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A short story by George V. Hobart

John Henry On Mosquitoes

Title:     John Henry On Mosquitoes
Author: George V. Hobart [More Titles by Hobart]

When Peaches and I were married we were sentenced to live in one of those 8x9 Harlem people-coops, where they have running gas on every floor and hot and cold landlords and self-folding doors, and janitors with folding arms, and all that sort of thing.


When we moved into the half-portion dwelling house last spring I said to the janitor, "Have you any mosquitoes in the summer?"

The janitor was so insulted he didn't feel like taking a drink for ten minutes.

"Mosquitoes!" he shouted; "such birds of prey were never known in these apartments. We have piano beaters and gas meters, but never such criminals as mosquitoes."

With these kind words I was satisfied.

For weeks I bragged about my Harlem flat for which no mosquito could carry a latch-key.

The janitor said so, and his word was law.

I looked forward to a summer without pennyroyal on the mantelpiece or witch hazel on the shin bone, and was content.

But one night in the early summer I got all that was coming to me and I got it good.

In the middle of the night I thought I heard voices in the room and I sat up in bed.

"I wonder if it's second-story men," I whispered to myself, because my wife was away at the seashore.

She had gone off to the shimmering sands and left me chained to the post of duty, and I tell you, boys, it's an awful thing when your wife quits you that way and you have to drag the post of duty all over town in order to find a cool place.

Wives may rush away to the summer resorts where all is gayety, and where every guess they make at the bill of fare means a set-back in the bank account; but the husbands must labor on through the scorching days and in the evenings climb the weary steps to the roof gardens.

"Ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!" exclaimed the voices on the other side of the bed.

"If they are after my diamonds," I moaned, "they will lose money," and then I reached under the pillow for the revolver I never owned.

"Ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!" went the conversation on the other side of the bed.

"There is something doing here," I remarked to myself, while I wished for daylight with both hands.

"Ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!" went the conversation on the other side of the bed.

"Who is it?" I whispered, waiting for a reply, but hoping no one would answer me.

"Ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!" said the same mysterious voices.

Then suddenly it struck me--the janitor was a liar.

Those voices in the night emanated from a convention of mosquitoes.

In that nerve-destroying moment I recollected my parting admonition to my wife when she went away, "Darling, remember, money is not everything in this world and don't write home to me for any more. And remember, also, that when the Jersey mosquito makes you forget the politeness due to your host, flash your return ticket in his face and rush hither to your happy little home in Harlem, where the mosquito never warbles and stingeth not like a serpent, are you hep?"

And now it was all off.

Never more could we go away to the seashore for two expensive weeks and realize that we would be more comfortable at home, like millions of other people do every year.

"Ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!" shrieked those relentless voices in the darkness.

"Do you want my money or my life?" I inquired, tremblingly.

"We desire to bite our autograph on your wish-bone," one voice replied pleasantly.

"Great Scott!" I shouted, "why do you wish to bite one who is a stranger to you?"

"You have a wife who is spending a few weeks and a few dollars at the Jersey seashore, is it not so?" inquired the hoarsest voice.

"Heaven help me, I have," I answered, manfully.

"She is at Cheesehurst-by-the-Sea?" that awful voice went on.

"She is," I admitted it.

"Well, yesterday evening she slapped her forehead suddenly and killed the bread-winner of this family," the voice shrieked, "and we are here for revenge!"

"What are your names, please?" I whispered.

"My name is Clementina Stinger, and with me is my son, little Willie Stinger, formerly of Cheesehurst-by-the-Sea," the voice answered.

I sat there listening while my knees shook for the drinks.

"We looked up your wife's home address and came hither to board with you, because she upset our bread-winner's apple cart," the voice went on, threateningly.

"Willie, my son, get a light luncheon from the gentleman's medulla oblongata, and I will eat a small steak from his solar plexus--ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!"

"Have you no pity?" I said, pleadingly.

"Pity!" said Clementina--"pity! you ask for pity when my forefathers were the first to land on the only Plymouth Rock in the meadows of Hackensack! I wish you to know that the proud blood of many victims rushes through the veins of the Stinger Family. We do not belong to the pity push. Willie, if the gentleman kicks bore a tunnel through his cerebellum, near the medusa, and I will jump in his alimentary canal and take a swim--ping-ding-a-zing-a-boom!"

Then, just as these two ferocious members of the Stinger Family rushed at me, I awoke with a cry for help.

There was not a mosquito in the room.

Thank Heaven, it was only a dream!

At the door, however, was a messenger with a special delivery letter from my wife.

The letter read, "Dear John, I only want to say that Cheesehurst-by-the-Sea would be a nice place if a person could wear armor plate to avoid the mosquitoes. I have rubbed my complexion with peppermint, and I have worn smoke-sticks in my hair till I burned my pompadour, but the mosquitoes still look upon me as their meal ticket. I expect to insult everybody present and leave for home to-morrow. Lovingly, thy wife."

My dream was out.

I don't want to change the subject too abruptly, but you remember Uncle William, don't you?

Well, once upon a time, Uncle Bill was clear daffy on the subject of mosquitoes.

He invented more kerosene tablets to poison 'em and set more traps to catch 'em than any pest-remover in the business.

I must tell you about the time he was one of a committee of three appointed by Budweiser College or Anheuser University, or some such concern, to study the mosquito at close range in its native jungles.

The committee consisted of Professor Kenneth Glueface, Professor Oscar Soupnoodle, a German gentleman with thistles in his conversation, and my Uncle, Mr. William Gray.

The committee decided that the best way to study the New Jersey mosquito would be to live in their gloomy haunts and forsake civilization for the time being.

In accordance with this idea they had the Carnegie Steel Company build for them a steel cage, which was placed in the depths of the Hackensack jungles, and thither they went.

Dr. Soupnoodle was of the opinion that a Jersey mosquito has a language, and the other two members of the committee agreed to help him to settle this point.

"My idea is," said Dr. Soupnoodle, "dot der beasts haf a speech vich dey use, uddervise how can dey find our fairst families in der blue book und go after deir blue blood?"

"Do you hold, Doctor, that the mosquito speaks with a guttural inflection on the vowels?" inquired Uncle William.

"More likely with a stringency on the last syllable of the diphthong," suggested Dr. Glueface.

"Ve vill sprinkle near der cage a little Wienerwurst und a cubble of smoked hams," explained the Dutch doctor. "Ve vill den retire behind der bars of der steel cage, und mit our repitition rifles on our knees avait der cameing of der enemies of cifilization."

This plan was carried into effect.

The minutes passed by and they sat there, three determined men, trying to drag from reluctant New Jersey the terrible secrets of its most popular industry.

"We must not talk," whispered Professor Glueface, "because if the mosquito suspects the presence of a human being he will not talk."

"No," replied Uncle William, pale but calm; "the battle cry of the mosquito is deeds, not words!"

Deep silence fell over the Jersey jungle, broken only by the far-away shrieks of a locomotive as it snorted with fear and hurried out of the State.


The committee grasped their repeating rifles and peered into the darkness.

"Vun of dem is cameing!" whispered Professor Soupnoodle; "remember Metz und strike for der Fatherland!"


Gee whiz! the horror of that bitter moment.

Uncle William removed a short prayer from his mind, and the Dutch Professor started to sing "Die Wacht am Rhine."

But just then Professor Glueface smacked his lips and put the bottle down.

"Fine!" he said; "I feel better now."

Then the rest of the committee knew that it was a false alarm originating in the thirst of the Professor.

But just then the gloom in front of them began to take form and shape, and they knew this was no false alarm.

"Zwei!" whispered Professor Soupnoodle.

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Dr. Glueface, "my idea is right--the Jersey mosquito has a language! I can catch a word now and then. It is something like Sanscrit, only slangier!"

They listened and watched.

Approaching them through the gloom could be seen two beautiful specimens of the Kings of the Jersey jungles.

"It is a male und a female," whispered the Dutch Professor. "I can tell it because he vears someding like a Pajama hat, und she holds vun ving up like a skirt."

The committee clutched their repeating rifles closer and prepared for the worst.

"They are engaged to be married," Professor Glueface whispered; "he has just told her that he knows where to get good board and lodging in a Harlem flat. She calls him Percy. Her name is Evaline. Hss-s-s-sh!"

The warning was too late.

The Scourges of the Swamp had discovered the cage and drew nearer.

"He laughs at us," whispered Professor Glueface; "now he is telling her that the cage is only made of steel and it is a cinch. He has gone to get his drill. What is to be done?"

"In the interests of science," Uncle William whispered, "let us sneak out and run for the police with all our hearts."

And this they did while Percy was getting his drill ready.

Time, for the first 100 yards, nine seconds flat; for the rest of the distance about ten seconds on the average.

The committee has not yet reported whether or not there is malaria in a mosquito's bite, because they didn't wait to let him bite them.


[The end]
George V. Hobart's short story: John Henry On Mosquitoes