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Well, I have just been having an amusing and delightful adventure and have come to know a Great Common Person. His name is Bill Richards, and he is one of the hereditary monarchs of America. He belongs to our ruling dynasty.

I first saw Bill about two weeks ago, and while I was strongly interested in him I had no idea, at the time, that I should ever come to know him well. It was a fine June day, and I was riding on the new trolley line that crosses the hills to Hewlett—a charming trip through a charming country—and there in the open car just in front of me sat Bill himself. One huge bare forearm rested on the back of the seat, the rich red blood showing through the weathered brown of the skin. His clean brown neck rose strongly from the loose collar of his shirt, which covered but could not hide the powerful lines of his shoulders. He wore blue denim and khaki, and a small round felt hat tipped up jauntily at the back. He had crisp, coarse light hair rather thin—not by age, but by nature—so that the ruddy scalp could be seen through it, and strong jaws and large firm features, and if the beard was two days old, his face was so brown, so full of youthful health, that it gave no ill impression.

He could not sit still for the very life that was in him. He seemed to have some grand secret with the conductor and frequently looked around at him, his eyes full of careless laughter, and once or twice he called out—some jocose remark. He helped the conductor, in pantomime, to pull the cord and stop or start the car, and he watched with the liveliest interest each passenger getting on or getting off. A rather mincing young girl with a flaring red ribbon at her throat was to him the finest comedy in the world, so that he had to wink a telegram to the conductor about her. An old woman with a basket of vegetables who delayed the car was exquisitely funny.

I set him down as being about twenty-two years old and some kind of outdoor workman, not a farmer.

When he got off, which was before the car stopped, so that he had to jump and run with it, he gave a wild flourish with both arms, grimaced at the conductor, and went off down the road whistling for all he was worth. How I enjoyed the sight of him! He was so charged with youthful energy, so overflowing with the joy of life, that he could scarcely contain himself.

What a fine place the world was to him! And what comical and interesting people it contained! I was sorry when he got off.

Two or three days later I was on my way up the town road north of my farm when I was astonished and delighted to see Bill for the second time. He was coming down the road pulling a wire over the crosspiece of a tall telephone pole (the company is rebuilding and enlarging its system through our town). He was holding the wire close drawn over his right shoulder, his strong hands gripped and pressed upon his breast. The veins stood out in his brown neck where the burlap shoulder pad he wore was drawn aside by the wire. He leaned forward, stepping first on his toe, which he dug into the earth and then, heavily letting down his heel, he drew the other foot forward somewhat stiffly. The muscles stood out in his powerful shoulders and thighs. His legs were double-strapped with climbing spurs. He was a master lineman.

As I came alongside he turned a good-humoured sweaty face toward me.

“It’s dang hot,” said he.

“It is,” said I.

There is something indescribably fascinating about the sight of a strong workman in the full swing of his work, something—yes, beautiful! A hard pull of a job, with a strong man doing it joyfully, what could be finer to see? And he gave such a jaunty sense of youth and easy strength!

I watched him for some time, curiously interested, and thought I should like well to know him, but could not see just how to go about it.

The man astride the cross-arm who was heaving the wire forward from the spool on the distant truck suddenly cried out:

“Ease up there, Bill, she’s caught.”

So Bill eased up and drew his arm across his dripping face.

“How many wires are you putting up?” I asked, fencing for some opening.

“Three,” said Bill.

Before I could get in another stroke the man on the pole shouted:

“Let ‘er go, Bill.” And Bill let ‘er go, and buckled down again to his job.

“Gee, but it’s hot,” said he.

In the country there are not so many people passing our way that we cannot be interested in all of them. That evening I could not help thinking about Bill, the lineman, wondering where he came from, how he happened to be what he was, who and what sort were the friends he made, and the nature of his ambitions, if he had any. Talk about going to the North Pole! It is not to be compared, for downright fascination, with the exploration of an undiscovered human being.

With that I began to think how I might get at Bill, the lineman, and not merely weather talk, or wages talk, or work talk, but at Bill himself. He was a character quite unusual in our daily lives here in the country. I wondered what his interests could be, surely not mine nor Horace’s nor the Starkweathers’. As soon as I began trying to visualize what his life might be, I warmed up to a grand scheme of capturing him, if by chance he was to be found the next day upon the town road.

All this may seem rather absurd in the telling, but I found it a downright good adventure for a quiet evening, and fully believe I felt for the moment like General Joffre planning to meet the Germans on the Marne.

“I have it!” I said aloud.

“You have what?” asked Harriet, somewhat startled.

“The grandest piece of strategy ever devised in this town,” said I.

With that I went delving in a volume of universal information I keep near me, one of those knowing books that tells you how tall the great Pryamid is and why a hen cackles after laying an egg, and having found what I wanted I asked Harriet if she could find a tape measure around the place. She is a wonderful person and knows where everything is. When she handed me the tape measure she asked me what in the world I was so mysterious about.

“Harriet,” I said, “I’m going on a great adventure. I’ll tell you all about it to-morrow.”

“Nonsense,” said Harriet.

It is this way with the fancies of the evening—they often look flat and flabby and gray the next morning. Quite impossible! But if I’d acted on half the good and grand schemes I’ve had o’ nights I might now be quite a remarkable person.

I went about my work the next morning just as usual. I even avoided looking at the little roll of tape on the corner of the mantel as I went out. It seemed a kind of badge of my absurdity. But about the middle of the fore-noon, while I was in my garden, I heard a tremendous racket up the road. Rattle—bang, zip, toot! As I looked up I saw the boss lineman and his crew careering up the road in their truck, and the bold driver was driving like Jehu, the son of Nimshi. And there were ladders and poles clattering out behind, and rolls of wire on upright spools rattling and flashing in the sunshine, and the men of the crew were sitting along the sides of the truck with hats off and hair flying as they came bumping and bounding up the road. It was a brave thing to see going by on a spring morning!

As they passed, whom should I see but Bill himself, at the top of the load, with a broad smile on his face. When his eye fell on me he threw up one arm, and gave me the railroad salute.

“Hey, there!” he shouted.

“Hey there, yourself,” I shouted in return—and could not help it.

I had a curious warm feeling of being taken along with that jolly crowd of workmen, with Bill on the top of the load.

It was this that finished me. I hurried through an early dinner, and taking the tape measure off the mantel I put it in my pocket as though it were a revolver or a bomb, and went off up the road feeling as adventurous as ever I felt in my life. I never said a word to Harriet but disappeared quietly around the lilac bushes. I was going to waylay that crew, and especially Bill. I hoped to catch them at their nooning.

Well, I was lucky. About a quarter of a mile up the road, in a little valley near the far corner of Horace’s farm, I found the truck, and Bill just getting out his dinner pail. It seems they had flipped pennies and Bill hod been left behind with the truck and the tools while the others went down to the mill pond in the valley below.

“How are you?” said I.

“How are you?” said he.

I could see that he was rather cross over having been left behind.

“Fine day,” said I.

“You bet,” said he.

He got out his pail, which was a big one, and seated himself on the roadside, a grassy, comfortable spot near the brook which runs below into the pond. There were white birches and hemlocks on the hill, and somewhere in the thicket I heard a wood thrush singing.

“Did you ever see John L. Sullivan?” I asked.

He glanced up at me quickly, but with new interest.

“No, did you?”

“Or Bob Fitzsimmons?”

“Nope—but I was mighty near it once. I’ve seen ‘em both in the movies.”

“Well, sir,” said I, “that’s interesting. I should like to see them myself. Do you know what made me speak of them?”

He had spread down a newspaper and was taking the luncheon out of his “bucket,” as he called it, including a large bottle of coffee; but he paused and looked at me with keen interest.

“Well,” said I, “when I saw you dragging that wire yesterday I took you to be a pretty husky citizen yourself.”

He grinned and took a big mouthful from one of his sandwiches. I could see that my shot had gone home.

“So when I got back last night,” I said, “I looked up the arm measurements of Sullivan and Fitzsimmons in a book I have and got to wondering how they compared with mine and yours. They were considerably larger than mine—”

Bill thought this a fine joke and laughed out in great good humour.

“But I imagine you’d not be far behind either of them.”

He looked at me a little suspiciously, as if doubtful what I was driving at or whether or not I was joking him. But I was as serious as the face of nature; and proceeded at once to get out my tape measure.

“I get very much interested in such things,” I said, “and I had enough curiosity to want to see how big your arm really was.”

He smiled broadly.

“You’re a queer one,” said he.

But he took another bite of sandwich, and clenching his great fist drew up his forearm until the biceps muscles looked like a roll of Vienna bread—except that they had the velvety gleam of life. So I measured first one arm, then the other.

“By George!” said I, “you’re ahead of Fitzsimmons, but not quite up to Sullivan.”

“Fitz wasn’t a heavy man,” said Bill, “but a dead game fighter.”

I saw then that I had him! So I sat down on the grass near by and we had great talk about the comparative merits of Fitzsimmons and Sullivan and Corbett and Jack Johnson, a department of knowledge in which he out-distanced me. He even told me of an exploit or two of his own, which showed that he was able to take care of himself.

While we talked he ate his luncheon, and a downright gargantuan luncheon it was, backed by an appetite which if it were offered to the highest bidder on the New York Stock Exchange would, I am convinced, bring at least ten thousand dollars in cash. It even made me envious.

There were three huge corned-beef sandwiches, three hard-boiled eggs, a pickle six inches long and fat to boot, four doughnuts so big that they resembled pitching quoits, a bottle of coffee and milk, a quarter of a pie, and, to cap the climax, an immense raw onion. It was worth a long journey to see Bill eat that onion. He took out his clasp knife, and after stripping off the papery outer shell, cut the onion into thick dewy slices. Then he opened one of the sandwiches and placed several of them on the beef, afterward sprinkling them with salt from a small paper parcel. Having restored the top slice of bread he took a moon-shaped bite out of one end of this glorified sandwich.

“I like onions,” said he.

When we first sat down he had offered to share his luncheon with me but I told him I had just been to dinner, and I observed that he had no difficulty in taking care of every crumb in his “bucket.” It was wonderful to see.

Having finished his luncheon he went down to the brook and got a drink, and then sat down comfortably with his back among the ferns of the roadside, crossed his legs, and lit his pipe. There was a healthy and wholesome flush in his face, and as he blew off the first cloud of smoke he drew a sigh of complete comfort and looked around at me with a lordly air such as few monarchs, no matter how well fed, could have bettered. He had worked and sweat for what he got, and was now taking his ease in his roadside inn. I wonder sometimes if anybody in the world experiences keener joys than unwatched common people.

How we talked! From pugilists we proceeded to telephones, and from that to wages, hours, and strikes, and from that we leaped easily to Alaska and gold-mining, and touched in passing upon Theodore Roosevelt.

“I was just thinking,” I said, “that you and I can enjoy some things that were beyond the reach of the greatest kings of the world.”

“How’s that?” said he.

“Why, Napoleon never saw a telephone nor talked through one.”

“That’s so!” he laughed.

“And Caesar couldn’t have dreamed that such a thing as you are doing now was a possibil-ity—nor George Washington, either.”

“Say, that’s so. I never thought o’ that.”

“Why,” I said, “the world is only half as big as it was before you fellows came along stringing your wires! I can get to town now from my farm in two minutes, when it used to take me an hour.”

I really believe I gave him more of his own business than ever he had before, for he listened so intently that his pipe went out.

I found that Bill was from Ohio, and that he had been as far south as Atlanta and as far west as Denver. He got his three dollars and a half a day, rain or shine, and thought it wonderful pay; and besides, he was seein’ the country “free, gratis, fer nothing.”

He got his coat out of the truck and took from the pocket a many-coloured folder.

“Say, Mister, have you ever been to the Northwest?”

“No,” said I.

“Well, it’s a great country, and I’m goin’ up there.”

He spread out the glittering folder and placed his big forefinger on a spot about the size of Rhode Island somewhere this side of the Rockies.

“How’ll you do it?” I asked.

“Oh, a lineman can go anywhere,” said he with a flourish, “A lineman don’t have to beg a job. Besides, I got eighty dollars sewed up.”

Talk about freedom! Never have I got a clearer impression of it than Bill gave me that day. No millionaire, no potentate, could touch him.

The crew came back all too soon for me. Bill knocked the ashes out of his pipe on his boot heel, and put his “bucket” back in the truck. Five minutes later he was climbing a tall pole with legs bowed out, striking in his spikes at each step. From the cross-arm, up among the hemlock tops, he called out to me:

“Good-bye, pard.”

“Stop in, Bill, and see me when you come by my place,” said I.

“You bet,” said he.

And he did, the next day, and I showed him off to Harriet, who brought him a plate of her best doughnuts and asked him about his mother.

Yesterday I saw him again careering by in the truck. The job was finished. He waved his hand at me.

“I’m off,” said he.

“Where?” I shouted.



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