Chapter 2

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:


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 about it.)

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!

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