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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 2. Susan

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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 lift 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.

"There's Mr. Murray, of MURRAY'S MAGAZINE," she suggested, mentioning her friend of the great monthly magazine.

"Guess we never heard of that," said Mrs. Bell doubtfully.

"Then do you know the AEON MAGAZINE? I know the editor of AEON."

The neighbors and Mrs. Bell looked at each other blankly, and shook their heads.

Mrs. Smith named ALL the magazines. She had contributed stories to most of them, but not one was known, even by name, to her inquisitors. One shy old lady asked faintly if she had ever heard of Mr. Tweed. She thought she had heard of a Mister Tweed of New York, once.

Then, quite suddenly, Mrs. Smith remembered her own brother, the great Marriott Nolan Tarbro, whose romances sold in editions of hundreds of thousands, and who was, beyond all doubt, the greatest living novelist. Kings had been glad to meet him, and newsboys and gamins ran shouting at his heels when he walked the streets.

"How silly of me," she said. "You must have heard of my brother, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, you know, who wrote 'The Marquis of Glenmore' and 'The Train Wreckers'?"

Mrs. Bell coughed apologetically behind her hand.

"I'm not very littery, Mrs. Smith," she said kindly, "but mebby Mrs. Stein knows of him. Mrs. Stein reads a lot."

Mrs. Stein, whose sole reading was the Bible and such advertising booklets as came by mail, or as she could pick up on the counter of the drugstore, when she went to Kilo, moved uneasily. For years she had had the reputation of being a great reader, and brought face to face with the sister of an author she feared her reputation was about to fall.

"What say his name was?" she asked.

"Tarbro," said Mrs. Smith, as one would mention Shakespeare or Napoleon. "Tarbro. Marriott Nolan Tarbro."

"Well," said Mrs. Stein slowly, turning her head on one side and looking at the spot on the ceiling from which the plaster had fallen, "I won't say I haven't. And I won't say I have. When a person reads as much as what I do, she reads so many names they slip out of memory. Just this minute I don't quite call him to mind. Mighty near, though; I mind a feller once that peddled notions through here name of Tarbox. Might you know him?"

"No," said Mrs. Smith, "I haven't the honor."

"I thought mebby you might know him," said Mrs. Stein. "His business took him 'round considerable, and I thought mebby it might have took him to New York, and that mebby you might have met him."

Mrs. Bell sighed audibly.

"It's goin' to be an awful trial to Susan if she can't go," she said; "but I dunno WHAT to say. Seems like I oughtn't to say 'go,' an' yet I can't abear to say 'stay.'"

"I MUST have Susan," said Mrs. Smith, putting her arm about the girl. "I know you can trust her with me."

"Clementina," said Mr. Bell suddenly, "why don't you leave it to the minister? He'd settle it for the best. Why don't you leave it to him? Hey?"

"Well, bless my stars," said Mrs. Bell, brightening with relief, "I'd ought to have thought of that long ago. He WOULD know what was for the best. I'll ask him to-morrow."

To-morrow was the picnic day.

As Mrs. Smith led the way for Eliph' Hewlitt, the minister left the group of women who had clustered about him, and walked toward her.

"Sister Smith," he said, in his grave, kind way, "Sister Bell tells me you want to carry off our little Susan. You know we must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves I deciding, and"--he laid his hand on her arm--"though I doubt not all will be well, I must think over the matter a while. Welcome, brother," he added, offering his hand to Eliph' Hewlitt.

The little book agent shook it warmly.

"'I was a stranger and ye took me in,'" he said glibly. "Fine weather for a picnic."

His eyes glowed. To meet the minister first of all! This was good, indeed. Years of experience had taught him to seek the minister first. To start the round of a small community with the prestige of having sold the minister himself a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia made success a certainty.

He took the oilcloth-covered parcel from beneath his arm, and handed it to the minister gently, lovingly.

"Keep it until the picnic is over," he said. "I'm a book agent. I sell books. THIS is the book I sell. Take it away and hide it, so I can forget it and be happy. Don't let me have it until the picnic is over. PLEASE don't!"

He stretched out his arms in freedom, and the minister smiled and led the way toward the place where a buggy cushion had been laid on the grass as his seat of honor.

"I will retain the book," said the minister, with a smile, "although I don't think you can sell the book here. My brethren in Clarence are not readers. I read little myself. We are poor; we have no time to read. Except the Bible, I know of but one book in this entire community. Sister Dawson has a copy of Bunyan's sublime work, 'Pilgrim's Progress.' It was an heirloom. Be seated," he said, and Eliph' Hewlitt seated himself Turk-fashion, on the sod.

The minister took the book carefully on his knees. Even to feel a new book was a pleasure he did not often have, and his fingers itched upon it.

In three minutes Eliph' Hewlitt knew the entire story of Mrs. Smith and Susan, so far as it was known to the minister, and he leaned over and tapped with his forefinger the book on the minister's knee.

"Open it," he said.

The minister removed the wrapper.

"Page 6, Index," said Eliph' Hewlitt, turning the pages. He ran his finger down the page, and up and down page 7, stopped at a line on page 8, and hastily turned over the pages of the book. At page 974 he laid the book open, and the minister adjusted his spectacles and read where the book agent pointed. Then he pushed his spectacles up on his forehead and looked carefully at the picnickers. He singled out Mrs. Tarbro-Smith, and waved her toward him with his hand. She came and stood before him.

The minister wiped his spectacles on his handkerchief, readjusted them on his nose, and bent over the book.

"What is your brother's name?" he asked kindly, but with solemnity.

"Marriott Nolan Tarbro," she answered.

He traced the lines carefully with his finger.

"Born?" he asked.

"June 4, 1864, at Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson."

"And he is married?"

"Married Amanda Rogers Long, at Newport, Rhode Island, June 14, 1895."

"Where is he living now?" he asked.

"Last year he was living in New York--I am a widow, as you know--but last fall he went to Algiers."

"The book says Algiers. What-er-clubs is he a member of?"

"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Smith; "The Authors and The Century."

"I have no doubt," said the minister, "from what the book says, and what you say, that you are indeed the sister of this--ah--celebrated"--he looked at the book--"celebrated novelist, who is a man of such standing that he received--ah--several more lines in this work than the average, more, in fact, than Talmage, more than Beecher, and more than the present governor of the State of Iowa. I think I may safely advise Mrs. Bell to let Susan go with you."

"One!" said Eliph' Hewlitt quickly. "That's just ONE question that came up flaring, and was mashed flat by Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, a book in which are ten thousand and one subjects, fully treated by the best minds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. One subject for every day in the year for twenty-seven years, and some left over. Religion, politics, literature, every subject under the sun, gathered in one grand colossal encyclopedia with an index so simple that a child can understand it. See page 768, 'Texts, Biblical; Hints for Sermons; The Art of Pulpit Eloquence.' No minister should be without it. See page 1046, 'Pulpit Orators--Golden Words of the Greatest, comprising selections from Spurgeon, Robertson, Talmage, Beecher, Parkhurst,' et cetery. A book that should be in every home. Look at 'P': Poets, Great. Poison, Antidotes for. Poker, Rules of. Poland, History and Geography of, with Map. Pomeroy, Brick. Pomatum, How to Make. Ponce de Leon, Voyages and Life of. Pop, Ginger,' et cetery, et cetery. The whole for the small sum of five dollars, bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid."

The minister turned the pages slowly.

"It seems a worthy book," he said hesitatingly.

Eliph' Hewlitt looked at Mrs. Smith, with a question in his eyes.

She nodded.

"Ah!" he said. "Mrs. Smith, sister of the well-known novelist, Marriott Nolan Tarbro, takes two copies of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, bound in full morocco, one of which she begs to present to the worthy pastor of this happy flock, with her compliments and good wishes."

"I can't thank you," stammered the minister; "it is so kind. I have so few books, and so few opportunities of securing them."

Eliph' Hewlitt held out his hand for the sample volume.

"When you have this book," he declared, "you NEED no others. It makes a Carnegie library of the humblest home."

The entire picnic had gradually gathered around him.

"Ladies and gents," he said, "I have come to bring knowledge and power where ignorance and darkness have lurked. This volume----"

He stopped and handed his sample to the minister.

"Introduce me to the lady in the blue dress," he said to Mrs. Smith, and she stepped forward and made them acquainted.

"Miss Briggs, this is Mr----"

"Hewlitt," he said quickly, "Eliph' Hewlitt."

"Mr. Hewlitt," said Mrs. Smith. "Miss Sally Briggs of Kilo."

"I'm glad to know you, Miss Briggs," said Eliph' Hewlitt. "I hope we may become well acquainted. As I was sayin' to Mrs. Smith, I'm a book agent."

For the chapter on Jarby's Encyclopedia that dealt with "Courtship--How to Win the Affections," said that the first step necessary was to become well acquainted with the one whose affections it was desired to win. It was not Eliph' Hewlitt way to waste time when making a sale of Jarby's, and he felt that no more delay was necessary in disposing of his heart. _

Read next: Chapter 3. "How To Win The Affections"

Read previous: Chapter 1. Eliph' Hewlitt

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