English Literature

The Cheerful Smugglers by Ellis Parker Butler

The Cheerful Smugglers by Ellis Parker Butler.jpg



Bobberts was the baby, and ever since Bobberts was born—and that was nine months next Wednesday, and just look what a big, fat boy he is now!—his parents had been putting all their pennies into a little pottery pig, so that when Bobberts reached the proper age he could go to college. The money in the little pig bank was officially known as “Bobberts’ Education Fund,” and next to Bobberts himself was the thing in the house most talked about. It was “Tom, dear, have you put your pennies in the bank this evening?” or “I say, Laura, how about Bobberts’ pennies to-day. Are you holding out on him?” And then, when they came to count the contents of the bank, there were only twenty-three dollars and thirty-eight cents in it after nine months of faithful penny contributions.

That was how Fenelby, who had a great mind for such things, came to think of the Fenelby tariff. It was evident that the penny system could not be counted on to pile up a sum large enough to see Bobberts through Yale and leave a margin big enough for him to live on while he was getting firmly established in his profession, whatever that profession might be. What was needed in the Fenelby family was a system that would save money for Bobberts gently and easily, and that would not be easy to forget nor be too palpable a strain on the Fenelby income. Something that would make them save in spite of themselves; not a direct tax, but what you might call an indirect tax—and right there was where and how the idea came to Fenelby.

“That’s the idea!” he said to Mrs. Fenelby. “That is the very thing we want! An indirect tax, just as this nation pays its taxes, and the tariff is the very thing! It’s as simple as A B C. The nation charges a duty on everything that comes into the country; we will charge a duty on everything that comes into the house, and the money goes into Bobberts’ education fund. We won’t miss the money that way. That’s the beauty of an indirect tax: you don’t know you are paying it. The government collects a little on one thing that is imported,and a little on another, and no one cares, because the amount is so small on each thing, and yet look at the total—hundreds of millions of dollars!”

“Goodness!” exclaimed Mrs. Fenelby. “Can we save that much for Bobberts? Of course, not hundreds of millions; but if we could save even one hundred thousand dollars—”

“Laura,” said Mr. Fenelby, “I don’t believe you understand what I mean. If you would pay a little closer attention when I am explaining things you would understand better. A tariff doesn’t make money out of nothing. How could we save a hundred thousand dollars out of my salary, when the whole salary is only twenty-five hundred dollars a year, and we spend every cent of it?”

“But, Tom dear,” said Mrs. Fenelby, “how can I help spending it? You know I am just as economical as I can be. You said yourself that we couldn’t live on a cent less than we are spending. You know I would be only too glad to save, if I could, and I didn’t get that new dress until you just begged and begged me to get it, and—”

“I know,” said Mr. Fenelby, kindly. “I think you do wonders with that twenty-five hundred. I don’t see how you do it; I couldn’t. And that is just why I say we ought to have a domestic tariff. I don’t see how we can ever save enough to send Bobberts to college unless we have some system. We spend every cent of my twenty-five hundred dollars every year, and we could never in the world take two hundred and fifty dollars out of it at one time and put it in the bank for Bobberts, could we? We never have two hundred and fifty dollars at one time. And yet two hundred and fifty dollars is only ten per cent. of my yearly salary. But if I buy a cigar for ten cents it would be no hardship for me to put a cent in the bank for Bobberts, would it? Not a bit! And if you buy an ice cream soda; it would not cramp our finances to put a cent in the bank for each soda, would it? And yet a cent is ten per cent. of a dime.”

“That is very simple and very easy,” said Mrs. Fenelby, “and I think it would be a very good plan. I think we ought to begin at once.”

“So do I,” said Mr. Fenelby. “But we don’t want to begin a thing like this and then let it slip from our minds after a day or two. If the government did that the nation’s revenue would all fade away. We ought to go at it in a business-like way, just as the United States would do it. We ought to write it down, and then live up to it. Now, I’ll write it down.”

Mr. Fenelby went to his desk and took a seat before it. He opened the desk and pulled from beneath the pile of loose papers and tissue patterns with which it was littered the large blankbook in which Mrs. Fenelby, in one of her spurts of economical system, had once begun a record of household expenditures—a bothersome business that lasted until she had to foot up the first week’s figures, and then stopped. There were plenty of blank leaves in the book. Mr. Fenelby dipped his pen in the ink. Mrs. Fenelby took up her sewing, and began to stitch a seam. Bobberts lay asleep on the lounge at the other side of the room.

Mr. Fenelby was not over thirty. His chubby, smiling face radiated enthusiasm, and if he was not very tall he had a noble forehead that rounded up to meet the baldness that began so far back that his hat showed a little half-moon of baldness at the back. He looked cheerfully at the world through rather strong spectacles, and everyone said how much he looked like Bobberts. Mrs. Fenelby was younger, but she took a much more matter-of-fact view of life and things, and Mr. Fenelby never ceased congratulating himself on having married her. “My wife Laura,” he would say to his friends, “has great executive ability. She is a wonder. I let her attend to the little details.” The truth was that she managed him, and managed the house, and managed all their affairs. She took to the management naturally and Mr. Fenelby did not know that he was being managed. They were very happy.

Mr. Fenelby turned toward his wife suddenly, still holding his pen in his hand. He had not written a word, but his face glowed.

“I tell you, Laura!” he exclaimed. “This is the best idea we have had since we were married! It is a big idea! What we ought to do—what we will do—is to have a family congress and adopt this tariff in the right way, and write it down. That is what we will do—and then, any time we want to change the tariff we will have a session of the family congress, and vote on it.”

“That will be nice, Tom,” said Mrs. Fenelby, biting off her thread, but not looking up. Mr. Fenelby turned back to his blankbook. He dipped his pen in the ink again, and hesitated.

“How would it do,” he asked, turning to Laura again, “to call it the ‘United States of Fenelby?’ Or the ‘Commonwealth of Fenelby?’ No!” he exclaimed, “I’ll tell you what we will call it—we will call it the ‘Commonwealth of Bobberts,’ for that is what it is. ‘The Domestic Tariff of the Commonwealth of Bobberts!’”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Fenelby, holding up her sewing and looking at it with her head tilted to one side, “that will be nice.”

Mr. Fenelby wrote it in his blankbook, at the top of the first blank page.

“Fine!” said Mr. Fenelby, growing more enthusiastic as the idea expanded in his mind. “And the congress will be composed of everyone in the family. No taxation without representation, you know—that is the American way of doing things. Everything that comes into the house has to pay a duty, so everyone in the family has a vote, and every so often the congress will meet in the parlor here—”

“Does Bobberts have a vote?” asked Mrs. Fenelby.

“Ah—well, Bobberts is hardly old enough, you know,” said Mr. Fenelby hesitatingly. “We will—No,” he said with sudden inspiration, “Bobberts will not have a vote. Bobberts will be a Territory! That is it. Grown-ups will be States and infants will be Territories. Bobberts can’t vote, but he can attend the meetings of congress and he can have a voice in the debates. He can oppose any measure with his voice—”

“I should think he could!” said Mrs. Fenelby.

Mr. Fenelby turned to his desk and wrote in the book a brief outline of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Bobberts. Mrs. Fenelby creased a tuck into the little dress she was making. She did it by pinning one end of the sheer linen to her knee and then running her thumb up and down the folded tuck. Suddenly the door opened and Bridget entered with aggressive quietness. She was a plain faced Irishwoman, and the way she wore her hair, straight back from her brow, had in itself an air of constant readiness to do battle for her rights. When she was noisy her noise was a challenge, and when she was quiet her quietness was full of mute assertiveness. It was as if, when she wished to enter a room quietly, she was not content to enter it quietly and be satisfied with that, but first prepared for it by draping herself in strings of cow-bells and sleigh-bells, and then entered on tip-toe with painful care.

“Missus Fenelby, ma’am,” said Bridget, in a loud whisper, “would ye be havin’ th’ milkman lave wan or two quarts ov milk in th’ mornin’?”

“Why, Bridget,” said Mrs. Fenelby, “haven’t I told you we always want two quarts?”

“Yis, ma’am,” said Bridget. “An’ ye can’t say that ye haven’t got thim iv’ry mornin’, either. If ye can, an’ wish t’ say it, ma’am, ye may as well say it now as another toime. I may have me faults, ma’am—”

“You have always attended to the milkman just as I wished,” said Mrs. Fenelby, cheerfully. “Exactly as I wanted you to,” she added, for Bridget still waited. “And we will continue to get two quarts a day.”

“Very well, ma’am,” whispered Bridget. “I was just thinkin’ mebby ye had changed yer moind about how much t’ git. It is all th’ same t’ me, Missus Fenelby, ma’am, how much ye git. I am not wan of thim that don’t allow th’ lady ov th’ house t’ change her moind if she wants to. I take no offince if she changes her moind. I am used t’ sich goin’s on, ma’am, an’ I know my place an’ don’t wish t’ dictate. Wan quart or two quarts or three quarts is all th’ same t’ me.”

“Bridget,” said Mrs. Fenelby, laying down her sewing, “do we need three quarts of milk?”

“No, ma’am,” said Bridget.

“Well,” asked Mrs. Fenelby, “are two quarts too much?”

“No, ma’am,” said Bridget. “But if ye wanted t’ change yer moind—”

“Not at all!” said Mrs. Fenelby, kindly but firmly. “Good-night, Bridget.”

Bridget backed out of the door, and Mr. Fenelby, who had kept his head close to his book, turned to his wife with a frown on his brow.

“What is it, dear?” asked Mrs. Fenelby, after a fleeting glance at his face.

“Laura,” he said, “what shall we do with Bridget?”

Mrs. Fenelby looked up quickly. She quite forgot her sewing.

“Do with Bridget?” she asked. “What do you mean, Tom? Has Bridget said anything about leaving? And I was only this afternoon congratulating myself on how good she was! I declare I don’t know what this world is going to do for servants—we pay Bridget more than anyone in this town, I know we do, and treat her like one of the family, almost, and now she is going to leave! It’s discouraging! When did she tell you she was going to leave?”

“Leave?” exclaimed Mr. Fenelby. “I never thought of such a thing. I was only wondering what to do with her in—in the Commonwealth of Bobberts.”

“Oh!” cried Mrs. Fenelby, with a sigh of profound relief. She took up her sewing again, and bent her head over it. “Is that all! Of course Bridget expects to be treated like one of the family. I told her when she came that I always treated my maids as part of the family.”

“But we can’t have Bridget come in and sit with us whenever we have a session of congress,” said Mr. Fenelby.

“Certainly not!” said Mrs. Fenelby, very decidedly. “I wouldn’t think of such a thing!”

“So she can’t be a State,” said Mr. Fenelby, “and if we made her a Territory it would be as bad. She could come in and talk. She would insist on talking.”

“And if we did not let her,” said Mrs. Fenelby, “she would leave, and I know we could never get another girl as good as Bridget.”

“Now you get some idea of the hard work our forefathers had when they made the United States,” said Mr. Fenelby, rising and walking up and down the room. “But of course they had no case like Bridget. Bridget is more like a—more like the Philippines. Well!” he exclaimed, “it is a wonder I didn’t think of that in the first place!”

“What, dear?” asked his wife.

“That Bridget is a colony,” said Mr. Fenelby. “That is just what she is! She is a foreign possession, controlled by the nation, but having no voice in its affairs. She can pay taxes, but she can’t vote.”

He hurriedly wrote the final words of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Bobberts in his book and drew a line underneath it, for Bobberts was showing signs of awakening. Under the line Mr. Fenelby wrote “First Session of Congress.”

Bobberts awoke in a good humor, ready for his evening meal, and Mrs. Fenelby put aside her sewing and took him.

“I am glad Bobberts is awake,” said Mr. Fenelby, “because now we can go ahead and vote on the tariff. I wouldn’t like to do it if he was not present, because he has a right to take part in the debate, and it would not be fair to hold the first session without a full representation. Now, suppose we make the duty on all goods and things brought into the house an even ten per cent.?”

“She was busy with Bobberts”“She was busy with Bobberts”

“That would be nice,” said Mrs. Fenelby, absently, for she was busy with Bobberts. “How much is ten per cent. of twenty-five hundred dollars, Tom?”

“Two hundred and fifty,” said Mr. Fenelby, “and that is what we ought to save for Bobberts every year. Ten per cent. will just do it.”

He had his pen ready to write it in the book, when a new difficulty came to mind.

“Laura!” he exclaimed. “Ten per cent. will not do it! What about the rent? We spend fifty dollars a month for rent, and that is nothing we bring into the house. And theater tickets, when you go to town and buy them there and use them before you come home. And my lunches. And my club dues. And your pew rent. And ice cream sodas. And all that sort of thing. We couldn’t collect a cent of duty on any of those things, because we don’t bring them into the house. Ten per cent. is not enough. We ought to make it at least—”

He figured roughly on a sheet of paper, while the other State and the Territory attended strictly to their occupation of feeding the Territory.

“I should say, roughly speaking,” said Mr. Fenelby, “that to raise two hundred and fifty dollars a year we ought to make the duty sixteen and three-quarters per cent., but I don’t think that is advisable. It would be too hard to figure. I might be able to do it, Laura, but if you bought a waist for one dollar and ninety-eight cents, and had to figure sixteen and three-quarters per cent. on it, I don’t believe you could do it.”

“The idea!” said Mrs. Fenelby. “I would never think of buying a waist for one dollar and ninety-eight cents. I try to be economical, Tom, but you know you always like me to look well, and those cheap waists do not look well, and they are really dearer in the long run, because they get out of shape in a few days, and never wear well, anyway. The very cheapest waist I have bought for years was that one I got for three dollars and forty-seven cents, and I could have done much better if I had bought the goods and made it up myself.”

“Ah—yes,” said Mr. Fenelby, hesitatingly. “I am afraid you did not just catch my meaning, Laura. It does not make any difference whether the waist costs one dollar and ninety-eight cents or twelve dollars and sixty-three cents. I mean that it would be a hard job to figure sixteen and three-quarters per cent. of it. Suppose we leave the duty at ten per cent. on necessities, and make it thirty per cent. on luxuries? That ought to make it come out about two hundred and fifty dollars a year, and if it does not we can have a meeting of congress any time and raise the duty.”

“That would be very nice,” said Mrs. Fenelby.

So it was decided that the tariff duty on necessities was to be ten per cent., and that on luxuries it should be thirty per cent., and Mr. Fenelby wrote down in the book these facts, and the Fenelby Tariff was in effect.


Categories: English Literature

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