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Sam Joplin’s Epigastric Nerve
by [?]

I

“You eat too much, Marny.” It was Joplin, of Boston, who was speaking–Samuel Epigastric Joplin, his brother painters called him. “You treat your stomach as if it were a scrap-basket and you dump into it everything you–“

“I do? You caricature of a codfish ball!”

“Yes, you do. You open your mouth, pin back your ears and in go pickles, red cabbage, Dutch cheese. It’s insanity, Marny, and it’s vulgar. No man’s epigastric can stand it. It wouldn’t make any difference if you were a kangaroo with your pouch on the outside, but you’re a full-grown man and ought to have some common-sense.”

“And you think that if I followed your idiotic theory it would keep me out of my coffin, do you? What you want, Joppy, is a square meal. You never had one, so far as I can find out, since you were born. You drank sterilized milk at blood temperature until you were five; chewed patent, unhulled wheat bread until you were ten, and since that time you’ve filled your stomach with husks–proteids, and carbohydrates, and a lot of such truck–isn’t that what he calls em, Pudfut?”

The Englishman nodded in assent.

“And now just look at you, Joppy, instead of a forty-inch chest–“

“And a sixty-inch waist,” interjected Joplin with a laugh, pointing at Marny’s waistcoat.

“I acknowledge it, old man, and I’m proud of it,” retorted Marny, patting his rotundity. “Instead, I say, of a decent chest your shoulders crowd your breast-bone; your epigastric, as you call it–it’s your solar plexus, Joppy–but that’s a trifle to an anatomist like you–your epigastric scrapes your back-bone, so lonely is it for something warm and digestible to rub up against, and your– Why, Joppy, do you know when I look at you and think over your wasted life, my eyes fill with tears? Eat something solid, old man, and give your stomach a surprise. Begin now. Dinner’s coming up–I smell it. Open your port nostril, you shrivelled New England bean, and take in the aroma of beatific pork and greens. Doesn’t that put new life into you? Puddy, you and Schonholz help Joppy to his feet and one or two of you fellows walk behind to pick up the pieces in case he falls apart before we can feed him. There’s Tine’s dinner-bell!”

White-capped, rosy-checked, bare-armed Tine had rung that bell for this group of painters for two years past–ever since Mynheer Boudier of the Bellevue over the way, who once claimed her services, had reproved Johann, the porter, for blocking up with the hotel trunks that part of the sidewalk over which the steamboat captain slid his gangplank. Thereupon Tine slipped her pretty little feet into her white sabots–she and Johann have been called in church since–and walked straight over to the Holland Arms. Johann now fights the steamboat captain, backed not only by the landlord of the Arms, who rubs his hands in glee over the possession of two of his competitor’s best servants, but by the whole coterie of painters whose boots Johann blacks, whose kits be packs and unpacks, whose errands he runs; while Tine, no less loyal and obliging, darns their stockings, mends their clothes, sews on buttons, washes brushes, stretches canvases, waits on table, rings the dinner-bell, and with her own hands scrubs every square inch of visible surface inside and out of this quaint old inn in this sleepy old town of Dort-on-the-Maas–side-walks, windows, cobbles–clear to the middle of the street, her ruddy arms bare to the elbow, her sturdy, blue-yarn-stockinged legs thrust into snow-white sabots to keep her trim feet from the wet and slop.

Built in 1620, this inn of the Holland Arms–so the mildewed brick in the keystone over the arch of the doorway says–and once the home of a Dutchman made rich by the China trade, whose ships cast anchor where Fop Smit’s steamboats now tie up (I have no interest in the Line); a grimy, green-moulded, lean-over front and moss-covered, sloping-roof sort of an inn, with big beams supporting the ceilings of the bedrooms; lumbering furniture blackened with the smoke of a thousand pipes flanking the walls of the coffee-room; bits of Delft a century old lining the mantel; tiny panes of glass with here and there a bull’s-eye illumining the squat windows; rows of mugs with pewter tops crowding the narrow shelves beside the fireplace, and last, and by no means least, a big, bulky sun-moon-and-stars clock, with one eye always open, which strikes the hours as if it meant to beat the very life out of them.