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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIole - Chapter 1
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Iole - Chapter 1 Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :757

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Iole - Chapter 1

CHAPTER I

"I ain't never knowed no one like him," continued the station-agent reflectively. "He made us all look like monkeys, but he was good to us. Ever see a ginuine poet, sir?"

"Years ago one was pointed out to me," replied Briggs.

"Was yours smooth shaved, with large, fat, white fingers?" inquired the station-agent.

"If I remember correctly, he was thin," said Briggs, sitting down on his suit-case and gazing apprehensively around at the landscape. There was nothing to see but low, forbidding mountains, and forests, and a railroad track curving into a tunnel.

The station-agent shoved his hairy hands into the pockets of his overalls, jingled an unseen bunch of keys, and chewed a dry grass stem, ruminating the while in an undertone:

"This poet come here five years ago with all them kids, an' the fust thing he done was to dress up his girls in boys' pants. Then he went an' built a humpy sort o' house out of stones and boulders. Then he went to work an' wrote pieces for the papers about jay-birds an' woodchucks an' goddesses. He claimed the woods was full of goddesses. That was his way, sir."

The agent contemplated the railroad track, running his eye along the perspective of polished rails:

"Yes, sir; his name was--and is--Clarence Guilford, an' I fust seen it signed to a piece in the Uticy Star. An' next I knowed, folks began to stop off here inquirin' for Mr. Guilford. 'Is this here where Guilford, the poet, lives?' sez they; an' they come thicker an' thicker in warm weather. There wasn't no wagon to take 'em up to Guilford's, but they didn't care, an' they called it a lit'r'y shrine, an' they hit the pike, women, children, men--'speshil the women, an' I heard 'em tellin' how Guilford dressed his kids in pants an' how Guilford was a famous new lit'r'y poet, an' they said he was fixin' to lecture in Uticy."

The agent gnawed off the chewed portion of the grass stem, readjusted it, and fixed his eyes on vacancy.

"Three year this went on. Mr. Guilford was makin' his pile, I guess. He set up a shop an' hired art bookbinders from York. Then he set up another shop an' hired some of us 'round here to go an' make them big, slabby art-chairs. All his shops was called "At the sign of" somethin' 'r other. Bales of vellum arrived for to bind little dinky books; art rocking-chairs was shipped out o' here by the carload. Meanwhile Guilford he done poetry on the side an' run a magazine; an' hearin' the boys was makin' big money up in that crank community, an' that the town was boomin', I was plum fool enough to drop my job here an' be a art-worker up to Rose-Cross--that's where the shops was; 'bout three mile back of his house into the woods."

The agent removed his hands from his overalls and folded his arms grimly.

"Well?" inquired Briggs, looking up from his perch on the suit-case.

"Well, sir," continued the agent, "the hull thing bust. I guess the public kinder sickened o' them art-rockers an' dinky books without much printin' into them. Guilford he stuck to it noble, but the shops closed one by one. My wages wasn't paid for three months; the boys that remained got together that autumn an' fixed it up to quit in a bunch.

"The poet was sad; he come out to the shops an' he says, 'Boys,' sez he, 'art is long an' life is dam brief. I ain't got the cash, but,' sez he, 'you can levy onto them art-rockers an' the dinky vellum books in stock, an',' sez he, 'you can take the hand-presses an' the tools an' bales o' vellum, which is very precious, an' all the wagons an' hosses, an' go sell 'em in that proud world that refuses to receive my message. The woodland fellowship is rent,' sez he, wavin' his plump fingers at us with the rings sparklin' on 'em.

"Then the boys looked glum, an' they nudged me an' kinder shoved me front. So, bein' elected, I sez, 'Friend,' sez I, 'art is on the bum. It ain't your fault; the boys is sad an' sorrerful, but they ain't never knocked you to nobody, Mr. Guilford. You was good to us; you done your damdest. You made up pieces for the magazines an' papers an' you advertised how we was all cranks together here at Rose-Cross, a-lovin' Nature an' dicky-birds, an' wanderin' about half nood for art's sake.

"'Mr. Guilford,' sez I, 'that gilt brick went. But it has went as far as it can travel an' is now reposin' into the soup. Git wise or eat hay, sir. Art is on the blink.'"

The agent jingled his keys with a melancholy wink at Briggs.

"So I come back here, an' thankful to hold down this job. An' five mile up the pike is that there noble poet an' his kids a-makin' up pieces for to sell to the papers, an' a sorrerin' over the cold world what refuses to buy his poems--an' a mortgage onto his house an' a threat to foreclose."

"Indeed," said Briggs dreamily, for it was his business to attend to the foreclosure of the mortgage on the poet's house.

"Was you fixin' to go up an' see the place?" inquired the agent.

"Shall I be obliged to walk?"

"I guess you will if you can't flutter," replied the agent. "I ain't got no wagon an' no horse."

"How far is it?"

"Five mile, sir."

With a groan Mr. Briggs arose, lifted his suit-case, and, walking to the platform's edge, cast an agitated glance up the dusty road.

Then he turned around and examined the single building in sight--station, water-tower, post-office and telegraph-office all in one, and incidentally the abode of the station-agent, whose duties included that of postmaster and operator.

"I'll write a letter first," said Briggs. And this is what he wrote:


ROSE-CROSS P.O.,
June 25, 1904.


DEAR WAYNE: Do you remember that tract of land, adjoining your preserve, which you attempted to buy four years ago? It was held by a crank community, and they refused to sell, and made trouble for your patrols by dumping dye-stuffs and sawdust into the Ashton Creek.

Well, the community has broken up, the shops are in ruins, and there is nobody there now except that bankrupt poet, Guilford. I bought the mortgage for you, foreseeing a slump in that sort of art, and I expect to begin foreclosure proceedings and buy in the tract, which, as you will recollect, includes some fine game cover and the Ashton stream, where you wanted to establish a hatchery. This is a God-forsaken spot. I'm on my way to the poet's now. Shall I begin foreclosure proceedings and fire him? Wire me what to do.


Yours,
BRIGGS.


Wayne received this letter two days later. Preoccupied as he was in fitting out his yacht for commission, he wired briefly, "Fire poet," and dismissed the matter from his mind.

The next day, grappling with the problem of Japanese stewards and the decadence of all sailormen, he received a telegram from Briggs:

"Can't you manage to come up here?"

Irritated, he telegraphed back:

"Impossible. Why don't you arrange to fire poet?" And Briggs replied: "Can't fire poet. There are extenuating circumstances."

"Did you say exterminating or extenuating?" wired Wayne. "I said extenuating," replied Briggs.


Then the following telegrams were exchanged in order:

(1)

What are the extenuating circumstances?

WAYNE.

(2)

Eight innocent children. Come up at once.

BRIGGS.

(3)

Boat in commission. Can't go. Why don't you fix things?

WAYNE.

(4)

How?

BRIGGS.

(5)

(Dated NEW LONDON.)

What on earth is the matter with you? Are you going to fix things and join me at Bar Harbor or are you not?

WAYNE.

(6)

As I don't know how you want me to fix things, I can not join you.

BRIGGS.

(7)

(Dated PORTLAND, MAINE.)

Stuyvesant Briggs, what the devil is the matter with you? It's absolutely necessary that I have the Ashton stream for a hatchery, and you know it. What sort of a business man are you, anyhow? Of course I don't propose to treat that poet inhumanly. Arrange to bid in the tract, run up the price against your own bidding, and let the poet have a few thousand if he is hard put. Don't worry me any more; I'm busy with a fool crew, and you are spoiling my cruise by not joining me.

WAYNE.

(8)

He won't do it.

BRIGGS.

(9)

_Who won't do _what_?

WAYNE.

(10)

Poet refuses to discuss the matter.

BRIGGS.

(11)

Fire that poet. You've spoiled my cruise with your telegrams.

WAYNE.

(12)

(_Marked "Collect."_)

Look here, George Wayne, don't drive me to desperation. You ought to come up and face the situation yourself. I can't fire a poet with eight helpless children, can I? And while I'm about it, let me inform you that every time you telegraph me it costs me five dollars for a carrier to bring the despatch over from the station; and every time I telegraph you I am obliged to walk five miles to send it and five miles back again. I'm mad all through, and my shoes are worn out, and I'm tired. Besides, I'm too busy to telegraph.

BRIGGS.

(13)

Do you expect me to stop my cruise and travel up to that hole on account of eight extenuating kids?

WAYNE.

(14)

I do.

BRIGGS.

(15)

Are you mad?

WAYNE.

(16)

Thoroughly. And extremely busy.

BRIGGS.

(17)

For the last time, Stuyve Briggs, are you going to bounce one defaulting poet and progeny, arrange to have survey and warnings posted, order timber and troughs for hatchery, engage extra patrol--or are you not?

WAYNE.

(18)

No.

BRIGGS.

(19)

(_Received a day later by Mr. Wayne._)

Are you coming?

BRIGGS.

(20)

I'm coming to punch your head.

WAYNE.

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