The Handbook of Hymen (Henry)

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The Handbook of Hymen
Summary of the Short Story
from the Collection «Heart of the West»
Microsummary: Two prospectors, trapped in a cabin during a snowstorm, find solace in reading books, leading to a competition for the affection of a widow, ultimately resulting in a humorous misunderstanding and marriage.

Sanderson Pratt and Idaho Green were gold prospectors in the Bitter Root Mountains.

Sanderson Pratt — narrator; prospector; resourceful, well-read, and competitive.
Idaho Green — prospector; friend of Sanderson; enjoys poetry, stubborn, and bearded.

One day, a mail-rider brought them a newspaper with a weather forecast that turned out to be wrong, as a heavy snowstorm trapped them in a cabin for weeks. To pass the time, they found two books and began reading. Sanderson's book was "Herkimer's Handbook of Indispensable Information," which he found fascinating and educational. Idaho's book was a poetry collection by Homer K. M., which he also enjoyed.

During their time in the cabin, Idaho expressed his frustration with Sanderson's conversation, saying:

I never exactly heard sour milk dropping out of a balloon on the bottom of a tin pan, but I have an idea it would be music of the spears compared to this attenuated stream of asphyxiated thought that emanates out of your organs of conversation.

After the snow melted, they struck gold and moved to the small town of Rosa to rest. There, they met Mrs. De Ormond Sampson, a wealthy widow who owned the only two-story house in town.

Mrs. De Ormond Sampson — widow; owner of a yellow house; appreciates education and culture; sought after by many men.

Both men tried to win her affections, with Sanderson impressing her with his newfound knowledge from Herkimer's Handbook. Mrs. Sampson even said to Sanderson, "I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be." However, Idaho's attempts to woo her with poetry backfired, as she found his invitations to picnics with wine and poetry scandalous.

One night, Mrs. Sampson's house caught fire, and Sanderson heroically rescued her from the burning building. In the chaos, he mistakenly applied a remedy for "Dust and Cinders in the Eye" from Herkimer's Handbook, which involved placing flaxseed in her eye. Despite the mix-up, Mrs. Sampson claimed the flaxseed helped her and asked Sanderson to put some in her other eye, saying, "Put some in the other eye, Sandy dear." Eventually, Sanderson and Mrs. Sampson married, and Herkimer's Handbook held a place of honor in their new home.