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THE TALES OF GRAMP
DANIEL and Gramp, my two nearest neighbors, were as chummy as two old friends could be. Gramp was a good many years older than Daniel, and always claimed that Daniel should have more respect for his age than he had shown. Daniel would retort that father's age was the only thing about him that he did respect. Each one accused the other of cheating him in horse, cow, harness, or wagon trades.
As Daniel knew more about cows and horses than father, he generally had an advantage over the old gentleman in a trade in these staple products; but when it came to harnesses and carriages, especially when real antiquity entered into the matter, Gramp had the grape-vine twist on Daniel. In his early days, before he forsook the brad-awl and the waxed thread for the lucrative sinecure of a custom-house clerkship, Gramp was a harness-maker and a carriage-trimmer. Consequently he knew the ins and outs of the business, and Daniel had to manoeuvre very cautiously when he and Gramp were engaged in a transaction involving these articles.
On the other hand, Daniel was a farmer, a gentleman farmer who sold the products of his farm, displaying much ingenuity in obtaining, as Gramp said, the highest market prices for the lowest grade of goods. On one occasion Daniel sold Gramp some baled hay, about three fourths of which, when shaken out with the fork, refused to come down, and floated round in the air in the form of hayseed, chaff, and dust, leaving of each bale about three pecks of tangible fodder.
To avenge this high-handed outrage Gramp traded "as nice a pair of pigs as you ever saw, Daniel," with that rotund gentleman, for a kicking gray mare with a milk-leg and the scratches; and when Daniel came for the pigs he found to his horror they were guinea-pigs, and worth twenty-five cents a pair, rather more, in fact, than what the mare was worth, for she kicked out the entire side of the barn, and cost Gramp about twenty dollars in repairs.
But Daniel and Gramp were great story-tellers, each being gifted with a vivid imagination and a most whimsical manner of expressing himself. Daniel, although a farmer, was a confirmed skeptic in such matters, and was in tastes and feeling a sport. He read the "Sporting Life" religiously, knew every professional. baseball player by name, and every college and interscholastic football player by heart.
Gramp, on the other hand, while not knowing the difference, except in taste, between burdock and pie-plant, or between smart-weed and spinach, was an enthusiast in farming. He scoffed loudly at modern sports, and told most astonishing tales about his proficiency in all sports when a young man.
They used to sit under a large elm tree in front of my house, and smoke and tell stories, and they usually had a crowd of eager listeners: Perhaps the following narrative may best express their style of oratory and the strength of their imagination.
It was one day in the fall when Dick with half a dozen student friends had come in great glee from witnessing a game at the Academy Campus, and as usual Gramp had a story ready.
"Gee! Gramp," said Dick, "you ought to see one of these games. Our backs just ripped holes through their line that you could have driven an ox-team through. We beat 'em seventeen to nothing. One collar-bone broken and two ankles wrenched. That's playing, I tell you, Gramp."
"Hm!" said Gramp, removing his pipe and crossing his legs, "I guess you never saw a real game of football, Dick. Say, Daniel, did you ever hear of the big game in '42 when I played right guard against Andover?"
"I never heard the details of it fully," said Daniel, "but I heard it was a great game, and that there were a good many serious accidents and pretty rough playing. Several men were killed, were they not, George?" queried Daniel.
"Not in that game," replied Gramp; "that was in '39 when Williams, Andover's left tackle, was killed, and Lovejoy, Exeter's right guard, made a touchdown before Williams's body had been carried off the field. This caused a protest by Andover, and as the referee overruled it, Andover broke into the field to rough-house the referee, and of course Exeter had to stand up for him.
"There was a bad time before the fight was stopped, and a good many were killed and wounded on both sides. I was there after the thing was over and saw the dead laid out in rows. That was bad enough, but not nearly as bad as hearing the wounded cry for water and beg the by-standers to put them out of their misery."
Gramp paused, sighed, and smoked reminiscently for a few moments, while the boys stared with astonishment and half smiles of incredulity, which changed to very serious looks as they saw Gramp's look of profound seriousness and Daniel's sober phiz.
"Go on, Gramp," said Dick at last, as Gramp sat staring into vacancy, his mind evidently intent on visions of the past; "tell us about the game of '42, when you played."
"Oh yes, Dick, where was I?" said Gramp. "I know now, it was about the game of '39. Well, naturally this created a good deal of feeling between the schools, and the games were stopped for a year or so. Then the doctors of the town, aided by the druggists, the dealers in artificial limbs, glass eyes, and false teeth, the dentists, and the undertakers, all signed a petition to the faculty of both schools to allow the game to be played as usual, stipulating that they would use their influence with the students to have a more open game played.
"The undertakers rather objected to this, as they got their profit out of the fatalities, but finally it was brought about that the game of '42 was played on the campus in front of the Exeter school.
"Well, as I was saying, Dickie," continued Gramp, "that game with Andover beat everything so far. People came from all over the country. They crowded the windows and housetops. Andover had her strongest eleven on the field. There were some very peculiar looking men in the Andover line, who attracted much attention by their enormous muscular development. We did not know until some time after the game that Andover had hired Yankee Sullivan, John C. Heenan, and Awful Gardner, famous prizefighters, and had given them easy courses in theology to keep them in school. They had tried to work in Molyneux, the nigger who went to England to fight Jackson, and they put pipe-clay on him; but it cracked and fell off the first five minutes of play, and the Southerners of both sides drew the color-line.
"We had some outside assistance, too, for we didn't intend to be behind in good works. So we had introduced to the membership of the Junior Class the three strongest men in town, all blacksmiths, — Jim Ellison, Charles Lane, and Adoniram J. Towle. True enough, they hadn't been in the Academy long enough to get much of a mastery of Latin or Greek, and intended to return to their anvils as soon as the game was over.
"I was playing right guard against Yankee Sullivan, and in the first line-up I got one in the jaw that nearly floored me. I knew then what was up, and the next time the ball was put in play I dodged his left and put in a counter of my own, and there was a hole in the Andover line through which our right half-back made a run of forty-five yards to a touchdown right between the posts. After the goal was kicked and we went back to pick up Yankee Sullivan, we found that the subs had picked him up and put him in the ambulance."
"Was he killed, Gramp?" asked Dick.
"No, not quite. I understand he partly recovered, but never was any good in the ring again, and was lynched in California some years after.
"In the next ten minutes' play, Andover made a touchdown through Jim Ellison, our centre, who couldn't stand up to Heenan. Jim was strong and gritty, but couldn't box. So after a conference between the coach and captain, I was put in as centre. I saw Heenan's face fall when he found me opposite him, and I knew I had him licked. He was a tough customer, and in the next rush bored in on my slats as I swung on his jaw; we then clinched, and I back-heeled him, and our left half-back made twenty yards through the hole before he was downed.
"The next rush Heenan rather bested me, I must confess, as he butted me in the stomach, and Awful Gardner, having thrown Charles Lane, secured the ball and came through centre for a run of one hundred and eighty-seven yards."
"Gee! Gramp," interrupted Dick, "how far was it between goals?"
"Two hundred yards," replied Gramp. "You see, we had got within ten feet of their goal-line, and when Awful was downed he was on our three
yard line. The question then was whether we would hold them for downs. Well, on the next line-up Heenan tried a tremendous upper cut, which I dodged, and the force of his blow turned him a complete back summerset, and while he was in the air I dove underneath him, got the ball from their quarter-back before he could pass it to the backs, and when the crowd overtook me I was lying between the Andover goal-posts with the ball safely over the line.
"When the goal was kicked and the sides separated, Heenan was found still turning summersets like an animated pin-wheel, not having been able to stop, and time was called until he could be stopped and recover from his giddiness.
"This, of course, caused a good deal of cheering for me, and gave us a decided lead over Andover. So far nobody had been killed, and only a few crippled for life, and the first half closed with Exeter leading Andover by the score of twelve to nothing.
"In the fifteen minutes' rest between halves, the Mayor and Common Council waited on me in Dr. Soule's parlor, and informed me that the Board of Trade and the Faculty and the Deacon of the United Churches were going to give me a banquet at the Squamscott after the game, provided we won and prevented Andover from scoring.
"You can imagine this made me feel good, and I determined to do my utmost to win by a big score. But when we lined up for the second half, I found that Lane had given place to a new man, and that Towle, although still playing at left guard, was about all in. This really put me opposite two men, Awful Gardner and Heenan, a pretty bad place for a young fellow of nineteen against two of the best heavy-weight prizefighters the world had ever seen.
"To add to this, all the plays were directed through me. So you see, Dickie, I was in for a warm afternoon. And a warm one it was for a fact. Every time the ball was put in play, Awful would fell Towle to the earth, and then he and Heenan would swing for my jaw and lead for my wind with heavy rights and lefts, while I could only get in one blow to their two. I noticed, however, that I kept them from getting through, and after a half dozen line-ups I found they were weakening.
"I then put in play a dodge that Andover couldn't block and had no way of meeting. I whispered to the quarter to keep back far enough to give me a free swing and be ready with the ball. Then, when play was called, I waited until Heenan or Awful made the first rush for me, then seized the first one, dashed him against the other, rushed back, grabbed the ball and started through the hole I had made, generally making from thirty to forty yards.
"Neither Heenan nor Awful could stop that play, and before the game was called I had made sixteen unaided touchdowns, from which twelve goals were kicked, which left the score with what we had made in the first half, 104 to 0.
"That evening we had a banquet at the Squamscott. I was the only one of the eleven, and the only one who took part in the game besides the referee and the time-keeper, who could appear at table. We had a fine spread and good speeches were made. Dr. Soule made an address in Latin and I made a brief response in the same language, and we all sang a Latin ode composed by the pastor of the church in the Academy yard, and which ended with,
'Ad Hades cum Andoveria!'
three times, and the school yell. I had a copy of it somewhere but I suppose it was lost.
"Well, that was all very flattering and nice, especially when they all filed by my chair to shake hands and the faculty said,
but what I valued most was when I was called into Heenan's and Awful Gardner's rooms, where they lay swathed in bandages and smelling of iodoform, witch-hazel and New England rum. I sat on the edge of the bed, and they both said they had fought the best men in England and America and had never run up against any one who could hold a candle to me. They wanted to train me for the ring to beat the best man in England, but I told them I was thinking of studying for the ministry, and I couldn't give that up.
"That's all, Dickie, my boy; but when you hear people talking of the modern game of football and a few dinky collar-bones broken, just tell them of the way we played in '42 and '43, when men were killed and crippled for life, won't you?"
"Gee!" said Dick, "that was a game."
"Gee!" chimed in the students, "I guess we must be going"; and they stole off on tiptoe, while Gramp winked at Daniel and filled his pipe afresh.
On another occasion Gramp had been holding forth to a select crowd on a favorite hobby of his. Gramp always maintained that if he had a few acres of land and one thousand hens he could readily make at least one thousand dollars per year, or an average of one dollar per biddy. With care of an extraordinary nature fifteen hundred dollars would be not unreasonable.
Various opinions were advanced, and finally Daniel's opinion was asked; and in reply he improvised the following sonata.
"Now, gentlemen," said Daniel, with his attractive smile, "I will admit that my friend George knows more about old harnesses and pre-colonial buggies than any man in our vicinity; but as for hens, he knows absolutely nothing. Now I have studied into the matter, experimented a good deal, and have been the wiser by experience. I never raised a hen that didn't cost me three dollars, and which would have sold under the most favorable conditions for seventy-five cents. I never got a dozen of eggs from my hens that didn't stand me forty-eight cents when the market price was twenty-two, and a dollar and seventy-five when the market was forty-eight. I never ate one of my chickens at a less price than sixty cents a pound when Boston quotations were twenty-four."
"Nonsense, Daniel," interrupted Gramp with a sniff, "you didn't know how to go about it."
"I tell you, George," said Daniel, raising his voice, "I know what I am talking about. What do you suppose your son's experience is?"
"What? him!" said Gramp in disgust. "Why, if he drank a glass of cistern water, it would cost him ten cents."
"Well," said Daniel, "I guess he is no worse than the rest of us, but let me give you my experience. You say a hen ought to average a dollar a year profit. That is all right provided it didn't cost anything to keep a hen during that time. But the profit must be figured on the cost, and the question is, what does it cost to keep a hen a year? Isn't that so, boys?"
"That's all right, Daniel," chimed in the boys.
"Well," rejoined Daniel, "what does it cost to keep a hen a year? Frankly, I don't know, for I never limited operations to one hen. If, as my wife has frequently told me, I had been contented with one hen, and had kept her in a hen-proof enclosure where she couldn't by any possibility get out and ruin flower-beds, and defile the front steps, and make the face of nature a howling, cackling wilderness from morning to night, then perhaps I would have known where I stood, and most assuredly would have known where she stood in the matter.
"Nor can I estimate in mere dollars and cents the actual expense of keeping many hens, for there are some things whose value cannot be reduced to legal tender. So to average the thing I will estimate my hen-holdings at twenty-five birds. First, I bought the twenty-five fowl, paying therefor fancy prices for very common hens. I am glad that I cannot remember what they cost me. Next, I fed them generously for a year, and that cost I cannot estimate, thank Heaven! My time, of no particular value, I also eliminate from the estimate.
"What else did they cost?
"First, the love and affection of my wife; and really an unprejudiced person could not fail to be immensely impressed with the size and variety of her repertoire on the hen question.
"Second, the lining of several coats, caused by carelessly putting new laid eggs into my pockets and forgetting them until I sat down on them.
"Third, the regard of kind neighbors, whose flower and vegetable-gardens have been ruined by some other person's hens masquerading as mine.
"Fourth, the necessity of repainting at great expense a democrat wagon and a concord, which had, without my knowledge or consent, served as roosts during the winter for several vagrant biddies which eschewed the comforts of the henhouse.
"Fifth, public disgrace of the entire family in serving to distinguished guests breakfast bacon and addled and explosive eggs, taken by mistake from under a setter.
"Sixth, a permanent scar on my face, received in taking a setter off her nest.
"Seventh, my arm in a sling for ten days as a result of separating two fighting cocks, and receiving a prodigious thump and a deep spur wound in my left hand, from one of the combatants which was in the act of making a pass at his opponent at the exact moment I interfered.
"Eighth, re-sodding my own lawn and those of several neighbors.
"Ninth, loss of sleep from early crowing and consequent mental disturbance and melancholia.
"Tenth, my reputation as a worthy citizen merged in the unsavory character of a sport.
"Eleventh, have become wind-broken from being called upon at any time of the day to join the family in a desperate race about the neighborhood, to head off and corral squawking pullets.
"Twelfth, have offered two dollar and a half cups to local poultry shows which have been duly advertised as fifteen dollar cups, to my lasting infamy and disgrace.
"Thirteenth, have contracted the roup, the pip, and chicken-pox from similarly affected poultry.
"Fourteenth, stepped on a hen in the dark at the top of the stairs in the barn, and descended like a mountain avalanche or a snowslide from a tin roof, accompanied by a tin pail of corn-meal, a lantern, and a torrent of imprecations on hens in particular and everything else in general, generous distribution of eggs and corn-meal, total eclipse of lantern, and severe fracture of tin pail.
"Fifteenth, protracted lameness caused by last-mentioned rapid transit.
"Sixteenth, shot at predatory cat with chicken in mouth. Missed cat, but killed mother hen and eight small chicks, broke two panes of glass, and scared an hysterical neighbor into spasms.
"Figure this out for yourself, strike a balance if you can, and then decide What profiteth it a man if he gain the whole world,' but lose every shred of his reputation as a man and a brother, a citizen and a neighbor, a husband and a father.
"Well," said Daniel, rising slowly and ponderously, as a sporty-looking individual, driving a rakish-looking chestnut with boots, drove into his yard, "it looks like a horse trade"; and with one accord the assembly adjourned to see Daniel do up the sporty stranger.