Kilo. Being the Love Story of Eliph’ Hewlitt, Book Agent - Ellis Parker Butler - ebook

Kilo. Being the Love Story of Eliph’ Hewlitt, Book Agent ebook

Ellis Parker Butler

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Beloved humor writer Ellis Parker Butler hits it out of the ballpark with his first full-length novel, „Kilo. Being the Love Story of Eliph’ Hewlitt, Book Agent”. The plot centers around Eliph’ Hewlitt, a travelling book salesman of the horse-and-buggy era who finds the love of his life in Kilo, Iowa and he decides on the spot to marry her and settles down there, peddling books to the locals, but Sally Briggs, the woman whom he’s fixated on, doesn’t feel the same way. The comic adventure involves a lot of fire-extinguishers, local graft, the newspaper printer, and various other people of importance in the tiny town. Along the way, we meet several amusing individuals to whom Eliph’ is trying to sell his one-volume encyclopedia.

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Liczba stron: 303

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Contents

CHAPTER I. Eliph’ Hewlitt

CHAPTER II. Susan

CHAPTER III. “How to Win the Affections”

CHAPTER IV. Kilo

CHAPTER V. Sammy Mills

CHAPTER VI. The Castaway

CHAPTER VII. The Colonel

CHAPTER VIII. The Medium-Sized Box

CHAPTER IX. The Witness

CHAPTER X. The Boss Grafter

CHAPTER XI. The False Gods of Doc Weaver

CHAPTER XII. Getting Acquainted

CHAPTER XIII. “Second: A Small Present”

CHAPTER XIV. Something Turns Up

CHAPTER XV. Difficulties

CHAPTER XVI. Two Lovers, and a Third

CHAPTER XVII. According to Jarby’s

CHAPTER XVIII. Another Trial

CHAPTER XIX. Pap Briggs’ Hen Food

CHAPTER I. Eliph’ Hewlitt

Eliph’ Hewlitt, book agent, seated in his weather-beaten top buggy, drove his horse, Irontail, carefully along the rough Iowa hill road that leads from Jefferson to Clarence. The Horse, a rusty gray, tottered in a loose-jointed manner from side to side of the road, half asleep in the sun, and was indolent in every muscle of his body, except his tail, which thrashed violently at the flies. Eliph’ Hewlitt drove with his hands held high, almost on a level with his sandy whiskers, for he was well acquainted with Irontail.

The road seemed to pass through a region of large farms, offering few opportunities for selling books, the houses being so far apart, but Eliph’ knew the small settlement of Clarence was a few miles farther on, and he was carrying enlightenment to the benighted. He glowed with missionary zeal. In his eagerness he thoughtlessly slapped the reins on the back of Irontail.

Instantly the plump, gray tail of the horse flashed over the rein and clamped it fast. Eliph’ Hewlitt leaned over the dashboard of his buggy and grasped the hair of the tail firmly. He pulled it upward with all his strength, but the tail did not yield. Instead, Irontail kicked vigorously. Eliph’ Hewlitt, knowing his horse as well as he knew human nature, climbed out of the buggy, and taking the rein close by the bit led Irontail to the side of the road. Then he took from beneath the buggy seat a bulky, oil-cloth-wrapped parcel and seated himself near the horse’s head. There was no safety for a timid driver when Irontail had thus assumed command of the rein. There was no way to get a rein from beneath that tail but to ignore it. In an hour or so Irontail would grow forgetful, carelessly begin flapping flies, and release the rein himself.

Eliph’ Hewlitt unwrapped the oilcloth from the object it enfolded. It was a book. It was Jarby’s ‘Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science, Art, Comprising Useful Information on One Thousand and One Subjects, Including A History of the World, the Lives of all Famous Men, Quotations From the World’s Great Authors, One Thousand and One Recipes, Et Cetera’. One Volume, five dollars bound in cloth; seven fifty in morocco. Eliph’ Hewlitt passed his hand affectionately over the gilt-stamped cover, and then opened it at random and read.

For years he had been reading Jarby’s Encyclopedia, and among its ten thousand and one subjects he always found something new. It opened now at “Courtship–How to Make Love–How to Win the Affections–How to Hold Them When Won,” and although he had read the pages often before, he found in all parts of the book, whenever he read it, a new meaning. It occurred to him that even a book agent might have reason to use the helpful words set for in clear type in the chapter on “Courtship–How to Make Love,” and he realized that sometime he must reach the age when he would need a home of his own. For years he had thought of woman only as a possible customer for Jarby’s Encyclopedia. Every woman, not already married, he now saw, might be a possible Mrs. Eliph’ Hewlitt.

Suddenly he raised his head. On the breeze there was borne to him the sound of voices–many voices. He closed the book with a bang. His small body became tense; his eyes glittered. He scented prey. He wrapped the book in its oilcloth, laid it upon the buggy seat, and taking Irontail by the bridle, started in the direction of the voices.

Half a mile down the road he came upon a scene of merriment. In a cleared grove men, women and children were gathered; it was a church picnic. Eliph’ Hewlitt took his hitching strap from beneath the buggy seat and secured Irontail to a tree.

“Church picnic,” he said to himself; “one, two, sixteen, twenty-four, AND the minister. Good for twelve copies of Jarby’s Encyclopedia or I’m no good myself. I love church picnics. What so lovely as to see the pastor and his flock gathered together in a bunch, as I may say, like ten-pins, ready to be scooped in, all at one shot?”

He walked up to the rail fence and leaned against it so that he might be seen and invited in. It was better policy than pushing himself forward, and it gave him time to study the faces. He did not find them hopeful subjects. They were not the faces of readers. They were not even the faces of buyers. Even in their holiday finery, the women were shabby and the men were careworn. The minister himself, white-bearded and gray-haired, showed more signs of spiritual grace than intellectual strength.

One woman, fresh and bright as a butterfly, appeared among them, and Eliph’ Hewlitt knew her at once as a city dweller, who had somehow got into this dull and hard-working community. Almost at the same moment she noticed him, and approached him. She smiled kindly and extended her hand.

“Won’t you come in?” she asked. “I don’t seem to remember your face, but we would be glad to have you join us.”

Eliph’ Hewlitt shook his head.

“No’m,” he said sadly. “I’d better not come in. Not that I don’t want to, but I wouldn’t be welcome. There ain’t anything I like so much as church picnics, and when I was a boy I used to cry for them, but I wouldn’t dare join you. I’m a”–he looked around cautiously, and said in a whisper–“I’m a book agent.”

The lady laughed.

“Of course,” she said, “that DOES make a difference; but you needn’t be a book agent to-day. You can forget it for a while and join us.”

Eliph’ Hewlitt shook his head again.

“That’s it,” he said. “That’s just the reason. I CAN’T forget it. I try to, but I can’t. Just when I don’t want to, I break out, and before I know it I’ve sold everybody a book, and then I feel like I’d imposed on good nature. They take me in as a friend and then I sell ‘em a copy of Jarby’s ‘Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art,’ ten thousand and one subjects, from A to Z, including recipes for every known use, quotations from famous authors, lives of famous men, and, in one word, all the world’s wisdom condensed into one volume, five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid.”

He paused, and the lady looked at him with an amused smile.

“Or seven fifty, handsomely bound in morocco,” he added. “So you see I don’t feel like I ought to impose. I know how I am. You take my mother now. She hadn’t seen me for eight years. I’d been traveling all over these United States, carrying knowledge and culture into the homes of the people at five dollars, easy payments, per home, and I got a telegram saying, ‘Come home. Mother very ill.’” He nodded his head slowly. “Wonderful invention, the telegraph,” he said. “It tells all about it on page 562 of Jarby’s ‘Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art,’–who invented; when first used; name of every city, town, village and station in the U.S. that has a telegraph office; complete explanation of the telegraph system, telling how words are carried over a slender wire, et cetery, et cetery. This and ten thousand other useful facts in one volume, only five dollars, bound in cloth. So when I got that telegram I took the train for home. Look in the index under T. ‘Train, Railway–see Railway.’ ‘Railway; when first operated; inventor of the locomotive engine; railway accidents from 1892 to 1904, giving number of fatal accidents per year, per month, per week, per day, and per miles; et cetery, et cetery. Every subject known to man fully and interestingly treated, WITH illustrations.”

“I don’t believe I care for a copy to-day,” said the lady.

“No,” said Eliph’ Hewlitt, meekly. “I know it. Nor I don’t want to sell you one. I just mentioned it to show you that when you have a copy of Jarby’s Encyclopedia of Knowledge you have an entire library in one book, arranged and indexed by the greatest minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One dollar down and one dollar a month until paid. But–when I got home I found mother low–very low. When I went in she was just able to look up and whisper, ‘Eliph’?’ ‘Yes, mother,’ I says. ‘Is it really you at last?’ she says. ‘Yes, mother,’ I says, ‘it’s me at last, mother, and I couldn’t get here sooner. I was out in Ohio, carrying joy to countless homes and introducing to them Jarby’s Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art. It is a book, mother,’ I says, ‘suited for rich or poor, young or old. No family is complete without it. Ten thousand and one subjects, all indexed from A to Z, including an appendix of the Spanish War brought down to the last moment, and maps of Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America and Australia. This book, mother,’ I says, ‘is a gold mine of information for the young, and a solace for the old. Pages 201 to 263 filled with quotations from the world’s great poets, making select and helpful reading for the fireside lamp. Pages 463 to 468, dying sayings of famous men and women. A book,’ I says, ‘that teaches us how to live and how to die. All the wisdom of the world in one volume, five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid.’ Mother looked up at me and says, ‘Eliph’, put me down for one copy.’ So I did. I hope I may do the same for you.”

The lady was about to speak, but Eliph’ Hewlitt held up his hand warningly.

“No,” he said. “I beg your pardon. I didn’t MEAN to say that. I couldn’t think of taking your order. I didn’t mean to ask it any more than I meant to ask mother. It’s habit, and that’s what I’m afraid of. I’d better not intrude.”

The lady evidently did not agree with him. He amused her because he was what she called a “type,” and she was always on the lookout for “types.” She urged him to join the picnic, and said he could try not to talk books, and reminded him that no one could do more than try. He climbed the fence with a reluctance that was the more noticeable because his climbing was retarded by the oilcloth-covered parcel he held beneath his arm. The lady smiled as she noticed that he had not feared his soliciting habits sufficiently to leave the book in the buggy, and she made a mental note of this to be used in the story she meant to write about this book-agent type.

“My name is Smith,” she told him, as she tripped lightly toward the group about the lunch baskets.

Eliph’ Hewlitt was a small man and his movements were short and jerky. He drew his hand over his red whiskers and coughed gently when she mentioned her name, and as she hurried on before him he looked at her tall, straight figure; noticed the stylish mode of her simple summer gown, and caught a glimpse of low, white shoes and neat ankles covered by delicately woven silk.

“Courtship–How to Make Love–How to Win the Affections–How to Hold Them When Won,” he meditated. “Lovely, but she will not suit. She is an encyclopedia of knowledge and compendium of literature, science and art, but she is not the edition I can afford. She is gilt-edged and morocco bound, and an ornament to any parlor, but I can’t afford her. My style is cloth, good substantial cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid. As I might say.”

CHAPTER II. Susan

Mrs. Tarbro-Smith had arranged the picnic herself, hoping to bring a little pleasure into the dullness of the summer, enliven the interest in the little church, and make a pleasant day for the people of Clarence, and she had succeeded in this as in everything she had undertaken during her summer in Iowa. As the leader of her own little circle of bright people in New York, she was accustomed to doing things successfully, and perhaps she was too sure of always having things her own way. As sister of the world-famous author, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, she was always received with consideration in New York, even by editors, but in seeking out a dead eddy in middle Iowa she had been in search of the two things that the woman author most desires, and best handles: local color and types. The editor of MURRAY’S MAGAZINE had told her that his native ground–middle Iowa–offered fresh material for her pen, and, intent on opening this new mine of local color, she had stolen away without letting even her most intimate friends know where she was going. To have her coming heralded would have put her “types” on their guard, and for that reason she had assumed as an impenetrable incognito one-half her name. No rays of reflected fame glittered on plain Mrs. Smith.

While her literary side had found some pleasure in studying the people she had fallen among, she was not able to recognize the distinctness of type in them that the editor of MURRAY’S had led her to believe she should find. She had hoped to discover in Clarence a type as sharply defined as the New England Yankee or the York County Dutch of Pennsylvania, but she could not see that the middle Iowan was anything but the average country person such as is found anywhere in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, a type that is hard to portray with fidelity, except with rather more skill than she felt she had, since it is composed of innumerable ingredients drawn not only from New England, but from nearly every State, and from all the nations of Europe. However, her kindness of heart had been able to exert itself bountifully, and she had had enough experience in her sundry searches for local color to know that a lapse of time and of distance would emphasize the types she was now seeing, and that by the middle of the winter, when once more in her New York apartment, her present experiences and observations would have the right perspective, and their salient features would stand out more plainly. So she won the hearts of her hostess, and of the dozen or more children of the house, with small gifts, and overjoyed with this she set about making the whole community happier. Little presents, smiles, and kind words meant so much to the overworked, hopeless women, and her cheery manner was so pleasant to men and children, that all worshipped her–clumsily and mutely, but whole-heartedly. She was a fairy lady to them.

The truth was that, in her eagerness to secure the most vivid kind of local color, she had gone a step too far. Clarence, with its decayed sidewalks and rotting buildings, was not typical of middle Iowa any more than a stagnant pool left by a receded river after a flood is typical of the river itself. Before the days of railroads Clarence had been a lively little town, but it was on the top of a hill, and, when the engineer of the Jefferson Western Railroad had laid his ruler on the map and had drawn a straight line across Iowa to represent the course of the road, Clarence had been left ten or twelve miles to one side, and, as the town was not important enough to justify spoiling the beauty of the straight line by putting a curve in it, a station was marked on the road at the point nearest Clarence, and called Kilo. For a while the new station was merely a sidetrack on the level prairie, a convenience for the men of Clarence, but before Clarence knew how it had happened Kilo was a flourishing town, and the older town on the hill had begun to decay. Even while Clarence was still sneering at Kilo as a sidetrack village, Kilo had begun to sneer at Clarence as a played-out crossroads settlement. Clarence, when Mrs. Tarbro-Smith visited it, was no more typical of middle Iowa than a sunfish really resembles the sun.

In Clarence Mrs. Smith’s best loved and best loving admirer was Susan, daughter of her hostess, and, to Mrs. Smith, Susan was the long sought and impossible–a good maid. From the first Susan had attached herself to Mrs. Smith, and, for love and two dollars a week, she learned all that a lady’s maid should know. When Mrs. Smith asked her if she would like to go to New York, Susan jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Susan was as sweet and lovable as she was useful, and under Mrs. Smith’s care she had been transformed into such a thing of beauty that Clarence could hardly recognize her. Instead of tow-colored hair, crowded back by means of a black rubber comb, Susan had been taught a neat arrangement of her blonde locks–so great is the magic of a few deft touches. Instead of being a gawky girl of seventeen, in a faded blue calico wrapper, Susan, as transformed by one of Mrs. Smith’s simple white gowns, was a young lady. She so worshipped Mrs. Smith that she imitated her in everything, even to the lesser things, like motions of the hand, and tossings of the head.

When Mrs. Smith broached the matter of taking Susan to New York, she received a shock from Mr. and Mrs. Bell. She had not for one moment doubted that they would be delighted to find that Susan could have a good home, good wages, and a city life, instead of the existence in such a town as Clarence.

“Well, now,” Mr. Bell said, “we gotter sort o’ talk it over, me an’ ma, ‘fore we decide that. Susan’s a’most our baby, she is. T’hain’t but four of ‘em younger than what she is in our fambly. We’ll let you know, hey?”

Ma and Pa Bell talked it over carefully and came to a decision. The decision was that they had better talk it over with some of the neighbors. The neighbors met at Bell’s and talked it over openly in the presence of Mrs. Smith.

They agreed that it would be a great chance for Susan, and they said that no one could want a nicer, kinder lady for boss than what Mrs. Smith was–“but ‘tain’t noways right to take no risks.”

“You see, ma’am,” said Ma Bell, “WE don’t know who you are no more than nothin’, do we? And we do know how as them big towns is ungodly to beat the band, don’t we? I remember my grandma tellin’ me when I was a little girl about the awful goin’s on she heard tell of one time when she was down to Pittsburg, and I reckon New York must be twice the size of Pittsburg was them days, so it must be twice as wicked. So we tell you plain, without meanin’ no harm, that WE don’t know who you are, nor what you’d do with Susan, once you got her to New York.”

“Oh, I now what you want,” said Mrs. Smith; “you want references.”

“Them’s it,” said Mrs. Bell, with great relief.

“Well,” said Mrs. Smith, “that is easy. I know EVERYBODY in New York.”

She thought a moment.

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