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Kilo, a novel by Ellis Parker Butler

Chapter 17. According To Jarby's

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_ CHAPTER XVII. According to Jarby's

When Eliph' Hewlitt, sad at heart, departed from his disastrous interview with Miss Sally, he felt, for the first time in his life, a doubt as to the infallibility of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art. Here was a book he had praised, sold and believed, and it had failed him. Here was a book that was proclaimed, in the "Advice to Agents," to be so simply written and so easy of understanding that a child could follow its directions as well as a man, and it had only led him to defeat. He had courted according to "Courtship"; he had tried to win the affections according to "How to Win" them, and instead of the "Yes" that Jarby's book led him to believe he would receive, he had been given a "No." This, then, was the book whose success he had made his life work! Caesar, when he saw Brutus draw his dagger, was wounded no more in spirit than Eliph' Hewlitt was now.

The world seemed to slip from beneath his feet; his firmest foundation seemed to have crumbled away; his best friend seemed to have turned false. As he walked toward Doc Weaver's house he decided what he would do: he would go to his room and tear his sample copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art to scraps and throw them out upon the wind; he would write to Jarby & Goss and resign his commission; he would have Irontail hitched to his buggy and leave Kilo at once and forever, and from some other town he would write to G. P. Hicks & Co., and solicit the agency for Hicks' Facts for the Million, a book he had heretofore hated and despised. All this he resolved to do, and yet here he was again at Miss Sally's door, and the sample copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art was under his arm!

Mrs. Tarbro-Smith, when she saw Eliph' Hewlitt at the door, uttered a little cry of joy and darted toward him. She put her finger to her lips and slipped out of the door and drew him to the seat that had once been a church pew, but was now doing duty as a garden-seat under an apple tree in the side yard. On Eliph's face was no longer the care-worn expression of the rejected lover, but the full glow of confidence, radiating from between his side-whiskers.

Mrs. Smith bent confidentially toward him, and laid one hand on the copy of Jarby's, which he had placed across his knees. In quick, crowding words she bade him hope--which wasn't necessary--and told him of the coming of Guthrie and Skinner, and of their demands. She laid before him all she knew of the affair of the fire-extinguishers, of the horror of the threatened legal attack on Miss Sally, and the disgrace that would overwhelm her should T. J. Jones publish an article mentioning her name. Eliph' Hewlitt must prevent the publication of the article; he must save Miss Sally.

The book agent was willing. As the appeal was spoken his eyes brightened and the book agent instinct--the instinct that knows no defeat, but will talk a book into any man's library, or die in the attempt--flowed full and free through his soul. Mrs. Smith saw him take fire, and she ventured the question she had been leading up to.

"Now, Mr. Hewlitt," she said, "I have sent for Mr. Jones, and I will do what I can to persuade him not to publish the article. I depend on you to do what you can in that, too, but I am going to trespass on your good nature in another thing also. It is something I know Miss Sally would never allow me to ask, and I myself would not ask it but that I happen to be waiting for a check from my publisher, and am quite out of funds at the moment. I am going to ask you to lend me sixty dollars! Not for myself, but to me. I believe Miss Sally would be willing to borrow it of me, and I know, dear Mr. Hewlitt, you will be willing to lend it to me."

Eliph' coughed softly behind his hand.

"Gladly!" he said. "Gladly any amount. I have quite a little money laid away, quite a little; some thousands, in fact; I might be called a wealthy man--in Kilo. And it would be a pleasure, a real pleasure, to spend all for Miss Sally. She is a fine woman, Mrs. Smith. I admire her."

"I knew I could depend on YOU," said Mrs. Smith, putting her white hand on his scarcely less white one.

"But I can appreciate Miss Sally's-ah-maidenly dislike, in fact, her quite proper dislike of a loan from-ah-one who aspires---- In fact," he said, boldly breaking away from all attempt to speak bookishly, "from me. She don't want to borrow from me, and it would be the same thing if you borrowed for her from me. The same thing. I am courting Miss Sally, and such a loan would be irregular. There is nothing, Mrs. Smith, in the chapter on 'Courtship--How to Win the Affections,' et cetery, about loaning money to the lady. It would derange the directions given in this book, which is----"

"I don't want to hear about the book," said Mrs. Smith with annoyance. "I know all about the book. So you refuse to lend me sixty dollars? You, like these other men, are willing to desert Miss Sally at a time like this?"

"No," said the book agent. "Not desert. Rescue. Rescue her from the hands of these--these men. Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art should be in every home, in every store, in every office. To be without it is to be like a rudderless air ship tossed by the waves of the relentless ocean. It contains a fact for every day in the year, for every moment of life, any one of which is worth the price of the book many times over. This book," he said--and then his eyes, which had been gazing far into the sky over Miss Sally's house, returned to the eyes of Mrs. Smith--"I am going to sell Mr. Skinner a copy of this book."

In spite of her disappointment in him, Mrs. Smith, the authoress, felt a thrill of pleasure in the discovery of such an admirable type--a book agent who could see in the midst of love, courtship, conspiracy and trouble only his book and a chance to sell it. But she was deeply disappointed.

"Then you desert Miss Sally," she repeated sadly.

"Mrs. Smith." Said Eliph', reaching into his pocket and laying a handful of thick greasy manila envelopes in her lap, "these are my bank books. Six, containing the sum of seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty-two dollars and forty-six cents, and all this I lay at Miss Sally's feet if I do not succeed in selling a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia this afternoon. If sold, the matter is settled."

When Eliph' reached the business part of Main Street he turned into Skinner's butcher shop and halted at the counter. The butcher was at work in the back room, and he put his head out and, seeing who had called, shook it.

"No books," he said shortly. "I never buy books. I didn't buy them Sir Walter Scotts even. No books."

Eliph' coughed his deprecatory little cough and walked behind the counter and to the door of the back room.

"So I understood," he said. "I heard at Franklin that you didn't buy books; it was mentioned to me that I would be wasting my time in calling on you. They said you was known all over the State as not buying books, and many admired your self-restraint in not buying. They said it was wonderful. That's why I never called on you to buy. But I didn't come to sell you a book. I wanted to ask if you knew William Rossiter?"

"William Rossiter?" asked Skinner, perplexed, coming out of the back room. "Who's William Rossiter?"

Eliph' laid his book on the chopping block.

"William Rossiter, agent," he said. "He was here once. He was the man that stopped with Miss Sally Briggs a while. I thought maybe you knew him. He's dead. I thought maybe you'd be interested to know it."

A light dawned on the butcher. William Rossiter must have been the man that left the lung-testers at Miss Sally's.

"I'm glad he's dead," he said. "I don't know anybody I'd sooner have it happen to."

"Don't say that!" exclaimed Eliph'. "If you only knew how he died, poor young man, you wouldn't say it. He burned to death."

"Well," said the butcher, "I don't know as I care how he died. I can't say I'm sorry. I guess he cost me a hundred dollars. I've got to go to law for it if I ever want to see it again. I guess he deserved to die, for the trouble he has made in this town."

Eliph' placed his hand on the sample copy of Jarby's.

"I will tell you how he died," he said briskly.

"No, you won't," said Skinner angrily, waving his hand toward the door; "you won't tell me nothin'. I've heard of these stories of yours, I have. You want to sell me one of them books, and you'll talk away at me about this Rossiter feller, and the first thing I know you'll have me down for a book. But you won't, for if you don't get right out of that door I'm goin' to put you out."

"All right," said Eliph' cheerfully, picking up his book, "if that's the way you feel about it I won't take up your time telling you about it I won't take up your time telling you about Bill Rossiter. Only I thought you'd like to know how it happened he was burned up in a theater when there was two dozen as good fire-extinguishers, right at hand, as there is in the world. But I won't intrude. I know myself too well, and I know I might happen to get to talking books before I thought. You see," he said, as if apologizing for himself, "I can't forget how this book saved my life, and might have saved the life of Bill Rossiter, too, if he had had a copy, the price being only five dollars, bound in cloth, one dollar down and one dollar a month until paid."

"There," said Skinner, as if Eliph' had offended him, "you are talkin' books right now, like I said you would."

"Was I?" asked Eliph'. "And all I started out to say was that I met Bill Rossiter in St. Louis just after he had run away from here. He told me all about it, and wept on my shoulder as he told me how it pained him to have to skip that way. He said it wasn't as if he could have left Miss Briggs anything that she could use, but-lung-testers! He asked me what a town like Kilo could do with lung-testers, and he felt awful about it. Said he couldn't bear to look at a lung-tester any more, they made him feel so ashamed, and what made it all the worse was that he had to look at them all day."

"I should think they would," said the butcher heartily. "It makes me sick to see them. But why did he do it if he didn't like it?"

"I was just going to tell you that," said Eliph', putting down his book again. "You see, when he left here he went right to St. Louis, that being where his home was, and that was how he happened to have lung-testers with him when he was here. His father made them. That was his father's business. He was in the lung-tester manufacturing business. So when Bill Rossiter left here he went right home to his father, which was the wise thing to do."

"Went home to sponge on the old man, I suppose," said Skinner.

"Just so," agreed Eliph', "and that was how I happened to meet him. There was a man there in St. Louis by the name of Hopper-Darius Hopper-and he owned the Imperial Theater and Museum. He was an old friend of mine, and I had sold him a copy of Jarby's Encyclopedia of Knowledge and Compendium of Literature, Science and Art away back in 1874, and as soon as he heard I was stopping in St. Louis he sent around to the hotel and begged me to come around to the museum and give readings out of Jarby's to the people that come into the museum. He said that it would draw bigger crowds in a cultured city like St. Louis than would come to see a two-headed calf or a fat women's race, being a course of readings that would instruct, entertain and please, and he asked me to name my own price."

"I should call him a fool," said Skinner scornfully.

"He wasn't," said Eliph'. "It took splendid. But I wouldn't let him pay me a cent. I said I considered it my sacred duty to make as many people as I could love and know Jarby's, and that I was doing my best to better the world that way, and was glad to do it free gratis, because in a big place like St. Louis there were many that could not afford even the small price of one dollar down and one dollar a month, which is all that is asked for this splendid volume, containing all the wisdom of the world, from the earliest days to the present time, neatly bound in cloth, and I felt I was helping the cause of progress by reading them a few chapters. I began at page one," continued Eliph', opening the book in his hands, "skipping the allegorical frontispiece in three colors, and the index in which ten thousand-----"

"I thought you was goin' to tell me about William Rossiter," said the butcher suspiciously.

"So I am," said Eliph'. "William Rossiter was on the third floor of the Theater and Museum building, for that was the job his father hunted up for him. William was in charge of the penny-in-the-slot machines of all kinds, a full description of which will be found in this book under the head of 'Machines, Automatic,' including a description of how made, how to use and how to repair. In fact, there is nothing in the way of information, from how to tell the weight of a baby by measuring its waist, to the age, size and history of the immortal pyramids of Egypt, one of the seven wonders of the world, that this book does not contain. It interests alike the student and the business man. And," he continued quickly as Skinner was about to interrupt him, "among the slot machines of which William Rossiter had charge were twenty-four lung-testers."

"Twenty-four!" exclaimed Skinner. "Them St. Louis folks must like to test their lungs!"

"No," said Eliph', "they don't, and that is what makes me feel so bad about William Rossiter. The St Louis people didn't care for lung-testers at all. They crowded pennies into all the other machines, but they would just go up to the lung-testers and sort of sniff at them, and walk away without trying them. So there those twenty-four lung-testers stood, useless to man and beast, all in a row, doing nobody any good, and there I was on the floor below reading out of a book that would have told Bill Rossiter how to make those lung-testers worth their weight in gold, and would have saved his life. And to think he could have bought this book for the small nominal sum of----"

"You said that once," said Skinner. "Five dollars; one dollar down, and one dollar a month until paid."

"Bound in cloth," said Eliph'. "Seven fifty if in morocco leather. So at the very minute that the fire broke out----"

"Fire!" said Skinner; "what fire? You didn't say anything about a fire."

"The fire in the theater and museum," said Eliph'. "It started right on the stairs between the second and third floors, and the old building flared up like dry paper. Two or three men that was trying the slot machines saw the smoke and run for the lung-testers, thinking by the look they were fire-extinguishers, which was the most natural mistake in the world. The looks of them would fool anybody, but they were lung-testers, and there that old building was, with twenty-four lung-testers in it, and not one fire-extinguisher. After that fire they passed an ordinance compelling every theater to have four fire-extinguishers."

"And do they have them?" asked Skinner.

"Every first-class theater and opera house does, all over the United States," said Eliph'. "But the odd thing was that at the very moment the fire broke out I had this book open at page 416, 'Fire--Its Traditions--How to Make a Fire Without Matches--Fire Fighting--Fire Extinguishers, How Made.' I was reading to those people how to make fire-extinguishers at home out of common chemicals and any suitable nickel-plated can, that would be as good as the best sold in any store, and right as I read it I thought how easy it would be for any man or child to turn those twenty-four useless lung-testers on the third floor into first-class fire-extinguishers, by following the simple directions set down on page 418, at a cost of only about twenty-six cents each----"

Skinner held out his hand for the book.

"Let me have a look at that book," he said.

Eliph' picked up the book and tucked it under his arm.

"And at that minute came the cry of 'Fire!'" he said. "And I thought of poor Bill Rossiter up there on the third floor, shut off from all hope of rescue-----"

Skinner reached down to his cash drawer and pulled it open. He took out a dollar bill and held it toward Eliph'. The book agent ignored it.

"Think of it," he said. "Bill Rossiter on the third floor, burning up, and me on the floor below with this book in my hand reading off of page 418 the names of the simple ingredients that would----"

"Mebby I might as well pay the whole five right now," said Skinner, taking four more dollars out of his drawer. "Could you leave that book with me?"

"I will, as a special favor," said Eliph'.

"Well, say," said Skinner, "I'll be mortally obliged to you if you will. It will take a mighty load off of my mind."

And when Eliph' left the butcher shop he had, for the first time in his life, sold his sample copy. _

Read next: Chapter 18. Another Trial

Read previous: Chapter 16. Two Lovers, And A Third

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