A Ruler Of Men
[Written at the prime of his popularity and power, this characteristic and amusing story
I walked the streets of the City of Insolence, thirsting for the sight of a stranger face. For
the City is a desert of familiar types as thick and alike as the grains in a sand-storm; and
you grow to hate them as you do a friend who is always by you, or one of your own kin.
And my desire was granted, for I saw near a corner of Broadway and Twenty-ninth
Street, a little flaxen-haired man with a face like a scaly-bark hickory-nut, selling to a
fast-gathering crowd a tool that omnigeneously proclaimed itself a can-opener, a screw-
driver, a button-hook, a nail-file, a shoe-horn, a watch-guard, a potato-peeler, and an
ornament to any gentleman's key-ring.
And then a stall-fed cop shoved himself through the congregation of customers. The
vender, plainly used to having his seasons of trade thus abruptly curtailed, closed his
satchel and slipped like a weasel through the opposite segment of the circle. The crowd
scurried aimlessly away like ants from a disturbed crumb. The cop, suddenly becoming
oblivious of the earth and its inhabitants, stood still, swelling his bulk and putting his club
through an intricate drill of twirls. I hurried after Kansas Bill Bowers, and caught him by
Without his looking at me or slowing his pace, I found a five-dollar bill crumpled neatly
into my hand.
"I wouldn't have thought, Kansas Bill," I said, "that you'd hold an old friend that cheap."
Then he turned his head, and the hickory-nut cracked into a wide smile.
"Give back the money," said he, "or I'll have the cop after you for false pretenses. I
thought you was the cop."
"I want to talk to you, Bill," I said. "When did you leave Oklahoma? Where is Reddy
McGill now? Why are you selling those impossible contraptions on the street? How did
your Big Horn gold-mine pan out? How did you get so badly sunburned? What will you
"A year ago," answered Kansas Bill systematically. "Putting up windmills in Arizona.
For pin money to buy etceteras with. Salted. Been down in the tropics. Beer."
We foregathered in a propitious place and became Elijahs, while a waiter of dark
plumage played the raven to perfection. Reminiscence needs must be had before I could
steer Bill into his epic mood.