A Ruler of Men
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 sandstorm; 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 gentlemans key-ring.
And then a stall-fed cop shoved himself through the congregation of customers. The vendor, 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 an arm.
Without his looking at me or slowing his pace, I found a five-dollar bill crumpled neatly into my hand.
I wouldnt have thought, Kansas Bill, I said, that youd 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 Ill have the cop after you for false pretences. 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 sun-burned? What will you drink?
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 forgathered 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.
Yes, said he, I mind the time Timoteos rope broke on that cows horns while the calf was chasing you. You and that cow! Id never forget it.
The tropics, said I, are a broad territory. What part of Cancer or Capricorn have you been honouring with a visit?
Down along China or Peruor maybe the Argentine Confederacy, said Kansas Bill. Anyway twas among a great race of people, off-coloured but progressive. I was there three months.
No doubt you are glad to be back among the truly great race, I surmised. Especially among New Yorkers, the most progressive and independent citizens of any country in the world, I continued, with the fatuity of the provincial who has eaten the Broadway lotus.
Do you want to start an argument? asked Bill.
Can there be one? I answered.
Has an Irishman humour, do you think? asked he.
I have an hour or two to spare, said I, looking at the café clock.
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