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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 12. Getting Acquainted

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_ CHAPTER XII. Getting Acquainted

Althought Eliph' Hewlitt was not making much progress in his courtship he was far from idle in the succeeding weeks. He had taken many orders for Jarby's great book in the county, before he arrived in Kilo, and as a shipment of the books arrived from New York he spent much of his time behind old Irontail making his deliveries and collecting the first payments, and some time in the immediate neighborhood making new sales. One of the copies he had to deliver was the one purchased by Mrs. Tarbro-Smith, but although he delivered it to her at Miss Sally's, he did not have an opportunity to speak to Miss Sally, for she hid herself when he approached the door, and did not come down stairs again until he had left the house.

Mrs. Tarbro-Smith received the book with a lady-like enthusiasm, and immediately placed it upon Miss Sally's center table, where its bright red cover added a touch of cheerfulness to the room, suggestive of the knowledge, literature, science and art the book was guaranteed to irradiate in any family. But Miss Sally never so much as looked inside its covers. She avoided it as if the thought the book itself might seize her and sell to her, against her will, one of its fellows. Mrs. Smith said openly that she wished she might see more of Eliph' Hewlitt, and that she thought him a most remarkable book agent, particularly after she had heard of his selling the Missionary Society a wholesale lot of Jarby's Encyclopedia, and after glancing through the book she admitted that it was really an excellent thing of its kind, but Miss Sally merely remarked that she didn't like book agents, and that she hated this one more than most, he was so slick.

The energetic spirit of Mrs. Smith was sure to carry her into anything that partook of a social nature, and she had arrived in Kilo in the midst of the festival season, when out-door festivals of all varieties were following one after another almost weekly for the benefit of the church, which had a properly clinging and insatiable debt. In these festivals she took a prominent part, for the brought her in contact with the people of Kilo as nothing else could, and if she enjoyed the affairs, so did Susan. Susan bloomed wonderfully. She sprang at once from childhood to young womanhood, and Mrs. Smith was pleased to have her protegee appear so well and receive so much attention, for she felt that she had had the revision of her. She already saw in her the heroine of the novel she meant to write, with the plot beginning in Kilo and Clarence, and carried to New York and, perhaps, Europe.

The attorney and the editor were particularly nice to Susan, and attentive to Mrs. Smith at all the festivals, and it amused the New Yorker to find herself and her maid on and equal social plane. It is quite different in New York. But lady's maids in New York are not all like Susan. Maids in New York do not spend their spare time studying Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art, and Susan did. Even Eliph' Hewlitt could not have read the book more faithfully than Susan did, nor have believed in it more trustfully. Often when the editor or the attorney sought her at one of the festivals they would find her talking with Eliph' Hewlitt, exchanging facts out of Jarby's Encyclopedia.

For Eliph' never missed a festival. He haunted them, standing in one spot until his eyes fell upon Miss Sally, when he would make straight for her with his dainty little steps, and she, catching sight of him--for she was always on the lookout--would move away, weaving around and between people until he lost sight of her, when he would stand still until he caught sight of her again. It was like a game. Sometimes he caught her, but before he could have a word with her she would make an excuse and hurry away, or turn him over to another. Usually she shielded herself by keeping either the Colonel or Skinner beside her, if they were present, and they usually were.

"Land's sake!" she exclaimed to Mrs. Smith, one evening, as they were walking home after an ice-cream festival at Doc Weaver's, "I wish somebody would tell that Mr. Hewlitt that I don't want to buy no books. He pesters the life out of me. I can't show myself nowhere but he comes up, all loaded to begin, and if I'd give him half a chance he'd have me buyin' a book in no time. It don't seem to make no difference where I am. I believe he'd try to sell books at a funeral." Mrs. Smith laughed.

"I know he would!" she said. "He is delightful! Why don't you do as I did, and buy a book, and then he will be satisfied, and leave you alone."

"Well, I won't!" declared Miss Sally. "I ain't done nothin' all my life but buy books an' then fight pa to get money to pay installments on 'em, an' I won't buy no more! I declared to goodness when I bought them Sir Walter Scott books that I wouldn't buy no more, an' I won't. If I buy this one off of this man, there'll be another, an' another, an' so on 'til kingdom come, an' one everlasting fight with pa for money."

"Couldn't you pay for it with the money you got for those fire-extinguishers?" asked Mrs. Smith.

"Pa borryed that to pay taxes with, long ago, an' that's the last I'll ever see of the money," said Miss Sally. "Pa ain't the kind that pays back. He's a good getter, an' a good keeper, but he's about the poorest giver I ever did see, if he is my own father. There ain't nothin' in the world else that would drive me to get married but just the trouble I have to get money out of pa for anything. I ain't even got a black silk dress to my name, and there ain't another lady in Kilo but's got one. I guessed when we moved to town I would have the egg money same as on the farm, but since pa had his teeth out an' got new ones he won't eat nothin' but eggs, an' I don't get any egg money. Pa eats so many eggs I'm ashamed to tell it. I wonder he don't sprout feathers. I don't believe so many eggs is good for a man. It don't seem natural. That encyclopedia book don't say anywhere that eatin' too many eggs makes a man close fisted, does it?"

Mrs. Smith said she could remember nothing to that effect in the book, and for a minute they walked in silence. Suddenly she looked up and spoke.

"Miss Sally," she exclaimed, "I know what to do! I will make you a present of y encyclopedia. I will give it to you, and the next time you see Mr. Hewlitt you can tell him you have a copy, and then he will leave you alone!"

That was how it happened that at the next festival Miss Sally did not run when she saw Eliph' Hewlitt approaching, but stood waiting for him. He stepped up to her with a smile that was half pleasure and half excuse.

"I don't want to buy a book," she said quickly. "I've got one. Mrs. Smith gave me the one she had. So you needn't pester me any more."

"I didn't want to sell you a book," said Eliph' gently, "although I am glad to learn you have one. No person, whether man, woman or child, should be without a copy of this work, including, as it does, all the knowledge of the ages and all the world's wisdom, from A to Z, condensed into one volume, for ready reference. It is a book that should be on every parlor table and----"

"Well, I've got one," said Miss Sally, "so it's no use wasting talk on it. One's all I want. Another one wouldn't be no good but to clutter up the house."

"Just so," said Eliph'. "I don't want to sell you another. To sell this book is the smallest part of my trouble. It is a book that sells itself. I only need to show it, to sell it. Wherever it falls open it attracts the attention with a gem of thought or a flower of knowledge, perhaps the language of gems, or the language of flowers, how to cure boils, how to preserve fruit, each page offers something of value to the mind. A copy of this book in the house is a friend in sickness or in health, a help in business and a companion in pleasure; to the agent it is a source of steady and continuous income. One copy sells another."

"I said before that I don't want another," said Miss Sally shortly.

"Let us talk about something else," said Eliph' Hewlitt, coughing politely behind his hand. "I'll be glad to, but I do not blame you for bringing up the subject of the work I am selling. I make it a rule never to talk book out of business hours, but I am not sensitive, as some book agents are. When Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art is mentioned I am not offended; I am not ashamed of my business--I enjoy it. I could talk of the merits of this unequaled work day and night without stopping and yet not do it full justice, but I don't. When my work is done I stop talking book. I might, to enliven conversation, quote from the 'Five Hundred Ennobling Thoughts from the World's Greatest Authors, Including the Prose and Poetical Gems of All Ages,' containing, as it does, the best thoughts of the greatest minds, suitable for polite and refined conversation, sixty-two solid pages of the, with vingetty portraits of the authors, and a short biographical sketch of each, including date and place of birth, date and place of death, if dead, et cetery. Or I might, to brighten a passing moment, propound one or more of the 'Six Hundred Perplexing Puzzles,' page 987, including charades, conundrums, quaint mathematical catches, et cetery, compiled to brighten the mind and puzzle the wits, suitable for young or old, for grave or gay. It is a book that meets every want of every day, is neatly and durably bound, and the price is only five dollars."

Miss Sally turned as if to run away, but Eliph' put out his hand and touched her arm lightly.

"But I don't," he said. "I don't quote, and I don't propound. I put the book aside and I forget. When my work is done I relax my mind. I enter into the pleasures I find most congenial, such as festivals, sociables, fairs, kermesses, picnics, parties, receptions, et cetery, rules and suggestions for conducting all of which are to be found in this book, which is recommended and esteemed by the leaders of society, both in the Four Hundred and out. Or I read a good book, a list of five hundred of which may be found on page 336, 'The Reader's Guide,' giving advice in selecting fiction, history, philosophy, religious works, poetry, et cetery, the whole selected by eight of the most eminent professors of literature in our colleges and universities, both at home and abroad. Or I indulge in conversation, in which what better guide than is to be found on page 662, 'The Polite Conversationalist,' including gems of wit, apt quotations, how to gain and hold the attention, how to amuse, instruct and argue, et cetery? When it is remember that all this, and much more, can be had for only five dollars, neatly bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid, what wonder is it that--that----"

Suddenly one of the paper lanterns that hung from the wire above them burst into flame, and Eliph' saw on Miss Sally's face the look of fear with which she was regarding him, fear and fascination mingled. The smile faded from his lips, and his gentle blue eyes became troubled. He dropped the hand that had been lightly resting on her arm, and his dapper air of self-confidence wilted in abashment.

"Was I--was I talking book?" he asked weakly. "I was! Pardon me, Miss Briggs, pardon me, I didn't know it. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."

For a moment Miss Sally studied his face, and she saw only a genuine contrition there, and a regret so deep that she was sorry for him. There could be no doubt of his sincerity.

"Well!" she exclaimed, with a breath of relief; "I do believe you didn't know you was! I believe that book's got so ground into you that you can't help but talk it, like Benny Tenneker, who got so used to climbin' trees an' fallin' out of 'em that he used to climb the bedposts an' fall of of 'em in his sleep without wakin' up. Mrs. Doc Weaver's his aunt, an' when he visited her he nearly got killed fallin' out of bed when he was tryin' to climb a bed post when there wasn't not on the bed. He'd got so he could fall out of any high place an' light safe, but he wasn't used to fallin' off of low ones. He was such a nice boy. All Martha Willing's children were nice. Mebby you've met her. She lives out Clarence way."

"Willin?" said Eliph'. "Yes, I sold her a--I mean to say, I met her."

"Well, her husband's dead, and her and her boys is runnin' the farm," said Miss Sally, "an' doin' right well, so I guess she ain't afraid of book agents. She can afford to buy. I don't know as I'm afraid of 'em either, or hate 'em as such, but I can't afford. Pa don't approve of books much, an' he can't see why he should pay out money for what he don't approve of. Books an' taxes he don't care much for. That's why I was so scared of you."

"I didn't want to sell you a--to sell you anything," said Eliph' meekly. "All I wanted was to get acquainted, to get well acquainted."

"I guess that's all right then," said Miss Sally. "There ain't anything more natural than that you should wish that, bein' intendin' to make your home here. I hope you like the place an' make lot of acquaintances, but if I was you I'd try not to talk book any more than you have to. I don't think it'll help to make you popular, as I may say. That Sir Walter man sort of gave everybody an overdose of book, an' folks feel kind of mad at book agents ever since. Like father Emmons, when he had one of his sick spells, an' nothin' would do but he was goin' to die, so he got up before sun-up an' drove to town to see Doc Weaver. He let Doc know he felt he was dyin' an' told him the symptoms, an' all Doc says was, 'All you want is salts. You stop at the drug store an' get a pound of salts, an' I'll warrant you'll be as well as ever.' So when his daughter--she's Mary Ann Klepper--went into the house after carryin' lunch to the men in the field, there was her poor old father settin' at the table with the big yeller bake-bowl in front of him, an' him eatin' away at what was in it with a big spoon. 'Eatin' bread an' milk, father?' she asks, an' her pa looks up with tears in his eyes, an' swallers down another spoonful. 'No,' he says, as cross as a bear, 'I'm eatin' a pound o' salts Doc Weaver told me to git, but hang if I can eat another spoonful, an' I ain't above half done.' So I guess Kilo folks kind of gag when they think of books."

"If I so much as mention books," said Eliph' pleadingly, "I wish you'd stop me. Don't let me. Mebby I do sort of get in the habit of it, thinking it and talking it so much. But I never meant to sell you one. I only wanted to get acquainted."

Miss Sally laughed.

"Well," she said cheerfully, "there's different ways to do it, but I guess you an' me have got well acquainted different from what most folks does. Ain't you been over to the ice-cream table yet? Or was you waitin' to be primed; that's what us ladies is here for, to start folks spendin' money, like Mrs. Foster's little nephew that come up from the city to visit her last summer. He wanted to know what everything was for that was on the farm or in the house, that he wasn't used to, an' when they told him they always had to leave a dipper of water in the pail to prime the pump with so it would give water, he wanted to know if the reason they had the pans of milk in the spring-house was so they could prime the cows so they would give milk."

Eliph' laughed heartily, for his heart was light. He was making progress; Miss Sally admitted that they were well acquainted, and now he could proceed to the second step advised in "Courtship; How to Win the Affections; How to Hold Them When Won." _

Read next: Chapter 13. "Second: A Small Present"

Read previous: Chapter 11. The False Gods Of Doc Weaver

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