Seldom was heard a modest word

A CHAP has been coming on the TV altogether too often lately to advertise a magazine, and he starts with, ``I'm So-and-so, well-known baseball pitcher.'' That I've never heard of him doesn't mean he isn't well known, but Confucius say, ``Man who speaks without modesty will perhaps not make his words good.'' If you'd like another quotation, try Spinoza: ``It therefore comes to pass that everyone is fond of relating his own exploits and displaying the strength both of his body and mind, and that men are on this account a nuisance one to the other.'' Just so. We used to have a confounded nuisance in our old family neighborhood who was probably the world's best-known braggart, but he really wasn't a braggart at all. Years before, he and my grandfather began playing three games of checkers in the evening between chores and supper. Grandfather would trudge across the field to Reuben's, or Reuben would come across to our place and, while they disputed about timely politics, they would run off the three games and then one or the other would go home. Grandfather was a Comrade of the GAR and Reuben wasn't, so their arguments often had to do with the propriety of big pensions to old soldiers, Grandfather being in favor.

After some years of this Grandfather was in the Farmers' Union one day to cash his pension check, and the manager said to him, ``Well, Tom, do you ever expect to win a game of checkers?'' Asking what that was about, Grandfather was told that Reuben had been in and had bragged that Tom Gould had never beaten him. And Thomas had to admit that of all the games he'd played with Reuben, Reuben had won every game. And that's what made Reuben different - he never was known to brag about something that he couldn't back up. Talk about nuisance! Grandfather would explain that he played with Reuben only because there was nobody else around to play with, and that there was some merit in the hope that one evening he would catch Reuben in a careless move.

But nobody ever did catch Reuben in a careless move. His immodesty about singing his own praises didn't endear him in all directions, but whatever he said he could do or would do or had done would always prove out. One year, along in late summer, he said he had a Hubbard squash that would easily go to a hundredweight, and there was scoffing at that. Squashes got big, but not that big. Then Reuben put his big squash in Topsham Fair, and it weighed 127 pounds. True, he had pinched off the vine so it had but the one fruit, and he'd nourished that one fruit with constant care and lavish hand - and there it was to make his words good.

One spring Reuben and Grandfather walked their line fence and decided some of it needed to be renewed. Each knew his respective share, and the next evening Reuben came to play checkers and said he'd set 56 posts that day and strung the wires. For one man, this was prodigious, and it was incredible. So after supper Gramp went to see - and there they were, 56 new hackmatack posts and the wires tight as fiddle strings. A few days later Gramp had Timmie Foster come to help him, and it took Gramp and Timmie four days to set 30 posts. Reuben surely knew how to make a nuisance of himself.

Every time something like that happened, and with Reuben they kept happening, Grandfather would come to the Farmers' Union and be asked if Reuben told the truth. He thus became a character witness for Reuben, who endured the constant indignity of never being believed. Next to Cassandra, Reuben held that championship.

One time Reuben came to ask Grandfather if he might borrow a washtub. He said he'd found a colony of wild bees in his woods and planned to take down the hollow tree that afternoon and get the honey. That evening he said he'd filled his own two washtubs, as well as Gramp's, and had three milkpails over. That was far more honey than Gramp would get from his hives in a whole season, and the chances were heavy that this wild colony Reuben had found was an escaped swarm from Gramp's apiary. Reuben said he would like to keep Gramp's washtub a few days until he could find containers.

On his next trip to the Farmers' Union, Gramp saw some bottles of honey on the shelf, and the manager said yes, he'd bought 50 gallons from Reuben. This spoiled Gramp's sale of honey for that year. So I won't say this chap on the TV is a Confucius nuisance, but after he'd told me two or three times an evening for five or six evenings running, he did put me in mind of old Reuben.

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