovertible answer:
"I am a Kentucky man myself."
"Shake!" cried Yates briefly, as he reached his hand across the bar. "How is it you happened to be here?"
"Well, I got in to a little trouble in Louisville, and here I am, where I can at least look at God's country."
"Hold on," protested Yates. "You're making only one cocktail."
"Didn't you say one?" asked the man, pausing in the compounding.
"Bless you, I never saw one cocktail made in my life. You are with me on this."
"Just as you say," replied the other, as he prepared enough for two.
"Now I'll tell you my fix," said Yates confidentially. "I've got a tent and some camp things down below at the customhouse shanty, and I want to get them taken into the woods, where I can camp out with a friend. I want a place where we can have absolute rest and quiet. Do you know the country round here? Perhaps you could recommend a spot."
"Well, for all the time I've been here, I know precious little about the back country. I've been down the road to Niagara Falls, but never back in the woods. I suppose you want some place by the lake or the river?"
"No, I don't. I want to get clear back into the forest--if there is a forest."
"Well, there's a man in to-day from somewhere near Ridgeway, I think. He's got a hay rack with him, and that would be just the thing to take your tent and poles. Wouldn't be very comfortable traveling for you, but it would be all right for the tent, if it's a big one."
"That will suit us exactly. We don't care a cent about the comfort. Roughing it is what we came for. Where will I find him?"
"Oh, he'll be along here soon. That's his team tied there on the side street. If he happens to be in good humor, he'll take your things, and as like as not give you a place to camp in his woods. Hiram Bartlett's his name. And, talking of the old Nick himself, here he is. I say, Mr. Bartlett, this gentleman was wondering if you couldn't tote out some of his belongings. He's going out your way."
Bartlett was a somewhat uncouth and wiry specimen of the Canadian farmer who evidently paid little attention to the subject of dress. He said nothing, but looked in a lowering way at Yates, with something of contempt and suspicion in his glance.
Yates had one receipt for making the acquaintance of all mankind. "Come in, Mr. Bartlett," he said cheerily, "and try one of my friend's excellent cocktails."
"I take mine straight," growled Bartlett gruffly, although he stepped inside the open door. "I don't want no Yankee mixtures in mine. Plain whisky's good enough for any man, if he is a man. I don't take no water, neither. I've got trouble enough."
The bartender winked at Yates as he shoved the decanter over to the newcomer.
"Right you are," assented Yates cordially.
The farmer did not thaw out in the least because of this prompt agreement with him, but sipped his whisky gloomily, as if it were a most disagreeable medicine.
"What did you want me to take out?" he said at last.
"A friend and a tent, a jug of whisky and a lot of jolly good tobacco."
"How much are you willing to pay?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'm always willing to do what's right. How would five dollars strike you?"
The farmer scowled and shook his head.
"Too much," he said, as Yates was about to offer more. "'Taint worth it. Two and a half would be about the right figure. Don'no but that's too much. I'll think on it going home, and charge you what it's worth. I'll be ready to leave in about an hour, if that suits you. That's my team on the other side of the road. If it's gone when you come back, I'm gone, an' you'll have to get somebody else."
With this Bartlett drew his coat sleeve across his mouth and departed.
"That's him exactly," said the barkeeper. "He's the most cantankerous crank in the township. And say, let me give you a pointer. If the subject of 1812 comes up,--the war, you know,--you'd better admit that we got thrashed out of our boots; that is, if you want to get along with Hiram. He hates Yankees like poison."
"And did we get thrashed in 1812?" asked Yates, who was more familiar with current topics than with the history of the past.
"Blessed if I know. Hiram says we did. I told him once that we got what we wanted from old England, and he nearly hauled me over the bar. So I give you the warning, if you want to get along with him."
"Thank you. I'll remember it. So long."
This friendly hint from the man in the tavern offers a key to the solution of the problem of Yates' success on the New York press. He could get news when no other man could. Flippant and shallow as he undoubtedly was, he somehow got into the inner confidences of all sorts of men in a way that made them give him an inkling of anything that was going on for the mere love of him; and thus Yates often received valuable assistance from his acquaintances which other reporters could not get for money.
The New Yorker found the professor sitting on a bench by the customhouse, chatting with the officer, and gazing at the rapidly flowing broad blue river in front of them.
"I have got a man," said Yates, "who will take us out into the wilderness in about an hour's time. Suppose we explore the town. I expect nobody will run away with the tent till we come back."
"I'll look after that," said the officer; and, thanking him, the two friends strolled up the street. They were a trifle late in getting back, and when they reached the tavern, they found Bartlett just on the point of driving home. He gruffly consented to take them, if they did not keep him more than five minutes loading up. The tent and its belongings were speedily placed on the hay rack, and then Bartlett drove up to the tavern and waited, saying nothing, although he had been in such a hurry a few moments before. Yates did not like to ask the cause of the delay; so the three sat there silently. After a while Yates said as mildly as he could:
"Are you waiting for anyone, Mr. Bartlett?"
"Yes," answered the driver in a surly tone. "I'm waiting for you to go in fur that jug. I don't suppose you filled it to leave it on the counter."
"By Jove!" cried Yates, springing off, "I had forgotten all about it, which shows the extraordinary effect this country has on me already." The professor frowned, but Yates came out merrily, with the jar in his hand, and Bartlett started his team. They drove out of the village and up a slight hill, going for a mile or two along a straight and somewhat sandy road. Then they turned into the Ridge Road, as Bartlett called it, in answer to a question by the professor, and there was no need to ask why it was so termed. It was a good highway, but rather stony, the road being, in places, on the bare rock. It paid not the slightest attention to Euclid's definition of a straight line, and in this respect was rather a welcome change from the average American road. Sometimes they passed along avenues of overbranching trees, which were evidently relics of the forest that once covered all the district. The road followed the ridge, and on each side were frequently to be seen wide vistas of lower lying country. All along the road were comfortable farmhouses; and it was evident that a prosperous community flourished along the ridge.
Bartlett spoke only once, and then to the professor, who sat next to him.
"You a Canadian?"
"Where's he from?"
"My friend is from New York," answered the innocent professor.
"Humph!" grunted Bartlett, scowling deeper than ever, after which he became silent again. The team was not going very fast, although neither the load nor the road was heavy. Bartlett was muttering a good deal to himself, and now and then brought down his whip savagely on one or the other of the horses; but the moment the unfortunate animals quickened their pace he hauled them in roughly. Nevertheless, they were going quickly enough to be overtaking a young woman who was walking on alone. Although she must have heard them coming over the rocky road she did not turn her head, but walked along with the free and springy step of one who is not only accustomed to walking, but who likes it. Bartlett paid no attention to the girl; the professor was endeavoring to read his thin book as well as a man might who is being jolted frequently; but Yates, as soon as he recognized that the pedestrian was young, pulled up his collar, adjusted his necktie with care, and placed his hat in a somewhat more jaunty and fetching position.
"Are you going to offer that girl a ride?" he said to Bartlett.
"No, I'm not."
"I think that is rather uncivil," he added, forgetting the warning he had had.
"You do, eh? Well, you offer her a ride. You hired the team."
"By Jove! I will," said Yates, placing his hand on the outside of the rack, and springing lightly to the ground.
"Likely thing," growled Bartlett to the professor, "that she's going to ride with the like of him."
The professor looked for a moment at Yates, politely taking off his hat to the apparently astonished young woman, but he said nothing.
"Fur two cents," continued Bartlett, gathering up the reins, "I'd whip up the horses, and let him walk the rest of the way."
"From what I know of my friend," answered the professor slowly, "I think he would not object in the slightest."
Bartlett muttered something to himself, and seemed to change his mind about galloping his horses.
Meanwhile, Yates, as has been said, took off his hat with great politeness to the fair pedestrian, and as he did so he noticed, with a thrill of admiration, that she was very handsome. Yates always had an eye for the beautiful.
"Our conveyance," he began, "is not as comfortable as it might be, yet I shall be very happy if you will accept its hospitalities."
The young woman flashed a brief glance at him from her dark eyes, and for a moment Yates feared that his language had been rather too choice for her rural understanding, but before he could amend his phrase she answered briefly:
"Thank you. I prefer to walk."
"Well, I don't know that I blame you. May I ask if you have come all the way from the village?"
"That is a long distance, and you must be very tired." There was no reply; so Yates continued. "At least, I thought it a long distance; but perhaps that was because I was riding on Bartlett's hay rack. There is no 'downy bed of ease' about his vehicle."
As he spoke of the wagon he looked at it, and, striding forward to its side, said in a husky whisper to the professor:
"Say, Stilly, cover up that jug with a flap of the tent."
"Cover it up yourself," briefly replied the other; "it isn't mine."
Yates reached across and, in a sort of accidental way, threw the flap of the tent over the too conspicuous jar. As an excuse for his action he took up his walking cane and turned toward his new acquaintance. He was flattered to see that she was loitering some distance behind the wagon, and he speedily rejoined her. The girl, looking straight ahead, now quickened her pace, and rapidly shortened the distance between herself and the vehicle. Yates, with the quickness characteristic of him, made up his mind that this was a case of country diffidence, which was best to be met by the bringing down of his conversation to the level of his hearer's intelligence.
"Have you been marketing?" he asked.
"Butter and eggs, and that sort of thing?"
"We are farmers," she answered, "and we sell butter and eggs"--a pause --"and that sort of thing."
Yates laughed in his light and cheery way. As he twirled his cane he looked at his pretty companion. She was gazing anxiously ahead toward a turn in the road. Her comely face was slightly flushed, doubtless with the exercise of walking.
"Now, in my country," continued the New Yorker, "we idolize our women. Pretty girls don't tramp miles to market with butter and eggs."
"Aren't the girls pretty--in your country?"
Yates made a mental note that there was not as much rurality about this girl as he had thought at first. There was a piquancy about the conversation which he liked. That she shared his enjoyment was doubtful, for a slight line of resentment was noticeable on her smooth brow.
"You bet they're pretty! I think all American girls are pretty. It seems their birthright. When I say American, I mean the whole continent, of course. I'm from the States myself--from New York." He gave an extra twirl to his cane as he said this, and bore himself with that air of conscious superiority which naturally pertains to a citizen of the metropolis. "But over in the States we think the men should do all the work, and that the women should--well, spend the money. I must do our ladies the justice to say that they attend strictly to their share of the arrangement."
"It should be a delightful country to live in--for the women."
"They all say so. We used to have an adage to the effect that America was paradise for women, purgatory for men, and--well, an entirely different sort of place for oxen."
There was no doubt that Yates had a way of getting along with people. As he looked at his companion he was gratified to note just the faintest suspicion of a smile hovering about her lips. Before she could answer, if she had intended to do so, there was a quick clatter of hoofs on the hard road ahead, and next instant an elegant buggy, whose slender jet-black polished spokes flashed and twinkled in the sunlight, came dashing past the wagon. On seeing the two walking together the driver hauled up his team with a suddenness that was evidently not relished by the spirited dappled span he drove.
"Hello, Margaret!" he cried; "am I late? Have you walked in all the way?"
"You are just in good time," answered the girl, without looking toward Yates, who stood aimlessly twirling his cane. The young woman put her foot on the buggy step, and sprang lightly in beside the driver. It needed no second glance to see that he was her brother, not only on account of the family resemblance between them, but also because he allowed her to get into the buggy without offering the slightest assistance, which, indeed, was not needed, and graciously permitted her to place the duster that covered his knees over her own lap as well. The restive team trotted rapidly down the road for a few rods, until they came to a wide place in the highway, and then whirled around, seemingly within an ace of upsetting the buggy; but the young man evidently knew his business, and held them in with a firm hand. The wagon was jogging along where the road was very narrow, and Bartlett kept his team stolidly in the center of the way.
"Hello, there, Bartlett!" shouted the young man in the buggy; "half the road, you know--half the road."
"Take it," cried Bartlett over his shoulder.
"Come, come, Bartlett, get out of the way, or I'll run you down."
"You just try it."
Bartlett either had no sense of humor or his resentment against his young neighbor smothered it, since otherwise he would have recognized that a heavy wagon was in no danger of being run into by a light and expensive buggy. The young man kept his temper admirably, but he knew just where to touch the elder on the raw. His sister's hand was placed appealingly on his arm. He smiled, and took no notice of her.
"Come, now, you move out, or I'll have the law on you."
"The law!" roared Bartlett; "you just try it on."
"Should think you'd had enough of it by this time."
"Oh, don't, don't, Henry!" protested the girl in distress.
"There aint no law," yelled Bartlett, "that kin make a man with a load move out fur anything."
"You haven't any load, unless it's in that jug."
Yates saw with consternation that the jar had been jolted out from under its covering, but the happy consolation came to him that the two in the buggy would believe it belonged to Bartlett. He thought, however, that this dog-in-the-manger policy had gone far enough. He stepped briskly forward, and said to Bartlett:
"Better drive aside a little, and let them pass."
"You 'tend to your own business," cried the thoroughly enraged farmer.
"I will," said Yates shortly, striding to the horses' heads. He took them by the bits and, in spite of Bartlett's maledictions and pulling at the lines, he drew them to one side, so that the buggy got by.
"Thank you!" cried the young man. The light and glittering carriage rapidly disappeared up the Ridge Road.
Bartlett sat there for one moment the picture of baffled rage. Then he threw the reins down on the backs of his patient horses, and descended.
"You take my horses by the head, do you, you good-fur-nuthin' Yank? You do, eh? I like your cheek. Touch my horses an' me a-holdin' the lines! Now you hear me? Your traps comes right off here on the road. You hear me?"
"Oh, anybody within a mile can hear you."
"Kin they? Well, off comes your pesky tent."
"No, it doesn't."
"Don't it, eh? Well, then, you'll lick me fust; and that's something no Yank ever did nor kin do."
"I'll do it with pleasure."
"Come, come," cried the professor, getting down on the road, "this has gone far enough. Keep quiet, Yates. Now, Mr. Bartlett, don't mind it; he means no disrespect."
"Don't you interfere. You're all right, an' I aint got nothin' ag'in you. But I'm goin' to thrash this Yank within an inch of his life; see if I don't. We met 'em in 1812, an' we fit 'em an' we licked 'em, an' we can do it ag'in. I'll learn ye to take my horses by the head."
"Teach," suggested Yates tantalizingly.
Before he could properly defend himself, Bartlett sprang at him and grasped him round the waist. Yates was something of a wrestler himself, but his skill was of no avail on this occasion. Bartlett's right leg became twisted around his with a steel-like grip that speedily convinced the younger man he would have to give way or a bone would break. He gave way accordingly, and the next thing he knew he came down on his back with a thud that seemed to shake the universe.
"There, darn ye!" cried the triumphant farmer; "that's 1812 and Queenstown Heights for ye. How do you like 'em?"
Yates rose to his feet with some deliberation, and slowly took off his coat.
"Now, now, Yates," said the professor soothingly, "let it go at this. You're not hurt, are you?" he asked anxiously, as he noticed how white the young man was around the lips.
"Look here, Renmark; you're a sensible man. There is a time to interfere and a time not to. This is the time not to. A certain international element seems to have crept into this dispute. Now, you stand aside, like a good fellow, for I don't want to have to thrash both of you."
The professor stood aside, for he realized that, when Yates called him by his last name, matters were serious.
"Now, old chucklehead, perhaps you would like to try that again."
"I kin do it a dozen times, if ye aint satisfied. There aint no Yank ever raised on pumpkin pie that can stand ag'in that grapevine twist."
"Try the grapevine once more."
Bartlett proceeded more cautiously this time, for there was a look in the young man's face he did not quite like. He took a catch-as-catch- can attitude, and moved stealthily in a semi-circle around Yates, who shifted his position constantly so as to keep facing his foe. At last Bartlett sprang forward, and the next instant found himself sitting on a piece of the rock of the country, with a thousand humming birds buzzing in his head, while stars and the landscape around joined in a dance together. The blow was sudden, well placed, and from the shoulder.
"That," said Yates, standing over him, "is 1776--the Revolution--when, to use your own phrase, we met ye, fit ye, and licked ye. How do you like it? Now, if my advice is of any use to you, take a broader view of history than you have done. Don't confine yourself too much to one period. Study up the War of the Revolution a bit."
Bartlett made no reply. After sitting there for a while, until the surrounding landscape assumed its normal condition, he arose leisurely, without saying a word. He picked the reins from the backs of the horses and patted the nearest animal gently. Then he mounted to his place and drove off. The professor had taken his seat beside the driver, but Yates, putting on his coat and picking up his cane, strode along in front, switching off the heads of Canada thistles with his walking stick as he proceeded.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.