The Hopeless Case of Artabanus Biffle

The Hopeless Case of Artabanus Biffle  (1911) 
by Ellis Parker Butler

from Canada West, Apr 1911

The Hopeless Case of
Artabanus Biffle

By Ellis Parker Butler
Author of "Pigs is Pigs," "The Great American Pie Co.," Etc.

THINK around among your acquaintances, and locate the gangly-leggedest, raw-bonedest, sprangle—earedest, sixteen-and-too-big-for-his-age young broiler trying to be a rooster you know—the kind of lad that his mother watches all through company-dinner with a scared, strained sort of look and a piece of conversation all ready to blanket whatever she's afraid he'll bust right out with. Got him? Sure! Pop-eyed, and sorto' yaller-haired, with freckles as big as the liver spots on a liver-and- white fox-terrier, sleeves crawlin' up from his wrists and trousers from his ankles, and buttons just as likely as not to be showin' under the edge of his vest. Thinks teacher knows more than the folks, and he knows more than teacher. Just so. By'n'by he meets some girl that takes him in hand and turns him out to grass feelin' like the little end of nothing drawn out fine, and he shrinks down to his natural size and tries to get a job in the grocery store.

Well, that was Artabanus Biffle. On1v he never met the girl.

Ever since childhood, Artabanus had been so pigeon-toed that he couldn't put down one foot without stepping on it with the other. The boys used to look behind his ears for callouses when he was in school, he handled his feet so outlandish. His usual pose when not in action was with the left foot on the ground and the right foot resting across the instep of the left foot. If he wanted to use his left foot he had to lift his right foot off it first, and hold the right foot in the air so it wouldn't go back, and hop. But that never made any difference in the amount Artabanus thought he knew. Taking it by what he said, you'd thought they might as well use the dictionary for kindling when he was in school; and as for his feet, they might have been unusual distinctions conferred upon him to set him apart as smarter'n the neighbors.

After Doc. Weaver came to town, with a first-class diploma from the Fishhookton Medical and Veterinary Seminary of Knowledge, he'n Artabanus got quite chummy. There weren't many sick horses or beef critters for him to doctor, and so he had lots of spare time. As for Artabanus, it almost seemed as if he had at last found somebody he could look up to but then, maybe it was only the diploma. That's what Aunt Rhinocolura Betts said. She said it really made her feel kindo' meechin' herself until she noticed that his name wasn't put in with the same kind of printing as the test of it, and after that she didn't think the Seminary of Knowledge could have amounted to much not to afford to have their reading match any better'n that.

Anyway, first thing we knew, Doc. Weaver was talking about performin' some kind of operation on Artabanus' feet so he could walk like other folk. All he would have to do would be to cut 'em both off, and sew 'em on straight again. Nobody'd ever performed that kind of operation before, so far as he knew, and he thought it would be mighty interestin'. But Artabanus said he guessed he'd wait. He said he hated to have his name in the papers, and if the operation were successful, it'd be pretty sure to be written up, and if it weren't, why, he'd be in the obituary column, anyway. So he kept putting it off, in his careless way, until one day he got his right foot cut off in his mower.

Doc. Weaver was as pleased as anything when he got to Artabanus, and went right to work sewing the foot on. But that was where Artabanus' conceitedness came in. Doc. was all for putting the foot on straight, but Artabanus wouldn't let him. He said he wanted that foot to toe out good and plenty this time; that he'd worn it toeing in long enough, and as long as it could be put on any way, he wanted it to point out so he'd be sure about it. Doc. reasoned with him, but Artabanus was set, and so it went on as he said.

When Artabanus left his bed, he had two feet as good as ever, one toeing out and the other toeing in. This put his feet in parallel lines, for both pointed northeast, as you might say. The right foot toed out to the right, and the left foot toed in to the right, and there was only one trouble—Artabanus had to walk in circles, for his feet were always toed around towards the right.

It was a sad sight to see Artabanus coming down town in a hurry. He came in spirals. Sometimes when he was in a great rush, he wouldn't be able to move forward at all—just rush around and around in a circle to the right. If he went slowly and took great care, he didn't do much better—he was always hitting the other side of the street. Time and again, when he was out in his field, he would start for the other end of the field, and, every time, he would wind up just where he started from. Artabanus couldn't help it. He had to go the way his feet were headed. Often, when he was plowing, his team would start straight across the field, and Artabanus would have to drop his reins and circle around back to the plow. It made plowing very slow.

You'd thought that would have been a lesson to any man, but it wasn't to Artabanus. It wasn't more than a year until he lost his left foot just the same way. Seemed as if he never could calculate right where he was going, and he walked plum into the cutter before he could stop. But would he let Doc. sew that foot on the way he wanted to sew it? Not for a minute. He made Doc. slew the left foot around to the left, and when the job was done Artabanus had a stylish pair of feet. Instead of being pigeon-toed they pointed in opposite directions, one northeast and one northwest, as you might say, and Artabanus was as pleased as a child with a new toy. He stood and looked at those two feet with pride in his eyes, and then he cracked his heels together, which was a thing he had never been able to do in his life before. He shook hands with Doc. Weaver warmly, said he would settle his bill as soon as he marketed his crop, and then he started home. But his feet had got the habit of going in the direction in which they were headed, and now they were headed in opposite directions, and by the time Artabanus had taken four steps his legs were spread apart like a pair of compasses. At the next step something ripped, and Artabanus came down with a whop! He got up immediately and tried it again, but it was no use, one foot went off northwest and the other went off northeast, and when he had taken four steps Artabanus' legs were spread out like a letter A that had been mashed flat. Nothing Artabanus could do seemed to make any difference. No matter which way he wanted to go, one foot went one way and the other foot the other way, until they could go no further, and then Artabanus would sit down hard. But he looked all right when he was standing still. So he tried walking backward, and his legs crossed like a letter X, and at the fourth step Artabanus sat down hard. It looked as if he would spend the rest of his life sitting down hard.

But Doc. Weaver had been watching him thoroughly, and he suddenly spoke up, telling him to try sideways, and Artabanus tried it. It was successful. So now Artabanus' feet look well, and he can make pretty good speed, sideways, but he shouldn't try to run. We all tell him so; but he will try it. The truth is that man was not made to run sideways. When Artabanus tries to run sideways he looks like the dickens. As near as I can explain it he looks like a Shanghai rooster trying to polka.

It's too bad Artabanus never met a girl who wanted to try straightening him out. I don't suppose he ever will, now, for no Betzville girl would ever risk walking up to the altar with him before folks. I guess Artabanus is just a hopeless case.

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.