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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 7. The Colonel

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_ CHAPTER VII. The Colonel

When Eliph' Hewlitt stepped out of the hotel the next morning, after he had eaten his breakfast, and stood, with a wooden toothpick between his lips, looking up and down the street, he felt a sense of exultation. If he had been a victorious general, and Kilo a captured city of great importance, he would have had a similar feeling. Already he felt that, if he was not the captor of the town, he was one of its important citizens, and practically the husband of an attractive woman whose father owned sufficient property to be one of those who grumble about taxes.

To a man who had been a wanderer all his life it was pleasant to feel that he was soon to be kin to all the things he saw on Main Street, brother to the town-pump and cousin to the flag pole, and to consider that even the well-gnawed hitching rails were to be part of his future years. He nodded across the street to Billings, the grocer and general store man, as if he was an old acquaintance, and he watched Skinner, the butcher, sweeping the walk, with a pleasant smile, for he saw in him a future friend. He loved Kilo, and he was ready to like everything, from the post office to the creamery. His whole future seemed destined to be simple and pleasant, for he was resolved to do his best to make the town like him, and there seemed little opportunity for complications in a town that could all be seen at one glance.

Strangers think all small towns simple. The few stores are all plainly labeled, the streets run at right angles, and the houses are set well apart, like big letters in a primer. A small town looks like a story without a plot, like: "See the cat. Does the can see me? The cat sees the dog;" beside which a city is as unfathomable as a Henry James paragraph. To the stranger each man and woman he meets is a complete individual, each standing alone, like letters on an alphabet block, and not easily to be confused, one with the other. But these letters of the small town's alphabet are often tangled into as long and complex words as those of the greatest city; it takes but twenty-six letters to spell all the passions. The letter A, that looked so distinctly separate, is soon found to be connected with C and T in Cat, and with W and R in War, as well as cross-connected with the C and W in Caw, and with T and R in Tar; while the houses that stood so seemingly alone are all connected and criss-crossed by lines of love and hate, of petty policy and revenge and pride, quite as are nations or people who live in labyrinths, or in a metropolis.

It was still too early in the morning for Eliph' Hewlitt to call on Miss Sally, and there was no haste; the day was long. He even doubted whether it would be good policy to call on her in the morning; he might find her busy with household cares. Probably it would be best to wait for the afternoon, when she would be at leisure. This, he decided would be best. He would arrive in her presence at two o'clock, and four hours of conversation would carry them to the point of being well acquainted, as advised by Jarby's Encyclopedia. The next day he could enter the second stage of the directions, and call with a book, present it; call after dinner with a box of candy, present it; call after supper, and propose a walk, visit the ice cream parlor, and on the way home offer his hand, and be accepted. The chapter on "Courtship--How to Win the Affections" advised against haste, and Eliph' did not wish to be hasty. To a man of his spirit two days seemed rather long to devote to so simple a matter--a real waste of time--but he was willing to take longer than necessary, in order to follow the directions in spirit, as well as in letter.

Eliph' settled himself into one of the chairs before the hotel and opened his copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia at the chapter on "Courtship--How to Win the Affections." He was deep in it when the landlord strolled around from the livery stable and sank into a chair by his side.

"So you made up your mind to stay here, Sammy?" he asked. "I guess the town'll be glad enough to have you. All this town needs to be a big place is inhabitants. What you ought to do now it to settle down for good, an' get married. There's some purty fine women in this town that ain't picked up yet, but they won't last long, they way they're goin'. Somebody gets married every couple of months."

Eliph' looked up with a smile. Jim Wilkins did not know he had advised the very thing he meant to do.

"I've thought some about it," said Eliph', "'most everybody's getting married now-a-days."

"It's the popular thing 'round here," said Jim. "Look across the street, yonder. See that feller just goin' up to the lawyer's office? He's one that's in the marry class, just now. That's Colonel Guthrie. He lives out on the first farm beyond Main Street, and he's goin' to marry Sally Briggs, daughter of old Pap Briggs, that we was talkin' to last night, here."

Eliph' Hewlitt stared at the Colonel, but he said nothing. He blamed himself; he had wasted his opportunity. This was what came of being slow! He should have completed his courtship at the picnic, or last night at the sale. Jim Wilkins interrupted the thought.

"Leastways," he said, "HE'LL get her if Skinner don't. It's a close run between him an' Skinner. Skinner ain't so good lookin' as the Colonel, but he's better fixed. It's Skinner owns our butcher-shop, an' it's Skinner is buildin' our Opery House Block. Some say Skinner'll get Pap Briggs' money, an' some says the Colonel will."

"Are there any others?" asked Eliph', looking down the street to where the raw brick of the opera house glowed in the sun.

"After Sally?" asked Jim Wilkins. "Well, there's sev'ral would like to get her, I dare say. Sally Briggs is a pretty fine sort of woman, an' Pap Briggs has quite considerable money, but the Colonel an' Skinner has the inside track. No one else has a chance."

Eliph' stroked his whiskers softly and coughed gently behind his hand.

"Briggs, did you say the name was?" he asked. "Seems to me I met a lady at a picnic up Clarence way that had that name. You said the name was Sally Briggs?"

"That's her," said Wilkins. "Sally Ann Briggs. She's been visitin' up there in Clarence."

Eliph' nodded his head slowly.

"I seem to recollect her, since you mention it," he said indifferently, and then he added, "She spoke as if she might buy a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art when I saw her at that picnic. I guess I'll drop 'round and see if she's ready to buy. If she' goin' to be married she ought to have a copy." _

Read next: Chapter 8. The Medium-Sized Box

Read previous: Chapter 6. The Castaway

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