'Tis the opinion of myself, Sanderson Pratt, who sets this down, that
the educational system of the United States should be in the hands of
the weather bureau. I can give you good reasons for it; and you can't
tell me why our college professors shouldn't be transferred to the
meteorological department. They have been learned to read; and they
could very easily glance at the morning papers and then wire in to the
main office what kind of weather to expect. But there's the other side
of the proposition. I am going on to tell you how the weather
furnished me and Idaho Green with an elegant education.
We was up in the Bitter Root Mountains over the Montana line
prospecting for gold. A chin-whiskered man in Walla-Walla, carrying a
line of hope as excess baggage, had grubstaked us; and there we was in
the foothills pecking away, with enough grub on hand to last an army
through a peace conference.
Along one day comes a mail-rider over the mountains from Carlos, and
stops to eat three cans of greengages, and leave us a newspaper of
modern date. This paper prints a system of premonitions of the
weather, and the card it dealt Bitter Root Mountains from the bottom
of the deck was "warmer and fair, with light westerly breezes."
That evening it began to snow, with the wind strong in the east. Me
and Idaho moved camp into an old empty cabin higher up the mountain,
thinking it was only a November flurry. But after falling three foot
on a level it went to work in earnest; and we knew we was snowed in.
We got in plenty of firewood before it got deep, and we had grub
enough for two months, so we let the elements rage and cut up all they
If you want to instigate the art of manslaughter just shut two men up
in a eighteen by twenty-foot cabin for a month. Human nature won't
When the first snowflakes fell me and Idaho Green laughed at each
other's jokes and praised the stuff we turned out of a skillet and
called bread. At the end of three weeks Idaho makes this kind of a
edict to me. Says he:
"I never exactly heard sour milk dropping out of a balloon on the
bottom of a tin pan, but I have an idea it would be music of the
spears compared to this attenuated stream of asphyxiated thought that
emanates out of your organs of conversation. The kind of half-
masticated noises that you emit every day puts me in mind of a cow's
cud, only she's lady enough to keep hers to herself, and you ain't."
"Mr. Green," says I, "you having been a friend of mine once, I have
some hesitations in confessing to you that if I had my choice for
society between you and a common yellow, three-legged cur pup, one of
the inmates of this here cabin would be wagging a tail just at
This way we goes on for two or three days, and then we quits speaking
to one another. We divides up the cooking implements, and Idaho cooks
his grub on one side of the fireplace, and me on the other. The snow
is up to the windows, and we have to keep a fire all day.
You see me and Idaho never had any education beyond reading and doing
"if John had three apples and James five" on a slate. We never felt
any special need for a university degree, though we had acquired a
species of intrinsic intelligence in knocking around the world that we
could use in emergencies. But, snowbound in that cabin in the Bitter
Roots, we felt for the first time that if we had studied Homer or
Greek and fractions and the higher branches of information, we'd have
had some resources in the line of meditation and private thought. I've
seen them Eastern college fellows working in camps all through the
West, and I never noticed but what education was less of a drawback to
'em than you would think. Why, once over on Snake River, when Andrew
McWilliams' saddle horse got the botts, he sent a buckboard ten miles
for one of these strangers that claimed to be a botanist. But that
One morning Idaho was poking around with a stick on top of a little
shelf that was too high to reach. Two books fell down to the floor. I
started toward 'em, but caught Idaho's eye. He speaks for the first
time in a week.
"Don't burn your fingers," says he. "In spite of the fact that you're
only fit to be the companion of a sleeping mud-turtle, I'll give you a
square deal. And that's more than your parents did when they turned
you loose in the world with the sociability of a rattle-snake and the
bedside manner of a frozen turnip. I'll play you a game of seven-up,
the winner to pick up his choice of the book, the loser to take the
We played; and Idaho won. He picked up his book; and I took mine. Then
each of us got on his side of the house and went to reading.
I never was as glad to see a ten-ounce nugget as I was that book. And
Idaho took at his like a kid looks at a stick of candy.
Mine was a little book about five by six inches called "Herkimer's
Handbook of Indispensable Information." I may be wrong, but I think
that was the greatest book that ever was written. I've got it to-day;
and I can stump you or any man fifty times in five minutes with the
information in it. Talk about Solomon or the New York /Tribune/!
Herkimer had cases on both of 'em. That man must have put in fifty
years and travelled a million miles to find out all that stuff. There
was the population of all cities in it, and the way to tell a girl's
age, and the number of teeth a camel has. It told you the longest
tunnel in the world, the number of the stars, how long it takes for
chicken pox to break out, what a lady's neck ought to measure, the
veto powers of Governors, the dates of the Roman aqueducts, how many
pounds of rice going without three beers a day would buy, the average
annual temperature of Augusta, Maine, the quantity of seed required to
plant an acre of carrots in drills, antidotes for poisons, the number
of hairs on a blond lady's head, how to preserve eggs, the height of
all the mountains in the world, and the dates of all wars and battles,
and how to restore drowned persons, and sunstroke, and the number of
tacks in a pound, and how to make dynamite and flowers and beds, and
what to do before the doctor comes--and a hundred times as many things
besides. If there was anything Herkimer didn't know I didn't miss it
out of the book.
I sat and read that book for four hours. All the wonders of education
was compressed in it. I forgot the snow, and I forgot that me and old
Idaho was on the outs. He was sitting still on a stool reading away
with a kind of partly soft and partly mysterious look shining through
his tan-bark whiskers.
"Idaho," says I, "what kind of a book is yours?"
Idaho must have forgot, too, for he answered moderate, without any
slander or malignity.
"Why," says he, "this here seems to be a volume by Homer K. M."
"Homer K. M. what?" I asks.
"Why, just Homer K. M.," says he.
"You're a liar," says I, a little riled that Idaho should try to put
me up a tree. "No man is going 'round signing books with his initials.
If it's Homer K. M. Spoopendyke, or Homer K. M. McSweeney, or Homer K.
M. Jones, why don't you say so like a man instead of biting off the
end of it like a calf chewing off the tail of a shirt on a clothes-
"I put it to you straight, Sandy," says Idaho, quiet. "It's a poem
book," says he, "by Homer K. M. I couldn't get colour out of it at
first, but there's a vein if you follow it up. I wouldn't have missed
this book for a pair of red blankets."
"You're welcome to it," says I. "What I want is a disinterested
statement of facts for the mind to work on, and that's what I seem to
find in the book I've drawn."
"What you've got," says Idaho, "is statistics, the lowest grade of
information that exists. They'll poison your mind. Give me old K. M.'s
system of surmises. He seems to be a kind of a wine agent. His regular
toast is 'nothing doing,' and he seems to have a grouch, but he keeps
it so well lubricated with booze that his worst kicks sound like an
invitation to split a quart. But it's poetry," says Idaho, "and I have
sensations of scorn for that truck of yours that tries to convey sense
in feet and inches. When it comes to explaining the instinct of
philosophy through the art of nature, old K. M. has got your man beat
by drills, rows, paragraphs, chest measurement, and average annual
So that's the way me and Idaho had it. Day and night all the
excitement we got was studying our books. That snowstorm sure fixed us
with a fine lot of attainments apiece. By the time the snow melted, if
you had stepped up to me suddenly and said: "Sanderson Pratt, what
would it cost per square foot to lay a roof with twenty by twenty-
eight tin at nine dollars and fifty cents per box?" I'd have told you
as quick as light could travel the length of a spade handle at the
rate of one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. How many
can do it? You wake up 'most any man you know in the middle of the
night, and ask him quick to tell you the number of bones in the human
skeleton exclusive of the teeth, or what percentage of the vote of the
Nebraska Legislature overrules a veto. Will he tell you? Try him and
About what benefit Idaho got out of his poetry book I didn't exactly
know. Idaho boosted the wine-agent every time he opened his mouth; but
I wasn't so sure.
This Homer K. M., from what leaked out of his libretto through Idaho,
seemed to me to be a kind of a dog who looked at life like it was a
tin can tied to his tail. After running himself half to death, he sits
down, hangs his tongue out, and looks at the can and says:
"Oh, well, since we can't shake the growler, let's get it filled at
the corner, and all have a drink on me."
Besides that, it seems he was a Persian; and I never hear of Persia
producing anything worth mentioning unless it was Turkish rugs and
That spring me and Idaho struck pay ore. It was a habit of ours to
sell out quick and keep moving. We unloaded our grubstaker for eight
thousand dollars apiece; and then we drifted down to this little town
of Rosa, on the Salmon river, to rest up, and get some human grub, and
have our whiskers harvested.
Rosa was no mining-camp. It laid in the valley, and was as free of
uproar and pestilence as one of them rural towns in the country. There
was a three-mile trolley line champing its bit in the environs; and me
and Idaho spent a week riding on one of the cars, dropping off at
nights at the Sunset View Hotel. Being now well read as well as
travelled, we was soon /pro re nata/ with the best society in Rosa,
and was invited out to the most dressed-up and high-toned
entertainments. It was at a piano recital and quail-eating contest in
the city hall, for the benefit of the fire company, that me and Idaho
first met Mrs. De Ormond Sampson, the queen of Rosa society.
Mrs. Sampson was a widow, and owned the only two-story house in town.
It was painted yellow, and whichever way you looked from you could see
it as plain as egg on the chin of an O'Grady on a Friday. Twenty-two
men in Rosa besides me and Idaho was trying to stake a claim on that
There was a dance after the song books and quail bones had been raked
out of the Hall. Twenty-three of the bunch galloped over to Mrs.
Sampson and asked for a dance. I side-stepped the two-step, and asked
permission to escort her home. That's where I made a hit.
On the way home says she:
"Ain't the stars lovely and bright to-night, Mr. Pratt?"
"For the chance they've got," says I, "they're humping themselves in a
mighty creditable way. That big one you see is sixty-six million miles
distant. It took thirty-six years for its light to reach us. With an
eighteen-foot telescope you can see forty-three millions of 'em,
including them of the thirteenth magnitude, which, if one was to go
out now, you would keep on seeing it for twenty-seven hundred years."
"My!" says Mrs. Sampson. "I never knew that before. How warm it is!
I'm as damp as I can be from dancing so much."
"That's easy to account for," says I, "when you happen to know that
you've got two million sweat-glands working all at once. If every one
of your perspiratory ducts, which are a quarter of an inch long, was
placed end to end, they would reach a distance of seven miles."
"Lawsy!" says Mrs. Sampson. "It sounds like an irrigation ditch you
was describing, Mr. Pratt. How do you get all this knowledge of
"From observation, Mrs. Sampson," I tells her. "I keep my eyes open
when I go about the world."
"Mr. Pratt," says she, "I always did admire a man of education. There
are so few scholars among the sap-headed plug-uglies of this town that
it is a real pleasure to converse with a gentleman of culture. I'd be
gratified to have you call at my house whenever you feel so inclined."
And that was the way I got the goodwill of the lady in the yellow
house. Every Tuesday and Friday evening I used to go there and tell
her about the wonders of the universe as discovered, tabulated, and
compiled from nature by Herkimer. Idaho and the other gay Lutherans of
the town got every minute of the rest of the week that they could.
I never imagined that Idaho was trying to work on Mrs. Sampson with
old K. M.'s rules of courtship till one afternoon when I was on my way
over to take her a basket of wild hog-plums. I met the lady coming
down the lane that led to her house. Her eyes was snapping, and her
hat made a dangerous dip over one eye.
"Mr. Pratt," she opens up, "this Mr. Green is a friend of yours, I
"For nine years," says I.
"Cut him out," says she. "He's no gentleman!"
"Why ma'am," says I, "he's a plain incumbent of the mountains, with
asperities and the usual failings of a spendthrift and a liar, but I
never on the most momentous occasion had the heart to deny that he was
a gentleman. It may be that in haberdashery and the sense of arrogance
and display Idaho offends the eye, but inside, ma'am, I've found him
impervious to the lower grades of crime and obesity. After nine years
of Idaho's society, Mrs. Sampson," I winds up, "I should hate to
impute him, and I should hate to see him imputed."
"It's right plausible of you, Mr. Pratt," says Mrs. Sampson, "to take
up the curmudgeons in your friend's behalf; but it don't alter the
fact that he has made proposals to me sufficiently obnoxious to ruffle
the ignominy of any lady."
"Why, now, now, now!" says I. "Old Idaho do that! I could believe it
of myself, sooner. I never knew but one thing to deride in him; and a
blizzard was responsible for that. Once while we was snow-bound in the
mountains he became a prey to a kind of spurious and uneven poetry,
which may have corrupted his demeanour."
"It has," says Mrs. Sampson. "Ever since I knew him he has been
reciting to me a lot of irreligious rhymes by some person he calls
Ruby Ott, and who is no better than she should be, if you judge by her
"Then Idaho has struck a new book," says I, "for the one he had was by
a man who writes under the /nom de plume/ of K. M."
"He'd better have stuck to it," says Mrs. Sampson, "whatever it was.
And to-day he caps the vortex. I get a bunch of flowers from him, and
on 'em is pinned a note. Now, Mr. Pratt, you know a lady when you see
her; and you know how I stand in Rosa society. Do you think for a
moment that I'd skip out to the woods with a man along with a jug of
wine and a loaf of bread, and go singing and cavorting up and down
under the trees with him? I take a little claret with my meals, but
I'm not in the habit of packing a jug of it into the brush and raising
Cain in any such style as that. And of course he'd bring his book of
verses along, too. He said so. Let him go on his scandalous picnics
alone! Or let him take his Ruby Ott with him. I reckon she wouldn't
kick unless it was on account of there being too much bread along. And
what do you think of your gentleman friend now, Mr. Pratt?"
"Well, 'm," says I, "it may be that Idaho's invitation was a kind of
poetry, and meant no harm. May be it belonged to the class of rhymes
they call figurative. They offend law and order, but they get sent
through the mails on the grounds that they mean something that they
don't say. I'd be glad on Idaho's account if you'd overlook it," says
I, "and let us extricate our minds from the low regions of poetry to
the higher planes of fact and fancy. On a beautiful afternoon like
this, Mrs. Sampson," I goes on, "we should let our thoughts dwell
accordingly. Though it is warm here, we should remember that at the
equator the line of perpetual frost is at an altitude of fifteen
thousand feet. Between the latitudes of forty degrees and forty-nine
degrees it is from four thousand to nine thousand feet."
"Oh, Mr. Pratt," says Mrs. Sampson, "it's such a comfort to hear you
say them beautiful facts after getting such a jar from that minx of a
"Let us sit on this log at the roadside," says I, "and forget the
inhumanity and ribaldry of the poets. It is in the glorious columns of
ascertained facts and legalised measures that beauty is to be found.
In this very log we sit upon, Mrs. Sampson," says I, "is statistics
more wonderful than any poem. The rings show it was sixty years old.
At the depth of two thousand feet it would become coal in three
thousand years. The deepest coal mine in the world is at Killingworth,
near Newcastle. A box four feet long, three feet wide, and two feet
eight inches deep will hold one ton of coal. If an artery is cut,
compress it above the wound. A man's leg contains thirty bones. The
Tower of London was burned in 1841."
"Go on, Mr. Pratt," says Mrs. Sampson. "Them ideas is so original and
soothing. I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be."
But it wasn't till two weeks later that I got all that was coming to
me out of Herkimer.
One night I was waked up by folks hollering "Fire!" all around. I
jumped up and dressed and went out of the hotel to enjoy the scene.
When I see it was Mrs. Sampson's house, I gave forth a kind of yell,
and I was there in two minutes.
The whole lower story of the yellow house was in flames, and every
masculine, feminine, and canine in Rosa was there, screeching and
barking and getting in the way of the firemen. I saw Idaho trying to
get away from six firemen who were holding him. They was telling him
the whole place was on fire down-stairs, and no man could go in it and
come out alive.
"Where's Mrs. Sampson?" I asks.
"She hasn't been seen," says one of the firemen. "She sleeps up-
stairs. We've tried to get in, but we can't, and our company hasn't
got any ladders yet."
I runs around to the light of the big blaze, and pulls the Handbook
out of my inside pocket. I kind of laughed when I felt it in my hands
--I reckon I was some daffy with the sensation of excitement.
"Herky, old boy," I says to it, as I flipped over the pages, "you
ain't ever lied to me yet, and you ain't ever throwed me down at a
scratch yet. Tell me what, old boy, tell me what!" says I.
I turned to "What to do in Case of Accidents," on page 117. I run my
finger down the page, and struck it. Good old Herkimer, he never
overlooked anything! It said:
Suffocation from Inhaling Smoke or Gas.--There is nothing better
than flaxseed. Place a few seed in the outer corner of the eye.
I shoved the Handbook back in my pocket, and grabbed a boy that was
"Here," says I, giving him some money, "run to the drug store and
bring a dollar's worth of flaxseed. Hurry, and you'll get another one
for yourself. Now," I sings out to the crowd, "we'll have Mrs.
Sampson!" And I throws away my coat and hat.
Four of the firemen and citizens grabs hold of me. It's sure death,
they say, to go in the house, for the floors was beginning to fall
"How in blazes," I sings out, kind of laughing yet, but not feeling
like it, "do you expect me to put flaxseed in a eye without the eye?"
I jabbed each elbow in a fireman's face, kicked the bark off of one
citizen's shin, and tripped the other one with a side hold. And then I
busted into the house. If I die first I'll write you a letter and tell
you if it's any worse down there than the inside of that yellow house
was; but don't believe it yet. I was a heap more cooked than the
hurry-up orders of broiled chicken that you get in restaurants. The
fire and smoke had me down on the floor twice, and was about to shame
Herkimer, but the firemen helped me with their little stream of water,
and I got to Mrs. Sampson's room. She'd lost conscientiousness from
the smoke, so I wrapped her in the bed clothes and got her on my
shoulder. Well, the floors wasn't as bad as they said, or I never
could have done it--not by no means.
I carried her out fifty yards from the house and laid her on the
grass. Then, of course, every one of them other twenty-two plaintiff's
to the lady's hand crowded around with tin dippers of water ready to
save her. And up runs the boy with the flaxseed.
I unwrapped the covers from Mrs. Sampson's head. She opened her eyes
"Is that you, Mr. Pratt?"
"S-s-sh," says I. "Don't talk till you've had the remedy."
I runs my arm around her neck and raises her head, gentle, and breaks
the bag of flaxseed with the other hand; and as easy as I could I
bends over and slips three or four of the seeds in the outer corner of
Up gallops the village doc by this time, and snorts around, and grabs
at Mrs. Sampson's pulse, and wants to know what I mean by any such
"Well, old Jalap and Jerusalem oakseed," says I, "I'm no regular
practitioner, but I'll show you my authority, anyway."
They fetched my coat, and I gets out the Handbook.
"Look on page 117," says I, "at the remedy for suffocation by smoke or
gas. Flaxseed in the outer corner of the eye, it says. I don't know
whether it works as a smoke consumer or whether it hikes the compound
gastro-hippopotamus nerve into action, but Herkimer says it, and he
was called to the case first. If you want to make it a consultation,
there's no objection."
Old doc takes the book and looks at it by means of his specs and a
"Well, Mr. Pratt," says he, "you evidently got on the wrong line in
reading your diagnosis. The recipe for suffocation says: 'Get the
patient into fresh air as quickly as possible, and place in a
reclining position.' The flaxseed remedy is for 'Dust and Cinders in
the Eye,' on the line above. But, after all--"
"See here," interrupts Mrs. Sampson, "I reckon I've got something to
say in this consultation. That flaxseed done me more good than
anything I ever tried." And then she raises up her head and lays it
back on my arm again, and says: "Put some in the other eye, Sandy
And so if you was to stop off at Rosa to-morrow, or any other day,
you'd see a fine new yellow house with Mrs. Pratt, that was Mrs.
Sampson, embellishing and adorning it. And if you was to step inside
you'd see on the marble-top centre table in the parlour "Herkimer's
Handbook of Indispensable Information," all rebound in red morocco,
and ready to be consulted on any subject pertaining to human happiness