A Sketch From Life

I ALWAYS think of him as the general countryside directory, for, if in need of information in regard to anything within a radius of twelve miles around my summer home, I turn to Henry True. When the fickle appetite of an invalid member of the household demanded potatoes in the early summer, he told me confidentially that I could get some of those, at that time extremely precious, vegetables from a farmer on Green Prairie. He assured me that it was nothing to him whether I bought of his friend or not.

During the hot days of July, when unexpected guests suddenly descended from their automobiles on us in alarming numbers, I flew to the telephone, and asked Henry if he knew anybody anywhere who would and could help in our kitchen.

‘Why, yes,’ he answered, ‘there’s a newcomer girl staying with the Ole Olsens on the Barberry Road. She can’t talk much English, but I guess she can peel vegetables and wash dishes all right enough. I’m supervising the new macadam over there and if you want me to, I’ll tell Ole to have her ready when you come for her, any time you say. Of course it’s nothing to me whether you take her or not. I don’t care one way or the other.’

I thanked him and said warmly that it was a great deal to me.

Henry can always find a man, even in these war times, to do an odd job on our place. He knows those who can best spade a garden and those who dabble in cement. He always urges me not to employ any one on his say-so, and he never fails to declare that it is nothing to him, one way or the other.

One autumn when our middle-aged cook expressed a desire to stay in the country during the winter, he knew of just the place for her as working housekeeper, with a delightful old couple in a village ten miles from us. He did not forget to say that it was nothing to him whether she went to the retired country banker and his wife or not; but Matilda went, and had a happy winter.

Although he is vice-president of the woolen mill company, owns a large farm, which he farms with a shareman, is roadmaster of the township, and teaches singing-school in the district-school community centres, Henry yet has time to raise small fruits for market in his home yard. He often brings his luscious berries to our door, and as I stand by his little car, wondering how many boxes I can use, for I am sorely tempted to buy him out, he tells me that he does n’t expect to make money on them, that he raises them for pastime mostly, but as long as he has them he thinks he might as well sell some.

‘It’s nothing to me whether you buy or not. Take them or leave them. I just come round this way when I’m out with a crate or two, so if you do want some you can have them. Now these red caps are extra fine. If I was recommending any, it would be them, but it’s nothing to me, one way or the other, whether you buy them or not. There’s plenty that do want them, and even if there were n’t it would n’t make any difference to me, for Sarah can put them up all right. I guess really it’s her patriotic duty to can them now, you know. Well, yes, of course you can have eight boxes or more if you want them. The folks down the other end of the lake will probably be a little disappointed if I don’t have any left for them, but it’s nothing to me, one way or the other, who gets them. I guess Sarah won’t have many to can to-day.’

‘Henry,’ I said, ‘I hear that you and Sarah are going to have your silver wedding on the seventeenth. I’m sorry that I shall not be here at that time. I have to go to the city for a few days just then.’

‘Well, of course, we’d like to have you come to the blow-out all right, but it’s nothing to me, one way or the other. We’ve got along and prospered all right, and I ’m perfectly satisfied to keep still about it; but the children want to have a party, and I guess Sarah thinks she’ll gather in a little solid silver, maybe. Steel knives and forks are good enough for me. I’m not proud myself. I told Sarah this morning that any one who really wanted to give me a present could just hand me a silver dollar. I’d rather have a collection of them than any other pieces of silver I know of.’

For a moment I thought he was joking, but I never had heard him joke, and glancing into my purse, which I had not closed since buying the berries,

I saw two silver dollars. I proffered them rather timidly, I must confess, with my best wishes.

‘Well, as my boys say, you came across pretty quick. Thank you kindly.’ He pocketed the coins, and then looking at me with a sudden thought, added, ‘I suppose one of these is for Sarah.’

‘No,’ I laughed, ‘I shall get a little keepsake in the city for her, in memory of our long friendship. But it’s just like you, Henry, to want to divide with her.’

’Oh, well, it’s nothing to me, one way or the other, which of us has the money, she or me.’

There are people who say that Henry is mean, and some of his ways are strange and may be misunderstood by those who don’t know his great justness. It is true that, when asked to have a cigar or a drink, he has been heard to reply that he does n’t smoke or use alcohol, but that he would take the price. He always has money to lend. He charges interest, of course, but he is never hard on his debtors. I knew of his canceling an unfortunate farmer’s note for a load of pumpkins one autumn, when his own cellar was full of the golden fruit, for which there was no market. Every child who wanted a jack o’ lantern, every housewife who wanted a pie, was welcome to them, for, as he said to me when I went for my share, it was nothing to him, one way or the other, whether the neighbors took them or he threw them out for the cattle.

At the dance in celebration of the completion of a large new barn on the True farm, Henry came across the floor in my direction, towing a youth taller and lankier than himself. Dispensing with superfluous formal introduction he said, ‘This young fellow saw you across the room, and he thinks he wants to dance the fox-trot or something with you. I never saw him dance.

I don’t know whether he’s a good dancer or not, but I told him I knew you, and I’d bring him over, and if you wanted to try him you could. But you need n’t take him on my say-so. It’s nothing to me, one way or the other.’

At the end of the fox-trot, when my partner had left, Henry turned to me with a questioning look. ‘He was all right, was n’t he? His father used to waltz and polka harder than any one round here, so I thought dancing must come easy to him. But of course I could n’t recommend him, because it was nothing to me whether you danced with him or not.’

‘Why don’t you speak for yourself, Henry? Are n’t you going to ask me to dance?’

‘Well, I’m not dancing much tonight. I’ve got on new shoes and they’re kind of stiff. See those shoes.’ He pushed forward a large broad foot in a shiny shoe, for my inspection. ‘Is n’t that a pretty good-looking shoe for nothing?’

‘Yes, indeed. Were they a present to you?’

‘Well, sort of a present. Anyway, I got them free. You see I took some of my grapes and pears over to the Butterworth County fair to exhibit, and there was a firm over there offering a pair of shoes to the man on the grounds who had the biggest feet. I got them.’

‘Just for the size of your feet!’

‘Yes; but I did have to walk round the fair grounds all the rest of the day carrying two signs, one in front and one behind, telling how I got the shoes.’

‘Why, Henry!’ I cried, somewhat aghast at the thought of my old friend as a sandwich-man.

‘Oh, I didn’t mind that. The signs were n’t heavy. It was nothing to me, one way or the other.’