Home  »  Spoon River Anthology  »  245. The Spooniad

Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950). Spoon River Anthology. 1916.

245. The Spooniad

[The late Mr. Jonathan Swift Somers, laureate of Spoon River, planned The Spooniad as an epic in twenty-four books, but unfortunately did not live to complete even the first book. The fragment was found among his papers by William Marion Reedy and was for the first time published in Reedy’s Mirror of December 18th, 1914.]
OF John Cabanis’ wrath and of the strife

Of hostile parties, and his dire defeat

Who led the common people in the cause

Of freedom for Spoon River, and the fall

Of Rhodes’ bank that brought unnumbered woes

And loss to many, with engendered hate

That flamed into the torch in Anarch hands

To burn the court-house, on whose blackened wreck

A fairer temple rose and Progress stood—

Sing, muse, that lit the Chian’s face with smiles

Who saw the ant-like Greeks and Trojans crawl

About Scamander, over walls, pursued

Or else pursuing, and the funeral pyres

And sacred hecatombs, and first because

Of Helen who with Paris fled to Troy

As soul-mate; and the wrath of Peleus’ son,

Decreed, to lose Chryseis, lovely spoil

Of war, and dearest concubine.
Say first,

Thou son of night, called Momus, from whose eyes

No secret hides, and Thalia, smiling one,

What bred ’twixt Thomas Rhodes and John Cabanis

The deadly strife? His daughter Flossie, she,

Returning from her wandering with a troop

Of strolling players, walked the village streets,

Her bracelets tinkling and with sparkling rings

And words of serpent wisdom and a smile

Of cunning in her eyes. Then Thomas Rhodes,

Who ruled the church and ruled the bank as well,

Made known his disapproval of the maid;

And all Spoon River whispered and the eyes

Of all the church frowned on her, till she knew

They feared her and condemned.
But them to flout

She gave a dance to viols and to flutes,

Brought from Peoria, and many youths,

But lately made regenerate through the prayers

Of zealous preachers and of earnest souls,

Danced merrily, and sought her in the dance,

Who wore a dress so low of neck that eyes

Down straying might survey the snowy swale

Till it was lost in whiteness.
With the dance

The village changed to merriment from gloom.

The milliner, Mrs. Williams, could not fill

Her orders for new hats, and every seamstress

Plied busy needles making gowns; old trunks

And chests were opened for their store of laces

And rings and trinkets were brought out of hiding

And all the youths fastidious grew of dress;

Notes passed, and many a fair one’s door at eve

Knew a bouquet, and strolling lovers thronged

About the hills that overlooked the river.

Then, since the mercy seats more empty showed,

One of God’s chosen lifted up his voice:

“The woman of Babylon is among us; rise

Ye sons of light and drive the wanton forth!”

So John Cabanis left the church and left

The hosts of law and order with his eyes

By anger cleared, and him the liberal cause

Acclaimed as nominee to the mayoralty

To vanquish A. D. Blood.
But as the war

Waged bitterly for votes and rumors flew

About the bank, and of the heavy loans

Which Rhodes’ son had made to prop his loss

In wheat, and many drew their coin and left

The bank of Rhodes more hollow, with the talk

Among the liberals of another bank

Soon to be chartered, lo, the bubble burst

’Mid cries and curses; but the liberals laughed

And in the hall of Nicholas Bindle held

Wise converse and inspiriting debate.

High on a stage that overlooked the chairs

Where dozens sat, and where a pop-eyed daub

Of Shakespeare, very like the hired man

Of Christian Dallmann, brow and pointed beard,

Upon a drab proscenium outward stared,

Sat Harmon Whitney, to that eminence,

By merit raised in ribaldry and guile,

And to the assembled rebels thus he spake:

“Whether to lie supine and let a clique

Cold-blooded, scheming, hungry, singing psalms,

Devour our substance, wreck our banks and drain

Our little hoards for hazards on the price

Of wheat or pork, or yet to cower beneath

The shadow of a spire upreared to curb

A breed of lackeys and to serve the bank

Coadjutor in greed, that is the question.

Shall we have music and the jocund dance,

Or tolling bells? Or shall young romance roam

These hills about the river, flowering now

To April’s tears, or shall they sit at home,

Or play croquet where Thomas Rhodes may see,

I ask you? If the blood of youth runs o’er

And riots ’gainst this regimen of gloom,

Shall we submit to have these youths and maids

Branded as libertines and wantons?”

His words were done a woman’s voice called “No!”

Then rose a sound of moving chairs, as when

The numerous swine o’er-run the replenished troughs;

And every head was turned, as when a flock

Of geese back-turning to the hunter’s tread

Rise up with flapping wings; then rang the hall

With riotous laughter, for with battered hat

Tilted upon her saucy head, and fist

Raised in defiance, Daisy Fraser stood.

Headlong she had been hurled from out the hall

Save Wendell Bloyd, who spoke for woman’s rights,

Prevented, and the bellowing voice of Burchard.

Then ’mid applause she hastened toward the stage

And flung both gold and silver to the cause

And swiftly left the hall.
Meantime upstood

A giant figure, bearded like the son

Of Alcmene, deep-chested, round of paunch,

And spoke in thunder: “Over there behold

A man who for the truth withstood his wife—

Such is our spirit—when that A. D. Blood

Compelled me to remove Dom Pedro—”

Before Jim Brown could finish, Jefferson Howard

Obtained the floor and spake: “Ill suits the time

For clownish words, and trivial is our cause

If naught’s at stake but John Cabanis’ wrath,

He who was erstwhile of the other side

And came to us for vengeance. More’s at stake

Than triumph for New England or Virginia.

And whether rum be sold, or for two years

As in the past two years, this town be dry

Matters but little—Oh yes, revenue

For sidewalks, sewers; that is well enough!

I wish to God this fight were now inspired

By other passion than to salve the pride

Of John Cabanis or his daughter. Why

Can never contests of great moment spring

From worthy things, not little? Still, if men

Must always act so, and if rum must be

The symbol and the medium to release

From life’s denial and from slavery,

Then give me rum!”
Exultant cries arose.

Then, as George Trimble had o’ercome his fear

And vacillation and begun to speak,

The door creaked and the idiot, Willie Metcalf,

Breathless and hatless, whiter than a sheet,

Entered and cried: “The marshal’s on his way

To arrest you all. And if you only knew

Who’s coming here to-morrow; I was listening

Beneath the window where the other side

Are making plans.”
So to a smaller room

To hear the idiot’s secret some withdrew

Selected by the Chair; the Chair himself

And Jefferson Howard, Benjamin Pantier,

And Wendell Bloyd, George Trimble, Adam Weirauch,

Imanuel Ehrenhardt, Seth Compton, Godwin James

And Enoch Dunlap, Hiram Scates, Roy Butler,

Carl Hamblin, Roger Heston, Ernest Hyde

And Penniwit, the artist, Kinsey Keene,

And E. C. Culbertson and Franklin Jones,

Benjamin Fraser, son of Benjamin Pantier

By Daisy Fraser, some of lesser note,

And secretly conferred.
But in the hall

Disorder reigned and when the marshal came

And found it so, he marched the hoodlums out

And locked them up.

Meanwhile within a room

Back in the basement of the church, with Blood

Counseled the wisest heads. Judge Somers first,

Deep learned in life, and next him, Elliott Hawkins

And Lambert Hutchins; next him Thomas Rhodes

And Editor Whedon; next him Garrison Standard,

A traitor to the liberals, who with lip

Upcurled in scorn and with a bitter sneer:

“Such strife about an insult to a woman—

A girl of eighteen”—Christian Dallman too,

And others unrecorded. Some there were

Who frowned not on the cup but loathed the rule

Democracy achieved thereby, the freedom

And lust of life it symbolized.

Now morn with snowy fingers up the sky

Flung like an orange at a festival

The ruddy sun, when from their hasty beds

Poured forth the hostile forces, and the streets

Resounded to the rattle of the wheels,

That drove this way and that to gather in

The tardy voters, and the cries of chieftains

Who manned the battle. But at ten o’clock

The liberals bellowed fraud, and at the polls

The rival candidates growled and came to blows.

Then proved the idiot’s tale of yester-eve

A word of warning. Suddenly on the streets

Walked hog-eyed Allen, terror of the hills

That looked on Bernadotte ten miles removed.

No man of this degenerate day could lift

The boulders which he threw, and when he spoke

The windows rattled, and beneath his brows,

Thatched like a shed with bristling hair of black,

His small eyes glistened like a maddened boar.

And as he walked the boards creaked, as he walked

A song of menace rumbled. Thus he came,

The champion of A. D. Blood, commissioned

To terrify the liberals. Many fled

As when a hawk soars o’er the chicken yard.

He passed the polls and with a playful hand

Touched Brown, the giant, and he fell against,

As though he were a child, the wall; so strong

Was hog-eyed Allen. But the liberals smiled.

For soon as hog-eyed Allen reached the walk,

Close on his steps paced Bengal Mike, brought in

By Kinsey Keene, the subtle-witted one,

To match the hog-eyed Allen. He was scarce

Three-fourths the other’s bulk, but steel his arms,

And with a tiger’s heart. Two men he killed

And many wounded in the days before,

And no one feared.
But when the hog-eyed one

Saw Bengal Mike his countenance grew dark,

The bristles o’er his red eyes twitched with rage,

The song he rumbled lowered. Round and round

The court-house paced he, followed stealthily

By Bengal Mike, who jeered him every step:

“Come, elephant, and fight! Come, hog-eyed coward!

Come, face about and fight me, lumbering sneak!

Come, beefy bully, hit me, if you can!

Take out your gun, you duffer, give me reason

To draw and kill you. Take your billy out;

I’ll crack your boar’s head with a piece of brick!”

But never a word the hog-eyed one returned,

But trod about the court-house, followed both

By troops of boys and watched by all the men.

All day, they walked the square. But when Apollo

Stood with reluctant look above the hills

As fain to see the end, and all the votes

Were cast, and closed the polls, before the door

Of Trainor’s drug store Bengal Mike, in tones

That echoed through the village, bawled the taunt:

“Who was your mother, hog-eyed?” In a trice,

As when a wild boar turns upon the hound

That through the brakes upon an August day

Has gashed him with its teeth, the hog-eyed one

Rushed with his giant arms on Bengal Mike

And grabbed him by the throat. Then rose to heaven

The frightened cries of boys, and yells of men

Forth rushing to the street. And Bengal Mike

Moved this way and now that, drew in his head

As if his neck to shorten, and bent down

To break the death grip of the hog-eyed one;

’Twixt guttural wrath and fast-expiring strength

Striking his fists against the invulnerable chest

Of hog-eyed Allen. Then, when some came in

To part them, others stayed them, and the fight

Spread among dozens; many valiant souls

Went down from clubs and bricks.

But tell me, Muse,

What god or goddess rescued Bengal Mike?

With one last, mighty struggle did he grasp

The murderous hands and turning kick his foe.

Then, as if struck by lightning, vanished all

The strength from hog-eyed Allen, at his side

Sank limp those giant arms and o’er his face

Dread pallor and the sweat of anguish spread.

And those great knees, invincible but late,

Shook to his weight. And quickly as the lion

Leaps on its wounded prey, did Bengal Mike

Smite with a rock the temple of his foe,

And down he sank and darkness o’er his eyes

Passed like a cloud.

As when the woodman fells

Some giant oak upon a summer’s day

And all the songsters of the forest shrill,

And one great hawk that has his nestling young

Amid the topmost branches croaks, as crash

The leafy branches through the tangled boughs

Of brother oaks, so fell the hog-eyed one

Amid the lamentations of the friends

Of A. D. Blood.
Just then, four lusty men

Bore the town marshall, on whose iron face

The purple pall of death already lay,

To Trainor’s drug store, shot by Jack McGuire.

And cries went up of “Lynch him!” and the sound

Of running feet from every side was heard

Bent on the