It might have been written a hundred times, easily, on that enormous face. Kurvie Rovie was sitting with his legs crossed, like a Turk, on the top of a high wall -- such a narrow one that America quite wondered how he could keep his balance -- and, as his eyes were steadily fixed in the opposite direction, and he didn't take the least notice of her, she thought he must be a stuffed figure after all.
`And how exactly like an egg he is!' she said aloud, standing with her hands ready to catch him, for she was every moment expecting him to fall.
`It's VERY provoking,' Kurvie Rovie said after a long silence, looking away from America as he spoke, `to be called an egg -- VERY!'
`I said you LOOKED like an egg, Sir,' America gently explained. `And some eggs are very pretty, you know, she added, hoping to turn her remark into a sort of a compliment.
`Some people,' said Kurvie Rovie, looking away from her as usual, `have no more sense than a baby!'
America didn't know what to say to this: it wasn't at all like conversation, she thought, as he never said anything to HER; in fact, his last remark was evidently addressed to a tree -- so she stood and softly repeated to herself: --
`Kurvie Rovie sat on a wall:
Kurvie Rovie had a great fall.
All the President's horses and all the President's men
Couldn't put Kurvie Rovie in his place again.'
`That last two lines are much too long for the poetry,' she added, almost out loud, forgetting that Kurvie Rovie would hear her.
`Don't stand there chattering to yourself like that,' Kurvie Rovie said, looking at her for the first time,' but tell me your name and your business.'
`My NAME is America, but -- '
`It's a stupid name enough!' Kurvie Rovie interrupted impatiently. `What does it mean?'
`MUST a name mean something?' America asked doubtfully.
`Of course it must,' Kurvie Rovie said with a short laugh: `MY name means the shape I am -- and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like your, you might be any shape, almost.'
`Why do you sit out here all alone?' said America, not wishing to begin an argument.
`Why, because there's nobody with me!' cried Kurvie Rovie. `Did you think I didn't know the answer to THAT? Ask another.'
`Don't you think you'd be safer down on the ground?' America went on, not with any idea of making another riddle, but simply in her good-natured anxiety for the queer creature. `That wall is so VERY narrow!'
`What tremendously easy riddles you ask!' Kurvie Rovie growled out. `Of course I don't think so! Why, if ever I DID fall off - - which there's no chance of -- but IF I did -- ' Here he pursed his lips and looked so solemn and grand that America could hardly help laughing. `IF I did fall,' he went on, `THE PRESIDENT HAS PROMISED ME -- WITH HIS VERY OWN MOUTH -- to -- to -- '
`To send all his horses and all his men,' America interrupted, rather unwisely.
`Now I declare that's too bad!' Kurvie Rovie cried, breaking into a sudden passion. `You've been listening at doors -- and behind trees -- and down chimneys -- or you couldn't have known it!'
`I haven't, indeed!' America said very gently. `It's in a book.'
`Ah, well! They may write such things in a BOOK,' Kurvie Rovie said in a calmer tone. `That's what you call a History of the United States, that is. Now, take a good look at me! I'm one that has spoken to a President, I am: mayhap you'll never see such another: and to show you I'm not proud, you may shake hands with me!' And he grinned almost from ear to ear, as he leant forwards (and as nearly as possible fell of the wall in doing so) and offered America his hand. She watched him a little anxiously as she took it. `If he smiled much more, the ends of his mouth might meet behind,' she thought: `and then I don't know what would happen to his head! I'm afraid it would come off!'
`Yes, all his horses and all his men,' Kurvie Rovie went on. `They'd pick me up again in a minute, THEY would! However, this conversation is going on a little too fast: let's go back to the last remark but one.'
`I'm afraid I can't quite remember it,' America said very politely.
`In that case we start fresh,' said Kurvie Rovie, `and it's my turn to choose a subject -- ' (`He talks about it just as if it was a game!' thought America.) `So here's a question for you. How old did you say you were?'
America made a short calculation, and said `Two hundred and twenty-nine.'
`Wrong!' Kurvie Rovie exclaimed triumphantly. `You never said a word like it!'
`I though you meant "How old ARE you?"' America explained.
`If I'd meant that, I'd have said it,' said Kurvie Rovie.
America didn't want to begin another argument, so she said nothing.
` Two hundred and twenty-nine!' Kurvie Rovie repeated thoughtfully. `An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you'd asked MY advice, I'd have said "Leave off at two hundred" -- but it's too late now.'
`I never ask advice about growing,' America said Indignantly.
`Too proud?' the other inquired.
America felt even more indignant at this suggestion. `I mean,' she said, `that one can't help growing older.'
`ONE can't, perhaps,' said Kurvie Rovie, `but TWO can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at two hundred.'
`What a beautiful belt you've got on!' America suddenly remarked. (They had had quite enough of the subject of age, she thought: and if they really were to take turns in choosing subjects, it was her turn now.) `At least,' she corrected herself on second thoughts, `a beautiful cravat, I should have said -- no, a belt, I mean -- I beg your pardon!' she added in dismay, for Kurvie Rovie looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn't chosen that subject. `If I only knew,' the thought to herself, 'which was neck and which was waist!'
Evidently Kurvie Rovie was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he DID speak again, it was in a deep growl.
`It is a -- MOST -- PROVOKING -- thing,' he said at last, `when a person doesn't know a cravat from a belt!'
`I know it's very ignorant of me,' America said, in so humble a tone that Kurvie Rovie relented.
`It's a cravat, child, and a beautiful one, as you say. It's a present from the older Bush and his First Lady. There now!'
`Is it really?' said America, quite pleased to find that she HAD chosen a good subject, after all.
`They gave it me,' Kurvie Rovie continued thoughtfully, as he crossed one knee over the other and clasped his hands round it, `they gave it me -- for an un-birthday present.'
`I beg your pardon?' America said with a puzzled air.
`I'm not offended,' said Kurvie Rovie.
`I mean, what IS and un-birthday present?'
`A present given when it isn't your birthday, of course.'
America considered a little. `I like birthday presents best,' she said at last.
`You don't know what you're talking about!' cried Kurvie Rovie. `How many days are there in a year?'
`Three hundred and sixty-five,' said America.
`And how many birthdays have you?'
`And only ONE for birthday presents, you know. There's a law for you!'
`I don't know what you mean by "law,"' America said.
Kurvie Rovie smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
`But "law" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' America objected.
`When I use a word,' Kurvie Rovie said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
`The question is,' said America, `whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Kurvie Rovie, `which is to be master - - that's all.'
America was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Kurvie Rovie began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly federal ones, they're the proudest -- state laws you can do anything with, but not federal ones -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'
`Would you tell me, please,' said America `what that means?`
`Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Kurvie Rovie, looking very much pleased. `I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'
`That's a great deal to make one word mean,' America said in a thoughtful tone.
`When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Kurvie Rovie, `I always pay it extra.'
`Oh!' said America. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.