"The dispositions of woman," said Jeff Peters, after various opinions
on the subject had been advanced, "run, regular, to diversions. What a
woman wants is what you're out of. She wants more of a thing when it's
scarce. She likes to have souvenirs of things that never happened. She
likes to be reminded of things she never heard of. A one-sided view of
objects is disjointing to the female composition.
"'Tis a misfortune of mine, begotten by nature and travel," continued
Jeff, looking thoughtfully between his elevated feet at the grocery
stove, "to look deeper into some subjects than most people do. I've
breathed gasoline smoke talking to street crowds in nearly every town
in the United States. I've held 'em spellbound with music, oratory,
sleight of hand, and prevarications, while I've sold 'em jewelry,
medicine, soap, hair tonic, and junk of other nominations. And during
my travels, as a matter of recreation and expiation, I've taken
cognisance some of women. It takes a man a lifetime to find out about
one particular woman; but if he puts in, say, ten years, industrious
and curious, he can acquire the general rudiments of the sex. One
lesson I picked up was when I was working the West with a line of
Brazilian diamonds and a patent fire kindler just after my trip from
Savannah down through the cotton belt with Dalby's Anti-explosive Lamp
Oil Powder. 'Twas when the Oklahoma country was in first bloom.
Guthrie was rising in the middle of it like a lump of self-raising
dough. It was a boom town of the regular kind--you stood in line to
get a chance to wash your face; if you ate over ten minutes you had a
lodging bill added on; if you slept on a plank at night they charged
it to you as board the next morning.
"By nature and doctrines I am addicted to the habit of discovering
choice places wherein to feed. So I looked around and found a
proposition that exactly cut the mustard. I found a restaurant tent
just opened up by an outfit that had drifted in on the tail of the
boom. They had knocked together a box house, where they lived and did
the cooking, and served the meals in a tent pitched against the side.
That tent was joyful with placards on it calculated to redeem the
world-worn pilgrim from the sinfulness of boarding houses and pick-me-
up hotels. 'Try Mother's Home-Made Biscuits,' 'What's the Matter with
Our Apple Dumplings and Hard Sauce?' 'Hot Cakes and Maple Syrup Like
You Ate When a Boy,' 'Our Fried Chicken Never Was Heard to Crow'--
there was literature doomed to please the digestions of man! I said to
myself that mother's wandering boy should munch there that night. And
so it came to pass. And there is where I contracted my case of Mame
"Old Man Dugan was six feet by one of Indiana loafer, and he spent his
time sitting on his shoulder blades in a rocking-chair in the shanty
memorialising the great corn-crop failure of '96. Ma Dugan did the
cooking, and Mame waited on the table.
"As soon as I saw Mame I knew there was a mistake in the census
reports. There wasn't but one girl in the United States. When you come
to specifications it isn't easy. She was about the size of an angel,
and she had eyes, and ways about her. When you come to the kind of a
girl she was, you'll find a belt of 'em reaching from the Brooklyn
Bridge west as far as the courthouse in Council Bluffs, Ia. They earn
their own living in stores, restaurants, factories, and offices.
They're chummy and honest and free and tender and sassy, and they look
life straight in the eye. They've met man face to face, and discovered
that he's a poor creature. They've dropped to it that the reports in
the Seaside Library about his being a fairy prince lack confirmation.
"Mame was that sort. She was full of life and fun, and breezy; she
passed the repartee with the boarders quick as a wink; you'd have
smothered laughing. I am disinclined to make excavations into the
insides of a personal affection. I am glued to the theory that the
diversions and discrepancies of the indisposition known as love should
be as private a sentiment as a toothbrush. 'Tis my opinion that the
biographies of the heart should be confined with the historical
romances of the liver to the advertising pages of the magazines. So,
you'll excuse the lack of an itemised bill of my feelings toward Mame.
"Pretty soon I got a regular habit of dropping into the tent to eat at
irregular times when there wasn't so many around. Mame would sail in
with a smile, in a black dress and white apron, and say: 'Hello, Jeff
--why don't you come at mealtime? Want to see how much trouble you can
be, of course. Friedchickenbeefsteakporkchopshamandeggspotpie'--and so
on. She called me Jeff, but there was no significations attached.
Designations was all she meant. The front names of any of us she used
as they came to hand. I'd eat about two meals before I left, and
string 'em out like a society spread where they changed plates and
wives, and josh one another festively between bites. Mame stood for
it, pleasant, for it wasn't up to her to take any canvas off the tent
by declining dollars just because they were whipped in after meal
"It wasn't long until there was another fellow named Ed Collier got
the between-meals affliction, and him and me put in bridges between
breakfast and dinner, and dinner and supper, that made a three-ringed
circus of that tent, and Mame's turn as waiter a continuous
performance. That Collier man was saturated with designs and
contrivings. He was in well-boring or insurance or claim-jumping, or
something--I've forgotten which. He was a man well lubricated with
gentility, and his words were such as recommended you to his point of
view. So, Collier and me infested the grub tent with care and
activity. Mame was level full of impartiality. 'Twas like a casino
hand the way she dealt out her favours--one to Collier and one to me
and one to the board, and not a card up her sleeve.
"Me and Collier naturally got acquainted, and gravitated together some
on the outside. Divested of his stratagems, he seemed to be a pleasant
chap, full of an amiable sort of hostility.
"'I notice you have an affinity for grubbing in the banquet hall after
the guests have fled,' says I to him one day, to draw his conclusions.
"'Well, yes,' says Collier, reflecting; 'the tumult of a crowded board
seems to harass my sensitive nerves.'
"'It exasperates mine some, too,' says I. 'Nice little girl, don't you
"'I see,' says Collier, laughing. 'Well, now that you mention it, I
have noticed that she doesn't seem to displease the optic nerve.'
"'She's a joy to mine,' says I, 'and I'm going after her. Notice is
"'I'll be as candid as you,' admits Collier, 'and if the drug stores
don't run out of pepsin I'll give you a run for your money that'll
leave you a dyspeptic at the wind-up.'
"So Collier and me begins the race; the grub department lays in new
supplies; Mame waits on us, jolly and kind and agreeable, and it looks
like an even break, with Cupid and the cook working overtime in
"'Twas one night in September when I got Mame to take a walk after
supper when the things were all cleared away. We strolled out a
distance and sat on a pile of lumber at the edge of town. Such
opportunities was seldom, so I spoke my piece, explaining how the
Brazilian diamonds and the fire kindler were laying up sufficient
treasure to guarantee the happiness of two, and that both of 'em
together couldn't equal the light from somebody's eyes, and that the
name of Dugan should be changed to Peters, or reasons why not would be
"Mame didn't say anything right away. Directly she gave a kind of
shudder, and I began to learn something.
"'Jeff,' she says, 'I'm sorry you spoke. I like you as well as any of
them, but there isn't a man in the world I'd ever marry, and there
never will be. Do you know what a man is in my eye? He's a tomb. He's
a sarcophagus for the interment of Beafsteakporkchopsliver'nbaconham-
andeggs. He's that and nothing more. For two years I've watched men
eat, eat, eat, until they represent nothing on earth to me but
ruminant bipeds. They're absolutely nothing but something that goes in
front of a knife and fork and plate at the table. They're fixed that
way in my mind and memory. I've tried to overcome it, but I can't.
I've heard girls rave about their sweethearts, but I never could
understand it. A man and a sausage grinder and a pantry awake in me
exactly the same sentiments. I went to a matinee once to see an actor
the girls were crazy about. I got interested enough to wonder whether
he liked his steak rare, medium, or well done, and his eggs over or
straight up. That was all. No, Jeff; I'll marry no man and see him sit
at the breakfast table and eat, and come back to dinner and eat, and
happen in again at supper to eat, eat, eat.'
"'But, Mame,' says I, 'it'll wear off. You've had too much of it.
You'll marry some time, of course. Men don't eat always.'
"'As far as my observation goes, they do. No, I'll tell you what I'm
going to do.' Mame turns, sudden, to animation and bright eyes.
'There's a girl named Susie Foster in Terre Haute, a chum of mine. She
waits in the railroad eating house there. I worked two years in a
restaurant in that town. Susie has it worse than I do, because the men
who eat at railroad stations gobble. They try to flirt and gobble at
the same time. Whew! Susie and I have it all planned out. We're saving
our money, and when we get enough we're going to buy a little cottage
and five acres we know of, and live together, and grow violets for the
Eastern market. A man better not bring his appetite within a mile of
"'Don't girls ever--' I commenced, but Mame heads me off, sharp.
"'No, they don't. They nibble a little bit sometimes; that's all.'
"'I thought the confect--'
"'For goodness' sake, change the subject,' says Mame.
"As I said before, that experience puts me wise that the feminine
arrangement ever struggles after deceptions and illusions. Take
England--beef made her; wieners elevated Germany; Uncle Sam owes his
greatness to fried chicken and pie, but the young ladies of the
Shetalkyou schools, they'll never believe it. Shakespeare, they allow,
and Rubinstein, and the Rough Riders is what did the trick.
"'Twas a situation calculated to disturb. I couldn't bear to give up
Mame; and yet it pained me to think of abandoning the practice of
eating. I had acquired the habit too early. For twenty-seven years I
had been blindly rushing upon my fate, yielding to the insidious lures
of that deadly monster, food. It was too late. I was a ruminant biped
for keeps. It was lobster salad to a doughnut that my life was going
to be blighted by it.
"I continued to board at the Dugan tent, hoping that Mame would
relent. I had sufficient faith in true love to believe that since it
has often outlived the absence of a square meal it might, in time,
overcome the presence of one. I went on ministering to my fatal vice,
although I felt that each time I shoved a potato into my mouth in
Mame's presence I might be burying my fondest hopes.
"I think Collier must have spoken to Mame and got the same answer, for
one day he orders a cup of coffee and a cracker, and sits nibbling the
corner of it like a girl in the parlour, that's filled up in the
kitchen, previous, on cold roast and fried cabbage. I caught on and
did the same, and maybe we thought we'd made a hit! The next day we
tried it again, and out comes old man Dugan fetching in his hands the
"'Kinder off yer feed, ain't ye, gents?' he asks, fatherly and some
sardonic. 'Thought I'd spell Mame a bit, seein' the work was light,
and my rheumatiz can stand the strain.'
"So back me and Collier had to drop to the heavy grub again. I noticed
about that time that I was seized by a most uncommon and devastating
appetite. I ate until Mame must have hated to see me darken the door.
Afterward I found out that I had been made the victim of the first
dark and irreligious trick played on me by Ed Collier. Him and me had
been taking drinks together uptown regular, trying to drown our thirst
for food. That man had bribed about ten bartenders to always put a big
slug of Appletree's Anaconda Appetite Bitters in every one of my
drinks. But the last trick he played me was hardest to forget.
"One day Collier failed to show up at the tent. A man told me he left
town that morning. My only rival now was the bill of fare. A few days
before he left Collier had presented me with a two-gallon jug of fine
whisky which he said a cousin had sent him from Kentucky. I now have
reason to believe that it contained Appletree's Anaconda Appetite
Bitters almost exclusively. I continued to devour tons of provisions.
In Mame's eyes I remained a mere biped, more ruminant than ever.
"About a week after Collier pulled his freight there came a kind of
side-show to town, and hoisted a tent near the railroad. I judged it
was a sort of fake museum and curiosity business. I called to see Mame
one night, and Ma Dugan said that she and Thomas, her younger brother,
had gone to the show. That same thing happened for three nights that
week. Saturday night I caught her on the way coming back, and got to
sit on the steps a while and talk to her. I noticed she looked
different. Her eyes were softer, and shiny like. Instead of a Mame
Dugan to fly from the voracity of man and raise violets, she seemed to
be a Mame more in line as God intended her, approachable, and suited
to bask in the light of the Brazilians and the Kindler.
"'You seem to be right smart inveigled,' says I, 'with the
Unparalleled Exhibition of the World's Living Curiosities and
"'It's a change,' says Mame.
"'You'll need another,' says I, 'if you keep on going every night.'
"'Don't be cross, Jeff,' says she; 'it takes my mind off business.'
"'Don't the curiosities eat?' I ask.
"'Not all of them. Some of them are wax.'
"'Look out, then, that you don't get stuck,' says I, kind of flip and
"Mame blushed. I didn't know what to think about her. My hopes raised
some that perhaps my attentions had palliated man's awful crime of
visibly introducing nourishment into his system. She talked some about
the stars, referring to them with respect and politeness, and I
drivelled a quantity about united hearts, homes made bright by true
affection, and the Kindler. Mame listened without scorn, and I says to
myself, 'Jeff, old man, you're removing the hoodoo that has clung to
the consumer of victuals; you're setting your heel upon the serpent
that lurks in the gravy bowl.'
"Monday night I drop around. Mame is at the Unparalleled Exhibition
"'Now, may the curse of the forty-one seven-sided sea cooks,' says I,
'and the bad luck of the nine impenitent grasshoppers rest upon this
self-same sideshow at once and forever more. Amen. I'll go to see it
myself to-morrow night and investigate its baleful charm. Shall man
that was made to inherit the earth be bereft of his sweetheart first
by a knife and fork and then by a ten-cent circus?'
"The next night before starting out for the exhibition tent I inquire
and find out that Mame is not at home. She is not at the circus with
Thomas this time, for Thomas waylays me in the grass outside of the
grub tent with a scheme of his own before I had time to eat supper.
"'What'll you give me, Jeff,' says he, 'if I tell you something?'
"'The value of it, son,' I says.
"'Sis is stuck on a freak,' says Thomas, 'one of the side-show freaks.
I don't like him. She does. I overheard 'em talking. Thought maybe
you'd like to know. Say, Jeff, does it put you wise two dollars'
worth? There's a target rifle up town that--'
"I frisked my pockets and commenced to dribble a stream of halves and
quarters into Thomas's hat. The information was of the pile-driver
system of news, and it telescoped my intellects for a while. While I
was leaking small change and smiling foolish on the outside, and
suffering disturbances internally, I was saying, idiotically and
"'Thank you, Thomas--thank you--er--a freak, you said, Thomas. Now,
could you make out the monstrosity's entitlements a little clearer, if
you please, Thomas?'
"'This is the fellow,' says Thomas, pulling out a yellow handbill from
his pocket and shoving it under my nose. 'He's the Champion Faster of
the Universe. I guess that's why Sis got soft on him. He don't eat
nothing. He's going to fast forty-nine days. This is the sixth. That's
"I looked at the name Thomas pointed out--'Professor Eduardo
Collieri.' 'Ah!' says I, in admiration, 'that's not so bad, Ed
Collier. I give you credit for the trick. But I don't give you the
girl until she's Mrs. Freak.'
"I hit the sod in the direction of the show. I came up to the rear of
the tent, and, as I did so, a man wiggled out like a snake from under
the bottom of the canvas, scrambled to his feet, and ran into me like
a locoed bronco. I gathered him by the neck and investigated him by
the light of the stars. It is Professor Eduardo Collieri, in human
habiliments, with a desperate look in one eye and impatience in the
"'Hello, Curiosity,' says I. 'Get still a minute and let's have a look
at your freakship. How do you like being the willopus-wallopus or the
bim-bam from Borneo, or whatever name you are denounced by in the
"'Jeff Peters,' says Collier, in a weak voice. 'Turn me loose, or I'll
slug you one. I'm in the extremest kind of a large hurry. Hands off!'
"'Tut, tut, Eddie,' I answers, holding him hard; 'let an old friend
gaze on the exhibition of your curiousness. It's an eminent graft you
fell onto, my son. But don't speak of assaults and battery, because
you're not fit. The best you've got is a lot of nerve and a mighty
empty stomach.' And so it was. The man was as weak as a vegetarian
"'I'd argue this case with you, Jeff,' says he, regretful in his
style, 'for an unlimited number of rounds if I had half an hour to
train in and a slab of beefsteak two feet square to train with. Curse
the man, I say, that invented the art of going foodless. May his soul
in eternity be chained up within two feet of a bottomless pit of red-
hot hash. I'm abandoning the conflict, Jeff; I'm deserting to the
enemy. You'll find Miss Dugan inside contemplating the only living
mummy and the informed hog. She's a fine girl, Jeff. I'd have beat you
out if I could have kept up the grubless habit a little while longer.
You'll have to admit that the fasting dodge was aces-up for a while. I
figured it out that way. But say, Jeff, it's said that love makes the
world go around. Let me tell you, the announcement lacks verification.
It's the wind from the dinner horn that does it. I love that Mame
Dugan. I've gone six days without food in order to coincide with her
sentiments. Only one bite did I have. That was when I knocked the
tattooed man down with a war club and got a sandwich he was gobbling.
The manager fined me all my salary; but salary wasn't what I was
after. 'Twas that girl. I'd give my life for her, but I'd endanger my
immortal soul for a beef stew. Hunger is a horrible thing, Jeff. Love
and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are
nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving!'
"In such language Ed Collier discoursed to me, pathetic. I gathered
the diagnosis that his affections and his digestions had been
implicated in a scramble and the commissary had won out. I never
disliked Ed Collier. I searched my internal admonitions of suitable
etiquette to see if I could find a remark of a consoling nature, but
there was none convenient.
"'I'd be glad, now,' says Ed, 'if you'll let me go. I've been hard
hit, but I'll hit the ration supply harder. I'm going to clean out
every restaurant in town. I'm going to wade waist deep in sirloins and
swim in ham and eggs. It's an awful thing, Jeff Peters, for a man to
come to this pass--to give up his girl for something to eat--it's
worse than that man Esau, that swapped his copyright for a partridge--
but then, hunger's a fierce thing. You'll excuse me, now, Jeff, for I
smell a pervasion of ham frying in the distance, and my legs are
crying out to stampede in that direction.'
"'A hearty meal to you, Ed Collier,' I says to him, 'and no hard
feelings. For myself, I am projected to be an unseldom eater, and I
have condolence for your predicaments.'
"There was a sudden big whiff of frying ham smell on the breeze; and
the Champion Faster gives a snort and gallops off in the dark toward
"I wish some of the cultured outfit that are always advertising the
extenuating circumstances of love and romance had been there to see.
There was Ed Collier, a fine man full of contrivances and flirtations,
abandoning the girl of his heart and ripping out into the contiguous
territory in the pursuit of sordid grub. 'Twas a rebuke to the poets
and a slap at the best-paying element of fiction. An empty stomach is
a sure antidote to an overfull heart.
"I was naturally anxious to know how far Mame was infatuated with
Collier and his stratagems. I went inside the Unparalleled Exhibition,
and there she was. She looked surprised to see me, but unguilty.
"'It's an elegant evening outside,' says I. 'The coolness is quite
nice and gratifying, and the stars are lined out, first class, up
where they belong. Wouldn't you shake these by-products of the animal
kingdom long enough to take a walk with a common human who never was
on a programme in his life?'
"Mame gave a sort of sly glance around, and I knew what that meant.
"'Oh,' says I, 'I hate to tell you; but the curiosity that lives on
wind has flew the coop. He just crawled out under the tent. By this
time he has amalgamated himself with half the delicatessen truck in
"'You mean Ed Collier?' says Mame.
"'I do,' I answers; 'and a pity it is that he has gone back to crime
again. I met him outside the tent, and he exposed his intentions of
devastating the food crop of the world. 'Tis enormously sad when one's
ideal descends from his pedestal to make a seventeen-year locust of
"Mame looked me straight in the eye until she had corkscrewed my
"'Jeff,' says she, 'it isn't quite like you to talk that way. I don't
care to hear Ed Collier ridiculed. A man may do ridiculous things, but
they don't look ridiculous to the girl he does 'em for. That was one
man in a hundred. He stopped eating just to please me. I'd be hard-
hearted and ungrateful if I didn't feel kindly toward him. Could you
do what he did?'
"'I know,' says I, seeing the point, 'I'm condemned. I can't help it.
The brand of the consumer is upon my brow. Mrs. Eve settled that
business for me when she made the dicker with the snake. I fell from
the fire into the frying-pan. I guess I'm the Champion Feaster of the
Universe.' I spoke humble, and Mame mollified herself a little.
"'Ed Collier and I are good friends,' she said, 'the same as me and
you. I gave him the same answer I did you--no marrying for me. I liked
to be with Ed and talk with him. There was something mighty pleasant
to me in the thought that here was a man who never used a knife and
fork, and all for my sake.'
"'Wasn't you in love with him?' I asks, all injudicious. 'Wasn't there
a deal on for you to become Mrs. Curiosity?'
"All of us do it sometimes. All of us get jostled out of the line of
profitable talk now and then. Mame put on that little lemon /glace/
smile that runs between ice and sugar, and says, much too pleasant:
'You're short on credentials for asking that question, Mr. Peters.
Suppose you do a forty-nine day fast, just to give you ground to stand
on, and then maybe I'll answer it.'
"So, even after Collier was kidnapped out of the way by the revolt of
his appetite, my own prospects with Mame didn't seem to be improved.
And then business played out in Guthrie.
"I had stayed too long there. The Brazilians I had sold commenced to
show signs of wear, and the Kindler refused to light up right frequent
on wet mornings. There is always a time, in my business, when the star
of success says, 'Move on to the next town.' I was travelling by wagon
at that time so as not to miss any of the small towns; so I hitched up
a few days later and went down to tell Mame good-bye. I wasn't
abandoning the game; I intended running over to Oklahoma City and work
it for a week or two. Then I was coming back to institute fresh
proceedings against Mame.
"What do I find at the Dugans' but Mame all conspicuous in a blue
travelling dress, with her little trunk at the door. It seems that
sister Lottie Bell, who is a typewriter in Terre Haute, is going to be
married next Thursday, and Mame is off for a week's visit to be an
accomplice at the ceremony. Mame is waiting for a freight wagon that
is going to take her to Oklahoma, but I condemns the freight wagon
with promptness and scorn, and offers to deliver the goods myself. Ma
Dugan sees no reason why not, as Mr. Freighter wants pay for the job;
so, thirty minutes later Mame and I pull out in my light spring wagon
with white canvas cover, and head due south.
"That morning was of a praiseworthy sort. The breeze was lively, and
smelled excellent of flowers and grass, and the little cottontail
rabbits entertained themselves with skylarking across the road. My two
Kentucky bays went for the horizon until it come sailing in so fast
you wanted to dodge it like a clothesline. Mame was full of talk and
rattled on like a kid about her old home and her school pranks and the
things she liked and the hateful ways of those Johnson girls just
across the street, 'way up in Indiana. Not a word was said about Ed
Collier or victuals or such solemn subjects. About noon Mame looks and
finds that the lunch she had put up in a basket had been left behind.
I could have managed quite a collation, but Mame didn't seem to be
grieving over nothing to eat, so I made no lamentations. It was a sore
subject with me, and I ruled provender in all its branches out of my
"I am minded to touch light on explanations how I came to lose the
way. The road was dim and well grown with grass; and there was Mame by
my side confiscating my intellects and attention. The excuses are good
or they are not, as they may appear to you. But I lost it, and at dusk
that afternoon, when we should have been in Oklahoma City, we were
seesawing along the edge of nowhere in some undiscovered river bottom,
and the rain was falling in large, wet bunches. Down there in the
swamps we saw a little log house on a small knoll of high ground. The
bottom grass and the chaparral and the lonesome timber crowded all
around it. It seemed to be a melancholy little house, and you felt
sorry for it. 'Twas that house for the night, the way I reasoned it. I
explained to Mame, and she leaves it to me to decide. She doesn't
become galvanic and prosecuting, as most women would, but she says
it's all right; she knows I didn't mean to do it.
"We found the house was deserted. It had two empty rooms. There was a
little shed in the yard where beasts had once been kept. In a loft of
it was a lot of old hay. I put my horses in there and gave them some
of it, for which they looked at me sorrowful, expecting apologies. The
rest of the hay I carried into the house by armfuls, with a view to
accommodations. I also brought in the patent kindler and the
Brazilians, neither of which are guaranteed against the action of
"Mame and I sat on the wagon seats on the floor, and I lit a lot of
the kindler on the hearth, for the night was chilly. If I was any
judge, that girl enjoyed it. It was a change for her. It gave her a
different point of view. She laughed and talked, and the kindler made
a dim light compared to her eyes. I had a pocketful of cigars, and as
far as I was concerned there had never been any fall of man. We were
at the same old stand in the Garden of Eden. Out there somewhere in
the rain and the dark was the river of Zion, and the angel with the
flaming sword had not yet put up the keep-off-the-grass sign. I opened
up a gross or two of the Brazilians and made Mame put them on--rings,
brooches, necklaces, eardrops, bracelets, girdles, and lockets. She
flashed and sparkled like a million-dollar princess until she had pink
spots in her cheeks and almost cried for a looking-glass.
"When it got late I made a fine bunk on the floor for Mame with the
hay and my lap robes and blankets out of the wagon, and persuaded her
to lie down. I sat in the other room burning tobacco and listening to
the pouring rain and meditating on the many vicissitudes that came to
a man during the seventy years or so immediately preceding his
"I must have dozed a little while before morning, for my eyes were
shut, and when I opened them it was daylight, and there stood Mame
with her hair all done up neat and correct, and her eyes bright with
admiration of existence.
"'Gee whiz, Jeff!' she exclaims, 'but I'm hungry. I could eat a--'
"I looked up and caught her eye. Her smile went back in and she gave
me a cold look of suspicion. Then I laughed, and laid down on the
floor to laugh easier. It seemed funny to me. By nature and geniality
I am a hearty laugher, and I went the limit. When I came to, Mame was
sitting with her back to me, all contaminated with dignity.
"'Don't be angry, Mame,' I says, 'for I couldn't help it. It's the
funny way you've done up your hair. If you could only see it!'
"'You needn't tell stories, sir,' said Mame, cool and advised. 'My
hair is all right. I know what you were laughing about. Why, Jeff,
look outside,' she winds up, peeping through a chink between the logs.
I opened the little wooden window and looked out. The entire river
bottom was flooded, and the knob of land on which the house stood was
an island in the middle of a rushing stream of yellow water a hundred
yards wide. And it was still raining hard. All we could do was to stay
there till the doves brought in the olive branch.
"I am bound to admit that conversations and amusements languished
during that day. I was aware that Mame was getting a too prolonged
one-sided view of things again, but I had no way to change it.
Personally, I was wrapped up in the desire to eat. I had
hallucinations of hash and visions of ham, and I kept saying to myself
all the time, 'What'll you have to eat, Jeff?--what'll you order now,
old man, when the waiter comes?' I picks out to myself all sorts of
favourites from the bill of fare, and imagines them coming. I guess
it's that way with all hungry men. They can't get their cogitations
trained on anything but something to eat. It shows that the little
table with the broken-legged caster and the imitation Worcester sauce
and the napkin covering up the coffee stains is the paramount issue,
after all, instead of the question of immortality or peace between
"I sat there, musing along, arguing with myself quite heated as to how
I'd have my steak--with mushrooms, or /a la creole/. Mame was on the
other seat, pensive, her head leaning on her hand. 'Let the potatoes
come home-fried,' I states in my mind, 'and brown the hash in the pan,
with nine poached eggs on the side.' I felt, careful, in my own
pockets to see if I could find a peanut or a grain or two of popcorn.
"Night came on again with the river still rising and the rain still
falling. I looked at Mame and I noticed that desperate look on her
face that a girl always wears when she passes an ice-cream lair. I
knew that poor girl was hungry--maybe for the first time in her life.
There was that anxious look in her eye that a woman has only when she
has missed a meal or feels her skirt coming unfastened in the back.
"It was about eleven o'clock or so on the second night when we sat,
gloomy, in our shipwrecked cabin. I kept jerking my mind away from the
subject of food, but it kept flopping back again before I could fasten
it. I thought of everything good to eat I had ever heard of. I went
away back to my kidhood and remembered the hot biscuit sopped in
sorghum and bacon gravy with partiality and respect. Then I trailed
along up the years, pausing at green apples and salt, flapjacks and
maple, lye hominy, fried chicken Old Virginia style, corn on the cob,
spareribs and sweet potato pie, and wound up with Georgia Brunswick
stew, which is the top notch of good things to eat, because it
comprises 'em all.
"They say a drowning man sees a panorama of his whole life pass before
him. Well, when a man's starving he sees the ghost of every meal he
ever ate set out before him, and he invents new dishes that would make
the fortune of a chef. If somebody would collect the last words of men
who starved to death, they'd have to sift 'em mighty fine to discover
the sentiment, but they'd compile into a cook book that would sell
into the millions.
"I guess I must have had my conscience pretty well inflicted with
culinary meditations, for, without intending to do so, I says, out
loud, to the imaginary waiter, 'Cut it thick and have it rare, with
the French fried, and six, soft-scrambled, on toast.'
"Mame turned her head quick as a wing. Her eyes were sparkling and she
"'Medium for me,' she rattles out, 'with the Juliennes, and three,
straight up. Draw one, and brown the wheats, double order to come. Oh,
Jeff, wouldn't it be glorious! And then I'd like to have a half fry,
and a little chicken curried with rice, and a cup custard with ice
"'Go easy,' I interrupts; 'where's the chicken liver pie, and the
kidney /saute/ on toast, and the roast lamb, and--'
"'Oh,' cuts in Mame, all excited, 'with mint sauce, and the turkey
salad, and stuffed olives, and raspberry tarts, and--'
"'Keep it going,' says I. 'Hurry up with the fried squash, and the hot
corn pone with sweet milk, and don't forget the apple dumpling with
hard sauce, and the cross-barred dew-berry pie--'
"Yes, for ten minutes we kept up that kind of restaurant repartee. We
ranges up and down and backward and forward over the main trunk lines
and the branches of the victual subject, and Mame leads the game, for
she is apprised in the ramifications of grub, and the dishes she
nominates aggravates my yearnings. It seems that there is a feeling
that Mame will line up friendly again with food. It seems that she
looks upon the obnoxious science of eating with less contempt than
"The next morning we find that the flood has subsided. I geared up the
bays, and we splashed out through the mud, some precarious, until we
found the road again. We were only a few miles wrong, and in two hours
we were in Oklahoma City. The first thing we saw was a big restaurant
sign, and we piled into there in a hurry. Here I finds myself sitting
with Mame at table, with knives and forks and plates between us, and
she not scornful, but smiling with starvation and sweetness.
"'Twas a new restaurant and well stocked. I designated a list of
quotations from the bill of fare that made the waiter look out toward
the wagon to see how many more might be coming.
"There we were, and there was the order being served. 'Twas a banquet
for a dozen, but we felt like a dozen. I looked across the table at
Mame and smiled, for I had recollections. Mame was looking at the
table like a boy looks at his first stem-winder. Then she looked at
me, straight in the face, and two big tears came in her eyes. The
waiter was gone after more grub.
"'Jeff,' she says, soft like, 'I've been a foolish girl. I've looked
at things from the wrong side. I never felt this way before. Men get
hungry every day like this, don't they? They're big and strong, and
they do the hard work of the world, and they don't eat just to spite
silly waiter girls in restaurants, do they, Jeff? You said once--that
is, you asked me--you wanted me to--well, Jeff, if you still care--I'd
be glad and willing to have you always sitting across the table from
me. Now give me something to eat, quick, please.'
"So, as I've said, a woman needs to change her point of view now and
then. They get tired of the same old sights--the same old dinner
table, washtub, and sewing machine. Give 'em a touch of the various--a
little travel and a little rest, a little tomfoolery along with the
tragedies of keeping house, a little petting after the blowing-up, a
little upsetting and a little jostling around--and everybody in the
game will have chips added to their stack by the play."