from People's Home Journal
Uncle Redney Breaks Loose
by Ellis Parker Butler
There is a lot of things a boy has to learn in this world before he can feel that he knows everything there is to know. I don't mean school things, like "What is the square root of 7,564,392?" Nobody but a specialist can be expected to know by heart all the square roots of all the numbers that ever were. What I mean is the things that come under the head of useful knowledge, like, "Why does a dog turn around before he lies down?" and "How many books were published in 1875?" and -- I might as well say it now -- "Why can't you make a good Welsh rarebit with artificially aged beer?"
Of course a man that really wanted to boast that he knew everything there was to know would have to learn all the square roots of all the numbers by heart, but you might call that sort of a man a professional knower. At the time I'm telling you about, I had not planned that far ahead. My ambition was more in the line of being a general, all-around knower. I collected things to know the way the other boys collected stamps and coins and birds' eggs. I wanted to have a complete collection, and I worked hard at it. You could generally find a lot of things to know printed in the county paper at the bottom of the reports of weddings, when the reports did not fill quite a column -- things like "The production of gold in the United States in 1820 was $73,111; in 1890 it was $32,845,000." I cut out all those items of useful knowledge and pasted them in one of father's old account books, and learned them as fast as I could. You would be surprised what a lot of things I knew at the end of a couple of years.
They used to say that my blue eyes were always popping out of my head, looking for information of no earthly value to man or beast, but that did not worry me. I knew better. If a boy starts in heartily and with his whole soul in the job, gathering useful knowledge, some day it is going to come handy. Of course he may have to wait a long time before it seems to pay him to know that djolan is the native name of the year-bird, Buceros plicatus, a hornbill with a white tail and a plicated membrane at the base of the beak, inhabiting the Sunda Islands and Malacca, but all the while he is waiting to make use of that knowledge he has the satisfaction of knowing that he knows something mighty few other people know. And when other fellows are feeling played out and wondering what they can do to have some fun, he can just sit and wonder why the djolan is called a year-bird, and what a hornbill with a white tail and a plicated membrane at the base of the beak looks like, anyway.
Then, in a little while, you want to know where the Sunda Islands are and what they look like, and where Malacca is, and what it looks like, and what a plicated membrane is, and you add all that to your useful knowledge, and pretty soon you know everything there is to know. And you know what is in the copybook -- "Knowledge is power."
Well, that's how I got to be an agent. I was cutting useful knowledge out of the Riverbank County Herald and I ran across just what I needed. It was one of those little squeezed-in advertisements that the printers run until the teeth of the type are all worn down to the gums and the advertisement is almost a smudge. I don't know how I had ever missed it before. It said, "Send ten cents for a copy of 2002 Gems of Useful Knowledge. Solid gold-touched scarf pin to all who mention this paper. Agents wanted. Berkman & Switz, 764 Wabash Ave., Chicago, Ill."
The scarf pin wasn't much good. You get the same kind in the penny prize packets that have the little candy drops that are all stuck together, but the book was a wonder! It had a paper cover and several pages were given over to telling of other things Berkman & Switz sold, but there was more useful knowledge in that book than I had gathered in my scrapbook in two years. I'll bet you never knew that 105,500,000 oranges were exported from Paraguay in 1905. You never knew there was a single orange tree in Paraguay. Think what you've missed. But I knew it. I knew that and 2001 other useful facts before I had had that book a week.
"That book was a wonder! I don't know whether I would have taken the agency for any other book, but as soon as I saw how indispensable that book was to every man, woman and child in Wilmerton, I knew what my life work must be. It was my duty and not a pleasure to sell that book to the people of Wilmerton. And I sold a lot of them, too. All I had to do was to go to a door and knock, and when anyone came to the door, say, "Did you hear about the big fire?" They always said "No, Willie, where was the fire?"
Then I would say, "The great fire of London happened in 1666. 13,200 houses destroyed, 400 streets laid waste, 200,000 persons homeless, ruins covered 436 acres. This and 2001 other gems of useful knowledge in this little book. Don't you want to buy one? It's only ten cents." I usually sold one. Before two weeks had passed I had Wilmerton so full of useful knowledge at ten cents a book that it should have been the wisest town in Iowa. But I couldn't sell Uncle Redney or Uncle Horace a single useful fact.
Neither could I sell them the "Guide to Polite Usage" at ten cents a copy. They wouldn't buy anything. There were twenty-six books, all useful and informing, published by Berkman & Switz, but I couldn't sell Uncle Horace a single one of them, and I had about given up hope of selling one to Uncle Redney when he bought one. It was No. 16 in the series, and the name of it was "Helpful Home Health Hints." It had pictures of bones and other kinds of insides in it, and it told how to get your bones and insides into good shape and keep them that way. I guess that was what made Uncle Redney buy it. He was one of the sickest men, for a well man, I ever knew, and that book was a regular Godsend to him. For years he had been going along complaining of the same old sicknesses until people got tired of hearing them, but as soon as he began to read that book he discovered dozens and dozens of sicknesses he had never had and had never even heard of, and he went right ahead and had them. At first he skipped around through the book and had the ones he took a fancy to, but pretty soon he settled right down to business and began at page one and had everything as they came along in the pages. I could tell a day ahead what he was going to have next by knowing what he had now and looking in the book.
Uncle Horace was the one that really had something the matter with his bones, but I guess his insides were all right. What he had was rheumatism, and he didn't enjoy it the way Uncle Redney enjoyed his sicknesses. He didn't take the same joyful comfort in it. It made him cross and angry and hard to sell books to. He was a rather big, fat man, with plenty of room for rheumatism, and he had one of the loudest, healthiest groans I ever heard, and when his rheumatism and Uncle Redney riled him he swore like a kindergarden. Me, selling books, used to make him mad, and the rheumatism used to make him madder, but the new sicknesses Uncle Redney found in the book and had, made him maddest of anything.
"Well, you withered up little shrimp!" he used to say when he saw Uncle Redney studying the book, "what in wriggly tadpoles are you goin' to have next? Why don't you have somethin' good and stick to it?"
"Horace," Uncle Redney would say, "I feel awful bad today. I feel a sort of sinkin' feelin' in my chist an gen'ral innards, accompanied by palpitatin' of the heart an' shootin' pains in the lumbar regions."
"Lumber regions!" Uncle Horace would growl. "What you got now? Two-by-fours in the liver? Lumber regions, hey? Suppose you're goin' to pine away, ain't you? Can't spruce up, can you? What your lumber region needs is an axe, I reckon, and I got a good one out in the woodshed, and a pile of green hickory wood that needs cuttin'."
"Don't be ha'sh on me, Horace," Uncle Redney would say, almost fainting away. "I'd love to cut that wood, but I feel I've got an attack of -- of -- an attack of --"
Then he would look in the book to see what it was an attack of. No matter what it was, it made Uncle Horace madder than ever. You would have thought Undo Redney's diseases pained Uncle Horace more than they pained Uncle Redney. I guess they did, too.
Uncle Redney was as thin as Uncle Horace was fat. He looked something like Abraham Lincoln, only he was a lot more wrinkled and he did not have any teeth left. He had a lot of rough, gray hair and the skin of his face and hands were like wrinkled brown leather. When he doubled himself up in a chair and had a disease, he could look mighty sick -- all except the eyes. He never could make his eyes behave like a sick man's. You know how a sick man's eyes pale down and get sort of fagged and weary-of-the-world looking? Uncle Redney's eyes were little and brown and set away in under his big gray eyebrows, and they twinkled. They twinkled all the time. Even if he had set about having page 23 and page 16 and page 43 all at once -- appendicitis, pneumonia and small pox -- his little brown eyes would have twinkled like fun. And that was what made Uncle Horace so mad. He couldn't believe that any man that put off and on his diseases like socks, and had eyes that twinkled like mischief, could be sick. He couldn't believe it. He thought Uncle Redney was faking.
You see, Uncle Horace couldn't forget the dishes. The two brothers lived alone together in a house near the end of the street, and they had come to town because they had made enough money farming to live on. The first week they lived in town they had a housekeeper, Mrs. Betsy Grotz. At the end of the week Uncle Horace went to her and said, "Well, Betsy, we're much obliged for your help and we appreciate it but this week past we've accumulated enough female conversation to last us the next two or three hundred years, and as soon as your trunk is packed, Redney and me will carry it down. And if it ain't packed in five minutes, I'll throw it out of the window. I can do that alone, if I am a poor, helpless cripple."
Uncle Horace says Mrs. Grotz gave him enough female conversation in the next two minutes after that to last an ordinary man two hundred years more, and didn't charge a cent for it. But after that, Uncle Redney and Uncle Horace had to do the housework themselves, and they gagged at the dishes. Sometimes, when they were mad at each other about them, nobody washed the dishes for a whole week, until they got to drinking their coffee out of a shaving mug and a soap dish. Then Uncle Horace would get so mad he would swear a few kindergarden swears and he would put the whole caboodle of dishes in the washtub and wash them all in hot anger at one time. So there wasn't a cup with a handle or a pitcher with a nose in the whole house.
Then, one day when it was Uncle Horace's turn to wash dishes, he was too rheumatic to wash. He said so, anyway. And that was when Uncle Redney began being sick.
"Well, I'm mighty sorry you got to feel rheumatic pains just when it's your turn to wash dishes, Horace," he said, "and especially so today when I ain't right well myself."
"What's the matter with you?" asked Uncle Horace, as cross as could be.
"Pains," said Uncle Redney. "Mighty severe pains here and there. Can't seem to raise my hands as high as a dish pan without -- ouch!"
"Redney," says Uncle Horace, in a sort of stifled voice, "if you're sick, I'll wash them dishes, but by the Lord Harry, you've got to have something more definite than pains here and there. Where are them pains?"
"Oh, sort of everywhere," said Uncle Redney, groaning.
"Above your belt or below your belt?" asked Uncle Horace severely. Uncle Redney hesitated for just an instant.
"'Bove the belt," he said.
"Above your collar or below your collar?" asked Uncle Horace. "A -- a -- below it," said Uncle Redney.
"Huh! Left side of you or right side?" asked Uncle Horace.
"Right side," said Uncle Redney.
"You don't mean to say!" said Uncle Horace sarcastically. "Is it in your arm or in your body?"
Uncle Redney hesitated for another instant. He had a crick in his right arm, and Uncle Horace knew it, but that crick was hardly enough to prevent a man from washing dishes. My two uncles had fought that out long ago. When Uncle Redney raised his arm so high he got this crick sometimes -- as if a needle was stuck into the muscle suddenly -- and then he had to let the arm fall, but Uncle Horace had told him long ago that if he got a crick and had to let a dish drop on the floor he could go ahead and let it drop. Uncle Horace said he would be wriggly tadpoled if he meant to wash dishes eternally, day in and day out, just because one dropped on the floor once in a while. He told Uncle Redney that when it was his turn to wash he could go ahead and wash, if he dropped the whole fiddledy china closet. So now Uncle Redney deserted the arm.
"The pain is in my body-part," he said.
"Too bad!" said Uncle Horace. "Above your top vest pocket or below it?"
That sort of stumped Uncle Redney. He knew there wasn't much inside him above the top vest pocket on the right side except lung, and if he had a pain in that lung he ought to have been coughing. He tried a cough, but Uncle Horace didn't seem to take much stock in it. It wasn't the sort of cough that would command confidence. But to save his soul Uncle Redney couldn't remember anything inside him between the belt and the upper vest pocket that could have a respectable pain.
"It's in my knee," he said.
"I thought you said it was above your belt," said Uncle Horace with utter disgust.
"Well, so 'tis," said Uncle Redney, "I left my belt down cellar this mornin'. I -- I think I've got kneeritis in my right knee. Ouch!"
Uncle Redney felt that Uncle Horace wasn't thoroughly convinced. He acted as unconvinced as a man could act, and that was why Uncle Redney was so glad to get that Health Hints book. It was full of diseases a man could have and Uncle Redney went ahead and had them all. By the time cousin Roxy wrote she was coming to live with my two uncles, Uncle Redney was a very thoroughly sick man for such a well one. He had an awful complication of diseases. Generally Uncle Horace viewed Uncle Redney's diseases with silent contempt, but when he picked up the Health Hints book one day and found that one of the diseases Uncle Redney was having just then meant a swollen liver and that the other meant a shrunken liver, he became sarcastic. He asked Uncle Redney in a calm, cold tone, to please explain how a thing could swell and shrink at the same time.
"I'm no doctor, Horace," said Uncle Redney in a weak voice, "and I can't explain the strange pathology things that can happen to a man, but before you jump on a sick man in that tone of voice you ought to think of that blue flannel shirt you bought last spring. First time it got wet it swelled and shrunk."
"Huh!" said Uncle Horace, "if I had a flannel liver I'd try to keep it out of the wet," and that was all he said.
Cousin Roxy had meant to come to our house to stay, but when she really heard how forlorn our two uncles must be, all alone with no woman to do the housework, she wrote them she was coming to live with them. Both uncles reared up on their hind legs and pawed the air awhile, but they knew it would do no good, for if Cousin Roxy meant to live with them she was the sort of person that would do it or die in the attempt. Uncle Horace tried to drive her elsewhere by writing that she was welcome to make her home with them, but that Uncle Redney was a confirmed invalid and almost bedridden, and would be an awful care. He mentioned three letter pages of diseases Uncle Redney was suffering from, copying them out of the Health Hints book and getting in several that Uncle Redney had not had yet, but was meaning to have when he came to them. Uncle Horace read the letter to Uncle Redney before he mailed it to Cousin Roxy. He thought it would rile him, but it didn't. When Uncle Horace got through trying to pronounce the diseases he had given Uncle Redney, Uncle Redney sighed deeply.
"True! All true, Horace!" he said, "but it won't keep Roxy away. She'll come down like a wolf on the fold, but there's one consolation. If she does the housework, I'll have time to look after my health."
Uncle Horace snorted.
"Your health!" he said. "Do you suppose a bunged-up, disrupted, disease-ridden, pain-panged wreck like you can ever recover? Do you reckon, just because a woman is coming here to wash the dishes, I'm going to let you get well over night? You're a sick man, understand? You've gone and got a couple of hundred diseases on your own hook, and now you've got to hang onto them. I won't have no miraculous cures in this house, gettin' well of incurable things overnight. You're sick. Stay sick."
"I'm pretty low, I'll admit, Horace," said Uncle Redney, "but I may recover. Medical science has made some enormous strides the last few days. I may get well."
"Not if I can shame you out of it," said Uncle Horace bitterly. "I've wrote Niece Roxy all the diseases you've got, and if they was good enough to get out of washing dishes by, I expect you to bear up and be a man and stick to 'em."
"Land's sakes, Horace!" said Uncle Redney, quite taken aback, "you don't expect me to remain a permanent invalid when there ain't no use for it, do you? That's unbrotherly love, and I'll be dumbed if it ain't."
Uncle Horace sat down in front of Uncle Redney and crossed one leg over the other and looked him square in the eye.
"Redney," he said, "I guess you know Roxy as well as I do. I guess you know how she's going to mistreat and manhandle us two old codgers with that tongue of hers. You know what she is -- she's a --"
"She's a chisel-chinned rip-snorter, that's what she is," said Uncle Redney with depression.
"You put it mild," said Uncle Horace. "I've been two days swabbing the dust out of the corners to save wear and tear on my tympanum when she comes, but she's going to tell us just how worthless and shiftless we are anyhow. She's going to find dirt eight feet deep in these rooms that ain't but seven feet high, and I'm goin' to catch merry hallelujah for it. You're the only excuse I can hang onto."
"Me?" said Uncle Redney.
"You and your diseases," said Uncle Horace.
"When Niece Roxy begins to tongue-lash me I'm goin' to tell her the truth. I'm goin' to tell her I know the house is mussy and unfit for a human bein' to live in, but how could I help it with you sick unto death and me having to wait on you every minute?"
"Wait on me? You wait on me?" exclaimed Uncle Redney. "Why, you never raised hand except to cuss at me. I could have died and you wouldn't have waited on me."
"Waitin' on you every minute of the day," continued Uncle Horace relentlessly. "Bringin' you hot soup and toast and changin' the mustard plaster on you every half hour."
"Mustard plaster!" exclaimed Uncle Redney, getting red in the face. "Why, Horace, you never put a mustard plaster on me --"
"No, but I'm goin' to," said Uncle Horace in a cruel voice. "I'm goin' to have you nice and mustard-plastered when Roxy comes. You might as well open your shirt now, while I go get it."
"But, Horace!" pleaded Uncle Redney, and then he changed his tone. "No, ding me if I'll let you put a mustard plaster on me! Ding me if I do!"
Just as you wish," said Uncle Horace carelessly. "Only, if I don't, I'll have to meet Roxy at the gate and tell her how you've been playin' sick. Maybe she'll be amused to hear about that book of symptoms you yank out every time I mention dishwashing. Maybe she'll come in and see you lookin' like an 'after-taking' picture in a medicine book, and sit down and hold your hand and sing a soothin' song to the poor invalid. Maybe she will, Redney. You know Roxy as well as I do."
"Go get the dinged mustard plaster!" said Uncle Redney, and Uncle Horace grinned.
"Now then, nephew," he said to me, "you can show him that book."
It was a new book I was agent for, one Berkman & Switz had just got out, and I was selling quite a few of them. It was "Rational Health, or How to Be Well," and it was ten cents, like all the others. I showed it to Uncle Redney.
"What do I want of this?" he said. "I'm as well as --"
"No you ain't, you poor fellow," said Uncle Horace. "You're a poor diseased invalid totterin' on the edge of the grave and longing helplessly for a guide to health, and there she is! I've looked her through and she's just what you want."
"Gimini crickets!" said Uncle Redney as he opened the book. You see, Rational Health is the kind you get by doing stunts. You stand on your left foot and hold the right in your left hand for twenty minutes after meals to cure over-plumpness. You get down on your back and raise your left leg forty times and your right leg forty times to cure pain in the back. For every sickness you can have -- almost -- there was some sort of hard work pictured in that book -- "Position 1, Position 2, Position 3," and so on. Uncle Horace just gloated as Uncle Redney looked through the book,
"That's how you are going to get well, Redney," he said sweetly. "That piece of literature is a Godsend to you. Go on and try that one on page 23."
Uncle Redney looked at page 23 and turned purple in the face. That was the one where you stand on one foot with the other leg straight out in front of you and both hands on the top of your head and hop twenty-four times. I think it cured the liver. Anyway it cured something. Uncle Redney turned away from that one as quickly as he could.
"I thought maybe you'd better begin with Indian clubs," said Uncle Horace pleasantly, "so I wrote Roxy we'd have to have a rather late breakfast in the mornings, so you would have time to swing your Indian clubs half an hour. I told her it was quite needful that you swing your Indian clubs half an hour before each meal in order to cure you of disease No. 1."
Uncle Redney found the Indian club pictures and they made him pretty glum. All he said was, "And at my time of life! And at my time of life!"
"Oh, that's nothin'," said Uncle Horace; "wait until you start in on page forty walkin' in the healin' mornin' dew barefoot, clad in a bath towel, Redney. Wait until then."
"Sufferin' snakes!" said Uncle Redney.
Cousin Roxy was just as Uncle Horace had said she would be. She began to smell dust in the window curtains before she had stepped off the train at the station. About the only thing in the house that suited her at all was the "Rational Health" book. That was clean, for Uncle Redney had not worn it to pieces as he had worn
the "Health Hints" book, and Cousin Roxy pounced on it and read it and said it was a book with more sense in it than any book she had expected to find in that house, and when Uncle Horace told her it was the course of treatment Uncle Redney was taking to cure his diseases, she wasn't slow in saying it was the only sensible thing she had heard yet in regard to her uncles.
Poor old Uncle Redney almost cured himself to death doing rational health stunts. Cousin Roxy used to look at the list of diseases Uncle Horace had sent her and then look in the "Rational Health" book for the stunt that came the nearest to curing that disease, and then set Uncle Redney to doing that stunt. One of her favorites was to have him lay across a dining room chair and swim with his hands and legs. That was good for the stomach. Uncle Redney swam several thousand miles on the dining room chair, from first to last. He swam a hole in his vest. Cousin Roxy made him swim in the dining room so she could look in from the kitchen every now and then and see that he wasn't neglecting his health.
Uncle Redney got so he could almost invariably tell when Roxy was going to look in at him, and he would lay across the chair sort of floppy and careless until he thought she was coming, and then, he would begin to swim like a professional trying to win a gold medal. Sometimes he would start swimming on a false alarm, like a mechanical toy that you think has run down but that starts again suddenly for a little spurt, and then stops again.
Berkman & Switz sent me another new book to sell soon after Roxy had set Uncle Redney at the rolling cure, and I went over to the uncles' house to try to sell Uncle Redney a copy. It was "Diet and Health." The rolling cure was simple enough, but Uncle Redney hated it. All the patient had to do was lie flat on the floor and roll, but Uncle Redney said he always hit the legs of the dining table or the legs of the bed, or something. He claimed to be all bruised up, but he never showed me the bruises. In the book it said the rolling cure was to reduce the hips, but Uncle Redney had none to speak of, so Roxy made him roll for the vertigo. If you roll enough you get dizzy, and if you roll enough more you get used to rolling and don't get dizzy, and if you don't get dizzy you don't have vertigo.
But when I went over, Uncle Redney was not rolling. He was swinging Indian clubs. I went up to his bedroom and he was swinging away like a good fellow.
"What you want, nephew?" he said. "Go right ahead and tell me. I can't stop this swinging business, for if I do, Roxy comes up and gives me merry war. Look out!"
One of the clubs, just when it was up in the air, seemed to get out of control and whacked Uncle Redney on the head. It looked to me as if Uncle Redney had hit himself on the head on purpose, but he hadn't. Every once in a while, when he was swinging clubs, the crick in his arm caught him and then the club swung where it listed, and it usually listed to hit him on the head. He always swung the clubs with a sort of ready-to-dodge air, never knowing when the crick would catch his arm, but no matter how prepared he tried to be it caught him unaware. He let me feel the bumps the club had made on his head.
"I should think you'd be scared," I said.
"I am," he said. "Roxy's talkin' of makin' me take up dumb-bells. If I ever hoist a good, big iron dumb-bell to the top of my reach and that crick catches me, I'll bust my old head open. If you ever come up here and find me a corpse, with one end of an iron dumb-bell stickin' out of my skull, you tell Horace and Roxy they did it. What's that book you want to sell me?"
"The book was a new one and it was a good one. I don't think the rational health bookman wrote it, but if he did, he had changed his mind quite a little, for the rational health book cured everything one way and this book cured the same things, but in a different way. It seems we don't know how to eat at all. If we have one disease and we eat -- say -- stewed cabbage, it will kill us, but if we have another disease and we eat stewed cabbage, it will cure us. The book did not say what to do if we have both the diseases at once. I suppose the man didn't think of that.
Uncle Redney put his Indian clubs on the floor and took the book and looked through it. The more he looked the sadder he became. I don't wonder, for a diet and health book is principally made up of things you must not eat if you have certain diseases, and Uncle Redney had the lingerings of so many diseases that the things it would be fatal for him to eat made a list like the grocery list a newly married woman would have to make out to start housekeeping with. After a while Uncle Redney got a pencil out of the little top drawer of his dresser and a sheet of letter paper out of the next drawer and began making a list of the things his diseases prevented him from eating. When he had it complete he looked it over.
"Tunket and tin-peddlers!" he exclaimed. "According to this book there ain't anything on earth that it is safe for me to eat except -- except --" He looked up and down the list. "Acorns ain't on the list," he said, "and gooseberries ain't on it, and snails ain't on it. But everything else is. Nephew," he said suddenly, "how many copies of this book do you figure to sell, all told?"
"I guess I can sell twenty. Why?" I answered.
"Twenty at ten cents is two dollars," said Uncle Redney. "I'll say two dollars and a half, to be on the safe side. I'll give you two dollars and a half, cash money, right now, for this book, and the only thing I ask is that you don't sell any more. Especially," he said, pointing his finger at me, "not to Roxy."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Uncle Redney," I said, "but I sold one to Cousin Roxy on my way up here."
He jumped up as if he had suddenly discovered he was sitting on a wasp. He hurried to the window and looked out.
"I knew it!" he said. "I knew it! There's your Cousin Roxy out in the backyard now, pickin' up acorns. Next thing she'll gather a few gooseberries. Then she'll get a fork and start chasin' snails. And I'll have to eat acorns and gooseberries and snails till kingdom come!"
He went back to the bed and dropped onto it and held his head in his hands.
"The way Roxy cooks," he said, dolefully, "I haven't any faith in the way she'd cook acorns and gooseberries and snails. I bet she stews them acorns. I bet she fries them gooseberries. I bet when it comes to snails she'll want me to eat 'em on the half-shell. Gimme that book!"
He grabbed the book, and I could see that something had just struck his mind. He turned over the pages rapidly and then looked at me with a face that was almost ghastly.
"I might have knowed it!" he exclaimed.
"What?" I asked.
"Locusts!" he said. "With the biblical mind your Cousin Roxy has, she'll think of locusts and wild honey the first thing. And as there ain't any locusts, she'll go out and catch grasshoppers. By the great jay whooper! before I eat grasshoppers and honey --"
He began going through the book again.
"Epogastritis -- welsh rabbit," he said, or something like that. I can't remember the fancy names for all his diseases. "Circodilutus -- welsh rabbit. Appendiwhiskus -- welsh rabbit. Pneumobustus -- welsh rabbit."
He went on that way all through the book, naming the diseases he was supposed to have, and finding that welsh rabbit was fatal and deadly in each and every case when used as a diet.
"All right!" he said at last, getting off the bed. "Didn't you tell me once you had a book for sale called 'Five Hundred Choice Chafing Dish Recipes'? I'll take one of them. Here's twenty cents -- give me 'Diet and Health' and 'Chafing Dish.' I'm going to break loose. I don't mind rolling around on the floor, and hoppin' on one toe with the other in my vest pocket and whackin' myself on the head with an Indian club to please Roxy, but when it comes to grasshoppers and acorns and snails and gooseberries, taken internally, I break loose!"
"What are you going to do, Uncle Redney?" I asked, for his look frightened me. He looked wild.
"Suicide, by jing!" he said violently. "I'm going to complicate this complication of diseases I've got and die quick, or show Roxy I'm a well man. Come along!"
He took me down to the store and we bought some cheese, and then -- looking over the welsh rabbit recipe he asked for some beer.
"Beer!" exclaimed the grocer. "Beer in this state? Why, it would be worth my freedom to sell a bottle of beer in this prohibition state. No, sir! I'm a law abiding citizen. But," he said, winking at Uncle Redney, "I've got mum."
"Mum?" said Uncle Redney. "What's mum?"
"Well," said the grocer, "mum looks like beer and it comes in bottles like beer, and it tastes like beer, and it smells like beer, and some folks swear it is beer, but it ain't beer. It's mum."
"Gimme a bottle of mum!" said Uncle Redney, and he took it and the cheese and we went back to his house. He walked right into the kitchen and there was Roxy peeling the shells off a bowlful of acorns.
"What do you want in this kitchen?" she asked angrily.
"I want food," said Uncle Redney. "I've swung clubs until I'm starved."
"I'm fixing you some acorns now," said Roxy.
"Acorns!" said Uncle Redney. "I want meat. Get out there and get me a mess of snails and a couple of portions of grasshoppers.
Roxy looked in the diet and health book and then she went out, and while she was hunting snails and catching grasshoppers, Uncle Redney put the frying pan on the stove and made the welsh rabbit, only he had to use mum instead of beer. He was pouring the welsh rabbit out of the frying pan onto a plate when Roxy came in.
"What are you doing?" she asked angrily. "Can't I trust you a minute? Dassn't I go out of this kitchen without you meddle with things? What's that?"
"Welsh rabbit," said Uncle Redney, putting the plate on the kitchen table arid taking a knife and fork in his hands.
"Stop this minute!" cried Cousin Roxy. "Uncle Redney! Stop! Don't you know that a welsh rabbit is death to a man with all your diseases?"
"So I heard," said Uncle Redney, calmly. "I'm ready to die."
He stuck the fork into the welsh rabbit. The fork only indented it. Uncle Redney took his knife and tried to cut the rabbit.
"Yes, sir, I'm ready to die!" he said, sawing at the rabbit with the knife. "I've exercised and done stunts until I'm sick of life. Welsh rabbit is death to a sick man," he said sawing away, "and if I'm sick enough to be driven to Indian clubs and hip reducing by an orphan niece, I'm sick enough to leave this life. And if I ain't sick at all," he went on, turning the rabbit over and sawing at the other side, "this food won't harm me. So, either way, I won't be exercise ridden and niece-cured and -- how the slim Sam Hill do they cut this stuff, I wonder?"
The rabbit was pretty cool by that time and Uncle Redney took it up in his hands and pulled at it, but he couldn't hurt it. It stretched but it would not break. He bit it on the edge, but his jaws only compressed it, they did not separate it into pieces.
"You needn't try to tell me," he said crossly, "that there's no way to cut this stuff. No man could swallow it whole. It stands to reason that food is meant to eat, don't it? They wouldn't write a book to warn you not to eat it if it wasn't meant to eat, would they?"
He put the welsh rabbit on the edge of the table and held it down with both hands and set his jaws in it and pulled and shook his head and jerked and struggled with it, like a dog trying to tear a boot Cousin Roxy just stood with her arms crossed and her lips set and watched him. He worked until he was totally exhausted, and then he dropped into a chair and put his head back and panted. Then Cousin Roxy picked up the welsh rabbit and put it on the shelf over the kitchen table beside the clock.
"Well, Uncle Redney," she said calmly,"if you are so exhausted you feel the need of food, you can eat a couple of acorns to sustain your strength. And when your strength comes back, you can go on exercising. And since you object to Indian-clubbing, and hip-rolling, and one-foot-hopping, you may give them up it you want to. From now on, you can take your exercise by suiciding with welsh-rabbit-eating. Now get out of my kitchen," she said looking at the clock. "I've got some gooseberries to stew. And see you come back in an hour and have another tussle with this poison pie."
Uncle Redney got out of the chair and went to the door. At the door he turned.
"I won't eat snails! I won't eat grasshoppers!" he said angrily.
"If you do," said Cousin Roxy, "you'll have to eat them raw. I won't cook 'em."
"You won't, hey?" said Uncle Redney, spluttering angrily. "Here!" he said to me, "where's that book -- that love-makin' book? Gimme one of them books!"
He was digging his hand into his pocket like a nervous man, and he found a dime and just forced it on me. I knew what he wanted. It was "The Lover's Vade Mecum; or, Courtship and How to Conduct it to a Successful Conclusion," and it was a pretty fair seller, but not to married folks.
"Won't cook, hey?" spluttered Uncle Redney. "Won't cook food I need if I happen to be dyin' and need it? I'll show ye! I ain't dead yit by a long ways."
He took the book from me like a miser reaching for money, and started for the door, trying to read the first page as he went.
"Plenty of old maids and widders in this town will cook," he spluttered. "I ain't dead yit, I ain't. I can support my own cook, I kin!"
I guessed right away what he was going to do, and I ran after him and took him by the arm. There was no use letting a good customer make himself foolish.
"Uncle Redney," I said, "wait! Go see Martha Wiggers. She bought a copy of this book. It's a good sign. She's thinking of matrimony or she wouldn't spend money for a book like this. You go see Martha."
"Martha?" said Uncle Redney. "Oh, she wouldn't -- well, I ain't dead yit. She's a mighty fine nurse, Martha is. And I ain't dead yit."
I would have given a good deal to have seen Uncle Redney and Martha courting out of that book, one holding one book and one holding the other, and maybe reading the "Ideal Conversation" on page 30, first one and then the other, until they got so far that they sat on the sofa together, and both read out of the same book. Anyway it wasn't a week before Uncle Redney and Martha Wiggers were married by Reverend Mr. Parkinson, and Uncle Redney brought her home. But he only brought her home to wave her in Cousin Roxy's face, as you might say, and she was something to wave, I can tell you, for she was the nicest, amiablest, determinedest-looking woman you ever saw.
"There now!" said Uncle Redney, "I've showed ye! There's one woman in the world knows a sick man is sick when he's sick, and I've married her, ain't I, Martha? Best cook in town, b' jing! Tell 'em how you aim to cure me up, Marthy."
"Br'iled steak, roast chicken, apple turnovers," said Martha; "sody biscuit, pumpkin pie, homemade jell, egg noodles, egg on toast, Boston beans, br'iled pork tenderloins, apple sass --"
"Come on," said Uncle Redney, licking his lips, "let's get out of here. Let's get home to our own house and start in curin' me. I feel sickish. Br'iled pork tenderloins an' apple sass. Come on!"
So they went. Uncle Horace looked after them, half sad and half wistful, and then he turned to Roxy.
"Roxy," he said," do you reckon you could br'ile some pork tenderloins and fix up a dish of apple sass? I feel sort of an empty feelin', seein' Redney go off like this. I feel sort of sad and hungry-like."
"Yes, you poor dear," said Roxy, "him leavin' you this way after all these years! I can feel for your sorrow, Uncle Horace, but you sha'n't grieve your heart out. I like 'em br'iled I crisp brown, with plain brown gravy in the dish, and just cooked through. And how 'bout a dish of boiled samp hominy to put the gravy on?"
"Um!" said Uncle Horace, and he looked hungrier, but hardly sorrowful at all.