They gazed at me about as warmly as a round of walnut sundaes.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” I continued, “of course you remember the story of Abe Lincoln when he said, ’if you call a leg a tail, how many tails has a dog?’ ‘Five,’ you answer. Wrong; because, as Mr. Lincoln said, calling a leg a tail....”
I still think it was a good beginning. But that was as far as I got. Mrs. Hominy came out of her trance, hastened from the cage, and grabbed my arm. She was quite red with anger.
“Really!” she said. “Well, really!... I must ask you to continue this in some other place. We do not allow commercial travellers in this house.”
And within fifteen minutes they had hitched up Peg and asked me to move on. Indeed I was so taken aback by my own zeal that I could hardly protest. In a kind of daze I found myself at the Moose Hotel, where they assured me that they catered to mercantile people. I went straight to my room and fell asleep as soon as I reached the straw mattress.
That was my first and only pubic speech.
The next day was Sunday, October sixth. I well remember the date.
I woke up as chipper as any Robert W. Chambers heroine. All my doubts and depressions of the evening before had fled, and I was single-heartedly delighted with the world and everything in it. The hotel was a poor place, but it would have taken more than that to mar my composure. I had a bitterly cold bath in a real country tin tub, and then eggs and pancakes for breakfast. At the table was a drummer who sold lightning rods, and several other travelling salesmen. I’m afraid my conversation was consciously modelled along the line of what the Professor would have said if he had been there, but at any rate I got along swimmingly. The travelling men, after a moment or two of embarrassed diffidence, treated me quite as one of themselves and asked me about my “line” with interest. I described what I was doing and they all said they envied me my freedom to come and go independently of trains. We talked cheerfully for a long time, and almost without intending to, I started preaching about books. In the end they insisted on my showing them Parnassus. We all went out to the stable, where the van was quartered, and they browsed over the shelves. Before I knew it I had sold five dollars’ worth, although I had decided not to do any business at all on Sunday. But I couldn’t refuse to sell them the stuff as they all seemed so keen on getting something really good to read. One man kept on talking about Harold Bell Wright, but I had to admit that I hadn’t heard of him. Evidently the Professor hadn’t stocked any of his works. I was tickled to see that after all little Redbeard didn’t know everything about literature.
After that I debated whether to go to church or to write letters. Finally I decided in favour of the letters. First I tackled Andrew. I wrote: