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ADDISON WHEELS A ROAD-MEASURER
THE week after our return from making hay at the meadows, Addison received an unusual offer, and was led to undertake a very odd sort of job — nothing less than to wheel a machine, called a road-measurer, over the roads of the entire county. The machine was automatic in its action and somewhat resembled a wheelbarrow. The wheel was much larger, however, being about four feet in diameter and of lighter build; the two "arms" by means of which it was wheeled about, were also lighter than those of a wheelbarrow.
Connected with the axle there was a little box with a glass lid, and on the other side of the wheel another larger box with a cover and padlock. The whole contrivance would hardly have weighed more than thirty pounds, and to wheel it was mere child's play.
A lawyer and an editor invented it — Lawyer Huntley at the village, six miles from the Old Squire's farm, and Editor Rastwell of the Pine State Gazette. Times were a little dull that season for both of them; it was an off year, politically. So they took thought in a public-spirited way and hatched a scheme for getting up a county map and real-estate atlas, the idea being that all the well-to-do people thereabouts would buy a copy, at six dollars.
But to draft their map accurately, they needed more exact measurements than were then in hand, as to the principal highways of the county. They therefore set their wits to work and invented this "road-measurer," as they called it. It was a sort of cyclometer.
It would have saved much slow footing it about if they had attached their distance-recording gear to the axle of a light road wagon; but perhaps they did not think of that. Their road-measurer had to be wheeled like a wheelbarrow by a person on foot, who made notes of the distances and the relative location of the farmhouses and other property plotting the map roughly as he went on. To do this required very careful attention to the task, also a good eye and fidelity to the object in view. Neither the lawyer nor the editor had any great liking for such painstaking details, or for so much long, hard walking. What they wanted was a young man on whose accuracy they could rely and whom they could trust to do the right thing; and after casting about, they came up to the Old Squire's one evening and offered the job to Addison.
Mr. Huntley introduced the subject of the map, and finally offered Addison a one-fourth interest in the prospective profits if he would do the necessary work with the road-measurer.
We had finished our haying and Addison could be spared. Moreover, this was the kind of thing that always suited him pretty well. But he was a cautious boy. He thought over Huntley's proposition for an hour or more, figured up some four hundred miles of road to be measured, then got the Old Squire's advice, and offered to do what they wanted for the quarter-interest as proposed, and a dollar and a half a day additional.
The lawyer declared this to be impossible, and he and the editor went away, taking their invention with them, but returned two days later, and after some further discussion, they came to an agreement, Addison reducing his cash demand to a dollar and a quarter a day.
Addison had to bear all his own expenses while travelling; but he hoped to clear a dollar a day by taking a basket of cooked food with him from home, and stopping overnight at farmhouses, where in those days the charge for lodging was but trifling. The road-measurer, with all that appertained to it, was entrusted to him; and the next morning we all turned out betimes to see him start off with it.
It was August, and as hot days were to be looked for, Addison put on an old cork helmet, which contributed to the outlandish aspect of the entire rig. We all laughed, I remember, when he picked up the "arms" of the road-measurer and walked off — the big front wheel turning lazily and that droll little clicking noise muttering to itself inside the box on the axle.
And if the contrivance looked queer to us, who knew about it, it was ten times more an object of curiosity to strangers whom Addison met on the highway.
This, indeed, was a phase of his new job which Addison had not reckoned on — the curiosity of the public.
Everybody whom he met stared first at him, next at the road-measurer; and then it was, "Say, you, what d'ye call that machine?" or, "Hello, young fellow, where you going with that queer wheelbarrow?"
On account of his two boxes and the basket of food, some took him for a pedler, and pulled up to ask what he had to sell.
At first this merely amused Addison. He stopped and explained it all at length to them. By the time he had done so half a dozen times, however, it began to grow monotonous. He soon found, too, that so many delays would prevent his making satisfactory progress. Boys and men, working in the fields, came hastening to the roadside to look the measurer over and ask all about it. At nearly every house he passed, people appeared at the doors or windows.
He grew weary of answering the same questions over and over. "Can't stop! Can't stop!" he exclaimed. "I'm in a hurry!"
"Sho!" "Do tell!" "You don't say!" retorted the curious ones; and a muscular youth whom Addison advised to attend to his own affairs offered to give him a lesson in politeness.
"Can't you answer a civil question?" said he. "Tell me to mind my business again and I'll smash that jig-a-maroon for you!"
Addison took second thought, and to the next person — an old farmer with a skittish mare — who pulled up to inquire, he cried, "This is a jig-a-maroon! I'm grinding coffee with it! Don't stop me!"
The farmer's grin vanished in a scowl. "By gum!" said he, and grabbed for his whip. "I dastn't leave my mare unhitched, or I'd dust your jacket for ye!" Evidently public curiosity has rights, or thinks it has, and that the pursuit of knowledge by asking questions is one of them.
Three old maids, going blueberrying with a wagonful of tin pails, were the next team he met; and to them Addison imparted the information jocosely that he was walking with that wheel for the sake of his health.
"You don't look very sick!" one of them remarked, tartly. "I guess all you need is a dose of good manners."
Addison began to think so himself. He took thought again, and on meeting an elderly couple a little farther on, stopped when they stopped, and putting on a sad look, pointed with his finger to his ears, then to his mouth, and hastened on.
"Poor fellow!" he heard the woman say. "He's deaf and dumb. I suppose he is some kind of a colporteur."
That worked so well that he determined to go on pretending he was a deaf-mute. A few minutes later a double wagon, with a merry party of young people, came along, who promptly plied him with questions.
Again he pointed to his ears and shook his head, but had hardly got past when one young rogue let out so piercing a yell that Addison started in spite of himself and glanced back. Whereupon a shout of laughter rose behind; and jumping out, the boys of the party began pelting him with whatever came handiest. He was obliged to ply his legs and set the road-measurer in rapid motion to escape the clods.
By this time he was thoroughly out of patience. It seemed to him outrageous that a person could not go along a public highway, attending strictly to his own business, without being subjected to such vexatious attentions. He grew so angry over it that presently he did a very foolish thing.
He had stopped to make a record and mark the location of a farmhouse, when he noticed a horse and wagon coming on behind him, driven by a large, overgrown boy of very rustic appearance. On the back seat of the wagon were two girls, who looked as if they might be the youngster's sisters. They had been berrying, and had several baskets and pails well filled.
When opposite him they stopped, as Addison expected; but instead of asking the usual old question, all three sat for some moments watching him. At last the boy drawled out:
"What d'ye call that funny-lookin' wheel thing?"
Addison felt that the limit of his patience had been reached. He rose up suddenly, rolling his eyes, brandishing his arms, and advanced on them, shouting:
"Sic transit gloria mundi! Hic, haec, hoc! Mox anguis recreatus! Carthago delenda est!"
But the young berry-pickers did not wait to hear all that. The girls cried out in alarm, the young fellow applied his whip, and on they went, with their old white horse at a run.
"He's crazy! He's crazy!" Addison heard them exclaim to each other; and in the irritable state of mind into which he had fallen, he deemed this a good joke. By this time it was six o'clock. He sat down under a large pine by the roadside, ate supper from his basket, then went on for a mile or two, with an eye out for a farmhouse at which to pass the night. According to his record, he was twenty-four miles from home, in the township of Greenboro, where the farms were few and far between, and the farmers in rather poor circumstances.
Coming to a small, new, unpainted house, he wheeled into the yard and knocked at the door.
At last a chamber window was raised, and a woman's voice cried out, "Go away! You go away!"
Stepping back, Addison attempted to explain his need of lodging; but the woman still cried, "Go away!" and he at last did so, wondering what the matter could be, for at that time it did not occur to him that the youthful berry-pickers had given the alarm as they drove on, that a crazy man was coming! He went on for a mile, most of the way through woodlands, before coming to another habitation. By this time it was long past sunset and beginning to grow dusk.
He came to a large brook where there was a sawmill, and beyond the brook a house. He wheeled over the bridge to the house, and then, seeing a light at a shed in the rear, set down the road-measurer and went round to it. The shed was open in front, and on looking in, he saw a wagon with pails of blueberries in it, and at the end of the shed a girl with a lantern. Beside her stood a young fellow in the act of feeding a white horse.
Addison recognized both the horse and the young people — the very ones to whom he had rolled his eyes and declaimed the Latin. His first thought was that he had better go on and say nothing. But he wanted a night's lodging, and supposed that he could easily explain the joke to them after they had spoken. So he said, "Good evening!" The girl turned and held up the lantern, but had no sooner seen him than she screamed and darted out at the back of the shed; the boy, too, suddenly made himself scarce.
Even then Addison did not suppose it was anything which could not be explained as soon as he had spoken with the older people of the place. In fact, he now began to think it was best to explain. He therefore went back to the house door and knocked. People appeared to be running about indoors. Addison knocked again.
At last the door opened a little way and an old man peeped out.
"Good evening, sir!" Addison said. "Can you put me up here to-night?"
Through the crack of the door the old man warily peered at him in silence.
"None of you need be afraid of me," Addison continued. "I was only joking with your young folks down the road. I am going around with a machine to measure the roads."
That may have sounded sane enough to one who knew about the road-measurer, but it failed to satisfy this old citizen of Greenboro. He still gripped the door.
"Pooty tired, be ye?" he asked.
"Yes," Addison said, smiling.
"Think you could keep pooty still?"
"Oh, yes," Addison said. "I want to go to bed soon. I have had supper."
The old man slowly opened the door.
"You can come in," said he. "I will show you where you can sleep."
Addison followed him in, saying as he did so that he would like to take his road-measurer to his room with him.
"I am very careful of it," he added.
"I s'pose you be," the old man remarked, his face wrinkling in a grin. "I make no doubt you be. Now just you take a look into this room. See if it suits ye."
He opened a door back of the chamber stairs, then stood aside, holding up the candle.
Addison stepped into the room to see what it was like, but had no sooner done so than the door was clapped to behind him. He called out and tried to open the door. It was held fast, and he heard them piling furniture or boxes against it.
By the dim light he saw the outline of a small window at the rear of the room, and rushed to it, stumbling into a bedstead as he did so. But the sash of the window stuck fast; he could not get it up.
Very angry by this time, he now pulled the bedstead apart, and seizing one of the side rails, smashed out a panel of the door.
"Stop! Stop! Keep still in there!" the old man shouted, repeatedly. "Stop that, or we shall have to shoot ye!" And Addison heard some one, the large boy, probably, loading a gun.
With that, Addison, who was generally a prudent youth, concluded that it would be foolish to rush on from bad to worse; in fact, he began to realize that he had been acting foolishly all day, and that this was the natural result of it. In calm tones he now attempted to hail the people through the door; but they were piling a tier of large boxes against it, and paid no attention.
A few moments later he heard them nailing boards over the window — which rendered the room dark as Egypt.
What they might do next, or what he could do to undeceive them, was not very clear. He found a chair, sat down, and thought it all over. Unless he resorted to violence again there was little he could do, and he sat there for a long time.
While stumbling about the room he had stepped on a straw bed in one corner, and he now concluded that he might as well make himself comfortable and let matters take their course. This he did, with the result that he presently fell asleep; for he had been up early that morning, and had had a long, hard day.
Meanwhile these good people, — their name was Simons, — having, as they thought, a crazy man shut up in their house, determined to call on the town authorities.
One of the selectmen of the town, Asaph Kimball by name, lived at a distance of two or three miles; and the boy set off to notify him and get assistance, to take Addison off to an asylum.
The selectman turned out, roused up two neighbors, and reached the place at about half past three o'clock, just as day was dawning.
The noise they made removing the barricade at the door waked Addison. Before he could get up, Kimball and another man rushed in and had him by the collar.
"Now be quiet! Be quiet!" they said to him, soothingly.
"Oh, I am quiet enough," said Addison, laughing. He then told Kimball who he was, what he was doing, and exactly how the mistake had come about; he also showed him the road-measurer and explained its workings.
Yet so firmly had the idea that he was a lunatic taken possession of all their minds that it was fully ten minutes before he could wholly undeceive them.
Kimball burst out laughing at last and let go his collar.
"I guess you are all right," said he. "But you had better not play off any more of your didoes on people."
"You may be sure I shall not!" Addison exclaimed. He paid for the door panel which he had smashed; and the episode ended by his taking breakfast with his late jailers.
Addison had had his lesson, and being a shrewd boy, he came to the conclusion that it would be better policy to make public curiosity help advertise the new map than to try to resist it. Before he left the Simons place that morning, he stuck up a placard beside the larger of the two boxes, on which he had printed the words:
THIS IS A ROAD MEASURER.
And to all who stopped to ask questions he now replied rapidly, but politely:
"I am measuring the roads for a new county map and real-estate atlas. It is going to be a fine thing. An agent will be around to take subscriptions in the course of a few weeks. Only six dollars. Good morning!"
He rehearsed that hundreds of times during the next two weeks, and there was reason to think that it proved a good advertisement. For the map was fairly successful. If I remember aright, Addison's one-fourth interest in it finally netted him seventy dollars.