Best American Humorous Short Stories
By Wells Hastings (1878- )
[From The Century Magazine, April, 1914; copyright, 1914, by The Century Co.;
republished by the author's permission.]
"An' de next' frawg dat houn' pup seen, he pass him by wide."
The house, which had hung upon every word, roared with laughter, and shook with a
storming volley of applause. Gideon bowed to right and to left, low, grinning, assured
comedy obeisances; but as the laughter and applause grew he shook his head, and
signaled quietly for the drop. He had answered many encores, and he was an instinctive
artist. It was part of the fuel of his vanity that his audience had never yet had enough of
him. Dramatic judgment, as well as dramatic sense of delivery, was native to him,
qualities which the shrewd Felix Stuhk, his manager and exultant discoverer, recognized
and wisely trusted in. Off stage Gideon was watched over like a child and a delicate
investment, but once behind the footlights he was allowed to go his own triumphant gait.
It was small wonder that Stuhk deemed himself one of the cleverest managers in the
business; that his narrow, blue-shaven face was continually chiseled in smiles of
complacent self-congratulation. He was rapidly becoming rich, and there were bright
prospects of even greater triumphs, with proportionately greater reward. He had made
Gideon a national character, a headliner, a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of
the vaudeville theater, and all in six short months. Or, at any rate, he had helped to make
him all this; he had booked him well and given him his opportunity. To be sure, Gideon
had done the rest; Stuhk was as ready as any one to do credit to Gideon's ability. Still,
after all, he, Stuhk, was the discoverer, the theatrical Columbus who had had the courage
and the vision.
A now-hallowed attack of tonsilitis had driven him to Florida, where presently Gideon
had been employed to beguile his convalescence, and guide him over the intricate
shallows of that long lagoon known as the Indian River in search of various fish. On days
when fish had been reluctant Gideon had been lured into conversation, and gradually into
narrative and the relation of what had appeared to Gideon as humorous and entertaining;
and finally Felix, the vague idea growing big within him, had one day persuaded his
boatman to dance upon the boards of a long pier where they had made fast for lunch.
There, with all the sudden glory of crystallization, the vague idea took definite form and
became the great inspiration of Stuhk's career.
Gideon had grown to be to vaudeville much what Uncle Remus is to literature: there was
virtue in his very simplicity. His artistry itself was native and natural. He loved a good
story, and he told it from his own sense of the gleeful morsel upon his tongue as no
training could have made him. He always enjoyed his story and himself in the telling.
Tales never lost their savor, no matter how often repeated; age was powerless to dim the