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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Night-Watch and the Would-Be Something Awful

Guest Blogger: George Ade. Keeping the English language safe and pure always has been a priority for bluenoses, who found their beezers suitably tweaked when Chicago newspaperman Ade (1866-1944) enjoyed great success with his Fables in Slang. The tale below was collected in Ade’s book People You Know in 1903, with illustrations by John T. McCutcheon.


ONCE THERE WAS A full-sized Girl named Florine whose Folks kept close Tab on her. Any night-blooming Harold who presumed to keep the Parlor open after Midnight heard low Voices in the Hallway and then a Rap on the Door. If Florine put on her Other Dress and went to a Hop then Mother would sit up and wait for her, and 1 o’clock was the Outside Limit. Consequently Florine would have to duck on the Festivities just when everything was getting Good. Furthermore she would have to warn Mr. Escort to behave himself when they drew near the House.

“Nothing doing at the Gate,” she would say, warningly. “It’s Dollars to Dumplings that the Girl Detective is peeking out to get a line on my Conduct. She has her Ear to the Ground about four-thirds of the Time and if any one makes a Move, then Mother is Next. If Father takes a Drink at the Club and then {38} starts Homeward on a fast Trolley, Mother knows all about it when he is still three Blocks from the House. What’s more, she is a knowing Bird and can’t be fooled by Cloves or these little Peppermint Choo-Choos. The only time when Mother kisses Father is when she wants to catch him with the Goods. Look Out! This is our Corner.”

As soon as they had landed at the Gate, little Florine would say in loud, clear Tones that would carry as far as the Sitting-Room Window, “Oh, Mr. Gilblitz, I have had a most charming Evening, and I wish to thank you most heartily.”

Whereupon the Escort, standing 8 Feet away, with his Concertina Hat in his Hand and the Face in the Moonlight beaming with child-like Innocence, would come back thusly: “It’s awfully good of you to say that. Good Night.”

After which, Mother was supposed to believe that they had been 8 feet apart all Evening. But Mother was Canny and up to Snuff, with a Memory that reached back at least 25 Years. These little One-Act Plays under the Window did not throw her off for any part of a Minute. Before Florine turned in she was Cross-Examined and required to tell with whom she had danced, and why and how often and what he said. Occasionally the Daughter worked the Mental Reservation. In other Words, she held out on Mother. She said that she had sat out most of the Numbers, but she admitted going through a Square Dance with the Young Man who passed the Plate at the Episcopal Church.

At which Mother would wink the Off Eye and murmur, “Is that so?” with the Loud Pedal on the “That.” Also something about being more than Seven.

One of Florine’s Ancestors on Mother’s Side happened to be on Earth at the time of the Revolution, and Father often spoke of a Second Cousin who had been in Congress until the District tumbled to him. Because of this Current of Blue Blood racing in her Veins, Florine was supposed to be a trifle Classy and Mother was always afraid that she might get Thumb-Marks on the Family Escutcheon. Therefore Florine was forbidden to work up a Calling Acquaintance with any of the Hoi Polloi, which is Greek for Selling-Platers. According to Mother, there were only about 8 Families in Town that really belonged and some of them didn’t Belong enough to hurt. Florine found herself cut out of many a Good Time because the Chaperon for the Occasion chanced to be related to some one who had been in the Liquor Business.

Florine was up against it ever so Hard. She had to go out in the Grape Arbor when she wanted to chew Gum, and she kept her Reading Matter under the Mattress. Nearly every high-speed Bachelor in Town had been forbidden the Premises because of the Stories that were going around. The kind that Mother approved were of the Lilac Division with White Puff Ties and their Hair glued down. They talked about Choir Practice and sometimes, when they were sufficiently wrought up, they played Charades.

The only Chance that Florine had to mingle with the Popular Boys was to go down Town in the Afternoon and just happen to meet one of them at the Ice-Cream Parlor. Florine learned to be quite a Happener. But on the way home she would have to fix up a few Jules Vernes for the Old Lady in the Watch Tower. Mother knew that it didn’t take 4 Hours to be measured for a Shirt Waist.

The Night-Watch
“Wait until I get Married,” Florine would say. “I’ll make that 20-hour Flyer look like a Steam-Roller. If Mother doesn’t let up on me, I’ll learn to smoke Cigarettes.”

At times she was so Desperate that she was ready to join a Troupe or elope with a Drummer. She wanted to get out among the Bright Lights and hear the Band play. And she knew that she couldn’t turn Flip-Flops and break Furniture and play Rag-Time along after Midnight until she had become a Respectable. Married Woman. So she had her Distress Signal out and used to drop very Broad Hints, when she was chatting with the Lads who happened to be in the Soda-Water Resort when she dropped in. They liked Florine for Keeps, but when one of them thought of clinching with old Eagle-Eye, the Family Sleuth, he weakened.

Florine would have remained a Dead Card if she had not gone on a Visit to a neighboring City where she bumped into the Town Trifler. He had a Way of proposing to every Girl the first time he met her. It always seemed to him such a cordial Send-Off for a budding Friendship. Usually the Girl asked for Time and then the two of them would Fiddle around and Fuss and Make Up and finally send back all the Letters and that would be the Finish. Florine fooled the foxy Philander. The Moment he came at her with the Marriage Talk she took a firm Hold and said, “You’re on! Get your License to-morrow morning. Then cut all the Telegraph Wires and burn the Railroad Bridges.”

They were Married, and, strange as it may appear, Mother immediately resigned her Job as Policeman and said: “Thank goodness, I’ve got you Married Off! Now you can do as you please.”

When Florine found that she could do as she pleased she discovered that there wasn’t very much of anything to do except Settle Down. After about seven Chafing-Dish Parties she expended her whole Stock of pent-up Ginger and now she is just as Quiet as the rest of us.

MORAL: Any System is O.K. if it finally Works Out.

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