Mark Twain, Bill Nye, and James Whitcomb Riley were contemporaries. Bill and James were close friends. All three were well known wits of their time. This story is told by Bill Nye and if you have never heard of him this will give you a good idea of his humor.
I always enjoy a vegetable garden, and through the winter I look forward to the spring days when I will take my cob pipe and hoe and go joyously afield.
I like to toy with the moist earth and the common squash bug of the work-a-day world. It is a pleasure also to irrigate the garden, watering the sauerkraut plant and the timid tomato vine as though they were children asking for a drink. I am never happier than when I am engaged in irrigating my tropical garden or climbing my neighbor with a hoe when he shuts off my water supply by sticking an old pair of pantaloons in the canal that leads to my squash conservatory.
One day a man shut off my irrigation that way and dammed the water up to such a degree that I shut off his air supply, and I was about to say dammed him up also. We had quite a scuffle. Up to that time we had never exchanged a harsh word. That morning I noticed that my early climbing horse-radish and my dwarf army worms were looking a little peaked, and I wondered what was the matter.
I had been absent several days and was grieved to notice that my garden had a kind of blasé air, as though it needed rest and change of scene.
The Poland China egg-plant looked up sadly at me and seemed to say: ”Pardner, don’t you think it’s a long time between drinks?” The watermelon seemed to have a dark brown taste in its mouth, and there was an air of gloom all over the garden.
At that moment I discovered my next-door neighbor at the ditch on the corner. He was singing softly to himself;
O, yes, I’ll meet you;
I’ll meet you when the sun goes down.
He was also jamming an old pair of Rembrandt pants into the canal, where they would shut off my supply. He stood with his back towards me, and just as he said he would “meet me when the sun goes down,” I smote him across the back of the neck with my hoe handle, and before he could recover from the first dumb surprise and wonder, I pulled the dripping pantaloons out of the ditch and tied them in a true-lover’s knot around his neck. He began to look black in the face, and his struggles soon ceased altogether. At that moment his wife came out and shrieked two pure womanly shrieks, and hissed in my ear; “You have killed me husband!”
I said, possibly I had. If so, would she please send in the bill and I would adjust it at an early day. I said this in a bantering tone of voice, and raising my hat to her in the polished way of mine, started to go, when something fell with a thud on the greenward!
It was the author of these lines. I did not know till two days afterward that my neighbors wife wore a moiré antique rolling-pin under her apron that morning.
I did not suspect it till it was too late. The affair was kind of hushed up on account of the respectability of the parties.
By the time I had recovered. The garden seemed to melt away into thin air.
My neighbor had it all his own way, and while his proud holly hocks and Johnny-jump-ups reared their heads to drink the mountain of water at the twilight hour, my little low-necked, summer squashes curled up and died.
Most every year yet I made a garden. I pay a man $3 to plow it. Then I pay $7 for garden seeds and in July I hire the same man at $3 to summer-fallow the whole thing while I go and buy my vegetables of a Chinaman named Wun Lung.
I’ve done this now for eight years, and I owe my robust health and rich olive complexion to the fact that I’ve got a garden and do just as little in it as possible.
Parties desiring a dozen or more of my Shanghai egg-plants to set under an ordinary domestic hen can procure the same by writing to me and enclosing lock of hair and $10.