“Now is the time when men work quietly in the fields and women weep silently in the kitchen. The legislature is in session, and no man’s property is safe.” – Daniel Webster
Well sir, early spring ain’t never a partic’larly arid season in Barren County, but the past few weeks has been real world-beaters fer dampness. Fact is thet Lafe Higgins’s geese’ve took to floatin’ on they backs ev’ry once’t in a while . . . jist so’s their feet kin have a chance to unwrinkle!
O’course, the ol’ loafers over to the Gen’ral Store ain’t about to let a spate of inclement weather disrupt their proceedin’s none. No sir, them fellers kin swap tall tales an’ play pranks come fair days or foul. You could almost say thet they find a little bit of proddin’ on the part of the elyments to be downright inspirin’.
Take last week, fer example. Ol’ Newt Blanchard were warmin’ up with a batch of welterweight lies when his monylogue was interrupted by Skeeter Ridges . . . who come runnin’ in the front door all winded an’ wheezin’ like an eight-quart canner at full steam!
“You fellers ain’t gonna believe this,” Skeet began, “but I jist heered thet Fletcher Roebuck’s boy, Clovis, is fixin’ to treat all the young’uns in the Crossin’ to an Easter egg roll over to the town hall square come Thursday next.”
“Why,” Newt responded, “don’t thet little politickin’ weasel know the river’s up an’ over its banks an’ the square is neck-deep in water? Shucks, Ott here’s been settin’ a trot-line off’n the bandstand fer two days now . . . claims he’s hauled in some pretty good catfish, too!”
“I don’t reckon Clovis is aware of what the weather’s doin’ ennywhere but in the state capital,” Purvis Jacobs opined. “In point of fact, I got my doubts thet he even sees the outa-doors there . . . ‘ceptin’ whilst he’s goin’ to er from a saloon fer one of them high-rollin’ political lunches.”
“Do you figure of Clovis aims to snag hisself a few votes by throwin’ an Easter shindig?” Lem Tucker wanted to know.
“I’d of thunk he’d pretty much given up on the Crossin’ by now,” Doc said. “After all, when he got hisself elected last time around, he didn’t draw but one vote from here . . . even though him an’ his momma went down to the polls together!”
“I recall thet,” Ott chuckled. “Clovis ain’t never fergived her fer not backin’ him, neither . . . ‘specially since nobody were runnin’ agin’ him at the time!”
“The way I hear it,” Skeeter said, “the boy’s got hisself some pretty stiff compytition this time around. It seems of Isaac Pike, the fur buyer from over to Blight Holler, has decided to take a crack at unseatin’ him! “
“I know thet Ike feller well enough,” chimed in young Billy Parsons. “Time was I sold my muskrat pelts to him . . . least-wise I did till I found out he was payin’ me a dime on the dollar less’n ennybody else in the state were givin’. The man is a real champeen crook, from all accounts. Punk Craw has it thet ol’ man Pike used to perfume polecat hides . . . called ’em ‘striped mink’ an’ tried to peddle ’em to city folks what didn’t know enny better! “
“Well, if’n it takes like to whup like, I’d say thet our Mister Roebuck mighta met his match this time.” Ott seemed to find real relish in the possybility.
“Clovis ain’t lettin’ on thet he’s worried–leastwise he ain’t comin’ right out an’ sayin’ so–but you jist wait till he hits town,” Skeeter assured the fellers. “I’d wager he’ll be flappin’ thet glad hand of his’n fit to spin a windmill! “
Sure enough, it was jist two days (an’ another six er seven inches of precipytation) later when the candydate come strollin’ inta the Gen’ral Store jist a-grinnin’ fer all he was worth . . .around a seegar what were ripe enough to clear a whole family of groundhogs outa a second generation tunnel!
Now normally the fellers woulda jist jumped right in an’ made life mizzerble fer Clovis then an’ there, but they’d been anticypatin’ his arrival fer some time, an’ they tried (though there were a good bit of teeth-grittin’ goin’ on all the while) to be as civil to him as self-respect allowed.
“How do, Clovis,” Ott nodded. “Say, I mean to tell you the whole town’s talkin’ ’bout the festivities you’ve went an’ arranged outa the goodness of yer heart.”
“Do tell,” the politician preened, “an’ did those fellers I sent down here yesterday deliver ev’rything?”
“Thet they did, down to the last egg.”
“Well,” Clovis began, sorta puffin’ hisself up as he went along, “when I set out to do somethin’, I do it right! In fact, thet’s why you folks elected me to office.” (A few muffled snickers escaped from the group at thet, but — by and large — the fellers all managed to keep they faces straight.)
“Yessir,” said Doc, “we was all even sorta hopin’ you’d particypate in the festivities yerself . . . ‘specially since Ott here claims you usta be quite an egg-roller yerself in yer younger days.”
“Thet’s a fact,” added Ott. “Why, I was tellin’ the boys you could prob’ly still roll one of them eggs clear across the square — in five minutes or less — an’ with a blindfold on to boot! O’course, some of the doubters in the crowd — like Newt here — say they’d be willin’ to bet as much as five bucks apiece thet you can’t do it! “
As you kin imagine, Clovis’s swelled head weren’t about to let him back down from the challenge, ‘specially not when they was a chance to pick up what looked like easy money. So he got a pie-eatin’ grin on his face an’ hoisted out his wallet.
“All right, boys,” he said, “jist how many takers do I have?”
They was prob’ly nigh onto $50 bet in all (with Ott agreein’ to hold the stakes till the matter were decided). So, with a lot of good-humored joshin’, the fellers put a blindfold on Clovis an’ led him to the townhall square’s highest bank.
As soon as the unfortunate dropped to his knees, he musta knew thet the ground were damper than it oughta been. But he hunkered hisself down like a runner at a startin’ gate — all rarin’ to go — an’ Ott placed a small rounded sphere right in front of the athlete’s nose.
“I sprinkled it with vanilly extract,” the old feller whispered, “so’s you’d be able to keep track of it with your eyes covered.”
Clovis said thet he appreciated the kindness . . . an’ took off down the slope onto the square, with his nose to the ground like a hound dog an’ rollin’ fer all he was worth. ‘Tweren’t long, o’course, afore he waddled right inta the water. The politician paused a bit at the first splash — lookin’ sort of puzzled–an’ then the ol’ fellers behind him started into bellylaughin’.
Now either the joke made Clovis mad enough to git pretty stubborn, er the money what he’d wagered meant a fair bit to him, ’cause he commenced rollin’ agin an’ kept right on without sayin’ a word . . . paddlin’ along an’ pokin’ his head up fer air ev’ry five feet er so.
“Why, thet orn’ry cuss jist might make it! ” said Doc.
“No sir,” Ott replied, “I don’t believe he will.”
“Why do you say thet?” Newt — who was into the bet fer a good 50¢ — wanted to know.
“Well . . .” Ol’ Man Bartlett kinda leaned back an’ puffed on his corncob afore answerin’, “thet ain’t no egg thet Clovis is apushin’. It’s one of the selfsame scented dough balls what’ve been catchin’ me some bodacious catfish fer quite a spell now . . . .” (Ott paused fer a moment to cock his ear toward the water, about which time Clovis let loose a gurglin’ scream an’ come a-headin’ fer the near shore like a 20-horse Evinrude. )
“An’,” Ott concluded, “I do believe I jist got me another nibble.”
“The less government we have the better: the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual … the appearance of the principal to supersede the proxy … the appearance of the wise man … of whom the existing government is, it must be owned, a shabby imitation.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson