Humorous Masterpieces from American Literature
By Various

Presented by

Public Domain Books

Frank R. Stockton

(BORN, 1834.)



It was about noon of a very fair July day, when Euphemia and myself arrived at the little town where we were to take the stage up into the mountains. We were off for a two weeks’ vacation and our minds were a good deal easier than when we went away before, and left Pomona at the helm. We had enlarged the boundaries of Rudder Grange, having purchased the house, with enough adjoining land to make quite a respectable farm. Of course I could not attend to the manifold duties on such a place, and my wife seldom had a happier thought than when she proposed that we should invite Pomona and her husband to come and live with us. Pomona was delighted, and Jonas was quite willing to run our farm. So arrangements were made, and the young couple were established in apartments in our back building, and went to work as if taking care of us and our possessions was the ultimate object of their lives. Jonas was such a steady fellow that we feared no trouble from tree-man or lightning rodder during this absence.

Our destination was a country tavern on the stage-road, not far from the point where the road crosses the ridge of the mountain range, and about sixteen miles from the town. We had heard of this tavern from a friend of ours, who had spent a summer there. The surrounding country was lovely, and the house was kept by a farmer, who was a good soul, and tried to make his guests happy. These were generally passing farmers and wagoners, or stage-passengers, stopping for a meal, but occasionally a person from the cities, like our friend, came to spend a few weeks in the mountains.

So hither we came, for an out-of-the-world spot like this was just what we wanted. When I took our place at the stage-office, I inquired for David Button, the farm tavern-keeper before mentioned, but the agent did not know of him.

“However,” said he, “the driver knows everybody on the road, and he’ll set you down at the house.”

So, off we started, having paid for our tickets on the basis that we were to ride about sixteen miles. We had seats on top, and the trip, although slow,–for the road wound uphill steadily,–was a delightful one. Our way lay, for the greater part of the time, through the woods, but now and then we came to a farm, and a turn in the road often gave us lovely views of the foot-hills and the valleys behind us.

But the driver did not know where Dutton’s tavern was. This we found out after we had started. Some persons might have thought it wiser to settle this matter before starting, but I am not at all sure that it would have been so. We were going to this tavern, and did not wish to go anywhere else. If people did not know where it was, it would be well for us to go and look for it. We knew the road that it was on, and the locality in which it was to be found.

Still, it was somewhat strange that a stage-driver, passing along the road every week-day,–one day one way, and the next the other way,–should not know a public-house like Dutton’s.

“If I remember rightly,” I said, “the stage used to stop there for the passengers to take supper.”

“Well, then, it ain’t on this side o’ the ridge,” said the driver; “we stop for supper, about a quarter of a mile on the other side, at Pete Lowry’s. Perhaps Dutton used to keep that place. Was it called the ’Ridge House’?”

I did not remember the name of the house, but I knew very well that it was not on the other side of the ridge.

“Then,” said the driver, “I’m sure I don’t know where it is. But I’ve only been on the road about a year, and your man may ’a’ moved away afore I come. But there ain’t no tavern this side the ridge, arter ye leave Delhi, and, that’s nowhere’s nigh the ridge.”

There were a couple of farmers who were sitting by the driver, and who had listened with considerable interest to this conversation. Presently, one of them turned around to me and said:

“Is it Dave Dutton ye’re askin’ about?”

“Yes,” I replied, “that’s his name.”

“Well, I think he’s dead,” said he.

At this, I began to feel uneasy, and I could see that my wife shared my trouble.

Then the other farmer spoke up.

“I don’t believe he’s dead, Hiram,” said he to his companion. “I heerd of him this spring. He’s got a sheep-farm on the other side o’ the mountain, and he’s a livin’ there. That’s what I heerd, at any rate. But he don’t live on this road any more,” he continued, turning to us. “He used to keep tavern on this road, and the stages did used to stop fur supper–or else dinner. I don’t jist ree-collect which. But he don’t keep tavern on this road no more.”

“Of course not,” said his companion, “if he’s a livin’ over the mountain. But I b’lieve he’s dead.”

I asked the other farmer if he knew how long it had been since Dutton had left this part of the country.

“I don’t know fur certain,” he said, “but I know he was keeping tavern here two year’ ago, this fall, fur I came along here, myself, and stopped there to git supper–or dinner, I don’t jist ree-collect which.”

It had been three years since our friend had boarded at Dutton’s house. There was no doubt that the man was not living at his old place now. My wife and I now agreed that it was very foolish in us to come so far without making more particular inquiries. But we had had an idea that a man who had a place like Dutton’s tavern would live there always.

“What are ye goin’ to do?” asked the driver, very much interested, for it was not every day that he had passengers who had lost their destination. “Ye might go on to Lowry’s. He takes boarders sometimes.”

But Lowry’s did not attract us. An ordinary country-tavern, where stage-passengers took supper, was not what we came so far to find.

“Do you know where this house o’ Dutton’s is?” said the driver, to the man who had once taken either dinner or supper there.

“Oh yes! I’d know the house well enough, if I saw it. It’s the fust house this side o’ Lowry’s.”

“With a big pole in front of it?” asked the driver.

“Yes, there was a sign-pole in front of it.”

“An’ a long porch?”


“Oh! well!” said the driver, settling himself in his seat. “I know all about that house. That’s a empty house. I didn’t think you meant that house. There’s nobody lives there. An’ yit, now I come to remember, I have seen people about, too. I tell ye what ye better do. Since ye’re so set on staying on this side the ridge, ye better let me put ye down at Dan Carson’s place. That’s jist about quarter of a mile from where Dutton used to live. Dan’s wife can tell ye all about the Duttons, an’ about everybody else, too, in this part o’ the country, and if there aint nobody livin’ at the old tavern, ye can stay all night at Carson’s, and I’ll stop an’ take you back, to-morrow, when I come along.”

We agreed to this plan, for there was nothing better to be done, and, late in the afternoon, we were set down with our small trunk–for we were traveling under light weight–at Dan Carson’s door. The stage was rather behind time, and the driver whipped up and left us to settle our own affairs. He called back, however, that he would keep a good look-out for us to-morrow.

Mrs. Carson soon made her appearance, and, very naturally, was somewhat surprised to see visitors with their baggage standing on her little porch. She was a plain, coarsely dressed woman, with an apron full of chips and kindling wood, and a fine mind for detail, as we soon discovered.

“Jist so,” she said, putting down the chips and inviting us to seats on a bench. “Dave Dutton’s folks is all moved away. Dave has a good farm on the other side o’ the mountain, an’ it never did pay him to keep that tavern, ’specially as he didn’t sell liquor. When he went away, his son Al come there to live with his wife, an’ the old man left a good deal o’ furniture and things for him, but Al’s wife aint satisfied here, and, though they’ve been here, off an’ on, the house is shet up most o’ the time. It’s for sale an’ to rent, both, ef enybody wants it. I’m sorry about you, too, fur it was a nice tavern, when Dave kept it.”

We admitted that we were also very sorry, and the kind-hearted woman showed a great deal of sympathy.

“You might stay here, but we haint got no fit room where you two could sleep.”

At this, Euphemia and I looked very blank.

“But you could go up to the house and stay, jist as well as not,” Mrs. Carson continued. “There’s plenty o’ things there, an’ I keep the key. For the matter o’ that, ye might take the house for as long as ye want to stay; Dave ’d be glad enough to rent it; and, if the lady knows how to keep house, it wouldn’t be no trouble at all, jist for you two. We could let ye have all the victuals ye’d want, cheap, and there’s plenty o’ wood there, cut, and every thing handy.”

We looked at each other. We agreed. Here was a chance for a rare good time. It might be better, perhaps, than any thing we had expected.

The bargain was struck. Mrs. Carson, who seemed vested with all the necessary powers of attorney, appeared to be perfectly satisfied with our trustworthiness, and when I paid on the spot the small sum she thought proper for two weeks’ rent, she evidently considered she had done a very good thing for Dave Dutton and herself.

“I’ll jist put some bread, an’ eggs, an’ coffee, an’ pork, an’ things in the basket, an’ I’ll have ’em took up for ye, with yer trunk, an’ I’ll go with ye an’ take some milk. Here, Danny!” she cried, and directly her husband, a long, thin, sun-burnt, sandy-headed man, appeared, and to him she told, in a few words, our story, and ordered him to hitch up the cart and be ready to take our trunk and the basket up to Dutton’s old house.

When all was ready, we walked up the hill, followed by Danny and the cart. We found the house a large, low, old-fashioned farm-house, standing near the road with a long piazza in front, and a magnificent view of mountain-tops in the rear. Within, the lower rooms were large and low, with quite a good deal of furniture in them. There was no earthly reason why we should not be perfectly jolly and comfortable here. The more we saw the more delighted we were at the odd experience we were about to have. Mrs. Carson busied herself in getting things in order for our supper and general accommodation. She made Danny carry our trunk to a bedroom in the second story, and then set him to work building a fire in a great fire-place, with a crane for the kettle.

When she had done all she could, it was nearly dark, and after lighting a couple of candles, she left us, to go home and get supper for her own family.

As she and Danny were about to depart in the cart, she ran back to ask us if we would like to borrow a dog.

“There aint nuthin to be afeard of,” she said; “for nobody hardly ever takes the trouble to lock the doors in these parts, but bein’ city folks, I thought ye might feel better if ye had a dog.”

We made haste to tell her that we were not city folks, but declined the dog. Indeed, Euphemia remarked that she would be much more afraid of a strange dog than of robbers.

After supper, which we enjoyed as much as any meal we ever ate in our lives, we each took a candle, and after arranging our bedroom for the night, we explored the old house. There were lots of curious things everywhere,–things that were apparently so “old timey,” as my wife remarked, that David Dutton did not care to take them with him to his new farm, and so left them for his son, who probably cared for them even less than his father did. There was a garret extending over the whole house, and filled with old spinning-wheels, and strings of onions, and all sorts of antiquated bric-a-brac, which was so fascinating to me that I could scarcely tear myself away from it; but Euphemia, who was dreadfully afraid that I would set the whole place on fire, at length prevailed on me to come down.

We slept soundly that night, in what was probably the best bedroom in the house, and awoke with a feeling that we were about to enter on a period of some uncommon kind of jollity, which we found to be true when we went down to get breakfest. I made the fire, Euphemia made the coffee, and Mrs. Carson came with cream and some fresh eggs. The good woman was in high spirits. She was evidently pleased at the idea of having neighbors, temporary though they were, and it had probably been a long time since she had had such a chance of selling milk, eggs, and sundries. It was almost the same as opening a country store. We bought groceries and every thing of her.

We had a glorious time that day. We were just starting out for a mountain stroll when our stage-driver came along on his down trip.

“Hello!” he called out. “Want to go back this morning?”

“Not a bit of it,” I cried. “We wont go back for a couple of weeks. We’ve settled here for the present.”

The man smiled. He didn’t seem to understand it exactly, but he was evidently glad to see us so well satisfied. If he had had time to stop and have the matter explained to him, he would probably have been better satisfied; but as it was, he waved his whip to us and drove on. He was a good fellow.

We strolled all day, having locked up the house and taken our lunch with us; and when we came back, it seemed really like coming home. Mrs. Carson, with whom we had left the key, had brought the milk and was making the fire. This woman was too kind. We determined to try and repay her in some way. After a splendid supper we went to bed happy.

The next day was a repetition of this one, but the day after it rained. So we determined to enjoy the old tavern, and we rummaged about everywhere. I visited the garret again, and we went to the old barn, with its mows half full of hay, and had rare times climbing about there. We were delighted that it happened to rain. In a wood-shed, near the house, I saw a big square board with letters on it. I examined the board, and found it was a sign,–a hanging sign,–and on it was painted in letters that were yet quite plain:


I called to Euphemia and told her that I had found the old tavern sign. She came to look at it, and I pulled it out.

“Soldiers and sailors!” she exclaimed; “that’s funny.”

I looked over on her side of the sign, and, sure enough, there was the inscription:


“They must have bought this comprehensive sign in some town,” I said. “Such a name would never have been chosen for a country tavern like this. But I wish they hadn’t taken it down. The house would look more like what it ought to be with its sign hanging before it.”

“Well, then,” said Euphemia, “let’s put it up.”

I agreed instantly to this proposition, and we went to look for a ladder. We found one in the wagon-house, and carried it out to the sign-post in the front of the house. It was raining, gently, during these performances, but we had on our old clothes, and were so much interested in our work that we did not care for a little rain. I carried the sign to the post, and then, at the imminent risk of breaking my neck, I hung it on its appropriate hooks on the transverse beam of the sign-post. Now our tavern was really what it pretended to be. We gazed on the sign with admiration and content.

“Do you think we had better keep it up all the time?” I asked of my wife.

“Certainly,” said she. “It’s a part of the house. The place isn’t complete without it.”

“But suppose some one should come along and want to be entertained?”

“But no one will. And if people do come, I’ll take care of the soldiers and sailors, if you will attend to the farmers and mechanics.”

I consented to this, and we went in-doors to prepare dinner.–Rudder Grange.

A Piece of Red Calico.

Mr. Editor:–If the following true experience shall prove of any advantage to any of your readers, I shall be glad.

I was going into town the other morning, when my wife handed me a little piece of red calico, and asked me if I would have time during the day, to buy her two yards and a half of calico like that. I assured her that it would be no trouble at all; and putting the piece of calico in my pocket, I took the train for the city.

At lunch-time I stopped in at a large dry-goods store to attend to my wife’s commission. I saw a well-dressed man walking the floor between the counters, where long lines of girls were waiting on much longer lines of customers, and asked him where I could see some red calico.

“This way, sir,” and he led me up the store. “Miss Stone,” said he to a young lady, “show this gentleman some red calico.”

“What shade do you want?” asked Miss Stone.

I showed her the little piece of calico that my wife had given me. She looked at it and handed it back to me. Then she took down a great roll of red calico and spread it out on the counter.

“Why, that isn’t the shade!” said I.

“No, not exactly,” said she; “but it is prettier than your sample.”

“That may be,” said I; “but, you see, I want to match this piece. There is something already made of this kind of calico, which needs to be made larger, or mended, or something. I want some calico of the same shade.”

The girl made no answer, but took down another roll.

“That’s the shade,” said she.

“Yes,” I replied, “but it’s striped.”

“Stripes are more worn than any thing else in calicoes,” said she.

“Yes; but this isn’t to be worn. It’s for furniture, I think. At any rate, I want perfectly plain stuff, to match something already in use.”

“Well, I don’t think you can find it perfectly plain, unless you get Turkey-red.”

“What is Turkey-red?” I asked.

“Turkey-red is perfectly plain in calicoes,” she answered.

“Well, let me see some.”

“We haven’t any Turkey-red calico left,” she said, “but we have some very nice plain calicoes in other colors.”

“I don’t want any other color. I want stuff to match this.”

“It’s hard to match cheap calico like that,” she said, and so I left her.

I next went into a store a few doors farther up Broadway. When I entered I approached the “floor-walker,” and handing him my sample, said:

“Have you any calico like this?”

“Yes, sir,” said he. “Third counter to the right.”

I went to the third counter to the right, and showed my sample to the saleman in attendance there. He looked at it on both sides. Then he said:

“We haven’t any of this.”

“That gentleman said you had,” said I.

“We had it, but we’re out of it now. You’ll get that goods at an upholsterer’s.”

I went across the street to an upholsterer’s.

“Have you any stuff like this?’ I asked.

“No,” said the salesman. “We haven’t. Is it for furniture?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then Turkey-red is what you want?”

“Is Turkey-red just like this?” I asked.

“No,” said he; “but it’s much better.”

“That makes no difference to me,” I replied. “I want something just like this.”

“But they don’t use that for furniture,” he said.

“I should think people could use any thing they wanted for furniture,” I remarked, somewhat sharply.

“They can, but they don’t,” he said quite calmly. “They don’t use red like that. They use Turkey-red.”

I said no more, but left. The next place I visited was a very large dry-goods store. Of the first salesman I saw I inquired if they kept red calico like my sample.

“You’ll find that on the second story,” said he.

I went up-stairs. There I asked a man:

“Where will I find red calico?”

“In the far room to the left. Right over there.” And he pointed to a distant corner.

I walked through the crowds of purchasers and salespeople, and around the counters and tables filled with goods, to the far room to the left. When I got there I asked for red calico.

“The second counter down this side,” said the man.

I went there and produced my sample. “Calicoes down-stairs,” said the man.

“They told me they were up here,” I said.

“Not these plain goods. You’ll find ’em down-stairs at the back of the store, over on that side.”

I went down-stairs to the back of the store.

“Where will I find red calico like this?” I asked.

“Next counter but one,” said the man addressed, walking with me in the direction pointed out.

“Dunn, show red calicoes.”

Mr. Dunn took my sample and looked at it.

“We haven’t this shade in that quality of goods,” he said.

“Well, have you it in any quality of goods?” I asked.

“Yes; we’ve got it finer.” And he took down a piece of calico, and unrolled a yard or two of it on the counter.

“That’s not this shade,” I said.

“No,” said he. “The goods is finer and the color’s better.”

“I want it to match this,” I said.

“I thought you weren’t particular about the match,” said the salesman. “You said you didn’t care for the quality of the goods, and you know you can’t match goods without you take into consideration quality and color both. If you want that quality of goods in red, you ought to get Turkey-red.”

I did not think it necessary to answer this remark, but said:

“Then you’ve got nothing to match this?”

“No, sir. But perhaps they may have it in the upholstery department, in the sixth story.”

So I got in the elevator and went up to the top of the house.

“Have you any red stuff like this?” I said to a young man.

“Red stuff? Upholstery department,–other end of this floor.”

I went to the other end of the floor.

“I want some red calico,” I said to a man.

“Furniture goods?” he asked.

“Yes,” said I.

“Fourth counter to the left.”

I went to the fourth counter to the left, and showed my sample to a salesman. He looked at it, and said:

“You’ll get this down on the first floor–calico department.”

I turned on my heel, descended in the elevator, and went out on Broadway. I was thoroughly sick of red calico. But I determined to make one more trial. My wife had bought her red calico not long before, and there must be some to be had somewhere. I ought to have asked her where she bought it, but I thought a simple little thing like that could be bought anywhere.

I went into another large dry-goods store. As I entered the door a sudden tremor seized me. I could not bear to take out that piece of red calico. If I had had any other kind of a rag about me–a pen-wiper or any thing of the sort–I think I would have asked them if they could match that.

But I stepped up to a young woman and presented my sample, with the usual question.

“Back room, counter on the left,” she said.

I went there.

“Have you any red calico like this?” I asked of the lady behind the counter.

“No, sir,” she said, “but we have it in Turkey-red.”

Turkey-red again! I surrendered.

“All right,” I said, “give me Turkey-red.”

“How much, sir?” she asked.

“I don’t know–say five yards.”

The lady looked at me rather strangely, but measured off five yards of Turkey-red calico. Then she rapped on the counter and called out “cash!" A little girl, with yellow hair in two long plaits, came slowly up. The lady wrote the number of yards, the name of the goods, her own number, the price, the amount of the bank-note I handed her, and some other matters, probably the color of my eyes, and the direction and velocity of the wind, on a slip of paper. She then copied all this in a little book which she kept by her. Then she handed the slip of paper, the money, and the Turkey-red to the yellow-haired girl. This young girl copied the slip in a little book she carried, and then she went away with the calico, the paper slip, and the money.

After a very long time,–during which the little girl probably took the goods, the money, and the slip to some central desk, where the note was received, its amount and number entered in a book, change given to the girl, a copy of the slip made and entered, girl’s entry examined and approved, goods wrapped up, girl registered, plaits counted and entered on a slip of paper and copied by the girl in her book, girl taken to a hydrant and washed, number of towel entered on a paper slip and copied by the girl in her book, value of my note and amount of change branded somewhere on the child, and said process noted on a slip of paper and copied in her book,–the girl came to me, bringing my change and the package of Turkey-red calico.

I had time for but very little work at the office that afternoon, and when I reached home, I handed the package of calico to my wife She unrolled it and exclaimed:

“Why, this don’t match the piece I gave you!”

“Match it!” I cried. “Oh, no! it don’t match it. You didn’t want that matched. You were mistaken. What you wanted was Turkey-red–third counter to the left. I mean, Turkey-red is what they use.”

My wife looked at me in amazement, and then I detailed to her my troubles.

“Well,” said she, “this Turkey-red is a great deal prettier than what I had, and you’ve got so much of it that I needn’t use the other at all. I wish I had thought of Turkey-red before.”

“I wish from my heart you had,” said I.


Bayard Taylor  •  William Allen Butler  •  John William De Forest  •  John Townsend Trowbridge  •  Oliver Bell Bunce  •  Charles Dudley Warner  •  Frances Lee Pratt  •  Louisa May Alcott  •  William Wirt Howe  •  Artemus Ward  •  Frank R. Stockton  •  Andrew Scoggin  •  Samuel Langhorne Clemens  •  Fitz Hugh Ludlow  •  Thomas Bailey Aldrich