From the Relief Society Magazine, January 1952 –
Eloise and the Indian
By Mabel S. Harmer
Eloise always said that she had been brought up on the story of Grandmother Jason and the Indian, along with lemon pie on Tuesday and the semi-annual visit to Dr. Stokes, the family dentist.
While she was still young enough to be carried up to bed on her father’s shoulder, she remembered shivering delightedly at the story of how Grandma Jason had been alone in her cabin, with only her two babies, when the Indian came demanding food and threatening to kill her if she didn’t give him “biscuit.”
Grandma had had no biscuit that day. At least, none to give away. But she did have Grandpa’s rifle, and she had plenty of courage. Armed with both, she had driven the Indian away from the house. Nor was that the end of the story. Later she had walked six miles through the snow in order to take some medicine to the Indian’s sick child. According to family legend, there never had been anyone quite like Grandma Jason.
A wave both of envy and admiration for the grand old lady swept through Eloise as she came down the stairway preparatory to a call on Jim Booker. She glanced in the dining room where Davy, her sixteen-year-old son, was spreading out model airplane parts over the table. “Be sure to have everything cleared up in plenty of time for lunch,” she reminded him.
“Okay, Mum. Where’re you going?” he asked, scarcely glancing up from his work.
“I’m going to call on an Indian,” she replied, and walked out before he had recovered from his surprise enough to ask further details.
As she closed the screen door behind her she thought grimly, I wish that I had inherited grandmother’s courage instead of her black hair. I’m going to need an extra supply rather badly, I’m afraid.
David had left the car home for her use that day, but she decided to walk anyway. “It will give me more time to get organized and decide what method of attack I’m going to use,” she told herself, knowing all the time that the real reason was it would delay her talk for at least another twenty minutes.
She hadn’t known that the six city blocks could be covered in so short a time. I really ought to walk to town oftener, she thought, as she paused before the red brick building where Jim Booker had his modest office. In the narrow hallway she looked on the directory for his name and office number. There it was, Jim Booker, Fire Insurance, 145. Precious little fire insurance he sold, if rumor was true. Or at least it was a very minor part of his business activities. But, of course, it sounded much more respectable than “Taverns, Inc.,” or whatever he might call his other enterprises.
One forty-five. That would be on the second floor. She climbed the stairs slowly, the butterflies in her stomach becoming more lively with every step upward. She wished that he really was an Indian and that she could take after him with a rifle. She believed, on the whole, it would be much more simple.
There was a girl at the desk, pretty in spite of her too-heavy makeup, who looked at Eloise with surprised eyebrows. To herself Eloise said, “I daresay I’m not the usual type of caller at all.” Aloud she asked pleasantly, “Will you please ask Mr. Booker if I may see him?”
“Sure,” replied the girl, lifting the phone. “A lady to see you, Mr. Booker,” she stated, then turned and nodded in the direction of the door, “go on in.”
Eloise opened the door herself and walked into the inner office. Mr. Booker half rose from his chair, evidently surprised to see that his caller really was a lady.
“Sit down, Ma’am,” he said with some slight embarrassment, which helped in some small degree to put her at her ease. Then, seeming to spread over as much of his chair as possible, he asked, “What can I do for you?”
“I am Mrs. David Reynolds,” she stated, “and live at 987 Linden Avenue. I’ve heard that you intend to put up a tavern on the corner of Ninth Street and Linden. Is that so?”
“Well, now, I wouldn’t call it a tavern exactly,” replied Booker slowly. “Just a sort of soft drink parlor.”
“Is your license for soft drinks only?”
“Well, no – not exactly, but – ”
“That’s what I understood,” she interrupted. Then, leaning forward a trifle, she went on seriously, “Mr. Booker, I’d like to ask you not to put it there.”
He gave a grunt of surprise as he said with a half smile, “You would? I guess you know that that corner is zoned for business, and I have every right to put in a little place there.”
Eloise nodded. “Yes, I know that you have every legal right.” She didn’t add that it had probably been obtained through questionable means and influence. “But what about the moral right? Doesn’t that count at all with you?”
“Moral right. Don’t know what you mean.” He opened a drawer, ruffled some papers, and shut it again.
“Surely you must realize what it will mean to the young boys of the neighborhood to have that kind of a place so handy. Perhaps most of them will never step inside – at least, for nothing more than a soft drink, but it spoils the atmosphere of the neighborhood. It means having noisy people around at all hours. It opens up the way for similar establishments. It –” Eloise paused. She didn’t want to make him too angry. That would hurt more than it would help.
“Bunk,” he snapped. “This isn’t going to be a low-class joint. It’s even going to have a classy name. The Blue Peacock,” he announced proudly.
“It doesn’t sound very classy to me,” retorted Eloise, her indignation getting the better of her resolve to be diplomatic. “And it may not be a joint, but it’s bound to have a bad influence just the same.”
“Sorry, lady, but you’re just wasting time. Your neighborhood and kids aren’t any better than any others. And I got things to do.” A frown settled upon his heavy features, and he opened another drawer.
Eloise felt defeat coming on. What could one do with a man who wouldn’t listen to reason? Maybe one could use a rifle. She stood up and come over to his desk. “I’m not going to give in without a struggle,” she said determinedly. “If you don’t withdraw your permit I’m going to circulate a petition all over the district. I’ll fight this through every organization in town. I’m not going to have my boys grow up within earshot of a tavern.” Her hands were clenched, and she wore what David called “her fighting Marine look.”
Jim Booker leaned back and smiled indulgently. “You got spunk, lady,” he said. “But it’s no use. That corner suits my purpose to a T, and that’s where I’m going to put The Blue Peacock. You can tell your boys to keep away from the place if you like, or you can move.”
There was nothing left for her to do at the moment but turn and walk out. She left the building and walked down the street, her eyes brimming with tears of defeat. The old ogre! Why couldn’t he keep his taverns downtown? Of course they could move, but they loved their home. And what of the others? Everyone in the neighborhood couldn’t move. She wasn’t going to stand for it. She’d fight with every means in her power. She’d make up petitions and get some of the other women to help take them around. It might help. It might even be enough to turn the trick.
That evening when the boys had gone to bed and David was lying on the divan with a newspaper over his eyes, she asked, “How much influence does Jim Booker have in this town?”
“Too much, honey,” he replied drowsily. “Why?”
“I went to see him today.”
“You what?” The newspaper was snatched off and he sat bolt upright. “You mean to sit there knitting in that rose-colored chair and tell me to my face that you went calling on that lug?”
Eloise carefully purled two and then nodded, “I do and I did.”
“To try and talk him out of putting in a tavern on our corner.”
“And did he bow and say, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Reynolds, for even presuming to think of sullying your charming neighborhood’?”
“Not exactly,” she admitted. “What he said in effect was, ‘Get the heck out of here. I’ll do as I like.’” The needles flew for a moment and then stopped. “I’m planning to circulate petitions,” she announced. The seriousness of David’s look surprised her, and she asked, “What’s the matter? Don’t you think that I should fight it?”
“Yeah, I reckon,” he answered hesitatingly.
“Why all the enthusiasm?” she demanded.
“I was just thinking that Booker can fight back awfully hard if he takes a notion.”
“Does that matter – when the boys’ best interests are at stake?”
“No, of course not. The kids are a lot more important than anything else. I just wanted to warn you that Jim Booker is an awful tough customer.”
“I know. I figured that much out all by myself.” She folded up her knitting and added, “He may find out that he’s dealing with another tough customer.”
Later she lay awake watching the ruffles of the white organdy curtains blow back and forth and wondering if she had tackled more than she could manage. David had shown a surprising lack of enthusiasm. There had even been an air of concern. It’s just that he doesn’t want me to get mixed up with any Indians, she thought drowsily. I’m not sure but what Grandma had it a lot easier. All she had to do was pick up a rifle and say “Git.”
The next day she wrote out a petition, wording it as strongly as she could, and made out seven copies. She would go to some woman she knew on each of the blocks nearest the corner of Ninth and Linden and ask her to take it around. If necessary, she would take them herself.
She had just finished when Bud stuck his head in the door to ask, “Shall we put up our own lunch, or would you rather?”
It took her a few minutes to remember that the boys had planned a hike up to Mt. Rowan.
“I would much rather,” she smiled, “but I haven’t time. Go ahead and be as considerate of my refrigerator as you can. There are bananas in the cupboard and a fresh batch of cookies in the jar.”
She went upstairs to dress, put the eight petitions carefully in her bag, and went back down again while the boys were still making sandwiches. “Merciful goodness!” she exclaimed. “Is the National Guard going along on this hike?”
“Gosh, no,” replied Bud. “Just Ralph, Book, and us.”
“Book?” she repeated with a puzzled smile. “Who in the world is Book?”
“Steve Booker, a guy we know at school.”
The smile vanished. “Any relation to Jim Booker?”
“I reckon. Sure, he’s his son. But Steve’s okay. You’d like him.” Bud closed the discussion by putting the last of the sandwiches in the box and going out to whistle for Davy.
Eloise stood still for a minute. In spite of Bud’s assurance, she wasn’t at all sure that she would like Steve Booker or that he was even okay. Maybe she was tackling this problem at the wrong end. Well, it was too late to do anything about the hike now. She’d go on with what she had started. She took a glass of milk and a cookie and went on her way.
She met her first defeat almost at once. Mrs. Rossiter, a thin, nervous woman, fidgeted about and finally came out and said that she didn’t care to brush up against Jim Booker. He had too much influence in town.
“But surely his influence couldn’t affect you in any way, could it?” Eloise insisted.
“You don’t ever know,” replied Mrs. Rossiter darkly. “You know what he did to Frank Bitters?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. What did he do?”
“He got that road building contract away from him and gave it to the Ashworth Company, and everyone says it’s a terrible job. It will have to be done over again inside of five years. Everyone knows there was a lot of graft somewheres. I’d like to help you, but with my operations and all, I just don’t dare take any chances with Anton’s job.”
“Never mind,” said Eloise brightly. “Perhaps you have helped me more than you think.”
She spent another couple of hours trying to persuade someone to take the petitions around and ended up by doing two blocks herself. There were some women who wouldn’t sign, but she had a majority of the names in the district and figured she had enough ammunition to meet Jim Booker again. She intended to give him a chance to change his plans voluntarily before she went on to the City Commission.
When she climbed the stairs to his office the next afternoon it was with considerably less trepidation than she had felt the first time. Armed with nearly four hundred names, she believed that she should be able to make quite a serious impression. Jim Booker was in the outer office and let her in himself.
Smiling as if they shared a huge joke, he said, “Maybe you brought a petition here for me to sign?”
Eloise flushed – a bit taken back to discover that he knew all about her venture – but she recovered her composure immediately and replied, “No, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. I just wanted to let you know that the petitions are all signed and ready to go in and to ask if you wouldn’t like to change your mind.”
“No – I don’t think so,” he said slowly, leaning back in his swivel desk chair. “But since you are so considerate as to give me a chance I’ll do the same for you.”
Eloise could only look mystified until he went on. “You can tear them up and we’ll say no more about the matter.”
“And why should I?” she bridled.
“Your husband is the county assessor, is he not?”
“Yes, he is.”
“And you would like him to keep on being the county assessor, I suppose? It is a good job.”
She drew a sharp breath and set her lips firmly. So this was it. He was threatening David’s job. And this was why David had looked so serious the other night when she had announced that she was beginning warfare. Yes, the job meant a lot, but it didn’t mean everything.
She stood up. a half-forgotten thought flashed into her mind, something that Mrs. Rossiter had said about the Ashworth job. Maybe it wouldn’t mean much, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.
“I understand your threat, Mr. Booker,” she said evening, “but my husband will agree with me that our boys are much more important than any job. And while we are talking about jobs I might mention the Ashworth road contract. It seems that there was a lot that went on there that wasn’t completely understood. Everyone else has been afraid to mention it, but I have nothing to lose, so I might as well start talking about it.”
This time it was his turn to squirm. Not very much, it was true, but enough to let Eloise know she had hit a vulnerable spot. He walked over to the water cooler, poured himself a drink and said slowly, “You have courage, but it will take more than that to lick Jim Booker.”
“Perhaps,” she agreed. Then as she turned to go, “I’ll hold these until Monday, in case you change your mind.”
As she walked down the stairs she said to herself, “I’m not sure who won that round, but I think there’s a chance that I did.”
Davy was waiting for her on the front steps, his face beaming. “Hi, Mom!” he cried. “I’ve got good news for you.”
“Thanks,” she smiled. “This must be my lucky day. What is it?”
“Ralph’s dad is letting us have his cabin on the lake for three days. We’ll need a whole carload of food.”
“That’s wonderful news,” she agreed. “Almost the best I’ve had today. There’s nothing I’d rather do than fix up a carload of food for – how many of you are going?”
“Six, but the other guys will bring their own. You just provide for the Reynolds.”
“That simplifies matters a lot.” She was about to go up the steps but paused to ask, “Who else is going?”
“Ralph – of course. Gene Welch, Bob Towler – and Steve,” he added the last after a slight hesitation.
Eloise sat down beside him. “Do you really think that Jim Booker’s son is quite the type that you boys ought to choose for a companion?” she asked seriously. “His father is – well, he doesn’t have the most savory reputation in town.”
“I know,” answered Davy, “but Steve’s all right. Honest, Mom. We wouldn’t take him if he wasn’t. He hasn’t had many breaks. Some of the moms are like you – er, I mean, they don’t want Steve around. He’ll be a swell kid if he just gets a chance. What do you say?”
Eloise looked for a moment into the earnest blue eyes, pleading for a chance for his friend. “I say it’s all right, Son,” she smiled. “I’ll go in and start on your carload of food.”
It was just after the boys had left the next morning that a floral delivery truck drove up, and the boy brought in a huge white oblong box.
I wonder if I’ve forgotten my own birthday in all this excitement, she thought, tearing off the ribbon.
Inside were two dozen enormous red roses and a note which read:
“Dear Mrs. Reynolds: I just learned that my boy is going with yours on a little trip. I like good things for my boy, too. Downtown will be a better place for The Blue Peacock.
She was still looking at the note, slightly dazed, when David came into the room. “Whew!” he whistled, catching sight of the roses. “Are you going to Europe or getting married or something?”
“Not exactly,” smiled Eloise. “This,” she went on, picking up the roses, “is a peace offering from an Indian.”