by Ring Lardner (1885-1933)
Approximate Word Count: 5046
I got another barber that comes over from Carterville and helps me
out Saturdays, but the rest of the time I can get along all right
alone. You can see for yourself that this ain't no New York: City
and besides that, the most of the boys works all day and don't have
no leisure to drop in here and get themselves prettied up.
You're a newcomer, ain't you? I thought I hadn't seen you
round before. I hope you like it good enough to stay. As I say, we
ain't no New York City or Chicago, but we have pretty good times.
Not as good, though, since Jim Kendall got killed. When he was
alive, him and Hod Meyers used to keep this town in an uproar. I
bet they was more laughin' done here than any town its size in
Jim was comical, and Hod was pretty near a match for him.
Since Jim's gone, Hod tries to hold his end up just the same as
ever, but it's tough goin' when you ain't got nobody to kind of
They used to be plenty fun in here Saturdays. This place is
jampacked Saturdays, from four o'clock on. Jim and Hod would show
up right after their supper round six o'clock. Jim would set
himself down in that big chair, nearest the blue spittoon. Whoever
had been settin' in that chair, why they'd get up when Jim come in
and at" it to him.
You'd of thought it was a reserved seat like they have
sometimes in a theaytre. Hod would generally always stand or walk
up and down or some Saturdays, of course, he'd be settin' in this
chair part of the time, gettin' a haircut.
Well, Jim would set there a w'ile without opening his mouth
only to spit, and then finally he'd say to me, "Whitey,"--my right
name, that is, my right first name, is Dick, but everybody round
here calls me Whitey--Jim would say, "Whitey, your nose looks like
a rosebud tonight. You must of been drinkin' some of your aw de
So I'd say, "No, Jim, but you look like you'd been drinkin'
something of that kind or somethin' worse."
Jim would have to laugh at that, but then he'd speak up and
say, "No, I ain't had nothin' to drink, but that ain't sayin' I
wouldn't like somethin'. I wouldn't even mind if it was wood
Then Hod Meyers would say, "Neither would your wife." That
would set everybody to laughin' because Jim and his wife wasn't on
very good terms. She'd of divorced him only they wasn't no chance
to get alimony and she didn't have no way to take care of herself
and the kids. She couldn't never understand Jim. He was kind of
rough, but a good fella at heart.
Him and Hod had all kinds of sport with Milt Sheppard. I don't
suppose you've seen Milt. Well, he's got an Adam's apple that looks
more like a mush-melon. So I'd be shavin' Milt and when I'd start
to shave down here on his neck, Hod would holler, "Hey, Whitey,
wait a minute! Before you cut into it, let's make up a pool and see
who can guess closest to the number of seeds."
And Jim would say, "If Milt hadn't of been so hoggish, he'd of
ordered a half a cantaloupe instead of a whole one and it might not
of stuck in his throat."
All the boys would roar at this and Milt himself would force
a smile, though the joke was on him. Jim certainly was a card!
There's his shavin' mug, setting on the shelf, right next to
Charley Vail's. "Charles M. Vail." That's the druggist. He comes in
regular for his shave, three times a week. And Jim's is the cup
next to Charley's. "dames H. Kendall." Jim won't need no shavin'
mug no more, but I'll leave it there just the same for old time's
sake. Jim certainly was a character!
Years ago, Jim used to travel for a canned goods concern over
in Carterville. They sold canned goods. Jim had the whole northern
half of the State and was on the road five days out of every week.
He'd drop in here Saturdays and tell his experiences for that week.
It was rich.
I guess he paid more attention to playin' jokes than makin'
sales. Finally the concern let him out and he come right home here
and told everybody he'd been fired instead of sayin' he'd resigned like
most fellas would of.
It was a Saturday and the shop was full and Jim got up out of
that chair and says, "Gentlemen, I got an important announcement to
make. I been fired from my job."
Well, they asked him if he was in earnest and he said he was
and nobody could think of nothin' to say till Jim finally broke the
ice himself. He says, "I been sellin' canned goods and now I'm
canned goods myself.
You see, the concern he'd been workin' for was a factory that
made canned goods. Over in Carterville. And now Jim said he was
canned himself. He was certainly a card!
Jim had a great trick that he used to play w'ile he was
travelin'. For instance, he'd be ridin' on a train and they'd come
to some little town like, well, like, well, like, we'll say, like
Benton. Jim would look out the train window and read the signs of
For instance, they'd be a sign, "Henry Smith, Dry Goods."
Well, Jim would write down the name and the name of the town and
when he got to wherever he was goin' he'd mail back a postal card
to Henry Smith at Benton and not sign no name to it, but he'd write
on the card, well somethin' like "Ask your wife about that book
agent that spent the afternoon last week," or "Ask your Missus who
kept her from gettin' lonesome the last time you was in
Carterville." And he'd sign the card, "A Friend."
Of course, he never knew what really come of none of these
jokes, but he could picture what probably happened and that was
Jim didn't work very steady after he lost his position with
the Carterville people. What he did earn, coin' odd jobs round town
why he spent pretty near all of it on gin, and his family might of
starved if the stores hadn't of carried them along. Jim's wife
tried her hand at dressmakin', but they ain't nobody goin' to get
rich makin' dresses in this town.
As I say, she'd of divorced Jim, only she seen that she
couldn't support herself and the kids and she was always hopin'
that some day Jim would cut out his habits and give her more than
two or three dollars a week.
They was a time when she would go to whoever he was workin'
for and ask them to give her his wages, but after she done this
once or twice, he beat her to it by borrowin' most of his pay in
advance. He told it all round town, how he had outfoxed his Missus.
He certainly was a caution!
But he wasn't satisfied with just outwittin' her. He was sore
the way she had acted, tryin' to grab off his pay. And he made up
his mind he'd get even. Well, he waited till Evans's Circus was
advertised to come to town. Then he told his wife and two kiddies
that he was goin' to take them to the circus. The day of the
circus, he told them he would get the tickets and meet them outside
the entrance to the tent.
Well, he didn't have no intentions of bein' there or buyin'
tickets or nothin'. He got full of gin and laid round Wright's
poolroom all day. His wife and the kids waited and waited and of
course he didn't show up. His wife didn't have a dime with her, or
nowhere else, I guess. So she finally had to tell the kids it was
all off and they cried like they wasn't never goin' to stop.
Well, it seems, w'ile they was cryin', Doc Stair come along
and he asked what was the matter, but Mrs. Kendall was stubborn and
wouldn't tell him, but the kids told him and he insisted on takin'
them and their mother in the show. Jim found this out afterwards
and it was one reason why he had it in for Doc Stair.
Doc Stair come here about a year and a half ago. He's a mighty
handsome young fella and his clothes always look like he has them
made to order. He goes to Detroit two or three times a year and
w'ile he's there must have a tailor take his measure and then make
him a suit to order. They cost pretty near twice as much, but they
fit a whole lot better than if you just bought them in a store.
For a w'ile everybody was wonderin' why a young doctor like
Doc Stair should come to a town like this where we already got old
Doc Gamble and Doc Foote that's both been here for years and all
the practice in town was always divided between the two of them.
Then they was a story got round that Doc Stair's gal had
thronged him over, a gal up in the Northern Peninsula somewhere,
and the reason he come here was to hide himself away and forget it.
He said himself that he thought they wasn't nothin' like general
practice in a place like ours to fit a man to be a good all round
doctor. And that's why he'd came.
Anyways, it wasn't long before he was makin' enough to live
on, though they tell me that he never dunned nobody for what they
owed him, and the folks here certainly has got the owin' habit,
even in my business. If I had all that was comin' to me for just
shaves alone, I could go to Carterville and put up at the Mercer
for a week and see a different picture every night. For instance,
they's old George Purdy--but I guess I shouldn't ought to be
Well, last year, our coroner died, died of the flu. Ken
Beatty, that was his name. He was the coroner. So they had to
choose another man to be coroner in his place and they picked Doc
Stair. He laughed at first and said he didn't want it, but they
made him take it. It ain't no job that anybody would fight for and
what a man makes out of it in a year would just about buy seeds for
their garden. Doc's the kind, though, that can't say no to nothin' if you keep at him
But I was goin' to tell you about a poor boy we got here in
town-Paul Dickson. He fell out of a tree when he was about ten
years old. Lit on his head and it done somethin' to him and he
ain't never been right. No harm in him, but just silly. Jim Kendall
used to call him cuckoo; that's a name Jim had for anybody that was
off their head, only he called people's head their bean. That was
another of his gags, callin' head bean and callin' crazy people
cuckoo. Only poor Paul ain't crazy, but just silly.
You can imagine that Jim used to have all kinds of fun with
Paul. He'd send him to the White Front Garage for a left-handed
monkey wrench. Of course they ain't no such thing as a left-handed
And once we had a kind of a fair here and they was a baseball
game between the fats and the leans and before the game started Jim
called Paul over and sent him way down to Schrader's hardware store
to get a key for the pitcher's box.
They wasn't nothin' in the way of gags that Jim couldn't think
up, when he put his mind to it.
Poor Paul was always kind of suspicious of people, maybe on
account of how Jim had kept foolin' him. Paul wouldn't have much to
do with anybody only his own mother and Doc Stair and a girl here
in town named Julie Gregg. That is, she ain't a girl no more, but
pretty near thirty or over.
When Doc first come to town, Paul seemed to feel like here was
a real friend and he hung round Doc's office most of the w'ile; the
only time he wasn't there was when he'd go home to eat or sleep or
when he seen Julie Gregg coin' her shoppin'.
When he looked out Doc's window and seen her, he'd run
downstairs and join her and tag along with her to the different
stores. The poor boy was crazy about Julie and she always treated
him mighty nice and made him feel like he was welcome, though of
course it wasn't nothin' but pity on her side.
Doc done all he could to improve Paul's mind and he told me
once that he really thought the boy was getting better, that they
was times when he was as bright and sensible as anybody else.
But I was goin' to tell you about Julie Gregg. Old man Gregg
was in the lumber business, but got to drinkin' and lost the most
of his money and when he died, he didn't leave nothin' but the
house and just enough insurance for the girl to skimp along on.
Her mother was a kind of a half invalid and didn't hardly ever
leave the house. Julie wanted to sell the place and move somewhere
else after the old man died, but the mother said she was born here
and would die here. It was tough on Julie as the young people round
this town--well, she's too good for them.
She'd been away to school and Chicago and New York and
different places and they ain't no subject she can't talk on, where
you take the rest of the young folks here and you mention anything
to them outside of Gloria Swanson or Tommy Meighan and they think
you're delirious. Did you see Gloria in Wages of Virtue? You missed
Well, Doc Stair hadn't been here more than a week when he came
in one day to get shaved and I recognized who he was, as he had
been pointed out to me, so I told him about my old lady. She's been
ailin' for a couple years and either Doc Gamble or Doc Foote,
neither one, seemed to be helpin' her. So he said he would come out
and see her, but if she was able to get out herself, it would be
better to bring her to his office where he could make a completer
So I took her to his office and w'ile I was waitin' for her in
the reception room, in come Julie Gregg. When somebody comes in Doc
Stair's office, they's a bell that rings in his inside office so he
can tell they's somebody to see him.
So he left my old lady inside and come out to the front office
and that's the first time him and Julie met and I guess it was what
they call love at first sight. But it wasn't fifty-fifty. This
young fella was the slickest lookin' fella she'd ever seen in this
town and she went wild over him. To him she was just a young lady
that wanted to see the doctor.
She'd came on about the same business I had. Her mother had
been doctorin' for years with Doc Gamble and Doc Foote and with"
out no results. So she'd heard they was a new doc in town and
decided to give him a try. He promised to call and see her mother
that same day.
I said a minute ago that it was love at first sight on her
part. I'm not only judgin' by how she acted afterwards but how she
looked at him that first day in his office. I ain't no mind reader,
but it was wrote all over her face that she was gone.
Now Jim Kendall, besides bein' a jokesmith and a pretty good
drinker, well Jim was quite a lady-killer. I guess he run pretty
wild durin' the time he was on the road for them Carterville
people, and besides that, he'd had a couple little affairs of the
heart right here in town. As I say, his wife would have divorced
him, only she couldn't.
But Jim was like the majority of men, and women, too, I guess.
He wanted what he couldn't get. He wanted Julie Gregg and worked
his head off tryin' to land her. Only he'd of said bean instead of
Well, Jim's habits and his jokes didn't appeal to Julie and of
course he was a married man, so he didn't have no more chance than,
well, than a rabbit. That's an expression of Jim's himself. When
somebody didn't have no chance to get elected or somethin', Jim
would always say they didn't have no more chance than a rabbit.
He didn't make no bones about how he felt. Right in here, more
than once, in front of the whole crowd, he said he was stuck on
Julie and anybody that could get her for him was welcome to his
house and his wife and kids included. But she wouldn't have nothin'
to do with him; wouldn't even speak to him on the street. He
finally seen he wasn't gettin' nowheres with his usual line so he
decided to try the rough stuff. He went right up to her house one
evenin' and when she opened the door he forced his way in and
grabbed her. But she broke loose and before he could stop her, she
run in the next room and locked the door and phoned to Joe Barnes.
Joe's the marshal. Jim could hear who she was phonin' to and he
beat it before Joe got there.
Joe was an old friend of Julie's pa. Joe went to Jim the next
day and told him what would happen if he ever done it again.
I don't know how the news of this little affair leaked out.
Chances is that Joe Barnes told his wife and she told somebody
else's wife and they told their husband. Anyways, it did leak out
and Hod Meyers had the nerve to kid Jim about it, right here in
this shop. Jim didn't deny nothin' and kind of laughed it off and
said for us all to wait; that lots of people had tried to make a
monkey out of him, but he always got even.
Meanw'ile everybody in town was wise to Julie's bein' wild mad
over the Doc. I don't suppose she had any idea how her face changed
when him and her was together; of course she couldn't of, or she'd
of kept away from him. And she didn't know that we was all noticin'
how many times she made excuses to go up to his office or pass it
on the other side of the street and look up in his window to see if
he was there. I felt sorry for her and so did most other people.
Hod Meyers kept rubbin' it into Jim about how the Doc had cut
him out. Jim didn't pay no attention to the kiddie' and you could
see he was plannin' one of his jokes.
One trick Jim had was the knack of changin' his voice. He
could make you think he was a girl talkie' and he could mimic any
man's voice. To show you how good he was along this line, I'll tell
you the joke he played on me once.
You know, in most towns of any size, when a man is dead and
needs a shave, why the barber that shaves him soaks him five
dollars for the job; that is, he don't soak him, but whoever ordered the
shave. I just charge three dollars because personally I don't mind
much shavin' a dead person. They lay a whole lot stiller than live
customers. The only thing is that you don't feel like talkie' to
them and you get kind of lonesome.
Well, about the coldest day we ever had here, two years ago
last winter, the phone rung at the house w'ile I was home to dinner
and I answered the phone and it was a woman's voice and she said
she was Mrs. John Scott and her husband was dead and would I come
out and shave him.
Old John had always been a good customer of mine. But they
live seven miles out in the country, on the Streeter road. Still I
didn't see how I could say no.
So I said I would be there, but would have to come in a jitney
and it might cost three or four dollars besides the price of the
shave. So she, or the voice, it said that was all right, so I got
Frank Abbott to drive me out to the place and when I got there, who
should open the door but old John himself! He wasn't no more dead
than, well, than a rabbit.
It didn't take no private detective to figure out who had
played me this little joke. Nobody could of thought it up but Jim
Kendall. He certainly was a card!
I tell you this incident just to show you how he could
disguise his voice and make you believe it was somebody else
talkie'. I'd of swore it was Mrs. Scott had called me. Anyways,
Well, Jim waited till he had Doc Stair's voice down pat; then
he went after revenge.
He called Julie up on a night when he knew Doc was over in
Carterville. She never questioned but what it was Doc's voice. Jim
said he must see her that night; he couldn't wait no longer to tell
her somethin'. She was all excited and told him to come to the
house. But he said he was expectin' an important long distance call
and wouldn't she please forget her manners for once and come to his
office. He said they couldn't nothin' hurt her and nobody would see
her and he just must talk to her a little w'ile. Well, poor Julie
fell for it.
Doc always keeps a night light in his office, so it looked to
Julie like they was somebody there.
Meanw'ile Jim Kendall had went to Wright's poolroom, where
they was a whole gang amusin' themselves. The most of them had
drank plenty of gin, and they was a rough bunch even when sober.
They was always strong for Jim's jokes and when he told them to
come with him and see some fun they give up their card games and
pool games and followed along.
Doc's office is on the second floor. Right outside his door
they's a flight of stairs leadin' to the floor above. Jim and his
gang hid in the dark behind these stairs.
Well, tulle come up to Doc's door and rung the bell and they
was nothin' coin'. She rung it again and she rung it seven or eight
times. Then she tried the door and found it locked. Then Jim made
some kind of a noise and she heard it and waited a minute, and then
she says, "Is that you, Ralph?" Ralph is Doc's first name.
They was no answer and it must of came to her all of a sudden
that she'd been bunked. She pretty near fell downstairs and the
whole gang after her. They chased her all the way home, hollerin',
"Is that you, Ralph?" and "Oh, Ralphie, dear, is that you?" Jim
says he couldn't holler it himself, as he was laughin' too hard.
Poor Julie! She didn't show up here on Main Street for a long,
long time afterward.
And of course Jim and his gang told everybody in town,
everybody but Doc Stair. They was scared to tell him, and he might
of never knowed only for Paul Dickson. The poor cuckoo, as Jim
called him, he was here in the shop one night when Jim was still
gloatin' yet over what he'd done to Julie. And Paul took in as much
of it as he could understand and he run to Doc with the story.
It's a cinch Doc went up in the air and swore he'd make Jim
suffer. But it was a kind of a delicate thing, because if it got
out that he had beat Jim up, Julie was bound to hear of it and then
she'd know that Doc knew and of course knowin' that he knew would
make it worse for her than ever. He was goin' to do somethin', but
it took a lot of figurin'.
Well, it was a couple days later when Jim was here in the shop
again, and so was the cuckoo. Jim was goin' duck-shootin' the next
day and had come in lookin' for Hod Meyers to go with him. I
happened to know that Hod had went over to Carterville and wouldn't
be home till the end of the week. So Jim said he hated to go alone
and he guessed he would call it off. Then poor Paul spoke up and
said if Jim would take him he would go along. Jim thought a w'ile
and then he said, well, he guessed a half-wit was better than
I suppose he was plottin' to get Paul out in the boat and play
some joke on him, like pushin' him in the water. Anyways, he said
Paul could go. He asked him had he ever shot a duck and Paul said
no, he'd never even had a gun in his hands. So Jim said he could
set in the boat and watch him and if he behaved himself, he might
lend him his gun for a couple of shots. They made a date to meet in
the mornin' and that's the last I seen of Jim alive.
Next mornin', I hadn't been open more than ten minutes when
Doc Stair come in. He looked kind of nervous. He asked me had I
seen Paul Dickson. I said no, but I knew where he was, out
duckshootin' with Jim Kendall. So Doc says that's what he had
heard, and he couldn't understand it because Paul had told him he
wouldn't never have no more to do with Jim as long as he lived.
He said Paul had told him about the joke Jim had played on
Julie. He said Paul had asked him what he thought of the joke and
the Doc told him that anybody that would do a thing like that ought
not to be let live. I said it had been a kind of a raw thing, but
Jim just couldn't resist no kind of a joke, no matter how raw. I
said I thought he was all right at heart, but just bubblin' over
with mischief. Doc turned and walked out.
At noon he got a phone call from old John Scott. The lake
where Jim and Paul had went shootin' is on John's place. Paul had
came runnin' up to the house a few minutes before and said they'd
been an accident. Jim had shot a few ducks and then give the gun to
Paul and told him to try his luck. Paul hadn't never handled a gun
and he was nervous. He was shakin' so hard that he couldn't control
the gun. He let fire and Jim sunk back in the boat, dead.
Doc Stair, bein' the coroner, jumped in Frank Abbott's flivver
and rushed out to Scott's farm. Paul and old John was down on the
shore of the lake. Paul had rowed the boat to shore, but they'd
left the body in it, waiting for Doc to come.
Doc examined the body and said they might as well fetch it
back to town. They was no use leavin' it there or callin' a jury,
as it was a plain case of accidental shootin'.
Personally I wouldn't never leave a person shoot a gun in the
same boat I was in unless I was sure they knew somethin' about
guns. Jim was a sucker to leave a new beginner have his gun, let
alone a half-wit. It probably served Jim right, what he got. But
still we miss him round here. He certainly was a card! Comb it wet
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