At the Foot of the Rainbow by Gene Stratton-Porter
Chapter II. Ruben O'Khayam and the Milk Pail
Jimmy Malone, carrying a shinning tin milk pail, stepped into Casey's saloon and closed the door behind him.
"E' much as wine has played the Infidel,
Jimmy stared at the back of a man leaning against the bar, and gazing lovingly at a glass of red wine, as he recited in mellow, swinging tones. Gripping the milk pail, Jimmy advanced a step. The man stuck a thumb in the belt of his Norfolk jacket, and the verses flowed on:
"The grape that can with logic absolute
Jimmy's mouth fell open, and he slowly nodded indorsement of the sentiment. The man lifted his glass.
"Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Jimmy set the milk pail on the bar and faced the man.
"'Fore God, that's the only sensible word I ever heard on my side of the quistion in all me life. And to think that it should come from the mouth of a man wearing such a Go-to-Hell coat!"
Jimmy shoved the milk pail in front of the stranger. "In the name of humanity, impty yourself of that," he said. "Fill me pail with the stuff and let me take it home to Mary. She's always got the bist of the argumint, but I'm thinkin' that would cork her. You won't?" questioned Jimmy resentfully. "Kape it to yoursilf, thin, like you did your wine." He shoved the bucket toward the barkeeper, and emptied his pocket on the bar. "There, Casey, you be the Sovereign Alchemist, and transmute that metal into Melwood pretty quick, for I've not wet me whistle in three days, and the belly of me is filled with burnin' autumn leaves. Gimme a loving cup, and come on boys, this is on me while it lasts."
The barkeeper swept the coin into the till, picked up the bucket, and started back toward a beer keg.
"Oh, no you don't!" cried Jimmy. "Come back here and count that `leaden metal,' and then be transmutin' it into whiskey straight, the purest gold you got. You don't drown out a three-days' thirst with beer. You ought to give me 'most two quarts for that."
The barkeeper was wise. He knew that what Jimmy started would go on with men who could pay, and he filled the order generously.
Jimmy picked up the pail. He dipped a small glass in the liquor, and held near an ounce aloft.
"I wonder what the Vinters buy
he quoted. "Down goes!" and he emptied the glass at a draft. Then he walked to the group at the stove, and began dipping a drink for each.
When Jimmy came to a gray-haired man, with a high forehead and an intellectual face, he whispered: "Take your full time, Cap. Who's the rhymin' inkybator?"
"Thread man, Boston," mouthed the Captain, as he reached for the glass with trembling fingers. Jimmy held on. "Do you know that stuff he's giving off?" The Captain nodded, and rose to his feet. He always declared he could feel it farther if he drank standing.
"What's his name?" whispered Jimmy, releasing the glass. "Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam," panted the Captain, and was lost. Jimmy finished the round of his friends, and then approached the bar.
His voice was softening. "Mister Ruben O'Khayam," he said, "it's me private opinion that ye nade lace-trimmed pantalettes and a sash to complate your costume, but barrin' clothes, I'm entangled in the thrid of your discourse. Bein' a Boston man meself, it appeals to me, that I detict the refinemint of the East in yer voice. Now these, me frinds, that I've just been tratin', are men of these parts; but we of the middle East don't set up to equal the culture of the extreme East. So, Mr. O'Khayam, solely for the benefit you might be to us, I'm askin' you to join me and me frinds in the momenchous initiation of me new milk pail."
Jimmy lifted a brimming glass, and offered it to the Thread Man. "Do you transmute?" he asked. Now if the Boston man had looked Jimmy in the eye, and said "I do," this book would not have been written. But he did not. He looked at the milk pail, and the glass, which had passed through the hands of a dozen men in a little country saloon away out in the wilds of Indiana, and said: "I do not care to partake of further refreshment; if I can be of intellectual benefit, I might remain for a time."
For a flash Jimmy lifted the five feet ten of his height to six; but in another he shrank below normal. What appeared to the Thread Man to be a humble, deferential seeker after wisdom, led him to one of the chairs around the big coal base burner. But the boys who knew Jimmy were watching the whites of his eyes, as they drank the second round. At this stage Jimmy was on velvet. How long he remained there depended on the depth of Melwood in the milk pail between his knees. He smiled winningly on the Thread Man.
"Ye know, Mister O'Khayam," he said, "at the present time you are located in one of the wooliest parts of the wild East. I don't suppose anything woolier could be found on the plains of Nebraska where I am reliably informed they've stuck up a pole and labeled it the cinter of the United States. Being a thousand miles closer that pole than you are in Boston, naturally we come by that distance closer to the great wool industry. Most of our wool here grows on our tongues, and we shear it by this transmutin' process, concerning which you have discoursed so beautiful. But barrin' the shearin' of our wool, we are the mildest, most sheepish fellows you could imagine. I don't reckon now there is a man among us who could be induced to blat or to butt, under the most tryin' circumstances. My Mary's got a little lamb, and all the rist of the boys are lambs. But all the lambs are waned, and clusterin' round the milk pail. Ain't that touchin'? Come on, now, Ruben, ile up and edify us some more!"
"On what point do you seek enlightenment?" inquired the Thread Man.
Jimmy stretched his long legs, and spat against the stove in pure delight.
"Oh, you might loosen up on the work of a man," he suggested. "These lambs of Casey's fold may larn things from you to help thim in the striss of life. Now here's Jones, for instance, he's holdin' togither a gang of sixty gibbering Atalyans; any wan of thim would cut his throat and skip in the night for a dollar, but he kapes the beast in thim under, and they're gettin' out gravel for the bed of a railway. Bingham there is oil. He's punchin' the earth full of wan thousand foot holes, and sendin' off two hundred quarts of nitroglycerine at the bottom of them, and pumpin' the accumulation across continents to furnish folks light and hate. York here is runnin' a field railway between Bluffton and Celina, so that I can get to the river and the resurvoir to fish without walkin'. Haines is bossin' a crew of forty Canadians and he's takin' the timber from the woods hereabouts, and sending it to be made into boats to carry stuff across sea. Meself, and me partner, Dannie Micnoun, are the lady-likest lambs in the bunch. We grow grub to feed folks in summer and trap for skins to cover 'em in winter. Corn is our great commodity. Plowin' and hoein' it in summer, and huskin' it in the fall is sich lamb-like work. But don't mintion it in the same brith with tendin' our four dozen fur traps on a twenty-below-zero day. Freezing hands and fate, and fallin' into air bubbles, and building fires to thaw out our frozen grub. Now here among us poor little, transmutin', lambs you come, a raging lion, ripresentin' the cultour and rayfinement of the far East. By the pleats on your breast you show us the style. By the thrid case in your hand you furnish us material so that our women can tuck their petticoats so fancy, and by the book in your head you teach us your sooperiority. By the same token, I wish I had that book in me head, for I could just squelch Dannie and Mary with it complate. Say, Mister O'Khayam, next time you come this way bring me a copy. I'm wantin' it bad. I got what you gave off all secure, but I take it there's more. No man goin' at that clip could shut off with thim few lines. Do you know the rist?"
The Thread Man knew the most of it, and although he was very uncomfortable, he did not know just how to get away, so he recited it. The milk pail was empty now, and Jimmy had almost forgotten that it was a milk pail, and seemed inclined to resent the fact that it had gone empty. He beat time on the bottom of it, and frequently interrupted the Thread Man to repeat a couplet which particularly suited him. By and by he got to his feet and began stepping off a slow dance to a sing-song repetition of lines that sounded musical to him, all the time marking the measures vigorously on the pail. When he tired of a couplet, he pounded the pail over the bar, stove, or chairs in encore, until the Thread Man could think up another to which he could dance.
"Wine! Wine! Wine! Red Wine!
chanted Jimmy, thumping the pail in time, and stepping off the measures with feet that scarcely seemed to touch the floor. He flung his hat to the barkeeper, and his coat on a chair, ruffled his fingers through his thick auburn hair, and holding the pail under one arm, he paused, panting for breath and begging for more. The Thread Man sat on the edge of his chair, and the eyes he fastened on Jimmy were beginning to fill with interest.
"Come fill the Cup and in the fire of Spring
Smash came the milk pail across the bar. "Hooray!" shouted Jimmy. "Besht yet!" Bang! Bang! He was off." Bird ish on the wing," he chanted, and his feet flew. "Come fill the cup, and in the firesh of spring--Firesh of Spring, Bird ish on the Wing!" Between the music of the milk pail, the brogue of the panted verses, and the grace of Jimmy's flying feet, the Thread Man was almost prostrate. It suddenly came to him that here might be a chance to have a great time.
"More!" gasped Jimmy. "Me some more!" The Thread Man wiped his eyes.
"Wether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
Away went Jimmy.
"Swate or bitter run,
Bang! Bang! sounded a new improvision on the sadly battered pail, and to a new step Jimmy flashed back and forth the length of the saloon. At last he paused to rest a second. "One more! Just one more!" he begged.
"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
Jimmy's head dropped an instant. His feet slowly shuffled in improvising a new step, and then he moved away, thumping the milk pail and chanting:
"A couple of fish poles underneath a tree,
"Tired out, he dropped across a chair facing the back and folded his arms. He regained breath to ask the Thread Man: "Did you iver have a frind?"
He had reached the confidential stage.
The Boston man was struggling to regain his dignity. He retained the impression that at the wildest of the dance he had yelled and patted time for Jimmy.
"I hope I have a host of friends," he said, settling his pleated coat.
"Damn hosht!" said Jimmy. "Jisht in way. Now I got one frind, hosht all by himself. Be here pretty soon now. Alwaysh comesh nights like thish."
"Comes here?" inquired the Thread Man. "Am I to meet another interesting character?"
"Yesh, comesh here. Comesh after me. Comesh like the clock sthriking twelve. Don't he, boys?" inquired Jimmy. "But he ain't no interesting character. Jisht common man, Dannie is. Honest man. Never told a lie in his life. Yesh, he did, too. I forgot. He liesh for me. Jish liesh and liesh. Liesh to Mary. Tells her any old liesh to keep me out of schrape. You ever have frind hish up and drive ten milesh for you night like thish, and liesh to get you out of schrape?"
"I never needed any one to lie and get me out of a scrape," answered the Thread Man.
Jimmy sat straight and solemnly batted his eyes. "Gee! You musht misshed mosht the fun!" he said. "Me, I ain't ever misshed any. Always in schrape. But Dannie getsh me out. Good old Dannie. Jish like dog. Take care me all me life. See? Old folks come on same boat. Women get thick. Shettle beside. Build cabinsh together. Work together, and domn if they didn't get shmall pox and die together. Left me and Dannie. So we work together jish shame, and we fallsh in love with the shame girl. Dannie too slow. I got her." Jimmy wiped away great tears.
"How did you get her, Jimmy?" asked a man who remembered a story.
"How the nation did I get her?" Jimmy scratched his head, and appealed to the Thread Man. "Dannie besht man. Milesh besht man! Never lie--'cept for me. Never drink--'cept for me. Alwaysh save his money--'cept for me. Milesh besht man! Isn't he besht man, Spooley?"
"Ain't it true that you served Dannie a mean little trick?" asked the man who remembered.
Jimmy wasn't quite drunk enough, and the violent exercise of the dance somewhat sobered him. He glared at the man. "Whatsh you talkin' about?" he demanded.
"I'm just asking you," said the man, "why, if you played straight with Dannie about the girl, you never have had the face to go to confession since you married her."
"Alwaysh send my wife," said Jimmy grandly. "Domsh any woman that can't confiss enough for two!"
Then he hitched his chair closer to the Thread Man, and grew more confidential. "Shee here," he said. "Firsht I see your pleated coat, didn't like. But head's all right. Great head! Sthuck on frillsh there! Want to be let in on something? Got enough city, clubsh, an' all that? Want to taste real thing? Lesh go coon huntin'. Theysh tree down Canoper, jish short pleashant walk, got fify coons in it! Nobody knowsh the tree but me, shee? Been good to ush boys. Sat on same kind of chairs we do. Educate ush up lot. Know mosht that poetry till I die, shee? `Wonner wash vinters buy, halfsh precious ash sthuff shell,' shee? I got it! Let you in on real thing. Take grand big coon skinch back to Boston with you. Ringsh on tail. Make wife fine muff, or fur trimmingsh. Good to till boysh at club about, shee?"
"Are you asking me to go on a coon hunt with you?" demanded the Thread Man. "When? Where?"
"Corshally invited," answered Jimmy. "To-morrow night. Canoper. Show you plashe. Bill Duke's dogs. My gunsh. Moonsh shinin'. Dogs howlin'. Shnow flying! Fify coonsh rollin' out one hole! Shoot all dead! Take your pick! Tan skin for you myself! Roaring big firesh warm by. Bag finesh sandwiches ever tasted. Milk pail pure gold drink. No stop, slop out going over bridge. Take jug. Big jug. Toss her up an' let her gurgle. Dogsh bark. Fire pop. Guns bang. Fifty coons drop. Boysh all go. Want to get more education. Takes culture to get woolsh off. Shay, will you go? "
"I wouldn't miss it for a thousand dollars," said the Thread Man. "But what will I say to my house for being a day late?"
"Shay gotter grip," suggested Jimmy. "Never too late to getter grip. Will you all go, boysh?"
There were not three men in the saloon who knew of a tree that had contained a coon that winter, but Jimmy was Jimmy, and to be trusted for an expedition of that sort; and all of them agreed to be at the saloon ready for the hunt at nine o'clock the next night. The Thread Man felt that he was going to see Life. He immediately invited the boys to the bar to drink to the success of the hunt.
"You shoot own coon yourself," offered the magnanimous Jimmy. "You may carrysh my gunsh, take first shot. First shot to Missher O'Khayam, boysh, 'member that. Shay, can you hit anything? Take a try now." Jimmy reached behind him, and shoved a big revolver into the hand of the Thread Man. "Whersh target?" he demanded.
As he turned from the bar, the milk pail which he still carried under his arm caught on an iron rod. Jimmy gave it a jerk, and ripped the rim from the bottom. "Thish do," he said. "Splendid marksh. Shinesh jish like coon's eyesh in torch light."
He carried the pail to the back wall and hung it over a nail. The nail was straight, and the pail flaring. The pail fell. Jimmy kicked it across the room, and then gathered it up, and drove a dent in it with his heel that would hold over the nail. Then he went back to the Thread Man." Theresh mark, Ruben. Blash away!" he said.
The Boston man hesitated. "Whatsh the matter? Cansh shoot off nothing but your mouth?" demanded Jimmy. He caught the revolver and fired three shots so rapidly that the sounds came almost as one. Two bullets pierced the bottom of the pail, and the other the side as it fell.
The door opened, and with the rush of cold air Jimmy gave just one glance toward it, and slid the revolver into his pocket, reached for his hat, and started in the direction of his coat. "Glad to see you, Micnoun," he said. "If you are goingsh home, I'll jish ride out with you. Good night, boysh. Don't forgetsh the coon hunt," and Jimmy was gone.
A minute later the door opened again, and this time a man of nearly forty stepped inside. He had a manly form, and a manly face, was above the average in looks, and spoke with a slight Scotch accent.
"Do any of ye boys happen to know what it was Jimmy had with him when he came in here?"
A roar of laughter greeted the query. The Thread Man picked up the pail. As he handed it to Dannie, he said: "Mr. Malone said he was initiating a new milk pail, but I am afraid he has overdone the job."
"Thank ye," said Dannie, and taking the battered thing, he went out into the night.
Jimmy was asleep when he reached the buggy. Dannie had long since found it convenient to have no fence about his dooryard. He drove to the door, dragged Jimmy from the buggy, and stabled the horse. By hard work he removed Jimmy's coat and boots, laid him across the bed, and covered him. Then he grimly looked at the light in the next cabin. "Why doesna she go to bed?" he said. He summoned courage, and crossing the space between the two buildings, he tapped on the window. "It's me, Mary," he called. "The skins are only half done, and Jimmy is going to help me finish. He will come over in the morning. Ye go to bed. Ye needna be afraid. We will hear ye if ye even snore." There was no answer, but by a movement in the cabin Dannie knew that Mary was still dressed and waiting. He started back, but for an instant, heedless of the scurrying snow and biting cold, he faced the sky.
"I wonder if ye have na found a glib tongue and light feet the least part o' matrimony," he said. "Why in God's name couldna ye have married me? I'd like to know why."
As he closed the door, the cold air roused Jimmy.
"Dannie," he said, "donsh forget the milk pail. All 'niciate good now."