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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Marietta Holley (1836–1926)

A Pleasure Exertion

From “My Wayward Pardner”

WAL, the very next mornin’ Josiah got up with a new idee in his head; and he broached it to me to the breakfast table. They have been havin’ sights of pleasure exertions here to Jonesville lately. Every week a’most they would go off on a exertion after pleasure, and Josiah was all up on end to go too.

That man is a well-principled man as I ever see, but if he had his head he would be worse than any young man I ever see to foller up picnics and 4th of Julys and camp-meetin’s and all pleasure exertions. But I don’t encourage him in it. I have said to him time and again: “There is a time for everything, Josiah Allen, and after anybody has lost all their teeth, and every mite of hair on the top of their head, it is time for ’em to stop goin’ to pleasure exertions.”

But, good land! I might jest as well talk to the wind! If that man should get to be as old as Mr. Methusler, and be goin’ on a thousand years old, he would prick up his ears if he should hear of a exertion. All summer long that man has beset me to go to ’em, for he wouldn’t go without me. Old Bunker Hill himself hain’t any sounder in principle than Josiah Allen, and I have had to work head-work to make excuses and quell him down. But last week they was goin’ to have one out on the lake, on a island, and that man sot his foot down that go he would.

We was to the breakfast table a-talkin’ it over, and says I: “I sha’n’t go, for I am afraid of big water anyway.”

Says Josiah: “You are jest as liable to be killed in one place as another.”

Says I, with a almost frigid air as I passed him his coffee, “Mebee I shall be drownded on dry land, Josiah Allen, but I don’t believe it.”

Says he, in a complainin’ tone: “I can’t get you started onto a exertion for pleasure anyway.”

Says I, in a almost eloquent way: “I don’t believe in makin’ such exertions after pleasure. As I have told you time and ag’in, I don’t believe in chasin’ of her up. Let her come of her own free will. You can’t ketch her by chasin’ after her, no more than you can fetch up a shower in a drowth by goin’ outdoors and runnin’ after a cloud up in the heavens above you. Set down and be patient, and when it gets ready the refreshin’ raindrops will begin to fall without none of your help. And it is jest so with pleasure, Josiah Allen; you may chase her up over all the oceans and big mountains of the earth, and she will keep ahead of you all the time; but set down and not fatigue yourself a-thinkin’ about her, and like as not she will come right into your house unbeknown to you.”

“Wal,” says he, “I guess I’ll have another griddle-cake, Samantha.”

And as he took it and poured the maple syrup over it, he added gently but firmly:

“I shall go, Samantha, to this exertion, and I should be glad to have you present at it, because it seems jest to me as if I should fall overboard durin’ the day.”

Men are deep. Now that man knew that no amount of religious preachin’ could stir me up like that one speech. For though I hain’t no hand to coo, and don’t encourage him in bein’ spoony at all, he knows that I am wrapped almost completely up in him. I went.

Wal, the day before the exertion Kellup Cobb come into our house of a errant, and I asked him if he was goin’ to the exertion; and he said he would like to go, but he dassent.

“Dassent!” says I. “Why dassent you?”

“Why,” says he, “how would the rest of the wimmen ’round Jonesville feel if I should pick out one woman and wait on her?” Says he bitterly: “I hain’t perfect, but I hain’t such a cold-blooded rascal as not to have any regard for wimmen’s feelin’s. I hain’t no heart to spile all the comfort of the day for ten or a dozen wimmen.”

“Why,” says I in a dry tone, “one woman would be happy accordin’ to your tell.”

“Yes, one woman happy, and ten or fifteen gauled—bruised in the tenderest place.”

“On their heads?” says I, inquirin’ly.

“No,” says he, “their hearts. All the girls have probable had more or less hopes that I would invite ’em—make a choice of ’em. But when the blow was struck, when I had passed ’em by and invited some other, some happier woman, how would them slighted ones feel? How do you s’pose they would enjoy the day, seein’ me with another woman, and they droopin’ ’round without me? That is the reason, Josiah Allen’s wife, that I dassent go. It hain’t the keepin’ of my horse through the day that stops me; for I could carry a quart of oats and a little jag of hay in the bottom of the buggy. If I had concluded to pick out a girl and go, I had got it all fixed out in my mind how I would manage. I had thought it over while I was ondecided and duty was a-strugglin’ with me. But I was made to see where the right way for me lay, and I am goin’ to foller it. Joe Purday is goin’ to have my horse, and give me seven shillin’s for the use of it and its keepin’. He come to hire it jest before I made up my mind that I hadn’t ort to go.

“Of course it is a cross to me. But I am willin’ to bear crosses for the fair sect. Why,” says he, a-comin’ out in a open, generous way, “I would be willin’, if necessary for the general good of the fair sect—I would be willin’ to sacrifice ten cents for ’em, or pretty nigh that, I wish so well to ’em. I hain’t that enemy to ’em that they think I am. I can’t marry ’em all, Heaven knows I can’t, but I wish ’em well.”

“Wal,” says I, “I guess my dishwater is hot; it must be pretty near b’ilin’ by this time.”

And he took the hint and started off. I see it wouldn’t do no good to argue with him that wimmen didn’t worship him. For when a feller once gets it into his head that female wimmen are all after him you might jest as well dispute the wind as argue with him. You can’t convince him nor the wind—neither of ’em—so what’s the use of wastin’ breath on ’em? And I didn’t want to spend a extra breath that day anyway, knowin’ I had such a hard day’s work in front of me, a-finishin’ cookin’ up provisions for the exertion, and gettin’ things done up in the house so I could leave ’em for all day.

We had got to start about the middle of the night; for the lake was fifteen miles from Jonesville, and the old mare’s bein’ so slow, we had got to start an hour or two ahead of the rest. I told Josiah in the first on’t, that I had just as lives set up all night as to be routed out at two o’clock. But he was so animated and happy at the idee of goin’ that he looked on the bright side of everything, and he said that we would go to bed before dark, and get as much sleep as we commonly did. So we went to bed the sun an hour high. And I was truly tired enough to lay down, for I had worked dretful hard that day—almost beyond my strength. But we hadn’t more’n got settled down into the bed, when we heard a buggy and a single wagon stop at the gate, and I got up and peeked through the window, and I see it was visitors come to spend the evenin’. Elder Bamber and his family, and Deacon Dobbins’s folks.

Josiah vowed that he wouldn’t stir one step out of bed that night. But I argued with him pretty sharp while I was throwin’ on my clothes, and I finally got him started up. I hain’t deceitful, but I thought if I got my clothes all on before they came in I wouldn’t tell ’em that I had been to bed that time of day. And I did get all dressed up, even to my handkerchief pin. And I guess they had been there as much as ten minutes before I thought that I hadn’t took my nightcap off. They looked dreadful curious at me, and I felt awful meachin’; but I jest ketched it off and never said nothin’. But when Josiah come out of the bedroom with what little hair he has got standin’ out in every direction, no two hairs a-layin’ the same way, and one of his galluses a-hangin’ most to the floor under his best coat, I up and told ’em. I thought mebbe they wouldn’t stay long. But Deacon Dobbins’s folks seemed to be all waked up on the subject of religion, and they proposed we should turn it into a kind of a conference meetin’; so they never went home till after ten o’clock.

It was ’most eleven when Josiah and me got to bed ag’in. And then, jest as I was gettin’ into a drowse, I heered the cat in the buttery, and I got up to let her out. And that roused Josiah up, and he thought he heered the cattle in the garden, and he got up and went out. And there we was a-marchin’ ’round ’most all night.

And if we would get into a nap, Josiah would think it was mornin’ and he would start up and go out to look at the clock. He seemed so afraid we would be belated and not get to that exertion in time. And there we was on our feet ’most all night. I lost myself once, for I dreampt that Josiah was a-drowndin’, and Deacon Dobbins was on the shore a-prayin’ for him. It started me so that I jest ketched hold of Josiah and hollered. It skairt him awfully, and says he, “What does ail you, Samantha? I hain’t been asleep before to-night, and now you have rousted me up for good. I wonder what time it is?”

And then he got out of bed again and went and looked at the clock. It was half past one, and he said he “didn’t believe we had better go to sleep again, for fear we would be too late for the exertion, and he wouldn’t miss that for nothin’.”

“Exertion!” says I, in a awful cold tone. “I should think we had had exertion enough for one spell.”

But as bad and wore out as Josiah felt bodily, he was all animated in his mind about what a good time he was a-goin’ to have. He acted foolish, and I told him so. I wanted to wear my brown-and-black gingham and a shaker, but Josiah insisted that I should wear a new lawn dress that he had brought me home as a present and I had jest got made up. So, jest to please him, I put it on, and my best bonnet.

And that man, all I could do and say, would put on a pair of pantaloons I had been a-makin’ for Thomas Jefferson. They was gettin’ up a milatary company to Jonesville, and these pantaloons was blue, with a red stripe down the sides—a kind of uniform. Josiah took a awful fancy to ’em, and says he:

“I will wear ’em, Samantha; they look so dressy.”

Says I: “They hain’t hardly done. I was goin’ to stitch that red stripe on the left leg on again. They ain’t finished as they ort to be, and I would not wear ’em. It looks vain in you.”

Says he: “I will wear ’em, Samantha. I will be dressed up for once.”

I didn’t contend with him. Thinks I: We are makin’ fools of ourselves by goin’ at all, and if he wants to make a little bigger fool of himself by wearin’ them blue pantaloons, I won’t stand in his light. And then I had got some machine oil onto ’em, so I felt that I had got to wash ’em, anyway, before Thomas J. took ’em to wear. So he put ’em on.

I had good vittles, and a sight of ’em. The basket wouldn’t hold ’em all, so Josiah had to put a bottle of red rossberry jell into the pocket of his dress-coat, and lots of other little things, such as spoons and knives and forks, in his pantaloons and breast pockets. He looked like Captain Kidd armed up to the teeth, and I told him so. But, good land! he would have carried a knife in his mouth if I had asked him to, he felt so neat about goin’, and boasted so on what a splendid exertion it was goin’ to be.

We got to the lake about eight o’clock, for the old mare went slow. We was about the first ones there, but they kep’ a-comin’ and before ten o’clock we all got there.

The young folks made up their minds they would stay and eat their dinner in a grove on the mainland. But the majority of the old folks thought it was best to go and set our tables where we laid out to in the first place. Josiah seemed to be the most rampant of any of the company about goin’. He said he shouldn’t eat a mouthful if he didn’t eat on that island. He said what was the use of goin’ to a pleasure exertion at all if you didn’t try to take all the pleasure you could? So about twenty old fools of us sot sail for the island.

I had made up my mind from the first on’t to face trouble, so it didn’t put me out so much when Deacon Dobbins, in gettin’ into the boat, stepped onto my new lawn dress and tore a hole in it as big as my two hands, and ripped it half offen the waist. But Josiah havin’ felt so animated and tickled about the exertion, it worked him up awfully when, jest after we had got well out onto the lake, the wind took his hat off and blew it away out onto the lake. He had made up his mind to look so pretty that day that it worked him up awfully. And then the sun beat down onto him; and if he had had any hair onto his head it would have seemed more shady.

But I did the best I could by him. I stood by him and pinned on his red bandanna handkerchief onto his head. But as I was a-fixin’ it on, I see there was suthin’ more than mortification ailded him. The lake was rough and the boat rocked, and I see he was beginning to be awful sick. He looked deathly. Pretty soon I felt bad, too. Oh, the wretchedness of that time! I have enjoyed poor health considerable in my life, but never did I enjoy so much sickness in so short a time as I did on that pleasure exertion to that island. I s’pose our bein’ up all night a’most made it worse. When we reached the island we was both weak as cats.

I sot right down on a stun and held my head for a spell, for it did seem as if it would split open. After awhile I staggered up onto my feet, and finally I got so I could walk straight and sense things a little; though it was tejus work to walk anyway, for we had landed on a sand-bar, and the sand was so deep it was all we could do to wade through it, and it was as hot as hot ashes ever was.

Then I began to take the things out of my dinner-basket. The butter had all melted, so we had to dip it out with a spoon. And a lot of water had washed over the side of the boat, so my pies and tarts and delicate cakes and cookies looked awful mixed up; but no worse than the rest of the company’s did.

But we did the best we could, and the chicken and cold meats bein’ more solid, had held together quite well, so there was some pieces of it conside’able hull, though it was all very wet and soppy. But we separated ’em out as well as we could, and begun to make preparations to eat. We didn’t feel so animated about eatin’ as we should if we hadn’t been so sick to our stomachs. But we felt as if we must hurry, for the man that owned the boat said he knew it would rain before night by the way the sun scalded.

There wasn’t a man or a woman there but what the presperation and sweat jest poured down their faces. We was a haggard and melancholy lookin’ set. There was a piece of woods a little ways off, but it was up quite a rise of ground, and there wasn’t one of us but what had the rheumatiz more or less. We made up a fire on the sand, though it seemed as if it was hot enough to steep tea and coffee as it was.

After we got the fire started, I h’isted a umberell and sot down under it and fanned myself hard, for I was afraid of a sunstroke.

Wal, I guess I had set there ten minutes or more, when all of a sudden I thought, Where is Josiah? I hadn’t seen him since we had got there. I riz up and asked the company, almost wildly, if they had seen my companion, Josiah.

They said No, they hadn’t.

But Celestine Wilkin’s little girl, who had come with her grandpa and grandma Gowdy, spoke up, and says she:

“I seen him goin’ off toward the woods. He acted dretful strange, too; he seemed to be a-walkin’ off sideways.”

“Had the sufferin’s he had undergone made him delerious?” says I to myself; and then I started off on the run toward the woods, and old Miss Bobbet, and Miss Gowdy, and Sister Bamber, and Deacon Dobbinses’ wife, all rushed after me.

Oh, the agony of them two or three minutes! my mind so distracted with fourbodin’s, and the presperation and sweat a-pourin’ down. But all of a sudden, on the edge of the woods, we found him. Miss Gowdy, weighin’ a little less than me, mebbe one hundred pounds or so, had got a little ahead of me. He sot backed up against a tree in a awful cramped position, with his left leg under him. He looked dretful uncomfortable. But when Miss Gowdy hollered out: “Oh, here you be! We have been skairt about you. What is the matter?” he smiled a dretful sick smile, and says he: “Oh, I thought I would come out here and meditate a spell. It was always a real treat to me to meditate.”

Just then I come up a-pantin’ for breath, and as the wimmen all turned to face me, Josiah scowled at me and shook his fist at them four wimmen, and made the most mysterious motions of his hands toward ’em. But the minute they turned ’round he smiled in a sickish way, and pretended to go to whistlin’.

Says I, “What is the matter, Josiah Allen? What are you off here for?”

“I am a-meditatin’, Samantha.”

Says I, “Do you come down and jine the company this minute, Josiah Allen. You was in a awful takin’ to come with ’em, and what will they think to see you act so?”

The wimmen happened to be a-lookin’ the other way for a minute, and he looked at me as if he would take my head off, and made the strangest motions toward ’em; but the minute they looked at him he would pretend to smile—that deathly smile.

Says I, “Come, Josiah Allen, we’re goin’ to get dinner right away, for we are afraid it will rain.”

“Oh, wal,” says he, “a little rain, more or less, hain’t a-goin’ to hender a man from meditatin’.”

I was wore out, and says I, “Do you stop meditatin’ this minute, Josiah Allen!”

Says he, “I won’t stop, Samantha. I let you have your way a good deal of the time; but when I take it into my head to meditate, you hain’t a-goin’ to break it up.”

Jest at that minute they called to me from the shore to come that minute to find some of my dishes. And we had to start off. But oh! the gloom of my mind that was added to the lameness of my body. Them strange motions and looks of Josiah wore on me. Had the sufferin’s of the night, added to the trials of the day, made him crazy? I thought more’n as likely as not I had got a luny on my hands for the rest of my days.

And then, oh, how the sun did scald down onto me! and the wind took the smoke so into my face that there wasn’t hardly a dry eye in my head. And then a perfect swarm of yellow wasps lit down onto our vittles as quick as we laid ’em down, so you couldn’t touch a thing without runnin’ a chance to be stung. Oh, the agony of that time! the distress of that pleasure exertion! But I kep’ to work, and when we had got dinner ’most ready I went back to call Josiah again. Old Miss Bobbet said she would go with me, for she thought she see a wild turnip in the woods there, and her Shakespeare had a awful cold, and she would try to dig one to give him. So we started up the hill again. He sot in the same position, all huddled up, with his leg under him, as uncomfortable a lookin’ creeter as I ever see. But when we both stood in front of him he pretended to look careless and happy, and smiled that sick smile.

Says I, “Come, Josiah Allen; dinner is ready.”

“Oh, I hain’t hungry,” says he. “The table will probable be full. I had jest as lieves wait.”

“Table full!” says I. “You know jest as well as I do that we are eatin’ on the ground. Do you come and eat your dinner this minute.”

“Yes, do come,” says Miss Bobbet; “we can’t get along without you!”

“Oh!” says he, with a ghastly smile, pretending to joke, “I have got plenty to eat here—I can eat muskeeters.”

The air was black with ’em, I couldn’t deny it.

“The muskeeters will eat you, more likely,” says I. “Look at your face and hands; they are all covered with ’em.”

“Yes, they have eat considerable of a dinner out of me, but I don’t begrech ’em. I hain’t small enough, nor mean enough, I hope, to begrech ’em one good meal.”

Miss Bobbet started off in search of her wild turnip, and after she had got out of sight Josiah whispered to me, with a savage look and a tone sharp as a sharp axe:

“Can’t you bring forty or fifty more wimmen up here? You couldn’t come here a minute, could you, without a lot of other wimmen tight to your heels?”

I begun to see daylight, and after Miss Bobbet had got her wild turnip and some spignut, I made some excuse to send her on ahead, and then Josiah told me all about why he had gone off by himself alone, and why he had been a-settin’ in such a curious position all the time since we had come in sight of him.

It seems he had sot down on that bottle of rossberry jell. That red stripe on the side wasn’t hardly finished, as I said, and I hadn’t fastened my thread properly, so when he got to pullin’ at ’em to try to wipe off the jell, the thread started, and bein’ sewed on a machine, that seam jest ripped from top to bottom. That was what he had walked off sideways toward the woods for. But Josiah Allen’s wife hain’t one to desert a companion in distress. I pinned ’em up as well as I could, and I didn’t say a word to hurt his feelin’s, only I jest said this to him, as I was fixin’ ’em—I fastened my gray eye firmly, and almost sternly onto him, and says I:

“Josiah Allen, is this pleasure?” Says I, “You was determined to come.”

“Throw that in my face ag’in, will you? What if I was? There goes a pin into my leg! I should think I had suffered enough without your stabbin’ of me with pins.”

“Wal, then, stand still, and not be a-caperin’ round so. How do you s’pose I can do anything with you a-tossin’ round so?”

“Wal, don’t be so aggravating then.”

I fixed ’em as well as I could, but they looked pretty bad, and there they was all covered with jell, too. What to do I didn’t know. But finally I told him I would put my shawl onto him. So I doubled it up corner-ways as big as I could, so it almost touched the ground behind, and he walked back to the table with me. I told him it was best to tell the company all about it, but he just put his foot down that he wouldn’t, and I told him if he wouldn’t that he must make his own excuses to the company about wearin’ the shawl. So he told ’em he always loved to wear summer shawls; he thought it made a man look so dressy.

But he looked as if he would sink all the time he was a-sayin’ it. They all looked dretful curious at him, and he looked as meachin’ as if he had stole sheep—and meachin’er—and he never took a minute’s comfort, nor I nuther. He was sick all the way back to the shore, and so was I. And jest as we got into our wagons and started for home, the rain began to pour down. The wind turned our old umberell inside out in no time. My lawn dress was most sp’ilt before, and now I give up my bonnet. And I says to Josiah:

“This bonnet and dress are sp’ilt, Josiah Allen, and I shall have to buy some new ones.”

“Wal, wal, who said you wouldn’t?” he snapped out.

But it were on him. Oh, how the rain poured down! Josiah, havin’ nothin’ but a handkerchief on his head, felt it more than I did. I had took a apron to put on a-gettin’ dinner, and I tried to make him let me pin it on his head. But says he firmly:

“I hain’t proud and haughty, Samantha, but I do feel above ridin’ out with a pink apron on for a hat.”

“Wal, then,” says I, “get as wet as sop, if you had ruther.”

I didn’t say no more, but there we jest sot and suffered. The rain poured down; the wind howled at us; the old mare went slow; the rheumatiz laid holt of both of us; and the thought of the new bonnet and dress was a-wearin’ on Josiah, I knew.

There wasn’t a house for the first seven miles, and after we got there I thought we wouldn’t go in, for we had got to get home to milk anyway, and we was both as wet as we could be. After I had beset him about the apron, we didn’t say hardly a word for as much as thirteen miles or so; but I did speak once, as he leaned forward, with the rain drippin’ offen his bandanna handkerchief onto his blue pantaloons. I says to him in stern tones:

“Is this pleasure, Josiah Allen?”

He give the old mare a awful cut, and says he: “I’d like to know what you want to be so aggravatin’ for?”

I didn’t multiply any more words with him, only as we drove up to our doorstep, and he helped me out into a mud-puddle, I says to him:

“Mebbe you’ll hear to me another time, Josiah Allen.”

And I’ll bet he will. I hain’t afraid to bet a ten-cent bill that that man won’t never open his mouth to me again about a pleasure exertion.