Stories from the early twentieth century


Many a man who has suffered from tongue-lashings at home will be moved to profound sympathy for the victim described as follows in a local news item of a country paper:

“Alice Jardine, a married woman, was charged with unlawfully wounding her husband, Charles Jardine, a laborer, by striking him with a pair of tongues.”


The victim of the Klu Klux Klan plucked some feathers from his neck with one hand, while he picked gingerly at the tar on his legs with the other.

“The excitement,” he murmured, “rose to a terrible pitch, but it soon came down.”


A noted humorist once spent a few weeks with a tribe of western Indians. On his return, he was asked concerning his experiences. One question was:

“Did you ever taste any dog-feast stew?”

“Yes,” was the melancholy reply. “I tasted it twice-once when it went down, and once when it came up.”

* * *

It’s all a matter of taste, as the old lady said when she kissed the cow.

[Pg 230]

* * *

The master of the house was hungry at breakfast, and swallowed a good part of his bacon before he tasted it. Then he took time to protest violently to his wife against the flavor of the food. The good lady offered no apology, but rang for the servant. When the latter appeared, the mistress asked a question that was little calculated to soothe her husband.

“Maggie,” she inquired serenely, “what did you do with the bacon we poisoned for the rats?”


The kind lady stopped to tell the sobbing little girl not to cry, and she offered as a convincing argument:

“You know it makes little girls homely.”

The child stared belligerently at the benevolent lady, and then remarked:

“You must have cried an awful lot when you was young.”


“Please tell me, James,” directed the young lady teacher, “where shingles were first used?”

“I could, ma’am,” little Jimmie replied in great embarrassment, “but I’d rather not.”


When the bishop was entertained at an English country house, the butler coached carefully the new boy[Pg 231] who was to carry up the jug of hot water for shaving in the morning.

“When you knock,” the butler explained, “and he asks, ‘Who’s there?’ then you must say, ‘It’s the boy, my Lord.'”

The lad, in much nervous trepidation, duly carried up the hot water, but in answer to the bishop’s query as to who was at the door, he announced:

“It’s the Lord, my boy!”

The butler overheard and was horrified. He hammered into the youth’s consciousness, the fact that a bishop must be addressed as my lord. Finally, he was satisfied that the boy understood, and permitted him to assist in serving the dinner that night. The youngster was sent to the bishop to offer a plate of cheese. With shaking knees, he presented the dish to the prelate, and faltered:

“My God, will you have some cheese?”

* * *

The master of the house returned from business somewhat early. He did not find his wife about, and so called downstairs to the cook:

“Bridget, do you know anything of my wife’s whereabouts?”

“No, sor,” Bridget answered, “Sure, I know nothin’ but I’m thinkin’, sor, it’s likely they’re in the wash.”


Paul Smith, the famous hotel-keeper in the Adirondacks, told of a law suit that he had with a man named Jones in Malone.

[Pg 232]

“It was this way: I sat in the courtroom before the case opened with my witnesses around me. Then Jones bustled in. He stopped abruptly, and looked my witnesses over carefully. Presently he turned to me.

“‘Paul,’ he asked, ‘are those your witnesses?’

“‘They are,’ I replied.

“‘Then you win,’ he exclaimed. ‘I’ve had them witnesses twice myself.'”

* * *

The grateful woman on the farm in Arkansas wrote to the vendors of the patent medicine:

“Four weeks ago I was so run down that I could not spank the baby. After taking three bottles of your Elegant Elixir I am now able to thrash my husband in addition to my other housework. God bless you!”

* * *

In one of the most desolate areas of Montana, a claim was taken by a man from Iowa. The nearest neighbor, from twenty miles away, visited the homesteader’s shack, and introduced himself.

“Where did you come from?” the visitor inquired presently, and when he had been told:

“I can’t understand why anybody should want to get out of that civilized country to come and live in this lonesomeness.”

“Fact was,” the man from Iowa explained somberly, “I didn’t exactly like it down there any more. You see, it was this way. They got to telling things about me. Why, they even said I was a liar and hoss thief, and no better than I ought to be. And, by Jemima,[Pg 233] I jest pulled out and went right away from them scandalous folks.”

“Well, I swan!” the visitor exclaimed indignantly. “You can bet I wouldn’t leave a place for any reason like that. I’d make them prove what they said.”

The homesteader sighed dismally as he answered:

“That’s jest the trouble-they did prove it!”


The mother, who was a believer in strict discipline, sternly addressed her little daughter, who sat wofully shrinking in the dentist’s chair as the ogre approached forceps in hand:

“Now, Letty, if you cry, I’ll never take you to the dentist’s again.”


A Scotchman was questioned by a friend:

“Mac, I hear ye have fallen in love wi’ bonny Kate McAllister.”

“Weel, Sanders,” Mac replied, “I was near-veera near-doin’ it, but the bit lassy had nae siller, so I said to meaself, ‘Mac, be a mon.’ And I was a mon, and noo I jist pass her by.”

* * *

The thrifty housewife regarded her dying husband with stern disapproval as he moaned and tossed restlessly from side to side.

“William Henry,” she rebuked him, “you jest needn’t kick and squirm so, and wear them best sheets all out, even if you be a-dyin’.”

[Pg 234]


The ardent lover heard the clock strike the hours-first nine, then ten, then eleven. At the sound of twelve strokes, he burst forth passionately:

“How fleet are the hours in your presence, my beloved!”

“Don’t be silly!” the girl chided. “That’s pa setting the clock.”


The prize bull-dog attacked a farmer, who defended himself with a pitchfork, and in doing so killed the dog. The owner was greatly distressed, and reproached the farmer.

“Why didn’t you use the other end of the fork,” he demanded, “and just beat him off, without killing him?”

“I would have,” the farmer answered, “if he had come at me with the other end.”


The native pointed with pride to two doddering ancients hobbling painfully down the village street, and informed the stranger:

“Them fellers is the Dusenbury twins-ninety-eight year old!” The visitor was duly impressed, and asked to what the pair of venerable citizens attributed their long life.

“It’s kind o’ which and t’ other,” the native confessed. “Obadiah declares its all along o’ his chewin’[Pg 235] an’ smokin’ an’ snuffin’ day in an’ day out, fer nigh onto a hundred year; an’ Ebenezer declares he has his health becase he never touched the filthy weed.”


The little girl who had observed certain details in the toilette preparations of her elders, was observed by her mother at work over her most elaborate doll in a somewhat strange manner.

“Whatever are you trying to do with your doll, Mary?” the mother asked.

“I’m just going to put her to bed, mummy,” the child replied seriously. “I’ve taken off her hair, but I can’t get her teeth out.”


An old lady in the London parish of the famous Doctor Gill made a nuisance of herself by constant interference in the affairs of others. As a gossip she was notorious. It appeared to her that the neckbands worn by the Doctor were longer than was fitting. She therefore took occasion to visit the clergyman, and harangued him at length on the sinfulness of pride. Then she exhibited a pair of scissors, and suggested that she should cut down the offending neckbands to a size fitting her ideas of propriety. The Doctor listened patiently to her exhortation, and at the end offered her the neckbands on which to work her will. She triumphantly trimmed them to her taste, and returned the shorn remnants to the minister.

[Pg 236]

“And now,” said the Doctor, “you must do me a good turn also.”

“That I will, Doctor,” the woman declared heartily. “What can it be?”

“Well,” the clergyman explained, “you have something about you which is a deal too long and which causes me and many others such trouble, that I should like to see it shorter.”

“Indeed, dear Doctor, I shall not hesitate to gratify you. What is it? See, here are the scissors! Use them as you please.”

“Come, then,” said the Doctor, “good sister, put out your tongue.”


The Italian workman in the West was warned to look out for rattlesnakes. He was assured, however, that a snake would never strike until after sounding the rattles. One day, while seated on a log, eating his lunch, the Italian saw a rattlesnake coiled ready to strike. He lifted his legs carefully, with the intention of darting away on the other side of the log the moment the rattles should sound their warning. But just as his feet cleared the top of the log, the snake struck out and its fangs were buried in the wood only the fraction of an inch below the Italian’s trousers. The frightened man fled madly, but he took breath to shriek over his shoulder:

“Son of a gun! Why you no ringa da bell?”

[Pg 237]


When the domestic event was due, the prospective father, being ordered out of the house, celebrated the[Pg 238] occasion with many friends in a number of saloons. He celebrated so well that the clock was striking three in the morning when he entered the house. A nurse hurried to him, and undid some wrappings that revealed three tiny faces. The father stared reproachfully at the clock in the hall, and then, again regarding his group of children, spoke earnestly:

“Oi’m not superstitious, but Oi thank hivin Oi didn’t come home at twelve!”


The little girl evidently appreciated the fact that all men and women are liars, for Punch records the following as the dialogue between her and her mother when she had been caught in a fib:

Mother: “It is very naughty to tell untruths, Kitty. Those who do so, never go to heaven.”

Kitty: “Don’t you ever tell an untruth, Mummy?”

Mother: “No, dear-never.”

Kitty: “Well, you’ll be fearfully lonely, won’t you, with only George Washington?”


The woman lecturing on dress reform was greatly shocked when she read the report as published in the local paper. The writer had been innocent enough, for his concluding sentence was:

“The lady lecturer on dress wore nothing that was remarkable.”

[Pg 239]

But the merry compositor inserted a period, which was left undisturbed by the proofreader, so that the published statement ran:

“The lady lecturer on dress wore nothing. That was remarkable.”

* * *

The poet, in a fine frenzy, dashed off a line that was really superb:

“See the pale martyr in his sheet of fire.”

The devilish compositor so tangled the words that, when the poem was published, this line read:

“See the pale martyr with his shirt on fire.”

* * *

The critic, in his review of the burlesque, wrote:

“The ladies of Prince Charming’s household troops filled their parts to perfection.”

The compositor, in his haste, read an n for the r in the word parts, and the sentence, thus changed, radically in its significance, duly appeared in the morning paper.


An American girl who married a Bavarian baron enjoyed playing Lady Bountiful among the tenants on her husband’s estate. On the death of the wife of one of the cottagers, she called to condole with the bereaved widower. She uttered her formal expressions of sympathy with him in his grief over the loss of his wife, and she was then much disconcerted by his terse optimistic comment:

[Pg 240]

“But it’s a good thing, your ladyship, that it wasn’t the cow.”

Wives are to be had for the asking; cows are not.


The fair penitent explained to the confessor how greatly she was grieved by an accusing conscience. She bewailed the fact that she was sadly given over to personal vanity. She added that on this very morning she had gazed into her mirror and had yielded to the temptation of thinking herself beautiful.

“Is that all, my daughter?” the priest demanded.

“Then, my daughter,” the confessor bade her, “go in peace, for to be mistaken is not to sin.”


That celebrated statue, the Winged Victory, has suffered during the centuries to the extent of losing its head and other less vital parts. When the Irish tourist was confronted by this battered figure in the museum, and his guide had explained that this was the famous statue of victory, he surveyed the marble form with keen interest.

“Victory, is ut?” he said, “Thin, begorra, Oi’d loike to see the other fellow.”


A report has come from Mexico concerning the doings of three revolutionary soldiers who visited a ranch, which was the property of an American spinster and[Pg 241] her two nieces. The girls are pretty and charming, but the aunt is somewhat elderly and much faded, though evidently of a dauntless spirit. The three soldiers looked over the property and the three women, and then declared that they were tired of fighting, and had decided to marry the women and make their home on the ranch.

The two girls were greatly distressed and terrified, but even in their misery they were unselfish.

“We are but two helpless women,” they said in effect, “and if we must, we bow to our cruel fate. But please-oh, please-spare our dear auntie. Do not marry her.”

At this point, their old-maid relation spoke up for herself:

“Now, now, you girls-you mind your own business. War is war.”

* * *

“How do countries come to go to war?” the little boy inquired, looking up from his book.

“For various reasons,” explained the father. “Now, there was Germany and Russia. They went to war because the Russians mobilized.”

“Not at all, my dear,” the wife interrupted. “It was because the Austrians-”

“Tut, tut, my love!” the husband remonstrated. “Don’t you suppose I know?”

“Certainly not-you are all wrong. It was because-”

“Mrs. Perkins, I tell you it was because-”

“Benjamin, you ought to know better, you have boggled-”

[Pg 242]

“Your opinion, madam, has not been requested in this matter.”

“Shut up! I won’t have my child mistaught by an ignoramus.”

“Don’t you dare, you impudent-”

“And don’t you dare bristle at me, or I’ll-”

“Oh, never mind!” the little boy intervened. “I think I know now how wars begin.”

* * *

At our entry into the World War, a popular young man enlisted and before setting forth for camp in his uniform made a round of farewell calls. The girl who first received him made an insistent demand:

“You’ll think of me every single minute when you’re in those stupid old trenches!”

“Every minute,” he agreed solemnly.

“And you’ll kiss my picture every night.”

“Twice a night,” he vowed, with the girl’s pretty head on the shoulder of the new uniform coat.

“And you’ll write me long, long letters?” she pleaded.

“I’ll write every spare minute,” he assured her, “and if I haven’t any spare minutes, I’ll take ’em anyhow.”

After a tender interval punctuated with similar ardent promises, he went away from there, and called on another girl. In fact, he called on ten separate and distinct pretty girls, and each of them was tender and sought his promises, which he gave freely and ardently and when it was all done with, he communed with himself somewhat sadly.

“I do hope,” he said wearily, “there won’t be much[Pg 243] fighting to do over there-for I’m going to be awfully busy.”


At the time when petroleum began to be used instead of whale oil for burning in lamps, a kindly old lady was deeply perturbed by the change.

“What,” she wanted to know, “will the poor whales do now?”


An elderly man was on his way home by train from a session of three days at a convention of his political[Pg 244] party. (This was antedating the era of prohibition.) The man’s personal preferences had been gratified in the nominations at the convention, and he had celebrated in a way only too common in the bibulous period of our history. His absorption in other things and of other things had led him to neglect shaving throughout the three days. Now, as he chanced to move his hand over his chin, it encountered the long growth of white bristles, and he was aroused to a realization of his neglect. To determine just how badly he needed a shave, the elderly gentleman opened his handbag, and fumbled in it for a mirror. In his confused condition, he seized on a silver-backed hair-brush of the same set, pulled it forth, and held it up to his face with the bristles toward him. He studied these with great care, groaned and muttered:

“I look worse than I thought for. Whatever will Sarah Ann say!”


One of the ladies assembled at the club was describing the wedding she had just attended:

“And then, just as Frank and the widow started up the aisle to the altar, every light in the church went out.”

The listeners exclaimed over the catastrophe.

“And what did the couple do then?” someone questioned.

“Kept on going. The widow knew the way.”

* * *

A widow visited a spiritualistic medium, who [Pg 245]satisfactorily produced the deceased husband for a domestic chat.

“Dear John,” the widow questioned eagerly, “are you happy now?”

“I am very happy,” the spook assured her.

“Happier than you were on earth with me?” the widow continued, greatly impressed.

“Yes,” John asserted, “I am far happier now than I was on earth with you.”

“Oh, do tell me, John,” the widow cried rapturously, “what is it like in heaven?”

“Heaven!” the answer snapped. “I ain’t in heaven!”


During the parade at the last encampment of the G.A.R., a woman in the crowd of spectators made herself not only conspicuous, but rather a nuisance by the way she carried on. She waved a flag with such vigor as to endanger the bystanders and yelled to deafen them. An annoyed man in the crowd after politely requesting her to moderate her enthusiasm, quite without effect, bluntly told her to shut up.

“Shut up yourself!” she retorted in high indignation. “If you had buried two husbands who had served in the war, you would be hurrahing, too.”


A young skeptic in the congregation once interrupted Billy Sunday with the question:

[Pg 246]

“Who was Cain’s wife?”

The Evangelist answered in all seriousness:

“I honor every seeker after knowledge of the truth. But I have a word of warning for this questioner. Don’t risk losing salvation by too much inquiring after other men’s wives.”


The old sea captain was surrounded at the tea party, to which his wife had dragged him, much against his will, by a group of women pestering him for a story from his adventures. Finally, at the end of his patience, he began.

“Once, I was shipwrecked on the coast of South America, and there I came across a tribe of wild women, who had no tongues.”

“Mercy!” exclaimed all the fair listeners with one voice. “But they couldn’t talk.”

“That,” snapped the old sea captain, “was what made them wild.”


It’s a wise child that goes out of the room to laugh when the old man mashes his thumb.


A cynic, considering the fact that women was the last thing made by God, asserts that the product shows both His experience and His fatigue.

[Pg 247]

* * *

The following extract is from the diary of a New England woman who lived in the eighteenth century:

“We had roast pork for dinner and the Doctor, who carved, held up a rib on his fork, and said: ‘Here, ladies, is what Mother Eve was made of.'”

“‘Yes,’ said sister Patty, ‘and it is from very much the same kind of critter’.”

* * *

The little girl reported at home what she had learned at Sunday School concerning the creation of Adam and Eve:

“The teacher told us how God made the first man and the first woman. He made the man first. But the man was very lonely with nobody to talk to him. So God put the man to sleep. And while the man was asleep, God took out his brains, and made a woman of them.”


During the agitation in behalf of woman’s suffrage, an ardent advocate pleaded with a tired-looking married woman, and said:

“Just think! Wouldn’t you love to go with your husband to the voting place, and there cast your vote along with his?”

The woman shook her head decisively and she answered:

“For goodness sake! If there’s one single thing that a man’s able to do by himself, let him do it.”

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