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Danny's Own Story By Don Marquis Characters: 11476

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Well, we had pork and greens fur dinner that day, with the best corn-bread I ever eat anywheres, and buttermilk, and sweet potato pie. We got 'em at the house of a feller named Withers-Old Daddy Withers. Which if they was ever a nicer old man than him, or a nicer old woman than his wife, I never run acrost 'em yet.

They lived all alone, them Witherses, with only a couple of niggers to help them run their farm. After we eats our dinner and Sam gets his'n out to the kitchen, we sets out in front of the house and gets to talking with them, and gets real well acquainted. Which we soon found out the secret of old Daddy Withers's life-that there innocent-looking old jigger was a poet. He was kind of proud of it and kind of shamed of it both to oncet. The way it come out was when the doctor says one of them quotations he is always getting off, and the old man he looks pleased and says the rest of the piece it dropped out of straight through.

Then they had a great time quoting it at each other, them two, and I seen the doctor is good to loaf around there the rest of the day, like as not. Purty soon the old lady begins to get mighty proud-looking over something or other, and she leans over and whispers to the old man:

"Shall I bring it out, Lemuel?"

The old man, he shakes his head, no. But she slips into the house anyhow, and fetches out a little book with a pale green cover to it, and hands it to the doctor.

"Bless my soul," says Doctor Kirby, looking at the old man, "you don't mean to say you write verse yourself?"

The old man, he gets red all over his face, and up into the roots of his white hair, and down into his white beard, and makes believe he is a little mad at the old lady fur showing him off that-a-way.

"Mother," he says, "yo' shouldn't have done that!" They had had a boy years before, and he had died, but he always called her mother the same as if the boy was living. He goes into the house and gets his pipe, and brings it out and lights it, acting like that book of poetry was a mighty small matter to him. But he looks at Doctor Kirby out of the corner of his eyes, and can't keep from getting sort of eager and trembly with his pipe; and I could see he was really anxious over what the doctor was thinking of them poems he wrote. The doctor reads some of 'em out loud.

Well, it was kind of home-made poetry, Old Daddy Withers's was. It wasn't like no other poetry I ever struck. And I could tell the doctor was thinking the same about it. It sounded somehow like it hadn't been jointed together right. You would keep listening fur it to rhyme, and get all worked up watching and waiting fur it to, and make bets with yourself whether it would rhyme or it wouldn't. And then it ginerally wouldn't. I never hearn such poetry to get a person's expectances all worked up, and then go back on 'em. But if you could of told what it was all about, you wouldn't of minded that so much. Not that you can tell what most poetry is about, but you don't care so long as it keeps hopping along lively. What you want in poetry to make her sound good, according to my way of thinking, is to make her jump lively, and then stop with a bang on the rhymes. But Daddy Withers was so independent-like he would jest natcherally try to force two words to rhyme whether the Lord made 'em fur mates or not-like as if you would try to make a couple of kids kiss and make up by bumping their heads together. They jest simply won't do it. But Doctor Kirby, he let on like he thought it was fine poetry, and he read them pieces over and over agin, out loud, and the old man and the old woman was both mighty tickled with the way he done it. He wouldn't of had 'em know fur anything he didn't believe it was the finest poetry ever wrote, Doctor Kirby wouldn't.

They was four little books of it altogether. Slim books that looked as if they hadn't had enough to eat, like a stray cat whose ribs is rubbing together. It had cost Daddy Withers five hundred dollars apiece to get 'em published. A feller in Boston charged him that much, he said. It seems he would go along fur years, raking and scraping of his money together, so as to get enough ahead to get out another book. Each time he had his hopes the big newspapers would mebby pay some attention to it, and he would get recognized.

"But they never did," said the old man, kind of sad, "it always fell flat."

"Why, FATHER!"-the old lady begins, and finishes by running back into the house agin. She is out in a minute with a clipping from a newspaper and hands it over to Doctor Kirby, as proud as a kid with copper-toed boots. The doctor reads it all the way through, and then he hands it back without saying a word. The old lady goes away to fiddle around about the housework purty soon and the old man looks at the doctor and says:

"Well, you see, don't you?"

"Yes," says the doctor, very gentle.

"I wouldn't have HER know for the world," says Daddy Withers. "I know and YOU know that newspaper piece is just simply poking fun at my poetry, and making a fool of me, the whole way through. As soon as I read it over careful I saw it wasn't really praise, though there was a minute or two I thought my recognition had come. But SHE don't know it ain't serious from start to finish. SHE was all-mighty pleased when that piece come out in print. And I don't intend she ever shall know it ain't real praise."

His wife was so proud when that piece come out in that New York paper, he said, she cried over it. She said now she was glad they had been doing without things fur years and years so they could get them little books printed, one after the other, fur now fame was coming. But sometimes, Daddy Withers says, he suspicions she

really knows he has been made a fool of, and is pertending not to see it, fur his sake, the same as he is pertending fur HER sake. Well, they was a mighty nice old couple, and the doctor done a heap of pertending fur both their sakes-they wasn't nothing else to do.

"How'd you come to get started at it?" he asts.

Daddy Withers says he don't rightly know. Mebby, he says, it was living there all his life and watching things growing-watching the cotton grow, and the corn and getting acquainted with birds and animals and trees and things. Helping of things to grow, he says, is a good way to understand how God must feel about humans. For what you plant and help to grow, he says, you are sure to get to caring a heap about. You can't help it. And that is the reason, he says, God can be depended on to pull the human race through in the end, even if appearances do look to be agin His doing it sometimes, fur He started it to growing in the first place and that-a-way He got interested personal in it. And that is the main idea, he says, he has all the time been trying to get into that there poetry of his'n. But he reckons he ain't got her in. Leastways, he says, no one has never seen her there but the doctor and the old lady and himself. Well, for my part, I never would of seen it there myself, but when he said it out plain like that any one could of told what he meant.

You hadn't orter lay things up agin folks if the folks can't help 'em. And I will say Daddy Withers was a fine old boy in spite of his poetry. Which it never really done any harm, except being expensive to him, and lots will drink that much up and never figger it an expense, but one of the necessities of life. We went all over his place with him, and we noticed around his house a lot of tin cans tacked up to posts and trees. They was fur the birds to drink out of, and all the birds around there had found out about it, and about Daddy Withers, and wasn't scared of him at all. He could get acquainted with animals, too, so that after a long spell sometimes they would even let him handle them. But not if any one was around. They was a crow he had made a pet of, used to hop around in front of him, and try fur to talk to him. If he went to sleep in the front yard whilst he was reading, that crow had a favourite trick of stealing his spectacles off'n his nose and flying up to the ridgepole of the house, and cawing at him. Once he had been setting out a row of tomato plants very careful, and he got to the end of the row and turned around, and that there crow had been hopping along behind very sollum, pulling up each plant as he set it out. It acted like it had done something mighty smart, and knowed it, that crow. So after that the old man named him Satan, fur he said it was Satan's trick to keep things from growing. They was some blue and white pigeons wasn't scared to come and set on his shoulders; but you could see the old man really liked that crow Satan better'n any of them.

Well, we hung around all afternoon listening to the old man talk, and liking him better and better. First thing we knowed it was getting along toward supper time. And nothing would do but we must stay to supper, too. We was pinted toward a place on the railroad called Smithtown, but when we found we couldn't get a train from there till ten o'clock that night anyhow, and it was only three miles away, we said we'd stay.

After supper we calculated we'd better move. But the old man wouldn't hear of us walking that three miles. So about eight o'clock he hitched up a mule to a one-hoss wagon, and we jogged along.

They was a yaller moon sneaking up over the edge of the world when we started. It was so low down in the sky yet that it threw long shadders on the road, and they was thick and black ones, too. Because they was a lot of trees alongside the road, and the road was narrow, we went ahead mostly through the darkness, with here and there patches of moonlight splashed onto the ground. Doctor Kirby and Old Man Withers was setting on the seat, still gassing away about books and things, and I was setting on the suit case in the wagon box right behind 'em. Sam, he was sometimes in the back of the wagon. He had been more'n half asleep all afternoon, but now it was night he was waked up, the way niggers and cats will do, and every once in a while he would get out behind and cut a few capers in a moonlight patch, jest fur the enjoyment of it, and then run and ketch up with the wagon and crawl in agin, fur it was going purty slow.

The ground was sandy in spots, and I guess we made a purty good load fur Beck, the old mule. She stopped, going up a little slope, after we had went about a mile from the Witherses'. Sam says he'll get out and walk, fur the wheels was in purty deep, and it was hard going.

"Giddap, Beck!" says the old man.

But Beck, she won't. She don't stand like she is stuck, neither, but like she senses danger somewheres about. A hoss might go ahead into danger, but a mule is more careful of itself and never goes butting in unless it feels sure they is a way out.

"Giddap," says the old man agin.

But jest then the shadders on both sides of the road comes to life. They wakes up, and moves all about us. It was done so sudden and quiet it was half a minute before I seen it wasn't shadders but about thirty men had gathered all about us on every side. They had guns.

"Who are you? What d'ye want?" asts the old man, startled, as three or four took care of the mule's head very quick and quiet.

"Don't be skeered, Daddy Withers," says a drawly voice out of the dark; "we ain't goin' to hurt YOU. We got a little matter o' business to tend to with them two fellers yo' totin' to town."

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