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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 5. Sammy Mills

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_ CHAPTER V. Sammy Mills

"There ought to be a license agin book agents," said Pap Briggs spitefully, when Eliph' Hewlitt had hurried away.

"It wouldn't harm that feller," said Wilkins. "He's a red hot one at book-agenting, he is, an' he'd find out some way to git round it. I hear lot of book agents that come round this way tell of him. He's got a record of sellin' more copies of that encyclopedia book of his than any one man ever sold of any one book, an' he's a sort of hero of the book-agenting business. It makes me proud to call to remembrance that him an' me was kids together down at Franklin, years ago. Him an' me took to the book-agentin' biz the same day, we did. I needed cash, like I always do, and he had literatoor in the family. So we went an' did it. We did it to Gallops Junction first, and after that Eliph' sowed literatoor pretty general all over Iowa, an' next I heard of him all over the United States. Iowa is now a grand State, an as full of culture as a Swiss cheese is full of holes, an' I don't take all the credit for it; I give Eliph' his share. Hotels help to scatter the seed, but literatoor scatters more.

"One day, down there at Franklin, Eliph' says to me, 'Jim, you know that book pa wrote?' That's what Eliph' remarked to me on the aforesaid day, but I wish to state his name wasn't Eliph' on that date, an' it wasn't Hewlitt, neither. It was plain Sammy; Sammy Mills. Eliph' Hewlitt was a sort of fancy name my pa had give to a horse he had that he thought was a racer, but wasn't. It was a good enough horse to enter in a race, but not good enough to win. It was the kind of race horse that kept pa poor, but hopeful.

"'Why, yes, Sammy,' I says, 'I've heard tell of that grand literary effort of your dad.'

"'Well,' he says--we was sittin' on the porch of his pa's house--'Pa he had a thousand of them printed.'

"'Dickens he did!' I remarked, supposin' it was us to me to do some remarkin'.

"'And,' says Sammy, 'he's got eight hundred an' sixty-four of them highly improvin' an' intellectooal volumes stored in the barn right now.'

"'Quite a lib'ry,' I says, off-hand like.

"'Numerous, but monotonous,' says Sam. 'As a lib'ry them books don't give the variety of topics they oughter. They all cling to the same subject too faithful. Eight hundred an' sixty-four volumes of the "Wage of Sin," all bound alike, don't make what I call a rightly differentiated lib'ry. When you've read one you've read all.'

"'Alas!' I says, or somthin' like that, sympathetic an' attentive.

"'Likewise,' says Sam, 'they clutter up the barn. They ought to be got out to make room for more hay.'

"'This was indeed true. I saw it was all good sense. Horses don't take to literatoor like they does to hay.

"'Well,' says Sammy, 'what's the matter with chuckin' them eight hundred an' sixty-four "Wages of Sin" into the rustic communities of this commonwealth of Iowa, U.S.A.? Here we've got a barnful of high-class, intellectooal poem, an' yon we have a State full of yearnin' minds, clamorous for mental improvement at one fifty per volume. It's our duty to chuck them poems into them minds, an' to intellectooally subside them clamors.'

"I shook my head quite strenuous.

"'Nix for me!' I remarked; 'no book-agenting for me.'

"'Who said book-agenting?" asked Sammy, deeply offended. 'Do you calculate that the son of a high-class author of a famous an' helpful book would turn book agent? Never!'

"'What then?' I asks him.

"'Just a little salubrious an' entertainin' canvassin' for a work of genius,' he says. 'A few heart-to-heart talks with the educated ladies of Gallops Junction an' Tomville on the beauties of the "Wage of Sin." That ain't no book-agenting,' says he, 'that's pickin' money off the trees. It's pie ready cut an' handed to us on a plate with a gilt edge. All we've got to do is to bite it.'

"No, let me tell you right here, Pap, that the 'Wage of Sin' was a thoroughbred treat to read. It was a moral book. Next to the Bible it was the morallest book I ever tackled, an' when W. P. Mills wrote that book he gave the literatoor of the U.S.A. a boost in the right direction that it hasn't recovered from yet. It was the champion long distance poem of the nineteenth century. That book showed what a chunky an' nervous mind old W. P Mills had. There was ten thousand verses to that book of poem, partitioned off into various an' sundry parts so the read thereof could sit up an' draw breath about every thousand verses, an' get his full wind ready for the run through the next slice.

"That 'Wage of Sin' book was surely for to admire, any way you looked at it. Take the subject; it wasn't any of your little, sawed-off, one-year sprints. No siree! W. P. Mills started away back in the front vestibule of time. He said, right in the preface--an' that was all poetry, too--

Now, reader, go along with me Away back to eternity, A hundred thousand years, and still Keep backing backwards if you will.

"An' when he got away back there he sort of expectorated on his hands an' started in at Genesis, Chapter One, Verse One, an' went right along down through the Bible like a cross-cut saw through a cottonwood log. He never missed a single event that was important, if true. He got all them old fellers rhymed right into that book--Jereboam, Rehoboam, Meschach, Schadrach, an' Abednego, an' all the whole caboodle, from Adam with an A to Zaccheus with a Z.

"That certain was a moral tome, an' no prevarication. It was plumb drippin' with moral from start to finish. You see Eve she set the ball a-rollin' when she swiped them apples. That was where she done dead wrong, and that was the 'Sin' as mentioned in the name of the book, an' old W. P. Mills he showed in that literary volume how everybody has had to pay the 'Wages' ever since. It was great. I never read anything else moral that I could say I really hankered for, but I sure did enjoy that book. Old W. P. Mills was a wonder at poetry.

"It beat all how vivid he made all them Old Testament people, an' the things they did. Why, I never cared two cents for Shadrach, Meshach, an' Abednego before I read that book, but after I read it I never could git them lines of W. P.'s out of my head--

'The King perhaps that moment saw A thing that filled his soul with awe-Shadrach and Meshach, to and fro, Walked and talked with Abednego.'

"I tell you, you can't obliterate them three men out of your mind when you read that verse once. You see them walkin' in that fiery furnace, even when you're in your little bed; walkin' an' carryin' on a conversation, which, when you come to think of it, was the most natural thing for them to be doin'. You wouldn't look to see them sit down on a hot log, or to stand still sayin' nothin'. Walk an' talk, that's what they did, an' it's what anybody would do in similar circumstances. I guess fiery furnaces has that effect all the world over, but it took W. P. Mills to see it with his mind's eye, an' put it into verses.

"So, when Sammy gently intimated to me that it was his pa's book we was to canvass, the job looked different. I might shy at an encyclopedia, or at a life of Stephen A. Douglas, but to handle a moral volume like the 'Wage of Sin' sort of appealed to the financial morality of my conscience. So I asked Sammy what the gentlemanly canvassers would get out of it.

"'Pa had a lot of faith in that lyric poem,' says Sammy to me, 'an' no one had a better right to, for he wrote it himself, but the publishing game was dull an' depressed about the time he got ready to issue it forth, an' he was necessitated to compensate the cost of printing it himself. And,' he says, 'the rush an' hurry of the public to buy that book is such it reminds me of the eagerness of a kid to get spanked. So I figger we can get several wagon-loads of "Wage of Sin" at fifty cents per volume.'

"'That's a cheap price,' I says, 'That's two hundred verses for one cent, an' the cover free.'

"Sammy was one of the confidential kind that gets close up to your ear and whispers, even if he is only tellin' you that it looks like rain, so he looks all around and whispers to me:

"'We'll make our initiative beginnin' first off at Gallops Junction,' he says, 'where we ain't known, an' where pa ain't known, an' where the book ain't known. I've a premonition,' he says, 'that 'twould be better so. If we was to start in here we would get discouraged, for the folks ain't used to buyin' "Wage of Sin." They've been given it so bountiful an' free that pa can't give away another copy to the poorest man in town. They've got so that they run when they see pa comin'.'

"'You've got sense in that red head of your'n,' I says.

"'For me,' he says, 'it will be merely a voluptuous excursion. It will be pie to sell that book, because I am the son of its author. Filial relationship to genius,' he says, 'will make them overawed, an' grateful to be allowed to buy of me, but you will have it harder. You can't claim nearer kin to genius than that you helped the son of it chop wood at various and sundry times.'

"'And gave him a handsome black eye one time,' I says reminiscently. 'I'll make the most of that. The public likes anecdotes.'

"'No,' says Sammy, 'you can omit to mention that black-eye business. That kind of an anecdote would be harrowing to the minds of literary inclined gentlefolks. You can reminisce about how you helped me carry wood while I recited passages of poem out of that book at you.'

"What I would have spoke next don't matter, because I omitted to speak it. I was gettin' a glimmer of an idea into my head, and I wanted to get it clear in and settled down to stay before I lost it. It got in, an' I had a realization that it was an O.K. idea, an' that it beat Sammy's son-of-his-father idea quite scandalous.

"When me an' Sammy got down to Gallops Junction we found that as a municipality of art an' beauty it was a red-hot fizzle, but as a red-hot, sizzling sandheap it was the leader of the world. As near as we could judge from a premature look at the depot platform the principal occupations of the grizzly inhabitants was pickin' sand burrs from the inside rim of their pants-leg. It was a dreary village, but Sammy restrained my unconscious impulse to get right aboard the train again. He had that joyful light of combat in them blue eyes of his, an' he looked at that bunch of paintless houses that was dumped around the Gallops Junction Hotel like Columbus must have looked at Plymouth Rock when he landed there.

"I had an immediate notion that the thing for me to do was to go over to the hotel, an' sit in the shade there, an' study the inhabitants a while, an' get the gauge of 'em, an' learn their manners an' customs, before harshly thrustin' myself into their bosoms, so I went an' did it; but Sammy proceeded immediate to visit their homes with the 'Wage of Sin' in one hand an' the torch of culture in the other.

"The more I set under the board awning of that hotel the less I felt like goin' for the to uplift the populace, so I went calmly an' respectfully to sleep, like everybody else in sight, an' the gentle hours sizzled past like rows of hot griddles.

"It was contiguous to five o'clock when I woke up, an' I had put three hours of blissful ignorance into the past, an' I seen it was too late to begin my labors of helpfulness that day. I crossed my legs the other way from what they had been crossed, an' I was about to extend my ruminations to other thoughts, when I noticed a young female exit out of a grocery store across the road. She had a basket of et ceterys on her arm, an' a face that was as beautiful as a ham sandwich looks to a man after a forty days' fast. I recognized her right away as the prettiest girl of my life's experience, an' as she stepped out I slid out of my chair an' made up my mind to make a disposal of one copy of that book as soon as she struck home.

"She went into her house at the back door, as most folks do, an' before she slid the basket off her plump but modest arm, she looked up in surprise to see what gentlemanly visitor was knockin' the paint off the screen door with his knuckles. The glad object that her eyes beheld was me, smilin' an' amiable, with one hand shyly feeling if my necktie was loose, while the other concealed behind my back the interesting volume entitled the 'Wage of Sin.'

"I won't circumlocute about how I got in and got set down on a chair alongside of the kitchen stove. Approaching the female species promptly and slick was my hard card always. So there I set, face to face with that beautiful specimen of female bric-a-brac, and about two inches from a ten-horse-power cook stove in full blossom. It was a warm day, and extry warm on the side of me next that stove. The night side of me felt like sudden fever aggravated by applications of breaths from the orthodox bit of brimstone, and even my off side was perspirating some.

"Thus situated before that young female lady, I was baked but joyous, and I set right in to sell her a 'Wage of Sin.'

"'Ma genully buys books when we buy any, but we never do,' she says.

"'Your ma in now?' I asks, respectful, but in a way to show that her eyes and hair wasn't being wasted on no desert hermit.

"'Yes, she's in,' she says. 'Looks like it's guna rain.'

"'Its some few warm,' I says, shifting my most cooked side a little. 'Can I converse with your ma?'

"'Only in spirit,' she says. 'Otherwise she's engaged.'

"'Dead?' I asks, her words seeming to imply her ma's having departed hence.

"'Oh, no,' she says, smiling. 'She's in the front room, talking. She has a very previous engagement with a gent, and can't break away.'

"'You'll do just as well,' I says, 'if not better. You have that intellectual look that I always spot on the genooine lover of reading matter.'

"'If you are gun to talk book, you better git right down to business and talk book' she says, 'because when I whoop up that stove to git supper, as I'm gun to soon, it's liable to git warm in this kitchen.'

"I took a look at the cooking apparatus, and decided that she knew what she was conversing about. I liked the way she jumped right into the fact that I had a few things to say about books, too. She was an up-and-coming sort, and that's my sort. It's up-and-comingness that has made the Kilo Hotel what it is.

"'All right, sister,' I says, 'this book is the famous "Wage of Sin."'

"'No?" she exlamates. 'Not the "Wage of Sin"? The celebrated volume by our fellow Iowan, Mr. What's-his-name?'

"'The same book!' I says, glad to know its knowledge had passed far down the State. 'Price one-dollar-fifty per each. A gem of purest razorene. A rhymed compendium of wit, information, and highly moral so-forths. Ten thousand verses, printed on a new style rotating duplex press, and bound up in pale-gray calico. Let me quote you that sweet couplet about the flood:

"I hear the mother in her grief Imploring heaven for relief As up the mountain-side she drags Herself by mountain peaks and crags."

"'When I wrote that--'

"'When you wrote that!' she cries joyous, stopping to gaze at me. 'What! Do I see before me a real, genooine author? Do I see in our humble but not chilly kitchen a reely trooly author?'

"'Yes'm,' I says, modest, like G. W. when is papa caught him executing the cherry tree. 'I wrote it. I am the author. Here, as you see me now, in tropical but dripping diffidence, I am the author of that tome. It's a warm day.'

"She stood in my proximity and explored me with her eyes.

"'An author!' she says, stunned but pleased. 'A real live author! My! But it is hard for me to grasp a realization of that fact. So you wrote it?'

"'Yes'm,' I says again. 'I done it.'

"'So young, too,' she says. 'Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus.'

"'It's easy when you know how,' I says off-hand like. 'Book-writing is born in us. When we get warmed up to it it's no trick at all. An author can't no more help authorizing than a stray pup can help scratching.'

"'But,' she says, 'it must be true what I've heard about authorizing being a poor paying job.'

"'Why?' I asks, being suspicious.

"'Because,' she says, 'if it wasn't you wouldn't be touring around to sell your own books after you've wrote them. That is hard work. Now, I have to stay in this kitchen and perspire because I have to, but if you was rich off your books you wouldn't sit on that chair and get all stewed up. I can see that.'

"'What you can't see,' I says, 'is that I came here just because I was the writer of this here composition. Money I don't desire to wish for. Being a rich man and a philanthropist, I give all I make off of this book to the poor. But it ain't everybody can experience the satisfiedness of seeing a reely genooine author. So I travel around exhibiting myself for the good of the public. And as a special and extraordinary thing--a sort of guarantee to one and all that they have seen a genooine living author--I write my autograph in each and every volume of this book that I sell at the small sum of one-fifty per. Think of it! Ten thousand verses; moral, intellectooal, and witty; cloth cover, and the author's own autograph written by himself, all for one-fifty. The autograph of the famous boy author.'

"'That's a big bargain,' she says, thoughtful.

"'Jigantic,' I says

"'Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus,' she repeats again, dreamy.

"'Ain't it!' I responds, sniffing to see if it was my pants that was scorching. 'Will you have one volume?'

"She hesitated, and then she says, 'No. No, I don't dast to. Not yet. Not till I see how ma comes out. Mebby she'll purchase one before she gits through being talked to.'

"I set straight upward on my hotly warmed chair. 'Being talked to!' I says, astonished.

"'Yes,' says the sweet sample of girl. 'Your son, you know, Mister Samuel Mills; he's in the front room interviewing ma.'

"'My son!' I ejaculates weakly, the thermometer in my spinal backbone going up ten thousand degrees hotter.

"'Such an oldish son, too,' she says, sinfully joyous, 'for such a youngish father. He must have been two years old the day you were born. Genius is cert'nly a wonderful phenomenus!'

"I set there a minute, wilted, but nervous. Then I got hot, and arose in anger.

"'My son!' I says, scornful. 'So that's what he says, it is? Disgracing his father in that way! All right for him! I disown him out of my family. And I furthermore remark that he ain't my son, nor never was.'

"'Well,' she says, 'you needn't get so hot about it. He's a hard worker. He's been here all day.'

"'I ain't hot,' I says, forgetting that my temperature was torrid plus glowing, 'but I'm mad to think that that boy which I hired to sell my book should pass himself off as my son, and then stay talking all day in one place, instead of selling books throughout the promiscuous neighborhood.'

"'Then,' she says, as if for the first time seeing light, 'that young man in their ain't no son of the author of this "Sin" book?'

"'Never; subsequent nor previous, nor wasn't, nor will be,' I solemnly made prevarication.

"'Well,' she says, 'he said he was when he come in; and me and ma didn't think it likely an author person would have his son out book-peddling, so we asservated back that he wasn't; and him and ma has been having a high-grade talking match all day in the front parlor to convince each other otherwise than what they are convinced of.'

"'Him,' continued the lovely girl, 'says he'll sell ma a book BECAUSE he's the son of the author thereof, and ma says she'll buy a book if he owns up truthful that he ain't the son of the author thereof. She says that if she buys a book off of him when he's making false witness of having a talented dad she'll be encouraging lying, which she can't do, being a full-blood Baptist. So they've got a deadlock, and the jury is hung, and the plurality is equal and unbiased on both sides, and up to date nobody wins.'

"'Then,' I says, 'I don't sell no "Wage of Sin" do I?'

"'Not as no author if it,' she says. 'If you want to tackle us as a common book agent, you'll find us right in the market.'

"'Katie,' I says, 'call your ma out here a minute. If I can sell a copy of this volume I am willing to sell my birthmark for a mess of potash any day of the week.'

"'That,' she says, cheerful, 'is spoke like a financier and a gentleman.'

"With that she started for the front room, but just then the door swung open, and out came her ma and Sammy, tired with fatigue, but satisfied.

"'What!' says the young daughter, 'is the tie untied? Is the jawfest concluded?'

"'It is,' says the maternal ancestor of that girl, weak but happy. 'We talked seven miles and six furloughs, but I won. He has renounced his sin. He ain't no son of no author. I've boughten his book.'

"I gazed at Sammy with a moist, reproachful eye.

"'Sammy! Sammy!' I says, shaking my head, 'to think----'

"'Hush!' he says, 'don't say it. I ain't no Sammy. I ain't no Mills. Them is not my name.'

"'Alas!' I says, mournful, 'am I then deceived since childhood's happy hours?'

"I see the respectable old lady pricking up her ears and getting ready for another season of conversation. Sammy likewise made the same observation, and he fended off the deadly blow.

"'Yes,' he says, 'I have deceived you. My name is----'

"He stopped and looked doubtful and perplexed, and scratched his ear with his forepaw.

"'My name is----' he says, and stops, and then he turns to the elderly female, and asks desperate: 'What in tunket did I say my name was?'

"'Hewlitt,' she says, 'Eliph' Hewlitt.'

"'Oh, yes!' says Sammy, 'that's it. I guess I'll just write that down, so as to have it handy. You know,' he says, looking at me, 'my memory's awful bad since I had the scarlet fever. It's terrible. Why, when I come in here I knowed I had SOMETHING to say about this book, and I tried to remember, and I seemed to remember that I was the son of the author who authored it. I never come so near lying in my life. I'm all in a tremble over it to think how near to lying I was! An' I got the notion Eliph' Hewlitt was the name of a horse.'

"'Ma,' says Katie, giving me a wicked smile, 'this here other young man has got a bad scarlet fever memory, too. HE'S come near to lying, likewise. You'd ought to speak a few words of helpfulness with him, too!'

"'Now, here,' I says, 'you pass that by, Katie. All that that I said was a novel I was thinking of writing out when I got my full growth, which I told you to pass the time away whiles this What's-his-name was busy. I never wrote nothing!'

"'Well,' she says, 'you don't look as if you had the sense to, so I guess you ain't lying now.'

"But ma lit into me, and spent two hours, steady talk, convincing me I wasn't W. P. Mills, although every time she said I wasn't I said so, too. The more I agreed that I wasn't the more she would fire up and take a fresh hold, and try to bear it home to me that I wasn't. There was never in the world such a long fight, with both sides saying the same thing. Ordinary persons couldn't have done it, but hat lady mother could, an' did, an' every now an' then she would dig into Sammy again. An' all of it was right near to that enthusiastical stove. So at last she laid a couple of extra hard words against us an' we keeled over, as you might say, an' toppled out of the kitchen. We was dazed with language that was all words, an' when we come to the gate we was so stupefied that we climbed right over it, an' so weak that we fell down off the other side of it, an' Sammy all the time repeatin' 'Eliph' Hewlitt,' like a man in a dream. By next day he was able to leave the hotel, an' he took the train, an' I ain't seen him until this day, so I guess he stuck right to that name, for fear he might meet the talkin' lady again. I don't see how he could get the name out of his system when once Katie's ma had talked it in, anyway, for she was a great talker. I ought to know, for I went back an' chinned with Katie as soon as I got the daze out of my head, an' the long-come short-come of it was I married Katie.

"When Sammy comes back I want to ask him if he sold out all them 'Wage of Sin' books. I never sold but one, an' I didn't sell that--I gave it to Katie for a wedding present."

"You done right when you gave up the book agent business, Jim," said Pap Briggs. "There ought to be a license agin all of 'em." _

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