As I do not suppose the most gentle of readers will believe that anybody’s sponsors in baptism ever wilfully assumed the responsibility of such a name,
I may as well state that I have reason to infer that Melons was simply the nickname of a small boy I once knew.
If he had any other, I never knew it.
Various theories were often projected by me to account for this strange cognomen.
His head, which was covered with a transparent down, like that which clothes very small chickens, plainly permitting the scalp to show through, to an imaginative mind might have suggested that succulent vegetable.
That his parents, recognizing some poetical significance in the fruits of the season, might have given this name to an August child, was an Oriental explanation.
That from his infancy he was fond of indulging in melons seemed on the whole the most likely, particularly as Fancy was not bred in McGinnis’s Court.
He dawned upon me as Melons. His proximity was indicated by shrill, youthful voices as “Ah, Melons!” or playfully, “Hi, Melons!” or authoritatively, “You, Melons!”
McGinnis’s Court was a democratic expression of some obstinate and radical property-holder.
Occupying a limited space between two fashionable thoroughfares, it refused to conform to circumstances, but sturdily paraded its unkempt glories, and frequently asserted itself in ungrammatical language.
My window—a rear room on the ground floor—in this way derived blended light and shadow from the court.
So low was the window-sill, that had I been the least disposed to somnambulism it would have broken out under such favorable auspices, and I should have haunted McGinnis’s Court.
My speculations as to the origin of the court were not altogether gratuitous, for by means of this window I once saw the Past, as through a glass darkly.
It was a Celtic shadow that early one morning obstructed my ancient lights.
It seemed to belong to an individual with a pea-coat, a stubby pipe, and bristling beard.
He was gazing intently at the court, resting on a heavy cane, somewhat in the way that heroes dramatically visit the scenes of their boyhood.
As there was little of architectural beauty in the court, I came to the conclusion that it was McGinnis looking after his property.
The fact that he carefully kicked a broken bottle out of the road somewhat strengthened me in the opinion.
But he presently walked away, and the court knew him no more.
He probably collected his rents by proxy—if he collected them at all.
Beyond Melons, of whom all this is purely introductory, there was little to interest the most sanguine and hopeful nature.
In common with all such localities, a great deal of washing was done, in comparison with the visible results.
There was always something whisking on the line, and always something whisking through the court that looked as if it ought to be there.
A fish-geranium—of all plants kept for the recreation of mankind, certainly the greatest illusion—straggled under the window.
Through its dusty leaves I caught the first glance of Melons.
His age was about seven. He looked older, from the venerable whiteness of his head, and it was impossible to conjecture his size, as he always wore clothes apparently belonging to some shapely youth of nineteen.
A pair of pantaloons that, when sustained by a single suspender, completely equipped him, formed his every-day suit.
How, with this lavish superfluity of clothing, he managed to perform the surprising gymnastic feats it had been my privilege to witness, I have never been able to tell.
His “turning the crab,” and other minor dislocations, were always attended with success. It was not an unusual sight at any hour of the day to find Melons suspended on a line, or to see his venerable head appearing above the roofs of the outhouses.
Melons knew the exact height of every fence in the vicinity, its facilities for scaling, and the possibility of seizure on the other side.
His more peaceful and quieter amusements consisted in dragging a disused boiler by a large string, with hideous outcries, to imaginary fires.
Melons was not gregarious in his habits.
A few youth of his own age sometimes called upon him, but they eventually became abusive, and their visits were more strictly predatory incursions for old bottles and junk which formed the staple of McGinnis’s Court.
Overcome by loneliness one day, Melons inveigled a
blind harper into the court.
For two hours did that wretched man prosecute his unhallowed calling, unrecompensed, and going round and round the court, apparently under the impression that it was some other place, while Melons surveyed him from an adjoining fence with calm satisfaction.
It was this absence of conscientious motive that brought Melons into disrepute with his aristocratic neighbors. Orders were issued that no child of wealthy and pious parentage should play with him.
This mandate, as a matter of course, invested Melons with a fascinating interest to them. Admiring glances were cast at Melons from nursery windows.
Baby fingers beckoned to him. Invitations to tea (on wood and pewter) were lisped to him from aristocratic back-yards.
It was evident he was looked upon as a pure and noble being, untrammeled by the conventionalities of parentage, and physically as well as mentally exalted above them.
One afternoon an unusual commotion prevailed in the vicinity of McGinnis’s Court. Looking from my window I saw Melons perched on the roof of a stable, pulling up a rope by which one “Tommy,” an infant scion of an adjacent and wealthy house, was suspended in midair.
In vain the female relatives of Tommy congregated in the back-yard expostulated with Melons; in vain the unhappy father shook his fist at him. Secure in his position, Melons redoubled his exertions and at last landed Tommy on the roof.
Then it was that the humiliating fact was disclosed that Tommy had been acting in collusion with Melons.
He grinned delightedly back at his parents, as if “by merit raised to that bad eminence.” Long before the ladder arrived that was to succor him, he became the sworn ally of Melons, and, I regret to say, incited by the same audacious boy, “chaffed” his own flesh and blood below him. He was eventually taken, though, of course, Melons escaped.
But Tommy was restricted to the window after that, and the companionship was limited to “Hi, Melons!” and “You, Tommy!” and Melons to all practical purposes lost him forever.
I looked afterward to see some signs of sorrow on Melons’ part, but in vain; he buried his grief, if he had any, somewhere in his one voluminous garment.
At about this time my opportunities of knowing Melons became more extended.
I was engaged in filling a void in the Literature of the Pacific Coast. As this void was a pretty large one, and as I was informed that the Pacific Coast languished under it, I set apart two hours each day to this work of filling in.
It was necessary that I should adopt a methodical system, so I retired from the world and locked myself in my room at a certain hour each day, after coming from my office.
I then carefully drew out my portfolio and read what I had written the day before.
This would suggest some alterations, and I would carefully rewrite it.
During this operation I would turn to consult a book of reference, which invariably proved extremely interesting and attractive.
It would generally suggest another and better method of “filling in.” Turning this method over reflectively in my mind, I would finally commence the new method which I eventually abandoned for the original plan.
At this time I would become convinced that my exhausted faculties demanded a cigar.
The operation of lighting a cigar usually suggested that a little quiet reflection and meditation would be of service to me, and I always allowed myself to be guided by prudential instincts.
Eventually, seated by my window, as before stated, Melons asserted himself.
Though our conversation rarely went further than “Hello, Mister!” and “Ah, Melons!” a vagabond instinct we felt in common implied a communion deeper than words.
Thus time passed, often beguiled by gymnastics on the fence or line (always with an eye to my window) until dinner was announced and I found a more practical void required my attention.
An unlooked-for incident drew us in closer relation. Melons 1
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