from Leslie's Monthly
The Gymkhana at Milkville
by Ellis Parker Butler
To the Editor of Leslie's Monthly.
My Dear Editor:-- I am sending you in this envelope, "The Gymkhana at Milkville" which you can return to me as soon as you have read it. If you cannot stand more than the first page the rest of the manuscript will be cleaner when I get it back, so that will be one advantage.
You remember telling me about the man who had a "fiddle" story which he thought would interest thousands of fiddlers and brass bands all over the country. I think this "Gym" story of mine will interest a very large public. There are probably ten million mothers in the United Stales today and an equal number of fathers. Add to these about fifty million other people who were once children and who should therefore be interested in this story and you will see what a boost it will give your subscription list.
In figuring this, I have not taken into account the twenty or thirty manufacturers of baby food, the eight or ten makers of nursery bottles nor the sixteen thousand dairymen and milk peddlers, so that when the total is counted, this story should prove of vital interest to every person in the United Stales and to some of them twice.
I think if it was properly illustrated with about $580 worth of illustrations by Miss Cory and others, a great many people would look at the pictures and be delighted. As for the story itself, I am sure it would be read, for only five or six people in the United States know the meaning of "Gymkhana" and the balance would read the story in order to sate their curiosity. I myself, had to look up the spelling every time and I still pronounce if with bated breath and abashed countenance.
Yours very truly,
Ellis Parker Butler
The editor sent the author's letter to the illustrator -- but to no avail. "Gymkhana" was spelled wrong.
A glorious dawn ushered in the great day. The sun arose in a sky as softly blue as a baby's eyes, and the August warmth was tempered by a breeze as cool and sweet as a sleeping infant's breath. Dew trembled on every leaf and bud as tears sometimes linger on a child's lids after weeping, and the small stream that edged the grassy meadow where the gymkhana was to be held bubbled and gurgled with the pleasant sounds that accompany a baby's bath.
Soon all Milkville was astir, for there was much to be done, and the very air seemed to tingle with that sense of eagerness and excitement which distinguishes festival occasions from the humdrum days of the year. The single notion shop of the suburb threw open its door at an early hour, and scarcely a moment too soon, for hardly had the door been opened when there began a brisk demand for safety pins and blue baby-ribbon that continued unabated all the morning. It was evident that the Milkville Junior Cohort was to enter the arena properly pinned and tied.
It was a great day for Milkville, for the voters of the suburb had agreed to change the village name to Vandeventer, and this Saturday afternoon had been set aside for the christening, which was to be followed by a gymkhana in Vlodeck's pasture.
Milkville possessed more babies than any other suburb of its size in New Jersey, not because there were more storks in that particular section, but because the Milkville dairies were famous for their rich milk. It was a joy to look upon the sleek Milkville cows, and more than a joy to sip the creamy milk that foamed from the milkmen's pails. Of course what was reputed to be Milkville milk was sold in the city, but it was to be near the source of supply that the babies migrated to Milkville, bringing, very properly, their parents with them. But recently a change had taken place -- a change so radical, so epoch-making, so enormous, that its throes shook the social life of Milkville to its foundations and, for a while, divided the community into two hostile factions.
The opening wedge was small enough. One morning Mrs. Bliven, who was always flighty and prone to run after new goods (she tried every new nursing bottle she saw advertised), received among her mail a small cylindrical parcel. It was a sample package of Vandeventer's Food for Infants. She used it. She liked it. The baby cried for more of it, and soon a bottle of Vandeventer's Food for Infants became a regular portion of Mr. Bliven's every-other-daily homeward burden. From that to the purchase of five-pound hospital-size cans was but a step and the mischief -- if it was mischief -- was done. Artificial infant food had found a foothold in Milkville.
The Bliven baby, which had been sickly, thrived on Vandeventer's Food, and one by one the other sickly babies tried and approved it, but the healthy babies clung tenaciously to the plain milk of Milkville. In this way two parties, the Liberal or Vandeventer's Food party, and the Conservative or Plain Milk party, sprang into existence, and in the ensuing struggle all other political and social affiliations were forgotten. To distinguish friends from foes in the contest the one party chose a baby-blue badge with a miniature Vandeventer Food bottle suspended below it, and the motto "Non. gen. without my Sig., Vandeventer," while the other adopted a cream-colored badge bearing a milk-pail argent, with the motto, "Cows were made before Chemists."
The contest before the election for village officers was bitter, and every ruse was used to gain adherents to the rival parties. An agent of the Vandeventer's Food Party was caught one night feeding onions to the Milkville cows, hoping in this fiendish manner to taint the milk and win the very plain milk babies away from the milk. In return the Plain Milk faction started a story that Vandeventer's Food was nothing but dried Milkville milk from which the cream had first been skimmed. In rebuttal the Vandeventer Food Company flooded Milkville with campaign literature giving analyses of Vandeventer's Food, recommendatory letters from all parts of the Union, and illustrations of particularly plump babies that had won their plumpness by using Vandeventer's Food.
When the polls were closed and the vote counted it was found that the Vandeventer's Food party had won by a majority of eight votes, and in the subsequent rejoicing it was decided to change the name of the suburb to Vandeventer, and to celebrate the event by a grand gymkhana in which all the babies should be invited to participate.
When the gymkhana was first announced the Plain Milk contingent was inclined to coldly refuse to take any part in it, but on further consideration the heads of the party decided not only to sanction the festival by their presence but to enter all the competitions. At first this was attributed to simple good feeling and neighborly love, but it soon transpired that a sinister motive governed the decision. If the Plain Milk babies succeeded in winning a majority of the prices in the trials of strength and skill, the merits of plain Milkville milk over Vandeventer's Food would be incontestably established, and the tide of popular favor which now flowed so strongly toward the food would ebb toward plain milk again.
Consequently the entire population of the village was gathered in Vlodeck's pasture at the hour when the gymkhana sports were announced to begin. It was a beautiful scene. Seated upon the grass facing the ropes that enclosed the portion of the pasture set aside for the games were the mothers of the village in their most brilliant summer gowns. Back of them sat the nursemaids in black and white caps and aprons, holding the infants, and still back of the maids stood the husbands, while behind these were ranged rows of gaily decorated go-carts and baby carriages. The party feeling was evidenced by the grouping of audience, the Plain Milk faction being clustered at the left, while the Vandeventer's Food adherents formed the right of the gathering.
At length all were seated, and perfect silence reigned, except for a constant buzz of talk, punctuated by the jangling of rattles and the wails of eight or ten lusty babies. Then Mr. Bliven, who was master of the games, and the five judges crept under the ropes and announced the first contest, a walking match for infants of eighteen months or under, for a distance of ten yards, the prize, a five-pound can of Vandeventer's Food, to go to the contestant who should sit down the fewest times during the race.
There were five entries, and the betting favored "Toodles" Gresham, with Dorothy Martin a close second. A full nursing bottle was placed conspicuously at the end of the course to urge the contestants to put forth their best efforts.
When the five had been lined up and were fairly steady on their legs, the word was given and they were released. All five immediately sat down vehemently, and the Holcomb entry cried so furiously that he was withdrawn from the race. The Elwood baby, instead of trying to arise, began to crawl toward the goal, and as this was contrary to the rules she was ruled out. This left but three, and it soon became apparent that of these the Washburn girl was outclassed, for although she regained her feet again easily she could not keep them, and during the balance of the match she remained practically in one spot, rising and sitting down with great regularity and persistency. "Toodles" and Dorothy broke away in good form, however, and waddled the first five yards without mishap, but at the five-yard post they fouled each other, and went down simultaneously.
The excitement of the onlookers was intense, and the Plain Milks cheered loudly, for "Toodles" was the first to regain an upright position. Dorothy arose more slowly, but this proved the safer plan, for "Toodles'" rise had been so vehement that it carried him down again, while Dorothy made off at a good rate and the Vandeventer's Food group cheered their champion who was two yards in the lead. To their mortification, however, she deliberately paused at the eight-yard post, sat down intentionally, and put her foot in her mouth with the evident purpose of remaining there, while "Toodles" waddled straight ahead, regaining his lost ground.
But the onlookers were not the only eyes that were upon Dorothy. "Toodles" saw her as well, and when he reached a point opposite her, he too sat down and put his foot in his mouth.
This decided the match, and was considered a wily dodge on Dorothy's part, for it was known that "Toodles" had a passion for putting his foot in his mouth, and Dorothy arose and finished the course, while the judges were vainly endeavoring to persuade "Toodles" to use his foot for pedestrian rather than gastronomic purposes. A Vandeventer's Food baby had won the first point. It was noticed that while the winner was being carried from the field the Washburn girl was still rising and falling with the regularity of clockwork.
The next game was a quarter mile go-cart race for men, each man to wheel his own baby. In this race the pace was furious, and Mr. Stanwood, of the Vandeventer's Food party was the first under the wire, which was attributed to the fact that while the other contestants pushed their go-carts, he dragged his after him, and he would have been awarded the prize had it not been noticed that his go-cart was empty at the finish, his baby having slipped out when he started on his spurt down the home stretch. The prize was given to Mr. Wyatt of the Plain Foods.
Following the go-cart race was a mixed floor-walking contest for barefoot men. For this contest, a floor of planks had been made over which were scattered small electric buttons and large rocking chairs. The electric buttons were supposed to represent tacks, and when one was trod upon, a bell rang. Every time a contestant rang a bell or hit a rocker, he was obliged to shake the baby he was carrying. The prize was for the man who first put his charge to sleep, and in order to guard against drugged babies, each contestant was required to carry another contestant's baby. To render the match more realistic, the contestants wore bathrobes over their street costumes. There were eight entries, and the match began amid a chorus of howls from the babies, who objected to being put asleep in daylight and in the open air.
As this contest threatened to be a long one, the crawling match for one year olds was put on at the same time. In this class there were originally twenty-four entries, but just before the race, one entry was scratched -- with a pin -- and was not started. The remaining twenty-three got off briskly, twenty-two crawling properly, and one sitting upright and hitching along from side to side. The race was over a six-yard course, and at the four-yard post four contestants were so far ahead that the field was distanced. Of these four, two belonged to each party. The first mishap occurred to one of the Vandeventer's Food babies, who ran across a button and stopped to swallow it. On the home stretch, the three leaders were neck and neck and again the interest of the parental groups was intense, but just as the three were about to pass under the wire, the two Plain Milk babies became affectionate and paused to "kiss each other pretty," and the Vandeventer's Food baby swept triumphantly under the wire at a pace of a mile a week.
It would take too long, and my pen lacks the proper brilliancy, to tell of the games that filled out that happy afternoon. There was a nursing contest for six month olds, the prize to go to the entry emptying an eight ounce nursing bottle most quickly; a free-for-all crying contest; a rattle throwing match; a smiling contest for three month olds, tickling barred; a food preparing match for maids; a match for men in which contestants were required to carry a lighted candle and a spoonful of soothing syrup twice around the field without spilling the syrup or allowing the candle flame to be extinguished; a talking match for mothers, the prize to go to the mother who could tell the most anecdotes about her baby in five minutes, and many other equally exciting events.
When the last contest was announced, the score was a tie between the Plain Milks and the Vandeventer's Foods, with the floor-walking match still undecided and likely to remain so. It was natural therefore that the last contest, which would decide the supremacy, should be ushered in with an excitement that can only be likened to that of the day when the milkmen struck and no milk was delivered at Milkville. All the mothers crowded close about the guard ropes, and the cheers of the friends of the various entries shook the air, while the men thronged about the bookmakers, betting wildly on their favorites, for this contest was not only the deciding one, but by far the most interesting of the day. It was the free for all obstacle race for all infants of two years or under, and the prize was a silver mounted nursing bottle, presented by the makers of Vandeventer's Food.
In this race all the babies of Milkville that were of proper age were entered except two who were kept at home with the whooping cough, and those in the floor-walking contest. The course was twenty feet, but so bestrewn with obstacles that many entries were sure to fall out before the end of the race. At the word "go" the fifty-six babies started for the first obstacle, which was a row of filled nursing bottles extending entirely across the field. Preparatory to the race, all the babies had been fed to their fullest capacity to aid them in surmounting this first obstacle, but notwithstanding this, only about twelve managed to pass it. Dorothy Martin and "Toodles" Gresham, who had been equal favorites in the betting, were among those who fell to this temptation, and it seemed certain that a dark horse would win the race.
Among the fortunate twelve, the toddlers had a speed advantage over the creepers and they were the first to reach the second obstacle, but this temporary advantage was soon lost. The second obstacle was a row of rag dolls, and all the toddlers went down at it, and while they were filling their arms with dolls, the creepers, who were too young to be interested in dolls, crept by and made off for the third obstacle, a row of rubber rattles. Here all of the creepers paused and took a sitting position, with the exception of Baby Murphy, who passed on toward the winning post, with a good lead and no opponents. The enthusiasm of the Plain Milk partisans broke all bounds. Cheers of "Baby Murphy," "Plain Milk" and "She wins!" rang on the evening air, and the happy Plain Milk bettors moved jubilantly toward the bookmakers to cash in their winnings.
Suddenly, however, a woman on the edge of the crowd cried, "Look at Dorothy Martin!" and a number of men took up the cry with "Go it, Dorothy! Go it, Dorothy!" while Mr. and Mrs. Martin silently clasped hands.
Dorothy had left the group at the nursing bottle obstacle and was toddling forward with arms outstretched and pretty cries of pleasure. She alone of all the contestants had not been fed, and as she was a rapid feeder, she had emptied her bottle quickly and, casting it aside, started after the triumphant Baby Murphy.
"Oh! Edward," whispered Mrs. Martin, "will she be able to pass the dolls?"
"Be calm, dear," said her husband, soothingly, "she may." And she did. In fact there was no doll obstacle to make her pause, for the babies who had first reached the dolls had gathered them all, and Dorothy Martin waddled by in safety. She was now ten feet from the goal with only the rattles to pass and traveling well, but, on the other hand, Baby Murphy had but four feet to go. Could Dorothy overcome this enormous lead? Would she stop at the rattles? The entire assembly held its breath.
Amid ejaculations of wonder, Dorothy passed the rattles without pausing, for it had not been for nothing that the Martins had spanked her with rubber rattles for two weeks past, and once past them, she gained rapidly on Baby Murphy. At two feet from the goal, Dorothy drew abreast of the Murphy baby. Everyone crowded to the finishing line and shouts of encouragement were given for each of the racers. Neck and neck and only twenty four inches to go!
Dorothy raised her right foot. She raised it too high. She sat down solidly. Baby Murphy paused to look around, she started forward again, crowed and then -- rolled over on her back, and drew up her knees above her stomach. Dorothy leaned forward and put her hands all the ground. Baby Murphy made a convulsive effort to roll over. Dorothy raised herself on all fours. The Murphy baby kicked twice. Dorothy arose, tottering but game.
She took one step. Baby Murphy made a last effort, gave up the fight and lay back and howled.
"The Colic! The Colic!" cried the crowd, and, as Dorothy toddled across the line amid the cheers of her backers, the medical attendants rushed forward with cups of hot peppermint tea for the relief of the beaten baby.
Of course it was a glorious triumph for the Vandeventer's Food party, for the Vandeventer's babies never had colic -- at least, never in public.
The assembly left the field in a buzz of conversation, and soon the scene of the afternoon of gaiety was dark and silent, except where, by the light of a flaring gasoline torch, the weary floorwalkers still trod back and forth carrying their sleepless burdens, singing in exasperated desperation,
"Bye oh! ba-aby
Go to-oo slee-eep-y
Go to-oo slee-py