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   Chapter 15 No.15

Peck's Bad Boy with the Cowboys By George W. Peck Characters: 11250

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

The Bad Boy's Joke with a Stuffed Rattlesnake-He Tells the Old Groceryman About his Dad's Morbid Appetite.

The old groceryman was sitting on the counter, with his legs stretched lengthwise, his heels resting on a sack of flour, and his back against a pile of wrapping paper, his eyes closed, his pipe gone out, and the ashes sifting from it on the cat that was asleep in his lap. He was waiting for a customer to come in and buy something to start the day's business. He had sprinkled the floor and swept the dirt up in a corner, and he was sleepy. There was a crash in front of the door, a barrel of axe handles and garden tools had been tipped over on the sidewalk, the door opened with a jerk and closed with a slam, and the bad boy came in with a long paper bax, perforated with holes, slammed it on the counter beside the groceryman's legs, and yelled:

"Wake up, Rip Van Winkle, the day of judgment has come, and you are still buried. You get a move on you or the procession will go off and leave you. Say, are you afraid of rattlesnakes?" and the bad boy shook the paper box, when an enormous rattle came from within, as though a snake had shaken its tail good and plenty.

"Great Scott, boy, I believe you have got a rattlesnake in that box," and he jumped off the counter and grabbed an iron fire poker, while the boy got out his knife to cut the string on the box. "Now, look here, I am suffering from nervous prostration, and a snake turned loose in this store would settle it with me. I am at your mercy, but by the holy smoke, if I am bitten by that snake I will kill you and your old snake. Now take that box out of here," and the old man picked up a hatchet and got behind a barrel.

"Well, wouldn't that skin you," said the bad boy, as he sharpened his knife on a piece of old cheese, and felt of the edge. "Here you have been telling me for years what a brave man you were, and how you were not afraid of anything that wore hair, and now you have fits because a little five-foot rattlesnake, with only ten rattles on, makes a formal call on you. Gee, but you are a squaw. Why, there is no danger in the bite of a rattlesnake, since science has taken the matter up. All you got to do, when a snake bites you and you begin to turn black, is to drink a couple of quarts of whisky, and bind a poultice of limberg cheese on the wound, and go to bed for a week or ten days, and you come out all right," and the bad boy began to cut the string.

"Now, let up until I wait on these customers," said the old man, as he went to the door and let in a committee of women who were to buy some supplies for a church sociable. The women lined up on each side of the store, looking at the canned things on the shelves, and the old man was trying to be polite, when the bad boy opened the box and laid on the floor a stuffed rattlesnake that was as natural as life, and touched a rattle box in his pocket, and the trouble began. The women saw the snake curled up, ready to spring, and they all went through the door at once, tipping over everything that was loose, and screaming, while the old man, when he saw the snake, got into the front show window and trembled and yelled for the police. A policeman rushed in the store and when he saw the snake he backed out of the door, and the bad boy sat down on a box and began to eat some raisins out of a box, as though he was not particularly interested in the commotion.

"Arrest that boy with the snake," said the groceryman.

"Come out of that wid your menagerie," said the policeman, shaking his club.

{Illustration: "Arrest That Boy with the Rattlesnake," Said the Groceryman.}

"Come in and get the snake if you want it," said the boy, "I don't want it any more, anyway," and he took the stuffed snake up by the head and laid it across his lap, and began to shake the rattles, and laugh at the groceryman and the policeman, and the crowd that had collected in front of the store. The policeman came in laughing, and the old groceryman crawled out of the show window, and all breathed free again, and finally the policeman went and drove the crowd away, and went on his beat again, after shaking his club at the boy; the groceryman, the snake and the cat remained in the store. The groceryman took a swig out of a bottle of whisky, to settle his nerves, and the took up his snake and pushed it towards the cat, which ran up a stepladder and yowled.

"Do you know, I kind of like you," said the old groceryman, as he went up behind the bad boy and took him by the throat, "and I think it would be a great thing for the community if I should just choke you to death. You are worse than a mad dog, and you are just ruining my business."

"I will give you just ten seconds to take you hand off my neck," said the bad boy, pulling out a dollar watch, "and when the time is up, and you have not let loose of me, I will turn loose a couple of live snakes I have in my pocket, and some tarantulas, and you will probably be bitten and swell up like a poisoned pup, and die under the counter."

"All right, let's be friends," said the old man, as he let go of the bad boy. "If your parents and the rest of the community can stand having you around, alive, probably it is my duty to be a martyr, and stand my share, but you are very trying to the nerves. By the way, put that confounded stuffed snake in the ice box, and sit down here and tell me something. I saw your father on the street yesterday, and he is a sight. His stomach is twice as big around as it was, and he looks troubled. What has got into him?"

"Well, I'll tell you, dad has got what the

y call a morbid appetite. Whatever you do, old skate, don't you ever get a morbid appetite."

"What is a morbid appetite?" asked the old man; as he peeled a banana and began to eat it. "I can always eat anything that is not tied down, but I don't know about this morbid business."

"Scientists say a morbid appetite is one that don't know when it has got enough. Dad likes good things, but he wants all there is on the table. Now, at New Orleans, before we came home, dad and I went in a restaurant to get some oysters, and you know the oysters there are the biggest in the world. When we got there dad was hungry, and the thought of raw oysters on the half shell made him morbid. He had a blue point appetite, and ordered four dozen on the half shell, for himself, and one dozen for me. Well, you would have dropped dead in your tracks if you had been there. Six waiters brought on the five dozen oysters, and each oyster was as big as a pie plate. Six dozen oysters would cover this floor from the door to the ice box. Dad almost fainted when he saw them, but his pride was at stake, and he made up his mind if he didn't eat them all the waiters would think he was a tenderfoot, and so he started in. The first oyster was as big as a calf's liver, and nobody but a sword swallower could ever have got it down. Dad cut one oyster into quarters, and got away with it, and after a while he murdered another, and after he had eaten three he wanted to go home and leave them. Then is the time his little boy got in his work. I told dad that if he didn't eat all the oysters the waiters and the people would mob him, that it was a deadly offense to order oysters and not eat them, and that they would probably kill us both before we got out of the place. He said, 'Hennery, I don't like oysters like I used to, and it seems to me I couldn't eat another one to save my life, but if, as you say, we are in a country where a man's life is held so cheaply, by the great horn spoons, I will eat every oyster in the house, and the Lord have mercy on me.' I told him that was about the size of it, and he would eat or die, and maybe he would die anyway, and just then a wicked-looking negro with a big oyster knife came to the table and looked ugly at dad and said, 'Have another dozen?' and dad said, 'Yes,' and then he began to eat as though his life depended on it, and I could hear the great wads of oysters strike with a dull thud on exposed places inside of dad, and before he got up from the table he had eaten them all, and he told the man we would be in again to lunch after awhile. Dad is the bravest man I ever saw, and don't you forget it. He would have come out all right, I suppose, and lived, if it hadn't been for his devilish morbid appetite for travel and adventure. Quick as we got out of the oyster place dad wanted to take a steamboat ride down the river to the Eades Jetties at the mouth of the river, and we went on board, and had a nice ride down to the mouth. After we had looked over the jetties where Eades made an artificial canal big enough for the largest ocean steamers to come up to New Orleans, the passengers wanted the captain to run the boat outside the bar, into the blue ocean, where the waves come from. Gee, but I hope I may live long enough to forget the ride. We hadn't got a boat's length outside the bar before the boat began to roll and toss, and I held on to dad's hand, and wished I was dead. I told him my little tummy ached, and I wanted a lemon. Dad said my little tummy, with its three oysters in it, was not worth mentioning, and told me to look at him. Talk about your Mount Pelee, and your Vesuvius, those volcanoes were tame and uninteresting, compared to dad, leaning over the railing, and shouting words at the sharks in the water. Why? he just doubled up like a jack knife, one minute, and then straightened up like an elephant standing on its hind legs in a circus, the next minute, and he kept saying, 'Ye-up,' and all the passengers said 'poor man.' I told them he was not so poor, for he owned a brewery at home. Dad finally went to sleep with his arm and head over the rail, and his body hanging limp, down on deck. The boat turned around and went back into the mouth of the river, and the passengers were thanking the captain for giving them such a lovely ride, when I thought I would wake dad up, and so I touched him on the shoulder and asked him if he didn't want a few dozen more raw oysters, and he yelled murder, and began to have hydrophobia again, and bump himself. You know the way people do when they are dissatisfied with the medicine the doctor gives. Well, we got back to New Orleans, and dad took a hack to the hotel, and told the driver not to pass any saloon where there were oyster shells on the sidewalk. We came home next day. Well, I guess I will get my snake out of the ice box, and go home and comfort dad. But wait a minute till that Irishman puts that chunk of ice in the ice box, and see if he notices the snake." Just then there was a sound as if a house had fallen, a two hundred pound cake of ice struck the floor, and the Irishman came running through the grocery with his ice tongs waving, and yelling, "There's a rattlesnake in yer ice box, mister, and ye can go to h-l for yer ice." The groceryman looked at the boy, and the boy looked at the groceryman, the cat looked at both, the boy took his snake under his arm and went out, and the old man said:

{Illustration: "Each Oyster Was as Big as a Pie Plate."}

"Well, you are the limit. Call again, and bring an anaconda, and a man-eating tiger," and he went and scraped up the ice.

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