Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
The Willipers' Thanksgiving
Bull Dog Square looked cold and cheerless on the morning of Thanksgiving day. A restless northwest wind picked up the dust and scattered it broadcast in blinding clouds. The great shoe string mill and the dye works were shut down. All the stores — those squalid little Jew clothing stores — were closed, and Mammy Yates, having sold out her dozen morning papers, put the blinds before the windows of her atomic emporium and drifted away with the wind to her daughter's house for a holiday. The rum shops, however, kept open, in hopes that some poor devils would be found so unfortunate as to have no happier place to go to and would come to them with their small offerings of silver and celebrate the day in inebriety. To the credit of Bull Dog Square there were few of these miserables, and the lazy, fat faced bartenders stood gazing out sadly through the half closed windows of their ill smelling haunts.
There was plenty of cold and hunger in the neighborhood of the Square on this day proclaimed by the President as a day of special thanksgiving to God for the bountiful harvest and the peace and prosperity of the land. People are always hungry there, for while they eat, they are seldom well fed, and the winds have years ago discovered how to spin through the houses.
But in the home of the Willipers there was warmth and good cheer, while a smashing big turkey was fast taking on a ripe brown in the pan where he roasted. This turkey, the nuts, raisins, pop-corn, candy and other good things which were in evidence on the sideboard, had been purchased with the ten dollars the stern looking lady at the Pier had given Williper Mere, to be spent on what Little Jack liked best in the world.
Williper Pere sat in shirt sleeves by the window, industriously trying to work a steel-ring puzzle which he had bought for Little Jack, and which in a fatal moment of idleness he had picked up with the intention of showing his son just how the man had shown him it was done.
Williper Mere had manifested much interest in watching him at first, even to the neglect of the turkey; so had Little Jack, but they gave it up with a sigh after a while. He continued alone, squeezing, twisting, turning the rings which looked so innocent, but which couldn't be prevailed upon to go together.
Mamie Kelley, the beautiful weaver, received, as we already know, a special invitation, and had come over early. She had endeavored to assist Williper Mere in getting dinner ready, but had been squelched in the following words: —
"Now, you go and sit down, Mamie. I won't have you raise your hand. It's tired you must be, workin' always as you do, and I just want you to enjoy yourself an' rest."
This suited Little Jack, and he inveigled her over by his window, where he sat with his trusty crutches at his side.
"You come here, Mamie," he said, "and I'll tell you about the finest king I've come across so far."
The girl seated herself quietly beside him and took one of his wasted hands in hers.
"Go ahead, Jacky," she said. "Tell me all about him."
Little Jack's eyes sparkled. It was not often that he had the pleasure of telling a story to any one but his parents, and they never seemed to understand the way Mamie did.
"This king," he began, "was first of all the bravest knight in the world. He was tall and very strong, and when he had his armor on he would sail in and whip a dozen or more common knights without much trouble. His name was Richard Cure the Lion."
"That's a funny name," Mamie said, showing genuine interest.
"Well, you bet they had funny names in those days," Little Jack returned. "They only had first names, and tacked on whatever was their specialty. This king's name was just Richard, but people added 'Cure the Lion,' which the book said meant strong-hearted, or with the heart of a lion. That's where the lion comes in. Anyhow, he was a great fighter, and just after he got to be king he went to the Holy Land on the crusades."
"What were they? — something to ride on?"
"No, I don't think they was. I don't know just what they was. Anyway, he rode a horse part of the way and went by boat the rest."
"Perhaps Crusades ' was the name of the boat."
"Now I never thought of that," Little Jack exclaimed. "It might be so. But come to think, it couldn't be a boat. I believe it was a journey, for other kings went on crusades all by land. Well, as I was telling you, he went to the Holy Land to drive the Turks away from Jerusalem."
"I wish he'd come and drive some of the Turks off Smith Hill," Williper Mere interrupted, irreverently.
Mamie Kelley burst into a ringing laugh and Williper Pere chuckled over his puzzle. Little Jack, however, proceeded seriously:
"You see, Mamie, the Turks had driven all the Jews from Jerusalem, or a good part of them, and occupied the Holy Sepulchre."
"What! — lived in the grave?" Mamie inquired, quizzingly.
"Now don't get funny," Little Jack retorted. "I just tell you as the story runs. The book says 'occupied the Holy Sepulchre,' and what it means you can guess as well as I can. So Richard Cure the Lion came along to drive them out. They had a king, the Turks had, named Salladin, and he was a dandy. None of the crusaders had been able to beat him till Richard Cure the Lion came along, and even Richard had a hard time to get the best of him. This Salladin found out after a bit that it was just tempting Providence to send his best fighters against Richard in the open field, for he would cut them up in short order; so he made a scheme to capture the English king. He had a very beautiful black horse that followed him about just like a dog, and would never be happy away from him. So Salladin sent this horse to Richard as a present."
"I don't think much of him for that," Mamie exclaimed.
"You just wait and see how it comes out," Little Jack retorted.
Mamie looked properly squelched, and the cripple continued: "Richard was tickled to death to get the horse, for he had never seen such a glorious creature before, and the next day he must try him in the battle. So he rode him out as proud as could be, but when the horse got the lay of the land he bolted for the camp of the Turks, just as Salladin knew he would, and Richard couldn't hold him back. He yanked on the bit, but it was no use, and he saw that he would be captured sure if he didn't do something quick. So he slid to the ground just as the horse reached the first regiment of Turks, and prepared to fight them all alone. They came at him right and left, but he laid about him with his battle axe, and every time he struck there was one less Turk. My! how he did wallop them! He was all covered with blood and sweat when his own knights came to his rescue, and he couldn't have held out much longer."
"Say! He was a daisy, that Richard, wasn't he?" Mamie said. "That's the kind of a man for me. I could just have loved that man."
"But he was a king, remember," said Little Jack.
"Well, supposing he was," the girl retorted. "If I had been living in those days I would have been a queen, perhaps. They didn't care so much then about being poor. If a man was strong and brave and a woman beautiful, that was all that was required."
Little Jack eyed his fair companion proudly.
"I wish vou was a queen, Mamie," he said. "By Jimminy! I do. Say! Them knights would have all been dead in love with you, and they'd have made you Queen of Youth and Beauty ' at the tournament."
"What was that, Jacky?"
"That was the biggest time of all. Every little while, when the knights had nobody to fight, they held a tournament. They had a grand-stand just like a baseball field, where all the ladies and the old men sat. Then, whoever gave the tournament, selected the finest looking girl in the country 'round and made her 'Queen of Youth and Beauty.' She was to award the prize to the best knight.
"Then the knights fought on horseback before this grand-stand, and the one that disabled all the others would kneel before the Queen of Youth and Beauty,' and she would place on his head the wreath of flowers, which was the prize."
"And did they fight just for that?"
"You bet they did, and sometimes half of them was killed."
"Those were the men for me!" Mamie exclaimed emphatically, and her eyes sparkled. "If I had been the 'Queen of Youth and Beauty,' and a fine, young knight, after risking his life, had come to me claiming the prize, I'd a kissed him slap before all the people, just to show how proud I was of him. There ain't no such men now. Mill help and dry goods clerks are all I know, and a silly lot they are. There isn't one of them man enough to fight unless he is in liquor, and instead of fighting for a woman, they stand on the street corners and make remarks. Oh, I hate them!"
"Ivanhoe is the fellow you'd a been stuck on," Little Jack said, with a solemn shake of his head. He was Richard Cure the Lion's bosom friend, and was always looking for a damsel in distress, that he might fight for her. Irish or Swede, it didn't matter to him, so long as she hadn't any friends."
"Was he as good a man as King Richard?" Mamie asked.
"Well, he wasn't so strong. The king was a mighty powerful man, but Ivanhoe could lick anything of his size between England and the Holy Land. I tell you, I do like to read about him, 'specially when he fought O'Brian Gilbert for the Jewess Rebecca."
"I shouldn't a thought he'd a fought for a Sheeny," Mamie said, with typical Smith Hill contempt for the children of the Ghetto.
"They didn't call 'em Sheenies then," Little Jack continued seriously, "though perhaps they ought to, for Rebecca's father was a regular out and outer. His name was Isaac, and he was always sneaking around and wringing his hands just like a Sheeny at a rag sale. But Rebecca was a lady, and she was as pretty as a picture, too."
"That accounts for it," Mamie put in with vigor. "Had she been homely your brave Ivanhoe wouldn't have crossed the square for her. They'll all make a bluff at fighting for a good-looking girl, be she Sheeny or Mulatto; but if her face is plain, just watch 'em jump the fence!"
"Well, you know better than I do," Little Jack shrewdly suggested, and then continued: "Ivanhoe never asked for rewards, anyhow, and when he whipped O'Brian Gilbert, he never made any motion for thanks."
"But what became of Rebecca? " Mamie asked.
"Now that's a puzzler," Little Jack replied. She just dropped out of sight, but between me and you, I think she'd a had Ivanhoe had he asked her."
"I've got it at last, by gravy!" came in a triumphant voice from the chair near the window, and turning, they saw Williper Pere holding aloft the puzzle, the rings securely interlocked.
"Well, you're a fool to spend your whole morning working over a silly thing like that," Williper Mere said with emphasis.
"But you see," her worthy husband replied with conviction, "I started it and I just couldn't give it up till I done it."
Dinner was now on the table, and the party fell to. I was just going to say, "Never was there such a turkey!" when I thought of Dickens. Isn't it too bad that he said all the good things and the rest of us must go 'round the lighthouse for an expression!
Anyhow, Little Jack was very happy, and Williper Pere ate a very great deal. Williper Mere smiled tirelessly and poured tea, while Mamie described the wonderful agility of the King of the Bounding Wire, whom she had seen at Keith's the preceding week.
"If I ever grow to be a man," Little Jack said with conviction, "I don't know which I'd rather be — a king or that fellow. What a man he must be!"
"You're a crazy-head," Williper Mere said fondly. "But he wouldn't be the man for me. A feller jumpin' up an' down on a wire! Pshaw! Give me the man as makes his two dollars a day regular an' brings it home to his wife. He's good enough for such poor old bodies as I be."
"But what if he only makes a dollar and seventy-five cents?" Williper Pere asked, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Well," his wife replied slowly, "there are dollar-and-seventy-five-cent men and dollar-and-seventy-five-cent men. But don't you bother no trouble, Henry. I ain't thinkin' of applyin' for divorce."
Mamie went home at 8:30, when the fire died down.