Best American Humorous Short Stories
glory did not radiate from her as it did from the Major. She possessed a thrifty common
sense, and it was she who handled the finances of the family, and met all comers when
there were bills to pay. The Major regarded board bills and wash bills as contemptible
nuisances. They kept coming in so persistently and so often. Why, the Major wanted to
know, could they not be filed and paid in a lump sum at some convenient period--say
when the Anecdotes and Reminiscences had been published and paid for? Miss Lydia
would calmly go on with her sewing and say, "We'll pay as we go as long as the money
lasts, and then perhaps they'll have to lump it."
Most of Mrs. Vardeman's boarders were away during the day, being nearly all department
clerks and business men; but there was one of them who was about the house a great deal
from morning to night. This was a young man named Henry Hopkins Hargraves--every
one in the house addressed him by his full name--who was engaged at one of the popular
vaudeville theaters. Vaudeville has risen to such a respectable plane in the last few years,
and Mr. Hargraves was such a modest and well-mannered person, that Mrs. Vardeman
could find no objection to enrolling him upon her list of boarders.
At the theater Hargraves was known as an all-round dialect comedian, having a large
repertoire of German, Irish, Swede, and black-face specialties. But Mr. Hargraves was
ambitious, and often spoke of his great desire to succeed in legitimate comedy.
This young man appeared to conceive a strong fancy for Major Talbot. Whenever that
gentleman would begin his Southern reminiscences, or repeat some of the liveliest of the
anecdotes, Hargraves could always be found, the most attentive among his listeners.
For a time the Major showed an inclination to discourage the advances of the "play
actor," as he privately termed him; but soon the young man's agreeable manner and
indubitable appreciation of the old gentleman's stories completely won him over.
It was not long before the two were like old chums. The Major set apart each afternoon to
read to him the manuscript of his book. During the anecdotes Hargraves never failed to
laugh at exactly the right point. The Major was moved to declare to Miss Lydia one day
that young Hargraves possessed remarkable perception and a gratifying respect for the
old régime. And when it came to talking of those old days--if Major Talbot liked to talk,
Mr. Hargraves was entranced to listen.
Like almost all old people who talk of the past, the Major loved to linger over details. In
describing the splendid, almost royal, days of the old planters, he would hesitate until he
had recalled the name of the negro who held his horse, or the exact date of certain minor
happenings, or the number of bales of cotton raised in such a year; but Hargraves never
grew impatient or lost interest. On the contrary, he would advance questions on a variety
of subjects connected with the life of that time, and he never failed to extract ready
The fox hunts, the 'possum suppers, the hoe-downs and jubilees in the negro quarters, the
banquets in the plantation-house hall, when invitations went for fifty miles around; the