Putting one Over Abram

Putting One Over on Abram  (1910) 
by Ellis Parker Butler
Extracted from Canada West magazine, Aug 1910, pp. 269-272. Accompanying illustrations by Peter Newell may be omitted.

The romance of a warm heart and cold, cold feet.

Putting One Over
on Abram

By Ellis Parker Butler

WHEN Aunt Rhinocolura Betts heard that Abram Wangle was sparking Clorilla Minch, she just held up her hands and let the egg-beater drop right into the bowl.

"Well, of all things!" she said. "Poor critter. You s'pose old man Minch has told him yet about Clorilla's feet?"

That was what all Betzville wondered. Not that Clorilla wasn't a pretty nice girl, who could keep house with anybody, and always had somebody to take her to the county fair and the Sunday School picnic; but when it came to keeping steady company with her, 'most all the boys shied on account of her feet.

Clorilla's mother used to say that if Pa Minch only had sense enough to keep his mouth shut, Clorilla'd been married long ago, and in a way that was true. Just as soon as Clorilla had some fellow all primed up to pop the question, Pa Minch would take him out behind the barn kind of quiet, and tell him all about the Doosenbury feet. Clorilla's mother was a Doosenbury, and Pa Minch said he'd suffered all his life with the Doosenbury feet and he wasn't going to let another human fellow-creature run up against those feet unwarned, not if Clorilla never hooked up at all.

"For forty year," Pa Minch used to say, "I've been up against those feet on Clorilla's ma. For forty year, young feller, there hasn't been a night I haven't had Maria's hoofs, ice-cold, on the small of my back; and if I hadn't been a natural-born martyr with a meek disposition, I'd never stood it a week. Now my back-bone is froze up and I can't bend in the middle no more'n as if I was made o' black walnut."

'Bout then, the young feller would begin to look anxious, and Pa Minch would bite another hunk off his plug of Battle Ax and go on with a sigh you could hear clear acrost the road.

"It ain't no use doin' nothing for my back, Doc. Weaver says," he'd explain. "I used, when we was first married, to thaw it out every morning behind the kitchen stove. But now Maria's taken all the bend out of it freezin' it up every night, and I might as well try to thaw out the North Pole by teachin' a polar bear to sleep with it. And Clorilla has her ma's feet, only colder.

"Of course," he would add, "if you feel for Clorilla, I know nothin' will make any difference to you—it was just that way with me an' Clorilla's ma. I wouldn't listen to any warnings, and the result is that my figger's been ruined. You wouldn't think to look at me now that I was choir-leader once. But do as you like—only don't say I didn't warn ye."

Clorilla's feet were truly remarkable, being all that her pa said, and more. In the hottest August weather frost used to gather on the outside of her shoes, and when the butter wouldn't come, all Clorilla had to do was to stick her feet up against the outside of the churn for a few minutes to get it ice-cold, and the buttermilk would begin to swash right away. In cold weather they were ten times colder. She could have made money hiring out as a refrigerator, but Clorilla wasn't willing to work around, and anyway she was sort of flighty—just as likely as not to go buggy-riding if she took a notion and let all the milk sour before she got back.

But flighty or not, and with cold feet or warm ones, there were two fellows that couldn't be frightened away from her. One was Abram Wangle, and the other was Phillipus Googe.

Abram told Pa Minch that he guessed he could stand a small thing like a pair of cold feet, so long as he had had fair notice, and he went to work immediately getting into training. Every night when he retired, he took a fifty-pound cake of ice and slept with his back to it, hoping thus to become accustomed gradually to the temperature Clorilla's feet would be. At first he used to lie awake all night and shudder. Then he got so he could sleep, but had awful dreams of being a North Pole explorer with his rations reduced to gumdrops and strips off sealskin boots; and one night when he dreamed he was the cooling-house of a brewery with frost on his arms and legs a foot thick, he woke all the neighbors with his screams. But after a month or two he got so used to the ice that he didn't feel it at all, and at the end of the third month he began complaining that the Betzville Ice Company's ice was poor ice. Pretty soon he began to send north for his ice, and every week he got it from farther and farther north so as to get a colder quality. About that time the small of his back became so used to cold ice on it that it suffered with the heat when it had no ice on it, and he had to go around all day with a chunk of ice strapped on him inside his vest. It melted, and ran down into his shoes, and Abram Wangle going along Main Street sounded like a cow in a slushy lane.

There was no doubt that Abram was in earnest about Clorilla, but Aunt Rhinocolura Betts said she thought there were limits to unselfishness, when she nursed him through pneumonia. Aunt Rhinocolura is a strong-minded old woman, and although Abram cried pitifully for ice on his back, she put a hot-water bottle there, and kept it on for hours at a time, until by the time Abram was ready to get up, he was almost at a normal temperature.

Meantime Phillipus Googe had gone at it in another way. On Clorilla's birthday he sent her a fireless cooker, with his best love. For awhile Clorilla didn't see the point, but when he explained to her that if she cooked her feet in the fireless cooker every day she might cook the cold out of them, she saw it differently. Phillipus is a great hand to talk, and he took her buggy-riding and brought her over to his opinion real delicately. So every day after that Clorilla would cook up a bran mash real hot, and put it in the cooker and set her feet in it. At first the mash had a habit of turning into a solid chunk of iced bran immediately upon its coming in contact with Clorilla's feet, and then Ma and Pa Minch had to work for an hour with the ice-pick and a teakettle of boiling water to get it off. But gradually her feet began to warm up. As the weeks went by, they got warmer and warmer, until Clorilla couldn't get the mash warm enough to feel comfortable. Even when it was boiling hot, Clorilla complained that it felt chilly to her feet, and they became so permanently warm that when she put on her shoes they scorched the leather. Phillipus sent her some special shoes made to order, lined with asbestos, and began to fix up his house. He had it painted a pretty light-green with yellow trimmings, and got so he wore a red tie every day, and acted real attentive to Clorilla's ma.

By that time the very thought of cold against her feet made Clorilla tremble with fear, and she told Abram Wangle that everything was over between them, for she could never marry a man with an icy back. It was just about then that Abram got pneumonia; and when he got well, he started right in training his back to like heat. He never allowed a mite of ice in the house, and instead of an ice-pack he began wearing a small oil stove on the small of his back. In a few months he got so he could lie down right on a red-hot range and never notice it. And he and Clorilla went everywhere together—to prayer-meeting and the picnic and the circus, and once Abram took her to the Fair. Phillipus Googe left off his red neck-tie, and acted meeching, but he didn't give Clorilla up. He went and bought her a new fireless cooker, bigger than the other one, and sent it to her thinking it would please her.

But Clorilla was flighty, and instead of appreciating Phillipus' thoughtfulness, she said it was an insult, and she never would speak to Phillipus again. So to show her hatred for Phillipus, she put the fireless cooker up in the garret and started icing her feet, instead. For hours and hours at a time she would rest them on a cake of ice, and they steadily kept getting colder and colder. As for poor Abram, he had to start in icing his back, too, and Aunt Rhinocolura Betts said she never did see the beat of that Minch girl for foolishness, and that if Abram didn't deserve a heavenly crown she never saw anybody who did.

Abram iced his back and iced it, and then he began to be frightened, for it wouldn't get cold. It melted a fifty-pound cake of ice in no time, almost, and Abram's ice-bill was something fearful. So he went to see Doc. Weaver and Doc. told him plainly that the sudden change from hot to cold and back to hot again had taken the temper out of the small of his back, and had rendered it impervious to influences of temperature. It was like a fireless cooker now, and would remain so as long as it remained at all. So Abram spoke to Clorilla, and she did what was right and began to heat up her feet again. But when she tried it, she found that her feet were like the small of Abram's back and had lost their temper so that they never would become warm again. They were like a sealed cold storage vault, and would remain cold as long as they were feet.

So at present it looks as if Abram and Clorilla would be separated forever, for Clorilla can't bear even to imagine anything hot against her feet, and Abram has to wear an asbestos-backed vest to keep from scorching his clothes, and he reminds you of the kitchen on ironing day even then. Uncle Ashdod Clute says it is one of the most striking warnings against flirting he has ever seen, for if Clorilla hadn't tried to draw Phillipus Googe on, she would have had a good husband with an ice-cold back for her to put her ice-cold feet against.

But Pa Minch scoffs at this. He says that from what he knows of the Doosenbury feet, no one with the family tendencies would ever marry a man she couldn't annoy with them. And Aunt Rhinocolura Betts says that for once in his life Pa Minch is right.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1937, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 85 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.