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"The Exciting Life" from Collier's

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Collier's
The Exciting Life
by Ellis Parker Butler

"S. Potts," said Old Daniel, "if I was President of these here United States --"

"If you was what?" asked S. Potts, looking at the old man in amazement. "What's that you say you wisht you was?"

"President," said Old Daniel. "This here job as gateman on this railroad is about the dumbdest slow job --"

"I s'pose," said S. Potts scornfully, "that you'd like more excitement, Daniel? You ain't satisfied to be comfortable and well off. What you want is excitement! How many bears have you shot in your life, Daniel?"

"Bears?" asked Daniel. "I ain't ever shot no bears, S. Potts."

"All right!" said S. Potts. "Then how many lions and hyenas and crocodiles and elephants, and rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses have you shot? How many trees have you chopped down? You ain't killed any, and you ain't chopped any! And you want to be President! You don't know what it means to be President, Daniel. To be President means that some day you've got to be ex-President, and then you've got to shoot all them wild animals, and more. And what do you know about pigeon-toed, cross-bill cuckoos? And about John Paul Jones? And about 'Is Mars Inhabited, And If So, Do The Inhabitants Send Out Their Washing Or Have It Done In The House?' What do you know about them things, Daniel?"

The was hardly an inch between the cow and Mayo and the cow was doing her best to lessen the difference.

"Why, S. Potts, I don't know nothing about them things --"

"There you go!" said S. Potts. "And if you were President you would have to know all about them things, and make speeches about them, and write books about them. A President has to be ready to write and speech about everything in the world; it may be peanuts today and Peru tomorrow, and pelicans day after tomorrow. Being President is just a little too strenuous for a man of your gentle disposition, Daniel. You ain't fat enough to stand it. You don't know what an exciting job a President has."

"If I was President, S. Potts," said Old Daniel, "I wouldn't do all them things. I'd hire somebody to do them for me. I'd just play around at that golf game and boss Congress --"

"What's that?" asked S. Potts, as if he did not just catch what Old Daniel had said.

"Boss Congress," repeated Old Daniel. "Just sort of tell Congress what I wanted done, and see that it was did --"

"You would, hey?" asked S. Potts. "That's all you'd do, is it? Sort of mild stimulation for the blood, hey? You'd walk into the Halls of Congress every morning after breakfast and tell Congress what you wanted done, and then you'd go out and spend the day putterin' around the golf links, wouldn't you? Ever see Congress, Daniel?"

"Well, I ain't exactly seen it," said Old Daniel apologetically. "Not to say seen it. But I got a sort of idea what it is, S. Potts."

"Huh!" said S. Potts. "Did I ever tell you about Mayo Griggs, Daniel?"

"I don't just recall --" began Old Daniel.

"Mayo Griggs," said S. Potts, "was just about such another as you are, Daniel. He kept a cow, and he could go up to that cow and push her and shove her, and all she'd do was to move over a step and go on eating grass. He could call her any name that happened to come into his mind, and she would go right along storing up milk in the way a cow does."

"That's what a cow ought to do," said Old Daniel.

"That's right," said S. Potts. "That's what a cow ought to do. A cow ought to be as placid as a warm pie, and go right ahead tending to business, and that's what she does. And that's what a man ought to do, and what a man does, until he gets to be in Congress. Being in Congress is like putting red spectacles on a cow. As soon as a man gets into Congress he puts on red spectacles and sees blood, and as soon as you put red spectacles on a cow she rips up and acts like fury."

"And what's the President got to do with it all?" asked Old Daniel.

"He's the man that owns the cow," said S. Potts. "And any man that would choose to be President is as big a fool, to my notion, as Mayo Griggs was when he fastened red spectacles on his cow just to stir up a little excitement."

"Now, I'd call that a fool notion," said Old Daniel.

"You think you would," said S. Potts coldly, "but you wouldn't. If you had a cow you would probably do just what Mayo Griggs did. He used to drive that old cow to pasture and back, morning and evening, and it was the tamest job a man ever had. There wasn't no excitement to it. It was just walk, walk, walk. Nothing like being a lion tamer, for example. It didn't take no skill. A child could have done it as well as Mayo, but Mayo didn't have no child, so he made up his mind he would make a man's job of it, and that was when he thought of red spectacles.

"Mayo figured that if that cow had been a bull, and a pretty mad bull, he would have had an opportunity to show off his skill, but she wasn't a bull, she was a cow, and the best thing Mayo could think of was red spectacles. He figured that if he tied red spectacles onto that cow she would be a little more lively than she was by nature, and might take an interest in life, and give him a little excitement.

"She did! She sure did, Daniel! She come right up to his expectations. Mayo got the red spectacles made at the harness shop, and the harness-shop man naturally told a few other folks about them, and they told a few others, and when Mayo called for them spectacles he had quite a procession to foller him out to the cow pasture. There was the mayor and the city council and the rest of the town, and they lined up on one side of the fence, and watched Mayo go into the pasture.

He walked right up to the cow, and tied them red spectacles over her eyes. He began to have excitement right away. The old cow lifted up one foot and tried to wipe them spectacles off with it, and then she lifted up another, and then she tried her hind feet, but she couldn't reach them spectacles. So she considered for a minute, and then she sat down with great care and tried to bite them off, but one of the hardest things in the world for a cow to do is to bite anything off her own head. Mayo was standing there laughing fit to die, when, suddenly the cow saw him and recognized him as an old friend. He looked funny to her, but she knew him, and she 'rose up and started for Mayo, blatting out at him in a sad, eager voice. She started on a lope, but Mayo hurried away, and she hastened up after him. He made eight laps around that pasture amid cheers, and he felt mighty proud of it, for the mayor was one of the foremost of the cheerers, and Mayo had never been cheered by the mayor and city council before.

"That cow, when she saw Mayo was acting in such an unfriendly way, became provoked at Mayo, like any cow would. She had started after him as one friend after another, but the way he avoided her made her mad, and she forgot the long friendliness that she had held toward him. About the sixth lap the only thing she thought of was that she wanted to catch Mayo. At the seventh lap she could not remember what she wanted to catch Mayo for, but she began to have an idea it was for no good purpose, and at the eighth lap she did not care whether it was Mayo or not. She stopped long enough to whet her horns on the fence, and then she doubled her speed and went after him. The jump Mayo made over that pasture fence was one of the grandest things ever seen by man.

"For a moment the cow seemed surprised. She had thought she had Mayo, and she was disappointed. Then she let her cow-nature assume its normal control and she looked for some grass to eat, but when she looked down there was no good-looking green grass. It all looked brown. It made her think that Mayo had tampered with the green grass, as you might say. Then she lifted up her head and looked at the sky, and the sky was purple, and she was mad at that. Whichever way she looked things looked wrong, and she blamed Mayo for it. She felt the way toward Mayo that Congress feels when its quiet River-and-Harbor-Bill appropriation mood is interrupted by a message on postal savings banks or Federal trust incorporation, and she wished she could get a whack at Mayo, and no favors asked. And, just to let folks know how she felt, she began plowing furrows in the ground with her horns, and crying aloud with anger.

"Then Mayo said he guessed he had had enough excitement for that day, and he thought he would go on home. That sounded all right, but others thought otherwise. They pointed out to Mayo that there was a Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Society in that town, and they said it did not matter to them whether Mayo left the cow in the pasture or not, but that the cow had to be milked. They said the cow had prepared to be milked and that it would be painful to the cow not to be milked, and that they would stay right there until Mayo milked the cow. Milking that cow was part of Mayo's business, they said, and they would not desert him until it was done. They were quite eager about it.

"Mayo sort of hung back. But the citizens assured Mayo that now was the time to milk, and they opened the pasture gate and pushed Mayo in.

"Instantly he came out again, and the cow came with him. There was hardly an inch between the cow and Mayo. It was a fine race and a close one, and in half a mile the cow had cut Mayo's lead down to half an inch, and was just getting ready to make a supreme effort and finish him up, when the red spectacles came loose and fell to the ground.

"Mayo was still running, but the cow stopped short and looked around with a puzzled expression, and then hung her head as if to say: 'Well, you have been an old fool, sure enough!' She gazed after Mayo and wondered what he was running for, and what in tunket she had ever been running for, herself. She couldn't see anything the matter with the sky or the grass, and she decided she must have had an attack of insanity, such as Congress gets from time to time when a President puts red spectacles on it."

"Well, of course," said Old Daniel, "if I was President I wouldn't go and fasten red spectacles on Congress."

"If you was President," said S. Potts, "you wouldn't have to. The newspapers would do it for you."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:17:41am USA Central
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