Old Polka Dot's Daughter
by Edgar Wilson Nye
I once decided to visit an acquaintance who had named his country place
"The Elms." I went partly to punish him because his invitation was so
evidently hollow and insincere.
He had "The Elms" worked on his clothes, and embossed on his stationery
and blown in his glass, and it pained him to eat his food from table
linen that didn't have "The Elms" emblazoned on it. He told me to come
and surprise him any time, and shoot in his preserves, and stay until
business compelled me to return to town again. He had no doubt heard
that I never surprise any one, and never go away from home very much,
and so thought it would be safe. Therefore I went. I went just to teach
him a valuable lesson. When I go to visit a man for a week, he is
certainly thenceforth going to be a better man, or else punishment is of
no avail and the chastening rod entirely useless in his case.
"The Elms" was a misnomer. It should have been called "The Shagbark" or
"The Doodle Bug's Lair." It was supposed to mean a wide sweep of meadow,
a vine covered lodge, a broad velvet lawn, and a carriage way, where the
drowsy locust, in the sensuous shadow of magnanimous elms, gnawed a file
at intervals through the day, while back of all this the mossy and
gray-whiskered front and corrugated brow of the venerable architectural
pile stood off and admired itself in the deep and glassy pool at its
In the first place none of the yeomanry for eight miles around knew that
he called his old malarial tank "The Elms," so it was hard to find. But
when I described the looks of the lord of The Elms they wink at each
other and wagged their heads and said, "Oh, yes, we know him," also
interjecting well known one syllable words that are not euphonious
enough to print.
... "His old look of apprehensive cordiality did not
leave him until he had seen me climb on a load of hay with my trunk and
start for home" (Page 15)
When I got there he was down cellar sprouting potatoes, and his wife
was hanging out upon the clothes line a pair of gathered summer trousers
that evidently were made for a man who had been badly mangled in a
The Elms was not even picturesque, and the preserves were out of order.
I was received with the same cordiality which you detect on the face of
any other kind of detected liar. He wanted to be regarded as a
remarkable host and landed proprietor, without being really hospitable.
I remained there at The Elms a few days, rubbing rock salt and Cayenne
pepper into the wounds of my host, and suggesting different names for
his home, such as "The Tom Tit's Eyrie," "The Weeping Willow," "The
Crook Neck Squash" and "The Muskrat's Retreat." Then I came away. His
old look of apprehensive cordiality did not leave him until he had seen
me climb on a load of hay with my trunk and start for home.
During my brief sojourn I noticed that the surrounding country was full
of people, and I presume there was a larger population of "boarders," as
we were called indiscriminately, than ever before. The number of
available points to which the victims of humidity and poor plumbing may
retreat in summer time is constantly on the increase, while, so far as I
know, all the private and public boarding places are filled to their
utmost capacity. Everywhere, the gaudy boarder in flannels and ecru
shoes looms upon the green lawn or the brown dirt road, or scales the
mountain one day and stays in bed the following week, rubbing James B.
Pond's Extract on his swollen joints.
I scaled Mount Utsa-yantha in company with others. We picked out a nice
hot day, and, selecting the most erect wall of the mountain, facing
west, we scaled it in such a way that it will not have to be done again
till new scales grow on it.
Mount Utsa-yantha is 3,365 feet above sea level, and has a brow which
reminds me of mine. It is broad, massive and bleak. The foot of the
mountain is more massive, however. From the top of the mountain one
gets, with a good glass, a view of six or seven states, I was told.
Possibly there were that many in sight, though at that season of the
year states look so much alike that it takes an expert to pick them out
readily. When states are moulting, it is all I can do to tell Vermont
from Massachusetts. On this mountain one gets a nice view and highly
exhilarating birch beer.
Albany can be distinctly seen with a glass—a field glass, I mean, not a
glass of birch beer. Some claim that the nub of a political boom may be
seen protruding from the Capitol with the nude vision. Others say they
can see the Green mountains, and as far south as the eye can reach. We
took two hours and a half for the ascent of the mountain, and came down
in about twenty minutes. We descended ungracefully—the way the Irishman
claimed that the toad walked, viz.: "git up and sit down."
Mount Utsa-yantha—I use the accepted orthography as found in the
Blackhawk dictionary—has a legend also. Many centuries ago this
beautiful valley was infested by the red brother and his bronze progeny.
Where now the red and blue blazer goes shimmering through the swaying
maples, and the girl with her other dress on and her straw colored
canvas cinch knocketh the croquet ball galley west, once there dwelt an
old chief whom we will call Polka Dot, the pride of his people. He
looked somewhat like William Maxwell Evarts, but was a heavier set man.
Places where old Polka Dot sat down and accumulated rest for himself are
still shown to city people whose faith was not overworked while young.
Old Polka Dot was a firm man, with double teeth all around, and his
prowess got into the personal columns of the papers every little while.
He had a daughter named Utsa-yantha, which means "a messenger sent
hastily for treasure," so I am told, or possibly old Polka Dot meant to
imply "one sent off for cash."
Anyhow Utsa-yantha grew to be quite comely, as Indian women go. I never
yet saw one that couldn't stop an ordinary planet by looking at it
steadily for two minutes. She dressed simply, wearing the same clothes
while tooling cross-country before breakfast that she wore at the scalp
dance the evening before. In summer time she shellacked herself and
visited the poor. Taking a little box of water colors in a shawl strap,
so that she could change her clothes whenever she felt like it, she
would go away and be gone for a fortnight at a time, visiting the ultra
fashionable people of her tribe.
Finally a white man penetrated this region. He did it by asking a
brakeman on the West Shore road how to get here and then doing
differently. In that way he had no trouble at all. He saw Utsa-yantha
and loved her almost instantly. She was skinning a muskrat at the time,
and he could not but admire her deftness and skill. From that moment he
was not able to drive her image from his heart. He sought her again and
again to tell her of his passion, but she would jump the fence and flee
like a frightened fawn with a split stick on its tail, if such a
comparison may be permitted. At last he won her, and married her quietly
in his working clothes. The nearest justice of the peace was then in
England, and so rather than wait he was married informally to
Utsa-yantha, and she went home very much impressed indeed. That fall a
little russet baby came to bless their union. The blessing was all he
had with him when he arrived.
Then the old chief Polka Dot arose in his wrath, to which he added a
pair of moose hide moccasins, and he upbraided his daughter for her
conduct. He upbraided her with a piazza pole from his wigwam. He was
very much agitated. So was the pole.
Then he cursed her for being the mother of a 1/2 breed child, and
stalking 1/4 he slew the white man by cutting open his trunk and
disarranging his most valuable possessions. He then wiped the stab
knife on his tossing mane, and grabbing his grandson by his swaddling
clothes he hurled the surprised little stranger into Lake Utsa-yantha.
By pouring another pailful of water into the lake the child was
Then the widowed and childless Utsa-yantha came forth as night settled
down upon the beautiful valley and the day died peacefully on the
mountain tops. Her eyes were red with weeping and her breath was
punctuated with sobs. Putting on a pair of high rubber boots she waded
out into the middle of the lake, where there is quite a deep place, and
When the old man found the body of his daughter he was considerably
mortified. He took her to the top of the mountain and buried her there,
and ever afterward, it is said, whenever any one spoke of the death of
his daughter and her family, he would color up and change the subject.
This should teach us never to kill a son-in-law without getting his