William F. Stratton
How Pottering Pete Impeded the Progress of Reform
Updated: May 24, 2021
Wayside Tales, May 1904.
POTTERING PETE tilted his chair back against the sunny side of the little office building, stretched out his long, lank legs, and cast one more drowsy glance over the landscape before sinking into the arms of Morpheus.
Sleepily his gaze wandered over the noisy buildings of the Lucky Tumble mine, the numerous heaps of ore and refuse, the groups of busy laborers, and slowly swept down the slope toward the little town below. Then the front legs of the chair thumped heavily upon the rocky soil, Mr. Patton’s eyes and mouth flew open, and his bearded face took on an expression of puzzled curiosity. He shifted the quid of Miner’s Twist from his left cheek to his right, turned his head toward the office window, and called, in guarded tones:
“Jimmy! Hey, Jimmy! What’s this a comin’ up th’ trail?”
The red-shirted clerk appeared in the doorway, thrust a pen behind his ear, and scrutinized the approaching object.
“Search me!” he finally responded.
“What’s them things on its shins, Jimmy?”
The red-shirted clerk looked again. “Bloomers!” he ejaculated.
“Mebbe it’s th’ Sultan of Turkey, comin’ to s’licit a donashun fer them Armenyuns,” Mr. Patton suggested.
Jimmy shook his head.
“He wouldn’t be wearin’ a skirt over ’em. It’s a female.”
Mr. Patton started from his chair. “Shorly not, Jimmy,” he said, apprehensively. “Look at that cap, an’ coat, an’ necktie, an’ short hair.”
“It’s a woman,” insisted Jimmy, confidently. “There’s some of that brand runnin’ at large. Seen one in Washington named Walker. Gosh! See them eyes glitter through th’ specs.”
“What d’ye reckon she could want of me, Jimmy?” Mr. Patton asked, tremulously.
“Dunno. Matrimony mebbe—hold up there! What you goin’ to do?”
The red-shirted clerk had leaped forward and seized Mr. Patton’s wrist, for that gentleman had jerked the revolver from his belt, and his long forefinger was groping nervously for the trigger.
“Jest a couple o’ shots, Jimmy—over Its head—to skeer—”
“Scare! That brand don’t scare any more’n a rhinoceros. You’re in for it, Mr. Patton!”
“An’ there ain’t no law—”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Patton,” the strident voice of the approaching personage interrupted. “No, thank you, young man; I prefer to stand. Can talk better. No doubt you have heard of me, Mr. Patton. I am Miss Ripper—Miss Angelina Ripper—better known as A. Ripper, Apostle of Reform. Sent by our noble Society into these Western wilds upon a great and glorious mission, Mr. Patton; a mission that appeals to every generous impulse in the breast of man.”
Miss Ripper paused, filled her ample lungs with fresh mountain air, and glared at Mr. Patton, who retreated one step and murmured weakly, “Yes, ma’am.”
“I find a great work awaiting me in your little town,” pursued the Apostle. “A noble work, in which you will join me—in which you shall join me, Mr. Patton.”
Again Mr. Patton retreated one step, and murmured: “Yes, ma’am.”
“Ah, I knew you would; I could not err in my estimate of your manly nature. We will begin at once, Mr. Patton. Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, we will—”
“What’s th’ graft this time?” Mr. Patton broke in, desperately.
“What’s yer game—scheme—mission—or whatever ye call it?”
“My mission? Listen to me. Look me squarely in the eye, Mr. Patton, and heed my words. Down there, in that little town, two hundred female slaves of the tyrant Man lie bound in chains, denied the emancipating power of the ballot! More! In that same town the Demon of Rum rears his hateful head and stalks abroad, withering with baleful breath—”
“Looky here, ma’am,” exclaimed Pottering Pete, “I’m sorry to spile that speech, but ye’ll have to deal me a new hand; ye’ll have to talk English. What d’ye perpose to do to said town?”
The Apostle of Reform thrust out a long arm, terminating in a quivering forefinger, and struck a tragic pose.
“I propose, sir—and I defy any human being to impede the Progress of Reform—I propose to assemble those slaves and reveal to them those rights given by God and denied by Man. I propose, also, to drive the Demon of Rum from his lair. And generations yet unborn shall rise up and call me blessed!”
“Sum genyrashuns as is born’ll rise up, mighty suddent, an’ call ye sumthin’ else ef ye go to kickin’ up a rumpus,” Mr. Patton growled.
“Don’t try to intimidate me, sir! I know too well how loyally my sex will flock to my support when they have heard my battle-cry. You do not know the power of aroused womanhood. Mightier, far mightier, sir, than the hand that wields the sword is the hand that rocks the cradle.”
“Ye’d a darn sight better invest in th’ cradle-rockin’ bizness yerself, then,” observed Mr. Patton.
“And become the slave of tyrant Man ? Never—”
“Oh, I kin see ye have good reasons,” interrupted Mr. Patton, looking the Apostle over. “An’ now, ma’am, let me give ye a little tip. Ye’ve dropped off at th’ wrong station. Th’ boys here is well paid, an’ their women is contented an’ happy, fer we don’t keep no man who don’t treat his fambly right. An’ this ain’t no stampin’ ground fer th’ Demon Rum. There ain’t be’n no drunks here for over two year. Th’ boys takes their little dram, but they has to keep sober an’ peaceful, er git. There ain’t no grand an’ glorious misshun fer ye here, ma’am. So ye’d better move on an’ not start nothin’—sumthin’ might happen to hurt yer feelin’s.”
Miss Ripper laughed, scornfully and sarcastically.
“The stale, trite arguments of the blind and besotted! Hear me, benighted man! This very evening I begin my work, and woe to him who seeks to stay the Progress of Reform! Woe unto—”
“Don’t whoa me, ma’am,” growled Pottering Pete, dodging the quivering forefinger. “I ain’t no cayuse, Miss Nipper—”
“Yes, ma’am, Ripper. What I wuz goin’ to say, Miss Flipper—”
“Shore! I wuz jest a goin’ to remark, Miss Dipper, thet it’s dangerous to work yerself into sich a latherin’ sweat. Th’ temperachure might, drap suddently, an’ give ye a cold that would strike in.”
“You refuse to assist me, Mr. Patton?”
“I shorely do. Ye’re playin’ a lone hand this round. Count me out.”
“Very well, sir! You shall see what a woman, armed in the cause of right, can accomplish single-handed. You shall bitterly regret the glorious opportunity you have cast away. Mark my words!”
The Apostle of Reform stalked majestically down the slope. Mr. Patton heaved a sigh of relief, and dried his perspiring face with his shirt sleeve.
“Sence I stumbled onto th’ Lucky Tumble mine,” he asserted, watching the retreating figure of Miss Ripper, “I’ve be'n pestered by all kinds o’ people with all kinds o’ schemes, but th’ ’postle shorely duz hold th’ gavel. She’s a wantin’ to be bought off, Jimmy. Ef she riles up them female slaves down yander there’s a goin’ to be trubbel.”
The red-shirted clerk grinned and nodded, concurrently, and returned to his desk, leaving Mr. Patton in deep meditation.
“Jimmy,” Mr. Patton called, after awhile, “I kind o’ thought I heerd a yell. Jest take a peep out o’ th’ south winder.”
“Looks like sumthin’ had erupted down at Shorty’s Place, Mr. Patton,” Jimmy reported.
Pottering Pete arose slowly and slouched around the office building to the window that commanded a view of the little town. Looking downward he discerned a group of agitated children gathered at a safe distance from Shorty’s front door. An instant later Shorty himself emerged tumultuously, holding his head with both hands, while the Apostle of Reform, brandishing an ax, appeared in the doorway.
“The reform movement has begun,” observed Mr. Patton. “Th’ ’Postle is Nationizin’ Shorty’s Place, fer a starter.”
The red-shirted clerk snorted indignantly. “If it was only a man!” he snarled.
Pottering Pete scratched his bearded chin.
“But it’s a woman, Jimmy,” he said, softly. “I reckolect ol’ Doc Phipps useta say thet like cured like. Ain’t Mike Hannigan’s shack th’ third frum th’ big boulder, down there, Jimmy?”
“I don’t like to impede th’ progress uv reform,” Mr. Patton continued, “but I kind o’ reckon it’s up to Mike’s wife to take a fall out o’ th’ Senorita Bloomerino. I’m a goin’ now to persuade her to organize a box party of them female slaves to attend th’ ’postle’s show, Jimmy. I’ll be back in an hour.”
When he returned, Mr. Patton seemed full of suppressed elation.
“Th’ ’postle’s meetin’s goin’ to begin in a few minnits, Jimmy,” he announced. “Th’ slaves is a gatherin’ now, right down there in th’ flat, to hear th’ ’mancipashun procklymashun. We’ll set here in th’ winder an’ watch th’ proceeding.”
“And Mrs. Hannigan’s box party—“
“Will attend, Jimmy. It’s a gatherin’ now, back uv Mike’s shack. 'Twould shock ye to hear Mrs. Hannigan’s opinyun uv th’ ’postle, Jimmy. Not a drap uv beer did th’ Hannigan’s have fer supper, ’count o’ Shorty’s Place bein’ wrecked. ’Twas lucky fer th’ ’postle I got to Hannigan’s jest as I did. Mrs. Hannigan wuz jest a startin’ to hurl th’ curse uv Rome an’ a few bricks at th’ ’postle’s head.”
“They mustn’t hurt the Apostle,” said Jimmy, in alarm. “I ain’t got no special love for her, but she’s a—“
“No danger, Jimmy,” said Mr. Patton. “Jest a little escort uv slaves down to th’ deep hole in th’ crick, an’ then to the seven-thirty train—which n’ ‘postle’ll probably be anxious to git away on.”
The red-shirted clerk grinned approvingly.
“There’s th’ ‘postle now. Jimmy,” exclaimed Mr. Patton. “A climbing up th’ big boulder to begin her revylashun to th’ slaves.”
Dusk had settled over mountains and gulch, but the brilliancy of a full moon enabled the two watchers almost to distinguish the faces of the little assemblage of roughly clad women that surrounded Miss Ripper as her first shrill tones floated up the slope.
Soon another voice chimed in—the harsh and powerful voice of a towering giantess, who shook her bare and brawny arms above her auburn head as she shouted:
“It’s a brazen hussy ye air, a cavoortin’ around in thim pants, an’ a causin’ thrubble in th’ town. Out wid ye, a callin’ dacint wimmin slaves—as though lookin’ afther her ould mon that wurrks fer her, an’ th’ little childer that cries fer her, wasn’t all th’ roights anny dacint woman wants. Kim down off there!
The bare and brawny arms had reached up and plucked the astounded Apostle from her perch. Quietly and quickly, in regular order, the little procession disappeared around a bend in the gulch.
“Can’t we slip down and see th’ baptism?" asked the red-shirted clerk, eagerly.
Mr. Patton shook his head.
“It’s fer female slaves only, Jimmy. How many dips d’ye reckon th’ postle’ll stand afore she agrees to be good?”
“Down an' out in three rounds,” Jimmy ventured. "Her jaw swings too loose for a stayer.''
"Yer a good guesser, Jimmy,” remarked Pottering Pete, after several moments of expectant silence. "They’re a comin’ back—in plenty o’ time fer that seven-thirty. Observe th’ Senorita Bloomerino, Jimmy; she’s had a change uv raiment, ez well ez of convickshuns. She’s a wear-in’ one uv Mrs. Hannigan's wrappers—an’ wearin’ it with th’ grace uv a Dutchus at a soshul funkshun. There’s nuthin’ like th’ water-cure, Jimmy—‘specshully ef th’ water’s cold."
"Pay ye to start a sanitarium down there, Mr. Patton,” suggested the red-shirted clerk.
"What kind uv a flag’s that Mrs. Hannigan’s a carryin’ on that pole?’’ asked Pete, craning his long neck. "’Tain’t th’ flag uv ol’ Erin, is it, Jimmy?”
The red-shirted clerk shaded his eyes with his hand, and peered sharply downward at the procession as it moved up the only street of the town, toward the railroad station.
"S’help me Dr. Mary Walker!" he ejaculated. "It’s bloomers!”
Pottering Pete slid from the window to the ground, took a fresh bite of Miner’s Twist, and stroked his bearded chin caressingly.
“Th’ reform movement is busted,” he said, mildly, “an’ th’ victors has th’ spoils. Bloomers! two uv a kind, an’ no keerds to fill with, sence th’ ’postle hez quit th’ game. Jimmy, I move we go down to Shorty’s Place an’ see ef we can’t find enuff fragments of th’ Demon uv Rum to celybrate th’ ockashun uv our impedin’ th’ Progress uv Reform.”