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Title: Parnassus on Wheels
Author: Christopher Morley
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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PARNASSUS ON WHEELS ***
Digitized by Cardinalis Press, C.E.K.
Prepared for Project Gutenberg by Andrew Sly
PARNASSUS ON WHEELS
To 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
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
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
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 neighbourhood.
We would be glad to pay you a royalty of 10 percent 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
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
"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?
MIFFLIN'S TRAVELLING PARNASSUS
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
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
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
"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. With love, HELEN.
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
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
"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,
"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 about
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 Mrs. Collins."
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
"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 had
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
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
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 twelve-year-old Billy.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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 Perowse
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
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
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 the crusts.
"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 my tombstone."
"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
"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 Central Park."
"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
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
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 morning sunlight.
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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 still damp.
"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
"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. Andrew McGill."
"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 embarrassment.
"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
"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
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 three children.
"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
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
"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
I smiled to myself as I thought of the set-to on the road from
"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
"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 this time!"
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
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
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 could wait.
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 Barbarossa again.
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
"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 overnight anyway."
"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
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
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 about it.
"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
"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
"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
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 another
"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
"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 seize it.
"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
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 didn't
I slipped the little notebook back into its hiding-place. 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," 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
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 rather
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
3. Don't forget your warmer underwear. The nights are getting
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
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
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 express.....
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 I
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
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 the receiver.
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
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 kidnapper?
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 to-morrow morning."
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
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 breeding, evidently.
"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
"Well," he said, "then let me help in any way I can." He took a
card from his pocket-book 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
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
"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
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 after all?
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,
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 political moustache.
"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 card index.
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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 forgive Andrew.
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
"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
"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 Parnassus."
"Not on your life!" said the Professor.
End of Project Gutenberg's Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley
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