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IN THE INTERESTS OF LIGHT AND LEARNIN'

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A Tale from Tumbleweed Valley

WILLIAM M. JOHN

NCLE Asy Mulberry tilted his chair against the adobe wall of his garage and general repair-shop, critically arched his eyebrows above his gold-rimmed spectacles and cleared his throat.

"Yes, Uncle Asy," I said in response to the cough and disparaging scrutiny-and Uncle Asy began.

22

It seems to me, foolin' around and tryin' to write the way you are, that a volume entitled "The World's Universal Knowledge" would help you a heap.

Now, I've lived here in Tumbleweed Valley goin' on fifty-odd years, ever since its inception you might say, and I ain't never seen a work of literature introduced in these parts that done more to stir up feelin' or change the course of human events, than that book done, the Bible not excepted.

I've got a volume stowed away upstairs over the garage yet, I reckon. Xerxes Bullock give it to me in the interests of light and learnin', and to quote Zurk's exact words:

"It provides a full course in electricity, engineerin', medicine both homeopathic and allopathic, architecture and law. It contains a full account of the heathen deities and other fabulous persons; a panorama

of history, bein' a graphic account of every nation on the globe profusely illustrated; a simple contemporaneous exposition of universal history from the Flood to the present year; a brief and concise introduction to all sciences, includin' the wonders of the steam-engine. It gives all the known laws of etiquette; how a lady should act when accosted by a stranger on a railroad train or in a crowded street; how she should dress when presented to a king or queen; how to overcome faults in children and animals; the proper methods of approach in winning the hand of a lady a man loves, or how a lady by subtle and maidenly means may fascinate the gentleman to whom she is attracted; how high to lift the dress when alightin' from a carriage, and where a gentleman should place his hand in assistin' a lady in and out of a carriage; quotations from Latin, Greek and Hebrew-in short it does all its name conveys-it gives you the complete key to all knowledge. With this book in your library no one can be a failure."

I heard Zurk give that spiel so often I got to know it backward. It was his openin' wedge every place he went, and was his last remark before slippin' into the fitful sleep Doc Freeman said would be his last.

Zurk drove in here thirty-six years ago this comin' May. Them was the days when I run this place as a respectable feed and livery barn, with blacksmith shop attached.

The rig Zurk was drivin' needed paint, the horse needed oats, and the pearl-gray suit he was wearin' needed the spots took off it and a button sewed on here and there. He stopped out in front here and hopped out of that buggy as agile as a cat jumpin' off a limb. He was a little man; about forty I judged, and had the snappiest black eyes I ever saw in a human head.

"Where can I find the proprietor?" he says, comin' up to the bench where I was settin'.

"Seek no further," I says, "you stand before him."

"I've come into your community for the sole purpose of spreadin' light and learnin' by means of the foremost work of literature, a volume known as "The World's Universal Knowledge," he says. "And I want to make arrangements for the keep of my horse while I'm workin' Tumbleweed Valley and its environs."

"Set down," I says, "and we'll delve into the proposition." Which he done.

We'd come to satisfactory terms, and was discussin' crop and weather conditions in general, when George Stevens rode up and tied his sorrel filly to the hitch-rail. George was a tall rangy lean man. He cultivated a droopin' black mustache, and some time in an encounter with brute force his nose had been broke. Whoever done the straightenin' of that feature wasn't an expert engineer, for when George was headed north, his nostrils was takin' in the east wind.

He walked up to where we was settin' and said, "Asy, your man put front shoes on my team of bay mares, yesterday."

I said, "Yes, George, but you ain't made a trip over here just to pay me for that, have you?"

"No, I ain't," he says, "and I ain't aimin' to pay you at all for the job, 'cause he must have drove the nails into the quick. Them mares was so tender-footed this mornin' I had to have one of the boys pull the shoes of of 'em."

"That's too bad, George," I says, "I'll have to speak to Red about that. It seems to be gettin' next to impossible to hire a good blacksmith nowdays. Set down won't you, George, and pass the time of day?”

"I ain't the loafin' kind,” he says, givin' me and Zurk a hard look. “I come over here to get the nails to put them shoes on right. I ain't aimin’ to be pickyunish about it; but it's goin' to take one of my men's time, and I don't see no reason why you shouldn't furnish the nails." He'd rode one mile over, and was goin' to ride one mile back, to save three cents worth of horseshoe-nails. But then, like the old-time horse liniment, George was made up of parts-one part unadulterated pride and nine parts concentrated essence of greed.

"All right, George," I says, "go in and tell Red to give you twelve nails."

"I think I'd better have fifteen," he says as he started for the shop, "the boys might bend some drivin' 'em in."

"Has he got anythin'?" Zurk asked, hardly waitin' for George to get in the shop.

"Got anythin'!" I says. "Why, he's got so many acres of irrigated

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But Zurk don't wait to hear more. He darted into the barn quicker than a horse-fly on a July day, and was out again just as quick carryin' a red book that weighed nearly half as much as he did, judgin' by the looks of it.

George come out of the shop countin' the nails, and Zurk whispered, "Make me known to him."

"George," I says, "I want to get you acquainted with Mr. . . . Mr. . . ."

"Bullock, Xerxes Bullock," Zurk fills in, jumpin' up quick and makin' a grab for George's hand. "I'm pleased to meet you Mr.... Mr...." "Stevens," I adds.

"Stevens," ," Zurk says, fondlin' George's unwillin' hand. "I'm introducin' into your community this greatest of all literary productions, done in one volume, handsomely bound in red leather and entitled, "The World's Universal Knowledge.' It provides. . . And so quick it quick it would make your head swim, he rattled off the various topics contained within its covers as I have just outlined 'em to you.

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George took two sniffs of the south wind and said, "Wonder a man like you wouldn't be tryin' to make an honest livin'."

Zurk let that remark go by like a disagreeable odor; as if he'd never noticed it at all.

"But the chapter on logical reasonin' alone is worth the price of the whole book, Mr. Stevens. With it you can reason out anythin' down to

the sex of the whale that swallowed Jonah," he comes back as cheerful as a parson settin' down to a chicken dinner.

"The whale that swallowed Jonah?" George asks. That interested him. He was a pillar in the Baptist church here in Hopeville, and I reckon he thought if he could get that piece of information free he'd have somethin' to brag about Sunday, at church. "Sure," Zurk says, "set down and I'll explain."

George set down on the edge of the bench as if he was afraid somebody would see him and think he was enjoyin' our company. Zurk opened the book to a place marked logical reasonin'.

"Now, Mr. Stevens," he says, "we know the whale swallowed Jonah, don't we? The Bible says so, and what's in the Bible is so, we know that, don't we?" George nodded. "Well, we know Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, don't we? The Bible says that, don't it?" George nodded again. "Then by followin' our course in logical reasonin' that proves the whale was a male whale, don't it?"

"Don't see that it does," George

says.

"Why, Mr. Stevens, it surely does. Do you suppose if that whale had been a female whale she'd of kept her mouth shut three days and three nights?" I could see by the way Zurk's lips drew away from his more or less uneven teeth that he'd used that argument a good many times, and expected it to go well; but he had a surprise in store for him right then.

"Huh, huh," George grunted, as he got up and started toward his filly. "I can't see you've proved

anythin'. I don't believe a whale ever ta'ks. The Bible don't say nothin' about 'em talkin'."

Zurk set with his beady black eyes riveted on George ridin' down the road. When he turned the corner at the school-house, Zurk said to me:

"Where does that man live?"

"One mile due east from where you're settin'," I says. "His house is the first one on the right or left either, for his land extends up to and laps over, the boundaries of this here metropolis. It's a one and a half story adobe, with a shingle roof on top of it, and a lawn in front of it; the whole bein' inclosed by a hogwire fence and an iron gate. It bein' the only house with the aforementioned conveniences, you can't miss it. George takes a sight of pride in havin' a better lookin' place to live in than any man in the county."

"Has he a family?" Zurk asks. "He has," I says. "Four children; the oldest a girl nineteen, followed in rapid succession by three boys. He also has a quiet, self-effacin' wife who, when he brought her here to Tumbleweed Valley, was as comely a maiden as you'd care to see, but who is beginnin' to show some traces of wear after twenty years of cookin' for a drove of hired hands; peddlin' butter and eggs; nursin' a parcel of frail-constitutioned lambs that's been shoved behind the kitchen stove, so's to be out of the weather; not to mention keepin' the yard and flower-beds in shape so that George's feelin' of pride won't suffer any set-backs."

"Well," Zurk says, "he needs "The World's Universal Knowledge' worse than any man I ever saw. I'll have to place one with him."

says, "and I'll buy you the best box of nickel cigars that is carried in Billy Debusk's general merchandise emporium."

When I was a little tad my mother used to piece quilts. Some of the scraps she got from this neighbor, some from that and some from another and some she took out of her own rag-bag. In a good deal the same way I come by my extended knowledge of the affairs of Xerxes Bullock durin' his sojourn in Tumbleweed Valley.

Zurk's first professional visit was made on the afternoon he arrived. He called at the Stevens' home, and he took his commission-man with him; that's what he called Dick Kent. He'd asked me to get him. some one to drive him around who knew the country and the people, and said the party would receive in the way of remuneration, three dollars for every volume of "The World's Universal Knowledge" sold.

Dick happened into the barn about that time lookin' for employment, and I made a deal with him for Zurk. The boy was-well, I don't know how to describe him-he was so consarned good lookin' he was almost pretty; if you get what I mean, big pretty. His grandpap had been a scout when Tumbleweed Valley wasn't nothin' but a sage-brush flat, and in one of his weaker and lonesomer moments had married one of them Spanish señoritas that was so plentiful in them times.

When Zurk seen Dick, he turned to me and said:

"Mr. Mulberry, it's somethin' to raise a fine lookin' boy like that. "You do that, Mr. Bullock," I He'd make a man feel he belonged,

and a man misses a lot that don't have that feelin' sometime in his life."

Zurk left his commission-man holdin' his horse out in front of the Stevens' home, not feelin' he needed an introduction there, and went in.

Lucy come to the door. Zurk said he noticed she waved to Dick. When he asked her if he might have a few words with her mother she was most awful polite and took him out on the back porch where her ma was rollin' out some cookies, gettin' 'em ready for the oven.

Mrs. Stevens was pleased to see Zurk. She'd been a school-teacher before she gave up her independence and went into the harness, so to speak. She'd never quite got over likin' books, either; used to set up nights readin' the free reports sent out from Washington on beans and alfalfa, and the most effectual means of riddin' the feathered crop from pesterin' insects.

Zurk and her visited, and partook of cookies and cold buttermilk, for the best part of two hours. He said he started to tell her about the chapter on logical reasonin' and Jonah, but she stopped him, sayin':

“Oh, yes, isn't that funny? Did George tell you that too? He told it this noon at the table, and said it was a good one for Lucy and me to listen to."

Zurk didn't want to cloud the little sunshine she had in her life, so he didn't bother to explain.

When he went to leave, Mrs. Stevens said she'd take it up with George about buyin' the book. She said she could buy it out of her egg and turkey money, but that George would be awful mad if she did it

without his approval, and she'd have to keep the book hid, and it wouldn't do her no good; 'cause it would be such a load on her conscience.

As she opened the door to let him out she sort of jumped back and said, "Oh my, I hope George don't see that!"

"What?" Zurk says.

"Dick and Lucy. He'd be awful mad," she says.

Zurk looked out, and there was Lucy all pink and white like the apple-trees in the orchard behind the house, her hair glistenin' gold in the sunshine. Considerin' George was her father, nature had been uncommon kind to Lucy. She was leanin' half-way into the rig, and the commission-man was leanin' half-way

out.

"What's wrong with that?" Zurk asks.

"Why-why, Dick wants to marry Lucy, and I'm afraid Lucy wants to marry him," she says.

"Well, why not let 'em?" Zurk says.

"Oh, George wouldn't stand for it at all. Dick's part Mexican, a quarter, and they haven't anything. He just works at whatever he can find to do. George expects Lucy to marry Amber Anderson. He has a good farm joinin' our place on the west."

"But, Mrs. Stevens," Zurk says, "maybe Lucy don't love Anderson, and maybe Anderson don't love Lucy. It wouldn't be right. It would be like me, goin' through life alone; worse than goin' through life alone, 'cause they'd both be lookin' for somethin' they'd never find."

"Yes I know-I know, and I

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