WE once had a family of giants for neighbors. Not museum giants, I mean real giants. I never asked just how big they were, but you can judge for yourself after I have told you about them.
Perhaps I would n't have taken the house if I had known that the giants lived so near by, for I did n't know much about such people then; but I did n't discover that their house was next ours until I had made the bargain with the assent. I had asked him all about everything I could think of—all about stationary wash-tubs, malaria, mosquitos, the milk-man, the ice-man, the letter-man, and all the other kinds of men—but I never thought to ask about giants. No man, however prudent, can think of everything. But as I was shutting the front gate, after I had said I would take the house for a year, I saw a footprint in the road. The footprint that Robinson Crusoe saw surprised him, but even Crusoe did n't see such a footprint as this, for it was nearly as big as a boat.
"What's that?" I asked the agent.
"What? Where?" he asked, as uneasily as if I had discovered water in the cellar, or a leak in the roof.
"That—there!" I answered, pointing to the footprint.
"Oh, that!" he answered. "That must be the footprint of Mr. Megalopod."
"It seems to cover considerable space," I suggested.
"Yes," he admitted. Even an agent could n't deny that. "He's a giant. Did n't I mention that you would have a giant for a neighbor? I thought I spoke of it."
"No," I said; "you did n't speak of it. You said that it was a pleasant neighborhood. Perhaps that is what you had in mind."
"Possibly," he answered. "You have no objection to giants, have you?"
"'THAT MUST BE THE FOOTPRINT OF MR. MEGALOPOD,' SAID THE AGENT."
I paused a moment before I replied. It depended on the kind of giant. If it was one of the Blunderbore kind, even a foot-ball player might have been forgiven a slight preference for ordinary-sized neighbors.
"Well," I said at last, "I don't profess to be a 'Hop-o'-my-Thumb,' or 'Jack the Giant-killer.' What sort of a giant is Mr. Megalopod?"
"The very best!" the agent said. "We did think of asking more rent for this house, because of the entertainment children would find in seeing a giant or two every day. But we decided we would n't charge for it, after all. Mr. Megalopod is a thorough gentleman—and so are the rest of the family. Mrs. Megalopod and the children are charming in every way. You will be glad to know them, I'm sure! Good day!"
The agent left me gazing at the footprint. He had other business in the town, and I had to take an early train for the city.
I thought that my wife and children would be uneasy about the giants, but I was greatly mistaken. They were eager to see the family, and could hardly wait to be properly moved. My son and daughter began to put on airs over their playfellows, and to promise their best friends that they might have the first chance to come out and see the giant family.
When we first moved, the Megalopods were absent from their house, and it was several days before they returned. They lived in the suburbs on purpose to avoid observation, and usually went about their journeys by night so as to attract as little attention as possible.
The first time I saw Mr. Megalopod was on a Monday morning. I don't know why it is, but I am more likely to be late on Monday morning than on any other day of the week, and I was late that morning. In fact, I should have missed my train for the city if it had not been for Mr. Megalopod.
My way to the station passed near to his enormous house. I walked just as fast as I could, and if I had been a few years younger I would have run. Just as I came opposite to the giant's gateway I took out my watch; I found I had just seven minutes in which to catch the train. Now, although the advertisement said our house was only three minutes' walk from the station, it did n't occur to me until afterward that the agent probably meant it was three minutes' walk for Mr. Megalopod. It certainly was a good ten minutes' scramble for me. So, as I looked at my watch, I said aloud:
"Too late! I have lost the train! I would n't have missed it for a hundred dollars!"
"Excuse me!" I heard a tremendous voice apparently coming from the clouds; "if you will allow me, I will put you on the train!"
Before I could say a word, I was picked up and raised some thirty or forty feet into the air, and held safely and comfortably in the giant's great hand. Then Mr. Megalopod started for the station.
"You are Mr. Megalopod, I presume," I said.
"What?" he said. "You see, I can't hear you. Here is a speaking-trumpet."
So saying, he took a great fireman's-trumpet from his vest-pocket, and offered it to me with his other hand. I repeated my remark through the trumpet, at the top of my lungs.
"Yes," he said. "You are our new neighbor, no doubt."
"I am," I shouted; "and I'm very glad to make your acquaintance."
"You 're not afraid of me?" he asked with a smile.
"Not at all," I yelled back.
"That's pleasant," he said with much satisfaction. "The last people moved away because they were afraid I might step on their children. It's absurd; I never step on children. I would n't do such a thing!"
"Of course not!" I shouted.
"No. It would be an accident if I stepped on anything. You yourself might step on an ant or a beetle, you know. But I am very careful. Well, here you are at the station, "and he put me gently on the platform. "I seldom go to the city, myself; and when I do I walk. Good day."
'"Good-by," I said; "and I 'm much obliged to you for the little lift."
"Don't mention it," he said. "I like to be neighborly. Any time you 're in a hurry, let me know."
"Thank you," I replied. "I 'll do as much for you—in some other way. Good-by."
"Pardon me," said Mr. Megalopod, "but—could you give me back the trumpet? You won't need it in the city, unless you are a fireman, of course."
"It was mere absence of mind," I called through the trumpet; and then I gave it back to him, and watched him take the two or three steps that brought him to the turn in the road.
"A big fellow, is n't he?" I said to the station agent.
"Yes," he said; "he's a fortune to the express company. Every time he has a pair of boots sent home, it takes nearly a freight car."
The arrival of the train ended our conversation.
I did n't see the Megalopods again for several days. My family did, and told me many interesting things about them. They seemed to be very pleasant neighbors. Their children met ours once or twice, while playing, and they became excellent friends.
Before long they came to call upon us. We used to sit on the lawn—on chairs, of course—Saturday afternoon and during the summer evenings. They came on Saturday. We received them cordially, but hardly knew how to ask them to sit down. They talked pleasantly about the neighborhood, and spoke especially of the beautiful view.
"You surprise me," I said. "It seems to me that we are too much shut in here by the trees."
"I forgot," said Mrs. Megalopod, laughing. "We can see over the trees."
"That is a great advantage," answered my wife, through Mrs. Megalopod's trumpet; for both giants were thoughtful enough to carry these aids to conversation.
"Oh, yes," replied the giantess; "size has advantages. But, on the other hand, it brings inconveniences. You can hardly imagine. Now, take such a thing as next Monday's washing, for instance. I have to do all our washing. Even if we could afford to pay a laundress, she would n't be able to manage our clothes, not to speak of our table-cloths and other larger pieces. Then, for a clothes-line, nothing will serve us but a ship's cable. Then, too, everything we have must be made to order. It is hard to get along with so large a family. Sometimes I'm tempted to let John go into a museum; but so far we have succeeded in keeping the museum manager from the door."
"What is your business?" I shouted to Mr. Megalopod.
"Suspension bridges," he replied. "It pays well whenever I can get work; but they don't build bridges every day in the week—I wish they would!" and he laughed till the windows rattled in the house near by.
"Careful, John," said Mrs. Megalopod, warningly. Then turning to my wife she remarked, "John forgets sometimes that his laughing is dangerous. He was in an office building one day—in the great lower story, one of the few buildings that has a door large enough to let him in. Some one told a funny story, and he began to laugh. It cost him several hundred dollars to repair the windows. So I have to remind him to be cautious when he hears a really good joke."
Here my son Harry asked me to lend him the trumpet for a minute.
"Mr. Megalopod," he called, "would you mind doing me a great favor?"
"Not at all—if it is large enough," Mr. Megalopod replied very politely.
"Then will you get my ball for me? It went up on the roof the other day, and it is in the gutter now."
"Quick! give me the trumpet," I said to Harry, as Mr. Megalopod rose. Then I shouted, "I beg you won't put yourself out for such a trifle—!" but he was out of hearing before I had finished.
He soon returned with the ball, and gave it to Harry.
"Lend me the trumpet, Papa," said Harry. "I'm much obliged to you," he shouted.
"Don't mention it," said the giant, seating himself. I forgot to mention that while we were deciding what to give them to sit upon—we had thought of their sitting upon the top of the piazza, but were afraid it would break down with them—Mr. Megalopod had opened out a sort of a walking-stick he carried, and made it into a very comfortable stool, while his wife had a similar portable chair. They were always thoughtful and considerate, as, indeed, I might have known from their speaking-trumpets. Do you suppose, if you were a giant, you would remember to carry a speaking-trumpet for the use of other people? It is such little traits as these that endear giants to their friends. It is not hard to carry a speaking-trumpet in your vest-pocket, but it is the remembering to do so that shows the big-hearted giant.
Soon after they had made their call upon us, my wife told me one morning, while I was shaving, that we ought to return the call soon.
"Of course," I said, stropping my razor slowly and thoughtfully. "Of course. I mean to go very soon. Very soon. I had meant to go several days ago."
"Yes; I know," said my wife. "But when shall we go? To-morrow?"
"Well," I said, between strokes of the razor, "you see to-morrow—is—Saturday. And, as—it—is," here I stopped the razor, "the only holiday I have during the week, I hardly like to give it up to make a call."
"Yes, dear," she replied, "but it is the only time we have when we can go together."
"Well, married men are not required to make calls," I said.
"I suppose I can leave our cards," she said.
"Yes," I answered eagerly, "that will do perfectly well."
My wife did not seem pleased, but she said no more then, and I finished my shaving. I was n't cut but once.
So my wife left our cards.
When I next met Mr. Megalopod it was about two weeks later. He did not return my bow, and apparently did not see me. I went and pulled his shoe-string to attract his attention. He was pruning the top of a great chestnut-tree that stood in his front yard.
He handed me the trumpet, but did not show in any other way that he had noticed my presence.
"Mr. Megalopod," I said, "is there any trouble at your house?"
"Oh, no," he answered shortly and stiffly.
"You did n't return my bow," I said, in what I meant to be a tone of reproach; but it is very hard to put reproachful inflections into your voice when you are trying to shout loud enough to impress a giant.
"No," he said slowly; "I did n't know that you cared to keep up our acquaintance. If you did n't, I preferred not to force myself upon you."
"Why, you must be laboring under a mistake," I called back. "What have we done to offend you?' I was anxious to know, for I did n't like to think of there being any unpleasantness between ourselves and the giants.
"I usually overlook trifles," said Mr. Megalopod; "but when you did n't return our call, I thought you meant that you did n't care to continue the acquaintance!"
"My dear sir," I said hastily, "my wife left cards."
"Oh, did she?" said the giant, pleasantly. "Then I suppose Mrs. Megalopod did n't notice them. They were put into the card-tray, no doubt, and she must have failed to see them."
"No doubt that's it," I said. "They were only the usual size. I hope you will believe that it was only an accident."
"Certainly," he said; "I had forgotten that you are not used to our ways. Our friends usually have cards written for them by sign-painters on sheets of bristol-board. We are so apt to lose the little cards."
"I see," I replied.
Shortly afterward my wife and I went to call on the Megalopods. I cannot pretend to describe all the curious things in their house. When we rang the bell,—the lower bell, for there was one for ordinary-sized people,—we nearly fell down the steps. There came the peal of an enormous gong as big as those you find in great terminal railroad stations. When the door opened, it seemed as if the side of a house had suddenly given way. The pattern on the hall carpet showed roses four or five feet wide, and the hat-stand was so high that we never saw it at all. We walked under a hall chair, and thought its legs were pillars.
WE CALL UPON THE MEGALOPODS.
Just as we entered the reception-room we heard a terrible shout, "Oh, look out!" and a great worsted ball, some four feet in diameter, almost rolled over us. The Megalopod baby had thrown it to one of his brothers. It was a narrow escape. The brother picked up the baby to carry him away.
"Oh, don't take the sweet little thing—" my wife began; but she stopped there, for "the sweet little thing" was as large as two or three ordinary men.
"Excuse me, ma'am," said the boy, "but we can't trust baby with visitors. He puts everything into his mouth, and—"
My wife cheerfully consented that the Megalopod baby should be taken to the nursery during our call.
Mrs. Megalopod offered us two tiny chairs. They were evidently part of the children's playthings. "If you would rather sit in one of our chairs," she suggested, "I shall be glad to assist you to one, but I would rather not. To tell the truth," she added, with some confusion, "one of our visitors once fell from a foot-stool, and broke his leg. Since then I have preferred they should take these."
We took the small chairs. As it was dusk, Mrs. Megalopod struck a match to light the gas. It was a giant's parlor-match, and the noise and burst of flame was like an explosion. My wife clutched my arm in terror for a moment while Mrs. Megalopod begged our pardon and blamed herself for her thoughtlessness.
We had a very pleasant call, and the good relations between the families were entirely restored. In fact, as we were leaving, Mrs. Megalopod promised to send my wife a cake made by herself. It came later, and was brought by the Megalopod boy. By cutting it into quarters, we got it through the front door without breaking off more than five or six lumps of a pound or two each. As it was a plum-cake, it kept well. I think there is nearly a barrelful of it left yet; but we reserve it for visitors, as we got tired of plum-cake after a year or so.
The Megalopods were always kind neighbors. Once they did us a great service.
There was a farmer who lived in the valley near us, and he owned a very cross bull. One day the bull broke his chain, and came charging up the road just as my little boy was on his way to school. I don't know what would have been the result if the Megalopod baby (then a well-grown child of about twenty-five feet) had not come toddling down the road. The bull was pursuing my boy, who was running for his life. The baby giant had on red stockings, and these attracted the bull's attention. He charged on the baby, and tried to toss his shoes. This amused the child considerably, and he laughed at the bull's antics as an ordinary baby might laugh at the snarling and bitings of a toothless puppy.
"I take oo home," he said, and picking up the angry bull, he toddled off down the road.
My boy came home much frightened, but almost as much amused. I learned afterward that Mr. Megalopod carried the bull back to the farmer and gave the man a severe talking to.
But we felt grateful, and so we decided to ask Mr. and Mrs. Megalopod to dinner. It meant a great deal, as you will see; but as we had just come into a large legacy from an estate that had been in litigation for many years, we took pleasure in showing our gratitude and our good-will toward the family. First we had a large and elegant teething-ring made to order for the baby. It was a foot through and several feet in diameter. The baby enjoyed it very much, and was somewhat consoled for the loss of the bull, which he had wished to keep as a pet.
I hired the sign-painter in a village not far away to write out the invitation for us upon the largest sheet of cardboard I could get in the city. It was ten feet by fifteen in size, and when inscribed looked truly hospitable. It read as usual—requesting the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Megalopod at dinner on the 20th. We had to send it by express. The expressman wanted us to roll it; but I did n't think it would be just the thing. So it was sent flat in an envelop made specially for it. They sent an acceptance nearly as large, and were kind enough to send later an informal note saying that they would bring their own plates, knives and forks, and so on.
"How thoughtful of them!" said my wife, who had been somewhat puzzled about how to set the table.
I had told the butcher and other tradesmen about the dinner, and they were to furnish ample provision. I had expected that they would be delighted to get the large orders; but one of them explained to me that after all it made no great difference. "For," said he, "if they had stayed at home, they would have ordered the same things nearly, anyway." But it was different with the confectioner. I ordered forty gallons of ice-cream, two thousand macaroons, and eighty pounds of the best mixed candies.
"It's for a large picnic?" he suggested.
"The largest kind," I replied, for we were of course to dine in the open air. In order to provide against rain, I hired a second-hand circus-tent, and had it set up in our front yard, where the table had already been constructed by a force of carpenters.
By stooping as they came in, and seating themselves near the center, our guests were not uncomfortable in the tent.
My wife and I had a smaller table and chairs set upon the large table, and though we did not feel altogether comfortable sitting with our feet on the table-cloth, we did not quite see how to avoid it.
The first course was much enjoyed, except that Mr. Megalopod was so unlucky as to upset his soup (served in a silver-plated metal plate), and run the risk of drowning us. Mrs. Megalopod, however, was adroit enough to catch us up before the inundation overwhelmed us. The giant apologized profusely, and we insisted that it was of no consequence.
When we came to the turkeys (which Mrs. Megalopod said were dainty little birds), I was afraid Mr. Megalopod was not hungry, for he could not finish the two dozen; but he explained that he seldom ate birds, as he preferred oxen. In the next course I found that Mr. Megalopod was looking for the salt. I handed him the salt-cellar, but it was too small for him to hold.
"Have you any rock-salt?" he asked with frankness. "I can never taste the fine salt."
Luckily we had bought a large quantity of the coarsest salt for making ice-cream, and I had several boxes brought, and sent up from the ground on an elevator.
The waiter, frightened half out of his wits, set the boxes as close to the giant as he dared, and tried hard not to run when moving away.
Strangely enough, the only thing that ran short was the water. It would n't run fast enough to give the giant a full drink of water. He was very polite about it, but the rock-salt had made him thirsty. At last I sent down to the Megalopods' house, and hired the giant's boy to bring a pail (one of their pails—it was about eight feet high) full of spring water. So that little difficulty was pleasantly arranged.
After the dinner was over, the giants went home, saying that they had never passed a pleasanter afternoon.
We were equally pleased, and my wife said that the most agreeable neighbors we had ever known were certainly Mr. and Mrs. Megalopod.
GOOD-BY TO THE MEGALOPODS.
"There is nothing small about them," I said, warmly, "and they certainly take wide views of everything."
"Yes," she agreed, "even with our simple little dinner they seemed immensely delighted."