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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 6. The Castaway

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_ CHAPTER VI. The Castaway

Eliph' Hewlitt, when he reached the large, yellow house, found the door open. The sale was well over. The gingham aprons and the cat-stitched dusting cloths were all sold, and only a few crocheted slipper-bags and similar luxuries remained, and these were being offered at greatly reduced prices, much to the chagrin of the ladies who had contributed them. The cashiers were counting the results of the evening's business, and the other ladies were grouped about the minister, who stood in the middle of the parlor, laughingly explaining the merits of a plush-covered rolling-pin he had purchased in a moment of folly.

Eliph' Hewlitt tapped on the door to call attention to his presence, and walked into the parlor. Mrs. Doctor Weaver came forward, a shade of anxiety on her face.

"Mrs. Doctor Weaver, I suppose," said Eliph' Hewlitt. "Well, my name is Hewlitt, Eliph' Hewlitt, and I heard of this sale at the hotel. The landlord said strangers were welcome----"

"Of course they are!" exclaimed Mrs. Doctor Weaver. "I'm afraid all the best things are gone, they went off so quickly to-night; but you're just as welcome, I'm sure, an' mebby you'll find something you'd like, though I suppose you're a travelin' man, an' I don't see what you'd do with a knit tidy, or a rickrack pin cushion, unless you've got a sister or a wife to send it to. But mebby you ain't a drummer after all?"

"Well, yes, I'm a sort of a drummer," said Eliph', tapping his parcel. "Book agent, you know. That the minister?"

Mrs. Weaver drew back when Eliph' mentioned his occupation. She did not consider a book agent any less worthy than another man, but she had been obliged to miss the last payment on Sir Walter Scott, and she had an ill-defined feeling of guilt. To miss a payment was almost as hideous in her eyes as to neglect to put a dime in the contribution plate each Sunday would have been. Her first thought was that Eliph' had come to rudely bear away the ten volumes of Sir Walter before the eyes of all the women of Kilo, and she gladly grasped at his last words.

"Yes," she said quickly, "that's him. Let me introduce you. He--he likes books."

"I'm not selling books to-night," explained Eliph' Hewlitt, for her words seemed one form of the usual reception of a book agent, and to indicate a desire to be rid of him as quickly as possible; "but I don't mind meeting him."

As Mrs. Weaver led the way to the center of the group, Eliph' Hewlitt followed her, but his eyes quickly made a circle of the room, and rested a moment on Sally Briggs, who was one of the cashiers.

She saw him and caught her breath, as if the sight had frightened her, but when he nodded she could not refuse to return the salutation. She nodded as coldly as she knew how, and hurried to the most distant corner of the room. Eliph' was well enough pleased with this reception, for he would hardly have know what to do with a warmer one; in many years he had received only the book agent's usual greeting, which is far from cordial. She had nodded to him, at any rate, and he felt a glow of satisfaction.

When Mrs. Weaver introduced him to the minister she added that he was a book agent. She may have done this as an explanation, for Kilo, and even Kilo's minister, craved details, or she may have done it to give fair warning to all concerned. The effect was instantaneous, and the smiles of welcome faded. The minister shook hands gravely, and the ladies who had run forward with shoe bags and tidies turned and walked coldly away.

Eliph' Hewlitt smiled.

"Funny how that name makes a man unpopular, ain't it?" he said, addressing the minister. "But I ain't going to talk books in Kilo. The landlord down at the hotel told me it was a bad time, so I'm going to pass it by. Well, I guess we deserve all the blame we get. Some of us do pester the life out of people--don't know when to stop. Now, when I see a man don't want my book, or when I see a town ain't ready for it, I drop books and go off, and leave them alone. I could have stayed down there at the hotel and bothered the landlord into taking my book. He'd have too it, because everybody that sees this book, and understands it, does take it; but I said, 'Why bullyrag the life out of the poor man when there's a missionary sale going on in town, and he don't want a book, and I do want to see the sale? I am interested in missions."

"It's a great field," said the minister, with a sigh of relief; for, as the literary head of Kilo, he was always the first and most strongly contested goal of the book agents. The subscription list that did not bear his name at the head bore few others, and he appreciated the self denial of Eliph' Hewlitt in passing such a good opportunity to talk business.

"Are you deeply interested in the field?" he inquired graciously.

"Well, you se," said Eliph' Hewlitt, "I was cast away on one of those desert islands myself once, and I know what those poor heathen must suffer for lack of churches and civilization, and good books to read. I can feel for them."

Someone pushed a chair gently against Eliph's legs, in gentle invitation for him to be seated, and he took the chair, and laid his package across his knees. Those who had drawn away from him now gathered closer, and all gazed at him with interest. Miss Sally alone remained at the other end of the room.

"Well, I never expected to live to see a man that had been shipwrecked," said Mrs. Weaver, "let alone shipwrecked on a desert island--an' a book agent at that!"

Eliph' smiled indulgently.

"I wasn't a book agent in them days," he said; "it was that made me a book agent. If I hadn't been shipwrecked on that island I wouldn't be here now with this book on my knees."

Mrs. Weaver's face flushed.

"I'm sure I ask you to excuse me," she exclaimed. "I don't know what I was thinkin' of not to ask to take your package. Let me put it aside for you. They ain't no use for you to be bothered with it."

"Thank you, ma'm," said Eliph', "but I'll just keep it. No offense, but I never let it go out of my hands, day or night. It saved my life, not once, but many times, this book did, and I keep it handy. But for this book that shipwreck would have been my last day."

"Land sakes, now!" cried Mrs. Weaver, "won't you tell us about it?"

"Well, as I said, but for this book I'd be bones at the bottom of the sea. Yes, ladies and gents, bones, of which there is one hundred and ninety-eight in the full grown human skeleton, composed of four-fifths inorganic and one-fifth organic matter."

"How dreadful!" exclaimed Mrs. Weaver, who, being a doctor's wife, had a particular dislike for bones, as for useless things that cluttered up the house, and were not ornamental. "But how come you to get wrecked?"

"Five years ago," said Eliph' Hewlitt, "I was a confidence man in New York. New York is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere; population estimated over three million; located on the island of Manhattan, at the mouth of the Hudson River. And, if I do say it myself, I was a good confidence man. I was a success; I got rich. And what then? The police got after me, and I had to run away. Yes, ladies and gents, I had to fly from my native land. I took passage on a ship for Ceylon. Ceylon," he added, "is an island southeast of India; population three millions; principal town, Colombo; English rule; products, tea, coffee, spices, and gems.

"We had a good trip until we almost got there, and then a big storm come up, and blew our ship about like it was a peanut shell, tossing it up and down on the mighty waves, and round and back; and the third day we bumped on a rock, and the ship began to sink. In the hurry I was left behind when the crew and passengers went off in the boats. Think of it, ladies and gents, not even a life preserver to save me, and the ship sinking a foot a minute."

"Goodness me!" said Mrs. Weaver, "you wasn't drowned, was you?"

"No," said Eliph' Hewlitt, "or I wouldn't be here to tell it. I rushed to the captain's cabin. I thought maybe I would find a life preserver there. Alas, no! But there, ladies and gents, I found something better. When I didn't find a life preserver I was stunned--yes, clean knocked out. I dropped into a chair and laid my head on the captain's table. I sat there several minutes, the ship sinking one foot per minute, and when I come to my senses, and raised my head, my hand was lying on this."

Reverently he raised the volume from his knees and unwrapped it, and the Ladies' Foreign Mission Society leaned forward with one accord to catch a glimpse of the title. Eliph' Hewlitt opened the book and flipped over the pages rapidly with the moistened tip of his third finger.

"It was this book, ladies and gents, and it was open here, page 742. Without thinking, I read the first thing that hit my eye. 'How to Make a Life Preserver,' it said. 'Take the corks from a hundred champagne bottles; tie them tightly in a common shirt; then fasten the arms of the shirt about the body, with the corks resting on the chest. With this easily improvised life preserver drowning is impossible.' I done it. The captain of that ship was a high liver, and his room was chuck full of champagne bottles. I put in two extry corks for good measure, and when the ship went down, I floated off on the top of the ocean as easy as a duck takes to a pond."

"My sakes!" exclaimed Mrs. Weaver, "that captain must have been an awful hard drinker!"

"He was," said Eliph' Hewlitt--"fearful. I was really shocked. But, there I was in the water, and not much better off for it, neither, for I couldn't swim a stroke, and as soon as I got through bobbing up and down like your cork when you've got a sunfish on your line, I stayed right still, just as if I'd been some bait-can a boy had thrown into an eddy, and I figgered like as not I'd stay there forever. Then I noticed I had this book in my hand, and I thought, 'While I'm staying here forever, I'll just take another peek at this book,' and I opened her. Page 781," said Eliph', turning quickly to that page, "was where she opened. 'Swimming; How to Float, Swim, Dive, and Tread Water--Plain and Fancy Swimming, Shadow Swimming, High Diving,' et cetery. There she was, all as plain as pie, and when I read it I could swim as easy as an old hand. The direction al through this book is plain, practical, and easily followed.

"I at once swum off to the south, for there was no telling how long I'd have to swim, and as the water was sort of cool, I thought best to go south, because the further south you go the warmer the water gets. When I swum two days, and was plumb tuckered out, I come to an island. The waves was dashing on it fearful, and I knew if I tried to land I'd be dashed to flinders. It knocked all the hope out of me, and I made up my mind to take off my life preserver and dive to the bottom of the sea to knock my brains out on the rocks. But, ladies and gents, before I dived I had another look at my book, hoping to find something to comfort a dying man. I turned to page 201."

Eliph' Hewlitt found the page, and pointed to the heading with his finger.

"'Five Hundred Ennobling Thoughts from the World's Greatest Authors, including the Prose and Poetical Gems of All ages,'" he read. "There they were-sixty-two solid pages of them, with vingetty portraits of the authors. I read No. 285:

"As Thou has made Thy world without, Make Thou more fair my world within,' et cetery."

"Whittier, J. G., commonly called the poet of liberty, born 1807, died 1892'--with a complete sketch of his life, a list of his most popular pieces, and a history of his work on behalf of the slave.

"I was much comforted by this," said Eliph' Hewlitt, "and I run over the pages this way, thinking of what I had read, when I hit on page 927: 'Geography of Land and Sea.' I skipped ten pages telling in an interesting manner of the five great continents, their political division, mountains, lakes, and plains, their vegetable inhabitants and animals, their ancient and modern history, et cetery, and I come to 'Islands, Common, Volcanic, and Coral'; and on page 940 I read that coral islands are often surrounded by a reef on which the waves dash, but that there is usually a quiet lagoon between the reef and the island, with somewhere an opening from the sea into the lagoon.

"When I read that," said Eliph', closing the book, "I shut up my book and swum round until I come to the opening, which was there, just like the book said it would be, and I swum across the lagoon, and fell exhausted on the beach. I was played out, and I had swallered too much water. I would have died right there, but I thought of my book, and I turned to the index, where every subject known to the vast realm of knowledge is set down alphabetically, from 'A' to 'Z', twenty thousand references in all, dealing with every subject from the time of Adam to the present day, including, in the new and revised edition just from the press, a history of the war with Spain, with pull page portraits of Dewey, Sampson, Cervera, and the boy king, and colored plates of the battles of Manila Bay and Santiago. I run my eye down the page till I came to 'Drowned, How to Revive the,' page 96; and what I read there saved my life."

The ladies sighed with relief.

"What shall I say about my four long years on that island?" said Eliph'. "I was the only man on it. Oh, the pangs of solitude! Oh, the terrors of being alone! But, ladies and gents, I suffered none of them. I was not alone. He is never alone who has a copy of Jarby's 'Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art,' published by Jarby & Goss, New York, and sold for the trifling sum of five dollars a volume, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid, the book delivered when the first payment is made. And that, my friends, was the book I had, and the book you see before you."

The minister put out his hand.

"May I look at the volume?" he asked, and Eliph' passed it to him with a nod.

"From the first the book was my friend, philosopher, and guide. I had no matches. Page 416, 'Fire, Its Traditions--How to Make a Fire Without Matches--Fire-fighting, Fire-extinguishers,' et cetery, taught me to make a fire by rubbing two sticks, as the savages do. I had no weapons to kill the fowls of the air. Page 425, 'Weapons, Ancient and Modern--Their History--How to Make and Use Them,' et cetery, told me how to twist the cocoanut bark into a cord, and to shape the limb of the gum-gum tree into a bow and arrow. Page 396, 'Birds, Tropical, Temperate, and Arctic--Song Birds, Edible Birds, and Birds of Plumage,' et cetery, with their Latin and common names, and over one thousand illustrations, told me which to kill, and which to eat. Page 100, 'The Complete Kitchen Guide,' being eight hundred tested recipes--roasts, fries, pastry, cakes, bread, puddings, entrees, soups, how to make candy, how to clean brass, copper, silver, tin, et cetery--told me how to prepare and cook them.

"Yes, my friends, I went to that island an ignorant, unbelieving man, and I came away educated and reformed. For my idle hours there was the 'Complete Mathematician,' showing how to figger the most difficult problems easily, how to measure corn in the drib, water in the well, figger interest, et cetery, by which I become posted on all kinds of arithmetic. There was the 'Complete Letter Writer, or a Guide to Polite and Correct Correspondence,' the 'Dictionary of Legal Terms, or Every Man His Own Lawyer,' the 'Modern Penman,' the 'Eureka Shorthand System'--in fact, all the knowledge in the world, condensed into one thousand and four pages, for the small sum of five dollars. Who can afford to be without this book, which will pay for itself twice over every week of the year?

"I was picked up, ladies and gents," continued Eliph' Hewlitt, "by a passing ship, and I decided to devote my life to a great work--to circulating this wonderful book in my native land. I wept when I thought of the millions that had not seen it--millions that were living poor, starved lives because they didn't have a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, and I gave myself to the cause."

The minister handed the book back to Eliph' Hewlitt, and cleared his throat.

"It seems to be all you claim for it," he said; "but I fear the landlord of the Kilo House was right. We are not, many of us, ready for more books at present. If you return in a year or eight months----"

Eliph' Hewlitt smiled, and put his hand gently no the glossy black knee of the minister's best trousers.

"True," he said, "true! Kilo has books. Kilo knows the civilizing and Christianizing influence of books. But," he exclaimed, "think of the poor heathen! Think of the poor missionaries fighting to bring civilization to those dark-hued brothers! Shall it be said that every home in Kilo has a set of Sir Walter Scott, ten volumes with gilt edges, while the minds of the heathen dry up and rot for want of the vast treasures contained in Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art? Here in this book is the wisdom of the whole world, and will you selfishly withhold it form those who need it so badly? If I know Kilo, I think not. If what is said in Jefferson regarding the unselfishness and liberality of Kilo is true, I think not. I know what you will say. You will say, 'Here, take this money we have collected this evening and give to the thirsting heathen as many volumes of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, as it will buy at five dollars a volume.'"

He glanced around the circle of faces.

"That is what you will say," he said; "But Eliph' Hewlitt will beg a chance to do his little for the noble work. He will, seeing the good cause, make the price four seventy-five per volume, and throw in one volume from for the Kilo Sunday School library, where one and all can have reference to its helpful and civilizing pages."

In Eliph' Hewlitt's eyes glowed the fire of conquest that always shone in them when he was "talking book," a glitter such as shines in the eyes of the enthusiast, and they fell upon Miss Sally Briggs, who had been drawn by his eloquence to the edge of the ring of ladies. As he paused, she recognized the moment as that when the victim is supposed to utter the words, "Well, I guess I'll take a copy," but she missed the direct appeal, and its absence confused her, and she was still wondering whether it was now time to say she would take a copy, or whether she had better wait for the formal appeal, when Mrs. Doc Weaver spoke for the Ladies' Mission Circle.

When Eliph' Hewlitt left the house, half an hour later with his order signed, Miss Sally had disappeared, and, although he peeked eagerly into both the side rooms as he passed through the hall, he could see nothing of her. He was disappointed.

When he returned to the hotel the landlord was asleep in the chair before the door. He arose with a yawn, rubbed his eyes, and led the way into the office where a dingy kerosene lamp was burning dimly. He stretched his arms as he looked at the clock that stood above the dusty pigeon holes back of the desk.

"'Leven o'clock!" he yawned. "I must have been asleep two hours. Guess you'll want to get right up to bed, won't you? I reckon you found out Kilo don't want no books this trip, Sammy; an' if you want to git an early start from town you'll need all the sleep you can get."

Eliph' tossed his package on the desk carelessly.

"Why, yes, Jim, I wish you WOULD call me early," he said. "I'll be ready for bed in half an hour or so. I done a little business up yonder, and I want to mail my report to New York. But you needn't hitch up my horse in the morning."

"No?" asked the landlord sleepily.

"No," said Eliph', "and if any feller comes this way selling books in the next month or so, just tell him there ain't no use for a raw hand to waste time in this town. Tell him Eliph' Hewlitt has settled down to live here." _

Read next: Chapter 7. The Colonel

Read previous: Chapter 5. Sammy Mills

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