“I handed him the list.
“’No vonder dot you are thin, my frent—yoost as I oxpected—dis ees de olt deory of broteids. Dot is all oxbloded now. Eef you haf stay anuder mont you vould be dead. Everyting dot he has dold you vas yoost de udder way; no bread, no meelk, no vegebubbles —noddings of dis, not von leedle bit. I vill make von leest—come to-morrow.’”
“Did you go, Joppy?” inquired Stebbins.
“Did I go? Yes, back to the depot and on to Cologne. That night I ate two plates of sauerkraut, a slice of pork and a piece of cheese the size of my hand; slept like a top.”
“So the proteids and carbohydrates didn’t do your epigastric any good, old chap,” remarked Pudfut in an effort to relieve the gloom.
“Proteids, carbohydrates and my epigastric be damned,” exploded Joplin. “On your feet, boys, all of you. Here’s to the food of our fathers, with every man a full plate. And here’s to dear old Marny, the human kangaroo. May his appetite never fail and his paunch never shrink!”
He was seated near the top end of Miss Buffum’s table when I first saw his good-natured face with its twinkling eyes, high cheekbones and broad, white forehead in strong contrast to the wizened, almost sour, visage of our landlady. Up to the time of his coming every one had avoided that end, or had gradually shifted his seat, gravitating slowly toward the bottom, where the bank clerk, the college professor and I hobnobbed over our soup and boiled mutton.
It was his laugh that attracted my attention—the first that had come from the upper end of the table in the memory of the oldest boarder. Men talk of the first kiss, the first baby, the first bluebird in the spring, but to me, who have suffered and know, the first, sincere, hearty laugh, untrammelled and unlimited, that rings down the hide-bound table of a dismal boarding-house, carries with it a surprise and charm that outclasses them all. The effect on this occasion was like the opening of a window letting in a gust of pure air. Some of the more sensitive shivered at its freshness, and one woman raised her eyeglasses in astonishment, but all the rest craned their heads in the new boarder’s direction, their faces expressing their enjoyment. As for Miss Buffum and the schoolmistress, they so far forgot themselves as to join audibly in the merriment.
What the secret of the man’s power, or why the schoolteacher—who sat on Miss Buffum’s right— should have become suddenly hilarious, or how Miss Buffum herself could be prodded or beguiled into smiles, no one at my end of the table could understand; and yet, as the days went by, it became more and more evident that not only were these two cold, brittle exteriors being slowly thawed out, but that every one else within the sound of his seductive voice was