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Best American Humorous Short Stories

Elder Brown's Backslide
By Harry Stillwell Edwards (1855- )
[From Harper's Magazine, August, 1885; copyright, 1885, by Harper & Bros.;
republished in the volume, Two Runaways, and Other Stories (1889), by Harry Stillwell
Edwards (The Century Co.).]
Elder Brown told his wife good-by at the farmhouse door as mechanically as though his
proposed trip to Macon, ten miles away, was an everyday affair, while, as a matter of
fact, many years had elapsed since unaccompanied he set foot in the city. He did not kiss
her. Many very good men never kiss their wives. But small blame attaches to the elder for
his omission on this occasion, since his wife had long ago discouraged all amorous
demonstrations on the part of her liege lord, and at this particular moment was filling the
parting moments with a rattling list of directions concerning thread, buttons, hooks,
needles, and all the many etceteras of an industrious housewife's basket. The elder was
laboriously assorting these postscript commissions in his memory, well knowing that to
return with any one of them neglected would cause trouble in the family circle.
Elder Brown mounted his patient steed that stood sleepily motionless in the warm
sunlight, with his great pointed ears displayed to the right and left, as though their owner
had grown tired of the life burden their weight inflicted upon him, and was, old soldier
fashion, ready to forego the once rigid alertness of early training for the pleasures of
frequent rest on arms.
"And, elder, don't you forgit them caliker scraps, or you'll be wantin' kiver soon an' no
kiver will be a-comin'."
Elder Brown did not turn his head, but merely let the whip hand, which had been checked
in its backward motion, fall as he answered mechanically. The beast he bestrode
responded with a rapid whisking of its tail and a great show of effort, as it ambled off
down the sandy road, the rider's long legs seeming now and then to touch the ground.
But as the zigzag panels of the rail fence crept behind him, and he felt the freedom of the
morning beginning to act upon his well-trained blood, the mechanical manner of the old
man's mind gave place to a mild exuberance. A weight seemed to be lifting from it ounce
by ounce as the fence panels, the weedy corners, the persimmon sprouts and sassafras
bushes crept away behind him, so that by the time a mile lay between him and the life
partner of his joys and sorrows he was in a reasonably contented frame of mind, and still
improving.
It was a queer figure that crept along the road that cheery May morning. It was tall and
gaunt, and had been for thirty years or more. The long head, bald on top, covered behind
with iron-gray hair, and in front with a short tangled growth that curled and kinked in
every direction, was surmounted by an old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, worn and stained,
 
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