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

Robert Jones Burdette (1844–1914)

The Vacation of Mustapha

From “Chimes of a Jester’s Bell”

NOW in the sixth month, in the reign of the good Caliph, it was so that Mustapha said, “I am wearied with much work; thought, care, and worry have worn me out; I need repose, for the hand of exhaustion is upon me, and death even now lieth at the door.”

And he called his physician, who felt of his pulse and looked upon his tongue, and said:

“Twodollahs!” (For this was the oath by which all physicians swore.) “Of a verity thou must have rest. Flee unto the valley of quiet, and close thine eyes in dreamful rest; hold back thy brain from thought and thy hand from labor, or you will be a candidate for the asylum in three weeks.”

And he heard him, and went out, and put the business in the hands of the clerk, and went away to rest in the valley of quiet. And he went to his Uncle Ben’s, whom he had not seen for lo, these fourteen years. Now, his Uncle Ben was a farmer, and abode in the valley of rest, and the mountains of repose rose round about him. And he was rich, and well favored, and strong as an ox, and healthy as an onion crop. Ofttimes he boasted to his neighbors that there was not a lazy bone in his body, and he swore that he hated a lazy man.

And Mustapha wist not that it was so.

But when he reached his Uncle Ben’s they received him with great joy, and placed before him a supper of homely viands well cooked, and piled up on his plate like the wreck of a box-car. And when he could not eat all they laughed him to scorn.

And after supper they sat up with him and talked with him about relatives whereof he had never, in all his life, so much as heard. And he answered their questions at random, and lied unto them, professing to know Uncle Ezra and Aunt Bethesda, and once he said that he had a letter from Uncle George last week.

Now they all knew that Uncle George was shot in a neighbor’s sheep-pen three years ago, but Mustapha wist not that it was so, and he was sleepy, and only talked to fill up the time. And then they talked politics to him, and he hated politics. So about one o’clock in the morning they sent him to bed.

Now the spare room wherein he slept was right under the roof, and there were ears and bundles of ears of seed corn hung from the rafters; and he bunged his eyes with the same, and he hooked his chin in festoons of dried apples, and shook dried herbs and seeds down his back as he walked along, for it was dark. And when he sat up in bed in the night he ran a scythe in his ear.

And it was so that the four boys slept with him, for the bed was wide. And they were restless, and slumbered crosswise and kicked, so that Mustapha slope not a wink that night, neither closed he his eyes.

And about the fourth hour after midnight his Uncle Ben smote him on the back and spake unto him, saying:

“Awake, arise, rustle out of this and wash your face, for the liver and bacon are fried and the breakfast waiteth. You will find the well down at the other end of the cow-lot. Take a towel with you.”

When they had eaten, his Uncle Ben spake unto him, saying, “Come, let us stroll around the farm.”

And they walked about eleven miles. And his Uncle Ben sat him upon a wagon and taught him how to load hay. Then they drove into the barn, and he taught him how to unload it. Then they girded up their loins and walked four miles, even into the forest, and his Uncle Ben taught him how to chop wood, and then walked back to supper. And the morning and the evening were the first day, and Mustapha wished that he were dead.

And after supper his Uncle Ben spoke once more, and said: “Come, let us have some fun.” And so they hooked up a team and drove nine miles, down to Belcher’s Branch, where there was a hop. And they danced until the second hour in the morning.

When the next day was come—which wasn’t long, for already the night was far spent—his Uncle Ben took him out and taught him how to make rail fence. And that night there was a wedding, and they danced, and made merry, and drank, and ate; and when they went to bed at three o’clock Mustapha prayed that death might come to him before breakfast-time. But breakfast had an early start, and got there first. And his Uncle Ben took him down to the creek, and taught him how to wash and shear sheep. And when evening was come they went to spelling-school, and they got home at the first hour after midnight, and Uncle Ben marveled that it was so early. And he lighted his pipe, and sat up for an hour and told Mustapha all about the forty acres he bought last spring of old Mosey Stringer, to finish out that north half, and about the new colt that was foaled last spring.

And when Mustapha went to bed that morning he bethought himself of a dose of strychnine he had with him, and he said his prayers wearily, and he took it. But the youngest boy was restless that night, and kicked all the poison out of him in less than ten seconds.

And in the morning, while it was yet night, they ate breakfast. And his Uncle Ben took him out and taught him how to dig a ditch.

And when evening was come there was a revival meeting at Ebenezer Methodist Church. They all went. And there were three regular preachers and two exhorters, and a Baptist evangelist. And when midnight was come they went home and sat up and talked over the meeting until it was bedtime.

Now, when Mustapha was at home, he left his desk at the fifth hour in the afternoon, and he went to bed at the third hour after sunset, and he arose not until the sun was high in the heavens.

So the next day, when his Uncle Ben would take him out into the field and show him how to make a post-and-rail fence, Mustapha would swear at him, and smote him with an ax-helve and fled, and got himself home.

And Mustapha sent for his physician and cursed him. And he said he was tired to death; he turned his face to the wall and died. So Mustapha was gathered to his fathers.

And his physician and his friends mourned, and said, “Alas, he did not rest soon enough! He tarried at his desk too long.”

But his Uncle Ben, who came in to attend the funeral, and had to do all his weeping out of one eye, because the other was blacked half-way down to his chin, said it was a pity, but Mustapha was too awfully lazy to live and he had no get-up about him.

But Mustapha wist not what they said, because he was dead. So they divided his property among them, and said if he wanted a tombstone he might have attended to it himself while he was yet alive, because they had no time.