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LEGENDS OF THE ECCENTRIC
THE unusual mental twist which frequently escapes notice in the crowded city, is often the center of interest in a rural neighborhood. Those who thus excite morbid curiosity in their youth are indeed unfortunate and often suffer keenly from the semi-ostracism which sometimes follows. But the elderly who have developed unusual characteristics seem on the contrary to rather pride themselves upon their peculiarities, holding the view of the ancient Quaker who is reported to have said one day to his wife: "Everyone is queer but me and thee; and thee is some queer."
Of the various minor misfortunes to which the elderly are subject, perhaps deafness is the most to be dreaded. This is illustrated in the case of the elderly country merchant.
Don't Have to Yell at Me"
Mr. H— was the prosperous owner of a general store and had about everything he needed except normal hearing. He was deaf, unmistakably deaf, but with the pathetic obstinacy of some thus afflicted, he would not admit it.
Late one afternoon a well-known citizen called at the store on an errand for his wife. Others were waiting as the following transaction was pulled off, and not strange to say, seemed to find it rather amusing.
"I want a half pound of cream tartar." The storekeeper seemed unusually impressed. "Freem Parker," said he. "What's happened to him?"
Freeman Parker was a well known and popular citizen of the vicinity.
"A half pound of cream tartar, I said,"
the customer replied, raising his voice. "Freem Parker is dead," said the merchant. "Why, when did it happen?"
"I want a half pound of CREAM TARTAR," was the reply in a very loud voice.
"Oh! you want cream tartar, do you," said the dealer in icy tones.
"You don't need to yell at me. I'm not deaf."
As before suggested, it is good policy in a rural district to cultivate reasonably cordial relations with one's neighbors. Therefore it was probably poor tactics for a certain exasperated farmer to set a bear trap in his corn crib. To be sure, he was eminently successful, finding an exceedingly undesirable citizen the next morning securely fastened by one hand in the savage jaws of the trap. But it may be taken for granted that the farmer, who released the man at once, must have felt easier when the man left the neighborhood which it is hoped he soon did. Another farm owner was much more diplomatic.
Story of the Stolen Bundle of Hay
In this instance there was an exhibition of forbearance and strategy much to be admired.
Finding the barn door open one morning in the late winter, the farmer was at a loss to understand how the fastenings became loosened. Further inspection showed that hay had been thrown down from the loft. Still further examination revealed signs that hay had been carried away, presumably in a bundle on somebody's shoulders.
A couple of mornings later there was further evidence of the same petty thieving. The farmer decided to watch and see what happened. As it was fairly comfortable sleeping on the hay rolled up in a blanket, the adventure assumed a considerable degree of entertainment.
About midnight the farmer was aroused by someone carefully opening the barn door. It was too dark to identify the intruder and in fact the farmer did not want to know who of his nearby acquaintances could stoop to anything so contemptible.
The thief had a long rope which in the dim light he laid upon the floor of the barn. He next piled on as much hay as he could well carry on his shoulders, and tying it up with the rope, he hastened away.
The farmer watched the man crossing the field. Suddenly an idea came to him; he did not want to have trouble with a neighbor and he did not want to lose any more hay. Following at a little distance behind the thief, his footsteps naturally unheard because of the rustle of the hay, the farmer struck a match and held it up to the bundle for an instant and then dodged behind a tree. A moment later the hay burst into flames. The thief dropped his rope and, screaming with terror, rushed from sight. It was evident that he regarded the fire as of supernatural origin. The farmer lost no more hay.
Another farmer met a similar problem in a rather different manner. He was not overburdened with tender solicitude for ne'er- do-wells, as the following record will show.
Raid on Jim Green's Pork Barrel
Jim Green was the sort of agriculturalist who worked hard by day and slept hard by night. It therefore required several successive attempts one very early morning before his more wakeful wife succeeded in arousing him.
"Wake up! wake up.!" said she, in a loud whisper, meanwhile nudging her sleeping husband vigorously.
"Why — why, what's the matter?" said Jim.
"There's somebody in the cellar," she whispered, "I've been hearing strange noises for several minutes."
Jim was now wide awake and hastily slipping on a few clothes, he made his way to a window and in the dim light soon made out the figure of a man crouched down by the cellar window, evidently working with a partner. Further strain of the eyes revealed a pile of what Jim's experienced vision showed him to be salt pork, lying on the ground at the man's elbow. Jim tiptoed to a side door, opened it quietly and made his way as silently as possible to where the man was kneeling. But the slight rustle of his clothing or the jar of his footsteps alarmed the watcher at the window and, glancing over his shoulder, he hastily dodged around the corner of the wood shed.
Jim promptly took the missing man's place by the cellar window and awaited developments. Shortly thereafter a man in the cellar came to the window by which Jim was crouching and passed out several pieces of very damp salt pork which Jim received silently.
"I've got all there is in the barrel," he whispered, "except the last layer. Probably we better leave that so the folks here won't be entirely out of pork."
"No," Jim whispered, "pull it all out; what do we care whether they have any pork or not?"
The man in the cellar went back and, plunging his arm deep in the clammy brine, succeeded in digging up the last layer of pork which he brought to the window, passing it up to the owner outside. He then climbed out of the cellar window himself, where he was promptly collared by Jim and identified as a shiftless farm laborer of the neighborhood. He was soon released, however, after he had revealed the name of his partner, another bird of similar feather.
Not until long after the two prowlers had removed from the neighborhood, did Jim tell the story. Neighbors then remembered that when Jim Green needed farm help, the two pork thieves always responded promptly.
Comparatively few city born people realize how important a factor the weather is in the daily routine of the farmer. They know that a long-continued drought causes short crops and that floods sometimes do considerable damage in certain valleys. Of the inconvenience caused by unwelcome showers which sometimes become epidemic in busy seasons, they have no knowledge. In a certain thriving farming section, there had been a series of sudden thunder showers which had been very discouraging to hay makers.
Lote Platt Beat the Thunder Shower
"Lote" Platt had grown somewhat irascible in his old age and weather eccentricities had gradually become a personal matter with him. When unceremonious thunder showers had soaked a certain crop of clover hay about the third or fourth time, Lote began to feel peevish. However, he spread the hay out to dry and after one wet surface had responded to the sun's rays, he turned the other side up and early in the afternoon found the clover in prime order to go in the barn.
He hastened to rake it into long windrows and was just preparing to send his hired man after the oxen and cart when he heard the grumbling of thunder and felt the coolness of the rain breeze. Another shower was coming!
The hired man started on the run to get the oxen, but Lote soon realized that the shower, and apparently a very wet one too, was going to reach the hay field long before the oxen could be gotten there.
"Boo-boo," said Lote, as an unusually loud peal of thunder made the air vibrate. "I'll show you something you never thought of."
Lote was at the extreme windward side of the field and the long rows of freshly raked hay stretched out before the strong breeze, the forerunner of the approaching storm. Dropping on one knee, Lote scratched a match, shielded it a moment with his old straw hat and then held the blaze to the end of the windrow. Fanned by the wind, the fire followed the long row of dry hay across the field. Then another blaze followed by others also, and when the shower arrived, the clover which had cost so much labor to be fitted for the hay mow, had ceased to be a problem.
When the proverbially amiable citizen bursts forth in rage, it is astonishing to those who look on, and apt to be quite disconcerting to a perfectly innocent victim. It certainly was to the lumberjack who was "bawled out" by Uncle Jimmy Ryan.
Tale of the Old-Fashioned "Settle"
A logging enterprise was under way back along the edge of the mountain and Uncle Jimmy's wife was induced by the boss to board some of the help. A newcomer had joined the gang and was informed at quitting time that arrangements had been made for him to join the others at Uncle Jimmy's.
The new recruit made his way with a half dozen other husky workers to the little low roofed farm house and going into the combined kitchen, dining and living room, dropped his bag in a corner, tossing his overcoat on one end of what seemed to be a large chest along the wall back of the cooking range.
Uncle Jimmy, a short and roly-poly man of sixty-five or so, was moving blandly about, speaking to one and then another of the "guests," when suddenly his eye fell on the overcoat, hanging over one end of the chest. Rushing forward, he caught the coat and turning to the astonished man who owned it, proceeded to express great indignation, although in his excitement he had lapsed into the Irish brogue of his early days so that what he said was unintelligible.
Finally the wife who had kept serene during her husband's tirade, made the matter clear.
The "chest" was an old-fashioned "settle" with an adjustable back. It contained a mattress and at about five o'clock every day Uncle Jimmy's mother of ninety or more went to bed in the settle, the wooden back of which was shut down, closing tightly. A circular opening in the end, near the old lady's face, provided air circulation.
The lumberman had unknowingly closed the opening. The offender apologized and harmony was restored.
There is no place like the farm for those unfortunates whose ability to perform crude manual labor is their chief asset. The farmer who must exercise a never failing forbearance in the management of horses and cattle often extends his sympathetic supervision over the mentally defective ones who can be utilized in providing the necessary hand labor. Thus it came about that one of those grown up children had found a comfortable home at Mr. Hubbard's.
Lost Harrow Teeth
Thomas was socially inclined and the boys of the community were too kindly disposed to exclude him from their company.
The owner of a nearby farm had been "seeding down" a stumpy addition to his pasture, and early in the summer some boys, including Thomas, wandered in that direction one Sunday afternoon, discovering a small wooden harrow with iron "teeth," which had been left on the field until a more convenient season. The shrinking of the wood in the summer sun had loosened these teeth and a few of them had dropped out. Thus it came about that the boys were afflicted with a wonderfully funny idea.
A few mornings later Mr. Perry, the owner of the harrow and incidentally of several farms in the neighborhood, had occasion to drive up to Mr. Hubbard's place on business. It was but a short distance and he could easily have walked, but for the fact that he was very lame.
Mr. Hubbard was at home, and receiving his visitor very cordially, they entered into an earnest conversation. The child of misfortune, Thomas, came around the corner of an outbuilding and seeing the two men so busily occupied, stopped at once. He seemed to be much agitated.
The conversation continued, the two neighbors, however, subconsciously watching the boy. Suddenly he rushed forward.
"You old lame cuss!" said he, addressing the astonished visitor.
"You old lame cuss! I don't know anything about your harrow teeth." He then dodged back out of sight.
The two men looked at each other in amazement.
"What do you suppose he means?" said Mr. Perry.
"I don't know," was the reply, "but I intend to find out."
"Here, you, Thomas!" he called, "come back here."
The boy came reluctantly forward, and after some questioning revealed that the boys in their holiday spirit of mischief had concealed the loose harrow teeth in a hollow stump near where the harrow lay as a joke on the Perry boys — a trifling matter in itself but which had assumed great and terrifying importance to poor unfortunate Thomas.
To speak of the childish wrath of the aged is misleading in its suggestiveness. More properly we should refer to the childish wrath of the old man; for it is an undeniable fact that elderly women exhibit much greater patience with the inevitable annoyances of life than old men do.
A popular cartoonist has frequently exhibited these sudden tactics of impotent wrath in a very amusing way. But his imagination never has suggested anything more violent in its explosiveness than Uncle Reuben's rage at a balky "salt shake."
Story of the Salt Shake
Uncle Reuben and his more amiable wife were visiting with relatives. His hostess was one of the New England type who never could do enough for her guests.
Uncle Reuben who was quite advanced in years and whose habitual irritability had proportionally increased, was feeling unusually peevish this morning. It was midsummer and exceedingly warm and humid.
The contents of the glass salt shake allotted to this peevish old gentleman had become, like everything else, affected by the prevailing humidity. The most vigorous shaking failed to produce any results. After repeated attempts, Uncle Reuben paused and quietly examined the salt shake which he held in his hand. His amiable wife, knowing his characteristics, looked anxious. His kindly hostess, also well acquainted with the aforesaid characteristics, looked deeply concerned.
Finally Uncle Reuben spoke in those tones of forced calmness which are usually associated with some great crisis.
"Pauline," said he, "I wish to buy this salt shake."
"Oh, I wouldn't sell it," replied his hostess, "you may have it, and welcome."
"No, I want to buy it!" said Uncle Reuben in dramatic tones.
"I want to buy it. I want to take it out to the stone pile and grind it to powder."
Give Them to Some Poor Boy"
Just because a man has to be supported as a public charge by the town he lives in, is no reason why he should not have some definite ideas about correct dress.
"Uncle Timmy" may have seen better days, but it was so far back in his history that no one remembered anything about it. He was supplied with board in a private family at the town's expense, the poor master incidentally providing two other urgent necessities, viz., wearing apparel and chewing tobacco, the latter being purchased in quantity and "doled out" to Uncle Timmy little at a time, as otherwise the expense of this luxury would have reached a very large item in the course of a year.
About once in so often Uncle Timmy would happen around to see the poor master to talk things over. He was very sociable indeed and would go into all the details as to the menu at his boarding place, which was very seldom satisfactory.
One day Uncle Timmy appeared, and after he had given a report of how he was enjoying his present boarding place, it occurred to the poor master that a certain pair of misfit shoes, which were of no special value to anyone, might be utilized by this long-time guest Of the community. So he brought out the shoes and suggested that Uncle Timmy take them home with him.
The old man turned the shoes over and over and examined them carefully. When it was suggested that he try them on, as apparently they would fit him, he shook his head.
"No," said he. "I guess I won't take them. You better give them to some poor boy."
There is no doubt that Uncle Timmy was naturally an aristocrat.