from Century Magazine
The Man Who Was Someone Else
by Ellis Parker Butler
After thinking of himself in a certain way for many years, the first thing Henry Wilkins knew he discovered he was some one else. It was a terrible shock to him. Imagine it yourself. Suppose you had believed for many years that you were a young man, and had a pleasant smile and nice manners; and day after day, and year after year, had always been contented and cheerful and kind-spoken, scattering sunshine. Then suppose you suddenly awoke to the fact that you were not this at all, but some one quite different. It would be a terrible shock. That is what happened to Henry Wilkins.
Along about the time Henry was forty-five and his eldest daughter was sixteen and his wife was forty, Henry bought a new cow. He really did not need another cow, but he was able to get it at a bargain, and there was room enough for it in the cowshed. If he had not bought the cow, he might never have known that he was some one else.
It was a hot August day. The dust was ankle-deep in the road, the sun was broiling hot, and the leaves on the trees drooped, as Henry walked along the road, leading the cow home to his own pasture. It was a long walk, and specially long because the cow did not want to go with Henry. She lagged along, dragging back, and occasionally jerking back. She had a calf at her old home that she thought she ought not to desert. It was hard, tiresome work for Henry. One of his shoes was rubbing up a blister on his heel, too, and something he had eaten had given him indigestion.
He got the cow home at last, and put her in the pasture. It was three o'clock, and he had had no dinner, so he walked down to the kitchen, pulling the screen door shut with a slam. As she heard the door, his wife came running in from the front room. She was a worn-looking woman, and her dress was faded calico, and in her eyes was a constant look of mingled hopefulness and apprehension. The fact was that she was an easily pleased, creature, if she was given the slightest opportunity; but her eyes seemed to indicate that she was in constant expectation of something to make her unhappy.
"Bought a new cow, Henry?" she asked, hurrying to the hot stove, where his dinner was partly ready. "You look clear tired out."
"Uh!" said Henry, gruffly, looking anywhere but at his wife. He pulled out a chair and seated himself at the table. Another chair interfered with his feet. He gave it a kick that sent it banging on its back. He looked at it with a scowl, and his wife picked it up and stood it against the wall.
"Ain't my dinner never goin' to be ready?" he asked snappishly. "Why can't you leave that chair alone and git my dinner for me? Or have I got to sit here all day a-waitin'?"
There was nothing but apprehension in his wife's eyes now. She hurriedly lifted a pan off the stove, removing the lid at the same moment.
"I'm sorry, Henry," she said, "but I do believe these beans has got scorched a little."
Henry poked into them with his knife, and made a sour mouth at them.
"If I was pertendin' to keep house," he growled, "I'd 'tend to --"
He let his voice die away in hopeless dejection. It cut and grated on his wife's nerves as if she had been stabbed with a file; but she took a new grip on her hopefulness, and spoke cheerfully.
"That looks like a good cow you got," she said. "Looks like she would be a good milker. You always was a good one to pick out cows."
Henry bent round-backed over his plate, and frowned.
"Yes," he said sneeringly, "I bought a cow; an' if I bought a cow, it's bought, an' it won't do you no good to throw it up to me. I'm runnin' this place, an' when I want to buy cows, or anything else, I'll buy them, an' I won't ask your lief, neither. A man can't even eat his meals without you begin makin' objections to things. I'll buy forty cows, if I see fit, an' a man ought to be able to buy a cow with his own money without bein' plagued to death at his meals about it. I'm tired of this eternal kickin' about everything I do. I wisht you'd shut up, an' keep shut up."
That was what Henry Wilkins said and how he acted, and the odd thing was that his wife did not seem surprised to have such words and actions come from a man always contented and cheerful, scattering sunshine day after day. She actually seemed used to it. She was used to it. It was the regular daily and hourly thing.
There was a step in the next room, and Mrs. Wilkins moved quickly to the door. She stepped into the next room, and thought she closed the door, but it swung open a crack.
"Pa in the kitchen?" Henry heard a fresh young voice ask.
"Yes, he's there," he heard his wife say; "but I guess you'd better not say anything to him about it now, Allie. Your pa ain't hisself this afternoon."
"But I've got to tell him sometime, Ma," he heard Allie say, "and he ain't ever hisself any more. I'd never get to tell him if I waited until he was."
He heard no more, for his wife closed the door more securely; but what he had heard only made him more morose. He slammed his knife on the table -- he had eaten everything in sight first, you may be sure, -- slammed his chair into a corner, and slammed himself out of the kitchen. He walked to the barn, uttering incoherent half-oaths under his breath, and then picked up a hoe and threw it the whole length of the barn. It struck on the head, and the head broke off. He cursed the hoe energetically.
Henry seated himself on the barn stairs and looked gloomily at the opposite wall. He felt at that moment the full injustice of the world. Here he was always contented and cheerful and kind-spoken, a pleasant young man; and there was the world, and everything in the world, raring up and provoking him and being so -- so blamed unjust as to make him appear cross and ugly-tempered. He was so mad about it that he yanked up a rake and slammed it after the hoe. It did not mend the hoe; it broke the rake. He went over and kicked the rake, and the handle flew up and struck him across the cheek.
When Henry Wilkins went out of the barn he was still scowling; but he was still Henry Wilkins -- still the good-natured, pleasant young man, though he admitted to himself that he had reason to object to the way the world acted.
That evening Allie spoke to him. It was the day the "Weekly News" arrived, and the one evening of the summer week when Henry did not go angrily to bed as soon as the chores were done. Fridays he sat up a while and read the paper. He was sitting in his easy chair when Allie glided over to him and put one arm about his neck. No matter how cross Henry might be with others, there was one thing he prided himself on: he was always good and kind and a model father to Allie. So now he grunted and pushed her arm roughly away.
"Ain't there nowhere to sit but atop of me, I'd like to know?" he whined. "Seems like a man don't never get a minute's peace to read his paper in this house. If you want this chair, why don't you say so? I s'pose I ain't no right to it if anybody else wants it."
He was going on, but Allie spoke. She mustered all her courage for it, and then spoke straight out, like the brave girl she was.
"Father," she said, ignoring his complaining words, "Sam Hyland wants to marry me. He's asked me, and he's asked ma. Both of us are willing," she said naively, "but I couldn't say anything to him, of course, without asking you first. Of course we don't want to be married right away -- not for two years, when I'm eighteen. He's a good young man and --"
"If you've got it all fixed, -- you an' your ma an' your Sam, -- what you come to me for? I ain't wuth takin' into account, am I? I ain't nobody in this family. If you've got it all fixed up, go an' be married -- an' let me have a chance t' read this paper."
There were tears in Allie's eyes, but she kept them back.
"But you are of account!" she declared. "You are my father. If you want us to be married, we will be; but if you don't, we shouldn't think of such a thing. It -- it would make me very unhappy, but we shouldn't, Father. If you don't like Sam --"
She let her hand glide about his neck again. He pushed it sharply away.
"Oh, stop!" he said moodily, looking at his paper with a scowl.
"But, Father --"
Henry crushed his paper into a roll, and threw it into the far corner of the room. He pushed Allie aside with his hand, and without another word stumped up the stairs to bed. Five minutes later he came down madder, and discovered Allie on her knees beside her mother, with her head in the motherly lap, weeping, while the motherly hand caressed the soft hair gently. Henry went to the door.
"Henry," cried Mrs. Wilkins in alarm, "where are you going?"
He stopped and scowled at her.
"'Henry, where are you going?'" he mocked. "Well, I'm goin' out t' put that new cow in the shed. I forgot her. You wouldn't have, but I did. Now you know it, an' I hope you're satisfied. You ain't if you don't know every step I take, seems."
"Oh, Henry!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins gently, with love and regret and pleading; but he slammed the door and went into the night.
There are some cows that you can kick, but the new cow was not that kind, it seemed. Usually, if you kick a cow, she will either move over sidewise or move forward; but when Henry walked up to the new cow and kicked her, she turned just enough to deliver a clean, double-heeled kick at Henry's side. Three ribs were broken.
He crawled moaning to the house on his hands and knees, and his wife and Allie helped him into bed, and Allie herself hitched up and drove for the doctor. Sam Hyland came over the next morning and did up the chores, and again that evening. He continued to do them until Henry was himself again. No, not that, for he never was himself again.
There was one day when Mrs. Wilkins absolutely had to go to town, and Mrs. Martin and Mrs. Pendexter came in to sit in the next room in case Henry should need anything. When they looked in, he was asleep, and they seemed likely to have an easy afternoon. When Henry opened his eyes ten minutes after they had looked at him, he heard their voices plainly.
"Was such a nice young man," he heard Mrs. Pendexter say.
"Yes, he was," said Mrs. Martin, decidedly. "There was never a nicer young man than what Henry Wilkins was; and that makes it seem so odd how he's changed. He ain't been hisself these ten years."
"No," said Mrs. Pendexter, "he's some one else entirely. As I remember Henry Wilkins, he was the kindest-hearted man, always cheerful an' contented. It was a pleasure to know Henry Wilkins; an' now look at that old sour-face in the bed there! I don't know a meaner-tempered, nastier-spoken, and nastier-acting man in the world. He's certainly some one else than Henry Wilkins."
"Yes," said Mrs. Martin; "an' I'll tell you who he is: he's nobody in the world but old Sime Hodge."
Mrs. Pendexter threw up her hands.
"Maria Martin," she exclaimed, "that's just who he is! I'm blessed if it ever struck me till you mentioned it; but that's who he is beyond all manner of doubt -- the same screwed-up face, the same gray hair, an' the same mean ways an' ugly words. Old Sime Hodge! I declare if he ain't!"
To Henry in bed in a plaster jacket this was painful. For years he had been imagining he was himself, that he was the kind and pleasant Henry Wilkins; and to learn in an instant that he was not himself, but Old Sime Hodge! He learned it suddenly, but he had plenty of time to think it over, and when a thought of that kind is given to a man flat on his back in bed, he is apt to think about it. He saw that it was true.
Old Sime Hodge (I really can't call him Henry Wilkins any longer) lay there and thought. He took the Henry Wilkins he had imagined he was and compared him, item by item, with the Sime Hodge lying there in bed. He looked at his face in the mirror, and saw that he was not young, and that he did not have a bright and smiling countenance: he was old, and his countenance was as crabbed as sour apples -- undoubtedly old Sime Hodge. He thought of his manners, of his way of speaking to his wife and to other people: it was Sime Hodge. He considered his money ways and his bargaining ways, and all he could make out of it was stingy, close-fisted old Sime Hodge. It was terrible.
The great, round, solid world dropped from under him into a bottomless abyss, leaving him floundering helplessly alone -- alone with himself, and that self no one but that sour reprobate, old Sime Hodge. It was pretty bad company to be in, and he knew it. Then slowly the world returned, and he saw on it Mrs. Wilkins and Allie Wilkins, and he recognized that they were as they had always been; that Mrs. Wilkins was older and more careworn, but still the hard-working, willing-to-be-happy Mrs. Wilkins that she had been the day he had married her; that Allie was still the innocent, sweet child she had been when she was a new baby. He saw that the world had the same kine and grain, the same trees and weather, the same success and failure, the same day and night, and the same people. It was the same old world, but he was Sime Hodge. He put his arm over his face and wept real tears for the lost Henry Wilkins. He cried weakly, like a child, at the fate of the man who was some one else.
Old Sime had not been a very patient sort of patient. He had been a pretty good specimen of the worst possible kind, and when Mrs. Wilkins returned from town it was with a feeling that she was coming back to torment again.
"How has he been?" she asked as soon as she was inside the door.
"Well, I wouldn't want no quieter sick man," said Mrs. Pendexter. "If he was any quieter, I'd have sent for the doctor. I'd have been frightened."
"He wasn't no trouble at all, Mrs. Wilkins," said Mrs. Martin. "I'm afraid he's sicker than what you think. Not that I want to frighten you."
Mrs. Wilkins threw off her hat, and hurried into the room where old Sime lay in bed. As she reached the bed, his hand reached out and found one of her hands, and a smile made its crooked, uneven way through the hard lines that thought they owned the neighborhood of old Sime's mouth. It was grand, that battle between the smile and the hard lines. The smile pressed upward from the inside, like a whale's back breaking through the ice, and the hard lines resisted, yielded, cracked in unexpected places, broke into short lengths, and let the smile through. It was a raw-edged, imperfect smile, but it looked like heaven to Mrs. Wilkins.
And all the time old Sime was holding her hand! Think of that! And when the smile had worked its way through, he put up his other hand and pulled her face down and kissed her!
It was a long time before Mrs. Wilkins was convinced that old Sime was not going to die.
A kiss and a smile and a pressure of the hand were not enough to kill old Sime. Mrs. Wilkins's husband soon discovered that.
Old Sime plodded about the farm as soon as he was able to be about, and sometimes he exhibited extremely old Sime-ish traits; but he kept his eye on his memory of young Henry Wilkins, and whenever he let old Sime show himself he was truly contrite. He accepted the fact that he was now old Sime Hodge, but he hoped some day to be himself again -- to be Henry Wilkins. He studied young Henry Wilkins, and tried to be like him. He studied young Henry's individual traits, and tried to adopt them. He smiled a great deal. Whenever he had nothing else to do, he would turn his face up at the edges, and try to think smiling thoughts. When the cow stepped in the milk pail he would say something soothing and pleasant to her. If Mrs. Wilkins served him scorched beans, he would cheer up immediately and remark that the only way a man could tell what a good cook he had in the house was by getting once in a while something that was not just right.
Often when things were going all right he would forget about Henry Wilkins and let the old Sime stick out, but as soon as anything happened to disturb him he was sweetness itself. Irritations and misfortunes, bad weather and bad cooking, indigestion and tight shoes, balky horses and troubles, were the things that spurred him to flights of good humor and kindness. They were reminders, as one might say. If he stepped on a hoe and the handle flew up and hit him in the nose, he would go in and kiss Mrs. Wilkins. If a chicken took an idea it did not want to enter the coop, and he had to chase it an hour, he would go in and tell Allie she could marry Sam Hyland.
He grew so weary of old Sime that he would not speak a word without taking five minutes to think it over first for fear he might say a word that would offend some one. In order that mean thoughts might not creep into his mind, he took to singing hymn-tunes continuously. You couldn't get him to say a word in disparagement of any living thing or person, and in order to be on the safe side, he took to saying good things of every one and every thing, no matter how mean and obnoxious the persons or things might be.
Old Sime was being put back into the grave; there was no doubt of that, and the man who had once been Henry Wilkins was mightily pleased. His face became smooth and placid, and his eyes were filled with sweet calmness; his tones were soft, and his words were gentle. In every possible way he tried to be like Henry Wilkins.
Mrs. Wilkins was very much pleased, too. Her life became smooth and tranquil. There was no fear of harsh, unkind words from old Sime now.
Two years after the cow had kicked him, old Sime gave Allie in marriage to Sam Hyland, and it was a happy day for every one. In the morning old Sime walked out to the pasture back of the house and leaned on the fence. For a long while he looked at the cow, and then he straightened up and raised his arms high above his head and drew a deep breath.
"Good-by, old Sime Hodge!" he said aloud. "Not but what you had some good points, not but what we all have some good points; but good-bye jest the same. I'm done with ye. I'm Henry Wilkins again, an' Henry Wilkins I'll stay. I've had good an' plenty of bein' some one else. I'm me, an' I'm goin' to stay me."
He walked back to the house a little uncomfortable in his good clothes, and made ready to welcome the guests. The wedding was at noon, and it went off nicely. Allie was a darling bride, and Sam Hyland was sufficiently embarrassed to please every woman in the room. It was a good wedding, and when the new Mrs. Hyland drove off, under a shower of rice, all the women wept, and some of them went with Mrs. Wilkins to her room to comfort her and dry her tears. The men went out to the barn to harness their horses for the return trip.
But Mrs. Wilkins's husband, the man who had been some one else, dropped into a chair in the empty dining room. The table was still littered with the remains of the wedding dinner, but in the kitchen there was a rattling of china and spoons, for two kindly neighbors had "pitched in" to help Mrs. Wilkins. Through the crack that the kitchen door always left when it was not shut carefully Mrs. Wilkins's husband heard their voices.
"Such a change in a man in my life," he heard Mrs. Pendexter say.
"No; I never did, either," said Mrs. Martin. "D' you remember when we was here just about two year' ago, when he had that cow break most all his ribs, an' what we said then?"
"I certainly do," said Mrs. Pendexter. "That he was, hair an' hide, nobody in the world but old Sime Hodge. An' he was. He was just that old cross-grained sinner. Them plates is ready to wipe."
"Well, he certainly ain't old Sime no more," said Mrs. Martin. Mrs. Wilkins's husband's breast swelled with pride. The words were incense.
"No, he ain't," said Mrs. Pendexter.
"An' yet," said Mrs. Martin, "no more he ain't Henry Wilkins."
"No, indeed," exclaimed Mrs. Pendexter; "not in the least. Two men couldn't be more different than him an' the Henry Wilkins as was. He's certainly some one else than either Sime or Henry since this change came over him."
"Yes," said Mrs. Martin, "an' I'll tell you who he is. He's nobody in this born world but old Gran'ma Figgis, good old soul that she was."
Mrs. Pendexter clapped her hands.
"Maria Martin," she cried, "that's just who he is! He's just that very potterin', inoffensive, good-intentioned soul!"
In the dining room Gran'ma Figgis arose and put on his felt hat. With gentle, noiseless steps he stole from the dining room and out at the front door.
Like a flash in the dark there came before his vision the young, hearty, cheerful Henry Wilkins that he had been, and the repressed, self-effaced, old Gran'ma Figgis that he was now.
Now, ordinarily no man would like to be mistaken for an old lady, however good; but it was evidence of the completeness of Henry Wilkins's transformation that he accepted the suggestion with positive content.